November 15 – The Velvet Underground’s Swan Song, Sort Of

11/15/70: The Velvet Underground – Loaded

The shifting of rock’s tectonic plates in 1970 continued this day 50 years ago with the fourth studio release by the Velvet Underground, Loaded. In a year that gave us legendary swan songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles despite their respective disintegrating songwriting partnerships, the finale from the second phase of VU shows us once again that great music can be created despite discord. While technically not the final VU album, it was the last one to include Lou Reed, who left the group prior to the album’s release. John Cale had departed after White Light/White Heat.

Loaded': The Velvet Underground in 5.1 surround, win a free box set from  Rhino | Dangerous Minds

Loaded is an outstanding album arising from multiple streams of conflict within the band, from Doug Yule’s increasing role to bad feelings between Sterling Morrison and Reed over Cale’s departure. Additionally, drummer Moe Tucker was on maternity leave, her duties assumed by three session players including Yule’s brother Billy. Finally, Atlantic wanted an album loaded with hits, hence the double entendre in the title. Despite Reed’s pop leanings, he was not pleased with edits made in the name of shorter, radio-friendly songs. These factors led some purists to think of Loaded as something other than a “real” VU album. The group would finally dissolve after their next release in 1973. There was also plenty of controversy after Loaded’s release. Among other song edits not authorized by Reed (this is disputed by Yule) was the “heavenly wine and roses” bridge on Sweet Jane, which I didn’t even know about until I heard Cowboy Junkies’ version in 1990. It was restored on later releases. Also, it took legal proceedings for songwriting credits to be restored to Reed after the initial release credited the entire band.

Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition - Rolling Stone

I’ve always liked the Velvets, but don’t consider myself a hardcore fan, whatever that may look like. This includes some of the heavier, avant-garde contributions of John Cale. I came to Loaded well after becoming familiar with the previous three albums, and as a result it’s not an album that usually comes to mind as being among my favorites from 1970. But it never fails that when I listen to it I have an “Oh yeah, that is one of the best” epiphany. I love a well-crafted pop song like anyone else, and there’s no shortage of them with its singles including Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, Rock & Roll, and Head Held High. The B-side Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ is also one of my favorites. Simply put, it’s a very accessible album, which is not something I normally associate with this band. Yet despite the radio promotion the album didn’t chart. As is often the case, retrospective reviews have been quite kind, as they should be.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Who Loves the Sun
  2. Sweet Jane
  3. Rock & Roll
  4. Cool It Down
  5. New Age

Side Two:

  1. Head Held High
  2. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
  3. I Found a Reason
  4. Train Round the Bend
  5. Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/loaded-mw0000196213

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loaded_(The_Velvet_Underground_album)

November 15 – Van Morrison’s Less Great Album?

11/15/70: Van Morrison – His Band and the Street Choir

Van Morrison’s fourth studio album, His Band and the Street Choir, was released half a century ago today. It was recorded over two sessions in New York’s A & R Studios in the first half of 1970, and released less than a year after Moondance. By the time the album reached stores, it had been renamed from Virgo’s Fool without Morrison’s consent. Despite the overall long term success of Street Choir, which peaked at 32 on the Billboard chart and 18 on the U.K. album chart, Morrison has expressed displeasure with seemingly everything to do with the album. He originally intended to record it a cappella – hence the “Street Choir,” but ultimately abandoned the idea when he became dissatisfied with the result.

His Band and the Street Choir - Wikipedia

Critics noted the songwriting is a bit simpler than on the previous two albums, and that the tracks are more R&B inspired with only hints of folk. But simpler isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there is an element of joy in these songs with minimal overdubbing which were inspired by the likes of James Brown. Singles from the album included the gospel-inflected Call Me Up in Dreamland, plus Blue Money and Domino, the latter being the most successful single of Morrison’s career. Some of the songs on Street Choir were originally intended for the Astral Weeks and Moondance albums, which Morrison rearranged for the personnel on this release. These include I’ve Been Working and Domino, his tribute to Fats Domino. Other lyrics were inspired by his marriage, such as in I’ll Be Your Lover, Too, Call Me Up in Dreamland, and Sweet Jannie.

Vinyl Album - Van Morrison - His Band And The Street Choir - Warner Bros. -  USA

By almost anyone’s standard, His Band and the Street Choir could be a career-making album. This is a good album with a couple of strong singles. Highlights for me include the soulful Crazy Face, I’ve Been Working, the whimsical Blue Money, and album closer Street Choir. I prefer the live version of Domino on 1974’s Too Late to Stop Now to the studio original. Perhaps I’ve heard it too many times. But in the context of the creative streak Van Morrison was on at the time, this album just isn’t as interesting to me overall as those preceding and following it. I’m more of an Astral Weeks/St. Dominic’s Preview/Veedon Fleece kind of guy, though I’m certainly not turning my nose up at Street Choir. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted in his 2015 review in Pitchfork, the album is “all about the rough and tumble joy of living,” and Van the Man did it well enough for this to be considered a classic.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Domino
  2. Crazy Face
  3. Give Me a Kiss
  4. I’ve Been Working
  5. Call Me Up in Dreamland
  6. I’ll Be Your Lover, Too

Side Two:

  1. Blue Money
  2. Virgo Clowns
  3. Gypsy Queen
  4. Sweet Jannie
  5. If I Ever Needed Someone
  6. Street Choir

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/his-band-and-the-street-choir-mw0000191086

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/21092-astral-weeks-his-band-and-the-street-choir/

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

November 1970 – Paul Kantner & the Evolution of the Airplane

November 1970: Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? -from Hijack, side 2 track 2

Fifty years ago this month saw one of the more unique releases of the era, Paul Kantner’s concept album Blows Against the Empire. Technically, it’s credited as Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, though it shouldn’t be confused with the band of that name which didn’t officially form until four years later. It’s also not the Jefferson Airplane, who were still together but experiencing inevitable internal strife on the downward slope of their run. Grace Slick does add vocals and piano throughout, and Jack Casady plays bass on two tracks.

Paul Kantner - Wikipedia

Blows Against the Empire is counterculture science fiction set in a future where the hippie generation is able to unite, steal a starship, and create their Utopia in another solar system. It’s in the anti-military, anti-government (even California’s then-governor Reagan is called out), anti-conventional society, “back to the land” spirit, only the land is on a distant planet where babies grow on trees. Another element of the story is the allegory of relationships and childbirth, which symbolize Kantner’s romantic relationship at the time with Grace Slick, who would give birth to their daughter China the following year. The album was nominated for a Hugo, a literary award for best science fiction or fantasy work in the category of Best Dramatic Presentation.

I'd Love to Turn You On #124 – Paul Kantner – Blows Against The Empire |  Twist and Shout

The album was recorded in San Francisco during the summer and fall of ’70 utilizing a number of Bay Area musicians including members of the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Jefferson Airplane. David Crosby and Graham Nash also participated, and many of these musicians assisted Crosby with his solo debut which he recorded at the same time and location. This “shifting supergroup” was informally known as PERRO, or The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.

Grace Slick With Paul Kantner: The Rolling Stone Interview - Rolling Stone

From a musical standpoint, the tracks are built around Slick’s piano with plenty of vocal harmonizing between Kantner and her. In that regard it’s not far from sounding like the Airplane. An exception is The Baby Tree, featuring only Kantner’s vocal and Jerry Garcia’s banjo. My favorite songs here are heavy on piano and acoustic guitar with just the right touches of electric guitar, such as A Child is Coming (feat. David Crosby), Have You Seen the Stars Tonight? (feat. Crosby & Garcia), and Starship (feat. Jerry Garcia). That said, there’s plenty to keep me interested throughout.

Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra | Psychedelicized

Thematically, the album contains many counterculture clichés in a tidy 33 1/3 rpm album. To the cynical among us, maybe even to the point of being a parody of itself. But by the end of 1970 the dream was fading, and disillusionment was creeping into a lot of the music. This album almost sounds like one last grasp at an alternative way of being, and in a way it’s unsettlingly relevant 50 years later. Even in an era of relative artistic freedom and experimentation, Blows Against the Empire stands out as a spacy oddity. Not Trout Mask Replica odd, but out there nonetheless. And I like it.

Wave goodbye to Amerika, say hello to the garden. -from Let’s Go Together

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Mau Mau (Amerikon)
  2. The Baby Tree
  3. Let’s Go Together
  4. A Child is Coming

Side Two:

  1. Sunrise
  2. Hijack
  3. Home
  4. Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?
  5. XM
  6. Starship

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/blows-against-the-empire-mw0000024441

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

November 9 – Desert Island Album Draft, Round 13 (Music-Related Movies): Jazz on a Summer’s Day

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There were ten initial rounds, and now we’re into the third of three four bonus rounds which will cover soundtracks, compilations, music-related movies, and box sets, with draft order determined randomly by round.

Jazz on a Summer's Day.jpg

I first watched Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which I rented on VHS at a local independent shop after picking up the box by chance, some time in the mid-1990’s when I was into my jazz journey. The film documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, beautifully blended with footage of the America’s Cup yacht races taking place simultaneously in the bay. There is no narration other than the stage emcee, Willis Conover, and occasionally the yacht race announcer. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1999 for its cultural, historic, and aesthetic significance.

Jazz on a Summer's Day - Kino Lorber Repertory

I was immediately captivated not just by the music, but by Bert Stern’s color cinematography that captured the carefree sights and sounds, from the music to the setting around the festival grounds to the party atmosphere in town and on the beach, as well as the yacht races. This is where I discovered Anita O’Day, who immediately became one of my favorite jazz singers. It’s also where I first saw performances by the likes of Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Gerry Mulligan, Eric Dolphy, and others. The footage of a young Chuck Berry is priceless. It’s also how I learned that gospel music fit in with the jazz scene of the time, with Mahalia Jackson closing out the festival in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Remembering Chuck Berry's Scandalous Stand at the 1958 Newport Jazz  Festival - Flipboard

The film begins with the music of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 playing a rippling sound that perfectly matches the closeup of the water in the harbor before shifting to the stage itself, and immediately I’m drawn in. As with Murray Lerner’s Festival documentary of the Newport Folk Festival, we see afternoon and evening sessions, each with distinctive vibes. When the sun is out, the crowds are very laid back and casually dressed, wearing Wayfarer and cat eye sunglasses, smoking cigarettes and munching on hotdogs and homemade sandwiches or enjoying a book. At night, it’s much more of a party atmosphere. But day or night, the attendees are hip. Also, the audiences are racially integrated, not insignificant for 1958.

Beating the heat with some cool jazz — The incredible montage

In addition to the big names on stage, there are scenes of other jazz ensembles jamming off-site while day partiers with crates of beer sit in open windows and dance on the roofs of the massive Newport homes nearby in the cooler climes of the northeast U.S. summer. When the scene shifts to the evening session the crowd looks to be in a euphoric state and without a care in the world. It just looks like they’re having so much damn fun, swingin’ to the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Big Maybelle, and Louis Armstrong before Mahalia Jackson takes it home. Everyone is smiling.

Streaming now: 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' | Film | taosnews.com

Jazz on a Summer’s Day is a wonderful snapshot of late 1950’s Americana, and captures what appears to me to be an idyllic moment in time. In my younger naiveté I assumed that all pre-1967 America was rather repressed. Then I learned about the Roaring 20’s, read Kerouac, and watched this film, where the hipsters in its scenes appear just as free as their younger counterculture siblings did nine and eleven years later at Monterey and Woodstock.

Lineup:

  • Jimmy Giuffre 3: Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim Hall
  • Thelonious Monk Trio: Thelonious Monk, Henry Grimes, Roy Haynes
  • Sonny Stitt & Sal Salvador
  • Anita O’Day
  • George Shearing
  • Dinah Washington
  • Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Art Farmer
  • Big Maybelle
  • Chuck Berry
  • Chico Hamilton Quintet with Eric Dolphy
  • Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars: Trummy Young, Danny Barcelona, and Jack Teagarden
  • Mahalia Jackson

-Stephen

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052942/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_on_a_Summer%27s_Day

November 9 – Badfinger’s Third

11/9/70: Badfinger – No Dice

Power pop progenitors Badfinger released their third album, No Dice, on this day in 1970. It was their second under the Badfinger moniker, their first album being under their original name The Iveys. It was also their first album to include guitarist Joey Molland.

Badfinger - No Dice - Amazon.com Music

No Dice is the work of a band with enormous promise, and shows them on the verge of a breakthrough if in fact this wasn’t good enough to be the one to put them over the top. The album featured one single, the standout No Matter What, and another track that would become one of the biggest hits of all time when covered by Harry Nilsson, Without You. The group was really beginning to establish itself as a musical force with great songwriting and lead and harmony vocals spread amongst the quartet. As with their patrons from Liverpool, they also showed versatility in music styles, from crunchy rockers like the opener, I Can’t Take It, to ballads such as Without You, and catchy singalongs including Blodwyn.

Badfinger - No Dice Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

The story of Badfinger is a sad and cautionary tale, but for a period of three or four years they created some great music which stands on its own merit. With their follow up to No Dice a year later they would punch their ticket to rock immortality.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. I Can’t Take It
  2. I Don’t Mind
  3. Love Me Do
  4. Midnight Caller
  5. No Matter What
  6. Without You

Side Two:

  1. Blodwyn
  2. Better Days
  3. It Had to Be
  4. Watford John
  5. Believe Me
  6. We’re for the Dark

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/badfinger-no-dice/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/no-dice-mw0000270661

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

November 9 – Layla’s Semicentennial

11/9/70: Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Music is an emotional experience, and that is what imprints itself on the soul. And I think for me, any great art is art which communicates human emotion. – Greg Lake

The circumstances surrounding the creation of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which turns 50 today, are well known. It’s part of rock ‘n’ roll lore. The songs on this double album were fueled by Eric Clapton’s unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, a.k.a. Layla, who happened to be married to his best friend George Harrison. A strong dose of disillusionment with his career at the turn of the decade only increased Clapton’s angst. Add to that a group of fellow musicians in the studio who tended to live on the edge – and substances, lots of substances – and the results could’ve gone either way. What it became, for many fans and critics, was Eric Clapton’s musical peak.

DEREK & THE DOMINOS, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl  Radle, Jim Gordon - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (180 Gram Vinyl) -  Amazon.com Music

Upon release, it didn’t go well. Many critics thought the heavier guitar songs lacked focus while the more mellow tracks were boring. Initially it was a commercial and critical disappointment, failing to chart in the U.K. and stalling at 16 on the Billboard album chart. A significant reason for its early commercial struggle was that Derek & the Dominos was an outgrowth of Eric Clapton’s desire to eschew the hype machine which propelled the two previous groups he’d been involved with, Cream and Blind Faith. His participation in the Delaney & Bonnie tour stoked his desire to just be one of the guys in a band. Even the album cover, a painting titled La Fille au Bouquet which reminded Eric of Pattie, excludes any mention of the band or title. This, too, hindered the public from catching on.

Former George Harrison, Eric Clapton Muse Pattie Boyd Spills the Beans -  Rolling Stone

Skip ahead a few years and it’s more widely praised as one of the greatest rock albums as it should be for its outpouring of emotion and sometimes raw but stellar musicianship, especially the slide guitar work of late addition to the group, Duane Allman. Of Layla’s 14 songs, nine were original. Of those, six were cowritten by Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the latter with sole credit on the closing track. The only song that took time to grow on me was Clapton’s anthemic rendition of Little Wing, but it didn’t take many listens. I hear this album as one emotionally charged outburst. Perhaps it’s a cop out to say there are no weak links, but that’s how I hear it. Eric and Duane’s tandem guitars and Eric and Whitlock’s combined vocals reach fever pitch every time.

Their take on Bill Broonzy’s Key to the Highway, which started as a jam that producer Tom Dowd decided to record – hence the fade in – finds Eric fittingly slurring the lyrics as he and Allman trade guitar licks. Even the quieter I Am Yours, with Jim Gordon’s gentle tabla playing along with Allman’s slide guitar, stays on theme as the record rolls along to its crescendo, Layla, with its famous piano coda composed and played by Gordon. Following that is Whitlock’s album closer, Thorn Tree in the Garden. For a number of years I heard this track as a somber but gentle come down after Clapton and Allman’s orgy of guitars. Then I learned the story behind it. Whitlock had recently moved to California from Macon, GA, and was living in a house with a number of others. His cat and dog were familiar friends of the stranger in a strange land, but he was told he had to get rid of his pets. While Bobby was taking his cat to Delaney Bramlett’s to live, one of his housemates had his dog “done away with.” The garden represents Bobby’s pets, while the heartless housemate was the thorn. It’s gut wrenching, and that’s how Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs ends.

There weren’t many happy endings associated with this album. Jim Gordon would battle schizophrenia before murdering his mother. Carl Radle passed away in 1980 at 37 due to the effects of substance abuse. Duane Allman was lost in a motorcycle accident less than a year after Layla was released. His work with the Allman Brothers Band made him a legend, but his involvement on this album was by no means a frivolous side project. Layla wouldn’t have been what it is without him. Not even close. Bobby Whitlock recorded a couple of strong albums in the immediate aftermath, and he continues to record and perform. He lives in Austin, TX.

Remarkably, Clapton’s friendship with Harrison was not a casualty. Perhaps only on the mountaintop of 1970 rock star celebrity inhabited by free spirits and spiritual seekers could a friendship survive such drama. As George can be heard somewhat cavalierly saying during an interview clip on Scorcese’s Living in the Material World doc, “I’d rather she be with him than some dope.”

So, is Layla Eric Clapton’s peak? In my view, he went on to record a number of fantastic albums which would have more than cemented his place among the greats even if the 1960’s never happened. He would experience more personal anguish which he shared in his music. He is, after all, a blues man. But this 50 year old album is hard to beat for its raw emotion, incredible musicianship, and lack of slickness. Clapton, Whitlock, and Allman caught lightning in a bottle. It’s one of those things that couldn’t be repeated.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. I Looked Away
  2. Bell Bottom Blues
  3. Keep on Growing
  4. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

Side Two:

  1. I Am Yours
  2. Anyday
  3. Key to the Highway

Side Three:

  1. Tell the Truth
  2. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
  3. Have You Ever Loved a Woman

Side Four:

  1. Little Wing
  2. It’s Too Late
  3. Layla
  4. Thorn Tree in the Garden

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/layla-and-other-assorted-love-songs-mw0000650067

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

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/derek-the-dominos/thorn-tree-in-the-garden

November 4 – Desert Island Album Draft, Round 12 (Compilations): Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Greatest

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There were ten initial rounds, and now we’re into the second of three four bonus rounds which will cover soundtracks, compilations, music related movies, and box sets, with draft order determined randomly by round.

Wings | Discography | Discogs
Wings core from beginning to end: Paul, Linda, and Denny Laine

Reviewing my Desert Island list up to this point, I’m surprised that only a couple of the first eleven have a heavy element of personal nostalgia attached to them. Some of my chosen titles go back forty-fifty-plus years, but I didn’t start listening to a few of them until I reached adult age in the early 1990’s. My compilation selection, however, is almost a purely nostalgic one. Not that I don’t listen to Wings anymore, but I’m pretty much a regular release fan as opposed to hits collections these days. And for those occasions when I want to hear a cross section of McCartney’s music, Wingspan eclipsed Wings Greatest in 2001. Actually, 1987’s All the Best! did that before, but I digress. While my older brothers had the individual albums downstairs, Wings Greatest, released in 1978 just before the final Wings album with yet another lineup, was my singular Paul McCartney record for a few years, and I wore it out on my hand-me-down record player as a kid.

When Paul McCartney Introduced Wings With 'Wild Life'
Early incarnation of Wings with Denny Seiwell (left) on drums

I have a similar relationship with hits comps almost across the board. When I was young, it was mostly a matter of finance – I had to get the most bang for my (or my mom’s) buck. Hits comps were albums unto themselves. This was true with greatest hits releases by The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, James Taylor, the Eagles, and others. As I got older and wanted to explore a band or individual artist I was unfamiliar with, compilations were a logical place to start. That’s how I got into Bobs Dylan and Marley, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, Leonard Cohen, Fairport Convention, and others.

centerfield maz: Looking Back At Paul McCartney's Wings Over America Tour  (Sept.1975- Oct.1976)
The “classic” mid-70’s Wings lineup (Venus & Mars/At the Speed of Sound/Wings Over America) including drummer Joe English (far left) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (second from left)

Looking at the Wings Greatest track listing, it’s still a good album. I don’t care if I ever hear Band on the Run or Jet again – thankfully they’re the first two tracks on the Band on the Run album and I can easily skip them – but I still enjoy the rest of it, even Silly Love Songs and Let ‘Em In. Five of the songs were initially issued as singles only: Junior’s Farm, Hi, Hi, Hi, Live & Let Die, Another Day, and Mull of Kintyre, so in a way it almost was a “new” album. And, those are still among my favorite McCartney songs. Paul shows no sign of slowing down, and hopefully the upcoming McCartney III release will produce a few more great ones. As for his back catalog, Wings Greatest represents comfort and familiarity with a simpler time in my life. It’s been years since I actually owned this album, but I even culled its tracks from Wingspan into a “Wings Greatest” playlist. Because I’m a nerd like that.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Another Day
  2. Silly Love Songs
  3. Live and Let Die
  4. Junior’s Farm
  5. With a Little Luck
  6. Band on the Run

Side Two:

  1. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
  2. Hi, Hi, Hi
  3. Let ‘Em In
  4. My Love
  5. Jet
  6. Mull of Kintyre

-Stephen

November 4 – The Man Who Sold the World

11/4/70: David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World

David Bowie’s third studio album was released 50 years ago today, and it is widely considered the opening salvo of his classic period. Producer Tony Visconti was brought in to corral Bowie’s various styles into more of a cohesive sound. This was to be done by shifting Bowie from a purely solo artist to incorporating a band, including Mick Ronson on guitar and drummer Mick Woodmansey, who would soon be core members of Bowie’s Spiders from Mars.

David Bowie in pictures | The Star

The Man Who Sold the World represents a shift from the more acoustic folk of the previous album to a heavier rock/blues rock sound. Yet the acoustic guitars quite audible in the mix, lending to its recognizeable early 70’s Bowie sound. The original title of the album was Metropolist, after Friz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis film, but was changed by Mercury without asking Bowie, and the initial album cover on the U.S. release featured a cartoon cowboy in front of an asylum. Bowie had it changed for the U.K. release in April 1971. Despite positive contemporary reviews, the album was initially a commercial failure but was quickly reassessed after the breakthrough with Ziggy Stardust a couple years later.

MWSTWUS2.jpg
The original U.S. album jacket

Now it’s considered a crucial element of his classic early 70’s period. Everything to do with rock music was evolving so fast, and it didn’t take long for the listening public to realize how good it was. It may not be entirely innovative, but Bowie definitely put his own twist on the heavy blues rock genre. I liken it to Pink Floyd’s Meddle – a great blend of the band’s past and immediate future. Bowie has credited producer/bassist Visconti and guitarist Ronson for the album’s sonics. Bowie’s lyrics – with themes including Nietzsche, Vietnam, and man being ruled by computers – range from esoteric to dark, and border on frightening at times. The instrumental tracks to these songs, driven by Woodmansey’s drums, Visconti’s fuzzy bass, and the possibly underrated Ronson’s guitar, are relentless.

DVD Review: "Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story"

Some of the haunting vocal affectation in The Width of a Circle and the title track can also be heard on his final album, Blackstar, something I hadn’t noticed until now. Black Country Rock strongly hints at the direction he would take on his next album, Hunky Dory. She Shook Me Cold veers into Cream territory. But perhaps more so than any of his contemporaries, Bowie’s vocals make the otherwise common heavy rock sound his own. It’s hard to find any weak spots on this one.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. The Width of a Circle
  2. All the Madmen
  3. Black Country Rock
  4. After All

Side Two:

  1. Running Gun Blues
  2. Saviour Machine
  3. She Shook Me Cold
  4. The Man Who Sold the World
  5. The Supermen

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-man-who-sold-the-world-mw0000098879#:~:text=Musically%2C%20there%20isn’t%20much,of%20Bowie’s%20best%20albums.

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/david-bowie-man-who-sold-the-world/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Sold_the_World_(album)#Track_listing

November 1 – A Beaut from The Dead

11/1/70: The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

I’ve accepted some truisms over the past couple of years pertaining to my taste in music. For example, carrying over somewhat from yesterday’s post, I can like various prog albums quite a bit without trying to become an expert on the genre and all of its sub-genres. I like what I like, in this case with a few exceptions they’re what you might call “the usual suspects.” Another realization: Gosh darn it, I like The Grateful Dead’s studio albums! I get that they’re best known as a live band, and around that one time I got to see them (I was 20) the idea of following them around for a couple weeks at a time sounded appealing. But I was late to the party and had to settle for a handful of nice soundboard tapes gifted to me by a bonafide Dead Head friend. So yeah, give me some of that Buffalo or Cornell ’77. I love it, and Donna Godchaux doesn’t even bother me anymore. But at the end of the day, my go-to’s will always be the studio work. And today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of their best, and one of the best by anyone in 1970 and beyond, American Beauty.

Grateful Dead Listening Guide: 1970 November 6 - Capitol Theatre

This release, appearing just four months after Workingman’s Dead, is considered a continuation of that sound, though with its emphasis on harmonies the album leans a little more in the folk direction of CSN than Bakersfield (though Jerry did increase his use of the pedal steel on this one). There was a good amount of cross-pollination happening with friends from CSNY, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana working or otherwise hanging out in the studio at the same time. The album also marked the first collaboration of Garcia with David Grisman, whose mandolin is heard on Friend of the Devil and Ripple. In addition to those songs, favorites of mine include Phil Lesh’s song for his father, Box of Rain, plus Sugar Magnolia, ‘Till the Morning Comes, Candyman, and the warhorse Truckin’. Eight of the ten songs remained in the Dead’s live repertoire throughout their existence, while American Beauty was certified Gold in 1974 and Double Platinum in 2001.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Box of Rain
  2. Friend of the Devil
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Operator
  5. Candyman

Side Two:

  1. Ripple
  2. Brokedown Palace
  3. ‘Till the Morning Comes
  4. Attics of My Life
  5. Truckin’

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/american-beauty-mw0000192627

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/grateful-dead-american-beauty/

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

October 1970 Music Wrap Up

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so I’m told. I had planned to take advantage of a light month to work on what will be the busiest month I’ve had for 50th album release anniversaries in November. Instead, I didn’t even do dedicated write ups for a couple of my favorites in October. Oh well, I’ll acknowledge them now and get to work on next month’s cornucopia…

10/5/70: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III

Contemporary criticisms painted the heavier songs as noise while others said the acoustic numbers were folk rock rip-offs. Whatever. Led Zep III went straight to number one, and is one of my favorite Zeppelin albums. I tend to enjoy the acoustic tracks most on this one, and John Paul Jones shines throughout.

A collage of butterflies, teeth, zeppelins and assorted imagery on a white background, with the artist name and "III" subtitle at center.

10/19/70: Bob Dylan – New Morning

The period of Dylan’s career from (roughly) 1967-74 tends to be glossed over by casual fans, but to me some of his best output is from that era. New Morning has quietly, almost surreptitiously, become one of my favorite Dylan albums. If Not for You, Day of the Locusts, The Man in Me – great stuff.

A black-and-white photograph of Bob Dylan

10/23/70: Frank Zappa – Chunga’s Revenge

Zappa’s third solo album was released this month. It was the first to feature Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (a.k.a., Flo & Eddie) of the Turtles. It was another shift in musical direction, and was met with mixed reviews. I haven’t listened to Frank’s entire catalog including this one, but if there’s a better album than Hot Rats somebody please let me know.

Frank Zappa - Chunga's Revenge.jpg

10/23/70 – Genesis – Trespass

Prog. Prog, prog, prog. I’ve reached a point where I’ll give an album a listen or two and it either resonates with me or it doesn’t. There are plenty of prog albums that I like a lot, including some early ones by Genesis. Trespass, their second album, just isn’t one of them. It’s a slog for me. However, I take my first step onto the Genesis train with their next release a year later.

Trespass70.jpg

-Stephen

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunga%27s_Revenge

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