Sunday, December 15, 2019
Stuck in the Psychedelic Era # 1952 (starts 12/16/19)
It was 50 years ago today that 1969 was coming to an end. Musically it had been a year of transition, as the singles-oriented pop music of 1960s was giving way to the album-oriented rock of the 1970s. Several iconic pop artists would release their final efforts, to be replaced by new bands, several of which would quickly disappear, while others would end up dominating the upcoming decade. Oddly enough, the top selling album of the year was a holdover from 1968, as was the LP that spent the most weeks at the top of the album charts. Both the greatest (Woodstock) and the most disastrous (Altamont) rock festivals were staged in 1969. Overall it was a pretty crazy year, and this week we partake of the insanity that was 1969.
Title: Come Together
Source: CD: Abbey Road
After the Beatles released their 1968 double LP (the so-called White Album), they went to work on their final film project, a documentary about the band making an album. Unfortunately, what the cameras captured was a group on the verge of disintegration, and both the album and the film itself were shelved indefinitely. Instead, the band went to work recording an entirely new group of compositions. Somehow, despite the internal difficulties the band was going through, they managed to turn out a masterpiece: Abbey Road. Before the album itself came out, a single was released. The official A side (green Apple label) was George Harrison's Something, the first Harrison song ever to be released as a Beatle A side. The other A side (Apple core label) was the song that opened the album itself, John Lennon's Come Together. In later years Come Together came to be Lennon's signature song and was a staple of his live performances.
Artist: Bob Seger System
Title: Tales Of Lucy Blue (originally released as 45 RPM single B side)
Source: LP: Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
Writer: Bob Seger
For many years the only Bob Seger record I owned was the single Ramblin' Gamblin' Man that I bought new in 1969 at the Base Exchange at Ramstein Air Force Base Germany for about 50 cents. The B side was the song Tales of Lucy Blue. After that single disappeared from my collection I never bought another Bob Seger record (although I did score a promo copy of Turn The Page from a radio station I was working at in the mid 90s). More recently I was allowed to pillage the WEOS vinyl archives (found on the Hobart and William Smith campus in a storage area in one of the dorms) and found this copy of the Ramblin' Gamblin' Man album. The cover features a young blond woman dressed in blue satin against a blue background. It turns out that the album (Seger's first) was originally going to be titled Tales of Lucy Blue but was changed at the last minute by the shirts at Capitol in order to capitalize on the popularity of the single that I had bought a copy of. Luckily they didn't change the cover art as well, as a picture of Seger in blue satin probably wouldn't have worked.
Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: Honky Tonk Women
Source: LP: Through The Past, Darkly
After revitalizing their career with Jumpin' Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man in 1968, the Stones delivered the coup-de-grace in 1969 with one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded: the classic Honky Tonk Women. The song was the band's first single without Brian Jones, who had been found dead in his swimming pool shortly after leaving the group. Jones's replacement, Mick Taylor (fresh from a stint with blues legend John Mayall), plays slide guitar on the track.
Artist: Blues Image
Title: Leaving My Troubles Behind
Source: LP: Blues Image
Writer: Blues Image
Miami's Blues Image was highly regarded by critics and musicians alike. Unfortunately, they were never able to translate that acclaim into album sales, despite recording a pair of fine albums for Atco. Leaving My Troubles Behind, one of the outstanding tracks on their first LP, was sung by percussionist Joe Lala, who later went on to have a successful acting career, and was known particularly for his voice work. Following the release of the band's second LP guitarist Mike Pinera left Blues Image to replace Eric Brann in Iron Butterfly, and after one more unsuccessful album the group disbanded.
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Title: I Put A Spell On You
Source: CD: Woodstock: 40 Years On: Back To Yasgur's Farm
Writer: Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Before getting major attention for its string of top five singles (including three consecutive # 2 songs), CCR released a pair of cover tunes in 1968: Dale Hawkins' Suzy Q and this one from an entirely different Hawkins, Screamin' Jay. Although the Creedence version of I Put A Spell On You only made it to the # 58 spot on the national charts, it was still part of their repertoire when they played at Woodstock the following year.
Artist: Johnny Winter
Title: Be Careful With A Fool
Source: British import CD: Johnny Winter
Label: Repertoire (original US label: Columbia)
Johnny Winter's first album for Columbia (his second overall) is nothing less than a blues masterpiece. Accompanied by bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner, Winter pours his soul into classics like B.B. King's Be Careful With A Fool, maybe even improving on the original (if such a thing is possible).
Title: Evil Ways
Source: LP: Santana
Writer(s): Clarence Henry
Evil Ways was originally released in 1968 by jazz percussionist Willie Bobo on an album of the same name. When Carlos Santana took his new band into the studio to record their first LP, they made the song their own, taking it into the top 10 in 1969.
Artist: Iron Butterfly
Source: LP: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Writer(s): Doug Ingle
One of the ironies of 1969 is that the top selling album of the year was actually released in June of 1968. The full version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, clocking in at slightly over seventeen minutes, was long the go-to record for DJs needing to take a nature break and for many people is the embodiment of the psychedelic era itself.
Artist: Jerome Ragni/James Rado/original cast
Source: Canadian import LP: Hair-Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: RCA Victor
Although it was released in May of 1968, the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hair spent more time in the #1 spot on the Billboard Album Charts than any other record in 1969, racking up a total of 13 consecutive weeks there. It was also the last Broadway show album ever to top the charts at all. The album spawned several hit single for a variety of artists, although none of the soundtrack recordings themselves were released as singles. In all honesty, nearly every one of them was an improvement over the soundtrack version. The sole exception, in my opinion, was the title track of the album/musical itself. Sung by Jerome Ragni and James Rado (who wrote the lyrics and script for the production itself), Hair is a joyous paean to the most visible symbol of the late 1960s youth rebellion. The Cowsills hit single version, on the other hand, sounds more like a parody of the original soundtrack recording, almost as if they were embarrassed to be recording the song in the first place.
Artist: Zager And Evans
Title: In The Year 2525
Source: Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s): Rick Evans
Label: RCA Victor
Since the advent of rock and roll in the 1950s there have been literally hundreds of one-hit wonders, artists who had one fairly big hit and then faded off into the background. Usually these artists recorded one or more a follow-up records that got minor airplay (and sometimes even major airplay in a limited number of markets), but were not successful enough to make a long-term career of it. A few of them get cited as the "ultimate" one-hit wonder, but for my money the title undisputedly belongs to folk-rockers Zager And Evans. The reason I say this is because they were more extreme than any other one-hit wonders, both in their success and their subsequent failures. The success part is impressive: In The Year 2525 spent six weeks in the number one spot on the US charts and finished second only to the 5th Dimension's Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In for the entire year 1969. The song also topped the British charts for three weeks. Their subsequent failures were equally impressive: not only did they fail to crack the top 40 chart in either country again, they couldn't even make the Billboard Hot 100! Even Tiny Tim was able to do that.
Artist: Thunderclap Newman
Title: Something In The Air
Source: CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): John Keen
Label: Polydor (original label: Marmalade)
Thunderclap Newman was actually the creation of the Who's Pete Townshend, who assembled a bunch of studio musicians to work with drummer (and former Who roadie) John "Speedy" Keen. Keen had written Armenia City In The Sky, the opening track on The Who Sell Out, and Townshend set up the studio project to return the favor. Joining Keen were 15-year-old guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (who would eventually join Paul McCartney's Wings before dying of a heroin overdose in 1979), studio engineer Andy "Thunderclap" Newman (who had worked with Pink Floyd, among others) on piano, and Townshend himself on bass. Following the success of Something In The Air, the group recorded an album, but sales were disappointing and the group soon disbanded.
Title: I Can't Get Next To You
Source: Stereo 45 RPM single (reissue)
Label: Motown Yesteryear
After the departure of David Ruffin in 1968, producer Norman Whitfield, at the suggestion of bandleader Otis Williams, took the Temptations in a new direction, with the emphasis on lead vocals bouncing from one group member to another (often within the same song) and psychedelic instrumental arrangements. The first album to showcase this new direction was Cloud Nine. The LP went to the #4 spot on the Billboard album charts and earned the Temptations their first Grammy award. By 1969 the Temptations were in full "psychedelic soul" mode with the chart-topping I Can't Get Next To You. This trend would continue through 1972, when they released the iconic Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
Artist: Moby Grape
Source: LP: Moby Grape '69
Writer(s): Skip Spence
By the time their third LP, Moby Grape '69, was released, Skip Spence had left the group he had co-founded just a couple years before, after his departure from Jefferson Airplane. Nonetheless, the final track on Moby Grape '69 features Spence on a song he wrote himself. In all likelihood the song was left over from sessions for their previous album, Wow.
Artist: Evergreen Blues (aka Ever-Green Blues)
Title: Try A Little Tenderness
Source: LP: Comin' On
The Ever-Green Blues was a band from East L.A. best-known for being the group that first recorded Midnight Confession, releasing it as a single a year before the Grass Roots. Although the Ever-Green Blues version of the song (on the Mercury label) was not a hit, it did garner enough attention to get them a contract to record an album for a second major label, ABC. One of the more interesting tracks on that album, Comin' On (released as Evergreen Blues) was a cover of the Otis Redding hit Try A Little Tenderness which uses an almost identical arrangement to Redding's.
Artist: Elephants Memory
Source: CD: Elephants Memory
Label: BMG/Collector'sChoice (original label: Buddah)
Although they are best known for backing up John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1971 to 1973 (and appearing on the 1972 album Sometime In New York City), Elephants Memory was already well-established as a politically active street band in the same vein as David Peel And The Lower East Side by the time they started working with John and Yoko. Formed in 1967 by Stan Bronstein (saxophone, clarinet, and vocals) and Rick Frank Jr. (drums), the group had expanded its membership to seven by 1969, when they recorded their self-titled debut album for the Buddah label. The album itself was an unusual mixture of blue-eyed soul and psychedelia, with the instrumental R.I.P. being a good, albeit short, example of the latter. The band never really fit in with the Buddah image, however, and left the label soon after the album was released, signing with the short-lived Metromedia label and releasing their second LP the following year. After more membership changes they hooked up with John and Yoko and released another self-titled LP on the Apple label in 1972.
Artist: Tommy Flanders
Title: The Moonstone
Source: LP: The Moonstone
Writer(s): Tommy Flanders
Label: Verve Forecast
In early 1966, M-G-M, the parent company of Verve Records, had the members of the New York based Blues Project flown out to Los Angeles as part of a campaign to promote the band as America's answer to the Rolling Stones. While they were there, lead vocalist Tommy Flanders' girlfriend convinced him that he was the true star of the band and that he was destined to have a film career as well as a musical one. This led to a confrontation between Flanders and the rest of the band that culminated in Flanders quitting the group just as their first album was about to be released. Flanders did manage to secure a solo contract with the same label the band itself was recording for, and, after taking a year off to visit Europe, Flanders returned to the studio to cut a single, Friday Night City, in early 1967. The record, however, was not successful, despite the presence of Frank Zappa, who played guitar on the record (and possibly arranged and conducted as well) and Tom Wilson, the legendary producer of such classics as Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, Zappa's Freak Out (with the Mothers of Invention) and the Blues Project's Projections albums. Nobody seems to know what happened to Flanders over the next year or so, but in 1969 he released his first and only solo LP, The Moonstone, also on the Verve Forecast label. The album itself was extremely low-key, to the point of prompting one critic to call it a "fairly forgettable record" characterized by "mellowness threatening to dissolve into sleepiness" and calling it "one of those albums where nothing's especially wrong, but neither is anything especially right." The highlight of The Moonstone album was its title track, which has enough changes within the song to make it interesting. Flanders himself, after releasing a final single in 1970, moved behind the scenes and took up a career in artist management.
Title: Somewhere Friday Night
Source: German import CD: Turtle Soup
Writer(s): The Turtles
Label: Repertoire (original label: White Whale)
One generally does not think of the Kinks and the Turtles in the same context, yet the two bands actually have more in common then one would think. Both started off with hit singles (the Kinks with You Really Got Me and the Turtles with It Ain't Me Babe) that established very quickly where they fell on the rock spectrum (hard rock for the Kinks, jangly folk-rock for the Turtles). Yet, both the Kinks and the Turtles ended up straying far from the musical beginnings over the years. In the case of the Turtles it was a constant struggle between the band, who wanted more creative freedom, and their record label, who depended on them as their primary source of income. Things finally came to a head in 1969 when the Turtles, in defiance of their label, brought in Ray Davies of the Kinks to produce what would be their final album (although White Whale would continue to issue Turtles records after the group disbanded until the label's own demise in the early 1970s). Turtle Soup provided no major hits for the band, although a couple of singles did make the lower reaches of the Hot 100. After the album was released the band issued one final single, a cover of a song called Lady-O. The B side of that record was a Turtles original called Somewhere Friday Night that was taken from the Turtle Soup album. The next album project was abandoned midway, and Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman briefly hooked up with the Mothers of Invention before going it as a duo known as the Pholorescent Leech (soon shortened to Flo) and Eddie.
Artist: Fat Water
Title: Gotta Get Together
Source: LP: Fat Water (promo copy)
Writer(s): Lance Massey
Fat Water was one of many Chicago area bands to release their first album in 1969. Unfortunately for them, it was also their last. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that they really didn't sound much like the other Chicago area bands that released their first album in 1969. For one thing, they didn't have a horn section. For another, they weren't really blues-based. Finally, unlike the other Chicago area bands that released their first album in 1969, Fat Water did not record for Columbia Records, and thus did not have the advantage of having Clive Davis backing them, which was huge in 1969. In fact, their album appeared on the M-G-M label, whose fortunes were on a steep decline at the time. As a result, even songs like Gotta Get Together couldn't save Fat Water from obscurity.
Artist: Earth Opera
Title: Sanctuary From The Law
Source: LP: The Great American Eagle Tragedy
Writer(s): Peter Rowan
In 1967, two prominent members of the Boston folk and bluegrass scene, Peter Rowan and David Grisman, decided to try their hand at psychedelic rock, recruiting John Nagy on bass, Paul Dillon on drums, and Bill Stevenson on keyboards and vibraphone to form Earth Opera. The band soon came to the attention of Elektra Records president Jack Holzman, and released their first album in 1968. Although the album did not chart, Holzman had enough faith in the band to get them back in the studio for a second LP, The Great American Eagle Tragedy. Released in 1969, the album had several guest musicians on it, including the Velvet Underground's John Cale and former Mothers of Invention drummer Billy Mundi. The LP was dominated by Rowan, who wrote all but one of the songs on the album, as well as providing lead vocals on songs like Sanctuary From The Law. Following the band's breakup, both Rowan and Grisman went on to have highly successful careers, including reuniting in 1973 to form Old & In The Way with Jerry Garcia and Vassar Clements.
Title: Lemonade Kid
Source: British import CD: Kak-Ola (originally released on LP: Kak)
Writer: Gary Lee Yoder
Label: Big Beat (original label: Epic)
Kak was a group from Davis, California that was only around long enough to record one LP for Epic. That self-titled album did not make much of an impression commercially, and was soon out of print. Long after the band had split up, critics began to notice the album, and copies of the original LP are now highly-prized by collectors. Songs like the Lemonade Kid show that Kak had a sound that holds up better today than many of the other artists of the time. In fact, after listening to this track a couple times I went out and ordered a copy of the import CD reissue of the Kak album.
Artist: Steve Miller Band
Title: Motherless Children
Source: LP: Your Saving Grace
Writer(s): Trad., arr. Miller
Motherless Children is one of those songs that seems to have always been there. The first known recording of the song was made by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927, and the tune was considered a traditional ballad even then. Over the years several versions of Motherless Children have been recorded by such notables as Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Eric Clapton, Rosanne Cash and Lucinda Williams. Perhaps the most unusual arrangement of the tune, however, was the opening track of side two of the Steve Miller Band album Your Saving Grace, released in 1969. Rather than take a traditional blues approach to the tune, Miller slows down the song, giving it an almost drone-like quality and stretching it out to a full six minutes in length.
Artist: Janis Joplin
Title: Kozmic Blues
Source: LP: I Got Dem 'Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama
After she parted company with Big Brother and the Holding Company following the Cheap Thrills album, Janis Joplin got to work forming a new band that would come to be known as the Kozmic Blues Band. Unlike Big Brother, this new band included a horn section, and leaned more toward R&B than the earlier band's hard rocking sound. Joplin released only one studio album with the Kozmic Blues Band, 1969's I Got Dem 'Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama. Although the album sold well, it was savaged by the rock press. Still, there were some standout tracks on the album, including the title tune (of sorts), Kozmic Blues. Joplin made several live appearances with this group, including the Woodstock performing arts festival, before disbanding the unit in favor of a smaller group, the Full-Tilt Boogie Band.
Artist: Blue Cheer
Title: Peace Of Mind
Source: LP: New Improved Blue Cheer
Writer(s): Randy Holden
Following the release of the second Blue Cheer album, guitarist Leigh Stephens left the group with several unfullfilled stage commitments. To meet these obligations, the remaining band members brought in Randy Holden, formerly with a group called the Other Half, who, like Blue Cheer, had a reputation for being one of the loudest bands on the San Francisco music scene. At first, it seemed like a good fit, and in some ways a step forward for the band, as Holden was also a pretty decent songwriter, as can be heard on Peace Of Mind, from the band's third LP, New Improved Blue Cheer. Holden, however, abruptly left Blue Cheer midway though production of the album and only appears on side two of the original LP.
Artist: It's A Beautiful Day
Title: Girl With No Eyes
Source: CD: It's A Beautiful Day
Writer(s): Linda and David LaFlamme
Label: San Francisco Sound (original label: Columbia)
The truth of the adage that adversity fuels creativity is nowhere more evident than on the 1969 debut album of San Francisco's It's A Beautiful Day. The band had spent much of the previous year in Seattle, Washington in a tiny room above the San Francisco Sound, a less-than-popular club owned by their manager, Matthew Katz. As the house band at the club, It's A Beautiful Day ostensibly got a percentage of the door, but as the place always had poor attendance the band was pretty much broke the entire time they spent there, making them virtual prisoners. During this time the husband and wife team of David and Linda LaFlamme concentrated on their songwriting, coming up with the material that eventually became the group's first album. The best of these tracks were collaborations between the two, including the band's signature song, White Bird, and the gentle Girl With No Eyes, which closes out side one of the original LP. Ironically, once the group was successful the LaFlammes split up, with Linda leaving the band altogether. Although It's A Beautiful Day continued on with a new keyboardist, David LaFlamme's solo material was not as strong as his collaborations with Linda and the group eventually disbanded.