Zumwalt Poems Online

Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

Fifty Year Friday: Jethro Tull, This Was; Traffic, Traffic

TW JT

Jethro Tull: This Was

Though basically a blues album with some elements of jazz and classical, this first album by Jethro Tull is one of the very best of the many late 1960’s rock-blues album from either Britain or North America.  Though not rated highly by progressive rock fans or more traditional media reviewers like allmusic.com or Record Collector and panned as “aimless and disorganized” by Rolling Stone, the music is of high quality, generally timeless, and always brings pleasure to me though I may one listen to it once or twice in any given decade.

Titled “This Was” as if it was a retrospective evaluation of a group that had already made a name for themselves as opposed to one just starting out, it’s eerily ironic to look back and how appropriate the title has become.  In a span of a few years, Jethro Tull went from a ad-hoc, little-known group that had produced this low-budget album (estimated as costing about 1200 British pounds or under $3000) to one of the more commercially popular groups of the 1970s.  Looking back at a point in time in the mid 1970’s, the music on this first album contrasts very sharply with the Jethro Tull that was then getting solid airplay on AM and FM radio and had  a 1974 gold album (“War Child) that made it to number two on the pop album charts. Interestingly, during this time, Rolling Stone remained consistently negative in their reviews of the band, admonishing potential album buyers: “Remember: Tull rhymes with dull.” 

And though I find their 1974 commercially-successful single “Bungle in the Jungle” as awkwardly embarrassing as the first time I heard it on the airwaves, the music on this earlier, first album demonstrates consistent good taste and makes one proud to be a Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson fan.  Enjoy this moment fixed in time, for this was Jethro Tull in 1968!

Track Listing from Wikipedia

Jethro Tull

Additional musicians

 

Traffic_(album)

 

Traffic: Traffic

Though not at the overall level of excellence and creativity as their first album, this self-titled second album, has its share of moments drawing upon a variety of influences including country, jazz, and soul. Notable is Winwood’s piano, Wood’s flute and sax passages and Mason’s guitar as well as the general quality of the arrangements. Mason’s  “Feelin’ Alright?” is provided with a thoughtful, well-crafted arrangement that brings out the inherent poignancy in the lyrics.  Side two of the album is the strongest with the second, third and fourth tracks the highlight of the album.

Track listing from Wikipedia

Traffic

with:

Advertisements

Fifty Year Friday: Donovan, Todd Rundgren and Nazz

Donovan_-_The_Hurdy_Gurdy_Man

Released in October 1968, with material from late 1967 and April 1968, Hurdy Gurdy Man is the most substantial Donovan album of his many releases,  artfully capturing the spirit of musical adventure and diversity so prevalent at the time.

My sister, up until the release of this album, had mostly purchased singles and albums of musicals, so it was a treat when she bought this in late 1968 and allowed me to play this on our parents’ “Hi-Fi” system.   I had already heard “Jennifer, Juniper” and the more serious and dramatic title track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” earlier in 1968, so I was curiously anticipating what else the album contained.

Lifting up the heavy wooden cover of the Hi-Fi,  taking out the record from its cover, and setting the music into motion by turning on the electronics and initiating the spinning of the platter and the tone arm’s slow and steady take-off, soon I was hearing a improved version of that first track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sounding much better than what I had heard on any car or transistor or even the Hi-Fi AM radio.  The composition’s dark, mysterious mood was now more evident along with a general sense of deep, perhaps profound, mysticism.   And as the album played on past that first track, into “Peregrine” with its even more suspenseful drone-based eastern sound, then into the quietly reflective third track, “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl”, and through the neo-vaudevillian, “As I Recall it”, and then into the creamy saxophone-dominated “Get Thy Bearings”, the variety and quality of the music gained my increasing respect and interest.  I was not musically sophisticated enough to consider that most of the tracks were just a sequence of verses, to appreciate the thoughtfully scored string, flute, oboe, and trumpet lines or the contrapuntal fragments in “Hi, It’s Been a Long Time”, or deconstruct the contributions of melody, harmony and arrangement to the final essence of each song, I just found the album full of character and boldly and creatively different than most of the current AM radio fare; just as Donovan stood apart from the more commercial tunes of the time with songs like “Sunshine Superman”, “Mellow Yellow” and the more recent “Hurdy Gurdy Man”,  so did each track of this album create its very own mood, and even if I couldn’t do credible or meaningful musical analysis at age thirteen of the content, it was clear that significant care had been taken to produce a quality and coherent presentation of the music.

Donovan had originally wanted Jimi Hendrix to play electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  Hendrix, unfortunately wasn’t available.  There is some contention on who the guitarist on the recording actually is —  with Donovan crediting Jimmy Page and also Allan Holdsworth, but others indicating Jeff Beck or Alan Parker.  Page has indicated it wasn’t him and Holdsworth’s wife has stated that Holdsworth had indicated that the guitarist was Ollie Halsell (guitarist and vibraphone player for the group Timebox, later Platto.)

Years later, listening to this album, I can confirm that my original instincts in liking this music is far from unfounded.  The two songs with the most traditional verse and chorus structures provide an effective start and end to the album, and the contrast between the mood and instrumentation of the songs contained within provide an experience similar to contemporary releases by The Beatles or the Kinks. Donovan has a knack for simple, yet effective melodies and his work is supplemented by David Mills who provides music for three of the tracks. On top of this, the arrangement work is excellent as are the contributions by Harold McNair on flute and his sax soloing on “Get Thy Bearings.”

Tracks [from Wikipedia]

All tracks credited to Donovan Leitch. According to BMI, “A Sunny Day” and “The River Song” were collaborations with David J. Mills, but “Tangier” was written solely by Mills under its original title of “In Tangier Down a Windy Street”.

Side one

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man” – 3:13
  2. “Peregrine” – 3:34
  3. “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl” – 1:39
  4. “As I Recall It” – 2:06
  5. “Get Thy Bearings” – 2:47
  6. “Hi It’s Been a Long Time” – 2:32
  7. “West Indian Lady” – 2:15

Side two

  1. Jennifer Juniper” – 2:40
  2. “The River Song” – 2:14
  3. “Tangier” – 4:10
  4. “A Sunny Day” – 1:52
  5. “The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow” – 3:31
  6. “Teas” – 2:29

Musicians:

Donovan: vocals, acoustic guitar, tambura, harmonium
Alan Parker?: lead electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
John Paul Jones: bass, arrangement and musical direction on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Clem Cattini: drums on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Danny Thompson: bass
Tony Carr: drums and percussion
John ‘Candy’ Carr: bongos and percussion
Harold McNair: flute and saxophone
David Snell: harp
Deirdre Dodds: oboe
John Cameron: arrangement and piano

 

NAzz160870588164

Also recorded in April 1968 and released in October 1968, is one of the best commercially unsuccessful albums of 1968.  Nineteen year-old Todd Rundgren combines influences from The Beatles, The Who (“Open My Eyes”), Jimi Hendrix (some of Rundgren’s guitar work and the opening of “She’s Goin’ Down”) , Burt Bacharach (parts of “Hello It’s Me”), Jimmy Webb (the first section of “If That’s the Way You Feel”), and The Beach Boys (“When I Get My Plane”) with his own musical style, clearly identifiable on this first commercial recording of his and the band that he and later Disney legend, bassist Carson Van Osten  formed in Philadelphia.

Very few first albums are as good as this one, and its more accurate to consider this the first Todd Rundgren album (even with bandmate Stewkey on vocals)  as opposed to the first album of a group that Rundgren happened to be a part of.   All compositions are by Rundgren except “Crowded” and the blues-jam group-effort spectacular that ends side one.  Rundgren’s signature ballad, “Hello It’s Me” appears the first time, lacking the more sophisticated arrangement given to it in the classic 1972 Something/Anything?  The other ballad here is “If That’s the Way You Feel”, arranged by jazz-great Shorty Rogers with a beyond beautiful first section and a sequence of overly-enthusiastic modulations in the second section.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren, except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Open My Eyes” – 2:48
  2. “Back of Your Mind” – 3:48
  3. “See What You Can Be” – 3:00
  4. Hello It’s Me” – 3:57
  5. “Wildwood Blues” (Rundgren, Thom Mooney, Robert “Stewkey” Antoni, Carson Van Osten) – 4:39

Side two

  1. “If That’s the Way You Feel” – 4:49
  2. “When I Get My Plane” – 3:08
  3. “Lemming Song” – 4:26
  4. “Crowded” (Mooney, Stewkey) – 2:20
  5. “She’s Goin’ Down” – 4:58

Nazz

  • Robert “Stewkey” Antoni – Keyboards, lead vocals
  • Todd Rundgren – guitar, vocals, string arrangements, mixing
  • Carson Van Osten – bass, vocals
  • Thom Mooney – drums

Fifty Year Friday: John Martyn, The Beau Brummels

Though 1968 was the era of electronic music, there are many fine acoustic or mostly acoustic albums that were released in October 1968 including John Martyn’s second album, and The Beau Brummels’ fifth album.

martyn tumbler.jpeg

Approximately a year after the release of John Martyn’s first album, London Conversation, a relaxed, leisurely studio rendition of mostly original British folk material he was performing for small venue audiences in 1967, Martyn released a more upbeat, energetic and stronger album. The Tumbler, that better showcased his musical skills with the music incorporating rock and jazz elements.

On The Tumbler, Martyn adds additional musicians for a fuller sound and to support the greater musical variety of the compositions.  In London Conversation, we get a sampling of flute from Martyn himself, but on this second album we get Jamaican-born jazz flautist, Harold McNair, who played and recorded with Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, as well as appeared on a number of Donovan albums and on tenor sax on the James Bond Dr. No theme.  The quality of production handled by twenty-two year-old Al Stewart is quite good, with a more forward, active sound, spotlighting individual instruments.  All instruments are acoustic, with no drums on any track. The album closes with the guitar-dominated instrumental “Seven Black Roses”, the highlight of the album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by John Martyn except where indicated.

  1. “Sing A Song of Summer” – 2:22
  2. “The River” – 2:59
  3. “Goin’ Down to Memphis” – 3:12
  4. “The Gardeners” (Bill Lyons) – 3:15
  5. “A Day at the Sea” – 2:35
  6. “Fishin’ Blues” (Henry Thomas) – 2:37
  7. “Dusty” – 3:07
  8. “Hello Train” – 2:36
  9. “Winding Boy” (Jelly Roll Morton) – 2:22
  10. “Fly on Home” (Martyn, Paul Wheeler) – 2:33
  11. “Knuckledy Crunch and Slippledee-slee Song” – 2:55
  12. “Seven Black Roses” – 4:02

Personnel

  • John Martyn – vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards
  • Harold McNair – flute
  • David Moses – double bass
  • Paul Wheeler – guitar

 

B4.jpeg

As noted in earlier posts, the latter half of 1968 introduced several albums that blended  rock and country music, albums often authored by Canadian-born or Californian-based musicians.  One notable such album was The Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn.

The Beau Brummels hailed from San Francisco, forming in 1964 and releasing their first two albums in 1965, incorporating folk and British-invasion elements. Though later denied by band members, legend has it that they chose the name, “Beau Brummels” for its English sound and so their albums would be shelved in records store bins immediately after the best-selling Beatles.

Their first album, heavily influenced by the British Invasion sound, peaked at number 24 on the Billboard album chart and included ten of twelve original songs, all written by lead guitarist, Ron Elliott, or in one case by Elliot and sometimes collaborator, Bob Durand. Sal Valentino was the lead vocalist, and its interesting to follow his development as a singer and his greater, often extreme use, of vibrato as well as Elliot’s and Valentino’s shift to more of a country sounds in their subsequent albums.

in 1966, with their label, Autumn, verging on collapse, the band starting recording their third album.  Warner Brothers purchased the group from Autumn, but the transaction didn’t cover publishing rights.  So despite a number of already recorded original songs planned for this third album, Warner Brothers directed the group to record an album of covers,  The album was a commercial flop.

In 1967, the group released a concept-inspired album of mostly original music, Triangle, considered by many a pre-country rock classic mixing folk, rock, country and hints of psychedelic and progressive elements.  Outstanding tracks include”Magic Hollow”, “Triangle” and the excellent “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune.”

In 1968, The Beau Brummels, down to just two members, Sal Valentino and Ron Elliot,  after losing their bass player to the draft, recorded their fifth album at Bradley’s Barn, a studio a few miles from Nashville.  Joined by studio musicians like guitarist Jerry Reed and drummer Kenny Buttrey , this album named after the recording site, is perhaps the most authentic and highest quality of the handful of early country-rock albums recorded in 1968.  I say, “perhaps”, as I am not really a country music fan.  I love bluegrass, particularly live, and can listen intently to the country music recorded on 78s in the twenties and thirties, but generally not much attracted to the commercial country music or country rock of the last sixty years.  Yet, this album of all but one original song holds my attention and gets my respect. Valentino continues to evolve his use of vocal vibrato, incorporating an authentic country twang, some Bob Dylan influence, and extending his own range of effective emotional delivery.

With this level of excellence, the group was set up nicely for greater artistic and commercial success, but shortly after the release of Bradley’s Barn, Valentino and Elliot went their separate ways, Valentino soon starting up a new band,  Stoneground, and Eliot releasing a solo album and producing or playing guitar on various albums. The band temporarily reformed in 1974, and at various times later, with their most recent album, Continuum, released in March 2013.

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

1 “Turn Around” Bob Durand, Elliott 3:03
2. “An Added Attraction (Come and See Me)” Valentino 3:03
3. “Deep Water” Elliott, Valentino 2:33
4. “Long Walking Down to Misery” Elliott 3:16
5. “Little Bird” Elliott 2:42
6. “Cherokee Girl” Durand, Elliott 3:36
7. “I’m a Sleeper” Elliott, Valentino 3:20
8. “Loneliest Man in Town” Elliott 1:54
9. “Love Can Fall a Long Way Down” Durand, Elliott 4:16
10. “Jessica” Elliott, Valentino 2:22
11. “Bless You California” Randy Newman 2:16

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Jefferson Airplane and HP Lovecraft

crownof creation81NdZctnSEL._SX355_

Jefferson’s Airplane Fourth studio album, released sometime in September of 1968, continues their expansion of San Francisco folk-flavored psychedelic rock, with a mostly denser, darker and more spontaneous, jam-rock-enriched sound.

Grace Slick scores big again, starting from the instant the needle hits the vinyl with her composition “Lather”, which though inspired by her fellow bandmate, and bedmate, drummer Spencer Dryden, turning thirty, also has been crafted to have a more poignant message about an intellectually disabled adult named Lather:

“Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys…

“He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
what the old men call insane,
And sometimes he’s so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play…
Which words to say…
And I should have told him, “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…babywide.”

Another impressive track on this first side is Slick’s rendition of David Crosby’s “Triad” with Crosby on guitar.  The Byrds had recorded the work for inclusion on the final Byrds album with Crosby, The Notorious Byrd Brothers,  and for whatever reasons (conjectured explanations range from the nature of the lyrics to the quality of the song to internal band politics and ego-clashes), the Byrds dropped it’s inclusion.  Perhaps this was for the best, as not only was their no hesitation on the Airplane’s part to record this, but Slick on an album of material otherwise written by the band, but the change of the gender of the personna makes the lyrics work out even better.

The rest of the album is generally heavier, rockier and with a more complex sound with the final song covering the nuclear demise of the earth — the Jefferson Airplane are still producing commercially-in-demand and modern, cutting-edge material, with this album having made it as high as the sixth spot on the Billboard album chart.

Jefferson Airplane {from Wikipedia}

Additional musicians

hplovecraft-2

With a very promising well crafted first album, featuring haunting, distinct, yet harmonious vocals between co-founders George Edwards and classically-trained Dave Michaels, thoughtfully arranged compositions and a sophisticated approach to psychedelic folk-rock that included timpani, harpsichord, piccolo, renaissance recorder, saxophones, clarinet, french horn, tuba, trombone and vibes, H. P. Lovecraft, named after the American horror-fiction writer, recorded their second album in the summer of 1968, releasing it in September of 1968 with no special title, simply called “H P Lovecraft II” with  a small “II”as seen in the album cover above.

This second album is more progressive, but due to a demanding concert schedule, the band had little time to prepare, with the result being a less disciplined effort than the first album, but a step forward musically.  Like their namesake, the author, H. P. Lovecraft, fortune, or even decent wages, were not to be theirs. The group disbanded in 1969, with a subsequent reformation as simply “Lovecraft” and then again as “Love Craft”, but without the leadership and musical skills of George Edwards and Dave Michaels, the band had a much different sound,  lacking that other-worldly, psychedelic, borderline progressive quality of this second album.

H. P. Lovecraft {from Wikipedia}

Fifty Year Friday: Jeff Beck, Truth; The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo

jeffbeck-truth1.jpg

1968 continued to provide a greater and greater diversity of music for the LP consumer with all musical influences, past and present, east, west, north and south, being available on relatively easily accessible recorded medium for composers, musicians, producers, arrangers to listen to and often be significantly influenced by such music.

Blues — and rhythm and blues — along with popular music whether from English music halls, Hollywood or elsewhere provided the starting point for Rock & Roll which evolved into Rock as it incorporated additional musical influences and compositional techniques. However, as rock & roll became rock, many groups continued to reach back into blues history — whether for inspiration or for a simple harmonic pattern that provided a flexible, forgiving framework for jamming and relatively simple improvisation.

Jeff Beck’s Truth, recorded in May, followed by a successful tour in the U.S., and released sometime in August 1968, is primarily a blues-based album with a mix of Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir and Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart compositions.  Some of the exceptions include an acceptable but not an earth-shattering version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River”, Beck’s mostly acoustic version of “Greensleeves”, a successful reconstruction of the Yardbird’s classic “Shape of Things”, and the highlight of the album, Jimmy Page’s composition, “Beck’s Bolero.”

Of particular note is Nicki Hopkins on piano, providing his usual upbeat, finely detailed keyboard work.  Jeff Beck is joined by Jimmy Page on “Beck’s Bolero” and John Paul Jones provides organ or bass on a few tracks.  The album is rounded out with Ron Wood on bass, and Rod Stewart.  Stewart, out of work after having left Steampacket in March 1966 and then Shotgun Express later that same year, was selected by Beck in February 1967 for this post-Yardbirds group.  Stewart is still developing as an expressive singer at this point,  but as an avid fan of Sam Cooke, he does quite well on this album, providing effective vocals.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

No.

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Shapes of Things Jim McCartyKeith RelfPaul Samwell-Smith

3:22

2.

“Let Me Love You” Jeffrey Rod

4:44

3.

Morning Dew Bonnie Dobson

4:40

4.

You Shook Me Willie DixonJ. B. Lenoir

2:33

5.

Ol’ Man River Jerome KernOscar Hammerstein II

4:01

Side two

No.

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Greensleeves Traditional

1:50

2.

“Rock My Plimsoul” Jeffrey Rod

4:13

3.

Beck’s Bolero Jimmy Page

2:54

4.

“Blues De Luxe” Jeffrey Rod

7:33

5.

I Ain’t Superstitious Willie Dixon

4:53

Personnel

Additional credited personnel

Additional uncredited personnel

Swbyrds 2

Previously incorporating, folk, bluegrass and country music influences in their work, with the addition of Gram Parsons, the Byrds go out whole hog, so to speak, in making their next album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”,  a true bluegrass, folk and country music album.  Parson’s talked the band in recording in Nashville and adding pedal steel guitar and jukejoint piano.  The result is an excellent album that, though, has little to do with rock and roll or rock music, contributed, along with the Band’s Big Pink and other contemporaneous albums like Credence Clearwater Revival’s first album, to the new and ultimately highly commercial endeavor of melding country and rock elements into a new style of music that would simply be called country rock.  Soon, “country rock”, would provide a walloping, additional revenue stream for the major labels.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

# Title Writer Lead vocals Guest musicians/band contributions beyond usual instruments Time
Side 1
1. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Bob Dylan McGuinn Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Gram Parsons (organ) 2:33
2. “I Am a Pilgrim” traditional, arranged Roger McGuinnChris Hillman Hillman John Hartford (fiddle), Roy Husky (double bass), Roger McGuinn (banjo), Chris Hillman (acoustic guitar) 3:39
3. “The Christian Life” Charles Louvin, Ira Louvin McGuinn JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar), Clarence White (electric guitar) 2:30
4. You Don’t Miss Your Water William Bell McGuinn Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 3:48
5. “You’re Still on My Mind” Luke McDaniel Parsons Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 2:25
6. Pretty Boy Floyd Woody Guthrie McGuinn Roy Husky (double bass), John Hartford (acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle), Chris Hillman (mandolin) 2:34
Side 2
1. Hickory Wind Gram Parsons, Bob Buchanan Parsons John Hartford (fiddle), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Roger McGuinn (banjo), Gram Parsons (piano) 3:31
2. “One Hundred Years from Now” Gram Parsons McGuinn, Hillman Barry Goldberg (piano), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Clarence White (electric guitar) 2:40
3. “Blue Canadian Rockies” Cindy Walker Hillman Clarence White (electric guitar), Gram Parsons (piano) 2:02
4. “Life in Prison” Merle Haggard, Jelly Sanders Parsons Earl P. Ball (piano), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar) 2:46
5. Nothing Was Delivered Bob Dylan McGuinn Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), Gram Parsons (piano, organ) 3:24

Personnel

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 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 by 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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

%d bloggers like this: