“Revolver” by the Beatles (1966)

Picture Beatlemania as it erupted in the United States in February 1964: Teenage girls screaming at four young “mop-top” musicians performing melodic love songs.

Two years later, the girls still were screaming. But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey had been transformed far, far beyond the cartoonish – yes, there actually was a Beatles animated series – portrayal of the Fab Four phenoms.

The release of “Rubber Soul” in late 1965 demonstrated how far the band had progressed musically, the lyrical simplicity of previous songs supplanted by a newfound complexity, particularly on Lennon’s material. Under the guidance of producer George Martin, the Beatles were able to translate their musical aspirations to vinyl.

“Revolver” is a groundbreaking statement in that it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities as to how a popular band could present itself to its audience. Stylistically, lyrically and sonically, the album represents a major step in formulating what we now know as classic rock.

Proceedings began on April 6, 1966, when the band started work on a new composition by Lennon that carried the working title of “Mark I.” After experiencing a bad LSD trip the first time he tried LSD, unwittingly dosed by his dentist, John decided to try the drug on better terms, using Dr. Timothy Leary’s writings as a guide. That did the trick.

“Mark I” apparently represents Lennon’s sonic conversion of an acid trip, evoking Leary’s words to a backdrop of tape loops, many of them running in reverse. In an attempt to add to the sense of otherworldliness, he suggested that he should be suspended from a rope to spin around as he delivered his vocal. Nineteen-year-old engineer Geoff Emerick came up with the more practical solution of Lennon singing into a Leslie revolving speaker, which he hijacked from an organ.

In the original version of “Mark I,” as released three decades later on “Anthology 2,” Lennon’s vocal is thin and tinny, described by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn as sounding like it was coming from the cheapest of transistor radios. By the time the song was completed as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the voice transmission is much higher fidelity, if hardly conventional.

According to McCartney and Harrison, Lennon drew the lyrics primarily from Leary’s “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead,” co-written by fellow LSD proselytizers Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. The first couple of verses read much like their guide to a good trip:

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Although the Beatles started work first on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” it is the final track on “Revolver,” which contains 14 tracks on its British version. Unfortunately, Capitol Records still was playing games with Beatles records as of 1966, and the American release contains only 11 songs, clocking in at well under half an hour.

Either way, kicking off the album is one of Harrison’s best-known songs, and one that looks to continue to resonate long after all of us are gone, “Taxman.” Stewing at his native United Kingdom taking 94 percent at his earnings, he launches into a viciously cynical diatribe from the government’s standpoint:

Don’t ask me what I want it for
(Haha! Mister Wilson!)
If you don’t want to pay some more
(Haha! Mister Heath!),
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman

Now my advice for those who die, (Taxman!)
Declare the pennies on your eyes, (Taxman!)
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
And you’re working for no-one but me!

If Harrison’s attack on the tax structure was revolutionary for 1966, the song that follows it on “Revolver” is no less. “Eleanor Rigby,” of course, is McCartney’s nihilistic vignette set to a string quartet, ruminating on “all the lonely people” and, by extension, on organized religion: “No one was saved.” Many other artists covered “Eleanor Rigby” in various forms, including the overtly psychedelicized Vanilla Fudge version. But the Beatles’ original arrangement – the strings, Paul’s plaintive vocal, John and George backing him on the chorus – remains the strongest.

The U.S. version of “Revolver” omits three Lennon songs that appear on other American albums: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert.” The first of those – a languidly paced number that abruptly drops out in places, as if the singer indeed has nodded off – is laced with many of the sonic effects of which John became enamored while recording “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Harrison returns with “Love You To,” the first of his three sitar-dominated compositions for the Beatles and probably the strongest one. Again, he expresses the cynicism of his worldview – “There’s people standing ’round/Who screw you in the ground/They’ll fill you in with all their sins you’ll see” – but this time he’s able to steer matters in the right direction with the love of his woman.

“Revolver” is an album of contrasts, and diametrically opposed to Lennon’s experimentation is McCartney’s penchant for straightforward love songs. “Here, There and Everywhere” is such an effort, presaging much of what has been criticized as fluff during his solo career, although this composition certainly has much more merit than something like, say, “Silly Love Songs.” (Although that Wings effort was the biggest hit of 1976!)

Speaking of hits, they don’t have much more staying power than “Yellow Submarine,” written by Lennon for Ringo’s vocal contribution to the album. The fanciful journey in what very well may be a barbiturate has been sung by children for a couple of generations now, enjoying the nonsense of claiming, “We all live in a yellow submarine!” Of note in the actual recording are the various nautical sound effects, which help keep the track sounding somewhat fresh as it plods along.

“She Said She Said” is another acid-influenced Lennon composition, this time based on a conversation he had with Peter Fonda when both were tripping. One drawback of the U.S. “Revolver” is that only this track and “Tomorrow Never Knows” were present to represent John’s work.

McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” has been heard recently in TV commercials, but the original uses the Beatles’ inimitable harmony vocals to great effect in conveying a thoroughly uplifting message, one that might be needed after the listener mulls “She Said She Said.”

Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” features an exceptional guitar line, with Harrison playing his 12-string Rickenbacker and McCartney adding support. The lyrics are rather cryptic, but one entirely plausible suggestions is that they refer to Mick Jagger’s then-girlfriend (“bird”) Marianne Faithfull, who had scored a couple of mid-’60s pop hits despite a lack of prior performing experience.

“For No One” shows McCartney taking the opposite approach of “Good Day Sunshine” with a melancholy statement on the breakup of “a love that should have lasted years.” Given full credit on the album cover for his French horn playing was Alan Civil (1929-89), principal hornist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 1988.

The popular story behind Lennon’s “Doctor Robert” is that he wrote it about a pill-pushing physician in New York. Certainly, the lyrics hint at some type of prescriptive shenanigans:

Ring my friend, I said you call Doctor Robert
Day or night he’ll be there any time at all, Doctor Robert
Doctor Robert, you’re a new and better man,
He helps you to understand
He does everything he can, Doctor Robert

“I Want to Tell You” is one of Harrison’s best Beatles songs, faded in with a stuttering, hard-rock intro that goes a long way toward defining the band’s sound of its proto-psychedelic period. Again, George is prone to ruminate: “But if I seem to act unkind/It’s only me, it’s not my mind/That is confusing things.”

McCartney does his best Motown impression on “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which became a hit U.S. single in 1976 after being re-released on Capitol’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation. The song shows the Beatles as maintaining their strong R&B roots in the midst of their transformation to psychedelia.

The release of “Revolver” in August 1966 coincided with the start of a short tour, which wrapped up with a performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Aug. 29. No songs from the new album were included, of course, as the band ripped through their usual Fab Four-type set, most of the sound drowned in screams.

And that, of course, was that.

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“The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan & The Band (1975)

On July 29, 1966, Bob Dylan was on the way home from visiting his manager, Albert Grossman, in the countryside near Woodstock, N.Y. He was riding on his 1964 Triumph T100, with his wife, Sara, following in a car.

What happened next remains a subject of conjecture nearly half a century later. Dylan told various people that he either hit an oil slick or was blinded by the sun. Other sources blame a mechanical problem with the bike. Whatever the case, he went down hard on the pavement, cracking a vertebra.

Rather than simply recuperate and resume his touring schedule, Dylan turned into a virtual recluse. He’d been less than well-received in many quarters since he started to add rock elements to his traditional folk-blues, with audiences on his recently concluded British tour contributing particular vitriol. Listen to the second disc of his “Bootleg Series: Vol. 6” for a taste of what he and his backing band, the Hawks, received.

So he apparently decided to lay low for a while, fueling speculation that he either was dead or close to it. Two years would pass before he released his next album, the low-key masterpiece “John Wesley Harding.” In 1969, his appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival was tremendously received by fans who thought they’d never see him in concert again. Similarly, the highlight of George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh was Dylan’s first live appearance in the United States in more than five years. And it wouldn’t be until 1974 that he toured again, with the Hawks – by then, renowned throughout the world as The Band – complementing him musically.

The reclusive Dylan kept busy, though. He and the Hawks got together during 1967, while the music world received the likes of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Are You Experienced?” and “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” producing a low-key, back-to-the-roots series of recordings that ran counter to the grander explorations of the rock community at large.

“The Basement Tapes” represents Columbia Records’ distillation of those recordings, which perhaps numbered a hundred, eight years after the fact. Many of the 24 tracks on the two-record set were recognizable to listeners, either through cover versions of the Dylan compositions or tracks that the Band re-recorded for its debut album, the landmark “Music from Big Pink.” And many of the songs were recognizable because they’d been available outside of Columbia’s control for years.

“The Great White Wonder” is the name attached to what is considered as the first bootleg rock album, which surfaced in 1969. It contained a handful of songs that Dylan and the Band had cut during the 1967 sessions, along with a number of other rarities dating back to Dylan’s formative years as a musician.

At any rate, by the time “The Basement Tapes” appeared, the legend had grown sufficiently that the album went to No. 7 on the charts and drew almost unanimous critical acclaim. The dissenting voices didn’t complain about the music, per se, but about how the album was structured. Many of the original ’67 recordings were nowhere to be found, while the Band’s material given a much more prominent role, and some of those tracks had been cut relatively recently. Plus a good bit of “The Basement Tapes” had been subjected to overdubs, about which purists always complain.

Whatever the case, the finished product stands as a major document in the development and maturity of rock music, offering a series of entertaining and whimsical vignettes that examine numerous topics, often in a thoroughly obtuse manner.

The official version of “The Basement Tapes” opens with “Odds and Ends,” which may well have served as the album’s summation, if the title is any indicator. Dylan seems to acknowledge as much in the lyrics: “I’ve had enough, my box is clean/You know what I’m saying and you know what I mean.”

“Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast)” is a performance by the Band, or more accurately, composer Richard Manuel and bass player Rick Danko, who recorded the basic track in 1967. They joined with the rest of the group – Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson – to finish the track shortly before the album’s release.

“Million Dollar Bash” was familiar to fans of the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, having appeared on that group’s third album, “Unhalfbricking,” in 1968. The song contains brilliant Dylan wordplay throughout; for example: “Well, I looked at my watch, I looked at my wrist/Punched myself in the face with my fist/I took my potatoes down to be mashed/Then I made it over to that million dollar bash.”

“Yazoo Street Scandal” demonstrates why the Band became one of the most important rock groups to emerge in the late ’60s, with the elements of songwriting (Robertson), vocal delivery (Helm) and distinctive instrumentation (particularly Hudson’s organ) putting forth the tale of a rainstorm of dubious origin set against a colorful cast of characters, including a pill-popping prostitute named Eliza.

Dylan returns for the relatively subdued “Goin’ to Acapulco,” a destination for an obvious reason: “Goin’ down to see some girl/Goin’ to have some fun.” Then the proceedings shift back to the Band for “Katie’s Been Gone,” another track that would have been right at home on one of the group’s first two albums, which made such an impact in the rock world before the end of the decade.

“Lo and Behold” is another great lyrical romp that makes the listener wonder what the hell Dylan is talking about, but can’t help enjoying the song, anyway. He invokes Pittsburgh as a train stop leading up to this gem:

What’s the matter, Molly, dear/What’s the matter with your mound?
What’s it to ya, Moby Dick?/This is chicken town!

Speculation about the Band’s “Bessie Smith” places the song as being recorded perhaps two or as many as eight years after the original sessions for “The Basement Tapes.” Critics contend in that case, it doesn’t belong on the album. But it’s a suitably melodic, melancholy number that certainly fits well within the Band’s canon of subtle storytelling.

Dylan’s “Clothes Line Saga” evokes images of neighbors hanging out, shooting the breeze, as this fanciful exchange illustrates:

“Have you heard the news?” he said with a grin, “The Vice President’s gone mad”
“Where?” “Downtown.” “When?” “Last night”
“Hmm, say, that’s too bad”

It’s not know where this may or may not have occurred involving Hubert H. Humphrey …

“Apple Suckling Tree” approaches traditional folk in delivery, the lyrics notwithstanding. Again, Dylan appears to have great fun delivering words seemingly at random: “Who should I tell, oh, who should I tell?/The 49 of you like bats out of hell/Oh, underneath that old apple suckling tree.”

In “Please Mrs. Henry,” the narrator appears to be a drunken mess, imploring his landlady to take care of him in one way or another, like letting him use the bathroom: “Now, I’m startin’ to drain/My stool’s gonna squeak/If I walk too much farther/My crane’s gonna leak.”

“Tears of Rage” already was a widely known and acclaimed song because of its appearance as the leadoff track on 1968’s “Music from Big Pink.” Dylan sings “The Basement Tapes” version, an elegaic reading that conveys the anguish being felt by some elements of American society in the ’60s. And today, for that matter.

On the two-CD set currently in print, “Too Much of Nothing” opens the second disc with a haunting melody and matching lyrics: “Say hello to Valerie, say hello to Vivian/Send them all my salary, on the waters of oblivion.” Peter, Paul & Mary, whose version of “Blowing in the Wind” had shot Dylan, the songwriter, to superstardom, also covered “Too Much of Nothing” and took it to the Top 40 in 1967.

The rollicking “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread” contains lyrics that are as difficult to fathom as the title suggests. They’re a hoot, though:

Now, pull that drummer out from behind that bottle
Bring my pipe, we’re gonna shake it
Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
Take me down to California, baby

“Ain’t No More Cane” is a traditional song that the Band played at Woodstock, in between scorching blues-rock sets by Johnny Winter and Ten Years After. The recording date of “The Basement Tapes” version also is subject to much speculation and could have been done as late as 1975.

“Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)” is based on songs about the rising of the Mississippi, with Dylan’s unique take on proceedings: “Well, it’s sugar for sugar, and salt for salt/If you go down in the flood, it’s gonna be your own fault.” The tune also was covered by Fairport Convention, appearing on the live album “A Moveable Feast.”

Manuel sings the raucous “Ruben Remus,” which may have been a “Music from Big Pink” outtake. “Tiny Montgomery” features more of Dylan’s nonsensical lyrics in a spirited romp about an ostensibly friendly fellow who may or may not be going to San Francisco.

The Byrds covered “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and made it the first track on their milestone “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Roger McGuinn described his fascination with the song in choosing it for such a visible position: “It was country-ish and had that Dylan mystique where you couldn’t really figure what he was talking about, yet the lyrics nevertheless drew you in. … I always thought it was about when Bob was laid up in Woodstock after the bike accident and sure wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Don’t Ya Tell Henry” was written by Dylan but performed by the Band on “The Basement Tapes,” in another session possibly as late as 1975. The Band also played the song at the mammoth Watkins Glen festival in 1973, an authorized version of which was released in the mid-’90s.

“Nothing Was Delivered” also appeared on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” with the Byrds making it the closing track in a grand arrangement featuring steel guitar runs and well-blended harmony vocals. The version on “The Basement Tapes” is much more raw, perhaps better conveying Dylan’s story of a drug deal gone bad using perhaps his most direct lyrics on the album.

“Open the Door, Homer” evokes a Count Basie song called “Open the Door, Richard” … actually, that’s what Dylan sings in the chorus. Thunderclap Newman covered the song on its sole album, “Hollywood Dream,” and Fairport Convention titled it using “Richard” on “Red & Gold.”

“Long Distance Operator” is a Dylan song that dates from the mid-’60s, but Manuel sings lead on “The Basement Tapes” version. It’s a blues song with a groove, carried musically by Hudson’s whirling organ.

“This Wheel’s on Fire” closes the album as another song that gained fame from its appearance on “Music from Big Pink,” along with the Byrds’ proto-metal version on “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde.” The “wheel” probably refers to the one that caused all the trouble on Dylan’s Triumph.

And by extension, caused “The Basement Tapes” to come into existence.

“Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds (1966)

Album-oriented rock still was a long way off when the Yardbirds’ career got into full swing in the mid-1960s.

The band issued a string of hit singles that consolidated their status in their native Britain and the United States, classics like “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You” and “Shapes of Things.” Much of that material was compiled for two U.S.-only LPs, “For Your Love” and “Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds,” which further enhanced their American reputation, particularly among fledgling guitar players who taught themselves to the riffs of Jeff Beck and Eric “Slowhand” Clapton.

In the summer of 1966, the Yardbirds finally released their first U.K. studio album, simply titled “The Yardbirds” but popularly known as “Roger the Engineer” because of the caption on drummer Jim McCarty’s distinctive cover portrait. Also confusing the issue is the name the album was given outside Britain: “Over Under Sideways Down,” after an LP track that became a hit single.

“Roger” turned out to be the only Yardbirds U.K. studio album, at least until the 21st-century version of the band released a CD called “Birdland” in 2003. The LP “Little Games,” featuring Jimmy Page on lead guitar, was a U.S.-only release in 1967.

Meanwhile, the overall Yardbirds discography has grown exponentially over the decades, with much of the band’s early material seemingly out there in the public domain for anyone who wants to slap together a collection for marketing purposes.

And so for music enthusiasts looking to dig into Yardbirds material, “Roger the Engineer” is a logical place to start. Not only does it represent the band’s most consistent full-length release, but it’s a damned good representation of the transition from garage rock to psychedelia.

Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith co-produced the album, foreshadowing his transition from playing music to studio work. His bass guitar is the dominant instrument for the opening track as he provides the octave-scale hook for “Lost Woman.” At least, that’s until Beck fires off a scorching lead in the middle section, setting a precedent for much of the rest of the album.

“Over Under Sideways Down” features a fuzzed-guitar motif – Beck was a pioneer in getting that type of sound out of this instrument as vocalist Keith Relf provides a narrative worth of the band’s home of Swinging London:

Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age
Laughing, joking, drinking, smoking ’til I’ve spent my wage.
When I was young, people spoke of immorality
All the things they said were wrong are what I want to be

The song represents the last major singles triumph for the Yardbirds: No. 13 on the U.S. charts and No. 10 in the U.K.

Beck spells Relf on lead vocal for “The Nazz Are Blue,” and although Jeff doesn’t sound particularly comfortable in that role, he started his solo career as a singing guitarist with the British Hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” As for “The Nazz,” it’s in a fairly standard 12-bar blues format, with Beck providing his usual stellar guitar. The song served as the impetus for the names of at least two American bands: Todd Rundgren’s band out of Philadelphia, which recorded three albums as the Nazz, and another group from Phoenix, until the members started calling themselves Alice Cooper.

“I Can’t Make Your Way” is an upbeat ditty that extols the virtues of living beyond the pale, so to speak: “Taxman, rent man, they all chase me, I ain’t home when they come around/Got no money, live my life free, that’s the best way I have found.”

Another Beck showcase is “Rack My Mind,” another blues-based, woman-done-wrong song driven by a memorable bass line. His guitar really comes to the forefront during the slowed-tempo middle section.

The brief, sparsely accompanied “Farewell” has Relf musing about the ills of the world throughout the days of the week, concluding on Sunday with the ominous: “On Sunday back inside my room, I draw the blinds, ’tis afternoon/I let my mind find its own ways, farewell to future days.” Who said the ’60s were all about flowers and sunshine?

“Hot House of Omagarashid” has the Yardbirds veering off into experimental territory, with rhythm guitarist producing a rhythm by shaking something called a wobble board and the band plunging into another bass-driven tune, this one enhanced by various members chanting an infectious “Ya-ya-ya!” lyric. The mono mix of the song features one of Beck’s most searing guitar leads.

“Jeff’s Boogie” pretty much is what the title indicates: Beck providing a workout to an instrumental line that strongly resembles Chuck Berry’s “Guitar Boogie.” He also throws in a few quotes from “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” perhaps as a nod to Buddy Guy.

The Yardbirds show their heavier side on “He’s Always There,” a lament about trying to hit on a girl when her boyfriend won’t leave her side. Beck’s playing is somewhat reserved until the outro, during which he plays a blazing guitar as Relf and others sing the song title repeatedly.

“Turn into Earth” is a foray into Gregorian chant territory, along the lines of the highly successful “Still I’m Sad.” Relf returns to the lyrical doom and gloom of “Farewell”:

Distant dreams of things to be
Wandering thoughts that can’t be free
I feel my mind turning away
To the darkness of my day

“What Do You Want” is the Yardbirds in rave-up mode, jamming to a catchy tune as Relf puts forth another lament about a fickle woman. As with many of the “Roger the Engineer” songs, this one is available in some collections in its instrumental form, again showing why Beck was regarded as one of the top young guitarists of the era.

The album closes on a foreboding note with “Ever Since the World Began,” a minor-key dirge that abruptly shifts to a much livelier tempo. Lyrically, it’s yet more familiar territory a la “I Can’t Make Your Way”: Band members chant, “I don’t need money,” as Relf expounds in a root-of-all-evil theme.

Most reissues of “Roger the Engineer” have included two additional songs, the single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and its British B-side, “Psycho Daisies.” Both feature the short-lived lineup of Beck and Page sharing lead-guitar duties.

The A-side may mark the pinnacle of the Yardbirds’ creativity, but unfortunately it stiffed on the charts, peaking at No. 30 in the U.S. and No. 43 in the U.K. “Happenings” also represents an early collaboration between Page and John Paul Jones, who played bass.

In the United States, the B-side was “The Nazz Are Blue.” Rundgren must have bought the 45; not only did he name his band after one of the songs, but he covered the other on his “Faithful” album in 1976.

After “Roger the Engineer,” the Yardbirds’ commercial appeal declined significantly, and the band broke up in June 1968. Page put together another group to fulfill some contractual obligations, and so Led Zeppelin played its first several gigs billed as his previous band.

If he, Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham played any “Roger the Engineer” material together, it has not been recorded in any Led Zeppelin histories.

“Hot Rats” by Frank Zappa (1969)

The weekend of Woodstock, Frank Zappa was a couple of hundred miles to the north, playing gigs with the Mothers of Invention that Saturday and Sunday in Montreal. The band then traveled to Toronto for a television appearance.

Those represented the final outings of the original Mothers – MGM Records insisted the “of Invention” be tacked onto the end – before Zappa decided to break up the group, which started as an R&B outfit called the Soul Giants and evolved into an amalgam of styles that, in the band’s latter stages, was “close enough for jazz,” as the saying goes.

“In 1969, George Wein, impresario of the Newport Jazz Festival, decided it would be a tremendous idea to put the Mothers of Invention on a jazz tour of the East Coast,” Zappa wrote in “The Real Frank Zappa Book” with Peter Occhiogrosso.

The touring package did not carry its own PA. We had to use whatever speakers existed in each of the venues we were booked to play. The hall in South Carolina was rigged with small jukebox speakers, set in a ring around the building. Useless, but there they were. We had to play the show.

Before we went on, I saw Duke Ellington begging – pleading – for a $10 advance. It was really depressing. After that show, I told the guys, ‘That’s it. We’re breaking the band up.’ We’d been together in one configuration or another for about five years at that point, and suddenly EVERYTHING looked utterly hopeless to me. If Duke Ellington had to beg some George Wein assistant backstage for ten bucks, what the fuck was I doing with a 10-piece band, trying to play rock and roll, or something that was almost rock and roll?

The Mothers of Invention had been a groundbreaking act, combining dadaist theatrical elements – a rubber chicken often was involved – with several musical influences: jazz, classical, doo-wop and and some of the hardest rock ever heard to that point. Observers tended to focus on the band’s antics, which in turn tended to obscure the brilliant playing of its members, particularly lead guitarist Zappa.

On the LPs released by the Mothers through 1969, his contributions were rather subdued, but his talent shone through whenever he allowed his guitar to take the spotlight, notably on the tracks “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin,” “Stuff Up the Cracks” and “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution.”

So it may have come as somewhat of a revelation to the public at large when Zappa’s first post-Mothers album, “Hot Rats,” hit the shelves in October 1969. Not only was his guitar at the forefront of the record’s rock-oriented songs, but the ones that leaned toward jazz were eminently listenable compared with some of the more challenging MOI work.

The album’s opener, “Peaches En Regalia,” is a prime example. The song builds on a simple six-note theme, one of Zappa’s most recognizable melodies, to explore a series of increasingly complex variations. Zappa took full advantage of 16-track recording technology, then the state of the art, to build layers of music, resulting in a full, rich aural texture.

Most of those tracks featured contributions by Ian Underwood, the sole member of the Mothers of Invention who worked on “Hot Rats.” By all accounts, Underwood should have received co-credit for the album, but he seems to have been content to supply Zappa with virtuoso performances on various keyboards and woodwind instruments.

Providing a driving bass guitar throughout “Peaches En Regalia” is Johnny Alexander Veliotes Jr., known professionally as Shuggie Otis. The son of early rock ‘n’ roll singer-impresario Johnny Otis was just 15 years old when he entered the studio to record with Zappa, Underwood and drummer Ron Selico. Shuggie went on to success as a songwriter – his “Strawberry Letter 23” was a massive hit for the Brothers Johnson in 1977 – and solo artist, although he stopped doing more than session work after his highly regarded 1974 album “Inspiration Information.”

By then, Frank Zappa’s voice had become one of the most widely recognized in rock, but he provides no vocals on “Hot Rats.” Indeed, the album mostly is instrumental, except for the short opening section of the second song, “Willie the Pimp.” The guitar riff-driven composition opens with Captain Beefheart (Don Vliet), with whom Zappa recently had worked on the absurdist classic “Trout Mask Replica,” belting out the short tale of a guy trying to make a few bucks:

I’m a little pimp with my hair gassed back, pair a khaki pants with my shoes shined black
Got a little lady, walk the street, tellin’ all the boys that she can’t be beat
Twenty-dollar bill, I can set you straight, meet me on the corner, boy, don’t be late
Man in a suit with bow-tie neck, wanna buy a grunt with a third-party check
Standin’ on the porch of the Lido Hotel, floozies in the lobby love the way I sell:
HOT MEAT HOT RATS HOT ZITS HOT CHEST HOT RITZ HOT ROOTS HOT SOOTS

What follows is nearly eight minutes’ worth of jamming, with Zappa at the forefront, trading licks with violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, who had scored some R&B hits as half of the duo Don & Dewey in the late ’50s. The rhythm section for “Willie the Pimp” is Max Bennett on bass and John Guerin on drums, and Underwood plays his usual array of instruments.

The title of the next track led to the oft-repeated story about Zappa that he refutes at the very beginning of “The Real Frank Zappa Book”:

Because I recorded a song called “Son of Mr. Green Genes” on the “Hot Rats” album in 1969, people have believed for years that the character with that name on the “Captain Kangaroo” TV show (played by Lumpy Brannan) was my “real” dad. No, he was not.

Rather, the title was derived from a song on “Uncle Meat,” the Mothers of Invention’s final album before the breakup. For “Son of,” Zappa took the basic theme and stretched it into a nine-plus-minute workout that contains some of the most fluid, inventive guitar of his entire career.

“Little Umbrellas” is styled along the lines of “Peaches En Regalia,” a shorter, jazz-oriented composition relying heavily on Underwood’s various instruments.

“The Gumbo Variations” is the third of the extended jams on “Hot Rats,” with Harris’ violin and Underwood’s saxophones carrying lengthy sections. Zappa’s guitar again is the dominant instrument, providing a monstrous riff over which the other musicians solo.

The final track, “It Must Be a Camel,” features French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty on violin before he became a well-known solo artist in his own right. The most complex composition on the album, it contains several shifts in tempo, a structure Zappa had explored to a large degree on “Uncle Meat.”

“Hot Rats” barely scraped the American charts on its release, but since has become recognized as one of Zappa’s most accessible and accomplished recordings. When it was released in the United Kingdom in early 1970, the album hit the Top 20, Zappa’s all-time best showing across the Atlantic.

Following the “Hot Rats” project, Zappa assembled another version of the Mothers, eventually dropping the “of Invention” and featuring former Turtles singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who developed the persona of Flo and Eddie. For the next couple of years, the Mothers focused on comedy and satire, and it wasn’t until 1972 that Zappa returned to a musical format that somewhat resembled “Hot Rats.” The resulting album, “Waka/Jawaka,” even had the phrase from the previous album emblazoned on its cover.

Speaking of album covers, the woman featured on “Hot Rats,” seemingly crawling out of a crypt, is Christine Frka. She was a member of the GTOs, the band of groupies and nominal musicians that recorded a Zappa-produced album called “Permanent Damage” in the late ’60s. Frka also served as the inspiration for “Christine’s Tune,” the opening track on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ debut “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” Unfortunately, she later had to wear a body cast to try to correct a crooked spine, and she died of a drug overdose in 1972, a few weeks before what would have been her 30th birthday.

“Bringing It All Back Home” by Bob Dylan (1965)

Pinpointing the start of the “classic rock” era is purely subjective.

Some observers place the transition from early rock ‘n’ roll to a more enlightened form squarely on the shoulders of the Beatles, perhaps starting with their first recording session with George Martin in September 1962 or their February 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The release of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” in the summer of ’64 gave early exposure to the potential of power chords and distorted lead guitar. The Rolling Stones came as close to anyone in perfecting the form with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in the spring of ’65.

Much of what distinguishes “classic rock” has to do with its presentation, evolving in emphasis from 45-RPM to 33 1/3. In that context, one long-player might be considered the first of the Classic Rock Era, which takes in roughly 15 years, from 1965 through the end of the ’70s.

Bob Dylan recorded his fifth album during a three-day blitz in January 1965 at Columbia Recording Studios in New York City. When “Bringing It All Back Home” hit the shelves on March 27, quite a few fans were puzzled at what appeared to be his abrupt switch from acoustic guitar to louder instruments: He’d gone electric.

That was only partially true. Dylan first recorded with an electric band in late 1962, but the resulting track, “Mixed Up Confusion,” disappeared quickly after Columbia Records released it as a single. And while the entire first side of “Bringing It All Back Home” is electric, Dylan returns to his familiar acoustic approach on Side Two.

But no matter how it’s presented, the music on Dylan’s first album of 1965 represents a major step forward in the maturation process of rock.

His lyrics had been progressing from relatively easy-to-digest protest songs to more personal and arcane matters, such as “To Ramona” on his fourth LP, “Another Side of Bob Dylan”:

The flowers of the city
Though breathlike, get deathlike at times
And there’s no use in tryin’
To deal with the dyin’
Though I cannot explain that in lines

On “Bringing It All Back Home,” Dylan ups the ante right off the bat. The opening track, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” opened a whole new world of arcane wordplay for rock-oriented songwriters, none of whom have yet to come up with anything matching this:

Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off
Look out, kid, it’s somethin’ you did
God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way, lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skip cap in the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills, you only got ten

Dylan has cited Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” as a stylistic antecedent, as Bob’s fast-paced delivery is sort of reminiscent of what Chuck did with his tune. But “Subterranean Homesick Blues” also sounds like a primordial form of what would become rap, albeit without the obligatory references to violence toward women.

Whatever the case, Columbia decided to release the song as a single, and it reached No. 39 to just barely give Dylan his first Top 40 hit.

“She Belongs to Me” seems like an easygoing love song, but Dylan weaves in more than a hint of contempt for the subject: “She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique.”

Dylan’s protest inclinations manifest themselves on “Maggie’s Farm,” this time with a few twists. The electric backing provides a rollicking backdrop to provide Dylan with some swagger as he expresses his defiance of oppression, and the lyrics, while obtuse, still resonate fully with listeners. Take the description of Maggie’s brother, for instance: “He hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime/He asks you with a grin if you’re havin’ a good time/Then he fines you every time you slam the door.” You’ve worked for that guy!

“Love Minus Zero/No Limit” actually is a love song, about Sara Lowndes, later Mrs. Robert Zimmerman. Rather than serving up the usual series of platitudes, Dylan describes his future wife through intriguing pieces of imagery:

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of match sticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

Dylan’s sense of humor comes to the forefront on the album’s next three songs, which close out the electric portion of the album. “Outlaw Blues” features a series of absurdist declarations – “I might look like Robert Ford, but I feel just like a Jesse James” – before he wraps up with a cogent protest of miscegenation:

I got a woman in Jackson, I ain’t gonna say her name
She’s a brown-skin woman, but I love her just the same

By the way, Grace Slick’s pre-Jefferson Airplane band, the Great Society, covered “Outlaw Blues” with Grace singing about her love for a “brown-skinned man.” Perhaps it’s best that such performances were limited to the more open-minded audiences of the San Francisco area.

“On the Road” is Dylan at his funniest. Almost. How can you not grin when confronted with lyrics like:

Well, I wake up in the morning
There’s frogs inside my socks
Your mama, she’s a-hidin’
Inside the icebox
Your daddy walks in wearin’
A Napoleon Bonarparte mask

And so it continues for two-and-a-half minutes, with Dylan questioning why in the world he’d hang around such shenanigans.

But that’s merely a prelude for the six-and-a-half minutes of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” which begins, appropriately enough, with the backing band blowing its cue and Dylan cracking up laughing. What follows is a wholly amusing deconstruction of many of America’s ills, framed against a rapid-fire twisting of words and phrases to create some type of surreal, yet believable, netherworld:

I was riding on the Mayflower when I thought I spied some land
I yelled for Captain Arab, I have yuh understand
Who came running to the deck, said, “Boys, forget the whale
Look on over yonder, cut the engines, change the sail”

The narrator’s adventures go on to include a stint in jail, an explosion at a restaurant, a visit to a bank – “They asked me for collateral, I pulled down my pants” – threats of physical violence from a patriot, and his eventual return to his ship:

I saw three ships a-sailin’
There were all heading my way
I asked the captain what his name was
And how come he didn’t drive a truck
He said his name was Columbus
I just said, “Good luck”

The acoustic side of “Bringing It All Back Home” dispenses with humor for a quartet of lengthy, thought-inspiring compositions. The first, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” was covered in a truncated version by the Byrds that went to No. 1 later in 1965 and served as the template for what became known as folk-rock. Then there’s the version by William Shatner … that’s a classic of a completely different sort.

“Gates of Eden” is shrouded in mystery as far as lyrical meaning, combining plenty of Biblical allusions with modern imagery, most notably “the motorcycle black Madonna, two-wheeled gypsy queen and her silver-studded phantom cause.” Perhaps the final verse best sums up the song’s intent:

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true
And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden

“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is a strikingly foreboding composition that addresses the tensions ready to boil over in the mid-’60s:

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

Dylan counters such start portrayals with the figurative shrugging of shoulders: “But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life and life only,” which would seem to represent less of protest than resignation to inevitability.

“Bringing It All Back Home” closes with a diatribe against an unknown subject, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Speculation has run rampant over the years as to who Baby Blue might be, but Dylan has kept his mouth shut. The song remains one of his best-known and most-covered tunes, with Jerry Garcia singing it with the Grateful Dead off an on for the better part of 30 years.

Despite the electric/acoustic dichotomy, or perhaps because of it, “Bringing It All Back Home” became cracked the Top 10 for Dylan, peaking at No. 6 in the spring of 1965. By then, he was steeped in another project that would raise the rock music bar one more notch.

But that’s another story.

“Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones (1968)

I. Torn and Frayed

At nearly four centuries old, Swarkestone Hall Pavilion offers visitors to England’s Derbyshire County in England an opportunity to spend the night with history.

The structure, now offered for accommodations, dates back to 1632, when Sir John Harpur commissioned pioneering architect John Smythson to build a recreational building on the grounds of the family residence. The main house has been in ruins since around 1750, but the pavilion has endured, most recently assisted through efforts by the British building conservation charity Landmark Trust.

The building had stood for more than 330 years when it had its most enduring brush with fame.

In June 1968, photographer Michael Joseph chose the locale for a shoot involving five long-haired, rather scruffy young men from London. They’d been photographed countless times before, and would be so exponentially more in the future. But this session would prove to be among the most memorable, and bittersweet, occasions.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Billy Wyman, Charlie Watts and Brian Jones met with Joseph in their hometown of London before moving to the more picturesque location in Derbyshire, providing a wealth of images that ended up illustrating two Rolling Stones albums, that year’s “Beggars Banquet” and the 1970 anthology “Hot Rocks.”

By the time Decca Records was preparing the packaging for the latter, one of the subjects no longer was available. Lewis B. Jones, as was his proper name, died July 3, 1969, setting the precedent for the unfortunate spate of rock superstars who have succumbed to the lifestyle at age 27.

The back cover of “Hot Rocks” shows the Stones at Swarkestone, Watts standing front and center on the ground, and the rest of them perched on the massive window sills. Jones is reclining rather precariously, as if he were about to plunge downward, a position that fairly accurately represents the trajectory on which he found himself the last few years of his life, especially with regard to his band.

The “Beggars Banquet” motif that would up being portrayed on the inside of the album jacket shows Brian in a seemingly helpless position, pinned to his chair by a large dog, his facial expression bemused, his hands held skyward in a gesture of surrender. He was only 26 at the time but had the general appearance of a much-older man.

The Joseph sessions represent one of the final glimpses of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. True, he’d appear with the rest of the band on a would-be TV special, “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus,” filmed in late 1968 but pretty much hidden away for the better part of three decades afterward. By then, he had become but a footnote in the band’s history, with latter-day fans often wondering, “Who’s that guy?”

Those participating in recording sessions for “Beggars Banquet” might have wondered the same thing, considering Brian’s contributions to the project, or lack thereof. He’s credited with playing slide guitar – stunningly, as usual – on one track, harmonica on a few others, and a few assorted, more exotic instruments here and there. But for the most part he had little input toward what turned out to be his last album, save for incidental appearances on a couple of tracks on the followup, “Let It Bleed.”

In another bittersweet twist, critics at the time regarded “Beggars Banquet” as the first truly solid Rolling Stones album, a viewpoint that persists nearly half a century after its release. That’s because Keith Richards stepped up in a big way to fill the void left by Brian, once the band’s showcase instrumentalist, and his slow, steady decline, one that didn’t necessarily have to be irrevocable.


II. Come On

In mid-1962, the late Ian “Stu” Stewart was an easygoing 24-year-old piano player looking to hone his boogie-woogie style with a band of likeminded individuals in his adopted hometown of London.

“So when a little advert appeared in Jazz News – a character called Brian Jones wanted to form an R&B group – I went along and saw him,” Stewart told author Stanley Booth for his landmark biography, “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.”

I’ll never forget. He had this Howlin’ Wolf album goin’. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought, Right, this is it. He said, “We’re gonna have a rehearsal.”

Gathering with Jones and Stewart were an assortment of motley characters, among them 18-year-old guitarist Richards. He persuaded his acquaintance Jagger, who was singing with Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. while studying at the London School of Economics, to drop by one of the rehearsals.

Thus marked the beginning of the Rollin’ Stones, before they added the “g.” The band came close to falling apart right away, though, as Richards recalled:

Brian was living right in the middle of where all the spades live here, in a basement, very decrepit place with mushrooms and fungus growing out of the walls, with (girlfriend) Pat and his kid. Now sometime this summer something really weird happens. One night Mick, who’d been playin’ a gig with Korner, went ’round to see Brian, if I remember rightly, and Brian wasn’t there but his old lady was. Mick was very drunk, and he screwed her.

This caused a whole trauma. At first, Brian was terribly offended. The chick split. But what it really did was put Mick and Brian very tight together, because it put them through a whole emotional scene and they really got into each other, and they became very close.”

Jagger, in fact, was more serious about his education than a music career, until Jones convinced him otherwise. When Bill Perks (Wyman) and Charlie Watts joined the band – originally it was the Rollin’ Stones – it became the vocalist’s going concern.

“At the start of the Stones it was Brian who was the monster head,” Korner told Booth:

Brian was incredibly aggressive in performance. … He used to jump forward with the tambourine and sneer at you at the same time. The aggression had a tremendous impact. Also, he was a very sensitive player. Brian, at his best, could play slow blues exceptionally well. But what I remember him most for is his ‘I’m gonna put the boot in’ attitude.

At the start, Brian was the image of aggression in the Stones much more than Mick.

Jones was the de facto leader of an energized sextet with a sound and stage act that attracted a multitude of customers to London’s Crawdaddy Club, along with a teenage entrepreneur named Andrew Loog Oldham. He and business partner Eric Easton took over the Rolling Stones’ management and signed them to Decca Records. On May 10, 1963, the band cut two songs for its first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and Willie Dixon’s “I Wanna Be Loved,” and soon after the Stones played the former on a TV show called “Thank Your Lucky Stars.”

“They wore matching houndstooth check jackets Oldham had provided to make them look more like a group,” Booth wrote, “and there were only five of them.”

“This is where Brian starts to realize things have gone beyond his control,” Keith said. “Before this, everybody knows that Brian considers it to be his band. Now Andrew Oldham sees Mick as a big sex symbol, and wants to kick Stu out, and we won’t have it. And eventually, because Brian had known him longer than we, and the band was Brian’s idea in the first place, Brian had to tell Stu how we’d signed with these people, how they were very image-conscious, and Stu didn’t fit in. …

“By now, the Beatles have seen us play, and we’ve been to see them at the Albert Hall, and we’ve seen all the screaming chicks, the birds down in front, and everybody can’t wait, you can’t wait to hear the screams.”

That’s what Jones wanted, and as the band started traveling throughout England, that’s what he got, albeit in a rather raucous manner. Stewart, who’d been relegated to roadie after Oldham’s intervention, told Booth about the general atmosphere of an early Rolling Stones concert in the hinterlands:

“No dressing rooms, no stages, no electricity, no security, fuck-all, used to be a hell of a bloody fight every night. They all said, ‘We’ve had the Beatles here; we can handle anything.’ You’d say, ‘Well, you haven’t had the Stones yet. You wait,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, we can handle everything,’ so everything used to get destroyed.

“The boys themselves never used to help matters much, because they resisted for a while the idea of all traveling together. Brian had something to do with this. Nobody wanted to be in the same car with Brian for any length of time. He began to feel he’d been eased out. He became difficult to live with.”


III. Shattered

On Aug. 27, 1963, during a whirlwind tour of England, the Rolling Stones performed at the Star and Garter pub in Windsor. Richards was the only guitarist that night; Jones was ill and sat that one out.

His status as the group’s leader already was eroding. In the beginning, he handled the cash and paid the other band members. Eventually, they received their money from the management office.

Also eventually, Jagger and Richards starting writing songs together, “though we didn’t like anything we wrote and we couldn’t get anybody else in the band to play it,” Keith recalled. But after other artists started scoring hits with their material, most notably Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” the Stones started recording more Jagger-Richards material, solidifying the partnership when “The Last Time” hit No. 1 on the UK singles charts.

Jones wrote songs, too, but none ever would be recorded by the Rolling Stones, which had become almost on par with the Beatles as a top rock ‘n’ roll attraction. Their American tour in late 1965 grossed $2 million in a month and a half, and their string of hit singles continued into 1966 with “19th Nervous Breakdown,” which contained what appeared to be a reference to mind-altering drugs: “On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind/But after ‘while I realized you were rearranging mine.”


Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

The lyrics have applied to Jones.

“He had to outdo everybody, do more,” Richards recalled. “If everybody was taking a thousand mikes of acid, he’d take 2,000 of STP. He did himself in.”

He still could be the band’s premiere instrumentalist, when he wanted to: Jones “sat for hours learning to play sitar, put it on ‘Paint It, Black’ and never played it again,” Watts recalled. In early 1967, on “Ruby Tuesday” – containing the line “Lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind” – Jones played “ethereal, not to say haunting, flute. The last thing, Stu said, Brian ever did for the Stones,” Booth wrote.

That summer, the Rolling Stones went to work on the album that eventually arrived as “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” a psychedelic mishmash that seemed to be highly derivative of such work as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Jones, who was enduring court proceedings related to drug arrests, was pictured on the LP cover, but that may have been the extent of his involvement.

In the spring 1968, the Stones finished work on a new single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” that went on to score the band its first No. 1 hit in two years. On May 12, the Stones gave a surprise performance at the New Musical Express Poll Winners’ Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Booth wrote:

It was just like the old days, girls screaming, cops with linked arms holding back hysterical fans. The Stones did “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction,” and Mick threw his white shoes into the crowd.

Nine days later, four days before “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was released, Brian was again arrested for drugs. He had heard the screams for the last time.


IV. “Beggars Banquet”

When the Rolling Stones gathered in March 1968 to start work on a new album, one of the first songs to emerge was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and its success seemed to give the band a renewed sense of energy in the wake of Jones’ musical inactivity. He did contribute to some of the tracks that eventually surfaced on “Beggars Banquet” – chief among them is his bottleneck slide on “No Expectations” – but the album stands as a testament to the band’s ability to soldier on without its founder.

The opening track, “Sympathy for the Devil,” is at once a startling foray into an adventurous musical direction and a lyrical challenge to pop conventions. It starts with guest percussionist Rocky Dijon joining Wyman on maracas to create a tribal motif, over which Jagger provides echoed, ethereal yelps before he launches into his narrative:

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a mans soul and faith
I was around when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate

That’s strong stuff, even 44 years after the fact.

The song, of course, became one of the best-known in the Stones’ extensive canon and became the band’s unofficial theme for a while, until the Satanic overtones clashed with events at the Altamont concert in December 1969, when a man was stabbed to death directly in front of the stage.

Following the raucous jam of “Sympathy for the Devil,” which lasts more than 7 minutes, the Stones turn down the volume for the acoustic ballad “No Expectations.” Influenced by Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” which the band later recorded, the song probably represents Jones’ last musical stand:

“We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes,” Jagger said in a 1995 interview for Rolling Stone magazine. “That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing.”

“Dear Doctor” draws its influence from country music, resulting in a tongue-in-check tale of a young man who’s about to marry, against his will, “a bow-legged sow.”

“There’s a sense of humour in country music,” Jagger explained, “a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way, and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.”

The band returns to its blues roots for “Parachute Woman,” which also kind of returns to the band’s sonic roots: It was recorded onto a cassette recorder and double-tracked, to give it a bit of depth. The song puts Jagger’s penchant for not-too-subtle sexual innuendo on display: “Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Well, my heavy throbber’s itchin’, just to lay a solid rhythm down.”

On “Jig-Saw Puzzle,” Jagger’s lyrics are willfully obtuse, perhaps his take on a Bob Dylan epic, as he introduces a variety of characters: a tramp, bishop’s daughter, family-man gangster and 20,000 grandmas, along with the queen who kills them. And then there’s his telling portrait of the Rolling Stones, themselves:

Oh the singer, he looks angry
At being thrown to the lions
And the bass player, he looks nervous
About the girls outside
And the drummer, he’s so shattered
Trying to keep on time
And the guitar players look damaged
They’ve been outcasts all their lives

For an album that contains “Sympathy for the Devil,” it would appear to be difficult to top that as far as generating controversy. But “Street Fighting Man” did the trick, with lines like this: “Hey, said my name is called Disturbance/I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King, I’ll rail at all his servants.” The student uprising in France during the spring of 1968 inspired the song, but Jagger admits about his own country: “in sleepy London Town there’s just no place for a street fighting man.”

Jones contributes sitar and tamboura to a relatively muddy mix, which subsequent remastering jobs haven’t been able to correct too much, for good reason. As Richards recalled in a 1971 Rolling Stone interview:

The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.

Mississipi-born Robert Wilkins wrote “Prodigal Son,” originally titled “No Way to Get Along,” back in the 1920s, and the Stones tackle the song as a primitive blues, with sparse instrumentation. In 1969, Jagger and Richards performed the song as an impromptu duet during a power outage at the band’s concert in Oakland.

“Stray Cat Blues” owes a debt to the Velvet Underground’s early catalogue, in its sustained introduction, which Jagger said was influenced by the VU song “Heroin,” and in its subject matter: The protagonist propositions a 15-year-old girl – on the live version released on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out,” she’s 13 – to “just come on upstairs.” And then he ups the ante:

You say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you
Why don’t you bring her upstairs
If she’s so wild then she can join in, too

The song’s conclusion is a lengthy, modal drone that also is reminiscent of the Velvets’ work, demonstrating the then-obscure New York City band had won some fans in high places.

“Factory Girl” is a folk-oriented offering, with the recording featuring an unusual assortment of musicians: Dijon on congas, Ric Grech of Family on violin, Dave Mason of Traffic on Mellotron (sounding like a mandolin) and Watts on tabla. As Charlie noted in Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd’s “According to the Rolling Stones”:

On “Factory Girl,” I was doing something you shouldn’t do, which is playing the tabla with sticks instead of trying to get that sound using your hand, which Indian tabla players do, though it’s an extremely difficult technique and painful if you’re not trained.

The album closes with “Salt of the Earth,” which the Stones apparently intended as the band’s grand epic: They concluded “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus” with a performance that included a sing-along with everyone in attendance. The studio version features the Los Angeles Watts Street Gospel Choir adding a dramatic flair, an effect the band would repeat on its much better-known “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the following year.

The release of the album was delayed because of a dispute over the cover art, which the Stones delivered as a graffiti-covered bathroom wall. An invitation to a “Beggars Banquet” was substituted, and the original art didn’t surface until the CD version became available in the ’80s.

Brian Jones, of course, wasn’t around to see it.

“Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds (1968)

The cover of the Byrds’ fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” famously features the image of a horse in place of David Crosby, who’d either left the band or been fired during recording sessions, depending on whom you believe.

Crosby had been increasingly at odds with fellow founding members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, who chafed at Crosby’s spaced-out ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival, as well as his guest spot spelling Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield.

Crosby, in turn, opposed the others’ song selections for “Notorious,” arguing that his ode to a menage a trois, “Triad,” should be on the album, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” should not.


Roger McGuinn

At any rate, he was gone as of October 1967, and McGuinn and Hillman coaxed former lead singer Gene Clark back into the band. He’d left the previous year – the classic “Eight Miles High” was prompted by his fear of flying – but decided to return for an appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and a short tour of the Midwest. After only a couple of weeks, he bowed out again.

Drummer Michael Clarke wasn’t far behind. A Columbia Records CD re-release contains a section of studio chatter that puts the rest of the Byrds’ dissatisfaction with Clarke on full display, with Crosby taunting him with crybaby sounds. Clarke stuck around long enough to finish the LP, but by the time it was released in January 1968, the Byrds effectively were a duo.

While two other groundbreaking bands with personnel problems imploded that same year – Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills went their separate ways, as did Jimmy Page and the rest of the Yardbirds – McGuinn and Hillman decided to carry on and went about recruiting new members.

McGuinn’s concept at the time – he never would quite see a Byrds’ concept album to fruition – was an overview of American popular music, exploring bluegrass, country, jazz and blues, all the way up to Moog synthesizer experiments, such as he had tried during the “Notorious” sessions.

Kevin Kelley, Hillman’s drummer cousin, came aboard to get proceedings going, and a potential fourth member auditioned in March. In his book “Hickory Wind,” Ben Fong-Torres describes the scenario:


Gram Parsons

“Gram Parsons wasn’t exactly bursting with credentials when he came up for consideration as a member of the Byrds … His first album was flopping; he wrote a song that Peter Fonda had recorded; and he had a few flickers of a bit part in (the Roger Corman movie) ‘The Trip.’ He was just the kind of dilettante that a guy like Chris Hillman should have snubbed.”

The two had hit it off a few months before, though, when they met while waiting in line at the bank. He invited Parsons to rehearsal, where McGuinn asked him if he could play jazz piano.

“Gram, as he recalled, faked a blues figure of some sort, sang, played some guitar, and seemed like a nice guy who’d fit in with the band. Roger, in classic ’60s, laissez-faire style, hired him on the spot,” Fong-Torres wrote in his Parsons biography.

McGuinn’s rumination remains an integral part of Byrds lore:

“I had no idea he was Hank Williams Jr.”

Parsons’ recently released album, “Safe at Home” by the International Submarine Band, combined elements of rock and country in a manner that some bands – the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were among them – had dabbled in a bit. But the ISB’s lone long-player stands as the first example of the two styles melding together as a seamless whole.

What’s fascinating in retrospect is how Parsons was able almost immediately to convince McGuinn to concentrate solely on the country component of his American music vision.

“Soon, the band decided to cut its next album in Nashville: Music City, USA. And not only would they be the first long-haired folk-rock band from California to invade Nashville, they would crash the temple of all that was good and backward about country music, the Grand Ole Opry.

The March 10, 1968, performance is legendary for Parsons’ blowing off the Opry producers and launching into his own composition “Hickory Wind” instead of the Merle Haggard song that host Tompall Glaser was expecting.

“The other Byrds looked at each other,” Fong-Torres wrote. “They had gotten stoned backstage, and they weren’t ready for a plot twist like this. They just managed to catch up with Gram, and the song proceeded smoothly.”

Just 21 years old at the time, Parsons apparently had become de facto leader of the Byrds, and sessions for what would become “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” proceeded accordingly. Studio musicians assisted the band for the March sessions in Nashville, and recording continued in Los Angeles during April and May.

Meanwhile …

The International Submarine Band was under contract to LHI Productions, owned by Lee Hazlewood, the guy who wrote and produced “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” for Nancy Sinatra. According to Fong-Torres:

Hazlewood had worked hard to establish his first record company, and he didn’t like watching the Submarine Band fall apart just as its first album was being issued. Nor did he appreciate the leader of that band wandering off to another group. He decided to get hard-nosed. He contacted CBS Records to inform the company that LHI Productions still owned the rights to Gram’s vocal performances, if not to his compositions or to his work as an instrumentalists.

Parsons had sung lead vocals on several of the songs on which the Byrds were working. But, Fong-Torres wrote:

After Lee’s call, Columbia ordered Gram’s voice stripped off the album and replaced it with Roger’s and Chris’. Roger got to work putting his own voice, with a brand-new Southern acent, where Gram’s had been.


Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons

Eventually, the two companies settled.

“We were just about to scratch ‘Hickory Wind’ when somebody ran in with a piece of paper,” Parsons, who died of an overdose in 1973, recalled in an interview. “That’s the last one they saved.”

According to at least one source, the whole Hazlewood controversy just may have served as an excuse for McGuinn to do some reconsidering.

Gary Usher, who produced “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” told a publication shortly before his death in 1990 that McGuinn had overdubbed some songs because of the legal issue, but that the differences were resolved early in the process.

“So whoever sang leads on the songs were there because that’s how we wanted to slice the album up,” he said, noting McGuinn was wary “that Parsons was getting a little bit too much out of this thing. He didn’t want the album to turn into a Gram Parsons album. You just don’t take a hit group and interject a new singer for no reason.”

Whatever the true story, Columbia released “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” on Aug. 30, much to the confusion of fans who were expecting more psychedelia-tinged folk-rock along the lines of “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.”

A radio commercial included in a CD re-release plays on the band’s shift in musical direction, as a couple debate whether what’s playing really is the Byrds. The spot ends with the voiceover guy unequivocally announcing:

“The Byrds take 11 trips to the country. Why not fly with them?”

Not too many record buyers did, compared with previous Byrds releases. The album peaked at No. 77 on Billboard, and in the United Kingdom, where the band had a substantial following, it failed to reach the charts.

As far as the LP tracks, the band revisits familiar territory to start Side One, covering a Bob Dylan song. This time around, though, instead of a 12-string guitar lick along the lines of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” this particular tune opens with the unmistakably country-tinged twang of guest Lloyd Green’s pedal steel guitar.

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” successfully combines Dylan’s amusingly obscure lyrics with a swinging rhythm, all in a two-and-a-half minute package that also came out as the album’s first single. It performed slightly better than the LP, reaching No. 74.

On the second track, the Byrds delve fully into the country genre with the traditional “I Am a Pilgrim.” The choice of instruments veers far off the rock ‘n’ roll path, with John Hartford providing fiddle, Roy Husky on double bass and McGuinn playing banjo.

“The Christian Life” is a song by Charles and Ira Loudermilk, better known as the gospel-country duo the Louvin Brothers. Parsons brought the song to the Byrds, but McGuinn’s lead vocal ended up on the album. A comparison between the two singers shows Parsons, in a version released decades after the fact, giving “The Christian Life” a much more reverential treatment than McGuinn, who seems to put tongue in cheek for lines like “My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus/They say I’m missing a whole world of fun.”

Stax/Volt singer William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” received an R&B treatment in its original incarnation, as it did on Otis Redding’s cover. The Byrds’ backwoods reading originally featured Parsons’ lead vocal, but McGuinn’s appears on the album, for whichever reason the listener wants to believe. For comparison’s sake, Gram’s version has surfaced on the 1990 boxed set “The Byrds” and re-releases of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

“You’re Still On My Mind” is a honky-tonk-flavored song penned by Mississippi musician Luke McDaniel, a friend of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Parsons, who brought the song to the band, ended up with the “Sweetheart” lead vocal, regardless of his own story about the album’s making.

Woody Guthrie wrote “Pretty Boy Floyd” as a romanticized version of the infamous bank robber’s proclivity to play Robin Hood: “Well you say that I’m an outlaw, you say that I’m a thief/Well, here’s a Christmas dinner for the families on relief.” The tune perhaps is the most Byrds-like, at least compared to the band’s folk-rock origins, on the album.

Parsons actually co-wrote “Hickory Wind” with Bob Buchanan, who contributed lyrical input while the two were passengers on a train to Los Angeles. The song combines Gram’s nostalgia for his upbringing in Georgia and Florida with homesickness and disappointment on the part of both musicians:

It’s hard to find out that trouble is real
In a far away city, with a far away feel
But it makes me feel better each time it begins
Callin’ me home, hickory wind

The next album track is another Parsons composition, “One Hundred Years from Now,” although McGuinn and Hillman share the vocal on the finished product. A rehearsal version featuring Gram appears on re-releases.


Clarence White

Veteran country songwriter and singer Cindy Walker wrote “Blue Canadian Rockies” for Gene Autry’s 1952 movie of the same name. Hillman’s vocal carries the relatively straightforward love song, and future Byrds member Clarence White plays guitar.

Merle Haggard’s “Life In Prison” explores a time-honored country theme: The protagonist has murdered the love of his life. In this case, the powers that be won’t execute him, much to his chagrin: “If I die, my pain will go away.” Haggard, a former inmate, has gotten a lot of mileage out of jail-oriented songs, including the better-known “Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home,” both of which were covered by the Grateful Dead.

The original LP wraps up with another Dylan composition that had not been released as of 1968, “Nothing Was Delivered.” As with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” the dominant instrument is Green’s pedal steel, which opens the song on somewhat of an upbeat note before the vocals begin.

As for the subject matter, Dylan is relatively straightforward in his description of a drug deal gone bad (although nowhere near as graphic as Don “Buck Dharma” Roeser in the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Then Came the Last Day of May”). Bob’s narrator plays it cool, but his message is clear:

Nothing was delivered
But I can’t say I sympathize
With what your fate is going to be
Yes, for telling all those lies
Now you must provide some answers
For what you sold has not been received
And the sooner you come up with them
The sooner you can leave

The outtakes from the album that eventually saw the light of day include three tunes that didn’t make the album: Parsons’ “Lazy Day,” Tim Hardin’s “You Got a Reputation” and the traditional “Pretty Polly.” The latter is the sinister tale of a gambler who “courts” a young girl, then brutally murders her. Perhaps he’s related to the “Life in Prison” guy.

Although it tanked sales-wise, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” received critical praise and went on to influence myriad bands that sought to combine rock with country, most notably (from a commercial standpoint) the Eagles.

But Parsons’ stay with the band was brief. The Byrds left for London in July, wowing the crowd at a “Sounds ’68” charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall. From there, it was on to then-segregated South Africa, but without Gram.

“Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was brought up with a Negro for a brother,” Parsons later claimed. “Like all Southern families, we had maids and servants, a whole family called the Dixons that took care of us. Sammy Dixon was a little older than me, and he lived with and grew up with me, so I learned at a real close leel that segregation was just not it.”

The other Byrds weren’t buying it.

“It was total garbage,” a still-bitter Hillman told Fong-Torres. “I really wanted to murder him.”

Hillman figured Parsons wanted to hang out with new friend Keith Richards, and the Rolling Stones guitarist confirmed his role in Gram’s decision.

“I was instrumental in his leaving the Byrds,” Fong-Torres quotes Richards as admitting, “because I said, ‘Nobody goes to play in South Africa.'”

Hillman bailed out later in the year, leaving McGuinn, the band’s sole original member, to regroup around White. Drummer Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) and bass player John York came aboard, but the Byrds had trouble regaining their artistic and commercial heights before breaking up in 1972.

Gram Parsons later talked Hillman into joining a new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, which recorded the de facto followup to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” for their classic debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin.”

White, whose guitar-playing skills made him far and away the best instrumentalist the band ever had, died in 1973. While loading equipment into his car, he was hit by a drunken driver.


Gram Parsons died in Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn.

Parsons, who had recorded to “solo” albums with singing partner and future country superstar Emmylou Harris, died a few months later, on Sept. 18. He’d gone on vacation to Joshua Tree National Park in California, staying at a nondescript motel on the edge of the desert.

“Gram wasted little time in making a connection with a heroin dealer in town,” Fong-Torres wrote. “Before scoring, he drank heavily at lunch” with two women. “They sat and watched Gram chain-drink Jack Daniel’s, then drove him back to the Joshua Tree Inn. There, he found his drug connection, and in a room next to the owners’ apartment, he added heroin to his already overloaded system.”

After his death, friend Phil Kaufman, honoring some kind of pledge the two supposedly had made, stole Gram’s casket from Los Angeles International Airport and burned his body at Joshua Tree.

All that drama might have made for a good song on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”