Ah! The hypocrisy. Yesterday, I pompously wrote that there was a difference between thinking about the past and living in it. The implication is that I am completely well balanced, exercising control over the present to ensure a happy future when I’ve spent very nearly a year reminiscing about the past. Here’s another post about music recorded 50 years ago. Some might say I’ve been wallowing in the past, listening to old music and recounting associated stories. What can I say?
In my defence, I would contend that 2021 has already been a good year for music and I’ve bought great new releases by Julien Baker, The Besnard Lakes, Sophia, The Weather Station, Porridge Radio, Matthew Sweet, Steve Earle, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Gillian Welch, Black Country New Road and Lana del Ray (arriving today).
Balance. The key is balance and I may not have got it quite right. If the study of history involves exploration of the people and their actions in the past to better inform the future, then possibly my infatuation with The Beatles’ story is simply an attempt to make better decisions. Or, more likely, I’m wallowing in the past.
Jon Savage has been writing about music for nearly 50 years and, over the past few years, Ace Records have released five great double CD compilations covering 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and this one with tracks from 1969-1971. Another one, covering 1972-1976 is going to be released at the end of March. The format is the same as the David Wells compilations on Grapefruit Records (e.g. “Across The Great Divide – Getting It Together In The Country); a combination of well known and obscure songs, all pieced together with extensive notes on each song.
A recurring theme in Jon Savage’s writing in these CDs is how music diversified into mutually exclusive camps towards the end of the Sixties. Classifying music was easy; rock, pop, soul, progressive, Tamla, reggae etc. Whereas in the 21st century, musicians seek to cross boundaries to find their own, unique, sound, in the period covered by this compilation, musical styles were well defined and few acts mixed genres.
What most of this music did have in common was that it belonged to the younger generation. Although Des O’Connor, Englebert Humperdinck and Andy Williams had singled in the charts, these were despised by most forward thinking young people at the time. Possibly, the only band that crossed the generation gap was The Beatles, whose infectious beat and occasional dabbling with show tunes or ballads appealed to my Mum (and maybe yours too). Of course, once they grew beards, their crossover appeal faded. There I go again – writing about The Beatles.
For anyone who was born too late to experience the hope and idealism of the Sixties, it might be hard to understand the nature of the generation gap in The Sixties. It wasn’t simply a difference of culture but a sincere hope that the past could be blown away and replaced by something much more virtuous, caring and egalitarian. Of course, this led to immense conflict and the war in Vietnam became a focal point of the differences between the older and younger generations. Later conflicts in the U.K. such as punk, poll tax, #MeToo and Greta Thunberg allowed anyone in, if their attitude and point of view was synchronous. Demonstrations against the war in Vietnam or the legalisation of marijuana were for the young generation only. Music reflected those attitudes.
Track 1 Waiting For The Wind by Spooky Tooth. They were a magnificent group and this is a great example of psychedelic British R’n’B in the same vein as Fleetwood Mac. Gary Wright and Mike Harrison both have strong and emotionally intense voices.
Track 2 Bad Night At The Whisky by The Byrds. After the calamitous reception given to “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, Roger McGuinn reformed his group for an album called “Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde”. The album was a mixture of rock and country and “Bad Night At The Whiskey” chooses a psychedelic vibe with an ominous restrained guitar solo being the highlight.
Track 3 Creeping Man by Dave Davies. Ray Davies’ younger brother was capable of producing some excellent singles. “Suzannah’s Still Alive” (which appeared on “Jon Savage’s 1967 The Year Pop Divided“) was fantastic and this song is equally impressive. Too heavy and dense for a Kinks song, it has heartfelt vocals and an insistent guitar riff.
Track 4 Sudden Life by Man. The Welsh rockers’ first single included a great riff, a catchy chorus and ended with maniacal vocals sung over a full blown freak out.
Track 5 Darkness, Darkness by The Youngbloods. This is a sensational track which I’ve enjoyed for over 50 years. It’s got everything. An impassioned vocal which climaxes with Jesse Colin Young almost screaming about “the emptiness of right now”, some lovely fiddle playing and a burning guitar solo. This is the standout song on Disc 1.
Track 6 Broad Daylight by Free. What an amazing band Free were. They had a brilliant rhythm section (Simon Kirke on bass and Andy Fraser on bass) and their lead singer (Paul Rogers) and lead guitarist (Paul Kossoff) were two of the best British musicians of this era. This was their second single and failed to chart. It was not until their fifth single (“all Right Now”) that they became immensely well known.
Track 7 King Kong by The Kinks. I played this to Roo earlier today and, like me, she was convinced it was T. Rex with Ray Davies adopting an atypical warble over a heavy rock riff.
Track 8 Peace Loving Man by Blossom Toes. On this fantastic compilation, this song is unlistenable. Jon Savage describes the vocals as “hardcore growled”. Or, to put it another way, tuneless shouting.
Track 9 The War Machine by Leviathan. The Brighton band Mighty Atoms changed their name to The Mike Stuart Span before changing to Leviathan and then splitting up. This is a complex anti-war song and is marginally better than the previous track.
Track 10 Junior’s Wailing by Steamhammer. I saw Steamhammer at Royal Holloway College, supporting Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come. They were great. This single has a likeable and insistent riff, electrifying lead guitar from Martin Pugh and vocals from Kieran White that belie his 22 years.
Track 11 Walk On Gilded Splinters by Marsha Hunt. Written by Dr. John and sung by a member of the cast of “Hair”, this single only reached Number 46 in the U.K. Charts.
Track 12 Days Of The Broken Arrow by The Idle Race. A multi-part song, written by Jeff Lynne, The Idle Race’s sixth single failed to chart.
Track 13 Reputation by Shy Limbs. Greg Lake plays imaginative drums on this organ drenched single which failed to chart.
Track 14 Nobody Knows by Brute Force. When Paul McCartney recorded a song called “Fuh You” on 2020’s “McCartney III”, he was finally giving a wider audience to a joke from 1969. Brute Force released a single called “King Of Fun” on Apple in 1969 and this was the B side. Only 1000 copies were pressed because of the outrageous title.
Track 15 Plynth (Water Down The Drain) by Jeff Beck Group. Rod Stewart on lead vocals, Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Nicky Hopkins on piano, Ronnie Wood on bass, Tony Newman (George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Donovan, Sounds Incorporated etc) on drums. This is as good as you would expect.
Track 16 Lie To Me by Kaleidoscope. None of this West Coast’s albums were released in the U.K. which is unbelievable considering the likeable psychedelic sound created by the band which included the exceptional David Lindley.
Track 17 1969 by The Stooges. Rolling Stone reviewed The Stooges’ first album by calling it “loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative, childish and obnoxious”. Hindsight has shown that adjectives two and four are patently untrue. This song is interesting and imaginative. It’s also loud, tasteless, childish and obnoxious and that’s precisely why it’s so brilliant. For anyone who thought punk started in the U.K. in 1976, listen to this song from Detroit, recorded in 1979. It still sounded majestic in 2005.
Track 18 Magic Potion by The Open Mind
Track 19 Funk #48 by The James Gang. Joe Walsh displays his ability to play exciting funk/rock before joining The Eagles.
Track 20 Rock And Roll Queen by Mott The Hoople. The first track I ever heard by Mott The Hoople was “At The Crossroads” which appeared on the wonderful sampler, “Nice Enough To Eat”. It was very Dylan-esque with prominent keyboards. I liked it but “Rock And Roll Queen”, also from their first album, is much better, showing how excitingly they could rock.
Track 21 The Devil Came From Kansas by Procol Harum. If ever a band’s reputation was unfairly predicated on one single, it was Procol Harum. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” is, of course, magnificent and as much a “sound of 1967” as “ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” but their next four singles were nearly as good. “Homburg” got to Number 6 in the charts, “Quite Rightly So” sunk without trace in the U.K. (but entered the US Top 50), “A Salty Dog” barely troubled the scorers at 44 and “The Devil Came From Kansas” was ignored in the US and not even released in the U.K. That’s a shame because it manages to be an exciting, slow rocker if that’s not an oxymoron. Robin Trower’s guitar, B.J. Wilson’s drums and Keith Reid’s lyrics of sin, redemption and cheese all combine to produce a masterpiece.
Track 1 Comin’ Home by Delaney And Bonnie. I don’t think I’ve ever heard much by Delaney and Bonnie but this song, with Eric Clapton on lead guitar is fabulous.
Track 2 Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum. I was very surprised to see this song on the compilation and I was even more surprised, when I listened to it, to realise how glorious the sound is.
Track 3 The Witch’s Promise by Jethro Tull. It’s astonishing that such a great example of progressive music got to Number 4 in the U.K. Charts in 1970.
Track 4 Bad Side Of The Moon by Toe Fat. Cliff Bennett had had a hit with The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” in 1966. With a new band, he turned to a song written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Track 5 Flying by Faces. Another astounding Rod Stewart vocal with some terrific guitar work from Ronnie Wood.
Track 6 Cat Food by King Crimson. How wonderful for King Crimson to mime to a hit on Top Of The Pops with a song advocating the avoidance of pre packaged food. Keith Tippett’s piano playing is astonishing.
Track 7 American Woman by The Guess Who. The 19th single by this Canadian band was a diatribe against their nearest neighbours. A dazzling rock song.
Track 8 The American Muse by MC5. A brilliant blast of protest against conscription.
Track 9 The Green Manalishi by Fleetwood Mac. The best track on Disc 2, this menacing song “takes you right into a hellish maelstrom” according to Jon Savage.
Track 10 Shady Grove by Quicksilver Messenger Service. The ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins plays a great piano introduction to this adaptation of a traditional song which also features the trademark guitar sound of John Cipollina.
Track 11 Archangel’s Thunderbird by Amon Duul II. Not to my taste but undoubtedly impressive.
Track 12 The Witch by The Rattles. A German band who released 30 singles in their own country before reaching the U.K. Top 10 with this blatant (and unlovely) ripoff of “Born To Be Wild”.
Track 13 Gerdundula by Status Quo. Traditional Celtic folk music from these one paced experts. It’s really good.
Track 14 Natural Magic by Jack Nitzsche. Ry Cooder plays dazzling slide guitar on this short instrumental by the long term associate of Neil Young.
Track 15 Ultima Thule, Teil I by Tangerine Dream. Another instrumental track which is either incredible or overblown, according to your preference. I don’t like it – it marks where progressive music has turned into prog-rock.
Track 16 Caught In A Dream by Alice Cooper. This is more like it. A proper song about how ALice Cooper needs a houseboat, a plane, a butler and a trip to Spain.
Track 17 Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground. Brilliant. One of the very best Velvet Underground songs which, incidentally, instructed to me how to pronounce “clerk”.
Track 18 He’s Gonna Step On You Again by John Kongos. This reached Number 4 in the U.K. Charts in 1971
Track 19 Travelin’ In The Dark (For E.M.P) by Mountain. A hard rock song about betrayal.
Track 20 Beggars Day by Crazy Horse. Fantastic. Written by Nils Lofgren when he was 19 years old, this song features more piano playing by Jack Nitzche and a lot of phased guitar.
Track 21 Rock’n’Roll by Detroit (featuring Mitch Ryder). A hard rock cover of the other great Velvet Underground song from “Loaded”. Not a patch on the original.
Track 22 Yesterday’s Numbers by The Flamin’ Groovies. A song about being a confused, sex starved teenager. Those were indeed, the days.