This week we feature a set of tunes from Blue Cheer's debut LP, Vincebus Eruptum, introduced by the Intrepid Traveler, Ken Babbs, of the Merry Pranksters. Also in the mix, a Beatles artists' set, an obscure Bee Gees track from the Odessa album and the usual assortment of singles, B sides and album tracks, with a slight emphasis on the years 1966 and 1968.
Title: Season Of The Witch
Source: CD: Sunshine On The Mountain (originally released on LP: Sunshine Superman)
Writer: Donovan Leitch
Label: Sony Music (original label: Epic)
Year: 1966 (stereo version, 1969)
Season Of The Witch has proved to be one of the most popular and enduring tracks on Donovan's Sunshine Superman album. Due to a contract dispute with Pye Records, the album was not released in the UK until late 1967, and then only as an LP combining tracks from both the Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow albums. Like all tracks from both Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow, Season Of The Witch was only available in a mono mix until 1969, when a new stereo mix was created from the original multi-track masters for the singer/songwriter's first greatest hits compilation. Season of the Witch has since been covered by an impressive array of artists, including Al Kooper and Stephen Stills (on the Super Session album) and Vanilla Fudge.
Artist: Thor's Hammer (Hljomar)
Title: My Life
Source: Mono CD: Nuggets II-Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond 1964-1969 (originally released on British EP: Umbarumbamba for export to Iceland)
Label: Rhino (original label: Parlophone)
Originally formed in 1964 in Keflavik, Iceland, Hljomar, led by Gunnar Thordarson quickly became one of the most popular teen-oriented bands on the island nation, commencing to record locally in their native language in 1965. It soon became evident, however, that for the band to increase their audience base they would have to start recording in English, and by the end of the year had travelled to England to record songs under the name Thor's Hammer for an upcoming movie starring the band. Both the movie itself and a four-song EP featuring tunes from the film were released in late 1966, both bearing the name Umbarumbamba. Neither the movie or the EP did particularly well, however, despite strong tunes such as My Life, and, after a final attempt at an English language single in 1967, the band returned to Iceland, becoming Hljomar once more for the remainder of their existence.
Artist: Count Five
Title: Psychotic Reaction
Source: Mono CD: Nuggets-Classics From The Psychedelic 60s (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Rhino (original label: Double Shot)
Although San Jose, Ca. is a rather large city in its own right (the 10th-largest city in the US in fact), it has always had a kind of suburban status, thanks to being within the same media market as San Francisco. Nonetheless, San Jose had its own very active music scene in the mid-60s, and Count Five was, for a time in late 1966, at the top of the heap, thanks in large part to Psychotic Reaction tearing up the national charts.
Artist: Mojo Men
Title: She's My Baby
Source: Mono CD: Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70 (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Rhino (original labels: Autumn/Reprise)
Although generally considered to be one of the early San Francisco bands, the Mojo Men actually originated in Rochester, NY. After spending most of the early 60s in Florida playing to fraternities, the band moved out the West Coast in 1965, soon falling in with Autumn Records producer Sylvester Stewart (Sly Stone), for a time becoming his backup band. Stewart produced several singles for the Mojo Men, including She's My Baby, a song that had originally been recorded in 1962 as a song to do the mashed potato (an early 60s dance) to by Steve Alaimo, brother of Mojo Men bassist/lead vocalist Jim Alaimo and co-host (with Paul Revere and the Raiders) of the nationally distributed dance show Where The Action Is. The Mojo Men version of She's My Baby has more of a blues/garage-rock sound than the Steve Alaimo original, prompting its inclusion on several compilation albums over the past forty years. The original single, released in 1965 on the Autumn label, had different vocals than the 1966 Reprise reissue heard here, although both use the same instrumental backing track.
Artist: Raik's Progress
Title: "F" In "A"
Source: Mono LP: Sewer Rat Love Chant
Writer(s): Krikorian/Shapazian/van Maarth/Olson/Scott
Year: Recorded 1966, released 2003
"A bunch of 17-year-old quasi-intellectual proto-punks" was how Steve Krikorian, later to be known as Tonio K, described his first band. Krikorian, along with friends Alan Shapazian, Steve Olson, Nick van Maarth, and Duane Scott, formed The Raik's Progress in 1966 in Fresno, California. By the end of the year they had already cut a single for a major label (Liberty) and would soon find themselves opening for Buffalo Springfield at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, gaining a reputation for their unique stage show, which included sitting down and playing a game of poker between songs and other strange antics. Their music was equally unusual, in that it combined influences from the more blues oriented British Invasion bands like the Animals and Them with an avant-garde sensibility more in line with what Frank Zappa's Mothers were doing at the time. Although the band did not release any more records they did record several tracks that were released in 2003 as an LP called Sewer Rat Love Chant (the title of the B side of the aforementioned single). Warning: do not say the title of this track (which has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics of "F" In "A") too quickly in front of your parents or other authority figures.
Artist: Canned Heat
Title: On The Road Again
Source: CD: The Very Best Of Canned Heat (originally released on LP: Boogie With Canned Heat)
Label: Capitol (original label: Liberty)
Canned Heat was formed by a group of blues record collectors in San Francisco. Although their first album consisted entirely of cover songs, by 1968 they were starting to compose their own material, albeit in a style that remained consistent with their blues roots. On The Road Again is built on the same repeating riff the band used for their extended onstage jams such as Refried Boogie and Woodstock Boogie; the same basic riff that ZZ Top would use (at double speed) for their hit LaGrange a few years later.
Artist: George Harrison
Title: In The Park
Source: CD: Wonderwall Music
Writer(s): George Harrison
George Harrison first played sitar on the Rubber Soul album, released in late 1965. Over the next two years he would release three songs that were virtually dominated by the Indian instrument: Love You To (Revolver LP), Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper's album), and The Inner Light (the B side of Lady Madonna). When the double-LP called The Beatles (aka the White Album) came out in 1968, however, there was not a trace of sitar on the entire album. So what happened? My own theory is that after recording the soundtrack for the Joe Massot film Wonderwall Harrison had simply had his fill of the instrument and had decided that in the future, if he needed sitar on a record he would call on the acknowledged master of the instrument, Ravi Shankar, to play it. As is obvious from listening to In The Park, from the Wonderwall Music album, Harrison played a lot of sitar that year.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title: 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)/Moon Turn The Tides (Gently, Gently Away)
Source: CD: Electric Ladyland
Writer: Jimi Hendrix
Label: Experience Hendrix/Legacy (original label: Reprise)
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)/Moon Turn The Tides (Gently, Gently Away) from the Electric Ladyland album is the longest work created purely in the studio by Jimi Hendrix, with a running time of over 16 minutes. The piece starts with tape effects that lead into the song's main guitar rift. The vocals and drums join in to tell a science fiction story set in a future world where the human race has had to move underwater in order to survive some unspecified catastrophe. After a couple verses, the piece goes into a long unstructured section made up mostly of guitar effects before returning to the main theme and closing out with more effects that combine volume control and stereo panning to create a circular effect. As is the case with several tracks on Electric Ladyland, 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)/Moon Turn The Tides (Gently, Gently Away) features Hendrix on both guitar and bass, with Mitch Mitchell on drums and special guest Chris Wood (from Traffic) on flute.
Title: Passing The Time
Source: LP: Wheels Of Fire
Although Jack Bruce is generally acknowledged as the member of Cream that provided the most psychedelic material that the band recorded, drummer Ginger Baker gave him a run for his money on the studio half of their third LP, Wheels Of Fire. Perhaps the best of these was Passing The Time, which alternates between a slow, dreamlike section notable for its use of a calliope and a fast section that rocks out as hard as anything the band performed live in concert.
Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: Dharma For One
Source: LP: This Was
By 1968 it was almost considered mandatory that a rock band would include a drum solo on at least one album, thanks to Ginger Baker's Toad (on Cream's Wheels Of Fire) and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Jethro Tull's contribution to the trend was Dharma For One, the only Tull song to give a writing credit to drummer Clive Bunker. Compared to most drum solos of the time, Bunker's is fairly short (less than two minutes) and somewhat quirky, almost resembling a Spike Jones recording in places.
Title: Love Her Madly
Source: Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s): The Doors
Released as a single in advance of the 1971 Doors album L.A. Woman, Love Her Madly was a major success, peaking just outside the top 10 in the US, and going all the way to the #3 spot in Canada. The album itself was a return to a more blues-based sound by the Doors, a change that did not sit well with producer Paul Rothchild, who left the project early on, leaving engineer Bruce Botnik to assume production duties. Rothchild's opinion aside, it was exactly what the Doors needed to end their run (in their original four man incarnation) on a positive note.
Source: 45 RPM single B side
Writer: Dave Davies
After several years of being banned from performing in the US (due to some sort of dispute involving the musician's union), the Kinks finally got the ban lifted in time to promote their 1970 LP Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneyground Part One with a US tour. As a result, the band managed to get two consecutive singles onto the US charts: the smash hit Lola and its follow-up, Apeman. The B side of Apeman was Rats, a tune written by Dave Davies, who by then had fallen into a George Harrison type role of being the lead guitarist who got to write one or two songs for each album.
Title: Tripping Into Sunshine
Source: CD: Ah Feel Like Ahcid (originally released on LP: T.I.M.E. and as 45 RPM single)
Label: Zonophone (original label: Liberty)
After the demise of the Canadian band Sparrow, bassist Nick St. Nicholas gravitated to San Francisco, where he met up with former members of the San Diego-based Hard Times to form T.I.M.E. (Trust In Men Everywhere). The band recorded two albums for Liberty, the first of which opens with the track Tripping Into Sunshine. After the group's demise St. Nicholas rejoined his former Sparrow bandmates in their new band Steppenwolf. He was eventually joined by T.I.M.E. guitarist Larry Byrom as well.
Title: Hello, Goodbye
Source: CD: Magical Mystery Tour (orginally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Apple/Parlophone (original label: Capitol)
1967 was unquestionably a good year for the Beatles. Their first release was a double A sided single, Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane, both sides of which were major hits. They followed that up with the #1 album of the year, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and another hit single, All You Need Is Love. To finish out the year they released yet another major hit single, Hello Goodbye. The only downside to the year was the cool reception that was afforded their December telefilm, Magical Mystery Tour, although the songs themselves were well-received when released in the UK as a double-EP set (complete with full color booklet containing stills from the film, as well as lyric sheets). As EPs were not considered a viable format in the US, Capitol Records put together an LP that included all six tracks from the telefilm on one side of the album and the five single sides (Hello Goodbye had used I Am The Walrus from Magical Mystery Tour as a B side) on the other. That album has since become the official version of Magical Mystery Tour, although the EP continued to be available in the UK for several years following its initial release.
Title: I Feel Fine
Source: Simulated stereo LP: Beatles '65 (originally released as 45 RPM single)
One of the most persistant complaints about Capitol Records executive Dave Dexter, Jr. was the way he modified Beatles recordings to suit the American buying public. In particular, critics single out his use of "Duophonic" simulated stereo mixes on several tracks that were originally mixed in mono and, even worse, his excessive use of reverb on some of those mixes. Both are on prominent display on the version of John Lennon's late-1964 hit I Feel Fine heard on the album Beatles '65.
Title: Tomorrow Never Knows
Source: Mono CD: Revolver
A few years ago I started to compile an (admittedly subjective) list of the top psychedelic songs ever recorded. Although I never finished ranking the songs, one of the top contenders for the number one spot was Tomorrow Never Knows. The recording is one of the first to use studio techniques such as backwards masking on the lead guitar track and various tape loops throughout, and has been hailed as a studio masterpiece. Heard here is the original mono mix of Tomorrow Never Knows, with some of the tape loops heard more prominently than on the later stereo mix.
Artist: Janis Ian
Title: Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)
Source: 45 RPM single (reissue)
Writer(s): Janis Ian
Label: Polydor (original label: Verve Folkways)
Janis Ian began writing Society's Child, using the title Baby I've Been Thinking, when she was 13 years old, finishing it shortly after her 14th birthday. She shopped it around to several record labels before finally finding one willing to take a chance on the controversial song about interracial dating. The record was released in September of 1966 by M-G-M subsidiary Verve Folkways, a label whose roster included Dave Van Ronk, Laura Nyro and the Blues Project, among others. Despite being banned on several radio stations the song became a major hit when re-released the following year after being featured on an April 1967 Leonard Bernstein TV special. Ian had problems maintaining a balance between her performing career and being a student which ultimately led to her dropping out of high school. She would eventually get her career back on track in the mid-70s, scoring another major hit with At Seventeen, and becoming somewhat of a heroine to the feminist movement.
Title: Old Man
Source: Comes In Colours (originally released on LP: Forever Changes)
Writer(s): Bryan MacLean
Label: Raven (original label: Elektra)
An often overlooked fact about the L.A. band Love is that they had not one, but two quality singer/songwriters in the group. Although Arthur Lee wrote the bulk of the band's material, it was Bryan McLean who wrote and sang one of the group's best-known songs, the haunting Alone Again Or, which opens their classic Forever Changes album. A second McLean song, Old Man, was actually one of the first tracks recorded for Forever Changes. At the time, the band's rhythm section was more into sex and drugs than rock and roll, and McLean and Lee arranged to have studio musicians play on Old Man, as well as on one of Lee's songs. The rest of the group was so stunned by this development that they were able to temporarily get their act together long enough to complete the album. Nonetheless, the two tunes with studio musicians were left as is, although reportedly Ken Forssi did step in to show Carol Kaye how the bass part should be played (ironic, since Kaye is estimated to have played on over 10,000 recordings in her long career as a studio musician).
Artist: Bee Gees
Title: Black Diamond
Source: LP: Odessa
Although I can't tell you the exact time and place, I vividly remember seeing the Bee Gees' fourth (international) album Odessa on the record racks. It was hard to miss, with its bright red cover made of fuzzy stuff (apparently it's called "flocking", although I don't see what birds have to do with anything) and, due to it being a double LP, its thickness compared to other albums. Still, it was a Bee Gees album, and thus fell well outside my tastes at the time, which ran more to harder rocking bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. As a result I never bought a copy of Odessa, now considered the artistic peak of the original Bee Gees lineup. As can be heard on songs like Black Diamond, Odessa was a sophisticated work, designed as a concept album telling the story of a lost ship at sea around the end of the 19th century. The album would be the last to feature guitarist Vince Melouney, who left to join a more blues-oriented group. Robin Gibb also left the band after the release of Odessa for a solo career, but would rejoin his brother Barrys and Maurice in 1970.
Artist: First Edition
Title: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Source: CD: Even More Nuggets (originally released on LP: The First Edition and as 45 RPM single)
Writer: Mickey Newbury
Label: Rhino (original label: Reprise)
In 1968, former New Christy Minstrels members Kenny Rogers and Mike Settle decided to form a psychedelic rock band, the First Edition. Although Settle wrote (and sang lead on) most of the songs on the first album, it was Rogers who would emerge as the star of the group, thanks to the fact that one of the two songs he sang lead on, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), became a huge top 40 hit. It wasn't long before the official name of the band was changed to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. That change reflected a shift from psychedelic to country flavored pop that would eventually propel Rogers to superstar status, leaving the First Edition far behind.
Artist: Blue Cheer
Title: Summertime Blues
Source: Dutch import LP: Vincebus Eruptum
European electronics giant Philips had its own record label in the 1960s. In the US, the label was distributed by Mercury Records, and was known primarily for a long string of hits by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. In 1968 the label surprised everyone by signing the loudest band in San Francisco, Blue Cheer. Their cover of the 50s Eddie Cochrane hit Summertime Blues was all over both the AM and FM airwaves that summer.
Artist: Blue Cheer
Title: Parchman Farm
Source: Mono LP: Vincebus Eruptum
Writer(s): Mose Allison
If the release of the first Black Sabbath album in early 1970 marks the birth of heavy metal, then the release of the first Blue Cheer album in 1968 may be considered the point of conception for the form. Certainly, in terms of pure volume, Cheer was unequalled in their live performances (although the Grateful Dead's sound system had more wattage, Owsley Stanley used it judiciously to get the best sound quality as opposed to the sheer quantity of decibels favored by Blue Cheer), and managed to preserve that sense of loudness in the studio. Like Black Sabbath, the members of Blue Cheer had more than a passing familiarity with the blues as well, as evidenced by their inclusion of an old Mose Allison tune, Parchman Farm, on their debut LP, Vincebus Eruptum (the album included a cover of B.B. King's Rock Me, Baby as well). Contrary to rumors, guitarist Leigh Stephens did not go deaf and kill himself (although he did leave Blue Cheer after the band's second LP, moving to England and releasing a somewhat distortion-free solo album in 1969).
Artist: Blue Cheer
Title: Out Of Focus
Source: Dutch import LP: Vincebus Eruptum
Writer: Dickie Peterson
With the possible exception of the Grateful Dead (when they were using the Owsley-designed sound system), the loudest band to come out of San Francisco was Blue Cheer. The album Vincebus Eruptum, highlighted by the band's feedback-drenched version of Eddie Cochrane's Summertime Blues, is considered by some to be the first heavy metal album ever recorded. My own favorite track on the album is Out Of Focus, which opens side 2 of the LP and was issued as the B side of Summertime Blues.
Artist: Shadows of Knight
Source: LP: Nuggets Vol. 2-Punk (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): Van Morrison
Label: Rhino (original label: Dunwich)
The original Them version of Van Morrison's Gloria found itself banned on the majority of US radio stations due to controversial lyrics. By changing one line (essentially substituting "around here" for "up to my room") the suburban Chicago punk-blues band Shadows of Knight turned it into a huge hit and a garage band standard.
Artist: Circus Maximus
Title: Travelin' Around
Source: LP: Circus Maximus
Writer: Bob Bruno
Circus Maximus was formed in Greenwich Village in 1967 by lead guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Bob Bruno (who wrote most of the band's material) and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Jeff Walker, who went on to much greater success as a songwriter after he left the group for a solo career (he wrote the classic Mr. Bojangles, among other things). The lead vocals on the first Circus Maximus LP were split between the two, with one exception: guitarist Peter Troutner shares lead vocal duties with Bruno on the album's opening track, the high-energy Travelin' Around.
Artist: Penny Peeps
Title: Model Village
Source: Mono British import CD: Insane Times (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Label: Zonophone (original label: Liberty)
Although the British psychedelic era was considerably shorter (only about two years long) than its American counterpart, there are a surprisingly large number of British psych-pop singles that were never issued in the US. Among those was a somewhat forgettable song called Little Man With A Stick, released in 1967 by a band called the Penny Peeps. The band took its name from the risque coin-fed viewers at Brighton Beach (apparently London's version of Coney Island). Emulating his American counterparts, producer Les Reed (who wrote Little Man), allowed the band itself to come up with its own B side. The result was Model Village, a track that manages to convey a classic garage-rock energy while remaining uniquely British.
Title: Move Over
Source: LP: The ABC Collection (originally released on LP: Monster)
Label: ABC (original label: Dunhill)
Move Over was the last Steppenwolf song that can be legitimately referred to as a hit single. The piece, like most other tracks on the Monster album, has a strong political message, but maintains the straightforward hard rock style that propelled the band to stardom in the first place.