The Temptations: “Law of the Land” (Masterpiece, 1973)

Last week, we lost both Richard Street and Damon Harris of the Temptations. Both were members of the group during the early 70s, when Norman Whitfield used them as one of his vehicles for psychedelic soul experimentation, and they can be heard trading lines on classics including “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” and “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On.”

Harris was brought into the group to replace Eddie Kendricks, whose distinctive falsetto was a centerpiece of some of the Tempts’ biggest hits, and he stayed for four years, long enough to make a big mark. It must have been amazing for him-he’d started his career singing in a group called the Young Tempts, a Temptations tribute, and he was the kid of the group nearly ten years younger than the rest. He was born Otis Harris, but changed his name to Damon to join the group—Otis Williams wanted to be the only Otis.

Street joined in 1971, replacing Paul Williams, whose deteriorating health and spiraling addiction forced him out of music and to a tragic early death by his own hand. He’d been with Motown for a while by that point as a member of the Monitors and a staffer in Quality Control, and believe it or not, he was the first native-born Detroiter to sing with the Temptations. Everyone else had been born in the South. 

While Harris’ tenure with the group was brief but brilliant, Street remained through 1993, staying through some of the group’s leanest years after joining them near their peak.

By most reports, the Temptations didn’t really enjoy singing Norman Whitfield’s message tracks—the longer-tenured members especially preferred singing harmony, and Kendricks left the group over the direction Whitfield took them in. You wouldn’t naturally guess that from listening to the way they attack storming funk numbers like “Law of the Land,” and this phase of the group’s career was arguably more influential than the pre-“Cloud Nine” string of harmony-laden hits they had in the mid-60s. 

Harris had some minor success in the late 70s singing with Philly soul outfit Impact, then left music for a decade to go to college. He and Street were reunited in the 90s singing together in a Temptations revue that toured separately from the official group. Harris also founded his own cancer charity after being diagnosed with the prostate cancer that finally took his life last month. He was 62. Street was 70.

Kevin Ayers: “Interview” (Bananamour, 1973)

I was sad to hear of the death of Kevin Ayers last month. Ayers was one of the great eccentrics of pop music, the kind of guy who’d make whatever record he felt like making and let it sell if people wanted to buy it. He didn’t enjoy self-promotion and became a sort of archetypal cult figure because of it.

I went back and forth over which song to feature in his honor, and finally decided on “Interview,” a song about hating self-promotion and the rigamarole of life as a professional musician. It’s not bilious like so many songs in this vein, though—Ayers keeps it playful, implying that he’ll give a better interview in exchange for a bribe.

Ayers’ solo career isn’t perfect. His albums have a lot of oddball ideas on them, and they don’t all fly, but they do sketch out a charming vision of a world in which psychedelia never lost its grip on the pop charts and skewed humor was a coin in the everyday currency of rock and roll.

Whimsy was important to Ayers’ music. He came from the so-called Canterbury scene,where he spent the mid-60s playing in The Wilde Flowers, a band that at various points also included the founders of Caravan, Gong, and Soft Machine, which Ayers was a member of for two years before striking out on his own.

These groups played cerebral rock music that drew heavily from jazz for its structures, but for all its up-front virtuosity, it was mostly lacking in the overt masculinity most of the era’s prog and blues rock. It was whimsical and witty, given to abstraction and occasional nonsense, and not afraid to give an album a title like “Bananamour.”

If you can’t see it in the jpg on your feed, yes, the cover does feature two bananas in love in the lower right corner. For a while, Ayers referred to his band as “The Whole World,” as in “Kevin Ayers and the Whole World,” which I always loved as a band name because of the way it includes the listener in the creative process.

Ayers spent much of the 90s and early 00s sequestered in southern France, but came back in 2007 with the poignant farewell LP The Unfairground, which featured old colleagues as well as large cast of younger indie rock musicians. Never much of a touring musician, Ayers let it be the final word. He died in his sleep on February 18th, back in southern France.

UK Prog, Volume 12: 1973b went up yesterday. I accidentally uploaded the wrong zip file at first, but that’s been correct now (thanks to everyone who pointed it out to me). To access the mix, follow the links below:
Mix.  Notes.   

UK Prog, Volume 12: 1973b went up yesterday. I accidentally uploaded the wrong zip file at first, but that’s been correct now (thanks to everyone who pointed it out to me). To access the mix, follow the links below:

Mix.  Notes.   

Tags: UK Prog 1973

U.K. Prog, Volume 12: 1973b On Top of the World (Notes)

Continuing our look at progressive rock in the United Kingdom during 1973, this volume veers back and forth between highly accessible, melodic prog rock and wilder, knottier material more than the previous 1973 volume, but you’ll still be able to hear the way this music had cleaned up and shaken out since only a couple of years earlier.

At this point, progressive rock ideas and approaches permeated the rock portion of the FM dial—I actually considered opening this volume with Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” but left it off in favor of less-known material. But you see what I’m getting at. Granted, this was also the year that Yes followed up a single LP with three songs on it with a double LP with four songs on it. Tales from Topographic Oceans, that four-song double album, is not featured here, partly because I had no room for a side-long track, but more importantly because it’s just not very good.

Tales, for me, is basically the point where prog rock eats the apple. Yes didn’t make an album of four side-long tracks because they had four songs that were so idea-stuffed that they each had to take up a whole side. They made an album of four side-long tracks because Jon Anderson and Steve Howe decided they were going to, and then proceeded to stretch the few ideas they had past the breaking point. It’s a terrible album overall, made all the worse by the thought of how much better it might have been if they’d been modest enough to realize the potential of those songs and, say, cut them all down so that they’d be short enough to fit two to a side of a single LP.

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman, himself no stranger to excess, famously hated the album and quit the band—as it was, during the sessions he’d spent more time in the studio next door, contributing keyboards to Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, frustrated at having his input ignored. Wakeman, of course, was a few ice shows and concept albums away from himself becoming the emblem of the self-regard that helped to knock prog off its commercial pedestal.

Another liability the genre had, at least as far as its long-term commercial viability was concerned, was the overwhelming maleness of its audience. A tiny fraction of the musicians playing prog were women, and a slightly less tiny fraction of prog singers were women, and those percentages translated to the crowds drawn by many of these acts (though not all of them). There’s a media studies master’s thesis waiting to be written by anyone who wants to explore the reasons for that, but it made the genre more vulnerable to a slide that it otherwise might have been.

There will be two 1974 volumes coming up, and though it’s only a year later, you’re likely to notice some pretty distinct differences between 1973 and 1974.

Download the mix here

1. Caravan: Memory Lain, Hugh - Headloss 9:20 

From the Deram LP For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night

Caravan have been with us all along on this series. They were one of the first prog bands and one of the handful (with Soft Machine and Egg) that helped define the parameters of what became known as the Canterbury Scene. The term Canterbury Scene isn’t exactly accurate, though—it wasn’t really a scene in the real sense. Yes, many of the musicians who contributed to the early music did indeed have roots in and around Canterbury, but these bands played in London and included members from all over Britain (and Daevid Allen, an early scenester, was Australian). So Canterbury School would really be the more appropriate way of framing it. Caravan were the closest to a symphonic prog band of any of the groups the school produced—they could write a very catchy vocal melody, could jam on a hard jazz groove, and could cut a heavy rock passage with equal aplomb, and they do all of those things on the opener to their fifth album, which completely shifts tone right in the middle, from a fairly nasty hard prog thing to an upbeat prog-pop tune. We’ll hear from them one more time in 1974.

2. Steeleye Span: Alison Gross 5:30

From the Chrysalis LP Parcel of Rogues

Along with Fairport Convention and Pentangle, Steeleye Span were one of the small handful of British folk revival bands to establish themselves as a long-running, commercially successful force. Where Fairport went for an electro-acoustic sound that incorporated lots of original songs and some jazz elements, and Pentangle favored acoustic instrumentation, Steeleye Span, who were named for a character in a traditional song, built their sound around electric versions of traditional ballads. “Alison Gross” is one such ballad, the story of a witch who makes a man an offer, which he refuses. She then turns him into a wyrm (which is a type of dragon that apparently has hair); he’s later restored to his original form in a sort of princess-and-the-frog routine. The song was taken from a catalog of three hundred Scottish and English folk ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the 19th Century, and I’m guessing that Child never imagined it would be performed like this. The band had no drummer, but they still manage to get plenty of momentum out of the crunching guitars of Bob Johnson and Tim Hart. The song is probably the heaviest thing the band ever did, but their early albums are liberally sprinkled with interesting interpretations of very old songs like this.

3. Genesis: Firth of Fifth 9:38

From the Charisma LP Selling England by the Pound

Selling England by the Pound is the signature masterpiece of the Banks-Collins-Gabriel-Hackett-Rutherford quintet version of Genesis, a kaleidoscopic record that moves from strength to strength with a focus that even the band’s best material to that point had often found beyond its grasp. “Firth of Fifth” is one of the most gorgeous things the band ever did, opening with a lovely bit of time signature-hopping classical piano from Tony Banks before shifting into the relatively straightforward verse. The band seems to understand that the real meat of the song lies in the instrumental parts, though, and they spend just a few of the song’s nearly ten minutes on them. The instrumental at the song’s heart is one of the band’s most breathtaking passages. The accelerating flute melody (played by Peter Gabriel) stopped me cold the first time I ever heard this, and Banks gets one of his finest showcases, both on piano and on synth before handing the baton to Steve Hackett. This is the standard that all those symphonic prog bands that popped up in the early 70s were shooting for; very few of them ever attained it. The public recognized a good thing when it heard it, too—the album peaked at #3 in Britain.

4. Rick Wakeman: Anne of Cleves 7:55

From the A&M LP The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Ah, Rick Wakeman. As mentioned in the intro above, he’s synonymous for many people with prog rock excess. And I won’t argue that point, really—he earned the reputation. What I don’t agree with is the tendency to view his tendency toward pretension and excess as grounds for automatic dismissal. A lot of great music is utterly pretentious, after all. Wakeman recorded his first solo outing in 1972, with members of Yes and his former band, Strawbs, contributing, and yes, it is a concept album, featuring six instrumental pieces, one for each of Henry VIII’s wives. What the musical content of each piece of music has to do with each wife is something Wakeman couldn’t even tell you, but it works as a unifying idea, I suppose. Laying the very loose concept aside, though, what you’re left with is the music, and some of it is really quite good. “Anne of Cleves” is the big keeper for me, in part because it’s the album’s least over-composed track. Really, it’s a four-piece jam, featuring Wakeman excitedly going nuts on a mountain of keyboards while guitarist Mike Egan, drummer Alan White (who joined Yes in 1972 after Bill Bruford left), and bassist Dave Winter wail right along with him—Winter especially turns in an impressive performance. It’s a showcase for the musicians, but I don’t think you could properly call it pretentious—music this openly enthusiastic has a funny way of transcending the hoary concepts and big ideas it supposedly serves.

5. Tranquility: Couldn’t Possibly Be 4:16

From the Epic LP Silver

So wait, where was the boundary between prog and more conventional rock in 1973? Was there really a boundary at all? If there was, bands like Tranquility certainly weren’t very mindful of it. I don’t really know much about the band. Silver was their second and final album, and it occupied strange ground somewhere between power pop and guitar-slinging prog. They were adept harmony singers, as “Couldn’t Possibly Be” attests, and they distilled their jammy tendencies into busy backgrounds that served the songs. The guitars sound as influenced by the Allman Brothers as any particular earlier British act. Like any good prog nerd, I love stumbling across a mellotron wonderland or a spiky Moog solo, but I think discoveries like this, that took all that creative energy and funneled it into pretty darn catchy pop songs, are just as rewarding.

6. Wizzard: You Can Dance Your Rock ‘n’ Roll 4:38

From the Harvest LP Wizzard Brew

Wizzard is a tough band to categorize, and to be honest, they don’t really fit the typical prog rock mold very well. Their music is more like some sort of hideous mutant strain of early rock and roll. Roy Wood had been the leader of the Move, and had also founded Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne, he and Lynne were quickly at creative loggerheads, so he set out on his own with Wizzard. “You Can Dance Your Rock ‘n’ Roll” continues ELO’s early tendency to mix overdriven boogie with classical instrumentation, though here it’s about five times as overdriven as it ever had been in ELO. I’m not even sure how Wood managed to make this song sound this scuzzy without actually tipping all the VU meters on the board. His eccentric take on, well, everything, sent him down his own prog rock side road, one that no one ever followed him down.

7. Fusion Orchestra: Have I Left the Gas On? 8:38

From the EMI LP Skeleton in Armour

Fusion orchestra only released one album, but it was a very good one, backing the raw vocals of Jill Saward with a powerful collision of jazz and rock, with the occasional detour into spooky soundtrack music, as heard as the beginning of this song’s instrumental interlude. Stan Land and Colin Dawson were a formidable guitar tandem, and the band brought plenty of fire to their most headlong compositions. “Have I Left the Gas On?” is their finest moment and makes me wonder what they could have done if they’d stuck together long enough to follow it up—they’d been a band since the late 60s by this point, and I count us lucky that they stuck at it long enough to get noticed by EMI and record this. I don’t know the fates of most of the members, but Saward later sang for the jazz-funk group Shakatak.

8. Badger: Wind of Change 7:17

From the Atlantic LP One Live Badger

Keyboardist Tony Kaye bounced around a bit after leaving Yes, playing for a time with Peter Banks’ Flash before pulling together Badger with drummer Roy Dyke, formerly of Ashton, Gardner & Dyke and Remo Four. The band debuted with a live album, and a very good one at that—Kaye had clearly been developing this material for some time. He also doesn’t hog the spotlight—bassist Dave Foster and guitarist Brian Parrish handle vocals, and Parrish’s guitar is much more prominent in the band’s sound than Kaye’s organ—Kaye doesn’t even step out for a solo on “Wind of Change” until the very end, letting Parrish go first. It has the overall effect of giving the band a much heavier sound than Flash or even Yes, and it bears noting that “Wind of Change” has a really smashing chorus. Badger only stayed together long enough to record one studio album (it doesn’t measure up to their debut at all). Kaye eventually rejoined Yes, twice, and has remained a part of band’s extended family ever since.

9. Greenslade: Melange 7:30

From the Warner Brothers LP Greenslade

A lot of prog musicians played in several bands during their careers, and during its run in the 70s, Greenslade was home to a lot of them. Named for keyboardist Dave Greenslade, formerly of Colosseum, the band also featured the keyboard and vocal talents of Dave Lawson (formerly of Web). Former King Crimson drummer Andy McCullough and journeyman bassist Tony Reeves (Colosseum, John Mayall, etc, etc. etc.) rounded out the original lineup, which had an automatically unique sound thanks to its lineup. “Melange” provides a good idea of the band’s range, moving through a host of contrasting passages—it’s a mini-suite that a less restrained prog band might have tried to turn into a side-long track. The band lasted through 1977, and all of its members remained in music, moving on to other bands, into production and studio work (Reeves, especially), and even into technology—it was Lawson that did all the keyboard programming for Yes’ 90125.

10. Emerson Lake & Palmer: Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression 7:07

From the Manticore LP Brain Salad Surgery

We’ve heard ELP turn a modern classical piece into a heavy rock jam, and we’ve heard them take what could have been a fairly conventional rock song and warp it into something entirely more crooked and evil. Here, they mash together bits of jazz, classical and neoclassical music, heavy rock and modern electronics into something recognizable only as ELP. Keith Emerson’s piano dominates the second half of this song, which was the second “movement” in Emerson’s 30-minute “Karn Evil” suite, but it’s what happens in the first half, when the volume is turned up and the whole band is engaged, that’s really interesting. Carl Palmer plays synth drums—one of their first appearances on record—capping his performance with a surprise interpolation of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” that provides the lightest moment in what is otherwise a very long, very serious extended suite. Brain Salad Surgery, with its title taken from a Dr. John song, its grotesque H.R. Giger artwork, and its absolute musical overload, is undeniably ELP’s masterpiece. For some listeners, that means it’s an essential addition to record collection, and for others that just means it’s the one where the band’s bombast and pomp are most unbearable. I fall somewhere in the middle, glad to have it and to have listened to it enough to understand it, but not in love. Masterpiece or no, it was ELP’s high water mark—they followed it up with two volumes of Works, which were disjointed collections of ballads, classical interpretations and ridiculous side-long excursions like “Pirates,” and finally their final LP, the awful Love Beach, which dropped in 1978 and sent the band out with a whimper. They subsequently reunited and re-established themselves as a formidable touring outfit. I saw them in 1996, and Emerson was still killing his organ with knives.

11. Capability Brown: I Am and So Are You 4:00

From the Charisma LP Voice

If you want to know just what an epidemic the side-long track had become in British rock during the early 70s, about all you need to know is that Capability Brown included one on their second and final album, 1973’s Voice. The band wandered the prog rock borderlands, churning out arty but still highly accessible music featuring a lot of big harmony vocals that drove their choruses forcefully home. In the context of these 1973 volumes, they’ve a lot closer to Tranquility than ELP, but the lure of filling one side of a record with a single song was something they couldn’t ignore, and that fact has carved out a cult following for them in prognerdland. I’m glad, because if it hadn’t, I likely never would have come across them, and I’d have missed out on the quirky charm of their more modest work, like “I Am and So Are You.”

12. Gong: Flying Teapot 11:56 

From the Virgin LP Radio Gnome Invisible, Vol. 1: Flying Teapot

We’ve heard from Gong once before, and at this point, the band was still based in France, still comprised mostly of British musicians, and still led by Australian weirdo and self-styled “pothead pixie” Daevid Allen. They were also still psychedelic warriors of the first order and played a type of space rock that no one was really close to, though there were a few bands in Germany traveling similar lanes. The three-album Radio Gnome Invisible series documented a transitional phase for the group as they pivoted from psychedelia to a more pure fusion direction, a transition that can be heard in detail on “Flying Teapot.” Radio Gnome Invisible was also Daevid Allen’s swansong with the group, which he left in 1975. We’ll hear from the band in their more fully developed fusion guise on a later volume.

U.K. Prog, Volume 12: 1973b On Top of the World

This is the second of two volumes covering 1973.

Download the mix here.

1. Caravan: Memory Lain, Hugh - Headloss 9:20 
2. Steeleye Span: Alison Gross 5:30 
3. Genesis: Firth of Fifth 9:38 
4. Rick Wakeman: Anne of Cleves 7:55 
5. Tranquility: Couldn’t Possibly Be 4:16 
6. Wizzard: You Can Dance Your Rock ‘n’ Roll 4:38 
7. Fusion Orchestra: Have I Left the Gas On? 8:38 
8. Badger: Wind of Change 7:17 
9. Greenslade: Melange 7:30 
10. Emerson Lake & Palmer: Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression 7:07 
11. Capability Brown: I Am and So Are You 4:00 
12. Gong: Flying Teapot 11:56 

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.  
Volume Eight: Mix.  Notes.  
Volume Nine: Mix.  Notes.   
Volume Ten: Mix.  Notes.   
Volume Eleven: Mix.  Notes.   

Strawbs: “Autumn (i) Heroine’s Theme (ii) Deep Summer’s Sleep (iii) The Winter Long” (Hero & Heroine, 1973)

As I’ve worked my way through my UK Prog series, I haven’t bothered to break out any of the tracks I’ve included and do a full post on them, mostly because I have too much other stuff going on, and just putting these mixes and notes together has been pretty time-consuming.

But I do want to talk about this one at greater length. “Autumn” is one of my favorite songs, and really is the song that pushed me over the edge from shallow-end wading in the bits of progressive rock that crossed over to wider audiences and stayed stuck in the classic rock canon into the deep end, where I had to search hard to find bands I’d heard mentioned in a single sentence of an article about something else. Even today, with the cornucopia of the internet at my fingertips, some of the music I’ve tracked down has been difficult to find. 

Back then, Strawbs were a band that took looking to find in this country. I did my record shopping at the local Circuit City and Borders, and though they were both astonishingly well-stocked for what they were, they had their limits. It wasn’t until the summer after high school that my then-friend-now-wife and I took a road trip up Interstate 91 to Northampton, Massachusetts, a college town sprinkled liberally with record stores that got well off the beaten track with their offerings. 

There was one in particular that had a huge aisle of nothing but imports. I had heard “Autumn” on the best two hours of rock radio available to me at the time, Peter Z’s Sunday morning show on WPLR. I think Z was a legacy DJ, still hanging around from FM’s early glory days, when it was much more freeform than it largely is now. He played what he felt like playing, with no regard for the heavy rotation lists or what the station managers thought people might want to hear.

He played “Autumn” one Sunday, and I taped it, and scribbled the band’s name down on my ever-growing list of things to check out. Not long after, Rhino released its Supernatural Fairytales boxed set, a set of five discs offering a very light sampling of the variety of progressive rock sounds that existed across Europe during the 70s. It had two Strawbs songs on it, and they confirmed that this was a band I wanted to check out. 

So in that store in Northampton, which probably no longer exists—I only remember that it was in a basement—I combed the import rack until I found A Choice Selection of Strawbs, a single-disc best-of compilation released overseas in 1992. It was $25, but I looked at the back, saw “Autumn” and immediately bought it. I even borrowed $5 from Andrea to afford it. It was the most I’d ever paid for a single CD, and on some level it seemed absurd, but on a much more important level, I had to have that music. I had to know what else I was missing. 

I’m not nostalgic for the days when it was that hard to get your hands on music you wanted to hear. Seriously, it sucked not being able to find what you were desperate to hear. I understand what other oldsters are getting at when they talk about the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of the find, and I definitely loved both. But I’ll take being able to get what I want when I ant it in exchange.

These days, I have a bunch of Strawbs albums, and before I got those, I even replaced that first compilation with a better, two-disc one called Halcyon Days. “Autumn” is still unbeatable, the best song in a career that produced a lot of great songs. I think it was worth the search.

Stray note:

I don’t remember the name or location of that record store, but I remember the interior layout very well. Oddly, I also remember exactly where I parked the Toyota when we got into town. It was a single curbside space between the two driveways of a gas station.

U.K. Prog, Volume 11: 1973a The Main Stream (Notes)

We’re now more than halfway through this series of UK prog mixes (there will be 20 volumes total), and we’re right around the genre’s commercial peak. It was in the early to mid-70s that progressive rock and the rest of the rock scene in Britain were most thoroughly intertwined, and after this year, things start separating themselves.

This is perhaps the most immediately accessible volume in this whole series. With the exception of a few more difficult tracks in the back half, there’s very little here that the average rock listener with no interest in progressive rock couldn’t enjoy pretty easily.

It comes to a question I’ve avoided addressing so far: what does the “progressive” in progressive rock actually mean? Really? Not much. The term was already in common use in 1969, though its connotation was broader then (a lot of loud blues rock was given the label right along with King Crimson and the like). Really, all it was meant to imply is that these bands were searching for new things to do with the rock form.

It’s debatable whether covering classical music was truly progressive or just novel and self-serious, but it certainly fits the “trying something new” definition, which is the one I think makes the most sense from a modern perspective. There were musicians back then who really thought that building songs off of classical harmony and structure rather than blues-rooted forms made it more sophisticated, which has some disturbing racial implications, but these people were basically wrong.

Sophistication comes not from the ingredients but how they’re used—I’d argue that John Lee Hooker made music every bit as sophisticated as ELP, and today, the members of that band would probably admit that it’s true.

So that’s all we’re really getting at here. These bands were playing rock and roll and trying new things in that context, reaching out to different sources of inspiration in the process. In the process, they helped to vastly expand our understanding of what rock could be and how far it could stretch before it became something else.

Download the mix here.

1. Strawbs: Autumn (i) Heroine’s Theme (ii) Deep Summer’s Sleep (iii) The Winter Long 8:26

From the A&M LP Hero & Heroine

This is the song most responsible for leading me off the well-beaten path of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, the Moody Blues, and Genesis into less widely remembered progressive rock. Peter Z played it on his free-form Sunday morning show on WPLR, an otherwise conventional classic rock station, and I as mesmerized by it. It took me ages to find it on CD, but I did, and Strawbs did a great deal to grease the slope I was already on and send me sliding into prog’s deep end. It really is an awesome piece of music. The intro, with the bass keyboard simmering below the drone, and the steady drum beat that cues the seagull noises and finally the mellotron theme, hooked me instantly. It’s a true suite, linking three separate pieces of music together into a cohesive whole, and I especially love the mix of jazz and folk feels in the “Deep Summer’s Sleep” section. The final section, “The Winter Long,” was released as a single, but it’s not quite as powerful without what comes before—the dissonance it rises from provides a setting for the pretty piano and group sing-along, which is prog rock at its most populist. Strawbs knew a things or two about that—one of their biggest hits in the UK was the folky, tongue-in-cheek “Part of the Union,” a song designed to be sung along to whilst roaring drunk.

2. Darryl Way’s Wolf: Two Sisters 4:21

From the Deram LP Saturation Point

When creative differences between Francis Monkman and Darryl Way led to Curved Air’s breakup, Way took his violin and wasted no time putting together a new band. Wolf had few of Curved Air’s more experimental tendencies, instead focusing more on tight, violin-led rock songs with strong harmony vocals and a slight hard rock edge. “Two Sisters” is downright catchy, setting breezy vocals and slow melodies against a frenetic backing. Way’s showcase in the instrumental midsection reveals a guy making the most of his new creative freedom and developing a unique rock style on his instrument.

3. Cirkus: Those Were the Days 3:57

From the RCB LP One

Cirkus named themselves for a King Crimson song, but for all their prog tendencies, they were never nearly as weird as what they named themselves for. “Those Were the Days” has a very strong chorus hook, and with better label support, it’s likely Cirkus could have made a real crossover from the art rock circuit to the pop charts. The song’s lyrics aren’t brilliant, but they do have some nice imagery (particularly the teddy bear with just one eye), and they’re well-framed by the verse arrangement. Cirkus was another band that favored the economical over the epic—they made time for instrumental breaks, but kept them well to the point. They’re one of many bands that makes the case for 1973 as the year when prog came closest to being for everyone.

4. Roxy Music: A Song For Europe 5:45

From the Island/Polydor LP Stranded

Roxy Music’s first two albums, made with Brian Eno in the band, teetered back and forth between progressive rock, crooner camp, glam, and pop in an unexpectedly satisfying way, but what a lot of people forget is that they remained a very adventurous band well after Eno’s departure. Stranded was their first album without him, and it’s as firmly in left field as either of its predecessors. What Roxy Music brought to their peculiar take on prog rock that a lot of other bands didn’t was a sense of sweeping romance. Bryan Ferry sang like a man in a constantly desperate state of mind, and his performance is a big part of what helps make the big musical moves, such as the huge syntheseizer swells 9sourtesy of new member Eddie Jobson) feel earned. This kept Roxy from getting boxed in to a prog rock pigeonhole, and they were one of the few bands that managed to seamlessly find its way to even greater success after prog rock fell out of favor in the middle of the 70s.

5. Home: The Sun’s Revenge 4:01

From the CBS LP The Alchemist

Do you think the members of Home liked Yes? Surely they must have, because even though as a band they only bear a passing similarity, the vocals on “The Sun’s Revenge” could practically have been ported in from “Siberian Khatru.” About the only key to a hit this song is missing is a big chorus, but I think the riff is catchy as hell, and even the song’s long, low-key instrumental coda is warmly appealing. A pointless but nonetheless fun game can be played trying to imagine what kind of band Home would have been had they formed four years later—I imagine them as a power pop force. They weren’t around then, though—The Alchemist was the last of their three albums, and guitarist Laurie Wisefield left to join Wishbone Ash the following year. Bassist Cliff Williams later joined AC/DC.

6. Fantasy: Circus 6:19

From the Polydor LP Paint a Picture

Fantasy was a two-album band from Kent that flourished briefly at prog’s peak but never managed more than a small following. “Circus” has its share of twisty instrumental passages, but for a six-minute prog suite whose lyrics make liberal use of the phrase “helter skelter”—well after Manson appropriated the phrase and changed its meaning—it’s remarkably restrained. That restraint may have been the things that held them back, actually. Prog’s most successful bands during this period tended to be the ones that wrung the most drama out of the musical turns they took in their lengthy songs. Understatement wasn’t the path to a big following in this world.

7. Carmen: Reprise Finale 3:02

From the Regal Zonophone LP Fandangos in Space

Carmen was a British-American band that formed in LA, moved to London, and built its sound partly around Spanish flamenco music. The best flamenco rock bands were formed in Spain as Franco’s dictatorship came to an end, but Carmen, oddly enough, set something of a precedent for them. This song, which closes out their best album with call-back to several other songs on it, accomplishes in miniature what these bands often used a suite to do. Over several sections, it references the rhythms of flamenco (the drums in the opening part mimic the rhythms of dancers’ castanets), and some of the genre’s harmonic elements as well, while setting time aside for a fair helping of overdriven lead guitar and, rhythmic jump-cuts and passages of unison riffing. The band released two more albums, breaking up in 1975, the year Franco died, allowing Spain’s flamenco rock movement to finally flourish in the open.

8. Morgan: Fire in the Head 5:01

From the RCA LP The Sleeper Wakes (aka Brown Out)

The opener of Morgan’s second and final album, an album that wasn’t officially released until 1977 because the band angered its record company, is an exercise in infectious bombast. The verses are catchy and ingratiating almost in spite of themselves, which becomes less surprising when you consider that the band’s history stretches back to the 60s, when its members were in the Soul Survivors and the Love Affair, two groups that experienced pop success. The instrumental passages are less friendly, hitting the listener upside the head with hyperspeed carnival keyboards, seemingly in the hope that if the verse didn’t win you over, these passages might at least beat you into submission. Naturally, with this album shelved, Morgan had few paths forward and called it quits—interestingly, their sound anticipates a fair number of neo-prog bands from the 90s, though it’s likely coincidence. They had all the same influences.

9. Fruupp: Decision 6:29

From the Dawn LP Future Legends

Fruupp were from Northern Ireland, and though they were only around for three years, they managed to churn out four LPs. “Decision” is from their debut, and it has two personalities. One can be heard in the verses, which have a jazz-rock shuffle and nicely rendered vocal harmonies. Let’s call this their Dr. Jekyll side. The guitar solo in the middle hints that Dr. Jekyll may be hiding a demon within, and it’s unleashed completely in the song’s final passage, as the solo grows more intense and the band finally caves completely to its Mr. Hyde side on the crazy coda, which is stuffed with tangled knots of guitar and wild double stops. It’s very ambitious passage, one the band barely has the technical skill to pull off, and this gives it a frayed quality that actually heightens the intensity. Not many prog bands let themselves go off the rails like this.

10. Riff Raff: You Must Be Joking 7:31

From the RCA LP Riff Raff

The members of heavy jazz-rock band Riff Raff were well-traveled, having played in a huge number of bands, including Ginger Baker’s Air Force, The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, Brian Auger’s Trinity, Nucleus, Juicy Lucy, as well as the backing bands for a lot of solo artists. They recorded three albums together, though the first wasn’t released, and this became their debut by default. The band’s Brazilian drummer, Aureo de Souza, could flit between straight rock rhythm and a swinging jazz feel by the measure, a skill that can be heard on full display during Pete Kirtley’s blistering guitar solo on “You Must Be Joking.” The band lasted for one more album before everyone moved on to other projects—keyboardist Tommy Eyre had the highest-profile post-Riff Raff career of any of them, playing in a lot of other groups, including the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and the Ian Gillan Band.

11. Sindelfingen: Three Ladies 8:33

From the self-released/Cenotaph LP Odgipig

Sindelfingen formed in 1972, but just a year later, the band’s knotty take on prog rock, with its quick time signature changes, hyperactive bass lines, and folk-based lyrics, sounded anachronistic; if they’d been around just two years earlier, they’d have been state of the art. That would have been a tall order, given that the band’s bass player, Mark Letley, was only seventeen when this album was recorded. Of course, the band wasn’t averse to youth: when drummer Roger Thorn left the band in in 1973, he was replaced by Letley’s brother, Matt, who was twelve at the time (Matt Letley currently drums for Status Quo). Gutiarist/vocalist Richard Manktelow appears to have been a big Gentle Giant fan—you can hear their way of phrasing things all over his vocals. This is a band that probably never had a prayer of finding a large audience, but their album is a fun find for a prog fan.

12. Henry Cow: Teenbeat 6:48

From the Virgin LP Leg End

In 1978, Henry Cow gave a name to the school of rock they helped establish when they organized the Rock in Opposition festival, featuring themselves and four continental bands that shared their love of dissonance and open structures. In 1973, they were just considered an underground group, a tag they’d held with since guitarist Fred Frith and reedist Tim Hodgkinson founded the group at Cambridge University in 1968. Leg End was their first album, and by this time the band’s most powerful rhythm section, with bassist John greaves and drummer Chris Cutler, was in place. “Teenbeat” is an absolutely sarcastic title for this music, which is a sort of chamber jazz concoction that abandoned even the barest notion that pop success was attainable. The music is intricate and constantly teetering on the brink of chaos—in a few volumes, I’ll be addressing the ways in which punk and prog are a lot more closely linked than history tells us, and Henry Cow is one of the groups that figures heavily in that story.

13. Man: Back Into the Future 4:04 

From the United Artists LP Back Into the Future

One more from Man. The Welsh space rockers behaved almost as much like a collective as a band, with members, particularly guitarists, coming and going often, only to return (I believe the same lineup never appeared on consecutive albums). They made nine studio albums (plus five live albums) during their original run from 1969 to 1976, and Back Into the Future is perhaps the best of these, though each of them has its moments. The title track is a good example of the way the band combined psychedelic sonics with a pub rock attitude for a unique combination that makes them one of the friendliest and least self-serious prog bands. After the band’s breakup, drummer Terry Williams even joined Rockpile with Nick Lowe, making the link even more obvious. Man reformed in the early 90s and has released six more studio albums since.

14. Babe Ruth: The Mexican 5:49

From the Harvest LP First Base

Today, Babe Ruth aren’t remembered as a prog rock band, even with the bizarre Roger Dean artwork that graced their first album cover. With its dual guitar/keyboard runs and lyrics about the Mexican-American war, “The Mexican” is a prog classic, but it’s subsequently become much more than that thanks to the work of successive generations of hip-hop DJs. It’s easy to see where the song’s crossover appeal comes from—the funky rhythm section and Janita Haan’s gritty vocals give it an r&b edge that’s so much earthier than most other prog. In 1983, the Funky Four +1 built their classic “Feel It” around “The Mexican,” and the song has been a hip-hop touchstone ever since. First Base sold well in North America, but tanked in Britain; a few years later when the band recorded its final album, no original members remained.

15. Tempest: Upon Tomorrow 6:50

From the Bronze LP Tempest

Allan Holdsworth is best known as an influential guitarist—he was in his late 20s when he joined Tempest at the invitation f former Colosseum drummer John Hiseman and had already played in several bands, including Nucleus and the influential but sadly unrecorded Sunship—but here, he’s just as impressive on the violin, alternating between the two instruments. “Upon Tomorrow” is nearly seven minutes long and passes through many contrasting sections, but it still feel compact and direct, and a lot of that is down to Holdsworth, whose leads never succumb to meaningless flash. Paul Williams’ vocal keeps things grounded as well—he even sounds a little like Paul Weller, though the Jam was still a few year off. Tempest recorded just two albums before its members moved on to other bands. Mark Clarke jumped on the hard rock merry-go-round, playing in Uriah Heep, Rainbow, Natural Gas, and a latter-day Mountain; Hiseman formed Colosseum II; Holdsworth played in Gong, UK, and Bill Bruford’s band and launched a solo career as well; Ollie Halsall played with Kevin Ayers, Neil Innes, and a host of others.

U.K. Prog, Volume 11: 1973a The Main Stream

This is the first of two volumes covering 1973.

Download the mix here.

1. Strawbs: Autumn (i) Heroine’s Theme (ii) Deep Summer’s Sleep (iii) The Winter Long 8:26
2. Darryl Way’s Wolf: Two Sisters 4:21
3. Cirkus: Those Were the Days 3:57
4. Roxy Music: A Song For Europe 5:45
5. Home: The Sun’s Revenge 4:01
6. Fantasy: Circus 6:19
7. Carmen: Reprise Finale 3:02
8. Morgan: Fire in the Head 5:01
9. Fruupp: Decision 6:29
10. Riff Raff: You Must Be Joking 7:31
11. Sindelfingen: Three Ladies 8:33
12. Henry Cow: Teenbeat 6:48
13. Man: Back Into the Future 4:04
14. Babe Ruth: The Mexican 5:49
15. Tempest: Upon Tomorrow 6:50

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.  
Volume Eight: Mix.  Notes.  
Volume Nine: Mix.  Notes.   
Volume Ten: Mix.  Notes.   

Caravan: “Be All Right/Chance of a Lifetime” (For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, 1973)

I’ve been listening to a ton of old British prog rock lately. It’s music I’ve loved for a very long time, and music I go on a big kick with at least once a year, and it’s felt right paired with my schoolwork for the past month. 

I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it: this music was my first love. It was what spoke to me most in high school, first through Pink Floyd and Yes and King Crimson and later through dozens of other bands (my first concert: the Moody Blues. My third: Jethro Tull and ELP). 

As I started to go through all the British prog I have on CD, LP, and my hard drive, I was sort of astonished by the quantity. Some of it unfortunately lacks a bit on the quality end of things, but so much of it is really interesting or seems to lay groundwork for something that came later. I’ve made a special effort to check out the forgotten bands, investigate bands I’d spent little time with in the past and re-visit ones I’d soured on (hello, ELP) with an open mind.

One of the bands I’d never spent a lot of time with was Caravan, and I now wonder what held me back. Some of their more whimsical material still does little for me, but when these guys wanted to, they could bring some serious energy to an odd-metered jam.

These guys are a pretty foundational prog band. Caravan formed in 1968 from members of the Canterbury scene who had all played at various times in a local group called the Wilde Flowers, a band that also incubated musicians who went on to Gong, Soft Machine, Hatfield & the North, National Health and others. (The other major Canterbury incubator band was Arzachel/Uriel.)

The band never had a very stable lineup—cousins Dave and Richard Sinclair came and went and came back, and the backbone of the band was really guitarist/vocalist Pye Hastings and drummer Richard Coughlan, the only two members of every version of the band (woodwind player Jimmy Hastings was also a fairly constant presence). 

My favorite Caravan LP is 1973’s For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, which I think does the best job of uniting all of the band’s many tendencies, from jazz-ish improv to hard rock to poppy ballads to classic pomp to dry wit. “Be All Right/Chance of a Lifetime” is a two-part pop suite written by Pye Hastings that contrasts a sharp, aggressive opening movement led by Geoff Richardson’s electric viola with a much more conventional song in the second half, the kind of juxtaposition that made a lifelong prog fan in the first place. 

Mushroom: “The Liathdan” (Early One Morning, 1973)

This one seems right for St. Patrick’s Day. In the 1970s, a whole wave of Irish rock bands worked very hard to incorporate the island’s traditional folk music into their music, with varying degrees of success. Caedmon, Planxty, and Horslips all come to mind, while the Chieftains came at the problem from the other direction, and have made collaborative albums with musicians from all over the world. 

Mushroom was another of these bands. They were certainly not the only band ever called Mushroom—they formed in 1970, so they probably weren’t alone even at the time—but they were one of the better Celtic rock acts, and I think their marriage of the musics is pretty natural. Pat Collins’ Celtic fiddle and Aengus McAnally’s blues-influenced rock guitar make an interesting pair, in part because the styles they draw primarily from rely on different scales.

You can really hear this in the long instrumental intro to “The Liathdan” (I do not know what the title means—a search just brings up an endless stream of references to this song). You get the breakneck reel juxtaposed against the more staccato blues phrasing and it really works. I also like the way Michael Power’s organ part threads between comping that could have come off a ? and the Mysterians album and little fluttering prog runs. 

This kind of hybridization went hand-in-hand with the development of prog rock, much of which looked to European folk forms and classical music for inspiration, but I think it’s fun to hear a dash of garage rock brio smeared on top of something like this, because a lot of bands frankly took their missions of synthesis way too seriously. 

The only unfortunate thing about this song is that the verse isn’t as natural as the meeting of rock and reel—they probably could have made this an instrumental with a different mid-section and it would have worked as well. 

At any rate, this is my St. Patrick’s soundtrack. I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me (the only islands in my ancestry are the Azores), but it still hits the spot. For what it’s worth, Irish music doesn’t seem to be much a part of the celebration where I am anyway. I was down in Ferndale today, and Rosie O’Grady’s had a line out the door, enticed by the plaintive, traditional Irish strains of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money,” which, great song, but if you were going to go with 90s hip-hop, you could have at least played “Jump Around.”