Tuesday Tunes 31: Sixties Albums

I remarked last week that my record purchasing began to take a shift from singles to albums towards the late Sixties, and it therefore seems a good idea to reflect that with a post devoted to some of the albums that attracted me, as my musical tastes matured. Two of today’s choices are from bands who have featured in this little mini-series of Sixties posts – one of them as recently as last week – but the others are new to the series. They do, I think, reflect that change though.

As always, I’m starting with something that moves a bit:

An unlikely place to start, perhaps, for a band which is probably more known either for their 1965 hit single Go Now or the many slower album tracks of their prog rock days. That is actually the first piece of music – after a spoken word intro – on their third album, In Search Of The Lost Chord. This was their second concept album, after Days Of Future Passed, the one which includes Nights In White Satin – which you may have heard! The album was released in July 1968 and reached #5 in the UK, #23 in the US. This track was actually released as a single – the second from the album – but didn’t really do all that much, peaking at #42 in the UK and #61 in the US. I bought the album that year, and still love it and play it now, albeit the vinyl original is long since lost from my possession. An old school friend came to visit me a few years back, and told me that he had been listening to Moody Blues albums on the drive up here – good to know that my influence still exists!

This week’s second choice is also a quick mover, and is also probably not the most obvious track I could have chosen from its album:

The song is a track on Bob Dylan’s seventh album, Blonde On Blonde, which was released in June 1966. This was one of the first double albums in rock music, and is often given as an example of one of the best albums ever. Not bad, for the guy my Mum used to call ‘the man who can’t sing.’ The album reached #3 in the UK and #9 in the US, and spawned five hit singles, of which this was one of two which charted on both sides of the Atlantic – it peaked at #20 in the US but got slightly higher here, where it reached #16. After all this time it is still one of my favourite Dylan tracks, but much though I like Bob I have to admit that I think Leonard Cohen would have been a more deserving Nobel winner for his poetry than Mr Zimmerman. Discuss…

I mentioned the phrase ‘concept album’ in relation to the Moody Blues. They released several of that genre, but were far from alone in doing so. Many rock bands – especially those who were labelled ‘prog rock’ – did so, but one of my favourites was from an out and out rock band. The Who released The Who Sell Out in December 1967 in the UK and in January 1968 in the US: it comprised a number of unrelated songs linked by radio station jingles, of the sort the band had themselves recorded for others. This is my favourite track from the album:

You can hear a couple of the concept jingle links at the beginning and end of that clip, to give you a little context. In a rather twee comment Wikipedia remarks that the song has been ‘subject to a variety of interpretations.’ I have only ever thought there could be one, but maybe that’s just my mind – then again, the band’s discographer (Chris Charlesworth) described it as their ‘second great song about masturbation,’ so maybe I’m on the right track.  In case you’re wondering, the first song in that dubious category was Pictures Of Lily. The album reached #13 here and #48 in the US. As concept albums go it was a bit of an oddity, and perhaps unsurprisingly it was the subject of several lawsuits claiming infringement of copyright, including one from the pirate radio station Radio London, some of whose jingles featured on it. Proof, if it were needed, that big business lacks a sense of humour – whilst always being able to sniff out the making of a quick buck or two!

My next song this week is from an album I’ve loved ever since it was released, and still play to this day:

The album was Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was released in August 1968 and was the only Byrds album to feature Gram Parsons. The album is credited with creating the genre known as ‘country-rock,’ though it wasn’t a commercial success, only reaching #77 in the US and failing to chart here. It has subsequently been recognised as one of the most influential albums ever, though. Two singles were released from it, of which this was one: it reached #74 in the US and #45 here. It wasn’t long before Parsons left the band, along with Chris Hillman, and they formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, who I recommend highly. Gram Parsons’ influence has spread far beyond his tragically short lifetime: for example, he was friends with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and is cited as an influence for some of the Stones’ country-based songs, such as Country Honk and Faraway Eyes. To round off this section, perhaps I should point out that this is actually a Bob Dylan song (yes, him again), written by him in 1967, though he didn’t release his own version until 1971.

It would be remiss of me not to include the biggest band on the planet in a selection of Sixties albums. Fortunately, I’m spoilt for choice, as all apart from The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, were released in this decade. But that does make it hard to narrow the selection! So I decided to cheat a little:

Abbey Road was released on 26 September 1969, and this video was released to mark the 50th anniversary reissue of the album, on 26 September 2019. I think it’s rather lovely, and it just had to be my choice. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the Beatles or this song and album: suffice it to say that it is a George Harrison song, written by him while in his friend Eric Clapton’s garden, and that John Lennon didn’t feature on the original recording as he was recuperating from injury at the time. The album was, of course, #1 in the UK and the US, and in just about every other country you care to think of. The 50th anniversary reissue? Also a UK #1. In the main US chart it was #3, though it made #1 in the Rock chart. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that this video has over 35m views in little more than a year!

I’m giving you six songs again this week, as I couldn’t possibly leave out the band that became the biggest rock band in the world during the Seventies. Their first two albums were Sixties releases, though, which means I can legitimately include them here. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about Led Zeppelin, who were probably the major influence in my taste moving towards rock music. Given that they were renowned for their hard rock, you might not be expecting this choice, though:

To my mind, that is one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded, and I think the imagery of the lyrics is wonderful. It is the closing track to side one of Led Zeppelin II, back in the days when everything came on vinyl. The album was released in October 1969 and, unsurprisingly, was #1 both here and in the US. No tracks from the album were released as singles here (as was the case throughout their career) but in the US and the Netherlands, where I guess the band had less of a say in what happened, the opening track – Whole Lotta Love – was a #4 hit as a single. It was eventually released as a single here – in 1997! In the meantime, a cover version by CCS (a UK #13) was for some years the title music for our tv charts show Top Of The Pops. I’ve always found that slightly ironic! The album has sold upwards of 20m copies and it probably doesn’t need to be said that my Mum didn’t like it! She just couldn’t understand my excitement when a friend managed to get us tickets to see the band live: they played a series of warm up gigs at smaller UK venues early in 1971, as preparation for a forthcoming world tour, and I was among 1,300 who saw them at the University of Kent, Canterbury, one cold March evening. Stairway To Heaven was announced by Robert Plant in throwaway fashion as ‘here’s a song off our new LP.’ Happy days!

That’s all for this week, and for the Sixties – for now. One of the things which has struck me over the past four weeks is that, even by stretching these posts to six songs, I have had to leave out so much of the music I grew up with, so I may return to this era at some point. For those who follow my Facebook page (link is to the right) yesterday’s #SongOfTheDay was an absolute beauty that missed out on this series: a little bonus offering. Next week I’ll begin my stumble into the Seventies. There will be singles. There will be album tracks. And there will be a lot of music from North America. Stay tuned…

Tuesday Tunes 28: The Sixties – Part 1

I’ve often mentioned here and on my Facebook page that songs take me back to my youth, my teens or my university days, so I thought it might be a good idea to devote a few posts in this series to those years. I became a teenager in 1966, and we got our first record player in the family around that time, so the Sixties seemed a good place to begin. Thinking back to those days and my early record buying, so many great songs come to mind: at present, I’m intending to do a couple of posts each for the Sixties and the Seventies, and see how it goes. But don’t hold me to that!

Like most people in those days my early record buying revolved mostly around singles, with the occasional album as birthday or Christmas gifts. My Sixties selections are very much a reflection of that: I bought all five of today’s tunes as singles. As ever, I like to start with something rousing, so here we go:

The song was originally recorded by, and was a US hit for, Robert Knight. The Love Affair’s version was released in December 1967 and became their first hit, spending two weeks at #1 in the UK charts in February 1968. The major selling point for the group was Steve Ellis, who was just 16 at the time of recording, and has a remarkably mature voice for one so young. I was subsequently given their debut album, The Everlasting Love Affair which, as well as their first three hit singles, also contained very good versions of The First Cut Is The Deepest and Handbags And Gladrags. They were known largely as a ‘pop’ band, and therefore a little ‘uncool,’ but I think Steve’s vocals deserve a better appraisal than that.

My second tune this week is another UK chart hit. The Herd only had a few hit singles, of which this was the first, before the band broke up. You may notice that a young Peter Frampton was their vocalist, in the days before he co-formed Humble Pie with Steve Marriott, and then went on to sell a few million records in his solo career. I’ve always thought this was an atmospheric track, and the video is a good fit:

Ah, those were the days! All the girls wanted to go out with Peter, and all the boys wanted to be him! He was dubbed “The Face Of ’68” by a pop magazine, but that didn’t seem to do him any harm. That was the band’s fifth single, becoming the first of their three hits. It reached #6 in the UK charts and made an impact in several European countries too, but not in the US, as far as I am aware. The follow up single, Paradise Lost, is worth checking out too, if only for using the tune The Stripper as its intro!

Up next is a song by one of the major bands of the Sixties, though they carried on making good records well after their heyday, largely due to the songwriting skills of Ray Davies. This is a piece of musical magic:

I couldn’t find a movie-style video to go with that original recording but, with a song that good, who needs pictures anyway? For those of us who have spent much time in London, that is so evocative. I’ve previously mentioned that one of my favourite concert venues is the Royal Festival Hall, which is part of the Southbank complex, just along the river from Waterloo Station. I have often spent time before a show taking in the view of the river from there, and this song always comes to mind. The song reached #2 in the UK, and was a top ten single in Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe. It was released in the US and Canada too, but didn’t chart there: maybe it was too ‘English’ for you? If you want to try more of the band, their early singles are raucous fun and, with Celluloid Heroes, Ray produced another masterpiece later in his career.

It wouldn’t feel right to do a piece on Sixties music without including the band that defined pop and rock music for that era and, I would argue, for a good many years later. I really can’t imagine how music would have developed without them. This is one of their best:

What is there to say about The Beatles that hasn’t already been said? If you’re looking for new insights you’ve come to the wrong place, but you probably already knew that. The song was released with Penny Lane as a double A-side non-album single in 1967, though it did subsequently feature on the US album release of Magical Mystery Tour, and on several compilations since then. It reached #2 in the UK, giving it the dubious distinction of being the first Beatles single since Please Please Me not to reach #1 here, though it did achieve that in the US. Who cares? It’s still a great song and I love that video.

This week’s final selection is another long time favourite of mine. It was also released as a non-album single and has only ever featured on compilations since then, apart from in the US, where it was included on the release of the band’s first album, Mr Fantasy. Traffic were the band formed by Steve Winwood after his early days in the Spencer Davis Group, though this song is unusual in that Dave Mason – who wrote it – takes lead vocal instead of Winwood:

Proving that nepotism has been around for much longer than Trump, the spoken vocal in the middle of the song is by a six year old – Francine Heimann – who just happened to be the stepdaughter of the record company owner. It’s who you know, isn’t it! The song was released in August 1967, peaking at #2 in the UK but failing to chart in the US. It is said that the other three band members didn’t like it, feeling that it didn’t reflect the rest of their music: that probably explains why Dave Mason had to sing lead vocal!

That’s all for this week. In case you hadn’t noticed, all of these songs were from this side of the pond, but I did actually listen to – and buy – a lot of American music too, so I’ll try to redress that balance next time. Or maybe the time after…

Have a good week. Stay safe and well. Wear your mask. Go out. Don’t go out. Leave the pub by 10pm. Go to work. Don’t go to work. Follow the guidance and rules. Whatever…

 

Tuesday Tunes 21: Growing Up

When I was growing up, all those years ago, the age of majority in the UK was 21, and the occasion was usually marked by a special birthday party. Things began to change in 1969 when the voting age was lowered to 18, giving rise to much confusion: did we now reach majority at 18? Did all those years of tradition have to be thrown out of the window? In typical British style we somehow managed to compromise by counting both as the birthday at which we were suddenly supposed to become mature, and many lucky people had two big birthday celebrations. Me? I had neither! But that may be a story for another day. After going themeless for a couple of weeks I’m returning to the usual plan for this week, and am marking the 21st post in this series with the theme: Growing Up.

There are many songs which talk about what growing up means to us, how a milestone can be a time to both look back and ahead, how it can be a time of reflection and of hope. I had so many from which to choose that I had difficulty even getting the selection down to four songs, so that is what I’m going with.

Where to begin? You just can’t beat the Boss, can you? This song really says a lot about casting off the shackles and constraints that you feel in youth and becoming your own person, and is the ideal launchpad for this week:

As is fairly obvious from the images in the video, this was on Bruce’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, which was released in January 1973. As debut albums go, it didn’t do badly, reaching #41 in the UK albums chart and #60 in the US. Probably helped by later sales, after his career took off in a big way, it has sold around 3m copies. As I said, not bad!

This week’s second tune is one that takes the concept of growing up rather differently – in this case, wishing that a youngster could always stay the way they are. I have previously written a post themed around Taylor Swift’s Never Grow Up (find it in the search box if you’d like to) and Rod Stewart covers similar ground, with a lovely video to match:

From its title you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Bob Dylan song. It is, in part. Rod borrowed a lot from Bob’s song in writing his own, and asked Bob for permission to use his words. They agreed on a co-writing credit and a 50/50 share of the royalties from Rod’s song. That sounds like a good compromise to me – it avoided the long legal wrangles that other songwriters have found themselves in. The song is included on Rod’s 15th studio album, Out Of Order, released in 1988, which peaked at #11 in the UK and #20 in the US – though it did make #1 in Sweden! The track was the second single released from the album, reaching only #57 in the UK and #12 in the US: I think it deserved better.

The next song for this week takes the theme of looking back on life when major changes have impacted you. John Lennon was 25 when he wrote this reflection on how his life had altered, and how he had grown up, in just three years after the Beatles’ massive success began:

Apologies for the static image, but that is the official video for the 2009 remaster of the track, and offers a huge improvement in quality over previous versions, allowing the song’s simple beauty to really shine. As you probably know, it was on Rubber Soul, which was the Beatles’ sixth album, released in December 1965. Unsurprisingly, it peaked at #1 in both the UK and the US, and in a number of other countries too. Like the other songs on the album, it wasn’t released as a single – the Beatles mostly kept singles and albums apart in those days, though a couple of tracks were released as singles in the US in 1966, one of which – Nowhere Man – reached #1. Here in the UK, we just bought their LPs by the shed load!

Having given you songs from three of the best known acts of all time, this week’s final selection is from one of my favourite bands, who will probably be unknown to most of you. Oysterband were formed in my East Kent homeland, and have been a major feature of the English folk music scene for forty years or so. They are also very popular throughout Europe, but have, as far as I know, never achieved much in the US – you guys have really missed out! This is a song about growing up to the point where the life you’ve known no longer gives you all that you need. I think it bookends this week’s post rather neatly with the Boss. Again, this is solely an album track, but is none the less superb for that:

I never fail to be uplifted by that! I don’t think the Oysters have ever dented the charts, here or anywhere else, but their gigs are always sold out (when we’re allowed to go) and they are a brilliant live band: I know, I’ve seen them! The female singer on that one is Rowan Godel, who isn’t a band member but occasionally lends her powerful vocals to their songs, as well as having her own band. The counterbalance between the two voices really makes that one for me. A little side story: several of the then members of the band were also part of Fiddlers Dram, who had a novelty #3 hit in 1979 with The Day We Went To Bangor. Sadly for them there was no follow up success but, if you’ve heard that song, you’ll probably agree that the current version of the band is far better!

That’s about it for this week. I’m off to celebrate my coming of age with a cup of tea and maybe a Mars bar (other chocolate bars are available). Have a great week, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday. TTFN 👋