Posts Tagged ‘Rare Earth’

The Best of Rare Earth
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection
Rare Earth

[Editor’s note: Last week I took on Prince’s Parade. Next up is Sign ‘o’ the Times, which requires more thought. Also, the World Series is about to start. While I’m doing all this extra thinking about Prince and baseball let’s take a look at a much simpler topic.]

Rare Earth was a white Motown group with three superpowers:

  • They were expert interpreters of black R&B.
  • Their drummer, who was 3’ taller than anyone else in the band, was a terrific soul-shouter.
  • They began every song like they owned the world.

Unfortunately, they had a fourth power: a knack for getting lost three minutes into every song. They were like the party guest who never knows when to go home. This talent is most apparent on their cover of “What I Say.” For the first three minutes they run Ray Charles right off the road. They played another four minutes. They shouldn’t have.

The Best of Rare Earth is a disc for the most passionate Rare Earth fan. That’s why the first song is not their powerful three-minute hit, “Get Ready” (1969). No, it’s the 21-minute wall of blubber that the hit was carved from, like a burger from a buffalo. I can’t believe that anyone other than a specialist would willingly listen to this track more than once. I have – when my friend Jeff invited me over to his house one day after high school, and again last week when the CD arrived from A 500-year interval is about right.

OK, so Rare Earth was long-winded. The late-’60s/early ’70s was a time of gusty musical winds. How do our boys stack up against their contemporaries?

  • They lack the discipline of The Byrds (the live version of “Eight Miles High”), The Rolling Stones (“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ ”), and Santana (“Black Magic Woman”).
  • They’re loose like Creedence Clearwater Revival (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Susie Q”), but they can’t bring things to a satisfying close the way Creedence can.
  • However, they don’t play funeral marches like Mountain (“Nantucket Sleighride”) or psychedelic plasmodium like Steppenwolf (“Magic Carpet Ride”) or Quicksilver Messenger Service (“The Fool”).
  • Their musicianship is superior to Iron Butterfly (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”) and The Grateful Dead (just about anything).

Actually, they remind me of The Allman Brothers, even though the Allmans are closer to the blues and Rare Earth is closer to jazz. Neither group knows when to cry “Hold, enough!”

[Editor’s note: All of these bands are better than Yes.]

Racial profiling
I have serious trouble with six Caucasians singing an ode to their African-American swamp mama in the album’s closer, “Ma.” Nevermind that it’s 17 frakking minutes long. Forget the lyrics. (Ma raised 13 kids on her own, but always sent them to church because that’s what Pa would’ve wanted? Pa only showed up once a year for sex, but he was religious? Which religion? Ma should’ve shot him 12 kids ago.) The dudes in Rare Earth are white. They didn’t grow up in a shack and their lives were never restricted by the color of their skin. Why don’t they sing something from The Sound of Music?

Surely Universal could’ve used the space hogged by “Ma” for the radio edit of “Get Ready” and maybe some other track from Rare Earth’s best effort, Rare Earth in Concert (1971), which came in a cardboard sleeve that looked like a hippie’s knapsack.

Summing up
The Best of Rare Earth gives us “I Just Want to Celebrate,” “Born to Wander,” and “Hey Big Brother,” which fit just fine in any Classic Rock rotation. If you can handle all 11 minutes, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” is rewarding. It’s slower than but similar to the Temptations’ hit “Ball of Confusion.” Rare Earth’s producer, the late Mr. Norman Whitfield, co-wrote both tunes, as well as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” (And “Ma.” Anyone can have an off-night.)

Rare Earth rocks harder than Blood, Sweat & Tears and plays better than J. Geils. You can go straight from Rare Earth to any jazz-fusion outfit of the 1970s. Give them a try. But be ready to push Skip.

Today’s Randoms: 1968 Jazz Edition
OK everybody. Here’s some vocabulary to help you talk like a jazz critic!

Set: The songs (or cuts) you intend to record.
Reading: Your cover of somebody else’s cut.
Date: If you record the cuts at a concert or all in one day, it’s a date.
Platter: The medium on which you record the set. Also called “sides.”
Wax: You wax the set onto the platter. As in “The best set he ever waxed!”
Lay down a groove: Play your part in a song so it can get waxed onto a platter.
Burner: Any Hammond B3 organist who waxes a funky platter has laid down a burner.

Frank Foster, Manhattan Fever
Fascinating sides from Foster, who played for years with Count Basie and led the band after Basie’s death. On Manhattan Fever, you get jazz you can almost dance to, some great soloing from Foster on the tenor sax, experimental stuff I skip no matter whose name is on the cover, and amazing drumming from Mickey Roker. I want to have his baby. Foster waxed some funky titles: “What’s New From the Monster Mill,” “You Gotta Be Kiddin’,” and the killer cut “Little Miss No Nose.”

Jimmy McGriff, The Worm
Mr. McGriff played the Hammond B3 organ, so you know how I’m going to end this paragraph. The Worm is a funky, fun platter with many highlights, particularly the cuts “Keep Loose” and their reading of “Think,” which I only knew from Aretha Franklin’s performance in The Blues Brothers. (Aretha co-wrote the song.) “Girl Talk” is a slo-mo groove that deserved a good waxing. Nine musicians contributed to this set; the cumulative effect is of a swinging jazz orchestra. Burner!

Worth a mention
Hank Mobley, Reach Out!
Mobley led hard-bop marauders in dates with names like No Room for Squares (1963). They tried a more commercial sound for Reach Out! I can’t fault musicians who want to make some money for once, but I doubt the public tossed much bacon onto this platter. Mobley’s heart wasn’t in it.

But Reach Out! is notable for the band’s reading of The Four Tops hit of the same name – the only time I’ve heard anyone else give this cut a spin. Fun but klutzy, with people getting lost in the groove, particularly the drummer, who may have believed he was in another song. Lily Von Shtupp put it best in Blazing Saddles, when she complained that men were always “coming and going and going and coming…and always too soon!”


Here’s one of my many life goals: To be all ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Not just dressed to go out – I always aim to have my desk cleared, my body humming along like Ken Griffey Jr. rather than Boog Powell, and my big projects for the year lined up and waiting for me to dive in.

Some years I’m ready, or at least I’m close. Not this year. I gave up yesterday and finally started 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading this blog, even though I’m pretty sure I insulted you last year and I’ll insult you this year. I wish you all health and prosperity and plenty of good music in the next 12 months. Which brings me to my last musical topic of 2013, the band we saw on New Year’s Eve.

But first: When did New Year’s Eve become a public party? When did people start gathering in clubs, taverns, and dance halls to listen to loud music and drink like it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations in his books, but I can’t recall reading anything like that in earlier authors – for example, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Ambrose Bierce, or Stephen Crane. If H.P. Lovecraft liked to party, he kept it out of the papers.

Here’s another question: What makes a good New Year’s Eve band?

While Special D and I have extensively researched this topic, I’m not about to speak for her. Here instead are three of my ideas:

1)      Please practice, and not just the stuff you play the rest of the year. Learn “Auld Lang Syne.” Federal law requires you to play it at midnight so it would be a good idea to memorize a couple of verses, or at least write them down in big block letters.
2)      You must have a sense of humor; not everything is about you. Your audience will begin to evaporate at one minute after midnight. Maybe they want to finish the evening in their bathrobes eating ice cream; maybe they want to copulate at home rather than against one of your speakers. It’s not a comment on your musical talent.
3)      Original material is good, but on New Year’s Eve we mostly want to hear pop songs we already know. Don’t fret if you massacre one or two originals. That’s part of the fun. If you wreck them all you’ll antagonize an army of idiot bloggers.

Not a whiter shade of pale
When we suited up on New Year’s Eve, Special D added her boa to the fancy black number she wore. White Fang was pleased to be let out of the Nordstrom bag where he usually lives. He practically growled with antici…pation. We then headed uptown to a hall called The Secret Society where they had two bands and two djs waiting for us. The band I want to mention is called Brownish Black.

Where most bands might offer one unusual characteristic, say double the horn players or double the guitarists, Brownish Black’s lineup included three horns and two singers. That’s plenty of firepower right there, but they also fielded a bass player who played barefoot. His flashing white feet were particularly striking when he started marching in place. Rounding out the personnel was a drummer who looked like Justin Timberlake and a guitarist who looked like he’d left Pearl Jam due to artistic differences.

I was very impressed that this visually striking outfit met my first two requirements but totally trampled the third. Brownish Black plays R&B, soul, and funk that they wrote themselves. I believe I heard one cover, maybe two, in two hours of music. (They were probably able to get away with this because they only played until 11, when the second band took over.)

We loved their music, which I can only describe in terms of artists from the ’60s and ’70s:

If everyone in Big Brother & The Holding Company were black, and
if the leads were sung by Aretha Franklin and Peter Wolf, and
if you could borrow Rare Earth’s or James Brown’s horns, and
if everything were written by Sly Stone and Otis Redding,
you’d end up with Brownish Black. Plus the female singer loved White Fang.

I did hear one outstanding cover, but that was from the second band, Satin Chaps. For their opening blast they gave us a funky version of Deodato’s 1972 cross-over hit, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” They couldn’t quite translate Deodato’s jazz-fusion into dance music, but I have to give them a shout-out for trying.

Best conversation of the evening
This happened in the men’s room, of all places. Ladies, we don’t have substantive conversations in there. There was one urinal and there were several of us waiting for one inebriated gentleman to finish. When he turned and saw the line, he said, “Oh, sorry fellas, I was reciting poetry.”

MAN IN LINE: What poem?
POETRY LOVER: The one where the guy’s wandering in the fucking woods.
2ND MAN: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
3RD MAN: Robert Frost.
POETRY LOVER: I love this club.

Robert Frost, by the way, was once arrested for dancing nude in a fountain on New Year’s Eve.

Random Pick of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
Twenty-eight songs by one of the most excellent bands of the 1980s.

I was looking for a job and I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Morrissey says the right thing, always.

Random Pan of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
They could’ve done this on one disc! The filler they’ve included illuminates The Smiths’ biggest problem – how little their sound varies. Plus there’s no excuse for including “Oscillating Wildly,” the most boring instrumental in the history of boredom and instrumentals.

OK, it’s 2014. As The Smiths sang, “Please please please let me get what I want!”