Waylon Jennings / Cedartown, Georgia / 1971, RCA
The classic legend of Waylon Jennings is that he was restrained by Nashville throughout the ’60s until he demanded artistic freedom, invented the Outlaw movement, and then made a run of some of the most timeless country music throughout the ’70s until too much cocaine brought him down. Good story, but not much of the truth.
Waylon is Waylon — and not even Chet Atkins’ iron fist could ever convert him into a Nashville assembly line artist. This is a record cut just before the Outlaw transition and the whole things got a hard hitting, funky groove that’s pure Waylon and nowhere close to the rest of Music City’s concurrent releases. Four tracks feature huge Nashville orchestras, but they’re down with murderous tension as oppossed to schmaltzy splash. “Big D” and “It’s All Over Now” (not the Bobby Womack rock & roll classic Hoss already cut on his debut, but a new cut written by his new wife, Jessi Colter) show Nashville’s finest (the Superpickers!) throwing down over upbeat numbers, which is always a pleasure. Waylon’s voice is in fine form throughout (singers from this era had this uncanny ability to be able to sing. Their voices were like conversations with characters you constantly wanted to chat with.)
The truth of Waylon’s pre-Outlaw records is for the most part the roots of all his huge statements are there (Honky Tonk Heroes, This Time, Ramblin’ Man, Dreaming My Dreams, Live!, Ol’ Waylon, I’ve Always Been Crazy), but with the HollywoodOutlaw salespitch completely absent. There’s schlocky Nashville pop, no doubt, but he never moved beyond intense sentimentality and camp throughout his entire career. He was an entertainer. This is some of the finest music I’d ever like to hear. (I would say he and Jessi’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” could have been passed up.)
Ornette Coleman & Prime Time / Opening the Caravan of Dreams / 1985, Caravan of Dreams Productions
Here’s Ornette and his freefunk compatriots inaugrating a jazz hall in Fort Worth, TX. Opening the Caravan of Dreams could probably be read other ways, but I’m sure it’s all on the level. “Harmolodic Bebop” is an annihilating primer in the terms employed, none of the funk found round here. But dig in and damn it (wouldn’t the eye of a hurricane be pretty and full of harmony as well?) For the most part they’re laying down simple funky grooves with those harmomelodiddies flying up and down all over the place and shapes shift, images run by, holes are found and jumped into, then you’ve gotta climb out, and the whole time if you fall or rise you know you’re rising higher. Ornette was born in Texas, you know? Added to the list of thinks I’d like to personally thank him for.
FREDDIE MERCURY / Mr. Bad Guy / 1985, CBS
Queen were a goddamn band, dude! None of this infighting, can-the-guitarist-and-hire-his-best-friend, lead-singer-solo-career-fronting, dying-drummer, shit syndrome (I guess ’till this Paul Rodgers stuff). The point being, Freddie Mercury never ditched his bandmates to pursue what could have surely been a totally warped, flamboyant, dominant, and crazy run at egocentered, superstar, megalomania. But Queen where a band. None of that bullshit necessary.
Mr. Bad Guy sounds like Freddie did it in his basement on some 1985 synthesizer and made up the names of the other guys. (I like that vision, for if true, Freddie Mercury could shred guitar as hard as Brian May…but I bet he’s actually got players on here.) If Casio keyboards and drum machines sold at Radio Shack in the ’80s were the industry standard for tone, this would be it. That being said, the scope of the music is simply magnificent, bizarre, and constantly entertaining.
“Let’s Turn It On” is some sort of warped dance number intended to precisely that: turn on the party. “Foolin’ Around” is Grade A+, mid ’80s dance-synth pop. Mercury’s melodies and chord progressions are over-the-top and elegant. It grooves like a mofo, too, replete with an insanely shredding, harmonized keyboard and guitar solo. Somewhere on Side B, after a song called “Man Made Paradise,” he descends into a piano and voice meditation in overtracking, vocal chambers, and crazyhigh operatic falsetto. Some hip-hop producer should run out NOW and snag the sample of the main groove from the title track, “Mr. Bad Guy,” a huge menacing piece of two note synthesizer and computerZepfunkdrums. By the end of the songs he’s chased rainbows in the sky, tripped on ecsctasy, become president, runied people’s lives, and spread his wings to fly away. That’s all in there: I swear.