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Archive for October, 2018

Fifty Year Friday: Switched on Bach, Songs of Innocence, The Book of Taliesyn, Steve Miller Band; Steppenwolf

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Wendy Carlos: Switched on Bach

“The whole record, in fact, is one of the most startling achievements of the recording industry in this generation and certainly one of the great feats in the history of ‘keyboard’ performance” Glenn Gould

This is the album that endeared myriad music lovers to the sound of the Moog synthesizer.   Young college radicals and middle-aged classical music aficionados, alike, found a place for this album among their dearest music treasures of Zappa, Hendrix and early heavy metal on the one hand and Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and newly-released Baroque music offerings on the other.

Staying atop the classical music Billboard charts for three years, this album had a lasting impact on many musicians including the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Keith Emerson and Don Dorsey (Bachbusters) and was the vehicle that gave Carlos the opportunity to provide film scores for two of Stanley Kubrick most successful movies: A Clockwork Orange in 1972 and The Shining in 1980.

Though not all of the album is consistently off-the-charts excellent, particularly by today’s standards of electronic-music production, there is much of great merit here.  Side one particularly deserves high praise for the realization of the individual contrapuntal lines that are so much of Bach’s late Baroque compositional palette.  It is the magic inherent in these Bach compositions that are so carefully and thoughtfully highlighted. This is all the more amazing, considering the technical limitations of the 1964 version of the Moog Synthesizer used — it could only play one note at a time, with the previous note having to be released before pressing the next, and it did not stay in tune for more than a few phrases. No surprise, then, that the album tallied up more than one thousand hours of production time over a five month period.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
  1. “Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29” – 3:20
  2. Air on a G String” – 2:27
  3. Two-Part Invention in F Major” – 0:40
  4. Two-Part Invention in B-Flat Major” – 1:30
  5. Two-Part Invention in D Minor” – 0:55
  6. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” – 2:56
  7. “Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat Major” (From Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier) – 7:07
Side two
  1. “Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor” (From Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier) – 2:43
  2. Chorale Prelude ‘Wachet Auf’” – 3:37
  3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – First Movement” – 6:35
  4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – Second Movement” – 2:50
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – Third Movement” – 5:05

 

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David Axelrod: Song of Innocence

One of those landmark albums that is better appreciated in the context of the fifty years of music that followed its October 1968 release, David’s Axelrod’s first release, Song of Innocence, is an ambitious and visionary work performed by 33 top L.A. Session musicians.  A mixture of jazz, rock, world (middle-eastern), and movie-music elements, incorporating strings, horns, vibes, electric organ, drums, ear-catching electric guitar work and thick, palpable electric bass, drawing upon some of the premises of third-stream jazz, and coming only months after his earlier barrier-busting Mass in  F minor (covered here in an earlier post), Axelrod anticipates both some of the common aspects of fusion-jazz and an entire approach of music composition that was to appear so prevalently in some of the more ambitious and creative New Age albums that would appear in the 1980s.  Per the liner notes of the latest release of Songs of Innocence,  Miles Davis played the album before conceiving his own fusion of jazz and rock for Bitches Brew (1970).

Axelerod draws upon Blake’s illustrated 1789 collection of poems Songs of Innocence, for several of the tracks on the album.  Axelrod originally intended to set the text to music with a choir taking on the lyrics, but instead produced a instrumental album covering additional Blake material including his extended writings on the demiurge-like “Urizen” and his four-line “Merlin’s Prophecy” from Gnomic Verses.

As one might expect from something this boldly different, the album received  mostly negative reviews, with categorizations of pretentious and indulgent, and rock critics taking issues with the orchestral aspects and classical music critics taking issue with the electric guitar passages. “Holy Thursday”, the most jazz-fusion-like track on the album, received some airplay, but overall the album sold poorly and was generally forgotten until the 1990’s when the digital era brought out reassessments of almost all music material from the sixties and early seventies, with Songs of Innocence now receiving significant praise from websites like allmusic.com and tinymixtapes.com.  Additionally, in the 1990’s, the album attracted the attention of multiple hip-hop artists that sampled content, particularly “Holy Thursday.”

Track Listing and Personnel

 

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Deep Purple: The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple’s second album, released in October 1968, takes the group one step closer to establishing an identifiable sound despite the general ecelecticism of the whole which unrestrainedly, though not recklessly, tackles hard rock, early heavy metal, psychedelic rock, and early prog.

The album starts of with the quirky homage to the Welsh 14th Century “Llyfr Taliesin” (Book of Taliesin), mixing hard rock and sixties psychedelia to support respectably decent lyrics, followed by the bluesy instrumental “Wring Thy Neck” (retitled “Hard  Road” in the US. release as an act of “corporate wisdom” censorship) including solid organ work and an indulgent, though somewhat tame, guitar solo.  Other notable tracks include the remaining original numbers, “Shield” and “Anthem” with the effective mix of hard rock and progressive elements.  The remaining tracks include a cover of a Neil Diamond song that actually got some airplay in the U.S., the Ike and Tina Turner “River Deep – Mountain High”, and the last track on the first side which covers Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the Beatles with the treatment of the two 19th century composers faring musically better than the Lennon/McCartney interpretation.  All in all, an enjoyable album with substantial organ and guitar passages, strong vocals by Rod Evans and an effective balance between hard rock and early progressive rock, getting closer to the classic “progressive rock” sound than any album up to that point in time.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Listen, Learn, Read On” Ritchie BlackmoreRod EvansJon LordIan Paice 4:05
2. “Wring That Neck” (instrumental, titled “Hard Road” in the USA) Blackmore, Nick Simper, Lord, Paice 5:13
3. Kentucky Woman” (Neil Diamond cover) Neil Diamond 4:44
4. “(a) Exposition”
(b) We Can Work It Out” (The Beatles cover)
Blackmore, Simper, Lord, Paice,
John Lennon, Paul McCartney
7:06
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Shield” Blackmore, Evans, Lord 6:06
6. “Anthem” Lord, Evans 6:31
7. River Deep, Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner cover) Jeff BarryEllie GreenwichPhil Spector 10:12


Deep Purple

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Steve Miller Band: Sailor

Though my primary source of exposure to music was, first, my dad, then my sister, then my friends, particularly the three brothers in the corner house next to ours, it was during the summer after eighth grade (1969) that I discovered the availability of albums at the local public library.  One of the first albums I checked out, was Steve Miller’s Sailor.  Fascinated by the dramatic fog-horn opening and the conscientiously paced, slightly suspenseful, early space-rock music of that first track, and further pulled in by the general accessibility and variety of the remaining tracks, I realized the value of exploring groups that were far off the radar screens of my circle of friends.

Besides the well-known “Living in the USA”, the album contains the superb ballad, “Dear Mary”, with it’s Beatlesque opening and the seven-count lengthy first note on “Dear”, the leisurely yet evocative “Quicksilver Girl” (“A lover of the world, she’s seen every branch on the tree”),  and Boz Scaggs’ “Overdrive” with its Dylanesque verses and its earthy chorus anticipating early seventies rock.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Song for Our Ancestors” Steve Miller 5:57
2. “Dear Mary” Miller 3:35
3. “My Friend” Tim Davis 3:30
4. “Living in the U.S.A.” Miller 4:03
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Quicksilver Girl” Miller 2:40
6. “Lucky Man” Jim Peterman 3:08
7. Gangster of Love Johnny “Guitar” Watson 1:24
8. “You’re So Fine” Jimmy Reed 2:51
9. “Overdrive” Scaggs 3:54
10. “Dime-a-Dance Romance” Scaggs 3:26
Total length: 34:22

Steve Miller Band

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Steppenwolf: The Second

Though not as strong as the other albums covered in this post, Steppenwolf’s second album has its moments, particularly on side two which opens with the Rolling Stone influenced “28” with its  Nicky Hopkins-like piano work.  Next is Steppenwolf’s classic “Magic Carpet Ride”, not about sex or drugs as some may infer from a casual listen to the lyrics, but about John Kay’s recently-purchased, expensive stereo system. Seriously!

“I like to dream, yes, yes,
Right between the sound machine.
On a cloud of sound I drift in the night;
Any place it goes is right —
Goes far, flies near
To the stars away from here.”

This is relevant, in the context of side two, as it opens a tribute to the blues and to blues-rock, which I suspect John Kay listened to frequently, with the opening track an authentic blues number followed by three of Kay’s compositions.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All music composed by John Kay, except where indicated.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Faster Than the Speed of Life” Dennis Edmonton 3:10
2. “Tighten Up Your Wig” 3:06
3. “None of Your Doing” Kay, Gabriel Mekler 2:50
4. “Spiritual Fantasy” 3:39
5. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” 5:43
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. “28” Mekler 3:12
7. Magic Carpet Ride Kay, Rushton Moreve 4:30
8. “Disappointment Number (Unknown)” 4:52
9. “Lost and Found by Trial and Error” 2:07
10. “Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie” 2:48
11. “Resurrection” 2:52
12. “Reflections” Kay, Mekler 0:43
Total length: 40:25

Steppenwolf

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Fifty Year Friday: Jethro Tull, This Was; Traffic, Traffic

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Jethro Tull: This Was

Though basically a blues album with some elements of jazz and classical, this first album by Jethro Tull is one of the very best of the many late 1960’s rock-blues album from either Britain or North America.  Though not rated highly by progressive rock fans or more traditional media reviewers like allmusic.com or Record Collector and panned as “aimless and disorganized” by Rolling Stone, the music is of high quality, generally timeless, and always brings pleasure to me though I may one listen to it once or twice in any given decade.

Titled “This Was” as if it was a retrospective evaluation of a group that had already made a name for themselves as opposed to one just starting out, it’s eerily ironic to look back and how appropriate the title has become.  In a span of a few years, Jethro Tull went from a ad-hoc, little-known group that had produced this low-budget album (estimated as costing about 1200 British pounds or under $3000) to one of the more commercially popular groups of the 1970s.  Looking back at a point in time in the mid 1970’s, the music on this first album contrasts very sharply with the Jethro Tull that was then getting solid airplay on AM and FM radio and had  a 1974 gold album (“War Child) that made it to number two on the pop album charts. Interestingly, during this time, Rolling Stone remained consistently negative in their reviews of the band, admonishing potential album buyers: “Remember: Tull rhymes with dull.” 

And though I find their 1974 commercially-successful single “Bungle in the Jungle” as awkwardly embarrassing as the first time I heard it on the airwaves, the music on this earlier, first album demonstrates consistent good taste and makes one proud to be a Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson fan.  Enjoy this moment fixed in time, for this was Jethro Tull in 1968!

Track Listing from Wikipedia

Jethro Tull

Additional musicians

 

Traffic_(album)

 

Traffic: Traffic

Though not at the overall level of excellence and creativity as their first album, this self-titled second album has its share of moments drawing upon a variety of influences including country, jazz, and soul. Notable is Winwood’s piano, Wood’s flute and sax passages and Mason’s guitar as well as the general quality of the arrangements. Mason’s  “Feelin’ Alright?” is provided with a thoughtful, well-crafted arrangement that brings out the inherent poignancy in the lyrics.  Side two of the album is the strongest with the second, third and fourth tracks the highlight of the album.

Track listing from Wikipedia

Traffic

with:

Fifty Year Friday: Aretha In Paris; Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages; Electric Ladyland

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The producer of this album, Jerry Wexler, once said that Aretha in Paris was an embarrassment to him.  Yet, fifty years later after its release on October 1968 (of a concert earlier that year in May recorded at the Olympia Theatre in Paris), we have to be thankful for such a wonderful document of the greatest soul singer in her prime. The band could be better, Wexler’s primary complaint, and the arrangements are less than stellar, but the band is engaged and energetic and, within the given arrangements, provides the suitable canvass for Franklin to project her magic.

Track listing [from,Wikipedia]

  1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (Mick JaggerKeith Richards)
  2. “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” (Franklin, Teddy White)
  3. “Soul Serenade” (Luther DixonCurtis Ousley)
  4. “Night Life” (Willie Nelson, Walt Breeland, Paul Buskirk)
  5. Baby, I Love You” (Jimmy Holiday, Ronnie Shannon)
  6. Groovin’” (Eddie BrigatiFelix Cavaliere)
  7. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Carole KingGerry GoffinJerry Wexler)
  8. Come Back Baby” (Ray Charles)
  9. “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)” (Franklin, Teddy White)
  10. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” (Franklin, Teddy White)
  11. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” (Ronnie Shannon)
  12. Chain Of Fools” (Don Covay)
  13. Respect” (Otis Redding)

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An improvement from the first album, there are a number of strong tracks sandwiched between what are arguably the weakest two tracks which start and end the album, “Deboraarobed”,  a quasi blues-based number with a second half that is the recorded tape of the first half played backwards (Debora — arobeD) thus flipping the extended opening on the tonic major chord to also serve as its coda , and the a capella  “Scenescof Dynasty” which goes nowhere repeating nearly endlessly, aided in its absence of interest by handclaps and difficult to suss out lyrics, until it ceases abruptly as if the vinyl real estate had run out.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Marc Bolan.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. “Deboraarobed” 3:33
2. “Stacey Grove” 1:59
3. “Wind Quartets” 2:57
4. “Conesuala” 2:25
5. “Trelawny Lawn” 1:46
6. “Aznageel the Mage” 1:59
7. “The Friends” 1:19
Side B
No. Title Length
1. “Salamanda Palaganda” 2:15
2. “Our Wonderful Brownskin Man” 0:51
3. “Oh Harley (The Saltimbanques)” 2:19
4. “Eastern Spell” 1:41
5. “The Travelling Tragition” 1:48
6. “Juniper Suction” 1:13
7. “Scenescof Dynasty” 4:07

ELadyLand

Though more a testament to Jimi Hendrix’s remarkable performing, improvisational and leadership skills than his considerable songwriting abilities, this two LP set, Electric Ladyland, provides an impressive example of 1968 rock music at its very best. The album is stylistic next-to-impossible to define, ranging from psychedelic to blues-rock to jam-rock with notable post-bop and early prog-rock qualities, but at the end of it all it holds together as a finished work of art.  Yet still, amazingly, this album just about has something for everyone, from the highly accessible “Cross Town Traffic” to the epic, brilliantly crafted “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”.  If there is just one Hendrix studio album to have in one’s collection, this may be yet, but the truth is, one should have every Hendrix album in their collection.

For those looking to purchase this, a fiftieth anniversary edition box set will be available in early November on digital and vinyl formats that includes the original studio tracks plus additional material.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Jimi Hendrix, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “And the Gods Made Love” 1:21
2. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) 2:11
3. Crosstown Traffic 2:25
4. Voodoo Chile 15:00
Total length: 20:57
Side two
No. Title Length
5. “Little Miss Strange” (Noel Redding) 2:52
6. “Long Hot Summer Night” 3:27
7. Come On (Part I)” (Earl King; originally titled “Come On” on UK Track release) 4:09
8. Gypsy Eyes” (Originally titled “Gipsy Eyes” on UK Track release) 3:43
9. Burning of the Midnight Lamp 3:39
Total length: 17:50
Side three
No. Title Length
10. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” 3:42
11. 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) 13:39
12. “Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away” 1:02
Total length: 18:23
Side four
No. Title Length
13. “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” 4:25
14. “House Burning Down” 4:33
15. All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan) 4:01
16. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) 5:12
Total length: 18:11

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

  • Jimi Hendrix – lead vocals, guitar, piano, percussion, comb and tissue paper kazooelectric harpsichord, bass on “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)”, “Long Hot Summer Night”, “Gypsy Eyes”, “1983”, “House Burning Down”, and “All Along the Watchtower”
  • Noel Redding – backing vocals, bass on “Crosstown Traffic”, “Little Miss Strange”, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)”, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”, and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, acoustic guitar and lead vocals on “Little Miss Strange”
  • Mitch Mitchell – backing vocals, drums (except on “Rainy Day Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”), percussion, lead vocals on “Little Miss Strange”

Additional personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Donovan, Todd Rundgren and Nazz

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Released in October 1968, with material from late 1967 and April 1968, Hurdy Gurdy Man is the most substantial Donovan album of his many releases,  artfully capturing the spirit of musical adventure and diversity so prevalent at the time.

My sister, up until the release of this album, had mostly purchased singles and albums of musicals, so it was a treat when she bought this in late 1968 and allowed me to play this on our parents’ “Hi-Fi” system.   I had already heard “Jennifer, Juniper” and the more serious and dramatic title track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” earlier in 1968, so I was curiously anticipating what else the album contained.

Lifting up the heavy wooden cover of the Hi-Fi,  taking out the record from its cover, and setting the music into motion by turning on the electronics and initiating the spinning of the platter and the tone arm’s slow and steady take-off, soon I was hearing a improved version of that first track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sounding much better than what I had heard on any car or transistor or even the Hi-Fi AM radio.  The composition’s dark, mysterious mood was now more evident along with a general sense of deep, perhaps profound, mysticism.   And as the album played on past that first track, into “Peregrine” with its even more suspenseful drone-based eastern sound, then into the quietly reflective third track, “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl”, and through the neo-vaudevillian, “As I Recall it”, and then into the creamy saxophone-dominated “Get Thy Bearings”, the variety and quality of the music gained my increasing respect and interest.  I was not musically sophisticated enough to consider that most of the tracks were just a sequence of verses, to appreciate the thoughtfully scored string, flute, oboe, and trumpet lines or the contrapuntal fragments in “Hi, It’s Been a Long Time”, or deconstruct the contributions of melody, harmony and arrangement to the final essence of each song, I just found the album full of character and boldly and creatively different than most of the current AM radio fare; just as Donovan stood apart from the more commercial tunes of the time with songs like “Sunshine Superman”, “Mellow Yellow” and the more recent “Hurdy Gurdy Man”,  so did each track of this album create its very own mood, and even if I couldn’t do credible or meaningful musical analysis at age thirteen of the content, it was clear that significant care had been taken to produce a quality and coherent presentation of the music.

Donovan had originally wanted Jimi Hendrix to play electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  Hendrix, unfortunately wasn’t available.  There is some contention on who the guitarist on the recording actually is —  with Donovan crediting Jimmy Page and also Allan Holdsworth, but others indicating Jeff Beck or Alan Parker.  Page has indicated it wasn’t him and Holdsworth’s wife has stated that Holdsworth had indicated that the guitarist was Ollie Halsell (guitarist and vibraphone player for the group Timebox, later Platto.)

Years later, listening to this album, I can confirm that my original instincts in liking this music is far from unfounded.  The two songs with the most traditional verse and chorus structures provide an effective start and end to the album, and the contrast between the mood and instrumentation of the songs contained within provide an experience similar to contemporary releases by The Beatles or the Kinks. Donovan has a knack for simple, yet effective melodies and his work is supplemented by David Mills who provides music for three of the tracks. On top of this, the arrangement work is excellent as are the contributions by Harold McNair on flute and his sax soloing on “Get Thy Bearings.”

Tracks [from Wikipedia]

All tracks credited to Donovan Leitch. According to BMI, “A Sunny Day” and “The River Song” were collaborations with David J. Mills, but “Tangier” was written solely by Mills under its original title of “In Tangier Down a Windy Street”.

Side one

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man” – 3:13
  2. “Peregrine” – 3:34
  3. “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl” – 1:39
  4. “As I Recall It” – 2:06
  5. “Get Thy Bearings” – 2:47
  6. “Hi It’s Been a Long Time” – 2:32
  7. “West Indian Lady” – 2:15

Side two

  1. Jennifer Juniper” – 2:40
  2. “The River Song” – 2:14
  3. “Tangier” – 4:10
  4. “A Sunny Day” – 1:52
  5. “The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow” – 3:31
  6. “Teas” – 2:29

Musicians:

Donovan: vocals, acoustic guitar, tambura, harmonium
Alan Parker?: lead electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
John Paul Jones: bass, arrangement and musical direction on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Clem Cattini: drums on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Danny Thompson: bass
Tony Carr: drums and percussion
John ‘Candy’ Carr: bongos and percussion
Harold McNair: flute and saxophone
David Snell: harp
Deirdre Dodds: oboe
John Cameron: arrangement and piano

 

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Also recorded in April 1968 and released in October 1968, is one of the best commercially unsuccessful albums of 1968.  Nineteen year-old Todd Rundgren combines influences from The Beatles, The Who (“Open My Eyes”), Jimi Hendrix (some of Rundgren’s guitar work and the opening of “She’s Goin’ Down”) , Burt Bacharach (parts of “Hello It’s Me”), Jimmy Webb (the first section of “If That’s the Way You Feel”), and The Beach Boys (“When I Get My Plane”) with his own musical style, clearly identifiable on this first commercial recording of his and the band that he and later Disney legend, bassist Carson Van Osten  formed in Philadelphia.

Very few first albums are as good as this one, and its more accurate to consider this the first Todd Rundgren album (even with bandmate Stewkey on vocals)  as opposed to the first album of a group that Rundgren happened to be a part of.   All compositions are by Rundgren except “Crowded” and the blues-jam group-effort spectacular that ends side one.  Rundgren’s signature ballad, “Hello It’s Me” appears the first time, lacking the more sophisticated arrangement given to it in the classic 1972 Something/Anything?  The other ballad here is “If That’s the Way You Feel”, arranged by jazz-great Shorty Rogers with a beyond beautiful first section and a sequence of overly-enthusiastic modulations in the second section.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren, except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Open My Eyes” – 2:48
  2. “Back of Your Mind” – 3:48
  3. “See What You Can Be” – 3:00
  4. Hello It’s Me” – 3:57
  5. “Wildwood Blues” (Rundgren, Thom Mooney, Robert “Stewkey” Antoni, Carson Van Osten) – 4:39

Side two

  1. “If That’s the Way You Feel” – 4:49
  2. “When I Get My Plane” – 3:08
  3. “Lemming Song” – 4:26
  4. “Crowded” (Mooney, Stewkey) – 2:20
  5. “She’s Goin’ Down” – 4:58

Nazz

  • Robert “Stewkey” Antoni – Keyboards, lead vocals
  • Todd Rundgren – guitar, vocals, string arrangements, mixing
  • Carson Van Osten – bass, vocals
  • Thom Mooney – drums
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