Pink Floyd in 1969

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Buy Ummagumma

Pink Floyd 1969 albumsThe recorded output by Pink Floyd during the year 1969 was ubiquitous, original, creative and disjointed. During the year, the group released the LP soundtrack to the film More and the double length half live, half studio record Ummagumma, and also recorded material which would appear on future projects. The group’s musical transformation became clear as they moved from the psychedelic pop that defined the group earlier to a more refined style which would bring the group their greatest success in years to come.

The group found success with their first two albums, The Piper At the Gates of Dawn in 1967 and A Saucerful of Secrets in 1968, even as they had vastly different styles due to the departure of chief songwriter and vocalist Syd Barrett. As that year ended, lead vocal duties were shared among three of the group members while bassist Roger Waters began to emerge as primary composer. Early in 1969 the band developed a pair of multi-part suites called “The Man” and “The Journey”, which included the earliest carnations of songs which would appear on More, Ummagumma and other projects. In total, about a dozen future tracks originated from “The Man” and “The Journey”, which would not find its way to the public until the 2016 box set, The Early Years 1965-1972.

Released in June of 1969, More became the third studio album by Pink Floyd on the EMI label and it was recorded during the same months as the live performances used on Ummagumma during the Spring of 1969. Used as the soundtrack for the 1969 film of the same name directed by Barbet Schroeder, More features a mix of acoustic folk ballads, several instrumental tracks, as well as some heavy rock tracks. More also has the distinction of being the only Pink Floyd album with all lead vocals by guitarist David Gilmour until A Momentary Lapse in Reason in 1987.

Getting its name from a Cambridge area slang word, Ummagumma was completed by the end of June 1969 but not released until November. The album contained two sides of live material and two sides of studio recordings subdivided into four sections of solo compositions by each of the group members. The album’s live recordings were recorded at clubs in Birmingham and Manchester while the studio portion was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and co-produced by Norman Smith.


More by Pink Floyd
Released: June 13, 1969 (EMI Columbia)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Pye Studios, London, February–May 1969
Side One Side Two
Cirrus Minor
The Nile Song
Crying Song
Up the Khyber
Green Is the Colour
Cymbaline
Party Sequence
Main Theme
Ibiza Bar
More Blues
Quicksilver
A Spanish Piece
Dramatic Theme

Ummagumma by Pink Floyd
Released: November 7, 1969 (Harvest)
Produced by: Norman Smith & Pink Floyd
Recorded: Mothers Club of Birmingham, Manchester College of Commerce, & Abbey Road Studios, London, April-May 1969
Venue
Side One Side Two
Astronomy Domine
Careful with That Axe, Eugene
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
A Saucerful of Secrets
Side Three Side Four
Sysyphus
Grantchester Meadows
Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict
The Narrow Way (Parts 1–3)
The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party
Part 1: Entrance
Part 2: Entertainment
Part 3: Exit
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
David Gilmour – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Organ, Vibraphone, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Guitars, Tape Effects, Percussion, Vocals
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 

A long intro of bird sound effects gives way to the dark acoustic descriptive landscape of “Cirrus Minor”, the opening track on More. Later on, Richard Wright’s inventive, overdubbed organ chorus is featured in the coda. Much unlike the opening track, Wright is absent on “The Nile Song”, a driving hard rocker, which had some “punk” tendencies many year before that genre was coined. Considered to be one of the heaviest songs that Pink Floyd ever recorded, this track features a chord progression that repeats through six different keys, giving it a sinking. swirling effect overall. Next “Crying Song” pleasantly fades in as an acoustic ballad with a repeated verse and no chorus with only Gilmour’s ending guitar lead providing a break from the repetition.

More by Pink FloydDrummer Nick Mason supplies animated jazz drums for the instrumental “Up the Khyber”, joined only by some slight piano and organ improvisation by Wright. In contrast, “Green Is the Colour” is a bluesy acoustic sans drums but with an interesting dual lead by Wright on piano and Farfisa organ. Nick’s wife Lindy Mason also provides a tin whistle to complete the effect. The smooth yet intense “Cymbaline” is, perhaps, the most cohesive recording on this album and one that strongly forecasts the group’s stylistic compositions later in the 1970s. Waters lyrics tell of a nightmare while Wright’s organ and piano gain full control as song enters its long fade.

Most of the second half of More is comprised of instrumentals, including Mason’s chorus on percussive bongos encapsulating “Party Sequence”, the hip, spacey quality of “Main Theme”, the reverb-laden “More Blues”, the improvised extended piece “Quicksilver” and the rotating bass riff accompanied by Bosa Nova drums and whining guitar for the closing “Dramatic Theme”. Aside from Gilmour’s frivilous “A Spanish Piece” where he spouts gibberish through a poorly exaggerated Spanish accent, the only other sng with vocals on the second side is “Ibiza Bar”, a hard-driving song with pre-punk impulses.

The first two sides of Ummagumma consisted of two extended live tracks each. The best of these is the opener “Astronomy Domine”, the only composition by Barrett in the collection, and an excellent update to the original version from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This version really highlights the group’s discipline and tightness live and, most especially, Gilmour’s guitar work (he was not present on the original studio version). “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” follows where the repeated two bass notes provide a steady heartbeat for this haunting instrumental led by Wright’s organ-based motifs, which was originally released as a single ‘B’ side in late 1968. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” provides more hypnotic consistency, this time held by Mason’s tribal toms and Wright’s Eastern-favored keyboards, with the piece getting more and more intense until Gilmour comes in for a wild psychedelic jam. Finally, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, the most unsatisfying live cut on Ummagumma with its only real redemption being the wild drumming section by Mason.

Ummagumma by Pink FloydThe studio album portion of Ummagumma was done at Wright’s suggestion as each of the four members created solo work with no involvement from Pink Floyd members. Wright’s section come first with “Sysyphus”, a four part instrumental suite composed on piano and various keyboards, synths and effects mechanisms. Like the story of the Greek character this was named after, the piece ends exactly where is begins. Waters wrote two separate pieces for his section, which closes side three. “Grantchester Meadows” is an atmospheric folk song with slow picked acoustic laid onto a backdrop of electronic nature effects topped with poetic lyrics of a pastoral bliss from his childhood. In contrast, “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” is a totally Avent Garde piece performed solely by overdubbed, inventive use of voice and hand effects. The closing gibberish rant by the “Pict” is a real masterpiece of artful sound unparalleled in rock music.

The final side commences with Gilmour’s three distinct parts of “The Narrow Way”. The first part is a musically satisfying instrumental as overdubbed acoustic guitars and slight, piercing electric groove on with an occasional rotating sound effect passing through the scene. Part 2 has a doomy electric which seems to forecast the soon-to-come-sounds of King Crimson and/or Black Sabbath, while the third part features a full song arrangement with vocals, piano, mellotron, drums and guitar all performed by Gilmour for an overall decent ballad. Nick Mason’s contribution is “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party” where repeated reverb effects on tympani are slowly joined by extra repeated effects and a background mellotron to add some counter-melody. The heart of this three-part suite is bookmarked by two short flute melodies, performed by Lindy Mason, including the overdubbed piece which concludes the album.

Pink Floyd

While neither resembles a popular music album in any way, amazingly both More and Ummagumma were Top Ten hits in the UK, with the latter album eventually selling over a million copies in the US. Further, with both albums fully recorded and mixed by mid year, Pink Floyd moved on to other projects later in 1969.

In early July, they recorded the song “Biding My Time”. Once a part of “The Man and the Journey”, this jazzy track written and sung by Waters is a fine showcase for the band’s talents and versatility. Each member has room to shine from Mason’s drumming to Wright’s piano and trombone playing to Gilmour’s jazz guitar in the verses and later extended heavy rock lead to close out the track, With so much other material being released, this fine song was held back until it appeared on the 1971 compilation album, Relics. On July 20th, Pink Floyd performed a live televised jam entitled “Moonhead” with actors Ian McKellan and Judi Dench also starring on the special. In October, the group was filmed for another television documentary entitled Music Power, which included Frank Zappa joining the group for a rendition of “Interstellar Overdrive”.

Pink Floyd next recording project began in mid-November, where they traveled to Rome for the soundtrack to director Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Three of the group’s songs (“Heart Beat, Pig Meat”, “Crumbling Land” and “Come in No. 51, Your Time Is Up”) were ultimately included on the 1970 soundtrack, while several more were rejected by the filmmaker and unreleased. Among the rejected pieces was a Richard Wright instrumental called “The Violent Sequence”, which was later re-purposed as “Us and Them” on the group’s 1973 blockbuster The Dark Side of the Moon. This project closed out the prolific year for the group.

1969 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
by Neil Young

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Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil YoungNeil Young‘s second solo record, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, was the first of his string of classics. Released in May 1969, this album was also the first to include Crazy Horse, a backing group that Young would employ sporadically for decades to come. On this critically acclaimed album, Young bounces back and forth between rock, folk and country, landing a few times on a custom sweet spot nestled somewhere in between all three genres.

Young migrated from his native Canada to Southern California in 1966 and fortuitously found himself at the founding of the group Buffalo Springfield. After two years and two successful albums, he left the band to launch a solo career, releasing his self titled debut by the end of 1968. That fine psych-tinged folk-rock album was as much uneven as it is interesting. Young would later comment that his debut record was “overdubbed rather than played” and he immediately set out to make a better record.

Prior to recording Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Young recruited a trio of musicians originally from a band called The Rockets to be the first incarnation of Crazy Horse. Young composed all the material, much of which was written in a single day while he was recovering from a high fever, and co-produced the album with David Briggs. However, the members of Crazy Horse did play a large role in the forging and recording of the songs, adding rhythms, backing vocals and a few long and loose instrumental jam sections.


Everybody Knows This is Nowhere by Neil Young
Released: May 14, 1969 (Reprise)
Produced by: David Briggs and Neil Young
Recorded: Wally Heider Recording, Hollywood, CA, January-March 1969
Side One Side Two
Cinnamon Girl
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)
Down by the River
The Losing End (When You’re On)
Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
Cowgirl In the Sand
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Danny Whitten – Guitars, Vocals
Billy Talbot/strong> – Bass
Ralph Molina – Drums, Vocals

 

The album begins with the indelible “Cinnamon Girl”, an innovative combo of riff-based hard rock and pop/folk sensibilities. Along with the signature riff, guitarist Danny Whitten provides co-lead vocal high harmony with Young providing lyrics about a “city girl on playing finger cymbals”. The title track follows “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” features an innovative accident of Young including a temporary scratch vocal sung through the talk-back microphone with no further effects in the final mix. Thematically, this song has some deep influence from Buffalo Springfield.

“Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” slows things down as a country-esque waltz complete with exquisite vocals by both Young and guest Robin Lane throughout and some strategic chord changes placed within the consistent acoustic strumming. The epic “Down by the River” finishes off the first side as a classic epic in length and approach. This dark song about a crime of passion features some extended instrumental passages with Young leading the group with staccato-laden guitar leads.

Neil Young

“The Losing End (When You’re On)” is slightly psychedelic, but mostly country in approach and a much less interesting song than anything previous as it really doesn’t go anywhere unexpected and the words are delivered painfully slow, Diddo for “Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” a reserved, haunting and dark folk tune featuring squeaky violin by guest Bobby Notkoff. The album wraps with the classic “Cowgirl in the Sand”, a true highlight for the rhythm section of Crazy Horse, namely bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. In between the extended jams lie two well constructed melodic sections with nicely doubled lead vocals to accent the fine melodies of this song, which buttons up the album as a classic.

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere peaked in the Top 40 in the United States and remained on the charts for nearly 100 weeks. During that time, Young joined Crosby, Stills & Nash for the 1970 album Déjà Vu before resuming his solo career later in that year.

~

1969 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

Crimson and Clover by
Tommy James & the Shondells

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Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells hit their creative and commercial climax  in 1969 with their sixth studio album, Crimson and Clover. This album combines some heavy psychedelic elements with the group’s core pop/R&B sensibilities for a potent cross-section of authentic fine sixties music. Crimson and Clover is also the first album in which the group’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Tommy James, played a large part in composing the bulk of the material.

The group’s roots stretch back a decade to 1959 in Michigan, when a 12-year-old James formed Tom and the Tornadoes, with the group releasing its first single, “Long Pony Tail”, in 1962. James renamed the band the Shondells in 1964 when they recorded the single “Hanky Panky” for local label Snap Records, which was a modest local hit in the Midwest but not big enough to keep the original Shondells together past high school graduation. The following year, a Pittsburgh dance promoter discovered the single and played it at various events and on radio stations, generating enough interest to attract James to play shows in Western Pennsylvania. A second version of the backing band was recruited in Greensburg, PA, including keyboardist Ron Rosman and bassist Mike Vale.

With this new touring group, James made a deal with Roulette Records to receive national promotion, which drove “Hanky Panky” to number 1 on the pop charts in July 1966. More success quickly followed, including the Top Ten hits “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967), “Mirage” (1968) and “Mony Mony” (1968), all of which were penned by outside writers. In late 1968, the group was given artistic control by Roulette and decided to take a new direction by writing their own songs and self-producing their next album, Crimson and Clover.


Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
Released: January, 1969 (Roulette)
Produced by: Tommy James and the Shondells
Recorded: 1968
Side One Side Two
Crimson and Clover
Kathleen McArthur
I’m a Tangerine
Do Something to Me
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sugar on Sunday
Breakaway
Smokey Roads
I’m Alive
Group Musicians
Tommy James – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eddie Gray – Guitars, Vocals
Ron Rosman – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Vale – Bass, Vocals
Peter Lucia – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by drummer Peter Lucia, the album’s opening title track is a juxtaposition of James soulful vocals and the heavily treated tremolo guitar effect. This sets the stage for the overall vibe of “Crimson and Clover”, which was recorded by James, Vale and Lucia as an intended single, released ahead of the album in late 1968 and topped the US pop charts in February 1969. The song was also a hit internationally, reaching number one in six other nations. The next track, “Kathleen McArthur”, is an English folk style tune complete with harpsichord, flute and lyrics about a servant falling secretly for the daughter of his aristocratic employer, while “I’m a Tangerine” appears to be an overt attempt at psychedelic pop with strong influence from early Pink Floyd.

“Do Something to Me” is the album’s only cover track but this Top 40 hit takes a refreshing turn back to straight-forward rock n’ roll with an Elvis inspired revival complete with a “fake” live audience reaction such as whistling, hooting and hollering. The album’s best overall song is “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, co-written by guitarist Eddie Gray, features a unique and excellent blend of psychedelic guitar, soul bass, hand percussion, flamenco acoustic and melodic vocals. Later on Vale’s bass leads into a key change upward that completes this song as a classic,which made it to #2 on the charts.

Tommy James and the Shondells

The rest of the album features a diverse set of interesting songs. “Sugar on Sunday” dips back into the psychedelic bubblegum, although this one does have some interesting elements, with an almost Gospel-like feel from the backing vocals. “Breakaway” is harder rock and experimental with a combination of fuzz guitar and basic soul piano providing dueling arrangements and a slight mid section led by bass. Backwards-masked spoken vocals leads to the ballad “Smokey Roads”, featuring some interesting drum transitions by Lucia, while “I’m Alive” features sharp guitars that break through the thumping rhythms and is thematically celebratory. The album concludes with an alternate take of the title track’s coda section to bring it all full circle.

In the year it was released, Crimson and Clover reached the Top 10 of the album charts and maintained its esteem through the next half century. However, the group did not persist much longer, as the Shondells disbanded in early 1970 when Tommy James collapsed after a show and was initially pronounced dead. He did recover and launched a solo career shortly after.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

The Guess Who’s 1969 albums

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Buy Canned Wheat

The Guess Who 1969 albumsAlthough the group was already over a decade old and had already released three albums, the pop career of The Guess Who really got underway with the release of two albums in 1969; Wheatfield Soul and Canned Wheat. These albums spawned several hit singles and ignited the group’s meteoric span at the heights of the pop and rock world internationally, which continued into the early seventies. Both of these albums were produced by Jack Richardson.

Formed in Winnipeg in 1958, The Guess Who recorded their debut single, “Tribute To Buddy Holly”, in 1962 as “Chad Allan and the Reflections”. Three years later the group produced their debut album, Shakin’ All Over and corresponding title song which topped the Canadian charts and reached the Top 30 in the United States. Two more albums, Hey Ho (What You Do to Me!) and It’s Time were released in the next year and a half through 1965 and 1966, before Allen was replaced by 18-year-old Burton Cummings. In 1967, The Guess Who were hired as the house band on the CBC radio show The Swingers as well as the television program Let’s Go, giving the group vast exposure in Canada and eventually leading to their international record deal with RCA Records.


Wheatfield Soul by The Guess Who
Released: March, 1969 (RCA)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: A & R Studios, New York, September 1968
Side One Side Two
These Eyes
Pink Wine Sparkles in the Glass
I Found Her in a Star
Friends of Mine
When You Touch Me
A Wednesday in Your Garden
Lightfoot
Love and a Yellow Rose
Maple Fudge
We’re Coming to Dinner

Canned Wheat by The Guess Who
Released: September, 1969 (RCA)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Studio A, New York, New York, 1969
Side One Side Two
No Time
Minstrel Boy
Laughing
Undun
6 A.M. or Nearer
Old Joe
Of a Dropping Pin
Key
Fair Warning
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Burton Cummings – Lead Vocals, piano, keyboards, flute, harmonica
Randy Bachman – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Kale – Bass, Vocals
Gary Peterson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Wheatfield Soul was recorded in New York City in September 1968 with most songs co-written by Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman. The album offers an odd but interesting mix of structured sixties Brit-pop and roaming experimental songs, some which work and some which don’t. Standing above all else is the fantastic opening track, “These Eyes”, a song of perfect sonic execution. It starts with simple electric piano riff by Cummings along with choppy electric and lightly strummed acoustic by Bachman and then slowly adds arrangement and orchestration matched by Cummings’ vocal intensity to make for a perfect pop song for the late 1960s. The song became the group’s first single to reach the top ten in the US and it has individually sold over one million copies.

Wheatfield Soul by The Guess WhoPink Wine Sparkles in the Glass” is a short but rather complex rocker with differing tempos and homages to contemporaries like the Beatles and the Bee Gees, while “I Found Her in a Star” is a more standard ballad with plenty of sonic décor including both smooth orchestration and buzzy electric guitar. The freaky psychedelic rock suite “Friends of Mine” has multiple section built on simple jam riffs with Cummings adding somewhat improvised poetic motifs which seem to be influenced by The Doors’ Jim Morrison and include a contemporary reference of Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour with the statement;

Kurt is the walrus and the walrus does funny things to the veins in his left arm….”

The second side of Wheatfield Soul is equally as diverse, starting with “When You Touch Me”, which starts with Gary Peterson‘s animated drums and settles into a pop-oriented groove but may be a little underdone to become a hit. Bachman’s “A Wednesday in Your Garden” is a pretty and pleasant jazz rock ballad with lead vocals remaining high in rock intensity, while “Lightfoot” is a pure folk tribute song with multiple acoustics and lyrics that call Gordon Lightfoot “an artist painting Sistine masterpieces”. “Love and a Yellow Rose” starts as an Eastern-style chant accompanied by single, buzzy guitar before fully kicking in as an entertaining funk rocker, followed by the happy-go-lucky, bouncy, bubblegum rock of “Maple Fudge”. The closer “We’re Coming to Dinner” is a cool jazz rocker with plenty of groovy elements led by an effective rebellious hook which should’ve made this a hit in the late sixties.

The Guess Who

Outside of Canada where it reached the Top Ten, Wheatfield Soul was not a commercial success. However, it did set a standard to be built upon and improved upon for a follow-up album. Canned Wheat was recorded through 1969 and features tracks which are more evenly spread out in temper and quality. The opener “No Time” is an early “alternate” version of the later re-recorded hit featured on the 1970 album American Woman. It starts with weird, dissonant guitars before breaking into the moderate rock groove. Later, Bachman’s extended guitar lead reaches into psychedelia a bit, making this distinct recording pretty interesting. “Minstrel Boy” follows as slightly jazzy folk track with bouncy bass by Jim Kale along with definitively strummed chords and darkly-tinged lyrics.

Canned Wheat by The Guess WhoTwo of the more popular tracks on Canned Wheat, “Laughing” and “Undun” were actually recorded twice due to quality issues. “Laughing” alternates between a sad ballad and a more upbeat pop love song, a combination which propelled the track to the top of the Canadian Singles Chart and the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bachman’s “Undun” was originally issued as the B-side of “Laughing” and this jazzy track features excellence all around – unique, bright guitar chording by Bachman, the best bass playing yet by kale, bossa-nova style drumming by Peterson, and vocals which stretch the ranges by Cummings – along with a very cool and unique bridge. While a little disjointed in direction, “6 A.M. or Nearer” is a very pleasant listen nonetheless to complete the original first side.

“Old Joe” is a track by Cummings with an intro that features backward-masked piano and haunting chords before breaking into a folk piano ballad with fine, dynamic vocals and good, animated rhythms, while “Of a Dropping Pin” is a decent rocker with a profound lyrical hook. “Key” is the album’s eleven-minute extended track which starts with sitar before breaking into a rhythmic rock section during the initial three verses. Then, after a standard guitar lead comes an interesting drum/percussion section topped by various guitar textures before Peterson goes into a full-fledged drum solo which takes up the second half of this extended suite. The album concludes with the short track, “Fair Warning”, with jazzy guitar chords and spoken words.

By the time Canned Wheat was released in September 1969, The Guess Who had already begun recording material for their next album, American Woman, the first of two albums released in 1970 by the group.

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Abbey Road by The Beatles

1969 Album of the Year

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Abbey Road by The BeatlesShort of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.

It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.

Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.


Abbey Road by The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Side One Side Two
Come Together
Something
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Oh Darling
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
Because
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.

Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.

The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.

With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.

Beatles during Abbey Road sessions

Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.

Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Yer Album by The James Gang

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Yer Album by the James GangYer Album is the debut album by James Gang,  displays this power trio’s genius and raw power through the compositions but also shows  their lack of recording experience due to the various filler throughout. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, it is clear that the group looked both to the East and the West for musical inspiration. This applies to their original compositions as well as the pair of covers. With a healthy dose of British heavy rock and California folk rock topping the trio’s Southern blues-flavored core, Yer Album is a celebration of all elements of the expanding world of rock and roll and the end of the sixties.

James Gang drummer Jim Fox was a member of the band, The Outsiders, who had a national hit, “Time Won’t Let Me”, in the mid sixties. After leaving that group, Fox wanted to form a group oriented towards British rock. He recruited bassist Tom Kriss and a guitarist and keyboardist to form the original incarnation of the James Gang. After several lineup shuffles during the group’s first year, Fox was approached in 1968 by guitarist Joe Walsh who wanted to audition for the group. As the group narrowed from a five piece to a trio, Walsh assumed lead vocal duties and would eventually be their most identifiable member.

ABC Records staff producer Bill Szymczyk was assigned to the group, a serendipitous move that began a long professional relationship between Szymczyk and Walsh. Szymczyk would go on to produce all three of the James Gang’s albums which Walsh played on as well as many of his solo albums through the 1970s and later albums by the pop group the Eagles, which Walsh joined in 1976. But long before the group was posthumously dubbed “Joe Walsh’s James Gang”, they were a legitimate power trio, with each given their own space to jam and demonstrate their musical chops.


Yer Album by James Gang
Released: March, 1969 (ABC Records)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: The Hit Factory, New York City, January 1969
Side One Side Two
Introduction
Take a Look Around
Funk #48
Bluebird
Lost Woman
Stone Rap
Collage
I Don’t Have the Time
Wrapcity in English
Fred
Stop
Group Musicians
Joy Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Piano
Tom Kriss – Bass, Flute
Jim Fox – Drums, Percussion

 

First the frivolous and annoying. In the grooves of the at the ends of each side of the original LPs were the infinite spoken messages, “Turn me over” and “Play me again”. Such antics also pertained to the opening tracks of each side. “Introduction” starts the first side with an improvised string quartet which cross-fades to a strummed acoustic riff which then roughly dissolves into the first proper song. It is a bit ironic that the first proper song by a group featuring a guitar legend like Joe Walsh is so keyboard dominated as “Take a Look Around”. The verses and chorus are dominated by an out-front organ and a piano holding the back end, all built on calm textures and acid rock ambiance. The song is strong on melody and mellow throughout with the middle section cut by a slow but piercing electric guitar lead, which returns again in the outro with a fuller arrangement. After this song is an odd, but interesting, section with competing spoken words and phrases.

“Funk #48” contains the simplest of grooves and lyrics in the simplest of songs, albeit still very entertaining and a great contrast from the previous song. Szymczyk commented that the song started as a sound check warm-up riff but quickly developed into the funk/rock groove, driven by the rhythm section of Kriss and Fox. The second half of the first side contains a couple of extended renditions of contemporary covers. Starting with a grandiose intro of piano and strings and interrupted by wild guitar interludes, the group eventually kicks into a rock-oriented version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird”. After a few verses, the song slowly meanders into a middle jam with exquisite drumming by Fox and texture-based guitar phrases by Walsh. The Yardbirds’ “Lost Woman” provides an extended showcase for each musician, particularly bassist Tom Kriss, who starts his showcase with a hyper-riff on bass and provides, perhaps, one of the most extensive bass solos in rock history. Most of this nine minute is an extended jam where each member leaves it completely out on the floor, especially the rhythm players, as the entire jam is much more than self-indulgence, it builds in tension and intensity throughout.

Side Two starts with more ambient noise, in the totally annoying “Stone Rap” before the beautiful, moody, and dark “Collage”, co-written by Patrick Cullie. This track could be the theme song for the entire album, as it truly is a collage of musical styles. The calmly strummed acoustic is accented by poignant but moody bass and strong drums and later some high strings and slight electric guitar join the mix. Overall, the tune is a real sonic treat and is original like no other. “I Don’t Have the Time” sounds (early) Deep Purple influenced as it is fast paced heavy rock, dominated by guitar overdubs and a furious drum beat, all while Walsh’s vocals carry an even keel, keeping the whole song grounded.

The final filler piece, “Wrapcity in English” goes back to the piano and string quartet with a melancholy, minor note and not quite as frivolous as the rest of the filler on the album. “Fred” is one of the odder songs on this oddest of albums. The organ returns (although not as much presence as on “Take a Look Around”) and first two verses have long and deliberate vocal lines for a somewhat psychedelic effect. In contrast, the middle bridge features an upbeat jazz/rock section with harmonized guitars. The twelve minute “Stop” feels like the most natural song for the band on the album – a totally legitimate power trio jam, which seems like it will never actually “Stop”. A great track for jam-band enthusiasts, especially those who lean towards the heavy rock/blues side, the group provides a parting shot to show the great promise for the future.

However, Yer Album would be the one and only album to feature these three together, as bassist Tom Kriss departed from the group by the end of 1969, making this a true capture of lightning in a bottle.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

In the Court of the Crimson King
by King Crimson

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In the Court of the Crimson King by King CrimsonSeldom does a band release a debut album as critically and financially successful as In the Court of the Crimson King, an Observation by King Crimson. Released in the winter of 1969 the album is filled with echoes of the darkest parts of the decade. Interestingly, although the album had existed since that year, it was not until 34 years later, in 2003, that the true album would be heard. The original recordings of the album had been lost during production, resulting in the release of a musically imperfect composition. This version of the album was the only one available until the master tapes were rediscovered.

King Crimson has now existed for forty six years going through eight different band iterations but this is the only album released by the band’s original line up. Almost immediately after In the Court of the Crimson King was released founding members Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left the band. Greg Lake followed them out of the band a few months later leaving only Peter Sinfield and Robert Fripp in the band. Sinfield would only last until the first day of January 1972. All of the members of the band would go on to achieve success outside of King Crimson, with the exception of Fripp who remains the keystone of the band to this day.

McDonald went on to found Foreigner, Giles became a session drummer, Sinfield wrote songs for other artists and Greg Lake went onto fame with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He also had a successful solo career, producing Big Blue Bullfrog‘s 3rd best Christmas Rock Song of all time, “I Believe in Father Christmas”. So it can be argued that In the Court of the Crimson King is the only actual album by King Crimson as the band lost so many members afterwards that it is hard to call it the same band, although Fripp obviously does.


In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson
Released: October 10, 1969 (Island)
Produced by: King Crimson
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, July-August 1969
Side One Side Two
21st Century Schizoid Man
I Talk to the Wind
Epitaph
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Group Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Bass
Robert Fripp – Guitars
Peter Sinfield – Lyricist
Ian McDonald – Keyboards, Woodwind, Vocals
Michael Giles – Drums, Percussion

 

The album opens with what could arguably be its best song, “21st Century Schizoid Man”. An image of the song’s namesake appears on the albums cover. The song opens with a burst of horns and drums before Greg Lake’s distorted voice kicks in with eerie vocals. Fripp’s guitar solo in the middle of the song might be it’s highlight but there are many to choose from. The innovative use of woodwinds is certainly another huge one. The lyrics read a bit like nonsense except for the line, “Innocents raped with napalm fire,” which is a clear nod toward the Vietnam War. It finishes in what can only be described as a mad crescendo of wicked and wild sounds. As expected, it is fantastic.

From here the album goes in a completely different direction. “I Talk to the Wind” is a slow mellow tune one would expect to hear while relaxing in a meadow. Greg Lake’s voice has a majestic feeling here and Giles drums are subdued into a jazzy rhythm. The flute is given center stage throughout the song by Ian McDonald who provides an enchanting melody. The listener almost feels transported into the magic forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream. Lyrically it sort of seems like a different take on Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”. In that song Dylan uses the line ‘the answer is blowing in the wind’ as a metaphor for the ignorance of society. Sinfield uses ‘wind’ itself as a metaphor for essentially the same thing.

Sinfield’s lyrics continue the anti-war themes with “Epitaph”. It is here the album really takes on a dystopian feeling. Lake’s voice is melancholy while Fripp’s guitar returns to add acoustic picking in certain sections. The line, “I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,” really illustrates the bleak nature of the Cold War. Overall, the song is an extremely pessimistic take on the era but it is wonderful in its darkness.

“Moonchild” is probably the least interesting song on the album. The song essentially describes a perfect and peaceful woman. In many ways this song should have just been called flower child as it is essentially describing that. It is very similar to “I Talk to the Wind” and “Epitaph” in musical composition but adds a symphonic section that simply goes on too long. It takes up most of the song and just doesn’t do enough to entertain the ear.

The album ends with its namesake, “In the Court of the Crimson King”. Musically, the Mellotron is used to its full potential here. The entire song is essentially a fantasy tale involving the Crimson King. The name of the character was chosen because it was given to any monarch who reigned when there was a great deal of bloodshed and civil unrest. This links the song to the albums antiwar concept and the lyrics of it seem to be a metaphor for the band member’s perceptions of the Western World in the late sixties. Near the ending, when the song gets quiet and has only one instrument take center stage, it is really haunting.

In the Court of the Crimson King, an Observation by King Crimson is an extremely interesting work. It inspired many future artists including some out of musical genres. Inspired by this work, Stephen King named his primary villain in the Dark Tower Series the Crimson King. The album is essentially an anti-war album disguised as a fantasy concept album. The deeper meaning of the songs is interesting but a little too obvious in places and none of the songs really say anything different. The message of every one amounts to,” war is bad.” That said, there is a large amount of room for interpretation. It can be said that the album borrows a bit too much from the Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed, even down to the trippy art work of the 21st Century Schizoid Man on the front cover. Despite this,  there may not be an album that does a better job of conveying the sense of doom that loomed over people living during the Cold War.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by The Kinks

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Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by The KinksAlthough The Kinks were part of the first wave of British artists to break through following the Beatles, they were never really considered to be directly influenced by the Fab Four. However, to listen to the Kinks 1969 album ,Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), is to hear some of the finer elements of their more famous British counterparts, performed in parallel time. All that being said, this concept album is truly unique and excellent in its own right, exploring many genres of English and American music. In fact, the album may have been their finest overall output during the 1960s.

The album was born out of an unfinished television play, partially developed by novelist Julian Mitchell in January 1969. Kinks front man Ray Davies composed an accompanying soundtrack, with a plot which roughly revolved around a fictional character based on Davies’ own brother-in-law. The songs explore about a hundred years of English history through the eyes of one this fictional character.

Although the group was in the midst of their finest work, development took place during a period of turmoil. Their previous album, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society ,was a commercial disappointment and founding bassist Pete Quaife abruptly quit to form a new group and was replaced by John Dalton. Recording for the album began in May 1969, with Davies as producer and chief composer. Guitarist Dave Davies did write a track which was used as a B-side of a single, while also releasing his debut solo album during the year. By July, the album was ready for release but was delayed as production of the television play developed with a planned broadcast of late September. However, problems got progressively worse and the show was cancelled at the last minute when financial backing fell through.


Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of British Empire) by The Kinks
Released: October 10, 1969 (Pye)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London, May–July 1969
Side One Side Two
Victoria
Yes Sir, No Sir
Some Mother’s Son
Drivin’
Brainwashed
Australia
Shangri-La
Mr. Churchill Says
She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina
Young and Innocent Days
Nothing to Say
Arthur
Group Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
John Dalton – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 

While most songs on Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) are under four minutes in duration, they are very richly arranged as Ray Davies packs more into short songs than any other top-level composer. The driving rhythm and orchestra of guitars lay the foundation of “Victoria”, with an intro which sneaks up until hitting full rock and roll throws. A great melody and hook with subtle moments of extravagance (such as the sparse horn arrangement and background hysterical laughter) gave this pop song some chart and radio success.

The marching drum of Mick Avory introduces “Yes Sir, No Sir”. A song of cynicism, glazed with humor in the tradition of the novel Catch 22, Ray Davies’ vocals seem intentionally flat in order to portray a sense of meek obedience through the opening verses. The song then breaks into different sections with many horns with much packed into to this three minutes and forty-five seconds song. “Some Mother’s Son” continues the anti-war/anti-military theme but in a more melodramatic and haunting fashion. With heavy use of harpsichord and strings and melancholy vocals, Davies does a masterful job of tugging on heartstrings

While loosely continuing the anti-war theme, “Drivin'” does so in a Beatle-esque, happy-go-lucky theme that is more about escaping the worries of the day. The good, upbeat song with strong bass and rich background vocals was the first song recorded for the album and should have been a big hit for the band at the end of the sixties. “Brainwashed” is a song which takes another venture musically, with pure sixties hip, heavy rock instrumentation, and just the right amount of brass. The bass of newcomer Dalton really shines on this riff-driven rocker that is a precursor to punk. The first side concludes with the extended track “Australia”, which is put together almost like a commercial, albeit with much sarcasm. A cocktail jazz rhythm during first verses with cool piano mixture and high-pitched bass eventually gives way to some changes before settling into a calm jam which persists through the second half of the tune.

The second side begins with “Shangri-La”, a definitive British folk song and the best overall song on the album. Starting with a picked acoustic guitar and later harpsichord before climaxing with the intense chorus hook, “Shangri-La” is an in-depth look at middle class aspirations, lyrically. The bridge section adds more intensity with strong rhythms and horns and forceful vocals before dissolving back into the final verse, which includes great drum accents by Avory. This is one of those songs that seeps in slowly but ultimately makes an indelible mark.

The middle of side two contains the weakest material on the album, although not totally terrible. “Mr. Churchill Says” is a rock blues song about World War II era Britain during the first verses. Air raid sirens divide the song with a pure old-time rock jam section following. Some tacky chanting rap near the end of song is quite annoying as it obscures an otherwise fine percussion section. “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina” is another harpsichord-driven ballad, almost like an English children’s nursery song, while “Young and Innocent Days” starts as a gentle acoustic folk song but, like most songs on this album, builds in intensity. That song ends with nice, gentle acoustic guitar outro and contains lyrical nostalgia like;

I wish my eyes could only see everything exactly as it used to be

The album ends very strong with a couple of very good rockers. “Nothing to Say” is almost like a counterpart to “Yes Sir, No Sir” on the first side, a very good rock rhythm topped with fine piano and slide guitar by the Davies brothers. The title song “Arthur” has almost Southern guitar riffs with an upbeat country rhythm through verses. Again, there are pleasant sonic surprises around every corner and, although this song does not vary much through its five and a half minute duration, it never gets bogged down by predictability. In the end, the lyrics sum up the entire plot line of the album, retelling the story of Arthur Morgan.
Arthur was met with almost unanimous acclaim upon release. It received generous coverage in the US rock press

Although Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) only reached number 50 on the charts in the UK (and number 105 in the US), it was their highest charting position since 1965 and set up the commercial success of their 1970 album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. More importantly to us future rock fans is the excellent music itself, which is ultimately all that matters.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

The Allman Brothers Band

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The Allman Brothers Band 1969 debut albumAs a group that became known for their live performances, The Allman Brothers Band did put out a handful of excellent studio albums. The first of these was their self-titled debut which fused blues, soul, and jazz into a potent rock and roll mixture. The album was produced by Adrian Barber with the original compositions written by lead vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Allman and features the inventive lead guitar work of Duanne Allman. Led by the brothers that gave the group its name along with a rich ensemble of six talented musicians, The Allman Brothers broke new ground in the very fertile music year of 1969.

Originating from the coast of Florida, the brothers Allman formed many groups through the 1960s. Starting with The Escorts in 1963, when the brothers were in their mid-teens, they went on to form the Allman Joys in 1965 and Hour Glass in 1967. Finally, The Allman Brothers Band was formed as the fourth incarnation of an Allman led group. Dickey Betts was enlisted as a second lead guitarist along with bassist Berry Oakley and the twin drummer/percussionists of Butch Trucks and Johanny “Jaimoe” Johnson.

After forming in early 1969, the group worked out their sound by playing throughout the South and building a dedicated audience. They also migrated their base from Jacksonville, Florida to Macon, Georgia during this time, as illustrated by the album cover photo at Mercer college. Once they worked out a record deal, the Allman Brothers recorded their debut album in New York City in September 1969.


The Allman Brothers Band by The Allman Brothers Band
Released: November 4, 1969 (Atco)
Produced by: Adrian Barber
Recorded: Atlantic Recording Studios, New York, September 1969
Side One Side Two
Don’t Want You No More
It’s Not My Cross to Bear
Black Hearted Woman
Trouble No More
Every Hungry Woman
Dreams
Whipping Post
Group Musicians
Gregg Allman – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Duane Allman – Guitars, Vocals
Dickey Betts – Lead Guitars
Berry Oakley – Bass, Vocals
Butch Trucks – Drums
Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson – Drums, Percussion

 

Perhaps an odd selection for the opening track of a debut album, the Spencer Davis Group instrumental cover “Don’t Want You No More” takes the lead.  The track thunders in through a rudimentary first section with excellent drum beats by the duo drummers of Trucks and Johanson, and acts as a perfect overture and intro to the weeping blues of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear”. The most striking thing about this tune isthe soulful vocal by Gregg Allman in the type of intense blues rock which would soon be echoed by Led Zeppelin, especially on 1970’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.

With a joyous intro riff with odd timing in rhythm, “Black Hearted Woman” may be the quintessential Allman Brothers composition from this album. While the verses are funk/rock in nature, the song is the most rock-oriented song with catchy riffs, a cool percussion section, and vocal wailing to match the guitars. After a false ending, the song gets even more frantic for the final 30 seconds. “Trouble No More” ends the first side with the second and final cover song, originally recorded by Muddy Waters in 1955. It starts with straight-up drum beat and contains acoustic and electric guitar interplay between Duanne Allman and Dickey Betts throughout, which works to bring the blues standard into the stratosphere.

Allman Brothers Band 1969

Side two starts with “Every Hungry Woman”, a cool sixties electric rock track. After an intro slide guitar, a rock riff, meanders its way into the verses, accented by Gregg Allman’s overloaded organ sound and single guitar notes squeezed out with the urgency of a car horn. The rhythm is also excellent with the bouncy bass by Oakley and twin drummers hitting every jazz and blues button. The best overall song on the album, “Dreams” rolls in with methodical sound scape of sustained organ and savored guitar notes. It soon morphs into a high-class blues rock tune with a masterful musical interlude during the refrains with a rapid guitar rotation and matching rhythm. The long middle guitar lead starts prior to the two minute mark and takes up the bulk of the middle of the song before the group returns with another two verses divided by sections which feature a much stronger organ presence and a descending guitar riff.“Dreams” is a nice slow blues song that, at seven minutes, gives Duane some room to improvise

The album closes with “Whipping Post” and the doomy, picked bass intro which has become one of the more famous riffs in rock music. The song illustrates Gregg Allman’s travails in the music business, although he was only 21 at the time of composition. By far, this is Berry Oakley’s best performance on the album and definitely its most popular song.  The tune does tend to get melodramatic towards the end, but not to the point of tackiness. While only five minutes long on this studio version, “Whipping Post” would swell to over twenty minutes when performed live, as illustrated on the side-long epic on the 1971 live album,  At Fillmore East.

The Allman Brothers Band was in no way successful commercially, as it received little beyond the Southern region of the United States and would only peak at number 188 on the album charts. However, it set the table for the vastly more popular material of future years and established the Allman Brothers Band as a musical force.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead

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Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful DeadAoxomoxoa is the third studio album by Grateful Dead and, perhaps, the one most dominated by lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. Created under the working title of “Earthquake Country” (because the group wanted to create a “seismic shift” in popular music), the album’s unique name was a fabricated palindrome by lyricist Robert Hunter who co-wrote all of the songs, marking the commencement of a longtime songwriting partnership with Garcia. Aoxomoxoa was completely self-produced by the Grateful Dead and claims to be the very first recorded on a 16-track tape machine.

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 as a five-piece group called The Warlocks consisting of Garcia, Bob Weir on guitars and vocals, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards and harmonica, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. They changed their name to Grateful Dead for a performance at one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in December 1965. With various influences mixed into a loose format, the group has been labeled “the Godfathers of the jam band”. Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1967 and consisted mainly of covers with only two band originals on that album. Later that year, the group added Mickey Harty as a second drummer. The second album, Anthem of the Sun was released in July 1968 and contained completely original material, with each of the (then) six band members contributing to the compositions. Keyboardist Tom Constanten joined the band in the studio to provide piano and “electronic tape” effects on Anthem of the Sun, which eventually led to his formally joining the band as a seventh member, although he would only be with the group for barely a year.

With this widely expanded lineup, one might expect rich, full, orchestral arrangements. However, Aoxomoxoa does have a strong emphasis on acoustic songs and simple arrangements, which give it a very accessible sound on most tracks. Still, the group put tremendous time, effort, and money into the production of this studio album, something they would focus much less on as their career unfolded and they became more focused on their legendary touring.


Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead
Released: June 20, 1969 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, CA, September 1968-March 1969
Side One Side Two
St. Stephen
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Rosemary
Doin’ That Rag
Mountains of the Moon
China Cat Sunflower
What’s Become of the Baby
Cosmic Charlie
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – Keyboards, Percussion
Tom Constanten – Keyboards
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Drums, Percussion

 

With Garcia taking the lead on most of the recorded material, “St. Stephen” acts as an exception with some compositional work by Lesh and some strong vocals and guitars by Weir. The song feels its way around before it kicks in to proper verse and after three rapid renditions of verses, the tune enters a middle European folk section for the bridge, driven by instrumental motifs from keyboards, bass, and lead guitar. A couple of good jam sections dominate the ending sections of the song, which tell of 1st century martyr and saint of the new Christian religion. This is followed up by “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”, an entertaining carnival-like blues with ascending and descending single-note guitar riffs complimented by bouncing organ. Garcia delivers rapid vocal verses which are melodic and entertaining, built on his advanced sense of jug band songcraft.

“Rosemary” Is a short acoustic ballad with emotional, flanged vocals by Garcia. Beginning immediately with no lead-in, the lyrics are hard to decipher because of the heavy vocal treatment and, after three brief verses and a couple of bare guitar phrases, the song quickly ends. “Doin’ That Rag” contains very interesting musical arrangements and great drumming by the team of Kreutzmann and Hart. With much melody and song craft, this piece goes through various style changes rotated through the verse, post-verse and chorus along with some well-timed sudden stops and starts. “Mountains of the Moon” closes the first side with a picked acoustic rhythm topped by harpsichord. This track has a definite Baroque feel musically, but Garcia’s vocals are more blues-based and Lesh’s sparse acoustic bass provides just enough variation to make it interesting.

Grateful Dead in 1969

An odd drum roll introduces “China Cat Sunflower”, which takes a few seconds to find its groove but when it does the great complementing riffs make this one of the most indelible Dead songs ever. Here the group also provides vocal choruses which actually harmonize decently (something they fail to do on many songs in their catalogue). A very popular song among “Deadheads”, “China Cat Sunflower” was one of the most performed songs in through the decades. In contrast, “What’s Become of the Baby” is one of their most forgettable tracks. Almost monk-like chanting by Garcia throughout with well-treated vocal effects, this song almost ruins an otherwise fine album with this ridiculous eight and a half minute indulgence, which was only really meant for use with the right chemical mix. Then, like landing back to Earth with fine rock blues, “Cosmic Charlie” finishes the album with fine rudimental harmonies during the bridge section and whining lead guitars throughout. Finishing things on a high note, this song sets the band up for the type of music they would forge and make famous the in 1970, when they produced two of their most famous albums.

Aoxomoxoa was not a tremendous commercial success, as it did not receive “gold” certification until 1997, nearly three decades after its release. However, it was a critical success and held in high enough regard by the band that they completely overhauled the mix in 1972 to catch up with technical innovations.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.