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Fifty Year Friday: Spirit, Led Zeppelin, Turtles, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, Pentangle

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Spirit: Clear

Spirit probably would have made the big time if they had played at Woodstock as planned, possibly right before Hendrix and his band played the festival’s last set. As it was, the band ended up going on a a multi-venue promotional tour. To make matters worse, lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Randy California  who had previously played with Jimi Hendrix for three months (it was Hendrix that give the originally named “Randy Wolfe” the new last name of California to distinguish him from Randy Palmer whom Hendrix named “Randy Texas”) and drummer/singer/songwriter Jay Ferguson begin to have differences of opinions on the style and direction of the band.  In the middle of all of this,  Spirit released their third studio album, Clear, an album with elements of early prog, blues-rock and psychedelic rock.  “Dark Eyed Woman” is probably the best known track, but the album contains two quality instrumentals on side two and has generally good, though not world-changing, material overall and some quality guitar work from Randy California.

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Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II

On October 22, 1969, Led Zeppelin released their second studio album, more polished and musically interesting than their first and a undeniable success commercially, reaching #1 on the charts in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Holland. Included is “Whole Lotta Love”, “Living Loving Maid”, the passionate ballad, “Thank You”, and “Moby Dick” which features a drum solo that always brought to my imagination the virtuosic dribbling of a basketball. Though Led Zeppelin would get even better, this is a pretty good album, full of energy, life, and creativity.

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The Turtles: Turtle Soup

While newer groups are making significant commercial inroads, some older groups are winding down.  The Turtles released their last of five albums, an album very much in the style of the late sixties, closer to 1967 or even 1966 than late 1969.  That said, this is a fairly decent album with some good acoustic guitar work on the first side. Also of interest, is that the album is produced by The Kink’s Ray Davies, and one can hear this in several songs such as in the opening of “The House on The Hill.”  The most interesting composition is “John and Julie”  which includes added strings that enhance the qualities of the song. The one track on the album to get any notable airplay is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” which shares a few too many similarities with their 1968 hit, “Elenore” — such blatant mimicking of a previous hit, though, is not new for the Turtles, whose 1965 single, “Let Me Be”, followed almost immediately after the success of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, sounding suspiciously similar.

This final studio album, though, did not mean an end for the Turtles, for their very best songs reflected the sixties so well, that they were not quickly forgotten — this is particularly true of their best song, and only number one hit, “Happy Together.”

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Pink Floyd: Ummagumma

Released on October 25, 1969 in the U.K. and in early November in the U.S., Ummagumma (pronounced “OOH-ma GOO-ma”) is a two record set, the first LP containing material recorded live in April and May 1969 and the second an interesting collection of individual contributions, both in terms of authorship and performance, from the band.  The first side is an indispensable document of 1969 Pink Floyd live, performing some of their earlier psychedelic space-rock classics, and serves as the main attraction of the album.  The second LP which showcases each band member’s individual efforts, has its moments, but clearly the group is much better together than as isolated soloists. Nonetheless, this set of solo offerings on the second LP is still more interesting than most avant-garde and exploratory music of its time.

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Renaissance: Renaissance

The first iteration of the newly formed band, Renaissance, formed by two former Yardbird band members, Keith Reif and Jim McCarty, released their very first album in October 1969. From the start, with John Hawken’s classically-influenced piano, the listener knows this is a special album. Reif and McCarty had tired of the heavier rock sound of the Yardbirds and were looking to blend folk, rock and classical elements — and classically-trained Hawken was a perfect fit for their vision.  Most of the material is has a fresh, progressive tone to it, effectively mixing rock, jazz, folk, pop and classical elements including incorporation of material from Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata.

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Pentangle: Basket of Light

Released on October 26, 1968, this is the most commercially successful album for Pentangle and one of their best.  It opens with a Brubeck-like “Light Flight” with its off kilter meter of 5/8 and 7/8 with a 6 beat middle section. Quite the composition, it was the theme for the BBC’s “Take Three Girls” about three young woman in hip and swinging 1969 (to 1971) London.

The rest of the album is a mix of rearranged folk songs and new compositions, all performed beautifully and artfully on acoustic instruments with lead vocals distributed between Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn.   A good album to start with if you haven’t devoted much time listening to Pentangle or wish to enjoy some quality English Folk Rock.

Fifty Year Friday: Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Vanilla Fudge’s Renaissance

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In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Released June 14, 1968)

A while back, Time Magazine reported that the ideal length of time for workers to take a break was 17 minutes.  Not coincidentally, this is the time it took for Iron Butterfly to record “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” created a revolution in rock albums, taking up an entire side, psychologically preparing the way for tracks like the sixteen minute medley on side two of Abbey Road, Van Der Graaf Generator’s 23 minute “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” on side two of Pawn’s Heart,  the 23 minute “Supper’s Ready” taking up most of side two of Genesis’s Foxtrot, Yes’s 18 minute “Close to the Edge”, Jethro Tull’s 44 minute complete album, “Thick As a Brick”, and Yes’s two LP, “Tales of Topographic Oceans”, not to mention very-long tracks from Can, Amon Duul II , Ash Ra Tempel and Pink Floyd as well as works like Morton Feldman’s 1983 six-hour String Quartet No. 2, Max Richter’s eight hour “Sleep”, Kuzhalmannam Ramakrishnanand’s 501 hour concert in 2009 and John Cage’s Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible) which if not rushed, lasts around 639 years.

And, yes, there were earlier long works going back hundreds of years across various continents long before recorded music.  We also have several cases of very long jazz tracks that pre-date “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  But we are talking about rock here, a genre of music born from the three-minute pop tune aimed at attention-deficit teens and cultivated to sustain a revenue stream through theoretically expendable music and even more expendable music groups.

It was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that bridged the gap between The Doors “Light My Fire”  and the multi-section progressive rock long tracks to follow.  And unlike some of the progressive rock to come, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”  was not several songs bound together but a single song, with extended solos, including the famous drum solo that changed the role and egos of rock drummers until the end of time.

For historic purposes, one has to mention  Love’s 1967 single-side 19 minute song, “Revelation” — but the difference is that Love’s long “Revelation” was generally ignored at that time it was released, for good reason, and Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” carried its album to the number four billboard spot and made it in abbreviated form as a hit single.

Originally titled “In A Garden of Eden”, but reportedly changed to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” upon hearing how composer Doug Ingle pronounced the title after a gallon of cheap wine. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” starts off with Doug Ingle’s neo-baroque organ solo in d minor followed by baroque-like layering of the entrances of the other instruments including Ingle’s vocal.  Remarkable and clearly inescapable is the ostinato (a repeated musical phrase, often in the lower register) not too distantly related to the  opening of Tcherepnin’s Bagatelle op. 5 no. 1 (C, C, B-flat, C [long, short, short, long]) and the 1960’s more frequently played Ajax’s “Stronger Than Dirt” jingle, except transposed to d minor and transformed brilliantly so the opening pattern is D, D, F, E, C, D (long, long, short, short, short, long) thus creating one of the first and most impactful heavy metal riffs.

There are a number of notable components to this work including the hard rock introduction, the modulation from the verse to the chorus, the organ passage work, the guitar solo, the basic (basic enough for non-musicians to tap along with) but memorable two-and-a-half  minute drum solo, the organ solo incorporating “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, and the ensemble percussion section with organ and guitar commentary.  For comparison of how similarly In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was played live, one can check out the group’s Filmore East live album released decades later which includes two concert recordings of  from April 1968.

As a bonus, the first side has some very accessible tracks, mostly of the psychedelic era but here and there with early heavy-metal elements and a number of interesting organ passages. The first two tracks are upbeat with “Flowers and Beads” being material that would have worked quite well for the Turtles. “My Mirage” is more reflective, “Termination” includes a solid early metal ostinato on the chorus and a wistful, ethereal coda, and “Are You Happy” makes a solid case that this group has made the leap from psychedelic rock and acid-rock into heavy metal territory — also, note this track’s primal, dark, earthy opening, and then the descending chords sequence in the verse.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead Vocals

Length

1.

“Most Anything You Want” Doug Ingle Ingle

3:44

2.

“Flowers and Beads” Ingle Ingle

3:09

3.

“My Mirage” Ingle Ingle

4:55

4.

“Termination” Erik BrannLee Dorman Brann

2:53

5.

“Are You Happy” Ingle Ingle

4:31

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead Vocals

Length

6.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Ingle Ingle

17:05

Personnel

 

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Renaissance (Released June 14, 1968)

Known mostly as a sophisticated cover band and not for their original compositions (if you need verification, ask Amazon’s Alexa to play songs by Vanilla Fudge and see how many hours, not minutes, elapse before she plays something that wasn’t a cover of a previously successful song), this album contains five original compositions by band members, one composition by songwriter  Essra Mohawk, and their cover of the Donovan song, “Season of the Witch”, which received some airplay for a few weeks on both AM and FM radio.   Not only are the original songs of satisfying quality, but were strong enough to propel the album up to the number 20 spot on the Billboard album chart only a few weeks after its release.

The opening of “The Sky Cried/When I Was a Boy” is as solidly progressive as just about anything in the first half of 1968. When the vocals arrive, the track sounds more psychedelic or early metal than progressive, but the musicianship is solid. “That’s What Makes a Man” also has an instrumental introduction that anticipates Yes.  The band’s vocalizing is effective on all seven tracks and their sometimes eerie, wraith-like supporting vocals likely had some influence on later bands, particularly Uriah Heep.  Overall, this album generally gets classified as psychedelic rock, hard rock or acid-rock.  Worth listening to if you haven’t previously heard this album and are interested in hard rock or the roots of progressive rock; also worth revisiting if you haven’t heard this since the late sixties or early seventies.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

  1. “The Sky Cried/When I Was a Boy” (Mark SteinTim Bogert) – 7:36
  2. “Thoughts” (Vince Martell) – 3:28
  3. “Paradise” (Stein, Carmine Appice) – 5:59
  4. “That’s What Makes a Man” (Stein) – 4:28

Side 2

  1. “The Spell That Comes After” (Essra Mohawk) – 4:29
  2. “Faceless People” (Appice) – 5:55
  3. Season of the Witch” (Donovan Leitch; interpolating “We Never Learn” by Essra Mohawk) – 8:40

Personnel

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