This week we traverse the (Rare) Earth by Caravan and (Led) Zeppelin, or maybe just use Doors to get to Chicago, with perhaps a Stray Dog or some Black Sheep for company. As is often the case with traveling, however, our last visit is to the (Elton) John.
Title: Get Up And Dance
Source: 45 RPM single
So what do you do when your band has lost one of the most visible front men in rock history? With two albums remaining on their contract with Elektra Records, the remaining members of the Doors did their best to carry on without Jim Morrison. The first album, Other Voices, was recorded in the same studio as the last Morrison LP, L.A. Woman, and used the same producer and engineer, Bruce Botwick. Indeed, some of the tracks on Other Voices had been started before Morrison left for Paris in 1971. The second LP, however, was an entirely new project, at a different studio (A&M) and using a different producer, Charles Lloyd, who brought in several studio musicians to help fill out the album's sound, including bassist Chris Ethridge, who can be heard on the album's opening track, Get Up And Dance.
Title: Dialogue (part 1&2)
Source: 45 RPM single edit reissue (original version on LP: Chicago V)
Writer(s): Robert Lamm
In their early days Chicago was one of the more politically-oriented rock bands around. One of the more notable tracks on their first album (Someday) was built around the crowds in Lincoln Park chanting outside the 1968 Democratic convention. The group continued to make political statements for the next few years, although by the time they released their landmark four-disc live album they were firmly in the camp of advocating working within the system as opposed to overthrowing everything and starting over (sort of an evolution over revolution approach). One of the more interesting songs of this type is a condemnation of socio-political apathy called Dialogue, from the album Chicago V. The structure of the first half of the record is based on Plato's philosophical dialogues, with one vocalist, Robert Lamm, asking disturbing questions and the other, Peter Cetera, giving answers that are on the surface reassuring but in reality bespeak an attitude of burying one's head in the sand and hoping everything will turn out OK. This shifts into a call for everyone to work together to effect needed changes in the world, with the repeated line "We can make it happen" dominating the second half of the record.
Artist: Rare Earth
Title: Hey Big Brother
Source: Mono 45 RPM single
Label: Motown (original label: Rare Earth)
Like many successful bands, Rare Earth relied on outside songwriters for their hit singles, although they did have many self-penned tunes on their LPs. At first those hits were covers of Temptations songs such as Get Ready and (I Know) I'm Losing You, but by the early 1970s they had switched to the songwriting team of Dino Fekaris and Nick Zesses, who provided them with their final top 20 hit, Hey Big Brother. It was also the most political of Rare Earth's hit records.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Misty Mountain Hop
Source: CD: Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop, which opens side two of their fourth LP (and was also issued as the B side of Rock 'N' Roll) is either about a mountain range in J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth or a pro-marijuana demonstration in London's Hyde Park in 1968, at which several people were arrested for possession. Your choice.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Title: …And The Gods Made Love/Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)/Crosstown Traffic/Voodoo Chile
Source: LP: Electric Ladyland
Writer(s): Jimi Hendrix
The four tracks on side one of the 1968 Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Electric Ladyland, are all cross-faded into each other, making it clear that Hendrix wanted the side to be heard as a continuous piece. This week we are presenting it as its creator intended. Like its predecessor Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland starts off with a track that is pure special effects. Unlike the Axis track EXP, which was essentially made up of controlled guitar feedback, …And The Gods Made Love is a more subtle piece employing tape and echo effects to simulate, well, Gods making love. This leads directly in to what was for many Experience fans was new territory, but for Hendrix himself was a hearkening back to his days as a backup musician for various soul artists. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) is, in fact, a tribute to guitarist/vocalist Curtis Mayfield, leader of the Impressions, whom Hendrix had cited as an influence on his own guitar style. This leads into Crosstown Traffic, a hard-driving two-and-a-half minute long single reminiscent of early Hendrix classics Fire and Can You See Me, but with a higher level of sophistication. Midway through the making of Electric Ladyland, producer Chas Chandler parted ways with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At first this may seem to be a mystery, but consider the situation: Hendrix, by this time, had considerable clout in the studio. This allowed him to invite pretty much anyone he damn well pleased to hang out while he was making records, including several fellow musicians. It also allowed him the luxury of using the studio itself as a kind of incubator for new ideas, often developing those ideas while the tape machine was in "record" mode. Chandler, on the other hand, had learned virtually everything he knew about producing records from Mickie Most, one of Britain's most successful producers. As such, Chandler tended to take a more professional approach to recording, finding Hendrix's endless jamming to be a waste of valuable studio time. Whether you side with Chandler or Hendrix over the issue, there is one thing that can't be disputed: the Hendrix approach resulted in some of the most memorable rock recordings ever made. Case in point: Voodoo Chile, a nearly fifteen minute long studio jam featuring Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane) on bass and Steve Winwood (Traffic) on keyboards, as well as regular Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Artist: Black Sheep
Title: Encouraging Words
Source: LP: Encouraging Words
Next to raw talent, a rock band's most important asset is their equipment. It is also their greatest expense, and its loss can be devastating. Take the case of Black Sheep, an up-and-coming band from Rochester, NY. With two albums for Capitol Records under their belt, the group, featuring front man Louis Grammitico, seemed poised for major success when a traffic accident on an icy highway destroyed their equipment van and everything in it. Without the funds to replace the lost equipment, Black Sheep was forced to disband in early 1976. Not long after that Grammitico got a call from Mick Jones inviting him to join his new band, Foreigner. Grammitico accepted the offer, shortening his stage name to Lou Gramm.
Artist: Stray Dog
Title: Rocky Mountain Suite (Rocky Road)
Source: LP: Stray Dog
Writer(s): Snuffy Walden
Formed in Texas as Aphrodite, Stray Dog was a power trio that had relocated to Denver and built up a local following when bandleader W.G. Snuffy Walden was introduced to Greg Lake, who immediately signed the band to Emerson, Lake & Palmer's own label, Manticore Records. The band's first album features Walden on guitar and lead vocals, as well as taking on most of the songwriting duties. The album's showpiece was the eight and a half minute long Rocky Mountain Suite, written by Walden. After the band's demise, Walden continued to work as a guitarist, both as an in-demand session man and as a solo performer. It while performing in Santa Monica that he came to the attention of the producers of a new TV show, who hired him to write the show's soundtrack music. That show was Thirtysomething, and Walden received an Emmy nomination for the show's theme song. Walden has since written scores for several TV series, including The West Wing, for which he won the emmy for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music in 2000.
Title: Grandma's Lawn
Source: British import CD: Spirit Of Joy (originally released on LP: Caravan)
Label: Polydor (original UK label: MGM-Verve; also released in US on Verve Forecast)
From a business standpoint, the British and American record industries were worlds apart for the first several decades of their respective existences. In fact, some UK labels had the same names as US labels but were owned by different companies altogether. Columbia, for example, was the flagship label of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in the US. In the UK, however, Columbia was one of the major labels making up the EMI group. Even familiar trademarks such as the iconic dog and phonograph were associated with different companies in the two countries (RCA Victor in the US, His Master's Voice in the UK). Toward the end of the 1960s, however, this was beginning to change, with companies such as Polydor starting up their own US label (and signing the godfather of soul himself, James Brown, in the process), or acquiring a majority share of existing labels, as EMI did with Capitol Records. One major US label, M-G-M, decided to open their own British division, MGM/Verve, in 1968. The first band signed to the new label was Caravan, one of the most enduring progressive bands to emerge from the so-called Canterbury scene. A highlight of Caravan's debut LP was Grandma's Lawn. Unfortunately, MGM/Verve ceased operations the following year, leaving Caravan to sign with another British label with the same name as an unrelated (at the time) US label: Decca.
Artist: Elton John
Title: Better Off Dead
Source: LP: Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
The songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin has produced dozens of memorable tunes over the years. Better Off Dead, from the 1975 LP Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, isn't one of them. It's not a bad song by any means, just not a particularly memorable one, which makes it a perfect choice to end a show that starts with singles and goes deeper and deeper into obscurity as it goes on.