January 22 – Neil Young’s Solo Debut

Neil Young – Neil Young

Neil’s solo debut after Buffalo Springfield split was originally released in November of 1968, and was mixed using technology that was supposed to make stereo records sound better on mono equipment. He was unhappy with the sound – a trait of Neil’s which is as strong (if not stronger) in 2019 as it was back then – so the album was remixed and re-released on January 22, 1969.

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The album has never seen chart success, but it does contain a couple of tracks which Neil has revisited live over the years in The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady. In addition to the production of David Briggs, who would become Neil’s long time friend and producer, both Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche helped with production as well as played on the album. Other performers of note on the record include Jim Messina, who was on the final Springfield album and was a founding member of Poco around this time, George Grantham (Poco’s drummer), legendary session bassist Carol Kaye of LA’s Wrecking Crew, and soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton, perhaps best known in the rock world for her wailing vocal on Gimme Shelter.

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Other than The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady, both of which landed on Neil’s Decade compilation, the first I heard any of the other tracks was around 1990. I was in a heavy Neil Young phase, and bought this one some time after I’d absorbed the rest of his available catalog from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere through Rust Never Sleeps, plus Freedom and Ragged Glory. I didn’t know what to think at first. I had yet to discover Buffalo Springfield’s albums beyond a few of the hit songs, so I lacked context. Other than the two most well-known tracks, I immediately liked If I Could Have Her Tonight, I’ve Been Waiting for You, What Did You Do to My Life, and the Last Trip to Tulsa, the latter reminding me of his previous psych-folk song, Broken Arrow. These have remained my favorite tracks, though I’ve slowly gained an appreciation for the entire album over the years, especially since I discovered for myself the greatness of Buffalo Springfield, which this album sounds much more like than Crazy Horse.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. The Emperor of Wyoming
  2. The Loner
  3. If I Could Have Her Tonight
  4. I’ve Been Waiting for You
  5. The Old Laughing Lady

Side Two:

  1. String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill
  2. Here We Are in the Years
  3. What Did You Do to My Life?
  4. I’ve Loved Her So Long
  5. The Last Trip to Tulsa

-Stephen

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

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/neil-young-187612/

January ’69 – A Bert Jansch Folk & Blues Classic

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues

In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s there was seemingly an alternate universe of musicians and bands happening right alongside the mega groups, and in some cases (cough Led Zeppelin cough) they were a serious influence, even providing the only female vocal ever heard on a song by that parenthetical band. This was a British world of mostly acoustic “folk revival” performers including Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Al Stewart, the Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and the duo and solo acts within those groups (John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson, to name a few). There were, of course, many more. One of them was Renbourn’s duo counterpart and fellow member of the Pentangle, Scotsman Bert Jansch. He released his fifth solo album, Birthday Blues, 50 years ago this month.

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The Pentangle had just released its pinnacle album Basket of Light, and Birthday Blues is basically a Pentangle album without singer Jacqui McShee or fellow guitarist Renbourn (he’s backed by the band’s rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox on this release). It is considered Jansch’s most “pop” record, but it’s firmly in the folk and blues genre. It’s alternatively playful and moody, as the album’s title suggests. Jansch was a dynamic guitarist with a distinctive singing voice – a good combination – so if you like this style of music, there’s a lot to enjoy on this release. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell is a beautiful instrumental inspired by his wife, who also designed the album cover. Poison is a haunting track on the folk rock side of things with heavier drums and an eerie guitar and harmonica that give a feeling of foreboding. A Woman Like You is another one in that vein.

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Trying to recall what inspired me to learn about Bert Jansch, it was probably a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD that came attached to an issue of MOJO Magazine or one like it around 2003 with Jansch’s 1966 take on the traditional Blackwater Side. I purchased a Best of Bert Jansch CD and was on my way. It didn’t occur to me at the time to even bother looking into whether or not he still performed live. Even if he did, it seemed highly unlikely he would pass through Texas. Then one day in 2010 I read he was going to perform at the local symphony hall – opening for and performing with Neil Young! Then I looked at the ticket prices.  Then I looked at my bank account. Wasn’t happening. A little over a year later Jansch died of lung cancer. Missing that show is a big music regret of mine.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can All Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road
  2. The Bright New Year
  3. Tree Song
  4. Poison
  5. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell
  6. I’ve Got a Woman

Side B:

  1. A Woman Like You
  2. I Am Lonely
  3. Promised Land
  4. Birthday Blues
  5. Wishing Well
  6. Blues

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/birthday-blues-mw0000205948

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues LP

 

 

January 13 – A Meanie of a Soundtrack

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine (soundtrack)

To anyone who may scoff at the notion that what the Beatles pulled off during their relatively short existence was anything less than miraculous, and that they were under constant pressure to produce more, more, and more, I offer the example of the sometimes unfairly disregarded soundtrack to the animated film, Yellow Submarine, released this day 50 years ago (January 17 in the UK).

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The soundtrack contained four “new” songs, two previously released tracks (the title track had been around for almost three years), plus George Martin’s orchestral score on side two.  Its release was delayed so that it wouldn’t interfere with their double album release in November of ’68. The film and album were considered a contract obligation, hence the Beatles didn’t give it the full studio treatment after spending many contentious hours in the studio over the previous two years. Negative to ambivalent critical assessments of the album are a reflection of the group’s attitude toward the project. But is it really an album to be dismissed? Personally, I feel the four previously unreleased songs alone make it worthwhile.

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George Harrison’s much-maligned Only a Northern Song had been rejected for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This turned out to be a good decision, as its replacement was the slightly less-disparaged Harrison track, Within You Without You (as fun as it can be to play the Beatles revisionist “what-if” game, I would never remove Within You Without You from Pepper!). As will surprise nobody who knows my music tastes, I love both of those songs. Yes, Only a Northern Song is cranky George complaining about his place on the group’s songwriting ladder, but it’s a trippy number with a cool organ and sound effects. It fit in well at the time it was recorded, but was already somewhat outdated (by late 60’s standards) by the time the soundtrack was released. McCartney’s All Together Now, written with old dance hall calls for a singalong in mind, may not have been his most creative songwriting effort, but again, look at the standard he had set for himself. Paul considered it a throwaway, but if ever one needs a peppy tune to get a jump-start out of a malaise, this is it.

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George’s It’s All Too Much was inspired by the Summer of Love vibe, and is one of my favorite Beatles songs of all time. To me, it’s a perfect combination of grungy guitar, flower power, and a typically positive Beatles message. In my mind, the song’s psychedelic musical soul mate is the Byrds’ Eight Miles High. I only wish they were both ten-plus minutes long.* George’s song was originally eight minutes long but trimmed to a still lengthy for the era 6:25. Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much were all recorded in early 1967. Only John’s Hey Bulldog, which he liked but said was about nothing, was recorded in 1968. Anyone want to remove this song from the Beatles canon? Not I.

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It’s hard to get too worked up over contemporary critics’ dismissive attitudes toward this record since the Beatles themselves mostly mailed it in, though they were reportedly more enthusiastic about it after previewing the film. John was vocally opposed to the inclusion of George Martin’s orchestral score, but judging by Lennon’s lackluster participation on the Get Back sessions concurrently taking place at the time of this soundtrack’s release, I don’t know that he had much to offer that would’ve been an improvement in his mind. An EP was considered which would’ve included Across the Universe, but was ditched. With 1999’s reissue of the film came the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which includes all the Beatles songs used in the film and excludes Martin’s score. I never bothered to pick it up, I guess confirming I’m not the completist I once considered myself to be. Occasionally I let the soundtrack CD play out and find myself enjoying the orchestral tracks. Perhaps I should paint big black holes on my walls for a fuller effect.

*In later incarnations, the Byrds would stretch Eight Miles High into a nearly twenty minute jam session on stage, but Roger McGuinn would only sing the first verse for some reason. I digress.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Yellow Submarine
  2. Only a Northern Song
  3. All Together Now
  4. Hey Bulldog
  5. It’s All Too Much
  6. All You Need is Love

Side Two:

  1. Pepperland
  2. Sea of Time
  3. Sea of Holes
  4. Sea of Monsters
  5. March of the Meanies
  6. Pepperland Laid Waste
  7. Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

-Stephen

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

Album Review: The Beatles – Yellow Submarine [Remastered]

https://www.allmusic.com/album/yellow-submarine-mw0000668441

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

January 12 – Like a Lead Balloon…

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

How successful bands form is interesting to me, because there’s no set formula. Some were created when their members were kids or very young adults, and they maintained most if not all of their core (Beatles and Stones as obvious examples). At the other end of the spectrum are groups who came together less organically or not organically at all, such as the Monkees and Supertramp. One characteristic shared by all of them regardless of their level of success or fame is that their best material came when the core group was still intact.

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It would seem to take a heavy dose of respect by a musician for what his or her band had accomplished, as well as an awareness that what might lie ahead may not be as good as the past for those groups to call it quits when, for whatever reason(s), they are no longer a whole unit. Led Zeppelin is one such example of a group who knew when to move on, but today we celebrate their auspicious beginning.

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The group formed as a vehicle for Jimmy Page to complete the legal (touring) obligations of the Yardbirds late in 1968, and Robert Plant wasn’t even his first choice as vocalist (that was Terry Reid). Page recruited John Paul Jones, and Plant brought in John Bonham. They realized very quickly they had good chemistry and decided to forge ahead, changing their moniker to Led Zeppelin after their brief Scandinavian tour as the New Yardbirds in September of 1968. They entered Olympic Studios shortly thereafter, and 50 years ago today their eponymous debut was released in the US (March 31 in the UK).

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Jay Thompson photo.

The album is a mix of originals, covers, and rearrangements of contemporary blues and folk songs whose performances by the likes of Joan Baez, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Willie Dixon, and Howlin’ Wolf inspired Page. The sessions lasted roughly 36 hours over a span of a few weeks in September and October of ’68 before the group even had a recording contract. It cost Page and manager Peter Grant less than £2,000 out of pocket to record the album. Page produced it and Glyn Johns engineered. Recording Led Zeppelin took such a short amount of time because most of the tracks had been well-rehearsed on the New Yardbirds tour preceding the sessions.

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Chris Walter photo.

Contemporary reviews were all over the board, apparently depending on what pill the reviewer had taken when listening to or writing about the album. John Mendelsohn in Rolling Stone ripped it as failing to do what the Jeff Beck Group had already failed to do: fill the void left by Cream. Melody Maker and the Village Voice were much kinder. Today it is rightly viewed as an essential British blues rock recording. This is one of those albums for me which contains no particular favorite tracks; they’re all good, whether on this album or live.

Random personal notes about the Led Zeppelin album:

  • The descending chord riff in Babe I’m Gonna Leave You always sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until one day it hit me: That’s Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4! (Of course, the Chicago song came after.) It turned out I wasn’t such a genius for noticing it – a music editor for LA Weekly made note of the similarity as well as that of the descending chord of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Maybe it’s just obvious and not all that interesting.
  • My uncle Chris, whom I’ve described elsewhere in these pages as the one who is, in a way, responsible for me starting this blog, is also the source of some current confusion for me. The “story, ” which I’ve “known” for about 35 years, goes something like this: He keeps his original copy of Led Zeppelin around for posterity. He no longer plays it because my aunt cannot stand Led Zeppelin, and, you see, one side of the vinyl was covered with ice cream during a wild party at his rented beach house in Virginia Beach where he lived during the summer of ’69 or ’70 while working as a lifeguard. Younger, more impressionable me: Right on! A heavy party at a beach house in 1970 with Led Zep cranked up on the turntable – I can DIG it! And of COURSE there was ice cream, wink wink, nudge nudge… Fast forward to a few days ago when I reached out to my uncle to confirm some details of the event, and the air was let out of the party balloon. In 2019 the only fact that remains is that ice cream was splattered on the vinyl. But now I learn that it was a relatively innocent birthday party held in the garage of my grandparents’ Hampton, VA home, and that it wasn’t Led Zeppelin, but the White Album. This is a very disappointing development. Though I love my late grandparents as well as the White Album, it’s just not the same. My uncle told me to go with what I thought the original story was if I wanted to, so I will. It coulda happened, man, it coulda happened…
  • This past summer, about a month shy of the 50th anniversary of the actual recording of this album, my now 18 year old son had a chance encounter with Robert Plant (and James Hetfield) at a resort in Colorado. I was pleased to hear that Robert was nice to my kid. He declined to be photographed (understandable in today’s over-selfied social media world), but he was pleasant and chatted about how amazed he is that yet another generation is being turned on to this music. Good stuff.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Good Times Bad Times
  2. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
  3. You Shook Me
  4. Dazed and Confused

Side Two:

  1. Your Time is Gonna Come
  2. Black Mountain Side
  3. Communication Breakdown
  4. I Can’t Quit You Baby
  5. How Many More Times

-Stephen

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

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/led-zeppelin-i-187298/

Album Review: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I [Reissue]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/25_or_6_to_4

January ’69 – Donovan the Hit Maker

Donovan – Donovan’s Greatest Hits

Today’s entry is a first for Introgroove:  a greatest hits album. Thinking ahead, it probably won’t be the last such release I give a nod to. To this day, if there’s an artist or band I’m unfamiliar with but feel I “should” know about them, a compilation is usually my first stop if one exists. Some hits records take on lives of their own. An obvious example is the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), the biggest selling album in US history. Elton’s Greatest Hits as well as Simon and Garfunkel’s were mainstays in my home growing up, even though the studio albums those songs were culled from were always in heavy rotation.

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In my music world, other such compilations which triggered my instant interest in further exploration include Marley’s Legend, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Vol. 1 was out of stock that day in the mid-1980’s when I decided to take the plunge), James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, Cat Stevens’ Greatest HitsThe Essential Leonard Cohen, Fairport Convention’s 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection, Neil Young’s Decade, and others. As I write this, The Best of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet is on order. Some compilations are really all I “need” in my collection by some artists. Jim Croce’s Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits is one example. Another is Donovan’s Greatest Hits, released this month 50 years ago. It’s been in my collection since I first listened to a college roommate’s copy 30 years ago, hearing tracks other than Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow for the first time.

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Donovan has loomed throughout my first year’s worth of posts, and for good reason. He may not have been as big as Dylan or the Beatles, but he was seemingly always around the scene and on camera at just the right times with just the right people, and releasing really good tunes along the way. I’m sure there were contemporary or perhaps even earlier greatest hits releases by 1960’s artists, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any others besides the Byrds and the Beach Boys. (There’s a trivia/discussion topic for you: list some others that I’m forgetting.) The crème de la crème for me here includes Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Colours, and Season of the Witch. I always thought There is a Mountain was kind of goofy at best, but gained a slightly better appreciation for it after realizing what I was hearing on the Allman Brothers’ Mountain Jam.

One of my favorites didn’t make it into the above playlist, but is on the album:

Tracklist (original listing differs from CD reissue linked above)

Side One:

  1. Epistle to Dippy
  2. Sunshine Superman
  3. There is a Mountain
  4. Jennifer Juniper
  5. Wear Your Love Like Heaven
  6. Season of the Witch

Side Two:

  1. Mellow Yellow
  2. Colours
  3. Hurdy Gurdy Man
  4. Catch the Wind
  5. Leléna

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donovan%27s_Greatest_Hits

 

January 5 – Creedence Swampwater Revival?

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bayou Country

CCR released their second album, Bayou Country, on this date fifty years ago. It was the first of three albums released by the band during a frenetic 1969. They’d finally made a name for themselves as CCR after struggling for a few years under the monikers the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs.

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At 23, John Fogerty wrote the songs while staring a blank wall in his apartment – his blank canvass as he described it. He also arranged and produced the album, and as Ray Rezos said in a contemporary Rolling Stone review, “He probably swept out the studio when the recording was finished, too.” This was the source of a great deal of friction within the band as Fogerty assumed control while the others – rhythm guitarist and John’s brother, Tom, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford – felt their contributions stymied or not credited. (I’m not an invested-enough CCR fan to have an opinion on their intragroup politics either way, other than to say that this was a rather amazingly productive and successful run of albums, so they must’ve been doing something right.)

Proud Mary was the album’s hit, reaching #2 on the singles chart. Born on the Bayou was a culmination of any and all information Fogerty had gleaned from books and movies (Swamp Fever being a big inspiration) – he was a Northern California native who had never actually lived on a bayou. (For more on this great track, see badfinger20’s write-up here.)

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There’s a simplicity to CCR’s music which is alluring in its own right. There’s always a place for it in the sometimes overindulged world of rock music. I’ve always respected bands with an uncomplicated yet distinct sound.  CCR’s music that I like the most, I really like. Born on the Bayou stands among the band’s best tracks on any of their albums, and one of the best overall by anyone in 1969. Penthouse Pauper is relatively short, sweet, and crunchy – like a bowl of Cocoa Puffs I might chow on while listening to it late at night. Proud Mary is an obvious plus, though I think Ike and Tina made it their own (not to mention it’s been classic rock radioed to death). I even like their take on Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly. But some of their music, while not bad, I find a little tedious with the simplicity a detriment. Graveyard Train, the longest song on the album, would be my example here.

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I’ve no doubt that most if not all of these songs would’ve been incredible in a live setting. Keep On Chooglin’, the second longest track on the record and probably my second favorite – at the end of a crazy night at the Fillmore would’ve been fun to experience. And yes, as I write this I’m aware of the irony of my assessments of Graveyard and Chooglin’. One listener’s tedium is another’s toe-tappin’ groovefest. Alas, I’ll just have to settle for assigning it to my imagination.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Born on the Bayou
  2. Bootleg
  3. Graveyard Train

Side Two:

  1. Good Golly, Miss Molly
  2. Penthouse Pauper
  3. Proud Mary
  4. Keep on Chooglin’

-Stephen

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

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/bayou-country-86757/