A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Thursday, June 06, 2002

A short post today...the first week of June 2002 (if you follow the Gregorian calendar anyway). June 1st, 1967 was of course the release date for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the apogee of The Beatles' psychedelic period and a cultural touch-stone of immense proportions. Yeah, it gets blamed by prog-haters (like Julian Cope, for example) as the instigator of progressive rock and the album that gave legitimacy to "concept" albums, the fusion of classical elements in a rock-and-roll context and songs with two or three parts. To be honest, there's truth to that statement..The Beatles were the trend-setters in the late-60s and they spearheaded almost all of the major changes in pop music in the 60s..well, English pop, anyway--and progressive rock is mainly English phenomenon to begin with. Were they the first to create "psychedelic" music? Probably not..but they were the first to popularize it..even before it was called psychedelic..with the B-side of the Paperback Writer single in 1966, called Rain, featuring an expanding/contracting rhythm and backward vocals in the coda. When "Sgt. Pepper's.." was released, it was heralded as being far beyond anything that had been attempted in the pop music realm up to that time--and though 30+ years have dissipated the hype like so much incense n' pot smoke and some of it's more astonishing features have faded, it has assured it's place in the pantheon of rock albums. You can trace a direct lineage from "Pepper" to progressive by way of bands like Procol Harum and their Shine On Brightly record from 1968. The second side of "Shine On.." contains a track called In Held 'Twas In I that is 17-minutes long..but unlike, say, The Velvet Underground's Sister Ray..also the same length and released the same year.."In Held.." has tempo changes and assorted instruments and moods, from pensive to outright madness--whereas "Sister Ray" is 17-minutes of unleashed fury and squalls of feedback, no time for English niceties--Lou Reed wants you uncomfortable and in that room with him--and the rest of the band sound as if they're trying to play louder than each other. Procol Harum took their cue from "Pepper"..adding in sitars and classical elements--also fusing different songs or sections of songs together to form a continuous piece, a la A Day In The Life. Other bands, such as The Nice, featuring rising star Keith Emerson on keyboards, took "Pepper" as a license to "let their freak flag fly" (though it should be noted that they derived as much inspiration from Jimi Hendrix as they did from The Fab Four)..but also fused classical elements in their music, probably because The Beatles had used string quartets on Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby (the latter especially being an influence on the psych era). The Moody Blues introduced the mellotron, a keyboard instrument that used recorded tapes of other instruments to simulate the sound of those instruments--sort of a primitive sampler, into their music after it appeared on The Fabs' February '67 single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane..and they continued using it long after The Beatles had cast it aside. The Nice, in turn, must have had an effect on nascent progressive groups like King Crimson, who didn't have a flash keyboarder like Emerson, but boasted an ace jazz/classical-tinged guitarist in Robert Fripp. Yes started out performing stretched-out covers of Beatles tunes in their stage show and Genesis used King Crimson's first record In The Court Of The Crimson King as their template when starting out..and on and on through the early 70s. It's easy to pitch stones at "Pepper" nowadays, because it's become such an icon..and later on you find out things like Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention's "Freak Out" was actually the first rock album to have a "gatefold" sleeve--I was thought "Pepper" was the first to use a gatefold (it *was* the first to have the lyrics printed on the outside of the album) Press-related hype aside, I think it's a solid album that does have moments of giddy brilliance and a creative team who were taking leaps of curiosity in and out of the studio (except for resident "straight", George Martin) to a momentous effect. This album is "Pomp And Circumstance" for graduates of Dr. Hoffmann's--as Terrence McKenna said, rest his soul.
Another band under The Beatles psychedelic sway was The Move, an R&B/soul group from Birmingham. They "moved" to London (hence the group's moniker) in 1966 and after a bit, scored a residency at the famed Marquee Club. Roy Wood, the leader, guitarist and singer liked the psychedelic sound of Pink Floyd and Tomorrow and started to write songs that aped the style while not taking LSD or smoking marijuana himself. Trevor Burton, the band's original bassist, did some inner-exploration of his own and regaled Wood about his own trips and that's how Flowers In The Rain and I Can Hear The Grass Grow came about. The group's first album, simply called The Move, was released in late 1967 and sported a groovy cover by The Fool, the Dutch artists' collective that designed the "Sgt. Pepper.." inner record sleeve. The album was a mix of styles..some psych..some straight-up R&B..and even a faux-doo-wop ditty Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart, sung by Bev Bevan, the band's drummer (later in Electric Light Orchestra). Ace Kefford, the lead singer from the Marquee days through the first album..left due to Wood's intense control of the band. Wood took over all lead vocal duties and they recorded Shazam in 1968. "Shazam" leans in a harder rock direction and the psychedelia is limited to just a couple of tracks..though one of those is the superb Fields Of People..written by a coupla blokes surnamed Day and Pierson...it starts out as an almost folky number with acoustic guitars and some jokey spoken-word bits thrown in by Wood..with him asking supposed passers-by if they're going to the pub or saying "There's a bloke 'ere 'oos loookin' fer the band"--as if the group are playing out on a street. The song builds up to a nice crescendo..then ends...so you think..but a guitar fades in playing a raga-like pattern of notes..is joined by a second guitar and they tear into some nice raga-rock with drums and bass included--it's one of The Move's finest moments. Another personnel change brought Jeff Lynne, a Brummie friend of Wood's, who's own psych group The Idle Race had split. They made 1970's Looking On as a four-piece and Lynne's pop talents eased the hard rock sound a bit..not much, though..as Wood favored heavy bass lines and crunching guitar chords, especially on Brontosaurus and the title track. Roy Wood was becoming tired of writing songs that would only fit The Move's parameters and wanted to take the classical/rock fusion to a whole new level. He knew he couldn't accomplish that with The Move, so he and Lynne started planning and writing tunes for what they thought would be a side project. The Move recorded what would be their final album Message From The Country in 1971. On that record, it was Wood, Lynne, Bevan and producer/musician Denny Cordell as the line-up. There are some interesting tunes..It Wasn't My Idea To Dance, the album opener..utilizes what sounds like a hurdy-gurdy for a lead instrument and a box of gravel for a rhythm track...and Lynne's The Words Of Aaron gives you a taste of what his later 70s pop forays will sound like...but it's not as strong a record as it could have been and doesn't compare with "The Move" or "Shazam". The Move finally split in 1972, with the single California Man as their farewell release..which coincided with the first album of Wood and Lynne's new band Electric Light Orchestra. Wood split from E.L.O. after their first record No Answer (that was it's title in the States anyway) to form his glam-rock/50s hommage outfit Wizzard and Lynne would hone E.L.O.'s sound into radio-friendly hook-laden pop and find international popularity along the way.
O.K., gentle readers..that's it for this week--it's my birthday tomorrow...that's right..I'm off to Minneapolis to party with The Purple One, who shares my birthday...I invited M.A.D. along..so be there or be square! Actually, I'll be here--and M.A.D. sent me a mix tape..Yeah! Maybe he put a Prince track on the tape, though..so I'm not too far off...