Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rockin'in the Days of Confusion # 1837 (starts 9/10/18)

Although we don't have quite as many songs as we did last week, we are still in shorter song mode, as we feature a dozen tracks from a dozen artists. It starts with a track from a band that gets played on our sister show, Stuck in the Psychedelic Era, more than any other group, yet is making its Rockin' in the Days of Confusion debut this week:

Artist:    Jefferson Airplane
Title:    Law Man
Source:    LP: Bark
Writer(s):    Grace Slick
Label:    Grunt
Year:    1971
    Jefferson Airplane founder Marty Balin left the band in 1970, shortly after sessions for their sixth studio album had begun. Although Balin's songwriting output had dropped considerably from the band's early days, his departure was a huge blow to the group. In fact, I would argue that prior to 1970 the Airplane was indisputably one of the most influential bands in the world of rock, but following Balin's departure it quickly was reduced to being a second-tier band with little impact at best. Nonetheless, work continued on the new album, but with all of Balin's contributions excised from the final LP. The result, 1971's Bark, was an inconsistent album that lacked cohesiveness. Grace Slick's Law Man, which opens the LP, sounds as if it could have been a solo track rather than an Airplane cut, although it does continue down the political path that the band had been taking on their prior two albums, Crown of Creation and Volunteers.

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    After Forever
Source:    LP: Black Sabbath
Writer(s):    Butler/Iommi
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1971
    Anyone attempting to portray Black Sabbath as a bunch of Satanists had only to listen once to After Forever, from the Master Of Reality album, to be abused of the notion. The lyrics, written by bassist Geezer Butler (an avowed Catholic) are actually about as un-subtle as can be imagined. The song was released as the first single from the album, but failed to chart.

Artist:    Chicago
Title:    A Hit By Varese
Source:    LP: Chicago V
Writer(s):    Robert Lamm
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1972
    After three double-length studio albums and a four disc box set live effort, Chicago finally released their first single-disc LP, Chicago V, in 1972. Most of the songs on the LP were written by keyboardist Robert Lamm, who shows his versatility on the opening track, A Hit By Varese. The song itself is hard to classify, containing elements of jazz, rock and avant-garde experimentalism. I like it.

Artist:    Quicksilver Messenger Service
Title:    Gone Again
Source:    British import CD: Just For Love
Writer(s):    Chet Powers
Label:    BGO (original US label: Capitol)
Year:    1970
    Chet Powers, aka Dino Valenti, was a legendary figure on the San Francisco scene long before that scene became a national phenomena. He recorded a demo of his most famous song, Get Together, in 1964, and was, by some accounts, the guy who came up with the idea of forming Quicksilver Messenger Service a couple of years later. Powers, however, was on the police radar by then, and before the band was even officially a band, he found himself serving time at San Quentin, missing out on the Haight-Ashbury summer of love thing altogether. When he got out of prison he quickly hooked up with Quicksilver Messenger Service, providing nearly all the material for their 1970 LP Just For Love as both songwriter and lead vocalist. This resulted in an album that had little in common with the band's earlier efforts, but did provide the group with their only hit single, Fresh Air. Other tracks written by Powers (using the alias Jesse Oris Farrow) include the seven-minute long Gone Again, a low energy piece that, quite frankly, sounds like it was written by a San Quentin inmate.

Artist:    Peter Gabriel
Title:    Moribund The Burgermeister
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single B side (taken from LP: Peter Gabriel)
Writer(s):    Peter Gabriel
Label:    Atco
Year:    1977
    After leaving Genesis, vocalist Peter Gabriel enlisted producer Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked with Alice Cooper, to co-produce his self-titled debut. Ezrin assembled a talented group of musicians for the LP, including guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, bass player Tony Levin (who would eventually be a member of the 1980s version of King Crimson), drummer Allan Schwartzberg, percussionist Jimmy Maelen, guitarist Steve Hunter, keyboardist Jozef Chirowski and Larry Fast on synthesizers and programming. Gabriel relied heavily on Ezrin to handle the harder rocking aspects of the music (in Gabriel's words "the American" parts), while Gabriel handled the softer passages, much as he had done as a member of Genesis. Both aspects can be heard on Moribund The Burgermeister, a highly theatrical song that was chosen to be the B side of the album's lead single, Solisbury Hill.

Artist:    Wishbone Ash
Title:    Warrior/Throw Down The Sword
Source:    CD: Argus
Writer(s):    Wishbone Ash
Label:    MCA/Decca
Year:    1972
    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 either Martin Turner or Jane Fonda), 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 final two tracks from Argus are thematically linked, as Warrior segues directly into Throw Down The Sword. Both songs are built around classical Greek literary themes and feature shared lead vocals from Andy Powell and Martin Turner, as well as simultaneous lead guitar tracks from Powell and the other Turner.

Artist:    Styx   
Title:    You Need Love
Source:    LP: Styx II
Writer(s):    Dennis DeYoung
Label:    Wooden Nickel
Year:    1973
    The Chicago-based Styx can trace its roots all the way back to the early 1960s, but their classic 1970s lineup didn't come together until guitarist James Young joined the band, then known as TW4, in 1970. In 1972 the band signed with the local Wooden Nickel label, changing their name to Styx in the process. The group recorded four albums for the label from 1972 to 1974, but were unable to break nationally until a power balled called Lady, from their second album, began to get airplay, first on Chicago's WLS, and then nationally. The song eventually peaked in the top 10, prompting the group to leave Wooden Nickel for the much larger A&M label, in late 1974. Meanwhile, Wooden Nickel, now distrubuted by RCA, released the opening track of Styx II, You Need Love, as a followup single to Lady in early 1975.

Artist:    Chevy Chase
Title:    Mission: Improbable
Source:    CD: Greatest Hits Of The National Lampoon (originally released on LP: The Missing White House Tapes)
Writer(s):    Chevy Chase, possibly others as well
Label:    Uproar (original label: Banana/Blue Thumb)
Year:    1974
    The missing White House Tapes was originally released as a single on the Blue Thumb label in 1973. It was then expanded into a full-length album, featuring an array of young talent that would soon be associated with a new TV show called NBC Saturday Night. Among those new talents was a young man named Chevy Chase, who provided several comedy bits for the album, including Mission: Improbable.

Artist:    Pavlov's Dog
Title:    Julia
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Pampered Menial)
Writer(s):    Davic Surkamp
Label:    Sony Music (original label: ABC)
Year:    1975
    During my first couple of years living in Albuquerque, NM, I met quite an assortment of strange and unusual people. Among them were a guy who would eventually come to be known as Carlos the Ragman and his roommate, Clint. Clint was, as near as I can tell, possessed of a genius IQ, enhanced by far too many acid trips. He seemed to be in possession of some sort of telepathic powers as well, as was made apparent on more than one occasion. In addition to (or maybe because of) all these things, Clint had somewhat unusual tastes in music. I remember him showing up one evening with an album he had just bought called Pampered Menial, by a band from St. Louis, Mo. called Pavlov's Dog. The opening track, Julia, was truly like nothing I had ever heard before, probably due to the unique vocals of David Surkamp, the writer of Julia. In addition to Surkamp, the band included Steve Scorfina, Mike Safron, Rick Stockton, David Hamilton, Doug Rayburn and Siegfried Carver.

Artist:    James Gang
Title:    Alexis
Source:    LP: Bang
Writer(s):    Bolin/Cook
Label:    Atco
Year:    1973
    When Joe Walsh left the James Gang, many people thought it was all over for the Cleveland, Ohio band formed by drummer Jim Fox. The group recovered, though, adding two Canadians, guitarist Dominic Troiano and vocalist Roy Kenner. The group recorded two more albums for ABC before Troiano left to replace Randy Bachman in the Guess Who. With their ABC Records contract now expired, the group was once again expected to ride off into the sunset, but instead added guitarist Tommy Bolin, formerly of the Boulder, Colorado band Zephyr, and signed a new contract with Atlantic's Atco label. The first album from the new lineup was 1973's Bang, considered the strongest James Gang album since Walsh's departure. Bolin, in particular, strutted his stuff, both as a guitarist and a songwriter, on several of Bang's tracks. He even took the lead vocals on Alexis, a standout tune that foreshadows his work as a solo artist later in the decade.

Artist:    Uriah Heep
Title:    Dreamer
Source:    LP: Sweet Freedom
Writer(s):    Thain/Box
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1973
     Even though Uriah Heep was known for their high energy rock, there always seemed to be one song on each album that managed to rock out even harder than the rest of them. On the band's sixth LP, Sweet Freedom, that song was Dreamer, the album's opening track. Co-written by guitarist Mick Box and bassist Gary Thain (the only known collaboration between the two), Dreamer has an energy level that approaches frenetic, especially on the song's fadeout ending. Wild stuff!

Artist:    David Bowie
Title:    Hang Onto Yourself
Source:    CD: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Writer(s):    David Bowie
Label:    Ryko (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:    1972
    David Bowie proves that he is quite capable of writing a straight up power pop tune with Hang Onto Yourself from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. The album itself, as the title implies, documents the short career of pop star Ziggy Stardust against a backdrop of the imminent destruction of the world. While most of the songs on the album are about Ziggy Stardust, I've always imagined Hang Onto Yourself as being one of Ziggy's own songs, a hit single along the same lines as Grand Funk Railroad's We're An American Band or Mountain's Mississippi Queen. Interestingly enough, Bowie had released an earlier version of Hang Onto Yourself as a 1971 single under the name Arnold Corns. Was "Arnold Corns" an early version of Ziggy Stardust?

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