In the comments chats on last week’s post about the Woodstock Festival, some of you suggested that it would be good to see some more of the bands that played there. As 32 acts performed, and I only featured 7 last week, this seemed a good idea, and there were many others for me to choose from. So, welcome to Woodstock Encore, my second set of choices from that iconic weekend. If you missed last week’s post, or would like to refresh your memory of the music I shared, or of the background to the festival, you can find it here. This week is all about the music!
Where better to begin than with the man who opened the show? This is a little more downbeat than the songs I usually start with, but it is beautifully heartfelt:
That is a Gordon Lightfoot song, which was on Richie Havens’ debut album, Mixed Bag, which was released in late 1966 and achieved a high of #182 in the US album chart. The story goes that Richie ran out of tunes that he had rehearsed for the show, and ended up playing Beatles covers. He then left the stage – twice – and had to be cajoled back on as no other bands were ready to play. I think we can safely say that he held it all together at the beginning! He had a unique style of guitar playing, and that lovely, gruff voice, and had a number of top 200 albums in the US, three of which made it into the top 100. He also had a few hit US singles, the biggest of which was his cover of The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun, which got to #16 in 1971. Despite a fair bit of airplay the song wasn’t a UK hit – in fact, he never had a chart single or album here. I can’t help but feel that we missed out.
As you have probably noticed over this series, I’m a sucker for a singer-songwriter. This next one is a case in point, and again this is the actual Woodstock performance, even the bit where he stumbles over his guitar playing:
This was a track on the album Tim Hardin 2, which was released in 1967. As far as I can tell, Tim Hardin didn’t enjoy any hit singles or albums in his brief and tragic life, but three of his songs, in particular, have been hits for others. This one is well known from covers by, among others, Bobby Darin, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, The Four Tops, and my favourite version, by Robert Plant. His song Reason to Believe has also been covered by many artists, notably Rod Stewart (who had a chart hit with it), Neil Young, and The Carpenters. The prog rock band Nice also recorded and performed live a popular version of Hardin’s song How Can We Hang On To A Dream, based on a piano arrangement by Keith Emerson. All three songs are, to me, classics, especially that last one, which is beautiful. I could only find a non-performance version of it, though, so I went for the tried and tested Woodstock one!
Another singer-songwriter for you next, but in this case she isn’t playing one of her own songs – in fact, she is probably better known for some of her covers, especially The Stones’ Ruby Tuesday. This is a heartbreakingly tender piece of music:
Melanie was coerced onto the stage at around 11pm on the first night of the festival, unprepared for her performance as the scheduled act was The Incredible String Band, who had refused to go onstage and play in the rain. Being British, you would have thought they’d have been used to rain, wouldn’t you! Her nervousness at playing to such a huge audience is apparent, but I find that performance utterly charming. She was probably a little apprehensive about appearing in exalted company, too, as she was at that point better known in Europe than in the US. In case you need reminding, this is a Bob Dylan song, which has also been covered by many – notably The Byrds, who had a #1 with it in both the US and the UK in 1965. Melanie’s version was included on her debut album, Born to Be, which was released in November 1968 but didn’t make the charts.
One of the bands I’ve always enjoyed is The Grateful Dead, though I wouldn’t say I’m sufficiently a fan to count as a ‘Deadhead.’ The band played at Woodstock but, by most accounts, were nowhere near their best, so I thought I’d go to the other end of their career and share a song from their final studio album, Built To Last, which was released in October 1989:
The Grateful Dead were known throughout their career for their rambling live performances, which led to them being dubbed the forerunners of ‘jam rock,’ which still lives on in the likes of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who I recommend you check out. The Dead have a massive catalogue of live albums, mostly released after they broke up, which are testament to their appeal as a performing band. This album peaked at #27 in the US but didn’t chart in the UK. This song was released as a single, reaching #8 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, based on radio airplay. Needless to say, it wasn’t a hit here, but I rather like it, and it’s good to see what the band could do within the restrictions imposed by a record company wanting a music video from them.
Another iconic band from those days, who also played at Woodstock, were Jefferson Airplane. Their two signature songs – White Rabbit and Somebody To Love – were both part of their set but, being my ever perverse self, I’m giving you this one instead, simply because I prefer it:
This song hadn’t yet been released on record at the time of Woodstock: it made its first appearance as a single in October 1969, when it reached #65 in the US, and became the title track of their Volunteers album, released in November and peaking at #13 in the US and #34 in the UK albums charts. If I’m honest, I always found Grace Slick’s voice a little too strident for my taste, especially live, but she takes a back seat on this one to Marty Balin.
I’ve always been partial to a bit of blues rock, and one of the best bands of that type in those days was a British band whose appearance at Woodstock saw them hit the big time: Ten Years After. Rather than give you a live performance, I prefer this audio version of their only UK hit single, from 1970:
The song was released on the Cricklewood Green album, as the video shows, which got to #14 in the US and #4 here in the UK. As a single this one reached #98 in the US but was #10 here and hit the charts of several other countries, including Denmark where it made it to #1. Before you ask, I’ve no idea where the album title came from: it isn’t the name of one of the tracks; Alvin Lee, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist, was born in Nottingham; and Olympic Studios, where it was recorded, is in Barnes, south west London, while Cricklewood Green is in north west London. Just a teaser for curious minds, I guess.
In last week’s post I shared this band’s version of Joni Mitchell’s song about the event, and I thought I’d close this week with an actual performance from them at Woodstock. This is still one of my favourites of theirs, more than fifty years on:
Woodstock happened just three months after CS&N’s eponymous debut album was released, and this was their first live appearance. It doesn’t feature in any video I’ve seen but apparently Stephen Stills mentioned this and said that they were ‘scared shitless.’ It’s interesting to know that a band with so much talent could feel the same insecurities that the rest of us have! The album reached #6 in the US and #25 here in the UK: it has since been awarded 4xPlatinum status in the US for 4m sales, and despite its apparently low chart placing here it has still been granted a Gold disc, representing 100k sales. I think it is one of the best albums ever: I bought it at the time, and it was one of those albums that had widespread appeal – yes, my Mum liked it!
That’s all for this week, and for my trip back to Woodstock. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt down memory lane as much as I have. I’ll be back next week with some more tunes, and a different theme – I still have a lot of Eighties songs awaiting their moment in the limelight, so I may return to those, unless anything else pops up in the meantime: watch this space!
Have a good week, and take good care of yourself and those who are important to you 😊