November 1 – George Harrison Steps Out

George Harrison – Wonderwall Music

In the world of film scores, some rather clearly need to be heard while watching the film in order to appreciate them.  Some are enjoyable regardless of the context in which they’re being listened to.  One such example for me is the Eurythmics soundtrack to the film 1984.  I also find the soundtracks to Wes Anderson’s films to be eclectic and enjoyable.  But a case where I can see how it could go either way for the listener is George Harrison’s score to the Joe Massot movie Wonderwall, titled Wonderwall Music, released this day 50 years ago.  It was the first solo album by a member of the Beatles, and the first recording released on their Apple label.


Harrison viewed Massot’s work, a movie full of psychedelic pop art (with sets created by the Fool) and dream sequences starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowran, at Twickenham Studios.  He took notes on the timing of its scenes, and then composed the music to fit accordingly.  That music would include Hindustani classical, psychedelic rock, cowboy western movie theme music, and even Ragtime.  The film itself is a metaphor for the generation gap as experienced in Swinging London, and Harrison saw it as an opportunity to examine through his compositions the gap between the West and the East, between materialism and spirituality.  As described by AllMusic’s Richard S. Ginell, the album was “a minor eruption of the pent-up energies of George Harrison.”

Jane Birkin   
Jack MacGowran


Harrison, who along with the other three Beatles was experiencing newfound creative independence after the death of manager Brian Epstein in late August of 1967, was given full artistic control by Massot.  He composed the music on piano and organ, and played guitar on much of the album, though on the original release he was only credited as producer, writer, and arranger.  He also collaborated with top Indian musicians as well as classical pianist and arranger, John Barham, a fellow classical Indian music enthusiast.

Harrison wanted to expand upon the Indian instrumentation that he’d utilized with the Beatles already.  In addition to the sitar and tabla, he now employed the oboe-like shehnai, the sarod, and the hammered dulcimer-like santoor, among others.  The Western tracks utilized tape loops, backward guitar sound, and wah-wah effects in addition to the more straight forward instrumentation.


Some of both the Western and Indian portions were recorded in London at EMI and De Lane Lea Studios from November ’67 to January ’68.  These sessions included Liverpool band the Remo Four, as well as Ringo and Eric Clapton (credited under the pseudonym “Eddie Clayton”).  Peter Tork played banjo on a track which was not included on the soundtrack.

Harrison and Tork, with Remo Four guitarist Colin Manley at left and Mal Evans behind Tork

The rest of the Indian sections were recorded in Bombay at HMV Studios from January 9-13, 1968.  It was in Bombay that the instrumental track to George’s future B-side The Inner Light was recorded.  The majority of the Western music was recorded upon Harrison’s return to London in January.  Final mixing with Ken Scott began on January 31, and two weeks later George returned to India with the Beatles, their wives and significant others for their retreat with the Maharishi in Rishikesh.

Harrison in Bombay, January 1968

The album would mark the end of Harrison’s immersion in Indian music as a composer and musician.  After spending time with Ravi Shankar in L.A. a few months later, he decided to concentrate on the guitar and Western music.  This period did inspire him later in his work with Ravi Shankar on the latter’s Music Festival from India and the East/West fusion of Harrison’s 1974 North American Tour, where he worked again with some of the musicians from the January ’68 sessions.


Contemporary reviews of the score were favorable.  There are sequences in the film with little to no dialogue, and it’s been noted that the music effectively takes the place of speaking parts.  Retrospective reviews also find much merit in Harrison’s efforts on the album.  It’s been described as a stew of music that’s altogether “spacey,” “esoteric,” “rollicking,” and “a beguiling tapestry of sound.”  Of course, there are different strokes for different folks.  Rolling Stone lazily included it in its “20 Terrible Debut Albums by Great Artists” issue.  RS writer Keith Harris:  “The best thing you can say about Wonderwall Music is that it’s probably more historically significant than the LP of experimental twaddle John Lennon released a month later – after all, Oasis never wrote a hit song called ‘Two Virgins.'”  The reality is, there are just many westerners who don’t care for Indian music.  And that’s o.k., because there are many of us who do.  And for many if not most of us, it’s due to George Harrison introducing us to it.

Harrison, Jane Birkin, and Ringo at the debut of Wonderwall in Cannes


Short and sweet, but great:  Ski-ing, featuring Eddie Clayton, a.k.a., Eric Clapton –

On the Bed:  probably my favorite track from the album –

Left off the original release, but fortunately added later:  In the First Place, featuring the Remo Four –

An alternate take of the instrumental track to The Inner Light, which George produced while in Bombay in January of 1968 –


Side One:

  1. Microbes
  2. Red Lady Too
  3. Tabla and Pakavaj
  4. In the Park
  5. Drilling a Home
  6. Guru Vandana
  7. Greasy Legs
  8. Ski-ing
  9. Gat Kirwani
  10. Dream Scene

Side Two:

  1. Party Seacombe
  2. Love Scene
  3. Crying
  4. Cowboy Music
  5. Fantasy Sequins
  6. On the Bed
  7. Glass Box
  8. Wonderwall to Be Here
  9. Singing Om




October 1968 Odds ‘n Ends

What a nice month October has been!  With the month full of great 50th album anniversaries (and cooler weather, of course), we’re headed into the final stretch of the year.  But before we get to the point in the year when north Texans are prone to running roughshod over local grocery stores, emptying their shelves of fake fire logs and bottled water whenever there’s a 2% chance of snow flurries, let’s close out October on this fine Halloween with a few final notably notable notables.

October:   The Osmonds – The Wonderful World of the Osmond Brothers  Yeah, no.

October:  Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple gave us their second album 50 years ago this month (released in June of ’69 in the UK).  The Book of Taliesyn was released just in time for the band’s first US tour.  It was recorded only three months after their debut, Shades of Deep Purple, and hurriedly released by request of their label as their debut material was seen as insufficient to tour with.  As with their debut, it’s a mix of originals and rearranged covers including Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman.  Also similarly to their previous record, it was received well by critics in the US where they were still being called the “British Vanilla Fudge,”  but once again ignored in the UK.


October:  Brewer and Shipley – Down in L.A.

The duo from the Midwest released their debut album 50 years ago this month with a little help from Jim Gordon, Hal Blaine, Jim Messina, and others.


10/1/68:  Otis Redding – Otis Redding In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go

Another great posthumous Redding release, At the Whiskey a Go Go was recorded in 1966 prior to his rapid rise to fame due to his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival a year later.


10/3/68:  Merle Haggard – Mama Tried

Merle’s critically acclaimed album featuring the hit title track reached #4 on Billboard’s Country album chart.  It was a continuation of his themes of crime and hardships.


10/7/68:  Thom Yorke born

The Radiohead frontman turned 50 this month.


10/14/68:  Tyrannosaurus Rex – Prophets, Seers and Sages:  The Angels of the Ages

This is the second album by the band later to be known simply as T. Rex.  An AllMusic retrospective review refers to it as the most underrated of their four albums.  As I probably said with the first one earlier this year, I’m going to have to give it a listen one of these days.


10/14/68:  Dept. of Defense announces it is sending back 24,000 troops to Vietnam for involuntary second tours


10/16/68:  Three Dog Night – One

One is the debut of Three Dog Night.  Oddly, their #5 single of the same title wasn’t included on the original album release.  Robert Christgau, Life Cereal’s “Mikey” of rock music critics, actually liked it.


10/17/68:  Ziggy Marley born

Ziggy has outlived his father by 14 years.


10/30/68:  Jackie Kennedy becomes Jackie Onassis


10/31/68:  LBJ announces complete halt to bombing in North Vietnam








October 30 – A Solo Classic from Marvin

Marvin Gaye – Single:  I Heard it Through the Grapevine

This Motown classic was written in 1966 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and originally recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967 when it reached #2.  The Miracles recorded a version in 1968, as did Marvin Gaye, and CCR did a sprawling rendition for their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory.  As with Stevie Wonder’s hit For Once in My Life a couple of weeks back, Berry Gordy originally vetoed Grapevine as a single before relenting in October of ’68.  It was released this day 50 years ago, and was a #1 smash in the US and UK.


The song went on to become part of the American music fabric, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic, and significant” value.  It also had a resurgence in popularity in the 1980’s after it was included in the Big Chill movie soundtrack (1983) and in a California Raisins advertisement in 1986 (this version mirrored Gaye’s, but featured Buddy Miles as the vocalist – something I wasn’t aware of until reading up on the song).  In the mid-1980’s Gaye’s version seemed almost as ubiquitous as anything by Michael Jackson or Madonna.  It’s one of those timeless tunes that could see another resurgence at any point in the future.

Side A:  I Heard it Through the Grapevine

Side B:  You’re What’s Happening (in the World Today)


Stone-Faced Barbarians

WARNING:  Reading about or listening to the New Barbarians may cause a context buzz.

Rock and pop music collaborations come and go.  Some of them have had lasting impacts, and we might refer to them as supergroups.  Cream and the Traveling Wilburys are a couple of obvious examples.  Many of the ones we think of were singles releases as opposed to full albums.  Queen/Bowie, Elton/Lennon, and McCartney/Jackson come to mind, among many others.  There are also less heralded musical associations which are nonetheless interesting, such as Ginger Baker’s Air Force.  Then we have the somewhat curious case of the blur known as the New Barbarians; curious because they never recorded a studio album yet they carried out a significant North American tour, and a blur because the group consisted of members of two of the hardest living rock bands on the planet:  Faces and the Rolling Stones.


The seed of the New Barbarians was planted in 1974 after the release of Ronnie Wood’s solo album I’ve Got My Own Album to Do.  In an effort to promote the album, Wood enlisted the help of Keith Richards, his Faces band mates Ian McLagan and Rod Stewart, plus bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Andy Newmark, for a gig at the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn, in northwest London.  The following year, Wood joined the Stones for a stint of 43 years and counting.

Ronnie, Rod, and Keith, later known as First Barbarians, at Kilburn, 1974.
Ronnie in his rare role as front man.

Five years later Ronnie needed a vehicle to promote his third LP, Gimme Some Neck, so he revisited the idea of putting together a group of buddies and heading out on the road.  The Rolling Stones were on hiatus, so Keith got onboard. They were joined once again by McLagan, as well as Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, fusion bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste of New Orleans group the Meters, who, as pointed out by author Rob Chapman, was not exactly a rock drummer but who joined at the recommendation of Charlie Watts (who apparently wanted nothing to do with what was sure to be another debauched musical excursion).

The New Barbarians, 1979 (L-R):  Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, Bobby Keys, Stanley Clarke, Ian McLagan, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood.

Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were also considered, but their management made arrangements too much of a challenge for Wood.  Neil Young attended a couple of their rehearsals in L.A. and almost joined the group, but had other responsibilities at the time including the birth of his son and the editing of his concert documentary Rust Never Sleeps.  Neil did give the band its moniker as a parting gift though, by referring to them as a bunch of barbarians.  They added “New” to the name after learning of another band with the same name; thus was born the first “pub rock supergroup” as writer Jeff Giles called them.  Only they played basketball arenas and not Buddy’s Saloon on the outskirts of town.

The would-be Barbarians – Beck, Page, and Young in 1979 (I know which one I would’ve predicted wouldn’t have survived a tour with Keith…):

Jeff_Beck_in_Amsterdam_1979     download    rs-182887-158510184

The shows would also serve a second purpose, at least initially.  As part of his sentence for his 1977 heroin bust in Toronto (on my sixth birthday), Richards was ordered to perform a couple of charity shows benefitting the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.  So, the first two New Barbarians shows took place in Oshawa near Toronto in April 1979 – as the support act for the Rolling Stones.  From there they dropped down to the lower 48 for 18 US dates lasting into May.  In order to mitigate any trouble Keith might run into in Canada, tour management booked the group into the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  They would headquarter there for the Toronto and midwestern US dates, flying in and out for each gig.  (Wha-I-um-how-oh, nevermind.  On with the story…)

Keith and common-law wife Anita Pallenberg heading to court in ’77.

Their sets combined rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, blues, and country, including a few Stones songs.  Wood sang lead on most songs (the tour was to promote his album, after all), with Keith providing lead vocals on a few numbers.  The shows have been described as “ragged,” “addled,” “sloppy,” “wired,” “half party, half rock show,” and as possessing a unique blend of “deceptively ramshackle grace” – kind of like Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame jam sessions, but much more soulful, raunchier, and with very naughty behavior taking place just off stage.  Rob Chapman, in his book New Barbarians:  Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Guitars, shares a funny anecdote as described by bassist Stanley Clarke:  On one occasion Clarke offered Richards a health shake, to which Keith responded simply, “Stanley, Stanley…”


As with any outlaw rock band worth its salt, trouble was not far away from the New Barbarians.  Rumors were instigated by Wood’s management and promoters that “special guests” would appear to add a little more excitement to a show that featured mostly Ronnie singing his original songs (again, they were tasked with filling arenas, not taverns or small clubs).  But neither Mick, nor Dylan, nor Page appeared as many concertgoers had hoped.  At the Mecca in Milwaukee this caused a riot and 81 arrests.  (A makeup show took place the following year with a somewhat bizarre lineup which included Andy Newmark, Reggie McBride, Johnny Lee Schell, and…MacKenzie Phillips.  No Clark, Modeliste, or Richards.)


And, of course, there was heavy consumption of various substances.  Another stipulation of Richards’s drug sentence was that he attend rehabilitation counseling, but this tour was the extreme opposite.  Author Stephen Davis paints a rather bleak picture in his book Old Gods Almost Dead:

Living on alcohol and cocaine, Keith assumed a particularly spectral appearance as his hair began to gray and his face caved in, and rumors of his impending demise again spread through the music industry…Keith and Woody’s brotherly bond began to strain under financial pressures (they personally funded the tour’s excesses) and Wood’s rapid ascent into drugdom’s First Division.


Yet, a splendid time seems to have been had by all.  As Stanley Clarke later described it, it was his “100% rock ‘n’ roll experience.”  A few months later in August of ’79, the New Barbarians took the stage one final time (other than the Milwaukee make up show), on a Knebworth bill which included Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Todd Rundgren, and Led Zeppelin.  And with that, the “ramshackle grace” of the New Barbarians slipped into oblivion until 2006, when the two-disc Buried Alive:  Live in Maryland was released.  Two years later, the 1974 Kilburn show was released under the title The First Barbarians:  Live from Kilburn.

Buried_Alive_Live_in_Maryland.jpg     220px-The_First_Barbarian.jpg

I stumbled upon the Kilburn show when it was released ten years ago.  I’d never heard of the group or tour before, but it just seemed like something I’d listened to all along.  It sounds like an audience tape or a soundboard bootleg at best, and for a show such as this it’s actually a perfect representation of the group as opposed to a clean live recording which might get a final studio polishing before its release.  The sound quality of the Maryland show is actually quite good by comparison.  There are those days (and very late nights) when these albums just hit the spot.  I was very familiar with Wood’s song Mystifies Me from Son Volt’s 1995 version which I knew and loved, but I was not aware that it was a Ronnie Wood song or that it was on that impressive list of tunes which all share the same muse.

Long time pals Ronnie and Pattie

First Barbarians in 1974, performing yet another ode to Pattie Boyd:

The full show at Kilburn, 1974:

Sloppily yet elegantly wasted – a full New Barbarians show from the 1979 tour:

2017 book by Rob Chapman – New Barbarians:  Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Guitars





October 25 – This is Jethro Tull’s This Was

Jethro Tull – This Was

With many bands that go on to achieve a degree of success, their debut efforts are looked back upon as lacking or even amateurish in their songwriting, musicianship, production, or some combination of the three.  But some start strong right out of the gate.  I consider Jethro Tull’s This Was, released 50 years ago this day in the US (Feb. 3, 1969 in the UK), to be one of the better debuts among bands from the era.

Jethro Tull once competed with The Mothers of Invention for the title of Most Insane Looking Band.

This Was IS different from what came after, and it’s mainly to do with personnel.  Whereas Jethro Tull is known as Ian Anderson’s band, on this first record he collaborated with guitarist Mick Abrahams, who brought a heavy R&B and jazz flavor to the songs.  Abrahams would subsequently depart to form Blodwyn Pig, leaving Anderson as the driving force going forward in an English folk and prog direction.  Abrahams wrote or co-wrote three and arranged one of the album’s tracks.  His lead vocal on Move On Alone is the only Jethro Tull vocal that would ever be done by someone other than Ian Anderson.

Blues-based English groups in the 1960’s were plentiful, but the ones who garnered the most attention brought a unique twist to their recordings and appearance.  As BBC reviewer Sid Smith noted on the album’s 40th anniversary, “… what made Tull stand out from the great-coated crowd was the high-visibility of frontman Ian Anderson’s on-stage Tourette’s-inspired hyper-gurning and Mick Abraham’s ferocious fretwork…Anderson’s presence though is of course undeniable and extensive.”

Jethro Tull performing on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in December of 1968.  Note Tony Iommi filling in on the mimed guitar for the departed Mick Abrahams.  Martin Barre would take over on the band’s second album.

Contemporary reviews in Melody Maker and New Musical Express were quite positive, whereas Robert Christgau, henceforth to be known as Oscar the Grouch on this blog, hated it.  (Seriously, I’ve had about enough of that guy!)  The album features the traditional tune Cat’s Squirrel, a raucous affair which was a popular live choice for various bands including Cream, who also recorded it for their debut a couple of years earlier.

Most of the songs were written by Anderson or Abrahams, except one traditional tune (Cat’s Squirrel) and one by jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Serenade to a Cuckoo).  Ian Anderson learned the flute from listening to the latter.  The sound of the opener, My Sunday Feeling,  has been compared to that of the Graham Bond Organization (the group where Jack Bruce and Ginger resided pre-Cream).  In my mind it has a hint of Davey Graham as well.  In other words, it’s very English sounding blues.


Concert staple Dharma for One features a Clive Bunker drum solo I find more interesting than most rock drum solos, especially on studio recordings.  Anderson’s A Song for Jeffrey is the most widely known track of the bunch, as the band partially mimed it for their performance on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.  I really don’t hear a weak track on this album.  I also think it benefits from the shorter overall length, as did many others at the time.  Jethro Tull came on to the scene, made their first relatively brief statement, and moved on to the next album.  This was alluded to in their choice of the album’s title.  This was what they were, but they would be something different going forward.


Side One:

  1. My Sunday Feeling
  2. Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You
  3. Beggar’s Farm
  4. Move on Alone
  5. Serenade to a Cuckoo

Side Two:

  1. Dharma for One
  2. It’s Breaking Me Up
  3. Cat’s Squirrel
  4. A Song for Jeffrey
  5. Round


October ’68 – All That Nazz

Nazz – Nazz

Nazz was formed in Philadelphia in 1967 by Todd Rundgren and Carson Van Osten.  They released this, their eponymous debut, in October of 1968.  The band took its name from the Yardbirds song The Nazz Are Blue, which was a reflection of the heavy influence they took from 1960’s British rock.  The album was not a big seller (though it did receive heavy airplay in places like Philly and Boston), but it does feature the fantastic single Open My Eyes b/w the original version of Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me, the definitive version of which he would re-record for his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything?.


In his AllMusic review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine suggests the album was a blueprint for American power pop bands that followed, and that even though some of its songs haven’t aged well, it’s still a good album worth listening to because of its place in music history.  He writes:

…they just like to try a lot of different styles, cross-breeding their favorite bands in a blatant act of fanboy worship. At their best, the results of this approach are flat-out stunning, as on the lead cut “Open My Eyes,” which twists the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” around until it winds up in Roy Wood (founding member of both The Move and ELO) territory.

Interestingly, another band called Nazz formed around the same time, and when they learned of Rundgren and Van Osten’s group, they changed their name to Alice Cooper.



Side One:

  1. Open My Eyes
  2. Back of Your Mind
  3. See What You Can Be
  4. Hello It’s Me
  5. Wildwood Blues

Side Two:

  1. If That’s the Way You Feel
  2. When I Get My Plane
  3. Lemming Song
  4. Crowded
  5. She’s Goin’ Down


October ’68 – Another Traffic Jam

Traffic – Traffic

Today we’re revisiting an album that further put Traffic’s unique stamp on the rock music world in the late 1960’s.  In October of 1968 the band released its followup to their 1967’s debut Mr. Fantasy with a self-titled album which features two distinctly different songwriting styles brought together by the group’s excellent musicianship.

(L-R) Chris Wood, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and Jim Capaldi

Band co-founder Dave Mason had left the band by the time their debut was released a year earlier due to artistic differences.  He was more interested in simpler folk-rock and pop compositions compared with the longer form, more jazz-oriented songs preferred by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood.  Mason subsequently produced the debut album by Family (which included future Traffic bassist Ric Grech), but was invited back to Traffic in early ’68 in time to contribute to roughly half the tracks on their second LP.  As with Mr. Fantasy, by the time Traffic was released 50 years ago this month, Mason had once again departed the group.


Traffic, produced by Jimmy Miller, received positive reviews upon release and is considered to have aged well.  Critics such as AllMusic’s William Ruhlmann seem to agree that the album achieved a nice balance between Mason’s contributions and the more complex tracks featuring Winwood’s keyboard based melodies, Wood’s reed instruments, and Capaldi’s “exotic” percussion.  He notes that Mason’s pop oriented songs like You Can All Join In, which leads off the record, and Feelin’ Alright are more commercially appealing, whereas the others’ compositions were more enjoyable for their musicianship, including Winwood’s soulful vocals.


Despite the directional differences between Dave Mason and the others, this is a cohesive album with their songs mixed together as opposed to isolated on two sides.  There are a few highlights for me, beginning Mason’s bouncy You Can All Join In, which welcomes the listener in for what’s to follow.  Pearly Queen features Winwood at his multi-instrumentalist best on vocals, Hammond organ, lead guitar, and bass.  Winwood and Capaldi’s Forty Thousand Headmen is one of my favorite track due to Capaldi’s percussion and Woods’s hypnotic flute.  Cryin’ to be Heard might be the best example of what this original Traffic lineup sounded like as a cohesive unit, with its heavy drums and Winwood’s keyboards standing out.  Mason’s original Feelin’ Alright is also a good one, but I feel Joe Cocker recorded the definitive version.  Interestingly, of the five tracks not written by Dave Mason, he only appears on one, No Time to Live.


Side One:

  1. You Can All Join In
  2. Pearly Queen
  3. Don’t Be Sad
  4. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
  5. Feelin’ Alright?

Side Two:

  1. Vagabond Virgin
  2. Forty Thousand Headmen
  3. Cryin’ to Be Heard
  4. No Time to Live
  5. Means to an End