Posts Tagged country-rock
5th Dimension (released July 18, 1966) was The Byrds’ third album after their blockbuster debut and sophomore releases, Mr. Tambourine Man (June 1965) and Turn! Turn! Turn! (December 1965). While not a commercial success on the level of its predecessors, 5th Dimension marked the band’s innovative shift from electrified folk-rock into a neat blend of psychedelic rock and nascent country-rock.
The standout track and rock classic, “Eight Miles High” was written by original Byrd Gene Clark, who would exit the group before 5th Dimension was completed. Clark’s departure left Roger McGuinn and David Crosby to assume the primary songwriting role, and they responded with a mix of picks and pans (with Crosby’s “What’s Happening?!?!” being dead center in the latter category). At its best, 5th Dimension is uneven, but it remains one of the mid-60s best examples of the coming diversity of folk, country and psychedelic rock (and all the mixtures thereof). The ethereal title track, the astral “Eight Miles High” (with no lead vocals and loads of spacey McGuinn/Crosby guitar work), the abstract “I See You,” the experimental “2-4-2 Foxtrot (The Lear Jet Song)” and Crosby’s aforementioned flopper are the earliest of the psych-rock genre. They’re balanced by decent folk-rock covers in “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “John Riley.” Then there’s that jaunty “Mr. Spaceman,” a sing-along country-rock gem that’s a bit dated but still has a fond 60s trippy feel.
A transitional album from a band that is now recognized for its influence on 60s and 70s psychedelic and country-rock, 5th Dimension spent half a year on the album charts and peaked at #24. Some call it a precursor and challenger to Sgt. Pepper’s as the top psychedelic rock LP. I think it’s a classic, but not that high. 5th Dimension is available for purchase as a CD or individual mp3 files on Amazon, or as iPod tracks on iTunes. The Byrds are in Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault.
Not just the first supergroup in progressive rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (aka ELP) was also the earliest prog-rock band to truly master the heady mix of classical, hard rock and pop music that became a significant and commercially viable force in the 70s. Formed in very late 1969, the trio issued their eponymous debut LP in 1970 and followed with the prog-rock seminal Tarkus on June 14, 1971.
Keyboardist Keith Emerson and bassist Greg Lake met in 1969 while on tour with The Nice and King Crimson, their respective artsy hard rock bands of the time. Realizing the opportunity to form a new venture and deciding on a trio, they convinced drummer Carl Palmer to jump over from his group Atomic Rooster. (There is much truth to the rumor that they also courted Jimi Hendrix to join them and form “HELP”, but Hendrix declined and was dead a few months later, anyway). With the super-trio in place, ELP set about crafting their signature organ-dominated, pop-goes-cathedral sound for the self-titled first LP. For album #2, Tarkus, the band expanded the theme, gloomy at times and explosive at others, sharing compositions and instrumentation in a mostly glorious, thundering cannonade of early but now classic progressive rock.
Tarkus features the epic, 21 minute conceptual title track that consumed Side 1 of the original LP and taught everyone that such self-centered indulgences were acceptable (but only when they were credible and listenable!). On Side 2, ELP bookends a Bach-based hymn (“The Only Way”) and three more spirited rockers (“Bitches Crystal,” “Infinite Space (Conclusion)” and “A Time And A Place”) with two curious but acceptable matings of countrified rock ‘n’ roll with Emerson’s classical-turned-dancehall piano, “Jeremy Bender” and “Are You Ready, Eddy?” The whole is as good as the sum, although “Tarkus” the composition is the best of the album.
The album climbed as far as #9 in North America and opened the door for a broad range of successful 70s art/prog/avant-garde rockers, from Ambrosia to early Moody Blues to Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Yes (ELP’s chief competitors in the mid70s). My Top 25 ELP tracks will be up on DrRock.com shortly, and Tarkus is available as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon and as iPod downloads on iTunes.
The Eagles were on a roll in early 1975. Their first three albums went multi-platinum, they’d issued four Top 30 hits, the last of which, “Best Of My Love” was still charting over a year after its parent album (On The Border) was released, and America (plus the rest of the world) was beginning to really dig their laid-back, light country-rock “L.A. Sound” (nevermind that none of the band members were actually from L.A).
One Of These Nights (released June 10, 1975), the Eagles fourth studio LP, continued their soaring but also marked a turning point for the band. The album was dominated by the growing leadership of premier light country-rock songwriters Glen Frey and Don Henley and by the imminent departure of original member Bernie Leadon. Bernie was soon out (replaced by Joe Walsh), Don and Glen became de facto leaders, and within 18 months the Eagles achieved mega-stardom with the incomparable Hotel California. But in mid-75, One Of These Nights was the best of the pre-Hotel Eagles. It featured four enduring Eagles songs: the title track; “Take It To The Limit;” “Lyin’ Eyes;” and “After The Thrill Is Gone.” Deeper still is Bernie’s swan song, the spacey country-rocker “Journey Of The Sorcerer” and the curious “I Wish You Peace,” co-written by Bernie and Ronald Reagan’s renegade daughter Patti Davis.
One Of These Nights also features soon-to-be-gone Randy Meisner, who sang lead on “Take It To The Limit” and is credited as co-writer on “Too Many Hands.” The Eagles were in transition on One Of These Nights, with the best to come. My Top 25 Eagles tunes are in the Playlist Vault and One Of These Nights is available as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon and as iPod downloads on iTunes.
Jimmy Buffett’s May 24, 1994 release, Fruitcakes is a typical Buffett album with tropical sounds and topics, light lyrics and gentle rhythms – just the sort of beach pirate, laissez faire Caribbean wind-blown lifestyle his persona and business career have espoused over more than three decades. But Fruitcakes reached #5 on the Billboard album chart and eventually went platinum, a rare double for a Buffett album and evidence that it is one of the best five or six discs in his catalogue.
The sun, surf and sand elements of Fruitcakes are best heard (or dreamed of) from a beach chair with a rum cocktail in hand on a sunny afternoon outside a thatched hut facing an azure sea with palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. “Apocalypso,” “Lone Palm,” “Everybody’s Got A Cousin In Miami,” a mellow take on the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and a steel-drum cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” all set that space and mood. The rest is a smooth but not serious concoction of quirky Buffett styles, including languid ballads (“Delaney Talks To Statues”), light country-rock (“Six Sting Music”), the ranting complaints about supersizing and politically correctness in the punchy title track, and the harder, bluesy horn-and-harp workout in “Vampires, Mummies And The Holy Ghost.”
Fruitcakes is a great starting point for a neo-Parrothead (as hard-core Buffett fans are known) and can be downloaded or purchased as a CD from Amazon and iTunes. Jimmy Buffett’s Top 25 tracks are in the Playlist Vault.
Poco was the best of the early wave of light country-rock bands that formed in the late 60s. Poco paved the way for all that followed, including the Eagles. Their second album, the eponymous Poco, was released on May 6, 1970 and generated a good buzz among the critics and hippy folk/country types, but like most of their other albums, it fell short of expectations on the charts and in stores. Despite the quality and innovation of their music, Poco never found a mass audience, and the defection of key players over the years didn’t help. But Poco’s sustainability is unparalleled in the genre; the band’s still in action today.
Jim Messina and Richie Furay abandoned the derelict supergroup Buffalo Springfield in 1968 to form another in Poco during the rise of the L.A. country-rock craze. Joined by veterans-Rusty Young, George Grantham and Randy Meisner, the band’s first album, Pickin’ Up The Pieces (1969) showed huge promise as a genre groundbreaker. But bassist Meisner left afterwards (eventually to join the Eagles) and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmitt (another future Eagle) for Poco and the live LP Deliverin’ (1971). Paul Cotton replaced Messina in 1972 when the latter jumped to an MOR pop duo with Kenny Loggins, and Furay quit in 1973, frustrated by Poco’s lack of financial success. Grantham left in 1978, leaving Young and Cotton to forge ahead and find success with the Top 15 album Legend in 1979 (and its Top 20 hits “Crazy Love” and “Heart Of The Night”) and some decent albums in the 80s.
Poco is terrific light country-rock, with guitar hooks, vocal harmonies, pedal steel twang and an overall laidback sound that grabbed critics and FM radio listeners then and still has appeal today. Surprisingly, the album yielded no hits, despite an obvious candidate in “You Better Think Twice.” And then there’s the curious 18-minute jam on Side 2 titled “El Tonto Del Nadie Regrasa,” a Latin-flavored experiment that is far from a flop but makes you wonder what those guys were thinking. Poco the band is in Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault and Poco the album is available on Amazon and iTunes.
Nashville Skyline wasn’t Bob Dylan’s best album by any stretch, but it did top out at #3 in the U.S. and a surprising #1 on the U.K. charts (find Bob in The Playlist Vault, here). Recorded in Nashville (where else?) with a cadre of local session musicians and released on April 9, 1969, the album includes a duet (a remake of “Girl From The North Country”) with Johnny Cash and reflects the emergence of the country-rock sub-genre and the early shift of pure country music toward the pop mainstream.
Nashville Skyline spun three singles onto the pop charts, with “Lay Lady Lay” the only one to see significant chart action. The other two (“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and “I Threw It All Away”) were pretty decent slower country tunes, but Dylan wasn’t a country artist and Nashville Skyline was far from a rock album, so one shouldn’t be surprised that the singles didn’t hit. But that’s the whole point. The album was smack in the middle of the early development of country-rock, and Dylan was on the forefront along with the Byrds, Gram Parsons and Neil Young.
And Bob Dylan’s best? My money’s on Blonde On Blonde, with Highway 61 Revisited at #2 and Blood On The Tracks #3. Your bias can be registered on DrRock.com. Nashville Skyline can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon or iPod files on iTunes.