Blind Faith

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Blind FaithRising from the ashes of two defunct English rock bands, Blind Faith lived a very short life as a “super group” in 1969. Despite being together for less than one year, they manageg to release one eponymous album which captured lightning in a bottle by aptly displaying the immense talents of the members of this quartet which seemed to effortlessly jive together as a group. Beyond the heap of well-deserved critical praise, the album was also very successful commercially. Blind Faith reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold more than half a million copies within the first month of its release.

The group began in the summer of 1968, when the band Cream broke up shortly after the release of their album Wheels of Fire. Guitarist Eric Clapton began jamming in his basement with keyboardist Steve Winwood of the group Traffic, who had also taken a hiatus at the time. The two had had previously collaborated on a project called “Powerhouse” in the mid 1960s and while Clapton was somewhat hesitant to start a new group, Winwood was enthusiastic to move forward. He enlisted bassist Ric Grech, formerly of the band Family, and Clapton’s Cream band mate Ginger Baker on drums. When Clapton finally relented, he gave the new group the name “Blind Faith” as a cynical reference to his outlook on the project.

By early 1969, the band entered Olympic Studios in London under the supervision of producer Jimmy Miller, who tried to keep them focused on developing solid material rather than just loose jams (although there was plenty of that). By this time, buzz about this new group began to circulate among fans and the press. In June, the group released a limited edition promo single called “Change of Address”, which immediately sold out despite the fact that the group’s name and band members were omitted from the label. This was an early indicator of the coming success of Blind Faith.


Blind Faith by Blind Faith
Released: August 1969 (Polydor)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios & Morgan Studios, London, February–June 1969
Side One Side Two
Had to Cry Today
Can’t Find My Way Home
Well Alright
Presence of the Lord
Sea of Joy
Do What You Like
Band Musicians
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Piano, Organ
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ric Grech – Bass, Violin, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion

 

Winwood composed most of the original material on the album, starting with “Had to Cry Today”, which proves to be a good showcase for all the individual talents of the quartet. Starting with a straight-forward hard rock riff and later morphing to a more complex arrangement during the verses and choruses, the song showcases Clapton’s versatility of multiple guitar styles along with Winwood’s moody and fantastic vocal crooning. The song does break down and become a little unfocused in second half, but is otherwise a great album starter. An even finer Winwood composition is “Can’t Find My Way Home”, one of the most indelible moments on this album. This is a soft and melancholy foray into Celtic folk with contemporary lyrics that act as a spiritual ode to young rockers at the hung-over end of the swinging sixties. The ballad gets a bit more intense during the slightly improvised outro, where Clapton’s acoustic picking is joined by Baker’s jazzy drum beats.

The Buddy Holly cover “Well All Right” is a fun rocker, driven mainly by Winwood’s piano and organ throughout, with Clapton playing a much more minor role with just an opening and recurring riff. Much like the upcoming music of the re-formed Traffic of the early seventies, the song dissolves into a funky jam with Grech and Baker providing great rhythms. Clapton’s lone composition, “Presence of the Lord”, is the best song on the album. Almost like a fusion Gospel/rock ballad through the verses and choruses with Winwood playing R&B electric piano, the song enters a fantastic bridge interlude. Here Clapton does some of his best guitar work ever, wailing through a wah-wah laced jam which carries over into the final verse, the finest moment on the album. The lyrics reflect a period of personal turmoil for Clapton and act in concert with the supergroup’s name.

The second side contains only two tracks, starting with  “Sea of Joy”, an underrated classic on this album. Well ahead of its time, the song contains elements of hard rock, folk, and country along with pleasant vocals by Winwood and a violin solo by Grech. Baker’s “Do What You Like” contains a groovy backbeat in the vein of Santana. But at fifteen and a half minutes, the song is ridiculously long and proves to show that Blind Faith falls about one song short of being an absolute classic. While the jams on this song are all respectable, when a long chanting section gets more disorganized and dissonant, it is clear the group is just filling in the time to make this an LP.

The lack of a full catalogue of songs, caused Blind Faith’s few live shows to become partial tributes to Cream and Traffic, which led to Clapton’s quick departure and the group’s demise. Following Blind Faith, Steve Winwood began a solo project which morphed into a re-formed Traffic in 1970, this time with Ric Grech added as the bassist for the band. Baker formed the fusion Ginger Baker’s Air Force before moving to Nigeria, where he lived from 1970 until 1976. Clapton continued his incredible workload, recording both his debut solo album and one with Derek and the Dominos in 1970. While the group parted suddenly, all members have looked back favorably on Blind Faith and the rock world is certainly richer because of it.

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1968 Images

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

 

The Beatles

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The Beatles (white album)In 1968, The Beatles released their only double studio album, an eponymous release commonly referred to as The White Album. Despite the official title which emphasized group identity, the actual recordings were segmented and increasingly individualized based on the original composer of each tune.  Much of this was due to dissent and inner turmoil in which members openly objected to certain tunes. In fact, all four members of the group play together on barely half of the album’s 30 tracks and producer George Martin later admitted he advocated for a “very good single album” in lieu of including so many marginal individualized tracks. Thematically, the White Album was a complete withdrawal from The Beatles 1967 albums, retreating from the lush and vivid colorful themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour with a plain white sleeve (save for the band’s name discreetly embossed) to pair with the most simple of titles. This was also the first release by the group on their independent label, Apple Records.

Even with 30 tracks, the album omitted much potential material. Several songs started during the five months of recording were later included on Abbey Road and several solo albums by the members and the group opted to release the tracks “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (two of the most popular songs ever by the Beatles) as a pre-release single than include them on the White Album. With such a large amount of tracks, the album contains an eclectic mix of songs from wide musical genres, including folk, country , avant-garde, classical and chamber music, and British dance-hall music. The Beatles only slightly continued their psychedelic leanings from 1967 but spent much more effort returning to basic rock and blues of their earlier years. Such diversity on a single album was largely unprecedented in 1968 and seemed to bring equal measures of praise and criticism from fans and critics over the years. Still, The Beatles was a phenomenal commercial success, reaching number one on both side of the Atlantic and selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.

Many of the songs originated in Rishikesh, India while the band was collectively on a Transcendental Meditation retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney used the time to write songs in earnest and would frequently meet to discuss song ideas (even though this was in contrast to the meditation “course”). Theses songs were composed on acoustic guitar, the only Western instrument available during their Indian visit. Once back in England, the group gathered at George Harrison‘s home to hash out the close to forty new compositions and make preliminary plans for recording. The sessions for The White Album were the first on which the band used 8-track recording, starting with “Hey Jude” at Trident Studios in central London before returning to Abbey Road Studios once EMI installed their own 8-track machine.

During the lengthy sessions from May through October 1968 much internal conflict began, group members later pinpointed this as the beginning of their ultimate breakup. Frustrated with his diminished role on several tracks, drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving McCartney as the drummer on a couple of tracks. These were also the first Beatles sessions where wives and girlfriends frequently attended, most notably Lennon’s future wive Yoko Ono, who was constant presence at the sessions. As a result of the tension McCartney and Lennon would often record in separate studios at Abbey Road (there were three), each using different engineers. The turmoil of these sessions extended beyond the band members. Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on several albums with the Beatles, abruptly quit and announced he would no longer work with the band and even George Martin took an unannounced holiday midway through the sessions, leaving the group to scramble for an interim producer. In the end, however, Lennon. McCartney, and Martin got together for a 24-hour session to mix, master, and sequence the White Album.


The Beatles by The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Side One Side Two
Back In the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Blackbird
Piggies
Rocky Raccoon
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
I Will
Julia
Side Three Side Four
Birthday
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Long, Long, Long
Revolution 1
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Saxophone, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Flugelhorn, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Organ, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

McCartney played drums on the first two tracks of The Beatles. The opener “Back in the USSR” commences with jet aircraft effects and breaks into an upbeat rocker, combining elements of earlier Beatles and Beach Boys songs. In fact, Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh and he encouraged McCartney to “talk about the girls all around Russia” when Paul told him of his idea to write a song called “Back in the USSR” as a homage to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. Although no tracks from The White Album were initially released as singles, “Back in the USSR” was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976, eight years later. “Dear Prudence” arrives like an awakening or a drawing out, with the hypnotically picked, rotating guitars by Lennon. The subject of this song is Prudence Farrow, part of the Rishikesh entourage, who became so serious about her meditation that she rarely came out of the cottage she was living in, prompting others to enlist Lennon to try and make sure she came out more often. Towards the end of the song is a good rock jam which previews some of the finer moments on the album.

“Glass Onion” contains lyrics and music that acts as an epilogue to Magical Mystery Tour. Like a psychedelic trip through the past year, the lyrics call out earlier Beatles songs by name with provocative lyrics to fans such as; “Well here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul”, which Lennon later dismissed as having no deeper meaning. On the gibberish front, McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” may contain sophomoric lyrics, but this song shines for its pure sonic quality, starting with McCartney’s vocals which sound like nothing else he had (or has) done. Thematically, this infectiously fun song is an expression of the pure joy of everyday, ordinary life. While Lennon, openly detested this song in its original, reggae-influenced form, the band spent many sessions reworking it towards its finished form.

George HarrisonAfter the filler experimental piece “Wild Honey Pie”, a flamenco guitar phrase introduces “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. Like a kids song gone rogue, the song mocks a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took break from meditation to go hunting tigers. Recorded later in the album sessions, “Bungalow Bill” features Yoko Ono singing co-lead vocals for a single line, the only female lead vocal in the Beatles library. Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the best moment on the album. With a great piano intro and chord structure, the song features a pulsating rhythm beneath the profound vocals of Harrison and wild guitar  by guest Eric Clapton. Inspiration for the song came from reading the I Ching which prompted Harrison to experiment by writing a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were “gently weeps” and he immediately began writing the song, although many of his verses were later omitted. The presence of Clapton also served to temporarily alleviate the studio tension, as the band members were on their best behavior during his time in the studio.

The fantastic first side concludes with Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, an asymmetrical mini suite, which moves several sections rapidly, each becoming more anthemic and rocking. Lennon claims the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin showed him. and it has been cited by both McCartney and Harrison as one of their favorites on the White Album.

Paul McCartney“Martha My Dear” begins with a great piano through intro, soon accompanied by orchestration and a very slight thumping rock section during the middle of the bridge. McCartney is the only Beatle to appear on this track (written about his English sheepdog), which includes nice brass and string arrangements by Martin. “I’m So Tired” is another short masterpiece by Lennon with very emotive vocals masterfully adjusted for differing effects. A direct, first-person account of a sleepless night in India, the unabashed examination of his own fragile state of mind, previews later solo work by Lennon such as Plastic Ono Band. Back to McCartney, with the solo recording of “Blackbird”, a beautiful acoustic solo piece with music based on J.S. Bach’s “Bourrée”. The hypnotizing acoustic, double-tracked vocals and tapping percussion and the guitar make for a pretty and inspirational tune with lyrics inspired by the Civil Rights struggle.

“Piggies” is a Baroque influenced song by Harrison as social commentary on the class system. Originally written in 1966 at his parents’ home, Harrison’s mother provided the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” while Lennon contributed the line “clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.” The predominant harpsichord is accompanied by a string quartet, produced by Chris Thomas in Martin’s absence. Ringo Starr“Rocky Raccoon” is a Western saloon type folk song with McCartney on consistent acoustic and lead vocals, Lennon providing harmonica and harmonium, and George Martin adding the nice honky-tonk piano breaks. An actual collaboration between McCartney and Lennon, this storytelling song originated during a three man acoustic jam with folk singer Donovan on retreat in India. “Don’t Pass Me By” is the first composition credited to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and would have made for a good Ringo Starr solo track. Starr also provides an interesting tack piano, accompanied by great bluegrass fiddle playing by guest Jack Fallon. The song was a #1 hit in Denmark in April 1969.

Following his frivolous, minute and a half “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, McCartney provides the retro feeling “I Will”. With much nod towards early Beatles, this song contains a unique arrangement with vocal bass and unconvential percussion. Although simple and short, “I Will” took 67 takes to record. Lennon’s solo ballad “Julia” is a finger-picking acoustic song written for his mother Julia Lennon, who died in car accident when John was 17 years old. The fun celebration rocker “Birthday” starts the album’s third side. One of the rare tracks written in the studio, the song features a catchy blues progression guitar riff augmented by choppy piano.

This third side is where some of the White Album’s weaker spots come to the fore. “Yer Blues” is one of these, as an almost-annoying blues tune with the only redeeming quality being the slight middle jam section that is unfortunately cut short by a return to the repetitive verse. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is another marginal song by Lennon, albeit a little more interesting due to its frantic rocking style, complete with groovy late sixties guitars and rudiments. in between these is the pleasant folk diddy “Mother Nature’s Son” by McCartney, the best song on this side. This song completely captures the intended mood with great acoustic riffs and horns ensemble musically and inspired lyrics based on a lecture by the Maharishi. McCartney recorded it “live”, singing and playing acoustic guitar simultaneously with overdubs done later.

John LennonThe four Beatles left India at different times and with different opinions of the Maharishi. Lennon, a t one point a “true believer”, ultimately became the most jaded by the experience and expressed this brilliantly on the song “Sexy Sadie”. starting with an interesting reverbed piano, the song is arranged in manner frequently used by the group Queen a decade later, with lush backing vocal choruses, other parts laden with effects, and a lead guitar lying sharply above the mix. “Helter Skelter” is a style piece, with little substance by McCartney, in a deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible. Still, this became one of the most famous (or infamous) on the album following the Manson family murder spree and its use as title for the subsequent book. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on me fingers!”, included on the stereo mix of the song. Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” completes side three as a cross between jazz waltz, folk, and psychedelia with good underlying riffs and great drum interludes, but not very cohesive overall. With the topical organ this track sounds like it may have been influenced by Pink Floyd.

And then there is Lennon’s “Revolution”. Originally, a single ten-minute piece comprised of a song proper and an improvised coda, the first part of the song was edited out as “Revolution 1”, a slow acoustic blues number with “shooby-do-wah” vocals and added horns. However, most of the Beatles were unhappy with this version, so a heavier, more upbeat version of “Revolution” was recorded and released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. Still, Lennon wanted to return to the earlier recording and fought to have “Revolution 1” included on the White Album as well as re-record the avant-garde sound collage as the track “Revolution 9”, using the last six minutes of the original recording as a starting point. With numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs, and virtually no musical melody, the eight and a half minute track is the longest track that the Beatles officially released. McCartney was against including this song on the album and Beatles fans have debated its merits for four and a half decades. In any case, it was a dissatisfying “tour de force” for this otherwise fine musical collection.

The Beatles was quickly followed up by Yellow Submarine less than two months later in January 1969. By then the band had already moved on to their next project, which was eventually released as Let It Be. Despite the unevenness of the music, the controversial inclusions, and the utter lack of promotion, the album became a classic. As McCartney later unapologetically put it, “it’s the bloody Beatles White Album!”

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1968 Images

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

 

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

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Ric Albano

Disraeli Gears by Cream

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Disraeli Gears by CreamRock’s first “super group”, the British trio Cream was only together for a few years in the late 1960s with only four albums to their credit. However, they left a strong legacy and cast a huge shadow of influence on the genre that became known as classic rock. Perhaps their signature work, 1967’s Disraeli Gears fused the core genres of jazz and blues with a heavy dose of sixties pop and just a touch of psychedelic flourishes. The album was also the American breakthrough for the band, reaching number 4 on the charts, and elevating Cream’s popularity to the upper level among their contemporaries in the “second British invasion”.

Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce was classically trained and had played in Manfred Mann’s band along with various jazz bands with drummer Ginger Baker prior to Cream’s formation in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton was already a “legend” in the UK (but Disraeli Gears introduced him to a vast amount of the American audience), and was encouraged by the management at Atlantic Records to become the “front man” of the band. Clapton did begin singing lead vocals on a few songs but was content to leave the bulk of those duties to Bruce.

The title of the album is based on a inside joke, after one of the band’s roadies mis-pronounced the bike part “derailleur gears” as “disraeli gears”. It was recorded in New York during May 1967, and produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also co-wrote a couple of the tracks along with his wife Gail Collins. The record company was disappointed at the lack of American success by Cream’s 1966 debut Fresh Cream and had requested that the band record in New York so their “top guys” could directly supervise the sessions. Pappalardi helped bring the band’s song into a more “modern” realm while maintaining the blues core.


Disraeli Gears by Cream
Released: November, 1967 (Reaction)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: Atlantic Studios, New York City, May 1967
Side One Side Two
Strange Brew
Sunshine Of Your Love
World Of Pain
Dance the Night Away
Blue Condition
Tales Of Brave Ulysses
SWLABR
We’re Going Wrong
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
Mother’s Lament
Primary Musicians
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Piano, Harmonica
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins with one of the “Strange Brew”, one of the more popular songs from the album which was constructed in a very unique way. The song was originally called “Lawdy Mama”, a straight blues song that evolved from a Buddy Guy riff converted from shuffle to straight time. Pappalardi and Collins took a tape of a live performance of the song and overlaid a a pop melody with new psychedelic-influenced lyrics, making the song a “strange brew” of pop and pure blues with Clapton maintaining the original riff and Albert King style guitar solo.

Another very interesting mix come in the song “World Of Pain”, which starts as an almost fifties style ballad but with very interesting bass progressions and wah-wah guitar overtones, before breaking into a more harmonized sixties groove in the chorus. “Dance the Night Away” is driven by a lush 12-string riff along with a folk-influenced melody, harmonized vocals, and mystical lyrics. This may be the band’s furthest wandering from their blues core.

On the flip side, “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the undeniable rock anthem from the album. It was written by Clapton and Bruce along with poet Pete Brown, and is driven by an infectious 10-note riff that has become one of the most recognizable in rock history. That riff was originally developed by Bruce after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the first time in London. The fat guitar tone itself has become renowned as the best example of Clapton’s late sixties “woman tone”, with Baker holding it all together with an African influenced drum progression.

The second side of the album begins with “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, with lyrics inspired by Homer’s Odyssey penned by artist Martin Sharp. This melodramatic narration alternates between calm, minimalist vocal parts and more frenzied musical jams. Clapton fused an uptempo song he was working on inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” with Bruce’s slow bass progression, making the overall affect very unique.

“SWLABR” is a fun song with lyrics by Brown, which compare a woman with the “Mona Lisa”, only to lyrically deface her image later on. The song’s title is an acronym for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow” and contains some of the finer upbeat musicianship by the band members. “We’re Going Wrong” was written by Bruce in total and features Baker using Timpani drum mallets. “Outside Woman Blues” is a standard blues song written in the 1920s, which Clapton updated with a slightly rock-oriented arrangement. The album concludes with a couple of unusual tracks – “Take It Back”, which features Bruce on harmonica, and “Mother’s Lament”, an old music hall song which features three part harmony by all of the band’s members.

Cream had a very straight-forward, muscular, and funky sound at a time when the trends were moving towards the more artistic soundscapes of “the summer of love”. With the release of Disraeli Gears in November 1967, Cream was a band primed for the big time. They followed in short time with 1968’s Wheels of Fire, but within a year that had decided to disband after some planned farewell concerts and a farewell album.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Slowhand by Eric Clapton

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Slow Hand by Eric Clapton1977’s Slowhand was the pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s pop-rock phase during the late seventies, fusing well-crafted rockers, ballads, alt country, and blues numbers. The album came a few years into Clapton’s “comeback” following a four year hiatus in the early seventies. Prior to that Clapton had been one of the most prolific artists on Earth, forming and playing in the band The Yarbirds, John Mayell’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie, and Derek and the Dominoes, as well as releasing his debut solo release in 1970. Clapton then fell into a deep funk and heroin addiction due to his unrequited infatuation of Patty Boyd, then George Harrison’s wife. By 1974, Clapton had won Boyd over and began his comeback with the critically acclaimed 461 Ocean Boulevard, although that album was comprised mainly of covers. Clapton followed suit over the next couple years with studio albums which were about 60/40 covers to original but with less success.

With Slowhand, Clapton reached a nice balance recording more recently composed songs by other artists while writing many himself or in concert with members of his backing band. Here the formula is perfected with enough musical prowess to attract rock and blues fans and the right touches of pop craftsmanship to reach the radio-friendly pop audience of the day.

The album was produced by Glyn Johns who had previously worked as an engineer with several top caliber bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. It contains three of Clapton’s most popular singles as well as several other classic rock standards that became Clapton classics. The album is an easy listen from front-to-back, with a sort of laid-back virtuosity that never sound pretentious or forced. Yet it is quite eclectic in the styles and approach used in forging each of the nine tracks.
 


Slow Hand by Eric Clapton
Released: November 1977 (R.S.O.)
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1977
Side One Side Two
Cocaine
Wonderful Tonight
Lay Down Sally
Next Time You See Her
We’re All the Way
The Core
May You Never
Mean Old Frisco
Peaches and Diesel
Primary Musicians
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Marcy Levy – Vocals
George Terry – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass
Jamie Oldaker – Drums

 

Slowhand‘s hit songs are all stack up front. Right from the jump, the album establishes a nice groove with J.J. Cale‘s “Cocaine”. The combination of the song’s ever-infectious, groovy guitar riff and taboo subject made it both a cult classic and pop song all at the same time. I remember how big this was at a sixth grade, catholic school dance, where the chorus hook whipped us adolescents into a frenzy that totally baffled the chaperones who were on the lookout for the more overt shock-rock by artists like Alice Cooper and not this relatively calm, soft spoken Clapton song. For his part, Eric Clapton claims this is actually an anti-drug song, but that is definitely up for debate. There is no doubt this song did its part to inspire a lot of young people of the seventies to become coke heads in the eighties and because of its “ambiguous” message, Clapton rarely performed the song live for many decades.

Eric Clapton and Patti BoydWhat “Cocaine” did to proliferate drug use, “Wonderful Tonight” may have done for sex. This standard slow dance at weddings and events of all kinds got its start when Clapton was waiting for Boyd to get ready for a Paul McCartney concert they were attending in 1976 and the rest is history. As a disc jockey, I played this song at every single gig, always introducing it as “a song for the ladies”. Although I’ve heard this song way more than its fair share, it is still hard not to appreciate this as one of Clapton’s finest pieces, with the signature guitar riff and almost quiet vocals of Clapton, backed by the perfect slow-dance rhythm of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jamie Oldaker.

Background singer Marcy Levy and rhythm guitarist George Terry wrote the album’s third hit, “Lay Down Sally”. This is an almost-country song driven more by Terry’s rhythm than the Clapton’s lead. The members of the backing band were all from Oklahoma and Clapton explained how the sound came much more naturally for them;

“It’s as close as I can get, being English, but the band being a Tulsa band, they play like that naturally…”

Marcy LevyLevy also co-wrote “The Core”, a song on which she shares lead vocals with Clapton. The song has a great dancing riff that drives it along nicely through the verses with another excellent, counter-riff following the choruses. The long overall sequence and ending sax solo inflates the song to near epic length at close to nine minutes. “Next Time You See Her” is another fine song with a late sixties vibe due to its organ-rich backing and the chanting vocal style of the bridge, almost a revival folk song. “Mean Old Frisco” is an updated blues song which fills in nicely on the second side.

But the true heart of the album is a trio of largely forgotten classics which really put the album over the top. “We’re All the Way” is a tremendous ballad which ends the first side. It is every bit as romantic as “Wonderful Tonight” with nice harmonies and a perfectly subdued guitar riff that hangs in the background. “May You Never” is an up-beat folk song played as a reverse-schadenfreude barroom anthem, which should have been far more popular. The closer “Peaches and Diesel” is a beautiful instrumental. It predates the instrumental fad of the 1980s with a great, picked-out rhythm and a couple of simple lead riffs soaring above. It closes this pop-fueled album in a more classic style for Clapton.

Eric Clapton 1977

Slow Hand‘s title derives from Clapton’s long-time nickname which was born in the early sixties during his days with the Yardbirds. The album ultimately reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, kept from the top spot only by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It would be his highest charting album for nearly twenty years.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Fresh Cream by Cream

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Fresh Cream by CreamThe British blues-rock trio Cream was, perhaps, the first to be deemed a “super group”. Their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream was produced by Robert Stigwood and includes a true fusion of genres brought together by the already vast experience of three young musicians. These genres ranged from a hybrid of blues to hard rock with just a tad of psychedelic rock, and were often combined with lyrics drawn from a variety of contemporary and historic subjects and figures. Although the group would not have a long career together, the music they produced in the late 1960s would cast a net of influence which would reverberate for decades.

Drummer Ginger Baker employed a strong jazz style and improvisation he honed when he frequently performed lengthy drum solos in various groups during the early 1960s. He is also noted for using a variety of other percussion instruments and for his application of African rhythms. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce got his start in London with Blues Incorporated, in which he played the double bass. The band, (which later also included Baker) played an eclectic mix of bebop and blues. Bruce eventually switched from double bass to electric bass as the band morphed into The Graham Bond Organization, a more dedicated rhythm and blues group, which released two studio albums and a few singles in the early sixties. Guitarist Eric Clapton got his major start with the Yardbirds, where his reputation as a blues-influenced guitar legend grew quickly. In fact, after the band took a more commercial turn in 1964 and began to get a measure of international success, Clapton left the Yardbirds to join the far less commercial John Mayell and the Bluesbreakers.

In July 1966 Baker, Bruce, and Clapton founded Cream and began playing a live set which would provide the material for Fresh Cream later that year. While grounded heavily in blues, the album touches on all of the member’s collective experiences along with a dab of the newly formed genre of psychedelia. In the process, the album opened the door to all kinds of serious and experimental rock music that was to come.
 


Fresh Cream by Cream
Released: December 9, 1966 (Reaction)
Produced by: Robert Stigwood
Recorded: London, July-October 1966
Side One Side Two
I Feel Free
N.S.U.
Sleepy Time Time
Dreaming
Sweet Wine
Spoonful
Cat’s Squirrel
Four Until Late
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
I’m So Glad
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Harmonica, Piano
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
“I Feel Free” was Cream’s breakthrough single as a band. It marked a multi-genre confluence, led by a capella vocals in the verse before breaking into a full-out rock tune with melodic lead vocals by Bruce. The song was only included on the American version of the LP, replacing “Spoonful” from the British version. This cover of Willie Dixon’s classic “Spoonful” is a gem of a blues jam on Fresh Cream with dueling guitar and harmonica leads on top of an ever-intensive rhythm in the song’s mid-section. Bruce’s vocals are at their height here as are Clapton’s guitar licks.

The odd and intense “N.S.U.” (which allegedly stands for the venereal disease “non-specific urethritis”) is complete with driving guitar and drums and a whining, wailing vocal line. “Dreaming” is a ballad with a psychedelic twist, featuring a vocal duet by Bruce and Clapton. The calm, strummed guitar chords are right out of the late fifties, giving the song a nice nostalgic mood.

“Sleepy Time Time” is the album’s first hint at the updated, traditional blues which they return to time and again. The song was co-written by Bruce and his wife Janet Godfrey who also co-wrote “Sweet Wine” with Ginger Baker. This latter song has a much more pop-rock feel, almost bubblegum pop with its nonsensical vocal signature line.

CreamThe second side begins with a signature rendition of the traditional instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel”, with Bruce again pulling double duty of bass and harmonica (along with some ad-libbed scat vocals in the middle). “Four Until Late” is lighter arrangement of a Robert Johnson song, with Clapton taking lead vocals, while the much more intense blues of McKinley Morganfield’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” is surely more satisfying to the connoisseurs of that great genre.

The remake Skip James’ early 1930s spiritual “I’m So Glad” is perhaps the band at their best on this debut album, combining complex rhythm guitar riffs along with a funky bass line, intense, jazzy drums and a fast-based bluesy guitar lead, all topped by an excellent hook and well delivered, melodic vocals and harmonies. The album completes with “Toad”, an instrumental featuring a long drum solo by Ginger Baker. This was well ahead of its time, replicated years later by John Bonham and countless other drum “Superstars” of the 1970s.

By the end of Fresh Cream, the critical listener is left wanting more, a true testament to the album’s quality. Further, although less than half the tracks on the album were totally original, the album as a whole was tremendously original. It set a strong template for the legendary “classic rock” genre which was to come in subsequent years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1966 albums.