“Don’t want to be a fat man, people would think that I was just good fun.”: Stand Up (Jethro Tull)

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Year: 1969

Genre: Progressive Rock

Preceded by: This Was (1968)

Followed by: Benefit (1970)

Related to: not available yet

 

 

Old bearded men playing endless symphonic compositions and singing about all kind of mystical themes: progressive rock. A genre in music history which is praised as many times as it’s feared. I myself am a big fan; Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake &Palmer, King Crimson, Yes and even Genesis, I loved it all from the start. Somebody once asked me which ‘prog’ album I would recommend him as he wanted to learn to know the genre. The guy liked bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Doors,… and I could only come up with one album that could soothe the transition from that world of music into one including all the achievements of progressive rock: Stand Up.

Progressive rock originated in the late sixties, heavily influenced by psychedelic rock from the US. Bands like Procol Harum (with it’s hit ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’) and The Moody Blues (with it’s album Days of Future Passed) started to incorporate elements from classical music into their work. Other (mainly British) bands followed by going beyond the standard verse-chorus based song structures with complex instrumental ‘songs’. They frequently brought these songs together on so called concept albums, with all lyrical contributions treating a specific theme or telling stories with epic proportions.

In contrast with bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull didn’t have its origins in psychedelic rock but in blues rock instead and that’s exactly what makes Stand Up such an accessible prog album. Tull’s debut basically was a mediocre blues album featuring a flute. Singer Ian Anderson decided to start playing this instrument after he realized he couldn’t outbid Eric Clapton as a guitar player so he picked an instrument no rock star had played before to become the world’s best at it. Together with this new instrument he started to put in all kind of new influences into the group’s sound after taking full control of the band. He wrote all the tracks on the album, which pushed Tull in the direction of progressive rock.

The first track on the album (with awesome artwork) is the raw, bluesy ‘A New Day Yesterday’. Together with ‘Nothing Is Easy’ (track 6 on the album), these songs are juiced with some solid guitar riffs and sound like the hard rock of Cream, completed with some energetic flute loops. The album also delivered Tull’s first classic: ‘Bouree’. It’s a very jazzy reinterpretation of the classic composition ‘Bourrée in E minor’ by Bach, with Anderson’s flute replacing the piano. Also noteworthy is the delicious bass solo in the middle of the song.

The album continues with ‘Back to the Family’, a song which Anderson must have written to prove that he also had a great voice besides his capabilities as flute player. Moreover, guitarist Martin Barre performs a great solo towards the end, something he repeats in an even better way on the next track, the ballad ‘Look Into The Sun’. But just like last week’s album, the best songs are saved for the second part. ‘Fat Man’ reinvents blues by inserting eastern instruments like the sitar and the notorious balalaika. But it even gets better.

For me personally, the last three songs of the album are the best ones. The most melodic of them all is ‘We Used To Know’, on which Anderson performs the best melancholic vocals I’ve prolly ever heard. It’s chord progression and even the guitar solo in the end was used later by the Eagles for their monster hit ‘Hotel California’, as they liked the song very much while supporting Tull on their tours in the seventies. ‘Hotel California’ might have become the greatest hit, ‘We Used To Know’ is the real stuff. Make your own judgment on that one. The song gets a melancholic sequel on ‘Reasons For Waiting’, a love song which blends the acoustic guitar and the flute beautifully together.

The album doesn’t fade out after this one because you’ll be shaken completely around again by it’s final piece: ‘For A Thousand Mothers’. Anderson’s flute is more aggressive than ever on this uptempo track and just when you think the storm has ended he strikes back one more time with a solo. Certainly check out the album if you don’t know it because if you like it, there’s a lot more waiting for you.

Top Tracks:
1. Reasons For Waiting
2. We Used To Know
3. For A Thousand Mothers

“In Jersey anything’s legal, as long as you don’t get caught”: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (Traveling Wilburys)

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Year: 1988

Genre: Rock

Preceded by: –

Followed by: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990)

Related to: not available yet

 

 

Time for a musical intermezzo this week, as we jump right into the eighties. However, the album of the week has nothing to do with the typical sound of that century. Instead, we’re talking about another supergroup here: the Traveling Wilburys, a band full of stars from the sixties and seventies, who released an essential album for your record collection in 1988: Vol. 1.

The whole project was initially set up by former Beatle George Harrison. He returned to making music again in 1986, after being out of  business for a while. He asked Jeff Lynne to co-produce his album Cloud Nine, which became Harrison’s great comeback. In need for a B-side for one it’s singles he contacted Lynne, who was also producing stuff for Roy Orbison at that time. They proposed to do a recording together with the three of them, but there was no studio available. Harrison contacted Bob Dylan, knowing Dylan had a home studio, but forgot to pick up his guitar at Tom Petty. Tom Petty came along and suddenly they were recording a song (‘Handle with Care’) with the five of them, supported by drummer Jim Keltner.

Those guys quickly realized this song was way too good for a B-side, and Harrison wanted to record another nine songs and release it as an official album. Their name would be the ‘Traveling Wilbury’s’, a concept of alternate identities Harrison was familiar with after releasing Sgt. Pepper’s with The Beatles. This time their real names wouldn’t even be on the album, replaced instead by pseudonyms like Lucky Wilbury (Bob Dylan) and Nelson Wilbury (George Harrison), all half-brothers of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.

The album became a brilliant collection of cheerful songs, an excellent recipe against a heavy hangover. Of course the album started with the hit single ‘Handle with Care’, which immediately makes clear what happens if five musical geniuses gather in a studio: one of them notices a box labelled ‘Handle with Care’ and five hours later they’ve got a massive hit. The beauty of the song is the combination of Harrison’s and Lefty Wilbury’s (Roy Orbison) voices. What follows is Dylan’s ‘Dirty world’, sounding raspier than ever, and the fifties rock ‘n roll song ‘Rattled’. ‘Last Night’ is a song from Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. (Tom Petty), but especially noteworthy is the bridge from Orbison.

But the real strength of the album is the second part in my opinion. Beginning with ‘Not Alone Anymore’, a song Otis Wilbury (Jeff Lynne) wrote especially for Orbison. His voice really sounds outstanding on this song, making it a real gem. ‘Congratulations’ is a weird mix of sad lyrics and joyful tunes, preceding the upbeat ‘Heading For The Light’ (Harrison), one of my personal favorites with it’s happy guitar intro and great sax work. The real masterpiece of the album however must be ‘Tweeter and The Monkey Man’. Dylan tells us a story like he did on ‘Hurricane’, with a bombastic chorus where the other guys join in. The song is also considered as an homage to Bruce Springsteen, as the lyrics include many Springsteen songs like ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Stolen Car’, ‘Mansion On The Hill’ and ‘Lion’s Den’ (with the latter being released after the Wilburys album), while the story is situated in New Jersey, Springsteen’s home state.

The album closes with Harrison’s ‘End of the Line’, telling us everybody will be all right in the end. It’s video became a tribute to Orbison, who died shortly after the release of the album because of a heart attack. This immediately meant the end of the original band, one of the reasons there never came a Wilburys Tour. The remaining four members recorded a follow-up album in 1990 (Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3), but it missed Orbison’s voice. Enjoy the party.

Top Tracks
1. Tweeter and the Monkey Man
2. Heading for the Light
3. Not Alone Anymore

“Take me back down where cool water flows.”: Green River (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

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Year: 1969

Genre: Southern rock

Preceded by: Bayou Country (1969)

Followed by: Willy and the Poor Boys (1969)

Related to: The Band – Music From Big Pink

 

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) probably is my favorite classic rock band together with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. That’s partly why it’s already the second album of this band that I write about while still exploring the ‘basics’. It’s also the second album of their famous 1969 trilogy, preceding Willy and the Poor Boys  which I treated last time. Talking about trilogies: the album was succeeded by Abbey Road on top of the Billboard 200, which as we know was kicked off his throne by Led Zeppelin II.

CCR had their decisive break-thru earlier in  January 1969 with their album Bayou Country and it’s monster hit single ‘Proud Mary’. But instead of getting distracted by hours lasting psychedelic jams like virtually all other Californian bands of that time, they plunged back into the studio and released the single ‘Bad Moon Rising’ a few weeks later, followed later by ‘Green River’. The rest followed in August, brought together on the album Green River.

Green River managed to refine the characterful sound of Bayou Country, opening with the title track, one of my all time Creedence favorites. Fogerty brings a passionate ode to the rural south, supported by a brilliant and simple guitar riff. ‘Green River’ by the way actually was the brand of some drink. Next track is the single’s B-side ‘Commotion’, which instead ridicules the crowded city life. Another personal favorite is ‘Tombstone Shadow’, about a man drenched in bad luck, with Fogerty’s voice being so convincing that you really start to feel bad for the guy he sings about.

Side two of the album contains the other single ‘Bad Moon Rising’  and it’s B-side ‘Lodi’, which became a massive radio hit. The first one (Sonic Youth called an album after it in 1985) kind of differs from the traditional Creedence sound, having a typical rockabilly rhythm. Lyrically the track warns us for what’s about to come on Willy and the Poor Boys and following albums, as Fogerty sings about the danger at the times of Vietnam and Nixon. The second one is a ballad about an artist ending up in the small Californian town Lodi. Although it’s close to Fogerty’s hometown, he never visited it before writing the song and just chose it because he liked the name. Decide for yourself if you want to go there some time after having listened to the song.

The final track on the album is ‘Night Time Is the Right Time’, another remake of one of their favorite fifties songs (having covered ‘I Put a Spell on You’, ‘Susie Q’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ on earlier albums). The Nappy Brown song became a highlight of the band’s live gigs. One of those famous gigs CCR played was on Woodstock, shortly after releasing this album. It was never recorded because The Grateful Dead jammed all night long and far past schedule, but luckily the album is still there.

Top Tracks (thank God other live performances were filmed^^):

1. Green River
2. Bad Moon Rising
3. Tombstone Shadow

“Architects may come and architects may go and never change your point of view.”: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

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Year: 1970

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.

Top Tracks:
1. The Boxer
2. Keep the Customer Satisfied
3. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

“I’m looking through you, where did you go?”: Rubber Soul (The Beatles)

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Year: 1965

Genre: Rock

Preceded by: Help! (1965)

Followed by: Revolver (1966)

Related to: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited, The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

 

 

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.

Top Tracks:
1. In My Life
2. If I Needed Someone
3. Drive My Car

“Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.”: Déjà Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)

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Year: 1970

Genre: Westcoast, Folk Rock

Preceded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

Followed by: 4 Way Streets (live album,1971)

Related to: Eagles – Hotel California, Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

 

 

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.

Top Tracks:
1. Almost Cut My Hair
2. Woodstock
3. Carry On