Once upon a time, my music collection was this: a bunch of albums, cassettes, singles, 8-tracks, etc. Then one day – in the ’80s – the compact disc arrived. Now before I researched this I would have sworn no CD’s were around till the late ’80s. But lo and behold it turns out that one of the first CDs was a 1982 re-release of Billy Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street.
That aside, I don’t recall those things selling much till a few years later. In fact, the mighty WBCN actually had a “CD Thursday” or something where they would play only those media. (As if we could even tell, driving around with our shitty car radios.) Then one day in 1989 or 1990, I got a new stereo and it had a CD player. Intrigued by this item from a Brave New World I immediately needed to hear it.
So at work the next day I asked a co-worker if he owned any CDs. He loaned me Flying Cowboys. Now I liked, if not necessarily loved, Rickie Lee Jones so I thought, sure, I’ll give it a go. And I went home and listened to it, mostly for the audiophile thing. I listened to it again and promptly returned it the next day. And then went out and bought it.
This is a really good album which, BTW, was produced by Walter Becker. Apparently, Rickie Lee dug the Dan and especially The Royal Scam. (Scam wasn’t produced by Becker but I guess she wanted some Dan-ness to wash off.) Without wanting to detour this post to be about Becker, this quote from her tribute to the late DanMan is worth reading:
I first heard Steely Dan back in Kansas City, Missouri, where I ended up living with my dad after running away from home a second summer in a row. It was 1970 and I was just 15 years old. “Do It Again” was playing on the radio that summer night. I had just dropped some acid and I was on my way to see Led Zeppelin for their KC concert on their first USA tour.
My date was a fat guy I had just met – him driving by and said, “Hey you wanna go to a concert?” He had high hopes I guess, and I just wanted to get out of the house. What I remember more than Led Zeppelin though is “Do It Again” drumming through the twilight heat, and the joy of all that Victor Feldman percussion.
Like the best albums do, Cowboys has an overall feel – a vibe – to it. It sounds exactly zero like Steely Dan to the point that Becker must have just gotten out of the way to let Rickie Lee do her hipster thing.
The first track, “The Horses,” is a Jones/Becker collaboration and it’s a nice, subtle tune which I believe is about her daughter (with whom she was pregnant around this time). Or perhaps as Rolling Stone said, it’s a “song addressed to a young girl, perhaps Jones’s daughter, as well as to the young girl that Jones herself once was.”
That’s the way it’s gonna be, little darlin’
We’ll be riding on the horses, yeah
Way up in the sky, little darlin’
And if you fall I’ll pick you up, pick you up
“Ghetto of My Mind” has a funky, funky reggae-ish beat and some great background vocals. And some of that Rickie Lee street sass:
Cuz when we dance I feel like
We are who we’re meant to be
He puts his arms around me
I put my arms around him
And I feel satisfied and free
One night I tried my bandanna around his wrists
And we started to sway and it felt so good
And he said looky here mamma, looky here
I think I better just see you
Safely out of the neighborhood
That is to say
Rolling Stone captured my thoughts on this album nicely: “While it explores a wealth of themes and musical styles, the album unfolds with the ongoing grace of one long song. What provides unity to the album’s varied elements is its seductive rhythmic flow, the down-home surrealism of Jones’s lyrics, the clarity and intelligence of Walter Becker’s production and, of course, the sensual elasticity of Jones’s extraordinary singing.”
The title track, “Flying Cowboys,”
We saw Rickie Lee maybe a year and a half ago at a small club west of Boston. She seemed kind of disgruntled about having to play nowheresville and I’ll say overall it wasn’t her best night. I never did write about it but I’ll give her a pass and figure maybe it was just an off night.