Detail of Steele Savage's cover illustration for Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo, 1970
Is it weird that my takeaway from hearing Neil Young's Tonight's the Night was, "Hey, who's this Nils Lofgren guy?" Regardless, I thought that it was very important that I get a copy of the out-of-print two-album disc containing 1+1 and All Out, two albums by Nils Lofgren's woulda/coulda/shoulda-been-big band Grin. 1+1 is the one I'm getting to know first, and it's an unexpectedly ambitious and interesting album. If I was looking for something to convince me that first-rate sidemen like Lofgren were often one good break away from being the stars they play for, the opening track of 1+1, "White Lies", certainly does the trick. It's a perfect hybrid of post-Beatles power-pop and CSN-style roots rock, with a soaring, harmony-heavy chorus that would top the pop charts in the version of 1971 that exists in my head.
"White Lies" is the first of a string of five upbeat numbers that make up the first half of 1+1, labelled on the original LP as the "Rockin' Side". None of the other four live up to the promise of "White Lies", leaning more toward hamfisted blues rock, but each one has its moments. "Slippery Fingers" is a corny cowbell stomp until its amazing guitar solo, and "Moon Tears" has a great verse undercut by a one-note chorus. The album's second side, the "Dreamy Side", is more successful, with four just-about-perfect ballads and one corny over-the-top closer. The highlights are "Hi, Hello Home", which features an impressive arrangement of layered vocals by Graham Nash, and the folk-pop number "Sometimes". My favorite song of all may be the bouncy "Just to Have You", a song that wasn't even on the original 1+1 but is included as a bonus track on this two-fer. It was the b-side to the "White Lies" single, and it's just about as good (a couple unnecessary water-splash sound effects notwithstanding).
By the way, I'm aware that this is the second time in a row that I've posted a b-side instead of a song that's actually on the album I'm writing about. I'll knock it off after this - I don't want to be "that guy".
"Just to Have You" by Nils Lofgren & Grin