Sunday, September 28, 2014

Kat's Korner: Rhino does Carly on the cheap

Kat:  Dwight Yokum, Rod Stewart and Blake Shelton fans should revolt.

This is from a Carly Simon fan and, honestly, there may be more people needing to revolt.

I live in the Bay Area but am usually either in DC during the week or on campuses.

With constant travel, you can lose things and, somewhere in Iowa in 2011, I lost Carly Simon's Hotcakes on CD.

That's her third album, contains the hits "Haven't Got Time For The Pain" and "Mockingbird."

I've been meaning to replace it for three years now.

And I am not someone who likes to shop online.

Carly, like most women, was not served well by her label.  They will ensure that various men have close to their entire catalogue stocked in a music store while women usually are reduced to a best of and one album. And what was true when Musicland, Sam Goody and Tower Records populated the country is even more true today when you're best hopes of finding CDs is Wal-Mart or Target.

But I like the fun of going into a store, seeing a pair of shoes, a toaster or whatever, taking it up to the register, paying for it and walking out with my purchase.

3D printers may someday change that and allow for some sort of similar experience.

But I'm really not into ordering online and waiting days for it to arrive.

So I was thrilled to discover Rhino Records had done a release, a boxed set!, of Carly's first five albums.

And then I opened it.

Each of the five albums -- Carly Simon, Anticipation, No Secrets, Hotcakes and Playing Possum -- is its own individual paper sleeve which reproduces the cover artwork of the original LP -- front and back.


And the Grammy for Worst Packaging goes to . . .

Rhino Records!

For their Original Album Series.

What's the booklet like, Kat?  Do they have additional photos?  Lyrics?

To those questions, I reply with one of my own:  What booklet?

That's it.  These paper sleeves.

That's all.

If you want to know which song Mick Jagger sang back up on, use your ears (it was "You're So Vain"). The same with which one Paul and Linda McCartney sang on (it was "Night Owl").

Again, the Grammy for Worst Packaging goes to Rhino Records for their Original Album Series.

In this series, they select an artist (Carly, Dwight, Rod and Blake are among those selected) and feature five albums by the artist.  Each album gets its own compact disc and its own paper sleeve and these are then put in the box like slices of wrapped cheese.

That's it.

The back of the box does tell you the producer of each album and that's where it starts and ends.

Carly Simon stared her singing career as part of a folk duo, The Simon Sisters, with her sister Lucy.

They were a popular club act, recorded three albums and notched up a chart hit with "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod."

In 2007 on The Bill Miller Show, she noted of that period:

Lucy and I were on Hootenanny twice. We sang a song that she wrote called "Winkin' Blinkin' and Nod" and a French version of "Blowin' in the Wind." I was 19 and stood very still. I recently got a tape of it, and I was standing so still that you could have broken me. I was playing the guitar, but I wasn't moving to the music, I was just too terrified. The Smothers Brothers were on just before Lucy and I went onstage, and that should have loosened me up, but it didn't.

And after the duo split, she didn't see herself as a singer and hoped she could make a career as a songwriter writing songs for artists like Cass Elliot and Dionne Warwick.  I think Carly could make a great album of taking those songs and recording them 'demo' style.

Eventually, she decided to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter.

Elektra was eager to sign her, less sure if she was a songwriter.

The woman whose won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe and the Grammy for songwriting has more than demonstrated she can write a song.  Hell, she's shown she can write classics.

On Carly Simon, Carly's finding her voice -- both as a singer and as a writer.  "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" is the breakout hit single and it was radical for its time with a woman singing about the way relationships could destroy.  Carly wrote the music, longtime collaborator Jacob Brackman wrote the lyrics which included:

You say we'll soar like two birds through the clouds
But soon you'll cage me on your shelf/ 
I'll never learn to be just me first 
By myself

The album is filled with nice moments such as "Reunions" and "The Best Thing."  It also contains some belting like only Janis Joplin was doing at the time.  A little fine tuning, some lightening of elements here and there, and Carly could have been promoted as the successor to Barbra Streisand.

It's a confident album in a way that few debuts are.

Anticipation follows.  This album spawned the hits "Anticipation," "Legend In Your Own Time" and, on both coasts, "Julie Through The Glass."  It also includes the best cover Carly did on her first five albums, "I've Got To Have You."

The album is Carly doing the folk rock that her peers Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Melanie and others were doing but putting her own personal stamp on it.  On a CBS People magazine special in the late 80s, she stated this album was very much influenced by her relationship with Cat Stevens.  Not only did she write "Anticipation" while waiting for him to arrive for a date, she felt her singing style, the way she emphasized the notes, was also influenced by him.

This was a thematic album about longing and waiting and things that didn't quite work out.

In 1973, she offered No Secrets which found her looking at others as well as herself.  Most famously, she looks at a vain man in her monster hit "You're So Vain."  Long before she came up with the lyrics the world now knows by heart ("You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht . . ."), she just had the music and called it "Beautiful Ben."

"You're So Vain" was such a strong song, it may have overshadowed what she was accomplishing elsewhere on the album including on the hit song "The Right Thing To Do."  Carly was struggling with issue of satisfaction and happiness and meaning in song after song.  Examining how one man's vanity ruled his life (and ruined the lives of so many others) was only part of that process.  "Embrace Me You Child" charts territory few ever do.  Her look at her father is both poignant and terrifying.  And the title track summed up the marriage she would soon be entering into with The Vanilla Man James Taylor who kept churning out bad plastic covers of soul hits ("How Sweet It Is," "Handy Man," "Up On The Roof," etc.).

Marriage would eventually be followed with two children -- Sally and Ben.  She was pregnant with Sally when she recorded her next album Hotcakes and pregnancy agreed with her songwriting allowing her to compose such tunes "Mind On My Man," "Think I'm Going To Have A Baby" and, with Jacob Brackman, "Haven't Got Time For The Pain" and "Safe and Sound."

It's a different sound and it's also the beginning of what will later be recognized as the jazz shadings to her singing.

The jazz bible Downbeat was the first to notice those phrasings and did so on her follow up Playing Possum.

A top ten album with the top forty hit "Attitude Dancing" (co-written with Brackman and featuring Carole King), the cover overshadowed everything else.  Sears would not carry the album.  Some K-Marts refused to.  As a general rule, if the outlet was a record store, you could buy it there.  If it was a record section in a general store, you probably wouldn't be able to find it.

In this post-Madonna age, Carly on her knees in a short nightie seems like an interesting photo but nothing to cause a scandal; however, in 1975, the cover got the album banned in store after store.

This is the album where Carly demonstrated she was a singer.

Not just a songwriter who sang her own songs and those of others.

Without the vocal growth evident on this album, Carly would never have had the skill to carry off her albums of standards (TorchMy RomanceFilm NoirMoonlight Serenade).  She could sing from the start of her career.  But it's as the career goes along that her skills in shading, her skills in acting out a song and her use of lightness to underscore a bleak moment come to the fore.

Standouts include "After The Storm," "Look Me In The Eyes" and "Love Out In The Street."

The first five albums document an artist stretching and growing, one of the country's finest songwriters and a true jazz singer -- as she more than demonstrated with "Embraceable You" on The Bedroom Tapes.  The only sour notes here have to do with Rhino's packaging.