69 NINA SIMONE — EMERGENCY WARD
Part sermon, part social commentary, part lament on love, this odd semi-live LP is held in high regard. Certainly the first side, an extended melding of George Harrison’s “My sweet lord” with a poem by David Nelson, is an engrossing journey through soul funk to gospel refrain. The other side, where no evidence of a live recording is audible, is far less riveting. Highlight: “My sweet lord”/”Today is a killer”. [Month of release unknown]
68 STEVE MILLER — RECALL THE BEGINNING… A JOURNEY FROM EDEN
This LP, the last before Miller’s commercial breakthrough with The Joker, has long been a favourite of my old friend Steven. When I finally got a copy and listened to the first side it was not at all clear why that was so. Then I played the second side and was entranced. While side one is a pleasant hotchpotch of styles, flip the LP and you have a psychedelic folk-rock journey that is at once expansive and focussed. With sensitive and unobtrusive strings and some fine songs, there is a languid groove running through the entire side. Highlights: Side Two. [Released in March, having been recorded “on the full eclipse of the moon, Jan 29, 1972”]
67 HARRY NILSSON — SON OF SCHMILSSON
A Harry Nilsson album is often like a variety show at the theatre, mixing styles and moods with cavalier abandon. Nilsson’s follow-up to the barnstorming Nilsson Schmilsson traded on the title of his 1971 classic but was an altogether more eccentric affair. While it doesn’t have immediate high impact cuts such as “Without you”, Son Of… is a grower that demonstrates Nilsson’s talents and breadth of songwriting skill. Add in some great session players like Klaus Vooman, Nicky Hopkins and guitarists Chris Spedding and Peter Frampton and you have a powerhouse lineup. Highlights: “You’re breakin’ my heart”; “The lottery song”. [Released 10 July 1972]
66 NEIL DIAMOND — HOT AUGUST NIGHT
It was once estimated that every second home in Australia had a copy of Hot August Night. I don’t know who did the research or how they ascertained that extraordinary uptake (door knocking?) but I can attest to the record’s popularity throughout the year following its release. In the lead up to Christmas 1973 it was still a Hot December gift item. I know because it was my first stint working at Max Rose Electronics and it was by far our biggest seller. The setting and the album’s popularity are responsible, in concert, for my inability to listen to the damned record for over forty years.
Max’s small, well-stocked shop was a single fronted affair with a display window and an inset doorway. Perhaps a previous tenant used the window for mannequins sporting the lates Sixties fashions; Max used it for toasters, hairdryers and the latest three-in-one-stereo. In the doorway alcove Max had mounted hooks from which were suspended a pair of bookshelf speakers, allowing us to entertain the shoppers of Centre Road Bentleigh who passed through a 10 metre zone around our door.
Can you guess what we played them, from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm every day leading up to Xmas ’73? Yep. Hot August Bloody Night. Continuously. It is no surprise that by Christmas Eve I was crying in my pretzels and begging Max to play Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
Yet there is some marvellous stuff on this beloved concert album. In the magic confines of the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, Neil Diamond strode the stage like a rhinestone preacher and delivered a wide selection of his hits to a rapt audience. Take the opening, for starters. Though not, generally speaking, a fan of orchestras with rock bands, when you put on Hot August Night the sad tones of a single cello are joined by beguiling strings that lure you like a princess in a diaphanous evening gown. Suddenly it is quite grand, less like a String Quartet of European refugees and more like Cinderella. Then some organ enters, suggesting either a worship service or maybe some solemn jazz? Certainly someone is about to testify. It begins gently, with Diamond’s strummed guitar, joined with a jolt by a very well-miked drum kit. Snap! Pow! The strings stretch and a chugging electric guitar jogs with them. Suddenly the thrilling guitar riff of “Crunchy Granola” kicks in. I tell you truly, friends, if you can hear this opening and not get a goosebump or two, see your cardiologist, stat. The riff is fucking corker. Following such a rich overture, “Done too soon” is a rhythmic and lyrical mantra. It is an odd composition, basically a list of names serving as an invocation of the spirits of the great and good. “Solitary man” follows, more mainstream Neil Diamond than what has preceded it, but a strong song nevertheless, backed up admirably by the stomping “Cherry Cherry”. After that, we’re in sing-along territory for the side one closer, “Sweet Caroline”. That’s a taster.
In another twenty years I could doubtless do a detailed track-by-track of the whole thing without listening. Again. But for those who remember the times, the summers, the hot January nights, and Neil Diamond dominating the charts, this double live album will always hold a special place. But please don’t make me listen to the diabolical trio of “Porcupine Pie”, “You’re so sweet”, and “Soggy Pretzels” again. Ever.
[Released 9 December 1972]