If you’re looking for a flashback to the good old days to be your summer soundtrack, a trio of releases could turn those lazy, hazy days into “That ’70s Show.” Keep on truckin’ and have a nice day.
“It’s Good to Be Live” (RRR)
One of the most popular bands for Top 40 radio programmers in the 1970s was Northern California-based Pablo Cruise. No one in this combo was actually named Pablo Cruise; it was just a name made up out of the blue.
Another idiosyncracy about Pablo Cruise is that the band members were never photographed on their album covers. They generally plastered the band’s palm tree and setting sun logo on the cover with an artist’s drawing of an attractive young girl thrown in for good measure (as is the case here.) One advantage of this anonymity is that it made it easy for the band to replace members (although lead singer/keyboardist Cory Lerios, guitarist David Jenkins and drummer Steve Price have been constants). Another benefit is that the guys don’t have to worry about looking like they did in their hit-making days.
Huey Lewis, who grew up in Marin County, was a huge Pablo Cruise fan and has penned the liner notes for this concert album that was recorded in 2010. Pablo Cruise’s trademark was its upbeat catchy call-and-response tunes in which Cory Lerios sang the lead and the band responded harmoniously with the chorus. Listening to Pablo Cruise hits again here such as “Don’t Want to Live Without It,” “Whatcha Gonna Do,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “Worlds Away” and “Place in The Sun” makes it clear that Lewis’s kind words about them are not just flattery. Pablo Cruise was the template for the sound developed by Huey Lewis & The News.
The passing of the years has not had much of an effect on the musicianship or Lerios’ vocals. The band even shows that it can deviate from its expected sound and successfully experiment. “Atlanta June” is a jazzy cut that sounds as if it belongs on a Steely Dan album.
“The Very Best Of” (Arista/Legacy)
Bronx native Melissa Manchester never achieved the superstar status of her close friends Barry Manilow and Bette Midler (she served for a while as a member of Midler’s flashy concert vocal backup group, the Harlettes), but she has had a very durable career.
While she is best known for her fine voice, what is often forgotten about Manchester is that she is a terrific composer. She co-wrote her first two hits, “Midnight Blue,” a ballad about the anguish of facing a failing relationship, and “Just Too Many People,” a very peppy tune whose melody hides the rather down lyrics about the inordinate number of people who are unhappy with their lives.
I have always admired Manchester’s ability to vary the tempo even if I haven’t always been crazy about her material. “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” was such an upbeat tune that it got play in dance clubs. On the other hand, the turgid self-pity 1978 hit, “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” as well as 1979’s mawkish “Through the Eyes of Love” are painfully slow songs that have not improved one iota with the passage of time.
The standout track on this collection is Manchester’s 1990 cover of “Walk on By,” a tune associated with Dionne Warwick and the late Isaac Hayes that was co-written by Forest Hills High alum Burt Bacharach. Manchester’s vocals combined with superb orchestration and talented backup singers make this one my favorite version of this oft-recorded classic.
Kool & The Gang
Few things make us wistfully recollect our youth as when a heritage radio station changes its format. It happened 30 years ago this month when WABC switched from Top 40 to talk, then again in 2005 when WCBS-FM temporarily dropped its oldies format (it brought it back with some alterations in 2008), and this past week, KISS-FM (98.3) ended its run of playing smooth soul music as ESPN made the station owners an offer that they couldn’t refuse to change it into a sports talk station.
Kool & The Gang, whose members hailed from Jersey City, were a staple of the KISS-FM playlist in its glory days. Ronald “Kool” Bell and his troupe could do it all from gritty gunk (“Hollywood Swinging” and “Jungle Boogie”) to silky Top 40 hits that were fronted by singer J.T. Taylor such as “Fresh,” “Ladies Night,” “Joanna,” “Get Down on It,” “Take My Heart (You Can Have It)” and that bar mitzvah/wedding reception staple, “Celebration.”
This is yet another group that deserves enshrinement into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but has been grossly overlooked.