Sunday, 23 July 2017

Playlist: Snapshots in Time - Volume IV, 1965-1969

The Sonics

Info: Our fourth instalment of Snapshots in Time begins with the old world still strongly showing it's hand via the legendary Son House and his track 'Death Letter Blues' from the album Father of the Folk Blues, which is a must listen for anyone who has ever picked up a guitar. Not to emulate, but to appreciate the rolling sounds that can be made through fluid picking and slide techniques, an accompanying video can be found below of the Mississippi musician, born in 1902, executing the blues with ease on steel guitar.

Before the days of Shazam, which you can pop on quickly in a record shop if you're digging what's being played over the instore speakers (and hope another punter doesn't notice, it's an edgy game), you would have to casually float by the counter and squint at the 'currently playing' albums behind the staff at the checkout counter. If you had momentarily lost your senses, you might even ask them 'who's that band playing now?', but you'd lose a ton of dignity by doing that, and leave with a raw feeling that they were sneering at your ignorance. 

Anyway, pre-Shazam and on one of my many undercover rogue operations in Tower Records when they were based on Wicklow Street, I sneakily saw that the album I was being blown away by instore, and would subsequently leave with, was The Sonics' Here Are The Sonics, on CD at the time. It's a mix of covers (some of which they improve immeasurably on) and originals, and here 'Boss Hoss' was the one that killed it for me. The Washington garage-punk band were at the forefront of taking the 50's rock sound out of its box, having a look at it, and then reshaping it, and they were pretty darn good at it!

Son House - Death Letter Blues

In the summer of 2007 I was in New York, and found a treasure trove of records at Bleeker Street Records in Greenwich Village, one album I was on the hunt for, which is prohibitively expensive as a first press, was Black Monk Time by German punk rock (but really one of the godfathers of garage music), band The Monks, I failed, and settled for the CD, but I did score a massive success for 0.99c which we'll see later. It can't be understated the influence the band had on sounds we can even hear right up until now in 2017, though the origin has been filtered over the decades.

It's sometimes overlooked that in the mid to late 60's and early 70's, this side of the Atlantic Ocean began to adopt and sometimes surpass the blues music which originated in the North American Deep South. The prime example is Cheshire's John Mayall, a master of the blues himself, in 1966 he released the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. That guitar you hear ripping through the Mono version of 'Hideaway' and the rest of the album belongs to a 21-year-old Eric Clapton before he left to found Cream. Due to self-imposed restrictions I was unable to include one of my other all-time favourite John Mayall albums, The Turning Point, but you might check it out on your ownsome here

The Monks - 'Monk Chant' (from the album Black Monk Time)

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I used to spend every weekend (eventually) in The Mean Fiddler on Wexford Street, next door to Whelan's, when I went to see Arthur Lee and Love play the full album Forever Changes in 2003, it was called The Village, today, it's The Opium Rooms. Here's The Irish Times' review of the night by the wonderful Tony-Clayton Lea towards the bottom of their archived page. Opening with 'Alone Again Or' and the simple "Yeah!", Forever Changes is one of the all-time classic 1960's psychedelic rock albums, Lee's vocals, the echoed guitar-plucking, brass section and observational lyrics made it one of the most experimental albums of the mid-1960's, a classic.

Probably my favourite soul album of all time, James Carr's You Got My Mind Messed Up is considered one of the finest southern soul albums of all time. Sadly a crippling and severe battle with depression restricted Carr's ability to continue writing music and perform live, resulting in a minimal output after the late-60's. Tracks such as opener 'Pouring Water On A Drowning Man', 'These Ain't Raindrops' and the classic 'Dark End of the Street' find Carr in the deepest of deep soul moods.

Birmingham psychedelic pop troupe Traffic, led by Steve Winwood, who had previously founded The Spencer Davis Group at the age of 15 and scored 4 Top 10 singles and 3 Top 10 albums, had a pretty prolific output in the late sixties and early seventies, with hit albums such as debut Mr. Fantasy, 1970's John Barleycorn Must Die and a year later The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Here we have their 1968 self-title LP and the chilled out prog-rock vibes of 'Feelin' Alright', which surprisingly upon release didn't even manage to chart in the UK (whilst reaching a lowly 123rd in the Billboard charts in the US). 

Chicago Transit Authority Vinyl 1969
CBS First Press of 'Chicago Transit Authority'

The stunning debut album from Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority, melded pop, jazz and rock together with aplomb. Led at the time by Peter Cetera, incredibly they are still going today, albeit with many line-up changes, Chicago still retain four of the original band members. They were at the forefront of creating the rock power-ballad, long before it was 'a thing'. Perfect examples of this would be the scorching and grandiose 'Questions 67 & 68'. Here I've gone for my favourite track on the album, the slick and dirty 'South California Purples', a fuzzed-out lead-guitar, funky hammond and Cetera's soulful vocal are all killer. 

At number 63 in Rolling Stone magazines 'Top 100 Guitarists of All Time' comes the legendary Johnny Winter, his firebrand electric blues-rock style captured perfectly on the amazing Second Winter album from 1969. Also heavily involved in music production, the Texan produced 3 Grammy-winning albums for a certain Muddy Waters. After being asked to perform by Mike Bloomfield with himself and Al Kooper at a concert at Filmore East in New York for one song, Winter raised the roof and got a standing ovation with a cover of B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault", incidentally in front of a number of representatives from Columbia Records. Within a matter of days he signed the largest advance in the history of the record industry at the time of $600,000, the rest as they say....

Johnny Winter Live in Copenhagen, 1970

We wrap up our latest Snapshots in Time with the wonderful soul sounds of Roberta Flack and her album First Take. This album was the aforementioned bargain I scored in Greenwich Village in 2007, I had never heard of Roberta Flack, but liked the look of the album cover, the vinyl was in good condition for a first press, and it cost me the princely sum of 0.99c! When you listen to her originals you quickly realise you've heard many of them before, such as her Number 1 hit, 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', and a song which resurfaced in more recent times when covered by The Fugees, 'Killing Her Softly'. On this album it opens with a showstopper in the form of 'Compared To What', the jazzy tones of percussion and upright bass rumbling around Flack's beautiful soul vocal. Another highlight is her cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye', it's a stunning debut and a joyful listen.

To listen and read about REMY's last Snapshots in Time series from 1960-1964, go here

Recommended Documentaries:

Johnny Winter: 'Down and Dirty' (2016)

Track Listing:

1. Son House - 'Death Letter Blues' 
2. The Sonics - 'Boss Hoss'
3. The Monks - 'Monk Time'
4. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - 'Hideaway'
5. Love - 'Alone Again Or'
6. James Carr - 'The Dark End of the Street'
7. Traffic - 'Feelin' Alright'
8. Chicago - 'South California Purples'
9. Johnny Winter - 'Memory Pain'
10. Roberta Flack - 'Compared To What'

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