Truth by The Jeff Back Group

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Truth by Jeff BeckThere probably has never a debut album like Jeff Beck‘s 1968 solo debut, Truth. This album, of unique interpretations of diverse covers, introduced the talents of future superstar Rod Stewart on lead vocals as well as bassist Ronnie Wood, pianist Nicky Hopkins and the combo future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Further, the choice to focus on hard-edged, guitar-centric, blues-based rock on this debut album pivoted from Beck’s previous solo output which focused on pop-based singles.

Beck was introduced to R&B by Rolling Stone Ian Stewart in the early 1960s, which set the course of his young music career. Through 1963 and 1964 he played in several groups around London, including the Rumbles and the Tridents, while also scoring some gigs as a studio session player. Following the sudden departure of Eric Clapton from The Yardbirds in early 1965, Beck was recruited on the recommendation of Page, a fellow session musician. Beck was present for The Yardbirds commercial peak, including several successful singles and the albums For Your Love in 1965 and the untitled album which became known as “Roger the Engineer” in 1966. Beck launched his solo career with a series of pop singles through 1967 and early 1968 which resulted in three Top 40 hits in the UK.

Aside from the session for the Page-composed track “Beck’s Bolero” in May 1966, recording sessions for Truth took place over just four days in May 1968 with producer Micky Most. The ten-song album features three blues-based original tracks composed by Beck and Stewart.


Truth by The Jeff Beck Group
Released: August, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Micky Most
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, Olympic Sound Studios & De Lane Lea Recording Studios, London, May 1968
Side One Side Two
Shapes of Things
Let Me Love You
Morning Dew
You Shook Me
Ol’ Man River
Greensleeves
Rock My Plimsoul
Beck’s Bolero
Blues De Luxe
Ain’t Superstitious
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals
Jeff Beck – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
John Paul Jones – Organ, Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Ronnie Wood – Bass
Micky Waller – Drums

 

The album commences with an interesting hard rock remake of The Yardbirds’ 1966 hit “Shapes of Things”. Here, the drums of Micky Waller really stand out throughout as the song features deliberate sections including a unique, the mid-section jam. A definite Cream influence is heard on the original heavy blues rocker, “Let Me Love You”, with a quick turn of co-lead vocals by Beck during the first chorus. Towards the end of the song, Beck’s guitar and Stewart’s vocals do call and response, a technique later borrowed by Page and Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin’s early albums. “Morning Dew” is an oft-covered track by folk singer Bonnie Dobson, with this album’s version focusing on Wood’s thumping bass and a subtle wah-wah-laden guitar throughout.

Next comes Willie Dixon‘s “You Shook Me”, a song first released by Muddy Waters in 1962. This happy-go-lucky version finds Beck, Jones and Hopkins all competing for lead instrumentation during its short duration, in contrast to a more extended Zeppelin cover recorded later in 1968. “Ol’ Man River” is a composition which dates back to the 1920s, with this version showcasing Stewart’s vocals better than any other track n the album, while “Greensleeves” has roots back to the 1500s. This second side opener offers a nice acoustic break to add warmth to the album and further showcase Beck’s diversity as a guitar player. “Rock My Plimsoul” is another original of authentic multi-textured electric blues.

Jeff Beck Group 1968

The hauntingly beautiful “Beck’s Bolero” was recorded while Beck and Page were active members of the Yardbirds and it offered a glimpse into rock n roll’s future back in 1966. Joining the guitar duo on this instrumental was Hopkins, Jones and Who drummer Keith Moon as they re-create a Spanish ‘bolero’ with a highly electric feel led by the Beck’s ethereal Les Paul riff in the main theme. Later, a second part is introduced by Moon’s thundering drums leading to section exemplifying the earliest form of heavy metal music. “Blues De Luxe” is an extended, half jocular original complete with canned studio applause and an impressive, extended piano lead by Hopkins. The album concludes with an indelible cover of Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” featuring a wild wah-wah guitar which is showcased through strategic stops. After Beck does much indulgence, Waller gets the final album thrill with a short drum solo before the collaborative crash which concludes the album.

Truth peaked at number 15 on the Billboard charts and its influence on future music is immeasurable. A 1969 follow-up album called Beck-Ola was recorded and released by much of this same group before the members went on to other musical endeavors. Despite being offered a slot with The Rolling Stones following the death of Brian Jones, Beck decided to re-form the Jeff Beck Group with new members into the 1970s.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Fleetwood Mac 1968 Albums

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Buy Mr. Wonderful

Fleetwood Mac 1968 albumsThe long and multi-faceted recording career of Fleetwood Mac got started in 1968 when the group was producing pure blues music and led by guitarist and vocalist Peter Green. During the year, the group released its initial two studio albums, (Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Wonderful. These are a pair of similarly laid out, 12-song records which each had a nice mix of originals and interpretive covers, and helped propel the group to the forefront of Britain’s burgeoning heavy blues scene in the late 1960s.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in April 1967 by three members of the the British blues band John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Here, Green recorded five songs with bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, including an instrumental which Green named after the rhythm section “Fleetwood Mac”. Soon after, Green enticed the pair to form a new band by naming it after the rhythm section and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was added by the end of the “summer of love”.

The group was signed to the Blue Horizon label and recorded additional tracks with producer Mike Vernon to make up Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled debut album (often distinguished by the title Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac because of later 1975 self-titled album). Despite the fact that no singles were released, this debut album was successful, reaching the Top 5 in the UK and bringing Fleetwood Mac instant notoriety. The band soon released two singles “Black Magic Woman” (later a big hit for Santana) and “Need Your Love So Bad”. Following the February album release, the group recorded a couple of singles for release, starting with “Black Magic Woman” in March 1968, which later became a huge hit for Santana.

The band’s second album, Mr. Wonderful, was recorded with Vernon in April and released in August 1968. While the song styles remained consistently pure blues, the arrangement expanded to include a horn section as well as a dedicated keyboard player, Christine Perfect of Chicken Shack, who later became the wife of McVie and a permanent member of Fleetwood Mac.


(Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Released: February 24, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios and Decca Studios, London, April–December 1967
Side One Side Two
My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
Merry Go Round
Long Grey Mare
Hellhound on My Trail
Shake Your Moneymaker
Looking for Somebody
No Place to Go
My Baby’s Good to Me
I Loved Another Woman
Cold Black Night
The World Keep On Turning
Got to Move
Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac
Released: August 23, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios, London, April 1968
Side One Side Two
Stop Messin’ Round
I’ve Lost My Baby
Rollin’ Man
Dust My Broom
Love That Burns
Doctor Brown
Need Your Love Tonight
If You Be My Baby
Evenin’ Boogie
Lazy Poker Blues
Coming Home
Trying So Hard to Forget
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Peter Green – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeremy Spencer – Guitars, Vocals
John McVie – Bass
Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussion

 

On the debut album, Green and Spencer alternate originals as well as lead vocal duties. Spencer’s “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” leads off with an explosion of his signature heavy slide blues guitar and a legit sounding blues right from jump with just enough originality and driving intensity. Green’s “Merry Go Round” is a slower blues by contrast, highlighted by the authentic singing of Green and excited, open hat drumming of Fleetwood. “Long Grey Mare” is the only track to feature bassist Bob Brunning and leans more towards pop/rock while still maintaining a blues core and adding a pretty impressive harmonica by Green.

Fleetwood Mac debut albumThe first classic cover is Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. This features a unique, stripped down arrangement with Spencer providing impressive piano accompanied only by Green’s soulful vocals. Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker” picks up the mood picks again with a full band arrangement and a return to Spencer’s heavy slide guitar as the song builds in frenzied intensity towards a final climax. Bookmarking the end of Side 1 and beginning of Side 2 are two of the original recordings by Green, McVie and Fleetwood while still members of the Bluesbreakers. “Looking for Somebody” feature’s McVie’s heavy thumping bass locked in under Green’s harmonica intro, while Howlin Wolf’s “No Place to Go” is a constant, rotating drone riff and harmonica licks that never relent.

The remainder of Fleetwood Mac covers familiar ground, with Spencer penning “My Baby’s Good to Me” and “Cold Black Night” and Green contributing “I Loved Another Woman” and “The World Keep On Turning”. The latter of which is a low key solo acoustic and vocal performance by Green and a true highlight of the latter part of the album because of its shear authenticity. The closes with the upbeat, full arrangement of James’ “Got to Move”, which has a real live feel throughout.

Fleetwood Mac in 1968

Mr. Wonderful is essentially a live studio album which was written and recorded much quicker than its predecessor. As a result, it has not stood up as well critically or commercially, although there are some real gems on the album. The album also features several songs co-written by Green and band Manager C.G. Adams, starting with the fine opener, “Stop Messin’ Round”, which would go on to be often covered. “I’ve Lost My Baby” is the first track by Spencer, as a blues ballad with plenty of slide in between each vocal line. “Rollin’ Man” is upbeat, almost rock with inclusion of Perfect’s piano and the call and response between the lead guitar and saxophone lead along with great rhythms by Mcvie and Fleetwood throughout.

Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac“Dust My Broom” was recorded and contributed to by both Robert Johnson and Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac does great heavy rendition of this classic here. “Love That Burns” is a long blues ballad with bleeding emotion throughout, highlighted by Christine Perfect’s nice piano lead during the fade-out.

But then there’s the less than stellar tracks. “Doctor Brown” and “Need Your Love Tonight” sound like essentially the same song while “If You Be My Baby” follows the pattern of the previous Green/Adams compositions, being a bit edgy and a bit upbeat and excitable. The upbeat instrumental “Evenin’ Boogie” and fun “Coming Home” add some life to the album’s second side before the sparse but fine closer “Trying So Hard to Forget” features harmonica-laden slow porch blues with a laid back arrangement that gives room for Green’s vocals.

Shortly after the release of Mr. Wonderful, Fleetwood Mac added guitarist Danny Kirwan, the first of many lineup shifts which would mark the multiple phases as this bands long and successful career.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

The Byrds 1968 Albums

Buy The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Buy Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds 1968 albums1968 was a transitional year for folk/rock group, The Byrds, in terms of both musical approach and lineup changes. During the year, the group released two albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. While each of these albums have their own distinct sound individually, they are extraordinarily disparate collectively, with The Notorious Byrd Brothers having a folk/rock/psychedelic sound and Sweetheart of the Rodeo moving radically towards traditional country and bluegrass.

The Byrds hit their commercial peak during the mid 1960s with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday, as well as the multiple hit singles spawned from these first four albums. These were also encapsulated  on a Greatest Hits compilation released late in 1967. The group subtly evolved during the time span between their 1964 founding and the beginning of 1968, moving from melodic folk/rock/pop driven by multiple guitar textures towards a more underground psychedelic sound with sprawling instrumentation.

Producer Gary Usher, who had first worked with the group on Younger Than Yesterday, produced both of the 1968 albums and (especially on The Notorious Byrd Brothers) employed much innovative studio experimentation. The Notorious Byrd Brothers was recorded in the Autumn of 1967 and it musically reaches the apex of the Byrds’ psychedelic endeavors. With a core folk rock skeleton, the succinct tracks on this album added subtle elements of baroque, jazz, country and the earliest elements of electronic music. While the album is lauded as one of the top albums by the Byrds, the recording sessions were plagued with tension, highlighted by the departure of drummer Michael Clarke and the firing of guitarist, vocalist and composer David Crosby due to his poor attendance at recording sessions and other controversial issues. Original band member Gene Clark, who had departed in early 1966, rejoined for a few weeks during production of The Notorious Byrd Brothers but swiftly left the group again.

For Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the group added Gram Parsons, a pioneer of country rock. As such, the the Byrds’ overall sound evolved rapidly in that direction and they migrated to Nashville for much of the recording of the album and with many session musicians brought in to contribute. Like its predecessor, there were tensions during the production of Sweetheart of the Rodeo as well as some legal complications. Conceived by the initial concept by Roger McGuinn for the album that would become Sweetheart of the Rodeo was to expand upon the genre-spanning approach of the Byrds’ previous LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by recording a double album overview of the history of American popular music. The planned album would begin with bluegrass and Appalachian music, then move through country and western, jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music, before culminating with futuristic proto-electronica featuring the Moog modular synthesizer.


The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds
Released: January 15, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June–December, 1967
Side One Side Two
Artificial Energy
Goin’ Back
Natural Harmony
Draft Morning
Wasn’t Born to Follow
Get to You
Change Is Now
Old John Robertson
Tribal Gathering
Dolphin’s Smile
Space Odyssey
Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds
Released: August 30, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville & Hollywood, March-May 1968
Side One Side Two
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
I Am a Pilgrim
The Christian Life
You Don’t Miss Your Water
You’re Still on My Mind
Pretty Boy Floyd
Hickory Wind
One Hundred Years from Now
Blue Canadian Rockies
Life in Prison
Nothing Was Delivered
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Roger McGuinn -Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Gary Usher – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

 

The Notorious Byrd Brothers begins with the entertaining and inventive “Artificial Energy”, co-written by Clarke, bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist/vocalist Roger McGuinn. The song features a choppy rock and rhythm with sharp, distant horns and lyrics that deal with the dark side of dependency on the drug “speed”. “Goin’ Back” is one of a few tunes co-written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and it employs a more traditional Byrds’ folk rock sound, complete with chiming 12-string guitar and polished harmonies. Hillman’s “Natural Harmony” follows as a short atmospheric song with plenty of sonic effects, including the use of an early Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers album coverCrosby’s “Draft Morning” is a bass-led protest tune with a soft psychedelic vibe and a clever use of military march and weapons sounds in contrast, culminating with a slight guitar lead playing “Taps” at the very end. King and Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” is pure sixties folk with some Simon and Garfunkel lyrical and melodic style blended with country and psychedelic elements. The waltz-like “Get to You” was co-written by Clark and completes the original first side.

“Change Is Now” features fine guitar work on differing levels and good musical textures throughout, leading to the short country romp, “Old John Robertson”, a tribute by a retired film director. This is followed by the final two Crosby songs, “Tribal Gathering”, which offers a nice change in vibe with rapid vocal delivery, and the effect-laden “Dolphin’s Smile”. Closing out the album is “Space Odyssey”, a droning and chanting tribute to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story and Stanley Kubrick’s contemporary film.

Overall, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is distinct and inventive but suffers from very quick turnarounds as certain moods are introduced and quickly abandoned. In contrast, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a much more focused album but the group seems to overall be outside of their natural element and musical comfort zone.

The Byrds in 1968

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is bookmarked by covers of a couple of unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Right from the jump on the opener “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, it is clear that the Byrds are moving in a different direction with the heavy use of steel guitar, and good country melody and harmonies. The closer “Nothing Was Delivered” is a bit more interesting in its rich harmonies and cool, thumping refrain which works counter to otherwise country/blues rhythm.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo album coverMuch of the rest of this album is filled with contemporary covers and the occasional traditional song, such as “I Am a Pilgrim”, which has a vibe of pure back-country, porch country-blues with fiddle and banjo really taking the forefront and smooth lead vocals by Hillman. Other highlights of Sweetheart of the Rodeo include William Bell’s philosophical “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and a couple of Parsons’ compositions, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now”.

After the completion of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in Nashville, The Byrds appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but was greeted harshly by country music purists. Soon Parsons ended his short stint with the band and the Byrds finished out the 1960s as an altered and truncated rock band.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

The Kinks Are the
Village Green Preservation Society

Buy The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

Classic Rock Review 1968 Album of the Year

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation SocietyAlthough it barely made a ripple critically or commercially upon its release the concept album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society would go on to become one of the most influential in rock history. Like many great works the album was born out of a series of “happy accidents”. The band’s composer and front man, Ray Davies, had originally wanted to do a concept album about life in London but after a trip to rural Devonshire, England he decided to work on the “village” concept instead. Also, by 1968 the Kinks had begun to experience diminished chart success with pop singles, so they made a concerted change  towards more substantial musical art. While most bands of the era were into their psychedelic phase and experimenting with newfangled sounds, the Kinks went back to their English roots and thoughtfully reflected on the loss of rural England to the modernization of the swinging sixties. They composed songs that blended the best of their rock and roll sound with various ethnic instrumentation and the result is a masterpiece that sits at the crossroads of rock history. So, despite the plethora of great albums during the year of 1968, we chose this Kinks work as our 1968 Album of the Year.

Personally, I take credit for The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society becoming Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1968. As an avid fan of the group’s 1981 album Give the People What They Want, I decided to explore further Kinks songs in my father’s vast music collection. I listened to a few tracks from this album and, what really ingrained the piece in my head was when I watched Edgar Wright’s film Hot Fuzz a day or so later. It contains two tracks from this album, and they fit perfectly into the film. So suddenly reminded of the album, I endeavored to listen to it again and I found myself no longer liking it but loving it!

The Kinks were one of the most prolific bands of the sixties producing an album every year from 1964 onwards, producing yearly releases through the mid seventies. The album immediately prior to the Village Green was 1967’s Something Else which was the last time the Kinks worked with American producer Shel Talmy, clearing the way for Ray Davies to explore with more creative freedom. Prior to 1968, concept albums were not known to be commercially successful and The Kinks knew this better than most, as their earlier concept album Face to Face did not do well on the market, but Davies was driven to give it another try.

The concept of the album is a nostalgic look back at rural English life. Each song deals with a particular part of that life gone by. I will discuss what I believe each song is saying a bit farther down. The album is the last to include the original four members of The Kinks, as bassist Pete Quaife left the group in early 1969. Due to the arrangements of these songs, Quaife’s role was diminished on this album.Now onto the individual songs!

The title track is a call to arms to preserve the rural English way of life. Which brings up the question would the album be better suited if the title track was the last song on the album instead of the first, seeing as it’s a sort of culmination of the themes on the album. That said, there are really no other lingering questions I have about this album.


The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks
Released: November 22, 1968 (Pye)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London November 1966–October 1968
Side One Side Two
The Village Green Preservation Society
Do You Remember Walter?
Picture Book
Johnny Thunder
Last of the Steam-Powered Trains
Big Sky
Sitting by the Riverside
Animal Farm
Village Green
Starstruck
Phenomenal Cat
All of My Friends Were There
Wicked Annabella
Monica
People Take Pictures of Each Other
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Sccordion, Flute, Horns
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Nicky Hopkins – Keybopards, Mellotron
Peter Quaife – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track is also perhaps the most entertaining song on the album. The song opens with a fairly simple but catchy melody involving a guitar, flute and drums. The lyrics are a call for preservation;

God save little shops, china cups and virginity…”

This gave rise to fans shouting “God save the Kinks” in the years following the album’s release. Despite my wondering how the song would work closing the album out; it does a wonderful job of drawing the listener in and establishing the themes and tones of the album. The second track, “Do You Remember Walter?”, was recently mentioned by Edgar Wright on twitter as basically describing Gary King, the main character of the film The World’s End;

 

The song is about a man who was very popular in his young years but who has obviously not achieved much in life beyond having a good amount of fun in his younger years. The singer laments the fact that he and Walter wouldn’t even know each other if they met in the modern day. The song ends on the line, “People often change but memories of people can remain,” this is similar to the lines in a later track called “People Take Pictures of Each Other”. Musically the piano intro almost sounds like ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” for a moment before the drums and Dave Davies‘ guitar rolls in. Despite the slightly melancholy subject matter of a person growing up and becoming little more than a cog in the wheel of the world, the song remains fairly upbeat.

After this comes “Picture Book”. Mick Avory‘s drums in this song have an almost garage band feeling to them and it’s wonderful. It stays connected to the albums theme of looking back at the past as “Picture Books” are obvious ways in which we categorize and view the past. It’s a really fun song that I could easily see being played over a commercial for cameras. Even though cameras are slowly dying as their inclusion on cell phones has rendered them all but obsolete. Strangely that makes the song work even better for the album in some ways. “Johnny Thunder” seems to be a about a man who escaped his small town and spent the rest of his life on the go. “Old Johnny vowed that he would never / Ever end up like the rest / Johnny Thunder rides the highway”. The acoustic guitar introduction to the song has an exciting quality and Ray Davies’ vocal pitch changes when the backing vocals come in and are a fun musical aesthetic that is almost never heard in music anymore.

The best part about the next track is that the way it builds up ‘steam’ seems to mirror the songs title “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. A harmonica is employed in the song as well. It’s both a nod to vagabonds riding trains and a somber sort of sendoff for the dying technology. The drums are steady but increase in speed and you can almost visualize them as the train’s wheels turning faster and faster. The song just gets better and better as it builds steam. It adds in a few more instruments and even some clapping. As the song reaches its climax you can picture a train mounting a hill and building energy as it does only to crest the hill and coast for a second before it starts to power itself again. The song paints a wonderful visual picture with music and is an absolute joy to listen to. On “Big Sky”, Ray Davies does a sort of narration throughout the song instead of singing. I’m not completely sure what the song is saying. I believe it’s essentially commenting on the fact that all of our human problems are essentially pointless when faced with something as big and majestic as the sky but that is just my guess.

One of my many favorite tracks on this album is “Sitting By the Riverside”. It’s a completely different type of song from the first six songs on the album. It has a similar theme to “Big Sky” as it conjures the image of a person relaxing on a riverside and enjoying the beauty of nature. I also tend to think of Gondola boat drivers singing in Italian to their passengers when I listen to the song. It’s interesting that at two separate points in the song it feels like it’s about to go in a radically different direction musically but quickly returns to the main flow of the song. It’s amazing to listen to how much of this song is done with Ray Davies’ vocals. “Animal Farm” is after this and it has a completely upbeat tempo throughout. The song seems to comment on the idea that rural life is simpler and more peaceful than city life. The whole song seems like an optimistic and idealist view of a farm from the perspective of someone who longs to live on one. I believe the mellotron makes its first real appearance in the background of this song.

The Kinks on "the village green"My favorite track on the entire album is “Village Green”. This was the earliest song, recorded during the sessions for Something Else, and set the theme which inspired everything on the album. A large amount of wind instruments create a stirring, slightly melancholy beginning to the song. The character of the song first describes the town he came from and his past happiness there with a woman named Daisy. He then spends the rest of the song lamenting leaving it as it has become a tourist trap and “Daisy’s married Tom the Grocer boy”. The wind instruments really lend a sort of sad vibe to the song that allows you to slip right into the feeling of it. Conversely, I’m not really sure how “Starstruck” fits into the albums concept. My guess as to how this really connects is that big cities have a tendency to chew up innocent people from small towns. Musically, Avory’s drums take center stage through most of this song.

The album goes through a radical music change with “Phenomenal Cat”. The song starts with what sounds like a wood flute solo that reminds you of something you’d hear in a forest. The entire song has a dream like fairy tale mood to it. It seems to be touching on small town’s penchant for myths that spring up around certain characters, people or even animals that reside inside of them. The ‘la la la’ sections of the song sound like the vocalist was inhaling helium before takes but it helps to add to the strange quality of the song.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society continues to change as the next song starts off with an accordion dance number. “All of My Friends Were There” reminds me a lot of the Pennsylvania Polka but that’s just because I’m used to hearing the accordion within it. It’s only fitting that an album about rural England would contain an accordion number as that was long known as the instrument of common rural Europeans. The lyrics themselves point to the embarrassment that can come from standing out or performing in a small town where you know every member of an audience. Ray Davies even sings as if he is covering a European folk song.

“Wicked Annabella” returns the album to its more rock oriented roots but it still has some tricks up its sleeve. Dave Davies is the lead vocalist on this track and there is an echo on Davies’ voice to give it a spooky impression. The guitar on the album is heavily distorted to add to the spooky nature of it. The lyrics deal with a woman who is the town black sheep and because of her reclusive nature she has become the town witch and boogey man who people tell their children about to scare them into falling asleep at night. Every small town does seem to have someone like this.

Once more the album does a ‘180’ with the next song, “Monica”. The character of the song’s title is the complete opposite of Wicked Annabella so it makes sense that the song would be completely different. Monica is the girl every guy wants to marry in the town. The song has a Latin jazz feel to it which fits perfectly with the idea that everyone wants to love the character of Monica.  I love the fact that all of the characters in this album seem to be representations of people every small town has. “People Take Picture of Each Other” is a fun ending to the album that sort of blends “All of My Friends Were There” with some of the albums other influences such as “Do You Remember Walter?”. It is a pretty literal song as it is about people taking picture of things to remember them. It might not be the albums strongest act but it holds up when compared to the rest of the album.

Upon its original release, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society only sold about 100,000 copies and, 45 years after its release, it has yet to reach Gold record status. The Kinks continued to be an extremely dynamic band that adapted to three decades of rock and roll changes, constantly evolving and doing what they wanted to do. In 1973 and 1974, the group released the albums Preservation Act 1 and Preservation Act 2 respectively, which Ray Davies later acknowledged as sequels to this album, when he referred to the three as his “Preservation trilogy”. In many ways, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society stands out in 1968 for innovating via the use of classic sounds and instruments. Along with that the Kinks presented a clear concept album which contains themes and messages that should be clear to anyone who comes from a small town even up to the modern day. This wasn’t something that was done a lot as many of rock and roll’s first forays into concept albums were a bit confusing and disjointed. Unfortunately in a strange twist of fate this Kink’s album has become something that needs Preservation itself. It has been dubbed a ‘cult classic’ but anyone with ears should be able to hear it’s simply a classic. People should discuss the Kinks as one of the great bands up there with the Beatles, and the Stones. So let this be the first act in the movement that will bring about this album’s very own Preservation Society!

God save the Kinks, china cups and virginity!

~ J.D. Cook

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums and our Album of the Year for 1968.

 

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

Buy Beggars Banquet

Beggars Banquet by Rolling StonesReturning to their blues-based roots rock following the psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Rolling Stones hit their true artistic stride with Beggars Banquet. While most critics heralded this album as a “return to form” due to the predominance of blues-based roots rock, it was also a significant leap forward. This album began the group’s highest quality musical era, followed by Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, which expanded the musical formula established on this album. Still, with a solid slate of compositions and top-notch production by Jimmy Miller, Beggars Banquet may be the group’s finest album ever.

The album’s production saw a major shift in responsibilities. Miller described guitarist Keith Richards as “a real workhorse”, co-writing most of the material and often recording multiple parts on each track. This was mostly due to the infrequent presence of group founder Brian Jones, who had been a major influence on the sound of past albums but had begun to behave erratically due to his drug use and emotional problems. Jones could never really be relied on and would show up when he was in the mood to play, often being more of a distraction than an asset.

Although the album was not released until December 1968, much of it was recorded in the early part of the year. These sessions also resulted in the non-album single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, one of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs. Written by Richards and lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, the song employs an infectious riff and opaque lyrics which may have been inspired by William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller. Released in May 1968, the song previewed the sound of the upcoming Beggars Banquet album.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: December 6, 1968 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, March–July 1968
Side One Side Two
Sympathy For the Devil
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Parachute Woman
Jigsaw Puzzle
Street Fighting Man
Prodigal Son
Stray Cat Blues
Factory Girl
Salt of the Earth
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Mellotron, Sitar, Tamboura, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The tribal rhythms signify from the start that this is album is a unique listen. Largely a Jagger composition, the lyrics are a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer, traversing infamous historical moments right up to the (then) present day with the line “I shouted out ‘Who Killed the Kennedys?'” put in just days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968. This is all backed by an intense rock arrangement, which builds on the percussive rhythms with piano by Nicky Hopkins and a repeated chorus yelps of “woo woo” by group members and several studio guests.

“No Expectations” is a simple and beautiful acoustic blues song, which sets the table for future Stones ballads such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Wild Horses” and “Angie”, Jones plays an acoustic slide guitar above the strumming by Richards in this melodic quasi-tribute to Robert Johnson. This is followed by “Dear Doctor”, an almost farcical attempt at blue grass which, despite its use of authentic instrumentation, feels really forced and out of place.

“Parachute Woman” is pure blues with simple rhythm topped by distant electric guitar and a raw and murky atmosphere led by Jagger’s mumbled sexual lyric and intense harmonica playing. “Jigsaw Puzzle” bookends the first side of Beggars Banquet with another extended rock highlight. The music is led by the very strong rhythm of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, who are joined in turn by Richards’ slide guitar, Jaggar’s strummed acoustic, and Hopkins’ honky-tonk piano. It constantly builds in intensity though its six minute duration with Dylan-esque lyrics and vocal patterns.

The second side begins with “Street Fighting Man”, the point on the album where Jagger shines brightest, with this great melodic journey throughout interpreting some politically controversial lyrics. The tune is a basic rock song built on a cassette recording of Richards on acoustic guitar and Watts on a 1930s toy drum set. However, it does morph a bit towards a more psychedelic feel near the end, with Jones performing a distinctive sitar and tamboura. Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” is the only cover on the album and it never relents from its acoustic drive and has a great sound right down to Jagger’s hickish vocals.

Compared to the other fine material on side two, “Stray Cat Blues” is a rather ho-hum rocker, aside from the interesting and intense outro with Watts’ fine drumming. “Factory Girl” works well as an ethnic jam with a three chord, piano-driven pattern. It is similar to an Appalachian folk tune in its minimal approach and features guest Ric Grech on fiddle. “Salt of the Earth” provides a melodramatic conclusion to the album as another acoustic ballad. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge, which is followed by the first full rock arrangement. Although this track contains some production flaws, it is still a great ending to the album.

Beggars Banquet reached the Top 5 on charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Within days of its release, the band filmed the full television production of Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where they performed several songs from the album. The show also featured several contemporary guests such as The Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC. However, the Rolling Stones withheld it because they felt their own performance was substandard and it wasn’t released in any form until 1996.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

In Search of the Lost Chord
by The Moody Blues

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In Search of the Lost Chord by Moody BluesIn Search of the Lost Chord is a deeply philosophical album by The Moody Blues, built around the concepts of quest and discovery. Musically, the album builds on the rich arrangements of Days of Future Passed with the exception being the lack of use of a full orchestra. The members of the group played the approximately 33 instruments themselves, exploring eclectic sounds from the Indian sitar and tambura to the orchestral oboe, flute, harp, and cello. But at its core In Search of the Lost Chord is still a rock album, accented by the same mix of British pop, psychedelia, and spoken-word poetry that the Moody Blues used on their previous album.

Bringing together these vast worlds was the mellotron of keyboardist Mike Pinder, a device which could mimic dozens of instrumental sounds. Pinder had worked at the company which developed the instrument in the early 1960s and later introduced the mellotron to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who used it on the Beatles’ 1966 single “Strawberry Fields Forever”. The long and dreamy notes of this instrument perfectly fit the psychedelic mood of this album with songs about Timothy Leary, the astral plane, and philosophical “lost chord”.

While the album’s approach seemed to be an experiment to see how far the group could go with any instruments they could find, the production of Tony Clarke kept it sounding more cohesive than many of its thematic cousins of the era. This was accomplished by focusing on the simple nearly as much as the complex, which keeps it from falling into a haze of obscurity.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: July 26, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Tony Clarke
Recorded: Decca Studios, London, January – June 1968
Side One Side Two
Departure
Ride My See-Saw
Dr. Livingston, I Presume
House of Four Doors (Part 1)
Legend of a Mind
House of Four Doors (Part 2)
Voices In the Sky
The Best Way to Travel
Visions of Paradise
The Actor
The Word
Om
Band Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Keyboards, Sitar, Vocals
Mike Pinder – Piano, Mellotron, Harpsichord, Cello, Harp, Tambura
Ray Thomas – Flute, Saxophone, Oboe, French Horn, Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Cello, Vocals
Graeme Edge – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A dramatic rising sound behind poetic spoken word “Departure”, gets more and more desperate and intense before climaxing at the end. Written and recited by drummer Graeme Edge, the 48 second piece acts as an intro to “Ride My See-Saw”. Perhaps the most commercially known track on the album, “Ride My See-Saw” is a straight forward rocker with rhythmic motion and great bass by John Lodge, who was also the song’s composer. The song was released as a single but failed to chart initially (the song went to #3 on the UK charts when re-released in 1972). “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” comes in as a bouncy English children’s song but soon matures to a more complex rock arrangement during the “we’re all looking for someone” refrain, which is sandwiched by two interesting guitar riff intervals. This song was written by multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas and explores several historical figures along with the missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone.

Lodge’s “House of Four Doors” is a two-part, mellotron-infused, psychedelic ballad with rich vocal harmonies and creaking door effects, which each bring the listener through a different era of development in European music. The first features an acoustic and flute section and seems to preview some of the pastoral music of the future band Genesis, especially on Selling England by the Pound. Next is chamber music, led by a harpsichord and cello, followed by classical music featuring Pinder on piano, and finally the passage to the “futuristic” music of “Legend of a Mind”. One of the most creative Moody Blues tracks ever, “Legend of a Mind” is vocally and lyrically intriguing with contemporary lyrics about Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor and LSD enthusiast;

He’ll fly his astral plane, Takes you trips around the bay
Brings you back the same day, Timothy Leary…”

The song is also musically excellent, moving from soft acoustic verses to a more upbeat chorus to the guitar riff interludes to the fast waltz of the bridge before settling in with a long flute section by Thomas, who also composed the song and sings lead vocals. “House of Four Doors” (Part 2) is a short reprise led by the drum beat of Edge, to complete the mini suite and the first side.

Moody Blues

Side Two begins with three absolute gems. Hayward’s pleasant and mellow “Voices in the Sky” is one of the most melodic songs on the album, with exquisite melodies during the verses. This simple acoustic song contains just enough musical splashes of flute, mellotron, and bass to give it a slight edge but is otherwise almost as straightforward and romantic as the previous year’s “Nights In White Satin”. While Pinder’s “The Best Way to Travel” goes in the opposite direction, it is just as interesting. It comes like an overloaded country song but with strong bass, reverb effects, and steady, droning drums. This Pink-Floyd influenced song suddenly halts for a middle organ section before the whole arrangement returns in a long, cosmic fade-in for the resolving conclusion. “Visions of Paradise” is a Hayward and Thomas collaboration, which features little else than Thomas’s flute riff and Hayward’s softly picked acoustic. Apparently resuming the drug-trip theme, this song may be even further “out there” than “The Best Way to Travel” with a surreal perception of paradise.

The deep, rich and sleepy arrangement of “The Actor” is driven by rather upbeat acoustic riff and Lodge’s accompanying bass. This is followed by Lodge reciting Edge’s second poem “The Word” with a naked vocal that interprets the album title’s meaning;

Two notes of the chord, that’s our full scope / But to reach the chord is our life’s hope / To name the chord is important to some…”

So they give it a word, and the word is “Om”. The final track by Pinder is canvased by very calm Eastern music for the vocals, solo during verses and deeply harmonized during choruses. Beyond the very interesting beginning, the rest of this six and a half minute track is more soundscape than song, including a deeply harmonized hummed reprise of “Ride My See Saw” at the very end of the song and album.

In Search of the Lost Chord peaked at #23 on the US album charts and #5 in the UK. 45 years later it continues to be highly regarded as a gem from the psychedelic/space rock era. Space exploration would go on to become the theme of the Moody Blues’ next album in 1969, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceWhile Jimi Hendrix is an undeniable rock legend on his own, the group Jimi Hendrix Experience were a formidable power trio for a short but important period. Electric Ladyland was the last of three albums by the Experience and this double LP was their creative and musical apex. The only album to be produced Hendrix himself, the recordings spanned over a year in duration and were made on two continents using different (4 track/8 track) technologies. Naturally, this resulted in a very eclectic album that pivots on Hendrix’s vast talents and unique interpretations ranging from folk to pop to psychedelic blues.

The initial material for this third album was produced by Bryan “Chas” Chandler and recorded before the release of the group’s second album, Axis: Bold As Love, in December 1967. That album was a Top Ten commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic and set the stage for Electric Ladyland in mid 1968. Following those first recordings in London, production resumed during the Spring of 1968 at the brand new Record Plant Studios in New York City. During this time, Hendrix fell out with Chandler and assumed production responsibilities himself.

The result is an album of interesting compositions and unequaled sonic coloring. Splitting time between sixties psychedelic epics and timeless blues jams led by one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. Further, many of the tracks on the album expand beyond the traditional sound of the power trio by featuring collaborations with a range of outside musicians playing an array of instruments.


Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: October 25, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jimi Hendrix
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Record Plant Studios, New York, July 1967-August 1968
Side One Side Two
…And the Gods Made Love
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
Crosstown Traffic
Voodoo Chile
Little Miss Strange
Long Hot Summer Night
Come On (Part I)
Gypsy Eyes
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Side Three Side Four
Rainy Day, Dream Away
1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away
Still Raining, Still Dreaming
House Burning Down
All Along the Watchtower
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Lead Vocals
Noel Redding – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A totally freaky use of backwards masking, tape loops, and sound effects make up the experimental opener “…And the Gods Made Love”. In an interview, Hendrix explained the choice of this track to open the album saying, “we knew people will jump on to criticize (this track), so I put it first to get it over with.” The smooth and soul-influence, yet odd-timed “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” follows as the default title song. The song comes complete with Hendrix overdubbing high-pitched harmonies and doing a bang-up job.

“Crosstown Traffic” is one of the earliest tracks on the album, recorded in London and on a four track machine. Beyond the tight, funk-influenced arrangements, this track features a compressed piano fed through miniature, hand-built Leslie speakers for a totally unique vibe. Featuring Traffic’s Dave Mason on backing vocals, “Crosstown Traffic” was released as a single and reached the Top 40. Mason’s band mate, Steve Winwood, plays organ on “Voodoo Chile”, a 15 minute bluesy tune a real live club feel, despite being recorded in a New York City studio. This song stays steady until the very end when it becomes frantic in a climax before breaking down into faux live sounds to end the first side.

The second side begins with “Little Miss Strange”, the most unique song on the album. Written by bassist Noel Redding, who also plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals, This British pop-oriented track does contain overlain and harmonized electric guitars by Hendrix, and great drumming (along with additional vocals) by Mitch Mitchell. “Long Hot Summer Night” sounds a lot like something from the contemporary group Cream, contains great riffs through the verses and features guest Al Kooper on piano. The first cover song on the album is Earl King’s “Come On (Part I)”, as a great rock version of pure blues song with a sound right out of the future (the seventies).

“Gypsy Eyes” is another great track of rudiments and riffs, a pure Hendrix classic. The song is infamous as an example of Hendrix’s studio perfectionism, as he and Mitchell recorded well over 50 takes, while Redding got fed up and abandoned his bass duties, leaving Hendrix to overdub that instrument himself. This was an early indicator of the upcoming break up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The very psychedelic but extremely interesting and musically fruitful “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” features an over-the-top harpsichord and a great backing vocal ensemble. Featuring imaginative lyrics and released as a single from the album, the song builds to a crescendo towards end, completing the fine second side.

Unfortunately, the third side is far less rewarding albeit interesting because of sheer uniqueness. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” sounds cool and loose with a long warm up, but when it finally kicks in to the song proper, it feels unfocused and asymmetrical, fading out too fast during the second verse. “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is a thirteen and a half  minute progressive which seems to deliberately take up space, with the exception of the middle improv section which includes an intense drum roll by Mitchell, breaking through the otherwise calm and serene setting. The song features a third member of Traffic, Chris Wood on flute. “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” has more sound effects rotating in and out, but is really not very substantive.

Jimi Hendrix Experience

The final side begins with the reprise “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, a slightly more upbeat of song which starts side three, almost like a do-over, but still very loose and unfocused. The album recovers with “House Burning Down”, a wild, upbeat psychedelic funk with a marching rock beat during the verses. Perhaps a bit too acid-y with the pan effects, but still an enjoyable listen with a wild ending.

Although a cover of a Bob Dylan song from late in 1967, “All Along the Watchtower”, is perhaps the best Jimi Hendrix recording ever. It is sonically superior to anything else on the album, with a dark mood set perfectly and just the right amount of musicianship and effect. The lyrics echo lines in the biblical Book of Isaiah and the music features wild overdubs above the core acoustic chords along with some of Hendrix’s finest vocals ever. Hendrix had received advanced tapes from Dylan and began recording “All Along The Watchtower” less than a month after it was released on Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding. Rolling Stone Brian Jones provided some percussion on the song. One of the most popular opening riffs in rock and roll breaks into the droning rock beat of the closer “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. The funky guitar sits beneath a pure psychedelic Delta blues riff which ends the double album on a high note.

Electric Ladyland reached #1 on the US album charts as well as #6 in the UK. After the dissolution of Jimi Hendrix Experience in early 1969, Hendrix formed the short-lived Gypsy Sun and Rainbows to perform at Woodstock that summer before forming the Band of Gypsys, with whom he would record one studio album. That album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which Hendrix opened in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

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Astral Weeks by Van MorrisonAstral Weeks was the second solo album by Van Morrison, and in a lot of ways it was his own, direct counter-reaction to the debut album which was released in 1967 without Morrison’s consent and filled with weak studio outtakes. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Astral Weeks was a complete departure from anything Morrison had done previously and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness nature of the music has received critical acclaim for four and a half decades and counting. Amazingly, most of the recording of the eight album songs was done in just two sessions and done among musicians who had never played together before.

Van Morrison got his start with the group Them, which had a handful singles in the mid 1960s. After an American tour in 1966, the band members became involved in a dispute with their manager over revenues, which ultimately led to the band’s break up. Convinced to record solo by producer Bert Berns, Morrison recorded eight songs in 1967, which were originally intended to be used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of four singles. Instead, these songs were compiled and released as Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! without the singer even being consulted. Although the song “Brown Eyed Girl” did reach the Top 10 in the US, Morrison was dissatisfied with the album and sought out a new recording contract.

Morrison moved to Boston where he started to perform in an acoustic duo with double bassist and Berklee student Tom Kielbania. Soon, they began to develop the basic material for Astral Weeks. Producer Lewis Merenstein Went to see Morrison’s live act and was moved by his unique sound. Merenstein had a background in jazz, and decided to replace Kielbania with veteran bassist Richard Davis, who served as the session leader among the unfamiliar musicians. By all accounts, the sessions lacked basic formalities, with Morrison playing the songs on acoustic guitar and letting the session musicians play exactly what they felt.


Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

 

All eight songs were composed by Morrison and each original album side was subtitle, with side one called “In The Beginning”. The opening title song is one of the strongest on the album. A pure ballad of romanticism which gradually builds on its acoustic and double bass core, adding intensity throughout while not really changing chord structure and the long string-intensive fade out really drives home the central theme of “…to be born again in another time, in another place…” Morrison described it as “transforming energy, or going from one source to another with it being born again like a rebirth”.

The folksy, classical acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner begins “Beside You”, a truly improvised piece. A “spur of the moment” feel persists throughout, especially when it comes to Davis’ bass and, in fact, this song may be a little over the top for the average listener in its sheer roughness of composition. “Sweet Thing” is a lot closer to a traditional love song while still containing a bit of improvised vocals. Musically, it is held together by the glue of a semi-tight rhythm and the fine string accents of Larry Fallon coupled with the flute of John Payne. Lyrically, there positive and romantic lyrics in a natural setting;

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky…

The first side ends with “Cyprus Avenue”, a great and romantically intense song with a core blues arrangement and topical Celtic/folk instrumentation. Fallon’s ever-present harpsichord and later fiddle makes the song a lot looser and more striking as it progresses. A long fade maintains (if not escalates) the intensity of this song, named after a wealthy street in Morrison’s hometown of Belfast.

Side two of Astral Weeks is subtitled “Afterwards” and begins with the most jazzy track on the album, “The Way Young Lovers Do”. With a just a splash of Mexican horns, this definite sixties swing song is a very rewarding listen in spite of being one of the shorter songs on the album. A great fiddle adds real flavor to the subdued acoustic tune, “Madame George”, which is otherwise driven by Morrison’s voice and never really leaves the exact chord progression over its nearly ten minute duration. Driven by vibraphone, “Ballerina” is still intense and romantic on its own, with nice sustained horn accents. The song is the only one composed while Morrison was still a member of Them in 1966. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the closer “Slim Slow Slider”, which is little more than a showcase for the saxophone of John Payne.

Despite the fact that it failed to achieve significant sales success and reached gold status 33 years after its release, Astral Weeks remains a cult favorite. Morrison would soon achieve his commercial breakthrough with his third solo album, Moondance, released in early 1970.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Wheels of Fire by Cream

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Wheels of Fire by CreamThe short-lived power trio Cream reached their apex with Wheels of Fire in 1968. This double album consists of one studio LP and one live LP, and it became the first ever platinum-selling double album, showing that the group had fully arrived just before they decided to call it quits. Wheels of Fire was produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also played various eclectic instruments and helped  choose the live material to provide a showcase for each band member. Most of the studio material was recorded in London and New York during late 1967, while the live performances were captured in San Francisco during early 1968.

Cream rarely performed any of their songs before they entered the studio. On Wheels of Fire, the studio material consists of two blues covers chosen by guitarist Eric Clapton along with original material composed by two distinct teams. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce teamed up with poet Pete Brown to write four of the studio tracks, while drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs with musician Mike Taylor. During these sessions, Clapton did write the acoustic folk song “Anyone For Tennis” (on which he also sang), which was included on limited versions on the album but otherwise released as a single and featured in the movie, The Savage Seven.

The entire studio album was completed before Cream recorded material for the live album. For these live recordings, Pappalardi used a mobile recording studio outside the Fillmore Auditorium and the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where six shows were recorded. From these recordings, four extended tracks were chosen to fill the second LP. “Traintime” is a showcase for Bruce due to his performance of a bluesy harmonica solo, Similarly, “Toad” features a lengthy drum solo by Baker, much longer than the original recording from Fresh Cream. Clapton’s guitar again shines on the classic blues tracks “Spoonful” and “Crossroads”, with the latter Robert Johnson classic becoming so identified with Clapton that he used the title, Crossroads, for his 1988 box set.


Wheels of Fire by Cream
Released: August, 1968 (Polydor)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: IBC Studios, London & Atlantic Studios, New York, July 1967 – June 1968
Side One Side Two
White Room
Sitting on Top of the World
Passing the Time
As You Said
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Politician
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Anyone for Tennis?
Side Three Side Four
Crossroads
Spoonful
Traintime
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Bass, Cello, Harmonica, Acoustic Guitar, Recorder, Lead Vocals
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

As an encapsulated package of the best elements of Cream during their duration as a group, “White Room” has become the group’s essential song. Written by Bruce and Brown, the song features a sharp, direct rock beat and a great riff accented by hyper Clapton’s wah-wah guitar. The ethereal refrain section shows the upper range of what this band can accomplish compositionally and the reprise of opening psych-influenced intro is nicely complimented by the sudden return to the hard rock of the outro. Brown’s lyrics have been interrupted as the recollection of a bad acid trip, but certainly leave enough room for interpretation to traverse the decades.

The cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World” is a heavy version of a classic 1920s blues song, with Clapton playing the type of blues guitar that Jimmy Page would soon adopt. The album then turns to some of its most original material. Baker and Taylor’s “Passing the Time” is a mulit-part song which starts as odd drum piece before fading into a completely different, psychedelic organ and viola fueled semi-ballad with some vocal harmonizing. A third section gives the song its title as a rock improve which again fades out as the light second section returns to finish the song. “As You Said” features Bruce on acoustic with some cello by Pappalardi and may be the oddest of Cream songs. In close competition for that title is “Pressed Rat and Warthog”, featuring spoken vocals by Baker, which he originally wanted his daughter to record. While on the surface this may seem like a farcical tune, the music beneath the voice rather interesting and dynamic.

The rock returns with “Politician”, which features more of the bluesy, riff-driven music which defined Cream. Clapton recorded two overdubbed “floating” guitars which. crisscross in the stereo mix. “Those Were the Days” continues the rock groove but with unique elements such as the call-and-response vocals and the mythical lyric matter by Brown. The contemporary blues cover of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” features a rotating rhythm by Baker, behind the screeching, whining guitars and slow-paced leads by “Slow Hand”. “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is the best song on the second side with a wild, almost funky rhythm but with a jazz/folk fusion, making this one a very rewarding listen and perhaps Cream’s most underrated song.

Wheels of Fire was a raving commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching #3 in the UK and #1 in the US. However, shortly after the album’s completion, the members of Cream decided that they wanted to go their separate ways. At the label’s urging, they embarked on a “farewell” tour in late 1968 with nearly the entire set consisting of songs from this double album. One final album called Goodbye, another hybrid of live and studio material, was released in early 1969, after the band had dissolved.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Odessey and Oracle
by The Zombies

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Odessey and Oracle by The ZombiesThe Zombies only had two studio albums during their heyday of the 1960s. The first was their 1965 debut which was filled with British flavored pop with a slight edge. The second was the slightly-psychedelic, pre-prog-rock classic Odessey and Oracle, which was the band’s masterpiece. Released in 1968 after the group had actually disbanded, this album contains twelve richly arranged tracks that are succinct (there is not a single song that lasts as long as four minutes) and of top notch production, done independently by the group members in 1967. The result is an album of bright and melancholy piano tunes with rich vocal harmonies, mellotron, and tight rhythms.

The tracks on Odessey and Oracle alternated between compositions by bassist Chris White and by keyboardist Rod Argent, each possessing a knack for composing original and diverse songs. The album was mainly recorded at Abbey Road studios during the summer of 1967, nearly a full year before its release. The group had a tight budget for recording and worked quickly in the studio. This brisk pace also had negative effects, such as the misspelling of “odyssey” in the cover design (which forever changed the album’s official title) and creative tensions among the group members, which ultimately led to their demise by the end of 1967.

With the group disbanded, CBS Records initially decided not to release the album in the United States. However, producer Al Kooper had heard the album during a trip to England and convinced the label to reverse its decision. The Zombies had previous success in the US during the “British invasion” days of 1964 and 1965 fueled by the singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”. With the release of Odessey and Oracle, another hit single, “Time of the Season”, closed out the decade with their biggest hit.


Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies
Released: April 19, 1968 (CBS)
Produced by: The Zombies
Recorded: Olympic Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, June–November 1967
Side One Side Two
Care of Cell 44
A Rose for Emily
Maybe After He’s Gone
Beechwood Park
Brief Candles
Hung Up On a Dream
Changes
I Want Her, She Wants Me
This Will Be Our Year
Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)
Friends of Mine
Time of the Season
Band Musicians
Colin Blunstone – Lead Vocals
Rod Argent – Piano, Organ, Melotron, Vocals
Paul Atkinson – Guitar, Vocals
Chris White– Bass, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums, Vocals

 

The perfect English pop of Argent’s “Care of Cell 44” starts the album with a very upbeat tune with just a tad of tad of melancholy. The Zombies’ extraordinary vocal talents are apparent right from the start, led by lead vocalist Colin Blunstone and the gorgeous harmonies of the rest of the band. This unique song tells the uncommon story of an impending release of a prison inmate and was the lead single for Odessey and Oracle, although it failed to chart. The ballad “A Rose for Emily” is like a subdued “Eleanor Rigby”, driven by Blunstone’s lead vocal melody and Argent’s simple rudimental guide piano and again contains multipart vocals in the chorus. The song concludes with nicely diminished ending chords, following the sad closing lyric;

And as the years go by, she will grow old and die, The roses in her garden fade away, not one left for her grave, not a rose for Emily…”

“Maybe After He’s Gone” alternates between Paul Atkinson picked folk guitar during mellow verse and a driving chorus with heavy harmonies and piano. This is a great mood piece of pure, high end sixties pop. Atkinson returns with a very interesting guitar Leslie effect on “Beechwood Park”, good folk song with more great vocal harmonies and a vibe similar to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. White’s “Brief Candles” has been called a true piece of songwriting genius, with soft piano verses giving way to mellotron drenched choruses held tight by the drum-driven rhythm of Hugh Grundy. The song alternates moods masterfully. Side one concludes with the mainly psychedelic “Hung Up on a Dream”, with a heavy reverb on Argent’s piano and the best guitar work by Atkinson on an album which used his talents strategically.

The second side begins with White’s “Changes”, containing two distinct sections, which seem to compete with each other. One part is almost like a choir recital while another contains bongos and other percussive effects trading off with the mellotron in this fine psychedelic rocker. Argent takes lead vocals “I Want Her, She Wants Me” is upbeat, much like the opening track with Argent’s harpsichord, White’s very bouncy bass by White and more pop/rock-oriented harmonies than on most other tracks on the album. “This Will Be Our Year” is a great rock ballad, not the slow and sappy kind, but the upbeat yet romantic, with very good vocals by Blunstone, who pretty much carries the song alone with none of the usual harmonies.

The Zombies

Written and sung by White, “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” is the most far-out, freak-out song on Odessey and Oracle, starting with a sound effect and driven throughout by deep and dark organ sound for a raw effect like later punk, but a bit more legitimate. The lyrics tell of a battle from the viewpoint of a soldier in the midst of the fight in World War I, which many took as a thinly-disguised comment on Vietnam. “Friends of Mine” brings the mood back up instantly with duo vocals and breezy pop, this song is a great setup for the album’s climatic ending.

“Time of the Season” would become the group’s best known song and biggest hit, and provided an extremely strong ending to the album. This song truly has it all; a great bass riff by White, tight drums by Grundy, pure hip mood with whisper effects, perfectly breezy and unique vocals by Blunstone, and a couple of Hammond organ jams by composer Rod Argent. Although it was recorded in August 1967, it would not be heard by most of the world until early 1969, when it reached #3 in the US and the Top Ten in several other nations.

Odessey and Oracle is an indelible final statement by a rock group which was together for too short a time. Rod Argent and Chris White soon formed an offshoot group “Argent”, which worked through the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1997 that the group performed any of the material live, during a brief reunion to promote their box set. A decade later, in 2008, The Zombies celebrated the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle‘s release by performing the album in its entirety for the first time every.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.