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Fifty Year Friday: June 2020 Part 3

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Pretty Things: Parachute

Though the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow is now accepted as a rock classic, upon its original release at the end of 1968, it suffered so poorly from proper promotion and distribution, that it provided little reason for the band to continue.  Continue they did, but it would be without lead guitarist, vocalist and significant creative contributor, Dick Taylor as well as their drummer, Twink (a.k.a. John Alder, and then later Mohammed Abdullah.)

Surprisingly, their next album, Parachute, released 18 months later in July 1970  was arguably even better than S.F Sorrow. Unfortunately, it received little recognition in the ensuing months and for some inexplicable reason gets little attention today. Heavily influenced by the Beatles, and perhaps a strong influencer of albums like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Flash’s Out of Our Hands, Parachute flows musically so well, one is tempted to assume it is a concept album. Though not the case based on lyrics, as far as I can sort out, it is a cohesive collection of songs, ordered and presented to achieve a singularity. More importantly, the music is compelling, engaging and a treat to listen to!

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Runt/Todd Rundgren: Runt

Although later releases include Todd Rundgren’s name on the front cover, the original Ampex release is simply titled Runt after the name of the band which included Todd Rundgren and Tony and Hunt Sales, sons of the pie-in-the-face comedian Soupy Sales. Other musicians are added for a few of the tracks, but this is mostly Todd Rundgren’s effort, authoring all compositions, providing all vocals and arrangements and playing guitar, keyboards and other instruments. The album barely reached up to 185 on the Billboard album chart, but later provided the single “We Gotta Get You a Woman”, which helped provided much needed attention to a quality artist. The strong points here are the ballads like “Believe in Me”, “Once Burned”, the semi-ballad “We Got To Get You a Woman” (note difference in the title between album track and single) and the more progressive rock tracks like “I’m in the Clique” with its jazz overtones,  “There Are No Words”, and “Birthday Carol.”

Blood, Sweat and Tears: 3

Blood, Sweat and Tears released their third album, but with not enough focus on original music and covers like “Fire and Rain” not contributing anything beyond the superior original versions , the album falls short of its promise. There is still the recognizable BS&T sound, and the album has some strong moments here and there, particularly David Clayton-Thomas’s “Lucretia MacEvil,” but those moments maybe account for eight to ten minutes of the forty-two minute album.  In retrospect, this album marks the decline in the original rock-based jazz-rock era — with Chicago soon to follow with a disappointing third album and a subsequent transformation to a pop-rock outfit.

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Kosmische Musik

Komische Musik, translated to Cosmic Music, continues to develop in Germany with still heavy psychedelic and avante-garde classical influences from artists like Karlheinz Stochhausen.

Amon Düül II: Yeti

In April 1970, Amon Düül II , released almost a template for Komische Musik, the sixty-eight minute, two LP Yeti album which brings together various elements of psychedelic rock, hard rock, jam rock, space rock, sung and spoken vocals with traces of opera, blues, folk, jazz. and Dylan-like vocals on the first track of the first side.  As is often the case with German Cosmic Rock, the music is propelled forward with a relentless dramatic tension that increases until the end, aided by Chris Karrer’s resolutely persistent violin. The second track on the first side starts calmly, contrasting clearly with the climaxed first track and builds to its finish, providing a perfect example of the sweeping, narrative strengths of the best Komische Musik all within the span of 3 minutes! Side two contains several songs with the first anticipating punk and new age, the second initially more progressive-folk in nature, transforming more into psychedelic and hard rock , the third combining hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock, the fourth, an all-out aural assault with notable Hendrix, heavy metal and punk-rock elements stewed together with an underlying space-rock forward motion, and the the fifth refreshingly a little more laid back and open with a repetitious bass and drum foundation.  Side three is particularly impressive with its 18 minute title-track track improvisation, followed by additional improvisation on side four ending with the most reflective track, “Sandoz in the Rain”

Tangerine Dream: Electronic Meditation

In June of 1970, Tangerine Dream released their debut album, Electronic Meditation, a compilation of electronic-manipulated music and free-psychedelic “rock”,  also influenced by Stockhausen’s and other contemporary avant-garde and electronic art music, and possibly influenced by both American and German free jazz.   The best (and longest) track “Journey Through a Burning Brain,” contains concrete glimpses of the future Tangerine Dream (including the use of a mostly persistent, mechanized-like obligato that propels the work forward), and as the title indicates takes the listener on a journey, leaving it to the judgment of the listener if this is closer to an actual journey through geographic territory, or some imaginary exploration — perhaps exploring that “burning brain” in the title.

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Free: Fire and Water

Free released their third studio album on June 1970.  My sister bought this album after hearing “It’s Alright Now” countless times on the AM radio.  Though the song has appeal, it’s repetitiveness is more troubling with each playing. Fortunately, there is more to this album than that.  The first two tracks on side one are two of the best examples of rock-based equivalents to early blues, with strong lyrics and performed with authentic pathos. What follows, may be of lower quality, but certainly it was good enough to take the album to number two on the UK album charts and number seventeen on the US charts.

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Diana Ross: Diana Ross

After eighteen albums with the Supremes, Diana Ross releases her first solo album. Her nuanced vocals are indeed several levels above those of most of the more basic vocalists we find in rock (remember Rod Stewart from last week’s Fifty-Year Friday?)

Though “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was her big hit on this album, “Reach Out and Touch” also fared well as a single. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” not only confirmed that Ross was a major solo artist outside of the Supremes, but it, as well as the rest of the album, especially “You’re All I Need To Get By” provide a wealth of evidence of both her singing and narrative acting skills.   The album provided the first step to superstar status — in 1971 she would have her own own one-hour television special (okay 40 minutes not counting commercials) and in 1972 command the lead role of Bille Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues in 1972, rising above a flawed screenplay to get an Academy Award nominiation.

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Fotheringay: Fotheringay

Three fine folk albums are also released in 1970.  The best of which the short-lived Sandy Denny group, Fotheringay.  Sandy Denny contributes several well-written, elegantly crafted compositions to the album with beautiful, refined lead vocals on most tracks.

Steeleye Span: Hark! The Village Wait

Steeleye Span’s Hark! The Village Wait is mostly traditional English folk music with a more modern folk-rock accent.  With both Maddy Prior and Gay Woods contributing to vocals, a range of string instruments including banjo, electric dulcimer, violin, mandolin, mandola, autoharp, electric guitar and bass guitar, and excellent musicianship this is an impressive and enjoyable debut album.

It’s a Beautiful Day: Marrying Maiden

Back in  America, San Francisco-based It’s a Beautiful Day, released their second studio album, Marrying Maiden. It has that distinctive, haunting, ethereal “Its a Beautiful Day” sound,  abandoning the psychedelic elements of the first album to provide a more relaxed pastoral-folk listening experience.

I did listen to the Dylan Self-Portrait album (finally after all these years) from start to finish and that has some folk elements as well as blues, bluegrass and country elements. For me, the best track is Dylan’s “Woogie Boogie.” This is definitely one of those albums it is best to stream before considering purchasing.  I also listened to the entire Grand Funk “Closer to Home” album for the first time, an album that made it up to the sixth sport on the Billboard’s album chart — my only prior exposure to it being a cassette tape that I heard a portion of and hearing the title track on the FM radio once or twice.  I think that’s the limit of what I will venture to say about this album.

June 1970, being the first month of summer, provided a bounty of new albums.  Did I leave any of your favorites out?  If so, please comment!

Fifty Year Friday: June 1970 Part Two

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Soft Machine: Third

On June 6, Soft Machine released their third album, a two-LP set recorded in April and June of that year — one of the best early progressive rock albums — with each side containing a single selection, and each selection distinct in approach and content.  This is not music for the casual listener — it requires attentive listening to fully reveal the variety of musical wealth contained on each side.  Though heavily influenced by jazz, free-jazz, and contemporary electronic classical music, its foundation is solidly Canterbury-scene progressive rock, even if that scene was still being defined at that time, with a large contribution of that definition from this album.

The first side is a mix of mostly live material and some studio content with some creative mixing and overlaying, particularly at the end of the track, which effectively brings the colorful musical narrative to a close.  Side two is more along the lines of Frank Zappa’s style of progressive jazz-rock and though less introspective and intriguing then side one, is very accessible and animated, providing that cathartic surge when gets from an invigorating progressive rock instrumental.

Side three is a typical Robert Wyatt brimming over with his atypical songwriting. The work is filled with an assortment of Wyatt melodies artfully reduced to a unified whole that narrates what may be real-life-based reflections on a recent “convenient” relationship while conveniently staying in New York state. Side four is another adventurous instrumental with a dramatic synthesizer introduction that perhaps had an influence on the introduction to Yes’s Close to The Edge.

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Alice Coltrane: Ptah, the El Daoud

Alice Coltrane provides a brilliant album of post-bop modern structured jazz that includes some free jazz elements, leaning overall towards a more traditional post-bop experience, with each track having a distinct character and style.

The title track, “Ptah, the El Daoud” (Ptah, the beloved) is named after the Egyptian god that existed at the very beginning of existence (way before the internet) and created the universe, also, it seems, on the hook to ensure that universe’s ongoing maintenance. Ptah was particularly associated with craftsmen, architects, and other creative types. As Alice states in the liner notes, her intent with this track was to express the concept of spiritual purification.  Ron Carter opens up the work, followed by Alice on piano and drummer Ben Riley, immediately joined by a pair of saxophones: Joe Henderson playing on the left side of the stereo field and Pharoah Sanders on the right.  The music is march-like, representing the quest for purification — in the words of Alice Coltrane,  “the march on to purgatory, rather than a series of changes a person might go through.” Henderson and Sanders provide somewhat free, exploratory soloing, but the music is kept on its given path primarily through Coltrane’s piano work supported by allied bass and drums.

“Turiya and Ramakrishna”, is a soulful bluesy piano-led work accompanied by bass and drums. The Turiya in the title is a Sanskrit word that in Hindu philosophy represents pure consciousness — the consciousness that occurs whether sleeping soundly, dreaming or waking. Ramakrishna was a nineteenth-century Hindu mystic revered for his spiritual ecstasies, and his message of love and individual religious devotion.  Though the inspiration for the work originates from India, the music is solidly American jazz, intimate in nature and scope as if spontaneously created during the last set inside a dark, intimate nightclub with just a few devoted and spellbound listeners left to enjoy the final music of the last hour of the extended evening.

On the third track, Alice switches to harp, and Henderson and Sanders are on flutes for an evocative work titled “Blue Nile”, a magical seven minutes of ethereal, impressionistic jazz.  The final track, “Mantra” at sixteen and a half minutes ends side two providing an uplifting and exploratory listening experience that comes closer to free jazz than the first track, but yet with a strong sense of structure and purpose culminating in a rich musical encounter true to the overall spiritual tone of the entire album.

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Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead

Grateful Dead releases the classic Workingman’s Dead, an album more representative of Kentucky than northern California, with the music being a mostly acoustic mix of bluegrass, country-ragtime, blues, and country-rock,  performed lovingly and with sparkling energy.

Bob Dylan: Self Portrait

Bob Dylan released Self Portrait, a two-LP album, an album I noticed over and over in people’s record collections at the various parties I attended. It sold pretty well, reaching number 4 on the Billboard album chart at going gold. I,  myself, was tempted to buy it on a number of occasions, as I really liked the cover.  For whatever reason, I never did, and to this day, have not yet heard it in its entirety.  I guess it’s clear I am not a big Dylan fan. To each their own, I suppose.

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Rare Earth: Ecology

The same might be said about the Rare Earth laudably-titled Ecology album, also released in June 1970. Although I don’t think I ever saw this album in anyone’s record collection (as the case with the Dylan Self Portrait album), there was a high likelihood that I probably would have never ever listened to it — and from 1970 to a few days ago, never did.  The difference in me making the extra effort to stream it and listen carefully to it was that I got to see Rare Earth live.  They were the opening act for the 1974 California Jam, but their performance was disregarded by many in the audience and those still arriving — if there were any still arriving — my friend and I were so close to the front we paid little attention to what was behind us. For my own part, I sat and attentively listened to and watched Rare Earth, contently enjoying the performance despite distractions.  So, I thought it appropriate to make the effort to stream the Ecology album and see what I thought of it fifty years after it had been released.  And just as I was pleasantly surprised with Rare Earth’s performance at the California Jam, I find Ecology to be better than expected.  Though rated only three stars by allmusic.com, it is a well-produced album by a talented group of musicians.  Highlights are mostly the Tom Baird songs plus the interesting lyrics to John Persh’s “Nice Place to Visit” (“but you wouldn’t want to live here”)  — a lament about the narrator’s habit of visiting brothels — the lyrics available here: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rareearth/niceplacetovisit.html.

Rod Stewart: Gasoline Alley

If you are Rod Stewart fan, you may wish to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of Gasoline Alley, released today, June 12, 1970. Despite Rod’s limited vocal range, and rough voice, and his habit or limitation of usually singing with limited tonal variety, there is something appealing about his song delivery.  In this album, he is supported by most of the Faces band members and some additional musicians.  This is mostly an acoustic album, and the playing and production are top-notch.

In part three for June 1970 (hopefully, next Friday) I will cover some additional albums, including some fine folk-rock albums, and any others I might have missed.  Who knows, maybe I will take the time to stream the Bob Dylan album!

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday, June 1970 Part One

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Deep Purple: Deep Purple in Rock

Fifty years ago, June 1970 was heralded in not with trumpets and trombones but with more intense screaming guitars and more repetitive and thunderous bass lines than any prior months of recorded history, whether on 78s, 33s, 45s or on magnetic tape. Yes, music would get louder, more emphatic, blusterous and even over-the-top annoying, but in June 1970,  the spigot of the fountain of the music of youth was opened up fully, the genie was released from the bottle mounted on a Harley fully armed with motivations and munitions, and the cat was not just let out of a bag, but fired from a cannon with its hair lit luminescently, waking up every previously recumbent, sleeping, and partly hypnagogic dog in the neighborhood.

The world would only be given a few more months of Jimi Hendrix, and though no single guitarist would ever match his originality and creative capabilities, the sheer volume of those stepping into the electric-music colosseum, both in headcount and decibels, would be enough to more than measurably tip the direction of the hardest and heaviest rock onward and forward.

On the very first track of Deep Purple in Rock (released on June 5th, 1970), “Speed King”, Ritchie Blackmore announces his addition to the up-to-that point comparatively staid Deep Purple, with such pitch-altering pyrotechnics that he effectively shames much of the previous decade’s incarnation of so-called mind-expanding and psychedelic music into permanent hiding with a similar level of effectivenss as computer-aided animation upstaging the assembly-line Hanna Barbara animation of the sixties. With organ, bass and drums added, the texture is as dark and thick as a Wagner full-ensemble scene stuck in an endless feedback tape loop.  Quickly this dissolves into an introspective church-like Jon Lord Organ solo with any delicacy hinted at immediately crushed by reentry of guitar, bass, drums and Ian Gillain’s banshee-styled vocals.   Amazingly,  this landmark instrumental intro was ommitted from the U.S. release of the album, victim of corporate-influenced editing.

And so with the release of this decidedly different hard rock album, Deep Purple had indisputedly arrived.  After three fine studio albums of  Lord and Blackmore exploring all styles of music within and on the borders of their capabilities, the addition of Ian Pace and Roger Glover focuses their talents to a distinctly, more blues-based, hard rock sound, influenced by Cream, Led Zeppelin and even Chuck Berry and King Crimson at the extreme —  but very distinctive and recognizable as what would soon be readily identified as the Deep Purple sound.

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Procol Harum: Home

Procol Harum (now minus Matthew Fisher) also released their fourth studio album on June 5th, 1970.  The album is a bit uneven starting off with the bluesy “Whisky Train” before getting to the more substantial, more evocative and more representative “Dead Man’s Dream.” Side two is much better with the first three tracks being commendably representative of that dark, dense Procol Harum sound that makes them so special.

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Uriah Heep: Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble

Uriah Heep’s debut album like so many debut albums seems to be a document of the band searching for their sound.  We hear influences of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and Black Sabbath’s oblique foundational bass lines, as well as the trademark Uriah Heep non-lexical vocables (in other words, without words: wordless vocalizing like “oohs” and “aaahs”) and their love of riff-based repetition. This would be the first of their many albums that the critics loved to hate, but one cannot deny the creativity of the participants.   Though the lead guitarist, Mick Box, is rarely mentioned alongside peers like Ritchie Blackmore or Robin Trower, he should be — as I do so right here in this blog post, and most specifically, this sentence.

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Barclay James Harvest: Barkley James Harvest

Barclary James Harvest, assembled their name from paper slips drawn at random. Fortunately more care went into the music, with this, their very first album, released June 5, 1970, bountiful in melodically rich, almost Beatlesque (McCartney-like) material.  The last track appears to have taken a cue from Moody Blues with its recited poetry intro and orchestral content, but it goes deeper and heavier with a dark metallic hue along parallel lines at places to King Crimson’s “Epitaph.”

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: May 1970

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Quatermass: Quatermass

Released in May of 1970, Quatermass’s first and final album, named after the band, sold poorly and, outside of prog-rock circles, is little known about today.

Quatermass was a trio with a talented composer/keyboardist J. Peter Robinson, similar in some ways to Dave Greenslade, a skillful composer/bassist/vocalist John Gustafson, and drummer, Mick Underwood who had turned down a chance to be the drummer for Jimmy Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin, in order to be part of the heavier sounding “Episode Six”, which would eventually include Robinson and Gustafson who, along with Underwood, would eventually leave Episode Six to form Quatermass.

The Quatermass sound is a mixture of early prog and hard rock with three bluesy hard-rock tunes added by outsider Steve Hammond.  The album is bookended by the Robinson synthesizer composition, “Entropy”, followed by Hammond’s “Black Sheep of the Family” which would later be covered by Deep Purple.  “Post War Saturday Echo” mixes prog, blues and rock with a solid intro, some reflective piano followed by a progressive-rock  trio section and a more traditional finish. This is followed by the Greenslade-like ballad, “Good Lord Knows.” The next track, “Up on the Ground” anticipates later Deep Purple with a mostly hard rock veneer with early prog elements including Moog synthesizer.  “Laughin’ Tackle” provides some more strong early prog-rock with the obligatory drum solo and a wide range of colorful instrumentation. The best track, “Punting”, was not originally included on the album, but is a bonus track on currently available CDs.  Excluding the tracks by Hammond, the album is a good example of early prog-rock with some good improvisation and dynamic compositions.

J. Peter Robinson, would ultimately become a session keyboardist working with Brand X, Morris Pert. Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and then later write music for movies and television.

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Carole King: Writer

Carole King gives us her debut album, Writer, in May 1970.  Although this album was generally neglected until Tapestry, it is a fine album with a diverse set of songs from pop to country to folk-rock including the soulful “Up on the Roof” previously sung by the Drifters in the early sixties.  Tapestry has better production, sound, and some superior compositions (“You’ve  Got a Friend”, “So Far Away”) but Writer is an album full of quality music, singing, and musicianship.

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King Crimson: In the Wake of Poseidon

Released May 15, 2020, I had to go to a little extra effort to purchase King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon as I couldn’t find it in local record stores.  Fortunately, I was able to purchase by special order from the record store near our local college. It took several weeks to get,  and I checked in two or three times a week to see if it had yet come in.  When it finally did, about four weeks later, the cover was badly damaged (and to such an extent as to leave some doubt as to whether the LP itself would be in good shape.) I had a choice of requesting the album to be re-ordered or accept the damage and trust that the LP would be okay. The idea of waiting another four weeks or possibly longer for a replacement was not an option: I had to hear the album as soon as possible.  I paid the price of $5.99 as opposed to the $3.99 I would have paid for an album already in the bins, and went home.  Fortunately the LP was not at all damaged, the music was great and was very much like the first album.

In fact, playing the first side, it was suspiciously too similar to the first album.  Clearly the band, despite the loss of Ian McDonald, had intentionally decided to create a close likeness of In the Court of the Crimson King.  After a brief unaccompanied rendition on vocals by Greg Lake of “Peace”,  the rest of side one sounds like a covert transformation of the first side of the first album.  “Pictures of a City”, colorful and vigorous, sounds alarmingly close to “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which musically, is certainly something worth achieving in itself.  “Cadence and Cascade” fills the role of “I Talk to the Wind”, but like “Pictures of a City” falls shy of the original, and same with “In the Wake of Poseidon” alignment with “Epitaph.”  The music and performances are good, and worth multiple listenings, but falls short of its forerunner.

Side two is a different story. An instrumental version of Peace begins the set, followed by the catchy “Cat Food” (released as a single in the UK), and the three-part “Devil’s Triangle” which incorporates a revised version of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets replete and awash with the tape-induced sounds of the mellotron.  Overall a good album that misses a few inches wide of the previous bulls-eye registered by one of the great rock albums of all time, In the Court of the Crimson King.

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Beatles: Let It Be

Recorded mostly back in January 1969, Let It Be was released on the 8th of May 1970,  about four weeks after the Beatles announced their break-up and about three weeks after McCartney had unjustly taken some of the blame for the break-up with the release of his solo album.  Let It Be always seemed like an afterthought in the Beatles catalog.  It was a simpler, more rugged, less refined, and less cohesive set of songs than their previous last six albums (omitting Yellow Submarine) and couldn’t hold up to the number of repeated listenings of those previous six albums. Nonetheless, it is still superior to most albums, opening up strong with “Two of Us” and including real gems like “Across The Universe”, “Let it Be” and the “Long and Winding Road.”  The 1960s came to an end with the last recordings of the Beatles made in 1969, and what followed was largely influenced by those same Beatles, particularly the popularity of the singer-songwriter and the thirst for imaginative and innovative music as most notably represented by the adventurous jazz-rock and progressive rock bands.

Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

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Elton John: Elton John

April 1970 continues the early seventies trend of providing strong rock/folk/pop singer songwriter albums with one of the most polished releases of early 1970, and arguably the one of most important, historically: Elton John’s second album, artfully arranged by Paul Buckmaster and produced by Gus Dudgeon.  Originally intended to be a demo of current Elton John and Bernie Taupin songs to be circulated among industry recording artists, bands, producers and execs as a means of promoting the quality and variety of John/Taupin songs available for those looking for songs to add to an album, but due to the recently increased commercial appetite for solo singer songwriter albums, the album was released commercially under Elton’s name — or Reggie Dwight’s assumed name of “Elton John” based on an inspirational combining of the names of Bluesology bandmates Elton Dean and  Long John Baldry.

Released on April 10, 1970, Elton John was relatively ignored until the single “Your Song”, the first track on the album, started getting significant airplay as a single in December 1970.  Like many others, I first bought the third album, Tumbleweed Connection in late 1970 and then purchased the Elton John album, later getting the first album (Empty Sky)  as an import as it had not been released in the U.S.  Interesting it was within a few days of purchasing the Elton John album, that I first starting hearing “Your Song” on the radio, wondering how such success would impact the next album’s quality or direction.

“Your Song’ is by far my favorite song on the album (which due to my teenage stubbornness and anti-establishment stance, might not be the case if I had been exposed to it on AM first) but this is an impressively strong album, with even my least favorite song, a tribute to the Rolling Stones country-rock style tucked away on track four of the first side (“No Shoe Strings on Louise”), being a song of some merit.  It is astonishing to consider that had this album not been released except in limited distribution as a promotional vehicle for their songwriting skills, that Elton and Bernie may have been content to have been behind-the-scene songwriters.  However, due to the quality of the arrangements, songs like “Your Song”, “Sixty Years On”, “Border Song”, “Take Me to the Pilot” and more, its hard to imagine any alternate universe where this album could have been kept under wraps for any length of time.  Today I still consider Tumbleweed Connection to be the best Elton John album, however that may be more influenced by it being the first Elton John album I bought — if I was to recommend just one Elton John album, it would be this one — especially if the tastes of the listener favored intimate or introspective singer-songwriter albums.

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Cat Stevens: Mona Bona Jakon

After a successful first album and a commercially and critically disappointing second album was followed with a near-fatal case of tuberculosis, Cat Stevens ensuing recuperation was filled with time to reflect on life and stockpile thirty to forty songs, some of which were used as material for his third album, Mona Bona Jakon.  One suspects that the realization of the merits of a simpler life is also manifested in the simplicity of the music and the arrangements on this acoustic-based album, with its transparently clear and focused guitar work, double bass, and suitable and appropriate use of strings.

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Randy Newman: 12 Songs

Also in April 1970, Randy Newman releases his second album, 12 Songs. Replacing the interesting orchestration and sometimes sympathetic characters in the songs with skilled studio musicians (including Clarence White, Ry Cooder and jazz bassist Al McKibbon) and an array of generally unpleasant and sometimes repulsive characters, Newman has refined his approach to be an all out assault of social commentary.  The music is also simpler — blatantly based on standard, cookie–cutter harmonic progressions borrowing generously from blues and country musical components.  Due to its readily accessible music  consistency of character portrayal, and twisted, ironic lyrics, the album was embraced by critics and helped further establish Randy Newman as a significant artist.

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Al Stewart: Zero She Flies

Another artist establishing a signature sound and style was Al Stewart with his release of his third album, Zero She Flies. Each song is distinct and original with “Manuscript” providing the type of historical reflection that would become more common in later Al Stewart albums.  Not included in the original album, but on CD releases as a bonus track, is the personal and reflective “News from Spain”, as good as any of the tracks on the original album.

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Paul McCartney: McCartney

Joining the list of solo singer songwriters is Paul McCartney, releasing his first solo album on the Apple label, McCartney.  Released before Let it Be, the album was accompanied with the news of the Beatles break-up and many fans incorrectly assigned the blame of the break-up to Paul or his desire to be on his own releasing solo albums of which this was the first.

Commercially successful (what Beatles fan didn’t want to get that first solo album after their break up), the album  was overall disappointing for anyone who had previously purchased Abbey Road:  many critics and fans saw this album as concrete proof of how important (okay, instrumental) George Martin was to the overall quality of all the Beatles’ catalog.  The good part was that if one came to the album expecting little (that is one of your friends let you borrow the album after telling you how bad it was), there were some worthwhile moments.  Composed of fragments, not fully-realized tunes, and the properly arranged and realized, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, one can embrace the album for the informality and glimpses of genius.  It seems clear the album had some padding to bring it up to almost 35 minutes, including two versions of one the best tunes on the album, “Junk” — both an instrumental version of “Junk” and the vocal version which seems to have lyrics added after the fact and somewhat haphazardly. I would be fine with just the instrumental version, but one has to give credit to Paul’s vocals which are always a treat to hear.  Overall, not an essential album, but it is an album that is fun to revisit every few years.

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Jethro Tull: Benefit

Jethro Tull released their third album, continuing to refine their sound adding keyboardist John Evan (though uncredited), and creating more intriguing and colorful music than ever.  Many critics were unimpressed with the often off-the-mark Rolling Stone labeling this exciting and engaging album “lame and dumb”, yet fortunately the album did well in both the UK and the States providing Jethro Tull the necessary commercial momentum.  Retrospective reviews would be much more embracing of this remarkable set of vibrant and distinctive songs.

Be sure to check out the Steven Wilson remix of Benefit, a true aural delight that includes  “Alive and Well and Living In”, which was replaced on the US version of the album with the single “Teacher.”

 

Fifty Year Friday: March 2020

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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew

It was sometime around 1971 (and maybe as early as 1970) that I first saw some promotional marketing material for a mail-based membership club called the Seven Arts Society. It wasn’t offering the usual record club membership (where one could buy 10 albums for $1 and then have to buy more albums later),  it was a one time $7 fee to a club that sold mostly books on the seven arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, literature, music and photography) as well as small book-shelf friendly reproductions of sculptures.   I put it aside and didn’t think about it again, until a received another version of their promotional mailing that included a picture of the stunning cover of Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew.   At this point, even though I had never knowingly heard a note of Miles Davis, I took the ad very seriously and noticed that for $7 one could get membership into the Seven Arts Society that included a couple of items I wasn’t particularly interested in and two items that did capture my interest: the Miles Davis album and a 10 LP set of classical piano masterpieces.  The first thing I did was to get my father’s take on the overall legitimacy of the membership and his personal verification that there were really no strings attached, and though he advised against my signing up, he did so with limited conviction.  This step completed, I then had to decide  which was the better choice: the Miles Davis two record set or the Piano Masterpiece. I knew nothing about Miles Davis at that time, and wasn’t sure what kind of music I would be getting.  On the other hand I was developing a growing love for classical music, and this 10 LP set had one entire LP of Mozart, two LPs of Beethoven, and half a side of Tchaikovsky — composers of which I had recently been buying recordings of their symphonies.  I also knew a little bit about the other composers included as I had started casually listening to the local commercial classical AM and FM radio station., KFAC-FM. Ultimately I decided that 10 LPs were much better than 2 and figured I could buy the Miles Davis 2 LP album later.

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It turned out the 10 LP set was a smart purchase.  The set was in a quality box with the highest quality LPs I had ever seen. Deutsche Grammaphon produced thick, heavy, noiseless LPs.  The sound was clearly superior, even on our modest sound system, which had been very recently upgraded from a mono cabinet to a radio shack stereo turntable, amplifier and a pair (a pair!) of speakers. And even to my rather limited sensibilities, it seemed to me the orchestras and pianists were of the highest possible quality.  I started by listening to the Mozart and Beethoven, working through the 10 LPs in order, and playing the Beethoven LPs several times before getting to what I considered to be the second tier composers of the fourth LP, Schubert and Schumann,  composers I had heard little about and less of their music.   I was pleasantly surprised with Schubert’s Marche Militaire and Opus 103 Fantasy and by the delicateness and clarity of the solo piano sound.  The music sparkled  and sounded so perfect and so, well, pianistic.  Next, I was really impacted by the Schumann piece that started on that same side and continued on the second side.  A piece with both an English name, “Scenes From Childhood”  — and a German name that I couldn’t pronounce,  Kinderszenen, but now knew what it meant.  That first “scene”, “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” had one of the most haunting, evocative melodies I have ever heard up to that time — the second theme, even further heightened by its harmonic, rhythmic and thematic relationships to the first, simpler, more innocent theme.  That first side of that fourth LP would get played many more times,  more than the Beethoven LPs .  However, it wouldn’t get played the most of those ten LPs.  Soon I came across the famous Chopin A-flat Polonaise (slightly familiar to me from hearing it once on the radio [hadn’t yet realized it was used in the Wizard of Oz] and promising myself that I would one day have a recording of it) on the second side of side six and Prokofiev’s Opus 11 Toccata on the tenth LP both played by Martha Argerich who along with Christoph Eschenbach who was the pianist on the Kinderszenen and Sviatoslav Richter who was the pianist on the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto became immediate favorites of mine.  By the time I had finished that tenth LP, this was my favorite LP set in my modest collection, at least until I spent $20 to buy a 21 LP set of Alfred Brendel performing Beethoven’s piano works.

Now, please note, that I had expected I would purchase the Bitches Brew LPs when I received the catalog from Seven Arts.  However, much to my surprise, it was priced at twelve dollars, more expensive than what it would be if I had purchased it at one of the newly-being-built discount mega-record stores.  So I told myself that I would purchase it later.  But time went on, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that I purchased my first Miles Davis album, Amandla and it wasn’t a few days ago that I first heard the entire Bitches Brew album from start to end.

And though it is nowhere close to Kinderszenen, Chopin’s famous A-flat Polonaise, the Prokofiev Toccata or even the Ravel Piano Concerto performed also by Martha Argerich (in that 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces set I am still in love with), Bitches Brew is a very consequential album that makes use of sound and space much like the Miles album before it, In a Silent Way, but has a greater focus on energy, drama and drive than the more ethereal and beautiful In a Silent Way.  It combines elements of psychedelic rock with jazz and modern classical improvisation.   Along with In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew has had considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years including rock, funk, jazz and prog-rock.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Beard of Stars

At around the same time I purchased the 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces, my dad had taken my sister and I to one of the newly opened Wherehouse record stores, the first one opened in Orange County, a car drive of about 20 to 25 minutes.  Not having much money, I bought a bargain-priced ($4.99) three-LP box of Mozart late symphonies, and some “cut out” records — records reduced in price with a corner cut out, or a small notch cut or small whole punched in the in the outer area of the cover.  The records I got were three or four LPs from the Czech Supraphon label of exotic named composers like Jiří Antonín Benda, Vojtěch Matyáš Jírovec, Václav Pichl and Václav Voříšek each priced at $1.99 — and a single cut-out LP priced priced at exactly 99 cents,  an album that did well in the UK and so was released in the US on Blue Thumb, but failed to sell and so ended up in the cut-out bin.  I had never heard of this two-person band (their name was not one to invoke confidence) and the dreary photo of a single, unknown musician on the front cover and another on the back, was not particularly appealing, but there was something appealing about the title of the album, Beard of Stars, and the track names on the jacket, the first of which was title “Prelude” with the ones following seemingly having a connection to folklore or fantasy with titles like “Pavilions of Sun, “Wind Cheetah” and “Dragon’s Ear.” What sealed the deal was a sticker on the LP indicating that there was also included inside (as a bonus!) their hit single, “Ride a White Swan”, which, like the name of the group, I had never heard of before, and, all things considered,  I figured there was no harm in taking a chance at 99 cents — money I could quickly recover working at the school cafeteria before school started and during half of my lunch period each day.

I can’t say how much I was amazed and delighted at all six of the symphonies in the Mozart box set.  Also, my sister had bought a two-record set of Puccini’s La Boheme.  I had never heard an entire opera before, and how very exciting it was to follow the English translation of the Italian as the plot of the opera unfolded accompanied by a continuous stream of drama-steeped melodies and melodic-like fragments.  The Supraphon Czech composer LPs were not as novel as the opera experience, but were quite good in terms of performance and musical content.  Then there was the Tyrannosaurus Rex Beard of Stars album, which I had pretty low expectations and much to my surprise was both intriguing and musically satisfying from the opening prelude.  There is a level of intimacy throughout each track, and I thought of these two musicians performing in a small venue or someone’s den, crosslegged on the floor.  But there is also an intensity, liveliness and forward motion to the album that propels itself through the slower tunes like the simple “Organ Blues” or the dissonant “Wind Cheetah” that ends side one.  Side two opens up with more upbeat energy with the title track, of “A Beard of Stars” which effectively serves as an instrumental prelude for side two.   It is not until the very end,  in the final moments of side two, that the tone and consistency of the album is disrupted with the closing three minutes of the last track inexplicably veering off into an rather unstructured and wild — and seemingly unrelated — electric guitar excursion by Marc Bolan.  And though a better and more cohesive ending would be welcome, all in all this is an excellent fantasy-folk rock album filled with a variety of well-crafted and laudably idiosyncratic tunes that make this my favorite T. Rex album.

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As mentioned this cut-out version also included a single hurriedly shoved into the interior of the jacket — a single, “Ride A White Swan” that held little interest for me upon first listening and held none of the charm or uniqueness of the album it came with.  “Ride A White Swan” produced by Tony Visconti (earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex including Beard of Stars, later T. Rex, David Bowie and the first Gentle Giant album ) was well received in the UK, where it peaked at the number two spot. Though a simple blues-based tune, “Ride A White Swan” is often credited as the first glam-rock song and with its success was the second step towards fame and fortune for Marc Bolan and his new percussionist, Mickey Finn — the first step towards fame being this Beard of Stars album, recorded in 1969 and released March 13, 1970, which, though it didn’t catch on in the U.S. as mentioned earlier, did pretty well in the UK.

Egg: Egg

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If Bitches Brew or Beard of Stars aren’t usually classified as progressive rock, even though they should be, Egg’s first album, Egg, released the same day as Beard of Stars, on March 13, 1970, clearly has left the late-sixties genre of psychedelic rock behind, incorporating classical and jazz elements into a rock foundation, but very differently, and less organically, than Bitches Brew.  Egg embraces one of the signature elements (excuse the pun since I am indeed referring to odd and sometimes alternating time signatures) of prog-rock to such a degree that the single that preceded the album, their first and only single, starts off with a 4/4 verse with a brief 5/4 part and then with a chorus in 7/8 with the returning verse going from 4/4 to 11/8  — all with matching lyrics that clearly call out what is happening.  The first album is equally adventurous with a progressive rock treatment (percussion and bass added à la Keith Emerson’s Nice) of Bach’s famous D minor organ Fugue as well a complete part original, part classical-based symphony taking up the entire second side.  Well, almost a complete symphony, as the third movement was dropped by the record execs due to it using material so close to the still-under-copyright “dances of the adolescent girls” section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and replaced by an alternate, stand alone composition, fitted in at the spot where the third movement was.  Fortunately, a test pressing was made and saved that included that third movement which is now available on more recent digital versions of the album.  All in all a strong debut by Egg, showcasing Dave Steward on keyboards.

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Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Déjà Vu

Released on March 11, 1970 Déjà Vu adds Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills and Nash lineup, providing three radio-airplay hits (Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children Well” and “Our House”) as well as Stephen Stills “Carry On” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” and “Country Girl.”  If you are looking for a post-Beatles example of what is meant by “Classic Rock”, this album fits the bill as well as any with its strong songwriting, tightly executed harmonies, and brilliant arrangements.

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Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon

This brilliant album, filled with the 20th Century folk-pop equivalent of 19th century art songs, was released on March 2nd 1970.   The lyrics range from personal, philosophic, poignant and playful, with the music always of the highest caliber.  “Free” is one of many examples from this album of how lyrics and music come together perfectly and includes evocative cello and a brief, illustrative clarinet solo by Paul Horn.  By the time I was in college (1973), this was an album that every girlfriend of my close guy friends had in their collection and in the collection of the first young lady I moved in with as well as my close gay friend who always got the best scores on our music theory ear training tests and, then years later, two consecutive English singer-songwriter roommates (one female, one male) when I lived in England.  There is just something special about both Joni Mitchell and this album that everyone who has a more sensitive side to them should find intellectually, emotionally and musically appealing.

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Frank Sinatra: Watertown

One doesn’t usually think of concept albums and Frank Sinatra, but here we have a true concept album of the early 1970s — not a grand prog sci-fi theme, but an real-life concept with appropriate, corresponding songs about a guy whose wife leaves both him and his children.  This one tears at your heartstrings and the songs are well written and sung simply and without any bravado.  One annoying drawback is that Sinatra is dubbing his voice over the recorded orchestrations — very different than his usual method of operation of recording in real time with the musicians. And although this overdub approach detracts from the album, the album is still worth multiple listenings.

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Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies

Whether live or in the studio, it seems that every moment of Jimi Hendrix on tape is priceless!  Released on March 25, 1970, this album is still as fresh as when it was recorded on January 1st, 1970. Yes, it’s far from the best Hendrix album or even the best live Hendrix, and Buddy Miles singing (and even some of his drumming) does get in the way at times.  But we get some amazing — no, some transcendental — guitar work from Hendrix on the longest track, “Machine Gun”, and side two also has its strengths with renditions of “Power of Soul” and “Message to Love.”

Also worthy of mention is Alice Cooper’s weirdly offbeat, partly Zappa-and-Captain-Beefheart influenced album, Easy Action, Rod Stewart and the Faces’ album First Step, The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, the live Delaney and Bonnie with Friends album, On Tour with  Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell’s debut self-titled album, with that classic Leon Russell gem, “A Song For You.’  There is also the live Ginger Baker’s Air Force album that I listened to once when in college and remember little of, but I heartily welcome any comments or reflections about it or any other album from March of 1970.

Which of these many and diverse, distinctive albums of March 1970 do you remember or still listen to (even if only now and then) in the 21st century?

Fifty Year Friday: January 1970

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Chicago:  Chicago

For most of us in our teens, 1970 was filled with many memorable and important musical moments.  Out of the hundreds which expanded my musical appreciation greatly, three stand out. The first (the last of these three) occurred in December of 1970: the Beethoven all day, one-dollar, open seating, 10 AM to 10 PM, Bicentennial Beethoven Birthday Concert at the L.A. Music Center. Attending a school Advanced Placement English all-day field trip, I first heard live chamber music, including the Beethoven Octet in E-flat major for pairs of clarinets, oboes, bassoons and french horns  — providing a kaleidoscope of remarkably distinct timbres — interacting yet maintaining separateness and distinctness and as brilliantly clear as the decorative icing on a cake but as substantial as the actual cake ingredients underneath that icing.  When the school bus was ready to leave that afternoon, I unsuccessfully tried to arrange transportation.  I had originally come to the concert that day as one who liked and enjoyed classical music, and left as one who couldn’t be without it.

The second of the three most important musical events of 1970 for me was the acquisition of King Crimson’s first album, In the Court of the Crimson King.  This was the heaviest music I had yet heard and I heartily shared it with my friends that were willing to accept such adventurous and different music.  The album definitely contributed to my developing the preference, tastes, and sensibilities for the numerous progressive rock albums that would late follow and, because the album included Greg Lake, it was ultimately responsible for my purchasing of yet-to-be-in-existence Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums.

The third of these three most important musical memories was initiated by my next door neighbor bringing over his newly purchased “Chicago” double album (nowadays referred to as Chicago II), but really the first Chicago album to us at the time as we were yet unaware of the first Chicago Transit Authority album.)  I recorded that “Chicago” album on my tape deck with a copy of Abbey Road and played those two albums over and over during the summer of 1970 while reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. When I  stayed with my aunt and uncle during part of the summer of 1971, I talked my cousin, a talented snare drummer in a drum and bugle corp, into purchasing the 2 LP album and it soon was the main soundtrack to my multi-week visit there.

I usually avoid ranking albums,  but it would be difficult to not acknowledge that this album is one of the very best pop/rock albums of 1970s as well as the last fifty years.  The entire album is a cohesive work, best listened to attentively from start to finish and comparable to other complete works like novels or symphonies.  Unlike most albums before, during ,and afterwards, there is not one minute of filler material, everything on the album is indispensable and contributes to the remarkably high quality of the completed work.

Tracks

1. Movin’ In (James Pankow) – 4:06 Lead singer: Terry Kath
2. The Road (Terry Kath) – 3:10 Lead singer: Peter Cetera
3. Poem for the People (Robert Lamm) – 5:31 Lead singer: Robert Lamm
4. In the Country (Kath) – 6:34 Lead singers: Terry Kath and Peter Cetera
5. Wake Up Sunshine (Lamm) – 2:29 Lead singers: Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera
6. Make Me Smile – 4:40 Lead singer: Terry Kath
7. So Much to Say, So Much to Give – 1:12 Lead singer: Robert Lamm
8. Anxiety’s Moment – 1:01 Instrumental
9. West Virginia Fantasies – 1:34 Instrumental
10. Colour My World – 3:01 Lead singer: Terry Kath
11. To Be Free – 1:15 Instrumental
12. Now More Than Ever – 1:26 Lead singer: Terry Kath
13. Fancy Colours (Lamm) – 5:10 Lead singer: Peter Cetera
14. 25 or 6 to 4 (Lamm) – 4:50 Lead singer: Peter Cetera
15. Prelude (Kath, Peter Matz) – 1:10 Instrumental
16. A.M. Mourning (Kath, Matz) – 2:05 Instrumental
17. P.M. Mourning (Kath, Matz) – 1:58 Instrumental
18. Memories Of Love (Kath) – 3:59 Lead singer: Terry Kath
19. 1st Movement (Lamm) – 2:33 Lead singer: Terry Kath
20. 2nd Movement (Lamm, Walter Parazaider) – 3:41 Instrumental
21. 3rd Movement (Lamm, Kath) – 3:19 Lead singer: Terry Kath
22. 4th Movement (Lamm) – 0:51 Lead singer: Terry Kath
23. Where Do We Go From Here” (Peter Cetera) – 2:49 Lead singer: Peter Cetera
Chicago

Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Terry Kath – Guitar, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Keyboard, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone
Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums

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Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bridge Over Troubled Water was the first album I bought within a few days after it was released. (A year or two after that, buying albums as soon as they came out would become a common purchasing pattern.)  My sister had previously purchased each and every Simon and Garfunkel album, and probably would have bought this one, but I spotted it at the local K-mart and grabbed it without question.  Taking it home and then playing it attentively, I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting that this would be even better than their previously album, Bookends.  I was still pretty naive, even for a 15-year-old, and I assumed that artists got better with each and ever attempt.  It had seemed that way with Simon and Garfunkel, as Bookends was better than Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme which was better than the Sounds of Silence album which was definitely better than Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.  Wasn’t it natural that this new album, Bridge Over Troubled Water would be their best so far?  I had a lot to learn, and I would soon learn that pop and rock artists peak — often with their third or fourth album  — sometimes even peaking with their second album. (I learned this indisputably when I bought the Chicago III album, my jaw dropping down close to the floor as I had expected the same improvement from the CTA album [first Chicago album] to the Chicago II album to occur from the Chicago II to the Chicago III — it was very unfitting, and perhaps, in my mind at that time, unethical of them to turn out such an inferior product to Chicago II)

I listened to  Bridge Over Troubled Water a few times, trying to  sort out  what was the best songs — I liked “Frank Lloyd Wright” and “Song for the Asking” the best and considered “Bye Bye Love” and, to a lesser degree, “El Cóndor Pasa” to be filler. (Yes, “El Cóndor Pasa” isn’t that bad, but i would much rather have it replaced with a strong Paul Simon composition — which I was expecting the album to be overflowing with.)

Perhaps a week to ten days after purchasing, I had started to hear the title track on the radio.  Yes, that was reassuring, but it did get a bit trying to hear it over and over.  Then the same occurred with “Cecilia.”  I had already played the album over a dozen times, so didn’t need those songs filling the airwaves, but nonetheless, was happy for Simon and Garfunkel to get all the attention and resulting benefits from the constant exposure for those few months. Overall this album is their most commercial effort, and not surprisingly their most successful.  It is also pretty good — especially “Frank Lloyd Wright” and “Song for the Asking.”

Tracks

Side One
1. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon) 4:52
2. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) (Jorge Milchberg / Daniel Alomía Robles / Paul Simon) 3:06
3. Cecilia (Paul Simon) 2:55
4. Keep the Customer Satisfied (Simon) 2:33
5. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright (Simon) 3:41

Side Two
1. The Boxer (Simon) 5:08
2. Baby Driver (Simon) 3:15
3. The Only Living Boy in New York (Simon)
4. Why Don’t You Write Me (Simon) 2:45
5. Bye Bye Love (Boudleaux Bryant / Felice Bryant)
6. Song for the Asking (Simon) 01:39

Personnel

Paul Simon – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion
Art Garfunkel – lead vocals, percussion
Los Incas – Peruvian instruments
Joe Osborn – bass guitar
Larry Knechtel – piano, organ, Fender Rhodes
Fred Carter Jr. – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Pete Drake – Dobro, pedal steel guitar[40]
Hal Blaine – drums, percussion
Jimmie Haskell and Ernie Freeman – strings
Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, Lew Soloff & Alan Rubin – brass
Buddy Harman – percussion
Bob Moore – double bass
Charlie McCoy – bass harmonica
Roy Halee – engineer and co-producer

Fifty Year Friday: Monster Movie, The Stooges, Stand Up

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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

 

Fifty Year Friday: In A Silent Way

 

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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

 

Fifty Year Friday: Men on the Moon, Yes, Larry Coryell

“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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