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

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Wendy Carlos: Switched on Bach

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

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

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

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

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

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

 

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David Axelrod: Song of Innocence

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

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

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

Track Listing and Personnel

 

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Deep Purple: The Book of Taliesyn

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

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


Deep Purple

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Steve Miller Band: Sailor

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

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

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

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

Steve Miller Band

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Steppenwolf: The Second

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

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

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

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All music composed by John Kay, except where indicated.

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

Steppenwolf

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