Can't Get AwayComing From Reality (bonus track)
Climb Up On My MusicComing From Reality
Crucify Your MindCold Fact
Forget ItCold Fact
I'll Slip Away (1972)Coming From Reality (bonus track)
I WonderCold Fact
Like JanisCold Fact
Only Good For ConversationCold Fact
Sandrevan Lullaby - LifestylesComing From Reality
Sugar ManCold Fact


Rodriguez playlist



Contributor: Peter Viney

‘Cause they told me everybody got to pay their dues
And I explained that I had overpaid them …

from “Cause” (Coming From Reality, 1971)

The Searching For Sugar Man story is satisfying to record collectors and music fans. It reinforces our belief that there are indeed great lost albums out there, undiscovered works of genius. A few crop up every year … Vashti Bunyan is a prime example, but Rodriguez had the added element that his work had been successful and appreciated all the time, in South Africa and Australia, but that he had never seen the proceeds or known about it. The story is exaggerated somewhat. Eight years after the music world rejected him and he switched to full-time construction work in Detroit, he toured Australia playing to 15,000 people, and a live album, released in 1981 resulted. He took a degree in philosophy in 1981, and a guess would be from the proceeds of that Australian tour. But the broad story of his rediscovery from South Africa, and the Oscar-winning documentary film holds.

There were difficulties apparent for the two albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality. Rodriguez was at heart a solo club performer. The backing for the albums was imposed on him, and his participation limited. Even in 2014, he tours without a regular band, picking up a band, Chuck Berry style, in whichever country he’s in, and also Chuck Berry style, working from a setlist sent in advance, without rehearsal.

On Cold Fact in 1970, Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey produced. The assorted sessions had Coffey on guitar (he had played on The Temptations psychedelic hits) and Theodore on keys, with Motown session guys Bob Babbit (bass) and Andrew Smith (drums). Other moonlighting Motown guys came in for brass and strings. Coffey said: Rodriguez doesn’t work that well if you put him in with a bunch of musicians. He’s a little bit too eccentric for that. So what we did for the most part was record him by himself then record the band later. That’s important. Cold Fact was created by a Motown team, and it had material Rodriguez had developed in solo shows over years. It’s why Cold Fact is overwhelmingly better than the second record, Coming From Reality which was deleted within months. Cold Fact is one of those seamless masterpieces where nearly every track demands to be in. I was tempted to say, OK, twelve tracks on Cold Fact. Two were shoved onto Rodriguez by the producers: Hate Street Dialogue and Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme) . They were written by Gary Harvey plus the two producers. They’re obviously lesser pieces, though Hate Street Dialogue does capture something of Rodriguez’s style: Rodriguez on a bad day, perhaps. Gommorah is fine in the verse, dreadful in the chorus. So take out those two. That leaves ten. I’m tempted to say ‘That’s the Toppermost …,’ but I’m going to try just a little bit harder. On Cold Fact, the first three chosen are I Wonder (sex), Sugar Man (drugs) and Crucify Your Mind (rock ‘n’ roll). All three have lyrics as infectious as STD.

I Wonder’s explicit lyrics (I wonder … how many times you’ve had sex) were part of its mass appeal in uptight, censored South Africa of the apartheid era.

Sugar Man has:
Silver magic ships you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane

In South Africa then, that was just SO illegal that just listening to it felt like participating in a rebellion.

Only Good For Conversation has to be there for the vituperative, vehement lyrics, one of the few to match Positively 4th Street or Like A Rolling Stone in the genre, and interestingly he likes to play the latter in concert. He doesn’t wrap it up either: You’re the coldest bitch I know contrasts with You’re still serving cookies and kool-aid, you’re so proper and so cute …

Forget It sets outs its stall and does its stuff in a beautifully concise 1 minute 50 seconds. He likes to end his live sets with it.

Like Janis, Rich Folks Hoax or Jane S. Piddy? It’s hard to put a Rizla paper between them. All worth it. After several programmed plays of the three, I’ll choose Like Janis. Today.

For the second album, they pulled him out of context to London, brought in Steve Rowland to produce with a first-rate English session crew … Chris Spedding on guitar, Tony Carr on percussion. It was remaindered pretty fast in the USA and UK. If I had been working for A&M, the distributors of Sussex Records, I would have done the same … abandoned it. It’s over-produced, often tastelessly so, and I long to dig Rodriguez plus his solo guitar out from under the layers. The opener Climb Up On My Music has excellent guitar work: that’s Chris Spedding, not Rodriguez and definitely retro-fitted to the song, but it’s the opener because it’s the catchiest. A Most Disgusting Song is a recitation rather than a song, and a great recitation too. Or take Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles, which has exquisite orchestration for nearly two minutes before we hear anything from Rodriquez. You’re listening to Steve Rowland’s production, not the great singer songwriter. It has to go in, as an overall thing though. Elsewhere, one feels the psychedelic envelope of lyrics is being stretched too far. The uncharacteristically MoR I Think of You is a mainstay of live shows in recent years, but so are I Only Have Eyes For You and Sinatra’s I’m Gonna Live Until I Die.

The Coming From Reality CD, as released, has three bonus tracks. A 1972 or 1973 re-recording of his first single, I’ll Slip Away and two more. The single was originally done in 1967 much more simply, as “Rod Riguez”. You can hear it on YouTube, but it’s otherwise unobtainable. But I’ll take the later one with additions. The B-side You’d Like To Admit It has been used as a concert opener, or first encore, in recent years. It’s a strong song. I prefer I’ll Slip Away.

The other two bonus tracks were later additions, and Can’t Get Away is immediately better produced than the album. These were recorded back in Detroit with Dennis Coffey and to me, all three bonus tracks, leap up in quality compared to the Coming From Reality album.

There are live Australian albums (1979 tour) and South African (1999 tour) but they’re not available. I assume if they had a lot to add, they would be. The “third album” has been talked up the last three years.

My review of Rodriguez in concert in the UK this month is here. – The Official Rodriguez Website

Rodriguez biography (Apple Music)

Peter Viney has been an educational author and video scriptwriter since 1980. He has written articles on The Band, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. He also writes novels under the name Dart Travis and writes on popular music, theatre and film at his website.

TopperPost #221

1 Comment

  1. Glenn Smith
    Mar 21, 2014

    It is hard to describe the impact Rodriguez had on surf culture and surfing communities in the 1970’s. I grew up on Maroubra Beach and in the period from about 75-80 there would not have been a house you walked into without one or both of the two albums. I can honestly say that I moved on from Rodriguez and didn’t listen to him for years,literally 25 years. I went to the movie and had that strange lip syncing experience of mouthing the words to EVERY single song on the sound track. It all came flooding back, what is interesting about Peter’s fantastic post is what happened with the arrangements. I’m probably driven by a sad middle aged bloke’s nostalgia but i love how they are over produced. What is tattooed on my brain as much as the brilliant lyrics are the horns, the strings, the bass lines, they are compelling, subtle yet often overblown and are wholly part of his sound. The violins and horns on Inner City Blues,the vibes on Crucify Your Mind and of course the bass riff on I Wonder. Those SONGS, the themes of inner city desolation, the undercurrent of injustice and oppression that flows through them all, they cut through to an audience that was obsessed with off shore breezes and the introduction of three fins instead of two. Why? I think there is something in Rodriguez that brings the promise of freedom, freedom of expression and very much the freedom of the soul. I love this post Peter, I’m so glad he has been acknowledged here with a post as good as this.

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