Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion #1637 (starts 9/14/16)

Artist:     Traffic
Title:     Empty Pages
Source:     LP: John Barleycorn Must Die
Writer:     Winwood/Capaldi
Label:     Island
Year:     1970
     Traffic was formed in 1967 by guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Steve Winwood, who was looking for more artistic freedom after rising to stardom as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group. The original band, also featuring guitarist/vocalist Dave Mason, drummer Jim Capaldi and woodwind player Chris Wood, released two and a half albums worth of studio tracks and one LP side of live performances before disbanding in early 1969, when Winwood left to form Blind Faith. Following the breakup of Blind Faith Winwood began working on a solo LP that soon turned into a Traffic reunion album (without Mason). John Barleycorn Must Die was released in 1970 and led to a second successful run for the band. Although Empty Pages was released as a single, it got most of its airplay on progressive FM stations, and as those stations were replaced by (or became) album rock stations, the song continued to get extensive airplay for many years. Modern classic rock stations, however, tend to ignore Traffic in favor of Winwood's later solo work, which is a shame, as Traffic put out some of the best rock albums ever made.

Artist:    Yes
Title:    We Are Heaven/South Side Of The Sky
Source:    CD: Fragile
Writer(s):    Anderson/Squire
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1971
    The fourth Yes album, Fragile, introduced the "classic" Yes lineup of John Anderson (vocals), Bill Bruford (drums), Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass) and Rick Wakemen (keyboards), and features some of the band's best known songs. Four of the album's songs, including South Sid Of The Sky, feature the entire band, while the remaining five tracks were contributed by the individual members. We Have Heaven, a multi-tracked Anderson solo piece, leads directly into South Side Of The Sky, and has a lyrical connection to the longer piece, as both songs address matters of mortality. South Side, according to new liner notes, is about a polar expedition that ends with the death of the entire party, with somewhat metaphorical references to mountain climbing as well. Anderson says the inspiration for the song's lyrics came from an article he read in which sleep was referred to as Death's little sister. Although the song is credited to Anderson and Squire, the basic guitar riff actually came from a composition played by Howe's previous band, Bodast, while the repeating piano arpeggio in the middle of the piece was provided by Wakeman.

Artist:    Flash
Title:    Lifetime
Source:    LP: In The Can
Writer(s):    Colin Carter
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1972
    Once upon a time there was a band called Yes. This band had already released a pair of commercially unsuccessful albums and were on the verge of being dropped by their record label (Atlantic). The guitarist for Yes, one Peter Banks, saw what he took to be the writing on the wall and left to form his own band, Flash, in 1971, with vocalist Colin Carter. The lineup was soon filled out by bassist Ray Bennett and drummer Mike Hough. The group soon signed to Capitol Records' Sovereign sub-label and, along with guest keyboardist (and former Yes member) Tony Kaye, released their first LP in 1972. Although Kaye was invited to join Flash as a permanent member, he declined, and the group recorded their second LP, In The Can, as a four-piece group (with Carter providing occasional keyboard parts) later the same year. The first, and in my opionion best, track on the album was a ten-minute long piece called Lifetime, written by Carter. The following year Capitol, without the band's knowledge or approval, released the group's third LP as "Flash featuring Peter Banks". This understandably caused a bit of friction within the band itself, culminating in the band breaking up rather abruptly in November of 1973 following a performance in Albuquerque, NM. As for Yes, they found another guitarist (Steve Howe) and keyboardist (Rick Wakeman) and didn't get their contract with Atlantic cancelled after all.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    No Quarter
Source:    CD: Houses Of The Holy
Writer(s):    Jones/Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1973
    Recorded in 1972, No Quarter was first released on the fifth Led Zeppelin album, Houses Of The Holy, and remained a part of the band's concert repertoire throughout their existence. The song is a masterpiece of recording technology, showing just how well-versed the band had become in the studio by that time. The title of the song comes from the military phrase "No quarter asked, none given" (don't ask a foe for mercy, nor grant mercy to a fallen enemy), with several references to the concept made in the lyrics throughout the song.

Artist:    Gentle Giant
Title:    Proclamation
Source:    CD: The Power And The Glory
Writer(s):    Shulman/Shulman/Minnear
Label:    Caroline (original label: Capitol)
Year:    1974
    One spring day in 1974 I turned my radio to 99.5 FM in Albuquerque, not knowing exactly what to expect. You see, the station on that frequency, KBNM, had always been a bit unpredictable. There were several reasons for this. For one thing, the station was independently owned, which in those days meant it was not affiliated with any of the other broadcasting entities in the area. This was somewhat unusual, since, as a general rule, the FM band was occupied by stations that were being run as a tax writeoff by profitable AM outlets. Also, KBNM's studios were located uptown, on Menaul Boulevard in the Northeast Heights, nowhere near any other radio or TV stations. Finally, and most importantly, each individual DJ was in complete control over what went out over the air during his shift. This meant that, depending on the time of day, you could hear underground rock, country rock or even funk (the latter courtesy of "the Priest from the East", a pseudonym being used by a local TV newscaster). That all changed on that spring day when I tuned in and got, instead of KBNM, the inaugural broadcast of a station calling itself KMYR (calls that I found out later had once belonged to a legendary underground station in Denver). The first song they played was Proclamation, from the sixth Gentle Giant album, The Power And The Glory. In a few months KMYR would be gone, replaced by what would become a soft-rock station calling itself Magic 99, but for awhile Albuquerque actually had two progressive rock stations operating simultaneously. Gentle Giant lasted a bit longer, but even with a move toward a more commercial sound they were just too intellectual for the disco era that would end up dominating popular music in the late 1970s.

Artist:    ZZ Top
Title:    Heard It On The X
Source:    LP: The Best Of ZZ Top (originally released on LP: Fandango)
Writer(s):    Gibbons/Hill/Beard
Label:    London
Year:    1975
    ZZ Top's fourth album, Fandago, was a unique mixture of live recordings and new studio tracks. Among those studio tracks was the somewhat autobiographical Heard It On The X. The "X" refers to the various high-powered AM stations that used to broadcast American top 40 style shows in English from Mexico, where the 50,000 watt legal limit imposed by the FCC on US radio stations did not apply. I don't know specifically which station the trio from Texas listened on, but in southern New Mexico it was XELO, out of Ciudad Juarez. The 100,000 watt station was well-known in the El Paso area as the home of DJ Steve Crosno, who also hosted a popular teen dance show on a local TV station. Sometime in the early 1970s XELO was bought by Wolfman Jack, who changed the call letters to XeROK and hosted his own nightly show in the evenings.

Artist:    Rolling Stones
Title:    Sympathy For The Devil
Source:    CD: Beggars Banquet
Writer(s):    Jagger/Richards
Label:    Abkco (original label: London)
Year:    1968
    Beggar's Banquet was a turning point for the Rolling Stones. They had just ended their association with Andrew Loog Oldham, who had produced all of their mid-60s records, and instead were working with Jimmy Miller, who was known for his association with Steve Winwood, both in his current band Traffic and the earlier Spencer Davis Group. Right from the opening bongo beats of Sympathy For The Devil, it was evident that this was the beginning of a new era for the bad boys of rock and roll. The song itself has gone on to be one of the defining tunes of album rock radio.

Artist:    Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title:    House Burning Down
Source:    LP: Electric Ladyland
Writer(s):    Jimi Hendrix
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1968
    The third Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Electric Ladyland, was the first to be produced entirely by Hendrix himself, rather than with Chas Chandler (with more than a little help from engineer Eddie Kramer). It was also the first to use state-of-the-art eight-track recording technology (not to be confused with the later 8-track tape cartridge), as well as several new tech toys developed specifically for Hendrix to play with. The result was an album with production standards far beyond anything else being attempted at the time. One song that showcases Hendrix's prowess as a producer is House Burning Down. Using effects such as phasing, double-tracking and stereo panning, Hendrix manages to create music that sounds like it's actually swirling around the listener rather than coming from a specific location. It's also the only rock song I can think of that uses a genuine tango beat (in the verses).

Artist:    Blue Cheer
Title:    Rock Me Baby
Source:    Dutch import LP: Vincebus Eruptum
Writer(s):    King/Josea
Label:    Philips
Year:    1968
    The first Blue Cheer LP, Vincebus Eruptum, is cited by some as the first heavy metal album, while others refer to it as proto metal. However you want to look at it, the album is dominated by the feedback-laden guitar of Leigh Stephens, as can be plainly heard on their version of B.B. King's classic Rock Me Baby. Although there seem to be very few people still around who actually heard Blue Cheer perform live, the power trio has the reputation of being one of the loudest bands in the history of rock music. 

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