November 19 – Desert Island Album Draft, Final Round (Box Sets): Superstars of the 70’s

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There were ten initial rounds, and this is my final selection of four bonus rounds which have covered soundtracks, compilations, music-related movies, and now box sets, with draft order determined randomly by round.

popsike.com - Superstars of the 70's 4 LP set, Warner SP-4000, 1973, 41  Various Artists - auction details

With my final desert island draft pick I’m sharing this rabbit trail off my personal memory lane as a nod to my oft-mentioned older brothers who got me started on my journey in music when I was still in diapers. Thanks brudduhs.

The four LP Superstars of the 70’s box set, released by Warner Bros. in 1973, represents an odd case in my music listening life. My older brothers owned it, but I have little memory of them playing it. I can see it in my mind’s eye resting flat on the musty indoor/outdoor carpet in our somewhat finished basement underneath their stereo stand. I’d pull it out from time to time out of curiosity but was probably nine or ten years old before I started to recognize many of the names (other than Roberta Flack, whose albums my mom played upstairs on her Motorola console, and Judy Collins because I’d seen her on Sesame Street).

As much as I learned about music from my brothers, they weren’t really into most of the artists included in this set until they were older, at least not enough to spend after school part-time job paychecks on individual albums by the likes of Black Sabbath or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. One of them recently told me, looking back, that they kind of cherry picked the songs they liked, but otherwise they tended to think of it as one of those “As Seen on TV” types of releases. And it may have been just that.

When my interest in music from the era other than the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elton was beginning to take off in the mid-1980s, I copied most of the songs from Superstars of the 70’s onto cassette. To my surprise, there were some snaps, crackles, pops, and even a skip or two. Evidently it had been spun a few times over the years after all! Yet while giving it a listen when trying to decide which songs to tape, I still wasn’t familiar with some of them, such as the Byrds’ version of Cowgirl in the Sand (which was actually a new track from their ill-fated reunion album that came out about the same time as this release) and the post-Morrison Doors’ Tightrope Ride.

By no means is this the box set that I’ve listened to the most over the years. Retrospectives by Clapton, Dylan, Bruce, and others top that list. But as it turned out, the songs in this collection – which has now probably spent way too many North Texas summers in my brother’s attic to be playable – formed a cornerstone or two of the foundation of my music tastes going forward.

Tracklist:

A1 – Alice Cooper – School’s Out
A2 – Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze
A3 – Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
A4 – Randy Newman – Sail Away
A5 – Judy Collins – Both Sides Now
A6 – The Doors – Tightrope Ride
B1 – The Bee Gees – Lonely Days
B2 – James Taylor – Fire & Rain
B3 – The Grateful Dead – Truckin’
B4 – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Where Is The Love
B5 – Stephen Stills – Love The One You’re With
B6 – Yes – Roundabout
C1 – The Doors – Light My Fire
C2 – Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
C3 – CSN – Marrakesh Express
C4 – Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze
C5 – The Bee Gees – To Love Somebody
C6 – The Kinks – Lola
D1 – Carly Simon – Anticipation
D2 – The Guess Who – American Woman
D3 – Todd Rundgren – We Gotta Get You A Woman
D4 – America – Ventura Highway
D5 – Jo Jo Gunne – Run, Run, Run
D6 – Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice
E1 – Otis Redding – (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay
E2 – Deep Purple – Hush
E3 – Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind
E4 – Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
E5 – Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
E6 – Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
F1 – Eagles – Take It Easy
F2 – America – A Horse With No Name
F3 – The Byrds – Cowgirl In The Sand
F4 – Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
F5 – The Guess Who – These Eyes
F6 – Van Morrison – Domino
F7 – Judy Collins – Amazing Grace
G1 – Doobie Brothers – Listen To The Music
G2 – Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
G3 – Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour
G4 – Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans
G5 – Jackson Browne – Doctor My Eyes
G6 – Black Sabbath – Paranoid
H1 – Allman Brothers Band – One Way Out
H2 – Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
H3 – Faces – Stay With Me
H4 – Graham Nash – Chicago
H5 – Rolling Stones – Happy
H6 – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Lucky Man

-Stephen

https://www.discogs.com/Various-Superstars-Of-The-70s/release/512289

November 16 – Stephen Stills’ Solo Debut

11/16/70: Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills

November 1970 was quite a significant month in the world of album releases, and today the train rolls on with the second of four major solo releases from the members of CSNY after Déjà Vu’s release the previous March. Stephen Stills relocated to England to put some distance between himself and the drama emanating from the group, moving into Ringo’s old residence in Surrey. While there, he established musical connections and wrote a bunch of songs which he recorded primarily in London in the first half of 1970 between CSNY tours. His somewhat eclectic and fantastic Stephen Stills was released on this day 50 years ago.

Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills - Amazon.com Music

Though he crossed the Atlantic to get away from it all, and while this is 100% solo Stills in terms of songwriting, by the time the album was finished he’d enlisted the help of a number of A-Listers including the names Hendrix, Clapton, Starr, Crosby, Nash, Sebastian, Mama Cass, Booker T., Rita Coolidge, and others. The songs on the LP are personal in nature and hint at his relationships in CSNY as well as his unsteady romantic involvement with Coolidge, the latter symbolized by the giraffe on the album cover photo taken by Henry Diltz (Stills and Coolidge either bought the stuffed animal together or she bought it for him). By the time of its release, she had left Stills for Nash, putting a temporary nail in CSNY’s coffin. And what of that odd cover? AllMusic refers to it as an understatement, that judging by the cover one might think the album is full of gentle, introspective singer/songwriter material, only to hear a “seamless” blend of folk, blues, hard rock, and gospel.

Contemporary reviews ranged from tepid with its “undefined” or “elusive” qualities, to fantastic, such as AllMusic’s retrospective description as a “jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu.” I tend to hear it as a little of both, though not elusive in a negative way. Stephen Stills starts out with a bang. The theme of his anthem to free love might be dated, but the song is a classic in which he uses the chorus to full effect. By the end of side one we’ve heard signature guitar licks from Jimi Hendrix (who would pass before the album’s release, and who it’s dedicated to) on the funky Old Times Good Times, and Eric Clapton on Go Back Home. My other favorites include the quieter Do for the Others, the spirited Sit Yourself Down, and the CSNY concert staple, Black Queen.

Love the One You're With - Wikipedia

Looking at it through the lens of 2020, perhaps the only thing the album suffers from is the fact that there were other great albums released in 1970, namely Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which came out just a couple weeks later. (And to tie them together, it’s interesting that Stills borrowed the phrase “love the one you’re with” from Billy Preston, who also tutored Harrison in the ways of gospel music George used on My Sweet Lord. Was there ever a time of more cross-pollination in music than around 1970?) Stephen Stills reached number three on the U.S. Billboard album chart, and eight in the U.K., and was fueled by singles Love the One You’re With b/w To A Flame and Sit Yourself Down b/w We Are Not Helpless. This is Stills at or near the peak of his powers, and it gets better for me with each listen.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Love the One You’re With
  2. Do for the Others
  3. Church (Part of Someone)
  4. Old Times Good Times
  5. Go Back Home

Side Two:

  1. Sit Yourself Down
  2. To a Flame
  3. Black Queen
  4. Cherokee
  5. We Are Not Helpless

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/stephen-stills-debut-album/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/stephen-stills-mw0000197145#:~:text=Stephen%20Stills%20is%20top%2Dheavy,Stills%20%26%20Nash%20or%20D%C3%A9j%C3%A0%20Vu%2C

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

November 1970 – Paul Kantner & the Evolution of the Airplane

November 1970: Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? -from Hijack, side 2 track 2

Fifty years ago this month saw one of the more unique releases of the era, Paul Kantner’s concept album Blows Against the Empire. Technically, it’s credited as Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, though it shouldn’t be confused with the band of that name which didn’t officially form until four years later. It’s also not the Jefferson Airplane, who were still together but experiencing inevitable internal strife on the downward slope of their run. Grace Slick does add vocals and piano throughout, and Jack Casady plays bass on two tracks.

Paul Kantner - Wikipedia

Blows Against the Empire is counterculture science fiction set in a future where the hippie generation is able to unite, steal a starship, and create their Utopia in another solar system. It’s in the anti-military, anti-government (even California’s then-governor Reagan is called out), anti-conventional society, “back to the land” spirit, only the land is on a distant planet where babies grow on trees. Another element of the story is the allegory of relationships and childbirth, which symbolize Kantner’s romantic relationship at the time with Grace Slick, who would give birth to their daughter China the following year. The album was nominated for a Hugo, a literary award for best science fiction or fantasy work in the category of Best Dramatic Presentation.

I'd Love to Turn You On #124 – Paul Kantner – Blows Against The Empire |  Twist and Shout

The album was recorded in San Francisco during the summer and fall of ’70 utilizing a number of Bay Area musicians including members of the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Jefferson Airplane. David Crosby and Graham Nash also participated, and many of these musicians assisted Crosby with his solo debut which he recorded at the same time and location. This “shifting supergroup” was informally known as PERRO, or The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.

Grace Slick With Paul Kantner: The Rolling Stone Interview - Rolling Stone

From a musical standpoint, the tracks are built around Slick’s piano with plenty of vocal harmonizing between Kantner and her. In that regard it’s not far from sounding like the Airplane. An exception is The Baby Tree, featuring only Kantner’s vocal and Jerry Garcia’s banjo. My favorite songs here are heavy on piano and acoustic guitar with just the right touches of electric guitar, such as A Child is Coming (feat. David Crosby), Have You Seen the Stars Tonight? (feat. Crosby & Garcia), and Starship (feat. Jerry Garcia). That said, there’s plenty to keep me interested throughout.

Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra | Psychedelicized

Thematically, the album contains many counterculture clichés in a tidy 33 1/3 rpm album. To the cynical among us, maybe even to the point of being a parody of itself. But by the end of 1970 the dream was fading, and disillusionment was creeping into a lot of the music. This album almost sounds like one last grasp at an alternative way of being, and in a way it’s unsettlingly relevant 50 years later. Even in an era of relative artistic freedom and experimentation, Blows Against the Empire stands out as a spacy oddity. Not Trout Mask Replica odd, but out there nonetheless. And I like it.

Wave goodbye to Amerika, say hello to the garden. -from Let’s Go Together

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Mau Mau (Amerikon)
  2. The Baby Tree
  3. Let’s Go Together
  4. A Child is Coming

Side Two:

  1. Sunrise
  2. Hijack
  3. Home
  4. Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?
  5. XM
  6. Starship

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/blows-against-the-empire-mw0000024441

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

November 1 – A Beaut from The Dead

11/1/70: The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

I’ve accepted some truisms over the past couple of years pertaining to my taste in music. For example, carrying over somewhat from yesterday’s post, I can like various prog albums quite a bit without trying to become an expert on the genre and all of its sub-genres. I like what I like, in this case with a few exceptions they’re what you might call “the usual suspects.” Another realization: Gosh darn it, I like The Grateful Dead’s studio albums! I get that they’re best known as a live band, and around that one time I got to see them (I was 20) the idea of following them around for a couple weeks at a time sounded appealing. But I was late to the party and had to settle for a handful of nice soundboard tapes gifted to me by a bonafide Dead Head friend. So yeah, give me some of that Buffalo or Cornell ’77. I love it, and Donna Godchaux doesn’t even bother me anymore. But at the end of the day, my go-to’s will always be the studio work. And today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of their best, and one of the best by anyone in 1970 and beyond, American Beauty.

Grateful Dead Listening Guide: 1970 November 6 - Capitol Theatre

This release, appearing just four months after Workingman’s Dead, is considered a continuation of that sound, though with its emphasis on harmonies the album leans a little more in the folk direction of CSN than Bakersfield (though Jerry did increase his use of the pedal steel on this one). There was a good amount of cross-pollination happening with friends from CSNY, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana working or otherwise hanging out in the studio at the same time. The album also marked the first collaboration of Garcia with David Grisman, whose mandolin is heard on Friend of the Devil and Ripple. In addition to those songs, favorites of mine include Phil Lesh’s song for his father, Box of Rain, plus Sugar Magnolia, ‘Till the Morning Comes, Candyman, and the warhorse Truckin’. Eight of the ten songs remained in the Dead’s live repertoire throughout their existence, while American Beauty was certified Gold in 1974 and Double Platinum in 2001.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Box of Rain
  2. Friend of the Devil
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Operator
  5. Candyman

Side Two:

  1. Ripple
  2. Brokedown Palace
  3. ‘Till the Morning Comes
  4. Attics of My Life
  5. Truckin’

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/american-beauty-mw0000192627

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/grateful-dead-american-beauty/

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

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

September 18 – Fleetwood Mac, Phase Two

9/18/70: Fleetwood Mac – Kiln House

The winds of change were blowing in 1970. From a purely musical standpoint, this date 50 years ago stands out, especially in the realm of blues rock. Most significantly and sadly, Jimi Hendrix passed away in the early morning hours. And when Fleetwood Mac’s fourth studio album went on sale that day, it was the band’s first without blues guitar master Peter Green. There are still some heavy moments on Kiln House with guitarists Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, the latter making his final appearance with Fleetwood Mac, but we also hear a group trying to find a new direction with elements of blues, folk, 50’s retro, and soft rock mixed together. The album also marks the first appearance of Christine McVie, though she was not yet an official member of the group. She also designed the album cover.

Fleetwood Mac - Kiln House - D - 1970--- | Upper left : Dann… | Flickr

Kiln House – named for a hops drying building that the band and their families lived in communally at the time – lacks cohesiveness yet contains some very good music. Danny Kirwan’s Station Man is my favorite track. It’s a grungy goulash in the vein of early-70’s Stones, Delaney & Bonnie, and Little Feat. Jeremy Spencer’s take on Big Joe Turner’s Hi Ho Silver is a rocker, as is the mostly instrumental Jewel Eyed Judy. Kirwan’s instrumental Earl Gray is a nice interlude after the kitschy Buddy Holly tribute, and the guitar work on Tell Me All the Things You Do suggests the drop off with Green leaving was nowhere near fatal. As for the subjective negatives, I could do without Spencer’s 50’s tributes such as This Is the Rock and Buddy’s Song.

Kiln House, Truncheaunts Lane, Alton © Oast House Archive :: Geograph  Britain and Ireland

That sense of searching for a sound seems to have plagued the group for a six album stretch starting with this one and lasting through 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find, yet that may be due in large part to the high standard set during the Peter Green blues years as well as those of the most widely known Fleetwood Mac era of Buckingham and Nicks which followed Bob Welch’s departure. In other words, there’s some really good music on the 1970-74 albums that deserves much wider reappraisal, and Kiln House is but the first of them.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. This is the Rock
  2. Station Man
  3. Blood on the Floor
  4. Hi Ho Silver
  5. Jewel-Eyed Judy

Side Two:

  1. Buddy’s Song
  2. Earl Gray
  3. One Together
  4. Tell Me All the Things You Do
  5. Mission Bell

-Stephen

Kiln House

https://www.allmusic.com/album/kiln-house-mw0000193528

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/fleetwood-mac-kiln-house/

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

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/

 

July 1 – The Traffic Album that Made Me a Fan

7/1/70: Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die

Traffic represents, to me, the quintessential turn of the 1970’s band and sound, especially one originating in the U.K. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of my favorite album by that band, John Barleycorn Must Die.

Traffic had dissolved after 1968’s eponymous album, with Dave Mason leaving a second time prior to its completion. Steve Winwood joined Blind Faith, and along with Chris Wood took part in Ginger Baker’s Air Force project. Wood and Jim Capaldi also did session work. Early in 1970, Winwood, still only 22 years old, returned to the studio to fulfill a contract obligation with a new solo album. But before it was completed he’d brought in fellow Traffic alumni Wood and Capaldi, and it became a new Traffic album instead, their fourth. This core trio would go on to release three additional albums.

TRAFFIC - JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE DELUXE EDITION | UNCUT

The music on this album was a vehicle for Winwood’s vocals and instrumental work from keyboards to guitar, and the jazz, folk, and progressive rock influence on these sessions gave them plenty of room to spread out. Four of the album’s six songs which make up the original release exceed six minutes, but do not reach the running time of some tracks by their full on prog cousins. John Barleycorn Must Die peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold, but surprisingly only reached number 11 in the U.K.

Traffic - 1970 - Nights At The Roundtable - Past Daily: News ...

Dave Lifton, in his 45th anniversary review of the album in Ultimate Classic Rock, notes the similar vibe of the opening track, Glad, to that of jazz great Ramsey Lewis’s 1965 hit The In Crowd, and I can hear it. Glad, Freedom Rider, Empty Pages, and John Barleycorn Must Die are the songs that keep me coming back to this album, but there’s not a weak link. Chris Wood’s reed instruments are a perfect compliment to Winwood’s keyboards and vocals, as well as Capaldi’s percussion, the latter also contributing with four songwriting co-credits. The title track – a traditional British folk tune dating to the 16th century – might be my favorite as it combines all the aforementioned elements. It was covered by many British artists including Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, and Pentangle. I was unaware until preparing this post that the song is not about a person, but the personification of a type of barley used in brewing beer and whiskey distillation.

Steve Winwood: "I always felt the need to work with the people ...

Showing my age relative to the music I cover as I tend to do, I was a Winwood fan from 1981’s Arc of a Diver onward when I was a kid. But as a youth, though I was familiar with the songs Dear Mr. Fantasy and The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, I was mostly unaware of Traffic until my later teen years. Those were the two songs that got me interested in this band in the late-80’s, but John Barleycorn Must Die was the album that did it for me. It’s a complete package, a great album, and certainly one of my favorites by anyone in 1970.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Glad
  2. Freedom Rider
  3. Empty Pages

Side Two:

  1. Stranger to Himself
  2. John Barleycorn (Must Die)
  3. Every Mother’s Son

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/john-barleycorn-must-die-mw0000197791#:~:text=Fantasy%2C%22%20but%20four%20of%20the,typical%20of%20earlier%20Capaldi%20sentiments.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/cfq4/

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/traffic-john-barleycorn-must-die/

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barleycorn#Versions_and_variants

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

June 12 – Gasoline Alley at 50

6/12/70: Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley

Rod Stewart, including his work with Faces, is another example of an artist from rock’s late 60s-mid-70s era whose greatness I’ve bemoaned – probably ad nauseam – as not appreciated as it should be in the 21st century as a result of dumbed-down corporate classic rock radio, not to mention his own chosen musical direction in later years. That’s not to say the man has suffered; he’s done quite well for himself in later incarnations as disco Rod and Great American Songbook crooner Rod. Thankfully we can turn directly to the albums for a nice reminder of how good those early releases are, start to finish. Stewart’s second solo album, Gasoline Alley, turns 50 today.

Gasoline Alley (album) - Wikipedia

This album, along with his other early solo works, is a consistent blend of folk, blue-eyed soul, country rock, and straight forward rock, mostly with sparse arrangements. All of his Faces bandmates – Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenny Jones – contribute to this album, just as some if not all of them would participate on Stewart’s other early solo albums. Gasoline Alley features powerful bass lines by Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane, heavy though not overplayed drums by Mick Waller and Kenney Jones, barrel house piano work by Ian McLagan and Pete Sears, and guitars by Wood and Martin Quittenton. These sounds are augmented with just the right touches of violin (Dennis O’Flynn, Dick Powell) and mandolin (Stanley Matthews).

Small Faces/Faces/Rod Stewart: Box Sets | Louder

Langdon Winner, in his September 1970 review of the album in Rolling Stone, interestingly compared Gasoline Alley and Stewart’s debut album favorably to The Band’s Music from Big Pink for its country rock, or what we now call Americana, flavor. That had never occurred to me, and I don’t disagree. Six of the nine songs are covers, but they all sound like Stewart made them his own. His cover of Bobby and Shirley Jean Womack’s It’s All Over Now is more raucous than the Stones’ version, and dare I say nearly as soulful as the original Valentinos version featuring Womack. His take on the Small Faces’ 1967 song My Way of Giving would’ve fit in even “way back” in psychedelic ’67 just as it did in ’70. Stewart’s version of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Country Comfort appeared four months before Elton’s, and his rendition of Dylan’s Only a Hobo was released 21 years before the original. Bob originally recorded the song in late 1962/early ’63 but left it off The Times They Are a-Changin’. It would eventually appear on The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) in 1991. There were no singles from Gasoline Alley, but it still reached 27 on the pop charts.

Rod Stewart was a 1970s ally - OpenLearn - Open University

I’ll stop short of suggesting Rod Stewart hasn’t been given his due when it comes to being a great rock interpreter of others’ originals because maybe he has. I will say that I didn’t realize it for myself until I listened to these albums all the way through. It’s something that I had never really considered perhaps due to Stewart’s image in my mind based upon growing up hearing songs such as Stay with Me and Hot Legs, whether singing his own songs or interpreting others’. By image I of course mean that of the rock front man diva. I can listen to this and his other early albums and hear them for their musical qualities alone. He belts out the vocals when needed, but there’s a sincere, gravely warmth in his singing on tracks such as Only a Hobo, Lady Day and Jo’s Lament, the latter two being Stewart originals. Again from Winner in his 1970 Rolling Stone review:

The music of Rod Stewart helps us to remember many of the small but extremely important experiences of life which our civilization inclines us to forget. Compassion. Care for small things. The textures of sorrow. Remembrance of times past. Reverence for age. Stewart has a rare sensitivity for the delicate moments in a person’s existence when a crucial but often neglected truth flashes before his eyes and then vanishes. The amazing character of Stewart’s work is largely due to the fact that he can recall these fragile moments of insight to our minds without destroying their essence.

Rod Stewart : The Third Gasoline Alley Jacket - Flashbak

An Ultimate Classic Rock 45th anniversary retrospective review refers to his cover of You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It) as the only “clunker,” but even that track is worth a listen for Ronnie Lane’s driving bass alone. I suppose if there’s a weak link on this album to my ears, it’s Country Comfort. I hear Elton’s version on Tumbleweed Connection a few months down the line as being a fuller, more realized rendition. I’m not breaking any news here, but Stewart’s recorded vocal output between 1969-1973 is remarkable by any standard. For my own perspective I listed the four solo Rod Stewart and four Faces releases – all widely considered good/great – over a period of three years and four months in chronological order. I’ll just leave it:

Stewart – An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (a.k.a. The Rod Stewart Album) – 11/69

Faces – First Step – 3/27/70

Stewart – Gasoline Alley – 6/12/70

Faces – Long Player – 2/71

Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story – 5/28/71

Faces – A Nod is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse – 11/17/71

Stewart – Never a Dull Moment – 7/21/72

Faces – Ooh La La – 3/73

How would Faces be rated in rock’s pantheon if Stewart’s first four solo albums had been official Faces albums instead?

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Gasoline Alley
  2. It’s All Over Now
  3. Only a Hobo
  4. My Way of Giving

Side Two:

  1. Country Comfort
  2. Cut Across Shorty
  3. Lady Day
  4. Jo’s Lament
  5. You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It)

-Stephen

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

https://www.allmusic.com/album/gasoline-alley-mw0000650828

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/rod-stewart-gasoline-alley/

Gasoline Alley

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Stewart#1969%E2%80%931975:_Solo_career_established_and_Faces_albums