Posts Tagged folk-rock

Album of the Day: The Byrds (7/18/66)

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.

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Album of the Day: Bob Dylan (4/9/69) 41 Years!

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.

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Album of the Day: CSN&Y (4/7/71) 39 Years!

Live albums generally sell well, but very few make it into the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 4 Way Street, released on April 7, 1971, broke that rule and then some by topping out in the #1 album position shortly after its release. Following re-release as an expanded CD in 1992, 4 Way Street became a multi-platinum seller and one of the highest selling live albums of all time.

Assembled from tapes made at a half-dozen shows in Chicago, L.A. and New York in June and July 1970, the double disc contains a nearly even sampling of songs by the four stars on its four sides. Most of the songs were previously released, either on solo works or in various groupings. And the live versions of their most well-known (“Ohio,” “Southern Man,” “Teach Your Children,” “Long Time Gone” and “Love The One You’re With”) are all quite good.

What isn’t evident in the music is the internal friction that was tearing the band apart just as the shows were being taped. Within weeks after the tour ended, the band split, and by the spring of 1971 all four had released highly-acclaimed solo albums (with Nash’s Songs For Beginners and Stills’ Stephen Stills 2 coming within weeks of each other right after 4 Way Street). CSN&Y re-formed in mid-1974 for a summer tour (without an album to support), issued the compilation So Far that fall, but didn’t return as a foursome until American Dream came out in November 1988 (though CSN sans Young had three albums between 1977 and 1983).

That 4 Way Street was a big hit isn’t surprising given that every album from CSN&Y (and those without Neil) between 1969 and 1982 reached into the Top 10. They were (and in many was still are) the premier American folk-rock band in the 70s and 80s, and for live versions of their hits and other good tunes, 4 Way Street is required listening. It’s number 14 on my Top 25 Live Albums list and available on Amazon and iTunes.

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Album of the Day: Spirit (1/22/68) 42 Years!

Spirit was one of the more adventurous groups to emerge from the Los Angeles psychedelic rock scene in the late 60s. Over 20 years and more than a dozen albums they presented a quirky, amorphous blend of psychedelia, jazz, blues, hard-, folk- and art-rock that benefited first from the emerging, album-oriented FM radio of the late 60s and later from a devoted fan base during the early 70s progressive rock era.

Spirit’s 1968 eponymous debut was released on January 22, 1968 with songwriter/guitarist Randy California and his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy leading bandmates Mark Andes (bass), Jay Ferguson (percussion and vocals) and John Locke (keyboards). The album includes the heavy, thumping “Mechanical World,” which was pressed as a single but never caught on. Two better choices for chart action might have been “Uncle Jack” (pop-rock harmony vocals) or “Fresh Garbage” (a rocker in the vein of several contemporary Doors tunes). Two modest hits would come over the next few years with “I Got A Line On You” and “Nature’s Way,” both of which are now staples on the few classic rock radio stations that dig deeper into the period.

The revolving door of personnel changes doomed Spirit to remain a might-have-been band and a venue for California and Cassidy’s eclectic genre experimentalism. In 1971 and 1972, Ferguson left for Jo Jo Gunne and a solo career (remember 1977’s “Thunder Island”?), Andes went to Jo Jo Gunne and then Firefall, and Locke left for Nazereth. The two originals kept at it through the 80s and 90s with several decent art-rock LPs, but with California’s untimely death in 1997, Cassidy called it quits and Spirit’s long-run ended.

Spirit spent more than six months on the Billboard album chart through the summer of 1968, peaking at #31. It is available as downloads for iPods and mp3 players on iTunes (click here) and can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Vintage Video: The Byrds (1965)

Bob Dylan (click here for Dr. Rock’s playlist) wrote “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1964, recorded it in January 1965, and released it on Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965. The Byrds (click here) released their version as a single on April 12, 1965. It quickly shot to #1 on both the U.S. and U.K. singles charts and eventually settled at #79 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 songs of all-time. Click here for a Vintage Video of the Byrd’s lip-synching and fake-playing their way through “Mr. Tambourine Man” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965.

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Album of the Day: Cat Stevens (11/23/70) 39 Years!

Cat Stevens had several singles and three mediocre albums during his attempt to launch his career as a folk-rock singer/songwriter in the late 60s. While he garnered some attention in his native England, he found virtually no audience in the U.S. and, out of frustration, considered ending his efforts. But he had a backlog of decent material, and so decided to give it one more shot. His fourth album, Tea For Tillerman, rang the bell upon its release on November 23, 1970, reaching #8 in the U.S., #11 in Canada, #20 in the U.K. and, eventually #206 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums.

Tea For Tillerman’s push up the charts benefited from the big single “Wild World,” which was issued in advance of the album and created the buzz Stevens needed to break into the U.S. market. But the album carried its own weight beyond the single. Four songs in particular, “Father And Son,” “Longer Boats,” “Where Do The Children Play?” and “Hard Headed Woman” have become timeless favorites for Cat’s devotees and casual fans alike.

Tea For Tillerman was the first of five straight U.S. Top 10 albums for Stevens. It’s available as a CD from Amazon (click here) and as downloadable tracks from iTunes (click here).

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Album of the Day: Genesis (11/18/74) 35 Years!

Genesis was one of the few British rock bands that successfully made the transition from meddling 60s folk-pop-rock through late-60s psychedelic rock to 80s pop-rock superstardom. Their November 18, 1974 concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, was major point along that road and a huge FM radio hit (I remember playing it daily on my radio show at the time). While well received on air, in the critics’ circles and in stores, The Lamb… unfortunately became the last Genesis album on which Peter Gabriel appeared. Gabriel was the lead vocalist, chief songwriter and stage frontman for the band (he wrote all of the material on The Lamb…). His departure could have spelled doom, but remaining members Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett moved on to greater things, including a string of nine straight U.K. Top 10 albums (8 in the U.S.) before they called it quits in 1992.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is available as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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