Deep Purple 1968 Albums

Buy Shades of Deep Purple
Buy The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple 1968 AlbumsDeep Purple arrived on the music scene like a tornado in 1968. Conceived as a super group called Roundabout in 1967, the band went through much personnel shifting before the renamed quintet was in place in early 1968. Within that year, the group would record and release their first two albums, Shades of Deep Purple and The Book of Taliesyn. Both of these albums involved a fusion of long instrumental jams, original interpretations of famous cover songs, and a handful of originals written by band members. In between the prolific writing and recording, Deep Purple also went on extensive tours of Europe and opened for Cream at the height of that band’s popularity.

The group’s debut, Shades of Deep Purple was released in the summer of ’68. Although it didn’t gain much attention or sales in the their native UK, it was a success in the US, where it fit better stylistically. The grandiose fusions of cover songs with long introductions were some of the earliest examples of progressive rock with just a hint of sixties psychedelic music. Also, the group’s American upstart label, Tetragrammaton, was actively looking for a British band to work with on their new label and offered much more affirmative support to this brand new band than an established British label would have done.

Like the debut album, The Book of Taliesyn was produced by Derek Lawrence and it follows the same psychedelic/progressive rock template of the debut, with the exception of a few notable originals. The title of this album was taken from a 14th century Welsh manuscript which contained poems attributed to the 6th-century poet Taliesin. After this album was released in October ’68, Deep Purple embarked on a rather excessive tour in the United States.


Shades of Deep Purple by Deep Purple
Released: July, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, May 11-13, 1968
Side One Side Two
And the Address
Hush
One More Rainy Day
Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad
Mandrake Root
Help!
Love Help Me
Hey Joe
The Book of Taliesyn by Deep Purple
Released: December 11, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, August-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Listen, Learn, Read On
Wring That Neck
Kentucky Woman
Exposition / We Can Work It Out
Shield
Anthem
River Deep, Mountain High
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Rod Evans – Lead Vocals
John Lord – Organ, Keyboards, Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Nick Simplar – Bass, Vocals
Ian Paice – Drums

 

The instrumental “And the Address” starts off Shades of Deep Purple with organist Jon Lord‘s long, low rotating rumble. This accelerates to a higher pitch after about a minute-long intro before breaking into the main rock riff by Ritchie Blackmore with a whining guitar lead and a later, faster lead by Lord, showing Deep Purple was about this dynamic duo right from the very beginning.

Shades of Deep Purple“Hush” was Deep Purple’s biggest early hit as well as a hard rock classic. With the thumping bass line by Nick Simplar, the “Na-Na” vocal hook, and a fluctuating organ solo by Lord which seems to be constantly searching to find its end before finally reaching resolution with the final verse. “Hush” was written by American songwriter Joe South and was a minor hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1967. The Deep Purple version was a much bigger hit, peaking at #4 in the US and #2 in Canada.

A whistle organ brings in upbeat, sixties-flavored “One More Rainy Day”, featuring crooning vocals by Rod Evans, an interesting, bouncy bass line by Simper, and well-animated drum fills by Ian Paice, but virtually no presence at all by Blackmore’s guitar. Side one closes with the jam/cover medley of “Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad”. This second great instrumental contains a fantastic drum march/roll and a very dramatic climax before it all resolves with the calm riff of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad”, which is not all that different from Cream’s earlier version on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, but with just a bit more restless tension.

The second side of the debut begins the strong blues-based heavy rocker “Mandrake Root”, featuring Evans deep vocals and a driving rhythm section backing up the frantic lead by Lord. Later, Blackmore abruptly interrupts with an effect-laden, Eastern-inspired lead section of his own on this song which got its title from a hallucinogenic plant. “Help!” is the best cover from these early albums, with a real moody and quasi-psychedelic keyboard intro which leads into a subtle and quiet entry into the finger-picked guitar of the first verse. Evans provides very soulful vocals, probably his best vocals on the debut album, and after using the original Beatles’ intro as a bridge, the song breaks into a showcase section of Lord’s and Blackmore’s talents before dissolving softly in a return to the intro. “Love Help Me” is an original by Blackmore and Evans that is very similar in approach to “Hush”, but tilts more towards sixties music flourishes and vocals and seems to suffer production-wise as much of the instrumentation gets lost in the mix and Blackmore’s short wah-wah guitar leads are way out front. Closing the album is another jam/cover with an instrumental reprise of “Mandrake Root” before morphing into the oft-covered “Hey Joe”, which almost feels like an afterthought, as it pretty much mimics the Jimi Hendrix version but in a more laid back fashion.

On the debut albums, many of the highlights came during the original re-interpretations of these cover songs. However, on The Book of Taliesyn, it is the Deep Purple originals which really stand out. “Listen, Learn, Read On” is the default title song of the album with a heavy reverb on Evans’ vocals and a manical driving drum beat by Paice in between measured riffs and leads by Blackmore. “Wring That Neck” is an upbeat, bluesy instrumental jam that was an instant classic. Starting with Lord’s uniquely distorted organ riff and moving through a few inspired guitar solos by Blackmore (some completely solo), the piece continuously returns to the infectious main riff. “Wring That Neck” was released as a single from the album and is a true preview of “Mark II” Deep Purple of years forward.

The Book of TaliesynThe other single from the album was the cover of Neil diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”, which is driven by the pulsating bass of Simplar and the crazy drumming of Paice. While this song did reach the Top 40, it was considered a failure by the label because it was nowhere near as big a success as “Hush” had been earlier in the year. Another jam/cover medley follows with the near program piece of “Exposition”, complete with drum rolls behind deliberate guitar riffing. After going through a few very intense iterations, the piece dissolves into a groovy beat led by Simplar’s bass and the Beatles’ hit “We Can Work It Out”.

On the second side of The Book of Taliesyn, Deep Purple breaks away from the mode of their first album with a couple of truly original songs, which really make this album diverse and interesting. “Shield” builds on Paice’s drums, followed by a bass riff, guitar overlay, and piano by Lord. The vocals are very laid back and measured and the song’s best parts are when the piano and guitar harmonize for a slow but powerful riff. A percussion section in the middle leads to a partially improvised jam section and the ending percussion reprisal contains cool, rounded bass notes by Simplar. “Anthem” is a fine acoustic ballad with a great chorus harmonized hook. It’s only flaw is a production flaw, where the entire arrangement suddenly drops out for Lord’s organ intro into a middle string section, showing the groups classical leanings. This middle section also contains a great lead by Blackmore, which sounds like something Brian May might perform, and when full band returns it is at top form with a second back-to-back guitar lead by Blackmore and fantastic drumming by Paice. “River Deep, Mountain High” is the climatic ending to The Book of Taliesyn with more musical drama, including a musical mock-up of the title score to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey before building into the frantic groove of the soul cover of this hit by Ike & Tina Turner.

Keeping up a tremendous scale of production, Deep Purple recorded and released their third album in 12 months, in early 1969, However, the fledgling Tetragrammaton Records was starting to fizzle out and could offer only lackluster promotion, causing that album to sell poorly. Further, the band was starting move in a heavier musical direction, which resulted in the replacement of Evans and Simpler and the end of Deep Purple’s “Mark I” era.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd

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A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink FloydA Saucerful of Secrets is the only album by Pink Floyd to feature all five group members. This was due to the album being recorded before (late 1967) and after (early 1968) the departure of guitarist and chief songwriter Syd Barrett. Due to this, the group took two separate approaches to the album, which was produced by Norman Smith and recorded mainly at Abbey Road Studios. The first was as a continuation of their successful 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while the latter approach was a journey into unchartered territory with tracks composed by other band members. The result is an album which contains as many (if not more) sound collages as it does proper rock songs.

After the release of the band’s debut in mid 1967, it was apparent that Barrett’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Barrett’s friend and “understudy” David Gilmour was brought in to help out with Barrett’s guitar and vocal parts live. During the earliest sessions for A Saucerful of Secrets in the Fall of 1967, Barrett was still considered the group’s chief songwriter and he did compose several songs. However, most of these recordings were omitted from the album, with “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” released as the band’s third international single in October 1968, and the rest left off due to various levels of non-satisfaction. These included the tracks Vegetable Man”, “Scream Thy Last Scream”, and the maddening “Have You Got This Yet?”, which Barrett performed differently every single time, making it impossible for the other group members to learn their parts.

Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd in January 1968, leaving a new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album. The band initially struggled to come up with this material, with all four remaining members contributing some songwriting and vocals. The first tracks from these sessions, “It Would Be So Nice” and “Julia Dream”, were also released as a non-album single in April 1968. After a few more songs were completed, the group still felt there was not enough material for an album and each contributed to the twelve minute, experimental title track to fill this gap.


A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd
Released: June 29, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1967-May 1968
Side One Side Two
Let There Be More Light
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for..
the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
A Saucerful of Secrets
See-Saw
Jugband Blues
Band Musicians
Rick Wright – Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vocals
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Vocals
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums

 

A Saucerful of Secrets begins with a three part mini-suite called “Let There Be More Light”. The first part contains a really cool and sharp bass riff by Roger Waters which later dissolves into the bouncy and mocking main section, which alternates between the marching vocals of harmonies of the verse and the harder refrain part with Gilmour on vocals. The closing guitar section features Gilmour providing multiple riffs simultaneously. “Let There Be More Light” was also released in edited form as the fourth single by Pink Floyd.

“Remember a Day” was a song left over from the debut album and was written and sung by keyboardist Richard Wright with Barrett providing a lot of the effect through his slide, lead, and acoustic guitars. The most melodically cohesive song on the album’s first side, this song contains a great piano above a strong rhythm by Waters and drummer Nick Mason. The song was never performed live by Pink Floyd, making it a true forgotten classic from the era when the group was alternating between British pop and pyschedelia, as this song straddles both.

“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the only song on which features all five group members. It was first performed and recorded with Barrett in 1967 and later featured guitar overdubs by Gilmour. Written by Waters, the lyrics were inspired by a book of Chinese poetry and the song was a successful part of their live set for years.
 

 
“Jugband Blues” is the only track on the album written and performed by Barrett and perhaps one of the most haunting songs with Syd apparently singing about his own demise; “…and I’m wondering who could be writing this song…” – an epitaph of Barrett’s short reign as band leader. Barrett enlisted a Salvation Army band to play on this eclectic track which features a three time signatures and dissolves into a slowly strummed acoustic during the final outro which closes the album along with Barrett’s tenor with Pink Floyd.

Waters’ rocker “Corporal Clegg” is the first Pink Floyd song to address the recurring theme of war, as Waters dedicated it to his father. Musically, the song features a good wah-wah guitar on top of a steady and melodic organ before breaking into odd but entertaining kazoo sections. The song is also notable for featuring rare lead vocals by Mason. The dreamy and distant “See-Saw” is the second song written and sung by Wright and features much of the same childlike themes of “Remember a Day”. It features strummed acoustic and a cool electric with heavy chorus effects along with a vibraphone, xylophone and strong mellotron, to convey a great mood and a totally Abbey Road production.

Pink Floyd in 1968

The title song, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, is a twelve minute experimental and avant-garde piece broken into four sub-chapters. It reaches an eerie climax in the first section before the brilliant “Syncopated Pandemonium” section, fueled by Mason’s drum loop, Wright’s haunting piano chords, and a wild theramin effect. Later the song settles into a melodic organ with vocal choruses in a section entitled “Celestial Voices”. “A Saucerful of Secrets” is what the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” should have been and has been dubbed a “masterpiece of psychedelic rock”.

The album A Saucerful of Secrets reached the Top Ten on the UK Albums charts and marked the beginning of an era when the band entered their most experimental phase. Syd Barrett went on to record two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970 with Gilmour and Waters helping out with production, before totally withdrawing from public life.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash

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At Folsum Prison by Johnny CashClassic Rock Review only covers studio albums, not compilations or live albums. But there will be one exception to this rule – At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash. This totally unique and legendary record, by one of the legendary founders of rock and Americana, may be the most honest album of all time. The album was recorded in one day at Folsom State Prison in California, where Cash performed two nearly identical shows during the morning and afternoon of January 13, 1968, with 15 tracks chosen for the album. We mentioned this during our Feature on Live Albums, when we proclaimed the studio album exclusivity. But again, this is an exception due to the artist and its place in time.

Cash had the concept of recording an album live in a prison since he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1955 and he finally got the go-ahead in 1967 from Columbia Records and producer Bob Johnston. Still, Cash mainly financed the project himself. Accompanying Cash on stage were “The Tennessee Three”; guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, who had worked with Cash since he moved to Memphis in 1954, and drummer W.S. Holland. The performers rehearsed for days, an uncommon occurrence for them, and were even visited by California governor Ronald Reagan during a rehearsal.

A few of the songs recorded but not released on the original album were the country waltz and farmer’s lament “Busted” and “Joe Bean”, a song about a prisoner falsely accused who faces a hanging on his birthday. “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” is a theatrical song, written by Cash and his future wife June Carter, from the 1963 album Blood, Sweat, and Tears. With metallic hammer sounds throughout, this recording  suffers from too many tempo changes (which is probably why it was ultimately left off the album).

Cash himself was no stranger to run-ins with the law. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol, he was arrested several times in the late fifties and early sixties. Although he never served a prison sentence, these incidents helped cultivate his outlaw image which he embraced throughout his career. Still, Cash credits this album and the ensuing fame as helping turn his life around.


At Folsum Prison by Johnny Cash
Released: May, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Live at Folsom State Prison, January 13, 1968
Side One Side Two
Folsom Prison Blues
Dark As a Dungeon
I Still Miss Someone
Cocaine Blues
25 Minutes to Go
Orange Blossom Special
The Long Black Veil
Send a Picture of Mother
The Wall
Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog
Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart
Jackson
Give My Love to Rose
I Got Stripes
Green, Green Grass of Home
Greystone Chapel
Primary Musicians
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Luther Perkins – Guitars
June Carter – Vocals
Marshall Grant – Bass
W.S. Holland – Drums

 

The performances actually began with performances by Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers, who also joined Cash during the latter part of the performance. A prison MC encouraged the prisoners to “respond” to Cash’s performance, but also made personal announcements for prisoners (by number) when they had a visitor, making this all the more real. Cash breaks right into his performance with his signature “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” before breaking into “Folsom Prison Blues”. Cash was inspired to write this after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in the Air Force in West Germany. While it wasn’t a big hit originally, this live version became a Top 40 pop hit in 1968 and topped the Country charts.

Many of the remaining  songs on the album fit well with prison, sorrow, and longing for freedom. Merle Travis’s “Dark As a Dungeon” is a slow,  country waltz about Appalachian coal miners, while “I Still Miss Someone” is a short and sweet song with melodic vocals, written by Cash and his nephew Roy Cash Jr. Red Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues” is perhaps the most intense and exciting part of the first side, with the music again employing the famous “train” rhythm and fast shuffle throughout with the two note bass line of Grant, never really deviating until the very end.
 
Johnny Cash on stage at Folsom Prison
 
Shel Silverstein’s “25 Minutes to Go” is a countdown to execution, performed very similar (albeit inverse) to Cash’s famous flood song “Five Feet High and Rising” with a few key changes for effect. On this song, Cash sells the desperation well with lyrics like;

Well I’m waiting for the pardon that well set me free, with 9 more minutes to go, but this ain’t the movies so forget about me, 8 more minutes to go…”

On the traditional fiddle song “Orange Blossom Special”, Cash plays harmonica and sings all the parts in this frantic and breathless song with great drum rolls by Holland.

Cash then performed several ballads and folk songs solo, with just his acoustic guitar. “The Long Black Veil” is a haunting folk song, with haunting but beautiful vocals by Cash, which tell a story about a man falsely accused but refuses to provide an alibi in order to save the honor of his best friend’s wife. “Send a Picture of Mother” is a Johnny Cash original and pure folk song which shows that Cash’s originals are still the best songs in this collection. Harlan Howard’s “The Wall” is a song about escaping prison;

Well, the warden walked by and said son don’t try, I’d hate to see you fall, well, there is no doubt, they’re carry you out if you ever touch that wall…”

…lyrics to which Cash comments “they’re mean bastards, aren’t they?” A couple of novelty songs from his album Everybody Loves A Nut follow, “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” and “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart”, adding comic relief to the show.

June Carter and the Tennessee Three bring the level back up with the recent hit from 1967, “Jackson”, one of the highlights of the second side. The album then concludes with a quartet of songs specifically about prison. “Give My Love to Rose” is a Cash original in the traditional tragic country form about a prisoner and his lament of not seeing his wife and son. This has a much larger chord set than most Cash songs, with guitarist Luther Perkins doing a great job with the subtle changes. “I Got Stripes” gets back to the upbeat train rhythm, while Curly Putman’s popular worldwide sixties tune “Green, Green Grass of Home” features the Statler Brothers and June Carter returning to the stage.

The album concludes with “Greystone Chapel”, an original composed by Glen Sherley, who was then an inmate at Folsom. Sherley made a recording of the song and passed it on to a pastor who regularly visited inmates at Folsom, who then got it to Cash. The inclusion of this song solidifies the authenticity of the album and its intent.

At Folsom Prison reached the Top 20 in several countries and really revitalized Cash’s career, with several of his earliest recordings making a popular comeback in subsequent years. Cash would record two more live albums at prisons; San Quentin in California in 1969 and Österåker Prison in Sweden in 1972. He also soon took on the persona of “The Man in Black” to show his solidarity with all the downtrodden.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things

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SF Sorrow by The Pretty ThingsWith their fourth overall album released in late 1968, The Pretty Things produced what was arguably the first true rock opera called SF Sorrow. The album was based on a short story by guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Phil May, which tells the tragic story of the fictional Sebastian F. Sorrow, who grows increasingly mad and disillusioned as the story (and album) moves forward. Band members and some critics have claimed SF Sorrow was a major influence on The Who’s Tommy (released the following year) although Pete Townshend has claimed it had no influence on his writing. In any case, the eclectic styles of rock by The Pretty Things seemed to have a big influence on several later artists.

Named after a Bo Diddley song from 1955, The Pretty Things evolved from a group called Little Boy Blue, which featured Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and guitarist Dick Taylor. All three joined Brian Jones’ and Ian Stewart’s band, called “Rollin’ Stones”, but Taylor quit after a few months to study at art school. Here he joined up with May and manager Bryan Morrison to form the original incarnation of The Pretty Things. Through 1964 and 1965, the group had a handful hit singles in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries, but they never broke though in the United States. By the end of 1967, there had been much personnel turnover and the newest incarnation of The Pretty Things entered Abbey Road studios to start their most ambitious album.

Recorded over a full year and produced by Norman Smith, the album sessions featured two tracks which were omitted and instead released as a single in February 1968, “Talking About the Good Times” and “Walking Through My Dreams”. The following month, drummer Skip Alan suddenly quit the band and was replaced by Twink from the recently defunct band, Tomorrow. Songs on the album have a nice blend of rock, folk, blues, and psychedelic elements with innovative arrangements. However, the production and mastering techniques contain a lack of focus make it sound a bit dated and inaccessible for all but the most seasoned listener.


SF Sorrow by The Petty Things
Released: December, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, 1967-1968
Side One Side Two
SF Sorrow Is Born
Bracelets of Fingers
She Says Good Morning
Private Sorrow
Balloon Burning
Death
Baron Saturday
The Journey
I See You
Well of Destiny
Trust
Old Man Going
Loneliest Person
Band Musicians
Phil May – Vocals
Dick Taylor – Guitars, Vocals
John Povey – Organ, Sitar, Vocals
Wally Allen – Bass, Wind Instruments, Piano, Vocals
Skip Alan – Drums
John Charles Alder – Drums

 

The songs on SF Sorrow, run sequentially with the story line of the protagonist from birth to death. In many instances, the songs start with an excellent groove or rock riff only to later dissolve into unnecessary embellishments, which tend to take away from the overall vibe. The opener, “S.F. Sorrow is Born” starts with the bent acoustic notes in the introduction and a very strong rhythm, driven by bassist Wally Allen, before a short middle section adds some very short flourishes of horns, strings, and mellotron. “Bracelets of Fingers” was the first track recorded in November 1967, featuring a vocal harmonies intro before rock verses with marching drum beats and an ever-present wah-wah guitar by Taylor. The story tells of Sorrow’s childhood and adolescence in Britain until it ends abruptly when he needs to get a job at the “Misery factory”. The only bright spot in his life is the pretty girl across the street, focused on in the song “She Says Good Morning”. With a harmonized guitar riff to start, this is harder and heavier than anything thus far on the album, almost proto-punk for the 1960s.

An acoustic riff and underlying march beneath a plethora of instruments, make “Private Sorrow” a very entertaining listen. Here the story follows Sorrow to war (World War I), which he survives and eventually moves to America. He sends for his unnamed sweetheart and she arrives on a zeppelin (Hindenburg) which bursts into flames in “Balloon Burning”. The closer of the first side, “Death”, contains a doomy and haunting, yet excellent riff, like a twisted blues song. In between the very British verses, the riff holds together this excellent tune, which features a sitar lead by John Povey and haunting background vocal choruses.

While side one contains the forward-moving story, side two focuses on the post-mordem, psychedelic horrors which plague the protagonist Sorrow. “Baron Saturday” is well ahead of its time with the vocal effects which sound like they could have come a decade later. Povey’s choppy piano during the choruses indicate that this could have been a big radio hit and is a definite classic in spite over-the-top, slightly off beat percussion ensemble in the unnecessary mid-section. “The Journey” contains acoustic with overlaid electric guitars, sounding like it has a definite George Harrison influence and does well before an unfortunate psychedelic outro.
“I See You” has a bass and drum roll with slowly strummed guitar doubled by distorted electric and a haunting – vocal chorus, along with Taylor’s most intense lead guitar on album. May’s vocals sell the overall intensity of this song excellently.

The short sound collage of “Well of Destiny” starts an awkward second side medley, continuing with the piano song “Trust”, which contains great vocal rhythm throughout. “Old Man Going” is a rocker which sounds like a preview of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, with strong acoustic, sharp electric, high pitched-vocals, and sound effects spread throughout. Thematically, the story takes its final tragic turn as Sorrow is driven into a dark mental seclusion. The short, minute and a half “Loneliest Person” closes the album as a short acoustic ballad, solidifying the melancholy and unhappy ending, where Sorrow identifies himself as “the loneliest person in the world.”

This dark nature of the album’s content along with lack of label support, and being overshadowed by concurrent British releases such as the Beatles’ White Album, led to SF Sorrow becoming a mainly forgotten masterpiece from the late 1960s. The band only attempted to play the concept album live once in the next thirty years and by 1969 Taylor left the group, because of disillusionment over the commercial failure of this album.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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Waiting For the Sun by The Doors

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Waiting For the Sun by The DoorsThe Doors third album, Waiting For the Sun, is probably the weakest of their six original studio albums. Lead vocalist and lyricist Jim Morrison admitted that he was not the top of his game in 1968, being less of a prolific reader and writer in 1968 after the group’s rise to rock stardom the previous year. All that being said, this album still contains some brilliant moments during its short thirty-three minute duration, including some which help define the group’s strong legacy. Released in July 1968 when the group was (arguably) at the height of their sixties popularity, Waiting for the Sun the band’s first and only number one album in the US and their initial breakthrough album in the UK.

Departing from The Doors’ first two albums, which were similar in structure and dark mood and contained strong extended pieces to finish up the album, Waiting For the Sun contains a lighter sound on several tracks. This is a bit ironic because the original plans for this album included the side-long epic track “Celebration of the Lizard”, which was composed as a series of poems by Morrison over improvised music in sections, along with other more structured “sub songs”. However, producer Paul Rothchild and the other band members rejected all but a small part of the original studio piece. Still, the lyrics for the piece were published inside the gatefold jacket of the original vinyl LP. The band did perform “Celebration of the Lizard” in its entirety live and an advanced version of the piece appeared on the band’s 1970  album, Absolutely Live.

Also omitted from the album was it’s title track “Waiting for the Sun”, as the band felt it was unfinished. This track would later be included on the 1970 studio album Morrison Hotel. This song was one where keyboardist Ray Manzarek displayed his distorted new organ sound, as he transitioned from the Vox Continental used on the band’s earliest material.


Waiting For the Sun by The Doors
Released: July 11, 1968 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles, February-May, 1968
Side One Side Two
Hello, I Love You
Love Street
Not to Touch the Earth
Summer’s Almost Gone
Wintertime Love
The Unknown Soldier
Spanish Caravan
My Wild Love
We Could Be So Good Together
Yes, The River Knows
Five To One
Band Musicians
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robbie Krieger – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Manzarak – Piano, Organ, Vocals
John Densmore – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

With the omission of certain planned tracks, The Doors had to dip back into their archives for material. “Hello, I Love You” was one of Morrison’s earliest compositions, dating back to 1965. The infinite buzz by guitarist Robbie Krieger and the groovy sixties sound, brought the band from the edge of darkness to the center of pop with this number one song, which sold over a million copies in the U.S. alone. However, this light song was not without controversy, as several critics pointed out the main vocal melody is dangerously similar to The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”. Further, Morrison grew to loathe this song to the point where Manzarak was forced to frequently sing lead vocals when it was performed live.

Through the rest of album the songs vacillate wildly. “Love Street” is a deceptively clever ballad, which starts sounding like an airy show tune but contains some hardcore rock elements underneath. This Baroque pop song with fine piano and organ originated as a poem by Morrison about the street he lived on in Laurel Canyon, CA with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. The most pointed lyric came from watching local hippies walking by to visit the corner store across the street from their residence;

I see you live on Love Street, there’s the store where the creatures meet. I wonder what they do in there?”

The only section of “Celebration of the Lizard” to make it on the album, “Not to Touch the Earth” is almost out of a dramatic movie scene. The bass line and overall rhythm continuously gets more intense, mirroring Morrison’s vocals. The opening lyrics come directly from subchapters in The Golden Bough by James Frazer with the rest being opaque poetry which is open to interpretation. Drummer John Densmore offers timely fills and a tight beat to hold the thrilling chaos all together.

“Summer’s Almost Gone” is another tune re-born from the group’s earliest days. The descending bass/keyboard riff reminds one of much of the repetitive material from Strange Days, albeit with some underlying honky-tonk piano by Manzarek and bottle-neck slide guitar by Krieger for variety. “Wintertime Love” goes in the opposite direction (both musically and seasonally). This short and upbeat European waltz is good composition with melodic vocals by Morrison and great bass by session man Douglas Lubahn, who provided bass for much of the album.

“The Unknown Soldier” is an intentionally controversial song, examining the Vietnam War and how it was viewed on television back in the United States. Complete with mysterious and eerie organ sounds in the verses and a literal march towards execution in the middle of the song, the Doors produced one of the most unusual and complex tracks of their career. The song then erupts into a climactic and celebratory coda, which envisions a victorious end of war. While the single and its promotional video were banned from much mainstream media, the song still managed to find its way into the Top 40.

Side two of Waiting For the Sun begins with “Spanish Caravan”, highlighted by some fantastic flamenco guitar by Krieger through the first verse and chorus, one of the most accomplished musical sequences in the Doors collection. The eventual turn electric is like a preview of the later genre of progressive rock, making this short piece an overall forgotten classic. Contrarily, “My Wild Love” may be the worst Doors song ever. A Morrison-inspired group chant, this unfortunate experiment should have been shelved for some later rarities collections. “We Can Be So Good Together” is upbeat and fun and sounds like it could have been every bit as successful as “Hello, I Love You” commercially. The song was recorded during the sessions for Strange Days and even appeared on an early track listings for that album.

The Doors

“Yes, The River Knows” is a beautiful, poetic love ballad with moody piano, in the same vein as “The Crystal Ship” from their debut. The superb picked electric guitar phrases by Krieger, accompanied by Manzarak’s classical piano and Morrison at his most melodic, really show the range of the Doors musically. The album closer “Five to One” is a thumping anthem which marks its place in time while leaving more questions than it answers (Is it a love song? Sex song? Song about murder? Revolution? Social commentary?). Part of the song (“Your ballroom days are over baby/Night is drawing near/Shadows of the evening/crawl across the years”), was seemingly lifted from the 19th-century hymnal and bedtime rhyme “Now the Day is Over”, while some say Morrison was possibly referring to a Dylan Thomas story in another part of the song. In any case, this proto-heavy metal track is an ode to brute force and a Doors classic.

To date, Waiting For the Sun has sold over 7 million copies worldwide, a phenomenal blockbuster for most groups. While the album was critically panned upon its release, the stronger parts of the record held up well over time, especially for those who enjoy the band’s diversity.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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Steppenwolf and The Second by Steppenwolf

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Steppenwolf and The Second 1968 albumsSteppenwolf arrived on the rock scene like a storm in 1968 and released their first two albums, which produced their most indelible classics which persist to this day, that year. Their debut, Steppenwolf, was released in January 1968 and included two songs made world famous by their eventual inclusion in the cult film Easy Rider in 1969, along with two more radio hits. The follow-up album, simply titled The Second, was released towards the end of 1968 and includes another smash hit along with a long rock medley on its second side. Both albums were produced by Gabriel Mekler and recorded in a Los Angeles studio between the extensive touring by the band.

Steppenwolf was formed out of the ashes of sixties group The Sparrows in 1967, led by vocalist John Kay along with brothers Jerry and Dennis Edmonton. The name was suggested by Mekler and was inspired by the novel of the same name by Hermann Hesse. Jerry Edmonton stayed on board as drummer of Steppenwolf while Dennis adopted the pen name Mars Bonfire and chose a strictly songwriting affiliation with the new group.

Entering the studio well rehearsed, Steppenwolf released a surprisingly strong debut with a hard rock motif and populist themes built on classic blues. The resulting music is raw and powerful with distorted trade-offs between guitarist Michael Monarch and organist Goldy McJohn and the tight rhythms by Edmonton and bassist Rushton Moreve.


Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
Released: January, 1968 (ABC Dunhill)
Produced by: Gabriel Meckler
Recorded: American Recording Co. Studio, Studio City, CA, Fall 1967
Side One Side Two
Sookie Sookie
Everybody’s Next One
Berry Rides Again
Hootchie Kootchie Man
Born to Be Wild
Your Wall’s Too High
Desperation
The Pusher
A Girl I Knew
Take What You Need
The Ostrich
The Second by Steppenwolf
Released: October, 1968 (ABC Dunhill)
Produced by: Gabriel Meckler
Recorded: American Recording Co. Studio, Studio City, CA, Summer 1968
Side One Side Two
Faster than the Speed of Life
Tighten Up Your Wig
None of Your Doing
Spiritual Fantasy
Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam
28
Magic Carpet Ride
Disappointment Number
Lost and Found By Trial and Error
Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie
Resurrection
Reflections
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Kay – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Michael Monrach – Guitars
Goldy McJohn – Piano, Keyboards
Rushton Morave – Bass
Jerry Edmonton – Drums

 

The first two singles released from Steppenwolf were “A Girl I Knew” and the opening track “Sookie Sookie”. Written by R&B artists Don Covay and Steve Cropper, “Sookie Sookie” is almost like almost a soul or Motown track arranged to a heavy late sixties rock beat and methodical guitar riff. “A Girl I Knew” was co-written by Morgan Cavett and contains a very English sounding harpsichord with Kay mimicking the mood in the lead vocals during short intro before song breaks into a driving, sixties hipster beat with a bouncing organ riff by McJohn.

Other songs on the debut album find the group experimenting with various sub-genres. On “Everybody’s Next One” an acoustic piano gives way to full electric arrangement as this progressive song moves through several sections in its short duration of less than three minutes. One of the prominant riffs would later be “borrowed” by The Doors for their 1970 song “You Make Me Real”. “Berry Rides Again” is old time rock and roll through and through as an obvious tribute to Chuck Berry with the piano really standing out on top of the mix. The band’s rendition of the Willie Dixon / Muddy Waters classic “Hootchie Kootchie Man” features the guitars slowly working out before falling into the most standard of blues riffs in an original and entertaining version of this well-healed classic. “Your Wall’s Too High” is more blues , but a bit more up-tempo with some rock riffs and bouncy sections mixed in.
 

 
The band’s most famous song, “Born to Be Wild”, was composed by Mars Bonfire and features a tight beat under the distorted guitars, with just the right amount of organ chops to make it interesting. Drummer Edmonton is the truly unsung hero of this song, holding together tightly an otherwise loose arrangement and supplying a great drum fill into second verse and perfect rolls later in the track. Due to its inclusion during the opening scene of Easy Rider, it is often tied to bikers in popular culture and the song is also the first to coin the term “heavy metal”, which would be attributed to various heavy rock styles for the next four and a half decades and counting. The third single off their 1968 debut, “Born to Be Wild” would become Steppenwolf’s most successful single, reaching #2 on the U.S. pop charts.

The other song from the debut later included on Easy Rider, “The Pusher” is a consistent blues song by Hoyt Axton, built around four chords, squeezed out through the intro guitar riff. Later, Monrach provides long descents into the guitar leads, make it interesting despite the lack of true variety. Kay takes his vocals to another level during the various “God Damn” wails on this amazingly frank and candid look at the darker side of drugs at a time when it was “cool” for rock bands to celebrate such use. This is one of the few songs retained by the group from their Sparrow days.

Side two of Steppenwolf includes a handful of other strong tracks. A beautifully constructed orchestra of melodic noise leads into the bluesy “Desperation” with constant tension between the sustained organ and distorted guitar chords throughout along with moving vocal melodies. “Take What You Need” contains an upbeat, driving piano beat and whining guitar overlay along with animated bass and drumming. “The Ostrich” is bluesy with a “Hand Jive” beat heavy with floor toms. A really good closer for the debut album with the late flaw of a good jam breaking down into an awkward, out of tune improv to finish things up.

Steppenwolf’s follow-up album, The Second, embraces more bombastic hard rock, psychedelia, and blues with more refined production and songwriting techniques. This is really a mixed blessing as some songs really bring out the finer points of composition while others are just plain filler. Unfortunately,
“Faster than the Speed of Life”, the opening track penned by Mars Bonfire is the latter with weak harmonies and uninspired guitar licks.

Fortunately, The Second does improve from there. “Tighten Up Your Wig” is a grittier and bluesier tune than the opener with a cool good harmonica lead by Kay and subtle instrumentation licks. “None of Your Doing” starts with a penny whistle organ and English folk style acoustic for a single line in each verse before the rocking kicks in with slight restraint. “Spiritual Fantasy” contains a slide acoustic guitar and strings throughout in a waltz-like ballad. This song is interesting because it is so different than anything else, but it does seem like the musicians struggle to keep time throughout. Meckler’s “Twenty Eight” almost has a surfer vibe in an intentional reach towards pop.

“Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” fades in with bass riff and great sounding guitars playing interesting riffs. The music is measured and excellent throughout, perfectly accenting the lyrics in this pro-marijuana message which acts as a reciprocal to “The Pusher” on the first album;

Well it’s evil, wicked, mean and nasty, don’t step on the grass, Sam
And it will ruin our fair country, don’t be such an ass, Sam…”

“Magic Carpet Ride” was co-written by bassist Moreve, starting as a psychedelic form with guitar feedback. It then breaks into the simplest of riffs with good vocal melody to carry the song. The original track is asymmetrical, with the actual “magic carpet ride” happening through various sound effects above the tense funk jam before the tension is released with a short outro chorus. Released as the lead single from that album, it peaked at #3 on the US pop charts making it the band’s second-biggest hit.
 

 
A year before the Beatles Abbey Road, Steppenwolf had a multi-song second side medley in similar form. “Disappointment Number (Unknown)” contains slide blues guitar and a really sparse and laid back arrangement before it finally gives way to the full band with fine bass, drums, and honky-tonk piano by McJohn. Later it unexpectedly breaks out of blues riff and ends slightly with live bar sound before it quickly segues directly to “Lost and Found By Trial and Error” as a continuation blues song moving through several new forms with the guitars sounding sharp and fine. The jam continues with organ taking lead through the instrumental “Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie”, which leads to the intense climax of “Resurrection” as the extended arc piece gets closer to conclusion with the theme “Shake Your Money Maker” repeated until rudiments complete the jam part. The short “after” piece “Reflections” is some soft Baroque with heavy reverb.

Steppenwolf reached #6 on the Rock Albums charts, while The Second later climbed to #3 on the same chart. Steppenwolf continued to have success through the early 1970s and has gone on to sell more than 25 million records worldwide. The band initially broke up in 1972 but have reformed several times through the decades with various lineups behind John Kay, who is the only original member to remain with the band since its inception.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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Music From Big Pink by The Band

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Music From Big Pink by The BandAfter a decade of touring as a backing group for other artists, The Band released an incredible debut with Music from Big Pink in 1968. By blending their vast influences of country, Gospel, rock, folk, and R&B into strong compositions, influenced and helped along by Bob Dylan, the group forged an album with an honest, laid-back feel, which sharply broke with the current trends of over-the-top psychedelic rock. The album’s title stems from a (pink) house near Woodstock, NY, where several band members lived while they wrote and rehearsed material for this album. While many demo tapes were recorded there, the actual recording of the album, produced by John Simon took place in studios in New York City and Los Angeles. Concurrently, much of the Dylan-fronted material was recorded and eventually released as The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan in 1975.

The group’s originator was drummer Levon Helm, from the Arkansas side of the Mississippi Delta, who formed the rockabilly group The Hawks with front-man Ronnie Hawkins in the late fifties. In 1958, the group migrated to Ontario, Canada, which had a growing market for music from the American South, and toured clubs up there for many years. Along the way, Canadian natives Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, and Garth Hudson joined up at various points. When Hawkins took time off, the rest of the band continued to play club dates and soon migrated more towards the blues stylistically. In 1964, the group split from Hawkins and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks with Helm on lead vocals. When Bob Dylan went “electric” in 1965, he enlisted The Band as his backing group, and they toured the world through 1966. However, Dylan suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident and was unable to tour for nearly a year. He retreated to the Catskill town of Woodstock and the Band decided to join him, taking a long deserved break from touring to try their hand at writing their own music.

With this brand new endeavor, The Band made a consorted effort to produce the most “legitimate” songs possible. This philosophy also extended the adaptation of the simple name “The Band”. While Dylan composed three of the eleven album tracks and there was one cover, Manuel and Robertson split most of the rest of the songwriting duties, later admitting they were students of Dylan’s various approaches to composing. Dylan also did the cover illustration for the album.


Music From Big Pink by The Band
Released: July 1, 1968 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Simon
Recorded: New York and Los Angeles, 1968
Side One Side Two
Tears of Rage
To Kingdom Come
In a Station
Caledonia Mission
The Weight
We Can Talk
Long Black Veil
Chest Fever
Lonesome Suzie
This Wheel’s on Fire
I Shall Be Released
Band Musicians
Robbie Robertson – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Manuel – Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals
Garth Hudson – Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Saxophone
Rick Danko – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals
Levon Helm – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

With a “how slow can you go?” tempo, the opener “Tears of Rage” is full of deliberate anguish. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel, the song has a strong Biblical underlying theme, examining a relationship between parents and daughter. A version of this song with Dylan on lead vocal and the Band backing him was included on The Basement Tapes. “To Kingdom Come” is Robertson’s debut as a songwriter and contains more upbeat, sixties-style music with harmonized vocals and a great bass by Danko throughout, gluing together the slight bursts of musical motifs. The worst part of this fine song is that it ends too quickly, fading out during an interesting guitar lead by Robertson.

Manuel’s “In a Station” returns to the bluesy ballad with topical keyboards and slightly interesting guitar interludes. Written and sung by Robertson, the fine “Caledonia Mission” starts as a ballad but progresses to an interesting, jazzy number with strong horns throughout.

The most famous song on the album is “The Weight”, an iconic music marker in the history of rock n’ roll. A significant influenced on American popular music the lyrics return to Biblical settings, with fictional characters playing the modern day protagonists. Over time becoming one of The Band’s best known songs, it failed to reach the Top 40 when released as a single in 1968, although subsequent cover versions did much better for various artists. Robertson sites the movies of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel as well as his initial visit to the Mississippi Delta as influences for the song, although Helm later claimed several member of the band had a part in writing the lyrics.

The Band in 1968

Side two of the original LP starts off with the funky “We Can Talk”, with Manuel, Helm, and Danko taking turns on vocals. “Long Black Veil” is an Americana cover, written by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill, and contains a fine acoustic guitar and prevalent electric piano. “Chest Fever” starts with Hudson’s calm but catchy organ riff, topped by Manuel’s rock piano and Danko’s bass. Soon to become a fan favorite, this may be the closest to traditional hard rock that they get on this album.

“Lonesome Suzie” is a ballad with Manuel crooning above Hudson’s soulful organ and Robertson’s calmly picked guitars. “This Wheel’s on Fire” is a good solid track co-written by Dylan and Danko, featuring high-pitched harmonies, and a country-tinged backing. Dylan also composed the closer “I Shall Be Released”, which drips with melancholy and depth. Led by Richard Manuel’s haunting tenor vocals above gently stroked piano and acoustic, this is a real template for future power ballads. With more connotations of redemption, the song stands as a classic “prison song”. One of his unrecorded gems, Dylan later recorded his own impromptu version of the song, included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II.

Although not a great commercial hit, Music from Big Pink came as a big surprise to music insiders, with many established rock musicians siting it as an immediate influence. An eponymous follow-up album made of unfinished songs from these sessions was recorded and released in 1969 to near equal acclaim.

~

1968 Images

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

 

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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!”

~

1968 Images

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

 

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