Sunday, September 20, 2020

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2039 (starts 9/21/20)

    This week we return to shorter tracks from a variety of artists incorporating a variety of influences, including jazz, blues, country, folk, classical and something called Money Chant that defies description altogether. As a bonus we have an excerpt from the very first Firesign Theatre album as well.

Artist:    Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Title:    déjà vu
Source:    LP: déjà vu
Writer(s):    David Crosby
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    One of the biggest selling albums in the history of rock music, Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young's déjà vu was also one of the most difficult and time-consuming albums ever made. It is estimated that the album, which to date has sold over 8 million copies, took around 800 hours of studio time to record. Most of the tracks were recorded as solo tracks by their respective songwriters, with the other members making whatever contributions were called for. The album also features several guest musicians (including John Sebastian, who plays harmonica on the title track), as well as drummer Dallas Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves, whose names appear in slightly smaller font on the front cover of the album.

Artist:    Cream
Title:    Take It Back
Source:    LP: Disraeli Gears
Writer(s):    Bruce/Brown
Label:    RSO (original label: Atco)
Year:    1967
    The very first album I recorded on my dad's new Akai X-355 reel-to-reel deck was Cream's 1967 LP Disraeli Gears. It was also the very first CD I ever bought (along with Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love). Does that tell you anything about my opinion of this album?

Artist:    Firesign Theatre
Title:    Beat The Reaper
Source:    LP: Waiting For The Electrician or Someone Like Him
Writer(s):    Proctor/Bergman/Austin/Ossman
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1968
    The Firesign Theatre was formed in Los Angeles in 1966 by late-night radio talk show host Peter Bergman, along with his producers, Phil Austin and David Ossman, and his old college friend Philip Proctor. Bergman was the host of a show called Radio Free Oz on KPFK FM that, according to Austin, "featured everybody who was anybody in the artistic world who passed through LA." Bergman's show guests included such luminaries as Andy Warhol and the members of Buffalo Springfield, among others. On slow nights, Bergman and his cohorts, whom he christened the Oz Firesign Theatre (soon dropping the "Oz" after Disney and M-G-M threatened lawsuits), would pretend to be various characters without letting the audience know it was all a put-on. The members would create their characters individually without clueing in the other members, creating an atmosphere of improvisation as they played those characters off each other. By 1967 the Firesign Theatre was a regular feature on Radio Free Oz, performing half-hour skits that they had written themselves. The shows included weekly live appearances at a club called the Magic Mushroom on Sunday nights, as well as an appearance at L.A.'s first love-in at Elysian Park, that was broadcast on Bergman's show. This led to Radio Free Oz moving from KPFK to AM powerhouse KRLA, one of the city's most popular stations, which in turn led to their discovery by Gary Usher, who was a staff producer at Columbia Records. Usher signed the Firesign Theatre to a five-year contract with Columbia, and co-produced their first LP, Waiting For The Electrician or Someone Like Him. One of the most popular bits from the album was a segment called Beat The Reaper, in which a game show contestant is injected with a lethal disease and has ten seconds to correctly identify the disease by describing his own symptoms. The Firesign Theatre would go on to become one of the most popular acts in the history of comedy of vinyl, creating such memorable characters as noir detective Nick Danger and film star Porgy Tirebiter.

Artist:    James Gang
Title:    Stone Rap/Collage
Source:    CD: Yer' Album
Writer(s):    Walsh/Cullie
Label:    MCA (original label: Bluesway)
Year:    1969
    Sometime in early 1969 (more or less) three students from Kent State University (yes, that one!) travelled to New York to record an album at the Hit Factory. Apparently they had been continually confronted by fans who kept asking them "when is yer' album coming out?", so when it came time to come up with a name for the LP, the natural choice was Yer' Album. That LP launched the careers of two legends: first, the band itself, the James Gang, who would (with an ever-changing lineup) release a total on nine studio albums (and one live LP) before finally disbanding in 1976. The second legend was lead guitarist/vocalist Joe Walsh, who would go on to have a highly successful solo career before becoming an even bigger star as a member of the Eagles. Walsh wrote about half the songs on that first album, including Collage, a collaboration with his friend Patrick Cullie. Although Yer Album was released in 1969, the James Gang had actually been in existence since 1966. Led by drummer Jim Fox, the band's original lineup also included bassist Tom Kriss, who would leave the group after the release of their first LP.

Artist:    Savoy Brown
Title:    Money Can't Save Your Soul
Source:    CD: Looking In
Writer(s):    Simmonds/ Peverett
Label:    Deram (original label: Parrott)
Year:    1970
    Looking In was the sixth album by British blues-rockers Savoy Brown, and the first without original lead vocalist Chris Youlden. It was also the final outing for guitarist Dave Peverett, bassist Tone Stevens and drummer Roger Earl, who would go on to form Foghat after being dismissed by bandleader Kim Simmonds. The album was made up entirely of original compositions such as the low-key Money Can't Save Your Soul, which was written by Simmonds and Peverett, who had taken over lead vocals upon Youlden's departure. Both Foghat and a new Savoy Brown lineup would continue to have success, especially in the US, where both bands toured extensively throughout the 1970s.

Artist:      Jethro Tull
Title:     Hymn 43
Source:      CD: Aqualung
Writer:    Ian Adnerson
Label:    Chrysalis (original label: Reprise)
Year:     1971
     Eric Burdon And The Animals proved in 1968, with the song Sky Pilot, that you could now take on the religious establishment in a rock song and end up with a hit record. Ian Anderson, of Jethro Tull, soon followed with the release of Christmas Song later that same year. It turned out that Christmas Song was only a hint of what would come three years later. Most (if not all) of the second side of the 1971 LP Aqualung presented a scathing criticism of what Anderson perceived as rampant hypocrisy within the Anglican church. Aqualung still stands as Jethro Tull's best-selling album, with over seven million copies sold worldwide. Hymn 43, a song that focuses more on America's heavy-handed use of religion as a tool, was released as a single, going to the #91 spot on the Billboard charts, despite being effectively banned on AM radio in the US.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Fire In The Hole
Source:    CD: Can't Buy A Thrill
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1972
    Donald Fagen's unique piano style is on display on Fire In The Hole, a track from the first Steely Dan album, Can't Buy A Thrill. The tune also appeared as the B side of Steely Dan's second single (and first hit), Do It Again.

Artist:    James Taylor
Title:    Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
Source:    45 RPM single (promo copy)
Writer(s):    James Taylor
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1972
    I've always considered the Grammy Awards to be, let us say, less than relevant. If the fact that Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were never even nominated for Grammies (nor was Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, for that matter) wasn't enough reason, consider this: James Taylor's hit single, Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, from his 1972 album One Man Dog, won a Grammy for best male vocal 2002, when it was included on the album The Best Of James Taylor. Not that it's a bad song, by any means, but how exactly can you consider a thirty year old recording to be the best of the year?

Artist:    Jade Warrior
Title:    Monkey Chant
Source:    LP: Floating World
Writer(s):    Field/Duhig
Label:    Island
Year:    1974
    It is almost impossible to classify Jade Warrior in conventional terms. They have been called everything from experimental progressive rock to early new age. Jade Warrior was basically a duo consisting of Tony Duhig and guitar and Jon Field on flute, with both providing percussion as well. In addition, several studio musicians were brought in as needed, including Duhig's brother David for electric lead guitar parts. Jade Warrior's albums combined rock, jazz, classical and world music, often within the same song. After the group lost its original recording contract with Vertigo they decided to disband. Steve Winwood, however, convinced Island Records head Chris Blackwell to give the duo a listen. Blackwell then convinced the duo to reform Jade Warrior and signed them to a three-record deal in 1974. The first Jade Warrior for island was the primarily instrumental Floating World. One of the more notable tracks on the album is Monkey Chant, described by one critic as a "collision of the ancient traditional Balinese Kecac pitted against David Duhig's screaming rock guitar solo". Sounds about right.

Artist:    Eagles
Title:    Lyin' Eyes
Source:    LP: Greatest Hits (originally released on LP: One Of These Nights)
Writer(s):    Henley/Frey
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1975
    The Eagles got one of their biggest hits in 1975 with Lyin' Eyes, the second single released from their One Of These Nights album. The song nearly hit the top of the pop charts, peaking at #2, and, surprisingly, went to the #8 spot on the country charts as well. It would take the Eagles over 30 years to again hit the country top 40. The single version of the song was heavily edited to get it down to near the four-minute mark in order to insure top 40 airplay. The Eagles Greatest Hits album, however, uses the original LP version of the song, which runs well over six minutes.

Artist:    McKendree Spring
Title:    Light Up The Skies
Source:    LP: Tracks
Writer(s):    Dreyfuss/Woods/Vivaldi
Label:    Decca
Year:    1972
    The music press is fond of creating hyphenated names to describe bands that combine sometimes disparate musical styles. In the mid-1960s there was folk-rock. The 70s brought country-rock, while in the 80s jazz-rock was all the rage. One hybrid you don't hear much about is progressive-folk, possibly because there was really only one band that fit the description. That group was McKendree Spring, from Glens Falls, NY. Led by Fran McKendree (vocals and guitar), the band also included Fred Holman, who had replaced Larry Tucker on bass by 1972, Dr. Michael Dreyfuss (electric violin, viola, Moog, Arp, Mellotron), and Martin Slutsky (electric guitar). The band had its greatest success in the early 1970s recording for the Decca label, although they remained active until 2013. The group occasionally got into experimental territory with pieces like Light Up The Sky, an adaptation of themes originally composed by Antonio Vivaldi in the 1700s arranged and performed on electronic and string instruments by Dreyfuss on the 1972 LP Tracks.

Artist:    Richie Havens
Title:    Handsome Johnny
Source:    B side of 45 RPM bonus record included with LP: Richie Havens On Stage
Writer:    Gossett/Gossett/Havens
Label:    Stormy Forest
Year:    1969
    When it became obvious that the amplifiers needed by the various rock bands that were scheduled to perform on the opening Friday afternoon at Woodstock would not be ready in time, singer/songwriter Richie Havens came to the rescue, performing for several hours as the new opening act. One of the highlights of Havens' performance was Handsome Johnny, a song that he had co-written with Lou Gossett and Lou Gossett, Jr. and released on his debut album. A new live recording of the song (along with Freedom, another Woodstock highlight) was included as a bonus single with the 1972 LP Richie Havens On Stage.

Artist:    David Bowie
Title:    It Ain't Easy
Source:    CD: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Writer(s):    Ron Davies
Label:    Ryko (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:    1972
    David Bowie had little need to record cover songs. He was, after all, one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. But when he did record the occasional cover tune, you can bet it was a good one. Take It Ain't Easy, for instance. The song was already well known as the title track of two different albums, one by Three Dog Night and one by Long John Baldry, when Bowie recorded it, yet he still managed to make the song his own. The song itself was written by Nashville songwriter Ron Davies, whose younger sister Gail is notable as the first female producer in country music.

Artist:    Alice Cooper
Title:    School's Out (originally released on LP: School's Out and as 45 RPM single)
Source:    CD: Greatest Hits
Writer(s):    Cooper/Smith/Dunaway/Bruce/Buxton
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1972
    Alice Cooper scored their first top 10 hit with the title track of their 1972 album School's Out. According to vocalist Alice Cooper (yes, both the singer and the band were called Alice Cooper) the song was inspired by the question "What's the greatest three minutes of your life?" (although I've never actually heard anyone ask that question in any context). The song was remixed by producer Bob Ezrin for the band's first Greatest Hits compilation, much to the consternation of the band's fans.

1 comment:

  1. I used the prx link and was able to listen to the latest programs. Not as convenient as your old player but ok.
    Keep on rockin’ , Hermit.