We now resume our look at the U.S. top-10 hits of the 1970s, with artists and groups beginning with the letter S, but first a lengthy note about a new album with a delightfully retro and adventurous approach and sound:
The Monkees, who were megapopular in the 1960s with their TV show and music, gained a whole new generation of fans in the mid-1980s when MTV ran their classic episodes, they came out with new music, and except for a few appearances by Mike Nesmith at that time, members Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones toured very successfully. (Until COVID-19 hit, Micky and Mike had been touring with a wonderful show, and plans call for a new tour later this year that will come close to Montreal — Burlington, Vermont this Oct. 26 at the Flynn Theater.)
Another result of the mid-1980s revival was Arista, and then Rhino Records, not only reissuing their original albums, but putting out previously unreleased 1960s material over a period of many years, in the form of three Missing Links albums, two box sets, and much later, deluxe box sets of most of their albums with copious unreleased tracks/mixes/versions.
One of the biggest revelations of this release campaign was the wealth of previously (for the most part) unheard material written and recorded (during the Monkees period, but with session musicians) by Nesmith, including such wonderful gems as Nine Times Blue, Carlisle Wheeling, Little Red Rider and many others.
And when the Monkees' first period ended in 1970, Nesmith released a slew of critically acclaimed and eclectic solo albums. The most successful single chartwise was the charming Joanne, from his first solo album.
So it would seem a no-brainer for someone to do a tribute album dedicated to Nesmith's Monkees period and solo songs, and who better to do it than his Monkees colleague, friend, and superb harmonizer on many Nesmith Monkees songs, Dolenz. The one question one could ask is — why wasn't this done long ago?
No matter, the result — Dolenz Sings Nesmith adventurously produced by Michael's son Christian — is not a straightforward covers album. The songs, all superbly chosen, are completely reimagined, Carlisle Wheeling, which originally had a relatively simple production, is now a psychedelic masterpiece complete with stereo panning. Nine Times Blue is now a passionate piano ballad nicely segueing into the rocking Little Red Rider. One of my favourite Monkees songs by Nesmith, Circle Sky (from the movie and album Head originally), is redone as a Middle Eastern-flavoured creation with wonderful musical tension.
Micky's vocals are so good you might think they were recorded in 1968. If this album had come out in '68 as a side project — Nesmith himself did this with a big band album of his songs called The Wichita Train Whistle Sings at that time — it would have wowed the critics, as it should in 2021.
There are some Nesmith songs on Dolenz Sings Nesmith that I hadn't heard, and their high quality is going to prompt me to delve more deeply into Nesmith's solo career.
Get this album!
And now to the top-10s:
Al Stewart - Year of the Cat, Time Passages: Wonderful, lengthy story songs with the greatest of pop smarts that hold the listener's interest. Charming stuff from this Scottish artist with the lilting accent.
Amii Stewart - Knock On Wood: A propulsive, pulsing disco reimagining of the classic Eddie Floyd Stax hit from the 1960s. One of the better hits of the disco genre.
John Stewart - Gold: This celebration of music is also propulsive and pumping, but in a quieter, more subtle way. This former member of the Kingston Trio, who also wrote the #1 Monkees' Daydream Believer, produced a very memorable song with a unique sound and a nicely gruff vocal. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who seemed to be everywhere in the late 1970s, not only with Fleetwood Mac but appearing on the songs of other artists — provided effective background vocals.
Rod Stewart - Maggie May, Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright), You're In My Heart (The Final Acclaim), Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?: I always considered Stewart to be the Michael Caine of music, capable of greatness but also capable of following the trends or recording songs even he didn't like, and getting hits with them. (For proof, read Rod's humourous liner notes in his Storyteller box set — for Rod, the 1980s hit Love Touch was the musical equivalent of Michael Caine's appearance in Jaws 4: The Revenge). Still, Rod's 1970s hits maintained a certain quality, from the heartfelt Maggie May to the gloriously trashy Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?, which has been misinterpreted as a boast, but is actually from a third-person perspective. Tonight's the Night and You're In My Heart are more than acceptable soft rock, and very memorable.
Stories - Brother Louie: A classic rock reinterpretation of the more ominous sounding (with very politically incorrect language) soul original by Hot Chocolate, dealing with an interracial relationship. Of course, the song is very dated theme-wise, but musically, both versions are great.
Next time: Barbra Streisand and others.