Posts Tagged ‘psychedelic’

“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

“The Doors” by the Doors (1967)

In the summer of 1966, John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison entered Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood to record their first album as the Doors.

They’d been together a bit over a year by that point, but had wowed audiences in the hippest of Los Angeles nightclubs to the point where they were offered a contract by Columbia Records. That didn’t work out, but Elektra Records founder Jac Holtzman saw something he liked and signed the band. He’d also signed fellow LA band Love, which had some chart success in 1966 with its cover of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book.”

The Doors’ stated intention at one point was to be “as big as Love,” so they welcomed the opportunity to record for the same label. The equipment at Sunset sound was standard for the time but seems thoroughly archaic today: a four-track tape machine, onto which went the rhythm section on one track, guitar and keyboards on a second, and Morrison’s voice on a third. The fourth was to be used for overdubs. And that was that.

The sessions lasted only a week, wrapping up on Aug. 31, two days after the Beatles played their final public concert up the Pacific in San Francisco. The Doors then went back to concentrating on live performances, waiting for the album’s release.

That came on Jan. 4, one of the first albums to hit the shelves in 1967, which turned out to be a watershed year in music history, with much of the material that constitutes the backbone of Classic Rock arriving to enthusiastic audiences.

“The Doors” certainly helped set the stage. With “Light My Fire” topping the singles charts and the LP reaching No. 2, Morrison and company went from being local Los Angeles heroes to among the best-known bands in the United States and beyond, a status that, of course, continues to this day.

Although some of the album’s tracks are heavily rooted in the blues, stylistically “The Doors” bears little resemblance to most of the rock music being released at the time. The featured instrument, for example, was Manzarek’s Vox Continental keyboard, which he often played in a lively manner that evoked carnival music. His intro to “Light My Fire” is a prime example and helped define the band’s sound as it became a radio staple during the summer of ’67. Because the band lacked a bass player, Manzarek took care of the low notes, too, gaining him much acclaim among fans for his versatility and virtuosity.

Actually, the first single to be released from “The Doors” was the opening track, “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” which peaked at No. 126. It also was subject to the first instance of censorship involving the doors: Morrison’s original line “she get high” was altered to exclude the last word.

The song, itself, is prescient in the impact that the Doors and other bands that were gaining popularity at the time would have on the progression of rock music. Suddenly it was gaining a more “modern” sound that, looking past the recording limitations of the time, still sound contemporary today. The lyrics exemplify the sense of mysticism that would become one of Morrison’s trademarks:

You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

“Soul Kitchen” was a tribute to a Venice Beach restaurant where Morrison used to hang out to the point of being told, perhaps not so politely, to leave. The Doors often closed their concerts with the tune, its lyrics serving as a poignant way to say goodbye: “Well the clock says it’s time to close, now/I know I have to go, now/I really want to stay here
all night, all night, all night.”

The lighter side of the Doors comes shimmering through on “The Crystal Ship,” which plenty of fans got to know as the B-side to “Light My Fire.” Manzarek’s delicately played piano carries Morrison’s ethereal vocal as he sings what appears to be a love song, albeit kind of a twisted one, as the opening lyric might suggest: “Before you slip into unconsciousness.”

“Twentieth Century Fox” is a fun song, helping to propagate musically a popular term for a good-looking woman, along with Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” of the same year. Morrison suggests an easy-to-behold visual of the tune’s subject as he weighs her pros and cons:

Well, she’s fashionably lean
And she’s fashionably late
She’ll never wreck a scene
She’ll never break a date
But she’s no drag
Just watch the way she walks

She’s a Twentieth Century Fox
She’s a Twentieth Century Fox
No tears, no fears
No ruined years, no clocks
She’s a Twentieth Century Fox

For the album’s first cover version, the band performs a spirited, somewhat campy rendition of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” was originally was published in Bertolt Brecht’s “Hauspostille” in 1927 and set to music the same year by Kurt Weill in Weimar Germany. A musical cross between a foxtrot and blues, the song appears in the opera “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” as a discourse between prostitues.

The song that opened the door for the Doors began life as a relatively straightforward composition by Krieger. The distinctive intro was added by Manzarek, and his keyboard solo and Krieger’s guitar solo helped stretch the finished version of “Light My Fire” to nearly seven minutes. The edition that appeared on 45 was around three minutes, keeping all of Morrison’s vocals intact. The song continued to be a staple of the Doors’ live sets through the end of 1970, often clocking in at upwards of 20 minutes.

If “Light My Fire” presents Morrison’s voice at its most radio-friendly, Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” amply demonstrates his lascivious side, his whoops and yells leading in to his boasts about visiting married women: “Hey, all you people that tryin’ to sleep/I’m out to make it with my midnight creep.” Of course, the sexual innuendo has been misinterpreted over the years; then again, with everything we’ve come to know about Jim Morrison, who’s to say what he was thinking?

“The Doors” starts to wind down with three decent enough tracks: “I Looked at You,” the ethereal “End of the Night” and the hard-rocking “Take It as It Comes,” featuring a particularly dextrous Manzarek solo and Morrison’s exhortation to “specialize in having fun.” The song concludes abruptly with him shouting, “moving much too fast,” which serves as an appropriate counterpoint to what follows.

Radio listeners who bought “The Doors” expecting a bunch of “Light My Fire”-like ditties must have been taken aback by the album’s final track.

A strain of loose instrumentation opens “The End” on a suitably eerie tone, as do Krieger’s spare, minor-key guitar lines. Morrison sings what he originally intended as a song about his breakup with onetime girlfriend Mary Werbelow:

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free?
Desperately in need of some stranger’s hand
In a desperate land

Simple and eloquent, the opening verses soon give way to the musings of Jim Morrison, Poet, who takes the listener on a mystic journey that culminates in a stunningly graphic Oedipal scenario, even though the version on record is whitewashed, with Morrison screaming instead of uttering the two key words that follow “Mother I want to …” He wasn’t shy about completing the thought in performance, though, getting the Doors banned from the Sunset Strip’s Whisky a Go Go after owner Elmer Valentine (1923-2008) took offense.

The Doors released five more studio albums before Morrison’s death on July 3, 1971. But although they all have their moments, particularly the finale “L.A. Woman,” the band never could match the creativity and impact of its debut.

“Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds (1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Spirit” by Spirit (1968)

In the summer of 1966, Randy Craig Wolfe was a 15-year-old kid with a strong interest in music and a family to match: His uncle Ed Pearl ran the Ash Grove club in his native Los Angeles, and Ed Cassidy, the man who’d recently married Randy’s mother, had been a professional drummer since the ’30s.

Ed, then 42, had taken his new family to New York City so that he could find more work, and Randy, an aspiring guitarist, started hanging out at the legendary Manny’s Music on West 48th Street. Perhaps he was hoping to see someone famous; according to a New York Times article published when Manny’s closed in 2009, “The store hit its heyday in the 1960s, when British Invasion bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who made Manny’s a must-stop destination upon landing in America. ”

Instead, he met another young, out-of-state guitarist, a black guy from Seattle. As Randy recalled:

He was in the back of the store playing a Strat. Our eyes caught each other, and I asked him if I could show him some things I learned on the guitar. He then gave me the Strat and I played slide guitar. He really liked it and invited me down that night, which I believe was his first night of this gig at the Cafe Wha?

The band, billed as Jimmy James & the Blue Flames, had a bass player who also was named Randy. So the guitarist started referring to them by their home states, Randy Texas (Palmer) and Randy California (Wolfe).

Jimmy James, of course, turned out to be James Marshall Hendrix, and he started teaching Wolfe some of his own favorite chops.

“I know he showed me the chords to ‘Hey Joe,’ because I had never heard that before,” Wolfe reminisced, as quoted in Johnny Black’s “Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience.”

Cafe Wha? is where Hendrix met Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith, who in turn introduced Jimi to Animals bass player Chas Chandler, who in turn was looking to get into the management side. The rest is history, as Hendrix went with Chandler to his native U.K. and to superstardom … without Wolfe. As Chandler told Black:

Jimi genuinely wanted to bring Randy to England, but I was adamant that he made space between them. I said, “How the fuck am I going to get a visa for a 15-year-old, anyway? Do you understand what implications there are with something like that? You just don’t do it.

And so Randy was left with this observation:

One day I arrived to find that Jimi’d split for England. That was the end of it.

But Hendrix’s desertion didn’t deter Wolfe from his pursuit of music. After his family moved back to Los Angeles, he met up with some musicians he’d played with as the Red Roosters prior to the extended New York stay. They got back together, this time with Ed as the drummer, and with a new name: Spirits Rebellious, from a Khalil Gibran book. Plus Randy kept the name Jimi had given him, now professionally known as Randy California.

The five-piece band – also including vocalist Jay Ferguson, bass player Mark Andes and keyboard player John Locke – eventually shortened its name to Spirit and started drawing a decent following around the L.A. clubs. In an era of increased musical experimentation, Spirit drew from a variety of influences for a cross between acoustic folk, early jazz-rock fusion, hard blues-based rock, wowing audiences with its ability to mix tight song structures with long, technically advanced improvisation.

One such vehicle for improvisation was a song Locke composed called “Elijah.” Spirit recorded an 11-minute version as part of its demo tape, made available some 25 years later on an anthology called “Chronicle” by an obscure Canadian label. The songs on the tape, although poorly recorded, helped the band draw interest from record companies.

One of those was Ode Records, a fledgling label formed by music entrepreneur Lou Adler after he sold his Dunhill label to ABC. Although he later signed Carole King as a solo artist – she recorded the landmark, top-selling “Tapestry” for Ode – and launched the record- and movie-making career of Cheech & Chong, Adler’s first release for his new venture was Spirit’s debut album.

The album came out in January 1968 amid a wildly eclectic musical landscape, one that had broadened during the decade to embrace all kinds of styles. As such, “Spirit” seemed to have something for everyone, what with its musicians’ variety of influences and, perhaps directly related, the age range of its members (Ed was 44, Randy 16).

Perhaps there was too much diversity within the grooves. The LP did peak at No. 31, but at a time when singles dominated the market, Spirit’s initial offering, an odd dirge called “Mechanical World,” went nowhere.

Among albums released in 1968, though, “Spirit” has aged extremely well, as many of its compositions sound not the least bit dated nearly 45 years later.

The message put forth in the album opener, “Fresh Garbage,” certainly still rings true. The lyrics are short and to the point: “Look beneath your lid this morning/See those things you didn’t quite consume/The world’s a can for your fresh garbage.” Ferguson was inspired by a trash collectors’ strike to write the song, but its environmental implications proved to be ahead of the curve.

Musically, the song features a memorable riff, one that might sound familiar to heavy-duty Led Zeppelin fans: It was used by that band during performances of Garnet Mimms’ “As Long As I Have You” during early Zeppelin concerts, some of which as the opening act for Spirit.

The bridge of “Fresh Garbage” demonstrates that Spirit is no ordinary band. The song abruptly breaks into a peppy, piano-driven section that reaches a multi-instrumental crescendo before returning to the main theme, over which Ferguson repeats the lyrics.

By contrast, Ferguson’s “Uncle Jack” is a relatively straightforward rocker, although what he sings is somewhat enigmatic: “‘So many lives to live,’ I heard him say/’But some people live to give themselves away, to find peace of mind, waiting where they can’t get it'” The song is the only one from Spirit’s August 1967 sessions to make it to the LP; the remainder was recorded between Nov. 9 and 17.

From left: Ed Cassidy (b. 1923), Randy California (1951-97), John Locke (1943-2006)

About “Mechanical World,” California later wrote:

Mark was very ill with the flu and was confined to his room for weeks, making him feel very depressed and mechanical. Towards the end of his sickness, Jay could be seen sneaking in and out of Mark’s room with guitar in hand. When Mark finally came out, there was a brand new song. The group really collaborated on this track, and everyone was happy to see Mark smiling and healthy again.

As for the song, it lurches along spouting lyrics that reflect a sick person’s outlook: “Death falls so heavy on my soul/Death falls so heavy, makes me moan/Somebody tell my father that I died/Somebody tell my mother that I cried.” Even with that baggage and its clocking in at more than 5 minutes, it became the single, perhaps because of the money spent by Adler on its orchestral arrangement.

The orchestra returns for “Taurus,” an instrumental that serves as California’s first solo composition. Since 1971, conjecture has been rampant that Led Zeppelin copped part of the melody for none other than “Stairway to Heaven”; the listener is the ultimate judge. California simply had this to say:

Written for my first love, Robin. She was a Taurus. But I must also mention the perfect astrological balance of the band with two Tauri (Cass and Jay), two Pisces (Randy and Mark) and one Libra (John).

Now, that sounds like 1968!

Ferguson’s “Girl in Your Eye” perhaps is the most 1968-sounding track on the album, with its incorporation of the sitar and orchestral sweeps. California’s pioneering use of feedback sustain, however, is used to great effect to counteract some of the period elements.

“Straight Arrow” is a fun piece that Ferguson wrote about Keith Andes, Mark’s father, an actor who inspired the composition with his performance as Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.” Again, the song takes a jazzy sidetrack in the middle before returning to its main theme.

The lyrics for the most part evoke a Western-type hero, with one line standing out: “Watch what you do because Straight Arrow watches you.” Spirit would revisit that line of thinking on California’s seemingly paranoiac “1984,” a song that climbed up the charts in early 1970 before radio play ceased for no apparent reason. So, who was being paranoid? …

The “Spirit” album continues with the ultra-heady “Topanga Windows,” which features some of Ferguson’s most catchy wordplay: “People searching for a better season, trying to catch their moment on the run/Always asking wanting what’s the reason, what do you want when you just want to have some fun?” The song’s languid, dreamlike pace picks up substantially in the middle, bolstered by California’s double-tracked guitar, again putting the teenager’s tremendous talent on full display.

“Gramophone Man,” the album’s sole group composition, chronicles a common plight among musicians: meeting with record-company executives who care only about sales, not who might be doing the performing. The message is conveyed in a sly manner: “And watch the time, the world is waiting, give a tune for Mr. Gramophone Man/Jack and Jill falling down off their hill, singing songs for Mr. Gramophone Man.”

Ferguson contributes two brief compositions, “Water Woman” and “The Great Grand Canyon Fire in General,” that lead up to the album’s conclusion. The latter is interesting for its allusions to an actual Los Angeles event, “a big summer fire that burned about half of Topanga Canyon,” California wrote. “Our yellow house was saved, but everyone had to evacuate and spend a week camping at the beach.”

Poor guys.

“Elijah” clocks in at nearly 11 minutes on the LP version, allowing the various members to show their chops. California wrote about its serving as a concert extravaganza:

Some of the more memorable solos I recall were Jay and Mark pulling out two chairs center stage and facing each other doing the “hambone,” a two-man, hand-slappin’, thigh-hittin’ rhythmic affair. On John’s solo, he often would use a hand-held, breath-controlled keyboard that sounded like a sax. …

Sometimes I would do my guitar solo by turning my amp off and playing acoustically right on the microphone. Our audiences were great – you could hear a pin drop.

“Elijah” probably worked better as performance art than as an album track, but it does present a clear picture of each of the musicians’ capabilities. California’s section is a bit disappointing considering his groundbreaking work on most of the rest of “Spirit,” but he certainly acquits himself well, particularly considering his age at the time.

For fans of rock’s psychedelic era, “Spirit” is a real treat in that it doesn’t have to go to great lengths to offer a cerebral listening experience. Even the orchestration, something Spirit never again integrated, is subtle enough to serve pretty much as an auxiliary instrument, rather than tending to drown out the proceedings.

Perhaps it didn’t resonate with the record-buying public, or for posterity, as did the albums recorded around the same time by California’s former bandmate.

But Hendrix continued to hold Spirit in high regard until the end of his life, always acknowledging the role that young Randy Wolfe played in Jimi’s salad days.

“The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” by the 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

Take a look at the singer in this video from Germany in 2010.

Sure, it looks as if he’s had some ups and downs over the years. But all in all, he seems to be in pretty good shape.

In 2005, filmmaker Keven McAlester released his documentary about the singer, Roger Kynard “Roky” Erickson. Judging by the movie, you’d never guess that Roky ever would be able to function in society again, let alone return to performing music.

But he continues to do his thing on stage, including shows this coming weekend in New Jersey, if you’re out that direction.

That’s good news for fans who have followed Roky – pronounced “Rocky” – since his days as frontman for the ’60s-era band the 13th Floor Elevators, and who have cheered him on during his peaks and valleys in the decades since.

In the rock ‘n’ roll canon, Roger Kynard Erickson usually is mentioned in the same breath as another Roger, “Syd” Barrett of Pink Floyd, and Canadian multi-instrumentalist Alexander “Skip” Spence, of Moby Grape and Jefferson Airplane.

Those musicians often are cited as primary casualties of the era’s drug culture, men whose predilections for substances led to debilitating mental illness.

Roky isn’t the only one of them who’s still making music. He’s the only one who’s still alive.

His story begins in Austin, Texas, in 1965, when he came to local prominence with a band called the Spades. Barely 18 at the time, he wrote two songs that became audience favorites, “We Sell Soul” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

Late in the year, Roky decided to team up with members of a band called the Lingsmen for a new aggregation. Erickson, guitarist Stacy Sutherland, bass player Benny Thurman and drummer John Ike Walton opted for the name 13th Floor Elevators, as a nod to the number that doesn’t exist in hotels (and possibly signifying the 13th letter of the alphabet, which also is the first letter of the word “marijuana”).

If the band name was thoroughly unusual for mid-’60s Texas, the addition of a fifth member was downright unique. To quote Mark Deming on allmusic.com: “nobody played electric jug quite like Tommy Hall … actually, nobody played it at all besides him.”

That’s right. He’d picked up a jug, put a microphone next to it and make noises that somewhat resemble what you’d hear on a submarine’s sonar. As you might imagine, he had to be in a certain frame of mind to operate thusly.

“With the Elevators, Hall made it a rule to drop acid every time someone picked up an instrument,” Jennifer Maerz of the Houston Press wrote in “Ex-13th Floor Elevator Tommy Hall Is Still Psychedelic.

Speaking of psychedelic, we can attribute the coining of the word to British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who came up with the term for the hallucinogenic drugs he prescribed to author Aldous Huxley. (He’s the guy who wrote “The Doors of Perception,” from which Jim Morrison and company took their band’s name.) At the start of 1966, the word wasn’t widely known, except to folks like Dr. Timothy Leary. But that soon would change.

The 13th Floor Elevators started the year by going into the studio to record two songs for the band’s first 45, working with a producer named Gordon Bynum for a label called Contact Records. The B-side was called “Tried to Hide,” while the main track turned out to be an updated version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” If you’ve seen the movie “High Fidelity,” that’s the song that’s playing on vinyl during the opening.

The single made a national impact, peaking at No. 55 on the Billboard charts and No. 50 on Cash Box. The song’s most notable feature, even more than Hall’s jug, is Erickson’s frantic vocal delivery, in marked contrast to what other popular singers were doing in early 1966.

The success of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” resulted in the 13th Floor Elevators being offered gigs far away from Texas, most notably San Francisco, where acts like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead were starting to make names for themselves. After taking in some Elevators shows, the Bay Area bands started to veer away from folk and blues toward uncharted territory.

Returning to Austin, the Elevators went to work on recording an album, which also ended up being unlike anything anyone had heard before. Or since.

“The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” not only used Osmond’s contribution to the language prominently, but it also came with an album cover goes a long way toward summing up what psychedelic music was, is and will be.

John Cleveland, an Austin artist, ably executed the theme of bright colors surrounding an eye with a pyramid and smaller eye within the pupil. As band collaborator Powell St. John recalled in an interview decades later, “It was one of those arcane symbols of which Tommy was so fond and so vague in explaining. Maybe it had something to do with Scientology. Tommy was very big on Scientology. ”

The album was recorded for International Artists, a small Houston record company with a staff producer named Lelan Rogers, whose brother, Kenny, would score a hit with a band called the First Edition and a song called “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” (I heard he’s recorded some other stuff, too. And been in some movies. And lent his name to a chain of chicken restaurants.)

Lelan produced nine new songs to go with the pair of tunes originally recorded for Contact. The result is sonically primitive – adding to the technological limitations is the apparent loss of the original master tapes – but fascinating, a document of the raw tools that paved the way for a style of music that’s still revered in many quarters today.

“You’re Gonna Miss Me,” naturally, is the opening track, kicking off with a riff reminiscent of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” but quickly veering off the beaten path with the introduction of Hall’s jug noises. Roky breaks in with an otherwordly “Oh, yeah!” before warning his girlfriend of an imminent departure. The key switches from E major to E minor for a the bridge before returning to the main theme, punctuated by blasts from Erickson’s harmonica. The net result is two-and-a-half minutes of pure adrenaline.

The pace slows with “Roller Coaster,” which begins with a Walton drum roll leading in to a menacing guitar figure, with Sunderland using reverb and echo to great effect for the time. Roky starts intoning the Hall-penned lyrics: “Once, somewhere, some time ago, his eyes were clear to see/He put his thoughts into my mind, and gave myself to be.” He and Sutherland trade guitar licks with Hall’s jug bubbling up prominently, until Roky redoubles his vocal effort: “Well, it starts like a roller coaster ride, so real it takes your breath away/It slides you through your point of view, you look back to where you thought you’d stayed.” Perhaps listeners in 1966 weren’t exactly hip to what Hall was writing about, but seeing the words in print makes the subject matter quite a bit clearer!

Tommy’s wife at the time, Clementine, co-wrote the next track, “Splash 1,” with Roky. Compared with the freakout that was “Roller Coaster,” “Splash 1” comes across as a relatively straightforward, sparely arranged love song … until you’re confronted with lyrics like “The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine/It’s so familiar, in a way I can’t define.” Perhaps it’s a coincidence that a preferred method of taking LSD at the time was to use an eye dropper, straight into the ol’ cornea?

“Reverberation (Doubt)” opens with a burst of feedback, flowing into a riff that sounds like a speeded-up “Roller Coaster.” The lyrics, again by Tommy Hall, reflect pure paranoia: “Well, you finally find your helpless mind is trapped inside your skin/You want to leave, but you believe you won’t get back again. … It holds your thought, your mind is caught, you’re fixed with fascination/You think you’ll die, it’s just a lie, it’s backward elevation!” This ode to a bad trip, was the follow-up single to “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and actually made it to No. 129 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under, shortly after the album’s release.

“Don’t Fall Down” features a call-and-response vocal arrangement, with Tommy’s lyrics sticking to a more conventional (for him) love-song script: “Every time you need her, she is there, to ease the pain that fogs you/And when you don’t need her, from her stare, she says she’s needing you.”

The frenzy factor is upped again with “Fire Engine,” with suitable sound effects roaring through the song’s start, punctuating Sutherland’s reverb-drenched chords. His playing is particularly prominent during this composition, showing him to be an inventive guitar player whose style seems to have made many fans among West Coast players who developed similar chops.

“Thru the Rhythm” is built on one of those great ’60s-era riffs that seem as if they’d be right at home as the theme music for a period spy movie. Unfortunately, Hall’s lyrics serve as an unnerving foreshadowing of what would come to pass in Roky’s life: “You gobble all the blessings they taught you to digest/They may be hard to swallow, but they keep your tongue depressed/Your scattered whims were born depressed, so when something slams into your chest/You flutter about your sleep distressed, and then you stop to ease your breast/A scattered rim leaves you obsessed, but solid thoughts are soon suppressed/Where are you?”

Keep those words in mind for later reference.

St. John’s “You Don’t Know” is the song on the album that uses Hall’s jug to best effect, as his noises punctuate a relatively spare arrangement. Although the key line is “You don’t know how young you are,” other lyrics register high on the lysergic scale: “Your eyes are filled with liquid snakes and liquid plastic castles.” Another eye-dropper reference, perhaps.

While “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Roller Coaster” are the best-known tracks on “Psychedelic Sounds,” the tune that most lives up to the album title is “Kingdom of Heaven.” Sutherland’s minor-key, languidly paced guitar riffs lay the foundation for an entire rock genre, as do St. John’s set-the-scene lyrics:

Here you are at my place within your glistening eyes
I´m watching your reactions as the thing within you cries
And I´m bringing you this message ´cause I think it´s time you knew
That the kingdom of heaven is within you

The incense and the candles and the colors on the wall
Your image stands reflected as a princess come to call
Your suspicions I´m confirming as you find them all quite true
And the kingdom of heaven is within you

Through the stained glass windows moonlight flashes on the choir
And splashes on the altar in glows of liquid fire
Then it bathes you with its glory and you begin life anew
And the kingdom of heaven is within you

Another St. John song, “Monkey Island,” either alludes to the “monkey on the back” of addiction or the recurring theme of nonconformism that runs through his and Hall’s material: “Well, here I am on Monkey Island, hiding behind a rock/I’m all dressed up with my monkey suit, pretending to be something I’m not.” Maybe a combination of the two.

The Elevators’ debut wraps up with “Tried to Hide,” which co-composer Sutherland actually builds atop major chords. Hall blows on the jug frenetically as his lyrics – yes, they’re about alienation again – are sung by Erickson: “You think you´re strong when you´re all restraining/You think you have when you´re only claiming/When I got near all I saw was fear/And I know that you tried to hide and you cried ´cause you lied about it.”

So … for anyone who had equated “Incense and Peppermints” or “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” with psychedelic rock, the guys who invented it obviously had a lot more depth, and a much darker side. Adjust your (doors of) perceptions accordingly.

I’d like to report that the 13th Floor Elevators went on to triumphs and successes in accord with their groundbreaking performance on their first LP. Actually, the sophomore effort, “Easter Everywhere,” is regarded in some circles as the band’s crowning achievement, and it actually charted nationally, peaking at No. 122.

Sessions for a third record, eventually released as “Bull in the Woods,” had just gotten started when the forces that be caught up with the 13th Floor Elevators.

If Austin, Texas, doesn’t seem as if it would be the most enlightened of cities well into the 21st century, think about what it must have been like in the mid-’60s. Here was a group of long-haired musicians playing strange music, obviously (except for non-user Walton) hopped up on something, and just as obviously serving as a menace to the young people of the Lone Star state. As those on the scene have stated in interviews over the decades, John Law was out to get the boys in the band, especially that singer.

Arrested for possession of a single marijuana cigarette, Roky pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to avoid a potential 10-year prison sentence. The claim had plenty of merit, as he’d already been diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent some time in a mental hospital. This time around, though, he wound up in Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was surrounded by inmates who did a whole lot more than smoke pot. As the movie “You’re Gonna Miss Me” chillingly explains, Roky played guitar in a Rusk pickup band that also included a couple of murderers, one of whom molested a boy and stuffed his body into a refrigerator.

Erickson, to no one’s surprise, emerged from his experience a changed man. He returned to performing, but took the paranoid attitude of the Elevators’ lyrics to new levels. With a band called Bleib Alien – the first word is an anagram for the Bible – he started singing about monsters and horror films, eventually recording a whole (tremendous!) album on the subject.

Eventually he dropped out of music and lived in an apartment near his mother’s house, clipping coupons and answering sweepstakes mailings, as documented in “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” With the intervention of his brother, a classically trained tuba player who lives in Pittsburgh, Roky finally overcame his issues enough to restart his career.

Walton’s reminiscences served McAlester well in his documentary, providing a good bit of insight to the rise and fall of the 13th Floor Elevators. Clementine Hall also provided some commentary, but Tommy was nowhere to be found.

Stacy Sutherland may have been one hell of a guitar player, but he fought his own demons, serving time in prison on drug charges after the demise of the Elevators. On Aug. 24, 1978, he was fatally shot by his wife, Bunny.

The website www.lysergia.com contains excerpts from an interview an unnamed person conducted with Sutherland a year before his death. In it, the late guitarist talks derisively of the San Francisco scene, the supposed epicenter of psychedelia in the late ’60s:

Their culture had definitely been into drugs more so, I think at the time, and it was more advanced in senses … but it didn’t have a freshness like Texas had to it, it was more washed out. One of the things I found when I first got out there was a walk I took down to Haight Street which was supposed to be where all the “beautiful people” were at the time, but I didn’t see anything but derelicts and dope fiends running around in the streets freaked out … shot up and whatever, begging money off people, it wasn’t anything that I was looking forward to seeing, it didn’t have the freshness Texas did at the time.

The Texas scene burned out quickly, though, leaving shattered lives in its wake. Fortunately, Roky Erickson has lived to tell about it. And even better, he’s still making music, including material from the album that started it all.

“Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane (1969)

What seems relatively tame today was pushing the envelope 40-some years ago.

Such was the case with Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers,” which raised a small series of controversies with its release at the tail end of the ’60s.

The Airplane had put San Francisco on the musical map with its 1967 hit singles, “Somebody to Love” and the landmark “White Rabbit.” The latter, with its lyrics alluding to the fanciful imagery of Lewis Carroll and its connection to modern-day drug use, eventually drawing specific condemnation from Vice President Spiro T. Agnew for its supposedly detrimental influence on the youth of America. (Agnew, of course, later pleaded no contest to tax evasion and resigned, paving the way for Gerald Ford to become president without actually being elected to anything having to do with the Executive Branch.)

With “Volunteers,” the Airplane seemed to aim for being a detrimental influence, at least with regard to people of Agnew’s ilk.

First, there’s the album cover, which features the band dressed in outlandish costumes against the backdrop of a U.S. flag. Remember, that was long before the Stars and Stripes became wardrobe fare, and the image of a decidedly strange-looking rock ‘n’ roll band coupled with the Stars and Stripes tended to rub the average American the wrong way.

The back cover is highly irreverent, as well, and it’s fun to study: a sendup of a newspaper page from the fictional Paz, S.D., complete with a Question of the Day, “What Is Your Favorite Stripe on the Flag?” Again, that’s hallowed ground, but responses include Grace Slick’s “Point that thing somewhere else,” Marty Balin’s “What flag?” and Paul Kanter’s “Michoucan.”

There there are the songs, themselves. Kantner’s “We Can Be Together” is nothing short of a call to arms: “We are forces of chaos and anarchy/Everything they say we, are we are/And we are very proud of ourselves,” which leads into the epic line “Up against the wall, motherfucker,” the first time that particular word appeared on record. Slick’s “Eskimo Blue Day” violates another taboo with “Doesn’t mean shit to a tree.”

The Airplane’s record company, not surprisingly, wasn’t overjoyed.

“RCA felt that some retail chains might boycott the album for any of the above reasons, to which the Airplane responded that record stores like that sucked anyway, so who cares?” Jeff Tamarkin wrote in “Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.”

Whatever the case, the album sold briskly after its November 1969 release, staying on the Billboard chart for 44 weeks. Record buyers seemed to agree with reviewer Ed Leimbacher, who wrote for Ramparts: “In terms of sheer music, ‘Volunteers’ is the greatest Airplane album yet; they may have taken off four years ago, but they didn’t reach the stratosphere till now.”

The theme set by the album cover and the opening track, “We Can Be Together,” seems to peg “Volunteers” as some kind of countercultural rant. But the songs display a remarkable amount of diversity, touching on the band’s folk roots (“Good Shepherd,” “Turn My Life Down” and “Wooden Ships”), country-rock (“The Farm” and “A Song for All Seasons”) and even proto-metal (“Eskimo Blue Day” and Hey Fredrick”).

Kantner built “We Can Be Together” and the song “Volunteers” on the same banjo-derived riff, which works particularly well with the latter. Balin had his only co-composer credits of the album on “Volunteers,” and RCA released it as a single. It peaked at only No. 65 but remained a favorite focal point for late-’60s nostalgia, even making it to the soundtrack for the Academy Award-winning “Forrest Gump.”

“Good Shepherd” has its roots in a 19th-century hymn and later was transformed into a Southern spiritual, as recorded by ethnomusicologists John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s. Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen learned the basic tune as “Blood-Stained Banders,” and his arrangement for “Volunteers” combines his finger-style acoustic guitar with the fuzztone of his electric Epiphone for “a psychedelic folk-rock song,” as Jorma has described it. The tune has remained a staple of his work with Hot Tuna ever since, as well as a highlight of the 1999 album “Love Will See You Through” by Phil Lesh and Friends, featuring Kaukonen dueling with virtuoso guitarist Steve Kimock on a lengthy rendition.

“The Farm” might be Kantner’s answer to Canned Heat’s cover of Henry Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues” that the band rewrote as “Goin’ Up the Country.” At any rate, it reflects the sentiment of plenty of San Francisco musicians who moved to rural Marin County after city life became more than a bit tense. Jerry Garcia’s lively pedal-steel guitar contributes greatly to the motif.

Slick had been writing purposefully obtuse lyrics since “White Rabbit,” and “Hey Fredrick” fits right into that category: “There you sit, mouth wide open, animals living by your side/On wire wheels, the four-stroke man opens wide.” As she explains in her autobiography (with Andrea Cagan), “Somebody to Love?”:

“My inability to successfully mainstream anything hasn’t bothered me much, but had I achieved mega-mainstream success it would have been an interesting test of the distorted pride I seem to take in my idiosyncratic behavior.”

What sets “Fredrick” – named for the band’s code word for intercourse – apart from other Slick compositions is the heavy jam into which it develops. Kaukonen, bass player Jack Casady, drummer Spencer Dryden and guest pianist Nicky Hopkins take over following Slick’s last words around the 3:20 mark and deliver nearly six minutes of what was as close to heavy metal as anyone was getting in 1969.

The tone lightens up quite a bit for Kaukonen’s “Turn My Life Down,” which Balin sings. The arrangement guest stars Steven Stills on Hammond organ and the vocal group Ace of Cups – Mary Gannon, Marilyn Hunt, Diane Hursh and Denise Jewkes – providing pleasant background.

Having called his generation to revolution, Kantner ponders the aftermath in “Wooden Ships,” which he wrote with Stills and David Crosby. Those who know the song best from Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut album, and its inclusion by that band in a prominent place in Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock,” might notice that Kantner isn’t part of that version’s credits; apparently, it wasn’t cool to have an RCA artist’s name appear on an Atlantic Records album.

At any rate, “Wooden Ships” describes a world possibly following World War III, in which the few survivors poignantly ask, “Can you tell me, please, who won?” It doesn’t much matter, as the scenario starts to echo Stanley Kramer’s “On the Beach”: “Horror grips us as we watch you die/All we can do is echo your anguished cries.”

Studio rehearsals for “Wooden Ships” had the Airplane segueing into “J.P.P. McStep B. Blues,” a song that the late Alexander “Skip” Spence wrote when he was the band’s drummer, before moving on to help found Moby Grape. Jefferson Airplane had recorded a version of the song in 1966, but it went unreleased until the 1974 odds-and-ends compilation “Early Flight.”

Slick addresses the plight of humanity on a more roundabout way on “Eskimo Blue Day,” with her ultimate assessment expressed with the previously mentioned scatological flourish. The instrumentation again features Kaukonen, Casady, Hopkins and Dryden turning it up near 11, with Grace adding touches of recorder in strategic places.

Prior to “A Song for All Seasons,” Dryden’s Airplane compositions had been Zappaesque sound collages, including the unreleased-for-decades “Saga of Sydney Spacehog.” His “A Song for All Seasons” sounds kind of like what the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers were playing at the time, a jaunty, country-flavored romp about the travails of a rock band: “I heard your manager skipped town with all your pay/And your lead singer’s bulge turns the sensors gray.”

A brief, somewhat bizarre rendition of the Soviet Army theme “Meadowlands” leads into “Volunteers,” which closes the ’60s with the key line: “One generation got old/One generation got soul/This generation’s got no destination to hold.” While those lyrics seem to be inextricably tied to the sentiments expressed on “We Can Be Together,” they certainly are applicable to the teens and twentysomethings of 2012.

“Volunteers” not only closes the ’60s, it closes Jefferson Airplane’s so-called “classic” era. “A Song for All Seasons” kind of hinted at the state of the band at the time, as subsequent events revealed.

Dryden and Slick had been a couple through early 1969, when she switched her affections to Kantner. Meanwhile, Kaukonen and Casady, who had played music together off and on for more than a decade, had started concentrating more fully on their side project, Hot Tuna.

As for Balin, who co-founded the band in 1965 with Kantner, his compositions hadn’t been central to an Airplane album since its second effort, “Surrealistic Pillow,” which was recorded all the way back in ’66.

Inner struggles combined with external forces just weeks after the release of “Volunteers.” On Dec. 6, 1969, “more than 300,000 souls found their way to one of the most desolate, depressing locations in the state of California to witness one of rock’s darkest moments,” Tamarkin wrote.

The occasion came to be known to the world as Altamont, during which a black concert attendee, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death in front of the stage by Hell’s Angels as the Rolling Stones played “Under My Thumb.”

Jefferson Airplane was one of the bands that opened for the Stones at their notoriously ill-planned free concert in the California desert. As Dryden recalled:

“It was just a horrible, pink-sky Hieronymus Bosch dustbin, not a tree in sight, just a hellhole. It was the beginning of the end. No, not the beginning. It was the end.”

Dryden had a great seat for “the end.” He was drumming during the Airplane’s obligatory cover of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life” when:

“The band stopped playing momentarily,” Tamarkin wrote, “shaken by the brutality. Spencer, Jorma and Jack returned to riffing absentmindedly, one eye on the chaos offstage and another on their fellow musicians. Paul stood at the lip of the stage, his guitar dangling as he surveyed the weirdness.

“Then a scream came from below. Marty, standing a second ago at center stage peering at the melee intently, leaped from his perch, disappearing into the thick of the crowd. More movement followed, but there was still no sign of Marty. He had been knocked out cold.”

The scene was captured for posterity in the film “Gimme Shelter” by David and Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, culminating with Slick imploring the crowd in a shaky voice, “Let’s not keep fucking up!”

Dryden didn’t play too many more shows with Jefferson Airplane, departing in January 1970. Balin hung around until October, when he decided not to perform at a concert following the death of his friend Janis Joplin.

The band struggled through two more studio albums and a decent live set documenting its final days. Then came Jefferson Starship, then Starship, a story as convoluted as it is depressing.

Those later aggregations may have tarnished the reputation of the “classic” Airplane. A listen to “Volunteers,” though, shows it to be not a relic of its era, but an examination of topics that continue to hold relevance more than four decades later.