Sunday, December 11, 2022

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2250 (starts 12/12/22)

    It's a full hour of free-form rock this time around from both sides of the Atlantic, with tracks from the Steve Miller Band, Yes and a little-known band from Florida known as Fantasy, among others.

Artist:    Steve Miller Band
Title:    Your Saving Grace
Source:    LP: Anthology (originally released on LP: Your Saving Grace)
Writer:    Tim Davis
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1969
    One of the most highly regarded of the Steve Miller Band's early albums was 1969's Your Saving Grace. A listen to the title track of the album shows why. As often as not, spoken sections in the middle of a song come off as silly or pretentious, but here Miller manages to make it work, enhancing what is already a fine recording.

Artist:    Beatles
Title:    I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Source:    LP: Abbey Road
Writer(s):    Lennon/McCartney
Label:    Apple
Year:    1969
    With the exception of John Lennon's 1968 audio collage Revolution 9, the longest Beatle song ever recorded was I Want You (She's So Heavy), from the Abbey Road album. The track alternates between two distinct sections: the jazz-like I Want You, which contains most of the song's lyrical content, and the primal-scream based She's So Heavy, which repeats the same phrase endlessly in 6/8 time while an increasingly loud wall of white noise eventually leads to an abrupt cut-off at 7:47.

Artist:    Yes
Title:    Roundabout
Source:    CD: Fragile
Writer(s):    Anderson/Howe
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1971
    Some artists are one-hit wonders. Others have long and productive careers. Most, however, never really achieve the kind of success they hope for. Somewhere in the middle of all that are artists who make it big on the strength of one song, and then manage to stick around long enough to make a more permanent name for themselves. But still, if it weren't for that first big hit they probably would have faded off into obscurity without anyone knowing who they were. Such a band was Yes, and their big hit song was Roundabout, from their 1971 album Fragile. Ask yourself this: if it weren't for Roundabout, do you think anyone would have paid attention to Close To The Edge or Tales From Topographic Oceans? Would Owner Of A Lonely Heart even have been written? Doubtful.

Artist:    The Band
Title:    The Shape I'm In
Source:    45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Robbie Robertson
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1970
    The Band's third LP, stage fright, is probably their best-known studio effort (Rock Of Ages and The Last Waltz being live albums). The only single from the album was The Shape I'm In. The tune, written by Robbie Robertson, was a not-entirely-flattering portrayel of fellow band member Richard Manuel, whose voice is ironically the most prominent on the recording.

Artist:    Crow
Title:    Slow Down
Source:    CD: The Best Of Crow (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s):    Larry Williams
Label:    Sundazed (original label: Amaret)
Year:    1970
    Originally formed as South 40 in 1967, Minneapolis's Crow hit the big time with Evil Woman, Don't Play Your Games With Me, which made the Billboard top 20 in late 1969. They followed it up with a hard rocking cover of Larry Williams's Slow Down, but the song stalled out just below the top 100. According to bassist Larry Weigand, the song's poor performance on the charts was due mainly to the single not being available in local record stores when the band was on tour. As Weigand put it, "Amaret [records] was just too small".

Artist:    Fantasy
Title:    Happy
Source:    LP: Fantasy
Writer(s):    Vincent James DeMeo, Jr.
Label:    Liberty
Year:    1970
    Fantasy was formed in Miami in 1967 by a group of teenagers that included Billy Robbins (vocals), Bob Robbins (bass), Jim DeMeo (guitar), Mario Russo (keyboards) and Greg Kimple (drums). The group slowly built up a following and eventually became the house band at Thee Image, the club managed by another, better known band, Blues Image. Fantasy held that gig for several months until front man Billy Robbins, who was a major reason for the group's popularity, went missing, and was found shot to death a month later. After the singer's death, the group began a search for a new vocalist, eventually settling on 16-year-old Lydia Jamene Miller. Not long after Miller joined the band, they signed with Liberty Records, releasing one album in 1970. All of the band members contributed to the songwriting chores on the self-titled LP, including keyboardist DeMeo, who wrote the album's opening track, Happy. The song features vocals from both DeMeo and Miller, with some passages done in an almost operatic style. Not long after the album's release, Miller left the group for a solo release, while the rest of the band carried on under the name Year One for awhile.

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?

Artist:    Stealer's Wheel
Title:    Stuck In The Middle With You
Source:    45 RPM single (stereo promo copy)
Writer(s):    Egan/Rafferty
Label:    A&M
Year:    1973
    Stealer's Wheel was formed in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland by former schoolmates Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty in 1972. By the time their first album was released, however, Rafferty had already left the group for a solo career. The single Stuck In The Middle With You was such as success, however, that Rafferty was persuaded to rejoin the group. They were never able to duplicate the success of that first single, however, and by 1975 Stealer's Wheel had ceased to exist. Rafferty, once again a solo artist, would have a huge hit in 1978 with the song Baker Street.

Artist:    Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Title:    Woodstock
Source:    CD: déjà vu
Writer(s):    Joni Mitchell
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    It's somewhat ironic that the most famous song about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival was written by someone who was not even at the event. Joni Mitchell had been advised by her manager that she would be better off appearing on the Dick Cavett show that weekend, so she stayed in her New York City hotel room and watched televised reports of what was going on up at Max Yasgur's farm. Further inspiration came from her then-boyfried Graham Nash, who shared his firsthand experiences of the festival with Mitchell. The song was first released on the 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon, and was made famous the same year when it was chosen to be the first single released from the Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young album déjà vu. The CSNY version peaked just outside of the Billboard top 10 in the US, but did not chart at all in the UK.

Artist:    Badfinger
Title:    Baby Blue
Source:    45 RPM single   
Writer(s):    Pete Ham
Label:    Apple
Year:    1972
    The most successful band on the Apple label not to include former members of the Beatles, Badfinger had a string of hit singles in the early 1970s. One of the best of these was Baby Blue, released in 1972. The song, like most Badfinger singles, was written by lead vocalist/guitarist Pete Ham.

Artist:    Focus
Title:    Black Beauty
Source:    LP: In And Out Of Focus (original title: Focus Plays Focus)
Writer(s):    van Leer/Cleuver
Label:    Sire (original Dutch label: Imperial)
Year:    1970
    Focus was officially formed in Amsterdam in late 1969 when guitarist Jan Akkerman, who had been playing with a band called Brainbox, joined the already existing trio Thijs van Leer and the Rebaptised. The following year they began a partnership with Hubert Terheggen, director of Radio-Tele-Music Belgium-Holland, a music publishing division of Radio Luxembourg, who signed them to his production company and produced their first album, Focus Plays Focus. The band was unable to find a label willing to release the album, however, until van Leer came up with the song House Of The King, which somehow made it into the hands of executives at Imperial Records, who thought the tune had hit potential. The song was issued as a single in 1970, backed by Black Beauty, a track from Focus Plays Focus. The album itself was released in the US under the title In And Out Of Focus, first on the Polydor label in 1970 and then on the Sire label in 1971.

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