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January 1 – Hello 1969!

Here we are in year two of however many years there will be of Introgroove – Happy New Year everyone! I was a bit hesitant to jump into these waters a year ago, but as I’ve stated a few times it’s been a lot of fun, so let’s keep on truckin’ into another year of celebrating 50th anniversaries of some of the greatest music ever.

1969 was still a couple of years before I came back to the motion picture of life as the character I’m still playing, but looking at it from afar it seems that year was a bit bleaker than it appeared through my younger eyes. As always, Hollywood did its best to present its own motion pictures which diverted people’s attention from the headlines of the day. These included some of the greatest Western-flavored films of our time such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, True Grit (John Wayne’s only Oscar), and The Wild Bunch. But it was a cowboy story of another sort which took the Academy Award for Best Picture in Midnight Cowboy. And fans of music from that era gravitated to films such as Easy Rider and Alice’s Restaurant.

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1969 was a crazy year for sports fans, especially in New York, as “Broadway” Joe Namath and the Jets won Superbowl III and the Miracle Mets shocked the sports world by winning the World Series. Upstate from those two teams, NFL rookie O.J. Simpson entered his first Purgatory when drafted by the awful Buffalo Bills out of the sunny, cozy confines of the University of Southern California. Of interest to probably nobody who reads this blog other than yours truly, 1969 was also the last year the Missouri Tigers won a conference championship in college football. Still waiting…

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As for these pages’ raison d’être, the music world was shifting toward a new era just as year itself. The Beatles were fading despite having two classic albums yet to record. The Rolling Stones were at the front end of arguably the best stretch the band had yet seen and would ever see. Elvis hit Vegas for the beginning of both a very successful run of shows as well as his sad demise. A new batch of superstars was in the process of launching along with the continuing Apollo missions which found their way to the Moon in July. Their ranks included Bowie, Elton, James Taylor and many others, and they tended to write more introspective and sometimes esoteric material, leaving much of the protest songwriting to the ones who came before, even as Vietnam raged on.

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1969 was the symbolic peak of the Hippie Dream with Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festivals in August, but was also the sad symbolic ending with the Manson murders that same month and Altamont in December. If there was any doubt at that point, it was removed in May of 1970 at Kent State University. Much – not all, but much – of the popular music which arose from the resultant disillusion was cotton candy Top 40 mush.

The lists of bands who formed and broke up in 1969 doesn’t seem as eye-popping to me as did those of the previous year. However, the variety of genres represented among the newly formed groups is rather astonishing with jam bands, prog, electronica, power pop, blue-eyed soul, metal, country rock, singer/songwriter and (very) easy listening, and the first full-fledged 50’s retro group of note.

Bands that died in 1969:  Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Jeff Beck Group (first incarnation), Dillard and Clark,  The Lovin’ Spoonful, Manfred Mann, The Spencer Davis Group, The Beau Brummels, The Easybeats, and The Lemon Pipers, among others.

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Bands born in 1969:  The Allman Brothers Band, Atomic Rooster, Badfinger, The Carpenters, Crazy Horse, Curved Air, Faces, Hall and Oates, Hawkwind, Head East, Humble Pie, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, Little Feat, Mountain, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Plastic Ono Band, Renaissance, Seals and Crofts, and Sha Na Na, among others.

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To anyone new to my blog, welcome! I’ve culled the following from my inaugural post a year ago in an attempt to explain the somewhat vague parameters of my posts (updated for the year at hand):

To understate it slightly, stuff happened in 1969. Much of it looked really cool and exciting from the distant land of 1989 (“when I was young…”), and much of it even now. At times I’ve thought it would’ve been great to have come of age in the mid-late 1960’s. Alas, I probably would’ve died in the muck of Southeast Asia (maybe I did, but that’s a topic for another blog). My hope is that this might stir some thoughts for you and that you might in turn occasionally share some of your own musings on these things: where you were and what you were up to (if you were alive), and of course any opinions on the music, positive, negative, or otherwise.

For now, I’d like to offer an occasional reminder of some of the many 50th anniversary milestones in music from the year 1969, subjectively handpicked by yours truly, as well as occasional thoughts on music from other eras when the urge arises. I’ll focus on albums, but sprinkle in the occasional notable single from albums not otherwise mentioned. Many of these albums have specific release dates I’ll stick to, others only have the release month available. Some are apparently so forgotten that only “1969” is given as their release date. Some are obvious choices that most of us know and many of us love.

Other albums I’ll list because I’m aware they’re “important,” but I really don’t know much about them other than maybe a track or two that ended up on greatest hits compilations. Occasionally I’ll throw in a side tidbit that relates to the music or a historical factoid to add perspective. If I leave out an album or song you feel I should have included, you can let me have it for my ignorance or for being such a snob. Sorry, but the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the early works of the Bee Gees probably won’t make the cut – unless you want them to.* And by all means, please let me know of any factual errors. Without further adieu, Happy New Year, and welcome back to 1969 (and beyond). Can this planet Come Together, or will we remain Suspicious Minds?

*I ended up acknowledging a Bee Gees single I’ve always liked in the twelfth month of the blog.

Thanks for reading!

-Stephen

 

February 6 – The Burrito Brothers Take Flight

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin

Today we celebrate another landmark country rock album. It was still an emerging genre in 1969, and one with band members Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s finger prints all over it. They had both played on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo release the previous August, with Parsons taking songwriting credits for a couple of its tracks before his blur of an association with that band ended as quickly as it had begun. Hillman followed him out of the Byrds a couple of months later, and the two formed The Flying Burrito Brothers in the latter months of 1968. Their critically acclaimed first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was released this day 50 years ago.

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(L-R) “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Chris Ethridge

Most of the songs were written by Parsons and Hillman in their rented L.A. home, a time and scene described very well in John Einarson’s book, Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, written with heavy input from Hillman. Of the eleven songs, six were co-written by Parsons with Hillman, two with Ethridge, and one by Parsons and Barry Goldberg. The other two were soul tunes which the group incorporated seamlessly into their overall sound. Both written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, Do Right Woman was first recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967, and Dark End of the Street was originally sung by James Carr.

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One of the elements that sets this album apart from others from the opening track is not only the absence of a lead guitar, but the inclusion of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar which more than fills the void. Kleinow is vital to this recording, and he was a highly sought after session man as a result of it (see Kleinow wiki link below for a list of others he worked with). There are also three session drummers giving a few of these tracks just the right amount of snare.

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“Sneaky” Pete Kleinow

There are left-leaning takes on subjects one might not expect in country music at the time with My Uncle (Vietnam) and Hippie Boy (the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago). There are songs I think of as classic country in Sin City, Do You Know How it Feels, and Juanita, and songs of tenderness such as Ethridge’s Hot Burrito #1. There are no bad tracks to me on this album. Personal favorites include…hell, all of them. And the overall vibe of the album was rounded out perfectly with the sequined Nudie Suits designed by Nudie Cohn and the photo session in the desert with a couple of their girlfriends in tow.

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Nudie Cohn

I’ve taken a somewhat cynical view of Gram Parsons in other posts due to his description of his own music as “cosmic” as opposed to simply country or country rock, but the Flying Burrito Brothers gave us something very special with this album. There’s no disputing that Parsons was passionate about both genres, and it shows here. But there were a couple of things brought home well in Einarson’s book mentioned above. Firstly, they (Gram, specifically) could’ve accomplished so much more, but Parsons had a lack of motivation which is mostly attributed to the fact that he lived off a family trust fund. Maybe he’d get out of bed, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be sober for a performance, but probably not. Unlike the others in his band, he always knew where his next meal was coming from.

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Gram with the Flying Burrito Bros. on that awful day at Altamont, December 1969.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the songs on this record were all co-written. Gram clearly brought plenty of talent and enthusiasm for country, but Chris Hillman and to a lesser extent Chris Ethridge deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. And without a doubt these songs wouldn’t have been as good without Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel. Call it cosmic if you want, but it was a group effort, and a great one at that.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Christine’s Tune
  2. Sin City
  3. Do Right Woman
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. My Uncle

Side Two:

  1. Wheels
  2. Juanita
  3. Hot Burrito #1
  4. Hot Burrito #2
  5. Do You Know How It Feels
  6. Hippie Boy
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John Einarson’s bio of the Flying Burrito Brothers, with heavy input from Chris Hillman.

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gilded_Palace_of_Sin#Track_listing

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-gilded-palace-of-sin-mw0000193836

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/gilded-palace-of-sin-flying-burritos/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sneaky_Pete_Kleinow

February 5 – Cream’s Sayonara

Cream – Goodbye

By the time Cream’s finale was released on this day 50 years ago, the group had been disbanded for just under two months. There was nothing sudden about it; it had been announce prior to the release of their previous album, Wheels of Fire, that they would split after a forthcoming farewell tour. As with that previous record, Cream would utilize live recordings mixed with studio tracks on their final release.

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The first three tracks on Goodbye were taken from their performance at L.A.’s Forum near the end of that tour in October 1968, while each member contributed a new song to be recorded in the studio to fill out the album. The release spawned one single, Badge, which reached number 18 in the UK and 60 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by L’Angelo Misterioso, a.k.a. George Harrison, who misread Clapton’s writing of the word “bridge” on Clapton’s then-untitled song while working across a table from him. As Harrison would later describe it, an intoxicated Ringo Starr then walked into the room talking about swans in the park. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a beloved classic rock song was written!

Contemporary reviews were mostly positive, though the production was criticized by some. Yeah, those live tracks are loud. But Cream was a loud, distortion drenched band on stage. And by the end, Baker and Bruce were at each other’s throats while all three were playing over each other in live performances. To which I say, so what? It’s part of who they were, as well as a factor in their dissolution. They were a combination of a really good studio band who brought the thunder live, and when it was done, it was done. Within a few months Jack Bruce would release his first solo album, Songs for a Tailor, while Clapton and Baker would team with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech in Blind Faith. Then along came the 70’s…

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. I’m So Glad
  2. Politician

Side Two:

  1. Sitting on Top of the World
  2. Badge
  3. Doing That Scrapyard Thing
  4. What a Bringdown

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_(Cream_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badge_(song)

January 30 – Beatles on the Roof

So, this happened 50 years ago today…

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We’re also starting to get a good idea of what to expect with regard to the 50th anniversary of the Let it Be documentary. I actually find this to be exciting news, as it will shed a different light on the project. I don’t think it will be a revisionist light, as there’s no reversing the fact that the group was slowly dissolving while being filmed, but it will apparently illustrate that the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 as shown in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film weren’t dreary and depressing all the time. There were 55 hours of unused film taken that month! I don’t care if Yoko’s in 99% of it – she was there a lot, after all. I just hope Billy Preston gets his due. And, fear not, we’ll also get the original film, restored in all its bleak glory.

-Stephen

 

 

 

 

January ’69 – Fairport Convention’s Holiday Show and Tell

Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays

…she stood out like a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes – Fairport band member Simon Nicol on Sandy Denny’s audition with the band.

When Fairport Convention released their second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, 50 years ago this month, British folk rock was evolving quickly. By the end of 1969, it would be a full-fledged thing. But at the beginning of the year, the band had yet to take the full plunge. What we have on this album, remarkably the first of three by Fairport that year, is an interesting mix of original songs with then-obscure cover versions as well as their own arrangements of traditional songs. Perhaps the most notable thing the band did on its holiday was hire a new lead singer, Sandy Denny, to replace the departed Judy Dyble. This was Denny’s rather remarkable debut.

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L-R:  Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Sandy Denny, Martin Lamble, and Ashley Hutchings

What We Did… shows a very young group of musicians with a new vocalist rapidly finding their way, but by no means were they scraping the barrel for material. The opening track is Sandy’s Fotheringay, one of the most beautiful acoustic folk songs of the era. There’s also the straight forward electric blues track Mr. Lacey, written by band member Ashley Hutchings and featuring the stellar lead guitar of 19-year-old Richard Thompson. The Book Song and No Man’s Land remind me of American west coast bands, the former the Mamas and the Papas with a Cajun twist, the latter a mish-mash of early Dead and Airplane.

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There’s a nice version of I’ll Keep it with Mine, at the time a lesser known Dylan track which turned out to be a good song choice for Sandy’s vocal and Iain Matthews’ harmonies (only Judy Collins had it on an album at the time; Bob’s versions would see the official light of day on later compilations). They were also the first to release Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain – a track which is perfect for either Fairport or Joni (or even It’s a Beautiful Day?). Leaning once again toward English folk, they also put down their own take of the traditional Nottamun Town, a “lost song” from medieval England which ended up passed along through oral tradition to American Appalachia, and whose melody Dylan used in Masters of War in 1963.

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The album’s “chalkboard cover” is a photo taken in a university classroom that doubled as the band’s dressing room before a gig. They picked up the chalk, started drawing, and ended up with an album cover.

Reviews are mostly positive. AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger:

And more than simply being a collection of good songs (with one or two pedestrian ones), it allowed Fairport to achieve its greatest internal balance, and indeed one of the finest balances of any major folk-rock group.

My favorites are Sandy Denny’s original Fotheringay, Richard Thompson’s Meet On the Ledge, Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain, and the traditional She Moves Through the Fair – a song I’ve yet to hear a bad version of, with or without vocals. While it may or may not be a cohesive album, I no longer hear it as just a step along the way toward Liege & Leif. It’s a great collection of songs, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with a band releasing a batch of tunes they just happen to enjoy playing, whether they “go together” or not. 1969 had to have been a blur for the group. They would soon experience major adversity prior to the release of their next album just a few months later as they forged ahead, leaving a significant footprint on the music world.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Fotheringay
  2. Mr. Lacey
  3. Book Song
  4. The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place
  5. No Man’s Land
  6. I’ll Keep It With Mine

Side Two:

  1. Eastern Rain
  2. Nottamun Town
  3. Tale in Hard Time
  4. She Moves Through the Fair
  5. Meet on the Ledge
  6. End of a Holiday

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_We_Did_on_Our_Holidays

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairport_Convention

https://www.allmusic.com/album/what-we-did-on-our-holidays-mw0000309532

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/5hw6/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nottamun_Town

 

 

January 22 – Neil Young’s Solo Debut

Neil Young – Neil Young

Neil’s solo debut after Buffalo Springfield split was originally released in November of 1968, and was mixed using technology that was supposed to make stereo records sound better on mono equipment. He was unhappy with the sound – a trait of Neil’s which is as strong (if not stronger) in 2019 as it was back then – so the album was remixed and re-released on January 22, 1969.

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The album has never seen chart success, but it does contain a couple of tracks which Neil has revisited live over the years in The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady. In addition to the production of David Briggs, who would become Neil’s long time friend and producer, both Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche helped with production as well as played on the album. Other performers of note on the record include Jim Messina, who was on the final Springfield album and was a founding member of Poco around this time, George Grantham (Poco’s drummer), legendary session bassist Carol Kaye of LA’s Wrecking Crew, and soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton, perhaps best known in the rock world for her wailing vocal on Gimme Shelter.

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Other than The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady, both of which landed on Neil’s Decade compilation, the first I heard any of the other tracks was around 1990. I was in a heavy Neil Young phase, and bought this one some time after I’d absorbed the rest of his available catalog from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere through Rust Never Sleeps, plus Freedom and Ragged Glory. I didn’t know what to think at first. I had yet to discover Buffalo Springfield’s albums beyond a few of the hit songs, so I lacked context. Other than the two most well-known tracks, I immediately liked If I Could Have Her Tonight, I’ve Been Waiting for You, What Did You Do to My Life, and the Last Trip to Tulsa, the latter reminding me of his previous psych-folk song, Broken Arrow. These have remained my favorite tracks, though I’ve slowly gained an appreciation for the entire album over the years, especially since I discovered for myself the greatness of Buffalo Springfield, which this album sounds much more like than Crazy Horse.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. The Emperor of Wyoming
  2. The Loner
  3. If I Could Have Her Tonight
  4. I’ve Been Waiting for You
  5. The Old Laughing Lady

Side Two:

  1. String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill
  2. Here We Are in the Years
  3. What Did You Do to My Life?
  4. I’ve Loved Her So Long
  5. The Last Trip to Tulsa

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Young_(album)

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/neil-young-187612/

January ’69 – A Bert Jansch Folk & Blues Classic

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues

In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s there was seemingly an alternate universe of musicians and bands happening right alongside the mega groups, and in some cases (cough Led Zeppelin cough) they were a serious influence, even providing the only female vocal ever heard on a song by that parenthetical band. This was a British world of mostly acoustic “folk revival” performers including Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Al Stewart, the Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and the duo and solo acts within those groups (John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson, to name a few). There were, of course, many more. One of them was Renbourn’s duo counterpart and fellow member of the Pentangle, Scotsman Bert Jansch. He released his fifth solo album, Birthday Blues, 50 years ago this month.

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The Pentangle had just released its pinnacle album Basket of Light, and Birthday Blues is basically a Pentangle album without singer Jacqui McShee or fellow guitarist Renbourn (he’s backed by the band’s rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox on this release). It is considered Jansch’s most “pop” record, but it’s firmly in the folk and blues genre. It’s alternatively playful and moody, as the album’s title suggests. Jansch was a dynamic guitarist with a distinctive singing voice – a good combination – so if you like this style of music, there’s a lot to enjoy on this release. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell is a beautiful instrumental inspired by his wife, who also designed the album cover. Poison is a haunting track on the folk rock side of things with heavier drums and an eerie guitar and harmonica that give a feeling of foreboding. A Woman Like You is another one in that vein.

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Trying to recall what inspired me to learn about Bert Jansch, it was probably a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD that came attached to an issue of MOJO Magazine or one like it around 2003 with Jansch’s 1966 take on the traditional Blackwater Side. I purchased a Best of Bert Jansch CD and was on my way. It didn’t occur to me at the time to even bother looking into whether or not he still performed live. Even if he did, it seemed highly unlikely he would pass through Texas. Then one day in 2010 I read he was going to perform at the local symphony hall – opening for and performing with Neil Young! Then I looked at the ticket prices.  Then I looked at my bank account. Wasn’t happening. A little over a year later Jansch died of lung cancer. Missing that show is a big music regret of mine.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can All Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road
  2. The Bright New Year
  3. Tree Song
  4. Poison
  5. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell
  6. I’ve Got a Woman

Side B:

  1. A Woman Like You
  2. I Am Lonely
  3. Promised Land
  4. Birthday Blues
  5. Wishing Well
  6. Blues

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_Blues_(album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Jansch

https://www.allmusic.com/album/birthday-blues-mw0000205948

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues LP