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Fifty Year Friday: The Who’s Tommy

tommy2

Though not the first rock opera, The Who’s Tommy, released on May 23, 1969, due to its length, two long playing records, the inclusion of an opening instrumental track titled “Overture”, the prominence of Entwistle on french horn, its greater commercial success and overall quality, and the deployment of three recognizably distinct vocalists, surpasses earlier, less operatic, generally more narrative albums by the Pretty Things (SF Sorrow)  and Nirvana (The Story of Simon Simopath.)

It wasn’t until Christmas of 1970 that I got this album.  After hearing “See Me, Feel Me” on the radio when visiting Oregon in the summer of 1970, I determined that this was a must-have album and put it on my Christmas wish list.

And from the start, this album lived up to its promise.  The overture, is a true rock overture, magnificent, dramatic, spacious, and expectant.  Much to my delight (at that time of first listening) the opening of the overture is a simple display of the chord sequence of  the chorus of “See, Me, Feel Me” morphing into a true fanfare section with french horn, coming back to the “See Me, Feel Me” theme, moving away into new material, coming back once again and then touching on material from “Pinball Wizard”, which soon meanders into a brief explanatory vocal, “Captain Walker didn’t come home: His unborn child will never know him.  Believe him missing with a number of men, don’t expect to see him again”, and then meanders back out into a guitar passage that, without any break, becomes the next track, “It’s a Boy.” So much going on in this overture to absorb in the first listening!  Astonished and delighted to hear three alternate references to that “See Me, Feel Me” theme,  I had heard in Oregon! It wasn’t until hearing the album all the way through and starting again, that I could notice that the overture was more Broadway-like than classical, incorporating music from the entire album similar to a Broadway musical overture. And yet, this doesn’t detract from the integrity of this overture, which is one of the finest examples of an instrumental (excepting the short expository-like Townshend vocal) opening to a single-topic rock album.

After less than two years since McCartney fought to get the lyrics included in the Sgt. Pepper’s album, accompanying lyrics were now, in 1969, becoming commonplace — particularly important for an opera. At this point in my life I had started to check out full opera albums from the library and the inclusion of lyrics with Tommy made listening to the music while following the lyrics a similar experience to listening to those opera albums — except instead of having to track the original language at the same time following the translation, Tommy was in English!  That Christmas I had also received Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar (lyrics by Tim Rice) and had just purchased a low-cost four LP box set of Handel’s Messiah (lyrics by Charles Jennens)  — this was my first experience in following libretti booklets that required no cross referencing from the original language to the translation.  It made me wonder why the classic operas weren’t recorded in English so they would have wider appeal and be to be more competitive with contemporary albums sold in English speaking countries. It certainly would make following the text much easier.

Looking back, Tommy is certainly not produced like a real opera, as Daltry, Townshend and Entwistle handle all the vocals.  Clearly the 1975 movie soundtrack provides distinct parts, underscoring the inherent operatic nature of the work. This original, though, is the true reference, a musical work of art as good as any album of the 1960s.

Its worth noting that this work incorporated some previously written songs, including “Sensation”, “Sally Simpson” and “I’m Free”, the latter an expression of the spiritual peace Townshend achieved from association with Meher Baba, the Irani-Indian self-proclaimed Avatar and spiritual master.

We also have a blues number based on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind”, re-titled, “The Hawker” as well as two John Entwistle tunes, written on request from Townshend to cover the heinous actions of Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie.  Not surprisingly, given the nature of his earlier compositions, Entwistle makes use of chromatic passages in both songs, creating a darker, perverse mood that contrasts sharply with the usually brighter Entwistle compositions.

In short, this is a classic rock album, and though Who fans may freely dispute if this is better than the preceding Who Sell Out or the two subsequent albums, “Who’s Next”, and Quadrophenia, one point is indisputable: this album has stood the test of time for the last fifty years and will stand up just as nicely for the next fifty years.  It is my favorite Who album, filled with musical color and magic, and it continues to sound fresh, alive and vital to me — even though I listened to it this time around at much lower volume levels!

What is your favorite The Who album and why?

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Pete Townshend, except where noted.

Side one

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Overture Townshend

3:50

2.

“It’s a Boy” Townshend

2:07

3.

“1921” Townshend, Roger Daltrey on chorus

3:14

4.

“Amazing Journey” Daltrey

3:25

5.

“Sparks” Instrumental

3:45

6.

The Hawker” (Sonny Boy Williamson II) Daltrey

2:15

Total length:

18:36

Side two

 #

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Christmas Daltrey, Townshend

5:30

2.

“Cousin Kevin” (John Entwistle) Entwistle and Townshend

4:03

3.

The Acid Queen Townshend

3:31

4.

“Underture” Instrumental

10:10

Total length:

23:14

Side three

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Do You Think It’s Alright?” Daltrey and Townshend

0:24

2.

“Fiddle About” (Entwistle) Entwistle

1:26

3.

Pinball Wizard Daltrey, Townshend on bridge

3:01

4.

“There’s a Doctor” Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle

0:25

5.

Go to the Mirror! Daltrey and Townshend

3:50

6.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

1:35

7.

“Smash the Mirror” Daltrey

1:20

8.

“Sensation” Townshend

2:32

Total length:

14:33

Side four

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Miracle Cure” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

0:10

2.

“Sally Simpson” Daltrey

4:10

3.

I’m Free Daltrey

2:40

4.

“Welcome” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

4:30

5.

“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” Townshend

0:57

6.

We’re Not Gonna Take It Daltrey, with Townshend and Entwistle

6:45

Total length:

19:12

The Who

 

 

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Fifty Year Friday: Chicago Transit Authority

“Only the beginning, only just the start.”  Robert Lamm, from “Beginnings.”

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Chicago Transit Authority

Formed in Chicago in 1967, originally named the Big Sound and incorporating three horn players, a drummer, and guitarist Terry Kath, this band of talented individuals was coaxed to pick up and move to L.A. by the independent producer James Williams Guercio in 1968. Guercio provided a new name, “Chicago Transit Authority”, and ensured them of attractive gigs including the opening show at the Whisky A Go Go. Soon the group started recording their first album in January 1969, the self-titled double record set that was released on April 28. 1969.

Like many people, I didn’t hear this album until after hearing their second album.  My next neighbor first bought their second, one of the great masterpieces of 1970’s rock, and then went back and purchased their first, this generally strong eponymous Chicago Transit Authority.  Their first album, then, became a means of being able to hear additional material by the group that had released that classic double Chicago album, the group’s name change prompted by the threat of legal action by the mass transit operator for that extreme northeast section of Illinois bordering Lake Michigan, the original Chicago Transit Authority.

I am sure I would have been much more impressed by this first album, if I had heard it before their second, for it’s a fine album on its own, and the second best album of their entire catalog.  Terry Kath’s guitar work is creative and full of life, and his voice is that of a jazz or R&B singer. Robert Lamm’s  compositions, with the exception of “South California Purples”, which is a spruced up blues number, burst out with energy and sparkle and are as good as anything in rock music at that time.  The performances by the rest of the band are all excellent, and the brass arrangements, primarily by trombonist James Pankow, are effective and focused.

And yet, after Guercio arranged for CBS west coast executives to hear the band at the Whiskey, the execs were not impressed.  A second attempt by Guercio to convince the west coast CBS “brass” to sign Chicago Transit Authority met with similar results: no interest, no deal. Guercio then finally cut a demo at a small independent studio that he circulated around to others outside of CBS, and soon, when CBS Clive Davis found out, he overruled the West Coast and the band signed with CBS’s Columbia label.

With a wealth of material to record, and wishing to create a serious product, the band insisted on making a double album.  When Columbia heard about this, they would only go along on one condition: the band must give up a percentage of their royalties for a double LP.  The band agreed, and the first debut rock double album since Frank Zappa and the Mother of Inventions’ “Freak Out” was released.

Of the four sides of this album, the first two are far the strongest, with the first song composed by Terry Kath and the remaining by Robert Lamm, followed by a more exploratory third side and then a generally strong side four.  “Free Form Guitar” on side three may not be the most accessible track, but it displays Kath’s mastery of the guitar, and help provide a fuller picture of why Hendrix purportedly told Chicago sax player Walter Parazaider, “The horns are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.” While “Free Form Guitar” provides indisputable evidence of Kath’s, imagination, control, and technique, other tracks on the album, particularly the first and last tracks, convincingly showcase Kath’s musicality and artistry.  Throughout the musicianship is excellence, and the combination of strong material and strong execution makes this one of the best debut rock albums ever.

Up to this point, many would consider the Beatles the most substantial of all the 1960s pop groups, but with 1969 comes a new upsurging of talent: bands that were, to some degree or other, influenced by the Beatles, but also heavily influenced by jazz and classical music — bands that could make music equal to or surpassing the works of the Beatles.  Chicago is one of the first of such rock groups, a progressive jazz-rock group, at least initially, that produced a first and then a second album that will be listened to, like the best of the Beatles’ albums, long into the future not only by music lovers like us but by our children and the generations that follow.

 

Track listing 

LP 1
1. Introduction (6:35) (Kath)
2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4:35) (Lamm)
3. Beginnings (7:54) (Lamm)
4. Questions 67 and 68 (5:03) (Kath)
5. Listen (3:22) (Lamm)
6. Poem 58 (8:35) (Lamm)

LP 2
7. Free Form Guitar (6:47) (Kath)
8. South California Purples (6:11) (Lamm)
9. I’m A Man (7:43) (Steve WinwoodJimmy Miller)
10. Prologue (August 29, 1968) (0:58) (James William Guercio)
11. Someday (August 29, 1968) (4:11) (Pankow)
12. Liberation (14:38) (Pankow)

Production

Fifty Year Friday: Uncle Meat, With a Little Help from My Friends, On the Threshold of a Dream

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The Mothers of Invention: Uncle Meat

Frank Zappa continues to challenge the boundaries of commercial music, producing an audio collage of breathtakingly fresh music, snippets of musique concrète, and dialogue from his unfunded movie.

Recorded from September 1967 to September 1968 and released on April, 21, 1969, Uncle Meat is a particularly colorful album on a number of levels besides just the colorful dialogue included.  Zappa aggressively and artfully deploys twelve-track recording and speed alterations to affect the timbre and character of voices and instruments, creating a clearly contemporary work not possible just a few years earlier.

This is album is a barrel-full-of-monkeys fun to listen to with the highlights including the title theme, Ian Underwood’s keyboards and sax contributions, “Mr. Green Genes”, and the King Kong tracks on side four of the original LP.

 

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Joe Cocker: With a Little Help from My Friends

In 1969 and in the early seventies, I not only unsympathetically and almost unequivocally dismissed any version of a Beatles song not performed by the Beatles, but its accurate to say that I generally formed a dim view of any performer making such an attempt.  And so my first impression of Joe Cocker was particularly negative when I heard his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” on AM radio and later saw Cocker perform on television.

Wisdom and time has helped me overcome this teenage bias, and as a musically mature adult, I actually respect anyone with enough nerve (or even recklessness) to do a cover of one of the Beatles classics.  If they do it well, that is, they deserve my respect; looking back on Cocker’s rendition of one of the last of McCartney and Lennon’s true collaboration’s, “With A Little Help From My Friends”, and comparing it against Ringo’s vocals, I must admit that Cocker and his backing musicians pull this off pretty nicely.

In fact, the whole album is pretty good, with some original tracks along with a diverse set of covers including the well-known and often recorded 1926 composition, “Bye, Bye Blackbird” as well as a couple of Dylan covers.  Cocker and back-up singers team up with musicians as capable and as well respected as Albert Lee, Jimmy Page and Stevie Winwood, taking Cocker’s debut album as high as the thirty-fifth spot on the billboard chart.

 

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The Moody Blues continue with their signature style of music crafting an album that encompasses elements of the past, present and future:  “To Share Our Love” harkens back to 1966 British Beat music, “Send Me No Wine” is country rock with an English accent, and “The Voyage” is an exploration into the territory of progressive rock.

Recorded in the first two months of 1969, and released in the UK in April of 1969  and in the US in May of 1969, On the Threshold of a Dream quickly reached the number one spot on the UK album charts by May 4, 1969, staying there for a couple of weeks.  There are some that would profess this to be the first progressive rock album to claim the number one spot, but to my mind that distinction either belongs to the Beatles’ 1967 Sgt Pepper’s album or ELP’s 1971 Tarkus, depending on how stringently one defines progressive rock.  That said, it is a tribute to British taste how well this album did, particularly since its best mark on the US charts was the twentieth spot occurring the week of July 26, 1969.

Though the Moody Blues is not one of my favorite bands, and one that I rarely listen to today, I am always impressed by their dreamy, evocative artistry that unfailingly creates a consistent, though often varied, mood — an enveloping, trademark mood providing a generally calming, mystical musical palette distinct from that of other bands of that era.  Pay particular attention to the ethereal flute and oboe provided by Ray Thomas and the cello and mellotron contributions from Pinder, Hayward and Lodge.

Track listing  [From Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

In the Beginning Graeme Edge Hayward, Pinder, Edge (narration)

2:08

2.

Lovely to See You Justin Hayward Hayward

2:35

3.

Dear Diary Ray Thomas Thomas

3:56

4.

Send Me No Wine John Lodge Hayward, Lodge, Thomas, Pinder

2:20

5.

To Share Our Love Lodge Pinder

2:54

6.

So Deep Within You Mike Pinder Pinder

3:07

Side B

 #

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Never Comes the Day Hayward Hayward

4:43

2.

Lazy Day Thomas Thomas

2:43

3.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Hayward, Thomas Hayward

3:29

4.

The Dream Edge Pinder (narration)

0:57

5.

Have You Heard (Part 1) Pinder Pinder

1:30

6.

“The Voyage” Pinder  

3:58

7.

Have You Heard (Part 2) Pinder Pinder

2:32

The Moody Blues Personnel

Justin Hayward – vocals, guitars, cello, mellotron on “Never Comes the Day”
John Lodge – vocals, bass guitar, cello, double bass
Ray Thomas – vocals, harmonica, flute, tambourine, oboe, piccolo
Graeme Edge – rums, percussion, vocals, EMS VCS 3
Mike Pinder – vocals, mellotron, Hammond organ, piano, cello

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

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BOB DYLAN: NASHVILLE SKYLINE

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

— Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

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LEONARD COHEN: SONGS FROM A ROOM

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

nazz2

THE NAZZ: NAZZ NAZZ

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren.

Side one

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

Side two

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

Nazz

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

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers

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Overcast: With A Chance of Showers

Trevor Stuart arrived in the United States at the age of fifteen in 1965 when his mother,  accepted a teaching post at Pierce College — Dr. Catherine Stuart becoming only the third female mathematics professor at a California college.  Trevor’s father, an electrical engineer and sometimes studio pianist, stayed in London, for several months, eventually joining Trevor and Catherine after getting landing a job as production engineer at Capitol records.

Like his mother and father, Trevor had received classical piano lessons starting at an early age, and around the middle of 1968, started getting uncredited work on an occasional rock or pop album as well as providing piano and electric organ for small ensembles recorded by Jazzco, a Muzak-like provider of  commercial background music. It was late 1968 when Trevor Stuart and Overcast singer and guitarist Bill Fortney first met while standing in line at the Troubadour club, when Fortney bemoaned the lack of success in finding a suitable replacement for guitarist Greg Paulson, who, convinced that Overcast best days were behind them, had taken a full time position at the Orange County Kimberly-Clark paper products plant.

Stuart asked a few questions about this band he had never heard of and then gave it no more thought until January 1969 when he noticed an entry for Overcast in the recording schedule at the La Brea Recording Studios immediately after a session he was sitting in on.  He stayed around to say hello to Fortney; the Overcast leader had arrived with Douglas Brandt and David Amato and it was clear that Fortney was a bit distracted.  It turned out that David Amato had broken up with Claire Stanston who, along with tenor saxophonist Rick Stephenson, would help fill in the void for guitarist Greg Paulson.  It was bad enough that Stanston didn’t want any thing whatsoever to do with Amato, but this was compounded with Rick Stephenson immediately taking an interest in Claire and determining that time spent with Overcast could hardly compare to any anticipated time spent with Claire.

It was at this point that Stuart allegedly said he would have a go at it, informing a surprised Overcast that he could play keyboards and could quickly pick up tunes, particularly if Overcast would call out the chords if the music got tricky.

Fortunately, there wasn’t anything particularly tricky in Overcast’s current set of tunes and within the next three sessions,  Overcast had laid down their second album, recorded on January 11, 17 and 18, 1969 and released on the first of April of that year.

David Amato, once again suggested the title for the album, and this time Elektra acquiesced.  However, they weren’t too keen on Amato’s suggestion for the cover of “With a Chance of Showers” — a photo of a bikini-clad model in the shower.  Neither did they go for Amato’s suggestion of a photo shoot of the band in bathing suits in the Fullerton Junior College Locker Room showers — with or without accompanying bikini-clad models.  Brandt suggested reusing the same album cover used for the first album, but with the new title added, and though this was also rejected by Elektra, a similarly looking cover, but of a somewhat lower quality, was quickly created at the last moment.

Also occurring at the last moment was Elektra’s decision to not include the song, “Better Yet”, later released on their third album, due to its lyrics which included lines like “Is there anything you’d rather get than your sugar daddy’s red corvette’ and “Am I better, better, better yet, am I better than a cigarette?” causing the band to quickly come up with “Huntington Beach Baby Blues.”  Notably, also added in that January 18th recording session, was Stuart’s psychedelic-rock version of the chord progression of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, with title based on Thelonious Monk’s own version of that same tune titled “In Walked Bud.”  Not censored, were any of the lyrics in “The Hallway Episode”, which included in the chorus,  “I can see, you and me, doing what we want in the hallway.”  The ideas of photo shoots with scantily clad models, as well as the lyrics in “Better Yet” and “The Hallway Episode”, all same quite tame by today’s standards,  would soon become commonplace starting in the 1970s — but for now, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention excepted, this was still 1969 and Overcast was just another local band trying to make the big time by any means available, quietly giving in to the judgment of a randomly assigned Elektra representative regarding what was appropriate and what was not.  That would soon change with the poor sales of this second album and Elektra’s lack of interest in funding a third album.

all tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Sand, Wind, Water and You”

5:10

2.

“Chemistry with Kimberly”

3:22

3.

“Choice Decisions Left Alone”

3:50

4.

“Huntington Beach Baby Blues” (Fortney, Brandt, Amato, Stuart)

3:43

5.

“Pancake Breakfast”

4:47

Side B

No.

Title

Length

6.

“Another message for the masses”

7:02

7.

“The Hallway Episode”

3:15

8.

“Sheila Said”

4:50

9.

“Twentieth Century Overload”

3:43

10.

“In Walked Mud” (Trevor Stuart)

3:03

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Trevor Stuart, hammond organ, electric piano
  • David Amato, drums

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

arertha69

Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69

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

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

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

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one

Writers(s)

1.

“Ramblin'”
Big Maybelle

2.

Today I Sing the Blues
Curtis Reginald Lewis

3.

“River’s Invitation” Percy Mayfield

4.

“Pitiful” Rosie Marie McCoy, Charlie Singleton

5.

Crazy He Calls Me
Bob RussellCarl Sigman

6.

Bring It On Home to Me
Sam Cooke

Side two

7.

Tracks of My Tears
Smokey RobinsonPete MooreMarv Tarplin

8.

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

9.

Gentle on My Mind
John Hartford

10.

So Long
Russ Morgan, Remus Harris, Irving Melsher

11.

I’ll Never Be Free
Bennie BenjaminGeorge David Weiss

12.

Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind

Personnel 

neil-young-debut

Neil Young: Neil Young

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

yellowsubR-4497960-1366572256-6586.jpeg.jpg

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

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

Fifty Year Friday: The Pretty Things, S.F. Sorrow; Led Zeppelin

s.f.-sorrow-front

Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow

Recorded from November 1967 to September 1968 in Abbey Road Studios, The Pretty Thing’s S.F. Sorrow, initially largely ignored but now generally considered a classic, was released in the UK in December 1968, and then not released in the U.S. until the middle of 1969.  Panned by the Rolling Stone’s Lester Bangs as an “ultra-pretentious” concept album, the album received limited attention for years. Its poor reception and lack of sales precipitated founder and lead guitarist into leaving the band for a period of nearly a decade.

There seems to be many contributing factors to the album’s commercial failure: the lack of promotion, the late release of the album in the States (coming out after, rather than before, The Who’s superior, more opera-like concept album, Tommy), bad reviews, and the dark, despondent subject matter, allegorical and tragic, with its primary character named Sebastian Sorrow.  Also, heavily influenced by the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and “Fool on the Hill”,  its musical language is that of the psychedelic rock of late 1967 and 1968, now losing much of its mass popularity.  By the time of the album’s release, the major proponents, adherents, and imitators of psychedelic rock were moving on to hard rock, progressive rock, or heavy metal.  These and other reasons caused the album to be pretty much ignored until reissued by Edsel records in the late 1980s on vinyl and then on CD in the early 1990s.

I purchased a S.F. Sorrow CD around 1992 and set it aside for some time, coming back to it recently, taking the time to appreciate what it had to offer and its historical significance — not so important as an early concept album — remember Nirvana’s 1967 album as well as other concept albums, including Sgt. Peppers, Days of Future Passed, and The Who Sell Out preceding it — but as one of the last carefully-crafted psychedelic albums of the sixties — and one that looks forward towards hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal — three of the most prevailing, and commercially viable, offshoots of the psychedelic rock era.

The Beatles’ influence, particularly from Sgt Peppers and singles like “Fool on the Hill”, is strong — the second track borrows elements from “Norwegian Wood” through “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, and the third track, “I am the Walrus” and “Good Morning” — yet, this is an album that incorporates and absorbs those influences more than mimics.

More to the point, is the quality of the album which starts out strong and builds to the end without weakness or filler; even the somewhat musique-concrete “Well of Destiny” (possibly influenced by the transitional section of “Day in the Life” ) serving its purpose in the musical narrative.  The arrangements, variety, and appropriateness of instrumentation further elevates the quality of the album, and in fact are usually of greater interest than the melodic/harmonic content of the songs themselves. (Perhaps the best song on the album, is the most simply arranged one, the poignant, “Loneliest Person”)

Though this album is very much a product of  1967 and 1968 sensibilities and styles, there are passages and techniques that anticipate other works of 1969 and the early seventies.  One can hear hints at later music from the Beatles-influenced Electric Light Orchestra (especially in “Trust”) and Badfinger to Benefit-era Jethro Tull (“Private Sorrow”) to the Who’s Tommy (“The Journey” and the intro to “Old Man Going”) to Queen.  The most remarkable similarity is to the heavy metal, bass-dominated style of Black Sabbath in “Old Man Going”  which also includes a short hard-rock electric guitar.

The CD release includes some notable bonus tracks, including “Defecting Grey” , a commercially unsuccessful single from this time period.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side One

1. “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” Phil May, Dick Taylor, Wally Waller 3:12
2. “Bracelets of Fingers” May, Taylor, Waller 3:41
3. “She Says Good Morning” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 3:23
4. “Private Sorrow” May, Taylor, Waller, Jon Povey 3:51
5. “Balloon Burning” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:51
6. “Death” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink 3:05

Side Two

7. “Baron Saturday” May, Taylor, Waller 4:01
8. “The Journey” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 2:46
9. “I See You” May, Taylor, Waller 3:56
10. “Well of Destiny” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink, Norman Smith 1:46
11. “Trust” May, Taylor, Waller 2:49
12. “Old Man Going” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink 3:09
13. “Loneliest Person” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 1:29
Bonus tracks

14. “Defecting Grey” May, Taylor, Waller 4:27
15. “Mr. Evasion” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 3:26
16. “Talkin’ About the Good Times” May, Taylor, Waller 3:41
17. “Walking Through My Dreams” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:35
18. “Private Sorrow” (Single version) May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:50
19. “Balloon Burning” (Single version) May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:45
20. “Defecting Grey” (Acetate recording) May, Taylor, Waller 5:10

Personnel

The Pretty Things

  • Phil May – vocals
  • Dick Taylor – lead guitar, vocals
  • Wally Waller – bass, guitar, vocals, wind instruments, piano
  • Jon Povey – organ, sitar, Mellotron, percussion, vocals
  • Skip Alan – drums (on some tracks, quit during recording)
  • Twink – drums (on some tracks, replaced Alan), vocals

CFP National Championship - Alabama v Clemson

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin

With the semantic essence of heavy metal captured in the group’s name, its hard to dispute that Led Zeppelin forged a new path down the nascent arena of hard rock and heavy metal. With a name remarkably similar to Iron Butterfly, and a similar, but more promising, blues-based musical DNA, we have the beginnings of what would soon be the quintessential hard rock group influencing predecessors like Free to countless successors like Aerosmith, Metallica, Queen, Alice Kooper, Guns N’ Roses and countless emulators that never landed a major recording contract.

From the opening guitar and drums in the opening track, “Good Times, Bad Times”, there is a focus, crispness and intensity not present in many of the blues-based rock albums immediately preceding this one.  My first experience with this album was when my next door neighbor brought it over for me to capture on my reel-to-reel tape deck for my own, limited music library.  Based on my friend’s direction, I recorded the tracks he thought worth putting on tape, securing the more accessible tracks, like”Good Times, Bad Times”,  “Babe I’m Going to Leave You” and “Communication Breakdown” but leaving out a couple I would not listen to again for decades — the last two tracks of side two.  Fortunately, since my friend had fairly good taste, we recorded all of side one, including the mysteriously dark and heavy, “Dazed and Confused”, a well-written composition, starting with, and repeating, a chromatically-descending chord sequence. Though credited to Jimmy Page on the album, the work is mostly based on a song by the same name on a 1967 album by Jake Holmes, which the Yardbirds (a group that included Jimmy Page for a while) had originally “borrowed.”  If you haven’t heard the Jake Holmes version, do yourself a favor and take the time to listen to it below.

Side Two of Led Zeppelin starts with a majestic organ solo by John Paul Jones as part of the captivating beginning of “Your Time Is Gonna  Time.” Unfortunately, the verse is much stronger than a weak, almost annoying, chorus that detracts from the rest of the work.

The next track, one which we also recorded for my repeated listening pleasure was “Black Mountain Side” based on an arrangement of the Irish folk song “Down by Blackwaterside” taught to Jimmy Page by Al Stewart.  This is followed by “Communication Breakdown”, later to become an AM radio hit.  For me, this title always brings to mind that famous phase in Cool Hand Luke — “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The last two tracks are probably what my friend would have referred to as the band just jamming, but listening to these again, I appreciate the quality musicianship and the  overall mood.  That said, I can’t particularly bemoan not having grown up with these two tracks as part of the musical soundtrack of my high school years (1969-1973.)

Though I have mixed feelings about this album, which has many strong points, but is certainly guilty of not properly crediting others, a common enough practice in the Renaissance and Baroque days of music, but not so acceptable in the late 1960s,  I would pick this in an instant over contemporary albums by Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly.  Do I regularly, or, on average, once-a-decade listen to this? Not really; I find the later Led Zeppelin albums more appealing — and I pretty much don’t listen to those due to all the more interesting jazz, rock and classical music that contends for my limited listening time.  However, that said, prior to posting this Fifty Year Friday entry, I did truly enjoy listening to this first “L-Zep” (modern transformation of their name) once again (and then a second time), forty-nine and a half years later after first hearing all of it, and  making a copy of it for my own use, just as Jimmy Page had made a copy of both “Dazed and Confused” and “Down by Blackwaterside” for Led Zeppelin’s own use on their very first album.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Good Times Bad Times 2:46
2. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

 

6:42
3. You Shook Me 6:28
4. Dazed and Confused Page, inspired by Jake Holmes[c] 6:28
 

Side two

No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Your Time Is Gonna Come”
  • Page
  • Jones
4:34
6. Black Mountain Side” (instrumental) Page 2:12
7. Communication Breakdown
  • Page
  • Jones
  • Bonham
2:30
8. I Can’t Quit You Baby Dixon 4:42
9. How Many More Times
  • Page
  • Jones
  • Bonham
8:27

 

Led Zeppelin

Additional personnel

 

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