Morning Music Funnies # 2 (Captain Beefheart) TV Commercial – 1970

In 1970, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band were riding high after releasing their double album “Trout Mask Replica”. Sales were promising, the critics declared it a masterwork for the ages. Frank Zappa was onboard. Obviously the band and Reprise Records thought the follow-up, “Lick My Decals Off Baby” was poised for some sort of breakthrough. Didn’t happen.

However, this burst of misplaced optimism gave us the late night TV spot for “….Decals”. A piece of Dadaist outsider art veiled in the cloak of crass pop commercialism.

Missed By ‘That’ Much…..Progressive Rock’s Greatest B-Listers

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The Beatles (among many other things) are the Godfathers of Prog. They dragged Rock and Roll kicking and screaming into its adulthood. They introduced all the basic components of the genre we would later call Progressive Rock: the mellotron, odd time signatures, the symphony orchestra, synthesizers, sampling and looping, cut and paste methodology, new-age philosophizing……..A whole new generation of musicians were watching, listening, and incorporating. Then they took it all a step further. Some took it too far. But they all aimed high. For a brief time in the 1970’s, Progressive Rock scaled the mountaintop and ruled the world.

You got your A-list Prog Bands…..Yes, ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. They made an impact on pop culture and headlined stadiums. You also have the Moody Blues, a Progressive Rock group in ‘hit-makers’ clothing. However, go past that honor roll, and you’ll find a rogues gallery of musically ambitious bands who never quite grabbed the brass ring of mega-stardom. Here is my Top 10 underachievers in the Progressive Rock genre. A genre where you really ‘had to be there’……

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UK 

From the ashes of King Crimson and Roxy Music rose UK. Bassist/Vocalist John Wetton made his acquaintance with keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson in Roxy Music. Likewise, Wetton and (ex-Yes drummer) Bill Bruford shook the earth together in Crimson. Guitar virtuoso Alan Holdsworth rounded out the lineup.  UK was at the right place at the wrong time. In the mid-70’s Punk was in the process of scorching the earth, and mid-life Proggers were definitely not invited to the party.

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Flash

Original Yes guitarist Peter Banks built this group from the ground up after his brusque dismissal. Ex-Yesser Tony Kaye signed on for the first album and insured the band was 40% Yes alumni. Comparisons were inevitable. Banks, Kaye and Co. couldn’t hope to match the musical or commercial heights of their former band, but they gave it a decent college try. Their first single “Small Beginnings” actually crawled to number 28 on the Billboard chart in America. They toured incessantly and made three idiosyncratic albums. However, an oddball lead singer, Kaye’s departure and Banks’ alcohol fueled megalomania put paid to any further commercial inroads.

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801

Great players, good material and art-rock cache’ (courtesy of Brian Eno). This band should have been bigger than they were. Their  live album “801-Live” is one of the great buried treasures of the 70’s. It contains their monumental version of The Fab’s, “Tomorrow Never Knows”; a track that stands as one of the greatest Beatles covers in history. Moreover, it (arguably) holds the distinction of being the only cover version that betters the original.

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Camel

Keyboard wizard Peter Barden’s baby after his tenure with Them and Van Morrison. Camel was a fine ensemble made up of capable (albeit unknown) musicians. Their greatest shortfall was a scarcity of hooks and vocals. Prog’s popularity was on the wane, and Camel’s protracted instrumentals never really stood a chance in the mainstream.

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PFM

Of all the bands on this list, the Italian Prog group seemed most likely to achieve breakout success. Their electrifying single “Celebration” (from their first American album) made significant inroads on FM radio during Prog’s early 70’s heyday. They were a monster live act. Their musicianship was top tier. However, the absence of a proper lead singer blunted their crossover potential. And, for the all important American audience, an Italian Rock band was perhaps a bridge too far.

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Gentle Giant

Insanely syncopated arrangements, conservatory trained members, and eclecticism run riot. Gentle Giant was the archetype for all that was good and excessive about Progressive Rock. A crossover hit was never in the cards. The band was (ultimately) too adventurous for it’s own good. However, their work ethic and creativity were beyond reproach.

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Focus

Big in Europe. In America, not so much. They did join the ranks of memorable “one hit wonders” with their manic instrumental “Hocus Pocus”. However, guitarist Jan Akkerman’s commitment to Rock was tenuous at best, and their yodeling leader Thijs Van Leer was a bug-eyed Rock flautist in a world already occupied by Jethro Tull. Holland’s greatest musical export will forever remain on the B-list in Prog-Rock history. Perhaps unjustly.

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Ambrosia

Kansas and Styx notwithstanding, Ambrosia started out in the early 70’s as a credible American riposte to English Prog kings Yes. And, they could write tunes. Ultimately, the call of the Billboard charts was impossible to resist. they abandoned their Progressive mission and became AOR hit makers until Punk and New Wave herded them to the margins.

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Barclay James Harvest 

Far too effete and lightweight to break big in America; the band put out a slew of mellotron rich records in the 70’s that charted respectably in Britain. They were persistent and aimed high. However, in a genre where virtuosity was the standard and not the exception, BJH was never quite ready for prime time.

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Procol Harum 

A borderline call. Procol Harum was a great band who had their moments in the sun. Specifically, the summer of love evergreen, “Whiter Shade of Pale” and the (1972) single “Conquistador”. However, without a proper bum wiggling front man, their mass appeal was limited. They also occupy a permanent footnote in Rock history as the band who gave the world Robin Trower. They became an “album band” and now tread the nostalgia circuit. Their (1973) album, “Grand Hotel” is a masterpiece ripe for rediscovery.

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Top 10 Mental Music Masterpieces #1 (Nick Drake) “Pink Moon”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

Unbearable lightness of being

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“Pink Moon” finds Nick Drake parked in a chair alone with his guitar, foretelling his untimely death at age 26. After recording two elaborately arranged albums of autumnal perfection, Nick shuffles into the studio an unkempt and closed-off lone wolf.  With the exception of Drake’s piano on the opening track, the whole of Pink Moon is pure, uncut Drake  with no frills or production tricks. Nick’s guitar sound could have been recorded yesterday. It’s dry, full and clear. Arpeggios as solid as a Swiss watch. The melodies and lyrics hang seductively in the air and mist away. The album documents the thoughts of a chronically depressed, borderline catatonic young man who could no longer navigate interpersonal relationships. “Things Behind The Sun” is the finest song on the album. It is existential, obtuse and paranormal all in one go. The instrumental, “Horn” is as fragile as a cut class wind chime. At a scant 31 minutes, this album can be easily digested in one sitting and is best appreciated in that manner.

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Nick is poster boy for the beautiful, doomed and depressed poet in all of us.  His back story raises more questions than it answers.  He sold a pittance of records in his lifetime.  Yet, somehow in death he has become a cult sensation and a thriving cottage industry.  We have still-photos but no moving images of the man. And he gave only one brief newspaper interview in his life.  He refused to tour.  Nick Drake remains forever young; an exotic rainforest creature frozen in amber.

Nick Drake had the whole enchilada. Talent, leading man looks, loving supportive family, charm, intelligence and the opportunity of a Cambridge education in the liberal arts.  Island Records gave him carte’ blanch to make records how and when the spirit moved him.  Somehow it wasn’t enough.  Nick Drake died in his bed in his parent’s home, from an overdose of antidepressants at the age of 26.  He died a failed recording artist in life who would become a legend in death.

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Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces – # 3 Skip Spence

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Skip Spence – “Oar” (1969):

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“Oar” was one of the weirdest albums of all time, with a back story to match. After getting “dosed” with acid, he had the mother of all bad trips.  After chasing one of his Moby Grape band mates around the studio with an ax, Spence was committed to Bellevue mental hospital for 6 months. All during his internment he was writing songs in his head; strange songs. Upon his release, he mounted his chopper and gunned it down to Nashville. He then hired out a studio and engineer and started laying down tracks on the spot. The madness is undiluted by any other musicians or producers. It’s all Spence on drums, bass, guitar and vocals. The song craft is otherworldly and carries the aroma of weed, swamp gas and madness. You don’t know if he’s channeling Tom Joad or Jack the Ripper. After the hastily recorded sessions, Skip climbed on his bike, hit the gas hard, and rode west off into the sunset. He never released another album.

It’s a topic of debate whether it was heavy drugs, or the six month stay at Bellevue that pushed Spence into the abyss of chronic mental illness. All we have left of Skip Spence is “Oar”. Half cautionary tale, half masterpiece. Spence died of lung cancer in 1999,  His legacy is a fractured monument to the Summer Of Love’s” broken dreams and broken sprit.

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Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 4 (Joe Meek)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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Joe Meek (featuring the Blue Men) – “I Hear A New World”

British producer/composer Joe Meek was certainly a sociopath and was possibly a paranoid schizophrenic. However, it’s a safe bet any condition he suffered was exacerbated by the intolerant environment of postwar Britain. Additionally, his parents desire to dress baby Joe up as ‘the daughter they never had’ couldn’t have helped matters. Meek was a closeted, alpha-gay man in an era where you could be cited by the authorities for openly expressing your same-sex preference. Professionally, Joe Meek cut his teeth in the  1950’s as a tape-op and sound engineer for a production company that produced shows for Radio Luxembourg during the British recording industry’s most intractable period. At EMI Studios (for example), recording engineers were required to wear white lab coats and run their sessions by the strictures of EMI’s bound text instruction manual. Meek couldn’t abide, so he established himself as an independent producer and built his own studio in his apartment.

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Pioneers of any new frontier usually suffer the slings and arrows of skepticism, and Meek certainly took a lot of verbal darts from his fellow record professionals. However, this didn’t stop him from creating some of the most innovative and thrilling records of his day as well as some of the worst. Meek secured his legacy by composing and producing the futuristic (1962) single “Telstar”; a record that changed the ears of the world. The stuffy establishment of the British music industry still branded Meek a crackpot. In a sense their observations weren’t that far off.  His production methods were unorthodox to the extreme and involved assault, bullying, threats and/or harassment of his male musicians and protégés. As an engineer, he routinely pinned VU meters, drenched vocals and instruments with industrial strength reverb and favored the use of household appliances as sound effects.

Joe Meek’s long-form masterpiece was the sound-cycle, “I Hear A New World”. Recorded in 1960, the album was an outsider’s love letter to an extraterrestrial, alien world that Meek surely would have preferred to this one. The album was too ‘far out’ to be released in his lifetime. It contains most of the signature elements of Meek’s sound. Including high-speed vocals, distortion, copious amounts of echo, and a strange ancestor of the keyboard synthesizer called “The Clavioline”. If you wish to examine the tea leaves foretelling Meek’s masterpiece, “Telstar”, listen to “I Hear A New World”. Meek had his moments of clarity and commercial success. However, as The Beatles and their progeny took over the music industry, Meek’s fortunes declined dramatically. Meek finally achieved closure with a self-administered shotgun blast to the head. He committed this final act of sonic audacity shortly after performing the same ritual on his long-suffering landlady who lived on the first floor below his studio. Genius seldom comes in a neat, tidy package.

DIY?… Because they could – Rock’s Greatest “One Man Band” Albums

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The “One Man Band” is the lone wolf in the ecosystem of music. Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, they have upped the ante by declaring, “we don’t need no stinkin’ band”. Whereas Brian Jones was the ultimate “jack of all trades” when it came to the band dynamic, he would have fallen short trying to make a coherent album all by his lonesome. Here then is my list of the greatest “One Man Band” albums of all time.

“McCartney” (Paul McCartney)

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The Beatles were in the process of a very messy divorce. Paul was depressed, drinking, bearded and smelly. Linda was fed up and demanded he get up off his arse and do something. Macca’s first solo album was result. Paul puttered around his home studio, played all the instruments, and knocked out this home baked little gem. Beatlesque’ genius rears its head on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and lightweight Wings-Pop is presaged in the humble ditty “Lovely Linda”.  Not the magisterial mission statement one might have expected from Paul’s first solo long player; but maybe that’s part of this album’s charm and longevity.

“Emitt Rhodes” (Emitt Rhodes)

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Emitt Rhodes should’ve been a contender. He had the looks, talent and work ethic. During the swinging sixties he honed his multi-instrumentalist chops as leader of the chamber pop group The Merry-Go-Round which had a modest hit with “You’re A Very Lovely Woman”. At the dawn of the 70’s he signed a solo deal with ABC Dunhill and repaired to his parent’s garage to build his own studio with his $5,000 advance money. There he produced the McCartneyesque’ DIY masterpiece “Emitt Rhodes”. The album charted well (#29 on Billboard) and the critics swooned. All systems were go for a productive career to rival that of Todd Rundgren or perhaps even Macca himself.  ABC Dunhill had other ideas, all of them bad. First they rigidly held him hostage to a contract that required one album every 6 months. Being an artist, who wrote, produced, performed and engineered his work in its entirety, this blueprint was untenable and illogical.  Rhodes reasonably lobbied for a more sane release schedule. After all, his debut effort was a commercial and critical success. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it, right? No deal. ABC Dunhill not only refused to nurture their budding solo star, they sued him for $250,000 for breach of contract and withheld his royalties for failure to deliver his albums in a timely manner. Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth Rhodes recorded two more solo albums before calling it quits.  Rhodes then walked out of the machinery and refused to make anymore solo records. Instead, he sustained himself as a recording engineer and studio owner. ABC Dunhill’s handling of Emitt Rhodes was one of the most colossal corporate blunders since the Boston Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth.

“Olias of Sunhillow” (Jon Anderson)

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By 1976, Yes had pretty much conquered every mountain that poked out of the sky. They’d had hit singles. Their double LP concept album “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. They were headlining stadiums. Their (then current) album “Relayer” saw them at the peak of their musical powers. What next?….Solo albums of course. For Jon Anderson, this meant spending his Yes lucre on lots of cool instruments and recording gear and building both a studio and album from scratch. Normally a lead singing specialist, Anderson pushed himself and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on “Olias….”. The album was a dense and eclectic affair even by Yes standards. However, it charted surprisingly well, and was arguably one of the forerunners of the “New Age” genre. Echos of “Olias Of Sunhillow” can be found reverberating through much of his subsequent work, most notably his ethereal collaborations with synthesizer master Vangelis.

Arc Of A Diver – Stevie Winwood

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The 1980’s separated the men from the boys literally and musically. You were either a groovy young thing or you adapted to sound like a groovy young thing.  ZZ Top added buzzing synth washes to their roadhouse musings and struck pay dirt. Yes cut the length of their songs and their hair and scored a worldwide numero Uno with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Bruce Springsteen ditched his beard, buffed up, and sang zippy ditties about “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “Hungry Hearts”. Stevie Winwood had to fashion a similar re-calibration. Previously a band musician (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), he ushered in the new decade by entering the studio alone and shutting the door behind him. When he emerged, it was with the DIY masterpiece “Arc Of A Diver”. Previously a piano/Hammond man, Winwood now discovered the joys of synths, midi and beat boxes. “….Diver” was an unqualified smash and set the table for more of the same. Winwood’s solo success during the 80’s and the revenue it generated probably had as much to do with Traffic’s induction into the Rock And Roll HOF as anything the band accomplished during it’s brief heyday.

John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival broke the bank with an impressive string of top selling albums and singles. However, when Fogerty wanted to leave the band and Fantasy Records to go solo, he had to give up all future royalty rights to his Creedence songs. The deal cost Fogerty millions. Fogerty refused to perform his most popular hits for several years rather than line the pockets of his enemies. Due in part to the psychological stress, his first two solo excursions were shaky and marginal affairs. However, the third time was the charm with “Centerfield”. Fogerty sang all the vocals and played all the instruments and fashioned a sound that was. well….identical to CCR (see “The Old Man Down The Road”).  Baseball metaphors abounded as John Fogerty got back in the game, hit a grand slam with a #1 chart topper and took Comeback Player of The Year Award. “Centerfield”  replenished the Fogerty coffers. Eventually, Concord Records bought up Fantasy and Fogerty was able to renegotiate a deal that provided closure.  However, Fogerty’s image will forever be tarnished by his decision to exclude his Creedence band mates from the Hall Of Fame Induction performance honoring the band’s admittance to the hall. Fogerty may have occupied Centerfield, but he was never a team player.

“The Utility Man” – Top Five Rock multi-instrumentalists…….

We’ve talked about the “Singing Drummer” and the “Singing Bassist”. There is another unusual species of musician we haven’t talked about; the “Utility Man”. There are certain musicians whose talent and intellectual curiosity can not be contained by one instrument. And, in the band dynamic they tend to leave a unique footprint and are almost impossible to replace. Here are some of the most ubiquitous musical multi-taskers; “The Utility Men”,

Brian Jones

(Guitar, Keyboards, Dulcimer, Sitar, Vibes, Flute, Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals)

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The prototype for the ‘jack of all trades’ band member. Brian Jones formed The Rolling Stones and was their nominal leader until all hell broke loose and the harsh light of celebrity took aim exclusively at Mick and Keef. Early on, Jones demonstrated his versatility playing authentic bottleneck slide guitar and blues harp in addition to adding back-up vocals. He later expanded his wild-card role by playing sitar (Paint It Black), piano and flute (Ruby Tuesday), dulcimer (Lady Jane), Hammond organ (Out Of Time), mellotron and saxophone (The Citadel), Vibraphone (Under My Thumb)  and other contributions on percussion and guitar too numerous to mention. When Jones died (at age 27) in 1969, any spirit of musical adventure that lay inside The Rolling Stones died with him. Mick Taylor famously stepped in on guitar and saved the band. But, it was a different band without Brian Jones.

Paul McCartney

(Bass, Guitar, Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Ukulele, Vocals)

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One of the secrets to the success of The Beatles (including George Martin) lie in the fact that they were self contained. They wrote, played and arranged all the core elements of the band’s sound. Paul McCartney was third banana on guitar early in the group’s history. His switch to bass was unselfish, but also a no-brainer. For a control freak like McCartney, commanding the vocal mic and helming the rhythm section was his dream gig. As The Beatles muse evolved in the hot-house environment of London’s EMI studios, so did McCartney’s musicianship. A capable, inventive guitarist, (Blackbird, Drive My Car, Junk) and a superior pianist (Lady Madonna, Maybe I’m Amazed, Martha My Dear); McCartney also filled in on drums when necessary (Back In The USSR, Ballad Of John And Yoko). Recent tours have seen Paul add Ukulele to his bag of tricks. Safe to say Paul was band MVP from Revolver up until Abbey Road; an album nearly stolen by George Harrison.

Ian Anderson:

(Flute, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Harmonica, Mandolin, Balalaika, Violin, Trumpet, Soprano Saxophone)

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The leader and visionary of Jethro Tull started out as a guitar player but took up flute because of the instrument’s portability. He learned the instrument by transposing blues guitar riffs to flute as counterpoint to Tull’s master bluesman (guitarist) Mick Abrahams. After Abraham’s departure from Tull, Anderson seized full control and took a stylistic 90 degree turn on the band’s next album “Stand-Up”. On “Stand-Up”, Anderson was the lone star; establishing his brand on flute as well as playing the delicate arpeggiated acoustic guitar that would become one of the band’s signature elements.  Additionally, he turned the album into a folk-rock toure’ de force by playing mandolin, balalaika, and Hammond organ. One of the boldest mission statements by any musician, in any band, in any decade. On later albums; “Thick as a Brick” and “Passion Play”, Anderson would add violin, trumpet, and soprano sax to his toolbox.

John Paul Jones:

(Bass, Keyboards, Mandolin)

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Led Zeppelin made albums that sounded massive. Then they were expected to replicate that layered sound live. They made things even harder on themselves by choosing to remain a three piece instrumental unit. They were able to pull it off thanks to bassist/keyboardist/mandolinist John Paul Jones. Jones was a battle tested veteran of the London studio scene with Donovan long before The New Yardbirds were a twinkle in Jimmy Page’s eye. Onstage, Jones thunders riff for riff with Jimmy Page on bass and adds colors and orchestral gravitas on keyboards. And, in Zeppelin’s unplugged moments, Jones sits in on mandolin. Is Jones replaceable as a member of Led Zeppelin? Well…..last time Page and Plante got together for an album and tour they called the project Page/Plante. They didn’t dare call it Led Zeppelin without Jones onboard. Listen to “In Through The Out Door”; It’s pretty much Jonesy’s album; the epic “Kashmir” being one of his finest moments.

Edgar Winter:

(Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesizer, Drums, Saxophone)

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Polar opposite to his brother Johnny; Edgar was neither a blues purist nor guitar player. Edgar Winter earned his spurs with the band White Trash on the club and roadhouse circuit before he formed The Edgar Winter Group and went mega. Winter stunned the music world with his androgynous image and his staggering virtuosity on Vocals, Keyboards, Saxophone and Percussion. “They Only Come Out At Night” by The Edgar Winter Group is a seminal 1970’s classic rock album. Winter’s biggest hit was also his strangest. For the instrumental “Frankenstein”, Winter leaves it all on the playing field. Playing keyboards strapped to his body like a guitar player, then playing the horn section on alto sax, then matching drummer Chuck Ruff crush roll for crush roll during the call-and-response drum solo, culminating in a abstract ARP 2600 synthesizer white-noise freak-out. Comfortable as lead man or backing musician (Ringo Starr, Michael McDonald), Edgar is my first round draft pick when assembling my dream band.