David Bowie “Hunky Dory”

Hunky Dory

File this under “No kidding.” Who cares if this album is holding an outside straight of massive Bowie classics (Changes, Oh! You Pretty Things, Life On Mars, Queen Bitch).

The problem is the powerhouses tend to overshadow the real gems here. Kooks has to be the best song on this record! Quicksand is great as well, a well orchestrated ballad with rock band climaxes. The ultra catchy Fill Your Heart is another beautiful, piano-led, tune.

With Andy Warhol and Song For Bob Dylan following (before the undeniable Queen Bitch) it’s a wonder people consider The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust the better record. Anyway, that’s more of a Ziggy record than a Bowie record.

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Algarnas Tradgard “Garden of the Elks”

Algarnas Tradgard

There are 7 tracks on 1972’s Garden of the Elks album by the mighty Algarnas Tradgard. Within these grooves are some of the spaciest rock ever committed to tape. It’s an underground masterpiece and just one example as to how fertile the Swedish rock scene was in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Anyone who enjoyed A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, or Amon Duul’s masterpieces will love this staggering record. The band was a loose knit community of artists, musicians and freaks who were into the avante garde and local folk scenes. You can hear these influences within the song structures and the way these musicians approach their instruments (the violin is an excellent touch!). The album itself is one of the eeriest recordings of its time and vocals are shared among male and female vocalists.

Children of Possibilities vaguely recalls Nico’s work with the Velvet Underground on their monumental debut, including bashing gongs, violin, a great production and serene, tripped out vocals. There are a couple of monster instrumentals that bookend the album. Two Hours Over Two Blue Mountains is a strong avante garde instrumental that drones for nearly 13 and a half minutes!! Rings of Saturn may be the album’s centerpiece though. It’s 7 minutes of pure acid space with some superb guitar playing and an overall doom laden feel.

I cannot express how essential this exploratory album is for heads (people into psychedelia). Garden of the Elks is so forward looking that even today, people still have not unlocked its secrets nor do they understand its worth. Anyone wanting to dig a little deeper should check out bands such as International Harvester, Amon Duul, and Embryo.

This album is listed either as “Garden of the Elks” or “Framtiden AR Ett.”

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“Children of Possibilities”

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Margo Guryan “Take a Picture”

Take A Picture

Story goes: when Margo heard “God Only Knows” for the first time, she dropped everything. Steeped in jazz and composition, Pet Sounds was just what she wanted to hear. Inspired, and working in the glow of Brian’s masterpiece, Margo began work on “Take A Picture.”

The first thing to notice is Margo’s voice, a unique upper register whisper. Sunday Morning sounds like a garage funk band with studio rat talent. The album’s production is wonderful in that it is so expert, but never showy.

A sunday morning staple. It’s jazz, slightly psych pop, with all the ornaments of the Pet Sounds orchestra. A brilliant record, and I must also recommend the (almost more) wonderful 25 Demos as well.

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“Take A Picture”

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Barclay James Harvest “Their First Album”

Barclay James Harvest

Barclay James Harvest were one of England’s most unappreciated, hardluck underground bands throughout the 60’s and 70’s. They released a handful a good albums and came very close to major stardom.

Often labeled the “poor man’s Moody Blues,” Barclay James Harvest began their career in or around 1967. In 1968, they released their superb debut single, Early Morning. Early Morning was a confident, mellotron drenched psychedelic ballad that should have gained them notoriety but failed to do so (sounding similar to a really good cut on the Zombie’s Odessey and Oracle). Another good prog-psych single followed but did little to enhance their reputation.

In 1970, their outstanding debut was released in a gorgeous stained-glass illustrated sleeve. Barclay James Harvest (self-titled) was absolutely dynamite, opening up with Taking Some Time On. This song has some seriously vicious, punky psychedelic guitar riffs and hard hitting drums. It’s a pummeling, devastating rock song and a great way to open up this debut, displaying a mature band with wildly inventive ideas. The next song, Mother Dear is a beautiful acoustic composition augmented with strings that is almost a response to the Move’s classic Beautiful Daughter (from Shazaam). Another highlight is The Sun Will Never Shine, a great piece of dramatic progressive psychedelia highlighted by great use of mellotron. The album closes with the 12 minute Dark Now My Sky, which is a sterling example of early progressive rock.

There are no false steps on Barclay James Harvest and this great record never fails to challenge and reward its listeners.

The whole album is absolutely wonderful, finding some kind of middle ground between the Move, psychedelic era Pretty Things and late 60’s Procol Harum. A genuinely fantastic album that is not to be missed, pitched half way between the psych and prog eras.

mp3: Taking Some Time On

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Stained Glass “Crazy Horse Roads”

Crazy Horse Roads

The wonderful world of Crazy Horse Roads, released in 1968 by Stained Glass, has been unjustly forgotten with the passing of time. The band started out life covering Beatles songs in San Jose, California. Their first single, a cover of the Beatles’ If I Needed Someone was released in 1966. It was a respectable cover of the Beatle’s classic though the flip was better, being a moody folk-rock original.

The single tanked, prompting the band to quickly release the self-penned My Buddy Sin later on that year. My Buddy Sin was an excellent folk rock song with wailing harmonica, soaring harmonies, sharp lyrics and an acid tinged production. This single failed to attract attention despite it’s quality, forcing the band to record a brill building classic for their next 45.

In the 1960’s, artists and rock bands depended on the success of the single to grant them artistic and creative control/freedom (making albums). We Got A Long Way To Go was a huge local hit, well executed, pleasant enough and professional, though betraying the band’s roots and creative aspirations. A few other decent though commercially unsuccessful singles followed in the psychedelic pop vein. Eventually the band was granted freedom to record two albums on the Capital label.

Crazy Horse Roads is a unique effort, and much different from their jam oriented Aurora album. There are some solid psych pop songs (Night Cap, Twiddle My Thumbs and Fingerpainting), soul rock (Two Make One and Fahrenheit), galloping country-rock (Horse On Me) and hard folk-rockers (Light Down Below, Doomsday, I Sing You Sing, and Soap and Turkey). Doomsday really stands out as the lost mini classic though, with some huge vibrating fuzz riffs, hard strumming accoustic guitars, tight harmonies and a psychedelic production. Night Cap is also a really good bouncy, twisted psych pop song with a British influence. You never know whats coming next throughout the album and the band’s sound resembles Moby Grape, HMS Bounty and Buffalo Springfield.

Aurora, released the following year (1969), is only half a good album finding the band indulging in a guitar based San Fransisco ballroom style. Jim McPherson, the founding member of Stained Glass, went on to form Copperhead with Quicksilver’s John Cippolina. Together they made one expensive (for the time), quality album that was overlooked in it’s day. Oh, and by the way, this album is housed in arguably the greatest cover of the 60’s.

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Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit, and Greenhill “The Unwritten Works Of Geoffrey, Etc.”

The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc.

This is an accomplished album for a band that was barely noticed in their day. In fact, their real names are David Bullock, John Carrick, Scott Fraser, Philip White, and Eddie K. Lively. With the exception of the horrible, trippy music hall influenced Street In Paris, The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc. is loaded with good songs.

I don’t believe these guys ever played any live gigs as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill. More or less WCDG were a group of friends experimenting with the sounds of the day. They did this sort of experimentation in their basements until they were rewarded a recording contract. This Texas foursome knew how to write, play and sing and could compete on a number of levels with any peers you care to name. They were a one of a kind band that blended folk, blues, country, psychedelia, soul, and rock seamlessly (think Moby Grape or Buffalo Springfield).

The opening song, The Viper, sounds like a lost track from an early Allman Brothers album, being a great blend of outlaw country and folk rock. Day of Childhood is an intense, psychedelic classic with some great Byrds influenced Rickenbacker guitar, Neil Young-like vocals and swirling backwards guitar solos. Other great moments are House of Collection which is highlighted by some creepy, dazed organ and the righteous droning psych of Ready To Move. The remaining compositions combine folk, light psychedelia and country elements effectively, making this album full of variety.

The band released one more album in the early 70’s, changing their name to Space Opera. Space Opera is a pretty unique effort as well, mixing Byrds influenced folk/country with the burgeoning progressive rock scene.

“Day Of Childhood”

Don’t Buy Fallout or Radioactive

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Frank Zappa “We’re Only In It For The Money”

We’re Only In It For The Money

Not everybody has the time and/or interest to invest in collecting the entire Frank Zappa discography, but if you are interested in rock music enough to be here, reading this, you need to at least acquaint yourself with this album.

The original album cover shown above really says it all. For The Money is Zappa’s thesis statement on the music culture surrounding him during the summer of love. It goes something like this: “every town must have a place where phony hippies meet, psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street.”

Yet, when I listen to this album, I don’t hear biting, social satire, as so many reviewers will mention. Yes it’s there, but how can I concentrate on the lyrics when there is a such an astounding musical arrangement. Zappa’s mastery of the studio is evident in every millisecond of sound; drum toms, orchestral instrumentation, clean treble guitar chords and melodies, sped up vocals, saxophone fills, and affected tape samples combine to create an unimaginable, indescribable sound.

The record is a fantastic journey and I never get tired of taking it. It’s funny too, after a few listens, once you start to get used to FZ’s humor. It is important to remember that Frank Zappa was a classical composer that merely used the pop music of the day to paint his own picture. He was an accomplished genius whose hardest drug was a cigarette. All of his work is superb, though the early Mothers stuff is the best, and this one is cream of the crop, unlike any other.

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“Who Needs The Peace Corps”

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We All Together (self-titled)

We All Together

We All Together’s first album came out sometime in the early 70’s. The band hailed from Peru and had roots in Laghonia, who themselves released two good late 60’s psychedelic albums. The music is written and sung in English and has a strong late 60’s Beatles influence.

Not the most original album of the year, We All Together is very good though, including four covers of Paul McCarthy/Badfinger and ten group originals. The covers are strong including great versions of Tomorrow, Carry On Till Tomorrow and Some People Never Know.

The original compositions are what make this album worth owning. Hey Revolution sounds like a White Album era outtake with Lennonesque vocals and hard blues guitar riffs. The same goes for Dear Sally which is also characterized by some angry vocals and pounding piano that recall Lennon’s first proper solo album, Plastic Ono Band. This really hints at how tight a grip the Beatle’s influence was on musicians throughout the world (keep in mind the Beatles were falling apart at this juncture). It’s A Sin To Go Away is the most popular song on this album due to it’s inclusion on the Nuggets compilation. This South American psychedelic classic begins with Procol Harum style organ then procedes with thick fuzz guitar riffs, backward and phased guitar solos and helium high vocals.

None of the songs reach this kind of high but overall the album does not have any real weak points and is solid all the way through. We All Together released another strong album the following year entitled 2. These albums are recommended to fans of power pop and Beatles inspired rock.

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“Some People Never Know”

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The Flatlanders “More a Legend Than a Band”

More A Legend Than A Band

This became my favorite new record in under a full day. Normally, we are looking at albums that we’ve sat with, kinda know inside out, but this is an emergency. It’s been an evil secret that nobody told me about this one sooner.

Originally released in 1972, and only available on 8-track cassette until 1990, when it was finally put out on CD- just in time for the alt-country kids to scoop it up- this is a perfect country album. If you’ve ever detected a note of irony when the Byrds put their cowboy hearts on for Sweetheart, this is the record to set you straight. The real deal (and you know because it’s on Rounder).

It’s hard to describe what it is about the sweet spot this record hits, but here’s a shot: The Flatlanders match an electric sound with acoustic, bluegrass instrumentation (sans banjo). They play in an old-timey (lazy fiddle) way with a swing in their step, and add a nice psych touch with the musical saw (imagine a tasteful theremin adding hints of accompaniment on about half the record). Jimmie Dale’s singing is A+ number one and the harmony is also great. Oh and listen to that fine dobro work on Stars In My Life.

Or look at it this way: 13 great new songs to love, a beautiful forgotten classic for your shelves, and a serious contender for Sweetheart of the Rodeo’s coveted country-rock trophy spot. Yes, it’s the newest record in my collection, but I think I would grab for it first on my way to the island.

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“Jole Blon”

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Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

Mr. Fantasy

Bookending the mega radio hit, Dear Mr. Fantasy, are the wild and varied sonic experiences that comprise this classic psych record: Traffic’s debut, Mr. Fantasy.

Stevie Winwood was a prodigy with one of the great mellow rock voices and some crazy organ skills; by age 15 he was singing with The Spencer Davis Group and by age 20 he was playing with Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix, but before that he joined up with Dave Mason to create this short-lived supergroup and they kicked it off with a most interesting bang.

On Mr. Fantasy, we get a little something for everyone: a campy british melody here; a driving drum kit there, horns, strings, and sitars, some weirdo dialog bits, experimental audio collage, and some absolutely must-hear beautiful songs in No Face, No Name, No Number, Coloured Rain, and my personal favorite, Heaven Is In Your Mind.

Tunes like Giving To You and House For Everyone may present a challenge for the less psych-minded among us but not very much. The great thing about Mr. Fantasy is that it’s both adventurously catchy and accessibly far out. I know this for sure, as I spent night-after-middle-school-night soaking this record in with my young, impressionable, untrained Led Zeppelin and Doors loving ears.

And thankfully, no 20-minute On The Road style Traffic jams! Got to give it up for this classic gem! You rule Stevie!

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“Heaven Is In Your Mind”

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