Sunday, July 4, 2021

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2128 (starts 7/5/21) 

    This is one of those rare shows that features a lot of shorter tracks, including several that have never been played on Rockin' in the Days of Confusion before.

Artist:    Five Man Electrical Band
Title:    Signs
Source:    Mono 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Les Emerson
Label:    Lionel
Year:    1971
    Everybody has at least one song they have fond memories of hearing on the radio while riding around in a friend's car on a hot summer evening. Signs, from Canada's Five Man Electrical Band, is one of mine.

Artist:    Doors
Title:    Break On Through (To The Other Side)
Source:    CD: Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine (originally released on LP: The Doors)
Writer(s):    The Doors
Label:    Elektra/Rhino
Year:    1967
    The first Doors song to be released as a single was not, as usually assumed, Light My Fire. Rather, it was Break On Through (To The Other Side), the opening track from the band's debut LP, that was chosen to do introduce the band to top 40 radio. Although the single was not an immediate hit, it did eventually catch on with progressive FM radio listeners and still is heard on classic rock stations from time to time.

Artist:    Five Americans
Title:    Generation Gap
Source:    LP: Now And Then
Writer(s):    Rabon/Ezell/Durrill
Label:    Abnak
Year:    1969
    In many ways, the Five Americans were a typical American rock band of the 1960s. Formed in 1962 as the Mutineers at Southeastern State College in Durant, Oklahoma, the band originally played mostly instrumental cover songs, shifting their emphasis more toward vocals following the British Invasion of 1964. That same year they shifted their base of operations to a larger population area: Dallas, Texas, where they came to the attention of John Abdnor Sr., owner of Abnak Records, who became their manager. Around this time the band changed their name to the Five Americans and released the first of a series of records for Abnak's Jetstar subsidiary label. The following year they began working with legendary producer Dale Hawkins (who wrote and performed the original version of Suzy Q), switching over to the Abnak label itself. Their first release on Abnak was I See The Light, which was a big enough hit in Dallas to draw the attention of Hanna-Barbera Records (HBR), who re-released the song nationally in 1966, making it to the #26 spot on the Billboard chart. After an album and a pair of subsequent singles failed to get much attention they went back to Abnak for a couple more regional singles. In 1967 the band's regular songwriting partnership of lead guitarist/vocalist Mike Rabon, rhythm guitarist Norman Ezell and keyboardist John Durrill came up with their first and only international hit: Western Union, which went into the top 5 in the US and made the Australian top 40. The Five Americans ended up releasing several more singles for Abnak over the next two years, as well as three albums for the label. Generation Gap, released in 1968 and included on their final double-LP set Now And Then, showed the band moving in a more hard rock direction. The Five Americans finally disbanded in 1969, with Rabon going on to have a moderately successful solo career. Most of the other band members left the music business for other careers, but Durrill ended up becoming a songwriter (he wrote Cher's Dark Lady, among other things) and later would become a member of the Ventures.

Artist:    Neil Young/Crazy Horse
Title:    Cowgirl In The Sand
Source:    CD: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Writer:    Neil Young
Label:    Reprise
Year:    1969
    It has been said that adverse conditions are conducive to good art. Certainly that truism applies to Neil Young's Cowgirl In The Sand, written while Young was running a 102 degree fever. Almost makes me wish I could be that sick sometime.

Artist:    Steve Miller Band
Title:    Going To The Country
Source:    LP: Anthology (originally released on LP: Number 5)
Writer(s):    Miller/Sidran
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1970
    The Steve Miller Band started recording for Capitol as part of the San Francisco explosion, but didn't achieve true stardom until the mid 1970s with the release of The Joker. In the intervening years they cranked out a series of fine albums that got most of their airplay on progressive FM stations. Among those was their fifth LP, appropriately titled Number 5, which included the tune Going To The Country.

Artist:    Firesign Theatre
Title:    Learning Turkish
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. The short Learning Turkish, from that first LP, is typical of the Firesign brand of humor. The Firesign Theatre would go on to become one of the most popular acts in the history of comedy on vinyl, creating such memorable characters as noir detective Nick Danger and film star Porgy Tirebiter.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    Rock And Roll
Source:    45 RPM single (promo copy)
Writer(s):    Page/ Plant/Bonham/Jones
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1971
    According to guitarist Jimmy Page, Rock And Roll, from the fourth Led Zeppelin album, was one of those spur-of-the-moment things that "came together more or less out of nowhere".  The band had been working on another track, Four Sticks, that had a difficult drum part, and, to break the tension drummer John Bonham played the introduction in triplets while Page added a guitar riff. The song came together quickly around a standard 12-bar blues structure and has come to be one of the band's most popular songs.

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    Tomorrow's Dream
Source:    Vol. 4
Writer(s):    Iommi/Osbourne/Butler/Ward
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1972
    The fourth Black Sabbath is best known for the band's excessive use of cocaine throughout the recording process. It is also, perhaps paradoxically, often cited as the band's creative high point. Or, as Ozzy Osbourne put it: "In spite of all the arsing around, musically those few weeks in Bel Air were the strongest we'd ever been. Eventually we started to wonder where all the coke was coming from ... that coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe." As time went on, the band became more paranoid about a potential bust, especially after going to a movie theater to see The French Connection. Some of that paranoia can be felt on tracks like Tomorrow's Dream.

Artist:    Genesis
Title:    More Fool Me
Source:    CD: Selling England By The Pound
Writer(s):    Genesis
Label:    Rhino/Atlantic
Year:    1973
    Drummer Phil Collins only sang lead on two tracks while Peter Gabriel was still a member of Genesis. More Fool Me, from the album Selling England By The Pound, is the second one. The song was reportedly written by Collins and guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford while sitting on the steps of Island studios in London.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Pearl Of The Quarter
Source:    LP: Countdown To Ecstasy
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    ABC
Year:    1973
    While Steely Dan's second LP, Countdown To Ecstasy, is generally considered to be about the dark, yet glitzy side of West Coast culture, one song, Pearl Of The Quarter, focuses instead on a woman from New Orleans. Musically, the song has just a touch of country alongside of Steely Dan's trademark mixture of rock and jazz. It's one of those songs that grows on you over time.

Artist:    Blue Oyster Cult
Title:    (Don't Fear) The Reaper
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Agents Of Fortune)
Writer(s):    Donald Roeser
Label:    Sony Music
Year:    1976
    Guitarist/vocalist Buck Dharma wrote (Don't Fear) The Reaper in his late 20s. At the time, he said, he was expecting to die at a young age. Dharma (real name Donald Roeser), is now in his 70s. Personally, I can't hear this track without thinking of the 1994 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand.

Artist:    Stray Dog
Title:    Worldwinds
Source:    LP: While You're Down There
Writer(s):    Snuffy Walden
Label:    Manticore
Year:    1974
    William Garrett "Snuffy" Walden is best known for the music he has composed over the past thirty years for various TV shows, including Thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Friday Night Lights and The West Wing (for which he won an Emmy award). Before that, however, he was an accomplished guitarist, working with such notables as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Eric Burdon and filling in for an ailing Paul Kossoff on Free's final album, Heartbreaker. For me his most impressive work, however, was with Stray Dog, a Denver-based band that Walden had started in his native Texas. Stray Dog recorded two albums for Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Manticore label, the second of which was While You're Down There. Walden wrote the final track on While You're Down There, an instrumental called Worldwinds that showscases Walden's considerable talent, both as a guitarist and as a composer.

Artist:    Joni Mitchell
Title:    The Jungle Line
Source:    LP: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
Writer(s):    Joni Mitchell
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1975
    Sampling, defined as the reuse of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in another recording, has long been associated with hip-hop, which emerged as a separate musical genre in the 1980s. The first use of sampling in commercial music, however, actually came in 1974, when Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell used a loop recording of Burundi drummers as the rythmic basis of The Jungle Line, a song inspired by the paintings of Henri Rousseau. The Jungle Line appeared as the second track on Mitchell's seventh studio LP, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns.

Artist:    Little Feat
Title:    Dixie Chicken
Source:    LP: Appetizers (originally released on LP: Dixie Chicken)
Writer(s):    George/Martin
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1973
    My very first (unpaid) gig as a radio announcer/disc jockey was a daily two-hour slot on a closed circuit station called the Voice of Holloman. The station was only available in a few barracks on Holloman Air Force Base, as well as through the PA system at the base gym. The station itself was only on for about eight hours a day at its peak during the spring of 1973 and was silent on weekends and holidays. How I got the gig is too long a story to get into here, but it was essentially a sort of internship with the station's manager, Sgt. Tim Daniels, who had been moonlighting as a broadcasting instructor. Tim had recently finished a tour in Viet Nam with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (yes, the same one that Adrian Cronauer had been at a few years earlier) and programmed the Voice of Holloman as an Adult Contemporary station, which basically meant top 40 minus anything resembling the cutting edge of modern music. Back then the major record labels were in the habit of supplying free promotional copies of just about everything they released to radio stations, in the hopes of getting those records played on the air. Although the Voice of Holloman was, strictly speaking, not an actual radio station, we still got a lot of promo singles, especially from the Warner/Reprise group. These included some of the best new music of 1973, including a single by a band none of us had heard of before: Little Feat. That single was Dixie Chicken, one of the finest swamp rock songs ever recorded. Years later I learned that Little Feat was led by Lowell George, who had led his own underground band, the Factory, during the heyday of the Los Angeles club scene, and had later hooked up with Frank Zappa's Straight label, producing the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). Little Feat continued to record critically acclaimed albums until George's untimely death in 1979, but even if they hadn't, they will always be remembered as the band that gave us Dixie Chicken.

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