Posts Tagged ‘Music’

“In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson” (1969)

In the late 1960s, Deram Records served as a designer label for British giant Decca, showcasing higher-fidelity stereo recordings. Among its early successful rock-oriented acts were the Moody Blues, who recorded their orchestral hybrid “Days of Future Passed” for Deram in 1967, and the likes of Procol Harum, the Move and Ten Years After.

One not-so-successful Deram band was Giles, Giles and Fripp, a trio from the seaside town of Bournemouth featuring brothers Michael on drums and Peter on bass, and Robert on guitar. Deram released “The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp” to sales of perhaps 500 copies, Fripp later calculated. The album serves as a charming artifact of Britain’s psychedelic era, featuring a variety of musical styles and spoken-word interludes in a manner that was meant to appeal to the relatively feel-good atmosphere of the era.

Later in 1968, the band was augmented by Ian McDonald, a keyboard and saxophone player, and briefly by Judy Dyble, who had preceded Sandy Denny as the female lead singer for Fairport Convention. Eventually, Peter Giles departed for a more financially secure career in computer programming, and he was replaced by guitarist Greg Lake, who switched to bass at Fripp’s request and took over as lead singer.

Meanwhile, McDonald recommended former bandmate Peter Sinfield as lyricist. One of his compositions was called “The Court of the Crimson King” and, with only one Giles now on board, the band was looking for a new moniker. And so King Crimson came to be.

The new quartet decided to turn up the volume while continuing to explore a variety of styles. The results wowed audiences as soon as the band debuted in April 1969, and King Crimson put itself firmly on the British musical map with a stunning performance at the free concert at Hyde Park in July 1969 headlined by the Rolling Stones, in front of perhaps half a million people. A recording contract with Island Records followed, and the band went to work on its debut album.

What resulted stands as the apex of what came to be known as progressive rock. “In the Court of the Crimson King” contains five extended pieces displaying a tremendous amount of skill and versatility on the musicians’ part, while creating well-suited soundscapes for Sinfield’s fanciful lyrics.

The first sounds of the album are of a railroad whistle, quickly followed by a primeval blast of heavy metal with the opening notes of “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Lake’s distorted vocals carry Sinfield’s uneasy visions of the present and future:

Cat’s foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door
21st-century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Polititians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
21st-century schizoid man

Death seed, blind man’s greed
Poets starving, children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
21st-century schizoid man

The musical accompaniment, composed by the core quartet, was unlike anything heard in the ’60s and still sounds advanced, combining a series of differing time signatures played at ear-splitting volume in a prime display of instrumental prowess. The middle section, titled “Mirrors,” features Michael Giles’ polyrhythmic drumming and Lake’s fluid base supporting Fripp’s sustain-laden guitar solo, followed by McDonald’s multi-tracked saxophones playing at a frenetic pace.

“21st Century Schizoid Man” quickly became a major selling point for the album, which jumped all the way to No. 5 in the U.K., and still stands as King Crimson’s most popular composition. It has been covered by such acts as Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Canada’s April Wine and Voivod, and Ozzy Osbourne for his his 2005 album “Under Cover.”

On “In the Court of the Crimson King,” the pace slows down considerably for the second track, McDonald and Sinfield’s “I Talk to the Wind.” Rather than roaring guitars and saxophone, the featured instrument is McDonald’s flute, as he takes a lengthy, melodious solo in the middle, complemented by Giles’ creative percussion.

The lyrical themes of “Schizoid Man” return in “Epitaph,” which features McDonald playing Mellotron, an early version of the synthesizer, and Fripp’s acoustic guitar. Sinfield draws on concerns that still are pertinent today:

Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

The vinyl Side Two contains two extended pieces, although Fripp has done his best to abridge the first track, “Moonchild.” Rooted firmly in period psychedelia, the song starts as a relatively soft, melodic tale seemingly straight out of Tolkien:

Call her moonchild
Dancing in the shallows of a river
Lovely moonchild
Dreaming in the shadow of the willow
Talking to the trees of the cobweb strange
Sleeping on the steps of a fountain
Waving silver wands to the night bird’s song
Waiting for the sun on the mountain

Following the opening section is a lengthy free-form jam, lacking structure but notable for Giles’ use of alternation between his ride cymbals. At one point, Fripp quotes the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

At least, that’s what listeners of the original album hear. For the 1991 CD compilation “Frame by Frame,” Fripp jettisoned the entire free-form section, more than nine minutes’ worth. And in later reissues of “The Court of the Crimson King,” he eliminated about 2:30 of the jam. Today, the entire track can be heard as a bonus track on the album’s 40th-anniversary deluxe edition.

Closing the album is its title track, more or less, with McDonald’s signature Mellotron line carrying Sinfield’s lyrics about a mythical slice of royalty. “The Court of the Crimson King” actually was released as a two-sided single in the United States and reached No. 80 on the Billboard charts! Perhaps more improbably, the song was covered by “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen for his 1970 album “Doc Severinsen’s Closet.” No word on what Johnny Carson might have thought.

The album cover for “In the Court of the Crimson King” is one of the most distinctive of the rock era, a nightmarish vision of abject terror created by a computer programmer friend of the band named Barry Godber. Sadly, he wouldn’t know of his artwork’s iconic legacy, as he died of a heart attack at age 24 shortly after the LP’s release.

To promote “In the Court of the Crimson King” in the United States, the band embarked on a well-received tour. As it wound down in December 1969, McDonald and Giles announced they were leaving the band. Also, Lake had made friends with Keith Emerson – keyboard player for the Nice, which shared the bill with King Crimson on several U.S. dates – and the pair combined with Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to write their own chapter in progressive rock history.

Fripp was left with King Crimson’s name but no band. Nevertheless, he went ahead with a followup album, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” which bears a stunning resemblance to the debut. Chipping in were both Giles brothers, with Lake providing vocals.

By the time of the band’s third album, “Lizard,” King Crimson had a completely different lineup. As it did for its fourth effort, “Islands.” And by the time of the fifth studio album, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic,” yet another group of musicians called itself King Crimson, with Fripp as the only constant.

He dissolved the band in 1974, then resurrected it in the early ’80s, and again in the mid-’90s. King Crimson was active as a four-piece into the 21st century.

But even Robert Fripp acknowledges that his favorite incarnation was the one that closed the ’60s.

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Well, it’s been over a year, with some long delays between posts. But we’re heading into the home stretch.

To repeat my disclaimer: The rankings are purely subjective, based on my respect for an album’s merits and how much I enjoy listening to it. Plus I’m striving to include a large variety of artists, meaning some would seem to get shortchanged in a way. For example, as I’ve noted, a great majority of Beatles albums deserve to be on any “top 100” list, but I wanted to acknowledge the Mans and Loves of the musical world, too!

Of the final 20 albums, many will have you nodding in agreement; others will have you scratching your heads. I will say that I pretty much formulated my opinions on these recordings decades ago, and if that makes me a “dinosaur” … hey, proud of it!

Here’s what we have so far:

100. “6 and 12 String Guitar” by Leo Kottke
99. “A Picture of Nectar” by Phish
98. “Mass in F Minor” by the Electric Prunes
97. “Back Into the Future” by Man
96. “Brave New World” by the Steve Miller Band
95. “Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower
94. “Dual Mono” by the Greenhornes
93. “Live” by Golden Earring
92. “New Riders of the Purple Sage” by New Riders of the Purple Sage
91. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King
90. “Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult
89. “Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman
88. “Mothership Connection” by Parliament
87. “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle
86. “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper
85. “Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture
84. “Stratosfear” by Tangerine Dream
83. “New Dark Ages” by the Radiators
82. “High Time” by the MC5
81. “Third” by Soft Machine
80. “Blues for Allah” by the Grateful Dead
79. “Nazz Nazz” by the Nazz
78. “Fun House” by the Stooges
77. “Elephant” by the White Stripes
76. “Marquee Moon” by Television
75. “After Bathing at Baxter’s” by Jefferson Airplane
74. “Forever Changes” by Love
73. “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground
72. “Fear of Music” by Talking Heads
71. “Spectrum” by Billy Cobham
70. “Garcia” by Jerry Garcia
69. “London Calling” by the Clash
68. “Procol Harum” by Procol Harum
67. “Blue Train” by John Coltrane
66. “Physical Graffiti” by Led Zeppelin
65. “Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer
64. “Made in Japan” by Deep Purple
63. “Yer’ Album” by the James Gang
62. “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Brothers
61. “The Who Sell Out” by The Who
60. “re-ac-tor” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
59. “Truth” by Jeff Beck
58. “Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
57. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd
56. “#1 Record” by Big Star
55. “Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1” by the Kinks
54. “Head Hunters” by Herbie Hancock
53. “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” by Spirit
52. “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones
51. “The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra
50. “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band
49. “Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix
48. “Animals” by Pink Floyd
47. “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces
46. “American Beauty” by the Grateful Dead
45. “Exodus” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
44. “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos
43. “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane
42. “The Band” by the Band
41. “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis
40. “The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators” by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators
39. “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” by John Mayall
38. “Anthem of the Sun” by the Grateful Dead
37. “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles
36. “At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band
35. “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd
34. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane
33. “On the Beach” by Neil Young
32. “Spirit” by Spirit
31. “Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin
30. “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds
29. “Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones
28. “Bringing It All Back Home” by Bob Dylan
27. “Hot Rats” by Frank Zappa
26. “Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds
25. “The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan & The Band
24. “Revolver” by the Beatles
23. “Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
22. “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
21. “The Doors” by the Doors

“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.

“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.

“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.

Harry’s Hundred: 70 down, 30 to go

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Music
Tags: ,

OK, we’ve made it this far. Remember, the rankings are based on my personal regard for and familiarity with an album, in addition to its artistic achievement, making this list purely subjective:

100. “6 and 12 String Guitar” by Leo Kottke
99. “A Picture of Nectar” by Phish
98. “Mass in F Minor” by the Electric Prunes
97. “Back Into the Future” by Man
96. “Brave New World” by the Steve Miller Band
95. “Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower
94. “Dual Mono” by the Greenhornes
93. “Live” by Golden Earring
92. “New Riders of the Purple Sage” by New Riders of the Purple Sage
91. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King
90. “Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult
89. “Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman
88. “Mothership Connection” by Parliament
87. “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle
86. “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper
85. “Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture
84. “Stratosfear” by Tangerine Dream
83. “New Dark Ages” by the Radiators
82. “High Time” by the MC5
81. “Third” by Soft Machine
80. “Blues for Allah” by the Grateful Dead
79. “Nazz Nazz” by the Nazz
78. “Fun House” by the Stooges
77. “Elephant” by the White Stripes
76. “Marquee Moon” by Television
75. “After Bathing at Baxter’s” by Jefferson Airplane
74. “Forever Changes” by Love
73. “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground
72. “Fear of Music” by Talking Heads
71. “Spectrum” by Billy Cobham
70. “Garcia” by Jerry Garcia
69. “London Calling” by the Clash
68. “Procol Harum” by Procol Harum
67. “Blue Train” by John Coltrane
66. “Physical Graffiti” by Led Zeppelin
65. “Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer
64. “Made in Japan” by Deep Purple
63. “Yer’ Album” by the James Gang
62. “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Brothers
61. “The Who Sell Out” by The Who
60. “re-ac-tor” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
59. “Truth” by Jeff Beck
58. “Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
57. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd
56. “#1 Record” by Big Star
55. “Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1” by the Kinks
54. “Head Hunters” by Herbie Hancock
53. “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” by Spirit
52. “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones
51. “The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra
50. “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band
49. “Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix
48. “Animals” by Pink Floyd
47. “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces
46. “American Beauty” by the Grateful Dead
45. “Exodus” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
44. “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos
43. “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane
42. “The Band” by the Band
41. “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis
40. “The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators” by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators
39. “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” by John Mayall
38. “Anthem of the Sun” by the Grateful Dead
37. “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles
36. “At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band
35. “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd
34. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane
33. “On the Beach” by Neil Young
32. “Spirit” by Spirit
31. “Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin