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

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BOB DYLAN: NASHVILLE SKYLINE

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

— Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

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LEONARD COHEN: SONGS FROM A ROOM

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

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

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

Musicians [from Wikipedia]

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

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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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Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers

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Overcast: With A Chance of Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Sand, Wind, Water and You”

5:10

2.

“Chemistry with Kimberly”

3:22

3.

“Choice Decisions Left Alone”

3:50

4.

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

3:43

5.

“Pancake Breakfast”

4:47

Side B

No.

Title

Length

6.

“Another message for the masses”

7:02

7.

“The Hallway Episode”

3:15

8.

“Sheila Said”

4:50

9.

“Twentieth Century Overload”

3:43

10.

“In Walked Mud” (Trevor Stuart)

3:03

Personnel

Overcast

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

Fifty Year Friday: Genesis: From Genesis to Revelation; Colosseum: Those Who Are About to Die, Salute You

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Genesis: From Genesis to Revelation

Selling less than 700 copies, Genesis first album was recorded mostly in August 1968 and was released on March 7, 1969.  Poor sales followed, with a significant percentage of the copies hitting small town UK stores, filed incorrectly, partly due to the absence of the band’s name on the cover, in the religious music bin.  Not helping matters was the guidance from British record producer Jonathan King (once best known for his one hit, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”, but now known more today as the discoverer of Genesis)  for the band to simplify the arrangements.  The music, though of lesser quality than later Genesis compositions, was further compromised by removal and trimming of solos, particularly Tony Bank’s keyboard solos, and by later adding orchestral accompaniment to what the band thought was the finished takes.  Yet, with all these musical compromises, the album still is worth listening to, particularly for Gabriel’s vocals, Banks keyboard work, and the generally unconventional nature of the songs, which show harmonic, melodic, and lyrical maturity and more or less make up a concept album roughly centered around the contents of Genesis and Revelations.

There are various versions of CDs that include bonus tracks and there is also the fourth CD of the 1998 Genesis: Archives set which includes demos and tracks from this time frame including “The Mystery of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse”, “Hair on the Arms and Legs,” and the “Magic of Time” with Banks providing jazz-influenced piano.  Though overshadowed by the quality of later Gabriel-era Genesis albums, “From Genesis to Revelation” is more than a historical curiosity — it is a collection of fine pop songs that are better than most of the pop music recorded in 1968 and 1969, an era providing some of the best rock music of all time.

Genesis

Additional musicians

  • Chris Stewart – drums on “Silent Sun”
  • Arthur Greenslade – strings and horn arrangement, conducting
  • Lou Warburton – strings and horn arrangement, conducting

Wikipedia track listing

 

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Colosseum: Those Who Are About to Die, Salute You

The basic idea behind blues is rather straightforward with the most common format being the twelve bar blues, consisting of four measures of the tonic chord (triad or seventh built on thirds from the first note of the scale), two measures of the sub-dominant chord (built on the fourth note of the scale), a return of the tonic chord for two measures, followed by two measures of the dominant (build on the fifth note of the scale which pulls strongly towards the return to the tonic, particularly when including the seventh note), followed by two measures of the tonic.

There are many  variations of this, and basically if one has that I chord (tonic), followed by some flavor of that IV chord (subdominant), with a return to the I chord, followed by the V (dominant), and repeating this pattern, whether in 12 bars, 16 bars or some less-common length, whether additional chords are added such as commonly adding the IV chord prior to the V resolving to the I chord, or adding passing chords or substituting related chords, then one has some version of the blues.  The idea here is that we basically have a I-IV-I-V-I progression that repeats for the duration of the song and upon which, if desired, the are multiple avenues for variation on or divergence from the primary blues pattern.

The early American Rock & Roll was primarily blues, the early British Invasion sound included many blues-based numbers, and many bands of the late 1960s, from Cream to the Yardbirds to Ten Years After to Led Zeppelin relied heavily on blues.  It’s then natural to consider blues-based rock to be more traditional rock, with the more varied chordal progressions (chord progressions that venture beyond those notes found in the I, IV and V chords)  including modal-based chord progressions commonly found in psychedelic rock and extended and altered chords commonly found in jazz to be an indication of more adventurous, exploratory, progressive rock.

And it’s natural that many musicians and bands would first start learning blues progressions and develop from there.  And so it was that many rock bands started out as blues-based bands, later developing into psychedelic bands, hard rock bands, acid or heavy metal bands, or even progressive rock bands.

But should a blues-based album sounds like progressive rock?  Or can a progressive rock band be primarily a blues band?

Such a question may be addressed in retrospect looking back at Colosseum’s first album, recorded in late 1968 and early 1968 and released in March of 1969.  At the time, the term progressive rock had yet to be applied as a label with most listeners not even dividing rock music into genres or styles.  The music of that baby boomer generation was simply the music of the times, whether it was rock, or later became to be known as folk-rock, jazz-rock, blues rock, hard rock, acid rock, or psychedelic rock.  The label of progressive rock was yet to be in play. and so what we have with this first Colosseum album, “Those Who Are About to Die, Salute You”, is simply a well-performed rock album

But what a performance.  The songs don’t stand out: all but two are blues numbers, mostly vehicles for blues and jazz-rock-like improvisation — these two exceptions being Greenslade’s “Mandarin”, ironically based on a Japanese scale and incorporating a short blues-like section before launching into an extended Tony Reeves bass solo, and Colosseum’s version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”, titled “Beware the Ides of March” which includes a foray into Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” with additional improvisation.   The combination of foundational keyboard work by Dave Greenslade, high quality jazz-based sax work by Dick Heckstall-Smith and outstanding guitar from James Litherland make this a very different blues-rock album than that of contemporary rock bands and qualifies this to be classified as progressive rock — though I must admit, I am never sure what that term really means….

Colosseum

Additional personnel

Wikipedia track listing

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

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Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69

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

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

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

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one

Writers(s)

1.

“Ramblin'”
Big Maybelle

2.

Today I Sing the Blues
Curtis Reginald Lewis

3.

“River’s Invitation” Percy Mayfield

4.

“Pitiful” Rosie Marie McCoy, Charlie Singleton

5.

Crazy He Calls Me
Bob RussellCarl Sigman

6.

Bring It On Home to Me
Sam Cooke

Side two

7.

Tracks of My Tears
Smokey RobinsonPete MooreMarv Tarplin

8.

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

9.

Gentle on My Mind
John Hartford

10.

So Long
Russ Morgan, Remus Harris, Irving Melsher

11.

I’ll Never Be Free
Bennie BenjaminGeorge David Weiss

12.

Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind

Personnel 

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Neil Young: Neil Young

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

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The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

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

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

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Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side One

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

Side Two

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

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

Personnel

The Pretty Things

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

CFP National Championship - Alabama v Clemson

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Side two

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

 

Led Zeppelin

Additional personnel

 

Fifty Year Friday: The Canterbury Scene: Soft Machine and Caravan first albums

Establishing the starting point of progressive rock is a hopeless cause since elements of progressive rock appear in bits in pieces long before a general progressive rock style.  The best one can do is try establish the earliest date of the first progressive rock group. Some might argue that such an “earliest date” is established by the formation of the Wilde Flowers, a group of jazz-leaning musicians that took a crack at British Rock and Roll in 1964 and developed a more-or-less accessible, and even partly danceable style of music that foreshadows the music of the Canterbury scene — easily enough explained by the members of the Wilde Flowers all taking prominent roles in these later groups. Though no albums were recorded, we have a set of demos that have been released on CD and are currently available on You Tube.  Keep in mind that these were demos and not particularly representative of Wilde Flower live performances, which included some jazz-based improvisation.

Though I prefer to keep my distance from the term “progressive rock” as a label for a style of music, I support a concept of progressive rock representing the pushing of boundaries of status-quo music and breaking free of the constraints of commercial expectations, particularly when commercially successful as in the case of songs like the Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  This means that any rock music, whether by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Zombies or some other group from the mid or late sixties that goes past the minimal expectations of pop/rock to explore the passageways that naturally and unnaturally twist and spiral out into Robert Frost’s road not taken.  This is also why I am hesitant to consider some of the “neo-progressive” rock bands as notably progressive — such a use of the “progressive” label creates the ironic condition when applied to today’s musicians, of being indicative of a lack of progressiveness as they are trying to recreate an older style as opposed to pushing out to new territories. However, that said, quality and excellence is a more welcome and appealing feature in any music over progressiveness for the sake of sounding or being progressive. I will more readily listen to the post-romantic British symphony composers of the early twentieth century over many of their contemporary atonal composers.

The Wilde Flowers

Band members included, at various times:

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The Soft Machine: The Soft Machine

The Soft Machine, named after the 1961 novel by William S. Burroughs (titled based on the nature of the human body) started as a quartet in 1966 that included Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers from the Wilde Flowers, and classically-trained keyboardist Mike Ratledge and guitarist Daevid Allen from the free-jazz group Daevid Allen Trio. Following a European tour in August 1967, Allen, an Australian, was refused re-entry into Britain due to a previous overstay on an earlier visit.  Allen returned to Paris, to later form the group Gong, leaving Soft Machine a trio. On the first Soft Machine album we also have  Brian Hopper and Hugh Hopper, prior members of The Wilde Flowers, appearing in the writing credits.

This first Soft Machine album is a mixture of psychedelic rock and jazz elements as in tracks like “Joy of a Toy”, based on “Joy to The World” and sounding more like early space rock than Christmas music. Robert Wyatt makes up for any shortcomings as a vocalist with his contributions on drums.

Interestingly, the post of this first Soft Machine album on YouTube (link) has a Dislike to Like ratio of .0257 in the same ballpark of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers (link) ratio of .0254 — compare that to the Beatles’ Abbey Road ratio of .15 (link) or Gentle Giant’s Free Hand of .030 (link)

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Hope for Happiness” Kevin AyersMike RatledgeBrian Hopper 4:21
2. Joy of a Toy Ayers, Ratledge 2:49
3. “Hope for Happiness (Reprise)” Ayers, Ratledge, B. Hopper 1:38
4. “Why Am I So Short?” Ratledge, Ayers, Hugh Hopper 1:39
5. “So Boot If At All” Ayers, Ratledge, Robert Wyatt 7:25
6. “A Certain Kind” H. Hopper 4:11
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. “Save Yourself” Wyatt 2:26
8. “Priscilla” Ayers, Ratledge, Wyatt 1:03
9. “Lullabye Letter” Ayers 4:32
10. “We Did It Again” Ayers 3:46
11. “Plus Belle qu’une Poubelle” Ayers 1:03
12. “Why Are We Sleeping?” Ayers, Ratledge, Wyatt 5:30
13. “Box 25/4 Lid” Ratledge, H. Hopper 0:49

The Soft Machine

Additional personnel

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Caravan: Caravan

Also made up of band members from The Wilde Flower (Pye Hastings, David and Richard Sinclair, and drummer Richard Coughlan), Caravan started up in 1968 and released their first album about the same time as Soft Machine’s first album.  This would be the first British group signed to Verve records, the famed American Jazz label founded in 1956 by Norman Granz that not only carried the most jazz titles in their catalog of any label, but also was home to Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

Even if one is able to somehow dismiss the first first two Nice albums or the first Soft Machine album as qualifying as fitting into the progressive rock genre classification (once again, I am making a distinction between between being considered progressive rock music and being classified under the prog-rock label), it is much more difficult to dismiss this first Caravan album. It is unfortunate that the balance and mixing of this album is dodgy at best, but the music more than compensates for this otherwise serious failing.

“Place of My Own” with its alternation between the dreaminess of impressionism and the insistent forward progress of a march creates a whole organic work of four minutes that is comparable in substance to a similar length classical or jazz track. With liberal use of keyboard arpeggios and emphasis on the instrumental section over the lyrics, Caravan creates an overall mood and character to the entire work giving it is own identity as effectively as bands like Yes and Genesis would do to many of their songs on their early albums.  This is followed by the Indian-influenced instrumental, “Ride”, the effective forward-moving and sometimes beautiful “Love Song with Flute”, and the quirky, mostly psychedelic Cecil Rons. ” However, the most notable piece is the nine-minute “Where but for Caravan Would I” which is co-written by Caravan and Brian Hopper (who also co-authored some of the tracks on the first Soft Machine album.)  It is epic in nature,  starting off with a relatively simple section, repeated, that modulates to a short contrasting section that quickly returns to the original section again before breaking out into a furious instrumental section dominated by organ that again returns to the original key and the altered and more intense original theme, which is followed by a more complex rhythmical section that nicely functions as the coda to bring the work to a satisfying and complete conclusion.  This is a template for the prototypical prog-rock track, laid bare without any unnecessary frills or complications, something easily grasped and enjoyed, and available to be copied with endless variation and development.  Yes, later groups would move well beyond this, but Caravan provides the necessary starting point — and though it may not so much have influenced other groups as much as it was just an instance of the parallel development of the post-psychedelic rock groups that got their start at the end of the late sixties, it is as an impressive example of the relentless nature of this new music to carve out its own language and means of expression from the available languages and expressions readily available in the diverse music of that time.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks credited to Sinclair, Hastings, Coughlan & Sinclair except “Where but for Caravan Would I?” which is written by Sinclair, Hastings, Coughlan, Sinclair and Brian Hopper.

Side One

#

Title

Length

1.

“Place of My Own”

4:00

2.

“Ride”

3:41

3.

“Policeman”

2:45

4.

“Love Song with Flute”

4:09

5.

“Cecil Rons”

4:05

Side Two

#

Title

Length

1.

“Magic Man”

4:01

2.

“Grandma’s Lawn”

3:23

3.

“Where but for Caravan Would I?”

9:01

Caravan

  • Pye Hastings – lead vocals (side 1: 1-2, 4), co-lead vocals (side 1: 5 & side 2: 1, 3), guitars, bass guitar
  • Richard Sinclair – lead vocals (side 1: 3 & side 2: 2), co-lead vocals (side 1: 5 & side 2: 1, 3), bass guitar, guitar
  • Dave Sinclair – organ, piano
  • Richard Coughlan – drums

 

Side Note:

Interestingly, the post of this first Soft Machine album on YouTube (link) has a Dislike to Like ratio of .0257 in the same ballpark of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers (link) ratio of .0254 — compare that to the Beatles’ Abbey Road ratio of .15 (link) or Gentle Giant’s Free Hand of .030 (link)  

Caravan’s first album Dislike to Like Ratio on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt1inf8CRnE&list=PLALZtwXPtUFKvbI7h8Fc5CdqRYoI_qyyd) is .0028 — or 356 likes to only one Dislike — rather unheard of in youtube land.

Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Pentangle

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Spirit: The Family That Plays Together

In November 1968, Spirit follows up their impressive first album with an even stronger and more polished second album, again produced by Lou Adler with arrangements by Marty Paich.

The album starts out with Randy California’s rock classic “I Got A Line On You Babe”, first released as a single a couple of months prior to availability of the album, achieving some airplay on FM radio before later becoming a modest hit on AM.  Full of energy and unstoppable enthusiasm with a aggressive, celebratory guitar work, it represents youthful romantic optimism reversing the viewpoint of that classic Kink’s song “You Really Got Me” but sharing many musical and emotional qualities.

“It Shall Be” is evocatively sensual with flute and wordless vocals alternating in A-B-A-B-A form with a more down-to-earth B section. This is followed by a set of three semi-psychedelic songs by Jay Ferguson, and a country-like tune, “Darlin’ If” composed by Randy California

Side two opens up strongly with “It’s All the Same,” a mixture between psychedelic and early seventies rock, including a brief, relatively uninteresting drum solo in the middle.  The second track, is Caifornia’s “Jewish”, a short but expressive modal-melody pre-progressive track with Hebrew lyrics.  The album ends with with three more Jay Ferguson tracks, each with its distinct identity but all three incorporating elements of the psychedelic era of songwriting;  note the intriguing guitar work in the not-always-so-consistently-interesting last track, “Aren’t You Glad.”

Bonus tracks are available on the CD, including the artful, ambient instrumental, “Fog” and two other instrumentals by keyboardist John Locke as well as Ferguson’s sweeping,  gothically dark “Now or Anywhere.” 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1.I Got a Line on YouRandy California2:39
2.“It Shall Be”
3:24
3.“Poor Richard”Jay Ferguson2:31
4.“Silky Sam”Ferguson4:57
5.“Drunkard”Ferguson2:27
6.“Darlin’ If”California3:37
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
7.“It’s All the Same”
4:41
8.“Jewish”California3:23
9.“Dream Within a Dream”Ferguson3:13
10.“She Smiles”Ferguson2:30
11.“Aren’t You Glad”Ferguson5:25

1996 reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
12.“Fog”
  • Locke
  • Cassidy
2:23
13.“So Little to Say”Ferguson2:58
14.“Mellow Fellow”Locke3:46
15.“Now or Anywhere”Ferguson4:20
16.“Space Chile”Locke6:25

Spirit

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Pentangle: Sweet Child

This fine double album, one LP from a live concert in June 1968, and the other from 1968 studio recordings, sparkles with precise, consistently clearly articulated acoustic and vocal passages that nicely blend folk, rock, jazz and classical renaissance elements to provide an engaging audio and musical experience.  Highlights of the live LP include Danny Thompson’s rendition of Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song, the group’s interesting take on Mingus’s homage to legendary Lester Young, “Good Bye, Pork Pie”, and the medley of three renaissance dances. Highlights of the studio LP include the immersive contrapuntal “Three Part Thing”, Jaqui McShee’s rendition of “Sovay”, the jazzy Brubeck-like instrumental “In Time”, the bluesy “I’ve Got a Feeling”, the classic folksy “The Trees They Do Grow High” and the final track of side two, “Hole in the Coal.”  Throughout the four sides the interplay between the two guitars and bass is exceptional.  Additional tracks are available on CD that were not on the original two LP Set.

Wikipedia Track Listing

 

Pentangle

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