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Archive for the ‘Fifty Year Friday’ Category

Fifty Year Friday: July 30, 1971



https://www.npr.org/2021/07/30/1022352422/concert-for-bangladesh

FIFTY YEARS AGO: The concert was recorded and would be released on 3 LPs on December 20, 1971. The inclusion of Bangla Dhun on side one was the highlight for me and I have been a fan of classical Indian music since.

Fifty Year Friday: July 1971

Gentle Giant: Acquiring The Taste

Released on July 16, 1971 by the Vertigo record label, this second Gentle Giant, despite the apparently horrible cover (the worse prog-rock cover ever or a tongue-in-cheek expression of the kissing up that goes on to record execs and commercial demands?) and the presumptuous and cringe-worthy title, far surpasses their first effort in consistency and creating a unified musical statement while still showing a diversity in compositional techniques and arrangement/instrumentation. It is in the prevalence of the reuse and transformation of identifiable musical motifs that Gentle Giant shares common ground with some bebop artists (for example, Charlie Parker) and so many of the twentieth and nineteenth century so-called “classical” or “serious” composers. What set Gentle Giant apart from most other prog-groups was that their primary composer, Kerry Minnear, was fully trained in classical music having just received his degree in music composition from the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in 1970. We can speculate about whether he read such books as the indispensable 1961 treatise on motific reuse, Rudolf Reti’s The Thematic Process in Music (US 1951; UK 1961), but even if he had not, his familiarity with medieval, renaissance and early twentieth century compositions would have exposed him to how composers expertly handled music cells and motifs.

Putting aside the compositional tightness and cohesiveness of the eight individual tracks and the general cohesiveness of the album as a whole, one just has to take delight in the overall strength of the music, the lack of any filler material (with the possible exception of portions of the last track), and the beauty of some of the melodies, particularly “Pantagruel’s Nativity”, “Edge of Twilight”, the haunting “Moon is Down”, and the softer instrumental passages of the heavier songs on the album like “Wreck.” Notable is the prevalence of Kerry Minnear vocals, indicative of the often gentle nature of the material — with Derek Shulman vocals effectively complementing the harder rock passages. We also get the first example of what I call the “Gentle Giant stride”, for lack of a more appropriate term, due to it reminding me, rhythmically and musically, of deliberately lengthened and extended fast-paced walking steps — this occurs after the initiation of Gary Green;s guitar solo in “The House, The Street, The Room” at the 2:47 mark, with drums and bass providing the foundation for the continuation of Green’s angular yet expressive guitar-work. Another noteworthy often-used Gentle Giant compositional technique, is the use of a musical sequence comprised of a short, quadruply-repeated, rhythmically-catchy motif that creates forward drive and tension (and used extensively in their next album, “Three Friends”) and in this album occurs in “The Moon Is Down” at the 2:11 mark. Also notable is the penultimate track on the album, particularly its use of plucked and bowed viola, viola, and cello and wah-wah guitar for musical and extra-musical effect (the imitation of the meow of a cat.) “Plain Truth”, somewhat musically weaker and less interesting than the previous tracks, closes out this first in a string of half a dozen near-perfect, fully musically unified, must-have Gentle Giant albums

Black Sabbath: Master of Reality

Also released by the Vertigo record label (Warner Brothers in the U.S.), on July 21, 1971, though not nearly as fulfilling or musically nutritious as the Gentle Giant second album, this third Black Sabbath, Masters of Reality is one of the three best Black Sabbath albums, well-executed, creative and brimming with elevated yet disciplined energy. Toni Iommi, Black Sabbath’s main creative musical force, not only gives us the typical extroverted Black Sabbath heavy metal, bass-and-guitar-driven numbers but two fine introspective guitar compositions, “Embryo” and “Orchid” and the reflective “Solitude”, with Iommi also playing piano and flute, providing welcome contrast to the longer, heavier works. There may be a limited amount number of times those heavier works can be listened to, but certainly they stand up to repeated playings when driving down the road, exercising, dancing or otherwise shaking up an aging body.

Peter Hammill: Fool’s Mate

Fool’s Mate is Peter Hammill’s first solo album, filled with various, unrelated songs that were either not considered as appropriate Van Der Graaf Generator material, or were not written with VDGG in mind. Nonetheless the full VDGG lineup (Hugh Banton, David Jackson and Guy Evans) is here, and is further, supplemented by guitarist Robert Fripp on half the tracks and former VDGG bassist Nic Potter also on six of the twelve tracks. The music ranges from catchy and upbeat “Happy”, and “Sunshine” to the introspective and even heartbreakingly dark and gloomy, with the most indispensible gem being the timeless “Vision”, one the best love songs of the entire seventies.

Guess Who: So Long, Bannatyne

Also released in July 1971, the Guess Who’s succulently dissonant So Long, Bannatyne — the album sharing the title of one of the songs that reflect the guitarist Kurt Winter’s move from the Bannatyne Apartments on Bannatyne Avenue in central Winnipeg to the Chevrier district a few miles south.

It is the liberal use of dissonance and jazz-related elements that sets the album apart from earlier Guess Who albums, making this their overall best album, despite most rock critics opinions to the contrary. Whether its “Going A Little Crazy” with its jarring, dissonant recurring ostinato, the jaunty “Grey Day” with Burton’s scat singing, his dissonant jazz-based piano accompaniment and subsequent piano solo, followed by Winter’s jazzy acoustic guitar solo, or the subtly bitter “Sour Suite”, many of the songs here are neither typical pop or Guess Who songs. Strings are also used for appropriate enhancement and both Burton Cumming’s vocals and piano are at their best throughout the album, with piano nicely supporting Greg Leskiw’s banjo and vocals on “One Divided.”

Isaac Hayes: Shaft, Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Joan Baez: Blessed Are…, Deep Purple: Fireball

Other notable albums include the classic Isaac Hayes 2 LP Shaft, the almost impressionistic Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from The Moody Blues, Joan Baez’s two LPs and one 33 1/3 45 Blessed Are… album, and the hard-to-categorize and somewhat uneven, but mostly danceable (at least at the time), Deep Purple’s Fireball. I still remember hearing the song, Shaft in 1971 on the bus to and from school and impressed by its larger than life sound even through those somewhat shoddy school-bus speakers.

Fifty Year Friday: April 2021

Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink

Caravan releases their third album, In the Land of Grey and Pink, on April 8,1971. Richard Sinclair takes a more prominent role providing three of the four songs on side one with his cousin, keyboardist Richard Sinclair, providing much of the music and compositions for side two.

Though not particularly popular upon its release, and difficult to spot in any record store in the U.S. in 1971, over time the album has gotten more attention, eventually achieving gold status. This third album, notably better than the previous two Caravan albums, particularly benefits from Richard Hitchock’s contributions as the producer (the same person who would produce Genesis’s Foxtrot the next year), the relatively generous studio time allocated, and the work ethic and level of creativity of the musicians.

The album opens with the sounds of trombone and percussion that begin Richard Sinclair’s “Golf Girl”, a playful homage to the woman Richard would shortly marry, followed by the initially reflective and more exploratory “Winter Wine.” The Pye Hastings composition that follows, “Love to Love You” is more pop than progressive but benefits nicely from contributions on flute by Pye’s brother Jimmy Hastings. The final track, the title track written by Richard Sinclair, provides a strong close to side one with notable contributions on keyboards from Dave Sinclair.

Side two, taken up by the single composition, “Nine Feet Underground”, is really a medley of multiple unrelated compositions nicely balanced against each other. Like side one, the band is credited for all the music, though in this case Dave Sinclair is the primary composer providing lyrics on one song and getting help on lyrics from Pye Hastings on another. Dave Sinclair’s keyboard work is particularly notable, though there are fine contributions from Pye and cousin Richard, the latter’s bass guitar work being particularly captivating.

The Nice: Elegy

After Emerson was with ELP, and Dave Jackson and Brian Davison were with their respective groups, Charisma released, in April 1971, three live tracks from a December 1969 concert at the Fillmore East plus one studio take of Dylan’s “My Back Pages” as the album Elegy. The first two tracks showcase Keith Emerson’s keyboard skills, and even if some of the piano work doesn’t rise above what the very best jazz pianists might consider merely ordinary, Emerson has a way of creating narrative-like instrumental performances that are as engaging and musically satisfying making both tracks on side one special listening experiences. On side two of the original LP we get a trio-version of The Nice performing the scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony and an timeless document of the trio, with Emerson on electric organ, tackling Leonard Bernstein’s America. More modern digital releases may include two BBC radio live performances.

Elton John: 11-17-70 (or 17-11-70)

Recorded in the A & R recording studio on 52nd street in New York on November 17, 1970 for a live radio broadcast, 11-17-70 nicely captures the qualities and strengths of the original Elton John trio of Elton, bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. I first heard part of the album while listening to FM radio sometime in April 1970, and quickly went out and bought the LP. This provided a nice companion to the two studio albums I had purchased in 1970, Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection, and also provided more emphasis on the Elton’s acoustic piano skills and Dee Murray’s electric bass. In many ways this is my favorite Elton John album, capturing this trio at its musical peak. The music was not originally intended to be released on vinyl, but the prevalence of bootleg recordings of the broadcast provided a good economic incentive to do so even though ultimately sales were hampered by competition with such bootlegs including one 2 LP set which included more content than on the 11-17-70 single LP official release. A two LP set was released in April of 2017 containing all the original recording material, though not presented in the original order of the broadcast.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: 4 Way Street

Recorded in the summer of 1970 and released on April 7, 1971, the 4 Way Street live album provides a great overview of how talented these four individuals really were as songwriters and musicians. Material includes a range of music including acoustic tracks on the first two sides of this double LP album, and electric guitar dominated tracks on all but the encore acoustic track on sides three and four. The version to get is the expanded version which includes additional tracks for each artist from the acoustic set of these 1970 performances.

Chase: Chase

With the popularity of jazz rock in its peak following top selling albums by groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, thirty-six year old fiery trumpeter Bill Chase, previously a member of Stan Kenton, Manyard Ferguson and Woody Herman Big bands, and freelancing at gigs in Las Vegas, formed an eponymous band that featured his virtuosic high register and three additional trumpet players along with keyboards, electric guitar, bass guitar, percussion, and vocals (vocals provided by trumpeters Ted Piercefield  and Jerry Van Blair and vocalist Terry Richards.) The group’s first album, with arrangements and some compositions from Bill Chase, was recorded in late 1970 and released in April 1970. Thanks to the success and liberal airplay of “Get it On”, the album sold fairly well, climbing up to position 22 on the albums’ chart that year. The album shares similarities to Blood, Sweat and Tears second and third albums, primarily distinguished and differentiated by Bill Chase’s arrangements, compositional style and the use of four trumpets and no saxes or trombones. Bill Chase would release two more albums before his death in 1974 from a twin-engine plane crash transporting him and other musicians to a county fair in Minnesota.

Doors: LA Woman and Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers

Seemingly an artifact of an earlier era, in a year where rock had now splintered into so many genres, The Doors released their sixth studio album, L.A. Woman, on April 1971, Though having much in common with previous material, with a little more emphasis on a blues-leaning bias, the album contained the notable, somewhat minimalist and moody, almost hypnotic “Riders of the Storm” — a musical piece with more in common with German progressive rock bands than one might expect. All in all a good but not game-changing album.

The Rolling Stones also focused more on a bluesy musical identity, providing a very strong album of more traditional but nonetheless somewhat distinct set of tracks centered around what was apparently the band’s drug culture. My first exposure to the music was from the constant repeated airplay of Brown Sugar and at a high school dance band where the band covered several of the songs on the album. The album may not be particularly complex or sophisticated, but it deserves significant praise for just being plain enjoyable. Listening to it now, in 2021 on Spotify hooked up to a high quality audio system, the album still is vital and full of honest energy. I never bought the album itself, but like many took notice when its unique album cover was first displayed in record stores. Often the zipper was pulled halfway down, done apparently, per Wikipedia, to minimalize damage the zipper would do when albums were tightly packed together for shipment, and not due to curious shoppers fiddling with the front.

Fifty Year Friday: March 1971

Jethro Tull: Aqualung

Later today, on youtube.com, Ian Anderson discusses each track of Aqualung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpH_WkjC_Yk

Sometime in the midst of the shimmering and wonderful Southern California summer of 1971, my next door neighbor brought over his latest album purchase. I supposed I was predisposed to like the music just from the confident manner in which he handed the album over to me, but I was hardly prepared for the overall excellence and originality of the material. That day he and I sat and listened to this album, my eyes following the lyrics written on the LP inner sleeve, is something I still vividly remember, and, hopefully, be with me for many years going forward.

The first track, the title track, opens up with the now famous isolated, tonally ambiguous, deeply-voiced electric guitar fragment — a riff faithfully foreshadowing the opening melodic phrase (“sitting on a park bench”) — it is but two seconds in length, and repeated before a short percussion utterance pulls in the vocals in dramatic fashion. This material is then layered with additional instruments creating drama and momentum. It is that dramatic quality, that musical and lyrical story telling, that leaves an immediate impression on the listener and, for me, left a locked-in, seemingly ever-lasting memory of listening to that entire album for the first time fifty years ago today.

“Aqualung”, the track, is the classic example of FM album rock with is deviation from standard popular song forms, more mimicking a short classical tone poem where the beginning theme, really an introduction of sorts, is not repeated after its initial use until brought back at the end, separated by distinctly contrasting and somewhat related material in terms of chords and tempo change.

The next track, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, continues the larger-than-life musical experience initiated by the opening track. With its reference again to the Aqualung character, this second track sets up the listener to expect that the album itself is a concept album where the individual tracks support and build up an unfolding story. However, as I continued through that first side fifty years ago, immersed in the amazing music, I was on the look out for, at a subordinate level to listening at the music, hints in the lyrics of some related storyline in the subsequent third, fourth and even fifth tracks on that first side — but eventually and inevitably concluded that there was nothing to relate to those first two tracks, and so by the sixth track I abandoned looking for a unifying concept.

The second side starts much the same implying a relationship between the first two tracks — however, for side two the remaining tracks seem to prove out some loose but unifying concept with these various side two tracks seemingly tied together with reflections on organized religion and social morality and responsibility. Musically, there is no discernible (as far as I can hear) thematic material shared between any track, another reason to set aside the premise that the entire album is any kind of a concept album. What is clear, though, is that the music is innovative, well-thought out and of lasting merit. Fifty years ago, listening to this album, it was clearly one of the best rock albums I had ever heard, and though I didn’t consider at that time its enduring impact on music lovers, I would do so a few year later when I was in college and promoting the idea of a course that would treat such music as the classical music of the 1970s — music more vital and relevant than the so-called modern classical music that was than currently being identified as part of the current classical music canon in academic circles.

Jimi Hendrix: Cry of Love

Prior to his death, Jimi Hendrix was working on this fourth studio album in 1970, with some of the music performed during a thirty-two performance tour in the summer of 1970. Following his death on September 18, 1970, several partially mixed tracks were selected and finalized by drummer Mitch Mitchell and producer Eddie Kramer for inclusion on the new album, omitting two particularly strong tracks, “Dolly Dagger” and “Room Full of Mirrors” for later inclusion on a future album. This was the first Hendrix album I bought, and I found the music readily accessible and some of the lyrics particularly creative. It’s great to listen to this again for the first time in at least forty years and I admit I appreciate the guitar work much better than I did in 1971. Overall, an excellent, easily-accessible and musically sparkling album.

Amon Duul II: Tanz der Lemminge (Dance of the Lemmings)

Sometime around March 1971, Amon Duul II released this eclectic, musically multi-dimensional album. I picked it up from my local record store in the used record bin around 1972 or 1973 little knowing what kind of music it contained. This was my introduction to non-repetitive, so-called “Krautrock. Though I found this too far out on the jam-rock, psychedelic spectrum when I first got it, after later having been exposed to lots of hours of free jazz and modern classical, the music became not only accessible but quite impressive. The first side, written primarily by guitarist/vocalist/violinist Chris Karrer mixes folk-rock influences with a progressive and psychedelic rock mindset, with imaginative acoustic and electric elements. The diversity of incorporated styles works well with no particular given style dominating. The second side, written by guitarist and vocalist John Weinzierl, is another exploration of musical diversity with more emphasis on hard rock, rock-blues and eastern elements including some admirable sitar from Bavarian sitarist Al Gromer (later Al Gromer Khan), some electric violin from Karrer, and some tape-based and electronic sound effects possibly from keyboardist Falk Rogner. The third and fourth side are music created for a soundtrack of a relatively obscure West German Film, Chamsin, based on Friedrich Schiller’s lyrical tragedy, The Bride of Messina. Though this second LP is not as strong or coherent (particularly the fourth side) as the first LP, it works better as sound imagery than traditional or more predictable listening music.

Nick Drake: Bryter Layter

Recorded in 1970 Nick Drake released his second musically impressive but commercially unsuccessful album, in March 6, 1971. The album is delightfully accessible with straight forward, quality musicianship from Drake, John Cale on viola and keyboards, Chris McGregor on piano, and other contributors including quality production from Joe Boyd and beautiful arrangements primarily by Robert Kirby and one arrangement from John Cale. Nick pokes into the marginally uncomfortable areas of “would of, should of” in some of the lyrics, with “One of These Things First” being particularly resonant for anyone that only half-tried in a relationship, later regretting the lack of engagement or commitment and “Poor Boy” an intriguing study in self-pity and self-contempt. Musically, “At the Chime of the City Clock”, “Fly” and “Poor Boy” are particular gems.

Fifty Year Friday: December 1970

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band

Though, almost fifty years ago, days after Christmas, I ended up buying George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and skipped purchasing this John Lennon album, my next door neighbor did buy it. He was sixteen and I was fifteen years of age. On first listening, I followed the lyrics more carefully than the music, and to me the album was not only unusually personal but somewhat bleak and cynical with an undertone of bitterness. Musically intimate, it was perfect for secluded listening, and the quality of the songs supported both repeated, concentrated listening or putting it on as background while reading or doing schoolwork. Quite a gem. A gem I appreciate even more today. This album was recorded after Lennon and Ono had gone through primal scream therapy and listening to in 2020, I can now more readily relate to Lennon’s viewpoint and his personal pain. I also appreciate the production quality of the album more, though I remember even almost fifty years later being impressed by the double tracking of his vocals on songs like “Hold On”, the simplicity and intimacy of Lennon’s acoustic guitar and vocal presence of “Working Class Hero”, and the beauty of tracks like “Love” and “Look at Me”, the latter similar to Lennon’s Julia on the Beatles’ White album. In the 1980s, no longer a student but successfully self-employed, I made sure I had my own copy of this album, but I must admit that listening to it again in 2020, I appreciate it more than ever.

Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band

We also saw the Yoko One companion album in the stores and eyed it multiple times but the consensus on the street was to avoid it completely. Finally, sometime in 1971, I found someone that had it in their collection and listened to a part of it, looking for any trace of a recognizable song, and not finding it in the first few minutes, even after lifting and repositioning the needles on each track of side one, I abandoned any interest.

That is — until now — and now listening to it in full, after having many hours of accumulated listening to Webern, Cecil Taylor, Xenakis, Crumb, John Cage and a wide range of even less popularly acclaimed music, find it to be quite good. Two bonus elements for me: John Lennon’s guitar and, more impressively, the Ornette Coleman quartet’s contributions on the first track of side two, “AOS” with Yoko Ono’s vocals often merging in quite effectively. Also of note is the quirky “Touch Me” which seems to perfect for deterring any innate tendencies for tactile contact. All in all a solid soundscape experience.

Robert Wyatt: End of an Ear

Released on December 4, 1970, and recorded between Soft Machine’s third and fourth albums, Robert Wyatt’s End of an Ear is another challenging listening experience, not easily classified as either jazz-rock, jazz or progressive-rock. Wyatt drums with abandon and provides wordless vocals, sometimes altered in speed and thus also pitch. It’s borderline chaotic, and yet reassuringly musical.

Captain Beefheart: Lick My Decals Off

Leaving both the Robert Wyatt and Yoko Ono albums in the dust, is Captain Beefheart’s wild and unconventional Lick My Decals Off. The first track, “Lick My Decals Off“, though purportedly a statement encouraging consumers, in Beefheart’s words, to “get rid of the labels”, and to evaluate the musical content itself, is clearly a song on tongue-based pleasuring with “lick” (and possibly the “dec” part of “decals”) being the operative message here. The rest of the album is as wild and unbridled with ample use of complex meters and rhythms. The opposite of music to relax or sleep to, this is music to fully wake most mortal listeners up!

Van Der Graaf Generator: H to He, Who Am the Only One

Equally adventurous as these aforementioned albums, with an abundance of complexity, yet, comparatively, “easy listening music” to the Ono and Beefheart albums, is Van Der Graf Generator’s cryptically named third album, H to He, Who Am the Only One, referencing the transformation of hydrogens atoms into a single, inert, alone and isolated helium atom — a metaphor, whether appropriate or not, for the theme of isolation that is so effectively represented in the music and lyrics of this brilliantly realized and remarkable album.

King Crimson: Lizard

I remember purchasing King Crimson’s Lizard shortly after acquiring the classic album In the Court of the Crimson King, expecting something similar. Unlike their second album, In the Wake of Poseiden, which I had not yet acquired and eventually had to special order, Lizard was very different with no songs matching the colorful vitality of “21st Century Schizoid Man” or “The Court of the Crimson King” or even the simple melodic beauty of “I Talk to the Wind” or “Moonchild.” Nonetheless, the music was instantly intriguing and engaging — and by the second or third listening, I fully accepted it, as well as the distinctly differences in contributions from drummer Andrew McCullough (quite talented by with a far different approach than Micheal Giles) and saxophonist Mel Collins, both of which make this album particularly special — and the replacement of Greg Lake (after his departure to ELP) with bassist and vocalist Gordon Haskell. Robert Fripp, as always, deserves particular acknowledgment, providing memorable acoustic and electric guitar as well as some mellotron and organ.

Nico: Desertshore

Nico’s releases her third solo album, Desertshore. Under half an hour, there is not a wasted microsecond on the entire album. “Janitor of Lunancy” begins the album with a richly-dark bleakness. The harmonium provides both a mystic droning and forward harmonic motion supporting Nico’s low-register vocals from underneath. “The Falconer” starts in similar fashion but John Cale soon joins in a piano, providing a smattering of light that opens up and broadens the music’s scope. The third track, “My Only Child”, for Nico’s eight-year old son, is a beautifully sung, mostly a cappella gem with Nico providing some additional chorale-like vocals and John Cale providing a few minimal brushworks of instrumental punctuation on the high-register of the French horn including the opening note of the work.

Side two begins with violin and harmonium and again provides a bleakness of musical landscape on which rests Nico’s vocals. Whereas the music of “Janitor of Lunancy” might be likened to a hot, dry Bulgarian plain in early August, “Abscheid” more closely resembles a cold, desolate Scottish lowland in the darkness of a January morning. The next track, “Afraid”, ironically is more musically and lyrically hopeful. Mutterlein, an ode either specifically to Nico’s mother or mothers in general is austere and heartfelt. Almost Schubertian, this work was performed almost 28 years later at Nico’s funeral after her tragic death from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The album ends with the moderate paced, but doggedly forward-driving “All That is My Own”, beautiful and distinctive. Altogether Desertshore is the equivalent of a cohesive song cycle with commendable vocals and praiseworthy compositions from one of the more notable, but often overlooked, singer-songwriters of this era.

Rainbow River

Vashthi Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day

A singer-songwriter even more overlooked than Nico was Vashthi Bunyan, whose 1970 album, Just Another Diamond Day, recorded in November and December 1969 and released in December 1970, sold so poorly that Bunyan would stop recording and performing and not make another album until 2005. Thankfully, the album gained attention during the rise of the small-label Indie rock artists, when it’s simplicity and musical honesty was more fully appreciated.

Colosseum: Daughter of Time, If: If2

Additional albums of note for December 1970 include Colosseum’s Daughter of Time, and If’s second album, the fine jazz-rock If2.

Beethoven

On December 16, 1970, the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in the Los Angeles Music Center hosted the monumental 12-hour Beethoven Marathon for Beethoven‘s 200th birthday celebration. Those of us in Advanced Placement English at my high school were lucky enough to be bussed to the event. Admission was $1 and we had to leave before evening, but I got to hear several hours of great music including the Beethoven Octet! I was so taken by the piece, I tried to stay for the evening performances, but as I didn’t have a ride arranged back to Orange County, I had to leave with the rest of my classmates. Nonetheless the music I did hear left a lasting impression still remembered today. Classical music on recordings falls far short of a good live performance, and I was very fortunate to hear so many fine performances fifty years ago.

File:Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LA, CA, jjron 22.03.2012.jpg
Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven

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: October 1970

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Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III

Listening to this for the first time in decades it sure brings back many memories! Almost fifty years ago, the basketball season started, and I was selected to always get a great seat for home games and travel with the team to away games (on the team bus) to keep stats for both the JV and Varsity basketball teams. Watching the games was particularly exciting as the best player on the Varsity team was the freshman point guard, who led the team in points, assists, and sometimes, rebounds. Several times he launched a shot in the backcourt to beat the end of a quarter, and more than once he connected. Unfortunately, those baskets only counted for two points.

My next door neighbor purchased Led Zeppelin III shortly after it was released in October 1970, and I recorded his copy onto reel-to-reel tape, and it was soon after that, in the month of Novemeber, that I heard the opening track of the album on the team bus’s radio. It was always a thrill when an album one already had started to get some airplay, even if as a single on AM radio.

This album struck me as being very different than their two previous efforts. Maybe it was just the album cover, but I always considered that this album had more vitality and musical sparkle than the two previous ones. And like its album cover, with an inner rotating wheel, I found this more musically imaginative than the previous two.

Elton John: Tumbleweed Connection

Elton’s third album, and at that time, for us in the States, his second album, was released at the end of October. I remember purchasing the album in January 1971 with Christmas money and carefully following the lyrics with the music. The album is a concept album of sorts: a series of songs with lyrics about the old American West — songs about gunman, the civil war, and so on.

Elton’s music nicely support the narratives of each lyric with all nine of his songs being memorable and substantive. A tenth song, the second track of side two, was written by Leslie Duncan who provided a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and beautiful backing vocals. Gus Dudgeon is to be praised for his production, solid in every way except for the puzzling ocean background sounds added as an apparent afterthought to the Duncan song.

This, in many ways, is Elton John’s best album even though not a single song ever received AM radio play as far as I remember. The album works well as a whole, supported nicely by the visual materials on the outside and adorning the inner-sleeve lyrics. So well, that those songs that are not clearly about the West (including “Come Down in Time” and “Love Song”) get absorbed into the Western theme so seamlessly that the album retains its conceptual integrity. Musical highlights include “Come Down in Time”, “Son of Your Father” with its bouncy piano intro, “Where to Now St. Peter?” and 6 1/2 minute, piano-dominated “Burn Down the Mission” with its brief but magnificent multiple-mood middle-section instrumental.

Genesis: Trespass

Recorded in June and July of 1970 and released in the UK on October 23, 1970, Trespass far surpasses Genesis’s first album in compositional scope and quality. From the first track, we now have Genesis providing the Gabriel-era sounds that made them one of the finest progressive rock groups. The second track “White Mountain” latches on to the listener from the start, showcasing the synergy between Mike Rutherford and Ant Phillips with their distinct partnering of their twelve string acoustic guitars. This work establishes the groups successful approach to music narratives that continued long after Phillips’ departure. The album continues much at the same level of quality throughout with the final work, “The Knife”, originally titled the “The Nice” as a tribute to that early prog-rock group, and lasting up to 18 minutes in concert with extended keyboard work, but pared down to half that length on the album.

Kevin Ayers: Shooting At the Moon

Released in October 1970, Ayers’s second solo album is packed with brilliance including clever songs, gorgeous passages of the Canterbury sound, and intriguing electronics and his own approach to what was often called at the time “experimental music” — a term many composers disliked since they weren’t “experimenting” but applying their musical sensibilities and compositional skills to push conventional musical boundaries. The accessibility of the music may vary, but the quality does not, and if one is up for adventure and appreciates solid musicianship from not only Ayers, but the accompanying “Whole World Band”, which includes Mike Oldfield on bass and guitar and David Bedford on keyboards with a guest appearance by Robert Wyatt on vocals on one track, then this album will provide repeated listening pleasure.

Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother

Enlisting the arranging and composer talents of Ron Geesin for the orchestral-rich first side if the album, Atom Heart Mother outsold Pink Floyd’s previous albums, perhaps due to its intriguing Hipgnosis cover. The first side contains the title track, named by Geesin from the content of an article about an expectant UK woman with an atomic-powered pacemaker. Geesin effectively takes the band’s raw material turning into the finest orchestrated prog-rock up to that time (not including progressive, but generally not labeled prog-rock albums, like Jesus Christ Superstar.) The second side contains some interesting solo compositions by Rogers, Wright and Gilmour and then filled out by the novel “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” — primarily a Dave Mason effort that doesn’t fully coalesce.

The Strawbs: Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios

The Strawbs “Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios” is a sparkling collection of mostly progressive folk-rock music recorded live in July 1970 at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with an extended rendition of “Where Is This Dream of Your Youth” from the first album and several songs not on their earlier albums. The highlight is the intricate acoustic guitar work and Rick Wakeman’s keyboard work on harpsichord, celeste, organ, and of course, piano. More than just a solid, enjoyable album, it’s necessary listening for anyone interested in the history of progressive rock.

Savoy Brown: Looking In

With the loss of their distinctive vocalist and talented songwriter Chris Youlden to a pursuit of a solo career and Kim Simmonds taking on more songwriting responsibilities, Savoy’s Brown sixth album, Looking In, falls short of their much better fifth album. So why do I even mention it? For that album cover, which always caught my attention when browsing through friends’ and acquaintances’ record collections. To this day it still reminds me of the artwork from the early days of Creepy magazine.

Guess Who: Share The Land

The Guess Who provides another strong album with their seventh studio effort, Share The Land, released October 5, 1970. Besides some AM hits, including the infectious “Hand Me Down World”, there is the interesting “Moan for You Joe” and a foray into authentic-sounding blues “Song of the Dog.” The lengthy last song on side two seems to function as filler material, but the rest of the album is solid.

Fifty Year Friday: May 1970

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Quatermass: Quatermass

Released in May of 1970, Quatermass’s first and final album, named after the band, sold poorly and, outside of prog-rock circles, is little known about today.

Quatermass was a trio with a talented composer/keyboardist J. Peter Robinson, similar in some ways to Dave Greenslade, a skillful composer/bassist/vocalist John Gustafson, and drummer, Mick Underwood who had turned down a chance to be the drummer for Jimmy Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin, in order to be part of the heavier sounding “Episode Six”, which would eventually include Robinson and Gustafson who, along with Underwood, would eventually leave Episode Six to form Quatermass.

The Quatermass sound is a mixture of early prog and hard rock with three bluesy hard-rock tunes added by outsider Steve Hammond.  The album is bookended by the Robinson synthesizer composition, “Entropy”, followed by Hammond’s “Black Sheep of the Family” which would later be covered by Deep Purple.  “Post War Saturday Echo” mixes prog, blues and rock with a solid intro, some reflective piano followed by a progressive-rock  trio section and a more traditional finish. This is followed by the Greenslade-like ballad, “Good Lord Knows.” The next track, “Up on the Ground” anticipates later Deep Purple with a mostly hard rock veneer with early prog elements including Moog synthesizer.  “Laughin’ Tackle” provides some more strong early prog-rock with the obligatory drum solo and a wide range of colorful instrumentation. The best track, “Punting”, was not originally included on the album, but is a bonus track on currently available CDs.  Excluding the tracks by Hammond, the album is a good example of early prog-rock with some good improvisation and dynamic compositions.

J. Peter Robinson, would ultimately become a session keyboardist working with Brand X, Morris Pert. Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and then later write music for movies and television.

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Carole King: Writer

Carole King gives us her debut album, Writer, in May 1970.  Although this album was generally neglected until Tapestry, it is a fine album with a diverse set of songs from pop to country to folk-rock including the soulful “Up on the Roof” previously sung by the Drifters in the early sixties.  Tapestry has better production, sound, and some superior compositions (“You’ve  Got a Friend”, “So Far Away”) but Writer is an album full of quality music, singing, and musicianship.

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King Crimson: In the Wake of Poseidon

Released May 15, 2020, I had to go to a little extra effort to purchase King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon as I couldn’t find it in local record stores.  Fortunately, I was able to purchase by special order from the record store near our local college. It took several weeks to get,  and I checked in two or three times a week to see if it had yet come in.  When it finally did, about four weeks later, the cover was badly damaged (and to such an extent as to leave some doubt as to whether the LP itself would be in good shape.) I had a choice of requesting the album to be re-ordered or accept the damage and trust that the LP would be okay. The idea of waiting another four weeks or possibly longer for a replacement was not an option: I had to hear the album as soon as possible.  I paid the price of $5.99 as opposed to the $3.99 I would have paid for an album already in the bins, and went home.  Fortunately the LP was not at all damaged, the music was great and was very much like the first album.

In fact, playing the first side, it was suspiciously too similar to the first album.  Clearly the band, despite the loss of Ian McDonald, had intentionally decided to create a close likeness of In the Court of the Crimson King.  After a brief unaccompanied rendition on vocals by Greg Lake of “Peace”,  the rest of side one sounds like a covert transformation of the first side of the first album.  “Pictures of a City”, colorful and vigorous, sounds alarmingly close to “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which musically, is certainly something worth achieving in itself.  “Cadence and Cascade” fills the role of “I Talk to the Wind”, but like “Pictures of a City” falls shy of the original, and same with “In the Wake of Poseidon” alignment with “Epitaph.”  The music and performances are good, and worth multiple listenings, but falls short of its forerunner.

Side two is a different story. An instrumental version of Peace begins the set, followed by the catchy “Cat Food” (released as a single in the UK), and the three-part “Devil’s Triangle” which incorporates a revised version of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets replete and awash with the tape-induced sounds of the mellotron.  Overall a good album that misses a few inches wide of the previous bulls-eye registered by one of the great rock albums of all time, In the Court of the Crimson King.

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Beatles: Let It Be

Recorded mostly back in January 1969, Let It Be was released on the 8th of May 1970,  about four weeks after the Beatles announced their break-up and about three weeks after McCartney had unjustly taken some of the blame for the break-up with the release of his solo album.  Let It Be always seemed like an afterthought in the Beatles catalog.  It was a simpler, more rugged, less refined, and less cohesive set of songs than their previous last six albums (omitting Yellow Submarine) and couldn’t hold up to the number of repeated listenings of those previous six albums. Nonetheless, it is still superior to most albums, opening up strong with “Two of Us” and including real gems like “Across The Universe”, “Let it Be” and the “Long and Winding Road.”  The 1960s came to an end with the last recordings of the Beatles made in 1969, and what followed was largely influenced by those same Beatles, particularly the popularity of the singer-songwriter and the thirst for imaginative and innovative music as most notably represented by the adventurous jazz-rock and progressive rock bands.

Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

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Elton John: Elton John

April 1970 continues the early seventies trend of providing strong rock/folk/pop singer songwriter albums with one of the most polished releases of early 1970, and arguably the one of most important, historically: Elton John’s second album, artfully arranged by Paul Buckmaster and produced by Gus Dudgeon.  Originally intended to be a demo of current Elton John and Bernie Taupin songs to be circulated among industry recording artists, bands, producers and execs as a means of promoting the quality and variety of John/Taupin songs available for those looking for songs to add to an album, but due to the recently increased commercial appetite for solo singer songwriter albums, the album was released commercially under Elton’s name — or Reggie Dwight’s assumed name of “Elton John” based on an inspirational combining of the names of Bluesology bandmates Elton Dean and  Long John Baldry.

Released on April 10, 1970, Elton John was relatively ignored until the single “Your Song”, the first track on the album, started getting significant airplay as a single in December 1970.  Like many others, I first bought the third album, Tumbleweed Connection in late 1970 and then purchased the Elton John album, later getting the first album (Empty Sky)  as an import as it had not been released in the U.S.  Interesting it was within a few days of purchasing the Elton John album, that I first starting hearing “Your Song” on the radio, wondering how such success would impact the next album’s quality or direction.

“Your Song’ is by far my favorite song on the album (which due to my teenage stubbornness and anti-establishment stance, might not be the case if I had been exposed to it on AM first) but this is an impressively strong album, with even my least favorite song, a tribute to the Rolling Stones country-rock style tucked away on track four of the first side (“No Shoe Strings on Louise”), being a song of some merit.  It is astonishing to consider that had this album not been released except in limited distribution as a promotional vehicle for their songwriting skills, that Elton and Bernie may have been content to have been behind-the-scene songwriters.  However, due to the quality of the arrangements, songs like “Your Song”, “Sixty Years On”, “Border Song”, “Take Me to the Pilot” and more, its hard to imagine any alternate universe where this album could have been kept under wraps for any length of time.  Today I still consider Tumbleweed Connection to be the best Elton John album, however that may be more influenced by it being the first Elton John album I bought — if I was to recommend just one Elton John album, it would be this one — especially if the tastes of the listener favored intimate or introspective singer-songwriter albums.

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Cat Stevens: Mona Bona Jakon

After a successful first album and a commercially and critically disappointing second album was followed with a near-fatal case of tuberculosis, Cat Stevens ensuing recuperation was filled with time to reflect on life and stockpile thirty to forty songs, some of which were used as material for his third album, Mona Bona Jakon.  One suspects that the realization of the merits of a simpler life is also manifested in the simplicity of the music and the arrangements on this acoustic-based album, with its transparently clear and focused guitar work, double bass, and suitable and appropriate use of strings.

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Randy Newman: 12 Songs

Also in April 1970, Randy Newman releases his second album, 12 Songs. Replacing the interesting orchestration and sometimes sympathetic characters in the songs with skilled studio musicians (including Clarence White, Ry Cooder and jazz bassist Al McKibbon) and an array of generally unpleasant and sometimes repulsive characters, Newman has refined his approach to be an all out assault of social commentary.  The music is also simpler — blatantly based on standard, cookie–cutter harmonic progressions borrowing generously from blues and country musical components.  Due to its readily accessible music  consistency of character portrayal, and twisted, ironic lyrics, the album was embraced by critics and helped further establish Randy Newman as a significant artist.

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Al Stewart: Zero She Flies

Another artist establishing a signature sound and style was Al Stewart with his release of his third album, Zero She Flies. Each song is distinct and original with “Manuscript” providing the type of historical reflection that would become more common in later Al Stewart albums.  Not included in the original album, but on CD releases as a bonus track, is the personal and reflective “News from Spain”, as good as any of the tracks on the original album.

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Paul McCartney: McCartney

Joining the list of solo singer songwriters is Paul McCartney, releasing his first solo album on the Apple label, McCartney.  Released before Let it Be, the album was accompanied with the news of the Beatles break-up and many fans incorrectly assigned the blame of the break-up to Paul or his desire to be on his own releasing solo albums of which this was the first.

Commercially successful (what Beatles fan didn’t want to get that first solo album after their break up), the album  was overall disappointing for anyone who had previously purchased Abbey Road:  many critics and fans saw this album as concrete proof of how important (okay, instrumental) George Martin was to the overall quality of all the Beatles’ catalog.  The good part was that if one came to the album expecting little (that is one of your friends let you borrow the album after telling you how bad it was), there were some worthwhile moments.  Composed of fragments, not fully-realized tunes, and the properly arranged and realized, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, one can embrace the album for the informality and glimpses of genius.  It seems clear the album had some padding to bring it up to almost 35 minutes, including two versions of one the best tunes on the album, “Junk” — both an instrumental version of “Junk” and the vocal version which seems to have lyrics added after the fact and somewhat haphazardly. I would be fine with just the instrumental version, but one has to give credit to Paul’s vocals which are always a treat to hear.  Overall, not an essential album, but it is an album that is fun to revisit every few years.

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Jethro Tull: Benefit

Jethro Tull released their third album, continuing to refine their sound adding keyboardist John Evan (though uncredited), and creating more intriguing and colorful music than ever.  Many critics were unimpressed with the often off-the-mark Rolling Stone labeling this exciting and engaging album “lame and dumb”, yet fortunately the album did well in both the UK and the States providing Jethro Tull the necessary commercial momentum.  Retrospective reviews would be much more embracing of this remarkable set of vibrant and distinctive songs.

Be sure to check out the Steven Wilson remix of Benefit, a true aural delight that includes  “Alive and Well and Living In”, which was replaced on the US version of the album with the single “Teacher.”

 

Fifty Year Friday: March 2020

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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew

It was sometime around 1971 (and maybe as early as 1970) that I first saw some promotional marketing material for a mail-based membership club called the Seven Arts Society. It wasn’t offering the usual record club membership (where one could buy 10 albums for $1 and then have to buy more albums later),  it was a one time $7 fee to a club that sold mostly books on the seven arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, literature, music and photography) as well as small book-shelf friendly reproductions of sculptures.   I put it aside and didn’t think about it again, until a received another version of their promotional mailing that included a picture of the stunning cover of Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew.   At this point, even though I had never knowingly heard a note of Miles Davis, I took the ad very seriously and noticed that for $7 one could get membership into the Seven Arts Society that included a couple of items I wasn’t particularly interested in and two items that did capture my interest: the Miles Davis album and a 10 LP set of classical piano masterpieces.  The first thing I did was to get my father’s take on the overall legitimacy of the membership and his personal verification that there were really no strings attached, and though he advised against my signing up, he did so with limited conviction.  This step completed, I then had to decide  which was the better choice: the Miles Davis two record set or the Piano Masterpiece. I knew nothing about Miles Davis at that time, and wasn’t sure what kind of music I would be getting.  On the other hand I was developing a growing love for classical music, and this 10 LP set had one entire LP of Mozart, two LPs of Beethoven, and half a side of Tchaikovsky — composers of which I had recently been buying recordings of their symphonies.  I also knew a little bit about the other composers included as I had started casually listening to the local commercial classical AM and FM radio station., KFAC-FM. Ultimately I decided that 10 LPs were much better than 2 and figured I could buy the Miles Davis 2 LP album later.

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It turned out the 10 LP set was a smart purchase.  The set was in a quality box with the highest quality LPs I had ever seen. Deutsche Grammaphon produced thick, heavy, noiseless LPs.  The sound was clearly superior, even on our modest sound system, which had been very recently upgraded from a mono cabinet to a radio shack stereo turntable, amplifier and a pair (a pair!) of speakers. And even to my rather limited sensibilities, it seemed to me the orchestras and pianists were of the highest possible quality.  I started by listening to the Mozart and Beethoven, working through the 10 LPs in order, and playing the Beethoven LPs several times before getting to what I considered to be the second tier composers of the fourth LP, Schubert and Schumann,  composers I had heard little about and less of their music.   I was pleasantly surprised with Schubert’s Marche Militaire and Opus 103 Fantasy and by the delicateness and clarity of the solo piano sound.  The music sparkled  and sounded so perfect and so, well, pianistic.  Next, I was really impacted by the Schumann piece that started on that same side and continued on the second side.  A piece with both an English name, “Scenes From Childhood”  — and a German name that I couldn’t pronounce,  Kinderszenen, but now knew what it meant.  That first “scene”, “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” had one of the most haunting, evocative melodies I have ever heard up to that time — the second theme, even further heightened by its harmonic, rhythmic and thematic relationships to the first, simpler, more innocent theme.  That first side of that fourth LP would get played many more times,  more than the Beethoven LPs .  However, it wouldn’t get played the most of those ten LPs.  Soon I came across the famous Chopin A-flat Polonaise (slightly familiar to me from hearing it once on the radio [hadn’t yet realized it was used in the Wizard of Oz] and promising myself that I would one day have a recording of it) on the second side of side six and Prokofiev’s Opus 11 Toccata on the tenth LP both played by Martha Argerich who along with Christoph Eschenbach who was the pianist on the Kinderszenen and Sviatoslav Richter who was the pianist on the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto became immediate favorites of mine.  By the time I had finished that tenth LP, this was my favorite LP set in my modest collection, at least until I spent $20 to buy a 21 LP set of Alfred Brendel performing Beethoven’s piano works.

Now, please note, that I had expected I would purchase the Bitches Brew LPs when I received the catalog from Seven Arts.  However, much to my surprise, it was priced at twelve dollars, more expensive than what it would be if I had purchased it at one of the newly-being-built discount mega-record stores.  So I told myself that I would purchase it later.  But time went on, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that I purchased my first Miles Davis album, Amandla and it wasn’t a few days ago that I first heard the entire Bitches Brew album from start to end.

And though it is nowhere close to Kinderszenen, Chopin’s famous A-flat Polonaise, the Prokofiev Toccata or even the Ravel Piano Concerto performed also by Martha Argerich (in that 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces set I am still in love with), Bitches Brew is a very consequential album that makes use of sound and space much like the Miles album before it, In a Silent Way, but has a greater focus on energy, drama and drive than the more ethereal and beautiful In a Silent Way.  It combines elements of psychedelic rock with jazz and modern classical improvisation.   Along with In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew has had considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years including rock, funk, jazz and prog-rock.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Beard of Stars

At around the same time I purchased the 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces, my dad had taken my sister and I to one of the newly opened Wherehouse record stores, the first one opened in Orange County, a car drive of about 20 to 25 minutes.  Not having much money, I bought a bargain-priced ($4.99) three-LP box of Mozart late symphonies, and some “cut out” records — records reduced in price with a corner cut out, or a small notch cut or small whole punched in the in the outer area of the cover.  The records I got were three or four LPs from the Czech Supraphon label of exotic named composers like Jiří Antonín Benda, Vojtěch Matyáš Jírovec, Václav Pichl and Václav Voříšek each priced at $1.99 — and a single cut-out LP priced priced at exactly 99 cents,  an album that did well in the UK and so was released in the US on Blue Thumb, but failed to sell and so ended up in the cut-out bin.  I had never heard of this two-person band (their name was not one to invoke confidence) and the dreary photo of a single, unknown musician on the front cover and another on the back, was not particularly appealing, but there was something appealing about the title of the album, Beard of Stars, and the track names on the jacket, the first of which was title “Prelude” with the ones following seemingly having a connection to folklore or fantasy with titles like “Pavilions of Sun, “Wind Cheetah” and “Dragon’s Ear.” What sealed the deal was a sticker on the LP indicating that there was also included inside (as a bonus!) their hit single, “Ride a White Swan”, which, like the name of the group, I had never heard of before, and, all things considered,  I figured there was no harm in taking a chance at 99 cents — money I could quickly recover working at the school cafeteria before school started and during half of my lunch period each day.

I can’t say how much I was amazed and delighted at all six of the symphonies in the Mozart box set.  Also, my sister had bought a two-record set of Puccini’s La Boheme.  I had never heard an entire opera before, and how very exciting it was to follow the English translation of the Italian as the plot of the opera unfolded accompanied by a continuous stream of drama-steeped melodies and melodic-like fragments.  The Supraphon Czech composer LPs were not as novel as the opera experience, but were quite good in terms of performance and musical content.  Then there was the Tyrannosaurus Rex Beard of Stars album, which I had pretty low expectations and much to my surprise was both intriguing and musically satisfying from the opening prelude.  There is a level of intimacy throughout each track, and I thought of these two musicians performing in a small venue or someone’s den, crosslegged on the floor.  But there is also an intensity, liveliness and forward motion to the album that propels itself through the slower tunes like the simple “Organ Blues” or the dissonant “Wind Cheetah” that ends side one.  Side two opens up with more upbeat energy with the title track, of “A Beard of Stars” which effectively serves as an instrumental prelude for side two.   It is not until the very end,  in the final moments of side two, that the tone and consistency of the album is disrupted with the closing three minutes of the last track inexplicably veering off into an rather unstructured and wild — and seemingly unrelated — electric guitar excursion by Marc Bolan.  And though a better and more cohesive ending would be welcome, all in all this is an excellent fantasy-folk rock album filled with a variety of well-crafted and laudably idiosyncratic tunes that make this my favorite T. Rex album.

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As mentioned this cut-out version also included a single hurriedly shoved into the interior of the jacket — a single, “Ride A White Swan” that held little interest for me upon first listening and held none of the charm or uniqueness of the album it came with.  “Ride A White Swan” produced by Tony Visconti (earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex including Beard of Stars, later T. Rex, David Bowie and the first Gentle Giant album ) was well received in the UK, where it peaked at the number two spot. Though a simple blues-based tune, “Ride A White Swan” is often credited as the first glam-rock song and with its success was the second step towards fame and fortune for Marc Bolan and his new percussionist, Mickey Finn — the first step towards fame being this Beard of Stars album, recorded in 1969 and released March 13, 1970, which, though it didn’t catch on in the U.S. as mentioned earlier, did pretty well in the UK.

Egg: Egg

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If Bitches Brew or Beard of Stars aren’t usually classified as progressive rock, even though they should be, Egg’s first album, Egg, released the same day as Beard of Stars, on March 13, 1970, clearly has left the late-sixties genre of psychedelic rock behind, incorporating classical and jazz elements into a rock foundation, but very differently, and less organically, than Bitches Brew.  Egg embraces one of the signature elements (excuse the pun since I am indeed referring to odd and sometimes alternating time signatures) of prog-rock to such a degree that the single that preceded the album, their first and only single, starts off with a 4/4 verse with a brief 5/4 part and then with a chorus in 7/8 with the returning verse going from 4/4 to 11/8  — all with matching lyrics that clearly call out what is happening.  The first album is equally adventurous with a progressive rock treatment (percussion and bass added à la Keith Emerson’s Nice) of Bach’s famous D minor organ Fugue as well a complete part original, part classical-based symphony taking up the entire second side.  Well, almost a complete symphony, as the third movement was dropped by the record execs due to it using material so close to the still-under-copyright “dances of the adolescent girls” section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and replaced by an alternate, stand alone composition, fitted in at the spot where the third movement was.  Fortunately, a test pressing was made and saved that included that third movement which is now available on more recent digital versions of the album.  All in all a strong debut by Egg, showcasing Dave Steward on keyboards.

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Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Déjà Vu

Released on March 11, 1970 Déjà Vu adds Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills and Nash lineup, providing three radio-airplay hits (Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children Well” and “Our House”) as well as Stephen Stills “Carry On” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” and “Country Girl.”  If you are looking for a post-Beatles example of what is meant by “Classic Rock”, this album fits the bill as well as any with its strong songwriting, tightly executed harmonies, and brilliant arrangements.

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Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon

This brilliant album, filled with the 20th Century folk-pop equivalent of 19th century art songs, was released on March 2nd 1970.   The lyrics range from personal, philosophic, poignant and playful, with the music always of the highest caliber.  “Free” is one of many examples from this album of how lyrics and music come together perfectly and includes evocative cello and a brief, illustrative clarinet solo by Paul Horn.  By the time I was in college (1973), this was an album that every girlfriend of my close guy friends had in their collection and in the collection of the first young lady I moved in with as well as my close gay friend who always got the best scores on our music theory ear training tests and, then years later, two consecutive English singer-songwriter roommates (one female, one male) when I lived in England.  There is just something special about both Joni Mitchell and this album that everyone who has a more sensitive side to them should find intellectually, emotionally and musically appealing.

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Frank Sinatra: Watertown

One doesn’t usually think of concept albums and Frank Sinatra, but here we have a true concept album of the early 1970s — not a grand prog sci-fi theme, but an real-life concept with appropriate, corresponding songs about a guy whose wife leaves both him and his children.  This one tears at your heartstrings and the songs are well written and sung simply and without any bravado.  One annoying drawback is that Sinatra is dubbing his voice over the recorded orchestrations — very different than his usual method of operation of recording in real time with the musicians. And although this overdub approach detracts from the album, the album is still worth multiple listenings.

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Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies

Whether live or in the studio, it seems that every moment of Jimi Hendrix on tape is priceless!  Released on March 25, 1970, this album is still as fresh as when it was recorded on January 1st, 1970. Yes, it’s far from the best Hendrix album or even the best live Hendrix, and Buddy Miles singing (and even some of his drumming) does get in the way at times.  But we get some amazing — no, some transcendental — guitar work from Hendrix on the longest track, “Machine Gun”, and side two also has its strengths with renditions of “Power of Soul” and “Message to Love.”

Also worthy of mention is Alice Cooper’s weirdly offbeat, partly Zappa-and-Captain-Beefheart influenced album, Easy Action, Rod Stewart and the Faces’ album First Step, The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, the live Delaney and Bonnie with Friends album, On Tour with  Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell’s debut self-titled album, with that classic Leon Russell gem, “A Song For You.’  There is also the live Ginger Baker’s Air Force album that I listened to once when in college and remember little of, but I heartily welcome any comments or reflections about it or any other album from March of 1970.

Which of these many and diverse, distinctive albums of March 1970 do you remember or still listen to (even if only now and then) in the 21st century?

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