Sunday, December 20, 2020

Stuck in the Psychedelic Era # 2052 (starts 12/21/20) 

It was 50 years ago this week that not only the year 1970, but the entire psychedelic era, was coming to a close. Independent record labels, which had fueled the garage-rock movement, had either been bought up by the big labels or disappeared altogether. The surviving bands of the psychedelic era were exploring new genres such as prog-rock, hard rock, and heavy metal, playing to increasingly larger audiences, which in turn decreased the feeling of audience-artist connection that had characterized the psychedelic era. The advent of multitrack recording technology resulted in increased usage of overdubs, furthering the gap between live performances and studio tracks. Sadly, 1970 was also the year we lost three great talents in the space of about a month: Canned Heat's Alan Wilson on September 3rd, Jimi Hendrix on September 18th and Janis Joplin on October 4th. All of them were 27 years old. This week we revisit 1970, with tracks from both old and new artists of the time, including one band (that could trace its roots to 1958) that hit their artistic and commercial peak in 1970. You'll just have to guess who that group was.

    We start with a sort of overview of 1970, featuring a mixture of old and new artists with backgrounds in folk, rock, blues and even a touch of jazz.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Immigrant Song
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin III
Writer(s):    Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    Although the third Led Zeppelin album is known mostly for its surprising turn toward a more acoustic sound than its predecessors, the first single from that album actually rocked out as hard, if not harder, than any previous Zeppelin track. In fact, it could be argued that Immigrant Song rocks out harder than anything on top 40 radio before or since. Starting with a tape echo deliberately feeding on itself the song breaks into a basic riff built on two notes an octave apart, with Robert Plant's wailing vocals sounding almost like a siren call. Guitarist Jimmy Page soon breaks into a series of power chords that continue to build in intensity for the next two minutes, until the song abruptly stops cold. The lyrics of Immigrant Song were inspired by the band's trip to Iceland in 1970.
Artist:    Melanie
Title:    Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Candles In The Rain)
Writer(s):    Melanie Safka
Label:    Sony Music (original label Buddah)
Year:    1970
    When it comes to songs inspired by the Woodstock festival, the most famous is, by far, Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, which became a huge hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970. The thing about that song, however, is that Mitchell herself was not actually at the festival, having famously been advised by her manager to appear on the Dick Cavett show instead. The most famous Woodstock song written (and sung) by someone who was actually there, was Melanie's Lay Down (Candles In The Rain), which was also a huge hit in 1970. New York born Melanie Safka was still virtually unknown in the US when she became one of three female solo artists to appear at Woodstock, although she did have a strong following in Europe thanks to the success of Bobo's Party and Beautiful People, the latter of which she performed on the Woodstock stage. Whereas Mitchell's Woodstock was a description of the festival itself, Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) is more about the spirit of both the crowd and many of the performers, focusing particularly on Melanie's own performance and the crowd reaction to it. The recorded song, from the album Candles In The Rain, was a collaboration between Melanie and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who's Oh, Happy Day was a top five single in the months leading up to the Woodstock festival.

Artist:    B.B. King
Title:    The Thrill Is Gone
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Benson/Pettite
Label:    Bluesway
Year:    1970
    Back when there was still room for blues artists on the rhythm and blues charts, one of the names regularly seen was B.B. King, who had gotten his start as a DJ in the early 50s. In the late 1960s he got a new manager, who began getting him more gigs playing to white audiences that had been introduced to the blues through recordings by artists like Paul Butterfield, John Mayall and Eric Clapton. After opening for the Rolling Stones on their 1969 US tour he recorded The Thrill Is Gone, a song written by West Coast blues musician Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell and released by Hawkins in 1951. The single, produced by Bill Szymczyk, went into the top 20 on both the Hot 100 and Soul charts. King went on to become a member of the Blues Hall Of Fame, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame  before passing away in 2015 at age 89.

Artist:     Blues Image
Title:     Ride Captain Ride
Source:     CD: Open
Writer:     Blues Image
Label:     Sundazed (original label: Atco)
Year:     1970
     After having mild commercial success with their self-titled debut album in 1969, Blues Image deliberately set out to write a hit song for their second LP, Open. The result was Ride Captain Ride, which made the top 40 in 1970. The album itself, however, did not do as well as its predecessor, and was the last one issued by the band's original lineup.

Artist:    Chicago
Title:    25 Or 6 To 4
Source:    CD: Chicago
Writer(s):    Robert Lamm
Label:    Rhino (original label: Columbia)
Year:    1970
    For their second LP, Chicago (which had justdropped the words "Transit Authority" from their name in response to a threatened lawsuit) tried out all three of their vocalists on each new song to hear who sounded the best for that particular song. In the case of Robert Lamm's 25 Or 6 To 4, bassist Peter Cetera did the honors. The song became a top 10 single both in the US and UK. Despite rumors to the contrary, Lamm says 25 Or 6 To 4 is not a drug song. Instead, he says, the title refers to the time of the morning that he was awake and writing the tune.

    Although psychedelic rock bands were popping up all over the place in the late 1960s, the acknowledged epicenter of the movement was the San Francisco Bay area. Not all of the bands from the Bay Area made it to 1970, and those that did were often going through some changes.

Artist:    Blue Cheer
Title:    Fool
Source:    Mono CD: Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70 (originally released as 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Yoder/Grelecki
Label:    Rhino (original label: Philips)
Year:    1970
    Following the departure of Randy Holden, who had himself replaced founding member Leigh Stephens, Blue Cheer decided to forego the power trio configuration of their first two and a half albums and instead go with a more melodic sound and shorter songs. To accomplish this, Bruce Stephens (no relation to Leigh) was brought in for one side of the third Blue Cheer album, The New Improved Blue Cheer. Stephens stayed with the band long enough to record the group's self-titled fourth LP, but even on that album his replacement, former Oxford Circle guitarist/vocalist Gary Lee Yoder, whose own band Kak was already disintegrating, made a guest appearance as a songwriter on two of the album's tracks. Cementing his relationship with the band even further, Yoder added a new lead vocal track to the single version of the album's opening track, Fool (which, being co-written by his Kak cohort Gary Grelecki, was probably intended to be recorded by Kak, had that band stayed together long enough to issue a second LP), making it considerably different (and much harder to find) than the original LP track. Yoder would officially replace Stephens as Blue Cheer's guitarist by the time sessions began for the band's fifth album.

Artist:    Steve Miller Band
Title:    Going To Mexico
Source:    CD: Number 5
Writer(s):    Miller/Scaggs
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1970
    Although Boz Scaggs had left the Steve Miller Band following their second album, Sailor, the song Going To Mexico, co-written by Miller and Scaggs, did not appear on an album until Number 5 was released in 1970. Miller himself referred to the song as a 1969 track on his Anthology album, however, leading me to believe the song may have been among the last tracks recorded while Scaggs was still with the band. The recording also features future star Lee Michaels on organ.

Artist:    Jefferson Airplane
Title:    Mexico
Source:    CD: Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70 (originally released as 45 RPM single B side and included on LP: Early Flight)
Writer(s):    Grace Slick
Label:    Rhino (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:    1970
    The B side of the last Jefferson Airplane single to include founding member (and original leader) Marty Balin was Mexico, a scathing response by Grace Slick to President Richard Nixon's attempts to eradicate the marijuana trade between the US and Mexico. The song was slated to be included on the next Airplane album, Long John Silver, but Balin's departure necessitated a change in plans, and Mexico did not appear on an LP until Early Flight was released in 1974.

    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada was the original home of Allan And The Silvertones, who by 1962 had become Chad Allan And The Reflections. Their first single was released on the Canadian-American label that year, becoming the first of many regional hits for the group. In 1965 they released a version of Shakin' All Over using the name Guess Who as a gimmick. The record became their first US hit and the Guess Who their permanent name. It took another four years for them to get their next US hit, These Eyes, but even that was a prelude to what would turn out to be their most successful year: 1970.

Artist:     Guess Who
Title:     American Woman
Source:     CD: American Woman)
Writer:     Bachman/Cummings/Peterson/Kale
Label:     Buddha/BMG (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:     1970
     From 1968-1970 I was living on Ramstein AFB, which was and is a huge base in Germany with enough Canadian personnel stationed there to justify their own on-base school. For much of the time I lived there I found myself hanging out with a bunch of Canadian kids and I gotta tell you, they absolutely loved everything by the Guess Who, who were, after all, the most successful Canadian band in history. In particular, they all loved the band's most political (and controversial) hit, the 1970 tune American Woman. I rather liked it myself, and immediately went out and bought a copy of the album, one of the first to be pressed on RCA's Dynaflex vinyl. Luckily, the album is now available on CD, which sounds much better than Dynaflex ever did.
Artist:    Guess Who
Title:    No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Source:    LP: The Best Of The Guess Who (originally released on LP: American Woman)
Writer(s):    Bachman/Cummings
Label:    Buddha/BMG (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:    1970
    Randy Bachman's No Sugar Tonight was not intended to be a hit single. In fact, when he first unveiled the song he was told by his bandmates that it was too short. So, to flesh it out he and Burton Cummings combined No Sugar Tonight with a Cumming tune, New Mother Nature, that was still a work in progress. The resulting medley was included on the 1970 LP American Woman. Additionally, No Sugar Tonight itself, in its short form, was also released as the B side of the American Woman single. It proved so popular that it made the top 40 in its own right. Meanwhile, FM rock stations began playing the full medley, and the shorter single version was soon abandoned by top 40 stations as well. Bachman says the song itself was inspired by an incident that transpired on a California street in which a "tough looking biker" type got publicly dressed down by a five foot tall woman for neglecting his household chores to hang out with his friends. The last words heard before they drove off in her car were "and one more thing, you ain't getting no sugar tonight".

Artist:     Guess Who
Title:     No Time
Source:     CD: American Woman
Writer(s): Bachman/Cummings
Label:     Buddha/BMG (original label: RCA Victor)
Year:     1970
     The Guess Who hit their creative and commercial peak with their 1970 album American Woman. The first of three hit singles from the album was No Time, which was already climbing the charts when the LP was released. After American Woman the band's two main songwriters, guitarist Randy Bachman and vocalist Burton Cummings, would move in increasingly divergent directions, with Bachman eventually leaving the band to form the hard-rocking Bachman-Turner Overdrive, while Cummings continued to helm an increasingly light pop flavored Guess Who.

    Before the psychedelic era, hit songs were almost universally released as singles. By 1970, however, some songs first became popular as album tracks, and later were released (usually in edited form) for top 40 radio stations to play. Here are some examples in their original album form.

Artist:    Sugarloaf
Title:    Green-Eyed Lady
Source:    LP: Sugarloaf
Writer(s):    Corbetta/Phillips/Riordan
Label:    Liberty
Year:    1970
    The unwritten rules of radio, particularly those concerning song length, were in transition in 1970. Take Sugarloaf's Green-Eyed Lady, for example. When first released as a single the 45 was virtually identical to the album version except that it faded out just short of the six-minute mark. This was about twice the allowed length under the old rules and it was soon replaced with an edited version that left out all the instrumental solos, coming in at just under three minutes. The label soon realized, however, that part of the original song's appeal (as heard on FM rock radio) was its organ solo, and a third single edit with that solo restored became the final, and most popular, version of Green-Eyed Lady. Meanwhile, though all of this, FM rock jocks continued to play the original album version heard here. Smart move on their part.

Artist:    Emerson, Lake And Palmer
Title:    Lucky Man
Source:    CD: Emerson, Lake And Palmer
Writer(s):    Greg Lake
Label:    Rhino (original label: Cotillion)
Year:    1970
    By 1970 a trend was developing in rock music that continues to this day. That trend was for musicians to leave their original bands after a couple years and form new "supergroups" with other like-minded musicians. One example was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, made up of former members of the Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster. Their first, and most recognizable, hit was Lucky Man, written by lead vocalist Greg Lake, who also played acoustic guitar on the song.

    The downside of 1970 was that it was the year that three major talents from the rock world passed away over a 31-day period, from September 3rd to October 4th.

Artist:    Janis Joplin
Title:    Mercedes Benz
Source:    CD: Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70 (originally released on LP: Pearl)
Writer(s):    Joplin/Neuwirth/McClure
Label:    Rhino (original label: Columbia)
Year:    Recorded 1970, released 1971
    Mercedes Benz was the last song recorded by Janis Joplin. After laying down this vocal track on October 3, 1970 she went home and OD'd on heroin. The song appeared exactly as recorded on the 1971 album Pearl.

Artist:    Jimi Hendrix/Band Of Gypsys
Title:    Power Of Soul
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single B side
Writer(s):    Jimi Hendrix
Label:    Legacy
Year:    Recorded 1970, released 2013
    1969 was a strange year for Jimi Hendrix. For one thing, he did not release any new recordings that year, yet he remained the top money maker in rock music. One reason for the lack of new material was an ongoing dispute with Capitol Records over a contract he had signed in 1965 as a session player. By the end of the year an agreement was reached for Hendrix to provide Capitol with one album's worth of new material. At this point Hendrix had not released any live albums, so it was decided to tape his New Year's performances at the Fillmore East with his new Band Of Gypsys (with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox), playing songs that had never been released in studio form. As it turns out, however, studio versions of many of the songs on that album did indeed exist, but were not issued until after Hendrix's death, when producer Alan Douglas put out a pair of LPs (Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning), that had some of the original drum and bass tracks (and even some guitar tracks) re-recorded by musicians that had never actually worked with Hendrix. One of those songs is Power Of Soul, which has finally been released in its original Band Of Gypsys studio version, recorded just a couple of weeks after the Fillmore East gig with background vocals provided by Cox and Miles.

Artist:    Jimi Hendrix/Band Of Gypsys
Title:    Machine Gun
Source:    LP: The Esssential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two (originally released on LP: Band Of Gypsys)
Writer(s):    Jimi Hendrix
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1970
    In 1965 Jimi Hendrix sat in on a recording session with R&B vocalist Curtis Knight, signing what he thought was a standard release contract relinquishing any future claim to royalties on the recordings. Three years later, after Hendrix had released a pair of successful albums on the Reprise label with his new band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Capitol records issued the Knight sessions as an LP called Get That Feeling, giving Hendrix equal billing with Knight. Additionally, Capitol claimed that  the guitarist was under contract to them. Eventually the matter was settled by Hendrix promising to provide Capitol with an album of new material by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, although it was not specified whether the album be made up of studio or live recordings. While all this was going on, the Experience disbanded, leaving Hendrix bandless and under pressure to come up with new material for his regular label, Reprise, as well as the Capitol album. The solution was to record a set of concerts at the Fillmore East on December 31st, 1969 and January 1st, 1970, and release the best of these recordings as a live album on the Capitol label, freeing Hendrix up to concentrate on a new studio album for Reprise. Hendrix was still working on the studio album when he died, making the live album, Band Of Gypsys, the last new material to be released during the guitarist's lifetime. It features bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles on Hendrix originals such as Machine Gun, as well as material written by Miles.

Artist:    Jimi Hendrix Experience II
Title:    Valleys Of Neptune
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Jimi Hendrix
Label:    Legacy
Year:    Recorded 1970, released 2010
    Even before the breakup of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1969, Hendrix was starting to work with other musicians, including keyboardist Steve Winwood and wind player Chris Wood from Traffic, bassist Jack Casidy from Jefferson Airplane and Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles. Still, he kept showing a tendency to return to the power trio configuration, first with Band of Gypsys, with Miles and bassist Billy Cox and, in 1970, a new trio that was sometimes billed as the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This trio, featuring Cox along with original Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell (with additional percussion added by Jumo Sultan), recorded extensively in the months leading up to Hendrix's death on September 18th, leaving behind hours of tapes in various stages of completion. Among those recordings was a piece called Valleys Of Neptune that was finally released, both as a single and as the title track of a new CD, in 2010.

Artist:    Canned Heat
Title:    Going Up The Country
Source:    CD: The Very Best Of Canned Heat (originally released on LP: Living The Blues)
Writer(s):    Alan Wilson
Label:    Capitol (original label: Liberty)
Year:    1968
    Canned Heat built up a solid reputation as one of the best blues-rock bands in history, recording several critically-acclaimed albums over a period of years. What they did not have, however, was a top 10 single on the US charts. The nearest they got was Going Up The Country from their late 1968 LP Living The Blues, which peaked in the #11 spot in early 1969 (although it did hit #1 in several other countries). The song was written and sung by guitarist Alan "Blind Own" Wilson, who died at age 27 on September 3, 1970.

    Some popular bands saw 1970 as a time to redefine themselves. The Grateful Dead, for instance, decided that they had finally achieved their original goal of capturing the feel of their live shows on vinyl with the 1969 double LP Live Dead, and instead began to concentrate on their songwriting skills. Others, like the Kinks, finally ended a long dry spell, while the ultimate British psychedelic band, Pink Floyd, got even more experimental.

Artist:    Grateful Dead
Title:    Sugar Magnolia
Source:    CD: Skeletons From The Closet (originally released on LP: American Beauty)
Writer(s):    Hunter/Weir
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:     1970
            One of the most popular songs in the Grateful Dead catalog, Sugar Magnolia also has the distinction of being the second-most performed song in the band's history, with 596 documented performances. The song, written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir, first appeared on the 1970 album American Beauty, but was not released as a single. A live version two years later, however, did see a single release, charting in the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100.

Artist:    Kinks
Title:    Lola
Source:    Mono Canadian CD: 25 Years-The Ultimate Collection (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Ray Davies
Label:    Polygram/PolyTel (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1970
    By 1970 the Kinks were all but forgotten in the US and not doing all that much better in their native UK. Then came Lola. I guess I could stop right there. Or I could mention that the song was based on a true story involving the band's manager. I could even say something about Dave Davies' claim that, although his brother Ray is credited as the sole songwriter of Lola, Dave actually came up with the music and Ray added the lyrics. But you've probably heard it all before. This is Lola, the most famous song about cross-dressing in rock history we're talking about, after all.

Artist:    Pink Floyd
Title:    Embryo
Source:    CD: Cre/Ation-The Early Years 1967-1972 (originally released in UK on LP: Picnic-A Breath Of Fresh Air)
Writer(s):    Roger Waters
Label:    Columbia (original label: Harvest)
Year:    1970
    Until the emergence of CD box sets in the 1990s, trying to gather all of Pink Floyd's officially released material was a daunting task. There were non-album singles and B side, tracks made specifically for movie soundtracks and even one tune, Embryo, the original studio version of which only appeared on a UK-only Harvest Records sampler called Picnic-A Breath Of Fresh Air, released in 1970. The song finally made its first US appearance in 1983, on a Pink Floyd anthology album called Works that was released by Capitol Records in an attempt to undercut the release of The Final Cut on the Columbia label. Embryo, written by Roger Waters, is actually an outtake from the Ummagumma sessions recorded in 1969 with David Gilmour on lead vocals.

    We finish out the show, appropriately, with a couple of tracks that have never been played on Stuck in the Psychedelic Era before. The first is from a little known British prog rock band known as The Web, while the second features Eric Clapton's take on a Jimi Hendrix classic.

Artist:    Web
Title:    I Spider
Source:    British import CD: Spirit Of Joy
Writer(s):    Dave Lawson
Label:    Polydor
Year:    1970
    One of Britain's least-known, yet influential artists is keyboardist/vocalist Dave Lawson. After a stint with the RAF as a jazz pianist, Lawson joined Episode Six, a London cover band featuring vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Lawson soon transformed the group's sound, steering them away from pop music and toward more progressive material by bands like Traffic. This led to the band getting the attention of Deep Purple's Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore, who were looking to replace original vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nicky Simper. Following the departure of Gillan and Glover, Lawson hooked up with a band called the Web, who had cut a couple of soul-flavored albums for the Deram label but were looking to move in a more progressive direction following the departure of the original lead vocalist John L. Watson. The band dropped the definitive article from their name for their first album for Polydor, which was written entirely by Lawson, who also provided lead vocals for the progressive jazz-rock LP. The album went mostly unnoticed when originally released in 1970, but has since come to be regarded as a lost classic in prog-rock circles. After changing their name to Samurai the band recorded a second LP for Polydor, but finally disbanded when Lawson accepted an invitation from Dave Greenslade to form a new band called Greenslade. Lawson stayed with Greenslade until they disbanded in 1976, writing or co-writing nearly all of the band's material. Following Greenslade's breakup Lawson participated in several notable projects, including the soundtracks of films like The Man Who Fell To Earth, Superman and Star Wars, where he used an ARP 2600 synthesizer to create the "electric tuba" sound heard in the film's cantina scene. Lawson currently owns his own sound design studio with one of the largest privately owned synthesizer systems in Europe.

Artist:    Derek And The Dominos
Title:    Little Wing
Source:    CD: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
Writer(s):    Jimi Hendrix
Label:    Polydor (original label: Atco)
Year:    1970
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience often performed an instrumental jam based on Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love, so it seems only fair that Eric Clapton would someday return the favor. When he did, it was memorable. Little Wing is one of the standout tracks on an album full of standout tracks. As such, it is often overlooked in favor of other tunes from Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. Still, it is a unique arrangement of the Hendrix classic, enhanced by the presence of Duane Allman on slide guitar.

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