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Class ?

Main Category: Jazz Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Arena Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years,

The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties



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Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 12

Perhaps "this album's influence is greater than the sum of its parts", but it's still among the better jazz-rock offerings out there.


Track listing: 1) Overture; 2) I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know; 3) Morning Glory; 4) My Days Are Numbered; 5) Without Her; 6) Just One Smile; 7) I Can't Quit Her; 8) Meagan's Gypsy Eyes; 9) Something's Goin' On; 10) House In The Country; 11) The Modern Adventures Of Plato, Diogenes And Freud; 12) So Much Love/Underture; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Refugee From Yuhupitz; 14) I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know; 15) The Modern Adventures Of Plato, Diogenes And Freud.

You know what's the goddamn coolest moment of this album? You probably don't, no way you could guess. You just read it in the 'best song' line. Yeah, yeah, it's when Al Kooper shouts out 'I LOVE you baby, LOVE you baby' and then, in a breathy high tone, adds 'more than you'll ever kno- oh- ohww'. In that way, blam, he triggers the John Lennon association, and that's godly. It's one of the most intense, breathtaking, simply gorgeous "white soul" offerings of the epoch, and almost earns the record an extra point in my little red book. Dude, we all know that Al Kooper can play (especially those of us who revere Highway 61 Revisited), but he can sing as well, oh yes he can.

Oh. Sorry. I forgot to mention that I've actually just started reviewing Child Is Father To The Man, the first and - arguably, but almost certainly - the best album of Blood, Sweat, & Tears. Why best? Because it's the only one that has Al Kooper on it, of course. It's also revolutionary, because most reverend rock historians will be telling you that this is the origin of the mighty movement known as 'jazz-rock' from then on. Of course, it's blatantly incorrect, because that leaves out Traffic, and, uh, the Graham Bond Organization, and, er, well, I guess Frank Zappa could be called one of the forefathers of jazz-rock as well, not to mention the works of real former jazz dudes like Miles Davis and all, but I guess this album just did to the jazz-rock movement more or less the same that Never Mind The Bollocks did for punk rock nine years later: widely popularized it.

Indeed, this isn't your average elitist non-accessible jazzy record where the elitist sits and shed tears over the tenth minute of a convoluted sax solo while the average guy has long since slipped into his headphones to put on some Led Zep. The songs are mostly short, with just a couple six/eight minutes exceptions, and very much oriented for the pop single market. The presence of strings (the so-called 'Blood Sweat & Tears Ensemble') needn't surprise anyone, so probably the only unstandard element here is the regular three-man brass section of the band. Well, I guess we could call it a first of sorts.

The basic problem is that the songwriting on the album just isn't that consistent. The songs may be single-oriented, but they're not too keen on inserting actual hooks, and getting on on the strength of groove alone doesn't always help, because as the album progresses parts of it become monotonous. That said, Al Kooper really really saves the day. He contributes three things - his voice, his playing, and his composition, and these are just about the best things on the record. The guy has always had marvelous taste, and his organ riffs and piano improvs are fresh and sharp, his voice straight and hard-hitting, and his songs actually the best of the bunch... scary, isn't it, that it was him, the band's organizer and main creative soul, to leave it first? The only analogy I can remember is Roy Wood leaving the Electric Light Orchestra after their debut record, but at least he left Jeff Lynne behind him, while Kooper simply didn't have anyone else in the band to match his talent. Imagine Ian Anderson leaving Jethro Tull after Stand Up and leaving the rest of the band to carry on, and you get my idea.

Anyway, as I already pointed out, 'I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know' is the definite highlight on here, just slicing through your soul with its sharp blasts of brass and heavy bluesy guitar accompanying Al's soulful wailing, but it's not the only gem. 'My Days Are Numbered' is another one, wittily alternating mid-tempo bluesy verses with the gospelish slow chorus and Al turning in yet another performance of a lifetime. The brass parts are particularly tight on here, with magnificent trumpet riffs, but the backwards guitar solo by Ztak Evets (Ztak Evets, get it?) is clever as well. And that's only the first in a series of three tight jazz-poppy numbers contributed by Al: 'I Can't Quit Her' is a wonderful love song with some more Beatles influences in the singing, and some more unpredictable chord modulations in between the verses and choruses. Finally, there's 'House In The Country', about which the liner notes actually warn us that 'all the animal sounds are not played by animals', which is, uh, funny, I guess. I kinda like the Kinks' song of the same name more, but this one has got a cute nursery beat anyway.

Kooper's two other contributions are a bit more debatable - I have to say that the pretentiously-titled 'Modern Adventures Of Plato, Diogenes And Freud' to me sounds like a pretty tuneless bore, pretty much like that clock on the wall that Al keeps lamenting about. It's just an atmospheric string-quartet based chant that seems to provide the platform for Al to unravel some of his metaphysic visions (funny thing, I didn't even consult the actual lyrics sheet before I wrote that line and now that I do I find the word 'metaphysic' directly mentioned in the lyrics! Ha!), and the bonus version on the CD release that substitutes the strings for a simple piano background hardly saves things. However, the eight-minute rave-up 'Somethin' Goin' On' is an entirely different thing already, because that's truly one solid groove, with excellent guitar and piano solos and a classy 'brass battle' at the end of the track with the bnd really getting it on.

Too bad I can't really say anything about the non-Kooper tracks because to do that, I need to put 'em back on and my CD tracklist is written in tiny letters, I'm too lazy to select the right number on the player. You can already tell they're absolutely unmemorable, however, repeated listens at least confirm the fact that they all have something going for them. Like Steve Katz's vocal, for instance, which predates Bryan Ferry's bleating by a good four years. Or Kooper's soothing Dylanish organ on 'Morning Glory' (see, I remembered one! Ha! I'm Albert Einstein!). Or the mysterious "ondioline" on 'Meagan's Gypsy Eyes' (see, I remember another one! Ha! I'm Julius Caesar!) Or the really pretty vocal harmonies on the Goffin & King cover 'So Much Love' (see, I remember a THIRD one! Ha! Had I been in Moses' place, I wouldn't have to waste forty years in the friggin' desert!). In all, the only thing I find vaguely offensive is the silly 'Overture' - blame it on typical Sixties' excesses that an album should be beginning with one and a half minutes of bland symphonic intro and some jerk ridiculously laughing into the microphone. No wonder 'the laugher wishes to remain anonymous', as the liner notes say; probably afraid of getting a black eye for that.

But never mind the excesses, just keep in mind that this is the beginning of jazz-rock as a popular movement and a solid beginning at that. And don't blame it for all those late-period Chicago records. Al Kooper might have been a giant of art, but he sure wasn't muscular enough to prevent that from happening.



Year Of Release: 1970
Overall rating = 9

Inoffensive jazz-pop for mass consumption? Not the worst thing possible.


Track listing: 1) Hi-De-Ho; 2) The Battle; 3) Lucretia Mac Evil; 4) Lucretia's Reprise; 5) Fire And Rain; 6) Lonesome Suzie; 7) Symphony For The Devil/Sympathy For The Devil; 8) He's A Runner; 9) Somethin' Comin' On; 10) 40,000 Headmen.

This was one of the most anticipated releases of its epoch - after all the chart successes of BS&T's second, self-titled album, the public were just HOT about the band churning out something else in that same vein. Aw man, jazz-pop, what can be cooler? You get the radio-friendly horns and the radio-friendly poppy song structures in one big mix! It's the trendiest thing around! Yet somehow, this third album just didn't fare as well as either of its two predecessors, and even the singles taken off it didn't make the Top 10 (although they did make the Top 20). Because trends are trends, you see - they pass as quickly as they're formed, and by 1970 it already didn't seem that jazz-pop of the BS&T brand could save the world.

That said, I don't hate the record as much as some, most notably those who brand BS&T as total sellouts since their sacking of Al Kooper. There's really nothing particularly wrong about it - it isn't all that exciting either, but it's pretty much listenable all the way through. The cover selection is good, the originals are written with some attention to hooklines, the band, despite the enormous line-up, is pretty well-oiled, and even David Clayton-Thomas' vocals, which always grate upon me a lot at first, can eventually go down in a decent way, like a nasty medicine.

In fact, records like these usually get an overall rating of 10 from me - the epitome of "decent, but never eyebrow-raising" - too bad the guys had to really sordidly blow it with arguably the worst track of 1970 and maybe one of the most tasteless and totally stupid things of the epoch as a whole, their sprawling seven-minute long 'Symphony For The Devil/Sympathy For The Devil' (the title alone is worth a chuckle, isn't it?). They take what formerly was a rockin' masterpiece and butcher it in a manner that could only be compared with slowly pulling out your four limbs, breaking every bone in your body into a pulp, and then setting you over the fire to be roasted in a particularly slow and sadistic way. The friggin' horns are all over the place, but instead of actually playing an interesting melody, they produce all kinds of fanfare-like "introductory" "moody" noises, so that it seems like the song just keeps falling apart for the entire duration, and during the actual 'symphony' bits, it sounds like a lame parody on free-form jazz improvisation by a bunch of 'normal' dudes who don't even seem to understand that free-form jazz involves more than simply blowing isolated notes on your horn at whatever spot you'd like to blow 'em. Even worse are the vocals - Clayton-Thomas more or less sings the first verse, but then he just goes into lengthy paranoid declamations of the lyrics without bothering to follow the melody (which isn't TOO bad considering that there's no melody in the first place). And all of these things are produced in the most pompous and universalist way possible, as if THEIR version of the song was supposed to be a revelation of some sort. No wonder the public started maltreating these guys soon afterwards.

So my advice is, just don't even start listening to this shit, there's enough nice material to compensate you for it. The only original numbers, apart from the evil 'Symphony' part, are Halligan and Katz's 'The Battle' and Clayton-Thomas' 'Lucretia MacEvil', both rather nice songs. 'The Battle' pushes the band into (albeit very slightly) experimental territory, with a medievalistic harpsichord part and Katz singing appropriately medieval chivalry-related lyrics - I suppose this kind of song wouldn't sound out of place on a Fairport Convention record. And 'Lucretia MacEvil' actually has some energy, an excellent pop-rocker where the horns actually ADD to the sound as only a horn part can add, with energetic funky brass riffs and a catchy vocal melody for once. Too bad the song lacks a solid guitar solo... at least the two-minute reprise section lets the number roll on with a refreshing brass-based jam.

Other relative highlights include the cover of Goffin/King's 'Hi-De-Ho', which the band turn into a lazy, but very friendly-sounding countryesque shuffle, with some beautiful harmonica passages and actually a boatload of sincerity as far as it concerns my personal perception of the song - I feel it could easily have done better in the charts, but then again, complaining about lack of sufficient chart success is just as much a sign of bad taste as actually orienting one's taste on the charts, so let's not make a fuss about it. The closing trio of covers - Laura Nyro's soothing 'He's A Runner', Joe Cocker's R'n'B number 'Somethin' Comin' On' and Traffic's '40,000 Headmen' - all seem pretty decent as well, even if I'll always take the originals over the covers anyway (well, I haven't heard the Nyro number, but something tells me it's a bit better when sung by Laura Nyro herself rather than by Mr Clayton-Thomas). So it only sags in the middle, with James Taylor's 'Fire And Rain' and the Band's 'Lonesome Suzie', which are both transformed into rather shapeless sappy mishmash which you'll appreciate only if you find David's voice to be the epitome of soul, feeling, bleeding heart and broken dreams.

Considering that 'Symphony For The Devil' comes right after these two, I have no choice but to compare BS&T 3 with an ordinary-looking comfy bed with a huge gaping hole in the middle - so whenever you're lying on it, you have to make sure your ass isn't resting on the cold hard floor. This doesn't at all reduce the potential of the first three and last three songs on the album, though, so I'd still recommend it to anybody who isn't afraid on blowing his hard-earned cash on six songs that don't present any blistering musical revelations, two songs that present some blistering musical confusion and one song that stands for absolute musical abomination. But it's your dime, Mr President, so spend it wisely.


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