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Fifty Year Friday: September 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifty Year Friday: Woodstock and August 1969

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

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

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

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

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

And so we can say the same about Woodstock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albums for the rest of August 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Brown Plays With Santana At Woodstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: It’s A Beautiful Day, Beck-Ola, Pretties For You, A Salty Dog

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It’s a Beautiful Day: It’s a Beautiful Day

Recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released in June 1969, the debut album of the Bay Area group, It’s a Beautiful Day, is clearly rooted in the Bay Area culture of mixing folk rock and psychedelic rock.  In addition, the music reaches into the classical-influenced rock genre by incorporating the violin of classically-trained David LaFlamme and the keyboards of his first wife, Linda LaFlamme.  The finally product is an early progressive rock album, accessible and more mellow than busy or just complex for the sake of complexity.

It’s A Beautiful Day

Additional musician

  • Bruce Steinberg – harmonica (track 2)

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Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola

I am not normally a jam-album fan.  This album, recorded in April of 1969 and released that June, is mostly a thrown together assembly of music that would be suitable jam-rock material.  What is inescapable is the quality of the improvisation and the distinctive character of the individual musicians and what they have to say. Mozart and Beethoven could dazzle listeners by improvising on the most mundane material.  Here we have the 1969 equivalent, with the exception of Nicky Hopkin’s reflective ballad “Girl From Mill Valley”, a welcome contrast with Hopkins providing both the piano and organ tracks.

In fact, Nicky Hopkins particularly shines throughout the album.  Add to that Jeff Beck’s unerring musicality, Ron Wood’s hard-rock bass, and some earthy vocal work from Rod Stewart and we get an album that is a pleasure to listen to.

Personnel

Alice_Cooper_-_Pretties_for_You

Alice Cooper: Pretties for You

Also recorded starting in 1968 through 1969, released June 25, 1969, Pretties For You, is another one of those 1969 total commercial failures by a band that would go on to make it pretty big.  The album is heavily influenced by some of Frank Zappa’s more musical works and Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd — not surprising, the band is on Zappa’s “Straight” label, which recorded a small number of artists, including Captain Beefheart, and Alice Cooper was the opening band for Pink Floyd during Barrett’s tenure.

At this point in time, Alice Cooper was still the band’s name, not yet taken as a stage name by their singer, Vincent Furnier. The album is full of content that required careful rehearsal before recording, with many instances of time signature changes or compound meters. Despite the Zappa and Barrett influences, this music is different from anything before, and different from later progressive rock or Alice Cooper albums to follow. Perhaps with some better production, fine tuning, and further crafting, this album would be particularly noteworthy — unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together and so it is a bit of a curiosity — but still a particularly enjoyable work and one of historical interest, for unlike most of the future progressive rock bands that start sounding more traditional and refined and extended their approach, this band, Alice Cooper, starts with some pretty lofty objectives, delivering an interesting art-rock album, to later distinguish themselves as a hard-rock, quasi-glam-rock band.

Alice Cooper band

procol-harum-a-salty-dog

Procol Harum: A Salty Dog

Recorded in March 1969 and released in June 1969, this album begins with one of the finest early orchestral-based prog-rock pieces, “A Salty Dog”.  The soft cries of the sea gulls and the chromatically descending strings create the appropriate atmosphere for the narrative to follow “All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat“)  With the classic early prog-rock anthem unfolded and completed, the rest of the album continues to flirt with a nautical-based theme, and though nothing on the remaining album comes close to the first song, overall we still have an eclectic mix of blues, rock, Jamaican pop, gospel, country-rock, classical and British pop, with strong vocals, and strong musicianship.  Listen to the second track, “Milk of Human Kindness” and try to not compare to later Supertramp songs like “Bloody Well Right” — or try to ignore the simple charm of the third track “Too Much Between Us.”

The arpeggios that open “Wreck of the Hesperus” and their stubborn recurrence later,  provide the pattern for many upcoming prog-rock symphonic-style numbers, including Genesis’s “Fifth of Firth.”  The strings here, might be later replaced by synthesizers, but the basic quality is much the same.

“All This and More” is another trademark Gary Booker song, providing that dark, sinuous, introspective quality so strongly associated with Procol Harum at their best.

The slow bluesy-gospel style of the alternatively-spelled “Crucifiction Lane” anticipates some later McCartney and Lennon works like Lennon’s “She’s So Heavy” and material on Paul’s first solo album. The album ends with “Pilgrim’s Progress” which clearly influenced later prog-rock groups like Kayak and Fireballet.

All in all, an important album historically, required as necessary listening for anyone that is looking for a broad understanding of the development or post-1960s rock.

Personnel

  • Gary Brooker – lead vocals (1–4, 6, 8), piano, celeste, three-stringed guitar, bells, harmonica, recorder, wood, orchestral arrangements (1, 8)
  • Robin Trower – lead and acoustic guitars, lead vocals (9), sleigh tambourine
  • Matthew Fisher – organ, lead vocals (5, 7, 10), marimba, rhythm and acoustic guitars, piano, recorder, orchestral arrangements (7), production
  • Dave Knights – bass
  • B. J. Wilson – drums, conga drums, tabla
  • John “Kellogs” Kalinowski – bosun’s whistle, refreshments
  • Keith Reid – lyrics

 

Fifty Year Friday: Trout Mask Replica, Brave New World

Trout Mask Replica

“I don’t know anything about music.”  Don Glen Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart)

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica

Recorded from August 1968 to March 1969 and released on June 16. 1969, Trout Mask Replica is a double album for the ages whether you might love it or hate it — and for most people, it’s rather easy to hate.  Far different from Captain Beefheart’s previous album,  Safe As Milk (which though partly confined within a traditional blues framework and ethos, provides many imaginative moments and approaches), Trout Mask Replica breaks into territory no artist has yet covered on record:  it’s been called out as the musical equivalent of rusty barbwire, and it certainly is as about as far away from easy listening as music gets.  But careful, focused, not-so-easy listening reveals the complexity in a large portion of music on the album which includes complex polyrhythms and polytonality.

Yes, there is a lot of non-musical content on the album — Frank Zappa produced this gem and granted total artistic freedom to Captain Beefheart and his band, so one doesn’t get continuous, highly refined music.  Instead one gets pockets — and the treasures here are in the instrumental accompaniment and interludes.  It’s been said that Captain Beefheart’s voice makes Tom Waits sound like Julie Andrews, that’s true, and the engineering of the album emphasizes these vocals as does their general lack of alignment with the backing instrumentation. It has been alleged that the lack of synchronization was due to Beefheart’s not wanting to wear headphones during recording, which resulted in him becoming hopelessly dependent on his own sense of time and on the immediate sonic reverberations of the studio.

Though there are people that will swear that the main value of this album is to drive away unwanted visitors, its influence on many musicians is indisputable.  Bands or individuals reportedly influenced include Henry Cow, The Residents (clearly), The Clash, Tom Waits, The Sex Pistols, Velvet Underground, The Little Feat and myriad others.  For me, the repeated polyrhythmic motifs anticipate Gentle Giant, King Crimson and some of the more aggressive math rock bands.   If you don’t like this album immediately, try it again, clearing away any possibility of distractions, as well as any expectations, taking the music and non-musical elements for what they are — rejoicing in the unusual, and what most would consider weird, amalgam of musical freedom and musical discipline.

rack listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Don Van Vliet and arranged by John French.

Side One
 # Title Length
1. “Frownland” 1:41
2. “The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back” 1:53
3. “Dachau Blues” 2:21
4. “Ella Guru” 2:26
5. “Hair Pie: Bake 1” 4:58
6. Moonlight on Vermont 3:59
Side Two
# Title Length
7. “Pachuco Cadaver” 4:40
8. “Bill’s Corpse” 1:48
9. “Sweet Sweet Bulbs” 2:21
10. “Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish” 2:25
11. “China Pig” 4:02
12. “My Human Gets Me Blues” 2:46
13. “Dali’s Car” 1:26
Side Three
 # Title Length
14. “Hair Pie: Bake 2” 2:23
15. “Pena” 2:33
16. “Well” 2:07
17. “When Big Joan Sets Up” 5:18
18. “Fallin’ Ditch” 2:08
19. “Sugar ‘n Spikes” 2:30
20. “Ant Man Bee” 3:57
Side Four
 # Title Length
21. “Orange Claw Hammer” 3:34
22. “Wild Life” 3:09
23. “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” 1:40
24. “Hobo Chang Ba” 2:02
25. “The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)” 2:04
26. “Steal Softly thru Snow” 2:18
27. “Old Fart at Play” 1:51
28. “Veteran’s Day Poppy” 4:31
Total length: 78:51

Personnel

Musicians

Additional personnel

  • Doug Moon – acoustic guitar on “China Pig”
  • Gary “Magic” Marker – bass guitar on “Moonlight on Vermont” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” (uncredited)
  • Roy Estrada – bass guitar on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Arthur Tripp III – drums and percussion on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Don Preston – piano on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Ian Underwood – alto saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Bunk Gardner – tenor saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Buzz Gardner – trumpet on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Frank Zappa – speaking voice on “Pena” and “The Blimp” (uncredited); engineer (uncredited); producer
  • Richard “Dick” Kunc – speaking voice on “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” (uncredited); engineer

Brave New World

Steve Miller Band: Brave New World 

Also released on June 16, Steve Miller and his band’s Brave New World and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica are as far apart musically as composers such as Muzio Clementi and Harry Partch.   Brave New World may display less overt, convention-defying courage than Trout Mask Replica, but the musicianship is solid and Steve Miller’s vocals flexibly fit the songs whether those vocals are reassuring and comforting as with the dreamy evocative “Seasons” or appropriately bluesy as on the Hendrix-like “Got Love “Cause You Need It.” Of course, the hit of this album, is “Space Cowboy” which borrows the ostinato-like chromatic blues riff from Lady Madonna, possibly with Paul McCartney’s blessing who jams (under the psuedonym, “Paul Ramon”,) with Steve Miller on another track on this album, “My Dark Hour.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Brave New World” Steve Miller

3:27

2.

“Celebration Song” Miller, Ben Sidran

2:33

3.

“Can’t You Hear Your Daddy’s Heartbeat” Tim Davis

2:30

4.

“Got Love ‘Cause You Need It” Miller, Sidran

2:28

5.

“Kow Kow” Miller

4:28

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

6.

“Seasons” Miller, Sidran

3:50

7.

“Space Cowboy” Miller, Sidran

4:55

8.

“LT’s Midnight Dream” Lonnie Turner

2:33

9.

“My Dark Hour” Miller

3:07

Total length:

29:52

Personnel

Additional personnel

 

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

uncle meat

The Mothers of Invention: Uncle Meat

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

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

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

 

Joe_Cocker-With_a_Little_Help_from_My_Friends_(album_cover)

Joe Cocker: With a Little Help from My Friends

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

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

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

 

threshold of a dream.jpeg

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

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

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

Track listing  [From Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

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

2:08

2.

Lovely to See You Justin Hayward Hayward

2:35

3.

Dear Diary Ray Thomas Thomas

3:56

4.

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

2:20

5.

To Share Our Love Lodge Pinder

2:54

6.

So Deep Within You Mike Pinder Pinder

3:07

Side B

 #

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Never Comes the Day Hayward Hayward

4:43

2.

Lazy Day Thomas Thomas

2:43

3.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Hayward, Thomas Hayward

3:29

4.

The Dream Edge Pinder (narration)

0:57

5.

Have You Heard (Part 1) Pinder Pinder

1:30

6.

“The Voyage” Pinder  

3:58

7.

Have You Heard (Part 2) Pinder Pinder

2:32

The Moody Blues Personnel

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

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

nashville skyline.jpeg

BOB DYLAN: NASHVILLE SKYLINE

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

— Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

songsfromaroom7.jpeg

LEONARD COHEN: SONGS FROM A ROOM

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

nazz2

THE NAZZ: NAZZ NAZZ

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren.

Side one

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

Side two

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

Nazz

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

 

 

 

 

 

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