It’s been a while, nearly two months, since I was last in 1970. Hopefully it won’t take as long next time…
Black Night – Deep Purple
It’s weird to go back in musical time when the last two albums I listened to for the blog were influential for punk (Suicide and Horses). We’re still in 1970 where hard rock was beginning it’s transformation into metal, with the guitar solos being a key ingredient falling into place.
Listening to this I got a strange mix of an Easy Rider style road-trip and ‘Play That Funky Music’. I probably should be hearing more Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but you can’t help where the brain goes.
War – Edwin Starr
I should have got what the song was from the title and the year. The chanting chorus is such a simple protest against war, but it is hard to deny the effectiveness of it. As a song ‘War’ has become such a part of the culture that it is easy to forget its roots as an anti-Vietnam funk piece.
Probably didn’t help that a lot of people my age may know this song best as being part of the Rush Hour soundtrack. Whilst that helped to keep the song alive it has cheapened it somewhat.
Interesting to think how this was a song originally meant for the Temptations (see two songs down the page) but it was seen as career suicide. At least Edwin Starr was able to get his hands on a classic.
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black – Bob and Marcia
From the off, the Nina Simone version of this song is so much better. ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ is a great song from the Civil Rights movement and both Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin have given powerful renditions of this as strong black women. Then you have this… the song which typifies what happens to something fed through trends to be chart-friendly.
I mean, this version is like turning ‘Strange Fruit’ into an upbeat pop song by Rihanna as remixed by David Guetta. Just no.
Ball of Confusion – The Temptations
So the Temptations had to pass on ‘War’ and this is their equivalent, a great bit of psychedelic soul. We’ve been skirting around this sub-genre for a while and I think we have a first good example of this. I know that funk is meant to come from psychedelic soul… but it feels like the choice of songs from this book managed to leap frog over that transition.
The distortion effects, the disjointed song structure and the rapid switching between the different voices of the band members all helps to compound this idea of the titular ball of confusion. As a song this is as relevant now as it was back when it was first released, which is a bit hisheartening when you think about it too much.
Avec le temps – Léo Ferré
Within 30 seconds I can feel tears in my eyes. A minute goes by and the goosebumps start. I don’t speak French, but I understand exactly what he’s singing about because it’s there in his intonation, his timbre and in the circular piano playing the scales. I am having a visceral reaction.
‘Avec le temps’ (With time, in English) is a song about loss. About the death of love that can happen with the passing of time. The piano plays an excellent part in the illusion of time passing around you (the playing of scales, which feels like a spiral staircase) whilst you remain in place (because you only play the same set of notes in sequence).
That was an interesting reaction… then again I just have one of those brains I guess.
The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie
Here we are in 1970 and we have our first of a fair number of David Bowie songs. I guess that it was this album that was where what we understand to be Bowie actually started, so it makes sense for this song to be included as some sort of timestamp.
It feels slightly off-kilter when compared to the other psychedelic song of the time, with Bowie’s echoey vocals being used to great effect towards the end. There are some interesting parts here, but I think we’ll here something more groundbreaking from him later on.
Awaiting on You All – George Harrison
I knew this was Phil Spector the moment it started playing. That ‘Wall of Sound’ is such an obvious fingerprint that, when listening to this, I can’t help but think back on ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ or the Phil Spector Christmas album.
So you take the ‘Wall of Sound’ mix it with a pinch of Love’s psychedelia (see: ‘Alone Again Or’) and this is the song you get.
I’m a sucker for a big production number, so ‘Awaiting on You All’ got an immediate thumbs up from me. Just wish it was a bit longer.
Northern Sky – Nick Drake
Oh Nick Drake. I wish I knew that you were going to be okay.
‘Northern Sky’ feels like a different direction from Five Leaves Left, mainly because this feels a bit more upbeat. The spacious world created on the previous album is still there, but gone are the strings and the bongos and instead there’s a celeste and a light piano.
Listening to ‘Northern Sky’ makes me want to expand my albums list out from 250 because then I will have the agency to listen to it’s parent album Bryter Layter. I just need to listen to those albums faster!
Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney
Growing up in the time that I did, the formative memories that I have of Paul McCartney was the business surrounding his marriage to Heather Mills. With that and the deification of John Lennon in pop culture, I began to form a negative view of McCartney based on nothing but hearsay.
I think with ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ I need to make a re-evaluation. This not a song that you could have had from the Beatles. As classic as many of their songs are, there is always a distance between the listener and the Beatles themselves. Their stories are about other people, not them.
With ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ it feels like the first time that I have been allowed to see something personal from McCartney – and it’s great. The love that he had for Linda is so obvious in this song that you cannot but help feel uplifted.