Posts Tagged ‘rock’

“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.

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

“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.

“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.

“On the Beach” by Neil Young (1974)

As far back as 1967, Neil Young expressed in song his ambiguity about fame. Stephen Stills’ “For What Its Worth” had put Buffalo Springfield on the charts, becoming an anthem for the era with its us-vs.-them rhetoric.

Young’s answer to his band’s success was “Mr. Soul,” a witty, self-deprecating look at “the thought that I caught that my head was the event of the season.” He frankly admitted to his quirkiness, even at age 21, with the key line: “She said, you’re strange, but don’t change, and I let her.”

He went on to display flashes of eccentricity with the advanced sound collage “Broken Arrow,” which joined “Mr. Soul” on the tremendous “Buffalo Springfield Again” album, and certainly with the bizarre imagery of “Last Trip to Tulsa” on Young’s solo debut. But he’d played it relatively straight during the first round of his collaboration with Crosby, Stills and Nash, and on his own next three albums, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “After the Gold Rush” and “Harvest.”

By the time of the latter’s release in 1972, Young had become a bona fide rock star, a status that was cemented when both “Harvest” and the AM-friendly single “Heart of Gold” reached No. 1.

His immediate followup was the two-record soundtrack to a barely watchable film called “Journey Through the Past,” featuring Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performances, along with “Harvest”-era outtakes and some true oddities, including versions of Handel’s “Messiah,” performed by the Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Foundation Orchestra & Chorus, and the Beach Boys doing “Let’s Go Away for Awhile.”

“Journey Through the Past” has remained out of print since its initial release, disappointing fans who might want to hear the side-length version of “Words (Between the Lines of Age).”

As 1972 drew to a close, it was without guitarist Danny Whitten, his Crazy Horse compatriot (and the subject of “The Needle and the Damage Done”). Whitten had planned to join Young’s backing band, the Stray Gators, but was in no shape to play. On Nov. 18, 1972, he died of a heroin overdose.

With that cloud hanging over his head, and with an apparent disdain for hitting the top of the charts, Young went on tour with a repertoire that concentrated on newer, darker material. Fans weren’t positive about the switch in material, and Young, himself, experienced physical and emotional problems while on the road, culminating in a throat infection toward the end of the tour.

Despite the difficulties, Reprise Records, hoping to keep the Neil Young gravy train rolling, culled live recordings from the tour, added one from 1971 and released the package as “Time Fades Away.” Fans who expected a standard live album of hits instead found unfamiliar songs amid a sludgy mix, the result of Young insisting on an early digital system that didn’t prove reliable. (Producer David Briggs referred to it as the “Compufuck.”)

As Young later explained about “Time Fades Away” in the liner notes to his anthology “Decade” (1977):

No songs from this album are included here. It was recorded on my biggest tour ever, 65 shows in 90 days. Money hassles among everyone concerned ruined this tour and record for me but I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while. I was becoming more interested in an audio verite approach than satisfying the public demands for a repetition of ‘Harvest.’

On the strength of “Harvest,” though, the live album peaked at No. 22 and ended up selling more than a million copies. Like “Journey Through the Past,” it never has been released on compact disc.

On Aug. 26, 1973, Young gathered musicians to record an album’s worth of songs he’d written about drugs and depression, influenced by the deaths of Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. Reprise bigwigs gasped at the idea of releasing such material on the heels of “Times Fade Away,” and the project was shelved.

Three months later, Young tried again, recording at his Arrow Ranch in Woodside, Calif., with a small group of session men. According to “Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography” by Jimmy McDonough, the musicians consumed a homemade concoction dubbed “Honey Slides,” sautéd marijuana and honey. Perhaps that enlivened the proceedings, but the songs again were pretty much on the bleak side. Reprise had to go with a proper follow-up to “Harvest” after two full years, and on July 16, 1974, “On the Beach” hit the shelves.

Record buyers probably enjoyed the enigmatic cover art, which includes a ’59 Cadillac half-buried in the sand. But most weren’t quite prepared for the music.

“Walk On” starts the album with its most accessible composition, featuring a relatively upbeat tempo and a suitably harmonized chorus: “Ooh baby, that’s hard to change, I can’t tell them how to feel/Some get stoned, some get strange, but sooner or later it all gets real.”

That statement sets the tone for the rest of the way, as Young explores a variety of topics through somber lyrics with sparse accompaniment. The result is a revelatory statement that subtly draws the listener into the composer’s bleak frame of mind, evoking images of fear, dejection and hopelessness.

Of course, Neil had treaded those waters before. His “Ohio” stands as perhaps having the longest shelf life for a song written about a specific event, still receiving plenty of airplay going on 43 years after the National Guard killings at Kent State.

The drama inherent in the recording of “Ohio” is muted throughout “On the Beach,” as is evidenced by its second song, “See the Sky About to Rain.” Young’s Wurlitzer electric piano combines with Ben Keith’s steel guitar to form a dreary soundscape, over which Neil sings in his high-pitched study in melancholia: “See the sky about to rain, broken clouds and rain/Locomotive, pull the train, whistle blowing through my brain.”

The song wraps up with a line that’s become legendary in its anti-establishment stance, with Young even using part of it as the name for his publishing company: “I was down in Dixie Land, played a silver fiddle/Played it loud and then the Man broke it down the middle.”

That imagery seems positively glowing compared with what follows, perhaps the most unnerving song in Neil Young’s overwhelmingly vast catalog, and that’s saying a lot.

“Revolution Blues” tells the story of Charlie Manson’s “family” through their eyes, which is a chilling approach in as of itself. But Young also managed to convey the attitude that such grisly events aren’t a onetime occurrence, that they can happen at any time. Young is in his creepiest vocal form as he narrates as much as sings:

Well, we live in a trailer at the edge of town
You never see us ’cause we don’t come around.
We got 25 rifles just to keep the population down …

Well, I’m a barrel of laughs, with my carbine on
I keep ’em hoppin’ ’til my ammunition’s gone
But I’m still not happy, I feel like there’s something wrong

I got the revolution blues, I see bloody fountains
And 10 million dune buggies comin’ down the mountains
Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars,
But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars

Wow. Try sleeping after you listen to that.

At first listen, “For the Turnstiles” seems to alleviate the tension, with its simple, banjo-and-dobro arrangement. But then Neil launches into another diatribe about the seamy side of life, about desperation: “Though your confidence may be shattered, it doesn’t matter.” That sense deepens as the song arrives at this stunning piece of imagery that provides the title: “All the bush-league batters are left to die on the diamond/In the stands, the home crowd scatters for the turnstiles.”

Perhaps it was Family Night for the Mansons at the ballgame?

“Vampire Blues,” written in response to the first Energy Crisis, has a subject matter that should have been relegated to its own time. But like “Ohio,” it persists, this time simply because nothing much has changed in the past 39 years:

I’m a vampire, babe, suckin’ blood from the earth
I’m a vampire, baby, suckin’ blood from the earth
Well, I’m a vampire, babe, sell you 20 barrels’ worth

I’m a black bat, babe, bangin’ on your window pane
I’m a black bat, baby, bangin’ on your window pane
Well, I’m a black bat, babe, I need my high octane

Structured as a 12-bar blues, the song crawls at a sinister pace, with the imagery strengthened by the tone of Neil’s guitar, which he seems to scratch more than play.

Listeners who made it through the first side of the LP may have left it sit on the turntable and gone on to happier pursuits. But the adventurous among them flipped it over and heard the title track.

“On the Beach” is a blues at an even slower tempo than “Vampire Blues,” mostly consisting of minor chords. Interestingly, the major motif that appears in the middle of each verse adds an eerie contrast, as if some kind of relief seems to be on the way but never comes.

Lyrically, Young sums up the song’s theme of everyman’ misery with this key verse: “Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.”

Actress Carrie Snodgress (1945-2004), best known for her Academy Award-nominated role in “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” was Young’s longtime girlfriend when he wrote “Motion Pictures (For Carrie).” On the surface, the largely acoustic piece would seemed to stray a bit from the overall theme of “On the Beach,” as Neil notes how he’s happy not to be on the Silver Screen. But once more, he goes further to reveal his insecurities: “Well, all those headlines, they just bore me now/I’m deep inside myself, but I’ll get out somehow/And I’ll stand before you, and I’ll bring a smile to your eyes.”

The album’s longest track, “Ambulance Blues,” also its closing number, an encapsulation of the angst throughout “On the Beach.” For nearly nine minutes, Young chronicles a journey through devastation and deception, with this warning about so many people he had met in the entertainment business:

I never knew a man could tell so many lies
He had a different story for every set of eyes
How can he remember who he’s talking to?
Cause I know it ain’t me, and hope it isn’t you

Combine that with the climactic line – “And there ain’t nothin’ like a friend who can tell you, you’re just pissin’ in the wind” – and Neil Young has the last word on how having a No. 1 record ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“On the Beach” didn’t quite make No. 1. It peaked at No. 16 and always was among Young’s poorest-selling efforts.

Reprise ended up releasing “Tonight’s the Night” in 1975 to ecstatic critical reception, but the momentum established by “Harvest” was lost. But that’s quite OK with Neil Young fans who consider some of his lesser-known albums to be more rewarding than the top-sellers.