Sunday, November 06, 2022

Kat's Korner: Simple Minds, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra and Joss Stone

Kat:  A number of albums have been released of late and, honestly, few have impressed me.

"Don't you forget about me," Jim Kerr of Simple Minds once sang, "don't, don't, don't."

But I did, did did.

And, no offense, I never even liked that song.  I had been a fan of the group before that song.  When it came out, I knew the band didn't write it because it wasn't like anything they would do.  Or should.

When it came to hits, I much preferred "Sanctify Yourself," for example.  In fact, every track on ONCE UPON A TIME was far superior to that soundtrack single.  

The band had a groove thing.  Jim Kerr couldn't have led another band as well.  He lacked the charisma -- how he ended up married to Chrissie Hynde and Patsy Kensit is beyond me.  His 2010 attempt at a solo career should have been marketed solely to insomniacs.

But put him with the band Simple Minds and they seem to cook.  

ONCE UPON A TIME was their best album.  But they had a few more solid ones:  STREET FIGHTING YEARS, GOODBYE FROM THE NEXT WORLD, GRAFFITI SOUL and LIVE 2011.  

Now they show up with DIRECTION OF THE HEART.  They haven't flirted with anything resembling a hit in this country since 1995's "She's A River."  

So imagine my surprise to put this album on the turntable and feel the same excitement I did when I first heard SPARKLE IN THE RAIN -- the album that I fell in love with the group over.

The band is: Jim, Charlie Burchill, Ged Grimes, Sarah Brown, Gordy Goudie, Cherisse Osei and Berenice Scott.

DIRECTION OF THE HEART finds the group -- via songs by Charlie and Jim with assistance on two from Ged as well as a cover version of the late Michael Been's "The Walls Came Down" -- wondering what's changed -- in them, in the world.  A one-two punch of  "Vision Thing" and "First You Jump" opens the album -- two great songs that shows the band can still matter and speak to us.  The third song, "Human Traffic," also works but I don't know about "Who Killed Truth?"  I think it's too early in the mix and the song seems to cry for a reggae arrangement.  "Solstice Kiss" comes next and gets the album back on track.


"Taking in the new view becoming what you're meant to," Jim sings on the album and it appears he's singing from autobiography because Simple Minds is hitting all the right notes on this album -- discover "Act Of Love" on your own, you won't regret it.

Next up, a 40 year reissue: Donna Summer's DONNA SUMMER.

Donna was a gifted vocalist who wasn't the smartest person in the world. 

While becoming beloved in the 1970s, she periodically stuck her foot in her mouth and insulted her fans.  This would become more pronounced when she attacked gay people in the mid-80s as the AIDS epidemic was raging.  

Yeah, yeah, let's note she denies saying it.  She said it and it destroyed her career.  Her moralizing was always laughable prior to that.  

We could laugh at her telling us about morality and the end is nigh back then -- when she was groaning and moaning her way through "Love To Love You Baby" or popping up on TV in her own hour long special singing her hits "Hot Stuff" (no, it wasn't about fresh loathes of bread Jesus was handing out) and "Bad Girls."

But she destroyed herself.

Lying about it didn't help her.

She was one of the best vocalists of her generation and when she was inspired?  She could write a hell of a song.  BAD GIRLS is a testament to that and I'm not just talking the hits (she wrote "Dim All The Lights" as a hit for Rod Stewart but then kept it for herself and I don't think he could have done it better), I'm talking the album cuts.  If you ever doubted her songwriting chops, listen to side three of BAD GIRLS, tracks nine through twelve, and grasp that the best selling double-disc album sold without any of those songs being released as a single although all four could have easily been hits.

With DONNA SUMMER in 1982, she still had the music press and the industry behind her.  From 1975 to 1979, she released eight best selling albums on CASABLANCA RECORDS.  Then greed got the better of her.  She wanted more money.  Her writing royalties would have protected her financially but greed came whispering in her ear and for all her talk of morality and ethics, she succumbed quickly and signed with the awful GEFFEN RECORDS.  By the late 80s, the label would begin to find its legs but that was a long way off.  Donna's 1980 release THE WANDERER found ROLLING STONE comparing her to Bob Dylan.  Maybe they were right?  Most of his best selling albums went gold, after all.

That's what THE WANDERER did.  That might have been good for others but this was Donna's follow up to 1978's live album LIVE AND MORE -- number one on the album chart and certified double platinum,  1979's studio album BAD GIRLS -- number one on the album chart, certified double, and 1979's best of ON THE RADIO: GREATEAT HITS VOLUME 1 AND 2 -- again number one and again certified double platinum.  With those three albums in a row, Donna became the first artist to ever release three consecutive double-disc albums that all reached number one.  

Then THE WANDERER limps to number 13 and only goes gold.  

She needed a big hit follow up after that soft showing.  And David Geffen didn't think I'M A RAINBOW was that album.  He shelved it (it would finally be released in 1996 to critical acclaim) and insisted she go into the studio with Quincy Jones. It's not a good album.  Donna critiqued it in real time noting that she felt she was just a singer on a Quincy Jones' album.

One of the reasons for that?  Donna's only got one song on the album, "Love Is Just A Breath Away" which she wrote with David Foster and Rod Temperton.  She gets credit for the 'rap' on "Livin' In America" but it's not a good song and her part doesn't make for a good rap.  In addition, the songs all sound . . . nice.  But they aren't Donna songs -- not even the two hits "Love Is In Control" and "The Woman In Me."  She was right, this is a Quincy Jones album.  It's light and bouncy and it's completely void of the depth the best Donna album has. 

The 40th anniversary album could have corrected things by releasing some additional tracks. It includes seven additional tracks for a total of 16.  But there's really no point to it.

"Sometimes Like Butterflies" is a Donna song.  The song that she cowrote with Bruce Roberts was recorded for this album but not included on it (it was the b-side of the single "Love Is In Control").  It's better than anything on the album but it was left off.  Her vocal is better than anything she did on the album.   (The song was so good that Dusty Springfield would later record a version of it.) The other five additional tracks?  Just different versions of the same songs already on the album that was released in 1982.  

Donna wasn't devoid of talent and a reissue could have underscored this.  She would follow up this lousy album with a one-off on MERCURY RECORDS: SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY.  That album would take her back into the top ten on the album charts and it would be certified platinum.  But then she stupidly returned to GEFFEN (she was under contract but she could have argued with WARNER BROS -- as others had -- to switch to another label under THE WB umbrella).  CATS WITHOUT CLAWS and ALL SYSTEMS GO would crash and burn in the US.

It's not surprising in many ways.  By that point, her remarks regarding AIDS were well known and she was too stupid to say, "Wow, wasn't that a stupid thing for me to say.  What was I thinking?"  Instead, she lied and looked like an idiot.  

Because she was one.  If you're going to insult gay men, probably not a smart idea when your label head is . . . David Geffen.  The promotion for her last two albums on GEFFEN was nonexistent.  The label didn't give a damn about her.  They sold to her devoted fans in America -- a dwindling group -- and that was it.  

People do say stupid things.  I can listen to Donna to this day and enjoy her songs because I can draw a line between the art and the artist.  But it's really sad that one of the most important and strongest voices of the second half of the 20th century has a re-release of the worst album she ever put out and the label (no longer run by David Geffen) doesn't even go to the trouble to dig into the vault and show that Donna Summer was so much more than this bad album released forty years ago.

COLUMBIA reached into the vaults for Barbra Streisand's LIVE AT THE BON SOIR.  What makes Barbra's tenth live album special is that it's from 1962.  This recording of three nights of performances was supposed to make up her first album -- her first solo album for COLUMBIA.  In his introduction, David Kapralik wrongly states its the first album she's recorded on COLUMBIA.  No.  She'd already recorded the cast album of I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE as well as PINS AND NEEDLES: 25TH ANNIVERSARY.  Those were ensemble albums but they were her first recordings for COLUMBIA.

COLUMBIA didn't want her prior to those two albums.  They didn't want her after the cast album of WHOLESALE.  The artist who would eventually be the one to make them bleed financially -- she would get blood from a stone -- probably did so because of the lousy way she was treated in those early years.  That includes with this live album.

Why wasn't it released in real time?

The label didn't like her and didn't appreciate her.

The cover story was that the live recordings were poor -- blamed on the band and the microphones.  Now I'm sure the sound has been sweetened up and, knowing Barbra, these 'live' vocals probably contain many splices.  

But even without that technology, this album could have been released in real time as Barbra's first solo album.  I should probably disclose that I'm not a fan of THE BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM -- that's what they'd release instead.  A cheaply recorded album because the label said that they'd spent too much already on LIVE AT THE BON SOIR which now was all money thrown away since the album would never come out.

I hope it sells and I hope Barbra gets a ton of money from COLUMBIA off it.

She knew what she was doing.  She's crafted a great evening and produced a great recording.  

It's the true predecessor to THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM -- Barbra's first gold record and one of her finest albums.  Not a fan of "Napoleon" on this live album but you can hear how the arrangements with a small combo could truly support her impressive vocals. 

Over 24 vocals, she lays claim to the legend that will follow.  I don't know how the idiots at COLUMBIA could have heard this album and not immediately released it.   But they bungled "Happy Days Are Here Again" as well.  After signing with the label on October 1, 1962, Barbra went into the studio October 16th and recorded "Happy Days Are Here Again" with "When The Sun Comes Out" for the flip side.  COLUMBIA 'released' (buried) it November 2nd.  Three days later, Barbra was recording at The Bon Soir (November 5, 6 and 7th).  There's nothing here that she's done wrong.  The album doesn't contain a misstep.  It does reveal how COLUMBIA didn't appreciate or grasp her talent.

She'd now be told that there wasn't much money to record a studio album so she'd be rushed into the studio and out (January 23 through 25th of 1963) and COLUMBIA would 'support' her by releasing it on February 25, 1963.  While COLUMBIA didn't believe, others did.  She got strong reviews, Johnny Carson had her on THE TONIGHT SHOW once a month for five months to promote the album and Mike Douglas has her on his talk show performing the entire album as she guested Monday through Friday for a full week.  But people weren't buying the album.

They couldn't.  COLUMBIA believed in her so little that they did a very small initial pressing and the album sold out in two days.  By the time she was doing a full week of THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, the label was trying desperately working a New Jersey plant overtime to get copies of the album made and into stores.

I should point out that the live album comes with a 12 page booklet.  Wish is had come with a poster -- the way the BARBRA JOAN STREISAND album came with one.

LIVE AT THE BON SOIR is more 'from the vault' content.  I don't know if Barbra will ever do another studio album -- or if she should.  Billy Joel maintains that 2001's FANTASIES & DELUSIONS is his final studio album.  Which is why COLUMBIA released LIVE AT YANKEE STADIUM on Friday.  It's from his June 22 and 23, 1990 concerts.   And it's a good time for the label to be serving up new Billy Joel content -- Billy's going on tour with Stevie Nicks and that news broke days ago.

The three disc set contains many of the songs we love.  And it serves to remind you of how great the music Billy's made has been.  This week, I was saying 52ND STREET was my favorite Billy album and I do love it but listen to the live version of "Allentown" on LIVE AT YANKEE STADIUM, I'm reminded of how much I love THE NYLON CURTAIN.

And that's what this multi-disc album does.  Yes, it provides you with "I Go To EXTEMES," "My Life," "Pressure," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "Uptown Girl," "Big Shot," "Goodnight Saigon,," "A Matter Of Trust," "Only The Good Die Young," "We Didn't Start The Fire," "You May Be Right," "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," "Piano Man,"  "An Innocent Man" and others.  But what it mainly provides is an appreciation for his albums.  21 years -- that's how long it's been since he's released a new studio album.  Billy has remained one of my favorites but I have honestly forgotten how much I enjoyed so many of his albums.  

Not everything from the past is as delightful.

A country dance was being held in a garden
I felt a bump and heard an oh, beg your pardon
Suddenly I saw polka dots and moonbeams

The need to make green has led to the release, last month, of the digital album ON YOUR RADIO (1939-45) VOL. 1.  

You should take a big pass on this one.  It's presented as a Frank Sinatra album.  It's not.  It's an album of recordings by the Tommy Dorsey Band when Frank sang lead in the band.

There's nothing here that would argue for a long career or for brilliance.

In fact, I doubt people would look the other way over Frank's physical attacks -- many when married to Mia Farrow -- over the years.  Or his mob connections.  It always makes me crack up when 'holy' Mia starts talking about Frank and seems to think that the world is as stupid as she is.  But she has to lie about his purity, otherwise people will note what a piece of filth she was to stay with him (he dropped her, not the other way around).

Frank was a vile man.  He beat people up.  He put them in the hospital.  And since I wasn't paid off the way Harry Reid apparently was before he ended up in the Senate, I can say very clearly that Frank did hang out with the mob.  

Now Frank also became one of the greatest singers this country produced.  You won't find it on the recordings with the Dorsey band where he sounds like a Bing Crosby rip-off.  It took Ava Gardner breaking his heart for him to finally become the finest saloon singer there ever was.  Again, trust the art, not the artist.  And don't trust any of these cheaply packaged efforts to make money.  The 'cutesy' premise on this latest Sinatra collection?  That you're listening to a radio broadcast -- the dee jay offers nothing of value between these tracks.  But then the album itself has nothing of value.

Can we find any value in a Christmas album or do we need to wait until after Thanksgiving?  Joss Stone decided to release her first Christmas album at the end of September.  Entitled MERRY CHRISTMAS, LOVE, it's sixteen tracks.

"Winter Wonderland"?  Great song.  I think Diana Ross has recorded it best.  I thought Joss might have beaten her but then I listened.  Joss could blow everyone off the stage in most settings; however, here, she's all but whispering the song and it's not a convincing recording.  Next up comes "Jingle Bells" and she sings it as though she's attempting to be the most forgettable singer ever.  Her pause in the midst of the vocals is awkward as well.  Okay, maybe Christmas, for her, is more religious?  Could be.  So I checked out "Away In A Manger" and again with the whisper vocal -- the background singers nearly overwhelm her.  Wait, give it a minute, and they do overwhelm her.

By the time she got around to tackling Judy Garland's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," my expectations were nil.  Even so, I wasn't prepared for her nonsense which argues for her to stop recording now.  Immediately.  This is garbage.  It sounds nothing like Joss Stone.  

Has she been impersonating all these years?  Is this her real voice and real musical delivery?  Patti Page sounded more soulful.  

This is only my eighth review for this year.  Usually, around this time, I've done ten.  At least ten.  But this hasn't been a good year for music.  (Next weekend, I plan to praise a new album, just FYI.)  Maybe it's been a good year for music sales -- I'm sure the labels are raking it in.  But there hasn't been a lot of art in 2022 worthy of praise.