We start this week in 1969, with tunes from Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jethro Tull, Janis Joplin and King Crimson and the begin slowly working our way up to the mid-1970s. As a bonus, we have a hint of what we can expect in just a couple weeks from Steeleye Span.
Artist: Crosby, Stills and Nash
Title: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Source: LP: Crosby, Stills and Nash
Writer: Stephen Stills
After the demise of Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills headed for New York, where he worked with Al Kooper on the Super Session album and recorded several demo tapes of his own, including a new song called Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (reportedly written for his then-girlfriend Judy Collins). After his stint in New York he returned to California, where he started hanging out in the Laurel Canyon home of David Crosby, who had been fired from the Byrds in 1967. Crosby's house at that time was generally filled with a variety of people coming and going, and Crosby and Stills soon found themselves doing improvised harmonies on each other's material in front of a friendly, if somewhat stoned, audience. It was not long before they invited Graham Nash, whom they heard had been having problems of his own with his bandmates in the Hollies, to come join them in Laurel Canyon. The three soon began recording together, and in 1969 released the album Crosby, Stills and Nash. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was chosen as the opening track for the new album and was later released (in severely edited form) as a single.
Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: We Used To Know
Source: CD: Stand Up
Writer(s): Ian Anderson
Label: Chrysalis/Capitol (original US label: Reprise)
The first of many personnel changes for Jethro Tull came with the departure of guitarist Mick Abrahams in late 1968. His replacement was Tony Iommi from the band Earth, who joined just in time to make an appearance miming the guitar parts to A Song For Jeffrey on the Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus, a TV special slated for a December airing on British TV, but pulled from the schedule at the last minute by the Stones themselves, who were not satisfied with their own performances on the show. The following month Iommi went back to Earth (who eventually changed their name to Black Sabbath) and Jethro Tull found a new guitarist, Martin Barre, in time to begin work on their second LP, Stand Up. Barre's guitar work is featured prominently on several tracks on Stand Up, including We Used To Know, a song that starts quietly and slowly builds to a wah-wah pedal dominated instrumental finale.
Artist: Janis Joplin
Title: One Good Man
Source: CD: I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama
Writer(s): Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin's first solo album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama, got a lukewarm reception, both from the rock press and from fans of the singer who had been listening to her since her days with Big Brother And The Holding Company. The main problem seems to be that, while musically more proficient than the members of Big Brother, Joplin's new group (sometimes called the Kozmic Blues Band) never seemed to gel as a group. The fact that all but two of the tracks on the LP were cover songs didn't help matters, either. The two Joplin originals, however, are among the album's best tracks. I suspect that a few more tracks like One Good Man (featuring some nice guitar work by Big Brother's Sam Andrew) would have helped the album immensely.
Artist: King Crimson
Title: I Talk To The Wind/Epitaph
Source: CD: In The Court Of The Crimson King
Label: Discipline Mobile Global (original label: Atlantic)
During my years in Albuquerque, New Mexico I had a friend named Dave Meaden. It was Dave who first introduced me to King Crimson's first album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, featuring lyrics by poet Peter Sinfield. Dave was such a big fan of Sinfield's work that he had actually handwritten the entire lyrics to Epitaph on a flag that he had hanging in his living room. I usually don't pay all that much attention to lyrics, being more of an instrumentalist, but for this particular piece I have to make an exception. In fact, I'm posting the entire text of Epitaph right here:
The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death the sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart with nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath as silence drowns the screams?
Between the iron gates of fate, the seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend when no-one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind, I see, is in the hands of fools.
Confusion will be my epitaph,
As I crawl a cracked and broken path.
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.
Epitaph is preceded on the album by a Greg Lake composition called I Talk To The Wind, with lyrics by Sinfield. The song is a quiet, reflective piece, highlighted by classically-oriented flute solos by Ian McDonald. The two tracks are cross-faded on the original LP, and really need to be heard as one continuous piece to be fully appreciated.
Artist: Firesign Theatre
Title: Mark Time!
Source: LP: Dear Friends
Year: Originally broadcast: 1970, LP released 1972
Dear Friends was the name of the Firesign Theatre's weekly live radio show that ran on Los Angeles station KPFK from September 16, 1970 through Feb 17. 1971. Later in 1971 the shows were edited into hour-long shows that were distributed to radio stations across the country. The group then compiled a two-LP collection of the show's best bits and released it in January of 1972 as (what else?) Dear Friends. Many of the bits are essentially improv pieces, but there were a few more heavily-rehearsed pieces included on the album as well. One of my own favorites is Mark Time, a parody of the kind of action/adventure/science fiction radio serials that were a staple of network radio in the days before television.
Artist: John Sebastian
Title: Red-Eye Express
Source: LP: The Big Ball (originally released on LP: John B. Sebastian)
Writer(s): John Sebastian
Label: Warner Brothers (original label: Reprise)
John Sebastian's first solo album is one of those cases where the story behind the album is more interesting than the album itself. Sebastian had been the lead vocalist and primary songwriter for the Lovin' Spoonful during their period of greatest success (1965-67), but had left the group in early 1968 to pursue a solo career. The band tried to carry on without him, but after a string of commercial failures disbanded in early 1969. Meanwhile, Sebastian had been putting together tracks like Red-Eye Express for his debut solo album with the help of many of his old friends from his pre-Spoonful days as a struggling folk singer in New York's Greenwich Village, including (among others) David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, several months before they began recording together as a group. By early 1969 the album was ready to be released, but a series of unexpected problems delayed the album for over a year. The most pertinent of these problems was the fact that MGM records felt that the Lovin' Spoonful still owed them one more album under their previous contract with Kama Sutra Records, which had been distributed by MGM. Since the Spoonful no longer existed, MGM wanted to release Sebastian's album in its place, despite the fact that Sebastian had left the band the previous year. Sebastian and his manager, Bob Cavallo, felt differently, and made a deal with producer Paul Rothchild to get the album released on the Reprise label. Reprise head Mo Ostin bought out Sebastian's Kama Sutra contract and prepared to release the album, John B. Sebastian, in spring of 1969. MGM fought the move, however, and the album's release was delayed until 1970, when the album actually appeared on both labels at the same time (albeit with different cover art). Eventually Reprise ended up with the exclusive rights to the album, and the MGM version was withdrawn. During all this legal wrangling Sebastian made an unscheduled appearance at Woodstock (he was there as an audience member, but got drafted to fill time on the second day of the festival following a major rainstorm that left the stage covered in water, making it impossible for electric instruments to be used until it could be cleaned up), which enhanced his reputation and generated interest in the upcoming album, which eventually peaked at the #20 spot on the Billboard album charts.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Misty Mountain Hop
Source: CD: Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop, which opens side two of their fourth LP (and was also issued as the B side of Rock 'N' Roll) is either about a mountain range in J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth or a pro-marijuana demonstration in London's Hyde Park in 1968, at which several people were arrested for possession. Your choice.
Artist: Jo Jo Gunne
Title: Run Run Run
Source: 45 RPM single (stereo promo)
After Spirit called it quits following the disappointing sales of the Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, lead vocalist Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes hooked up with Andes's brother Matt and William "Curly" Smith to form Jo Jo Gunne. Their best known song was Run Run Run, which hit the British top 10 and the US top 30 in 1972, receiving considerable amount of airplay on progressive rock stations as well.
Artist: Steely Dan
Title: Razor Boy
Source: LP: Countdown To Ecstasy
Countdown To Ecstasy is the second Steely Dan album and the first to feature Donald Fagen as the group's sole lead vocalist. It is also the first of a trilogy of albums by the band that expose the seamy underside of Southern California culture in the 1970s. Razor Boy, for instance, targets the twin vices of materialism and complacency, asking the question: "Will you still have a song to sing when the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away?" The album was not initially a major commercial success, but proved durable enough to attain gold status over a period of years.
Artist: Black Sheep
Title: Cruisin' (For Your Love)
Source: 45 RPM single B side
Before he shortened his stage name to Lou Gramm and became famous as Foreigner's front man, Louis Grammatico was a member of the Rochester, NY band Black Sheep, which released two LPs on the Capitol label in 1975. What a lot of his fans don't know, however, is that those two albums were not Black Sheep's only major label releases. In 1974, before signing to Capitol, Black Sheep released a single on the Chrysalis label. The B side of that single was Cruisin' (For Your Love), which was written by Graham and bassist Bruce Turgon, who would play on Gramm's solo albums in the late 1980s and eventually become a member of Foreigner itself in 1992.
Artist: Steeleye Span
Title: The Twelve Witches
Source: LP: Rocket Cottage
Writer(s): Trad. lyrics, music by Steeleye Span
Between the released of All Around My Hat in 1975 and Rocket Cottage in 1976, something happened that would have a profound effect on Steeleye Span's career as a band. That something was punk rock, and its emergence immediately branded folk-rock bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention (along with prog-rock bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer) as dinosaurs in the eyes of British record buyers. The album failed to crack the British top 40 album charts, and resulted in two of the band's six members leaving after it was released. Despite all this, fans of Steeleye Span consider Rocket Cottage to be one of the band's finest efforts. Songs like The Twelve Witches, which combines traditional lyrics with new music written by the band, actually rock out harder than any of the group's previous work.