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Greetings From LA: Tim Buckley’s Frisky Missive From The City Of Angels
In Depth

Greetings From LA: Tim Buckley’s Frisky Missive From The City Of Angels

Sounding ‘real good to rub downs’ – according to its creator – ‘Greetings From LA’ found Tim Buckley working up a lusty honky-tonk sound for the 70s.

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Tim Buckley brought in 20 musicians for the recording of Greetings From LA, his seventh studio album, and none were more important to its overall funky, honky-tonk sound than guitarist Joe Falsia, whose searing electric playing is the perfect foil to Buckley’s 12-string guitar.

Listen to ‘Greetings From LA’ here.

“I brought in the technique of taking in tongues”

The album, cut during a 48-hour period in June 1972 at Far Out Studios, in Hollywood, was released that August via Warner Bros subsidiary Straight Records, and promoted with a six-night engagement at The Boarding House in San Francisco.

Co-written by Buckley and arranger/producer Jerry Goldstein, Move With Me is the first of seven powerful songs on Greetings From LA. A steamy sex track (“I went down to the meat rack tavern/And I found myself a big ol’ healthy girl”), it features sensuous backing vocals from Venetta Fields, Clyde King and Lorna Maxine Willard, along with some rollicking piano from Kevin Kelly and pulsating drum work from Ed Greene.

Elsewhere, the six-and-a-half minute Get On Top is one of Buckley’s more unusual songs, featuring some experimental singing from the man with the deep bass voice. “With Greetings From LA, I brought in the technique of talking in tongues, which is very religious, out of the Holly Roller thing and very much American, a part of the country,” said Buckley of his singing on the composition. “Words lose their meanings after a while and, in a lot of ways, words are just preliminaries to the real thing in music.”

“It has an immediate energy about it”

Closing out the first half of the album, Sweet Surrender found Buckley again using his rich, resonant voice like an instrument to explore emotions of lust and duplicity. After a powerful opening (“Now you want to know the reason/Why I cheated on you”), the song conjures some of the singer’s most potent lyrical imagery (“Well, I had to be a hunter again/This little man had to try to make love feel new again”). The stirring string arrangements on the song were courtesy of Falsia, and the conga player was King Errison, a musician noted for his work with Neil Diamond.

Opening the album’s second half, Nighthawkin’ was written with lifelong friend and songwriting partner Larry Beckett, while Hong Kong Bar, a rare lyrical collaboration with Falsia, was about a teenage liaison “in the belly of an old freight train”. It’s the most pared-down song on Greetings From LA – the only credits are for the two guitarists, plus Jerry Goldstein (“hand clap”) and a mysterious nod to a “dancer” called Alena.

The album’s final track, the energetic Make It Right, showcases Buckley’s ability to sing in a higher register, as he swoops and wails to the accompaniment of Falsia’s rocking guitar work. In what could easily have been a precursor to the disco era, Buckley – who co-wrote the song with Beckett, Falsia and Goldstein – explores his more lurid sexual desires, asking to be whipped and spanked to “make it right again”. The emotions ramp up until the shrieking climax that brings one of the best Tim Buckley songs of the 70s to a close.

“Sounds real good to rub downs”

There were some tensions during the recording of Greetings From LA, but the record has a freshness that was the result of quick working. “I like the album a lot. We made it all in two days, and it has a kind of immediate energy about it,” said Buckley.

The photos used for the sleevenotes included one of Los Angeles covered in a brown blanket of smog, and another – meant to be somewhat ironic, or so it’s claimed – of a serious-looking Buckley clutching a gas mask. The offbeat notes included a message to Warner executives Herb Cohen and Mo Ostin from the star singer-songwriter. “Dear Herb & Mo, Please send 50 copies – have advanced sale guarantee for the Apollo Massage Parlor – sounds real good to rub downs. Vibrantly yours, Tim Buckley.”

Check out our best Tim Buckley songs to find out which ‘Greetings From LA’ tracks make a welcome appearance.

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