Thursday, July 19, 2012
"Sacred Songs": The Unsung Genius Of Hall & Fripp
There are records we play and play until the sounds that thrill us become an annoyance. We love these records to death, and in two personal instances, that death might have been my own.
My friend, the late great Chris Kelly, once threatened me with a flying, full 32 ounce bottle of tonic water when I suggested listening to "Exile On Main Street." He had had enough of the Stones classic by the late 70s, and placed a moratorium on all things "Exile-related" in 1982. I listened to XTC's "Skylarking" on torture-method repeat the week it came out in 1987. My roommate Rich, who rarely if ever bothered me when my door was closed, knocked on my door and in his best Bob Hope asked, "You like this album, don't you?" It was funny, until you saw the look in his eyes. He had had enough of "Skylarking."
Then there are those lost vinyl creatures that fail to impress on day one, so they are shoved onto the shelf until something or someone prompts a reevaluation. For me, this applies to Daryl Hall's 1980 piece of genius with the great Robert Fripp, "Sacred Songs."
The duo met. They worked together in 1977 and delivered "Sacred Songs." RCA refused to release the album, finding it far less commercial than they believed the growing population of H&O fans were looking for and quickly shelved it...until 1980. Part of an unofficial Robert Fripp-produced trilogy that also includes Fripp's own "Exposure," which Daryl Hall appears on, and Peter Gabriel's sophomore solo release, "Sacred Songs" is not only the best of the three, it might be Daryl Hall's finest hour.
This record was not what I wanted it to be, though it's hard to say all these years later exactly what I was expecting, having been a fan of King Crimson and Hall & Oates. It certainly has elements of both, but it is incredibly unique in that nothing, not even the most commercial tunes, such as the title track and first single, or the gorgeous Philly-soul of "Why Was It So Easy" simply flow from beginning to end. Robert Fripp's use of his then "new" invention Frippertronics works in ways no Hall & Oates fan could have ever imagined for the pop duos own material.
"Sacred Songs" has a subtle beauty to it, and when it's ready, can beat you up. I've played this record a lot less than I should have over the last 30 years. It still has that "new car smell," which is a good thing. I pulled it out last night and it may have been a peak listen.
One vivid memory I have about listening to "Sacred Songs" back in 1980, was how displeased I was with the sound of the record. It is mastered so low, the bass and drums were just too flat for my tastes. That was not a good thing for a youngster accustomed to cranking out Led Zeppelin records on 10. Subsequent CD reissues sound much better, with a bit more punch, but actually, I listened to the vinyl last night, and it didn't bother me one bit.
Daryl, Robert, if you're reading, consider a brief East Coast tour playing both "Sacred Songs" and "Exposure" in their entireties. You'd get me off the couch for that one.
Here are a few of my faves, though I do believe the record plays better as a whole. I've also included a live of version of "Why Was It So Easy" from a recent episode of "Live From Daryl's House." It features Butch Walker, who nails it.