Sunday, January 16, 2022

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2204 (starts 1/17/22)

    This week we have three sets, each from a specific year. To begin the show we have three tracks from artists whose careers were hitting new peaks, both creatively and commercially, in 1974. From there we have some more songs we didn't have time to play on our 1971 special a couple weeks ago. We finish up the week with a set of tunes from 1973, including the entire opening sequence (i.e. most of side one) of the Who's landmark album Quadrophenia and singles from Billy Preston and Spooky Tooth.

Artist:    Frank Zappa
Title:    Cosmik Debris
Source:    CD: Apostrophe (')
Writer(s):    Frank Zappa
Label:    Zappa
Year:    1974
    One of Frank Zappa's most memorable tunes, Cosmik Debris first appeared on his Apostrophe(') album in 1974. The album itself was recorded at the same time as the Mothers' Over-Nite Sensation, and features some of the same musicians, including George Duke, Jean-Luc Ponty and Napoleon Brock. The song, like many Zappa compositions, tells a story, in this case one of a mystical con artist and Zappa's refusal to be conned. The song uses the repeated line "Look here brother. Who you jivin' with that Cosmik Debris?", and contains references to other Zappa compositions, including Camarillo Brillo (from Over-Nite Sensation). The song was originally scheduled for release as a single, but instead appeared as the B side of an edited version of Don't Eat Yellow Snow when that track began gaining popularity due to excessive airplay on FM rock radio.

Artist:    Robin Trower
Title:    Lady Love
Source:    CD: Bridge Of Sighs
Writer(s):    Trower/Dewar
Label:    Chrysalis/Capitol
Year:    1974
    It says a lot about the quality of an album like Robin Trower's Bridge Of Sighs that even one of the weaker tracks like Lady Love is worth listening to. Like many hot guitarists, Trower did not do his own singing on the album. Vocals were provided by bassist James Dewar, who also co-wrote Lady Love.

Artist:    Joni Mitchell
Title:    Court And Spark
Source:    LP: Court And Spark
Writer(s):    Joni Mitchell
Label:    Asylum
Year:    1974
    Canadian Joni Mitchell had already established a reputation as one of the top singer/songwriters of the early 1970s when she decided to spend the entirety of 1973 working on a new album that would incorporate elements of jazz into the folk-rock she was famous for. The resulting album, Court And Spark, ended up being the commercial high point of her career, going to the #2 spot on the Billboard album charts and spawning her only top 10 single (Help Me). The album features some of the best musicians working in Los Angeles at the time, including members of the Jazz Crusaders and Tom Scott's L.A. Express, as well as guest appearances by Robbie Robertson, David Crosby and Graham Nash (and even Cheech And Chong on one track). The title track itself includes several jazz elements, including half tones, bent notes, time changes and unusual chord progressions, setting the tone for the entire LP.

Artist:    Atomic Rooster
Title:    Break The Ice
Source:    British import CD: In Hearing Of
Writer(s):    John Cann
Label:    Castle (original US label: Elektra)
Year:    1971
    Guitarist/vocalist John Cann's tenure with Atomic Rooster was a relatively short one, lasting only from his departure from his former band Andromeda in 1970 to shortly before the release of In Hearing Of in 1971, when both Cann and drummer Paul Hammond were fired by bandleader Vincent Crane. Crane then made sure that Cann's guitar parts were either buried in the final mix or left out altogether on the finished album, with the exception of two songs that Cann had written himself. The first of these to appear on the album is Break The Ice, and is probably the hardest rocking song on the entire LP.

Artist:    Rascals
Title:    Sky Trane
Source:    LP: Peaceful World
Writer(s):    Felix Cavaliere
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1971
    The Young Rascals, in a very real way, ceased to exist with the departure of vocalist Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish in 1970. The band had officially shortened its name to the Rascals a couple of years earlier and had been steadily moving away from its trademark blue-eyed soul sound and incorporating elements of jazz, funk and other musical disciplines on its final albums for the Atlantic label. Keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere, however, still had musical ideas to share, and set about recruiting new members for the eighth Rascals album, Peaceful World, including guitarist Buzz Feiten, who had just finished a stint with the Butterfield Blues Band, and wind player Joe Farrell, who would go on to be a member of Chick Corea's band Return To Forever. Soul music in general was undergoing a transition from the dance-oriented pop hits from Motown and Memphis to a more sophisticated sound, as represented by Marvin Gaye's landmark LP What's Going On and albums from west coast bands like Malo and Tower Of Power. Peaceful World was the first Rascals album not to be released on the Atlantic label. The Columbia release was also the first (and only) double LP by the Rascals. The first track on the LP, Sky Trane, is an early example of what would come to be called jazz-rock fusion (later, just fusion), and is in some ways the most conventional tune on the entire album. Unfortunately, Peaceful World did not find a large audience, and after one more LP the Rascals officially disbanded.

Artist:    Black Sabbath
Title:    Embryo/Children Of The Grave
Source:    CD: Master Of Reality
Writer(s):    Iommi/Osbourne/Butler/Ward
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1971
    One of the spookiest experiences in my life was crashing at a stranger's house after having my mind blown at a Grand Funk Railroad/Black Oak Arkansas concert in the fall of 1971. A bunch of us had ridden back to Weatherford, Oklahoma, from Norman (about an hour's drive) and somehow I ended up separated from my friends Mike and DeWayne, in whose college dorm room I had been crashing for a couple of days. So here I am in some total strangers house, lying on the couch in this room with black walls, a black light, a few posters and a cheap stereo playing a brand new album I had never heard before: Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality. Suddenly I notice this weird little tapping sound going back and forth from speaker to speaker. Such was my state of mind at the time that I really couldn't tell if it was a hallucination or not. The stereo was one of those late 60s models that you could stack albums on, and whoever had put the album on had left the stereo in repeat mode before heading off to bed, with no more albums stacked after the Sabbath LP. This meant that every twenty minutes or so I would hear Children Of The Grave, with that weird little tapping sound going back and forth from speaker to speaker. Trust me, it was creepy, as was the whispering at the end of track. No wonder Ozzy Ozbourne called Children Of The Grave "the most kick-ass song we'd ever recorded."

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Locomotive Breath
Source:    CD: Aqualung
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1971
    I occasionally get asked why I don't do commercial radio anymore. Here's a clue. In 1989 I was working for a station serving the Elmira, NY market. The station had recently undergone a change of ownership, and was slowly transitioning from a kind of hybrid adult contemporary format developed by Johnny, the original owner, to an album rock format favored by Dom, the music and program director. Dom, in addition to his management duties, hosted the midday shift and one day, while on the air, got a call from Guy, the new owner, telling him "get that song off the air right now and don't ever play it on my station again!" So Dom had to cut the song off midway, because Guy objected to the line "got him by the balls". The song in question, of course, was Jethro Tull's Locomotive Breath, from the Aqualung album, which was, at that point in time, eighteen years old, and had been getting played on rock radio pretty steadily for most of those eighteen years. Who needs that kind of grief?

Artist:    Who
Title:    Quadrophenia (opening sequence)
Source:    CD: Quadrophenia
Writer(s):    Pete Townshend
Label:    MCA (original label: Track)
Year:    1973
    I have to be honest with you here. When I first heard bits of the Who's new album, Quadrophenia, in 1973 I was not impressed. To me, it seemed like yet another example of a band overreaching itself, much as Jethro Tull was doing with A Passion Play at around the same time. Maybe it was the way Pete Townshend was using synthesizers, but it just sounded somewhat pompous, and nothing like the tightly-written songs of The Who Sell Out and earlier tracks. Still, Quadrophenia got lots of positive reviews from the rock press, and continues to be regarded as one of the high points of the Who's career. Even Townshend himself has called it the last great album that the Who recorded, saying that the band never again tried anything that was "so ambitious or audacious again".

Artist:    Billy Preston
Title:    Will It Go Round In Circles
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Preston/Fisher
Label:    A&M
Year:    1973
    Although Billy Preston became a household name overnight in 1969, thanks to his guest appearance on the Get Back/Don't Let Me Down single by the Beatles, it wasn't until his seventh solo album that he finally scored a number one hit single on the charts. That song was Will It Go Round In Circles, and the album itself was called Music Is My Life. The song (and album) also features Preston's A&M labelmates the Brothers Johnson.

Artist:    Spooky Tooth
Title:    All Sewn Up
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single (promo)
Writer(s):    Jones/Wright
Label:    Island
Year:    1973
    Spooky Tooth probably went through more significant lineup changes than any other band during its short history. Formed in 1968, the original lineup only lasted through their second album, at which time bassist Greg Ridley left to join Humble Pie. Following their third LP, primary songwriter Gary Wright also left, and the remaining members disbanded a few months later. Wright, along with vocalist Mike Harrison, formed a new version of Spooky Tooth in 1972 that included future Foreigner guitarist Mike Jones. It was this lineup that recorded the album Witness, with it's single All Sewn Up, in 1973. After a couple more personnel changes, Spooky Tooth called it quits on November of 1974.

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