Welcome to the first installment of Five For The Record, which is intended to be a recurring feature. I’m going to challenge myself to look at things I enjoy and explain five reasons why I like them. Not everything I write about in this space will be a record (as in, an LP.) But that’s where we’re starting.
Today’s subject: Third studio album by party-hearty R&B/rock band from Boston. Released April 1973. Spawned one wonderfully loose-limbed Top 40 single (now, don’t touch the knobs.) Reached No. 10 on the Billboard album charts, the only Top Ten placement for any Geils album or single of the Seventies.
And I like it because …
1. Colored vinyl. Yup, mine is one of the early pressings, on clear lollipop-red vinyl. When I bought it, I made sure to dub a copy quickly onto cassette, so I could enjoy the music without further scratching up the awesome redness.
Colored vinyl is really kind of a dopey marketing stunt — the sort of thing you’d do to move copies of an album you didn’t think would sell by itself.
But it was a novelty then, and maybe the band thought a change was as good as a rest. Red vinyl goes very nicely with the black-and-red design of the album cover, too.
And anyway, I like to imagine Geils’ jive-talking frontman Peter Wolf meeting with some record-company suit, cackling, “Put it on any color vinyl you want! It’s still gonna melt the needle.”
(As an added bonus, the playout groove on one of the sides has a tiny, semi-secret message scratched in: “NICE TO SEE YOUR FACE IN THE PLACE.” Aw, thanks, guys.)
2. High-water mark. While my knowledge of J. Geils is not exhaustive, it is enough to convince me that “Bloodshot” is probably the band’s best studio attempt to capture its rowdy Seventies persona.
(I am certain that, by 1974’s “Nightmares … and Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle,” the band’s tales of house parties and Detroit breakdowns were starting to seem a little threadbare. And by 1977’s “Monkey Island,” they’d decided to grow up, a move that would pay off very well for them once they got used to it.)
It’s no great surprise that Geils’ two live albums of the Seventies (“Full House” and “Blow Your Face Out”) should be parties in a cardboard box.
But getting that vibe in the sedate setting of a studio counts for a little extra something, I think. You have to bring the party with you. And with “Bloodshot,” J. Geils made it possible for a lot of other people to bring the party with them.
3. Whammer jammer, Dickie! It’s a rags-to-riches story Horatio Alger would have envied: Connecticut-born physics undergrad with ginormous ‘fro adopts new name, transforming himself overnight into love-taking, sheet-shaking, fire-blowing juke-joint hero.
Well, OK. Richard Salwitz’ transformation into his harmonica-playing stage persona, Magic Dick, must have taken more than one night — you don’t get that good in a hurry.
Whatever backstory you choose to believe, Magic Dick is a pleasure to listen to throughout “Bloodshot.” Not only does he fill his expected role as a soloist, at his best he also reaches that R&B nirvanaland where the harp becomes an ensemble instrument pitched somewhere between a horn and a Hammond organ.
4. Quality control. When most bands have two minutes and forty-five seconds to kill, they throw together a generic filler song, based on a couple of chord changes they thought of at soundcheck and topped off with stylistically consistent yet unremarkable lyrical content.
Not J. Geils. Side One of “Bloodshot” ends with a drunk-and-disorderly jam called “Don’t Try To Hide It,” featuring a group singalong, random references to heinie-biting, and a discordant sax solo credited to that scourge of high-school librarians everywhere, Mike Hunt. (Wolf hails Mr. Hunt’s entrance with a growl of “oobadoobah!” that by itself is worth whatever this album will cost you in a 21st-century used-record bin.)
It’s riotous, completely irrational, proudly tossed-off, and more fun than all of Your Favorite Band’s albums put together.
5. Keepers of the flame. The invaluable ARSA radio-chart website helps us identify other albums that ran the charts alongside “Bloodshot” in the spring and early summer of ’73:
Paul McCartney, “Red Rose Speedway.” George Harrison, “Living In The Material World.” “The Best of Bread.” The Beatles, “1962-1966.” The Beatles, “1967-1970.” Seals & Crofts, “Diamond Girl.” Paul Simon, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.” Carole King, “Fantasy.”
Well-crafted, mature albums, one and all … but lacking a certain fire down below, n’est-ce pas?
The pleasures of “Bloodshot” are magnified for me when I consider the company it kept. I like to imagine the record rolling up the charts in a haze of cigarette smoke and cheap cologne, rousting everything around it.
Going on 40 years since the album came out, the world is still full of music that aims for the heart and mind. And “Bloodshot” is still a marvelous, timeless antidote for those who want music from somewhere lower down.