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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
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Fifty Year Friday: McCoy Tyner, Time for Tyner and Quicksilver Messenger Service

TforT517910Recorded on May 17, 1968, and released in August of 1968,  McCoy’s Tyner sixth albums feature the trio of Tyner, Herbie Lewis on bass and Freddie Waits on drums with the addition of Bobby Hutcherson on vibes for the first side of the two lengthier Tyner compositions and the the first two tracks on side two, Tyner’s “May Street” and Richard Rodger’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” from the 1939 Musical, “Too Many Girls.”

Tyner is in excellent form here, with every note contributing, even the rapid Art Tatum like scales.  The three musical show tunes are all given special treatment, with “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” performed as a captivating piano solo, and the three Tyner compositions are all excellent, with African Village recalling Mongo Santamaria’s  Afro Blue from the amazing “must have” 1963 recording, “Live at Birdland” with Tyner, Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

Track listing

  1. “African Village” (McCoy Tyner)- 12:11
  2. “Little Madimba” (Tyner)- 8:34
  3. “May Street” (Tyner)- 5:22
  4. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (HartRodgers) – 7:10
  5. “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (Hammerstein, Rodgers) – 5:12
  6. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (LernerLoewe) – 4:27

Musicians

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Not just another San Franciscan psychedelic rock band, but a particularly talented set of musicians that were part of the new direction of album-oriented rock.  There are jazz and even traces of classical music influences in the structure, group work, and solos on this album.  This, their very first album, is relatively short in length and not exactly a coherent work as it includes recordings spanning two years of musical development with tracks from 1966, 1967 and 1968.  “Gold and Silver” is the strongest track, with the first half of “The Fool”, being also quite good.   Album was released in May of 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. Pride of Man” – 4:08 (Hamilton Camp)
  2. “Light Your Windows” – 2:38 (Gary DuncanDavid Freiberg)
  3. “Dino’s Song”[4] – 3:08 (Dino Valenti)
  4. “Gold and Silver” – 6:43 (Gary Duncan, Steve Schuster)

Side two

  1. “It’s Been Too Long” – 3:01 (Ron Polte)
  2. “The Fool” – 12:07 (Gary Duncan, David Freiberg)

Musicians

Fifty Year Friday: Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends; Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. Assassination; Civil Rights Act of 1968

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Released on April 3, 1968, it wasn’t until summer of 1968 that I first heard this album.  My sister had left it out on the top of my dad’s large mono hi-fidelity set, and alone in the living room, I took the record sleeve out of the outer cover and the vinyl contents out of its record sleeve, put it on the only quality turntable in the house, and one of the better ones on the block, turned on the machine, guided the tonearm to the beginning and while still standing in front of the hi-fi, became totally ensnared by this work of musical art.

The album opens with a solo acoustic guitar prelude intimating that this is not going to be just a collection of songs, but something more  – an organized musical statement. The second track, with Moog synthesizer setting the general ambiance, and thick reverb and choir providing the texture, is dark and grey, much in keeping with the black and white cover, and sets an encompassing atmosphere of bleakness, alienation and separation which carries on even through the last, more upbeat, song of the album.

This is very much Paul Simon’s Sgt. Peppers album — a concept album without a concrete concept, establishing coherence and a unified whole based on the quality of the songs, their arrangements, and, even going further than Sgt. Pepper, on a consistency of style in both the music and lyrics.  There is a deep seriousness in this music far beyond the previous Simon and Garfunkel albums: the music is shadowy and gloomy but rich in textures and images similar to some of the more detailed and complex art-deco black-and-white photography such as one of Edward Striochen’s photos as shown below:

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“America”, “Hazy Shade of Winter”, and “At the Zoo” may be uptempo and full of rhythm and the essence of rock music — listen to Yes’s flashy, kaleidoscopic realization of “America” — but these are inherently dark compositions with all intrusively brighter colors filtered out to expose the true underlying monochrome content.  Should I venture to compare this album general effect to one of Mahler’s works? Perhaps there is merit for such a comparison, but these tracks belong to 1968 not to a time eighty years earlier, and the most appropriate comparisons are to music of 1968.  Like Sgt. Pepper’s, this album could not have been made with the normal limitations placed on studio time for most rock artists.  Thankfully, Simon and Garfunkel had a clause in their contract specifying the label’s obligation to provide the necessary funding for the studio time, and the duo took advantage of this with hours and hours spent on perfecting the final product with multiple takes and significant dollars spent on that studio time as well as money spent on  the incorporation of additional instruments and the musicians playing them.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Paul Simon, except “Voices of Old People” by Art Garfunkel.

Side one

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

1.

Bookends Theme 1968

0:32

2.

Save the Life of My Child Dec. 14, 1967

2:49

3.

America Feb. 1, 1968

3:35

4.

Overs Oct. 16, 1967

2:14

5.

“Voices of Old People” Feb. 6, 1968

2:07

6.

Old Friends 1968

2:36

7.

“Bookends Theme” 1968

1:16

Side two

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

8.

Fakin’ It June 1967

3:17

9.

Punky’s Dilemma Oct. 5, 1967

2:12

10.

Mrs. Robinson Feb. 2, 1968

4:02

11.

A Hazy Shade of Winter Sept. 7, 1966

2:17

12.

At the Zoo Jan. 8, 1967

2:23

April 4, 1968, was a day of great tragedy: the assassination of  Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr.  Further tragedy followed with rioting and violence across 125 cities that took the lives of 39 people and injured many, many more. As with so many tragedies, good followed including the passage of the previously stalled Civil Rights Act of 1968 which now made it federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin” as well as directly addressing an area where millions had previously been treated unfairly by being “the first effective law against discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the United States of America” making fair housing “the unchallenged law of the land.”  For this reason, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is also known as the Fair Housing Act.

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Nina Simone dedicates a program of music to Dr. King at Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968. This music is later released in 1968 on the album, Nuff Said.  The third track on the album, is “Backlash Blues”, a Civil Rights song first recorded on Nina Simone Sings the Blues with lyrics by renowned poet,  Langston Hughes:

Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash,
Just who do think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages
And send my son to Vietnam.
 
You give me second class houses
And second class schools.
Do you think that all the colored folks
Are just second class fools?
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it’s full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown.
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just what do you think I got to lose?
I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues
You’re the one will have the blues
Not me, just wait and see.

Dr King’s voice was never silenced — it lived on the the memories of the many that heard him and lives on today in recordings and videos readily available all over the internet — and Dr. King inspired many others to speak out on the necessity of equal opportunity and freedom for all — a work that is very much still in progress today.

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Fifty Year Friday: Joni Mitchell; Song to a Seagull

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Working in coffee houses and folk clubs, first in Toronto and then in the states, Roberta Joan Anderson, or simply Joni Anderson, and then later Joni Mitchell (taking her new surname as a result of a brief marriage from 1965-1967 to a Michigan folk-singer) begin getting attention for her song writing skills as more established artists with recording contracts begin to cover her songs.  First there was folksinger Tom Rush recording  “Urge for Going”, after Rush presented it to Judy Collins, who was not interested, then country singer George Hamilton IV placing it on the country charts for 21 weeks with it peaking at the number seven spot.  Then Buffy Sainte-Marie  recorded “The Circle Game”) and Dave Van Ronk recorded “Both Sides Now”, followed by Judy Collins recording that same song and another on her 1967 Wildflowers album with “Both Sides Now” being a major hit, by far Collins’ biggest hit, peaking at 8 on the pop charts, and 3 on the adult contemporary charts.

Joni’s own chance at commercial recordings came with David Crosby hearing her in a club in Florida and then convincing Reprise records to record Mitchell as a folk-rock artist.  David took ownership of production, basically taking a more-or-less hands-off approach except for the well-intended mistake of having Joni sing into the open grand piano, forcing the removal of high frequencies in final production, resulting in a lower fidelity album.

With this very first Joni Mitchell album, we have a collection of songs all written by creating the music first and then adding the lyrics, and yet fitting them together in such a way so that neither is diluted. There are no major hits on this album, put there are a number of gems, the most sparkling is “Marcie”, which is representative of Joni Mitchell’s amazing ability to craft effective and meaningful words to align with her music. This is not the strongest or best selling of Joni’s many albums, but it is one no lover of music or lyrics should mistakenly ignore.  It is with this very album that Joni Mitchell begins the climb to her current legendary status, and becomes worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence of earlier 20th Century greats like Cole Porter, writing music with a recognizable identity and a level of merit that earnestly invites repeated attentive listenings.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Joni Mitchell.

Side One: I Came to the City

#

Title

Length

1

“I Had a King”

3:37

2.

“Michael from Mountains”

3:41

3.

“Night in the City”

2:30

4.

“Marcie”

4:35

5.

“Nathan La Franeer”

3:18

Side 2: Out of the City and Down to the Seaside

#

Title

Length

6.

“Sisotowbell Lane”

4:05

7.

“The Dawntreader”

5:04

8.

“The Pirate of Penance”

2:44

9.

“Song to a Seagull”

3:51

10.

“Cactus Tree”

4:35

Personnel

  • Joni Mitchell – guitar, piano, vocals, artwork for album cover
  • Stephen Stills – bass on “Night in the City”
Technical

Fifty Year Friday: David Axelrod, Electric Prunes and Mass in F Minor

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In 1967, the previously unknown, recently formed, L.A. band, The Electric Prunes, grabbed public recognition with the quintessential psychedelic top 40 hit,  Annette Tucker’s and lyricist Nancie Mantz’s “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Soon the Prunes were guests on TV, miming performances to their big hit, and touring the country.

in 1968, the band’s manager Lenny Poncher, their producer Dave Hassinger, and the Reprise Records  management, determined  that the Electric Prunes would record some type of concept album from material provided by producer/composer/arranger David Axelrod.  Axelrod was given the freedom to compose whatever he thought most appropriate, with the hopes of furthering the Prunes’ name recognition.

The final material composed by Axelrod, a psychedelic setting of the Latin Mass, with sections crafted for appropriate freely-expressive, acid-rock improvisation, ultimately required the band to be augmented by studio musicians.  Also, since the band was as much of a commodity (producer Dave Hassinger owned the rights to the name at that time) as individual members, this particular formation of Electric Prunes would soon be replaced by other musicians.

However, we did get a rather interesting, if less than stellar, concept album — a rock mass, a couple of years after Vince Guaraldi’s Jazz mass (see below) and three years before Leonard’s Bernstein’s mass (originally intended to be a modern setting of a traditional mass, but ultimately realized as a stage work.)


Though uneven, this Electric Prune’s Mass in F Minor is worth listening to.  It uses an abbreviated form of the mass, but still has the major sections. The Kyrie Eleison is later included in the film Easy Rider.  The Credo and Agnus Dei are the most interesting. Though most music historians would not classify this as progressive rock, this is, for 1968,  a musically progressive setting of the mass.  Also, this album should get a nod for being a concept album, including symphonic instruments, and some notable guitar work.  One can check out a lower quality audio version on youtube:

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: The Who Sell Out

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“Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun‘ which I preferred.” Pete Townshend (1967)

Somewhere in the mid sixties, rock and roll was replaced with rock.  The rock and roll music of the fifties, primarily based on blues and variations of blues chord sequences, slowly was overshadowed by music that was more message and substance oriented. The Beach Boys classic “Fun, Fun, Fun”, and the 1967 masterwork “Good Vibrations” is clearly Rock and Roll. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is clearly rock.  I don’t recall the year, but sometime in the late sixties, I started correcting my dad when he referred to rock music as “rock ‘n roll” — I disdained Rock and Roll as a relic and lower form of music,  and loved Rock for its broad musical diversity and, for the best of it, it’s reach beyond dance music to serious listening music.

The Who, part of the British Invasion, deviated from what was pretty much a rock and roll group in 1965, opening their first album “My Generation” with “Out in the Street” immediately followed with James Brown’s “I Dont’ Mind” and songs like “The Good’s Gone”,  “La-L-La Lies”, “Please, Please, Please”, “It’s Not True”,  and Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man. ” However, like the Beatles, there were significant forays into a newer musical expression as hinted in “A Legal Matter” and in the instrumental “Ox.” By their second album, we get true rock pieces like John Entwistle’s classic “Boris the Spider.  By the third album, “The Who Sell Out”, an imaginative concept album that includes commercials interspersed throughout, mocking the format of commercial radio stations, The Who are a seasoned rock group writing and performing rock compositions, making use of such “power pop” chord progressions, modulations, and power chords (chords structures found in earlier Who songs such as”My Generation” and “Boris the Spider” — chords that just have the root and fifth — this not only omits the note that provides the major or minor quality of a traditional triad, but produces a simpler harmonic footprint producing an especially powerful effect when played loudly) that create a sound that is easily identifiable as the sound of The Who.  This is not the power pop of rock and roll, but power pop that is part of the new rock music movement.

The album opens strikingly, and aligning with it’s wanton-commercialism concept, with a jingle followed by John “Speedy” Keen’s (a friend of Who main songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend) “Armenia, City in the Sky” — starting out much like a radio ad, lyrically, with “If you’re troubled and you can’t relax” but soon followed with more mind-altering-like lyrics and with a 1967 psychedelic and imaginatively crafted arrangement including backwards french horn bursts and various guitar effects.

“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” is both melodically appealing and lyrically bold (“Mary-Anne with the shaky hands — what they’ve done to a man, those shaky hands.”) Musically, “Odorono” is even more notable, forging towards the musical style perfected on their next album and yet done as a deodorant jingle.  If one doubts the genius of Pete Townshend to align music and lyrics without compromising either, this is prima facie evidence of his capabilities, as is the track that follows: “Tattoo” a tune that could work very well as jingle for the Tattoo industry.

“Our Love Was” is an ethereal gem, maintaining energy and vibrancy to the end, with Entwistle’s French Horn providing just one of many elements that make this arrangement special.

The Who’s 1967 hit, and arguably the best song of the album, if not of Townshend’s career, is “I Can See for Miles”, punctuated perfectly by Keith Moon’s drums and cymbals.

The second side, is also excellent and includes  “I Can’t Reach You”, “Relax”,  Entwistle’s chromatically-flavored, organ-accompanied “Silas Stingy”,  the beautiful “Sunrise” and the Who’s second miniature rock opera, “”Rael (1 and 2)”, even shorter than their first mini-rock opera, “”A Quick One, While He’s Away” on their previous album.

Released in the UK in December 1967 and the US on Jan 7th, 1968, some of the musical techniques employed in “The Who Sell Out” will be more fully explored in their 1969 full-length rock opera,  “Tommy”, which also further develops  musical material in the songs “Sunrise” and “Rael.”  Though this album was only marginally successful in the US when first released, climbing no higher than the 48th spot on the Billboard album chart, perhaps due to its unusual jingle-based concept, it is one of the best albums of 1967, music that should be explored by those looking to better understand the history of rock (as opposed to  rock and roll) or just looking for some well written, enjoyable power pop music.

Track listing and song credits

Last week’s Fifty Year Friday

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Axis: Bold as Love”

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Recorded in May and June 1967, and released in December 1967, composer, lyricist and guitarist, Jimi Hendrix shows a stunning amount of development since the recordings sessions (October 1966 through April 1966) of the first album, “Are You Experienced?”

The opening of the first track of “Axis: Bold as Love” borders on the puerile, yet to the rescue with the entrance of Hendrix’s guitar at the thirty-three second mark, we are assured of the exceptional.  Based on just the contents of the last eighty seconds of this first track, one can effortlessly make the case that Hendrix says far more in this one brief passage than can be found in Stockhausen’s entire “Hymen” (covered here in an earlier post.)

From there on, this album neatly blends the accessible with cutting edge guitar work and effective “interactiveness” (“interaction” is too weak of a word to use here) between bass, drums and Hendrix guitar.  With “Up From the Skies” we get a more relaxed, self-confident Hendrix on vocals than on the previous album, but still with more advanced and interesting instrumental passage work, indicative of much of his work in his later albums.  “Spanish Castle Magic” picks up musically from where “Foxy Lady” left off. Notable here is the bass/drums musical punctuation which becomes such a prevalent device in progressive rock and heavy metal (particularly Led Zeppelin which Hendrix purportedly never much cared for,  considering them excess baggage — a group that stole from others.  The closest to a direct Hendrix quote on this topic, attributed by Keith Altham and published in Melody Maker, shortly after Hendrix’s death in September 1970, was “I don’t think much of Led Zeppelin—I don’t think much of them. Jimmy Page is a good guitar player.”)

The album continues with “Spanish Castle Magic”, which again shows a more developed and innovative approach then the first album’s excellent “Fire”, including Hendrix adding a backward guitar track  Though the next two songs,  “Wait Until Tomorrow” and “Ain’t No Telling” are not particularly musically interesting, the arrangement adds enough life to make them solid dance selections.  And, as consistent through this album, Hendrix lyrics and guitar work take these works well above the ordinary.

“Little Wing”, a beautiful ballad, and “If Six Was Nine” are classics.  “You’ve Got Me Floating” is a positive and upbeat diversion, with Graham Nash and Move band members providing the back-up vocals in the chorus. Introduced with backward guitar, “Castles Made of Sand” provides us with another reflective Hendrix ballad. The next song, “She’s So Fine”, is written by bassist Noel Redding, and is a prototypical English rock song, with a Who-like chorus, and some interesting guitar from Hendrix. The Hendrix guitar solo at the end is just enough to provide justification for its inclusion.

“One Rainy Wish” starts out ballad-like in 3/4 (with a 4/4 and 5/4 measure added to enhance a dreamy introduction), lushful and soulful, then modulates into a heavy metal exuberant 4/4 chorus and then back to the A section with a fade out coda. “Little Miss Lover” includes Hendrix use of a wah-wah pedal, an effect that would be adapted by countless rock guitarists later on.

A craftsman and perfectionist, Hendrix and his vision for this album was somewhat compromised with the objective of producer Chas Chandler, which basically was to get to the final take as efficiently and quickly as possible.  Thankfully, the final track, “Bold As Love” (with lyrics openly confessing that the negative emotions are, unfortunately, as capable of being as bold as love, and limiting us in giving and receiving love) was not rushed — with at least twenty-seven takes, and four different endings tried. The song starts off, casually, then shifts to an anthem-like chorus, with the effective interplay between the verse and chorus — the chorus triumphant, celebrating victoriously, and apparently ending the piece — but instead rather providing the embers for an Olympian coda, which rises like that mythical Phoenix, accompanied by mellotron and transcendental guitar, to provide a majestic finale to a song and an album unlike any other released in 1967.

One may be tempted to ask how musical history would have been different if Chas Chandler had produced “Sgt. Peppers” and George Martin had produced “Axis: Bold as Love.”  But like all such silly speculation (what if Lekeu age 24, had lived as long as Schubert, age 31, and Schubert had lived as long as Mozart, 35,  and Mozart had lived as long as Chopin 39, and Chopin had lived as long as Beethoven, 56, and Beethoven had lived as long as Stravinsky, 88) time is much better spent listening to those musical masterpieces left to us by the musical masters of their time.   “Axis: Bold as Love” is one of those masterpieces.

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