Genre: Folk Rock
Preceded by: Bookends (1968)
Followed by: –
Related to: Paul Simon – Graceland
Today we return to 1970, the year Déjà Vu was released. We also return to quarreling band members and vocal harmonies, because not only The Beatles broke up in 1970, so did their American contemporaries of the sixties, Simon & Garfunkel. But before they did, they delivered the world a last pièce de résistance with Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met each other in primary school while growing up in the state of New York. The first group they formed was labeled with the artistic name ‘Tom & Jerry’. It was not until 1965 that they acquired world fame with their monster hit ‘The Sound of Silence’ as Simon & Garfunkel. Other albums and singles followed, until they recorded their fifth and final album Bridge Over Troubled Water, after which they broke up. Garfunkel was pursuing an acting career at that point, starring in the movie ‘Catch-22’. Remarkable detail: the role that was assigned to Simon was completely erased from the original script.
Bridge Over Troubled Water (on which Simon wrote all the songs except the covers ‘El Condor Pasa’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’), was named after the opening track which became a rock classic. Especially the piano work of Larry Knechtel, band member of Westcoast group Bread and session musician for amongst others The Beach Boys and The Mamas & the Papas, is outstanding. However, this track is not at all representative for the album, which contains very cheerful tracks like ‘El Condor Pasa’, ‘Cecilia’ and ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’.
‘El Condor Pasa’ was based on traditional Andean folk tunes, brought together in a full-fledged song by the Peruvian Daniel Robles. Simon picked it up and made it the most famous western song featuring panpipes. It’s followed by ‘Cecilia’, and whether it’s about some lover or a songwriter’s block, it’s a real earwig. The trilogy of joy is completed by ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’, one of my personal favorites.
After all the joy comes resentment part one, with ‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’. Originally, Garfunkel (who had studied to become an architect) just asked Simon to write a song about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon had no clue who this was, but turned the song into an announcement of the upcoming breakup with his former pal. Simon also addressed Garfunkel with the song ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’. Garfunkel went to Mexico to act in his movie, leaving Simon behind in New York, writing songs for this album.
In between this tracks is a single (‘The Boxer’) and it’s B-side (‘Baby Driver’), which were released already in 1969. ‘The Boxer’ became one of the duo’s greatest hits, despite (or maybe thanks to) the lyric-less chorus. It’s an autobiographical song, with Simon telling us he feels unfairly criticized. He temporary filled in the chorus with ‘lie-la-lie’, but never came up with replacing lyrics afterward. The penultimate ‘Bye Bye Love’ is a live recording of a song most famous in it’s Everly Brothers version, later also recorded by former Beatle George Harrison.
The duo reunited to tour again every decade since 1970, for example in 1981 with the famous concert in Central Park, entertaining over 500,000 people. Each time they play a range of songs from their last album, on which it’s crystal clear that this is a duo about to break up, but those guys decided to throw one big last party together.
Preceded by: Help! (1965)
Followed by: Revolver (1966)
We’re still in the middle of our ‘basics’ and here’s our second Beatles album already. This is explicable by the fact that their oeuvre is essential for exploring rock history. And the fact that I love them, obviously. I talked about their last album earlier, when they had developed as a mature band already, exploring their limits as talented musicians. We’ll now return to the point where they were ‘growing up’, to Rubber Soul. The announcement of what would become a legendary sequence of albums from the world’s biggest band.
It was 1965 and the world had just experienced ‘Beatlemania’, a sort of mass hysteria around a band that dominated the charts with one hit single after another and was touring all over the world. With Rubber Soul, this band decided to record an album in a period without touring. This resulted in a number of technical innovations which can be found throughout the album, going beyond the traditional instruments of a rock band. Besides, The Beatles were heavily influenced back then by American acts like Bob Dylan (lyrically, moving from positive love stories to more abstract notions of love and even negative portrayals) and The Byrds (musically, absorbing elements of folk rock).
Let’s just run over this gem. The album is opened by McCartney’s ‘Drive My Car’, an awesome upbeat track on which McCartney actually plays the guitar solo and Harrison the bass part. It’s followed by ‘Norwegian Wood’, a pioneer song concerning the introduction of non-Western instruments in a pop song, as Harrison plays the sitar on this one. His interest in this instrument was stimulated by Harrison’s friend David Crosby, who was a big fan of Indian music. ‘You Won’t See Me’ was the Beatles first experiment with a song lasting longer than three minutes and ‘Nowhere Man’ was among the first songs that were unrelated to romance or love whatsoever, doors that were opened by Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited.
What follows are the two really rocking tracks from the album: ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘The Word’, according to the legend the first song Lennon and McCartney wrote after they had smoked pot. Side one of the original LP is closed by ‘Michelle’, an oh so typical poppy love song of McCartney.
Side two starts with ‘What Goes On’ and ‘Girl’ (Lennon’s own version of Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’?), after which a real musical orgasm starts. ‘I’m Looking Through You’ is one of my personal McCartney favorites and is followed by an all-time Beatles favorite: ‘In My Life’. This is pure beauty in it’s simplest form, including an awesome baroque piano bridge in the middle of the song. ‘Wait’ was initially recorded for their previous album Help!, but was released on this one because they were one song short with the release deadline looming.
Another personal favorite is Harrison’s ‘If I Needed Someone’. You can very clearly hear the musical friendship between Crosby and Harrison on this song: it could have been released on a Byrds-album without anyone noticing. Besides, it’ s the only song from Harrison The Beatles ever played live. The final track is ‘Run For Your Life’: a slight preview of what Lennon was about to write during his solo career with ‘Jealous Guy’. Maybe he just wanted to write a remake because of the fact that this song was one of his least favorite Beatles songs.
Certainly check out this one if you liked Abbey Road, and also if you didn’t: Rubber Soul shows us The Beatles as a developing band, but still in a pure form. Maybe the album will inspire you to great things, as it did to Brian Wilson as he started to record Pet Sounds after hearing Rubber Soul for the first time.
Genre: Westcoast, Folk Rock
Preceded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
Followed by: 4 Way Streets (live album,1971)
Last week I spoke about the Eagles’ masterpiece which predicted the end of an era. We travel back in time this week, to 1970, when Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young launched Déjà Vu, marking one of the highlights of this same era. Crosby, Stills & Nash had debuted the year before with their self titled album, and on this second one they were joined by no one less than Neil Young.
In this way, ‘CSNY’ was one of the first supergroups, consisting of individual members who had been successful with their own bands before. David Crosby was one of the prominent members of The Byrds, Graham Nash was in the ‘British Invasion Group’ The Hollies and Stephen Stills and Neil Young played in Buffalo Springfield. The way they formed CSNY is an excellent example of how all musicians were intermingling in California during the seventies.
Crosby and Stills left their bands first in 1968, and started to jam together now and then. Crosby ran into Nash (who he already knew from his tour in the UK in 1966), when The Hollies were performing in California. They improvised a song with the three of them at a party at Mama Cass (Mama’s and the Papa’s) which convinced them of their vocal chemistry. Neil Young joined the trio after their first album, after he also arrived in Laurel Canyon. Just like The Eagles, CSNY were famous for their vocal harmonies, but very intricate sometimes, making Déjà Vu my personal favorite westcoast album.
The personal history of the individual members had a great influence on the recording of this album. All four of them (Nash to a lesser extent) had difficult personalities which would often lead to interpersonal problems. That’s why all songs, except for ‘Woodstock’, were recorded individually by the member who had written it, the other guys contributing what was needed from them afterwards.
Just like the CSN-debut (‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’), this album kicks off with an absolute gem full of harmonies from Stephen Stills: ‘Carry On’. It continues with ‘Teach Your Children’, one of the two Graham Nash songs on the album, the other one being ‘Our House’. The first one was inspired by a famous picture of an angry child holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park (NYC). By the way: Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead plays pedal steel guitar on this track. ‘Our House’ is about Nash’s short relationship with Joni Mitchell, with Nash’s desire for a monogamous family life in the middle of the free love era. Those were two of the three top 40 singles from the album, Joni Mitchell herself delivering the third one with ‘Woodstock’, which became the absolute anthem of the festival when it was played by CSNY there, being their first public performance with the four of them.
My personal favorite track however is ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, written by David Crosby. It’s basically a song about personal freedom and it’s a rare chance to hear Crosby sing with a very raw instead of a clear voice. Neil Young delivered the oh so typical Young songs ‘Helpless’ and ‘Country Girl’ for the album. Young had just released After the Gold Rush, and his perceptions of the wide marshlands in his home country are still prominent in this songs. Enjoy this masterpiece of musical chemistry.
Preceded by: One of These Nights (1975)
Followed by: The Long Run (1979)
Related to: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu
Hotel California from the Eagles, another real classic album. You love it or you hate it. Jeffrey Lebowski and punk hated it, I still love it. Hotel California was the last call for help from the so called Westcoast-scene, a call from maybe it’s most famous representatives: the Eagles.
It’s 1976 and this is the Eagles’ fifth studio album, featuring the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard on it’s cover. Peace and love dominated the American Westcoast during the early seventies. Next to psychedelic bands like Jefferson Airplane, another music style was born there. Musicians like The Mama’s and the Papa’s; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and The Byrds lived in Laurel Canyon and came together in ‘The Troubadour’, a club where Neil Young gave his first performances in the US and Tom Waits was discovered during an amateur night. The Eagles also used to hang out there, although none of the members were actually from California. What all those artists have in common are polyphonic vocal harmonies, melody and a melancholic tone.
However, around 1976 the spirit of peace and love was turning into cynical hedonism and the Eagles came up with ‘Hotel California’ as a metaphor for this decline into materialism and decadence. The concept album was a mind-blowing success, as 16 million copies of the soundtrack of decadent times were sold in the US alone.
So what’s on it? The first three tracks immediately became top 20 singles, starting with the famous title track. Personally, I find it one of those rare rock evergreens that don’t start to annoy after a while. It’s about the traveler becoming trapped in this creepy luxury hotel, an allegory for the self-destructing music scene at that time (late seventies). Absolute highlight of the song is of course the guitar duet towards the end between Don Felder and Joe Walsh.
‘New Kid in Town’ (about the ease of being replaced in the music industry) was the second number one hit, and won a Grammy for Best Arrangement for Voices. It was followed by ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, a more hard rock, riff-based song about a couple’s excessive lifestyle. The last track of side one on the LP is ‘Wasted Time’, a ballad about lost lifes, including an instrumental reprise.
One of the Eagles’ best songs is without any doubt the final track of this album, the epic ‘The Last Resort’. The fragile voice of Don Henley tells us very delicately about mankind destroying every place he finds beautiful. Paradise is being screwed up and at some point there will be no new frontiers…
Hotel California proved to be a predictive album, as the LA scene perished due to its success some years later: Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles itself became cold money machines, the price of dope was determined by the purchase of David Crosby and Brian Wilson was lying coked up on his bed for 3 years. Enjoy this essential part of rock history.