Sunday, February 24, 2013
Today the rock room is host to a historic and exceptional recording of a talented and sometimes turbulent group of musicians. On January 20th 1968 as they were approaching the end of their short lived run as rock pioneers, the Buffalo Springfield played the Whittier High School auditorium in Whittier California. An enterprising member of one of the opening acts that evening captured the majority of the Buffalo Springfield's performance. While the vocals are messy and somewhat obscured by the haze of tim, and the power of the Springfield's gear, the recording is one of only a few that exists of Buffalo Springfield in their prime. Neil Young's guitar is in its luminous and tremoloed glory, shimmering silvery notes like diffused sun rays through melting ice. The band's sound is vintage and tight, and the scattered and echoed applause of the high school gym gives the recording a vintage patina. By this time, bass player Jim Messina (of Poco fame) has taken over for founding member Bruce Palmer, but the original core of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, and Dewey Martin remained. Neil would soon leave, Buffalo Springfield would divide spawning some of rock's greatest bands, but at this juncture they were still together, and changing the face of 1960's rock and roll.
The show reportedly opened with "Rock and Roll Woman' but this is unfortunately not available on the field recording. The tape picks up with the jaunty Neil Young penned 'On the Way Home". At first the performance sounds like I am listening through a pair of ear muffs, but the fidelity improves once Stills slithers a snaky series of guitar lines across the framework of the song. Furay is in his full and glorious throat singing Young's lyrics with earnest emotion. Dissimilar to future acoustic Young readings, "On the Way Home" is featured here in its original full band guise.Stills and Furay so in tune that they sound like relatives, a soundboard I'm sure would reveal many detailed vocal delights.
Without missing a beat Dewey Martin pounds out the rattling drum introduction to "Good Time Boy", in which he also takes the lead vocals. "Good Time Boy" thumps its heavy foot on the wooden gym floor with reckless abandon, as Young dressed as a hippie superhero swoops in and roars into a scintillating and cacophonous guitar solo. Stills soon joins in and their guitars intertwine like a DNA helix, joining in a sympathetic dance. The intensity translates well to the recording. The tune finishes on a rich note of feedback, as screams from the audience can be heard trickling in. The crowd is actually screaming for the band to turn down! Young can be heard making a comment that the band have been, "bad boys and will turn down a bit". I chuckle to myself, reflecting on the assault I just heard. The group then begins to bring it down a bit preparing for "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing".
"Clancy" is perfect, the guitars of Stills and Young waltz their way across the stage bedazzled in day glo paint. Furay and Stills joint vocals bring to mind the beautiful harmonies to come in both of their future endeavors with Poco and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The band is quiet enough that everything reveals itself in perfect clarity, and the group plays a special rendition of the Young classic.
Introduced by Neil as the 'highlight" of the evening the band achieves lift off with the revolving and creative feedback filled "Mr. Soul". Superlatives do not do this performance justice, because as soon as the song begins, streaking and wobbly guitar filigree fireworks, fizzle and disappear across the agitated rhythm. The song is a punky movement, with its timeless guitar breakdown a tasty taffy stretched solo dressed in glowing vibrato. Epitomizing the 'classic' Neil Young sound that would be revealed on his upcoming debut solo LP, Young seizes the moment with cutting melodic ideas. "Mr. Soul" is short and sweet, but energized, and a definite highlight of the show.
In a display of their originality and virtuosic diversity, the band follows the "Mr. Soul" bombardment, with a front porch and iced tea reading of 'A Child's Claim to Fame". What can be heard of the Stills and Furay vocals are clean and in perfect harmony. Neil lays some "Johnny Cash" chugging counterpoints on his hollow bodied Gretsch guitar, that wobble like a spinning top. A personal favorite, a forever melody, and one of the Springfield's best.
After a semi serious warning about smoking in the arena from Neil the band prepares to answer the numerous yelled requests for "For What It's Worth", by playing it. A textbook rendition of at that point the band's biggest hit is sung nice and bluesy by Stephen. The recording gear sounds like it has been moved in front of Neil's stack because his work on the song is perfectly audible and a joy to hear. The crowd is obviously very satisfied with the chunky performance, and lets the band hear it.
Before starting the last song of the evening, or at least of the recording, there is some funny interplay between the stage and the crowd. Inaudible shouts from the crowd about locating a piano are answered by Stills, with a "I spent all my money on a Bentley and my Marshall!". A fluttering "Bluebird" flaps its wings emphatically for nine minutes teetering on the edge of "raga rock" for its solo excursions. Neil and Stephen express their own style of "weaving" guitars as they journey through the many changes in "Bluebird's" flight. The relationship between Stills and Young's guitars counterpoints the perfect mix of Furay and Stills vocals, the blends equaling a euphoric and intense rendition. Stills slinky guitar glissades across the rock solid foundation built by the rest of the group like a psychedelic surfer. After Stills showcases his abilities, Young follows close behind with a gnarled and prickly feedback note that introduces his fuzzy solo spot. Together, Stills and Young stir the musical pot into a swirling maelstrom of crunchy guitars that eventually peaks falling back into the verse at a somewhat slower tempo then before. Martin and Messina chug along sympathetically, the foundation for these flashing excursions. The song comes to a mind expanding conclusion amongst a shower of colored rain feedback and electronic mice scurrying across the stage. This concluding version of "Bluebird" is a shining example of how good "Buffalo Springfield" were at the peak of their existence. What a slamming close to a short but sweet concert performance.
This field recording finds the "Buffalo Springfield" close to splintering into the factions that would soon change the face of rock and roll. In a very short time Young would be preparing his first solo album, Furay would be pioneering country rock with his band "Poco", and Stills would become a founding member of Crosby Stills and Nash. A comet streaking across the night sky, their life as a band was short lived, but their influence would continue to be felt right up to today. The "Springfield" were a band of headstrong, overly talented young men who were feeling their way across a ever changing musical landscape while facing skyrocketing popularity Unaware of their influence while they were living it, this performance is a period snapshot of their talents and musical powers for those unable to witness it firsthand. Lovers of rock must consider themselves lucky that something as rare and special as a live performance by the band still exists today, and we are able to dive into it when the spirit moves us.
Buffalo Springfield Whittier High School 1968
Sunday, February 17, 2013
On October 24, 1963 The Beatles were young, hungry, and poised on the precipice of world domination. The radio broadcast from Swedish radio blasting through the rock room today is a glistening document of a band in the moments before Beatlemania hit with the force of an atomic bomb. The version I am listening to is a mono recording, and is possibly the "best" live recording of the Beatles available because of the combination of a kinetic performance, coupled with crystalline sound quality. A reported favorite of John Lennon, he considered this recording one of the finest examples of the Beatles before they lost the "hunger" imposed by their extraordinary popularity. This "boot" can be found under the title of "Stars of 63" as well as "Swedish Radio Show" which is the copy I have.
The featured set is fast, radiant, and well played. With the club days of the Fab four not far behind them, their playing is crisp, and contains an infectious enthusiasm. After being introduced to a cheering (not yet a screaming) audience, the band fires into "I Saw Her Standing There" with the instantly recognizable chugging silver metallic groove of the Fab Four's road tested beat. McCartney's bass comes through big and round bouncing like ball escaping a running child's hands. The Hofner dances under Paul's able fingers, years ahead of other bass players, containing a melody independent of the song. Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 clangs away with an amphetamine "Mersey Beat" expressing an urgent scrubbing chime, eliciting an electric washboard. Ringo, the best drummer in rock at this time, holds it down with his sure handed direction. Finally, George decorates the popping sound with his woody, bended guitar strokes. This is a band leaving streaming trails across the sky as they rocket to an unknown destination
"From Me To You" follows in perfect and beautiful harmony, an original, revolutionary in its sound, and arrangement. Two original compositions that considering the time, are towering advances in rock and pop song development. Following the impressive example set by the Beatles own tunes, the follow up with a glimpse into their own influences. The Bradford/Gordy track "Money (That's what I want)" that follows is a shredding example of how good the Beatles were in their early preforming days that are now only yellowed newspaper fragments floating on the windy breath of history. Luckily, fragments are caught and captured like this one. "Money" is a stout version, highlighted by Lennon's icy rasp, and trenchant vocalizations. The song opens with a great McCartney holler and then drops like pocket change into the groove, Harrison and Lennon's guitars mesh into a breathing electric mass that epitomizes "rock". When Lennon screams this track, you believe it, this is heavy!
Keeping up the same dashing pace the band shake rattles and rolls into "Roll Over Beethoven" on Harrison's spunky portrayal of the original Chuck Berry riffs. Starr is all over this one, hands on a clock, Starr swings around the kit in perfect simpatico with McCartney's smiling bass loops. Harrison gets his microscope moment in the set and makes the most of it with a pleasant solo and proper nasally vocals.
Introduced by Lennon, the group now swings into "The Miracles', "You've Really Got a Hold On Me", a confirmation of The Beatles Motown influences. Tenderly sung by Lennon with great conviction and tone, the song is the genesis of the classic Beatles three part harmony featured in future Lennon/McCartney classics like "This Boy" and "Yes It Is". You can hear the smile in their voices during a slightly flubbed verse, classic. A highlight of the set and a benchmark performance by the entire group. A fitting microcosm of who The Beatles were and a hint of their future direction.
Back to the originals, the boys roll downhill on Ringo's tom tom's into "She Loves You", a song that retains its fresh relevance on this recording. It reminds me, believe it or not, of the importance of these early Beatles hits on rock and roll. A fact so overstated that it somehow becomes irrelevant. Regardless, the electric recording on this document injects "She Loves You" with something that makes me love it again, for what it was and continues to be.
The performance is closed fittingly with the Isley's "Twist and Shout" a clunky and chunky rocker designed to raise the crowd and rip up Lennon's vocal chords. Familiar to all Beatles fans, young and old this version stampedes the crowd, but leaves me wanting a bit more. Those Beatles sets were so short!
Anyways, this a great way to spend a twenty minutes! The Beatles, true professionals that they were, put forth an energetic and definitive show for their new Swedish fans. It's easy to see why Lennon enjoyed this recording, it shows them so green and unaware of the massive world that was about to open up for them because of their music. Dig this one up, its a reminder of what rock and roll was in its ever changing, yet basic and essential elements.
Swedish Radio Show 1963
Thursday, February 14, 2013
I finally had a free moment to sit down with the 2012 Paul McCartney limited edition Ram LP release, for some quality time. Remastered from an original mono mix of the record the album is a special sonic glimpse at one of my favorite McCartney recordings. Created during a period of rediscovery for Macca following the chippy Beatles breakup, the record features the "homegrown" creativeness of the "McCartney" LP but mixed with the forward thinking quirkiness of future Wings endeavors. The LP I have is packaged in a plain white jacket with the title scribbled in pen along the top. The original LP contained the famous picture on the back jacket of two beetles fornicating. This record was created during a period of upheaval and artistic discovery for McCartney, with both the jacket and music containing many obvious and subconscious messages regarding his present state of mind. The record sounds completely relevant today still, especially in mono, it stands as one of McCartney's finest achievements.
The record opens with a chunky acoustic strum and Paul's soaring echoed opening vocals. Already, the mono version jumps out of the speakers at me with an improved clarity and definition. McCartney's kinetic bass line is crisp with the personality and vibe of his instrument clearly audible. The opening punch in what would be a lyrical battle between Lennon and McCartney, "Too Many People" was considered a comment on John and Yoko's current activities by the McCartney's. Lennon would answer Macca back in the musical battle with his own "How Do You Sleep" off of the 1971 Imagine LP. Back to the record, the abundant and varied percussion of "Too Many People" also pops on this release, with all sorts of bells, drums, wood blocks and whatever else Macca was banging on coming through splendidly.
The second song on the first side is "3 Legs" and it hops along just like the poor dog who is the subject of the tune. Acoustic blues with a McCartney melodic twist, "3 Legs" jitters and shakes along side a picked acoustic riff and some electric "Chuck Berry" riffing played admirably by Paul. Lyricly nonsensical, but somehow making perfect sense, the tune rolls into a stomping and funky epilogue.
Beginning with a piano flourish that sounds like it was captured in a grand cathedral hallway, the majestic opening fades into a sunny day ukelele introduction. "Ram On"charges forward acoustically centered on a double bass drum thump and a groovy organ. The organic quality of the mono recording as well as McCartney choice of sonic music makers, makes "Ram On" gain so much more personality then the colorless versions on previous CD releases. The process in which McCartney creates his albums is fully on display when every detail is magnified by a good mono mix.
The first side of the record slowly gains complexity and melodic detail in my opinion as the dramatic "Dear Boy" approaches on simple piano chords. Another track that Lennon took personally, "Dear Boy" contains stratified vocal harmonies swelling and delving beneath themselves. Paul's "Beach Boy" influence that had decorated his work since 1966 is fully on display on this song. The middle eight of the tune sits on a chugging metallic guitar and corresponding piano ring that mesh like a grandfather clock's antique gears. The most serious of "Ram's" songs "Dear Boy" is a definative statement and composition.
Side one comes to an extravagant conclusion with the orchestrated narrative "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. One of Paul's more well known songs, the track bobs along in instrumental waters, at first smooth but gaining turbulence as the song progresses. Sound effects of rainfall in conjunction with gentle orchestration swell like the oceans frothy foam, and propel the song further into uncharted waters. The stereo effects normally found in this track are now painted with gold filigree, and sparkle in mono as unheard details and surprises continuously reveal themselves. By the time the "hands across the water, heads across the sky" refrain hits "Uncle Albert" has become a new song for me, and I glance at the plain white, faux stained LP jacket thrilled. I'm gonna throw my original Ram CD right in the bin.
A jagged slightly off time guitar figure rises from the mix of "Uncle Albert" and stabs curt notes into the opening count off of "Smile Away" "Smile Away" bounds fuzzily behind Macca's guttural bass riff and scratchy "slap whack" rhythm guitar. Old school wordless "doo wop" backing vocals by Paul and Linda give the celebratory and very humorous song a euphoric vibe. Paul howls like a chained mutt, at the climax of the song, in falsetto ecstasy, a good time stomp to end side one.
Flipping over the LP "Heart of the Country" trickles in, a gentle country stroll through wildflowers and fields, a unforgettable quintessentially perfect McCartney melody. This is music that can change your perspective and your mood, and is testament to why Paul is one of the greatest developers of melody in musical history. Tasteful and slightly chorused guitar chords caress Paul's crisp strums and support the melody line. The best part of the tune is Macca's acoustic guitar echoes of his wordless scats at the end of each verse. One of my personal favorites on the record.
A goofy heavy stepping groove in complete contrast to "Heart of the Country" rises like a thick mist from the LP. "Monkberry Moon Delight" contains growling and emphatic McCartney vocals that border on the edge of comedic. He is growling about the benefits of this tasty unknown cosmic treat and various other unknown characters, "Monkberry" is a crazy bit of hysteria in the steamy mix of "Ram".
Another uptempo high stepping song follows, and "Eat at Home" is an obvious tribute to Macca idol Buddy Holly replete with hiccups and Holly vocalizations. A catchy little rock and roll song with no deeper meaning that to tap your foot and "rave on"!
"Long Haired Lady"begins with a falsetto series of "Well's" by McCartney that segue into call and response vocals between Macca and Linda. The verse is nice little break down that hops along like a classic coin machine bouncy ball. The real magic occurs at the end of the song when Linda's vocals rise and swell in relationship with Macca's candy sweet harmonies. Horns toot in the musical traffic, and the tune starts to swirl into a colorful vortex of sound. Vocals and instruments fall together like feathers settling after a pillow fight, a common theme on this record where the endings of songs are often stretched out and extravagantly orchestrated.
Following the end of "Long Haired Lady", a reprise of "Ram On" surfaces quickly and disappears the same way. Giving the LP a thread to hang onto, "Ram On" also contains a small snatch of lyrics from the not yet released "Big Barn Bed" which will eventually open "Red Rose Speedway" This track a quick reminder for the listener to indeed "Ram On" and adding coherence to the series of songs.
The closing song on the record is another mini opus called "The Back Seat of My Car". Again, a track that had the paranoid Lennon's taking some of the lyrics personally, especially the closing line, "We believe that we can't be wrong". The song begins with a piano and guitar introduction that has a slightly foreboding quality to it. The song's content deals with a boy and girl's clandestine relationship being consummated in the only place that they can find to be alone. A classic McCartney melody with soaring falsetto and wordless harmony lyrics. The mono edition really shines here as McCartney's vocals revealing many hidden vocal variations. The climax of the song spotlights a great McCartney scream along the lines of some of his best, (ie: Hey Jude), bringing the LP to an appropriate close.
An album sometimes misplaced because of the depth of the Mccartney catalog, "Ram" is one of McCartney's finest early efforts. In addition to it being a great listen, the recent mono release, similar to magic ink, reveals many details and buried additions not always obvious on the normal stereo issue. A great find and a welcome addition to the McCartney discography. The LP also has the distinction of being the first attack, in the public spat of McCartney and Lennon in which the battlefields were the media and their own records. A defining period, and second phase of McCartney's career started with this record, and set the stage for his eventual creation of "Wings". "Ram" is a recognized but often forgotten about period of Paul McCartney's long and impressive discography, its playful, but often serious content an impressive conglomerate of Paul's musical past and his blindingly bright future.
"Dear Boy"-Ram (mono)
Friday, February 8, 2013
From the 'rock room vaults comes a clean soundboard recording of The Jeff Beck Group live in concert at Fillmore West 1968.The show is purported to be from the July 24th performance, but it is possible that could be from another night of the run. The band is positioned as the openers for "Moby Grape", as after the last number someone can be heard saying from the stage that Grape are coming up next. The recording is a well mixed, crisp board tape, and contains a strutting and confident performance by the quartet. Rod Stewart is in his illustrious early throat, and belts out all of the tunes with finesse and force. Ronnie Wood plays bass, like a bass player should, stringing thick notes made of rope underneath Beck's strutting riffing. Wood proves he is quite adept at playing the bass even though his popularity would stem from his guitar playing.. Drummer and long time Stewart player Mickey Waller plays a heavy footed but steady groove sympathetic to the virtuosos on display. Any admirer of Jeff Beck or The Faces owes to themselves to dig up this gold mine and sit back and enjoy the show. The recording I have is called "Morning Dew" and is from a silver CD bootleg release.
The show opens with the aggressive duo of "You Shook Me" segued into "Let Me Love You Baby", both songs featured on the Beck groups debut LP "Truth". "You Shook Me" is tailor made for the dueling musicianship of Stewart and Beck. Their guitar and vocal sparring is the blueprint to which one Jimmy Page would take to extravagant levels in Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant. The arrangement of "You Shook Me" is very similar to Led Zeppelin's eventual version, but with this performance containing a rolling break down mid song, which climbs to a substantial summit, topped by Beck's sonic shredding. Beck's playing is sharp and streamlined, a musical multicolored bullet streaking toward its eventual mark. The solo ends in a blue howl of a single note that coalesces into the funky strut of "Let Me Love You Baby".
Woody is thumping on a warm hollow log with a bass groove that makes you wanna curl your upper lip and stomp you foot. Beck and Stewart howl and shout back and forth, sharing the mic. Beck steps up to solo in a biting series of string bends that glow like hot embers embarking on a long slow burn. The tune deconstructs into a series of call and response moments between Beck, Stewart, and Wood snugly contained by Waller's steady thump. This is the definition of band interplay and a polished example of the tightness of the Beck line up. This is priceless stuff here, with Stewart and Beck knocking melodies back and forth over the net. The song detonates to a crashing conclusion, finished by Beck's final distorted guitar howls.
The next tune is introduced by Rod (I think) as having been written by "one of your own", before the group tip toes into Tim Rose's "Morning Dew". The Grateful Dead would eventually make this song their very own with several towering and definitive versions, but on this night the Beck Group play a "heavy" version of their own. Sung tenderly by Stewart, the tune as a certain foreboding charm, even if not as poignant as some Grateful Dead versions. The "Morning Dew" is well played, dynamic, and reaches a thunderous peak with Beck's distorted guitar strikes.
After a thought provoking "Morning Dew", the band swings into "Jeff's Boogie" just like a rock and roll band should. While this song is appropriately all about Beck, Waller and Woody both get some featured spotlight time. Beck asserts his diverse abilities with licks that range from soaring aircraft ,to cartoon soundtracks, and bluesy hoedowns. He even throws in a bit of the Yardbirds "Over Under Sideways Down" for good measure. After charging through metamorphosing rock themes for the first part of the song, at around four minutes Beck euphorically spins into a disorienting alien tone, slithering, it segues unconsciously into a hay fever inducing country lilt. Now things really take off with Beck shivering silver rain from his guitar, as he impressively illustrates why he is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The band hits a double time jam at break neck speed that cooks like bacon in a pan. Breathlessly, Beck marches through speedy, dotted, honey coated notes that drip into the songs sweet conclusion. Amen.
"The Sun is Shining" marches in with its "Chicago Swing" introduction that then settles into a smokey bluesy mood. Beck solos over the rhythm section with a crisp clean tone that is emotionally elastic. His blues chops understanding and on point, he underpins Stewart's raspy growl with an invisible touch. Rolling watery filigrees escape from his fingers with mind numbing dexterity. Stewart's vocals foreshadow his future trademark vocal spotlights on songs such as "I'd Rather Go Blind". His voice is staggering for its strength and range. Beck's main solo is overdriven and quaking with kinetic vibratto. He hits a series of clenching top of the neck harmonic plucks that heighten the tension, making me squint. Again, Beck and Stewart cajole one another to greater heights by swapping ideas and licks at the conclusion of the number. Quietly, and not yet a star, Ronnie Wood stands in the shadows and lays down knotted notes underneath it all.
The final song on the recording, and I assume of the performance is the notorious "Hi Ho Silver Lining". A tune that Beck referred to as a "pink toilet seat" around his neck, because of its popularity, gets a solid enthusiastic reading here. The band stomps its way through the song professionally with Beck soloing through the songs pop melody flawlessly. The vocals are endearing but somewhat flat as Beck takes most of the duty. I'm sure the crowd was ecstatic as the band puts on a swinging topper to a unique and intense set of music.
In this era, the Jeff Beck Group was a breeding ground for not only Beck's creative visions, but for the musical expression of two other future rock legends. The "Morning Dew" recording captures them at a time where as a band ideas are being developed, identities solidified, and magic being created with instruments. It's also a testament to how influential The Jeff Beck Group was at this time, that many artists were influenced by their arrangements and repertoire. Though they would travel on different paths in the future, for a short time their collaboration reached lofty heights.
Let Me Love You Baby-Fillmore West 1968
Friday, February 1, 2013
In my opinion one of the finest records to emerge from the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young collaborations, David Crosby and Graham Nash's debut album is an eclectic mixture of experimental songs, melodic pop, and vocal light and shade. This week in the rock room the album is in constant rotation and the music is starting to seep into the walls. My turntables needle cradled by its deep grooves, the record takes another trip on a musical merry go round into the past. Released on April 5, 1972 the Graham Nash/David Crosby LP features a host of the duo's musical partners in crime such as Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, David Mason, Leland Sklar, and Danny Kootch highlighting their skills on the duo's original compositions. Found in the era where CSNY had broken up and was off recording their own albums separately, and rock music in general was moving from a less homegrown or psychedelic sound, to a more glamorous punk and artsy spectacle. This record stands alone on its own original merits. As unique as its creators, there is mystery found in every nook and crannie. The dedication found on the inside of the LP jacket reads, "To Miss Mitchell".
The LP unfolds with the Graham Nash song, "Southbound Train" a light folky number teetering on the edge of waltz, featuring Jerry Garcia's tasteful and soaring pedal steel work, as well as Nash's melodic harp blows. Rock history says that when the song was played for fellow comrade Bob Dylan at a meeting before the songs release, Dylan's reply was, "Can I hear that again?". Nash took that as a tremendous complement, as well he should. One of Nash's greatest tunes, the song uses images of the "Southbound Train" to elicit the feelings of leaving for war, defending your country, and contemplating why any of it matters anyway. Crosby's harmony vocals are smooth as butter on toast, and feel like slipping into a velvet robe after a a shower,enveloping the listener.
The following track is Crosby's "Whole Cloth" a syrupy dirge, based around church bell chiming piano chords that leave ghostly and spectral overtones. The band on this track features members of the future Crosby/Nash touring band, Danny Kootch, Craig Doerge, and Leland Sklar. The song like many Crosby compositions contains an avant garde edge, and plays in perfect contrast to Nash's more traditional offerings. Again the dual vocals of David and Graham reverberate like one voice in perfect harmony, with well timed echoes. A cat's cradle of harmony, supports the delicate instrumentation. This song contains a heavy vibe and a central phased guitar riff that lends an air of darkness, fading to black around the percussive bass and guitar lick that like an ancient door swings to a close.
The third track on the LP is a minute long etude called "Blacknotes" taken from a live CSNY performance at I believe the Fillmore East. It features Graham Nash banging on the "black notes" of the piano and encouraging the audience and listeners of the LP, "Sing along, write a song, and understand you can play". A precious little interlude that fits perfectly in the flow of the LP. Simple, melodic, and a unique addition to side one of the LP.
Next, a perfect gleaming gem, that could only be written with the pop sensibilities of one Graham Nash. "Strangers Room" starts like many Nash songs of the era, with a piano and harmonica prelude, but then breaks through the dirt and leaves and stretches toward the sun during the chorus. The drums come in, and the harmonies swell into a radiant chorus that swirls around the swelling piano and organ duo. A questioning song about waking somewhere, that you never expected to be, and wondering where are you going to end up next.
The first side of the record concludes with the two for one Crosby marriage of "Where Will I Be?/Page 43". "Where Will I Be" is a significant part of the Crosby catalog and it a quintessential example of his harmonic prowess and particular eurythmic abilities. The track features singularly picked guitar notes with Crosby's solitary rich baritone voice in support. The song is atmospheric and contains many moments of silence, based around orchestrated vocal melodies. Like many Crosby compositions (see "If I Could Only Remember My Name") the song revolves around wordless melodies and layered vocal strata. Spectral keyboards delicately play hide and seek under David's soulful delivery.The songs wordless "middle 8" moves like a regal renaissance era jester, cranking a tuneful hurdy gurdy. As soon as the last vocal line dissipates into the air, the record opens to "Page 43". A "do it yourself" song that plays like a guidebook to living, it is one of Crosby's most stirring melodies and enduring songs. The duo of "Where Will I Be/Page 43" is a room full of old friends, and loved ones, passing around a bottle of wine and remembering times that will never be relived again. Crosby's vocals a soothing reassuring storyteller, who's voice personally always makes me feel a hint of optimism no matter where I am in my life. An apt closing to the first side of the LP and as strong as anything that any of the members of CSN or Y ever created. You need to hear this "grown up lullaby" in its proper context and on vinyl.
Side two opens with a perfect pop song who's melodic optimism belies the fact that its a scathing and angry view of a failed friendship. "Frozen Smiles" feels like its directed at one Stephen Stills, but obviously could be any number of recipients. The tune bounces along buoyantly driven by Nash's excitible harp playing, and his chunky rhythm playing. "I don't know if I'll break or only bend, You're supposed to be my friend" is an example of the questions Graham poses to the unknown subject of this song. The perfect introduction to the rest of side two, when the song exits the middle eight harp solo and returns to the verses on a Leland Sklar bass ascent it is goosebumps inspiring.
Similarly to the start of side one, Graham's bouncy opener is again followed by an eccentric Crosby track, "Games". Dealing with tricky folks and how "Games" effect the love and relationships shared by us all, the song hangs around unspoken, like a slightly shady secret kept from friends. Introduced by golden flaked acoustic guitar strums that gently perch along the precipice of crisp dancing drums. Again, an angelic sparkling piano forms the foundation for David's quirky melodic ideas.The chorus sprouts wings from Graham and David's angelic harmonies, and eventually soars into a vocal climax, before again settles into the floating verses.
The next to last track on the LP is again in perfect contrast to the song which preceded it. "Girl to be On My Mind" is a colorful and glorious Graham Nash number. Developed around a gospel organ introduction and Danny Kortchmar's soulful filigree's that bring to mind a Curtis Mayfield track, the song is perfectly orchestrated and sounds "big".
The Grateful Dead's rhythm section of Phil Lesh and Billy Kreutzmann, as well as guitarist Jerry Garcia join Crosby on "The Wall Song" which drips like a San Fransisco candle sitting in the afternoon sun. An instantly recognizable round and poppy Garcia riff propels the song forward, with Nash's raindrop piano and Crosby's jangling acoustic hanging the decorations. Phil and Billy K. swing kinetically, tight in their playing and loose in their relationship. The voices of Graham and David sing as one, tied into a harmonic strata, inseparable and perfect. Quintessentially Crosby, with its moody vibe, and dusky groove, "The Wall Song" is a period piece that when examined always offers something new. The song and lyrics are a complex stew of optimism, pessimism, and questions. When Crosby sings "What are lies?", and Garcia follows, sliding his crisp honey dipped Stratocaster licks into the fade out, words are not needed, as the emotional content is peaking in the red.
Before I can get a breath in, "Immigration Man" signals the close to the LP. Probably the most "well known" and radio friendly song on the album, its place as a concert staple to this day is a testament to its longevity. Despite its angry content, the song struts to a smile provoking melody and stomping groove. The chorus soars with the multilayered Crosby/Nash harmonies swelling and clean in their delivery. Chiming acoustics and tasteful guitar work by one David Mason are other highlights worth mentioning, in the instrumentation of this sometimes forgotten classic.
The 1972 LP Graham Nash/David Crosby is nestled in a time where both principals had found their voices both individually and collaboratively. The songwriting well was deep for the duo, cool, and clear as a mountain stream, percolating with ethereal melodies, and heavenly harmonies for a consistent period of time. With this record Crosby and Nash were no longer the little brothers to Neil Young and Stephen Stills, they were equal in all ways musically and in performance. I must admit I have a love affair with this record, and it never fails to deliver some sort of epiphany to my existence. I hope by writing this blog I keep some of these forgotten jewels relevant, so this album can deliver some sort of positive musical experience to your own life.
The Wall Song-CN