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Fifty Year Friday: November, 1971

Looking back fifty years, one can identify a number of months in the early 1970s, particularly those approaching the end of year, whose bounty of riches border on the spectacular. Such is the case with November 1971, which I could easily argue is the very best month of releases in the entire history of the Long Playing record — and going beyond that, extending also into the digital (CD and streaming) age.

Besides highlighting some of the more outstanding releases of November 1971, I also have included a few albums I had missed mentioning earlier — albums released in 1971, but before November. That certainly gives us a lot to cover, but whether fortunately or unfortunately for you, the reader, my time to do blog writing is extremely limited — and this month, I have almost no bandwidth. I am going to be challenged to just list my favorite albums, let alone say anything of substance. However, as regular readers can attest, I rarely say anything substantial in this column anyway (thankfully the music stands on its own) and I do my best to say a few words of no special consequence in my limited time. I certainly can’t, wouldn’t and have no reason to fault any reader that prefers to just quickly glance at what albums are mentioned, which by itself justifies my effort and is as much as I expect and actually have any reason to expect. That said, I am going to see how much I can tackle before the last friday of the month arrives, and as I always have done, post whatever I have, whether readable or not.

It’s also important to note the increasing prevalence of synthesizers in so many albums of this time period. Ever since hearing Switched on Bach around 1969, I developed an undeniable affection for the thrilling portamento and the more blatantly artificial wave forms produced by keyboard synthesizers. In November of 1971, we get several classic albums that place the synthesizer in a very prominent role.

Yes: Fragile

Yes releases their fourth (and finest up to that date) studio album on November 26, 1971. Rick Wakeman has been added to replace Tony Kaye, further raising the potential of the group — potential that was immediately realized starting with this fourth album, Fragile, a classic from the day it was available in record stores — and classic, not just in the sense of being of highest merit and quality, but in terms of stylistic characteristics such as direct, concise, clearly defined, and finely balanced components as well as an elegant use of contrast — both in mood and musical dynamics. The music avoids excesses and, with a couple of minor exceptions, is economical, avoiding the kind of excessive repetition so prevalent in most rock music.

Yes went into the studio with four finished compositions which make up most of the album. All of these four tracks received some FM airplay, and a slimmed down version of “Roundabout” received significant AM airplay peaking at 13. For the remaining portion of the album each band member contributed their own solo works, with Wakeman’s condensation of the Brahms quasi-scherzo from the 4th symphony, Anderson’s “We Have Heaven” and Bruford’s “Five Per Cent for Nothing” all being distinctly original. With the exception of Howe’s “Mood for a Day” and Squire’s “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”, both still excellent and contribute to the stunning impact of the album, but which are slightly overextended through repetition of material, this album approaches perfection, achieving a level of musical distinction equal to the very best rock albums of all time.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition

Recorded in March of 1971 and released in November of 1971, this exuberantly energetic live album captures Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s concert rendition of Modest Mussorgsky’s classic piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. Already in love with ELP’s first two albums, this would have been an album I would have purchased on sight. However, it was my next door neighbor that sighted it first, bought it immediately, and brought it over for me to listen to and record on my reel to reel for future listening. At that point, cash-constrained as most sixteen-year olds, I was content to listen on that 3 3/4 IPS (inches per second) copy of the album over and over again until college when I finally bought my own LP copy of it.

Prior to this recording, most people knew of Mussorgsky’s great work from Maurice Ravel’s orchestral version. Ravel is one of the great composers of the first part of the twentieth century, and very skilled at orchestration with a number of his own compositions, originally written for piano, then very effectively scored for an orchestra. He had worked with Stravinsky on a performance version of Mussorgsky’s unfinished opera, Khovanshchina, and thus very well prepared in 1922 to tackle Pictures. The result was an excellent work, but was clearly Ravel’s own vision and interpretation — the original, which deftly represents both the viewer of the gallery and his mood and perceptions of the objects on display, is quite different from Ravel’s interpretation, with the original piano composition having a darker and more inward perspective. Ravel is focused on creating a grand work with its own identity, bringing to the table his own compositional and cultural mindsets and not particularly beholden to the mood and intent of the original. That doesn’t mean that this final orchestrated version is any less worthy of being enjoyed because it isn’t particularly faithful to the spirit or personality and attitude of the original — it just means it should be listened to and enjoyed on its own terms. The same pretty much applies to ELP’s version, which not only “orchestrates” the original piano work with modern rock trio (keyboards, bass, drums) but also adds vocals and new material.

Of course, the piece starts off with the promenade theme, played very simply by Emerson but with the grandeur that a real organ, the organ used at Newcastle City Hall (the venue for the live recording), can provide. The first picture follows, “Gnome”, with Palmer’s staccato and perfectly punctuated percussion dancing with Lake’s bass, providing the appropriate dramatic setting for the eventual entrance of Emerson’s moog synthesizer — making clear this is not Ravel’s concert hall Pictures. This, then, is the final catalyst to fully engage the listener into the magic and ferocity of this post-Ravel, prog-rock version of Pictures. The album ends with ELP’s take on Kim Fowleys’ take on Tchaikovsky’s “March” from his Nutcracker Ballet.

It’s worth noting that ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition was at one point considered more appropriate as a Nonesuch Records label release due to its classical origins. It might have also been part of a 2 LP set with Trilogy (ELP’s subsequent album), except that public demand, particularly after the concert recording was played on WNEW-FM (New York), convinced the Atlantic execs to release it sooner, and as its own album.

Genesis: Nursery Cryme

Released November 12, 1971, this already highly creative and musically skilled group adds world-class drummer, Phil Collins. Though Nursery Cryme is not at the level of sound quality as Yes’s Fragile or quite as impressive in terms of focused musical content, this is a nuanced, highly crafted album that starts off incredibly strong with “Musical Box” and includes Genesis’s first masterwork, “The Attack of the Giant Hogweed.”

Traffic: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

This classic fifth studio album was a staple of FM AOR (album-oriented radio) stations, with “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” getting most of the airplay, but the rest of the album getting some time also. In fact, I am pretty sure this was the second rock album I heard played in full on FM radio (the first being Webber and Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, which was played in its entirety in very late October or very early November of 1970.)

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV

On November 8, 1971, Atlantic Records releases Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece, the unnamed, untitled fourth album. Atlantic internally catalogued it as Four Symbols and The Fourth Album. We used to call it “Zofo” from the first of those four symbols on the LP label. People smarter than us, or people from England who were more used to lines crossing through lower case “s”s than those of us in Orange County, California, would just as incorrectly call it “Zoso” since the designer of the symbols, guitarist Jimmy Page had not intended for these four symbols to represent anything rather than the four band members of Led Zeppelin.

Now I admit, I would rather listen to the guitar craft of Jimi Hendrix, or the two guitarists I mention later in this blog post, John McLaughlin and George Benson, or a number of other guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Grant Green, Tal Farlow, Gary Green, Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett, Andrés Segovia — as well as a number of others — however, I still enjoy every moment of Jimmy Page captured on this album, a unquestionably skilled and creative guitarist at the world class level.

In fact, I pretty much enjoy every moment on this album — one of those musical treasure chests of the early 1970s. It may not generally be labelled as progressive rock, but it really is, from the focused abstraction of rock and roll in “Black Dog” to the refined distillation of rock and roll in “Rock and Roll”, to the epic “The Battle of Evermore” with its gorgeous acoustic guitar, to the bouncy, again abstract, “Misty Mountain Hop” and the frenzied and contrastingly uplifting “Four Sticks”, to the best work of the album, “Stairway to Heaven”, possibly consciously or unconsciously influenced by Spirit’s “Taurus” (Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit for Spirit’s 1968 U.S. tour) but nonetheless a definite improvement over the alleged original. Though I may be a bit more advanced in my musical tastes today, I vividly remember listening to this album on headphones almost fifty years ago, the album borrowed from my next-door neighbor who purchased it in late November or December of 1971, and being totally swept away by the impact of the entire album.

Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Going On

Released on the first of November, 1971, created by Sly Stone during the depths of his stratospheric-recreational drug abuse, this is a masterpiece not only to be taken very seriously musically and artistically but even more seriously historically.

The album starts of with the incredible “Luv N’ Haight”, a psychedelicized, celebratory blues-based number, underpinned by lyrics that could either be interpreted as also celebratory (“Feel so good inside myself, don’t want to move”) or subtly dark (“As I grow up, I’m growing down and when I’m lost, I know I will be found.”) The lyrics for the second track provide the same type of ambiguity (“Just like a baby everything is new” and “Just like a baby sometimes I cry. Just like a baby I can feel it when you lie to me.’), and though open to a wide range of interpretation, appear to be referring to rebirth or re-awakening, though not clear if from some spiritual rebirth or transformation, or from drugs or trauma. The third track seemingly unsubstantial with simple lyrics that still get to the heart of songwriting (“My weapon is my pen and the frame of mind I’m in) is one of the most sampled songs ever.

The fourth track, “Family Affair”, one of the highlights of the album, was played substantially on AM radio starting in early November 1971, and went over my head both musically and lyrically, excused to some degree by only hearing it on the shoddy speakers of our school bus that took us over to our high school. In terms of lyrics, it is open to interpretation, but I think the interpretation is clear when one embraces the two apparent co-existing meanings: commentary on nature versus nurture (the disadvantages of being in a disadvantaged family unit) and family bonds. Underscoring these meanings is the understated arrangement (I believe Freddie Stone on guitar, Billy Preston on keyboards, and bass and drums) and assignment of vocals to just Sly and his sister Rose, particularly inviting us to connect “One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn and another child grows up to be somebody you’d just love to burn” to Rose and Sly, respectively. This is followed by the bleak “Africa Talks to You” (“Timber, all fall down”) with its eventual complex instrumental interplay, which contrasts sharply with the simpler music of the previous track. The first side ends with an absent track (or a track of zero length, if you prefer), “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” — a very clever commentary which Sly intended to simply indicate that since he didn’t like riots, there was no corresponding song. The second side continues with more excellent music, including the infectious “(You Caught Me) Smilin’ — once again apparently intentionally ambiguous as to whether it is statement against or for drug usage: “You caught me smilin’ again, hangin’ loose, ’cause you ain’t used to seeing me turnin’ on, ha ha” and “I ain’t down. I’ll be around to carry on!” Is this ironic and sarcastic or in praise of the release that drugs provide?

Besides admiring the artistic merit of the album, it’s worth considering its historical impact. Though there are plenty examples of funky music and elements of funk before Riot (a common pet name for this album), this really is the first modern funk album, influencing many artists of all backgrounds and musical leanings. It also is substantially the first hip hop album — not in terms of musical style, of course, but in terms of narrative and borderline-obsessive personal reflection. And, I will boldly, if not controversially venture, that if we remove this album from the historical river, that the currents of disco would have been perceivably altered — maybe for the worse, if that’s conceivably possible. It worth noting, that many critics did not get this album at all when it came out, including our local Southern California L.A. Times music critic who generally was befuddled by, or more often shied away from (handing the review to another staff writer), any music with any level of complexity. Now fortunately, just about all music critics are in unison when acknowledging both the artistic and historical merit of this fine album.

Osibisa: Osibisa

With the increasing interest in World music, particularly that from the Caribbean and West Africa, conditions were receptive for a jazz-influenced, musically compelling, Afro-beat group of four Ghanaian-English musicians and three Caribbean musicians. Osibisa’s first album, released in the first half of 1971, made its entry into the Billboard 200 the first week of July, 1971 at position 105, climbing up to position 55 by mid-August. The rhythm section is incredible (remember their inclusion on Uriah Heep’s title track of Look At Yourself) with the dedicated drummer supplemented by other members of the group as appropriate. Instruments include assorted percussion, flute, saxophones, trumpet, flugelhorn, organ, piano, guitar, bass guitar and some vocals. Album is both technically impressive, and musically vibrant, filling in the checkboxes for world music aficionados and progheads alike.

Osibisa: Woyaya

The second album, released in late 1971, has a similar Roger Dean album cover to the first, and the band members are the same (with the exception of an appearance of the “Osibisa choir” which provides an additional uplifting, spiritual to the third track, Roland Kirk’s “Spirits Up Above”), yet the quality is noticeably different — better engineering, less spontaneous but now exquisitely polished, and leaning more towards American jazz and even English progressive and psychedelic rock with less of a West African and Caribbean feel — even containing some American funk (“Move On”.) Though this album fell short of the previous album’s climb up the Billboard charts (only 66 compared to 55) it is even better than the first, perhaps with a greater appeal to a broad audience, particularly with the anthem, title-track, “Woyaya” being covered by Art Garfunkel and The 5th Dimensions and used as the theme for a Ghanaian television show from 1972 to 1981.

Assagai: Assagai

Though less musically stylistically diverse than Osibisa, Assagai’s first album is a enjoyable blend of African folk, African rock, and African jazz elements. The group consists of band members on cornet, alto sax, tenor sax, and drummer — all from South Africa — and an electric guitarist and an bass guitarist from Nigeria, with some additional piano possibly from the alto sax player, Dudu Pukwana. Album is mostly original material by the guitarist, Fred Coker, with one composition by Dudu Pukwana, one collaboration between Coker and Jade Warrior guitarist, Tony Duhig, as a well as a cover of Jade Warrior’s “Telephone Girl” (from their first album) and Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude.” Of all the various covers of Hey Jude I know of, this is one of the best, relatively brief at under 4 minutes, and infused with a rich tapestry of Afro-beat seasonings.

Jade Warrior: Jade Warrior

(One of the albums I previously missed covering in Fifty Year Friday.) In 1970, Vertigo signed Jade Warrior primarily due to Mother Mistro, the production company for both Assagai and Jade Warrior, insisting that Vertigo couldn’t sign Assagai, a group coveted by Vertigo for their commercial potential (based on Osibisa relative success) without also signing Jade Warrior. Vertigo, though, had made up their collective mind that Jade Warrior had very little commercial potential and so didn’t put in any real effort promoting Jade Warrior’s first album, Jade Warrior, released sometime in the first part of 1971. Interestingly, Assagai would release a total of two albums, both on Vertigo, while Jade Warrior would release well over a dozen with the first three on Vertigo, and the next four on Island Records.

Even if this first album was not particularly commercially appealing, it was musically so, opening up with the beautiful “Traveller” with its simple acoustic beginning, its majestic middle section, and its quiet ending followed by the more aggressive, mostly pentatonic “A Prenormal Day at Brighton” providing a good representation at Jade Warrior’s balancing act between hard progressive rock (“warrior” portion of the group’s name) and soft worldly folk rock (“jade”), sometimes with emphasis on acoustic guitar and flute with some additional, non-traditional percussion and sometimes more in a rock idiom with the electric guitar in the forefront. Overall a fine eclectic album that still sounds great today.

Jade Warrior: Released

With their second album, Jade Warrior shifts away from a world music vibe to focus more on hard rock, jazz rock and progressive rock elements, adding two new members, Dave Conners (sax, flute) and Allan Price (drums) to the pre-existing trio.

Ash Ra Tempel: Ash Ra Tempel

Another album I missed mentioning, released around June of 1971, is the classic first album of Ash Ra Tempel, one of the finest German space rock albums, a style often referred to as Kosmische Musik (cosmic music.) We have a single composition on each side, improvisations similar to what one could expect during a live performance. The first side is adventurous, extroverted and like a peril-filled voyage through outer space, starting gently and then encountering the more unpredictable moments of cosmic exploration. The second side is calmer, introverted and reflective, like a journey through spiritual innerspace. Overall, far above one of the best musical adventures of space rock, each of these two tracks compelling and creating an unfolding, meaningful soundscape.

Strawbs: From the Witchwood

And yet another album I missed earlier, the Strawb’s Witchwood starts off pretty much as folk music, by the third track is it full-throttle prog rock. This is Rick Wakeman’s last album for the Strawbs, and his keyboards raises the album up the scale of musical excellence including an effective organ intro for “The Hangman and the Papist.” Overall there are some similarities with Genesis’s Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, both of which were recorded after From the Witchwood was released.

Le Orme: Collage

Le Orme’s first album, recorded in 1968 and released in 1969 was effectively an early prog rock album, with an album title of Ad Gloriam, an opening track named “Introduzione”, a closing track titled “Conclusione” and many of the lyrical and the Italian rock equivalent of the bel canto elements that would become identifiers of the Italian Prog rock style. With their second album, Collage, released sometime in 1971, they shift to full prog mode, reducing the group to a ELP-like trio, quoting the classics (or at least Scarlatti’s K. 380 sonata, a piece I heard over and over from piano student performances during my university years), and exploring the more aggressive and bombastic aspects of early Italian prog but not abandoning the lyrical or expressive components.

Man: Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In?

Man released their fourth and strongest album so far on November 1971. Though a bit uneven, the musicianship is consistently strong with some ear-catching instrumental interplay such as that on “All Good Clean Fun” and “Many are Called, But Few Get Up” that further increases the impact of the album.

Elton John: Madman Across the Water

Another fourth studio album released, this time by an increasingly popular Elton John. Though Madman didn’t climb quite as high on the Billboard charts as Tumbleweed Connection (number 8 vs number 5) and the airplay provided “Tiny Dancer” couldn’t match “Your Song”, the prevalence of Elton John albums in personal collections was steadily growing. Paul Buckmasters arrangements are applied in full force on this album, and though the album falls short of Tumbleweed Connection, and was a general disappointment for me when I purchased it in late November, shortly after its November 5, 1971 release date, the album not only brims over with those strong Buckmaster arrangements and that strong musicianship from Elton, but from the contributions from a wide range of musicians including Rick Wakeman, Davey Johnstone, Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers, David Glover and more. I listened to it about half a dozen times in very late 1971 and early 1972 and put it aside until just this week. It’s great to hear it on a much better stereo to appreciate the finer points, but still, it is likely I will again set it aside — good music, for sure, but still so much music I need to listen to!

Lighthouse: One Fine Morning

The Canadian jazz-rock group, Lighthouse, released their fourth and most commercially successful album, One Fine Morning, sometime in 1971, possibly around July or August of 1971. (Yes, another one I missed earlier.) The album is less pop and more solidly jazz-rock than their previous ones, with a number of strong tracks, including the opening track, “Love of a Woman”, “Sing, Sing, Sing” (Not related to the Benny Goodman classic), and the title track, “One Fine Morning”, which debuted on the Billboard 100 in the second week of September at position 75 and eventually ascended to the 24th spot. Plenty of good jazz-rock here with some more traditional rock content. Instrumentation includes trombone, saxophone, flute, trumpet and viola as well as guitar, piano and vibes.

Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame

Formed in the summer of 1971, Mahavishnu recorded their first album in August of 1971, with Columbia releasing it on November 3, 1971. This album is a clear and unquestionable masterpiece combining jazz and progressive rock elements. John McLaughlin wrote all compositions on the album, and selected the band members from an international pool of talent (Czech-born Jan Hammer on keyboards, Panama-born Billy Cobham on drums, classically-trained American violinist Jerry Goodman when French violinist Jean Luc Ponty was not available due to immigration-related regulations, and Irish-born bassist and former McLaughlin bandmate from The Brian Auger Group.)

Miles Davis: Live-Evil

A bountiful 2 LP set of musical wonders with formidable front and back covers by artist Mati Klarwein (Santana’s Abraxis, Osibisa’s Heads, and of course, Bitches Brew) with the album containing both live material recorded on December 19, 1970 and studio material much earlier that year with the release date of the album on November 17,1971. The front and back cover are two sides of the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness (or perhaps more appropriate, beauty and anti-beauty) with the front headlining “MILES DAVIS LIVE” and the back proclaiming the reverse, or mirror image, as if seen from the other side of the album, “SELIM SIVAD EVIL.”

The fifteen minutes, four tracks, of studio material is rich, diverse and suitable for hours of exploration. Particularly interesting are the Hermeto Pascoal compositions with “Nem Um Talvez” being my favorite. For keyboard fans, it’s a real treat to get Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea all at once.

The real treasure is the live material. Gary Bartz is great on both soprano and alto sax and the “electric” trumpet with wah-wah is a perfect vehicle for Miles Davis’s creativity and expressiveness. Jack DeJohnette is fantastic and creates magic with everyone, particularly Airto Moreira, Michael Henderson and Keith Jarrett. And then there is John McLaughlin, who shines in this material as much as in that first Mahavishnu Orchestra album.

It’s honestly a bit of a mess the way the live material is presented here due to the Ted Macero edits, perhaps well enough intended, but really throwing a wrench into the continuity and flow of the original performances. The best bet is to stream or pick up the 6 CDs of The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 to hear not only the original material used for this the bulk of this 2 LP Live-Evil release (edited from the sets that John McLaughlin sat in and represented in the fifth and sixth CDs) but the material for the earlier sets on the first four CDs.

George Benson: Beyond the Blue Horizon

Any list of more than the twenty greatest electric guitarists that doesn’t have George Benson gets immediately discounted. He’s really is up there with the greats in terms of guitar technique and taste. This album may be casually classified as traditional post-bop jazz, but with two to three electric instruments on each track and Jack Dejohnette on drums, this is as much jazz fusion as any other albums of its time. Benson fares particularly well with his interaction with Hammond organist Clarence Palmer and DeJohnette is his usual incredible self. Ron Carter provides strong acoustic bass on track one, a particularly engaging rendition of Miles Davis’s “So What”, with funk and fusion elements from both Palmer and Benson. On track 2, “The Gentle Rain”, and track 3, “All Clear”, we have Carter on electric cello far exceeding the effectiveness and expressivity of at least 95% of contemporaneous rock guitarists. The third, fourth and fifth tracks are all Benson compositions with Ode to a Kudu” relaxing and lyrical, and “Somewhere in the East” pushing out to more progressive and world music territory with a couple of additional percussionists added.

Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi

Another album I missed mentioning, released around March 1971, is Herbie Hancock’s second of his series of three Warner Brother albums, Mwandishi. It is yet another album that dedicates an entire LP side to one track, with the first side containing two contrasting works, the first of which, “Ostinato”, is an imaginative execution of improvising over an repetitively deployed musical pattern and brimming with that special class of rhythmically displaced jazz-funk championed by Herbie Hancock with Eddie Henderson shining on trumpet and Hancock on Fender Rhodes piano. The second track is true to its name, “You’ll Know When You Get There”, musically evocative of the sensation of being on leisurely journey, casually extended — the flute solo fitting in very nicely with the overall mood. The last track, taking up the second side, also provides music befitting it’s title, “Wandering Spirit Song”, with a strong Julian Priester trombone presence that carries into the free jazz section giving us a rough ABA form. Hancock provides compelling contributions on electric piano.

Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies

Released November 24, 1971, is the Kinks fourth (or fifth, if one counts the soundtrack album, Percy) concept album. Musically, there are no stand out tracks, but as a cohesive whole and faithfulness to the overall concept, the album works very well creating an overall experience that transcends the lack of memorable musical content, relying on the more memorable imagery, the well-crafted lyrics, Ray Davies’s distinct characters, Ray Davies’s vocal delivery to convey their viewpoints, and the generally creative and strong musicianship that lifts the more ordinary musical material.

Billy Preston: I Wrote a Simple Song

Released on November 8, 1971, I Wrote a Simple Song, is Billy Preston’s sixth studio album with Preston no longer on the Apple label but now with A & M. A soulful and rhymically lively album, it far exceeds allmusic.com’s two star rating, surpassing in quality most of the albums that allmusic.com rates as three or four stars. With some arrangements courtesy of Quincy Jones, George Harrison on guitar, and Preston’s expansive presence on piano, organ and vocals this album is a true joy to listen to.

John Martyn: Bless The Weather

Released in November, 1971, John Martyn delivers a very strong acoustic folk-rock album. Though I focus much more on music then lyrics, I’m still rather taken by the sentiment of the lyrics of “Let the Good Things Come” particularly lines like “I wish I had walked down, every road I ever set my eyes upon” and “I wish you could get through, to every face and every friend I ever knew.” Album is excellently engineered with quality musicianship. Strongest tracks include the jazz-tinged “Walk to the Water”, “Back Down the River”, and the sparkling instrumental, “Glistening Glyndebourne.”

Faces: A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse

Though perhaps my least favorite album mentioned in this post, despite ubiquitous presence in college dorm-room record collections during the early seventies, this third Faces album, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse, released Nov. 17, 1971, is better than the previous two, partly due to Gus Dudgeon’s involvement and partly due to its shorter length, but mostly due to the exceptional last track, “That’s All You Need” and Ronny Wood’s near-historic guitar work on that same composition, and, to a lesser extent, Wood’s playing on “Stay with Me”, a song with such overtly sexist lyrics that current public sensibilities would probably exclude it from release today. Also worth noting is the brilliant and effective punctuation provided by use of the steel drum on “That’s All You Need.” Rod Stewart vocals are generally good, particularly on “Stay With Me” and “That’s All you Need”, and particularly when compared with the Ronnie Lane lead vocals on three of the album’s nine tracks.

Kevin Ayers: Whatevershebringswesing; Laura Nyro: Gonna Take a Miracle; War: All Day Music; Carly Simon: Anticipation; Isaac Hayes: Black Moses; Status Quo: Dog of Two Head; Happy End: Kazemachi Roman; Alice Cooper: Killer; Sweet: Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be; Humble Pie: Performance Rockin’ at the Fillmore; Earth, Wind and Fire: The Need of Love; Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson; Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor; Barclay James: Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories; Mott the Hoople: Brain Capers; Steppenwolf: For Ladies Only; David Axelrod: Rock Messiah

Clearly not enough time to cover all the good and great albums released in November 1971!!! Allow me to continue to stretch your patience and mention a few more.

In November of 1971, both Status Quo and Alice Cooper provided hard rocking albums with Alice Cooper’s Killer containing the classic hard rock hit, “Under My Wheels.” Harry Nilsson released Nilsson Schmilsson, his most commercially successful album opening with the upbeat and bouncy “Gotta Get Up” and a hit cover of Badfinger’s “Without You.” Sweet released their debut album, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, but it is more sugary bubblegum pop than glam rock, with glam rock becoming more popular and prevalent in 1972. Billy Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, with two strong tracks to start the album, was a sonic disaster with the album being unfathomably mastered as a faster speed, raising Billy Joel’s vocal range and timbre and causing all the music to sound rushed. Very puzzling how it got out the door as it clearly is sped up. The remix from 1983 also has issues, truncating the end of the strongest track. “You Can Make Me Free” and, apparently, not quite slowing down the music to the proper speed and pitch.

My friend that lived next door had two brothers, also my good and treasured friends, but not as close in musical preferences. One of them, the youngest of the three boys in the family and born 9 days earlier than I, was a fan of Moody Blues, CSN/CSN&Y (collectively and individually), and Humble Pie, and though I was glad to record his and one of his friend’s Moody Blues and CSN&Y-related albums, I never much took to Humble Pie, and though I never borrowed Humble Pie’s Rockin’ At The Filmore, I did get to hear it when visiting, and even when relistening to it almost half a century later, I have to admit that I still don’t take to either the music or the musicianship. Another album not on my favorite’s list is David Axelrod’s Rock Messiah. Because it is a mix between classical, rock, jazz, I would have bought it when it first came out, except for a scathing review of it in the L.A. Times. Nonetheless, a few years later, when I had ample spending money from teaching piano lessons and consulting at the computer lab, I did purchase it, and found it had its moments but only listened to it once — listening to it again, it doesn’t particularly resonant — overall, not wildly bold, creative, or innovative and nothing that entreats one to listen to it once again.

Laura Nyro released her fifth album, quite soulful and expressive and exclusively covers, each and every one imbued with Nyro’s finely detailed and exquisitely crafted interpretation — plus the addition of Labelle! Kevin Ayers released his third solo album, whatevershebringswesing, full of creativity and generally within the fairly wide progressive rock boundaries, with orchestrations, great musicianship (fellow Gong band members, if you consider Ayers an honorary member of Gong), and a wide range of vocal contributions from Ayers, including a commendable Vincent Price impersonation on the appropriately spooky “Song from the Bottom of a Well.”

It’s really worth recapping how lucky music lovers were in 1971, with all these great releases in November 1971. At this point there was not only great rock, progressive rock, and new jazz coming out, but we also had the latest revival of ragtime picking up steam, the emphasis on original performance practices in classical music, the ever-increasing popularity of baroque music and the corresponding issuing of recordings of a wider range of baroque composers. Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970 brought new recordings of Beethoven and one’s choices and access to riches in the public and university libraries was greater than ever. Living in the greater Los Angeles area provided a wealth of variety on FM radio with two full time classical stations, readily available jazz music, folk music from Eastern Europe on Sundays, and full albums played on some of the FM rock stations. And, contrary to the predictions of some of the adults of older generations, this new music of the late sixties and early seventies was not a transient fad or flash in the pan, but was lasting, enduring music — music that generations today still listen to via streaming, or in some rare cases, by purchasing original or re-issued LPs. Today’s easy accessibility of the music of all eras means that I don’t very often reach back into the catalog of the music of the 1960s and 1970s, but when I do, there is always plenty to enjoy!

Fifty Year Friday: October 1971

Attaching labels to music, in my mind, at least, has always been a wobbly and unreliable slide descending down an exceedingly slippery slope. By October 1971, it was misleading and even deceitful to talk about rock as a single genre, and it was insane-asylum, martians-are-amongst-us delusional to dismiss the material being stocked in the rock section of the newly-blossoming, corporate-owned record stores somehow as inferior or somehow secondary in artfulness or sophistication to music of prior generations. But more importantly, and as equally undeniable, the boundaries between “classical” music and rock music and jazz and rock not only blurred but became invisible in case after case.

Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts

Recorded in July through September 1971 and released in October 1971, Van Der Graaf Generator’s fourth album, Pawn Hearts was so good that it made the band rockstars almost overnight — that is, in Italy where the album climbed all the way to the number one album spot in early 1972. The band ended up touring in Italy three times that year, the first in Feb. 1972 with a level of enthusiasm reminiscent of Beatlemania including oversold concerts and the Italian military engaged to control riotous crowds.

Should we be puzzled that the country that produced (and didn’t need to wait until their deaths to embrace) composers like Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Morricone should recognize the value in Pawn Hearts, one of the most impressive art-rock albums of either 1971 or 1970? What is puzzling is the lack of attention the album received in the U.S. and the U.K. Even today (at the time of writing this, for I will go in and make my own edit at some point) the Wikipedia entry on UK Prog Rock neglects to mention VDGG: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_rock_music#Progressive_rock

This is clearly music to take note of. The original release holds together flawlessly, composed of three epic tracks, utilizing the elements of traditional tonality and repeated motific phrases perfectly, merging efficient industrial forces with apparently inexhaustible emotional passion.

All three tracks that made up the initial UK released (an additional track, quite fine in its own right, a cover of George Martin’s “Theme One” for the BBC as added for the U.S. release) combine to provide a stunningly unified whole, even though each track is formed from smaller musical components themselves. Each track is arguable even better than the one before with the third and final track, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” spanning the entire second side — aligning with the increasing prevalence of albums to have a first or second side (or both sides of an LP dedicated to a single composition.

I could use up all my time-allotment for this month’s Fifty Year Friday post just gushing over this album, but it would be a unwise consumption of both your time and my time — time much better spent listening to this album and other music released fifty years ago.

Hawkind: In Search of Space

While the disciplined, elite musicianship required for more traditional classical music and jazz had its influence on the direction of many progressive rock bands, it seems just as many were influenced by a combination of the psychedelic rock of the sixties, the free jazz of the sixties, and the classical avant garde, particularly musique concrète and electronic-based compositions and experiences. While some bands may have had less than qualified musicianship and creativity to successfully pull off such an amalgamation of varied influences, other groups not only provided musically fulfilling concerts and albums, but in aggregate, created an array of diverse styles — styles that were given their own labels, with the two most prevalent styles named space rock and Kraut rock.

Hawkwind’s first album is one one of the earliest examples of space rock. Their second album, released on October 8, 1971, is the most representative example of space rock I know of. Simple, repetitive and compelling, it is the first album I would select to answer the question what is space rock. The albums could be the work of druggies, or geniuses — that is open to discussion — but either way the music creates a intangible boundaryless listening experience within the somewhat identifiable boundaries of space rock: a listening experience that is engaging and effortless, relaxing and cosmic.

Pink Floyd: Meddle

Pink Floyd wanders down a more cosmic-sounding space-rock path, with their sixth studio album, Meddle, released on October 31, 1971, surpassing the quality, consistency and cohesiveness of their previous efforts. This first track, “One of these Days” is by far my favorite, and likely had an influence on a number of bands, particularly Tangerine Dream. This is followed by the floating, leisurely drifting, spacey sixties-flower-powered-flavored tune, “A Pillow of Winds” and a similarly comfortably laid-back track, “Fearless.”

“Echoes”, the last track on the album, spanning all of side two, starts off with the promise of a masterwork, but hits a few dull patches in the middle before ending strong — a good effort that could have been epic.

Faust: Faust

Faust: In 1969, Polydor records reached out across the Atlantic to a German left wing journalist, Uwe Nettelbeck, with the odd but seemingly commercially-justifiable request to assemble a German rock group that could tap into the potential of the ever-rising demand for rock music by German youth. Perhaps this Polydor rep didn’t realize that this was the Uwe Nettelbeck that breached film jury etiquette by openly praising a work his wife had produced (a film about a verbally gifted cock — not the avian variety), or that this was the Nettlebeck that supported some of Germany’s more notable extremists — for rather than giving Polydor Germany’s answer to the Rolling Stones, Nettlebeck scoured the German underground scene identifying two talented by totally uncommercial groups, merging them into a single group, Faust, which Polydor soon funded, much to their eventual discontent — for Faust clearly had more in common with the musical ethos and sensibilities of Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Frank Zappa than that of the most profitable rock groups in Britain.

Though probably not appreciated by Polydor executives, their investment in Faust paid dividends in terms of musical quality and the influences on existing and future German bands and future bands the world over. This debut album, released on September 21, 1971, is both wildly creative and inescapably compelling. How did they command or coax their materials and their apparently unconcerned improvisation to come together into such a listenable experience? That’s a mystery to me , yet here we have this important artifact of the early days of the so-called Krautrock art-rock movement, immensely influential and challengingly entertaining and enjoyable.

Cluster: Cluster

Cluster: Whereas the Faust album had traditional melodies, harmonies and lyrics, this debut album by Cluster is purely a journey through ambient and mood-inducing sonic explorations. Like the Faust album, it works and effectively entertains and captures one’s attention both intellectually, and in a laid-back fashion, emotionally. And just like the Faust album the first side is two tracks, and the second side contains one single, attention-engaging composition. Influential? You bet, with near-term impacts on artists like Brian Eno, and longer term impact of artists that came decades later.

And so, we have four very different albums released in October 1971, In Search of Space, Meddle, Faust, and Cluster, all of which can be characterized as space rock, even though they could not be more different in use of musical materials and general musical approach.

Focus: Focus II (Moving Waves)

Focus releases their second album, one which soars to the number 4th spot in their home country, the Netherlands, reaches number two in the nearby UK, and surprisingly peaks at number eight in the U.S.. this success largely based on the radio airplay of the yodeling, exuberantly rocking, “Hocus Pocus.”

The album starts off at full tilt with “Hocus Pocus”, followed by more progressive, but still easily accessible compositions. All in all a fine, though not indispensable, prog-rock album.

Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life

This album blends both bop and myriad post-bop elements with soul, funk and fusion to deliver a strong, and puzzling oft-overlooked classic album. (Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide gives this one out of five stars, which inaccurate assessment, for me, cast doubts on the entire contents and relevancy of the Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide.) Here we have another fine album with a full-side track, the title track, that opens with a free-jazz intro (shorter than the impressive intro that opens the Red Clay album) and then transforms into a lively, celebratory and appropriately contemporary grooving musical adventure with astonishing trumpet work from Freddie Hubbard and more progressive explorations from Joe Henderson.

The first track of the second track, “Mr. Clean”, is nothing short of amazing music making, Hubbard providing a vigorous, unrelenting solo, matched in intensity and creativity by Henderson. Jack Dejohnette is excellent in both the first and second tracks, but of particular note is how imaginatively and effectively he supports George Benson’s guitar solo.

The final track, is the beautiful Jimmy Van Heusen “Here’s that Rainy Day,” performed intimately and gracefully as a duet by Hubbard and Benson, is one of the most expressive and evocative musical recordings of 1971.

Moondog: Moondog 2

Louis Thomas Hardin (better known as Moondog) and producer James Guercio release the second Moondog album for Columbia records, departing considerably from the 1969 Moondog masterpiece, with a set of twenty-six round-based compositions, almost all with vocals by Hardin/Moondog himself and his daughter, June Hardin. Setting aside the wit and cleverness of these compositions, this a fine study in handling of relatively simple rounds — not simple meterically or rhythmically, though, and this factor certainly brings life and variety into these works. This is yet another album that eludes any glib labeling of contents as it is clearly not rock, not jazz, not country, not folk, and not classical, though one can make associations to the minimalist classical movement — on the other hand, some of that similarity is due to the harmonic stasis chosen as the foundation for easy overlapping of melodic material.

Carla Bley: Escalator Over the Hill

A three LP opera with incredible music by Carla Bley and the selected musicians with somewhat elusive lyrics by Paul Haines. Now this could pass as progressive rock or classical or third stream jazz, depending on one’s viewpoint, so maybe best to simply call it great music. If the lyrics don’t come together effectively as a whole, that is more than made up by the music — all the way down to the endless humming stamped into that last, final inner groove of the second side of the third LP.

If one doesn’t immediately take to the overall musical majesty of this work, there are plenty of individual contributions that will keep one’s attention, from Don Cherry’s amazing solo to the John McLaughlin’s guitar work, to the range of music styles and textures to the many individual contributions of the participating musicians, including vocals by a youthful and talented Linda Ronstadt and renowned Cream bassist Jack Bruce.

Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge

I bought this album, despite it clearly labeled as a soundtrack album, due to my appreciation of the excellence of Hendrix’s previous albums. In truth it is not a soundtrack but partly made of tracks recorded for an album that would have followed “Cry to Love.”

The first four tracks of the first side are all classic, easily accessible musical gems. On side two, there is an incredible live version of “Hear My Train A’ Coming” with timeless Hendrix guitar. Album ends superbly with a soulfully uplifting but often mellow “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun.)”

Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey

Released on October 15, 1971, Tupelo Honey, is a wonderful blend of blues, soul, rock, folk, and country-rock elements. I don’t consider myself a Van Morrison fan (I cringed, at the age of twelve, each time they played “Brown Eyed Girl” on AM radio, anxious for it to end to give way to something more to my preference), but I embrace Tupelo Honey 100% and am amazed at the consistency, authenticity, and quality of the album. This is one of the best examples of a commercially successful album that avoids any overt commercialism.

Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Fire Cat

How could Cat Stevens top something as sincere and unaffectedly authentic as his previous album, Tea for the Tillerman? He couldn’t, but by giving the new release a similar title and even more immediately absorbable material, with a more consistent evenness to the quality of the songs and more established overall identify to the album, he was able to surpass the sales of Tea for the Tillerman (despite Tea for the Tillerman‘s incomparable “Wild World” having receiving considerable airplay on both AM and FM radio) with the driver behind some of these sales coming in the wake of the success of Tea for the Tillerman as well as the airplay of “Moon Shadow.”

When I purchased Teaser in the Firecat within a week or two of its release, I was a trifled disappointed by the notable shift in style — the music had a more commercially produced feel and there was nothing the quite caught one emotionally as much as “Wild World” or “Sad Lisa.” Yet, even a more commercial Cat Stevens had appeal, and though I had put Teaser away on the back shelf by the end of 1971, later to be boxed up for decades, it is still a treat to listen to again after so many years.

Chicago: Chicago IV (Chicago at Carnegie Hall), Family: Fearless; Don McLean: American Pie; Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead; Lindesfarne: Fog on the Tyne; Frank Zappa: 200 Motels; The Move: Message from the Country

October 1971 brought out a wealth of music, much of it defying single-label classification for a considerable portion of the best of popular music was now incorporating and borrowing from the great legacy of musical wealth from both the West and East musical traditions, as well as both new and older, musical heritage.

The Chicago Carnegie Hall set was the first non-classical 4 LP set I remember encountering, and was purchased by the same friend and next door neighbor that purchased the first two Chicago albums. I had purchased Chicago III, and considered it an extravagant expenditure based on my limited monetary means (in those early teenage years) to buy a four LP set of live of material from the previously purchased studio albums. That said, there was one new and notable composition, on the second side of the fourth LP, “A Song for Richard and His Friends”, a backhanded tribute to then-president “Tricky Dick.” At this time, anything mocking Nixon was contemporary, relevant, and cool, but ignoring all this, this is a pretty good tune, possibly directly influenced by Charles Mingus’s scathing musical rebuke of Governor Faubus.

Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is filled with many brilliant passages of impressive musical material. Supported not only by his regular musicians, but by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, there is no doubt of Zappa’s mastery of a myriad of twentieth century composition techniques. One could wish (or I should say that I wish) that Zappa had used the opportunity with the LPO to provide a more cohesive work — perhaps a great masterpiece of the twentieth century, but Zappa is Zappa and just about everything but the kitchen sink finds its way into the album, leaving one to marvel at the greatest moments and accepting those lesser (but perhaps from a Zappa mindset, equally valid and relevant) musical and extra-musical moments. I applaud Zappa’s resolve and determination to be true to his own artistic vision, and that is part of what makes great artists like Zappa genuinely great.

My sister purchased both the Grateful Dead and the American Pie albums. I shied away from the American Pie album since the title song was played endlessly on AM radio. It probably would have been fine at 2 1/2 minutes, but at 8 1/2 minutes, despite good lyrics, some greater variation in melodic material would have been welcome. Nonetheless the album was (and is) still pretty good, and contains not only American Pie, which has stood the the test of time better than most songs of its nature, but also includes Vincent, one of McLean’s best compositions.

Notable, though not approaching the quality of the first Electric Light Orchestra album, is The Move’s Message from the Country, their final album before they changed their identity to ELO. Both this and the first ELO album were recorded during an approximately one year period that spanned 1970 and 1971. It almost seems as if the best and most interesting material was reserved for that first ELO album, though those that prefer more traditional rock may be more comfortable with Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne’s contributions to The Move’s last effort.

So many albums were released in October of 1971, apparently to time with holiday spending, that I suspect I may have missed a few of those that baby boomers grew up listening to. What’s particularly interesting is the number of albums that still are worth listening today or that influenced other artists who also produced music that still merits listening time. I remember being told that once I got older I would look back on the music that I had listened to in the early seventies and find it silly and simplistic — yet just the opposite: I have a much greater appreciation for the quality, diversity, and complexity of this music than I ever had during my teenage years.

Fifty Year Friday: November 1970

If you were creating a bracket for “Top Sixteen” best months for rock album releases, November of 1970 would not only be included but possibly end up as the winner depending on the diversity of your musical taste in the many rock genres of the early 1970s. For me, it is a particularly special month with debut albums by two of my all-time favorite rock groups, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and notably, not rock nor prog nor jazz, the release of Joshua Rifkin’s first Scott Joplin album.

Joshua Rifkin: Scott Joplin Piano Rags

Started in the mid-sixties, Nonesuch Records was a budget classical label — and when I mean budget, this applied to both the price and the quality of the pressings, which generally had more than their share of vinyl surface noise. However, with focus on releasing lesser known music and generally solid, if not exceptional performances, Nonesuch releases were not only welcome by individual music record buyers but by record libraries, both community and college/university libraries. Music ranged from Medieval and Renaissance to Mannheim school composers to Berwald to Charles Ives to contemporary composers with electronic music by Subotnick and a 2 LP guide to electronic music. Nonesuch also launched the Explorer series which included music from India, Bulgaria and Japan. And then, in November of 1970, Nonesuch kicked off the ragtime revival by releasing Joshua Rifkin’s performances of the well-known “Maple Leaf Rag” and seven additional Scott Joplin gems, including “The Entertainer” which was eventually showcased in 1973 as the theme to the movie, The Sting.

What makes this album special is the care and musical attention Rifkin administers to each work, taking “The Entertainer”, for example, at a sensitive strolling tempo and stretching the lilting “Magnetic Rag” to over five minutes. Ragtime was now revived: not hurried through at a breakneck speed like some quirky novelty, but treated with the same respect as Chopin or Debussy — with record stores across Southern California generally filing this ragtime album in the classical music section. Fortunately Nonesuch and Joshua Rifkin were awarded for their efforts, with this album becoming the first Nonesuch album to sell one million copies.

Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman

With his fourth album, Tea for the Tillerman, Cat Steven’s finely tunes the simplicity of his music and lyrics to create his very best work: an album without weakness or a moment of filler material. Two tracks, back to back on side one, are two of his very best ever: “Wild World”, which received plenty of FM airplay, and “Sad Lisa.”

David Bowie: Man Whole Sold the World

Whereas Tea for the Tillerman is an album of musical and lyrical transparent simplicity, David Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World, released in the U.S. on November 4, 1970, is a work of layered complexities. And though there is no apparent unity in the songs, it provides a musical experience approaching an art-music song cycle. I hadn’t heard this album in at least forty-five years and was not expecting it to provide much more than a trip down memory lane. I was also expecting it to be uneven with sections lacking in compelling musical interest. I was completely wrong and had underestimated the instrumental ingredients applied to each and every song on the album. To what degree producer Tony Viscounti deserves credit for the final product, I can only guess, but Bowie’s selection of him for a band member along with guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick Woodmansey provided a solid framework for a varied and multi-faceted album.

This album also provides a more modern version of David Bowie: one where he starts to develop the persona and vocal characteristics that were perfected for Ziggy Stardust. Unlike most British rock singers up to this point, Bowie doesn’t shy away from emphasizing and exaggerating his English accent. That first step, provides an effective starting point for the idiosyncratic pitch, timbre, and inflection traits that became such an easily recognizable trademark in Bowie’s vocals. And in the midst of all the musical freshness, boldness, and complexity are lively lyrics as in same-sex encounter of “The Width of a Circle.” (Yes, with the seventies there was less interference by record executives around “appropriate content”, now allowing tracks like Steppenwolf 7’s (another album released in November of 1970) “Ball Crusher.”

There is great musical variety throughout Man Who Sold the World from the effortlessly accessible T-Rex-influenced “Black Country Rock” to the hard-rock “Running Gun Blues” to more lyrical works like “After All” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” The album sold poorly in the U.S. and was pretty much forgotten until the solid success of Ziggy Stardust sparked a strong interest in earlier Bowie albums. The originally-intended cover created for the album, the comic-book like artwork of a man carrying a rifle against a backdrop of buildings and an open caption (for which the proposed multi-meaning content of “roll up your sleeves and show us your arms” was rejected and thus, by default, a blank caption bubble) was not to Bowie’s taste and he chose instead to have the cover shown above. Such a cover was determined unacceptable for U.S. release and the original artwork of the cowboy and blank caption bubble was used — shown below. The later U.S. release, after Ziggy became popular, used the cover shown below that.

Kinks: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One

Where Bowie represents the leading edge of London modernity, Ray Davies and the Kinks continue to represent more conservative values. Here we have another representation of the hard-working working-class culture extended into an album length-theme on the hard-working working-class-band-making-the-big-time contrasted against the greedy representatives of the record industry.

And yet, it is Ray Davies and the Kink’s “Lola”, not Bowie’s “Width of the Circle” that disintegrated conservative AM radio constraints. Sure Bowie was relatively unknown and the Kinks were long-time rock fixtures, but it was the ambiguity of “Lola” that allowed it to slip on to the pop-music airwaves; and that same ambiguity enhanced the overall coolness of the song and contributed to its popularity, particularly one of the coolest lyrics in rock: “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man, but I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” Ironically, the BBC forced the Kinks to overdub one word — but it was related to BBC’s policy on product promotion: Ray Davies was forced to overdub “Coca” with “Cherry” on the single-version of the song to avoid any semblance of advertising “Coca Cola.

Lola is the most notable song on this strong album, but there isn’t a bad track. Dave Davies provides two songs on this album including the beautiful ballad “Strangers”, which musically and lyrically is one of the most heartwarming songs in the Kink’s catalog, a sentimental tribute to the bond of two brothers. His other song, “Rats”, rocks hard and relentlessly pushes forward musically and lyrically. And of course, we have Ray Davies “back to nature” Apeman — catchy and quirky.

I had always wondered about the “Part One” in the title. Well, it turns out that this was originally planned as a double album, but the Kink’s released what they had with plans for a follow-up that never happened, despite indications that they had started on sequel material. At any rate, Part One stands perfectly well on its own, and works well as a concept album about the rise of an English rock band, having a number of biographical elements, and an abundance of musical charm.

Velvet Underground: Loaded

Based on direction from Atlantic Records, the Velvet Underground’s fourth album, Loaded, released November 1970, was primarily focused on including material suitable for singles with six of the ten songs in the 2 1/2 minute to 4 minute range. However, the album provided not even one single that created any kind of dent in either the UK or US charts, and the album itself also had little commercial success making no advance into the Billboard 200.

The combination of strong lyrics and easily assimilable music from the forlorn “Who loves the sun”, the classic “Sweet Jane”, to the autobiographical “Rock & Roll” to the album’s final and longest track “Oh! Sweet Nothin'” have served this album well with it’s influence on other bands and albums, including its apparent influence on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and the album’s steady long-term increase in popularity. So much so, that there was a 2-CD release of the album in 1997 and a six-CD release in 2015. At least check out the bonus tracks via CD or a streaming service. One of the unreleased tracks, “Ride Into the Sun”, seems like it would have been perfect to have closed out the original LP.

Ike and Tina Turner: Workin’ Together

Some albums are soooo good that one doesn’t know where to start in praising them. However, in the case of “Workin’ Together”, a suitable follow-up title to their previous album, “Come Together”, one has to start and end with Tina Turner. She sings with incredible variety and virtuosity on this album, performing at the level of a top-tier jazz instrumentalist, a feat rarely accomplished except by such legends like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Pay particular attention to the melodic expression of her vocals on “The Way you Love Me” and “You Can Have It.” Then there’s the delight and energy of her rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Get Back” elevating it to Hall of Fame level. The instrumentation and arrangements on the album are excellent and one gets many bonuses like the intriguing piano solo on a revisited version of Jessie Hill’s 1960-hit “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and Alline Bullock’s (older sister of Tina Turner) leading-edge, hard swinging example of 1970 funk, “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” which was put on the B side of the single of the album’s best known number, “Proud Mary.” So it’s easy to start any retrospective reflection on this classic album by focusing on Tina Turner’s contributions, understanding all the other work involved and realized so exceptionally well by Ike Turner, The Kings of Rhythm, and the Ikettes, but ultimately coming back to the most important factor, the contributions of Tina Turner.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Emerson Lake and Palmer

On November 20, 1970 (with no corresponding U.S. release until early in 1971) Emerson, Lake and Palmer released their self-titled first album. Even more heavily classically influenced than Emerson’s work with the Nice, the album was a delight for both fans of the revered and historically-important acoustic piano and the new, and not-yet-fully exploited Moog synthesizer. The other two members of Emerson’s newly formed trio, providing their own significant contributions, were Greg Lake, previously of King Crimson, and impressively-skilled relatively young drummer Carl Palmer previously with the Atomic Rooster.

The album opens most vigorously with a formidable arrangement of Bela Bartok’s solo piano piece “Allegro Barbaro”, transformed to fit the trio capabilities so impressively that anyone with any uncertainty about when progressive rock had truly proceeded beyond the psychedelic rock/ proto-prog stage, would have to concede that it happened at least with the release of this album. The reworking of the Bartok’s piano work into a prog-rock work is so complete and seamless that anyone not previously familiar with the work would have little reason not to identify this as some original masterpiece reflecting the aesthetics of the group and the turbulent times of the start of the 1970s. So passionately and comprehensively realized is the arrangement and performance that I consider it an indisputable improvement over the superb original.

Greg Lake provides the main melody and lyrics for the next track, “Take a Pebble” as he does for the more well-know final track, “Lucky Man.” In the instrumental section of “Take A Pebble”, Lake strums through a reflective guitar passage that effectively compliments Emerson’s extended solo piano work. The third track is an arrangement of the first movement of Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Once again we have an arrangement so complete it seems original, particularly with Lake’s and Fraser’s lyrics used in transforming the opening brass fanfare theme into a verse and then that material transformed further and more remotely into a chorus/bridge. The three main notes then are used as the basis for an instrumental interlude that then gives way to a Bach passage on a organ with a return to the verse and an synthetic sonic explosion (replaced in the remastered version with the original coda.)

The second side opens up with formidable Emerson composition “Three Fates”. The first represented Fate, Clotho, is realized on the Royal Festival Hall’s grand pipe organ, the second Fate, Lachesis, is realized as a grand piano solo and then the third fate, Atropos, after a brief return to the pipe organ, is launched in scintillating syncopated 7/8 with the piece wrapped up with an another synthetic explosion possibly representing the cutting of the thread.

“Tank” proceeds at full steam, a perfect platform for Carl Palmer, starting off as a trio featuring a sparkling clavinet and then after Palmer and Emerson trading twos and a brief transitional passage includes one of the most engaging and musical drum solos of 1970s rock followed by an musical onslaught that features exhilarating Moog synthesizer work by Emerson.

The album ends with Lake’s “Lucky Man” very much in the folk-rock vein with solid acoustic, electric and bass work from Lake and then the electrically charged Moog to end the song and the album. Released as a single, “Lucky Man” mostly got its airplay on FM and in Europe until picking up some traction in 1971 on AM radio and then again in 1973. Interestingly, this is the one song that did the best, commercially (and financially through royalties) for ELP — this simple four-chord (I, V, ii, vi) based song Greg Lake wrote around the age of 12. This 1970 realization of a pretty solid and easily accessible song eventually provided relatively wide appeal, something that, despite their progressive focus, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were also able to achieve as a trio in the following years after the release of this excellent album.

Gentle Giant: Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant’s self-titled first album was released in the UK on November 22, 1970. (It was not released in the U.S. until several years later.) Though far short of their next six albums, there is a lot of strong musical content on the album.

Gentle Giant, was formed by the Shulman brothers, Derek, Phil and Ray, after the demise of their previous group, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. Bringing along their previous drummer, they auditioned several candidates for keyboards, apparently one of them Elton John, and auditioned candidates for the lead guitarist. The keyboardist would be Kerry Minnear, their most important and distinctive acquisition due to his compositional contributions. They also did well in landing semi-professional blues guitarist Gary Green, who was one of the more underrated guitarists of the seventies.

This first album starts and ends with some weaknesses including some silly lyrics in the opening track and the penultimate track (the last track is a brief instrumental, a short rendition of “God Save the Queen.”) The same goes with some of the music on those tracks, but when one sets that aside, the album goes beyond providing musical insight into the future Gentle Giant, delivering an album that is pretty good for its own sake.

First off, one must acknowledge that this album is not much more than a collection of well-executed, intriguing songs with no apparent attempt a unifying the album or providing musical continuity beyond a recurring synthesizer motive (derived from the third song) that sneaks its way back between later tracks.

The first track may be the weakest, and even cringe-worthy, but Minnear’s organ work is exemplary, Ray Shulman’s bass work is admirably accomplished, the band’s playing is remarkably tight (all instruments are played by the band members including the featured trumpet), and both the incorporation and the execution of the time signature changes maintains listener-interest throughout. The instrumental passage in the middle is the highlight, presaging later work, and includes a fine choral-like section. The return to the main theme may be somewhat predictable, but it sets up the perfect contrast for the intro of the second track.

That second track, “Funny Ways”, is arguably the finest song in the set. The opening strummed guitar, cello, and violin give away to guitar and vocals and then the perfectly-placed pizzicato violin. Once again, it is Gentle Giant playing all the instruments — as always the case for their albums. The chorus is short but noteworthy displaying Gentle Giant’s penchant for musically supporting the text, with “My ways are strange” preceded by a g-minor-seventh motif with equivalent chord changes on the underlying bass notes and gives quickly to another verse and the accompanying strings. This then is followed by a return of the chorus and a contrasting sort of bridge-like section that provides opportunity for one of Gentle Giant’s most notable trademarks, the use of short-phrase repetition — a short, often quirky fragment that is played four times often with subtle changes underneath. Gary Green provides front-and-center electric guitar with accompanying trumpet punctuation until a return to the verse which winds the song down nicely, eschewing any chorus repeat. Fortunately for their fans that attended live performances, this song was included in their concerts up through their eighth album.

The third track, “Alucard”, starts with an upbeat bebop-based approach that is followed by a short motivic interplay that uses the time-tested centuries-old technique of shortening a repeated musical phrase, an oft-used Gentle Giant trademark. Minnear lets loose with synthesizer at full-power, followed by a tasteful dramatic section that evolves into a moog-lead sequence that I always think of as the Gentle Giant “stride style” — not because it resembles stride music in any-way, but it sounds like a giant striding over an open field, the upward pitch movement of the sequence creating an illusion of forward momentum and quickening speed. Several more bars are spent on the previous instrumental material, with a development section from quiet to loud, peaceful to aggressive, magically returning to the “stride” motif, calming down again, with repetition ever a component, followed by a return to the dramatic surreal vocal section and then the stride motif once again, with a brief rock representation of pointillism and a return to the main instrumental theme with synthesizer. The song then dramatically (and tidily) ends with a Gentle Giant flavored classical-style authentic cadence. All-in-all a pretty wow experience — only surpassed in inaugural albums by King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This then, strangely and appropriately enough, is followed by the Beatlesque “Isn’t Quiet and Cold” with Ray Shulman providing a perfect alternation of pizzicato and bowed violin. There are no strange detours here — it’s all very straightforward and beautiful — with Minnear’s hard-mallet xylophone solo being particularly engaging. This ends side one.

Side two opens up with a similar tone to the last track on side one, again sounding Beatlesque. But GG is more adventurous here — after stating the song in full (two and a half minutes), they tiptoe into development territory taking a bass countermelody from earlier and briefly exposing it with a hint of the sinister, then a quieting down, revisiting it with new material — a bridge in a sense — and showing off Derek Shulman’s signature glissando vocal-style and Gary Green’s outspoken guitar commentary. The shimmering of a gong takes us to a contrasting section of mostly reverberated percussion and some piano quoting Liszt — one of only two classical music quotes in all of GG’s studio albums (the other being a retrograde quote of Stravinsky in their last album), which then eventually gives away to the recap of the original song. This is by a wide margin the longest studio track Giant ever recorded — for a prog-rock group it’s remarkable to note that their longest song is well under ten minutes — this in the prog-rock decade where single sides and even albums were sometimes a single piece.

The album ends relatively weakly with the partly hard rock “Why Not” including a pleasant, contrasting Kerry Minnear middle section with Phil Shuman on tenor recorder and then some solid electric guitar work, and an unremarkable though pleasant-enough treatment of “God Save the Queen.” Album is produced by Tony Visconti.

And yet despite weaknesses this is an album full of notable melodic and transitory material that promises much for future albums — with those albums eventually meeting and exceeding that promise. This, in itself, makes this first album more than a collection of varied songs, but a historical artifact providing insight into the later works.

Curved Air: Air Conditioning

Recorded in July of 1970 and released in November of 1970, Curved Air’s debut album, Air Conditioning, did very well in the UK (#8.) Their name is based on the title of Terry Riley’s composition, “A Rainbow in Curved Air.” The band has some superficial similarities to the American Jefferson Airplane partly due to Sonia Kristina’s dark, evocative voice and partly due to hard rock, folk-rock and psychedelic rock components in the music. Add to this Darryl Way’s violin, Francis Monkman’s guitar work and keyboards and the skilled way each song is realized and the result is a distinct, progressive, and somewhat symphonic sound. The best known song is “It Happened One Day”, which received some FM radio airplay and was included in an 1971 Warner Bros Loss Leader album. It opens side one which includes the wispy “Screw”, the Donovan-inspired “Blind Man” and the Vivaldi-inspired “Vivaldi” with relentless multi-tracked electric violin followed by a Vivaldi-like cadenza that evolves into a multi-part, feedback-based cadenza-like section, then a free-form Hendrix-like section eventually reprising the original theme with heightened intensity and closing with a brief coda.

The dramatic “Hide and Seek” decisively starts the second side, is every bit as impressive anything on side one, and is followed by the upbeat and syncopated Propositions. “Situations” in A-B-A form includes a notable (also a-b-a structured) middle section that starts with an airy, floating vocal passage, followed by a guitar dominated section with a return to the “a” section and then, of course, returning to the main “A” section. The album ends with a hyped-up recap of “Vivaldi” aptly named “Vivaldi with Cannons.”

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

With all the enticing albums on the shelves at the big retail record stores (the Warehouse in Southern California, particularly), Christmas time of 1970 was particularly memorable. There was Jesus Christ Superstar and so many other tempting musical wonders on display with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, released on November 27th, and All Things Must Pass looked the most tempting of all — a triple record set that promised ample listening material. Immediately upon release, the album received notable air play on the FM album-oriented stations and there was no hesitation for me to purchase it after Christmas with my available extra money I had received on Christmas Day.

The album starts off relaxed, with the Harrison/Dylan collaboration, “I’d Have You Anytime” setting the mood with its tranquil first verse — a mood that I associate with the album to this day. This is not loud in-your-face hard rock, but an acquired taste: subtle and reflective full of special moments like the Clapton guitar solo on the first track. It’s not accurate to say every song is a gem, but the many strong songs function to bring the rest of the album into balance, making it a delight to either sit down and listen studiously to or put on as background music. Now, when I reference the “album” I mean the first two LPs. The third, I have always viewed as a bonus album — a pastiche of jam numbers that after initial listening when I first bought the album set, received only occasional playing, and mostly when I engaged in some other activity, like homework or reading. Listening again to this third LP this week, I find it still does not pull me in any notable way, but those first two LPs are as magical as when I first listened to the album during the last days of Christmas vacation 1970.

Badfinger: No Dice

As mentioned, I had extra cash post-Christmas in 1970/1971 and previously impressed by Badfinger’s music in the movie Magic Christian and their rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get it” as well as a recent review I had read that compared them to the Beatles, I bought “No Dice.” I found it a little Beatlesque — but not in the Abbey Road or White Album sense, but in the “Old Brown Shoe”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, and “Ballad of John and Yoko” sense — only not as good. Yet it was still a pretty good album, at least to listen to half-a-dozen or so times and put it away for almost 50 years. Listening to it again, the best tracks, like “No Matter What”, “Without You”, “We’re For the Dark,” make the album a worthwhile listen even if a few of the weaker tracks approach the dull side.

Derek and the Dominos: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

I immediately fell in love with “Layla” the first time I heard it on FM radio, hearing it as two songs, which is what it was, spliced together. Derek and the Dominos were formed by guitarist Eric Clapton and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock in the summer of 1970 to play mostly music created by them earlier that year. Added to the band were Jim Gordon on drums (first choice was Jim Keltner who was unavailable) and Carl Radle on bass with appearances from Duane Allman and Dave Mason. The album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, a 2LP set, was released on November 9, 1970 and received mixed reviews, some very negative. Outside of “Layla” and the catchy part of “Tell the Truth”, the rest of the album fails to spark any strong interest for me despite several tries. The musicianship is strong but most of the songs are just run of the mill, mostly anchored in I IV and V chords with mostly ordinary rhythms and melodies and limited metric and harmonic contrasts. Even the inclusion of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” doesn’t work for me as, really, the original is so much more full of life and energy. Nonetheless the album is worth having just for “Layla.”

Grateful Dead: American Beauty

Grateful Dead released their fifth studio album, and second of 1970, with American Beauty, an appealing, heartfelt work that many fans rank as either their best or at least their second best studio album to the earlier Workingman’s Dead. The Dead incorporate the bluegrass musical ethos better than any other rock group. Though I generally shy away from most country music and most country-rock, I am strongly attracted to bluegrass, and love listening to live bluegrass bands, particular in their home settings in states like Kentucky or West Virginia. So even though this Grateful Dead album is far from authentic bluegrass, and may lack the passion and ardor of the finest bluegrass music, it captures and incorporates enough of that bluegrass spirit to enrich and elevate the album. “Candyman”, the final track of the first side, is a great example of how the group starts with blues-like lyrics and a pretty traditional country musical framework and by using the right chord changes, some yearning steel-guitar work, leisurely electric organ, and properly placed supporting choir-like vocals makes the song a special experience.

The second side opens up with “Ripple”, a relaxing, tonally stable, country-style, gospel-tinged ballad with its reassuring words of wisdom and then continues with a couple more Robert Hunter compositions reportedly written that same afternoon: the gentle gospel-influenced “Brokedown Palace” and the more upbeat, and more carnally-grounded “Til the Morning Comes.” The album ends with the classic “Truckin”, an anthem of attitude for the beginning of the seventies:

“Truckin’, got my chips cashed in
Keep truckin’, like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line
Just keep truckin’ on.

“Once told me, “You’ve got to play your hand”
Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime
If you don’t lay ’em down.”

Spirit: 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Released on Nov 27, 1970, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Spirit’s fourth studio album, is another album that didn’t do particularly well when released, charting lower than their three previous efforts, but over time ended up being their best selling album going gold in 1976. The album’s first side is particularly strong with the undisputed gem being Randy California’s “Nature’s Way” which didn’t get very far up on the Billboard singles chart, but became a standard on FM radio, particularly as the environmental movement picked up steam. The second side continues with the same general energy starting with a strong instrumental by the keyboardist John Locke and a couple of quality songs by vocalist Jay Ferguson with some impressive guitar work by California on “Street Worm”, and then closing with three endearingly distinct Randy California tunes.

Minnie Ripperton: Come into My Garden

Released in November 1970, about a year after it was recorded, Minnie Ripperton’s debut solo album, Come Into My Garden, is a fine album that received little attention until her more commercially successful album was released in 1974. Minnie originally studied opera singing but eventually pursued her greater love for pop and soul music and in 1967 became a vocalist in The Rotary Connection.

In Come Into My Garden she displays her unusual upper-range vocal skills, but more impressive is her beautiful diction, phrasing and sublimely smooth vocal delivery. Her future husband (actual husband by August 1970) co-wrote some of the songs with additional material and arranging by Charles Stepney, keyboardist and songwriter of the Rotary Connection. Though “Les Fleur”, the opening track, is the most distinct and memorable song in the album, the excellent arrangements and superb execution elevate the rest of the album to delicate, graceful and sensuous musical experience.

At some point one has to wrap up a blog post even when there are many more albums to cover. There is the excellent Stephen Stills album, for example, as well as some lesser, but still notable albums like Kraftwerk’s unfettered self-titled debut and Isaac Hayes’ well-arranged To Be Continued. There is Family’s part live and part studio Anyway, Syd Barrett’s enjoyable second studio album, Barrett, Pentangle’s shimmering, though dark in subject matter, Cruel Sister, Steve Miller’s solid fifth album, titled Number 5, Tim Buckley’s brilliant, free-jazz influenced Starsailor, Laura Nyro’s excellent Christmas and the Beads of Sweat and several “Best of” albums that came out in November 1970. Certainly many of the releases, particular the “Best Of” LPs were timed to come out to be available for the holiday gift-giving season. That said, I don’t think one will find another month quite like November of 1970. At least not for classic rock.

Fifty Year Friday: September 1970

Lot’s of great albums released during 1970 and September was one of several notable months. About this time in 1970, I started listening to music with headphones. Our small living room was such that the two stereo speakers were poorly situated for optimal stereo, and so the headphones revealed a common characteristic of many of these albums — this was not the Stereo of the mid 1960s anymore. Stereo was now creating sound stages, some realistic, particularly with classical music recordings, and some surreleastic as with so many rock albums. The pleasure of listening to albums like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Jesus Christ Superstar increased measurably when the room was dark: the sense of sound borrowed attention-resources from the sense of sight. To this day, whether it is Bartok’s Night Music, Debussy musical imagery, Billie Holiday’s Verve-era vocals, Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um, the primal combination of Gezzer Butler bass and Toni Iomma’s guitar or a classic angular progressive rock album like Gentle Giant’s Free Hand, I remember the lesson from 1970, turn off the lights, extinguish all extraneous thoughts and make the music your entire and exclusive environment.

Andrew Webber and Tim Lloyd Rice:

Jesus Christ Superstar

Several months after The Who’s Tommy hit the FM radio stations, a more controversial album starting getting attention. It was also a rock opera, though more like a tradtional cast recording than Tommy, with different individuals on each part. My go-to radio station for new albums, KPPC-FM, announced that they would be playing the entire album from start to finish. I recorded the broadcast on reel to reel, with the broadcast’s less than perfect reception, and then repeatedly listened to the resultant recording on headphones through a wall of static. Thankfully, Christmas soon came and on Christmas day I received Superstar, as we colloquially referred to the album, as a Christmas present along with the complete Handel’s Messiah Oratorio, which I had also requested, and which my mom found it much harder to find than Superstar, now present at every record store. (I had also asked for the entire Tchaikovsky 1812, convinced that if there was an 1812 Overture, which I had, there must be a corresponding opera. Of course, no such gift could be purchased.)

I immediately transferred the two LPs of Superstar to tape, so as not to wear out the LPs, as I had done with the 1812 overture and my copy of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote. The sound, recorded at the fastest speed available on my tape deck, on the highest quaility tape I had, was just indescribable, particuarly on relatively good headphones. I would sit on the floor close to my tape deck, following the lyrics initially, and then later abosorbing the compositional and instrumental richness of the album.

My grandmother, the more religious one, approved of my interest and commented that this was how music sounded back at the time of Christ, though I was old enough to realize this was way before her time. Yet, there seemed to be undeniable truth in this assertion, and part of this was the inclusion and incorporation of dissonance, and the use of the diminished chord, that standby of silent movie soundtracks to represent the bad guys — and hints of older modes and scales. This is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s masterpiece. That the composer of works like the earlier Joseph and the Amazon Technicolor Dreamcoat and the later Starlight Express, rose to this level of musical excellence may be challenging to explain, but it occured and this album was evidence.

Black Sabbath: Paranoid

That this larger than life work, the 20th century rock equivalent of a Wagner opera scene, was purchased for $2.99 at K-mart, took me a while to get over. I remember vividly, the first time I encountered the first Black Sabbath album being listened to on a cheap turntable plugged into a building outlet by some high school freshmen druggie-types, or at least academic poor-achievers (we won’t say failures as they had three more years of high school ahead) — and I remember being intrigued by the poorly reproduced but seemingly substantial music. And I vividly remember purchasing Paranoid at K-mart, taking it home and sitting in front of the stereo on a barstool borrowed from the kitchen counter. But what was most vivid about all encounters with Black Sabbath, even including seeing them up close and live at California Jam, was the first listening to Paranoid and the darkness, obscurity and obliqueness of the music.

Paranoid is often credited as the first true heavy metal album, though certainly all the elements in Paranoid are there to some degree in their first album. However, while the first album was basically a recording of a live set, the second album is of higher sonic and musical quality. Though all four band members are given songwriting credit, for the most part the music on this album was written by Tony Iomma, with lyrics provided by Geezer Butler. To classify this music as simply heavy metal ignores the unique musicl style of Iomma — a darkest violet, and yes, satanic-like sound, built on short basic and strongly diatonic phrases that fit together like lego blocks. The sound is readily identifiable, and works effectively at a slow tempo, as in the opening moments of War Pigs that start the ablum, or at a faster tempo as taken in the second track, Paranoid. I have never heard Black Sabbath labelled as a progressive rock band, and some of that may be due to the primal nature of thir muscianship and Iomma’s compositions, but for me, I see no reason why the music itself isn’t classified as progressive rock. It certainly was a progressive sound in 1970 and when I picked it up in 1971 when it hit record stores in the U.S. And today fifty years later, it still holds its own, tarnished slightly in terms of freshness by the subsequent Black Sabbath albums that sometimes recycled the building blocks that made this such a unique sound and the many less-distinctive and creative imitators that followed. There is nothing in the rock catalog that has both the somatic and metabolic magnetic impact as “Iron Man”, and excluding the very best canonical prog rock albums, there are few musical statements that show the boldness, consistency, and durability of “Paranoid.”

Atomic Rooster:

Death Walks Behind You

If the William Blake bestial  Nebuchadnezzar album cover didn’t entice you to immediately purchase the Atomic Rooster Death Walks Behind You, hearing that dark descending four note chromatic bass line that permeates the title track or the quirky, keyboard-bejewelled “Tomorrow Night” might have. Unfortunately, being on Elektra, there was slight chance of someone in the U.S. seeing this album stocked in most record stores in 1970, and unless you lived in the L.A. or the Bay area, it’s not likely you would have heard any portion of this album on FM radio, until the success of ELP prompted many to check the back catalog of Atomic Roster. Nonetheless, this ablum, with Carl Palmer now replaced with Paul Hammond on drums, and Vincent Crane and John Du Cann raising their level of creative partnership, this is not only the best Atomic Rooster album, but a fine, at times joyful and playful, at times dark and shadowy, heavy metal, progressive hard rock album. Whereas no band ever imitated Black Sabbath effectively, the style of hard rock exemplified in Death Walks Behind You, a style with its roots in earlier hard rock English pre-metal bands such as Cream, was successfully incorporated by a number of bands of the early seventies.

Caravan:

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You

Another high quality progressive album, released in the UK on September 4, 1970, and also difficult to find in the U.S. until later in the seventies, was Caravan’s second album. Providing a diverse range of progressive rock, Canterbury scene rock and English Jazz rock (with its inclusion of saxophonist Jimmy Hastings), this is an album that endears itself upon repeated listenings.

Neil Young:

After the Gold Rush

Full of unerringly good music and lyrics that range from near-nonsense and obliquely obscure to shamelessly unaffected and nakedly transparent, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, is one the finest if not the very best of his long, productive and meaningful career. Southern Man is a case in point where the music and lyrics are beyond any criticisms, or need for critique, but the rest of the original compositions are each worthy of special attention. Neil Young is a master at combining musical and lyrical simplicty to get through one’s superficial emotional barriers as exemplfied in “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” It is the Neil Young magic that turns a basically musically and poetically flimsy and somewhat monotonous song into exquisitely simple high art, something also accomplished with the less emotional “When You Dance I Can Really Love” and the entire contents of his subsequent album, “Harvest.” The most memorable song on After the Gold Rush, is the title track with its seemingly deeply profound, but if you believe later Neil Young interviews, somewhat meaningless, lyrics. I prefer to think that Young is being more modest than accurate, for even if there was no particularly deep intent in the lyrics they fit so well with the music that they deserve some praise. But the most incredible feature of this work, at least for me, is that with every listening it always seems to be of epic length, even though it only clocks in at only 3 3/4 minutes.

Santana: Abraxas

Released on September 23, 1970, Abraxas is another special album. Despite an initial lack of attention and acceptance from many in the music press, the attention the band garnered from the Woodstock film, the success of the “Evil Ways” single, and the striking cover soon propelled this album to number one on the album charts making the album a staple in many early 1970s record collections. This is another one of those albums you turn down (or off) the lights to listen to. The opening track is dramatic and provides an imposing and remarkable beginning to an amazing, whirlwind musical experience.

If: If

Though often labelled as jazz-rock, this first of several albums by If, released in September 1970 is as much British progressive rock as it is jazz-rock. Similar in some respects to early Jethro Tull and Genesis, the musicianship is solid and the music is engaging. I picked this album up when it came out after reading a postive review of it in the L.A Times, expecting that it might be similar to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, and didn’t fully appreciate if for what it was, mostly listening to it as background while studying or reading. Listening to it again, almost fifty years later, I much better appreciate it’s abundant qualities and strengths.

Jackson Five: Third &

Allman Brothers Band: Idlewild South

There are two other albums released in September of 1970 that require a brief mention. The first is the Jackson Five album, their third album, simply titled Third. As I was starting my sophemore year in school, the biggest slam one could throw (“dis” in modern parlance) at someone was either they were a freshman, or worse, they were a freshman and put on a Jackson Five album when they went home. Nothing was more uncool musically. And yet, when riding on the bus, one couldn’t avoid (and very embarrassing, and something I would never admit until now too old to care about being cool) liking the music. So it was with “I’ll Be There” which I heard over and over again. I never listened to any Jackson Five album until recently — but now listening to them as I go through the timeline of albums that are celebrating their fiftieth year of existence. Of course, it helps that I am married to someone that was a fan of Michael Jackson when growing up.

The other album I must mention is the Allman Brothers Band’s Idlewild South album, released September 23, 1970. Although often pigeonholed as an early Southern Rock album, or even as Southern Blues-Rock, it is so much more. The opening incorporates jazz elements and anticpates groups like Dixie Dregs. Yes, when the vocals start, the music becomes more conventional and less interesting — until the next instrumental excursion. And basically, that is the strength of this album: it’s instrumental passages.

Fifty Year Friday: July 2020

July of 1970 continues the 1970 theme of musical diversity with progressive rock, hard rock, blues rock, country rock, funk, folk-rock,  jazz-based rock, and even early punk rock! Traffic 1

Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die

With the July 1, 1970 release of John Barleycorn Must Die, Traffic provides an excellent jazz-based partly progressive rock album with the first side being particularly strong.  Having disbanded in 1968, with Steve Winwood and Dave Mason pursuing their individual musical interests, the band reformed without Dave Mason for this Winwood-dominated album.  Highlights include the upbeat jazzy instrumental “Glad”, “Freedom Riders”, the progressive English rock styled “Empty Pages” and the wonderfully arranged and executed acoustic-folk “John Barleycorn.”  One of the finest albums of 1970.

Dave Mason

Dave Mason: Alone Together

Dave Mason, formerly of Traffic, released “Alone Together”, named for this being a solo album with support from numerous fine musicians including Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Jim Keltner and Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi.  The album is all original material (all from Dave Mason with some collaboration with Capaldi on the last track) with leading towards country and folk rock.  Highlights include the song “Couldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” and the 2/4 ballad with its 3/4 verse “World in Changes’, the dreamy “Sad and Deep As You”

Full House

Fairport Convention: Full House

Fairport Convention, now without Sandy Denny releases their fifth folk-rock, Full House, the first with only male vocals.  Half of the album’s eight tracks are originals with three well-arranged traditional numbers. “Dirty Linen” bounds into progressive rock territory as, to a lesser extent does the more traditional  “Flatback Caper.”  “Sloth” is also notable for its change of moods and styles, its epic tone condensed into a little over nine minutes, and Dave Swarbrick’s (violin) and Richard Thompson’s (guitar) virtuosic soloing.

Supertramp_-_Supertramp

Supertramp: Supertramp

Supertramp releases their self-titled debut album, on July 14, 1970, an early progressive rock album with a hint of pop sensibility and emphasis on beautiful melodies, similar in some ways to the second and third Genesis albums released later that year and in 1971.  Despite the music being instantly appealing and the generally high quality of the compositions, this first Supertramp album was not initially released in the U.S. and garnered limited sales in the U.K.  Recommended for fans of early progressive rock, but maybe not for fans of the more famous Supertramp albums.

FST

Firesign Theatre: Don’t Crush  That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers

Firesign Theater started the on-air antics in 1966 on the L.A. radio station, KPFK-FM, on the far left side of the dial. KPFK-FM was based in North Hollywood and its signal (when being listened to in North Orange County, where I lived) was generally weak.  A station with an interesting history (license withheld in 1962 for an investigation into possible affiliation with the Communistic Party and being closely associated with the first Renaissance Fair in 1963 which raised funds for the station) it was a great place to hear a variety of music. Despite its unreliable and never totally acceptable reception, this was one of my favorite radio stations from the late sixties through the mid-seventies, listening to album rock, folk music,  and comedy often through a curtain of varying levels of static and sometimes intruding signals from neighboring stations.

Soon after their initial appearances on KPFK’s radio “Radio Free Oz”,  Firesign Theater was signed in 1967 to Columbia records releasing their first spoken comedy album in 1968, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, followed by How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All in 1969.  Soon my two of my friends from my neighborhood would imitate and quote lines from their first four albums, of which the third, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, was released on July 22, 1970.  The title slyly refers to the admonition of not crushing the last bit of a marijuana cigarette but using the roach clip — with the narrative of the album centered around their character, George Tirebiter, and his watching of late night TV. The band, or comedy troupe if you prefer, studied the production techniques of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and effectively applied them to Don’t Crush That Dwarf taking advantage of the binaural soundstage available for a stereo LP.

Though the album is ultimately more style than substance, it is often considered their best album, and their fast-paced, ironic delivery and influence on other comedy groups earned Firesign Theatre the nickname, “The Beatles of Comedy.”

Yes TIme and a Word

Yes: Time and a Word

Though not without flaws, the gem of July 1970, was Yes’s Time and a Word, receiving as low of a rating by allmusic.com as any in this post with only two of five possible stars.  Yes was still in formation mode, with Peter Banks yet to be replaced by Steve Howe due to Banks’ tendency to improvise not only in concert but during studio rehearsals and sessions, shying away from playing a complete set-in-stone repeatable, memorized part — clearly, this improvisation mindset was acceptable for psychedelic rock or many proto-prog bands, but not what Jon Anderson envisioned as something that would align with a tightly-organized, critically composed set of material.

The group, against Banks’ and Tony Kaye’s preference, incorporated orchestration into this album, significantly reducing both Banks and Kaye’s contributions.  The orchestration, judiciously used, usually works, particularly on the two covers, the first of which is Richie Haven’s “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” which opens dynamically with Kaye’s Hammond organ quickly followed by driving strings giving way to the full band and includes orchestration on the theme of the movie “Big Country” that is used prior to a return to the beginning material, followed by a snippet of musical development and then the return of the main material. The second cover track is Stephen Stills ‘Everydays” which opens up with bluesy organ and a dash of strings, with a thoughtful wistful treatment that includes pizzicato strings and a hard rock section showcasing Peter Banks on guitar and, Tony Kaye on organ, some orchestra contributions, and a brief, but well-integrated reference to Bach’s “Jesu.Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Banks.

The original material works well, even with intonation issues from the strings and Jon Anderson on “Clear Days.”  “Then” and “Astral Traveller” solidly stand out as does the bass work of Chris Squire which is mixed so that it stands out palpably throughout the album.  One may notice the similarity of some of the instrumental episodes to what we will hear later in Peter Banks’ next group, Flash, as well in later Yes albums.  Though those later Yes albums, at least the next three, would be notably superior to this one, any prog-rock fan would be remiss not to have heard Time and a Word on a good audio system, multiple times.

Credence Clearwater Revival: Cosmo’s Factory

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CCR hits their commercial and musical peak with the release of their fifth album, ‘Cosmo’s Factory”, the title a reference to drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford’s name for the warehouse they practiced regularly at, like workers working in a factory. The album has some fine originals by John Fogerty and some rock and roll covers all adding up to an album grown from American roots.  I remember visiting my cousins once in the early seventies and when my older of the two cousins mentioned she was going to purchase a new album or two, her dad sympathetically entreated her for “no more Credence Clearwater” and the daughter readily, and actually most heartily, agreed. Perhaps she was tired of them, or perhaps having this album in her collection she really didn’t need any of their later albums.

For me, this is not the type of music I am particularly attracted to, though I admire the passion of the playing on this album and the craftsmanship of the original numbers, particularly the four hits on this album, “Travelin’ Band”, the evocative, plaintive, “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Up Around the Bend”, and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” as well as their rendition of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which also received ample airplay in an abbreviated single version. If you want true American rock, or more specifically earthy, swamp rock, or an album that reflects the shift that many late sixties bands took away from psychedelic influences towards blues, rock and roll roots and country-rock, this album, reaching number one on US, Canada and UK charts almost half a century ago, and generally highly rated by traditional rock critics, certainly would be a good place to start.

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Osmium and other albums released in July 1970

In other music, George Clinton and associates release two unconventional albums in July 1970. The first is the Parliaments’ debut, “Osmium”, brimming with a variety of musical styles centered around a foundational psychedelic soul sound with a healthy sprinkling of humor.  George Clinton and Ruth Copeland provide most of the musical material. highlights include Ruth Copeland’s “The Silent Boatman”, use of bagpipes, and a cover of Phil Trim’s original “Oh Lord, Why Lord” for the Spanish rock group Los-Pop Tops, which is possibly the first pop song to be based on Pachelbel’s canon. The second album is Funkadelic’s “Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow”, which is even more adventurous, rich in funk and psychedelic rock elements with some solid guitar work and no scarcity of imagination or creativity.

Also included in the July 1970 releases is another early punk album by Iggy Pop and The Stooges, “Fun House”, exhibiting something closer to musicianship than their first effort. Humble Pie provides a solid album with the third album, Humble Pie, with album cover by Aubrey Beardsley.  Spooky Tooth release The Last Puff which was for a while seemed like their last album until Mike Harrison reformed the group in 1973 with all new band members, except himself.  Perhaps the best-known track from this album is their cover of John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus” handled similarly to the better known Joe Cocker treatment of “A Little Help From My Friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

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: November 1969 including David Bowie and Almendra

Somos seres humanos
Sin saber lo que es hoy un ser humano
(We are human beings, without knowing today what a human being is.)

— Almendra

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On Nov 14, 1969,  Philips released David Bowie’s second album in the UK, originally titled “David Bowie.” Mercury released the album in the US as “Man of Words/Man of Music” which was re-released by RCA in 1972 as “Space Oddity” after the success of the Ziggy Stardust album. Whereas Bowie’s very first album sounds like he is intentionally imitating Anthony Newley and includes mostly songs of limited musical and lyrical depth, this second album raises the level of artistry considerably, bringing together a few easily accessible songs with several more carefully crafted, more reflective numbers.  Perhaps Bowie’s break up with his deeply-loved girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale contributed toward a decided shift to a more personal artistry.  Bowie thought of her as a soulmate and suffered deeply from the end of their relationship — two songs on this album are clearly about her: “An Occasional Dream” and “Letter to Hermione” — both providing an insight into the impact of the loss.

With the exception of the second track, “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed”, a clear homage to Bob Dylan, Bowie is mostly his own artist on this album,  produced mainly by Tony Visconti, who also plays bass.  One track, the single “Space Oddity”, which Bowie wrote after seeing Kubrick’s “2001, A Space Oddity”, was produced by Gus Dudgeon and climbed up to the number 5 position on UK charts, though in the U.S. it did not fare any better than the 124th spot.  The general US AM listener would not be exposed to it until 1973 when it reached the 5th position and then again, in 1975 when it made the #1 spot and seemed to be played unceasingly.

The album includes Rick Wakeman on mellotron and harpsichord and Gus Dudgeon on cello.  It will be another year before Bowie works with Mick Ronson and Mick Woodmansey and another year after that until Trevor Bolder is added on bass. Though there are many better albums to follow, this may be the most personal and the one closest to reflecting the native-state David Bowie as opposed to Bowie the mastery of multiple external personnas and styles.

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In November of 1969, Colosseum release their second album, Valentyne Suite, which did fairly well in the UK, reaching number 15 on the UK album charts.  The highlight of the album is Dave Greenslade’s contributions, both as a performer on keyboards and as a composer on the first two sections of the three movement Valentyne Suite.  Interestingly the original version of the suite was included in the 1969 US release of Colosseum’s previous album “Those Who Are About to Die Salute You”, which is a combination of the first and second UK albums.   For the UK version of the second album, the original third part of the suite, “Theme Three, Beware the Ides of March”, co-written by Greenslade, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves is replaced by “The Grass is Always Greener”  co-written by Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman, since “Beware the Ides of March” had previously appeared on the first album.  The suite works in either configuration and provides a strong ending to both the UK version of the second album and the US version of “Those Who Are About to Die Salute You, which is a mix of tracks from both the first and second UK albums.

Other November 1969 albums include Steve Miller’s Your Saving Grace and Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, both albums including Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. Volunteers is the more significant album historically and musically, containing both strong language and strong political content.

Steppenwolf’s Monster, also released in November 1969, starts with a similarly strong political message. recounting how “Like good Christians some would burn the witches;
later some got slaves to gather riches.” and “While we bullied, stole and bought a homeland, we began the slaughter of the red man”, and warning of the inevitable transformation into a monstrous beast with cities turned into jungles, strangling corruption, and the costly Vietnam war.

Moody Blues released To Our Children’s Children’s Children on November 21, 1969 with the first track “Higher and Higher” and the general thematic direction of the album inspired by the Moon Landing.  The album continues to distill the Moody Blues identifiable sound with tracks melting into each other.  The album reached number #2 in the UK and #14 in the US.

Amidst a number of other November 1969 albums, many of them debut studio albums like those by the Allman Brothers and Mott the Hoople, Rod Stewart releases his first album, around 32 minutes of music including Ronnie Wood on guitar and Keith Emerson on organ on  “I Wouldn’t Ever Change a Thing”

Humble Pie’s second album, the appropriately named Town and Country, released November 1969, provides an attractive balance of acoustic and electric guitar work with some Wurlitzer piano.  The album contains a good measure of country-rock, two strong Peter Frampton songs, and Steve Marriot’s particularly evocative, mood-setting, “Silver Tongue.”

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Kevin Ayers released his debut album, “Joy of a Toy”, in November of 1969 — a slightly tongue in cheek, intentionally laid back and understated set of songs that look forward to indie rock of the 1980s as much as an distillation of Soft Machine, sixties rock, show tunes, pop and early progressive rock.  Even though the lyrics range in quality, the nature of the music and Ayers delivery always make the words work well with the music. The opening instrumental sets the appropriate mood, followed by the wry “Town Feeling” with effective oboe and then “Clarietta Rag” which sounds a bit too much like “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”;  a variety of songs follow, some having  that identifiable “Canterbury” sound, some like “Religious Experience” which seems more spur of the moment composition and performance, and includes an appearance from Syd Barrett.  Perhaps the best tune is “Lady Rachel” with a mysterious oboe introduction nicely setting the mood as well  as the the colorful orchestration and the judicious use of  a chromatically-raised augmented chord in the chorus.  Musicians include Robert Wyatt, Michael Ratledge and Hugh Hopper from Soft Machine as well as David Bedford on piano and mellotron and Paul Buckmaster on cello. All in all an under-the-radar album (at that time and now), that had better material and more an influence on music than generally given credit for.

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Argentina bands, as with bands from other Latin American countries, mostly were imitative or cover bands for most of the sixties.  This “Nueva Ola” style, represented by local bands (having English names), though popular enough and providing live music, couldn’t compete in terms of record sales with new music from U.S. and Britain, and eventually the “Rock en Español” musical movement produced bands like Los Gatos and Almendra.

Led by songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Almendra released their first album, the self-titled Almendra, on November 29, 1969.  How much this influenced future progressive rock bands in South America, Spain and Italy is not clear, but the album, like Spanish and Italian music to follow, incorporated folk music together with jazz, pop and rock elements.

The album opens with their earlier released, and successful single (in Argentina), “Muchacha (ojos de papel)”, a modern art song with beautiful melody and lyrics over Spinetta’s acoustic guitar. Another highlight on the album is Spinetta’s “Figuración” which alternates between a gorgeous folk-like melody and a rock section anticipating future Italian prog-rock groups like PFM. This is followed by the upbeat and partly Beatles-like “Ana no Duerme.”

Side two opens up with reflective, acoustic folk-like “Fermin”, followed by the equally graceful “Plegaria para un niño dormido” and the multi-thematic “A estos hombres tristes.”  Bass guitarist contributes the jazzy, almost Brazilian-like “Que el viento borró tus manos.”  The poignant and elegant “Laura Va”, with harps, strings and woodwinds provides a graceful and satisfying end to one of the best albums of 1969.

Fifty Year Friday: September 1969

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On September 20, John Lennon met with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the Beatles’ business manager to inform them of his intent to leave: “I want a divorce! Like the one I got from [first wife] Cynthia.”

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September 1969 was also an eventful month for baseball.  The Mets initiated a serious winning streak while the Chicago Cubs was losing games and overtook the Cubbies, even getting a 4-3 victory against Card’s pitcher Steve Carlson record-breaking 19 strike-outs, nine-inning pitching. On September 22nd, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants became the first major league baseball player since Babe Ruth to get his 600th home run; this was in the same game against the Padres that his teammate Bobby Bonds struck out for the 178th time, breaking  an 1963 record previously held by Dave Nicholson of the Chicago White Sox.

On September 26, ABC debuted a seemingly inconsequential situation comedy about six kids, three girls and three boys, merged as a part of a marriage of two divorcees, with a dog and maid thrown for good measure. At fourteen, I avoided watching the show out of principle, but this series was a favorite of the youngest girl next of our closest neighbors, geographically and personally, a family of three older boys, all good friends to me, and three younger girls.

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But anything else that happened on September 26, or in the month of September 1969, seems culturally inconsequential to the release of the Beatles final effort before they went their own ways, their last recorded studio album, Abbey Road.  I borrowed this masterwork from one of the three boys next door in the spring of 1970 and recorded it on to my own relatively good quality reel-to-reel tape recorder along with Chicago’s second album, the two of which I listened to over and over and over while reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series.  Though more of a collection of solo Beatles songs than some of the earlier albums, the assembly and production, along with the high musical quality, made this my favorite Beatles album.

For many years, I was not particularly fond of the first track, John Lennon’s “Come Together”, seemingly a musical throwback to an earlier time.  Harmonically, this was a standard rock-and-roll chord progression, with psychedelic, wildly colorful, but also mostly incomprehensible, lyrics. Not known to me at the time was that it was written as a campaign song for Timothy O’Leary in his averted attempt to run against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California — the campaign terminated by O’Leary being arrested for possession of weed.  Also not known to me at the time, was the similarity of the song to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.”  These facts though, probably wouldn’t have made much difference to my quickly getting tired of hearing this played every morning on the bus trip to and back from school, five days a week, from the third Monday in October 1969 to the last Friday before Christmas vacation in late December.

During this same three-month window, George Harrison’s “Something”, the second track sequentially on Abbey Road, was also played on that same bus, courtesy of the local station that our bus driver was apparently captivated with or captive to.  Due to the poor audio quality and the noise on the bus, I didn’t get to fully appreciate the nuances of either of these two songs, and so also became slightly tired of “Something” sometime by late November.  However, its important to note, that compared to the other fodder on AM radio, these two tracks were gems.  It’s hard to imagine how I survived, but during these three months, as music was shifting from the diversity of the late sixties to a more homogeneous, more similarly produced approach to singles, there were numerous musically questionable songs being played on that bus radio including Oliver’s “Jean”, the Cuff Links’ “Tracy”, Bob Dylan’s  tortuous, “Lay Lady Lay”, R.B. Greaves “Take A Letter Maria”, Mel and Tim’s “Back Field in Motion”, and worse of all, The Archies’ unimaginably simplistic and simplistically unimaginable “Sugar Sugar”, one of the most blatant and annoying bubble-gum pop songs of the era. Compared to any of these and some of the other tunes being pushed at the time, “Something” was a work of art, and “Come Together”, even for the seventy-eighth time, was a welcome relief.

But back to Abbey Road — by the time I had transferred my friend’s copy of Abbey Road to tape and started playing it over and over,  I viewed “Come Together” and “Something”, (tunes I had already been overexposed to), as a pair of preludes to an extraordinarily, exceedingly, and unexpectedly high-quality, melodically-rich album. I could read over the sound of “Come Together” and even “Something”, but when I got to the rest of the album, I would often stop reading to listen for a while, before getting back to Tolkien’s more narrative story-telling.

Now certainly as my level of musicianship has increased I have come to better appreciate “Something.”  That said, even today, it is the rest of this album, starting with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” that really resonates with me.  In the previous two tracks, we have McCartney’s bass work, which is particularly impressive on “Something.”  With this third track, we have his first composition on the album, a delightful upbeat, perfectly crafted (and performed) narrative pop tune with facile, witty lyrics nicely supporting the song.   Lennon dismissed the work as more of McCartney’s “granny” music, but the work, like Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” provides the necessary lightness and contrast needed to hold together side one of Abbey Road.  “Oh, Darling” which follows, is a seriously heartfelt, blues-based ballad and  benefits from being preceded and followed by the two lighter tracks.

Whereas Ringo’s earlier composition that appeared on the White Album, “Don’t Pass Me By” was one of the simplest realization of a straightforward blues progression, his second composition, “Octopus’s Garden” is more sophisticated, possibly aided with some direction from George Harrison.   Not only does this work well with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to bookend McCartney’s “Oh! Darling” , but it provides the contrast for the thickness and darkness of Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which starts off as plaintive blues-rock before diving into the depths of progressive heavy metal.  It ends suddenly, providing an unambiguous and unbreachable separation between side one and side two.

Side two opens up with Harrison’s masterpiece, “Here Come’s the Sun”, by itself enough to justify having a copy of the Abbey Road album.   This is followed by Lennon’s reworking (reversal and extension) of sequence of chord progressions of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (first movement) as the core of “Because”, providing a level of reflection and sophistication that nicely sets up the unrivaled rock medley that makes the Abbey Road album an unforgettable masterpiece.  One could have taken the numbers in this medley and extended their length, falling into the trap we find on so many rock albums, where tunes are allowed to roam unchecked trespassing their natural boundaries — but by keeping each song to its minimum duration, George Martin and the Beatles maximized the musical impact to make this sixteen-minute medley the shortest sixteen minutes in the history of rock music.  The album ends with “Her Majesty” which was originally meant as part of the medley after “Mean Mr. Mustard”, but disrupted the flow and coherence, and so was intended to be left off the album altogether.  Acting under instruction not to throw anything away, one of the engineers added “Her Majesty” to the end of the master tape, after a generous length of silence.  The Beatles, when listening to the playback lacquer that also included this “added” track, liked the effect and the track ended up included as a final “hidden” track on the album, not listed originally on the LP album cover.   Growing up, I often debated with myself whether the album should have ended, predictably, with “The End”, but today, I have little doubt of the appropriateness of this unrelated coda that adds just one additional element of artistry to this overall timeless, seemingly flawless album.

Though Abbey Road was the best album from September 1969, there are others worth noting.

Laura Nyro’s dramatically intense “New York Tendaberry” was released on September 24, 1969.  Though I never caught Laura Nyro live,  this album provides me some solace as the immediacy comes about as close as a studio album can get to a real live performance.  With one strong track after another, all stylistically and compositionally individual, this is one of the best albums of September 1969.

The Band released their second studio album, self-titled “The Band”, on Sept 22, 1969. Generally country rock, music is accessible and generally good with music mainly written by guitarist Robbie Roberson, who also engineered the album.  For the most part, the lyrics are narrative and provide an historical aspect.  Particularly notable is “The Unfaithful Servant”,  with its art-song qualities.

Fleetwood Mac released their third album, Then Play On on September 19, 1969, the last Fleetwood Mac studio album with Peter Green.  The band takes advantage of the capabilities of studio recording technology for the first time, producing a strong, polished album incorporating blues, blues-based rock,  and contemporary rock numbers including Peter Green’s reflective, leisurely-paced and melancholic “Closing My Eyes”, the understated, simple and nostalgically effective, Pink-Floyd-like “When You Say”, and Peter Green’s “Rattlesnake Shake” which lyrically harkens back to those early blues records that cover taboo topics.  Notable is Peter Green’s guitar work throughout and the overall musical variety provided by contributions from all four band members.  The UK initial release was a relatively lengthy album, and the US version dropped two tracks.  The Rhino Deluxe CD edition includes not only the two omitted tracks, but Peter Green’s 1970 masterpiece, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” — which combines elements of psychedelic rock and early progressive rock.

The Guess Who release their fifth studio album, “Canned Wheat” sometime in September 1969. This is their strongest album to date including two radio hits, “Undun” and “Laughing”  and an early, and perhaps superior version, of “No Time” with a ear-awakening microtonal introduction.

Man releases the wittily titled 2 ozs of Plastic with a Hole in the Middle.  The album takes on a distinctly progressive tone with an incredibly strong opening instrumental track, “Prelude/The Storm”, solid evidence at how effective could the band could be at crafting and shaping larger musical statements.   Though the remaining album does not stay at this lofty level (the next track is more standard blues-rock and elements of blues and psychedelic rock dominant side two), it has its moments.

While Fleetwood Mac was able to get away with a suggestive album title and Peter Green’s more overt “Rattlesnake Shake”, an unambiguous song about male self-pleasuring, Man had some corporate censorship imposed.  Their label, perhaps not too unexpectedly for 1969, found some fault with the title of the second track on the first side, “Shit on the World”, forcing the band to rename it to the more innocuous “It Is As It Must Be.”  The title of “Spunk Rock” was also targeted, but due to miscommunication at the record executive level, it was inexplicably changed to the even less inoffensive “Spunk Box.” Re-releases of the album have kept the altered titles of “Spunk Box” and “It Is As it Must Be” thus inadvertently delivering a just and lasting subtle irony.

Al Stewart was able to dodge censorship completely on Love Chronicles with one of the first uses of the present participle form of the f word on a record released by a major label (CBS Producer Clive Davis learned of its inclusion after the release or it would have been not allowed.) Released in September 1969, the album is basically a song-cycle covering male/female relationships, some of which are clearly autobiographical including the eighteen minute title track.  The musicianship is outstanding with the 1969 line-up of Fairport Convention (minus vocalist Sandy Denny) and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin on the title track, “Love Chronicles.”

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The Nice released their third album, simply titled “Nice”, sometime in September 1969, with the album peaking to third position on the UK album charts.  The liner notes are provided, in handwritten form, by Keith Emerson. The album’s music is filled with classical and jazz references and includes Pepper Adams on baritone sax and Joe Newman on trumpet on the last track of side one, “For Example.” Emerson writes about this session in his autobiography expressing his elation at getting Pepper Adams (who was a musician on what Emerson notes was his favorite album of all time, Thelonious Monk at Town Hall.)  Side two of The Nice was recorded at the Fillmore East on April 9 and 10 of 1969 and these two particularly compelling tracks continue the trend of incorporating jazz and classical components.  The first live track,  “Rondo” is based on Brubeck’s “Rondo Alla Turk” and includes Bach references and a reference to Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The second live track is a extended and transformed rendition of Dylan’s blues number “She Belongs to me”, and includes references to Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the Magnificent Seven, Aaron Copland’s Hoedown, and more J.S. Bach.  All the diversity and wide ranging quotations are managed coherently, producing a substantial musical experience.

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!”

 

 

 

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)

beck-ola R-2768038-1390130823-5597.jpeg

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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