Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Random Record Reviews: Volume 8

Why Isn’t Dennis Linde A Household Name? 

As mentioned in a previous Random Record Review, I recently became aware of singer-songwriter Dennis Linde via the Elektra-Asylum Fall 1974 Releases compilation LP, which featured the title track from Linde’s album Trapped In The Suburbs. This song really caught my attention, and I immediately sought a copy of the album it was sourced from…and liked it so much that I got Linde’s other two solo albums soon after. Actually there were really three other Linde albums, but his first one, Linde Manor (Intrepid Records, 1970), is grossly overpriced on the records marketplace, no doubt because DJ Shadow sampled something off of it for his trendsetting 1996 LP Entroducing

Well anyway, Dennis Linde was a Nashville-based songwriter whose biggest claim to fame was that he wrote the song “Burning Love,” which of course Elvis Presley had a huge hit with. Linde wrote and produced very prolifically on the Nashville scene, so he’s often regarded as a country musician. But make no mistake, the three solo LPs reviewed here are very much in the rock camp. Indeed, Trapped In The Suburbs most reminds me of Gene Clarke’s No Other, from the same year and on the same label, but Linde’s record is leaner and less mired in country tonk. It’s also a helluva lot better than No Other, which makes it very strange that it hasn’t been discovered by the hipsters of today. 

I consulted my Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD-ROM and saw that all three of these albums received favorable reviews at the time they were released, so there was at least a little contemporary acclaim for Linde’s work. But it would appear that none of the releases made a ripple. That’s the thing about being a record collector. You come across so many albums that were worthy of great success but went unnoticed, and you wonder why. Then you remember that all the stuff that plays monotonously on classic rock radio today was new then, and just being discovered, so that’s what people were listening to instead of Dennis Linde! 

Dennis Linde: Dennis Linde 
Elektra Records, 1973 

This one is my least favorite of the three here, but I only mean that when speaking comparatively. Otherwise Dennis Linde is a great album, if a little more on the country-esque singer-songwriter tip than the following two records. That said, it hits the ground running with what I consider Linde’s best-ever song, and a track that should have been blasting from transistor radios across this great land of ours in 1973: “Hello, I Am Your Heart:” 

How this incredible track didn’t become a hit is a mystery. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that Dennis Linde was similar to Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney, and some others in that he not only wrote the songs but sang them, played all the instruments on them, and produced them. “Hello, I Am Your Heart” is a masterpiece in multi-tracking, and I love how that anthemic chorus just keeps building on itself with the fuzz bass and thundering drums. I mean when a guy produces something like this and it’s ignored you wonder why he didn’t just throw in the goddamn towel. 

This is not to say Dennis Linde is a one-good-song record. While most of the songs do play on Linde’s Nashville connection, with a country tinge (or instrumental blues, as is the case with “East St. Louis Nights”), there are some notable exceptions. Like the experimental “Dr-31,” comprised of textured synthscapes with a rock beat and telling the sci-fi tale of the building of a starship; the song is a prefigure of the funkier sci-fi outings on Linde’s later Under The Eye

And of course I have to mention that Dennis Linde’s most famous song is also here, though it’s arguable how many people even know it’s a Dennis Linde song; like me, they probably just assumed Elvis wrote it. But yes, this is “Burning Love,” which is another one where Linde builds on his own vocals and instrumentation, giving the track more of a groove than Elvis’s version: 

The contemporary Rolling Stone reviewer capped off his review with something to the effect that this album would be unjustly overlooked (obviously I’m too lazy to boot up my old PC – which is the only thing I can play that CD-ROM on – and see what exactly the reviewer stated, let alone who the reviewer was!). Of course history has proven him correct. While I wouldn’t rank this as my favorite Dennis Linde album, I still definitely recommend it – I have the original US pressing, which sounds great and comes with a little biographical insert on Linde, where it’s mentioned how busy he was while self-producing the album, including even becoming a father. I thought this was a cool note, as the child, apparently a daughter, is mentioned in a song off the following album. Also because I was born the year after this album was released, so it’s cool to think Dennis Linde’s kid is around my age – hopefully she appreciates her dad’s work! 

You should buy the record (if you have a turntable, that is; there’s no CD), but here’s the full album on Youtube. This upload at least sounds better than the uploads above, but as ever these Youtube uploads aren’t at all reflective of the true depth of the original vinyl’s sound: 

Dennis Linde: Trapped In The Suburbs 
Elektra, 1974 

All I can say is, this has already become one of my favorite albums of all time…and I just discovered it a few months ago! How Trapped In The Suburbs still hasn’t been discovered by the rock hipsters is yet another mystery. It’s basically the perfect rock album, Linde again writing all the songs, playing all the instruments, and producing himself. Have I mentioned yet he also uses a mellotron? There’s a mellotron present on this and the other two albums here, but these records are so obscure that they aren’t even mentioned on the otherwise-comprehensive Planet Mellotron site. 

While there’s nothing here that sounds as “immediate hit!” as “Hello, I Am Your Heart,” the thing about Trapped In The Suburbs is that it’s more of an album album, if you get my drift, not so much a collection of songs. It’s also a great headphone album; Linde wasn’t just talented in the music department but in the production department as well. There’s a progressive element at play here, with the country singer-songwriter vibe of the previous album only on a few selected tracks…and even then it’s done in a more progressive fashion. 

My favorite song is “He Likes To Hurt You,” which features a high-drama, almost histrionic chorus that will get stuck in your head. The progressive touch is definitely present on this one, as it is on the similar “Just To Think” on Side 2. In fact there’s almost an ELO touch to the latter, but with more grit than Jeff Lynne’s polish. “Hell Or High Water” could have been the single off the album, another progressive number in which Linde’s voice duels with itself from the right and left channels – as I say, the album is perfect for headphones. Good old rock and roll is also present, in particular in the heavy groover “My Guitar,” the aforementioned track where Linde mentions his child – whom he ignores because he’s too busy “playin’ my damn guitar.” This one’s also got some great production touches; I love how the drums kick in once the song is underway. 

The title track also could’ve been a single, and indeed is how I discovered the album, given that an edited version of it was present on the Elektra-Asylum Fall 1974 Releases promo compilation. This one does have a bit of a Gene Clarke vibe, at least in how it merges country with a progressive funk edge; it’s cool but certainly not my favorite track here. But then I think every track is great, save for the sole misfire “Burn Away My Blues,” which is a lame (to me at least) blues number that closes out side 1. The country-esque tracks are even good, like “Country Steel Man,” a mournful number about musicians on the radio becoming your heroes, and augmented by a very David Gilmour-esque steel guitar (similar to what the actual Gilmour at the time was doing on steel guitar). 

This is another instance where you should just get the record for sure; I have the US pressing, and it sounds great. This release didn’t come with an insert, though, and it would prove to be Linde’s last with this label – indicating, of course, that his records weren’t selling. But like with Dennis Linde, the entire album has been uploaded to Youtube: 

Dennis Linde: Under The Eye 
Monument Records, 1978 

Dennis Linde’s last album sees him heading into a cosmic funk territory, but with a definite rock backbone. The country stuff is almost entirely absent. This is surprising, because this label was known for country, being based out of Nashville (at least partly, I think). Regardless, this is a sci-fi trip, sporting one helluva great cover – even the inner sleeve is cool, with a very “modern” looking silhouette shot of Linde sporting big headphones. I mean it could almost be an ad for Beats, or whatever those overpriced headphones of today are called. Album cover and inner photo all do a great job of summing up the headphone, sci-fi funk vibe of Under The Eye, which by the way is the rarest of the three LPs discussed here, though still not absurdly priced on the used records marketplace. My copy cost me ten bucks. 

Also unlike the other two albums discussed here, Under The Eye has not been uploaded in full to Youtube. So if you want to hear the full monty, you’ll need to get the vinyl, at least for now. Rolling Stone wasn’t as enthusiastic about this one, but the reviewer did acknowledge that Dennis Linde had been on a science fiction trip from the beginning, noting not only the track “Dr-103” on his self-titled album, but also the sci-fi liner notes on that release. That said, Rolling Stone was never shy about disliking anything experimental or envelope-pushing, so it’s not surprising they weren’t as fond of this one. 

Some of Under The Eye almost sounds like Daft Punk a few decades early. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s standout track – which happens to be the only song on a Dennis Linde album that was not written by Dennis Linde. This would be “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” here named “Ghost Riders.” Good grief does this thing sound like it’s from a few decades later or what? 

Once again Linde plays all the instruments and self-produces. You can hear he’s now added some vintage analog synths to his setup, giving the entire album an almost post-modern vibe. He hasn’t forgotten basic rock, though, as heard in “The Good Ship Rock And Roll,” a song which sounds like it could’ve been released in the ‘80s in how it bridges electronics and anthemic rock: 

Actually the track sounds to me like something that could’ve been on the soundtrack for Transformers: The Movie, ie the 1986 animated feature (with Orson Welles!!). But for the most part Linde sticks to a groove for the entire album; “Strange Groove” is the title of another such song. He does still indulge in a little country; “Funky Hoe-Down” is a country funk piece that reels back on the cosmic vibe. Speaking of which, the title track is another funk number that’s all about UFOs, a sort of novely number that still is a great song in its own right, similar to the same year’s “Flying Saucers,” by obscure British band Yellow Dog (which was fronted by American singer-songwriter Kenny Young, of Last Stage For Silver World). 

But this was it for Dennis Linde, at least so far as his solo releases went. Three albums released over a span of five years, all of them worthy of a greater audience. But they definitely went under the radar; according to Discogs, Under The Eye was only released in the US, whereas Dennis Linde and Trapped In The Suburbs had at least also been released in the UK. But clearly they made even less of an impression there than here. Linde went back into songwriting and producing, and passed away in 2006. 

So in closing, I heartily recommend these three records. I discovered Dennis Linde through a fluke – I literally picked up that Elektra-Asylum compilation because I wanted to hear the single edit of Gene Clarke’s “No Other” – but I would now rank him as one of my favorite music artists ever.

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