Just For You by Neil Diamond

Just For You by Neil Diamond

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Just For You by Neil DiamondNeil Diamond broke through in a big way in 1966 and 1967, both as a performer and a respected songwriter (although he had been writing “hit” songs for other artists for several years). His album Just For You captures much of the highlights from this era in Diamond’s career and includes several songs which were huge hits for other artists, both prior to and following the release of this album. Still, the album has never been considered a classic, nor has it even been issued on compact disc. This may be due to the fact that it  included some tracks from Diamond’s 1966 debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond (also not yet available on CD).

Every song on Just For You had been on the A-side or a B-side of a single, with five songs becoming Top 40 hits for Diamond and two others, “I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”, becoming huge hits for The Monkees in 1966 and UB40 in 1983 respectively. Another Top 40 hit from the era, “Kentucky Woman”, was curiously left off the album. All in all, this was the first album to consist entirely of original material by Diamond.

It was also the final Neil Diamond album on Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, with whom he would be in litigation for the following decade before ultimately retaining the rights to all this early material. The songs and recordings originated at the legendary Brill Building in New York City, where some of the most famous pop songs of the 1960s originated. It was produced by legendary songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who also provided may background vocals, although records of other musicians backing Diamond are not readily available.
 


Just For You by Neil Diamond
Released: September 16, 1967 (Bang)
Produced by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich
Recorded:Brill Building, New York, 1966-1967
Side One Side Two
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
The Long Way Home
Red, Red Wine
You’ll Forget
The Boat That I Row
Cherry, Cherry
I’m A Believer
Shilo
You Got To Me
Solitary Man
Thank The Lord For The Night Time
Primary Musicians
Neil Diamond – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Multi-instruments

 

The album begins with the top ten hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, with its melodramatic hook and driving verse lines. A 1992 remake of the song by Urge Overkill brought the song to a new generation with its inclusion in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Red, Red Wine”, on the other hand, remained a relatively obscure song for many years until a rearranged, reggae version was recorded by UB40 in 1983, becoming that band’s biggest hit and prompting Diamond to adopt this newer version for his own live performances from the late 1980s on.

“The Boat That I Row” was the third single released by Diamond in 1966. It contains a Latin, uptempo rhythm and uptempo acoustic and hand claps like its predecessor “Cherry, Cherry”, which was Diamond’s first ever Top Ten hit as a recording artist. The song was influenced by Bert Berns, the head of Bang Records, who influenced the song’s title and arrangement and features some memorable keyboard hooks by session player Artie Butler.

After hearing the hit “Cherry Cherry”, Don Kirshner asked Diamond if he had a similar song that could be used by a group assembled for a new television series called The Monkees. Diamond played him “I’m a Believer”, a song he had planned to record on his debut album. The Monkees rode the song to the top of the charts where it remained for a remarkable seven weeks, becoming the #1 charting song of 1966. By contrast, Diamond’s own version went relatively unnoticed when it was finally released on Just For You.

Neil Diamond also wrote some personal, introspective songs. “Shilo” tells of solitude and loneliness during childhood, in a mysterious and haunting song. Berns refused to release “Shilo” as a single, believing it was too different from anything that Diamond had previously recorded and might stain his “brand”. “Solitary Man” was the very first single by Diamond in early 1966 and was included on both the debut and this album. With somber lyrics about isolation and a full yet subtle brass arrangement, this initial recording would remain one of the finest throughout his long career. The album concludes with “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”, an uptempo sixth single, which ends the album on a high note. The song peaked at #13 on the charts.

Neil Diamond straddled the worlds on 1960s pop music and the 1970s singer/songwriter. Although never quite recognized as a great album, Just For You may be the one original album by Neil Diamond which best reflects his most prolific songwriting period.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.

 

Procol Harum

Procol Harum

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Procol HarumProcol Harum released their fantastic eponymous debut at the end of the summer of 1967 but most listeners have not had an opportunity to hear it as it was created. This is because only mono versions of the album were released even though the material was recorded on multi-track tape. Those original multi-track tapes were misplaced and have not been located to this day. This is really a tragedy because the originality and pleasant dynamics of the band’s earliest sound is quite evident even through these sub-par mixes. Procol Harum found their niche by combining centuries-old classical and baroque elements with the then modern day moody-ish soul inspired by artists like Ray Charles. This was all topped by the poetic lyrics of wordsmith Keith Reid.

Most of these early compositions originated from Reid’s lyrics, with the music built later to accommodate the structure. Musically the band built rich layers of keyboards by Matthew Fisher, often overdubbing piano and Hammond organ to forge the lead melodic instrumentation. Topping off the sound is the English, blue-eyed soul voice of lead singer Gary Brooker , who delivers the lyric in a distinct and intelligent manner.

The album did not sell well in the band’s home country of England, as neither of their charting singles, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Homborg” were included on the original English version. However, critically Procol Harum was very well recieved, especially among many of their contemporary musicians.


Procol Harum by Procol Harum
Released: September, 1967 (Deram)
Produced by: Denny Cordell
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, June 1967
Side One Side Two
Conquistador
She Wandered Through Garden Fence
Something Following Me
Mabel
Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)
A Christmas Camel
Kaleidoscope
Salad Days (Are Here Again)
Good Captain Clack
Repent Walpurgis
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Homborg
Band Musicians
Gary Brooker – Lead Vocals, Piano
Matthew Fisher – Organ
Robin Trower – Guitars
Dave Knights – Bass
BJ Wilson – Drums

 

The UK version of the album begins with “Conquistador”, one of the very few songs which originated from Brooker (instead of Reid), who had written a Spanish-influenced piece before the band was even formed. It is melody driven with choppy piano and swirling organ, resulting in an overall feeling of adventure. A live version of the song was released as a single five years later and peaked at #16 on the charts, the second highest charting song in the band’s history.

The most popular song ever by the band was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, which lead of the US version of the album and was one of the most beautifully orchestrated anthems of the 1960s. The calm, baroque organ by Fisher contrasts sharply with the soulful vocals of Brooker, yet it all works in perfect harmony. Reid came up with the title when he overheard the phrase at a party, and originally wrote four verses for the song but only two verses were recorded. Although much speculation has been made over the meaning of the lyrics, Reid has said they are simply about a one night stand with a woman. For over 40 years the song was credited to Reid and Brooker alone, but in Fisher won co-writing credit for his distinctive contribution to the music. The song not only reached #1 in the UK, but has also been credited by a performing rights group as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.

“She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” is a light and bouncy number with a bright and riff-laden organ line and lead by Brooker and melodic vocals by Reid, despite some of the dark lyrics. “Something Following Me” is classically soulful with lyrics influenced by Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The song is the first on the album to prominently feature guitar by Robin Trower. Trower also shines on the bluesy “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)”, which is fueled by slow bass riff by Dave Knights and previews some of 1970s bluesy classic rock styles.

Procol Harum in 1967

The second side opens with another soulful number, “A Christmas Camel”, with a melodic keyboard duel between Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ and steady rhythm held down by BJ Wilson. If a true Kaleidoscope is a celebration of color, the song “Kaleidoscope” is a celebration of sound. It is organ driven with piano backing and swirling bass and drums throughout, all under the effortless, chanting yet melodic vocals of Brooker. The album concludes with the light “Salad Days (Are Here Again)”, followed by a piano-led instrumental and Fisher’s closer “Repent Walpurgis”, a suitable melodic number to complete this fine debut album.

Some versions of the album include “Homburg”, the follow-up single to “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, with surreal lyrics and a hypnotizing rhythm. Procol Harum built on their success in 1967 with a series of fine albums well into the 1970s, although frequent personnel shifts would never quite let the band elevate to top-level popularity.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.

 

Something Else by The Kinks

Something Else by The Kinks

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Something Else by The KinksSomething Else by The Kinks was a transitional album which straddled the riff-driven pop songs of their early years and the more artful compositions of the band’s “middle” era. The album marks is the last of five by the band which involved producer Shel Talmy.  It was co-produced by guitarist, lead vocalist and chief songwriter Ray Davies, who would assume producing duties on many future projects. The album offers selections which can be characterized as 1960s British pop, but with just the slightest pyschedelic and artful elements such as brass sections and mildly complex arrangements. In any case, the songs are strong and melodic throughout with great entertainment value.

As a songwriter, Ray Davies became more refined and sentimental, in contrast to the more psychedelic trends which were proliferating in 1967. In fact, the band seems to make a statement by the pure, unambiguous songs on Something Else, standing in sharp contrast to the vast soundscapes which were being employed on contemporary albums. The album is fueled by moderate acoustic numbers which provides a nice backdrop for the character portraits and vignettes portrayed throughout.

Rhythm guitarist Dave Davies also stepped up as a songwriter on this album. In fact, he briefly flirted with a solo career following the album, releasing the single “Susannah’s Still Alive”, which peaked at #20 on the UK charts. The song features a crisp piano riff with strong rock vocals and has been included as a bonus track on recent editions of Something Else. A couple of other “bonus” tracks from the era is the upbeat folk “Act Nice and Gentle” and the Muswell Hill inspired “Autumn Almanac”, which became the band’s last charting single of the decade.


Something Else by The Kinks
Released: September 15, 1967 (Reprise)
Produced by: Shel Talmy & Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London, April 1966 – July 1967
Side One Side Two
David Watts
Death Of a Clown
Two Sisters
No Return
Harry Rag
Tin Soldier Man
Situation Vacant
Love Me Till the Sun Shines
Lazy Old Sun
Afternoon Tea
Funny Face
End of the Season
Waterloo Sunset
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Act Nice and Gentle
Autumn Almanac
Susannah’s Still Alive
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Dave Davies – 6 and 12 String Guitars, Lead Vocals
Pete Quaife – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 
The upbeat opening track “David Watts” is a satire on the English “schoolboy” culture and seems to have been inspired by the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together“. Like many songs on the album, this song includes piano by session player Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins also plays on Dave Davies’ acoustic driven “Death Of a Clown”, which was originally planned as his first solo single. Eventually all of the Kinks got involved, along with Ray’s wife Rasa Davies, who sings the haunting backing vocals during the chorus. Dave’s rough-edged, raspy voice sounds like a cross between Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan.

“Two Sisters” continues the string of great 60s pop/rock with the edge of a very English sounding harpsichord melody. Many have taken the two rivaling sisters in the lyric as an allegory for the Davies brothers themselves. “No Return” has a very basic arrangement with a bossa nova beat by drummer Mick Avory, who uses a marching beat on the next song “Harry Rag”.

The middle part of the album contains some of the more experimental songs. “Tin Soldier Man” is another melody-driven rocker with a strong horn presence and English sounding changes throughout. “Situation Vacant” has a domestic setting lyrically featuring Hopkins’ Hammond B-3 and saloon piano riffs. “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” is another Dave Davies’ tune with a hint of psychedelia, which the band dives into with both feet on the next track, “Lazy Old Sun”. This slow and deliberate track with strategically placed, Mexican-style horns and appears to have been a major influence on some future Pink Floyd.

The absolute best is saved for last with the beautiful song “Waterloo Sunset”. A ballad dedicated to London with scenes of childhood memories and nostalgia, the lyrics are also a personal lament of the loss of wonder that comes with age. Musically, the song is built around a descending progression By the Davies’ respective acoustic and electric guitars and the bass of Pete Quaife. There are also some fantastic harmonies throughout giving a soothing effect that helps make this song the perfect ending to a great album.

Although Something Else sold poorly on both sides of the Atlantic, it has come to be regarded as one of the finest in the band’s large collection. With a new phase of their career underway, the Kinks set out to try more ambitious projects such as the concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society in 1968. Although the band was already well seasoned by this point, their career was just getting warmed up as they would continue with several relevant albums all through the 1970s and well into the 1980s.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.

 

Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones

Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones

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Between the Buttons by The Rolling StonesBetween the Buttons was an album released in January 1967 by The Rolling Stones. Sonically, the album works well with the strong mid-sixties British rock that the Beatles produced with the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums while it also previews some of the more artful productions of 1967. Following the ambitious 1966 album Aftermath, this album is a further morphing of the band away from their R&B roots. The album is also the last in which founding member Brian Jones played a major role in song arrangements, although he would remain an official band member for another two-and-a-half years. Jones played a huge array of instruments above the steady rock and blues rhythms, giving the album a definitive musical edge. It was published simultaneously with the double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday”, both of which were included on the U.S. version of the album. Between the Buttons was the last Stones album to have different versions as the record company practice was all but eliminated after 1967.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a pure rocker with guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards taking on much of the musical details, playing guitar, bass, and piano on the track. The song reached #3 on the UK charts. Although this was the intended “A side” of the single, the 45 was often flipped over by DJs to play “Ruby Tuesday”, due to the then-controversial nature of the lyrics (with its suggestion of casual sex) most radio stations opted to play the flip side “Ruby Tuesday” instead, which went on to become a #1 hit in America. Possibly the best psychedelic song by the stones, “Ruby Tuesday” was recorded nearly simultaneous with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and explores similar musical territory. Jones led the way on this track, playing piano and recorder, with double bass recorded by bassist Bill Wyman (who pressed the strings) and Richards (who bowed the strings). The song also has a really nice melody sung by Jagger.

Between the Buttons was the last of five early Rolling Stones produced by the band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham and was recorded on a four track machine, with much “track bouncing” to accommodate the rich arrangements. Lead vocalist and songwriter Mick Jagger has expressed dissatisfaction with the end result due to the excess tape noise generated by track bouncing and excessive overdubbing.


Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones
Released: January 20, 1967 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: Los Angeles & London, August-December 1966
Side One Side Two
Yesterday’s Papers
My Obsession
Back Street Girl
Connection
She Smiled Sweetly
Cool, Calm & Collected
All Sold Out
Please Go Home
Who’s Been Sleeping Here?
Complicated
Miss Amanda Jones
Something Happened to Me Yesterday
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Ruby Tuesday
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, Vibraphone, Saxophone, Percussion
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

 

The subtle bass-driven “Yesterday’s Papers” starts the album with a heavy dose of marimba by Jones. The song was written solely by Jagger about a recent relationship which went sour. Road manager Ian Stewart, a former player in the band, lent is boogie-piano skills to a couple of tracks. “My Obsession” is segmented into sections which each start over with a drum beat and contain some cool traditional rock sounds and Jagger swagger throughout. Stewart also plays on “Connection”, written mostly Richards (who shares lead vocals), a popular live rock song for years to come.

The Rolling Stones in 1967“Back Street Girl” takes a completely different approach. A pleasant and melancholy ballad with a well-crafted acoustic by Richards, a great melody by Jagger, and Brian Jones on accordion, giving the song some great depth and feel. Although this was excluded from the US version, this is one of the finest tracks on the album. “She Smiled Sweetly” continues the foray into different sub-genres, as a flute-laced organ introduces a moderate waltz with some nice rock elements, especially by Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. The first side concludes with “Cool, Calm & Collected”, which alternates between the upbeat verses driven by the boogie piano of Jack Nitzche and the calm psychedelic choruses, which feature a sitar by Jones. Later in the song Jagger adds a harmonica and the song speeds up before reaching a crashing end.

The second side begins with the few songs on the album which feature a prominent amount of electric guitar, “All Sold Out” and “Please Go Home”, the second of which features a Bo Diddley-style “Hand Jive” riff. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” starts with an acoustic intro before breaking into good musical motif with piano, harmonica, and some exceptional bass by Wyman. “Complicated” is another song featuring a potpourri of sound while maintaining a very pop-oriented sound.

<em>Between the Buttons</em>

The album concludes with a perfect closer, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”. Here Richards adds some dry and pleasant vocals to this upbeat and happy-go-lucky duet, which sounds like it borrowed some of its sound from the Kinks. The song is allegedly about Richards’ first LSD trip, but it stays away from the deeper, surreal sound scape (which the band would explore on their next album), for a more upbeat sound with Jones playing a complex brass arrangement by Nitzsche.

In spite of the lack of defining electric guitar representation, Between the Buttons proved to be the most solid rock album of their early catalog. It also contains strong signs of the direction they would take on their late ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, the most controversial album of their career.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Forever Changes by Love

Forever Changes by Love

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Forever Changes by LoveForever Changes is the third album by the folk rock band Love, and has become their crowning achievement musically. It is a richly produced and sonically fine album which was not a huge hit commercially but became recognized as one of the finest albums from the California scene in 1967. Produced by Bruce Botnick and the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter Arthur Lee, the album is made of songs are primarily acoustic-based with liberal splashes of brass and strings along with a strong rhythmic backbone, while the use of electric guitars, which dominated most of the band’s first two albums, is limited to a few strategic appearances.

The band released their critically acclaimed debut album in 1966, but took a bit of an artistic detour with the follow-up Da Capo in early 1967. Prior to recording Forever Changes, Love downsized to a five piece by dropping keyboardist Alban Pfisterer and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli. Still, the group was undergoing some severe internal strife and the sessions began with only Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean from the band along with several well-known Los Angeles session musicians. This was allegedly due to the rest of the line-up’s alleged inability to function at the time, and the song “Andmoreagain” was recorded with this session arrangement. According to Botnick, the use of session musicians “sparked” the band and they soon got their act together to record the rest of the album.

Instrumentally, the album is made of an acoustic core of guitar textures with an overlay of horns, strings, and orchestral swell, with some of the brass punctuating the melodies. Lee worked with arranger David Angel, spending several weeks playing and singing the envisioned orchestral parts, which he had envisioned for these compositions from the beginning. The result is a diverse album with fluctuations in rhythm patterns, tonal color, and lyrical substance.


Forever Changes by Love
Released: November, 1967 (Elektra)
Produced by: Bruce Botnick & Arthur Lee
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, June-September 1967
Side One Side Two
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not a Motel
Andmoreagain
The Daily Planet
Old Man
The Red Telephone
Maybe the People Would Be the Times
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer In the Summer
You Set the Scene
Primary Musicians
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars
Bryan MacLean – Guitars, Vocals
Ken Forssi – Bass
Michael Stuart – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Although Lee wrote the bulk of the material on the album, the opener and most well known track, “Alone Again Or” was written by MacLean. It contains nice Spanish acoustic with brass rudiments, which alternate with cool, bass-driven verses held together by bassist Ken Forssi. This was the sole single released from the album to reach the Billboard singles chart, with a re-issue peaking at No. 99 in 1970. MacLean’s other contribution to the album is “Old Man”, another Mexican-influenced folk song with strategic brass and some lyrical references to Christianity.

“A House Is Not a Motel” is a strong acoustic rocker with the definitive 1960s California sound until later exploding into a heavier electric sound led by guitarist Johnny Echols. It contains cynical lyrics by Lee with images of war and violence. “The Daily Planet” seems to have been both influenced by The Beatles’ Revolver, while in turn becoming a great influence on some future numbers by The Who. Neil Young, who was originally slated to co-produce the album, only stuck around long enough to arrange this track. The album’s first side concludes with the psychedelic-fused “The Red Telephone” with some really interesting chord changes but almost nonsensical lyrics. This song has been called a “paranoid nursery rhyme”.

Love in 1967“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” starts side two with a pessimistic look at “flower power”, while “Live and Let Live” follows as a more melodic political ballad with musically progressive sections, good melodies, and some lead electric guitar by Echols. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” reflects the hippie culture of the day, in which Lee was deeply entrenched, but with a foreboding sense of doom with the threat of the draft and war.

Not really a “bummer” at all, the upbeat and infectious “Bummer in the Summer” is a short acoustic rocker where Lee does a Bob Dylan-like “sing-talk”. The album ends with its only extended track, the seven-minute “You Set the Scene”. Forssi and drummer Michael Stuart provide a driving rhythm through the verses, much like Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. The songs morphs into a multi-part mini-suite with later parts with horns, strings, and a contrasting melody, including a free styling “rap”, which may be the first ever on record.

Despite the artistic achievement of Forever Changes, the inner turmoil in Love continued. MacLean quit the band shortly after the album’s release and, while Lee made several more albums with a new version of the band, by the early 1970s Love was no more.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the music of 1967.

 

Disraeli Gears by Cream

Disraeli Gears by Cream

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Disraeli Gears by CreamRock’s first “super group”, the British trio Cream was only together for a few years in the late 1960s with only four albums to their credit. However, they left a strong legacy and cast a huge shadow of influence on the genre that became known as classic rock. Perhaps their signature work, 1967’s Disraeli Gears fused the core genres of jazz and blues with a heavy dose of sixties pop and just a touch of psychedelic flourishes. The album was also the American breakthrough for the band, reaching number 4 on the charts, and elevating Cream’s popularity to the upper level among their contemporaries in the “second British invasion”.

Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce was classically trained and had played in Manfred Mann’s band along with various jazz bands with drummer Ginger Baker prior to Cream’s formation in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton was already a “legend” in the UK (but Disraeli Gears introduced him to a vast amount of the American audience), and was encouraged by the management at Atlantic Records to become the “front man” of the band. Clapton did begin singing lead vocals on a few songs but was content to leave the bulk of those duties to Bruce.

The title of the album is based on a inside joke, after one of the band’s roadies mis-pronounced the bike part “derailleur gears” as “disraeli gears”. It was recorded in New York during May 1967, and produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also co-wrote a couple of the tracks along with his wife Gail Collins. The record company was disappointed at the lack of American success by Cream’s 1966 debut Fresh Cream and had requested that the band record in New York so their “top guys” could directly supervise the sessions. Pappalardi helped bring the band’s song into a more “modern” realm while maintaining the blues core.


Disraeli Gears by Cream
Released: November, 1967 (Reaction)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: Atlantic Studios, New York City, May 1967
Side One Side Two
Strange Brew
Sunshine Of Your Love
World Of Pain
Dance the Night Away
Blue Condition
Tales Of Brave Ulysses
SWLABR
We’re Going Wrong
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
Mother’s Lament
Primary Musicians
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Piano, Harmonica
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins with one of the “Strange Brew”, one of the more popular songs from the album which was constructed in a very unique way. The song was originally called “Lawdy Mama”, a straight blues song that evolved from a Buddy Guy riff converted from shuffle to straight time. Pappalardi and Collins took a tape of a live performance of the song and overlaid a a pop melody with new psychedelic-influenced lyrics, making the song a “strange brew” of pop and pure blues with Clapton maintaining the original riff and Albert King style guitar solo.

Another very interesting mix come in the song “World Of Pain”, which starts as an almost fifties style ballad but with very interesting bass progressions and wah-wah guitar overtones, before breaking into a more harmonized sixties groove in the chorus. “Dance the Night Away” is driven by a lush 12-string riff along with a folk-influenced melody, harmonized vocals, and mystical lyrics. This may be the band’s furthest wandering from their blues core.

On the flip side, “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the undeniable rock anthem from the album. It was written by Clapton and Bruce along with poet Pete Brown, and is driven by an infectious 10-note riff that has become one of the most recognizable in rock history. That riff was originally developed by Bruce after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the first time in London. The fat guitar tone itself has become renowned as the best example of Clapton’s late sixties “woman tone”, with Baker holding it all together with an African influenced drum progression.

The second side of the album begins with “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, with lyrics inspired by Homer’s Odyssey penned by artist Martin Sharp. This melodramatic narration alternates between calm, minimalist vocal parts and more frenzied musical jams. Clapton fused an uptempo song he was working on inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” with Bruce’s slow bass progression, making the overall affect very unique.

“SWLABR” is a fun song with lyrics by Brown, which compare a woman with the “Mona Lisa”, only to lyrically deface her image later on. The song’s title is an acronym for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow” and contains some of the finer upbeat musicianship by the band members. “We’re Going Wrong” was written by Bruce in total and features Baker using Timpani drum mallets. “Outside Woman Blues” is a standard blues song written in the 1920s, which Clapton updated with a slightly rock-oriented arrangement. The album concludes with a couple of unusual tracks – “Take It Back”, which features Bruce on harmonica, and “Mother’s Lament”, an old music hall song which features three part harmony by all of the band’s members.

Cream had a very straight-forward, muscular, and funky sound at a time when the trends were moving towards the more artistic soundscapes of “the summer of love”. With the release of Disraeli Gears in November 1967, Cream was a band primed for the big time. They followed in short time with 1968’s Wheels of Fire, but within a year that had decided to disband after some planned farewell concerts and a farewell album.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.

 

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn
by Pink Floyd

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The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink FloydThe Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.

The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.

Knowing the band’s reputation for long and improvised live renditions, EMI gave Smith and the band free reign to create the album they wanted to make. There is a certain genius to this album which may take a lot of work for mainstream audiences to “get”. At just the age of 24, Barrett reached inside and tapped into a psychological world caught between the wondrous discoveries of childhood and the tragic revelations of a finite life. The also captures both the pleasure and madness of psychedelic music, all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown and deterioration which would force him out of the band within a year.

The album also contains many philosophical and intellectual elements, including it’s title, which Barret took from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind In the Willows. Although the compositions are genius, there are some flaws in the production as the overall mix is a bit bright and the bass is woefully under-represented throughout. Still, the production is fine enough for the musical quality to shine through, especially for the seasoned listener.


The Piper At the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd
Released: August 4, 1967 (Capitol/EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: EMI Studios, London, February – July 1967
Side One Side Two
Astronomy Domine
Lucifer Sam
Matilda Mother
Flaming
Pow R Toc H
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Intersteller Overdrive
The Gnome
Chapter 24
The Scarecrow
Bike
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
Arnold Layne
Candy and a Currant Bun
See Emily Play
Apples and Oranges
Paintbox
Primary Musicians
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Organ, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 
The album begins with “Astronomy Domine”, the ultimate space odyssey song with wild tremolo effects and a chanting vocal duet between Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright. There is an extended instrumental section after first verse sequence before the song returns for the concluding sequence. the riff-driven “Lucifer Sam” follows with a cool, mid-sixties British groove, making the song a lot less psychedelic than those on the rest of the album.

“Matilda Mother” begins with some interplay between Waters’ bass and Wright’s organ, who plays a big role in the song by also taking on lead vocals. There are also some fine harmonies during the verses and a slow carousel-like sequence through the end. “Flaming” is another melody-driven song but with wild sound effects throughout as well as a bright acoustic guitar, overdubbed in the third and fourth verses and an odd, yet melodic middle break. “Pow R. Toc H.” is the first of two instrumentals on the album, with the heart of the song driven mainly by a blues riff (one of the few moments where Waters bass is well represented). This is a great early art piece by Pink Floyd, though there are times when the sound effects are just a tad overwhelming. According to drummer Nick Mason, the band members were present at Abbey Road when they watched The Beatles recording “Lovely Rita” for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and decided to try voice effects and noises similar for “Pow R. Toc H.”

Syd Barrett
Barrett wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs along with contributing to two instrumentals which were credited to the whole band. Waters was credited with one composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. This closer of the first side is a more frenzied piece than anything else on the album, with Mason really shines on this track with a style of over-the-top drumming which should make Keith Moon proud. Rumor has it that the band insisted in contract negotiations that “Interstellar Overdrive” remain in experimental form on the debut album. The song, which became the the unofficial theme song of the underground event “the fourteen hour technicolor dream”, was the first recorded by the band in January. This instrumental starts strong, with a strong and catchy main riff, but within a minute and a half the song begins to deteriorate into a psychedelic collage of sound effects, which goes on for about seven minutes and may have be just a bit much for any sober listener.

Barrett takes over the rest of the album, with some fine and interesting compositions. “The Gnome” is an upbeat, acoustic folk song with some exaggerated vocals by Barrett and some excellent bass by Waters. “Chapter 24” is perhaps the first deeply philosophical song by a band that would make their reputation exploring such matters. Barrett’s melody floats above the transcending musical motif with the middle part dissolving with a Middle-Eastern sounding organ. The song was inspired by by text from chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese script I Ching (The Book of Changes).

“The Scarecrow” is built on a series of percussive effects by Mason and organ flights by Wright. These at first sound disparate, but are soon held together by layered vocals in concert with tightly strummed electric guitars. An acoustic montage is later overdubbed over the whole ensemble in the outro.

Pink Floyd in 1967

“Bike” is the most brilliant and chilling song on the album, and perhaps the quintessential Syd Barrett song. Lyrically, the song is metered like a 10-year-old’s boasting rant about disparate subjects during the verse and a melancholy chorus about a “girl who fits in with my world”. Knowing of Barrett’s eventual mental demise, the song has turned out to be extremely profound. Musically, the song is driven by good piano and effects by Wright throughout and rock driven rock verses with softer, melodic choruses through the song proper, which lasts less than two minutes. The song and album concludes with a psychedelic reprise of sound collages.

After the release of the album in August 1967, Pink Floyd continued to perform in London, drawing ever larger crowds. But Barrett’s mental state continued to deteriorate and soon he got to the point where he could not perform onstage. Aside from a few more single tracks and one song on the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett would not perform with the band again, making The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, a truly unique work.

~

1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

The Velvet Underground & Nico

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The Velvet Underground and NicoPerhaps the album with the single biggest gap between initial commercial success and ultimate historical relevance, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become a legendary fountainhead of influence and inspiration. Although this avant-garde rock group lasted a very short time, few artists claim to have broken so much new territory. They blended unique arrangements of traditional rock with a frank, explicit, and uncompromising degree of taboo subjects such as sexual adventurism and drug abuse, which put the band way outside the mainstream. Their work in the mid-to-late 1960s has been credited as a primary influence on the punk and new wave explosions of a decade later, even though they were only appreciated by a “cult” audience at the time and otherwise dismissed with indifference or scorn by mainstream rock critics and fans. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the band began to get recognition as an important band of the ’60s, if not all time.

The group’s leader was guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Lou Reed, who had dabbled in many types of rock, jazz, and beat poetry since his teen years in the late 1950s. Fusing all these, influences he developed a unique style of speak/sing vocals. While working as a staff songwriter, Reed met Welsh multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and the two found a shared interest in fusing the avant-garde with pop/rock music. They formed a band called the Primitives which changed to the Velvet Underground in 1965 with the addition of guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. With Reed as the primary songwriter, the group started working on unique but un-commercial sounding songs for their live act but caught a break when pop-artist Andy Warhol caught the band live and decided he wanted to “manage” them. Warhol incorporated the Velvet Underground’s music into a greater mixed-media/performance art ensemble that he called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.

While the band was uncompromising in their music and lyrics, they did have to compromise on their personnel. The band was reluctant to accept German fashion model and singer Nico as a fifth member, but her inclusion was insisted upon by Warhol. While Reed remained the principal lead vocalist, Nico did sing three of the better songs on the album. Although many have dismissed Warhol’s producer credit as purely ornamental, Reed felt that he did play a vital part in completing this album;

…he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked and as a consequence of him being the producer, we’d just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer…”

Despite the high profile benefactor, the album’s release was not without complications, delaying its release until nearly a year after recording wrapped with the bulk of all recordings happening in April 1966 at Scepter Studios in New York City. These sessions were financed in part by Columbia Records but that company rejected the final product, as did several other labels, before the MGM-owned Verve Records accepted the recordings. The fact that this innovative material was in the can before other breakthrough projects like Pet Sounds and Revolver, makes this album all the more remarkable.

CRR logo
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Released: March 12, 1967 (Verve)
Produced by: Andy Warhol amp; Tom Wilson
Recorded: New York City, April – November 1966
Side One Side Two
Sunday Morning
I’m Waiting For the Man
Femme Fatale
Venus In Furs
Run Run Run
All Tomorrow’s Parties
Heroin
There She Goes Again
I’ll Be Your Mirror
The Black Angel’s Death Song
European Sun
Primary Musicians
Lou Reed – Guitars, Vocals
Nico – Vocals
John Cale – Viola, Piano
Sterling Morrison – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Maureen Tucker – Drums & Percussion

 

The album begins with “Sunday Morning”, a collaboration between Reed and Cale, which was actually the last song recorded for the album in late 1966. It was written at the request of co-producer Tom Wilson, who felt the album could use another pop-oriented song. Although the song was written to be sung by Nico, Reed ultimately sang lead on the track.

“I’m Waiting for the Man” follows as the first of many provocative and nihilistic songs about drug use. It is driven by a distorted guitar and driving bass by Reed and Morrison in a very simple rock riff which really sets the song’s background perfectly. “Femme Fatale” is the first track on the album to feature lead vocals by Nico, and the atmosphere could not be different than that of the preceding song, as it has a very measured rhythm and jazzy arrangement. Warhol commissioned Reed to write the song about actress and model Edie Sedgwick.

The musical styles continue to fluctuate through the rest of the first side. “Venus in Furs” is a sexually-charged tune which is driven by Cale’s viola and Reed’s oddly-tuned guitar and straight-forward, yet poetic vocal narrative. “Run Run Run” returns to a simnple, bluesy-rock tone, with Reed actually doing some traditional style singing and a proper rock drum beat by Tucker. The Warhol click became the inspiration to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which Reed described as an accurate description of certain people at the Factory;

I watched Andy. I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things…”

“Heroin” is the most original, most memorable, and best song on the album. It was written by Reed in 1964, and received harsh criticism for not overtly condemning drug usage (although it doesn’t exactly praise it). The song has a song years (if not decades) ahead of its time with pleasant, melodic, strummed electric guitar and a droning electric viola that builds to a frenzied crescendo.

The Velvet UndergroundThe next two songs are the most pop-oriented on the album. “There She Goes Again” has an actual hook with responsive background vocals and some quasi-soul musical rudiments. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is Nico’s final song on the album and is arranged as a very short, traditional ballad. It was released as a single in July 1966, ahead of the album’s release. The album does retain its “weirdness” with the final two tracks. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is put together like a psychedelic Dylan song. Throughout the song, there are loud bursts of audio feedback, and hissing with guitars tuned low and a screeching viola. The nearly-eight-minute long “European Son” has a more traditional rock guitar and bass, with long, improvised vocals and more crazy sound effects.

On this 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground espoused a frank bleakness in their music which would inspire musicians of future generations, while maintaining a strong musical core. However, the were not able to achieve longevity, as Nico was out of the band by the end of the year to pursue a solo career and the association with Warhol quickly deteriorated. The group did manage to release a few more albums over the next four years, before disbanding in the early 1970s.

~

1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s 45th anniversary of albums from 1967.

 

Days of Future Passed by Moody Blues

Days of Future Passed
by The Moody Blues

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Days of Future Passed by Moody BluesAlthough Days of Future Passed is the second official album by The Moody Blues, it was the first to lay out the prog-rock template which would define the band’s sound for the next decade. It was also the first album to feature singer/songwriter Justin Hayward and guitarist/bassist John Lodge, two central figures who shaped the band’s direction during their heyday. Originating in Birmingham, England, the band began as an R&B based pop band during the first “British invasion” of 1964, scoring two hits that year with “Steal Your Heart Away” and “Go Now”, which gave their 1965 debut album its title. By 1966, the band wanted to change direction and, after some personnel changes, began working out the material that would ultimately end up on Days of Future Passed.

However, the result of this album was not how it was originally planned. The band’s label, Decca Records wanted to to showcase its enhanced stereo-sound technology which they called “Deramic Sound”. The label commissioned a hybrid orchestral/rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” with the Moody Blues chosen as the “rock” band because A&R manager Hugh Mendl was a huge fan. But when producer Tony Clarke had heard the new original material that the band had been working on, he took it upon himself to replace the Dvorek material and instead had the London Festival Orchestra, led by conductor/arranger Peter Knight, adapt sections from the Moody Blues’ originals.

The result was a totally unique release (even for 1967), which the record company nearly rejected because they didn’t know how to market it. Audience response was quite favorable and the album became both one of the most influential psychedelic rock albums ever and a vessel for some of the Moody Blues’ most timeless radio hits. The album was also one of the first true “concept” albums (predating The Who’s Tommy by two years) with the concept being the “day” being an allegory for phases of life itself. In fact, the concept was so important to the essence of this album, that the song order was one of the very few to be preserved on 8-track tape versions.

CRR logo
Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues
Released: November 11, 1967 (Decca/Deram)
Produced by: Tony Clarke
Recorded: Decca Studios, London, October – November 1967
Side One Side Two
The Day Begins / Morning Glory
Dawn Is a Feeling
Another Morning
Lunch Break / Peak Hour
Forever Afternoon (Tuesday Afternoon)
(Evening) Time to Get Away
The Sunset / Twilight Time
Nights In White Satin / Late Lament
Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Lead Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Mike Pinder – Keys, Piano, Vocals
Ray Thomas – Flute, Horns, Keys
Graeme Edge – Drums, Vocals
Peter Knight – Orchestral Conductor

 

Days of Future Passed is a bit “bottom heavy” with the finest material late on the first and throughout the original second side. “The Day Begins” fittingly starts the album with a dramatic, movie-like swell which quickly morphs into a long orchestral overture. About four minutes in, the song features a poem written by drummer Graeme Edge, but recited by keyboardist Mike Pinder, something that would be reprised with another poem towards the end of the album. Pinder’s “Dawn Is a Feeling” is the first proper “song” on the album. It is a moderate piano ballad with some musical theatrics before dissolving into into a long orchestral ending, something common to most songs on the album.

Multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas wrote “Another Morning”, a European-style dance song, led by Thomas’ flute riff. It has a much edgy-er sixties pop arrangement than any of the previous songs with a complex vocals during the choruses. The final track on the first side is called “Lunch Break”, with an orchestral intro that suddenly bursts into the full rock arrangement of Lodge’s “Peak Hour”, which seems to derive much of its influence from The Who.

The heart of the album begins with a classic composition, entitled “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” on the album, but later released as a single titled simply “Tuesday Afternoon”. It is the best overall track on the album, with a perfect combination of folk and sixties psychedelia. The then “cutting edge” instrument of the mellotron, played by Pinder, mixes perfectly with the acoustic and bass guitars and the absolutely brilliant vocals and melody by Hayward, show his earliest potential as a top-notch composer.

Lodge’s “(Evening) Time to Get Away” is a bit darker and more melodramatic but still one of the greats on the album as it builds towards more upbeat sections without ever losing its overall feel. The evening theme continues with Pinder’s “The Sunset”, a cool mix of orchestral effects with a rock based melody and lead vocal and some middle-eastern rhythms. Thomas’ “Twilight Time” follows with a full piano rocking background and some overdone effects and distant vocals as well as some abrupt orchestral dissolve and a quick ending. This is likely due to the remixing of the album which took place in 1978 after it was discovered that the original master tapes had begun to deteriorate. For this reason, the original 1967 stereo mix has never seen a CD release with all modern versions of the album derived from the later remix.

The album reaches a dramatic climax with “Nights in White Satin”, another timeless composition by Hayward. As the first single from this album, the song was a huge international hit despite its long-running length. After the chart success of other long songs such as “Hey Jude” and “Layla”, “Knights In White Satin” was re-released in 1972 and it charted even higher, reaching #2 on Billboard chart and #1 on several other charts, with even a Spanish-language version, “Noches de Seda”, topping charts in some countries. The song was written by Hayward at age 19 and dissolves into the Edge’s spoken-word poem “Late Lament” to finish the album.

Days of Future Passed was a hodge-podge of orchestral and rock arrangements of compositions by several young musicians, along with some spoken word poetry and newer electronic effects (such as the inclusion of the mellotron during key parts of key songs). Somehow it all works without conflict and this bold and ambitious original effort set the Moody Blues up to produce several more original classics in subsequent years.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

1967 Images

 

The Doors and Strange Days, 1967

The Doors 1967 Albums

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Buy Strange Days

The Doors and Strange Days, 1967I have been a fan of The Doors music since I was about 12 or 13 and have constantly gone back and forth over which is their absolute best album. This has been an impossible task because, as one who discovered their music a full decade after the death of vocalist Jim Morrison, all six of their original studio albums have been equally timeless in my opinion. As a music critic, however, I must take a fresh listen to a lot of the music I’ve “known” all my life and give an honest, sober, critical opinion using my more mature listening skills. From this perspective, I have concluded that the Doors first two albums are even BETTER than I remember. So it is today that I have the daunting yet rewarding labor of love that is reviewing The Doors and Strange Days together.

Of course, in this process I’ve tried to discern which is the greater work and these two albums have, at different times nudged ahead of each other. The albums are very similar with each having a handful of radio-friendly “pop” songs, perhaps one romantic ballad, and an extended tour-de-force to cap off the album. The establishment rock press has long given The Doors the edge due to its innovative breakthrough, and there is some merit to that, However, I could not see choosing one over the other for my own “desert island” list. One one hand, Strange Days has a slight edge in that it is solid throughout and there are no weak filler songs (of which there are a few on The Doors). Also, “Days” has a slightly better climactic ending with “When the Music’s Over” as compared to its “parent” song “The End” (that’s right, I actually said that!) But on the other hand, Strange Days has nothing comparable to “Light My Fire”, a unique song in the history of rock, nor does it contain any brilliant cover interpretations like “Alabama Song” or “Back Door Man”.

The heart of any discussion about The Doors revolves around Morrison, the genius poet who lived in his life on the edge until his death at age 27. And Morrison made a remarkable evolution during that year of 1967. He came into the year as a shy, unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice and would turn away from the crowd when onstage. By year’s end, as the Doors fame was at its absolute peak, Morrison had morphed into the rash, master of improvisation who taunted police officers while onstage in New Haven, CT to the point where the show was halted and Morrison was arrested and dragged off stage. But what really struck me when revisiting the music this week, is how musically advanced each of these album are sonically.

Much of the credit for the overall sound has to go to producer Paul Rothchild, who spent about four times as long mixing and mastering as the band did with the actual recording. However, the musicians themselves – guitarist <strong, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – brought an excellent and eclectic mix of diverse styles and influences. They stepped forward and shined to make excellent music, but also showed remarkable restraint when necessary and faded into the background to offer the perfect canvas for Morrison to forge his poetic nuggets.

The Doors debut albumThe Doors
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Side One Side Two
Break On Through
Soul Kitchen
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Alabama Song
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
The End
Strange Days by The DoorsStrange Days
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
Side One Side Two
Strange Days
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
Unhappy Girl
Horse Latitudes
Moonlight Drive
People Are Strange
My Eyes Have Seen You
I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind
When the Music’s Over
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals
Robbie Krieger – Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Keyboards, Piano, Bass
John Densmore – Drums

 

The DoorsThe Doors album was released during the very first week of 1967. It was on the cutting edge of modern music during a historic year for rock n roll on many fronts. However, the actual recording procedures were quite antiquated. Recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood over six days, Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick used a 4-track tape machine for all recording and overdubbing (to put this in perspective, by the early 1970s top albums were recorded on 24 tracks). What Rothchild and Botnick lacked in modern technology, they made up for in proficiency and genius.

Ironically for such a breakthrough album, both the opening and closing songs had parts which were censored. In a section of the closer “The End”, Morrison repeats “fuck” repeatedly, but this was buried so far in the mix to be unintelligible. The opening song, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” originally contained the lyrics; “She gets high, she gets high”, which was truncated to simply “She gets…, she gets…” Aside from this unfortunate omission, the song is the absolute perfect opener for the album and the band itself. The band’s unofficial motto was “Where you see a wall, we see a door” and “Break on Through” is the perfect musical articulation of this. The piece also showcases the talents of each member, beginning with an infectious groove led by Densmore’s jazz-flavored drums and Manarek’s Fender Rhodes keyboard bass groove. Kreiger plays an adaptation of a Paul Butterfield blues riff, while Morrison provides some shredding vocals to make the mission and message completely unambiguous.


 
A more moderate groove follows with “Soul Kitchen”. Kreiger plays a funk/soul riff that he says was trying to emulate the horn section of a typical James Brown song. Manzarek’s key bass is “doubled up” in unison with session bassist Larry Knechtel to further highlight the “soul” aspect of the song. The song is a tribute to a restaurant in Venice Beach which often let Morrison sleep overnight while he was homeless in 1965. “The Crystal Ship” may be one of the few traditional “love songs” in the band’s catalog. Morrison croons like early Frank Sinatra while Manzarek shows that he is also an impressive pianist.

“Twentieth Century Fox” is the first boilerplate “pop song” on the album, using the cleaver double-entendre hook in a piece meant for nothing more than dancing. However the next track, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” couldn’t be further from a traditional pop/rock track. Written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the song was used in various operas as “Whisky Bar” or “Moon over Alabama”. The song was presented to the band by Manzarek and adapted with updated lyrics, becoming an entertaining part of their live sets.

The Doors

Although composition credit for all songs on The Doors went to the band as a whole, the album’s primary writers were actually Morrison and Krieger. One day, the guitarist presented a mellow folk song to the band called “Light My Fire”. Impressed by the interesting chord changes, the rest of the band kicked in and built upon the simple song with Densmore providing a Latin beat, Morrison adding some lyrics and Manzarek coming up with the famous, signature keyboard run. Further, the band added a long “jam” section in the middle of the song as a showcase for their musical talents, inflating the song’s duration to over seven minutes. The song would go on to become the band’s first number one hit and probably their most famous ever. José Feliciano’s cover version won a Grammy a few years later and the song was used in television commercials (something Morrison was vehemently opposed to). It was also the subject of controversy on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the band was told they couldn’t use the “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, but Morrison sang the original lyric anyway.

The second side of the debut album starts with “Back Door Man”, a blues song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The Doors version includes some wild howling and screaming by Morrison above an intense, pulsating beat by the band members, making the whole recording very sexual in nature. This is something Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin would replicate in their earliest recordings a few years later.

The middle part of the second side contains three short song. haunting “End of the Night” was one of the earliest Doors songs, written in 1965. Musically, Kreiger shines brightest here, with Morrison borrowing the title and key lyric from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”. This song is sandwiched between two more upbeat numbers. “I Looked at You” is a pure California sixties pop song, with an almost surfer-like vibe, while “Take It As It Comes” plays on the “time for everything” theme, no doubt inspired by The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn”.

This all leads to “The End”, the aptly named climax of The Doors debut album. Originally written by Morrison as a “breakup song”, the track morphed into a dark 12-minute opus which employed the outer boundaries of musical forms by the band members. During a spoken-word section midway through the song, Morrison added a nod to the Oedipus complex;

Father…Yes son? I want to kill you / Mother, I want to …”

Reportedly, the first time this song was performed with that part, it simultaneously got the band fired from their gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and signed with Elektra Records. The track that ended up on the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever and captures a masterful moment in time where a quiet and soft ballad erupts into a crazy and dynamic seance. The song is esteemed both musically and and culturally and it made The Doors an instant classic in 1967.

Strange Days by The DoorsAlthough the debut had far from reached its peak, the band returned to the studio in March to record the follow-up which would become Strange Days. Many of the songs for this new album had been written alongside the ones that appeared on The Doors, and some may contend that the best of them had already been used on the debut album. But, if this is true (and I’m not really sure that it is), then what the doors lacked in originality they more than made up for in musical prowess. The result is the hardest rocking album the band would ever produce and a real unsung influence on artists for decades to come.

“Strange Days” is the lead off title song, a frenzied barrage of music which uses some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars and vocals. Although the first album had its moments of intensity, there was nothing like the throbbing rhythms of pure majesty which fill this song from beginning to end. Much of the credit here has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality low-end to the studio tracks which were hard to replicate during the quartet’s live performances (as impressive as they were). Lyrically, the song is totally about debauchery and sin, and the ultimate comeuppance;

Bodies confused, memories misused / As we run from the day to a strange night of stone…”

Lubahn also shines on the much more restrained following track, “You’re Lost, Little Girl”. This song is so well-crafted musically, blending subtly textured instrumentation that it is hardly noticeable how minimalist and repetitive the lyrics are.

“Love Me Two Times” shows yet another dimension of the band, combining a cool rockabilly riff with a more modern melody and intense rock changes. It’s radio-friendly overtones tend to mask the strong underlying sexual message, making it at once a light and bouncy pop tune and an adult-oriented blues piece.

Although the Doors are often labeled as a “psychedelic” band, the truth is the only really dabbled in this form and it was never really a centerpiece of their central sound. That being said, Strange Days does enter a bit of a psychedelic phase near the end of the first side. “Unhappy Girl” explores some odd patterns and piano effects by Manzarek and backwards tape masking, resulting in a haunting undertone to the all-too-cheery vocals by Morrison. “Horse Latitudes” is a short poem that Morrison wrote as a teen, based on a painting he had seen. On the album, the band does some odd noise making to try and enhance this poem, but it is Morrison’s deliverance that really carries the track.

Proving that the band can leap from poetry to pop without violating some mysterious sense of form, “Moonlight Drive” follows to close the first side of Strange Days. This was the Doors’ earliest original composition, the first song Morrison sang to Manzarek when first discussing the idea of forming a band. A long staple of their early set list, the studio version adapted Krieger’s new slide guitar technique, giving an added dimension to the funky jounce of Manzarek’s piano. Morrison provides romantic yet philosophical lyrics throughout as the song continues to gain momentum and intensity. The Doors were always more about personal power than “flower power” and Morrison in particular advocated personal freedom through testing every limit. “Moonlight Drive” illustrates this view perfectly in a very entertaining fashion.
 
The second side of Strange Days starts with “People Are Strange”, the first single released from the album (while “Light My Fire” was still high on the charts) in the autumn of 1967. The song has a European cabaret quality and is a very short and catchy number. Written primarily by Krieger, the song morphs from a simple guitar ballad to a light and bouncy piano/keyboard dominated number with a simple, two-note bass line and lyrics which seem to be influenced by LSD. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is a pure rock song, which fits well with some of the poppier stuff from the first album, complete with Morrison returning to the shredding, screaming vocals. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” seems to have been influenced by Brian Jones and his mid-sixties work with the Rolling Stones, especially with its use of the marimba.

The Doors in 1967

Just as the album begins in a rock frenzy, it completes with the 11-minute rock epic “When the Music’s Over”. Structurally, it is built similar to the end, with opening and closing verse hooks wrapped around a long poetic interlude by Morrison. But this journey is much less dark and much more like a religious journey examining the soul. Morrison assumes the role shaman, while the musicians reach for the unexplored using their remarkable capacity for musical theatrics. Kreiger plays an acid-hot guitar intermixed with a theremin, while Manzarek bounces along with melodic keys and heartbeat bass line and Densmore performs some impressive, double-jointed drumming. Lyrically, Morrison coins some of his most famous phrases;

The face in the mirror won’t stop, the girl in the window won’t drop / A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried, waiting for me outside…”

Without a doubt, part of the band’s success was their “When The Music’s Over” became a vehicle for the quartet to quite literally propel themselves into the heady and rarefied space that true improvisation will construct for both performer and audience alike.

Strange Days is more surreal than psychedelic and it showed the world that the debut album was no fluke. Rothchild had high hopes for this second album, even later admitting that he thought it might “be bigger than anything The Beatles had done”. It was not, faring not quite as well as the debut critically or commercially (even though it did reach #3 and spawned two Top 40 hits). It’s lack of larger success may have been due to it curiously being released in September ’67, the same month when its predecessor The Doors was peaking at #2 on the album charts.

The Doors put out four more solid studio albums plus a double-live album over the next four years and had much further success and added to their brief but potent legacy. However, the band never did quite regain the tremendous momentum that they had in 1967.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.