Released on March 3, 1972, those of us that were Aqualung fans were keen to get our hands on this newest Jethro Tull album. It’s pretty rare when the next release after a five star album such as Aqualung not only doesn’t disappoint, but delivers beyond expectation. Such was my own personal experience with Thick as A Brick one day after my next-door neighbor purchased the album as soon as it was available, on a Friday, and brought it over that very next day on Saturday for me to listen to and record on my reel-to-reel.
I was impressed by the sound quality (it was a well-recorded rock album by the standards of those days) but even more impressed by the musical content. Though I immediately fell in love with the album, it was took an additional listen to start to understand the depth and extent of the overall musical coherence — an understanding, that even fifty years later, is furthered by each repeated listening of this fine musical work.
Though author/composer Ian Anderson would later assert that the album was a playful prank — a spoof on the recent rock-genre trend of long and longer tracks and on concept albums in general, and, partly as a reaction to Aqualung being classified as a concept album — with the intent to ironically answer that misperception with a reductio ad absurdum exhibit of the rock concept album.
And though the concept is pure wit, whimsy and clever absurdity, the text of the lyrics is not without serious import, and, the main product, the music, blends infectiousness and focused craftsmanship, placing it in the same league as nineteenth and early twentieth-century concept-based orchestral and ballet works like Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Gershwin’s American in Paris, and Copland’s Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.
Thick as Brick‘s level of craftmanship is impressive, starting with rhythms and meters, which drive the piece forward — from the initial triplet-based march meter (basically 12/8 with shortened 6/8 bars ending phrases to push the music forcefully forward) to the unrelenting 5/4 section (really 3/4 +2/4) to the contrasting calmer and more reflective lengthy, mostly 4/4 section, which still retains some of the march-like character of the previous music, to the overt march material that follows, back in 12/8 again, then continuing in 12/8 with a second section going into the 4/4 “Childhood Heroes” section, also very march-like, into the stabbing 6/4 instrumental passage that bridges the two sides, setting up, very nicely, the 6/4 material for “See There is a Man Born” and so on with this rhythmic cohesiveness and craftsmanship providing the foundation for the connected, related, and partly repeated (“Childhood Heroes”) musical material.
The effect of this coordinated blend of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic material is that the listener gets a fulfilling, well-crafted work that provides a satisfying unity and a musical narrative independent of any theme or lack of a theme provided in the scattershot, intentionally multi-dimensional lyrics, which, for any qualities of crypticness or shifts in focus, function exceptionally well with the music to make this not only the best Tull album ever, but one of the best rock albums of all time.
Deep Purple: Machine Head
While many rock groups where embracing the newly-named progressive-rock style of music, Deep Purple shifted away from this genre to race full-throttle into an exemplary hard-rock gear that propelled their music onto dance floors and both AM and FM radio waves advancing their brand and pushing their album into the number one spots in the UK, Germany, Canada, Holland, France, Australia, Denmark, and the sixth spot in Japan and the seventh spot on the US Billboards album charts.
Though exemplary and definitive hard rock in form and function, the instrumental passages still are rich in progressive figurations and character with the best track of the album, and the one receiving the most airplay on AM and FM and most performed by dance bands, “Smoke on the Water”, with a classical-music-level repeated riff that is as unescapable and as memorable to the autonomic nervous system as any riff in the history of rock. Though this one track stands above all others on the album, the album is a delight from start to finish, bookended by the notable rocking and also unescapable “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin” with some impressive Ritchie Blackmore guitar and Jon Lord organ throughout..
Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind
Released on March 3, 1972, “Music of My Mind” begins a string of musically and increasingly successful Stevie Wonder albums progressively incorporating soul, rock, jazz into a modern, post-Motown sound. (Though this is Wonder’s second Tamla album, it is the first one over which he had total artistic control.)
Particularly impressive is the longest track, “Superwoman,” which effectively makes the case for Wonder having full responsibility for not only singing, playing keyboards and composing, but the engineering and production aspects of the final product. Also notable is the effective use of both Moog and Tonto synthesizers throughout the album.
The history of people gathering together to hear others play music is almost as old as people gathering together to play music — both going back to prehistoric times.
And there were many older people in 1969, those of the “Great” generation and those of the so-called “Silent” generation, that would have identified “Woodstock” as just another prehistoric-type gathering to listen to primitive music.
Woodstock wasn’t the first multi-day music festival. The Greeks had multi-day festivals where music played an important role. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there were music festival that included a competitive element as portrayed in Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Wagner himself started the famous Bayreuth Festival in 1876, and though the first year was a financial disaster, it was a significant historical achievement with Russian attendee, composer Peter Tchaikovsky, writing “Something has taken place at Bayreuth which our grandchildren and their children will still remember.”
And so we can say the same about Woodstock.
There were many earlier multi-day rock events including the three-day Trips Festival in 1966, the two-day Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in June 1967, the three-day Monterey Pop Festival from June 16 to June 18 in 1967, the Northern California Folk Rock Festival in May 1968, the two-day Newport Pop Festival in early August 1968, which had over 100,000 paid attendees, the two-day Isle of Wight Festival on August 31 and September 1, 1968, the two-day San Francisco Pop Festival on October 26 and 27, the two-day Los Angeles Pop Festival on December 22 and 23, the three-day Miami Pop Festival on December 28-30, several large, multi-day festivals in the first seven months of 1969 including the July 25-27 Seattle Pop Festival, and the three-day, attended by over 100,000, Atlantic City Pop Festival on August 1-3.
But Woodstock was one of a kind. It was the peak of such gatherings — both a musical and social event the likes of which had never occurred before and has yet to occur again.
It was further celebrated and immortalized by the Warner Brothers movie, Woodstock, which came out in March 1970 — a important documentary that other studios had no interest in funding, and that, with its box office success, saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy.
I had not even heard of Woodstock when my father, one evening in April 1970, while my sister and mom were attending some a Job Daughters or Eastern Star related meeting, took me to see a movie about music he personally had no interest in or no particular affection for. At fourteen, I was just along for the ride, so to speak, and would have accompanied my dad to any movie he chose. Fortunately he chose Woodstock.
And what I saw were the myriad and complex vestiges of sixties mixing with, and more significantly, fueling the new music and culture of the upcoming 1970s — I was watching a document foreshadowing the world I would soon more fully engage and participate in. Outside of sometimes reminding me of the importance of being considerate of others and sensitive to other people feelings, taking me to movies was the closest my dad ever came to explaining the facts of life or teaching me about what life would be like as an older teenager or young adult. Woodstock, even in just its movie reincarnation, provided exposure to curse words, skinning dipping, drugs, and most of all some really timeless music.
Today there are various DVDs and on-demand streaming sources of video and audio that cover the music played at Woodstock and capture interviews of musicians and attendees. I think its appropriate to celebrate this anniversary by watching the original movie or the extended version — or just listening to some of the audio from this landmark event. Appreciate any comments on this topic!
Albums for the rest of August 1969
For the most part, by August of 1969, the sixties were wrapping up and the seventies were off to the races.
There were a number of musicians and groups that were symbols of the sixties that now had to make the transition to the seventies or fold trying. Those that more-or-less folded, including Donovan, as mentioned in last week’s post, and groups like the Association, who released their fifth album in August 1969, the first of two Association albums that didn’t have a charting single, would be long remembered for their contributions in the sixties, but not recognized as a part of the seventies.
While other groups were declining, wrapping up, or dissolving, there were many new groups — with three genres becoming more and more prevalent: hard rock groups, which would evolve mainly into metal, progressive rock, and hard rock blues bands; the folk and country rock groups, which would often, in the case of some folk rock bands, get more progressive and complex, or with some country rock bands, develop a harder edge to their music or become more acoustic or folk-oriented; the blues rock bands, which depending on their musical sophistication usually evolved into metal, hard rock, jazz-rock, or more prog rock bands. On top of this the Motown sound of the sixties was generally replaced with funk, soulful rock with the heart and soul of the Tamla/Motown set of record labels (including Tamla, Motown, Miracle/Gordy, VIP, Soul) shifting from Detroit to Los Angeles.
The shift from the sixties to the seventies was marked by the formation of super groups – — top musicians from different bands getting together as was the case earlier with Crosby, Stills, and Nash which released their album in May of 1969, and Blind Faith and The Hollies, both of which released their albums in August of 1969.
Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood formed Blind Faith with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. The Blind Faith album, with its controversial original cover, which Eric Clapton fought for by stipulating their would be no album without that cover of the topless prepubescent strawberry blonde suggestively holding a Concord-like aircraft , and which cover was predictably replaced when initially released in the U.S. and Canada, is foundationally a blues rock album, with some particularly engaging writing by Steve Winwood and overall quality playing from Clapton, Winwood, Gretch and Baker. Half of the album, side two, is an extended jam number which particularly showcases Eric Clapton.
Steve Marriot of the Small Faces and Peter Frampton of the Herd formed the Hollies. Their first album, As Safe As Yesterday Is, released in early August of 1969, is a mixture of blues rock, jam rock, and some good solid songs. particularly the title song, “As Safe As Yesterday Is”, by Peter Frampton. This style of British rock-blues looked forward to the blues and guitar oriented rock of the early seventies and contained few vestiges of the original British Invasion sound.
Ten Years After, who also played at Woodstock, was an English blues rock band releasing their third studio album, Ssssh in August of 1969. However by this third album Alvin Lee’s impressive guitar style had more of a seventies’ sound and his writing style likewise as was the the general hard-rock rhythmic drive of drummer Ric Lee and bassist Leo Lyons as well as the blues-rock sound of classical trained keyboard player Chick Churchill. Ssssh, outsold the previous two albums and got as high as the twentieth position on the US Billboard Album Charts.
Mick Abrams, the guitarist on the first Jethro Tull album, leaving apparently from differences with Ian Anderson on the musical direction of Jethro Tull, had formed the band British Blues Band Blodwyn Pig. Incorporating the reed work of Jack Lancaster and including elements of jazz-rock as exemplified by the track, ““The Modern Alchemist”, the album reached number 9 on the UK charts. Again we have a solid, British Blues album, very much forging the way into the start of the seventies.
In America, starting in 1966, Carlos Santana led a Bay-Area-based live-concert jam band, Santana. Santana’s first album, recorded in May 1969 and released at the end of August, 1969, incorporated some actual songs in order to be commercially friendly — but as to be expected from this type of jam band, the album is mostly instrumental. One of songs on the album, “Evil Ways”, caught on in a big way reaching #9 on the charts sometime in March 1970. With the combination of the heavy airplay of “Evil Way” and their appearance at Woodstock and in the film, their first album eventually climbed up to number 4 on the US Billboard Album Charts. While “Evil Ways” received incessant airplay on AM, FM radio stations played other cuts of the Santana album.
Michigan, which had provided the MC5 and The Stooges, provided yet another hard-edged, blues-based rock band with Grand Funk Railroad. Though the level of musicianship was not at the level of English groups like Blind Faith, The Hollies, Ten Years After, or Blodwyn Pig it was clearly an improvement over MC5. The first album, On Time, released in August of 1969, was also much better received by rock critics. Grand Funk was a natural seventies arena rock band, so much so that Rolling Stone writer David Fricke later declared “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!” And though an intelligent musically-oriented discussion of seventies rock music certainly wouldn’t suffer from an omission of Grand Funk (as they were more commonly called by fans), they were one of the few early seventies hard rock bands that managed to successfully steer away from what some considered the contaminating influence of progressive rock — staying mostly true to the vision of a generic, relentlessly devoid of any traces of self-awareness, hard rock.
Stevie Wonder, did not play at Woodstock, but continued to mature as a musician and composer, releasing My Cherie Amour on August 29, 1969. Wonder would become one of the most important voices of the 1970s, but for the most part My Cherie Amour is still a sixties album. The biggest hit was the title track, “My Cherie Amour”, a tune originally written by Stevie for his girlfriend as “Oh, My Marsha” when he was a student at the Michigan School for the Blind and then recorded in 1967. Reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard Singles chart, the song is relatively simple, instantly accessible and charmingly a product of the sixties. “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”, also recorded back in 1967, reached number #7 in the US and #2 in the UK.
Love also was making the transition from the sixties to the seventies. To start with, Arthur Lee, the primary creative force behind Forever Changes, dismissed all the previous members of Love after the departure talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Brian MacLean had left. The new album, Four Sails, released in either August or September was a disappointment to fans expecting an extension of the melodically-rich, proto-prog sound of Forever Changes. Four Sail starts off promising enough, with the first track “August”, propelling forward with impressive contrapuntal interplay between the two guitars and the bass. The next track though, pulls the listener back into the sixties as does “I’m With You” with its similarities to the quintessentially sixties “Feeling Groovy” and “Robert Montgomery” with its similarities to “Eleanor Rigby.” Overall, the album is supported by some strong, seventies-style guitar work, but it does not match the quality of the earlier Forever Changes album, and it garnered even less commercial and critical attention.
Another album bypassed by most consumers and critics alike, selling less than a total of 20,000 copies in 1969 and 1970, was Boz Scaggs solo album, simply titled “Boz Scaggs”, recorded after his departure from the Steve Miller Band and released in August 1969. This is mostly a country music album, but it smoothly incorporates elements of blues, folk, soul and gospel. One could make the case that this album is the most seventies album of all the late sixties albums as it effectively incorporates horns, and background singers into a polished presentation that is as much about style and appearance as substance. Fortunately, there is also real substance to the songs. Scaggs own compositions are generally based on traditional country laments (unrequited love, being taken for granted, unappreciated, leaving because unappreciated, and abandonment.) The covers Scaggs chooses are wisely selected and fill out the full county/blues spectrum with “Look What I Got” (I found someone else, so there — but it could/should have been you.”) and and “Waiting for a Train” and “Loan Me A Dime” covering down and out territory. The album ends with a final country song, Scaggs and keyboardist Barry Becket’s “Sweet Release” that balances desolation with the promise of solace. This strong and powerful ballad is reminiscent of Procol Harum and anticipates the country-rock sound of Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connections. Overall Scaggs gives us one of the first seventies-style Americana albums, simple, effective, and liberated from the influence of the musical influences of the British Invasion. Once Boz made it big, the album was reissued and belatedly charted in 1976.
August was a busy month for releases, and with albums like Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, Nick Drake’s “Five Leave’s Left”, Yes’s first album, Yes, Jethro Tull’s “Stand Up”, Santana’s first album, Santana, and Can’s “Monster Movie”, now in the hands of many listeners by the end of August, 1969, it seems appropriate to note that this was the beginning of the seventies, calendar mechanics and formalities ignored — and it you were to bring such silly technicalities up, my reply would certainly be typical seventies jargon — “screw that!”
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.
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 .
“The House on the Hill” (Lawrence Brown, Berry Gordy, Allen Story) 2:36
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.
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]
“Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie” (1st and 2nd Movements) – 2:35