Tuesday, June 27, 2017

1967 - Rock's Seminal Year

The pop era, as we know it, really begins with Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby was more likely the first pop superstar, but Sinatra was the first hint of music by young people, for young people, (the rock mantra). In the 1950s, Sinatra's throne wasn't overturned by Elvis, but the state of pop was put on notice; the rock era was born. When the Beatles arrived, all the planets were aligned - enter the age of pop superstardom This Golden Age of Rock would last a dozen years with 1966 being the first in which rock crossed the boundaries into art, when music became more than just a corporate construct. AM relished in the ether that was 1966 throughout the past year.  But it was 1967 that proves rock's most vital year, ushering in the rock decade.

The list is endless: The Doors, Between The Buttons, Are You Experienced?, Velvet Underground And Nico, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Surrealistic Pillow, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Ten Years After, Disraeli Gears, Magical Mystery Tour, Buffalo Springfield Again, Axis: Bold As Love, Days of Future Passed, Forever Changes; even The Monkees scored with their first soiree into producing (Headquarters), emerging as real boys, a real band.  1967 was like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach all releasing their best LPs in the same year.  It's nearly impossible to fathom that the Laurel Canyon scene (which AM embraces so readily) occurred simultaneously to the garage/art rock of NYC or the early metal of the 13th Floor Elevators and Black Sabbath. '67 saw the first LPs from future seminal bands like the BeeGees, the Grateful Dead, even Tangerine Dream, while the soul charts gave us James Brown, Aretha, and Otis and Carla (Otis Redding and Carla Thomas). Janis and the Holding Co. gave us the greatest of raw blues. The failure of The Beach Boys' Smile, the most famous train wreck in rock history, lead to lesser volumes in Smiley's Smile and the 24 minute joy from the Carl Wilson produced and overlooked Wild Honey.

Great music abounds in 2017, from Steven Wilson to Porter Robinson, but 50 years ago remains the AM focus throughout the year as rock's finest moment (all you 1971 fans will get your turn).  

The masthead graphic for today's post is one of the most overlooked albums of this great era. Cream was like a meteor that flashed across the musical sky, bright enough for the naked eye, but indescribable after the fact, and ultimately forgotten. They were one of the first jam bands and were arguably the pioneers of heavy metal. Their music was particularly interesting because Clapton, Bruce, and Baker were non-rock musicians bringing their skills to rock and roll. The band lasted for only 2 years because of the extreme tension between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; the latter a great musician though a horrible human being prone to outbursts of invective accompanied by violence.

Disraeli Gears was recorded in New York City under the watchful eye of Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun. It was Cream’s commercial breakthrough as well as an artistic triumph. Said Ginger Baker of the title: "Mick Turner was one of the roadies who’d been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric (Clapton) was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick, driving, went ‘Oh yeah – Disraeli gears!’ meaning derailleur gears. We all just fell over. We said that’s got to be the album title."

Disraeli Gears is the seminal sixties psychedelic LPs (sorry Piper). Cream's "Strange Brew" set the standard for the band and has remained their most popular and beloved sample from a brief but legendary catalog. Classic hits of course include "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses," with its haunting lyrics and wah-wah guitar effects. "Strange Brew", "SWLABR" and "Outside Woman Blues" round out the LP as the perfect answer to Are You Experienced?. Both records are must haves for the true rock fan and anyone feigning interested in the origins of hard rock/heavy metal needs to know (as in truly study) this record.  Get busy.  1967 is an exhausting year for the true aficionado.

Back in the day of FM radio, my favorite segments were the perfect album sides on KMET in Los Angeles. At 11 or 13, you probably didn't realize just how good these LPs were until somebody else pointed it out. There were those albums that you figured out on your own yet there were those that needed a little coaxing. Maybe you overlooked it; maybe you weren’t listening in the right capacity. When the CD came about in the later part of the last millennium, sides were a thing of the past; we changed our ideology to the perfect album. It's a greater task today, of course, with the waning popularity of the record album and the return to the 50s/60s single format; we don't really get to think about albums as a whole or as a concept as much as we used to. Sad.

AM is dedicated to that perfect album, the LP that succeeds in all five catergories of the AM matrix. Over the past year, AM has shifted its focus a bit and some readers may not even realize that AM stands for Absolute Magnitude - that idea that a star’s brightness isn’t based on how close it is. We contend that the brightest star in the sky is our sun, and of course, that's not so. Absolute Magnitude measures things on a level playing field.

Several  artists have more than one AM10: The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, while some only have one, may have but an AM10 single. And, just like anything, there are those albums that even exceed the AM 10 matrix: albums like Sgt. Pepper,  Joni Mitchell's Blue and Dark Side of the Moon. This summer, as we celebrate the Summer of Love, AM will dedicate itself to the plethora of AM10s, more than any other year.