Yes, we will get to The Stampeders, but first, a couple of fast (I promise!) notes.
• Great news for Who fans, like me. The band just announced they will be releasing their first studio album in 13 years, and go out on tour again, maybe (according to singer Roger Daltrey) for the last time. Of course, the latter would not be great news, but Roger and Pete Townshend are getting up there in years.
• The latest installment in my continuing quest for effective virtual surround via headphones: I highly recommend a free (at least it was at the time for me) app called Waves NX. I got good results on Spotify streams, especially on The Who's Quadrophenia (in which the water sound effects seemed to be especially realistic and enveloping) and Aerosmith albums like Rocks and Toys in the Attic (both released in quadraphonic mixes in the 1970s). On many songs, the sound quality is quite sparkling.
And now to the equally sparkling S list:
The Stampeders: Quantitatively, in my opinion, The Guess Who is Canada's best band. They had loads of great singles and some very good albums, and at the time Randy Bachman was there (from 1965 to 1970, not counting reunions), they were the closest we had to our own Beatles. They have an 18-track greatest hits CD in which every track is stellar.
And yet, while I only absolutely love five tracks by Alberta's Stampeders, their songs tug at my heart (and ear) strings more than most of those by The Guess Who. To me, Wild Eyes is one of the greatest riff songs of all time and the playing is ultra tight, but if you can, track down the mono single version. There are three versions — the one just mentioned, the stereo album mix (without the extra echo and reverb that I like) and an inferior remake.
I first heard Sweet City Woman as a kid, and it's the band at their most folky-poppy. Oh My Lady is an impassioned ballad with great string backing, Minstrel Gypsy has a wonderful Gordon Lightfoot-like vocal, and Playin' in the Band has a fun mariachi-type horn part.
One thing is clear — The Stampeders have been very diverse musically.
The Staple Singers: This family group had a very long career, moving from gospel in the 1950s to folk in the 1960s to impassioned soul for the Stax label in the 1970s. I love the smoky sound and Mavis Staples' powerful vocals on such songs as I'll Take You There and Respect Yourself. But on the former, I can't forgive the Staples for plagiarizing the intro of the reggae song The Liquidator by Harry J Allstars.
Also, I can't understand why the song Let's Do It Again, released in 1975 on the Curtom label, went to #1 on the pop charts. It's far inferior to their previous hits, and is rather featureless.
The Starland Vocal Band: Yes, it's a guilty pleasure, but Afternoon Delight, a not very veiled reference to sex during the day, is infinitely catchy and it's referenced to this day. Can't argue with that kind of success.
Edwin Starr: Two recommendations here from this classic Motown artist— Twenty-Five Miles is a barnburner with a superb horn arrangement. War is a long-acknowledged anti-war classic, but as I've written before, stick with the mono single version. The stereo album version has an overly slushy sounding horn part.
Note: I had the pleasure of seeing Starr in London several years ago at a Burt Bacharach tribute concert.
Ringo Starr: Notwithstanding his limited vocal range, Ringo had some great songs, especially in the 1970s. It Don't Come Easy, a stand-alone single done with fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison, has a beautifully punchy drum sound which I never fail to accompany with my own air drums. The B-side, Early 1970, is an endearing and sad State of the Disunion address on the Beatles' post-break-up relations.
The Ringo album, from 1973, not only featured all four former Beatles (on different tracks, and John, George and Ringo together on I'm the Greatest), but is a primo pure pop album extravagantly produced by the Phil Spector of the 1970s, Richard Perry. Cover songs like You're Sixteen are appealingly done, and the collaboration with Harrison, Photograph, was grandiose, catchy and thus a deserved chart topper.
The next album, Goodnight Vienna, followed a similar path of special guests and poppy material, and my one favourite is the anti-drug and alcohol parody No No Song, written by Hoyt Axton of Joy to the World fame. However, considering Ringo's own past substance abuse problems in the 1970s and 1980s, it's a bit sad as well.
Candi Staton: Not all deep soul singer made a successful transition to disco, but Staton's Young Hearts Run Free was a big success, chart-wise and artistically. The song itself transcends the genre, and Staton's vocals are extremely endearing.
Next time: Steam, Steely Dan, Steppenwolf and others.