Odds & Ends, Vol. 1: The 1960s

Jeff Beck -- The Bee Gees -- Booker T. & the MG's -- Buffalo Springfield --Johnny Cash -- The Count Five -- Fairport Convention -- The Guess Who -- Love -- Van Morrison -- Paul Revere & the Raiders -- The Seeds -- Simon & Garfunkel -- Sly & the Family Stone -- The 13th Floor Elevators -- The Zombies

This page covers acts that I'm not familiar with beyond an album or two, but have listened to enough times to review. The '60s certainly were a unique decade musically - like any other. The acts covered below are only the beginning -- more will be covered soon. And I've still got three more decades to go.

The Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola (1969) ***

Of the major '60s guitar gods, Jeff Beck ranks somewhere below Hendrix and Clapton in public acclaim, and unlike his peers, his music rarely gets airplay on classic rock radio, though at guitar wizardry he's as adept as either - he's got a lacerating razorblade tone to his work that's more cutting edge than Clapton and more tastefully concise Hendrix; and his sharp corrosive lightning switchblade style probably had more to do with the invention of heavy metal than either. Overshadowed by Led Zeppelin's debut, Beck had already been doing the same thing a year earlier on 1968's Truth, and to my ears Rod Stewart's definitely got more listenable vocal chops than the irritating hysteria of Plant. However, their second LP (a scant half hour in length) suffers from Beck's Achilles' Heel - lack of solid (or often even competent) songwriting. Underscoring the paucity of decent material is the fact that the two most well-constructed and tuneful (okay, only tuneful) tracks are a pair of Elvis covers, though the group overheavies "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock" into almost unrecognizability. Dominated by Jeff's guitar fireworks (naturally) and Ron Wood's thudding bass (it's mixed so far up in the mix it's practically a lead instrument), the album basically covers well-worn blues-rock territory with extreme volume and heaviness, thereby adding another building block to the foundations of heavy metal, and aside from Nicky Hopkin's utterly forgettable piano interlude, it never varies from that basic style. Aside from the Elvis covers, the songs essentially exist as an excuse for Beck to whip up on his fretwork while the band pounds and bashes as furiously as it can; it rocks, but you won't remember a single tune after it's stopped playing. Oh, you'll remember the riffs, some jaw-dropping, alright, but songs? Nah, that's not what these guys are about - go check out a Rod Stewart solo album if that's what you want. Proof that you can rock out pretty good even without good material to hang your riffs and solos and vocal moans and lumbering basslines and band energetics on, and proof in the negative that it's much better when you do.

The Bee Gees: The Bee Gees 1st (1967) ***

I know, I know -- the image that comes to mind is a trio of slightly balding, sleazily insincere dorks with gold medallions and polyster open-chest shirts latin-hussling down the boulevard to a cheesy soundtrack for seventies swingles to make out and snort cocaine to. Admit it - The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack is a guilty pleasure and a classic period piece, even though it's as tasteless as a John Waters flick. However, this isn't those Bee Gees, the warbling chipmunk gods of disco's golden era. These are the pre-disco Bee Gees, callow Australian youths who had one ambition in life: to be the Beatles. Of course every other pop band between Sydney and Southampton was trying to fulfill that same ambition in 1967, but the Bee Gees were better than most. The Bee Gees manage to pull of the difficult trick of sounding chirpy and melancholy at the same time, and the 14 songs on their debut are mostly chewy little miniature replicas of the real McCoy - slight, but melodic and occasionally engaging ("New York Mining Disaster 1941," and "Holiday" are the standout tracks. Each of the 14 tracks have some production excess or catchy hook to make them memorable, and most would sound fine on, say, a Small Faces LP. The 2nd gloopiest song, "To Love Somebody," was unfortunately the big hit, but the rest of the album thankfully steers clear of such painfully melodramatic faux-soul. The gloopiest song is the track right after the hit, "I Close My Eyes," with overwrought, proto-Bolton bass moaning that I'll term toilet soul.

Booker T. & the MG's: And Now! (1966) **1/2

The house band for Stax/Volt, Booker T. and the MG's are perhaps the greatest backup band of all time -- looking at a list of the singles and albums they played on for Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many others, one begins to feel a dizzying sense of awe. The MG's were tighter and looser than any other band of their era; the relaxed, funky interplay between the players feels not merely telepathic, but organic, as if these musicians literally shared the same lungs and nerves. Guitarist Steve Cropper plays tastefully minimalist, keeping to the rhythm only to leap out at you all the more with his brief, tasty leads; Booker T.'s gritty, swirling Hammond keyboards do the same; and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn lay down the most rock-solid groove in history. However, there's only so far you can go with an album of soul instrumentals, and while I'd hardly call this "soul muzak" (David Wilson's term) the disc does wear thin, depending too heavily on reworkings of outside material. The big hit was "One Mint Julep," which you'll instantly recognize after a couple of bars and really is the MG's at their funky, smokey best -- but despite the terrific sound, mainly this makes you appreciate the classic Stax/Volt records by Otis, Aretha, et al, and run to those instead.

Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield (1967) ****

Buffalo Springfield are sometimes hyperbolically claimed to have a deeper talent pool than the Byrds (yeah, right!) and even an American Beatles (YEEEEAAHHH, Riiiight...!!), but the plain fact is that only two members had any real musical talent (Richie Furay? Major talent? Poco? Give me a break!!) - Stephen Young and Neil Stills, to be exact, who later formed the legal firm Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with a fat egomaniac basehead and some innocous English chap. Buffalo Springfield were never particularly innovative or groundbreaking, merely a very good country-pop band that tried to rock out on occasion. This debut is their masterpiece, mainly because a) they have the good taste and sense to not let Furay come anywhere near the songwriting credits, and b) they mainly stick to sugary, somewhat smarmy pop jingles (Stills) and sad cowboy tunes (Young). Despite the fact that, unsure as a singer, Young hands over too many vocals to Furay's generic country croak, he pens the best songs - the wonderfully Brit-poppy "Burned" and the lyrically obscure, but undeniably sadly moving "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing." Stills' smarmy ass-man love songs like "Lie Down, I Think I Wanna Put My Love Into You (For Joni Mitchell)" (done a jillion times purtier by the Mojo Men around the same time) are mostly pleasant and melodic, and then there's his riot-on-Sunset-Strip classic, "For What It's Worth," that replaced the slightly bluesy rocker "Baby Don't Scold Me," after the single became a hit. Luckily, the reissue contains the mono and stereo versions back to back on one CD (the mono sounds oh-so-slightly better), thereby returning "Baby Don't Scold Me," back to its rightful place. After this album's release, these innocent American/Canadian heartland kids became rich L.A. rock stars and started snorting cocaine heavily and fucking hundreds of eager groupies.

Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield Again (1967) ***1/2

Best known for what its three core members did afterwards -- Stephen Stills' collaborations with Crosby & Nash (and sometimes Young); Richie Furay's formation of country-rockers Poco; and of course Neil Young's adventures as the greatest Canadian rocker of all time -- for this reason Buffalo Springfield have obtained in retrospect a rather overrated status. It's true that the band had talent, but the only major league player was Young, and he was still in his embroyonic stage as a songwriter -- of his three compositions, the Stones-style "Mr. Soul," is a strong opener, but his other two are overreachings at an orchestrated, multi-tracked post-Pepper style that aren't his forte: "Expecting To Fly," is OK, but "Broken Arrow," is an overblown, flaky mess that could only have been gotten away with that year of ur-hippie flakiness, the Summer of Love. Surprisingly, Stills establishes himself as the better songwriter and de facto leader of the band at this point - he goes for cleverly arranged, multi-part rockers such as "Bluebird," and "Rock And Roll Woman," that benefit greatly from Young's searing psychedelic guitar stabs. And Richie Furay plays a very poor man's George to Stills' & Young's Paul & John -- of his three tunes, the best, "A Child's Claim To Fame," is pleasant in an unmemorable way; "Sad Memory," a spare country ballad, is well-sung but has no melody; and the worst of the trio, "Good Time Boy," is an embarassing attempt at Stax/Volt R & B - it's funkier than Tricky Dick saying "Sock it to me," but that's not saying much, is it? Stills' two weaker tunes, "Everydays," and "Hang Upside Down," are enjoyable if slight, redeemed mostly by Young's guitar and professional harmonics courtesy Furay. The arrangements sound thin and with three songwriters going in different directions, the affair sounds a bit patched together, but as I said, the guitar and harmonies are nice enough to cover up the members' inconsistent songwriting. Some folks consider those L.A. faux-cowboys to be serious competition for the Byrds, but I don't see it; Buffalo Springfield never revolutionized rock in any way - the only "groundbreaking" thing they have to offer is helping laying down the roots for country-rock (or more precisely, western-rock -- there's a difference, folks, 'cause they don't have cowboys in the Appalachians), which makes them of mild historical interest as hangers-on in a larger California movement. The Byrds had a deeper talent pool - aside from Young and Stills, no one else in the band proved a significant talent, and I don't like Stills' work after he left the band ("Love The One You're With," isn't that Warren Beatty's theme song? Gag). And claims for American Beatles status are laughable - this is solid, ocassionally classic but more often merely decent hippy pop-rock, of interest mainly for those besotted with everything from the '60s and terminal Neil Young fans.

Reader Comments


Er, excuse me, but the Buffalo Springfield album to have is their first. The boys were frustrated by what added up to incompetent management (by Green & Stone) and their subsequent work was essentially Young and Stills solo tracks that proved the band was greater than the sum of its parts.

Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison & San Quentin (1968; 1969) *****

The best Johnny Cash album, the most genuinely scary live album put to vinyl, a pure grade-A artifact of Americana, and a landmark of country music, this album certainly isn't for everyone: Cash strips his material down to the bone with basic fretting on guitar, slapping bass, a little bit of drumming that's noticable here and there, and that voice. That low, ominous voice that sounds like a Biblical prophet speaking matter of factly to the common man; Cash has no range, and his melodies are as flat and direct as his vocal tone, but any fancy embellishments would only undercut the honest simplicity of his style and message. This is as hardcore as country gets, with one foot clearly in folk (as in Woody Guthrie's Everyman) and a clear residue from Cash's Sun days as a young rockabilly cat, but no pop sweetening whatsoever -- the sound is as stark Cash's lyrics, as cavernous as his voice, more minimalist than early Dylan. If you can't handle that, don't bother. If you're serious about your appreciation of country/folk music, you can't afford to pass this two-fer CD of Cash's best-selling albums, both recorded live before a captive audience (literally). Cash is one of those self-made neo-mythic figures that represent the inherent contradictions of America -- a drug-abusing born-again-Christian, an establishment conservative with a mean rebellious anti-authoritarian streak who drapes himself in black until the world takes better care of the poor and downtrodden -- and this album plays to the hell-raisin', stick-it-to-the-Man side of his persona. Cuss-words are liberally sprinkled throughout his set, some bleeped out and some not, as he bonds with an audience of hardened criminals; emotions run very high as Cash plays a set of songs concerning subjects dear to the hearts these men -- prison, death, murder, drugs, "Send a Picture of Mother." When he reaches the lines, "San Quentin may you rot in hell," and a throng of convicts chime in with a brutish cheer, it's one of the most frightening moments in recorded history. Not that there's no humor -- oh, there's a ton of humor at both live dates, with Cash's stage patter (which takes up at least a quarter of the concerts) easing tensions down from the emotional depths he plumbs in some of these songs; he's a gifted storyteller, as any listener of his songs can tell, and his relation of being picked up by the police one night in Starkville, Mississippi for picking flowers is an amusing anecdote. Some of the songs are funny, too -- not just the novelty hit, "Boy Named Sue," but the hilarious "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart," in which Cash recites a number of ridiculous metaphors poking fun at the love song formula. The Folsom prison concert is somewhat better, since the rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues," Cash's best song, here is definitive; "Cocaine Blues," and "25 Minutes To Go," sung from the POV of a criminal about his crime and his execution for it, respectively, are chilling; and his duet with his wife June Carter, "Jackson," is sassy and sexy. Throughout, Cash maintains a clear empathy with his audience, and at times it almost feels as if you're there, too, a lonesome convict serving time and repentance, society's outcast outraged at the System; truly a one-of-a-kind document.

The Count Five: Psychotic Reaction (1966) ***1/2

Scoring a fluke hit with a gutbucket bloozy vamp "Psychotic Reaction," like most mid-'60s garage bands the Count Five, still college students at San Jose City College, rushed out a quickie LP to cash in on the single. Padded out with a pair of lukewarm Who covers ("My Generation" and "Out In the Street," have rarely sounded so timid) which are the lowlights of the songbatch, the Count Five churned out several songs done in a similar style to the single and a few poppier moments for variety's sake. It's surprisingly good and consistent for 1966 - while they obviously copped a lot from the Yardbirds' rave-up stylistics, the Count Five went further into slop-blooze territory, with a chugging'n'choogling heavy swamp-rock style a couple of years before CCR. Sure, they're limited musicians who stay stuck a little too often into the same vamping rhythm displayed on "Psychotic Reaction," and in classic American garage-rock style the vocals are colorless but adequate, but it turns out that leader Sean Byrne was actually a fairly talented songwriter, capable of not just bloozy rave-ups but also sweet pure pop ("She's Fine") and the amusingly paranoid mid-60s long-hair anthem "They're Gonna Get You." The band makes credible stabs at psychedelia with "Peace of Mind," and "The Morning After", but naturally the most exciting songs are hot pork-rind slabs of fried-slop bloozy white boy R & B "Double Decker Bus," "Pretty Big Mouth," "Can't Get Your Lovin'." The reissue adds seven bonus cuts, followup singles' A's & B's, done in several different musical styles - pop, blooze, flower power whimsy, lava lamp psychedelia, most just as as strong as the better material on the debut. However, the Count Five had no further hits, and the boys, aware of their Vietnam-era draft status, decided to not drop out of school but broke up the band instead. Too bad; these guys seemed to have some real potential if they'd hung around a bit longer.

Fairport Convention: Fairport Convention (1968) ***1/2

Fairport Convention were one of the earliest, and perhaps best, bands to merge rock with traditional British folk music. Though the combination took more willfullness than merging rock and American folk ('cause rock'n'roll is, uh, basically American folk music with electricity), it's still an inspired fusion, since rock traces its roots overseas to two basic sources: the African beat and English folk song structures. Oh yeah, a Spanish instrument called the guitar, too. So I guess that makes rock'n'roll an essentially American phenomenon 'cause rock is a such a bastard mutt of polyglot influences, like everything else in this country.

On their first album, Fairport Convention's merger was only tentative, however: they're considerably more rock and pop oriented than they would be later. The Fairports' approach can be termed communal, with no member crowding out the others; on the downside, on this album that leads to a peculiar musical schizophrenia. Frankly, the band don't seem to know what kind of band they want to be. Half the songs are covers: Emmit Rhodes' "Time Will Show the Wiser," kicks the album off with catchy pop-rock aplomb, soaring on Richard Thompson's excellent guitar leads. The two Joni Mitchell covers, "I Don't Know Where I Stand," and "Chelsea Morning," are very well done, and the Dylan song, "Jack O'Diamonds" rocks, but can be mistaken for two different bands. Should we be driving psych-rockers ("It's All Right Ma, It's Only Witchcraft") or indulge in directionless instrumental jams ("Portfolio") or write moody folk ballads ("Decameron")? Most of the individual songs are good, and overall the album is of considerable quality, but at this point Fairport Convention are still finding their sea legs.

Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking (1969) ****

By their third album, Fairport Convention have indeed found out exactly what direction they want to take, which cuts both ways: the album flows well, all too well - there are times when this works dandy as an insomnia cure, as the band hardly varies from its formula of dirgey, mid-tempo folk tunes. However, that's the only serious problem, and I'm willing to fudge a little since this is folk music, and not only that, but Old World folk music, so it's by definition a little boring and a bit of an academic exercise. I mean, come on, your average lower-class peasant these days is more bound to listen to Slayer or Selena - the people who listen to folk music are college-educated middle class folks with an academic bent and "good taste". Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. The same is true of the blues, which has more white fans these days than black fans (note: this rule does not apply in Mississippi).

Fairport Convention had made one major lineup change between this album and the first by replacing original singer Judy Dyble with Sandy Denny. The late Denny has rightly earned her reputation as one of Britain's finest ever female vocalists, and her voice dominates this album - male lead singer Ian Matthews sings a handful of songs, but you hardly notice his vocals in such company. The three Dylan covers (one sung in French) are top-notch - "Billion Dollar Bash" I have discovered, is actually a good song, something you wouldn't have guessed from Dylan & the Band's sloppy take on The Basement Tapes. The other 5 songs are Denny and Thompson originals, dragging on the nine minutes+ of "Sailor's Song," but rousing on "Cajun Woman", and movingly poignant on "Genesis Hall" and "Who Knows Where the Times Goes?". Hey, where is that Cajun influence coming from? Seeing as the English and French are both an even mixture of Celtic and Germanic heritages, I suppose there's a connection between Anglo-Franco folk music. I'd guess the Fairports made the connection, but more than likely they just dug zydeco music. At least they didn't use any accordions.

Reader Comments

Samuel Day Fassbinder, bk170@lafn.org

If you can, pick up & review Fairport Convention albums "What We Did On Our Holidays" (1968) and "Liege & Lief" (1969). "What We Did" is really cute, lots of background touches, all the songs very pretty and folk-rockish and hippie-atmospheric. "Liege & Lief" is mostly traditional tunes, "Matty Groves" (a tragedy) and "Tam Lin" (a fairy tale) really rock, very British and all. Sandy Denny throttles the high notes while Richard Thompson dashes out nice guitar hooks. After these two left the band it was apparently never the same again.

The Guess Who: Canned Wheat (1969) ***1/2

The best Canadian singles band of the late '60s and early '70s (not that the competition was all that stiff), the Guess Who pumped out one AM-perfect hippie anthem after the other with an unerring melodic sense, professional harmonies, all underpinned by Randy Bachman's meat & potatoes slightly-psychedelic guitar and topped by Burton Cumming's sandpapery tenor screech (think a somewhat more subdued Steve Marriot). Bachman has an undeniable talent for excessively crude, steamrolling riff-hooks, but thankfully he'd have to wait until his misadventures in Bachman-Turner Overdrive to usher his guitar playing to almost parodic levels -- here, in the context of a real, democratic band, he displays a shocking amount of tact, restraint, subtlety, with pleasantly jazzy leanings. But while Bachman's the instrumental linchpin on which the band rests, he's not the center of the band's sound -- that would be the actual songwriting itself, which calls to mind Neil Young fronting the Hollies. Which, at best, is a quite high recommendation (and it's not accidental -- Young and Bachman played together in various garage bands in Winnipeg as teenagers). The Guess Who's second album contains three substantial American hits: "No Time," (though in a re-recorded version a couple of years later) which rests solidly on one of Bachman's catchiest fuzz-riffs; "Laughing," the most upbeat tune, whose incessantly catchy chorus belies the bitter lyrics; and "Laughing"'s B-side (ironically the bigger hit), "Undun," a haunting, jazzy ballad. All are first rate singles, and the other three songs on side one are only a shade less interesting: "Minstrel Boy," shows off the band's folk-pop roots; "6 A.M. or Nearer," meanders around druggily a bit, but it's a piece of druggy hippy psychedelia, after all -- fans of David Crosby's work in the Byrds should enjoy it quite well; "Old Joe," is a more upbeat piano-based ballad in an uplifting, anthemic style. Unfortunately, solid as the first side is, the Guess Who, like many '60s bands, blew it on side two with a lengthy, tedious jam: the nearly 12 minute "Key," which actually starts off as a decent Guess Who pop-rocker, but degenerates into an endless drum solo -- just start turning the stereo down after the three-minute mark and pretend "Key" is another tight Guess Who pop single, and you'll be okay. But they saved the worst for last: "Fair Warning," a poem read in an annoying fake Scottish brogue that ends with the admonition to not got involved in showbiz. At least side two starts off with a more typical Guess Who pop-rocker, "Of A Dropping Pin," that contains lines about seeing through diabetic eyes and another fuzzy Bachman solo. As for the title, it's a pun on the Guess Who's Alberta farmland roots (their first album was entitled Wheatfield Soul) -- Canadian heartland rock, eh?

Love: Forever Changes (1967) ****1/2

Love have long held the reputation as the greatest California hippie band to never make the big time - a bummer, man, since at their best they outshone most of the competition. Led by Arthur Lee and his white sidekick Bryan Maclean, Love were one of the first racially mixed rock bands - not that you'd know it from only your ears, as Lee eschews any African-American influences or vocalizing. Love's third album is their softest and most unique, and the acknowledged classic. It's a fascinating period piece, if dated due as much to the Hollywood orchestrations as Lee's ur-hippie outlook. Despite the overuse of the strings - or perhaps because of the frothy, frosty string orchestrations - some of the most melodic and breathtakingly lovely passages in pop are found here. Nowadays they call this sort of thing "orchestral pop", a genre invented and perfected by St. Brian Wilson; Forever Changes is a spaghetti western soundtrack on LSD. Lee's lyrics are oblique tone poems, seemingly random nonsense that every so often leaps out of the haze at you with coherence - "The news of today will be the movies of tomorrow"; "If you think I'm happy, then paint me - WHITE" (Lee's only commentary on his skin color). Nearly every song is an incredibly melodic, ripplingly offbeat soft rock gem, particularly Maclean's two contributions, "Alone Again Or," and "Old Man" - why didn't he write more? The psychedelic guitar blaze "A House is Not a Home"; the gently sweet "Andmoreagain"; the sinister "Red Telephone"; the goofy opening lyrics to "Live and Let Live" ("The snot has caked against my pants/It has turned into crystal") before it turns into a protest against the Way the West Was Really Won - spectacular moments that linger long in the memory. Perhaps more than any other album, Forever Changes captures the Summer of Love in all its naive glory (pun intended, naturally).

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968) ***

Blessed with an arrestingly soulful voice that effectively distills a quarter-century's worth of R & B (particularly Ray Charles) into a uniquely, decidedly Celtic blue-eyed brimful of soul, Morrison has made a career of fusing soft-rock with jazzy improvisation and the aforementioned R & B and Celtic folk elements -- say what you will about the man, but he's staked a musical turf his and his alone, which he lords over with an easy, absolute assurance. The problem is, Morrison, after staking that turf, has never ventured beyond those self-imposed boundaries - all of the records I've heard by him so far stick to basically the same soft-rock style: braying horn punctuations (a la Otis Redding), gently unobtrusive acoustic guitar strumming, an insistently danceable but never loud rhythm section, all respectfully and politely in backup band support for Morrison's banal love lyrics and improvised scat-singing. He's got an amazing voice and is always tasteful with the material he chooses and in his delivery, but he seizes my utmost attention too infrequently, his lyrics often seem too 'syllabic' (that is, chosen for the sound of the syllables rather than the sense of the words; I think Micheal Stipe might've coined this term in self-description), his backing musicians are solid and professional but not particularly noteworthy, and he's simply too limited in scope and vision for me to rank him as one of the all-time greats, no matter how easily pleasurable his music might go down.

Astral Weeks, Morrison's second solo album, is generally regarded by most critics as a mystic masterpiece, and a favorite of his fans -- but is not generally liked very much by this particular critic. Morrison bragged that he cut this in two days, and unfortunately, it sounds like it: the songs are all improvised, running together with no interruptions between tracks like a hallucinatory dream -- the album hangs together solely on mood and Morrison's impassioned vocals. Obviously a lot of people get sucked into the mood and blissfully sink into its trancelike power, but I need such amenities such as clear melodies, chord patterns that evolve beyond three chord repititions (with several songs running past seven minutes, it's a necessity), coherent lyrics (coherency -- if I could pick one virtue this album lacks, that's it), and the sense that this music is actually going somewhere, instead of hazily drifting along to no clear purpose. I'm not going to bother analyzing this album song-by-song, because all of the songs sink into a uniform mush, with none really standing out (I don't see why people point out "Sweet Thing," as anything special -- it sounds pretty much like all the others). It gets a three because I like his voice, and he does succeed at setting a certain dreamlike mood you won't find anywhere else -- just stick this in the background and don't pay close attention to it, and it's fine -- thinking man's New Age music with vocals, sort of.

Van Morrison: Moondance (1970) ****1/2

Morrison's followup to Astral Weeks finds him much more grounded in the good firm earth -- most call the two albums the yin/yang sides to Morrison's music, with Astral Weeks mystic and dreamy, and Moondance harder and earthier, playing up his R & B side. The reasons I enjoy this album are the reasons why, despite the soothing pleasure I derive, I haven't delved too much more deeply into Morrison's catalogue -- that is to say, the album works a few basic, soulful grooves, and doesn't vary too much from the successful formula. Which is probably all for the good, since lots of otherwise talented performers have embarrassed themselves by tackling styles they aren't suited for, but Morrison's inherent conservatism (philosophically and musically) insures no surprises, and I haven't worn out my pleasure from this album enough to rush out and buy Tupelo Honey for more of the same. All of the songs on side one are brilliant, perfect encapsulations of Morrison's style -- already he'd pushed the formula to its limits and perfected it, which makes the majestic, breathtaking "Into the Mystic," my favorite Van Morrison song, like one of Dylan's spiritual-minded John Wesley Harding tunes filtered through an Otis Redding circa "Dock of the Bay," sensibility. "And It Stoned Me," might or might not have nothing to do with drugs (he's obstensibly referring to getting caught in the rain on the way to the county fair, a nicely evocative country-rock image), but his declaration of fidelity to Jelly Roll Morton rings true, and along with "Caravan," which would sound great turned up on FM, rank as Morrison's (or anybody's) most joyous celebrations of the power of music. That leaves the weakest song on side one -- not "Crazy Love," a warm, soft ballad -- but the title track, which Morrison allegedly said he could imagine Sinitra singing. Not that "Moondance," is bad -- it's just not as good as the other tracks on side one. And that leads to the album's only real disappointment, side two. None of the songs on side two are really bad or even mediocre -- in fact, they're all good songs. But that's the problem -- "Glad Tidings," "These Dreams of You," and such are 'merely' good, not brilliant, which compared to the first half, makes for something of a letdown.

Van Morrison: Veedon Fleece (1974)

Half Astral Weeks mode, half Moondance mode = generic Van Morrison album. Review coming soon.

Paul Revere & the Raiders: Revolution (1967) **

There are two matters to clear up. First, Paul Revere (yes, that's his real name) was only the keyboardist; lead singer Mark Lindsay was the real leader of the band, co-writing all the songs on this album with producer Terry Melcher. Revere's name was given star billing because -- well, I trust you're smart enough to figure that one out, right? Second, despite the fact that they were bonafide teenybopper heartthrobs via the TV variety show Where the Action Is, the Raiders were not a slick, manufactured pop machine. Fact is, the Raiders were a proto-grungey Idaho garage band (curious how even in the beginning, rockers from the great Northwest have always had that sound - where do you think "Louie, Louie" and Jimi Hendrix came from?). Admit it, "Just Like Me" and their version of Mann/Weill's "Kicks" rock as hard as anything else from the '60s.

Now that's all cleared up, let's take a look at the contents of what I assume is a typical Raiders album. What you'll discover is a good bar band artificially sweetened for the pop market they seem to have stumbled upon by accident. There's only one truly horrid track, "Ain't Nobody Who Can Do It Like Leslie Can," an unintentional parody of black music sung in Paul Revere's worst Aunt Jemima accent ("Look at that woman dust!"). Its offensiveness would make Jon Spencer look like a sensitive civil rights liberal - if I thought that the Raiders had any idea how offensive they were being; they're just a bunch of clueless whitebreads who don't know what they're doing (hell, there are hardly any black folks in Idaho now, much less three decades ago). About half of the tracks can be politely termed unmemorable; the over half consists of potential singles material, some of which can be catchy ("Him or Me - What's It Gonna Be?" that was the hit; "I Had a Dream"; "Moreen"). But none of the potential singles, though enjoyable, rise to much higher level than that. Since it was 1967, the Raiders make a half-hearted attempt at the "current sounds" (i.e. pop psychedelia), resulting in yet another Beatles imitation. Which is senseless, since they've left behind the only thing that made them interesting in the first place - their crunchy garage/pop sound. From the evidence here, it seems that a greatest hits package should tell you all you need to know about this decidely minor staple of oldies stations. Kicks keep getting harder to find...

The Seeds: The Seeds (1966) **

Talk about limited talent. The Seeds were an infamous LA-area garage band that broke nationwide with "Pushin' Too Hard," which makes a virtue of musical incompetence with its odd structure and melody, not to mention the high entertainment of its laughably inept guitar solo. It's here, along with their other hit, "Can't Seem To Make You Mine," done much more rockin' a decade later by garage-pop aficianado Alex Chilton. There are a couple of other slices of warped classic garage - the insistently driving "No Escape" and the loping pop "Try To Understand" that could be a great slow Ramones number if it let itself. Maybe those aren't the best songs, maybe a couple of other tunes are actually better, but those were the ones I was able to pick out when I concentrated hard. You see, the Seeds have a problem with monotony - basically, everything here sounds the same, and not in a good way. You can't even call it formula, because formula would be using different chords, arrangements, and melodies in the same style, like the Cars or AC/DC. No, the Seeds recycle the same arrangements, chords, and melodies ad infinitum, because they aren't creative enough to come up with anything more. Really - I count the same gurgling Hammond organ solo notes burbling up in exact sequence far too many times in different places on this album than I care to count, and it doesn't help that leader Sky Saxon sings every song with the same snarling whine with minimal pitch variation and sing-songs practically the same melody line on half the album. One song stands out, kinda, "Evil Hoodoo," but that's only because it's a blues excursion that lasts for over 5 minutes (most tracks are 2-3 minutes), not that it's good or anything. In small doses, say one or two songs (if you want to stretch your endurance) at a time, this can actually be somewhat engaging garage rock. But 11 tracks of colorless, musically piss-poor "tunes" livened by an organist who sounded like he got laid off at the Holiday Inn? Unfortunately, the Seeds' debut was reissued as a two-fer CD with their followup, which makes it one of the most difficult CDs to make it all the way through I have in my possession....

The Seeds: Web of Sound (1966) **

....but somehow I did make it all the way through, and guess what? This one's actually, hmmm, a little bit better in that it shows some signs of increased musical competence and there's that groovy "Mr. Farmer," single which might be my favorite Seeds song, with Sky begging if he can grow his crops (hmmm, I wonder exactly what substance Mr. Farmer is growing? Considering the origins of the band's name, a green herb that we refer to in Taiwan as "da ma", it's not hard to figure out why Sky shows so much love toward Mr. Farmer in this track). The band even tries its hand at a sad ballad, "A Faded Picture," which of course really, really sucks, but at least they're branching out a little, right? "Just Let Go," even reaches a climactic band orgasm near the end, with the boys whipping themselves into a frenzy, which is appropriate since it leads into the last and final song, "Up In Her Room." Let's talk about "Up In Her Room," shall we? It's not just a song, it's a 14:27 epic that takes up the rest of side two. It's about going with a girl upstairs and gettin' it on, possibly with illicit substances I guess - I don't know, the vocals can be hard to decipher sometimes, all I can make out is that Sky is really excited about going up and shagging the rug with this chick in her room, you know? Yes, it borrows the melody from "Pushin' Too Hard," but at least this is better than "Sister Ray," which I mention because "Up In Her Room," came out a full year earlier and parts of "Sister Ray," for instance the entire organ solo note for note, seem directly copied from "Pushin' Too Hard." Anyway, "Up In Her Room," is a 14-minute song with a minimal melody, dumb lyrics, and simplistic chord changes, that goes exactly nowhere. Just like the Seeds did with their career.

Simon & Garfunkel: The Sounds of Silence (1966) **1/2

The sound of one finger snapping in time. I count two classics of the Simon canon, the title track (obviously) and the album closer, "I Am a Rock"; maybe three if I'm in a good mood (either "Homeward Bound," or "April Come She Will," is a classic, I suppose, but not both). Sandwiched between are bland acoustic-strummed campfire recyclings of Olde English folke melodies that are as exciting as a cat supping warm milk. And in the case of "Richard Cory," a rewrite of that famous poem highschool teachers still make American kids read, pretentious. Edward Arlington Robinson rocked harder on the original. And in the case of "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," as laughably irritating as uber-wimp Simon always is when he tries to sneer tough. And in the case of "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'" a ripoff of some British Invasion fluff single that I can't finger the name of just right now. What's more, the filler on the album can get pretty obvious - f'rinstance the acoustic guitar instrumental, and a cover at that. What's the point in doing a cover of an acoustic guitar instrumental? Couldn't Simon have just jammed out an original with a handful of chords just as easy? It's not as if "Anji" is a particularly interesting or complex guitar showcase, after all. Mainly what this album does for me, aside from the singles, is put me to sleep. If a nose snores in the bedroom and there is no roommate present unable to sleep because of the nose's roar, does the nose make a sound? I bet Gogol had an answer to that Zen koan.

Sorry, I just felt like make some semi-obscure literary joke today. Maybe listening to Paul Simon is rubbing off on me in a bad way.

Simon & Garfunkel: The Graduate (1968) *

Oh god, what dated crap! The biggest stinker Simon ever released in his entire career (yes, including The Capeman and marrying Edie Brickell) practically defines the term "rip off". Aside from the chirpy hit, "Mrs. Robinson," which appears not once but three times (only one time as a fully fleshed song, the others are just recurring bits of acoustic strumming the melody and humming), the other S & G songs are recycled from previous albums -- and does anyone need yet another compilation with "The Sounds of Silence" (repeated twice!) and "Scarborough Fair"? Commercially this put the duo on the map seeing as the flick became a Generational Touchstone, but artistically this is a total waste unless you've just got to have an LP with Dustin Hoffman leering at a shapely pair of panty-hosed calves on the cover. Half of this LP consists of abysmal '60s swinging lounge muzak like "Singleman Party Foxtrot" and "Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha" (dear lord, the titles alone are enough to make me vomit in Mr. Jones' highball). But that ain't the worst, folks: Simon's unbelievably lame attempt to get down with it, the psychedelized, mind-trippin' "Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" -- I may not have heard every record the man has ever released, but I can most assuredly state that this is the absolute worst song Simon has recorded in his entire career. In fact, it's one of the worst songs anyone has ever recorded in their entire career! And that includes Leonard Nimoy!

Simon & Garfunkel: Bookends (1968) ****

Given that Simon's pushing 60 himself now, a concept album about aging written while he was in his callow 20s probably gives him a bit of a pause these days. The first side of one of the finest pieces of plastic Simon's ever been involved in -- I'm still undecided as to whether I prefer this or Bridge Over Troubled Water -- consists mostly of deathly slow, quietly acousticly strummed meditations on how strange it is to be 70. Let me be frank: the concept amounts to a half-baked mistake, since the songs about growing old make me want to take my afternoon nap at the nursing home, though unlike most folks I do consider the sound collage "Voices of Old People," rather interesting. The two strongest songs on side one, not so coincidentally, have nothing to do with the concept: "Save the Life of My Child," despite its strained attempt at musical hipness with all that feedback, and the melodically meandering, somewhat strained attempt at an anthem "America," are both quite strong additions to the Simon canon. Now, flip the record over (alright, I know nobody does that anymore, but "skip to track #8" just doesn't sound the same) and you've got possibly the strongest side of tunes Simon has ever penned. No highfalutin' concepts about grannies here, just 5 aims for the pop singles market, and except for the goofy "Punky's Dilemma," all hit bullseyes'. I can dig into the bitterness of "Fakin' It," and the amusing anthromorphism of "At the Zoo," but the real winners I'm sure you can already hum: "Mrs. Robinson," the infamous coo-coo-ca-choo reassurance to a dirty old woman, and "Hazy Shade of Winter," which goes deeper into the dark cold than anything Simon's written before or since, which is a good thing, in case you were wondering. The only problem -- other than the typical S & G album-length inconsistency -- is that, for all intents and purposes, this might as well be a solo Paul Simon record. While he's there on some of the harmonies, Garfunkel's lead vocals are noticably absent save for "Old Friends", which is dull as a park bench. That oversight would be corrected on the next album, with some quite angelic results.

Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) ****

If Simon wrote the title track today, the water would be infected with hospital refuse and garbage from the NYC sewer system, the homeboys would be hangin' by the Hudson smokin' crack and firing off drivebys, and the cover of the album would show Garfunkel and Simon standing on the side of the bridge and taking a piss off it. Cecilia would be a crack ho tryin' to "keep the customer satisfied," while in "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright (Muthafucka)" Art and Paul would spill malt liquor to the ground as a toast to a dead homie. "The Boxer," would tell the story of Mike Tyson kicking the shit out of anybody who got in his way until he got thrown in the slammer for rape, "El Condor Pasa," would be retitled "Viva La Muerte," and in their cover of the Everly Bros.' "Bye Bye Love," Simon's rap would be all dissin' his bitch for leaving his punk ass.

No, no -- these guys were wimps, and proud of it. Their final album before both left for solo careers (yes, Garfunkel released some solo albums. And believe it or not, some souls actually bought them!) polishes off a little under a dozen folky soft-rock tunes, all quite melodic. As with most bands that rely solely on the inspiration of one songwriter, the material's somewhat hit and miss: several of these songs feel slight and insubstantial ("Frank Lloyd Wright," is pretty, yes, but nothing more -- floats by almost without notice), and the Everly Bros. cover virtually announces itself as filler (it's the only live track and feels very incongrous and out of place sitting next to the polished originals -- methinks the track order could be improved). But when they're good, they're heavenly: the title track ranks as one of the four or five most gorgeous songs written during the Woodstock era, a gospel tune of such power it instantly transports me back to an innocent child sweetly chirping in the church choir, rather than the jaded half-agnostic I am now. "The Only Living Boy In New York," ranks as my second favorite, a lovely understated little plea from Simon that for some reason has generally gotten overlooked. The duo get to stomp their feet on the begging, down on their knees song "Cecilia," about a wimpy dude who wants this chick but can't get her, even though she's gone with plenty of other guys -- but isn't that always the way with nerdy wimps? They can never get the girl. Ladies, a simple plea in the name of the greater social good: go out with more wimps. Give nerdy geeks a chance. They're nice people. Not that I'm a geeky wimp, mind, I just kind of feel sorry for all these dorky dudes walking around not getting laid. But back on track -- there's this gentle Peruvian melody that has nothing to do with death squads or drug traffickers ("El Condor Pasa"), a jingle Sam Walton could jig to ("Keep the Customer Satisfied"), a melodramatic mini-epic ("The Boxer"), and a "Song for the Asking." This album beat out Abbey Road for a Grammy, and sold a copy to every collegiate-sympathizing, clean-cut nice liberal household in America, and some other polite and civilized nation-states, too, so it's not only good but popular. So I'm sure you've heard these melodies before, but if not, why don't you check out how wussy poetic soft-rock ought to be performed.

Sly & the Family Stone: Stand! (1969) ****

The best band to emerge from San Francisco's Summer of Love, Sly & his merry interracial band of stoned hippies brew an intoxicating and one-of-a-kind, highly influential (and underrated) blend of psychedelia, funk, and pop -- yeah, baby, this is where Prince and George Clinton have been ripping off their source. Call it progressive soul, if you will; art-rock R & B, definitely weirder and more compelling than your average Motown three-minute formula single. The title track opens with clever wordplay for a profoundly upbeat, positive message to the world: no one believed in the hippie peace & love & racial equality dream as sincerely as Sly, making this one of the '60s definitive anthems. "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey," continues the Great Society theme but with a jokily sarcastic edge -- to bad it amounts to a tuneless vamp that would have been mildly amusing if not stretched out to six minutes. "I Want To Take You Higher," takes your typical '90s pro-ecstacy clubfloor house mix and slamdunks its sterile whiney limey ass into the garbage bin behind Wax Trax -- now this is the way I'm a shaking down when I'm a snorting mah crack. "Somebody's Watching You" is the album's sleeper, a deceptively bright poppy number bristling with barely concealed (and probably drug-fueled) paranoia. "Sing a Simple Song," is an exciting, if tuneless raveup -- aptly titled. The album's biggest hit, "Everyday People," succintly and wittily proclaims the Family's message of inclusiveness -- don't matter whether you excrete green or purple or are even a washed up acting midget named Dabney Coleman, we's all people, so get down with the different strokes for different folks. Then comes the nasty hangover of '60s hippie rock: the nearly side-long psychedelic jam, "Sex Machine," which has its moments put nowhere comes close to justifying its 13:48 length. I usually shut this off when it comes to "Sex Machine" so I can't say much about the closer, "You Can Make It If You Try," except that's it's a nice little pop song to end the affair on. So, what we have here is a near-perfect album marred (seriously but not fatally) by its two lengthy psych-jams. Which means it's more consistent than anything P-Funk ever released.

Sly & the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On (1971) ***1/2

A good example of one of those albums that gains its "classic" status due to outside circumstances, meaning its place in history and extra-musical resonance in perfectly capturing the drugged-out, defeated, burned-out mood of the times immediately after the collapse of the hippie dream, rather than its actual merits as listenable music. Let's face it, this record only has two real songs: the stone cold brilliant blood's-thicker-'n'-mud jam "Family Affair," and britely Beatlesque "Runnin' Away", both big hits and deservedly revered as classics. The rest is just grooves -- good, interesting, very funky grooves, but just grooves. The tracks sound frustratingly unfinished -- frustrating because genius pokes out either in the melody-chorus ("Just Like a Baby", "(You Caught Me) Smilin'") or the twistedly muted funk grooves (most of the rest), but drifts nowhere. I suppose drifting aimlessly is kind of the point, given the album's thematic sense of bitter defeat, and it's nothing if not consistent -- it all flows together into one sticky mass, one giant pulsing groove underneath the skin pumping up your ears through the stethoscope. Did I mention the production's memorably and pleasurably murky and underproduced, like the grooves themselves? Influential, yeah, I'm not denying that. It's just not anything I ever want to listen to unless I'm in the same despairing, drugged-out mood Sly's in. Not that the groove doesn't have its moments: "Spaced Cowboy" leaps out at you like nothing else, barely holding together as Sly yodels from deep within the influence of whatever he was toking or snorting or injecting (or a combination cocktail) while the mikes were running, shouldn't work at all but it does like crazy. This is a good album, if only for its inimitable vibe -- the groove that runs throughout is a solid groove, after all -- just not the essential classic that critics say it is.

The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966) ***1/2

Quick, name the first full-fledged psychedelic album. Most folks, even knowledgable '60s scholars, would nominate the debuts of Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead - and they're wrong. The 13th Floor Elevators could only come from one place, the heart of Texas, though at the time they might have well sounded like they came from the heart of Jupiter. It's as pure an artifact of its time as any document: never again would the world be so naive in pronouncing the human evolutionary side effects of LSD consumption, as the liner notes (which must be read to be believed) explain the "true meaning" of each song. For example, the only hit, the indestructable garage classic "You're Gonna Miss Me," concerns leaving someone who, umm, merely "takes on the superficial aspects of the quest." "Monkey Island," looks down on us straights who've never "been experienced" (as Hendrix later put it) as monkeys compared to the one who has seen through traditional logic stifled by incorrect brain usage and has been able to fully tap the wonders of his mind. The "philosophy" found on perhaps the most pro-LSD album ever is nonsense, of course, but people in the '60s didn't entirely realize that, and the Elevators are serious. They're so serious, in fact, they're downright scary - lead singer Roky Erickson's werewolf howl is a wonder of nature, scratchy and feral, soulful and not entirely human (a bit like a male Janis Joplin, another good'ol Texan). Interestingly enough, the mood the Elevators aim to evoke is a moody, gothic tone that places the emphasis on songcraft, not the extended, flaming freakouts of many later psychedelic pioneers. Perhaps that's because none of the Elevators were accomplished musicians; they're a decent garage band, but nothing more. A decent garage band with an electric jug as a lead instrument, which constantly keeps the album offbeat - as if it needed any help. The individual songs are all memorable and a handful are classic, though hearing one dirgey mid-tempo number after the other tends to make this album a bit dull in one sitting - unless you're hypnotized by the atmosphere, of course. The sound is muddy and distant (which might be the fault of the CD reissue), and the Elevators crude garage stylings don't catch up with the songs. Still, this is amazingly solid for the time - an album of all good songs! Do you realize what an accomplishment that was in 1966?

And these boys sure know how to whip up some serious atmosphere - parts of this album count among the scariest, most unearthly music ever recorded. I'm talking overall mood, mainly; as I said, instrumentally, they're nothing special aside from that bizarre electric jug. The songs, mainly collaborations between band members, are strange, dirgey compositions that one imagines medieval monks chanting as their sombre voices creepily fade out into the desert wind. These are doom ballads that Jim Morrison wished he could frighten teenagers with in his drug-upped dreams. The band does kick up a nice garage racket here and there, though - "Fire Engine," was later covered by Television. The sinister "Roller Coaster," the incredibly haunting, ghostly "Splash 1," with its "And now I'm home..." chorus (it's about meeting someone else who "sees" and instantly feeling a connection - "Though this is our first meeting/We needn't bother speaking/All that is said/Is understood"), the plaintive words of advice in the seemingly conventional love song (lyrically, at least) "Don't Fall Down," and "You Don't Know," ("how young you are" - referring to those who still think in the "old way") are among my favorites, but really, all of the songs are quite song. A bizarre curio for '60s aficianados. There's psychedelia, and then there's the truly strange.

Shortly after this release, the band was driven out of Texas by constant harassment by the authorities, and found a temporary home in the much more tolerant San Francisco in the late '60s. The band broke up after Erickson was convicted on a drug charge; he pleaded insanity, and spent three years in a mental institution. Whether or not he actually was insane when he went in, by the time he was released in the early '70s, there was no doubt that Erickson was a mental wreck. He has released sporadic solo albums for the past few decades, many produced by Stu Cook (of Creedence Clearwater Revival) that have earned him a cult following and legendary status in the American underground. I have a compilation of those records, and I'll review it sometime. When Erickson sings about demons and two-headed dogs, it's tempting to laugh him off, but remember this - he really, sincerely believes in those demonic visions and voices in his head.

The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967) ***

Try as I might, I just can't get into this one as much as their debut. The songwriting isn't as strong, and the muddy, muffled sound (it still sounds as if it were recorded inside a closet) distracts too much from my enjoyment of the band's sonic explorations to the center of the mind. The opening cut, "Slip Inside This House," with its menacing, even apocalyptic atmosphere, is the strongest, though it drags on a bit too long at 8 minutes; "She Lives in a Time of Her Own," verges on upbeat pop and should've been a single. Erickson's demonic howling retains its lupine intensity and is sometimes enough to put weaker material such as the lyrically silly (even by Elevators standards) "Slide Machine" and the anthemic "Leave Your Body Behind," over, and on ballads such as the typically haunting "Dust" and the atypically tender and friendly "I Had To Tell You," he's exceptionally effective. Oddly enough, the cover of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," which should be an emotional triumph, instead listlessly drifts into the dust as the easily weakest track on the LP. Overall, despite some strong material, this suffers from the typical sophomore slump - the band doesn't advance musically enough to justify the temporary songwriting drought. After one more studio album, Bull of the Woods (recorded with Erickson largely absent due to drug/legal problems), the band vanished back into the Texas dustbowl.

Reader Comments

Eric M. Van, emvan@mediaone.net

If you haven't picked this up yet, leave your house now. "Slip Inside This House," "Levitation," "Earthquake," and "Dust" are my four favorite Elevators songs, and with one or two exceptions ("Postures" and a Dylan cover which was omitted from my CD reissue) the rest of the stuff is as good as the debut album. One of the great records of all time.

The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle (1968) *****

The most musically sophisticated band to emerge from the British Invasion are generally known as a minor outfit with a handful of memorable singles, one of which, "Time of the Season," is included on this, their second album. That's too bad, because on the evidence here the Zombies were major - if they had stuck around, they could have conceivably ranked as one of the greatest bands of all time. Alas, the Zombies broke up before this 1968 release, though they were pressured to reform after "Time of the Season," became a fluke hit (they didn't; by that time keyboardist Rod Argent was already consumed by his new band, Argent). The Zombies developed a very original and highly influential sound unique among rock bands at the time; rather than mindlessly pound out blues-derivative, simplistic chord patterns, the Zombies built their sound around their elegant melodies and Argent's baroque keyboards. Rather than banging their heads to basic R & B, the Zombies swung with an understated grandeur. Much more than their relatively minor commercial success might indicate, the Zombies influenced almost as many bands as anyone from the '60s - the Doors and Procul Harum, for instance, took the Zombies' cues to the bank, and nearly every keyboard rocker owes as much to them as guitar rockers do to Hendrix. Argent and bassist Chris White's approach to songwriting was revolutionary, too; by emphasizing the subtle shifts between major and minor chords, with the emphasis on the minor, the Zombies opened up rock to a wider emotional palette - so mopey English lads singing sad, sad songs owe the Zombies a tip of the hat, too.

Odessey and Oracle is a lost classic, one of the All-Time Perfect Pop Albums that holds its own against some of the Beatles' lower-rung albums; about half of these tracks would have fit in fine as album tracks on any Beatles album, in fact - and that's a real accomplishment. Picking favorites can be such a chore on an album that's solid all the way through, except for a melodramatic WWI fantasy, "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)". The songs deal touch on William Faulkner ("Rose for Emily"), a reunion with a girlfriend home from prison ("Care of Cell 44"), childhood memories ("Beechwood Park"), hippie flights of fancy (the impossibly transcendent "Hung Up On a Dream," "Changes,") the tortures of lovesickness ("Maybe After He's Gone,") the pleasures of love ("This Will Be Our Year," "I Want Her, She Wants Me"), the pleasures of seeing two other people in love ("Friends of Mine"), the dark, breathy pleasures of lust after dark ("Time of the Season" one of the '60s most inventive and memorable singles). Oh, man... now look what I've done, I've made myself want to stop writing and listen to the whole album all over again. Perfect pop with the highest recommendation.

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