For males of a certain age range which includes me, a great conundrum and common question has been this: Ginger or Mary Ann? This midwestern boy’s honest answer has always been Mary Ann, whose character on the 1960’s sitcom Gilligan’s Island was played by Dawn Wells. Wells has passed away due to Covid-19. In moments of self-deprecation in my adult life I’ve often said that if I’d read a book for every fifth time I’d seen the same episodes of that goofy show I’d be a very well read individual. Like many others, I spent many an after school half-hour watching reruns of the castaways and their bumbling ways. When I was in college I had a chance encounter with Ms. Wells when she dined with her friend Marcia Wallace (The Bob Newhart Show, Match Game, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel on The Simpsons, among others) in the restaurant where I was employed at the time (she liked her onion rings). Rest in peace, Dawn, and thanks for the silly memories.
Today I’m closing out the releases for December 1970. Check back tomorrow for my highly scientific subjective 1970 year-end album ranking.
December 1970: The Move – Looking On
Looking On was the third of four studio albums by The Move. It was the first one to include Jeff Lynne. Lynne and Roy Wood already had their vision for a new band, so in a way this was The Move in name only. Once contractual obligations were fulfilled after their next album, they became the Electric Light Orchestra.
December 1970: Ry Cooder – Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder released his solo debut album in December of 1970. Cooder’s talents, styles, and influence are so varied I can’t begin to write about him intelligently. As with other accomplished musicians I know little about, after seeing his name associated with movie soundtracks, the Rolling Stones, Malian multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Toure and others, I began with a compilation.
December 1970: Eric Burdon and War – The Black-Man’s Burdon
This double album was the final release by the band to feature Eric Burdon before he left and they continued on as War. Its two suites are based on cover songs: Paint it Black and Nights in White Satin.
December 1970: Sir Lord Baltimore – Kingdom Come
The trio Sir Lord Baltimore released their debut in December. I’d honestly never heard of them until putting together my rough outline for this year. There are some interesting factoids about this album and band, who are considered highly influential on later metal bands. For one, a review for this album in Creem is unofficially where the term “heavy metal” was coined. Also, all of Kindom Come’s songs were written and arranged by Mike Appel, who would become Springsteen’s first manager. If you like Zeppelin, Sabbath, the Stooges, Hendrix, etc., give this album a listen if you aren’t already familiar with it.
December 1970: Gordon Lightfoot – Single: If You Could Read My Mind
And on a completely different wavelength from Sir Lord Baltimore, Gordon Lightfoot released the single If You Could Read My Mind this month fifty years ago. It’s one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriter tunes. It reached number one in Canada and was his first song to chart in the U.S., where it reached number five.
1970: Richie Havens – Stonehenge
The final two albums in this post have release dates simply stating “1970,” but they’re more than significant enough in my book to mention here before we move into 1971. Stonehenge isn’t Havens’ strongest album, but I like a few of its tracks including Minstrel from Gaul, Prayer, and the Bee Gees cover I Started a Joke.
1970: Brewer & Shipley – Tarkio
Tarkio was the third album by Missourians Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley. It was the most commercially successful release for the folk/country rock duo, containing the somewhat throwaway song that became a minor hit, One Toke Over the Line. (This song was hilariously covered as a “gospel” tune by Lawrence Welk duo Gail and Dale who apparently had no clue what the song was really about.) Other tasty nuggets include Tarkio Road, Song from Platte River, Don’t Want to Die in Georgia, Rubyin the Morning, OhMommy (on which Jerry Garcia contributed steel guitar), and – screw it, the whole album’s good. Brewer and Shipley were friends with mid-late 1960’s L.A. music luminaries such as The Association and Buffalo Springfield, but chose to move back to the Show Me State. They continue to perform today individually and as a duo, mostly across the Midwest. Brewer & Shipley goes good with: CSN, Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Gene Clark, Flying Burrito Bros., Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and you get the picture.
The turn of the 1970’s brought an interesting variety of music styles which would all find a home on early free-form FM radio – a format for which I was born a tad too late to be able to enjoy in its heyday (although it’s been resurrected with the advent of internet radio). This two part month-end wrap up for December 1970 is evidence of that variety, and includes some artists who were on the cusp of big things.
12/4/70: Wishbone Ash – Wishbone Ash
Blues/prog group Wishbone Ash released their first album on the 4th after being recommended to MCA by Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. They’re still around, with founder Andy Powell as the singular original member.
12/7/70: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum
CCR released their second album of 1970 on the 7th. It was their only album with all original material. It was also the final release Tom Fogerty would appear on. It produced the single Have You Ever Seen the Rain b/w Hey Tonight. A good album, but the tank was just about empty.
12/10/70: Ginger Baker’s Air Force – Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2
Unlike its predecessor, this jazz fusion album was recorded in a studio as opposed to live and featured two different track lists. Some of the same musicians appeared here as on 1, including Denny Laine, Graham Bond, and Ric Grech.
12/11/70: King Crimson – Lizard
Robert Fripp’s prog/jazz fusion band King Crimson – with its revolving door of band members – released their third album on the 11th to mixed reviews. Some early critics didn’t really know what to make of this music at the time. This band has certainly grown on me over the years.
12/18/70: T. Rex – T. Rex
With this album, Marc Bolan simplified his band’s name from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T. Rex and shifted its sound from the previous folky albums to the more mainstream rock sound that made him famous.
December 1970: The Wailers – Soul Rebels
Soul Rebels was Marley and Co.’s second album, and their first to be released outside Jamaica. It was produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry.
December 1970: Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – Lick My Decals off, Baby
Don Van Vliet’s highly experimental band released its fifth album – and follow up to Trout Mask Replica – in December 1970. It was highly regarded, even by Robert Cristgau, and was the band’s highest performing album in the U.K. charts.
December 1970: Vashti Bunyan – Just Another Diamond Day
At this stage, I find the story behind this album and artist more interesting than the album itself, which has garnered universal praise as a lost classic from the folk/psych folk arena. Vashti Bunyan had recorded a handful of songs in 1965 before disappearing. She literally wandered across the Scottish countryside by horse and wagon, penning new songs which eventually made up this album. Displeased with the recording process, it would be her last album for 35 years when Just Another Diamond Day was rediscovered and lavished with praise. I think Bunyan has a beautiful voice, but like her contemporary Jacqui McShee from Pentangle I find it a little too much on the dainty/shrill side for my taste.
John Lennon ushered in his post-Beatles career 50 years ago today with the stark, bare-bones, powerful, and sometimes harrowing Plastic Ono Band. Production was credited to John, Yoko, and Phil Spector, though the album bears little resemblance to Spector’s multi-layered behemoth by George Harrison which appeared a few weeks earlier. While all of Lennon’s albums are to some degree self/Yoko/Beatles-referential, his solo debut was a scab ripping primal scream therapy session played out on vinyl, and it became a classic.
It’s interesting to me how the ex-Beatles waded into their respective post-Fabs lives. Paul secluded himself at his Scotland farm and wrote and recorded the loose McCartney album earlier in the year as an exercise – with Linda’s help – to pull himself out of his Beatles hangover. George spent months in the studio with Phil Spector and a cast of musicians so numerous he wasn’t even aware of all of them for a few decades. The results included songs of lament over lost friendships as well as further declarations of his spiritual aspirations. Ringo’s musical breakthrough was still a few years away. Then came John’s rather minimalist Plastic Ono Band.
There were many indications in the music world at the turn of the 1970’s that the Flower Power era was over, and John put his own stamp on it with this album. His wounds were deep and went all the way back to childhood. He was barely thirty years old but had lived ten lives by 1970. He had entered an alternative, “primal” therapy developed by Arthur Janov which used screaming more so than analysis as part of one’s healing. Two of the heaviest songs feature this element: the opening track, Mother, and side two’s God. The latter is a paring down of all the things he no longer wants, needs, or believes in, from religion to political cults of personality to Elvis, Dylan, and lastly, the Beatles. He only believed in Yoko and himself by that point, and the world would just have to deal with it.
The rest of the album is no less dramatic in its simplicity with John, Ringo, and Klaus Voormann playing the majority of the instruments. Love is a welcomed respite in the middle of the onslaught, but it’s an emotionally draining affair overall from start to finish. Coincidentally, I’m writing this the day after the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s passing. I played Plastic Ono Band before leaving for work yesterday morning and I’m still feeling it. It’s just as powerful as ever.
Despite the circumstances of John Lennon’s death, this really isn’t intended to be a morose post. I can only imagine the multitudes who today are revisiting that moment in time and reflecting upon their own lives, especially Baby Boomers. Lennon’s music adds joy to my life, and when all is said and done, the music is what’s left and I’m grateful for what he gave us. I’ve shared bits and pieces on this topic in previous posts, but today seems like a good time to empty the memory bank.
Monday, December 8, 1980: I was a nine year old in Mrs. Echelmeier’s fourth grade class. Like most of the other boys in school, I was a football fan, primarily the NFL up to that point in my life. We’d spend every Monday recess during the season talking about the games from the day before and trying to reenact some of the standout plays on the playground. Back then, Monday Night Football was the weekly marquee event. It usually showcased the better teams and got fans through until the next weekend of sports. On Monday nights my usual bedtime was extended to halftime of the MNF game. That particular week’s matchup pitted the New England Patriots – back then a team not often featured on national broadcasts – against the Miami Dolphins. I had no particular interest in the game other than the joy of watching it, which I did. But halftime arrived, and I was off to bed. I couldn’t have imagined the announcement that would come near the end of the game.
Tuesday, December 9: I shuffled down the hallway to the kitchen for breakfast, which was probably a bowl of Malt-O-Meal hot cereal or Cheerios with cinnamon toast. We had a 12-inch black and white TV on the counter next to the refrigerator with the CBS Morning News on per our morning routine. But this day something was different. Half awake, I looked at the screen and saw grainy footage of the Beatles descending the stairs of a Japan Airlines jet wearing kimonos. The Beatles! Even at that age I loved the band, but seeing actual film of them was a rarity for me. Other footage followed. Mom was silent. Then I heard the news being reported.
That day at school I heard John’s name spoken in the hallway by my classmates, and it made me uncomfortable. As with the Iranian hostage crisis and the assassination attempt on President Reagan – both of which also happened that school year – big news like that was going to be talked about whether kids really understood what it was about or not. I walked by the teacher’s lounge, cigarette smoke billowing out of it, and wondered if they were talking about it or if they cared. I also wondered who I could talk to about it. My brothers were away at college, and I remember feeling very alone all day. I didn’t cry because I was more stunned than anything. The Beatles were as much a part of my life as Cardinals baseball and, well, just being a kid.
It was probably a borderline odd obsession for someone my age who wasn’t even born until ten months after they ceased to exist as a band. I say borderline because I doubt I was that unique in my status as a young, second generation fan. But in my small town I’m fairly certain I was. If professional athletes were larger than life, then John, Paul, George, and Ringo were mythical gods. And now one of them was gone forever. I didn’t try to make sense of it then because I couldn’t. It had only been ten years since the Beatles split, but it seemed like a hundred to me. John had been in relative seclusion for half that time, so I didn’t really think about him in current terms until Double Fantasy appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Scratched hand-me-down Beatles LP’s and 45’s had made their way from the basement to my bedroom upstairs. Paul’s post-Fabs band was even on the fritz by then. But looking at it as an adult, ten years is a flash. I probably have fast food ketchup packets in my fridge that are older. Lord knows some of my clothes are.
A week or so later my brothers were home for Christmas break, and to this day I associate Lennon’s Shaved Fish compilation album with those weeks. It never left the basement turntable. I soon got my first lesson in mass-media exploitation of a sensational story. I was in a local drug store with my brother Paul when I noticed a large amount of magazines with cover photos of John and/or the Beatles on its shelves. Wow! Neato! I chose one and bought it, but on the way home he explained that the main reason John and the Beatles were on all those magazine covers was to drive sales. I sort of understood, but his face remained on magazine covers all the following year while his new music was everywhere on the radio. We subscribed to Newsweek, and he was soon looking at us from the living room coffee table. I still have that issue, as well as the Rolling Stone issue with John and Yoko on the cover. That cover photo, along with this post’s featured image, were taken the day John died.
By the time I reached high school I had gone through various music phases, including Top 40 and even some rap, but the Beatles and their contemporaries were still my favorites. My senior year I grew my hair (alas, a mullet), and wore round granny sunglasses and one of my dad’s old olive drab army field shirts. My “favorite Beatle” status had shifted from Paul to John somewhere along the line. I guess I connected more with the angst, anger, and social awareness in some of Lennon’s songs by then (not that I didn’t still appreciate a good silly love song…). My few close friends either liked him too or otherwise tolerated me being a Beatles fanboy.
Also by then, the usually cold and gray week or so around December 8 had become an annual period of reflection on John Lennon for me that recurs all these years later. It’s not the only time I listen to his music, but I do go through most of his catalog at this time. December of ’88 brought a sea change to my home life which was compounded by my brother’s impending three year stint with the Peace Corps. He came home for a visit shortly before leaving for Senegal, and he and I watched the then-new Imagine documentary at the local cinema where I also worked part time. Years later I learned that he spent the night of 12/8/80 in his freshman dorm room in southwest Missouri adjusting the late night AM dial on his stereo from left to right and back, listening to live reports on WABC radio in New York and other locations eastward, most of which were also playing nothing but Beatles and Lennon songs. It occurred to him to drop a blank cassette in the player and hit record. He transferred it to CD for me, and it’s an eerie but fascinating homemade document of that sad and shocking night.
Now here we are, 40 years since John’s passing. The ebb and flow of life continues. I became a father, and my kids are now mostly grown. I visited Vietnam and brought home a small strip of sandbag which I found sticking out of the ground at Khe Sahn (not exactly a rare find in Vietnam, even today). It’s had a Lennon button which reads “Imagine Peace” stuck through it for nearly 20 years. My first born was given a personalized “Welcome to the world!” autograph from Ringo before he ceased giving his signature to fans. His younger brother has developed an interest in this music like his old man. Over the past 25 years I’ve taken the Liverpool tour, which includes Lennon’s childhood home and Strawberry Field. I’ve visited the Central Park memorial of the same name and stood at the gate of the Dakota where John took his last steps. I also accepted many years ago that he was a flawed individual like most of us. And as silly as it might be for a middle-aged person in 2020 to have thoughts about it one way or another, George has gradually become the ex-Beatle I admire the most. But of course it’s all relative.
In recent years I’ve taken the happier route of acknowledging Lennon’s birthday in October as much as the dark day of his demise, but today brings a strange milestone: John Lennon has now been gone the same number of years that he lived. I get it, it’s just a number like 39 or 41. Maybe it’s the history student in me who likes to mentally organize the past, including my own, in terms of dates and years. That theme is the foundation of this blog, after all. But it’s a significant milestone to me nonetheless. Perhaps my rapidly approaching 50th birthday has something to do with it. Maybe in this less than enjoyable year I’m trying to hold on to good memories of the comforts of home and family from childhood, and this anniversary marks an unforgettable occasion that impacted me in the middle of it all.
Note: The following is a slightly edited re-post from a few months back when I was participating in a desert island album draft.
Where to start with George’s 1970 triple album opus, and how to explain concisely why this album means so much to me in a manner that doesn’t make me sound full of myself? If you’re reading this you’re probably a music fan and can, at least to some extent, relate. Despite the fact that I have no clue what it’s like to be musically gifted, internationally famous (never mind an ex-Beatle), a millionaire, etc., if there’s one artist who I think I can relate to as a person, it’s George. I wear my heart on my sleeve like he did, and if I were ever to experience any degree of fame, I’d probably react to it similarly to him. That is to say, “Hari Krishna, now please get off my lawn while I enjoy this piece of cake.” Maybe it’s because I’m a fellow Pisces, I don’t know. And if there’s one album of his which displays his full range of emotions relating to personal relationships and spiritual longing, and is presented in beautifully crafted songs with fantastic musicianship from start to finish, it’s All Things Must Pass, released 50 years ago today.
Due to the limits he faced regarding his songs making it onto Beatles albums, Harrison had been stockpiling them since roughly 1966. After starting 1968 by staying in India longer than the other Beatles, in the fall of that year George spent time with Dylan and The Band at Woodstock, which was perhaps the final nail in the Beatles’ coffin as far as George was concerned. Their influence is all over this solo debut album, which was an artistic and emotional purging for Harrison. There are songs of human love for friends, including the Dylan co-written I’d Have You Anytime, and George’s attempt at coaxing Bob out of his self-imposed exile on Behind That LockedDoor. Apple Scruffs is his humorous love song to his loyal fans who waited daily outside the recording studio, and What is Life is one of a number of George’s uniquely ambiguous love songs over the course of his solo years which leaves it up to the listener to decide if it’s about human or Godly love.
There are songs of lament over friendships on the wane. Wah-Wah was written when George walked out of the Get Back sessions. It’s a double entendre which refers to the guitar effect as well as the headache John and Paul had caused him. Run of the Mill, too, was written out of his sadness over the Beatles’ slow dissolution. Isn’t it a Pity, to me, is the most powerful track on this emotional roller coaster of an album. There are two slightly different versions on the album, and he could’ve added a third one as far as I’m concerned – a rendition for each of the three LPs.
And there are the songs which focus on George’s spiritual journey. The smash hit, of course, was My Sweet Lord, which includes a Vedic chant for which Harrison took heat from Christian fundamentalists for supposedly trying to subliminally indoctrinate America’s youth into heathen Eastern religion. As with his organizing the Concert for Bangladesh a year later, it took nerve (and Phil Spector’s insistence) for him to put this song out as a single, but it paid off. The Art of Dying had its genesis around 1966 when Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows was the Tibetan Book of the Dead-influenced song to make the cut on Revolver. To the uninitiated, it can be a dark or disturbing song. It is not. As with The Art of Dying, Awaiting on You All is Harrison encouraging us to wake up to what’s real and eschew that which isn’t. And lastly, after all the madness, fame, and fortune of his Beatles experience left him emotionally and spiritually frayed, there’s George’s bare bones plea in Hear Me Lord. For such a private man, it doesn’t get any more open and sincere than this.
But wait, there’s more! The third album in this set, known as Apple Jam, includes four extended instrumentals and a 49 second Monty Pythonesque ditty with an appearance by good ol’ Mal Evans. The indulgent jams include Dave Mason, Ginger Baker, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, and Derek & the Dominos. I’ve actually read opinions by fans who are put off by inclusion of these tracks, as if they are interspersed throughout the first two records and they’re forced to listen to them. I think of it as the unbuckling of the belt after a big meal. Sometimes I listen to it, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I unapologetically like it.
I could go on about other tracks, the plagiarism lawsuit, other session players, the cover, etc. Wiki’s got that covered if you’d like to read more. I would, however, like to comment briefly on Phil Spector’s production. As with Let it Be, this is the version we grew up with, and I love it just like it is. Perhaps when the deluxe 50th anniversary edition comes out, whenever that might be, it will include alternate versions and demos with toned down production. Some of it is available on bootlegs and YouTube.
Cat Stevens released his fourth studio album on this day 50 years ago. Tea for the Tillerman was his second release that year, with Mono Bone Jakon released the previous April. The album was recorded over three months in the middle of 1970, with Father and Son and Wild World issued as singles, the latter reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 while becoming an enduring classic. Wild World has also been covered by a number of artists. Just two months ago, Stevens/Yusuf released a new version of the album titled Tea for the Tillerman 2.
Five of the songs on the album were featured on the 1972 soundtrack to the movie Harold and Maude (not all the songs issued on the soundtrack were in the film), the other half originating on Mona Bone Jakon. The album has garnered classic status in the world of music critics despite the typical “someone pee’d in my Cornflakes” contemporary take by Robert Christgau, who found it monotonous at the time. To me, this album represents the second in a trilogy of fantastic albums, with Teaser and the Firecat following in 1971.
Stevens may have had his internal struggles with the limelight, but you wouldn’t know it simply by listening to these songs. The album is the epitome of what was good about the singer/songwriter era. They are songs that transcend the years. If they were relatable in 1970, then they can touch nerves in 2020. I certainly don’t limit myself on when I listen to Tea for the Tillerman, but I think of it as Sunday morning music. And if it’s raining, all the better.
Flailing, booming, bozos, clunky, heavy-handed, savage, imposingly gothic edge, 5/5 stars, A grade, C grade, lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful, impressive musicianship, deliberately archaic, daunting talents…
By its nature, rock music is subject to impassioned stances taken by fans and critics, and perhaps no sub-genre elicits stronger opinions than prog. One of the most successful prog bands, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released their eponymous debut 50 years ago today, and the responses from critics as seen above illustrate the wide variation of views on the genre as a whole, not just this record.
Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer entered the studio in July 1970 having yet to play on stage together. Sessions lasted three months, and the competed album contained six tracks over 41 minutes, including three instrumentals and arrangements of classical works by the likes of Bartók, Janácek, and J.S. Bach. It reached number four on the U.K. album chart, and 18 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. The single Lucky Man/Knife-Edge climbed to 48 in the U.S., and as such are the best known songs on the album.
But tracks like the keyboard-drenched Barbarian (a rather audacious opener for a debut record), Greg Lake’s jazz-inflected Take a Pebble, and Tank, which features Emerson on clavinet and Moog, also make this an enjoyable album. Some of the keyboard adventures of late Emerson, himself classically trained, get to be a bit much for me – specifically the pipe organ (same goes for Neil Young) – but it doesn’t dissuade me from listening ELP one bit.
I see myself as a music fan, period, and don’t subscribe to all-encompassing maxims about any musical classification. Sometimes I want to hear “bloated” prog bands, other times The Clash or Hüsker Dü hit the spot. I’d rather not limit myself. I couldn’t if I tried, actually.
I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There were ten initial rounds, and this is my final selection of four bonus rounds which have covered soundtracks, compilations, music-related movies, and now box sets, with draft order determined randomly by round.
With my final desert island draft pick I’m sharing this rabbit trail off my personal memory lane as a nod to my oft-mentioned older brothers who got me started on my journey in music when I was still in diapers. Thanks brudduhs.
The four LP Superstars of the 70’s box set, released by Warner Bros. in 1973, represents an odd case in my music listening life. My older brothers owned it, but I have little memory of them playing it. I can see it in my mind’s eye resting flat on the musty indoor/outdoor carpet in our somewhat finished basement underneath their stereo stand. I’d pull it out from time to time out of curiosity but was probably nine or ten years old before I started to recognize many of the names (other than Roberta Flack, whose albums my mom played upstairs on her Motorola console, and Judy Collins because I’d seen her on Sesame Street).
As much as I learned about music from my brothers, they weren’t really into most of the artists included in this set until they were older, at least not enough to spend after school part-time job paychecks on individual albums by the likes of Black Sabbath or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. One of them recently told me, looking back, that they kind of cherry picked the songs they liked, but otherwise they tended to think of it as one of those “As Seen on TV” types of releases. And it may have been just that.
When my interest in music from the era other than the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elton was beginning to take off in the mid-1980s, I copied most of the songs from Superstars of the 70’s onto cassette. To my surprise, there were some snaps, crackles, pops, and even a skip or two. Evidently it had been spun a few times over the years after all! Yet while giving it a listen when trying to decide which songs to tape, I still wasn’t familiar with some of them, such as the Byrds’ version of Cowgirl in the Sand (which was actually a new track from their ill-fated reunion album that came out about the same time as this release) and the post-Morrison Doors’ Tightrope Ride.
By no means is this the box set that I’ve listened to the most over the years. Retrospectives by Clapton, Dylan, Bruce, and others top that list. But as it turned out, the songs in this collection – which has now probably spent way too many North Texas summers in my brother’s attic to be playable – formed a cornerstone or two of the foundation of my music tastes going forward.
A1 – Alice Cooper – School’s Out A2 – Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze A3 – Beach Boys – Surf’s Up A4 – Randy Newman – Sail Away A5 – Judy Collins – Both Sides Now A6 – The Doors – Tightrope Ride B1 – The Bee Gees – Lonely Days B2 – James Taylor – Fire & Rain B3 – The Grateful Dead – Truckin’ B4 – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Where Is The Love B5 – Stephen Stills – Love The One You’re With B6 – Yes – Roundabout C1 – The Doors – Light My Fire C2 – Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit C3 – CSN – Marrakesh Express C4 – Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze C5 – The Bee Gees – To Love Somebody C6 – The Kinks – Lola D1 – Carly Simon – Anticipation D2 – The Guess Who – American Woman D3 – Todd Rundgren – We Gotta Get You A Woman D4 – America – Ventura Highway D5 – Jo Jo Gunne – Run, Run, Run D6 – Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice E1 – Otis Redding – (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay E2 – Deep Purple – Hush E3 – Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind E4 – Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face E5 – Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady E6 – Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love F1 – Eagles – Take It Easy F2 – America – A Horse With No Name F3 – The Byrds – Cowgirl In The Sand F4 – Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi F5 – The Guess Who – These Eyes F6 – Van Morrison – Domino F7 – Judy Collins – Amazing Grace G1 – Doobie Brothers – Listen To The Music G2 – Joni Mitchell – Woodstock G3 – Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour G4 – Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans G5 – Jackson Browne – Doctor My Eyes G6 – Black Sabbath – Paranoid H1 – Allman Brothers Band – One Way Out H2 – Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman H3 – Faces – Stay With Me H4 – Graham Nash – Chicago H5 – Rolling Stones – Happy H6 – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Lucky Man
November 1970 was quite a significant month in the world of album releases, and today the train rolls on with the second of four major solo releases from the members of CSNY after Déjà Vu’s release the previous March. Stephen Stills relocated to England to put some distance between himself and the drama emanating from the group, moving into Ringo’s old residence in Surrey. While there, he established musical connections and wrote a bunch of songs which he recorded primarily in London in the first half of 1970 between CSNY tours. His somewhat eclectic and fantastic Stephen Stills was released on this day 50 years ago.
Though he crossed the Atlantic to get away from it all, and while this is 100% solo Stills in terms of songwriting, by the time the album was finished he’d enlisted the help of a number of A-Listers including the names Hendrix, Clapton, Starr, Crosby, Nash, Sebastian, Mama Cass, Booker T., Rita Coolidge, and others. The songs on the LP are personal in nature and hint at his relationships in CSNY as well as his unsteady romantic involvement with Coolidge, the latter symbolized by the giraffe on the album cover photo taken by Henry Diltz (Stills and Coolidge either bought the stuffed animal together or she bought it for him). By the time of its release, she had left Stills for Nash, putting a temporary nail in CSNY’s coffin. And what of that odd cover? AllMusic refers to it as an understatement, that judging by the cover one might think the album is full of gentle, introspective singer/songwriter material, only to hear a “seamless” blend of folk, blues, hard rock, and gospel.
Contemporary reviews ranged from tepid with its “undefined” or “elusive” qualities, to fantastic, such as AllMusic’s retrospective description as a “jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu.” I tend to hear it as a little of both, though not elusive in a negative way. Stephen Stills starts out with a bang. The theme of his anthem to free love might be dated, but the song is a classic in which he uses the chorus to full effect. By the end of side one we’ve heard signature guitar licks from Jimi Hendrix (who would pass before the album’s release, and who it’s dedicated to) on the funky Old Times Good Times, and Eric Clapton on Go Back Home. My other favorites include the quieter Do for the Others, the spirited Sit Yourself Down, and the CSNY concert staple, Black Queen.
Looking at it through the lens of 2020, perhaps the only thing the album suffers from is the fact that there were other great albums released in 1970, namely Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which came out just a couple weeks later. (And to tie them together, it’s interesting that Stills borrowed the phrase “love the one you’re with” from Billy Preston, who also tutored Harrison in the ways of gospel music George used on My Sweet Lord. Was there ever a time of more cross-pollination in music than around 1970?) Stephen Stills reached number three on the U.S. Billboard album chart, and eight in the U.K., and was fueled by singles Love the One You’re With b/w To A Flame and Sit Yourself Down b/w We AreNot Helpless. This is Stills at or near the peak of his powers, and it gets better for me with each listen.