We close out March of 1968 by tidying up with some notable items which didn’t receive dedicated posts:
3/1/68: Johnny Cash and June Carter marry
3/8/68: The Fillmore East opens
Bill Graham’s 2,654 seat New York sibling to his Fillmore West opened fifty years ago in the Lower East Side and remained open under his ownership until June 27, 1971. Originally a Yiddish theater when constructed in 1925, The Fillmore East hosted many major names in rock and jazz during its brief existence. Dozens of live recordings from the Fillmore made their way to vinyl, the Allman Bros. being arguably the most well-known. Today, what used to be the Fillmore lobby is now a bank, and the auditorium was demolished and replaced with apartments.
3/25/68: The final episode of The Monkees aires on NBC
Other Noteworthy Releases from March 1968:
The Electric Flag – A Long Time Comin’
The debut album and probably the peak for the Flag, formed by Mike Bloomfield after his time with the Butterfield Blues Band. The music is blues, rock, and soul, and has a big sound that features a horn section.
The International Submarine Band – Safe at Home
The sole release by Gram Parsons’ first country rock group. Parsons had been a folkie while pretending to be a student at Harvard, but switched to a heavy country flavor with the ISB, which he maintained for the rest of his too brief career and life. By the time this album was released, Parsons had already quit the band to join the Byrds on their Sweetheart of the Rodeo sessions (who he would soon leave to form the Flying Burrito Bros.).
Miles Davis – Nefertiti
The album is significant for being Davis’s final acoustic album.
Joni Mitchell – Song to a Seagull
Joni’s debut, produced by David Crosby. These were Mitchell’s brief salad days; her fortunes improved greatly one year later.
Tommy James and the Shondells – Single: Mony Mony
A great track still.
And while I try to keep the politics to a minimum in these pages, it feels silly to write about this period and avoid the topic, as well as Vietnam. As such, March was quite a volatile month on the political home front as Eugene McCarthy nearly defeated the sitting president from his own party, Lyndon B. Johnson, in the New Hampshire Primary. Four days later, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy. And on March 31, 1968, fifty years ago today, Johnson went before a national TV audience to announce that he wouldn’t seek re-election, and also to proclaim that steps would be taken to limit the war in Vietnam. It was a respectable thing to do at a time when there was still a hint of honor in the White House. As shocking as all of this was, the headlines were about to get crazier. And more tragic.
Today’s offering is a slight twist on my 50th anniversary theme, as it’s the anniversary of a recording as opposed to an album release. By 1968, The Yardbirds were no longer united in their musical direction. Two of the band’s founders, drummer Jim McCarty and lead vocalist Keith Relf, decided to leave the group to pursue more of a folk sound, while guitarist Jimmy Page wanted to pursue the heavier sounds that the band had begun to explore and which groups such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were delivering to great acclaim. In March of 1968, before McCarty and Relf exited, the Yardbirds embarked on their final U.S. tour. They also entered Columbia Recording Studios in April to lay down some demos.
The live tracks on Yardbirds ’68, taken from their show at New York’s Anderson Theatre on March 30, 1968, were originally released by Epic Records in 1971 on an album titled Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page in an effort to cash in on the success of Led Zeppelin, but the release was withdrawn after an injunction was issued by Page’s attorneys. The studio sessions saw a limited release in 2000. In November of 2017, with cooperation among the three surviving members of the band (McCarty, Chris Dreja, and Page), the two-disc Yardbirds ’68, produced by Page, was released and includes the live set from the Anderson Theatre as well as the studio sessions.
While the band continued to include pre-Page standards in their 1968 live sets, The Yardbirds by this time were clearly Jimmy Page’s vehicle. In fact, three of the songs on this release would later be included on Led Zeppelin albums. The clips below from a French TV program are a good example of the group in their final months, although Page’s restoration of the Anderson Theatre performance on Yardbirds ’68 definitely offers a superior listening experience.
Perhaps I should cease to admit this when it happens lest I seem less knowledgeable than I’d like to think I am about music from this era, but Yardbirds ’68 is a bit of a revelation to me. I’ve always taken this band for granted, knowing mainly the hits but having to think hard as to whether or not a particular song is from the Clapton, Beck, or Page era of the group. No more. This is heavy music, and it leaves me wondering what they could’ve achieved had they remained intact with Page as the driving force. Which leads me to a question for fans of Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, or both: How do you compare Yardbirds music from 1968 with Led Zeppelin? Whichever your preference may be, I highly recommend this release.
(**Subsequent edit: The album wasn’t available on youtube when I originally posted this. It’s now there, so it’s now here…)
Disc 1: Live at the Anderson Theatre, March 30, 1968
The Train Kept A-Rollin’
Mr., You’re a Better Man Than I
Heart Full of Soul
Dazed and Confused
Over Under Sideways Down
Drinking Muddy Water
Shapes of Things
I’m a Man (contains “Moanin’ and Sobbin'”)
Disc 2: Studio Sketches
Spanish Blood (instrumental with spoken words by McCarty)
Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine) (Instrumental)
I begin today’s post with a somewhat glaring omission from earlier this month, March 3rd to be exact, as that was the 50th anniversary of the release of Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. In a way, my exclusion is symbolic of Nyro’s career. She was my answer I couldn’t think of recently to a music forum thread question (“Name an album you bought blindly without having ever listened to the artist”). This album is not only on lists of important releases from 1968, but it’s in my collection and my wife and I enjoy listening to it, yet I still forgot to honor it on the correct day. Self-flogging complete.
If you aren’t familiar with Nyro or this album, it’s understandable. I wasn’t either until a couple of years ago, and it was only due to reading about her in posts by zealous fans of hers on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums that I gave her a listen and learned a bit about her. The music doesn’t fit a particular niche, as it combines pop, jazz, rock, and soul. I think of Nyro as a songwriter’s songwriter: Her songs were covered by the likes of Blood, Sweat & Tears,The 5th Dimension, Three Dog Night, and Barbara Streisand, and she influenced many other songwriters including Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Todd Rundgren.
So, why is Laura Nyro not more widely known and appreciated? Perhaps a reader could enlighten me more, but it seems she didn’t pursue the limelight as hard as her contemporaries. Though she performed live, Nyro avoided TV appearances. Also, keep in mind we’re hurtling toward the period when Carole King (a very successful songwriter since the early 1960’s), Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon would become the glamor girls of the singer/songwriter genre. And sadly, as is the case with many of the artists I’m writing about, she died young. Nyro passed away in 1997 at the age of 49 from ovarian cancer, the same age her mother died and from the same disease. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
And her version of Wedding Bell Blues, which she wrote at the age of 18, from her 1967 debut album:
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Single: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
On this day in 1968, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell released the single, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, on Tamla Records. It was the first single from their second album, You’re All I Need, and was written and produced by collaborators Ashford and Simpson. The song reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the R&B chart, the duo’s first of two #1’s.
This is another one of those near-perfect tracks that I’ve never tired of over the years. It’s joyousness belies Terrell’s poor health which she sadly succumbed to just two years later, as well as some dark days ahead for Gaye. Many other artists covered the tune in later years, but as the title of the song says…
The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
One of the more unique albums of 1968 came from one of the more extraordinary groups of the age, The Incredible String Band. The Scottish group released its third album, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, in March of that year to high acclaim in the UK where it reached number five on the album chart. It didn’t fare as well in the U.S. at the time as evidenced by, or perhaps partly because of, an unfavorable review it received in Rolling Stone magazine. Not surprisingly, it was later given five out of five stars in the Rolling Stone Album Guide (sometimes we Yanks are just a tad behind the times).
This album followed the group’s 1967 gem, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion, and was somehow even more ambitious. The versatility of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron can be seen with a glance at the instruments they play on the record: gimbri, penny whistle, pan pipe, guitar, oud, piano, mandolin, jaw harp, chahanai, water pipe, sitar, Hammond organ, hammered dulcimer, and harpsichord, among others.
This music contains nuggets of many styles and themes I enjoy listening to: Scottish music, Indian music, folk, psychedelia, wistful songs of youth and first loves, middle Earth and mythology (ISB was also an early influence on Led Zeppelin). It’s as if Ravi Shankar and Donovan formed a band. Or something like that.
I was first introduced to the Incredible String Band about 15 years ago by an aging hippie friend of mine named David. I was a bit incredulous as he described their greatness and how they had performed at Woodstock, etc. It had been a while since I’d seen the film, but I couldn’t recall them being in it (they weren’t, nor were a handful of other music legends who took the stage that weekend). And I most certainly hadn’t heard them on the radio. David recommended I check out their second and third albums, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onionand The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, respectively, and it happened that the CD I found contained both albums in a two-disc set. I immediately dug it, but the downside was that I didn’t play The Hangman’s… nearly as often as its predecessor until a year or so ago. I’m now making up for lost time.
The Minotaur’s Song
A Very Cellular Song
Mercy I Cry City
Waltz of the New Moon
The Water Song
Three is a Green Crown
Swift As the Wind
Another element of the ISB my friend shared with me was their producer, Joe Boyd. Boyd was a (then) young American in the UK who produced acts that I would subsequently discover and love, including Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Fotheringay, as well as Richard and Linda Thompson. He also produced music by a few acts I had already had in my collection for years: Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, and REM. Boyd was also at the heart of London’s underground music scene, having opened the first psychedelic nightclub, the UFO, where Pink Floyd (then known as The Pink Floyd) staged their earliest light show extravaganzas.
We’ll hear more from the Incredible String Band later in the year.
My thoughts on My Lai, and on the American involvement in Vietnam in general, are all over the place. No matter what opinion one might hold about the war or any particular aspect of it, there is someone who will be offended or otherwise disagree. On a very personal level, I hold a strong affinity for Vietnam having twice visited that country, in 2000 and 2002. I have friends there as a result. I also have a better understanding of my father as well as a bond with him over our mutual appreciation for and fascination with Vietnam, though I wouldn’t claim to know it as intimately as he does since he served three tours of duty as a member of the Special Forces during the conflict as opposed to the roughly five weeks I’ve spent there as a tourist during peacetime.
The recent Vietnam documentary series on PBS did little to change the hearts and minds of many who were alive during that time, especially those who served in the military. Ken Burns and his co-director Lynne Novick seem to believe that their series would be the healing tonic for a generation. But while I personally feel it was fairly balanced (as it should be in 2018), it still had significant flaws in my view. And it certainly didn’t heal any military wounds. But what about My Lai specifically? That unfathomable event happened on this day, fifty years ago.
There are veterans including my father who, though they’ve been open in the past to discussing their experiences in Vietnam, would prefer not to dwell on them any further. Some would say the topic of My Lai has been worn out and that there’s no point in continuing to harp on it, and I respect that opinion if it’s held by a Vietnam Veteran. I just don’t agree with it. America never did come to grips with My Lai or the overall war, and since we’ve moved on to other wars including the current one in Afghanistan which has supplanted Vietnam as the longest running American war, we probably never will. But My Lai should never be forgotten.
However, there is one element of the Vietnam War where I agree with many who feel we shouldn’t need to continue to reexamine My Lai, and that is the fact that the communist regime still in place there does not acknowledge its own atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people, namely in Hue during the Tet Offensive. For true healing to take place, both sides have to put it all on the table. There are honorable Americans in Vietnam as I write such as The Veterans For Peace (VFP), including my acquaintance Chuck Searcy, seeking reconciliation with the Vietnamese people beyond the formal diplomatic ties reestablished years back.
For this entry, I’ve chosen to include only one photo from that day. There are many others showing in graphic detail the carnage that took place at the hands of the U.S. Army, but the photo below which captures the final seconds of an entire family is as horrifying as it gets. Note the woman in the back holding her child while she calmly buttons her shirt. It’s as if she knows what’s about to happen, but wants to maintain a hint of her dignity.
I’ll preface what I’m about to write by saying in no way am I absolving platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley Jr. and his men who participated in the slaughter of up to 504 innocent civilians, mostly women, children, and old men. But as I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of the massacre by imagining what it was like for those soldiers on that day based on the overall known facts, I can’t help but wonder if I too would’ve cracked. On the other hand, I’d also like to believe I would’ve had the moral courage to do as Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr., the helicopter pilot who confronted Calley’s men and rescued some of the villagers once he realized what was happening on the ground.
No, I’ve no sympathy for the plight of Calley or his willing participants, but the biggest criminals of all in my mind were the U.S. military leaders and those in government who put people like Calley in that position in the first place, and that goes right up to LBJ. When you send soldiers clear across the planet where most of them are ignorant of the culture, where they’re being shot at by an enemy they often cannot see, then tell them the main measure of their progress is their “body count,” then you have a recipe for what took place at My Lai. I believe most American soldiers would not have acted as Calley and his men did, but the wrong platoon was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and war truly must be hell as stated by William Tecumseh Sherman.
I visited My Lai in the summer of 2002 on a student research trip and had the opportunity to sit down with a survivor from that day, Mr. Pham Thanh Cong. He was a child in 1968, and his entire family was trapped in a bunker when a U.S. soldier tossed in a grenade. Those who weren’t killed by the grenade were shot, but he survived by hiding underneath one of his relatives. Walking those grounds was an experience I’ll never forget.
The Beatles – Single: Lady Madonna/The Inner Light
As I began typing this the thought came to my mind how different the function of the single release was to major acts such as the Beatles and the Stones compared to today. With some exceptions, we now live in a short attention span, single-song digital download world where artists are given far fewer chances to strike it big for their record company and themselves. Oh boy, here I go again about the good ol’ days when I was not yet born, blah blah blah…
But while Beatles album releases were an event, the band took their single releases leading up to their next LP’s quite seriously as some of their most creative songs up to this point were single releases only (although some wound up on later compilations). Paperback Writer/Rain and Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields are a couple of examples from the previous two years. On this day fifty years ago the band released Paul’s Lady Madonna with George’s The Inner Light as the B-side.
As a child, I “inherited” this 45 RPM single in a small stack of my brothers’ original 45’s of the Beatles, solo Beatles, and other random discs I can no longer recall, most of which were unplayable. As with the original pressing Beatles albums I took naps with as a boy instead of stuffed animals, I cannot say without doubt as to when they became unplayable: either when my brothers had them when they were boys themselves or when they switched to my grubby little hands. Anyway, I was always fascinated by that yellow and orange yin/yang-like label.
Both of these tracks were recorded just prior to the Beatles’ trip to India in February 1968, Lady Madonna during the first week of February, and The Inner Light mid-January with George conducting Indian musicians in Bombay while he was there by himself producing tracks for the Wonderwall soundtrack, and and then with the finishing touches back in London the first week of February.
I still like Lady Madonna quite a bit, although oddly enough I associate it almost as much with McCartney’s performance of it on Wings’ 1976 triple live album, Wings Over America. And The Inner Light? It was always one of those Beatles oddities to me growing up, but if you’ve read my previous posts it probably won’t surprise you to learn that it’s now right up there among my favorites. And let’s call it what it is: a George Harrison solo song.