Monday, October 23, 2017


Marc Bolan & T. Rex 40th Anniversary Concert

City Winery, New York City

October 22, 2017

By Madeline Bocaro

Whenever I play a T. Rex song, I get sucked into Marc Bolan's shiny little world filled with unicorns and wizards, Cadillacs and glitter, and I refuse to leave for months. No other music is important for a while, and no other world feels more like home.

Marc had a halo – a shining light that he emitted which followed him everywhere. Some say he was self-absorbed and pompous but they are just jealous. He disappeared so suddenly, a cruel death at the height of his beauty at age 29 in 1977 (Marc and Elvis Presley died within a month of each other) at the onslaught of Punk Rock which he embraced, and whose denizens worshipped him.

Marc colored our dreary lives, along with his dear friend David Bowie. Although they are both now departed, they have never really left us in spirit, nor in song.

40 years after Marc's passing, and on his 70th birthday, New York City celebrated Bolan's life and the music of T. Rex and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Light all the fires – it's the king, and he's coming home! Hostesses applied glitter to our cheeks. Manic Panic supplied free iridescent nail polish. A merchandise table raised funds for the Marc Bolan School of Music in Sierra Leone, run by his partner Gloria Jones. Their son Rolan Bolan performed two of his dad's songs.

This is one of the annual events hosted & curated by singer-songwriters Joe Hurley and Edward Rogers. The previous NYC tribute was in Central Park in 2007. These magical shows feature a cavalcade of T. Rex lovers; from Broadway stars to legendary songwriters to R&R Hall of Famers to NYC icons who travel from all corners of the world to participate.

The show featured Blondie's Clem Burke on drums - all night long! It doesn't get any better than that! Our bassist was Tony Shanahan (Patti Smith), on guitar Steve Conte (NY Dolls), backup singers Tish & Snooky of the hair/makeup brand Manic Panic and creators of Crazy Color hair products. (My favorite shades in the 70s were the purples - Aubergine and Cyclamen!) There was percussion and a string section of violin and cello. Also, the gigantic shiny skronking sax of Geoff Blythe (Dexys/Elvis Costello), AND a real treat - original Electric Warrior sax player Ian McDonald on 'Get It On'!!! Ian's sax had a dull patina illustrating its legendary status!

The singers were well matched to Bolan's songs. The evening began with Screaming Orphans' gorgeous choral version of 'Children of Rarn'. Suzanne Vega portrayed 'Life's A Gas' as both a happy song and a sad one, as it is really both. Ivan Julian's 'Ballrooms of Mars' blew us away – his soloing was the best of the night!

Most touching was Angela McCluskey's minor-key version of the most beautiful 'Dove' (about yearning for a loved one – whom we are now missing so much). Angela incorporated a verse from 'Wild is the Wind'. We could picture Marc walking in during the gorgeous line, "See how the sun shines like an arc, where you walk."

Marc's son Rolan shone on 'Cosmic Dancer' and on 'Chrome Sitar'! The femme fatales of Bolan's songs were represented, the legendary 'Debora', and John's Children's 'Desdemona'. Joe Hurley and Ed Rogers kept everyone abreast of each song's history and told amusing anecdotes between acts.

The fabulous Daphne Guinness (with Malcolm Doherty (Holy Holy) performed a rousing 'Rabbit Fighter'! Ellen Foley's (Meatloaf) powerful vocals graced 'Solid Gold Easy Action'.  The Alice Cooper Group's Dennis Dunaway rocked out 'Rock On' on both bass and vocals.

A teen called Automatic Shoes did a beautiful acoustic 'Planet Queen'. He was discovered via his several ethereal Marc covers on YouTube and flew in from Spokane, Washington.

More of Bolan's masterpieces performed were; 'Girl', 'By the Light of the Magical Moon', 'Rip Off', 'Jeepster', 'Ride a White Swan', 'Metal Guru', 'Rapids', 'London Boys', 'Children of the Revolution', '20th Century Boy' and 'Buick Mackane'. I sobbed during 'The Slider' ('cos when I'm sad, I slide) but everyone else carried on having a good time.

The almost 3-hour long concert ended with the entire cast onstage jamming 'Hot Love'. Then everyone jammed further at the Roxy Hotel after midnight, and we were all invited. I still haven't washed the glitter off my face! And they're doing it all again tonight!

This was the best Bolan tribute I've attended since the one in Central Park in 2007 (featuring Tony Visconti, Patti Smith, Moby, NY Dolls & Scissor Sisters) at the Delacorte theater - the lovely outdoor venue where Shakespearean events are often held. I could almost see Marc in the window of the uppermost turret, glancing down with a wink. When I get to heaven, I'm going to visit Marc's castle. I'll bring along John Lennon to sing 'Spaceball Ricochet', Johnny Thunders on 'Baby Strange', Mick Ronson can sprinkle his angel dust on the 'Monolith' solo, and the Ramones can rock out 'Debora'. I don't know if this is Marc's idea of heaven, but it most certainly is mine!

Friday, October 20, 2017


By Madeline Bocaro

This year (2017), we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sparks' seventh album, ironically titled Introducing Sparks.
Although the sound of Introducing was unusually traditional for Sparks, they still remained true to form. The slick production was incongruent with the rise of disco (which the Maels would soon tackle in their own weird way on their next album, No. 1 In Heaven) and completely unrelated to the scathing rage of Punk in England and in New York City. So once again - as tame as Introducing sounded – Sparks were producing the antithesis of what everyone else was doing at the time. 
In 1977, after recording Big Beat with producer Rupert Holmes for Columbia Records in America, Sparks stayed with the label for one more album. Introducing carried over the traditional rock sound of their previous album, Big Beat
After living in London for many years when Sparks were highly successful in Europe, Ron and Russell were again based in their native California. Their admiration of the Beach Boys was highly evident. Introducing features session men with a slick and polished sound. The album was recorded at Larrabee Sound in Los Angeles. Ron had a hand in the arrangements, but it sounds like he did not have complete control. The Maels were paradoxically criticized for sounding American when they are indeed American!  
The first pressings were released in November 1977. Promotional copies were pressed on red vinyl. The album did not chart. Two singles, 'Over The Summer' and 'A Big Surprise' (both with 'Forever Young' as their B-sides) also did not get much airplay.
The Cover

A side for each brother. Russell is technically on the front (although he is sideways, as the spine is at the bottom of the photo and the opening on top). Was there a subliminal message behind the ruby rings?
"We liked the idea of there actually being no front or back cover, that they were in fact the same image but with a different one of us on each side. We thought it would look cool in shops that randomly, either Ron or myself would be the featured cover. The rings were only a detail that we felt helped better color-coordinate us with our shirts. There's your symbolism theory shattered."
 – Russell Mael, Sparks Official International Fan Club
The portraits were by photographer Bob Seidemann, who also shot the infamous and controversial Blind Faith album cover (August, 1969). That cover featured a topless pubescent girl holding a silver space ship. The image, titled 'Blind Faith' by Seidemann, inspired the name of the band. It was decided to not print the name of the band on the cover, but only on the wrapper. When the wrapper came off, so did the type. This was done previously for The Rolling Stones' 1964 debut album, the Beatles' albums Rubber Soul in 1965 and Revolver in 1966, and Traffic's 1968 debut album. Sparks employed this idea of obscurity on their 1974 albums Kimono My House and Propaganda.
The Songs

'A Big Surprise' begins with a Ronnettes 'Baby I Love You' style intro. It's a very atypical 'boy meets girl' song for Sparks – containing those actual words in the lyrics. 'Occupation' is an ode to the working man. The song really comes alive with Russell wearing a variety of job uniforms in the promotional video. If you can envision each one while listening, the song is even better! 
'Ladies' begins with a beautiful vocal harmonic. The song includes a litany of heroines in the singer's living room. He hides the ladies when his mom comes home, and they all mysteriously disappear when his friends come over. The best couplet here is, 'Eva Braun is cracking jokes / While Joan of Arc just sits and smokes".  With its stomping beat, 'I'm Not' takes the opposite approach to Ron's usual autobiographical songwriting, listing the things he is not, or things that he is not doing; shaving, working, getting dressed, eating lunch - and he's not missing much! Russell's punchy, almost shouting vocal with a slight echo is really cool!
The bubbly and triumphant 'Forever Young' is the ultimate in defiance. "I'll sit and watch the history books get thicker".  'Goofing Off' conjures memories of a Bar Mitzvah, with a poignant violin intro worthy of Itzhak Pearlman punctuating the happy traditional dance. The song includes a searing guitar solo. This seemingly ethnic klezmer tune is simply a celebration of the weekend. ("Two days to try to forget a week of crap and crud".) After all the partying, the protagonist is dragged in to work and 'propped up in a chair' – just as he was at his Bar Mitzvah!
'Girls on the Brain' is a twisted bluesy standpoint about a debilitating ailment of the same name. On 'Over The Summer' in the light of lush background harmonies, Russell's plain girlfriend literally becomes hotter by summer's end. It is truly steeped in homage to the Beach Boys.
'Those Mysteries' is a song spent in wonderment. "I don't even know what I don't even know." Russell shines on this beautiful ballad of bafflement as to everything that exists, and that which does not exist. The demo version (performed solely by Ron and Russell) includes four additional words to the final questions, omitted from the album version. "Why is there time? Why is there space? "Why is there wine?"
'Over The Summer' and 'A Big Surprise' were released as singles, with 'Forever Young' on both B-sides. 
21 x 21
When Sparks performed Introducing in live 2008 (during their 21 X 21 tour in Islington during which they performed all of their albums to date in their entirety), it was one of the most exciting concerts of the series. None of the songs had been previously performed live, and 'Goofing Off' was voted amongst the top songs requested by fans at the final show of the tour.
Introducing Sparks had been out of print for decades, as Columbia Records held the rights to the album. Although the entirety of Sparks catalog became available on CD, Introducing Sparks was the last to be released in the format, although bootlegs were available.
In November 2007, after several campaigns by Sparks fans for its release, Introducing Sparks was officially released on CD via Sparks' own label, Lil' Beethoven Records. The CD was not remastered from the original studio master tapes (owned by Sony and held in their vaults) but from vinyl. On a later release in Japan on SHM-CD (high end CD format), the same vinyl remaster was used.
Introducing was part of a Japanese CD re-release series of six Sparks albums (Imperial Records, 2009) including the outtakes, 'Kidnap', 'Keep Me', 'Breathe' and 'Fact or Fiction'. It also includes a demo of 'Those Mysteries'. 
The booklet includes Russell's written descriptions of the bonus tracks:
'Kidnap' – "Sung by the young victim of a botched kidnapping where the wrong boy is grabbed. The kidnappers appeal to the President of the United States to have all of America contribute a little something to fulfill the ransom demands. Once released and now seeing how pro table this scheme can be, the young boy annually teams up with the kidnappers pulling off the same scam and this time splitting the profits."

'Breathe' (unreleased demo) - "A song proclaiming the importance of keeping one's lungs in good working condition."

'Fact Or Fiction' - (unreleased demo): Sets the record straight on some of the world's most misunderstood thoughts and conceptions. Note: at that time we gave the demo to Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick as a tune for the band to cover. They didn't, but it's apparently remained a staple on their touring bus entertainment system."
In 2014, a fan discovered a quadrophonic master tape of Introducing Sparks, with an early mix of eight songs. The tape also included the outtakes 'Kidnap' and 'Keep Me'. All had countdown intros and cold stops instead of fade-outs. 
There was no live tour for Introducing Sparks. Nor was there a tour for the next Sparks album, which switched gears in a big way. In 1978, the Mael brothers teamed up with disco diva Donna Summer's producer Georgio Moroder for No. 1 in Heaven (released in March 1979), taking things to a whole new level. Sparks spawned the pop duo and an entirely new age of music. In fact, the album was so far ahead of its time that Ron said, "The downside was that just because of the nature of the technology, we were never able to do that album live until the mid-'90s because there was no way to bring a synthesizer the size of a building with you onto the stage."

Introducing Sparks
All songs written by Ron Mael & Russell Mael
All lyrics ©1977 Ackee Music, Inc. (ASCAP) 
Lead & Background Vocals: Russell Mael
Background Vocals: 
Recorded at Larrabee Sound, Los Angeles
Engineer: Lenny Roberts
Assistant Engineers: Betsy Banghart and Randy Tomanaga
Arranged by Al Capps and Ron Mael
Mastered at Allen Zentz
Management: John Hewlett
Licensed from Island Records Limited, London
Photography: Bob Seidemann
Design: John Kehe, Tom Steele

Friday, October 13, 2017


2017 Remaster (A New Career In A New Town)
By Madeline Bocaro

Waiting so long, I've been waiting so, waiting so long!
Now I look back in anger at almost 40 years of listening to this wonderful Bowie album buried in a murky mix! 

The lyrics that best describe the rejuvination of Lodger (1979) are "Uncage the colors / unfurl the flag!" Due to the limitations of Record Plant's equipment, neither Bowie nor his long-time producer Tony Visconti were happy with the final mix done in NYC. Thanks to Tony for salvaging this Bowie masterpiece! David had approved some of the remasters completed just prior to his passing. Of course there are naysayers who would rather hear the album in the manner that they are familiar with (crackle and pop?!) Don't listen to them Tony - you did a fine job! 

I only had a few songs from Lodger in my iPod, as it was never my favorite Bowie album. Now I can hear its splendor! The songs that benefit most are "Fantastic Voyage", "African Night Flight" "Red Sails" (the sax!), "Move On" (with its underlying backwards chorus of "All the Young Dudes") "Boys Keep Swinging" is stunning (with Alomar / Davis swapping their instruments, drums and guitar), as is "Look Back in Anger". 

AND we get to hear what a remix of Iggy Pop's album The Idiot might sound like, as the song "Red Money" uses the "Sister Midnight" track. Once again the standout here is the largeness  and punch of the drums. However, The Idiot probably benefits from a murkier mix because that entire magnificent album is dirge-like and haunting. But it would be interesting to hear nonetheless. It didn't happen on The Idiot's 40th anniversary this year, so it's doubtful that it will occur.

The beauty of Lodger lies mostly in the revelations of the brilliant Dennis Davis' stellar drumming - especially the super crisp cymbals. Visconti is now free from the limitations of vinyl, and can now turn up the glorious bottom end. Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomar's guitars shine. Bowie's (and Eno's) vocals also come to life, with some gorgeous warbling and endearing oddities of inflection (on DJ, copying David Byrne) and on the exotic songs with eastern modalities. 

We know that the new Bowie box set, A New Career In A New Town has certain problems.  This is why I have only listened to the Lodger portion of the set.  I suspect that the "too much low end" complaints - especially on the Low and Heroes albums - are probably unwarranted. Apparently there was no de-noising on any tracks in the box set for integrity. 

Now stop reading, and LISTEN to this wonderful album the way it should have always sounded - a planned accident. The Lodger has come home from the hinterland, but the trip is not over yet! Fa fa fa fa fa fa da da da da da!!!!!!!!