Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

“Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

In the summer of 1966, Jimi Hendrix was going by the stage name of Jimmy James and playing in New York City bars with a band called the Blue Flame.

Less than a year later, his Jimi Hendrix Experience had three hit singles to its credit in his new base of the United Kingdom, and the band was about to release its first album to an eagerly anticipating audience.

“Are You Experienced?” hit the British shelves on May 12, 1967, a few weeks before the Beatles’ latest long-player, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Both represented how far rock music had come in the dozen or so years it had been in existence, and particularly in the short time even since the Blue Flame days.

It took another three months, though, for “Are You Experienced?” to be released in Hendrix’s native United States. The Experience had made its American live debut with its stunning appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, a set that filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker caught for posterity. The Monkees subsequently invited the Experience to open for their summer concerts, but that experiment didn’t last too long.

So Hendrix still was relatively unknown in the United States when “Are You Experienced?” came out, but that didn’t stop it from selling strongly, reaching No. 5 and establishing Jimi as … well, Jimi Hendrix.

The U.K. and U.S. releases of “Are You Experienced?” are substantially different. The British version does not include any of the hit singles – “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” – which, of course, represented some of the strongest tracks on the American issue. On the other hand, “Can You See Me,” “Remember” and “Red House” were removed from the U.S. version, the latter against Hendrix’s wishes.

In 1993, MCA rectified the situation on compact disc, including all the songs from both releases, plus the B-sides of the British singles: “Stone Free,” “51st Anniversary” and “Highway Chile.”

For the sake of this discussion, let’s go with the American version. It’s difficult to think about “Are You Experienced?” without hearing the opening notes of “Purple Haze” blasting out from the grooves of the first song on Side One!

Few, if any, chord progressions and guitar leads are more recognizable than the start of “Purple Haze,” and calling the song a musical landmark almost seems like an understatement. At once we have the full bloom of psychedelia and nascent hard rock – it even might represent the birth of what became heavy metal – into a sound that still seems to be on the cutting edge 46 years later, and perhaps always will.

The lyrics have been a source of discussion for four and a half decades, especially the line “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky,” which often are misinterpreted, usually for comedic purposes. Jimi claimed the finished product was boiled down from a much longer science-fiction epic. He also disavowed the seemingly obvious drug references.

“I dream a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” Hendrix said in a 1969 interview with the New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze’, which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”

Whatever it is, that song serves as a defining moment in the history of popular music. It scored the Experience another bit hit in Britain, hitting No. 3, and also was the band’s first charting single in the United States, peaking at No. 65.

The theme of “Manic Depression,” the second track on the American version of “Are You Experienced?”, is summarized on Hendrix’s introduction to the song during a performance at San Francisco’s Winterland in October 1968: “a story about a cat wishing he could make love to music, instead of the same old everyday woman.” The composition is in a 3/4 time signature, somewhat unusual for rock music at the time.

One of the most-covered rock songs of the ’60s remains “Hey Joe,” which was written by – or at least, it was copyrighted by – a South Carolina-born musician named William Moses Roberts Jr. In 1965, the Los Angeles band the Leaves had a regional hit with the song, and they re-recorded it the following year, putting it on the national charts. Other artists to cut versions around the same time include the Standells, the Surfaris, Love, the Music Machine and the Byrds.

Hendrix’s version represents his first recording as a bandleader, at the urging of manager Chas Chandler, who actually had been looking for an artist to record the song. Folk singer Tim Rose had performed “Hey Joe” at a slowed-down tempo, and Hendrix’s arrangement appears to have been based on that. Adding backing vocals are a vocal trio called the Breakaways, three ladies named Jean Hawker, Margot Newman and Vicki Brown (in case it ever comes up in a trivia contest).

“Hey Joe” was released in the U.K. on Dec. 16, 1966, quickly vaulting up to No. 6 on the charts and establishing the Jimi Hendrix Experience as one of the hottest acts in a nation that had an unparalleled abundance of quality rock groups at the time. The band’s live debut of the song was at Monterey, and Jimi closed his set – and the entire Woodstock Music and Arts Festival – with “Hey Joe” on the morning of Aug. 18, 1969.

“Love or Confusion” is one of the more sonically affected songs on “Are You Experienced?”, its musical overtones enhancing the uncertainty expressed in Hendrix’s heartfelt lyrics:

My head is poundin’, poundin’
Goin’ ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
Must there always be these colours?
Without names, without sounds
My heart burns with feeling, but,
My mind, it’s cold and reeling
Is this love baby,
Or is it just confusion?
You tell me baby, is this
Love or confusion?

“May This Be Love” is a true gem of psychedelia, as Hendrix takes the listener on a journey to a world where all is well, all is ideal: “Some people say day-dreaming’s for the lazy minded fools with nothing else to do/So let them laugh, so just as long as I have you to see me through.”

Featuring one of Hendrix’s many eminently memorable guitar riffs, “I Don’t Live Today” examines the mundane side of life, perhaps with Jimi ruminating about his days as a struggling musician and the tremendous disappointment therein. The key line: “It’s such a shame to waste your time away like this, existing.” The song evolves into a jam featuring a prototypical example of Hendrix’s guitar awash in studio effects, panning back and forth between channels and giving listeners at the time a taste of something they’d never heard before, from anyone.

In the U.K., Track Records issued “The Wind Cries Mary” as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s third single, and it became another No. 6 hit. The languidly paced love song is one of Hendrix’s enduring classics, and deservedly so. The Curtis Mayfield-derived riff evokes the melancholy of the subject, a lament for lost love put forth in an eloquent manner that establishes Jimi’s genius as a lyricist:

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary

The Experience often opened its shows with “Fire,” a tremendous showcase for Hendrix’s riffing that, as with many of his earliest songs, still sounds fresh and invigorating today. According to an article in Record Collector, the song’s genesis is from when Jimi asked bass player Noel Redding’s mother if he could stand next to her fireplace to warm himself. She agreed, but her great dane was in the way: “Aw, move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over.”

In an album full of tracks that built the foundation of Classic Rock, “Third Stone from the Sun” stands out for its influence what would become jazz-rock fusion. The signature melody has been dropped into many a guitar solo over the years, with the teenage Ted Nugent quoting it during his flashy run on the Amboy Dukes’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” later in 1967, and the Allman Brothers often including it in “Mountain Jam.”

Thematically, the song draws from jazz great Sun Ra’s vision of worlds beyond ours, with Hendrix employing dialogue at varying speeds to portray an extraterrestrial being’s description of the earth to his control center (pre-Major Tom). In 2000, Experience Hendrix released “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” boxed set, which includes the uncut dialogue between Jimi and producer Chas Chandler. Much of it goes somewhat like this:

Starfleet to scoutship, please give your position, over.
I’m in orbit around the third planet from the star called the sun. Over.
You mean it’s the earth? Over.
Positive. It is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over. I think we should take a look.
Strange beautiful grass of green, with your majestic silver seas, your mysterious mountains.
I wish to see closer. May I land my kinky machine?
Although your world wonders me, with your majestic and superior cackling hen, your people I do not understand.
So to you I shall put an end. And you’ll never hear surf music again.

The “surf music” line has been a source of conjecture for decades. Guitarist Dick Dale wrote in his autobiography that the comment was Hendrix’s reaction upon hearing that Dale was battling a possibly terminal case of colon cancer. Dale recovered, and he later covered “Third Stone.” And Frank Zappa often quoted the line in concert to introduce the suf music-inspired “Theme from Lumpy Gravy.”

The British “Are You Experienced?” opened with the faded-in burst of guitar feedback that erupts into “Foxy Lady,” another song that certainly has stood the test of time with its distinctive octave-leap riff and sexually charged lyrics. The liner notes of the 1992 CD reissue quote Jimi as saying he was relatively shy and never would approach women in the way the song suggests. Nonetheless, from every available report, Mr. Hendrix did quite well with the ladies, indeed.

Both versions of “Are You Experienced?” close with the title track, a monumental piece of audio experimentation that serves as a grand summation of everything Hendrix brought to the table on his debut album. Much of the instrumentation is recorded backwards, extending the possibilities of what the Beatles had introduced in such psychedelic staples as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Rain.” Jimi’s lyrics explore a theme he’d revisit often, of entering a brave, new world, so to speak:

I know, I know you probably scream and cry
That your little world won’t let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you trying to prove that
You’re made out of gold and, eh, can’t be sold

So, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

So has anyone who appreciates the “Are You Experienced?” album for what it is: a true cornerstone of Classic Rock, this by a man who had been playing to audiences of a perhaps a dozen just nine months before its release.

“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.

“Rubber Soul” by the Beatles (1965)

A good argument can be made that every Beatles album, at least the ones over which they had creative control, should be on any list of the all-time greats. My erstwhile colleague Brad Hundt, a talented entertainment writer and lifelong Beatlemaniac, no doubt would do so on his list.

But as a reminder, Harry’s Hundred combines my respect for an album’s merits, my familiarity with its contents and how much I enjoy listening to it. So it’s not exactly a “greatest” list; if so, stuff like “Golden Earring Live” would be nowhere near it. But that ain’t a bad album, and I still like it a whole lot 35 years after its release.

So I’ve narrowed down my Beatles selections, and here’s where we start, at the juncture when the Beatles evolved from pop to art, when they demonstrated once and for all that they weren’t just some British guys with long hair and Edwardian suits making a bunch of noise.

What’s remarkable about “Rubber Soul” is that the Beatles and George Martin recorded it on deadline, trying to rush-release it before the holiday shopping season. The band had just returned to England from another North American tour full of fans screaming so loud that the musicians couldn’t hear themselves. Rather than take time off, as they’d do following their final tour the following year, they plunged headlong into writing new songs.

What emerged was a departure from most of the love-song music they’d made to that point. Sure, boy-girl relationships continued to be a prominent theme, but in a much more creative manner.

The opener, “Drive My Car,” is indicative of the new direction: John Lennon draws from the Robert Johnson “Terraplane Blues” songbook – Robert Plant later would use it to optimal effect on Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot” – to equate sex with operating a vehicle, and this time it’s the woman who’s enticing the man.

Lennon explores the male-female dynamic with sophistication previously unknown in the Beatles canon on “Norwegian Wood,” which turned about to be the veiled story of his affair with a journalist. Musically, the song also marks a major step forward, as George Harrison plays the sitar for the first time in rock music history. (Outtakes, such as the one released on “Anthology 2,” show the instrument to be much more prominent in the mix than on the official version.)

Paul McCartney joins the fray with “You Won’t See Me,” a commentary on his relationship with Jane Asher, one that would end a couple of years later when she caught him red-handed with an American woman named Francine Schwartz. As for the song, it displays a certain amount of petulance not found in previous McCartney compositions: “When I call you up, your line’s engaged/I have had enough, so act your age.”

“Nowhere Man” joins previous classics “I’m a Loser” and “Help!” as explorations of Lennon’s self-doubt, a condition that would manifest itself considerably in the coming years. The opening a cappella recitation of the lyrics stands as one of the most striking examples of the Beatles’ vocal abilities, and the song remains one of the most revered in the band’s catalog.

“Think for Yourself” demonstrates why George Harrison felt slighted when it came to the paucity of his compositions on Beatles albums. By any measure, it’s an exceptionally advanced composition for 1965: The lyrics resonate fully almost half a century later, what with the utter vapidness into which popular culture has evolved, and the frightening implications that has for the future of the world. Instrumentally, McCartney’s fuzz-toned bass guitar is at once innovative and another step toward what would become hard rock.

Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” became one of his best-known anthems. But he explored basically the same theme two years earlier with “The Word,” which also shows the Beatles’ overall sound becoming harder-edged as the ’60s progressed.

OK, so why do I rank “Rubber Soul” at a spot where 36 albums are ahead of it? Sorry, I’ve tried to warm up to “Michelle” for decades, but it’s one of the few Beatles songs that leaves me cold. Sure, it explores traditional French themes as opposed to the standard pop/rock of the time, which is interesting from a musical standpoint but hardly endears it to listeners who are prefer something a bit heavier.

Ringo Starr’s first Beatles co-composing credit appears on “What Goes On,” a relatively nondescript country-flavored tune that has its charms but isn’t quite the remedy for getting back on track after “Michelle.” Neither is “Girl,” though you have to like the “tit-tit-tit” backing vocals that escaped the censors.

McCartney redeems himself considerably with “I’m Looking Through You,” another jab at Jane through a relatively complex set of lyrics. Two distinct versions exist of the song, with the one that first was recorded serving as a sought-after collector’s item for decades, until “Anthology 2” made that moot.

Lennon’s much-heralded “In My Life” is one of the first of his many trips down memory lane, a bit more upbeat than, say, “Mother,” but still containing a fair amount of poignancy. “Some are dead and some are living,” for example, refers to Stuart Sutcliffe; it’s been conjectured that John always shouldered some of the blame for Stu’s early death.

When the Beatles were writing and recording what became “Rubber Soul,” they managed to come up with 13 new songs. The 14th, “Wait,” was an outtake from the “Help!” album, but the track tends to mesh seamlessly with most of the newer material.

Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone,” while not quite reaching the heights of “Think for Yourself,” still shows that he would have been the chief songwriter in just about any other rock band of the era.

The album closes with the tongue-in-cheek “Run for Your Life,” which is about as far removed thematically as you can get from tunes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Lennon, who admitted nicking the opening line from Arthur Gunter’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” (as sung by Elvis Presley), ended up despising “Run for Your Life.” We’ll blame that development, like many others, on Yoko’s influence …

For the record (pun intended), the American “Rubber Soul” LP is a substantially different album from its British counterpart, containing two songs from the U.K. version of “Help!” – “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” – while jettisoning “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man,” “What Goes On,” and “If I Needed Someone.”

By opening the album with “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” which sounds somewhat like Paul Simon compositions of the period (or vice versa), Capitol Records made the U.S. “Rubber Soul” appear to be more of a folk-rock album, to compete commercially with the likes of Bob Dylan and the Byrds on Columbia. Like the Beatles needed help with sales!

Seriously, whatever the version, “Rubber Soul” went to the top of the charts around the world, proving the Beatles could appeal to a more serious, mature audience than the screaming teeny-boppers who packed their concerts. In turn, that made the band members realize they probably didn’t need to be trying to perform in front of screaming teeny-boppers.

But that’s another story.

“Procol Harum” by Procol Harum (1967)

Lyricist Keith Reid told author Claes Johansen about his inspiration for what stands as one of the most recognizable, respected and oft-played songs in rock history:

“Some guy looked at a chick and said to her, ‘You’ve gone a whiter shade of pale.’ That phrase stuck in my mind. It was a beautiful thing for someone to say. I wish I’d said it.”

And so it was that later, the band he wrote for, Procol Harum, combined Reid’s words with a melody reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major.” Released as the band’s debut single, the song went to the top of the charts in most of the civilized world. And none other than John Lennon took to playing the tune constantly in his Rolls-Royce.

Suddenly the band with the odd name – the group’s manager, the late Guy Stevens, named it after a friend’s cat – was in high demand; its live debut was opening for another hot act at the time, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

To capitalize on the success, Procol Harum entered London’s Olympic Studios for a coupe of days in June 1967 with new members Robin Trower on guitar and B.J. Wilson on drums to record on album’s worth of material.

The result is a collection of songs that display an impressive amount of diversity, melodicism and maturity for a band that had been together only a couple of months. True, several of the members had played together previously as the Paramounts (and as such had opened several shows for the Beatles), but that aggregation’s forte was rhythm and blues.

Procol Harum combined elements of the nascent psychedelic scene, particularly Reid’s often-arcane lyrics, with a sophisticated instrumental approach spearheaded by Trower, lead singer Gary Brooker’s piano and especially Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ, the dominant instrument on “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

The debut alum opens with “Conquistador,” which became a major hit several years later via a live version recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The original studio version, though, conveys a similar theme of urgent grandiosity using only the instruments available at Olympic.

Reid remains well-known for his morbid sense of humor, as his lyrics to “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” attest: “And though I said, ‘You don’t exist,’ she grasped me firmly by the wrist/And threw me down upon my back, and strapped me to a torture rack.”

The sense of foreboding continues with “Something Following Me,” with Trower’s guitar driving hard-edged instrumental backing for a tale about a man who keeps encountering his fate: “I went into a shop, and bought a loaf of bread/I sank my teeth into it, thought I’d bust my head/I dashed to the dentist, said, ‘I’ve got an awful pain’/The man looks inside my mouth and screams, ‘This boy’s insane!’/Imagine my surprise, thought I’d left it at home/But there’s a lump in my mouth with my own tombstone.”

“Mabel” seems to lighten the mood with a short burst of music-hall cajolery, but Reid sneaks in this line: “In the cellar lies my wife/In my wife there’s a knife.”

Ouch.

Trower really cranks up his Stratocaster on “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of),” getting a distinctively distorted sound by running one amplifier (Selmer Little Giant) into another (Fender). Lyrically, Reid creates a fantasy world complete with his own characters, such as Sousa Sam, Peep the Sot and the immortal Phallus Phil.

The LP’s second side starts with “A Christmas Camel,” which despite its title never seems to make it onto holiday compilations. That’s no wonder, with lyrics like “While some Arabian oil well/Impersonates a padded cell.”

“Kaleidoscope” always has been one of my favorite Procol Harum songs, with Fisher’s organ the dominant instrument on a catchy slice of hard rock. Reid doesn’t kill anyone off in the lyrics, but the paranoia remains: “Still out in the dark I grope/The key’s in my kaleidoscope.”

Reid returns to a favorite subject in “Salad Days (Are Here Again),” writing of a couple: “The sun seeps through the window to see if we’re still dead/To try to throw some light around the gloom upon our bed.”

OK, then.

The brief “Good Captain Clack” leads into the apogee of “Procol Harum,” if not the band’s entire career: Fisher’s epic instrumental “Repent Walpurgis,” which begins as another Bach-inspired melody before Trower steps in with his raging Fender fury. Brooker takes the foot off the accelerator with a relatively light piano arpeggio before the full band returns with a vengeance, finally wrapping up proceedings with in an extended, highly dramatic fashion.

It’s no wonder Procol Harum often played “Repent Walpurgis” as an encore, even into its 21st-century incarnation.

One knock against “Procol Harum” – and I’d have ranked it higher if this weren’t the case – is that the album exists only in monaural form. The situation was rectified somewhat by the 1999 CD release of “Pandora’s Box,” which contains true stereo versions of several songs, and also features two versions of “Repent Walpurgis,” the latter clocking in at more than seven minutes.

“Pandora’s Box” also features a stereo mix of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” that sounds infinitely superior to the single version and plays out to its natural conclusion instead of fading in the middle of Brooker’s vocal on the chorus.

Procol Harum went on to record a series of highly regarded albums – “Shine On Brightly,” “A Salty Dog,” “Home” and “Broken Barricades” – before Trower left to pursue a successful solo career. Reid and Brooker continued to write music together, and probably still do ’til this day.

But they and the rest of the band may have peaked right there at the very beginning, certainly commercially and perhaps artistically.

“Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture (1968)

The British blues boom probably reached its apex in 1968, with stellar offerings such as Jeff Beck’s “Truth,” Free’s “Tons of Sobs,” the Groundhogs’ “Scratching the Surface,” John Mayall’s “Bare Wires” and “Blues from Laurel Canyon,” Ten Years After’s “Undead” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Fleetwood Mac” and “Mr. Wonderful.”

Even John Lennon got in on the act, with the Beatles’ “Yer Blues.” And John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded the tracks for their debut album in October, even though “Led Zeppelin” wasn’t released until 1969.

Amid the spate of blues-rock recordings was “Blues Helping,” the debut by a Welsh trio called Love Sculpture. The band scored a U.k. hit that same year with a rock version of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” which brought the guitar work of Dave Edmunds into the national spotlight.

“Blues Helping” is exactly what the title implies, starting with a scorching version of “The Stumble,” during which Edmunds keeps up note-for-note with the song’s composer, the legendary Freddie King (as referenced in Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band.”)

Edumnds, bass player John Williams and drummer Bob “Congo” Jones rip through a set of familiar blues and R&B numbers by the likes of Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Slim Harpo.

Also included is a reading of the oft-covered “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess,” featuring Edmunds playing a particularly stinging bridge. And in the elongated “Don’t Answer the Door,” Edmunds channels the macho attitude of a true bluesman, commanding his woman to keep her mother, sister and doctor away from the house “when I’m not at home.”

The album closes with the title track, a basic blues improvisation that wraps up proceedings on a genre-suitable note.

Edmunds went on to solo success and at one point teamed with former Brinsley Schwarz bass player for a supergroup of sorts, Rockpile. He’s played some tremendous guitar, but never quite in the same vein as on “Blues Helping.”

When Don McLean’s “American Pie” was dominating the airwaves 40 years ago, we youngsters got a kick out of rhyming “Chevy” with “levee” more than trying to decipher deeper meanings.

At the time, I might have heard of Buddy Holly, but my first encounter with the Big Bopper wasn’t until “Chantilly Lace” appeared on the “American Graffiti” soundtrack the following year. And I’m not so sure about Richie Valens.

At any rate, “American Pie” kind of chronicles the state of rock ‘n’ roll from the airplane crash of Feb. 3, 1959, through the end of the ’60s. Despite urban legend, the song title is not the name of the plane.

My main question about the tragedy: Why were they flying around the Midwest in the dead of winter? Aviation wasn’t all that advanced 53 years ago, and when that plane – it was a Beechcraft Bonanza, with no specific appellation – took off from Clear Lake, Iowa, it didn’t travel too far before killing everyone on board.

In remembrance of the three musicians who were among the toll, here are a few nuggets pertaining to their careers and “the day the music died”:

  • Waylon Jennings, who was a member of Holly’s backing band the Crickets at the time, gave up his seat on behalf of the Bopper. (Waylon did die in February, but 43 years later.)
  • Tommy Allsup, another Cricket, flipped a coin with Valens to determine who would fly. Allsup lost. And won. He still is with us, at age 80.
  • Charles Hardin Holley (sic) was only 22 years old at the time but already had established himself as a premiere performer-songwriter in the nascent world of rock ‘n’ roll. His death was part of a series of events – the drafting of Elvis, the “retirement” of Little Richard, the cousin-marrying scandal of Jerry Lee Lewis and the jailing of Chuck Berry – that threatened to derail the new type of music.
  • A group of guys from Liverpool, UK, decided it would be cool to name their band after an insect, in the fashion of the Crickets. They didn’t decide on “Beetles,” though.
  • Holly’s “Not Fade Away” was the first American hit by a band named after a Muddy Waters song, the Rolling Stones. It later was played more than 550 times by a band that got its name from the dictionary, the Grateful Dead.
  • Richie Valens’ last name actually was Valenzuela. No word on whether he was related to baseball pitcher Fernando, but Richard Steven had yet to reach his 18th birthday when he died.
  • The Big Bopper’s name was was Jiles Perry Richardson, and he was a ripe old 28 at the time. He wrote the novelty song “Running Bear,” which to the best of my knowledge still is recorded to this day.
  • Dion DiMucci, who also was part of the Winter Dance Party package tour with his band the Belmonts, recalled in a 2009 interview: “I remember just sitting there alone on the bus, and Buddy’s guitar was on the back seat, Ritchie’s outfit was hanging from the luggage rack … There was the Big Bopper’s hat, just sitting there.”
  • Buddy’s pregnant wife, Maria, miscarried soon after the wreck, ending that part of the Holly family tree.
  • Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., attended a Winter Dance Party show on Jan. 31, 1959. Forty years later, as Bob Dylan accepting a Grammy, he recalled about Holly: I was three feet away from him…and he LOOKED at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don’t know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”
  • Buddy Holly had a single on the charts at the time of his death. It reached No. 13 in the United States and No. 1 in the United Kingdom. Its title: “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

One of my favorite online resources is AllMusic.

The database, if it doesn’t literally contain all music, comes pretty darned close. It certainly is a great resource for learning about worthwhile listens.

The guide rates recordings, from 1 to 5 stars. Following is a list of the 5-star albums in my collection. Well, most of them. I didn’t delve into “various artists” collections, and there may be some single-artists compilations that I missed. But this might give you an idea of what to check out on Spotify, or if you want to actually spend money and support the various artists.

  • AC/DC: “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”
  • Allman Brothers Band: “Idlewild South,” “At Fillmore East,” “Eat a Peach”
  • Gene Ammons: “The Happy Blues”
  • Louis Armstong: “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy”
  • Albert Ayler: “Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Sessions”
  • The Band: “Music from Big Pink,” “The Band”
  • The Beatles: “Please Please Me,” “With the Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” “Help!,” “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Beatles,” “Abbey Road”
  • Jeff Beck: “Truth”
  • Chuck Berry: “St. Louis to Liverpool”
  • Big Brother & the Holding Company: “Cheap Thrills”
  • Big Star: “#1 Record,” “Third/Sister Lovers”
  • Black Sabbath: “Paranoid,” “Master of Reality,” “Volume 4”
  • Blur: “Parklife”
  • David Bowie: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Low,” “Heroes”
  • Brinsley Schwarz: “Nervous On the Road”
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet: “Time Out”
  • Jeff Buckley: “Grace”
  • Butterfield Blues Band: “Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” “East-West”
  • The Byrds: “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”
  • Can: “Tago Mago”
  • Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: “Safe As Milk,” “Trout Mask Replica”
  • Johnny Cash: “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison”
  • Ray Charles: “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music”
  • Charlie Christian: “The Genius of the Electric Guitar”
  • Eric Clapton: “Crossroads”
  • Sonny Clark: “Cool Struttin'”
  • The Clash: “The Clash,” “London Calling”
  • John Coltrane: “Blue Train,” “Bags & Trane,” “My Favorite Things,” “Duke Ellington and John Coltrane,” “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman,” “A Love Supreme”
  • Chick Corea: “Return to Forever”
  • Elvis Costello: “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model,” “Get Happy!!”
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Green River,” “Willy & the Poor Boys,” “Cosmos Factory”
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Crosby, Stills & Nash”
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “Deja Vu”
  • Miles Davis: “Birth of the Cool,” “‘Round About Midnight,” “Relaxin’,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Kind of Blue,” “Sketches of Spain,” “Workin’,” “Steamin’,” “Miles Smiles,” “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew,” “A Tribute to Jack Johnson,” “On the Corner”
  • Deep Purple: “Machine Head”
  • Derek & the Dominos: “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”
  • Dillard & Clark: “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark”
  • Willie Dixon: “The Chess Box”
  • Eric Dolphy: “Out There,” “Out to Lunch”
  • The Doors: “The Doors”
  • Bob Dylan: “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde On Blonde,” “Blood On the Tracks”
  • Bob Dylan & the Band: “The Basement Tapes”
  • Duke Ellington: “Ellington at Newport,” “… and His Mother Called Him Bill”
  • Brian Eno: “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” “Another Green World”
  • Faces: “Five Guys Walk into a Bar …”
  • The Firesign Theatre: “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All,” “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers”
  • The Flaming Lips: “The Soft Bulletin”
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers: “The Gilded Palace of Sin”
  • Funkdadelic: “Maggot Brain”
  • Gang of Four: “Entertainment!”
  • Erroll Garner: “Concert By the Sea”
  • Marvin Gaye: “What’s Going On”
  • Genesis: “Foxtrot”
  • Grateful Dead: “Workingman’s Dead,” “American Beauty,” “Dick’s Picks, Vol. 4”
  • Green Day: “American Idiot”
  • Herbie Hancock: “Maiden Voyage,” “Head Hunters”
  • George Harrison: “All Things Must Pass”
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis: Bold As Love,” “Electric Ladyland”
  • Howlin’ Wolf: “Howlin’ Wolf/Moanin’ in the Moonlight,” “The Chess Box”
  • Husker Du: “Zen Arcade”
  • Incredible String Band: “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”
  • Etta James: “At Last!”
  • Keith Jarrett: “The Koln Concert”
  • Jefferson Airplane: “Surrealistic Pillow”
  • Lonnie Johnson: “Steppin’ on the Blues”
  • Robert Johnson: “The Complete Recordings”
  • Janis Joplin: “Pearl”
  • King Crimson: “In the Court of the Crimson King”
  • Albert King: “Born Under a Bad Sign”
  • The Kinks: “Face to Face,” “Something Else by the Kinks,” “The Village Green Preservation Society”
  • Kraftwerk: “Autobahn,” “Trans-Europe Express”
  • Led Zeppelin: “Led Zeppelin,” “Led Zeppelin II,” “Led Zeppelin III,” “Physical Graffiti”
  • John Lennon: “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” “Imagine”
  • Little Feat: “Little Feat”
  • Love: “Da Capo,” “Forever Changes”
  • Nick Lowe: “Jesus of Cool”
  • Magic Sam: “West Side Soul”
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: “The Inner Mounting Flame,” “Birds of Fire”
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: “Catch a Fire”
  • John Mayall: “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton”
  • The MC5: “Kick Out the Jams”
  • Metallica: “Master of Puppets”
  • Pat Metheny Group: “Pat Methenhy Group”
  • Charles Mingues: “Mingus Ah Um,” “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus”
  • The Minutemen: “Double Nickels on the Dime”
  • Moby Grape: “Moby Grape”
  • Modern Jazz Quartet: “The Complete Last Concert”
  • Wes Montgomery: “Full House”
  • Van Morrison: “Astral Weeks,” “Moondance”
  • Mothers of Invention: “Freak Out!,” “We’re Only In It for the Money”
  • Mott the Hoople: “All the Young Dudes,” “Mott”
  • The Move: “Shazam”
  • My Bloody Valentine: “Loveless”
  • Randy Newman: “12 Songs,” “Sail Away”
  • Parliament: “Mothership Connection”
  • Gram Parsons: “G.P.”
  • Joe Pass: “Virtuoso”
  • Jaco Pastorius: “Jaco Pastorius”
  • Pavement: “Slanted & Enchanted,” “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”
  • Pearl Jam: “Ten”
  • Pere Ubu: “Terminal Tower”
  • Pink Floyd: “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here”
  • Iggy Pop: “The Idiot,” “Lust for Life”
  • The Quintet: “Jazz at Massey Hall”
  • The Replacements: “Let It Be”
  • The Rolling Stones: “Between the Buttons,” “Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed, “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main St.,” “Some Girls,” “Singles Collection: The London Years,” “Forty Licks”
  • Sonny Rollins: “Sonny Rollins Plus 4,” “Saxophone Colossus,” “Way Out West”
  • Todd Rundgren: “Something/Anything?”
  • Pharoah Sanders: “Karma”
  • Santana: “Abraxas”
  • Klaus Schulze: “Moondawn”
  • Gil Scott-Heron: “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”
  • The Sex Pistols: “Never Mind the Bollocks”
  • Sonny Sharrock: “Ask the Ages”
  • Wayne Shorter: “Speak No Evil”
  • Horace Silver: “Song for My Father”
  • Paul Simon: “Paul Simon,” “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”
  • Skin Alley: “To Pagham & Beyond”
  • Sly & the Family Stone: “Stand!,” “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”
  • Small Faces: “The Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette”
  • Patti Smith: “Horses”
  • The Soft Boys: “Underwater Moonlight”
  • Sonic Youth: “Sister,” “Daydream Nation”
  • The Stooges: “Fun House,” “Raw Power”
  • Sun Ra: “Atlantis,” “Space Is the Place”
  • Talking Heads: “Talking Heads 77,” “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” “Remain In Light”
  • Hound Dog Taylor: “Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers”
  • Television: “Marquee Moon”
  • Thin Lizzy: “Jailbreak”
  • Richard & Linda Thompson: “Shoot Out the Lights”
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: “Texas Flood”
  • Velvet Underground: “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” “White Light/White Heat,” “The Velvet Underground,” “Loaded”
  • The Wailers: “Burnin'”
  • T-Bone Walker: “The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954”
  • Muddy Waters: “At Newport,” “The Chess Box”
  • Weather Report: “Heavy Weather”
  • The White Stripes: “Elephant”
  • The Who: “The Who Sings My Generation,” “The Who Sell Out,” “Live at Leeds,” “Who’s Next”
  • Tony Williams’ Lifetime: “Emergency!”
  • Wire: “Pink Flag,” “Chairs Missing”
  • Stevie Wonder: “Talking Book,” “Innervisions,” “Songs in the Key of Life”
  • Link Wray: “Rumble!”
  • X: “Los Angeles,” “Under the Big Black Sun”
  • Yes: “Fragile,” “Close to the Edge”
  • Neil Young: “On the Beach,” “Rust Never Sleeps”

By the way, I’ve been working on this list for a couple of weeks during some “down time.” And it’s been a lot of fun! Gotta listen to some of these albums again in the near future.