Listen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic blues band fronted by transplanted Texan R&B shouter Janis Joplin. It’s “Summertime”, a re-telling of the Gershwin-Heyward American songbook classic as featured on the band’s 1968 debut album Cheap Thrills.
The song is one of three cover versions on the record, and the one with the longest pedigree having been covered by many over the years since it was written in 1935 for the musical Porgy and Bess. That musical, and certainly this song, was a snapshot of American southern life through a very romanticized lens. Maybe this band covering this song is kind of an unexpected choice for a long-haired rock ‘n’ roll band like Big Brother & The Holding Company. The song had grown a sheen of respectability by the 1960s along with the jazz traditions out of which it came. But, when you think of where jazz, the blues and rock music comes from, and the idealistic nature of the counterculture, it really isn’t all that much of a leap. After all, George Gershwin was as fascinated by African-American folk culture as any white rock ‘n’ roll singer was by 1968.
But, I think this cover version is notable for something else, too when it comes to Big Brother frontwoman Janis Joplin. In many ways, this song was waiting for her to record it. Because its story is hers. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by three-part harmony supergroup CSN, or rather Crosby, Stills & Nash. It’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, and epic length slab of prime ’60s folk rock as taken from the then newly formed band on their self-titled debut record released in the spring of 1969.
The group formed after the three principles David Crosby late of the Byrds, Stephen Stills formerly of Buffalo Springfield, and ex-member of British Invasion favourites The Hollies, Graham Nash met at a party. Crosby and Stills had performed a tune together, and Nash who had been a part of a band who specialized in harmony singing joined in. And the magic happened! I’m sure even they were astounded at the results which have since been celebrated for nearly fifty years.
And this song was their flag in the sand as a statement that would distinguish them even from their work in the bands from which they had come. And along with that, they would usher in a new era for popular music, too. And how would they do that? Continue reading →
Listen to this track by British Invasion rear guard turned retroactively celebrated pop-rock-psych quintet from St. Albans, England, The Zombies. It’s “Care of Cell 44″ as taken from the band’s second and final record by the original line-up, Oddesey & Oracle. That album is now confirmed as one of the best releases of the decade by a number of well-established sources. And this single was the first salvo from it in the UK.
The song deals in subject matter which is familiar to the pop song milieu. It’s a song about prison. But, in this case it’s about a loved one looking forward to welcoming the prisoner back home once a sentence has been served. Instead of being a doleful tune about being in the pokey ala “Folsom Prison Blues”, it’s a song of celebration, with a joyful melody to bear it up. The band were convinced of its commercial appeal.
But, they were wrong!
Among other things happening at the time, the failure of this track as a single was a nail in the coffin (pardon the pun) for the Zombies. They broke up as the original line-up of the band by the end of the year this record was recorded, 1967. But, that wouldn’t be the end of the tale. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by British songwriter and lost Macca-esque psychedelia creator John Bromley. It’s “So Many Things”, a 1969 song as taken from his sole album Sing. On that album, and on this song, he is backed by The Fleur De Lys, his labelmates at the time. That band in turn was something of a rearguard to the British Invasion, launching in 1964, but never quite reaching the heights of their fellow beat combos who’d made the trip across the Atlantic.
The Fleur De Lys had trolled the edges of the ’60s rock scene, with touches from Chas Chandler, Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records, and Jimmy Page who had produced one of their singles, “Moondreams”. As you can hear, their sound had morphed into a classic Beatlesque stew with not just a few Who references, with the band having once recorded Pete Townshend’s “Circles” in 1966.
Bromley was primarily a songwriter, penning tunes for singer Jackie DeShannon. By the end of the decade, he was encouraged by Polydor to collect some of his singles together, including this one, for a full length album – Sing. Appropriately, it’s Bromley’s voice that stands out here, with lyrics that touch on a very important ingredient to be found on a certain kind of psychedelia that was in it’s last phase by the time this song had been recorded.
Listen to this track by jazz saxphonist, arranger, and latter day TV soundtrack composer Oliver Nelson. It’s “Stolen Moments”, an established jazz standard covered by many since, and the centerpiece to his celebrated 1961 album The Blues And The Abstract Truth.
Nelson is joined on this song by a selection of some of the greatest musicians in jazz at the time; Paul Chambers on bass, Roy Haynes on drums, Eric Dolphy on flute, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Bill Evans on piano. Nelson’s septet is rounded out by George Barrow, who holds down the low end on baritone sax, even if he doesn’t take a solo. With this tune, it’s the voices of the horns working together to bring out the harmonic beauty found in the theme of the song that makes it such a work of note.
Much in the same way horns would be tightly arranged later in the decade on significant jazz releases like Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”, and Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”, the horns here on this piece are interlocked in the same way they are on a lot of R&B tunes. Perhaps this sheds some light on where Nelson had come from as a musician, and perhaps pointed to where he was going, too. Continue reading →
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.
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!