Chicago II by Chicago

Chicago II

Buy Chicago II

Chicago II by ChicagoOfficially titled Chicago, the second double-length album by the group with the same name saw their full immersion into mainstream success while still building on their fusion of rock, funk and jazz. This album also saw expanded participation by many of the seven group members, in composing the songs and suites. While the album is interesting and entertaining, it is not without some filler and flaws as at times the group tries too hard to forge messaging, which sometimes comes off awkwardly or forced.

Then known as Chicago Transit Authority, the group released their self-title debut double LP in the Spring of 1969. That album was critically acclaimed for its groundbreaking musical approach but did not spark much initial interest on the radio. After its release, the actual city of Chicago transportation department claimed the name as proprietary and threatened a lawsuit, so the group shortened their name to simply, Chicago.

The album was recorded in less than a month during August 1969 for an early 1970 release. Like the opening album, the compositions are once again mainly provided by guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm. However, Chicago II also features a seven-part suite by brass arranger James Pankow as well as the first composition by bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera, who would provide a growing role in the group’s sound as the 1970s progressed.

Chicago II by Chicago

Released: January 26, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: Columbia Studios, New York & Hollywood, August 1969
Side One Side Two
Movin’ In
The Road
Poem For the People
In the Country
Wake Up Sunshine
Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
Side Three Side Four
Fancy Colours
25 or 6 to 4
Memories of Love
It Better End Soon
Where Do We Go From Here
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

Chicago II is a bit top-heavy with some of the best material on the first two sides. Side One starts with Pankow’s celebratory horns of “Movin’ In”, which crams in plenty of jazz-style improv sections on this fine opening track. Kath’s “The Road” starts with a complex riff pattern before settling into a funky ballad led by Cetra’s vocals. “Poem For the People” starts with deliberative solo piano by Lamm, who composed the song. When it fully kicks in, it is a soulful song with nice, mellowly picked guitar interludes and a core meaning. The side concludes with “In the Country”, which may be the first example of an extended filler as the track gets very repetitive and quite corny as it goes along.

The second side starts with “Wake Up Sunshine”, a direct, happy-go-lucky track by Lamm which could’ve been (and should’ve been) a hit for the band, This is one of the most accessible and pop-oriented as well as one of the shorter tracks and ends with a cool, industrial-like organ part. Pankow’s multipart suite, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” follows, starting with the classic single “Make Me Smile”, which bookends the medley. This features driving acoustic, funky bass, good vocals throughout and animated drums by Danny Seraphine. Next comes “So Much to Say, So Much to Give”, a waltz-like bridge section with lead vocals by Lamm. “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies” are a couple of horn-drivren instrumental sections before the music cleverly dissolves into “Colour My World”, a simple but brilliant tune sung by Kath and featuring a long rotating, piano riff. The section ends with flute solo by Walter Parazaider and would go on to be a hit single on its own. The piece concludes with the bass-driven “To Be Free” and the reprise section “Now More Than Ever” and a military-like drum march by Seraphine to the end.

Side Three starts with “Fancy Colours” starts with percussive chimes and a long, psychedelic organ. After slow slosh through the first verse, song breaks into a Broadway-like 6/8 with plenty of flute parts for the main hook of this track. “25 or 6 to 4” is one of the most indelible Chicago tunes, with a rock oriented core bass, drums, and guitars. The horns play a reserved but effective role, led by the trumpet of Lee Loughnane. The nin-plus-minute suite “Memories of Love” contains orchestral arrangements by Peter Matz, who co-wrote the crooning love song with Kath.

The fourth and final side starts with another extended suite, this time a rock/jazz fusion called “It Better End Soon”, co-written by Lamm, Kath, and Parazaider. The track seems to have been intentionally built for live shows and was kind of manifesto for the group’s political viewpoints. The album concludes with “Where Do We Go from Here”, the first track composed by Cetera and is a more pleasant and uplifting track than its predecessor while still being a bit preachy on world affairs.

Chicago II was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 5 in the US and the UK. Followed by their third consecutive double album, Chicago III in 1971, the band would release about one album per year through the seventies and had continued commercial success through most of that decade.

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Cosmo's Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Cosmo’s Factory by
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Buy Cosmo’s Factory

Cosmo's Factory by Creedence Clearwater RevivalIf nothing else, Cosmo’s Factory is a unique and unconventional album in its structure and approach, as it starts out oddly and packs all its pop/rock firepower towards the back end. That being said, this still ranks as one of the finest albums by the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival and captures the band near their peak musically and creatively. The album was also a worldwide success commercially as it topped the album charts in six nations and was certified Gold less than six months after its release.

The fifth studio album over a span of just two years, Cosmo’s Factory follows a prolific year of 1969 which saw three albums released by CCR. Recording for this album actually began in late 1969 with the first of three “Double-A-Side” singles which came out ahead of this album, with each one reaching the Top 5 on the US pop charts. Each of these successful singles were written by guitarist and lead vocalist John Fogerty while four out of the remaining five non-single tracks are cover songs.

The album’s title comes from a warehouse in Berkeley, CA which the group used as rehearsal space early in their career. Drummer Doug Clifford (whose nickname was “Cosmo”) called this practice space “The Factory” because they practiced every day, like going to a regular job.


Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: July 25, 1970 (Fantasy)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, Late 1969–June 1970
Side One Side Two
Ramble Tamble
Before You Accuse Me
Travelin’ Band
Ooby Dooby
Lookin’ Out My Back Door
Run Through the Jungle
Up Around the Bend
My Baby Left Me
Who’ll Stop the Rain
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Long as I Can See the Light
Group Musicians
John Fogerty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Sax, Harmonica
Tom Fogerty – Guitars
Stu Cook – Bass
Doug Clifford – Drums

For all the hits on Cosmo’s Factory, the listener has to wait nearly a quarter of the album’s running time to get to one. The seven-minute-plus “Ramble Tamble” was the last song composed for the album and the only Fogerty original not released as a single. It starts with quasi-funky beat which quickly changes to a hoe down rhythm by guitarist Tom Fogerty and bassist Stu Cook. After some short vocal sections, the song enters a long musical rock intermediary which builds in intensity as it goes along and, when it finally breaks, it returns to the main beat by Clifford and one more quick verse. Next comes “Before You Accuse Me” a pure blues cover of a song originally by Bo Diddley, with this version having a little of the CCR “swamp” attitude on top.

Incredibly, CCR toured constantly while recording their five albums between 1968 and 1970. “Travelin’ Band” portrays this side of the band as a pure, fifties style rocker with Fogerty’s vocals conjuring Jerry Lee Lewis and/or Little Richard in the hyper scream mode. The song reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. “Ooby Dooby” is a Roy Obison cover that seems odd and out of place this early in the album, although its fifties style does fall in place with the previous track. Starting with “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, the album gains momentum and continues to improve right to the end. On this return to the traditional sound of CCR, the dual guitars of the Fogerty brothers are a highlight along with its great melody which delivers the colorful imagery of the lyrics.

 
“Run Through the Jungle” has a psychedelic beginning with well treated guitars, piano and kick drum. The song’s body features the best bass performance by Cook thus far on the album, a cool rock riff throughout, and a later distorted harmonica lead which gives it a live, blues-club feel. “Run Through the Jungle” and “Up Around the Bend” were featured as the second Double-A single in April 1970. This later track is the most straight-forward, direct pop/rock song on the album, complete with cool guitar riffs and a fantastic hook. “My Baby Left Me” follows as an upbeat R&B track, which seems to fit better with the CCR sound than the cover tracks on the first side of the album. Here there are great guitar sounds and animated symbol-centric drums.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

The album finishes with Fogerty’s two finest originals wrapped around an extended version of the Marvin Gaye classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. On this eleven-plus-minute jam the group does a decent job at being cohesive yet spontaneous with the main section featuring a “spooky” sounding bass by Cook and strategic rolls by Clifford. the pure folk “Who’ll Stop the Rain” adds yet another dimension to this very diverse album, with a potent message, simple riff and structure and another great melody by John Fogerty. “Long as I Can See the Light” is a bluesy, electric piano ballad with very soulful vocals by Fogerty. It starts with a steady drum beat, which betrays the overall tone of this Motown-inspired track that features some sax behind the verses and then a full-fledged solo later. This excellent closer puts a bow on this album perfectly.

Cosmo’s Factory only grew in stature and commercial viability throughout the years, eventually selling over four million copies. However, it was later revealed that internal tensions began within the group during these sessions and, after two more years and two more albums, Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded leaving a short, but potent, legacy.

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The Guess Who 1970 albums

The Guess Who 1970 Albums

Buy American Woman
Buy Share the Land

The Guess Who 1970 albumsThe year 1970 saw the apex of popularity for The Guess Who as well as the initial cracks in their band unity. The two albums they released that year, American Woman and Share the Land showed the progression of their sound from the strictly pop-oriented output of the late sixties to their more diverse fusion sound of the early seventies. In between these albums, founding guitarist Randy Bachman left the group and some studio recordings were abandoned as the group started over with two new guitarists.

The Guess Who started as Allan and the Silvertones in Winnepeg, Canada way back in 1958. Bachman, bassist Jim Kale, and drummer Garry Peterson were all on board from the jump and this original incarnation of the group released several singles through the early sixties but with minimal success. In 1965 the group adopted the name “Guess Who?” and added then 18-year-old Burton Cumming as lead singer and keyboardist. The late sixties saw the group find Top 40 success in Canada and beyond, due in part to their extended run as house band on a CBC radio show. The group’s 1969 albums, Wheatfield Soul and Canned Wheat, primed The Guess Who for the rock mainstream.

Peaking in the Top 10 of the album charts, American Woman is the most commercially successful album ever put out by the group. In part influenced by the sound of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 albums, a harder-edged rock sound was introduced on this album, led by Bachman’s fuzz-tone guitars and Cummings’ ever more dynamic and bluesy vocals. This album also included a few suite-style medleys as well as slight forays into prog rock.

Share the Land saw the arrival of guitarists, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw and slightly richer overall arrangements. Recording began almost immediately after Bachman’s departure, but producer Jack Richardson found a cohesive sound for the now five piece band. Being how it was so quickly written and recorded, the group was pleasantly surprised when Share the Land reached the Top 20 on the album charts and spawned a few successful singles.


American Woman by The Guess Who
Released: January, 1970 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Mid-America Recording, Chicago, August-November, 1969
Side One Side Two
American Woman
No Time
Talisman
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Cumberland 969 (The Oldest Man)
When Friends Fall Out
8:15
Proper Stranger
Humpty’s Blues/American Woman (Epilogue)

Share the Land by The Guess Who
Released: October, 1970 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Mid-America Recording Center, Chicago, 1970
Side One Side Two
Bus Rider
Do You Miss Me Darlin’?
Hand Me Down World
Moan For You Joe
Share the Land
Hang On to Your Life
Coming Down Off the Money Bag
Song of the Dog
Three More Days
Group Musicians
Burton Cummings – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Flute, Harmonica
Jim Kale – Bass, Vocals
Garry Peterson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Randy Bachman – Guitars, Vocals (American Woman only)
Greg Leskiw – Guitars (Share the Land only)
Kurt Winter – Guitars (Share the Land only)

The opening title track of American Woman starts with an acoustic blues intro before stopping completely and re-starting as a droning, hard rocker, led by Bachman’s distinctive riffs. The song would go on to be one of the most popular and distinct in the Guess Who library. “No Time” is actually a remade version of a song originally released on Canned Wheat the previous year. This version starts with the distinct drum beat of Peterson and features call and response with backing vocals during the verses and great harmonies throughout. The 1970 single of “No Time” peaked at #5 in the U.S. and topped the charts in Canada.

American Woman by The Guess WhoThe album drastically changes up with “Talisman”, a pure folk song by Cummings and Bachman with dark acoustic elements and traditional English folklore-like vocal melodies. The medley “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” may actually be more like a two part suite. It is acoustic throughout with an introductory riff starting each section. Kale’s bass sets the rhythms for each of these sections with a slight variation between each and Cummings’ piano makes an appearance during the “New Mother Nature” section. The lyrics morph from those of regret in “No Sugar Tonight” to a quasi-party theme during “New Mother Nature”.

The second side of American Woman contains more obscure material. Bachman’s double-track guitar rock instrumental “Cumberland 969” later morphs into a jazzy, Jethro Tull-style flute solo by Cummings before returning to the strong rock elements to complete the track. The album’s second remake, “When Friends Fall Out”, dates back to a 1968 release as a marching pop track with repetitive verses and a psychedelic ending. “8:15” is a funky rocker with deep Hammond organ and a unique vocal approach by Cummings, while “Proper Stranger” somewhat returns to the vibe of the first side with duo acoustic, sharp bass notes and animated rhythmic drumming later accompanied by electric riffs and lead. The closing “Humpty’s Blues/American Woman (Epilogue)” starts as slow blues with crying guitars and heavy harmonica before the song dissolves awkwardly into a reprise of the intro section of “American Woman” to encapsulate the album in a thematic way.

Share the Land saw Kurt Winter step up as a primary composer in his new band. The opening track “Bus Rider” was penned by Winter as a fifties-style rocker with seventies-style rock riffs to make it overall fun musically, albeit a bit trite lyrically. “Do You Miss Me Darlin’?” is a bit richer and deeper as a ballad with nice, whining guitar and soulful and dynamic vocals by Cummings, accompanied by rich harmonies between the verses and during the softer, piano driven mid-section.

Share the Land by The Guess WhoWinter’s “Hand Me Down World” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album with a descending electric guitar riff, bright acoustic chords, driving rhythms, and pleasant vocal melodies. The song reached the Top 20 as a single in The US. “Moan for You Joe” is a jazzy tune with odd timings and a an exceptional overall drumming performance by Peterson along fine guitar and piano work, especially an extended lead by Cummings. The title track “Share the Land” is a fine “hippie” anthem by Cummings featuring dual lead guitar riffs by Leskiw and Winter. This sing-along ballad features dynamic and soulful lead vocals with Cummings almost taking on a revival preacher role.

“Hang on to Your Life” is riff driven with frantic vocals during the rock-oriented verses while the chorus leans back slightly towards pop. An extended outro has guitar leads over the chorus hook before it breaks down in feedback backing with a spoken recital of the biblical Psalm 22. “Coming Down Off the Money Bag”/”Song of the Dog” is perhaps the most unique Guess Who song ever with the first section, written and sung by Leskiw, having an Americana/Country vibe with plenty of cool instrumentation. After a single verse, the song breaks into a rock interlude before morphing into the acoustic driven bluesy “Song of the Dog” by Cummings. Closing out Share the Land is the nearly nine-minute track, “Three More Days”. Led by Kale’s bass, this moderate blues rocker contains lyrics about death and the philosophy of a finite life and musically moves through different sections including a chant about “freedom” and a flute lead.

Although The Guess Who were still high on the pop/rock echelon at the end of 1970, further personnel shifts would undermine and ultimately dissolve the group. Leskiw left the group early in 1972, followed by Kale shortly after. Eventually, it was Cummings who grew weary of the band and departed himself to start a solo career in the mid seventies.

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Let It Be by The Beatles

Let It Be by The Beatles

Buy Let It Be

Let It Be by The BeatlesReleased less than a month after the announcement of their breakup, Let It Be was a unique release by The Beatles on several fronts. First, the bulk of the album was recorded over a year earlier (and before the recording and release of 1969’s Abbey Road) and was slated to be released twice in 1969 as different incarnations of an album called Get Back. Also, after it was finally released, there was debate over the enriched production added by Phil Spector, which ultimately led to a 2003 re-mixed version called Let It Be Naked.

The idea for this project was sparked by Paul McCartney who wanted to use these sessions to “get back” to the rock basics of the band’s early years. McCartney was also eager to play live again and wanted simplify the band’s sound, which had gotten increasingly complex in the studio. As an added dimension, the rehearsals and recording sessions would be filmed as part of a planned documentary showing the group prepare for a return to playing live.

Starting in late 1968, the project was marred by confusion in purpose and production duties and, ultimately, led to strong animosity within the band itself. In fact, George Harrison temporarily quit the band and agreed to return only if plans for a live tour were nixed (the band ended up playing a single “show” on the roof of Apple Studios). Still, the band was incredibly prolific in rehearsing over a hundred songs during these sessions, which included early incarnations of songs which would end up on Abbey Road and several early solo albums by individual band members.

An originally intended release date for Get Back was set for the summer of 1969, but the group members were dissatisfied with the mix and the project was temporarily shelved while they worked on Abbey Road. Early in 1970, a second version was attempted, again to less-than satisfactory results. Finally, Spector was brought in to “save” the project in March 1970 and finished the album which now had a new title and new status as the final album by the world’s most popular rock band.


Let It Be by The Beatles
Released: May 8, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector & George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road, Twickenham & Apple studios, London, February 1968-April 1970
Side One Side Two
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Dig It
Let It Be
Maggie Mae
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
Get Back
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Tambora, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

“Two of Us” was written by McCartney about a driving adventure with his future wife, Linda. While early incarnations were electric guitar-driven, the final album version was mostly acoustic with harmonized vocals by McCartney and John Lennon. “Dig a Pony” was composed and sung by Lennon, almost as a counterpart to the opener as it was inspired by his future wife, Yoko. This song was also the first of several to feature guest Billy Preston on electric piano.

The oldest composition on Let It Be, “Across the Universe” was written by Lennon in 1967 and originally recorded in early 1968. The song’s vibe was heavily influenced by the transcendental meditation the band was studying at the time, and its melodic flow make it one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. “I Me Mine” was Harrison’s first songwriting contribution to the album with lyrics that mock the bickering within the band. Late on the album’s first side are a couple of filler tracks, each less than a minute in duration. “Dig It” is credited to all four group members (giving Ringo Starr a rare songwriting credit), while “Maggie Mae” is a traditional British skiffle tune.

McCartney’s title ballad was Billboard’s highest debut single to that date and the final single before the band’s breakup announcement. The song was sparked by a dream he had about his mother (Mary), who had died when Paul was a teenager and its title and theme served as a call for serenity in the face of the band’s breakup.

Beatles on Sound Stage 1969

The album’s second side begins with “I’ve Got a Feeling”, a fusion of two unfinished songs, along with John Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year”, which may have been one of the last true collaborations between the famous songwriting team. McCartney’s guitar-driven and upbeat rock theme fuses nicely with Lennon’s mellow folk lines to make a unique tune. In contrast, “One After 909” was a song written a full decade earlier in 1960, as one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions. It was recorded here as a symbolic gesture to signify the band’s return to “good ol’ rock n’ roll”. “The Long and Winding Road” became the group’s twentieth and final number one song as a mature and philosophical piano ballad by McCartney. After production modifications by Spector, which included orchestral strings Richard Anthony Hewson and a choral arrangement by John Barham, McCartney expressed outrage at the enhancements without his input.

Harrison’s “For You Blue” features Lennon playing lap steel guitar with McCartney playing an intentionally dulled piano, which act as the only “bass” on the track. The album closer, “Get Back”, was the earliest single from the album, released over a year before the album as a single credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston.” The album’s version is a different mix of the song. The song’s evolution was fully documented on film and the album’s version ends with the ironic quote by Lennon,

“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves,
and I hope we passed the audition…”

Let It Be topped national charts in a half dozen countries worldwide and won an Academy Award for the Best Original Score for the songs in the film. Beatles fans still debate whether this is truly their final studio album or more of a posthumous release of tracks from an unfinished project. In any case, it is a quality addition to the band’s portfolio.

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Grateful Dead 1970 albums

Grateful Dead 1970 Albums

Buy Workingman’s Dead
Buy American Beauty

Grateful Dead 1970 albumsWith the arrival of a new decade, the Grateful Dead decided to shift towards scaled back folk and country style rock. This proved to be a wise endeavor as their two 1970 releases, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are both regarded among the finest studio albums of their long career. These albums were recorded and released just a few months apart with each expanding further into the realm of Americana as tracks on each album explicitly cite locations throughout the United States.

Prior to producing Workingman’s Dead, members of the Grateful Dead were facing tumultuous times. The cost of recording their ambitious 1969 album, Aoxomoxoa had put the band in significant debt and they were also dealing with the aftermath of a drug bust while on tour in New Orleans. The new musical direction was at least partially influenced by the group’s friendship with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who inspired the harmonized vocal approach above simple, acoustic-based music. The title of Workingman’s Dead was coined by Jerry Garcia when describing the new sound of the band. The album was recorded front to back in just nine days in February 1970.

American Beauty takes an even more reserved approach, with just four of the six band members recording the vast majority of the album. Co-produced by Steve Barncard, who was brought on board when the group’s normal sound crew was off working on the Medicine Ball Caravan Tour in Canada. Guitarist Bob Weir describes the approach as a total abandonment of the San Francisco sound that they helped establish in the mid 1960s but was co-opted by the press hyped “summer of love”. On this latter album, the group’s compositions, melodies and harmonies were all better formed and more brilliantly refined, making this perhaps the finest overall Grateful Dead album.


Workingman’s Dead by Grateful Dead
Released: June 14, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific High Recording Studio, San Francisco, February 1970
Side One Side Two
Uncle John’s Band
High Time
Dire Wolf
New Speedway Boogie
Cumberland Blues
Black Peter
Easy Wind
Casey Jones

American Beauty by Grateful Dead
Released: November 1, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Barncard & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, August–September 1970
Side One Side Two
Box of Rain
Friend of the Devil
Sugar Magnolia
Operator
Candyman
Ripple
Brokedown Palace
Till the Morning Comes
Attics of My Life
Truckin’
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron McKernan – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion

Workingman’s Dead commences with “Uncle John’s Band”, built on moderate, acoustic chords and an overdubbed lead acoustic guitar. There are exquisite harmonies during first half of each verse, with Garcia taking solo lead at sporadic parts beyond that. The dual drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Micky Hart have a strong presence throughout the song, which was written by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, like the majority of songs on this album.

Workingman's Dead by Grateful Dead“High Time” is an almost pure country song with a strummed acoustic waltz and vocals to match by Garcia. Here the harmonies are a little off and bass a bit too deep sonically, but the later pedal steel works really well on this track. “Dire Wolf” is an upbeat folk ballad with very active pedal steel along with other lead guitar licks over the strummed acoustic backing. This colorful tale features the catch phrase “don’t murder me”, which makes it dark and accessible at once. “New Speedway Boogie” leans more towards British-style blues of the 1960s with rumbling bass and hand clap-like percussion, while the lyrics tackle the tragic events of the December 1969 Altamont concert in the group’s home region.

The second side of Workingman’s Dead begins with a couple of unheralded gems. “Cumberland Blues” was co-written by bassist Phil Lesh and is a fun, rambling song where Garcia’s banjo and Lesh’s bass drag the adventurous music along as the group’s new direction towards Americana and roots music fully materializes. “Black Peter” is a slower country track where Garcia’s reverb-drenched vocals are strong but sweet, bringing the sad song up to a higher level of quality. Dual acoustics, bass, and brushed drums set the sparse backing that gives the vocals the room they deserve. On “Easy Wind” keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan takes the helm, with his vocal style matching Hunter’s laboring lyrics and the rocky beat dual drum beats. Mckernan’s harmonica lead after first chorus commences a long middle section with sporadic guitar leads interspersed throughout.

The album concludes “Casey Jones”, starting with an infamous “snort” and unabashedly narrating a tale of cocaine abuse. Musically, the group launches into the most popular and accessible song on Workingman’s Dead with great electric guitars throughout that compliment Garcia’s fine vocal melodies along with great, animated rhythms by Weir, Lesh, and Kreutzmann, making this the most complete group performance on the album.

American Beauty by Grateful DeadAmerican Beauty starts with “Box of Rain”, a collaboration between Hunter and Lesh where the bassist takes a rare shot at lead vocals above bright and jangly music and a chorus of harmonized vocals. The song is constructed with subtle chord changes which give it an air of unidirectional originality. “Friend of the Devil” is a more straight-forward rendition of bluegrass-inspired Americana with a consistent, descending riff and fine vocal melody by Garcia. An exceptionally well produced track, the song features a mixture of guitars, bass, and a lead mandolin by guest David Grisman and lyrics about an outlaw on the run. “Sugar Magnolia” ia a quintessential Dead “hippie” song and a rare collaboration between Weir and Hunter. Written as a souped-up love song by Weir, it features a definitive groove on guitars and well-defined drums by Kreutzmann with lyrics speak of an extraordinary woman in beauty and character;

“She can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a Willys in four wheel drive / She’s a summer love in the spring, fall and winter, she can make happy any man alive…”

“Operator” is the fourth track on American Beauty with a fourth different lead vocalist, McKernan, who also wrote the tune. This song has an Arlo Guthrie feel with root acoustic and a bright electric lead and is the only song to include all six band members as Hart adds some cool percussion effects. “Candyman” completes the album’s first side as a slow, bluesy ballad with an exception slide guitar lead with weird tremolo effects which, combined with Hammond organ of guest Howard Wales, give it a real spacey and surreal effect.

Grateful Dead

“Ripple” may be the sweetest overall song recorded by the Grateful Dead with exquisite lyrics by Hunter which are poetic and quasi-religious. Musically, a consistent drum shuffle by Kreutzmann is complimented by Lesh’s potent and sharp, yet extraordinarily complementary bass and rapid mandolin notes by Grisman. But, by far the best element here is Garcia’s voice, as he delivers the haiku phrased lyrics masterfully. “Brokedown Palace” is almost a medley from “Ripple” as it starts during the dissolve of that song. However, where the previous track was so effortless, this ballad almost tries too hard, especially during the closing harmonized scat section.

“Till the Morning Comes” is an upbeat acoustic with various lead guitar phrases and harmonized vocals throughout, while “Attics of My Life” bring the harmonies to a whole new level while the song is musically rhythm driven with Lesh, and Kreutzmann moving to the forefront. American Beauty concludes with “Truckin'”, the quintessential song about touring. An autobiographical song which was a complete band collaboration, it was written to be an “endless tune” with future verses added as new experiences were had. The hook harmonies are complimented by Weir’s verse vocals, almost like a Greek chorus response, and the bridge is the payoff, where the group almost employs a traditional rock riff and coins the famous phrase “What a long, strange trip its been…”

Following the release of American Beauty, Hart briefly left the Grateful Dead, returning in 1974. The year before that, McKernan lost his life to alcoholism and Garcia lost his life in 1995. In July 2015, the remaining band members will play select shows to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary as a band. These shows have been dubbed as the “Fare Thee Well” tour after a lyrical phrase in the song “Brokedown Palace.”

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Layla by Derek and the Dominos

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
by Derek & the Dominos

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Layla by Derek and the DominosLayla and Other Assorted Love Songs was the sole studio album by super group Derek & the Dominos. A double length LP, the fourteen tracks on the album included a few traditional blues jams along with original compositions written mainly by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Although the album was originally panned by critics and record buyers alike, it has deservedly grown in stature over the decades as a bonafide classic rock gem. In Fact, it may be the best overall effort of Clapton’s long career.

Clapton’s 1969 super group, Blind Faith, lasted less than a calendar year. Late in that year, the legendary guitarist joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends because he desired the relative anonymity of this group. However, Clapton soon discovered that three of his fellow bandmates had planned to leave Delaney & Bonnie and, after an extended tour into 1970, guitarist Clapton, keyboardist Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon formed the core of Derek & the Dominos.

The first project by the quartet was actually Clapton’s self-titled debut album, released in August 1970. Whitlock and Clapton began jamming and composing as early as April 1970 and, starting in May, all four members did session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. The group then toured, with the band’s name being spontaneously conjured backstage before their first gig in June. That same month, band members along with Harrison and Dave Mason recorded a single produced by Phil Spector. However, the group was not thrilled with Spector’s method and decided to pursue other recording arrangements.

The band flew to Miami to record with producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios. Dowd, who was also producing the Allman Brothers Band’s album Idlewild South, took the Dominos to an Allman Brothers concert and Clapton and Duane Allman formed an instant bond that resulted in Allman contributing to the majority of the album as a second lead guitarist. Although Allman declined to join the group outright, he played a few gigs with the band while they were in Florida.


Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos
Released: November 9, 1970 (Atco)
Produced by: Tom Dowd, Derek & the Dominos
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, August-October 1970
Side One Side Two
I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Am Yours
Anyday
Key to the Highway
Side Three Side Four
Tell the Truth
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Little Wing
It’s Too Late
Layla
Thorn Tree in the Garden
Group Musicians
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Bobby Whitlock – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Duane Allman – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass, Percussion
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion, Piano

Although the song that gives the album its name is on side four, near the end of the running order, the heart and soul of the album may very well be right up front on side one. “I Looked Away” is a melodic song built on a potpourri of guitar riffs and a distinct southern rock aesthetic. Both Clapton and Whitlock trade lead vocal lines on the song which is the first of several to reflect of Clapton’s obsession with Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. In fact, it may be the case that every song on Layla illustrates all the different sides of love, with Boyd being the consistent protagonist. Without a doubt, “Bell Bottom Blues” is the best and most emotional of these, as authentic, bluesy, and soulful, the song’s post-chorus has an extraordinarily brilliant progression that, when played over and over creates a recursion of emotion that never dulls nor wares. It also sounds like the perfect culmination of everything Clapton did to that point in his career and his finest vocal performance with its melancholy desperation of unrequited love;

“Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I’d gladly do it because I don’t want to fade away…”

“Keep On Growing” has more traditional blues riffing but with a touch of harder edge rock and upbeat rhythms. The vocals are harmonized by Clapton and Whitlock with about four or five distinct guitar tracks, making for a carnival of sound. Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is the first traditional blues cover, as well as the first track on the album where Clapton and Allman have room for their blues chops, with great slide techniques being employed throughout this song. Side two begins with “I Am Yours”, a changeup in feel and style with acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, hand percussion and just the slightest touch of electric lead guitar. Clapton gave co-writing credit to Nizami Gəncəvi, a 12th century Persian poet whose story of Layla and Majnun gave this album its title track and whose poem was used for the lyrics of this track.

“Anyday” returns to the core style of Clapton and Whitlock, with each trading lead vocals and joining together for the melodramatically exciting choruses. Musically, this song contains frenzied guitars and fantastic rhythms with drummer Gordon adding frenzied energetic fills during the more excited parts of the song and Radle adding his share of funky bass. “Key to the Highway” is a nine-plus minute impromptu jam of a song by Big Bill Broonzy that was not intended for the album but recorded on the fly by Dowd (hence, the fade-in). “Tell the Truth” sounds like a pure pop/soul/funk compositional approach but with lead guitars giving it all an edge that makes it unique to this group, while “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is a showcase for bassist Radle as it has the most upbeat rhythm of any song on the album. It also features a souped-up jam with melodic hook and fantastic energy, making it, perhaps closest to an Allman Brothers track than any other on the album.

Derek and the Dominos-We swing back to the classic blues jam on “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, where Clapton gets to showcase his skills both instrumentally and vocally. Then comes the fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing”. The arrangement here makes it almost a completely different song than the original featured on Axis: Bold as Love, as this one has vocals up front and extended jam in middle, with dual vocals and dual lead guitars throughout by Clapton and Allman. In a tragic coincidence, Hendrix died just days after Derek and the Dominos recorded this song.

Of course, the climax of the album comes with its title song and classic rock radio staple, “Layla”. Inspired by the tragic poem by Nizami, the song is a funk/rock rendition of Clapton’s growing friendship and infatuation by the wife of his friend and musical collaborator, George Harrison, who turned to Clapton when Harrison all but abandoned her for Indian religion. Originally written as a ballad, Allman brought it into the hard rock realm with the signature riff, while the rest of the group plays tighter and more focused during the song proper than on any other part of the album. The ending was developed independently by drummer Jim Gordon, who Clapton heard playing a piano piece before one of the sessions and convinced him to allow it to be used as part of the song. The second movement of Layla was recorded a week after the first and concatenated to the end of the track, making its total length of seven minutes. This turned out to be a brilliant move, as a crescendo ending, constantly building with the dual whining guitars simulating the wailing emotion that underlines the song’s theme. The album concludes with “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, a short and sad acoustic ballad by Whitlock (and only track where he performs sole lead vocals), which serves as a final ode to lost romance.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs originally peaked in the Top 20 of the Pop Albums chart and made reoccuring appearances in the Billboard 200 in 1974, 1977, and 2011. Although Derek and the Dominos were poised to record a follow-up album in 1971, because of tensions and drug abuse among the band members, along with the tragic death of Duane Allman later that year. In the end, this was a unique snapshot of serendipitous music that still sounds brilliant 45 years later.

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For Your Love by The Yardbirds

For Your Love by The Yardbirds

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For Your Love by The YardbirdsAbout four years ago, we reviewed the 1966 album by The Yardbirds commonly known as “Roger the Engineer”, which saw the final days in the band for guitarist Jeff Beck. Today, we circle back to Beck’s earliest days with the group when he replaced Eric Clapton during the later stages of the debut studio album For Your Love, which was released 50 years ago today on June 13, 1965. The music on For Your Love was recorded over an extended time and features many different compositional styles.

The Yardbirds were formed in London in 1963 and got their name from a nickname of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. They got their first break by taking over for the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy rhythm and blues club. Here the quintet forged their reputation and were soon enlisted to be the backing band for Sonny Boy Williamson when he toured England in 1964. Clapton was complemented by rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and vocalist/harmonica player Keith Relf, who all helped the band forge their distinct style of American-inspired English blues. The group’s first release was the December 1964 live cover album Five Live Yardbirds, which featured tracks that would later be reused for the late 1965 album Having a Rave Up.

The group’s manager Gorgio Gomelsky produced the album through the hodge-podge method of assembling previously released singles and B-sides. In total, the album contains mostly covers and outside compositions along with a few group-penned originals, but it all makes for a fascinating peer into this moment in rock history.


For Your Love by The Yardbirds
Released: June 13, 1965 (Epic)
Produced by: Giorgio Gomelsky & Manfred Mann
Recorded: London, March 1964–April 1965
Side One Side Two
For Your Love
I’m Not Talking
Putty (in Your Hands)
I Ain’t Got You
Got to Hurry
I Ain’t Done Wrong
I Wish Your Would
A Certain Girl
Sweet Music
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
My Girl Sloopy
Group Musicians
Keith Relf – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Eric Clapton – Lead Guitars
Jeff Beck – Lead Guitars
Chis Dreja – Guitars
Paul Samwell-Smith – Bass, Vocals
Jim McCarty – Drums, Vocals

The album commences with its title song, which was at once the first real hit for the band as well as the single song which made Clapton decide to depart. “For Your Love” was presented to the band by publisher Ronnie Beck and everyone in the group, aside from Clapton, loved it. Written by then 19-year-old Graham Gouldman, the song contains a distinct harpsichord by session man Brian Auger and is overall a strong departure from the blues-rock style of most of the other material on the band. Still, it was melodic and catchy and peaked in the Top 10 on the pop charts of both the UK and US. Clapton played the sessions for this song and then immediately left the group.

When Clapton departed, Gomelsky asked Jimmy Page, then the top session man in London, to join the group. However, Page was busy and happy with his session work and suggested Beck, who was sort of an understudy, for the position which Page would ultimately fill himself a few years later. Beck immediately makes an impact on “I’m Not Talking”, with its  heavy rock, crunchy riffs and rudiments along with great rhythmic elements by bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty. “Putty (In Your Hands)” contains a cool 60s groove while the bridge has some jazz elements, while Calvin Carter’s blues classic, “I Ain’t Got You”, features the fine harmonica playing by Relf for the first time on the album.

The Yardbirds“Got to Hurry” is the first real original composition as an instrumental credited to Gomelsky (as “Oscar Rasputin”), but really a jam composed by the group. Rhythmically, this instrumental has surf music elements while it also acts as a showcase for Clapton’s bluesy leads. “I Ain’t Done Wrong” is a driving rocker with blues vocals by Relf and some great rudimental riffs thrown in for fun, while “I Wish You Would” is another blues standard with consistent, upbeat guitar rhythm by Dreja and Relf adding harmonica between every line during the verses. This side two opener also has a bridge section which builds towards a frenzied crescendo and was released as a single in August 1964. Although “A Certain Girl” was just the ‘B-side’ for the previous track, but is the first real shot at pop with a bright sound, strong melody, call and response vocals, and a blistering pop lead by Clapton which sounds like a souped-up Byrds lead.

The Yardbirds sound like a whole different band on “Sweet Music”, a song produced by Manfred Mann who also brought in some outside session players and vocals. The track is interesting because of the players involved, but really out of place on this album. In contrast, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” is pure fifties-style pop style with harmonized vocals, Relf’s fine harmonica, and an outstanding, bluesy lead by Clapton. The song was originally composed and recorded by Williamson nearly three decades earlier. “My Girl Sloopy” is an interesting album closer as a fun rendition of a song which had not yet been made famous as “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys. The vocals here are odd but entertaining, especially the exaggerated high pitched harmonies and this extended track adds some Beatles elements.

While For Your Love barely broke the Top 100 on the album charts, it set The Yardbirds up for their first American tour, where Beck began to forge his own sound as well as help direct the group’s evolving sound through the mid sixties.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

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After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

After the Gold Rush
by Neil Young

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After the Gold Rush by Neil YoungFor his third studio album, Neil Young embraced the Country/rock fusion style for which he would  become best known. After the Gold Rush is a moderate to slow paced album, which may require a certain type of mood to enjoy, But once tuned in, the music is an infusion of genres a nice variety of electric and acoustic guitars along with steady rhythms and just enough intense edge to make it artistically viable. Every track is good, all showing some value with very little filler, making the album solid as a whole.

Young first found mainstream success with the group Buffalo Springfield, a band which had a successful but very short existence. For that group’s 1967 second album, Young wrote and recorded three solo tracks apart from the rest of the group which , in essence, was the beginning of his solo career. Young’s 1968 self-titled debut received mixed reactions and reviews, while his next release Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere was the first to feature his backing band, Crazy Horse. Released in 1969, this second album was a raw and energetic rock record which was recorded in just two weeks and found some mainstream success. Later that year, Young became the fourth member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and recorded the early 1970 Déjà Vu with the group.

Much of After the Gold Rush was recorded in Young’s basement studio in California. Young set out to find a middle ground between the Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash sound and even enlisted CSNY bassist Greg Reeves and drummer Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse. The album got its title from an unpublished screenplay by Dean Stockwell-Herb Berman, for which Young wanted to write the soundtrack. However, the film was never produced and the actual script has been lost to time.


After the Gold Rush by Neil Young
Released: September 19, 1970 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, David Briggs, & Kendall Pacios
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Sound City, & Redwood Studios, California, December 1969–June 1970
Side One Side Two
Tell Me Why
After the Gold Rush
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Southern Man
Till the Morning Comes
Oh, Lonesome Me
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Birds
When You Dance I Can Really Love
I Believe in You
Cripple Creek Ferry
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Nils Lofgren – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Reeves – Bass
Ralph Molina – Drums, Vocals

The acoustic track with plenty of hammer-ons along with bright strumming guitar action drives the opening track “Tell Me Why”, which also includes some sparse but nice harmonies. This song was originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during their tours earlier in 1970. The indelible title track is a classic ballad, simple and measured with the sparse arrangement of a distant piano and near lead vocals, with session man Bill Peterson adding a pleasant flugelhorn lead. The lyrics to “After the Gold Rush” are at once disparate and yet very poetic in a song that reflects contemporary life.

Peaking at #33, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” was the only real radio hit on the album, as it returns to the Country sound with strong pop elements. This Tin-Pan-Alley like song has a wistful melody and a waltz-like beat with a simple arrangement. In contrast, “Southern Man” contains a solid rock groove featuring Young on electric guitar and then-18-year-old Nils Lofgren on piano. There are harmonized vocals during hook, solo vocals during the verses and an extended jam in the middle. The lyrics vividly describe the racism towards blacks in the American South, with a sweeping accusation which sparked a direct response by Lynyrd Skynyrd on their later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”.

Neil YoungAfter the abruptly cut “Till the Morning Comes” completes side one, the second side starts with the album’s only cover track, Don Gibson’s classic Country song, “Oh, Lonesome Me”. While remaining moderately slow paced, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” contains strong variations in mood, adding its own diverse slice of uniqueness. This original track contains excellent melody and a bit of a dark tenor, which elevates the simple Country beats to a much higher level which was expanded upon on Young’s 1972 album Harvest.

Dating back to the days of Buffalo Springfield, “Birds” is a slow piano ballad, a bit sappy but with great harmonies during the choruses. Then comes “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, a very Byrds-esque jangly rocker, which seems to work a bit too hard to try and be a relevant rock song, falling just a bit short. “I Believe in You” is one final, sweet Country ballad with complex harmonies and plenty of mellow sonic treats dispersed throughout the straight-forward, traditional love/heartache song. The album concludes with “Cripple Creek Ferry”, a way-too-short song which is nonetheless deep and effective.

After the Gold Rush peaked at number eight on the American Pop Albums chart and spawned an acoustic solo tour by Young. A solo act would remain his status for the better part of a decade as CSNY split up and Crazy Horse signed their own independent record deal as a group.

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Deep Purple In Rock

In Rock by Deep Purple

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Deep Purple In RockThe famous Mark II lineup of Deep Purple launched their first pure rock album in a big way in 1970 with Deep Purple In Rock. This output was filled with dynamic and energetic songs which gave plenty of space for musical and vocal virtuosity while still sustaining the root rock and blues elements to attract the hard rock base the group built with their late sixties outputs. The result was their breakthrough album in Europe and the launch of the band’s short reign as hard rock superstars.

While the Mark I version of Deep Purple had some success in the US, their three albums had failed to break through in their home country of England. Lead vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper were replaced in June 1969 by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover respectively. This new lineup’s first actual recording was the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a classical work composed by keyboardist Jon Lord and performed by the band along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Recording for the self-produced Deep Purple In Rock began in late 1969. Preceding the album’s release was the single “Hallelujah”, which failed to chart. “Black Night” was a second single which was released at the time of the album’s release (although not included on the album). This fared better and peaked at #2 on the UK charts, making it the first real hit for this version of the group.


In Rock by Deep Purple
Released: June 3, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: IBC, De Lane Lea & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1969–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Speed King
Bloodsucker
Child In Time
Flight of the Rat
Into the Fire
Living Wrck
Hard Lovin’ Man
Group Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Organ, Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums, Percussion

Lord’s opening church-like organ masks the rock frenzy which suddenly launches into an unabashed pre-punk rock rant of “Speed King”. The song does come down for a building lead section where keyboardist Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore trade lead licks before joining together in the riff that brings the track back up at the end. While the song is not a cover, Gillan borrowed several lines from popular oldies such as “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Tutti Frutti” and “The Battle of New Orleans”. “Bloodsucker” is a more moderate rocker and a bit less impressive than the opener, while still containing many areas for musical improv leads.

“Child in Time” is a true masterpiece throughout the entirety of its ten minutes of rock theatrics. From Lord’s jazzy organ intro to the building, séance like verses and vocal wails by Gillan, to the incredible middle jam section with a bluesy guitar lead by Blackmore. Lord adapted the track from a song called “Bombay Calling” by a group called It’s a Beautiful Day, which Deep Purple made completely its own with their impressive rock instrumentation. But the real focal point is Gillan’s voice, as his wails are orgasmic early and almost painful in the final stanza.

Deep PurpleWhile the most famous songs reside on side one, the true heart of this album is on side two. This all starts with the incredible “Flight of the Rat”, featuring fantastic guitar riffing in a pure rock frenzy, especially Lord and Blackmore during the middle jam section where they each have extended leads while Glover consistently holds it all together. A choppy, funked-out section follows the long section with everything stopping for two full seconds before starting over with a fourth verse. And as if that all wasn’t enough, it all concludes with a drum solo by Ian Paice, making this track a real band showcase.

“Into the Fire” has a doomy, King Crimson inspired intro and slow rocking through the slightly bluesy verses. Blackmore performs a slow, phased guitar solo on this track. “Living Wreck” starts with an excellent drum beat by Paice and sneaks a peek of a future Deep Purple sound as demonstrated on their 1971 album Fireball. The cat like, organ effect between verses can be a bit abrasive, but this is quickly forgotten by the fine musical interludes of the bridge. Of course, this dramatic and theatrical album must end in dramatic and theatrical fashion. “Hard Lovin’ Man” starts with a building jam based on Glover’s bass riff and, after a few standard rock verses, Lord’s piercing organ solo is almost beyond the sonic bounds and builds an uneasy tension as the rest of the band rocks behind.

Following the release of Deep Purple In Rock, the group went on an extended world tour, which established the group as one of the top hard rock acts in the world and set them up for much further success with later albums.

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Black Sabbath 1970 albums

Black Sabbath 1970 albums

Buy Black Sabbath
Buy Paranoid

Black Sabbath 1970 albumsOver the course of a year, Black Sabbath morphed from a pop blues band to a dark practitioner of occult music to a respectable hard rock band which helped forge the emerging genre of heavy metal. Over the course of that year, the group recorded and released two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and caused a minor tectonic shift in the rock world. To listen to these albums back-to-back is to hear the incredible development in compositional depth and performance cohesion by the four musicians.

In 1968, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were in a band called Rare Breed when they were invited to form a blues rock group by guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. The new group eventually settled on the name Earth and received positive feedback which led to the recording of some demos. This momentum was briefly halted when Iommi joined Jethro Tull for a very short time. When the group reunited in 1969, they discovered that another British band was using the name Earth and decided to change their name to that of a dark song being developed by Butler. This name change also fostered a decision to focus songwriting on similar material. In the Autumn 1969, the group was signed to Philips Records and entered the studio with producer Rodger Bain.

Black Sabbath was recorded live in the studio with very few overdubs added. Due to the loss of a few fingertips, Iommi detuned his guitar for easier playing, which had the added “doomy” effect which worked well with the overall theme of this debut album. Further, the raw sound (sometimes referred to as “sonic ugliness”) worked to give it a sense of raw legitimacy not often heard on recordings in 1970.

Just four months after the release of their debut, recording sessions for Paranoid commenced. Even with this short duration, most of the songs had been worked out in concert during time reserved for improvisational jams. Thematically, this second album was a concerted effort to counter the “flower in your hair” hippie pop which was proliferating in mainstream music. Unlike the first album, which focused on the occult and fantasy, this album tackled real life issues in a brutal and direct way.


Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Released: February 13, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound Studios, London, October 1969
Side One Side Two
Black Sabbath
The Wizard
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Evil Woman
Sleeping Village
Warning

Paranoid by Black Sabbath
Released: September 18, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound and Island Studios, London, June 1970
Side One Side Two
War Pigs
Paranoid
Planet Caravan
Iron Man
Electric Funeral
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Fairies Wear Boots
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

Impossibly slow and doomy, like a tolling bell the song which gives the band and debut album its name contains a repetitive riff by Butler and Iommi while Osbourne’s vocals are delivered like a medieval chant. Three quarters of the way through, it finally abandons the repetitive riff and picks up speed for a decent rock outro. “The Wizard” is a much more interesting track, starting with a bluesy harmonica intro by Osbourne (why didn’t he play that instrument more often?) When the song kicks in, it flowers into a great rock jam with drummer Bill Ward providing some motion to the rudimentary riffs of Iommi and Ward. Overall, the best earliest track by the band, “The Wizard” was inspired by the character of Gandalf from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Black Sabbath 1970 debut album“Behind the Wall of Sleep” refers to the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. Another fine, riff-driven rocker, Butler breaks from the standard riffs to provide some slight fills in between the call-and-response scheme. On the North American version of this album, this was part of an extended medley with the opening and interlude music titled “Wasp”. Butler’s flange-treated bass solo gives way to the powerful main riff of “N.I.B.” Osbourne adds some harmony beyond the basic mimicking of the riff line especially during the descending chorus section, which also includes an impressive tambourine by Ward. Lyrically, the song is told from the point of view of Lucifer, ending the first side like it began, in darkness.

The second side of Black Sabbath moves more towards the group’s blues-rock origin. “Evil Woman” was a cover of a song by the band Crow which was pushed by Black Sabbath’s management who wanted something “commercial sounding” on the album. The song was the group’s first single but was excluded from the North American version of the album which instead included the track “Wicked World”, a hyper jam with a slightly psychedelic middle section which breaks down to a true guitar “solo” by Iommi.

The dark acoustic of “Sleeping Village” features a strange jaw harp-like sound in the background before the song proper breaks into a standard, hard rock track with a long, multi-section jam, leading into the closing track “Warning”. This final track is a cover of a song by Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and starts with a buzzy bass, joined by deliberate drums and consistent bluesy guitar flourishes through each of the early verses. After a point when it breaks and switches gear, the rest of this extended track is used as a showcase for Iommi’s guitar skills, using many textures and techniques.

Black Sabbath

On Paranoid, Butler stepped up to become the group’s chief lyricist. The opening track, “War Pigs” was initially entitled “Walpurgis”, but morphed into a dramatic anti-war song. Osbourne’s vocals are much more melodic during the memorable verses, while the music subtly weaves from the two-chord, main riff to a much more complex jam where Iommi takes over with many excellent guitar textures through late song jam. The album’s actual title track, “Paranoid” is a simple but very effective track built on a few simple guitar riffs and an incredible rhythmic drive. These all complimenting Osbourne’s majestic, echo-laden vocals. The double-tracked, fuzzy lead guitar is really the only variation in repetitive song, which reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, making it the group’s highest charting single before or since.

Paranoid by Black Sabbath“Electric Funeral” contains a sound as doomy as its title suggests, with lyrics about an “atomic tide”. Like many Sabbath songs, it works the main theme for a while before changing things up about halfway through where Osbourne’s voice is especially horse for the latter part of this track. “Planet Caravan” has an alternative musical arrangement with jazzy strummed guitars, moderately steady bass, hand percussion, and some piano provided by engineer Tom Allom. Osbourne’s Pink-Floyd-like vocals were fed through a Leslie speaker for vibrato effect, with the song concluding with a long, excellent jazzy guitar lead by Iommi.

“Now the time is here for Iron Man to spread fear, vengeance from the grave, kills the people he once saved…”

The quintessential Black Sabbath song, “Iron Man” is indelible from start to finish. The kick drum intro is joined by droned guitar notes and a mechanical intro voice before the main section propels a slow and doomy rock while the chorus is more complex and melodic. The song breaks into two faster paced jam sections, the first one shorter with a fine return to the final verse. The latter jam is a full-fledged outro rock section, which may have been an inspiration for later epic songs such as “Stairway To Heaven” and “Freebird”, built on fantastic rhythms by Ward and a very apt lead guitar Iommi.

Even though all of the more popular tracks are on Paranoid‘s first side, the album may actually be strongest down the stretch. A slow bass phrase accompanied by subtle but complex drum pattern starts “Hand of Doom” before the guitar crashes in with a strong rock section. After two rounds of this pattern, the song enters a mid-section, changing this up nicely with rapid notes, funky bass, and animated drums complementing an original melody by Osbourne. The instrumental “Rat Salad” is almost Hendrix-like with its mixture of slight effects and pure, unabashed guitar-led jamming at the beginning. However, the second half of the song is dominated by an impressive drum solo by Ward, which would often stretch 45 minutes in concert. “Fairies Wear Boots” has a good, moderate opening jam with further drum flourishes. The song proper is like a doomy blues song, three chord with emotive vocals on top, but very heavy overall. The track nicely transitions back to first section, this time very smoothly and skillfully. This closing track has the only lyrics written by Osbourne, who recounted an altercation with skinheads while he and Butler were on acid. The fading outro leaves the listener wanting more.

Despite not receiving good initial reviews, both Black Sabbath and Paranoid reached the Top 10 on the UK pop charts, with the latter being the only Black Sabbath album to top the Albums chart. Over time, both these albums have grown in status with many citing these as the absolute inception of Heavy Metal and Stoner Rock.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.