January 3 – The Crazy Diamond Goes Solo

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

This is not an easy one to write about because it’s not an easy album to listen to.  The Madcap Laughs, released on this date fifty years ago, is a portrait of someone in the throes of mental illness and not just some eccentric artist.  John and Yoko were merely crazy self-promoters by comparison.  However, I can say that having gained much more of an appreciation of the early Pink Floyd albums, I now find the first couple of Barrett releases to be much more interesting and enjoyable.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

Recording began in May 1968 after Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd due to his increasingly erratic behavior, with most of the work being done April – July 1969.  From inception to release nearly two years later, five producers participated on the project over the span of recording dates, including Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, and Malcolm Jones.  In addition to Barrett and Gilmour, other musicians on The Madcap Laughs include Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, and Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine, Jerry Shirley of Humble Pie, and Willie Wilson of Jokers Wild (Gilmour’s band prior to joining Pink Floyd)

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The first round of recording with Jenner ended in July ’68 when Barrett departed and later ended up in a Cambridge psych ward.  He returned in early ’69 to work with Jones that spring at Abbey Road.  This was a more productive stage, but it too fizzled due to Syd’s unpredictable behavior.  Barrett didn’t communicate effectively with the session players who had no choice but to lag behind Syd’s playing with constant time and key changes.  By this time, Gilmour became interested in helping his friend in the studio.  He and Roger Waters took over in the booth in the summer of 1969 and hurriedly wrapped up recording, re-recording, and mixing.

Image result for roger waters 1969

Interestingly, it’s the Jones produced tracks as opposed to those overseen by Gilmour and Waters that are arguably stronger – a term I use loosely.  Exceptions for me include songs Octopus, Golden Hair (with some lyrics taken from James Joyce), and Dark Globe, the latter described by AllMusic’s Stewart Mason as “horrifying” and “a first person portrait of schizophrenia that’s seemingly the most self-aware song this normally whimsical songwriter ever created.”  Beginning with She Took a Long Cold Look, the final few tracks aren’t as listenable to me, with Barrett seemingly sounding more incoherent as the album winds down.  But the final track, Late Night, is a clear reminder of Syd’s isolation, and as such serves as a reminder of the album’s purpose, suggests reviewer Ric Albano.  For the album cover, Barrett painted his bedroom floor orange and purple.  He was helped by his new acquaintance Evelyn Rose, the nude woman on the back of the sleeve.

Image result for syd barrett the madcap laughs

The elements that make an album one listener’s disaster – disjointed and out of tune playing, stream of consciousness lyrics, as well as unintelligible mumbling – are part of the charm for others, and there is plenty of charm for me on this recording.  I enjoy most of it in fact.  I like Barrett’s vocals and most of the production on the record.  But I can’t listen to it without the reminder of what was unfolding for him at the time.  Let it Be documented the disintegration of a band, but The Madcap Laughs documented the disintegration of a human being.  It was really happening.  The only other albums I can think of off the top of my head where the questionable mental state of the artist was on full display to this extent are Skip Spence’s Oar and Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers.  Perhaps Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica from the previous year as well.  For me there’s no question as to Syd Barrett’s talent and possible genius.  He simply didn’t make it.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. Terrapin
  2. No Good Trying
  3. Love You
  4. No Man’s Land
  5. Dark Globe
  6. Here I Go

Side B:

  1. Octopus
  2. Golden Hair
  3. Long Gone
  4. She Took a Long Cold Look
  5. Feel
  6. If It’s in You
  7. Late Night

-Stephen

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

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-madcap-laughs-mw0000193903

The Madcap Laughsby Syd Barrett

 

January 1 – The Good Taste of Rory Gallagher

Taste – On the Boards For my first proper album post of a 1970 release, I present someone in whose music I’m currently immersing myself: Rory Gallagher.  More accurately, it’s the second and final album by Gallagher’s band Taste before he set out on his own (the band continues to this day).  Rory Gallagher is […]

Taste – On the Boards

For my first proper album post of a 1970 release, I present someone in whose music I’m currently immersing myself: Rory Gallagher.  More accurately, it’s the second and final album by Gallagher’s band Taste before he set out on his own (the band continues to this day).  Rory Gallagher is one of those names I heard and read a number of times before finally giving him a listen.  I picked up his live album Irish Tour ’74 a few years back and instantly loved it, but for whatever reason didn’t begin to explore his other albums until more recently.

Image result for taste band 1970

The band, originally a blues rock trio, was formed by Gallagher in Cork, Ireland in 1966, with Rory as the chief songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist.  Eric Kitteringham played bass, and Norman Damery was on drums.  Though they headlined many of their own shows, some of Taste’s higher profile live performances came in support of Cream on their 1968 farewell tour, and later opening for Blind Faith during its North American tour of 1969.  Later in 1970, after On the Boards‘ release, the band played a set on the third night of the epic Isle of Wight Festival.  That performance was released on LP in 1971, and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.  It was one of the last shows the band did before Gallagher set out on his own.

Image result for taste band 1970
The first Taste album, rel. April 1969

In addition to heavy blues and rock, on this recording they also express their jazz influence with Gallagher on saxophone as well as guitar.  On the Boards, released 50 years ago yesterday (I’ve got some catching up to do…), was received well by critics for its precise musicianship which can be heard right out of the gate on What’s Going On?  Gallagher’s versatility is even more apparent on the jazz-heavy track It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again featuring Rory on sax.

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Rory Gallagher

I do hear hints of other late 1960’s/early 70’s British blues rock bands on this album such as the Jeff Beck Group and Fleetwood Mac.  The guitar sound on Eat My Words is reminiscent of Jimmy Page on Zeppelin tracks such as Traveling Riverside Blues.  But comparisons such as these might be lazy on my part, as Taste and later solo Gallagher definitely had their own heavy but tight, compact sound.  The exception here is the title track with its long, soulful and moody instrumental portion.  There’s not a bad track on this album, which means it’s not a matter of acquiring a taste for Rory Gallagher’s music as suggested in the title of this entry.  It’s simply about waking up and giving it a listen.

Tracklist

Side A:

  1. What’s Going On?
  2. Railway and Gun
  3. It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again
  4. If the Day Was Any Longer
  5. Morning Sun

Side B:

  1. Eat My Words
  2. On the Boards
  3. If I Don’t Sing I’ll Cry
  4. See Here
  5. I’ll Remember

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/on-the-boards-mw0000465916

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_(band)

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

January 1, 1970: Where to Go from Here?

To those of you who used to visit my blog from time to time, it’s nice to see you again.  To any new visitors, welcome!  If interested, have a look at my inaugural post and perhaps my second entry for a better idea of who I am and why I started these pages.  I began writing about (mostly) 50th anniversaries of album releases in January 2018, and I had a great time with it for that entire year.  We turned over into 2019/1969, and for various reasons I ran out of steam and interest.  I said Happy Birthday to George Harrison last February and called it a day.  When I closed my laptop on the 25th of that month it made the sound of the Monty Python foot stomp, which was doubly fitting since Monty Python’s Flying Circus had hit the airwaves fifty years earlier.

Image result for monty python foot stomp

No regrets, though.  Yes, I missed out on yammering about some great and/or important albums and events from March – December 1969, but to borrow the title of a great Fleetwood Mac track from 1969 that I didn’t write about, oh well.  Is there any silver lining to skipping most of ’69?  Perhaps.  For me, that year didn’t offer as much in terms of sheer volume of albums that interest me as did the years 1965-’68 (’65 being the first year of my favorite ten-year stretch of music).  1970 might mirror ’69 for me in terms of the overall number of works that I enjoy or that I would like to explore more (or for the first time), but I feel we’re really entering a new era in rock and popular music in general in 1970. This is one of the main reasons I’m wading back into the blogosphere.  To illustrate:

Bands that shut down in 1970:  The Beatles (What!?  Why am I just now hearing about this?), the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, the Marvelettes, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (R.I.P. Neil Innes), The Nice, Simon and Garfunkel, the Turtles, the Dave Clark Five, the Box Tops, Nazz, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Vanilla Fudge, among others.  A rather 1960’s sounding list, no?

Image result for the beatles 1963

Bands that said hello in 1970:  Aerosmith, America, Ambrosia, Blackfoot, Chilliwack, Derek and the Dominos, Dixie Dregs, the Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Electric Light Orchestra, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Fotheringay, Gentle Giant, Jefferson Starship, Lindisfarne, Mudcrutch, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Pure Prairie League, Queen, Raspberries, Sugarloaf, Uriah Heep, Weather Report, and Wet Willie, among others.  That, my friends, is a 1970’s list.

Image result for earth wind and fire

Bands/individuals from the latter list I’ve seen live:  Clapton (but not Derek and the Dominos), Jeff Lynne’s ELO (but not the original ELO), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (but not Mudcrutch), and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.  And in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure I’ll admit to one more that I’d be embarrassed about if I had attended of my own free will.  Instead, it’s just kind of funny to me looking back:  Tony Orlando.

Image result for tony orlando and dawn

Yes, in a previous life my then in-laws treated their daughter and me to what was truly a lovely few days in Branson, MO.  The trout fishing was a blast, the round of golf frustrating but still fun, and then the Orlando (sans Dawn) show, a matinee as I recall.  He played his hits during the first set, then at the beginning of the second he announced that a great friend of his was in the audience; a wonderful man and a spiritual leader for our time:  Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome, please, for the Doctor, Reverend…Jerry Falwell!  My jaw dropped to the floor as the Great Man arose in front to scattered applause among the assemblage of blue hairs throughout the half empty theater.  If ever there was a situation tailor made for me to get arrested for creating a public disturbance, or at least get thrown out of a theater, this was it.  But the stunning moment got away from me too fast.  And with that, Tony Orlando launched into a second set loaded with Neil Diamond covers…

So, where to go from here?  I guess it’s just time to get back to it again.  One of the aspects of this hobby that I missed during my hiatus is learning about music I’m not as familiar with, if familiar at all.  Not that I ceased exploring over the past ten months, but my critical listening to lesser known (to me) albums dropped significantly.  This is another reason I’m back, as will be illustrated in my next post.  And with that, I offer a humble thank you for checking back in with me or for visiting for the first time.  1970, here we go.  Happy New Year!

-Stephen