Monday, September 5, 2016
Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1636 (starts 9/7/16)
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Source: LP: So Far (originally released on LP: déjà vu)
Writer(s): Joni Mitchell
It's somewhat ironic that the most famous song about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival was written by someone who was not even at the event. Joni Mitchell had been advised by her manager that she would be better off appearing on the Dick Cavett show that weekend, so she stayed in her New York City hotel room and watched televised reports of what was going on up at Max Yasgur's farm. Further insight came from her then-boyfried Graham Nash, who shared his firsthand experiences of the festival with Mitchell upon his return. The song was first released on the 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon, and was made famous the same year when it was chosen to be the first single released from the Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young album déjà vu. The CSNY version peaked just outside of the Billboard top 10.
Title: Cottage Cheese
Source: 45 RPM single
In late 1970 I found myself living in Alamogordo, NM, which was at the time one of those places that still didn't have an FM station (in fact, the only FM station we could receive was a classical station in Las Cruces, 70 miles away). To make it worse, there were only two AM stations in town, and the only one that played current songs went off the air at sunset. As a result the only way to hear current music at night (besides buying albums without hearing them first) was to "DX" distant AM radio stations. Of these, the one that came in most clearly and consistently was KOMA in Oklahoma City. My friends and I spent many a night driving around with KOMA cranked up, fading in and out as long-distance AM stations always do. One of those nights we were all blown away by a song named Cottage Cheese from a Minnesota band called Crow, which, due to the conservative nature of the local daytime-only station, was not getting any local airplay. Years later I was lucky enough to find a copy in a thrift store in Albuquerque. Here it is.
Artist: Guess Who
Title: Humpty's Blues/American Woman (Epilogue)
Source: CD: American Woman
Label: Buddha/BMG (original label: RCA Victor)
Guitarist Randy Bachman of the Guess Who was, in the words of lead vocalist Burton Cummings, "chomping at the bit" to use some new guitar effects equipment he had acquired (fuzz boxes and Herzog sustain pedals, mostly). So the rest of the band obliged him by coming up with a Led Zeppelin style blues number called Humpty's Blues. Cummings's lyrics for the song were about the band's drummer, Garry Peterson, who had somehow acquired the nickname "Humpty Mix". The finished song ended up being the longest track on the LP, which, combined with a short reprise of the opening section of American Woman, closes out the Guess Who's most popular album.
Title: Soul Of The Sea
Source: LP: Dreamboat Annie
Writer(s): Ann and Nancy Wilson
Formed in Seattle, Heart relocated to Vancouver, BC in the early 70s, eventually signing with the small Mushroom label. The group toured extensively, mostly playing small clubs across Canada and releasing a pair of singles. The first of these didn't go anywhere, but the second, a song called Magic Man, started getting airplay on CJFM-FM in Montreal in 1975. This led to the band opening for Rod Stewart, which in turn led to the release of the Dreamboat Annie album later in the year. The band quickly sold about 30,000 copies of the album throughout Canada. In early 1976 Mushroom opened up an American division, releasing Dreamboat Annie in the Seattle area on Valentine's Day. The album was an instant hit, selling 25,000 copies locally. The band and the label then developed a strategy that focused on one city at a time, steadily building an audience throughout 1976. The album is now considered a staple of classic rock radio, although most stations focus on the singles from the album. Soul Of The Sea, on the other hand, is an album track that briefly appeared as a B side. Not as overtly hard-rocking as Magic Man or Crazy On You, Soul Of The Sea has a sophisticated chord structure that makes it less commercial, yet still quite appealing.
Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: Bungle In The Jungle
Source: LP: "M.U." The Best Of Jethro Tull (originally released on LP: War Child and as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): Ian Anderson
Jethro Tull has always seemed to me to be a band with a split personality. At times they are highly focused with a strong musical vision (Aqualung, Thick As A Brick), while at other times they seem merely self-indulgent (A Passion Play, virtually everything from the 80s on). Some albums, such as War Child, have elements of both. Side one of the album is, quite frankly, pretty boring introspective stuff, while most of the tracks on side two are brilliant. One of those side two tracks, Bungle In The Jungle, was also the band's biggest American hit, going all the way to the #12 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The song itself was not originally intended for War Child. At the time, Ian Anderson was working on an album about the human condition using analogies from the animal kingdom. Bungle In The Jungle was originally intended to be used on a soundtrack for a proposed film about the postmortem adventures of a teenage girl (seriously, I'm not kidding!). As neither of these projects came to fruition, the song ended up on the War Child album instead.
Artist: Cat Stevens
Title: Foreigner Suite
Source: CD: The Very Best Of Cat Stevens (originally released on LP: Foreigner)
Writer(s): Cat Stevens
Steven Demetre Georgiou has always had issues with his own success. At age 15 he got his first guitar and almost immediately began writing his own songs. He also began to exhibit talent as a painter, which pretty much set him apart from his peers. By the time he entered college he was performing regularly as a solo artist in various London clubs, using the name Cat Stevens. An audition with record producer Mike Hurst (former member of the Springfields) resulted in Stevens signing with Decca and releasing the first record on the new Deram label, a single containing I Love My Dog and Portabello Road. The followup single, Matthew And Son, went all the way to the #2 spot on the British charts (kept out of the top spot by the Monkees' I'm A Believer); virtually overnight Stevens's income jumped from about two pounds a week to 300 pounds a night. By the time he turned 20 he had several more top 10 hits, both as an artist and as a songwriter for other groups, such as the Tremeloes (Here Comes My Baby). By the early 1970s, however, Stevens had grown weary of being a pop star and decided to completely change musical directions. Starting with his 1970 album, Mona Bone Jakon, Stevens established a reputation for writing tunes with deeply spiritual lyrics set to catchy melodies. By 1973 he was one of the most successful singer/songwriters in the world, with tunes like Wild World, Peace Train and Moonshadow dominating the airwaves. But once again Stevens was getting restless, and that year he released what was up to that point the least commercial album of his career. Foreigner is basically a musical version of stream-of-thought writing, without any real breaks between sections. This excerpt from Foreigner Suite runs well over seven minutes in length; keep in mind, it is only an excerpt from a much longer piece. By the end of the decade Georgiou had undergone the biggest change of all, changing his name to Yusaf Islam and turning his back on the spotlight altogether.
Artist: Wishbone Ash
Title: Throw Down The Sword
Source: LP: Argus
Writer(s): Wishbone Ash
One of the first bands ever to feature two lead guitarists was Wishbone Ash. The story goes that following the departure of their original guitar player, bassist Martin Turner and drummer Steve Upton auditioned several lead guitarists and got it down to two finalists, Andy Powell and Ted Turner (no relation to Martin), but could not decide between the two. At that point they decided just to keep both of them, and a heavy metal tradition was born. Whether the story is true or not, the two definitely traded off leads for the next three years and five albums, including their third and most successful LP, Argus. The closing track from Argus, Throw Down The Sword, features Andy Powell and Martin Turner sharing the lead vocals.
Artist: Flower Travellin' Band
Title: Satori-Part III
Source: CD: Satori
Possibly the first Japanese heavy metal band and almost certainly the first Japanese psychedelic group, the Flower Travelin' Band was created as a side project of Yuyu Yuchida, a friend of John Lennon's who, having heard Jimi Hendrix and Cream on a trip to England, wanted to introduce Japanese audiences to this new kind of music. After returning to Japan he gathered a group of musicians together and recorded the first Flowerin' Travellin' Band LP in 1969. The album was made up entirely of covers of bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin. It wasn't until 1971 (and several personnel changes) that the FTB recorded their first LP made up entirely of original material. The album was called Satori, as were all five tracks on the album. It was worth the wait.
Artist: Velvet Underground
Title: Rock & Roll
Source: LP: Loaded
Writer(s): Lou Reed
Lou Reed has said that the song Rock & Roll, from his last album with the Velvet Underground, Loaded, is somewhat autobiographical. In his liner notes for the box set Peel Slowly And See, Reed says "If I hadn't heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet." The song has become one of Reed's signature songs over the years, but on Loaded the bulk of the work is done by Doug Yule, who played bass, organ, piano and lead guitar parts on the track.
Artist: Grand Funk Railroad
Title: I Don't Have To Sing The Blues
Source: CD: Closer To Home
Writer(s): Mark Farner
Capitol Records may not have had the most artists on their roster in the 60s and early 70s, but they did have some of the biggest names. In the early 60s the Beach Boys were undisputably the most successful surf group in the world. Then came the Beatles. In the early 1970s it was Flint, Michigan's Grand Funk Railroad, who, despite being universally panned by the rock press, consistently sold out the largest venues in the history of rock music, pretty much single-handedly creating arena rock in the process (they were too loud to play anyplace smaller than sports arenas). The power trio of Mark Farner (guitar), Mel Schacher (bass) and Don Brewer (drums) hit their commercial stride in 1970, when all three of their studio albums (the first two of which were released the previous year), as well as their first live album, went gold in the same year. The last of these was Closer To Home, which included their first bonafide radio hit, I'm Your Captain. Among the other notable tracks on Closer To Home is I Don't Want To Sing The Blues, a song whose lyrics incurred the ire of feminists everywhere. The band, of course, took the criticism in stride, having learned early on that bad press is better than no press at all.