Sunday, December 26, 2021

Rockin' in 1971 (starts 12/27/21)

    It's been 50 years since 1971 came to a close, and this week we feature just a small sampling of tracks from the year that marked the emergence of '70s rock radio. Some of them, such as Gordon Haskell's Sitting By The Fire, are quite obscure, while others, like Led Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks, have become classic rock standards. So get ready for an uninterrupted hour of solid rock, starting with the Flamin' Groovies.

Artist:    Flamin' Groovies
Title:    Teenage Head
Source:    European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Teenage Head)
Writer(s):    Jordan/Loney
Label:    Sony Music (original label: Kama Sutra)
Year:    1971
    In 1965, guitarists Roy Loney and Tim Lynch, who had been performing as a folk duo since their junior high days, were inspired by the Rolling Stones to go electric, adding bassist George Alexander, lead guitarist Cyril Jordan and drummer Ron Greco, who was soon replaced by Danny Mihm. After undergoing several name changes over a three year period, they finally settled on the Flamin' Groovies, using their own money to finance an EP called Sneakers that appeared in San Francisco music stores in 1968. The success of Sneakers got the band signed to Epic Records, but their only album for the label, Supersnazz, was a commercial disappointment and the band soon found themselves without a record contract. Unfazed, the band began touring nationally, spending much of their time in Detroit, which, in the words of Loney, "hardened up our sound a whole lot". The Groovies signed with the Kama Sutra label in 1970, releasing two LPs, Flamingo and Teenage Head. Although Flamingo suffered from poor production, Teenage Head is now considered a classic, and was singled out by Mick Jagger for doing a better job of modernizing rock and roll than the Stones' own Sticky Fingers album, which was released around the same time. Despite such high praise, Teenage Head did not sell well, and both Loney and Lynch soon left the band they had formed, leaving Jordan to reshape the band's sound into the power-pop they became best known for in the late 1970s.

Artist:    Rod Stewart and Faces
Title:    (I Know) I'm Losing You
Source:    45 RPM single (promo copy)
Writer(s):    Whitfield/Holland/Grant
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1971
    In addition to his role as lead vocalist for the Faces (formerly the Small Faces), singer Rod Stewart had a solo career going at the same time. This made for some awkward situations, since Stewart's solo work appeared on the Mercury label, while the Faces were under contract to Warner Brothers. For one thing, none of the band members received credit on any of Stewart's albums, including Every Picture Tells A Story, which was in essence a Faces album in all but name. Still, it is not entirely clear if the entire band was present for the recording of (I Know) I'm Losing You, a Motown classic originally recorded by the Temptations, although the label on the single clearly states that the song was by Rod Stewart and Faces.

Artist:    Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come
Title:    Gypsy Escape
Source:    British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released in UK on LP: Galactic Zoo Dossier)
Writer(s):    Denis Taylor
Label:    Polydor
Year:    1971
    Arthur Brown became a household name in 1968 with the release of one of the great albums of British psychedelic music, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and it's #1 hit single, Fire. To help promote the album the band set out on a US tour; by the time the tour was over the band had decided to break up. After a series of unsuccessful projects, Brown re-emerged in 1970 with a new band, Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come. Unlike the Crazy World, which was one of the most purely psychedelic bands in British rock history, Kingdom Come was a pioneer of the new progressive rock movement and was one of the first bands to use synthesizers extensively. In fact, about the only thing the two bands had in common was Brown's distinctive vocals. Gypsy Escape, from the album Galactic Zoo Dossier, couldn't even make that claim, being an instrumental written by the band's light show guy, Denis Taylor (who was the only non-performing member of the band pictured on the album cover).
Artist:    Gordon Haskell
Title:    Sitting By The Fire
Source:    British import LP: The New Age Of Atlantic (originally released on LP: It Is And It Isn't)
Writer(s):    Gordon Haskell
Label:    Atlantic (original label: Atco)
Year:    1971
    Gordon Haskell was one of those British musicians that was probably known more for the people he knew rather than the music he himself made, at least during the early part of his career. Born in 1946, he played bass during his high school years in a band led by schoolmate Robert Fripp. By the mid-60s he had turned professional as a member of the British psychedelic band Fleur de Lys. Although never a major player on the British music scene, the band did score a #1 hit in South Africa with Haskell's Lazy Life, which also hit #3 in Australia. For a short time in 1966 he was roomates with Jimi Hendrix, who had just moved to England at the behest of the Animals' Chas Chandler. Haskell became more well-known in 1970, when he replaced Greg Lake as bassist for King Crimson on their album In The Wake Of Poseidon, taking on lead vocal duties as well for the band's third LP, Lizard. His own preference for blues and folk music put him at odds with Fripp's more avant-garde approach, however, and Haskell soon left King Crimson for a solo career. Signing with Arif Marden's Atlantic subsidiary Atco, Haskell released It Is And It Isn't, in 1971. Although the album itself was not a commercial success, one of the songs, Sitting By The Fire, was chosen for inclusion on the British sampler album The New Age Of Atlantic. For the next thirty years or so Haskell played mostly bar gigs, occasionally doing support work for other artists as well. In 2001 he released an album called Look Out that featured a song called How Wonderful You Are. Despite a total lack of promotion from his label the song went on to become the most requested song in the history of the BBC's Radio 2, and led to a contract with the British label East-West. His next album, Harry's Bar, went to the #2 spot on the British album charts, but after Haskell referred to a record company official as an android the label dropped him from their roster. Haskell continued to perform across Europe until his death from cancer in October of 2020.

Artist:    Pink Fairies
Title:    War Girl
Source:    CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Neverneverland)
Writer(s):    Twink aka John Charles Edward Alder
Label:    Polydor
Year:    1971
    The Pink Fairies were formed when three members of the Deviants (Paul Rudolph, Duncan Sanderson, and Russell Hunter), who had fired their own band leader during a disastrous North American tour, decided to hook up with Twink (John Charles Edward Alder), the former drummer of Tomorrow and the Pretty Things. Twink had done a one-shot gig with an ad hoc group of musicians under the name Pink Fairies in 1969, and the new group decided that they liked the name and appropriated it for themselves. The band gained immediate notoriety for putting on free concerts, often just outside the gates of places that were charging premium prices for tickets to see more well-known bands. By the end of 1970 the Fairies had secured a contract with Polydor and releasing their first single late in the year. This was followed by a 1971 album called Neverneverland that featured several tracks originally credited to the entire band, such as War Girl, that on later releases are credited to Twink. Although the Pink Fairies split up in 1976, they still get together from time to time to put on a show.

Artist:    War
Title:    Get Down
Source:    45 RPM single B side
Writer(s):    War
Label:    United Artists
Year:    1971
    Although officially formed in 1969, the band War actually can trace its roots to a band called the Creators. Formed in Long Beach, California in 1962 by Howard E. Scott and Harold Brown, the group expanded over the years to include Charles Miller, Morris "B. B." Dickerson and Lonnie Jordan, Lee Oskar and Papa Dee Allen. In 1968 the Creators changed their name to Nightshift and began backing up singer (and former NFL star) Deacon Jones. Producer Jerry Goldstein saw Jones and the band perform at a North Hollywood club called the Rag Doll and was captivated by the band's positive energy. Goldstein convinced the band to change their name to War and begin working with former Animals frontman Eric Burdon. After recording two albums with War, Burdon left the group, who decided to continue on without him, releasing their first album as a standalone group in 1971. The LP was a modest success, but was eclipsed by their next effort, All Day Music, which was released in November of that same year. Among the many standout tracks on the album was Get Down, which was also released as the B side of the All Day Music single.

Artist:    Leon Russell
Title:    Sweet Emily
Source:    LP: Leon Russell And The Shelter People
Writer(s):    Leon Russell
Label:    Shelter
Year:    1971
    Although he had been recording as a session musician and writing songs since the late 1950s, Leon Russell did not record his first solo album until 1970. The following year he got his first gold record as a solo artist for the album Leon Russell And The Shelter People. By then, Russell had set up his own label, Shelter Records and had organized Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour, appearing prominently in the movie of the same name. Leon Russell And The Shelter People included a handful of covers (of Bob Dylan and George Harrison songs), as well as a pair of collaborations with former Mothers Of Invention guitarist Don Preston, but the strength of the album was his solo compositions, including Sweet Emily. Russell would go on to record over 30 more albums in a career that spanned six decades before his death in 2016.

Artist:    Elton John
Title:    Madman Across The Water
Source:    CD: Madman Across The Water
Writer(s):    John/Taupin
Label:    MCA (original label: Uni)
Year:    1971
    Elton John's fourth studio album was not a major success in his native country, spending only two weeks on the British charts, peaking at #42. In the US, however, it was a different story, as Madman Across The Water was one of the ten most popular albums of 1971 here. This can probably be attributed to the fact that, by 1971, even relatively small cities like El Paso, Texas (where I first heard the LP's title track) had at least one FM rock station on the air, giving exposure to LP tracks that did not get played on top 40 AM radio (or on BBC-1, which still had a virtual monopoly on pop music in the UK). The title song of Madman Across The Water was one of those LP tracks.

Artist:     Grand Funk Railroad
Title:     I Can Feel Him In The Morning
Source:     LP: Survival
Writer:     Farner/Brewer
Label:     Capitol
Year:     1971
     In the late 1980s I met a woman from L.A who had been in high school the year Grand Funk Railroad's fourth studio LP came out. When she discovered that I still had my original copy of Survival she told me how an 8-track copy of that album got her through the summer of '71 when she was living with her mother in an apartment overlooking one of the hookers' corners on Hollywood Blvd. She said that whenever she was feeling overwhelmed by life she would draw inspiration from the song I Can Feel Him In The Morning. The tune, with its flowing beat and spiritual lyrics, was a departure from the loud, raw sound the band from Flint, Michigan was known for.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    When The Levee Breaks
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin IV
Writer(s):    Page/Plant/Bonham/Jones/Douglas
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1971
    Although it sounds like it could have been written about Hurricane Katrina, When The Levee Breaks, the last song on the fourth Led Zeppelin LP, was actually inspired by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, that saw levees along the river break in over 145 places, leaving over 700,000 people homeless. 29-year-old Lizzie Douglas, was living with her family near Walls, Mississippi, when the levee there broke, and two years later, using her stage name of Memphis Minnie recorded the original version of When The Levee Breaks with her then-partner Kansas Joe McCoy. In 1971 Led Zeppelin used Douglas's lyrics as the basis for their own, musically different version of When The Levee Breaks. The track is instantly identifiable by John Bonham's distinctive opening drum beat, which has been heavily sampled by various hip-hop artists over the years.

Artist:    Doors
Title:    L.A. Woman
Source:    CD: Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine (originally released on LP: L.A. Woman)
Writer(s):    The Doors
Label:    Elektra/Rhino
Year:    1971
    Ray Manzarek became justifiably famous as the keyboard player for the Doors. Before joining up with Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, however, Manzarek was already making a name for himself as an up-and-coming student filmmaker at UCLA. Although he didn't have much of a need to pursue a career in films once the Doors hit it big, he did end up producing and directing an outstanding video for the title track of the 1971 album L.A. Woman years after the band had split up. I only mention this because, really, what else can I say about a song that you've probably heard a million times or so?

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