Monday, October 30, 2017

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1744 (starts 11/1/17)

This week's show gets underway with the classic Creedence Clearwater Revival version of Dale Hawkins's Suzie Q and ends with a Grateful Dead B side. In between, there's lots of good stuff.

Artist:    Creedence Clearwater Revival
Title:    Suzie Q
Source:    LP: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Writer(s):    Hawkins/Lewis/Broadwater
Label:    Fantasy
Year:    1968
    When Creedence Clearwater Revival released their first album in 1968 they were already seasoned veterans in the recording studio, having already released several singles under their previous name, the Golliwogs. They also had a more worldly view of what it took to be a successful band than most newly-signed acts. For instance, John Fogerty, the band's lead guitarist and vocalist, says that the band's eight minute long arrangement of Dale Hawkins' Suzie Q was crafted specifically to get airplay on the local San Francisco underground rock station, KMPX. The strategy worked so well that Suzie Q ended up becoming a national hit (after being released in two parts as a single), barely missing out on hitting the top 10.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Do It Again
Source:    CD: Can't Buy A Thrill
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1972
    Although they first appeared to be a real band, Steely Dan was, in fact, two people: keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen and bassist (and later guitarist) Walter Becker. For their first album they recruited, from various places, guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder, guitarist Denny Dias, and finally (when they realized they would have to actually perform live, which terrified Fagen) vocalist David Palmer. The first single from the album, Do It Again, was a major hit, going to the #6 spot on the Billboard charts and, more importantly, introducing the world at large to the Steely Dan sound, combining jazz-influenced rock music with slyly cynical lyrics (often sung in the second person). Steely Dan would continue to be an influential force in popular music throughout the 1970s.

Artist:    Eric Burdon And War
Title:    Spill The Wine
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Miller/Scott/Dickerson/Jordan/Brown/Allen/Oskar
Label:    M-G-M
Year:    1970
    After the second version of the Animals disbanded in late 1969, vocalist Eric Burdon, who was by then living in California, decided to pursue his interest in American soul music by hooking up with an L.A. band called War. He released his first album with the group, Eric Burdon Declares War, in 1970. The album included Spill The Wine, which would be the first of several hits for War in the 1970s. The song was inspired by keyboardist Lonnie Jordan's accidentally spilling wine on a mixing board, although the lyrics are far more fanciful, with Burdon referring to himself as an "overfed long-haired gnome" in the song's opening monologue. The song turned out to be a major hit, going into the top 5 in both the US and Canada.

Artist:    Yes
Title:    Then
Source:    CD: Yesterdays (originally released on LP: Time And A Word)
Writer(s):    Jon Anderson
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    Like many people, I was only vaguely aware of a band called Yes in the years preceding the release of the single Roundabout in 1972. I had once attended a party at which someone had brought in a copy of either Yes or Time And A Word (at this point, I don't remember which) and remember being impressed by it at the time, but never heard anything more from the album after that. A few years later I ran across an album called Yesterdays, which included tracks from both the early Yes albums, which featured keyboardist Tony Kaye rather than Rick Wakeman. One thing I noticed about those early tracks is that, unlike the band's later material, the early Yes songs, such as Then, were often the work of vocalist Jon Anderson as a solo composer rather than a collaborative effort.

Artist:    Uriah Heep
Title:    Bird Of Prey
Source:    LP: Uriah Heep
Writer(s):    David Byron
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1970
    Although for the most part the practice of drastically altering the track lineup of British albums for US release had been abandoned by 1970, there were still a few exceptions, albeit relatively minor ones. One of these was the first Uriah Heep album, which replaced the song Lucy Blue with Bird Of Prey on the US version. More notably, the album itself was retitled and had different cover art in the US. Apparently the people at Mercury Records figured that Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble was just too British for the American buying public.

Artist:    Focus
Title:    Hocus Pocus
Source:    British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Moving Waves)
Writer(s):    van Leer/Akkerman
Label:    Polydor UK (original US label: Sire)
Year:    1971
    Although it was not a hit until 1973, Hocus Pocus by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus has the type of simple structure coupled with high energy that was characteristic of many of the garage bands of the mid to late 60s. The song was originally released on the band's second LP, known alternately as Focus II and Moving Waves, in 1971. Both guitarist Jan Akkerman and keyboardist/vocalist/flautist Thijs van Leer have gone on to have successful careers, with van Leer continuing to use to Focus name as recently as 2006.

Artist:    Rush
Title:    Something For Nothing
Source:    LP: 2112
Writer(s):    Lee/Peart
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1976
    Inspired by graffitti seen on a wall in Los Angeles, Something For Nothing is the last track on the 1976 Rush album 2112. According to lyricist Neil Peart, "All those paeans to American restlessness and the American road carried a tinge of wistfulness, an acknowledgement of the hardships of the vagrant life, the notion that wanderlust could be involuntary, exile as much as freedom, and indeed, the understanding that freedom wasn't free."
2112 was Rush's fourth LP, and, for a time looked like it might be their last one. In fact, they were in danger of being dropped by Mercury Records (which had rights to the band's music everywhere but in their native Canada), following disappointing sales of their previous LP, Caress Of Steel and declining concert attendance. The band's manager, Ray Danniels, flew to Chicago in a last-ditch effort to convince the label to give Rush one more chance. Oddly enough, Danniels had not actually heard any of the music for the new album and in fact had been deliberately kept out of the loop by the band itself until they could present him a finished product. Danniels was nonetheless successful in convincing Mercury to release one more Rush album. In February of 1976 the band got to work on the new album. After spending some time debating over whether to remain true to their artistic vision or try to be more commercial, they decided it would be better to "go down in flames" than compromise their musical integrity. The result was their first truly successful album. 2112 ended up peaking at #5 on the Canadian LP charts and #61 in the US.

Artist:    Black Sheep
Title:    Payin' Yer Dues
Source:    LP: Black Sheep
Writer(s):    Grammatico/Mancuso/Crozier/Rocco
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1975
    Black Sheep was a Rochester, NY band that released a pair of albums on the Capitol label in the mid-1970s. The group was fronted by Louis Grammitico, who went on to greater fame after shortening his name to Lou Graham and joining Foreigner. Payin' Yer Dues, from the first Black Sheep album, is a good example of the band's sound. Guitarist Don Mancuso has more recently been performing as a member of the Lou Gramm Band.

Artist:    Beach Boys
Title:    Sail On, Sailor
Source:    CD: Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (originally released on LP: Holland)
Writer(s):    Wilson/Kennedy/Almer/Rieley/Parks
Label:    Capitol (original label: Brother/Reprise)
Year:    1973
    By late 1972 the Beach Boys had all but abandoned their surf roots, with their name itself being the main link with the past. At the same time they were starting to regain favor with the rock press, which had been highly critical of the band's early 1970s material. For their 19th studio album they packed up an entire California recording studio and reconstructed it in the village of Baambrugge in the Netherlands. The album was submitted to Reprise Records in October of 1972, but was rejected by the label for lacking a potential hit single. Lyricist Van Dyke Parks, who had been working with Brian Wilson since the aborted Smile project of 1966-67, hastily conferred with executives at Warner Brothers Records (owners of Reprise), and came up with a plan. He and Wilson had recently completed a demo of a song called Sail On, Sailor, which he then played for the label. The shirts liked the tune, and convinced the band to record the song in the studio as a replacement for what the label saw as the weakest track on the original version of Holland, a song called We Got Love. By the time the track was completed, several other people, including the band's manager, had claimed co-writing credits on the song, and Sail On, Sailor was added to Holland. The album was released and Sail On, Sailor became the most successful Beach Boys single of the decade. Surprisingly, the song did even better on progressive rock radio, becoming a staple of the format.

Artist:    Doobie Brothers
Title:    Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need)
Source:    CD: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
Writer(s):    Patrick Simmons
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1974
    The fourth Doobie Brothers album, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, is one those albums that benefits from the inherit limitations of vinyl, specifically the fact that a vinyl album is divided into two (or more) sides. The first side of the album is just OK, despite the fact that it contains two of the album's three singles, including the band's first #1 hit, Black Water. The second side, however, is where the album really shines, with one strong song after another from start to finish. In the middle of this is Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need), one of the most underrated songs in entire Doobie Brothers catalog. Written by Patrick Simmons, the song shows just how easily the Doobies were able to ease into the 70s California groove usually associated with bands like Poco and the Eagles without losing the edge that made them one of the most popular bands of their time.

Artist:    Grateful Dead
Title:    Ripple
Source:    LP: American Beauty
Writer(s):    Hunter/Garcia
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    The album Live Dead was a turning point for the Grateful Dead. Up to that point the band had been trying to recreate the group's live performances in the studio. Now that that goal was accomplished, it was time to take a new look at the studio and what they would be doing in it. The answer was to concentrate on their songwriting, particularly that of Jerry Garcia and poet/lyricist Robert Hunter, who had been working with the band for a couple of years already. The next two Dead albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty (both released in 1970), did just that, and are among the most popular albums the band has ever recorded. There was only one single released from American Beauty, featuring Truckin', their most popular song up to that point, backed with Ripple, another Hunter/Garcia composition. The distinctive mandolin work on the song came from David Grisman; it was his first of many collaborations with Garcia and the Dead.

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