Listen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic power trio and heavy metal seed planters Blue Cheer. It’s “Come And Get It”, a cut off of their 1968 LP Outsideinside. The song would help to show off their, um, mettle as a band that specialized in “heavy” music, before many bands explored the range of back to basics loudness in quite this way.
The most obvious comparison for many to what Blue Cheer represented at the time may be the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, that comparison is mostly cosmetic. Hendrix’s music was about ecstatic excursions that included Dylanesque influences mixed with R&B, and culminating in an outward expansion of rock music as a form. Blue Cheer went the other way; inward, and back.
They went back to the roots of the music itself, their most famous example being their take on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. With that tune, they boiled the song down to its essentials, and turned up the heat (and the amps). A similar approach can be found on their take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, on which they took the original, hit it over the head with a lead pipe, kicked it while it was down, went through its pockets for loose change. They did all with the best results.
But, what of this song which is an original composition? (more…)
The Apollo Theater, Harlem New York City (Source: Paul Lowry)
There have been many vital legendary musical venues that have helped to shape the destiny of pop music. But, few have the pedigree of the immortal Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City.
Since it was founded in 1934, several of the musical acts that now stand as pioneers in jazz, blues, soul, funk, rock, and hip hop got their start in this otherwise humble theatre located at 253 West 125th Street. And while these artists developed from beginners, to practicioners, to exemplars, and onto immortality, the world changed as a result.
Their work helped in breaking down barriers between musical styles, and also between groups of people who had been separated by the oppressive social norms of their times. As these norms were torn down (and good riddance), the music they made has endured, and the lives of music fans everywhere have been enriched.
Listing every artist that came out of the Apollo Theatre, or had career-defining shows there, would make for a very long read, indeed. So, as is my custom here at the Delete Bin, here is a list of 10 that I hope will suggest the wide spectrum of talent they represent. Take a look!
Listen to this track by Motown titan and smooth as silk soul-pop provider Marvin Gaye, along with his vocal counterbalance, and no slouch in the soaring vocal department herself, Tammi Terrell. It’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, a single from writing partnership and real-life couple Ashford & Simpson. The song was a top twenty hit single in 1967, released on the Tamla label, a sister label of Motown, eventually appearing on the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell joint album United.
The song was thought of by its writers as being their golden ticket into the Motown stable, even turning down Dusty Springfield who wanted to record it herself. Ashford and Simpson held it back , and it was eventually offered as a duet to Marvin Gaye, and to Tammi Terrell who made it one of the most prominent songs of the Motown catalogue, and an important record of the whole decade. Later on, Diana Ross would record it when she split with the Supremes and went solo in 1970. It would be a number one hit, and become a signature tune for her.Yet, it’s the alchemy that the Gaye-Terrell version offers that makes this the definitive version of the song.
Terrell had signed with Motown at the tender age of twenty, after a short career of minor hits, and even a time at the University of Pennsylvania as a pre-med student. But despite the run of singles and albums she would have with Marvin Gaye as her singing partner, Terrell would face greater challenges of a more personal nature.
Listen to this track by Stax staffer, soul music innovator, and future South Park cast member Isaac Hayes. It’s “Walk On By”, Hayes’ expansive interpretation of the Bacharach-David pop hit that appears on 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul.
Hayes had been a stalwart songwriter at the Stax label, penning many hits for resident artists, most notably Sam & Dave, and their song “Soul Man”. But, the time between that song and the end of the decade was a wide one. A lot had changed. One important thing that had shifted was the standing relationship between Stax and Atlantic, the latter of which had distributed the former’s catalog from 1965. Atlantic had claimed Stax’s output when it in turn was bought by Warner in 1968 as per the contract signed by Stax founder Jim Stewart when the distribution deal was initially struck. The requirement to back-fill Stax’s offering with new work was suddenly a vital priority. It was the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.
How did this turn of events help to establish Isaac Hayes as a soul music icon, a status that lasted over a forty-year career as a solo artist? (more…)
Listen to this track by West Saugerties, NY house-renters and former backing group turned turned 20th Century music innovators The Band. It’s “Chest Fever”, a track as taken from their 1968 debut record Music From Big Pink.
The album was named affectionately after the house in which much of the group’s early material was written, now famously known in rock lore as one of the first “clubhouse” style recording set-ups that would produce their fruitful Basement Tapes sessions with Bob Dylan when they were still a nameless band transitioning out of their days as The Hawks.
Their work during these sessions showed that world-changing rock music didn’t have to be created in a professional studio while someone else’s clock is ticking. It would also allow them space to explore other musical avenues and modes of narrative, and to push the possibilities of what rock music could be for everyone while they were at it. It would set the tone for an approach that would carry over even when they came to record their debut in a formal studio setting, working with sympathetic producer John Simon, under their new name The Band.
This is a tune that would burn like a beacon on a landmark debut record, and distinguish itself among some of the best in the group’s catalog. It would also diverge from the carefully constructed approach to songwriting for which the Band is now known in distinct, unique ways.
Listen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.
Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.
This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.
I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.
In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?
Listen to this track by towering spiritual saxophonist and jazz immortal John Coltrane. It’s “Psalm”, the last movement in his 1965 magnum opus A Love Supreme.
The track, along with the rest of the record was recorded with what is now known as his classic quartet; Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums. With the almost psychic connection between these musicians, the whole record gels gloriously, coming to be what it was intended to be; a statement of ultimate gratitude by its author.
But, before the music was laid down on an album that is now considered to be Coltrane’s artistic pinnacle, it required one thing before it could be born: solitude. (more…)
Listen to this track by former mop-top British Invasion spearheads and pop music boundary pushers The Beatles. It’s “A Day In The Life” as taken from the modestly successful little platter Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released at the top of the summer of love in June 1967.
By the time work was undertaken to begin the making of this song, and this record, the rules hadn’t really been written as to what an album could be – like, say, a way to create a band inside of a band, and to have the record itself do the job of touring instead of the people behind it having to do it. No one had ever really applied an artistic filter to a record, or to a band in quite this way.
As such, it was a risky approach. There again, the Beatles records always sold well, and I’m sure the project wasn’t thought of as being risky other than by those who undertook it, and who wanted it to be as great as it was on a musical level. The stories around that album, and this track specifically, are fairly well-traveled. But, there is one common thread running through all of those stories; everything about the project drove everyone involved in making it deep into a place of artistic and technological lateral thinking .
Personally, I think the biggest force behind the record’s success didn’t have anything to do with lofty and unifying artistic concepts or technological innovation. I think it had more to do with an honest expression of where the Beatles were at during that time as it was expressed in the songwriting. “A Day In The Life” was one of the first songs the band tackled, helping to set the tone and expectations surrounding the project as a whole.
As such, it’s always seemed kind of ironic to me that this final track on an album that is otherwise thought of as the most technicolour of all Beatles records is so full of forboding.
Listen to this track by incomparable High Priestess of Soul herself Nina Simone. It’s “Sinnerman”, a traditional gospel-blues song of misty and mysterious origins as captured on her 1965 record Pastel Blues. The song closed that record, an epic length encapsulation of nothing less than the Fall of Humanity, the hope for redemption, and the fear of damnation.
Covering this tune was likely a product of Simone’s upbringing in the church. But, it is also likely that “Sinnerman” was well-covered on the Greenwich Village folk scene, of which Simone was also a part. The Weavers recorded a version of it, which may have been responsible for it being something of a standard of the ’60s folk boom. It has since become a well-covered standard across a number of musical spectrums.
This one is the real thing; over ten minutes long, and with Simone’s full-powers behind it, and making it her own. It would have an impact well after this version was recorded. (more…)
Listen to this track by Anglocentric, conceptually-minded Brit-pop forseers The Kinks. It’s “Victoria”, a single as taken from their 1969 album Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire). After a distinguished purple patch of singles, and a slight dip, this was a return to the Billboard charts.
In many ways, The Kinks are the forefathers of Brit-pop more so than the Beatles. Like their ’90s progeny, they dealt in decidedly British themes and presented material through an English cultural lens at a time when gaining an American following was so vital, and so very expected of every rock band coming out of England in the early-to-mid 1960s. Many would get there in varying degrees. The Kinks would, too – eventually. But, the Beatles/Stones/Who triumvirate would shut them out of the top three places in the minds of record buyers in North America at the time.
Arguably, this was down to a Kinks ban in America at just the wrong time; from 1965 until the end of the decade when the American charts were the most receptive to British bands, and just when their classic line-up (with Pete Quaife on bass) was active. There are a number of theories as to the reasons for the ban, ranging from the alienation of prominent promoters, to their volatile on-stage behaviour (before Oasis, there was the Kinks …), to not paying dues to the appropriate American unions.
So how did they survive, and actually thrive, under these conditions? (more…)