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Fifty Year Friday: Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, and Blood Sweat & Tears

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Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet

Though not one of my favorite albums, one has to give credit where credit due and there are a number of reasons to recommend this often blues-based, somewhat historic album.

The first is the earthy and relatively respectful rendition of Robert Wilkins”Prodigal Son.” Is that Mick Jagger on vocals?  Hard to believe…

The second is Nicki Hopkins on piano.

The third is the mournful “No Expectations.”

The fourth is the bluegrass/country-blues “Dear Doctor.”

The fifth is the anthem-like “Salt of the Earth” replete with a chorus.

The sixth is the Keith Richards application of his chance-discovery of the already existing technique of five-string “open G” tuning, basically removing or avoiding the low sixth string, with the five strings tuned G-D-G-B-D (aligning with the overtone series of G-G-D-G-B-D) and in the case of Richards, and others to follow, using a sliding three-fingered guitar technique.

The sixth is the stretching of the then-current record-industry norms with songs with lyrics like “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Parachute Woman”. and “Stray Cat Blues”, the last two, perhaps even more offensive now in the context of political correctness than in 1968.

The seventh is the historical impact of this record, setting the tone, whether we like it or not, for how future bands would approach traditional blues and country music (like the music found on pre-WWII 78s)  and songs about Satan and groupies.

This work veers away from the accelerating trend of greater complexity and sophistication, taking a U-turn towards simplification.  It really is a collection of the basics of music, some as simple and crude as the album cover the Stones had originally intended for the album.  My apologies if I offend anyone by using the original LP cover that I associate with this album instead of the one prevalent on the CD reissues.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except “Prodigal Son” by Robert Wilkins.

Side one
No.TitleLength
1.Sympathy for the Devil6:18
2.No Expectations3:56
3.Dear Doctor3:28
4.Parachute Woman2:20
5.Jigsaw Puzzle6:06
Total length:22:08
Side two
No.TitleLength
6.Street Fighting Man3:16
7.“Prodigal Son”2:51
8.Stray Cat Blues4:38
9.Factory Girl2:09
10.Salt of the Earth4:48
Total length:17:42

Personnel

The Rolling Stones

Additional personnel

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Stevie Wonder: For Once in My Life

Recorded in 1967, while Stevie Wonder was still 17, this ninth studio album, released December 8, 1968, after Wonder was eighteen years old, is really the work of a mature adult artist.  Though Wonder only is credited as a co-author for the eight selections that lists his name, one can distinctly hear the composer of the early seventies albums. Besides the developing compositional skills, we have strong vocals and quality harmonica and keyboard work .

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side One

  1. For Once in My Life” (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden) 2:48
  2. Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” (Henry CosbySylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) 2:45
  3. “You Met Your Match” (Lula Mae Hardaway, Don Hunter, Wonder) 2:37
  4. “I Wanna Make Her Love Me” (Henry Cosby, Hardaway, Moy, Wonder) 2:52
  5. “I’m More Than Happy (I’m Satisfied)” (Henry Cosby, Cameron Grant, Moy, Wonder) 2:56
  6. I Don’t Know Why” (Hardaway, Hunter, Paul Riser, Stevie Wonder) 2:46

Side Two

  1. Sunny” (Bobby Hebb) 4:00
  2. “I’d Be a Fool Right Now” (Cosby, Moy, Wonder) 2:54
  3. “Ain’t No Lovin'” (Hardaway, Hunter, Riser, Wonder) 2:36
  4. God Bless the Child” (Arthur Herzog Jr.Billie Holiday) 3:27
  5. “Do I Love Her” (Moy, Wonder) 2:58
  6. “The House on the Hill” (Lawrence Brown, Berry Gordy, Allen Story) 2:36

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James Taylor: James Taylor

There is always something reassuringly soothing in James Taylor’s voice. Like so many baby boomers, my first exposure to Taylor was his second album, Sweet Baby James, which my next door neighbor loaned my in 1970.

This first album, released December 6, 1968, and on the new, but short-lived, Beatles’ Apple label, which signed Taylor after Apple label A&R director Peter Asher (friend of Paul McCartney, brother of Paul’s girlfriend from 1963 to 1968, and member of the British group Peter and Gordon, which had recorded several of McCartney’s songs including their #1 hit, “A World Without Love“) had heard a forty-five minute demo tape Taylor had sent into to the new label. 

Overall this is an amazingly strong debut, and rivals or surpasses the quality of later Taylor albums, with the exception of the second one, which has the wonderfully transcendent “Fire and Rain.  Beatles fans should note that George Harrison and Paul McCartney make guest appearances on “Carolina on My Mind” and jazz fans should note Freddie Redd’s keyboard contributions. 

Besides James Taylor’s simple, home-spun, relaxed vocals, and his quality song-writing, there are some sophisticated instrumental introductions written by arranger Richard Anthony Hewson that are worth mentioning, whether they are an integral part of the track, as with “Sunshine Sunshine” or seem more like they were added after the final take of the song.  Yes, they don’t effectively assist in creating a single artistic identity to the album, or even bring out the best in the inherent nature of these James Taylor compositions, but both the handful of introductions and the arrangements have merit and add interest to the album, bringing an additional dimension to the final work.

If you have not heard this album, its worth the effort to check it out, particularly with the number of strong songs, the fine acoustic guitar work and other instrumentation, the quality of the arrangements and production, and the sterling sound quality (for 1968), partly as a result of the entire album having been recorded at Trident studio in England, at that time a state-of-the-art studio, using some of the session time that was previously booked by the Beatles.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written by James Taylor unless otherwise noted. Times are from the original Apple LP vinyl label.

Side one
  1. “Don’t Talk Now” – 2:36
  2. “Something’s Wrong” – 3:00
  3. Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” – 3:26
  4. “Sunshine Sunshine” – 3:30
  5. “Taking It In” – 3:01
  6. Something in the Way She Moves” – 2:26
Side two
  1. Carolina in My Mind” – 3:36
  2. “Brighten Your Night With My Day” – 3:05
  3. Night Owl” – 3:38
  4. “Rainy Day Man” (Taylor, Zach Wiesner) – 3:00
  5. Circle Round the Sun” (Traditional; arranged by Taylor) – 3:24
  6. “Blues Is Just a Bad Dream” – 3:42
CD bonus tracks (2010 remaster)
  1. Sunny Skies” (Demo) – 2:12
  2. “Let Me Ride” – 3:57
  3. “Sunshine Sunshine” (Demo) – 2:51
  4. “Carolina in My Mind” (Demo) – 3:06

Personnel

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Blood Sweat & Tears: Blood, Sweat & Tears

Though the first BS&T album, a work of love from Al Kooper, includes jazz instruments, this second album really begins the era of what is commonly called “jazz-rock”, a genre  quite different than jazz fusion or rock-influenced jazz. Later adherents to this style, more or less, included American groups like Chicago and Chase, the Canadian band Lighthouse, and the British group If.

This second album (produced by  James William Guercio at the same time he was producing the Chicago Transit Authority album) left the generally more critically admired, Al Kooper first BS&T album in the dust, commercially,selling millions of copies and by March of 1969 taking the top US album chart spot away from Glen Campbell, twice until the Hair soundtrack displaced both for a bit, with the BS&T album again rising to the #1 spot for four more weeks in late July and August. 

The album provided three top five singles, Laura Nyro’s “When I Die”, Fred Lispius’s arrangement of fellow-BS&T-band member and lead singer David Clayton Thomas’s “Spinning Wheel” and the Al Kooper’s arrangement of Brenda Halloway’s modestly successful single, “You Made Me So Very Happy”.

The album is yet another 1968 that includes music by a classical composer.  In this case, this album starts out with an abridged, but tasteful arrangement of two of the three pieces of Eric Satie’s “Gymnopédies.” For many listeners, including myself, this was one of the highlights of the album, and was my first introduction to Eric Satie.

This is followed by BS&T’s extended version of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases”, with its traditional jazz piano trio middle section and then the evocative Dick Halligan arrangement of Steve Katz tune “Sometime in Winter.”  Next is “More and More”, which, as a thirteen-year old, was my favorite track on the album, with its fierce brass and drums.

Also, leaving an impression on me was the last track of the first side, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”  As I had not heard the original version, or any Billie Holiday recordings, I made the mistake of considering this the reference version of the song.  (What kind of society would make it possible for the vast majority of Baby Boomers to have no knowledge of Billie Holiday until the release of the 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues”?)

Blues — Part II has an interesting, progressive rock opening with Dick Halligan on organ, which is followed by a short brass outburst and then electric bass and drum solos as well as some flugelhorn, sax, electric guitar, and reflective, bluesy vocals. The album ends with a short reprise of Satie’s first “Gymnopédie“, providing a complete, fulfilling and distinct listening for anyone in 1968 and 1969 that had only a smattering exposure to real jazz.  Just as seventh grade Physical Education introduced me to basketball, which led to my watching John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and then in 1969 West, Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain’s  Los Angeles Lakers, groups like BS&T and Chicago help lead my way towards the many jazz classics recorded prior to 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

  1. “Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie” (1st and 2nd Movements) – 2:35
  2. Smiling Phases” (Steve WinwoodJim CapaldiChris Wood) – 5:11
    • Recorded October 15, 1968
  3. “Sometimes in Winter” (Steve Katz) – 3:09
    • Recorded October 8, 1968
  4. “More and More” (Vee Pee Smith, Don Juan) – 3:04
    • Recorded October 15, 1968
  5. And When I Die” (Laura Nyro) – 4:06
    • Recorded October 22, 1968
  6. God Bless the Child” (Billie HolidayArthur Herzog Jr.) – 5:55
    • Recorded October 7, 1968

Side 2

  1. Spinning Wheel” (David Clayton-Thomas) – 4:08
    • Recorded October 9, 1968
  2. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Berry Gordy Jr.Brenda HollowayPatrice HollowayFrank Wilson) – 4:19
    • Recorded October 16, 1968
  3. “Blues – Part II” (Blood, Sweat & Tears) – 11:44
  4. “Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie” (1st Movement) – 1:49
    • Recorded October 9, 1968

Personnel

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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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