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.

 

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.

 

At Folsum Prison by Johnny Cash

At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash

Buy At Folsom Prison

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

1968 Images

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

 

Waiting For the Sun by The Doors

Waiting For the Sun by The Doors

Buy Waiting For the Sun

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doors

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

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

~

1968 Images

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

 

Steppenwolf and The Second 1968 albums

Steppenwolf and The Second by Steppenwolf

Buy Steppenwolf
Buy The Second

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1968 Images

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

 

Music From Big Pink by The Band

Music From Big Pink by The Band

Buy Music From Big Pink

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Band in 1968

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

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

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

~

1968 Images

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

 

1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen

1978 Album of the Year

Buy Van Halen’s Debut Album

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

“I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

Van Halen

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Infinity by Journey

Infinity by Journey

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Infinity by JourneyThe classic lineup of Journey came together for the album Infinity, released in 1978. Although this was the fourth overall album for the group that had been together since 1973, it was the first to feature lead vocalist and iconic front man Steve Perry. With his smooth tenor voice and apparent ability to traverse keys at will, Perry ushered in a new era of pop accessibility for Journey. the album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who had worked with such rock legends as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Nazareth, and Queen. Baker said he aimed for a layered sound approach, complete with harmonized lead guitars, similar to his work with Queen in the mid seventies.

Journey was formed as a professional jazz/fusion “backing band” built by former Santana manager Herbie Herbert, originally called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie were also recent Santana members and they were surrounded by a number of musical lineups through the early years of the group, eventually settling on bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Journey released three albums in three years with none achieving significant sales. Schon, Valory, and Dunbar took singing lessons in an attempt to add vocal harmonies to Rolie’s lead and even brought in a temporary front man, Robert Fleischman in 1977 to transition to a more popular style.

Perry had achieved moderate success with California bands, Ice and Alien Project, but was on the verge of giving up music when Herbert heard a demo of Perry in Alien Project. Perry was brought on tour and eventually replaced Fleischman permanently in late 1977. With a new contract with Columbia Records, the band set out to make a cohesive and popular record.


Infinity by Journey
Released: January 20, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: His Master’s Wheels Studio, San Francisco, October-December 1977
Side One Side Two
Lights
Feeling That Way
Anytime
Lă Do Dā
Patiently
Wheel In the Sky
Somethin’ To Hide
Winds of March
Can Do
Opened the Door
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Gregg Rollie – Keyboards, Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars
Ross Valory – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

The geographical ballad “Lights” (which can still regularly be heard at San Francisco Giants baseball games) leads things off on Infinity. The complete ode to their home “city by the bay”, was actually written by Perry about Los Angeles before he joined the band. Although originally just a very minor hit, which reached #68 on the charts, the song became more popular over the years to the point where it is now one of Journey’s most easily recognizable songs.

Greg Rollie takes the lead vocal mic on the next two tracks. On “Feeling That Way” he duets with Perry, on a pleasantly moody track with an eighties moderate rock feel. The first incarnation of the song was an instrumental intended for the group’s third album Next, but was left off that album. When Perry joined the band, he helped add a chorus with Rolie adding the verse lyrics. “Anytime” features Rollie solo on lead vocals. This song was co-written by Robert Fleischman during his short time with the group and was released as a single from the album.

“Lă Do Dā” is an upbeat, pure rocker, driven almost entirely by texture, from Schon’s opening guitar effects to the long sustained vocals with electronic effects. “Patiently” was the first collaboration between Perry and Schon and soon became a fan favorite. On this delicate yet hip ballad, Schon plays an acoustic-like form on his electric guitar through the beginning verses, while the concluding full-band jam makes it all the more interesting.

The second side opens with “Wheel in the Sky”, which contains almost an upbeat country riff, especially in the interplay between Schon’s guitar and Ross Vallory’s bass. The song began its life as a poem called “Wheels in My Mind” by Diane Vallory, wife of the bassist and it reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts.
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another pleasant quasi-ballad, driven by Perry’s soaring, atmospheric vocals and Schon’s scorching fret work, along with some subtle keyboard arrangements by Rolie.

Neal’s father, jazz musician Matt Schon composed some of the fine chord structures for “Winds of March”, an arrangement would have worked well with many of the later prog metal acts. This has a love-song-like lyric but with a more somber feel from the dark piano runs to the flange effects on Dunbar’s drums, making it one of the better songs on side two. The album’s final two racks offer a slight glimpse into Journey’s future. “Can Do” is a pure upbeat rocker co-written by Perry and Ross Valory, while “Opened the Door” is the only real soft rock song on the album. Led by the synths from Rollie and more layered guitars from Schon, it is easy to see how the group laid the brickwork here for a lot of their 80s ballads.

Infinity was the first album by the group to contain tracks that received regular airplay as well as the first with charting singles. It was the first of a string hit albums, which eventually served to help Journey become one of the top rock groups in the world. While a few more changes would take place in subsequent years, starting with Herbert firing drummer Dunbar, Journey would consistently gain more popularity through the next half decade.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.