Sunday, May 12, 2019

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1920 (starts 5/13/19)

    This week's show starts off with a set of tunes that touches on themes of freedom and imprisonment. From there we have a whole bunch of songs making their Rockin' in the Days of Confusion debut, followed by a classic Santana track to finish things off.

Artist:    Graham Nash
Title:    Prison Song
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Graham Nash
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1973
    Graham Nash's Prison Song is one of those songs that by all rights should have been a huge hit. It was by a name artist. It had a catchy opening harmonica riff and a haunting melody. I can only surmise that once again Bill Drake (the man who controlled top 40 radio in the 60s and early 70s) decided that the lyrics were too controversial for AM radio and had the song blacklisted, much as he had done with the Byrds Eight Miles High a few years earlier. Those lyrics center on a subject that is unfortunately still relevant today: the utter absurdity of drug laws and the unequal sentences for violation of those laws in the US and its various states.

Artist:     Jimi Hendrix
Title:     Freedom
Source:     LP: The Cry Of Love
Writer:     Jimi Hendrix
Label:     Experience Hendrix/Legacy (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:    Doors
Title:    Been Down So Long
Source:    LP: L.A. Woman
Writer(s):    The Doors
Label:    Elektra
Year:    1971
    L.A. Woman, the Doors' sixth and final studio album with vocalist Jim Morrison, is considered one of the band's best, due to its stripped down production and return to the group's blues-rock roots. Nowhere are both these trends more evident than on the song Been Down So Long, the third track on the LP. The song, written by Morrison, but credited (as were all the tracks on L.A. Woman) to the entire group, was reportedly inspired in part by Morrison's own brush with the possibility of incarceration due to his arrest on charges of indecency for allegedly exposing himself on stage in Florida.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Gallows Pole
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin III
Writer(s):    Traditional, arr. Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    Following a year of intensive touring to promote their first two albums, Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to take some time off, cloistering themselves in a small Welsh cottage known as Bron-Yr-Aur for several weeks. The place had no electricity, and the pair used the time to write and/or adapt acoustic material for the band to record for their third LP. One of the best of these "new" songs was Gallows Pole, which Page adapted from a 1962 recording by Fred Gerlach, although the song's roots go back several centuries.

Artist:    Fairport Convention
Title:    The Deserter
Source:    LP: Liege & Lief
Writer(s):    Trad., arr. Fairport
Label:    A&M
Year:    1969
    By the time Fairport Convention recorded Liege & Lief they had completely transitioned from their Jefferson Airplane inspired brand of folk-rock to a style that was uniquely English. Covers of songs by people like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen had given way to rock adaptations of traditional folk ballads such as The Deserter, which tells the story of a man who is conscripted into the army against his will, and makes his escape at the first opportunity, only to be recaptured.

Artist:    David Bowie
Title:    Fill Your Heart/Andy Warhol
Source:    CD: Hunky Dory
Writer(s): Rose/Williams/Bowie
Label:    Parlophone (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:    1971
    With one exception, every song on the first five David Bowie albums was written by Bowie himself. The exception was Fill Your Heart, a light dancehall style number included as the opener of the second side of 1971's Hunky Dory LP. There is evidence that a song called Bombers was originally intended to be the side opener, but that song remained unreleased until the 1990s. Why Bowie would choose to record a song like Fill Your Heart in the first place is a mystery, but given the Marlene Dietrich inspired pose Bowie took for the album cover itself, maybe he simply decided to record the song to tie into the same image. Without any break in the audio, the song segues into Bowie's own Andy Warhol, a song that can be interpreted as either a tribute to, or parody of, the avant-garde icon.

Artist:    Gentle Giant
Title:    The Boys In The Band
Source:    CD: Octopus
Writer(s):    Minnear/Shulman/Shulman/Shulman
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1972
    The Boys In The Band is the only instrumental piece on Gentle Giant's fourth LP, Octopus. As such, it is (as its title implies) a piece that showcases each of the six band members abilities on various instruments (all members being capable of playing more than one). Unlike most such tracks, however, The Boys In The Band gets it all done in less than five minutes.

Artist:    Grand Funk
Title:    Black Licorice
Source:    CD: We're An American Band
Writer(s):    Farner/Brewer
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1973
    By 1973 Grand Funk Railroad, the first true arena-rock band, was sounding a bit fatigued. The band had released six studio LPs, as well as a double disc live album, over a period of just four years, with guitarist Mark Farner writing virtually all the group's original material, as well as handling all the lead vocals. Having parted company with their original manager/producer, Terry Knight, just prior to recording their self-produced Phoenix album in 1972, the band was seeing a dropoff in sales as well. To get things back on track they brought in a new producer, Todd Rundgren, for their seventh LP, We're An American Band, as well as shortening the band's name to Grand Funk. The most noticable change, however, was the rise to prominence of drummer Don Brewer, both as a songwriter and a vocalist. In fact, Brewer took over lead vocal duties on fully half the album's songs, writing or co-writing several of them, including Black Licorice. The album was a huge success, changing the direction of Grand Funk's music forever.

Artist:    Black Sheep
Title:    Broken Promises
Source:    LP: Black Sheep
Writer(s):    Grammitico/Crozier/Turgan
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1975
    Black Sheep was a Rochester, NY band that released a pair of album 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 becoming lead vocalist of Foreigner. Black Sheep's music was fairly typical of mid-70s rock, as can be heard on tunes like Broken Promises.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Rikki Don't Lose That Number
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    ABC
Year:    1974
    Contrary to what you may have heard, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, from the album Pretzel Logic, is not about using the US Postal Service to mail yourself weed. This is according to both Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who are generally known for being deliberately obscure. The fact that they both, on separate occasions, have addressed the issue leads me to take their version of the story, that the subject of the song was a young woman Fagen knew in college, as the correct one. What's not in dispute is this: Rikki Don't Lose That Number was Steely Dan's biggest hit single, deservedly so.

Artist:    Uriah Heep
Title:    Sweet Freedom
Source:    LP: Sweet Freedom
Writer(s):    Ken Hensley
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1973
    Uriah Heep hit their Apex in 1972 with the back-to-back LPs Demons And Wizards and The Magician's Birthday. They followed those up with a double-LP live album (pretty much a standard thing for rock bands at the time) and, in 1973, released the album Sweet Freedom. Sweet Freedom saw the band moving beyond their own fantasy-based image, both lyrically and musically, with mixed success. The title track, which closed the album, was probably the most stylistically similar song on the album to their earlier material, and with a six and a half minute running time is the longest track on the album itself.

Artist:    Santana
Title:    Se A Cabo
Source:    CD: Abraxas
Writer(s):    Chepito Areas
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1970
    Following their successful appearance at Woodstock in August of 1969, Santana returned to the studio to begin work on their second LP. Unlike their self-titled debut, Abraxas took several months to record, finally hitting the racks in September of 1970. Like the group's first album, Abraxas includes several instrumental tracks such as Se A Cabo, which opens side two of the original LP. The tune was written by percussionist José Octavio "Chepito" Areas, who played timbales for the band from 1969-1977, returning for a three-year stint in the late 1980s.

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