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Fifty Year Friday: Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

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When I first heard Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade Of Pale” single in the summer of 1967 on AM radio, I had assumed it was an older song, perhaps from the late 1950s.  I was now twelve years old, but still musically very naive with no musical training except listening to AM radio and my very limited 45 collection assembled from the occasional 45 my grandfather gave me (he worked for Firestone and somehow he would sometimes get unused 45’s from the late 1950s) or from one of the few 45s my dad had purchased including two or three 45s of Ethel Merman and cast singing songs from “Annie Get Your Gun”, a Stan Kenton 45 of “Artistry in Rhythm” and a 45 with “Third Man Theme.”

“Whiter Shade of Pale” came and went on the Billboard charts, and I never gave the song or the group much thought, until later in life, when my next door neighbor brought over their “Grand Hotel” album.  Well, better late than never, and eventually I purchased their “Salty Dog” album, the A&M reissue of the first album, and their album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  This would be one of those rock groups that didn’t neatly fall into the progressive rock category, and one group that I was never particularly head-over-heels excited with, but I respected and appreciated for the well-written lyrics and well-crafted and arranged compositions.

Their first album, “Procol Harum”, was released around September 1967.  The original North American version on Deram includes “Whiter Shade of Pale” and omits “Good Captain Clack”, (also found on the b-side of the “Homborg” single), however the A&M 1972 reissue includes all the tracks of the original UK album plus “Good Captain Clack.”

Gary Booker’s dark baritone voice, along with his keyboards, Matthew Fisher’s Cimmerian organ, Robin Tower’s expressive guitar work and the high quality of Keith Reid’s lyrics and Booker’s compositions make this an engaging album.  Highlights include “Whiter Shade of Pale” (included on CDs and on the American LPs), “Conquistador” and “She Wandered Through the Garden Gate”, the guitar passages on “Cerdes” and “A Christmas Carol”, the organ and guitar in “Kaleidoscope”, the organ accompaniment and solos in “Salad Days”, and the Matthew Fisher composition, “Repent Walpurgis” which includes a Bach piano interlude and a couple of notable Trower guitar solos.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, except as noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Conquistador 2:42
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” (two versions of this song were released—one with a “firm” ending, not a fade-out) 3:29
3. “Something Following Me” 3:40
4. “Mabel” 1:55
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:07
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:54
2. “Kaleidoscope” 2:57
3. “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” (from the film Separation, 1968) 3:44
4. “Good Captain Clack” 1:32
5. “Repent Walpurgis” Matthew Fisher 5:05

US version

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. A Whiter Shade of Pale Brooker, Fisher, Reid 4:04
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” 3:18
3. “Something Following Me” 3:37
4. “Mabel” 1:50
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:04
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:48
2. “Conquistador” 2:38
3. “Kaleidoscope/Salad Days (Are Here Again)” 6:31
4. “Repent Walpurgis” Fisher 5:05
German version

Personnel[edit]

Procol Harum
Additional personnel
Technical
  • Simon Platz – executive producer (for Fly Records)
  • Eddy Offord, Frank Owen, Gerald Chevin, Keith Grant, Laurence Burridge – engineer

1967 had plenty of colorful, bright shimmering bands providing technicolor, rainbow-glistening music with plenty of upper register sunlight.  Procol Harum and the Doors provide a notably contrasting, distinctively dark, often gloomy, sound. They are more Mahler than Mozart, more Buxtehude than Vivaldi.  Even the bright spots, “Like People Are Strange” on the Doors second album, absorbs more light than it radiates.

“Strange Days” opens up with a repeating pattern anticipating German space rock, seetting an austere bleakness that is carried throughout the album.  The bass guitar intro that opens up “You’re Lost Little Girl” comes from dark subterranean underground caverns, supplemented by atmospheric and Morrison’s moog-synthesizer processed baritone vocals.

The dark, reflective music continues through the album.  “Horse Latitude” breaks the mood as it is more indulgent than germane to the overall mood of the album.  “People Are Strange” is more melodic and accessible, more catchy than indispensable, and more of a commercial single than an essential part of the album’s broad fabric, providing relief by breaking the general mood as well as providing an effective mood-based modulation to the upbeat “My Eyes Have Seen You.”  Elements of dusk and darkness resume with “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” and are nicely concluded with the final track, a nearly 11 minute psychedelic, expansive “When the Music’s Over” with its moog synthesizer, organ and Fender Rhode’s piano bass.

The lyrics, are dark, but at times spirited and environmentally militant.  Does Morrison foreshadow his death or the death of our environment?

“When the music’s over
When the music’s over
When the music’s over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights”
….
“Before I sink
Into the big sleep
I want to hear
I want to hear
The scream of the butterfly

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…
Now
Now?
Now! “

 

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by The Doors (Jim MorrisonRay ManzarekRobby Krieger, and John Densmore).

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Strange Days 3:11
2. “You’re Lost Little Girl” 3:03
3. Love Me Two Times 3:18
4. “Unhappy Girl” 2:02
5. Horse Latitudes 1:37
6. Moonlight Drive 3:05
Side B
No. Title Length
7. People Are Strange 2:13
8. “My Eyes Have Seen You” 2:32
9. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” 3:26
10. “When the Music’s Over” 10:58

Personal (from Wikipedia)

(Note: Not credited in Wikipedia, but there is clearly a moog synthesizer on the last track, “When the Music’s Over.”)

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein/Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

Jimi Hendrix

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones

Zappa/Beefheart

 

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Fifty Year Friday: Arthur Rubinstein “Chopin: The Nocturnes, Pink Floyd “Pipers at the Gates of Dawn”

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It’s not very difficult to make the case for Chopin being the greatest composer for the piano of the last 190 years.  I chose 190 years, since Beethoven was around until 1827, and its irrelevant, and even irreverent, to compare Beethoven and Chopin. One can even make a good case for Chopin being the greatest Western composer of the last 190 years despite weaknesses and/or apparent lack of interest in mastering orchestration and writing pieces for full orchestras that go beyond providing general accompaniment for the piano.

One can also make a good case for Arthur Rubinstein being the greatest Chopin performer of the Twentieth Century.  In 1967, RCA released a 2 LP set of Rubinstein playing all the Chopin Nocturnes.  All of these were recorded in 1965, except for Opus 55, No. 2 which was recorded in 1967. (Interesting, that is the only track that has notable distortion or harshness. For all the other nocturnes, the recording sound is quite good and provides an intimate, warm listening experience.)

What makes Rubinstein such a welcome interpreter of Chopin is that he doesn’t overemphasize the emotional nature of the music.  Some performers go a bit to far in slowing down, speeding up, playing too loudly here, playing too softly there — trying to eke out as much emotion as possible.  “Rubato” is the performing technique of slightly changing the notated rhythmic duration of notes, thus deviating from notes strictly aligning with their written place within the pulse of the rhythm.  When done right the overall pace is not violated so that if a given note is made shorter, another note or other notes are then made longer so the one doesn’t lose the overall beat of the music. When overdone, rubato, along with accelerando (speeding up),   rallentando (slowing down) and tenuto (holding on to notes for additional time) becomes a violation of the original spirit of the music, effectively remaking it into something akin to over-dramatic acting. Many performers, particularly in the first seventy years of the twentieth century, took extreme liberty with the music, stamping it with their own mark or as a means of pulling out inherent meaning in the music they felt was implied but not notated.

Rubinstein, who takes a relatively sober approach with Chopin, has so much control over which notes within chords or concurrent groups of notes get emphasized (and the general loudness or softness of each and every note he plays) that he can get a full range of emotions within even a strict tempo.  His tempo, of course, is far from strict or mechanical, but he never allows it to escape into regions of extreme excess. Instead of taking unacceptable liberty with the tempo or individual note values, he makes the music sing and sparkle, providing a window into the inherent expression and delicate craft of each of these nocturnes: each one providing their own world of night-like expressiveness with subtle emotional twists and turns sometimes exploring sadness, loss, longing, darkness, tenderness, patience, determination, reflection, wistfulness, sympathy, sensitivity, sentimentality, loneliness, isolation, discovery, thoughtfulness, triumph, confusion or other emotions and aspects of the human psyche.

This recording is currently available as a 2 CD set, remastered and either in 16-bit or 24-bit (SACD) versions.  Value-conscious consumers will be wise to opt for “The Chopin Collection” box set which is an 11 CD set with all these nocturnes, and all the mazurkas, waltzes, preludes, other solo piano music (minus the etudes), and as a bonus, the piano concertos — this entire set currently selling at under $24.  Those with a larger budget and more available listening time may choose to get the much more expensive 142 CD “Arthur Rubinstein Complete Album Collection” set (with 2 DVDs and a 164 page booklet.)

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Tracklist [from discorgs.org]

A1 Opus 9, No. 1 In B-flat Minor
A2 Opus 9, No. 2 In E-flat
A3 Opus 9, No. 3 In B
A4 Opus 15, No. 1 In F
A5 Opus 15, No. 2 In F-sharp
B1 Opus 15, No. 3 In G Minor
B2 Opus 27, No. 1 In C-sharp Minor
B3 Opus 27, No. 2 In D-flat
B4 Opus 32, No. 1 In B
B5 Opus 32, No. 2 In A-flat
C1 Opus 37, No. 1 In G Minor
C2 Opus 37, No. 2 In G
C3 Opus 48, No. 1 In C Minor
C4 Opus 48, No. 2 In F-sharp Minor
D1 Opus 55, No. 1 In F Minor
D2 Opus 55, No. 2 In E-flat
D3 Opus 62, No. 1 In B
D4 Opus 62, No. 2 In E
D5 Opus 72, Op. 72, No. 1 In E Minor

Credits

 

In my junior year of high school, with summer not too far off, one of my favorite people of all time, who I will just refer to with the initial “P”, and I were discussing music in the back of trig class and P. mentioned how good Pink Floyd was.  The year was 1972 and I was probably talking about King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, or ELP when P. started expressing his approval of Pink Floyd.  I was interested and accepted his offer to lend me three of his albums, Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), finding many things I liked, but also finding several detours from what I considered the general flow of music.  P. also, perhaps at a later point in time, lent me the first album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967).  I was more pleased with that album then the others, and puzzled that this was the first album as it seemed the strongest to me, which was not the usual pattern that I saw for most groups where the first album was the weakest, the second better and the third or fourth finally being the break-out album.  This first album, though sounding dated to my early 1970’s sensitivities, seemed stronger and more consistent than the other three I had previously heard.  I am not sure if I had noticed that one musician, “Syd Barett”, was the composer of most of the music for the first album but was absent on the others.  I think its possible I did realize this and was probably why I didn’t pay much attention to any new releases by Pink Floyd until I saw the movie “Pink Floyd at Pompeii” , at our local art-house theater, The Wilshire theater.  This film captures Pink Floyd performing several selections of their music in an empty Pompeii amphitheater, the music completely enveloping and engaging. After seeing this, I was sold on Pink Floyd, and had I seen this a couple of years earlier, I would have listened much more intently to those albums my trigonometry classmate had lent me.

Looking back now with thousands of additional hours of listening to lots of different music, I can better appreciate this album much more than I ever could have at age sixteen. It doesn’t matter whether this is labeled art-rock, space-rock, psychedelic rock or something else: it is bold, original and relevant for 1967 and is still fun to listen to today.

The album borrows its title from a title of the seventh chapter of  Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows  a cool title, indeed, but also a chapter that contains an interesting reference for a musical group that started out primarily as a psychedelic dance band:

“(Rat:) ‘…And hark to the wind playing in the reeds!’

`It’s like music–far away music,’ said the Mole nodding drowsily.

`So I was thinking,’ murmured the Rat, dreamful and languid. `Dance-music — the lilting sort that runs on without a stop — but with words in it, too — it passes into words and out of them again — I catch them at intervals — then it is dance-music once more, and then nothing but the reeds’ soft thin whispering.'”

And we have dance music with words and far-away lilting non-stop psychedelia-based tunes with their first two singles, written by Syd Barret, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” and their less dance-able, more exploratory, third single, “Apples and Oranges” also written by Syd Barrett.

And this album is filled with easily accessible dreamy, languid, melodic gems: these all written by Syd Barrett.  The UK version (import version for us Americans) is different from a somewhat messed-up U.S. version (the version I will reference below is the superior UK version.)

“Astronomy Domine” is a masterpiece of space rock – vast, unfolding, hints of the infinite and timeless, paced with a relentless, cosmic inevitability, modal and chromatic.

“Lucifer Sam”, about a Siamese cat, is more whimsical but still edged with an embrace of psychedelia and a chromatic passage reminiscent of the James Bond theme.

“Matilda Mother” opens slow-paced, relaxed, and dreamy, shifting to a more rhythmic passage and then back to the dreamy opening before its short Indian-like instrumental — providing but short contrast to the returning dreamy theme and a brief instrumental coda.

While other groups at this time are starting to augment their music with strings, woodwinds, and exotic instruments, Pink Floyd achieves equally impressive results with a traditional line-up of vocals, guitar, bass, organ/piano and drums.  Syd Barrett’s guitar, though not textbook virtuosic, is expressive, flexible and effective.  Vocals include wind effects and bird calls, “oohs” and “aaahs”.  The organ provides drones and other relatively simple effects.  “Flaming” and the more free-form “Pow R. Toc H.” shows off the ability of the band to create very different soundscapes, the former showcasing guitar and organ, the latter, nicely showcasing piano, bass drums, guitar, simple vocal effects, and organ in various moods and attitudes with an almost jazz-like piano and drum interlude providing welcome contrast.

Roger Waters provides a very sixties contribution in the opening of “Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” which then dissolves into a group jam.

We get back to great music on side two with the opening of “Interstellar Overdrive”, though it does soon meander, losing focus — but better uncompromising and adventurous, than bland and commonplace: perhaps the band assumes the listener will have some assistance with illicit substances.  Pretentious, often a term overused as an invective against progressive rock much more than psychedelic rock, is a term I am loathe to use — but I will concede that the ending is a bit over the top.

We get back to Barrett mini-masterpieces for the last four tracks.  The music is unassuming, natural and foundationally simple.  “Gnome” is pure pop, but with a Barrett twist.  “Chapter 24” is spacey and reflective with lyrics apparently based on the 24th chapter of I Ching “The Return” (or “Turning Point”) as translated below by Richard Wilhelm:

“Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth. All movements are accomplished in six stages, and the seventh brings return. Thus the winter solstice, with which the decline of the year begins, comes in the seventh month after the summer solstice; so too sunrise comes in the seventh double hour after sunset. Therefore seven is the number of the young light, and it arises when six, the number of the great darkness, is increased by one. In this way the state of rest gives place to movement”

Compare this to the Barrett lyrics:

“A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.
The seven is the number of the young light.
It forms when darkness is increased by one.
Change returns success,
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune:
Sunset.

“The time is with the month of winter solstice
When the change is due to come.
Thunder in the other course of heaven;
Things cannot be destroyed once and for all.
Change returns success,
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune:
Sunset, sunrise.

“Scarecrow” opens up with some nifty percussive syncopation upon which the melody is overlaid, giving us a short song that’s simple and complex simultaneously.

“Bike” magnificently ends this album with more hazy, dreaming psychedelia based on simple melody and chords effectively arranged and presented.  This is a perfect conclusion to a very different album than anything else in 1967 popular music.

After listening to this album, and looking at the song credits, one might very well conclude that Syd Barrett was the key member of Pink Floyd and without them they would either struggle as a band or be very different and probably not nearly as good. Without getting into the tragedy of Barrett’s behavioral disorders, likely an after-effect of repeated LSD usage, which is covered by numerous resources on the web including Wikipedia and several WordPress blogs (most of which are generally much better written than this one), the band soon dropped an unreliable and unpredictable Syd Barrett from their line-up.  Barrett continued to struggle from the aftermath of chemically-caused neurological damage, subsequently recording two solo albums in 1969, and then more or less becoming a recluse until his death in 2006 at the age of 60. From such a promising first album ensues an heart-sickening tragedy; just another instance of a unconventional, creative genius taken away from us in the turbulent, unpredictable, ever-changing 1960s.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

UK release

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. Astronomy Domine Syd Barrett Syd Barrett and Richard Wright 4:12
2. Lucifer Sam Barrett Barrett 3:07
3. Matilda Mother Barrett Barrett and Wright 3:08
4. Flaming Barrett Barrett 2:46
5. Pow R. Toc H. instrumental 4:26
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk Waters Roger Waters 3:05
Total length: 20:44
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. Interstellar Overdrive
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 9:41
2. The Gnome Barrett Barrett 2:13
3. Chapter 24 Barrett Barrett 3:42
4. The Scarecrow Barrett Barrett 2:11
5. Bike Barrett Barrett 3:21
Total length: 21:08

US release

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. See Emily Play Barrett Barrett 2:53
2. “Pow R. Toc H.”
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 4:26
3. “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” Waters Waters 3:05
4. “Lucifer Sam” Barrett Barrett 3:07
5. “Matilda Mother” Barrett Barrett and Wright 3:08
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. “The Scarecrow” Barrett Barrett 2:11
2. “The Gnome” Barrett Barrett 2:13
3. “Chapter 24” Barrett Barrett 3:42
4. “Interstellar Overdrive”
  • Barrett
  • Waters
  • Wright
  • Mason
instrumental 9:41

Personnel

Pink Floyd

Production

  • Syd Barrett – rear cover design
  • Peter Bown – engineering
  • Peter Jenner – intro vocalisations on “Astronomy Domine” (uncredited)
  • Vic Singh – front cover photography
  • Norman Smith – production, vocal and instrumental arrangements, drum roll on “Interstellar Overdrive”[125]

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Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Jimi Hendrix

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Fifty Year Friday: The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced”

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One of my fondest memories of my first year of college was listening in the library’s music listening room in the fall of 1973 with my first-semester girlfriend (and my continuing lifelong friend since sixth grade) to Zappa’s “We’re Only in it for the Money” and this very first Jimi Hendrix album.

A week earlier, I had listened to “Are You Experienced” for the very first time in that same library but on headphones. I had previously bought two Hendrix albums in high school, “Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge”, and was curious how this compared to those two albums and “Electric Ladyland”, all three of which I thought highly of.  I remember studying the album cover of “Are You Experienced”, front and back, before putting the LP on the no-frills turntable and then donning the mediocre, highly uncomfortable library headphones. The first track was “Purple Haze”, and though primitive in comparison to songs on “Cry of Love”, captured me completely. The lyrics lacked the imagery and imagination of later Hendrix lyrics and the sound over those cheap library headphones sounded rough and muddy, but the forceful and potent guitar-riff introduction was as magical as a Wagner leitmotif: a compelling opening to any album, effectively locking any exit from the listening room door until the end of side two.

That first overall impression of this album was not entirely positive.  I missed the studio slickness and more sophisticated lyrics of the later albums, and found the music to be dated, a relic of the drug-crazed, psychedelic late sixties. Nonetheless, I was certainly impressed enough to want to share with my on-campus and off-campus friend a week later as we checked out this album and were able to grab one of the two listening rooms that had speakers, and also, a room where we could stretch out a bit and listen to this much as at home, except for the “No food allowed” sign and the narrow window in the door to allow us to be observed by passerbys.

Until a few days ago, I hadn’t heard this album since college, so in preparation to write a blog post on this work, I got out a previously unheard high-quality vinyl German pressing (let’s not discuss how many vinyl records I have collected that I have not yet listened to or how they, along with way too many CDs,  have taken up the better portion of two bedrooms) and, without looking at the contents, started to listen to it from beginning to end.

“That’s old age and memory,” I thought, as “Foxy Lady” danced out of the loudspeakers. I picked up the cover and, noticed even more to my surprise, that “Purple Haze” was missing from side 1 and side 2.  Yes, indeed, my memory is going bad, but it’s not hallucinogenic! As patience is a virtue of old age, I continued listening, noticing the absence of “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and the addition of tracks I had never remembered hearing in my life: first “Can You See Me”  and then “Remember” on side two. These two new tunes were indeed an unexpected and rather rewarding discovery, but as soon as the album was over, not owning a CD of this to compare, I went to the internet and found the different listing of tracks for the North American version and the UK/European version. Relieved, now, that I still had a few weeks more until onset of dementia, I obtained a standard 16 bit redbook CD which had all the tracks from both albums and a few bonus tracks.

Glad to be able to listen again to the original album I knew, but with seriously better audio than in the library music room, I was taken back through time with that introductory riff of “Purple Haze” – clearly the only way to introduce Hendrix’s first album.

This is a modern blues song — and I mean modern!  The whole album, even the one track not written by Hendrix (“Hey Joe”) strays varying distances away from traditional blues, yet shares 99.9 % of the DNA. Like a blues song, or Chopin’s or Beethoven’s funeral marches, “Purple Haze” is slow paced, inevitable and unstoppable.  Hendrix creates tension with his approach to fingering, chord voicings, use of controlled distortion, his overall guitar technique, and emphatically pushing out the boundaries of comfort and predictability.  The spirit of the music is assisted ably by Noel Redding’s bass (including passing tones between root notes and various rhythmic subtleties) and Mitch Mitchell’s driving, energetic, yet calculatingly controlled drumming.

And, as I remembered, these lyrics are not at the level of later Hendrix lyrics, yet still, there is a undeniable unity with the music:

“Purple haze, all in my brain;
Lately things they don’t seem the same.
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why;
Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

“Purple haze, all around;
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down.
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me.

“Help me
Help me,
Oh, no, no.”

For some odd reason, music critics of that time stretched and reached to make drug connections when none where evident. These lyrics are about being smitten — whether naturally or through other means, like voodoo, is open to discussion — but drugs don’t seem to be relevant here.

Musically, one could argue that drugs opened up vistas and viewpoints for composers and musicians that allowed such innovation.  Maybe there is truth here (Chopin took opium for tuberculosis, Berlioz took opium, many jazz musicians had drug encounters or severe drug dependencies) and maybe not, but one cannot create genius from drugs or elevate mediocre musicians and composers up to the next level.   One can certainly make the case that drug use ultimately works against musicians at all levels.  That said, let others more knowledgeable address this drug topic, and the impact of drugs on music, I will just delight in the amazing music handed down to us from those inspired geniuses, whether inspired divinely, materially or through some other means.

And there is much to delight in during the course of this album.   The second track, “Manic Depression” has this wild instrumental where Hendrix’s guitar climbs up by thirds (outlining E flat minor seventh chord) for four notes and then frenziedly disperses in a truly manic solo. This rising four note motif then collapses into a three-note pattern incorporated in the next verse:

“Well I think I’ll go turn myself off and a go on down.
(All the way down.)
Really ain’t no use in me hanging around.
(Oh, I gotta see you.)

“Music sweet music
I wish I could caress and a kiss, kiss;
Manic depression is a frustrating mess”

and undergoes additional transformation, collapsing into two notes and then back to four with the feedback-punctuated finish.

“Hey Joe” continues the inevitable march forward, with a joyous, celebratory instrumental interlude enhanced by the ensuing, buoyant backing vocals.

“Love or Confusion” is dominated by the guitar work and resulting drama. In contrast to all that came before “May This Be Love” is a lush ballad showing off the gentle, intimate side of Hendrix. Ending side one is the ironically initially exuberant “I Don’t Live Today”, followed with darkly, depressing passages weaving back and front, side to side.

Side two opens up with the second leisurely-paced ballad, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Hendrix’s nonchalant, conversational vocals work well here.  Nothing here is unnatural or forced, with a simple but beautiful guitar solo in the middle and a tranquil calming ending providing a momentary opportunity to catch a breath before jumping into the up tempo “Fire.”

“Fire” opens up with one of those iconic Hendrix guitar intros that foreshadow, and perhaps creates, heavy metal. Mitchell’s level of energy, creativity and collaboration is not only up to the assignment, but raises the intensity and is integral to the overall character and aesthetics.  Redding provides spurts and phrases of growling, rhythmic bass.

“Third Stone from the Sun” is a psychedelic sound painting.  It’s foundation is a lyrical, almost placid, watercolor theme mixed with half-speed spoken vocals:

“Star Fleet to scout ship, please give your position. Over.”
‘”I am in orbit around the third planet from the star called the Sun. Over”
“You mean it’s the Earth? Over.”
“Positive. it is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over”
“I think we should take a look.”

Regular speed:

“Strange beautiful grass of green with your majestic silken seas.
Your mysterious mountains, I wish to see closer.
May I land my kinky machine?”

Half-speed:

“Although your world wonders me with you majestic superior cackling hen,
Your people I do not understand, so to you I wish to put and end
And you’ll never hear surf music again.”
“That sounds like a lie to me.
Come on man, let’s go home.'”

(Not very sure of this last section and pieced it together from internet references.)

The spoken vocals are sunken deep into the texture making this a instrumental jam that flirts with some of the qualities of a sound collage, particularly at the end.

The penultimate track, “Foxy Lady”, begins with guitar crescendo metamorphosing into a sexy, provocative ostinato supporting the main melody. The highlight is the guitar solo at 1:48, yearning and screeching passionate longing with a repeat of the chorus. A forty-five second coda finishes off the piece with the diminuendo at the end providing symmetry to the opening.

There are three tracks in the European album not present in the original North American version.  The first, “Red House”, is a twelve-bar blues song.   For non-musicians, this is a standard blues form that is prevalent in blues, rock and roll, rock, and jazz to such an extent that it can be very annoying or boring to listen unless the composition has something special such as unusual melody, humorous or particularly engaging lyrics, substitution chords , stellar execution and performance, or effective, interesting solos on top of those chords. From the start, with Hendrix abstracted guitar intro, this is more than a throwaway blues song.  In this early Hendrix recording, with this common blues structure and set of standard blues chords, we can identify much of what makes Hendrix performances so engaging. The guitar work is the primary focal point for both the leisurely and experienced listener, but part of the equation to make this work includes the support from Redding on a modified rhythm guitar and Mitchell’s minimal but steady drums as well Hendrix’s direct and personable vocal delivery.   Hendrix vocals are distinctly impressive throughout his brief recorded career — not because of range, intonation, smoothness or quality of his physical vocal instrument, but because of his pacing, rhythmic delivery, warmth, directness, naturalness and conversational nature of his communication. Hendrix, in general doesn’t perform — he communicates. As once noted by Thelonious Monk to Steve Lacy, “A genius is the one most like himself.” Monk, Beethoven, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane all deserve special acknowledgment for being themselves in achieving their beyond-Mount-Everest level of genius.  Hendrix is not that far behind them.

“Can You See Me” and “Remember” certainly deserved their inclusion on the original European LP.  “Can You See Me” is a driving, upbeat number with plenty of fluid chemistry between the trio.  “Remember” is a moderately-fast paced ballad with an uplifting instrumental after the first two verses and chorus.  The two key changes in this work provide the necessary emotional momentum to maintain the listener’s interest.

The last and most significant track on both the North American and the European original albums is “Are Your Experienced.”  Backward drums and guitar immediately establish non-conformity at the same time as providing a stable foundation for the lead guitar and lyrics, and a sense of exoticness found in other mid-sixties rock albums that borrow or reference aspects of Indian Classical music.

It has been decades since I heard this amazing work, and with extra years came a different perspective on the lyrics.  Previously I  had assumed the experience referenced here was either drug-related or sexual, supported by the last line of the lyrics “Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful”,  but its worth considering experience on a more spiritual level — above and beyond the physical plane of corporeal existence.  Back in college, I was a bit puzzled with the phrase “have you ever been experienced.” That didn’t make sense on the surface —  for if one had previously had experience with whatever Hendrix is defining as experience, then one should still be experienced. Why is this not “have you experienced” instead of the past perfect form of “have you ever been experienced?”   Today, I see two additional angles:  “Have you ever been experienced” meaning “has someone else experienced you” and “have you ever, such as in a past life, been experienced?” The first could be sexual, but could also mean one is their essential self and not a likeness or projection of something they are pretending to be or want to be perceived as. Or it could mean “have you provided others experience”, such as a musician being experienced by their audience. This second deals with states of existence such that one could be experienced in one state (such as in one lifetime or plane of existence) and not in the other.  We can then extend this metaphysical reflection and go off in many more directions, but the simple point here is that the lyrics provide a level of interpretation appropriate to psychedelic or transcendental frameworks.

It’s also totally in keeping with the contents of this album for me to consider that the album is asking its musical contemporaries “Have you even been experienced?” Not played as background music, not listened to casually, but fully experienced across all possible dimensions.

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FROM WIKIPEDIA:

Original UK and international edition

All tracks written by Jimi Hendrix.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. Foxy Lady 3:22
2. Manic Depression 3:46
3. Red House 3:44
4. “Can You See Me” 2:35
5. “Love or Confusion” 3:17
6. I Don’t Live Today 3:58
Side two
No. Title Length
7. May This Be Love 3:14
8. Fire 2:47
9. Third Stone from the Sun 6:50
10. “Remember” 2:53
11. Are You Experienced? 4:17

Original North American edition[edit]

All tracks written by Jimi Hendrix except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. Purple Haze 2:46
2. Manic Depression 3:46
3. Hey Joe” (Billy Roberts) 3:23
4. “Love or Confusion” 3:15
5. May This Be Love 3:14
6. I Don’t Live Today 3:55
Side two
No. Title Length
7. The Wind Cries Mary 3:21
8. Fire 2:34
9. Third Stone from the Sun 6:40
10. Foxy Lady 3:15
11. Are You Experienced? 3:55

Personnel

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Additional personnel

  • The Breakaways – backing vocals on “Hey Joe”
  • Chas Chandlerproducer
  • Dave Siddle – engineering on “Manic Depression,” “Can You See Me,” “Love or Confusion,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Fire,” “Remember,” “Hey Joe,” “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze,” “51st Anniversary,” and “The Wind Cries Mary”
  • Eddie Kramer – engineering on “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Are You Experienced?,” and “Red House”; additional engineering on “Love or Confusion,” “Fire,” “Third Stone from the Sun,” and “Highway Chile”
  • Mike Ross – engineering on “Foxy Lady,” “Red House,” and “Third Stone from the Sun”

Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Released on May 26, 1967 in the UK and a week later in the US, this is the album that boldly launched the progressive rock era.  If you lived in the US, Canada or UK, and were old enough, it was about fifty years ago today, that you first heard “Sgt. Pepper’s” play — either on a friend’s turntable, your record player or the radio.

One year earlier, The Beach Boys had released “Pet Sounds”, an album that unquestionably influenced the Sgt. Pepper album, and which has an important place in the history of progressive rock.  From an interview with Paul McCartney:

“The early surf records…I was aware of them as a musical act, and I used to like all that, but I didn’t get deeply interested in it—it was just a real nice sound…We used to admire the singing, the high falsetto really and the very sort of ‘California’ lyrics.

“It was later…it was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs.”

One important McCartney takeaway from Pet Sounds, is the liberation of the bass guitar from playing just the root notes of chords. For non-musicians, a chord can be in basic (root) position, such as C E G C for a simple C major chord, with the lowest note being C, or can be in first inversion, with the lowest note on E, or in second inversion position with the lowest note being on G.  Simple pop music often sticks to the bass always playing the root note.   On “Sgt. Pepper’s” tracks like “Getting Better” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, McCartney will sometimes play the third or fifth note of that chord — or even, in a few cases, play non-chord notes creating temporary musical tension.

Other important characteristics of progressive rock present in “Sgt. Peppers” include carefully crafted arrangements, non-traditional harmonic progressions, modal scales, unusual instruments, tape-based effects and an overall character that creates an artistically unified gestalt even though individual works vary significantly in mood and compositional techniques.

Though we may perceive a unified album, this is still a collection of individual songs, with two songs originally intended for this album, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, not included. “Strawberry Fields Forever” required around fifty-five hours of studio time for completion, thus setting the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail employed for the entire Sgt. Peppers album. The mellotron, an instrument used in later progressive rock albums like King Crimson’s “Court of the Crimson King”, dominates the introduction to”Strawberry Fields.” The use of unusual instrument combinations and arrangements is present in most of the songs on “Sgt. Peppers.”

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The album begins with the sounds of delicately light crowd noise and a string section tuning up, just as if one were present in the concert hall for an evening at the symphony. However, this is followed with forceful electric guitar, drums, bass, and emphatic McCartney vocals with audience noise then shifting to the less restrained enthusiasm of a dance hall. This is followed by a quartet of French horns, laughter, and the re-entry of vocals and rock instruments with interspersed applause.  This first song, the title song, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” transforms, without break, to the upbeat, feel-good, relatively conventional,  “With a Little Help from My Friends”; Ringo is on vocals, drums and tambourine, George Martin plays Hammond Organ, George Harrison is on lead guitar, Paul McCartney, of course, plays bass, and John Lennon and McCartney handle the chorus and supporting vocals.

The third track on side one, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, starts off with McCartney’s Bach-like broken-chord based melody and includes Harrison on tambura (a fretless, long-necked, Indian stringed instrument) with Ringo adding maracas.  “Getting Better” with its pulsating intro and hints of 3 against 2 includes George Martin on amplified pianette (a keyboard instrument that had been left in the studio from a previous recording session), playing it normally by depressing keys and with mallets striking against the strings, Harrison on tambura, and Ringo on congas.  The pentatonic-based “Fixing a Hole” includes harpsichord and “She’s Leaving Home”, with its wistful, affective lyrics and music, begins with solo harp, followed by bowed strings with strings, harp and Lennon’s supporting vocals providing that extra Beatles’ magic throughout.

Side one concludes with the studio-crafted masterpiece, “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, which merges various tape tricks including snippets of tape for particular musical-based sound effects and a section of tape (running at double speed) of Martin playing runs on the Hammond Organ along with Lennon on organ and McCartney on guitar. Instruments include harmonium, piano, Hammond organ, Lowrey organ, harmonica, shaker bells as well as guitar, bass and drums.  Listen for the adventurous harmonic swirl and chromatic runs in the two instrumental passages at the one minute and two minute mark which include the sped up tape passage, use of tape snippets (at least one sample sounds reversed) and tape loops. Chromatic-based passages on a pipe organ or calliope, harkening back to Julius Fučík‘s famous “March of the Gladiators“,  have often been used to invoke images of the circus, but Martin and the Beatles take this to another level.

On side two, “Within You, Without You”, like the earlier “Revolver” album’s “Love You Too”, invokes Indian Classical music with its use of multiple Indian instruments played by Harrison and skilled Indian musicians.  Instruments include sitar, tambura, dilruba (a fretted stringed instrument with sympathetic strings) tabla, svarmandal (multi-stringed zither-like instrument) as well as several violins, two cellos and Harrison’s acoustic guitar. Lennon, McCartney and Ringo sit this one out.

Side two continues with the English music hall influenced “When I am Sixty-Four”, written originally by McCartney on his home piano at age 15 or 16.  The original recording was in C Major but McCartney had George Martin raise this up a semitone by speeding the tape so that the song is now in the less common key of D flat.  For me, this track stands out as a relief point against the rest of the album, pairing nicely with McCartney’s “Lovely Rita”, and adding an important contrast that elevates this entire album.  Not everyone, including John Lennon supposedly, had the same opinion. Listen for the tubular bells played by Ringo and the trio of clarinets arranged by George Martin.

“Lovey Rita” starts off with upbeat guitar and typical Beatles’ backing vocals (“aaahhh”) punctuated nicely by Ringo. Listen for the return of those trademark backup vocals and drums at the 1 minute mark followed by Martin’s honky-tonk-style piano. This slightly distorted piano sound was created by applying tape to the tape capstan to create a wobbly distortion.  Also listen to the paper and combs before the vocal phrase “”When it gets dark I tow your heart away”, as well as the John Lennon coda that makes an effective transition to the crowing rooster in “Good Morning.”

John Lennon’s “Good Morning” was evidently inspired by the Kellogg’s Corn Flake Jingle (“Good morning, good morning, the best to you each morning”.)  It opens up like a march with accompanying saxophones, followed by Ringo’s heavy-step snare and continues with a marching-band ethos laced here and there with electric guitar and, at the end, animal sounds including dogs, cat, lion, trampling horses and what could very well be the start of a fox hunt, heralded by French horn.

The title track returns, creating energy midway by modulating up a whole tone from F Major to G Major, the key of the opening of “Day in the Life”, which immediately follows. If one is not convinced this album heralds in the era of progressive rock, such an assertion can easily be supported by the five and half minute (short by the average length of later progressive rock songs), multi-section “Day in the Life” with orchestra, harmonium, harp, piano, and alarm clock. Take note of the skyrocketing orchestra passage that binds Lennon’s section (ending with”But I just had to look having read the book. I’d love to turn you on.”) to McCartney’s “Woke up, fell out of bed….”  As described in the NY Times: “Mr. Martin’s solution was to take a page out of the playbooks of classical composers like John Cage and Krzysztof Penderecki, who at the time were creating works in which chance played a role. Mr. Martin hired 40 symphonic musicians for a session on Feb. 10, and when they turned up, they found on their stands a 24-bar score that had the lowest notes on their instruments in the first bar, and an E major chord in the last. Between them, the musicians were instructed to slide slowly from their lowest to highest notes, taking care not to move at the same pace as the musicians around them.”

Those with CD versions of this will be missing the last track of the album: the approximately two-second-duration inner grove, which was intentionally ignored by automatic turntables and could only be played on manual turntables.  Another feature of the original UK Parlophone LP,  not evident on CDs and some US pressings, is that the tracks do not have the typical pop album separation between them and thus the surface of the record is similar to a classical record.

sgtp record

With the Beatles no longer interested in live performance appearances, part of the intent of “Sgt Peppers” was to go beyond music that could be recreated live.  The production values and layering of sound influences many later recordings, particularly of notable mention is Queen’s “Night at the Opera.”

People are certainly entitled to have differing opinions on whether “Sgt. Pepper’s” is truly a concept album.  The reprise of the title song before “Day in the Life” is not enough to automatically make this so.  The songs more or less share similar production values, but clearly are not on a single topic or share melodic or harmonic material.  Perhaps if there is a concept,  it is the general intent, as on The Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” album, to produce a unified set of songs that achieve both a stylistic identity and set a standard of quality that ultimately influences other musicians. For the sake of argument, let’s concede that “Sgt. Peppers” is indeed a concept album.

If we do then agree it is a concept album, it is certainly not accurate to call this the first concept album, as Zappa’s “Freak Out” was released in 1966 and jazz had several concept albums before this including John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” from 1965 and Dave Brubeck’s 1959 “Time Out”.  There were actually a significant number of themed jazz and exotica albums released in the fifties and one may have to go back to Woody Guthrie’s 1940 album,  “Dust Bowl Ballads” to find the first themed record album.  If one considers the medium of the “record album” as the means of recording music and the collective music as either a concept or not, then one then finds thousands upon thousands of earlier examples of concept music including Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” of 1918, Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony”, Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood”), Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and WinterreiseBeethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Franz Josef Haydn’s “Philosopher Symphony”, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and numerous operas, including Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which was first performed in 1607 and still performed today.  That’s just western music.  Concept music can be traced back to many cultures of all continents including the American Indians, many African tribes, Balinese dance-drama and music from the 6th Century operas of the Northern Qi Dynasty of China.  And, for all we know dolphins and whales may have developed concept music long before humans ever roamed the earth.  (Yes!  An opportunity to promote “The Beluga Beliefs” website.)

It’s not the concept album that puts the Beatles in good company, it is the quality of the work, a true group effort of excellence by Paul McCartney, George Martin and the rest of the Beatles.

This is music that transcends the times of the mid sixties and is appreciated now by more people than ever.  Such is how we identify great music: it stands the test of time and is accessible and appealing to people from many different cultures and backgrounds.

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TRACK LISTING (from Wikipedia)

Side one
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band McCartney 2:02
2. With a Little Help from My Friends Starr 2:44
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds Lennon 3:28
4. Getting Better McCartney 2:48
5. Fixing a Hole McCartney 2:36
6. She’s Leaving Home McCartney with Lennon 3:35
7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! Lennon 2:37
Side two
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. Within You Without You Harrison 5:04
2. When I’m Sixty-Four McCartney 2:37
3. Lovely Rita McCartney 2:42
4. Good Morning Good Morning Lennon 2:41
5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) Lennon, McCartney and Harrison 1:19
6. A Day in the Life Lennon and McCartney 5:39
Total length: 39:52

Track lengths and lead vocals per Mark Lewisohn and Ian MacDonald.

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