July 22 – Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills: The Unsung Supergroup?

Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills – Super Session

Not all music collaborations are created equally.  Some might be better known due to the names involved, but in retrospect come up short musically.  One example in my opinion is the Dylan and the Dead album.  Another might be John McLaughlin’s joint effort with Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender, an enjoyable listen but far from either guitarist’s best album.  The widely acknowledged first “supergroup” was Blind Faith, whose eponymous album is highly regarded.  But the precursor to the rumble caused by Clapton, Winwood, Baker and Grech was Super Session, released 50 years ago today.  With this album we have three artists who were arguably in near peak spontaneous creative mode.

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L-R:  Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills

The album title is a slight misnomer, as it’s really two separate collaborations with Kooper/Bloomfield on side one and Kooper/Stills on side two.  I’m not exactly breaking headline news by saying this is a significant blues rock album, as it has earned gold record status.  But with so many other noteworthy releases around the same time, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  You’ll likely never hear a track from it on classic rock radio (which is just fine with me).  Al Kooper was still somewhat fresh off his brief stint as one of the founding members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Mike Bloomfield was about to leave the Electric Flag (having previously worked with the Butterfield Blues Band), and Stephen Stills was a free agent with the recent demise of Buffalo Springfield and participation in one of the most famous “supergroup” collaborations in his near future after spending a day with Kooper.

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Day one:  Kooper and Bloomfield

Kooper and Bloomfield had worked together as session musicians on Dylan’s landmark Highway 61 Revisited three years earlier as well as the latter’s fabled performance at Newport when he “went electric.”  Kooper, working as an A&R man for Columbia post-B,S&T, booked two days of studio time and invited Bloomfield to jam.  The songs on side one of Super Session are from the very productive first day, but when the second day rolled around, Bloomfield was a no-show.  As a testament to the respect Kooper has in the music industry, he was able to ring Stephen Stills, whose contribution rounds out the album.

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Day two:  Kooper with Stills

Side one includes three Kooper/Bloomfield originals, including their tribute to John Coltrane, His Holy Modal Majesty.  This extended jam has been described by one critic as a “fun, trippy waltz” that “features the hurdy-gurdy and Eastern-influenced sound of Kooper’s electric ondioline, which has a slightly atonal and reedy timbre much like that of John Coltrane’s tenor sax.”  Side two, or the “Stills side,” includes covers of Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry), Donovan (a very unique take on Season of the Witch), and an original by session bassist (and bassist for Bloomfield’s Electric Flag) Harvey Brooks, Harvey’s Tune.  Session horn players added a brassy touch (though not as featured as on albums by Electric Flag or Blood, Sweat & Tears).  The album is late-60s Chicago blues with a twist.  In my view, it’s also an indispensable addition to any collection of blues-based rock albums of the era.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Albert’s Shuffle
  2. Stop
  3. Man’s Temptation
  4. His Holy Modal Majesty
  5. Really

Side Two:

  1. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
  2. Season of the Witch
  3. You Don’t Love Me
  4. Harvey’s Tune

For those who enjoy this album, here are a couple of others I recommend:

Michael Bloomfield – Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man!:  Essential Blues, 1964-1969

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The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West (1966)

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/super-session-mw0000190678

-Stephen

July 22 – Miles Davis Goes Electric

Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky

With Miles in the Sky, Miles Davis continued a very productive late-60s stretch of recording with his second quintet which included Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano and electric piano, Ron Carter on Bass and electric bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  George Benson guested on guitar on the track, Paraphernalia.  The album marked the beginning of Davis’s electric period, and is an early standout in the jazz-rock fusion genre.

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Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes that, despite the longer rhythmic jams and the use of electric instruments, the recording is not as visionary as some of Miles’s other work at the time, and feels like more of a transitional album which is “intriguing and frustrating in equal measures.”

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I’m a fan of jazz music with little more than a novice’s knowledge of the genre.  My jazz collection has slowly but steadily grown over the years, and much of it is comprised of well-known standards which are obvious standouts even to a listener such as myself.  With albums such as Miles in the Sky (the title a nod to the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds released the year prior), I don’t feel the need to know if they’re slighty greater or lesser than their contemporaries.  Its composer was a mercurial artist who did not shy away from sharing his views, and this recording was made during a very difficult year for race relations in the US.  Keeping aspects such as those in mind when listening to music of any genre enhances my experience regardless of any specific knowledge I may have of the recording.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Stuff
  2. Paraphernalia

Side Two:

  1. Black Comedy
  2. Country Son

For a raw, unfiltered look at the life and work of Miles Davis, his autobiography is quite an eye opener.

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/miles-in-the-sky-mw0000652711

-Stephen

July 18 – The Grateful Dead’s Cosmic Anthem at 50, Pt. 2

Pt. 2:  The Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun

Here we go with a prime example of how this little hobby of mine has opened my eyes and ears, not just to music I’ve never heard before, but to music I’m familiar with but have given short shrift to.  In this case, pre-American Beauty Grateful Dead.  I had no idea of the experimental degree of this, the band’s second album and first to include second drummer Mickey Hart, released on this date 50 years ago.  It is comprised of multiple studio and live tracks spliced together.  It is neither a live album nor a studio album per se, but not in the same vein as so many well-known live albums from the 70’s and 80’s that had their imperfections edited out in the studio, a.k.a. “Frankensteined.”  This was planned madness.

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I’m going to stop right here with my personal thoughts on the Dead and Anthem and turn it over to my friend Mitch, whose influence on my musical tastes I shared in Pt. 1:

I have some strong feelings about ‘Anthem.’  It was one of those rare albums of the Sixties mixed entirely to enhance hallucinations and confuse one’s senses of time, place, and space.  The entire bouncing back and forth from free wheelin’ live recordings to tight studio freak sounds like the kazoos at the beginning of ‘Alligator’ leave you hungry for synesthesia.  There is a sensation of being both wrapped in a comfortable LSD quilt and then being tossed airborne for your first solo mission.  ‘Anthem’ crawls under your skin, finds your nerve endings and politely tugs and twitches to the Lesh powered thunder, Gracia driven lightning, Pig pulled vocals, and beatings issued from the dueling drummers Bill and Mickey, all synchronized in controlled chaos.

All in all, some say ‘Pet Sounds’ is the American ‘Sgt. Pepper.’  I disagree.  The Dead nailed the Wild West insanity of the Bay without the pop perfection of ‘God Only Knows.’  This album was the beginning of weirdness for hire, inner exploration, and outer expression.

Not in a million years could I have described it better than that.

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Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. That’s It for the Other One
  2. New Potato Caboose
  3. Born Cross-Eyed

Side Two:

  1. Alligator
  2. Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)

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

-Stephen

July 18 – The Grateful Dead’s Cosmic Anthem at 50, Pt. 1

Pt 1:  The Grateful Dead in My Music World

I’ve waded into these waters today with a minor sense of trepidation.  I don’t consider myself to be an expert regarding all the music I write about, far from it.  And I’m not quite sure how to approach artists like the Grateful Dead whose music, history, and legacy are held in such high esteem by their hardcore fans, yet completely misunderstood if not outright disliked by many others who haven’t spent any time listening to them.  That is, beyond Truckin’ or Touch of Grey when heard on the radio or wondering what the heck all those now-fading stickers on the backs of those equally fading VW buses are all about.  I consider Frank Zappa to be another such artist.  There are simply too many layers to those onions for the uninitiated to offer a value judgement based upon a few songs or one album (or a perception of the fan base).

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When it comes to the Grateful Dead, I consider myself a fan, but one whose education is rather incomplete.  I had a very good introduction though.  Besides my older brothers and my uncle, the most significant influence on my musical knowledge and taste to this day is my friend from my home state of Missouri, Mitch.  He’s the older brother of my childhood best buddy, Doug.  Mitch is by far the most knowledgeable fan of the Dead that I know, and while he most certainly is a Deadhead, I hesitate to lazily label him as such due to his crazy knowledge of everything from 1980’s Brit pop to bluegrass.  When I was plastering posters of Madonna on my bedroom wall in the mid-80’s, Mitch was comparing/contrasting various bootleg recordings of Help On the Way–>Slipknot!–>Franklin’s Tower.  (I’ve always been a fan of the classics even through the 80’s, but puberty does strange things to a person.)

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But like many others my age, I finally began to wake up to the Dead due to the commercial success of 1987’s In the Dark, and let’s face it, MTV.  That still seems so ironic.  Around 1990, Mitch bestowed upon me a ten cassette sampler of shows which I have to this day.  My favorites right away were the 1977 shows from Cornell and Buffalo, which put me in alignment with many fans who are much more knowledgeable than I.  Where I probably run afoul, however, is that I’ve yet to gain a full appreciation for Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.  And that’s to do with his vocals and not his musicianship.  The Keith Godchaux years (sometimes despite his wife Donna Jean’s participation in the group) are the most audibly enjoyable to me.

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Cornell, 1977

One element of the Grateful Dead that I’ve never fully grasped is that there are really two separate bands we’re talking about:  studio Dead and live Dead.  At the risk of sounding like a social anthropologist doing field research, it seems that if one is a “deadicated” fan, i.e., a Deadhead, the band’s studio albums are more or less an afterthought.  And I can see how that might be if one has followed them across the land and dived into the deep end of collecting/dissecting/trading shows.  Mitch and my other Dead aficionado buddy Jason agree:  The studio albums are but templates for what they could achieve on stage.  It’s a different world altogether, and I’m slipping into territory I can’t speak intelligently about.  But what about the rest of us more casual fans?  There’s some mighty tasty stuff on those albums, too, and I’m glad we have them.

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By the time I finally got a chance to see a Dead show it was June of ’91, and their latter year resurgence was peaking.  Unfortunately, I was a walking tie dyed newbie cliché wandering around the grounds of that amphitheater in Bonner Springs, KS.  I tried to make up for all those shows I never saw all in one day instead of just sitting there on the hill with a clear head enjoying some masterful improvisational musicianship from one of the greatest  bands of all time.  I own an audience tape from the show, but its quality I would deem to be, how shall I say, crap.  It was the only opportunity I would have to see them live, and within a few years Jerry was no longer with us.  Youth:  wasted on the young.  Or, in my case in June of 1991, youth: young and wasted.

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Holy Moly, the Intergoogle strikes again!  While thinking just now about the ’91 show I attended, it occurred to me to do a quick search to see if anything popped up.  Sure enough, here it is.  The cameraman must’ve been dancing, tripping, or both, but wow! I was there!  Actually, at this opening portion of the show I was shuffling through the dusty Third World marketplace that was the parking lot, trying to get to the gate.

What a long, strange post it’s been…

-Stephen

 

 

 

July 17 – Deep Purple Debuts with a Shot of Vitamin C3

Deep Purple – Shades of Deep Purple

Deep Purple’s debut 50 years ago today was part of a significant shift in rock music toward sub-genres including hard rock, metal, and prog.  Shades of Deep Purple is all of that, and since we’re still in the middle of 1968, it has a psychedelic feel as well.  And, it’s drenched in Jon Lord’s trademark Hammond C3 organ with that beautiful distorted sound.

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L-R: Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper, Ian Paice

The album was released on the Tetragrammaton label in the US, and on Parlophone in the UK in September.  The debut was not received well in the UK.  With the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath yet to appear, Deep Purple were considered rather out-of-place in the UK music scene.  They were, as one British review claimed, the “poor man’s Vanilla Fudge,” i.e., too American sounding.  Deep Purple were indeed unabashed Vanilla Fudge fans.

However, as these things often go, it came down in large part to promotion.  And in the US (where they were referred to as “the English Vanilla Fudge,” and it was a compliment), the decision to release Hush as a single instead of their slowed-down, sloggy version of the Beatles’ Help, turned out to be a stroke of genius (or luck).  The song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a solid catalyst for the album, which reached #24 on the album chart.

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UK album cover

Four of the eight songs are originals, plus the aforementioned Help, Joe South’s Hush, Skip James’s I’m So Glad (which was recorded by Cream the year before), and the oft-covered Hey Joe by Billy Roberts.

Modern critiques have been mostly positive on both sides of the Atlantic.  Bruce Eder writes in AllMusic:

Ritchie Blackmore never sounded less at ease as a guitarist than he does on this album, and the sound mix doesn’t exactly favor the heavier side of his playing, but the rhythm section of Nick Simper and Ian Paice rumble forward, and Jon Lord’s organ flourishes, weaving classical riffs, and unexpected arabesques into “I’m So Glad,” which sounds rather majestic here…

Also, none other than Rick Wakeman said that Shades of Deep Purple is his favorite British album of all time.  And that’s good enough for me.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. And the Address
  2. Hush
  3. One More Rainy Day
  4. Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad

Side Two:

  1. Mandrake Root
  2. Help!
  3. Love Help Me
  4. Hey Joe

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/shades-of-deep-purple-mw0000651951

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

-Stephen

July 17 – A Yellow Submarine Surfaces in London

The Beatles – Movie:  Yellow Submarine

The beloved Beatles animated movie made its UK premiere on this day in 1968.  The group arrived at the London Pavillion on Piccadilly Circus to a scene reminiscent of the “old days” just a few years earlier for the premiers of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! at the height of Beatlemania.

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The film was directed by George Dunning, who supervised over 200 artists for 11 months, and was produced by United Artists and King Features Syndicate.  However, aside from performing the songs used in the movie, the only involvement the Beatles themselves had in the film was their brief cameo at the end.

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Other actors voiced the Beatles’ parts in the film, and oddly enough it worked out quite well even though they sound nothing like the Beatles.  It must have seemed somewhat surreal for them, even with all their previous experiences, to witness their cartoon likenesses on-screen with other actors’ voices portraying them with exaggerated Liverpudlian accents, let alone in a large, packed theater for a gala event such as that.  Whatever they may have thought of it at the time, I’ve yet to read or hear a subsequent interview with any of the four who said anything negative about the film.

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So much had changed for the band during the previous 11 months:  Brian Epstein had passed away the previous August, they (Paul, really) made their ill-fated directorial debut shortly afterward with Magical Mystery Tour, John began seeing Yoko and subsequently left Cynthia, the group became involved in Transcendental Meditation and visited the Maharishi in India, Apple Corps was launched, and recording had begun on a large batch of songs, many of which were written in India.  Also, Paul (who attended the premiere alone) would officially be single a few days after the premiere when longtime girlfriend Jane Asher announced their breakup on the BBC.

Yet despite all the chaos and upheaval (or, perhaps because their involvement with the project was so limited), another Beatles product was being introduced to a public which couldn’t, and still can’t, get enough of the Fabs.  The film influenced the animation art of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python), as well as children’s programs Sesame Street, the Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock.  With its trippy, colorful animation, positive message, and of course wonderful music, Yellow Submarine continues to capture the imagination of young and old to this day.

Four of the numerous songs included in the movie were previously unreleased and had been considered not up to Beatles standard for a regular album release:  Hey Bulldog, Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much.  I supposed we can attribute this to an embarrassment of riches.  The latter song is one of my favorite Beatles tracks, and along with the Byrds’ Eight Miles High, it’s my favorite of the “psychedelic era.”  Even what is widely considered the weakest of the bunch, Only a Northern Song, is worthy of inclusion (Harrison presented it for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper but was asked by George Martin to come up with something better, which he did with Within You Without You).  The soundtrack’s orchestral score was arranged by George Martin.

A few stills:

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“Don’t push that button!”
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Mystical, animated George.  If anyone knows where I can find a poster or t-shirt with this image, please let me know!

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I received this as a Christmas gift from my wife.  Despite the temptation, I haven’t removed the contents from the box.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Submarine_(film)

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/07/17/world-premiere-yellow-submarine/

-Stephen

July 9 – Marvin and Tammi Top the Charts Again

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Single:  You’re All I Need to Get By

Released this day in 1968, this was the second #1 for Marvin and Tammi that year, spending five weeks atop Billboard’s Hot R&B singles chart.  It also reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.  As with their previous hit Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, this one never gets old.

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Side A: You’re All I Need to Get By

Side B:  Two Can Have a Party

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_All_I_Need_to_Get_By

-Stephen

 

July 5 – The Lizard King and His Grasshopper – errrr Moth…

The Doors – Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Doors’ historic engagement at that venerable L.A. venue, the Hollywood Bowl.  They weren’t the first rock act to perform there – among the many notable non-classical or jazz concerts, the Beatles were there in ’64 and ’65, the Jimi Hendrix Experience performed two months after the Doors, and skipping ahead almost 50 years Tom Petty’s final show just before his passing was on that stage – but thanks to the belated concert album and video release in 1987, the performance holds an important place in the group’s lore.

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The Doors were one of my favorite bands during my highly impressionable adolescence in the 1980’s, and I rented this concert video numerous times on VHS.  Then somewhere along the line, perhaps after watching Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic of the group a few times, I began to see Jim Morrison as more of a caricature of himself which cheapened the music for me.  But as we see repeatedly with these bands, time has a way of shaping and reshaping our perspectives.

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In my case, starting this blog has caused me to revisit the Doors catalog with fresh ears.  Whether one likes Morrison’s poetry or not, or whether one even considers it poetry at all, there were three extremely talented musicians and one very good vocalist in that group.  Actually, two talented vocalists, as heard when Ray Manzarek had to take over the vocals on the occasion at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam when Jim was unable to make it to the stage after ingesting anything and everything given to him by fans as the band walked around the city.  And knowing that Manzarek was also playing the bass lines on his keyboard only elevated his status as a musician in my mind.

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Due to the poor quality of the tapes when originally released 31 years ago, the album was limited to seven tracks totalling just over 22 minutes.  With improved technology, the other tracks were cleaned up and the full show was released in 2012 as Live at the Bowl ’68.  As critic Chris Roberts noted upon the 2012 release, the band seemed very aware of the importance of the show as they rehearsed more than usual, played tighter during the show, and even decided on a set list prior to the performance – something they didn’t often do.

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One of my favorite moments of the show comes during The End when Morrison, under the influence of the “dreaded lysergic” (as George Harrison referred to it in later years), goes into a rambling stream of consciousness soliloquy about a grasshopper he sees on the stage just to his left.  He’s being over the top as usual in his typical rock Adonis mode when he looks down and realizes it’s not a grasshopper but a moth – a rare moment of levity, especially for such a bleak song.

Tracklist (2012 release):

  1. Intro
  2. When the Music’s Over
  3. Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)
  4. Back Door Man
  5. Five to One
  6. Back Door Man (Reprise)
  7. The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)
  8. Hello, I Love You
  9. Moonlight Drive
  10. Horse Latitudes
  11. A Little Game
  12. The Hill Dwellers
  13. Spanish Caravan
  14. Hey, What Would You Guys Like to Hear?
  15. Wake Up!
  16. Light My Fire
  17. Light My Fire (Segue)
  18. The Unknown Soldier
  19. The End (Segue)
  20. The End

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/mbhf/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_the_Hollywood_Bowl_(The_Doors_album)

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/jim-morrison-passes-out-amsterdam/

-Stephen

July 4

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Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”
I had a brother at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., I’m a long gone daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., I’m a cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A.
-Bruce Springsteen

July 3 – The Doors Roll On

The Doors – Waiting for the Sun

The Doors released their third album on this day in 1968.  Given the success of their first two releases, The Doors and Strange Days (both from ’67), expectations were high among fans and critics.  While received fairly well, Waiting for the Sun was still considered a bit of a let down after the band had blasted onto the scene the year before.

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Due to the amount of time the Doors were spending on the road and doing TV appearances, they had a relative shortage of material to record.  Some songs on the album were the last of the leftovers from Jim Morrison’s compositions which landed on the first two releases, and they intended to compensate for the dearth of new material with a long piece titled The Celebration of the Lizard.  That track was a collection of song fragments with Morrison’s lyrics, but the band failed to achieve a satisfactory recording so it was left off the album.  Oddly, the solid title track was also left off and later used on the 1970 Morrison Hotel record.

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Jim being Jim.

The result was a good but not great album, including the band’s second #1, Hello, I Love You.  To me, it’s an enjoyable listen all the way through without any clunkers, although the standouts are obvious.  Robby Krieger’s flamenco and electric guitars on Spanish Caravan are among my favorite sounds on the album, and Morrison’s lyrics are worth another reading 50 years on.  While songs such as Love Street lighten the vibe, the overall tone is even a little darker than on the first two albums (tracks such as The End from their debut notwithstanding), and Jim’s behavior was becoming more unpredictable on stage and off.  The Doors were very active at this point, and we’ll hear from them again in these pages shortly.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Hello, I Love You
  2. Love Street
  3. Not to Touch the Earth
  4. Summer’s Almost Gone
  5. Wintertime Love
  6. The Unknown Soldier

Side Two:

  1. Spanish Caravan
  2. My Wild Love
  3. We Could Be So Good Together
  4. Yes, the River Knows
  5. Five to One

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

-Stephen