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Posts tagged ‘Fifty Year Friday’

Fifty Year Friday: Chicago Transit Authority

“Only the beginning, only just the start.”  Robert Lamm, from “Beginnings.”

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Chicago Transit Authority

Formed in Chicago in 1967, originally named the Big Sound and incorporating three horn players, a drummer, and guitarist Terry Kath, this band of talented individuals was coaxed to pick up and move to L.A. by the independent producer James Williams Guercio in 1968. Guercio provided a new name, “Chicago Transit Authority”, and ensured them of attractive gigs including the opening show at the Whisky A Go Go. Soon the group started recording their first album in January 1969, the self-titled double record set that was released on April 28. 1969.

Like many people, I didn’t hear this album until after hearing their second album.  My next neighbor first bought their second, one of the great masterpieces of 1970’s rock, and then went back and purchased their first, this generally strong eponymous Chicago Transit Authority.  Their first album, then, became a means of being able to hear additional material by the group that had released that classic double Chicago album, the group’s name change prompted by the threat of legal action by the mass transit operator for that extreme northeast section of Illinois bordering Lake Michigan, the original Chicago Transit Authority.

I am sure I would have been much more impressed by this first album, if I had heard it before their second, for it’s a fine album on its own, and the second best album of their entire catalog.  Terry Kath’s guitar work is creative and full of life, and his voice is that of a jazz or R&B singer. Robert Lamm’s  compositions, with the exception of “South California Purples”, which is a spruced up blues number, burst out with energy and sparkle and are as good as anything in rock music at that time.  The performances by the rest of the band are all excellent, and the brass arrangements, primarily by trombonist James Pankow, are effective and focused.

And yet, after Guercio arranged for CBS west coast executives to hear the band at the Whiskey, the execs were not impressed.  A second attempt by Guercio to convince the west coast CBS “brass” to sign Chicago Transit Authority met with similar results: no interest, no deal. Guercio then finally cut a demo at a small independent studio that he circulated around to others outside of CBS, and soon, when CBS Clive Davis found out, he overruled the West Coast and the band signed with CBS’s Columbia label.

With a wealth of material to record, and wishing to create a serious product, the band insisted on making a double album.  When Columbia heard about this, they would only go along on one condition: the band must give up a percentage of their royalties for a double LP.  The band agreed, and the first debut rock double album since Frank Zappa and the Mother of Inventions’ “Freak Out” was released.

Of the four sides of this album, the first two are far the strongest, with the first song composed by Terry Kath and the remaining by Robert Lamm, followed by a more exploratory third side and then a generally strong side four.  “Free Form Guitar” on side three may not be the most accessible track, but it displays Kath’s mastery of the guitar, and help provide a fuller picture of why Hendrix purportedly told Chicago sax player Walter Parazaider, “The horns are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.” While “Free Form Guitar” provides indisputable evidence of Kath’s, imagination, control, and technique, other tracks on the album, particularly the first and last tracks, convincingly showcase Kath’s musicality and artistry.  Throughout the musicianship is excellence, and the combination of strong material and strong execution makes this one of the best debut rock albums ever.

Up to this point, many would consider the Beatles the most substantial of all the 1960s pop groups, but with 1969 comes a new upsurging of talent: bands that were, to some degree or other, influenced by the Beatles, but also heavily influenced by jazz and classical music — bands that could make music equal to or surpassing the works of the Beatles.  Chicago is one of the first of such rock groups, a progressive jazz-rock group, at least initially, that produced a first and then a second album that will be listened to, like the best of the Beatles’ albums, long into the future not only by music lovers like us but by our children and the generations that follow.

 

Track listing 

LP 1
1. Introduction (6:35) (Kath)
2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4:35) (Lamm)
3. Beginnings (7:54) (Lamm)
4. Questions 67 and 68 (5:03) (Kath)
5. Listen (3:22) (Lamm)
6. Poem 58 (8:35) (Lamm)

LP 2
7. Free Form Guitar (6:47) (Kath)
8. South California Purples (6:11) (Lamm)
9. I’m A Man (7:43) (Steve WinwoodJimmy Miller)
10. Prologue (August 29, 1968) (0:58) (James William Guercio)
11. Someday (August 29, 1968) (4:11) (Pankow)
12. Liberation (14:38) (Pankow)

Production

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Fifty Year Friday: Uncle Meat, With a Little Help from My Friends, On the Threshold of a Dream

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The Mothers of Invention: Uncle Meat

Frank Zappa continues to challenge the boundaries of commercial music, producing an audio collage of breathtakingly fresh music, snippets of musique concrète, and dialogue from his unfunded movie.

Recorded from September 1967 to September 1968 and released on April, 21, 1969, Uncle Meat is a particularly colorful album on a number of levels besides just the colorful dialogue included.  Zappa aggressively and artfully deploys twelve-track recording and speed alterations to affect the timbre and character of voices and instruments, creating a clearly contemporary work not possible just a few years earlier.

This is album is a barrel-full-of-monkeys fun to listen to with the highlights including the title theme, Ian Underwood’s keyboards and sax contributions, “Mr. Green Genes”, and the King Kong tracks on side four of the original LP.

 

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Joe Cocker: With a Little Help from My Friends

In 1969 and in the early seventies, I not only unsympathetically and almost unequivocally dismissed any version of a Beatles song not performed by the Beatles, but its accurate to say that I generally formed a dim view of any performer making such an attempt.  And so my first impression of Joe Cocker was particularly negative when I heard his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” on AM radio and later saw Cocker perform on television.

Wisdom and time has helped me overcome this teenage bias, and as a musically mature adult, I actually respect anyone with enough nerve (or even recklessness) to do a cover of one of the Beatles classics.  If they do it well, that is, they deserve my respect; looking back on Cocker’s rendition of one of the last of McCartney and Lennon’s true collaboration’s, “With A Little Help From My Friends”, and comparing it against Ringo’s vocals, I must admit that Cocker and his backing musicians pull this off pretty nicely.

In fact, the whole album is pretty good, with some original tracks along with a diverse set of covers including the well-known and often recorded 1926 composition, “Bye, Bye Blackbird” as well as a couple of Dylan covers.  Cocker and back-up singers team up with musicians as capable and as well respected as Albert Lee, Jimmy Page and Stevie Winwood, taking Cocker’s debut album as high as the thirty-fifth spot on the billboard chart.

 

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The Moody Blues continue with their signature style of music crafting an album that encompasses elements of the past, present and future:  “To Share Our Love” harkens back to 1966 British Beat music, “Send Me No Wine” is country rock with an English accent, and “The Voyage” is an exploration into the territory of progressive rock.

Recorded in the first two months of 1969, and released in the UK in April of 1969  and in the US in May of 1969, On the Threshold of a Dream quickly reached the number one spot on the UK album charts by May 4, 1969, staying there for a couple of weeks.  There are some that would profess this to be the first progressive rock album to claim the number one spot, but to my mind that distinction either belongs to the Beatles’ 1967 Sgt Pepper’s album or ELP’s 1971 Tarkus, depending on how stringently one defines progressive rock.  That said, it is a tribute to British taste how well this album did, particularly since its best mark on the US charts was the twentieth spot occurring the week of July 26, 1969.

Though the Moody Blues is not one of my favorite bands, and one that I rarely listen to today, I am always impressed by their dreamy, evocative artistry that unfailingly creates a consistent, though often varied, mood — an enveloping, trademark mood providing a generally calming, mystical musical palette distinct from that of other bands of that era.  Pay particular attention to the ethereal flute and oboe provided by Ray Thomas and the cello and mellotron contributions from Pinder, Hayward and Lodge.

Track listing  [From Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

In the Beginning Graeme Edge Hayward, Pinder, Edge (narration)

2:08

2.

Lovely to See You Justin Hayward Hayward

2:35

3.

Dear Diary Ray Thomas Thomas

3:56

4.

Send Me No Wine John Lodge Hayward, Lodge, Thomas, Pinder

2:20

5.

To Share Our Love Lodge Pinder

2:54

6.

So Deep Within You Mike Pinder Pinder

3:07

Side B

 #

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Never Comes the Day Hayward Hayward

4:43

2.

Lazy Day Thomas Thomas

2:43

3.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Hayward, Thomas Hayward

3:29

4.

The Dream Edge Pinder (narration)

0:57

5.

Have You Heard (Part 1) Pinder Pinder

1:30

6.

“The Voyage” Pinder  

3:58

7.

Have You Heard (Part 2) Pinder Pinder

2:32

The Moody Blues Personnel

Justin Hayward – vocals, guitars, cello, mellotron on “Never Comes the Day”
John Lodge – vocals, bass guitar, cello, double bass
Ray Thomas – vocals, harmonica, flute, tambourine, oboe, piccolo
Graeme Edge – rums, percussion, vocals, EMS VCS 3
Mike Pinder – vocals, mellotron, Hammond organ, piano, cello

Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers

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Overcast: With A Chance of Showers

Trevor Stuart arrived in the United States at the age of fifteen in 1965 when his mother,  accepted a teaching post at Pierce College — Dr. Catherine Stuart becoming only the third female mathematics professor at a California college.  Trevor’s father, an electrical engineer and sometimes studio pianist, stayed in London, for several months, eventually joining Trevor and Catherine after getting landing a job as production engineer at Capitol records.

Like his mother and father, Trevor had received classical piano lessons starting at an early age, and around the middle of 1968, started getting uncredited work on an occasional rock or pop album as well as providing piano and electric organ for small ensembles recorded by Jazzco, a Muzak-like provider of  commercial background music. It was late 1968 when Trevor Stuart and Overcast singer and guitarist Bill Fortney first met while standing in line at the Troubadour club, when Fortney bemoaned the lack of success in finding a suitable replacement for guitarist Greg Paulson, who, convinced that Overcast best days were behind them, had taken a full time position at the Orange County Kimberly-Clark paper products plant.

Stuart asked a few questions about this band he had never heard of and then gave it no more thought until January 1969 when he noticed an entry for Overcast in the recording schedule at the La Brea Recording Studios immediately after a session he was sitting in on.  He stayed around to say hello to Fortney; the Overcast leader had arrived with Douglas Brandt and David Amato and it was clear that Fortney was a bit distracted.  It turned out that David Amato had broken up with Claire Stanston who, along with tenor saxophonist Rick Stephenson, would help fill in the void for guitarist Greg Paulson.  It was bad enough that Stanston didn’t want any thing whatsoever to do with Amato, but this was compounded with Rick Stephenson immediately taking an interest in Claire and determining that time spent with Overcast could hardly compare to any anticipated time spent with Claire.

It was at this point that Stuart allegedly said he would have a go at it, informing a surprised Overcast that he could play keyboards and could quickly pick up tunes, particularly if Overcast would call out the chords if the music got tricky.

Fortunately, there wasn’t anything particularly tricky in Overcast’s current set of tunes and within the next three sessions,  Overcast had laid down their second album, recorded on January 11, 17 and 18, 1969 and released on the first of April of that year.

David Amato, once again suggested the title for the album, and this time Elektra acquiesced.  However, they weren’t too keen on Amato’s suggestion for the cover of “With a Chance of Showers” — a photo of a bikini-clad model in the shower.  Neither did they go for Amato’s suggestion of a photo shoot of the band in bathing suits in the Fullerton Junior College Locker Room showers — with or without accompanying bikini-clad models.  Brandt suggested reusing the same album cover used for the first album, but with the new title added, and though this was also rejected by Elektra, a similarly looking cover, but of a somewhat lower quality, was quickly created at the last moment.

Also occurring at the last moment was Elektra’s decision to not include the song, “Better Yet”, later released on their third album, due to its lyrics which included lines like “Is there anything you’d rather get than your sugar daddy’s red corvette’ and “Am I better, better, better yet, am I better than a cigarette?” causing the band to quickly come up with “Huntington Beach Baby Blues.”  Notably, also added in that January 18th recording session, was Stuart’s psychedelic-rock version of the chord progression of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, with title based on Thelonious Monk’s own version of that same tune titled “In Walked Bud.”  Not censored, were any of the lyrics in “The Hallway Episode”, which included in the chorus,  “I can see, you and me, doing what we want in the hallway.”  The ideas of photo shoots with scantily clad models, as well as the lyrics in “Better Yet” and “The Hallway Episode”, all same quite tame by today’s standards,  would soon become commonplace starting in the 1970s — but for now, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention excepted, this was still 1969 and Overcast was just another local band trying to make the big time by any means available, quietly giving in to the judgment of a randomly assigned Elektra representative regarding what was appropriate and what was not.  That would soon change with the poor sales of this second album and Elektra’s lack of interest in funding a third album.

all tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Sand, Wind, Water and You”

5:10

2.

“Chemistry with Kimberly”

3:22

3.

“Choice Decisions Left Alone”

3:50

4.

“Huntington Beach Baby Blues” (Fortney, Brandt, Amato, Stuart)

3:43

5.

“Pancake Breakfast”

4:47

Side B

No.

Title

Length

6.

“Another message for the masses”

7:02

7.

“The Hallway Episode”

3:15

8.

“Sheila Said”

4:50

9.

“Twentieth Century Overload”

3:43

10.

“In Walked Mud” (Trevor Stuart)

3:03

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Trevor Stuart, hammond organ, electric piano
  • David Amato, drums

Fifty Year Friday: The Canterbury Scene: Soft Machine and Caravan first albums

Establishing the starting point of progressive rock is a hopeless cause since elements of progressive rock appear in bits in pieces long before a general progressive rock style.  The best one can do is try establish the earliest date of the first progressive rock group. Some might argue that such an “earliest date” is established by the formation of the Wilde Flowers, a group of jazz-leaning musicians that took a crack at British Rock and Roll in 1964 and developed a more-or-less accessible, and even partly danceable style of music that foreshadows the music of the Canterbury scene — easily enough explained by the members of the Wilde Flowers all taking prominent roles in these later groups. Though no albums were recorded, we have a set of demos that have been released on CD and are currently available on You Tube.  Keep in mind that these were demos and not particularly representative of Wilde Flower live performances, which included some jazz-based improvisation.

Though I prefer to keep my distance from the term “progressive rock” as a label for a style of music, I support a concept of progressive rock representing the pushing of boundaries of status-quo music and breaking free of the constraints of commercial expectations, particularly when commercially successful as in the case of songs like the Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  This means that any rock music, whether by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Zombies or some other group from the mid or late sixties that goes past the minimal expectations of pop/rock to explore the passageways that naturally and unnaturally twist and spiral out into Robert Frost’s road not taken.  This is also why I am hesitant to consider some of the “neo-progressive” rock bands as notably progressive — such a use of the “progressive” label creates the ironic condition when applied to today’s musicians, of being indicative of a lack of progressiveness as they are trying to recreate an older style as opposed to pushing out to new territories. However, that said, quality and excellence is a more welcome and appealing feature in any music over progressiveness for the sake of sounding or being progressive. I will more readily listen to the post-romantic British symphony composers of the early twentieth century over many of their contemporary atonal composers.

The Wilde Flowers

Band members included, at various times:

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The Soft Machine: The Soft Machine

The Soft Machine, named after the 1961 novel by William S. Burroughs (titled based on the nature of the human body) started as a quartet in 1966 that included Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers from the Wilde Flowers, and classically-trained keyboardist Mike Ratledge and guitarist Daevid Allen from the free-jazz group Daevid Allen Trio. Following a European tour in August 1967, Allen, an Australian, was refused re-entry into Britain due to a previous overstay on an earlier visit.  Allen returned to Paris, to later form the group Gong, leaving Soft Machine a trio. On the first Soft Machine album we also have  Brian Hopper and Hugh Hopper, prior members of The Wilde Flowers, appearing in the writing credits.

This first Soft Machine album is a mixture of psychedelic rock and jazz elements as in tracks like “Joy of a Toy”, based on “Joy to The World” and sounding more like early space rock than Christmas music. Robert Wyatt makes up for any shortcomings as a vocalist with his contributions on drums.

Interestingly, the post of this first Soft Machine album on YouTube (link) has a Dislike to Like ratio of .0257 in the same ballpark of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers (link) ratio of .0254 — compare that to the Beatles’ Abbey Road ratio of .15 (link) or Gentle Giant’s Free Hand of .030 (link)

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Hope for Happiness” Kevin AyersMike RatledgeBrian Hopper 4:21
2. Joy of a Toy Ayers, Ratledge 2:49
3. “Hope for Happiness (Reprise)” Ayers, Ratledge, B. Hopper 1:38
4. “Why Am I So Short?” Ratledge, Ayers, Hugh Hopper 1:39
5. “So Boot If At All” Ayers, Ratledge, Robert Wyatt 7:25
6. “A Certain Kind” H. Hopper 4:11
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. “Save Yourself” Wyatt 2:26
8. “Priscilla” Ayers, Ratledge, Wyatt 1:03
9. “Lullabye Letter” Ayers 4:32
10. “We Did It Again” Ayers 3:46
11. “Plus Belle qu’une Poubelle” Ayers 1:03
12. “Why Are We Sleeping?” Ayers, Ratledge, Wyatt 5:30
13. “Box 25/4 Lid” Ratledge, H. Hopper 0:49

The Soft Machine

Additional personnel

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Caravan: Caravan

Also made up of band members from The Wilde Flower (Pye Hastings, David and Richard Sinclair, and drummer Richard Coughlan), Caravan started up in 1968 and released their first album about the same time as Soft Machine’s first album.  This would be the first British group signed to Verve records, the famed American Jazz label founded in 1956 by Norman Granz that not only carried the most jazz titles in their catalog of any label, but also was home to Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

Even if one is able to somehow dismiss the first first two Nice albums or the first Soft Machine album as qualifying as fitting into the progressive rock genre classification (once again, I am making a distinction between between being considered progressive rock music and being classified under the prog-rock label), it is much more difficult to dismiss this first Caravan album. It is unfortunate that the balance and mixing of this album is dodgy at best, but the music more than compensates for this otherwise serious failing.

“Place of My Own” with its alternation between the dreaminess of impressionism and the insistent forward progress of a march creates a whole organic work of four minutes that is comparable in substance to a similar length classical or jazz track. With liberal use of keyboard arpeggios and emphasis on the instrumental section over the lyrics, Caravan creates an overall mood and character to the entire work giving it is own identity as effectively as bands like Yes and Genesis would do to many of their songs on their early albums.  This is followed by the Indian-influenced instrumental, “Ride”, the effective forward-moving and sometimes beautiful “Love Song with Flute”, and the quirky, mostly psychedelic Cecil Rons. ” However, the most notable piece is the nine-minute “Where but for Caravan Would I” which is co-written by Caravan and Brian Hopper (who also co-authored some of the tracks on the first Soft Machine album.)  It is epic in nature,  starting off with a relatively simple section, repeated, that modulates to a short contrasting section that quickly returns to the original section again before breaking out into a furious instrumental section dominated by organ that again returns to the original key and the altered and more intense original theme, which is followed by a more complex rhythmical section that nicely functions as the coda to bring the work to a satisfying and complete conclusion.  This is a template for the prototypical prog-rock track, laid bare without any unnecessary frills or complications, something easily grasped and enjoyed, and available to be copied with endless variation and development.  Yes, later groups would move well beyond this, but Caravan provides the necessary starting point — and though it may not so much have influenced other groups as much as it was just an instance of the parallel development of the post-psychedelic rock groups that got their start at the end of the late sixties, it is as an impressive example of the relentless nature of this new music to carve out its own language and means of expression from the available languages and expressions readily available in the diverse music of that time.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks credited to Sinclair, Hastings, Coughlan & Sinclair except “Where but for Caravan Would I?” which is written by Sinclair, Hastings, Coughlan, Sinclair and Brian Hopper.

Side One

#

Title

Length

1.

“Place of My Own”

4:00

2.

“Ride”

3:41

3.

“Policeman”

2:45

4.

“Love Song with Flute”

4:09

5.

“Cecil Rons”

4:05

Side Two

#

Title

Length

1.

“Magic Man”

4:01

2.

“Grandma’s Lawn”

3:23

3.

“Where but for Caravan Would I?”

9:01

Caravan

  • Pye Hastings – lead vocals (side 1: 1-2, 4), co-lead vocals (side 1: 5 & side 2: 1, 3), guitars, bass guitar
  • Richard Sinclair – lead vocals (side 1: 3 & side 2: 2), co-lead vocals (side 1: 5 & side 2: 1, 3), bass guitar, guitar
  • Dave Sinclair – organ, piano
  • Richard Coughlan – drums

 

Side Note:

Interestingly, the post of this first Soft Machine album on YouTube (link) has a Dislike to Like ratio of .0257 in the same ballpark of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers (link) ratio of .0254 — compare that to the Beatles’ Abbey Road ratio of .15 (link) or Gentle Giant’s Free Hand of .030 (link)  

Caravan’s first album Dislike to Like Ratio on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt1inf8CRnE&list=PLALZtwXPtUFKvbI7h8Fc5CdqRYoI_qyyd) is .0028 — or 356 likes to only one Dislike — rather unheard of in youtube land.

Fifty Year Friday: Chick Corea, Hugh Masekala

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Chick Corea:  Now He Sings, Now He Sobs

At age twenty-eight, Chick Corea had already made serious contributions on studio dates with Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, Cal Tjader, Dave Pike, Donald Byrd, and Stan Getz often contributing arrangements as well as playing piano.  He had also recorded his first solo album in 1966, Tones for Joan’s Bones, with Woody Shaw on trumpet, which was released in April 1968.

Corea started playing piano at age four, developing not only impressive piano skills, but a passionate love for both classical and jazz music.  This mastery of the two genres is apparent in this album, the format of jazz trio working well in terms of emphasizing the piano part and facilitating optimal engagement between a small set of artists.

“Steps –  What Was” starts with piano solo soon joined by veteran Roy Haynes on drums and twenty-year old Czech classically-trained Miroslav Vitouš on acoustic bass.  The work brims with enthusiasm and freshness and, after a brief drum solo by Haynes and before a bass solo by Vitouš, is a wonderful piano-led passage that reveals an early version of Corea’s “Spain” theme.

“Matrix’ includes a brief statement of the theme and a wild ride of head-spinning improvisation, again including room for statements by Vitouš and Haynes.

The next two tracks take their title from the explanation of the third line of the  Kung Fú (Inmost Sincerity) hexagram   in the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, The I Ching, roughly translated as “Now he beats his drum, and now he leaves off. Now he weeps, and now he sings.”  These two works are very different with “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”, being generally forward-looking, energetic and optimistic and “Now He Beats The Drum, Now He Stops” being more of a two-part composition, with the first section, a piano solo, full of reflection and inner-doubt, and the second section surging with revitalization and purpose.

The last track, “The Law Of Falling And Catching Up” is a free-jazz excursion with Corea directly accessing the strings of the grand piano.  Somewhat pointillistic and Webern-like, the piece is sweeping in texture and content yet, at under two and half minutes, compact and focused.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Steps – What Was”
  2. “Matrix”
  3. “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”
  4. “Now He Beats The Drum, Now He Stops”
  5. “The Law Of Falling And Catching Up”

Personnel

 

Hugh Masekala: The Promise of the Future

Though sometimes Masekala’s work gets categorized as “Easy Listening”, this album contains some fine jazz and early world-fusion with Masekala providing quality trumpet with fine supporting musicians including uncredited folk-revival guitarist Bruce Langhorne.  Baby Boomers will recognize the instrumental  “Grazing in the Grass”, which went to the top of the charts, and was later revisited by The Friends of Distinction with added vocals.  Also notable is the reflective, meditative rendition of Traffic’s “No Face, No Name And No Number”, Miriam Makeba’s “Bajabule Bonke” and Masekala’s own “Almost Seedless.”

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough Nick AshfordValerie Simpson 2:00
2. “Madonna” Al Abreu 3:10
3. “No Face, No Name and No Number” Jim CapaldiSteve Winwood 3:26
4. “Almost Seedless” Hugh Masekela 3:36
5. “Stop” Jerry RagovoyMort Shuman 2:35
6. Grazing in the Grass Harry Elston, Philemon Hou, Hugh Masekela 2:40
7. “Vuca” (Wake Up) Hugh Masekela 3:40
8. “Bajabule Bonke” (The Healing Song) Miriam Makeba 6:25
9. “There Are Seeds To Sow” (Guitar – Bruce Langhorne) Hugh Masekela 2:25

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Nico, The Marble Index; Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Cruising with Ruben and the Jets

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Nico: The Marble Index

Quite a contrast to her first album, The Marble Index is a true art-rock album, sounding more like a collection of twentieth century classical leider than a follow-up to her relatively accessible first album.  Her intonation and singing is also better as she navigates nicely against her harmonium accompaniment and John Cale’s detailed arrangements.

Track listing [From discogs.org]

All tracks written by Nico.

Personnel 

  • Words and music – Nico
  • Arrangements – John Cale
  • Producer – Frazier Mohawk
  • Production supervisor – Jac Holzman
  • Engineer – John Haeny
  • Photography – Guy Webster
  • Design – Robert L. Heimall
  • Art direction – William S. Harvey

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Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

I heard this album in the summer of 1969, and honestly didn’t know what to make of it: was it a satire of fifties music or an homage? I had several 45 singles from the late fifties that I received as gifts from my grandfather whose worked at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, a forty acre complex in South Gate, California.  I don’t know how he got all these free 45s, but figured it had something to do with his work at Firestone;  many were marked as “Promotional” or “Promo”, and these various 45s, on a wide array of different record labels, provided me with an rudimentary education of fifties hits (and I believe misses, for most of this music I have never heard again since I listened to it as a child) that I am thankful for today.

So listening to this Cruising With Ruben & The Jets album for the first time at my cousin’s shared college-vicinity apartment in Sonoma County, having taken in the earlier Zappa albums there, this was a very confusing contrast to their other material.

Listening to it again, for the first time in forty-nine years, and fifty years after its initial release on November 2, 1969, I better appreciate the songwriting and solid musicianship.

And I am not so puzzled, I think.

This concept album about a fictitious band from Chino, California that eschews the modern rock of 1968 to play fifties music is both a tribute to fifties music and a satire of fifties music.  This well-balanced mixture of reverence and parody is not a characteristic of all satires.  Some satirical representations or portrayals are just totally fine with mocking, ridiculing, and belittling, and the worst examples do so with little regard towards faithfulness or accuracy.  But it seems the best satirical music, from PDQ Bach to The Ruttles to Cruising With Ruben and the Jets, are works of love, celebrating the artistic strengths as well as the individual idiosyncrasies of their target and touching our hearts as well as bringing a smile to our faces.

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Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa except as noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Cheap Thrills” 2:23
2. “Love of My Life” 3:10
3. “How Could I Be Such a Fool” 3:35
4. “Deseri” Collins, Paul Buff 2:07
5. “I’m Not Satisfied” 4:03
6. “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” 2:20
7. “Anything” Collins 3:04
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
8. “Later That Night” 3:06
9. “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” 3:57
10. “Fountain of Love” Zappa, Collins 3:01
11. “No. No. No.” 2:29
12. “Any Way the Wind Blows” 2:58
13. “Stuff Up the Cracks 4:35
Total length: 40:34

Personnel

Musicians
Production
  • Producer: Frank Zappa
  • Engineer: Dick Kunc
  • Cover Art: Cal Schenkel
  • Cover Design: Cal Schenkel
  • Artwork: Cal Schenkel

Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles, The Kinks

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Recorded mostly at Abbey Road Studios during May through October 1968, the band took a freer,  less methodical, less collaborative approach to recording this album than with the incomparable Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  George Martin had less involvement, and in July, audio engineer Geogg Emerick refused to continue to work with the group.  Ringo also got frustrated with his role and treatment, leaving in August,  with the other Beatles replacing him on at least two tracks until he was successfully coaxed back from aboard Peter Seller’s borrowed yacht in Sardinia via telegram.  Yet, this album is a classic, rich with a wide variety of excellent compositions.

It was on one of my nearly-daily visits to my next-door neighbors after Christmas of 1968 that I first heard this album, and that very day they willingly loaned it to me to record on my tape deck.  Needless to say, I was impressed by this being a double album, but I was warned about the presence of a track called “Revolution 9” on side four.

I was totally unprepared for the number of instantly likable tracks, and soon realized I made the right decision to record this on a higher quality tape at a higher speed set on the tape deck.  Impressed by almost each and every track, and feeling correctly warned about “Revolution 9” which I didn’t record, this was a tape I played in the presence of my dad, who I noticed also took a liking to the music — solid confirmation of the exceptional nature of this album.  And how could he not like tracks like “Dear Prudence”, “Blackbird”,  “Julia”,  “I Will”, “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Honey Pie.” And, to my surprise, there was not a word of criticism of songs like “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter”

I still love this album. It’s far from perfect, and I am just as annoyed today at the tapping sound on “Dear Prudence” as I was the first time I heard it (perhaps more annoyed as my audio system exposes it better.)  I do wish that George Martin had been more engaged, but on the other hand, I am also thankful for the inclusion of Nicki Hopkins and Eric Clapton.

Now having listened to the entire set of studio Beatles albums as well as most of the solo albums, and so much other music, I am more knowledgeable about the group today. At the age of 13, I thought of this group and listened to this group  as the collective “Beatles”, today I hear individual contributors, voices and instruments. I can easily pick out the individual band members’ vocals, figure out who wrote which songs (even if I didn’t know about the rule that the lead singer is generally the composer except if Ringo is the lead), and identify Yoko Ono’s voice in the chorus of “Bungalow Bill” as well as speculate on the degree of influence the album had on contemporaneous late sixties bands as well as bands of the 1980s and later.

A few years later after the release of this album, when I was a music composition major in the 1970’s, I often thought about what composers and what bands would still be listened to a hundred years later.  We are now approaching the halfway point of that hundred years, and with each passing year, it become increasingly clearer to me that Beatles will be much more popular at the end of that hundred years than the handful of mid-twentieth century composers that were listed in our 1970’s music history textbooks: textbooks which extolled the inventiveness and importance of composers like George Crumb, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Elliot Carter, and Karlheinz Stockhausen but omitted any mention of Paul McCartney, John Lennon or George Harrison.

Link to Track Listing and musicians

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The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Released on November 22, 1968, the same date that the Beatles released the White AlbumThe Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is a concept album about preserving those elements and memories of a better world.  Due to the nature of the topic (and possibly, with the Kinks still under a ban to tour the U.S., due to not getting the erosive exposure to American culture that so many of the other top British bands were experiencing) the lyrics cover, very effectively, material directly related to English cultures and values. All compositions are by Ray Davies, and showcase the very best of his musical and lyrical abilities.

Though far from successful upon its release (the album failed to chart in either the US or the UK),  The Village Green Preservation Society has slowly been embraced over time, by both musicians and critics, and appreciated not only for the courage to break away completely from the commercial interests of its time, but for the general quality of each and every track.  Now predominately considered the best Kinks album of all time, this is a must-listen album for anyone interested in the Kinks, The British Invasion or pop-music song craftsmanship — or for anyone just looking to hear a wonderful collection of songs.

Oh, yes, like the Beatles’ White Album, we are treated to Nikki Hopkins on piano for some of the tracks.

Link to Track Listing and musicians

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