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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10/7/68:  Thom Yorke born

The Radiohead frontman turned 50 this month.

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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.

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

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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.

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10/17/68:  Ziggy Marley born

Ziggy has outlived his father by 14 years.

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10/30/68:  Jackie Kennedy becomes Jackie Onassis

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

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-Stephen

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

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophets,_Seers_%26_Sages:_The_Angels_of_the_Ages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_in_the_Vietnam_War

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Tracklist:

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

-Stephen

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/m3bd/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/this-was-mw0000190507

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?.

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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.

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Tracklist:

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

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/nazz-mw0000653248

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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

Tracklist:

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

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_(Traffic_album)

https://www.allmusic.com/album/traffic-mw0000651445

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/traffic-second-album/

 

October 16 – Jimi Hendrix’s Magnum Opus

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

If there’s such a thing as the quintessential 1968 album, I believe this would be it.  A recurring theme among many of these 50-year-old albums is the blending of 60’s pop and the trendy, fashionable, and overall quite brief psychedelic phase of rock and pop with harder rock, blues, and roots in general.  It continues to amaze me how quickly music evolved in the 1960’s, and it’s a testament to how great the music is despite the short periods some of the sub-genres lasted in terms of their actual creation.  The 1967 debut Are You Experienced may have been a Flower Power creation, and it’s continuing shelf life speaks for itself.  But with the epic Electric Ladyland, we have what critics have deemed to be the full realization of Hendrix’s vision – a combination of all the aforementioned elements into a beautifully un-cohesive double album.

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Ambitious and experimental, Electric Ladyland is the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  It’s also the only one where Hendrix is credited as producer.  Recording sessions took place over numerous months beginning in July of 1967 at Olympic Studios in London and at the Record Plant and Mayfair studios in New York.  Chas Chandler, producer of the band’s first two albums, began overseeing the New York sessions but left the project as it dragged on due to Hendrix’s demands for repeated takes as well as the party atmosphere in the studio with many of Jimi’s friends and hangers-on.

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Out of the chaos arose a double album that confused some critics at the time as being all over the place to its detriment, but one which you might have difficulty finding retrospective reviews of fewer than five stars.  Much of the credit belongs to engineer Eddie Kramer, who is lauded for his experimentation with new mic techniques, echos, and backward tapes which were considered groundbreaking at the level of Phil Spector just a few years earlier.  The album is a combination of the more psychedelic sound of their first two albums with the more blues and funk of the Band of Gypsys which followed.

And as a result of Jimi’s love for late-night jam sessions, there’s quite an array of guest musicians credited, including Jack Casady (bass on Voodoo Chile), Steve Winwood (Hammond organ on Voodoo Chile), Dave Mason (12-string on All Along the Watchtower), Chris Wood, Buddy Miles, Brian Jones (percussion on All Along the Watchtower), and Al Kooper (piano on Long Hot Summer – of course Al Kooper’s on this record!).  By mid-November, Electric Ladyland was the #1 album in the US and #6 in the UK.

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Arguably the most famous track from the album is Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which became the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s highest selling single.  Dylan offered the highest praise possible for Hendrix’s version, which he’s stated Jimi made his own.  Dylan described his own reaction:  “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”  Bob has also stated,

It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day. 

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Perhaps on the other end of the album’s spectrum is the mid-60’s Brit Pop sounding tune sung by Noel Redding, Little Miss Strange.  Tony Glover, in his original Rolling Stone review, considered this song to be the most commercial sounding track on the album, which is a testament to how well the album has aged since that song is probably not at the top of most people’s list of favorites from the release, yet it’s still good.

And everything in-between?  It ranges from the standard length guitar driven classics Crosstown Traffic and Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and the less celebrated but still very solid Come On (Pt. 1) and House Burning Down, to the epic jam that is Voodoo Chile and the experimental and fascinating 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).  My favorite stretch of the album is Side Three, which begins with the jazzy, stoney Rainy Day, Dream Away.  Having mainly listened to the album on CD, this segment extends for me into the first song on Side Four, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, with the final segment consisting of the three songs after it.  As Glover wrote, Electric Ladyland is “an extended look into Hendrix’s head.”  It seems Jimi had lots of twists and turns happening between the ears, which resulted in what is considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

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A few years back, in addition to my daytime “real” job,  I kept a part-time gig at a used music store.  Employees took turns playing CDs of their choice and, as is the case in life, we didn’t all share the same tastes.  In an effort to stave-off one of the many inevitable 35 minute discs of show tunes one of my co-workers was fond of, I’d pull the single-disc remaster (i.e., a full hour and fifteen minute disc) of this one off the shelf when it was in stock and let it rip.  When my sons come for a visit, my 17-year-old heads straight for the Zeppelin and Hendrix.  He mostly learned about them on his own.

I like to add YouTube album links to my posts, but not surprisingly only fragments of this one are available online.  The Hendrix estate keeps a rather tight rein on his material.  But if you like it, you probably own it.  If you don’t own it, get it!

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. And the Gods Made Love
  2. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
  3. Crosstown Traffic
  4. Voodoo Chile

Side Two:

  1. Little Miss Strange
  2. Long Hot Summer Night
  3. Come On (Pt. 1)
  4. Gypsy Eyes
  5. Burning of the Midnight Lamp

Side Three:

  1. Rainy Day, Dream Away
  2. 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
  3. Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away

Side Four:

  1. Still Raining, Still Dreaming
  2. House Burning Down
  3. All Along the Watchtower
  4. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/electric-ladyland-mw0000527658

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/electric-ladyland-183197/

October ’68 – Dillard and Clark: A Most Exellent Journey

Dillard & Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark

Continuing from my previous post featuring the great songwriter and Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, today we’re celebrating the second Clark record after setting out on his own, though technically it’s not a solo album.  The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was released 50 years ago this month, just a couple of months after what is widely considered the seminal introduction to the country rock genre – the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – and a few months after the lesser-known Safe at Home by Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band.  The album features a collaboration of Clark with banjo and fiddle virtuoso Doug Dillard of the famous bluegrass family and group, the Dillards, as well as future Burrito Brother and Eagle, Bernie Leadon.

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I shared some background on Clark in my tribute here, and in Doug Dillard he found not only a freewheelin’ partner in crime in the emerging country rock genre, but also a fellow native of the Show Me State of Missouri.  Dillard (1937-2012) hailed from Salem, a couple of hilly hours away from Clark’s hometown of Tipton.  The Dillards were an established bluegrass act in the early 1960’s when they landed a recurring role as the fictional bluegrass group The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show, appearing at various times from 1963-66.

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The Dillards as The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show.  Doug is at bottom left.

This first Dillard and Clark album was a collaborative effort.  Though Clark took on the bulk of the songwriting, credits were shared with the multi-instrumentalist Dillard, as well as Leadon, who added banjo and guitar – the connection being Leadon’s previous involvement in the same San Diego teen bluegrass band as future Byrds member and Clark band mate Chris Hillman, who also contributes mandolin on two tracks on this album.

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Due to the group’s personnel and timing of its release, The Fantastic Expedition… has understandably been compared with the Byrds great country rock achievement, not to mention that of the Flying Burrito Bros. the following year.  No doubt, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, this Dillard and Clark debut, and the Gilded Palace of Sin make for a great triple listening experience.  But whereas the Byrds and Burritos albums lean heavily on the pure country element, The Fantastic Expedition… features more of a bluegrass flavor complimented by vintage country.

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This album flows beautifully.  While Sweetheart of the Rodeo, as great as it is, does sound to me like a rock band playing country – especially on the tracks where McGuinn’s vocals are recorded over Parsons’ original takes – Dillard and Clark sound more seasoned at what they were doing, and they were.  In his AllMusic review, Mark Deming writes, “…they created a mature and confident sound that was exciting, thoughtful, and deeply soulful in a way those better-known albums were not.”

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Have a listen to the opening track, Clark’s Out on the Side, for example.  I wrote in an earlier post that I don’t comprehend exactly what Gram Parsons’ term “Cosmic American Music” means, but crank this track or listen through headphones.  Its harmonies and heavy-yet-quiet pattering drums are as “cosmic” as anything you’ll hear in the country rock genre.  Frankly, the same goes for the the second song, She Darked the Sun, with its lyric:

She walked into my life with her cold evil eyes
With the length of her mind she darked the sun

From there the tracks vary in tempo, and it’s hard to imagine the musicians having anything but a great time laying them down.  The whole album is a perfect combination of virtuoso playing and some of the strongest singing of Gene Clark’s career.  Other favorites for me are Train Leaves Here This Morning – a song which makes me think of riverboats on the Mighty Mississippi during simpler times – featuring Donald Beck’s mandolin, With Care from Someone and The Radio Song, both with Andy Belling’s cool electric harpsichord, and In the Plan with its fantastic harmonies.

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On stage at the Troubadour (L-R):  Bernie Leadon, Michael Clarke, Gene Clark, Doug Dillard.

Because of Clark’s refusal to tour due to his fear of flying, Dillard and Clark’s live presence was limited to a few notoriously drunken performances at L.A.’s Troubadour.  They would follow-up with a second and final album a year later which was less acclaimed but still very good.  As a common theme running throughout the work of Gene Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was a bolt of lightning and clap of thunder that relatively few people saw or heard.  It came about as a result of informal jamming between Gene and Doug, and with the rest of the band they fine tuned their sound into something timeless.  Again from AllMusic’s Deming:

Time has been kinder to this album than most of the genre’s founding works, and it’s a work rooted in tradition while reveling in freedom and new ideas and making the most of them all.

Cosmic, man.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Out on the Side
  2. She Darked the Sun
  3. Don’t Come Rollin’
  4. Train Leaves Here This Morning

Side Two:

  1. With Care from Someone
  2. The Radio Song
  3. Git It On Brother
  4. In the Plan
  5. Something’s Wrong

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fantastic_Expedition_of_Dillard_%26_Clark

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-fantastic-expedition-of-dillard-clark-mw0000783755

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dillard_%26_Clark

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

October 7 – Tim Buckley’s Dream Letter

Tim Buckley – Dream Letter Live in London 1968

Today’s featured album is a live recording by Tim Buckley made on this day 50 years ago at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, though it wasn’t released until 1990.  It captures Buckley shifting into mid-career, stylistically speaking, and contains mostly songs from his second album, Goodbye and Hello, and his then yet-to-be-released third album, Happy Sad.

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Buckley had one of the most distinctive voices in music, featuring a very dynamic vocal range – something that would also be heard from his estranged son years after Tim’s death.  He was exposed to jazz music by his mother and grandmother at a very young age, and as he developed as a musician and songwriter his muse took him places in the realm of jazz and avant-garde that all but ensured his commercial failure.  Despite this, much of his catalog is highly regarded by critics (and this fan).

But at the time of this performance Buckley was still in folk-jazz mode, and he performed with a band featuring Lee Underwood on guitar, David Friedman on vibraphone, and Pentangle’s Danny Thompson on stand-up bass.  The recording also shows Buckley had a sense of humor, judging from the between-song banter.  On the whole, I consider Dream Letter to be a very enjoyable listen.  Standouts for me include Buzzin’ Fly, Phantasmagoria in Two, Carnival Song/Hi Lily, Hi LoDream Letter/Happy Time, and Wayfaring Stranger/You Got Me Running.  This is a beautifully recorded concert, delivered in full on this release.

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Tim Buckley seems to have been “one of those artists” for whom things just didn’t fall into place, and he also didn’t help himself when it came to album sales and expanding his audience.  He was shy and not friendly with the media, and his rather extreme stylistic changes, which almost seemed to be made out of spite, only alienated what fan base he did have as the 1970’s ensued.  When he died of a heroin overdose in 1975, he was broke and had met his young son and future shooting star, Jeff, one time.

Tracklist:

Disc One:

  1. Introduction
  2. Buzzin’ Fly
  3. Phantasmagoria in Two
  4. Morning Glory
  5. Dolphins
  6. I’ve Been Out Walking
  7. The Earth is Broken
  8. Who Do You Love?
  9. Pleasant Street/You Keep Me Hanging On

Disc Two:

  1. Love from Room 109/Strange Feelin’
  2. Carnival Song/Hi Lily, Hi Lo
  3. Hallucinations
  4. Troubadour
  5. Dream Letter/Happy Time
  6. Wayfaring Stranger/You Got Me Runnin’
  7. Once I Was

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_Letter:_Live_in_London_1968

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/dream-letter-live-in-london-1968-mw0000308470

 

October ’68 – The Steve Miller Band Sails On

The Steve Miller Band – Sailor

Are there albums you enjoy from start to finish, yet because they don’t necessarily contain much in the realm of the dynamic they’re not often on your radar?  For me, the Steve Miller Band’s Sailor, their second album of 1968 and second overall, is just that.  Released 50 years ago this month, this offering of West Coast psychedelic blues rock is a nice reminder after years of subjecting myself to the same handful of Miller’s 1970’s hits on classic rock radio to the point of switching stations whenever a song like Jungle Love comes on, that Miller, Boz Scaggs, and company were making very good records from day one.

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Sailor is a nice combination of blues and psychedelic rock which featured the first contributions from Miller’s Dallas prep school buddy Boz Scaggs.  Of its opening track Song for Our Ancestors, AllMusic critic Amy Hanson suggests that it sounds so much like Pink Floyd’s track Echoes, released three years later, that “one wonders how much (Pink Floyd) enjoyed Miller’s own wild ride.”  The beautiful Dear Mary sounds like a song Lenny Kravitz might have channeled years later, and the drums on Lucky Man are really cool in their heavy but not overly loud mix.  Glyn Johns was responsible for that, as well as the rest of the album’s production (as he was with the band’s first album earlier in the year).  Living in the U.S.A. and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s Gangster of Love are the more famous tracks here, as well as Quicksilver Girl due to its inclusion in the 1983 movie The Big Chill.

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This is the kind of music that sounds like it’s being played by extremely gifted musicians and songwriters who are not overly concerned with stardom.  Like Mike Bloomfield before him, Steve Miller has a passion for the blues, and his fame was a by-product of his genuine love for what he was doing.  The Joker and Fly Like an Eagle may have been his meal ticket (just as Silk Degrees was for Boz Scaggs), but I don’t know that it got any better than the Steve Miller Band’s first four or five albums, all from 1970 or earlier.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Song for Our Ancestors
  2. Dear Mary
  3. My Friend
  4. Living in the U.S.A.

Side Two:

  1. Quicksilver Girl
  2. Lucky Man
  3. Gangster of Love
  4. You’re So Fine
  5. Overdrive
  6. Dime-a-Dance Romance

-Stephen

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/sailor-mw0000689837

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

August 31 – August ’68 Music Wrap-Up & Other Notables

Where did August go?  Time to finish off yet another month:

Dion – Single:  Abraham, Martin, and John 

Written by Dick Holler in response to the assassinations of MLK and RFK and first recorded by Dion for release in August of ’68, this tune reached #4 on the US pop singles chart.  Numerous cover versions followed.

James Brown – Live at the Apollo, vol. II

Brown’s follow-up to (you guessed it) Live at the Apollo was recorded in June of ’67 and released in August of ’68.

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8/4  Yes performs for the first time at a youth camp in East Mersea, Essex.  Early sets were formed of cover songs from artists such as the Beatles, the 5th Dimension and Traffic.

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8/5-8/8   Nixon wins Republican nomination over Rockefeller and Reagan.

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8/10  Ten Years After – Undead

I feel somewhat bad about relegating this album to the month-end notes, but there’s not a lot to say about it other than it’s a really good live document which captures Alvin Lee’s sometimes frenetic guitar work in these blues ‘n boogie tunes.  It was recorded in a jazz club in London in May of ’68, and features the showstopper I’m Going Home, which the band performed at Woodstock a year later.  Time for me to pull this one out at home and crank it.

8/11  Charlie Sexton Born – This is probably the first 50th birthday I’ve mentioned in these pages, and I’m adding this one because to me it’s hard to believe.  Sexton, the prodigy guitar slinger from Texas, first broke through in 1985 with his solo hit Beat’s So Lonely and later he was a member of the Arc Angels.  He has also done three stints as Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist, totaling roughly 11 years.

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8/17  Mason Williams – Single:  Classical Gas

Originally titled Classical Gasoline, Williams wrote and recorded this instrumental with members of the Wrecking Crew while serving as head writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he debuted it.  Classical Gas won three Grammys in 1969.

8/20    Soviets invade Czechoslovakia, ending the Prague Spring.

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8/23    Fleetwood Mac – Mr. Wonderful

This rather quick follow-up to the Mac’s highly successful debut was a bit of a come down.  It’s not a bad album, but one that relies a little heavily on the same Elmore James-sounding riffs throughout.  Christine Perfect (later McVie) made her debut with the band on keyboards on this album.

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8/26    Mary Hopkin – Single:  Those Were the Days 

Those Were the Days was originally a Russian romance song titled Dorogoi dlinnoyu, literally “By the long road,” which was first recorded in the 1920s.  The tune was given new English lyrics by American musician Gene Raskin, whom Paul McCartney heard performing in London.  McCartney subsequently suggested to Mary Hopkin that she record a version which he would produce for the Beatles’ fledgling Apple label.  She did, and it was a smash hit.  The song reached #1 on the UK singles chart and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Hey Jude).

It was released in the US on the same day as Hey Jude/Revolution, which seems odd to me that Apple would let that happen (it was released four days later in the UK, providing at least a small buffer vis-à-vis the Beatles’ monster single).  That fact doesn’t seem to have stunted its success though.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham,_Martin_and_John

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_the_Apollo,_Volume_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes_(band)#Formation_and_breakthrough_(1968%E2%80%931971)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undead_(Ten_Years_After_album)

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Wonderful_(Fleetwood_Mac_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Those_Were_the_Days_(song)

-Stephen

 

 

 

August 30 – Country Byrds

The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The winds of change in the music world were really picking up speed by the second half of 1968, and nowhere was it any more evident than with the Byrds on their second release from that year and sixth overall, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, released 50 years ago today.

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The shift had already begun with January’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers and its mellower, more pastoral sound.  More significantly, David Crosby had been fired from the group during its recording, and original drummer Michael Clarke was gone as well and replaced by Hillman’s cousin, Kevin Kelley.  Interested in taking their sound a little more toward country they hired Gram Parsons, whom Chris Hillman happened to meet while standing in line in a Beverly Hills bank.  They auditioned Parsons, fresh out of the International Submarine Band, on piano, but he quickly showed that his place was up front with a guitar.  What Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman didn’t realize was that Parsons had an agenda of sorts:  to bring country and western music into the rock ‘n’ roll world, to make it hip.

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L-R:  Kelley, Parsons, McGuinn, Hillman

The album was originally intended by McGuinn to be a review of American music featuring bluegrass, Appalachian, country, jazz, R&B, rock, and even futuristic/electronic sounds.  With guitarist Clarence White on board for the sessions they were already leaning in a country/bluegrass direction, but Gram Parsons was obsessed with country music, and his enthusiasm for it rubbed off on the others enough that Sweetheart became a purely country record – the first major country rock album by an established band.  Much of the album, including the two Dylan songs, was recorded in Nashville.  The band was in for a rude awakening as the Nashville establishment, including disc jockeys and the Grand Ole Opry audience, was not kind to a “hippie band” supposedly undermining true country music.

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The Byrds performing at the Grand Ole Opry

It was all over with Gram Parsons about as quickly as it came together.  Tensions arose over Parsons stepping on toes regarding the band’s direction, including genre and personnel recruitment, as well as demanding more money.  Further adding to the strain was the concern that Parsons was still under contract from his ISB days.  This resulted in Roger McGuinn recording his own vocals over Parsons’ on a few songs in order to avoid legal issues.  However, since he didn’t do this with all of Gram’s songs, it’s been suggested McGuinn was also also trying to lessen the newcomer’s stamp on the group.  Gram had joined the group in February, and he had moved on by the time the album was released with an eye toward his next project, the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo was a commercial failure upon its release and was seen as a betrayal by much of the Byrds’ fan base.  Little did rock fans know that this was part of a larger shift away from the psychedelic sounds of the previous couple of years.  Dylan had already released John Wesley Harding and was then currently hidden away in upstate New York recording some rather strange-sounding music with the Band.  Bob would also return to Nashville for the following year’s Nashville Skyline, another highly influential country album by a Nashville outsider.  And, of course, the aforementioned Band had just released Music from Big Pink.  All of these releases, including Sweetheart, became very influential on groups right around the bend including Poco and the Eagles.

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Thankfully, subsequent re-releases of the album have included the tracks with Gram Parsons’ original vocals.  McGuinn’s attempt to sound country on the Louvin Bros. The Christian Life is almost embarrassing.  However, despite Gram’s sincere love for the genre, his status as a countrified avatar sent to Earth to enlighten the music world is, in my mind, rather dubious.

He was a trust fund Harvard dropout – albeit a very talented one – and had only come into country around this same time having been more interested in folk music before.  And his labeling of his brand of country as “Cosmic American Music” was just that:  marketing his brand.  I’ve yet to understand what is “cosmic” about it, other than the fact it was performed by country music outsiders who were folk and rock musicians by trade and had experimented with psychedelic drugs.

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Pre-country Gram Parsons

I do like this album a lot, with Parsons’ Hickory Wind and Dylan’s You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere among my favorite tracks.  The Christian Life with Parsons on vocals, too.  But it’s not my favorite country rock album from the era.  Dylan’s Nashville Skyline the following year is better in my mind, but there was also one more:  Recorded at about the same time as Sweetheart, ex-Byrd (and co-founding member) Gene Clark’s to-this-day-underappreciated album with Doug Dillard tops them all (I’ll be sharing more on it in a couple months).

As for Roger McGuinn’s original idea for the album – a review of multiple genres of American music – it’s interesting to me that Stephen Stills’ band Manassas, which included Chris Hillman, did something quite similar on their 1972 eponymous debut.  Whatever one’s preference, it’s safe to say that any artist in what we refer to today as the Americana genre owes a debt to Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

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Postscript:  Fifty years after the Byrds were heckled and jeered during their performance at the Grand Ole Opry, McGuinn and Hillman have joined forces with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives on a Sweetheart of the Rodeo 50th anniversary celebration tour which will take them to none other than the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  McGuinn has been careful to mention that it’s not the Byrds, and there are no plans for a reunion with Crosby.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
  2. I Am a Pilgrim
  3. The Christian Life
  4. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  5. You’re Still on My Mind
  6. Pretty Boy Floyd

Side Two:

  1. Hickory Wind
  2. One Hundred Years from Now
  3. Blue Canadian Rockies
  4. Life in Prison
  5. Nothing was Delivered

On my reading list but yet to obtain:

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-Stephen

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/sweetheart-of-the-rodeo-mw0000653106

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/byrds-co-founders-plan-sweetheart-of-the-rodeo-50th-anniversary-tour-629457/

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/roger-mcguinn-talks-sweetheart-of-the-rodeo-gigs-rules-out-byrds-reunion-704131/