Sunday, January 3, 2021

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2102 (starts 1/4/21) 

    By the early 1970s it was obvious to everyone in the music industry that releasing listenable albums, rather than singles, had become the key to becoming a successful rock artist. Of course top 40 was still the most listened-to format in radio, and that meant that disc jockeys, music directors and even the labels themselves would pick out the most likely song on the album to be a hit and then play it to death until nobody wanted to hear it anymore. Then they would check out the album again to see if there were any more potential hits on it. FM programmers, on the other hand, took a more wide open approach, and would play as many tracks from a new LP as they wanted to (providing there were no forbidden words, of course). By the end of the decade FM rock stations (now calling themselves Album Oriented Rock) would end up playing only one or two songs per album, but in the early 70s it was a whole different world. This week, with one or two exceptions, we present album tracks that were not released as singles. Some of them, such as Led Zeppelin's Ramble On and Black Sabbath's Children Of The Grave, are quite familiar to a lot of people, while others, such as the Doors' live cover of Willie Dixon's Close To You, are virtually unknown. But that was the nature of early 70s rock radio, and that's what we celebrate here on Rockin' in the Days of Confusion.

Artist:    Grand Funk Railroad
Title:    Got This Thing On The Move
Source:    CD: Grand Funk
Writer(s):    Mark Farner
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1969
    From summer of 1967 to summer of 1970 I lived in Germany. This gave me a bit of a different perspective on the state of rock music during those years. For example, the Who, a band I had only barely heard of in the US, was huge overseas. On the other hand, bands like the Grateful Dead were little more than a distant legend in Europe at that time. On my return to the States in summer of 1970, I learned of the existence of a power trio from Flint, Michigan called Grand Funk Railroad.  In the US they were universally hated by rock music critics, yet managed to set all kinds of attendance records throughout 1969 and 1970, pretty much single-handedly inventing arena rock in the process. They also managed to get no less than three albums certified gold in 1970 alone. Despite this, GFR was totally unknown in Europe, leading me to believe that the people who ordered albums for the BX were paying too much attention to the Village Voice and Rolling Stone magazine and not enough attention to actual record sales and concert attendance figures. Anyway, I soon got my hands on the album Grand Funk (aka the Red Album) and was totally blown away by the opening track, Got This Thing On The Move. There's a valuable lesson in there somewhere.

Artist:    Derek And The Dominos
Title:    Anyday
Source:    CD: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
Writer(s):    Clapton/Whitlock
Label:    Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:    1970
    Derek And The Dominos was originally an attempt by Eric Clapton to remove himself from the solo spotlight and work in a larger group setting than he had with his previous bands, Cream and Blind Faith. Such was Clapton's stature, however, that even among talents like Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock, Clapton was still the star. However, there was one unofficial member of the group whose own star was in ascendancy. Duane Allman, who had chosen to stick with his own group the Allman Brothers Band, nonetheless played on eleven of the fourteen tracks on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. His slide guitar work is especially noticeable on the title track and on the song Anyday, which remains one of the most popular songs on the album.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Minstrel In The Gallery
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis
Year:    1975
    Following the back-to-back album-length works Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, Jethro Tull returned to recording shorter tunes for the next couple of years' worth of albums. In late 1975, however, they recorded the eight minute long Mistrel In The Gallery for the album of the same name. The song (and album) was a return to the mix of electric and acoustic music that had characterized the band in its earlier years, particularly on the Aqualung and Benefit albums. A shorter version of Minstrel In The Gallery was released as a single and did reasonably well on the charts.

Artist:    Ten Years After
Title:    Working On The Road
Source:    CD: Cricklewood Green
Writer(s):    Alvin Lee
Label:    Chrysalis (original label: Deram)
Year:    1970
    Following their successful appearance at Woodstock, Ten Years After returned to the studio to record their fifth LP, Cricklewood Green. The album itself is considered by many critics to be their finest effort, with songs like Working On The Road showing how far Alvin Lee's songwriting had come in the three years since the band's 1967 debut LP.

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    Embryo/Children Of The Grave
Source:    CD: Master Of Reality
Writer(s):    Iommi/Osbourne/Butler/Ward
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1971
    One of the spookiest experiences in my life was crashing at a stranger's house after having my mind blown at a Grand Funk Railroad concert in the fall of 1971. A bunch of us had ridden back to Weatherford, Oklahoma, from Norman (about an hour's drive) and somehow I ended up separated from my friends Mike and DeWayne, in whose college dorm room I had been crashing for a couple of days. So here I am, lying on the couch in this room with black walls, a black light, a few posters and a cheap stereo playing a brand new album I had never heard before: Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality. Suddenly I notice this weird little tapping sound going back and forth from speaker to speaker. Such was my state of mind at the time that I really couldn't tell if it was a hallucination or not. The stereo was one of those late 60s models that you could stack albums on, and whoever had put the album on had left the stereo in repeat mode before heading off to bed, with no more albums stacked after the Sabbath LP. This meant that every twenty minutes or so I would hear Children Of The Grave, with that weird little tapping sound going back and forth from speaker to speaker. Trust me, it was creepy, as was the whispering at the end of track. No wonder Ozzy Ozbourne called Children Of The Grave "the most kick-ass song we'd ever recorded."

Artist:     Uriah Heep
Title:     Blind Eye
Source:     British import CD: The Magician's Birthday
Writer:     Ken Hensley
Label:     Sanctuary (original US label: Mercury)
Year:     1972
     The single Easy Livin' from the album Demons and Wizards was a top 40 hit, giving the band some momentum for their follow up album, The Magician's Birthday. Both albums were certified gold. Blind Eye, the second single from The Magician's Birthday, barely made a dent in the charts, but by 1972 album sales were considered a more important measure of success anyway. Both albums were notable for their cover art by Roger Dean, who also did cover art for Yes during their most popular period.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Ramble On
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin II
Writer(s):    Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1969
    Some songs grab you the first time you hear them, but soon wear out their welcome. Others take a while to catch on, but tend to stay with you for a lifetime. Then there are those rare classics that manage to hook you from the start and yet never get old. One such song is Led Zeppelin's Ramble On, from their second LP. The song starts with a Jimmy Page acoustic guitar riff played high up on the neck with what sounds almost like footsteps keeping time (but turns out to be John Bonham playing bongo style on a guitar case). John Paul Jones soon adds one of the most melodic bass lines ever to appear in a rock song, followed closely by Robert Plant's Tolkien-influenced lyrics. For the chorus the band gets into electric mode, with guitar, bass and drums each contributing to a unique staggered rhythmic pattern. The song also contains one of Page's most memorable solos, that shares tonal qualities with Eric Clapton's work on Cream's Disraeli Gears album. Although I usually don't pay much attention to lyrics, one set of lines from Ramble On has stuck with me for a good many years:
"'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her."
How can any Tolkien fan resist that?

Artist:    Doors
Title:    Close To You
Source:    LP: Absolutely Live
Writer(s):    Willie Dixon
Label:    Elektra
Year:    1970
    When the Doors were first starting out their repertoire included several covers of blues classics by artists like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James and Muddy Waters. Of these, only Willie Dixon's Back Door Man made it onto their first LP. Over the next couple of years they focused entirely on their own songwriting, but following the over-produced Soft Parade album, the band made a deliberate attempt to get back to their blues roots, as can be heard on both the Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman LPs. In between those two studio albums the band released a two-disc live album that included not only Back Door Man, but another Willie Dixon tune, Close To You, that had been originally recorded by Muddy Waters in 1958. The Doors' live version of Close To You includes a spoken introduction in which Jim Morrison alludes to his arrest for allegedly exposing himself to a Miami audience the previous year. The lead vocals on the song itself are by keyboardist Ray Manzarek.

Artist:    Chicago
Title:    South California Purples
Source:    CD: Chicago Transit Authority
Writer(s):    Robert Lamm
Label:    Rhino (original label: Columbia)
Year:    1969
    Chicago never considered themselves a jazz-rock band, despite all the hype from the rock press and the publicity people at Columbia Records. Rather, the defined themselves as a rock band with a horn section. Songs like Robert Lamm's South California Purples, which is basically a blues progression, lend credence to this view. The track, which showcases the guitar work of Terry Kath, was one of the most popular songs on the band's debut album and continued to be a concert staple until Kath's death in 1978.

Artist:    Styx
Title:    A Day
Source:    LP: Styx II
Writer(s):    John Curulewski
Label:    Wooden Nickel
Year:    1973
    Although Dennis DeYoung was responsible for writing most of Styx's material, there were a few exceptions, including A Day from the album Styx II. Written and sung by founding member John Curulewski, A Day is a considerably more dark and moody piece that anything else on the LP, although it does have a faster section in the middle featuring some nice harmony guitar leads from Curulewski and James "JY" Young.

Artist:     Traffic
Title:     Feelin' Alright
Source:     CD: Traffic
Writer:     Dave Mason
Label:     Island (original US label: United Artists)
Year:     1968   
    Dave Mason left Traffic after the band's first album, Mr. Fantasy, but returned in time to contribute several songs to the band's eponymous second album. Among those was his most memorable song, Feelin' Alright, which would become one of the most covered songs in rock history.

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