Thursday, March 5, 2015

Six Months In Rock: 1967 & 1968

While making a custom playlist of some of his favorite music from the 1960s, THC noticed what appeared to be a distinct chronological clustering.  With a little further research he identified a six month period from October 1967 though March 1968 with a fantastic concentration of top notch music spanning a wide variety of styles, sounds, instrumentation and lyrics.  Some, like the Jefferson Airplane and Steppenwolf, are hard to listen to today but most hold up well.  So let's get in the WAYBAC Machine. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman enter the WAYBAC Machine)

It's a bit surprising but we can ignore The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for these months.  The Beatles released Magical Mystery Tour in October 67, their weakest album and the singles were Hello, Goodbye (a silly and forgettable tune, though #1) and Lady Madonna (only slightly better but another hit, of course).  The only notable highlight was the presence of I Am The Walrus on the B-side of Hello, Goodbye.

The Stones were wandering in the desert in late 67 and early 68 releasing the ridiculous Their Satanic Majesties Request along with a series of forgettable singles.  Hardcore Stones fans are still pretending it never happened; THC is talking about you - GCP and Dr Rob! They were not to return to the Promised Land until the summer of '68 under the captaincy of Jumpin' Jack Flash.

We'll concentrate on the albums released in these months but before doing so, here are some of the best singles:

Dock Of The Bay.  Otis Redding,  Released after his death.  His first #1.  Perfection.  Listen to the ache in his voice.  For more see Sittin' In The Morning Sun.

Chain Of FoolsAretha at her best.  You told me to leave you alone . . . Whoa!  This is an alternative studio version of the single.

I Second That Emotion from Smoky Robinson & The Miracles and I Wish It Would Rain from The Temptations.

What A Wonderful World.  The last hit for one of the iconic musicians in American history, Louis Armstrong.

I Can See For Miles.  Facing financial ruin, Pete Townsend deliberately sets out to write a song for The Who designed to hit #1 in the U.S.  They fail, barely breaking the Top 10 with this guitar heavy song prompting discussions about whether the group should disband.  It's at this time that Keith Moon briefly joins up with Jimmy Page in a new band which Keith suggests calling Led Zeppelin.  When Keith returns The Who go into the studio to record this crazy "rock opera" that Townsend's written - yeah, like that'll sell!

Tighten UpArchie Bell & The Drells.  They're from Houston, Texas!  An infectious and classic one-hit wonder.  For more see One Hit Wonders 1964-68.

Soul Man from Sam & Dave.  Forget about the Blues Brothers; listen to the original.

Two big hits from the quavering voices of the BeeGees, Massachusetts (introduced by Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca) and Words (introduced by Ed Sullivan).  Somehow seems appropriate.

I Heard It Thru The Grapevine.  The original by Gladys Knight & The Pips (live on Soul Train), later to be a mega hit from Marvin Gaye.

Dance To The Music.  The first hit from Sly & The Family Stone.  A new and unique sound.  THC loved it.  You can read more about Sly and the band's downfall at Fat Bass, including side references to Arthur C Clarke, Prince and Bill Clinton.

And now


Each album discussed below was released between October 30, 1967 and February 21, 1968.
Disraeli Gears, the second album from Cream and the one that broke them as a big act in the U.S.  Contained their first American hit single Sunshine Of Your Love (though not one of THC's favorites) and a series of strong songs featuring the bizarre music of bassist Jack Bruce along with Peter Brown's insane lyrics; Tales of Brave Ulysses (live version - sharp hat Jack!); SWLABR, Dance The Night Away and We're Going Wrong (a concert highlight from their 2005 reunion tour).  For more on the odd pairing of Bruce and Brown see Can You Follow?

At the beginning of Cream's tour to support the album they were still playing small venues.  THC saw them in a half-filled local high school auditorium where they opened with Tales Of Brave Ulysses.  When they hit the opening chord all the fuses in the building blew!

And Ginger Baker is still NOT dead.  Unfortunately, Jack Bruce is, having passed last year.
Forever Changes by Love.  A wonderful, wonderful record that THC still listens to.  Love started in 1965 with a proto-punk sound on songs like 7 And 7 Is (with its ultra-cool ending)  For this album they adopted a more mellow and smoother tone. Beautifully produced and sounding which is a wonder because reportedly most of the band members were so under the influence of drugs that the individual songs had to be cobbled together in bits and pieces from various recording sessions (Arthur Lee, the vocalist and co-composer of many of the songs eventually spent more than a decade in prison on gun and drug charges).  The lyrics are preciously psychedelic as are the song titles:

Alone Again Or
A House Is Not A Motel
Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hillsdale
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This

But put aside the silly titles and listen:

Between Clark And Hillsdale
Alone Again Or

  It all builds to the album's final song: You Set The Scene with its giddy 1967 style lyric
Everything I've seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it's strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you're playing?
and playing itself out in a stirring horn coda.  And then, of course, the 60s fell off a cliff right after the period we are discussing.,Sweat%26TearsChildIsFathertotheMan.jpg
The Child Is Father To The Man by Blood Sweat & Tears.  A debut album and the only version of BS&T you should listen to.  Al Kooper put 'em together and THC has written about the album previously so for more read and listen to The Real Blood Sweat & Tears.  The best produced record of the era and holds up well today.  Their later records were more much more popular but without Kooper they just weren't as good.  And Al is still around; catch up with him at New Music For Old People.
Buffalo Springfield Again.  Probably THC's favorite band at the time featuring the writing, singing and guitar playing of Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay.  Their debut album, Buffalo Springfield, had terrific songs but was horribly produced.  This was their next try and both the songs and production are excellent.  The tensions that were to break up the band later in 1968 were already evident as you can tell from some of the production notes which inform you that the band members were often not even recording in the same studio.  Every song is good, some are great.  The best:

Mr Soul (here badly lip synced on Hollywood Palace with the band goofing around).  Blazing guitar from Neil; "she said you're strange, but don't change and I let her".
Rock n Roll Woman.  Perfect pop.  Featuring soaring harmonies,  a blown-out Hammond B3 and some of Stills' best vocals.
Expecting To Fly.  Another Young penned song.  "There you stood on the edge of your feather, expecting to fly".
Bluebird.  By Stills with sparkling guitar work by he and Neil.
Mr Fantasy from Traffic featuring Steve Winwood.  Another psychedelic pop record featuring their biggest hit Dear Mr Fantasy ("play us a tune, something to make us all happy") on which Winwood, who normally played keyboard, lets rip with some memorable guitar riffs.  Other strong (and quirky) tunes include Coloured Rain, Paper Sun and Heaven Is In Your Mind along with Smiling Phases which later became a hit for the post-Al Kooper version of Blood Sweat & Tears.
Axis: Bold As Love by The Jim Hendrix Experience.  Contains two of his most beautiful songs, Little Wing (listen to an ethereal live version) and Bold As Love along with If 6 Were 9 and Castles Made Of Sand ("fall in the sea, eventually").  No one sounded like Jimi.
John Wesley HardingBob Dylan's first "comeback" album.   Dylan disappeared from public view shortly after his tour following the May 1966 release of Blonde On Blonde, allegedly because of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident, but given the elusive nature of Bob no one has ever really been certain why.  A double album, Blonde On Blonde was the culmination of an astonishing 15 month period of creativity after Dylan went electric which also saw the release of Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) and Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965).  On those albums were songs like Mr Tambourine Man; It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); It's All Over Now, Baby Blue; Maggie's Farm; Subterreanan Homesick Blues, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues ("when you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Eastertime too", for a great live version with Dylan backed by The Hawks who later became The Band listen here); Like A Rolling Stone; Ballad Of A Thin Man; Queen Jane Approximately; Just Like A Woman; I Want You; Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 and Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.  Maybe he just needed a rest.

Harding was different; quiet and restrained with lyrics were pared down from the increasingly ornate style he'd deployed in the earlier albums.  Most of the songs were backed only by Dylan's acoustic guitar and harmonica.  THC picks:

All Along The Watchtower.  Haunting.  Covered by hundreds of musicians.  Listen to the original as well as the best cover (by Mr Hendrix) here

I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine
I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger
So alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried. 
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight.  "Bring that bottle over here". Wacky and relaxed.  He evens rhymes "moon" and "spoon"!
Gris Gris, the debut album from Dr John, the alias of Louisiana musician Mac Rennenback who's gone on to a long and storied career as a living historian and performer of New Orleans music.  A dreamy stoner's delight with the help of a magic gris-gris man who's just emerged from the swamp.  Featuring Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya and the hypnotic and indescribably weird (even by the standards of this very weird record) Walk On Guilded Splinters; "Walk through the fire, fly through the smoke, see my enemy at the end of a rope".  If you are not in a stupor when you start listening you will be by the end.
Steppenwolf, the debut album from, who else, Steppenwolf!  Contained the monster hit, perennial rock anthem and persistent movie soundtrack standard, Born To Be Wild (not linked here, just because), the birth of "heavy metal thunder" along with the overwrought Hoyt Axton saga, The Pusher.  Axton went on to write the awful Joy To The World, a smash hit for Three Dog Night, and to star as the dad in the movie Gremlins
After Bathing At Baxter's.  The followup to Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album which launched the hits White Rabbit and Somebody To Love.  With Baxter's, the Airplane deliberately avoided coming up with another hit single instead opting for a woozy smorgasbord of sound and lyrics and in the process coming up with some classics for the new FM-band stations.  Best songs:  The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil, Watch Her Ride (from a Perry Como Special!), Two Heads ("Two heads can be put together, And you can fill both your feet with sand, No one will know you've gutted your mind but what will you do with your bloody hands?" - someone actually let them do this on TV) and their celebration of hippiedom, Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon (here at Woodstock, appropriately).

Later in 1968 THC saw the Airplane at the Fillmore East.  They sounded much heavier live than on record mostly due to Jack Cassidy's thundering bass lines.
The Who Sell Out.  Contains the afore-mentioned I Can See For Miles, Tattoo (see Live At Leeds), an ode to a young lady with special skills, Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands, the beautiful I Can't Reach You ("you're so alive and I'm nearly dead") and Rael ("the wretched in their millions, will overspill their borders and chaos will reign in our Rael") with riffs that would later be incorporated into Tommy.
Earth Music by The Youngbloods.  An underrated band, even at the time.  Best known, even today, for their worst song and only hit, Get Together.  THC wrote about them in Darkness, Darkness.  Featuring Jesse Colin Young's warm and pure vocals this album included a cover of Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe, the jug band influenced Euphoria and best of all, All My Dreams Blue.

THC got all these album at the time they came out with the exception of Gris Gris which he heard for the first time in the summer of 1968 and then purchased.

Let's close with one he didn't know about at the time though it was released in December 1967 to critical acclaim and low sales; Pandemonium Shadow Show by Harry Nilsson.   For more on Harry, who went on to become the only person to record with all four Beatles individually, along with references to Aimee Mann, The Big Lebowski and Steve Buscemi, see Ones.

The album title comes from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes which is what Nilsson originally wanted to call the record but when he could not obtain the rights in time, named it after the mysterious carnival that arrives in a small 1920s Illinois town in the book - Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

As a boy THC read Something Wicked This Way Comes and loved it.  At the time he thought the book was about the Shadow Show.  Rereading it a couple of years ago after Bradbury died in 2012 he loved it once again but now realizes the threatening, heavily atmospheric and ultimately touching novel is really about something else - funny how time can change your perspective (see also, Charlie Freak for another example).

Nilsson's album contains two small gems that we'll end this post with; 1941 and Without Her.

1 comment: