Journeyman by Eric Clapton

Journeyman by Eric Clapton

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Journeyman by Eric ClaptonThe 1980s seemed to have been a time for old time rockers to make incredible (albeit short) comebacks after several years in the wilderness. This was case with Paul Simon’s Graceland, the Grateful Dead’s In the Dark, and the many members of Traveling Wilburys with their fantastic 1988 debut album. In the case of Eric Clapton, he never really went away, releasing four studio albums earlier in the 1980s along with several live and compilation albums. Still, by the very end of the decade he had faded from the top level of popular music until his late 1989 release of Journeyman, which propelled “slow hand” right back to the top.

The 1980s were also troubling times personally for Clapton, as he developed a heroin addiction and admitted that he was an alcoholic. Reluctant to clean up, Clapton became suicidal and is quoted as saying, “the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead.” While struggling through recovery, Clapton performed on Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ debut solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking as well as worked on two Phil Collins produced albums Behind the Sun and August. In 1987, Clapton remade “After Midnight” as a promotional track for Michelob beer and in 1988 he released his four-album box set Crossroads, which primed him for a big comeback.

Clapton did not compose much of the material on Journeyman himself, only collaborating on two of the twelve songs. He instead focused on performing (both on guitars and vocals) a handful of blues covers, a few more contemporary songs, and several new originals which were written by long-time collaborator Jerry Williams. There are also many cameos by fellow major-label artists, making the album an interesting mix of styles and genres. Produced by Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman, the album’s sound fused eighties rhythms with overloaded, blues-era guitar textures, a method at least partially borrowed from 1980s-era ZZ Top material.


Journeyman by Eric Clapton
Released: November 18, 1989 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman
Recorded: 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Pretending
Anything for Your Love
Bad Love
Running on Faith
Hard Times
Hound Dog
No Alibis
Run So Far
Old Love
Breaking Point
Lead Me On
Before You Accuse Me
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Nathan East – Bass, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion
 
Journeyman by Eric Clapton

 

Clapton’s vocals are quite distinct on this album, perhaps as good as any during his long career. This is evident on Williams “Pretending”, the album’s opening song which shot to the top of the rock charts. The song starts with very short boogie-woogie piano before breaking into a synth arpeggio topped with exquisite guitar licks and a very good chorus melody. The song’s highlight is the great outro where the intensity increases perfectly and the bluesy guitar smokes in superb splendor.

“Anything for Your Love” contains consistent and interesting percussion by drummer Jim Keltner, who provides the song’s deliberate pace which makes it at once relaxing and full of tension – a rare quality. “Bad Love” was co-written by Clapton and Mick Jones and begins with a synth part which works as a bedding for another fantastic guitar riff which sets the pace for what would become Clapton’s last #1 song. Featuring Collins on drums and harmony vocals, “Bad Love” features a middle bridge riff which makes the song an interesting listen.

“Running on Faith” has an eighties era beat but a definite retro feel everywhere else. This excellent ballad with good chord structures climaxes during the uplifting coda with a Gospel-like chorus. “Hard Times” was written by Ray Charles and mimics his club-style blues dominated by piano with accents of lead guitar and horns and a very impressive vocal effort by Clapton. The most regrettable moment on the album is the unwise cover of the classic “Hound Dog”, which takes away from album overall.

The second side begins with another Williams-penned pop song, “No Alibis” – perhaps the poppiest song on the album. Still, it has a nice, steady, deliberate approach to it and good harmonies featuring Chaka Khan and Daryl Hall. “Run So Far” was written by George Harrison and features the former Beatle on guitar and harmony vocals, while “Old Love” is a collaboration between Clapton and Robert Cray. This long, bluesy ballad, has earnest, dual guitars throughout the long coda. This is followed by “Breaking Point”, which was co-written Marty Grebb, the former keyboardist of the 1960s group The Buckinghams.

“Lead Me On” is the real highlight of the latter part of the album. It was written by Cecil and Linda Womack (of the group Lomack   Lomack) and features fine performances by both on this song. Linda provides co-lead vocals while Cecil plays acoustic guitar to accompany the nice electric piano and subtle electric riffs. An overall production highlight, the song is a tad bit more upbeat at the very end and shows Clapton’s versatility to enter different genres. The album concludes with “Before You Accuse Me”, a pure blue-eyed blues rendition of a 1957 Bo Diddley classic. This version is great sounding and catchy, while not very original overall.

Clapton claims Journeyman is one of his favorite albums and, while it only reached number 16 on the Billboard charts, it went double platinum, a first in his long career. However, this new found commercial success was dampened by the horrific tragedy of Clapton’s four-year-old son dying after a fall from a window of a New York City apartment in 1991. Clapton’s grief was later captured in the song “Tears in Heaven”.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

Junta by Phish

Junta by Phish

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Junta by PhishOriginally released only on cassette, Junta by Phish, defies almost every convention for debut albums. The album was independently recorded and produced by the Vermont-based group but contains top-notch sound to complement the rich progressive-rock influenced epics that persist throughout the album’s lineup. Titled after the band’s first official manager, the album contains mainly nontraditional structures and arrangements based on jazz fusion and improvisation, resulting in symphonic-like epics where each member is given ample room to shine. The rare, few “basic” songs on Junta are mainly light and tend to lean towards the upbeat, funk side of the rock spectrum.

Phish was formed by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983 and they played their first live performance at the school’s cafeteria late that year. They cut their teeth in the mid eighties playing Grateful Dead songs. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group, completing the band’s four-piece lineup, which persists to this day. During this era, the group distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes and Anastasio went so far as to write a nine-song concept album accompanied by a written thesis called The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday.

In 1988, the band began a rigorous practice schedule, which included locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end to “discover” new material. Junta is a product of a couple of these sessions and was brought as one piece to the studio to be recorded in its entirety.


Junta by Phish
Released: May 8, 1989 (self-release)
Produced by: Phish
Recorded: Euphoria Sound Studios, Revere, Massachusetts, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Fee
You Enjoy Myself
Esther
Golgi Apparatus
Foam
Dinner and a Movie
The Divided Sky
David Bowie
Fluffhead
Fluff’s Travels
Contact
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Page McConnell – Piano, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jonathan Fishman – Drums, Trombone, Vocals
 
Junta by Phish

 

Anastasio got the bulk of compositional credit on the album, starting with the opener “Fee”, a truly excellent song with Caribbean and jazz percussive beats and tones. The soaring vocals with staccato backing vocal scats shows that, although they rarely display it, the group has some vocal chops. The first epic, “You Enjoy Myself” is in sharp contrast to the melodic opener, making its arrival one of the few really awkward moments on the album. Improvised with odd timings, the piece works into a progressive waltz, driven by the organ and piano McConnell. Then at about the midway point, an excellent guitar rips in for a few fleeting moments before the climatic funk section starts along with one word chants and a strong bass by Gordon.

“Esther” takes the album on yet another wild turn, as lyric-rich journey which changes mood from carnival to church to an ultimate tranquil tragedy of drowning. The excellent piano riffs by McConnell are reminiscent of Tony Banks during the better Genesis years and the persistent groove by Fishman throughout provides the glue for the song through its nine and a half minutes. “Golgi Apparatus” starts as definite funk jam but soon morphs into something more rock oriented, perhaps the most rock-oriented song on the album, showing the versatility of the group. The next couple of tracks tend to get a bit repetitive. “Foam”, repeats the same mechanical pattern forged by a bass riff with sharp piano notes and guitar motifs above, while “Dinner and a Movie” gets a bit mundane lyrically, but is interesting musically. This is the part of the album where you’re just waiting for a release, the whole jam thing is a bit exhausting by this point.

Then comes the most rewarding song on the album, “The Divided Sky”. This mostly instrumental, twelve-minute epic begins with a nice acoustic intro with the perfect complement of xylophone by McConnell and bass by Gordon. The intro section is cut by deep vocal harmonies where the music stops completely before returning with a totally different feel and arrangement. Here the group methodically builds towards a guitar lead before breaking down to a quiet organ motif on which a new, signature guitar riff builds the song back up. Then comes the payoff of the greatest guitar lead on the album by Anatasio and a full-fledged musical jam by the entire band through the latter part of the song. In contrast, the follow-up eleven-minute “David Bowie”, while still a great jam, pales as a follow-up to “The Divided Sky”.

“Fluffhead” starts with a fine, elongated acoustic guitar riff and honky-tonk piano and breaks into a catchy (albeit silly) hook. Combined with the instrumental part “Fluff’s Travels” (which really isn’t a separate piece), this is the longest piece on the original album, which is saying something for an album like Junta. Another good guitar lead over some very odd chords and timing also make for, perhaps, the closest to a true jazz improv. Eventually it all releases into reprise of “Fluffhead” with some Gospel-like revival singing improvisation before it dissolves into a simple, strumming acoustic riff and a winding rendition of the opening riff. The album wraps with “Contact”, the sole composition by Gordon, whose slow bass riff introduces the song. Much like the album’s opener, this closer has a Latin feel and, while lyrics are again repetitive again, but not as mundane as on other songs and the tune is more than salvaged by some nice bass motifs and a bridge with romantic lyrics.

Junta finally got wide release when Elektra Records distributed a massive two CD, two-hour release in late 1992, three and a half years after the original cassette. The newer version included three bonus tracks – “Sanity”, “Icculus”, and the twenty-five minute “Union Federal” – along with a longer version of “Contact”. In 2012, a vinyl version of the original eleven song version of Junta was released, which in a way completed this classic album’s journey to the appropriate medium.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

Yer Album by the James Gang

Yer’ Album by The James Gang

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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1969 Images

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1968 Images

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

The Allman Brothers Band 1969 debut album

The Allman Brothers Band

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

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

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


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

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

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

Allman Brothers Band 1969

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

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

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

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1968 Images

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

Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead

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

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

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


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

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

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

Grateful Dead in 1969

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

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

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1968 Images

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

Stand Up by Jethro Tull

Stand Up by Jethro Tull

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Stand Up by Jethro Tull 1969’s Stand Up is an early classic by Jethro Tull. The album was produced in the wake of a splitting of musical directions, as the band’s original guitarist Mick Abrahams left the group due to differing musical philosophies with Jethro Tull’s lead vocalist and primary composer Ian Anderson. The band’s 1968 debut album, This Was, was primarily blues-rock based, which Abrahams wanted to continue but Anderson was moving towards folk, jazz, and classical fusions of rock and roll. Stand Up would strike a nice balance of both musical directions as well as strike a chord with music fans, as it went all the way to #1 on the UK album charts.

The origin of the band dates back to the early 1960s in Blackpool, England, when several future members of Jethro Tull were involved in a a seven-piece Blue-eyed soul band. In 1967 Anderson and bassist Glenn Cornick migrated to London and joined forces with Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker to form the group which named itself after an 18th-century agriculturist. A long time guitarist, Anderson reportedly pursued the flute as a rock instrument out of frustration that he couldn’t play as well as Eric Clapton. After a single album where Anderson and Abrahams were co-equal musical visionaries, Anderson found himself in full control of the music and lyrics on Stand Up.

To replace Abrahams, the group first turned to guitarist Tony Iommi, then from a group called Earth, which would later rename themselves Black Sabbath. Iommi performed with Jethro Tull during The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus television show in late 1968, but soon returned to his former band. After auditioning several more guitarists (including future Yes guitarist Steve Howe, who failed his audition), Anderson eventually chose Martin Barre as Abrahams’ permanent replacement on guitar. While Jethro Tull has had over 20 band members through their long career, Barre has remained with the group consistently (as of 2014), making him the second longest-standing member of the band after Anderson.

Prior to releasing Stand Up, the group recorded “Living In the Past”, which was Barre’s first recording with the band. This became one of Jethro Tull’s best known songs while originally issued only as a single. Notable for it’s 5/4 time signature, this melodic tune driven by a catchy melody became the band’s first Top 20 hit, peaking at #11 in the US and #3 in the UK.


Stand Up by Jethro Tull
Released: August 1, 1969 (Island)
Produced by: Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, April 1969
Side One Side Two
A New Day Yesterday
Jefferey Goes to Leicester Square
Bourée
Back To the Family
Look Into the Sun
Nothing Is Easy
Fat Man
We Used to Know
Reasons for Waiting
For a Thousand Mothers
Band Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Keyboards
Martin Barre – Guitars
Glenn Cornick – Bass
Clive Bunker – Drums, Percussion

A doomy blues rocker, with an almost psychedelic vibe, “A New Day Yesterday” works the same riff over and over. Anderson adds harmonica licks through the verse sections and a flute lead later on, but the song is dominated by the rock rhythms provided by the other players along with reverb and panning effects throughout. Probably influenced by Cream, this song is atypical for Jethro Tull and fresh–sounding. “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” is the second in a series of songs which play tribute to Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, a once and future band mate of Anderson’s who would become Jethro Tull’s future bassist. The song features guitar and bass riff leads to folk-style verse melody in an odd and asymmetrical song.

The lone instrumental on the album, “Bourée” is also the only track not composed by Anderson. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach centuries earlier, the piece influenced a popular French folk dance called a bourrée. While the flute takes the lead throughout, the bass by Cornick is the real highlight of the track, which breaks into a jazzy rock jam near the middle before two overdubbed flutes in final section make for great effect to close the song.

With a slight and slow intro and more great bass riffs, “Back to the Family” contains laid back verses which are sub-divided by more straight-forward rock in the bridge sections that each conclude with flamboyant flute leads by Anderson, with Barre joining in on guitar later in the second one. The fantastic first side concludes with the acoustic ballad “Look into the Sun”. A true folk ballad with fine guitars throughout by Anderson and instrumentation added throughout, such as electric blues riffs and bass guitar spurts.

Jethro Tull 1969

“Nothing Is Easy” is a big time rock jam, especially towards the end. Bunker’s drumming burns with rudiments between jamming verses and solos. A lead by Barre in the middle is soon interrupted by Anderson’s flute, as the group may have tried a little too hard to be progressive with multiple parts, but nonetheless a great jam song. “Fat Man” contains Indian musical elements with sitar and hand percussion, while “We Used to Know” is another great acoustic ballad by Anderson. This latter song builds on repetitive chord pattern sections for lead instruments, including a couple of great leads by Barre where he chops out some great sonic motifs.

While certainly not as strong as the first side, side two does have its share of brilliant moments. “Reasons for Waiting” may be the best overall song on the album, with a fantastic melody and tone. Pretty much a ballad throughout with slight sections of rock tension thrown in after the choruses, Anderson’s dual flute lead is accompanied by strings provided by David Palmer, which persist throughout the second half of the song. “For a Thousand Mothers” starts with a slight drum intro by Bunker before the song kicks in with much the same style and sonic intensity as the opener “New Day Yesterday”, together paving way for emerging “heavy metal” music which would proliferate in the 1970s. After a grandiose false stop, Bunker restarts the tune for a closing instrumental section laced with about 30 seconds more of intense jamming to close the album.

Following the release of Stand Up, the group recorded and released “Sweet Dream” and “Witches Promise”, both of which rose to become Top Ten non-album singles as Jethro Tull entered the 1970s with great momentum.

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1968 Images

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

Crosby, Stills and Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 album

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Crosby, Stills and NashCrosby, Stills & Nash is an extremely rich and influential debut album from the “super group” of the same name. The trio of vocalists / guitarists which forged this group each came from successful 1960s pop/rock acts. David Crosby was from The Byrds, and Stephen Stills played in Buffalo Springfield, both Southern California folk/rock groups, while Graham Nash was from the British pop group The Hollies. Together, the group put an original twist on folk, country, blues, and rock topped by their masterfully blended three-part harmonies. Many credit this album for helping spawn the prolific soft rock groups of the 1970s which dominate many of the pop charts through that decade.

Crosby was dismissed from The Byrds in late 1967 due to internal conflicts, while Buffalo Springfield broke up a few months later, leaving Stills without a permanent gig. The two met informally during a jam with Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. Crosby knew Nash from a UK tour in 1966 featuring The Byrds and The Hollies. The three members first performed together at a private party in July 1968 where they instantly realized they had a unique vocal chemistry. This sparked Nash to depart from The Hollies and use their surnames as the title of a brand new group.

The debut album was co-produced by Bill Halverson, in collaboration with the three members of the band. Musically, Stills took the lead role by providing most of the lead guitars, bass, and keyboards along with his vocal parts. Crosby and Nash each added some acoustic and/or rhythm guitar along with their vocals, with Dallas Taylor providing drums. The simple, improvised album cover features the three members sitting on a couch in front of an abandoned homes just days before that dwelling was torn down.


Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Released: May 29, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Bill Halverson, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash
Recorded: Wally Heider’s Studio III, Los Angeles, June 1968-April 1969
Side One Side Two
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Marrakesh Express
Guinnevere
You Don’t Have to Cry
Pre-Road Downs
Wooden Ships
Lady of the Island
Helplessly Hoping
Long Time Gone
49 Bye-Byes
Group Musicians
Stephen Stills – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Graham Nash – Guitars, Vocals

The seven and a half minute “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a true suite in every way. Stills wrote this about his former girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins. It is an early example of truly progressive music built on acoustic rhythms and harmonies throughout it’s four distinct sections. The first section is a traditional pop song, with the second, slower section focused on three-part harmonies, concluding with a brief acoustic lead by Stills. A unique percussion is played during the third part with a full drumbeat introducing the climatic ending part, which features some Spanish lyrics accompanying the famous “doo-doo-doo-da-doo” vocals. The song actually preceded Nash’s involvement in the group and was the very first recorded once he joined in mid 1968.

“Marrakesh Express” is a short but pleasant pop song by Nash, written while he was still with The Hollies but originally rejected by that group. It features an unforgettable, well-treated lead guitar by Stills and less harmonizing than on the opening song. The song was a pop hit, reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard charts. Stills’ guitar riff floats over the song in a way reminiscent of the sitar. Crosby’s initial contribution, “Guinnevere”, is much darker song than preceding two songs. Very soft and hypnotic, the song never picks up the pace or the intensity and features strange tuning and time signatures.

Side one concludes with Stills’, “You Don’t Have to Cry”, a pleasant country-influenced song with more fine three-part harmony and some pedal steel, and Nash’s “Pre-Road Downs”, which features really cool pedal effects on the lead guitars and cool, funky bass. The second side begins with “Wooden Ships”, a song which dates back to the original jam of Crosby, Stills, and Kantner (who co-wrote the song and did his own version with Jefferson Airplane), and is the only songwriting collaboration on the album. The song was written from the point of view of the few survivors of a post-apocalyptic world, with Crosby using his boat to set the scene.

Crosby Stills and Nash in 1969

Next comes a couple of pure folk tunes, “Lady of the Island” is nearly all Nash, with Stills adding some laid-back harmonies in a duet reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. “Helplessly Hoping” returns to the rich harmonies with some beautifully done, picked acoustic providing the sole backing throughout this quintessential Crosby, Stills, & Nash song.

“Long Time Gone” is a cool 1960s pop/rock song with Stills playing a great funky bass, organ, with lead guitar licks throughout the verse and fantastically strong harmonies in rock context during the chorus. Crosby wrote it the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. The album concludes with the fine, “49 Bye-Byes”, a rock waltz led by choppy organ and more great multi-part vocals. The song breaks into some interesting sections (almost its own mini-suite) and really rocks in its own way while never getting too intense.

Crosby, Stills, & Nash peaked at #6 on the Billboard Albums chart. After its release, the group played some high-profile shows, including the famous Woodstock Music Festival. Later in 1969, the group joined up with Neil Young, expanding the trio to a quartet as the new decade began.

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1968 Images

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

The Band 1969 album

The Band 1969 album

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The Band 1969 albumAs a perfect counterpart to Music from Big Pink, their 1968 debut album, The Band embarked on part two of their new musical, North American roots journey with their eponymous second album in 1969. It was as if to say that the debut was no mistake, the group upped the ante by declaring in the liner notes that “the songs focus on people, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana…” This recording was a critical and commercial success on all fronts, reaching the Top 10 on the pop album charts and eventually preserved into the US National Recording Registry due to its “cultural and historical importance”.

The album that would eventually become known by some as “The Brown Album” was recorded between gigs as the group played their first live shows, starting in early 1969 through an appearance at the Woodstock Festival in August which happened to be named after the town adjoining their “big pink” dwelling which gave the Band’s debut album its title. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and featured songs mainly written by guitarist Robbie Robertson and produced by John Simon, who also provided much of the brass instrumentation on the album.

With this second, strong album, the Band came into their own as a viable, independent group, breaking out of the shadow of Bob Dylan, who they had previously backed up and began their debut album with. The blend of rural Americana and urban-centric rock really struck a chord with listeners as the mature musicians who began their musical journey in the 1950s found broad appeal in the post-psychedelic era.


The Band by The Band
Released: September 22, 1969 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Simon
Recorded: West Hollywood, CA, Early to Mid 1969
Side One Side Two
Across the Great Divide
Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
Whispering Pines
Jemima Surrender
Rockin’ Chair
Look Out Cleveland
Jawbone
The Unfaithful Servant
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Band Musicians
Robbie Robertson – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Manuel – Piano, Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
Garth Hudson – Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Saxophone
Rick Danko – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals
Levon Helm – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

“Across the Great Divide” starts as a spiritual before breaking into a steady rocker. There are effective keyboards bass and drums from Rick Danko and Levon Helm. The shortest song on the album, this acts as a nice intro track for The Band. The title “Rag Mama Rag” leaves no mystery to the song’s style and features Helm on mandolin and Danko on fiddle. The song was released as a single and reached the Top 40.

Although not released as a single, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” has become one of the most popular songs by the group. While written by the Canadian born Robertson, the song convincingly tells of the last days of the American Civil War and the culture of Antebellum. Musically, the song paints a vivid picture perfectly of the human sense of history and aura of authenticity.

Pianist Richard Manuel co-wrote and sang, “When You Awake”, a steady and melodic ballad. In contrast, the choppy, upbeat rhythms of “Up on Cripple Creek”, paired with the ever-present clavichord of Garth Hudson helps make this song indelible. The multi-verse format leaves signs of Dylan influence but, overall, The Band’s sound makes this undeniably original. Helm’s lead vocals, from barking out the verses to yodeling the outro are constantly loose and carefree while Hudson tactfully applies a wah pedal to his clavichord during the breaks after the choruses. “Whispering Pines” is a unique ballad with dark, almost psychedelic organ accompanying the minor key piano by Manuel. There is a definite Grateful Dead influence, making it both haunting and beautiful.

The Band in 1969

The second side opens with “Jemima Surrender”, co-written by Helm with a melody very similar to “Up On Crippled Creek”. However, it is musically much different, driven by ever-present piano licks along with other musical motifs on guitar and horns. “Rockin’ Chair” is bluegrass to the core. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, and fiddle sets the rustic mood and paints the perfect picture of a porch jam, while providing great variety for this album, as nothing else is quite like this on The Band. “Look Out Cleveland” is the most rock-oriented song on the second side with interesting rhythms and fills, especially Danko’s sizzling bass and Robertson’s bluesy guitar riffs.

“Jawbone” is a very interesting hybrid of a song – from spiritual to waltz to a rock-riff oriented verse. The song has diverse qualities which barely jive, but jive nonetheless, to make it an excellent listen and the best song on side two of the album. The mood is then brought down a bit with “The Unfaithful Servant”, an acoustic and piano ballad where Simon’s horns add a wild, almost spooky element to the otherwise typical country-waltz. The closer “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” provides yet one more surprise, being funky and jazzy musically like nothing else preceding it. Although credited solely to Robertson, this was really a group effort and a very strong selection to finish the album.

Following the release and success of The Band, the fame and attention to the group, along with the press anointing Robertson as the “leader”, started to take toll on the band’s chemistry. Still, they continued to tour and make great music right through The Last Waltz in 1976, when they retired from touring with a massive farewell concert.

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1968 Images

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

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

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Let It Bleed by The Rolling StonesThe middle release of the three greatest Rolling Stones albums, Let It Bleed finished the decade of the 1960s with a mostly solid blues/rock effort which contains a pop/rock gem. That song has been said to symbolize the demise of the “swinging sixties”, but can also lend meaning to many other situations, large and small. Closer to home, the Rolling Stones had lost their original leader and musical visionary Brian Jones to a drowning accident earlier in 1969, making this a true transitional album dividing the early and later periods of the band’s most productive years. Let It Bleed did reach the top position on the UK charts as well as #3 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart in the US.

Jones performed minor roles on two of the album’s nine tracks, while his replacement, Mick Taylor, plays guitar on only two tracks. This left a lot of space for Keith Richards to fill with various electric, acoustic, and steel guitars making this his finest output of his long career with the Stones. The dichotomy of order turning to disarray is portrayed in the carefully orchestrated cover image of several diverse items being supported by a record spindle, following into a chaotic state on the back cover of the LP.

A song recorded during the sessions for Let It Bleed but not included on the album was the popular hit, “Honky Tonk Woman”. Here Richard’s electric riff drove the song to number one on the singles chart during the summer of 1969, shortly after the death of Jones. A fiddle-laced earlier version of the song called “Country Honk” (on which Jones played) did appear on the album, complete with weird ambiance at the very beginning and very end. This version doesn’t have quite the spark of the single version, especially when it comes to the rhythm section, but it does show the group in a legitimate country stomp.


Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones
Released: December 5, 1969 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, November 1968-November 1969
Side One Side Two
Gimme Shelter
Love in Vein
Country Honk
Live With Me
Let it Bleed
Midnight Rambler
You Got the Silver
Monkey Man
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Brian Jones – Congas, Autoharp
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vibes
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

The true gem on Let It Bleed (and perhaps the best Stones song ever) is the closer, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. While a most adequate way for the Stones to conclude their sixties work, the song was actually recorded a year earlier in November 1968, before their previous album, Beggars Banquet, was even released. A mature song with fantastic content and sound, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, starts with a choral arrangement which morphs into a straight-forward acoustic folk ballad with French horn solo played by Al Kooper, who also played piano and organ during the later funk/rock sections. Lyrically, the song contains poetic lyrics most especially the classic extended verse;

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore, to get your prescription filled, I was standing in line with Mr. Jitters and man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda, my favorite flavor’s cherry red / I sang my song to Mr. Jitters and he said one word to me and that was death

This lyric gives a rather pedestrian story to the otherwise rock star lifestyle and you can see this song’s influence on future hybrid songs such as “American Pie”. During the fade, the London Bach Choir reenters for an extended outro which finishes the song and album nicely.

The album begins with “Gimme Shelter”, starting with a lot of sonic style with a sound that is distant and slightly doomy. Richard’s hammer-on guitar notes bed the ethereal singing of Mary Clayton, who trades vocal jabs with lead vocalist Mick Jagger through the apocalyptic lyrics of impending doom. Jagger and Richards wrote the original material on Let It Bleed, with Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” being the only cover. With nice overall acoustic and slide guitar effects, this was indicative of the group’s turn towards acoustic country blues, complete with mandolin by Ry Cooder.

Rolling Stones 1969

“Live With Me” is a forgotten classic – funk influenced throughout and a forward-looking towards the Stones’ seventies sound. Beginning with cool bass riff by Bill Wyman, this definitive group number displays the group hitting on all cylinders during their prime. The title track “Let It Bleed” is a unidirectional song where a simple acoustic diddy builds throughout with new instruments gradually added. Jagger provides good vocal melodies and drummer Charlie Watts builds some good rhythm on this great tune to wrap up the first side, even if the song does linger a bit too long.

Side two begins with “Midnight Rambler”, a pure blues track which harkens back to the group’s earliest work musically with consistent, overdubbed harmonica by Jagger throughout its nearly seven minutes. With Brian Jones on congas, the song works into a frenzy before coming to a complete stop and builds up once again for the second half. “You Got the Silver” is more acoustic blues with cool electric riffs treated with reverse echo near the beginning of each verse and a subtle Hammond organ section before the song breaks into a full band arrangement during the final minute. It is also the only song on the album on which Richards sings lead vocals. Another song laced great sound effects, “Monkey Man” begins with cool piano, jazzy bass, and bluesy guitar expertly mixed. Richards’ guitar may be intentionally too loud in the mix for further effect, as the song’s style sets the stage for the material on their next album, Sticky Fingers.

By the end of the sixties, the Rolling Stones music had tones that were both textually dark and musically clear. This was further symbolized just one day after the release of Let It Bleed, the group played the infamous Altamont concert where a man lost his life during a riot as the band performed.

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1968 Images

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