Monday, April 24, 2017
Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1717 (starts 4/26/17)
This one's kind of hard to describe. It starts with a slightly twisted country song and ends on a note of desperation. In between it varies between light and darkness. Strange stuff, but cool nonetheless.
Artist: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Title: Cosmic Cowboy
Source: 45 RPM single
Writer(s): Michael Martin Murphy
Label: United Artists
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has gone through several different styles over the years. Formed in 1966 by Jeff Hanna and Bruce Kunkel (and soon expanded to six members, including a young Jackson Browne), the group started as a jug band, releasing a pair of albums on the Liberty label before switching to electric instruments in 1968. By that point the band had already gone through several personnel changes, including the departure of Kunkel and Browne, and the addition of Chris Darrow and John McEuen. The next pair of albums were not commercially successful, and the band went on hiatus for about six months in 1969. The emerged from this self-imposed exile with a new contract and more artistic freedom, releasing their most successful album to date, Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, in 1970. The album included their hit cover version of Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr. Bojangles, which put the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the forefront of the burgeoning country-rock movement of the early 1970s. In 1972 the band released Will The Circle Be Unbroken, a landmark collaboration with such country legends as Roy Acuff, Doc Watson and Mother Maybelle Carter, among others. The following year they released the live album Stars And Stripes Forever, which included the single Cosmic Cowboy. The band continued in a country-rock vein for the rest of the 1970s, including a stretch when they were known simply as the Dirt Band. By the 1980s, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (full name restored) was releasing records exclusively to country radio stations, and having great success with songs like Fishin' In The Dark.
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Title: Big Yellow Taxi
Source: LP: The Big Ball (originally released on LP: Ladies Of The Canyon)
Writer(s): Joni Mitchell
Label: Warner Brothers (original label: Reprise)
One of Joni Mitchell's best-known tunes, Big Yellow Taxi was originally released on the 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon. The original studio version of the song hit the top 10 in Australia and the top 20 in the UK and Mitchell's native Canada, but only reached the #67 spot in the US. A later live version of the song, however, cracked the top 30 in the US in 1974. Mitchell says she was inspired to write the song on a visit to Hawaii, where she looked out her hotel window to view a mountain vista in the distance, only to be shocked back to reality when she looked down to see a parking lot "as far as the eye could see".
Title: Way Behind the Sun
Source: LP: The Pentangle
Writer(s): arr. Cox/Jansch/McShee/Renbourne/Thompson
Every member of the Pentangle was an established member of the British folk music community, making Pentangle a folk supergroup by definition. Using elements of jazz and rock mixed with traditional folk music, they had a successful run up through the mid 1970s. This track from the first album is an adaptation of Rollin' and Tumblin' with new lyrics and a more sophisticated arrangement than better known versions by Cream and Johnny Winter.
Artist: Ten Years After
Title: A Sad Song
Source: CD: Stonedhenge
Writer: Alvin Lee
The Base Exchange (BX) at Ramstein Air Force Base had, in 1969, a fairly sizable record and tape section, comparable to those of the large discount stores like K-Mart and Woolco that were starting to pop up in many US cities. Most LPs ran $2.50 (compared to $3.98 stateside), and included a mixture of domestic and import pressings of the most popular albums of the time. Each month the BX would feature one new LP for $1.50, and as a general rule it was something I would have bought anyway (like the European version of the Rolling Stones' Through The Past, Darkly album). Sometimes I would even take a chance on a band I had never heard of, if the cover looked interesting enough. One such case was an album from an obscure British blues band called Ten Years After. The album was called Stonedhenge, and the cover, featuring the famous monolithic stones against a maroon background, immediately grabbed me. It was probably the best purchase of its type I have ever made, as the album soon became one of my favorites. The LP has a unique structure, with each side starting and ending with tracks featuring the full band, alternating with short solo pieces from each of the band's four members (and including a full band track in the middle of each side). Side two of the album opens with A Sad Song, a quiet blues piece that was likely inspired by British blues guru John Mayall.
Source: CD: Bloodrock 2
Label: One Way (original label: Capitol)
Bloodrock gained infamy in 1970 with the inclusion of D.O.A. on their second LP, a song reputed to be the cause of more bad acid trips than any other track ever recorded. Although the origins of the song are popularly attributed to a plane crash that killed several student atheletes in October of 1970, the fact that the album was already in the hands of record reviewers within a week of that event makes it unlikely that the two are related. The more likely story is that it was inspired by band member Lee Pickens's witnessing of a friend crashing his light plane a couple years before. Regardless of the song's origins, D.O.A. has to be considered one of the creepiest recordings ever made.
Artist: Alice Cooper
Title: Halo Of Flies
Source: LP: Killer
Label: Warner Brothers
According to Alice Cooper, Halo Of Flies was written to prove the band could do progressive rock in the vein of King Crimson. It ended up being a concert favorite and holds up as well if not better than any of Cooper's recordings.
Artist: Uriah Heep
Title: The Wizard
Source: LP: Demons And Wizards
Although Uriah Heep had been around since 1969, they didn't get much attention in the US until their Demons And Wizards album in 1972, which included their biggest hit, Easy Livin'. The Wizard, which opens the album, was the first of two singles released from the album. The song itself is a semi-acoustic tune about a wizard whose name is never given, but is thought to be either Merlin or Gandalf.
Artist: Emerson, Lake And Palmer
Source: CD: Brain Salad Surgery
Label: Rhino (original label: Manticore)
The opening track of Emerson, Lake And Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery album, Jerusalem, was released as a single, but the BBC (which at that time had a monopoly on the British airwaves) refused to play it. Apparently they thought that a hard rock recording of what had come to be considered a hymn was a bit sacreligious. Drummer Carl Palmer, however, still has a copy of the single on his jukebox.
Title: Black Flame
Source: LP: Turn Of The Cards
Formed in 1969 by former Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith Relf, Renaissance was one of the first bands to merge rock, classical and jazz into a coherent whole. By 1974 the band was incorporating excerpts from classical pieces (mostly from the Romantic period) into what was otherwise progressive rock, with very few jazz elements remaining. The lineup had also changed, with a greater emphasis being placed on the vocals of Annie Haslam, who had joined the group in the early 1970s. Black Flame, from the band's fifth LP, Turn Of The Cards, is fairly representative of Renaissance at its most popular.
Title: The Prophet's Song
Source: LP: A Night At The Opera
Writer(s): Brian May
Label: Virgin (original label: Elektra)
When Queen's landmark LP, A Night At The Opera, was released in 1975, much attention was focused on the album's penultimate track, Freddy Mercury's Bohemian Rhapsody, which went all the way to the top of the British top 40 charts and is one of the most recognizable recordings of the 20th century. With all this attention focused on one song (albeit deservedly), several other outstanding tracks on the album have been somewhat neglected. Perhaps the best of these overlooked tracks is The Prophet's Song, a Brian May composition that opens side two of the vinyl LP. At over eight minutes in length, The Prophet's Song is Queen's longest song with vocals, and, like Bohemian Rhapsody, features layered overdubs by Mercury, including a fairly long acappella section in the middle of the track. The song also has powerful dynamics, ranging from the almost inaudible acoustic guitar and toy koto introduction to high volume electric lead guitar work set against a heavy metal background. Powerful stuff!
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: Gimme Shelter
Source: LP: Let It Bleed
Following a strong positive reaction, both critically and commercially, to their 1968 album Beggar's Banquet album, the Rolling Stones showed that they were around to stay with the follow up LP, Let It Bleed. The album starts off with Gimme Shelter, an anthemic song on a par with Jumpin' Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Woman. In addition to some of the band's most powerful lyrics (including the repeated line "Rape, murder! It's just a shot away! It's just a shot away!") the tune features prominent guest vocals from Merry Clayton, who reported was called in by producer Jack Nitzsche at around midnight to add her part during the mixdown phase. Gimme Shelter was the first Rolling Stone song to feature Keith Richards using open tuning rather than the standard EADGBE tuning.