Sunday, December 20, 2020

Rockin' in 1970 (starts 12/21/20)

    By 1970 it had been firmly established that rock bands no longer needed to have top 40 hit singles to be considered successful. This week we feature album tracks from that year, including the original LP versions of a couple songs that did make the top 40 in edited form. Our show opener, however, is the exception. Not only is it a genuine top 40 hit, it isn't even from a rock band. It does, however, present an accurate picture of 1970. Sadly, much of it applies to 2020 as well.

Artist:    Temptations
Title:    Ball Of Confusion
Source:    45 RPM single (reissue)
Writer(s):    Whitfield/Strong
Label:    Motown Yesteryear (original label: Gordy)
Year:    1970
    By 1970 an interesting situation had developed at Motown Records. Various production teams had achieved a degree of autonomy not usually seen in the record industry, resulting in a variety of styles coming from the label, each of which was identified with a particular team. The psychedelic branch of the label was run by Norm Whitfield and Barrett Strong, whose work mostly appeared on the Gordy label. Their stable of artists included Edwin Starr, the Undisputed Truth and the Temptations, the latter of which had gone through several lineup changes that left them without original lead vocalist David Ruffin. Whitfield and Strong used this situation to their best advantage by splitting the lead vocals among several group members within each song. One of the first songs to take this approach was Ball Of Confusion, released in 1970. A longer version of the song, using a less edited version of the same Funk Brothers instrumental track, was released by the Undisputed Truth as a B side.

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    War Pigs
Source:    LP: Black Sabbath
Writer(s):    Iommi/Osborne/Butler/Ward
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1970
    In the summer of 1971 I moved to the small town of Mangum, Oklahoma, along with guitarist Doug Phillips. We had both just graduated from high school and had spent most of our senior year playing in a band called Friends. The last half of the school year had been complicated by a surprise visit from yet another guitarist named Dave Mason (no, not THAT Dave Mason), whom I had been bandmates with the previous year when both our dads had been stationed at Ramstein AFB, Germany. My dad had been transferred to Holloman AFB, New Mexico that summer, while Dave's had retired to his native Oklahoma a couple of months later. The problem was that Dave, who was a bit of a free spirit, had not fit in well in Mangum; in fact, he had just been kicked out of the local high school for refusing to cut his hair. Dave had formed a new band (using the same band name, Sunn, that we had used in Germany) in Oklahoma, and had made enough money to buy a bus ticket for Vacaville, California (where his longtime girlfriend Jeannie was now living, her dad having been transferred to Travis AFB that fall)...or so he thought. It turned that the band's bass player Jim, who was also acting as their financial manager, had absconded with most of the band's earnings, leaving just enough for a bus ticket from Mangum, OK to Alamogordo, NM, and so, following a phone call sometime around New Year's, Dave showed up at my doorstep. My parents, being basically good people, allowed him to stay with us until he could either a) get enough money  to buy a bus ticket to Vacaville, CA, or b) find a place of his own in Alamogordo. After writing a song called Forty-Eight Sixty (the amount needed for the bus ticket) Dave ended up choosing option b) for awhile. Eventually his parents presented him with option c) by offering to buy him a return ticket to Mangum. After exacting a promise from me that I would join him there following graduation, Dave ultimately chose option c).
    About a week after he left New Mexico Dave called me to say "bring Doug, too", which was kind of a surprise, as I had always considered the two of them to be sort of rivals (although maybe that was only in my head, since Doug was the lead guitarist for Friends, while Dave had asked me to join yet another incarnation of Sunn in Alamogordo, which didn't go over so well with the other members of Friends; I ended up playing in both bands, as they had vastly different styles and there really was no conflict, since gigs were few and far between for both groups). Anyway, a week after graduation Doug and I boarded a Greyhound, arriving in Elk City, OK (the nearest town to Mangum with a bus station) at about 3 in the morning. Of couse, the Elk City bus station was closed at 3AM, so we had to stand outside in a thunderstorm waiting for a ride from a friend of Dave's who had forgotten that he was supposed to be picking us up at the Elk City bus station, which was about a half hour's drive north of Mangum.
    A couple months later we were all members of yet another version of Sunn (#5 by my count) when we got an offer from a local theater owner wanting to be our manager. As we were musically ready to take over the world, but were pretty clueless as to how to line up gigs, we accepted, and found ourselves booked for a Saturday night gig at the only theater in Wellington, Texas, a town about the same size of Mangum known mostly as the scene of Bonnie and Clyde's first nationally reported crime spree (which apparently involved wrecking their car, terrorizing a local family, kidnapping two law enforcement officers and tieing them to a tree with barbed wire cut from a fence, according to the New York Times). Wellington is also the county seat of Collingsworth County, which was, at the time, a "dry" county, which meant that local residents had to make the hour-long round trip to Mangum if they wanted to buy any alcoholic beverages. Not exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to hear a heavy metal cover band (although the term "heavy metal" was not part of the rock vocabulary at that point, so I guess '"underground rockers" would probably be a more appropriate label).
    The gig itself went pretty well, with only a couple dicey moments. One of those involved our cover of Black Sabbath's War Pigs, which we had learned by listening to the Paranoid album over and over (see, there was a connection to the song in all of this after all). We actually did a pretty kickass version of War Pigs, with Doug and I doing the sirens at the beginning in harmony and me channeling Ozzy quite credibly (or so it seemed at the time while tripping my brains out) throughout the performance. The problem was with Doug's dedication of the song (by title) to the local police force, a move that actually confused me at the time, since the song has nothing to do with cops. The second dicey moment is when I decided to take off the cowboy hat I had been wearing for the first of our two sets, letting my freak flag fly, so to speak, and eliciting an audible gasp from the audience. Still, the gig itself was a success, in fact, probably our best gig ever. We made a decent amount of money and got a great crowd response. Plus, due to a leaky transmission seal in our equipment van (a '54 Ford panel truck missing its front grill that was affectionately known as "The Glump"), we didn't have to pack up our stuff that night, allowing us to take a trip to Altus, OK, the nearest place with an all-night restaurant.
    Since there were no businesses open in Mangum on Sunday (of any type, including gas stations), we did not return to Wellington until Monday evening, after a friend of the band, J.D., gave us a ride in his black '57 Chevy after work. Following a mildly interesting ride that included cresting one of a series of hills only to see a bunch of cows in the road (we didn't hit any) and then noticing shortly thereafter that the headlights in the rear view mirror that had been making us paranoid every time we crested a hill were no longer there, we arrived in Wellington well after dark. As we were loading equipment into The Glump we noticed that a car was blocking our only exit from the alley behind the theater. A closer look revealed various lights and decals indicating that the car might just be the property of the Wellington Police Department. Confirmation soon came in the form of a guy in his mid-50s wearing a badge on his khaki-colored uniform. He  demanded to speak to the guy who "called us pigs". Gary Dowdy (the owner of The Glump) and I were confused at first, until the guy in the khaki-colored uniform with the badge asked which one of us had dedicated a song to the local police force. At about that time I realized what he was talking about, and attempted to explain that Doug, who was the only band member with a local girlfriend, had chosen to spend time with said girlfriend rather than to help with the loading of equipment (come to think of it, I may have been the only actual band member present). The guy with the badge cut me off at the word "Doug", however. In fact, as I recall, his exact words were "Another word out of you and I'll take you down to the station and cut off all of your hair". Luckily Gary Dowdy, who could Good 'Ol Boy with the best of 'em when it was called for, was able to pacify the officer with a promise to pack up quickly, get out of town and never come back. To this day, I have never again set foot in Wellington, Texas.
Artist:    Uriah Heep
Title:    Bird Of Prey
Source:    LP: Uriah Heep
Writer(s):    David Byron
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1970
    Although for the most part the practice of drastically altering the track lineup of British albums for US release had been abandoned by 1970, there were still a few exceptions, albeit relatively minor ones. One of these was the first Uriah Heep album, which replaced the song Lucy Blue with Bird Of Prey on the US version. More notably, the album itself was retitled and had different cover art in the US. Apparently the people at Mercury Records figured that Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble was just too Very English for the American buying public.

Artist:    Johnny Winter
Title:    Rock And Roll Hoochie Coo
Source:    European import CD: Johnny Winter And
Writer(s):    Rick Derringer
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1970
    Athough best known as a solo Rick Derringer hit, Rock And Roll Hoochie Coo was originally recorded in 1970 by Johnny Winter for the album Johnny Winter And when Derringer was a member of Winter's band (also known as Johnny Winter And at that time). As can be heard here the arrangement on the earlier version is nearly identical to the hit version, the main differences being Winter's lead vocals and the presence of two lead guitarists in the band.

Artist:     Sugarloaf
Title:     Tongue In Cheek
Source:     LP: Spaceship Earth
Writer:     Robert Yeazel
Label:     Liberty
Year:     1970
     Sugarloaf was a band from Denver, Colorado, that took its name from nearby Sugarloaf mountain. The band scored a big hit in early 1970 with Green-Eyed Lady. Their second LP, Spaceship Earth, had a new guitarist, Robert Yeazel, who wrote their next single, Tongue In Cheek. Unfortunately, the single version of the song cut out the best parts, and achieved only minor chart success. The LP version of Tongue In Cheek, heard here, is highlighted by what is quite possibly the best rock organ solo ever recorded. The guitar solos from Yeazel and co-founder Bob Webber aren't too shabby, either. I strongly suggest turning up the volume when the solos start. If you've never heard this track before you're in for a treat.

Artist:    James Gang
Title:    The Bomber
Source:    CD: James Gang Rides Again
Writer(s):    Fox/Peters/Walsh/Ravel/Guarldi)
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1970
    The second James Gang album saw the addition of a new bass player, Dale Peters, who replaced founding member Tom Kriss. Unlike the group's debut LP, James Gang Rides Again consisted almost entirely of material written by the band members themselves. The only exceptions were adaptations of Ravel's Bolero and Vince Guaraldi's Cast Your Fate To The Wind that guitarist Joe Walsh incorporated into the instrumental section of The Bomber, which at seven minutes was the longest track on the album. The beginning and end of The Bomber consist of a piece called Closet Queen, which was composed by the entire band. Shortly after the album's rellease the Ravel estate initiated legal proceedings against the band for using Bolero without permission. In response the record was recalled and a new version with Bolero edited out of the track was released in its place. By the time the album The Best Of The James Gang came out (in 1973) the track had been restored to its original length (although the shorter time appears in the credits) and that is the version used on subsequent CD releases of James Gang Rides Again as well.

Artist:    Rolling Stones
Title:    Midnight Rambler (live)
Source:    LP: Get Yer Ya-Yas Out
Writer(s):    Jagger/Richards
Label:    London
Year:    1970
    In December 1966, London Records released a US-only LP called Got Live If You Want It! The album was made up of various live recordings made earlier that year, along with a couple of previously unreleased studio tracks with fake audience sounds added. London wanted to milk the band's popularity following the release of the Aftermath album and the Stones' subsequent summer tour of the US, but the band was still working on Between The Buttons and did not want to release any new material. The live tracks on Got Live If You Want It suffered from the limitations of mid-60s live recording technology combined with the tendency of audiences to scream throughout the entire performances, and the band quickly made their disapproval of the album known. Three years later an audience member used a shotgun microphone and a small reel to reel machine to make a recording of the band's live performance at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in Oakland, California, and released it the following month as Live'r Than You'll Ever Be, one of the first bootleg albums of a rock band. The band itself responded with their own "official" live album, Get Yet Ya-Yas Out, the following year. One of the highlights of the new live album was a version of Midnight Rambler that has become more popular than the original 1969 studio track. The Stones now consider Get Yer Ya-Yas Out to be their first real live album.

Artist:    David Bowie
Title:    Black Country Rock
Source:    CD: The Man Who Sold The World
Writer(s):    David Bowie
Label:    Parlophone (original label: Mercury)
Year:    1970
    David Bowie was not an overnight success. His first single, credited to David Jones With The King Bees, was released in 1964. He started using the name David Bowie in early 1966, possibly to avoid being confused with Manchester native David Jones, who was getting attention for his portrayal of Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver and had released his first solo album in 1965. Bowie released several singles as a solo artist in 1966 and 1967 on first the Pye, then Deram labels, but none of them were commercially successful. Following an equally unsuccessful self-titled solo LP for Deram in 1967, it looked like Bowie's career might be over. Rather than concede defeat however, Bowie decided to reinvent himself, studying drama and mime while continuing to write new songs for other artists to record. Following a short stint working as a mime as the opening act for Marc Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex, Bowie returned to recording with the song Space Oddity, released on the Philips label in 1969. The song made the British top 5, but was virtually ignored outside of the UK. A second album, also self-titled, was released by Philips that same year, but was a commercial disappointment. Bowie's next move was to form a band called Hype with John Cambridge, a drummer Bowie met at the Arts Lab, Tony Visconti on bass and Mick Ronson on electric guitar. The four of them appeared on stage dressed like superheroes, but their first gig was such a disaster that they abandoned the idea and settled into a more traditional role as David Bowie's stage band. It was this group that began work on Bowie's next album, The Man Who Sold The World. A falling out with Cambridge led to the recruitment of Mick Woodmansey, who ended up playing drums on all the tracks, including Black Country Rock. The Man Who Sold The World, possibly the closest thing to a hard rock album Bowie would ever record, was also a commercial failure, selling less than 1500 copies in the US when it was initially released. Despite a change of labels from Philips to RCA Victor, Bowie's next LP, Hunky Dory, didn't do much better at first. It wasn't until Bowie once again reinvented himself, taking on the persona of Ziggy Stardust in 1972, that Bowie permanently established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the popular music scene. The Man Who Sold The World was soon reissued on RCA Victor and became a major seller, along with its predecessor, renamed Space Oddity, and Hunky Dory. The rest is legend.

Artist:    Bloodrock
Title:    D.O.A.
Source:    CD: Bloodrock 2
Writer(s):    Cobb/Grundy/Hill/Pickens/Rutledge
Label:    One Way (original label: Capitol)
Year:    1970
    Bloodrock gained infamy in 1970 with the inclusion of D.O.A. on their second LP, a song reputed to be the cause of more bad acid trips than any other track ever recorded. Although the origins of the song are popularly attributed to a plane crash that killed several student atheletes in October of 1970, the fact that the album was already in the hands of record reviewers within a week of that event makes it unlikely that the two are related. The more likely story is that it was inspired by band member Lee Pickens's witnessing of a friend crashing his light plane a couple years before. Regardless of the song's origins, D.O.A. has to be considered one of the creepiest recordings ever made.

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