Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 1969 Vol 5 - Prog Gods, Krautrock Kings, and Canterbury Chaps

Inspired by the mid-60s progressive pop and psychedelic work of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Zombies, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa's, a new generation of musicians became enthralled with the notion that the rock music could be so much more than just a tight three-minute single delivered in standard 4/4 time, and instead could achieve the musical sophistication of classical music, the extemporaneousness of jazz, the lyrical sophistication of the era's best folk music, and have the impact of high modern art.

For these artists, it was all about a merger of genres and a fluid freedom of sounds, and the studio, not the concert stage, was their preferred home.

Following the great progressive pop-wave of those mid-60s artists, the first to push forward the progressive trend, acts like The Moody Blues, The Nice, and Procul Haram focused on incorporating classical textures and weighty lyricism, but by 1969, the movement had exploded into three distinct subsets.

The Canterbury scene, led by Kevin Ayers and The Soft Machine, which focused on incorporating free Jazz textures and tons of woodwinds into the music.

The emerging, super trippy Krautrock scene in Germany, led by two bands out of the same original collective, CAN and Amon Duul II, which was initially focused on exploring the spontaneous, jammy freedom of Jazz, but sticking with a distinctly rock instrumental palette while doing so, and the more orchestrally driven UK acts most listeners first associate with the prog-rock today - bands like Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson.

Well, they are all here in their nascent form, as well as several other early adopters, in this epic, almost four-hour look back at the year in which prog-rock was officially born.

Here's The Spotify link.  Enjoy!

Set 1 (Sailor's Lament)
1. Theme - Moondog (3:00)
2. A Salty Dog - Procul Harum (4:40)
3. Living In The Past - Jethro Tull (3:21)
4. I Talk To The Wind - King Crimson (6:06)
5. I See You - Yes (6:53)
6. Dem Guten, Schonen, Wahren - Amon Duul II (6:14)
7. Lalena - Deep Purple (5:06)
8. Elegy - Colosseum (3:10)
9. Lovely To See You - The Moody Blues (2:34)
10. Girl On A Swing - Kevin Ayers (2:50)
11. Father Cannot Yell - CAN (7:03) 
12. Sympathy - Rare Bird (2:48)
13. Careful With That Axe, Eugene - Pink Floyd (8:49)
14. Ian Underwood Whips It Out - The Mothers Of Invention (5:05)
15. Love Without Sound - White Noise (3:07)
16. Paraphysical Introduction, Pt. 1 - Soft Machine (1:01)
17. A Concise British Alphabet, Pt. 1 - Soft Machine (0:10)
18. Hibou Anenome And Bear - Soft Machine (5:59)
19. It's Five O'Clock - Aphrodite's Child (3:32)
20. Memory Of A Free Festival - David Bowie (7:11)

Set 2 (God's Junk)
21. Bouree - Jethro Tull (3:46)
22. Too Much Between Us - Procul Harum (3:42)
23. Butty's Blues - Colosseum (6:44)
24. Sweetness - Yes (4:37)
25. Peaches En Regalia - Frank Zappa (3:39)
26. In The Court Of The Crimson King - King Crimson (10:03)
27. Minsym #1 - Moondog (6:00)
28. Plallus Dei - Amon Duul II (20:49)
29. Grantchester Meadows - Pink Floyd (7:28)
30. Song For Insane Times - Kevin Ayers (4:01)
31. Reasons For Waiting - Jethro Tull (4:07)
32. Gypsy (Of A Strange And Distant Time) - The Moody Blues (3:34)
33. Alice - Deep Purple (12:10)

Encore 1
34. The Valentyne Suite - Colosseum (16:53)
35. Fat Man - Jethro Tull (2:51)
36. Every Little Thing - Yes (5:42)
37. Epitaph - King Crimson (8:47)
38. Pilgrim's Progress - Procul Harum (4:30)

Encore 2
39. You Doo Right - CAN (20:28)

About the 1969 Prog God Orchestra Members:

Moondog: We open our 1969 prog celebration with Theme by the elder statesman of this groundbreaking crew, blind American classical composer and infamous viking-helmeted New York street busker Moondog (aka Louis Thomas Hardin) and his first recorded work in twelve years, 1969's eponymous Moondog (Solid Recommend). An adventurous instrumental contemporary classical work which also incorporates significant nods to jazz, rock and the New York street sounds he so cherished, Moondog the album has come to be seen as the composer's signature release and one of the finest avant-garde releases of the 1960s. In addition to Theme, we are also featuring one of the album's multifaceted longer works, Minisym #1, later in this mix. 

Procul Harum: Having already spotlighted A Salty Dog (Highest Recommend) and the effervescent Boredom on our Vol 2 - Best Of The Best, on this mix we zero in on some of the second best prog album of 1969's proggiest numbers, beginning with the album's aching title track, then also profiling the gorgeous ballad Too Much Between Us in Set 2 and off-beat indie-scene precursor Pilgrim's Progress in our Encore.

Jethro Tull: Prior to starting the sessions for their 1969 release Stand Up, Jethro Tull first recorded the stand-alone single Living In The Past. With its so-inviting, unusual opening in 5/4 time, it became a modest hit at the time, but really took off in 1972 when it was included on the band's double album collection of singles and outtakes of the same name, and reached #11 on the US Charts. To this day, it remains one of the band's most popular songs. 

But Tull's bigger accomplishment, though less well-recognized, was their 1969 sophomore LP Stand Up (Strong Recommend), imho the band's finest album. Lean, nimble and mean, and powered by first rate fan favorite numbers like Fat Man, Bouree, Nothing Is Easy, Look Into The Sun, and Reason For Waiting, it is the most rock efficient, least bombastic, and least progressive of all the band's major release, but in no way sacrifices the band's trademark sound and feel. Simply put, essential listening for any fan of the band or progressive rock. 

King Crimson: In Vol 2 - Best Of The Best, we tapped 21st Century Schizoid Man, one of prog-rocks all-time out there recordings, to represent the band's landmark debut In The Court Of The Crimson King (Highest Recommend). Here, as we focus exclusively on progressive rock, we tackle the three songs that most convey the album's gentler, more expansive and plaintive essence with the title track, Epitaph, and I Talk To The Wind.

Yes: While nowhere near as impressive as some of the bands albums that would follow over the course of the 70s, and supposedly recorded in session that were marred by the band's inexperience and all sorts of technical and technician difficulties, there is still a youthful √©lan (not to mention a genuinely original sound for the time) to Yes's self-titled debut (Solid Recommend) that makes it well worth revisiting.  About evenly split between original prog-rockers, folksy ballads, and contemporary covers - it's the ballads and fantastic covers that stand a cut above in the band's first venture, hence our inclusion of lovely lead single Sweetness and the madcap, progged up covers of The Byrds' I See You and The Beatles' Every Little Thing as the album's representative tracks here.

Amon Duul II: Krautrock begins here, when the performing West German Amon Duul art commune splintered after being offered a substandard recording contract, and the commune's few genuinely accomplished musicians (the one's who rejected the contract offer), left the commune to chart their own course as Amon Duul II. Securing a more favorable contract on their own, the splinter group debuted with the absolutely out-there Phallus Dei (Strong Recommend, and yes. the title literally translates to "God's Penis") two months before CAN would take things up a notch with their debut Monster Movie (which we will be discussing momentarily).  Reminiscent in many ways of the more avant garde moments of Pink Floyd's debut The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, we're profiling two of the album's strongest moments here, the whacked-out, very Piper's like Dem Guten, Shonen, Wahren, and the album's piece-de-resistance, its gargantuan twenty-one-minute title track.

Deep Purple: Primarily a psychedelic prog outfit in their first two studio outings, 1968's twin releases Shades Of Deep Purple and The Book Of Taliesyn, Deep Purple's self-titled third release (Strong Recommend) saw the act making a clear turn towards heavy metal, but offered plenty to like for fans of both genres.  Will get to some of those harder rocking tracks on Vol 14 - Hindenburg's Rising, but here, we'll focus on the record's prog highlights, their stirring cover of Donovan's Lalena, and the album's twelve-minute closing orchestral opus, April.

Colosseum: Another inspiring first time discovery for me in my look back at the music of 1969 was Valentyne Suite (Strong Recommend), the sophomore effort from English progressive jazz-rocker ensemble Colosseum . So taken was I with this pioneering, lively and unpredictable effort, I ended up using a full 80% of it in these mixes, favoring the record's jazzier and/or more experimental highlights - Elegy, Butty's Blues, and the sixteen minute prog-odyssey title track - on this mix here, and one of the album's two harder-rocking tracks, The Kettle, on our early metal mix Vol 14 - Hindenburgs Rising

The Moody Blues: Now a proto-progressive rock powerhouse with a growing and already huge fanbase following the success of '67's landmark rock/classical merger Days Of Future Past and '68's In Search Of The Lost Chord, The Moody Blues released two more albums in 1969.  Fourth full-length release On The Threshold Of A Dream (Mild Recommend) came first, and is the livelier, proggier and more pop-oriented of the two. With it's cavernous production vibe, it rates amongst the era's most dated sounding albums today, but that in no way diminishes from the enjoyment of top songs such as To Share Our Love, So Deep Within You, Have You Heard Part 1and our representative selection for this mix, minor hit Lovely To See You

By now the band was so successful that the Blues were able to launch their own label, Threshold, and employed their second full-length of 1969, To Our Children's Children's Children (Mild Recommend), as one of the fledgling label's first releases. Inspired by the Apollo Moon landing and better produced, this effort was even more ambitious and sophisticatedly subtle than what had come before. And while it is considered a career high point by many fans, it is a far less immediate listen than the records that came before. To counter that, we're profiling one of the Children's most active and dramatic songs, Gypsy (Of A Strange And Distant Time), as our representative selection here.

Kevin Ayers: A Canterbury favorite that never would have existed without a gentle nudge from Jimi Hendrix, Ayers, a founding member of Soft Machine, had decided he was ready to retire from music after the band's 1968 North American tour supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience, until Jimi gifted him with lavish Gibson J-200 guitar on the one condition that Ayers keep songwriting. Inspired, Ayers returned to London and quickly wrote down the songs that would make up his solo debut Joy Of A Toy (Solid Recommend). Displaying the Syd Barrett-ish whimsical side that might have continued to define Soft Machine had he not left the band, Joy is an eclectic, avant-pop mini-classic. We're featuring two of its most enduring songs here - Song For Insane Times, and the oft-covered Girl On A Swing.

CAN: Along with Phallus Dei, German avant-gardists CAN's proper debut Monster Movie is widely considered to be one Krautrock's first two albums. But though also hailing from Germany, CAN's formation history is quite different than that of the commune born Amon Duul II.   For CAN it all began when contemporary classical pianist Irmin Schmidt travelled to New York in 1966 to observe avant-gardists such as Terry Riley (See Vol 9 - Jam On... And On... And On... And On), Steve Reich, and La Monte Young, but then somehow fell in with/ became "corrupted" by the Hotel Chelsea / Warhol's factory crowd for the duration of his visit. When he finally returned to Germany, he felt compelled to form a band that combined everything at once - classical, free jazz, avant-garde, psychedelia, and the cutting edge rock and funk stylings of the likes of The Velvet Underground, James Brown, and Sly And The Family Stone. A band was soon formed out of classically  trained teachers and students in his Cologne community and CAN was born. Employing an unusual songwriting technique of simply gigging for hours, and then meticulously editing those sessions down to three to twenty minute songs, the band's first effort at an album Prepared To Meet Thy Pnoom was so off the charts weird no German label would take it on, so the band returned to their Cathedral recording space, reworked their material with a more rock focus, while also adding in a couple new numbers, and Monster Movie (Highest Recommend) was the result. Their only album from their classic period with original American vocalist Malcolm Mooney, Monster Movie truly is all things at once, particularly successful in its mission to craft rock music with the unstructured freedom of jazz, and we're highlighting two of it's four tracks, the potent, surging opener Father Cannot Yell, and the twenty-minute LaMonte Young inspired exercise in unrelenting repetition You Doo Right, which closes off this entire mix. 

Rare Bird: A bit of an also ran in the first wave prog sweepstakes, English outfit Rare Bird never cracked the album charts in either the US or the UK during their five album run from 1969 to 1974 (though they were quite popular in other parts of Europe.) But they did manage to make the singles charts once, with their 1969 million-selling hit Sympathy included here from their eponymous debut

Pink Floyd: A double album comprised of one disk of live recordings, and a second disk of solo recordings from each member of the band, Ummugumma (Mild Recommend) was very well received at the time of its release, both critically and in terms of sales, reaching number 5 in the UK, but has since come to be viewed as one of Pink Floyd's lesser efforts, especially by the band members themselves, who have all been highly dismissive of the album in recent decades. For the most part, I am with them. Along with Bowie's Space Oddity, Ummagumma is definitely the weakest full-length album featured on this mix, but it's still worth a listen or two as an encapsulation of a very trippy, transitional moment in the band's evolution, especially on the album's few standout tracks like the excellent live performance of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, and Water's folksy studio number Granchester Meadows

The Mothers Of Invention: Unlike the highly focused (and to a degree more conventional) jam fest that was Frank Zappa's 1969 solo debut Hot Rats, Zappa's '69 outing with The Mother's Of Invention, Uncle Meat (Strong Recommend) was a chaotic, gargantuan, anything-goes mess. A bubbling stew of extended instrumental jams, live stage moments, hysterical spoken interludes, and Zappa's trademark goofball, retro-kitsch, everything on the album, no matter how odd, is worth hearing at least once, and on this mix, we highlight a track that illustrates both the album's hipster sense of comedy and its utterly free-form instrumental attack, side two closer Ian Underwood Whips It Out.

White Noise: Completely ignored at the time of its release, over the years electronic music progenitors White Noise's An Electric Storm (Solid Recommend) has come to be viewed as an essential early effort in the development of the genre. Initially anchored around the talents of American classical bassist, and Brits Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire, this highly experimental album is far from an easy or conventional listen, but presents a near constant parade of electronic production firsts, including being the first record to feature a British manufactured synthesizer. As representative, we're highlighting the album's opening track, Love Without Sound.

Soft Machine: Following their first American tour in front of sizable audiences as The Jimi Hendrix Experience's warm up act (whom they thank in the song Have You Ever Been Grean), and the departure of original bassist and potent songwriter, Kevin Ayers, just discussed above, Soft Machine rallied around the talents of drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt and added a jazz element to their guitarless attack for their second album, the aptly titled Soft Machine Volume 2 (Strong Recommend). A free-spirited college of mostly brief experimental snippets that flow seamlessly into each other, Volume 2 is in retrospect a wonderful counterpart to the band's masterpiece that would follow, Third, sonically similar, but where Third stretches four simple themes to their limit in a two album seventy-five minute opus, Volume 2 tries to condense more musical ideas than seemingly possible into its brief 33 minute run time.  Certain songs do stand out, especially Hibou, Anemone and Bear and Pigs, but given the album's pastiche design, its a record best appreciated in multi-song suites, particularly its opening five tracks and closing four, hence our decision to profile the album with a sequence of three consecutive tracks here.

Aphrohdite's Child: The rock 'n roll birthplace, musically speaking, of future Academy Award winning Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner composer Vangelis, Aphrodite's Child was Greece's premiere progressive outfit in the late 60s/early 70s.  And while 1969's sophomore full-length effort It's Five O'Clock wouldn't cause quite the buzz the band's widely celebrated 1970 musical adaptation of the Book Of Revelations 666 did, it saw the band pursuing a number of different styles, especially several well-crafted ballads, like the title track included here.

David Bowie: Though it featured it's extraordinary title track, David Bowie's sophomore effort Space Oddity (Mild Recommend) was otherwise a middling effort featuring only two other songs of note - the biting Cygnet Committee and the solid closer Memory Of A Free Festival featured on this mix here.
Frank Zappa: And finally on this mix, we touch base with Peaches En Regalia, the most progressive (and fan beloved) number from Frank Zappa's 1969 solo debut Hot Rats.  For more from this jam-rock near masterpiece, be sure to check out our Vol 9 - Jam on... and on... and on... and on.

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