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Fifty Year Friday: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention; United States of America


Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: We’re Only in It for the Money

In the summer of 1969 my family drove up to the San Francisco to take a cruise to Alaska on the Princess Cruise Line Ship,  MS Italia, and visited with my Aunt and then dropped me off for most of the day to visit with my cousin who was rooming with two or three other college students.  As typical, there the living room was the shared area, and it was well-stocked with a stereo system and dozens of LPs.  Several of them were recent recordings of Baroque music, this being the era of the baroque revival where driving around San Francisco one can find multiple FM stations playing mostly baroque music with works of not only J.S. Bach and Telemann, but seemingly dozens of Italian Baroque composers with names like Torelli, Tartini, Tortellini, Samartini, Scarlatti, Spumoni,  and on and on. So though my natural instinct was to dive into the treasures of Baroque music stacked around the stereo and against the sides of the speakers, my attention was redirected by an album that looked like Sgt. Peppers, but clearly was not.

“My roommate is a big Frank Zappa fan”, explained my cousin. “He’s got all the albums.”

That is, all the albums up to the summer of 1969.  And so I started with “We’re Only In It For the Money”, intrigued and yet mostly thrown off balance for much of side one and, to a lesser extent side two, but comforted by having the lyrics printed on the back.   Then putting on “Reuben and the Jets”, I was even more puzzled, abandoning it at the end of the first side, going on to the next Zappa album, and then ultimately shifting to one of the many Baroque albums I had initially neglected.

A few weeks later, during my first semester in college, I was able to explore Zappa’s early catalog at my own pace, and appreciated better the musicianship, music, and unconventional point of view, though not particularly embracing the sarcastically, disparaging tone and the interspersed droppings of scatology that were as much a Zappa trademark as the predictably unpredictable musical discontinuity and divergent shifts. I would not become a Zappa fan until Hot Rats, but was still able to enjoy and laugh at these early albums, particularly Freak Out, Absolutely Free, and We’re Only it For the Money. 

So Fifty Years later, I am not yet ready pronounce, We’re Only it For the Money as a masterpiece of Western music, but can unequivocally state that it is a work of genius and something everyone should hear, if not just for purely musical reasons, for both musical and historical purposes.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side One





Are You Hung Up?



Who Needs the Peace Corps?



“Concentration Moon”



“Mom & Dad”



“Telephone Conversation”



“Bow Tie Daddy”



“Harry, You’re a Beast”



What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?



Absolutely Free



“Flower Punk[11]



“Hot Poop”


Side Two





“Nasal Retentive Calliope Music”



Let’s Make the Water Turn Black



“The Idiot Bastard Son”



“Lonely Little Girl” (“It’s His Voice on the Radio”)



Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance



“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)”



“Mother People”



“The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”


Total length:


united states of america

The United States of America: The United States of America

Two days after We’re Only in It for the Money was released on March, 4, 1968, another unconventional and relatively radical rock album was released, the work of Joseph Byrd, other band members including vocalist Dorthy Moskowitz, and producer David Robinson.

I first heard this band in my first semester in college in 1973 as part of Music History 251, when the track “Garden of Earthly Delights” was played on the classroom’s barely adequate stereo as part of the listening example included in the course workbook. I was impressed but when looking for that record that weekend could not find it in even the larger chain record stores and so forgot about it until years later when it became available again through reissue.

The first track, “The American Metaphysical Circus”, opens up much in the spirit of Charles Ives with competing marching bands, a piano playing “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” and a calliope.  But going beyond Ives is the electronic effects — no Moog synthesizer, this was beyond the financial means of the group — but creatively generated effects from more basic sound wave generation equipment.

More obvious than the Ives’ influence here, is the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ influence.  The lyrics of that first track hearkens back to “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” — at least in the first verse:

“At precisely 8:05, 
Doctor Frederick von Meyer
Will attempt his famous dive
Through a solid sheet of luminescent fire.”

However as the song progresses the lyrics darken:

“In the center of the ring
They are torturing a bear
And although he cannot sing
They can make him whistle Londonderry Air”

And then political:

“And the price is right
The cost of one admission is your mind.

“We shall shortly institute
A syncopation of fear
While it’s painful, it will suit
Many customers whose appetites are queer.”

And such goes much of the album with decidedly left-wing, if not communist-inspired viewpoints (one track is titled “Love Song for the Dead Ché”), embedded into adventurous, well-crafted music.   This album, the group’s only offering (they broke up shortly after the release) is sometimes mentioned as a forerunner to progressive rock. For anyone interested in building up a collection of more exploratory and ambitious 1968 “rock” music, it is worth the trouble to track this album down — and it is a suitable companion for We’re Only in It for the Money next time you have ninety minutes set aside for some uninterrupted listening of some of the more progressive and unusual music from 1968.

Side One




“The American Metaphysical Circus” (Joseph Byrd)



Hard Coming Love” (Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz)



“Cloud Song” (Byrd, Moskowitz)



“The Garden of Earthly Delights” (Byrd, Moskowitz)



“I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar”

(Byrd, Moskowitz)


Side Two




“Where Is Yesterday” (Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas, Moskowitz)



“Coming Down” (Byrd, Moskowitz)



“Love Song for the Dead Ché” (Byrd)



“Stranded in Time” (Marron, Bogas)



“The American Way of Love”

  1. “Metaphor for an Older Man” (Byrd)
  2. “California Good-Time Music” (Byrd)
  3. “Love Is All” (Byrd, Moskowitz, Rand Forbes, Craig Woodson, Marron)”



The band

Additional musicians

  • Ed Bogas – occasional organ, piano, calliope

Technical staff

  • Glen Kolotkin, Arthur Kendy – remixer
  • Richard Durrett – instrument design engineer
  • David Diller – engineer
  • David Rubinson – producer

Fifty Year Friday: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

laura a 2 41uT5mOnVoL._SY355_

“I’m not interested in conventional limitations when it comes to my songwriting” — Laura Nyro (Liner Notes to Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro <1997>)

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, the second album of Lauro Nyro, released March 3, 1968, was as distinct as any album of 1968, eschewing formula-based songs and enriched with personal, intimate lyrics fitted into soulful, boundary-free music.  Here the music is first: this is not a work of a singer-songwriter that set poetry to music, but a musician, who wrote music that was poetry.  The words may not qualify for any Nobel prizes, but they melodically fit into the contour of the music more perfectly and naturally than that of any 1960’s pop, folk or rock singer-songwriter before her. This music flows naturally, sometimes with effortlessly applied tempo shifts and alterations, and at no point do the lyrics ever get in the way of the musical content, but instead, either get unconditionally absorbed or are truly music themselves.

And in the midst of an era (1967-1968) of some of the most creative and unconventional, but commercially successful music ever captured in recording studios, we have an album of music that is as fiercely independent as anything by Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, Al Kooper, Velvet Underground, The Doors, or The Jefferson Airplane.

This album, though, was not a notable commercial success, reaching no further than the 181st position (“181” is not a typo) on the Billboard pop album chart. Yet, the reach was there in influencing other singer-songwriters that were to make their own impacts shortly after this, or even much later, including Todd Rundgren, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Elton John, Kate Bush, Melissa Manchester, Joanna Newsome, Tori Amos. and many, many more.  In fact, so influential is this album, that listening to it today, it sounds more like a product of the early 1970s than just about any rock, pop, or folk album that I can think of that was recorded and released in 1968.  (Please challenge me in the comments, if you feel otherwise.)

Listening to this work on Youtube or via a streaming service, undercuts the high production and sound quality.  Best to listen to this in LP, CD or SACD format. A CD of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession with three bonus tracks is available at online retailers for around $5.00, a bargain difficult to pass up.  However, if you can find a copy of the Audio Fidelity SACD release, that is the one to get, as the sound is exceptional.

On a personal note, I prefer Laura Nyro’s original renditions over any covers of her works I have heard through the years. It’s great that her songs received greater airplay and were exposed to a larger audience, with the accompanying economic benefits for the composer, but aren’t the originals more complete and satisfying?  In this original version of “Eli’s Coming” we get no hint of the darker nature inherent in the lyrics (Eli representing something beyond just a heartthrob or hearbreaker, but perhaps, heartache, loss, disappointment, or defeat) — instead we get gospel-hysteria celebration, not of the coming of Christ, but of the coming of Eli, that one guy that is currently everything and unquestionably inspires both submission and devotion.

And how can one not marvel at Nyro’s vocal delivery, her effective melodic range, extensive tone-color range, and finely-varied emotional range?  As a singer-songwriter, she excels at both the songwriting and singing roles.

And on a more important personal note, my thoughts go to anyone at war with cancer or the families that have suffered a loss from cancer.  I have a friend whose sister was overtaken by ovarian cancer, the same insidious disease that ended the life of both Laura Nyro and her mother at the age of 49. As I type this, my thoughts are with my friend and her family. Medicine is making substantial progress against various forms of cancer, and we all hope we see more progress made more rapidly than ever. Having a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of some or even all types of cancer, but it does not eliminate that risk.  Please consider joining me in making a donation to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (90% of your donation is directed to scientific research) or another worthy  organization, such as the Cancer Research Institute whose funding assisted in the development of  the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent some types of cervical cancer.


Track Listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Laura Nyro.

Side one




1. “Luckie” 3:00
2. “Lu” 2:44
3. Sweet Blindness 2:37
4. “Poverty Train” 4:16
5. “Lonely Women” 3:32
6. Eli’s Comin’ 3:58

Side two




7. “Timer” 3:22
8. Stoned Soul Picnic 3:47
9. “Emmie” 4:20
10. “Woman’s Blues” 3:46
11. “Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)” 2:58
12. “December’s Boudoir” 5:05
13. “The Confession” 2:50


Fifty Year Friday: Tony Scott – Music for Yoga Meditations and Other Joys; Al Kooper, Blood, Sweat & Tears – Child Is Father to the Man

Tony Scott Yoga

As a jazz instrument, the clarinet can excel from the hottest of jazz styles to the coolest and laid back genres of jazz, but there is something inherently cool, soft and tender in the lower and mid range of the clarinet that lends itself particularly well to more impressionistic. more reflective, and more introspective music.   As bebop extended into various flavors of cool jazz, Tony Scott first appeared on the jazz scene recording with Miles Davis and other jazz musicians on three tracks for “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan’s 1950 album, Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi. In 1953, he recorded a 10 inch album for Brunswick, “Music After Midnight”, with the music including elements bebop, cool and swing, showcasing the clarinet as well as the talents of now well-known jazz greats, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Philly Joe Jones, as well as the versatile and gifted pianist Dick Katz.

In December 1959 , Tony Scott visited Japan and recorded some music for a radio program with Yasko Nakashima.  When Tony asked Yasko if she would like to do some improvisation around the scale (set of notes) of the previous piece they had played, she deferred, not having a background in improvising: improvisation not being a component of traditional Japanese classical music.  He then turned to the conductor of the ensemble, Shinichi Yuize, a koto player, who, though, had not previously improvised publicly, was willing to give it a go.  Four years later, in early 1964, during Tony’s last visit to Japan, Shinichi Yuize, shakuhachi artist, Hozan Yamamoto and Tony recorded what many consider the first New Age album, Music for Zen Meditation.

No additional albums appeared to have been recorded or released by Tony Scott, until February 1968, when Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys was recorded. American Collin Walcott, student of Ravi Shankar, and later Paul Horn associate and then member of Oregon  plays sitar pairing up with Tony Scott who is on clarinet. This album, with its wide stereo separation and forwardness of the clarinet and sitar,  comes more closely to being New Age material then the 1964 “Zen” album which is more a blend of jazz and true classical Japanese music.

For whatever reason, Verve waited until 1972 to release Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Prahna (Life Force)” – 4:15
  2. “Shiva (The Third Eye)” – 5:06
  3. “Samadhi (Ultimate Bliss)” – 4:49
  4. “Hare Krishna (Hail Krishna)” – 6:15
  5. “Hatha (Sun and Moon)” – 3:40
  6. “Kundalina (Serpent Power)” – 4:42
  7. “Sahasrara (Highest Chakra)” – 3:10
  8. “Triveni (Sacred Knot)” – 3:20
  9. “Shanti (Peace)” – 2:48
  10. “Homage to Lord Krishna” – 5:04
  • All music composed by Tony Scott




Musician, Producer and songwriter, Al Kooper, put together the first jazz-rock group, Blood, Sweat and Tears, recording Child is the Father to Man in late 1967, with Columbia releasing the album on February 21, 1968.  Though this album is far more pop and rock than jazz, there are some jazz elements, including Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn supplemented with  saxophone, trombone and an additional trumpet.  Kooper provides the starting point from which the later versions of BS&T evolve, and paves the way for other jazz-rock ensembles like Chicago, Chase and Lighthouse.

Al Kooper departed from BS&T shorted after the release of this album, apparently due to creative differences, with his next project the bluesy jam album Super Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.

Personnel [from Wikipedia]

Blood, Sweat & Tears

  • Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Bobby Colomby – drums, percussion; backing vocals (tracks 4, 10)
  • Jim Fielder – bass guitar, fretless bass guitar
  • Dick Halligan – trombone
  • Steve Katz – guitars; lead vocals (tracks 3, 8); backing vocals (tracks 3); lute (track 6)
  • Al Kooper – organ, piano; lead vocals (tracks 2, 4-7, 9-12); ondioline (track 8)
  • Fred Lipsius – piano, alto saxophone
  • Jerry Weiss – trumpet, flugelhorn; backing vocals (track 4)

Additional musicians

  • Anahid Ajemian – violin
  • Fred Catero – sound effects
  • Harold Coletta – viola
  • Paul Gershman – violin
  • Al Gorgoni – organ, guitar, vocals
  • Manny Green – violin
  • Julie Held – violin
  • Doug James – shaker
  • Harry Katzman – violin
  • Leo Kruczek – violin
  • Harry Lookofsky – violin
  • Charles McCracken – cello
  • Melba Moorman – choir, chorus
  • Gene Orloff – violin
  • Valerie Simpson – choir, chorus
  • Alan Schulman – cello
  • John Simon – organ, piano, conductor, cowbell
  • The Manny Vardi Strings


  • Producers: Bob Irwin, John Simon
  • Engineer: Fred Catero
  • Mixing: John Simon
  • Mastering: Vic Anesini
  • Arrangers: Fred Catero, Al Gorgoni, Fred Lipsius, Alan Schulman, John Simon
  • Art direction: Howard Fritzson
  • Photography: Bob Cato, Don Hunstein
  • Packaging: Michael Cimicata

Fifty Year Friday: Pete Seeger, Mason Williams, Roy Harper

Mason Williams

Many of us that grew up in the sixties wouldn’t miss a chance to watch the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour on Sunday night from 1967 to its censor-driven cancellation in 1969.  The show was musically noteworthy for including rock and musical groups that the other variety shows were uncomfortable with (including Cream, Harry Belafonte, The Doors, The Who, Buffalo Springfield, The Cast of Hair, The Jefferson Airplane, and Steppenwolf) , and ending the national blacklisting of Pete Seeger on February 25, 1968. Other musical guests were the Electric Prunes, George Harrison,  Donovan, The Byrds, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Julliard String Quartet.

Mason Williams was the head writer for the show and was often responsible for the incorporating of younger talent into the writing staff, including Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein Carl Gottlieb, and Steve Martin, who even made an on-camera appearance.

Mason made several on-camera appearances, most notably for his composition, “Classical Gas”, which became a hit single.  “Classical Gas,” originally titled “Classical Gasoline”, appears on Mason Williams’ Warner Brothers album, The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, and is by far the stand out track, a classic rendition of a clearly timeless work.

During 1968 there was a pronounced divide, perhaps greater than any time in Western Music history, between the music the younger generation embraced and what their parents and grandparents found acceptable.  “Classical Gas”  bridged that gap,  topping the easy listening charts as well as holding the number two spot on the pop charts for two consecutive weeks wedged between hits by The Doors and The Fifth Dimension.

Check out the following two videos:  “Classical Gas” set to a video of the greatest art works, and Mason Williams spot on the Smother Brothers addressing censorship.


Roy Harper: Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith


Released either in late 1967 or early 1968 (I really cannot find an exact date for this), is Roy Harper’s second album.  Notable is Harper’s compelling guitar work, unusual lyrics, crafted melodies and the blending of Harper’s guitar with orchestra.   Looking back in time, this is a weaker album than the first one, “Sophisticated Beggar”, but the reality is very few people purchased that first album when it had originally been released. Fortunately, a representative from Columbia Records did hear that first album, and signed Roy Harper for this second one. Better albums will follow, but one can find much of interest, particularly the first track, “Freak Street.”  This Columbia produced album served to provide a wider audience to Harper who would have an influence over many other artists including Ian Anderson, Joanna Newsom, Jimmy Page and Al Stewart.

Link to track list

Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”



Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or  take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.

Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.)  Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work,  as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen.  Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968.  Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.

The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus.  Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep.  The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos.  We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.

“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death.  This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos.  The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively.  Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976),  it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection.  The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.

This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening.  Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music.   Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.

Side One:
 “Nefertiti”  — Wayne Shorter  (7:52)
“Fall” —  Wayne Shorter (6:39) 
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
Side Two:
“Madness” —  Herbie Hancock  (7:31)
“Riot” —  Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)

miles 2Capture


Fifty Year Friday: The Don Ellis Orchestra “Electric Bath”


Is it possible that the first truly progressive rock album was not a rock album, but a jazz album?  For those that adamantly insist that the most adventurous and exploratory rock music of 1967 and early 1968 is really not progressive rock but “proto-prog, such prog fundamentalists often require that any music to be considered true progressive rock must display a relatively high level of musicianship and deploy mixed meter or unusual time signatures, 20th century instruments, a wide range of dynamics and instrumental combinations, effects such as tape loops or use of quarter tones, and extended length tracks painting a colorful, sonically rich landscape.  If we buy into such requirements, then perhaps we should consider this modern big-band jazz album recorded in September 1967 and released either in late 1967 or early 1968, to validly qualify as the first progressive rock album.

In terms of quality and excitement, The Don Ellis Orchestra’s “Electric Bath” should please any “Close to the Edge”, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Thick as A Brick”, “Selling England By the Pound”,  “Brain Salad Surgery”. or “Power and the Glory” fan.

A progressive rock album has to start with a fervently vigorous or otherwise bigger-than-life immersive track such as King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, Genesis’s “Watcher of the Skies”, or the opening to ELP’s Tarkus.  “Indian Lady” is just that with its fanfare opening, a meter of alternating 3 and 2,  and a strong distinct theme running relentlessly forward, swinging ferociously with a indisputably bluesy orientation.  We also have sitar, electric piano, and most notably, Don Ellis on a four-valve quarter-tone enabled trumpet.

The second track, “Alone”, by far the shortest at less than six minutes, is a basically a samba, a musical form from Brazil that became so popular in the mid sixties, but in 5/4 time without any sense of awkwardness, but just the opposite, fully liberated and unconstrained.

Ending the first side is the brilliant “Turkish Bath” with sitar and a exotically distorted reeds sounding not so much like instruments from Turkey, but from an even more exotic location, probably from another planet in some remote solar system. Sitar and quarter-tones contribute to the appropriate balance of spices.

“Open Beauty” open side two of the original LP, and provides appropriate contrast and musical reflection.  Elegantly executed by the band, this composition is haunting, surreal and evocative, with ebbs and flows of intensity until a little over two-thirds of the way in when we get a tape-delay Don Ellis solo  which initially echoes with layered fifths and then more adventurously explores into more expressive and polyphonically combative territory.

The last track, “New Horizons” is the strongest, longest and most remarkably inventive of the album with relentless energy driven by a 17/8 5-5-7 pattern with amazing ensemble and solo trumpet passages.  The work unfolds like a story with contrast and subplots ending with explosive energy winding down into an emphatic, punctuated coda.

This album should appeal to anyone that loves adventurous and well-written, arranged and performed music whether their preference is classical, progressive rock, progressive heavy metal, be-bop or big band jazz.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Don Ellis except as indicated

  1. “Indian Lady” – 8:06
  2. “Alone” (Hank Levy) – 5:32
  3. “Turkish Bath” (Ron Myers) – 10:16
  4. “Open Beauty” – 8:29
  5. “New Horizons” – 12:20
  6. “Turkish Bath” [Single] (Myers) – 2:52 Bonus track on CD reissue
  7. “Indian Lady” [Single] – 2:58 Bonus track on CD reissue


Fifty Year Friday: David Axelrod, Electric Prunes and Mass in F Minor


In 1967, the previously unknown, recently formed, L.A. band, The Electric Prunes, grabbed public recognition with the quintessential psychedelic top 40 hit,  Annette Tucker’s and lyricist Nancie Mantz’s “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Soon the Prunes were guests on TV, miming performances to their big hit, and touring the country.

in 1968, the band’s manager Lenny Poncher, their producer Dave Hassinger, and the Reprise Records  management, determined  that the Electric Prunes would record some type of concept album from material provided by producer/composer/arranger David Axelrod.  Axelrod was given the freedom to compose whatever he thought most appropriate, with the hopes of furthering the Prunes’ name recognition.

The final material composed by Axelrod, a psychedelic setting of the Latin Mass, with sections crafted for appropriate freely-expressive, acid-rock improvisation, ultimately required the band to be augmented by studio musicians.  Also, since the band was as much of a commodity (producer Dave Hassinger owned the rights to the name at that time) as individual members, this particular formation of Electric Prunes would soon be replaced by other musicians.

However, we did get a rather interesting, if less than stellar, concept album — a rock mass, a couple of years after Vince Guaraldi’s Jazz mass (see below) and three years before Leonard’s Bernstein’s mass (originally intended to be a modern setting of a traditional mass, but ultimately realized as a stage work.)

Though uneven, this Electric Prune’s Mass in F Minor is worth listening to.  It uses an abbreviated form of the mass, but still has the major sections. The Kyrie Eleison is later included in the film Easy Rider.  The Credo and Agnus Dei are the most interesting. Though most music historians would not classify this as progressive rock, this is, for 1968,  a musically progressive setting of the mass.  Also, this album should get a nod for being a concept album, including symphonic instruments, and some notable guitar work.  One can check out a lower quality audio version on youtube:



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