Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My latest for The Normal School

My latest for The Normal School is out today. In “A Groovy Way to Grab a Musical Bag that Turns On the Sounds of Today" I take a look at those Super Hits albums that I was obsessed with as a kid—and still am! Released on Pickwick Records in the early- and mid-1970s, they featured "King's Road," a group of anonymous studio session musicians that cut sometimes faithful, sometime pathetic, always earnest covers of contemporary hit songs. "Played and sung like the original hits!"

Here's the opening:

Rediscover Records, Elgin, Illinois. The voice to which I’m only half-listening sounds familiar, but something’s off, also. I look up blankly from the records I’m riffling through and realize that I’m hearing Elton John, one of his well-known hits from the early seventies, but I haven’t heard this version before. Is it a demo? An early take? A scratch vocal? Elton sounds pretty awful, as if he’s poorly imitating someone imitating him. That, or he has a cold. I ask the cashier what’s playing. She points to the album sleeve propped on the counter. 

Turns out that I’m half correct. It is Elton. And it isn’t. Elton John Rock Hits was released in 1975 near the tail end of the pianist-singer’s half-decade meteoric journey across the Top 40, but John was nowhere to be found in the studio when the album was concocted. The songs here, those that momentarily confounded me in the record store—“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Daniel,” “Rocket Man,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” et al.—were performed by King’s Road, an anonymous group of session musicians and singers whose catalogue by the mid-70s was bulging. Between 1970 and 1975 they issued twenty-three albums, nearly all on the Pickwick label (their career would be finished by ‘76). King’s Road wasn’t a band so much as a hologram—a holoband, a hollow band—a one-dimensional image of a group whose sole purpose was to imitate, gamely if at times ineptly, the well-known hits of the day. King’s Road was a bad joke, a cut-rate impressionist. King’s Road was the best at being the worst.
You can read the rest—as well as my other Normal School music essays—here.

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