Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
Can you tell I have a thing for albums with a year as the title? It takes some bravery to pick a year as a title. You are pretty much saying “it’s ok if my music isn’t timeless.” I guess if you come up with some declarative point-in-time statement it would seem more urgent than the distant trade-off which is the guarantee of sounding dated as time goes on (pun unavoidable).
The Temptations made 1990 in 1973; they tried to delay in the inevitable, but their take on what 1990 was going to be like was… inevitably off the mark (in so far as it mostly sounds just like 1973). This crew made 1980 in 1980. I don’t know which is more brave. Their take on 1980, growing apathy and lack of leaders was spot on but 1980 didn’t turn out to be a major turning point of any kind. If they made 1968 or 1970, it might have been a different story.
The truth is (that I talk a lot of smack and) that both albums are still relevant and sound great. The subject of this song has stayed current throughout the 25 years since this album came out. Now, you might wonder, “what does Harlem’s favorite son know about the Rio Grande and illegal Mexican immigration?” and…well, ok, I can’t answer that question but he takes a personal enough approach that the universality of the struggle comes right through.
What I love about this song musically is that it captures a certain live band vibe that I remember from when I used to play in bands. It doesn’t have that “we’ve play this 100 times and let’s get it ‘right’ for the record” feel or the over-zealous “first time before an audience” feel. It’s more like the first or second time you play the song all the way through after everyone really gets their parts down. No one is trying too hard and everyone is sitting back in the groove thinking, “damn this sounds good.”
(These are from either side of the inner album sleeve).
Don’t you miss the times when shots like this were actually cool?
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