Sunday, January 10, 2021

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2103 (starts 1/11/21)

    This week we feature ten tracks, four of which have never been played on the show before. These include tunes from Joni Mitchell, Lynyrd Skynryd and the "New! Improved!" Blue Cheer, as well as a standalone John Mayall song dedicated to Canned Heat's Robert Hite.

Artist:    Eric Clapton
Title:    Easy Now
Source:    45 RPM single B side (originally released on LP: Eric Clapton)
Writer(s):    Eric Clapton
Label:    Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:    1970
    When it comes to Eric Clapton's Easy Now (from his first solo album), the word most often used by critics is "underrated". The song was never intended to be a hit single. In fact, it was released as a B side, not once but twice, in 1970 (paired with After Midnight) and 1972 (paired with Let It Rain). Nonetheless, the tune holds up better than most of the tracks on the album itself, and has been singled out as one of the best songs Clapton ever wrote. Easy Now was also included on the 1972 LP Eric Clapton At His Best.

Artist:    Joni Mitchell
Title:    In France They Kiss On Main Street
Source:    LP: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
Writer(s):    Joni Mitchell
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1975
    Joni Mitchell got to work on The Hissing Of Summer Lawns in early 1975, recording acoustic demos of new songs she had written after touring to support her 1974 hit album Court And Spark. Like its predecessor, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns featured several songs that combined elements of folk, rock and jazz into a style that was uniquely Mitchell's. In France They Kiss On Main Street, a song about coming of age in a small town that opens the album, included several guest musicians, including Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and several members of Tom Scott's L.A. Express, as well as such notables as James Taylor, David Crosby and Graham Nash on backup vocals.

Artist:    Three Dog Night
Title:    Rock And Roll Widow
Source:    Mono 45 RPM single B side
Writer(s):    Allsup/Greenspoon/Hutton/Negron/Scherme/Sneed/Wells
Label:    Dunhill
Year:    1970
    Three Dog Night are generally not remembered for their songwriting abilities. Almost all of their hits were covers of songs that had been previously recorded by the songwriters themselves, such as Randy Newman's Mama Told Me (Not To Come). Rock And Roll Widow, appearing on the B side of that record, is a rare exception, credited to all seven band members.

Artist:    Deep Purple
Title:    Black Night (1995 Roger Glover Mix)
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Blackmore/Gillan/Glover/Lord/Paice
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    Prior to 1970, Deep Purple had achieved a moderate amount of success in the US, but were pretty much ignored in the native England. That all changed, however, with the addition of two new members, lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Following the experimental Concerto For Group and Orchestra, the band's new lineup released its first studio album, Deep Purple In Rock, on June 3, 1970. Two days later the released a non-album single called Black Night. The song was an instant hit, going all the way to the #2 spot on the British charts and quickly becoming part of the band's concert repertoire, usually as the first encore. A 1995 remix by Glover was released as a single on blue vinyl in 1995 for Record Store Day that runs nearly 30 seconds longer than the original 1970 US release.
Artist:    John Mayalll
Title:    The Bear
Source:    British import CD: Blues From Laurel Canyon
Writer(s):    John Mayall
Label:    Decca (original US label: London)
Year:    1968
    During his 1968 visit to California, and specifically Laurel Canyon, John Mayall made several new friends. Among them was Robert Hite, vocalist for Canned Heat and one of the foremost blues enthusiasts in the country. When Mayall returned to his native UK he wrote an entire album's worth of songs about his experiences, calling it Blues From Laurel Canyon. The album's second side opens with a few measures based on Canned Heat's signature "boogie" beat before breaking into a song that refers to Hite by his nickname: The Bear.

Artist:    Blue Cheer
Title:    It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Source:    LP: New! Improved! Blue Cheer
Writer(s):    Bob Dylan
Label:    Philips
Year:    1969
    Following the departure of founding guitarist Leigh Stephens, Blue Cheer recruited Randy Holden, former member of the Other Half, for their third LP, New! Improved! Blue Cheer. Holden, however, left the group halfway through sessions for the album, and was replaced by Bruce Stephens and keyboardist Burns Kellogg. To be honest, most of the Stephens/Kellogg material is forgettable at best; the only exception being a halfway decent cover of Bob Dylan's It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.

Artist:    Lynyrd Skynyrd
Title:    That Smell
Source:    LP: Gold & Platinum (originally released on LP: Street Survivors)
Writer(s):    Collins/Van Zant
Label:    MCA
Year:    1977
    Not long after Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington smashed his new car into a tree while high, bandmates Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins wrote That Smell, one of the most famous anti-drug songs of all time. The band recorded the song for inclusion on the 1977 album Street Survivors. Van Zant said at the time that "I had a creepy feeling things were going against us, so I thought I'd write a morbid song." Three days after Street Survivors was released, Van Zant, along with five others (including two band members), was killed in a plane crash.

Artist:        O'Jays
Title:        Back Stabbers
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer:        Huff/McFadden/Whitehead
Label:        Philadelphia International
Year:        1972
        The two hotspots of soul music in the late 60s were Detroit, Michigan (Motown Records) and Memphis, Tennessee (Stax Records). By the early 70s, however, Memphis was eclipsed by Philadelphia, thanks to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of and in-house producers for Philadelphia International Records. One of the first major hits for the label was Back Stabbers by the O'Jays, a Cleveland, Ohio vocal group that had been recording with only moderate success since the early 60s. Back Stabbers hit the top spot on the R&B charts in 1972 and crossed over to the top 40 as well, peaking at #3.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    A Passion Play (acts 3 and 4)
Source:    LP: A Passion Play
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis
Year:    1973
    Jethro Tull's fourth LP, Aqualung, was their commercial and critical breakthrough. Fans and critics alike hailed it as a concept album touching on the sensitive topic of religion. The problem was that the band members, particularly bandleader Ian Anderson, saw Aqualung as a concept album at all. Anderson's response was to pen Thick As A Brick, which he considered a parody of concept albums. Fans and critics, however, took the whole thing far more seriously than the band did. And that led to the 1973 album A Passion Play. This time Anderson and the band took the whole concept album thing seriously. In fact, they took the album (and themselves) too seriously for many people, and A Passion Play is now seen as the beginning of Jethro Tull's slow decline into the self-indulgent blandness that characterizes the band's later work. Still, listening to it over forty years later, there is a lot to be said in favor of acts 3 and 4 (side two) of A Passion Play. It is no Thick As A Brick, but it's really not all that bad, either.

Artist:    Grand Funk Railroad
Title:    Gimme Shelter
Source:    CD: Survival
Writer(s):    Jagger/Richards
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1971
    It takes cojones to record a cover version of one of the  Rolling Stones' most popular (and critically acclaimed) songs. It takes even more to do it just two years after the Stones version came out. But then, we are talking about Grand Funk Railroad, who have to be considered one of the most ballsy bands in rock history. Gimme Shelter was actually one of two cover tunes on the band's fourth studio LP, Survival (the other being Feelin' Alright).

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