January 27 – Van’s Dance Into The Mystic And Acclaim

It’s been called the “blueprint for Blue-eyed soul” as well as the starting point of “soft rock.” Quite a legacy, no matter what your opinion of those two “genres” is (and here, we like both just fine.) There could be debate aplenty as to what record, if any one did, merited such accolades, but definitely Van Morrison‘s Moondance, of which that was said, is a contender. It came out this day in 1970.

Moondance was Van’s third solo album, but second on a big label, Warner Bros., and it came out just over a year after its first, Astral Weeks, to which it seems to always be compared. Astral Weeks had been loved by critics, but generally totally ignored by record buyers, much to both Van and Warner’s dismay. So Van the Man decided to change things up a bit rather than record a direct, folky sequel. He brought in a horn section, wrote some songs that were a bit more upbeat and at times jazz-tinged, and took over producing the record himself. “No one knew what I was looking for except me, so I just did it,” he said about that. “When I go into the studio, I’m a magician. I make things happen.”

He did that with the ten song effort. It was written and recorded in the summer of ’69, a happy time for Van. He was in a state of “domestic bliss” with his first wife Janet. They were living in the Woodstock, New York area (surprisingly he left the area by the record’s release, finding it becoming too busy for him after the famous concert nearby) and taken by the natural beauty of the Appalachians. Many critics have noted how most of the songs seem to touch on the spiritual nature of life and the spirit of nature he was surrounded by.

Of the ten songs, five became “classics”, all of them on Side 1 of the LP version as it happened : “And It Stoned Me”, the title track, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.” Curiously, Warner Bros. only put one single out off it, “Come Running”, from Side 2. Years later they’d issue “Moondance” itself out as a 7” when the album’s legacy was growing.

Many “classic” albums are ignored in their own time, but such was not the case with “Moondance.” It was a rare one almost all critics seemed to approve of right away. The Village Voice, for instance, gave it an “A” and told readers to “forget Astral Weeks! This is a brilliant, catchy, poetic and completely successful LP.” Years after that, they’d still think it sucessful, putting it as the seventh best album of the 1970s. Rolling Stone at the time were a bit surprised by its “horn-driven, bass-heavy” sound but still liked it and declared “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic” were songs which “will carry it past many good records we’ll forget in the next few years.”

Perhaps so. To this day, it garners lots of respect and accolades. Rolling Stone, retrospectively, have constantly placed it among the 200 Greatest albums of All-time (most recently #120) applauding its “more structured, less acoustic” sound compared to Astral Weeks and terming it “the blueprint for Blue-eyed Soul.” Time magazine has it listed among its All Time 100 best albums and Ptichfork, giving it 8.5/10 note that “it would solidify Van Morrison as an FM radio mainstay (and) act as a midwife for the burgeoning genre of ‘soft rock’”. British journalist John Tobler, of the NME and other publications declares Van’s singing “charismatic” and adding “the first side of the LP is almost perfect.” Allmusic grade it a perfect 5-stars and suggest “Into the Mystic” is the “quintessential Morrison moment.”

For all those kudos, the public was not as swayed. It did sell much better than Astral Weeks, getting to #29 on the charts in the U.S. and #32 in the UK, but it only made the top 10 in the Netherlands. It sold adequately, but after becoming an FM staple, it kept selling and it’s now his biggest-selling record, being triple platinum in the U.S.

If you want the dance to keep going after its 38 minutes, you have options. Van’s put out 40 studio albums since Moondance.

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January 27 – People Couldn’t Bear It If It Really Was Edward’s Last Song

A few years before Rush took flight, another Toronto trio was having a decent, if short, run in the sun. On this day in 1973, Edward Bear had their first song hit the U.S. top 40… oddly enough with a ditty called “Last Song.”

Bear had begun in the Ontario city some six years earlier, playing many of the same cafes and clubs Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot frequented, and got signed by Capitol Records in 1969. It was pretty much the brainchild of Larry Evoy, the band’s main writer, singer and drummer. He got the name from a Winnie the Pooh book; the careful reader of A.A. Milne will find that Pooh’s real name is “Edward Bear.” Evoy’s pop interests were counter-weighted by the original guitarist, bluesy Danny Marks and a jazz-inspired keyboardist, Paul Weldon. Although their early sound was blues-rocky enough to have them open for Led Zeppelin once, Marks left the band early on and the band soon found a niche with soft rock tunes that largely populated their four albums.

they found great success in their native Canada in the early-’70s, where “Last Song” was actually their fifth top 30 hit out of seven eventually. It was however, their only #1 hit in Canada (spending two weeks on top before being bumped out by Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”) and their only sizable international hit, making it up to #3 in the U.S. and #2 in Australia. Evoy says the inspiration came to him easily: “it was literal. I would go to sleep with my light on, hoping she’d think I was still awake and would drop by.” The next single, the apparent sequel, “Close Your Eyes” was another big hit in Canada but only made it to #37 Stateside, and soon after Edward Bear went into permanent hibernation.

Weldon went on to become a successful architect and graphic artist; Marks a respected blues guitarist and eventually a radio host with a nationwide show playing jazz and blues. He remembers the Bear days. “The real danger of being so big, so young was that it seemed too easy,” he says noting at the time he was surprised that after Bear he was soon “playing every strip joint on Yonge Street” in Toronto and known as “the king of chicken wing bars.”

As for Evoy, he and his wife run a horse farm in Ontario and he also is in charge of the Edward Bear catalog and publishing rights. “In the States, where all those oldie goldies stations keep playing our songs, it’s almost a full-time occupation,” he says, adding “it’s wonderful to know that our songs still have this life so many years after they were recorded.”

January 26 – People Didn’t Need Authority To Board The Chicago Train

Rock is often considered sexy and about sex, but seldom have bands been as “horny” as Chicago in their early days. Of course, we mean that literally – they along with Blood, Sweat and Tears were the leaders in a move to bring horn sections into rock at the end of the ’60s. We hear that clearly on their sophomore album, now nicknamed “Chicago II” which came out on this day in 1970.

we say “nicknamed” because technically the album was simply entitled Chicago. Their debut, released eight months earlier had been called Chicago Transit Authority but they’d dropped the last two words after being threatened with a lawsuit by the Windy City commuter bus and train system of the same name.

If the band lost a couple of words from their name, they gained some strong musical direction… and one of music’s best-known visuals, their curly logo which first showed up on this record. They got the idea for the logo which has appeared on all their albums since, from Coca-Cola’s cursive emblem.

Chicago at the time was a seven-man ensemble many consider the “classic” lineup for the band which has seen members come and go rather regularly through its 55 year run to date. Bassist Peter Cetera and guitarist Terry Kath pretty much split the lead vocals while Robert Lamm played keyboards and added backing vocals and their was James Pankow on trombone (plus lesser-known Walter Parazaine and Lee Loughlaine on more horns plus drummer Danny Seraphine.) Of the seven, the trio of horn players plus Lamm are still in the touring version of the group. The writing was a little more widely-distributed; while Kath and Cetera wrote a large portion of it, Pankow also added significant parts including the album’s standout, “Ballet for A Girl In Buchannon”. That one is hardly a household name, and at 13 minutes, understandably isn’t a mainstay of radio but is typical of the album and contributed two of their best-known songs: “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World.” It is one of three lengthy pieces on the double-album which are sprawling and composed of several different, distinctive parts.

The band put the album together surprisingly quickly, inside of a month during the summer of ’69 under the guidance of their producer of choice, James Guercio. Thanks to the essentially double A-sided single “Make Me Smile” / “Color My World” and the song Billboard pick as their best (albeit not best-selling) of their career, “25 or 6 to 4”, the record shot up the chart and quickly eclipsed the first album’s sales. The album hit #4 in the U.S., #5 in Canada and #6 in the UK and went platinum at home. In Canada, it ended up triple-platinum, making it their best-seller outside of a Greatest Hits package. “Make Me Smile” was their first top 10 hit in the states, going to #9 while the next single, “25 or 6 to 4” rose to #4 (and #2 in Canada.)

And by the way, what of that song? Some thought “25 or 6 to 4” was drug slang, or maybe some weird morse code for a famous person. Writer robert Lamm throws cold water on those conspiracy theories saying he was writing it in the middle of the night and merely jotted down the time as a working title. He began it around 3:34 or 3:35 AM, hence “25 or (twenty) six to four.” The song lives on anytime of the day not only on radio but on parade routes as well. An Omaha newspaper ranked it as the #1 Marching Band Tune of all-time.

Critics were mixed as to how they felt about it. Some saw it as new and progressive. The hometown Chicago Sun-times thought them “one of the most exciting, most original, most accomplished jazz-rocks in existence.” New York’s Village Voice only gave it a “D+”, calling it “sterile and stupid.” Eventually it probably came down to whether you thought rock was a stagnant, narrow genre or a growing sound willing to incorporate elements of other genres. Allmusic definitely goes with the latter, giving it 4.5-stars, best of the ’70s catalog and praising it for “complex jazz charges with heavy electric rock and roll that the band so brazenly forged” to create “some of the best and most effective pop music of that era.” Ultimately, we agree with them. Rock as we know it wouldn’t have gone on to what it was in the ’70s and ’80s if not for innovators willing to expand its boundaries in the early days, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to yes, Chicago.

January 25 – Fans Clash-ed Over Band’s Big Payday

Another day, another Clash story. A few days back we looked at The Clash’s top 10 hit “Rock the Casbah.” But there was a lot involved in getting to that level of success.

The punk movement was in overdrive in Britain and on this day in 1977 there was a bit of a sea change in it – it was according to critic Mark Perry, “the day punk died.” Most would disagree with Perry and point to it as the day it broadened its appeal with The Clash signing a large – 100 000 pound (about $600 000 in today’s values) contract with Columbia/CBS Records. It was remarkable for an underground band that had only played a couple dozen gigs (none as headliners), but it paid off handsomely for all involved. And though it was a big amount of cash, it hardly put the band in the lap of luxury as it specified they had to pay all expenses for their album and tour. Frugal Joe Strummer kept the band living in an old warehouse and drew just a 25 pound-a-week salary while putting together their self-titled debut. 

The debut was put together hastily, arriving on the shelves in their homeland in less than three months, adding to its authentic raw punk appeal. Americans would have to wait a couple of years though, until after their second album, Give Em Enough Rope, was out. That was because CBS and the Epic branch didn’t see them selling well here. One of their execs actually wrote to a complaining American fan at the time that “I personally am an avid Clash fan” but “A&R decisions are not based entirely on taste and musical preference.” He told the punker his “presumption that releasing a Clash record would change the complexion of the American music marketplace…is a false one.”

He was perhaps right. It took three albums and as many years for the band to make any sort of impression on the U.S. market, with the exceptionally well-reviewed, platinum-selling London Calling. Then, just as they were getting hot, they essentially broke up. Strummer later explained that. In 1982 they opened for The Who on an American tour, and “I remember looking at them and thinking ‘God, any day now this is going to be us’…no matter how hard I tried not to be, I was going to become a phoney.” He said they broke up after the big-selling Combat Rock (well, the name was used on one more album, Cut the Crap, but Strummer had fired his bandmates and seemed disinterested in it by that point) because “we could’ve been huge (but) on the one hand, there was our dignity, on the other hand, Aerosmith.” CBS might have preferred the latter, but I believe most fans think he picked the right hand!

January 24 – O’Jays, And All Of Us Too

I love music, you love music (or else you probably wouldn’t be reading this) and the O’Jays love music too. Or at least their 1975 hit tells us that. “I Love Music” peaked at #5 on Billboard this day 48 years ago.

The O’Jays are one of the longest-running vocal groups around, having being formed by a group of high school friends in Ohio in 1958. Their lineup’s changed through the years, as one would expect, but remarkably has had Eddie Levert and Walter Williams as constants through the decades; Levert’s in his 80s now! They put out their first single in 1960, and had minor success during the ’60s on the R&B charts, but never made it big until they looked east and signed with Philadelphia International records, home to the Philly soul sound and home to artists like Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Billy Paul and Patti Labelle. Their first single on that label, “Backstabbers” went to #3 and earned them their first gold single. By the time this single came around in the middle of the decade, it was their fifth top 10 hit and fourth gold single – besides “Backstabbers” they also had “Love Train” and “For the Love of Money”. Their popularity on the R&B charts jumped as well – after having just one top 10 on that specialty list before Philadelphia, they’d score eight in a little over three years!

Like most of their other hit songs (and in fact, most of the hits found on that record label), it was written and produced by the under-rated duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who ran the company. And like most hits on Philadelphia International, the artists sang while the music was created by a somewhat anonymous group of session players known as “MFSB”. That outfit had their own hit a year before “I Love Music” with the instrumental disco hit “TSOP” – short for The Sound of Philadelphia.

They’d go on to have one more major hit three years later, 1978’s “Useta Be My Girl” but while hits dried up somewhat in the ’80s, they kept on singing and have had a bit of an uptick in their popularity this century. They were named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 , and the Vocal Group Hall of fame before that. As well, their 1974 gold single “For the Love of Money” was used as the theme for the TV reality show The Apprentice featuring a pre-presidential Donald Trump. They got to appear on the show and sing it one time; we don’t know if the host was aware the song was derived from the Biblical reference to the love of money being the root of all evil. But we do have an idea of how the O’Jays feel about it now… in 2016 they sent a “cease and desist” order to Trump to try and prevent him from using their music at his rallies or in ads.

If you’d like to see if they still have what it takes, you’re in luck. They plan to tour later this year, although they have titled that tour “the Last Stop”, saying it will be their final go-round.

January 23 – The “Dawn” Of A New Star Act

A mystery group knocked George Harrison out of the #1 spot on the Billboard singles chart this day in 1971. Dawn’s first hit, “Candida” had been knocking on the door of the top spot a couple of months earlier, but they hit the jackpot with “Knock Three Times”. It spent three weeks on top and ended up among the year’s top 10 hits…and put the trio, who’d soon be known as Tony Orlando & Dawn, on the map.

Now you might wonder why I referred to them as a “mystery group.” You might wonder, it you listen to old re-runs of Casey Kasem American Top 40s from that period, why he’d name “Frank Spinelli” as the singer and refer to them as being from Philadelphia – they actually came from New York City. Well, turns out it was all part of a ruse perpetrated by Orlando. He was an employee of Columbia Records, being a staff producer and low-level executive there. But he’d had a marginally successful career as a singer in the ’60s, and with his job, he had access to a lot of incoming music. He’d heard a demo of the song “Candida” and thought it was a sure-fire hit. But he couldn’t get anyone else excited about it, so he decided to record it himself, with a couple of female backup singers. More surprising, despite his career, it seemed Columbia wouldn’t release his record…but rival Bell Records would. So he signed with them, but fearing legal ramifications of a possible conflict of interest, he decided to try to be anonymous, so he put out the album, including “Candida” and this track, under the name Dawn. Even the backing singers was a bit of a mystery. They’d soon be a well-known trio of Orlando, Joyce Wilson and Telma Hopkins. But, apparently for this and at least some of the songs first recorded on the record, Wilson and Hopkins hadn’t joined yet and it was actually Linda November and Toni Wine singing. Wine had a piece of another big early-’70s hit too, she was the main female voice on the Archies “Sugar Sugar.” And not uncommon for the time period, the actual band members playing the instruments for Dawn were not listed, though it’s a good guess to suspect it was the band The Tokens, since three of its members produced the record and they were friends of Tony’s.

Knock Three Times” was written by L.Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, who said they’d been inspired by city life and the song “Up on the Roof”, which Dawn also recorded. The idea was a shy man infatuated with an downstairs neighbor in an apartment building, who suggested she knock three times on her floor if she was interested.

Certainly the public were. “Crash” Craddock quickly recorded a cover version which went to #3 on country charts, while Dawn ruled the airwaves of late-winter 1970-71 with their version. Not only was it a #1 in the States, but also in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and several other countries, eventually going platinum in several lands and selling past six million copies, making it to this day one of the 300 top-selling singles ever according to Billboard.

Soon Orlando was uncovered as the singer, and they changed their name to Tony Orlando & Dawn for their next album. They were immensely popular for several years, scoring another #1 in 1975 with “He Don’t Love You” and an even bigger one in 1973 with “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around The Old Oak Tree”, also written by Brown and Levine and also selling over six million copies and ranks among Billboard‘s top 100 of all-time. And if you grew up in the ’70s, you probably remember them from TV. As with so many other family-friendly groups, they had their own TV variety show, from 1974 to ’76. In fact, it was brought in as a replacement for Sonny & Cher’s own show.

Now, lest you think it was unfortunate that this song knock out “My Sweet Lord” as the #1 song, just consider the song which eventually replaced “Knock Three Times” out of the top spot – “One Bad Apple” by the Osmonds. We’ll leave it to you to figure out whether “One Bad Apple” was one good record or not!

January 22 – Al Took Us To Another Place, Another Time

The year after the “Year of the Eagle” (the Bicentennial) was the year of the cat? Could be, since Al Stewart‘s lush record hit the American Top 40 on this day in 1977, his first significant radio hit.

The Scottish-born folkie had already put out six albums after his 1966 debut single (“The Elf” which had Jimmy Page playing guitar on it but sold a lofty 496 copies!) prior to his RCA Records debut, Year of the Cat. He became a part of the burgeoning British folk scene in the mid-’60s and was a friend of Cat Stevens and briefly the roommate of Paul Simon! Pretty good foundation for learning to write songs, one would think. The album was recorded at Abbey Road studios and produced by Alan Parsons, a pretty good set of ingredients to add to the recipe of making a hit. The album contained the popular song “On the Border”, but its real standout was the exotic title track. As Stewart later told a Toronto radio station, “if this isn’t a hit, then I can’t make a hit.”

Turns out he could; the single got to #8 on Billboard, and the album went platinum in the U.S. In Canada, it hit #3 yet in his homeland, it missed the top 30 – like all his songs have! He’d score an even higher chart hit the following year with “Time Passages”, but the song about the mysterious woman in the country where they turn back time remains his best-loved and best-known track. It was the only song on the album that he didn’t write entirely by himself. This one is co-credited to Peter Wood, his touring keyboardist at the time (and later a touring member of Pink Floyd during The Wall years.) Green played a piano riff every soundcheck and Stewart says “after I heard it about 14 times, I said ‘you know, there’s something about that. It sounds kind of haunting and nice. Can I write some lyrics to it?” But finding the right lyrics was a bit of a challenge. He tried ones about a comedian who commit suicide and Princess Anne and her horse, but nothing felt right. He says “I had a girlfriend at the time and she had a book on Vietnamese astrology, which is kind of obscure. It was open at the chapter called ‘The Year of the Cat’…I recognize a song title when I see it, and that was a song title.” He was right, and after some unsuccessful lyrics about a tabby that made him crabby, he settled in to watch Casablanca and let his imagination run wild until he had the lyrics that made him a part of music history. The history buff has also referenced everything from Stalin and WWII to Nostradamus in his songs. He continues playing music to this day

January 20 – Blimey, A Beatles Sequel, Mr. Martin?

A Beatles sequel four years after the Fab Four had folded? Well, not quite but not too far off either. America hit the U.S. top 40 this day in 1975 with “Lonely People”, a song written as a response to a Beatles hit. Not only that but none other than the legendary George Martin, the Beatles producer, produced it for them.

It was written by Dan Peek of the band, with help from his wife Catherine. Peek was probably the most spiritual of the band’s trio, and though a multi-instrumentalist talent, he wrote less of their popular material than bandmates Dewey Bunnell or Gerry Beckley. However, he hit paydirt on this one, which he wrote as a response to the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.”

Peek said he felt emotionally “lacerated” hearing “Eleanor Rigby” and its chorus of “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?, All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” It resonated with him because “I felt like a melancholy, lonely person” until he got married, at which point “I felt like I’d won.” So he wanted to write a sort of follow-up to the song, but with a much more optimistic outlook for the lonely.

Lonely People” was the second single off their fourth album, Holiday, after “Tin Man.” the album itself was a bit of a response to their previous album, Hat Trick, which was anything but for them. That one was something of a flop, and failed to yield a hit single unlike their first couple of albums…although they did have “Muskrat Love” on it, which would be a hit for the Captain & Tennille later. That record had been almost entirely done by them, from writing to playing to producing, and they and Warner Bros. agreed that perhaps the results weren’t optimal. So they were encouraged to get some new blood from outside and they thought big. Who better to produce than Martin?

Luckily, he agreed and recorded with them at his London studios. Peek says Martin “put everybody at ease”. Bunnell added “it was great working with George…we had that British sense of humor.” Despite being American citizens, all three of the America members were born over there. They said Martin helped them with the vocal arrangements, guitar work and came up with lots of all-round useful pointers that helped the album do far better than its predecessor – getting to #3 in the U.S. and Canada.

Lonely People” made it to #5 in the U.S., their fifth top 10 single in three years. Bizarrely that was higher than “Eleanor Rigby”, which officially made it to just #11 there. Oddly, despite the presence of George and their own origins, it didn’t do much in the UK, failing to make the charts in fact.

America would go on to have a few more hits in the decade and early-’80s, but some of those were without Peek. He quit in 1977 to embark on a solo career in Christian music. He re-wrote this song with a few lines about Jesus added and his version made #2 on the more selective “Christian Contemporary” charts. It was covered later by Jars of Clay, while Rickie Lee Jones did a more conventional cover of the America version.

January 20 – Journey To Infinity And Beyond On The Charts Began 45 Years Ago

One of San Francisco’s hardest-working bands journey from obscurity to superstardom took a big leap forward on this day in 1978Journey released their fourth album, Infinity.

The album quickly goes on to eclipse the combined sales of their previous trio of jazz and prog-rock influenced records and establish them as one of America’s big FM rock bands, thanks largely to the singles “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky.”  Surprisingly, looking back, neither of those singles hit the top 40, even though they have now become rock radio standards.

The band had ingredients for success from the start. Gregg Rolie, their first vocalist, had worked with Santana and sung his “Black Magic Woman” and was a quality keyboardist; drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been an in demand studio musician used by John Lennon and David Bowie and Neal Schon (the only person to be a member for the band’s 40+ year history) had also been in Santana’s band. But what they lacked perhaps was a great, power voice and a producer to tie it all together. On Infinity, they got both, adding Steve Perry, which allmusic correctly noted was “a stroke of genius” and bringing in producer Roy Thomas Baker, which probably was another one. Thomas had just finished working with Queen on their A Night at the Opera album and its epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Allmusic rated it 4-stars, better than any of the previous efforts, applauding “Perry’s soaring whale of a voice (and) Schon’s scorching fret work” and the band’s “traditional pop arrangements” leaving “dead and buried were the jazz fusion overtones” they had favored in their early days. Journey’s fourth would hit the U.S. and Canadian top 30 and eventually hit 3X platinum at home, but was quickly over-shadowed by even more successful albums like Departure and Escape in the next few years.

January 17 – From Prairie Bars To Paris, Joni Sparked Interest

Joni got jazzy. And a little more personal, and the results were great. Joni Mitchell put out her sixth album, Court & Spark , on this day in 1974. It quickly became her most successful work, commercially and by many critics estimation.

It was her second since joining Asylum Records, and like many of her works it was self-produced and featured a cover illustrated by one of her paintings. (At times she’s described herself as a “painter derailed by circumstance”). Also like many of her works, she recorded it in L.A., using a great crew of that city’s best session players to add to her piano and acoustic guitar playing. Among the ones showing up on Court & Spark were bassist Max Bennett, who’d played with artists ranging from Arlo Guthrie to Frank Zappa before, Larry Carlton on lead guitar (Carlton had worked with a range of stars including Henry Mancini and the Four Tops) and both Jose Feliciano and Robbie Robertson, who lent their rock guitar stylings to the album’s lead single, “Raised on Robbery.”

Which points to some of the differences from her earlier work. Thematically, it was more personal and loosely a concept album about various relationships. Sonically, it was, to quote Pitchfork, “her official severance from folk music.” Breezy jazz-rock numbers dominated, leading British scribe Will Fulford-Jones to suggest it was rather “like Steely Dan…a jazzy, radio-friendliness.”

There were 11 tunes, ten originals she wrote and a cover of an early-’50s jazz song, “Twisted.” Among the better known, and perhaps best overall, were the title track, “Just Like this Train” and the trio of singles – “Raised on Robbery”, “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris.” “Raised on Robbery” was as rock-sounding as Joni gets, a tale allmusic call “acutely funny”, a story of a hopeful prostitute having trouble luring a man away from the Maple Leafs hockey game on in a hotel bar. “Help Me”, an ode to falling in love and all the emotions that go with it, while “Free Man in Paris” was written for her friend, label-boss David Geffen – and his role in the “star maker machinery” of the world of pop music.

The album was an instant hit, her only #1 one in her homeland of Canada, where it spent three weeks on top. In the U.S., it came close, getting to #2, also her high water mark. “Raised on Robbery” was perhaps a bit too raw for some of her fans, and didn’t do well except in Toronto, where perhaps the hockey reference made it a top 10 single. “Help Me”, however, was a major hit, getting to #6 and #7 in Canada and the U.S. respectively . Oddly, it didn’t make the British or European charts, despite the record getting good reviews there as elsewhere. ”Free Man in Paris” added in another North American top 30 single. When all was said and done it ended up double platinum in the U.S. and sold better than three million copies in total.

The album garnered good reviews then and has grown in accolades since. Rolling Stone, allmusic and Pitchfork all give it perfect-scores of 5-stars (or 10/10 on Pitchfork) with Rolling Stone currently putting it at #110 on their best-ever list. Allmusic call it “a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop and jazz” while Fulford-Jones declares “the loose, sun-soaked sound is the greatest surprise.” However, every album has its detractors. It’s said that Bob Dylan didn’t care for it and in fact fell asleep when it was played for him for the first time.