Neil Young’s second solo album, released only four months after his first, was nearly a total rejection of that polished effort. Though a couple of songs, “Round Round (It Won’t Be Long)” and “The Losing End (When You’re On),” shared that album’s country-folk style, they were altogether livelier and more assured. The difference was that, while Neil Young was a solo effort, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere marked the beginning of Young’s recording association with Crazy Horse, the trio of Danny Whitten (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums), and Billy Talbot (bass) that Young had drawn from the struggling local Los Angeles group the Rockets. With them, Young quickly cut a set of loose, guitar-heavy rock songs — “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” — that redefined him as a rock & roll artist. The songs were deliberately underwritten and sketchy as compositions, their lyrics more suggestive than complete, but that made them useful as frames on which to hang the extended improvisations (“River” and “Cowgirl” were each in the nine-to-ten-minute range) Young played with Crazy Horse and to reflect the ominous tone of his singing. Young lowered his voice from the near-falsetto employed on his debut to a more expressive range, and he sang with greater confidence, accompanied by Whitten and, on “Round Round,” by Robin Lane. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general, and it reversed his commercial fortunes, becoming a moderate hit. (Young’s joining Crosby, Stills & Nash the month after its release didn’t hurt his profile, of course.) A year and a half after its release, it became a gold album, and it has since gone platinum. And it set a musical pattern Young and his many musical descendants have followed ever since; almost 30 years later, he was still playing this sort of music with Crazy Horse, and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it.
The addition of the more technically gifted guitarist Marc Ford and a full-time organist gives the Black Crowes room to stretch out on The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, perhaps the band’s finest moment. Using Rich Robinson’s descending chord progressions as a base, the band grooves its way through a remarkably fresh-sounding collection of Faces-like rockers and ballads, tearing into the material with flair and confidence and really coming into its own as a top-notch rock & roll outfit. But while the focus is undeniably on the band’s musical chemistry, Southern Harmony also boasts a strong collection of songs, striking a perfect balance between the concise Shake Your Money Maker and their later, more jam-oriented records. While there aren’t as many obvious singles as on their debut album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is the best expression of the Crowes’ ability to take a classic, tried-and-true sound and make it their own.
Greeted with decidedly mixed reviews upon its original release, Exile on Main St. has become generally regarded as the Rolling Stones’ finest album. Part of the reason why the record was initially greeted with hesitant reviews is that it takes a while to assimilate. A sprawling, weary double album encompassing rock & roll, blues, soul, and country, Exile doesn’t try anything new on the surface, but the substance is new. Taking the bleakness that underpinned Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers to an extreme, Exile is a weary record, and not just lyrically. Jagger’s vocals are buried in the mix, and the music is a series of dark, dense jams, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor spinning off incredible riffs and solos. And the songs continue the breakthroughs of their three previous albums. No longer does their country sound forced or kitschy — it’s lived-in and complex, just like the group’s forays into soul and gospel. While the songs, including the masterpieces “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Happy,” “Let It Loose,” and “Shine a Light,” are all terrific, they blend together, with only certain lyrics and guitar lines emerging from the murk. It’s the kind of record that’s gripping on the very first listen, but each subsequent listen reveals something new. Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.
One of the most stunning debuts in rock history, and one of the definitive albums of the psychedelic era. On Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix synthesized various elements of the cutting edge of 1967 rock into music that sounded both futuristic and rooted in the best traditions of rock, blues, pop, and soul. It was his mind-boggling guitar work, of course, that got most of the ink, building upon the experiments of British innovators like Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend to chart new sonic territories in feedback, distortion, and sheer volume. It wouldn’t have meant much, however, without his excellent material, whether psychedelic frenzy (“Foxey Lady,” “Manic Depression,” “Purple Haze”), instrumental freak-out jams (“Third Stone from the Sun”), blues (“Red House,” “Hey Joe”), or tender, poetic compositions (“The Wind Cries Mary”) that demonstrated the breadth of his songwriting talents. Not to be underestimated were the contributions of drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, who gave the music a rhythmic pulse that fused parts of rock and improvised jazz. Many of these songs are among Hendrix’s very finest; it may be true that he would continue to develop at a rapid pace throughout the rest of his brief career, but he would never surpass his first LP in terms of consistently high quality. [The British and American versions of the album differed substantially when they were initially released in 1967; MCA’s 17-song reissue did everyone a favor by gathering all of the material from the two records in one place, adding a few B-sides from early singles as well.]
1970, The newly formed Queen, featuring Freddie Mercury (possibly still known as Freddie Bulsara) on vocals, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and Mike Grose on bass played their first gig at Truro City Hall, Cornwall, England. They were billed as Smile, Brian and Roger’s previous band, for whom the booking had been made originally. Original material at this time included an early version of ‘Stone Cold Crazy’.
Leaving Josie for Reprise did change the Meters, even if the change wasn’t necessarily for the better. They became slicker, jammier, and, in the conventional sense, funkier, even if the grit seemed to start to dissipate. So, even if this is just the Meters’ fourth album, Cabbage Alley does mark a sea-change in their outlook, bringing them fully into the ’70s and finding them sacrificing feel for texture, even if that’s a very subtle transition. Part of the problem is that the group doesn’t really have any good songs to hang their sounds onto, but, if you’re looking just for sounds and groove, Cabbage Alley doesn’t disappoint. the Meters’ overall feel might have gotten a little softer than necessary, but they still are a remarkably sympathetic, supple group and it’s a pleasure to hear them play. Still, there’s not much here outside of hearing them play, and while that’s pretty great, it’s hard not to wish that there were songs, even when they delve into smooth soul like “Birds” or when the group simply jams on mid-tempo grooves, that stood out from the pack. [Some reissues added two bonus tracks — both parts of “Chug Chug Chug-A-Lug (Push and Shove).”]