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Posts tagged ‘Paul McCartney’

Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

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Elton John: Elton John

April 1970 continues the early seventies trend of providing strong rock/folk/pop singer songwriter albums with one of the most polished releases of early 1970, and arguably the one of most important, historically: Elton John’s second album, artfully arranged by Paul Buckmaster and produced by Gus Dudgeon.  Originally intended to be a demo of current Elton John and Bernie Taupin songs to be circulated among industry recording artists, bands, producers and execs as a means of promoting the quality and variety of John/Taupin songs available for those looking for songs to add to an album, but due to the recently increased commercial appetite for solo singer songwriter albums, the album was released commercially under Elton’s name — or Reggie Dwight’s assumed name of “Elton John” based on an inspirational combining of the names of Bluesology bandmates Elton Dean and  Long John Baldry.

Released on April 10, 1970, Elton John was relatively ignored until the single “Your Song”, the first track on the album, started getting significant airplay as a single in December 1970.  Like many others, I first bought the third album, Tumbleweed Connection in late 1970 and then purchased the Elton John album, later getting the first album (Empty Sky)  as an import as it had not been released in the U.S.  Interesting it was within a few days of purchasing the Elton John album, that I first starting hearing “Your Song” on the radio, wondering how such success would impact the next album’s quality or direction.

“Your Song’ is by far my favorite song on the album (which due to my teenage stubbornness and anti-establishment stance, might not be the case if I had been exposed to it on AM first) but this is an impressively strong album, with even my least favorite song, a tribute to the Rolling Stones country-rock style tucked away on track four of the first side (“No Shoe Strings on Louise”), being a song of some merit.  It is astonishing to consider that had this album not been released except in limited distribution as a promotional vehicle for their songwriting skills, that Elton and Bernie may have been content to have been behind-the-scene songwriters.  However, due to the quality of the arrangements, songs like “Your Song”, “Sixty Years On”, “Border Song”, “Take Me to the Pilot” and more, its hard to imagine any alternate universe where this album could have been kept under wraps for any length of time.  Today I still consider Tumbleweed Connection to be the best Elton John album, however that may be more influenced by it being the first Elton John album I bought — if I was to recommend just one Elton John album, it would be this one — especially if the tastes of the listener favored intimate or introspective singer-songwriter albums.

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Cat Stevens: Mona Bona Jakon

After a successful first album and a commercially and critically disappointing second album was followed with a near-fatal case of tuberculosis, Cat Stevens ensuing recuperation was filled with time to reflect on life and stockpile thirty to forty songs, some of which were used as material for his third album, Mona Bona Jakon.  One suspects that the realization of the merits of a simpler life is also manifested in the simplicity of the music and the arrangements on this acoustic-based album, with its transparently clear and focused guitar work, double bass, and suitable and appropriate use of strings.

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Randy Newman: 12 Songs

Also in April 1970, Randy Newman releases his second album, 12 Songs. Replacing the interesting orchestration and sometimes sympathetic characters in the songs with skilled studio musicians (including Clarence White, Ry Cooder and jazz bassist Al McKibbon) and an array of generally unpleasant and sometimes repulsive characters, Newman has refined his approach to be an all out assault of social commentary.  The music is also simpler — blatantly based on standard, cookie–cutter harmonic progressions borrowing generously from blues and country musical components.  Due to its readily accessible music  consistency of character portrayal, and twisted, ironic lyrics, the album was embraced by critics and helped further establish Randy Newman as a significant artist.

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Al Stewart: Zero She Flies

Another artist establishing a signature sound and style was Al Stewart with his release of his third album, Zero She Flies. Each song is distinct and original with “Manuscript” providing the type of historical reflection that would become more common in later Al Stewart albums.  Not included in the original album, but on CD releases as a bonus track, is the personal and reflective “News from Spain”, as good as any of the tracks on the original album.

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Paul McCartney: McCartney

Joining the list of solo singer songwriters is Paul McCartney, releasing his first solo album on the Apple label, McCartney.  Released before Let it Be, the album was accompanied with the news of the Beatles break-up and many fans incorrectly assigned the blame of the break-up to Paul or his desire to be on his own releasing solo albums of which this was the first.

Commercially successful (what Beatles fan didn’t want to get that first solo album after their break up), the album  was overall disappointing for anyone who had previously purchased Abbey Road:  many critics and fans saw this album as concrete proof of how important (okay, instrumental) George Martin was to the overall quality of all the Beatles’ catalog.  The good part was that if one came to the album expecting little (that is one of your friends let you borrow the album after telling you how bad it was), there were some worthwhile moments.  Composed of fragments, not fully-realized tunes, and the properly arranged and realized, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, one can embrace the album for the informality and glimpses of genius.  It seems clear the album had some padding to bring it up to almost 35 minutes, including two versions of one the best tunes on the album, “Junk” — both an instrumental version of “Junk” and the vocal version which seems to have lyrics added after the fact and somewhat haphazardly. I would be fine with just the instrumental version, but one has to give credit to Paul’s vocals which are always a treat to hear.  Overall, not an essential album, but it is an album that is fun to revisit every few years.

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Jethro Tull: Benefit

Jethro Tull released their third album, continuing to refine their sound adding keyboardist John Evan (though uncredited), and creating more intriguing and colorful music than ever.  Many critics were unimpressed with the often off-the-mark Rolling Stone labeling this exciting and engaging album “lame and dumb”, yet fortunately the album did well in both the UK and the States providing Jethro Tull the necessary commercial momentum.  Retrospective reviews would be much more embracing of this remarkable set of vibrant and distinctive songs.

Be sure to check out the Steven Wilson remix of Benefit, a true aural delight that includes  “Alive and Well and Living In”, which was replaced on the US version of the album with the single “Teacher.”

 

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

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Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet

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

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

The second is Nicki Hopkins on piano.

The third is the mournful “No Expectations.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

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

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

Personnel

The Rolling Stones

Additional personnel

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Stevie Wonder: For Once in My Life

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side One

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

Side Two

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

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James Taylor: James Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

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

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

Personnel

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Blood Sweat & Tears: Blood, Sweat & Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

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

Side 2

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

Personnel

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