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Archive for October, 2019

Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Led Zeppelin, Turtles, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, Pentangle

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Spirit: Clear

Spirit probably would have made the big time if they had played at Woodstock as planned, possibly right before Hendrix and his band played the festival’s last set. As it was, the band ended up going on a a multi-venue promotional tour. To make matters worse, lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Randy California  who had previously played with Jimi Hendrix for three months (it was Hendrix that give the originally named “Randy Wolfe” the new last name of California to distinguish him from Randy Palmer whom Hendrix named “Randy Texas”) and drummer/singer/songwriter Jay Ferguson begin to have differences of opinions on the style and direction of the band.  In the middle of all of this,  Spirit released their third studio album, Clear, an album with elements of early prog, blues-rock and psychedelic rock.  “Dark Eyed Woman” is probably the best known track, but the album contains two quality instrumentals on side two and has generally good, though not world-changing, material overall and some quality guitar work from Randy California.

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Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II

On October 22, 1969, Led Zeppelin released their second studio album, more polished and musically interesting than their first and a undeniable success commercially, reaching #1 on the charts in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Holland. Included is “Whole Lotta Love”, “Living Loving Maid”, the passionate ballad, “Thank You”, and “Moby Dick” which features a drum solo that always brought to my imagination the virtuosic dribbling of a basketball. Though Led Zeppelin would get even better, this is a pretty good album, full of energy, life, and creativity.

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The Turtles: Turtle Soup

While newer groups are making significant commercial inroads, some older groups are winding down.  The Turtles released their last of five albums, an album very much in the style of the late sixties, closer to 1967 or even 1966 than late 1969.  That said, this is a fairly decent album with some good acoustic guitar work on the first side. Also of interest, is that the album is produced by The Kink’s Ray Davies, and one can hear this in several songs such as in the opening of “The House on The Hill.”  The most interesting composition is “John and Julie”  which includes added strings that enhance the qualities of the song. The one track on the album to get any notable airplay is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” which shares a few too many similarities with their 1968 hit, “Elenore” — such blatant mimicking of a previous hit, though, is not new for the Turtles, whose 1965 single, “Let Me Be”, followed almost immediately after the success of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, sounding suspiciously similar.

This final studio album, though, did not mean an end for the Turtles, for their very best songs reflected the sixties so well, that they were not quickly forgotten — this is particularly true of their best song, and only number one hit, “Happy Together.”

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Pink Floyd: Ummagumma

Released on October 25, 1969 in the U.K. and in early November in the U.S., Ummagumma (pronounced “OOH-ma GOO-ma”) is a two record set, the first LP containing material recorded live in April and May 1969 and the second an interesting collection of individual contributions, both in terms of authorship and performance, from the band.  The first side is an indispensable document of 1969 Pink Floyd live, performing some of their earlier psychedelic space-rock classics, and serves as the main attraction of the album.  The second LP which showcases each band member’s individual efforts, has its moments, but clearly the group is much better together than as isolated soloists. Nonetheless, this set of solo offerings on the second LP is still more interesting than most avant-garde and exploratory music of its time.

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Renaissance: Renaissance

The first iteration of the newly formed band, Renaissance, formed by two former Yardbird band members, Keith Reif and Jim McCarty, released their very first album in October 1969. From the start, with John Hawken’s classically-influenced piano, the listener knows this is a special album. Reif and McCarty had tired of the heavier rock sound of the Yardbirds and were looking to blend folk, rock and classical elements — and classically-trained Hawken was a perfect fit for their vision.  Most of the material is has a fresh, progressive tone to it, effectively mixing rock, jazz, folk, pop and classical elements including incorporation of material from Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata.

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Pentangle: Basket of Light

Released on October 26, 1968, this is the most commercially successful album for Pentangle and one of their best.  It opens with a Brubeck-like “Light Flight” with its off kilter meter of 5/8 and 7/8 with a 6 beat middle section. Quite the composition, it was the theme for the BBC’s “Take Three Girls” about three young woman in hip and swinging 1969 (to 1971) London.

The rest of the album is a mix of rearranged folk songs and new compositions, all performed beautifully and artfully on acoustic instruments with lead vocals distributed between Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn.   A good album to start with if you haven’t devoted much time listening to Pentangle or wish to enjoy some quality English Folk Rock.

Fifty Year Friday: Thanks and apologies

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First my apologies for last week’s post which was posted half-finished.  I thought I had scheduled it for late Friday, but discovered the incomplete post was published  Friday morning.  It must have read like I was on hallucinogenic drugs!

More importantly thank you for continuing to visit this blog.  It has been very busy for me lately, and I am sure the quality of the writing has suffered as I have such a short window to write and proofread.  Thanks for continuing to visit and read. I welcome any suggestions on improving these posts given the limited time I have right now to write them.

Will eventually delete this post after a few weeks or more, but will certainly take any comments about improving this blog to heart.

Fifty Year Friday:King Crimson, Arzachel, Zappa, Kinks, Carpenters, Moondog

” When you want to hear where music is going in the future, you put on a King Crimson album.”  – Bill Bruford, 1995

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King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King

There is no album that I quite look back on with the same pride of purchasing as King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” None of my friends had previously ever heard of the band and many of them were seriously impressed when they listened to it on my dad’s stereo or even on a cassette copy I made for them. Quite simply there was no other music available that was even remotely similar to the sound of this first Crimson album.

Released on October 10, 1969 (and purchased by me about a year later in 1970), some may debate if this was or was not the very first progressive rock album chronologically, but in my mind, it’s the first in terms of overall rank and importance.  It incorporated jazz and hard rock elements into a refinement of the hard rock, soft rock and psychedelic rock music that had been available prior to October 1969.

The album opens up with “21st Century Schizoid Man” — and it sounded back in those very early seventies as if the music did belong to the 21st Century.  I had never heard any rock harder edged than this — music that makes Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith easy listening or  adult contemporary.

The contrast between the psychotically intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the languidly melodic, cool and relaxed “I Talk to the Wind” that follows, with its beautiful flute accompaniment, is comparable, yet different in scale, to the contrasting nature of the opening Sonata Allegro movement of a classical symphony and the following Adagio or Andante.  “Epitaph” which then contrasts effectively with the second track, successfully concludes the first side of the LP.

The second side seems to start afresh, with the soft and sensuous “Moonchild” which, to a musically uneducated fifteen year old (such as I was when I bought the album) sounded like undisciplined musical “noodling” to fill in some time on the second side.  When I recorded it on tape or cassette, I would leave this instrumental section out.  Today, I can listen to this “jam” section and now relate why there was a reference to “Surrey With The Fringe on Top” (that this was jazz influenced if not directly inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane) as well as enjoy this music as a listening experience.  Would the album had been better off with a strong composition replacing this jam section? — I still think so today, though not as strongly as I did when a freshman in high school.  That said, all is forgiven with the return of the original melody and then the beginning of the classic title song that ends the album as effectively as a final movement of a symphonic work. Taken together, “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the closing “In the Court of the Crimson King” even without anything in between, made this album a masterpiece — with the other material being subordinate to the first and final track much like the inner movements in a classical era (Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven) symphony.  Despite its influence on other later bands and their music, and the evolution of rock  over the years, the album still sounds fresh and original, and much like long-lasting love,  remains wonderful, relevant and something to be particularly thankful for.

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Arzarchel: Arzarchel

Arzarchel was an alternate name for Uriel, before Uriel became Egg, a name change brought about be record executives discomfort with the phonetic quality of the name of Uriel, and to hide the identity of Uriel/Egg which had now signed with Decca but had the opportunity to record for the much smaller Zackariya Enterprises.  The album, recorded in June 1969 and released sometime later in 1969, not only renamed the band, but the band members: Simon Sasparella, Njerogi Gategaka, Basil Dowling and Sam Lee-Uff were the unusual names credited in place of the actual artists — guitarist and vocalist Steve Hillage, bassist and vocalist Mont Campbell,  drummer Clive Brooks, and keyboardist Dave Stewart.  Hillage, only 17, had left Uriel for college, but was up for the one-day recording session that may have started as a bit of a lark, bit ended up as a quality album.

Though mostly psychedelic, there are elements of heavy metal and progressive rock that intertwine with the psychedelia to make this album a mix of the past, present and future.  Dave Stewart was familiar with The Nice and this is evident in various aspects of the album as well as some apparent familiarity with Pink Floyd.  The album starts off strong with the “Garden Of Earthly Delights”, followed by “Azathoth” and then the excellent instrumental, “Queen St.Gang.”  “Leg” is blues-based heavy metal tracks somewhat anticipating the sound of Black Sabbath despite the vast differences in Hillage’s vocal delivery and Ozzy Osbourne’s and the general musical approach, and raised to a level well above the ordinary with Hillage’s guitar work.

Side two has two long songs, “Clean Innocent Fun”, another blues-based number that provides an appropriate platform for organ and guitar, and “Metempsychosis” with its space rock ambiance.  Now on CD, this is more than just an album for Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart fans, but anyone wishing to experience psychedelic rock at its apex.

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Frank Zappa: Hot Rats

Recorded in July and August of 1969 and released on October 10, 1969, Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats is an amazing mix of classical, jazz and rock elements.  Only reaching #173 on the US album charts (compare this to #30 for We’re Only In This for the Money), the album did much better in the UK climbing to the #9 spot and apparently influencing musicians in both the UK and Europe.  Notable is the use of overdubs of sped up instruments — Zappa plays some bass lines, for example, which then are mixed in at double speed.  The same is true of for some of Ian Underwood’s wind passages. When I first heard “Peaches and Regalia” I thought it included a synthesizer, but no — this is Underwood on sax at double speed.

I first heard the Hot Rats album around 1970 or 1971, seeing it at my local public lending library, checking it out and then recording it to reel to reel to play repeatedly.  I had heard quite a sampling of Zappa and his Mothers of Invention albums at my cousin’s apartment in the summer of 1969, and so expected much of the same, but was blown away by the general consistency and quality of the album, an album exhibiting what I considered to be greater control and seriousness. To this day, this is my favorite Zappa album.  I never get tired of the first track “Peaches and Regalia”.  This was also my first introduction to Jean Luc Ponty who plays on the very last track, “This Must Be a Camel.”

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The Kinks: Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

On October 16, the Kinks, not deterred by the lack of commercial success of their critically acclaimed The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, release another impressive concept album, “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire.)” Long time and original Kinks bassist Peter Quaife, who had left to start Mapleoak, was replaced by John Dalton, who had filled in previously for Quaife after Quaife’s auto accident in June 1966.

The first track, “Victoria” provides an narrative context for the album.  Though the strength of the album is more in the lyrics than the music, Ray Davies certainly is adept at crafting tunes that work with those lyrics.  The music in Victoria provides a dramatic opening, with the straightforward dominant and tonic based chorus and the melodic handling of “Victoria” — rising, falling, rising, falling, rising falling, rising falling.  The lyrics provides the social setting and establishes the time effectively — at the beginning of the 20th century, after the Victorian era.

It’s quite impressive how the narrative is put together from each individual track and how the nature of each track builds up that narrative.  After providing context for the social environment, the second song drills down to the nature of that social, class-based, order at the personal level: “Yes, Sir, No, Sir.”  The third song, “Some Mother’s Song” switches to the bleakness of World War I, where Arthur loses his brother.  This followed by “Driving”, an optimistic song capturing the magic of the family outing. The album continues with songs like “Brainwashed” which comments on the oppression of the working class and their acceptance of their place, “Australia” which sounds like a promotional jingle (“Australia, the chance of a lifetime; Australia, you get what you work for”), the classic Ray Davies’ bleak ballad, “Shangri-la”, and “Mr. Churchill” which takes us into World War II.  The sharp irony of “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina” takes us into the post WWII era of consumption. “Sweet and Innocence” covers the reflective nostalgia of older age. The torch is handed to the younger generation in “Nothing to Say” which mirrors the thoughts of both Arthur and his son. The album ends with “Arthur”, an epilogue summarizing Arthur’s life.

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The Carpenters: Offering

Richard and Karen Carpenter release their first album, Offering on October 9, 1969.  The first and last tracks are the most impressive, showcasing their a capella capabilities via overdubs and Richard Carpenters solid compositional techniques.  The album also includes a fine arrangement and rendition of “Ticket To Ride” with solid vocals and interpretation from Karen Carpenter.  Being born in Downey, California, I had more affection for The Carpenters than the typical prog rock fan, but that aside, one also has to acknowledge that Karen was one of the best pop vocalists of her era.

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Moondog: Moondog

Moondog deserves a special place in musical history for both the quality of his music and as the progenitor of the minimalist movement.  His compositions transcended any single genre, bringing together classical, jazz, world/folk, pop and animated soundtrack elements into his music.  Philip Glass has written that both he and Steve Reich took Moondog’s music “very seriously and understood and appreciated it much more than what we were exposed to at Juilliard”.

Moondog released a number of 78s, than 45s and EPs of his music in the 1950s followed by several LPs including three on the Prestige label and a set of songs for children for Capitol records featuring then Broadway My Fair Lady star, Julie Andrews. Over a decade transpired before his next album, simply titled “Moondog” and produced by Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears producer James William Guercio, was released in 1969.

The combination of fine musicians and quality compositions results in music that really is more relevant, dynamic, alive, exciting and much more part of its time than anything written by the famous “academic” classical composers of the fifties and sixties. There is a variety of styles — but all of it quite distinct from other music of 1969 or earlier — some of the compositions use imitative counterpoint, some have traces of romantic, impressionism, renaissance and baroque styles and much of the compositions use what we would later identify as minimalist-repetition — one can hear the DNA that would soon be found in much of Philip Glass’s works and some of John Adams’s material.   Clearly, this music deserves much more study and listening than it gets today — for it is true mid-twentieth century music representing the vibrancy of the late 1940s up through 1969!

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