Another example of a Hipgnosis album cover that tells a simple but effective story. In this case, you have to unfold the gatefold to get the punchline, though. Things are not what they seem in the house on the hill!

Another example of a Hipgnosis album cover that tells a simple but effective story. In this case, you have to unfold the gatefold to get the punchline, though. Things are not what they seem in the house on the hill!

James Brown: “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (King 45-6347, 1971)

Last Sunday, I participated in a voter registration drive. Usually, these drives target events or centers of activity, like college campuses, but this drive was a little different. We went door-to-door in the city of Hazel Park, which is a small city that makes up the southeastern corner of Oakland County, Michigan. 

I work for the planning department of this city, so I was especially interested in getting out and learning more of the town on foot (I’ve only been at city hall for about a month). Like a lot of the old inner-ring suburbs, it’s very walkable, but Hazel Park has struggled a bit more than some of its neighbors. 

I think the city’s relative misfortune has a lot to with its location—unlike its neighbors to the west and northwest, Ferndale and Royal Oak, it’s not on Woodward Avenue, which is essentially the Main Street of Greater Detroit. Its neighbor to the north, Madison Heights, is bigger and has more space for large-scale commerce, and its eastern and southern neighbors are Warren and Detroit, huge cities with comparably huge problems. 

Hazel Park plugs along, though. It’s a good town with a ton of potential, and the people I’ve met in its government are good, pragmatic people who are trying like hell to keep it prosperous. 

I wasn’t doing the voter drive just to get to know the town better, though. I really do want to see more people participate in the political process. Going door to door today, though, is a tough way to accomplish anything. People do not answer the door when someone knocks. One guy answered it just to scold me for knocking on his door on a Sunday—he assumed I was selling something. I told him I was only selling democracy, but I don’t think he got the joke. 

Most people who did answer the door and weren’t registered voters told me they just weren’t interested. I want to say I understand that, because I think of myself as a generally empathetic person, but honestly, I really don’t get it at all. I think I can see why people might feel as though their vote wouldn’t matter, but the purposeful disengagement I encountered is alien to me. Curiosity about the wider world is the thing that keeps me alive, and caring about what happens to that world and how is part of that curiosity.

It may come down to a distaste for conflict, which is what politics is at its root, a system for working through conflict. Preferring not to think about it is an acceptable response, certainly, but I’m not sure it’s an admirable one. Anyway, I’m conflict-averse myself, so I didn’t press anyone on why they weren’t interested. I just moved on to the next house, where people were clearly watching the Lions game in the living room but still wouldn’t come to the door.  

Even if I had pressed, I don’t know what I possibly could have said to change anyone’s mind. Convincing someone who’s felt disenfranchised for most of their life that their vote matters takes more than a few minutes. It takes years and a lot of contact. You have to show that person results and dedication to wash away the really legitimate feelings of alienation from the political process a lot of people feel, especially people at the bottom of the economic pecking order. 

So, to revise what I said earlier, I abstractly understand the reasons that people might not be interested in the political process (and there area  lot of other possible reasons, including the fact that maybe you just feel like no one running for office speaks for you), but the disconnect comes where I just can’t put myself in those shoes.

Because I do care, a lot. I vote in every election and referendum, and have since I was 18. This election will mark five times I’ve voted for Obama (senate primary and senate race when I lived in Illinois, presidential primary and presidential race when I lived in Arkansas, re-election bid this year). It’s not that I feel he’s perfect or even speaks particularly for me (though in some respects he does), but I do feel he’s the best option for the moment, and that is what we constantly choose in all aspects of our lives. 

But really, I don’t care what your position is on anything. It kills me that you, abstract person out there half-reading this, might feel voiceless and might even accept it. Maybe you wouldn’t go to the polls in November, but I at least want you to have that opportunity, and if you’re not registered, you don’t. Not registering ratifies your voicelessness.

That’s how I feel about it anyway. Maybe James Brown and Bobby Byrd can make a more convincing case than I can. 

Freddie Hubbard & İlhan Mimaroğlu: “Monodrama” (Sing Me a Song of Songmy, 1971)

İlhan Mimaroğlu is not a widely known name in electronic music and modern composition, but he was a musician of singular vision who managed to carve out a distinctive niche for himself. Born in Istanbul, he was the son of architect Mimar Kemaleddin Bey, the architect that helped define the building style of the early Turkish republic in the immediate post-Ottoman years. 

Mimaroğlu left Turkey in his twenties to study music in New York and became part of the early wave of composers to experiment openly with tape manipulation, working with Edgard Varèse and studying under Vladimir Ussachevsky. Recordings of his work are available, often on CDs where one of his pieces is compiled with work by other composers, and tracing his career reveals quickly how interested he was in making politically tinged statements with his work.

His greatest statement may have been Sing Me a Song of Songmy, the powerful anti-war document he made with the late jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard in 1971. Mimaroğlu was the composer and producer on the project (he produced a fair number of jazz dates, actually, including a couple of Charles Mingus LPs), and was responsible for all the synthesizer and tape manipulations. It’s an incredibly forward thinking album, and I struggle to think of another jazz album from its era that sounds like it. 

"Monodrama" is the moment of contemplative calm at the center of the album, which otherwise reflects the fury and sorrow inspired by the Vietnam War. If you like this, I encourage you to seek out the whole album (it’s available on CD paired with Hubbard’s Echoes album), and also to explore some of his longer electronic works, such as 1974’s To Kill a Sunrise, or 1975’s Tract: An Agitprop Composition for Electromagnetic Tape.  

Mimaroğlu passed away on Tuesday. He was 86.

the-theme-is:

Artist: Coven
Track: One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)
Album: Coven
Year: 1971

Theme: Protest Songs

harrietslawandfineshoes

My mother used to sing this song a lot when I was a kid. This and the traditional “Polly Vaughn.” I never actually heard the hit Coven version until high school, when I saw Billy Jack and it played over the closing credits. 

And I hated it. Still do, actually. Something about the Coven version strikes me as obscene, with all these instruments climbing over one another to be heard, and the too-fast tempo. The lyrics are thunderingly obvious in delivering their message, but when I was a kid, listening to my mother while she sang it as she did things around the house, that message always sounded so genuine, even if the path to it was contrived.

My mother has no musical training or background, but she does have a lovely voice for folk music, and because of her, this song will always be slow and mournful to me, and best sung unaccompanied. I can’t hear the Coven version without hearing hers as well.

Tags: Coven 1971

Volume 8 of UK Prog, posted earlier today. Notes.

Volume 8 of UK Prog, posted earlier today. Notes.

Tags: UK Prog 1971

U.K. Prog, Volume 8: 1971b Travelers in Space and Time (Notes)

We’re still in 1971, and just as the first volume from this year emphasized the eclecticism of the prog banner, this one reaches all over the place from hard rock to symphonic sounds to late psych, jazz-rock, and pompous, evil sax riffs.

Download this mix here.

1. Gentle Giant: Pantagruel’s Nativity 6:50

From the Vertigo LP Acquiring the Taste

Gentle Giant was among the most accomplished British prog bands never to achieve much commercial success. The band was originally built around the core of brothers Derek, Phil and Ray Shulman and Kerry Minnear, though perhaps the most prominent member on this song is longtime guitarist Gary Green. At their best, as heard here, this band had an uncanny way of presenting very complex music palatably and efficiently—they were as ambitious as any other prog band, but never got caught trying to stretch a limited idea over the whole side of an LP. One of their trademarks was their intricate vocal arrangements, in which they toyed with ancient musical techniques like hocketing and polyphony. Multiple members played a wide variety of instruments, and you can hear bits of sax and trumpet flitting through “Pantagruel’s Nativity” alongside the early synth work, Mellotron and heavy guitar. Amid all the tempo changes and sudden shifts in arrangement, Gentle Giant albums united disparate strains of Renaissance and Medieval music, hard rock, jazz, blues, pop, musique concrete, neoclassical, and contemporary symphonic prog into a mix that was entirely their own.

2. Mogul Thrash: Going North, Going West 12:06

From the RCA LP Mogul Thrash

In the name of covering ground and squeezing in variety, I’ve largely avoided including a lot of songs that range past ten minutes on these volumes, but “Going North, Going West” is awesome, and definitely the best Mogul Thrash song, so consider this my concession to the fact that just about every album released by a prog band from the U.K. at this point included at least one track over ten minutes long (in Italy and Germany, side-long tracks were as common as blades of grass on a lawn). Mogul Thrash was formed by James Litherland (James Blake’s father, dubsteppers) after he left Colosseum, and in some respects was fashioned on Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, two bands whose success had not gone unnoticed in the British music scene. The group included a full horn section, but rather than leaning toward jazz, pop and blues like those American groups, Mogul Thrash played their way right into the progressive rock wheelhouse, with rapid-fire unison riffs, winding compositions, and extended passages of improvisation. Future King Crimson bassist/vocalist John Wetton held down the low end for this group, which proved to be a pit stop for all involved, lasting long enough to record just one album.

3. UFO: Silver Bird 6:55

From the Beacon LP Flying

On their earliest albums, heavy metal pioneers UFO sat right at the hard rock/prog nexus, and they weren’t much concerned with efficiency—two songs on their second LP are over 18 minutes long. “Silver Bird” is more compact and even performed modestly as a single. It trades a bit in the space rock implied in their name—the phrase “space rock” even appeared on the album cover. Frankly, the recording could be better—Phil Mogg’s vocal is pretty buried, but the rest of the band gets pretty ample opportunity to really wail in the long instrumental coda. Bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker were a powerful rhythm section, and Mick Bolton was a good, post-psych guitarist. Bolton left in 1972, and his ultimate replacement was German guitarist Michael Schenker, who was recruited from an early lineup of the Scorpions. With Schenker in the band, they pursued a much more straightforward hard rock direction and became a guiding force in the development of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

4. Yes: South Side of the Sky 7:58

From the Atlantic LP Fragile

Yes were by this point the masters of making insanely complex rock music not only palatable but positively infectious. Original guitarist Peter Banks had been replaced by Steve Howe, and original keyboardist Tony Kaye left, to be replaced by Rick Wakeman, who at the time was a journeyman coming off a stint with prog folk act Strawbs. Fragile was the group’s second album of 1971 (after The Yes Album), and the first of two to feature the short-lived but still enormously influential Jon Anderson/Rick Wakeman/Bill Bruford/Steve Howe/Chris Squire lineup. “South Side of the Sky” may be built on an odd-metered groove and intricate instrumental interplay, but it doesn’t feel difficult or particularly esoteric, in part because the playing is all so forceful (Squire’s bass is especially punchy), but also because Anderson’s vocal melody is so catchy and relatively simple. The Wakeman-led interlude provides a nice respite from the intensity of the rest of the song. If you have trouble parsing out what all the subgenre tags you’ll encounter in prog mean, consider that Yes is one of the quintessential symphonic prog bands.

5. Gong: Fohat Digs Holes in Space 6:23

From the Virgin LP Camembert Electrique

In 1967, Australian-born Daevid Allen, who had been playing in an early version of Soft Machine and was also an original member of Canterbury incubator Wilde Flowers, went to France and couldn’t get back into the U.K. because of visa trouble. Instead of pouting, he put a band together in France, and that band became Gong, a group with one of the most tangled histories in all of progressive rock (their Wikipedia page even has a diagram showing all the different variations and offshoots of the band). The band was a derailed for a time by legal troubles of a few members who’d been involved in the 1968 student riots, but solidified in 1970 and began to record. The band’s second album features Allen with drummer Pip Pyle (another big Canterbury guy), reedist Didier Malherbe, bassist Christian Trisch and vocalist Gilli Smyth, a British-born professor at the Sorbonne. I like the way “Fohat” gradually comes into focus, beginning as a cosmic jam before the sax brings it slowly to earth. Then it becomes a sort of absurdist hard psych tune not too unlike a much friendlier Mothers of Invention (without Frank Zappa’s condescension).

6. McDonald & Giles: Tomorrow’s People - The Children of Today 7:03

From the Island LP McDonald & Giles

Michael Giles and Ian McDonald were founding members of King Crimson, and McDonald was perhaps the primary architect of their early sound, playing saxophone and Mellotron. Nevertheless, after In the Court of the Crimson King, they parted ways with Robert Fripp, leaving him the Crimson name (Giles drummed on the group’s second LP as a session player). The album they made as a duo is charming, sounding about as home-spun as a progressive rock album possibly could. The cover even features them with their girlfriends in a candid moment. The side-long track (“Birdman Suite”) is disjointed but features some very impressive passages, while side one features a couple of very sweet folk tunes among the prog numbers. The prog numbers are endearingly ramshackle, and Michael Giles’ “Tomorrow’s People” is the most endearing of all of them, featuring McDonald’s layered sax and Giles’ own everyman vocal. His drumming on this song is crazily funky, too—the Beastie Boys sampled it for “Body Movin’” (at 1:46). Giles and McDonald parted ways after this. Giles wound up playing alongside Mogul Thrash’s James Litherland in Leo Sayer’s band, and McDonald went on to found Foreigner, who of course ruled the airwaves around the turn of the 80s. By the way, I’ve tried to avoid drum solos as much as possible on these volumes; this one seemed worth including, because it’s more of a break than a true bash-and-crash solo.

7. Raw Material: Ice Queen 6:46

From the Neon LP Time Is…

You knew we had to get to the heavy bombast at some point, right? Raw Material bring it on the opener to their second and final album. Bearing not a little similarity to Van der Graaf Generator (specifically their monster song “Killer”), “Ice Queen” features nasty sax riffs from Mike Fletcher and a great instrumental midsection featuring some really nice jazz piano work from vocalist Colin Catt. I guess this is another thing that indicates just how thoroughly prog permeated the British rock world in 1971—VdGG was one of the best band in the genre, but never broke through commercially, and they still managed to inspire imitators, and good ones at that. Neon records was RCA’s prog imprint.

8. Indian Summer: From the Film of the Same Name 5:53

From the Neon LP Indian Summer

Another short lived band from RCA’s Neon stable, Indian Summer made just one LP, but it was a good one that imaginatively cuts its hard-hitting jazz-rock with a heavy dose of symphonic arrangement, complete with elaborate flights on the Hammond organ. I like the way this opens with a fake-out, implying that the whole song will ride a slow, slogging beat, but quickly gives up the ruse, launching into a weird melodic passage where the keyboards and guitar double each other, right down to the keyboard fluttering to match the guitarist’s hammer-ons. They weren’t strictly an instrumental band, but this instrumental is probably the best thing they did.

9. Beggar’s Opera: Time Machine 8:09

From the Vertigo LP Waters of Change

We’ve heard from Scotland’s Beggar’s Opera before, and when they recorded their second album, they were still putting the “second” in “second tier UK Prog.” but they managed to have a minor hit in Germany and the Netherlands with this song. Riding a wave of Mellotron, it’s amusingly dramatic about its subject matter, but they’ve put aside the classical pretensions of their debut to focus more on atmospherics, and it’s an effective shift. Their next album veered back toward hard rock, and after that, they pretty much abandoned progressive rock, which I suppose one could say made them a little ahead of their time.

10. Accolade: The Spider to the Spy 2:41

From the Regal Zonophone LP 2

You’ve heard of regression to the mean? I don’t mean for this to sound nearly as insulting as it does, but Accolade’s “Spider to the Spy” is pretty much British prog rock’s mean circa 1971. It embodies so many things about so many different strains of prog rock that if I were trying to build a portrait of average UK prog, this is one of the first things I’d point to, for its mixture of acoustic and electric instrumentation, oddball sax part, flue solo, unusual vocal recording and lurching rhythm. Keep in mind that I don’t mean “average” in terms of quality, because it’s a great song from a good album by a band that never made another one. At least they managed two, though. Not many bands of their profile did.

11. Marsupilami: Prelude to the Arena 5:22

From the Transatlantic LP Arena

From their weird name to the freaked-out, tweaked-out vocals on “Prelude to the Arena,” Marsupilami could never be mistaken for boring. Their music was wildly complex and ambitious, with pretty much every song they did on their two albums moving through several sections. This band was also one of the few UK prog acts to feature a female instrumentalist in flautist Jessica Stanley-Clarke (more on that on the next volume). Arena is a concept album about Roman fighting culture, and “Prelude” is meant to set the tone for the album, which is does ably with its incredibly bombastic intro. I love the sense of movement built into this composition, and I wish this band had gotten a chance to keep developing its sound.

12. Tonton Macoute: Flying South in Winter 6:28

From the Neon LP Tonton Macoute

Another Neon band, another one-album wonder, Tonton Macoute was named for the special forces security unit of Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, which is turn was named for a folk monster that carried off misbehaving children in a sack and ate them the next day. The band wasn’t nearly as crazy or nasty as its name implied, though. They were fundamentally a jazz-rock group, and reedist Dave Knowles dominated their music melodically. “Flying South in Winter” has some nice faux-Eastern melodies, some great interplay among the musicians, and a generally unhurried vibe that’s a little refreshing in the context of some of the group’s more musically strident colleagues.

13. Jade Warrior: Masai Morning (including: Casting of the Bones, the Hunt, a Ritual of Kings) 6:41

From the Vertigo LP Jade Warrior

In various configurations, Jade Warrior has been around on and off for four decades now, but their earliest music, when they were among the first rock bands to experiment widely and thoroughly with ethnic music, remains their most exciting to me. “Masai Morning” closes out their debut with a short suite that ties together a sort of ethno-ambient introduction and a fuzzy, jazz-inflected rock song. This isn’t the last we’ll hear of this band, which went on to make quite a few good records.

U.K. Prog, Volume 8: 1971b Travelers in Space and Time

The second of two volumes covering 1971. Get it here.

1. Gentle Giant: Pantagruel’s Nativity 6:50 
2. Mogul Thrash: Going North, Going West 12:06 
3. UFO: Silver Bird 6:55 
4. Yes: South Side of the Sky 7:58 
5. Gong: Fohat Digs Holes in Space 6:23 
6. McDonald & Giles: Tomorrow’s People - The Children of Today 7:03 
7. Raw Material: Ice Queen 6:46 
8. Indian Summer: From the Film of the Same Name 5:53 
9. Beggar’s Opera: Time Machine 8:09 
10. Accolade: The Spider to the Spy 2:41 
11. Marsupilami: Prelude to the Arena 5:22 
12. Tonton Macoute: Flying South in Winter 6:28 
13. Jade Warrior: Masai Morning (including: Casting of the Bones, the Hunt, a Ritual of Kings) 6:41 


Past volumes (let me know if links are down):

Volume One: Mix.  Notes

Volume Two: Mix.  Notes

Volume Three: Mix.  Notes 

Volume Four: Mix.  Notes.   

Volume Five: Mix.  Notes.  

Volume Six: Mix.  Notes

Volume Seven: Mix.  Notes.  

U.K. Prog, Volume 7: 1971a Halcyon Days

U.K. Prog, Volume 7: 1971a Halcyon Days

The first of two volumes focused on 1971. Download here.

1. Electric Light Orchestra: 10538 Overture 5:32

2. Audience: Jackdaw 7:28

3. Still Life: Don’t Go 4:37

4. Uriah Heep: Look at Yourself 5:09

5. Jan Dukes de Grey: Mice and Rats in the Loft 8:21

6. Motiffe: Analogy 6:17

7. Kevin Ayers: There Is Loving/Among Us/There Is Loving 7:23

8. Kingdom Come: No Time + Internal Messenger 6:15

9. Fuzzy Duck: Country Boy 6:04

10. Wishbone Ash: Vas Dis 4:46

11. Spring: Gazing 5:51

12. Dr. Z: Summer for the Rose 4:36

13. Egg: Contrasong 4:25

14. Atomic Rooster: Tomorrow Night 4:00

15. Fields: A Place to Lay My Head 3:41

16. Comus: Diana 4:34

Volume One: Mix.  Notes

Volume Two: Mix.  Notes

Volume Three: Mix.  Notes 

Volume Four: Mix. Notes.   

Volume Five: Mix.  Notes.  

Volume Six: Mix.  Notes

Booker T. & the MG’s: “Melting Pot” (Melting Pot, 1971)

Making the morning news rounds this morning, I was saddened to see that we’d lost the great session bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Dunn was best known for his time as part of Booker T. & the MG’s, the great quartet that gave so many Stax recordings their signature muscle. Dunn joined the group in 1964, replacing Lewis Steinberg.

The combination of Dunn’s fat tone and steady playing fit nicely with the economical playing of organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and drummer Al Jackson Jr. these four lived a double life together from ‘64 to ‘71, releasing commercially successful instrumental LPs under their own name, and playing behind dozens of other performers, from Albert King to Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, and Carla Thomas.

Basically,  this band helped define the sound of Southern soul. This was made a little sweeter by the fact that they were an integrated band, with two black and two white members. And their musical chemistry was only part of the bond between the band members—these guys really liked each other. They were friends as well as collaborators.

The thing that brought the MG’s to a halt was the deterioration of Stax Records, which sent Cropper and Jones to the coasts to escape what they felt was an increasingly poisonous atmosphere. The group reunited frequently, though, and was planning a full-fledged reunion in 1975 when Jackson was hideously murdered in his Memphis home. 

Dunn remained based in Memphis for the rest of his career, and did session work for a pretty mind-blowing array of other people, and he stayed on the road until the very end—he died in Tokyo after playing two shows at the Blue Note. 

"Melting Pot" is the title track of the last album the MGs recorded together during their original run. It’s their best album, largely because it finds the group breaking out of the limiting reliance on pop covers and short tracks of their earlier LPs for a set of group-written tunes that let them stretch out and jam a little.

Dunn’s always there, holding down the low-end with his Fender Precision. He and Jackson had a phenomenal sense of time, and the two of them could make a song go without even seeming to break a sweat. Cropper, who was also in Dunn’s first band, the Mar-Keys, has claimed that Dunn taught himself to play bass by playing along with records, filling in the bits he thought ought to have been played, and it gave him an usual style that always pushed the rhythm forward, because he was syncopating his phrasing over parts of the beat where other people usually didn’t.

Plenty of people structure their bass lines like that now because of Dunn’s influence—and sometimes it’s a little more direct than that, even. “Melting Pot” alone has been sampled at least half a dozen times. Dunn may be gone now, but his work will live for a long time. 

Fender Precision bass 

Atomic Rooster: “I Can’t Take No More” (Death Walks Behind You, 1971)

In the UK, the jazz scene and the rock scene were never very far apart—both embraced American music and made it their own, for one thing—and at the end of the 60s, when the psychedelic scene was transmogrifying into the prog scene, jazz pretty naturally found its way into the music. There was another similarity between the two musical worlds in the UK, though. With a few exceptions, British prog bands functioned more or less like jazz combos, with members coming and going, starting their own things, coming back, going again. 

Look at King Crimson, for the perfect example.  If they were signed to Blue Note, their albums would all be credited to the Robert Fripp Quartet, or the Robert Fripp Quintet. He’s the only constant. Atomic Rooster was like that, too. Vincent Crane is the only constant in a lineup that shifted from album to album and year to year. His organ (and piano) is the throughline connecting all the different singers, guitarists, drummers and bass players that passed through the ranks as the band veered from album to album.

Death Walks Behind You is their second LP, but already Crane was the only one left from the first one. Original drummer Carl Palmer, with whom Crane had also played in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, had left to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and new guitarist John Du Cann also took over the lead vocals from original bassist Nick Graham (who left to join the great Skin Alley), so you essentially have an entirely different band on this album. 

It’s a proggy record all over, but on the second side, there’s this song, which is a pretty straightforward hard rock song that’s also weirdly predictive of Electric Light Orchestra’s 1979 hit “Don’t Bring Me Down.”  Du Cann has a workmanly voice for hard rock, so it’s really up to the band as a whole to make this compelling, and they do, with those dual organ/guitar riffs, kinda evil piano drops, and general sense of careening, wild-eyed roughness.

I’m an eclectic person by nature, but I think if I was allowed to listen to nothing but vintage hard rock for the rest of my life, I’d get by.