This week we're playing it by years, with an opening set of tunes from 1969 followed by a slightly shorter set from 1970. From there, we move into less familiar musical territory, with tracks from bands like Fanny and Three Man Army, before finishing out with Chicago's most political hit single.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Ramble On
Source: German import LP: Led Zeppelin II
Some songs grab you the first time you hear them, but soon wear out their welcome. Others take a while to catch on, but tend to stay with you for a lifetime. Then there are those rare classics that manage to hook you from the start and yet never get old. One such song is Led Zeppelin's Ramble On, from their second LP. The song starts with a Jimmy Page acoustic guitar riff played high up on the neck with what sounds almost like footsteps keeping time (but turns out to be John Bonham playing bongo style on a guitar case). John Paul Jones soon adds one of the most melodic bass lines ever to appear in a rock song, followed closely by Robert Plant's Tolkien-influenced lyrics. For the chorus the band gets into electric mode, with guitar, bass and drums each contributing to a unique staggered rhythmic pattern. The song also contains one of Page's most memorable solos, that shares tonal qualities with Eric Clapton's work on Cream's Disraeli Gears album. Although I usually don't pay much attention to lyrics, one set of lines from Ramble On has stuck with me for a good many years:
"'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her."
How can any Tolkien fan resist that?
Title: What Would You Do (If I Did That To You)
Source: LP: Monster
Monster is generally acknowledged to be Steppenwolf's most political album. Led off by the indictment of the entire American political system that serves as the album's title track, the first side continues to hit the listener with in-your-face messages in Draft Resister and Power Play. The second side eases up a bit, and even includes the album's only non-original tune, What Would You Do (If I Did That To You). The song itself, written by Leno Francen and Nolan Porter, seems to be political at first, but ends up being more of a "my anger is justfified" kind of thing.
Artist: Crosby, Stills and Nash
Title: You Don't Have To Cry
Source: CD: Crosby, Stills and Nash
Writer: Stephen Stills
After the breakup of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Stephen Stills spent some time in the studio cutting demo tapes as well as pitching in to help his friend Al Kooper complete the Super Session album when guitarist Mike Bloomfield became incapacitated by his heroin addiction. He then started hanging out at David Crosby's place in Laurel Canyon. Joined by Graham Nash, who had recently left the Hollies, they recorded the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album. Several of the tunes Stills had penned since the Springfield breakup were included on the album, including You Don't Have To Cry. The song addresses his own breakup with singer Judy Collins.
Artist: Fairport Convention
Title: Matty Groves
Source: LP: Liege And Lief
Writer(s): Trad., arr. Fairport Convention
Britain's Fairport Convention was quite prolific in 1969, releasing no less than three LPs that year. The last of these was Liege And Lief, considered by some to be the greatest British folk-rock album ever made. The album is notable for several reasons, including the fact that it was the group's first album to consist entirely of rocked out adaptations of traditional British folk tunes such as Matty Grove, along with a handful of original compositions done in a similar style. It was also the first Fairport Convention album to feature guitarist Martin Carthy (who had made a guest appearance on the band's previous album, Unhalfbricking) and drummer Dave Mattacks as full-time members. Finally, Liege And Lief was the last Fairport album to feature vocalist Sandy Denny and bassist Ashley Hutchings, both of whom lef to form their own British folk-rock bands (Fotheringay and Steeleye Span, respectively). Like many British folk songs, Matty Grove tells the somewhat morally ambiguous tale of a low-born rascal who beds the wife of his Duke, only to have said Duke catch them in the act, killing them both. Trust me, it sounds better coming from Fairport Convention that it does me.
Title: Nature's Way/Animal Zoo
Source: CD: Best Of Spirit (originally released on LP: Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus)
Writer: Randy California
The last album by the original lineup of Spirit was The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus, released in 1970. The album was originally going to be produced by Neil Young, but due to other commitments Young had to bow out, recommending David Briggs, who had already produced Young's first album with Crazy Horse, as a replacement. The first song from the album to be released was Animal Zoo, which came out as a single in July of 1970. The LP itself was held back until November of that year, with the song Mr. Skin simultaneously released as a single. Although not a major seller, Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus did get a decent amount of airplay on FM rock stations, with Randy California's Nature's Way, which on the album segued directly into Animal Zoo, getting a lot of attention. Two months after the album was released, Epic decided to release Nature's Way as a single (backed by Mr. Skin), but it never caught on with AM radio listeners. Nonetheless, when the album Best Of Spirit was released in 1973 the two songs were both included in their original order with the segue intact. By then, however, Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes had left Spirit to form Jo Jo Gunne.
Artist: Johnny Winter
Title: Rock And Roll Hoochie Coo
Source: European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Johnny Winter And)
Writer(s): Rick Derringer
Label: Sony Music (original label: Columbia)
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: American Dream
Source: LP: The American Dream
Writer(s): Van Winkle/Jameson
OK, I have to admit that I know very little about the album and band called The American Dream, which was included as an unexpected free gift that came along with a vintage vinyl copy of an album I bought online. Here's what I do know. The American Dream was from Philadelphia. The album was produced by Todd Rundgren. In fact, it was his first time producing a group that he himself was not a member of. Finally, these guys were actually pretty good. How good? Well, take a listen to the album's final (and longest) track, Raspberries, and decide for yourself.
Title: Hocus Pocus
Source: British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Moving Waves)
Writer(s): van Leer/Akkerman
Label: Polydor UK (original US label: Sire)
Although it was not a hit until 1973, Hocus Pocus, by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus, has the type of simple structure coupled with high energy that was characteristic of many of the garage bands of the mid to late 60s. The song was originally released on the band's second LP, known alternately as Focus II and Moving Waves, in 1971. Both guitarist Jan Akkerman and keyboardist/vocalist/flautist Thijs van Leer have gone on to have successful careers, with van Leer continuing to use to the Focus name as recently as 2006.
Title: Hey Bulldog
Source: LP: Fanny Hill
Fanny was one of the first self-contained all-female rock bands, and the first to release an album on a major label. The group, consisting of sisters June and Jean Millington on bass and guitar and Alice de Buhr on drums, were first known as Wild Honey, and were on the verge of breaking up when they were discovered while playing an open-mike night gig at L.A.'s Troubador Club by producer Richard Perry, who got them a contract with Warner Brothers' Reprise label. After recruiting keyboardist Nickey Barclay the band changed their name to Fanny, issuing their first album in 1970. Their third LP, Fanny Hill, is often considered the highlight of their career. The album, recorded at EMI's legendary Abbey Road studios, features a mix of cover tunes (including, appropriately, the little-known Beatles song Hey Bulldog) and originals. After two more albums, Fanny disbanded, although all of the members remained active as studio musicians. In a 1999 interview David Bowie called Fanny "one of the most important female bands in American rock", adding that the early 1970s "just wasn't their time."
Source: 45 RPM single (promo copy)
Label: Warner Brothers
Rod Stewart does not perform on the song Ooh-La-La (that's Ronnie Wood on lead vocals). In fact, he is entirely missing from three of the ten tracks on the 1973 album Ooh La La. This is because by 1973 Rod Stewart was a Big Solo Rock Star who apparently had little interest in honoring his commitments to his bandmates. He missed the first two weeks of sessions for the album entirely and appeared to be distracted when he did bother to show up. After the album was released he went out of his way to tell anyone that would listen how bad the album was. Now do you understand why I have zero respect for Rod Stewart?
Artist: Three Man Army
Title: Let's Go Get Laid
Source: German import CD: 3
Writer(s): Adrian Gurvitz
Year: Recorded 1974, released 2004 (dates approximate)
The Gurvitz brothers, Adrian and Paul, got their first taste of international fame as two thirds of the band Gun, whose Race With The Devil was a monster hit in Germany and the UK, among other places. Following the breakup of Gun, the brothers went their separate ways for a year or so, reuniting in 1971 to form Three Man Army. The first album featured three different drummers, but the next two featured the talents of Tony Newman, formerly of the Jeff Beck Group. Plans for a fourth album were shelved when Newman left the group, to be replaced by Ginger Baker (prompting a name change to Baker-Gurvitz Army), but not until several tracks had already been recorded. Those tracks remained unreleased until 2004, when a German label released 3 (so named because it was the third album to feature Newman). Probably the best track on the album is Let's Go Get Laid. I'll leave it to you to figure out what the song is about.
Title: Dialogue (part 1&2)
Source: 45 RPM single edit reissue (original version on LP: Chicago V)
Writer(s): Robert Lamm
In their early days Chicago was one of the more politically-oriented rock bands around. One of the more notable tracks on their first album (Someday) was built around the crowds in Lincoln Park chanting outside the 1968 Democratic convention. The group continued to make political statements for the next few years, although by the time they released their landmark four-disc live album they were firmly in the camp of advocating working within the system as opposed to overthrowing everything and starting over (sort of an evolution over revolution approach). One of the more interesting songs of this type is a condemnation of socio-political apathy called Dialogue, from the album Chicago V. The structure of the first half of the record is based on Plato's philosophical dialogues, with one vocalist, Robert Lamm, asking disturbing questions and the other, Peter Cetera, giving answers that are on the surface reassuring but in reality bespeak an attitude of burying one's head in the sand and hoping everything will turn out OK. This shifts into a call for everyone to work together to effect needed changes in the world, with the repeated line "We can make it happen" dominating the second half of the record.