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Fifty Year Friday: Donovan, Todd Rundgren and Nazz

Donovan_-_The_Hurdy_Gurdy_Man

Released in October 1968, with material from late 1967 and April 1968, Hurdy Gurdy Man is the most substantial Donovan album of his many releases,  artfully capturing the spirit of musical adventure and diversity so prevalent at the time.

My sister, up until the release of this album, had mostly purchased singles and albums of musicals, so it was a treat when she bought this in late 1968 and allowed me to play this on our parents’ “Hi-Fi” system.   I had already heard “Jennifer, Juniper” and the more serious and dramatic title track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” earlier in 1968, so I was curiously anticipating what else the album contained.

Lifting up the heavy wooden cover of the Hi-Fi,  taking out the record from its cover, and setting the music into motion by turning on the electronics and initiating the spinning of the platter and the tone arm’s slow and steady take-off, soon I was hearing a improved version of that first track, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sounding much better than what I had heard on any car or transistor or even the Hi-Fi AM radio.  The composition’s dark, mysterious mood was now more evident along with a general sense of deep, perhaps profound, mysticism.   And as the album played on past that first track, into “Peregrine” with its even more suspenseful drone-based eastern sound, then into the quietly reflective third track, “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl”, and through the neo-vaudevillian, “As I Recall it”, and then into the creamy saxophone-dominated “Get Thy Bearings”, the variety and quality of the music gained my increasing respect and interest.  I was not musically sophisticated enough to consider that most of the tracks were just a sequence of verses, to appreciate the thoughtfully scored string, flute, oboe, and trumpet lines or the contrapuntal fragments in “Hi, It’s Been a Long Time”, or deconstruct the contributions of melody, harmony and arrangement to the final essence of each song, I just found the album full of character and boldly and creatively different than most of the current AM radio fare; just as Donovan stood apart from the more commercial tunes of the time with songs like “Sunshine Superman”, “Mellow Yellow” and the more recent “Hurdy Gurdy Man”,  so did each track of this album create its very own mood, and even if I couldn’t do credible or meaningful musical analysis at age thirteen of the content, it was clear that significant care had been taken to produce a quality and coherent presentation of the music.

Donovan had originally wanted Jimi Hendrix to play electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  Hendrix, unfortunately wasn’t available.  There is some contention on who the guitarist on the recording actually is —  with Donovan crediting Jimmy Page and also Allan Holdsworth, but others indicating Jeff Beck or Alan Parker.  Page has indicated it wasn’t him and Holdsworth’s wife has stated that Holdsworth had indicated that the guitarist was Ollie Halsell (guitarist and vibraphone player for the group Timebox, later Platto.)

Years later, listening to this album, I can confirm that my original instincts in liking this music is far from unfounded.  The two songs with the most traditional verse and chorus structures provide an effective start and end to the album, and the contrast between the mood and instrumentation of the songs contained within provide an experience similar to contemporary releases by The Beatles or the Kinks. Donovan has a knack for simple, yet effective melodies and his work is supplemented by David Mills who provides music for three of the tracks. On top of this, the arrangement work is excellent as are the contributions by Harold McNair on flute and his sax soloing on “Get Thy Bearings.”

Tracks [from Wikipedia]

All tracks credited to Donovan Leitch. According to BMI, “A Sunny Day” and “The River Song” were collaborations with David J. Mills, but “Tangier” was written solely by Mills under its original title of “In Tangier Down a Windy Street”.

Side one

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man” – 3:13
  2. “Peregrine” – 3:34
  3. “The Entertaining of a Shy Girl” – 1:39
  4. “As I Recall It” – 2:06
  5. “Get Thy Bearings” – 2:47
  6. “Hi It’s Been a Long Time” – 2:32
  7. “West Indian Lady” – 2:15

Side two

  1. Jennifer Juniper” – 2:40
  2. “The River Song” – 2:14
  3. “Tangier” – 4:10
  4. “A Sunny Day” – 1:52
  5. “The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow” – 3:31
  6. “Teas” – 2:29

Musicians:

Donovan: vocals, acoustic guitar, tambura, harmonium
Alan Parker?: lead electric guitar on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
John Paul Jones: bass, arrangement and musical direction on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Clem Cattini: drums on “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Danny Thompson: bass
Tony Carr: drums and percussion
John ‘Candy’ Carr: bongos and percussion
Harold McNair: flute and saxophone
David Snell: harp
Deirdre Dodds: oboe
John Cameron: arrangement and piano

 

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Also recorded in April 1968 and released in October 1968, is one of the best commercially unsuccessful albums of 1968.  Nineteen year-old Todd Rundgren combines influences from The Beatles, The Who (“Open My Eyes”), Jimi Hendrix (some of Rundgren’s guitar work and the opening of “She’s Goin’ Down”) , Burt Bacharach (parts of “Hello It’s Me”), Jimmy Webb (the first section of “If That’s the Way You Feel”), and The Beach Boys (“When I Get My Plane”) with his own musical style, clearly identifiable on this first commercial recording of his and the band that he and later Disney legend, bassist Carson Van Osten  formed in Philadelphia.

Very few first albums are as good as this one, and its more accurate to consider this the first Todd Rundgren album (even with bandmate Stewkey on vocals)  as opposed to the first album of a group that Rundgren happened to be a part of.   All compositions are by Rundgren except “Crowded” and the blues-jam group-effort spectacular that ends side one.  Rundgren’s signature ballad, “Hello It’s Me” appears the first time, lacking the more sophisticated arrangement given to it in the classic 1972 Something/Anything?  The other ballad here is “If That’s the Way You Feel”, arranged by jazz-great Shorty Rogers with a beyond beautiful first section and a sequence of overly-enthusiastic modulations in the second section.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Todd Rundgren, except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Open My Eyes” – 2:48
  2. “Back of Your Mind” – 3:48
  3. “See What You Can Be” – 3:00
  4. Hello It’s Me” – 3:57
  5. “Wildwood Blues” (Rundgren, Thom Mooney, Robert “Stewkey” Antoni, Carson Van Osten) – 4:39

Side two

  1. “If That’s the Way You Feel” – 4:49
  2. “When I Get My Plane” – 3:08
  3. “Lemming Song” – 4:26
  4. “Crowded” (Mooney, Stewkey) – 2:20
  5. “She’s Goin’ Down” – 4:58

Nazz

  • Robert “Stewkey” Antoni – Keyboards, lead vocals
  • Todd Rundgren – guitar, vocals, string arrangements, mixing
  • Carson Van Osten – bass, vocals
  • Thom Mooney – drums
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Fifty Year Friday: Cream, Wheels of Fire; Al Kooper, Super Session

creamwheelsCream: Wheels of Fire

I seems a bit odd that the rock “super group” is a rarity.  One would think that the very best musicians getting together to reach the highest levels of musical creation and performance would be a common event.  But music is not a competitive experience like basketball which has provided us the Olympics basketball Dream Team, or the 2010 Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, or the Los Angeles Lakers with West, Baylor and Chamberlain — where such assembling of talent is done for the purpose of winning a championship or to secure a gold medal against an already competitive field.

Often a given musician’s artistic vision is quite different than another’s and assembling a group of highly talented musicians usually only produces successful results when their individual musical visions align.  Furthermore, assembling a group that lasts for multiple years is very different than a few of the best musicians getting together for after-hours jam sessions or (more formally) for a single recording session.

One-time or even sporadic, repeated formations of super groups does occur more frequently in jazz,  as occurred on June 6, 1950 when Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich were brought together to record a handful of tracks or for a single or a short series of radio broadcasts as the May 15 & 16, 1950 broadcasts from Birdland which featured Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Curly Russell and Art Blakey  — or in 1947 where there were multiple sessions which provided short-lived combinations of Parker, Gillespie, Max Roach, Ray Brown and Lennie Tristano.   In 1945, a young, and initially less than all-star version of Miles Davis teamed up with Charlie Parker, and the two played on and off together, sometimes with other all-star level musicians like with the two tracks recorded at Birdland on May 23, 1953 where Parker and a now truly stellar Miles Davis played with Dizzy Gillespie.  But this can be put in better context by noting that for one evening, that night before, on May 22, 1953, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Art Taylor had played together at Birdland with three tracks broadcasted on radio. The uniting of such talent was much like the uniting of all-stars for a professional sports all-star game — it was not the same as assembling a team of players that would play together night after night and record together session after session. Later, starting in the late sixties, there would be more monetary incentive for supergroups to come and stay together — but for jazz players of the first half of the twentieth century, making a living was tough, and this financial challenge played a part in players staying with a band or group as long as they were being paid, signing whatever contract was offered, or in players looking for any gig they could get that would provide extra income.

However, as musicians started to earn more money, and as the long playing record served as means of moving beyond the three-minute single,  there was also more opportunity for visionaries like Charles Mingus or Miles Davis to break away from providing the public a collection of unrelated tunes to providing a substantial unified product: a work of art.  This often meant that there was one visionary driving their own inspirations forward by partnering with others that had bought into that vision. Sometimes that was simply the producer bringing in talented musicians to back a Billie Holiday or Ellie Fitzgerald, sometimes that meant a strong personality like Charles Mingus acting like a commanding officer or a business manager, encouraging and sometimes demanding, or Ray Davies taking a lead role in the Kinks, or sometimes that meant a group of like-minded individuals, whether led by one member in the group, or a producer, or effectively collectively working together, sometimes with dissension or disputes, cooperating and collaborating just enough to bring out an album that resonated with enough of the public to provide the opportunity to put out another.

So its perhaps understandable why rock super groups are as rare as they are with the first attempts, like Eric Clapton’s Powerhouse, being intentionally short experiments, and the first true super group, Cream, formed in 1966, being the only such super group brought together in the 1960s that lasted more than a single album until David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash formed Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1969.

By their second album, Cream was in full stride; their third album, “Wheels of Fire”,  a double LP released on Aug 9, 1968, offers additional enduring studio tracks on the first LP, and live performances on the second.

The album starts of with “White Room”, which at the time, was the coolest song any band had come up with since “Strawberry Fields.”  It combines elements of psychedelic and early heavy metal, with an overall middle-eastern, exotic character assisted by the 5/4 introduction, the generally modal melody and supporting harmonies, and the added violas and overdubbed guitar-work.

Though the album has its weak points (“Pressed Rat and Warthog” and a marginally interesting second side of live material), its strengths are far more abundant.  On the first side of the live LP,  Cream’s simplified, yet totally transformed version of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”, drives forward with relentless energy and primal appeal and the second track, Cream’s innovative re-sculpting of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” foreshadows some of the elements found in Black Sabbath’s very first album, recorded a year after “Wheel’s of Fire” had reached the number 3 position on the UK album chart and the number 1 position on the US album chart.

Ginger Baker is an unstoppable force on drums and percussion, providing moments of classical-influenced composition, Jack Bruce continues to establish the foundation for future progressive rock and heavy metal bass players, also providing the strongest compositions on the album, and Eric Clapton’s guitar work continues to be inventive and, on the first side of the live LP,  narcotically spellbinding.  This was the first super rock trio, establishing the high level of compositional and instrumental quality that would be expected for upcoming prog and heavy metal trios, quartets, and quintets, providing  considerable evidence that these three artists were truly the first major rock group for both of those genres.

Tracks and personnel from Wikipedia

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Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills: Super Session

One of the unexpected success stories of 1968  was Al Kooper’s project to record a jam-session album with Electric Flag guitarist Mike Bloomfield who Kooper had previously partnered with on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.  Kooper booked studio time in Los Angeles for two consecutive days in May 1968 adding  keyboardist Barry Goldberg and bassist Harvey Brooks, also members of the Electric Flag.  All was set and the first session went well, with basic jam material on which participants performed as expected and Al Kooper taking on vocal responsibilities. At the end of the day, with just enough material for the first side of the planned album, the participants crashed at the house Kooper had rented, but when Kooper got up that morning, he found a note from Bloomfield indicating he had not slept well that night and had gone home.  The departure, and the corresponding reality, was soon confirmed when Kooper received a call from a female friend of Bloomfield that inquired if Mike had made his plane and if she should pick him up at the San Francisco Airport. Kooper than made phone calls to any California area guitarist he could think of including Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Randy California of Spirit and Stephen Stills, who had just left Buffalo Springfield. Fortunately,  Kooper eventually received a return call from Stills, who was able to join for that second session.

There was a problem, still. Stephen Stills was still under contract to Atlantic and, though it was very likely that Atlantic would grant permission for Stills to be just another instrumentalist in a jam album,  this approval would be much less likely if Stills was the lead singer.   Despite Kooper preferring to have Stills singing lead, he could not risk the opportunity of completing his envisioned project that evening, so as with the day before, Kooper again was the featured vocalist.

When Stills arrived the musicians huddled to identify what songs they all knew, ran through them briefly and then recorded what would become the second side of the album, finishing at two in the morning. Kooper flew back to New York City the next day, and began final editing, including splicing together parts of two takes of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” (note the tempo changes in the consolidated final version.)  While back in L.A., during additional engineering and dubbing horn parts into the original recordings,  Kooper was asked for his input in naming the album.  Since he had no particular title in mind for the finished LP, it was christened “Super Sessions” by Bruce Lundvall, one of Columbia marketing executives. With total production costs of less than $20,000, the album was released to a receptive public on July 22, 1968, who sent the album climbing up the charts, peaking at the number twelve spot.

Kooper was amazed at the commercial success of his project.  From the very first  day, the album was popular, soon reaching the number 12 position on the U.S. album charts. And though credit needs to go to Mike Bloomfield for providing some of his highly quality studio work in his tragically short career,  to Stills, to the other musicians, this is primarily Kooper’s album, including his quality editing and mixing and his partnership with arranger Joe Scott on the added horns, which add appropriate variety and substance into the original recordings.  Kooper then remixed the sessions around 2002 or 2003, using the current 24 bit technology, providing better clarity and separation of the individual musicians,  further enhancing  Kooper’s original effort of creating an album similar to the jazz albums he grew up listening to, where talented musicians together to create improvised music much like they would perform for their own pleasure when they were by themselves in an empty studio or someone’s den, living room or garage.

Some point to this as being the first super group, but Stills and Bloomfield recorded separately, and there was no intent for these three to ever be together (Stills was a fortuitous replacement for an AWOL Bloomfield) — and there was no intent for further recordings or any live performances.  Though I would like to say this critical and commercial success resulted in a flurry of other such efforts, this really was not the case.  The very next example of an LP of similar rock improvisation, is the third LP of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”, released in late 1970.  Are there other examples you can think of before that 1970’s “Apple Jam” LP — even before Kooper’s Super Session LP?  Please post your comments and thoughts, as very interested in not only examples from the 1960s, but afterwards.

Tracks and personnel from Wikipedia

Fifty Year Friday: Joni Mitchell; Song to a Seagull

joni song seagull

Working in coffee houses and folk clubs, first in Toronto and then in the states, Roberta Joan Anderson, or simply Joni Anderson, and then later Joni Mitchell (taking her new surname as a result of a brief marriage from 1965-1967 to a Michigan folk-singer) begin getting attention for her song writing skills as more established artists with recording contracts begin to cover her songs.  First there was folksinger Tom Rush recording  “Urge for Going”, after Rush presented it to Judy Collins, who was not interested, then country singer George Hamilton IV placing it on the country charts for 21 weeks with it peaking at the number seven spot.  Then Buffy Sainte-Marie  recorded “The Circle Game”) and Dave Van Ronk recorded “Both Sides Now”, followed by Judy Collins recording that same song and another on her 1967 Wildflowers album with “Both Sides Now” being a major hit, by far Collins’ biggest hit, peaking at 8 on the pop charts, and 3 on the adult contemporary charts.

Joni’s own chance at commercial recordings came with David Crosby hearing her in a club in Florida and then convincing Reprise records to record Mitchell as a folk-rock artist.  David took ownership of production, basically taking a more-or-less hands-off approach except for the well-intended mistake of having Joni sing into the open grand piano, forcing the removal of high frequencies in final production, resulting in a lower fidelity album.

With this very first Joni Mitchell album, we have a collection of songs all written by creating the music first and then adding the lyrics, and yet fitting them together in such a way so that neither is diluted. There are no major hits on this album, put there are a number of gems, the most sparkling is “Marcie”, which is representative of Joni Mitchell’s amazing ability to craft effective and meaningful words to align with her music. This is not the strongest or best selling of Joni’s many albums, but it is one no lover of music or lyrics should mistakenly ignore.  It is with this very album that Joni Mitchell begins the climb to her current legendary status, and becomes worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence of earlier 20th Century greats like Cole Porter, writing music with a recognizable identity and a level of merit that earnestly invites repeated attentive listenings.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Joni Mitchell.

Side One: I Came to the City

#

Title

Length

1

“I Had a King”

3:37

2.

“Michael from Mountains”

3:41

3.

“Night in the City”

2:30

4.

“Marcie”

4:35

5.

“Nathan La Franeer”

3:18

Side 2: Out of the City and Down to the Seaside

#

Title

Length

6.

“Sisotowbell Lane”

4:05

7.

“The Dawntreader”

5:04

8.

“The Pirate of Penance”

2:44

9.

“Song to a Seagull”

3:51

10.

“Cactus Tree”

4:35

Personnel

  • Joni Mitchell – guitar, piano, vocals, artwork for album cover
  • Stephen Stills – bass on “Night in the City”
Technical

Fifty Year Friday: The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Axis: Bold as Love”

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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.

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Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”

in 1968, I went, along with some other junior high school friends to another friend’s house where his dad greeted us by playing us Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture on, what to most junior high students at that time, was a pretty impressive stereo system.  I had had rather limited exposure to classical music at this point, never having been to a classical concert, and only having heard a few complete classical pieces like Ravel’s Bolero, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on a limited-fidelity monophonic system. To hear this Tchaikovsky work not as a snippet in a television commerical, but from start to finish in full stereo, with horns and, ultimately, cannons, commandeering the empty air space around us, left a impregnable impression not just for that day, but the rest of my life.

An equally indelible impression was produced when we later went upstairs and our thirteen-year old host set the needle of his personal phonograph at the start of the first side of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” Now I had heard this song on the radio a number of times, but this phonograph produced better fidelity, and it occurred to me as we got to the end of side one, listening to the incredible “I Am the Walrus”, with its striking string arrangement and Lennon’s unrelenting, upper-register vocal delivery, that this was as unusual, mysterious and as equally vital as the 1812 overture we had heard downstairs.  I couldn’t but make the comparison between these two supremely transcendental works, “I Am the Walrus” and “The 1812 Overture.” Nor was this effect reduced by our young host replaying the end of “I Am the Walrus” for us to clearly hear what sounded like “Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot.”

This album doesn’t have the cohesiveness of “Sgt. Peppers” or the second side of “Abbey Road,  but the presence of “Strawberry Fields” and “I am the Walrus”, perhaps the only two songs of 1967 that are on par with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, is enough to make this album essential.  There is also the post-summer of love anthem, “All You Need is Love”, which extended the momentum of the love movement for at least an additional eighteen months. George Harrison contributes the psychedelic and eastern influenced “Blue Jay Way”, one of those amazing tracks that we see so often on 1967 albums (for example, see last week’s post on the Byrd’s song “Why”)  that solidly sound Indian influenced and yet does not contain a single sitar or other traditional Indian classical instruments.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “Magical Mystery Tour” on November 27, 1967 in the US, an album which sold a little under two million copies in the first 30 days of it’s release.

Track and personnel listing at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Mystery_Tour#Track_listing

  	The Beatles perform 'I Am The Walrus' for the film Magical Mystery Tour.  West Malling Air Station, Kent, England. 20th September 1967. 	Images may be editorially reproduced only in conjunction with the 2012 DVD & Blu-ray / digital release of Magical Mystery Tour. 	Please credit © Apple Films Ltd. 	Promotional and review purposes only.

 

Fifty Year Friday: Aretha Franklin “I Never Loved a Man”, Simon Dupree & The Big Sound “Without Reservations”

Aretha Franklin  “I Never Loved a Man”

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Raised singing gospel and touring with her minister father on gospel caravan tours,  first accompanying his preaching on piano and later singing on his gospel tours from church to church, Aretha Franklin recorded her first album in 1956 at the age of 14, “Songs of Faith”, a album of nine gospel songs recorded live.

At 18, Aretha chose to pursue a pop career, like her close friend Sam Cooke, who she had known when he was in the Soul Stirrers, and signed with Columbia records.  Columbia had little interest of what was best for Aretha, and determined to make her into a commercially viable jazz-pop singer, ignoring her gospel background and making touring and song selection choices for her based on converting her into a marketable and commercially successful commodity — but basically failing at that over the course of recording eleven commercially disappointing albums.  Fortunately at the end of her Columbia contract, Aretha signed with the smaller, independent label, Atlantic Records in 1966 and Atlantic gave her the green light to not only chose her own songs, but determine how she would sing, perform and arrange them.  Now in control of the artistic process, Aretha also composed songs, played piano and brought in her two sisters Erma and Carolyn to provide backup vocals. The result was an artistic and commercial success where Aretha used her full range of talents and drew on her gospel experience to provide a expressive, vital album, distinctive, yet intimately familiar.

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On this new album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”, Aretha combines a wide range of musical and emotional expression coherently, consistently,  and consummately throughout all eleven tracks.  The vocal nuance and subtitles captured here make this album a classic that can be listened to over and over.  This music and singing owe much to the gospel music of Aretha’s cultural heritage, but the lyrics are secular and, like traditional blues, address flawed social and inter-personal relationships.

Tracks like Otis Redding’s “Respect”, the song many people today directly associate with Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” are particularly notable, but one can pick any song on this album to savor the beauty and artistry of Aretha Franklin’s exceptional vocal delivery.  Appropriate musical support is provided, including King Curtis on saxophone.

In addition to this landmark album, Aretha provided us four number one singles on the R&B charts in 1967, two from this album, plus “Baby, I Love You” from her second 1967 Atlantic album “Aretha Arrives” and “Chain of Fools.” Also of note is Aretha’s 1967 recording of Carol King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” written especially for Aretha and appearing on her third Altantic album, “Aretha: Lady Soul” recorded in 1967 and released January 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Respect Otis Redding 2:29
2. Drown in My Own Tears Henry Glover 4:07
3. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) Ronnie Shannon 2:51
4. Soul Serenade King CurtisLuther Dixon 2:39
5. “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” Aretha Franklin, Ted White 2:23
6. “Baby Baby Baby” Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin 2:54
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. “Dr. Feelgood” Aretha Franklin, Ted White 3:23
8. Good Times Sam Cooke 2:10
9. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man Dan PennChips Moman 3:16
10. “Save Me” Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin, King Curtis 2:21
11. A Change Is Gonna Come Sam Cooke 4:20

Simon Dupree & The Big Sound

It would be just fine for me to completely skip over Simon Dupree & The Big Sound, except for one extremely important consideration: three of the band members (brothers Phil Shulman, Derek Shulman and Ray Shulman) would later form Gentle Giant joining up with keyboardist and composer Kerry Minnear.

The UK was awash with bands of young musicians emulating American Rhythm and Blues.  We all know about the early Beatles, Stones, Animals and Pretty Things.  Few Americans, excepting die-hard Gentle Giant fans, know much about Simon Dupree & the Big Sound.

At some point in the mid-seventies, I had seen a lineage tree of where members of various seventy bands had come from: Keith Emerson of ELP had come from The Nice, Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster and before that Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Greg Lake from King Crimson and before that the Gods — that sort of thing.  Will this “ancestry chart” showed that the three Shulmans came from Simon Dupree & The Big Sound.  I looked in the Schwann LP Catalog for any listing and saw none.  Clearly any albums they ahd recorded were out of print. Doing some further research I found they had one Top 10 UK singles hit, “Kites“, which reached the number eight position.

Years later, in 1988, I was then very lucky to find the single on a juke box in the UK in a pub in Holyhead, Wales while sipping on a pint of local brew and killing time while waiting to catch a ferry to Dublin. I got out some local pocket change and played both sides, listening to “Kites” three times and the B side, “Like the Sun, Like the Fire” twice. Despite the mellotron, xylophone, gong, wind-machine, and actress Jacqui Chan‘s seductively spoken Chinese on Kites during the instrumental passage, I preferred the B side, which sounded closer to very early Gentle Giant and included a bridge with a soulful Derek Shulman vocal and a brief bassoon, oboe and clarinet instrumental section and a final brief marching band coda.  Almost thirty years after hearing this track for this first time, I found out this song was co-authored by the one Shulman that wasn’t ever a part of Gentle Giant, Evelyn King, the elder sister to the Shulman brothers.

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, based in Portsmouth, home of the Shulmans, was not named after any band member (the band was primarly the three Shulman brothers supplemented by Peter O’Flaherty on bass guitar, Eric Hine on keyboards, and dummer Tony Ransley.) Originally the group’s name was “Howlin’ Wolves” befitting of their R & B style, later changed to the Road Runners, and then finally replaced by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound at the suggestion of a local Portsmouth music promoter: Dupree was the name of an established and well known local family in Portsmouth.

The first (and only) album, “Without Reservations” is only sporadically interesting, partly due to the arrangements and level of musicianship of the Shulmans, and partly as providing insight into what contributions the Shulmans made to Gentle Giant compositions, particularly the first Gentle Giant album and the last three.  (On all their albums, from first to last, Gentle Giant gave song writing credit to their entire band rather than any individual contributors.)

Simon Dupree would continue on for a couple of more years with several attempts to score a second hit after Kites, but with no success. At one point, for a tour of Scotland, they had to replace an ill Eric Hines with an unknown keyboard player, Reggie Dwight (later Elton John, of course) for a tour of Scotland.   Dupree ended up recording an Elton John/Bernie Taupin tune, “I’m Going Home” for the B side of a recording of a James Taylor tune, “Something in the Way She Moves.” For whatever reason, Elton was not invited to remain as part of the band. Perhaps in some parallel universe, there is a recording of “Three Friends” with Elton John on keyboards. Whether that would have charted higher or lower than #197 on the Billboard 200 is open to speculation.

Fans of Gentle Giant can pick up all the Dupree recordings in the CD “Part of my Past” which includes all their studio-recorded tracks, mostly from 1967, with a few tunes from 1968 and 1969. As long as one keeps one’s expectations under check, there are enough interesting moments to make listening to this worthwhile and to further one’s understanding of the important role Kerry Minnear played in what was most exceptional about Gentle Giant and in why the overall low quality of “Giant For a Day” can be inferred to be due to a diminished role for Kerry Minnear, the composer.

Fifty Year Friday: Jobim “Wave”; Zappa, “Absolutely Free”; Beefheart “Safe as Milk”

 

wave

Jazz fan’s will likely know of Antonio Carlos Jobim two albums with Stan Getz, particularly the first one, Getz/Gilberto containing “Desafinado” and the classic version of “The Girl from Ipanema” with  Astrud Gilberto‘s seductive vocals.    That first album, added fuel to the already burning fiery desire of Americans to hear and dance to bossa nova, and elevated Jobim to a marketable American music business commodity.

“Wave”, released in 1967, became Jobim’s best selling album, providing smooth, comforting music for middle America and many non-jazz record consumers. The music is well-crafted, well-arranged and well-performed with Jobim playing guitar, piano, celeste and harpsichord, Ron Carter on bass, Urbie Green on trombone, and a small string orchestra with french horn and flute/picolo all providing the most mellow dance music possible.   It is not exactly jazz and, in a sense, sets the tone for a genre of music that would be called smooth jazz,  a style not demanding listener attention or involvement, but played for its soothing, relaxing qualities.  Such smooth or background music became prevalent in shopping centers, in restaurants and in many work places that now added such music or substituted smooth jazz for the previously provided muzak. In 1987, Los Angeles radio stations KMET, once one of the coolest, most progressive album-oriented,  FM radio stations in Southern California, changed its letters to KTWV and called itself “The Wave” playing “adult contemporary jazz” becoming one of the un-coolest, most un-progressive stations in the Greater Los Angeles area ultimately influencing other radio stations to take the same path.

Of course, none of the blame should be attributed to this fine Jobim album; it is just worth noting that soon background music became virulently prevalent, irking many musicians that believed music should be actively listened to and not absorbed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

  1. Wave” – 2:56
  2. “The Red Blouse” – 5:09
  3. “Look to the Sky” – 2:20
  4. “Batidinha” – 3:17
  5. Triste” – 2:09
  6. “Mojave” – 2:27
  7. “Diálogo” – 2:55
  8. “Lamento” (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes) – 2:46
  9. “Antigua” – 3:10
  10. “Captain Bacardi” – 4:29

 

frankzappa-absolutelyfree

Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention did not produce either easy listening music or anything that could be considered conservative.   This is the Mothers of Invention’s second studio album and every bit as adventurous as the first including mixed meter and quotes from Stravinsky’s three most famous ballets, “The Firebird”, “Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du printemps”) and Petrushka.  Each side of the original LP can be viewed as a single piece rather than a set of unrelated tracks due to redeployment and relationship of music material.  Humor is a inseparable part of this innovative album that many Zappa fan’s cite as one of their favorites.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side one: “Absolutely Free” (#1 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. Plastic People 3:40
2. “The Duke of Prunes” 2:12
3. “Amnesia Vivace” 1:01
4. “The Duke Regains His Chops” 1:45
5. “Call Any Vegetable” 2:19
6. “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” 6:57
7. “Soft-Sell Conclusion” 1:40
Side two: “The M.O.I. American Pageant” (#2 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. “America Drinks” 1:52
2. “Status Back Baby” 2:52
3. “Uncle Bernie’s Farm” 2:09
4. “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” 1:33
5. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It 7:26
6. America Drinks & Goes Home 2:43

Personnel[from Wikipedia]

Note that there are several additional musicians on this album including Don Ellis on trumpet on “Brown Shoes Don’t make it”

 

safeasmilk-bds1001-covers

Another less-than-easy-listening album is Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s “Safe as Milk” which starts from a blues foundation but includes uncommon time signatures and unique instrumental divergences. On one hand, a traditional blues fan might prefer to spend their time listening to a true blues album by someone like Howlin’ Wolf rather than this Don Van Vliet (A.K.A Captain Beefheart) psuedo-blues album. However, despite some superficial similarities in Howlin’ Wolf’s and Beefheart’s voices, and “Safe as Milk’s fairly straightforward first track, there are enough deviations here, musically and lyrically, from other more solid blues albums of the time to take this album on its own terms. Guitarist Ry Cooder, having played with Taj Mahal in the short-lived Rising Sons, makes important arrangement and performance contributions. Historically, this is an important album as it captures a band in transition to a more adventurous style that merges blues, free jazz and art-rock into a genre I could only call head-spinning, head-splitting, free-style post-blues

So even though this is much closer to standard fare than later Captain Beefheart albums, it contains a number of adjustments to standard rock/blues that make this an album worth checking out.  “Yellow Brick Road” borrows the first part of its melody from “Pop Goes the Weasel” but strays off into its own tune with a mix of innocent and suggestive lyrics. “Autumn Child” pushes into both art-rock and progressive rock territory with its Zappa-like opening and changes in meter, texture, tempo and mood.  Electricity” is the stand-out track, with lyrics and music flirting with psychedelia (note the guitar imitating the sitar), blues, bluegrass, and rock, and, once past the brilliant introduction, is very danceable. The rising oscillations of a thermin closes out the song.

 

Whereas one can put on “Waves” (and even “Absolutely Free” under the right circumstances) and delegate it to the background with little trouble, if one does this with some of the Beefheart “Safe as Milk” tracks like “Electricity”, “Plastic Factory” and “Abba Zaba”, they simply become distracting and annoying; however, play this album on a good audio system that can untangle the aggressive texture into individual and distinctive voices and the music flies by and, if not always pleasant, is unexpectedly absorbing and engaging.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Herb Bermann and Don Van Vliet except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do” 2:15
2. “Zig Zag Wanderer” 2:40
3. “Call on Me” (Van Vliet) 2:37
4. “Dropout Boogie” 2:32
5. “I’m Glad” (Van Vliet) 3:31
6. Electricity 3:07
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Yellow Brick Road” 2:28
8. “Abba Zaba” (Van Vliet) 2:44
9. “Plastic Factory” (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) 3:08
10. “Where There’s Woman” 2:09
11. “Grown So Ugly” (Robert Pete Williams) 2:27
12. “Autumn’s Child” 4:02


Personnel 
[fromWikipedia]

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
  • Don Van Vliet – lead vocals, harmonica, marimba, arrangements
  • Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals, bass, percussion
  • Ry Cooder – guitar, bass, slide guitar, percussion, arrangements
  • Jerry Handley – bass (except 8, 10), backing vocals
  • John French – drums, backing vocals, percussion
Additional musicians
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