Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stuck in the Psychedelic Era # 1207 (starts 2/16/12)

Artist: Blues Project
Title: No Time Like The Right Time
Source: Nuggets-Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer: Al Kooper
Label: Rhino (original label: Verve Forecast)
Year: 1967
The Blues Project were ahead of their time. They were the first jam band. They virtually created the college circuit for touring rock bands. Unfortunately, they also existed at a time when having a hit single was the considered a necessity. The closest the Blues Project ever got to a hit single was No Time Like The Right Time, which peaked at # 97 and stayed on the charts for all of two weeks. Personally, I rate it among the top 10 best songs ever.

Artist: Country Joe And The Fish
Title: Love
Source: LP: Electric Music For The Mind And Body
Writer: McDonald/Melton/Cohen/Barthol/Gunning/Hirsch
Label: Vanguard
Year: 1967
In the mid 60s the primary performance venues for rock bands were dances, and the audiences (mostly middle-class baby boomers) demanded a healthy dose of both rock and soul. Rather than to record covers of Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding songs, Country Joe McDonald chose to write his own brand of rock and soul music. Love, from the Fish's first album, is a good example of this.

Artist: Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band
Title: Zig Zag Wanderer
Source: CD: Where The Action Is: L.A. Nuggets 1965-68 (originally released on LP: Safe As Milk)
Writer: Bermann/Van Vliet
Label: Rhino (original label: Buddah)
Year: 1967
Don Van Vliet made his first recordings as Captain Beefheart in 1965, covering artists like Bo Diddley in a style that could best be described as "punk blues." Upon hearing those recordings A&M Records, despite its growing reputation as a hot (fairly) new label, promptly cancelled the project. Flash forward a year or so. Another hot new label, Buddah Records, an outgrowth of Kama Sutra Records that had somehow ended up being the parent rather than the subsidiary, was busy signing new acts like Johnny Winter, and ended up releasing the LP Safe As Milk in 1967. The good captain would next appear on his old high school acquaintance Frank Zappa's Bizarre Records, turning out classic albums like Trout Mask Replica, and the world would never be quite the same.

Artist: Sonics
Title: Strychnine
Source: Nuggets Vol. 2-Punk (originally released on LP: Here Are The Sonics)
Writer: Gerry Roslie
Label: Rhino (original label: Etiquette)
Year: 1965
From 1965 we have a band that maintains a cult following to this day: the legendary Sonics, generally considered one of the foundation stones of the Seattle music scene. Although the majority of songs on their albums were cover tunes, virtually all of their originals are now considered punk classics; indeed, the Sonics are often cited as the first true punk rock band.

Artist: Seeds
Title: Pushin' Too Hard
Source: LP: Nuggets Vol. 1-The Hits (originally released on LP: The Seeds)
Writer: Sky Saxon
Label: Rhino (original label: GNP Crescendo)
Year: 1966
If the Sonics are the original punk-rock band, the Seeds have a legitimate claim to being the first psychedelic band. Their first single was released in 1965, pre-dating the 13th Floor Elevators and the Blues Magoos by several months. The Seeds' second single, Pushin' Too Hard, was a huge hit in L.A. in mid-1966. The song went national in early 1967, hitting the top 40 and guaranteeing the Seeds a place in rock history.

Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Title: White Rabbit
Source: LP: Surrealistic Pillow
Writer: Grace Slick
Label: RCA Victor
Year: 1967
The first time I heard White Rabbit was on Denver's first FM rock station, KLZ-FM. The station branded itself as having a top 100 (as opposed to local ratings leader KIMN's top 60), and prided itself on being the first station in town to play new releases and album tracks. It wasn't long before White Rabbit was officially released as a single, and went on to become a top 10 hit, the last for the Airplane.

Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Title: Hey Frederick
Source: CD: Volunteers
Writer: Grace Slick
Label: BMG/RCA
Year: 1969
By 1969 Grace Slick's songwriting had taken a somewhat discordant tone, at least as far as the music went. Slick's lyrics were, for the most part, highly personal: no generic love songs for her. Hey Frederick, from the Volunteers album, illustrates both of these ideas well. The first line of the song is a challenge that has been echoed by several other people over the years, most notably Ted Turner, whose motto "lead, follow or get out of the way" is in much the same spirit.

Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Title: My Best Friend
Source: LP: Surrealistic Pillow
Writer: Skip Spence
Label: RCA Victor
Year: 1966
Although drummer Skip Spence had left Jefferson Airplane after the group's first LP, he did leave a song behind. My Best Friend was originally released as a single in advance of the Surrealistic Pillow album, which hit the stands in early 1967. The song got a decent amount of airplay on San Francisco radio stations before being eclipsed by it's follow-up single, Somebody To Love.

Artist: Rolling Stones
Title: Good Times, Bad Times
Source: CD: Singles Collection-The London Years (originally released as 45 RPM single B side)
Writer: Jagger/Richards
Label: Abkco (original label: London)
Year: 1964
It may be hard to imagine, but the first Rolling Stones US tour was less than a complete success. In order to salvage something positive about the trip abroad, producer Andrew Loog Oldham arranged for the band to book time at Chicago's Chess Records studio, where many of the band's idols had recorded for the past decade. One of the songs from those sessions was Good Times, Bad Times. The song was only the second Jagger/Richards composition to be recorded by the Stones, and the first to be released on 45 RPM vinyl. Since 45s outsold LPs by a factor of at least five to one in 1964, this was an important distinction.

Artist: Spencer Davis Group
Title: Keep On Running
Source: LP: Gimme Some Lovin' (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer: Jackie Edwards
Label: United Artists (original label: Atco)
Year: 1965
The Spencer Davis Group began a streak of top 10 hits in the UK in 1964, with the then 14-year-old Steve Winwood on lead vocals and keyboards (and occassional guitar). What is not well known is that many of those singles were also released in the US on the Atco label, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. None of the Atco releases charted in the US and eventually the distribution rights to the band's recordings fell to United Artists Records. In 1967 the Spencer Davis Group finally got its breakthrough hit in the US with Gimme Some Lovin' a tune that had originally been released in the fall of 1966. United Artists immediately went to work on compiling an album made up mostly of the band's earlier singles and B sides, releasing it in spring of 1967. One of the many UK hits on the album was Jackie Edwards' Keep On Running, which the Spencer Davis Group had taken to the top of the British charts in 1965.

Artist: Love
Title: And More
Source: CD: Comes In Colours (originally released on LP: Love)
Writer: Lee/MacLean
Label: Raven (original label: Elektra)
Year: 1966
Although the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was already recording for Elektra, the first genuine rock band to be signed to the label was L.A.'s Love. The band had originally planned to call itself the Grass Roots, but soon discovered that the songwriting team of Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan had already locked up the name. Jan Holzman, owner of Elektra, was so high on Love that he created a whole new numbering series for their first album (the same series that later included the first few Doors LPs). Most of Love's songs were written by multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Arthur Lee, with a handful of tunes provided by rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bryan MacLean. The two seldom collaborated, despite sharing a house in the Hollywood hills that had once belonged to Bela Lugosi. One of the few songs they did collaborate on was And More, a tune from the first album that shows the two songwriters' interest in folk-rock as popularized by fellow L.A. band the Byrds.

Artist: West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
Title: I Won't Hurt You
Source: LP: Nuggets Vol. 9-Acid Rock (originally released on LP: Part One)
Writer: Harris/Lloyd/Markley
Label: Rhino (original label: Reprise)
Year: 1967
Unlike Love, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band was not a Sunset Strip club band. In fact, the WCPAEB really didn't play that many live performances in their career, although those they did play tended to be at high profile venues such as the Hollywood Bowl. The band was formed when the Harris brothers, sons of an accomplished classical musician, decided to record their own album and release it on a small local label. Only a few copies of that album, Volume One, were made and finding one now is next to impossible. That might have been the end of the story except for the fact that they were acquaintances of Kim Fowley, record producer and all-around Hollywood hustler. Fowley invited them to a party where the Yardbirds were playing; a party also attended by one Bob Markley. Markley, who was nearly ten years older than the Harris brothers, was a former TV show host from the midwest who had moved out to the coast to try his luck. Impressed by the flock of young girls surrounding the Yardbirds, Markley expressed to Fowley his desire to be a rock and roll star and have the girls flock around him, too. Fowley, ever the deal-maker, responded by introducing Markley to the Harris Brothers and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band was born. With the addition of guitarist Michael Lloyd and the influence of Markley's not-inconsiderable family money, the group soon landed a contract with Reprise Records, where they proceeded to record the album Part One, which includes the turn I Won't Hurt You, which uses a simulated heartbeat to keep the...umm, beat.

Artist: Traffic
Title: (Roamin' Thro' The Gloamin' With) 40,000 Headmen
Source: Progressive Heavies (originally released on LP: Traffic)
Writer: Winwood/Capaldi
Label: United Artists
Year: 1968
In its original run, Traffic only released two full albums (and a third that consisted of non-LP singles, studio outtakes and live tracks). The second of these, simply titled Traffic, featured several memorable tunes, including this Steve Winwood/Jim Capaldi collaboration.

Artist: Beatles
Title: Across The Universe
Source: Past Masters-vol. 2
Writer: Lennon/McCartney
Label: Parlophone
Year: 1969
Across The Universe was recorded in 1968 and was in serious contention for release as a single that year (ultimately Lady Madonna was chosen instead). The recording sat in the vaults until 1969, when it was included on a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund (hence the sounds of flapping wings at the beginning and end of the track). Phil Spector would eventually get his hands on the master tape, slowing it down and adding strings and including it on the Let It Be album. Personally I prefer this untampered-with version.

Artist: Zombies
Title: She's Not There
Source: 45 RPM single (stereo reissue)
Writer: Rod Argent
Label: London (original label: Parrot)
Year: 1964
Most of the original British invasion bands were guitar-oriented, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. One notable exception was the Zombies, whose leader, Rod Argent, built the group around his electric piano. Their first single, She's Not There, was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic and is ranked among the top British rock songs of all time.

Artist: Yardbirds
Title: For Your Love
Source: 45 RPM single
Writer: Graham Gouldman
Label: Epic
Year: 1965
The last Yardbirds song to feature guitarist Eric Clapton, For Your Love was the group's fist US hit, peaking at the # 6 slot. The song did even better in the UK, peaking at # 3. Following its release, Clapton left the Yardbirds, citing the band's move toward a more commercial sound and this song in particular as reasons for his departure (ironic when you consider songs like his mid-90s hit Change the World or his slowed down lounge lizard version of Layla). For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman, who would end up as a member of Wayne Fontana's Mindbenders and later 10cc with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: From Later
Source: LP: Living In The Past (originally released in UK on EP: Life Is A Long Song)
Writer: Ian Anderson
Label: Chrysalis
Year: 1971
In the late 1940s there was a push to find a viable replacement for the 78 RPM record, which was heavy and brittle and not capable of reproducing the high fidelity recordings being made on tape recorders, a technology that had been brought back from Germany by returning GIs at the end of World War II. Additionally, a 10-inch 78 RPM record could only hold three or four minutes of material per side, resulting in an industry standard length for popular music. RCA Victor, which had dominated the recording industry pretty much from the beginning, took the most direct route, developing the 45 RPM vinyl record with a similar running time to the 78. RCA's chief rival, Columbia Records, took a different approach. Long pieces of music (classical in particular) had always, by necessity, been spread out over several 78s (known as an album due to its resemblance to a photo album). Columbia reasoned that there was a market for a new type of record that could hold up to 30 uninterrupted minutes per side and set about developing the 33 1/3 RPM LP record. From the start, RCA banked on the 45 being the only record anyone would buy, and even made phongraphs that only played records in that format (45s had a large hole in the center, while LPs had a small hole, the same as 78s). As it turned out, there was a market for both 45 and LP records in the booming postwar economy, and RCA found itself at a disadvantage when it came to not only classical music, but modern jazz as well, which was quickly gravitating to the longer LPs as the medium of choice. RCA responded at first by developing the extended play 45 (or EP) which applied the microgroove technology of the LP to nearly double the capacity of a 45 RPM record. These EPs enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the US (until the RCA 45-only players wore out and got replaced by multi-speed units in most homes) in the 50s. In England, however, the format was even more successful and remained that way well into the 1960s, with EPs occupying space on the record racks alongside LPs and singles. One reason for this was that unlike in the US, where EPs were almost always shortened versions of albums available in the LP format, the British EPs often contained music that was not available in any other format. An artist with a moderately successful single might get a contract to record an EP as a logical next step in Britain, while in the US that same group would have to crank out a couple more successful singles before being allowed to record an LP. Often, British artists would have a handful of new songs to record, but not enough to fill an entire LP. Such was the case in 1971, when Jethro Tull recorded a five-song EP entitled Life Is A Long Song. At that point in time, US record labels were no longer releasing EPs and the songs did not get issued on American vinyl until the Living In The Past album came out in 1973.

Artist: Who
Title: Rael 2/Top Gear Spot
Source: CD: The Who Sell Out (bonus track)
Writer: Pete Townshend
Label: MCA
Year: Recorded:1967; released:1993
This odd little piece was apparently intended as a coda to the final track of The Who Sell Out, but was not included on the album (although the label itself reads "Rael 1&2"). Rael 2, as well as the Top Gear commercial it segues into, is among the many bonus tracks added to both the 90s and 2000s CD versions of the album.

Artist: Status Quo
Title: Pictures Of Matchstick Men
Source: CD: Psychedelic Pop
Writer: Francis Rossi
Label: BMG/RCA/Buddah
Year: 1967
The band with the most charted singles in the UK is not the Beatles or even the Rolling Stones. It is, in fact, Status Quo, quite possibly the nearest thing to a real life version of Spinal Tap. Except for Pictures of Matchstick Men, the group has never had a hit in the US. On the other hand, they remain popular in Scandanavia, playing to sellout crowds on a regular basis (yes, they are still together).

Artist: Turtles
Title: Chicken Little Was Right
Source: 45 RPM single B side
Writer: The Turtles
Label: White Whale
Year: 1967
Like many of the bands of the time, the Turtles usually recorded songs from professional songwriters for their A sides and provided their own material for the B sides. In the Turtles' case, however, these B sides were often psychedelic masterpieces that contrasted strongly with their hits. Chicken Little Was Right, the B side of She's My Girl, at first sounds like something you'd hear at a hootenanny, but then switches keys for a chorus featuring the Turtles' trademark harmonies, with a little bit of Peter And The Wolf thrown in for good measure. This capacity for self-parody would come to serve band members Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan well a few years later, first as members of the Mothers (performing Happy Together live at the Fillmore East) and then as the Phorescent Leach and Eddie (later shortened to Flo And Eddie).

Artist: Underdogs
Title: Love's Gone Bad
Source: CD: Nuggets-Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer: Holland/Dozier/Holland
Label: Rhino (original label: V.I.P.)
Year: 1967
Although Rare Earth is usually thought of as the first white band to record for Motown, the reality is that Hitsville USA had a subsidiary called V.I.P. that signed white R&B acts a full two years before Rare Earth was signed to the label. One of the acts signed to V.I.P was the Underdogs, a popular local dance band from Detroit suburb Grosse Point. As was the case with Rare Earth, the label provided material for the Underdogs, in this case a tune called Love's Gone Bad, written by the same Holland/Dozier/Holland team that cranked out a series of number one hits for the Supremes and Four Tops.

Artist: Cream
Title: Take It Back
Source: LP: Disraeli Gears
Writer: Bruce/Brown
Label: RSO (original label: Atco)
Year: 1967
The very first album I recorded on my dad's new Akai X-355 reel-to-reel deck was Disraeli Gears. It was also the very first CD I ever bought (along with Axis: Bold As Love). Does that tell you anything about my opinion of this album?

Artist: Beacon Street Union
Title: Mystic Mourning
Source: CD: The Eyes Of The Beacon Street Union
Writer: Ulaky/Weisberg/Rhodes
Label: See For Miles (original label: M-G-M)
Year: 1967
If I had to choose one single recording that represents the psychedelic era, my choice would be Mystic Mourning, from the album The Eyes Of The Beacon Street Union. Everything about the tune screams psychedelic, starting with a short spacy intro of electric piano over cymbals, leading into a raga beat with a solo bass line that builds up to a repeating riff that ends up getting played at various times by guitar, bass, and/or piano. The lyrics are appropriately existential, and both guitar and piano get a chance to show their stuff over the course of the nearly six-minute track.

Artist: Circus Maximus
Title: Bright Light Lovers
Source: LP: Circus Maximus
Writer: Bob Bruno
Label: Vanguard
Year: 1967
Although keyboardist Bob Bruno's contributions as a songwriter to Circus Maximus tended to favor jazz arrangements, he shows here that he could rock out with the best of the garage bands when the mood hit.

Artist: Pink Floyd
Title: Atom Heart Mother Suite
Source: LP: Atom Heart Mother
Writer: Mason/Gilmour/Waters/Wright/Geesin
Label: Harvest
Year: 1970
The longest continuous piece of music ever committed to vinyl by Pink Floyd was not something from the Wall or Dark Side of the Moon, but the 23 1/2 minute Atom Heart Mother Suite (Shine On You Crazy Diamond is actually longer, but was interrupted by being split across two sides of an LP). The suite was also the last Pink Floyd piece to credit anyone outside the band as a songwriter; in this case Scottish composer/arranger Ron Geesin, who was brought in to help orchestrate and tie together the various sections of the piece. Primarily an instrumental, the piece has several distinct sections, although on vinyl and most CDs it is treated as a single track. Indeed, the drum and bass parts, which were the first tracks recorded, were recorded as a continuous take, giving the entire piece a consistent tempo throughout. The title was taken from a newspaper headline about a pregnant woman who had been fitted with a pacemaker; the actual headline was "Atom Heart Mother Found". Pink Floyd originally performed the suite live with a full orchestra, but after losing money on the tour decided to perform a pared down version and after a couple of years stopped performing the piece altogether. In recent years none of the band members has had anything good to say about the Atom Heart Mother Suite. Nonetheless, the piece stands as an important step on Pink Floyd's way to the Dark Side of the Moon.

Artist: Dino Valenti
Title: Let's Get Together
Source: CD: Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70
Writer: Chet Powers
Label: Rhino
Year: Recorded 1964, released 2009.
At first glance this may look like a cover tune. In reality, though, Dino Valenti was one of several aliases used by the guy who was born Chester Powers. Perhaps this was brought on by his several encounters with the law, most of which led to jail time. By all accounts, Valenti was one of the more bombastic characters on the San Francisco scene. The song was first commercially recorded by Jefferson Airplane in 1966, but it wasn't until 1969, when the Youngbloods shortened the title to Get Together, that the song became a major hit.

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