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Archive for April, 2018

Fifty Year Friday: Sly and the Family Stone, Dance to the Music, Hair

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Pioneers of psychedelic soul and greatly influential to the course of funk and jazz-rock, San Francisco’s Sly and the Family Stone,  led by composer, arranger, and producer Sly Stone releases their second solid album, Dance to the Music, on April 27, 1968. Sly’s original intent was more in the direction of psychedelic soul, but was urged by CBS’s Clive Davis to make the album pop friendly.  Despite any musical  compromises, Sly Stone is unwavering in emphasizing peace, love, and social harmony.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Sylvester Stewart and produced and arranged by Sly Stone for Stone Flower Productions.

Side one

  1. Dance to the Music” – 3:00
  2. “Higher” – 2:49
  3. “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” – 4:26
  4. Dance to the Medley – 12:12
    1. “Music Is Alive”
    2. “Dance In”
    3. “Music Lover”

Side two

  1. “Ride the Rhythm” – 2:48
  2. “Color Me True” – 3:10
  3. “Are You Ready” – 2:50
  4. “Don’t Burn Baby” – 3:14
  5. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” – 3:25

Personnel

Sly and the Family Stone

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Starting as an off-Broadway music in 1967, Hair opened on Broadway on April 29, 1968 at the Biltmore Theatre in the middle of the theater district.  Known for songs like “Aquarius”, “Hair”, “Easy to be Hard”, “Good Morning Starshine”, and “The Flesh Failures” aka “Let the Sun Shine In” as well as it’s nude scene (nudity onstage was legal, but only if the actors were not moving, and this restriction was appropriately incorporated as the actors undressed under a parachute-like fabric and then sang the remainder of the song motionless), this book-less musical (no story) stitches together scenes addressing topics of that day such as hair length, the Vietnam war, race and sexual freedom.

Songs [from Wikipedia]

The score had many more songs than were typical of Broadway shows of the day. Most Broadway shows had about six to ten songs per act; Hair’s total is in the thirties. This list reflects the most common Broadway lineup.

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Fifty Year Friday: The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle

The-Zombies-Odessey-Oracle-770In early 1967, battling against the challenges of generating a stream of steady income, and considering splitting up due to lack of continued success and assorted frustrations, the UK pop-group, The Zombies, once heralded as one of the leading musical forces of the British Invasion, reluctantly accepted an offer to play a series of ten concerts in the large Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines. Much to their surprise, they were greeted by two thousand fans at the Metro Manila airport, and found their music played repeatedly on Philippines pop radio, with five of their older songs currently in the top ten.  On the first night, March 3rd, 1967, the Zombies played to a total of 45,000 appreciative fans, with continuing large crowds through March 11th.

Such a reception should have encouraged the band, but as the pay amounted to only a paltry 380 British Pounds split between the band, the result was more that of discouragement.

So when it came time to record an album in June of 1967, thoughts of a break-up were already present with that actually disbandment happening before the album was released on April 19, 1968.  The Zombies had a limited budget and limited time, but they were intent on producing something lasting and of quality.  Fortunately the songs provided by band members Rod Argent and Chris White were exceptional.

One’s first impression is that this album, Odessey and Oracle, (the mispelling, though claimed by Argent to be intentional for many years, was an error on the part of the graphic designer) is heavily indebted to the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, though it’s important to note that most of the songs on the album were written before Sgt. Pepper’s was released in May 1967. It’s also worth noting that nine of the twelve songs on Odessey and Oracle were recorded at  EMI‘s Abbey Road Studios using the same engineers that had contributed to Sgt. Pepper’s, the same eight-track technology and the very same Mellotron the Beatles had left behind, but with remarkably less studio time and no additional musicians employed.  Rod Argent: This “was the first time we were recording with more than four tracks, and we were like kids in a candy store, overdubbing Mellotron parts and vocal harmonies.”

The album opens with its strongest track, “Care of Cell 44”, one of Rod Argent masterpieces. This would of been the perfect single and was released as such, but it completely fizzled. With McCartney-like bass, a sprightly piano part, Beach Boys-like harmonies and overdubbed Mellotron, this upbeat song anticipates a style used years later by groups like SuperTramp and Kayak, chamber pop groups like Fugu, and Indie Pop groups like Beulah and Apples in Stereo.

If the music of “Care of Cell 44” is ahead of its time, so are the lyrics, which are also more like the Indie Pop of the 1990’s than anything of 1968:

“Good morning to you, I hope your feeling better, baby,
Thinking of me while you are far away
Counting the days until they set you free again.
Writing this letter, hoping you’re okay;
Sent to the room you used to stay in every Sunday —
The one that is warmed by sunshine everyday.
And we’ll get to know each other for a second time
Then you can tell me about your prison stay.”

The second song, “A Rose for Emily” starts with simple piano accompaniment against a clear unadorned vocal line followed by charming harmonies in the chorus.  The influence of Brian Wilson is clear, but the originality of this song, written by Argent in a single morning, is also clear.

The distinction in musical writing styles between Argent and Chris White is apparent with the next song, “Maybe After He’s Gone” which opens with acoustic guitar, but just as Argent’s lyrics pushed into darker and less traveled roads, the same with White’s songs — this one about the possibly remote prospect that the former love will return after the other guy has moved on.  The sense of sadness and loneliness conveyed effectively by the lyrics is underscored rather than obscured by the irony of relatively upbeat music.

In “Beechwood Park”, the next track,  Chris White takes an opposite approach of combining lyrics that when read might seem like pleasant reminiscing but when set with decidedly gloomy music becomes melancholic with a clear sense that this is a love that has been lost and never to be recovered.  It pairs well with the previous song, both effectively covering the same topic of guy loses girl, and perhaps even being about the same loss.

“Brief Candles” combines the sensitive ballad with the classic sixties psychedelic chorus. This time the verse is melancholic, the chorus uplifting, and the result, like the previous two tracks, is reflective and wistful.

The last track of side one, “Hung Up on a Dream” is another Rod Argent composition with lyrics very reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Day in the Life”, though probably written before Argent heard that song:

“Well, I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat

“And from that nameless changing crowd
A sweet vibration seemed to fill the air
I stood astounded staring hard
At men with flowers resting in their hair

“A sweet confusion filled my mind
Until I woke up only finding everything was just a dream
A dream unusual of its kind
That gave me peace and blew my mind.”

The music is not the standard verse-chorus-verse structure.  The first section is three instances of the verse followed by an instrumental bridge-like passage with the most sparkling chord changes, followed by another vocal section in the original key of G Major which them modulates for the return of the verse, now in F major, followed by an instrumental coda over the chords of the verse.

The second side is not as strong as the first side, but even a track like “I Want Her, She Wants Me”, which Argent has indicated he threw together quickly for the B side of a single, is catchy, well arranged, and well performed.

The two best tracks on side two are Chris White songs, the first of which is the anti-war song, “Butcher’s Tale”, the tale of a disillusioned, frightened British World War One soldier.

Chris White: “I wanted Colin to sing it but they got me to sing because they said ‘Your weak trembley little voice suits the song.’ We used this old American pedal organ that I’d bought in a junk store, and if you listen closely you can hear Rod’s fingernails, because it’s all miked up. We also had some musique concrète, which I actually nicked off a Pierre Boulez record, reversed the tape and sped it up. We ‘adapted’ it. One of the influences on that was ‘1941 New York Mining Disaster’ by the Bee Gees, which I thought was a great way of telling a story — very evocative.”

Surprisingly, this was released as a single, but failed perhaps due to is odd, eerie, though effectively evocative, content.

Also notable is the next Chris White composition on the album, “Friends of Mine”, with its upbeat, overall basic, but catchy music, covering a topic perhaps rarely (if ever) previously covered in recorded pop music:

“When we’re all in a crowd
And you catch her eye
And then you both smile
I feel so good inside
And when I’m with her
She talks about you
The things that you say
The things that you do

And when I feel bad
When people disappoint me
That’s when I need you two
To help me believe”

Background chorus included couples that were friends of the band and whose actual names are included in the song.  Ironically, per Rod Argent, despite being immortalized as being loving pairs on the album, none of these couples stayed together.

The last track, “Time of the Season”,  was also written last.  Composed in a single morning by Rod Argent, it is the least interesting song in terms of chord changes, but is notable for its unusually limited use of chorus and the two Argent’s era-appropriate jazz-psychedelia electronic organ solos.  Argent felt that this song had hit-potential but this view wasn’t particularly shared by others. Nonetheless, the song was eventually released as a single and, though the band was now no longer together, in 1969, “Time of the Season” rose to the number 3 spot on Billboard, rose to #1 on the Cash Box Top 100, and peaked at number 1 in Canada.  This was, by far, the Zombies biggest hit, but the Zombies were no more.

The single would have never been released if it wasn’t for Al Kooper (see earlier blog post here) who was now with Columbia in the A&R department (the Artists and Repertoire division, responsible for talent recognition and development.) More importantly, this album, Odessey and Oracle, would probably have never been released either, if it wasn’t for Al Kooper’s insistence.  As it was, Columbia released it on one of their small sub-labels, Date Records, which was dissolved by 1970.

Rod Argent: “In the States, the album was not going to be released until Al Kooper found it. He was the hot new A&R man that Clive Davis had employed, and he went rushing back from England to the US. He went into Clive Davis’ office and said, ‘I’ve listened to hundreds of albums and there’s one album that stands above the rest and I don’t care who owns this album, you’ve got to buy it from them. It doesn’t matter how much it costs.’ And Clive said, ‘Well, we own it, and we passed on it.’ Al said, ‘You can’t pass on it, you must release it.’

“He said OK and then they put out “Butcher’s Tale,” which is still one of my favorite tracks on the album, that Chris wrote. It still gives me chills when I hear it, but it was never a single. Al was aghast that they put that out as a single. Then they put out “Friends of Mine,” and as I remember, “Care of Cell 44.” Nothing happened. And then they put out “Time of the Season.”

Though there are significant differences in Argent’s and White’s writing for both music and lyrics, the album is filled with some of the most bubbly and sparkling pop chord changes ever, and holds together as a unified whole, with only the last track not quite fitting in.  For an album that was almost never released in the States, this is one of the more musical, influential, and important albums of 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer

Length

1

Care of Cell 44 Rod Argent

3:57

2.

“A Rose for Emily” Argent

2:19

3.

“Maybe After He’s Gone” Chris White

2:34

4.

“Beechwood Park” White

2:44

5.

“Brief Candles” White

3:30

6.

“Hung Up on a Dream” Argent

3:02

Side B

#

Title

Writer

Length

7.

“Changes” White

3:20

8.

“I Want Her, She Wants Me” Argent

2:53

9.

“This Will Be Our Year” White

2:08

10.

Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914) White

2:48

11.

“Friends of Mine” White

2:18

12.

Time of the Season Argent

3:34

Total length:

35:18

Personnel

The Zombies

  • Colin Blunstone – lead vocals
  • Rod Argent – keyboards, backing vocals, lead vocals on “I Want Her, She Wants Me”, co-lead vocals on “Brief Candles”
  • Paul Atkinson – guitar, backing vocals on “Changes”
  • Chris White – bass, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”, co-lead vocals on “Brief Candles”
  • Hugh Grundy – drums, backing vocals on “Changes”

Production[

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Original Liner Notes: 

Shakespeare said: 

“Be not afraid; 
The isle is full of noise 
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments 
Will hum about mine years; and sometimes voices” 

Really, music is a very personal thing; it’s the product of a person’s experiences. Since no two people have been exactly alike, each writer has something unique to say.  That makes anything which is not just a copy of something else worth listening to. Believing this, and laden with gifts of fruit and nuts from the Orient, we descended upon CBS chieftain Derek, and with smarm and charm extracted, astonished, the finance necessary to compose, arrange and perform, produce and cover an LP ourselves, with no outside help or interference. 

This is the result:

Thanks to Terry Quick, artist flatmate of Chris, for the cover. Thanks to Will Shakespeare, not a flatmate of Chris, for his contribution to the sleeve notes.

ROD ARGENT, 1968
__________________________________________________

A few years ago we all fell under the spell of ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Tell Her No’. Well, they are back again with the same spells and a few new ones. 

With this album, The Zombies establish themselves alongside the royalty of rock. The songs are so original in thought – a girl soon to come home to you (from prison), the horror of the First World War, with melodies incorporating well-timed diminished chords leaping through warm melodic tapestries. The musicianship level set on ‘She’s Not There’ is not betrayed, and The Zombies have indeed benefited from the time since then. 

While in London recently, I acquired forty British LPs. Once home, I began to listen to all forty. This record stuck out like a rose in a garden of weeds. It is for you now to enjoy this experience as I have, and I know once you have, you will continue to play some cuts from this album every day for a long time. The Zombies who are – very much alive. 

AL KOOPER, 1968


__________________________________________________

Additional notes

 

Fifty Years Ago: Anthony Braxton, 3 Compositions of New Jazz

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Though generally not a fan of free jazz, I do enjoy the music I have purchased and heard from Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Sam Rivers.  I also find John Coltrane’s forays into free jazz particularly appealing, but let’s face it, John Coltrane could have made interesting music just playing rising and falling whole tone scales.

There is also a spectrum of free jazz from semi-structured to complete chaos.  Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch album is the kind of free jazz that I love the most — it has much in common with traditional jazz and it doesn’t sound chaotic or random, but unfolds logically and musically.  I am generally a fan of Sun Ra and have no challenges setting aside time to listen to his explorations into free jazz.

As I music major, I listened to hours of the so-called avant-garde including Boulez, Stockhausen, Crumb, Xenakis, and many others. Truthfully, I like this type of music better than much of what is played today on the top 40 radio stations, but not by a lot.  My interest in second-half twentieth century classical music gravitated towards composers like Oliver Messiaen or the minimalists, like Philip Glass.

However, listening to a wide range of music expands one’s appreciation for music in general and listening to the so-called avant-garde, aleatoric (music based on chance), or free-jazz expands one’s ability to listen fully and comprehensively.  I once spent a little bit of time around John Cage in Europe, attending concerts and talking with him, and I learned much about how to listen to and appreciate music, organized sounds, random sounds, and the wide array of sensory input available to us.   I do enjoy hearing the rain against the house, or the sounds of wind in a forest or the music of the ocean when out on the deck of a ship.  And the beauty of music is not only determined from the labor and skill of the composer, but from the skill of each and every once of us to organize the sounds we perceive into a meaningful experience.

And so, though I prefer Anthony Braxton’s occasional excursions into standard jazz over his completely free jazz recordings, I still respect the talent and the skills he applies to free jazz, starting with his very first album as a leader,  3 Compositions of New Jazz, recorded in March and April 1968.  And I still value the part I personally play in making a coherent, and hopefully, enjoyable or even uplifting experience,  when listening to this or any other work of music.

And there is a lot of talent and skill that has gone into the three tracks on 3 Compositions of New Jazz. The variety (wide arrange of sounds, textures, and instruments employed by the four musicians) and the thoughtful quality of the music, makes this worthy of an initial listening, even if you then set it aside for a decade or more — or never pick it up again.  What works best for me, is the second track on side two, Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith’s “The Bell”, which I find attractive for its purity and beauty.  And in general, I particularly like Leroy Jenkins violin and viola playing throughout this album.

Am I impressed by how Braxton and team abandon conventionality and move forward with bold freedom?  Not so.  Braxton was twenty-three when this was recorded, and such youthful musical courage is not unexpected.  What is unexpected is the amount of variety, artfulness, and ability to make such unstructured music work and hold one’s attention.

Do I recommend this?  Not necessarily.  There are plenty of other jazz and even free-jazz albums I find more appealing.  Is this of historic importance?  Perhaps.   It is noteworth for its place in the musical landscape of 1968 and its blend of what is very much a John Cage approach with jazz music, but I suspect the history of free jazz would have been much the same if Delmark had shelved this album and failed to release it until forty years later.

Music is never completely driven by chance, unless it is generated by chance and performed by a computer, and this music, even with the following of the simple diagrams provided to the musicians for the first two tracks, is less about chance and more about musical and spiritual expression without the confinements of a set sequences of chord changes, a verse and chorus or other melodic framework, or recurring rhythmic patterns.  What is of interest here is just as engaging and potentially captivating as sitting outside of Penn Station in New York and watching hundreds of people a minute go on their way to work, listening to the birds sing in the forest, or listening to strangers’ conversations  on a bus, subway, or in a restaurant. It’s certainly better than listening to most radio talk shows, watching most youtube videos, or being bombarded repeatedly by some of the popular music of today or even some of the lower-quality popular music played on AM radios fifty years ago.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Anthony Braxton, except where noted.

# Title Length
1 “(840m)-Realize-44M-44M (Composition 6 E)” 20:03*
2 “N-M488-44M-Z (Composition 6 D)” 12:57*
3 “The Bell” (Leo Smith) 10:31

*These first two tracks are graphically titled. This is an attempt to translate the title.

  • Recorded at Sound Studios, Chicago, IL on March 27 (track 1) and April 10 (tracks 2 & 3), 1968

Personnel

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends; Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. Assassination; Civil Rights Act of 1968

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Released on April 3, 1968, it wasn’t until summer of 1968 that I first heard this album.  My sister had left it out on the top of my dad’s large mono hi-fidelity set, and alone in the living room, I took the record sleeve out of the outer cover and the vinyl contents out of its record sleeve, put it on the only quality turntable in the house, and one of the better ones on the block, turned on the machine, guided the tonearm to the beginning and while still standing in front of the hi-fi, became totally ensnared by this work of musical art.

The album opens with a solo acoustic guitar prelude intimating that this is not going to be just a collection of songs, but something more  – an organized musical statement. The second track, with Moog synthesizer setting the general ambiance, and thick reverb and choir providing the texture, is dark and grey, much in keeping with the black and white cover, and sets an encompassing atmosphere of bleakness, alienation and separation which carries on even through the last, more upbeat, song of the album.

This is very much Paul Simon’s Sgt. Peppers album — a concept album without a concrete concept, establishing coherence and a unified whole based on the quality of the songs, their arrangements, and, even going further than Sgt. Pepper, on a consistency of style in both the music and lyrics.  There is a deep seriousness in this music far beyond the previous Simon and Garfunkel albums: the music is shadowy and gloomy but rich in textures and images similar to some of the more detailed and complex art-deco black-and-white photography such as one of Edward Striochen’s photos as shown below:

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“America”, “Hazy Shade of Winter”, and “At the Zoo” may be uptempo and full of rhythm and the essence of rock music — listen to Yes’s flashy, kaleidoscopic realization of “America” — but these are inherently dark compositions with all intrusively brighter colors filtered out to expose the true underlying monochrome content.  Should I venture to compare this album general effect to one of Mahler’s works? Perhaps there is merit for such a comparison, but these tracks belong to 1968 not to a time eighty years earlier, and the most appropriate comparisons are to music of 1968.  Like Sgt. Pepper’s, this album could not have been made with the normal limitations placed on studio time for most rock artists.  Thankfully, Simon and Garfunkel had a clause in their contract specifying the label’s obligation to provide the necessary funding for the studio time, and the duo took advantage of this with hours and hours spent on perfecting the final product with multiple takes and significant dollars spent on that studio time as well as money spent on  the incorporation of additional instruments and the musicians playing them.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Paul Simon, except “Voices of Old People” by Art Garfunkel.

Side one

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

1.

Bookends Theme 1968

0:32

2.

Save the Life of My Child Dec. 14, 1967

2:49

3.

America Feb. 1, 1968

3:35

4.

Overs Oct. 16, 1967

2:14

5.

“Voices of Old People” Feb. 6, 1968

2:07

6.

Old Friends 1968

2:36

7.

“Bookends Theme” 1968

1:16

Side two

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

8.

Fakin’ It June 1967

3:17

9.

Punky’s Dilemma Oct. 5, 1967

2:12

10.

Mrs. Robinson Feb. 2, 1968

4:02

11.

A Hazy Shade of Winter Sept. 7, 1966

2:17

12.

At the Zoo Jan. 8, 1967

2:23

April 4, 1968, was a day of great tragedy: the assassination of  Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr.  Further tragedy followed with rioting and violence across 125 cities that took the lives of 39 people and injured many, many more. As with so many tragedies, good followed including the passage of the previously stalled Civil Rights Act of 1968 which now made it federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin” as well as directly addressing an area where millions had previously been treated unfairly by being “the first effective law against discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the United States of America” making fair housing “the unchallenged law of the land.”  For this reason, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is also known as the Fair Housing Act.

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Nina Simone dedicates a program of music to Dr. King at Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968. This music is later released in 1968 on the album, Nuff Said.  The third track on the album, is “Backlash Blues”, a Civil Rights song first recorded on Nina Simone Sings the Blues with lyrics by renowned poet,  Langston Hughes:

Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash,
Just who do think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages
And send my son to Vietnam.
 
You give me second class houses
And second class schools.
Do you think that all the colored folks
Are just second class fools?
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it’s full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown.
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just what do you think I got to lose?
I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues
You’re the one will have the blues
Not me, just wait and see.

Dr King’s voice was never silenced — it lived on the the memories of the many that heard him and lives on today in recordings and videos readily available all over the internet — and Dr. King inspired many others to speak out on the necessity of equal opportunity and freedom for all — a work that is very much still in progress today.

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