What I’ve Been Listening to: Frankie Miller/The Rock

When Max from PowerPop blog recently posted about I Can’t Change It by Frankie Miller, I was immediately intrigued by the Scottish rock singer-songwriter’s soulful vocals. I also instantaneously recognized the name from an appearance on the German TV concert program Rockpalast I had watched in August 1982, though I still can’t remember any of the songs Miller performed during that show. Anyway, this is what prompted me to start listening to his music including his third studio album The Rock from September 1975.

Before getting to this gem, a few words about Miller are in order. He was born as Francis John Miller in Glasgow on November 2, 1949. Miller’s first exposure to music was his mother Cathy’s record collection. She particularly liked Ray Charles who interestingly ended up covering the above I Can’t Change It on his 1980 album Brother Ray Is at It Again, a song Miller had written as a 12-year-old and recorded for his debut album Once in a Blue Moon released in January 1973.

Going back to Miller’s childhood days, another music music influence were his older sisters Letty and Anne, who introduced him to Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Miller started writing his first songs at the age of nine after his parents had given him a guitar. While still being at school, he started singing in a series of bands. Eventually, he joined Glasgow outfit The Stoics. While Chrysalis signed them in 1970, the band broke up before making any recordings.

In 1971, Miller formed a band called Jude, together with former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, ex Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and James Dewar, a Glasgow bassist and vocalist. While the band got attention from the British music press, they dissolved in April 1972, also without recording any music. Miller ended up signing a contract with Chrysalis later that year and released his above debut album in January 1973.

Frankie Miller at Rockpalast, Germany, 1982

Until 1985, Miller recorded eight additional solo albums. After his second-to-last solo release Standing on the Edge from 1982, he mostly focused on songwriting, including film music. Miller’s professional career came to a tragic end in August 1994 when he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while writing music for a new band he and Joe Walsh had formed with English keyboarder and drummer Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace, respectively.

According to a bio on Miller’s website, the brain hemorrhage should have killed him but he has shown remarkable courage to claw his way slowly back to health, after spending 15 months in hospital. With massive support from his partner Annette, Frankie is learning to walk and talk again and has even written a new song with lyricist Will Jennings called “Sun Goes Up Sun Goes Down”. But sadly, Miller has not been able to resume performing.

The Rock back cover

While Miller’s records apparently received positive reviews, they were not commercially successful. His singles did not fare much better. Only two of them reached the top 40 in the UK: Be Good to Yourself from May 1977 (no. 27) and Darlin’ from October 1978 (no. 6). Miller’s songs have won writing awards and been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Joe Walsh and Eagles.

Time to get to The Rock, Miller’s only album officially credited to the The Frankie Miller Band. All tracks were written by Miller. Here’s the excellent opener A Fool in Love. Like other tunes on the album, it reminds me of Joe Cocker. The song was actually covered by Etta James on her 1990 album Stickin’ to My Guns.

The title track was inspired by the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, which could be seen from the studio where the album was recorded. According to Wikipedia, Miller said that music saved him from prison. He dedicated the song to the plight of prisoners, apparently a reference to his second cousin Jimmy Boyle, a Scottish former gangster and convicted murderer who became a sculptor and novelist after his release from prison in October 1981. The Rock has got a cool Faces, early Rod Stewart vibe.

Another gem is Ain’t Got No Money. It’s probably not a coincidence that it became the album’s most covered tune, including by artists like Cher, Chris Farlowe and Bob Seger. Frankly, this would be a great song for The Rolling Stones.

Let’s slow things down with All My Love to You, a dynamite soulful tune. Why this didn’t become a hit beats me. Check it out this beauty!

Frankly, there’s no weak track on this album and I could have selected any other. Let’s do one one more: I’m Old Enough.

The Rock was produced by Elliot Mazer, one of the co-producers of Neil Young’s Harvest album. Musicians included Henry McCullough (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mick Weaver (keyboards), Chrissy Stewart (bass), Stu Perry (drums, percussion) and Miller’s former Jude mate James Dewar. The album also featured two ingredients for shaping its soul sound: The Memphis Horns and The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Frankie Miller website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Faces/Ooh La La

Yesterday, I went to my great go-to little store close to my house, which is selling used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment. While I can easily get lost there, I usually leave with one or two vinyl records. This time I also stroke out on the equipment front, getting an ’80s Nakamichi tape deck. I know in the age of streaming all of that sounds pretty antiquated. But my old tape deck had given up years ago, and I still have hundreds of music cassettes, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s when I was taping music like a maniac. I could never throw them out, even though the quality of most of these MCs inevitably has diminished over the decades.

Anyway, while I guess you can sense that I’m a happy camper with my newly acquired gear – and Nakamichi isn’t exactly a shabby name – this blog isn’t about stereo equipment. So to bring it back to the actual subject, one of the vinyl records I got is Ooh La La by Faces. Not only is this album a lot of fun to listen to, but it’s also great to look at.

Faces_Ooh La La Cover Detail

While I had seen images of Ooh La La’s cover art before, I had not appreciated how cool this cover is until I held the album in my hands. You can actually move the eyes and the jaw of the face by pushing the top of the cover down (see image above). In order to do that you have to remove the record from the cover. The cover also has a gatefold showing a can-can dancer admired by the band’s members (see image below). Yes, the age of streaming undoubtedly has many advantages, but it’s also true that some of the experience when dealing with old-fashioned vinyl gets lost, such as enjoying a great record cover.

Faces_Ooh La La Foldout

Ooh La La was the fourth and final studio album by Faces, released in March 1973. To quickly recap, the band was founded by the remnants of Small FacesIan McLagan (keyboards), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals) and Kenney Jones (drums and percussion), as well as Rod Stewart (lead vocals) and Ronnie Wood (guitar), who joined from the Jeff Beck Group. By the time Faces went into the studio to record the album, Rod Stewart’s solo career already had been in full swing and he had become “too big” for the band.

The recording sessions for Ooh La La were impacted by Stewart’s rising commercial success and apparent lack of commitment to the band. According to Wikipedia, he pretty much behaved like a jack ass, trashing the record the moment it came out. He described it as a “stinky rotten album” to New Musical Express and “a bloody mess” to Melody Maker. He later told Rolling Stone the band would have been capable to do a better album. Never mind Stewart had a little help from his band mates on his first four solo albums that had come out by the time Ooh La La was released. It’s unfortunate what success and fame can do! Time for some music.

Here’s the album’s opener Silicone Grown, a nice rocker that was co-written by Stewart and Wood.

Cindy Incidentally, which has a pretty similar flair to the opener, is credited to Stewart, Wood and McLagan. The track was also released separately as a single and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the U.K. charts in 1973.

Another great rocker is My Fault. It’s credited to McLagan, Stewart and Wood. The two latter share lead vocals.

Glad And Sorry is one of the three tracks on the album, in which Stewart apparently had no role, neither a co-writer or as a vocalist. It is solely credited to Lane, who also shared vocals with Wood and McLagan. The tune has a softer sound that is mostly driven by piano and acoustic guitar, as well as harmony singing.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. The beautiful folk tune was co-written by Lane and Wood, featuring the latter on vocals. The track was also released as a single in the U.S. in May 1973. It didn’t chart at the time. Stewart would cover the tune on his 1998 solo album When We Were The New Boys, scoring a top 20 and 40 hit in the U.K. and U.S., respectively. Stewart recorded the song as a tribute to Lane who had passed away in June the prior year at the age of 51.

Ooh La La was produced by Glyn Johns, a producer and recording engineer, who at the time already had worked with artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. His experience working with the latter during a time of high inner tensions would come in handy for holding Faces together for their final studio record. BTW, the “stinky rotten album” ended up topping the U.K. charts and climbing to no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube