We're once again in full free-form mode this time around, with ten tracks from the early 1970s (and one special tune from 1966). The week starts with a trio of singles (the last of which was only issued in that form in continental Europe); from there it's album cuts all the way, culminating with what's been called the most powerful vocal ever recorded by Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant: Since I've Been Loving You, making its Rockin' in the Days of Confusion debut.
Artist: Steely Dan
Title: Do It Again
Source: CD: Can't Buy A Thrill
Label: MCA (original label: ABC)
Although they at first appeared to be a real band, Steely Dan was in reality two people: keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen and bassist (and later guitarist) Walter Becker. For their first album they recruited, from various places, guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder, guitarist Denny Dias, and finally (when they realized they would have to actually perform live, which terrified Fagen) vocalist David Palmer. The first single from the album, Do It Again, was a major hit, going to the #6 spot on the Billboard charts and, more importantly, introducing the world at large to the Steely Dan sound, combining jazz-influenced rock music with slyly cynical lyrics (often sung in the second person). Steely Dan would continue to be an influential force in popular music, and especially FM rock radio, throughout the 1970s.
Title: Ride With Me
Source: 45 RPM single (stereo promo copy)
Writer(s): Mars Bonfire
By 1971 Steppenwolf's best years were already behind them. Looking to rekindle the old magic, the band turned to songwriter (and former band member) Dennis Edmonton, who, under the pseudonym Mars Bonfire, had penned their biggest hit, Born To Be Wild. Although Ride With Me was a solid song, it stalled out in the lower reaches of the top 40 charts while being virtually ignored by more progressive album rock stations.
Artist: Uriah Heep
Title: Spider Woman
Source: British import CD: The Magician's Birthday
Label: Sanctuary (original US label: Mercury)
Although Uriah Heep was known as an album-oriented band in the US and their native UK, they did have some top 40 success in Scandanavia and Northern Europe, especially in Germany, where they scored three top 20 hits from 1970-72. The last of these was Spider Woman, from the Magician's Birthday album, which went to the #14 spot on the German charts.
Title: I'm So Glad
Source: Mono British import LP: Cream (originally released on LP: Fresh Cream)
Writer(s): Skip James
Label: Polydor (original US label: Atco)
Unlike later albums, which featured psychedelic cover art and several Jack Bruce/Pete Brown collaborations that had a decidedly psychedelic sound, Fresh Cream was marketed as the first album by a British blues supergroup, and featured a greater number of blues standards than subsequent releases. One of those covers that became a concert staple for the band was the old Skip James tune I'm So Glad. The song has become so strongly associated with Cream that the group used it as the opening number for all three performances when they staged a series of reunion concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004. Unlike the rest of the songs on Fresh Cream, I'm So Glad was never given a stereo mix.
Source: CD: Over-Nite Sensation
Writer(s): Frank Zappa
Label: Zappa (original label: Discreet)
Frank Zappa was already well-established by the time he recorded Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe(') in 1973. The two albums, recorded at the same time but released months apart, were his commercial breakthrough, thanks to radio-friendly tunes like Montana and Don't Eat Yellow Snow. Both albums use the same pool of talented musicians, including keyboardist George Duke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, both of which would go on to establish themselves as first-tier jazz stars. Fifty-Fifty, from Over-Nite Sensation, features solos from Duke, Ponty and Zappa himself, with lead vocals from Ricky Lancelotti. Powerful stuff.
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Title: Maybe Your Baby
Source: LP: Talking Book
Writer(s): Stevie Wonder
By the early 1970s Stevie Wonder had dropped the "Little" that had prefixed his name early in his career and was fast becoming one of Motown's most respected artists. Although Wonder's so-called "classic period" is generally acknowledged to begin with his Music Of My Mind album, it was with his 1972 release, Talking Book, that he really hit his stride. The album featured two major hits, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life (which got him a Grammy award for Best Male Pop Vocal) and Superstition, one of the first songs by a black artist to be embraced by progressive rock radio. One of the most overlooked songs on the album was Maybe Your Baby, which may be because it's almost impossible to pigeonhole as one kind or song or another. Basically, it's just pure Stevie Wonder.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Title: Embryo/Children Of The Grave
Source: CD: Master Of Reality
Label: Warner Brothers
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: Joe Walsh
Title: Midnight Moodies/Happy Ways
Source: LP: The Smoker Your Drink, The Player You Get
After leaving the James Gang in late 1971, guitarist/vocalist spent the next several months hibernating in Colorado, eventually forming a new band called Barnstorm. The group's second LP, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, was bannered as a Walsh solo album, which led to the band's demise. Despite this, four of the album's nine tracks were written by band members other than Walsh, including the instrumental Midnight Moodies from the band's new keyboardist, Rocke Grace, and Happy Ways, a whimsical tune co-written by Barnstorm bassist Kenny Passarelli and Buddy Zoloth, the former road manager of Blues Image.
Source: LP: Santana (III)
In addition to Carlos Santana himself, the original Santana band had several songwriters, including keyboardist Greg Rolie and percussionist Jose "Chepito" Arias. The two of them only wrote one song together however: Taboo, from the third Santana LP. The album itself bears the same official title as the group's first LP, Santana, and is often referred to as "Man With The Outstretched Hand" to differentiate it from the earlier work.
Artist: Robin Trower
Title: About To Begin
Source: CD: Bridge Of Sighs
Writer(s): Robin Trower
Many of the artists featured on FM rock radio in the 1970s had already established themselves in the latter part of the previous decade, getting airplay on underground stations as well as the occasional top 40 hit. Others were newcomers that would go on to become stars in the 1980s. Then there are those few who seem to be exclusively associated with the 1970s. Among this group is Robin Trower, former guitarist of the art-rock oriented Procol Harum. Trower seldom got a chance to shine in the keyboard-dominated Harum, however, and left the group in 1972 to form his own band, Jude. Jude did not last long enough to record an album, but it did provide Trower with the core of his new trio, consisting of Trower himself on guitar, James Dewar on bass and vocals and Reg Isidore on drums. Trower's first solo album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, was fairly well-received by the rock press, but it actually was only setting the stage for what is now considered one of the greatest rock guitar albums ever recorded: 1974's Bridge Of Sighs. Even the lesser-known tracks like About To Begin got at least some airplay, and deservedly so.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Since I've Been Loving You
Source: CD: Led Zeppelin III
The Yardbirds were Britain's premier electric blues band, featuring the guitar work of first Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck and finally Jimmy Page (who had already established himself as an in-demand studio guitarist by the time he joined the band). As the 60s came to a close, the band began shedding members until Page found himself the only member left. With new vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John-Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, the group continued for a short while as the New Yardbirds before settling on a new name: Led Zeppelin. The group's repertoire was a mixture of original tunes and blues covers arranged to showcase the individual members' strengths as musicians. This mixture served as the template for the band's first two albums. By the third Led Zeppelin album the group was moving away from cover songs and from the blues in general. One notable exeception was Since I've Been Loving You, a slow original that is now considered one of the best electric blues songs ever written.