Friday, December 15, 2017

A brief history of Progressive Rock (1966-1981)

Progressive Rock (Prog or Prog Rock) drew on many musical influences including elements of Classical, Jazz and Folk music. Many credit the Beatles (and George Martin) for starting the movement by playing with the format and makeup of the three minute pop single. By the mid 60s the underground scene in clubs and live performances saw many pop musicians keen to expand their musical prowess. UK luminaries started with skiffle, enjoyed some success in beat groups before moving onto blues. Tired of the constraints of pop they wanted to extend their repertoire by playing more complex music and experimenting with sound. New technologies and more complex techniques for recording sound witnessed a new dawning post Mersey Beat. Groups were using electronic keyboards, flute, saxophone and viola in their line-ups and producers employed the new synthesizers (moog and Mellotron) to produce electronic effects. Greater latitude meant consummate musicians were less constrained and the development of UK Prog Rock was no different to the US Cool School Jazz movement of the 50s. Young musicians were tired of the old genre and keen to progress to the next. Prog Rock borrowed heavily from jazz improvisation and classical orchestration. Progressive rock ran counter to pop as melodies became modal rather than based on the pentatonic scale. This allowed individual pieces to become longer more involving complex chords and chord progressions. Jimi Henrix had used the wah-wah pedal in his solos demonstrating exaggerated pitch, particularly with high bends and use of legato based around the pentatonic scale. He also broke new ground in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas and was one of the first to experiment with stereophonic and phasing effects for rock recording.

In 1966, The Moody Blues released “Days of Future Passed” recorded in stereo and featured a full orchestra and mellatrone synthesizer. The album included “Nights in White Satin single like the album topped the respective charts.

At the same time in the US The Mothers of Invention were using avant garde, multilayered song structures and the Byrds had been commercially successful in experimenting with jazz folk crossover. All together the new musical experience appealed to hi-fi enthusiasts, classical fans and fantasists who enjoyed the orchestrations and convoluted lyrics.

The full sensual experience of sound suited the psychedelic (Acid) and folk rock movements with bands like Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett) and Jethro Tull took full advantage. The formation of Cream with Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce saw another peak in jazz rock fusion and by the beginning of the seventies there were three clear sub-genres of UK Prog Rock. The symphonic movement led by groups like Yes and Genesis. Hard Progressive championed by King Crimson, Tangerine Dream and Van Der Graaf generator (VDGG); and Cambridge Progressive with bands Caravan, Soft Machine (Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers) and Gong. Cambridge Progressive which featured a synthesis of jazz improvisation, rock rhythms and intellectual songwriting tied to psychedelia. Lyrical themes incorporated fantasy and social commentary unlike the usual pop motifs.

Artwork, packaging and logos became part a major part of Prog Rock presentation. Albums format supported storytelling and fantasy with a new order of concept album brought to the fore. These were recorded works which contained songs unified by an elaborate, overarching theme or story. The Pretty Things (S F Sorrow) are credited with the first concept album albeit this was overshadowed by the more popular Tommy Opera by The Who.

Rock shows now included elaborate and sometimes flamboyant stage theatrics. Genesis and Hawkwind wore colourful and exotic costumes and elaborate stage sets and effects became norm for bands like Yes. Spectacle was as important as the music for some and novel antics such as releasing rabbits (Jethro Tull) or doves (Rolling Stones) very much part of the progressive scene. Laser shows and film backdrops or animation were common place at live performances too. In the seventies new sub genres formed including art rock led by bands like Supertramp, Roxy Music and 10CC; Electronic (New Age) rock with TANG and the more symphonic inspired instrumental rock of Mike Olfield (Tubular Bells), Vangelis and Michel Jarre.

When bands split-up, members joined other bands and musicians like John Wetton (King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music, Asia), Bill Bruford, Steve Howe (Yes, Asia), Carl Palmer (Nice, ELP, Asia) and Steve Hackett among many others played in various prog rock bands. The popularity of Prog Rock dwindled by the end of the decade as Disco and Punk took over. Established progressive bands still had a strong fan base and Rush, Genesis, ELP, Yes, Queen, and Pink Floyd scored Top Ten albums with massive accompanying tours. As a movement Progressive rock served as a key inspiration for many musical genres which would emerge in the decades that followed.

Worth a listen
Jimi Hendrix
Purple Haze (1966)
All along the watchtower (1968)

Moody Blues
Nights in white satin (1966)

The Byrds
Eight miles high (1966)

Sushine of your love (1968)
Crossroads (1969)

Pink Floyd
See Emily play (1967)

Jethro Tull
Living in the past (1969)

Time and a word (1969)

The silent sun (1968)

King Crimson
21st Century Schizoid Man (1969)

Tangerine Dream
Alpha Centauri (1971)

Van Der Graaf Generator
Afterwards (1969)

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You (1970)

Soft Machine
Joy of a toy (1968)

America (1968)

Radio Gnome Prediction (1971)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP)
Lucky Man (1971)
Fanfare of the common man (1977)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Friday on my mind: The Story Of The Easybeats

Christmas Hits of the 60s (1968 – 1969)

By the end of the decade the Christmas album was almost obligatory for most successful artists. The main exception continued to be in the UK. Although the Beatles did have a limited release of a Christmas themed recordings this was for members of the Beatles Fan Club only, and not for general release. The Beatles Christmas release ran form 1963-1969.

Christmas Blues Canned Heat

Canned Heat at the height of their fame recorded a special Christmas album.

Christmas Is For Children Glen Campbell

That Christmas Feeling was the 11th album from Glen Campbell and was released in 1968 by Capitol Records.

Christmas Shopping Buck Owens

Christmas Shopping was another Buck Owens and His Buckaroos, Christmas special released in 1968.

Merry Christmas, Baby Otis Redding

"Merry Christmas Baby" was written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore and first recorded by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1947. It reached #3 on Billboard's R & B Juke Box chart. Otis Reading’s version of “Merry Christmas Baby” features on Atlantic’s The Original Soul Christmas which was released in 1968. Otis Redding does a slow, heart-weary "White Christmas" and is joined by other artists including Booker T and the MGs (Jingle Bells), Clarence Carter (Back Door Santa), and King Curtis with a fabulous version of “The Christmas Song.”

Blue Christmas Elvis Presley

The Comeback Special aired on December 3, 1968 on the NBC television network. Presley's career had declined steadily in the years leading up to 1968. Keen to recapture his status as the King of Rock’n Roll, he was filmed in what appeared as an informal jamming session in front of a small audience. Col Parker wanted the show to be little more than Presley singing Christmas carols and two versions of the special were initially aired by NBC. The first included Presley singing "Blue Christmas“and when the special was rebroadcast the following summer, this was replaced with a performance of "Tiger Man".

Po' Folks' Christmas Bill Anderson and The Po' Boys

A Chrsitmas sequel to his 1961 Top 10 hit, "Po' Folks."

"Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" James Brown

Taken from the Funky Christmas album James Brown tried to appeal to several constituencies on his many albums.

"Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)" O’Jays

The song was written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. In 1969 it scarcely got much airplay but became a hit in 1973 when the group enjoyed huge success.

Frosty the Snowman Jimmy Durante

This version of the old standard came from an animated Christmas family television special broadcast by CBS in 1969 and featuring the voice of Jimmy Durante as the film's narrator

"The Mistletoe and Me" Isaac Hayes

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The origins of the Torch Song

A torch song is a sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love, either where one party is oblivious to the existence of the other, where one party has moved on, or where a romantic affair has affected the relationship. Love songs have been around for centuries and likely grew out of the courtly love songs of troubadour during the Middle Ages. The torch song had its genesis much later but is certainly as enduring.

The association of a torch with love is thought to have originated in Greek mythology and Hymenaios, the Greek god of marriage. In antiquity the groom took the wedding torch made of hawthorn twigs, from the fire of his bride’s former home to the hearth of her new matrimonial home. The lit torch was thought to symbolized the newly-formed connection between the two households. The term, "to carry a torch for someone", or to keep aflame the light of an unrequited love is thought to have originated from this old Greek and Roman custom.

In the Middle Ages songs of unrequited love became a universal theme and traveling troubadours sang of the high-minded ideals of true romance , extolling the ennobling effects of the lover’s’ selfless devotion in unrequinted love. Minstel’s songs promoted a love yearned for, and at times rewarded by, the solace of every delight of the beloved except physical possession by sexual union. The relationship was always illicit i.e. the woman was usually older, the spouse of another, often a lord or patron, and consummation was not possible.

Ballads derived from the medieval chanson balladée or ballade. These were originally "danced songs,'' or "ballares" (L: ballare, to dance), with lyrics that told a story in 13 lines with an ABABBCBC form. In their many forms these became popular across the Western World. By the 19th century a slow form of love song had evolved. Dubbed "tear-jerkers" or "drawing-room ballads" these were popular with the middle class and had their origins in the early "Tin Pan Alley" music industry of the later 19th century. They were generally sentimental, narrative, and verse-repeating or in chorus form and generally melodic enough to get the listener's attention. They were first recorded on wax cylinders (predating vinyl) at the end of the 19th century. Wax cylinders proved popular with arcade and tavern proprietors to bought them to play in nickel-in-the-slot machines (early juke boxes) in their arcades and taverns.

According to Gioia the phrase "torch song" had its origins in the nightclubs of Broadway in the 20s, when patrons requested sad love ballads. The lyrics of a Torch Song refer to the one who got away, and now the singer is left alone, picking up the pieces. One of the most popular of these early torch songs was "My Melancholy Baby" written by Ernie Burnett, the lyrics by George A. Norton and published in 1912. William Frawley (1887 – 1966) performed the song for the first time, in the Mozart Cafe in Denver, Colorado.

Among the many female chanteuses were Belle Baker (1893 - 1957), she became known for her Yiddish themed torch songs. Sophie Tucker wrote "My Yiddishe Mama" as a blatant tearjerker, and it became Baker’s signature song. Fanny Brice (1891 – 1951) also sang popular torch songs among her impressive repetoire. Jazz and Blues genres engulfed the music and lyrics of lamented and unrequinted love with Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959) a major artist

Canned Heat

The band formed in 1965 in Northbridge, California by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (bottleneck guitar) and Bob “The Bear” Hite (vocals). The boys were blues fanatics and started a jug band with drummer Frank Cook and they would appear at the odd gig around LA. Canned Heat were dedicated to revive the Blues and to that extent would compare favourably to John Mayall in the UK. With the addition of Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine (lead guitar and formerly of the Mothers of Invention) and Stuart Brotman, Canned Heat were finally formed. Their name came from a Tommy Johnson song entitled "Canned Heat Blues" recorded in 1928.

The group honed their craft playing in clubs around LA and perfected a mixture of country blues, modern electrification and driving boogie woogie. Canned Heat recorded their first album in 1966 which included two versions of Rollin’ and Tumblin (with and without harmonica), Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, and John Lee Hooker’s Louise. The album was produced by Johnny Otis but did not get released until 1970 under the title Vintage Heat.

The credited line up was Hite, Wilson, Cook, Vestine, and Stuart Brotman. Brotman left the band in 1966 and was replaced by Mark Andes (Spirit). Larry Taylor (Moondogs) eventually took over as bass player in 1967 when the band went under the management of Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Canned Heat signed for Liberty Records in the same year and released the single “Rollin’ and Tumblin’" with "Bullfrog Blues" on the B side.

Later their label released their first album called Canned Heat, which was made up of re workings of old blues songs. It sold reasonably well.

Canned Heat continued to gig and appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and wowed the audience. They gained a bit of a “bad boy“ reputation with drug taking allegations and this endeared them more to their fans but did have ramifications behind the scene. Band manager Skip Taylor was forced to obtain the $10,000 bail by selling off Canned Heat's publishing rights to Liberty Records President Al Bennett when they were busted. Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra replaced Frank Cook as they were recording their second album, Boogie with Canned Heat. The album had a more R&B feel and included "On The Road Again" and "Amphetamine Annie" which was rather tongue in cheek but arguably the first “anti-drug” song of the decade.

'On the Road Again' featured Wilson’s clear vocals and exemplary harmonica and became the band's break-out song enjoying worldwide success.

Skip Taylor and John Hartmann in keeping with the old blues tradition christened the band members with nicknames: Bob "The Bear" Hite, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, Henry "Sunflower" Vestine (and later Harvey "The Snake" Mandel), Larry "The Mole" Taylor and Fito de la Parra. On stage ‘Heat’ was electrifying and performed blues standards as well as their own material. The popularity of the band ensured rock fans were given the full blues treatment. In 1968 they became residents at the Kaleidoscope on Sunset Boulevard east of Vine and played the first annual Newport Pop Festival. The group also toured Europe and the UK in 1968 to promote their new album "Living the Blues" (1968) which featured "Going Up The Country." The single was another enormous hit worldwide and went to #1 in 25 countries.

The next album Hallelujah (1969) was blues-based but within days of its release, Henry Vestine left the group. Harvey Mandel joined the band and they played two dates at the Fillmore before appearing at Woodstock.

"Going Up the Country" became the title track in the documentary movie directed by Michael Wadleigh (1970) and the unofficial theme song of the Festival.

In 1970 the group released Future Blues with Wilbert Harrison song "Let’s Work Together" the single.

Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the band soon after to join John Mayall and Henry Vestine returned to the Heat on guitar, accompanied by bassist Antonio de la Barreda, they recorded Hooker”N Heat with John Lee Hooker. Before the album was released Alan Wilson died from a drug overdose.

Hooker’N Heat became the first album in Hooker's career to make the charts, topping out at #73 in February 1971. John Lee Hooker was a fan of Alan’s harmonica work. Joel Scott Hill, (Moby Grape) was drafted in as replacement and the group continued to tour the world. On the next album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was "Rockin’ with the King" which featured Bob Hite and Little Richard.

Disagreements among the band members led to unrest and eventually line-up changes just as the public’s musical tastes were changing. Canned Heat fortunes started to dwindle and by the time they signed for Atlantic most of the group were battling alcoholism and or drug dependency. Under new management attempts were made to rekindle past glories and in 1981 the album Kings of the Boogie was recorded.

During a live performance in April of that year Bob Hite collapsed and was later found dead. The group continued and had a hugely successful tour of Australia in 1982. However discord continued among band members and eventually this led to yet more line-up changes. The group has reformed over the decades and toured in Europe None of the original band from 1965 remain but three members from the band's 'classic' line-up from Woodstock do still appear, Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra, Larry "The Mole" Taylor, and Harvey "The Snake" Mandel .

Worth a listen
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (1967)
Bullfrog Blues (1967)
Going up the Country (1968)
On the Road Again (1968)
Let's Work Together (1970)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Hits of the 60s (1965 – 1967)

More and more artists were beginning to release Christmas albums to catch the bludgeoning market. From the Chipmunks to James Brown, the list is almost endless. Few singles made headlines in the charts, although some did fare better than others. Many went on to become firm favourites after they were re-released.

May You Always Harry Harrison

In the 60s Harry Harrison’s on air style made him was an institution in New York motoring radio and he released "May You Always" in 1965. "May You Always" was his Holiday greeting.

Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy Buck Owens

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos pioneered the Bakersfield sound (Honky Tonk) and at the height of their fame released “Santa Looked a lot like Daddy” in 1965. It sold moderately well.

The Children's Christmas Song Supremes

The Supremes brought out the album Merry Christmas in 1965 . Tracks included: "White Christmas", "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", "My Favorite Things", and "Joy to the World". "Children's Christmas Song" / "Twinkle Twinkle Little Me" was release as the single and enjoyed a short chart success.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Me Supremes

The Real Meaning Of Christmas Ray Conniff

The Ray Conniff Singers released four very successful Christmas albums , starting with Christmas with Conniff in 1959. “The real meaning of Christmas, “ was recorded in 1965 and came from the album, Here We Come A-Caroling.

Silver Bells The Ventures

The instrumental rock band The Ventures recorded The Ventures Christmas Album in 1965. It included many of the standard Christmas classics but performed in the style of a guitar group. "Silver Bells" was one of the first recorded uses of a vocoder as a musical effect, voiced by Red Rhodes. Rhodes was an innovator and later developed the fuzzbox.

Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer Earl Grant

Organist Earl Grant released his Winter Wonderland album in 1965 .

The Christmas Song James Brown

The Godfather of Soul released his Christmas album , James Brown sings Christmas Songs in 1966. Then, two years later he released A Soulful Christmas.

Soulful Christmas

Snoopy's Christmas Royal Guardsmen

"Snoopy's Christmas" was the second hit after "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" for The Royal Guardsmen. It reached the number one position in the New Zealand singles charts in 1967.

The Little Drummer Boy Lou Rawls

The single came from Lou Rawls’ 1967 Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! Album. "Little Drummer Boy" hit #2 on Billboard's Christmas chart .

"Someday at Christmas" was released by Stevie Wonder in 1967.

Stevie Wonder released Someday at Christmas in 1967 under Motown Records.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Hits of the 60s (1964)

A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives

American folk singer Burl Ives recorded “A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in 1964. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" was written by Johnny Marks who specialized in Christmas songs and wrote many standards including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, and "Run Rudolph Run."

Amen Impressions

"Amen" was written by Jester Hairston, for the Sidney Poitier film Lilies of the Field (1963). Curtis Mayfield decided to do a version of it and it became the first Impressions' hit that Mayfield did not write. The song went to number one on Cashbox Magazine's R&B chart for three weeks and reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1964.

Blue Christmas Elvis Presley

"Blue Christmas" is a Christmas song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson and most famously performed by Elvis Presley. It was first recorded in 1948 by Doye O'Dell , later Ernest Tubb’s version topped Billboard magazine's Most-Played Juke Box (Country & Western) Records chart. Presley included the song on his 1957 LP Elvis' Christmas Album, then in 1964 released as a commercially-available single for the first time.

Christmas Celebration B.B. King

BB King released “Christmas Celebration” on Kent Records in 1963.

Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day Brenda Lee

Brenda Lee sang rockabilly, pop and country music, and had 47 US chart hits during the 1960s. Nicknamed Little Miss Dynamite she recorded several Christmas songs in her career. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" was by far her most popular but others followed including: “Christmas will just be another day”, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “This time of the year”.

Jingle Bell Rock Brenda Lee

This Time Of The Year Brenda Lee

The Man With All the Toys Beach Boys

"The Man with All the Toys" was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love and released on their 1964 album The Beach Boys' Christmas Album. As a single that year it had limited success, No. 3 on the U.S. Christmas charts , but built sales over successive Christmases and is listed by Billboard in the Top 100 selling Christmas songs in history.