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Fifty Year Friday: It’s A Beautiful Day, Beck-Ola, Pretties For You, A Salty Dog

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It’s a Beautiful Day: It’s a Beautiful Day

Recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released in June 1969, the debut album of the Bay Area group, It’s a Beautiful Day, is clearly rooted in the Bay Area culture of mixing folk rock and psychedelic rock.  In addition, the music reaches into the classical-influenced rock genre by incorporating the violin of classically-trained David LaFlamme and the keyboards of his first wife, Linda LaFlamme.  The finally product is an early progressive rock album, accessible and more mellow than busy or just complex for the sake of complexity.

It’s A Beautiful Day

Additional musician

  • Bruce Steinberg – harmonica (track 2)

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Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola

I am not normally a jam-album fan.  This album, recorded in April of 1969 and released that June, is mostly a thrown together assembly of music that would be suitable jam-rock material.  What is inescapable is the quality of the improvisation and the distinctive character of the individual musicians and what they have to say. Mozart and Beethoven could dazzle listeners by improvising on the most mundane material.  Here we have the 1969 equivalent, with the exception of Nicky Hopkin’s reflective ballad “Girl From Mill Valley”, a welcome contrast with Hopkins providing both the piano and organ tracks.

In fact, Nicky Hopkins particularly shines throughout the album.  Add to that Jeff Beck’s unerring musicality, Ron Wood’s hard-rock bass, and some earthy vocal work from Rod Stewart and we get an album that is a pleasure to listen to.

Personnel

Alice_Cooper_-_Pretties_for_You

Alice Cooper: Pretties for You

Also recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released June 25, 1969, Pretties For You, is another one of those 1969 total commercial failures by a band that would go on to make it pretty big.  The album is heavily influenced by some of Frank Zappa’s more musical works and Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd — not surprising, the band is on Zappa’s “Straight” label, which recorded a small number of artists, including Captain Beefheart, and Alice Cooper was the opening band for Pink Floyd during Barrett’s tenure.

At this point in time, Alice Cooper was still the band’s name, not yet taken as a stage name by their singer, Vincent Furnier. The album is full of content that required careful rehearsal before recording, with many instances of time signature changes or compound meters. Despite the Zappa and Barrett influences, this music is different from anything before, and different from later progressive rock or Alice Cooper albums to follow. Perhaps with some better production, fine tuning, and further crafting, this album would be particularly noteworthy — unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together and so it is a bit of a curiosity — but still a particularly enjoyable work and one of historical interest, for unlike most of the future progressive rock bands that start sounding more traditional and refined and extended their approach, this band, Alice Cooper, starts with some pretty lofty objectives, delivering an interesting art-rock album, to later distinguish themselves as a hard-rock, quasi-glam-rock band.

Alice Cooper band

procol-harum-a-salty-dog

Procol Harum: A Salty Dog

Recorded in March 1969 and released in June 1969, this album begins with one of the finest early orchestral-based prog-rock pieces, “A Salty Dog”.  The soft cries of the sea gulls and the chromatically descending strings create the appropriate atmosphere for the narrative to follow “All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat“)  With the classic early prog-rock anthem unfolded and completed, the rest of the album continues to flirt with a nautical-based theme, and though nothing on the remaining album comes close to the first song, overall we still have an eclectic mix of blues, rock, Jamaican pop, gospel, country-rock, classical and British pop, with strong vocals, and strong musicianship.  Listen to the second track, “Milk of Human Kindness” and try to not compare to later Supertramp songs like “Bloody Well Right” — or try to ignore the simple charm of the third track “Too Much Between Us.”

The arpeggios that open “Wreck of the Hesperus” and their stubborn recurrence later,  provide the pattern for many upcoming prog-rock symphonic-style numbers, including Genesis’s “Fifth of Firth.”  The strings here, might be later replaced by synthesizers, but the basic quality is much the same.

“All This and More” is another trademark Gary Booker song, providing that dark, sinuous, introspective quality so strongly associated with Procol Harum at their best.

The slow bluesy-gospel style of the alternatively-spelled “Crucifiction Lane” anticipates some later McCartney and Lennon works like Lennon’s “She’s So Heavy” and material on Paul’s first solo album. The album ends with “Pilgrim’s Progress” which clearly influenced later prog-rock groups like Kayak and Fireballet.

All in all, an important album historically, required as necessary listening for anyone that is looking for a broad understanding of the development or post-1960s rock.

Personnel

  • Gary Brooker – lead vocals (1–4, 6, 8), piano, celeste, three-stringed guitar, bells, harmonica, recorder, wood, orchestral arrangements (1, 8)
  • Robin Trower – lead and acoustic guitars, lead vocals (9), sleigh tambourine
  • Matthew Fisher – organ, lead vocals (5, 7, 10), marimba, rhythm and acoustic guitars, piano, recorder, orchestral arrangements (7), production
  • Dave Knights – bass
  • B. J. Wilson – drums, conga drums, tabla
  • John “Kellogs” Kalinowski – bosun’s whistle, refreshments
  • Keith Reid – lyrics

 

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Fifty Year Friday: After the Rain, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Unicorn

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Muddy Waters: After The Rain

in comparison to a multitude of rock-blues albums and blues-rock albums, and even Mr. Morganfield’s own quasi-psychedelic blues album, Electric Mud, Muddy’s next album After the Rain, released May 12, 1969, stands out for its immediacy,  authenticity and natural, honest modern blues sensibilities. This is a treat to listen to and the music has been captured with clarity, presence, and depth.

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

# Title Writer(s) Length
1. “I Am the Blues” Willie Dixon 4:36
2. “Ramblin’ Mind” McKinley Morganfield 4:44
3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’ McKinley Morganfield 4:47
4. “Bottom of the Sea” McKinley Morganfield 5:21
5. “Honey Bee” McKinley Morganfield 4:14
6. “Blues and Trouble” McKinley Morganfield 4:20
7. “Hurtin’ Soul” Charles Williams 4:35
8. “Screamin’ and Cryin'” McKinley Morganfield 4:59
Total length: 39:11

 

Musicians

 

EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhere

Neil Young with Crazy Horse: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Neil Young releases his second album of the year on May 14, 1969. A sensitive mixture of rock, folk, country and a bit of blues.  Gems include “Cinnamon Girl”, “Round & Round”, “Down by the River”, and the brilliant “Cowgirl in the Sand” If this is not Neil Young’s best albums, it’s clearly in the top three as it effectively and efficiently mixes substance and simplicity.  Neil Young’s lyrics are neither polished nor refined, and his music is forged from the basics with minimal diversions, but all of it comes together well and there are many magic moments like the punctuated single syllable chord changes on “Cin-na-mon Girl.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Neil Young.

Side one
# Title Length
1. Cinnamon Girl 2:58
2. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” 2:26
3. “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” 5:49
4. Down by the River 9:13
Side two
# Title Length
1. “The Losing End (When You’re On)” 4:03
2. “Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” 5:30
3. Cowgirl in the Sand 10:06

Personnel

Crazy Horse

Additional musicians

 

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Tyrannosaurus Rex: Unicorn

This third Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Unicorn, released May 16, 2019,  is also the last for Steve Took.  Apparently Marc Bolan found various aspects of Steve’s personality and lifestyle (especially Took’s recreational drug use and reputation for spiking beverages with hallucinogens) less than endearing (particularly when Bolan once imbibed some STP-spiked punch) and their relationship came to its end shortly after Took expressed that his own songs should be included in the group’s recorded material.  This record then becomes a document of the duo at their peak, providing hints of Marc Bolan’s future direction.

Though there is much to like on this album, starting with the first track, “Chariots of Silk”, don’t miss the bonus tracks that one finds on the 2 CD deluxe reissue including “Once upon the Seas of Abyssinia” and “Blessed Wild Apple Girl.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Marc Bolan.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Chariots of Silk”

2:26

2.

“‘Pon a Hill”

1:14

3.

“The Seal of Seasons”

1:49

4.

“The Throat of Winter”

1:59

5.

“Cat Black (The Wizard’s Hat)”

2:55

6.

“Stones for Avalon”

1:37

7.

“She Was Born to Be My Unicorn”

2:37

8.

“Like a White Star, Tangled and Far, Tulip That’s What You Are”

3:49

Side B

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles”

2:11

2.

“Evenings of Damask”

2:26

3.

“The Sea Beasts”

2:26

4.

“Iscariot”

2:53

5.

“Nijinsky Hind”

2:20

6.

“The Pilgrim’s Tale”

2:07

7.

“The Misty Coast of Albany”

1:43

8.

“Romany Soup”

5:40

Personnel

Tyrannosaurus Rex
Additional Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Aretha Franklin, Soul ’69; Neil Young; The Beatles

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Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69

Some albums showcase great songs or excellent compositions, some great arrangements and some showcase great talent. The title is misleading, as this is more of a jazz and blues album than a soul album, and a much more appropriate title would have been “Aretha 1969.”

This excellent album, released January 17, 1969, showcases one of the great vocal instrumentalists of the last hundred years at her best.  In general, the arrangements set up Aretha Franlin to effectively display her incredible musicality.  On this album, Aretha is not song-interpreter in the manner of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Johnny Hartman, or Chet Baker, but is an expressive instrumentalist like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, or Eric Dolphy.   For anyone wishing to explore what made Aretha so great, this is a perfect album to start with.

We also get a myriad of skilled jazz musicians backing her up.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one

Writers(s)

1.

“Ramblin'”
Big Maybelle

2.

Today I Sing the Blues
Curtis Reginald Lewis

3.

“River’s Invitation” Percy Mayfield

4.

“Pitiful” Rosie Marie McCoy, Charlie Singleton

5.

Crazy He Calls Me
Bob RussellCarl Sigman

6.

Bring It On Home to Me
Sam Cooke

Side two

7.

Tracks of My Tears
Smokey RobinsonPete MooreMarv Tarplin

8.

“If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”
Rudy Clark

9.

Gentle on My Mind
John Hartford

10.

So Long
Russ Morgan, Remus Harris, Irving Melsher

11.

I’ll Never Be Free
Bennie BenjaminGeorge David Weiss

12.

Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind

Personnel 

neil-young-debut

Neil Young: Neil Young

I’m a pushover for early Neil Young, whether it’s his simple, uncomplicated songs (uncomplicated harmonically and lyrically) like “The Loner” or his repetitive, extended songs with unfathomable lyrics like “The Last Trip to Tulsa.”  Nothing here on this album to get a Pulitzer Prize for music or a Nobel Prize for poetry, but how can you not love how Neil cuts to the core of what the singer songwriter experience is all about and provides the equivalent warmth and informalness of those Saturday lunches at a friend’s house?  It’s always a pleasure to take this timeless debut album, released January 22, 1969, for a spin — a classic album which winningly captures and represents Neil Young being Neil Young.

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The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

And of course, I have to mention the Yellow Submarine “soundtrack” album, released January 13, 1969, which importantly contains one masterpiece, John Lennon’s 1968 blues-based “Hey Bulldog” with its opening, addictive riff emphasizing the melodic dissonance of the tritone and McCartney’s solid and sometimes improvisitory bass work, and one other very strong composition, George Harrison’s 1967 “Only a Northern Song.”  Also included is the 1967 early psychedelic, “It’s All Too Much.”

Century Sunday: 1918

New Orleans

First of all, wishing everyone a happy, productive and fulfilling 2019!

I was not around one hundred years ago, but my grandparents were.  My mother’s mom was twenty, and she sometimes referenced the terrible flu epidemic of 1918 and the lives it took.  For many, this affected them more directly than World War I.

World War I would end in November of 1918.  For many years, Armistice Day, November 11, was a notable holiday in the U.S. until sometime after World War II, when it was renamed Veteran’s Day, honoring those who served in both world wars. Now Veteran’s day is a tribute to all those that served in the U.S. armed forces, the true great heroes and protectors of our nation.

In movies, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton continued to provide silent comedies.  The big silent movie hit of 1918 was Mickey, starring Norma Mabel, the famous actress, writer, director, and producer of the 1910s and 1920s.

In 1918, the gifted seventeen-year-old Louis Armstrong was playing cornet on Mississippi riverboats.  With prostitution made illegal in New Orleans in November of 1917, not to protect the women involved, but as a step to prevent VD transmission to nearby army and navy camps, Storyville, the red light and entertainment district of New Orleans, and the musicians that made a living in Storyville would take a financial hit: soon Louis’s idol, King Oliver would move to Chicago, and Louis would replace him in Kid Ory’s band.

Original Dixieland Jass Band continued to release recordings including their most famous one, “Tiger Rag.

Pianist, and National Public Radio (NPR) host of “Piano Jazz”, Marian McPartland was born on March 1918, living until 2013. Other jazz musicians born in 1918 include trumpter Howard McGhee, pianist Charles Thompson, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonist Ike Quebec, and trumpet player, composer, arranger and band leader, Gerald Wilson.  King of the Slide Guitar, blues guitarist, composer, singer and bandleader Elmore James was also born in 1918.  Mr. James was one of the first guitarists in the 1950’s to intentionally overdrive the electric guitar’s amplification to produce distortion for musical effect.

Classical violinist, Ruggiero Ricci was born in 1918 and gave lessons to one of my good friends from college who talked about him in utmost awe and respect. Ricci gave performances as a member of the US Army in World War II and then later, in 1947, was the first violinist to record the complete twenty-four Caprices (Opus 1) by Paganini in their original form. Ricci also championed many twentieth century composer’s violin concertos including Ginastera’s.  In total, Ricci made over 500 recordings and performed over 6,000 concerts in sixty-five different countries.

Leoš Janáček composed Taras Bulba, Arnold Bax his first string quartet,  Igor Stravinsky his Histoire du Soldat. Operas first performed in 1918 include Béla Bartók’s dramatic Bluebeard’s Castle and Giacomo Puccini‘s set of three one-act operas, Il trittico.

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Fifty Year Friday: Jeff Beck, Truth; The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo

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1968 continued to provide a greater and greater diversity of music for the LP consumer with all musical influences, past and present, east, west, north and south, being available on relatively easily accessible recorded medium for composers, musicians, producers, arrangers to listen to and often be significantly influenced by such music.

Blues — and rhythm and blues — along with popular music whether from English music halls, Hollywood or elsewhere provided the starting point for Rock & Roll which evolved into Rock as it incorporated additional musical influences and compositional techniques. However, as rock & roll became rock, many groups continued to reach back into blues history — whether for inspiration or for a simple harmonic pattern that provided a flexible, forgiving framework for jamming and relatively simple improvisation.

Jeff Beck’s Truth, recorded in May, followed by a successful tour in the U.S., and released sometime in August 1968, is primarily a blues-based album with a mix of Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir and Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart compositions.  Some of the exceptions include an acceptable but not an earth-shattering version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River”, Beck’s mostly acoustic version of “Greensleeves”, a successful reconstruction of the Yardbird’s classic “Shape of Things”, and the highlight of the album, Jimmy Page’s composition, “Beck’s Bolero.”

Of particular note is Nicki Hopkins on piano, providing his usual upbeat, finely detailed keyboard work.  Jeff Beck is joined by Jimmy Page on “Beck’s Bolero” and John Paul Jones provides organ or bass on a few tracks.  The album is rounded out with Ron Wood on bass, and Rod Stewart.  Stewart, out of work after having left Steampacket in March 1966 and then Shotgun Express later that same year, was selected by Beck in February 1967 for this post-Yardbirds group.  Stewart is still developing as an expressive singer at this point,  but as an avid fan of Sam Cooke, he does quite well on this album, providing effective vocals.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

No.

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Shapes of Things Jim McCartyKeith RelfPaul Samwell-Smith

3:22

2.

“Let Me Love You” Jeffrey Rod

4:44

3.

Morning Dew Bonnie Dobson

4:40

4.

You Shook Me Willie DixonJ. B. Lenoir

2:33

5.

Ol’ Man River Jerome KernOscar Hammerstein II

4:01

Side two

No.

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Greensleeves Traditional

1:50

2.

“Rock My Plimsoul” Jeffrey Rod

4:13

3.

Beck’s Bolero Jimmy Page

2:54

4.

“Blues De Luxe” Jeffrey Rod

7:33

5.

I Ain’t Superstitious Willie Dixon

4:53

Personnel

Additional credited personnel

Additional uncredited personnel

Swbyrds 2

Previously incorporating, folk, bluegrass and country music influences in their work, with the addition of Gram Parsons, the Byrds go out whole hog, so to speak, in making their next album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”,  a true bluegrass, folk and country music album.  Parson’s talked the band in recording in Nashville and adding pedal steel guitar and jukejoint piano.  The result is an excellent album that, though, has little to do with rock and roll or rock music, contributed, along with the Band’s Big Pink and other contemporaneous albums like Credence Clearwater Revival’s first album, to the new and ultimately highly commercial endeavor of melding country and rock elements into a new style of music that would simply be called country rock.  Soon, “country rock”, would provide a walloping, additional revenue stream for the major labels.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

# Title Writer Lead vocals Guest musicians/band contributions beyond usual instruments Time
Side 1
1. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Bob Dylan McGuinn Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Gram Parsons (organ) 2:33
2. “I Am a Pilgrim” traditional, arranged Roger McGuinnChris Hillman Hillman John Hartford (fiddle), Roy Husky (double bass), Roger McGuinn (banjo), Chris Hillman (acoustic guitar) 3:39
3. “The Christian Life” Charles Louvin, Ira Louvin McGuinn JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar), Clarence White (electric guitar) 2:30
4. You Don’t Miss Your Water William Bell McGuinn Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 3:48
5. “You’re Still on My Mind” Luke McDaniel Parsons Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 2:25
6. Pretty Boy Floyd Woody Guthrie McGuinn Roy Husky (double bass), John Hartford (acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle), Chris Hillman (mandolin) 2:34
Side 2
1. Hickory Wind Gram Parsons, Bob Buchanan Parsons John Hartford (fiddle), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Roger McGuinn (banjo), Gram Parsons (piano) 3:31
2. “One Hundred Years from Now” Gram Parsons McGuinn, Hillman Barry Goldberg (piano), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Clarence White (electric guitar) 2:40
3. “Blue Canadian Rockies” Cindy Walker Hillman Clarence White (electric guitar), Gram Parsons (piano) 2:02
4. “Life in Prison” Merle Haggard, Jelly Sanders Parsons Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 2:46
5. Nothing Was Delivered Bob Dylan McGuinn Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Gram Parsons (piano, organ) 3:24

Personnel

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