Creedence Clearwater Revival
1969 albums

Buy Bayou Country
Buy Green River
Buy Willy and the Poor Boys

Creedence Clearwater Revival 1969 albumsCreedence Clearwater Revival was incredibly prolific in their earliest recording period. Following their self-titled debut album in mid 1968, the group released three more studio albums during the calendar year 1969 – Bayou Country. Green River and Willie and the Poor Boys – making it a grand total of four full-length album releases in just 18 months of real time. Composer, lead vocalist and guitarist John Fogerty produced all three of the 1969 albums and was the main driver in forging the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival, which led to several hit songs at the time and has stood the test of time.

The group took their three-part from three separate sources of varying relevance. “Credence” was a name of a friend of guitarist Tom Fogerty, “clear water” was the nickname of their favorite beer, and “revival” stems from the four members’ renewed commitment to their band, following some uncertainty when John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford were drafted into military service.

Bayou Country was recorded in Los Angeles in late 1968 and released in early 1969, eventually reaching the Top Ten on the album charts. Almost immediately, the group got to work on their third album, Green River, while continuing to tour heavily. While not as successful commercially as its predecessor, Green River received much more solid ratings critically and led to the band being invited to perform at the Woodstock Music Festival. By the Autumn of 1969, the group was working on material for Willy and the Poor Boys, which would become their third Top Ten album of the year.


Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: January, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, CA, Late 1968
Side One Side Two
Born On the Bayou
Bootleg
Graveyard Train
Good Golly Miss Molly
Penthouse Pauper
Proud Mary
Keep On Chooglin’

Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: January, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, March-June 1969
Side One Side Two
Green River
Commotion
Tombstone Shadow
Wrote a Song for Everyone
Bad Moon Rising
Lodi
Cross-Tie Walker
Sinister Purpose
The Night Time Is the Right Time

Willie and the Poor Boys by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: November, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkely, CA, Late 1969
Side One Side Two
Down On the Corner
It Came Out of the Sky
Cotton Fields
Poorboy Shuffle
Feelin’ Blue
Fortunate Son
Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)
The Midnight Special
Side o’ the Road
Effigy
Band Musicians (All 3 Albums)
John Fogerty – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Tom Fogerty – Guitars, Vocals
Stu Cook – Bass
Doug Clifford – Drums

“Born On the Bayou” is a rather apt opener for Bayou Country, with a memorable, repetitive, vibrato guitar riff topped by Fogerty’s distinct vocals. This track has close to a psychedelic rock vibe and ambiance, with lyrics that tell of a mythical childhood, far away from Fogerty’s home in California. This is followed by “Bootleg”, a simple twang with a convincing southern groove. “Graveyard Train” has a slow, quasi-blues progression riff that never really leaves, so the only real interesting part is the harmonica solo halfway through.

Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater RevivalSide two of Bayou Country is superior to the first side, as the songs are more upbeat and contain better variety. Even the cover “Good Golly Miss Molly” is interesting as a hyped up, Beatle-ized version of the Little Richard classic. “Penthouse Pauper” follows as an electric blues rocker with a great bass by Stu Cook. The album closer “Keep On Chooglin'” is an extended, droning blues song, decorated by lead instruments, most especially John Fogerty’s harmonica. Of course, the highlight of the side (and the album) is “Proud Mary”, probably the quintessential Creedence song. With a very direct and melodic approach, the song was written by John Fogerty while he was still in the National Guard in 1967. The song peaked at #2 on the US charts and was covered by many other artists, most famously the souped-up soul version by Ike and Tina Turner.

The title song continues the Southern vibe of Green River, albeit a bit more refined. Dual electric guitars and strummed acoustic set the scene for the song about a vacation spot from the Fogerty brother’s childhood, although John Fogerty admits that he made up the title “Green River” to continue the “Bayou” vibe. The song reached #2 on the US Billboard charts. This is followed by the rapid country-rock of “Commotion”, which sounds heavily influenced by Johnny Cash, but with a more rock oriented edge. “Tombstone Shadow” is another Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revivalfine track as the group fully embraces the late sixties blues-rock genre. A great rhythm by Cook and Clifford supports the monotone, whining lead guitar of John Fogerty – very close to Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” from Wheels of Fire. The folksy ballad “Wrote a Song for Everyone” contains a slow country waltz with topical rock and blues elements, Obviously influenced by The Band, but still a deep and pleasant listen to end side one of Green River.

An upbeat song with an ominous message, “Bad Moon Rising” is driven totally by the rhythm and strumming, making it perhaps the most complete “band” song to reach the popular charts. Influenced by the film The Devil and Daniel Webster, the song was released as the lead single from this album just a few months after Bayou Country, and reached #2 in America and #1 in the UK. Another popular song, “Lodi” has that fantastic, emerging CCR formula – great folk music driven by the contrasting vocal melody by John Fogerty, making this the best overall song on Green River. The remainder of the album is filled by standard but solid fare. “Cross-Tie Walker” is a formulaic country song with the lone exception of Cook’s descending bass run during the second verse, while “Sinister Purpose” goes in a much harder rock direction, with John Fogerty’s psychedelic leads above Tom Fogerty’s fuzzy rock riffs. Nappy Brown’s “The Night Time Is the Right Time” is pure updated fifties rock, complete with choppy “doo-wop” backing vocals and a steady, boogie-woogie structure. This closing cover is also edgy like some of early Zeppelin.

Willie and the Poor Boys by Creedence Clearwater RevivalAlthough it contains a couple of really strong highlights, Willie and the Poor Boys is the weakest of the three albums released in 1969. The title song “Down On the Corner” anchors side one, starting with a layered percussive click track, led by the ever-present cowbell. An infectious song of rustic rural style, the song peaked at #3 as the group’s final hit of 1969. The rest of the side is really little more than filler. “It Came Out of the Sky” is old-timely rock and roll with twangy riffs between each vocal line, while the cover of Huddie Ledbetter’s “Cotton Fields” nods more towards the 1950s folk version by Odetta & Larry. “Poorboy Shuffle” is only interesting because it so low-tech, almost like capturing a rehearsal jam, mid-stream, while “Feelin’ Blue” fades in over the previous track with Clifford’s drums and a richer production.

“Fortunate Son” is the real highlight of the Willie and the Poor Boys. A short and intense track, built from a stiff rock rhythm and a strategically slight lead guitar. The song is an anti-war anthem which was inspired by the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon in 1968. “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)” is another rockabilly standard, leading to the more interesting “The Midnight Special”, a traditional song with an original arrangement with tremolo guitar intro and bass-driven verses with rich vocal harmonies. Mimicking the first side, the fourth track on the second side contains a low-tech instrumental called “Side o’ the Road”. The six and a half minute closer “Effigy” is an attempt at a dramatic philosophical/spiritual piece. But this falls just short as it really never leaves the four basic chords, while painting over the same territory that Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” forged a few years earlier, and to much greater effect.

Following their productive and fantastic output of 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival continued their success at the dawn of the seventies, peaking with their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory and several more hit songs.

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1969 Images

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

Chicago Transit Authority 1969 album

Chicago Transit Authority
by Chicago

Buy Chicago Transit Authority

Chicago Transit Authority 1969 albumChicago used their short-lived name for their double-length 1969 debut album, Chicago Transit Authority. From the inception, the seven member group fused brass, jazz, soul, and blues-based rock and roll and, with three lead vocalists and composers, the group’s sound was as diverse as their influences. Producer James William Guercio had just come off a big commercial success with the group Blood, Sweat, and Tears and was able to convince a skeptical Columbia Records to release a double album for this then unknown group. Furthering the mystique of this album are the hard rock experimental tracks, which are at times intriguing and at times superfluous.

The roots of Chicago come from two distinct lines in and around the city which gave the group its name. The three primary members of the horn section, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, reed player Walter Parazaider and trombonist James Pankow were all music students at DePaul University. When the trio began playing in the clubs of the city, they encountered the rock and blues musicians which made up the other “side” of Chicago, primarily guitarist Terry Kath and drummer Danny Seraphine. By early 1967, the group was in place and rehearsing in Parazaider’s basement under their original name “The Big Thing”.

During the summer of 1968, Guercio moved the band to Los Angeles. As manager and producer, he set the pace for the band, making living arrangements, setting the practice schedule, and eventually changing their name to Chicago Transit Authority. The recordings for this double LP were made in short order in January 1969 and included the synthesis of electric guitar rock and deeply rooted blues and jazz arrangements. This brave foray into primal rock and free form jazz led to a unique water mark in the progression of rock and roll.


Chicago Transit Authority by Chicago
Released: April 28, 1969 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, January 1969
Side One Side Two
Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Beginnings
Questions 67 and 68
Listen
Poem 58
Side Three Side Four
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man
Prologue, August 29, 1968
Someday (August 29, 1968)
Liberation
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpets
James Pankow – Trombone
Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Percussion, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums

Chicago Transit Authority contains four sides with three songs each. Kath’s “Introduction” has a simple title for such a complex song with multiple parts and passages, almost like the group wanted to throw everything at the audience right up front. The long middle section between verses contains vastly diverse sections, albeit has rather routine phrasing, and is driven by the terrific drumming of Seraphine.

The most prolific writer on this first album is keyboardist Robert Lamm.”Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is the first popular, radio-friendly song on the album. While an infectiously classic piece of popular music which showcases all aspects of the group’s refined sound, the song is also a very philosophical piece lyrically. In all, everyone brought their ‘A’ game on this song, from the great lead and backing vocals, to the potent horns, melodic piano, and pleasant rhythms. On “Beginnings” Lamm switches to acoustic guitar for a pleasant and upbeat folksy feel. Seraphine’s interesting drum variations complement the overall drive of the acoustic and bass and he adds a long percussion outro to a crescendo of horns in the “only the beginning” section, which only serves to heighten the romanticism of this song.

Side two begins with “Questions 67 and 68” where we first hear Peter Cetera, the future “voice” of Chicago. He sings melodic vocals and tradeoffs with Lamm and the song itself is so melodic and pleasant to the point where it seems like the horn section is a bit extraneous (or at least, a little over-used). The song was released as a single and reached #24 on the US charts. “Listen” is a succinct, driving rocker with sustained guitar feedback, funky bass, organ, and more horn accents along with a good rock guitar lead by Kath. Lamm’s extended “Poem 58” is really two tracks fused as one. With a total funk guitar riff intro, the over five minute power-trio jam among Kath, Cetera, and Seraphine, sans-lyrics. Deep into the track, the rather disorganized jam becomes a proper song with vocals and horns above the basic guitar riffs by Cetera and Kath.

The oddest track on the album, Kath’s “Free Form Guitar”, begins the third side as a one take guitar expression. According to the album’s original liner notes, the solo performance by Kath was created without the use of any pedals or effects. “South California Purples” contains a very basic blues groove, driven by Cetera’s bass guitar. This leaves plenty of room for casual musical flourishes, first by Lamm’s Hammond organ and later Kath’s electric guitar. Although very repetitive, the song is interesting in its unique approach to traditional blues progression. The side ends with the only cover song on the album, “I’m a Man”, originally recorded by the Spencer Davis Group. The most interesting part of the over-seven minute song is the very potent intro groove by Cetera and Serephine. While similar to Deep Purple’s unique rock reinterpretations on their 1968 albums, there really isn’t much here beyond the brilliant intro.

Chicago

Much like we concluded in our assessment of the Beatles’ White Album (another double length album), side four is unfortunately the weakest part of the album where the sound is the least fresh. “Prologue, August 29, 1968” is an odd montage of recorded chants from the 1968 Democratic convention protests in Chicago without very good editing. It acts as a lead-in for “Someday (August 29, 1968)”, co-written by Pankow, and featuring a doomy start before it breaks into a decent and melodic tune over the course of two verses. After meandering for about a half minute with studio ambiance, the closer “Liberation” breaks into a good upbeat jam, first led by the horn section until Kath takes over for a very extended guitar solo. However, just about four minutes in the jam begins to lose focus (and Kath’s guitar starts to sound out of tune) – and we still have ten minutes to go at this point! In all, the nearly fifteen minute song does little more than fill in the final side of the album.

In spite of this weak conclusion, Chicago Transit Authority is a fine album and an historic debut. It originally charted in the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic and found renewed success as the group’s popularity rose through the early 1970s. Shortly after this album’s release, legal action was threatened by the actual Chicago Transit Authority, and the group decided to simply reduce their name to Chicago, which they still use to this day.

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1969 Images

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

 

The Soft Parade by The Doors

The Soft Parade by The Doors

Buy The Soft Parade

The Soft Parade by The Doors1969 was a tumultuous year for the The Doors. The main incident which caused their collective headache happened in Miami in March  when vocalist Jim Morrison was arrested for allegedly exposing himself during a concert. Consequently, many major promoters began cancelling shows. The group, which had been a top international pop/rock coming into the year, selling out venues such as New York’s Madison Square Garden, suddenly found themselves scrambling to get gigs. In the midst of all this came the release of their fourth album The Soft Parade, which contained a radically different sound for the Doors and faced harsh criticism because of it. But when you remove all the fog surrounding it, The Soft Parade is a diverse, entertaining, and totally unique album of a great American band at a musical crossroads.

Recording for the album began in November 1968.  From these initial sessions came a very successful Top 5 single (“Touch Me”/”Wild Child” in December 1968). In fact, more than half of The Soft Parade‘s material was released on singles prior to the album’s release in July of 1969, something totally unique for any Doors album. As Morrison struggled with substance abuse and erratic behavior, guitarist Robbie Kreiger stepped up and wrote half the material for the album including all four singles. Producer Paul Rothchild decided to enhance the group’s sound with the inclusion of brass and string arrangements, which was off-putting to many rock purists but (in this reviewer’s opinion) made for very interesting fusion with Morrison’s poetry and subject matter.

In fact, while the year was harmful for the band’s career momentum, it may well have been the height of The Door’s creativity. Further evidence of this can be found in the recent release of outtakes of unfinished songs. “Whiskey, Mystics and Men” is similar to the track “My Wild Love” from the previous album Waiting for the Sun, but this time Morrison’s poetic chant is complemented by a full band arrangement led by Ray Manzarek‘s harpsichord. “Push Push” is a jazzy Latin instrumental jam featuring Manzarek on piano and drummer John Densmore. Originally released as a ‘B Side’ of a single, “Who Scared You” is a good pop tune with a bluesy swing, some funky horn arrangements, and a cool solo by Krieger.


The Soft Parade by The Doors
Released: July 21, 1969 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul Rothchild
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, July 1968–May 1969
Side One Side Two
Tell All the People
Touch Me
Shaman’s Blues
Do It
Easy Ride
Wild Child
Runnin’ Blue
Wishful, Sinful
The Soft Parade
Band Musicians
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robby Krieger – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Manzarek – Piano, Keyboards
John Densmore – Drums, Percussion

Krieger’s “Tell All the People” starts The Soft Parade with an intro of blistering horns which give way to a pleasant pop melody. The song is most interesting due to the sheer un-Doors-ness of the track in total and the climax at the end of the second verse with slight melodic variation and quick Kreiger solo. Morrison left no doubt about his disdain for this song, which was released as a single but failed to reach the Top 40. Like the opener, “Touch Me” contains rich orchestral arrangements by conductor Paul Harris. Another Krieger composition, it has a distinctly Las Vegas feel to it and was allegedly derived from a blackjack phrase (“c’mon hit me babe, I am not afraid”). The song’s outro includes a sax solo by Curtis Amy and reached #3 on the US charts while topping the charts in several other countries.

The remainder of the first side features songs with only the four Doors members. Morrison’s “Shaman’s Blues” contains a fine vocal performance and entertaining lyrical motifs. Kreiger performs a whining guitar riff throughout and blues later solo while Densmore’s odd-measured drumming keeps the song interesting yet glued together, especially during his inventive fills. Overall, the song pulls the listener into a trance-like groove. “Do It” is much less potent lyrically but draws you in with its hard rock groove. The bouncy and light “Easy Ride” has an almost polka beat and feel, as a celebration of pure joy throughout with the song’s coda deviating slightly into a more rock-oriented journey during a long fade out.

“Wild Child” is the best overall song on the album, despite its very succinct length of two and a half minutes. It starts with a deep rock riff and hook chant but soon Kreiger’s guitar morphs into a bluesy slide riff as the song breaks into several inventive parts in an asymmetrical journey guided by Morrison’s fantastic and philosophical lyrics. The exact meaning of these lyrics (and the song’s protagonist) has been debated for decades, ranging from Arthur Rimbau to Jesus Christ to Morrison himself. Kreiger’s “Runnin’ Blue” is a complete left turn and one of the strangest Doors songs ever (and that is saying something!). A clever fusion of bluegrass and soul with a full brass arrangement and co-lead vocals by Kreiger during the refrains. The song is also a light tribute to the late Otis Redding and was another non-charting single from The Soft Parade.

The Doors in 1969

The fourth single from the album, “Wishful Sinful” was a minor hit on the charts. Light and beautiful, the orchestral arrangements on this song are finer than anywhere else especially due to the English horn lead by Champ Webb. But the song also contains perfectly melancholy vocals by Morrison and a stirring rhythm led by session bassist Harvey Brooks who masterfully works with Densmore to keep the rock core of this airy song.

As the album itself is such a diverse musical adventure, it is only fitting that the concluding title song reflect this path to the extreme with its own adventurous mini-suite. Morrison’s “The Soft Parade” follows the pattern of closing an album with an extended tour-de-force, as on the group’s first two albums. However, this track is much different, an almost  child-like wonderland movement that goes through each distinct phrase until reaching the rock and soul-influenced final parts (“the best part of the trip”) Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully follows the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric. Morrison’s vocals are doubled throughout, and often talk to each other on separate channels, giving the fuller meaning much to contemplate, especially after the hook section halfway through the song.

Despite the sour critical response, The Soft Parade reached #6 on the album charts and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any other of the group’s studio albums. A few days after the album’s release, The Doors recorded a few concerts which would become the basis for their 1970 live album Absolutely Live as well future Doors collection. Here, the quality of the band’s music is further displayed as the Doors concentrated on making great music despite the external distractions of 1969.

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1968 Images

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

 

Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II double album review

Led Zeppelin’s 1969 Albums

Buy Led Zeppelin I
Buy Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II double album reviewWhile there have been many fine debuts in rock history, it can be argued that no band ever made such a game-changing splash than Led Zeppelin did in 1969. The group released two albums, Led Zeppelin (I) near the beginning of the year and Led Zeppelin II in the Fall of 1969. Both of these albums were produced by guitarist Jimmy Page and fused together hard core American blues with English folk and added to the mix indelible guitar riffs, jazzy bass rhythms, thundering drum beats, and majestic lead vocals with just a touch of psychedelia to forge a new hard rock direction which would sustain for decades.

Led Zeppelin originated from the latter days of the British group The Yardbirds, which Page joined in late 1966 while they recording their, “Roger the Engineer” , album. Page wanted to form a supergroup with fellow guitarist Jeff Beck and a few members of The Who but only one song resulted from that project, “Beck’s Bolero”, written by page but released on Beck’s solo album, Truth. In that recording session was bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, a seasoned and respected London session player. After the Yardbirds split for good in July 1968, Page maintained the group’s name in exchange for promising to perform at committed concerts in Scandinavia. Scrambling to find a group, Page was referred to Robert Plant, lead singer for the Band of Joy. Plant accepted and, in turn, suggested drummer John Bonham, a childhood friend. Jones completed the quartet, which was initially named “The New Yardbirds”.

After completing the Scandinavian tour, the group entered the studio to record their first album in September. Incredibly, after being together barely two months the group was able to record and mix the album in nine days. With no recording contract in place, Page and manager Peter Grant financed the recording costs themselves, with Page firmly in control of all production duties. After the recordings were completed, the band changed their name to Led Zeppelin when former Yardbirds members threatened legal action. The name was suggested by The Who drummer Keith Moon who had suggested the original supergroup with Page and Beck (which he was part of) would go down like a “lead balloon”.

In November 1968, the group signed with Atlantic Records, a label which traditionally courted blues, soul and jazz artists, but had made a concerted effort to court progressive rock acts. Arriving with “tapes in hand”, the terms of the new contract were favorable to the band, granting much autonomy to Led Zeppelin over the content, design, and promotion of each album.

Beginning in late 1968, Led Zeppelin completed a total of eight separate tours of the US and the UK. Still, they used any available time to develop and record new material for a second album. Unlike the first album recorded in one London studio over a short time, Led Zeppelin II was recorded in various North American studios including New York, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Vancouver. Each song was separately recorded and overdubbed, making it all the more amazing that the finished product sounded so cohesive.


Led Zeppelin I by Led Zeppelin
Released: January 12, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, September–October 1968
Side One Side Two
Good Times, Bad Times
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
You Shook Me
Dazed and Confused
Your Time Is Gonna Come
Black Mountain Side
Communication Breakdown
I Can’t Quit You Baby
How Many More Times

Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin
Released: October 22, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Studios, Europe & North America, January–August 1969
Side One Side Two
Whole Lotta Love
What Is and What Should Never Be
The Lemon Song
Thank You
Heartbreaker
Livin’ Lovin’ Maid
Ramble On
Moby Dick
Bring It On Home
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Theremin, Vocals
John Paul Jones – Bass, Organ, Vocals
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

According to Page, the first album is mainly a live album, with sparse overdubs on top of core tracks recorded live with much natural room ambience used to enhance the texture of the sound. The opener “Good Times Bad Times” displays the group’s compositional inventiveness within the first 15 seconds, turning the metronome-like intro into an inventive riff. Starting from the second verse of the song, Jones really stands out and makes a presence on bass, with out-front fills added between parts. For the guitar lead, Page fed his guitar through a Leslie speaker to create a swirling effect. Overall, the song was far ahead of its time and set the stage for much more excellence to come.

Led Zeppelin IThe band immediately shows its other side on “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Page’s finger-picked, acoustic guitar pattern of the verses is first separated by a Spanish-like acoustic interlude, but later replaced by a full-fledged electric onslaught once described as the Zeppelin dropping its first bomb. It is an excellent sonic effect driving a fine song with the only downside being the repetition after the 3:30 mark, which unnecessarily stretches the track to nearly seven minutes long. However, the song does recover with the quiet and melodic folk ending, a marked change following the myriad of heavy rock. Written by Anne Bredon in the 1950s, this would be one of many songs on the first two albums to be controversial due to lack of proper songwriting credits.

No such controversy with “You Shook Me”, rightfully credited to Willie Dixon from the start. However, Jeff Beck did have an issue with its inclusion, as he had previously recorded the same track for his Truth album with Rod Stewart on vocals, and he accused Page of stealing his idea. But there is no doubt that the Zeppelin version is far superior as this song can make a blues man out of any rock fan. Page’s space-like guitar is real treat here, mocking Plant’s vocals through the verses. Another highlight is the triple middle solos – all excellent, starting with Jones’s soulful organ, Plant’s bluesy harmonica, and Page’s other-worldly guitar. The concluding section includes some brilliant backwards echo, which Page used on Plant’s vocals.

Side one of the first album ends with “Dazed and Confused”, one of the most famous tracks from Zeppelin’s early years. The doomy and hard rock of this track forged a template for Black Sabbath and several more of the “darker” rock bands of the 1970s, then simply known as heavy metal. Although Page claimed compositional credit, the song was actually written by Jake Holmes as a folk song in 1967. Holmes opened for The Yardbirds at a gig in New York and Page instantly began adapting the song for a rock arrangement. Two years later, the Led Zeppelin version featured long instrumental passages and a unique, bowed guitar in the middle. After the release of Led Zeppelin I, the group continued to develop the song live, gradually extending its duration to well over a half hour and being a staple of Led Zeppelin’s concerts.

“Your Time Is Gonna Come” starts with Jones’s long church organ intro seems superfluous at first, until it breaks down into the upbeat waltz of the main riff. Bonham then thunders in with an unapologetic drum thump, accompanying Page’s folksy acoustic guitar in beautiful melodic contrast. From here, it is a totally pleasant pop song with Page adding a pedal steel guitar for a country effect during the choruses and the second verse. “Black Mountain Side” is an acoustic instrumental, which seems out of place on this part of the album, While certainly a mesmerizing tune, the unsettled un-smoothness never quite jives together. Drummer and sitarist Viram Jasani played tabla on the track, adding a slight Eastern flavor.

“Communication Breakdown” is a pure, hard rocker, with Plant’s vocals hyper and desperate in the highest of registers, complemented by Bonham’s drumming, which seems as amped up as Plant. In contrast, Page and Jones play at rather steady pace (with the exception of Page’s blistering lead), and this is one of a few songs  on which Page sang a backing vocal. A second Willie Dixon cover, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” follows, but is much less interesting than the earlier track. While Page is playing his bluesy best throughout and Plant tries his best to wail (but falls just short), Jones and Bonham are unfortunately relegated to basic rhythms on this track.

Led Zeppelin

“How Many More Times” is the absolute climax of the album, tieing together the previous elements introduced on Zeppelin’s fine debut. The various sections of this complex tune are extraordinarily polished and performed perfectly for such a young band together for such a short amount of time, a really tribute to Page’s brilliant producing. The middle section of “How Many More Times” contains complex, almost ceremonial drum fills and another brilliant bowed guitar. The song keeps getting ever more intensive before building towards the marching section and the musical climax launched by Plant’s extended wail and then the final verse where Bonham goes absolutely nuts on the drums and Plant screams himself senseless. Any listener is left wanting more at the end of this brilliant debut.

And more they got later in 1969. Starting with the sexual-laced “Whole Lotta Love”, Led Zeppelin II makes an immediate impact due to the maturation of Plant’s voice (as well as the overall sound of the band). With a definite seventies sound, the song was born out of a live improvisation during one of the band’s many 1969 tours, with Plant accompanying Page’s riff with slightly improvised lyrics based on Muddy Waters “You Need Love”. The studio track also included a rather psychedelic mid section built on Bonham’s jazz drumming and Page’s use of a Theremin. Without the band’s consent, an edited version of “Whole Lotta Love” was released as a single in the US and it climbed to #4 on the pop charts in early 1970. This would be the group’s highest charting single, as they were hesitant to release many more singles throughout their long career.

Led Zeppelin IIThe sophisticated and excellent “What Is and What Should Never Be” alternates from soft sixties jazz verse to a rock hard seventies chorus and is a true showcase for all band member’s talents. Jones off on bass tangents while rest of the group is calm and direct, Bonham and Plant are majestic and dynamic, and Page provides a brilliant middle solo which perfectly mirroring the two vibes of this song, climaxing with a very bluesy second half of the solo. The coda part also adds an asymmetrical aspect to the song, making it totally original. Reportedly, The lyrics and song title for this song reflect a romance Plant had with the younger sister of his future wife.

“The Lemon Song” is an underrated classic, recorded live in the studio much like the material from Led Zeppelin I. This hodge-podge of many blues classics borrows from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” and Albert King’s “Cross-Cut Saw”, and it surpasses the best blues efforts on the first album as this track is totally mesmerizing and awe inspiring. During a long mid section, Jones bass playing is at its absolute peak, adding a funky element unheard on previous Zeppelin tracks. “Thank You” is the original “power ballad”, and the song is pretty good until after the second verse when it gets a little bit tacky. Page lays down a great acoustic lead and Jones plays a sweet keyboard outro, but Zeppelin would wisely decide to leave love ballads for other bands after this.

The second side returns to raunchy rock with “Heartbreaker”, but also continues the trend of multi-section, complex rock songs. A song which would have sounded right at home on the future Led Zeppelin IV. With a memorable guitar riff by Page and a later true, unaccompanied solo, the track has been lauded as one of the best guitar songs of all time. “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” is a fun little pop/rocker, written as an ode to an older groupie who amused the band in their early days of debauchery. Due to Page’s dislike of the song, it was never performed by the band in concert, although Plant did resurrect it for a solo tour decades later.

“Ramble On” is one of the best Led Zeppelin songs ever. A totally moody and chord-striking original tune, this is a song of youth and change, adventure and excitement. While the lyrics borrow heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien, they are used more as parables for travel and adventure, which naturally fit the mood of the constantly touring musicians in 1969. The intro acoustic, bass and percussion set the mood for the adventure, later enhanced by Page’s overdubbing magic. Every member of the group is at their absolute best on this track, even Bonham, who puts down the sticks during the verses but drives the rocking choruses. During the outro, Plant’s overdubbed improvised lines seem like they can go on forever but cease too quickly.

“Moby Dick” is an instrumental, bookended by riffs and containing a percussion and a Bonham drum solo in the middle. Although a little awkward in this studio form, this grew as a centrepiece for Bonham’s formidable percussive skills, methodically building from an established rhythmic foundation and employing his trademark bare-handed attack. “Bring It On Home” is not quite the powerful closing climax of “How Many More Times” on Led Zeppelin I, but a fine track nonetheless to finish Led Zeppelin II. Plant’s fine harmonica in the intro section and Page’s overdubs and Jones’s bass in the song proper continue the Zeppelin excellence in this song with a homage to the Sonny Boy Williamson to finish their second album.

Some estimates calculate that Led Zeppelin’s debut album has grossed about 2,000 times as much as originally invested. Led Zeppelin II was an even greater commercial success and reached number one in both the US and the UK. Although these albums were recorded under very different circumstances, they form a collective foundation which launched the career of one of rock’s greatest acts.

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Blind Faith

Blind Faith

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

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

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


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

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

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

Blind Faith

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

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

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1968 Images

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

 

Beggars Banquet by Rolling Stones

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

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Beggars Banquet by Rolling StonesReturning to their blues-based roots rock following the psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Rolling Stones hit their true artistic stride with Beggars Banquet. While most critics heralded this album as a “return to form” due to the predominance of blues-based roots rock, it was also a significant leap forward. This album began the group’s highest quality musical era, followed by Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, which expanded the musical formula established on this album. Still, with a solid slate of compositions and top-notch production by Jimmy Miller, Beggars Banquet may be the group’s finest album ever.

The album’s production saw a major shift in responsibilities. Miller described guitarist Keith Richards as “a real workhorse”, co-writing most of the material and often recording multiple parts on each track. This was mostly due to the infrequent presence of group founder Brian Jones, who had been a major influence on the sound of past albums but had begun to behave erratically due to his drug use and emotional problems. Jones could never really be relied on and would show up when he was in the mood to play, often being more of a distraction than an asset.

Although the album was not released until December 1968, much of it was recorded in the early part of the year. These sessions also resulted in the non-album single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, one of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs. Written by Richards and lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, the song employs an infectious riff and opaque lyrics which may have been inspired by William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller. Released in May 1968, the song previewed the sound of the upcoming Beggars Banquet album.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: December 6, 1968 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, March–July 1968
Side One Side Two
Sympathy For the Devil
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Parachute Woman
Jigsaw Puzzle
Street Fighting Man
Prodigal Son
Stray Cat Blues
Factory Girl
Salt of the Earth
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Mellotron, Sitar, Tamboura, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The tribal rhythms signify from the start that this is album is a unique listen. Largely a Jagger composition, the lyrics are a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer, traversing infamous historical moments right up to the (then) present day with the line “I shouted out ‘Who Killed the Kennedys?'” put in just days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968. This is all backed by an intense rock arrangement, which builds on the percussive rhythms with piano by Nicky Hopkins and a repeated chorus yelps of “woo woo” by group members and several studio guests.

“No Expectations” is a simple and beautiful acoustic blues song, which sets the table for future Stones ballads such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Wild Horses” and “Angie”, Jones plays an acoustic slide guitar above the strumming by Richards in this melodic quasi-tribute to Robert Johnson. This is followed by “Dear Doctor”, an almost farcical attempt at blue grass which, despite its use of authentic instrumentation, feels really forced and out of place.

“Parachute Woman” is pure blues with simple rhythm topped by distant electric guitar and a raw and murky atmosphere led by Jagger’s mumbled sexual lyric and intense harmonica playing. “Jigsaw Puzzle” bookends the first side of Beggars Banquet with another extended rock highlight. The music is led by the very strong rhythm of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, who are joined in turn by Richards’ slide guitar, Jaggar’s strummed acoustic, and Hopkins’ honky-tonk piano. It constantly builds in intensity though its six minute duration with Dylan-esque lyrics and vocal patterns.

Rolling Stones in 1968

The second side begins with “Street Fighting Man”, the point on the album where Jagger shines brightest, with this great melodic journey throughout interpreting some politically controversial lyrics. The tune is a basic rock song built on a cassette recording of Richards on acoustic guitar and Watts on a 1930s toy drum set. However, it does morph a bit towards a more psychedelic feel near the end, with Jones performing a distinctive sitar and tamboura. Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” is the only cover on the album and it never relents from its acoustic drive and has a great sound right down to Jagger’s hickish vocals.

Compared to the other fine material on side two, “Stray Cat Blues” is a rather ho-hum rocker, aside from the interesting and intense outro with Watts’ fine drumming. “Factory Girl” works well as an ethnic jam with a three chord, piano-driven pattern. It is similar to an Appalachian folk tune in its minimal approach and features guest Ric Grech on fiddle. “Salt of the Earth” provides a melodramatic conclusion to the album as another acoustic ballad. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge, which is followed by the first full rock arrangement. Although this track contains some production flaws, it is still a great ending to the album.

Beggars Banquet reached the Top 5 on charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Within days of its release, the band filmed the full television production of Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where they performed several songs from the album. The show also featured several contemporary guests such as The Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC. However, the Rolling Stones withheld it because they felt their own performance was substandard and it wasn’t released in any form until 1996.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

In Search of the Lost Chord by Moody Blues

In Search of the Lost Chord
by The Moody Blues

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In Search of the Lost Chord by Moody BluesIn Search of the Lost Chord is a deeply philosophical album by The Moody Blues, built around the concepts of quest and discovery. Musically, the album builds on the rich arrangements of Days of Future Passed with the exception being the lack of use of a full orchestra. The members of the group played the approximately 33 instruments themselves, exploring eclectic sounds from the Indian sitar and tambura to the orchestral oboe, flute, harp, and cello. But at its core In Search of the Lost Chord is still a rock album, accented by the same mix of British pop, psychedelia, and spoken-word poetry that the Moody Blues used on their previous album.

Bringing together these vast worlds was the mellotron of keyboardist Mike Pinder, a device which could mimic dozens of instrumental sounds. Pinder had worked at the company which developed the instrument in the early 1960s and later introduced the mellotron to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who used it on the Beatles’ 1966 single “Strawberry Fields Forever”. The long and dreamy notes of this instrument perfectly fit the psychedelic mood of this album with songs about Timothy Leary, the astral plane, and philosophical “lost chord”.

While the album’s approach seemed to be an experiment to see how far the group could go with any instruments they could find, the production of Tony Clarke kept it sounding more cohesive than many of its thematic cousins of the era. This was accomplished by focusing on the simple nearly as much as the complex, which keeps it from falling into a haze of obscurity.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: July 26, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Tony Clarke
Recorded: Decca Studios, London, January – June 1968
Side One Side Two
Departure
Ride My See-Saw
Dr. Livingston, I Presume
House of Four Doors (Part 1)
Legend of a Mind
House of Four Doors (Part 2)
Voices In the Sky
The Best Way to Travel
Visions of Paradise
The Actor
The Word
Om
Band Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Keyboards, Sitar, Vocals
Mike Pinder – Piano, Mellotron, Harpsichord, Cello, Harp, Tambura
Ray Thomas – Flute, Saxophone, Oboe, French Horn, Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Cello, Vocals
Graeme Edge – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A dramatic rising sound behind poetic spoken word “Departure”, gets more and more desperate and intense before climaxing at the end. Written and recited by drummer Graeme Edge, the 48 second piece acts as an intro to “Ride My See-Saw”. Perhaps the most commercially known track on the album, “Ride My See-Saw” is a straight forward rocker with rhythmic motion and great bass by John Lodge, who was also the song’s composer. The song was released as a single but failed to chart initially (the song went to #3 on the UK charts when re-released in 1972). “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” comes in as a bouncy English children’s song but soon matures to a more complex rock arrangement during the “we’re all looking for someone” refrain, which is sandwiched by two interesting guitar riff intervals. This song was written by multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas and explores several historical figures along with the missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone.

Lodge’s “House of Four Doors” is a two-part, mellotron-infused, psychedelic ballad with rich vocal harmonies and creaking door effects, which each bring the listener through a different era of development in European music. The first features an acoustic and flute section and seems to preview some of the pastoral music of the future band Genesis, especially on Selling England by the Pound. Next is chamber music, led by a harpsichord and cello, followed by classical music featuring Pinder on piano, and finally the passage to the “futuristic” music of “Legend of a Mind”. One of the most creative Moody Blues tracks ever, “Legend of a Mind” is vocally and lyrically intriguing with contemporary lyrics about Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor and LSD enthusiast;

He’ll fly his astral plane, Takes you trips around the bay
Brings you back the same day, Timothy Leary…”

The song is also musically excellent, moving from soft acoustic verses to a more upbeat chorus to the guitar riff interludes to the fast waltz of the bridge before settling in with a long flute section by Thomas, who also composed the song and sings lead vocals. “House of Four Doors” (Part 2) is a short reprise led by the drum beat of Edge, to complete the mini suite and the first side.

Moody Blues

Side Two begins with three absolute gems. Hayward’s pleasant and mellow “Voices in the Sky” is one of the most melodic songs on the album, with exquisite melodies during the verses. This simple acoustic song contains just enough musical splashes of flute, mellotron, and bass to give it a slight edge but is otherwise almost as straightforward and romantic as the previous year’s “Nights In White Satin”. While Pinder’s “The Best Way to Travel” goes in the opposite direction, it is just as interesting. It comes like an overloaded country song but with strong bass, reverb effects, and steady, droning drums. This Pink-Floyd influenced song suddenly halts for a middle organ section before the whole arrangement returns in a long, cosmic fade-in for the resolving conclusion. “Visions of Paradise” is a Hayward and Thomas collaboration, which features little else than Thomas’s flute riff and Hayward’s softly picked acoustic. Apparently resuming the drug-trip theme, this song may be even further “out there” than “The Best Way to Travel” with a surreal perception of paradise.

The deep, rich and sleepy arrangement of “The Actor” is driven by rather upbeat acoustic riff and Lodge’s accompanying bass. This is followed by Lodge reciting Edge’s second poem “The Word” with a naked vocal that interprets the album title’s meaning;

Two notes of the chord, that’s our full scope / But to reach the chord is our life’s hope / To name the chord is important to some…”

So they give it a word, and the word is “Om”. The final track by Pinder is canvased by very calm Eastern music for the vocals, solo during verses and deeply harmonized during choruses. Beyond the very interesting beginning, the rest of this six and a half minute track is more soundscape than song, including a deeply harmonized hummed reprise of “Ride My See Saw” at the very end of the song and album.

In Search of the Lost Chord peaked at #23 on the US album charts and #5 in the UK. 45 years later it continues to be highly regarded as a gem from the psychedelic/space rock era. Space exploration would go on to become the theme of the Moody Blues’ next album in 1969, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceWhile Jimi Hendrix is an undeniable rock legend on his own, the group Jimi Hendrix Experience were a formidable power trio for a short but important period. Electric Ladyland was the last of three albums by the Experience and this double LP was their creative and musical apex. The only album to be produced Hendrix himself, the recordings spanned over a year in duration and were made on two continents using different (4 track/8 track) technologies. Naturally, this resulted in a very eclectic album that pivots on Hendrix’s vast talents and unique interpretations ranging from folk to pop to psychedelic blues.

The initial material for this third album was produced by Bryan “Chas” Chandler and recorded before the release of the group’s second album, Axis: Bold As Love, in December 1967. That album was a Top Ten commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic and set the stage for Electric Ladyland in mid 1968. Following those first recordings in London, production resumed during the Spring of 1968 at the brand new Record Plant Studios in New York City. During this time, Hendrix fell out with Chandler and assumed production responsibilities himself.

The result is an album of interesting compositions and unequaled sonic coloring. Splitting time between sixties psychedelic epics and timeless blues jams led by one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. Further, many of the tracks on the album expand beyond the traditional sound of the power trio by featuring collaborations with a range of outside musicians playing an array of instruments.


Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: October 25, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jimi Hendrix
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Record Plant Studios, New York, July 1967-August 1968
Side One Side Two
…And the Gods Made Love
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
Crosstown Traffic
Voodoo Chile
Little Miss Strange
Long Hot Summer Night
Come On (Part I)
Gypsy Eyes
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Side Three Side Four
Rainy Day, Dream Away
1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away
Still Raining, Still Dreaming
House Burning Down
All Along the Watchtower
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Lead Vocals
Noel Redding – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A totally freaky use of backwards masking, tape loops, and sound effects make up the experimental opener “…And the Gods Made Love”. In an interview, Hendrix explained the choice of this track to open the album saying, “we knew people will jump on to criticize (this track), so I put it first to get it over with.” The smooth and soul-influence, yet odd-timed “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” follows as the default title song. The song comes complete with Hendrix overdubbing high-pitched harmonies and doing a bang-up job.

“Crosstown Traffic” is one of the earliest tracks on the album, recorded in London and on a four track machine. Beyond the tight, funk-influenced arrangements, this track features a compressed piano fed through miniature, hand-built Leslie speakers for a totally unique vibe. Featuring Traffic’s Dave Mason on backing vocals, “Crosstown Traffic” was released as a single and reached the Top 40. Mason’s band mate, Steve Winwood, plays organ on “Voodoo Chile”, a 15 minute bluesy tune a real live club feel, despite being recorded in a New York City studio. This song stays steady until the very end when it becomes frantic in a climax before breaking down into faux live sounds to end the first side.

The second side begins with “Little Miss Strange”, the most unique song on the album. Written by bassist Noel Redding, who also plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals, This British pop-oriented track does contain overlain and harmonized electric guitars by Hendrix, and great drumming (along with additional vocals) by Mitch Mitchell. “Long Hot Summer Night” sounds a lot like something from the contemporary group Cream, contains great riffs through the verses and features guest Al Kooper on piano. The first cover song on the album is Earl King’s “Come On (Part I)”, as a great rock version of pure blues song with a sound right out of the future (the seventies).

“Gypsy Eyes” is another great track of rudiments and riffs, a pure Hendrix classic. The song is infamous as an example of Hendrix’s studio perfectionism, as he and Mitchell recorded well over 50 takes, while Redding got fed up and abandoned his bass duties, leaving Hendrix to overdub that instrument himself. This was an early indicator of the upcoming break up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The very psychedelic but extremely interesting and musically fruitful “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” features an over-the-top harpsichord and a great backing vocal ensemble. Featuring imaginative lyrics and released as a single from the album, the song builds to a crescendo towards end, completing the fine second side.

Unfortunately, the third side is far less rewarding albeit interesting because of sheer uniqueness. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” sounds cool and loose with a long warm up, but when it finally kicks in to the song proper, it feels unfocused and asymmetrical, fading out too fast during the second verse. “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is a thirteen and a half  minute progressive which seems to deliberately take up space, with the exception of the middle improv section which includes an intense drum roll by Mitchell, breaking through the otherwise calm and serene setting. The song features a third member of Traffic, Chris Wood on flute. “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” has more sound effects rotating in and out, but is really not very substantive.

Jimi Hendrix Experience

The final side begins with the reprise “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, a slightly more upbeat of song which starts side three, almost like a do-over, but still very loose and unfocused. The album recovers with “House Burning Down”, a wild, upbeat psychedelic funk with a marching rock beat during the verses. Perhaps a bit too acid-y with the pan effects, but still an enjoyable listen with a wild ending.

Although a cover of a Bob Dylan song from late in 1967, “All Along the Watchtower”, is perhaps the best Jimi Hendrix recording ever. It is sonically superior to anything else on the album, with a dark mood set perfectly and just the right amount of musicianship and effect. The lyrics echo lines in the biblical Book of Isaiah and the music features wild overdubs above the core acoustic chords along with some of Hendrix’s finest vocals ever. Hendrix had received advanced tapes from Dylan and began recording “All Along The Watchtower” less than a month after it was released on Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding. Rolling Stone Brian Jones provided some percussion on the song. One of the most popular opening riffs in rock and roll breaks into the droning rock beat of the closer “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. The funky guitar sits beneath a pure psychedelic Delta blues riff which ends the double album on a high note.

Electric Ladyland reached #1 on the US album charts as well as #6 in the UK. After the dissolution of Jimi Hendrix Experience in early 1969, Hendrix formed the short-lived Gypsy Sun and Rainbows to perform at Woodstock that summer before forming the Band of Gypsys, with whom he would record one studio album. That album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which Hendrix opened in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

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Astral Weeks by Van MorrisonAstral Weeks was the second solo album by Van Morrison, and in a lot of ways it was his own, direct counter-reaction to the debut album which was released in 1967 without Morrison’s consent and filled with weak studio outtakes. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Astral Weeks was a complete departure from anything Morrison had done previously and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness nature of the music has received critical acclaim for four and a half decades and counting. Amazingly, most of the recording of the eight album songs was done in just two sessions and done among musicians who had never played together before.

Van Morrison got his start with the group Them, which had a handful singles in the mid 1960s. After an American tour in 1966, the band members became involved in a dispute with their manager over revenues, which ultimately led to the band’s break up. Convinced to record solo by producer Bert Berns, Morrison recorded eight songs in 1967, which were originally intended to be used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of four singles. Instead, these songs were compiled and released as Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! without the singer even being consulted. Although the song “Brown Eyed Girl” did reach the Top 10 in the US, Morrison was dissatisfied with the album and sought out a new recording contract.

Morrison moved to Boston where he started to perform in an acoustic duo with double bassist and Berklee student Tom Kielbania. Soon, they began to develop the basic material for Astral Weeks. Producer Lewis Merenstein Went to see Morrison’s live act and was moved by his unique sound. Merenstein had a background in jazz, and decided to replace Kielbania with veteran bassist Richard Davis, who served as the session leader among the unfamiliar musicians. By all accounts, the sessions lacked basic formalities, with Morrison playing the songs on acoustic guitar and letting the session musicians play exactly what they felt.


Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

All eight songs were composed by Morrison and each original album side was subtitle, with side one called “In The Beginning”. The opening title song is one of the strongest on the album. A pure ballad of romanticism which gradually builds on its acoustic and double bass core, adding intensity throughout while not really changing chord structure and the long string-intensive fade out really drives home the central theme of “…to be born again in another time, in another place…” Morrison described it as “transforming energy, or going from one source to another with it being born again like a rebirth”.

The folksy, classical acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner begins “Beside You”, a truly improvised piece. A “spur of the moment” feel persists throughout, especially when it comes to Davis’ bass and, in fact, this song may be a little over the top for the average listener in its sheer roughness of composition. “Sweet Thing” is a lot closer to a traditional love song while still containing a bit of improvised vocals. Musically, it is held together by the glue of a semi-tight rhythm and the fine string accents of Larry Fallon coupled with the flute of John Payne. Lyrically, there positive and romantic lyrics in a natural setting;

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky…

The first side ends with “Cyprus Avenue”, a great and romantically intense song with a core blues arrangement and topical Celtic/folk instrumentation. Fallon’s ever-present harpsichord and later fiddle makes the song a lot looser and more striking as it progresses. A long fade maintains (if not escalates) the intensity of this song, named after a wealthy street in Morrison’s hometown of Belfast.

Side two of Astral Weeks is subtitled “Afterwards” and begins with the most jazzy track on the album, “The Way Young Lovers Do”. With a just a splash of Mexican horns, this definite sixties swing song is a very rewarding listen in spite of being one of the shorter songs on the album. A great fiddle adds real flavor to the subdued acoustic tune, “Madame George”, which is otherwise driven by Morrison’s voice and never really leaves the exact chord progression over its nearly ten minute duration. Driven by vibraphone, “Ballerina” is still intense and romantic on its own, with nice sustained horn accents. The song is the only one composed while Morrison was still a member of Them in 1966. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the closer “Slim Slow Slider”, which is little more than a showcase for the saxophone of John Payne.

Despite the fact that it failed to achieve significant sales success and reached gold status 33 years after its release, Astral Weeks remains a cult favorite. Morrison would soon achieve his commercial breakthrough with his third solo album, Moondance, released in early 1970.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Wheels of Fire by Cream

Wheels of Fire by Cream

Buy Wheels of Fire

Wheels of Fire by CreamThe short-lived power trio Cream reached their apex with Wheels of Fire in 1968. This double album consists of one studio LP and one live LP, and it became the first ever platinum-selling double album, showing that the group had fully arrived just before they decided to call it quits. Wheels of Fire was produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also played various eclectic instruments and helped  choose the live material to provide a showcase for each band member. Most of the studio material was recorded in London and New York during late 1967, while the live performances were captured in San Francisco during early 1968.

Cream rarely performed any of their songs before they entered the studio. On Wheels of Fire, the studio material consists of two blues covers chosen by guitarist Eric Clapton along with original material composed by two distinct teams. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce teamed up with poet Pete Brown to write four of the studio tracks, while drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs with musician Mike Taylor. During these sessions, Clapton did write the acoustic folk song “Anyone For Tennis” (on which he also sang), which was included on limited versions on the album but otherwise released as a single and featured in the movie, The Savage Seven.

The entire studio album was completed before Cream recorded material for the live album. For these live recordings, Pappalardi used a mobile recording studio outside the Fillmore Auditorium and the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where six shows were recorded. From these recordings, four extended tracks were chosen to fill the second LP. “Traintime” is a showcase for Bruce due to his performance of a bluesy harmonica solo, Similarly, “Toad” features a lengthy drum solo by Baker, much longer than the original recording from Fresh Cream. Clapton’s guitar again shines on the classic blues tracks “Spoonful” and “Crossroads”, with the latter Robert Johnson classic becoming so identified with Clapton that he used the title, Crossroads, for his 1988 box set.


Wheels of Fire by Cream
Released: August, 1968 (Polydor)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: IBC Studios, London & Atlantic Studios, New York, July 1967 – June 1968
Side One Side Two
White Room
Sitting on Top of the World
Passing the Time
As You Said
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Politician
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Anyone for Tennis?
Side Three Side Four
Crossroads
Spoonful
Traintime
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Bass, Cello, Harmonica, Recorder, Lead Vocals
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

As an encapsulated package of the best elements of Cream during their duration as a group, “White Room” has become the group’s essential song. Written by Bruce and Brown, the song features a sharp, direct rock beat and a great riff accented by hyper Clapton’s wah-wah guitar. The ethereal refrain section shows the upper range of what this band can accomplish compositionally and the reprise of opening psych-influenced intro is nicely complimented by the sudden return to the hard rock of the outro. Brown’s lyrics have been interrupted as the recollection of a bad acid trip, but certainly leave enough room for interpretation to traverse the decades.

The cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World” is a heavy version of a classic 1920s blues song, with Clapton playing the type of blues guitar that Jimmy Page would soon adopt. The album then turns to some of its most original material. Baker and Taylor’s “Passing the Time” is a mulit-part song which starts as odd drum piece before fading into a completely different, psychedelic organ and viola fueled semi-ballad with some vocal harmonizing. A third section gives the song its title as a rock improve which again fades out as the light second section returns to finish the song. “As You Said” features Bruce on acoustic with some cello by Pappalardi and may be the oddest of Cream songs. In close competition for that title is “Pressed Rat and Warthog”, featuring spoken vocals by Baker, which he originally wanted his daughter to record. While on the surface this may seem like a farcical tune, the music beneath the voice rather interesting and dynamic.

The rock returns with “Politician”, which features more of the bluesy, riff-driven music which defined Cream. Clapton recorded two overdubbed “floating” guitars which. crisscross in the stereo mix. “Those Were the Days” continues the rock groove but with unique elements such as the call-and-response vocals and the mythical lyric matter by Brown. The contemporary blues cover of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” features a rotating rhythm by Baker, behind the screeching, whining guitars and slow-paced leads by “Slow Hand”. “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is the best song on the second side with a wild, almost funky rhythm but with a jazz/folk fusion, making this one a very rewarding listen and perhaps Cream’s most underrated song.

Wheels of Fire was a raving commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching #3 in the UK and #1 in the US. However, shortly after the album’s completion, the members of Cream decided that they wanted to go their separate ways. At the label’s urging, they embarked on a “farewell” tour in late 1968 with nearly the entire set consisting of songs from this double album. One final album called Goodbye, another hybrid of live and studio material, was released in early 1969, after the band had dissolved.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.