Digital Roundup: 4/16/14

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Digital Roundup: 4/16/14

Graham Central Station, Graham Central Station (1974) / Release Yourself (1974): Man, could there possibly be a better opening track to Graham Central Station’s self-titled debut? When you consider how long the band’s fans have been waiting for this material to get the digital-release treatment, it’s almost a little too apropos to hear them singing, “We’ve been waiting for so long / Waiting to play for you some of our songs.” Well, now’s their chance, as both of the band’s 1974 albums, Graham Central Station and Release Yourself, have joined Rhino’s digital catalog, giving you new access to such classic tracks as “It Ain’t No Fun to Me,” “Feel the Need,” “Release Yourself,” and “Can You Handle It?” Oh, but that’s far from all the funk we’ve got for you this week…

Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me (1978) / Star Walk (1979): We’re jumping ahead a bit with this next batch, but we’ve also added the first albums to be released after Graham Central Station frontman Larry Graham decided it was time to put his own name in front of the band’s…and why not, really? Given his history as one of the key members of Sly and the Family Stone, he’d certainly earned the right. The title tracks from both of these albums scored some airplay, as did the singles “Sneaky Freak,” “(You’re a) Foxy Lady,” and “Is It Love?” There’s plenty of outstanding bass-slapping going on in these grooves…and yet, if you can believe it, there’s still even more funk to come!

Larry Graham, Sooner or Later (1982) / Victory (1983): As you can see, Graham eventually just did away with the whole “Graham Central Station” conceit altogether and started recording under his own name, a move which – coincidentally or otherwise – ended up leading him to score a top-10 crossover pop hit. (In fairness, it’s virtually impossible to imagine Graham Central Station ever recording “One in a Million You,” so going it completely solo was probably the only way he ever would’ve accomplished it.) These albums are from a few years after that hit, however, and for better or worse, they sound very much like the era in which they were recorded. We’re not complaining, though, because the title track of Sooner or Later, “Don’t Stop When You’re Hot,” and “Walk Baby Walk” were all fine, funky singles, and the same goes for Victory’s “I’m Sick and Tired.” Sadly, we can’t necessarily endorse that album’s second single, “I Never Forgot Your Eyes,” though, because there’s just no way to listen to it without thinking, “Oh, so he’s trying to find another ‘One in a Million You,’ huh?” but definitely don’t miss the opening track, “Just Call My Name,” which should’ve been a hit.

Chicago, 16 (1982) / 17 (1984) / 18 (1986) / 19 (1988) / Twenty 1 (1991): There are those purists who refuse to acknowledge anything Chicago released after Terry Kath died, but if you’re one of the millions who didn’t even discover the band until they hit their commercial stride in the early ‘80s, then at least you’ll be thrilled about the quintet of remastered and expanded albums from that era that’ve been added to the digital catalog this week.

You’ll also find that it’s a five-part document of one of Chicago’s many transitional periods, starting with the first album produced by David Foster (16) and the last album of the Peter Cetera era (17), both of which provided the band with some of their most substantial pop and :::shudder::: adult-contemporary hits, including “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Love Me Tomorrow,” “Hard Habit to Break,” “Stay the Night,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Along Comes a Woman.”

From there, it’s on to 18, the first post-Cetera album, which found the band pointedly – if misguidedly – revisiting “25 or 6 to 4” to remind listeners that they were already a force to be reckoned with before ol’ Pete became the predominant lead singer. With that said, Chicago still needed to bring in someone who could tackle the higher-register hits that Cetera had been crooning for the band. Enter Jason Scheff, who took two singles, “Will You Still Love Me” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful,” into the top 20.

And then we’ve got 19 and 20, with the former finding the band waving goodbye to producer David Foster in favor of Ron Nevison and Chas Sandford and starting to use more outside songwriters than ever before. Granted, they still managed to pull a trio of top-10 hits (“I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love,” “Look Away,” and “You’re Not Alone”) out of 19, all of which were sung by keyboardist Bill Champlin rather than Scheff, but few fans would likely disagree that it was the least Chicago-sounding Chicago album up to that point…well, until the next album, anyway. Whether you want to blame it on the arrival of grunge or the songs contained within, Twenty 1 still only just barely earned a single top-40 hit (“Chasin’ the Wind,” which topped out at #39), and – make of this what you will – the band didn’t end up releasing another new studio album of original material for another 15 years, when they delivered Chicago XXX in 2006.

Godmoma, Here (1981): Just about everybody with a passing knowledge of Parliament-Funkadelic knows the name “Bootsy Collins,” but not enough people caught on to a trio of young ladies produced by Mr. Collins in the early ‘80s. Given that Bootsy not only co-wrote every track of Godmoma’s Here album but also contributed guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and percussion, you will be unsurprised that it sounds every bit as funky as you’d want it to be. (It also doesn’t hurt that Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker are part of the horn section.) The only thing wrong with Here is that it’s the only album Godmoma ever released, because after you listen to it, you’ll only want more.

The Smiths, Complete:The Videos: We don’t often spotlight video additions to the digital catalog (mostly because we almost never have any), but we never miss a chance to talk about the Smiths, and the arrival of the band’s video collection is a perfectly legitimate excuse to do so. It’s extremely well documented that, when it came to music videos, the Smiths spent most of their career walking a line that their label loathed, neither wanting anything to do with making them nor having any particular interest in letting the label do it for them. A few still managed to make it to the airwaves during the early-ish years of the band, however, including “Panic,” “Ask,” and “How Soon Is Now?” as well as “The Queen is Dead,” a short film by Derek Jarman which provided visual accompaniment for the title track, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and, once again, “Panic.” As the Smiths began their implosion, however, Morrissey belatedly stepped up to the plate to star in a few videos for the band, which is why both “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” actually feel like videos. But, hey, the music’s what matters most anyway, right?