this great piece of 1974 has reclaimed its special place in my heart since i finally scored a CD copy-i wore my cassette out years ago by playing it in the car, boomboxes, and various friends' decks-and am re-discovering these amazing bits of music again as if for the first time.
i recently re-joined a band that i used to play with a dozen years ago, the LIZARDS, and usually find myself immersed in this fabulous work of art after our rehearsals. it makes much sense as i am deja-vuing both war babies and the lizards at the same point in time. some parts of each feel comfortable and familiar yet much is anew and very refreshing.
it is an awesome feeling to crank this album as loud as desired in the wee hours at the lizards "den", our very secure studio and rehearsal space...and i seem to do it often as the businesses above us do not open 'til 8 am...and that gives me 6-8 hours to get crazy with our PA, often running my own vocal and/or guitars into the mix through the board in our control room this makes for some crazy fun, interesting sounds, and cathartic heaven beyond belief.
just imagine harmonizing along with daryl, john, and todd with a great microphone through a clean PA...
or plugging in an acoustic, bringing it into the monitors, and strummin' along with better watch your back...
or cranking a sweet and sustaining strat lead above the landscapes of screaming through december.
...and usually in an altered state of being
so, as i stated above, war babies has a new and special chapter that has just begun in my life.
produced by todd rundgren, hall and oates' third release followed on the steps of the critically-acclaimed abandoned luncheonette album and took the group in a different direction - a freewheeling quirky trip through pop sensibility, sweet harmony, and tasteful arrangement.
the album has a flow that is not unlike that of many "concept albums" as the streaming subconscious mind of todd was at full bloom. todd had just 'turned his back on stardom' by shunning the pop expectations of his hugely-successful double album Something/Anything? and heading in a psychedelic progressive rock direction, releasing three of his own epics (A Wizard, A True Star, and Todd) during this curve on his creative musical roadmap.
...so enter psychedlic todd...
Can't Stop the Music (He Played It Much too Long) (Oates) - 2:50
the opening almost has an overture feel to it as the chorused and sandwashed guitar chords flow into smooth philly soul with the aid of one of rock's hottest rhythm sections, john siegler and john 'willie' wilcox. sieg's was already todd's anchorman in his fresh brainchild Todd Rundgren's Utopia and todd was to call on wilcox a few years later when Utopia was streamlined. oates lays down some great lyrical imagery, painting the picture of a bit of a washed-up musician and his final daze. there's some excellent vocal interaction happening here and the bridgre really drives the tune, holding the ears' interest further.
---------->Is It a Star (Hall/Oates) - 4:41
a beautiful segue of the type producer todd became famous for links these two tunes furthering the overture feel set at the start and extending the album's opener. once again, the vocals are stellar-full of warmth and passion and more harmony appearences are working their way in. the middle section is full of blistering hot todd guitar madness that soars over some incredibly haunting background cries. (can't you see it's me?). this tune has some serious groove at this point and rocks heavy! there is also a bit of a false ending here that i really love, complete with morse code message feel. i chuckle as i watch the faces of others during this song as it seems to be almost demanding on the listener to keep up with the changes incorporated within you and without you. yet, almost surprisingly, the final verse does appear to lead us into double chorus outtro floating on synthesizer seas and sweeping guitargulls.
Beanie G. And the Rose Tattoo (Hall) - 3:01
here's some stinky funk synth sounds from daryl and john that helped define the seventies. it screams P-Funk through a slightly-whitened philly philter. the intro production is right off todd's brilliant AWATS album.
the schoolground feel of "tattoo" is almost hypnotizing and the first real swarm of big background vocals appears.
the psychedelic panning used during todd's incredible guitar solo draws the listener in...hungry for more, it lurks in the background throughout the rest of the tune. once again, haunting cries appear-this time also panning about the stereo field.
You're Much Too Soon (Hall) - 4:08
for some reason, this was an initial favorite of mine. after studying this a bit i realize that the light guitars (obviously played by todd) during the verses are borrowed from todd's Runt era and are pop magic. daryl's vocals are very heartfelt here and that's a main reason i listen to these guys. the toddmark backing "ooooohs" appear during the second verse bring a smile to one's face.
another tasty bridge-this one gets fonkey! with some call and response between daryl's voice and todd's bluesey axe, this is one of the albums better moments. the "i love you but i don't love you" has also always intrigued me and it sounds so natural to be confused here.
and, finally (we knew it was coming), todd's wall of vocals transfers to another production to help spread the warmth of pop choirs as the outtro becomes a sweet singalong full of happiness and joy.
nice fade out...and useful as the mood is quick to change to a darkened sepia tone.
70's Scenario (Hall) - 4:00
heavy delays on daryl's, once again, very soulful voice lay textures across the skies jumping about the field with sorrowful release. things begin to pick up at the top of the second verse and one can smell the wild ride on the horizon. another killer bridge section - the glimpses of TR's Utopia shatter to become a full-fledged onslaught of progressive-psychedlic rock funk, the likes of which todd was soon to take across the nation and even into the television sets of middle america's heartland. siegler really leads the attack here by laying down the staaaaaanck!
re-enter a wailing daryl, a full background, and further electric todd solos...all to meld back into the intro delay daryl
War Baby Son of Zorro (Hall) - 4:10
sound the alarms!!!!!!!and climb up that chromatic stairway into the swarms of aeros outstanding in their field. the background AWATS keys are unmistakeable todd...as is the bridge.
senses of urgency and chaos surround us as haunting imagery seems to rear its ugly head again.
the bridge, once again, is amazing - the progressive visions prevail and abley shine through the music to elevate beyond the once-beloved rays of the subconscience. seigs even solos throughout a verse-re-emphasizing a sense of spontanaity amongst some heavily-arranged material.
i love the way the first break was a guitar solo and then the second is mainly sound effects...
the sound effects layed down in this panoramic classic preceeded the wall by many years yet could have fell right in place another excellent fade out.
I'm Watching You (A Mutant Romance) (Hall) - 4:27
sometimes this is the one that knocks me out in the studio, softly punching my temples toward the couch between our huge PA speakers.
the sweetly compelling vocals at the start take me to lush fields of soft grain...their hesitance cannot be understated. the piano is finally right up front here as it provides the melodic foundation for this soulful intro. magestic butterflies spin about.
enter killer rhythm section! no wonder todd loved these guys and shared years with both...also no wonder that siegs was sequestered by H&O on subsequent tours. great bassline sets up a groove for swarmingly overlayed guitar swells.
i get the feeling i am being watched!
the bridge is very unique as it lays a very heavy rock section right onto a pillow winds that support some of todd's finest slide work ever.
..."back on the street" as we walk right back into this film of real life.
the schoolyard outtro chorus reminds us of Beanie G. earlier on - but this one is much more haunting and disturbing. i love those big choir moments like the one that ends this great number.
Better Watch Your Back (Hall) - 4:15
what the hell.....let's dance!
time to boogie down to n'awlins with daryl laying down some fine mandolin, john with a heavy rhythmic groove, and todd joyously back on the slide. heavily reverb soaked vocals appear again to form another wall of magesty.
...this is the thick of it, folks, the pure unique essence of this '74 Philly combo.
the great use of handclaps was another TRademark. excellent harmonies during the chorus---fabulous! Seig's bassline at the breaks is sooooooo funkkkky and todd has possibly never played better slide parts, neither before nor since. this is one of the most exciting parts of this album---todd's slidework. there is amazingly effortless sweet and sour soul dripping from todd's axe and slide, an amzing feat as todd rarely ever played slide.
Elevation of the Soul!
the handclaps really help the rather longly-faded ending keep the sweet soul, gospel, and loose feel of a street band.
words of wisdom, jack
Screaming Through December (Hall) - 6:35
yummy...artistic, passionate, beautiful, and yet mad melodic stars fall into the scenery painted by hall's vocal delivery and killer lyrics. thankfully, the keyboards are out front again. this very sparse, almost naked, intro slowly melds into a seemingly angry reality. daryl lets loose as fireworks shoot above, some form of a warning..............
panned and twisted madness fills the air yielding to, once again, PROGRESSIVE ROCK
that's right, folks, in case you haven't guessed it yet the producer is about to delve into prog insanity for a few years and is here to testify and spread the forthcoming news.
heavy TR's Utopia abounds this bridge to the delight of these ears. it's like a little peak into the ikon from their first album and a treat to kick the ending of this epic album into one last blast of rock, featuring seigs, wilcox, and todd...
in a way, this is the three-piece utopia that never was. somehow the last verse crawls its way outta this mess to reveal my favorite line,
"...and bled all over his synthesizer".
the schoolground calls are now beyond madness as the speed of reality slows to a burn.
Johnny Gore And The C Eaters (Hall/Oates) - 5:18
closer, you can just feel it.
all major musical statements have been made and production tricks have messed your mind a bit. closing with the rock'n'rollness of this moving number just seems to feel nature. written by both H and O, this one has a bit of a bar band feel to it yet is blessed by a fun story and excellent vocal overdubs that float throughout your ears like nosey neighbors.
plenty of todd guitar at the outtro swells into the choir while melting into the madness of the masses.
in many ways, this is the missing TR's Utopia album....bridging todd with john siegler (of TR's Utopia) and john wilcox (later of Utopia) to form an incredible and very able foundation on which to set some great arrangements.
although H & O wrote some great material for this release, the TRademarks of todd are everywhere...you cannot escape them so do not even attempt to do so.
4-1/2 stars (outta 5)