Sunday, March 31, 2019

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1914 (starts 4/1/19)

    This week we mix in a little bit of soul, jazz, folk and electronica with a bunch of rock for a pair of sets. The first starts with the song that made the O'Jays famous and ends with one of Neil Young's best. The second set has as its showpiece Mike Oldfield's third LP, the nearly nineteen-minute long Ommadawn Part 1, an electronic rock masterpiece that I believe actually surpasses his earlier work. The set also includes moody pieces from Joni Mitchell and Rory Gallagher that show a strong jazz presence.

Artist:        O'Jays
Title:        Back Stabbers
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer:        Huff/McFadden/Whitehead
Label:        Philadelphia International
Year:        1972
        The two hotspots of soul music in the late 60s were Detroit, Michigan (Motown Records) and Memphis, Tennessee (Stax Records). By the early 70s, however, Memphis was eclipsed by Philadelphia, thanks to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of and in-house producers for Philadelphia International Records. One of the first major hits for the label was Back Stabbers by the O'Jays, a Cleveland, Ohio vocal group that had been recording with only moderate success since the early 60s. Back Stabbers hit the top spot on the R&B charts in 1972 and crossed over to the top 40 as well, peaking at #3.

Artist:     James Gang
Title:     Funk # 48
Source:     CD: Yer Album
Writer:     Walsh/Fox/Kriss
Label:     MCA (original label: Bluesway)
Year:     1969
    Cleveland's James Gang was one of the original power trios of the seventies. Although generally known as the starting place of Joe Walsh, the band was actually led by Jim Fox, one of the most underrated drummers in the history of rock. Fox, who was the only member to stay with the group through its many personnel changes over the years, shares lead vocals with Walsh on Funk # 48 from the band's debut album on ABC's Bluesway label (they moved over to the parent label for subsequent releases). Yer Album, incidentally, was the only rock LP ever issued on Bluesway .

Artist:     Ten Years After
Title:     50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain
Source:     CD: Cricklewood Green
Writer:     Alvin Lee
Label:     Chrysalis (original label: Deram)
Year:     1970
    Alvin Lee travels to every planet in the solar system in the nearly eight-minute long 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain. The tune appeared on the 1970 LP Cricklewood Green, generally considered the band's best album.

Artist:    Grand Funk Railroad
Title:    Upsetter
Source:    45 RPM single (also released on LP: E Pluribus Funk)
Writer(s):    Mark Farner
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1972
    Grand Funk Railroad was something of an enigma. Due to universally negative reviews in the rock press, progressive FM stations avoided them like the plague. At the same time, top 40 radio was in the process of being supplanted as the voice of the mainstream by the Adult Contemporary (A/C) format, which tended to ignore hard rock. Nonetheless Grand Funk Railroad had a following. In fact, GFR was the first band to book (and sellout) entire sports arenas, setting attendance records wherever they played. This translated into major record sales, as they became the first band to have three LPs hit the million-seller mark in the same year (1970). That year they also had their first mainstream hit with I'm Your Captain (Closer To Home). From that point on the band would continue to release singles, although most, such as Upsetter, were still ignored by A/C radio (although they did get a fair amount of airplay from the remaining "true" top 40 stations). As the group's album sales were beginning to drop off, the singles became increasingly important to the band's continued success, and from 1973 on (starting with We're An American Band ) Grand Funk became pretty much a singles-oriented group, cranking out tunes like Bad Time and Some Kind Of Wonderful.

Artist:    Neil Young
Title:    The Needle And The Damage Done/Words (Between The Lines Of Age)
Source:    CD: Harvest
Writer(s):    Neil Young
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1972
    One of Neil Young's best-known songs, The Needle And The Damage Done was written as Young watched his friend and bandmate Danny Whitten (of Crazy Horse) sink deeper and deeper into heroin addiction. It was not too long after the song appeared on Young's 1972 album Harvest that Whitten died of an overdose. The song was recorded live at UCLA in January of 1971. The recording includes the sound of audience applause which segues directly into the next track on the album, Words (Between The Lines Of Age). The song, featuring an extended guitar break in the tradition of Cowgirl In The Sand, was recorded in a barn on Young's ranch in California, with PA speakers set up for the band rather than the usual headphones. This resulted in some bleed through between microphones, which Young felt actually enhanced the "live" feel of the recording. Besides Young, the track features drummer Kenny Buttrey, bassist Tim Drummond, and steel-guitarist Ben Keith, who would collectively come to be known as Stray Gators. Jack Nitzsche also appears on the track playing piano and lap steel guitar.

Artist:    Mike Oldfield
Title:    Ommadawn Part 1
Source:    LP: Ommadawn
Writer(s):    Mike Oldfield
Label:    Virgin
Year:    1975
    Mike Oldfield became an overnight success in 1973 when his album-length Tubular Bells was featured prominently in the file The Exorcist. After his second album didn't do so well he decided to change his approach and had a studio built in his home rather than work in a commercial facility. This gave him all the time he needed to fully develop what became his third LP, Ommadawn. Oldfield played nearly every instrument on the album, which was released in 1975.

Artist:    Joni Mitchell
Title:    Down To You
Source:    LP: Court And Spark
Writer(s):    Joni Mitchell
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1974
    Joni Mitchell already had a cult following when she released her most commercially successful record, Court And Spark, in 1974. The album provided two top 40 hits and showed a growing jazz presence in her work. One of the more sparsely instrumentalized tracks on the album is Down To You, which is basically Mitchell on vocal and piano unaccompanied. It's also one of the longer tracks on the album, running five and half minutes. Mitchell would continue in much the same vein with her next LP, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns.
Artist:    Rory Gallagher
Title:    Can't Believe It's True
Source:    British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Rory Gallagher)
Writer(s):    Rory Gallagher
Label:    Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:    1971
    In addition to his obvious prowess on guitar, Rory Gallagher was an accomplished saxophonist, although he largely abandoned the instrument in the mid-1970s. This can be heard on Can't Believe It's True, the final and longest track on Gallagher's first solo album, recorded in 1971. Accompanying Gallagher on the album were drummer Wilgar Campbell and bass guitarist Gerry McAvoy. Gallagher had set up practice sessions with Campbell and McAvoy, as well as former Jimi Hendrix Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding following the breakup of his original band, Taste, but ultimately decided to form a power trio with the two Belfast natives for his solo debut.

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