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Posts tagged ‘1968’

Fifty Year Friday: Donovan, Todd Rundgren and Nazz

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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

 

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written and arranged by Randy Newman.

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

Fifty Year Friday: Silver Apples and Horace Silver’s Serenade to a Soul Sister

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Silver Apples was what was left of the cover band, The Overland Stage Electric Band, after vocalist, Simeon Coxe III,  incorporated old-fashioned 1940’s technology audio oscillators into their performances at Café Wah in Greenwich Village, annoying, exasperating, and eventually alienating all other members of the band except the drummer, Danny Taylor.  Now, with only two of the five original members still on board, the band was renamed and, with a set of thirteen oscillators connected together, soon recorded an album for the small label, Kapp, which had recently been purchased by MCI after Kapp had repeatedly proved itself, including recording Louis Armstrong’s very successful single, “Hello Dolly”, in 1964 and recording the original cast album of “Man of La Mancha” in 1966.

For those that would propose that all the new music in any decade following the sixties is truly based on something already recorded prior to 1970, this first Silver Apples album, Silver Apples,  makes a good exhibit A for such a case. Here, in this album, we can hear many of the key ingredients of the music of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, techno-rock, and various pockets of underground dance music and indie rock that followed. To their credit, Beck, the Beastie Boys, Stereolab and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow have all publicly acknowledged the influence of Silver Apples.

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Heralded by John Lennon and Gary Booker of Procol Harum, and joined by Jimi Hendrix for jam sessions, Silver Apples appeared to have a future that looked interesting, if not particularly promising commercially.  Unfortunately, the actual longevity of Silver Apples was brief, even in rock-career years, as a result of the album cover content of their second LP, Contact, which shows the band in a PanAm cockpit with the PanAM logo clearly visible in the upper right on the front, and Simeon and Taylor sitting amidst the wreckage on the back cover perhaps humorously hinting they weren’t up to handling all the sophisticated electronics.  Ironically, the agent of their “crash and burn” was not due to any misuse of electronics, or lack of public recognition, but was solely due to that back album cover itself, which precipitated a lawsuit from Pan Am Airlines; though PanAm had had originally approved the group’s use of the Pan Am logo for the front cover, they were completely taken by surprise with the wreckage portrayed on the back cover.

 

“They sued us, big‑time,” Simeon stated in a 2010 Sound on Sound interview.  “They sued Kapp Records, they sued us as a band, they sued us personally, they sued our management, they got some judge in New York to issue a cease‑and‑desist on us performing. All the records had to be taken off the shelves in all of the record stores. They put some sort of a lien on our equipment and they actually came to a club where we were playing and confiscated Danny’s drums. Fortunately, my stuff wasn’t there. That photograph led to the lawsuit that broke the band up. No record label would touch us from that point on. That was the end of Silver Apples.”

Let’s forget about this tragic demise for now (the band, like so many sixties band, have reunited for concert appearances), and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this influential and historical significant album.  It is rough in spots, with generally weak vocals, but there is no scarcity of interesting content — such content bookended by the strongest tracks, “Oscillations” and “Misty Mountain.”  Youtube audio doesn’t do this track justice, but still conveys that this music sounds more like a composition from the late seventies than the late sixties:

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Oscillations”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:48

2.

“Seagreen Serenades”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:55

3.

“Lovefingers”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

4:11

4.

“Program”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

4:07

5

“Velvet Cave”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

3:00

Side B

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Whirly-Bird”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:41

2.

“Dust”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

3:40

3.

“Dancing Gods”

Navajo Indian Ceremonial

5:57

4.

“Misty Mountain”

Simeon, Taylor, Eileen Lewellen

2:47

Silver Apples Personnel

  • Dan Taylor – drums, percussion, vocals
  • Simeon – oscillators, flute, vocals

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With a series of excellent albums on the Blue Note record label since he first signed with Blue Note in 1952, Horace Silver delivered another with Serenade for a Soul Sister released in early June 1968.

This is a high energy album, musically positive, with strong forward momentum; in addition, it conveys that special Blue Note quality captured in so many of the albums engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.  The first three tracks include Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, sounding better than on his own 1968 album, “The Look of Love”, which is marred by overdubbed strings added into an otherwise surprisingly good performance of mostly contemporary pop tunes.  The very first track, “Psychedelic Sally” swings, bops, and rocks, brimming with a level of energy more commonly associated to electric guitars and electronic keyboards than a small acoustic jazz group.  The second and third tracks are in 3/4,  and the fourth track is in a fast 5/4 with a recurring syncopation between the second and third beats which extends its way with an added beat into a 6/4 bridge-like section that returns to the original theme followed by strong improvisation by Bennie Maupin, Charles Tolliver, and then Silver followed by the return of the ensemble.  The fifth track, “Kindred Spirits”, takes a slower and more casual tempo, and the last track, “Next Time I Fall in Love”, is a calm, relaxed, and somewhat carefree piano solo by Silver that nicely ends this upbeat and generally energetic album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Horace Silver.

  1. “Psychedelic Sally” – 7:14
  2. “Serenade to a Soul Sister” – 6:19
  3. “Rain Dance” – 6:21
  4. “Jungle Juice” – 6:46
  5. “Kindred Spirits” – 5:55
  6. “Next Time I Fall in Love” – 5:19

Personnel

Musicians

on tracks 1 – 3 (February 23, 1968)

on tracks 4 – 6 (March 29, 1968)

Production

 

Fifty Year Friday: FM Radio, Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future

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In July 1964, a battle against freedom of speech to promote freedom of speech began when the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) adopted a prohibition against FM radio stations running 24 hour simulcasts of the content on their AM stations. With an eye towards containing costs, and perhaps ensuring a continuation of the current programming status quo, many owners of AM/FM affiliate stations fought against this new regulation, causing a delay in the ultimate enactment of this restriction until January 1, 1967. It was then, in 1967, that station owners examined their options for alternative programming to what was on the AM airwaves.

And within a relatively short time, FM became a mecca of musical variety!  In the greater Los Angeles area, where I lived, I started to explore FM content around 1968 to discover the wealth of international music being broadcast on Saturday and Sunday by multiple stations with the lowest numbers (the left of the dial) as well as the greater variety of classical music on 92.3 KFAC-FM compared to their AM counterpart, 1330 kHz KFAC.

In May 1968, KSAN-FM in San Francisco lured KPMX program director Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue (also author of the 1967 Rolling Stone article “AM Radio Is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves”) and several of the KPMX staff currently on an eight-week strike to work for what would apparently become the very first 24-hour underground rock FM radio station.  At the end of KSAN-FM’s last classical music broadcast, and to start their new format, Donahue appropriately played The Steve Miller Band’s “Children of the Future” which starts off with with a forty-eight second flurry of electric cacophony worthy of the current contemporary classical composers of the time that then nicely dissolves into the very simple and relatively brief anthem of the title track, “Children of the Future”

From this time on, FM stations in the largest cities, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, begin playing “underground” music, experimental and psychedelic rock, select tracks of various rock albums, and even complete sides or complete albums.  One could find a number of free-form programs: radio slots where the DJ played just about anything that they cared to play.  Soon Donahue extended his programming reach to Los Angeles taking over KMET and KPPC, making these two of the coolest stations in the greater Los Angeles area.

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In 1967, “The Steve Miller Blues Band” changed their name to “The Steve Miller Band”, not to shorten it but to update it to match their new sound.  Steve Miller had been brought up by jazz-enthusiast parents, good friends of Les Paul and Mary Ford: Steve’s dad was the best man and Steve’s mother was the maid of honor at the December 1949 wedding of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Steve’s dad, a physician and amateur recording engineer, even played Les Paul a wire recording of Steve Miller “playing” guitar at age four, and upon hearing, Les encouraged Steve to continue with his interest in the instrument.

When his dad moved the family to Dallas in 1950, Steve dad’s recording skills and interest in music exposed Steve to visitors like world-class guitarists T-Bone Walker and Tal Farlow, and jazz great Charles Mingus.  Soon Steve would leave for Chicago to earn his living as a blues guitarist, playing rhythm guitar with Buddy Guy as well as participating in jam sessions with other blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

So it was natural that the Steve’s first band would be a blues band.  But it was also natural that Miller was a musician of his time, and by the time Miller’s band was ready to record an album, it would be a rock album, though with a significant blues footprint including four blues-based tracks on the second side.

Originally planned to be recorded at Capitol Records in the historic Studio B in the famous Hollywood Capitol Tower, Miller and crew drove down from San Francisco for a midnight recording session, and per Joel Selvin’s liner notes of a recent CD reissue of the album, the group started to record but “the Capitol engineers, who had already made their distaste known for hippie rock musicians, walked out of the sessions, leaving the band with no engineers.  Miller picked up the van and the band and went back to San Francisco.”  Later Miller and band would make the trip to Olympic studios in London to record their inaugural album under now-famed producer Glyn Johns.

The first side of this album is basically one interrupted track, knit together from several individual songs in the form of a rock suite, and includes the attention-grabbing opening of the first track and the exploratory soundscape of the final track on that side, “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing”, both possibly influenced by Steve Miller’s interest in contemporary twentieth century composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Jim Peterman’s mellotron assists in the overall psychedelic nature and spaciness of this first side.

The second side includes Boz Scaggs’ two relatively unremarkable compositions (the first with Ben Sidrian on harpsichord and the second a blues-based song), one older composition by Steve Miller, and three blues covers with which the band acquit themselves quite well, distinguishing themselves from other California-based contemporary rock bands by the quality of their playing and general understanding and approach to the blues.  Overall, this gives us a second side, which not as interesting as the first side, is still noteworthy.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

All tracks composed by Steve Miller except where noted:

Side one
Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Children of the Future” 2:59
2. “Pushed Me to It” 0:38
3. “You’ve Got the Power” 0:53
4. “In My First Mind” Miller, Jim Peterman 7:35
5. “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing (Psychedelic B.B.)” 5:17

 

Side two
# Title Writer(s) Length
6. “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” Boz Scaggs 3:24
7. “Steppin’ Stone” Scaggs 3:02
8. “Roll With It” 2:29
9. “Junior Saw It Happen” Jim Pulte 2:29
10. Fanny Mae Buster Brown 3:04
11. Key to the Highway Big Bill BroonzyCharlie Segar 6:18
Total length: 38:21

 

The Steve Miller Band

Additional Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: 1968 Jazz-Rock and Fusion

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In the late 1960s, rock music’s commercial value to the record companies far exceeded that of their jazz and classical products.  This led to many dismal outcomes, including two particularly appalling trends.  One was to try to commercialize and update jazz, with the record companies convincing (and in many cases failing to convince) reluctant jazz musicians to include rock tunes in their albums, often resulting in half-hearted attempts that included some token improvisation between the initial statement of one or more verses and the chorus and their return.  The other was to try to elevate rock music, or provide a more palatable version of it to older consumers, by saccharine orchestral or quasi-big band arrangements.  The cultural impact and commercial success of such attempts were thankfully very limited.

At the same time, a diverse range of rock groups were incorporating jazz elements into their music, and, musicians with varying degrees of jazz experience or jazz exposure were being included in some bands. Soon Miles Davis and John McLaughlin would make jazz fusion history and reap wide commercial recognition and compensation.  But prior to that, the talented and innovative vibraphonist Gary Burton, looking to make the move away from straight-ahead jazz and appeal to younger audiences drew upon his own love of popular music and started to blend jazz and rock elements in a series of four notable albums in 1967 and 1968.

Gary Burton worked with Stan Getz from 1964-1966,  during the period of Getz’s continuing ascendancy into fame from his successful merging of samba, bossa nova and jazz — Getz achieving significant recognition and acclaim from the 1963 Getz/Gilbert album that included the incredibly commercially popular “Girl From Ipanema.”  Perhaps Burton learned invaluable lessons of the breadth and flexibility of jazz, and that when it honestly and sincerely embraced and fully incorporated other elements, how it could extend its capabilities and capacity to appeal and captivate to a wide range of listeners.  Or perhaps Burton just followed his instinct of embracing the music he loved and creating music that, most of all, appealed to himself.

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During this period that Gary was working with Stan Getz, the first historically significant jazz-rock group, The Free Spirits, formed in 1965.  Playing in New York as opening acts or at very small venues, their music ranged from rock and roll to psychedelic rock,  similar to other rock bands — with the exception of the jazz background of four of their five members.  For the most part, the jazz element present was similar to the jazz element in contemporaneous rhythm and blues.  The songs on their 1967 Out of Sight and Sound album are appealing and accessible, with solid, often frenetic and dynamic drumming from Bob Moses, soulful, bluesy saxophone from Jim Pepper (no relation to Art Pepper),  and catchy compositions and expressive guitar work from Larry Coryell.  Additional band members were rhythm guitarist Columbus “Chip” Baker and bassist and vocalist Chris Hills.

After the Out of Sight and Sound album, Larry Coryell, and then later,  Bob Moses, joined up with Gary Burton.  Just as Larry Coryell significantly influenced the sound of the Free Spirits towards a contemporary rock sound, Larry Coryell would have a significant impact on the sound of the four Gary Burton albums he was a part of.

The first of these four important Gary Burton quartet albums, Duster, recorded in April 1967, and sometimes referred to as the very first fusion recording, includes guitarist Larry Coryell, talented bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes.  Larry Coryell had further sharpened his skills as can be heard on this indisputable example of early jazz fusion, “One, Two, 1-2-3-4” available on Youtube here.

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The second album, Lofty Fake Anagram, with Bob Moses now on drums,  was recorded in August 1967, and is a little more mellow, with continuing impressive interplay between Burton and Coryell and impressive bass work from Steve Swallow.

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The third album, recorded a month earlier in July 1967 and released in 1968, is the dramatic concept album, Genuine Tong Funeral, written by composer and pianist Carla Bley and subtitled “A Dark Opera without Words.”   Focused on the topic of death and mourning, this mixture of third-stream and avant-garde composition covers a wide range of emotion and even includes passages of irony or dry humor reminiscent of Kurt Weill.  Besides some amazing, prodigious vibraphone work by Gary Burton, using his usual four mallets and to fine effect,  there is some outstanding, pushing-the-envelope soprano sax from Steve Lacy, some nicely-miked acoustic bass work from Steve Swallow, and some welcome tuba passages performed  by Howard Johnson. The album’s last track, with a chaotic free jazz section breaking from the confines of the suite’s structural boundaries, perhaps indicating some level of relief or release from grief is followed by a return of the “Survivors” theme, providing an appropriate and proper closure to the suite.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Carla Bley
  1. “The Opening / Interlude : Shovels / The Survivors / Grave Train” – 6:37
  2. “Death Rolls” – 1:36
  3. “Morning (Part 1)” – 1:43
  4. “Interlude : Lament / Intermission Music” – 4:28
  5. “Silent Spring” – 7:58
  6. “Fanfare / Mother of the Dead Man” – 2:51
  7. “Some Dirge” – 7:47
  8. “Morning (Part 2)” – 1:17
  9. “The New Funeral March” – 2:40
  10. “The New National Anthem / The Survivors” – 6:34
  • Recorded in New York City in July 1967.

Personnel

The fourth of these four Burton/Coryell albums, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on February 23, 1968, is simply titled “Gary Burton Quartet in Concert.”  Of particularly note is the amazing contrapuntal duet between Burton and Coryell in the recording of “Lines” and the overall excellence of the group’s performance of “Walter L.”  The album ends with an avant garde treatment of “One, Two, 1-2-3-4”, notably different than the original performance on Duster.

Track listing

All compositions by Gary Burton except where indicated
  1. “Blue Comedy” (Mike Gibbs) – 9:02
  2. “The Sunset Bell” – 5:17
  3. “Lines” (Larry Coryell) – 3:06
  4. “Walter L.” – 6:36
  5. “Wrong Is Right” (Coryell) – 6:14
  6. “Dreams” – 5:49
  7. I Want You” (Bob Dylan) – 3:06
  8. “One, Two, 1–2–3–4” (Burton, Coryell) – 10:45

Personnel

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In early 1968,  former Stan Kenton big band saxophonist, Steve Marcus, New Zealand born jazz keyboardist, Mick Nock,  and three former members of The Free Spirits,  guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Chris Hills, and drummer Bob Moses,  recorded two jazz-rock albums, produced by jazz flutist Herbie Mann under Steve Marcus’s name.

The first album, Tomorrow Never Knows, appropriates five well known rock tunes and either imposes jazz commentary on them (“Mellow Yellow”) or develops and transforms them (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Added at the end, as a sixth tune, is Gary Burton’s “Half a Heart.”  This is one of those albums that may sound initially bizarre, with the band still wrestling to establish an overall sound and approach, but becomes more sensible and coherent after repeated listenings.

Track listing

  1. Eight Miles High” (David CrosbyHarold E. ClarkJames McGuinn) – 4:44
  2. Mellow Yellow” (Donovan Leitch) – 4:50
  3. Listen People” (Graham Gouldman) – 2:25
  4. Rain” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 7:02
  5. Tomorrow Never Knows” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 11:07
  6. Half A Heart” (Gary Burton– 5:21

Personnel

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The second album, though, Count’s Rock Band, (“Count” referring to Steve Marcus’s nickname and not that of William James Basie) is more organic, polished, and finely finished. There are only two rock covers here,  “Scarborough Fair” which is a straightforward rendition, based on Simon and Garfunkel’s version, arranged exquisitely with single focus, not straying a single step outside of its intended character, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s Backstreet Girl; this modest tune is placed in an finely-crafted French cabaret-like setting with accordion  accompaniment, followed by an spellbinding jazzy middle section that evolves from straight-ahead, highly accessible jazz to wildly aggressive free jazz, followed by the return of the calm and tender original section.  The album also includes two compositions by bassist Chris Hills, which both work convincingly as final, unified outcomes of blending blues, rock and jazz.

If none of these musicians had ever recorded a note, jazz and rock would inevitably come together, just like twins separated in later years through pursuing different careers and interests, but meeting again in their more mature years.  In the case of rock, though, it’s relation to other music is more complex than simple siblinghood.  The young rock and roll looked very much, and acted very much like a young, somewhat clueless child of blues and jazz (and the baby sibling of the more capable rhythm and blues) but as rock and roll matured into rock, it developed its own identity, eventually accepting not only the best of what it’s parents could offer, but exploring all other available musical influences, examining and absorbing recorded and written music of all accessible areas of the globe and all accessible time periods.

Track listing

  1. Theresa’s Blues” (Chris Hills) – 12;19
  2. Scarborough Fair (Traditional,  Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel)” – 2:39
  3. “Drum Solo” – 3:55
  4. Ooh Baby” ( Chris Hills) – 12:14
  5.  “C’est Ca” ( Chris Swansen) – 0:19
  6. Back Street Girl” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) – 5:46
  7. “Piano Solo”  – 0:51

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Sly and the Family Stone, Dance to the Music, Hair

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Pioneers of psychedelic soul and greatly influential to the course of funk and jazz-rock, San Francisco’s Sly and the Family Stone,  led by composer, arranger, and producer Sly Stone releases their second solid album, Dance to the Music, on April 27, 1968. Sly’s original intent was more in the direction of psychedelic soul, but was urged by CBS’s Clive Davis to make the album pop friendly.  Despite any musical  compromises, Sly Stone is unwavering in emphasizing peace, love, and social harmony.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Sylvester Stewart and produced and arranged by Sly Stone for Stone Flower Productions.

Side one

  1. Dance to the Music” – 3:00
  2. “Higher” – 2:49
  3. “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” – 4:26
  4. Dance to the Medley – 12:12
    1. “Music Is Alive”
    2. “Dance In”
    3. “Music Lover”

Side two

  1. “Ride the Rhythm” – 2:48
  2. “Color Me True” – 3:10
  3. “Are You Ready” – 2:50
  4. “Don’t Burn Baby” – 3:14
  5. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” – 3:25

Personnel

Sly and the Family Stone

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Starting as an off-Broadway music in 1967, Hair opened on Broadway on April 29, 1968 at the Biltmore Theatre in the middle of the theater district.  Known for songs like “Aquarius”, “Hair”, “Easy to be Hard”, “Good Morning Starshine”, and “The Flesh Failures” aka “Let the Sun Shine In” as well as it’s nude scene (nudity onstage was legal, but only if the actors were not moving, and this restriction was appropriately incorporated as the actors undressed under a parachute-like fabric and then sang the remainder of the song motionless), this book-less musical (no story) stitches together scenes addressing topics of that day such as hair length, the Vietnam war, race and sexual freedom.

Songs [from Wikipedia]

The score had many more songs than were typical of Broadway shows of the day. Most Broadway shows had about six to ten songs per act; Hair’s total is in the thirties. This list reflects the most common Broadway lineup.

Fifty Year Friday: The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle

The-Zombies-Odessey-Oracle-770In early 1967, battling against the challenges of generating a stream of steady income, and considering splitting up due to lack of continued success and assorted frustrations, the UK pop-group, The Zombies, once heralded as one of the leading musical forces of the British Invasion, reluctantly accepted an offer to play a series of ten concerts in the large Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines. Much to their surprise, they were greeted by two thousand fans at the Metro Manila airport, and found their music played repeatedly on Philippines pop radio, with five of their older songs currently in the top ten.  On the first night, March 3rd, 1967, the Zombies played to a total of 45,000 appreciative fans, with continuing large crowds through March 11th.

Such a reception should have encouraged the band, but as the pay amounted to only a paltry 380 British Pounds split between the band, the result was more that of discouragement.

So when it came time to record an album in June of 1967, thoughts of a break-up were already present with that actually disbandment happening before the album was released on April 19, 1968.  The Zombies had a limited budget and limited time, but they were intent on producing something lasting and of quality.  Fortunately the songs provided by band members Rod Argent and Chris White were exceptional.

One’s first impression is that this album, Odessey and Oracle, (the mispelling, though claimed by Argent to be intentional for many years, was an error on the part of the graphic designer) is heavily indebted to the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, though it’s important to note that most of the songs on the album were written before Sgt. Pepper’s was released in May 1967. It’s also worth noting that nine of the twelve songs on Odessey and Oracle were recorded at  EMI‘s Abbey Road Studios using the same engineers that had contributed to Sgt. Pepper’s, the same eight-track technology and the very same Mellotron the Beatles had left behind, but with remarkably less studio time and no additional musicians employed.  Rod Argent: This “was the first time we were recording with more than four tracks, and we were like kids in a candy store, overdubbing Mellotron parts and vocal harmonies.”

The album opens with its strongest track, “Care of Cell 44”, one of Rod Argent masterpieces. This would of been the perfect single and was released as such, but it completely fizzled. With McCartney-like bass, a sprightly piano part, Beach Boys-like harmonies and overdubbed Mellotron, this upbeat song anticipates a style used years later by groups like SuperTramp and Kayak, chamber pop groups like Fugu, and Indie Pop groups like Beulah and Apples in Stereo.

If the music of “Care of Cell 44” is ahead of its time, so are the lyrics, which are also more like the Indie Pop of the 1990’s than anything of 1968:

“Good morning to you, I hope your feeling better, baby,
Thinking of me while you are far away
Counting the days until they set you free again.
Writing this letter, hoping you’re okay;
Sent to the room you used to stay in every Sunday —
The one that is warmed by sunshine everyday.
And we’ll get to know each other for a second time
Then you can tell me about your prison stay.”

The second song, “A Rose for Emily” starts with simple piano accompaniment against a clear unadorned vocal line followed by charming harmonies in the chorus.  The influence of Brian Wilson is clear, but the originality of this song, written by Argent in a single morning, is also clear.

The distinction in musical writing styles between Argent and Chris White is apparent with the next song, “Maybe After He’s Gone” which opens with acoustic guitar, but just as Argent’s lyrics pushed into darker and less traveled roads, the same with White’s songs — this one about the possibly remote prospect that the former love will return after the other guy has moved on.  The sense of sadness and loneliness conveyed effectively by the lyrics is underscored rather than obscured by the irony of relatively upbeat music.

In “Beechwood Park”, the next track,  Chris White takes an opposite approach of combining lyrics that when read might seem like pleasant reminiscing but when set with decidedly gloomy music becomes melancholic with a clear sense that this is a love that has been lost and never to be recovered.  It pairs well with the previous song, both effectively covering the same topic of guy loses girl, and perhaps even being about the same loss.

“Brief Candles” combines the sensitive ballad with the classic sixties psychedelic chorus. This time the verse is melancholic, the chorus uplifting, and the result, like the previous two tracks, is reflective and wistful.

The last track of side one, “Hung Up on a Dream” is another Rod Argent composition with lyrics very reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Day in the Life”, though probably written before Argent heard that song:

“Well, I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat

“And from that nameless changing crowd
A sweet vibration seemed to fill the air
I stood astounded staring hard
At men with flowers resting in their hair

“A sweet confusion filled my mind
Until I woke up only finding everything was just a dream
A dream unusual of its kind
That gave me peace and blew my mind.”

The music is not the standard verse-chorus-verse structure.  The first section is three instances of the verse followed by an instrumental bridge-like passage with the most sparkling chord changes, followed by another vocal section in the original key of G Major which them modulates for the return of the verse, now in F major, followed by an instrumental coda over the chords of the verse.

The second side is not as strong as the first side, but even a track like “I Want Her, She Wants Me”, which Argent has indicated he threw together quickly for the B side of a single, is catchy, well arranged, and well performed.

The two best tracks on side two are Chris White songs, the first of which is the anti-war song, “Butcher’s Tale”, the tale of a disillusioned, frightened British World War One soldier.

Chris White: “I wanted Colin to sing it but they got me to sing because they said ‘Your weak trembley little voice suits the song.’ We used this old American pedal organ that I’d bought in a junk store, and if you listen closely you can hear Rod’s fingernails, because it’s all miked up. We also had some musique concrète, which I actually nicked off a Pierre Boulez record, reversed the tape and sped it up. We ‘adapted’ it. One of the influences on that was ‘1941 New York Mining Disaster’ by the Bee Gees, which I thought was a great way of telling a story — very evocative.”

Surprisingly, this was released as a single, but failed perhaps due to is odd, eerie, though effectively evocative, content.

Also notable is the next Chris White composition on the album, “Friends of Mine”, with its upbeat, overall basic, but catchy music, covering a topic perhaps rarely (if ever) previously covered in recorded pop music:

“When we’re all in a crowd
And you catch her eye
And then you both smile
I feel so good inside
And when I’m with her
She talks about you
The things that you say
The things that you do

And when I feel bad
When people disappoint me
That’s when I need you two
To help me believe”

Background chorus included couples that were friends of the band and whose actual names are included in the song.  Ironically, per Rod Argent, despite being immortalized as being loving pairs on the album, none of these couples stayed together.

The last track, “Time of the Season”,  was also written last.  Composed in a single morning by Rod Argent, it is the least interesting song in terms of chord changes, but is notable for its unusually limited use of chorus and the two Argent’s era-appropriate jazz-psychedelia electronic organ solos.  Argent felt that this song had hit-potential but this view wasn’t particularly shared by others. Nonetheless, the song was eventually released as a single and, though the band was now no longer together, in 1969, “Time of the Season” rose to the number 3 spot on Billboard, rose to #1 on the Cash Box Top 100, and peaked at number 1 in Canada.  This was, by far, the Zombies biggest hit, but the Zombies were no more.

The single would have never been released if it wasn’t for Al Kooper (see earlier blog post here) who was now with Columbia in the A&R department (the Artists and Repertoire division, responsible for talent recognition and development.) More importantly, this album, Odessey and Oracle, would probably have never been released either, if it wasn’t for Al Kooper’s insistence.  As it was, Columbia released it on one of their small sub-labels, Date Records, which was dissolved by 1970.

Rod Argent: “In the States, the album was not going to be released until Al Kooper found it. He was the hot new A&R man that Clive Davis had employed, and he went rushing back from England to the US. He went into Clive Davis’ office and said, ‘I’ve listened to hundreds of albums and there’s one album that stands above the rest and I don’t care who owns this album, you’ve got to buy it from them. It doesn’t matter how much it costs.’ And Clive said, ‘Well, we own it, and we passed on it.’ Al said, ‘You can’t pass on it, you must release it.’

“He said OK and then they put out “Butcher’s Tale,” which is still one of my favorite tracks on the album, that Chris wrote. It still gives me chills when I hear it, but it was never a single. Al was aghast that they put that out as a single. Then they put out “Friends of Mine,” and as I remember, “Care of Cell 44.” Nothing happened. And then they put out “Time of the Season.”

Though there are significant differences in Argent’s and White’s writing for both music and lyrics, the album is filled with some of the most bubbly and sparkling pop chord changes ever, and holds together as a unified whole, with only the last track not quite fitting in.  For an album that was almost never released in the States, this is one of the more musical, influential, and important albums of 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer

Length

1

Care of Cell 44 Rod Argent

3:57

2.

“A Rose for Emily” Argent

2:19

3.

“Maybe After He’s Gone” Chris White

2:34

4.

“Beechwood Park” White

2:44

5.

“Brief Candles” White

3:30

6.

“Hung Up on a Dream” Argent

3:02

Side B

#

Title

Writer

Length

7.

“Changes” White

3:20

8.

“I Want Her, She Wants Me” Argent

2:53

9.

“This Will Be Our Year” White

2:08

10.

Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914) White

2:48

11.

“Friends of Mine” White

2:18

12.

Time of the Season Argent

3:34

Total length:

35:18

Personnel

The Zombies

  • Colin Blunstone – lead vocals
  • Rod Argent – keyboards, backing vocals, lead vocals on “I Want Her, She Wants Me”, co-lead vocals on “Brief Candles”
  • Paul Atkinson – guitar, backing vocals on “Changes”
  • Chris White – bass, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”, co-lead vocals on “Brief Candles”
  • Hugh Grundy – drums, backing vocals on “Changes”

Production[

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Original Liner Notes: 

Shakespeare said: 

“Be not afraid; 
The isle is full of noise 
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments 
Will hum about mine years; and sometimes voices” 

Really, music is a very personal thing; it’s the product of a person’s experiences. Since no two people have been exactly alike, each writer has something unique to say.  That makes anything which is not just a copy of something else worth listening to. Believing this, and laden with gifts of fruit and nuts from the Orient, we descended upon CBS chieftain Derek, and with smarm and charm extracted, astonished, the finance necessary to compose, arrange and perform, produce and cover an LP ourselves, with no outside help or interference. 

This is the result:

Thanks to Terry Quick, artist flatmate of Chris, for the cover. Thanks to Will Shakespeare, not a flatmate of Chris, for his contribution to the sleeve notes.

ROD ARGENT, 1968
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A few years ago we all fell under the spell of ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Tell Her No’. Well, they are back again with the same spells and a few new ones. 

With this album, The Zombies establish themselves alongside the royalty of rock. The songs are so original in thought – a girl soon to come home to you (from prison), the horror of the First World War, with melodies incorporating well-timed diminished chords leaping through warm melodic tapestries. The musicianship level set on ‘She’s Not There’ is not betrayed, and The Zombies have indeed benefited from the time since then. 

While in London recently, I acquired forty British LPs. Once home, I began to listen to all forty. This record stuck out like a rose in a garden of weeds. It is for you now to enjoy this experience as I have, and I know once you have, you will continue to play some cuts from this album every day for a long time. The Zombies who are – very much alive. 

AL KOOPER, 1968


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Additional notes