September 19 – After the Gold Rush at 50

9/19/70: Neil Young –  After the Gold Rush

Today I’m celebrating one of my favorite albums of all time. Albums the caliber of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, released 50 years ago today, are what inspired me to start this blog. Yet ironically with albums such as this I have to overcome the constraints of my “What can I possibly say about it that isn’t already known?” mentality. Then I recall that it’s a mighty big world out there, and not everyone worships at the altar of (insert applicable band or artist name). In this case, it’s Neil Young arguably hovering around his creative peak. And that’s saying something considering the overall quality of his output over the past 55-ish years.

Neil Young Releasing 1970 'Cellar Door' Concerts - Rolling Stone

The album was inspired by a Dean Stockwell-Herb Bermann screenplay of an unmade movie of the same title. Neil was going to produce its soundtrack with the title track and Cripple Creek Ferry being written specifically for it. Most of the recording took place in the basement studio of Young’s Topanga Canyon home with the perfect combination of musicians for this particular collection of songs. Jimmy McDonough suggested in his bio of Neil, Shakey, that Young intentionally wanted to combine the folk rock of CSNY with the heavier sound of Crazy Horse, hence an album roster which includes Stephen Stills and Greg Reeves from CSNY, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, and a fading Danny Whitten from the Horse, and Jack Nitzsche. But to me the most interesting personnel decision was the inclusion of 18 year old Nils Lofgren, mostly on piano – an instrument he didn’t even regularly play. It all worked, and Nils obviously made the most of the opportunity.

Neil Young's former house in Topanga for sale for $1.45M - Curbed LA

Thinking of the various times over the years in which Neil has changed his mind about what musicians to work with (or what album he wanted to work on or release) – sometimes in mid-recording or even mid-tour – After the Gold Rush sounds like the perfect melding of musicians and styles that have helped him create his best music over the years. I don’t know if it was as harmonious as all that, but that’s how I like to think of it. The various styles are evident from the start: Tell Me Why could be a CSNY song, as could Only Love Can Break Your Heart. The title track hearkens back in my mind to his Buffalo Springfield days (think Expecting to Fly or Broken Arrow).

Then we have driving Crazy Horse-sounding rockers When You Dance… and Southern Man, the latter song deserving a post of its own if not a book. And with tracks such as Don’t Let it Bring You Down,  Birds, I Believe in You, and his cover of Don Gibson’s Oh, Lonesome Me, we hear a warmth in his music that was a bit sparse during his turbulent-to-dark songwriting which was soon to follow in his “Ditch” years. Yet despite the diverse styles, these songs form a very cohesive album.

▷ ACORDES de NEIL YOUNG: Todas sus canciones

Neil Young’s music – especially his singing voice – is not for everyone, that’s understood. But as with his kindred spirit Bob Dylan, for those of us who are touched by his music, it can cut deeply at times. After the Gold Rush is a perfect combination of songs which display his personal and societal angst, along with reminders that things can also be o.k. All in a shade under 35 minutes. And while I’m not an audiophile, this album has always just sounded damn good from a production standpoint, whether it was my first listens on cassette, or later on CD or LP. Perhaps it’s simply one of the better examples of Neil’s “less is more” approach in the studio.

After the Gold Rush by Neil Young (Album; Reprise; M 56383): Reviews,  Ratings, Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

Extrees:

-The album reached number eight on the Billboard Pop Chart. Only Love Can Break Your Heart and When You Dance I Can Really Love were issued as singles, reaching 33 and 93, respectively.

-The original Rolling Stone review referred to the album as dull, but within a short number of years considered it a masterpiece. Numerous magazines now rate After the Gold Rush among the top 100 albums of all time.

-The solarized album cover photo of Neil passing an elderly woman next to the NYU Law School campus originally included Graham Nash, who was cropped.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Tell Me Why
  2. After the Gold Rush
  3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  4. Southern Man
  5. ‘Til the Morning Comes

Side Two:

  1. Oh, Lonesome Me
  2. Don’t Let it Bring You Down
  3. Birds
  4. When You Dance I Can Really Love
  5. I Believe in You
  6. Cripple Creek Ferry

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/neil-young-after-the-gold-rush/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/after-the-gold-rush-mw0000192439

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

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/111265/shakey-neil-youngs-biography-by-jimmy-mcdonough/

After The Gold Rush

When Sir Douglas Quintet Let the Good Times Roll

April 1969: Sir Douglas Quintet – Mendocino

Sir Douglas Quintet was formed in San Antonio in 1964 by Doug Sahm with his friend Augie Meyer. Sahm began his professional career as a child playing country (he played with Hank Williams, Sr. during his final performance), but gradually incorporated blues and R&B into his repertoire. As SDQ became well known in their native Texas, their music became a hybrid of sounds prominent in the southern part of the state, including Mexican, Polish, Czech, German, Cajun, and African American. Then they added a measure of Beatles before scoring a hit in 1965 with She’s About a Mover, which is one of their two best known songs. Its similarities to the Fabs’ She’s a Woman are no coincidence. Like their fellow native Texan Janis Joplin, they headed west and landed in the heart of psychedelic San Francisco, where they recorded their fantastic Mendocino album.

Sir Douglas Quintet | rocktourdatabase.com

The music on this release is pretty straight forward country rock and Tex-Mex, with its signature sound being Augie Meyer’s Vox Continental organ complimenting acoustic and jangly electric guitars. The title track, the group’s other most famous tune, spent fifteen weeks in the Billboard Hot 100. I Don’t Want is probably the most au courant tune in the set. It could’ve been on a Byrds album. She’s About a Mover makes another appearance here in an updated version, though it’s not far from their original four years prior. At the Crossroads and Texas Me are great examples of Sahm’s soulful vocals, the former bringing to mind the Grateful Dead’s version of Morning Dew, the latter a lament of a man far from home:

Now I’m up in Sausilito, Wonder where I ought to be, An’ I wonder what happened to that man inside, The real old Texas me…

The Resurrection of Doug Sahm: Sneak peak at SXSW Film biopic plus deets on  SXSW Music blowout - Music - The Austin Chronicle

The album clocks in at 31:05, and closes out with Oh, Baby, It Just Don’t Matter, a burst of distorted, grungy goodness. I’m not a native Texan, and no matter how long I end up living here I doubt I’ll ever feel like one. The closest connection I feel to this state is when I listen to music like this. There’s such an attitude embedded in Mendocino’s grooves. It was so original, inclusive, and downright cool. It’s unpretentious country rock in the best ways. It’s for hippies, rednecks, and plain ol’ dudes like me. It can be served up with a six pack of Lone Star Beer or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Like the man sang, it just don’t matter.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Mendocino
  2. I Don’t Want
  3. I Wanna Be Your Mama Again
  4. At the Crossroads
  5. If You Really Want Me to I’ll Go

Side Two:

  1. And it Didn’t Even Bring Me Down
  2. Lawd, I’m Just a Country Boy in this Great Big Freaky City
  3. She’s About a Mover
  4. Texas Me
  5. Oh, Baby, It Just Don’t Matter

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/mendocino-mw0000453380

https://www.nodepression.com/review-doug-sahm-and-the-sir-douglas-quintet-the-complete-mercury-recordings-box-5cd-hip-o-select-2006/

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

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

July 1970 – James Gang, Independence Day, and American Music

July 1970: James Gang – James Gang Rides Again

It’s the morning of Independence Day in the U.S.A., and it’s such a strange time. I awoke early and stepped out on the back patio to visit with my wild friend Ginny for a bit and enjoy some fresh air before temps reach triple digits later today. I’m pondering what the Fourth of July means to me now with so much uncertainty in the air. It occurred to me that the best way for me to enjoy the day is to indulge in my favorite pastime, listening to music. Today, it’s 100% American music: Gershwin, Copeland, Miles, Bird, Dylan, Willie, Muddy, Bruce…you get the picture.

ginny.jpg

I didn’t have to put this post together today. James Gang’s second album, James Gang Rides Again (a.k.a. Rides Again), was released some time in July of 1970, but I’ve not been able to locate the exact 50th anniversary among my usual sources. I doubt it was released on July 4, but today seems as good a day as any to celebrate it as the album is a quintessential early 1970’s recording by a classic American band.

James Gang Look Back on 'Rides Again' at 45: Exclusive Interview

Rides Again contains one of the band’s two hits, Funk #49 (the other being Walk Away), but every track on it is quality rock music that features Joe Walsh’s fantastic, multidiminsional songwriting and musicianship, as well as that of bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox. Other than the driving Funk #49, my favorite song is The Bomber. The band ran into a bit of a legal dispute early on over this track due to its unauthorized inclusion of a rendition of Ravel’s Boléro, which was removed after initial pressings. It was restored on recent CD releases.

James Gang, The | Nostalgia Central

The organ on Tend My Garden adds another diminsion to the band’s sound that fades into the mellow folk of Garden Gate. This gives way to the country rock of There I Go Again which features Rusty Young on pedal steel guitar. Walsh has acknowledged that he only sang because the band needed a vocalist after their original singer quit the band and audiences responded well to him. He says he developed a lead/rhythm guitar style à la his friend Pete Townshend in order to allow him to sing effectively. As an aside, and speaking of Pete, James Gang opened for The Who on a few U.S. dates that same year.

James Gang - Wikipedia

*Non Music-Related Editorial Alert*

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to do this, but I feel the need to express something on this American holiday that’s supposed to be a cause for celebration. I don’t claim to speak for any other Americans who might read this, but to those of you from other parts of the planet who follow my blog, I’m disgusted with what is happening to my country right now and apologize for any negative impact it’s having internationally. Whether it’s Covid 19 or race-related, the absolute lack of leadership at the highest levels of my government and the shocking levels of selfishness and willful ignorance among much of the American population is sad and unnerving to me. This is not the United States I grew up in, nor is it representative of what I believe to be the vast majority of my fellow Americans.

Happy Fourth of July. Thanks for reading.

-Stephen

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Funk # 49
  2. Asshtonpark
  3. Woman
  4. The Bomber: Closet Queen/Boléro/Cast Your Fate to the Wind

Side Two:

  1. Tend My Garden
  2. Garden Gate
  3. There I Go Again
  4. Thanks
  5. Ashes the Rain and I

https://www.allmusic.com/album/rides-again-mw0000194237

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

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/james-gang-interview-2015/

 

June 14 – The First Time the Grateful Dead Went Mainstream

6/14/70: The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead

For their fourth studio album, the Grateful Dead wanted to record in less time and with less fuss and expense than with their previous efforts. This was due in part to please Warner Bros., who hadn’t seen much of a return on their investment in the band, but also because the kind of music the band was gravitating toward demanded it. Workingman’s Dead was recorded over a period of about nine days in February 1970 and released a half-century ago today.

Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead

The album represented a shift in direction from the psychedelic sounds of their first albums, as well as the mayhem of those recording sessions, to more of a folk/country rock sound. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir had occasionally played acoustic guitars on tour just prior to going back into the studio, with the former being especially influenced by the Bakersfield sound. Garcia introduced a steel guitar to their music, and vocally the Dead were influenced by CSN’s vocal harmonies. And in a repeated theme of the time across the rock landscape, the influence of The Band’s first two albums crept into the music of the Grateful Dead, specifically with Robert Hunter’s lyrics.

Opinion | The Genius Behind the Grateful Dead - The New York Times
Robert Hunter

In his original Rolling Stone review from July 1970, Andy Zwerling emphasized the album’s warmth resulting from Garcia’s acoustic guitar and the band’s clean harmonies, but predicted “staunch Dead freaks” probably wouldn’t like country flavored songs such as Uncle John’s Band. He also pointed out that even the tracks which aren’t exactly country, such as Casey Jones, have that flavor. The group had dispersed from Haight-Ashbury into quieter and more rural surroundings around Marin County, which in turn also influenced the vibe of the album. While it might’ve seemed like a radical shift in musical direction, the album is a reminder that Garcia’s and Weir’s musical roots, as well as those of lyricist Robert Hunter, were found in places other than the manic psychedelia of the Dead’s first albums. Country, bluegrass, folk, straight forward rock, and blues make up this record.

Grateful Dead 1970 London Photograph by Chris Walter

As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a tweener when it comes to this band. That is, I enjoy the Grateful Dead as a live act and recognize that they were at home on stage, but I don’t possess the knowledge, passion, commitment, and downright obsession of most Deadheads to fully submerge myself in the vastness of their live documents. Not yet at least, though I’m inching in that direction. But from what I can tell, I might appreciate their studio albums more than those entrenched in the live recordings. What can I say, I’m an album kind of guy I suppose. And on this one, my favorite tracks besides the obvious Uncle John’s Band and Casey Jones are the country tinged High Time and Dire Wolf, plus New Speedway Boogie (Hunter’s commentary on Altamont), and Cumberland Blues with it’s fantastic harmonies.

TUE FEB 25 7:30pm – BPO recreates 1970 Grateful Dead & BPO ...

Workingman’s Dead topped Rolling Stone magazine readers poll for best album of 1970, and contemporary reviews were universally enthusiastic. More significantly, the album and its followup, American Beauty, greatly expanded the Dead’s audience just as In the Dark and the promotional vehicle known as MTV would do 27 years later for better and for worse. As Blair Jackson pointed out in Guitar World: 

“Workingman’s Dead” turned the Dead into a song band, and it was the launch pad for everything that came after it. It was a big gamble, a radical change in direction, but it paid off like a royal flush.”

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Uncle John’s Band
  2. High Time
  3. Dire Wolf
  4. New Speedway Boogie

Side Two:

  1. Cumberland Blues
  2. Black Peter
  3. Easy Wind
  4. Casey Jones

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingman%27s_Dead#Track_listing

https://www.guitarworld.com/artists/workingman-s-dead-grateful-dead-shifted-uncommercial-jam-band-one-worlds-most-popular-acts

Workingman’s Dead