Zumwalt Poems Online

Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

Fifty Year Friday: Roy Ayers, Stoned Soul Picnic; Eric Burdon & The Animals, Every One of Us

Stoned Soul Picnic.jpeg

About the time that the Fifth Dimension released their single of Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic”, Roy Ayers recorded tracks for his second album on June 20, 1968  that included Nyro’s tune and would be named for that song. The session and the released album also included three originals, Jobim’s “Wave” and Ron Miller and Orlando Murdon’s “For Once in My Life” (previously recorded by Tony Bennett [#91 on the pop singles chart] and several Motown Artists including the Temptations,, before Stevie Wonder’s hit version others that would be released later that year.) Sometimes these jazz covers of pop hits are just a waste of time to listen to, but not here.

Roy Ayer’s opens the album with his own composition, “A Rose for Cindy”, which starts off like free jazz before dissolving into a sensual chromatic passage that precedes the main section of a thoughtful and introspective ballad.  Notable here is the excellent soloing and interplay between the participants. Hubert Laws and Herbie Hancock are both particularly attuned to the character of the piece and provide an appropriate, impressionistic sensibility that make this the most memorable track on the album.

“Stoned Soul Picnic is vibrant and funky with Evan’s mallet work, Law’s flute, Ron Carter’s bass, Hancock’s keyboard work (he plays what sounds like a Hammond B-3) and Charles Tolliver’s trumpet essential to the sense of freedom and exuberance that permeates this version.  This is followed by a surprisingly engaging and inescapably immersive version of  “Wave” with Miroslav Vitouš replacing Ron Carter for the rest of the album, and strong solos from Gary Bartz and, as the case on every track here, Herbie Hancock.

“For Once in My Life” is treated tenderly. but not over-delicately followed  Tolliver’s upbeat “Lil’s Pardise” highlighted by Ayer’s vibe solo and Hancock’s piano solo.  The album concludes with Edwin’ Birdsong’s evocative “What the People Say” with introspective yet enchanting solos by Ayers and Laws. Overall, an excellent post-bop album characterized by overall beauty and unaffected optimism.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “A Rose for Cindy” (Roy Ayers) – 8:56
  2. Stoned Soul Picnic” (Laura Nyro) – 2:50
  3. Wave” (Antônio Carlos Jobim) – 7:59
  4. For Once in My Life” (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden) – 3:50
  5. “Lil’s Paradise” (Charles Tolliver) – 6:33
  6. “What the People Say” (Edwin Birdsong) – 8:09

Personnel

animals eoou.jpeg

This is not a particularly strong album by the Animals. Listening to this today, it seems there is more filler than essential components, though the political statement Burdon makes on side two, is pretty remarkable given the inherent expectations by the record label for a high level of commercial appeal from a group as well known as this.  And there is commercial appeal in “White Houses”, which hints at Caribbean rhythmic and melodic influences, and in the group’s initially very dark, then bluesy and rocking rendition of “St. James’ Infirmary”, a follow-up of sorts to the groups’ very successful version of “The House of the Rising Sun.”

The main item of note, particularly for historical interest, is Burdon’s “Year of the Guru” somewhat modeled after Dylan’s  “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, but with more of a rock than folk character — sounding more like rap music than can reasonably be expected for 1968.  Certainly there are other cases for early “proto-rap”, but “Year of the Guru” sounds too much ahead of its time instrumentally and vocally to be categorically overlooked, particularly in light of the social commentary of the lyrics:

“My leader said son you’d better get yourself together
Never mind the fools who know what we’re getting into
But a forty mile walk would do us both a world of good
And he sat down and watched me take off down the road.”

…..

“Now here I sit in a state-run asylum
Limitless, friendless but much more together
I decided to do some good book readin’
About the art of people leadin’
Now I’m the leader and they’re being led
What’s the matter if they’re crazy till you hear what I’ve said
Being the leader is really where its at
But just how long can a good thing last
Oh, oh leader
Oh, oh leader
Now listen to this baby
This is the year of the guru
Now the thing to do is to ask yourself
What can a guru do for me?
Then you say to yourself
I gotta get a guru”

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All selections written by Eric Burdon except where indicated.

Side 1 

  1. White Houses” (4:43)
  2. “Uppers and Downers” (0:24)
  3. “Serenade to a Sweet Lady” (John Weider) (6:17)
  4. “The Immigrant Lad” (6:15)
  5. “Year of the Guru” (5:25)

Side 2 

  1. St. James Infirmary” (Traditional, arranged by Eric Burdon) (4:15)
  2. “New York 1963-America 1968” (Eric Burdon, Zoot Money) (19:00)

Personnel 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Fifty Year Friday: Ultimate Spinach

Ultimate Spinach - Behold and See002

There are those that believe that everything is determined, and that no matter how many times something is played out, the same result will occur.  Such a belief may be based on fatalism, or the predictability of Newtonian physics, or the belief that there is no self-determinism and that people are stimulus-response machines and that once set in motion, all resultant activity can theoretically be modeled, given all the initial data points.

There are those that believe that every moment holds countless possibilities, some vastly different, some imperceptibly so, with any given result leading to another countless set of possibilities each leading to their own potential result leading to more possibilities.  Some believe there is self-determinism and that our choices are not predicted solely on past events and current physical and mental factors.  Some believe that we ourselves are not part of the universe we appear to be in, and so can effectively can cause changes to that universe through the exercise of free choice. Some reach out to their understanding of quantum physics to support a belief in uncertainty and unpredictability.  Some go as far as to speculate that there are infinite or nearly infinite universes with each universe having been the result of the cumulative consequences of each and every outcome from each and every previously emergent outcome prior to that.

If we go with this last worldview, or rather universe-view, there are no doubt trillions upon trillions upon trillions of universes similar to ours where the first Ultimate Spinach album sold well, benefiting from the Newsweek January 1968 article that was part of the full-out publicity assault by MGM’s Alan Lorber to establish an identity for Boston-based psychedelic bands like Ultimate Spinach, Eden’s Children, Beacon Street Union, Puff, Quill, and Orpheus.  Though this attempt at creating an identity similar to that of the bands associated to the “San Francisco Sound” worked initially as evidenced by the considerable attention resulting from the Newsweek article, which certainly fueled sales of the first Ultimate Spinach album, there was the inevitable backlash by a handful of music critics, including a prominent Boston rock critic, whose general claim was this was a blatant establishment-based marketing ploy and that there was no characteristic sound of these Boston bands and that the informed consumer should completely discount such commercially motivated hype.  Wall Street Journal joined in the pile-up chiding the publicity effort in their arcticle “The Selling Of A New Sound”, followed by Rolling Stone which stereotyped this purportedly non-existent Boss Town Sound as ” “pretentious,” “derivative,” and “boring’ — terms that would also later be used in the arsenal of the “informed” and elite “anti-elite” music critics against progressive rock.

UltimateS1

Other media outlets weighed in on the topic of the legitimacy of the claim of a Boss Town Sound including Crawdaddy and Playboy. In Alan Lober’s words in an article published in Goldmine in 1992 “the snowball became an avalanche. It was now more trendy to talk “Boston Sound” than to hear it. In retrospect, it was hard to believe that something which had received so much media coverage could fail to become a commercial success.”

Yet, amidst all of this, that first Ultimate Spinach album was relatively successful commercially, staying on the Billboard album chart for 36 weeks and peaking at position 34.  It was also quite good, being easily accessible, fresh, upbeat and generally adventurous incorporating elements of jazz, classical, psychedelia and world music into a primarily contemporary rock style.

So, successfully swimming against the current of some not so-well meaning rock critics, providing an accessible, contemporary sound with plenty of potential for further development and exploration, and then, in August 1968, releasing a second album, Behold & See, more mature, better constructed, and stronger than the first, there was no real reason for Ultimate Spinach not to remain in the spotlight and have ever increasing album sales.

Except that Ian Bruce-Douglas got fed up.  He got fed up with the mechanics of the record industry and the resulting loss of his musical independence and authority, he got fed up with  producer Alan Lorber, and he got fed up with the with the various personal conflicts occurring within the band. Then frustrated to the extreme, he simply walked away from his own band.  With no group to tour in order to promote the new album, and without marketing or live shows, the second album stalled at number 198 on the Billboard top 200 album chart.  Without their leader and composer, the remaining band attempted a third album, which had a different sound and sold even more poorly than the second album.

UltimateS2a

Now if you buy into the multi-universe concept, and concede that there are easily quadrillion to the quintillionth universes that all have this same second Ultimate Spinach album, “Behold & See”, then it is conceivable, that in at least one, or perhaps even two, universes, the Boston music scene was allowed to more naturally flourish, that Ian Bruce-Douglas was able to overcome his initial disgust and dissatisfaction with the immense personal and individual ego challenges, the insensitivity of his record company, and the conflicts between he and his producer — and thus successfully promote through live concerts the second album, continue with the creation of a third and then have that fourth break-out album.  However, this may be pushing the envelop of the possible just a bit too much.  Perhaps there is limited upside to any group named “Ultimate Spinach.”  Or perhaps the personality that provided the music and lyrics for these first two albums, inherently would inevitably be constrained by the idiosyncratic demands of the music industry.   One hesitates to speculate about how much great music was lost because talents like Ian Bruce-Douglas were not able to cope with the realities and frustrations of the commercial music industry.

So even if there are not universes in which there are additional albums by the Bruce-Douglas led Ultimate Spinach, one can at least enjoy these two that are available. For those looking for early progressive rock, they will find many items that they can check off their list of prog characteristics: exotic or non-traditional rock instruments (theremin, acoustic sitar, electric sitar, vibraphone, recorder), angular rhythms and syncopation, an overall conceptual unity present in the two albums,  (anti-war, anti-conformist with references to Sartre in the first, and the theme of achieving transcendent awareness and freedom of thought in the second), imitative counterpoint, classical music reference (J.S. Bach incorporated into the final track of the first album), layered production techniques, interesting instrumental passages or completely instrumental tracks, and for bonus points, a single, visionary leader, who in this case was Ian Bruce-Douglas, who wrote the music and lyrics for the entirety of those first two albums.  Also, as noted earlier, the musical press referred to Ultimate Spinach as “pretentious” — an epithet worn as a badge of honor by many of the progressive groups of the early seventies. (Remember Gentle Giant’s compilation album, “Pretentious for the Sake of it?”)

And if you don’t much care for progressive rock, but like the more melodic psychedelic music of the late 1960’s, or just interested in hearing a bit of the “Boss Town Sound”, these two albums are available on CD, on vinyl, through streaming services, or even youtube as if they are deserving of more respect today than ever before.

And one last note directed at those musical critics that said there was no actual “Boss Town Sound”– history now seems to say otherwise with even once-antagonistic magazines like Rolling Stone conceding in 1988, in its “Rock of Ages” encyclopedia, the existence of such a musical movement.  Unfortunately, the time frame of that movement was ridiculously short, with the lack of commercial success causing most of these Boston-based psychedelic bands to break up by 1969 — yet I have to believe that, in this universe at least, if not in countless other universes, these Boston bands left something of lasting value, both in terms of influencing other, sometimes younger, musicians at the time that carried on, and in the case of the most popular of these bands, The Ultimate Spinach, left us music we can still listen to and enjoy today.

Track listing of Behold & See [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. “Gilded Lamp of the Cosmos” – 2:30
  2. “Visions of Your Reality” – 5:49
  3. “Jazz Thing” – 8:20
  4. “Mind Flowers” – 9:38

Side two

  1. “Where You’re At” – 3:10
  2. “Suite: Genesis of Beauty (In Four Parts)” – 9:56
  3. “Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse” – 5:50
  4. “Fragmentary March of Green” – 6:51

Personnel

UltimateS2b

Fifty Year Friday: Cream, Wheels of Fire; Al Kooper, Super Session

creamwheelsCream: Wheels of Fire

I seems a bit odd that the rock “super group” is a rarity.  One would think that the very best musicians getting together to reach the highest levels of musical creation and performance would be a common event.  But music is not a competitive experience like basketball which has provided us the Olympics basketball Dream Team, or the 2010 Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, or the Los Angeles Lakers with West, Baylor and Chamberlain — where such assembling of talent is done for the purpose of winning a championship or to secure a gold medal against an already competitive field.

Often a given musician’s artistic vision is quite different than another’s and assembling a group of highly talented musicians usually only produces successful results when their individual musical visions align.  Furthermore, assembling a group that lasts for multiple years is very different than a few of the best musicians getting together for after-hours jam sessions or (more formally) for a single recording session.

One-time or even sporadic, repeated formations of super groups does occur more frequently in jazz,  as occurred on June 6, 1950 when Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich were brought together to record a handful of tracks or for a single or a short series of radio broadcasts as the May 15 & 16, 1950 broadcasts from Birdland which featured Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Curly Russell and Art Blakey  — or in 1947 where there were multiple sessions which provided short-lived combinations of Parker, Gillespie, Max Roach, Ray Brown and Lennie Tristano.   In 1945, a young, and initially less than all-star version of Miles Davis teamed up with Charlie Parker, and the two played on and off together, sometimes with other all-star level musicians like with the two tracks recorded at Birdland on May 23, 1953 where Parker and a now truly stellar Miles Davis played with Dizzy Gillespie.  But this can be put in better context by noting that for one evening, that night before, on May 22, 1953, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Art Taylor had played together at Birdland with three tracks broadcasted on radio. The uniting of such talent was much like the uniting of all-stars for a professional sports all-star game — it was not the same as assembling a team of players that would play together night after night and record together session after session. Later, starting in the late sixties, there would be more monetary incentive for supergroups to come and stay together — but for jazz players of the first half of the twentieth century, making a living was tough, and this financial challenge played a part in players staying with a band or group as long as they were being paid, signing whatever contract was offered, or in players looking for any gig they could get that would provide extra income.

However, as musicians started to earn more money, and as the long playing record served as means of moving beyond the three-minute single,  there was also more opportunity for visionaries like Charles Mingus or Miles Davis to break away from providing the public a collection of unrelated tunes to providing a substantial unified product: a work of art.  This often meant that there was one visionary driving their own inspirations forward by partnering with others that had bought into that vision. Sometimes that was simply the producer bringing in talented musicians to back a Billie Holiday or Ellie Fitzgerald, sometimes that meant a strong personality like Charles Mingus acting like a commanding officer or a business manager, encouraging and sometimes demanding, or Ray Davies taking a lead role in the Kinks, or sometimes that meant a group of like-minded individuals, whether led by one member in the group, or a producer, or effectively collectively working together, sometimes with dissension or disputes, cooperating and collaborating just enough to bring out an album that resonated with enough of the public to provide the opportunity to put out another.

So its perhaps understandable why rock super groups are as rare as they are with the first attempts, like Eric Clapton’s Powerhouse, being intentionally short experiments, and the first true super group, Cream, formed in 1966, being the only such super group brought together in the 1960s that lasted more than a single album until David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash formed Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1969.

By their second album, Cream was in full stride; their third album, “Wheels of Fire”,  a double LP released on Aug 9, 1968, offers additional enduring studio tracks on the first LP, and live performances on the second.

The album starts of with “White Room”, which at the time, was the coolest song any band had come up with since “Strawberry Fields.”  It combines elements of psychedelic and early heavy metal, with an overall middle-eastern, exotic character assisted by the 5/4 introduction, the generally modal melody and supporting harmonies, and the added violas and overdubbed guitar-work.

Though the album has its weak points (“Pressed Rat and Warthog” and a marginally interesting second side of live material), its strengths are far more abundant.  On the first side of the live LP,  Cream’s simplified, yet totally transformed version of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”, drives forward with relentless energy and primal appeal and the second track, Cream’s innovative re-sculpting of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” foreshadows some of the elements found in Black Sabbath’s very first album, recorded a year after “Wheel’s of Fire” had reached the number 3 position on the UK album chart and the number 1 position on the US album chart.

Ginger Baker is an unstoppable force on drums and percussion, providing moments of classical-influenced composition, Jack Bruce continues to establish the foundation for future progressive rock and heavy metal bass players, also providing the strongest compositions on the album, and Eric Clapton’s guitar work continues to be inventive and, on the first side of the live LP,  narcotically spellbinding.  This was the first super rock trio, establishing the high level of compositional and instrumental quality that would be expected for upcoming prog and heavy metal trios, quartets, and quintets, providing  considerable evidence that these three artists were truly the first major rock group for both of those genres.

Tracks and personnel from Wikipedia

R-8910143-1471361083-3526.jpeg

Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills: Super Session

One of the unexpected success stories of 1968  was Al Kooper’s project to record a jam-session album with Electric Flag guitarist Mike Bloomfield who Kooper had previously partnered with on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.  Kooper booked studio time in Los Angeles for two consecutive days in May 1968 adding  keyboardist Barry Goldberg and bassist Harvey Brooks, also members of the Electric Flag.  All was set and the first session went well, with basic jam material on which participants performed as expected and Al Kooper taking on vocal responsibilities. At the end of the day, with just enough material for the first side of the planned album, the participants crashed at the house Kooper had rented, but when Kooper got up that morning, he found a note from Bloomfield indicating he had not slept well that night and had gone home.  The departure, and the corresponding reality, was soon confirmed when Kooper received a call from a female friend of Bloomfield that inquired if Mike had made his plane and if she should pick him up at the San Francisco Airport. Kooper than made phone calls to any California area guitarist he could think of including Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Randy California of Spirit and Stephen Stills, who had just left Buffalo Springfield. Fortunately,  Kooper eventually received a return call from Stills, who was able to join for that second session.

There was a problem, still. Stephen Stills was still under contract to Atlantic and, though it was very likely that Atlantic would grant permission for Stills to be just another instrumentalist in a jam album,  this approval would be much less likely if Stills was the lead singer.   Despite Kooper preferring to have Stills singing lead, he could not risk the opportunity of completing his envisioned project that evening, so as with the day before, Kooper again was the featured vocalist.

When Stills arrived the musicians huddled to identify what songs they all knew, ran through them briefly and then recorded what would become the second side of the album, finishing at two in the morning. Kooper flew back to New York City the next day, and began final editing, including splicing together parts of two takes of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” (note the tempo changes in the consolidated final version.)  While back in L.A., during additional engineering and dubbing horn parts into the original recordings,  Kooper was asked for his input in naming the album.  Since he had no particular title in mind for the finished LP, it was christened “Super Sessions” by Bruce Lundvall, one of Columbia marketing executives. With total production costs of less than $20,000, the album was released to a receptive public on July 22, 1968, who sent the album climbing up the charts, peaking at the number twelve spot.

Kooper was amazed at the commercial success of his project.  From the very first  day, the album was popular, soon reaching the number 12 position on the U.S. album charts. And though credit needs to go to Mike Bloomfield for providing some of his highly quality studio work in his tragically short career,  to Stills, to the other musicians, this is primarily Kooper’s album, including his quality editing and mixing and his partnership with arranger Joe Scott on the added horns, which add appropriate variety and substance into the original recordings.  Kooper then remixed the sessions around 2002 or 2003, using the current 24 bit technology, providing better clarity and separation of the individual musicians,  further enhancing  Kooper’s original effort of creating an album similar to the jazz albums he grew up listening to, where talented musicians together to create improvised music much like they would perform for their own pleasure when they were by themselves in an empty studio or someone’s den, living room or garage.

Some point to this as being the first super group, but Stills and Bloomfield recorded separately, and there was no intent for these three to ever be together (Stills was a fortuitous replacement for an AWOL Bloomfield) — and there was no intent for further recordings or any live performances.  Though I would like to say this critical and commercial success resulted in a flurry of other such efforts, this really was not the case.  The very next example of an LP of similar rock improvisation, is the third LP of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”, released in late 1970.  Are there other examples you can think of before that 1970’s “Apple Jam” LP — even before Kooper’s Super Session LP?  Please post your comments and thoughts, as very interested in not only examples from the 1960s, but afterwards.

Tracks and personnel from Wikipedia

Fifty Year Friday: Moody Blues, Buffalo Springfield, Harry Nilsson

MB ISOTLC.jpeg

Moody Blues: In Search of the Lost Chord

With their second album, released July 26, 1968, the Moody Blues solidly establish their own style and identity with recognizable, reverberation-enhanced vocals, use of cross-fade between tracks, and a complex, polished production style as realized by Tony Clarke. In the previous album, Days of Future Past, The Moody Blues were backed up by Decca’s house orchestra, The London Festival Orchestra; in this album, the orchestra is replaced by almost three dozen instruments all played by the band members. Mellotron and sitar fans will enjoy the use of those instruments here, part of achieving an effective album. If you don’t have this on LP, consider the CD version with its bonus tracks, two of which provide a glimpse at how good Moody Blues sounded in live performances in 1968.

Track Listing [From Wikipedia]

1. Departure (0:44)
2. Ride My See-Saw (3:38)
3. Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? (2:58)
4. House of Four Doors (4:12)
5. Legend of a Mind (6:36)
6. House of Four Doors, pt.2 (1:47)
7. Voices in the Sky (3:25)
8. The Best Way to Travel (3:14)
9. Visions of Paradise (4:15)
10. The Actor (4:39)
11. The Word (0:48)
12. Om (5:44)

Total Time: 42:03

Moody Blues

– Justin Hayward / acoustic & electric guitars, mandolin, lead vocals (1,4,6,8)
– Michael Pinder / piano, Mellotron, Moog, acoustic guitar, maracas, lead vocals (2,4,9,10)
– Ray Thomas / flute, tambourine, lead vocals (3,4)
– John Lodge / bass guitar, lead vocals (4,7)
– Graeme Edge / drums, percussion, whispered vocal (4)

Buffalo Springfield Last Time Around R-4322678-1361719240-9392.jpeg

Buffalo Springfield: Last Time Around

Tinged with folk and country elements, Buffalo Springfield’s final studio album, released on July 30, brings to a close an early chapter in folk/country rock.  Though the weakest of their three albums, there is much to like here, particularly the even number tracks on side one and the first three tracks on side two.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
  1. “On the Way Home” (Young) – 2:25
    • Recorded November 15-December 13, 1967, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Vocals: Richie Furay, Neil Young; bass: Bruce Palmer; piano: Neil Young.
  2. “It’s So Hard to Wait” (Furay, Young) – 2:03
    • Recorded March 9, 1968, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Lead vocals: Richie Furay.
  3. “Pretty Girl Why” (Stills) – 2:24
    • Recorded February 26 & May 1967, Sound Recorders, Hollywood and Atlantic Studios, New York City. Lead vocals: Stephen Stills; bass: Jim Fielder.
  4. “Four Days Gone” (Stills) – 2:53
    • Recorded late 1967-early 1968. Lead vocals and piano: Stephen Stills, lead guitar solo: Neil Young
  5. “Carefree Country Day” (Messina) – 2:35
    • Recorded late 1967-early 1968. Lead vocals: Jim Messina.
  6. “Special Care” (Stills) – 3:30
    • Recorded January 3–20, 1968. Sunset Sound, Hollywood. Lead vocals, pianos, B3, guitars, bass: Stephen Stills; drums: Buddy Miles.
Side two
  1. “The Hour of Not Quite Rain” (Callen, Furay) – 3:45
    • Recorded late 1967-February 1968. Lead vocals: Richie Furay.
  2. “Questions” (Stills) – 2:52
    • Recorded February 16, 1968, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Vocals, guitars, bass guitar, Hohner clavinet: Stephen Stills; drums: Jimmy Karstein.
  3. “I Am a Child” (Young) – 2:15
    • Recorded February 5, 1968, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Lead vocals: Neil Young; bass: Gary Marker.
  4. “Merry-Go-Round” (Furay) – 2:02
    • Recorded February 16-March 1968, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Lead vocals: Richie Furay; bass: drums: Jimmy Karstein. Harpsichord, calliope, bells: Jeremy Stuart.
  5. “Uno Mundo” (Stills) – 2:00
    • Recorded February–March 1968, Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Lead vocals: Stephen Stills.
  6. “Kind Woman” (Furay) – 4:10
    • Recorded February–March 6, 1968, Atlantic Studios, New York City & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Lead vocals: Richie Furay; pedal steel guitar: Rusty Young; bass: Richard Davis.(not Dickie Davis)

Personnel

Buffalo Springfield
  • Richie Furay – guitar (1,2,3,8,10,11,12), vocals (1,2,3,5,7,10,12)
  • Dewey Martin – drums (1,2,3,9,11)
  • Jim Messina – bass, vocals (5,12)
  • Stephen Stills – guitar (1,2,3,4,6,8,10,11), piano (4,6,8), B3 organ (6,8,11), bass (6,8), clavinet (8), vibes (1), percussion (11), Handclaps (11), background vocals (1,5,8,10), vocals (3,4,6,8,11)
  • Neil Young – guitar (3,4,9,10), harmonica (9), piano (1), background vocals (1), vocals (9), appears in some capacity on (5)
  • Bruce Palmer – bass (1)
Additional personnel
  • Buddy Miles – drums (6)
  • Jimmy Karstein – drums (8,10)
  • Gary Marker : bass (9)
  • Jeremy Stuart – harpsichord, calliope, bells (10)
  • Rusty Young – pedal steel guitar (12)
  • Richard Davis – bass (12)
  • unidentified – horns (1), saxophone, clarinet (2), drums (4), bass, drums, harpsichord, orchestra (7), piano, drums (12)

R-811663-1286710531.jpeg

Harry Nilsson: Aerial Ballet

Released sometime in July 1969, Aerial Ballet, provides another set of cleverly crafted pop tunes, very much influenced by Paul McCartney songwriting and the production approach on Beatles and Beach Boys albums.  With his third album, Nilsson provides all original songs with one exception: a song called “Everybody’s Talkin'” written by Fred Neil, who would later drop out of music to focus on an organization he founded, The Dolphin Research Project, dedicated to stopping the mistreatment and exploitation of dolphins around the world.  When Nilsson’s version was released as a single in July 1968, it failed to break into the top 100, but after its inclusion as the theme song in the film Midnight Cowboy in 1969, the song was re-released as a single and became a hit, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard pop chart and No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart.

The gem of this album is “One”, a song that sounds as unassuming and catchy today  as it did in 1968.  Many will be familiar with the Three Dog Night’s version, but it is this original version that is the definitive, and by far the best, one.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Harry Nilsson, except where noted.  Arranged by George Tipton.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Daddy’s Song” 2:19
2 “Good Old Desk” 2:22
3. “Don’t Leave Me” 2:18
4. “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” 2:12
5. “Little Cowboy” 1:22
6. “Together” 2:08
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Everybody’s Talkin’ Fred Neil 2:41
8. “I Said Goodbye to Me” 2:13
9. “Little Cowboy” 0:52
10. “Mr. Tinker” 2:41
11. One 2:50
12. “The Wailing of the Willow” Nilsson, Ian Freebairn-Smith 1:57
13. “Bath” 1:44

Fifty Year Friday: Herbie Hancock, Speak Like a Child; The Web, Fully Interlocking; Deep Purple, Grateful Dead

web cover_5115101992017_r

The Web; Fully Interlocking

Released by Deram sometime in 1968, The Web’s debut album, Fully Interlocking, is both an early jazz-rock album and an early progressive rock album. Though no home run is scored under either of these uniforms, credit must be given for the moments of sophistication and the early foray into the two new styles of rock music that would soon surge in popularity. In accordance with the title, the music is interlocking with no silence between tracks.  Track 4, Green Side Up,  is particularly notable as a fully-formed prog rock instrumental, with King Crimson-like rhythmic punctuation (this before King Crimson’s first-ever rehearsal in January 1969), a Robert Wyatt-like second theme, and effective saxophone and bass guitar lines. No progressive rock fan should miss hearing this.

The band included two guitars, two percussionist, an electric bass, and Tom Harris who played sax and flute. There was one American, their dedicated vocalist, John L. Watson, who was quite good, but sounded more like a lounge singer than a rock or progressive rock vocalist. (Later Watson would be replaced by singer and keyboardist Dave Lawson who would eventually join Greenslade.)

Some of the music sounds dated, such as their attempted single, “Wallpaper”, and some doesn’t live up to its conceptual promise such as the “War and Peace” suite, but this generally ignored album contains much of interest, both musically and historically.  Three bonus tracks are available on CD, and the first two of these are not to be missed.  “I’m A Man”, predates Chicago’s version on the first album, and works perfectly for Watson, who provides a strong rhythm-and-blues delivery.  The similarities between this and the later Chicago version, are striking, and one wonders if someone from Chicago or Columbia records had somehow heard The Web’s version first.  The second track, is Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child”,  also sounding strikingly similar to the Blood, Sweat and Tears’ version that was recorded in October 1968.

This album, only obtainable as a used LP in previous decades, is available as a CD, mp3s, or from a streaming service. It’s worth checking out for anyone that has an interest in rock, jazz-rock, or progressive rock history.

Tracks Listing [from progarchives.com]

1. City of Darkness (2:55)
2. Harold Dubbleyew (3:10)
3. Hatton Mill Morning (3:37)
4. Green Side Up (2:02)
5. Wallpaper (2:40)
6. Did You Die Four Years Ago Tonight? (2:20)
7. Watcha Kelele (3:57)
8. Reverend J. McKinnon (2:55)
9. Sunday Joint (2:03)
10. War or Peace (9:56) :
– a. Theme 2:11
– b. East Meets West 2:39
– c. Battle Scene 0:38
– d. Conscience 2:00
– e. Epilogue 2:28

Total time 35:35

Bonus tracks on 2008 remaster:
11. I’m A Man (3:33)
12. God Bless The Child (5:00)
13. To Love Somebody (3:29)

Line-up / Musicians from progarchives.com

– John L. Watson / vocals
– John Eaton / guitar
– Tony Edwards / guitar
– Tom Harris / sax, flute
– Dick Lee-Smith / bass, congas
– Kenny Beveridge / drums
– Lennie Wright / vibes, congas, claves

With:
– Terry Noonan / orchestra direction & arrangements

 

HH1MI0000442216

Recorded in March 1968 and released a few months later, this is Herbie Hancock’s first album as a leader since his classic Maiden Voyage, recorded 3 years earlier.  The album starts out with a calmer version of “Riot” than that recorded on Miles Davis;’s Neferiti, and ends with “The Sorcerer”, a composition on Davis’s 1967 “Sorcerer” album.  In between these tracks we have compositions relating to childhood, three by Hancock and one by Ron Carter — the Ron Carter piece being different in character and not including the alto flute, flugelhorn and bass trombone present on the  rest of the album.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Herbie Hancock, except as indicated.

Side A:

  1. “Riot” – 4:40
  2. “Speak Like a Child” – 7:50
  3. “First Trip” (Ron Carter) – 6:01

Side B:

  1. “Toys” – 5:52
  2. “Goodbye to Childhood” – 7:06
  3. “The Sorcerer” – 5:36

 

Personnel

herbie-hancock-speak-like-a-child-uk-bn-back-cover-1800-ljc

 

Shades of Deep Purple

 

Deep Purple: Shades of Deep Purple

In their debut album, recorded in three days in May of 1968, and released on July 17, 1968, Deep Purple comes out swinging, providing exuberant hard rock with multiple glimpses of early heavy metal and progressive rock.

This album didn’t do well at all in the UK, but due to the single, “Hush”, which received significant airplay in the States, and reached the #4 slot, Shades of Deep Purple sold fairly well in the U.S., staying for 23 weeks on the Billboard top 200 album list and peaking at #24 in November, 1968.

The arpeggiated keyboard-led opening, interlude, and return included amongst the garden- variety chord progressions of “One More Rainy Day” is historically notable as this simple, but effective, compositional technique soon becomes a significant part of the musical vocabulary found in 1970s progressive rock.  Also, common to early progressive rock, is the quoting of classical music — in this case, Rimsky-Korsakov’s  Scheherezade, which provides the material for “Prelude: Happiness”, followed by Deep Purple’s take on Cream’s “I’m So Glad” based on the Skip James 1930’s tune.

Deep Purple would tour the U.S. while their album was climbing the charts, making a name for themselves, and establishing the appeal of this new style of rock music.  Below is a replica (from Dirk Kahler’s Deep Purple Tour Page) of the Oct. 18 ticket for their engagement as an opening act for Cream’s two night appearance at the Fabulous Forum.

deep purple ticket

Tracks Listing [from progarchives.com]

1. And The Address (4:38)
2. Hush (4:24)
3. One More Rainy Day (3:40)
4. Prelude: Happiness / I’m So Glad (7:19)
5. Mandrake Root (6:09)
6. Help (6:01)
7. Love Help Me (3:49)
8. Hey Joe (7:33)

Total time 43:33

Bonus tracks on 2000 remaster:
9. Shadows (Outtake) (3:38)
10. Love help me (Instrumental version) (3:29)
11. Help (Alternate take) (5:23) *
12. Hey Joe (BBC Top Gear session, 14 January 1969) (4:05) *
13. Hush (Live US TV, 1968) (3:53) *

* Previously unreleased

Line-up / Musicians

– Rod Evans / lead vocals
– Ritchie Blackmore / guitars
– Jon Lord / Hammond organ, backing vocals
– Nick Simper /bass, backing vocals
– Ian Paice / drums

0066___grateful_dead___anthem_of_the_sun_by_sunsetcolors-dag1wxs.jpg

Grateful Dead: Anthem of the Sun

A day after the release of Shades of Deep Purple, Grateful Dead’s second album, Anthem of the Sun, was released on July 18, 1968.  Very different than their first album, which was mostly rock and roll and blues rock, this second album has more folk-rock, bluegrass,  psychedelic and progressive elements including a suite-like first track. Micky Hart’s addition to the band as their new percussionist appears to extend their boundaries as does their bold approach of mixing live and studio versions for the content of each track, focusing on achieving an overall aesthetic product that delineated the separate instruments but also achieved a sense of immediacy and freedom present in live shows. Throughout, there is an interesting mix of studio segments and additions with live material and improvised passages like the quote of Donovan’s “There is a Mountain” on side two’s “Alligator.”  Note that there are two versions of this album: the original mix from 1968 and a 1971 more commercial, and more commonly available, remix.  Released earlier this week, the 50th anniversary edition of Anthem of the Sun includes both the 1968 and 1971 mixes, remastered, on the first CD,  with additional live tracks from a 10/22/1967 concert at Winterland, San Francisco.

Track listing

Side one

#

Title

Length

1.

That’s It for the Other One” (Jerry GarciaBill KreutzmannPhil LeshRon McKernanBob WeirTom Constanten)

  • I. Cryptical Envelopment (Garcia)
  • II. Quadlibet for Tenderfeet (Garcia, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir)
  • III. The Faster We Go, the Rounder We Get (Kreutzmann, Weir)
  • IV. We Leave the Castle (Constanten)

7:40

2.

“New Potato Caboose” (Lesh, Robert Petersen)

8:26

3.

Born Cross-Eyed” (Weir)

2:04

Side two

#

Title

Length

4.

“Alligator” (Lesh, McKernan, Robert Hunter)

11:20

5.

“Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)” (Garcia, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir)

9:37

Personnel

Grateful Dead

Additional personnel

Production

  • Grateful Dead – producers, arrangers
  • David Hassinger – producer
  • Dan Healy – executive engineer
  • Bob Matthews – assistant engineer

Fifty Year Friday: Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Vanilla Fudge’s Renaissance

iron20butterfly

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Released June 14, 1968)

A while back, Time Magazine reported that the ideal length of time for workers to take a break was 17 minutes.  Not coincidentally, this is the time it took for Iron Butterfly to record “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” created a revolution in rock albums, taking up an entire side, psychologically preparing the way for tracks like the sixteen minute medley on side two of Abbey Road, Van Der Graaf Generator’s 23 minute “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” on side two of Pawn’s Heart,  the 23 minute “Supper’s Ready” taking up most of side two of Genesis’s Foxtrot, Yes’s 18 minute “Close to the Edge”, Jethro Tull’s 44 minute complete album, “Thick As a Brick”, and Yes’s two LP, “Tales of Topographic Oceans”, not to mention very-long tracks from Can, Amon Duul II , Ash Ra Tempel and Pink Floyd as well as works like Morton Feldman’s 1983 six-hour String Quartet No. 2, Max Richter’s eight hour “Sleep”, Kuzhalmannam Ramakrishnanand’s 501 hour concert in 2009 and John Cage’s Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible) which if not rushed, lasts around 639 years.

And, yes, there were earlier long works going back hundreds of years across various continents long before recorded music.  We also have several cases of very long jazz tracks that pre-date “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  But we are talking about rock here, a genre of music born from the three-minute pop tune aimed at attention-deficit teens and cultivated to sustain a revenue stream through theoretically expendable music and even more expendable music groups.

It was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that bridged the gap between The Doors “Light My Fire”  and the multi-section progressive rock long tracks to follow.  And unlike some of the progressive rock to come, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”  was not several songs bound together but a single song, with extended solos, including the famous drum solo that changed the role and egos of rock drummers until the end of time.

For historic purposes, one has to mention  Love’s 1967 single-side 19 minute song, “Revelation” — but the difference is that Love’s long “Revelation” was generally ignored at that time it was released, for good reason, and Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” carried its album to the number four billboard spot and made it in abbreviated form as a hit single.

Originally titled “In A Garden of Eden”, but reportedly changed to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” upon hearing how composer Doug Ingle pronounced the title after a gallon of cheap wine. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” starts off with Doug Ingle’s neo-baroque organ solo in d minor followed by baroque-like layering of the entrances of the other instruments including Ingle’s vocal.  Remarkable and clearly inescapable is the ostinato (a repeated musical phrase, often in the lower register) not too distantly related to the  opening of Tcherepnin’s Bagatelle op. 5 no. 1 (C, C, B-flat, C [long, short, short, long]) and the 1960’s more frequently played Ajax’s “Stronger Than Dirt” jingle, except transposed to d minor and transformed brilliantly so the opening pattern is D, D, F, E, C, D (long, long, short, short, short, long) thus creating one of the first and most impactful heavy metal riffs.

There are a number of notable components to this work including the hard rock introduction, the modulation from the verse to the chorus, the organ passage work, the guitar solo, the basic (basic enough for non-musicians to tap along with) but memorable two-and-a-half  minute drum solo, the organ solo incorporating “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, and the ensemble percussion section with organ and guitar commentary.  For comparison of how similarly In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was played live, one can check out the group’s Filmore East live album released decades later which includes two concert recordings of  from April 1968.

As a bonus, the first side has some very accessible tracks, mostly of the psychedelic era but here and there with early heavy-metal elements and a number of interesting organ passages. The first two tracks are upbeat with “Flowers and Beads” being material that would have worked quite well for the Turtles. “My Mirage” is more reflective, “Termination” includes a solid early metal ostinato on the chorus and a wistful, ethereal coda, and “Are You Happy” makes a solid case that this group has made the leap from psychedelic rock and acid-rock into heavy metal territory — also, note this track’s primal, dark, earthy opening, and then the descending chords sequence in the verse.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead Vocals

Length

1.

“Most Anything You Want” Doug Ingle Ingle

3:44

2.

“Flowers and Beads” Ingle Ingle

3:09

3.

“My Mirage” Ingle Ingle

4:55

4.

“Termination” Erik BrannLee Dorman Brann

2:53

5.

“Are You Happy” Ingle Ingle

4:31

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead Vocals

Length

6.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Ingle Ingle

17:05

Personnel

 

RVF.jpg

Renaissance (Released June 14, 1968)

Known mostly as a sophisticated cover band and not for their original compositions (if you need verification, ask Amazon’s Alexa to play songs by Vanilla Fudge and see how many hours, not minutes, elapse before she plays something that wasn’t a cover of a previously successful song), this album contains five original compositions by band members, one composition by songwriter  Essra Mohawk, and their cover of the Donovan song, “Season of the Witch”, which received some airplay for a few weeks on both AM and FM radio.   Not only are the original songs of satisfying quality, but were strong enough to propel the album up to the number 20 spot on the Billboard album chart only a few weeks after its release.

The opening of “The Sky Cried/When I Was a Boy” is as solidly progressive as just about anything in the first half of 1968. When the vocals arrive, the track sounds more psychedelic or early metal than progressive, but the musicianship is solid. “That’s What Makes a Man” also has an instrumental introduction that anticipates Yes.  The band’s vocalizing is effective on all seven tracks and their sometimes eerie, wraith-like supporting vocals likely had some influence on later bands, particularly Uriah Heep.  Overall, this album generally gets classified as psychedelic rock, hard rock or acid-rock.  Worth listening to if you haven’t previously heard this album and are interested in hard rock or the roots of progressive rock; also worth revisiting if you haven’t heard this since the late sixties or early seventies.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

  1. “The Sky Cried/When I Was a Boy” (Mark SteinTim Bogert) – 7:36
  2. “Thoughts” (Vince Martell) – 3:28
  3. “Paradise” (Stein, Carmine Appice) – 5:59
  4. “That’s What Makes a Man” (Stein) – 4:28

Side 2

  1. “The Spell That Comes After” (Essra Mohawk) – 4:29
  2. “Faceless People” (Appice) – 5:55
  3. Season of the Witch” (Donovan Leitch; interpolating “We Never Learn” by Essra Mohawk) – 8:40

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Joan Baez, Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time, Randy Newman

R-1911172-1319233476.jpeg

From 1967 continuing into 1968 and forward, popular music continues to become more serious, stimulating, and consequential at the same time that modern concert hall music (commonly called twentieth century classical music, modern classical music or avant-garde classical music) continues to struggle to appeal to sizable audiences, with most classical music concerts programming music from the 19th and 18th centuries with a few early, relatively accessible twentieth century works, like Debussy’s orchestral works or Stravinsky’s Firebird included now and then.

In the late sixties many of the best artists and bands in popular music became just as intent on creating works of artistic value as anyone in the more traditional and established areas of the fine arts.  When such artists or bands were lacking in a given area, they would either extend their own skills or reach out to others to assist them in completing a given objective or vision.  More and more this meant including orchestration in their albums.  At first this may have been more driven by producers and the commercial interests of the record companies, and in many of these cases the orchestration was added as something appended to the original product, as in the case with Stanley Turrentine’s “Look of Love” where strings are overdubbed on top of previously  recorded tracks.  But there were also many cases where the orchestration was part of the fabric of the music — or where electronic keyboards and more sophisticated usage of electric guitars, electric bass guitars and percussion replace the instruments of the traditional orchestra, further empowering the artistic determination of the artist or band.

Before the prevalence of electronic keyboards, either the artist or someone in the band had to be a skilled orchestrator or be able to effectively collaborate with a skilled arranger and orchestrator.  In Joan Baez’s case, she was able to partner with Peter Schickle on three of her albums.  Schickle, the mastermind behind PDQ Bach, with three PDQ Bach albums already to his credit on Vanguard, was also composing for film when he partnered with her for the third time on Joan’s 1968 concept album, Baptism. Though neither a commercial nor critical success, Baptism is a strong political statement against war and the ongoing inhumanity characteristic of “civilized” societies.  No doubt, some who had purchased this album were disappointed at the ratio of spoken word to singing, and I suspect this is not an album many will care to listen to more than once or twice, but as a document of the times, this remains an effective artistic statement with a well-selected mix of readings. some excellent orchestration, and Baez’s beautiful vocals.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)
  2. “I Saw the Vision of Armies” (Walt Whitman)
  3. “Minister of War” (Arthur Waley)
  4. “Song In the Blood” (Lawrence FerlinghettiJacques Prévert)
  5. “Casida of the Lament” (J.L. Gili, Federico García Lorca)
  6. “Of the Dark Past” (James Joyce)
  7. London” (William Blake)
  8. “In Guernica” (Norman Rosten)
  9. “Who Murdered the Minutes” (Henry Treece)
  10. “Oh, Little Child” (Henry Treece)
  11. “No Man Is an Island” (John Donne)
  12. “Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” (James Joyce)
  13. “All the Pretty Little Horses” (Traditional)
  14. “Childhood III” (Arthur Rimbaud, Louis Varese)
  15. “The Magic Wood” (Henry Treece)
  16. “Poems from the Japanese” (Kenneth Rexroth)
  17. “Colours” (Peter LeviRobin Milner-GullandYevgeny Yevtushenko)
  18. All in green went my love riding” (E. E. Cummings)
  19. “Gacela of the Dark Death” (Federico García LorcaStephen Spender)
  20. “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Wilfred Owen)
  21. “Evil” (N. Cameron, Arthur Rimbaud)
  22. “Epitaph for a Poet” (Countee Cullen)
  23. “Mystic Numbers- 36”
  24. “When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven” (James Joyce)
  25. “The Angel” (William Blake)
  26. “Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)

51jTBjVF3eL

It’s certainly not a mystery why talented composers would choose to pursue the popular music of their times — music that they listen to, their friends listen to, and reflect the time they live in — as opposed to less popular music of academia, which can only unconvincingly assert its lineage to the great music of  Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.  One should expect that the most engaging, commercially viable, and prevalent music would attract a substantial proportion of able and talented musicians and composers: it was the case during the jazz era, the swing era, the be-bop era, and in the late sixties, during some of the most exciting days of rock music.

Randy Newman’s father and mother were not professional composers, but three of his uncles were:  Alfred NewmanLionel Newman and Emil Newman  — all noted Hollywood film-score composers, with the most famous, Alfred Newman, conducting, arranging and composing about two-hundred film scores, nine of which won Academy Awards.  Randy already had written a number of songs including a B-side (“They Tell Me It’s Summer”) for a hit single of the Fleetwoods (“Lovers by Night, Strangers by Day”), the song lyrics for Bobby Darin’s “Look at Me” (the title song of the 1964 movie, “The Lively Set”), and songs recorded by Dusty SpringfieldPetula ClarkJackie DeShannon, and the O’Jays, when he dropped out of UCLA, only one semester short of a music degree. By then, he had taken courses in music theory, music history and probably one or more orchestration classes, though clearly he had already learned the basics before his UCLA studies having written background music for a 1962 episode of TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and then eventually providing music for other TV shows including  Lost in SpacePeyton Place,  Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and one of my favorites as kid, Judd For The Defense.

With several years of experience in songwriting and orchestra scoring, Randy Newman released his first album, Randy Newman, in June of 1968.  The album did not sell well, and Warner Brothers provided any dissatisfied buyers the opportunity to exchange the album for any other album in their catalog.

But this album is a keeper.  From the beginning we see a thoughtful approach to songwriting.  The first song, “Love Song” immediately makes an impact with its dry, wry humor, its shrewdly crafted orchestration, and its structure: Newman’s ending to the song eschews the standard return of the chorus and ends with a bridge section that is followed by a final, modified verse with a simple brief coda, creating not a climax, but an ending that aligns well with the sober, yet tongue-in-cheek message: “When our kids are grown with kids of their own, they’ll send us away to a little home in Florida; we’ll play checkers all day ’til we pass away.”

Newman’s unique delivery, the reflective piano accompaniment, the excellent orchestration, often veering intentionally away from the core song material, make their mark on each and every track.  Repeatedly Newman is taking up the voice of the underdog, the rejected, or the trodden-down, forgotten citizen, even when reflecting on the status of God as in “I Think He’s Hiding.”  Songs like “Bet No One Every Hurt So Bad”, “Living Without You”, and “Linda” not only reflect on the sadness and angst of the persona of the lyrics (the point of view, narrator, speaker) but provide commentary on the character of that persona such that we may feel some sympathy but would sometimes also wish to distance ourselves a little from some of these characters if they came into our vicinity.

On the song “Cowboy”, perhaps the best song on the album, we feel genuine empathy and compassion for the persona. This is a song from the heart without any clever commentary or cloaked irony.  Newman raises this to an art song with his orchestration.  The work starts off with the images of the prairie, the orchestration developing and sculpting the mood, supporting the lyrics and evoking some of the characteristics of the music of Aaron Copland. Following “Cowboy”, “Beehive” is an interesting variant on the well-known “St. James Infirmary Blues”, followed by the classic “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”, recorded by Judy Collins in 1966.  Ending this excellent album is “Davy The Fat Boy” — a track that might be considered politically incorrect today, but it is not a portrait about Davy but about the scoundrel exploiting him.  The orchestration/arrangement is again the star here, and it is every bit of an art song as anything turned out by the Beatles or Beach Boys.

In an act of full disclosure here, I once saw Newman perform “Love Story” on network television a very long time ago — perhaps this was in 1970 on an “In Concert” program — or perhaps on late night TV — and at that time, hearing him accompanied only by his piano, I was not impressed enough to follow-up further by purchasing an album or requesting it as a possible present for the next birthday or Christmas.  It turned out that for me, Randy Newman was an acquired taste, cemented by taking a music history course at my local college during my senior year in high school, in which course, the cellist, and course instructor, Terry King, played part of Newman’s “Sail Away” album. King had played on that album and reminisced about the experience.  Later that same week, Mr. King played, with great pride, a recording of Schubert’s Erlkönig.  At the end, one of the students asked “what was so special about that?  It’s just a song.”  King, unflustered, replied that no, Erlkönig was not an ordinary song, it was truly something extraordinarily special, but didn’t go into any details to support that conclusion.  At that point, I thought, yes, Schubert’s Erlkönig is quite dramatic and special — and even catchy, in an early-nineteenth-century-equivalency-of-hard-rock sort of way — but it is a song — and I thought back to that earlier class in which King had played Randy Newman — someone who also wrote songs, but one hundred and fifty years later. Yes, a song is a song, but there is no particular boundary to how good (or bad) it can be.  It’s up to the listener to make that evaluation, and if enough listeners have a favorable opinion over time, that song may have some longevity.

So possibly, the songs of Randy Newman will be around in the 22nd century.  If so, this album, out of print for fifteen years before being released on CD, and generally ignored by the rock critics of 1968, provides more than just an interesting assortment of early Randy Newman tunes, but a complete, and rewarding, musical experience.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written and arranged by Randy Newman.

  1. “Love Story (You and Me)” – 3:20
  2. “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” – 2:00
  3. “Living Without You” – 2:25
  4. “So Long Dad” – 2:02
  5. “I Think He’s Hiding” – 3:04
  6. “Linda” – 2:27
  7. “Laughing Boy” – 1:55
  8. “Cowboy” – 2:36
  9. “Beehive State” – 1:50
  10. I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” – 2:55
  11. “Davy the Fat Boy” – 2:50
%d bloggers like this: