Listen to this track by former TV band turned actual real life band featured in their own movie, The Monkees. It’s “Porpoise Song”, a 1968 single also to be heard on the soundtrack to the movie Head. The film wasdirected by The Monkees TV series creator and director Bob Rafaelson who would go on to direct many films into the 1970s, including Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson, who in turn would serve as a screeenwriter on Head. The Monkees TV producer Bert Schneider would also produce the feature. The gang was all here.
In addition to the filmmaking aspect of the project, The Monkees had other allies on this tune, with whom they had a healthy and fruitful relationship; Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had written a number of other songs in their catalogue, including a hit song in “Pleasant Valley Sunday“. That was during the era in which the band were beamed into living rooms all over the nation. Since that period, they’d cut loose the bonds of their former personas as lovable TV goofs. They had established their own path as a real band without the fuel of a hit TV show to propel them onto the charts.
And yet, with “Porpoise Song” and with Head, that former life was still referenced, although in a more satirical light — or maybe as a way to decompress from it and make their escape once and for all. The results were, perhaps, not as they’d thought. Read more
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? Read more
Listen to this track by folk-rock janglers and supposed progenitors of ‘raga-rock’ The Byrds. It’s their 1966 hit record “Eight Miles High”, released as a single in March of that year, and eventually was featured on their third record Fifth Dimension. It would be their last top 20 hit, and a single that would mark the end of their original incarnation.
This song is like a wormhole back to a mythical period in pop music and cultural history of the mid-60s, a time when things really were a-changin’ in all sorts of ways, including the variety of influences that were having an effect on how bands and artists were approaching their work. This song helped to shape what a pop record came to mean later into the decade.
Nineteen Sixty-Six in particular was an epicenter for this kind of artistic evolution, what with this track, the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, The Yardbirds “The Shapes of Things”, and The Stones’ “Paint It Black” all exploring darker, and more inward-looking regions of human experience lyrically speaking. Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Soft Machine all formed in 1966, among other more sonically expansive-minded bands. It was a year which heralded a more experimental approach to the sound of those records too with tape loops, exotic instruments, and distortion being important elements.
On “Eight Miles High”, elements of “new thing” jazz, and the influence of Ravi Shankar’s Indian classical music all play into the sound of this song. Writers Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby created this song under those musical influences, and from varied experiences ranging from airplane trips, to trips of other sorts that eventually caused some controversy, with this song being among the earliest songs about drugs recognized as such, although with claims otherwise by the band at the time in the face of a radio ban.
But, there is another reason why this song was so significant. Read more
For fans of The Pretty Things, of classic vinyl, and of the musically innovative, and under-appreciated in the mainstream 1968 rock opera concept album S.F Sorrow, a new compilation record is on its way from Fruits De Mer Records – Sorrow’s Children, a title submitted by the Pretty Things themselves.
A roster of indie talent perform all of the tracks from the original album in turn, along with a recent recording by the Pretties themselves; “The Loneliest Person”, recorded live in 2010 at London’s famous 100 club, and now exclusive to this release.
Also included in the package is an exclusive interview with founding members Phil May and Dick Taylor, talking about the making of their celebrated S.F Sorrow album. Appropriately, this new compilation record features classic gatefold packaging.
The release is something of a tribute to bands carrying on the tradition of psychedelia in the 21st Century, and the aesthetics of sumptuously presented rock music that the Pretty Things helped to create in the 1960s. Here’s the tracklisting, with the bands each taking on a classic track off of the original LP:
SF Sorrow is Born – The Luck of Eden Hall
Bracelets of Fingers – Sky Picnic
She Says Good Morning – Sidewalk Society
Private Sorrow – Hi-Fiction Science
Balloon Burning – Langor
Death – The Seventh Ring Of Saturn
Baron Saturday – Senrab Mendips
The Journey – Extra
I See You – Earthling Society
Well of Destiny – Jay Tausig
Trust – The Gathering Grey
Old Man Going – King Penguin
Loneliest Person – The Loons
Here’s a clip of an in-transition Rolling Stones and their lesser-known track, “Child of the Moon”. The song was a B-side to the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” single, which later appeared on their Beggar’s Banquet album. “Child of the Moon” can be heard on the superlative collection Singles Collection: The London Years, which takes in the of the Stones’ first phase as a 60s blues-pop and psych-blues singles band starting from 1963 to 1971.
[update: the clip’s been blocked. But, I really want you to hear the tune, so click here]
Before they became the arena-filling behemoths that they are today, the Rolling Stones were once a mighty singles band. It’s true that their primary musical idiom was a form of blues-rock, mixed in with the R&B flavourings of the whole British Invasion sound. But, by 1967, the expectations placed upon the pop single were beginning to give way to the use of more ambitious production values, and with greater sonic variety. And this is besides the fact that the album was beginning to eclipse the pithy, three-minute single, thanks in part to Sgt. Pepper.
So in light of this, the Stones tried a number of grand experiments to stretch themselves. First, they threw a couple of unexpected instrumental textures into their work, largely thanks to Brian Jones who was adept at playing a number of instruments outside of the rock spectrum. Second, they embraced psychedelia on their oft-derided (unfairly so, I might add) Their Satanic Majesties Request album, which included their underrated singles “She’s a Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years From Home”, which we both a far cry from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. And third, they brought in sessioners like pianist Nicky Hopkins to add extra flair, depth, and dexterity to their material.
This experimental period would not last long, of course. This song, “Child of the Moon” was recorded in late 1967, to be released the next May. It caught my ear when I first heard the Singles… box as a tune which didn’t really sound like a typical Rolling Stones track. To me, it was the choppy guitar lines reminiscent of what U2’s the Edge would employ a decade or so later. Jagger’s disembodied vocal, and the hazy atmosphere to the track stands as a stylistic testament to a group who weren’t afraid to step outside of their comfort zone. Where the Stones would incorporate a number of stylistic ingredients into the 1970s which would include reggae and disco, it was here that their experimentation sounds at its most honest, least like a bid for commerciality.
By 1968, the sweetness and light of the psychedelic period had given way to darker tones. And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Sympathy For the Devil”, “Street Fighting Man” and, later “Gimme Shelter” fit the bill nicely to suit the turbulent times. The band established their sound based in the blues, hard rock, and country, a sound which they would develop, sustain, and then arguably let stagnate in varying degrees for decades to come. As a B-side to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Child of the Moon” is something of a transitional piece, a last gasp of a band about to transform into an entity which would exist on a different and certainly larger scale by the next decade, when they would no longer be in the position to try something this uncharacteristic.
Where it can be strongly argued that 1968 – 1972 is their artistic pinnacle, there is a lot to be said for the 1963-67 singles-era, when they were still finding their feet as a band, trying different approaches, and gaining some unexpected, and very welcome results.
They would never be this same band again, of course.
[Update, February 7th 2014 – take a look at this feature on “Child of The Moon” in MOJO magazine. It covers the making of the track, as well as a promotional film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who would later go on to direct Let It Be, among other rock films.)
Here’s a clip of severely underrated British mod outfit the Small Faces performing their 1967 psych-pop gem “Itchycoo Park”, the track which served as a herald to their critically-acclaimed Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album.
This track was one of the best pop songs about drugs in an era of songs about drugs, and one of the most blatant too I might add. It’s amazing to me just how upfront it is about its subject matter – getting together, and taking acid in the park (supposedly Little Ilford Park in London) . I mean, that’s probably what a lot of the band’s fans were doing at the time. But, this was also a time when the London police were cracking down on drug use, and actively pursuing pop stars to make examples of them in the most draconian ways possible.
Maybe because of this trend in Cromwellian policework in London, most songs at this time were pretty shadowy when it came to writing about recreational pharmacology. But, not this one. What did you do there? I got high! . If the Beatles worried about saying “I’d love to turn you on” in “A Day in the Life” which was recorded the same year, then these guys put it right out there, seemingly without any concern at all.
And this was a hit song too, reaching #3 on the UK charts and #16 in the US charts. Not bad for a band of mods singing about taking acid in the park. Of course, much like what the aforementioned Beatles had done with Sgt. Pepper, the Small Faces had created a song, and later an full-length album, that was very hard to reproduce live. This was the beginning of an era where the studio was becoming an instrument, just as important as any guitar or drum. Like the tunes on Pepper, the song features some revolutionary techniques that marked the era and would influence other eras too. Specifically, “Itchycoo Park” was one of the first tracks to feature a technique called phasing or flanging; that is, two recordings of the same lines playing at the same time while also being slightly delayed from one another. This is what gives the track its otherworldly quality.
It seems to me that the Small Faces may be one of the most underexposed bands of the era. Along with the Zombies, they tend to get left out of the discussion when it comes to conversations about big 60s groups. Yet, the talent and the material is top drawer. Listen to lead singer Steve Marriott‘s vocal power, which is seemingly effortless in delicacy and rawness, sometimes from one note to the next. And Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan remains to be one of the most versatile rock keyboardists in music history, playing the blues and British musical hall sounds in equal measure to the spacey soundscapes you hear on this tune.
It’s almost a shame that this band ended by 1969. I say almost, because they morphed into The Faces, when Rod Stewart and Ron Wood late of the Jeff Beck Group joined remaining members Ronnie Lane (AKA ‘Plonk’), Kenney Jones, and Mac, creating something equally special. Marriott went onto form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and the 1970s commenced accordingly. Neither band gained much traction on the scale of the Stones or Bowie. Yet, “Itchycoo Park” and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake have both been heralded as masterpieces by critics and prominent music papers.
I suppose the goal of every artist is to create something lasting, which the Small Faces certainly have. And beyond the exceptional catchiness and charm of this song, and the creativity that went into making the album, I think this tune remains to be one of the most honest statements of the entire ’60s decade of pop music. And of course, the influence of the Small Faces was felt well into the ’90s, with fans like Damon Albarn and other Brit-pop writers listening intently, and passing it along.