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Fifty Year Friday: September 1972

Yes: Close to the Edge

The distinction between dance music and listening music goes back before recorded history, and by recorded history, I don’t mean music recorded on tape, records or cylinders, but history captured through a preservable or lasting medium such as clay tablets, papyrus, paper or blog posts on the internet. The boundaries often merge between dance music and listening music and a great deal of dance music provides listening pleasure while much listening music encourages one to further experience the music through motion, even if only a slight swaying of the head or tapping of the foot.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, dance music and ceremonial music were incredibly important, and there we few cases where composers wrote music that was intended of audiences that would critically listen to music as a stand alone listening experience. By the end of the Renaissance, opera was introduced in Europe (some 14 centuries after Chinese opera had entertained the general public during the Three Kingdoms era), providing a visual spectacle, narrative and supporting music. Music was also played for gatherings and other ceremonies, often competing with dining and conversation, but over time attention was focused on crafting music that was the primary focus for the audience — music to listen to without dancing or in conjunction with some accompanying activity, ceremony or theatrical work. Over time more and more people got in the habit of attending concerts where one was seated with no other visual then the performers playing their instruments. Yes, attending such functions was an experience and social function, but by the nineteenth century, no one was supposed to talk or even cough and anything but the music itself was considered a distraction.

Player piano rolls, the radio, and the phonograph played important roles in providing both dancing and listening music, and made music so readily available that using music as background or as part of an environmental ambience became more and more common, with the art of listening rapidly declining in the general public. Yes, dancing music and listening music continued to thrive side by side, with big bands in the thirties and forties providing both functions; Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton bands provided particularly interesting and compelling listening music at the same time they provided very effective dance music.

At the beginning of the Beatles’ popularity, their primary focus was on dance music, but they also introduced more serious songs starting in 1965 — ballads not particular suitable for dancing such as “Yesterday” and “Norwegian Wood.” (“Norwegian Wood” was theoretically suitable for dancing to in its steady 12/8 tempo, but few rock and roll fans were particularly keen on waltz-like dancing.) “Nowhere Man” and “Michelle” followed these two, both in a 4/4 time signature that theoretically supported slow dancing, but one’s first reaction was to listen to these works not to dance to them.

The elements of listening music consisted of two parts, lyrics to which one listened to in order to understand the author’s message, and the music itself, which either supported lyrics, provided relief or interludes in relationship to the lyrics, or stood on its own as in the case of extended passages between lyrics or in purely instrumental music. The Beatles had a go at a single blues-based, relatively unimaginative instrumental, “Flying”, but on that same album, Magical Mystery Tour, there were several songs where the lyrics were considerably secondary to the impact and character of the music itself. When one first heard the Sgt. Peppers album and then, later, tracks on the Magical Mystery Tour album like “I Am the Walrus” or “Strawberry Fields Forever”, one didn’t exclaim “Wow!” as a reaction to the lyrics, but was primarily impressed by the bold, progressive qualities of the music. (Yes, their was a slight fixation with some around the initials of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, but it was at best a footnote to the reaction of the “new sounds” provided by the music.)

It was this emphasis on listening to music, by a band that had abandoned playing playing live due to screaming, fawning, and fainting fans effectively eliminating the listening aspect of live performances, that contributed significantly to other groups focusing on providing an LP-based listening experience, something not foreign to those musicians that had grown up in households where classical and jazz LPs were listened to attentively and often in reverence.

For my part, during my pre-teen years, I was exposed to Ravel’s Bolero, which I listened to intently from start to finish to sort out what changed with each repetition of the material, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue — and so it was natural to listen intently to Sgt. Peppers, then Abbey Road and then ultimately Yes’s Fragile and Close to the Edge.

By the time Close to the Edge was to be released, I was the proud owner of a budget LP set of six of Mozart’s later symphonies, and had listened to several works of Beethoven, Ravel and Debussy. Yes’s earlier album, Fragile, had impressed me for its balanced, classical-like attributes and musical preciseness supporting highly appealing and handsomely crafted material. Close to the Edge seemed to have embraced a more impressionistic, romantic ethos; it was a music that embraced elements of enchantment and imagery over precision and order.

About the middle of September 1972, right after Close to the Edge was released, my next door neighbor brought over the album, and upon listening, I was impressed more by the differences between it and the earlier Fragile, than any stylistic similarities, of which there were many. That first side to the title song was very much in the realm of classical music, recalling those wonderful orchestral tone poems of the late nineteenth century — yet brought up to date with lyrics and electronic instruments. “Close to the Edge” had a sense of thematic development, coherence and overall direction that, in my mind at that time, made this equal, and in the same category, of those fifteen to twenty-five minutes great classical works I so loved. Side two was a slight step down with neither of the two tracks on side two equaling the impact of the first side (or matching the best of the four main works on Fragile) but each was still musically impressive and compelling. To the credit of U.S. listeners, the album did quite well commercially, climbing up to the number three spot on the Billboard albums chart. In addition, all three works from the album had been captured in live performance for posterity from Yes’s 1972 tour and released in 1973, on the “Yessongs” album, providing another version for the serious rock-music listeners of that time.

Additional September 1972 Releases

Of the remaining rock-album releases in September, the most notable is Black Sabbath’s fourth album, simple titled Vol. 4, released September 1972. Guitarist and keyboardist, as well as primary composer, Tony Iommi pushes the band into new musical territory, sometimes exploring a harder, heavier sound and sometimes extending their previously established ostinato-based style. The first and lengthiest track, “Wheels of Confusion” is the most musically ambitious and varied, packed with a number of ingeniously layered and interlocking components. Also of note is the instrumental, “Laguna Sunrise”, a simple but effective composition with Iommi on both acoustic and mellotron.

With the band prepared to break up, the course of history changed completely for Mott the Hoople when after they had turned down David Bowie’s offer to allow them to record the newly composed, “Suffragette City”, Bowie quickly dashed off another song as an alternative potential single, furtively recording it with the Mott the Hoople band members in a couple of secretive sessions on May 14 and May 15, 1972. This would be the stand out track on the album named from that song, All the Young Dudes, and, importantly for the continuation of Mott The Hoople, a successful single peaking at number 3 in the UK and getting solid airplay on both AM and FM radio in the states. A version with Bowie as the vocalist for a guide track he had recorded during that May 15 session is now also available as a bonus track on later versions of the album.

Additional September 1972 releases included Seals and Croft’ Summer Breeze, an album filled with a variety of acoustic instruments and some electric guitar, released on September 9, 1972 with the initial track, “Hummingbird”, and its title track being played heavily on middle-of-the-road, easy listening and adult contemporary AM stations, Family’s sixth studio album, Bandstand, with its die-cut gatefold cover representing an old-style British television, the LP containing straightforward, relatively conventional rock songs (and the last Family album with John Wetton), Steeleye Span’s strong acoustic folk album, “Below the Salt”, and Sandy Denny’s second solo album, Sandy, with a varied assortment of arrangements highlighted by strong musicianship.

Fifty Year Friday: August 1972

Annette Peacock: I’m the One

Missed mentioning this earlier this year, but better late than never! Released around January 1972, this incredible album combines jazz, pop and rock elements in an invigorating blend with effective use of synthesizers. Annette’s vocals may have influenced David Bowie’s vocal approach starting with Ziggy Stardust. This is one of the great albums of 1972!

McCoy Tyner: Sahara

Also missed this fine album last month! Recorded in January 1972, and released around July 1972, the album covers fusion-like territory but with all acoustic instruments. Tyner is a tsunami on piano and the first track is one of the finest of 1972. This first track then is followed by a mesmerizing, technically incredible piano solo and an adventurous, sometimes sizzling, sometimes reflective Japanese-flavored work where Tyner exchanges keyboards for koto, Sonny Fortune exchanges saxophone for flute, and bassist Calvin Hill appears to play an eastern flute-like instrument. The next track, “Rebirth”, explodes with a drum solo and then Tyner’s steamrolling piano taking no prisoners, with Fortune unleashing a blistering, often high-register alto sax solo — incredible execution nearly beyond belief. Side Two is taken up with the title track, Sahara, not my favorite of the album, perhaps because of some shrillness from the eastern reed instruments, yet it attempts to encompass epic scope and has some incredible passages.

Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D.

Named after the Dogon in West Africa, recorded in St. Louis in February 1972 and released in limited quantities on Julian Hemphill’s own Mbari label and later made more widely available, this was Hemphill’s first commercial recording. Though labelled as “three lengthy avant-garde explorations” the music is structured and accessible with musical influences from the African continent.

The Kinks: Everybody’s in Show-biz

This two LP set includes studio material from spring of 1972 on the first two sides and live material from Carnegie Hall recorded on March 2nd and 3rd. Ray Davies continues his deviation from standard rock with strong influence from the Neo-music-hall material of twentieth-century London. The first LP loosely addresses the concept of show-biz fame and touring with the upbeat “Here Comes Yet Another Day” energetically opening up side one. The album closes with “Celluloid Heroes” (which got significant airplay on FM radio) with Ray Davies’ thoughtful and well-crafted lyrics providing a wistful close to that first LP.

Gil Scott-Heron: Free Will

Though not as strong as Gil Scott Heron’s previous (second) album, this album has more historical importance. His first album (recorded in a studio with a live audience) is sometimes referred to as proto-rap, but more accurately it is emotive, fairly well-written poetry read to sparse musical accompaniment, not so different than beat-era poetry readings, with some differences in rhythmic elements as well as subject matter and vocabulary. It is the second side of this third album, Free Will, that more clearly anticipates rap music with Heron providing better rehearsed and more effective, more rhythmically-enhanced delivery of his poetry. For stronger music, refer to his second album, Pieces of a Man, but if the object of exploring is to hunt for what may be the first traces of rap on LP, start here.

Fifty Year Friday: July 1972

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Trilogy

I think it was the weekend after july 4th, 1972, that this long-anticipated (by me) ELP album hit the records stores. I unhesitatingly purchased it, and though I was hoping for something as musically revolutionary as Tarkus, I soon accepted this more commercially friendly effort from ELP as a fine album, getting lots of turntable time from me during that summer.

For classical and progressive music fans, there are several tracks of great interest, including the particularly well-arranged and well-executed, “Abaddon’s Bolero”, Emerson’s version of Ravel’s Bolero, at a little over half the length and in a non-bolero 4/4 time-signature, but very much tracking the intent and impact of Ravel’s 3/4 bolero, starting out quiet and gradually building to a thunderous climax. Also notable is the imitative counterpart in the middle section of the three-part Endless Enigma, and the well-executed moog-rich arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown”, with Emerson cleverly inserting references to American folk tunes not referenced in the original. Also notable is the guitar arrangement in “From The Beginning” and the seamless coalescing of pop, jass and prog in three-part “Trilogy.”

Chicago: Chicago V

While I was absorbed in my new ELP album, my next door neighbor acquired the newest Chicago album that very next Friday evening or Saturday morning — at any rate it was at his house on Saturday, and I soon brought it over to my house to let me record it while we listened to it on my parent’s better stereo system at my place. I intently followed the lyrics, trying to immediately size up the value — determining it was an improvement over the third album, not as good as the second, and, with “Dialogue” and “Saturday in the Park” seemed more commercially-oriented than the previous studio albums. If I could see into the future, I would have realized that this was the start of Chicago’s previously unimaginable move towards a more adult-contemporary.

T. Rex: The Slider, Frank Zappa: Waka/Jawaka

T. Rex released the commercially successful slider was included their previously released single, “Telegram Sam” and Frank Zappa releases Waka/Jawaka, sometimes referred to as Hot Rats 2, due to the reference on the cover and the similarities in general seriousness and musical style. And though nothing on the album approaches the classic “Peaches en Regalia” from the original Hot Rats, the title track is really a better example of jazz rock than anything on the Chicago V album; and the multi-meter “Big Swifty”, though perhaps a bit long, provides a different aspect of jazz-fusion than found on the several more successful (musically and commercially) jazz-fusion albums released those first seven months of 1972, with Zappa’s originality, creativity and inventiveness continuing to be an essential element to his music’s appeal.

Fifty Year Friday: June 1972

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

At some point in the summer of 1972, one of the album-oriented FM radio stations I regularly listened to began to play “Suffragette City” from the newly released David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. That was more than enough inducement for me to seek out the album, take it home, take the appallingly thin and flimsy RCA Dynaflex-branded vinyl out of its paper sleeve, place it on the turntable and, though, not truly complying with the instructions on the back of the LP, “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME”, still play it louder than I would have if anyone else had been home. Though puzzled by the general fuzziness in the overall coherence of the narrative, the music itself was crystalline clear — hard rock, but clear concise execution — and well-recorded, orderly, and musically transparent. The arrangements and production promoted a distinction between individual parts, with each standing out clearly and effectively.

The melodies and music were instantly accessible and captivating and repeated listenings of the album only marginally enhanced one’s fondness for the music which was figuratively (though not literally) off the charts from the first encounter. I was only disappointed by one song, the cover of “It Ain’t Easy”, which I was familiar with from the Three Dog’s Night version, and the disappointment was due to the mediocrity of the song itself, as opposed the to superior performance of the number, recorded during the Honky Dory sessions in June of 1971. Putting that one non-Bowie composition aside, the rest of the album is not only uniformly excellent, but magnificent! Each deserved both FM and AM airplay, but though some would get FM airplay, nothing to my knowledge ever was played on AM.

Yet, my expectation was that this album would catch fire with a mass audience: due to the remarkable accessibility of the songs and their immediate emotional pull, I considered it certain that Ziggy would become popular by the end of the summer and be one of the best selling albums of 1972. Of course, that didn’t happen, and Bowie’s claims to the higher levels of fame would be delayed until 1973.

Aphrodite’s Child: 666

This was an album I didn’t discover until the mid 1970s, after Vangelis had released several solo albums. 666 is the last of three albums from Aphrodite’s Child, with Vangelis primarily responsible for the compositions, with lyrics provided by Costas Ferris based on the Book of Revelations. This is a wonderful mixture of styles, Vangelis showing off his musical versatility with a range of styles and inclusion of elements of Greek folk music.

Leon Russell: Carney

Though nothing on Carney equals the simple beauty of “A Song for You” on Leon Russell’s 1970 album, this album contains two classic Russell songs, “Tight Rope” and “The Masquerade”, the latter of which was successfully covered by George Benson in 1976. Side two has been criticized by some critics for its psychedelic leanings, but it deserves praise and not criticism — in fact the entire album is a keeper!

Jethro Tull: Living In the Past

Usually I don’t reminisce on compilation albums, but much of this was new material to those of us in the states in 1972 including gems like “Christmas Song”, “Life’s a Long Song”, and “Living in the Past” which received significant airplay later on in 1972. Quite a treat!

Roxy Music: Roxy Music; Alice Cooper: School’s Out; Pink Floyd Obscured By Clouds

A couple of notable, although somewhat uneven works released in May of 1972, included Roxy Music’s first album, which effectively mixed glam, rock and pop elements to create a compelling semi-progressive set of tunes as well as a notable album by Alice Cooper, which brilliantly identified an untapped commercially-potent topic, “School’s Out” — and brilliantly created an iconic hard-rock anthem for that topic, along with two other strong hard rock songs and some semi-progressive moments rising above mere album filler.

Also uneven, but essential for Floyd fans and well worth listening to for everyone else, is Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds, which was put together rather hurriedly, around the same time work was being done on the classic and much better, Dark Side of the Moon. That said, this album belongs to that next phase in Floyd’s always exploratory musical journey. Some of the melodies for the songs are less than impressive, but the guitar work, instrumental passages, and overall impact make this an enjoyable album on first and repeated listenings.

Fifty Year Friday: May 1972

1972 was the year I started taking piano lessons in order to be able to write down all the original tunes that had started popping into my head around 1970. I never developed an ear good enough to play either my tunes or other people’s melodies impromptu, but it did give me enough foundation so I could pick out melodies after some work. It also gave me a greater appreciation of the great spectrum of music, current and past, available to people like me living in an industrialized, freedom-tolerant country with access to the variety of record stores, concerts and radio stations present in 1972 Southern California.

Uriah Heep: Demons and Wizards; Elton John: Honky Chateau

Two of the many albums released in May 1972, which I purchased shortly after their release included Uriah Heep’s Demons and Wizards and Elton John’s Honky Chateau. I recorded both on a portable battery-powered tape recorder to have music for the immediately upcoming summer vacation trips, but never much took a liking to Honky Chateau (resulting in me not purchasing Elton’s next album.) Demon and Wizards was better musically, and though not as notably baroque in feel as their previous album, there was still some impressive keyboard work and invigorating instrumental passages.

Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street

Since I could now drive, I started going to school dances, and was exposed to some of the classic dance numbers on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, which was recorded in sessions from 1970, 1971 and 1972 and released on May 12, 1972. I never considered myself much of a Stones fan, but I loved dancing to “Tumbling Dice”, and particularly “Happy”, when some local band would play them (along with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”) at either our own high school gymnasium or at the college across the street or our local junior college. Exile is doted on by rock critics, and though it is a pretty good album, maybe the Stone’s best album next to “Between the Buttons”, and though we have Nicky Hopkins and Billy Preston on keyboards and the creative magic of Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, this is an album more suited for secondary listening, such as driving or party music, as opposed to serious, concentrated listening as appropriate to the very best Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis or Gentle Giant albums.

Caravan: Water Lily; Wishbone Ash: Argus

In terms of rock albums that do compel serious, concentrated listening, two releases from May 1972 fall into this category: Wishbone’s Ash’s Argus, which peaked near the end of May at number 3 in the UK top ten albums, and Caravan’s Waterloo Lily.

Ornette Coleman: Science Fiction, Skies Of America

My first exposure to Ornette Coleman was from the Columbia Records 2 LP “The Progressives” album, made available around 1973 as one of several give-a-way selections (something like 5 or 10 records for $1) to join the Columbia House Columbia Records Club. This was also my first exposure to Weather Report, Soft Machine, Charles Mingus, Don Ellis, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans (with George Russell), Matching Mole, and Gentle Giant. Gentle Giant garnered the plurality of my attention, mandating me to immediately purchase their 1972 Octopus album, but the Ornette Coleman track was a bit beyond my reach and my reality. However, around 1976, when Columbia Records issued a 2 for 1 (two for the price of one) LP of Coleman’s Science Fiction album and Skies of America album and at a price of $3.99, I considered that enticing price enough incentive to start my jazz record library, and I got my first in-depth experience with free-jazz, though I was well-prepared with the amount of twentieth century classical music I had been exposed to as a music major in college. After navigating through Xenakis, Stockhausen and Boulez, music by Ornette Coleman was now more accessible.

Science Fiction was recorded in 1971 and released in 1972 and is my favorite of the two albums. It is bold, unbridled and inventive. The album starts off with the ethereal and relatively tranquil “What Reason Could I give”, with Asha Puthil’s vocals essential in establishing the freshness and almost futuristic characteristics of this first track, and nicely setting up the overall listening experience for the entire album. “Civilization Day” provides a metallic, edgy contrast to the opening with an amazing pocket trumpet solo from Don Cherry. The third track of the album provides a softer and more open sound prior to the more aggressive fourth and fifth tracks, with the sixth track, “All My Life”, a beautiful love song with a remarkable sinuous melody and vocals handled handsomely by Puthil. The seventh track, “Law Years”, includes a compelling solo from Charlie Haden on bass, and the last track, “The Jungle is a Skyscraper” includes a terrific drum solo from Ed Blackwell immediately followed by Coleman on alto over effective support from Blackwell and Haydn, followed by Cherry, then Cherry and Coleman together with the return of the opening theme dramatically ending the album.

Skies of America, recorded in April of 1972, and released in May of 1972, fell short of what it could have been. Coleman’s writing for orchestra provides an effective foundation for an added jazz combo to improvise in appropriate places on top of the basic composition, however contractual constraints with the UK’s musician’s union resulted in Coleman having to do replace his intended “concertino” with a single soloist, himself. In addition, not the entire work was included on the album due to the time limitations of a single LP, possibly compromising the both the fullness and unity of the work — I say possibly, as I don’t believe there is any release with the entire work — I am not even sure the entire composition was recorded by the LSO during the April 1972 sessions.

That said, the album is still quite good, even with the LSO’s playing likely to have benefitted from additional rehearsal time. Coleman is in top form, and as expected, fully able to appropriately execute the underlying intention and vision of his work. The last track, “Sunday in America”, is as American as music by Aaron Copland, starting out reflective and embracing individuality, disparity, and unfettered freedom to dramatically end the movement and effectively close out the forty-minute work.

Weather Report: Live in Tokyo, I Sing the Body Electric

Perhaps a bit more accessible and commercially serviceable to Columbia Records was Weather Report’s part-studio-based, part live album, I Sing the Body Electric, released on May 26, 1972 in states. The live material is a subset of the “Live in Tokyo” 2 LP album released on May 1, 1972 in Japan, and shortly thereafter available as an import in the US, and then much later, like the second decade of the 21st century, available as a two CD set.

Randy Newman: Sail Away

On May 23, 1972, Randy Newman and Reprise records released Sail Away, Newman’s strongest album up to that time, including some of Newman’s songs that had been previously recorded by other artists and some newer material — or at least new to the public. Though not a commercial blockbuster, the album did make it into the Billboard 200, peaking at position 163. Sometime in late 1972 or 1973, I remember Newman appearing on TV and then in 1973, when, as a senior in high school, I took a Music History 100 class from cellist Terry King at the college across the street from my high school. Mr. King shared that he had played cello on this album (as well as cello on Carole King’s Tapestry) and he played a cut from the Sail Away album. Later in 1973, I saw Newman live, just him and piano, at the junior college, performing many of the songs on this album for an interested but relatively small audience. Though, I love the orchestration on this album, nothing quite brings out the sardonic wit and implied cynicism and irony of these songs as Newman tackling them live in the intimate setting of a small auditorium, in his individually, almost conspicuously, relaxed, offhand manner.

Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

GENTLE GIANT: THREE FRIENDS

Released on April 14, 1972, Three Friends is Gentle Giant’s third album and their first self produced album, and takes a musical direction quite different from the previous two, with the music coalesced around the thematic concept of three schoolmates and the different directions they take. Whereas the music of the previous album generally flows and evades concrete musical borders, owing much to medieval and renaissance musical sensibilities, the music of Three Friends is distinctly of the twentieth century with repeated musical cells and patterns, occurrences of syncopation, and both subtle and more strongly emphasized meter changes — all taken together, form the initial characteristics of an identifiable Gentle Giant style that would become more prevalent in their fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth albums.

The first track, the prologue, starts off in 3/4, appropriate for the concept of “three friends”, then shifts into 4/4 in preparation for the lyrics and then ends in mostly 3/4 with a few apparent meter changes for the ending. The high register synthesizer, like the wispiness of memory, adds to the overall effect of detailed stereo separation. The interlaced vocals continues with the next track, “School Days”, which brings to mind that back and forth playfulness of school children, with some more shuffling of the time signature and then a brief dark middle interlude that shifts into 4/4 for the “remember” section which includes Ray Shulman’s son providing age-appropriate vocals against uncle Phil Shulmans grown-up vocals. After a jazzy vibraphone solo from Kerry Minnear, there are some more meter changes and the the reflection on past school days quietly ends.

Each of the next three tracks focuses on one of the three friends. “Working All Day” is the stoic pronouncement of the manual laborer, voiced appropriately by Derek Shulman, who matter of factly accepts his fate with “no regrets” in mostly straight 4/4 common time. Notable is the introduction, a free multi-voiced, contrapuntal, synthesizer part, that, through the magic of magnetic type, slowly (and seamlessly) grinds down to the plodding working class tempo of the opening theme. Near the end of the piece, in the recap of that initial “working all day” theme, we get a few bars of what I call the Gentle Giant “stride” style (see Fifty Year Friday: July 1971), a “keep on trucking” era type of passage, that appears about twenty-seconds before the end of the song.  

“Peel the Paint” showcases, lyrically, Phil Shulman, light and airy with “free from the start”, then Derek with an anguished “peel the paint”, “nothing’s been learned”, and musically, the two sides of the artist — the aesthetic highs and the tortured lows — with the “peel the paint”, “same old savage beast”, and “nothing’s been learned, no, nothing at all” section relying heavily on the use of the “devil of music” (“diabolus in musica”), the tritone, and a guitar solo that starts out tormented and appears to flop into a drunken-like stupor with the piece ending with a recap of “nothing’s been learned.”

The third track covers the final friend, the lad that made the “big time”, reflecting on the material advantages of success, in a mostly 12/8 meter with some shorter bars for typical Gentle Giant variety. The album ends with “Three Friends” redeploying material from the prologue, including use of both 3/4 and 4/4 meters. The album, though maybe not delivering the most profound concept or realization of that concept, succeeds musically, and with its ample occurrence of 4/4, 2/4 and 12/8 rhythms, makes wonderful driving music. I would also suggest listening to it with visual cues — perhaps something like “light speakers” — devices that bundle different colors of strings of Christmas lights with each color associated to a band of audio frequencies and placed behind a semi-transparent plastic to create dazzling color effects coordinated with the music.’

Overcast: The Approaching Storm

Recorded in a series of contentious sessions in January 1972, made even more difficult by equipment issues and studio logistic headaches (with the band unpleasantly mired in the resulting red tape spawned by recent ownership changes at the La Brea recording studios), Overcast’s fifth album, The Approaching Storm, saw the light of day on the first of April, 1972.

Shifting tentatively from the basic blues and blues-rock formula that had provided their only hit, “Better Yet”, the band, led by the urging of classically trained keyboardist Trevor Stuart (see Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers) explored more complex musical avenues, incorporating a range of influences from the The Who’s recent 1971 album, Who’s Next to the Yes’s Fragile album — though clearly, David Amato was no Keith Moon or Bill Bruford, and Douglas Brandt was no John Entwistle or Chris Squire.

The first side starts with the title track, with heavy bass and darkly-tinged doom-laced lyrics contrasted with pleas for optimism (“No room for grooming this looming, mushrooming doom and gloom”), followed by “Cognitive Unconsciousness” with its bagpipe-like synthesizer passage, and then “Decidedly Dangerous”, which merges into “Disaster Part One: Recognized, Resisted, Realized”, which effectively ends the first side.

Side Two opens with “Disaster Part Two: Reality” with stabbing marimba-like effects from the synthesizer and concludes with the dramatic and stormy, fifteen-minute, “Crystal Palace Workshop”, which leans heavily on Stuarts multi-track use of moog synthesizer and Bill Fortney’s heavily arpeggiated and intermittently apocalyptic electric guitar.

David Crosby & Graham Nash: David Crosby & Graham Nash; Stephen Stills: Manassas; Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim; Procol Harum: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Additional albums released in April of 1972 include the first Crosby/Graham album, with an exquisite balance between the well-crafted Nash compositions and the mellower Crosby tunes crowned by Nash’s timeless gem “Immigration Man”. the Stephen Stills two LP Manassas with its individually themed LP sides, Jim Croce’s breakout commercial album, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, with its quality arrangements, well-recorded acoustic guitar and the elegantly-wrought classic, “Time in a Bottle”, and Procol Harum’s best selling album recorded live with full orchestra.

Fifty Year Friday: March 1972

Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick

Released on March 3, 1972, those of us that were Aqualung fans were keen to get our hands on this newest Jethro Tull album. It’s pretty rare when the next release after a five star album such as Aqualung not only doesn’t disappoint, but delivers beyond expectation. Such was my own personal experience with Thick as A Brick one day after my next-door neighbor purchased the album as soon as it was available, on a Friday, and brought it over that very next day on Saturday for me to listen to and record on my reel-to-reel.

I was impressed by the sound quality (it was a well-recorded rock album by the standards of those days) but even more impressed by the musical content. Though I immediately fell in love with the album, it was took an additional listen to start to understand the depth and extent of the overall musical coherence — an understanding, that even fifty years later, is furthered by each repeated listening of this fine musical work.

Though author/composer Ian Anderson would later assert that the album was a playful prank — a spoof on the recent rock-genre trend of long and longer tracks and on concept albums in general, and, partly as a reaction to Aqualung being classified as a concept album — with the intent to ironically answer that misperception with a reductio ad absurdum exhibit of the rock concept album.

And though the concept is pure wit, whimsy and clever absurdity, the text of the lyrics is not without serious import, and, the main product, the music, blends infectiousness and focused craftsmanship, placing it in the same league as nineteenth and early twentieth-century concept-based orchestral and ballet works like Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Gershwin’s American in Paris, and Copland’s Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.

Thick as Brick‘s level of craftmanship is impressive, starting with rhythms and meters, which drive the piece forward — from the initial triplet-based march meter (basically 12/8 with shortened 6/8 bars ending phrases to push the music forcefully forward) to the unrelenting 5/4 section (really 3/4 +2/4) to the contrasting calmer and more reflective lengthy, mostly 4/4 section, which still retains some of the march-like character of the previous music, to the overt march material that follows, back in 12/8 again, then continuing in 12/8 with a second section going into the 4/4 “Childhood Heroes” section, also very march-like, into the stabbing 6/4 instrumental passage that bridges the two sides, setting up, very nicely, the 6/4 material for “See There is a Man Born” and so on with this rhythmic cohesiveness and craftsmanship providing the foundation for the connected, related, and partly repeated (“Childhood Heroes”) musical material.

The effect of this coordinated blend of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic material is that the listener gets a fulfilling, well-crafted work that provides a satisfying unity and a musical narrative independent of any theme or lack of a theme provided in the scattershot, intentionally multi-dimensional lyrics, which, for any qualities of crypticness or shifts in focus, function exceptionally well with the music to make this not only the best Tull album ever, but one of the best rock albums of all time.

Deep Purple: Machine Head

While many rock groups where embracing the newly-named progressive-rock style of music, Deep Purple shifted away from this genre to race full-throttle into an exemplary hard-rock gear that propelled their music onto dance floors and both AM and FM radio waves advancing their brand and pushing their album into the number one spots in the UK, Germany, Canada, Holland, France, Australia, Denmark, and the sixth spot in Japan and the seventh spot on the US Billboards album charts.

Though exemplary and definitive hard rock in form and function, the instrumental passages still are rich in progressive figurations and character with the best track of the album, and the one receiving the most airplay on AM and FM and most performed by dance bands, “Smoke on the Water”, with a classical-music-level repeated riff that is as unescapable and as memorable to the autonomic nervous system as any riff in the history of rock. Though this one track stands above all others on the album, the album is a delight from start to finish, bookended by the notable rocking and also unescapable “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin” with some impressive Ritchie Blackmore guitar and Jon Lord organ throughout..

Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind

Released on March 3, 1972, “Music of My Mind” begins a string of musically and increasingly successful Stevie Wonder albums progressively incorporating soul, rock, jazz into a modern, post-Motown sound. (Though this is Wonder’s second Tamla album, it is the first one over which he had total artistic control.)

Particularly impressive is the longest track, “Superwoman,” which effectively makes the case for Wonder having full responsibility for not only singing, playing keyboards and composing, but the engineering and production aspects of the final product. Also notable is the effective use of both Moog and Tonto synthesizers throughout the album.

Fifty Year Friday; February 2022

Neil Young: Harvest

Released at the beginning of February 1972, this music is timeless because, rather than despite, its simplicity. Yes, we get the LSO playing on two of the tracks, but the orchestration is appropriate and effective and there really is nothing on this album that is excessive, superfluous, or gets in the way of the emotional enjoyment.

Every song on the album is a gem, worthy of inclusion on a best hits album of lesser artists. Despite its repeated appearance on FM and AM radio starting in February 1972 and taking the top Billboard spot in March, the most renown track on the album, “Heart of Gold”, never wears out its welcome unlike so many other top hits of early 1972. And equally engaging , and wear-resistant, are “A Man Needs a Maid”, “Old Man”, a track inspired by the groundskeeper of Young’s newly purchased ranch and a live recording of (the best song on the album) “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

We get lots of great acoustic guitar on this album, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt on “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”, and appearances by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash. There is nothing here that surpasses “Cinnamon Girl” or “Broken Arrow”, but there is no Neil Young album as indispensable as this one.

Flash: Flash

Headed up by former Yes guitarist Peter Banks, with formidable bassist Ray Bennett and the assistance of former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, Flash released their debut album in February of 1972. It opens strongly, swirling and phosphorescing with the enthusiasm of “Small Beginnings”, which would later, in an abbreviated singles format, climb up to number 29 on the Billboard charts in August, later that year. Aided by that airplay, the album climbed up to spot 33 on the Billboard Top 200 LPs listing, performing much better than the two albums that followed. The music is generally invigorating, with imaginative arpeggio-based guitar work from Banks, complimentary keyboards by Kaye, solid drum work by Mike Hough, solid and creative basswork from Bennett, appropriate vocals from Colin Carter and stimulating progressive-rock time changes and chord changes.

Todd Rundgren: Something/Anything

Todd Rundgren, releases his third album in February 1972, with the first three sides brilliantly conceived and executed — and with a dazzling display of studio equipment mastery by Todd Rundgren — and Todd Rundgren alone, who in additional plays all instruments of each and every track. Following those first three sides, is a more conventional side with an array of other talented musicians, including Moogy Klingman and the Brecker brothers.

Album has aged will these 50 years, and still impressive sounding, particularly on a top-notch audio system, with some real musical keepers including “Hello, It’s Me” and the awesome “The Night the Carousel Burned Down” with its invigorating and seamless interplay between the initial 4/4 theme and the expected 3/4 music of a Carousel.

Jimmy Smith: Root Down, Nick Drake: Pink Moon; The Guess Who: Rockin’; Strawbs: Grave New World

Jimmy Smith’s Root Down captures performances from February 8, 1972 where the emphasis is on funky rock/blues/gospel-influenced jazz. There is some great exchanges between Smith on the Hammond B3, and Arthur Adams on guitar. Though hard to criticize the original LP for any reason, the expanded version, available on CD and digital download or digital streaming is superior for having uncut versions of the three strongest track on the album, “Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow”, the title track, and “Slow Down Sagg.” 

For his third, and tragically, last release during his lifetime, Nick Drake dazzles us with his mastery of acoustic guitar, revealing a range of different guitar characteristics appropriate for each individual song. The music, stylistically distinct from contemporaneous singer-songwriters or any other music of the early seventies, is effectively timeless, a contention supported partly by its lack of commercial success and more effectively supported by its influence on later Indie-label artists and its continuing influence on singer songwriters up through today.

The Guess Who’s Rockin’ recorded in January of 1972 and released the very next month in February, is yet another example of the creativity of Burton Cummings who displays a high level of both jazz and rock keyboard and compositional skills. Though not their best album, it is yet another hand raised asking the rhetorical question, why, given both the band’s commercial success and the number of successful singles and albums, is the Guess Who or Burton Cummings not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

With the release of their fourth studio album, Grave New World, and their first since the departure of Rick Wakeman to Yes, The Strawbs effectively combine folk and prog-rock, with an impressively, more-progressive side two with “Tomorrow” being the stand out track. Though ostensibly a concept album, the specifics or overarching theme of the concept is not particularly evident — but in the larger scheme that is relatively unimportant, as there is much to like musically, with the ultimate result being that this the Strawbs best effort.



Fifty Year Friday: January 2022

As one might expect, there were a few albums that missed out on a more commercially favorable pre-holiday release and ended up being released in January 1972 with both January and February being relatively lean months in rock album releases compared to any given month in the last half of 1971. Fortunately, there were some notable jazz releases including a jazz classic by Charles Mingus!

Charles Mingus: Let My Children Hear Music

Mingus gives it everything he has in this album: complex, profound, majestic, modern, accessible and often elegant compositions, a large jazz orchestra, excellent arrangements (in partnership with Sy Johnson and others), and top-notch execution of his ideas. The music is a feast from the first to last track, with the current CD of this containing a bonus track. Note that this music was partly edited by Teo Macero, but I am not aware of any release of the original unedited material. If you know of such, please comment.
ALBUM LINER NOTES

Hugh Masekela: Home is Where the Music Is

In 1972, I was not yet purchasing or listening to albums by either Hugh Masekela or Archie Shepp, so even if my memory was much better than it is today, I wouldn’t have a clue when these albums actually hit the record store bins, but as both albums were recorded in January of 1972, please allow me to include them in this month’s celebration of the music of January 1972.

Recorded in London in January 1972, Hugh Masakela’s Home is Where the Music Is is a 2LP set with some of the finest, broadly commercially-oriented jazz of the early seventies that there is. The album boasts all original material with not a single interpretation of a pop song (contrast this to Masakela’s 1970 Reconstruction album which includes tunes by Paul McCartney [Beatles-era], Joni Mitchell, and Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland) and yet is as contemporary as anything put out by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase or several other of the jazz-rock outfits of the late sixties and early seventies — and more importantly — far surpassing most of those type of efforts in quality and distinctiveness. Each track is fully realized with the shortest at around 5 1/2 minutes and the longest around 10 1/2 minutes. The playing is exceptional, engaging, and aesthetically fulfilling.

Archie Shepp: Attica Blues

Though well known for his modern jazz masterpieces like the avant-garde Fire, his abilities to reach a broader music-consuming audience are successfully deployed, with both style and impressive vigor, in what should have been an album as popular as contemporaneous releases by groups like Sly and the Family Stone. This is a large-scale effort with over twenty-five musicians (including brass, reeds, strings, backing vocalists, and electric instruments) and two narrators that successfully balances soul, funk, jazz and rock elements. Despite its strong points, there is some weakness in the poetry and the vocal rendition provided by Cal Massey’s young daughter — but more than making up for any weak areas of the release is the penultimate track on the album, Cal Massey’s fine tribute, “Good-Bye Sweet Pops,” to the great Louis Armstrong who had recently died from a heart attack in July of 1971.

Annette Peacock: I’m the One

Released in January of 1972, Annette Peacock’s debut album is yet another early 1972 album that successfully brings together disparate musical elements performed by a larger ensemble. Peacock and team effectively incorporated blues, jazz, rock, free-jazz, classical avant-garde, trace elements of funk and soul, and a extensive use of Robert Moog’s moog synthesizer to create a complete and impressive musically satisfying work. Notable, historically, was Peacock’s use of the synthesizer to modulate and alter vocal input via microphone plugged into the synthesizer. She also deserves credit for her overall and varied use of the synthesizer instrumentally as well as the wide range of vocal expression she uses, some of which anticipates music of later decades.

Univeria Zekt: The Unnamables

Released in January of 1972, Magma provisionally assumes the name Univeria Zekt to temporarily step away from their newly created narrative of the Kobaïan universe in order to, perhaps, provide a diversion to existing fans or, possibly, to attract new fans. The album is solidly progressive rock with heavy jazz and some jazz-rock influences, with a musical style significantly different (particularly on the first side) from the darker, neo-primal style of the two preceding Magma albums, which constructed a formidable genre of music, termed Zeuhl — a style of music created to be reflective and representative of the music of the fictitious Kobaïa. Those not able to get enough of early Magma, but also open to embracing this detour into a more jazz-influenced sound (closer perhaps to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, or Return Forever) should also acquire this one-of-a-kind album under the Univeria Zekt name.

Paul Simon: Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s first solo album, post-Simon & Garfunkel, did well commercially, with three singles making it on to the Billboard charts, “Mother and Child Reunion”, a reggae-influenced number with the title inspired by the Chinese chicken and egg soup dish he noticed listed on a Chinese restaurant menu in New York, the upbeat “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, and “Duncan”, my favorite track on the album, reminiscent of music he was writing in the late sixties.

Blue Öyster Cult, Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix

Additional albums include the dark, debut Blue Öyster Cult album with its gratuitous and influential use of an umlaut (a feature to gain common adoption by later Heavy Metal band names such as Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe, and even the fictional Spın̈al Tap), Jerry Garcia’s Garcia, Captain Beefheart’s relatively traditional and bluesy Spotlight Kid, as well as a posthumous album of Jimi Hendrix live material from 1969 and 1970, Hendrix in The West.

Fifty Year Friday: December 1971

David Bowie: Hunky Dory

Bowie’s fourth studio album, released Dec. 17, 1971, is a bit of a hodge-podge collection of generally strong tracks, some of which harken back to his English Music Hall influences, and one (“Queen Bitch”) near the end of side two, that foreshadows his Ziggy Stardust album, personna, and musical styles.

The album is peppered with optimism and several upbeat numbers, leading off with Bowie’s invigorating “Changes” with Rick Wakeman on piano, Bowie’s artful handling of tempo contrasts and meter changes, and a reflective Bowie sax solo that wraps up his finest song to date. This is followed by another expertly arranged, well-crafted song, deftly executed with appropriate vocal expression by Bowie with verses and chorus particularly well matched. Other fine songs include “Life on Mars”, “Kooks”, “Fill Your Heart”, “Andy Warhol” and “Queen Bitch.” The combination of Bowie’s expressive and varied vocals, the high quality of music, and the excellent arrangements and performances, make this a particularly notable leap forward in Bowie’s soon-to-be explosive career.

George Harrison & Friends: Concert for Bangladesh

There is so much to like about this important document of music and charity, released on December 20, 1971, consolidated from two concerts, one afternoon, one evening, at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Not only a laudable effort to raise money for the horrific situation in Bangladesh at that time, but it notably provided the inspiration and motivation for other charity concerts that would follow.

The six-sided LP album (with the last side being relatively short) not only contains eight compositions and performances showcasing George Harrison, with support from Eric Clapton, a horn section and a number of other talented performers, but also a side of performances from Bob Dylan, as well as single performances from Billy Preston, Ringo Starr (on Ringo’s George Harrison aided composition, “It Don’t Come Easy”) and Leon Russell. Also, importantly, side one contains a partial performance of a beautifully performed dhun by Ravi Shankar on sitar, Ali Akbar on sarod, Kamala Chakravarty on tambura, and Alla Rakha on tabla. For many of us, this was our first exposure to Hindustani classical music, and helped provide a surge of interest in Ravi Shankar and Hindustani music, at a time when world music was achieving more and more exposure and popularity.

Carole King: Music

In December 1971, Carole King followed up her incredibly successful Tapestry with another fine album. She brings back artists like James Taylor on guitar (also providing magical mix on vocals with King on “Some Kind of Wonderful”) and Curtis Amy on tenor sax with additional artists added like Ernie Watts and Buddy Collette. All songs are classic Carole King with “It’s Going to Take Some Time” being especially notable, as well as Amy’s solo on the title track, “Music.”

King Crimson: Islands

Recorded in October of 1971 and released on December 3, 1971, I first saw Islands in the first Orange County Warehouse record store a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. Rather than the more intriguing cover provided for the UK market (shown above), it was a simple cover, mostly white with representations of islands — the cover based on a painting by King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield. I purchased this with some classical music on the Supraphon label, all at a nice price, and anxiously awaited being able to listen to it at home later that day.

My initial reaction to the album was deep disappointment. I had expectations based on their previous albums, one of which, their second album, I had to special order just to get a copy, one damaged in transit, but which I never thought of not purchasing when it came in, despite the superficial cover damage, as I couldn’t wait to hear the music. And I couldn’t wait to hear the music of this, their fourth studio album, but when played, from the first few minutes, it was clear that there was little in common with their previous albums.

My money was not easily obtained, my source for it hourly wages during early morning and lunch hours at our high school cafeteria, a job I enjoyed, serving soft drinks to an endless supply of the many beautiful young ladies at our high school, and able to comfortably socialize with fellow students, many of whom I otherwise would have been strangers with. So I didn’t put the album away and move on to something else. I played it repeatedly, and not only due to the money involved (which was only $2.99, and so not a major setback), but because I sensed an excellence throughout the album. No, it wasn’t the driving progressive music of prior King Crimson albums –it was more cerebral, reflective and ambient, but it still had a coherence and attractiveness, and after about five more listenings, I embraced the album, still the least favorite of my first four King Crimson albums, and an album that wouldn’t hold up to the next three Crimson studio albums to follow, but one I considered well worth the money and then some.

Electric Light Orchestra: Electric Light Orchestra

Recorded around the same time that the core ELO personnel, Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, were recording the last Move album, Message From the Country (covered in October’s Fifty Year Friday) this first ELO album was released in the UK in December of 1971 but not released in the US until for months later, in March of 1972. Soon the first track, the incredible and irresistable “10538 Overture” got FM airplay, followed with its release as a single in the UK. I don’t believe it ever got any airplay in the U.S. on AM, but other music on the album continued to get FM exposure. Whereas their last Move album was mostly traditional rock (if any rock in 1971 can truly be labelled as such), this first ELO is more orchestral and progressive in nature, with a definite upbeat popular slant.

America: America

Many know America from the single from this album, the incredibly monotonous “Horse With No Name” (not inappropriately, though, as the music supports the lyrics effectively. Overall, this first album, released at the end of 1971 in the UK and then in 1972 in the U.S., is quite good, with a wealth of acoustic guitar, with musical similarities that would appeal to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fans, and with several good tracks, including “Rainy Day” and the Badfinger-like ballad “I Need You.”

Badfinger: Straight Up

For those in December 1971 and early 1972 that were not exactly thrilled with the content of Paul McCartney’s December 1971 release, Wild Life, they might possibly have found comfort in Harrison’s Bangladesh Concert album, ELO’s late-Beatle’s influenced first album, or even in Badfinger’s borderline Beatlesque Straight Up, which includes a number of good tracks, the best of which is “Day After Day” which hearkens back to the era of the Beatle’s Revolver album.

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