After establishing themselves as a successful singles band in the mid 1960s, The Who made a concerted effort to concentrate on making cohesive albums. This all commenced with the 1966 album A Quick One and continued with their 1967 album The Who Sell Out. Differing from later (and more famous) concept albums by the band, The Who Sell Out is a collection of unrelated songs joined together by public service announcements and original commercial jingles composed by the band using actual commercial products. Another aspect of the album is its nod to pirate radio. Differing opinions have the album either tributing or mocking (or both) the pirate radio station Radio London, which operated for three years on a ship before it was shut down earlier in 1967.
Like the bulk of The Who’s material, the album was mainly conceived and written by guitarist Pete Townshend, but did include songwriting and vocal contributions from all band members. The band had originally tried to gain endorsement fees from some of the products named in the album’s “commercials”, but were unsuccessful in this attempt. In fact, the deodorant company Odorono took offense by this request for endorsement dollars. The album’s cover is divided into panels featuring a photograph of each of the band members, two on the front and two on the back. On the front is Townshend applying Odorono brand deodorant and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey sitting in a bathtub full of Heinz baked beans (from which he allegedly caught pneumonia after sitting for a prolonged period). On the back is drummer Keith Moon applying Medac and bassist John Entwistle appearing as Charles Atlas. All products shown in these pictures were exaggerated in size.
The album was recorded in several cities and over several months in 1967, a year of many legendary milestones for the band. In June they put on a memorable performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival. During the subsequent North American tour Moon drove a car into a swimming pool at a Holiday Inn (establishing his reputation as rock’s wild man) and during a performance on The Smothers Brothers television show, Moon packed his drums with explosives (unbeknownst to the other band members of the show’s producers) and the resulting explosion caused permanent damage to Townshend’s ear and hearing.
The Who Sell Outby The Who
Released: December 15, 1967 (Track) Produced by: Kit Lambert Recorded:London, New York, & Los Angeles, May-November 1967
Armenia City In the Sky
Heinz Baked Beans
Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand
Our Love Was
I Can See for Miles
I Can’t Reach You
Early Morning Cold Taxi
Hall Of the Mountain King
Roger Daltry – Lead Vocals, Percussion Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Banjo, Vocals John Entwistle – Bass Guitar, Horns, Vocals Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The album starts with the first of several “Radio London” jingles, this first one using a device called the Sonovox with the days of the week simply spoken. This segues to “Armenia City In the Sky”, a song by written by John Keene, a friend of the band and future member of Thunderclap Newman. Keene shares lead vocals with Daltrey above a very psychedelic sound with a driving rhythm. The comical “Heinz Baked Beans”, written and arranged by Entwistle follows with marching band horns and drums.
Townshend’s “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” was recorded in three different versions with the album and single version featuring a driving acoustic guitar and much percussive overdubs, concluding with a frantic drum section by moon. An alternate version (included as a bonus track on most modern CDs) features a cool organ sound by session keyboardist Al Kooper. Following Moon’s drum chorus, the album version morphs into a full-fledged commercial for “Premier Drums” before breaking into the choppy and entertain, guitar-driven “Odorono”, which is structured much more like a proper song than one of the filler “commercials”.
“Tattoo” was written by Townshend and sung by Daltry, and was autobiographical of their sometimes rocky relationship. The song features complex harmonies and moody guitars throughout. Another Radio London public service announcements bridges “Tattoo” with “Our Love Was”, a fine song with judicial use of brass and more fine guitar work by Townshend, including an innovative ‘slide’ guitar solo.
A quick medley of three more “Radio London” spots, lead into “I Can See For Miles”, perhaps the most popular song from The Who Sell Out. Although the song reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic, it was a big disappointment for Townshend, who felt it was the “ultimate” Who record yet. The song is intense throughout with a low, sustaining guitar through the verses accompanied by Moon’s brilliant drum beats. The tension is broken by the soaring release of the melodic hook during the chorus, which is accented by twangy guitar notes like a beacon through space.
The (original) album’s second side all but abandons the commercials and PSA’s for more Artistic Who songs that preview some of their upcoming rock operas, especially 1969’s Tommy. “I Can’t Reach You” was one of the first songs Townshend wrote on the piano, and provides a very melodic and easy-going counterpart to the intense “I Can See for Miles”. “Relax” features Townshend on organ, adding yet another element to the band’s increasing sound spectrum. Entwistle’s “Silas Stingy” is written in the traditional English folk song about his own “penny pinching” to buy his first home, while “Sunrise” is a solo track by Townshend featuring jazz chords on an acoustic guitar and very folk-like vocals and lyrics.
“Rael 1” (or simply “Rael”) is a mini-suite which closes the original album. Starting with a marching beat and verse lead by Daltrey’s strong vocals. The song’s second section changes melody, guided by a constant organ and Moon’s driving drums. It then enters a section which would be reused on the next album Tommy as the instrumental “Underture” before returning to the original theme.
Nearly as many tracks were left off The Who Sell Out as were included on the original album and most modern collections some or all of these. “Rael 2” is a short, church-hymn counterpart to the album’s closer, while “Melancholia” is an excellent and haunting song with layered guitars and a driving rhythm. Entwistle’s “Someone’s Coming” has a nice brass arrangement while the band’s psychedelic arrangement of “Hall Of The Mountain King” is a true lost gem in their catalog. Among these bonus tracks are several unused “commercials” such as “Top Gear”, “Coke”, “John Mason’s Cars” and “Jaguar”, the original composition that sparked the album’s idea in Townshend in the first place.
Although not as coherent and focused as the band’s next three albums (the finest of their career), The Who Sell Out definitively shows where they were heading at the end of 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Neil Diamond broke through in a big way in 1966 and 1967, both as a performer and a respected songwriter (although he had been writing “hit” songs for other artists for several years). His album Just For You captures much of the highlights from this era in Diamond’s career and includes several songs which were huge hits for other artists, both prior to and following the release of this album. Still, the album has never been considered a classic, nor has it even been issued on compact disc. This may be due to the fact that it included some tracks from Diamond’s 1966 debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond (also not yet available on CD).
Every song on Just For You had been on the A-side or a B-side of a single, with five songs becoming Top 40 hits for Diamond and two others, “I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”, becoming huge hits for The Monkees in 1966 and UB40 in 1983 respectively. Another Top 40 hit from the era, “Kentucky Woman”, was curiously left off the album. All in all, this was the first album to consist entirely of original material by Diamond.
It was also the final Neil Diamond album on Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, with whom he would be in litigation for the following decade before ultimately retaining the rights to all this early material. The songs and recordings originated at the legendary Brill Building in New York City, where some of the most famous pop songs of the 1960s originated. It was produced by legendary songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who also provided may background vocals, although records of other musicians backing Diamond are not readily available.
Just For Youby Neil Diamond
Released: September 16, 1967 (Bang) Produced by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich Recorded:Brill Building, New York, 1966-1967
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
The Long Way Home
Red, Red Wine
The Boat That I Row
I’m A Believer
You Got To Me
Thank The Lord For The Night Time
Neil Diamond – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Multi-instruments
The album begins with the top ten hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, with its melodramatic hook and driving verse lines. A 1992 remake of the song by Urge Overkill brought the song to a new generation with its inclusion in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Red, Red Wine”, on the other hand, remained a relatively obscure song for many years until a rearranged, reggae version was recorded by UB40 in 1983, becoming that band’s biggest hit and prompting Diamond to adopt this newer version for his own live performances from the late 1980s on.
“The Boat That I Row” was the third single released by Diamond in 1966. It contains a Latin, uptempo rhythm and uptempo acoustic and hand claps like its predecessor “Cherry, Cherry”, which was Diamond’s first ever Top Ten hit as a recording artist. The song was influenced by Bert Berns, the head of Bang Records, who influenced the song’s title and arrangement and features some memorable keyboard hooks by session player Artie Butler.
After hearing the hit “Cherry Cherry”, Don Kirshner asked Diamond if he had a similar song that could be used by a group assembled for a new television series called The Monkees. Diamond played him “I’m a Believer”, a song he had planned to record on his debut album. The Monkees rode the song to the top of the charts where it remained for a remarkable seven weeks, becoming the #1 charting song of 1966. By contrast, Diamond’s own version went relatively unnoticed when it was finally released on Just For You.
Neil Diamond also wrote some personal, introspective songs. “Shilo” tells of solitude and loneliness during childhood, in a mysterious and haunting song. Berns refused to release “Shilo” as a single, believing it was too different from anything that Diamond had previously recorded and might stain his “brand”. “Solitary Man” was the very first single by Diamond in early 1966 and was included on both the debut and this album. With somber lyrics about isolation and a full yet subtle brass arrangement, this initial recording would remain one of the finest throughout his long career. The album concludes with “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”, an uptempo sixth single, which ends the album on a high note. The song peaked at #13 on the charts.
Neil Diamond straddled the worlds on 1960s pop music and the 1970s singer/songwriter. Although never quite recognized as a great album, Just For You may be the one original album by Neil Diamond which best reflects his most prolific songwriting period.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Procol Harum released their fantastic eponymous debut at the end of the summer of 1967 but most listeners have not had an opportunity to hear it as it was created. This is because only mono versions of the album were released even though the material was recorded on multi-track tape. Those original multi-track tapes were misplaced and have not been located to this day. This is really a tragedy because the originality and pleasant dynamics of the band’s earliest sound is quite evident even through these sub-par mixes. Procol Harum found their niche by combining centuries-old classical and baroque elements with the then modern day moody-ish soul inspired by artists like Ray Charles. This was all topped by the poetic lyrics of wordsmith Keith Reid.
Most of these early compositions originated from Reid’s lyrics, with the music built later to accommodate the structure. Musically the band built rich layers of keyboards by Matthew Fisher, often overdubbing piano and Hammond organ to forge the lead melodic instrumentation. Topping off the sound is the English, blue-eyed soul voice of lead singer Gary Brooker , who delivers the lyric in a distinct and intelligent manner.
The album did not sell well in the band’s home country of England, as neither of their charting singles, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Homborg” were included on the original English version. However, critically Procol Harum was very well recieved, especially among many of their contemporary musicians.
Procol Harumby Procol Harum
Released: September, 1967 (Deram) Produced by: Denny Cordell Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, June 1967
She Wandered Through Garden Fence
Something Following Me
Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)
A Christmas Camel
Salad Days (Are Here Again)
Good Captain Clack
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Gary Brooker – Lead Vocals, Piano Matthew Fisher – Organ Robin Trower – Guitars Dave Knights – Bass BJ Wilson – Drums
The UK version of the album begins with “Conquistador”, one of the very few songs which originated from Brooker (instead of Reid), who had written a Spanish-influenced piece before the band was even formed. It is melody driven with choppy piano and swirling organ, resulting in an overall feeling of adventure. A live version of the song was released as a single five years later and peaked at #16 on the charts, the second highest charting song in the band’s history.
The most popular song ever by the band was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, which lead of the US version of the album and was one of the most beautifully orchestrated anthems of the 1960s. The calm, baroque organ by Fisher contrasts sharply with the soulful vocals of Brooker, yet it all works in perfect harmony. Reid came up with the title when he overheard the phrase at a party, and originally wrote four verses for the song but only two verses were recorded. Although much speculation has been made over the meaning of the lyrics, Reid has said they are simply about a one night stand with a woman. For over 40 years the song was credited to Reid and Brooker alone, but in Fisher won co-writing credit for his distinctive contribution to the music. The song not only reached #1 in the UK, but has also been credited by a performing rights group as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.
“She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” is a light and bouncy number with a bright and riff-laden organ line and lead by Brooker and melodic vocals by Reid, despite some of the dark lyrics. “Something Following Me” is classically soulful with lyrics influenced by Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The song is the first on the album to prominently feature guitar by Robin Trower. Trower also shines on the bluesy “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)”, which is fueled by slow bass riff by Dave Knights and previews some of 1970s bluesy classic rock styles.
The second side opens with another soulful number, “A Christmas Camel”, with a melodic keyboard duel between Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ and steady rhythm held down by BJ Wilson. If a true Kaleidoscope is a celebration of color, the song “Kaleidoscope” is a celebration of sound. It is organ driven with piano backing and swirling bass and drums throughout, all under the effortless, chanting yet melodic vocals of Brooker. The album concludes with the light “Salad Days (Are Here Again)”, followed by a piano-led instrumental and Fisher’s closer “Repent Walpurgis”, a suitable melodic number to complete this fine debut album.
Some versions of the album include “Homburg”, the follow-up single to “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, with surreal lyrics and a hypnotizing rhythm. Procol Harum built on their success in 1967 with a series of fine albums well into the 1970s, although frequent personnel shifts would never quite let the band elevate to top-level popularity.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Something Else by The Kinks was a transitional album which straddled the riff-driven pop songs of their early years and the more artful compositions of the band’s “middle” era. The album marks is the last of five by the band which involved producer Shel Talmy. It was co-produced by guitarist, lead vocalist and chief songwriter Ray Davies, who would assume producing duties on many future projects. The album offers selections which can be characterized as 1960s British pop, but with just the slightest pyschedelic and artful elements such as brass sections and mildly complex arrangements. In any case, the songs are strong and melodic throughout with great entertainment value.
As a songwriter, Ray Davies became more refined and sentimental, in contrast to the more psychedelic trends which were proliferating in 1967. In fact, the band seems to make a statement by the pure, unambiguous songs on Something Else, standing in sharp contrast to the vast soundscapes which were being employed on contemporary albums. The album is fueled by moderate acoustic numbers which provides a nice backdrop for the character portraits and vignettes portrayed throughout.
Rhythm guitarist Dave Davies also stepped up as a songwriter on this album. In fact, he briefly flirted with a solo career following the album, releasing the single “Susannah’s Still Alive”, which peaked at #20 on the UK charts. The song features a crisp piano riff with strong rock vocals and has been included as a bonus track on recent editions of Something Else. A couple of other “bonus” tracks from the era is the upbeat folk “Act Nice and Gentle” and the Muswell Hill inspired “Autumn Almanac”, which became the band’s last charting single of the decade.
Something Elseby The Kinks
Released: September 15, 1967 (Reprise) Produced by: Shel Talmy & Ray Davies Recorded: Pye Studios, London, April 1966 – July 1967
Death Of a Clown
Tin Soldier Man
Love Me Till the Sun Shines
Lazy Old Sun
End of the Season
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Act Nice and Gentle
Susannah’s Still Alive
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica Dave Davies – 6 and 12 String Guitars, Lead Vocals Pete Quaife – Bass, Vocals Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion
The upbeat opening track “David Watts” is a satire on the English “schoolboy” culture and seems to have been inspired by the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together“. Like many songs on the album, this song includes piano by session player Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins also plays on Dave Davies’ acoustic driven “Death Of a Clown”, which was originally planned as his first solo single. Eventually all of the Kinks got involved, along with Ray’s wife Rasa Davies, who sings the haunting backing vocals during the chorus. Dave’s rough-edged, raspy voice sounds like a cross between Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan.
“Two Sisters” continues the string of great 60s pop/rock with the edge of a very English sounding harpsichord melody. Many have taken the two rivaling sisters in the lyric as an allegory for the Davies brothers themselves. “No Return” has a very basic arrangement with a bossa nova beat by drummer Mick Avory, who uses a marching beat on the next song “Harry Rag”.
The middle part of the album contains some of the more experimental songs. “Tin Soldier Man” is another melody-driven rocker with a strong horn presence and English sounding changes throughout. “Situation Vacant” has a domestic setting lyrically featuring Hopkins’ Hammond B-3 and saloon piano riffs. “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” is another Dave Davies’ tune with a hint of psychedelia, which the band dives into with both feet on the next track, “Lazy Old Sun”. This slow and deliberate track with strategically placed, Mexican-style horns and appears to have been a major influence on some future Pink Floyd.
The absolute best is saved for last with the beautiful song “Waterloo Sunset”. A ballad dedicated to London with scenes of childhood memories and nostalgia, the lyrics are also a personal lament of the loss of wonder that comes with age. Musically, the song is built around a descending progression By the Davies’ respective acoustic and electric guitars and the bass of Pete Quaife. There are also some fantastic harmonies throughout giving a soothing effect that helps make this song the perfect ending to a great album.
Although Something Else sold poorly on both sides of the Atlantic, it has come to be regarded as one of the finest in the band’s large collection. With a new phase of their career underway, the Kinks set out to try more ambitious projects such as the concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society in 1968. Although the band was already well seasoned by this point, their career was just getting warmed up as they would continue with several relevant albums all through the 1970s and well into the 1980s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
There has never been (nor probably will ever be) a year in which a single band produced so much quality material as The Beatles did during the year 1967. In order to properly pay tribute, we at Classic Rock Review have put together our largest article ever. This includes extensive reviews of both the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums along with a look at all the rest of the band’s output from that year which included recordings for future projects, several promotional videos, a live television special, and their third dedicated film. Unlike our normal album reviews, we look at everything in a strictly chronological order, delving into everything as it came about in sequence. This method works best because so many projects and elements overlapped during the year and only found their proper, permanent place as history unfolded.
Before diving into 1967, it is important to provide the context of the Beatles’ career in 1966. By that time the Beatles had conquered the musical world like no other rock act before, but still things were starting to unravel. There was major controversy over John Lennon‘s “more popular than Jesus” comments, causing the members to need heavy guards everywhere they went and they had nearly lost their lives in the Philippines after offending dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Further, the band was getting tired of the constant touring and frenzied fans and decided to halt touring altogether by the end of the summer of ’66. Despite putting out the brilliant album Revolver, it was under-appreciated in its day and many wondered whether the band was past its peak. All four members decided to take an extended break and decide what to do next. George Harrison took his first trip to India while Lennon starred in the major motion picture How I Won the War. On his way home from a vacation in America, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of doing an album from the perspective of an alter-ego band.
The band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving in the USA, but just a normal Thursday in England) to start their new album. That night they recorded one song, a simple folk song by Lennon called “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But ultimately, this song would be anything but simple as it took a total of 45 hours to record, and this initial version of the song would not even be used. A second version was started at the end of November, this time featuring a mellotron intro by McCartney. The instrument had just been introduced to the band by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who at the time was working at the instrument’s manufacturing factory) and “Strawberry Fields” would become the first song by a major act to use the instrument. It gave this version of the song a surreal element and atmosphere. Still, Lennon thought he could do more with the song and a third distinct version, scored by producer George Martin, including brass, strings, backwards masking, and complex rhythm section led by Ringo Starr and “about 9 or 10 other players.” When Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to use the second or third version of the song, the true magic took place. Martin fused the two together, even though version 3 was at a faster tempo and in a higher key, by using two tape machines varying the speed of one. The result is a production masterpiece which blazed the path for the upcoming Sgt. Pepper album.
Ironically, “Strawberry Fields Forever” would not be included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It was released as a “double A” single along with McCartney’s companion piece, “Penny Lane”, at the urging of manager Brian Epstein who wanted a song on the charts. Both songs shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations familiar to all of the Beatles. Although possessing many of the same surreal elements, “Penny Lane” is more sing-songy, like a children’s ballad. It takes a typical suburban scene and turns into something dreamier, like a parade of life. The song has a basic piano melody overlaid by several brass elements and a distinctive piccolo trumpet lead by Dave Mason, who McCartney saw perform on television and commissioned for this song. Although Martin has stated that he believes “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the greatest single ever released by the group, it peaked at #2 on the UK charts.
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Strawberry Fields Forever
Baby You’re a Rich Man
All You Need Is Love
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Mellotron, Harmonica, Vocals Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Mellotron, Recorder, Vocals George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Tambala, Vocals Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The earliest recording to actually end up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a vaudevillian number called “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which was recorded during the same sessions as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Written by McCartney when he was only 16 (about 8 years earlier), the song includes a clarinet trio and sounds like it needs a companion, choreographed stage dance routine to go with it. It was recorded as homage to Paul’s father James McCartney, who actually had turned 64 earlier in 1966.
In early 1967, the Beatles were considering releasing a companion film with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and recorded a lot of footage of their massive sessions for the song “A Day In the Life” in January and February. The song would be the final track on the album and its crowning jewel as it fused separate compositions by Lennon and McCartney into a singular masterpiece. It starts with Lennon’s folk ballad based on contemporary newspaper articles, accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, a bouncy, staccato piano, and great drum fills by Starr. After the initial recordings, Lennon felt like the song needed something more in the middle and McCartney had a short, happy-go-lucky song about his youth which was added. Unsure of how to connect the sections, 24 bars of “empty space” was left on either side of the middle section with assistant engineer Mal Evans counting out the bars on top of a simple, repeating piano. This section was later “filled in” with a building, “orgasmic” orchestral passage, conducted by McCartney and Martin, using 40 players which were later quadriple-tracked to give the effect of an orchestra of 160. The result is perhaps the best Beatles composition ever, ending with the most famous chord in rock history, a single strike played by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Martin simultaneously on four separate pianos and sustained four over a minute to finish the song and the album.
Along with “A Day In the Life”, Lennon and McCartney fully collaborated with the duet “She’s Leaving Home”, after reading a newspaper story about a young girl who’d left home and, at the time, was not again found (until many year later). With Martin unavailable to do the score, McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do the orchestration, including a harp was played by Sheila Bromberg, who became the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record. The song would become one of the last true collaborations by Lennon and McCartney, who constantly worked together during the early years but would each maintain more solo control over future Beatles compositions.
The title song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, written by McCartney, is an entertaining albeit tacky song which fits in with the overall image of the album, right down to the cover art which included a montage of of the Beatles’ “heroes” on designed by artist Peter Blake. The song itself has a strong rock presence with a super electric guitar tied together beautifully by a great rock vocal by McCartney, interspersed by many production elements including French horns and audience sounds. The song is reprised later, as a “closing” message just prior to “A Day In the Life”. The opening song segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, an entertaining number with a double meaning written by McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing.
McCartney also wrote several other upbeat rock songs for the album including “Lovely Rita”, a literal song about a female traffic warden featuring a piano solo by Martin and “Getting Better”, an optimistic creed featuring some excellent instrumentation. Lennon plays a distinct, choppy guitar, while Harrison adds an Indian tambura part and all Beatles sing fine harmonies throughout. “Fixing a Hole” is a more moderate pop song led by Martin’s harpsichord and Harrison’s double-tracked guitar riffs. McCartney said he wrote the song about the the fans who hung around outside his home day and night.
Lennon’s compositions on the album were more experimental than McCartney’s. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing that his young son made in nursery school. The song modulates between musical keys, with Lennon singing a monotone verse over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement featuring Harrison’s tambura and a counter-melody organ played by McCartney. Although the song has long been associated with “LSD”, the Beatles firmly deny that was ever the intent in this case while openly admitting that drugs influenced other songs. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” contained lyrics which were lifted from an old poster, nearly verbatim. Musically, Lennon wanted a strong carnival atmosphere and this was accomplished by using tape loops from the Abbey Road library, several odd instruments, including a real steam organ and a big bass harmonica, influenced by the sounds on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. On the sarcastic “Good Morning Good Morning”, Lennon did a sonic version of Andy Warhol’s pop art by lifting themes and phrases from television commercials and shows and adding a sequence of animal sounds to the end, with each successive animal being capable of devouring the one before.
Aside from the aforementioned songs excluded for a single release, the only song recorded for Sgt. Pepper’s and not included on the album was Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song”, a protest of the Beatles’ music publishing practice which gave Lennon and McCartney higher royalties to all songs by the band, even those composed by Harrison. With this exclusion, Harrison had only one composition on the album, “Within You Without You”. This song was heavily influenced by the sitar, the virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and Indian music in general. The recording featured several uncredited Indian musicians along with several more session players. Harrison was the only actual Beatle to perform on the song. This was originally written as a 30-minute piece, but was abbreviated to about 5 minutes for the album.
Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not released until June 1, 1967, recording had wrapped by mid April and the Beatles dove right into writing and recording new material. Some of these sessions proved fruitless, such as an Abbey Road session on May 7th, where the band “jammed” for over seven hours with little committed to tape and no new material to build on. They also spent several sessions working on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, perhaps the weirdest song in the Beatles collection which is only really interesting because it features a saxophone part by Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This song was not released for nearly 3 years when it became the ‘B’ side for the 1970 single “Let It Be”.
During this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although thatsoundtrack would not be released until January 1969). Along with “Only a Northern Song”, the soundtrack would include The June 1967 recordings “All Together Now”, which McCartney described as a children’s sing-along in the music hall tradition and “It’s All Too Much”, one of the few Beatles songs to be recorded in a studio outside of Abbey Road. Another song written and recorded during that time for Yellow Submarine was “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, a hybrid of two songs which makes heavy use of the clavioline, an unusual instrument. However, this last song was pushed up for release, first as the ‘B’ side to their next single “All You Need Is Love” and later included on the US version of the album Magical Mystery Tour.
“All You Need Is Love” was written specifically for a worldwide television broadcast called Our World, which was the first ever live global television broadcast on June 25, 1967, and was watched by 400 million people worldwide. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song as the United Kingdom’s contribution, requesting a song containing a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. Lennon gladly took up the task and wrote the song in a short time with Martin arranging a live orchestra in the studio for the broadcast with the band accompanied by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor. The result is a simple anthem with the message “nothing else means anything without love”, and the leading indicator for what would be termed the “summer of love”. The single “All You Need Is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released on July 7, 1967 and reached the #1 position in every major country that had a pop chart.
After the live broadcast, the Beatles took much of the rest of the summer off to plan for their next project. In August, all four members of the band traveled to Bangor, Wales to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who they collectively regarded as their spiritual advisor at the time. While in Wales, the band received the tragic news that their manager Brian Epstein had died from an accidental drug overdose. Later referred to by band members as “the fifth Beatle”, Epstein had forged the band’s image and shaped their early career through all the madness of “Beatlemania”. After the band ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s role in the band diminished quickly and he began to display erratic behavior and developed chemical dependency. Many music historians would later pin-point this moment, the moment of Epstein’s death, as setting the ultimate course for the band’s eventual breakup.
The band returned to Abbey Road studio on August 22nd to work on material for their next project, a film and score called Magical Mystery Tour. The title came from a song the band recorded back in May, which would serve the same basic purpose as the title song for Sgt. Pepper’s – an introduction for the listener to the adventure they are about to take. This catchy tune contains good effects and production techniques. The songs key lyric, “Roll up, roll up” served the duo purpose of harkening back to the old circus barkers as well as a veiled reference to rolling up a joint. The first song written specifically for Magical Mystery Tour was “Your Mother Should Know”, serving as an old-fashioned dance segment choreographed for the film to the sounds of this song with fine organ interludes. Here McCartney sported a black carnation, different than the rest of the band, which was cited as one of the many clues in the “Paul is dead” conspiracy.
The film was made in September in various English locations which were traveled to by the bus carrying the band and cast members. There was no script, as the emphasis was on the “mystery” of what would happen during the tour. Nothing much did, and the band grew increasingly frustrated by fans who began to trail the band along the way. Still, the band made some very interesting music during the fall of 1967. Included here was the cool instrumental “Flying”, featuring a dual guitar by McCartney and Harrison and a mellotron lead by Lennon. This was the only Beatles song credited to all four members of the band. “The Fool On The Hill” is a fine ballad by McCartney, written during a visit back to his father’s house in Liverpool. Lyrically, the song paints a pictures in the mind and fits in perfectly with the music, mainly performed by McCartney. Harrison’s contribution to the album is the surreal “Blue Jay Way”, with creepy, and literal Lyrics.
Lennon later admitted that “I Am the Walrus” was written during an acid trip. It was a combination of three separate songs that Lennon had been working on, with the Walrus being a reference to a Lewis Carroll poem. Lennon also intentionally wrote the most amusing lyrics he could when he was informed that a teacher at his old high school was deciphering Beatle lyrics in one of his classes and found the the whole process absurd. Musically, the song employs many of the techniques started in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with orchestral parts laid on top of a driving electric piano and some fine drumming by Starr.
The band wrote and recorded “Hello Goodbye” as their next single. Lyrically, the song derived from a songwriting demonstration that McCartney gave when he asked the participant to shout out the opposite of what he sang. Musically, it is a throwback to the mop-top pop days of the band, with some fine overdubs of electric guitar and viola. The song reprises with a coda which came about spontaneously in the studio. The single was released in late November and reached #1 in 10 countries.
Magical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967 as a six song double EP in the UK, featuring only the songs recorded specifically for the film. In the US, these songs were combined with the five songs released on singles earlier in the year – “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need is Love”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, and “Hello, Goodbye” – in order to make a full LP, which was later adapted as the official version of the album. Although the album hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album is of similar quality when weighted with the quality singles. On December 26th, the Magical Mystery Tour film was screened on the BBC-1 in black and white and promptly savaged by critics, which may have soured some to the fine music of the album.
The Beatles would continue with a few more years of top quality output prior to their breakup in April 1970. However, they would not again reach the phenomenal level they achieved in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Between the Buttons was an album released in January 1967 by The Rolling Stones. Sonically, the album works well with the strong mid-sixties British rock that the Beatles produced with the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums while it also previews some of the more artful productions of 1967. Following the ambitious 1966 album Aftermath, this album is a further morphing of the band away from their R&B roots. The album is also the last in which founding member Brian Jones played a major role in song arrangements, although he would remain an official band member for another two-and-a-half years. Jones played a huge array of instruments above the steady rock and blues rhythms, giving the album a definitive musical edge. It was published simultaneously with the double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday”, both of which were included on the U.S. version of the album. Between the Buttons was the last Stones album to have different versions as the record company practice was all but eliminated after 1967.
“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a pure rocker with guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards taking on much of the musical details, playing guitar, bass, and piano on the track. The song reached #3 on the UK charts. Although this was the intended “A side” of the single, the 45 was often flipped over by DJs to play “Ruby Tuesday”, due to the then-controversial nature of the lyrics (with its suggestion of casual sex) most radio stations opted to play the flip side “Ruby Tuesday” instead, which went on to become a #1 hit in America. Possibly the best psychedelic song by the stones, “Ruby Tuesday” was recorded nearly simultaneous with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and explores similar musical territory. Jones led the way on this track, playing piano and recorder, with double bass recorded by bassist Bill Wyman (who pressed the strings) and Richards (who bowed the strings). The song also has a really nice melody sung by Jagger.
Between the Buttons was the last of five early Rolling Stones produced by the band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham and was recorded on a four track machine, with much “track bouncing” to accommodate the rich arrangements. Lead vocalist and songwriter Mick Jagger has expressed dissatisfaction with the end result due to the excess tape noise generated by track bouncing and excessive overdubbing.
Between the Buttonsby The Rolling Stones
Released: January 20, 1967 (Decca) Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham Recorded: Los Angeles & London, August-December 1966
Back Street Girl
She Smiled Sweetly
Cool, Calm & Collected
All Sold Out
Please Go Home
Who’s Been Sleeping Here?
Miss Amanda Jones
Something Happened to Me Yesterday
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica Keith Richards – Guitars, Piano, Vocals Brian Jones – Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, Vibraphone, Saxophone, Percussion Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion
The subtle bass-driven “Yesterday’s Papers” starts the album with a heavy dose of marimba by Jones. The song was written solely by Jagger about a recent relationship which went sour. Road manager Ian Stewart, a former player in the band, lent is boogie-piano skills to a couple of tracks. “My Obsession” is segmented into sections which each start over with a drum beat and contain some cool traditional rock sounds and Jagger swagger throughout. Stewart also plays on “Connection”, written mostly Richards (who shares lead vocals), a popular live rock song for years to come.
“Back Street Girl” takes a completely different approach. A pleasant and melancholy ballad with a well-crafted acoustic by Richards, a great melody by Jagger, and Brian Jones on accordion, giving the song some great depth and feel. Although this was excluded from the US version, this is one of the finest tracks on the album. “She Smiled Sweetly” continues the foray into different sub-genres, as a flute-laced organ introduces a moderate waltz with some nice rock elements, especially by Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. The first side concludes with “Cool, Calm & Collected”, which alternates between the upbeat verses driven by the boogie piano of Jack Nitzche and the calm psychedelic choruses, which feature a sitar by Jones. Later in the song Jagger adds a harmonica and the song speeds up before reaching a crashing end.
The second side begins with the few songs on the album which feature a prominent amount of electric guitar, “All Sold Out” and “Please Go Home”, the second of which features a Bo Diddley-style “Hand Jive” riff. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” starts with an acoustic intro before breaking into good musical motif with piano, harmonica, and some exceptional bass by Wyman. “Complicated” is another song featuring a potpourri of sound while maintaining a very pop-oriented sound.
The album concludes with a perfect closer, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”. Here Richards adds some dry and pleasant vocals to this upbeat and happy-go-lucky duet, which sounds like it borrowed some of its sound from the Kinks. The song is allegedly about Richards’ first LSD trip, but it stays away from the deeper, surreal sound scape (which the band would explore on their next album), for a more upbeat sound with Jones playing a complex brass arrangement by Nitzsche.
In spite of the lack of defining electric guitar representation, Between the Buttons proved to be the most solid rock album of their early catalog. It also contains strong signs of the direction they would take on their late ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, the most controversial album of their career.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Forever Changes is the third album by the folk rock band Love, and has become their crowning achievement musically. It is a richly produced and sonically fine album which was not a huge hit commercially but became recognized as one of the finest albums from the California scene in 1967. Produced by Bruce Botnick and the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter Arthur Lee, the album is made of songs are primarily acoustic-based with liberal splashes of brass and strings along with a strong rhythmic backbone, while the use of electric guitars, which dominated most of the band’s first two albums, is limited to a few strategic appearances.
The band released their critically acclaimed debut album in 1966, but took a bit of an artistic detour with the follow-up Da Capo in early 1967. Prior to recording Forever Changes, Love downsized to a five piece by dropping keyboardist Alban Pfisterer and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli. Still, the group was undergoing some severe internal strife and the sessions began with only Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean from the band along with several well-known Los Angeles session musicians. This was allegedly due to the rest of the line-up’s alleged inability to function at the time, and the song “Andmoreagain” was recorded with this session arrangement. According to Botnick, the use of session musicians “sparked” the band and they soon got their act together to record the rest of the album.
Instrumentally, the album is made of an acoustic core of guitar textures with an overlay of horns, strings, and orchestral swell, with some of the brass punctuating the melodies. Lee worked with arranger David Angel, spending several weeks playing and singing the envisioned orchestral parts, which he had envisioned for these compositions from the beginning. The result is a diverse album with fluctuations in rhythm patterns, tonal color, and lyrical substance.
Forever Changesby Love
Released: November, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Bruce Botnick & Arthur Lee Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, June-September 1967
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not a Motel
The Daily Planet
The Red Telephone
Maybe the People Would Be the Times
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer In the Summer
You Set the Scene
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Guitars Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars Bryan MacLean – Guitars, Vocals Ken Forssi – Bass Michael Stuart – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Although Lee wrote the bulk of the material on the album, the opener and most well known track, “Alone Again Or” was written by MacLean. It contains nice Spanish acoustic with brass rudiments, which alternate with cool, bass-driven verses held together by bassist Ken Forssi. This was the sole single released from the album to reach the Billboard singles chart, with a re-issue peaking at No. 99 in 1970. MacLean’s other contribution to the album is “Old Man”, another Mexican-influenced folk song with strategic brass and some lyrical references to Christianity.
“A House Is Not a Motel” is a strong acoustic rocker with the definitive 1960s California sound until later exploding into a heavier electric sound led by guitarist Johnny Echols. It contains cynical lyrics by Lee with images of war and violence. “The Daily Planet” seems to have been both influenced by The Beatles’ Revolver, while in turn becoming a great influence on some future numbers by The Who. Neil Young, who was originally slated to co-produce the album, only stuck around long enough to arrange this track. The album’s first side concludes with the psychedelic-fused “The Red Telephone” with some really interesting chord changes but almost nonsensical lyrics. This song has been called a “paranoid nursery rhyme”.
“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” starts side two with a pessimistic look at “flower power”, while “Live and Let Live” follows as a more melodic political ballad with musically progressive sections, good melodies, and some lead electric guitar by Echols. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” reflects the hippie culture of the day, in which Lee was deeply entrenched, but with a foreboding sense of doom with the threat of the draft and war.
Not really a “bummer” at all, the upbeat and infectious “Bummer in the Summer” is a short acoustic rocker where Lee does a Bob Dylan-like “sing-talk”. The album ends with its only extended track, the seven-minute “You Set the Scene”. Forssi and drummer Michael Stuart provide a driving rhythm through the verses, much like Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. The songs morphs into a multi-part mini-suite with later parts with horns, strings, and a contrasting melody, including a free styling “rap”, which may be the first ever on record.
Despite the artistic achievement of Forever Changes, the inner turmoil in Love continued. MacLean quit the band shortly after the album’s release and, while Lee made several more albums with a new version of the band, by the early 1970s Love was no more.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the music of 1967.
Rock’s first “super group”, the British trio Cream was only together for a few years in the late 1960s with only four albums to their credit. However, they left a strong legacy and cast a huge shadow of influence on the genre that became known as classic rock. Perhaps their signature work, 1967’s Disraeli Gears fused the core genres of jazz and blues with a heavy dose of sixties pop and just a touch of psychedelic flourishes. The album was also the American breakthrough for the band, reaching number 4 on the charts, and elevating Cream’s popularity to the upper level among their contemporaries in the “second British invasion”.
Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce was classically trained and had played in Manfred Mann’s band along with various jazz bands with drummer Ginger Baker prior to Cream’s formation in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton was already a “legend” in the UK (but Disraeli Gears introduced him to a vast amount of the American audience), and was encouraged by the management at Atlantic Records to become the “front man” of the band. Clapton did begin singing lead vocals on a few songs but was content to leave the bulk of those duties to Bruce.
The title of the album is based on a inside joke, after one of the band’s roadies mis-pronounced the bike part “derailleur gears” as “disraeli gears”. It was recorded in New York during May 1967, and produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also co-wrote a couple of the tracks along with his wife Gail Collins. The record company was disappointed at the lack of American success by Cream’s 1966 debut Fresh Cream and had requested that the band record in New York so their “top guys” could directly supervise the sessions. Pappalardi helped bring the band’s song into a more “modern” realm while maintaining the blues core.
Disraeli Gearsby Cream
Released: November, 1967 (Reaction) Produced by: Felix Pappalardi Recorded: Atlantic Studios, New York City, May 1967
Sunshine Of Your Love
World Of Pain
Dance the Night Away
Tales Of Brave Ulysses
We’re Going Wrong
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Piano, Harmonica Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The album begins with one of the “Strange Brew”, one of the more popular songs from the album which was constructed in a very unique way. The song was originally called “Lawdy Mama”, a straight blues song that evolved from a Buddy Guy riff converted from shuffle to straight time. Pappalardi and Collins took a tape of a live performance of the song and overlaid a a pop melody with new psychedelic-influenced lyrics, making the song a “strange brew” of pop and pure blues with Clapton maintaining the original riff and Albert King style guitar solo.
Another very interesting mix come in the song “World Of Pain”, which starts as an almost fifties style ballad but with very interesting bass progressions and wah-wah guitar overtones, before breaking into a more harmonized sixties groove in the chorus. “Dance the Night Away” is driven by a lush 12-string riff along with a folk-influenced melody, harmonized vocals, and mystical lyrics. This may be the band’s furthest wandering from their blues core.
On the flip side, “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the undeniable rock anthem from the album. It was written by Clapton and Bruce along with poet Pete Brown, and is driven by an infectious 10-note riff that has become one of the most recognizable in rock history. That riff was originally developed by Bruce after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the first time in London. The fat guitar tone itself has become renowned as the best example of Clapton’s late sixties “woman tone”, with Baker holding it all together with an African influenced drum progression.
The second side of the album begins with “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, with lyrics inspired by Homer’s Odyssey penned by artist Martin Sharp. This melodramatic narration alternates between calm, minimalist vocal parts and more frenzied musical jams. Clapton fused an uptempo song he was working on inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” with Bruce’s slow bass progression, making the overall affect very unique.
“SWLABR” is a fun song with lyrics by Brown, which compare a woman with the “Mona Lisa”, only to lyrically deface her image later on. The song’s title is an acronym for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow” and contains some of the finer upbeat musicianship by the band members. “We’re Going Wrong” was written by Bruce in total and features Baker using Timpani drum mallets. “Outside Woman Blues” is a standard blues song written in the 1920s, which Clapton updated with a slightly rock-oriented arrangement. The album concludes with a couple of unusual tracks – “Take It Back”, which features Bruce on harmonica, and “Mother’s Lament”, an old music hall song which features three part harmony by all of the band’s members.
Cream had a very straight-forward, muscular, and funky sound at a time when the trends were moving towards the more artistic soundscapes of “the summer of love”. With the release of Disraeli Gears in November 1967, Cream was a band primed for the big time. They followed in short time with 1968’s Wheels of Fire, but within a year that had decided to disband after some planned farewell concerts and a farewell album.
Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.
The Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.
The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.
Knowing the band’s reputation for long and improvised live renditions, EMI gave Smith and the band free reign to create the album they wanted to make. There is a certain genius to this album which may take a lot of work for mainstream audiences to “get”. At just the age of 24, Barrett reached inside and tapped into a psychological world caught between the wondrous discoveries of childhood and the tragic revelations of a finite life. The also captures both the pleasure and madness of psychedelic music, all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown and deterioration which would force him out of the band within a year.
The album also contains many philosophical and intellectual elements, including it’s title, which Barret took from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind In the Willows. Although the compositions are genius, there are some flaws in the production as the overall mix is a bit bright and the bass is woefully under-represented throughout. Still, the production is fine enough for the musical quality to shine through, especially for the seasoned listener.
The Piper At the Gates of Dawnby Pink Floyd
Released: August 4, 1967 (Capitol/EMI) Produced by: Norman Smith Recorded: EMI Studios, London, February – July 1967
Pow R Toc H
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
Candy and a Currant Bun
See Emily Play
Apples and Oranges
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Lead Vocals Richard Wright – Piano, Organ, Vocals Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion
The album begins with “Astronomy Domine”, the ultimate space odyssey song with wild tremolo effects and a chanting vocal duet between Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright. There is an extended instrumental section after first verse sequence before the song returns for the concluding sequence. the riff-driven “Lucifer Sam” follows with a cool, mid-sixties British groove, making the song a lot less psychedelic than those on the rest of the album.
“Matilda Mother” begins with some interplay between Waters’ bass and Wright’s organ, who plays a big role in the song by also taking on lead vocals. There are also some fine harmonies during the verses and a slow carousel-like sequence through the end. “Flaming” is another melody-driven song but with wild sound effects throughout as well as a bright acoustic guitar, overdubbed in the third and fourth verses and an odd, yet melodic middle break. “Pow R. Toc H.” is the first of two instrumentals on the album, with the heart of the song driven mainly by a blues riff (one of the few moments where Waters bass is well represented). This is a great early art piece by Pink Floyd, though there are times when the sound effects are just a tad overwhelming. According to drummer Nick Mason, the band members were present at Abbey Road when they watched The Beatles recording “Lovely Rita” for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and decided to try voice effects and noises similar for “Pow R. Toc H.”
Barrett wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs along with contributing to two instrumentals which were credited to the whole band. Waters was credited with one composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. This closer of the first side is a more frenzied piece than anything else on the album, with Mason really shines on this track with a style of over-the-top drumming which should make Keith Moon proud. Rumor has it that the band insisted in contract negotiations that “Interstellar Overdrive” remain in experimental form on the debut album. The song, which became the the unofficial theme song of the underground event “the fourteen hour technicolor dream”, was the first recorded by the band in January. This instrumental starts strong, with a strong and catchy main riff, but within a minute and a half the song begins to deteriorate into a psychedelic collage of sound effects, which goes on for about seven minutes and may have be just a bit much for any sober listener.
Barrett takes over the rest of the album, with some fine and interesting compositions. “The Gnome” is an upbeat, acoustic folk song with some exaggerated vocals by Barrett and some excellent bass by Waters. “Chapter 24” is perhaps the first deeply philosophical song by a band that would make their reputation exploring such matters. Barrett’s melody floats above the transcending musical motif with the middle part dissolving with a Middle-Eastern sounding organ. The song was inspired by by text from chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese script I Ching (The Book of Changes).
“The Scarecrow” is built on a series of percussive effects by Mason and organ flights by Wright. These at first sound disparate, but are soon held together by layered vocals in concert with tightly strummed electric guitars. An acoustic montage is later overdubbed over the whole ensemble in the outro.
“Bike” is the most brilliant and chilling song on the album, and perhaps the quintessential Syd Barrett song. Lyrically, the song is metered like a 10-year-old’s boasting rant about disparate subjects during the verse and a melancholy chorus about a “girl who fits in with my world”. Knowing of Barrett’s eventual mental demise, the song has turned out to be extremely profound. Musically, the song is driven by good piano and effects by Wright throughout and rock driven rock verses with softer, melodic choruses through the song proper, which lasts less than two minutes. The song and album concludes with a psychedelic reprise of sound collages.
After the release of the album in August 1967, Pink Floyd continued to perform in London, drawing ever larger crowds. But Barrett’s mental state continued to deteriorate and soon he got to the point where he could not perform onstage. Aside from a few more single tracks and one song on the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett would not perform with the band again, making The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, a truly unique work.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Perhaps the album with the single biggest gap between initial commercial success and ultimate historical relevance, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become a legendary fountainhead of influence and inspiration. Although this avant-garde rock group lasted a very short time, few artists claim to have broken so much new territory. They blended unique arrangements of traditional rock with a frank, explicit, and uncompromising degree of taboo subjects such as sexual adventurism and drug abuse, which put the band way outside the mainstream. Their work in the mid-to-late 1960s has been credited as a primary influence on the punk and new wave explosions of a decade later, even though they were only appreciated by a “cult” audience at the time and otherwise dismissed with indifference or scorn by mainstream rock critics and fans. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the band began to get recognition as an important band of the ’60s, if not all time.
The group’s leader was guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Lou Reed, who had dabbled in many types of rock, jazz, and beat poetry since his teen years in the late 1950s. Fusing all these, influences he developed a unique style of speak/sing vocals. While working as a staff songwriter, Reed met Welsh multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and the two found a shared interest in fusing the avant-garde with pop/rock music. They formed a band called the Primitives which changed to the Velvet Underground in 1965 with the addition of guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. With Reed as the primary songwriter, the group started working on unique but un-commercial sounding songs for their live act but caught a break when pop-artist Andy Warhol caught the band live and decided he wanted to “manage” them. Warhol incorporated the Velvet Underground’s music into a greater mixed-media/performance art ensemble that he called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.
While the band was uncompromising in their music and lyrics, they did have to compromise on their personnel. The band was reluctant to accept German fashion model and singer Nico as a fifth member, but her inclusion was insisted upon by Warhol. While Reed remained the principal lead vocalist, Nico did sing three of the better songs on the album. Although many have dismissed Warhol’s producer credit as purely ornamental, Reed felt that he did play a vital part in completing this album;
…he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked and as a consequence of him being the producer, we’d just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer…”
Despite the high profile benefactor, the album’s release was not without complications, delaying its release until nearly a year after recording wrapped with the bulk of all recordings happening in April 1966 at Scepter Studios in New York City. These sessions were financed in part by Columbia Records but that company rejected the final product, as did several other labels, before the MGM-owned Verve Records accepted the recordings. The fact that this innovative material was in the can before other breakthrough projects like Pet Sounds and Revolver, makes this album all the more remarkable.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Released: March 12, 1967 (Verve) Produced by: Andy Warhol amp; Tom Wilson Recorded: New York City, April – November 1966
I’m Waiting For the Man
Venus In Furs
Run Run Run
All Tomorrow’s Parties
There She Goes Again
I’ll Be Your Mirror
The Black Angel’s Death Song
Lou Reed – Guitars, Vocals Nico – Vocals John Cale – Viola, Piano Sterling Morrison – Guitar, Bass, Vocals Maureen Tucker – Drums & Percussion
The album begins with “Sunday Morning”, a collaboration between Reed and Cale, which was actually the last song recorded for the album in late 1966. It was written at the request of co-producer Tom Wilson, who felt the album could use another pop-oriented song. Although the song was written to be sung by Nico, Reed ultimately sang lead on the track.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” follows as the first of many provocative and nihilistic songs about drug use. It is driven by a distorted guitar and driving bass by Reed and Morrison in a very simple rock riff which really sets the song’s background perfectly. “Femme Fatale” is the first track on the album to feature lead vocals by Nico, and the atmosphere could not be different than that of the preceding song, as it has a very measured rhythm and jazzy arrangement. Warhol commissioned Reed to write the song about actress and model Edie Sedgwick.
The musical styles continue to fluctuate through the rest of the first side. “Venus in Furs” is a sexually-charged tune which is driven by Cale’s viola and Reed’s oddly-tuned guitar and straight-forward, yet poetic vocal narrative. “Run Run Run” returns to a simnple, bluesy-rock tone, with Reed actually doing some traditional style singing and a proper rock drum beat by Tucker. The Warhol click became the inspiration to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which Reed described as an accurate description of certain people at the Factory;
I watched Andy. I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things…”
“Heroin” is the most original, most memorable, and best song on the album. It was written by Reed in 1964, and received harsh criticism for not overtly condemning drug usage (although it doesn’t exactly praise it). The song has a song years (if not decades) ahead of its time with pleasant, melodic, strummed electric guitar and a droning electric viola that builds to a frenzied crescendo.
The next two songs are the most pop-oriented on the album. “There She Goes Again” has an actual hook with responsive background vocals and some quasi-soul musical rudiments. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is Nico’s final song on the album and is arranged as a very short, traditional ballad. It was released as a single in July 1966, ahead of the album’s release. The album does retain its “weirdness” with the final two tracks. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is put together like a psychedelic Dylan song. Throughout the song, there are loud bursts of audio feedback, and hissing with guitars tuned low and a screeching viola. The nearly-eight-minute long “European Son” has a more traditional rock guitar and bass, with long, improvised vocals and more crazy sound effects.
On this 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground espoused a frank bleakness in their music which would inspire musicians of future generations, while maintaining a strong musical core. However, the were not able to achieve longevity, as Nico was out of the band by the end of the year to pursue a solo career and the association with Warhol quickly deteriorated. The group did manage to release a few more albums over the next four years, before disbanding in the early 1970s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s 45th anniversary of albums from 1967.