Monday, July 10, 2017
Stuck in the Psychedelic Era # 1728 (starts 7/12/17)
This is one of those weeks where the show itself decided where to go, with very little input from me. You can see the result below. (Yeah, I know. Better than average, right?)
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Title: Somebody To Love
Source: 45 RPM single
Writer(s): Darby Slick
Label: RCA Victor
Over 40 years after the fact, it's hard to imagine just how big an impact this song had on the garage band scene. Whereas before Somebody To Love came out you could just dismiss hard-to-cover songs as being lame anyway, here was a tune that was undeniably cool, and yet virtually impossible for anyone but the Airplane to play well (and even they were unable to get it to sound quite the same when they performed it live). Ironically, the first recorded version of the song (by Great! Society in 1966) was itself more of a garage-rock performance.
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Source: CD: Crown of Creation
Writer: Grace Slick
One of Grace Slick's most memorable tunes was Lather, with its eerie instrumental bridge played on a tissue-paper covered comb (at least that's what I think it was). The song was reportedly about drummer Spencer Dryden, the band's oldest member, who had just turned 30. A popular phrase of the time was "don't trust anyone over 30", making it a particularly bad time to have that particular birthday.
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Title: She Has Funny Cars
Source: 45 RPM single B side
Label: RCA Victor
She Has Funny Cars, the opening track of Jefferson Airplane's second LP, Surrealistic Pillow, was a reference to some unusual possessions belonging to new drummer Spencer Dryden's girlfriend. As was the case with many of the early Airplane tracks, the title has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song itself. The song was also released as the B side to the band's first top 10 single, Somebody To Love. The mono mix used for the single has noticably less reverb than the more familiar stereo version of the song.
Title: Bert's Blues
Source: Mono LP: Sunshine Superman
Writer(s): Donovan Leitch
In 1966 Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan Leitch got into a contractual dispute with his record label, Pye Records UK. Up to that point his records had appeared in the US on the independent Hickory label. Now, however, he was about to make his US major label debut (on Epic), and the dispute with Pye led to his newest album, Sunshine Superman, being released only in North America. Like Bob Dylan, Donovan was beginning to expand beyond his folk roots, but in addition to the usual rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums, organ) Donovan used older acoustic instruments such as strings and harpsichord as well as experimenting with modern jazz arrangements and instrumentation. Somehow he managed to combine all of these elements in one track, Bert's Blues. Surprisingly, it worked.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title: Up From The Skies
Source: CD: Axis: Bold As Love
Writer: Jimi Hendrix
Label: Legacy (original label: Reprise)
Up From The Skies, from the second Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Axis: Bold As Love, was released as a single in the US, at around the same time as Burning of the Midnight Lamp was having a successful run on the UK singles charts. Axis: Bold As Love, however, was one of the LPs that proved that having a top 40 hit was no longer necessary or even desirable for a rock band to be considered a success in the US, and Up From The Skies was seldom, if ever, heard on top 40 AM radio stations.
Artist: Asylum Choir
Title: Icicle Star Tree
Source: British import CD: Look Inside The Asylum Choir
Label: Rev-Ola (original US label: Smash)
Los Angeles was somewhat unique in that it was home to two distinct music scenes. Like many cities, it had a club scene that included a mix of cover bands and underground garage rock outfits doing original material, the Doors being an example of the latter. But Los Angeles was also home to the largest pool of studio musicians in the world, as well as the music industry's top movers and shakers. A lot of creative people, such as the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, utilized this talent pool to produce some of the finest pop music albums of all time. Among these creative types were Leon Russell and Marc Benno, who called their studio project the Asylum Choir. The Oklahoma-born Russell had relocated to L.A. at the age of 16, and within two years found himself playing piano on such hits as Monster Mash, Surf City and California Girls. He also had songwriting and producing credits for such acts as Bobby Vee and Gary Lewis And The Playboys, among others. Marc Benno was a Dallas native who, as a teenager, fronted his own R&B band before relocating to L.A. in 1965. The two met sometime around 1966 and formed the Asylum Choir in 1967. Their 1968 debut LP, Look Inside The Asylum Choir, is one of the best examples of L.A. studio-based psychedelia ever recorded, covering a wide range of styles within the genre. Benno's Icicle Star Tree, for instance, would feel right at home among the trippiest British psychedelic recordings of 1967-68. A second album by the duo, recorded in 1969, abandoned all traces of pyschedelia in favor of the roots-based sound that Russell would soon become famous for.
Artist: Neil Young/Crazy Horse
Title: Round And Round (It Won't Be Long)
Source: LP: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Writer(s): Neil Young
Round And Round, from Neil Young's 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, was actually written while Young was still a member of Buffalo Springfield. The song features guest vocalist Robin Lane, as well as the members of Crazy Horse.
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: Mercy, Mercy
Source: Mono LP: Out Of Our Heads (manufactured in England for US distribution)
One of Jimi Hendrix's first recordings as an R&B sideman was on Don Covay's 1964 recording of his song Mercy, Mercy (sometimes known as Have Mercy). The song was Covay's first breakthrough hit, going to the top of the R&B charts and crossing over into the top 40 charts as well. Possibly more importantly, the song was covered the following year by the Rolling Stones on their Out Of Our Heads album, bringing the song to a much wider worldwide audience. The Stones version of the song follows Covay's arrangement fairly closely, but, in the words of rock critic Richie Unterberger, "really upped the guitar wattage" from the original version. That's right. Keith Richards actually "out-louded" Jimi Hendrix on a recording of the same song. Granted, Hendrix, as a side man, was under strict instructions to play it the way he was told to without any embellishments of his own, but still...
Artist: Rolling Stones
Source: CD: Their Satanic Majesties Request
Label: Abkco (original label: London)
One of the most underrated songs in the Rolling Stones catalog, Citadel is the second track on Their Satanic Majesties Request, an album often dismissed as being an ill-fated attempt to keep up with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As the song is preceeded on the album by the overture-like Sing This All Together with no break between the two, Citadel was almost impossible to play as a separate track from the original vinyl. It's a little easier to play from the CD, but due to sloppiness on the part of whoever mastered the 80s Abkco discs, the start of the song does not quite match up with the start of the CD track. Maybe one of these days I'll get a copy of the remastered version that came out more recently and see if they did a better job with it. In the meantime sit back and enjoy this hard-rockin' piece of psychedelia.
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man
Source: Mono LP: Out Of Our Heads (manufactured in England for US distribution)
Writer(s): Nanker Phelge
The Rolling Stones embraced the Los Angeles music scene probably more than any other British invasion band. They attended the clubs on Sunset Strip when they were in town, recorded a lot of their classic recordings at RCA's Burbank studios, and generally did a lot of schmoozing with people in the record industry. This latter was the inspiration for their 1965 track The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man. The song is credited to the entire band, using the pseudonym Nanker Phelge.
Artist: Johnny Winter
Title: I'm Yours And I'm Hers
Source: Mono British import CD: Johnny Winter
Writer(s): Johnny Winter
Label: Repertoire (original US label: Columbia)
1969 was a big year for Johnny Winter. An article the previous year in Rolling Stone magazine referring to the "albino guitarist with long white hair causing a stir in the Southwest" had led to his album The Progressive Blues Experiment being picked up by Imperial Records for national distribution, which in turn led to Winters signing with Columbia, one of the world's largest and most influential record labels. His first album for Columbia, titled simply Johnny Winter, was a critical and commercial success, instantly putting him in the top tier of both blues and rock guitarists. The opening track (heard here in its mono single version) was I'm Your And I'm Hers, a Johnny Winter original that utilized the talents of future Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer "Uncle" John Turner, both members of Johnny's band Winter at the time. This same lineup would record a second album for Columbia with Johnny's brother Edgar on keyboards and saxophone before being disbanded in favor of the larger group that would come to be known as Johnny Winter And.
Artist: Buffalo Springfield
Source: LP: Last Time Around
Writer(s): Stephen Stills
It is not all that unusual for a songwriter to re-use parts of an unfinished song when writing a new piece. When that original song has actually been published and even recorded, though, it's another thing entirely. Such is the case with Questions, a Stephen Stills tune that first appeared on the 1968 contractual obligation album Last Time Around, credited to Buffalo Springfield (although only bassist Bruce Palmer from the actual band plays on the track, along with studio drummer Jimmy Karstein). At the time of its release, Last Time Around sank quickly without making much of a splash, mainly due to the fact that by the time the album was released the band itself had ceased to exist. Stills soon found himself hanging out with former Byrds singer/songwriter David Crosby at his Laurel Canyon hideaway, where they began working up material with former Hollies vocalist Graham Nash for the 1969 album Crosby, Stills And Nash. For the group's second album, deja vu, Stills combined Questions with another unfinished song to create Carry On, one of the staples of early 1970s album rock radio.
Artist: 13th Floor Elevators
Title: Slip Inside This House
Source: Mono CD: Easter Everywhere
Label: Charly (original US label: International Artists)
The 13th Floor Elevators returned from their only California tour in time to celebrate Christmas of 1966 in their native Texas. Not long after that things began to fall apart for the band. Much of this can be attributed to bad management, but at least some of the problems were internal in nature. Lead guitarist Stacy Southerland was caught with marijuana in the trunk of his car, thus causing his probation to be revoked, which in turn meant he was not allowed to leave the Lone Star state. This in turn caused the entire rhythm section to head off for San Francisco, leaving Southerland, along with Tommy Hall and Roky Erickson, to find replacement members in time to start work on the band's second album, Easter Everywhere. Despite this, the album itself came out remarkably well, and is now considered a high point of the psychedelic era. Unlike the first 13th Floor Elevators album, Easter Everywhere was designed to be a primarily spiritual work. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album's opening track, the eight-minute epic Slip Inside This House. Written primarily by Hall, Slip Inside This House was intended to "establish the syncretic concepts behind Western and Eastern religions, science and mysticism, and consolidate them into one body of work that would help redefine the divine essence". Whether he succeeded or not is a matter of opinion; the track itself is certainly worth hearing for yourself. Enjoy.
Title: Shapes Of Things
Source: 45 RPM single (reissue)
The earliest Yardbirds singles were either covers of blues classics or new tunes written by outside songwriters such as Graham Gouldman. The first hit song for the group that was actually composed by band members was Shapes Of Things, which made the top 5 in the UK and the top 10 stateside. The song was officially credited to vocalist Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, who later said that Jeff Beck deserved a songwriting credit as well for his distinctive lead guitar solo that was a major factor in the record's success.
Artist: Grass Roots
Title: Mr. Jones (A Ballad Of A Thin Man)
Source: 45 RPM single (promo copy)
Writer: Bob Dylan
In late 1965 songwriters/producers P.F. Sloan (Eve of Destruction) and Steve Barri decided to create a series of records by a band called the Grass Roots. The problem was that there was no band called the Grass Roots (at least not that they knew of), so Sloan and Barri decided to recruit an existing band and talk them into changing their name. The band they found was the Bedouins, one of the early San Francisco bands. As the rush to sign SF bands was still months away, the Bedouins were more than happy to record the songs Sloan and Barri picked out for them. The first single by the newly-named Grass Roots was a cover of Bob Dylan's Mr. Jones (A Ballad Of A Thin Man). The band soon got to work promoting the single to Southern California radio stations, but with both the Byrds and the Turtles already on the charts with Dylan covers it soon became obvious that the market was pretty much saturated. After a period of months the band, who wanted more freedom to write and record their own material, had a falling out with Sloan and Barri and it wasn't long before they moved back to San Francisco, leaving drummer Joel Larson in L.A. The group, with another drummer, continued to perform as the Grass Roots until Dunhill Records ordered them to stop. Eventually Dunhill would hire a local L.A. band called the 13th Floor to be the final incarnation of the Grass Roots who would crank out a series of top 40 hits in the early 70s. Meanwhile the original lineup changed their name but never had the opportunity to make records again.
Artist: Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band
Title: Yellow Brick Road
Source: 45 RPM single B side
Writer(s): Van Vliet/Bermann
Following a pair of singles for Herb Alpert's A&M that garnered modest airplay on a handful of Los Angeles area radio stations, Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band set out to record a set of heavily R&B flavored demos. The label, however, didn't like what they heard and soon dropped the band from their lineup. Undeterred, the group soon signed with Kama Sutra's brand new subsidiary label, Buddah. The resulting album, Safe As Milk, was the first LP to be released on the new label. Among the more experimental tracks on the album was Yellow Brick Road, a mono mix of which has recently been reissued as the B side of a single. Also of note is the presence of 20-year-old Ry Cooder on slide guitar.
Artist: Country Joe McDonald
Title: Silent Rage
Source: CD: 50
Writer(s): Joe McDonald
Label: Rag Baby
Although it was originally intended to be released in 2015, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Country Joe McDonald's first recording, the album 50 ended up taking over two years to complete. As can be heard on tracks like Silent Rage, it was worth taking the extra time on. Like many of the tracks on 50, Silent Rage features the talents of the legendary Tubes drummer Prarie Prince, along with guitarist James DePrato, vocalist Diana Mangano and bassist Blair Hardman (who accompanied McDonald on his first recording, The Goodbye Blues, of which only a dozen or so copies were originally pressed).
Artist: Big Boy Pete And The Squire
Title: Hide And Seek
Source: CD: Hitmen
Label: Rocket Racket
Once upon a time in the 1960s there was an Englishman named Peter "Big Boy" Miller, who wrote songs that were rejected by British record labels. Flash forward to Rochester, NY, in the year 2002, where Christopher Zajkowski, recording as Squires Of The Subterrain, decided to rework some of Miller's songs and record them for an album called Big Boy Treats. Even better, Miller himself flew to Rochester to produce the album. Flash forward again, this time to 2013. Miller and Zajkowski, working together, decide to write new lyrics for a bunch of songs Miller had written in 1967, including Hide And Seek. The songs were included on a CD called Hitmen, released on Zajkowski's Rocket Racket label.
Title: Mother's Lament
Source: LP: Disraeli Gears
Writer(s): Trad., arr. Cream
The shortest-ever Cream recording was Mother's Lament, an old English drinking song that was tacked onto the end of the Disraeli Gears album. Other than the slightly off-key vocals (led by drummer Ginger Baker), the only instrument heard on the track is a piano (probably played by producer Felix Pappalardi).
Title: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Source: CD: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Label: Parlophone (original US label: Capitol)
The top album of 1967 was the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was also the first US Beatle album to have a song lineup that was identical to the original UK LP. Consequently, it was also the first Beatle album released in the US to not include any songs that were also released as singles. Nonetheless, several tracks from the LP found their way onto the playlists of both top 40 AM and "underground" FM stations from coast to coast. Among the most popular of these tracks was John Lennon's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, which shows up on just about everyone's list of classic psychedelic tunes.
Artist: West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
Title: Unfree Child
Source: LP: Volume II
For those who are not familiar with reel-to-reel tape technology, here's a quick primer. As with all tape tech, a recording is created by a magnetic head imprinting patterns onto magnetic tape. This tape travels across the head at a predetermined speed. There were actually several speeds used over the years, all of which were standardized by measuring the length of tape travelling across the head in one second. In addition, each standard speed was exactly one half of the one above it, with the fastest having the highest quality. The fastest known speed was 30 inches per second (only used by computers, as far as I know), with 15 ips being the standard speed for studio recordings. Radio stations generally had machines that ran at either 15 or 7 1/2 ips, while home units ran at either 7 1/2 or 3 3/4. Dictating machines, which were virtually useless for recording music, used 1 7/8 or even 15/16 (which had so much tape hiss you could barely hear the recording itself). The advantage of halving the speed (besides the obvious economic advantage) is that the original key of the music is the same, albeit an octave lower. This made it possible to deliberately record something at the wrong speed, then play that recording back at the regular speed in the same key (but at half or double tempo). As the technology developed it became possible to put multiple tracks onto the same strip of tape, with first two, then three, four, eight and even sixteen tracks running parallel along the tape. This is what made it possible to record overdubs (by putting the original recording on one track and play it back while recording more stuff on another one), and to record in stereo. Unfree Child, which starts off a set of 1967 tracks from L.A. bands, has an intro that was actually recorded at a higher speed then played back at the next one down, giving it a deep growling sound. This type of effect, combined with backwards masking (created by playing the tape back to front and recording something on one of the unused tracks) is what got some heavy metal bands into trouble for putting hidden "Satanic" messages on their records.
Artist: Music Machine
Title: The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly
Source: LP: Nuggets Vol. 2-Punk (originally released as 45 RPM single and included on LP: Bonniwell Music Machine)
Writer(s): Sean Bonniwell
Label: Rhino (original label: Original Sound, stereo LP version released on Warner Brothers)
The Music Machine was by far the most advanced of all the bands playing on Sunset Strip in 1966-67. Not only did they feature tight sets (so that audience members wouldn't get the chance to call out requests between songs), they also had their own visual look that set them apart from other bands. With all the band members dressed entirely in black (including dyed hair) and wearing one black glove, the Machine projected an image that would influence such diverse artists as the Ramones and Michael Jackson in later years. Musically, Bonniwell's songwriting showed a sophistication that was on a par with the best L.A. had to offer, demonstrated by a series of fine singles such as The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly. Unfortunately, problems on the business end prevented the Music Machine from achieving the success it deserved and Bonniwell, disheartened, dissillusioned and/or disgusted, eventually quit the music business altogether.
Title: Light My Fire
Source: LP: 13 (originally released on LP: The Doors)
Writer(s): The Doors
Once in a while a song comes along that totally blows you away the very first time you hear it. The Doors' Light My Fire was one of those songs. I liked it so much that I immediately went out and bought the 45 RPM single. Not long after that I heard the full-length version of the song from the first Doors album and was blown away all over again. To this day I have a tendency to crank up the volume whenever I hear it.
Artist: Young Rascals
Title: Love Is A Beautiful Thing
Source: Mono LP: Collections
One of the strongest tracks on the 1967 Young Rascals album Collections was actually released as a B side in 1966, six months before the album actually came out. Love Is A Beautiful Thing, which was paired with the non-album track You Better Run, was written by organist Felix Cavaliere and drummer Eddie Brigati (although early pressings of the single credit bassist Gene Cornish as co-writer rather than Brigati). To this day I associate Love Is A Beautiful Thing with one of the most popular local cover bands in Weisbaden, Germany when I was a freshman in high school. The band, made up entirely of sons of American servicemen, called itself the Collections, and played virtually every song on the album, as well as tunes by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and other popular R&B artists.
Artist: Stone Poneys
Title: One For One
Source: LP: Stoney End (originally relased on LP: Evergreen Vol. 2)
Label: Pickwick (original label: Capitol)
The first single from the second Stone Poneys album was a song co-written by Austin DeLone, who would eventually make a name for himself with the country-rock band Eggs Over Easy. One For One, from Evergreen Vol. 2, did not hit the charts. It's followup, however, was a tune called Different Drum that made the Billboard top 20 late in the year.
Artist: Eric Burdon and the Animals
Title: Man-Woman/Hotel Hell
Source: British import CD: Winds Of Change
Label: Repertoire (original label: M-G-M)
The first album by the New Animals (generally known as Eric Burdon and the Animals) was Winds of Change, issued in mid-1967. Although the album was not particularly well-received at the time, it has, in more recent years, come to be regarded as a classic example of psychedelic era experimentation. One of the more experimental tracks is Man-Woman, a spoken word piece about a man's unfaithfulness and his woman's reaction to it that takes a rather chauvinistic view of the situation. Instrumentally the entire track is nearly entirely made up of percussion instruments playing African-inspired rhythms. Even the electric guitar is used percussively on the track, which seques into Hotel Hell, a heartfelt song about the loneliness of being constantly on the road that predates Bob Seger's Turn The Page by several years.
Artist: Circus Maximus
Title: Time Waits
Source: LP: Circus Maximus
Writer(s): Bob Bruno
When putting together this week's show I noticed that there was one track on the 1967 Circus Maximus debut album that I had never played before. After listening to it, I understand why. Written by Bob Bruno, Time Waits is sung by the entire band. Unfortunately, vocal harmonies were not their strong point.
Title: Stop Stop Stop
Source: CD: The Best of 60s Supergroups (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Priority (original label: Imperial)
The last Hollies song to be released in 1966 was Stop Stop Stop, a tune that was actually a rewrite of a 1964 B side. The song was written by Allan Clarke, Terry Hicks and Graham Nash, and was one of the first songs to be published under their actual names (as opposed to the fictional L. Ransford). The song itself was a major hit, going into the top 10 in eight countries, including the US, UK and Canada.
Artist: Moby Grape
Source: LP: Moby Grape
Writer(s): Skip Spence
As an ill-advised promotional gimmick, Columbia Records released five separate singles concurrently with the first Moby Grape album. Of the five singles, only one, Omaha, actually charted, and it only got to the #86 spot. Meanwhile, the heavy promotion by the label led to Moby Grape getting the reputation of being over-hyped, much to the detriment of the band's career.