Monday, September 25, 2017

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1739 (starts 9/27/17)

This week we have 11 tracks, which is only about one more than average. Despite this, nearly all the tracks are under five minutes long. The exceptions, though, are long indeed!

Artist:    Alice Cooper
Title:    Eighteen
Source:    CD: Electric Seventies (originally released as 45 RPM single and included on LP: Love It To Death
Writer(s):    Cooper/Bruce/Buxton/Dunaway/Smith
Label:    JCI/Warner Special Products (original label: Warner Brothers)
Year:    1970
    Alice Cooper's ultimate teenage anthem Eighteen was kind of a do or die release for the group, who had up to that point been a part of Frank Zappa's Straight Records' stable of oddball artists with little or no commercial potential. In 1970, however, Zappa sold Straight to Warner Brothers, who agreed to release Eighteen that same year, with the stipulation that if the record sold well the group could record an album for the label. The single did indeed do well, propelling Alice Cooper to stardom and allowing them to record Love It To Death, the first in a series of best-selling albums for the band. The song came at a perfect time, as most states were in the process of raising the drinking age to 21 but had not yet lowered the voting age to 18. Furthermore, the military draft was still in effect in 1970, making many 18-year-olds quite nervous, especially those with low lottery numbers.

Artist:     Jimi Hendrix
Title:     Freedom
Source:     CD: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (originally released on LP: Rainbow Bridge)
Writer:     Jimi Hendrix
Label:     MCA (original label: Reprise)
Year:     1970
     Jimi Hendrix was working on a new double album when he died, but nobody else seemed to be sure where he was going with it. As there were several tracks that were unfinished at the time, Reprise Records gathered what they could and put them together on an album called The Cry Of Love. Freedom, a nearly finished piece (the unfinished part being a short "placesetter" guitar solo that Hendrix never got around to replacing with a final take), is the opening track from the album. Soon after that, a new Hendrix concert film called Rainbow Bridge was released along with a soundtrack album containing most of the remaining tracks from the intended double album. Finally, in 1997 MCA (with the help of original engineer Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell) pieced together what was essentially an educated guess about what would have been that album and released it under the name First Rays of the New Rising Sun.

Artist:    Van Morrison
Title:    Caravan
Source:    LP: The Big Ball (originally released on LP: Moondance)
Writer(s):    Van Morrison
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    Following the lukewarm commercial reception of his Astral Weeks LP, Van Morrison set out to deliberately make a more accessible album. The result was Moondance, the album that established him as a major force in modern music. Among the many tracks on the LP to get airplay on FM rock radio was Caravan, a song that was based on Morrison's memories of living on a country road in Woodstock, NY, where the nearest house was a fair distance away. In the song, which is basically about the gypsy lifestyle, he mentions the radio prominently in the song. As he later explained: "I could hear the radio like it was in the same room. I don't know how to explain it. There was some story about an underground passage under the house I was living in, rumours from kids and stuff and I was beginning to think it was true. How can you hear someone's radio from a mile away, as if it was playing in your own house? So I had to put that into the song, It was a must."

Artist:    Spirit
Title:    Grammophone Man
Source:    CD: Spirit
Writer(s):    Ferguson/Locke/California/Andes/Cassidy
Label:    Ode/Epic/Legacy
Year:    1968
    Like most of the tracks on Spirit's 1968 debut LP, Grammophone Man combines rock and jazz in a way that has yet to be duplicated. Rather than create a jazz/rock fusion the group chose to switch gears mid-song. After a couple of minutes of a section that can best described as light rock, the song suddenly shifts into a fast-paced bop instrumental featuring Wes Montgomery style guitar work by Randy California and a short Ed Cassidy drum solo that eventually drops the tempo for a short reprise of the piece's main section.
Artist:    Peter Frampton
Title:    Shine On
Source:    LP: Frampton Comes Alive
Writer(s):    Peter Frampton
Label:    A&M
Year:    1976
    For the first few years following Peter Frampton's departure from Humble Pie, the singer/guitarist had only fair to middling success with has band, Peter Frampton's Camel. His big breakthrough came in 1976 with the release of Frampton Comes Alive, a double-LP that went on to become one of the year's top-selling albums. Among the more popular tracks on Frampton Comes Alive was an updated version of Shine On, the lead single from the Humble Pie album Rock On, which was Frampton's last album as a member of the group.

Artist:    Band
Title:    Life Is A Carnival
Source:    CD: Rock Of Ages
Writer(s):    Helm/Robertson/Danko
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1972
    Although generally overshadowed by the massively popular Last Waltz album, the first live Band album, Rock Of Ages, has a lot going for it, including a solid version of Life Is A Carnival. The song originally appeared on the Band's fourth LP, Cahoots. The musical notation for Life Is A Carnival is printed on a wall behind Levon Helm's grave in Woodstock, NY.

Artist:    McKendree Spring
Title:    My Kind Of Life
Source:    LP: Too Young To Feel This Old
Writer(s):    Chris East
Label:    Pye
Year:    1976
    There really is no other band like McKendree Spring. They have been characterized as a progressive folk-rock band, but that label falls far short of emcompassing the breadth of this unique band from Glens Falls, NY. By 1976 the band had been cut from their original label, Decca (when that label got merged into its MCA parent label), and had recently signed with Pye, a British label that had just opened up a US division. One of the two albums McKendree Spring recorde for Pye was Too Young To Feel This Old. The album is a bit more country-rock oriented than previous efforts, as can be heard on My Kind Of Life.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    I Can't Quit You/How Many More Times
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin
Writer(s):    Dixon/Page/Jones/Bonham
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1969
    Led Zeppelin has come under fire for occassionally "borrowing" lyrics and even guitar riffs from old blues songs (never mind the fact that such "borrowing" was a common practice among the old bluesmen themselves) but, at least in the case of the first Zeppelin album, full songwriting credit was given to Willie Dixon for a pair of songs, one of which was I Can't Quit You. Still, it can't be denied that messrs. Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones completely revamped the blues classic into something uniquely their own. Like many early Led Zeppelin songs, How Many More Times was originally credited to the band members (except, for contractual reasons, singer Robert Plant). More recent releases of the song, however, list Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) as a co-writer, despite the fact that he and the members of Led Zeppelin had never met. This is because of the similarity, especially in the lyrics, to a 1951 Howlin' Wolf record called How Many More Years. The band tried to trick radio programmers into playing the eight and a half minute song by listing it on the album cover as being three minutes and thirty seconds long. I doubt anyone was fooled.

Artist:    Gun
Title:    Race With The Devil
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Gun)
Writer(s):    Adrian Gurvitz
Label:    Repertoire (original UK label: Columbia)
Year:    1968
    One of the most popular songs on the jukebox at the teen club on Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany in 1969 was a song called Race With The Devil by a band called Gun. The song was so popular, in fact, that at least two local bands covered it (including the one I was in at the time). Nobody seemed to know much about the band at the time, but it turns out that the group was fronted by the Gurvitz brothers, Adrian and Paul (who at the time used the last name Curtis); the two would later be members of the Baker-Gurvitz Army with drummer Ginger Baker. I've also learned recently that Gun spent much of its time touring in Europe, particularly in Germany, where Race With The Devil hit its peak in January of 1969 (it had made the top 10 in the UK in 1968, the year it was released).

Artist:    Who
Title:    Bargain
Source:    LP: Who's Next
Writer(s):    Pete Townshend
Label:    Decca
Year:    1971
    The 1971 album Who's Next is generally considered one of the high points of the band's career, thanks to songs like Bargain. Bargain has been described as a love song, but not directed toward God, rather than toward a woman. According to the song's writer, Pete Townshend, Bargain was inspired by the writing of Indian mystic Meher Baba, who taught that the way to be at one with God is to lose all the trappings of the material world.

Artist:    James Gang
Title:    Lost Woman
Source:    CD: Yer' Album
Writer(s):    Dreja/McCarty/Beck/Relf/Samwell-Smith
Label:    MCA (original label: Bluesway)
Year:    1969
    The first James Gang album was primarily designed to show off the performing talents of guitarist Joe Walsh, bassist Tom Kriss and drummer Jim Fox. As such, most of the album was made up of cover songs such as the Yardbirds' Lost Woman. Like other covers on Yer' Album, Lost Woman turns into a long extended jam, running a total of nine minutes before all is played and done. Subsequent albums would focus more on the songwriting talents of the band members, particularly Walsh.

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