Sunday, October 21, 2018
Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1843 (starts 10/22/18)
This week's show is essentially two sets. The first, from 1970, consists mainly of pretty familiar tunes from well-known artists (although the David Bowie track is relatively obscure). The second, from 1972, is made up of longer tracks, including a live performance from the Band. We finish up with the last single released by Eric Burdon and War before they went their separate ways.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Title: The Wizard
Source: CD: Black Sabbath
Label: Warner Brothers
Often cited as the first true heavy metal album, Black Sabbath's debut LP features one of my all-time favorite album covers (check out the Stuck in the Psychedelic Era Facebook page's Classic Album Covers section) as well as several outstanding tracks. One of the best of these is The Wizard, which was reportedly inspired by the Gandalf character from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Source: LP: déjà vu
Writer(s): Joni Mitchell
It's somewhat ironic that the most famous song about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival was written by someone who was not even at the event. Joni Mitchell had been advised by her manager that she would be better off appearing on the Dick Cavett show that weekend, so she stayed in her New York City hotel room and watched televised reports of what was going on up at Max Yasgur's farm. Further inspiration came from her then-boyfried Graham Nash, who shared his firsthand experiences of the festival with Mitchell. The song was first released on the 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon, and was made famous the same year when it was chosen to be the first single released from the Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young album déjà vu. The CSNY version peaked just outside of the Billboard top 10.
Title: John Barleycorn
Source: LP: John Barleycorn Must Die
Label: Island (original label: United Artists)
Following the breakup of Blind Faith in late 1969, Steve Winwood began work on what was to be his first solo LP. After completing one track on which he played all the instruments himself, Winwood decided to ask former Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi to help him out with the project. After the second track was completed, Winwood invited yet another former Traffic member, Chris Wood, to add woodwinds. It soon became obvious that what they were working on was, in fact, a new Traffic album, which came to be called John Barleycorn must die. In addition to the blues/R&B tinged rock that the group was already well known for, the new album incorporated elements from traditional British folk music, which was enjoying a renaissance thanks to groups such as Fairport Convention and the Pentangle. The best example of this new direction was the title track of the album itself, which traces its origins back to the days when England was more agrarian in nature.
Artist: David Bowie
Title: After All
Source: CD: The Man Who Sold The World
Writer(s): David Bowie
Label: Parlophone (original label: Mercury)
The Man Who Sold The World was the first David Bowie album to be produced entirely by Tony Visconti. As such, it is often considered the true beginning of the David Bowie legend. It is also the album with the most different covers; not cover songs, but cover artwork. The album was originally released in the US in November of 1970 with a hand-drawn Michael J. Weller cover depicting a cowboy carrying a rifle, with a shot-up church clock tower in the background. Bowie at first disliked the cover and insisted that a new one featuring Bowie himself lying on a bed wearing a "man dress" be used for the British release of the album the following April. Meanwhile, a completely different cover entirely appeared in Germany. Rather than try to describe this one I'll just refer you to the Stuck in the Psychedelic Era web page, where you can find it in a photo album called Classic Album Covers. It'll be worth the effort I promise, as this cover is literally too cool for words. Finally, when RCA Victor reissued the album in the US in 1972, The Man Who Sold The World had yet another cover, this one depicting Bowie as Ziggy Stardust in a black and white photograph. The track lineup, however, remained consistent, with the often-overlooked classic After All appearing at the end of side one of the LP.
Title: Hold Your Head Up
Source: European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: All Together Now)
Label: Sony Music (original US label: Epic)
Following the dissolution of the Zombies, keyboardist Rod Argent went about forming a new band called, appropriately enough, Argent. The new group had its greatest success in 1972 with the song Hold Your Head Up, which went to the #5 spot on the charts in both the US and UK. The song originally appeared on the album All Together Now, with a running time of over six minutes. The first single version of the tune ran less than three minutes, but was quickly replaced with a longer edit that made the song three minutes and fifteen seconds long. In the years since, the longer LP version has come to be the most familiar one to most radio listeners.
Title: And You And I
Source: LP: Close To The Edge
Recording technology has been evolving since the first recordings were made on wax cylinders over a hundred years ago. That evolution has been anything but steady, however. The process was entirely acoustic until about 1930, when microphones began to replace the large horns that had been previously required to gather in sounds. From there, things stayed pretty much as they were until the late 1940s, when tape technology made it possible to edit recordings for the first time. Stereo came along in the 1950s, but was considered a luxury rather than an industry standard until the late 1960s, when the record labels began to phase out monoraul records altogether. Perhaps the biggest and most revolutionary change, however, was the invention of multi-track technology, or rather the expansion of such technology to more than three or four tracks. As first eight, and then sixteen track machines became common, the artists themselves began to use the recording studio itself as part of the creative process. There were times, however, when the process got a bit too complicated, at least for some musicians. Bill Bruford, the drummer for Yes, absolutely hated the slow development of material in the studio that went into the making of the album Close To The Edge, to the point that it would be his last studio LP as a member of Yes. Only one track on the album was credited to the entire band: And You And I, which was also the only single released (in edited form, since the original runs over ten minutes) from the album. The song originated as an acoustic piece by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe that was fleshed out by Bruford and bassist Chris Squire in the studio. The edited version of And You And I barely missed the top 40, peaking at #42.
Artist: The Band
Title: The Genetic Method/Chest Fever
Source: CD: Rock Of Ages
I guess this is as good a place as any to mention that, given a choice between a live recording and a studio track I'll take the studio track almost every time. My reasoning is this: a live recording, no matter how well recorded, is still nothing more than a documentation of a performance that has already taken place. I believe that there is no possible way to duplicate the actual experience of hearing the song performed live. There are too many aspects of the concert experience that simply can't be captured on an audio (or even visual) medium, such as the emotional and/or mental state of the performers (or the audience members for that matter) at the time of the performance. A studio recording, on the other hand, is a work of, if not art, at least craftmanship. The ability of the artist to go back and make changes to the work until that artist is satisfied with the final product is what makes the studio recording more than just a snapshot of a performance. Just like a sculpture or painting, a studio recording is a set piece, meant to be repeatedly experienced in its final form. That said, here we have a live track from The Band's most popular album, Rock of Ages. Why did I choose this over the studio performance of Chest Fever from Music From Big Pink? Well, the main reason is the first part of the recording, The Genetic Method, which is an improvisational piece from Garth Hudson on the organ. As the two tracks run continuously there was really no choice but to include Chest Fever as well. One small aside: the performances used for Rock of Ages all came from a set of concerts held over the New Year's holidays. The presence of Auld Lang Syne in the middle of The Genetic Method suggests that Hudson started his performance at just a few minutes before midnight and played the familiar strains as the clock struck twelve.
Artist: Eric Burdon And War
Title: They Can't Take Away Our Music
Source: CD: The Black Man's Burdon
Label: UMe (original label: M-G-M)
A common feature of record stores in the 1970s was something called the cut-out bin. It was basically a place where unsold records ended up after being deleted from the official catalogs of the record labels. Since they would not accept returns of such records, the store owners themselves would sell them at a reduced rate after finding a way to permanently mark each record as being a cut-out. Thi usually involved a hole or a notch in the cover (for LPs) or a small hole through the label of the record itself, in the case of 45 RPM singles. I would occasionally look through these piles of cut-outs to see if there was anything that might be of interest to me. On one of those occasions, around 1973 or so, I ran across a single by Eric Burdon and War called They Can't Take Away Our Music. I, like many others, had lost track of Eric Burdon's career after the Animals disbanded, and was only vaguely aware of the fact that he had made a couple of albums with a band called War. By this time War was becoming pretty popular for hits like All Day Music and Cisco Kid, so I was curious to hear what a collaboration between Eric Burdon and War might sound like. They Can't Take Away Our Music is an inspirational tune, with lead vocals being traded off between Burdon and various members of War leading up to a litany of influential jazz, blues and R&B artists of the previous fifty years, from Bessie Smith to Jimi Hendrix (who was still alive when the song was recorded), all against a backdrop of the song's title being repeatedly sung in a style reminiscent of a gospel choir. I wore that single out rather quickly (M-G-M having switched to notoriously cheap materials for their singles around the time the record had been released), and went without a copy of the song for almost fifty years before finding a copy of the album it was taken from, The Black Man's Burdon. The double-length album was the last collaboration between Eric Burdon and War, with They Can't Take Away Our Music finishing out the album's final side. It was an appropriate way for Burdon to end that chapter in his long career, paving the way for War to come into its own as one of the more popular bands of the 1970s.