June 3 – Soft Machine’s Third & Musical Comfort Zones

6/3/70: Soft Machine – Third

Today we’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the release of one of those albums. I can honestly say I enjoy Soft Machine’s four composition double album Third, but for the life of me I don’t know how to write specifically about it. That tends to be the case for me with prog. If I haven’t made it clear, I’m not a musician, trained or otherwise. The more technical the music, the more difficult it is for me to express myself. If I tried to offer a serious critique of an album such as Third beyond basic perceptions, likes/dislikes, it would quickly become obvious that I’m out of my depth by fans who have known this album for many years and are knowledgeable about this music – underground, prog, the Canterbury scene, jazz, fusion, etc. – from a technical standpoint. But this is such a unique and visionary record that I can’t just relegate it to my end of the month odds ‘n ends roundup. So, what can I say about it? I think what I can express is an appreciation for the overall artistic vision, effort and musicianship itself that went into creating it.

Soft Machine - Wikipedia

It’s an admiration that keeps me veering out of my comfort zone and onto different musical rabbit trails and listening with fascination for what goes into creating. That “what” is something I can only understand as beginning as a seed in someone’s mind and/or heart and expanding from there. Sometimes that seed is in the form of a dream, such as what began in McCartney’s brain as Scrambled Eggs and ended up as Yesterday. Other times it’s an idea an artist walks around with for years after the initial inspiration. Sometimes the end result misses the mark, subjectively speaking, other times it works perfectly – even if only to the artist who created it. For me, it can be the songwriting gifts of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, or the highly trained musicianship of bands who met while studying music in college, such as Chicago or Dream Theater. It’s present in the sometimes chaotic world of Zappa and the short-lived brilliance of Syd Barrett, and even though it has yet to click with me, it’s all over Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Don Van Vliet actually thought through every bit of that album and almost drove his band to insanity trying get it on tape precisely according to what he heard in his head. It’s also in what seems like the simplest country blues from the Mississippi Delta. And on and on.

Captain Beefheart - Live In Kansas City - 1974 - Past Daily ...

I took the plunge with Third a few short years ago, and I like it more and more with each listen. Having it on as housecleaning music or while sitting on the patio doesn’t work for me. I have to set aside time to sit down with headphones on and listen. The instrumentation and production are complex and highly experimental. For example, the opening track, Facelift, consists of sections of different live performances, sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down. It’s noisy and distorted in places before calming into a flute solo by Lyn Dobson, and ultimately ending in a collage of backwards loops. The second track, Slightly All the Time, is actually broken down into three separate instrumental sections. The third track, Moon in June, is the one I still struggle through due to the seemingly halfhearted vocal (the only vocal on the entire album) that lasts the first nine minutes. I’m just not sure what the point of it is. Perhaps I  should listen to the wispy lyrics a little closer. The song does contain some really cool bass and violin work, otherwise the first half sounds like a studio run-through prior to an actual recording before it really takes off for the next ten minutes.

Luna Kafé e-zine - Soft Machine: Moon In June

The final track, Out-Bloody-Rageous, is my favorite along with Facelift.  It goes in directions that remind me of the Grateful Dead’s Drums/Space segments. I settle into listening, get into the groove of it all, then without realizing when it happened they’d moved into something very different. But it’s still the same track, just ten minutes later. The final 3:20 reminds me of  Pink Floyd’s On the Run from Dark Side of the Moon, still almost three years in the future. Despite the occasional chaos, the overall interplay among band members Mike Ratledge (piano, organ), Hugh Hopper (bass), Robert Wyatt (drums), and Elton Dean (saxophone) – from whom Reg Dwight derived half his stage name – is remarkably balanced. There’s a lot of room in the four tracks for them to spread out.

ロスジェネたちの音楽夜話 第84話 Soft Machine 『Live In 1970 ...

It would be easy to say there are elements on Third I’ve heard on early King Crimson albums, but it’s true. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme as well. But isn’t this what we do when trying to become familiar with or understand something new to us? We look to other works to try and make sense of it. Any fans of Soft Machine, I’d appreciate suggestions on where to go next with this band. I’ll have more to say about musical comfort zones in tomorrow’s post. Thanks for reading.

Tracklist

Side One: Facelift

Side Two: Slightly All the Time

Side Three: Moon in June

Side Four: Out-Bloody-Rageous

-Stephen

Porcupine Tree, ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ (2007)

https://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/635/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_(Soft_Machine_album)#Original_edition

 

 

 

December Odds ‘n Year Ends, Pt. 1

We’ve reached the end of the year.  Two years, actually, as pertains to this blog. December was a slower month for 50th album anniversaries, but I’ve also been sidetracked with an unrelated project, hence a few of these “leftovers” from the month really deserved their own dedicated posts which I was unable to make time for. 1969 will not wait – time does this for no one, as somebody once told us in a song – so let’s get to it.

1968:  Gábor Szabó – Dreams

This might be my most random inclusion thus far, and I learned about it in a random manner: the YouTube sidebar of suggested albums. I had one album by the Hungarian guitarist but didn’t know much about him when I came across Dreams on YouTube a couple of years back, and it became an instant go-to album to listen to online at work. It’s a recording of instrumental originals and covers made in August of ’68 and released sometime after, and it includes my favorite session drummer, Jim Keltner. This record brings visions of a Motorola console stereo, paneled walls, shag carpet, highballs, and ashtrays on three-foot stands.

220px-Dreams_(Gábor_Szabó_album).jpg

December:  Elvis – Elvis (The Comeback Special)

Yeah, I blew it with this one. It deserves a lot more attention than this paragraph will give it. It was recorded from Elvis’s TV special taped at NBC’s Burbank Studios in June of ’68. The musical format presented Presley in three different settings: production numbers featuring medleys of his material; an informal small band featuring full songs in front of a live audience; and the two original numbers with Presley backed by an orchestra in front of a live audience. The album subsequently peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold in July of ’69 and Platinum thirty years later.  I see and hear Elvis on this great recording, and I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been. (Hey Kim, tell me what could’ve been with Elvis post-1968! :))

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December:  Spirit – The Family That Plays Together

Spirit’s second album of 1968 (and second overall) saw the band reaching a little further into the prog world. The album spawned the single I Got a Line on You, another great track which has been elbowed from homogenized classic rock radio playlists in favor of more plays of Pour Some Sugar on Me. You SUCK, classic rock radio. You suck BAD!

220px-The_Family_That_Plays_Together_(Spirit_album_-_cover_art).jpg

December:  Soft Machine – The Soft Machine

The debut album by Soft Machine was released this month in ’68. The Canterbury bands have been a slowly acquired taste for me, but it is happening. By their third album (aptly titled Third), it starts getting more accessible to me.

220px-The_Soft_Machine-album.jpg

12/1/68  The Monkees – Head (soundtrack)

I have this soundtrack and movie in a mental file labeled Revisit to Learn What the Hell THAT Was All About. The movie itself was released in November of ’68, and was co-written and produced by Jack Nicholson. It did a whopping $16,111 at the box office. This soundtrack was the Monkees’ sixth album, and the final one with Peter Tork until 1987. It features six proper songs mixed with film dialogue and incidental music. I have a vague memory of seeing at least part of this film around the age of fourteen in the mid-1980’s when the Monkees had become somewhat of a thing again thanks to syndicated reruns. It made no sense to me then, but glancing at the cast, there must be some value in it. A good period piece, at least? Please share any thoughts you may have about this. I need to understand.

Monkees-Head.jpg

12/10/68  Thomas Merton died

Merton was a famed American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar who was a proponent of interfaith understanding.  He maintained a dialogue with such spiritual leaders as the Dali Lama and Tich Nhat Hanh, and wrote over 70 books, perhaps the most famous being The Seven Storey Mountain (1948). He passed at the age of 53 while attending a conference near Bangkok. He was found dead in his room, possibly the result of a heart issue, possibly from electric shock. There was no autopsy, and some have speculated he was assassinated by the CIA. The more I learn about this man, the more I wish we had voices like his in the West today.

merton-photo.jpg

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreams_(G%C3%A1bor_Szab%C3%B3_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_(1968_album)

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_(film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_(The_Monkees_album)

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