Fifty Year Friday: May 1973
I usually don’t mention live albums, but Yessongs is an important exception due to its effectiveness in capturing the live side of Yes while in their prime. Better sonically than most live albums of the early seventies, Yessongs permanently documents, for existing and future music lovers, the band’s interplay and improvisation and how they made their music come to life on stage.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Released at the end of May 1973, over two and a half years after the impressive All Things Must Pass, it is evident that quality was much more important to George Harrison then quantity of releases. Each track is perfect, with not a weak moment in the entire album, making this one of Harrison’s best albums as well as one of the finest solo albums ever released by any of the Beatles.
Paul Simon: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
Paul Simon balances commercially attractive material with some real solid compositions on this critically acclaimed album. Though I may skip the very first track or stop the album before I get to the very last track, there is no way I will ever skip hearing Simon’s timeless classic, “American Tune”, which surprisingly gained traction on AM, as the third single of the album — and now listening fifty years later, I do find that I am more accepting of those first two singles, and more appreciative of the other songs on the album, such as “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and “Learn How to Fall”, particularly as I include consideration of lyrics rather than just engaging with the music. I may still prefer Mr. Simon’s work from the Simon and Garfunkel days, but even a finicky musical curmudgeon like myself has to acknowledge the high quality of this album.
Gong: Flying Teapot
Released on May 25, 1973, Gong’s Flying Teapot is one of those rare rock albums that masterfully blends humor, whimsy, and an apparently casual irreverence with disciplined, artful, musical craft — incorporating a range of musical styles in doing so. This is the first of a set of three concept albums about Zero the Hero, the Good Witch Yoni, and the Pot Head Pixies from the Planet Gong, as indicated on the cover with the alternative title of “Radio Gnome Invisible Part 1.”
Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells
Released on May 25, 1971, this was nineteen-year old Mike Oldfield’s first album, and the reason behind Richard Branford creation of Virgin Music, and the very first album released by that label.
If ever there was a labor of love primarily by one person, this album has to qualify. Oldfield spent countless hours on recording, instrument selection, adjusting musical material, and overdubbing to deliver an album that initially no record company was interested in, ultimately becoming one of the most commercially successful albums in the UK in 1974. Part of the reason for the record’s success was the catchy 15/4 opening minimalistic theme/ostinato which then became inextricably associated with 1973’s highly successful movie the Exorcist after that material was used both in the movie and as part of the closing credits. It’s association with that movie aside, the album is a musical treat from beginning to end, covering a variety and range of sonic territory and musical mood, yet effectively coming together as a single artistic expression and experience.
Earth, Wind & Fire: Head to the Sky
Though Earth, Wind & Fire on Head to Sky, released around May 1973, move away from jazz to a more commercial sound, that sound is solid, keeping elements of jazz, and more heavily incorporating soul, funk, and other R & B elements as well as sitar and Latin elements. The standout track for me, maybe predictably, is their mostly jazz-based take on Brazilian composer, Edu Lobo’s Zanzibar.
Tower of Power: Tower of Power; Carpenters: Now and Then
Additional albums released in May of 1973 include Tower of Power tastefully arranged, self-titled third album, which include the reflective analysis of “What is Hip”, candidly pointing out the ironic pitfalls of being hip for the sake of being hip and the Carpenters’ fifth studio album, with Karen Carpenter’s seemingly effortless, velvety voice, the distinctly recognizable Carpenters’ signature harmonies, and an eighteen-minute, early sixties medley on side two.