The Four Tops: “I’ll Turn To Stone” (Reach Out, 1967)

I was thinking about the Four Tops earlier today, mostly because this song was stuck in my head. First, the Frou Tops did something kind of amazing: they were a group with the exact same four members—Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs and Duke Fakir—from the moment the group was founded in as the Four Aims in 1953 all the way to 1997, when Payton died of liver cancer and Lawrence Payton, Jr. stepped in to fill his spot. 

Today, Fakir still tours with a group called the Four Tops, though the other three have all left us. But nearly 50 years as a group is a feat—has anyone else done that? You could argue that because they usually weren’t the authors of their material the group had less potential for friction and strife than a lot of bands, but I don’t think it makes much difference. It’s not as though they didn’t have their ups and downs. 

For one thing, they went from ‘53 all the way to 1964 before “Baby I Need Your Loving” gave them a hit and a national profile. They were just another hard-gigging group trying to pay the bills before that; when they first joined the Motown roster in 1963, they were assigned to the marginal Jazz Workshop imprint and spent most of their time doing backing vocals for other artists. 

The Holland-Dozier-Holland team put them on the map—“Baby I Need Your Loving” was just the first in an amazing run of hits that made them legitimate stars in the mid-to-late 60s. And then Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown with an acrimonious battle, and suddenly the group was adrift. They were huge in Britain, but second to the Temptations in the US, and for a while they were getting kicked cover versions of other people’s hits. Their takes on “Walk Away Renee” and “If I Were a Carpenter” are fine, but they’re several notches below “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and the record-buying public agreed.

They had a last hurrah at Motown in the early 70s, making the Still Waters Run Deep LP with Frank Wilson and scoring a giant hit in the UK with “A Simple Game,” on which their backing band is the Moody Blues, but they didn’t follow the label west when it left Detroit in 1972. Their ABC LPs are mostly pretty good, and their disco-era LPs on Casablanca yielded a few minor hits, but the group was mostly forgotten by general audiences at that point. They spent the rest of the career essentially as a legacy touring act.

During their biggest hit-making years, when H-D-H were still at the helm, they recorded a ridiculous number of amazing songs that were never even released as a-sides. “I’ll Turn To Stone” is one, squirreled away on the Reach Out LP. It’s pretty much what I think of when someone says “Northern Soul.” 

This song moves so easily it’s hard not to imagine a roomful of kids in Wigan moving right along with it. The Four Tops’ alternate history begins with this, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “I Got a Feeling” and “I’m Grateful,” and you can keep digging from there. I sort of wonder if Jeff Lynne heard “I’ll Turn To Stone” in ‘67, because a little more than ten years later, he wrote a song for ELO that seems to nod to it. 

The Chambers Brothers: “Time Has Come Today” (The Time Has Come, 1967)

I remember the first time I heard this. The circumstances weren’t special—I was sitting in my room, listening to the radio, waiting for WAQY to get through the same Eagles and Led Zeppelin songs they played every day and give me something that wasn’t in the regular rotation. I did this almost every evening while I put off doing my homework until the last minute. 

Then this came on. 

That opening, with the echoing cowbells, the simple but effective guitar fanfare, and finally the drum fill that blasts us into the first verse, immediately struck me as different. They had a spooky, ramshackle quality to them that wasn’t common on classic rock radio, and that first verse…. I was hooked. 

The four Chambers Brothers, George, Willie, Joe and Lester, has been performing for 15 years by the time this song came out. They originally toured as a gospel-folk quartet, then went electric after Dylan’s controversial show at Newport. Drummer Brian Keenan rounded out the new, electrified Chambers Brothers, and they developed a raw psychedelic soul sound, of which this song is the absolute apex, though they have a ton of other great tracks, and they have several albums well worth listening to. 

That’s Willie or Joe singing lead on this song (I’m not positive which), and it’s his performance that turns the song into a comment on the tumult of the era. He sounds completely swept along on the tide of the song, spitting out the words as though this is his only chance to say it. This is even more pronounced when the song recapitulates a the very end. 

The psychedelic breakdown, with the deceleration, wobbly percussion overdubs, and wild build-up, is the instrumental complement to that performance.

In  way, this song is everything we were supposed to learn about the 60s—turbulent, psychedelic, exploratory, a little bit out of control. I think the fact that the guitarists aren’t anything like virtuosos (Willie and Joe had only recently begun playing electric) helps a lot. They briefly allude to “The Little Drummer Boy” while the drums go crazy in the background, but otherwise, it’s pretty much just ragged jamming.

This is, in the end, a song I just don’t think I could ever get tired of. It does too much too well and captures a feeling in the process that never seems wrong. 

The Deviants: “Deviation Street” (Ptooff!, 1967)

This weekend brought news of the passing of Mick Farren, the great music journalist/musician who was among the earliest of rock’s many gadfly characters. In my various travels on the web. I’ve run into a lot of acquaintances who seemed to know him for his writing; I know him primarily for his music, and especially for his groundbreaking 60s band The Deviants.

The track above, “Deviation Street,” is a mix of ripping garage rock, spoken word and musique concrete that nicely prefigures Farren’s career as a music writer. It’s music-as-music-criticism, in several ways. 

First, there’s the melting, creepy psychedelic passage after the opening riff where Farren sneeringly describes a jive-talking CIA agent giving drugs to hippies, slapping the flower power scene upside the head and using their own sound to do it. Second, the rock portion of the song, part of which is covered in dubbed-over applause, seems to be a sort of oblique take on The Sonics’ “Psycho.” Finally, there’s the most obvious bit, where a tiny snippet of “Manic Depression” can be heard in the background as an Underground dweller credulously shouts “wow, it’s, like, simulating the acid experience. 

In 1967, this kind of thing was uncommon—it’s like the Mothers of Invention with the Dadaism replaced by pure venom. To say that the Deviants were a preview of punk isn’t an exaggeration. They even made their album independently (albeit with the financial backing of a rich friend) and sold it themselves until Decca heard it and signed them. 

Farren dipped in and out of music over the years, cutting some solo records and occasionally reconvening the Deviants or working with ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. He wrote for International Times and NME, publishing nearly two dozen novels along the way. You can catch his well—known rant about complacency in rock music “The Titanic Sails at Dawn” here

Farren went out with his boots on, dying on stage last week. 

The Doors: “Light My Fire” (The Doors, 1967)

Somewhere in the middle of last week, Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist for the Doors, died of cancer. I wasn’t able to follow the coverage. I barely had time to eat this past week—no food and no sleep is a combination with peculiar effects, to say the least.

But as I kited in a daze from engagement to engagement and task to task, Manzarek stayed back there in my mind, and I threw a few Doors songs on my laptop so I could listen to them as I worked to knock out the last bits of a first draft. They’re on my iPod, so they shuffle past every now and then, mixed with other things, but I haven’t sat down and listened to “Crystal Ship,” “End of the Night,” “You’re Lost, Little Girl,” “Break on Through,” or “Waiting for the Sun” intentionally in quite a long time.

Last year (I think; it feels like five years ago), I did a series of posts on the Doors, including a couple where I asked people what they thought of the band. Doug at Life’s Grand Parade described them as “Baby’s first rock band.” It’s a funny way of putting it, but it’s not untrue, really. The Doors aren’t anyone’s end point; they’re a band you walk through to get to other things, a sort of training ground for listeners who want to get into farther-out stuff but still want that tether to the blues and the sharp chorus, and the frontman with charisma. 

Which is not to say they don’t have merit as their own thing. The way people use them isn’t theirs to control, and the Doors were, at heart, a band with ideas at a time when ideas carried a great deal of currency in rock music. Some of those ideas were fantastic, some not so much, but it adds up to a fascinating whole body of work. The Doors were exactly as awesome as you thought they were in high school, and exactly as terrible as you thought they were in college. 

Jim Morrison is, for obvious reasons, thought of as the voice of the band, but when I listen to them, I really hear four voices; three of them are just speaking through instruments. Sometimes, there are other people in the room—Clear Light bassist Douglas Lubahn, the odd oboe player—but it’s really these four guys, who have read a lot of philosophy and beatnik road stories and tried out meditation and obtained degrees they aren’t using, trying to make sense of all that in the form of songs. 

Ambition of the kind the Doors poured into their music is risky. As the Field Music song says, “them that do nothing never make mistakes.” The Doors have been punished by critics for ages for going out on a limb and often failing to come back with the kind of results that the post-punk world says are okay. Their earnestness, their belief in what they were doing, has become a sort of concrete wreath for them in certain circles, circles where the response to that is to criticize the ego inherent in thinking you’re doing something special.

But if any artist ever made and sold art without just a little bit of ego invested in it, I have not heard of that person. Little things like me writing this and putting it out there have dribs and drabs of ego attached to them—writing a suite in which you proclaim yourself the lizard king in front of lots and lots of people is different only by degree. 

Ray Manzarek was hardly a passive partner in all of the Doors’ creative excesses; he was Morrison’s equal creatively, just as responsible for the sound of the band and the occasionally wooly-headed poetry at the heart of the songs. His organ gave the music its essential color, whether he was playing it clean as he did here, on “Light My Fire,” or covered in weird distortion, as he did on “Waiting for the Sun.” 

The Doors’ debut came out in January, 1967, before every other boundary-shattering landmark album that came out that year, and it moved the goalposts, not just with “The End” drawing its Oedipal fantasy and sitar-based guitar tunings out past ten minutes, but also with all that confidently deployed philosophy and instrumental interplay. Manzarek’s solo on “Light My Fire,” as long as a lot of pop songs of the era, is a pretty strong step toward progressive rock, jam bands, and the importation of jazz principles to rock. If nothing else, a whole lot more people heard it than the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West.”

Manzarek did other things—produced The X, guested on Echo & the Bunnymen and "Weird Al" Yankovic tracks, etc.—and they all come up in the obituaries I’ve been catching up on this week, sometimes to fill out the story, and other times in what seems like an attempt to prop up the story with credentials more acceptable to publication’s audience. Which is fine—you have to play to your people, I guess.

I’ll miss Manzarek. I liked his playing a lot, and I think his most famous band was important and necessary and good, even when the ideas got a little off the rails. I love that the Doors were willing to go out there and act like they were shamans tapped into some deep well of philosophical knowledge. I love that they took themselves seriously doing silly things. I love that I loved them, then hated them, then came to like them again as I worked through all the ways that music gets tied up with your self-identity when you’re in your 20s. I love that they’re the kind of band that some people adore and others loathe. I love that this song still sounds this good so many decades later.

RIP, Ray. Your band made things a little more interesting.

Scott McKenzie: “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” (The Voice of Scott McKenzie, 1967)

Every once in a while, pop culture attempts to mythologize a place or time become self-fulfilling. That’s what happened with this song. Written by John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas for McKenzie to celebrate what Phillips saw as the birth of a vital subculture whose ideals promised a better world, the song actually inspired people to go to San Francisco.

So many people came to San Francisco in the late 60s, in fact, that they drove a lot of the original flower-wearing hippies out as the Haight-Ashbury district was overrun by people trying to glom on to the moment. That’s hardly McKenzie and Phillips’ fault, though. Their song was written as a tribute to the counterculture, but recorded as a pop hit in waiting, with Hal Blaine on drums and booming production that gave McKenzie’s great voice a nearly perfect vehicle.

McKenzie and Phillips knew each other from their childhoods on the East Coast and had sung together in a folk trio called the Journeymen before Phillips rose to fame with the Mamas & Papas, so Phillips knew the voice he was writing for. 

I’ve loved this song since I was a kid—I can see how someone in a little, uptight middle American town might have heard it in 1967 and said, “yeah, I should go there and figure out a new way to live.” McKenzie’s vocal is powerful but not showy, a charismatic travel agent for a city he didn’t live in and a generation he wasn’t part of (he was born before World War II). 

Even the album cover left a lot of room for his voice—there he is, singing, but he’s all the way down in the corner, with a big, black field of negative space that he can pour his vocal into. 

McKenzie died last year at 73, but he’ll live for a long time in this song, an emissary of the pre-mythologized 60s that have been handed down to us by radio. 

Frank Wilson: “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” (Soul S-35019, 1965)

Frank Wilson died yesterday at the age of 71. It wasn’t widely reported because Wilson wasn’t particularly famous, but he did have a pretty interesting entry among the footnotes of American popular music. 

WIlson was a songwriter and producer. Born in Texas, he grew up in LA, and when the Motown Recording Company opened its LA branch in 1965, Wilson joined the team. That same year, he recorded “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do).” Berry Gordy didn’t especially like it, and Wilson wanted to focus on producing, so the 250 test pressings of the 45 that would have been Soul S-35019 were ordered destroyed. 

Somehow, a couple of copies escaped annihilation (one of these sold recently for over $25,000), and the song was extensively bootlegged in Britain, where it became a favorite of the Northern Soul scene. So a song that was never supposed to see the light of day became the soundtrack for kids dancing all night at Wigan Casino.

Wilson produced records for Brenda Holloway, The Four Tops, the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Miracles, among others for Motown, and also had his own publishing companies. He quit Motown after a decade behind the boards there, became born again, entered the ministry, and ended up writing some big-selling inspirational books (he also kept making music—his last credit was in 2006 for John Legend).

His lone solo recording, rescued from oblivion by some unknown twist of fate, is all the inspiration I need from him, though. That pedal guitar part, the charging rhythm, the color saturation of the orchestration, and Wilson’s own vocals, hanging on for dear life, are so obviously the makings of a classic, that the song couldn’t help becoming one in spite of the long odds. 

Jefferson Airplane: “Today” (Surrealistic Pillow, 1967)

This morning, I listened to Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow all the way through for the first time in years. Nothing in particular led me to do it; it had just been a while, and I was looking at the tracklist and trying to remember what “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “D.C.B.A.-25” sounded like (turns out they’re both pretty great songs).

Back when I first bought the album, in 1999, the songs that really jumped out to me were the Grace Slick-led acid rock ravers, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” They were what I bought the album for in the first place—those and “Embryonic Journey,” Jorma Kaukonen’s crystalline acoustic guitar piece, which is still as gorgeous as ever. Aside from “Embryonic Journey,” though, the song that stood out to most this morning was this one, “Today.” 

Probably because he was in a band whose biggest hits featured Slick’s powerful vocals, Marty Balin is something of an overlooked vocalist. I think he had a really great voice, though, particularly for this kind of low-key, folky material. He’s front-and-center in the mix here, the only thing in the whole song not recorded to sound as though it’s a mile and a half away. Even Slick’s backing vocal is set well off in the distance, leaving Balin alone and lonely in the foreground.

It’s a really nice use of production to emphasize the content of the song; it also has the effect of making a song called “Today” feel like a journey into the past.

Speaking of which, I actually remember the exact circumstance under which I bought this album. I was home for summer after my first year at college. During college, my wife and I lived several states apart year-round, and we’d alternate months flying to see each other. She had visited me in Connecticut for a long weekend, and I had just dropped her off at Bradley International Airport. It possible to take the freeway most of the way from my parents’ house to the airport, but I always preferred the backroad route that took me along 140 through Ellington and East Windsor.

East Windsor’s western edge is the Connecticut River, and the place where Route 140 crosses the river is located in the village of Warehouse Point, named for a shipping warehouse built in 1636 by the founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, William Pynchon. This spot is located just below the last natural falls in the river; from there south, it’s a clear shot for an ocean-going vessel to the open sea. 

Warehouse Point has a grocery store (still the locally-owned Geissler’s, the last time I drove through), a few places to eat, the Connecticut Fire Museum, a Trolley Museum my brother and I loved as kids, a couple banks, and plenty of house—it’s a true village. Back in 1999, it also had a record store. I may be misremembering this, but I think it was called The Disc. I’m positive that its small storefront shared a building with an ice cream place. It was across the street from what’s currently a karate academy.

I only ever went in there once, on that drive home from the airport, and the only thing I bought was a used copy of Surrealistic Pillow, for $8.99. It was the original CD issue, which had horrible sound and no liner notes. Actually, in place of notes it had an advertisement in the inner fold for other CD releases on RCA, including albums and greatest hits collections for Dolly Parton, Alabama, John Denver, Eurythmics, and Taco.

The front cover also includes an incredibly ugly RCA CD emblem in the lower left corner—when record companies first started issuing their old catalogs on CD, they rarely expended much effort on giving the buyer any extra value. Perhaps they thought the novelty of a new format was enough. They certainly thought that the new format was worth bragging about. 

This kind of thing is one of the reasons I still love having a physical music collection (and I should note that the mp3 above is from a much later remaster of this album, which I have digitally). I can go through my shelves and find “Nice Price” stickers I never removed, occasional prices tags, advertisements for other releases, and notes from previous owners (this is especially true of my vinyl collection).

At one point, I had a drawer full of those inserts that record companies used to put in CD cases inviting you to order their catalog or send away to the band for more information—an oddly large number of British bands directed these messages to addresses in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. I assume there was a company there that handled these things for numerous artists or record companies. 

I guess I might open the properties of an mp3 and find a note in the comments reminding me which blog originally posted the song for me to take it, but it’s not quite the same as a faded price tag building an association with and actual place where you once spent time. The Disc, or whatever it was called, is long gone. I don’t know what took its place. But I do remember the hand-made bins they kept their used CDs in, the tattered name cards that aided searchers, and the pull the store’s sign had on me every time I drove by all those years ago. 

The Parliaments: “All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser’s Seat)” (Revilot RV 211, 1967)

Before there was Parliament and Funkadelic, there was The Parliaments, George Clinton’s vocal group, which he formed at a Plainfield, New Jersey, barber shop in 1955. Comprised of Clinton, Calvin Simon, Fuzzy Haskins, Ray Davis, and Grady Thomas, they began as a doo wop group and recorded a trickle of singles that trace their evolution into a hard-edged r&b band playing funky Northern soul. 

"All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser’s Seat)" was one of the singles they recorded for Detroit’s Revilot label during 1967, the year they became suddenly very prolific (its b-side, "Don’t Be Sore at Me," is nearly as good) and established their own identity. It’s my favorite song by the group when it was still called the Parliaments, and one of several they’d later revisit under the Parliament and Funkadelic banners. 

There are hints of psychedelia creeping in already, especially in the intro, and I like the way they kick it off by jumping into the chorus rather than a verse (it also pulls back on the choruses and ramps up for the verses, a nice inversion of usual expectations). 

The thing that made me think of this was hearing the 1974 version by Parliament on shuffle while I was driving the other day. That version unfailingly gets this version stuck in my head. 

Stevie Loraine & the Clansmen: “If You Always Say” (Philips ME-0196-SE, 1967)

I hardly know anything about Stevie Loraine. She was a singer from Singapore who had a brief career in the mid-1960s, releasing two four-song EPs, one with backing by a band called the Dukes, and another with backing by the Clansmen.

They both came out on Philips, which seemed to have people everywhere in the 60s—the label released music in dozens of countries, covering a huge range of styles. There was money to be made, of course—recording local beat groups in Southeast Asia served the needs of a then-burgeoning market—but in the process of turning profits, Philips gave us an enormous gift by documenting thousands of bands that never otherwise would have had the chance to record. 

One of my fantasy places would be a complete Philips vault, actually. Every release that ever came out on the label and its subsidiaries, all in one building, waiting to be listened to. You could take quite a journey across the 20th Century, through highlife, MPB, French ye-ye, progressive rock, early metal, jazz, electronic music, garage rock, New Wave, punk, disco, beat from every continent, ethnic recordings, and classical music. Fontana and Vertigo were Philips imprints. It was the first company to sell CDs commercially. 

No such vault exists, of course, and a lot of the label’s more far-flung operations didn’t preserve their original tapes, so it would be hard to even make one retroactively. From what I’ve read, their Singapore operation was one that didn’t keep its tapes.

The records are still out there, though, and a lot of them are really good. This one is among my favorites. I love Abdullah Abu’s lead guitar on this—his work on the intro makes this song feel as though it’s emerging from the mist of time. The rest of the Clansmen (rhythm guitarist Derrick Nunis, bassist Raymond Lazaroo, and drummer Philip Monteiro) are as solid as can be, too. They recorded at least one single on their own.

There’s really no American or British pop single that this song, one of two originals on the EP written specifically for Stevie by Terry Marsden, can’t hang with. Loraine’s voice was powerful, and she clearly was a true English speaker—the hesitation in the pronunciation is often one of the few things holding singles like this from around the world back. Nothing holds this one back, though—it’s a perfect song.

UK Prog, Volume One Notes

UK Prog, Volume One: 1963-1967 Dawning

Volume One has to start somewhere, and it might as well be the beginning. There’s no particularly convenient point of origin for what we came to call progressive rock. It’s more like a tree with a lot of roots, and what I’m trying to do on this volume is expose some of the roots and how they fed into the evolution of the genre, which itself never really had one trunk so much as several springing from the same root system.

I’m saying it’s complicated to define exactly what is and isn’t progressive rock, and my criteria are going to be as subjective as anyone else’s, though I should note that I’m trying to be as eclectic as possible on these volumes. I’ll be skipping over plenty—most years will be represented by two CD-length volumes, so omissions are unavoidable—so apologies to Dantalian’s Chariot and others who didn’t make the cut. Here’s what’s on Volume One and why I included it:

  1. Delia Derbyshire & Ron Grainer: Dr. Who Main Title 2:10 (Opening title theme of the BBC show “Dr. Who” 1963-1970, Decca F.11837, 1964)

    The Dr. Who theme seems as good a place as any to start. Composed by Ron Grainer, it was then re-composed and electronically assembled by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire, who built it entirely out of samples and tape snippets. It’s a startlingly modern-sounding piece of music, and I think it’s a landmark—most of the musicians you’ll hear on these volumes heard it, and it must have been an ear-opener. I toyed with the wobbly early synthesizer parts on the Tornados’ 1962 hit “Telstar” for an opener, but Dr. Who seems to loom larger for where the music went. For direct evidence, see the mid-section of Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days,” in which they quote this theme.  

  2. The Yardbirds: Happenings Ten Years Time Ago 2:57 (A-side of Columbia 45 DB 8024, 1966)

    The Yardbirds were one of the greatest talent incubators of the London scene in the 60s, and with time nearly everyone in the band went on to do some work in or at least near the prog rock realm. “Happenings” finds its way into this running order mostly because of the ambition of its arrangement and the sophistication of its production. This is psychedelia about a year ahead of schedule, and it bursts with the kinds of riffage and on-a-dime turns that would become trademarks of the symphonic prog subgenre.

  3. The Wilde Flowers: Impotence 2:10 (Unreleased recording, possibly 1966; this version could have been recorded as late as 1969)

    The Wilde Flowers never actually released any music during their lifetime, but they made some recordings, and from a historical perspective, it’s hard to find a band that harbored more 70s prog luminaries during their early years than this one, which was basically Ground Zero for the Canterbury scene. Hugh and Brian Hopper, Richard and Dave Sinclair, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan all passed through its ranks—without the Wilde Flowers, there may have been no Caravan, Soft Machine or Gong. Wyatt sings lead on this demo, which may have been recorded during a brief re-convening of the band in 1969—I know that the song existed in ‘66, though, and the band is an essential root of the prog tree.

  4. The Beatles: Tomorrow Never Knows 3:00 (From the Parlophone stereo LP Revolver, 1966)

    A lot of people point to Sgt. Pepper’s as the true proto-prog document, but honestly, I think the Beatles were there much earlier. Their love of experimentation gave scads of musicians, established and neophyte, the inspiration to take things in new directions. I considered going with something less obvious, such as George Harrison’s raga-rock workout “Love You To,” but really, if there’s a true opening shot for prog, it has to be this, with its strange beat, weird loops, and mystical lyrics.  

  5. The Who: A Quick One, While He’s Away 9:11 (From the Reaction/Polydor LP A Quick One, 1966)

    Or, for another option, how about this nine-minute embryo of the concept album by the Who? Pete Townshend laid the groundwork for Tommy here (the plot is even somewhat similar), and the song’s suite-like construction became, for better or worse, one of the cliches of prog rock.

  6. Pink Floyd: Interstellar Overdrive (Sound Techniques version) 16:53 (Recorded at Sound Techniques, January 1967; from the soundtrack to Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London)

    Strictly speaking, the first release of “Interstellar Overdrive” was the album version from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but this version, recorded earlier, is much more illustrative of what Pink Floyd was like in concert, and it was onstage in 1966 and 1967, with their light show and penchant for expansive free improvisation, that the band cemented its place as the inventor of cosmic rock. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band got on record with group improv first with 1966’s “East West,” but this was something further out.

  7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: If 6 Was 9 5:33 (From the Track Records LP Axis: Bold As Love, 1967)

    Wait a second, Hendrix was American. Right? Well, yes. But during 1967, he had a British band (Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell) and a British producer (Chas Chandler) and was very much a part of the London scene. The Experience headlined the definitive proto-prog package tour in November and December, 1967, with the Move, Pink Floyd, Outer Limits, Eire Apparent, Amen Corner, Pete Drummond, and the Nice, and the studio and compositional experimentation of the Hendrix Experience albums was an important stepping stone on the way to prog.  

  8. Jeff Beck: Beck’s Bolero 2:55 (B-side of Columbia 45 DB 8151, 1967)

    Classical pretensions are another of the great prog rock cliches, and here we have one of the earliest examples. This is not actually a cover of Ravel’s “Bolero,” but that piece of music was what Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck had in mind when they cut this track in May, 1966 with a band consisting of themselves, Keith Moon, Nicky Hopkins, and John Paul Jones. It wasn’t released until 1967, and then only as a b-side, but this laid out a template for the many, many bands that would follow with their own interpretations and references to classical music.

  9. Traffic: Heaven Is In Your Mind 4:15 (From the Island LP Mr. Fantasy, 1967)

    Traffic are one of the great gray-area prog bands. Most of their music doesn’t quite fit the mold, even when the mold is defined liberally, but on their early records especially, you can hear seeds being planted, particularly in the shifting rhythms and eclectic instrumentation. The saxophone is one of the most important instruments in certain types of prog rock, and Chris Wood’s use of sax in Traffic helped establish a different style of playing, integrated with the band, rather than as a strictly solo or section-based instrument.

  10. Kaleidoscope: A Dream For Julie 2:47 (From the Fontana LP Tangerine Dream, 1967)

    The lyrics are a veritable buffet of psychedelic cliches (tangerine clouds, strawberry monkeys, etc.), but the Kaleidoscope’s widescreen approach to psychedelia represents as well as any other the kind of expansiveness that most prog musicians were grasping for, particularly in the early going.

  11. The Syn: 14 Hour Technicolor Dream 2:56 (B-side of Deram 45 DM 145, 1967)

    This song is written about a fundraising concert, headlined by Pink Floyd, for the International Times, the then-fledgling counterculture newspaper (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Move, Soft Machine, The Pretty Things, Savoy Brown and Sam Gopal were also on the bill). It was a major cultural moment for Swinging London; in paying tribute to it, The Syn were grabbing a little bit of the zeitgeist for themselves. The band was also a sort of precursor to Yes; it was the first band bassist Chris Squire and original Yes guitarist Peter Banks played in together.

  12. The Pretty Things: Defecting Grey 5:14 (A-side of Columbia 45 DB 8300, 1967)

    As The Pretty Things began work on the first full-length rock opera, S.F. Sorrow, they recorded a few songs that fell outside the scope of the project. One of them was “Defecting Grey,” released as a flop single in late 1967. The song features the suite-like union of disparate sections, one a sort of lilting, slow-motion two-step, and the other a nasty, up-tempo psychedelic barrage. My favorite moment is when the bass kicks in after that dry guitar introduces the up-tempo section. You feel the whole song shift into overdrive instantly. The Pretty Things didn’t ever get to take their rightful place in the prog vanguard, toiling in commercial obscurity through 1970, before breaking up. They re-formed in 1972, but lacked stability and just never broke through. They’ll have settle for being there at the beginning.

  13. Procol Harum: Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of) 5:06 (From the Regal Zonophone LP Procol Harum, 1967)

    Procol Harum are one of the pre-eminent proto-prog acts. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” quoted Bach and topped the chart, and they toyed with concept albums and even released one of the earliest side-long tracks (of which more on Volume Two). I chose “Cerdes” over “Repent Walpurgis” mostly because “Repent” was featured on Rhino’s Supernatural Fairytales prog box back in the 90s, and I’m trying not to repeat that set. “Cerdes” makes my point nicely in its own right, though, with its slow, sort of funk-derived beat, and in particular Robin Trower’s blistering guitar solo, which pointed toward the role extended solos and lead playing would figure in the music going forward.

  14. The Moody Blues: Love and Beauty (mono) 2:26 (A-side of Decca 45 F 12670, 1967 (double A-side with “Leave This Man Alone”)

    I thought of going with “Nights in White Satin,” because, well, it’s awesome, and it has pretty much every ingredient you might want for a compilation exploring the advent of prog rock, but it occurred to me that there aren’t a whole lot of people who need to be introduced to that song. If you don’t find it, there’s a good chance it’ll eventually find you. Instead, I’m going with “Love And Beauty,” which found the reconstituted Moody Blues dumping their old r&b sound in favor of a lush pop direction. Michael Pinder’s Mellotron makes its first appearance in the band’s music here, and this is also one of the earliest uses of the instrument on a pop record. And anyone who loves prog knows that the Mellotron is pretty much the mascot of progressive rock.

  15. Chad & Jeremy: The Progress Suite: Epilogue 5:12 (From the Columbia LP Of Cabbages And Kings, 1967)

    Chad & Jeremy are best known for their 1964 folk-pop hit “A Summer Song,” and they’re not a name that comes immediately to mind when someone mentions prog rock. On their 1967 LP Of Cabbages And Kings, though, they had a major brush with proto-prog, covering side two of the album with “The Progress Suite,” five related and heavily orchestrated songs and instrumentals that work as a cycle. It’s also stuffed with sitar and very heavy-handed lyrics on the state of the world, but it’s undeniably ambitious, and this final section works pretty well. Not all of prog’s roots are in places you’d expect.

  16. The Nice: Rondo 8:18 (From the Immediate LP The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack, 1967)

    And here we are. This is prog rock in its most undiluted form. This is a cover of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo Alla Turk,” but organist Keith Emerson just can’t help himself, throwing in a bit of Bach “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” during his long solo (he made a habit of playing it opposite-handed in concert, during the same routine in which he attacked his organ with a knife given to him by future Motorhead leader Lemmy, who was a roadie for The Nice). It’s bombastic and unabashed in its pretensions, and it’s also pretty damned exciting. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (the band members were Emerson, guitarist Davy O’List, bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson and drummer Brian Davison) is sometimes cited as the first full-blown progressive rock album, and it is a good candidate, dropping at the end of 1967 and fairly well synthesizing all of the developments we’ve been reviewing to this point. The funny thing about it is that they took Brubeck’s song from a tricky meter (9/8) to the much more straightforward 4/4.