The Joe Vig Top 40

Critic Joe Viglione reviews movies, books, DVDs, CDs, and has all sorts of opinions on a variety of things. The monthly Top 40 is a sort-of directory... commentaries and essays expand the thought process on the reviews on the Top 40 aren't final, they are just the starting point to more discussion. You can always contact Joe directly at visual_radio [@]

Saturday, June 29, 2013


June 2013 Continued


It opens with the roar of “Long Neck Goose” and Mitch Ryder returns to Detroit with a band named after his city, one that should have been as big as Boston, Chicago, or even that ensemble named after a state, Kansas. Detroit the group rocks grittier than any of the above, and though household recognition eluded them, the album is revered and far more important than the wandering Dave Marsh’s original liner notes dared speculate. About 15 years later, Marsh would write even more about this music with all new liner notes for the cassette, still not comprehending the essence of this music. After recording in Memphis, the blues vocalist headed up to Manta Sound in Toronto to track this essential album and begin his status as an underground legend with ’60s hits under his belt. Being on Paramount Records didn’t help; the Gulf & Western company was a division of Famous Music publishing, and though they were cool enough to sign the Cars when that band was known as Milkwood, the label just couldn’t compete, despite this project’s enormous strengths. The disc is chock-full of excitement. Steve Hunter’s guitar work makes everything come to life, framed perfectly by Harry Phillips’ elemental keyboards and Bob Ezrin’s powerful production. Why bassist W.R. Cooke is allowed to do the lead vocal on the shuffling, almost doo wop “Box of Roses” is the mystery. We all came to this party to hear Ryder belt ‘em out. And Ryder screams throughout; “Is It You (Or Is It Me)” gets that howl, as does this immortal cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Redesigned with snarling Steve Hunter guitar licks and tons of pounding anticipation, the song was the underground hit from this now-classic album and just perfect for the voice of William Levise, Jr.. The organ supplements Hunter’s exploding guitar work and Mitch Ryder’s orgasmic vocal howls over a gargantuan rearrangement of a Velvet Underground tune released a year earlier. But there’s more to the album than the excitement generated by the 45 rpm of the Lou Reed cover — Ron Davies’ “It Ain’t Easy” boasted renditions by many, from Long John Baldry to Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust album, but Ryder gives the song some real definition. The original vinyl had four songs on each side; the reconstructed compact disc and cassette changed the order a bit to make room for about five minutes of a stunning version of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Reissue coordinator Andy McKaie sent this writer a thank-you note in 1986 after letters to Irving Azoff and A&R gal Kate Hyman proposing the re-release — and suggesting the inclusion of “Gimme Shelter.” As Marsh comments, the extended version was utilized on the re-release, not the shorter B-side originally issued.

The entire album is a keeper, with the slow blues of “Drink” and the concluding passions in “I Found a Love.” Both guitarist Hunter and producer Bob Ezrin would be involved with Lou Reed’s monumental Berlin two years after this, with Steve Hunter joining Reed’s live band for what is now known as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal Tour. This album made all that possible and is as much fun to listen to as it is important. The prices the re-release of the CD fetch on e-bay prove it. [Akarma's 2008 reissue included one bonus track.] – Joe Viglione
steve hunter biography

In-depth Biography
Steve "The Deacon" Hunter was born in 1948 in Decatur, IL, starting his professional career as a member of Mitch Ryder's Detroit in 1971, his guitar sound redesigning the Lou Reed classic "Rock & Roll," creating a cult hit and giving Ryder an underground cachet that the '60s blue-eyed soul singer would utilize decades after the group's self-titled Paramount album, Detroit, was released. One of Hunter's earliest musical recollections was sitting on his dad's lap while his father worked the pedals on a pump organ owned by young Steve's grandparents, playing the keyboard and working out melodies the lad heard. This was before he went to kindergarten. Even at a young age he was able to note if tempos were off or if people were singing out of key. For Steve Hunter, music was always there, always a part of him -- a big old Zenith console radio/turntable would keep the future guitarist transfixed, the patterns on the labels he calls "sort of the first music video." 


the rose

Paul A. Rothchild produced the final Janis Joplin studio album, Pearl, as well as many a Doors disc, and the late producer was the perfect guy to tackle this tribute to Joplin featuring "The Divine Miss M" as "Pearl"/"The Rose." In March of 1980, the version of "When a Man Loves a Woman" from this 1979 film soundtrack went Top 35, and Midler's biggest hit followed her Oscar nomination, but it was a well-produced version of the title track, different from the album, which went Top Three, the gold single the biggest of her six hits up to this point in time. It's a strange twist of events, Bette's previous 1979 album, Thighs and Whispers, has technically better sounds, Arif Mardin drenching it in the disco of the day, but that artificial episode pales next to this project, which features Lou Reed's "Rock 'n' Roll Animal" bandmates guitarist Steve Hunter and drummer Whitey Glan. The concerts were recorded live during June and July of 1978, and there's more than a touch of the Mitch Ryder sound on "Whose Side Are You On," the album opener. Hunter was in the Mitch Ryder band Detroit, which led up to Lou Reed's ensemble, so the level of authenticity goes far beyond what filmmakers put into, say, the Blues Brothers. They utilize a different set of musicians on "Love Me With a Feeling," the "Turtle Blues" of this story, vaguely referencing the original title to the Big Brother & the Holding Company album that tune came from with the "sex, drugs and rock & roll" chant. Bette Midler is a star perpetually evolving into icon, and this album's success, as well as the two hit singles it spawned, certainly helped the film, as much as the movie brought Midler to a new level of fame. Her voice is terrific on "Midnight in Memphis," and the material is extraordinary for many reasons. Midler gets to show what a tremendous blues singer she can be, drawing from the many elements she's secured from years on the stage. It's a pivotal moment in her career. The rendition of Genya Ravan's chestnut, "Stay With Me," penned by one of Joplin's favorite songwriters, producer Jerry Ragovoy, could have been the showstopper album track here. It isn't. The listener has to know the film in order to understand why the singer's voice is purposely falling apart. The strange twists of fate mentioned earlier appear again here -- the soundtrack to the Janis Joplin biography film contained studio versions of great live performances that are in the film; as Midler cut a different version of the title track,which became a number one adult contemporary hit and Top Three on the popular charts, "Stay With Me" also should have been re-recorded. Had Midler released a version of that tune with the same desperation and passions of "When a Man Loves a Woman," this LP might have had that so necessary third hit to catapult it into the record books. One of the best moments in the film is missing from this "soundtrack," the questionable move of leaving Bob Seger's "Fire Down Below" off of this disc. It's one of the most memorable moments in the film, tailor-made for MTV. Three years after this release, Bette Midler put another soundtrack out, Bette Midler in Divine Madness. The last two songs which end side two are actually "Fire Down Below" and "Stay With Me," and though Bette can't touch Genya Ravan's classic performance, this is still how the music should have been presented on The Rose soundtrack LP. It's hard to get too down on this record, though; it has the magic, it established Bette Midler to the larger audience she deserved, it brought Paul Rothchild the follow-up to Pearl he was cheated of by Joplin's death, and it rocks. The bluesy feel was a complete about face from the previous Thighs and Whispers, and, actually, it is truly Bette Midler's only real rock & roll album. That it did so much for her might suggest she try it again. ~ Joe Viglione, Rovi



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