The Vietnam War dragged on, and the Summer of Love was firmly in the rear-view mirror, now three years past. And the mainstay of rock for the last half of the decade, psychedelicism, was now so ingrained in the culture that it became commercialized and lampooned, a soundtrack for automobile ads and monetized as lamps and furnishings for the middle class. What was edgy, underground and subversive was now mainstream, with sophomoric releases by Tommy James and the Shondells (Crimson and Clover, over and over and over and over, ad nauseam), The Cowsills, The Brady Bunch and finally the Partridge Family.
Even so, the type of hippy/love/psychedelic nonsense Frank Zappa parodied in We're Only In It For The Money in 1967 still had its powerful adherents by the end of the decade. It must be remembered that some of the most outrageous psychedelic albums of the 60s, American Metaphysical Circus, The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett, The Soft Parade by The Doors, Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Umagumma by Pink Floyd and Barabajagal by Donovan were all released in 1969. It's not like the 60s suddenly became the 70s when the calendar hit January 1st, 1970.
But what songs broke the mold of encrusted patchouli oil resinating in sandalwood splendor over this dying decade of decadence? Where did the 60s end musically, and when exactly did the sound of 70s commence? Funny thing you should ask! These are, to me anyway, 1960s songs that sound like the 1970s. I didn't go out of my way to choose the biggest hits, unless absolutely necessary; rather, I selected songs that might have fit a specific 70s-style rock template, or those certain songs that sat on a hilltop and looked out over the dawning spark of high heeled boys in elephant bells, red-haired Anglo-Saxons sporting Afros, prog gods with capes and grown men with glitter mascara.
To limit the scope of this article, I am offering rock songs that were either released in 1969 or recorded in 1969 and released early in 1970. So too, I could spend hours pontificating on the rise of 70s soul and funk from the R&B of the 1960s (with progenitors like Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brother, Parliament (and Funkadelic), The Temptations and even Jimi Hendrix (who with The Band of Gypsys offered some full-blown funk at the Fillmore one New Year's Eve, but I've included him here as he was playing a funk-rock variant). But that could take days. Maybe even years. The discussion would become even broader still if I instigated a discussion on Miles Davis' releases In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew and the advent of fusion jazz. Let's stick to rock. And the songs. In no specific order.
When people speak of a definitive beginning of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, they usually point to the milestone 1969 album In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. Arguably, one could point to earlier releases of the Nice, Moody Blues and Procol Harum, but these are inevitably closeted away in a genre know as "proto-prog" as if progressive rock sprang fully-formed out of the head of Robert Fripp like Athena in armor from the skull of her father, Zeus. It doesn't work that way, it's a process. Fripp often lauds The Beatles and the mellotron of the Moody Blues' Mike Pinder
But without argument or embellishment, no one heard anything like "21st Century Schizoid Man" when it was released in October 20, 1969 (unsurprisingly, the same day Frank Zappa's Hot Rats came out). Dark, discordant, violent -- a fusion of staccato jazz, noise and thundering pre-metal hard rock -- "21st Century Schizoid Man" sounded a death knell of the 60s (and Black Sabbath would pound the last nails in the coffin a few months later). Because of all sorts of record publishing prohibitions, the original is not available on YouTube, so here is an excellent live version from 1973. Just replace Greg Lake on vocals and bass with John Wetton, Mel Collins on sax with David Cross on violin, and Michael Giles on drums becomes Bill Bruford. Not a terrible trade-off.
The prevailing darkness at the end of the decade is best encapsulated by the psychoses of Peter Green, lead guitarist of Fleetwood Mac. Suffering from mental illness and fueled by LSD-induced dreams of a monstrous "green dog-demon" (green as in money, exemplified as the Devil in the song), Peter Green recorded this heavy, black dirge during the tail end of the Then Play On sessions in September, 1969 (released as a single May 15, 1970). Green left Fleetwood Mac five days after the single was released. "Green Manalishi" is the antithesis of Green's often joyous embrace of Elmore James, an exuberance for the blues found in such songs as "Shake Your Moneymaker", "Oh Well" and "Dust My Broom". The evil is palpable in Manalishi, and it is a precursor of much of the dark music found in the 70s and 80s (when the song was famously covered by Judas Priest).
The Allman Brothers were no ordinary group of good ol' Southern Boys from Georgia, as they counted as influences John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Little Milton, Chet Atkins and Hank Williams (how's that for an abstruse alchemical admixture?). I had considered both "Dreams" (which bassist Barry Oakley said was structured like Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" with lyrics), and "Every Hungry Woman" (which has the riff trading of dueling solo guitars so omnipresent in later Southern rock), but I kept coming back to "Whipping Post", all three from the Allman Brother's excellent self-titled debut in 1969.
Why "Whipping Post"? Well, it's a blues tune with a prominent country twang, has Gregg Allman's southern growl (a necessity thereafter if you sang in a Southern rock band), and was composed in a crazy 11/4 time signature (Gregg Allman related: "My brother told me — I guess the day I wrote it — he said, 'That's good, man. I didn’t know you understood 11/4.' Of course I said something intelligent like, 'What's 11/4?' Duane just said, 'Okay, dumb-ass, I'll try to draw it up on paper for you.'"). It is one of the band's prominent live jam compositions (some versions reaching 23 minutes in length), so later jam bands like Phish, Wilco and Gov't Mule revere it, and it has the country-blues structure and duel guitar trade-offs of the Southern rock bands that followed: Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Molly Hatchett, Blackfoot, etc.
For much of their early career, Fairport were Bob Dylan acolytes, even to the point of ethereal-voiced Sandy Denny singing Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" in French as"Si Tu Dois Partir", but another song from Unhalfbricking (released in 1969), a traditional 18th century British Broadside titled "A Sailor's Life", forever changed the British folk movement; whereas Dylan electrified American folk at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, nothing much was done with British folk on electrics prior to Fairport in 1969 (Brit-folk adherents like Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Roy Harper, John Renbourn and Martin Carthy remained in an acoustic mode for much of their careers).
But from that single electric folk tune on Unhalfbricking burgeoned one of the finest folk albums of all time (electric or otherwise), Liege and Lief (also released in 1969), and in its train a whole troop of electric minstrels like Steeleye Span, Comus, Horslips, and later Pentangle and Strawbs albums. Liege and Lief has British Ballads "Reynardine" (Roud 397), "Tam Lin" (Child 39) and the song I selected, "Matty Groves", a border "murder ballad" (listed as Child Ballad 81) featuring the sultry vocals of Sandy Denny and the fabulous interplay of Richard Thompson's guitar and Dave Swarbick's fiddle. It is timeless and yet of the time.
Argue amongst yourselves if you consider Can's Monster Movie or Amon Düül II's Phallus Dei as the first proper and genuine Krautrock album, I had to go with the album title which translates from the Latin to God's Penis. It certainly could be listed as psychedelic (and I would suggest any album with a song titled "Freak Out Requiem" has elements of psychedelia), but like most later Krautrock, there is something going on here that is entirely not psychedelic. Listen to the 20+ minute-long title song and you'll hear snippets of American country, jazz, classical, church choir, Middle-eastern drone, Oriental, African rhythms and Dylanesque rhymes, all generously interspersed with psych guitars. Weird and strangely energizing, this is a progenitor of much of the wild and wonderful stuff from Krautrock bands like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Neu!, who eventually turned from the more organic sounds and instrumentation of early Amon Düül II to compositions more electronic in nature. And yet the weirdness remained.
1969 proved to be a turning point for Tull. Not only had they traded in blues guitarist Mick Abraham for the more rock-oriented Martin Barre, but their music literally exploded in directions far beyond their blues-rock beginnings. The superlative album Stand Up not only offered the Bach-cum-cocktail jazz stylings of "Bourée", the Middle-Eastern drone and mandolin blues of "Fat Man" and the sophisticated jazzy blues-rock of "Nothing Is Easy", but the incredibly fruitful Stand Up sessions also offered the hit single "Living in the Past" (with it's exotic and wholly non-poppy 5/4 time signature) and the song I've featured here "Sweet Dream"(a separate single also released in 1969).
If Stand Up was a radical departure from Tull's first album This Was, it still has several of the blues trappings found on their debut, albeit more classical, folkish and jazzy than the original. "Sweet Dream", however, is neither bluesy or jazzy, it is a mad orchestral march inside a wholly 70s hard rock format embellished with the Tull traits that mark the band's greatest 70s offerings, like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick: wild time signature changes, Martin Barre's heavy rock guitar interspersed with Ian Anderson's underrated acoustic passages, Ian's trilling flute, and the unheralded David (Dee) Palmer's grand orchestral arrangements which marked so many of Tull's best songs from the 70s. Hell, even a silly song like War Child's "Bungle in the Jungle" was transformed by Palmer's string arrangement. "Sweet Dream" is a prog tune from 1969 writ in miniature at four minutes. Three years later, they'd expand a single prog song to 44 minutes.
Interestingly enough, just before Martin Barre joined Jethro Tull as lead guitarist full-time, Tony Iommi played with Tull for one gig (The Rolling Stone's Rock and Roll Circus). Tull and Iommi were on different planes musically, and he left amicably and formed Black Sabbath from the remnants of his earlier band Earth. The result was literally diabolical!
We can point to many songs that mark a decided turn away from the sounds of the 1960s, but none so much as Sabbath's "Black Sabbath". Please God help me! This is the primeval sound of metal, skipping 70s hard rock altogether. The direct references to Hell and Satan are gut-wrenching, and were absolutely frightening at the time of the album's release (recorded in October, 1969 but not released until February, 1970), and when the song kicks in at about 4:35 it is a heavy metal nightmare. Who knew a wah-wah could sound so inherently evil?
Amusingly, the album was almost universally panned by rock critics at the time: Lester Bangs referred to the self-titled album Black Sabbath as "just like Cream, but worse," and Robert Christgau wrote the album off as "bullshit necromancy". By the way, Christgau is the same asshole who gave the New York Dolls' first album 5 stars, and placed them among The Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry as one of rock's greats. So yeah, there's that for an utter lack of critical discernment.
Mixed in with Zeppelinesque electric ballads, Willie Dixon blues thumpers, and acoustic folk numbers is the true WTF? moment on Zeppelin's 1969 debut album (often referred to as I, followed by II, III and IV). The spastic "Communication Breakdown" is a sudden slap in the face more akin to Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" from 1970 than anything you'll hear from the 1960s. It is more punk than blues, a prehistoric rendering of 1980s power-pop tunes.
There is, of course, the juvenile enjoyment I remember clearly from the first time I heard it. Halfway through the song, everyone suddenly looked at each other in amazement and said in unison, "Did Robert Plant just scream, 'Suck it'?" Yes kids, this was before the internet and we had to find things like rock idols shrieking obscenities to amuse ourselves. And then there's one of the wilder Jimmy Page leads you'll ever hear, created by playing a Fender Telecaster through a fully closed Vox wah-wah pedal to create what Page called a "guitar in a shoebox". It is said that none other than Johnny Ramone patterned his downstroke guitar style from Page's frenetic riffs.
While Janis Joplin was growling the blues, Joan Baez was warbling folk and Carole King was writing songs for other singers, Joni Mitchell dropped much of the folkie trappings from her first album and on Clouds offered songs of mature introspection, and became the first female exemplar of the singer/songwriter model so prevalent in the 1970s, a period that would include her greatest albums (like Blue and Court and Spark).
Her 1969 version of "Both Sides Now" is more melancholy than the snappier Judy Collins (a huge hit single for her, written by Joni before her debut release in 1968 -- side B of the Collin's single is "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" written by none other than Sandy Denny mentioned earlier), and "Chelsea Morning" was a hit for Gloria Loring. But "I Think I Understand" deals with mental illness in a way never really broached in pop music up to that time, and is representative of the psychological narratives of love and loss that mark her later, greater albums. A poet's words with an angel's voice.
Released in October of 1969, the album Hot Rats saw Frank Zappa slip the congenial confines of The Mothers of Invention and their sometimes sophomoric lyrical snark for a more expansive venture into rock/jazz fusion. Of course, "Peaches En Regalia" is the fusion masterpiece of this release, but "Willie the Pimp" is the only rock song on a jazz album, and one that also has lyrics (sung by none other than Captain Beefheart) as the rest of the compositions are instrumentals. In addition, there is a sustained several minute wild lead by Zappa that bears no similarity to any other guitar lead you will hear anywhere in the 1960s. Love the biting violin work of Don "Sugarcane" Harris as well, fiddling with a discordant rhythm that was anything but classical.
Let's put things in context. It's 1969, the MC5 is well known around Detroit as incendiary and perhaps a bit insane (they purposely played in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention in hopes of starting a riot, were the house band for the subversive White Panther Party, and regularly kept assault rifles in the house they stayed in downtown). So, it's not surprising that the song I've chosen starts out with the immortal line bellowed by MC5 singer Rob Tyner, "It's time to...KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!" Again, please recall this was 1969. For years, they had to sanitize the opening salvo for radio play to "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters", but everyone knew what the hell had been said on the album, and everyone yelled out the correct lyrics, drowning out the radio edit with the appropriate obscenity
Like Iggy and the Stooges who played up the road in Ann Arbor, Detroit's MC5 were the equivalent of an industrial enema flushing the trappings of psychedelic peace and love from rock music. They were punk but louder, they were grunge in the truest sense of the word.
Classically prog ELP-style organ, jazz horns and piano, Cream-style rock drums variating with a more fusion style, punk vocals with a 12 bar blues opening, a brief Gregorian chant and a nod to The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", all crammed into one song in 1969. That's all you have to know about this composition.
Ever wonder why The Eagles sounded like they did in the early 70s? Well, it certainly helped that the guitarist for the Flying Burrito Brothers second album Burrito Deluxe was Bernie Leadon, who eventually played guitar for The Eagles' first three albums. It also helped the Burrito Brothers' songwriting duo of Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons made up half of the Byrd's on their great country-rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), a release that proved influential to The Eagles style of songwriting (and every other country-rock band thereafter).
But the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin was perhaps even more remarkable than Sweetheart of the Rodeo: less rock, more country, but with additional intonations of soul, folk, gospel and an occasional bit of psychedelia (listen to the demented pedal steel on "Christine's Tune"). It is converted country, a style that would become more pronounced as The Eagles, Jackson Browne and many country acts filtered it through the prism of the 1970s; in fact the entire alternative country movement can look back at this album and Sweetheart of the Rodeo as the reason every last damn country song recently is actually a rock song not-so-cleverly disguised with a twang, a cowboy hat and a pedal steel guitar.
The Chicago Transit Authority album is superb. Really, it is. But songs like the above mentioned "Does Anybody Know What Time It is" and "Beginnings" from that 1969 release were repeated on subsequent albums with such alarming regularity that they eventually eliminated all the hard rock and jazzy numbers, until it happened...Chicago invented 1970s soft rock. So every time you hear Air Supply, Toto, Seals and Crofts, The Atlanta Rhythm Section, Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross, Pablo Cruise or The Little River Band, remember, it was Chicago's fault.
Of course, Soft Machine's most recognized album is Third, but we're talking about pre-1970, and since I haven't mentioned the Canterbury Scene, that weirdly psychedelic and proggy mish-mash of bands huddled together around the Cathedral where Chaucer's pilgrims were heading for in the 14th century (and who have absolutely nothing to do with what I am talking about, really), I will have to say that the best of the very early Canterbury stuff is Soft Machine's Volume Two.
Featuring Robert Wyatt (originally of the Wilde Flowers, as was nearly everyone associated with the Canterbury Scene) on drums and lead vocals, with Mike Ratledge on keyboards and flute, Hugh Hopper on bass and acoustic guitars, and occasionally Hugh's brother Brian on sax, Soft Machine was on the British cusp of fusion jazz and progressive rock (which at the time was not mutually exclusive). This version of Zappa-esquely titled "Esther's Nose Job" (and I would suggest that Robert Wyatt's humor could be just as perverse as Zappa's) isn't from the original album, but good luck finding that on the internet. Quite swinging in any case.
A contemporary patron saint of Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand and Carole King (who was probably convinced to cut her own records rather than write for other singers due to Nyro's success), and a huge influence to every female performer from Kate Bush to Suzanne Vega to Tori Amos. You could listen to any number of Nyro-performed songs and hear bits and pieces borrowed by each of the artists I've mentioned above. And she was equally acclaimed by male performers, like 70s stalwarts Elton John, Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren, who accounted Nyro as a major influence.
Lauro Nyro is unique among the female artists of the time because she did not arrive at her her singing and compositional style through folk music; rather, her palette was more R&B, soul and gospel (Leontyne Price and Billie Holiday being early influences). The song "Save the Country" is from her biggest selling album, New York Tendaberry. The song itself encapsulates much of the vocal stylings and piano passages one would find in releases of her acolytes in the 1970s.rite martian. How can he not be? He seems equally loved by folkies, metalheads, punks and country fans.
"1969", how appropriate! Listen to the urgency of the distorted guitar as it slices through the song, the sloppy wah-wah lead, the listless, shuffling drums, off-kilter hand claps and the sinister but nihilistic overtones of Iggy Pop, and hear the birth of punk rock. It's garage rock without the garage. Throw in "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and is there any doubt that Iggy would just kick Joey Ramone's scrawny New York ass? Boo-hoo!
Songs are often referred to as timeless. You can try to pin down the period or the era, but the song defies an epoch, and sometimes defies categorization. The Band had that ability. Many of their songs didn't sound like they came from the 1960s, and they didn't sound like they came from a previous generation either. I could point to songs like "The Weight", "Chest Fever", "Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as examples.
"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is equal parts rock, folk and country with a century old storyline from the Civil War. The Band so influenced artists like George Harrison and Eric Clapton in their 1970s albums, that Clapton at one time wanted to join the band (or The Band, rather), but they also influenced disparate groups and performers like Bruce Springsteen (who commercialized The Band's brand of Americana and sold it to the masses), Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, and later The Black Crows, Phish, The Driveby Truckers and My Morning Jacket. It's that enigmatic aura that entrances each generation. Rest in peace, Levon.
The sessions for Deep Purple in Rock started in October, 1969 (it was eventually released in June, 1970). Just prior to the sessions, on September 24, 1969 to be exact, Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Purple organist Jon Lord's three-movement Concerto for Group and Orchestra before a live audience at the Royal Albert Hall (it was eventually released on album that December). I would like to think the classical aura from the Albert Hall recording reverberated through the In Rock sessions where Deep Purple produced what many consider the group's most progressive composition, "Child in Time".
It really isn't that progressive -- most of the song consists of repeating three power chords followed by a three chord turnaround and back to the original three chords -- but for whatever reason the 10 minute-long presentation, Ian Gillan's incredibly high-pitched shrieks, the occasional drumming march, a really excellent 2 minute-long Ritchie Blackmore solo, and Jon Lord's omnipresent Hammond organ, the sum of its parts gives an impression of majesty and depth. Every hard rock band in the world would emulate that sound (Uriah Heep often being accused of being Deep Purple copy-cats).
Adding tremolo and distortion boxes to Peter Hammill's already idiosyncratic vocals seems like overkill, but hey, it's an exotic early piece of apocalyptic VdGG progressivity (from The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, recorded in December, 1969 and released in February of the following year). Featuring the crazed Rahsaan Roland Kirk-ish double alto and tenor saxes of David Jackson, limited electric guitar (in fact, most of it was overdubbed in afterthought), and an exuberance of Farfisa organ. Way before it's time. If it had a time to begin with.
James Taylor's self-titled debut album was quite well-received by critics, and there are a few absolutely beautiful songs on his first release ("Carolina in My Mind" and "Something in the Way She Moves" being two), but critical favor didn't translate into box office profit, and one helluva drug addiction at the time limited his efforts to promote the album. Needless to say, at the time he was about to release his second album, the landmark "Sweet Baby James" (recorded in December, 1969, released in February, 1970), Taylor was homeless, crashing anywhere he could, usually on a sofa at guitarist Danny Kortchmar's house.
But lo and behold! Taylor scored a major hit with the starkly beautiful but hopelessly melancholy "Fire and Rain" which for all intents and purposes began the 1970s love affair with the Singer/Songwriter category of performers that included Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Warren Zevon, Gordon Lightfoot, and from across the pond Elton John and Cat Stevens. Pretty soon, singer/songwriters were falling out of the woodwork, not to be abated until MTV basically ended the genre.
If you look at various rock music sites they often refer to this song as "psychedelic", which I think is a misnomer. Certainly, it has mellotron (thank you, young Mr. Rick Wakeman, later of Yes), and spacey guitars, but the point is an aural rendition of space travel, and the ethereal feel of the song, particularly the barely audible, bass heavy build-up during the intro, is a nod to Also Sprach Zarathustra, which in turn is an allusion (as is the song title) to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a very popular film in theaters the year previously. Also, the song was timely in regards to its release during the Apollo 11 moon mission (the BBC refused to play the song until the astronauts returned to earth orbit safely).
And the story of our intrepid astronaut, Major Tom, who loses touch with ground control and his wife back on earth, mirrors in some aspects the character David Bowman of A Space Odyssey, who becomes dissociative from reality after disconnecting the computer HAL and coming in contact with the mysterious black monolith. Of course, Bowie himself revised the meaning behind Major Tom in a later song "Ashes to Ashes": "Ashes to ashes / Funk to funky/ We know Major Tom's a junkie / Strung out in heaven's high / Hitting an all-time low." So, whether Tom was drug-addled or simply spaced is up for conjecture. Whichever the case, "Space Oddity" is Bowie's first foray into what was later termed "art-rock", and the song itself was an extraterrestrial touchstone that Bowie returned to quite often in the 70s, with songs like "Life on Mars" and the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
The advent of cowbell in 1970s rock. Recorded in late 1969 and released as both a single and part of the album Climbing in March, 1970, "Mississippi Queen" is the quintessential rock song of the era, one that was emulated by other hard rock bands like Foghat, Nazareth and Montrose. And Blue Öyster Cult borrowed the cow bell, of course. The "Great Fatsby" Leslie West laid down the heaviest 1970s riff ever.
You know what they say about folk guitar: if it's Baroque, don't fix it. Poor Roy Harper! Known and loved by a large circle of Brit musicians like Jimmy Page, Ian Anderson, Kate Bush, Pete Townshend, Al Stewart and Pink Floyd, but virtually unknown by the population at large. Even his greatest albums, particularly 1971's Stormcock, were hailed as sublime acoustic prog-folk but which couldn't sell with substantial rebates and a free Frisbee.
Perhaps it's because many of his songs, like this composition "McGoohan's Blues" from Harper's 1969 release Folkjokeopus, clocks in at nearly 18 minutes. He never had a hit single, never had a gold album. Just one of those musicians who influenced a whole herd of influencers.
How can a band that profoundly influenced rock music from the late 60s and beyond sound so bad? Ladies and gentleman, I have seen the future and it sucks. I am revulsed every time I hear Lou Reed sing. Banal lyrics, sloppy musicianship, and Nico as the fuzzy maraschino cherry on top -- but I cannot deny the crazy amount of bands and performers who consider Reed and Underground their muse...from Bowie to Bono, from Roxy Music to REM, from the Sex Pistols to Sonic Youth. Some critics insist he invented post-punk before punk was even a thing. I prefer John Cale's solo stuff, personally.
Anyway, here's "Pale Blue Eyes" from the 1969 release The Velvet Underground. The kinder, gentler Velvet Underground. Lou Reed as a minstrel. Breathe in the profundity and be influenced.
"Down by the river, I shot my baby -- dead." Yeah, there was a reason that Neil Young didn't get along with Crosby, Stills and Nash, managing to squeeze out only one studio album and a live album in between fist fights. Neil was on his own trip, one that would wind its strange way through the 1970s from the apocalyptic After the Gold Rush to the punk distortion of Rust Never Sleeps. And this alien force infused in Young's repertoire is on full display on 1969's sublime Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
The first thing you notice is the addition of distortion, quite apparent in the hit "Cinnamon Girl" and extended, epic jams like "Cowgirl in the Sand", but evident even in relatively quiet songs like "Down by the River". Then you notice Young's single note leads, full of sustain and distortion, never virtuosic, but compelling and memorable nonetheless. And then you suddenly realize you're signing along to Neil murdering his girlfriend down by the river. And you don't care, because the death is oddly satisfying. You don't know how you got there, but you are now an accomplice in Neil Young's inherent weirdness. The 70s were like that with Neil.
Had he lived, who knows where Jimi Hendrix's guitar would have taken him? Driven by the incredibly funk-heavy bass line of Billy Cox, Hendrix overlays the beat with hard rock, funk and blues guitar riffs in an improvisational tour de force. How improvisational? Please note the above recording is from the second of four shows at the Fillmore East held on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970, and the song is titled "Power of Soul". The live album Band of Gypsys features the same song but played on New Year's Day, and the title of the song changed to "Power to Love". It was sensibly changed back to the original title "Power of Soul" on later releases. During the live recordings of other songs during the New Year's Eve sets, Hendrix admitted the lyrics were being made up as they went along.
But Hendrix's new direction included leaving his original band The Experience, and jamming instead with his old army buddy Billy Cox and former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles. The funk is as heavy as the rock in these sessions, and Jimi's willingness to improvise and share the stage as "Band of Gypsys" instead of "Jimi Hendrix and Generic Band" is a departure from his previous modus operandi. This also included sharing lead vocals with Buddy Miles.
He was also intending to branch out into jazz. Hendrix played a few sessions in 1969 with Jazz/R&B sax player King Curtis, and Jimi had discussed a session with orchestra leader Gil Evans before he died (in Jimi's honor, Evans ended up conducting an all-Jimi Hendrix jazz concert at Carnegie Hall). Alas, we can only wistfully surmise the exotic rock-funk-jazz variations he would have released in the 1970s. Hendrix had already drastically altered the assumptions regarding what could be done with the guitar in the 60s, he could certainly have thrown those assumptions ass-over-apple cart in the following decade. How much funk was in Jimi? Noted funk-master George Clinton once noted the sudden assimilation of hot funk into the late 60s musical stew by saying: "Me and Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix, we were eating at the same lunch counter [laughs]".
This is not your older brother's Beatles. This is primal and incessantly violent, lacking any of Paul McCartney's melodicism or restraint (it was pitched as a Beatles single after Abbey Road, but Paul turned it down). Depending on which story you wish to believe, this is either the aural experience of Lennon kicking the heroin addiction he acquired at the tail-end of his Beatles career, or the tale of severe food poisoning Lennon and Yoko Ono suffered after eating Christmas leftovers "cold turkey". Given the harrowing ending with Lennon's shrieks and growls, I'd tend to believe the former rather than the latter.
In any case, 1969's "Cold Turkey" single was the direct musical predecessor to Lennon's solo masterpiece John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released a year later in 1970. Like that album, the song is raw and psychologically riveting, with minimal arrangements, no superfluous instrumentation and without effervescent harmonies. Lennon would say "I don't believe in Beatles" and "The dream is over"on the Plastic Ono Band''s final song "God", which effectively told the world in 1970 that an era was at an end, but a year previous "Cold Turkey" was the actual metal musical stake to the heart of the Fab Four and the 60s. Oh, by the way, that's Eric Clapton sharing guitar shredding with Lennon.