Monday, May 28, 2018

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1822 (starts 5/30/18)

This time around it's hermit's choice...or better yet, choice cuts from the hermit. Well, actually, from John Baldry, the Who, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. Rock on!

Artist:    John Baldry
Title:    Conditional Discharge/Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll
Source:    LP: It Ain't Easy
Writer(s):    Armitt/Baldry/Thomas
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1971
    I spent my senior year of high school living on Holloman AFB, New Mexico, about a 20 minute drive from Alamogordo. At the time Alamogordo only had two AM radio stations (one of which signed off at sunset) and no FM stations at all. In fact the only FM station you could receive over the air was KRWG, a non-commercial classical music station owned by New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Needless to say, I wasn't much interested in their programming at the time. In early 1971 my friend and bandmate Dave Mason (no, not THAT Dave Mason) arrived in town, and ended up renting a tiny apartment in town. He didn't own a TV set, but did have a cheap stereo. The previous tenant had moved out rather suddenly, not bothering to have his cable TV service shut off, so Dave decided to see what would happen if he hooked up the cable to his stereo. It turns out that several El Paso radio stations were available on cable, including KINT-FM, the tax writeoff station at 97.5 owned by El Paso's #1 top 40 AM station (also KINT). KINT-FM had a dual format at the time. During the day it had some sort of forgettable programming (elevator music, maybe?), but after dark it was El Paso's first progressive rock station. This format soon gave way to top 40 programming, but not before exposing us to tracks like Long John Baldry's then-new rendition of Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll, preceeded by Baldry's spoken word piece Conditional Discharge. At six and a half minutes in length, the combined tracks certainly were not going to get any airplay on AM radio. Other artists I first heard on KINT-FM included Joni Mitchell, Foghat, the Firesign Theatre and Jo Jo Gunne, among others. Quite the station, but now, sadly, quite forgotten, with virtually no references to it on the internet (other stations have used the same call letters over the years, confusing the issue).

Artist:    Who
Title:    Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over
Source:    LP: Live At Leeds
Writer(s):    Cochrane/Capehart/Kidd
Label:    Decca
Year:    1970
    The Who's 1970 LP Live At Leeds has been called the greatest rock concert album ever released. Although I'm not a great fan of live albums from the 1970s (due to poor recording quality), I have to admit that Live At Leeds certainly lives up to its hype. Maybe it's because most of the songs are unique to the album itself, such as Summertime Blues and Shakin' All Over, which close out the LP's first side. Both are cover songs that are transformed by the Who into something truly their own (in fact Summertime Blues was even released as a single).

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    Iron Man
Source:    LP: Paranoid
Writer(s):    Iommi/Osbourne/Butler/Ward
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    Black Sabbath tended to write songs as a group, with Tony Iommi coming up with a guitar riff, Ozzy Osbourne figuring out a melody, Geezer Butler writing lyrics and Bill Ward adding the finishing touches with his drum set. One of their most famous tracks, Iron Man, started off exactly that way. When Ozzy Osbourne heard Tony Iommi's riff he remarked that it sounded "like a big iron bloke walking about". Butler took the idea and ran with it, coming up with a song about a man who travels to the future, sees the devastation and returns to his own time to try to change things. Unfortunately he gets caught in a magnetic field that turns him into living steel, mute and unable to verbally express himself. His efforts to communicate are met with indifference and even mockery, angering him to the point that he himself becomes the cause of the destruction he had witnessed. The song is considered one of foundation stones of what came to be called heavy metal. It's continued popularity is evidenced by the fact that it was used in the Iron Man movies, despite having no real connection to the film, other than being the title character's favorite song.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Thick As A Brick (side one)
Source:    CD: Thick As A Brick
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1972
    By the early 1970s, concept albums from progressive rock bands were becoming a bit of a cliche. In a few cases, such as Jethro Tull's Aqualung, the label was applied without the permission, or even the intention, of the artist making the album. In late 1971 Tull's Ian Anderson decided, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that if the critics wanted a concept album so badly he would give them the "mother of all concept albums". In the early 1970s a type of humor known as parody was in vogue, thanks to magazines like National Lampoon and television shows like Monty Python's Flying Circus. Anderson, taking his cue from Monty Python in particular, decided that the next Jethro Tull album would combine complex music with wry humor targeting critics, audiences and even the band itself. To begin with, all the album's lyrics were credited to a fictional eight-year-old schoolboy named Gerald Bostock, whose epic poem was stirring up controversy in the small village of St. Cleve. Anderson created an elaborate backstory for the piece, fleshing it out with a 12 page newspaper parody, complete with local news, TV listings, and a sports section (among other things) that folded out when the album cover was opened. Thick As A Brick itself is one continuous musical work consisting of several sections that tie together thematically to lampoon modern life, religion and politics in particular. The piece, which lasts nearly 44 minutes, goes through several tempo and key changes, resembling classical music in terms of sheer complexity. The band also utilized a much greater variety of instruments on Thick As A Brick than they had on previous albums, including harpsichord, xylophone, timpani, violin, lute, trumpet, saxophone, and a string section. Recording took about three weeks in late December, with another month spent putting together the newspaper itself. The entire package was so well presented that many record buyers were under the impression that Gerald Bostock was indeed a real person. Although the album initially received mixed reviews from the rock press, it has since come to be regarded as a progressive rock classic. Indeed, many (including me) feel that Thick As A Brick is Jethro Tull's greatest accomplishment.

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.

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