Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Flower Travelin' Band: Satori

Release Date: April 5, 1971

Active Members: Joe Yamanaka (vocals); Hidecki Ishima (guitar); Jun Kozuki (bass); George Wada (drums)

Produced by Yuyu Uchida

Track List: Satori Part I; Satori Part II; Satori Part III; Satori Part IV; Satori Part V

Flower Travelin' Band recorded a handful of acclaimed albums in the early 1970s. Created by Yuyu Uchida, Flower Travelin' Band fused elements of heavy metal, psychedelia, and prog rock. Satori is a tour de force of sonic power.

"Satori Part I" blends the sound of Cream (vocals especially) and the heavy chords of Black Sabbath but done with precision and gracefully done. The thumping bass and infectious guitar riffs of "Satori Part II" builds into hypnotic psychedelia. "Satori Part III" creates a sense of foreboding and then halfway through shift gears from slow to mid tempo with a melodic guitar solo by Ishima. "Satori Part IV" breaks into a blues jam with the harmonica front and center. Closing track "Satori Part V" is a hypnotic quest for spiritual enlightenment - expressed by way of electronic noise.

Flower Travelin' Band broke up in 1973, but all members continued on to solo careers. In 2007 the original lineup reunited. Satori is a journey, a symphonic power trio turning the sound of hard rock on its head. Do yourself a favor: put on your earphones and put this record on full blast. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Uriah Heep: Salisbury

Release Date: February 12, 1971

Active Members: David Byron (lead vocals); Ken Hensley (guitars, vocals); Mick Box (guitars); Paul Newton (bass); Keith Baker (drums)

Produced by Gerry Bron

Track List: Bird of Prey; The Park; Time to Live; Lady in Black; High Priestess; Salisbury

Still going strong after 50+ years as a band, Uriah Heep has built a loyal international fan base. While never a critical favorite (rock critics in the 70s competed over who could write the more scathing review) through non-stop touring of 150-200 shows a year and sheer determination Uriah Heep has endured through the decades. They have a new record set to come out later this year. 

Uriah Heep's music crosses different sub genres of rock including Hard Rock, Metal, Folk Rock, and Progressive Rock. Salisbury was their second album after their hard rocking debut "Very Eavy, Very Umble." Their sophomore effort featured what would become their trademark sound: bombastic vocals, with muscular keyboards and guitars. 

My favorite track is "High Priestess," melodic with some heavy guitar riffs. "Bird of Prey" the opening track is a classic example of hard rock. "The Park" is folk rock with a jazzy interlude in the middle. I'm an agnostic when it comes to prog-rock, I neither love nor despise it. While "Time to Live" and "Lady Black" have hokey lyrics, they are never boring. The final track "Salisbury" runs 16 minutes and prog rock in all its glory - it may test your patience. 

In David Simonelli's Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s he devoted a chapter to Progressive Rock and identifies two traditions: the Apollonian influence that tends to focus on fantasy and utopia while the Dionysian side is more existential and dystopic. The always eye catching album covers of Prog bands support that interpretation. Prog Rock was also distinctly English, having little interest in working class vibe of early rock music:

They seemed more interested in bringing traditional English values into rock music, as if they wanted to tame it, to make it respectable and comfortable as art. . . In short, progressive rock represented the mainstreaming of rock music in British culture, an unconscious effort to make it acceptable . . . to middle class audiences (159-160).

I suspect the perceived tempering of rock music is why critics reacted so negatively to bands like Uriah Heep, they made rock safe and took away the edge and even revolutionary potential the music once promised. In their defense, Uriah Heep and the musicians they've influenced provided good times for millions. That will be something to reckon with as I continue explore these albums from 1971, popular music seemingly at a crossroads and in conflict over its very purpose with fans, critics, and the culture in general.

Work Cited:

Simonelli, David. Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s. Lexington: Lexington Books, 2013. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Colin Blunstone: One Year

Release Date: November 1971

Produced by Rod Argent, Chris White

Side One: She Loves the Way They Love Her; Misty Roses; Smokey Day; Caroline Goodbye; Though You Are Far Away

Side Two: Mary Won't You Warm My Bed; Her Song; I Can't Live Without You; Let Me Come Closer To You; Say You Don't Mind

One Year, the debut solo album of Colin Blunstone who was lead singer for The Zombies, is a splendid record of baroque pop. With many of his fellow band members contributing to what many consider a third Zombies album, a follow up to their 1968 cult favorite Odessey and Oracle. Blunstone's melodic vocal style, romantic lyrics, and pristine string arrangements provide the record with an out of time vibe. 

"She Loves the Way They Love Her" opens the album with a dreamy pop song about a young starlet mesmerizing her admirers. "Mistry Roses" was written by Tom Hardin, a hypnotic track with Blunstone's smoky vocal and an exquisite string arrangement interspersed in the middle. "Smokey Day" was also recorded by The Zombies creates a calm and surreal mood, a bliss out type of song. "Caroline Goodbye" is pure pop perfection, a bittersweet break up song going for a mood instead of a feeling. "Though You Are Far Away" is a romantic lullaby about the neutral zone between awake and dream states. 

The more upbeat "Mary Won't You Warm My Bed" is about longing and a search for an elusive woman, "Her Song" and "I Can't Live Without You" are both about distance and desire with hypnotic string arrangements. "Let Me Come Closer to You" and "Say You Don't Mind" focus on personal growth in the wake emotional upheavals. 

One Year has an intensity of focus and pure emotion. The smooth arrangements and surreal lyrics create a vivid atmosphere for a summer afternoon or a winter's night. A real gem from 50 years ago. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Groundhogs: Split

Release Date: March 1971

Active Members: Tony McPhee (guitars, vocals); Peter Cruikshank (bass guitar); Ken Pustelnik (drums)

Produced by Tony McPhee

Track List: Split - Part 1; Split - Part II; Split - Part III; Split - Part IV; Cherry Red; A Year in the Life; Junkman; Groundhog

British Blues band The Groudhogs came to prominence in the mid 1960s when they supported John Lee Hooker for his 1964 tour through England (in 1968 they also recorded an album with Hooker). Led by Tony McPhee (the lone constant member since the inception) and after years of probably playing every pub in England they emerged as a potent power trio who hit their apogee in the early 1970s with a cycle of albums including Blues Obituary, Thank Christ for the Bomb, and their 1971 LP Split

In an era when power trios were everywhere on the rock scene, The Groundhogs sound could be described as somewhere in the zone of Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Black Sabbath. Lyrically, they were similar to King Crimson. With spare lyrics and an onslaught of guitars, their albums move fast - almost defying time and space. Split was inspired by a traumatic episode experienced by McPhee. During a music festival he suffered a heat stroke and imbibed some bad caanabis leading to a terrifying panic attack. 

Thus the first side of Spilt could be described as such, blistering guitars that are both anxiety inducing but also pretty damn infectious. The sound is rawer and more stripped down than Led Zeppelin's, each riff lands like a precision strike. The lyrics create a sense of fractured time and a little madness creeping in. The quartet of "Split" songs suggests a search for spiritual redemption from any source, the Sun and the Quran are referenced, as a last resort. A pure sonic trip, but there's also another side. 

The frenetic "Cherry Red" alludes to a mysterious sexual encounter with more spot-on riffs. "A Year in the Life" hints at psychedelia, creating a sense of loss. "Junkman" creates a Sci-Fi atmosphere with its dystopian setting. "Groundhog" is straight up blues, an homage to the John Lee Hooker original. 

In 1971 The Groundhogs opened for The Rolling Stones and as the decade progressed, they integrated a prog rock element into their repertoire. While they never broke into the American market like other British bands of the time, their influence on British Rock is unquestionable. Split is a fantastic album from the era and a must listen for power trio devotees, full of mystical power and outstanding musicianship.

Articles Consulted:

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Three Dog Night: Harmony


Release Date: September 30, 1971

Active Members: Michael Allsup (guitar); Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboards); Danny Hutton (vocals); Chuck Negron (vocals); Joe Schermie (bass); Floyd Sneed (drums); Cory Wells (vocals)

Produced by Richard Podolor

Track List: Never Been to Spain; My Impersonal Life; An Old Fashioned Love Song; Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer; Jam; You; Night in the City; Murder In My Heart for the Judge; The Family of Man; Intro Poem: Mistakes and Illusions/Peace of Mind

Chances are if you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s your Dad would have a Three Dog Night album somewhere in his record stack. A highly successful band from 1968-75 with 21 Top Forty hits including three number ones, Three Dog Night became one of the bedrock bands of FM oldies radio. They were also unusual, at least from today's perspective, in that they primarily recorded songs written by other artists, not only popularizing the songs but also the singer/songwriters. The three lead vocalists Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells were the constant members with a constantly shifting lineup of musicians through the years.

Their seventh studio album Harmony was no exception, highlighting the songwriting of Hoyt Axton and Paul Williams, Axton's "Joy to the World" had been been a major hit in the spring of '71. Harmony opened with Axton's "Never Been to Spain," a narrator lamenting his lack of travel experience but still finding joy in the environment around him. Cory Wells performed a soulful vocal set to a rollicking bar band theatrics in support. "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" written by Williams playfully satirizes love song theatrics performed with soul and hint of psychedelia by Three Dog Night (it's gotta be a karaoke favorite). "The Family of Man" (written by Paul Williams/Jack Conrad) looks at the future with trepidation with its focus on ecological concerns (slightly sounds like The Beatles song "It's All Too Much").

"My Impersonal Life" is a power ballad of introspection, "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" by Stevie Wonder as sung by Negron turns into classic rock/soul ballad. "Jam' and "You" are somewhat less memorable, but Joni Mitchell's "Night in the City" recalls 60s pop with its countercultural mood. Moby Grape's "Murder in My Heart for the Judge" borders on hard rock. The album ends with a poem set to the piano, not the worst way to close out a record. 

Harmony is a fun album, a sort of variety show showcasing some of the finest songwriting, vocals, and musicianship of the era. Do we need a Three Dog Night these days? With music continually fragmenting into multiple genres, could a band popularize songwriters who need a boost? 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners

Release Date: May 28, 1971

Written and Produced by Graham Nash

Contributors: Pretty much everyone on the California scene at that time! (David Crosby, Rita Coolidge, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and many more)

Side One: Military Madness; Better Days; Wounded Bird; I Used to Be a King; Be Yourself (Co-written with Terry Reid)

Side Two: Simple Man; Man in the Mirror; There's Only One; Sleep Song; Chicago; We Can Change the World

All members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young released solo records in 1971. Songs for Beginners marked the solo debut of Graham Nash who had written many hits for The Hollies including "On a Carousal" and "Carrie Ann." Deja Vu from 1970 had proved a massive hit for CSNY and skyrocketed the careers of all four members. Song for Beginners benefitted from a parade of the best session musicians on the West Coast dropping in to make contributions. The tracks on the record are mostly personal with a few commenting on the political scene, the personal and political converge nicely on the opening track "Military Madness."

The melodic intro opens with an autobiographical verse:

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of a northern sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me

In the next verse Nash reflects on moving to America in the midst of the Vietnam War and seeing its emotional toll on his generation and a "solitary sadness" creeping over him. In the next verse he reflects:

And after the wars are over
And the body count is finally filed
I hope the The Man discovers
What's driving the people wild

It's a sentiment that connects to any time period, living in war or pandemic.

"Chicago" and its refrain "We Can Change the World" reflect on the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Chicago 8 trial. The song presents those events as a precipice for a generation, "We can change the world/it's dying/to get better." Nash was in Chicago for the convention which adds a personal touch to the universal message common to music of this era. 

Nash had been in a relationship with Joni Mitchell and many of the songs reflect on its end. "Better Days" is about the sadness of it ending, but accepts the other is moving on. "Wounded Bird" is an acoustic number addressed to Stephen Stills, was also dealing with a breakup. "I Used to be a King" reflects on loss, building from a morose mood to an uplifting coda. The introspection of "Be Yourself" sounds similar to a Neil Young song era is the best produced track on the album.

"Simple Man" and "Sleep Song" are both gentle songs of longing, "Man in the Mirror" reflects on how to live and the tension between turning inward out outward. "There's Only One" muses on the fate of his generation with a sense of trepidation and hope.

Songs for Beginners stands alongside all the great music coming emerging from the west coast during the early 1970s. The album proved influential on many indie rock bands evidenced by the tribute album recorded in 2010 that featured Robin Pecknold, Bonnie Prince Billy,  and Vetiver. Graham's daughter Nile Nash performed "Wounded Bird."

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Staple Singers: The Staple Swingers

Release Date: June 15, 1971

Active Members: Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples and Yvonne Staples (lead and backing vocals) Roebuck "Pops" Staples (vocals, guitar); Terry Manning (guitar)

Produced by Al Bell

Side One: This Is A Perfect World; What's Your Thing; You've Got to Earn It; You're Gonna Make Me Cry; Little Boy; How Do You Move a Mountain

Side Two: Almost; I'm A Lover; Love is Plentiful; Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na- Boom Boom); I Like the Things About You; Give a Hand, Take a Hand

The Staple Singers had been making records since the early 1950s, based in Chicago they established themselves as a masterful gospel recording artists and eventually transitioned into pop and soul. Their 1971 LP The Staple Swingers featured a few changes with a new producer in Al Bell who recorded the rhythm tracks at Muscle Shoals and Yvonne Staples replacing her brother Pervis who had enlisted in the army. The result is an upbeat record during a tumultuous era with the Civil Rights Movement splintering, the Vietnam War still raging, Nixon's divisive brand of politics, and the rise of Black Power.

"This Is A Perfect World' calls for unity, the gospel infused message the world is indeed perfect but people mess it up for petty reasons. An adventurous opening track with elements of pop, soul, and gospel. "America the Beautiful" is mixed into the bridges to comment on the sense of optimism and trepidation about going forward. "What's Your Thing" also builds into an anthem connecting social justice, love, and faith. The refrain goes:

My Thing is love
My thing is freedom, well
My thing is piece
What's Your Thing?

"You've Got To Earn It" was a Temptations song, the Staples version puts the horns up front with vocals providing an edge absent in the Temptations original. A gospel infused lament of loss "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" builds to a nice crescendo. "Little Boy" features Pops on lead vocals provides advice to the younger generation coming up. "How Do You Move a Mountain" juxtaposes having faith in the face of the insurmountable challenges presented by the world. 

"Almost" opens with a haunting intro of staccato horns and builds up to a meditation on loss. "I'm A Lover" and "Love Is Plentiful" are both in the same vein, upbeat and celebratory. "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na boom boom)" continues with the positive vibes, "I Like the Things About You" is in more a swamp rock style to switch up the pace. The closing track, "Give a Hand, Take a Hand" was written by the Gibb brothers Maurice and Barry is gentle, reassuring, hopeful. 

While The Staple Swingers did not produce a hit single in 1971 ("Heavy Makes You Happy" peaked at #27), The Staple Singers would score a #1 the following year with "I'll Take You There." Despite not producing a hit, the album was well produced with inspired vocals throughout. The hopeful themes on the album never shy away from the realities facing America. The final result might be a safe record, but one full of great music. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #1

Release Date: November 9, 1976 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass);...