Sunday, July 5, 2020
Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2028 (starts 7/6/20)
This week we present the first chapter of the six-part Firesign Theatre Sherlock Holmes parody, the Case of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, which will continue for the next several weeks on Rockin' in the Days of Confusion. Of course, the chapter itself is only eight and a half minutes long, leaving plenty of time for a vaguely relevant opening set, a progression from 1968 to 1972, and a bit of European progressive rock to finish things out.
Artist: Gentle Giant
Title: Playing The Game
Source: CD: The Power And The Glory
Label: Alucard (original label: Capitol)
Following the departure of founding member Phil Shulman in 1973, the remaining members of Gentle Giant, after a period of soul-searching, decided to carry on as a five-piece group with the album In A Glass House. Their US label however, decided not to release the album. Despite this, In A Glass House sold well in the US as an import, leading to a new contract with a different label. The first Gentle Giant to be released on Capitol was The Power And The Glory, which hit the racks in 1974. One of the tracks that got a lot of airplay on FM rock radio was Playing The Game, which closes out the first side of the original LP. For those who might be interested in such things, a special edition of The Power And The Glory has been released on the Alucard label which features not only the original album remastered (plus bonus tracks), but a DVD containing animated video versions of every track on the album, all of which enhance the album's original concept concerning how power can corrupt even those with the best of intentions.
Artist: Beach Boys
Title: You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
Source: CD: Good Vibrations-Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys (originally released on LP: Carl And The Passions-"So Tough")
Label: Capitol (original label: Brother)
1972 saw the Beach Boys going through a period of instability. Brian Wilson had all but relinquished artistic control of the band to his brother Carl while pursuing other interests. Longtime member Bruce Johnston had just quit the band, and Carl had decided to spice up the group's sound with the addition of guitarist Blondie Chaplin. Adding to the band's problems was the fact that drummer Dennis Wilson was temporarily out of commission due to a hand injury, necessitating the addition of Rikki Fataar (who had been Champlin's bandmate in South Africa) as well. The opening track on the album Carl And The Passions-"So Tough" encapsulizes all these elements in one song. Co-written by Brian Wilson, You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone is the only song on the album to be produced by the band's original leader. Vocals on the song, however, are by Carl Wilson, with Fataar on drums and guest musician Douglas Dillard on banjo. In an effort to help sales, Carl And The Passions-"So Tough" was packaged as a double LP, with a reissued Pet Sounds as the second disc. It still was not a major seller and is generally overlooked by Beach Boys afficianados.
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)
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: Steely Dan
Title: Black Cow
Source: CD: Aja
Label: MCA (original label: ABC)
Aja was Steely Dan's all-time best selling studio album, with over five million copies sold worldwide and becoming their first platinum album. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording and received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1978 (the Grammys always being awarded for the previous year's music). Although both Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were from the New York area, the album is generally considered one of the high points of what was then known as adult-oriented rock (or sometimes the California Sound), and spawned three singles that got considerable airplay on FM rock stations at a time when formats long associated with AM radio were migrating en masse to the FM band. One of the songs that did not get a lot of airplay was the album's opening track, Black Cow. Why this should be is probably just an example of the aforementioned migration of AM formats to FM. To remain competitive, many existing FM rock stations were tightening their playlists, only playing the most popular tracks from albums that, a few years before, would have been played in their entirety. In retrospect, that is a shame, as Black Cow contains outstanding guitar work from Larry Carlton, who, as a studio musician, played on all but two of the tracks on Aja.
Artist: Firesign Theatre
Title: Part One: London; Chapter 1: Not Quite The Solution He Expected
Source: LP: The Tale Of The Giant Rat Of Sumatra
Following the release of I Think We're All Bozos On The Bus in 1971, the Firesign Theatre largely abandoned the idea of concept albums, instead concentrating their efforts on live performances, both on stage and on their own weekly radio show. Over the next three years they released Dear Friends, a collection of skits from their radio show, and Not Insane or Anything You Want To, an album drawn largely from their stage performances. In 1974 they returned to long form with The Tale Of The Giant Rat Of Sumatra, a Sherlock Holmes parody (inspired by a throwaway line from Arthur Conan Doyle's Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) starring Philip Proctor as detective Hemlock Stones and David Ossman as the chronicler of his adventures, Dr. Flotsam. The story itself is broken into six parts, the first of which serves to introduce the main characters and set the events of the tale in motion.
Artist: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Title: Battle Of New Orleans
Source: 45 RPM promo single (taken from LP: Stars And Stripes Forever)
Writer(s): Jimmy Driftwood
Label: United Artists
After struggling for their first few years, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band found their niche with the 1970 LP Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy, which featured their hit single version of Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr. Bojangles. The following year they recorded the three-LP set Will The Circle Be Unbroken, featuring collaborations with some of the biggest country and western stars of three generations, releasing the album in 1972. This was followed by the live Stars And Stripes Forever album, the first by the band to enter the country charts, in 1974. The single from that album was a cover of Battle Of New Orleans, which had been a 1959 hit for Johnny Horton. The song had originally been composed by an Arkansas school principal named Jimmy Driftwood, who had written the song earlier in the decade in an attempt to get his students interested in learning history.
Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: A Song For Jeffrey
Source: LP: This Was
Writer(s): Ian Anderson
Jethro Tull's second single (and first European hit) was A Song For Jeffrey from their debut LP, This Was. The Jeffrey in the song title is Jeffrey Hammond, who, according to the liner notes, was "one of us, though he doesn't play anything". The notes go on to say he "makes bombs and stuff". In fact, Hammond would replace bassist Glen Cornick a few albums later and remain with the group for several years. The song itself proved popular enough that when the band compiled their first Anthology album, Living In The Past, A Song For Jeffrey was chosen to open the album.
Source: CD: The Chicago Transit Authority
Writer: Robert Lamm
Label: Rhino (original label: Columbia)
By all accounts, one of the tightest road bands of 1968 was a group called the Chicago Transit Authority. Featuring a solid horn section and three quality lead vocalists, it was no surprise to anyone who had heard them perform that their first LP, released in 1969, was an immediate success. Getting two long-playing discs for the price of one didn't hurt either. Listen, written and sung by keyboardist Robert Lamm, is a fairly representative track from that album that features a memorable bass line from Peter Cetera as well as Terry Kath's distinctive guitar sound.
Artist: Blues Image
Title: Love Is The Answer
Source: CD: Open
Writer(s): Blues Image
Label: Sundazed (original label: Atco)
Blues Image started off in Tampa, Florida, but soon relocated to Miami, where they soon became the house band for the legendary club Thee Image. They moved out to Los Angeles in 1969, where they developed a following that included several prominent musicians, including guitarist Jimi Hendrix. It was Hendrix that pointed out to the band that they did great arrangements on other people's material but that their own tunes were lacking a certain flair. The solution, it turned out, was to set their own compositions aside for a time, then revist them, treating them the same way they would someone else's songs. Apparently it worked, as can be heard on songs like Love Is The Answer, the powerful opening track for their second LP, Open.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Source: CD: Master Of Reality
Label: Warner Brothers
I have to admit I'm a sucker for the slow, moody songs that appear as a change of pace on Black Sabbath's early albums. One of my favorites is Solitude, from the band's third LP, Master Of Reality. The song sets a mood that is in sharp contrast with the early heavy metal sound of the rest of the album. Guitarist Tony Iommi also plays piano and flute on the track.
Artist: Captain Beyond
Title: Mesmerization Eclipse
Source: LP: Captain Beyond
In the early 1970s it was normal for three bands to be on the playbill at a rock concert. Generally the headliner was someone with a hit record currently on the charts, while the middle act was someone on the way up. The opening act was either a popular local band or, in some cases, a brand new group that had just released their first album. It was not entirely uncommon for the second act to actually get a better audience response than the headliner, especially if the headliner turned out to be a one-hit wonder with no staying power. It was extremely rare, however, for the opening act to blow both of the other two bands out of the water. In fact, I can think of only one time that happened when I was in the audience. It was 1972, and I don't even remember who the headliner was. The middle band was Jo Jo Gunne, featuring front man Jay Ferguson, formerly of Spirit. They weren't bad, although the only songs I remember them performing were Run Run Run and 99 Days. The opening act, however, totally blew me away with their outstanding musicianship and strong material. That band was Captain Beyond, formed by former members of Iron Butterfly (bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt), Deep Purple (vocalist Rod Evans) and drummer Bobby Caldwell, who would eventually go on to have a moderately successful solo career. I was so impressed with their set that I went to the record store the very next day and bought their album (which has this really cool 3D cover, by the way). Mesmerization Eclipse, from that debut LP, was written by the entire band, although only Evans and Caldwell got official writing credits on the album, due to Rhino and Dorman still being under contract to Iron Butterfly at the time.
Title: Cryin' In The Dark/King Of Twilight
Source: LP: A Tab In The Ocean
Label: Passport (original German label: Bellaphon)
Year: 1972 (US release: 1976)
On the surface it seems like a story you've heard before: a group of young British musicians go to Hamburg, Germany to hone their craft, building up a cult following in the process. But this story is not about the Beatles. It is about Nektar, formed in 1969 by Roye Albrighton on guitars and vocals, Allan "Taff" Freeman on keyboards, Derek "Mo" Moore on bass, Ron Howden on drums, and Mick Brockett and Keith Walters on lights and special effects. Nektar's early style is well represented on Cryin' In The Dark/King Of Twilight, the closing tracks on their 1972 album A Tab In The Ocean. The LP was originally released in Germany in 1972 on the Bellaphon label, leading many people to assume Nektar was in fact a German band and an early example of "Kraut Rock". Nektar would eventually become closely associated with the progressive rock movement of the early to mid 1970s, thanks in large part to A Tab In The Ocean finally being released in the US in 1976. Like fellow prog-rockers Genesis and Gentle Giant, Nektar began to commercialize their sound with shorter songs containing fewer time and key changes as the decade wore on; unlike those other bands, however, Nektar did not become more popular because of the changes. Indeed, by 1978, the band had decided to call it quits, although two of the members reformed the band briefly the following year, releasing one album in 1980 before disbanding again in 1982.