The late, lamented Janis Joplin’s final album, Pearl, was released posthumously in January. Under the guidance of Doors producer Paul Rothchild and supported by her new Full Tilt Boogie band, the album was tighter and more polished than Joplin’s
previous work. It was also noticeably funkier right out of the gate on “Move Over”, owing largely to the work of the aforementioned band, whose chops are particularly on display on “Buried Alive in the Blues” (an instrumental out of necessity, as Joplin passed before recording the vocals). But Janis’s own work was exemplary and made the album a hit, on the strength particularly of the now-legendary “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee”. What a sendoff for one of the First Ladies of Rock.
The rather obviously-entitled ZZ Top’s First Album put the boogie/southern rock trio into the public eye in a career that would last fifty years (and counting) with not a single lineup change – a feat of unequaled consistency, to the best of my knowledge anyway. In
places, Messrs. Beard, Hill and Gibbons’ early sound strongly suggests a less-heavy Black Sabbath (“Brown Sugar”, e.g.), not surprisingly perhaps given the latter band’s origins. There’s also some of the Top’s patented brand of sexual innuendo on “Bedroom Thang”, which manages to kick off that weird creepy Seventies music/musician vibe of adult men seeking sex with barely pubescent girls (see contemporaries Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Ted Nugent, Kiss, etc.) – but only in part, since the narrator insists said girl is much too young, while still telling her he needs someone to be with him at night and “scratch [his] back”, and that she’s “gonna make me feel alright”. Ewww….. talk about mixed messages.
David Crosby’s solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name, is…. damn, what a cool record. Accompanied by a veritable who’s who of the SoCal rock scene of 1971 (Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash and Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Michael Shrieve and Greg Rolie
from Santana, and over half of Jefferson Airplane), the disc is meandering, lilting, sunswept, psychedelic, warm even. For the most part, it’s a stoned-on-a-summer-day-on-the-lawn-with-headphones album, a tougher feat to pull off prior to around 1979, but one I’m driven to try sometime. Croz isn’t even the most prominent guy on much of it, but it doesn’t matter because (a) he wrote almost all of it, and (b) it just sounds glorious. On “What Are Their Names”, he adds the vocal chops of Graham & Neil, Joni, Jerry, Grace and Paul to his own, and they all ask in unison who’s fucking up the world and how they might find said world-fuckers and give them a piece of their collective mind. Who and how, indeed.
Add teenage guitar prodigy Nils Lofgren – later of Springsteen’s E Street Band – to Neil Young’s backing crew and you get Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut. As bouncy, rambling and mucky as anything from country rock’s steadily growing canon, from Lofgren’s strutting ah-wa-ah-WOW riff shot all through “Gone Dead Train”, this one burns first and crashes later. And there’s definitely some Kiss-inspiring sonic connective tissue on display with One Way… Or Another, the second album by Cactus, if the former focused more on blues and if their lyrics were (slightly) wittier. Much of it is simple paeans to rock and its fans (most notably “Rockout Whatever You Feel Like”), but these guys have the chops and variety to
pull it off.
Love It To Death was Alice Cooper’s own Bowie-esque this-is-where-the-story-really-starts moment. After their first two albums went unnoticed, the band relocated to frontman and later band name adoptee Vincent Furnier’s hometown of Detroit, then enjoying its own burgeoning hard rock scene in the wake of MC5 and the Stooges, and met up with young Canadian producer Bob Ezrin (later referred to by the band as “our George Martin”). Ezrin focused on tightening up the band’s sound, cutting the early version of “I’m Eighteen” (which he initially thought was called “I’m Edgy”) in half, declaring the song to be “so dumb that it’s a hit”, and pushing it out as a single a few months in advance of the album release. He was right with all that, and the simple three minute tale of end-of-high-school angst mixed with joy became the band’s first chart success. Not to mention the boost to the band’s
developing high-concept stage show afforded by haunting tracks like “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, named for the actor from the original 1931 Frankenstein movie whose unhinged, wide-eyed expression would contribute so much to Furnier’s onstage persona and visage. Coupled with the extant (at that point) releases by Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple, Love It To Death has come to be regarded as a foundational heavy metal album, while simultaneously inspiring future punks like Joey Ramone and Johnny Rotten. As for Ezrin, the album would serve to launch his career as one of the preeminent rock producers of the Seventies.
Humble Pie’s Rock On continued their evolution into purveyors of loud blues rock. In fact, the album is something of a hybrid between the bluesy hard rock of the Stones in
the Seventies, and the more melodic hard rock soon to be heard from the likes of Bad Company and Journey. “79th and Sunset” is a sleazy tale of an L.A. temptress, pretty explicitly and none too charitably described, probably as a representative of the pleasures of the flesh English rock stars were availing themselves of in west coast America in 1971. And “Stone Cold Fever” is a good sample of the aforementioned bluesy Stonesy hard rock in such abundance on this album. It would be Peter Frampton’s last appearance with the Pie; he headed off to forge a solo career based on the softer, more acoustic work that would briefly turn him into a superstar later in the decade.
L.A. Woman marked a full return to the Doors’ blues rock roots. Jim Morrison managed to avoid the heavy drinking that had marred sessions for their last couple of albums, and
recording proceeded at a healthy clip. In addition to (obviously) the title track, the band concluded that the entire album was about the city of Los Angeles, one way or another, and this realization contributed to the relative ease of their output. Overall the album earned the band rave reviews and resulted in some of their best songs, in particular the title track, “Love Her Madly”, and the ethereal “Riders on the Storm”.
Sadly, it would be the last of the band’s albums released in Morrison’s lifetime. After the recording sessions had concluded he moved to Paris for a few months with longtime partner Pamela Courson. On July 3, 1971, “Mr. Mojo Rising”/the Lizard King/Jimbo died in his bathtub of what was declared to be heart failure. Like Jones, Hendrix, Wilson and Joplin, he was 27 years old. Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek would release two albums as a threesome over the next year or so under the band’s name, but without Morrison, it was clear that the Doors – groundbreaking, revolutionary, hedonistic, poetic – were finished. A collection of Morrison’s recordings of his spoken word poetry set to music by his surviving bandmates, An American Prayer, would posthumously follow in 1978.
I’m particularly fond of that Hunter S. Thompson quotation in which he comments on the end of the idealistic Sixties, and about how if you go up on a hill in Las Vegas and look west, you can see the high water mark – where the wave finally broke and rolled back. Sticky Fingers wasn’t the Rolling Stones of the late Sixties, with Charlie and the boys issuing dire warnings and pleading for peace. Nope, this was the Stones firmly planted in
the age of post-idealistic excess. The wave had broken and rolled back, so fuck it – let’s do drugs. ALL the drugs. So you get “Brown Sugar” and its tale of slavery, cunnilingus and smack. You get “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” featuring the dirtiest, sluttiest, most coke-addled (and most glorious) riff Keith Richards ever laid down and a second half that’s all samba and Mick Taylor but which, strike me down, can’t hold a candle to the first half. But there’s a dark side to the drugs, and that’s the embrace of “Sister Morphine”…. better to visit her sweet cousin cocaine. Mick manages a decent southern accent on “Dead Flowers”, a stab at a country tune, but again it’s the other girls and the needle and the spoon for which he’s forsaken sweet little Suzie. Ahh, life on the road… as per “Moonlight Mile” and its protagonist with a headful of snow. There hadn’t been an album so blatantly and unapologetically druggy before it, so in hindsight Sticky Fingers served as a tone-setter for Seventies rock.
Man, Budgie made some loud, aggressive, sludgey blues based hard rock. Their eponymous debut is sort of a hybrid between Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer, with Burke Shelley’s vocals comparing favourably to Robert Plant’s. Somehow they never got the popular adulation they deserved (a bit TOO sludgey, with neither Zeppelin’s arena-friendliness nor Sabbath’s dark heaviness?). And yet, bands from Van Halen to Iron Maiden to Metallica to Soundgarden have cited them as influences.
Okay, I have to ask — who got the idea to start adding horns and violins to rock bands that hadn’t incorporated them before? The Doors did it on The Soft Parade. Then on Byrdmaniax, two
years later, the Byrds’ producer dumped a mess of them into “Pale Blue” for no apparent reason. Was it influenced by Chicago and the rising popularity of soul music? Nothing wrong with soul music — frankly, it’s a genre of music I have insufficiently explored — but sometimes it worked and sometimes it just wasn’t necessary.
Speaking of Black Sabbath, Master of Reality – their third – kicks off with Tony Iommi’s coughing fit after indulging in a joint handed to him by Ozzy. Appropriate, therefore, that the snippet also introduces “Sweet Leaf”, the band’s ode to cannabis. Equally appropriate is the album’s status as part of the foundation of stoner metal. But it’s on “Into the Void” and “Children of the Grave” that the album also
dips into nascent doom metal, the latter track remarking over a galloping rhythm on the ongoing antiwar marches in America at the time and warning of the dire consequences should they fail. Together with the prior year’s companion “War Pigs”, heavy metal’s signature exploration of themes of doom was beginning to coalesce.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s MC5 reached a premature end of the road with High Time. The album was poorly promoted and sold badly, which is shitty considering its sheer energy and vitality. For a band usually described as “protopunk”, the album served as a reminder that MC5 had far greater chops than that label suggests; they had a lot more creative control this time, and it shows in the form of more complex
arrangements such as opener “Sister Anne”. A review on Allmusic noted that “musically it’s as uncompromising as anything they ever put to wax and would have given them much greater opportunities to subvert America’s youth if the kids had ever had the chance to hear it.” Truly, down endings were what fate had in store for MC5: band members drifted away, some into drugs, and on New Year’s Eve the following year the band would hold a sparsely-attended farewell show at Detroit’s legendary Grande Ballroom – a far cry from the packed shows they played there only a few years earlier.
Deep Purple’s Fireball: what a strange hodgepodge. Especially “Anyone’s Daughter”,
which is pretty much a country piano boogie song that the band enjoyed but felt was out of place. Ritchie Blackmore, in particular, viewed the album as something less than a classic and chalked this up to relentless demands from the band’s record company to churn out a new album during breaks from touring. Ah well…. the title track is a very Purple-esque burner of a song, and the album has been cited as highly influential by such luminaries as Yngwie Malmsteen, King Diamond and Lars Ulrich.
There aren’t many bands that achieve their commercial breakthrough via a live album, but the Allman Brothers managed just that with At Filmore East. They never liked being called a “jam band”, preferring to be known as a “band that jams” for some reason, but with seven total songs spread over four vinyl record sides, it was tough for them to avoid the term completely. And whatever the
applicable nomenclature, it’s dynamite: all bluesy jazzy country-y rock, churned out by a fucking amazing roster of talent, and subsequently a regular feature of numerous best-of-all-time lists. And the jacket, while as stripped down and basic as they come, didn’t even feature the band members’ infectious smiles until Duane spotted a dealer friend he knew, ran over to make a buy, ran back to take his seat for the photo, and nonchalantly hid the wares in his lap behind his hands.
But fate can be cruel, and Skydog would only get to enjoy the ensuing stardom for a few months. On a break from touring, he was racing his motorcycle in Macon, Georgia when he swerved to avoid a truck and crashed. Transport to the hospital couldn’t save his life, and he died from massive internal injuries at the tender age of 24.