Monday, December 7, 2020

The Blues Brothers - Made In America LP - 40 Years Old


Atlantic (1981)

On December 5th, 1980 the third and final Blues Brothers album was released (not counting best ofs and various compilations). This past Saturday marked 40 years since its release and I thought this was an appropriate time to write a little bit about this record.  I did purchase this LP this year, I wanted to upgrade my existing copy so I picked up one from eBay that was still sealed (this record was a Super Saver/cutout bin stalwart). It sounds so great and I'm happy to be able to replace the copy I had picked up in the early 90s.

Made In America is sort of the forgotten Blues Brothers album.  It's never been reissued.  None of the songs on it were 'hits' and it's not really ever discussed with the same sort of reverence most fans have for Briefcase Full of Blues or for the movie.  Even me, I didn't have this record as a little kid.  I had Briefcase, the soundtrack and Best of The Blues Brothers.  That best of, released in 1981, did contain one track off of Made In America, so "Going Back To Miami" is absolutely the song on here I've spent the most time with.

I probably got my first copy of this album on CD when I was a young teenager.  I liked it, but it didn't foster the same sort of emotional connection that I felt for the other albums at the time.  But over the years I developed a much deeper appreciation for this record and today I love it just about as much as the others.  

Side A is particularly great.  Starting off with "Soul Finger" as an introduction (never a real replacement for "Can't Turn You Loose," but still a good track to back Elwood's wacky intro) the album blasts through several great tracks.  "Who's Making Love" is a rousing rendition of the Johnnie Taylor classic with the horn section giving it that extra gusto to really drive things home.  Then we move on to "Do You Love Me." This is probably one of the lesser tracks on the album and I feel like the band doesn't really sink their teeth into it the way that they do with some lesser known songs.

They close out side A with something of a trilogy of songs.  First up is "Guilty." This is a slower song sung by Jake that is essentially supposed to be the "Shotgun Blues" of this record.  It lays down a story about loss, depression and drug use that is slightly marred by the audience wildly cheering the song's mention of cocaine.  I think they would have been more subdued had they known the tragic fate awaiting John Belushi just a couple of years later.  

After pleading 'guilty,' we move to the next phase of law and order with the "Perry Mason Theme." This is mostly an instrumental with a little Elwood dialog about needing to find Jake a lawyer and some unnecessary humming (?) along with the melody of the song.  It is a little goofy, but it still makes for a nice transition into "Riot In Cell Block Number Nine."  This is a real highlight of the record telling a slow moving, edgy story about a prison break.  I love the way the song builds into each chorus and the the climax provides a nice break into the B side of this album.

While not as strong as side A, side B does have its moments.  The inclusion of "Green Onions" as yet another instrumental with Elwood talking over it is completely unneeded at this point.  That makes three tracks like this on the album and while I like the "Green Onions" tune just as much as the next guy, it's just not needed on an album that already has "Soul Finger" and the "Perry Mason Theme."  "I Ain't Got You" is great with the start/stop music background over which Jake breaks down all of the things he does have, but are essentially meaningless without the person he cares about.  "From The Bottom" is lyrically sparse, but has a fun repetitious beat to it.

Lastly is album closer "Going Back To Miami." This is my favorite song on the album, though I'll never know if it is because it is legitimately the best, or if it is because it's the one song on the record I've been listening to since I was a kid due to its inclusion on the aforementioned Best Of. Regardless, it's a high octane, horn fueled blast of a song with one of the better closing breakdowns that I've every heard.

I wish that Made In America was remembered more fondly than it is.  While it is admittedly not quite on the same level as their two prior records, there's a lot to love over the course of the album.  I wish I had gotten it much younger, so I could have had the time to connect the same sort of nostalgic emotions to it as I did the others, but forty years later, it really is a hell of a record that deserves to be revisited.

The Blues Brothers - Made In America (YouTube full album playlist):

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