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Music, history, and meaningless trivia: These are a few of my favorite things. They won’t earn me an early retirement, but I derive enjoyment from them nonetheless. As I grow older, the opportunities have become fewer and further between for sitting around the shack with a buddy over a six-pack, dissecting various albums or comparing/contrasting the multitude of live performances of Like a Rolling Stone available through official and bootleg releases. Thank goodness my wife likes or at least tolerates my musical interests, not to mention the fact that she has introduced me to sounds I probably never would’ve learned of had I not met her.

This past spring (of 2017) my fascination with the radical transformation of popular music 50 years ago was rekindled. Not that my interest ever went away, but I had long ago begun taking much of it for granted even though there was much I had yet to discover. Often referred to as the soundtrack to the fabled Summer of Love of 1967, that musical and social revolution had already been in motion for a year or two prior and even earlier than that on the US coasts and in European cities. But by Sgt. Pepper, “psychedelia” was becoming mainstream culture, at least as mainstream as possible pre-24 hour news cycle and social media when the war du jour was still a relatively popular one (at least for a few more months). Even some straights tried to look hip. I probably would’ve been one of those nerds hopelessly trying to look and act groovy, as evidenced by my adolescence in the 1980’s when I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be preppy or a hippie, but ended up just another hum drum Midwesterner with a mullet.

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Back to 1967: In the midst of becoming acquainted with Country Joe and the Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body for the first time last spring and trying to get past the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request as nothing but a Pepper satire or bad rip-off (or a good one), the thought came to me: Oh man, what about 1968? To me, that’s the year the music scene really took off in terms of both quantity and quality. The latter element for me probably didn’t peak until 1970 or ’71, the year I returned to life as we know it as Stephen. But I had to push ’68 to the back burner, lest I overlook the brilliance of Love’s 1967 release Forever Changes or Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk. Now the 50th anniversary of that crazy, tumultuous year of losses of great American leaders, riots, trips to India, another Cardinals World Series, and of course the music, has inched its way to the front of the stove, bringing with it something a little heavier for the next twelve months and beyond.

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So, how to keep these interests fresh and stimulating when I’ve waxed poetic ad nauseam about that lost, out of print Van Morrison classic from 1974 I’ve only recently discovered for myself by cobbling the pieces together from various YouTube sources into a playlist to the point where my wife is repeating my blathering to her co-workers? Some people (o.k., my therapist) say I should write about it. Maybe create a blog. A blog? What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said a bazillion times before by Boomers who were actually alive when these albums were current and the big news stories of the day were unfolding?

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“Traffic’s self-titled album was released on October 25.” “MLK and RFK were assassinated.” “The Tet Offensive occurred, causing Walter Cronkite to opine that the U.S. should honorably vamoose from Vietnam.” These are facts that can easily be found on Wikipedia timelines should one be interested enough to do a simple search. But to me, this is the most fascinating period of culture and history in general, and the core of my favorite music has always been the period from roughly 1965-1975. So, to any Baby Boomers who might read this, I say relax, I’m not trying to encroach on the era you rightfully own. I just have my own relationship with the music as a Gen X-er just as my 17-year-old son or the two teenage girls I overheard in my local record shop (yep, I’ve got one of those right around the corner!) the other day asking the owner for Jethro Tull recommendations have theirs. It’s a beautiful thing!

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To understate it slightly, stuff happened in 1968. Much of it looked really cool and exciting from the distant land of 1988 (“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 1968, 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 “1968” 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 (see most Motown and country). 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 1968 (and beyond). May we all be Bold as Love.

-Stephen

Memories of December 8, 1980

 

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We’ve arrived once again at that sad anniversary for much of an entire generation, as well as for many music fans regardless of their age. This is not a date I have to look up or be reminded of. As far as sudden losses of individual well-known people go, this is the one of my life to this day, 38 years on. I was nine years old and in the fourth grade when John Lennon was murdered, and every year since then I experience a period of reflection about John and what his and the Beatles’ music means to me. It’s sad and celebratory at the same time. The odd thing about it to me is that the day of John’s death is on my mind more than his birthday, whereas with George Harrison I’m much more aware of his birthday. My only explanation is that it’s due to the shocking nature of John’s passing, which happened when I was at such a young age, yet a huge fan and highly impressionable already.

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That fateful Monday evening, I watched the New England Patriots vs. the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. My bed time on Mondays in the fall was extended to halftime of the games, in this case still not late enough for me to hear the announcement made by Howard Cosell. That’s probably a good thing.

The next morning I shuffled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal before walking a block to school. Still waking up, I heard a reference to Lennon or the Beatles coming from the 12 inch black and white TV on our kitchen counter. I looked over to see footage of the Beatles stepping off a plane in Tokyo in 1966 wearing kimonos.  It took a minute for what was being reported to sink in. Stunned, I walked to school. It’s so vivid in my mind. I recall a couple of other kids who had heard. I wondered what the teachers thought.  I remember feeling very alone all day at school.

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Two of my biggest music influences growing up, my oft-mentioned older brothers, were away at college, which was an adjustment for me. Fortunately, Christmas break was upon us and they returned for a few weeks shortly after the murder so I had them around to process things. I understand if all this sounds strange for a little guy like I was at the time, but this is how it happened for me. I remember Paul and me walking to downtown Fulton over Christmas break. I begged him to buy me one of the many magazines with John on the cover from a drugstore. He did so, but on the walk back home he explained to me how many of these magazines were just making money off of John’s death – probably my first real-life lesson about the sometimes dark side of capitalism. I remember him playing the Shaved Fish compilation LP over and over those few weeks down in the basement.

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It’s so surreal to think about to this day: John had just released his fantastic comeback album, Double Fantasy (yes, despite having to hear Yoko’s tracks, it’s still a great album – and I don’t even mind Yoko’s songs on it anymore). As I learned years later, serious plans for a concert tour had been made. It was going to happen, and who knows how things would’ve gone down the road with a rejuvenated Lennon. An actual Beatles reunion, perhaps? We’ll never know. One thing is certain: Every year since then, I’ve felt a wistfulness during the month of December, but there is a sweetness to it. It’s a month I really dive back into John’s solo work, as I’m doing today. Some years are a little heavier than others, but not a year goes by without it to some extent.

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About fifteen years ago, Paul shared a real surprise with me. In December of 1980, he was a freshman in college in southwest Missouri. When he heard what had happened, he had the presence of mind in his dorm room to flip his stereo receiver to AM. On winter evenings in the Midwest, one can pick up radio stations from Chicago to Dallas, from Denver to New York City. He popped a blank cassette into his player, hit record, and started scrolling up and down the dial, where he found WABC in NYC coming in quite clearly at times, then fading out. They had a reporter on the scene at the Dakota and were playing Beatles music. He found other stations back east doing the same thing, all creepily fading in and out with their tributes. Down the line, he had converted that cassette to CD, and he gave me a copy which I usually end this date with.

In two years, John will have been gone as long as he was with us. If I’m still blogging then, I’ll probably have more to say.

-Stephen

 

 

December 6 – A Feast for Stones Fans

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones, rock ‘n’ roll’s original bad boys, did not – as it always seemed to me through more youthful eyes looking back at music history – suddenly come by their late-60’s/early-70’s reputation.  It was there from the start. I know, I know, there’s the axiom that from the day the Beatles donned those collarless suits that the Stones were the Dark Side to the Fabs’ loveable mop top Bright Side.

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David Bailey photo.

I always thought the clothing was really the only difference in terms of their attitudes until 1968. I was unaware until my late teens that they really did possess more of an edge, even if their music didn’t seem dark to me, at least no more so than the American blues songs which they revered actually were as opposed to the Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins influence on the Beatles. But a few earlier tracks notwithstanding, Beggars Banquet – released this day fifty years ago – is really when it started happening for the Rolling Stones to my ears and eyes.

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My perception of the Stones in ’68 is that they couldn’t shed the paisley, dayglow ick of the previous year quickly enough. And it’s no coincidence that they made a no holds barred return to their blues roots to express it. They’d had a scary legal moment with Keith and Mick’s Redlands bust in ’67, and psychedelia never really fit their image (though I do like much of Their Satanic Majesties Request). In a way, with Beggars Banquet they had their own “get back” album before that other group, and it actually instigated a new Golden Age for the group instead of its demise.

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Other than the early tracks found on Hot Rocks plus a small handful of others, I’ve mostly been a fan of Stones music from 1966-onward. Beggars Banquet was the first of a string of Rolling Stones albums which is unparalleled in rock music history in my mind. Generally speaking, this new phase would be known as the “Mick Taylor years,” which lasted until his departure in ’74. But Taylor didn’t appear until the following release, while this one is the last hurrah for Brian Jones. Brian disintegrated right before the band’s and their fans’ eyes, and his lonely sounding slide guitar on No Expectations is a fitting musical representation of his personal slide.

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I, and I think many other fans of the Stones, probably take for granted Brian Jones’s influence on this band. A great reminder of his contributions, as well as more thoughts on Beggars Banquet, can be found on fellow blogger hanspostcard’s ongoing series currently focused on the Stones’ earlier tracks.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Sympathy for the Devil
  2. No Expectations
  3. Dear Doctor
  4. Parachute Woman
  5. Jigsaw Puzzle

Side Two:

  1. Street Fighting Man
  2. Prodigal Son
  3. Stray Cat Blues
  4. Factory Girl
  5. Salt of the Earth

-Stephen

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

December 6 – James Taylor’s Debut

James Taylor – James Taylor

Debut albums by artists who go on to great acclaim are sometimes left left in the realm of the obscure, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.  Often they are clearly works of their era, with production that screams the year of its release. Elton John’s 1969 debut is one such album.  Another album featuring a late-60’s Baroque pop sound is James Taylor’s eponymous debut, released in the UK on this day fifty years ago (February 1969 in the US).  Taylor was twenty years old at the time.

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Taylor was championed by Peter Asher, who secured an audition for him with Paul McCartney – whose girlfriend at the time was Asher’s sister Jane – as the Beatles looked for serious contenders to sign to their fledgling Apple label. James Taylor would be the first release by a non-British musician on that label. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios from July to August and produced by Asher, at the time Apple’s A&R man.

The two most well-known songs from the release are, of course, Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves. The former was written about his homesickness for his North Carolina home, despite the “holy host of others,” i.e., the Beatles, standin’ around him. It was a difficult period for Taylor, who struggled with depression and addiction. A major door had opened for him, but he wasn’t able to take full advantage of it at the time.

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The album was received well by critics, but Apple didn’t promote it well. And due to his hospitalization to treat his addiction, live performances weren’t in the cards. He would continue to suffer setbacks, with a motorcycle accident the following year which broke both of his hands and feet. That recuperation time allowed him to write songs which appeared on his standout next album, Sweet Baby James. Due to licensing issues with Apple, Taylor had to re-record Something in the Way She Moves and Carolina In My Mind for his 1976 Greatest Hits album. While I like the originals a lot, the re-done versions serve his 70’s canon well.  They’re what I grew up with until discovering his studio releases down the line.

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As for Something In the Way She Moves, which includes McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison on backing vocals, it is the well-known seed of Harrison’s Something. Ironically, Taylor wanted to title the song I Feel Fine after the dominant chorus line, but it had already been used by the Fabs. Of Harrison’s nicking Taylor’s song for what would become one of the most famous and covered songs in pop history, Taylor said:

All music is borrowed from other music, so I completely let it pass. I raised an eyebrow here and there, but when people would make the presumption that I had stolen my song from his, I can’t sit still for that.

It turns out they shared more than that song in common, though this time I’m not referring to Pattie Boyd. Long, dark hair, acoustic guitars, and…BIG SWEATERS!

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Obvious standouts to me are the original versions of Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves, but there’s plenty more here making it a good listen.  Something’s Wrong sounds like Taylor at his early-mid 1970’s best, but with a bit more strings.  Knocking ‘Round the Zoo is a great, upbeat and ironic track about his stay in a Massachusetts psychiatric hospital. It was originally recorded with his band the Flying Machine.

It’s easy to lump artists into loose categories, but think about the music scene when this record came out.  This album was different.  It portended the new singer/songwriter movement just around the corner. Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone at the time, “This album is the coolest breath of fresh air I’ve inhaled in a good long while. It knocks me out.” Discovering and revisiting it for myself many years later, I’d have to concur.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Don’t Talk Now
  2. Something’s Wrong
  3. Knocking ‘Round the Zoo
  4. Sunshine Sunshine
  5. Taking It In
  6. Something in the Way She Moves

Side Two

  1. Carolina in My Mind
  2. Brighten Your Night With My Day
  3. Night Owl
  4. Rainy Day Man
  5. Circle Round the Sun
  6. Blues Is Just a Bad Dream

-Stephen

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

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/james-taylor-debut-album/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/james-taylor-mw0000264104

 

 

 

November 1968 – A Sneaky Classic by the Pretty Things

The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow

S.F. Sorrow is the fourth album by English group the Pretty Things, formed in 1963 and still going today. It is a concept album based on the life of main character Sebastian F. Sorrow, from birth to relationships, to war and the disillusionment of old age.  As I’ve learned, there’s also a debate as to whether or not it’s the first rock opera, which would’ve precluded the Who’s Tommy.  One major difference between this album and Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall is that the main narrative is shared through small paragraphs printed between the song lyrics in the liner notes, as opposed to within the songs themselves.

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“Sneaky,” of course, is relative to one’s own journey as a music fan. For me, S.F. Sorrow is perhaps the best example so far this year of the joy of discovering music I was previously unfamiliar with as a result of this blog.  I knew the song Baron Saturday, and had read maybe a blurb or three about this album, released in November 1968 (the same week, actually, as The White Album and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, but my head would’ve exploded had I tried to write about all three that week), but didn’t pick up a copy and dive in until earlier this year. I’m glad I did, and if you aren’t familiar with it and like the musical vibe of 1968, I recommend giving it a spin (or click, as it were).  It is, as Alexis Petridis wrote in the Guardian, “one of the few consistently brilliant British psych albums…”

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Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. S.F. Sorrow is Born
  2. Bracelets of Fingers
  3. She Says Good Morning
  4. Private Sorrow
  5. Balloon Burning
  6. Death

Side Two:

  1. Baron Saturday
  2. The Journey
  3. I See You
  4. Well of Destiny
  5. Trust
  6. Old Man Going
  7. Loneliest Person

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.F._Sorrow

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

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/may/06/pretty-things-sf-sorrow-cd-review

https://www.allmusic.com/album/sf-sorrow-mw0000308955

November ’68 Odds ‘n Ends

We’ve come to the end of November, which means that shameless (desperate?) retailers in the US have been shoving Christmas down our throats for the past five weeks.  It’s been a good month, though.  Fall is my favorite season, and this month we had a few big 50th album anniversaries as well as some major reissues.  Let’s tidy up those loose ends from November 1968 before stores begin stocking those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for February.

November:  Tommy Roe – Single:  Dizzy

This chunk of bubblegum was released in the US in November, but not until January ’69 in Australia and March ’69 in the UK.  With instrumental backing by the Wrecking Crew, it was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  It reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in March of ’69, #1 in Canada in March of ’69, and #1 in the UK in June of ’69.

November:  Tommy James and the Shondells – Single:  Crimson and Clover

Crimson and Clover spent sixteen weeks on the US charts where it reached #1 in February ’69.  It was the group’s most successful single, and it’s a classic track I’ve yet to tire of.

November:  Sly and the Family Stone – Single:  Everyday People

Everyday People was the band’s first single to reach #1 on both the Soul chart and the US Billboard Hot 100.  It maintained the top spot on the Hot 100 for four weeks from February to March of 1969.  Here’s a cool live clip of them performing the song.  Where have you gone, Sly?

November:  Nico – The Marble Index

The Marble Index was German artist Nico’s second solo album, and it was produced by John Cale.  Though mostly ignored upon its release, it became a highly influential avant-garde album.  I started to write a proper stand-alone post on it, but I just haven’t absorbed it enough.  I own and like her previous record, Chelsea Girl, but this one is a bit stark for me despite the amount of depressing music in my collection.  It is a very interesting listen, however, and I’ll probably come back to it down the road.

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11/1/68  The Turtles – The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands

The Turtles’ fourth release was a concept album with the band pretending to be a different group on each track, and apparently imitating the worst groomsmen photo ever on the cover.  It peaked at #128 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, but singles Elenore and You Showed Me both reached #6 on the singles chart.

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11/5/68:  Nixon wins

I wonder if someday things will improve to the point where they’re only that bad again.

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11/11/68:  John & Yoko – Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins 

The title of this album is the answer to the question, “What to you get when an insanely talented and arrogant songwriter/musician gets turned on to an avant-garde artist and heroin at the same time?”  I’m not gonna lie, though – as a child, I had the corner of the page of my brother’s copy of Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever with this photo on it bent for quick access to the nekid lady.  Pasty junkies.  Boy howdy.

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11/14/68:  National Turn In Your Draft Card Day

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11/22/68:  Fleetwood Mack – Single:  Albatross

Inspired by Santo and Johnny’s Sleep Walk (1959), this Peter Green-penned instrumental was Fleetwood Mac’s only #1 single in the UK.  They apparently really dug it in the Netherlands, where it also reached the top spot.  It climbed to #4 in the US.

11/22/68:  Canned Heat – Single:  Going Up the Country

The second of Alan Wilson’s big hits for the band, Going Up the Country remains a Counterculture anthem.  Lately, we’ve been repeatedly entertained by a clip of it in a car commercial.  I think that’s what it’s selling, anyway.  I make my wife laugh when I try to sing it.  I sound like I’m imitating Kermit the Frog as a member of Canned Heat.  Or something like that.

11/22/68:  Star Trek – the first interracial kiss on television

Awe yyyyeah…

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Have you ever heard someone defend their degree of open-mindedness by saying something along the lines of “I don’t care what the color of someone’s skin is – black, brown, green, whatever…”?  For Captain Kirk, this was the literal truth.

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Even an Indigenous Spacewoman! (O.k., a white woman wearing dark makeup, pretending to be an Indigenous Spacewoman.)

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11/26/68:  Cream bids farewell at the Royal Albert Hall

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-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dizzy_(Tommy_Roe_song)

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

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

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfinished_Music_No._1:_Two_Virgins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albatross_(instrumental)

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

 

November 29 – A Masterpiece by Van the Man

Astral Weeks,” the record that taught me to trust beauty and to believe in the divine, courtesy of my local FM station. – Bruce Springsteen, from his autobiography, Born to Run (p.196).

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Today we give a nod, or perhaps a kowtow, to an album many consider to be not only Van Morrison’s best, but one of the best of all time by anyone. Van the Man’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, was recorded during September and October of ’68, and released 50 years ago today. It’s another example of how recording stream of consciousness songs relatively quickly and getting it out there to the public can sometimes achieve the best lasting results over the long haul, even without the boost of a hit single.

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Astral Weeks came about during a period of uncertainty for him, as he was in the throes of legal wrangling with his previous label which had prevented him from recording and even performing live for a period of time. Eventually, in early ’68, Van began playing acoustic duo sets in Cambridge, MA with an upright bassist, then as a trio with jazz flautist John Payne, who would end up playing on the album. During this time, Morrison discovered he enjoyed the greater vocal freedom of the acoustic music. Warner Bros. signed him under the assumption he’d continue playing the rock and R&B music he was known for (i.e., Brown Eyed Girl), but when executives heard the new material – longer-form compositions laced with folk, jazz, blues, and classical –  there was no stopping his new direction.

The live studio tracks were recorded with Morrison on acoustic guitar in a separate booth, with upright bass, lead acoustic guitar, vibes, flute, and drums played together. The group consisted of true jazz cats, despite the fact that Morrison didn’t have much of a jazz background. Bassist Richard Davis had played with Eric Dolphy, guitarist Jay Berliner with Charles Mingus, percussionist Warren Smith, Jr. had worked with Max Roach, and the legendary drummer Connie Kay was a contemporary member of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

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Warner Bros. didn’t bother promoting the album, and it didn’t garner much attention upon its release. Contemporary reviews were hit and miss: In NME, Nick Logan regarded it as a pale imitation of the guitarist José Feliciano’s Feliciano! album from the same year, while Greil Marcus reviewed the album positively in Rolling Stone, saying that Morrison’s lyrics were thoughtful and deeply intellectual, while calling Astral Weeks a “unique and timeless” record. Rolling Stone later named it the album of the year. 

As with the contemporary release by the Kinks, Astral Weeks is another classic album I was not exposed to at an early age, though I’ve owned and loved it for about twenty years longer than The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Nope, the honor for introducing me to this masterpiece goes to my first wife in 1993.  Two amazing sons and this record – thank you very much! Maybe it’s lazy of me to say I love every song on the album, but it’s true. It is a stream of consciousness work, so in a way it is one long song. Detractors use that against it, of course, but positive critics and fans like me hear the beauty of each song.

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The bass lines, acoustic guitar, flute, vibes and strings on the title track set the tone for the atmosphere of the entire album. I was shocked to hear his Sweet Thing for the first time and discover it wasn’t a Waterboys original (just keepin’ it real here, folks). There’s a lot of pop music from the late 60’s with a big brass sound that I find a bit cheesy, but when it’s done by the likes of Van Morrison on The Way Young Lovers Do (or the Doors on Touch Me), it just works. And Larry Fallon’s harpsichord and string arrangements on Cyprus Avenue are sublime. Above all else, it’s the lyrics and the mood in which Van Morrison delivers them that makes Astral Weeks the classic that it is.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Astral Weeks
  2. Beside You
  3. Sweet Thing
  4. Cyprus Avenue

Side Two:

  1. The Way Young Lovers Do
  2. Madame George
  3. Ballerina
  4. Slim Slow Slider

-Stephen

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

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/van-morrison-astral-weeks-warren-smith-interview-760209/

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/04/behind-the-masterpiece-van-morrisons-astral-weeks-at-50/556472/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_to_Run_(autobiography)

 

November 22 – Thoughts on the White Album

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

We’ve finally arrived at the Big Anniversary of the Beatles’ sprawling, self-titled 1968 double album.  It’s the first Beatles album to be covered in this unabashed fanboy’s blog which I started at the beginning of the year.  Many of us have already greedily consumed the 50th anniversary release of the album, complete with the Esher Demos, session goodies, the famous individual portraits and lyrics poster, and a hardcover book.  Some have already published nice reviews in the blogosphere and elsewhere.  Somehow today feels a bit anticlimactic, though I’ll probably give it a spin before stuffing my face with turkey later in the day.

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It’s not that the anniversary hasn’t re-sparked my enthusiasm for the White Album, released this day in 1968.  It has.  It isn’t that I’m not thrilled with everything to do with the deluxe edition which I’ve been poring over these past couple of weeks.  I am.  But if you’ll excuse a bit of hyperbole, when I think about it, this entire year has been about the White Album as pertains to my perception of the Beatles, the music scene in general, and to some extent the year 1968 itself.

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The Mad Day Out.  (Stephen Goldblatt photo)

Looking back over the first eleven months of my blog, this record looms throughout.  The seed is probably found as far back as August of 1967 with the death of Brian Epstein.  The Magical Mystery Tour project in the immediate aftermath of his passing may have been their first attempt to carry on managing themselves, but with the White Album we see the fissures within the group and their individual future directions in full light.  Many of these songs were written in February during the Rishikesh retreat, and most of the band’s activities the rest of the year from that trip-onward led to this album or were an offshoot of it.

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We had the single, Lady Madonna/The Inner Light, released in March.  In May, the establishment of Apple Corps, Ltd. was announced.  This was to be the band’s business and musical apparatus, as well as a vehicle for them as individual artists – and isn’t that really what the White Album is, some group work but a lot of individual effort?  May was also the month sessions for the album began in earnest.  With the release of the stunning Hey Jude/Revolution single in August, they showed the world that the Beatles were still the Beatles despite the turmoil they always seemed to find themselves in.  Although those tracks were not included on the album, they are White Album session tracks.

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The Mad Day Out.  (Don McCullin photo)

Group and individual burnout is evident on this album.  Even Ringo walked out during his well-documented “I thought it was YOU three?” moment.  John’s behavior became predictably unpredictable, and the sad state of affairs (no pun intended, but yeah) surrounding his marriage to Cynthia finally came to an end as he officially transitioned to Yoko.  They immediately created their first vinyl baby, Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins, under the Apple umbrella, and she would be a permanent fixture within the group dynamic from that point on.

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Ringo’s personal copy of the White Album, edition numero uno, sold at auction in 2015 for $790,000.

George finally found his own creative outlet with Wonderwall Music (the inaugural release on the Apple label), the score to the Wonderwall movie which included Indian musicians who also performed on the Inner Light, as well as his buddy Eric Clapton, who participated on both the movie score and the White Album.  All of these factors – from India to Apple, from recording the demos at George’s house in Esher to the singles releases, from the “Mad Day Out” photo session in July to the individual side projects and contentious group studio sessions – all of them are woven into the double album we’re celebrating today, and all were played out over the course of the year leading up to its release.

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Some random personal thoughts about the record:

  • In 2018, if there’s any one member of the band I associate with the album more than the others, it’s George.  I freely admit this is due in large part to Hari gradually becoming my “favorite” Beatle over the years.  The White Album was perhaps his final chance to exert serious influence on the direction the Beatles would take, both musically and spiritually.  His creative input could no longer be ignored by John and Paul if he was going to remain in the group long-term.  It may not have gone as he had hoped, but his spirit is everywhere in these songs, including the ones which didn’t make the final cut.  As he mentioned in interviews, he tried to enter the studio the following January for the Get Back sessions with a positive mindset, but it was too late.  The Beatles were, for all intents and purposes, done, despite there being two albums yet to record.  Amazingly to me, George was only 25 when the White Album was released.

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  • As a child, even though I always loved most of its tracks, the White Album kind of creeped me out.  First, the “Paul is dead ‘clues'” in the grooves and album artwork were both fascinating and, to 9 or 10-year-old me, frightening.  My brother Paul would spin the vinyl backwards for me to hear voices supposedly saying “Paul is a dead man.  Miss him, miss him,” and “Turn me on, dead man.”  In that dimly lit basement I was glad not to be alone when listening.  To this day, Revolution 9 still gives me the heebie jeebies, and Good Night which follows sounds more funereal than lullaby because of it. Then there was the unfortunate, unintended  connection to the Manson murders. Even that shoddy collage of photos which makes up the poster insert was at best confusing to me.  But it’s So White Album, no?

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  • Their individual appearances fascinated me, as they did many others.  Overnight they transformed from the psychedelic, flower power Sgt. Pepper look to their disheveled appearances of ’68.  John looked tired and bitter, and it wasn’t until my teen years that I understood why that was.

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  • Yoko.  Yoko, Yoko, Yoko.  Yoko Ono…                                                                            Because I was born the year after the Beatles broke up, as a younger person I always accepted everything I saw, heard, and read as just part of the narrative of the group.  But wow, what an unforeseen shock her emergence in all their lives must have been!  Whether he’s simply taking the high road or being sincere, Paul made peace with Yoko in recent years as well as declared his perhaps overdue respect for John for making his stand with her.  I believe Paul is sincere.  It’s past time to remove those “I still blame Yoko” bumper stickers, folks.  There were plenty of other factors contributing to the split.

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  • And lastly, as for the great debate about whether or not it should’ve been condensed down to a single LP, my answer is a resounding HELL NO!  It’s great just the way it is, but if anything could’ve improved it, it wouldn’t have been making it a single album or two separate releases (the White and Whiter Album as Ringo quipped in the Anthology).  In my mind, this could easily have been a triple album.  I think it’s a crime that George’s Sour Milk Sea wasn’t properly recorded and included (nothing against Jackie Lomax’s version).  The same goes for Not Guilty.  Sprinkle those tracks, plus Hey JudeRevolution, and Circles throughout Sides 1-5, and make Side 6 all about John and Yoko’s madness with What’s the New Mary Jane and Revolution 9, and presto!, The Grand and Mega-Blindingly White Album!  It was all free-form craziness anyway, and we’d be celebrating it the same as we are today.  That still would’ve left Lady Madonna/The Inner Light as the non-album single between Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.

But I’ll defer to Sir Paul for the final word on the matter:

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  5. Wild Honey Pie
  6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  8. Happiness is a Warm Gun

Side Two:

  1. Martha My Dear
  2. I’m So Tired
  3. Blackbird
  4. Piggies
  5. Rocky Raccoon
  6. Don’t Pass Me By
  7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
  8. I Will
  9. Julia

Side Three:

  1. Birthday
  2. Yer Blues
  3. Mother Nature’s Son
  4. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)
  5. Sexie Sadie
  6. Helter Skelter
  7. Long, Long, Long

Side Four:

  1. Revolution 1
  2. Honey Pie
  3. Savoy Truffle
  4. Cry Baby Cry
  5. Revolution 9
  6. Good Night

-Stephen

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/ringo-starrs-personal-white-album-sells-for-world-record-790000-62410/