Lee Michaels – Nice Day For Something (Manifesto)
Lee Michaels – Tailface (Manifesto)
The Seventies were the height of the “album artist” – where a musician could build a following through touring and FM underground radio support, and consistently issue albums that would hit the charts, even though they rarely got played on Top 40.
Lee Michaels was one such artist, who released seven albums for A&M Records from 1968-1973, with five of them landing on Billboard’s LP chart. Yet, all we remember him for now is “Do You Know What I Mean,” an organ-led slice of blue-eyed soul that hit #6 in 1971. Manifesto Records brought all of those albums back in print in 2016, along with a fantastic overview called Heighty Hi/The Best of (which we reviewed here).
Michaels’ signed with Columbia Records in 1973 and issued a pair of albums over the next two years: Nice Day For Something and Tailface. Manifesto has just issued these albums in remastered form, with original album packaging. Both records are making their digital debut.
1973’s Nice Day For Something finds Michaels joined by drummer Keith Knudsen, who would soon leave to join the Doobie Brothers. Michaels was never shy about tackling politics, and the album opens with the biting “Your Breath is Bleeding,” with the lyrics: “stop the killing / cross the sea / stop burning / stop it for me.” The rollicking “Same Old Song” was issued as a single, and it’s propelled by a pounding harpsichord. “So Hard” is a decent ballad that features an oddly-mixed accordion – it’s so loud, it overpowers everything else. “High Wind” is better, a funky track that features, what sounds like the unique use of an organ with a wah wah pedal. This track has a fine Michaels’ organ solo that gives him time to stretch out.
“Olson Arrives at Two-Fifty Five” is a fantastic track, where Michaels plays a tack piano, laying down some Gospel-tinged chords. This hybrid of country & R&B is so good, you forget that the lyrics are largely unintelligible (“I had a shootout with my mind to win”?). Then, at the 3:40 mark, the song changes structure and chords, building – then getting quiet, and building again, before descending into chaos, with Michaels just hitting random notes. Finally, a completely different, yet equally arresting melody closes the track.
“The Other Day (The Other Way)” has a gritty, Leon Russell-feel to it, while “Bell” is a moody piece, which features Michaels on some tasty guitar. After another rollicking, piano number in “Went Saw Mama,” the album closes with the surprising hard rock of “Nothing Matters (But It Doesn’t Matter),” which is propelled by twin guitars, turned up very loud, while Michaels screams over top. It’s both a welcome change, and a very strange way to wrap things up.
The next album, Tailface, saw the return of “Frosty” (Barry Smith), who played drums on many of Michaels’ earlier albums. Rounding out the band this time was an actual bass player in Frank Smith. The album starts where the last one ended, with Michaels’ blistering electric guitar, on the odd “Met a Toucan.” The vocal seems to be unfinished, with Michaels laughing several times. He was back on the more familiar tack piano on “Politician,” a scathing account of the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Just when you think the guitars can’t get any louder, they do! “Slow Dancing Rotunda” sounds like the guitars were plugged directly into the board. The soulful, “Roochie Toochie Loochie” finds Michaels back on the organ, but there’s still a loud guitar in one of the channels. He’s become a pretty good guitarist, as the solo on this track shows.
“Drink the Water” is classic Michaels, another slab of Gospel soul, great organ solo, and even an accordion for good measure. “Lovely Lisa” shows Michaels singing in a softer tone, while the track goes to some interesting places melodically. He saves the best for last, the rockin’ “Garbage Gourmet,” featuring some absurd lyrics like “you’re just an anus / what are you supposed to know.” The guitars are still mixed too loud, but it’s such a spirited performance, you don’t really care.
Kudos to Manifesto for continuing to show that Lee Michaels was so much more than just “Do You Know What I Mean.” Nice Day For Something and Tailface are both worth a listen. —Tony Peters