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Fifty Year Friday: Woodstock and August 1969

Wide-angle overall of huge crowd facingWoodstock: Aug 16-18

The history of people gathering together to hear others play music is almost as old as people gathering together to play music — both going back to prehistoric times.

And there were many older people in 1969, those of the “Great” generation and those of the so-called “Silent” generation, that would have identified “Woodstock” as just another prehistoric-type gathering to listen to primitive music.

Woodstock wasn’t the first multi-day music festival.   The Greeks had multi-day festivals where music played an important role.  In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there were music festival that included a competitive element as portrayed in Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Wagner himself started the famous Bayreuth Festival in 1876, and though the first year was a financial disaster, it was a significant historical achievement with Russian attendee, composer Peter Tchaikovsky, writing “Something has taken place at Bayreuth which our grandchildren and their children will still remember.”

And so we can say the same about Woodstock.

There were many earlier multi-day rock events including the three-day Trips Festival in 1966, the two-day Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in June 1967, the three-day Monterey Pop Festival from June 16 to June 18 in 1967, the Northern California Folk Rock Festival in May 1968, the two-day Newport Pop Festival in early August 1968, which had over 100,000 paid attendees, the two-day Isle of Wight Festival on August 31 and September 1, 1968, the two-day San Francisco Pop Festival on October 26 and 27, the two-day Los Angeles Pop Festival on December 22 and 23, the three-day Miami Pop Festival on December 28-30, several large, multi-day festivals in the first seven months of 1969 including the July 25-27 Seattle Pop Festival, and the three-day, attended by over 100,000, Atlantic City Pop Festival on August 1-3.

But Woodstock was one of a kind.  It was the peak of such gatherings — both a musical and social event the likes of which had never occurred before and has yet to occur again.

It was further celebrated and immortalized by the Warner Brothers movie, Woodstock, which came out in March 1970 — a important documentary that other studios had no interest in funding, and that, with its box office success, saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy.

I had not even heard of Woodstock when my father, one evening in April 1970, while my sister and mom were attending some a Job Daughters or Eastern Star related meeting, took me to see a movie about music he personally had no interest in or no particular affection for. At fourteen, I was just along for the ride, so to speak, and would have accompanied my dad to any movie he chose.  Fortunately he chose Woodstock.

And what I saw were the myriad and complex vestiges of sixties mixing with, and more significantly, fueling the new music and culture of the upcoming 1970s — I was watching a document foreshadowing the world I would soon more fully engage and participate in.  Outside of sometimes reminding me of the importance of being considerate of others and sensitive to other people feelings, taking me to movies was the closest my dad ever came to explaining the facts of life or teaching me about what life would be like as an older teenager or young adult.  Woodstock, even in just its movie reincarnation, provided exposure to curse words, skinning dipping, drugs, and most of all some really timeless music.

Today there are various DVDs and on-demand streaming sources of video and audio that cover the music played at Woodstock and capture interviews of musicians and attendees.   I think its appropriate to celebrate this anniversary by watching the original movie or the extended version — or just listening to some of the audio from this landmark event.  Appreciate any comments on this topic!

Albums for the rest of August 1969

For the most part, by August of  1969, the sixties were wrapping up and the seventies were off to the races.

There were a number of musicians and groups that were symbols of the sixties that now had to make the transition to the seventies or fold trying.  Those that more-or-less folded, including Donovan, as mentioned in last week’s post, and groups like the Association, who released their fifth album in August 1969, the first of two Association albums that didn’t have a charting single, would be long remembered for their contributions in the sixties, but not recognized as a part of the seventies.

While other groups were declining, wrapping up, or dissolving, there were many new groups — with three genres becoming more and more prevalent: hard rock groups, which would evolve mainly into metal, progressive rock, and hard rock blues bands; the folk and country rock groups, which would often, in the case of some folk rock bands, get more progressive and complex, or with some country rock bands, develop a harder edge to their music or become more acoustic or folk-oriented; the blues rock bands, which depending on their musical sophistication usually evolved into metal, hard rock, jazz-rock, or more prog rock bands.  On top of this the Motown sound of the sixties was generally replaced with funk, soulful rock with the heart and soul of the Tamla/Motown set of record labels (including Tamla, Motown, Miracle/Gordy, VIP, Soul) shifting from Detroit to Los Angeles.

The shift from the sixties to the seventies was marked by the formation of super groups – — top musicians from different bands getting together as was the case earlier with Crosby, Stills, and Nash which released their album in May of 1969, and Blind Faith and The Hollies, both of which released their albums in August of 1969.

Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood formed Blind Faith with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. The Blind Faith album, with its controversial original cover, which Eric Clapton fought for by stipulating their would be no album without that cover of the topless prepubescent strawberry blonde suggestively holding a Concord-like aircraft , and which cover was predictably replaced when initially released in the U.S. and Canada, is foundationally a blues rock album, with some particularly engaging writing by Steve Winwood and overall quality playing from Clapton, Winwood, Gretch and Baker.  Half of the album, side two, is an extended jam number which particularly showcases Eric Clapton.

Steve Marriot of the Small Faces and Peter Frampton of the Herd formed the Hollies.  Their first album, As Safe As Yesterday Is, released in early August of 1969, is a mixture of blues rock, jam rock, and some good solid songs. particularly the title song, “As Safe As Yesterday Is”, by Peter Frampton.  This style of British rock-blues looked forward to the blues and guitar oriented rock of the early seventies and contained few vestiges of the original British Invasion sound.

Ten Years After, who also played at Woodstock, was an English blues rock band  releasing their third studio album, Ssssh in August of 1969.  However by this third album Alvin Lee’s impressive guitar style had more of a seventies’ sound and his writing style likewise as was the the general hard-rock rhythmic drive of drummer Ric Lee and bassist Leo Lyons as well as the blues-rock sound of classical trained keyboard player Chick Churchill.  Ssssh, outsold the previous two albums and got as high as the twentieth position on the US Billboard Album Charts.

Mick Abrams, the guitarist on the first Jethro Tull album, leaving apparently from differences with Ian Anderson on the musical direction of Jethro Tull, had formed the band British Blues Band Blodwyn Pig.  Incorporating the reed work of Jack Lancaster and including elements of jazz-rock as exemplified by the track, ““The Modern Alchemist”,  the album reached number 9 on the UK charts. Again we have a solid, British Blues album, very much forging the way into the start of the seventies.

David Brown Plays With Santana At Woodstock

In America, starting in 1966, Carlos Santana led a Bay-Area-based live-concert jam band, Santana. Santana’s first album, recorded in May 1969 and released at the end of August, 1969, incorporated some actual songs in order to be commercially friendly — but as to be expected from this type of jam band, the album is mostly instrumental.  One of songs on the album, “Evil Ways”, caught on in a big way reaching #9 on the charts sometime in March 1970. With the combination of the heavy airplay of “Evil Way” and their appearance at Woodstock and in the film, their first album eventually climbed up to number 4 on the US Billboard Album Charts.  While “Evil Ways” received incessant airplay on AM, FM radio stations played other cuts of the Santana album.

Michigan, which had provided the MC5 and The Stooges, provided yet another hard-edged, blues-based rock band with Grand Funk Railroad. Though the level of musicianship was not at the level of English groups like Blind Faith, The Hollies, Ten Years After, or Blodwyn Pig it was clearly an improvement over MC5.  The first album, On Time, released in August of 1969, was also much better received by rock critics.   Grand Funk was a natural seventies arena rock band, so much so that Rolling Stone writer David Fricke later declared “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”  And though an intelligent musically-oriented discussion of seventies rock music certainly wouldn’t suffer from an omission of Grand Funk (as they were more commonly called by fans), they were one of the few early seventies hard rock bands that managed to successfully steer away from what some considered the contaminating influence of progressive rock — staying mostly true to the vision of a generic, relentlessly devoid of any traces of self-awareness, hard rock.

Stevie Wonder, did not play at Woodstock, but continued to mature as a musician and composer, releasing My Cherie Amour on August 29, 1969. Wonder would become one of the most important voices of the 1970s, but for the most part My Cherie Amour is still a sixties album. The biggest hit was the title track, “My Cherie Amour”, a tune originally written by Stevie for his girlfriend as “Oh, My Marsha” when he was a student at the Michigan School for the Blind and then recorded in 1967.  Reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard Singles chart, the song is relatively simple, instantly accessible and charmingly a product of the sixties.  “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”, also recorded back in 1967, reached number #7 in the US and #2 in the UK.

Love also was making the transition from the sixties to the seventies. To start with, Arthur Lee, the primary creative force behind Forever Changes, dismissed all the previous members of Love after the departure talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Brian MacLean had left.  The new album, Four Sails, released in either August or September was a disappointment to fans expecting an extension of the melodically-rich, proto-prog sound of Forever ChangesFour Sail starts off promising enough, with the first track “August”, propelling forward with impressive contrapuntal interplay between the two guitars and the bass.  The next track though, pulls the listener back into the sixties as does “I’m With You” with its similarities to the quintessentially sixties “Feeling Groovy” and “Robert Montgomery” with its similarities to “Eleanor Rigby.” Overall, the album is supported by some strong, seventies-style guitar work, but it does not match the quality of the earlier Forever Changes album, and it garnered even less commercial and critical attention.

Another album bypassed by most consumers and critics alike, selling less than a total of 20,000 copies in 1969 and 1970, was Boz Scaggs solo album, simply titled “Boz Scaggs”, recorded after his departure from the Steve Miller Band and released in August 1969. This is mostly a country music album, but it smoothly incorporates elements of blues, folk, soul and gospel. One could make the case that this album is the most seventies album of all the late sixties albums as it effectively incorporates horns, and background singers into a polished presentation that is as much about style and appearance as substance.  Fortunately, there is also real substance to the songs. Scaggs own compositions are generally based on traditional country laments (unrequited love, being taken for granted, unappreciated, leaving because unappreciated, and abandonment.)  The covers Scaggs chooses are wisely selected and fill out the full county/blues spectrum with “Look What I Got” (I found someone else, so there — but it could/should have been you.”) and and “Waiting for a Train” and “Loan Me A Dime” covering down and out territory.  The album ends with a final country song, Scaggs and keyboardist Barry Becket’s “Sweet Release” that balances desolation with the promise of solace.  This strong and powerful ballad is reminiscent of Procol Harum and anticipates the country-rock sound of Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connections.  Overall Scaggs gives us one of the first seventies-style Americana albums, simple, effective, and liberated from the influence of the musical influences of the British Invasion. Once Boz made it big, the album was reissued and belatedly charted in 1976.

August was a busy month for releases, and with albums like Miles  Davis’s In a Silent Way, Nick Drake’s “Five Leave’s Left”, Yes’s first album, Yes, Jethro Tull’s “Stand Up”, Santana’s first album, Santana, and Can’s “Monster Movie”,  now in the hands of many listeners by the end of August, 1969, it seems appropriate to note that this was the beginning of the seventies, calendar mechanics and formalities ignored — and it you were to bring such silly technicalities up, my reply would certainly be typical seventies jargon — “screw that!”

 

 

 

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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

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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

 

Fifty Year Friday: Electric Storm, Deep Purple, Aoxomoxoa

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White Noise: An Electric Storm

Stylistically and artistically ahead of its time, its hard to believe White Noise’s first album was recorded in 1968 and released in June 1969. The electronic effects are achieved not with Moog Synthesizer, which was not available in 1968, but through a combination of various electronic oscillators and magnetic tape effects. These effects, including an aggressive exploration the stereo spatial terrain, do not sound forced or trite, added afterwards, or as a foundation on top of which the music is force fitted, but are organically part of the musical whole. The first two tracks, originally created as singles, are accessible and melodically catchy, and musically refined as is the entire first side which is subtitled “Phase In.”  The third track on that first side, “Here Comes the Fleas” is the novelty number of the album, followed by “Firebird” which though unrelated in terms of topic and theme to Stravinky’s Firebird, cleverly incorporates, subtly and briefly, at different points, a melodic fragment from that original Stravinksy Firebird in the background vocals. The last track on Side One, “Your Hidden Dreams”, is particularly notable for its compelling coherence and judicious use of electronics.

Side Two is subtitled “Phase Out” and is more adventurous and ambitious, starting with the eleven-plus-minute “Visitation” which includes traditional musical and dramatic/narrative components along with more Stockhausen-like and pre-industrial rock elements. The second and last track, “Black Mass” begins with lower registration monk-like chanting — clearly intending to sound ominous and more sinister than the standard Gregorian plainchant.  Dominated by demonic percussion work and some assorted hellish screams and fiendish and perverse electronic sounds, at a little over seven minutes in length, this is the perhaps the most serious track, providing a short. impression of electronic-musical Hell, if not Hell itself.

I got this album around 1972 and have been a fan of it ever since.  Coming out after the albums from United States of America and Silver Apples (previously blogged about here and here), this is perhaps the most accessible and most compelling of the three. The main force behind White Noise, David Vorhaus, would later release additional albums, including the follow-up White Noise 2 (aka Concerto for Synthesizer) which like its predecessor was available only briefly for purchase upon its initial released but now, like many of the previously difficult-to-find albums of early progressive rock, is now readily available for streaming or mp3 download.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Phase-In:

1.

“Love without Sound” Delia DerbyshireDavid Vorhaus

3:07

2.

“My Game of Loving” Duncan, Vorhaus

4:10

3.

“Here Come the Fleas” McDonald, Vorhaus

2:15

4.

“Firebird” Derbyshire, Vorhaus

3:05

5.

“Your Hidden Dreams” McDonald, Vorhaus

4:58

 

Phase-Out:

6.

“The Visitation” McDonald, Vorhaus

11:14

7.

“Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell” Duncan, Derbyshire, Vorhaus, Lytton, Hodgson

7:22

Personnel

  • Kaleidophon – production
  • David Vorhaus – production co-ordinator
  • Delia DerbyshireBrian Hodgson – electronic sound realization
  • Paul Lytton – percussion
  • John Whitman, Annie Bird, Val Shaw – vocals

DP3

Deep Purple: Deep Purple

With their third album, simply titled Deep Purple, but also known as Deep Purple III, released June 21, 1969, Deep Purple provides us a glimpse of their progressive side launching this album with the heavy, rhythmically driving, “Chasing Shadows”, based on one of Jon Lord’s nightmares and nicely fitting in with the Hieronymus Bosch inspired album cover. The remainder of the album is a mix of early progressive rock, hard rock, traces of psychedelia, and blues-based rock.  This is an enjoyable, relatively strong album with with both heavy metal and prog-like bass, guitar and keyboards that hints both of a path ultimately abandoned as well as the heavily-worn path that Deep Purple would soon wear into the grooves of such later albums like Machine Head.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

1.

“Chasing Shadows” Ian PaiceJon Lord

5:34

2.

“Blind” Lord

5:26

3.

Lalena” (Donovan cover) Donovan Leitch

5:05

4.

“Fault Line” (instrumental) Ritchie BlackmoreNick Simper, Lord, Paice

1:46

5.

“The Painter” Blackmore, Rod Evans, Lord, Simper, Paice

3:51

Side two

6.

“Why Didn’t Rosemary?” Blackmore, Evans, Lord, Simper, Paice

5:04

7.

“Bird Has Flown” Lord, Evans, Blackmore

5:36

8.

“April” Blackmore, Lord

12:10

Deep Purple

grateful-dead-cover

Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa

Released June 20, this high-quality work, recorded with 16-track technology, and a potpourri of rock, folk, blues, psychedelia and tinges of country ragtime, is undeniably endearing.  Don’t get hung up on trying to decode the album name, it certainly doesn’t indicate that the album sounds the same when played forwards and backwards (though, it is true the album was recorded twice, first with older technology and a working title of “Earthquake Country”, and then recorded a second time to take advantage of the just released 16 track technology, giving the band the opportunity to run up the studio time for the album as well as run up the associated studio expenses.)

What is delivered here is an album for posterity, with beautifully alluring tracks like “Rosemary” and “Mountain of the Moon” (setting the musical standard for soft, ethereal rock which would be a blueprint for the softer tracks for heavier bands like Led Zeppelin) and exploratory art music like “What’s Become of the Baby.”  The album concludes with, “Cosmic Charlie”, the perfect soundtrack song for the “Truckin’ Along” and “Keep On Truckin'” carefree attitude that brought the 1960s to its close.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, except where noted.

Side one
    Length
1. St. Stephen” (Garcia, Phil Lesh, Hunter) 4:26
2. “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” 3:32
3. “Rosemary” 1:58
4. “Doin’ That Rag” 4:41
5. “Mountains of the Moon” 4:02
Side two
    Length
6. China Cat Sunflower 3:40
7. “What’s Become of the Baby” 8:12
8. “Cosmic Charlie” 5:29

Personnel

Grateful Dead
Additional musicians

 

Fifty Year Friday: Nashville Skyline, Songs From A Room, Nazz Nazz

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BOB DYLAN: NASHVILLE SKYLINE

“Oh me, oh my,
Love that country pie.”

— Bob Dylan

Especially with singer songwriters, its’ fun to speculate which came first: the lyrics or the music.  Bob Dylan’s 1967 album, “John Wesley Harding” appears to be a well-crafted set of poems that then are set to music.  Dylan’s next album, Nashville Skyline appears to be a set of music compositions, with lyrics added afterwords.  Adding the words later, creates a task much more difficult for the lyricist role of the singer songwriter, particularly if the music does not emerge from a set of chord progressions, but comes from the heart — a melody that one hears with or without its associated chords, that then one must fully form into a song.  I am particularly amazed at the results of lyricist Lorenz Hart who was able to write such excellent lyrics to completed Richard Rogers songs.

However, writing great music to preexisting lyrics seems to be an almost impossible feat. As impressed as I am at the quality of Hart’s lyrics to fit into preexisting music, I am even more amazed at the quality of music that Richard Rogers was able to provide when he switched to working with Oscar Hammerstein, a lyricists whose method of creation was to first write the lyrics, handing those finished lyrics to the composer who then had to create appropriate music for those words.

So, I am not surprised that Dylan, who is not the quality of composer as Richard Rogers, comes up short musically sometimes when creating music to fit his own existing poetry as is the general case with the “John Wesley Harding” album.

Note that I may be completely wrong with this thesis, but I believe that with Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline, released on April 9, 1969, several of the songs were written first with lyrics added.  “Nashville Skyline Rag” was a rare instrumental by Dylan and gives us a clear example of Dylan writing music without preexisting lyrics, but I believe this is also the case with songs like “To Be Alone With You”” I Threw it All Away”, and “Lay, Lady, Lay.”  Unlike the previous album, Nashville Skyline is not a series of songs with verses and no choruses but a collection of traditional,  fairly catchy and easily singable tunes.  The music sounds more natural, and comes across as the primary content — another indicator that the lyrics are there for the music and not the music being created to support existing poetry.

But an additional reason for my assertion that the music came first, is the generally simple quality of the lyrics. On scrutiny, this is a rather weak argument when one considers that not only most of the music, but the associated words are totally in alignment with expected character of late 1960’s country music, and so one could argue that Dylan once again wrote the lyrics first to get the level of authenticity needed for the project and rose to the task of fitting natural, catchy, country music to those lyrics. Either way Dylan deserves praise for the final product and his amazing adaptability.

He also deserves particular praise for the number of musical and lyrical cliches he was able to fit into a short twenty-seven minute album, given there is nothing inherently wrong with cliches: to quote Nicolas Slonimsky, one of the great musicologists of the twentieth century defending a particularly cliche in classical music, “yes, its a cliche, but it’s a good cliche!”   Musically, we find heavy reliance on common country music chord progressions and melodic patterns, but it is the lyrical cliches that interest me even more. For example, the entire content of the third song, “To Be Alone with You” is almost entirely crafted from cliches:

“To be alone with you,
Just you and me,
Now won’t you tell me true
Ain’t that the way it oughta be?
To hold each other tight
The whole night through;
Everything is always right
When I’m alone with you.

“To be alone with you
At the close of the day
With only you in view
While evening slips away;
It only goes to show
That while life’s pleasures be few
The only one I know
Is when I’m alone with you.”

“They say that nighttime is the right time
To be with the one you love;
Too many thoughts get in the way in the day
But you’re always what I’m thinkin’ of.
I wish the night were here
Bringin’ me all of your charms
When only you are near
To hold me in your arms.

“I’ll always thank the Lord
When my workin’ day is through —
I get my sweet reward
To be alone with you”

And so it goes for the rest of the album with such often-used phrases as

“I treated her like a fool”, “in the palm of my hand”, “I threw it all away”. “Love … makes the world go ’round”, “stole my heart away”. “love to spend the night”. “future looks so bright”. “girl is out of sight”. “loved her just the same”. “And I love her so”. “you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen”. “You can have your cake and eat it too”. “tonight no light will shine on me”. “lost the only pal I had”. “I just could not be what she wanted me to be”. “I thought that she’d be true”. “what a woman in love would do”. “I didn’t mean to see her go”. “tell me that it isn’t true”, “They say that you’ve been seen with some other man”. “he’s tall, dark and handsome”. “It hurts me all over”, “all I want is your word”, “you better come through”, “I’m countin’ on you”. “playin’ ’til the break of day”. “that ain’t no lie”, “got nothin’ on me”, “Throw my troubles out the door”, “it was more than I could do”. “your love comes on so strong”, “I’ve waited all day long”, “Is it really any wonder”, “You cast your spell and I went under“, “I find it so difficult to leave.”

One has to conclude, even if  reluctantly, that there is a genius at work here, and whether the lyrics came first or were cleverly fitted into the music, it’s impressive how all these cliches were incorporated into these few songs.

One personal note: “Lay, Lady, Lay” was repeatedly played on AM radio, over and over, starting in July 1969.  I cringed every time it came on. I was fourteen, and this is second worse traumatic experience for me that year — the worst was having to hear The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” on the radio, relentlessly repeated with the resumption of the school year that September. What an ordeal! A poor, suffering, helpless fourteen-year-old freshman high school student being subjected to the one song that most exemplified (and historically defined) bubble-gum pop music — and subjected to such inane music and lyrics every morning and every afternoon on the school bus ride.  “Lay, Lady, Lay” was a welcome relief in comparison.

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

Bob Dylan – guitar, harmonica, keyboards, vocals
Norman Blake – guitar, dobro
Kenneth A. Buttrey – drums
Johnny Cash – vocals on “Girl from North Country”
Fred Carter Jr. – guitar
Charlie Daniels – bass guitar, guitar
Pete Drake – pedal steel guitar
Marshall Grant – bass guitar on “Girl from North Country”
W. S. Holland – drums on “Girl from North Country”
Charlie McCoy – guitar, harmonica
Bob Wilson – organ, piano
Bob Wootton – electric guitar on “Girl from North Country”

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LEONARD COHEN: SONGS FROM A ROOM

Released on April 7, 1969, Leonard Cohen’s second album Songs from a Room, did well on the US Charts (peaking at 63) and impressively in the UK (getting as high as second spot on the UK charts.)  This seems to be another one of those singer-songwriter album which has songs that are based on poetry set to music rather than lyrics devised to fit the music.

The most amazing song, on a relatively strong album, is the powerfully compelling “Story of Isaac”, basically an anti-Vietnam song, set within the story of Abraham and Isaac.  It’s message extends much more broadly, and the song unfolds first as a narrative and then as a commentary.  “A scheme” such as capitalism or communism poorly compares to a divine vision, and if what Abraham did is clearly inappropriate, how much more so is sending our youth off to fight politically-motivated wars?  Or to kill off the promise of future generations by reckless consumption of our planet’s precious resources?  One has to be astonished at how artfully and convincingly Cohen has crafted his message.

Cohen delivers intimate, personal songs from his room that can fully enjoyed when we provide undivided attention to the music emanating from the speakers in front of us in our rooms.

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

Leonard Cohen – vocals, classical guitar
Ron Cornelius – acoustic and electric guitar
Bubba Fowler – banjo, bass guitar, violin, acoustic guitar
Charlie Daniels – bass guitar, violin, acoustic guitar

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THE NAZZ: NAZZ NAZZ

Todd Rundgren and The Nazz, released their second album, “Nazz Nazz” on April 7, 1969.  This was effectively their last album, originally intended as a double album, with some of the music held back and then later released as “Nazz III” by SGC Records coinciding with Todd Rundgren’s blossoming solo career starting to provide a commercial audience for these earlier tracks.

The diversity of this album is remarkable.  There are two solid blues numbers, “Kiddie Boy” and “Featherbedding Lover”, a fine-blues based hard rock number “Hang on Paul”, sounding as it would almost fit into the Beatles’ White Album, the melodic “Gonna Cry Today”, the richly euphonic “Letters Don’t Count” with its glass harmonic intro and coda and its layered vocals, the heavy “Under The Ice”, the confusingly psychedelic “Meridian Leeward”, and the artfully composed “A Beautiful Song.”   One hears not only influences from The Beatles, Laura Nyro and Burt Bacharach, but Todd’s own singular voice in all the compositions (particularly in the melodies and harmonic modulations), the arrangements, and the overall production. In addition we have Rundgren’s distinct guitar work and his general lyrical competency which sometimes rises to be as profound and effective as anything by the more renown singer songwriters of the sixties. Case in point is this verse from “Gonna Cry Today”

“Are you turned off by my lack of composure?
Please excuse my state, it’s just that I know
Your gonna take away something that I never had
But I thought was mine.”

which is perfectly understated, identifying the essence of not only romantic loss but loss in general.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren.

Side one

  1. “Forget All About It” – 3:15
  2. “Not Wrong Long” – 2:30
  3. “Rain Rider” – 3:52
  4. “Gonna Cry Today” – 3:15
  5. “Meridian Leeward” – 3:20
  6. “Under the Ice” – 5:40

Side two

  1. “Hang on Paul” – 2:42
  2. “Kiddie Boy” – 3:30
  3. “Featherbedding Lover” – 2:47
  4. “Letters Don’t Count” – 3:25
  5. “A Beautiful Song” – 11:15

Nazz

Robert “Stewkey” Antoni – vocals
Thom Mooney – drums, vocals
Todd Rundgren – guitar, keyboards, horn arrangements, string arrangements, vocals
Carson Van Osten – bass, vocals

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: John Martyn, The Beau Brummels

Though 1968 was the era of electronic music, there are many fine acoustic or mostly acoustic albums that were released in October 1968 including John Martyn’s second album, and The Beau Brummels’ fifth album.

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Approximately a year after the release of John Martyn’s first album, London Conversation, a relaxed, leisurely studio rendition of mostly original British folk material he was performing for small venue audiences in 1967, Martyn released a more upbeat, energetic and stronger album. The Tumbler, that better showcased his musical skills with the music incorporating rock and jazz elements.

On The Tumbler, Martyn adds additional musicians for a fuller sound and to support the greater musical variety of the compositions.  In London Conversation, we get a sampling of flute from Martyn himself, but on this second album we get Jamaican-born jazz flautist, Harold McNair, who played and recorded with Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, as well as appeared on a number of Donovan albums and on tenor sax on the James Bond Dr. No theme.  The quality of production handled by twenty-two year-old Al Stewart is quite good, with a more forward, active sound, spotlighting individual instruments.  All instruments are acoustic, with no drums on any track. The album closes with the guitar-dominated instrumental “Seven Black Roses”, the highlight of the album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by John Martyn except where indicated.

  1. “Sing A Song of Summer” – 2:22
  2. “The River” – 2:59
  3. “Goin’ Down to Memphis” – 3:12
  4. “The Gardeners” (Bill Lyons) – 3:15
  5. “A Day at the Sea” – 2:35
  6. “Fishin’ Blues” (Henry Thomas) – 2:37
  7. “Dusty” – 3:07
  8. “Hello Train” – 2:36
  9. “Winding Boy” (Jelly Roll Morton) – 2:22
  10. “Fly on Home” (Martyn, Paul Wheeler) – 2:33
  11. “Knuckledy Crunch and Slippledee-slee Song” – 2:55
  12. “Seven Black Roses” – 4:02

Personnel

  • John Martyn – vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards
  • Harold McNair – flute
  • David Moses – double bass
  • Paul Wheeler – guitar

 

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As noted in earlier posts, the latter half of 1968 introduced several albums that blended  rock and country music, albums often authored by Canadian-born or Californian-based musicians.  One notable such album was The Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn.

The Beau Brummels hailed from San Francisco, forming in 1964 and releasing their first two albums in 1965, incorporating folk and British-invasion elements. Though later denied by band members, legend has it that they chose the name, “Beau Brummels” for its English sound and so their albums would be shelved in records store bins immediately after the best-selling Beatles.

Their first album, heavily influenced by the British Invasion sound, peaked at number 24 on the Billboard album chart and included ten of twelve original songs, all written by lead guitarist, Ron Elliott, or in one case by Elliot and sometimes collaborator, Bob Durand. Sal Valentino was the lead vocalist, and its interesting to follow his development as a singer and his greater, often extreme use, of vibrato as well as Elliot’s and Valentino’s shift to more of a country sounds in their subsequent albums.

in 1966, with their label, Autumn, verging on collapse, the band starting recording their third album.  Warner Brothers purchased the group from Autumn, but the transaction didn’t cover publishing rights.  So despite a number of already recorded original songs planned for this third album, Warner Brothers directed the group to record an album of covers,  The album was a commercial flop.

In 1967, the group released a concept-inspired album of mostly original music, Triangle, considered by many a pre-country rock classic mixing folk, rock, country and hints of psychedelic and progressive elements.  Outstanding tracks include”Magic Hollow”, “Triangle” and the excellent “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune.”

In 1968, The Beau Brummels, down to just two members, Sal Valentino and Ron Elliot,  after losing their bass player to the draft, recorded their fifth album at Bradley’s Barn, a studio a few miles from Nashville.  Joined by studio musicians like guitarist Jerry Reed and drummer Kenny Buttrey , this album named after the recording site, is perhaps the most authentic and highest quality of the handful of early country-rock albums recorded in 1968.  I say, “perhaps”, as I am not really a country music fan.  I love bluegrass, particularly live, and can listen intently to the country music recorded on 78s in the twenties and thirties, but generally not much attracted to the commercial country music or country rock of the last sixty years.  Yet, this album of all but one original song holds my attention and gets my respect. Valentino continues to evolve his use of vocal vibrato, incorporating an authentic country twang, some Bob Dylan influence, and extending his own range of effective emotional delivery.

With this level of excellence, the group was set up nicely for greater artistic and commercial success, but shortly after the release of Bradley’s Barn, Valentino and Elliot went their separate ways, Valentino soon starting up a new band,  Stoneground, and Eliot releasing a solo album and producing or playing guitar on various albums. The band temporarily reformed in 1974, and at various times later, with their most recent album, Continuum, released in March 2013.

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

1 “Turn Around” Bob Durand, Elliott 3:03
2. “An Added Attraction (Come and See Me)” Valentino 3:03
3. “Deep Water” Elliott, Valentino 2:33
4. “Long Walking Down to Misery” Elliott 3:16
5. “Little Bird” Elliott 2:42
6. “Cherokee Girl” Durand, Elliott 3:36
7. “I’m a Sleeper” Elliott, Valentino 3:20
8. “Loneliest Man in Town” Elliott 1:54
9. “Love Can Fall a Long Way Down” Durand, Elliott 4:16
10. “Jessica” Elliott, Valentino 2:22
11. “Bless You California” Randy Newman 2:16

Personnel

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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