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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.

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Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven

Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Led Zeppelin, Turtles, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, Pentangle

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Spirit: Clear

Spirit probably would have made the big time if they had played at Woodstock as planned, possibly right before Hendrix and his band played the festival’s last set. As it was, the band ended up going on a a multi-venue promotional tour. To make matters worse, lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Randy California  who had previously played with Jimi Hendrix for three months (it was Hendrix that give the originally named “Randy Wolfe” the new last name of California to distinguish him from Randy Palmer whom Hendrix named “Randy Texas”) and drummer/singer/songwriter Jay Ferguson begin to have differences of opinions on the style and direction of the band.  In the middle of all of this,  Spirit released their third studio album, Clear, an album with elements of early prog, blues-rock and psychedelic rock.  “Dark Eyed Woman” is probably the best known track, but the album contains two quality instrumentals on side two and has generally good, though not world-changing, material overall and some quality guitar work from Randy California.

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Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II

On October 22, 1969, Led Zeppelin released their second studio album, more polished and musically interesting than their first and a undeniable success commercially, reaching #1 on the charts in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Holland. Included is “Whole Lotta Love”, “Living Loving Maid”, the passionate ballad, “Thank You”, and “Moby Dick” which features a drum solo that always brought to my imagination the virtuosic dribbling of a basketball. Though Led Zeppelin would get even better, this is a pretty good album, full of energy, life, and creativity.

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The Turtles: Turtle Soup

While newer groups are making significant commercial inroads, some older groups are winding down.  The Turtles released their last of five albums, an album very much in the style of the late sixties, closer to 1967 or even 1966 than late 1969.  That said, this is a fairly decent album with some good acoustic guitar work on the first side. Also of interest, is that the album is produced by The Kink’s Ray Davies, and one can hear this in several songs such as in the opening of “The House on The Hill.”  The most interesting composition is “John and Julie”  which includes added strings that enhance the qualities of the song. The one track on the album to get any notable airplay is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” which shares a few too many similarities with their 1968 hit, “Elenore” — such blatant mimicking of a previous hit, though, is not new for the Turtles, whose 1965 single, “Let Me Be”, followed almost immediately after the success of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, sounding suspiciously similar.

This final studio album, though, did not mean an end for the Turtles, for their very best songs reflected the sixties so well, that they were not quickly forgotten — this is particularly true of their best song, and only number one hit, “Happy Together.”

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Pink Floyd: Ummagumma

Released on October 25, 1969 in the U.K. and in early November in the U.S., Ummagumma (pronounced “OOH-ma GOO-ma”) is a two record set, the first LP containing material recorded live in April and May 1969 and the second an interesting collection of individual contributions, both in terms of authorship and performance, from the band.  The first side is an indispensable document of 1969 Pink Floyd live, performing some of their earlier psychedelic space-rock classics, and serves as the main attraction of the album.  The second LP which showcases each band member’s individual efforts, has its moments, but clearly the group is much better together than as isolated soloists. Nonetheless, this set of solo offerings on the second LP is still more interesting than most avant-garde and exploratory music of its time.

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Renaissance: Renaissance

The first iteration of the newly formed band, Renaissance, formed by two former Yardbird band members, Keith Reif and Jim McCarty, released their very first album in October 1969. From the start, with John Hawken’s classically-influenced piano, the listener knows this is a special album. Reif and McCarty had tired of the heavier rock sound of the Yardbirds and were looking to blend folk, rock and classical elements — and classically-trained Hawken was a perfect fit for their vision.  Most of the material is has a fresh, progressive tone to it, effectively mixing rock, jazz, folk, pop and classical elements including incorporation of material from Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata.

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Pentangle: Basket of Light

Released on October 26, 1968, this is the most commercially successful album for Pentangle and one of their best.  It opens with a Brubeck-like “Light Flight” with its off kilter meter of 5/8 and 7/8 with a 6 beat middle section. Quite the composition, it was the theme for the BBC’s “Take Three Girls” about three young woman in hip and swinging 1969 (to 1971) London.

The rest of the album is a mix of rearranged folk songs and new compositions, all performed beautifully and artfully on acoustic instruments with lead vocals distributed between Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn.   A good album to start with if you haven’t devoted much time listening to Pentangle or wish to enjoy some quality English Folk Rock.

Fifty Year Friday: Woodstock and August 1969

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

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

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

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

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

And so we can say the same about Woodstock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albums for the rest of August 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Brown Plays With Santana At Woodstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Jefferson Airplane and HP Lovecraft

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Jefferson’s Airplane Fourth studio album, released sometime in September of 1968, continues their expansion of San Francisco folk-flavored psychedelic rock, with a mostly denser, darker and more spontaneous, jam-rock-enriched sound.

Grace Slick scores big again, starting from the instant the needle hits the vinyl with her composition “Lather”, which though inspired by her fellow bandmate, and bedmate, drummer Spencer Dryden, turning thirty, also has been crafted to have a more poignant message about an intellectually disabled adult named Lather:

“Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys…

“He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
what the old men call insane,
And sometimes he’s so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play…
Which words to say…
And I should have told him, “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…babywide.”

Another impressive track on this first side is Slick’s rendition of David Crosby’s “Triad” with Crosby on guitar.  The Byrds had recorded the work for inclusion on the final Byrds album with Crosby, The Notorious Byrd Brothers,  and for whatever reasons (conjectured explanations range from the nature of the lyrics to the quality of the song to internal band politics and ego-clashes), the Byrds dropped it’s inclusion.  Perhaps this was for the best, as not only was their no hesitation on the Airplane’s part to record this, but Slick on an album of material otherwise written by the band, but the change of the gender of the personna makes the lyrics work out even better.

The rest of the album is generally heavier, rockier and with a more complex sound with the final song covering the nuclear demise of the earth — the Jefferson Airplane are still producing commercially-in-demand and modern, cutting-edge material, with this album having made it as high as the sixth spot on the Billboard album chart.

Jefferson Airplane {from Wikipedia}

Additional musicians

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With a very promising well crafted first album, featuring haunting, distinct, yet harmonious vocals between co-founders George Edwards and classically-trained Dave Michaels, thoughtfully arranged compositions and a sophisticated approach to psychedelic folk-rock that included timpani, harpsichord, piccolo, renaissance recorder, saxophones, clarinet, french horn, tuba, trombone and vibes, H. P. Lovecraft, named after the American horror-fiction writer, recorded their second album in the summer of 1968, releasing it in September of 1968 with no special title, simply called “H P Lovecraft II” with  a small “II”as seen in the album cover above.

This second album is more progressive, but due to a demanding concert schedule, the band had little time to prepare, with the result being a less disciplined effort than the first album, but a step forward musically.  Like their namesake, the author, H. P. Lovecraft, fortune, or even decent wages, were not to be theirs. The group disbanded in 1969, with a subsequent reformation as simply “Lovecraft” and then again as “Love Craft”, but without the leadership and musical skills of George Edwards and Dave Michaels, the band had a much different sound,  lacking that other-worldly, psychedelic, borderline progressive quality of this second album.

H. P. Lovecraft {from Wikipedia}

Fifty Year Friday: British Folk Rock

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Continuing the trend of merging rock and British folk music as exemplified by Donovan, The Incredible String Band, and the then relatively unknown Roy Harper, the spring and summer of 1968 warmly welcomed The Incredible String Band’s third studio album, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and Pentangle’s and Fairport Conventions first studio albums, both self-titled.

Released in March of 1968, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter continues much along the lines of the Incredible String Band’s two earlier albums, with Robin Williamson continuing to extend his cache of musical weapons and share writing responsibilities with fellow band-member and multi-instrumentalist Mike Heron.  As on the previous album, Williamson and Heron supplement this recording with additional musicians.

The first time I heard this group was around 1972 from their inclusion in a Warner Brothers’ Loss Leader compilation. Starting around 1969, Warner Brothers released $1 compilation albums of their artists, and these albums were my first exposure to Van Dyke Parks, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Family, Curved Air, and Martin Mull, and the Incredible String Band.  I remember anticipating what a band called “The Incredible String Band” would sound like and when I got to the track, the next to last track on side two of the two LP set, I was disappointed as I was expecting a large string ensemble or exotic bowed instruments as opposed to a small folk group.

So its only lately again that I have explored the music of Incredible String Band, and for the most part it still isn’t music that excites me. I have avoided including mention of them in “Fifty Year Friday” as I like to stay with albums I really like, but due to the historic importance of this band, its appropriate to acknowledge both them and their third album in this particular post.

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter certainly includes a wonderful mix of instrumentation and it is peppered with many interesting moments.  The unconventional instrumentation and the use of 24 track technology enhances the underlying compositions and provides a level of sophistication to the music.  Unfortunately, the music is overly repetitive, and not particularly adventurous melodically or harmonically, often suffering from lack of originality (“The Minotaur’s Song” is clearly modeled after Gilbert and Sullivan.)   The highlight of the album is the thirteen-minute “A Very Cellular Song” which incorporates a diverse set of musical components and textures, but unfortunately none sound particularly original and the repetition of the melodies borders on annoying.    The following passage provides an example of this — each couplet is a repetition of the melodic “couplet” and so gets a bit tiring as there is no development or contrast throughout this section:

And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight,
Lord, I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight,
 
One of these mornings bright and early and fine,
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Not a cricket, not a spirit going to shout me on.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
I go walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
And his rod and his staff shall comfort me
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Oh John, the wine he saw the sign
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Oh, John say, “I seen a number of signs”
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
Tell “A” for the ark that wonderful boat.
Goodnight, goodnight
 
You know they built it on the land, getting water to float.
Goodnight, goodnight
 
Oh, tell “B” for the beast at the ending of the wood.
Goodnight, goodnight.

You know it ate all the children when they wouldn’t be good.
Goodnight, goodnight.
 
I remember quite well, I remember quite well.
Goodnight, goodnight

And I was walking in Jerusalem just like John.
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

The quality of lyrics is also a challenge for me.  In some cases the lyrics appear to be written first and the music added as an afterthought and in other cases the lyrics seemed to have been improvised over the music, as if by trial and error, until they sort of stuck.  Overall, I don’t hear an abundance of craftsmanship or refinement in the lyrics or the music.

And so, this is not an album that I find completely engaging.  Yes, there are some  good moments and good music, including the opening track if it was less repetitive, but there is too much content here that comes across as stream of consciousness or improvised inspiration that is then extended and over-repeated.  At a minimum, I expect an album to keep me entranced and ensnared — not covertly coaxing me to consider what else I could spend my time listening to.

That said, this is a critically acclaimed album, nominated for a Grammy and is rated five stars by both Rolling Stone Album Guide and by allmusic.com.  It was also influential for groups like Led Zeppelin and praised by Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and John Peel.  Don’t let my opinion of this work keep you from checking this out yourself.  I encourage anyone that has not heard The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter to listen to it on their streaming music service or via youtube.com at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgQuVeMOyAk .  Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Robin Williamson, except tracks 4, 5 and 9 by Mike Heron.

No. Title Length
1. “Koeeoaddi There” 4:49
2. “The Minotaur’s Song” 3:22
3. “Witches Hat” 2:33
4. A Very Cellular Song 13:09
5. “Mercy I Cry City” 2:46
6. “Waltz of the New Moon” 5:10
7. “The Water Song” 2:50
8. “Three Is a Green Crown” 7:46
9. “Swift As the Wind” 4:53
10. “Nightfall” 2:33

 

Incredible String Band

Additional Personnel

pentangle1l

Pentangle released the self-titled first album on May 17, 1968.  The recording’s production brings out the strengths of the acoustic instruments, emphasizing the instruments individually by closely miking them.  The musicians play crisply and with distinction and the vocals fit in very nicely  This album blends folk with jazz and blues techniques and elements,  intermingling traditional tunes with originals, like the excellent “Bells”, creating vital and refined music that is a joy to listen to.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme Traditional 2:37
2. “Bells” Pentangle 3:52
3. “Hear My Call” The Staple Singers 3:01
4. “Pentangling” Pentangle 7:02

 

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Mirage” Bert Jansch 2:00
6. “Way Behind the Sun” Traditional 3:01
7. Bruton Town Traditional 5:05
8. “Waltz” Pentangle 4:54

 

Pentangle

fc1a

Released sometime in June 1968 in the UK, but sadly not available in the US until 1970 except as an import, Fairport Convention’s first album is as much of a rock album as a folk album, blending folk and rock elements convincingly and effectively with use of both electric and acoustic instruments. We have some fine tracks with electric guitars and electric bass, as with the case with the first two tracks, which are really unlike anything else at the time — sounding more like early 70’s rock — and we have some  excellent acoustic work, most notably the fourth track of the album, “Decameron.” Overall, this is a strong, impressive album with some weak spots, like the last three tracks at the end of side two.

My definition of progressive rock is a rather broad one. I will acknowledge any rock music as progressive rock if it pushes past the conventions or boundaries that were generally adhered to by other groups for that time period and makes a convincing music statement while doing that.  I also lean towards considering rock as progressive rock if it is exceptionally excellent and worthy of being mentioned with other great music of previous generations.   For me, “Yesterday”, “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Eleanor Rigby” are included with “Strawberry Fields”, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as progressive rock, even though one could argue “Yesterday” is no more a rock song than Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.”

Then there is the style of progressive rock considered as a genre and exemplified by groups like Yes, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Gentle Giant.  Decades later there have come about a number of groups that imitate these groups,  some of them creating high quality music, but without adding much new or stretching the boundaries of the original music that influenced them.  These groups are also categorized as progressive rock, or sometimes neo-progressive rock.  I would be hesitant to call such music progressive rock unless it really is saying something new or extending into previously unexplored or rarely explored territory.

The instrumental interlude in Fairport Convention’s “Sun Shade” and the instrument introduction to the next track, “Lobster” not only fit my personal definition of progressive rock, but, I think, would have to be classified as being music of the progressive rock genre. In fact, if one thinks strictly in terms of the music of progressive rock landmarks like King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”,  one can listen to instances like Vanilla Fudge’s “That’s What Makes a Man” mentioned in last week’s Fifty Year Friday’s post , the Nice’s first album, and the instrumental introduction to “Lobster”, and hear not just the seeds of the progressive rock style, or music that some label as “proto-prog”, but clearly hear the “progressive rock” style of music, set in motion by the progressiveness of earlier efforts from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, not to mention the earlier progressive contributions of jazz, big band music, be-bop, cool jazz, and hard bop.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Time Will Show the Wiser” Emitt Rhodes 3:05
2. “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” Joni Mitchell 3:45
3. “If (Stomp)” Ian McDonaldRichard Thompson 2:45
4. “Decameron” Paul Ghosh, Andrew Horvitch, Thompson 3:42
5. Jack O’Diamonds Bob DylanBen Carruthers 3:30
6. “Portfolio” Judy DybleTyger Hutchings 2:00

 

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Chelsea Morning Joni Mitchell 3:05
8. “Sun Shade” Ghosh, Horvitch, Thompson 3:50
9. “The Lobster” George Painter, Hutchings, Thompson 5:25
10. “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Witchcraft” Hutchings, Thompson 3:12
11. “One Sure Thing” Harvey BrooksJim Glover 2:50
12. “M.1 Breakdown” Hutchings, Simon Nicol 1:22

 

Fairport Convention

Additional Personnel

  • Claire Lowther – cello
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