January 22 – Lady Soul, Spirit, Dr. John

January 22, 1968 gave us a three course meal with very distinct flavors:  soul, jazz-rock, and a batch of psychedelic New Orleans gumbo.

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

The beauty amidst the world’s chaos continued on this day with the release of Aretha Franklin’s classic, Lady Soul, one of three great albums to come out on this date.  This one may be the most beloved of the three, and one of the most enduring of 1968 to this day.  Clocking in at 28:41, it’s very short but very sweet.  There’s not a weak song in the bunch, which includes a couple of her biggest hits. This music just leaves you feeling good.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Chain of Fools
  2. Money Won’t Change You
  3. People Get Ready
  4. Niki Hoeky
  5. (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman

Side Two:

  1. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
  2. Good to Me As I Am to You
  3. Come Back Baby
  4. Groovin’
  5. Ain’t No Way

 

Spirit – Spirit

January 22 also saw the release of the self-titled debut from the band Spirit.  While their most famous song would come along later in 1968, they immediately carved their own niche into the rock music world with elements of progressive rock as well as jazz incorporated into their songs on this album, due in large part to drummer Ed Cassidy.  Cassidy himself was a bit of an oddity in rock at the time with his “Mr. Clean” shaved head, but more so because he was a couple of decades older than anyone else in the band and had played with such jazz luminaries as Cannonball Adderley and Thelonious Monk.  He was also the stepfather of founding member Randy California, who had briefly played with Jimi Hendrix prior to the latter’s rise to fame.  Another founding member was vocalist Jay Ferguson, who later found brief acclaim in the 1970’s pop world with the song Thunder Island.

I didn’t know much about this band when I picked up a copy of Mojo Magazine 15 or so years ago with a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD attached, and Spirit’s Fresh Garbage was one of the songs.  I came to discover that Zeppelin had in fact opened shows for Spirit early on and were known to hang out side stage and listen to Spirit’s sets after their own.  In recent years one song from this first album, Taurus, made the news when Mark Andes, the only other living original member of the band besides Ferguson, sued Jimmy Page for copyright infringement on behalf of Randy California due to the similarity between a portion of Taurus and Stairway to Heaven (recorded two years later), but lost.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Fresh Garbage
  2. Uncle Jack
  3. Mechanical World
  4. Taurus
  5. Girl in Your Eye
  6. Straight Arrow

Side Two:

  1. Topanga Windows
  2. Gramophone Man
  3. Water Woman
  4. The Great Canyon Fire in General
  5. Elijah

Does the riff at about :43 in the following song sound familiar?

 

Dr. John – Gris-Gris

Somehow I only discovered this album in recent days (at one time I owned his 1994 album, Television), and I’m actually a little embarrassed to type that because it’s so good.  Swampy, funky, definitely not mainstream, this is the debut album of Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), and it’s also the first example of a nice side benefit of this little hobby of mine:  the opportunity to discover albums I’d never heard of, and to give others that I’d not paid much attention to a more critical listen.  If you’re so inclined, grab a sixer of Abita and dial-up this album late some warm, rainy night and enjoy.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
  2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
  3. Mama Roux
  4. Danse Fambeaux

Side Two

  1. Croker Courtbullion
  2. Jump Sturdy
  3. I Walk on Guilded Splinters

Another reason to like Dr. John:  He was the inspiration for the Muppet character Dr. Teeth.

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-Stephen

 

January 21, Pt. 2 – Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat

Simon and Garfunkel – The Graduate (Soundtrack)

My LP collection, when I last saw it, was not very impressive.  My first albums as a child were hand-me-downs from my brothers when they replaced worn out and scratched copies of Beatles and Elton John records (What?  I’m part of the reason they were worn out and scratched?).  To this day, there are certain songs I hear on CD or the radio, and I expect it to skip at a certain point in the song.  As I got older, I received LPs for birthday and Christmas gifts, and I purchased a handful during adolescence.  But I mostly bought cassettes.  I’ve since replaced all the Beatles albums on CD (twice), and all the Elton.  I never did replace those KISS albums.  My first exposure to Bob Marley was the greatest hits LP Legend, which I bought in 1986 out of curiosity after repeatedly coming across his name in various publications, namely Rolling Stone, discussing the late, great Rastafarian.  (Keep in mind I grew up in flyover USA, and I just wasn’t exposed to a lot of this stuff at a younger age.)  I owned most of the early U2 and REM LPs, a Hendrix hits album here, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack or a random Windham Hill sampler record there, and that’s about it.  All told, I owned maybe 50 pieces of vinyl, give or take.  Not much, but I wish I still had it.  And it’s my own fault I don’t.  I took for granted that it would be in its last known location when I was ready to lug it to Texas.  When I thought to do it, it was gone.  Que sera sera

One LP in my collection that I always thought was interesting but didn’t fully appreciate at a younger age was the original copy of the soundtrack to The Graduate, released this day 50 years ago, which I absconded with from my mom’s collection.  I can still see the clean, barely played, thick vinyl, and the sturdy jacket which was its home.  It still had the original shrink-wrap on it, for crying out loud.  But at 15 I didn’t care much for the instrumental music by Dave Grusin mixed in with the Simon and Garfunkel songs.  It was easier to just listen to one of their “regular” albums.  Having watched The Graduate movie (which was released in December of ’67) for the umpteenth time the other night, I can now say I do enjoy the instrumentals just as I do those from the original soundtracks to A Hard Day’s Night and Help.  Not so much as individual pieces, but because of their importance to the films which I’ve loved for so long.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. The Sound of Silence
  2. The Singleman Party Foxtrot
  3. Mrs. Robinson (version 1)
  4. Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha
  5. Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Interlude)
  6. On the Strip
  7. April Come She Will
  8. The Folks

Side Two:

  1. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
  2. A Great Effect
  3. The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
  4. Whew
  5. Mrs. Robinson (version 2)
  6. The Sound of Silence

There’s so much trivia surrounding this film that I won’t bother getting into it, other than to mention my surprise to learn the other day that Anne Bancroft, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson, was only 35 years old when that movie was made.  Dustin Hoffman, the young, recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock, was 29.

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

 

Canned Heat – Boogie with Canned Heat

In my “January 21, Pt. 1” post I mentioned a vague interconnectedness of important historical events and pop culture.  What I’m referring to, as it relates to these posts, is the fact that soldiers in Vietnam, or the Resistance in Prague and many other places around the globe, listened to much of this music for a respite, for inspiration, or both.  To some extent it has been glorified in films over the years, but I’ve yet to see a documentary or read an account that debunked it in the least.  Sadly, much of the music was divided along racial lines in the military at the time.  In 2018 it’s hard to imagine James Brown or The Temptations as music for “those” people, while “these” people listened to the Doors, the Stones, or Johnny Cash.  It’s all such great music.  If ever there was a band that crossed those lines, it was Canned Heat.

When Canned Heat were at the peak of their power in the late 60’s/early 70’s, there may not have been a more fun band to hear live.  There were no costumes or stage antics, just great rockin’ blues n’ boogie.  Nothing pretentious about them.  See their performance at Woodstock, for example.  Boogie with Canned Heat, also released this day, and its followup later in the year, gave us some of the most quintessential Woodstock-era music.  But remember kids, SPEED KILLS!

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Evil Woman
  2. My Crime
  3. On the Road Again
  4. World in a Jug
  5. Turpentine Moan
  6. Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2

Side Two:

  1. Amphetamine Annie
  2. An Owl Song
  3. Marie Laveau
  4. Fried Hockey Boogie

-Stephen

 

January 16 – Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum My Ear Drummum

Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum

A late 60’s San Francisco mainstay, Blue Cheer were heavy metal pioneers.  Along with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, they proved that a group only needs three members and a large stack of very loud amplifiers to get its point across.  Blue Cheer, named after a variety of LSD created by chemist and Grateful Dead friend Owsley Stanley, made its point loud and clear when it erupted on this day in 1968 with Vincebus Eruptum.  

My first exposure to this band probably wasn’t until the late 1980’s while watching My Generation hosted by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits on VH1.  The quality of some of the music on film from the 1960’s was so bad (much of the material worth watching has been restored in recent years) that watching a clip of Blue Cheer lip-syncing on American Bandstand didn’t inspire me to explore their music further.  Had I, as a sixteen year old, purchased a copy of Vincebus Eruptum and played it on my not-so-great-stereo (but better than VH1), I might be sitting here in 2018 writing that, for at least a brief moment, they blew Hendrix, Cream, and The Who out of the water whether I believed it deep down or not.  And they may have.  Instead, I finally picked up the album on CD a couple of years ago in a futile last-ditch attempt to stave off middle age.  Yes, I bought this album as a result of a minor mid-life crisis, but also to see what I had missed out on all this time.  I listened to it one time and filed it away, feeling somewhat silly even though I dug it.  It’s almost as if my home was too clean and the beer in my fridge too expensive to listen to this album.  Not Zeppelin or Deep Purple, but specifically this.

With the impending release anniversary I popped the disc in last night and listened through headphones.  I enjoyed it more this time and it will probably be played more often going forward, but this morning my left ear hurts.  It could be that I slept on it awkwardly, but I think I know the real reason:  This album is blisteringly loud whether the volume is turned up or not.  There’s no avoiding it.  (My copy being on CD as opposed to vinyl probably doesn’t help.)  It opens with their most well-known song, a cover of the Eddie Cochran classic, Summertime Blues, and rolls on from there for 32 short but incendiary minutes.  I don’t think I could handle more than 32 minutes of this music in one sitting, just as I feel about AC/DC.  I like it, but after a few minutes it kind of hurts my whole body.  I cannot fathom what it must’ve been like to stand in front of their stack of amps at the Avalon Ballroom.

1/18/18

Postscript:  It seems that the reason my body was aching had less to do with the sonics of this album and more to do with the onset of the flu, which has had me knocked semi-conscious for three and a half days.  I’m awake now, though.  Must be all that rustling I hear coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Summertime Blues
  2. Rock Me Baby
  3. Doctor Please

Side Two:

  1. Out of Focus
  2. Parchment Farm
  3. Second Time Around

 

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-Stephen

January 15 – Three Byrds (and a Horse)

The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Some bands and individual performers can become pigeon-holed by their sound and/or image over a relatively brief period of time.  MTV certainly played a role in that in the 1980’s, as to this day many non-fans assume Bob Dylan still sings in the nasally tone that they only heard, albeit many times, on his contribution to We Are the World, and Bruce Springsteen to them probably still wears a red bandanna and a jean jacket with the sleeves cut off.  Dylan’s singing voice has probably been through nine or ten distinct incarnations over the years, with at least three different phases since U.S.A. for Africa, and Bruce has added to his playing and singing style a few times and traded the bandanna for a hair piece long ago.  Another such band that many have one impression of, thanks to soul-sucking commercial Classic Rock and Oldies radio formats,  is The Byrds.

The first Byrds album I ever “owned” was their original Greatest Hits that I pirated in 1985 onto cassette from my Uncle Chris’s original 1967 vinyl.  I’m fairly certain it’s out in the garage with my other tapes that I continue to hold onto for posterity, and for those Grateful Dead soundboards my friend Mitch gave me years ago.  But that hits album is the epitome of the early Byrds that is assumed by many to be the one and only Byrds sound:  Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string Rickenbacker playing Dylan covers.  While I love that music, the band evolved remarkably over its lifespan, and I consider The Notorious Byrd Brothers, released January 15, 1968, to be a fascinating shift that took a stunning leap with their next album later in the year.

For the heavy hitters in music, 1968 seems to have been a psychedelic hangover of sorts that inspired them to branch out, or at least “return to roots,” while many of the others were still playing catch-up in a commercially paisley world.  Though Dylan didn’t release an official LP that year, he was cloistered in Upstate New York recording stripped down “weird America” music (to steal writer and critic Greil Marcus’s term) with The Band.  The Stones stepped forward and backward all at once with straight forward rock and blues on their followup to Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the Beatles were all over the place on their upcoming double LP release.  While this Byrds record is still considered “psychedelic” and McGuinn’s jingle-jangle guitar is very present, the band integrates hints of country music with a steel pedal, pop (the opening track, Artificial Energy, reminds me of Devol, the studio group  that recorded incidental music for TV shows such as The Brady Bunch, but in a good way), and electronic music with the introduction of a Moog synthesizer into an overall more laid back, sometimes pastoral, sound.  The themes include Vietnam, peace, love, freedom, ecology, and outer space.  Far out, man.

Another theme that might have been considered far out and was put to tape but not the final LP song lineup was found in David Crosby’s Triad, which the band subsequently gave to the Jefferson Airplane to record and which Crosby would go on to include in CSNY live sets.  The Byrds’ version finally ended up on the album’s remaster almost thirty years later.  Crosby’s anger over this song about a ménage à trois being considered too risqué for inclusion, along with his increasingly unbearable personality, caused him to be fired during the album’s recording.  Drummer Michael Clarke had quit briefly before this, due in part to disputes with Croz, only to return after the latter was fired.  Clarke was then let go after recording was completed.  Founding member Gene Clark (from my home state of Missouri), who had quit the group in 1966, returned for three weeks before quitting again.  Despite all the group upheaval (i.e., drugs and ego) and the various styles and instrumentation introduced, this is a very cohesive album which stands on its own merits fifty years on without a major hit to anchor it.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Artificial Energy
  2. Goin’ Back
  3. Natural Harmony
  4. Draft Morning
  5. Wasn’t Born to Follow
  6. Get to You

Side Two:

  1. Change is Now
  2. Old John Robertson
  3. Tribal Gathering
  4. Dolphin’s Smile
  5. Space Odyssey

Fun with Album Covers:

The location of the group photo on the cover of The Notorious Byrd Brothers is in Topanga Canyon, L.A.  The horse in the photo was thought to represent the recently fired David Crosby, although perhaps the wrong end of the horse.  It’s also the scene of another album photo shoot – for Linda Ronstadt – the following year.  Today it appears to be a renovated guest house next to a rather posh Topanga spread.

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http://www.popspotsnyc.com/the_byrds/

-Stephen

 

January 2-6 – Richie Havens and Merle Haggard

Richie Havens – Something Else Again

I wish I could say I’ve seen live all the musicians I’ll discuss in this blog.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a handful of them, and in the case of Richie Havens I was able to meet him as well.  He radiated just as much grace and peace while chatting with me and signing my copy of his debut album Mixed Bag as he did on stage.

This followup to that fantastic 1966 debut came in January.  While Havens is best known for his unique and very tasteful covers of songs by other major songwriters, the opening track was written by Richie and covered two years later by Yes on their Time and a Word album.  There will be more on Havens come August of 1969 when he opened Woodstock with a very memorable and courageous performance.

 

January 2

Merle Haggard – Sing Me Back Home

After all my prefacing about my music interests and the incredible rock music from 1968 to be discussed, one of my first official posts on a 1968 release is about…a country album?  I won’t pretend to be very knowledgeable about country music.  Growing up, country music was for the shit kickers at the back of the school bus who spat tobacco juice into their communal Folgers can strategically placed on the floor in the aisle.  Johnny and Willie, o.k., but the rest of it?  No thanks.  Thankfully I’ve come around, at least with some of the classics.  I saw Merle Haggard a few years back when he opened for Dylan.  I quickly came to view it as a twin bill because on that night I thought Merle was better than Bob, and I consider myself a fairly serious Dylan fan.  I was driving through Muskogee, OK a couple of years ago and noticed a billboard advertising a country music festival to be headlined by the Okie himself that June.  Sadly, Merle had passed away on his 79th birthday, April 9.  The billboard remained up for some time.

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The title track to that January 2, 1968 release spent a couple weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country chart, and was written in tribute to a fellow inmate of Haggard’s at San Quentin where he spent three years:

 

January 6

On this date, the Gibson Guitar Corp. patented the Flying V guitar.

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