Monday, January 12, 2009

Carly Simon: '75-'83

Carly Simon has always been unique, even among her fellow folk rockers and poppers. Entering her fourth decade in music, Simon's longevity isn't shocking. Coming to prominence in the early 1970's Simon, with Carole King and Joni Mitchell, upheld the Venus aspect to a normally a male dominated artform.

It became apparent as the decade wore on that Simon's abilities simply couldn't be confined to one genre. Beginning in 1975 with Playing Possum, Simon started a creative pop stretch that lasted until 1983. Simon embraced everything and anything: jazz, R&B-lite, new wave, standards, reggae, and even a little dance too. Allied with some of the best in music, Simon navigated the murky waters of popular music with ease and poise.

Playing Possum (1975)
Produced by: Richard Perry

The last Perry produced record, until Moonlight Serenade (2005), was something of a critical and commercial misfire then. Many felt Simon had lost the energy with Perry that she had on No Secrets (1972) and Hotcakes (1974). This wasn't at all true, Possum had a stronger sense of tasteful eroticism around its sound and execution. The guitar, still present, undercut the softer instrumentation used to highlight Simon's singing.

"After the Storm" made apparent the intentions of Possum to seduce and charm. Whether wanting to "rub limes on my body and smell like the West Indies" on "Look Me in the Eyes" or jumping into the proto-disco of "Attitude Dancing," Possum was dually relaxed and insistent.

Another Passenger (1976)
Produced By: Ted Templeman

The East Coast lady went West on this sunny and slick excursion courtesy of Mr. Ted Templeman. The saloon style rock fashioned on "Riverboat Gambler" and "One Love Stand" gave Passenger a friendly and fun presence. Other stars of Passenger included Simon's brazen rock entry "It Keeps You Runnin'," the afternoon breeze of "He Likes to Roll," and the sonic cinema  of "Libby." A truly "western" pop affair, Passenger delighted in its shape-shifting gifts.

Boys in the Trees (1978)
Produced by: Arif Mardin

An intoxicating combination of jazz and folk, Boys in the Trees peered backward to elements of Simon's work preceding Playing Possum. At the same time, Simon didn't stop her musical momentum which epitomized the two records prior to Boys. Known for the spicy Simon classic "You Belong to Me," there were other songs along for the ride: "Back Down to Earth," "Haunting," "Tranquillo (Melt My Heart)," and the evergreen titular track. Boys In the Trees became a triumph thanks to Simon and Mardin's dynamic wizadry.

Spy (1979)
Produced by:  Arif Mardin

Abandoning the partial folk from Boys in the Trees for an adult pop print exclusively, Spy thrilled. Simon's crisp, colorful singing topped the string and piano flourishes, thus the album breathed a decandent air. Mardin returned to assist Simon in her organic, revelatory stories like the desolate "We're So Close," the searing "boys against girls" battle of "Vengenace," and the expansive "Never Been Gone." Barring the lyrically obtuse, if groovy, "Memorial Day" that closed Spy, the rest of the album captivated.

Come Upstairs (1980)
Produced by:  Mike Mainieri

The 1980's were rough for many acts from the 1970's, genres aside. Simon eased through the transition with no problem due to her earlier adapting skills. Sporting an uptempo rock surface, Come Upstairs held Simon's most personal songs at that time. She chose Mike Mainieri for her new wave-lite makeover evident in the title track, a kicking number full of claps and synthesized pops. The sinewy fabric of "Stardust" stood next to the familiar sound treading in "Jesse" well.

The best came in the sharp edges of love betrayed on "James" and "In Pain," the latter quietly exploded into an emotional frenzy.  The release of anthemic urgency in "Take Me As I Am" was a declarative statement of self-love. A bold movement from Simon, proving that her eye was still on the high road in terms of how she viewed her art.

Torch (1981)
Produced by: Mike Mainieri

Released after her divorce from singer/songwriter husband James Taylor, Torch was a study in the fine art of heartbreak. Turning, for the first time, to the American songbook she used past pop gems to channel her experiences. Mainieri dramatically moved out of the new wave kinetics of Come Upstairs to a blanket of orchestral instrumentation to back Simon. Her voice, a bottomless well of frustration, hope, and confusion, made Torch burn on her gentle take of "I'll Be Around," to the sole-original track "From the Heart." Torch ended up the first of many covers projects for Simon, but this LP was the best of the batch.

Hello Big Man (1983)
Produced by: Mike Mainieri

After Torch, and before she completed this project, Simon scored a U.K. Top 10 hit in 1982 with "Why." The song was produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic fame. Possibly wanting to rekindle the pop hues of SpyHello Big Man, like Boys in the Trees before it, combined the best of contemporary pop in 1983 and her past glories.

Mainieri handled the production for a third time, completing another great set for Simon. It opened with the ghostly "You Know What to Do," elsewhere additional production guests (Sly & Robbie of Compass Point fame) worked with Simon on her sublime tackling of Bob Marley's "Is This Love?" "Menemsha" and "It Happens Everyday" were established knock outs for those looking for Simon of old. Recently reissued, first digitally and then on CD in 2008, Hello Big Man capped off Simon's inventive streak on a high.

Looking at the changes followers like Jewel and Sheryl Crow made, one notices the impact Carly Simon has had in terms of genre confined artists aspiring to venture outward. Simon is the best example of where a little curiosity will take you.-QH

[Editor's Note: All of these albums are in print. Check local music retailers and online music outlets for details. For more current information on Miss Simon, visit -QH]


Tha Connoisseur said...

So weird that I come here to find you talking about Carly Simon. I was just speaking about her the other day, singing "You're So Vein" at the top of my

Great piece! My timing is wonderful! :)

Reggie said...

Well I know I need to listen to more of her.

B_4 said...

Thanks for pointing out these amazing albums of Carly Simon. Though they may not have sold a gazillion copies, they are amazing, cohesive and intelligent collections.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your articulate discussion of Carly Simon's albums from this period. A fantastic piece--you've captured the beauty of these albums!

Mathew said...

This was a great read, and a nice highlight of Carly Simon's 'lost years' commercially (with the exception of the platinum 'Boys in the Trees' of course!). I agree this was her most ambitious musical period before she found commercial success again - albeit for a short time. Thanks for giving some love to the perpetually underrated Carly Simon! :D