Monday, January 1, 2018

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1801 (starts 1/3/18)

This week's show, in contrast to the special shows that have been running the past couple of weeks, is entirely free-form, with each song triggering the next one with little regard for anything other than musical flow.

Artist:     Janis Joplin
Title:     Mercedes Benz
Source:     CD: Pearl
Writer:     Janis Joplin
Label:     Columbia
Year:     1970
     I have mixed feelings about Paul Rothchild. On the one hand, he was instrumental in making the Doors famous, and produced their first half dozen or so albums. However, he also was responsible for the horns and strings that made much of The Soft Parade unlistenable, and he strongly opposed (to the point of resigning as the Doors' producer) the band's back-to-basics approach that resulted in L.A. Woman, their best album since 1967 (in fact, he had nothing good to say about Riders On The Storm in particular, calling the track "boring" and "a step backwards"). So, when it comes to Janis Joplin and her relationship to Rothchild, I find myself skeptical of anything Rothchild himself had to say on the matter. According to Rothchild, Janis was finally getting the support she deserved once Rothchild signed on as her producer. He has stated that she was happy to finally be working with musicians that she was completely in synch with (the Full-Tilt Boogie Band) and was at her creative peak. He has also said that he loved Janis deeply. So, I have to ask, if she was so happy and loved, why did she go out and OD on heroin right after recording Mercedes Benz? From what I know of Joplin, it is more likely she was feeling trapped, and took what she saw as the only way out. The last thing a free spirit like Janis Joplin needed was to be around a control freak who had somewhat warped ideas of what was good for people (strings and horns on a Doors album? Come on, really??). All this is, of course, conjecture on my part, but it sure feels like a pretty accurate assessment of the situation to me.

Artist:    Blind Faith
Title:    Had To Cry Today
Source:    LP: Blind Faith
Writer(s):    Steve Winwood
Label:    Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:    1969
    One of the most eagerly-awaited albums of 1969 was Blind Faith, the self-titled debut album of a group consisting of Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream, Steve Winwood from Traffic and Rich Grech, who had played bass (and violin) with a group called Family. The buzz about this new band was such that the rock press had to coin a brand-new term to describe it: supergroup. On release, the album shot up to the number one spot on the charts in record time. Of course, as subsequent supergroups have shown, such bands seldom stick around very long, and Blind Faith set the pattern early on by splitting up after just one LP and a short tour to promote it. The opening track of the album was a pure Winwood piece that showcases both Winwood and Clapton on separate simultaneous guitar tracks.

Artist:    Gentle Giant
Title:    Valedictory
Source:    CD: The Power And The Glory
Writer(s):    Shulman/Shulman/Minnear
Label:    Alucard (original label: Capitol)
Year:    1974
    The Power And The Glory is a 1974 concept album from the British progressive rock band Gentle Giant. The album is a cautionary tale about the use of political power, and how, despite the best of intentions, that power inevitably corrupts those who use it. Musically, The Power And The Glory owes its structure more to classical music than to rock, although it uses modern rock instruments such as electric guitars, synthesizers and drums to the exclusion of traditional classical instruments (except for an occasional string instrument). For that matter, the band's classical influences seem to be more inclined toward relatively modern composers like Igor Stravinsky than the traditional "three Bs" of classical music. Valedictory, the album's final track, brings back themes heard throughout the album, but with a greater intensity than on the earlier pieces. The digital reissue of the album, incidentally, includes a Blu-ray disc containing animations of the entire album with a surround sound mix. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of things like Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Reeling In The Years
Source:    45 RPM single (stereo reissue)
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1972
    My first radio gig (sort of), was volunteering at the Voice Of Holloman, a closed-circuit station that served a handful of locations on Holloman AFB, about 10 miles from Alamogordo, NM. I had been taking broadcasting courses through a community college program that was taught by Sgt. Tim Daniels, who was the NCO in charge of the base Information Office, which ran the station, as well as a free weekly newspaper that was distributed on base. After completing the classes, Tim gave me the opportunity to do a daily two-hour show on the VOH, using records that had been sent to the station by various record labels. We got excellent singles service from some labels (Warner Brothers and Capitol in particular), but virtually nothing from others, such as ABC. This was unfortunate, as one of the best songs out at the time was Steely Dan's Reeling In The Years, from their 1972 Can't Buy A Thrill album. Tim, whose previous gig was with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network, was a big rock fan, however, and went out and bought his own copy of the album, making a copy of Reeling In The Years on reel to reel tape, which we then played extensively until the song had run its course on the charts. Thus the Voice Of Holloman, with its audience consisting mostly of guys working out at the base gym, was playing the longer album version of a song that was also getting airplay on Alamogordo's daytime-only top 40 AM station, KINN, in its edited single form. It was just about the nearest the Voice Of Holloman ever got to being an underground rock station (although I did manage to sneak in some Procol Harum, Little Feat and Deep Purple from time to time from the aformentioned Warner Brothers singles).

Artist:    Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Title:    Country Girl
Source:    LP: déjà vu
Writer(s):    Neil Young
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    The second Crosby, Stills and Nash album, déjà vu, was enhanced by the addition of singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Young, along with bassist Dallas Taylor and drummer Greg Reeves. The LP itself was printed on textured cardboard with gold offset lettering, giving the package a photo album look. But it was the music itself that made the album one of the top sellers of 1970, with three singles going into the top 40. One of the non-single tracks was Country Girl, a medley of three uncompleted Neil Young songs that would not have been out of place on a Young solo album.

Artist:    Elton John
Title:    Madman Across The Water
Source:    CD: Madman Across The Water
Writer(s):    John/Taupin
Label:    MCA (original label: Uni)
Year:    1971
    Elton John's fourth studio album, was not a major success in his native country, spending only two weeks on the British charts, peaking at #42. In the US, however, it was a different story, as Madman Across The Water was one of the ten most popular albums of 1971 here. This can probably be attributed to the fact that, by 1971, even relatively small cities like El Paso, Texas (where I first heard the LP's title track) had at least one FM rock station on the air, giving exposure to album tracks that did not get played on top 40 AM radio (or on BBC-1, which still had a virtual monopoly on pop music in the UK).

Artist:    Pink Floyd
Title:    Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (live version)
Source:    CD: Ummagumma
Writer:    Roger Waters
Label:    EMI (original label: Harvest)
Year:    1969
    The members of Pink Floyd have expressed mostly negative comments about their fourth LP, Ummagumma, although, as a general rule those comments have been directed at the second part of the two-LP set, which featured new studio material from the individual band members. The first part, however, was made up of live performances from 1969, featuring the band's then-current setlist. One of the stronger performances is the nine-minute long version of Roger Waters's Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, which had previously appeared on the group's second LP, A Saucerful Of Secrets. As that album had failed to chart in the US, the song itself was virtually new to American audiences, and helped make Ummagumma a success in the US.

Artist:    David Bowie
Title:    Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
Source:    CD: David Bowie (originally released in US as Man Of Words, Man Of Music and reissued as Space Oddity)
Writer(s):    David Bowie
Label:    Parlophone (original label: Mercury)
Year:    1969
    The version of Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud heard on his 1969 LP David Bowie (aka Man Of Words, Man Of Music aka Space Oddity) is not the original version of the song. Originally the tune was minimally instrumentated (is that a real word?), with only an acoustic guitar and bass accompanying Bowie's vocals. The re-recorded album version heard here, however, features full orchestration by producer Tony Visconti, along with the uncredited debut of Mick Ronson on lead guitar. As for the subject matter of the song itself, Bowie had this to say: "It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they're left outside, which was how I felt about me. I always felt I was on the edge of events, the fringe of things, and left out. A lot of my characters in those early years seem to revolve around that feeling. It must have come from my own interior puzzlement at where I was".

Artist:    Pentangle
Title:    Hear My Call
Source:    LP: The Pentangle
Writer(s):    Staple Singers
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1968
    The Pentangle could be called the first supergroup of British folk music, yet in their early days they had a sound that owed as much to modern jazz as it did to traditional folk tunes. A good example is Hear My Call from their 1968 debut LP. The song was originally recorded by the Staple Singers, but the Pentangle definitely put their own spin on the tune, with all the members getting a chance to shine, either instrumentally or, in the case of Jacqui McShee, vocally.
Artist:    Fleetwood Mac
Title:    Bare Trees
Source:    CD: Bare Trees
Writer(s):    Danny Kirwan
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1972
    Bare Trees, the last Fleetwood Mac to feature Danny Kirwan saw the guitarist/vocalist at his most prolific, writing half of the album's ten songs, including the title track. Bare Trees is also one of the catchiest tunes on the album, and got a decent amount of airplay on FM rock radio when it was released in 1972. Since Linday Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac, the band's earlier songs, including Bare Trees, have been noticably neglected by so-called classic rock stations. Shows what they know.

Artist:    Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Title:    You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Source:    LP: Not Fragile
Writer(s):    Randy Bachman
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1974
    Bachman-Turner Overdrive's only #1 US hit was not meant to be a single. In fact, it was not even intended to be released at all. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet was, in fact, originally an instrumental used as a "work track" to set volume levels in the studio. As a joke, bandleader Randy Bachman made up some lyrics for the song, stuttering through them as an inside joke to his brother Gary, who was acting as the band's financial manager and spoke with a stutter himself. The song was eventually added to Not Fragile, the album BTO was working on at the time, when a guy from the record label told them that the LP needed something with enough "magic" to be a hit single. The other band members talked Bachman into using the work track, and Bachman attempted to record new vocals for the song. The new vocal track sounded like, in Bachman's words "Frank Sinatra", so they ended up going with the original stuttered vocals.

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