Music. History.
Malvina Reynolds - Buying the Package
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"Buying the Package" by Malvina Reynolds [ca1976]

I just finished my second semester of graduate school. One of my courses was a research and writing project about any consumer package. Using materials at the Hagley Museum and Library, I and ten of my classmates researched everything from 19th century chromolithographed cigar labels to Alpo’s use of Garfield on their short-lived cat food brand in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of you might remember me earlier mentioning my research on the Chug-a-Mug, designed by American Can Company and Liebmann Breweries and introduced in 1962 to sell Rheingold Extra Dry Ale.

In any case, I was hired for the summer to turn those research papers into an online exhibit at the Hagley Museum and Library (where we did most of our research). One thing our papers collectively overlooked (because very few dealt with objects from the era when people became vocal about the subject) was criticism of consumer packaging. I am planning to address it in the online exhibit. As I see it, criticism came in two forms: 1) criticism of the environmental cost of over-packaging and 2) criticism of manipulation of consumer choice through the mediation of advertising and “persuasive” packages between consumers and the producers of the goods they buy.

The latter criticism is the one asserted so sharply in Malvina Reynold’s “Buying the Package.” Reynolds wrote and recorded the song in about 1976, but it went unreleased until just a few years ago, when it was included as a bonus track on a reissue of her self-titled 1971 album.

You’re buying the package,
You’re buying the dream,
You pay for the ads
On the television screen, 
They sell you a story,
They sell you a mood,
But what they don’t deliver is food.

Colors, preservatives,
Poison or not.
Just so it sells
And is sure not to rot.
Colorings, additives,
Nothing is real,
No sensible maggot
Would call it a meal.


Movie star glamour,
The ad man’s display, 
Pay at the check out 
And take it away, 
The package it comes in
More nourishing far 
Than stuff in the box 
Or the jar. 


The label it reads
Like an alchemist’s dream,
You look at the contents 
And what does it mean?
Profits for business
And nothing for you, 
But sugar and grief,
And a wheat flake or two.


Refined till its tasteless, 
And taste added in,
The stockmarket rises,
Executives grin, 
They’d never get rich
If you ate what you should,
There’s profit in ads
So why bother with food?


Movie star glamour
And slogans that stick,
What do they care
If the stuff makes you sick? 
Big corporations
Have better to do
Than think of the health
Of the customer, too.


Puhdys - Alt wie ein Baum
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"Alt Wie Ein Baum" by Puhdys [1976]

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what classic rock sounded like in East Germany in the mid 1970s. Well, here you go. Puhdys never hid their debt to English rock bands like Uriah Heap and Deep Purple, not even from their album covers.

The band’s 1976 hit “Alt Wie Ein Baum” (meaning “As old as a tree”) became such a sing-along anthem, native Germans later used the song to teach the language to middle school kids at the Concordia Language Villages (aka, German camp!) in Bemidji, Minnesota. 

Yes, as you can see below, I was a really cool kid.

Music History (left) with the kid who will be the best man at my wedding later this year, at Waldsee (German camp), summer between 7th & 8th grade.

Fela Kuti - Zombie
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"Zombie" by Fela Kuti [1976]

Ain’t No Monster Mash: Better Music for Your Halloween Party, Day 8 of 13

Many of you will host or attend Halloween parties that have a playlist to dance to. Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead" won’t really work in that situation. Fela Kuti’s afrobeat anthem "Zombie," however, will keep the dance floor bouncing for over twelve minutes. The story behind the song (and album of the same name) - released at the tail end of 1976 - is unfortunately not as innocent as a simple novelty Halloween dance tune. As the album cover makes clear, "Zombie" was a metaphoric attack on the Nigerian military. And it had real life consequences.

Here’s what The Guardian had to say about “Zombie” in a 2004 retrospective: 

You could make a case for 1976’s most revolutionary record being not ‘Anarchy In The UK’ but this second, perfectly conceived slice of pop subversion, with its killer groove sounding like no one else, thunderous brass with wonderful trumpet from Lester Bowie and lyrics in pidgin English attacking the mindlessness of the Nigerian military (‘Zombie no go turn unless you tell am to turn/Zombie no go think unless you tell to think…’).

Fela’s robotic stage moves had been copied by protesters in riots against the government he was banned from Ghana for being ‘liable to cause a breach of the peace’ and this song provoked an attack on his new commune, named by Fela the Kalakuta (‘Rascal’) Republic. Indeed, Fela had declared independence from the repressive Nigerian state. On 18 February 1977, more than 1,000 armed soldiers surrounded the compound, set fire to the generator, and brutalised the occupants. Fela alleged he was dragged by his genitals from the main house, beaten, and only escaped death following the intervention of a commanding officer. Many women were raped and the 78-year-old Funmilayo was thrown through a window. She subsequently died.

Fela kept up the polemic, delivering his mother’s coffin to the army barracks and writing the song ‘Coffin for Head of State’ . One of his masterpieces, ‘Unknown Soldier’, followed an official inquiry that claimed the commune was destroyed by ‘an exasperated and unknown soldier’.

Read the full article: The Big Fela.

AC/DC - Love at First Feel
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"Love at First Feel" by AC/DC [1976]

Let’s play a guessing game. How many distinct riffs did AC/DC write in their entire career? One? Three? Certainly no more than five. Yet we love every rehash. Why is that? First of all, those riffs were insanely catchy. Second, particularly with original lead singer Bonn Scott, every song left the audience feeling unclean, as if voyeurs of acts either violent (as in “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”) or salacious (as in “Big Balls” or the song posted above).

"Love at First Feel" is familiar to most because it was included as the second track on on the international version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. In the band’s native Australia the song was left off the album, but was released as a stand-alone single in early 1977. 

Hall & Oates - Sara Smile
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"Sara Smile" by Hall & Oates [1976]

Really short post tonight… This classic blue-eyed soul ballad was Hall & Oates’ first Top 10 single.

Also, can we talk a about how misleading the Daryl Hall & John Oates album cover was? This is so far from glam.

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Cry to Me
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"Cry to Me" by Bob Marley and The Wailers [1976]

Random Music History Song of the Day

Surrounded by social and political statements like “War” and “Rat Race,” “Cry to Me” provided a moment of catharsis on Bob Marley’s 1976 album Rastaman Vibration. While Marley still brings up heartaches and pain, the song is about release. We all know how good it feels to cry, especially when you have the support of a good friend.

Rastaman Vibration is arguably the least known of Marley’s classic ’70s albums, simply because it featured no hit singles and contributed no songs to the Legend compilation. If you have only heard Legend or Exodus, give Rastaman Vibration a try. It’s quite good.

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"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (demo) by Sting [1976]

Random Music History Song of the Day

Sting wrote “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” while he still lived in Newcastle (in northern England), before his January 1977 move to London where he met his future Police band-mates. Soon after its composition, still in ‘76, Sting recorded the song alone with just his own acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Unlike the punkified prog rock (think about that) of Strontium 90’s 1977 demo and live recordings, Sting’s acoustic arrangement highlights his vocal abilities. Similarly, while The Police recorded more complicated music, their arrangements and production always left plenty of space for Sting’s vocals.

Considering that lyrically The Police recording is nearly identical to this demo and given the song’s obvious pop qualities, the fact that the band did not record a full band version before 1981 - five years after its composition - is astonishing! That recording hit #1 in the UK, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #1 on the Modern Rock chart, but “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” would have been a Top 10 hit whenever it was released.

This demo recording was only released in 1997 on the pre-Police compilation album Strontium 90: Police Academy.

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"Achilles Last Stand" by Led Zeppelin [1976]

Random Music History Song of the Day

Led Zeppelin’s critically acclaimed 1975 double album Physical Graffiti brought the band to peak popularity around the world while at the same time mostly emptying the back catalog of recordings (seven of album’s fifteen songs had been recorded between 1970 and 1973). The band’s high was derailed, however, when lead singer Robert Plant was seriously injured in a car accident in Greece in August of ‘75. Instead of the massive world tour that had been planned to capitalize on Physical Graffiti, the band members found themselves with significant down time while Plant recuperated.

Unfortunately, the band’s songwriting abilities were being rapidly dragged southward by addiction and despair: heroin for guitarist/producer Jimmy Page, alcohol for drummer John Bonham and painful lonesomeness for Robert Plant. This is where the empty back catalog comes into play. Presence contains only two mediocre songs (this and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The rest would have been completely ignored by most listeners if the Led Zeppelin were not attached.

The album’s saving grace is its inspired epic opening track. “Achilles Last Stand” features the best songwriting and the best musicianship of any song on the album. It is also the last great guitar song the band ever recorded. After a brief intro, the incessant main riff leads into a fantastic minute-and-a-half long Page solo and Bonham’s drumming is out of this world. Plant’s voice had lost it’s shrill crispness, but “Achilles Last Stand” was still his best performance from this period.

If only the band would have realized that they had already overreached their abilities. We might all have been spared “Carouselambra” and “Candy Store Rock” [shudder].