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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:-