Sunday, December 31, 2023

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 2401 (starts 1/1/24)

    This week we feature a concerto for group vs. orchestra. Well, that's what it should have been called, anyway. As for the rest of the show, we have an early live rendition of a well-known Allman Brothers Band instrumental and a unique take on John D. Loudermilk's Tobacco Road, among other things.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Nothing Is Easy
Source:    CD: Stand Up
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Chrysalis/Capitol (original US label: Reprise)
Year:    1969
    Not long after the release of the first Jethro Tull album, guitarist Mick Abrahams, who was a blues enthusiast, left the group due to musical differences with lead vocalist/flautist Ian Anderson, who favored a more eclectic approach to songwriting. Abrahams's replacement was Martin Barre, who remains a member of the group to this day. One of the first songs recorded with Barre is Nothing Is Easy, a blues rocker that opens side two of the band's second LP, Stand Up. More than any other track on Stand Up, Nothing Is Easy sounds like it could have been an outtake from This Was, the band's debut LP.

Artist:    Canned Heat
Title:    Pony Blues
Source:    British import CD: Living The Blues
Writer(s):    Charlie Patton
Label:    BGO (original US label: Liberty)
Year:    1968
    In their early days Canned Heat concentrated on playing authentic cover versions of blues tunes. By the time they got to recording their third album, Living The Blues, they had developed a sound uniquely their own. They hadn't quite abandoned covering early blues songs, however. In fact, Living The Blues opens with Canned Heat's arrangement of a song that dates back to Charlie Patton's very first recording session. Patton was 19 (more or less, as his actual birthday is in question) when he wrote Pony Blues, which became his first record released on the Paramount label in 1929.

Artist:    Rare Earth
Title:    Tobacco Road
Source:    British import CD: The Collection (originally released on LP: Get Ready)
Writer(s):    J.D. Loudermilk
Label:    Spectrum (original label: Rare Earth)
Year:    1969
    Rare Earth was not the first white band to sign with Motown, but they were the most successful. Formed in 1960 as the Sunliners, the band was one of the most popular groups on the Detroit club circuit by 1968, when they recorded their first LP for the Verve label. Not long after that they came to the attention of Barney Ales, a vice president of Motown who was in charge of developing a new label that would specialize in white acts. After seeing the Sunliners perform, he immediately signed them up as the flaghip band for his as-yet unnamed new label. Ales and the band felt that the group needed a new name, and the name Rare (for the fact that few white bands were signed to black labels at the time) Earth (because they were down to it) was quickly adopted. When Ales mentioned that he still didn't have a name for the new label, one of the band members joking suggested using Rare Earth for that as well. To everyone's surprise Ales (with the approval of Motown president Barry Gordy) did exactly that. Rare Earth's first record was the 1969 LP Get Ready, which featured an extended version of the title track (a former Temptations hit) taking up an entire side. An edited version of Get Ready was released as a single and hit #4 on the Billboard top 100, a strong outing for a debut single. The LP itself peaked at #12 on the album charts. One of the notable tracks on the Get Ready album was a seven-minute long version of J.D. Loudermilk's Tobacco Road, a song that had been a 1964 hit for Britain's Nashville Teens and had been given unique treatments by both Jefferson Airplane and the Blues Magoos in 1966. Rare Earth's take on the classic is perhaps the most dynamic version of the song ever recorded.

Artist:    Led Zeppelin
Title:    That's The Way
Source:    CD: Led Zeppelin III
Writer(s):    Page/Plant
Label:    Atlantic
Year:    1970
    I read somewhere that Jimmy Page came up with The Rain Song (from the album Houses Of The Holy) in response to someone asking him why Led Zeppelin hadn't recorded any ballads. Apparently that person had never heard That's The Way, from the album Led Zeppelin III. Setting aside my own view that "rock ballads" aren't really ballads in the first place, if That's The Way isn't one of them, I don't know what is.

Artist:    Black Oak Arkansas
Title:    I Could Love You
Source:    LP: Black Oak Arkansas
Writer(s):    Black Oak Arkansas
Label:    Atco
Year:    1971
    Although their most popular period was later in the decade, I still think their 1971 self-titled debut LP is Black Oak Arkansas's best. Maybe that's because I saw them perform live (opening for Grand Funk Railroad) right as the album came out, with a setlist that followed that of the LP itself. I was unsure of what to think of them for the first few tunes, but the one that won me over was I Could Love You, which closes out the album's first side. Unfortunately, the band had a habit of jumping the shark from time to time, resulting in them becoming a parody of themselves by the mid-70s, at which time lead vocalist Jim "Dandy" Mangrum fired most of the other band members and toned down his vocal style, shortening the name of the band to Black Oak. Despite literally dozens of personnel changes over the years, Mangrum continues to front a band called Black Oak Arkansas.

Artist:    Allman Brothers Band
Title:    In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
Source:    CD: Fillmore East February 1970
Writer(s):    Dicky Betts
Label:    Owsley Stanley Foundation/The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company (Bear's Sonic Journals series)
Year:    Recorded 1970, released 1997, remastered 2018
    One of the greatest instrumentals in rock history, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed was written by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dicky Betts. The song got it's name from a headstone that Betts saw at the Rose Hill Cemetary in Macon, Georgia. That same cemetary is where band members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are now buried. The band had only just begun to work the new instrumental into its setlist (as the set opener) when they were invited to open for the Grateful Dead for three nights at the Fillmore East in February of 1970. As the Allman Brothers did not, at that time, have their own soundman, Owsley "Bear" Stanley ran the board, and, as was his habit, had a tape machine running with a feed from the soundboard the entire time there was music being made. The tapes of the Allman Brothers' performance were first released in 1997 by Stanley himself; in 2018 his son Starfinder and a team of engineers remastered the entire set for the Bear's Sonic Journals series of releases.

Artist:    Deep Purple
Title:    Concerto For Group And Orchestra, First Movement:
Source:    German import LP: Deep Purpple In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall "Concerto For Group And Orchestra"
Writer(s):    Jon Lord
Label:    Harvest
Year:    1969
    Deep Purple released their first album in 1968. By the following year organist Jon Lord was obviously yearning to scratch a "classical" itch, as can be heard on the song April from the band's self-title third LP. He took that itch to its natural conclusion later that year with an album called Deep Purpple In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall "Concerto For Group And Orchestra". Utilizing a full orchestra, the album was basically one long work in three movements. The first movement might well be called Concerto For Group Vs. Orchestra, as the two have what Lord calls an "antagonistic" relationship, with the orchestra starting the piece only to have it hijacked by the band. The two trade off prominence for the entire movement, which runs for nearly 20 minutes.The album itself, released in 1969, was both a critical and commercial failure, but did feature the debut of Deep Purple's new lead vocalist, Ian Gillan. Whether or not the album succeeds artistically, I leave up to you to determine.

Artist:    Stooges
Title:    Real Cool Time
Source:    CD: The Stooges
Writer(s):    The Stooges
Label:    Elektra
Year:    1969
    The Stooges may not have actually invented punk rock, but their 1969 debut album is universally cited as a major influence on the entire movement. When they signed with Elektra the band did not have enough material written to fill even one side of an LP. After Elektra rejected their first efforts (described by the band as "after two minutes of the song would go into six to eight minutes of improvisation"), the band came up with three new songs over a 24 hour period. One of those three was Real Cool Time, which has since become a punk anthem.

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