The Band Play “Chest Fever”

Music From Big PinkListen to this track by West Saugerties, NY house-renters and former backing group 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.

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The Beatles Play “A Day In The Life”

The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandListen 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.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience Plays “Bold As Love”

Jimi Hendrix Experience Axis Bold As LoveListen to this track by Trans-Atlantic amp-stacking power trio The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s “Bold As Love”, the almost-title track and closer to their 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love, their second.

A lot of casual music fans consider Hendrix to the best virtuoso rock guitarist that the world has ever seen. This is an arguable point, of course. But, if someone were to make that statement, they’d have some pretty solid ground to stand on.

His ability to blur the lines between rhythm and lead parts changed the way many players even thought about guitar playing. His effortless range that allowed him to touch upon the blues, jazz, folk, and pop guitar playing of the times, and to integrate them to the degree he did was revolutionary. His experiments with phasing and deliberate distortion are matched only by his keen melodic sense, with every lick serving as a second voice to his singing.

Even if his guitar skills were a huge aspect of Hendrix’s talent, and remain to be a major part of his contribution to how rock music is made today, his range as an artist went beyond it, and into other areas, even by the band’s second album. And what were those areas, exactly? Read more

The Byrds Play “Eight Miles High”

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

XTC Perform ‘Mermaid Smiled’

Listen to this track by former post-punk popsters and neo-psychedelic bucolicist champs XTC.  It’s the lushly arranged tale of mythic innocence, “Mermaid Smiled” as taken from their landmark 1986 album Skylarking a record which came about due to the efforts of at least two musical visionaries. The first being singer/guitarist and songwriter Andy Partridge, and the other being pop music wunderkind Todd Rundgren who served as producer.  And  when these two guys got together  – boy! –  did the sparks fly, in more ways than one!

The reason that the record is considered a gem in the band’s catalog is the musical and thematic unity it represented for the group at the time, having abandoned touring by 1982, and having embraced their love of 60s psychedelia and orchestral flourishes as a studio band.  And you can certainly hear traces of that in this song, with lyrics concerning mythical creatures and ‘caves of memory’ which may not have flown so straight as lyrical content when the group put out their first few records by 1977-78, when they were more in line with a punk and post punk musical ethos.

In edition, what is evoked here is a Romantic spirit in the capital ‘R’ sense of the word, with the title ‘Skylarking’ referring to Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark” poem, and the images of an ideal summer firmly at the centre of the record.  This is not only true for this song, but is also bolstered by the presence of some of the best work the band had ever done in “Summer’s Cauldron”, “Sacrificial Bonfire”, “Grass”, and “The Meeting Place”. Read more

Eric Burdon & The New Animals Perform ‘Sky Pilot’

Listen to this track, an ambitious single from former R&B powerhouse Eric Burdon, with a reconfigured Animals from 1968.  It’s the orchestrally augmented psych-pop single “Sky Pilot” as taken from the album The Twain Shall Meet, a record that allies itself more with West Coast American psychedelia than with the London R&B boom of years previous.  This makes sense, since Burdon had moved the band Stateside by this time, after re-starting the group after their initial 1966 break-up.


After the R&B boom during which the Animals built their reputation in London had ceased, and music had moved from singles-driven efforts, to more album-oriented, and musically ambitious offerings, they had already split. When they re-emerged, it was in sunny, acid-soaked California. The new version of the band was ready to take on weightier, more contemporary themes, with more ambitious arrangements.  And “Sky Pilot” is one of the best examples of this shift.

There is something of a parable suggested in this song of an army Chaplain and his attempts to ease the burden of soldiers about to go into battle.  But, I wonder if the obvious interpretation of anti-Vietnam sentiment isn’t the only thing that lies beneath the story told here.

Referencing the Vietnam conflict  isn’t exactly a hard leap to make. By 1968, Nixon had become President for the first time.  And the conflict in Vietnam was escalating, seemingly by the day. It’s not a huge stretch to think that taking on the role of ‘Sky Pilot’ is, perhaps, the way that members of the rock  counterculture thought of themselves- as the conscience of a nation, of an international community, and source of comfort to soldiers in the field too.  And they certainly were that, with AM radios blaring while soldiers awaited their orders to be dispatched ‘in the shit’. By the time Burdon and this new version of the Animals were ensconced on the West Coast of America, the conflict being felt stateside over the war would have been impossible to ignore.

Even if the band’s, and particularly Burdon’s, interest in American music and way of life was on another level from most bands in Britain at the time, members of the band were still culturally English.  They were among the first  of a generation born during and immediately after the Second World War. That  earlier conflict moulded the consciousness of their generation, with early memories of British industrial towns turned into munitions factories, loss of family, bombing blitzes of the nation’s Capitol, destruction of architecture, rationing, and repressed emotions in the face of what was thought of as more important than personal feelings – victory.

‘Sky Pilot’ may well be about a generation of rock musicians seeing themselves as the spiritual guides to their generation, many  members of whom were in the jungles of Vietnam at the time this song was recorded and released. But, it could be that it’s also about working through the impact of a war that came before, when they were children raised in a region of the world literally on the brink of domination from one of  history’s most evil military machines from only a few miles away, as opposed to many thousands.

Eric Burdon went onto solo recordings, as well as working with soul-funksters War by the 70s.   The Animals would reform many times through out the 70s and early 80s, complete with keyboardist Alan Price.  He continues to be an active musician today.

For more information about The Animals, and more music, check out this Eric Burdon & The Animals site.


Strawberry Alarm Clock Perform “Incense and Peppermints”

incense_and_peppermints_albumListen to this track, a classic slice of psychedelic pop from the oddly named (but not for the time) pop group Strawberry Alarm Clock.  It’s their smash 1967 hit “Incense and Peppermints” and taken from the appropriately-named Incense and Peppermints album.

This song is not just a pop hit – it’s a sort of aural shorthand for an entire era, used in countless movie soundtracks to serve like a billboard that says ‘this film is set in the 1960s’.   And even looking closer, you get a pretty good cross-section of the styles and textures of the time – Farfisa organ, fuzz guitar, and interlocking harmonies that draw from the Beach Boys and the Association.  And in terms of style, this is psychedelia is intermingled with sunshine pop in such a way that makes it hard to resist.

Yet, the single originally began as being set to be a B-side, the lyrics written outside of the band by a publisher.  It was even sung by someone outside of the band – 16 year old Gary Munford.  After all, it wasn’t meant to be a flagship song for the band or anything – it was just a B-side!

Who knew that it would capture the imagination of a generation, and beyond?  You can even hear it in the music of decades well afterward; Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” uses the same chord progression as this tune, albeit at a different tempo.  The ‘Alarm Clock had a hit on its hands (no pun intended)!

After the initial success of the single, and after some line-up changes,  an album was hastily put together by the end of the year.  The band toured with Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Buffalo Springfield, and other top flight acts of the day, fashioning a sound that melds sunshine pop with trickier psychedelia akin to The Creation, although slowly jettisoning any efforts to appeal to the charts.

This was a move forward for the band, but like many acts that break out early with a smash hit, they were also weighted down by that hit.  By the early 70s, they were no more.  But, they had made their mark with this, one of the most infectious hits in pop music history.


The 13th Floor Elevators Sing ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’

The 13th Floor Elevators are known as being one of the earliest examples of American psychedelia, a position by which they came honestly since Roky Erickson was a dedicated LSD user.  But Erickson also suffered from schizophrenia, receiving electro-shock therapy to treat it, thereby exacerbating his problems. He spent the late 60s and earl 70s in mental institutions, and long stretches on his own in unmedicated states. Yet Erickson's influence on modern rock music caused him to be championed by musical figures as disparate as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top to the Butthole Surfers.  He was able to make a return to music starting in the 90s after many years of poverty and isolation. He is an active musician today, recently guesting on post-rock band Mogwai's 2007 the Batcat EP.
The 13th Floor Elevators are known as being one of the earliest examples of American psychedelia, a position by which they came honestly since Roky Erickson was a dedicated LSD user. But Erickson also suffered from schizophrenia, receiving electro-shock therapy to treat it, thereby exacerbating his problems. He spent the late 60s and earl 70s in mental institutions, and long stretches on his own in unmedicated states. Yet Erickson’s influence on modern rock music caused him to be championed by musical figures as disparate as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top to the Butthole Surfers. He was able to make a return to music starting in the 90s after many years of poverty and isolation. He is an active musician today, recently guesting on post-rock band Mogwai’s 2007 the Batcat EP.

Listen to this song by Austin Texas’ 60s garage-rock heroes the 13th Floor Elevators, featuring 19-year old singer-guitarist Roky Erickson.  It’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, their 1966 single which also featured on their The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators LP.  This was their only hit, getting in at #55 on the Billboard Top 100 that year.  But, it was a hit that counted.   In a span of 2 minutes and change, it influenced the development of psychedelia, blues rock, and multiple strains of  punk rock for decades after it was recorded.

The garage-rock scene, which were actually a scattering of little scenes all over the United States and here in Canada, came partially out of the influence of British Invasion bands like the Animals, Them, and the Yardbirds, among others.  But, those scenes also sprang directly from the the love of bare bones American soul and R&B by which those British bands were also influenced – Link Wray, Solomon Burke, Booker T. & the MGs, and many others.

Nailing the garage rock trend down in terms of musical style isn’t easy.  But, one overarching characteristic was that of a DIY spirit.  If you wanted to be in a band, all you needed do was to love rock ‘n’roll,  learn the basic chords, form a band, plug-in, and start wailin’.  Of  course because of this, there were so many of these bands, very few of them had much success beyond one single, or at most, a single album. But what this wave of little scenes and vital little groups did do was to outline a modus operandi that would feed the growth of  punk rock of the 70s and beyond.

When the Nuggets collection was amassed and put out in the early 70s, collecting some of the bright points of the 1965-68 era of garage rock of which the 13th Floor Elevators soon came to be inextricably associated, it was practically a rosetta stone for bands like  Television and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, not to mention the Ramones who would start a musical brush fire while using the same approach as you’re hearing in “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.

For more information and music, check out Roky Erickson’s website.


The Small Faces Perform ‘Itchycoo Park’ from 1967

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.

Along with the Who, The Small Faces were very much a mod group, designing their sound around R&B and soul music as much as classic rock ‘n’ roll. Their exploration of psychedelia by the end of the 1960s rendered a classic album that has endured to today; Odgen’s Nut Gone Flake.

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.

All too beautiful!


[Update! February 26, 2016. Check out this informative one hour-ish documentary about The Small Faces. Adjust the volume a little higher, and enjoy!]