Tag: 1968

Tom Rush – The Circle Game

ARTIST: Tom Rush                        220px-tom_rush_circle

TITLE: The Circle Game

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #68

SINGLES: No Regrets, Something in the Way She Moves

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: He covers three Joni Mitchell songs you may know.

LINEUP: Tom Rush and session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Rush, no slouch as a songwriter, uses songs from others (for the most part) to construct a concept album about a relationship.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tom Rush had a great ear for his fellow singer-songwriters, and plucked tunes from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, among others (mind you, those songwriters were still unknown to the general public) and constructed a song-cycle about a relationship from beginning to end.

Moving from the highs of the beginning of a romance, to the end of the road, then following with a somber instrumental, then with his tour-de-force self-penned “No Regrets”, Rush used the songs from his compatriots to build the concept.

His rich baritone and knack for arrangements and instrumentation and production from Arthur Gorson made this one of the go-to singer-songwriter albums for the folk fans and the more mellow counter-culture.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Linda Eastman (soon to be McCartney) took the iconic cover photograph.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few alternate takes.

 GRADE A: It may seem a bit dated now, but it’s still an elegant song-cycle and “No Regrets” is an all-timer.

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf the Second

ARTIST: Steppenwolf                        220px-SteppenwolfTheSecond

TITLE: The Second

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Magic Carpet Ride (#3)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Radio stayed away from the rest, and still does.

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldie McJohn, Rushton Moreve, Jerry Edmonton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Steppenwolf’s second (hence the title) is lighter at times, more psychedelic, more political, and more of a hodge-podge (and strained through a Leslie, as it were).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Magic Carpet Ride” was a monster hit, of that there is no question, and is one of the best hard psychedelic songs from the era. And at first listen, this record seems like it will be a worthy successor to their first album.

Yet upon more listens, it seems weaker and more unfocused.

The band does try to mix up their sound, getting quieter at times and diminishing the hard sound of the first album. But many of those quieter songs don’t really stand up to scrutiny, with only “28” really being outstanding, while “Tighten Up Your Wig” sounds nice but is a blatant rip of “Messin’ with the Kid”.

The sides end with lengthy tracks. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” is a ham-fisted pro-pot song, while the end of Side Two is a long suite with five tracks that range from hard rockin’ to scarily political. There’s some duds in there which dilute the quality of the suite.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Jerry Edmonton sings two tracks, the openers to each side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: There’s enough good stuff in here to have it over a greatest hits album, but it’s not as good as I thought it was when I was young.

The Monkees – Head

ARTIST: The Monkees                                     220px-Monkees-Head

TITLE:  Head

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #45

SINGLES: Porpoise Song (#62)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Circle Sky

LINEUP: Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and lots of session musicians and actors

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The soundtrack to the Monkees gobsmackingly odd movie is just as odd as the movie.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Porpoise Song” and “Circle Sky” are amongst the Monkees’ best tracks. Peter Tork has a couple of nice songs here as well, and a lot of session and LA musician heavyweights play on this. But it’s…strange.

Of the 14 original tracks, only six are real songs, and one is their “War Chant” which has more significance in the movie than on this soundtrack. One of the real songs is yet another tribute to music of vaudeville – making it the third such ‘tribute’ in a year.

The dialogue in oddly placed, and just makes no sense in context without the movie. I guess this could have been an EP, but the strategy was to have a multi-media experience. But the movie was buried and mostly unseen, and thus this album made no sense to a lot of people and was way way over the head of many of their fans. It’s sad, because “Porpoise Song” and “Circle Sky” deserve more than this.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jack Nicholson was the one who compiled the dialogue and wrote the script for the movie.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: As usual, Rhino documents the heck out of this group. There is a nice live version of “Circle Sky” which shows that the band was competent out on the road.

 GRADE: C-: This is best picked apart, and the good tracks saved and the other stuff just shunted off.

Frank Zappa – We’re Only in It for the Money

ARTIST: Frank Zappa / The Mothers of Invention          220px-Zappamoney1

TITLE:  We’re Only in It for the Money

YEAR RELEASED: 1966

CHART ACTION: #30 US, #31 UK

SINGLES: Lonely Little Girl

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Take Off Your Clothes When You Dance, What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?

LINEUP: Frank Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Ian Underwood, Motorhead Sherwood. Eric Clapton speaks a couple of sentences. No, really, he does.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A tour-de-force put down of the hippie culture from a cynical social commentator. The music is the first hint of Zappa’s advanced sense of composition.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Musically, this is an incredible record – especially given the limited technology in 1968. The pastiches of voices, sounds, and instruments, along with the sophisticated arrangements of tracks like “Mom & Dad”, show Zappa as an innovator on par with the Beatles and Brian Wilson.260px-Zappamoney2

The tracks take direct aim at the hippie and liberal culture of the 60’s, and in retrospect most of it is spot on criticism of the movement. It was one of the first albums that featured curse words in the lyrics and spoken word parts, and Verve Records was not having it. They asked Frank to change some lyrics, and then censored the album after it was delivered (and even more on subsequent pressings). This enraged Zappa, and he never let a company do that again. Thankfully, you can find the uncensored versions out there now.

There are a few really weird noise tracks using the studio as an abstract art canvas. This was probably off-putting to very casual fans, but by now most people who bought the record expected weirdness like “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Zappa and his band were filming a movie (not finished until 1987) and worked on recordings for an large-scale project that spun off four albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. 

GRADE: A+: It’s a shame that Verve decided to censor this in 1968 – even then it was known as a master work of satire.

Steve Miller Band – Sailor

ARTIST: Steve Miller Band                                   220px-SailorMiller

TITLE: Sailor

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #24

SINGLES: Living in the USA (#94)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Quicksilver Girl, Gangster of Love

LINEUP: Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Lonnie Turner, Jim Peterman, Tim Davis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from the Miller group has a couple three songs that have lasted, and a couple that really date it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Miller loves the blues, and his choice of covers here (songs by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Jimmy Reed) prove that. The hit from this album, “Living in the USA” has definite blues / rock elements and sounds like a celebration that the Beach Boys could have used about that time.

Yet, this is 1968, and they were from Frisco, so we were ‘treated’ to “Song for our Ancestors”, which I’ve never understood the appeal of (and I can be swayed by a lot of weird hippie stuff) and by the time it gets into a slow organ-driven jam I’m lost. It bores me, and then it goes into “Dear Mary”, which is soft, sweet song that doesn’t rouse the listener either. The rest of the album is good to great, but I’m defeated by the opening track and asleep with track two. Sequencing, folks!

Boz Scaggs’ has two songs and co-writes a third, and drummer Davis and keyboardist Peterman write and sing one as well. But that band autonomy didn’t result in a band that held together, as 40% of this band wouldn’t make it to 1969 with Miller.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, “Gangster of Love” is here, and it’s a short snipped that almost seems like a joke but the title somehow got pegged on Miller (instead of Watson).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: This got a lot of raves in 1968, but maybe they were OK with an album opening with fog horns and other sounds for almost two minutes.

The Who – Magic Bus: The Who on Tour

ARTIST: The Who                         220px-Who_bus

TITLE: Magic Bus: The Who on Tour

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #39

SINGLES: Magic Bus (#25 US, #26 UK), Call Me Lightning (#40 US), Pictures of Lily (#51 US, #4 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Yeah, because some of these tracks were on other albums, too.

LINEUP: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A cash grab by the US record company, and basically disavowed by the band. BUT, there’s one track that’s totally missing online. And despite the title, it’s NOT live, at all. Yeesh.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Even after the Beatles’ album successes, bands didn’t have control over what their record companies did with their tracks. Decca Records thought that with the success of the single “Magic Bus”, the Who needed a new album.

So they took B-sides, non album A-sides, EP tracks, and three songs from previous albums, and, there’s an 11 track album for the shelves. Never mind the continuity, and that the songs were up to three years old. PRODUCT MAN, PRODUCT!

The songs are pretty great for the most part, and John Entwistle got three tracks here (he was the B-side master of the Who), but there’s no flow, continuity, or purpose except dough for Decca.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One song, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, isn’t streaming and not on any US or UK anthologies. It was the B-side to “Magic Bus” in the UK. Did they forget it?

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 

GRADE: D+: The songs would be a B+ or so, but, even 50 years later, I can’t abide by the profiteering here. These tracks (save one) are found in much better collections and albums.

The Soft Machine – The Soft Machine

ARTIST: The Soft Machine                        The_Soft_Machine-album

TITLE: The Soft Machine

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: No

SINGLES: Joy of a Toy

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, not even if you were a hippie in 1968

LINEUP: Kevin Ayres, Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge. Hugh Hopper was on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A combo of psychedelic rock and jazz (that would evolve into fusion) that was more inspirational than commercial.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Part of the underground scene from Canterbury (the same area that produced Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd), Soft Machine used the jazzy instrumental chops, plus Kevin Ayres and Robert Wyatt’s odd songs and vocals that at times can go into trances with their repeating phrases, to create a unique sound.

This is rather much an outlier in the Soft Machine catalog, but it was probably truer to the original vision of the band. There was more of a focus on songs, even if odd and unnverving, and they definitely sound like a band honed in the same psychedelic clubs as their more famous brethren bands.

Ratledge’s organ and Wyatt’s drums carry the tracks, with Ayers’ bass anchoring it all. These guys can play, it’s just an odd record out of context from the scene. Still, worth hearing for sure.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the band was a quartet with Daevid Allen (later of Gong, which, well, is their own trip, man), but Allen, a Australian, was denied entry back into the UK after a series of shows in Paris. So he stayed in France.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A recent version has their first single appended.

GRADE: A- There’s so many intriguing things about this album, yet it’s quite dated.

The Monkees – The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees

ARTIST: The Monkees               220px-The_Birds,_the_Bees_&_the_Monkees_-_The_Monkees

TITLE: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Daydream Believer (#1 US, #5 UK), Valleri (#3 US, #34 UK), Tapioca Tundra (#34)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really.

LINEUP: Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith. Peter Tork was barely on the album. Each Monkee used their own session men and produced their own tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Here’s where the Monkees start to lose their appeal. It’s a good album, but a letdown from their 1967 work.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a great 1967 musically, the year 1968 started with a couple of hit singles, but then the news that NBC was cancelling the TV show. At this time, the band was around studios in Los Angeles recording the sessions for this album separately, with only a scant few crossovers with other members.

The result is an album that plays it safe AND is experimental, but it’s track for track. Davy Jones sticks to his formula, while Mickey Dolenz stays somewhat in the traditional pop / rock milieu with some psychedelic experimentation, and Mike Nesmith just goes, well, all out weird. (Peter Tork submitted a couple of tracks, but they weren’t chosen at the time for who knows why…)

It’s an album that you need to pick and choose based on your mood. More so than ever, it shows that the Monkees had musical talent, but they weren’t really a band in a true sense of the word.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this album and the news of the cancellation, the Monkees set about to record and film Head, which, is quite the project.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: It seems that every note the Monkees committed to tape has been reissued, and this is true here – multiple editions exist with several bonus tracks and takes and demos.

GRADE: B:  There are some strong songs here, but it’s just all over the place. The cohesion isn’t there.

Steve Miller Band – Children of the Future

ARTIST: Steve Miller Band                       Children_of_the_Future_(Steve_Miller_Band_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE:  Children of the Future

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #134

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Roll with It

LINEUP: Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Lonnie Turner, Jim Peterman, Tim Davis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album mixed the blues and San Francisco psychedelia, and really was all over the place in quality and execution.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Miller migrated out to San Francisco, founded a band that included his old buddy Boz Scaggs, and started to wow some of the hipsters on the scene – so much so that Capitol Records gave them a huge suitcase of money to sign.

Psychedelia being all the rage, Miller and crew augmented his neo-blues songs with psychedelic effects and sounds (like the Mellotron that’s prominent on “In My First Mind” and the whatever-it-is on “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing (Psychedlic BB)”.

Side one was a suite, and while side two linked together it wasn’t as thematic (or weird) as the first side. Scaggs’ “Baby’s Calling Me Home” and the wonderful B-side (why B-side?) “Roll with It” and ending with a mournful “Key to the Highway”, the second side was probably more in line with expectations.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Despite the psychedelic leanings, many of these songs were written while Miller was a janitor in a studio.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, one release with the non-album A-side to their debut single.

GRADE: B-:  The ending of the first side tests my patience. It’s 12 minutes of psychedelic noodling that goes on way too long.

The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers

ARTIST: The Byrds                                    220px-NotoriousByrdBrothers

TITLE:  The Notorious Byrd Brothers

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #47 US, #12 UK

SINGLES: Goin’ Back (#89)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Draft Morning, Wasn’t Born to Follow, Change Is Now

LINEUP: Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, David Crosby. Michael Clarke on some tracks. Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine filled in when Clarke was out. Other musicians: Clarence White, James Burton, Red Rhodes, Paul Beaver, Gary Usher, the Firesign Theatre, and more.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The true end of the first Byrds era. A crumbling band puts together their best, most consistent record despite it all.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: David Crosby was kicked out midway through the sessions. Michael Clarke left the sessions for a while, and then came back. Gene Clark joined for two weeks and left again. Still, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman persevered and created probably the best Byrds album.

“Goin’ Back” is a classic of harmony and arrangement, “Wasn’t Born to Follow” the same with its flangers and phase shifters, “Draft Morning” is poignant, somber and somewhat peaceful despite the subject matter. “Dolphin’s Smile”, “Change Is Now”, “Old John Robertson”, etc. etc. there are so many winners and classic cuts here. Top 40 radio left the Byrds behind, but they were moving towards cultural significance more than pop sales.

Only the concluding cut holds it back, a moog synthesized sea shanty about space exploration. A weird final cut is pretty much par for their course Still, ten out of 11 excellent cuts and a perfect time period piece.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Wasn’t Born to Follow” was chosen for the Easy Rider soundtrack and plays a prominent role in the movie

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, early tracks, outtakes, and a hidden track of an argument where David Crosby picks on Michael Clarke about his drumming.

GRADE: A:  As close to perfect as the Byrds get.