Fifty Year Friday: Pete Seeger, Mason Williams, Roy Harper
Many of us that grew up in the sixties wouldn’t miss a chance to watch the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour on Sunday night from 1967 to its censor-driven cancellation in 1969. The show was musically noteworthy for including rock and musical groups that the other variety shows were uncomfortable with (including Cream, Harry Belafonte, The Doors, The Who, Buffalo Springfield, The Cast of Hair, The Jefferson Airplane, and Steppenwolf) , and ending the national blacklisting of Pete Seeger on February 25, 1968. Other musical guests were the Electric Prunes, George Harrison, Donovan, The Byrds, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Julliard String Quartet.
Mason Williams was the head writer for the show and was often responsible for the incorporating of younger talent into the writing staff, including Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein Carl Gottlieb, and Steve Martin, who even made an on-camera appearance.
Mason made several on-camera appearances, most notably for his composition, “Classical Gas”, which became a hit single. “Classical Gas,” originally titled “Classical Gasoline”, appears on Mason Williams’ Warner Brothers album, The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, and is by far the stand out track, a classic rendition of a clearly timeless work.
During 1968 there was a pronounced divide, perhaps greater than any time in Western Music history, between the music the younger generation embraced and what their parents and grandparents found acceptable. “Classical Gas” bridged that gap, topping the easy listening charts as well as holding the number two spot on the pop charts for two consecutive weeks wedged between hits by The Doors and The Fifth Dimension.
Check out the following two videos: “Classical Gas” set to a video of the greatest art works, and Mason Williams spot on the Smother Brothers addressing censorship.
Roy Harper: Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith
Released either in late 1967 or early 1968 (I really cannot find an exact date for this), is Roy Harper’s second album. Notable is Harper’s compelling guitar work, unusual lyrics, crafted melodies and the blending of Harper’s guitar with orchestra. Looking back in time, this is a weaker album than the first one, “Sophisticated Beggar”, but the reality is very few people purchased that first album when it had originally been released. Fortunately, a representative from Columbia Records did hear that first album, and signed Roy Harper for this second one. Better albums will follow, but one can find much of interest, particularly the first track, “Freak Street.” This Columbia produced album served to provide a wider audience to Harper who would have an influence over many other artists including Ian Anderson, Joanna Newsom, Jimmy Page and Al Stewart.