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Fifty Year Friday: May 1970

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Quatermass: Quatermass

Released in May of 1970, Quatermass’s first and final album, named after the band, sold poorly and, outside of prog-rock circles, is little known about today.

Quatermass was a trio with a talented composer/keyboardist J. Peter Robinson, similar in some ways to Dave Greenslade, a skillful composer/bassist/vocalist John Gustafson, and drummer, Mick Underwood who had turned down a chance to be the drummer for Jimmy Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin, in order to be part of the heavier sounding “Episode Six”, which would eventually include Robinson and Gustafson who, along with Underwood, would eventually leave Episode Six to form Quatermass.

The Quatermass sound is a mixture of early prog and hard rock with three bluesy hard-rock tunes added by outsider Steve Hammond.  The album is bookended by the Robinson synthesizer composition, “Entropy”, followed by Hammond’s “Black Sheep of the Family” which would later be covered by Deep Purple.  “Post War Saturday Echo” mixes prog, blues and rock with a solid intro, some reflective piano followed by a progressive-rock  trio section and a more traditional finish. This is followed by the Greenslade-like ballad, “Good Lord Knows.” The next track, “Up on the Ground” anticipates later Deep Purple with a mostly hard rock veneer with early prog elements including Moog synthesizer.  “Laughin’ Tackle” provides some more strong early prog-rock with the obligatory drum solo and a wide range of colorful instrumentation. The best track, “Punting”, was not originally included on the album, but is a bonus track on currently available CDs.  Excluding the tracks by Hammond, the album is a good example of early prog-rock with some good improvisation and dynamic compositions.

J. Peter Robinson, would ultimately become a session keyboardist working with Brand X, Morris Pert. Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and then later write music for movies and television.

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Carole King: Writer

Carole King gives us her debut album, Writer, in May 1970.  Although this album was generally neglected until Tapestry, it is a fine album with a diverse set of songs from pop to country to folk-rock including the soulful “Up on the Roof” previously sung by the Drifters in the early sixties.  Tapestry has better production, sound, and some superior compositions (“You’ve  Got a Friend”, “So Far Away”) but Writer is an album full of quality music, singing, and musicianship.

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King Crimson: In the Wake of Poseidon

Released May 15, 2020, I had to go to a little extra effort to purchase King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon as I couldn’t find it in local record stores.  Fortunately, I was able to purchase by special order from the record store near our local college. It took several weeks to get,  and I checked in two or three times a week to see if it had yet come in.  When it finally did, about four weeks later, the cover was badly damaged (and to such an extent as to leave some doubt as to whether the LP itself would be in good shape.) I had a choice of requesting the album to be re-ordered or accept the damage and trust that the LP would be okay. The idea of waiting another four weeks or possibly longer for a replacement was not an option: I had to hear the album as soon as possible.  I paid the price of $5.99 as opposed to the $3.99 I would have paid for an album already in the bins, and went home.  Fortunately the LP was not at all damaged, the music was great and was very much like the first album.

In fact, playing the first side, it was suspiciously too similar to the first album.  Clearly the band, despite the loss of Ian McDonald, had intentionally decided to create a close likeness of In the Court of the Crimson King.  After a brief unaccompanied rendition on vocals by Greg Lake of “Peace”,  the rest of side one sounds like a covert transformation of the first side of the first album.  “Pictures of a City”, colorful and vigorous, sounds alarmingly close to “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which musically, is certainly something worth achieving in itself.  “Cadence and Cascade” fills the role of “I Talk to the Wind”, but like “Pictures of a City” falls shy of the original, and same with “In the Wake of Poseidon” alignment with “Epitaph.”  The music and performances are good, and worth multiple listenings, but falls short of its forerunner.

Side two is a different story. An instrumental version of Peace begins the set, followed by the catchy “Cat Food” (released as a single in the UK), and the three-part “Devil’s Triangle” which incorporates a revised version of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets replete and awash with the tape-induced sounds of the mellotron.  Overall a good album that misses a few inches wide of the previous bulls-eye registered by one of the great rock albums of all time, In the Court of the Crimson King.

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Beatles: Let It Be

Recorded mostly back in January 1969, Let It Be was released on the 8th of May 1970,  about four weeks after the Beatles announced their break-up and about three weeks after McCartney had unjustly taken some of the blame for the break-up with the release of his solo album.  Let It Be always seemed like an afterthought in the Beatles catalog.  It was a simpler, more rugged, less refined, and less cohesive set of songs than their previous last six albums (omitting Yellow Submarine) and couldn’t hold up to the number of repeated listenings of those previous six albums. Nonetheless, it is still superior to most albums, opening up strong with “Two of Us” and including real gems like “Across The Universe”, “Let it Be” and the “Long and Winding Road.”  The 1960s came to an end with the last recordings of the Beatles made in 1969, and what followed was largely influenced by those same Beatles, particularly the popularity of the singer-songwriter and the thirst for imaginative and innovative music as most notably represented by the adventurous jazz-rock and progressive rock bands.

Fifty Year Friday: Aretha Franklin, Soul ’69; Neil Young; The Beatles

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Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69

Some albums showcase great songs or excellent compositions, some great arrangements and some showcase great talent. The title is misleading, as this is more of a jazz and blues album than a soul album, and a much more appropriate title would have been “Aretha 1969.”

This excellent album, released January 17, 1969, showcases one of the great vocal instrumentalists of the last hundred years at her best.  In general, the arrangements set up Aretha Franlin to effectively display her incredible musicality.  On this album, Aretha is not song-interpreter in the manner of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Johnny Hartman, or Chet Baker, but is an expressive instrumentalist like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, or Eric Dolphy.   For anyone wishing to explore what made Aretha so great, this is a perfect album to start with.

We also get a myriad of skilled jazz musicians backing her up.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one

Writers(s)

1.

“Ramblin'”
Big Maybelle

2.

Today I Sing the Blues
Curtis Reginald Lewis

3.

“River’s Invitation” Percy Mayfield

4.

“Pitiful” Rosie Marie McCoy, Charlie Singleton

5.

Crazy He Calls Me
Bob RussellCarl Sigman

6.

Bring It On Home to Me
Sam Cooke

Side two

7.

Tracks of My Tears
Smokey RobinsonPete MooreMarv Tarplin

8.

“If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”
Rudy Clark

9.

Gentle on My Mind
John Hartford

10.

So Long
Russ Morgan, Remus Harris, Irving Melsher

11.

I’ll Never Be Free
Bennie BenjaminGeorge David Weiss

12.

Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind

Personnel 

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Neil Young: Neil Young

I’m a pushover for early Neil Young, whether it’s his simple, uncomplicated songs (uncomplicated harmonically and lyrically) like “The Loner” or his repetitive, extended songs with unfathomable lyrics like “The Last Trip to Tulsa.”  Nothing here on this album to get a Pulitzer Prize for music or a Nobel Prize for poetry, but how can you not love how Neil cuts to the core of what the singer songwriter experience is all about and provides the equivalent warmth and informalness of those Saturday lunches at a friend’s house?  It’s always a pleasure to take this timeless debut album, released January 22, 1969, for a spin — a classic album which winningly captures and represents Neil Young being Neil Young.

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The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

And of course, I have to mention the Yellow Submarine “soundtrack” album, released January 13, 1969, which importantly contains one masterpiece, John Lennon’s 1968 blues-based “Hey Bulldog” with its opening, addictive riff emphasizing the melodic dissonance of the tritone and McCartney’s solid and sometimes improvisitory bass work, and one other very strong composition, George Harrison’s 1967 “Only a Northern Song.”  Also included is the 1967 early psychedelic, “It’s All Too Much.”

Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles, The Kinks

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Recorded mostly at Abbey Road Studios during May through October 1968, the band took a freer,  less methodical, less collaborative approach to recording this album than with the incomparable Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  George Martin had less involvement, and in July, audio engineer Geogg Emerick refused to continue to work with the group.  Ringo also got frustrated with his role and treatment, leaving in August,  with the other Beatles replacing him on at least two tracks until he was successfully coaxed back from aboard Peter Seller’s borrowed yacht in Sardinia via telegram.  Yet, this album is a classic, rich with a wide variety of excellent compositions.

It was on one of my nearly-daily visits to my next-door neighbors after Christmas of 1968 that I first heard this album, and that very day they willingly loaned it to me to record on my tape deck.  Needless to say, I was impressed by this being a double album, but I was warned about the presence of a track called “Revolution 9” on side four.

I was totally unprepared for the number of instantly likable tracks, and soon realized I made the right decision to record this on a higher quality tape at a higher speed set on the tape deck.  Impressed by almost each and every track, and feeling correctly warned about “Revolution 9” which I didn’t record, this was a tape I played in the presence of my dad, who I noticed also took a liking to the music — solid confirmation of the exceptional nature of this album.  And how could he not like tracks like “Dear Prudence”, “Blackbird”,  “Julia”,  “I Will”, “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Honey Pie.” And, to my surprise, there was not a word of criticism of songs like “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter”

I still love this album. It’s far from perfect, and I am just as annoyed today at the tapping sound on “Dear Prudence” as I was the first time I heard it (perhaps more annoyed as my audio system exposes it better.)  I do wish that George Martin had been more engaged, but on the other hand, I am also thankful for the inclusion of Nicki Hopkins and Eric Clapton.

Now having listened to the entire set of studio Beatles albums as well as most of the solo albums, and so much other music, I am more knowledgeable about the group today. At the age of 13, I thought of this group and listened to this group  as the collective “Beatles”, today I hear individual contributors, voices and instruments. I can easily pick out the individual band members’ vocals, figure out who wrote which songs (even if I didn’t know about the rule that the lead singer is generally the composer except if Ringo is the lead), and identify Yoko Ono’s voice in the chorus of “Bungalow Bill” as well as speculate on the degree of influence the album had on contemporaneous late sixties bands as well as bands of the 1980s and later.

A few years later after the release of this album, when I was a music composition major in the 1970’s, I often thought about what composers and what bands would still be listened to a hundred years later.  We are now approaching the halfway point of that hundred years, and with each passing year, it become increasingly clearer to me that Beatles will be much more popular at the end of that hundred years than the handful of mid-twentieth century composers that were listed in our 1970’s music history textbooks: textbooks which extolled the inventiveness and importance of composers like George Crumb, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Elliot Carter, and Karlheinz Stockhausen but omitted any mention of Paul McCartney, John Lennon or George Harrison.

Link to Track Listing and musicians

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The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Released on November 22, 1968, the same date that the Beatles released the White AlbumThe Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is a concept album about preserving those elements and memories of a better world.  Due to the nature of the topic (and possibly, with the Kinks still under a ban to tour the U.S., due to not getting the erosive exposure to American culture that so many of the other top British bands were experiencing) the lyrics cover, very effectively, material directly related to English cultures and values. All compositions are by Ray Davies, and showcase the very best of his musical and lyrical abilities.

Though far from successful upon its release (the album failed to chart in either the US or the UK),  The Village Green Preservation Society has slowly been embraced over time, by both musicians and critics, and appreciated not only for the courage to break away completely from the commercial interests of its time, but for the general quality of each and every track.  Now predominately considered the best Kinks album of all time, this is a must-listen album for anyone interested in the Kinks, The British Invasion or pop-music song craftsmanship — or for anyone just looking to hear a wonderful collection of songs.

Oh, yes, like the Beatles’ White Album, we are treated to Nikki Hopkins on piano for some of the tracks.

Link to Track Listing and musicians

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