Sunday, June 14, 2020
Stuck in the Psychedelic Era # 2025 (starts 6/15/20)
This week we have almost and entire segment of one of the most overlooked and underrated bands of the psychedelic era: Procol Harum. Most people know them for their massively popular single A Whiter Shade Of Pale and pretty much nothing else. As you will hear, they were much more than simply one-hit wonders (and we're only focusing on their early work). Also, we have an electric Bob Dylan set and a Richie Havens cover of a different Dylan tune, plus the usual mix of singles, B sides, and album tracks.
Title: Dear Mr. Fantasy
Source: LP: Progressive Heavies (originally released on LP: Heaven Is In Your Mind)
Label: United Artists
Steve Winwood is one of those artists that has multiple signature songs, having a career that has spanned decades (so far). Still, if there is any one song that is most closely associated with the guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist, it's the title track of Traffic's Mr. Fantasy album.
Artist: Soft Machine
Title: Feelin', Reelin', Squealin'
Source: Mono import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released as 45 RPM single B side)
Writer(s): Kevin Ayers
Label: Polydor UK
The Soft Machine is best known for being at the forefront of the jazz-rock fusion movement of the 1970s. The bands roots were in the city of Canterbury, a sort of British equivalent of New York's Greenwich Village. Led by drummer Robert Wyatt, the band was first formed as the Wilde Flowers in 1963 with Kevin Ayers as lead vocalist. Heavily influenced by modern jazz, beat poetry and dadaist art, the Wilde Flowers were less a band than a group of friends getting together to make music from time to time. Things got more serious when Ayers and his Australian beatnik friend Daevid Allen made a trip to Ibiza, where they met Wes Brunson, an American who was heir to a fortune. Brunson provided financial backing for a new band called Mister Head, which included Ayers, Wyatt, Allen and Larry Nolan. By late 1966 the group had added Mike Rutledge and changed its name to Soft Machine (after Allen had secured permission to use the name from author William Burroughs), performing regularly at London's legendary UFO club. After the departure of Nolan, the band recorded its first single for Polydor in early 1967. Both sides were written by Ayers, who by then was playing bass and sharing the vocals with Wright. The B side of that single was Feelin', Reelin', Sqealin', a track that helped define British psychedelic music.
Artist: Moby Grape
Title: Lazy Me
Source: LP: Moby Grape
Writer(s): Bob Mosley
Such is the quality of the first Moby Grape LP that there are many outstanding tracks that have gotten virtually no airplay in the years since the album was released. Lazy Me, written by bassist Bob Mosley, is one of those tracks. Enjoy.
Artist: First Edition
Title: Ticket To Nowhere
Source: LP: The First Edition
Writer(s): Mike Settle
Although now known mainly as the band that launched Kenny Rogers into stardom, the First Edition started out as a far more egalitarian outfit, with rhythm guitarist Mike Settle as the band's in-house songwriter, responsible for nine of the twelve songs on their first LP. Among those songs is Ticket To Nowhere, a song that reflects the band's roots as members of the New Christy Minstrels, a pop folk group with more TV appearances than hit records to their credit.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Title: Ballad Of A Thin Man
Source: CD: Highway 61 Revisited
Writer(s): Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan himself plays piano on Ballad Of A Thin Man, from his controversial 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. Up to that point in his career, Dylan had recorded mostly acoustic material, usually accompanying himself on guitar with little or no other instrumentation. On Highway 61 Revisited, however, he was joined by a full complement of electric musicians, including guitarist Mike Bloomfield (of the Butterfield Blues Band) and Al Kooper (who would go on to be a star in his own right as a member of the Blues Project and later as the founder of Blood, Sweat And Tears). Ballad Of A Thin Man itself was, according to Dylan, based on a real person, or an amalgam of real people who had crossed Dylan's path. The subject of the song, Mr. Jones, as referred to in the song's refrain "Something is happening here/ But you don't know what it is/ Do you, Mr Jones?" was based on the various establishment types who were virtually clueless when it came to understanding the youthful counter-culture that was developing in the mid-1960s. The following year the Grass Roots scored a regional hit in Southern California with their cover of the song, retitled Mr. Jones (A Ballad Of A Thin Man).
Artist: Bob Dylan
Title: Maggie's Farm
Source: Mono LP: Bringing It All Back Home
Writer(s): Bob Dylan
On Sunday, July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan literally rocked the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival by performing Maggie's Farm and two other songs with an electric band. The song had been originally recorded on January 15 and released on the album Bringing It All Back Home a couple months later. Dylan's use of electric instruments offended some folk purists, of course, including festival organizer Alan Lomax, who had also objected to the previous day's performance by the Butterfield Blues Band. The song itself is a highly relatable classic, especially to anyone who has had to endure the tedium of working in the service industry, and contains some of Dylan's most memorable lines.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Title: Tombstone Blues
Source: CD: Highway 61 Revisited
Writer(s): Bob Dylan
One of the most influential albums in rock history was Bob Dylan's 1965 LP Highway 61 Revisited. Although he had experimented with adding electric guitar, bass and drums to some of the songs on his previous album, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited was his first LP to feature electric instruments on every track. Of these, the most notable was probably the guitar work of Michael Bloomfield, who would soon come to prominence as lead guitarist for the Butterfield Blues Band. Bloomfield's work is most prominent on blues-based tracks such as Tombstone Blues, which follows the classic Like A Rolling Stone on side one of the original LP.
Artist: Roy Orbison
Title: Oh, Pretty Woman
Source: 45 RPM single (stereo reissue)
Although the vast majority of Roy Orbison's hits were love ballads such as It's Over and Blue Bayou, his best-known song is the classic rocker Oh, Pretty Woman. The song managed to work its way to the top of both US and British charts during the height of the British Invasion. Orbison, in fact, was even more successful in the UK than in his native US, scoring two number hits on the British charts in 1964, the only American artist to do so.
Title: Pushin' Too Hard
Source: Simulated stereo LP: Nuggets Vol. 1-The Hits (originally released on LP: The Seeds and as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): Sky Saxon
Label: Rhino (original label: GNP Crescendo)
Pushin' Too Hard was originally released as a single in 1965 (under the title You're Pushin' Too Hard), but did not make an immediate impression. The following year, however, the tune started getting some local airplay on Los Angeles area stations. This in turn led to the band recording their first album, The Seeds, which was released in spring of 1966. A second Seeds LP, A Web Of Sound, hit L.A. record stores in the fall of the same year. Meanwhile, Pushin' Too Hard, which had been reissued with a different B side in mid-1966, started to get national airplay, hitting its peak position on the Billboard charts in February of 1967.
Artist: Shadows of Knight
Source: LP: Nuggets Vol. 2-Punk (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): Van Morrison
Label: Rhino (original label: Dunwich)
The original Them version of Van Morrison's Gloria found itself banned on the majority of US radio stations due to controversial lyrics. By changing one line (essentially substituting "around here" for "up to my room") the suburban Chicago punk-blues band Shadows of Knight turned it into a huge hit and a garage band standard.
Artist: Pasternak Progress
Title: Flower Eyes
Source: Mono CD: Where The Action Is: L.A. Nuggets 1965-68 (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Rhino (original label: Original Sound)
In 1967 Jeff Pasternak became one of thousands of young people to catch the Doors at L.A.'s famous Whisky-A-Go-Go club on the Sunset Strip. Like many others, Pasternak was inspired to make music himself. Unlike most, Pasternak was son of a famous Hollywood movie producer/director (Joe Pasternak, whose credits included Please Don't Eat The Daisies and Where The Boys Are), and was able to take advantage of his father's connections to get a record made. That record was Flower Eyes, released later the same year on the Original Sound label.
Title: Passing The Time
Source: Wheels Of Fire
Label: RSO (original label: Atco)
Although Jack Bruce is generally acknowledged as the member of Cream that provided the most psychedelic material that the band recorded, drummer Ginger Baker gave him a run for his money on the studio half of their third LP, Wheels Of Fire. Perhaps the best of these was Passing The Time, which alternates between a slow, dreamlike section notable for its use of a calliope and a fast section that rocks out as hard as anything the band performed live in concert.
Artist: Skip Spence
Title: War In Peace
Source: European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Oar)
Writer(s): Skip Spence
Label: Sony Music (original label: Columbia)
Alexander "Skip" Spence is one of the tragic figures in rock history that most people don't know about. Originally a guitarist with San Jose's Other Side, he was recruited by club owner Marty Balin to play drums in a band he was forming called Jefferson Airplane. Spence was fired from the band, however, after he disappeared to Mexico without letting anyone know. After considering an offer to play drums for another new band, Buffalo Springfield, Spence instead switched back to guitar to co-found Moby Grape. Spence wrote Omaha, the only song to chart from the first Moby Grape album, as well as other tunes, and things seemed to be going well for him. During sessions for the band's second LP, Wow, Spence's mental health took a serious downward turn. According to bandmate Peter Lewis "We had to do (the album) in New York because the producer (David Rubinson) wanted to be with his family. So we had to leave our families and spend months at a time in hotel rooms in New York City." Another bandmate, Jerry Miller, described what happened there: "Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him, he had cut off his beard, and was wearing a black leather jacket, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don't know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an axe to the doorman's head." Lewis continues the story: "He thought he was the anti-Christ. He tried to chop down the hotel room door with a fire axe to kill (drummer) Don Stevenson to save him from himself. He went up to the 52nd floor of the CBS building where they had to wrestle him to the ground. And Rubinson pressed charges against him." This led to Spence being committed to a mental health facility for six months, where he wrote an entire album's worth of material, including the haunting War In Peace. Upon his release from Belleview he headed for Nashville, where he recorded the album Oar in seven days, playing all the instruments on the album himself. From that point on, his bandmates did what they could for him, making sure to include at least one Skip Spence song on each new Moby Grape album, whether or not Spence was capable of actually participating in the process or not. He spent much of the rest of his life under third party care, battling a combination of drug, alcohol and mental health issues, only occasionally performing in public. His last appearance with Moby Grape was in 1996, when he performed two songs at Palookaville in Santa Cruz, California. Skip Spence died of lung cancer in April of 1999, at the age of 53.
Title: Signed D.C.
Source: Mono LP: Love
Writer(s): Arthur Lee
The only acoustic track on the first Love album was Signed D.C., a slow ballad in the tradition of House of the Rising Sun. The song takes the form of a letter penned by a heroin addict, and the imagery is both stark and disturbing. Although Lee was known to occasionally say otherwise, the song title probably refers to Love's original drummer Don Conka, who left the band before their first recording sessions due to (you guessed it) heroin addiction.
Title: Sunny South Kensington
Source: Mono British import CD: Mellow Yellow (originally released as 45 RPM single B side)
Writer(s): Donovan Leitch
Label: EMI (original label: Epic)
Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan Leitch followed up his 1966 hit single Sunshine Superman with an album of the same name. He then repeated himself with the song and album Mellow Yellow. The Mellow Yellow single, released in late 1966, included Sunny South Kensington, a song done in a similar style to Sunshine Superman, as its B side. The Mellow Yellow album itself appeared in the US in early 1967. Due to a contractual dispute in the UK between Donovan and Pye Records, neither Sunshine Superman or Mellow Yellow were issued in their original forms in Britain, although a hybrid album featuring tracks from both LPs did appear later.
Title: Drive My Car
Source: CD: Rubber Soul (originally released in US on LP: Yesterday...And Today)
Label: Parlophone (original US label: Capitol)
Year: 1965 (not released in US until 1966)
Capitol Records repeatedly got the ire of the Beatles by omitting, adding and rearranging songs on the US versions of their LPs, especially in 1966, when the band was starting to put considerable time and effort into presenting the albums as a coherent package. At the root of the problem were two facts: albums in the UK had longer running times than US albums, and thus more songs, and UK singles stayed in print longer than their US counterparts and were generally not included on albums at all. This resulted in albums like Yesterday and Today that didn't even have a British counterpart. Drive My Car, for example, was released in the US in 1966 on the Yesterday...And Today LP. It had appeared six months earlier in the UK as the opening track of the Rubber Soul album. Oddly enough, despite being one of the group's most recognizable songs, Drive My Car was never issued as a single.
Artist: Procol Harum
Title: In Held Twas In I
Source: CD: Shine On Brightly
Although the idea of grouping songs together as "suites" was first tried by Jefferson Airplane on their 1967 album After Bathing At Baxter's, Procol Harum's 17-minute long In Held Twas In I, from their 1968 album Shine On Brightly, is usually cited as the first progressive rock suite. The title comes from the first word of each section of the piece that contains vocals (several sections are purely instrumental). The work contains some of the best early work from guitarist Robin Trower, who would leave the group a few years later for a solo career. Shine On Brightly was the last Procol Harum album to include organist Matthew Fisher, who came up with the famous opening riff for the group's first hit, A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
Artist: Procol Harum
Source: Mono British import 7" EP: Homburg (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Esoteric/Cherry Red (original US label: A&M)
Procol Harum's followup single to A Whiter Shade Of Pale was a now nearly forgotten song called Homburg. Although the song's lyrics were praised by critics and by fellow songwriters such as Elton John, the music itself was perceived as being too similar to the previous single to stand on its own. You can decide for yourself on that one.
Artist: Procol Harum
Title: Shine On Brightly
Source: CD: Shine On Brightly
Although it was never released as a single, the title track of Procol Harum's second album, Shine On Brightly, is probably their most commercially viable song on the album. Opening with power chords from organist Matthew Fischer and augmented by guitarist Robin Trower, the song quickly moves into psychedelic territory with some of Keith Reid's trippiest lyrics ever, including the refrain "my befuddled brain shines on brightly, quite insane." One of their best tracks ever.
Title: Land Ho!
Source: CD: Morrison Hotel
Between Jim Morrison's bizarre onstage antics (performing drunk and allegedly exposing himself onstage in Miami) and producer Paul Rothchild's hubris (adding strings and horns to the album The Soft Parade), the Doors were on the verge of becoming a caricature of themselves in 1969. Luckily, they knew it, and decided to do something about it. The 1970 album Morrison Hotel was a deliberate attempt to return to the sound that had established them as one of the world's premier rock bands just three years before. For the most part it worked, although there was still a touch of the bizarre with songs like Land Ho! The tune, which opened the LP's second side, has been described as the Doors doing a sea chanty, when it's been described at all. For some reason, the various song by song analyses of Morrison Hotel that I've seen (including the liner notes of the remastered CD version of the album itself) completely ignore Land Ho! It's almost as if someone wanted to forget the song was even there.
Artist: Orange Bicycle
Title: Last Cloud Home (originally released in UK as 45 RPM B side)
Source: Mono CD: Insane Times
Writer(s): John Dove
Label: Zonophone (original label: Parlophone)
The Orange Bicycle were a somewhat obscure British group led by drummer/vocalist Wil Malone. The band had one successful single, Hyacinth Threads, which topped the French charts in the summer of 1967. The group continued to record without any great success for the next couple of years. One of their last and best recordings was Last Cloud Home, a B side from 1969.
Artist: Simon And Garfunkel
Title: Punky's Dilemma
Source: LP: Bookends
Writer(s): Paul Simon
Originally written specifically for the 1967 soundtrack of the movie The Graduate but rejected by the producers, Punky's Dilemma sat on the shelf until the following year, when it became the only track on side two of Simon And Garfunkel's Bookends LP that had not been previously released. The lyrics are about as psychedelic as Simon And Garfunkel ever got.
Artist: Richie Havens
Title: Just Like A Woman
Source: LP: Mixed Bag
Writer(s): Bob Dylan
Label: Verve Forecast
Mixed Bag was Richie Havens's first LP, released in 1967 on the then-new Verve Forecast label. As the title implies, the album is a mixture of original and cover tunes, and was meant to showcase Havens's range as a performer. One of the more notable tracks is his rearrangement of Bob Dylan's Just Like A Woman, which had been a top 40 hit the previous fall.
Title: Happy Jack
Source: 45 RPM single
Writer: Pete Townshend
Happy Jack was originally released as a single in the UK in late 1966. It did not hit the US airwaves, however, until the early months of 1967. (I heard it for the first time on KLZ-FM, a Denver station whose format was a forerunner of progressive rock. KLZ-FM didn't call themselves a rock station. They instead marketed themselves as playing the top 100, as opposed to the top 60 played on KIMN, the dominant AM station in the city.) Although the song was not intended to be on an album, Decca Records quickly rearranged the track order of the Who's second album, A Quick One, to make room for the song, changing the name of the album itself to Happy Jack in the process.
Title: The Walking Song
Source: Mono CD: All The Singles (originally released on LP: Happy Together and as 45 RPM single B side)
Label: Manifesto (original label: White Whale)
When they weren't recording hit songs by professional songwriters, the Turtles were busy developing their own songwriting talents, albeit in a somewhat sardonic direction. One early example is The Walking Song, which contrasts the older generation's obsession with material goods with a "stop and smell the roses" approach favored by the song's protagonist. This type of writing would characterize the later careers of two of the band members, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who, after performing with the Mothers at the Fillmore East would become known as the Phlorescent Leech (later Flo) and Eddie.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title: Foxy Lady
Source: 45 RPM single (reissue)
Writer: Jimi Hendrix
The US and UK versions of the Are You Experienced differed considerably. For one thing, three songs that had been previously released as singles in the UK (where single tracks and albums were mutually exclusive) were added to the US version of the album, replacing UK album tracks. Another rather significant difference is that the UK version of the album was originally issued only in mono. When the 4-track master tapes arrived in the US, engineers at Reprise Records created new stereo mixes of all the songs, including Foxy Lady, which had led off the UK version of Are You Experience but had been moved to a spot near the end of side two on the US album. The original mono single mix of Foxy Lady, meanwhile, was issued as a single in the US, despite the song being only available as an album track in the UK.
Artist: Matthews' Southern Comfort
Source: Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s): Joni Mitchell
Some people prefer the original Joni Mitchell version of Woodstock, while others favor Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's harder rocking version. My own favorite is the one released by Matthews' Southern Comfort in July of 1970. The record almost didn't get released as a single at all. Matthews had first performed Woodstock in a style much closer to Joni Mitchell's original version on a program broadcast live on BBC Radio 1. The BBC people were so impressed with the performance that they contacted Matthews' record label, Uni, about getting a copy of the song for regular airplay. Uni, however, knew nothing about it, as Matthews had never actually recorded Woodstock. The people at Uni suggested Matthews record the song and add it to the band's new LP, Later That Same Year, but Matthews felt the album was already a finished product and did not want to change it. Instead, the bad reworked the song extensively (Matthews later told Mitchell it was because he couldn't hit her high notes) and instead issued Woodstock separately as a single. The sonng went to the top of the British charts, and was eventually released in the US, making it to the #23 spot in early 1971. By that time, however, the band itself had split up, mainly due to bandleader Ian Matthews' inability to cope with the trappings of having a #1 hit single.