Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2025 (starts 6/15/20)

    This week's show starts on a sardonic note and ends with food for thought. In between we have yet another musical journey, this one from 1967  to 1974, followed by a visit to 1970.

Artist:    Eric Clapton
Title:    Cocaine
Source:    CD: The Best Of Eric Clapton (originally released on LP: Slowhand)
Writer(s):    J.J. Cale
Label:    Polydor (original label: RSO)
Year:    1977
    Having already covered several J.J. Cale songs by the mid-1970s, Eric Clapton chose to lead off his 1977 LP Slowhand with Cale's most controversial song, Cocaine, which had originally appeared on the 1976 album Troubador. Clapton later had this to say about the song itself: "It's no good to write a deliberate anti-drug song and hope that it will catch. Because the general thing is that people will be upset by that. It would disturb them to have someone else shoving something down their throat. So the best thing to do is offer something that seems ambiguous—that on study or on reflection actually can be seen to be "anti"—which the song "Cocaine" is actually an anti-cocaine song. If you study it or look at it with a little bit of thought ... from a distance ... or as it goes by ... it just sounds like a song about cocaine. But actually, it is quite cleverly anti-cocaine."

Artist:    Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title:    Rock Me, Baby
Source:    CD: Live At Monterey (originally released on LP: Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival)
Writer(s):    King/Josea
Label:    Experience Hendrix/UMe (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1967
    Despite having recorded and released over a dozen original songs in Europe and the UK prior to their US debut at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the Jimi Hendrix Experience chose to fill their set with more cover songs than originals at the festival itself. Of the five cover songs, two were high-energy reworkings of blues classics such as B.B. King's Rock Me, Baby. Hendrix would eventually rework this arrangement into an entirely original song with new lyrics.

Artist:    Neil Young
Title:    The Loner
Source:    LP: The Big Ball (originally released on LP: Neil Young)
Writer(s):    Neil Young
Label:    Warner Brothers (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1968
    The Loner could easily have been passed off as a Buffalo Springfield song. In addition to singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Young, the tune features Springfield members Jim Messina on bass and George Grantham on drums. Since Buffalo Springfield was functionally defunct by the time the song was ready for release, however, it instead became Young's first single as a solo artist. The song first appeared, in a longer form, on Young's first solo album in late 1968, with the single appearing three months later. The subject of The Loner has long been rumored to be Young's bandmate Stephen Stills, or possibly Young himself. As usual, Neil Young ain't sayin'.

Artist:    Rare Earth
Title:    Tobacco Road
Source:    British import CD: The Collection (originally released on LP: Get Ready)
Writer(s):    J.D. Loudermilk
Label:    Spectrum (original label: Rare Earth)
Year:    1969
    Rare Earth was not the first white band to sign with Motown, but they were the most successful. Formed in 1960 as the Sunliners, the band was one of the most popular groups on the Detroit club circuit by 1968, when they recorded their first LP for the Verve label. Not long after that they came to the attention of Barney Ales, a vice president of Motown who was in charge of developing a new label that would specialize in white acts. After seeing the Sunliners perform, he immediately signed them up as the flaghip band for his as-yet unnamed new label. Ales and the band felt that the group needed a new name, and the name Rare (for the fact that few white bands were signed to black labels at the time) Earth (because they were down to it) was quickly adopted. When Ales mentioned that he still didn't have a name for the new label, one of the band members joking suggested using Rare Earth for that as well. To everyone's surprise Ales (with the approval of Motown president Barry Gordy) did exactly that. Rare Earth's first record was the 1969 LP Get Ready, which featured an extended version of the title track (a former Temptations hit) taking up an entire side. An edited version of Get Ready was released as a single and hit #4 on the Billboard top 100, a strong outing for a debut single. The LP itself peaked at #12 on the album charts. One of the notable tracks on the Get Ready album was a seven-minute long version of J.D. Loudermilk's Tobacco Road, a song that had been a 1964 hit for Britain's Nashville Teens and had been given unique treatments by both Jefferson Airplane and the Blues Magoos in 1966. Rare Earth's take on the classic is perhaps the most dynamic version of the song ever recorded.

Artist:    Grand Funk Railroad
Title:    I Don't Have To Sing The Blues
Source:    CD: Closer To Home
Writer(s):    Mark Farner
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1970
    Capitol Records may not have had the most artists on their roster in the 60s and early 70s, but they did have some of the biggest names. In the early 60s the Beach Boys were undisputably the most successful surf group in the world. Then came the Beatles. In the early 1970s it was Flint, Michigan's Grand Funk Railroad, who, despite being universally panned by the rock press, consistently sold out the largest venues in the history of rock music, pretty much single-handedly creating arena rock in the process (they were too loud to play anyplace smaller than sports arenas). The power trio of Mark Farner (guitar), Mel Schacher (bass) and Don Brewer (drums) hit their commercial stride in 1970, when all three of their studio albums (the first two of which were released the previous year), as well as their first live album, went gold in the same year. The last of these was Closer To Home, which included their first bonafide radio hit, I'm Your Captain. Among the other notable tracks on Closer To Home is I Don't Want To Sing The Blues, a song whose lyrics incurred the ire of feminists everywhere. The band, of course, took the criticism in stride, having learned early on that bad press is better than no press at all.

Artist:    Doors
Title:    Hang On To Your Life
Source:    LP: Other Voices
Writer(s):    The Doors
Label:    Elektra
Year:    1971
    When I listen to tracks from the 1971 LP Other Voices, I can't help but wonder how things might have gone if, after the death of Jim Morrison, the other three members of the Doors had continued as a purely instrumental band. For instance Hang On To Your Life, which closes out the LP, starts off with some soaring instrumental work, but comes crashing down hard once the vocals come in. Let's be honest here. Ray Manzarek was an excellent keyboardist, but as a vocalist, he was no Jim Morrison.

Artist:    James Gang
Title:    Getting Old
Source:    LP: Straight Shooter
Writer(s):    Dominic Troiano
Label:    ABC
Year:    1972
    The name Dominic Troiano may not be a familiar one to a lot of people, but those that do recognize it know that it belonged to a talented Canadian electric guitarist and songwriter who was a member of several popular bands throughout the 1970s. Troiano's first notable gig came at the age of 19, when he became a member of Robbie Lane and the Disciples, who were hired to replace Levon and the Hawks as Ronnie Hawkins's stage band in 1965. Later that same year he joined the Rogues, who became Mandala the following year, releasing the LP Soul Crusade in 1968. When Mandala split up, Troiano, along with three other members of the band, including lead vocalist Roy Kenner, reformed as Bush, releasing a self-titled LP in 1970. Bush fell apart at around the same time that Joe Walsh left the James Gang for a solo career. As both bands had been recording for the same label, it seemed a good idea at the time for Troiano and Kenner to replace Walsh. After two albums, including Straight Shooter, Troiano accepted an offer to replace fellow Canadian Randy Bachman as the Guess Who's lead guitarist, eventually starting his own band in the late 1970s. From around 1980 until his death in 2005, Troiano worked mostly behind the scenes as a producer and studio musician. Although his roots were in Canadian blue-eyed soul, Troiano did a credible job of channeling Walsh's style on Getting Old, the last track on side one of Straight Shooter.

Artist:    Deep Purple
Title:    Smoke On The Water (edited studio version)
Source:    Mono 45 RPM single (reissue)
Writer(s):    Blackmore/Gillan/Glover/Lord/Paice
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1972 (edited version released 1973)
    Based on what is quite possibly the most recognizable riff in the history of rock, Smoke On The Water was released in March of 1972 on Deep Purple's Machine Head album. The song became a huge hit after a live version of the tune appeared on the December 1972 album Made In Japan. For the US single release, Warner Brothers chose to pair up edited versions of both the live and studio renditions of the tune on either side of a 45 RPM record in May of 1973. Although most WB singles were being released in stereo by 1973, this one uses mono mixes on both sides.

Artist:    Doobie Brothers
Title:    Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need)
Source:    CD: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
Writer(s):    Patrick Simmons
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1974
    The fourth Doobie Brothers album, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, is one those albums that benefits from the inherit limitations of vinyl, specifically the fact that a vinyl album is divided into two (or more) sides. The first side of the album is just OK, despite the fact that it contains two of the album's three singles, including the band's first #1 hit, Black Water. The second side, however, is where the album really shines, with one strong song after another from start to finish. In the middle of this is Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need), one of the most underrated songs in entire Doobie Brothers catalog. Written by Patrick Simmons, the song shows just how easily the Doobies were able to ease into the 70s California groove usually associated with bands like Poco and the Eagles without losing the edge that made them one of the most popular bands of their time.

Artist:    Grateful Dead
Title:    Friend Of The Devil
Source:    CD: Skeletons From The Closet (originally released on LP: American Beauty)
Writer(s):    Garcia/Dawson/Hunter
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    The Grateful Dead spent three years and four albums trying to capture the energy of their live performances on vinyl. Having finally succeeded with the 1969 Live Dead album the group began to focus more on their songwriting capabilities. The result was two outstanding studio albums, both released in 1970: Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Of the two, American Beauty is made up almost entirely of songs played on acoustic instruments, including pedal steel guitar, which was played by Jerry Garcia. One of the best-known tracks on American Beauty is Friend Of The Devil, which lyricist Robert Hunter referred to as "the closest we've come to what may be a classic song."

Artist:    Creedence Clearwater Revival
Title:    Hey Tonight
Source:    LP: Chronicle (originally released on LP: Pendulum)
Writer(s):    John Fogerty
Label:    Fantasy
Year:    1970
    Pretty much from the beginning, John Fogerty was in total artistic control of Creedence Clearwater Revival. At first, this was not a problem for the other band members, Stu Cook, Doug Cliffor and Fogerty's older brother Tom, as they had already been together since their high school days and had long since worked out their respectives roles in the band. By the time they got to their sixth album, however, pressures were building to allow the other band members more creative input. In particular, Tom Fogerty wanted a bigger role in the band. That album, Pendulum, would be the last by the original lineup; following its release, Tom left to pursue a solo career. The album also took much longer to make than the previous three LPs, due mostly to the band not having rehearsed the new songs prior to entering the studio. Add to that the fact that John Fogerty's songwriting, which was fresh, different and exciting just two years before, was beginning to sound a bit formulaic, as can be heard on songs like Hey Tonight, one of the band's last top 10 singles. Although CCR would release one more LP, Mardi Gras, in 1972, John Fogerty has since said that as far as he was concerned Pendulum was the band's last album.  As he said in an interview published in the May 26, 1976 edition of Rolling Stone: "I figured that Creedence made six albums. Let me count... the first one, Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, Cosmo's Factory, Pendulum... yeah, six. I wouldn’t even count Mardi Gras and neither would anybody else. I had no control over anything after that. The rest is horse manure. Baloney."

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Immigrant Song
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin III
Writer(s):    Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    Although the third Led Zeppelin album is known mostly for its surprising turn toward a more acoustic sound than its predecessors, the first single from that album actually rocked out as hard, if not harder, than any previous Zeppelin track. In fact, it could be argued that Immigrant Song rocks out harder than anything on top 40 radio before or since. Starting with a tape echo deliberately feeding on itself the song breaks into a basic riff built on two notes an octave apart, with Robert Plant's wailing vocals sounding almost like a siren call. Guitarist Jimmy Page soon breaks into a series of power chords that continue to build in intensity for the next two minutes, until the song abruptly stops cold. The lyrics of Immigrant Song were inspired by the band's trip to Iceland in 1970.

Artist:    Wishbone Ash
Title:    Queen Of Torture
Source:    CD: Wishbone Ash
Writer:    Upton/Turner/Turner/Powell
Label:    MCA (original label: Decca)
Year:    1970
    One of the first bands to use dual lead guitars was Wishbone Ash. When Glen Turner, the band's original guitarist, had to leave, auditions were held, but the remaining members and their manager couldn't decide between the two finalists, Andy Powell and Ted Turner, so they kept both of them. Queen Of Torture, from their 1969 debut album, shows just how well the two guitars meshed.

Artist:    Stephen Stills-Manassis
Title:    Isn't It About Time
Source:    45 RPM single (promo) (taken from the LP: Down The Road)
Writer(s):    Stephen Stills
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1973
    The critics were not kind to the second (and last) Stephen Stills-Manassis album, Down The Road. The consensus seems to be that the album sounds like it was made for making money, as opposed to for artistic reasons. Personally, I don't know, since I've never had a copy of Down The Road (or known anyone with a copy, for that matter). I do, however, remember hearing the album' single, Isn't It About Time, on the radio and thinking it was a decent enough tune (although apparently not decent enough to inspire me to go out and buy the album). Somehow, though, I've managed to acquire a promo copy of the single, although, to be honest, I have no idea where it came from. Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

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