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Wide-angle overall of huge crowd facingWoodstock: Aug 16-18

The history of people gathering together to hear others play music is almost as old as people gathering together to play music — both going back to prehistoric times.

And there were many older people in 1969, those of the “Great” generation and those of the so-called “Silent” generation, that would have identified “Woodstock” as just another prehistoric-type gathering to listen to primitive music.

Woodstock wasn’t the first multi-day music festival.   The Greeks had multi-day festivals where music played an important role.  In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there were music festival that included a competitive element as portrayed in Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Wagner himself started the famous Bayreuth Festival in 1876, and though the first year was a financial disaster, it was a significant historical achievement with Russian attendee, composer Peter Tchaikovsky, writing “Something has taken place at Bayreuth which our grandchildren and their children will still remember.”

And so we can say the same about Woodstock.

There were many earlier multi-day rock events including the three-day Trips Festival in 1966, the two-day Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in June 1967, the three-day Monterey Pop Festival from June 16 to June 18 in 1967, the Northern California Folk Rock Festival in May 1968, the two-day Newport Pop Festival in early August 1968, which had over 100,000 paid attendees, the two-day Isle of Wight Festival on August 31 and September 1, 1968, the two-day San Francisco Pop Festival on October 26 and 27, the two-day Los Angeles Pop Festival on December 22 and 23, the three-day Miami Pop Festival on December 28-30, several large, multi-day festivals in the first seven months of 1969 including the July 25-27 Seattle Pop Festival, and the three-day, attended by over 100,000, Atlantic City Pop Festival on August 1-3.

But Woodstock was one of a kind.  It was the peak of such gatherings — both a musical and social event the likes of which had never occurred before and has yet to occur again.

It was further celebrated and immortalized by the Warner Brothers movie, Woodstock, which came out in March 1970 — a important documentary that other studios had no interest in funding, and that, with its box office success, saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy.

I had not even heard of Woodstock when my father, one evening in April 1970, while my sister and mom were attending some a Job Daughters or Eastern Star related meeting, took me to see a movie about music he personally had no interest in or no particular affection for. At fourteen, I was just along for the ride, so to speak, and would have accompanied my dad to any movie he chose.  Fortunately he chose Woodstock.

And what I saw were the myriad and complex vestiges of sixties mixing with, and more significantly, fueling the new music and culture of the upcoming 1970s — I was watching a document foreshadowing the world I would soon more fully engage and participate in.  Outside of sometimes reminding me of the importance of being considerate of others and sensitive to other people feelings, taking me to movies was the closest my dad ever came to explaining the facts of life or teaching me about what life would be like as an older teenager or young adult.  Woodstock, even in just its movie reincarnation, provided exposure to curse words, skinning dipping, drugs, and most of all some really timeless music.

Today there are various DVDs and on-demand streaming sources of video and audio that cover the music played at Woodstock and capture interviews of musicians and attendees.   I think its appropriate to celebrate this anniversary by watching the original movie or the extended version — or just listening to some of the audio from this landmark event.  Appreciate any comments on this topic!

Albums for the rest of August 1969

For the most part, by August of  1969, the sixties were wrapping up and the seventies were off to the races.

There were a number of musicians and groups that were symbols of the sixties that now had to make the transition to the seventies or fold trying.  Those that more-or-less folded, including Donovan, as mentioned in last week’s post, and groups like the Association, who released their fifth album in August 1969, the first of two Association albums that didn’t have a charting single, would be long remembered for their contributions in the sixties, but not recognized as a part of the seventies.

While other groups were declining, wrapping up, or dissolving, there were many new groups — with three genres becoming more and more prevalent: hard rock groups, which would evolve mainly into metal, progressive rock, and hard rock blues bands; the folk and country rock groups, which would often, in the case of some folk rock bands, get more progressive and complex, or with some country rock bands, develop a harder edge to their music or become more acoustic or folk-oriented; the blues rock bands, which depending on their musical sophistication usually evolved into metal, hard rock, jazz-rock, or more prog rock bands.  On top of this the Motown sound of the sixties was generally replaced with funk, soulful rock with the heart and soul of the Tamla/Motown set of record labels (including Tamla, Motown, Miracle/Gordy, VIP, Soul) shifting from Detroit to Los Angeles.

The shift from the sixties to the seventies was marked by the formation of super groups – — top musicians from different bands getting together as was the case earlier with Crosby, Stills, and Nash which released their album in May of 1969, and Blind Faith and The Hollies, both of which released their albums in August of 1969.

Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood formed Blind Faith with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. The Blind Faith album, with its controversial original cover, which Eric Clapton fought for by stipulating their would be no album without that cover of the topless prepubescent strawberry blonde suggestively holding a Concord-like aircraft , and which cover was predictably replaced when initially released in the U.S. and Canada, is foundationally a blues rock album, with some particularly engaging writing by Steve Winwood and overall quality playing from Clapton, Winwood, Gretch and Baker.  Half of the album, side two, is an extended jam number which particularly showcases Eric Clapton.

Steve Marriot of the Small Faces and Peter Frampton of the Herd formed the Hollies.  Their first album, As Safe As Yesterday Is, released in early August of 1969, is a mixture of blues rock, jam rock, and some good solid songs. particularly the title song, “As Safe As Yesterday Is”, by Peter Frampton.  This style of British rock-blues looked forward to the blues and guitar oriented rock of the early seventies and contained few vestiges of the original British Invasion sound.

Ten Years After, who also played at Woodstock, was an English blues rock band  releasing their third studio album, Ssssh in August of 1969.  However by this third album Alvin Lee’s impressive guitar style had more of a seventies’ sound and his writing style likewise as was the the general hard-rock rhythmic drive of drummer Ric Lee and bassist Leo Lyons as well as the blues-rock sound of classical trained keyboard player Chick Churchill.  Ssssh, outsold the previous two albums and got as high as the twentieth position on the US Billboard Album Charts.

Mick Abrams, the guitarist on the first Jethro Tull album, leaving apparently from differences with Ian Anderson on the musical direction of Jethro Tull, had formed the band British Blues Band Blodwyn Pig.  Incorporating the reed work of Jack Lancaster and including elements of jazz-rock as exemplified by the track, ““The Modern Alchemist”,  the album reached number 9 on the UK charts. Again we have a solid, British Blues album, very much forging the way into the start of the seventies.

David Brown Plays With Santana At Woodstock

In America, starting in 1966, Carlos Santana led a Bay-Area-based live-concert jam band, Santana. Santana’s first album, recorded in May 1969 and released at the end of August, 1969, incorporated some actual songs in order to be commercially friendly — but as to be expected from this type of jam band, the album is mostly instrumental.  One of songs on the album, “Evil Ways”, caught on in a big way reaching #9 on the charts sometime in March 1970. With the combination of the heavy airplay of “Evil Way” and their appearance at Woodstock and in the film, their first album eventually climbed up to number 4 on the US Billboard Album Charts.  While “Evil Ways” received incessant airplay on AM, FM radio stations played other cuts of the Santana album.

Michigan, which had provided the MC5 and The Stooges, provided yet another hard-edged, blues-based rock band with Grand Funk Railroad. Though the level of musicianship was not at the level of English groups like Blind Faith, The Hollies, Ten Years After, or Blodwyn Pig it was clearly an improvement over MC5.  The first album, On Time, released in August of 1969, was also much better received by rock critics.   Grand Funk was a natural seventies arena rock band, so much so that Rolling Stone writer David Fricke later declared “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”  And though an intelligent musically-oriented discussion of seventies rock music certainly wouldn’t suffer from an omission of Grand Funk (as they were more commonly called by fans), they were one of the few early seventies hard rock bands that managed to successfully steer away from what some considered the contaminating influence of progressive rock — staying mostly true to the vision of a generic, relentlessly devoid of any traces of self-awareness, hard rock.

Stevie Wonder, did not play at Woodstock, but continued to mature as a musician and composer, releasing My Cherie Amour on August 29, 1969. Wonder would become one of the most important voices of the 1970s, but for the most part My Cherie Amour is still a sixties album. The biggest hit was the title track, “My Cherie Amour”, a tune originally written by Stevie for his girlfriend as “Oh, My Marsha” when he was a student at the Michigan School for the Blind and then recorded in 1967.  Reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard Singles chart, the song is relatively simple, instantly accessible and charmingly a product of the sixties.  “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”, also recorded back in 1967, reached number #7 in the US and #2 in the UK.

Love also was making the transition from the sixties to the seventies. To start with, Arthur Lee, the primary creative force behind Forever Changes, dismissed all the previous members of Love after the departure talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Brian MacLean had left.  The new album, Four Sails, released in either August or September was a disappointment to fans expecting an extension of the melodically-rich, proto-prog sound of Forever ChangesFour Sail starts off promising enough, with the first track “August”, propelling forward with impressive contrapuntal interplay between the two guitars and the bass.  The next track though, pulls the listener back into the sixties as does “I’m With You” with its similarities to the quintessentially sixties “Feeling Groovy” and “Robert Montgomery” with its similarities to “Eleanor Rigby.” Overall, the album is supported by some strong, seventies-style guitar work, but it does not match the quality of the earlier Forever Changes album, and it garnered even less commercial and critical attention.

Another album bypassed by most consumers and critics alike, selling less than a total of 20,000 copies in 1969 and 1970, was Boz Scaggs solo album, simply titled “Boz Scaggs”, recorded after his departure from the Steve Miller Band and released in August 1969. This is mostly a country music album, but it smoothly incorporates elements of blues, folk, soul and gospel. One could make the case that this album is the most seventies album of all the late sixties albums as it effectively incorporates horns, and background singers into a polished presentation that is as much about style and appearance as substance.  Fortunately, there is also real substance to the songs. Scaggs own compositions are generally based on traditional country laments (unrequited love, being taken for granted, unappreciated, leaving because unappreciated, and abandonment.)  The covers Scaggs chooses are wisely selected and fill out the full county/blues spectrum with “Look What I Got” (I found someone else, so there — but it could/should have been you.”) and and “Waiting for a Train” and “Loan Me A Dime” covering down and out territory.  The album ends with a final country song, Scaggs and keyboardist Barry Becket’s “Sweet Release” that balances desolation with the promise of solace.  This strong and powerful ballad is reminiscent of Procol Harum and anticipates the country-rock sound of Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connections.  Overall Scaggs gives us one of the first seventies-style Americana albums, simple, effective, and liberated from the influence of the musical influences of the British Invasion. Once Boz made it big, the album was reissued and belatedly charted in 1976.

August was a busy month for releases, and with albums like Miles  Davis’s In a Silent Way, Nick Drake’s “Five Leave’s Left”, Yes’s first album, Yes, Jethro Tull’s “Stand Up”, Santana’s first album, Santana, and Can’s “Monster Movie”,  now in the hands of many listeners by the end of August, 1969, it seems appropriate to note that this was the beginning of the seventies, calendar mechanics and formalities ignored — and it you were to bring such silly technicalities up, my reply would certainly be typical seventies jargon — “screw that!”

 

 

 

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Fifty years ago, the world lost actress and model, Sharon Tate, and three of her friends on Aug 9, 1969.  This event put fear into celebrities and residents of Santa Monica Mountains/Beverly Hills area of West Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks.  As a 14 year kid, living forty miles away in Orange County, California, listening to the TV news on Saturday night, while my parents were away, it even sent a cold wave of fear into the deep recesses of my own inner being.  On August 11,  the LaBianca homicides were announced by the LAPD.  On August 12, the LAPD indicated the two sets of murders were not connected, making this even scarier. Eventually the same brutal murderers of both these tragic events were identified, caught, and tried with full national coverage.

It was the beginning of the ending of the innocence associated with the flower power movement.  Just as the establishment was being tarnished by the Vietnam war, The psychedelic era was now tarnished.  Just as Nixon was initiating the withdrawal of Americans from Vietnam, the peak of the psychedelic era of rock music had been achieved and was now on a decline.  There is no better representation of this start of this end of this sixties musical era than the once-Dylan-copycat-turned-melodic-and-modal-modern-musical master of Flower Power music, the author of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow.”

Donovan: Barabajagal

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I was a big Donovan fan, amazed by his skill and range of variety as exhibited in albums like Hurdy Gurdy Man and in songs like “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and the pacifist-themed “Epistle To Dippy.” Donovan was a once-in-a-generation genius.

So, saving up my allowance, no longer relying on listening to whatever albums my sister bought, I purchased Barabajagal FOR $3.99 in late 1969 when first seeing it in the record bins in K-mart.

And I was disappointed.

Much of the music is repetitive using basic harmonies and major-scale melodies with rather silly lyrics. “Atlantis” seems to last forever, with its spoken narrative and endless chorus at the end — a shadow of what the Beatles did with “Hey Jude.”

Yet, the album was not hopeless: many top musicians appear here and there including Jeff Beck, Lesley Duncan, Madeleine Bell, Aynsley Dunbar, and one of my favorite session rock pianists, Nicky Hopkins. Moreover, it the perfect album for children particularly with tunes like “I Love My Shirt” and “Happiness Runs” and, for older listeners, has one strong, wistfully beautiful ballad, “Where She Is.”  Also worth noting is the inclusion of what can best be termed as an example of a mimicry of American post-ragtime, roaring twenties dance hall and British music hall popular tunes exemplified by songs like Geogg Stephen’s “Winchester Cathedral” and Paul McCartney’s “Honey Pie” — the last track on the album, “Pamela Jo”

One of the strongest lights of the sixties was beginning to lose it’s lustre: however, musical legends like Donovan Leitch always remain celebrated.  The remastered CD version of Barabajagal includes seven finished songs not included originally on the LP and eight quality demo tracks, several of which are far superior to the music that ended up on August 11, 1969 release of Barabajagal, so much so, that one should find of the remastered edition of Barabajagal quite satisfactory.  (Available at Amazon here.)   This is really Donovan’s last statement of the sixties as his next album, Open Road, recorded in early 1970, is without producer Mickie Most, and is a more band-oriented album than any of Donovan’s previous albums.

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Personnel [from Wikipedia]

London

Los Angeles

The following musicians played on “I Love My Shirt”, “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting”, “Atlantis” and “Pamela Jo”:

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Harry Nilsson: Harry

An album also released in August of 1969, that includes several neo-ragtime/dance hall style of music tracks is Harry Nilsson, accessible and charming “Harry.” This is not rock in any sense, but joyous and often clever pop.  Composer Bill Martin is mostly responsible for the neo-dance hall tunes, and Nilsson himself contributes several quality compositions. A couple of nicely done covers of very familiar music is included (“Mother Nature’s Son”, “Mr. Bojangles”) as well as Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.”

No trace of psychedelia, flower power or acid rock here.  Perhaps another early sign that the sixties are coming to a close?

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by Harry Nilsson, except where noted. All tracks arranged and conducted by George Tipton (* = produced by Rick Jarrard)

“The Puppy Song” – 2:43
“Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore” – 2:47
“Open Your Window” – 2:08 *
“Mother Nature’s Son” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 2:42
“Fairfax Rag” (Bill Martin) – 2:14
“City Life” (Bill Martin) – 2:31
“Mournin’ Glory Story” – 2:13 *
“Maybe” – 3:10
“Marchin’ Down Broadway” – 1:05 *
“I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City” – 2:44
“Rainmaker” (Nilsson, Bill Martin) – 2:47
“Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker) – 3:53
“Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” (Randy Newman) – 2:47

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Can: Monster Movie

Launching the genre of progressive rock that is sometimes called Krautrock, German Space Rock, or perhaps most appropriately Kosmische MusikMonster Movie was recorded in July 1969 and released one month later in August of 1969.  It’s Kosmische Musik rhythmic drive is present on the very first track which opens up with a high pitch space age electronic lead-in (an effect later more prevalent after the introduction of electronic sequencers), followed by driving drums, and repetitive bass and electric guitar riffs — all elements refined further by later German “cosmic music” bands.  The seemingly anomalous vocalist, is American Malcom Mooney, who lends a ranting, free-spirt to the otherwise organized and precise forward driving sound of the band.

Keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and Danzig/Gdańsk-born bassist Holger Czukay studied composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Drummer Jaki Liebezeit played with European Free Jazz proponent, Manfred Schoof and guitarist Michael Karoli had both classical (violin, cello) and jazz backgrounds. Vocalist and sculptor, Malcom Mooney, became friends with Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay shortly after he moved to Germany and joined the first iteration of the band named “Inner Space.”  It was Mooney who suggested a new name, “The Can”, which was later shortened to just “Can.”  At some point later, an English newspaper article incorrectly suggested that “CAN” stood for “Communism, Anarchism and Nihilism” and this was soon adopted by drummer Liebezeit.

There is certainly a sense of Anarchism and Nihilism in this first album, as well as a communal performance mindset.  There is also some great music, making this one of the classic rock albums of 1969.  The first track, “Father Cannot Yell”, not only has historic importance as early space rock, but exemplifies the cosmic, time-stretching intersection between space rock, free-jazz, and 1950 and 1960’s “experimental/avant/garde” “classical” music . The second track, “Mary, Mary So Contrary”, is pure West Coast psychedelia, sounding more Haight Ashbury than Köln, Germany. The third track breaks into punk territory and flirts with New Wave elements with Mooney as effective as any punk vocalist. The fourth track, “Yoo Doo Right” takes up the entire side two at a little over twenty minutes melding blues-rock with Stockhausen at the Kosmische Rock level with a little extra musical nihilism and proto-punk thrown in for good measure. All in all we have a very different album than the usual recorded fare of the time — music that is influenced by early Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground but also unquestionably provides its own influences for upcoming bands.

Can

 

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The Stooges: The Stooges

Those following this column may have noted my omission of MC5’s first released album, their live album, Kick Out the Jams.  I bought Kick Out the Jams as a used album around 1971 for about 50 cents but never took a liking to it.  I never much listened to another Michigan-based group, The  Stooges.  I have to say in all honesty,  I particularly made an effort to stay clear of them when Robert Hillburn, lead rock music critic for the Los Angeles Times, started to gush and effuse about them. Though there were many things Mr. Hilburn got right about music, he had an egregious blind spot, or deaf ear, when it came to progressive rock. Born in 1939, and enamored with the American Rock and Roll stars of the mid 1950s and seemingly more comfortable with the basics of rock and I-IV-V chord progressions than the more exploratory side of music, he absolutely hated progressive rock, and that was enough for me to discount his reviews from that point on.  When he unabashedly praised Iggy Pop and the Stooges for their primitive approach, while Hilburn was also trashing albums by Jethro Tull and Yes, that was enough for me to stop reading Hilburn’s reviews and lose any interest in ever listening to Iggy Pop or his “Stooges.”

However, this July, when looking over the calendar of albums released in August of 1969, I noticed that August 5, 1969, was the release of the first Stooges album.  I had listened once again to MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” earlier this year in trying to decide if I would include that album in a February post for Fifty Year Friday, but it just didn’t spark my interest.  The music didn’t impress me and I didn’t even see more than a marginal connection between MC5 and later punk bands, a connection often emphasized by those examining the history of punk rock. For me, the most evident connection was a lack of instrumental skill.

So when I gave the first “The Stooges” album a spin, I expected little of interest.  And though the music didn’t send me into fits of musical pleasure, it had its moments.

The Stooges had basically five songs when Elektra (looking to expand their currently small cache of non-folk rock groups) signed The Stooges — partly based on input from MC5 regarding how loud The Stooges played.   For live performance, the group basically filled in extra time by jamming, but as this wouldn’t work for the album.  Iggy and the  Stooges assured Elektra they had more material, and then quickly, perhaps in a few hours, came up with four more numbers, three of which where included in the album on side two: “Real Cool Time”, “Not Right” and “Little Doll.”

The Stooges first album was generally panned by a wide range of critics.  Interestingly Robert Hilburn, avoided reviewing this first album. Another L.A. Times contributor, John Mendelssohn,  did,  and wrote the following: “Had I not the unpleasant experience of bearing [sic] The MC5’s “Kick Out the James” [sic] several months ago, I could say “The Stooges” was the worst rock album of the year. It’s unquestionably the second worst, featuring as it does several whiny, adolescently repulsive and barely distinguishable street-punk anthems and hypnotically boring 10 minute chant “We Will Fall.” (Sunday L.A. Times, December 7, 1969)

Note Mendelssohn’s prophetically uses “punk” in his review, a term that would soon be applied to marginally talented garage rock bands, and then later used for a specific style of music as performed by groups like the Sex Pistols and The Ramones.  One could make the case that the Stooges are truly a punk rock group, the first, as opposed to just being a loud, erratic, three-chord garage rock band like the MC5.  Not considering the Stooges lead singer’s live performance presence and antics, there are elements in this first album that reflect the ethos of punk rock as exemplified by tracks like “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, a punk rock song title if there every was one.  Add to this that guitar work of Ron Asheton and a couple of actually interesting songs on the album (“Anne” and to a lesser degree “We Will Fall”) and we have something more here than an album that deserved to be widely dismissed by the rock critics of the time.  Supporting this contention is all the praise heaped upon this album in later years including the inclusion of this is the 185th best album of all time on the 2003 Rolling Stones “Greatest 500 Albums of All time.”  I won’t rate this as being one of the top 500 or even top 5000 albums of all time, but I wouldn’t say this is the second worst album of 1969 either.

The Stooges

  • Iggy Pop (credited as “Iggy Stooge”) – vocals, handclaps
  • Dave Alexander – bass guitar, handclaps
  • Ron Asheton – guitar, backing vocals, handclaps
  • Scott Asheton – drums, handclaps

Additional personnel

  • John Cale – piano, sleigh bell on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, viola on “We Will Fall”, production

 

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Jethro Tull: Stand Up

Released on 25 July 1969 in  the U.K. and in late September in the U.S., Stand Up is more than just an interesting document of the Jethro Tull transitioning from blues-rock to a folk-rock/hard-rock/progressive rock band, it is one of the finest gems of 1969 rock music.

I am generally not enthusiastic about the blues-rock genre, but this album starts off with one of the most exquisitely rendered blues-rock numbers of all time,  “A New Day Yesterday”. compellingly mixing harmonica, electric bass, electric guitar, percussion, and Ian Anderson’s vocals into fresh, vital, bass-punctuated pre-progressive rock music with a brief yet naturally placed flute solo in the middle — all of this in an under-three-minute track.

“Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square” takes us into early folk-prog territory, simple chords with a colorful arrangement creating interest; this is followed by Anderson’s arrangement of Bach’s Bourrée from the E minor Lute suite, a track that got some air play on the then cutting-edge FM album oriented radio stations that were became more prominent with the early seventies.

There’s really not one weak track on this album.  More importantly, there are some real classics here, like “Look Into The Sun” and “We Used to Know.” Primary credit must be given to the song writing skills and arranging skills of Ian Anderson, but bassist Glen Cornick also contributed to the arrangements, as did, to a lesser extent, guitarist Martin Barre. Arranger, and later on, Jethro Tull keyboardist, David/Dee Palmer, student of Richard Rodney Bennett when student at the Royal Academy of Music, also contributed, and particularly shines in the strings included in “Reasons for Waiting.”

This is one of the must listen albums of 1969.

Jethro Tull

  • Ian Anderson – vocals, flute, acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, piano, mandolin, balalaika, mouth organ, production
  • Martin Lancelot Barre – electric guitar, additional flute (on tracks 2 and 9)
  • Glenn Cornick – bass guitar (all tracks but 5 and 7)
  • Clive Bunker – drums, percussion

 

 

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MILES DAVIS: IN A SILENT WAY

Recorded in one session on Feb 18, 1969 as three performances, “Shhh/Peaceful”, “In A Silent Way”, “It’s About That Time”, then edited by Ted Macero (with apparently minimal input from Miles Davis) into two compositions in ABA form, one for each side, In A Silent Way, was released on July 30, 1969, peaking at number 134 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart.  The music is available today in both the edited form, which for a long time was all that listeners were familiar with, and in its original form.

What is striking about either the edited or original form, is the original style of both the music and the musical approach to structure and form that was deployed.  The album version differs considerably than the original takes.  For “Shhh”/”Peaceful” the original starts off with a whole-tone sort of motif (with traces of the flat-second Dorian mode) on which the entire work unfolds.  There is this amazing guitar work from McLaughlin and a brief but luxuriantly melodic Davis/Shorter passage.  All of this is dropped from the album version, which begins with the initial statement of another theme from the original take (about ninety seconds) followed with the restatement of this theme that occurs during the last four and a half minutes of the original, then followed with earlier material.  Whereas the original is multi-thematic and provides more contrast, the album version is more mono-thematic and ambient in nature.  It is basically in A B A form, resembling the Sonata form found in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven era music, with the middle section analogous to a development section.

On the second side of the album, Teo Maceo continues to aggressively edit the original music, once again creating an ABA structure by taking the group’s performance of Davis’s simplified version of Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” for the A section and using Davis and Zawinul’s collaborative “It’s about That Time” as the B section.  The results provides us with an impressionistic A section, and a quasi-bluesy, slightly funky B section, with a perfect repeat (as it is just a copy) of the original A section.

Though a transitional style for Davis, this landmark ambient jazz album would have considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years ranging from other jazz or jazz-ambient artists to a subset of progressive rock groups, particularly several of the so-called Kraut-rock bands including Can, Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Amon Duul II, to Brian Eno to a number of New Age artists to even several modern “classical music” composers.  It’s tempting to debate the artistic pros and cons and the artistic merit of the original music versus the final edited album, but it was that final edited album that was the sole source of this music for musicians and music lovers during the last five months of 1969, all of the seventies, the eighties and the nineties.   Commercial music is often notable for its externally enforced limitations, but in 1969 in particular, music markedly stood out for its bold exploration outside of established boundaries, with In A Silent Way being one of the best examples of music liberated and unencumbered from the realm of retail-driven mechanical patterns and formulas, purposefully, yet seemingly spontaneously, creating a new and unconfined expanse of musical expression.

Side One

“Shhh”/”Peaceful” (Miles Davis)  18:16

Side Two

“In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” (Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis)  19:52

Musicians

 

“That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong

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Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, television gave us nearly front row seats as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin each made an appearance on what is still today, the most distant theatrical stage ever occupied by human performers, while above, circling around 60 miles above them, was their ride home.  It was such an extraordinary event that there are individuals and semi-organized clusters of people that deny that this amazing technical performance, this greatest non-musical show of all time, ever even happened.  Did Keith Emerson’s piano rotate around at the California Jam in 1974?  Could one see some of the jazz greats of all time at the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse Café throughout the early and mid seventies? Did Elton John dress up in something akin to a large sequined chicken suit as part of his performance at the Fabulous Forum in 1974? Could one, without more than an hour in line, get an up close seat in 1978 to see Peter Hammill at the Trouboudor perform “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers” or a seat in the front three rows to see Gentle Giant perform their very last U.S. concert at the Roxy in 1980?  All these things, as unbelievable as they may seem, actually happened!

And rock was reaching new heights, proving its relevance beyond dance music, beyond catchy three minute pop songs tailored for car radios.

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Yes: Yes

Recorded in Spring of 1969 and released on July 25, 1969, the world heard the very first Yes album.  Their first studio effort is indeed impressive and immediately identifiable by its sound as both progressive rock and, more relevantly and significantly, a Yes album!  Authored primarily by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, we already have that recognizable, identifiable Yes style from their compositions and collaborations, Peter Banks pre-Howe guitar work, Tony Kaye’s keyboards, and Bill Bruford’s percussion work, influenced by such cosmic musical giants as Art Blakey and Max Roach.

Most of us baby boomer progressive rock fans, first heard Yes in the 1970s, initially from either their third album, The Yes Album, or their fourth album, Fragile.  The reality was that most of us music lovers usually started with the third or fourth album of a number of the so-called progressive rock groups — and as we had some spending money, we invariably went back and purchased earlier albums of groups like Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Genesis or Yes — even after knowing (after the first back catalog purchase or two) that the albums would not be as good as the later albums. The fact was that even those earlier albums were still good enough and provided further insight and material from some of the finest bands outside of the jazz universe — but maybe not so completely outside of jazz  as one might think:  the jazz influences were indeed there for many of these musicians in these bands. And worth noting, so was the classical music influence.

So even though this first Yes album isn’t up to the standards of their third album, The Yes Album or Fragile, it still is Yes, and the music is captivating and engaging. It’s way too easy for those of us used to the later Yes to find fault with this album, but if we just listen to this in the context of it’s own time, when jazz, rock, and classical styles were first intermingling, its remarkable nature reveals itself.

The album opens up with “Beyond and Before” from Squires, Banks and Anderson’s previous band, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop.  Even at this early point in time the music sounds clearly the work of Chris Squire with co-authoring credits (perhaps the words) for Clive Bailey, the guitarist and vocalist of Mabel Greer’s Toyshop.    The bass/drums pairing of Squire and Bill Bruford and vocal combination of Squire and Jon Anderson establishes the framework of a style that would become unmistakably a feature of the Yes sound. The music is not as polished as later Yes, but is clearly a different sound distinct from anything else being released, and Peter Bank’s guitar work is representative in both it’s uniqueness and its sometimes rough edges.

There are two covers on this album: the second track on side one is of the Byrds  “I See You” and the second track on side two is of the Beatles “Every Little Thing”, both absorbed and incorporated into Yes’s own sound.

The other five tracks are Yes originals, ranging from good to borderline excellent.  Also recorded during these sessions is the amazing cover of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, which is included as a bonus track on some CD reissues, or in most of the many Yes anthology albums.

Yes

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Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell

One of the earliest, if not the earliest true jazz-fusion albums, Lady Coryell features the complex, multi-track layers of  Larry Coryell’s  jazz and rock guitar polyphony.  Joined by drummer Bob Moses from Coryell’s earlier psychedelic, rough-edged jazz-rock group, “The Free Spirits”, the album moves away from the more British-rock influenced style of the earlier Free Spirits’ Out of Sight and Sound into a more convincing blend of rock and jazz.  Coryell sings, less than exquisitely, on most of the tracks, but his guitar and bass guitar work is beyond reproach.  Jimmy Garrison provides acoustic bass on track seven, and Elvin Jones provides drumming on tracks 7 and 9.

Personnel

 

 

 

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Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking

Released on July 3, 1969, Unhalfbricking is Fairport Convention’s third album, continuing their evolution towards a mostly English Folk music style despite inclusion of three unreleased Dylan songs.  Elements of progressive rock abound, due to the acoustic guitar work of Richard Thompson and use of organ, harpsichord, electric dulcimers, violin and the eleven minute “A Sailor’s Life” with it’s instrumental second half. Sandy Denny’s expansively liberated vocals, her deft handling of the melodic line, and the subtleties in the arranging contribute to a finely finished aura that envelops the album.

The album includes two Sandy Denny compositions, including  the deeply insightful “Autopsy”, and the widely praised “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?“, previously recorded two years earlier with the Strawbs, and performed with a more relaxed pace, greater freedom, and more maturity on Unhalfbricking,

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Nick Drake: Five Leaves Free

Fifty years later, it seems natural to look back and feel some level of loss for the music that never was — the music that never was because of the tragic and premature loss of such resonant artists as Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. It’s doesn’t help to reflect that general lack of commercial attention probably contributed to the depression that brought about Denny’s and Drake’s deaths.  However, such speculation is called into question upon consideration of artists whose stardom-level status similarly contributed to their shortened lives.

Whereas Sandy Denny at least got attention and opportunities from other, more prominent artists, Nick Drake was pretty much ignored not only up until 1974 when he died of an overdose of his anti-depressant medicine, possibly intentional, but also pretty much until the late 1980s.

Though barely twenty years old when he started to record Five Leaves Free in July of 1968, and though excited at the prospect of having an album, Drake’s life was already full of darkness and depression, as clear from the lyrics of the songs. His level of musicianship was impressive: he effortlessly sings and plays complex guitar passages artfully and effectively in real time with strings or other musicians as opposed to coming back later to dub the guitar work.  Though the recording sessions were rushed  (using downtime available courtesy of Fairport Convention) and the production and arrangements were not to Drake’s liking, by June of 1969, one of the finest singer-songwriter albums of the sixties was completed and released to the public on July 3, 1969. Unfortunately, the critics generally cared little for the album, and very few purchased it.  People like myself would never hear of Nick Drake until many years later.

It seems unimaginable today that this album was ignored for so long.  The quality of the music and the lyrics are undeniable, and the production is generally quite good.  Joe Boyd, a George Martin fan and the producer of this album, had a vision of leveraging all studio resources to provide a integral sound, whereas Drake wanted a simpler, more organic approach.  Boyd wanted an established arranger, Richard Anthony Hewson to provide the orchestration.  However, upon hearing Hewson’s attempts with Drake’s music, neither Boyd or Drake felt that such arrangements were suitable. Drake suggested they go with one of his friends at Cambridge University, music student Robert Kirby, who had previously arranged some of Drake’s music.  Though Boyd was initially reluctant to go with someone so unknown, lacking in credentials, and so inexperienced, after getting Kirby in the studio and hearing what he could do, Boyd settled upon Kirby for all the arrangements except one, “River Man” which, for whatever reason, was arranged by professional music director, arranger and composer, Harry Robertson.  Oddly, though Robertson is a skilled arranger, this is the weakest arrangement on the album. Perhaps it was just that Robertson didn’t have the personal familiarity with either Drake or his music that Kirby did.  Perhaps it was a matter of lack of attention to the depth of the lyrics and music.  Perhaps even Kirby would not have done the song justice. It’s not that this is one of those rare songs that works best left in bleakest, most natural state of single guitar and voice, the inclusion of the strings is a workable idea, its just that the particularly arrangement deployed lacks a true connection to Drake’s message. Nonetheless the song still works well, even if not as well as if it had been recorded with just Drake’s guitar and voice.  The composition is in 5/4 time — five beats to the measure, creating a slightly surreal effect. It’s not a jazzy 5/4 like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible” theme song, but a flowing, natural 5/4 composition further enhanced by the relationship between the minor and major chord choices.

It’s fair to say that as particularly special as “River Man” is as a song, all the songs on this album are finely crafted compositions. How this album was initially overlooked by critics but now fully embraced by them is just one of those recurring oddities in the music world  — and often later attributed to the music being ahead of its time. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Yes, the music is timeless and seemingly perfectly suited to the Shoegaze era of the late 1980s and 1990s, but it also fits in nicely with contemporary work of many of the other singer songwriters of 1969.  And there is nothing difficult or elusive in either the relatively simple lyrics, or Drake’s personal and distinctive,  yet easily accessible songs.

Accessible and personal does not exclude universal as in the case of “Day is Done” with its poetic representation of the inevitable finality of any given life.  Here, as in all the Kirby arrangements, the strings appropriately support the essence and character of the song amplifying its impact and effect.   “Fruit Tree” also addresses the nature of life but focuses on fame and the underappreciated artist, eerily predictive of Drake’s own life and legacy:

“Safe in your place deep in the earth, that’s when they’ll know what you were really worth.” 

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It’s a Beautiful Day: It’s a Beautiful Day

Recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released in June 1969, the debut album of the Bay Area group, It’s a Beautiful Day, is clearly rooted in the Bay Area culture of mixing folk rock and psychedelic rock.  In addition, the music reaches into the classical-influenced rock genre by incorporating the violin of classically-trained David LaFlamme and the keyboards of his first wife, Linda LaFlamme.  The finally product is an early progressive rock album, accessible and more mellow than busy or just complex for the sake of complexity.

It’s A Beautiful Day

Additional musician

  • Bruce Steinberg – harmonica (track 2)

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Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola

I am not normally a jam-album fan.  This album, recorded in April of 1969 and released that June, is mostly a thrown together assembly of music that would be suitable jam-rock material.  What is inescapable is the quality of the improvisation and the distinctive character of the individual musicians and what they have to say. Mozart and Beethoven could dazzle listeners by improvising on the most mundane material.  Here we have the 1969 equivalent, with the exception of Nicky Hopkin’s reflective ballad “Girl From Mill Valley”, a welcome contrast with Hopkins providing both the piano and organ tracks.

In fact, Nicky Hopkins particularly shines throughout the album.  Add to that Jeff Beck’s unerring musicality, Ron Wood’s hard-rock bass, and some earthy vocal work from Rod Stewart and we get an album that is a pleasure to listen to.

Personnel

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Alice Cooper: Pretties for You

Also recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released June 25, 1969, Pretties For You, is another one of those 1969 total commercial failures by a band that would go on to make it pretty big.  The album is heavily influenced by some of Frank Zappa’s more musical works and Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd — not surprising, the band is on Zappa’s “Straight” label, which recorded a small number of artists, including Captain Beefheart, and Alice Cooper was the opening band for Pink Floyd during Barrett’s tenure.

At this point in time, Alice Cooper was still the band’s name, not yet taken as a stage name by their singer, Vincent Furnier. The album is full of content that required careful rehearsal before recording, with many instances of time signature changes or compound meters. Despite the Zappa and Barrett influences, this music is different from anything before, and different from later progressive rock or Alice Cooper albums to follow. Perhaps with some better production, fine tuning, and further crafting, this album would be particularly noteworthy — unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together and so it is a bit of a curiosity — but still a particularly enjoyable work and one of historical interest, for unlike most of the future progressive rock bands that start sounding more traditional and refined and extended their approach, this band, Alice Cooper, starts with some pretty lofty objectives, delivering an interesting art-rock album, to later distinguish themselves as a hard-rock, quasi-glam-rock band.

Alice Cooper band

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Procol Harum: A Salty Dog

Recorded in March 1969 and released in June 1969, this album begins with one of the finest early orchestral-based prog-rock pieces, “A Salty Dog”.  The soft cries of the sea gulls and the chromatically descending strings create the appropriate atmosphere for the narrative to follow “All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat“)  With the classic early prog-rock anthem unfolded and completed, the rest of the album continues to flirt with a nautical-based theme, and though nothing on the remaining album comes close to the first song, overall we still have an eclectic mix of blues, rock, Jamaican pop, gospel, country-rock, classical and British pop, with strong vocals, and strong musicianship.  Listen to the second track, “Milk of Human Kindness” and try to not compare to later Supertramp songs like “Bloody Well Right” — or try to ignore the simple charm of the third track “Too Much Between Us.”

The arpeggios that open “Wreck of the Hesperus” and their stubborn recurrence later,  provide the pattern for many upcoming prog-rock symphonic-style numbers, including Genesis’s “Fifth of Firth.”  The strings here, might be later replaced by synthesizers, but the basic quality is much the same.

“All This and More” is another trademark Gary Booker song, providing that dark, sinuous, introspective quality so strongly associated with Procol Harum at their best.

The slow bluesy-gospel style of the alternatively-spelled “Crucifiction Lane” anticipates some later McCartney and Lennon works like Lennon’s “She’s So Heavy” and material on Paul’s first solo album. The album ends with “Pilgrim’s Progress” which clearly influenced later prog-rock groups like Kayak and Fireballet.

All in all, an important album historically, required as necessary listening for anyone that is looking for a broad understanding of the development or post-1960s rock.

Personnel

  • Gary Brooker – lead vocals (1–4, 6, 8), piano, celeste, three-stringed guitar, bells, harmonica, recorder, wood, orchestral arrangements (1, 8)
  • Robin Trower – lead and acoustic guitars, lead vocals (9), sleigh tambourine
  • Matthew Fisher – organ, lead vocals (5, 7, 10), marimba, rhythm and acoustic guitars, piano, recorder, orchestral arrangements (7), production
  • Dave Knights – bass
  • B. J. Wilson – drums, conga drums, tabla
  • John “Kellogs” Kalinowski – bosun’s whistle, refreshments
  • Keith Reid – lyrics

 

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