The Galaxy – Is it summer already?

Donna Summer, 1977

Donna Summer, 1977

We started tonight’s show with some Donna Summer.  The first thing that came to mind this week when I heard of her passing was not necessarily one of her songs, but rather the experience of hearing her songs on the radio as a 10 year old in 1978.  Obviously, I was not into the disco scene yet, but I was at the point of forming my own opinions about what music was interesting, and what I would find interesting and not interesting about music.  Donna Summer did not turn me into a disco freak, but I have no doubt that her omnipresence in popular radio during the late ’70s had a role in shaping my future musical interests.  So, I felt it appropriate to play a brief memorial for her on tonight’s show, with a set consisting of Bad Girls, Last Dance, and Hot Stuff.

Rush, 1978

Rush, 1978 (l-r:  Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee)

I’ve been wanting to do a Rush set for a few weeks, especially after receiving the news that they will be hitting the touring trail again this summer and fall (with a stop in St. Louis, on my birthday no less).  If Donna Summer had some influence on my musical tastes, Rush eventually trumped them.  We started the set with Force Ten, the opening cut from Hold Your Fire, an album that I believe to be vastly underrated.  We then heard Cygnus X-1, a favorite song from A Farewell to Kings.  We then heard a live set from 1976’s All The World’s A Stage: Bastille Day, Anthem, a medley of Fly By Night and In The Mood, and finally Something for Nothing.  I will admit that while the band has issued a number of live albums over the years, All The World’s a Stage remains my favorite, a document that catches the band as they were really starting to take flight.  With all that said, though, I am looking forward to the upcoming tour.  There will be an album coming out over the summer.  I have heard a song from that album, and it was pretty good.

It has been a while since we’ve played some Neil Young.  Naturally, the common thread that strings these disparate songs together is the exquisite guitar work.  His songwriting abilities are tremendous, but some of his guitar work was years ahead of his time, making it easier for him to bridge the stylistic gap between pop and hard rock, and allowing him to relate with the punk rockers that would come (Johnny Rotten covered some of his material in the ’70s).  We heard  Cinnamon Girl, Like a Hurricane (from 1977’s American Stars and Bars, but it was recorded in ’75, ), Cortez The Killer (from 1975’s Zuma),  Heart of Gold, and finishing the set with Old Man.

Dietrich Buxtehude, 1674

The only known surviving portrait of Buxtehude, from A musical party by Johannes Voorhout (1674).  He is seen playing a viol.

Dietrich Buxtehude may be one of the most influential Baroque era musician/composers that you’ve never heard of.  He was well known for his abilities as an organist, and his organ compositions are considered very important to the formation of Baroque-era organ technique.  The young Johann Sebastian Bach is known to have walked more than 250 miles, from Arnstadt to Lübeck in Germany, in order to hear Buxtehude play (he was actually able to stay in Lübeck for three months, most likely learning quite a bit from the master composer).  We heard two pieces of Buxtehude’s – O dulcis Jesu, BuxWV 83 (a devotional to Jesus, set in Latin prose, that would have been considered a sacred concerto), and Schaffe in mir, Gott, BuxWV 96 (another sacred concerto, this time setting a scripture from Psalms, dividing it into two sections based on how the words are set to the music).  The performances are by soprano Emma Kirkby, with a small consort consisting of John Holloway (violin), Manfredo Kraemer (violin), Jaap ter Linden (viola da gamba), and Lars Ulrik Mortensen (organ).

Charlie Parker, New York, 1949

Charlie Parker, New York, 1949

We finished the show with some live Charlie Parker, from December of 1948, recorded at the Royal Roost club in New York City.   While the Bird made a number of truly great recordings, he had the ability to create real magic when he was on stage.  His live recordings are, unfortunately, a bit of a mixed bag, owing to his long history of substance abuse, and to the recording technology available at the time.  Some live recordings were made with a single microphone, while others sound like they were amateur recordings recorded from the audience.  But with the right combination of circumstances, the results easily explain why be-bop had become so popular, and why Parker had become such a legend in his own time.  The Royal Roost recordings, originally issued by Savoy Records on LP many years ago, are a collection of various radio broadcast captures that Parker made, largely with his regular bands, which in 1948 included a young Miles Davis on trumpet (a year before he did the Birth of the Cool sessions, a band which was also captured live at the Roost), Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, and Max Roach on drums.  They were referred to during the course of these shows as the “Charlie Parker All Stars”, and these were truly all-star lineups.  Even though there were moments where Parker was captured at less than his best, in general the Royal Roost recordings represent some of the best documentation of what Parker could do on stage.   We heard Groovin’ High, Big Foot, and Salt Peanuts.

Robin Gibb

Robin Gibb

Postscript: during tonight’s show, we were saddened to hear of the passing this evening of Robin Gibb, member of the Bee Gees.  Had I heard of this prior to the show, I would have prepared an appropriate tribute, as the Bee Gees were just as omnipresent during the late ’70s as Donna summer was, and they had the further advantage of having written their own songs, and songs for others.  Indeed, their disco material was so popular that it is easy for folks to overlook their pre-disco material, which was also of a high degree of quality, a number of which featured Robin singing lead with his distinctive voice, as well as the brotherly harmonies that the Gibbs made their calling card, even before they revolutionized the use of falsetto vocals.  We shall do an appropriate memorial in next week’s program.

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2 comments on “The Galaxy – Is it summer already?

  1. mm says:

    In 1978, 3 of 5 records, yes – records, pressed were disco song. Donna Summer had some really great hits and not so great hits but, will always be known as “The Queen of Disco”. She didn’t even get into the hall of fame – backlash???

  2. dougflummer says:

    There are so many deserving artists that have been passed over in favor of what can be best described as middling talent, it isn’t even funny. Just as an example, how Darleen Love makes it in when important artists with crucial work (Deep Purple, Rush, Yes, and I’ll even add Kiss) aren’t even nominated, much less elected, is beyond me. Part of me wonders if the Rolling Stone influence is part of it – some of these artists were at times critically panned, yet their work went beyond critical understanding. That’s how I’d allow Kiss in – I was never a fan of Kiss, but let’s face it – without Kiss, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, there is none of the late ’70s/early ’80s metal. Much of the material from that generation was vastly misunderstood at the time. Rush was the connection between metal and progressive rock, and without Rush, you don’t get Metallica’s 80s masterpieces. I would say that Rush and Iron Maiden allowed metal to become art.

    I’m not certain that I’d rank DS along with Deep Purple or Rush, but it is hard to ignore the impact that disco had on popular music. If one wants to recognize the historical impact of music, one must eventually look at disco, and of disco Donna Summer was queen.

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