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Fifty Year Friday: George Harrison, Wonderwall Music

 

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Released in Great Britain on November 1, 2018, George Harrison’s soundtrack to the mod, psychedelic film about a late middle-aged lab scientist that expands his professional interest in watching the domestic life of microbes under a microscope to watching his neighbors through a hole in the wall. Wonderwall Music is both the first solo Beatles album (if one doesn’t count George Martin/Paul McCartney’s The Family Way soundtrack which is basically various Martin arrangements of a single McCartney tune, “Love in the Open Air’) and the very first Apples-label album.

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Harrison had no experience, of course, composing soundtracks, but with guidance from director Joe Massot and assistance from classical trained pianist and Ravi Shankar composition pupil,  John Barham , Harrison produces an effective soundtrack that works quite well as standalone music encompassing multiple styles from classical Indian music to English Music Hall pseudo-ragtime to contemporary rock.  With limited dialogue and a strong focus on visuals over story, there is plenty of opportunity in the movie for musical passages, so much so, that the album doesn’t contain all the musical material present in the film.

In terms of sales, this soundtrack album was not very successful in the UK, but it did much better in the U.S. peaking at 49 on the Billboard album chart.  Critical review has been mixed during both initial evaluations and re-evaluations of the album, but the music is generally strong with some notable tracks and the general critical trend has been towards greater appreciation as time has gone by.

The music was recorded in sessions in London and Bombay, Harrison having determined from the watching the assigned sections of film, stopwatch in hand, the exact length required for the music and working with the musicians to create appropriate material to match the assigned scenes.  The titles are appropriately named so that it is fairly easy to remember which part of the movie each particular track was for.

The first track, “Microbes” is used at the start of the film as background to the routine activity of microorganisms being observed under microscope and showcases the shenai, a double-reed instrument, similar to the oboe.  The second track, “Red Lady Too” is particular notable for its progressive-rock-like arpeggios, suspensions and chord changes and provides a representative example of how each track in the album is a miniature musical movement in a larger suite. The short length of the compositions require a brevity of expression, so instead of having 35 minute ragas, we get short Indian classical compositions, like the one-minute third track, “Tabla and Pakajav” and the four-minute fourth track, “In the Park.”

“Drilling a Home” shows Harrison’s sense of humor, and is very much like the music used for British pantomime television comedy sketches. This is followed by another dualing-shenai composition, “Guru Vandana”, followed by a particular impressive Mellotron and Harmonium duet, showing off Harrison’s sensitivity for the subtle. Next we have Eric Claption featured on guitar in “Ski-ing”, then “Gat Kirwani” featuring sarod, sitar and tabla, followed by one of the best compositions on the album,  the final track of side one, the thoughtfully crafted ambient/Hindi/instrumental/musique-concrete collage, “Dream Scene”, preceding Lennon’s Revolution and saying so much more in so much less time.

Side Two opens up with the strumming of Harrison’s acoustic guitar on a composition reminiscent of The Beatles’ instrumental, “Flying” on Magical Mystery Tour, followed by a sarod love duet, “Love Scene” and a lamenting shenai on “Crying. “Cowboy Music” was written for the scene of the neighbor’s boyfriend on rocking horse”, and is followed by another composition featuring shenai, “Fantasy Sequins.”  “On the Bed”, like a rock fanfare for the opening credits of a movie or a leading-edge BBC TV show, is followed by the masterfully brief, yet totally complete, “Glass Box” featuring sitar and tabla. The album closes with the reflective, “Wonderwall to Be Here”,  a short instrumental that any prog-band would be proud of, and the mystical “Singing Om” with harmonium and Hindustani bamboo flute.

At this time in the late sixties, there were more and more rock albums out that included lengthened tracks, with repeated verses and choruses that added little except to extend the length of an inherently two or three minute song to five or six minutes. In contrast, what we have here with Wonderwall Music is an album mostly of miniature-length compositions, with even the few longer ones, being skillfully compacted musical poems.  Much better than allmusic.com’s and the Rolling Stones Album Guide ratings of 2 1/2 stars, this is why one should only rely on their own sensibilities in determining the merit of the great music of the late sixties.

All selections written by George Harrison.

Side one

  1. “Microbes” – 3:42
  2. “Red Lady Too” – 1:56
  3. “Tabla and Pakavaj” – 1:05
  4. “In the Park” – 4:08
  5. “Drilling a Home” – 3:08
  6. “Guru Vandana” – 1:05
  7. “Greasy Legs” – 1:28
  8. “Ski-ing” – 1:50
  9. “Gat Kirwani” – 1:15
  10. Dream Scene” – 5:26

Side two

  1. “Party Seacombe” – 4:34
  2. “Love Scene” – 4:17
  3. “Crying” – 1:15
  4. “Cowboy Music” – 1:29
  5. “Fantasy Sequins” – 1:50
  6. “On the Bed” – 2:22
  7. “Glass Box” – 1:05
  8. “Wonderwall to Be Here” – 1:25
  9. “Singing Om” – 1:54

 

For those interested in the movie, it can currently be viewed on at youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2e3HeBgHKE

 

 

 

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

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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:

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: 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

bookends

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

joni song seagull

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:

 

 

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