Carly Simon – Another Passenger – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

There’s one quality in particular that added immensely to our enjoyment of the music — gobs and gobs of Tubey Magic. The copies that were opaque, dry, flat and “modern” sounding — which pretty much describes practically every Heavy Vinyl record we’ve played in the last five years — bored us to tears, not surprisingly in the very same way that most Heavy Vinyl does.

This is 1976, they were still making good records then. You would hardly know it by playing the average pressing of the album, but when you hear one like this, there is no mistaking the richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality.

These are qualities for which good tube equipment is rightly revered. (We no longer use tube equipment ourselves, preferring to be guided by the approach of reproducing the Tubey Magic of the records we play, assuming there is some, unadorned.)

Most pressings get Carly’s voice all wrong — gritty, edgy, hard and strained, but not this one. Carly’s singing on this copy is smoother, sweeter, more immediate and clearly more emotionally compelling than we heard on any other copies in our shootout. We call this Master Tape Sound; you hear it on those rare pressings so far beyond the norm that the music seems to come to life right in front of you, right there in your very own listening room.

Desert Island Carly

This is my personal favorite of all of Carly’s albums. In terms of singing and songwriting it’s her most consistent, highest quality work. Nothing too heavy, just well crafted and enjoyable Singer Songwriter pop. If you like the kind of albums Paul Simon used to make before Graceland, or middle period James Taylor, you should find much to like here.

Some of her albums can be badly overproduced, with monstrously reverberating drum thwacks courtesy of Richard Perry and his minions. Thankfully this is not one of them, so it tends to wear well over time. I can personally attest to that fact because I used to have a tape of the album in my car that I’d be willing to bet I have heard at least two hundred times.

An All-Star Cast

Ultimately an album succeeds or fails on the strength of its songwriting, and here Another Passenger soars with consistently insightful material, as well as wonderful production. Ted Templeman was a hot producer in the ’70s, churning out very well recorded albums for The Doobies, Little Feat, James Taylor, even my favorite Captain Beefheart album, Clear Spot. He did a top-notch job on this one, too.

This underrated release from 1976 was a change of pace for Carly, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. There is no other Carly Simon album quite like it. She’s got some help here from a wonderful backing crew including members of the Doobies and Little Feat, plus Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Dr. John, and of course good ‘ol JT.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Half a Chance 
It Keeps You Runnin’
Fairweather Father 
Cowtown 
He Likes to Roll 
In Times When My Head

Side Two

One Love Stand 
Riverboat Gambler 
Darkness ‘Til Dawn
Dishonest Modesty 
Libby
Be With Me

Reviewed by Ken Tucker (8/12/76)

“Cowtown,” a song Carly Simon has written for Another Passenger, tells the story of a cagey French woman named Simone Swann who marries a Texas millionaire for his money, and because she’s lonely. In the second verse, Swann prepares to accompany the Texan to his native land, and Simon notes:

She packed up all her perfume 
For the gusty pioneer 
On a carefree note he said “forget your coat 
There’s a chill about every ten years.”

The use of the word “gusty” here is a small revelation, and the phrasing of the “carefree note” is perfect. This is the sort of lucid, humorous and concise observation for which Randy Newman, say, would be praised to the skies. I’ll venture a guess that Carly Simon won’t be huzzahed for her verbal dexterity and wit, however. If past reviews are any indication, a goodly number of her notices will consist of arch compliments of the gams displayed on the back cover.

Another Passenger is Carly Simon’s best record. The sniffs of “So what?” that that assertion may provoke are exactly what Simon is confronting with this album. Her tenure with producer Richard Perry left many with the feeling that she had given herself over to his very particular musical vision, and the music that resulted — ephemeral and repetitive for the most part — was more Perry’s failure than Simon’s. Whether that impression is accurate or not, it is an embarrassingly obvious example of the cliché of a woman allowing herself to be manipulated by a man or men who know “better,” or more, than she.

This also represents a misunderstanding of Simon’s modus operandi. Throughout her career she has surrounded herself with those whom she hopes to use (and I mean “use” in its best and worst senses — employing someone’s talents and manipulating that person’s talents to one’s own ends) to articulate a world view that has never been prominent in popular music; i.e., what it’s like to be a very attractive, independent, upper-class woman.

Prominent among those used people are men: Perry, whose lush slickness impressed her as a good musical equivalent to her lyrical glides; writer Jacob Brackman, whose arch irony suited her Joan Didion-ish despair; and James Taylor, whose sleepy folky sexiness offset her crackling urban eroticism. Passenger relinquishes Perry, opting for Ted Templeman, and uses Taylor mainly as a backup vocalist.

In addition to the aforementioned “Cowtown,” the finest song she has written, equally entertaining are a pair of Simon/Brackman compositions, the loping, slick “Half a Chance” and a tropical thumper (via Van Dyke Parks’s arrangement), “Darkness ‘Til Dawn.” The duo’s other offering, “Riverboat Gambler,” is precious in the way Brackman’s writing often becomes without a hefty slice of Simon’s down-to-earthiness. The only glaring failure here is “Libby,” an overlong banality.

Doobie Brothers Jeff Baxter and Mike McDonald are omnipresent to great effect. Simon has chosen to record the strongest song on the Doobies’ latest album, “It Keeps You Runnin’,” and her smoky, tough vocal even manages to improve it.

True, Carly Simon has produced a lot of average music, but what is more important is that she has never abandoned her original themes, something she might easily have done at any time. Simon is not a very original songwriter. Her melodies are similar; often her lyrics seem as if she had not worked very hard at them, taking the first clever rhyme that came to mind. But at her best she conveys the monied angst of the leisured with moving conviction, something no one else has ever done. Additionally, she is always further explicating and enhancing an exploration of her ego and her sexuality. It is extraordinary for a woman to say without a speck of self-consciousness or irony, as she does here on “In Times When My Head,” that she “Know[s] none could compare with me/In my airy skirts and cool retreats.”

This may not seem like much to radical prose writers, but it is still jolting stuff for pop music.