Sunday, August 4, 2019
Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1932 (starts 8/5/19)
This week, about half way through the show, we take a break. No, not a psychotic break (at least I don't think so), but instead a comedy break that takes up half of the remaining show. Why, you ask? Because it was 1970, and the Firesign Theatre was very much a part of the rock radio world in 1970. So don't touch that dwarf, hand me the the pliers, OK?
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It)
Source: Stereo 45 RPM single (promo)
Label: Rolling Stones
You'd think that after writing such legendary classics as (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Jumpin' Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would be pretty much tapped out for the rest of their lives. But, nope. They had to come up yet another iconic song in 1974, It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It). Hell, the title alone probably should be inscribed over the entrance of the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. The song itself was reportedly written in response to critics who seemed to think that the Stones, Mick and Keith in particular, somehow had a responsibility to be role models, and were not living up to those critics' expectations of how they should be conducting themselves.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Source: CD: Greatest Hits 1970-1978 (originally released on LP: Paranoid)
Label: Rhino/Warner Brothers
Although it was the last track recorded for Black Sabbath's second album, Paranoid was actually the first song released from the sessions, appearing as a single about six months after the first LP hit the racks. The song, according to bassist Geezer Butler, was recorded as an afterthought, when the band realized they needed a three minute filler piece for the LP. Tony Iommi came up with the basic riff, which Butler quickly wrote lyrics for. Singer Ozzie Osbourne reportedly sang the lyrics directly from the handwritten lyric sheet. Paranoid turned out to be one of Black Sabbath's most popular tunes, and has shown up on several "best of" lists, including VH1's "40 Greatest Metal Songs", where it holds the # 1 spot. In Finland, the song has attained near-legendary status, and the phase "Soittakaa Paranoid!" can often be heard being yelled out from a member of the audience at a rock concert there, regardless of what band is actually on stage (much as "Free Bird" was heard at various concerts in the US throughout the 70s and 80s).
Title: Starship Trooper
Source: CD: The Yes Album
Although technically it was the third LP released by the band, The Yes Album was, in many ways, the true beginning of the Yes story. The Yes Album was the first to feature guitarist Steve Howe, whose contributions significantly altered the band's sound. This influence is particularly strong on the third section of Starship Trooper (subtitled Wurm), which Howe had brought with him from his previous band, Bodast. The opening section of the song, Life Seeker, as well as the title of Starship Trooper itself, was inspired in part by the Robert Heinlein novel, with Jon Anderson's lyrics centering on a search for God. The middle section, Disillusion, was provided by bassist Chris Squire, and was actually based on a section of an earlier piece called For Everyone. Starship Trooper, although never released as a single, quickly became a popular (and permanent) part of Yes's stage repertoire.
Artist: John Lennon
Title: #9 Dream
Source: CD: Lennon (box set) (originally released on LP: Walls And Bridges)
Writer(s): John Lennon
Label: Capitol (original label: Apple)
#9 Dream has the distinction of being John Lennon's last original composition to be released as a single before his five year hiatus from recording (from 1975-80), as well as his last song to hit the top 10 during his lifetime. The tune, from the Walls And Bridges album, is one of the most lavishly produced recordings in the Lennon catalog, featuring string arrangements written by Lennon himself. The song peaked at (coincidentally) the #9 spot on the Billboard charts in the US.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title: I Don't Live Today
Source: LP: Are You Experienced?
Writer: Jimi Hendrix
I remember a black light poster that choked me up the first time I saw it. It was a shot of Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar with the caption I Don't Live Today. I don't believe Hendrix was being deliberately prophetic when he wrote and recorded this classic track for the Are You Experienced album, but it still spooks me a bit to hear it, even now.
Artist: Firesign Theatre
Title: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (side two, part one)
Source: LP: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers
The first thing you need to know about the Firesign Theatre is that they were oriented to sound rather than vision. Their use of special effects parallels that of World War II era radio programs, which they often payed tribute to on their albums. They were also pioneers of "concept humor", dedicating an entire album to a single theme, such as the life of George Leroy Tirebiter on the album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. Released in 1970 the album focuses on Tirebiter (played by David Ossman), a former child actor who spends his time watching his old movies on TV. Those movies include High School Madness (a parody of the Aldrich Family radio show, among other things), and Parallel Hell, a war film set in Korea. These films are interrupted from time to time by commercials and the sound of the channel being changed to such things as game shows and TV preachers, both of which were staples of independent television stations in the Los Angeles area in the late 1960s. The album title itself is somewhat ambiguous: one interpretation is that the "dwarf" is a roach from a marijuana joint and the "pliers" are actually a roach clip. Another view is that the title was inspired by a photograph on the cover of Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde album showing Dylan holding a small picture of a person in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. Regardless of the title's origins, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers has been called "the greatest comedy album ever made" by the New Rolling Stone Record Guide, and has been enshrined by the Library Of Congress in their National Recording Registry.
Artist: Pink Floyd
Title: Wish You Were Here
Source: CD: Wish You Were Here
Label: Parlophone (original label: Columbia)
I remember how, in the mid-1970s, FM rock stations played just about every track from Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here album. Then, a few short years later, The Wall came out, and now the only track you ever hear from Wish You Were Here is Have A Cigar. So, for those of you who missed it, here is the title track from Pink Floyd's 1975 album Wish You Were Here. You're welcome.
Artist: Doobie Brothers
Title: Slippery St. Paul
Source: LP: The Doobie Brothers
Label: Warner Brothers
The first Doobie Brothers album failed to make the Billboard album charts when it was originally released in 1971, despite having a number of decent tunes, including Slippery St. Paul. The song itself is a rare collaboration between the band's two main songwriters, Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, who generally worked separately.
Artist: Grateful Dead
Title: Uncle John's Band
Source: CD: Skeletons From The Closet (originally released on LP: Workingman's Dead)
Label: Warner Brothers
For many people who only got their music from commercial radio, Uncle John's Band was the first Grateful Dead song they ever heard. The tune, from the 1970 LP Workingman's Dead, was the first Dead song to crack the top 100, peaking at #69, and got significant airplay on FM rock radio stations as well. The close harmonies on the track were reportedly inspired by Crosby, Stills and Nash, whose debut album had come out the previous year.
Artist: Barclay James Harvest
Title: The Great 1974 Mining Disaster
Source: British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Everyone Is Everybody Else)
Writer(s): John Lees
Although they were never as big as other prog-rock bands such as Yes or Emerson, Lake And Palmer, England's Barclay James Harvest nonetheless had a long and productive career. Their 1974 album Everyone Is Everybody Else is generally considered to be their artistic and commercial peak, and was especially successful in continental Europe, as were the band's subsequent LPs. One of the more notable tracks on Everyone Is Everybody Else is The Great 1974 Mining Disaster, a tribute to the Bee Gees first international hit single, New York Mining Disaster 1941.