As one might expect, there were a few albums that missed out on a more commercially favorable pre-holiday release and ended up being released in January 1972 with both January and February being relatively lean months in rock album releases compared to any given month in the last half of 1971. Fortunately, there were some notable jazz releases including a jazz classic by Charles Mingus!
Charles Mingus: Let My Children Hear Music
Mingus gives it everything he has in this album: complex, profound, majestic, modern, accessible and often elegant compositions, a large jazz orchestra, excellent arrangements (in partnership with Sy Johnson and others), and top-notch execution of his ideas. The music is a feast from the first to last track, with the current CD of this containing a bonus track. Note that this music was partly edited by Teo Macero, but I am not aware of any release of the original unedited material. If you know of such, please comment. ALBUM LINER NOTES
Hugh Masekela: Home is Where the Music Is
In 1972, I was not yet purchasing or listening to albums by either Hugh Masekela or Archie Shepp, so even if my memory was much better than it is today, I wouldn’t have a clue when these albums actually hit the record store bins, but as both albums were recorded in January of 1972, please allow me to include them in this month’s celebration of the music of January 1972.
Recorded in London in January 1972, Hugh Masakela’s Home is Where the Music Is is a 2LP set with some of the finest, broadly commercially-oriented jazz of the early seventies that there is. The album boasts all original material with not a single interpretation of a pop song (contrast this to Masakela’s 1970 Reconstruction album which includes tunes by Paul McCartney [Beatles-era], Joni Mitchell, and Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland) and yet is as contemporary as anything put out by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase or several other of the jazz-rock outfits of the late sixties and early seventies — and more importantly — far surpassing most of those type of efforts in quality and distinctiveness. Each track is fully realized with the shortest at around 5 1/2 minutes and the longest around 10 1/2 minutes. The playing is exceptional, engaging, and aesthetically fulfilling.
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues
Though well known for his modern jazz masterpieces like the avant-garde Fire, his abilities to reach a broader music-consuming audience are successfully deployed, with both style and impressive vigor, in what should have been an album as popular as contemporaneous releases by groups like Sly and the Family Stone. This is a large-scale effort with over twenty-five musicians (including brass, reeds, strings, backing vocalists, and electric instruments) and two narrators that successfully balances soul, funk, jazz and rock elements. Despite its strong points, there is some weakness in the poetry and the vocal rendition provided by Cal Massey’s young daughter — but more than making up for any weak areas of the release is the penultimate track on the album, Cal Massey’s fine tribute, “Good-Bye Sweet Pops,” to the great Louis Armstrong who had recently died from a heart attack in July of 1971.
Annette Peacock: I’m the One
Released in January of 1972, Annette Peacock’s debut album is yet another early 1972 album that successfully brings together disparate musical elements performed by a larger ensemble. Peacock and team effectively incorporated blues, jazz, rock, free-jazz, classical avant-garde, trace elements of funk and soul, and a extensive use of Robert Moog’s moog synthesizer to create a complete and impressive musically satisfying work. Notable, historically, was Peacock’s use of the synthesizer to modulate and alter vocal input via microphone plugged into the synthesizer. She also deserves credit for her overall and varied use of the synthesizer instrumentally as well as the wide range of vocal expression she uses, some of which anticipates music of later decades.
Univeria Zekt: The Unnamables
Released in January of 1972, Magma provisionally assumes the name Univeria Zekt to temporarily step away from their newly created narrative of the Kobaïan universe in order to, perhaps, provide a diversion to existing fans or, possibly, to attract new fans. The album is solidly progressive rock with heavy jazz and some jazz-rock influences, with a musical style significantly different (particularly on the first side) from the darker, neo-primal style of the two preceding Magma albums, which constructed a formidable genre of music, termed Zeuhl — a style of music created to be reflective and representative of the music of the fictitious Kobaïa. Those not able to get enough of early Magma, but also open to embracing this detour into a more jazz-influenced sound (closer perhaps to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, or Return Forever) should also acquire this one-of-a-kind album under the Univeria Zekt name.
Paul Simon: Paul Simon
Paul Simon’s first solo album, post-Simon & Garfunkel, did well commercially, with three singles making it on to the Billboard charts, “Mother and Child Reunion”, a reggae-influenced number with the title inspired by the Chinese chicken and egg soup dish he noticed listed on a Chinese restaurant menu in New York, the upbeat “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, and “Duncan”, my favorite track on the album, reminiscent of music he was writing in the late sixties.
Blue Öyster Cult, Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix
Additional albums include the dark, debut Blue Öyster Cult album with its gratuitous and influential use of an umlaut (a feature to gain common adoption by later Heavy Metal band names such as Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe, and even the fictional Spın̈al Tap), Jerry Garcia’s Garcia, Captain Beefheart’s relatively traditional and bluesy Spotlight Kid, as well as a posthumous album of Jimi Hendrix live material from 1969 and 1970, Hendrix in The West.
Attaching labels to music, in my mind, at least, has always been a wobbly and unreliable slide descending down an exceedingly slippery slope. By October 1971, it was misleading and even deceitful to talk about rock as a single genre, and it was insane-asylum, martians-are-amongst-us delusional to dismiss the material being stocked in the rock section of the newly-blossoming, corporate-owned record stores somehow as inferior or somehow secondary in artfulness or sophistication to music of prior generations. But more importantly, and as equally undeniable, the boundaries between “classical” music and rock music and jazz and rock not only blurred but became invisible in case after case.
Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts
Recorded in July through September 1971 and released in October 1971, Van Der Graaf Generator’s fourth album, Pawn Hearts was so good that it made the band rockstars almost overnight — that is, in Italy where the album climbed all the way to the number one album spot in early 1972. The band ended up touring in Italy three times that year, the first in Feb. 1972 with a level of enthusiasm reminiscent of Beatlemania including oversold concerts and the Italian military engaged to control riotous crowds.
Should we be puzzled that the country that produced (and didn’t need to wait until their deaths to embrace) composers like Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Morricone should recognize the value in Pawn Hearts, one of the most impressive art-rock albums of either 1971 or 1970? What is puzzling is the lack of attention the album received in the U.S. and the U.K. Even today (at the time of writing this, for I will go in and make my own edit at some point) the Wikipedia entry on UK Prog Rock neglects to mention VDGG: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_rock_music#Progressive_rock
This is clearly music to take note of. The original release holds together flawlessly, composed of three epic tracks, utilizing the elements of traditional tonality and repeated motific phrases perfectly, merging efficient industrial forces with apparently inexhaustible emotional passion.
All three tracks that made up the initial UK released (an additional track, quite fine in its own right, a cover of George Martin’s “Theme One” for the BBC as added for the U.S. release) combine to provide a stunningly unified whole, even though each track is formed from smaller musical components themselves. Each track is arguable even better than the one before with the third and final track, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” spanning the entire second side — aligning with the increasing prevalence of albums to have a first or second side (or both sides of an LP dedicated to a single composition.
I could use up all my time-allotment for this month’s Fifty Year Friday post just gushing over this album, but it would be a unwise consumption of both your time and my time — time much better spent listening to this album and other music released fifty years ago.
Hawkind: In Search of Space
While the disciplined, elite musicianship required for more traditional classical music and jazz had its influence on the direction of many progressive rock bands, it seems just as many were influenced by a combination of the psychedelic rock of the sixties, the free jazz of the sixties, and the classical avant garde, particularly musique concrète and electronic-based compositions and experiences. While some bands may have had less than qualified musicianship and creativity to successfully pull off such an amalgamation of varied influences, other groups not only provided musically fulfilling concerts and albums, but in aggregate, created an array of diverse styles — styles that were given their own labels, with the two most prevalent styles named space rock and Kraut rock.
Hawkwind’s first album is one one of the earliest examples of space rock. Their second album, released on October 8, 1971, is the most representative example of space rock I know of. Simple, repetitive and compelling, it is the first album I would select to answer the question what is space rock. The albums could be the work of druggies, or geniuses — that is open to discussion — but either way the music creates a intangible boundaryless listening experience within the somewhat identifiable boundaries of space rock: a listening experience that is engaging and effortless, relaxing and cosmic.
Pink Floyd: Meddle
Pink Floyd wanders down a more cosmic-sounding space-rock path, with their sixth studio album, Meddle, released on October 31, 1971, surpassing the quality, consistency and cohesiveness of their previous efforts. This first track, “One of these Days” is by far my favorite, and likely had an influence on a number of bands, particularly Tangerine Dream. This is followed by the floating, leisurely drifting, spacey sixties-flower-powered-flavored tune, “A Pillow of Winds” and a similarly comfortably laid-back track, “Fearless.”
“Echoes”, the last track on the album, spanning all of side two, starts off with the promise of a masterwork, but hits a few dull patches in the middle before ending strong — a good effort that could have been epic.
Faust: In 1969, Polydor records reached out across the Atlantic to a German left wing journalist, Uwe Nettelbeck, with the odd but seemingly commercially-justifiable request to assemble a German rock group that could tap into the potential of the ever-rising demand for rock music by German youth. Perhaps this Polydor rep didn’t realize that this was the Uwe Nettelbeck that breached film jury etiquette by openly praising a work his wife had produced (a film about a verbally gifted cock — not the avian variety), or that this was the Nettlebeck that supported some of Germany’s more notable extremists — for rather than giving Polydor Germany’s answer to the Rolling Stones, Nettlebeck scoured the German underground scene identifying two talented by totally uncommercial groups, merging them into a single group, Faust, which Polydor soon funded, much to their eventual discontent — for Faust clearly had more in common with the musical ethos and sensibilities of Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Frank Zappa than that of the most profitable rock groups in Britain.
Though probably not appreciated by Polydor executives, their investment in Faust paid dividends in terms of musical quality and the influences on existing and future German bands and future bands the world over. This debut album, released on September 21, 1971, is both wildly creative and inescapably compelling. How did they command or coax their materials and their apparently unconcerned improvisation to come together into such a listenable experience? That’s a mystery to me , yet here we have this important artifact of the early days of the so-called Krautrock art-rock movement, immensely influential and challengingly entertaining and enjoyable.
Cluster: Whereas the Faust album had traditional melodies, harmonies and lyrics, this debut album by Cluster is purely a journey through ambient and mood-inducing sonic explorations. Like the Faust album, it works and effectively entertains and captures one’s attention both intellectually, and in a laid-back fashion, emotionally. And just like the Faust album the first side is two tracks, and the second side contains one single, attention-engaging composition. Influential? You bet, with near-term impacts on artists like Brian Eno, and longer term impact of artists that came decades later.
And so, we have four very different albums released in October 1971, In Search of Space,Meddle, Faust, and Cluster, all of which can be characterized as space rock, even though they could not be more different in use of musical materials and general musical approach.
Focus: Focus II (Moving Waves)
Focus releases their second album, one which soars to the number 4th spot in their home country, the Netherlands, reaches number two in the nearby UK, and surprisingly peaks at number eight in the U.S.. this success largely based on the radio airplay of the yodeling, exuberantly rocking, “Hocus Pocus.”
The album starts off at full tilt with “Hocus Pocus”, followed by more progressive, but still easily accessible compositions. All in all a fine, though not indispensable, prog-rock album.
Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life
This album blends both bop and myriad post-bop elements with soul, funk and fusion to deliver a strong, and puzzling oft-overlooked classic album. (Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide gives this one out of five stars, which inaccurate assessment, for me, cast doubts on the entire contents and relevancy of the Rolling Stone Jazz Record guide.) Here we have another fine album with a full-side track, the title track, that opens with a free-jazz intro (shorter than the impressive intro that opens the Red Clay album) and then transforms into a lively, celebratory and appropriately contemporary grooving musical adventure with astonishing trumpet work from Freddie Hubbard and more progressive explorations from Joe Henderson.
The first track of the second track, “Mr. Clean”, is nothing short of amazing music making, Hubbard providing a vigorous, unrelenting solo, matched in intensity and creativity by Henderson. Jack Dejohnette is excellent in both the first and second tracks, but of particular note is how imaginatively and effectively he supports George Benson’s guitar solo.
The final track, is the beautiful Jimmy Van Heusen “Here’s that Rainy Day,” performed intimately and gracefully as a duet by Hubbard and Benson, is one of the most expressive and evocative musical recordings of 1971.
Moondog: Moondog 2
Louis Thomas Hardin (better known as Moondog) and producer James Guercio release the second Moondog album for Columbia records, departing considerably from the 1969 Moondog masterpiece, with a set of twenty-six round-based compositions, almost all with vocals by Hardin/Moondog himself and his daughter, June Hardin. Setting aside the wit and cleverness of these compositions, this a fine study in handling of relatively simple rounds — not simple meterically or rhythmically, though, and this factor certainly brings life and variety into these works. This is yet another album that eludes any glib labeling of contents as it is clearly not rock, not jazz, not country, not folk, and not classical, though one can make associations to the minimalist classical movement — on the other hand, some of that similarity is due to the harmonic stasis chosen as the foundation for easy overlapping of melodic material.
Carla Bley: Escalator Over the Hill
A three LP opera with incredible music by Carla Bley and the selected musicians with somewhat elusive lyrics by Paul Haines. Now this could pass as progressive rock or classical or third stream jazz, depending on one’s viewpoint, so maybe best to simply call it great music. If the lyrics don’t come together effectively as a whole, that is more than made up by the music — all the way down to the endless humming stamped into that last, final inner groove of the second side of the third LP.
If one doesn’t immediately take to the overall musical majesty of this work, there are plenty of individual contributions that will keep one’s attention, from Don Cherry’s amazing solo to the John McLaughlin’s guitar work, to the range of music styles and textures to the many individual contributions of the participating musicians, including vocals by a youthful and talented Linda Ronstadt and renowned Cream bassist Jack Bruce.
Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge
I bought this album, despite it clearly labeled as a soundtrack album, due to my appreciation of the excellence of Hendrix’s previous albums. In truth it is not a soundtrack but partly made of tracks recorded for an album that would have followed “Cry to Love.”
The first four tracks of the first side are all classic, easily accessible musical gems. On side two, there is an incredible live version of “Hear My Train A’ Coming” with timeless Hendrix guitar. Album ends superbly with a soulfully uplifting but often mellow “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun.)”
Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey
Released on October 15, 1971, Tupelo Honey, is a wonderful blend of blues, soul, rock, folk, and country-rock elements. I don’t consider myself a Van Morrison fan (I cringed, at the age of twelve, each time they played “Brown Eyed Girl” on AM radio, anxious for it to end to give way to something more to my preference), but I embrace Tupelo Honey 100% and am amazed at the consistency, authenticity, and quality of the album. This is one of the best examples of a commercially successful album that avoids any overt commercialism.
Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Fire Cat
How could Cat Stevens top something as sincere and unaffectedly authentic as his previous album, Tea for the Tillerman? He couldn’t, but by giving the new release a similar title and even more immediately absorbable material, with a more consistent evenness to the quality of the songs and more established overall identify to the album, he was able to surpass the sales of Tea for the Tillerman (despite Tea for the Tillerman‘s incomparable “Wild World” having receiving considerable airplay on both AM and FM radio) with the driver behind some of these sales coming in the wake of the success of Tea for the Tillerman as well as the airplay of “Moon Shadow.”
When I purchased Teaser in the Firecat within a week or two of its release, I was a trifled disappointed by the notable shift in style — the music had a more commercially produced feel and there was nothing the quite caught one emotionally as much as “Wild World” or “Sad Lisa.” Yet, even a more commercial Cat Stevens had appeal, and though I had put Teaser away on the back shelf by the end of 1971, later to be boxed up for decades, it is still a treat to listen to again after so many years.
Chicago: Chicago IV (Chicago at Carnegie Hall), Family: Fearless; Don McLean: American Pie; Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead; Lindesfarne: Fog on the Tyne; Frank Zappa: 200 Motels; The Move: Message from the Country
October 1971 brought out a wealth of music, much of it defying single-label classification for a considerable portion of the best of popular music was now incorporating and borrowing from the great legacy of musical wealth from both the West and East musical traditions, as well as both new and older, musical heritage.
The Chicago Carnegie Hall set was the first non-classical 4 LP set I remember encountering, and was purchased by the same friend and next door neighbor that purchased the first two Chicago albums. I had purchased Chicago III, and considered it an extravagant expenditure based on my limited monetary means (in those early teenage years) to buy a four LP set of live of material from the previously purchased studio albums. That said, there was one new and notable composition, on the second side of the fourth LP, “A Song for Richard and His Friends”, a backhanded tribute to then-president “Tricky Dick.” At this time, anything mocking Nixon was contemporary, relevant, and cool, but ignoring all this, this is a pretty good tune, possibly directly influenced by Charles Mingus’s scathing musical rebuke of Governor Faubus.
Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is filled with many brilliant passages of impressive musical material. Supported not only by his regular musicians, but by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, there is no doubt of Zappa’s mastery of a myriad of twentieth century composition techniques. One could wish (or I should say that I wish) that Zappa had used the opportunity with the LPO to provide a more cohesive work — perhaps a great masterpiece of the twentieth century, but Zappa is Zappa and just about everything but the kitchen sink finds its way into the album, leaving one to marvel at the greatest moments and accepting those lesser (but perhaps from a Zappa mindset, equally valid and relevant) musical and extra-musical moments. I applaud Zappa’s resolve and determination to be true to his own artistic vision, and that is part of what makes great artists like Zappa genuinely great.
My sister purchased both the Grateful Dead and the American Pie albums. I shied away from the American Pie album since the title song was played endlessly on AM radio. It probably would have been fine at 2 1/2 minutes, but at 8 1/2 minutes, despite good lyrics, some greater variation in melodic material would have been welcome. Nonetheless the album was (and is) still pretty good, and contains not only American Pie, which has stood the the test of time better than most songs of its nature, but also includes Vincent, one of McLean’s best compositions.
Notable, though not approaching the quality of the first Electric Light Orchestra album, is The Move’s Message from the Country, their final album before they changed their identity to ELO. Both this and the first ELO album were recorded during an approximately one year period that spanned 1970 and 1971. It almost seems as if the best and most interesting material was reserved for that first ELO album, though those that prefer more traditional rock may be more comfortable with Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne’s contributions to The Move’s last effort.
So many albums were released in October of 1971, apparently to time with holiday spending, that I suspect I may have missed a few of those that baby boomers grew up listening to. What’s particularly interesting is the number of albums that still are worth listening today or that influenced other artists who also produced music that still merits listening time. I remember being told that once I got older I would look back on the music that I had listened to in the early seventies and find it silly and simplistic — yet just the opposite: I have a much greater appreciation for the quality, diversity, and complexity of this music than I ever had during my teenage years.
Sometime in the midst of the shimmering and wonderful Southern California summer of 1971, my next door neighbor brought over his latest album purchase. I supposed I was predisposed to like the music just from the confident manner in which he handed the album over to me, but I was hardly prepared for the overall excellence and originality of the material. That day he and I sat and listened to this album, my eyes following the lyrics written on the LP inner sleeve, is something I still vividly remember, and, hopefully, be with me for many years going forward.
The first track, the title track, opens up with the now famous isolated, tonally ambiguous, deeply-voiced electric guitar fragment — a riff faithfully foreshadowing the opening melodic phrase (“sitting on a park bench”) — it is but two seconds in length, and repeated before a short percussion utterance pulls in the vocals in dramatic fashion. This material is then layered with additional instruments creating drama and momentum. It is that dramatic quality, that musical and lyrical story telling, that leaves an immediate impression on the listener and, for me, left a locked-in, seemingly ever-lasting memory of listening to that entire album for the first time fifty years ago today.
“Aqualung”, the track, is the classic example of FM album rock with is deviation from standard popular song forms, more mimicking a short classical tone poem where the beginning theme, really an introduction of sorts, is not repeated after its initial use until brought back at the end, separated by distinctly contrasting and somewhat related material in terms of chords and tempo change.
The next track, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, continues the larger-than-life musical experience initiated by the opening track. With its reference again to the Aqualung character, this second track sets up the listener to expect that the album itself is a concept album where the individual tracks support and build up an unfolding story. However, as I continued through that first side fifty years ago, immersed in the amazing music, I was on the look out for, at a subordinate level to listening at the music, hints in the lyrics of some related storyline in the subsequent third, fourth and even fifth tracks on that first side — but eventually and inevitably concluded that there was nothing to relate to those first two tracks, and so by the sixth track I abandoned looking for a unifying concept.
The second side starts much the same implying a relationship between the first two tracks — however, for side two the remaining tracks seem to prove out some loose but unifying concept with these various side two tracks seemingly tied together with reflections on organized religion and social morality and responsibility. Musically, there is no discernible (as far as I can hear) thematic material shared between any track, another reason to set aside the premise that the entire album is any kind of a concept album. What is clear, though, is that the music is innovative, well-thought out and of lasting merit. Fifty years ago, listening to this album, it was clearly one of the best rock albums I had ever heard, and though I didn’t consider at that time its enduring impact on music lovers, I would do so a few year later when I was in college and promoting the idea of a course that would treat such music as the classical music of the 1970s — music more vital and relevant than the so-called modern classical music that was than currently being identified as part of the current classical music canon in academic circles.
Jimi Hendrix: Cry of Love
Prior to his death, Jimi Hendrix was working on this fourth studio album in 1970, with some of the music performed during a thirty-two performance tour in the summer of 1970. Following his death on September 18, 1970, several partially mixed tracks were selected and finalized by drummer Mitch Mitchell and producer Eddie Kramer for inclusion on the new album, omitting two particularly strong tracks, “Dolly Dagger” and “Room Full of Mirrors” for later inclusion on a future album. This was the first Hendrix album I bought, and I found the music readily accessible and some of the lyrics particularly creative. It’s great to listen to this again for the first time in at least forty years and I admit I appreciate the guitar work much better than I did in 1971. Overall, an excellent, easily-accessible and musically sparkling album.
Amon Duul II: Tanz der Lemminge (Dance of the Lemmings)
Sometime around March 1971, Amon Duul II released this eclectic, musically multi-dimensional album. I picked it up from my local record store in the used record bin around 1972 or 1973 little knowing what kind of music it contained. This was my introduction to non-repetitive, so-called “Krautrock. Though I found this too far out on the jam-rock, psychedelic spectrum when I first got it, after later having been exposed to lots of hours of free jazz and modern classical, the music became not only accessible but quite impressive. The first side, written primarily by guitarist/vocalist/violinist Chris Karrer mixes folk-rock influences with a progressive and psychedelic rock mindset, with imaginative acoustic and electric elements. The diversity of incorporated styles works well with no particular given style dominating. The second side, written by guitarist and vocalist John Weinzierl, is another exploration of musical diversity with more emphasis on hard rock, rock-blues and eastern elements including some admirable sitar from Bavarian sitarist Al Gromer (later Al Gromer Khan), some electric violin from Karrer, and some tape-based and electronic sound effects possibly from keyboardist Falk Rogner. The third and fourth side are music created for a soundtrack of a relatively obscure West German Film, Chamsin, based on Friedrich Schiller’s lyrical tragedy, The Bride of Messina. Though this second LP is not as strong or coherent (particularly the fourth side) as the first LP, it works better as sound imagery than traditional or more predictable listening music.
Nick Drake: Bryter Layter
Recorded in 1970 Nick Drake released his second musically impressive but commercially unsuccessful album, in March 6, 1971. The album is delightfully accessible with straight forward, quality musicianship from Drake, John Cale on viola and keyboards, Chris McGregor on piano, and other contributors including quality production from Joe Boyd and beautiful arrangements primarily by Robert Kirby and one arrangement from John Cale. Nick pokes into the marginally uncomfortable areas of “would of, should of” in some of the lyrics, with “One of These Things First” being particularly resonant for anyone that only half-tried in a relationship, later regretting the lack of engagement or commitment and “Poor Boy” an intriguing study in self-pity and self-contempt. Musically, “At the Chime of the City Clock”, “Fly” and “Poor Boy” are particular gems.
It was sometime around 1971 (and maybe as early as 1970) that I first saw some promotional marketing material for a mail-based membership club called the Seven Arts Society. It wasn’t offering the usual record club membership (where one could buy 10 albums for $1 and then have to buy more albums later), it was a one time $7 fee to a club that sold mostly books on the seven arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, literature, music and photography) as well as small book-shelf friendly reproductions of sculptures. I put it aside and didn’t think about it again, until a received another version of their promotional mailing that included a picture of the stunning cover of Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew. At this point, even though I had never knowingly heard a note of Miles Davis, I took the ad very seriously and noticed that for $7 one could get membership into the Seven Arts Society that included a couple of items I wasn’t particularly interested in and two items that did capture my interest: the Miles Davis album and a 10 LP set of classical piano masterpieces. The first thing I did was to get my father’s take on the overall legitimacy of the membership and his personal verification that there were really no strings attached, and though he advised against my signing up, he did so with limited conviction. This step completed, I then had to decide which was the better choice: the Miles Davis two record set or the Piano Masterpiece. I knew nothing about Miles Davis at that time, and wasn’t sure what kind of music I would be getting. On the other hand I was developing a growing love for classical music, and this 10 LP set had one entire LP of Mozart, two LPs of Beethoven, and half a side of Tchaikovsky — composers of which I had recently been buying recordings of their symphonies. I also knew a little bit about the other composers included as I had started casually listening to the local commercial classical AM and FM radio station., KFAC-FM. Ultimately I decided that 10 LPs were much better than 2 and figured I could buy the Miles Davis 2 LP album later.
It turned out the 10 LP set was a smart purchase. The set was in a quality box with the highest quality LPs I had ever seen. Deutsche Grammaphon produced thick, heavy, noiseless LPs. The sound was clearly superior, even on our modest sound system, which had been very recently upgraded from a mono cabinet to a radio shack stereo turntable, amplifier and a pair (a pair!) of speakers. And even to my rather limited sensibilities, it seemed to me the orchestras and pianists were of the highest possible quality. I started by listening to the Mozart and Beethoven, working through the 10 LPs in order, and playing the Beethoven LPs several times before getting to what I considered to be the second tier composers of the fourth LP, Schubert and Schumann, composers I had heard little about and less of their music. I was pleasantly surprised with Schubert’s Marche Militaire and Opus 103 Fantasy and by the delicateness and clarity of the solo piano sound. The music sparkled and sounded so perfect and so, well, pianistic. Next, I was really impacted by the Schumann piece that started on that same side and continued on the second side. A piece with both an English name, “Scenes From Childhood” — and a German name that I couldn’t pronounce, Kinderszenen, but now knew what it meant. That first “scene”, “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” had one of the most haunting, evocative melodies I have ever heard up to that time — the second theme, even further heightened by its harmonic, rhythmic and thematic relationships to the first, simpler, more innocent theme. That first side of that fourth LP would get played many more times, more than the Beethoven LPs . However, it wouldn’t get played the most of those ten LPs. Soon I came across the famous Chopin A-flat Polonaise (slightly familiar to me from hearing it once on the radio [hadn’t yet realized it was used in the Wizard of Oz] and promising myself that I would one day have a recording of it) on the second side of side six and Prokofiev’s Opus 11 Toccata on the tenth LP both played by Martha Argerich who along with Christoph Eschenbach who was the pianist on the Kinderszenen and Sviatoslav Richter who was the pianist on the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto became immediate favorites of mine. By the time I had finished that tenth LP, this was my favorite LP set in my modest collection, at least until I spent $20 to buy a 21 LP set of Alfred Brendel performing Beethoven’s piano works.
Now, please note, that I had expected I would purchase the Bitches Brew LPs when I received the catalog from Seven Arts. However, much to my surprise, it was priced at twelve dollars, more expensive than what it would be if I had purchased it at one of the newly-being-built discount mega-record stores. So I told myself that I would purchase it later. But time went on, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that I purchased my first Miles Davis album, Amandla and it wasn’t a few days ago that I first heard the entire Bitches Brew album from start to end.
And though it is nowhere close to Kinderszenen, Chopin’s famous A-flat Polonaise, the Prokofiev Toccata or even the Ravel Piano Concerto performed also by Martha Argerich (in that 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces set I am still in love with), Bitches Brew is a very consequential album that makes use of sound and space much like the Miles album before it, In a Silent Way, but has a greater focus on energy, drama and drive than the more ethereal and beautiful In a Silent Way. It combines elements of psychedelic rock with jazz and modern classical improvisation. Along with In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew has had considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years including rock, funk, jazz and prog-rock.
Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Beard of Stars
At around the same time I purchased the 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces, my dad had taken my sister and I to one of the newly opened Wherehouse record stores, the first one opened in Orange County, a car drive of about 20 to 25 minutes. Not having much money, I bought a bargain-priced ($4.99) three-LP box of Mozart late symphonies, and some “cut out” records — records reduced in price with a corner cut out, or a small notch cut or small whole punched in the in the outer area of the cover. The records I got were three or four LPs from the Czech Supraphon label of exotic named composers like Jiří Antonín Benda, Vojtěch Matyáš Jírovec, Václav Pichl and Václav Voříšek each priced at $1.99 — and a single cut-out LP priced priced at exactly 99 cents, an album that did well in the UK and so was released in the US on Blue Thumb, but failed to sell and so ended up in the cut-out bin. I had never heard of this two-person band (their name was not one to invoke confidence) and the dreary photo of a single, unknown musician on the front cover and another on the back, was not particularly appealing, but there was something appealing about the title of the album, Beard of Stars, and the track names on the jacket, the first of which was title “Prelude” with the ones following seemingly having a connection to folklore or fantasy with titles like “Pavilions of Sun, “Wind Cheetah” and “Dragon’s Ear.” What sealed the deal was a sticker on the LP indicating that there was also included inside (as a bonus!) their hit single, “Ride a White Swan”, which, like the name of the group, I had never heard of before, and, all things considered, I figured there was no harm in taking a chance at 99 cents — money I could quickly recover working at the school cafeteria before school started and during half of my lunch period each day.
I can’t say how much I was amazed and delighted at all six of the symphonies in the Mozart box set. Also, my sister had bought a two-record set of Puccini’s La Boheme. I had never heard an entire opera before, and how very exciting it was to follow the English translation of the Italian as the plot of the opera unfolded accompanied by a continuous stream of drama-steeped melodies and melodic-like fragments. The Supraphon Czech composer LPs were not as novel as the opera experience, but were quite good in terms of performance and musical content. Then there was the Tyrannosaurus Rex Beard of Stars album, which I had pretty low expectations and much to my surprise was both intriguing and musically satisfying from the opening prelude. There is a level of intimacy throughout each track, and I thought of these two musicians performing in a small venue or someone’s den, crosslegged on the floor. But there is also an intensity, liveliness and forward motion to the album that propels itself through the slower tunes like the simple “Organ Blues” or the dissonant “Wind Cheetah” that ends side one. Side two opens up with more upbeat energy with the title track, of “A Beard of Stars” which effectively serves as an instrumental prelude for side two. It is not until the very end, in the final moments of side two, that the tone and consistency of the album is disrupted with the closing three minutes of the last track inexplicably veering off into an rather unstructured and wild — and seemingly unrelated — electric guitar excursion by Marc Bolan. And though a better and more cohesive ending would be welcome, all in all this is an excellent fantasy-folk rock album filled with a variety of well-crafted and laudably idiosyncratic tunes that make this my favorite T. Rex album.
As mentioned this cut-out version also included a single hurriedly shoved into the interior of the jacket — a single, “Ride A White Swan” that held little interest for me upon first listening and held none of the charm or uniqueness of the album it came with. “Ride A White Swan” produced by Tony Visconti (earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex including Beard of Stars, later T. Rex, David Bowie and the first Gentle Giant album ) was well received in the UK, where it peaked at the number two spot. Though a simple blues-based tune, “Ride A White Swan” is often credited as the first glam-rock song and with its success was the second step towards fame and fortune for Marc Bolan and his new percussionist, Mickey Finn — the first step towards fame being this Beard of Stars album, recorded in 1969 and released March 13, 1970, which, though it didn’t catch on in the U.S. as mentioned earlier, did pretty well in the UK.
If Bitches Brew or Beard of Stars aren’t usually classified as progressive rock, even though they should be, Egg’s first album, Egg, released the same day as Beard of Stars, on March 13, 1970, clearly has left the late-sixties genre of psychedelic rock behind, incorporating classical and jazz elements into a rock foundation, but very differently, and less organically, than Bitches Brew. Egg embraces one of the signature elements (excuse the pun since I am indeed referring to odd and sometimes alternating time signatures) of prog-rock to such a degree that the single that preceded the album, their first and only single, starts off with a 4/4 verse with a brief 5/4 part and then with a chorus in 7/8 with the returning verse going from 4/4 to 11/8 — all with matching lyrics that clearly call out what is happening. The first album is equally adventurous with a progressive rock treatment (percussion and bass added à la Keith Emerson’s Nice) of Bach’s famous D minor organ Fugue as well a complete part original, part classical-based symphony taking up the entire second side. Well, almost a complete symphony, as the third movement was dropped by the record execs due to it using material so close to the still-under-copyright “dances of the adolescent girls” section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and replaced by an alternate, stand alone composition, fitted in at the spot where the third movement was. Fortunately, a test pressing was made and saved that included that third movement which is now available on more recent digital versions of the album. All in all a strong debut by Egg, showcasing Dave Steward on keyboards.
Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Déjà Vu
Released on March 11, 1970 Déjà Vu adds Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills and Nash lineup, providing three radio-airplay hits (Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children Well” and “Our House”) as well as Stephen Stills “Carry On” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” and “Country Girl.” If you are looking for a post-Beatles example of what is meant by “Classic Rock”, this album fits the bill as well as any with its strong songwriting, tightly executed harmonies, and brilliant arrangements.
Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon
This brilliant album, filled with the 20th Century folk-pop equivalent of 19th century art songs, was released on March 2nd 1970. The lyrics range from personal, philosophic, poignant and playful, with the music always of the highest caliber. “Free” is one of many examples from this album of how lyrics and music come together perfectly and includes evocative cello and a brief, illustrative clarinet solo by Paul Horn. By the time I was in college (1973), this was an album that every girlfriend of my close guy friends had in their collection and in the collection of the first young lady I moved in with as well as my close gay friend who always got the best scores on our music theory ear training tests and, then years later, two consecutive English singer-songwriter roommates (one female, one male) when I lived in England. There is just something special about both Joni Mitchell and this album that everyone who has a more sensitive side to them should find intellectually, emotionally and musically appealing.
Frank Sinatra: Watertown
One doesn’t usually think of concept albums and Frank Sinatra, but here we have a true concept album of the early 1970s — not a grand prog sci-fi theme, but an real-life concept with appropriate, corresponding songs about a guy whose wife leaves both him and his children. This one tears at your heartstrings and the songs are well written and sung simply and without any bravado. One annoying drawback is that Sinatra is dubbing his voice over the recorded orchestrations — very different than his usual method of operation of recording in real time with the musicians. And although this overdub approach detracts from the album, the album is still worth multiple listenings.
Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies
Whether live or in the studio, it seems that every moment of Jimi Hendrix on tape is priceless! Released on March 25, 1970, this album is still as fresh as when it was recorded on January 1st, 1970. Yes, it’s far from the best Hendrix album or even the best live Hendrix, and Buddy Miles singing (and even some of his drumming) does get in the way at times. But we get some amazing — no, some transcendental — guitar work from Hendrix on the longest track, “Machine Gun”, and side two also has its strengths with renditions of “Power of Soul” and “Message to Love.”
Also worthy of mention is Alice Cooper’s weirdly offbeat, partly Zappa-and-Captain-Beefheart influenced album, Easy Action, Rod Stewart and the Faces’ album First Step, The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, the live Delaney and Bonnie with Friends album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell’s debut self-titled album, with that classic Leon Russell gem, “A Song For You.’ There is also the live Ginger Baker’s Air Force album that I listened to once when in college and remember little of, but I heartily welcome any comments or reflections about it or any other album from March of 1970.
Which of these many and diverse, distinctive albums of March 1970 do you remember or still listen to (even if only now and then) in the 21st century?
The producer of this album, Jerry Wexler, once said that Aretha in Paris was an embarrassment to him. Yet, fifty years later after its release on October 1968 (of a concert earlier that year in May recorded at the Olympia Theatre in Paris), we have to be thankful for such a wonderful document of the greatest soul singer in her prime. The band could be better, Wexler’s primary complaint, and the arrangements are less than stellar, but the band is engaged and energetic and, within the given arrangements, provides the suitable canvass for Franklin to project her magic.
An improvement from the first album, there are a number of strong tracks sandwiched between what are arguably the weakest two tracks which start and end the album, “Deboraarobed”, a quasi blues-based number with a second half that is the recorded tape of the first half played backwards (Debora — arobeD) thus flipping the extended opening on the tonic major chord to also serve as its coda , and the a capella “Scenescof Dynasty” which goes nowhere repeating nearly endlessly, aided in its absence of interest by handclaps and difficult to suss out lyrics, until it ceases abruptly as if the vinyl real estate had run out.
Though more a testament to Jimi Hendrix’s remarkable performing, improvisational and leadership skills than his considerable songwriting abilities, this two LP set, Electric Ladyland, provides an impressive example of 1968 rock music at its very best. The album is stylistic next-to-impossible to define, ranging from psychedelic to blues-rock to jam-rock with notable post-bop and early prog-rock qualities, but at the end of it all it holds together as a finished work of art. Yet still, amazingly, this album just about has something for everyone, from the highly accessible “Cross Town Traffic” to the epic, brilliantly crafted “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”. If there is just one Hendrix studio album to have in one’s collection, this may be yet, but the truth is, one should have every Hendrix album in their collection.
For those looking to purchase this, a fiftieth anniversary edition box set will be available in early November on digital and vinyl formats that includes the original studio tracks plus additional material.
Noel Redding – backing vocals, bass on “Crosstown Traffic”, “Little Miss Strange”, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)”, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”, and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, acoustic guitar and lead vocals on “Little Miss Strange”
Mitch Mitchell – backing vocals, drums (except on “Rainy Day Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”), percussion, lead vocals on “Little Miss Strange”
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.
One of my fondest memories of my first year of college was listening in the library’s music listening room in the fall of 1973 with my first-semester girlfriend (and my continuing lifelong friend since sixth grade) to Zappa’s “We’re Only in it for the Money” and this very first Jimi Hendrix album.
A week earlier, I had listened to “Are You Experienced” for the very first time in that same library but on headphones. I had previously bought two Hendrix albums in high school, “Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge”, and was curious how this compared to those two albums and “Electric Ladyland”, all three of which I thought highly of. I remember studying the album cover of “Are You Experienced”, front and back, before putting the LP on the no-frills turntable and then donning the mediocre, highly uncomfortable library headphones. The first track was “Purple Haze”, and though primitive in comparison to songs on “Cry of Love”, captured me completely. The lyrics lacked the imagery and imagination of later Hendrix lyrics and the sound over those cheap library headphones sounded rough and muddy, but the forceful and potent guitar-riff introduction was as magical as a Wagner leitmotif: a compelling opening to any album, effectively locking any exit from the listening room door until the end of side two.
That first overall impression of this album was not entirely positive. I missed the studio slickness and more sophisticated lyrics of the later albums, and found the music to be dated, a relic of the drug-crazed, psychedelic late sixties. Nonetheless, I was certainly impressed enough to want to share with my on-campus and off-campus friend a week later as we checked out this album and were able to grab one of the two listening rooms that had speakers, and also, a room where we could stretch out a bit and listen to this much as at home, except for the “No food allowed” sign and the narrow window in the door to allow us to be observed by passerbys.
Until a few days ago, I hadn’t heard this album since college, so in preparation to write a blog post on this work, I got out a previously unheard high-quality vinyl German pressing (let’s not discuss how many vinyl records I have collected that I have not yet listened to or how they, along with way too many CDs, have taken up the better portion of two bedrooms) and, without looking at the contents, started to listen to it from beginning to end.
“That’s old age and memory,” I thought, as “Foxy Lady” danced out of the loudspeakers. I picked up the cover and, noticed even more to my surprise, that “Purple Haze” was missing from side 1 and side 2. Yes, indeed, my memory is going bad, but it’s not hallucinogenic! As patience is a virtue of old age, I continued listening, noticing the absence of “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and the addition of tracks I had never remembered hearing in my life: first “Can You See Me” and then “Remember” on side two. These two new tunes were indeed an unexpected and rather rewarding discovery, but as soon as the album was over, not owning a CD of this to compare, I went to the internet and found the different listing of tracks for the North American version and the UK/European version. Relieved, now, that I still had a few weeks more until onset of dementia, I obtained a standard 16 bit redbookCD which had all the tracks from both albums and a few bonus tracks.
Glad to be able to listen again to the original album I knew, but with seriously better audio than in the library music room, I was taken back through time with that introductory riff of “Purple Haze” – clearly the only way to introduce Hendrix’s first album.
This is a modern blues song — and I mean modern! The whole album, even the one track not written by Hendrix (“Hey Joe”) strays varying distances away from traditional blues, yet shares 99.9 % of the DNA. Like a blues song, or Chopin’s or Beethoven’s funeral marches, “Purple Haze” is slow paced, inevitable and unstoppable. Hendrix creates tension with his approach to fingering, chord voicings, use of controlled distortion, his overall guitar technique, and emphatically pushing out the boundaries of comfort and predictability. The spirit of the music is assisted ably by Noel Redding’s bass (including passing tones between root notes and various rhythmic subtleties) and Mitch Mitchell’s driving, energetic, yet calculatingly controlled drumming.
And, as I remembered, these lyrics are not at the level of later Hendrix lyrics, yet still, there is a undeniable unity with the music:
“Purple haze, all in my brain;
Lately things they don’t seem the same.
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why;
Excuse me while I kiss the sky.
“Purple haze, all around;
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down.
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me.
Oh, no, no.”
For some odd reason, music critics of that time stretched and reached to make drug connections when none where evident. These lyrics are about being smitten — whether naturally or through other means, like voodoo, is open to discussion — but drugs don’t seem to be relevant here.
Musically, one could argue that drugs opened up vistas and viewpoints for composers and musicians that allowed such innovation. Maybe there is truth here (Chopin took opium for tuberculosis, Berlioz took opium, many jazz musicians had drug encounters or severe drug dependencies) and maybe not, but one cannot create genius from drugs or elevate mediocre musicians and composers up to the next level. One can certainly make the case that drug use ultimately works against musicians at all levels. That said, let others more knowledgeable address this drug topic, and the impact of drugs on music, I will just delight in the amazing music handed down to us from those inspired geniuses, whether inspired divinely, materially or through some other means.
And there is much to delight in during the course of this album. The second track, “Manic Depression” has this wild instrumental where Hendrix’s guitar climbs up by thirds (outlining E flat minor seventh chord) for four notes and then frenziedly disperses in a truly manic solo. This rising four note motif then collapses into a three-note pattern incorporated in the next verse:
“Well I think I’ll go turn myself off and a go on down.
(All the way down.)
Really ain’t no use in me hanging around.
(Oh, I gotta see you.)
“Music sweet music
I wish I could caress and a kiss, kiss;
Manic depression is a frustrating mess”
and undergoes additional transformation, collapsing into two notes and then back to four with the feedback-punctuated finish.
“Hey Joe” continues the inevitable march forward, with a joyous, celebratory instrumental interlude enhanced by the ensuing, buoyant backing vocals.
“Love or Confusion” is dominated by the guitar work and resulting drama. In contrast to all that came before “May This Be Love” is a lush ballad showing off the gentle, intimate side of Hendrix. Ending side one is the ironically initially exuberant “I Don’t Live Today”, followed with darkly, depressing passages weaving back and front, side to side.
Side two opens up with the second leisurely-paced ballad, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Hendrix’s nonchalant, conversational vocals work well here. Nothing here is unnatural or forced, with a simple but beautiful guitar solo in the middle and a tranquil calming ending providing a momentary opportunity to catch a breath before jumping into the up tempo “Fire.”
“Fire” opens up with one of those iconic Hendrix guitar intros that foreshadow, and perhaps creates, heavy metal. Mitchell’s level of energy, creativity and collaboration is not only up to the assignment, but raises the intensity and is integral to the overall character and aesthetics. Redding provides spurts and phrases of growling, rhythmic bass.
“Third Stone from the Sun” is a psychedelic sound painting. It’s foundation is a lyrical, almost placid, watercolor theme mixed with half-speed spoken vocals:
“Star Fleet to scout ship, please give your position. Over.”
‘”I am in orbit around the third planet from the star called the Sun. Over”
“You mean it’s the Earth? Over.”
“Positive. it is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over”
“I think we should take a look.”
“Strange beautiful grass of green with your majestic silken seas.
Your mysterious mountains, I wish to see closer.
May I land my kinky machine?”
“Although your world wonders me with you majestic superior cackling hen,
Your people I do not understand, so to you I wish to put and end
And you’ll never hear surf music again.”
“That sounds like a lie to me.
Come on man, let’s go home.'”
(Not very sure of this last section and pieced it together from internet references.)
The spoken vocals are sunken deep into the texture making this a instrumental jam that flirts with some of the qualities of a sound collage, particularly at the end.
The penultimate track, “Foxy Lady”, begins with guitar crescendo metamorphosing into a sexy, provocative ostinato supporting the main melody. The highlight is the guitar solo at 1:48, yearning and screeching passionate longing with a repeat of the chorus. A forty-five second coda finishes off the piece with the diminuendo at the end providing symmetry to the opening.
There are three tracks in the European album not present in the original North American version. The first, “Red House”, is a twelve-bar blues song. For non-musicians, this is a standard blues form that is prevalent in blues, rock and roll, rock, and jazz to such an extent that it can be very annoying or boring to listen unless the composition has something special such as unusual melody, humorous or particularly engaging lyrics, substitution chords , stellar execution and performance, or effective, interesting solos on top of those chords. From the start, with Hendrix abstracted guitar intro, this is more than a throwaway blues song. In this early Hendrix recording, with this common blues structure and set of standard blues chords, we can identify much of what makes Hendrix performances so engaging. The guitar work is the primary focal point for both the leisurely and experienced listener, but part of the equation to make this work includes the support from Redding on a modified rhythm guitar and Mitchell’s minimal but steady drums as well Hendrix’s direct and personable vocal delivery. Hendrix vocals are distinctly impressive throughout his brief recorded career — not because of range, intonation, smoothness or quality of his physical vocal instrument, but because of his pacing, rhythmic delivery, warmth, directness, naturalness and conversational nature of his communication. Hendrix, in general doesn’t perform — he communicates. As once noted by Thelonious Monk to Steve Lacy, “A genius is the one most like himself.” Monk, Beethoven, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane all deserve special acknowledgment for being themselves in achieving their beyond-Mount-Everest level of genius. Hendrix is not that far behind them.
“Can You See Me” and “Remember” certainly deserved their inclusion on the original European LP. “Can You See Me” is a driving, upbeat number with plenty of fluid chemistry between the trio. “Remember” is a moderately-fast paced ballad with an uplifting instrumental after the first two verses and chorus. The two key changes in this work provide the necessary emotional momentum to maintain the listener’s interest.
The last and most significant track on both the North American and the European original albums is “Are Your Experienced.” Backward drums and guitar immediately establish non-conformity at the same time as providing a stable foundation for the lead guitar and lyrics, and a sense of exoticness found in other mid-sixties rock albums that borrow or reference aspects of Indian Classical music.
It has been decades since I heard this amazing work, and with extra years came a different perspective on the lyrics. Previously I had assumed the experience referenced here was either drug-related or sexual, supported by the last line of the lyrics “Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful”, but its worth considering experience on a more spiritual level — above and beyond the physical plane of corporeal existence. Back in college, I was a bit puzzled with the phrase “have you ever been experienced.” That didn’t make sense on the surface — for if one had previously had experience with whatever Hendrix is defining as experience, then one should still be experienced. Why is this not “have you experienced” instead of the past perfect form of “have you ever been experienced?” Today, I see two additional angles: “Have you ever been experienced” meaning “has someone else experienced you” and “have you ever, such as in a past life, been experienced?” The first could be sexual, but could also mean one is their essential self and not a likeness or projection of something they are pretending to be or want to be perceived as. Or it could mean “have you provided others experience”, such as a musician being experienced by their audience. This second deals with states of existence such that one could be experienced in one state (such as in one lifetime or plane of existence) and not in the other. We can then extend this metaphysical reflection and go off in many more directions, but the simple point here is that the lyrics provide a level of interpretation appropriate to psychedelic or transcendental frameworks.
It’s also totally in keeping with the contents of this album for me to consider that the album is asking its musical contemporaries “Have you even been experienced?” Not played as background music, not listened to casually, but fully experienced across all possible dimensions.
Dave Siddle – engineering on “Manic Depression,” “Can You See Me,” “Love or Confusion,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Fire,” “Remember,” “Hey Joe,” “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze,” “51st Anniversary,” and “The Wind Cries Mary”
Eddie Kramer – engineering on “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Are You Experienced?,” and “Red House”; additional engineering on “Love or Confusion,” “Fire,” “Third Stone from the Sun,” and “Highway Chile”
Mike Ross – engineering on “Foxy Lady,” “Red House,” and “Third Stone from the Sun”