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Paul Simon, Ozzy albums are fantastic

June 16, 2011
By Mark Miller - Weekender Editor (mmiller@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

This week I write about four Paul Simon albums being re-released with remastered sound and bonus cuts along with two heavy metal classics by the grandfather of loud, Ozzy Osbourne.

All have been re-issued by Columbia Legacy within the past few weeks and currently are available at local retailers.

Paul Simon's career has been twofold, but his early solo years were fraught with a difficult choice - what do you do after the stunning body of work created by himself and partner, Art Garfunkel?

Simple. You just do more of the same, only by yourself.

Simon's first solo album came on the heels of Simon and Garfunkel's brilliant and highly successful "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." "Paul Simon," released in 1972, found Simon wading in the same waters as his songwriting style that marked his last two years with ex-partner Garfunkel - find a hook, keep it simple but write songs that are compelling and lyrically sophisticated along with playful ear candy.

The result were two hits from his first solo album that sounded like Simon and Garfunkel without the latter, including the enigmatic "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard."

The future complexity of Simon's songwriting has its genesis here, with the poignant "Armistice" and the wonderful "Peace Like a River."

Simon's next venture, "There Goes Rhymin' Simon," also was laden with fare that sounded much like his days with his erstwhile partner, with the fabulous hits "Kodachrome" and the gospel-inspired "Loves Me Like a Rock" popular on both AM and FM radio outlets.

And why not? They are perfectly realized slices of early 1970s pop.

Still, Simon really hadn't yet formed his own identity away from the duo, although his next album, "Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhyming," released in 1974, did feature outstanding new arrangements featuring Urubamba and the Jessy Dixon Singers. This was Simon's first real step toward an increasing interest in world and ethnic music that would culminate in his masterpiece "Graceland" in the 1980s.

But it wasn't until "Still Crazy After All These Years," released in 1975, did Simon's music finally evolve from the last great days of Simon and Garfunkel.

Here was a newfound sophistication, both musically and lyrically, that finally found Simon in a new landscape away from previous baggage. The harmonic complexity of "Still Crazy" still sounds great today, with its wistful lyrics and modern jazz-like touches, such as a Fender Rhodes piano and wonderful, unorthodox chord changes.

Urban and musically mature, the album also spawned the witty and impossibly catchy "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

In an ironic twist, "Still Crazy" also features a duet with Garfunkel, "My Little Town," which is one of the last songs the duo waxed and that Simon wrote that could truly be thought of as a Simon and Garfunkel song.

Although the first three albums had their moments, it's "Still Crazy" that established the template and finally freed Simon to leave the past behind, establish his own identity and record his best solo work from that moment on.

What can one say about Ozzy that hasn't been said before? Ozzy's career, if that's what one could call it, after leaving - or being booted from - Black Sabbath wasn't pretty, with the wildman reportedly engaging in a few years of debauchery that would have killed most sane men.

But I've often wondered how sane the guy is, anyway.

Rescued by his future wife and manager Sharon Osbourne from booze and drugs, Ozzy had to create a persona that could get him back in the rock arena after having been written off by nearly everyone, including record company executives leery of Osbourne's crazy behavior and unpredictable temperament.

Sharon made him into a star by sobering Ozzy up and pairing him with rock guitar virtuoso Randy Rhoads, whose own blizzard-noted solo on "Crazy Train" from Ozzy's first solo album "Blizzard of Ozz" made him a household name and immortal on classic rock radio stations even today.

The album also made Ozzy a ton of money and re-established him as back on track and ready to tour arenas in front of adoring fans once again. While much of "Blizzard of Ozz" sounds impossibly dated now, "Crazy Train" still sounds great and timeless.

The second re-issue, Ozzy's second album "Diary of a Madman" - I guess you go with what you know - also featured Rhoads, not to mention one of the worst album covers in the history of rock.

To be honest, I never cared much for this album with its bloated, sterile-sounding arrangements except for "Flyin' High Again," another hit for the Ozz. Otherwise, we're talking early '80s cheeze-whiz production that only sounds good after a few beers in a "you-had-to-be-there," mullet-headed kind of way.

The re-issue, however, features a cool bonus - a live concert with Rhoads on guitar that shows many of these songs fared much better in stripped-down, live versions rather than the grandiose studio treatments, as well as including the Black Sabbath chestnuts "Iron Man," "Paranoid" and "Children of the Grave." Rhoads really steps out front and plays some mind-bending solos that show why he still today has a well-deserved shred-head reputation nearly 30 years after his death.

I guess the Ozz deserves some credit for all he's done over the years. All except for that stupid reality show.

(Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)

 
 

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