Monday, 23 November 2020

Ten Years After

For years I thought Ten Years After were an American blues rock band. They had that sort of Woodstock-ish late sixties/early seventies Allman Brothers thing about them....

Ten Years After (1967)

....they were actually British and released this, their debut album, in October 1967, at the point where the Rolling Stones-Them-Yardbirds-Kinks British blues-r'n'b boom was beginning to merge into what became known as blues rock. In that respect they led the way, along with Cream, of course. The album is made up of a mixture of blues covers and original material.

This is a really good album, featuring superb instrumentation, a solid blues sound and really good stereo, for 1967. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. It has a typically freaky sixties cover too, which is always a good thing. The album, though, is much less far out, (man) than the cover suggests, being totally steeped in the blues. I Want To Know kicks the album off in barnstorming style - rocking blues of the highest order. Check out that guitar solo mid-song. Excellent. Al Kooper's I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes is a slow-paced, bassy organ-driven number. It is full of brooding late night atmosphere. Listen to the guitar-drums-keyboard-bass interplay in the middle of the song. It is outstanding, and has a great sound quality too. 

Adventures Of A Young Organ is a groovy little organ instrumental with a poppy, jazzy sound of the kind that The Style Council's Mick Talbot would reproduce in the early eighties. It is most enjoyable and, again, the stereo sound is impressive. Willie Dixon's Spoonful is again led off by the organ, this time together with a big, deep, guitar-powered blues sound accompanying it. Once more it cooks from beginning to end, although it has a bit of a studio jam feeing about it. Nothing wrong with that, though, it was beginning to be all the rage. Indeed, Cream also covered the song on their Fresh Cream album. 

Losing The Dogs is a frantic piece of rollocking piano, guitar and whistling (!) fun that sounds like Dr. Feelgood - dare I say ten years before. Feel It For Me grinds and bubbles along in a broodingly bluesy style with singer Alvin Lee sounding a bit like The Doors' Jim Morrison. Love Until I Die is a short but very catchy upbeat blues featuring some fine blues harmonica. Don't Want You Woman is a melodic acoustic blues with vague hints of Canned Heat 's Going Up The Country about it. The album's big cornerstone was the slow, creeping bluesy menace of Help Me, which surely inspired Led Zeppelin. It is full of stabbing guitar interjections, killer soloing, a great bluesy vocal and a rumbling, deep bass. It was a fine end to a really impressive debut album, and one which doesn't get mentioned much, which is a shame. 

Undead (1968)

This was an important live album in the development of Ten Years After, helping publicise them in the UK and also develop their fanbase in the US. It was recorded in a small jazz club called Klooks Kleek, in London, in May 1968. 

The original album contained only the first five tracks listed above, none of which had appeared on the band's debut album and they are all extended, jam-style workouts, incorporating blues, rock and jazz to great effect. Also Included is the rocking I'm Going Home, which they played at 1969's Woodstock festival. It remained one of their most popular live tracks thereafter. 

Spider In My Web is also a solid piece of blues rock, while Summertime-Shantung Cabbage contains the obligatory, for the time, drum solo. Overall, it is a fine, enjoyable listen, with a good love atmosphere, despite a few sound drop-outs in places. They add to the live feeling anyway. The best way of listening to the album is with the extra tracks from the set added. Rock Your Mama, Spoonful and Standing At The Crossroads being particularly impressive. 

Stonedhenge (1969)

Ten Years After were well on board the blues rock train before this, their second studio album, from early 1969, but here we are given an offering that is not without a large dose of freaky psychedelia and jazzy influences too. It is certainly well versed in the spirit of 1968-69, in many different ways. It is definitely not as outright a blues rock album as you might have expected it to be, especially given the band’s bluesy debut. Far from it, in fact. It is a bit of an eclectic mish-mash. The album is also interjected in places with four short solo spots - piano, vocals, drums and bass which tend to detract from any cohesion the album may have had. 

Going To Try is a rousing, slightly experimental, ad hoc-style piece of psychedelic blues, loaded with crazy guitar breaks, madcap organ and frantic percussion. It has a lot of cross-pollenation influence from contemporaries Cream. I Can’t Live Without Lydia is a slightly incongruous and brief slice of piano indulgence before we get the jazzy, very Georgie Fame strains of Woman Trouble. It is all very late night, smoky jazz club with some of those trademark “vibes” keyboard sounds from that style of music. You get a fine bass solo on the track too, interplayed with some rat-a-tat drumming. 

Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob continues the jazzy thing on a short piece of “scat” vocal indulgence which is, to be honest, irritating and pointless. This reminds me of the beginning of Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy album when similar wasteful tracks appeared before the better stuff arrived. Thankfully, everything gets back on the right track on the irresistible blues riffage of Hear Me Calling. Its easily recognisable riff was covered by Slade (along with the song of course) and was the opener to their 1972 live album.

A Sad Song is a deep, bassy slow blues rock grinder of a track before another short interlude in Three Blind Mice, this time featuring the drums. No Title drifts along slowly for a few minutes before some seriously aggressive guitar launches itself upon us, along with some unleashed organ. It is a rambling, largely instrumental track that sums up the extended “jamming” trends of the time, but although I quite like it, I accept that it doesn’t go anywhere. That organ solo is decidedly proggy too, isn’t it? The bass-drum battle at the end is great though. 

Faro is another of those short solo spots - this time the bass. The album ends with a lively bluesy rock number in Speed Kills. In summing up, I have to say that there is probably only one really good track in Hear Me Calling another ok couple in Woman Trouble and A Sad Song. The group’s debut was much better. By the way, the album sounds much better in stereo than mono. 

Ssssh (1969)

This was Ten Years After’s third album, from 1969, and it was far more rocking than the previous one, which had dabbled in jazz and psychedelia. This was far heavier fare. 

Bad Scene is an almost punky thrash to open with, featuring some caustic guitar, frantic drumming and a strange rock ‘n’ roll change of pace in the middle. It sort of defies description - it is not blues rock, or country rock or the psychedelic jazzy stuff from the previous album. As I said, for 1969, it is certainly proto-punk. 

Two Time Mama is a slice of country blues with that Canned  Heat Going Up The Country high pitched vocal style. Stoned Woman is as heavy as the band had been thus far, full of cutting rock guitar and a big, chunky drum sound. Play it loud snd feel your speakers shake. That guitar is positively incendiary too. The tour de force of the old ‘side one’ is a stonking version of the much-covered Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. Singer Alvin Lee lustily sings “I wanna ball you all night long”. Hmmmm. Not sure he would get away with that now, but it was acceptably down ‘n’ dirty then. Get a load of the guitar and bass jousting mid-song. Superb. I love this to death.

If You Should Love Me is a catchy, buzzy rocker with a hippy-ish melody. Strangely, its chord progressions remind me of Oasis. Again, despite its repetitive refrain, there is something irresistible about it. 

I Don’t Know That You Don’t Know My Name sees a return to the era’s dreamy, hippy vibes on a quiet, acoustic-based number that has a gently infectious ambience to it, providing a brief let-up from the more powerful material. The Stomp is a swampy, insistent groove with Lee sounding as if  he was from the Southern States as opposed to the UK. It reminds me a lot of The Rolling Stones Shake Your Hips, which of course was still three years away, so that song sounded like this. I Woke Up This Morning is a robust, industrial strength serving of relentless mid-pace, guitar-powered blues rock that cooks on the highest setting all the way through. Proper, no-nonsense stuff. Play it loud.

Cricklewood Green (1970)

This album, from 1970, is a fine example of early seventies bluesy rock, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't require a huge amount of written analysis, really. It is one of those albums that can just be put on, enjoyed for what it is and not ruminated upon over and over. 

Sugar The Road is a riffy, cowbell-powered and extremely catchy rocker to open with. It has an appealing bassy thump to it. and lots of killer guitar breaks. It rocks from the first note. Great start. The upbeat vibe continues on the rolling rock of Working On The Road, with its frantic but still bluesy sound. The tempo drops for the slow, lengthy but still muscular sound of 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain - what a typically late sixties/early seventies title. There is a very slight hint of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil in the verse melody. The guitar work near the end is awesome too, again very similar to that which features in the afore-mentioned song.

Year 3,000 Blues is a jaunty serving of rollicking, country-influenced barroom blues, which sort of reminds of something The Grateful Dead may have done at the time. Me And My Baby is also a blues - this time featuring a jazzy groove to it. It is full of excellent organ and guitar and a bit of an Allman Brothers Band feel to it. 

The album's best-known track was the robust seven minutes-plus blues grind of Love Like A Man. It is a track that chugs along with a reassuring bassy depth to it and a confident, gruff vocal from Alvin Lee. It is a classic example of both its era and its genre. Once more, the guitar solo, mid song, is superb, as is the bass-drum interplay around five minutes in. They loved this sort of thing in 1970. Circles is a quiet, acoustic ballad to give a slight change in atmosphere. As The Sun Still Burns Away has a psychedelic late sixties feel to it with organ and guitar swirling around, hazily. This was quite a short album by modern standards but it certainly does its job and survives as a fine example of its time. I really like it. It is one of those albums one puts on and it just sounds great.

Watt (1970)

The strangely-titled Watt was Ten Years After's second album of 1970 and followed very much in the bluesy rock footsteps of its predecessor. It is a fine album, with excellent sound quality and a really appealing early seventies vibe to it. 

I'm Coming On is a mouth-wateringly fuzzy, riffy rocker of an opener that screams '1970' with every chunky note. There is something about this powerful period rock that I just love. It is sweaty, solid and drips with testosterone. There is some awesome lead guitar and rumbling bass too, something that I'm a sucker for, as regular readers will know. Add to that some pounding drums and insistent organ and any seventies rock fan can't go far wrong. 

My Baby Left Me is a confident rock ballad that ups its pace as it progresses, with Alvin Lee sounding a bit like Velvet Underground-era Lou Reed on the vocals in some places. As with the opening track, it rocks purposefully from note one. The laid-back but dignified Think About The Times is beautifully bassy and again serves as a perfect example of its musical period. I Say Yeah is an organ and piano-driven chugger with a vaguely funky feel and a strong vocal. There also is a strange backing instrument used that sounds like one of those springy door stoppers. It eventually morphs into like a didgeridoo meeting a wah-wah guitar. This is another track that I really like.  

The Band With No Name is a brief instrumental that takes its inspiration from the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of the time. Gonna Run is a nice piece of brooding blues rock that turns into a jazzy jam after a while. The group did this ‘jam’ thing really well in the same way that The Allman Brothers did. The album’s longest track is the slightly sixties-influenced and most inviting groove of She Lies In The Morning. Get a load of those rhythmic drum breaks. They remind me of The Grateful Dead’s cover of Good Lovin’. The bass, piano and guitar interplay half way through is superb as is Lee’s guitar soloing. There is also something Hendrix-ish about the spacey bit near the end. What an underrated band TYA were. The album closes with a live cut from the summer of 1970’s Isle Of Wight festival - a cover of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen.  It is delivered in enthusiastic heavy rock fashion, as you would expect from a seventies festival. Freak out, man. 

A Space In Time (1971)

From October 1971, this was said to be TYA’s Led Zeppelin III - a largely acoustic, folky album. This was true to a certain extent, but do not let this blind you to the fact that there was also some heavy stuff on here too. The acoustic material had a strength to it as well, making this certainly no wishy-washy offering, as indeed Zeppelin’s one wasn’t either. Although acoustic guitars were used, it still sounds like convincing, ballsy early seventies rock to me. Much seventies rock went on to merge acoustic and electric instrumentation as the decade progressed so this can be seen as quite influential.

One Of These Days is a powerful slow serving of blues rock that features some searing, choppy guitar interjections. The blues riffage is everything a fan of this sort of thing wants, as is the harmonica. This is as heavy as anything else the band had done. Here They Come is an essentially acoustic number, but it is heavy acoustic, if you get my drift, with deep bass and an overall reverb-y sound. 

The ecologically idealistic and typically early seventies I’d Love To Change The World was actually the group’s only hit. It has a late sixties Lennon-Beatles influence as well as a freakbeat feel all over it. If anything, it almost sounds a few years behind its time. Feast your ears on Alvin Lee’s killer guitar as the song progresses, though. Lyrically, the song wants to tax the rich, feed the poor and stop the war - all laudable idealisms from the era. 

Over The Hill has a Small Faces sound to it, along with some Rolling Stones circa 1966-67 string orchestration that once again renders the song a little dated. Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘n’ Roll You jolts us back to 1971 with some short, sharp hard rocking. Once There Was A Time is a maudlin piece of barroom blues that throbs and moans over a solid drum and piano backing. Again, this has more oomph than you would expect from the acoustic beginning. The rock bit reminds me of The Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

Let The Sky Fall is great, with a totally infectious bluesy riff and a perfect merging of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. As sublime a 1971 rock track it would be difficult to equal. Man, those drums are wonderful too. Hard Monkeys is another fine example of electric-acoustic interplay. It reminds me of Traffic’s No Face, No Name, No Number. It gives us some seriously good fuzzy guitar. Also in a Traffic style is the pleasing mid-pace rock of I’ve Been There Too. At the risk of repeating myself, I love this stuff. Uncle Jam signs off with the band revisiting their liking for loose, jazzy jams on a shortish workout. Both this and its predecessor, Watt, were highly impressive albums, for me, anyway. Then again, they were to my taste so I would say that, obviously.

Rock & Roll Music To The World (1972)

This album came out in 1972, when glam, prog and glam-related rock ruled the music world. Bluesy and riffy rock was now becoming a bit passe, but this should not have mattered and indeed it probably didn’t as there were plenty of fans around who were turned on by this. Despite that, though, it seemed to go under the radar somewhat, even though some efforts were made to win over the prog crowd in places. By and large, though, it is simply a big monster of a riffy rock album. I love it. It is probably my favourite of their albums.

You Give Me Loving (such a seventies title) starts with some strange gurgling noises before a huge chunky riff kicks in and we are treated to some classic eagrly seventies rock. It is the perfect blend of solid drums, guitar, bass snd keyboards, topped off with a strong rock vocal. It doesn’t get much better as an example of its genre. Feast your ears on the mid sing guitar, bass and cymbals interplay - wonderful. The sound is superb and makes your whole room vibrate.

Convention Prevention has a great introductory drumbeat and an Eric Clapton feel about it. It merges acoustic and electric guitars effectively and the organ breaks positively soar. Again there is a stonking guitar solo to be enjoyed. I should have paid this more attention at the time but I was too into my Bowie and Roxy Music. Turned Off T.V. Blues is as formulaically bluesy as you would expect it to be from its title, chugging firmly along. TYA always liked their blues and they don’t disappoint on this muscular number. Alvin Lee’s guitar work is breathtaking once more. He was truly underrated. 

Standing At The Station is a TYA classic and rightly so, bristling with brooding bluesy-prog rock vitality. The highlights are its infectious beat, big rubbery bass and wild, Deep Purple-esque organ. You Can’t Win Them All is riffy heaven, rocking from minute one with a Faces-Ronnie Lane style vocal. This was nearly fifty years ago now and it still sounds so fresh and alive. Yes, I can be accused of living in the past, but if the past is as good as this, then that’s fine by me.

Religion has a bass line to die for, an atmospheric guitar and vocal backing and an overall Free vibe to it. Next up is another TYA fans favourite, the rocking Choo Choo Mama, which is the album’s most upbeat and lively rocker. Never mind choo choo, Lordy mama that mid-song guitar rocks. Actually, the next track, Tomorrow I’ll Be Out Of Town, rocks almost as energetically. Two killer rocking tracks in a row. 

This excellent album ends with guess what? You got it - more top class riffage on Rock & Roll Music To The World, which is sort like a slowed down Status Quo meeting The Rolling Stones. This album just lifts my spirits. I wish I had known it for the last fifty years.

Positive Vibrations (1974)

This album signified the end of the road for the excellent Ten Years After. Shortly after its release, in 1974, they split up. It has attracted criticisms along the lines of it sounding tired and uninspired and I can sort of understand that but it is still played with a high degree of competence and it sounds fine to me. It was beginning to sound a bit dated, however, as all the energy of glam rock was bouncing all around, or even the indulgence and innovation of prog rock was making boogie-rock like this feel very pedestrian and old hat. Although I like it, I accept that it probably struggled for relevance in 1974. 

Nowhere To Run is a brooding number with some Hendrix-style riffs and a funky clavinet-powered undertow to it. It rocks chuggingly along, with the now obligatory great guitar solo in the middle. Positive Vibrations is laid-back typical mid-seventies rock balladry. It sounds like something Bad Company would do in subsequent years. A similar feel can be found on Stone Me, which boats a killer blues harmonica/guitar bit mid-song. The accusation of tiredness can probably be validly levelled at the sleepy Without You, which reminds me of some of the material on Mott The Hoople's 1971 Wildlife album. However,  that torpor is immediately blown away by a breakneck, rocking cover of Little Richard's Going Back To Birmingham.

It's Getting Harder is a breezy piece of funk rock too and You're Driving Me Crazy also rocks energetically. Look Into My Life is a muscular piece of typical TYA mid-pace rock. I is ok, but there is something of a rock-by-numbers ordinariness about it. Look Me Straight Into The Eyes is cut from a similar cloth and it overstays its welcome slightly in its six plus minutes. It would have been fine in 1971 but not by 1974. It features one of those very (by now) dated Deep Purple-ish organ soloes. I Wanted To Boogie rocks enthusiastically enough and that was it for this excellent group. TYA wanted to boogie back in 1967 and they didn't disappoint, that was for sure. This album was a half-baked farewell, but they can be forgiven.


Regarding compilations, they are quite difficult to get hold of, but two good ones are:-

Related posts :-
Led Zeppelin

Friday, 20 November 2020


Three albums from this innovatory artist....

Mellow Gold (1994)

This was Beck's debut album, from 1994, and it was a clever cornucopia of rock, funk, rap, dance, psychedelia and even a bit of folky acousticness.


It has always sounded to me in places like Oasis meeting Prince and getting a singer to rap, with Elvis Costello to write the often wry lyrics. Genres and influences are fused willy-nilly it seems. Yes, it is completely eclectic and very difficult to categorise but is, by the same logic, also very unique. Look, I don't know a huge bunch about Beck or his work, but I have three of his albums that I picked up cheap, so I'll give it a go, reviewing what I hear. I am no Bexpert, though. 

Loser blends acoustic and electric guitars with dance beats and pounding drums, along with gruff rapped-out vocals. It is a fuzzy, thumping urban nightmare of a track. The acoustic but robust Pay No Mind (Snoozer) sounds like Lou Reed in both its delivery and lyrical cynicism. Nice harmonica solo on there too. The gloriously-titled Fuckin' With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock) is suitably psychedelic - the wayward, drugged-up child of the young 1968 crowd. It features some excellent guitar swirling all over it and a couple of Beatles-esque breaks in the vocals. It even departs into some bluesy riffing mid-song. Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997 (title date set in the future) almost sounds like John Mellencamp at the beginning, before it becomes a sombre, sonorous Joy Division-like dirge. 

Soul Suckin' Jerk is full-on urban rap, enhanced by some interesting background noises and a delicious big rumbling bass. Truck Drivin' Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat) is a fuzzy, dense migraine of a track with some amusing lyrics about the song's subjects. The industrial grind continues on the bleak noise of Sweet Sunshine and the ambience is cleared somewhat on the bassily attractive groove of Beercan - listen to the bit around 1:45. Great stuff. Steal My Body Home is a bleak, once again dirge-like number. It has that Talking Heads on The Overload miserable vibe to it. It includes those false scratching noises that were so popular at the time and also ends with a bizarre kazoo solo. 

The acoustic and witty Nitemare Hippy Girl is another very Lou Reed-ish song, with hints of The Kinks in there too. The Velvet Underground (obviously) and early seventies David Bowie float around in the song as well. "She's got tofu the size of Texas" is a great line. Some serious guitar fuzz introduces the garage assault of Mutherfucker (surely an ironic title). "Everyone's out to get you mutherfucker" wails the lyric - I'm sure this was all tongue-in-cheek. The album ends with the late sixties druggy-influenced morbid sound of Blackhole, a track that moans on way too long. Of the three Beck albums I own, this is by far my least favourite. It has some good points and it is certainly most unique, but it is a trying listen, for me anyway. Would I pick this to listen to for forty minutes of pleasure over many other albums? No. Would I vaguely enjoy one of its tracks if they came up on a random playlist of mine? Yes. 

Odelay (1996)

This was the Beck album, from 1996, that seemed to be everywhere - you couldn't go far in any music store without seeing that odd-looking dog of the cover. It became an acceptable and trendy album to say you liked and Beck's unique brand of jackdaw-like genre-dipping became something that pushed everyone's buttons. The album constantly appeared in 'best of' lists for 1996. I didn't get it for several year after that, getting it for next to nothing once it had hit the bargain bins. 

As with his debut album, this, his fourth offering, was full of the now expected merging of rock,  dance, psychedelia, garage, punk, rap and whatever else Beck decided to chuck in. It is a much more appealing offering than Mellow Gold, though, in my opinion. I find that album a bit of a chore to get through, to be honest, whereas this one flows much easier through my hearing system. It is less discordant and the whole thing has more cohesion as an album. There is a vibrant, pulsating electricity to the album that no doubt contributed to its popularity. That said, I was never quite sure exactly who it appealed to, but there were obviously lots of people, as it sold bucketloads. 

Devil's Haircut is an infectious bassy and grungy grinder of a track, featuring sufficient dance beats to interest that crowd as well as the indie lot. Hotwax is a rap-influenced solid groove with some resonant bass and fuzzy, scratchy guitar. I always quite enjoy both these tracks. Lord Only Knows has Beck dabbling in a vaguely country blues sound, not for the first time, in another Velvet Underground-influenced song. It also has hints of some of The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet material and also, more strongly, Live With Me from Let It Bleed. The New Pollution is a great track, full of druggy late sixties Beatles influence and some infectious saxophone and organ sounds. It is a great piece of 'new psychedelia'. 

Derelict has a thoroughly intoxicating deep rhythm to it and some very late sixties Eastern-sounding instrumentation. There are hints of Talking Heads in there too and also of Kate Bush's experimental late seventies/early eighties work. Novacane is a riffy, grungy industrial rap number that ends up as a deliciously psychedelic workout. The bass line near the end surely comes from Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone From The Sun. Jack-Ass samples Them's version of It's All Over Now Baby Blue and Beck delivers an enjoyably laconic, Lou Reed-style vocal. It also reminds me of U2 for some reason. That bass line near the end is superb too, as is the bluesy harmonica.

The rap-rock DJ vibe of Where It's At brings to mind something with its organ backing that I can't put my finger on. Whatever, it is a darkly enticing number. Minus has a frantic, punk-style riffy backing and similar vocals, along with some scratchy noises as well. It rocks big time, albeit briefly. Sissyneck explores a twangy country sound alongside its contemporary dance-y shuffle. Beck dipped his hands into all sorts of stuff. The crackly groove of Readymade has another of those irresistible bass lines, plus some fine buzzy guitar. High 5 (Rock The Catskills) is a fuzzy piece of rock-rap, Ramshackle dips into a mellow, reflective folky sound. Overall, an interesting creative melange and much more listenable than Mellow Gold.

Midnite Vultures (1999)

The other Beck album that I own is Midnite Vultures, from 1999, which is easily the most accessible of the three of his offerings that I have. He channels his inner Prince and blatantly adopts his style and delivery on occasions, yet got away with it. The album is full of enjoyable funky, innovative pop. It is by far my favourite of the Beck albums that I am familiar with. 

Standout tracks are the brassy, poppy Sexx Laws; the brooding, scratchy funk of Nicotine & Gravy (which sounds like Prince meeting late eighties-era Little Steven); the infectious, rubbery funk of Get Real Paid; the most obviously Prince-inspired track, Peaches & Cream and the deliciously riffy but funky Broken Train.

The funky Mixed Bizness is lyrically witty and musically quirky, with more Little Steven-style beats and vocals (listen to the latter's Revolution album and you will know what I mean). Hollywood Freaks taps into slow-groove hip-hop beats and uses rap-inspired vocals. Great bass on it too. Milk & Honey has some big riffing on it, along with a jerky but totally infectious beat. It is a bit Talking Heads-esque. Beautiful Way has a mysterious, slightly African-style percussion sound to it together with a sleepy, beguiling vocal. It reminds me slightly of U2.

Pressure Zone features some great guitar and Debra finds Beck going full on Prince, sexy mode style, as well as being backed by a beautiful bass. It also features one of those irritating "false" endings, where the track lasts twelve minutes but seven minutes or so is silence until in the last minute you get some pumping instrumental. All pretty pointless. That is a minor gripe, however, because all the tracks are good, to be honest, dripping with funky inventive verve. I really, really like this album, yet I have probably written more about the others. Odd that, and is something that often happens. The quirky, varied aspects of the others seemed to demand more comment.

Check out sometime Beck influencer Prince's work here :-

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Rare Earth

Rare Earth were a Motown rarity in that they were an all-white, initially five (soon to be six) piece multi-instrumental band that specialised in lengthy jam-style rock workouts and catchy cover versions of other songs (including Motown ones)....

Get Ready (1969)

....despite their obvious incongruity they were relatively successful, notching up a few Top 40 hits in the late sixties-early seventies. This was their second album and a mighty interesting thing it is too. Their first album, from 1968, seems to have slipped under the radar and is pretty difficult to source these days. 

Magic Key was a lively, pounding opener, full of bristling fuzzy guitar, thumping drums, country rock-sounding "doo-doo" backing vocals and a late sixties freaky vibe, both in the music and the lyrics. It is almost psychedelic in places, as well as freakbeat-ish. It is a notable Motown rarity, for me and well worthy of credibility being bestowed upon it. It rocks punchily from beginning to end. Next up is a version of the much-covered Tobacco Road, slowed down to almost walking pace here, backing by some swirling Deep Purple-style organ. Check out the searing guitar interjection a minute in and the seriously deep, insistent bass line. It is full of soul and rock power, merged perfectly in true 1969 fashion. You almost expect Joe Cocker or David Clayton-Thomas to take over on vocals. The saxophone solo is great too and the freaky organ solo. Really impressive stuff. It is rock, though, certainly not Motown. Feelin' Alright is a grinding, funky, wah-wah driven cover of Traffic's classic, and again much-covered 1968 song. This sort of track would seem to be tailor-made for Rare Earth's solid, organ-powered sound. 

In Bed is a deliciously deep, bassy shorter number with hints of Blood, Sweat & Tears and early Chicago about it. Once more the fuzz guitar is outstanding. I think CCS must have taken some inspiration from this too. The lyrics say "we're born in bed, in bed we die". Indeed. Train To Nowhere is an upbeat, organ-led very late sixties rocker. It features some fine rolling drums, a great guitar solo and that far-out organ. It is so very 1969. The highlight of the album is that now-extinct beast, a side long twenty-three minute track. It is a cover of The Temptations' Get Ready and, from a slow, laid-back beginning, it bursts out into a powerful rendition. Some live crowd noises are dubbed on to give the impression that it is live but it was in fact a studio recording. It is overflowing with various superb solos - saxophone, lead guitar, organ, drums and a killer bass one and it also features some captivating percussion throughout. While it is instrumentally mightily impressive it is also a pretty long listen, unless you're doing something else at the same time. Overall, this is a most intriguing album from Motown that had precious little in common with anything else on the label.

Ecology (1970) 

This album, from 1970, found Rare Earth merging their robust rock-soul-funk sound with contemporaneously popular themes of cultural awareness and concern for the future of the planet. The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth, Curtis Mayfield and latterly Marvin Gaye were all recording similar material in this period. 

Born To Wander was a successful single and it is irresistibly funky - loaded with massive guitar riffs, rampant rock organ breaks, great percussion, flute and a vocal that sounds like Paul Rodgers of Free. This is a fine example of late sixties-early seventies funk-rock at its best. That statement can also be applied to the magnificent bassy rock punch of Long Time Leavin’, which is simultaneously soulful and bluesy rocking, again in that Free way. This is as far from archetypal Motown as you could get but it doesn’t detract from its stupendousness. Even better is the group’s massive, powerful extended take on The Temptations’ (I Know) I’m Losing You, which is ten minutes of titanic rock-soul. It would seem to be tailor-made for Rare Earth. Like The Undisputed Truth, they knew how to cover and enhance a Temptations song to perfection. No doubt because they were all produced by Norman Whitfield. The vocal (from, I think, Gil Bridges) could be David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears, it is that strong. Check out that guitar, drums and organ interplay at five minutes in. The guitar solo at nine minutes is incendiary. This has to go down as one of the greatest covers of a Motown song in existence. Sensational.

Also outstanding is the next track, Satisfaction Guaranteed, (not the Harold Melvin song). It positively boils over from the outset with cookin’ funky rock rhythm, buzzy guitar, insistent organ and superb vocals. It is another classic of its genre and era. Nice Place To Visit is a searing, thumpingly heavy rocker that expresses those afore-mentioned ecological concerns. That is quality muscular issue-driven rock. “Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here” says the lyric. Quite. A wonderful piece of guitar introduces the typically late sixties-early seventies Chicago-influenced upbeat groove of No. 1. Man. There are hints of freakbeat and psychedelic rock in here too. Once again it possesses a killer guitar solo. These guys could play, for sure. Everyone did Beatles covers at the time, didn’t they? The group take on Eleanor Rigby and turn it into an eight minute Blood, Sweat & Tears soulful workout. It sort of works because of the group’s power, but it loses the original’s sad plaintiveness, taking some of the meaning from the lyrics.  This was a fine, innovative album that outdid its predecessor, for me.

** Interesting non-album material from the period was the dreamy hippiness of Generation (Light Up The Sky) and When Joanie Smiles; the Hendrix-influenced rock of Here Comes The Night; the chunky ecological grind of Hey Big Brother; the melodic, chilled-out acoustic vibe of Love Shines Down; the top notch funky instrumental Fresh From The Can and the smouldering bassy funk of Chained. There was almost enough for another album in this lot.  

One World (1971)

This was Rare Earth's fourth album, from 1971, and did not garner as many rave reviews as its two predecessors. It is ok, but it does lack something of the vibrant uniqueness of those two albums. The musicianship is still top drawer, however. 

What'd I Say is indeed the Ray Charles song but, to. be totally honest, it sounds nothing like it. In places you get a riff or two that you recognise but it is pretty much like a Rare Earth original. Whatever, it is a seven minute plus rocking workout that utilises both the group's instrumental prowess and their irrepressible energy. The jazzy bit about three minutes in is excellent. If I Die is a contemporarily-relevant anti-war number delivered in a typically early seventies rock fashion, a bit like something Derek & The Dominoes may have done, featuring lots of backing vocals. The Seed expresses ecological concerns that were also popular at the time on a confident bit of soulful rock, featuring a great guitar solo.

I Just Want To Celebrate was the album's successful single and it is a few minutes of fuzzy guitar rock mixed with soul rhythms. There are hints of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival in its rock parts, and Sly & The Family Stone and The Jackson 5 in its soul. Someone To Love is a rather ordinary track redeemed by a superb bit of bass-drum-organ interplay in the middle. Any Man Can Be A Fool is a very 1971-sounding serving of mid-pace rock driven along by an acoustic riff and some fine organ. The fuzzy but slightly uninspired rock of The Road and the pleasantly riffy Under God's Light end what was a somewhat underwhelming album that certainly does not merit a play above its two forerunners. Oh, and the cover was awful too. 

Willie Remembers (1972)

This album, from 1972, was the first to find Rare Earth featuring all their own work with no cover versions. Although not a successful album, it was, for me, an improvement on the previous one. It was pretty much an archetypal early seventies boogie rock album, though, despite being on the Motown label. The funk and soul had been left behind, it seems.

Good Time Sally is a typical piece of early seventies riffy rock that certainly contains none of the soul or funk influence of much of the group's output. It rocks solidly, full of riffs and cowbell hits and concerns a good time girl, a common theme for the period. A bit more funk is found on Every Now And Then We Get To Go On Down To Miami but it is still more of a punchy rock song than anything else. It has vague hints of Little Feat about it. It features a nice bit of bass-drum-vocal interplay in the middle of the song. Think Of The Children is a laid-back America-style ballad concerning ecological issues, another popular subject at the time. A nice saxophone solo enhances the song along with a great organ solo.

Gotta Get Myself Back Home is a copper-bottomed guitar-driven on-the-road barroom rocker that contains some rollicking piano. It's a good one. Come With Your Lady is chunky, mid-pace dense rock enlivened by a fine guitar solo. Some funky congas arrive at the end, but too late to have a notable effect. Would You Like To Come Along is inoffensive enough, but its AOR feel is certainly nothing special. Once again, however, the group's instrumental ability raises the song higher than it probably deserves - great piano, bass and guitar this time. Finally, some funky wah-wah arrives on the excellent funk rock of We're Gonna Have A Good Time. It has a bit of a Chicago feel about it in its jazzy vocal improvisation. The final track, I Couldn't Believe What Happened Last Night, is a twelve minute-plus serving of Rare Earth rock jamming with hints of Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers and Chicago in there along with a bit of Tower Of Power. It is full of impressive soloing - including some Deep Purple-style organ - as you would expect. Does it get anywhere? No, not really, but that's not the point. This is what Rare Earth did best and they did it supremely well. Best track on the album. This album did not match albums two and three in the band's canon but it certainly had more quality and cohesion than its predecessor.

Ma (1973)

This was Rare Earth's final album on Motown, from 1973, and it saw them re-united with Norman Whitfield, who wrote the album's five songs and produced it. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the old Temptations/Undisputed Truth vibe is back with songs done by them previously and delivered with Rare Earth's solid rock-soul-funk soul sound, fine-tuned by Whitfield's production. It is when they were like this that Rare Earth were at their absolute best, their own rockier, AOR material didn't quite match up.

Before I discuss the songs, as a brief aside, it has to said, though, that the album's cover was completely bizarre. 

Ma is a truly magnificent seventeen minute cover of The Tempatations' tale of honest, hardworking backwoods Ma. It is overflowing with instrumental and vocal brilliance - searing guitar licks, pounding drums, rumbling bass, clunking piano, funky wah-wah and a killer soulful vocal. After a couple of patchy-ish largely self-penned albums, this was Rare Earth back to doing what they did better than anything - extended, instrumentally shimmering covers of existing songs, giving them a feeling and sound all of their own. This is simply wonderful and, in many ways, outdoes even the original. Rock-soul of the highest quality - just superb.

Oh lordy - just listen to that bass line that introduces the upbeat, brassy funky soul of Big John Is My Name. Wonderful. There is considerably more funk to be found in the two tracks so far on this album than on the whole of the two previous offerings put together. Smiling Faces Sometimes, made famous by The Undisputed Truth, is slowed down to a seductive pot boiling funky groove. Hum Along And Dance, done by The Temptations and The Jackson 5, is given a frantic, almost Deep Purple-esque organ-powered makeover. When the soulful vocal kicks it grabs you firmly by the balls. Those huge riffs too. Lord have mercy. Help yourself to a little of the bass and percussion on offer here, and that kick-ass guitar solo too. Come With Me is a seductive, acoustic and wah-wah backed instrumental whose only vocals are the unmistakable sounds of female sexual pleasure, and not just a bit of it either - the lady here enjoys herself big time, grunting and groaning continually. Fine by me. So, that was it for Rare Earth and Motown. They were a unique entity in the Motown family, their sound and influence should not be overlooked.


Regarding "best of" compilations, these two should suffice - on the left is a greatest hits one, on the right a complete studio albums from 1969 to 1973, which covers all the best stuff - the albums, singles and 'b' sides:-

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The Temptations
Undisputed Truth
Jackson 5