Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Real Blood, Sweat & Tears

On this date in 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears (BS&T) released its debut album, Child Is Father To The Man.  The album only reached #47 on the Billboard Charts but it's a remarkable record which holds up well today in contrast to the reconfigured Blood, Sweat & Tears which shot to #1 with its second album the following year, a record I find unlistenable now.  I listened to that first album many times in 1968.

The band was the brainchild of Al Kooper and was a pioneering fusion of rock, soul, folk and jazz.  The sound was unique and the production brilliant - listen to it today on a good sound system and you will appreciate it.  It was the best-sounding record of its time - sonically, the only comparable album was Sgt Pepper which came out the prior year.  I found Rolling Stone's review of April 27, 1968 :

"This album is unique. More precisely, it is the first of its kind — a music that takes elements of rock, jazz, straight blues, R&B, classical music and almost anything else you could mention and combines them into a sound of its own that is "popular" without being the least bit watered down."

More recently, writing at Allmusic, critic William Ruhlman wrote of the album that it:

". . . is keyboard player/singer/arranger Al Kooper's finest work . . .an album on which he moves the folk-blues-rock amalgamation of the Blues Project into even wider pastures, taking in classical and jazz elements (including strings and horns), all without losing the pop essence that makes the hybrid work.  This is one of the great albums of the eclectic post- Sgt. Pepper era of the late '60s, a time when you could borrow styles from Greenwich Village contemporary folk to San Francisco acid rock and mix them into what seemed to have the potential to become a new American musical form . . .This is the sound of a group of virtuosos enjoying itself in the newly open possibilities of pop music. Maybe it couldn't have lasted; anyway, it didn't. "
Al Kooper was a songwriter and studio musician.  Before BS&T, he'd written This Diamond Ring which became a #1 hit for Gary Lewis & The Playboys and was part of the studio band on Bob Dylan's classic albums records from 1965 and 1966, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde (all three released in a 14-month period!).  On Like A Rolling Stone that's Kooper playing the swirling organ.

When Kooper put together BS&T he added a four man horn section with players from jazz backgrounds in addition to the traditional bass, drum, guitarist and keyboard configuration resulting in an 8-person band, highly unusual for the 1960s.  And he made sure you heard every instrument on the album.  It's one of the best recorded records of the 60s.

In addition to tunes composed by Kooper and guitarist Steve Katz, he also found and recorded songs from new, upcoming songwriters like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Tim Buckley.

Kooper's talent was in songwriting, producing and arranging.  He was the lead vocalist on the album and it's clearly not his strength.  After Kooper left the band over "creative differences", a couple of months after Child Is Father To The Man was released, his successor on vocals, David Clayton-Thomas, proved to be a much accomplished singer but the band quickly morphed into a much more pop and less innovative sound.

You can hear the whole album by clicking on the BS&T link at the top of this post.  Here are some selected cuts:

My Days Are Numbered 

I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.  The album's masterpiece.  Once again, listen carefully to the arrangement as it builds during the six minutes of the song.  Also tells you how much times have changed - Kooper sings "I could be President of General Motors" like it's a big deal!   Amy Winehouse did a fine cover of the song.

The Modern Adventures Of Plato Diogenes & Freud A song that only could have been written at this particular time in the 60s.  The use of strings in this type of arrangement on a rock album was very rare - and it's better done than Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles recorded a year earlier.  Some maniac recently made a video for it and posted it to YouTube:

So Much Love.  The closing song on the album, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

1 comment:

  1. Great music. BTW, I was briefly at a party in 1967 San Francisco with Blues Project musicians just before that band split up and Blood, Sweat and Tears was formed. dm