Released this month in 1969! At San Quentin ~ Johnny Cash

johnny_cash-san_quentin-300

To put the performance on Johnny Cash at San Quentin in a bit of perspective: Johnny Cash’s key partner in the Tennessee Two, guitarist Luther Perkins, died in August 1968, just seven months before this set was recorded in February 1969. In addition to that, Cash was nearing the peak of his popularity — his 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison, was a smash success — but he was nearly at his wildest in his personal life, which surely spilled over into his performance. All of this sets the stage for Johnny Cash at San Quentin, a nominal sequel to At Folsom Prison that surpasses its predecessor and captures Cash at his rawest and wildest. Part of this is due to how he feeds off of his captive audience, playing to the prisoners and seeming like one of them, but it’s also due to the shifting dynamic within the band. Without Perkins, Cash isn’t tied to the percolating two-step that defined his music to that point. Sure, it’s still there, but it has a different feel coming from a different guitarist, and Cash sounds unhinged as he careens through his jailhouse ballads, old hits, and rockabilly-styled ravers, and even covers the Lovin’ Spoonful (“Darlin’ Companion”). No other Johnny Cash record sounds as wild as this. He sounds like an outlaw and renegade here, which is what gives it power — listen to “A Boy Named Sue,” a Shel Silverstein composition that could have been too cute by half, but is rescued by the wild-eyed, committed performance by Cash, where it sounds like he really was set on murdering that son of a bitch who named him Sue. He sounds that way throughout the record, and while most of the best moments did make it to the original 1969 album, the 2000 Columbia/Legacy release eclipses it by presenting nine previously unreleased bonus tracks, doubling the album’s length, and presenting such insanely wild numbers as “Big River” as well as sweeter selections like “Daddy Sang Bass.” Now, that’s the only way to get the record, and that’s how it should be, because this extra material makes a legendary album all the greater — in fact, it helps make a case that this is the best Johnny Cash album ever cut.

Released this month in 1972! Obscured By Clouds ~ Pink Floyd

Pink_Floyd_-_Obscured_by_Clouds

Obscured by Clouds is the soundtrack to the Barbet Schroeder film La Vallée, and it plays that way. Of course, it’s possible to make the argument that Pink Floyd’s music of the early ’70s usually played as mood music, similar to film music, but it had structure and a progression. Here, the instrumentals float pleasantly, filled with interesting textures, yet they never seem to have much of a purpose. Often, they seem quite tied to their time, either in their spaciness or in the pastoral folkiness, two qualities that are better brought out on the full-fledged songs interspersed throughout the record. Typified by “Burning Bridges” and “Wot’s…uh the Deal,” these songs explore some of the same musical ground as those on Atom Heart Mother and Meddle, yet they are more concise and have a stronger structure. But the real noteworthy numbers are the surprisingly heavy blues-rocker “The Gold It’s in The…,” which, as good as it is, is trumped by the stately, ominous “Childhood’s End” and the jaunty pop tune “Free Four,” two songs whose obsessions with life, death, and the past clearly point toward Dark Side of the Moon. (“Childhood’s End” also suggests Dark Side in its tone and arrangement.) As startlingly advanced as these last two songs are, they’re not enough to push the rest of Obscured by Clouds past seeming just like a soundtrack, yet these tunes, blended with the sensibility of Meddle, suggest what Pink Floyd was about to develop into.

Released this month in 1970! In Rock ~ Deep Purple

dp11

After satisfying all of their classical music kinks with keyboard player Jon Lord’s overblown Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Deep Purple’s soon to be classic Mark II version made its proper debut and established the sonic blueprint that would immortalize this lineup of the band on 1970’s awesome In Rock. The cacophony of sound (spearheaded by Ritchie Blackmore’s blistering guitar solo) introducing opener “Speed King” made it immediately obvious that the band was no longer fooling around, but the slightly less intense “Bloodsucker” did afford stunned listeners a chance to catch their breaths before the band launched into the album’s epic, ten-minute tour de force, “Child in Time.” In what still stands as arguably his single greatest performance, singer Ian Gillan led his bandmates on a series of hypnotizing crescendos, from the song’s gentle beginning through to its ear-shattering climax and then back again for an even more intense encore that brought the original vinyl album’s seismic first side to a close. Side two opened with the searing power chords of “Flight of the Rat” — another example of the band’s new take-no-prisoners hard rock stance, though at nearly eight minutes, it too found room for some extended soloing from Blackmore and Lord. Next, “Into the Fire” and “Living Wreck” proved more concise but equally appealing, and though closer “Hard Lovin’ Man” finally saw the new-look Deep Purple waffling on a bit too long before descending into feedback, the die was cast for one of heavy metal’s defining albums.

Released this month in 1983! Synchronicity ~ The Police

Police-album-synchronicity

Simultaneously more pop-oriented and experimental than either Ghost in the Machine or Zenyatta Mondatta, Synchronicity made the Police superstars, generating no less than five hit singles. With the exception of “Synchronicity II,” which sounds disarmingly like a crappy Billy Idol song, every one of those singles is a classic. “Every Breath You Take” has a seductive, rolling beat masking its maliciousness, “King of Pain” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” are devilishly infectious new wave singles, and “Tea in the Sahara” is hypnotic in its measured, melancholy choruses. But, like so many other Police albums, these songs are surrounded by utterly inconsequential filler. This time, the group relies heavily on jazzy textures for Sting’s songs, which only work on the jumping, marimba-driven “Synchronicity I.” Then, as if to prove that the Police were still a band, there’s one song apiece from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, both of which are awful, as if they’re trying to sabotage the album. Since they arrive on the first side, which is devoid of singles, they do, making the album sound like two EPs: one filled with first-rate pop, and one an exercise in self-indulgence. While the hits are among Sting’s best, they also illustrate that he was ready to leave the Police behind for a solo career, which is exactly what he did.

Released this moth in 1967! Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ~ The Beatles

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

With Revolver, the Beatles made the Great Leap Forward, reaching a previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation. Sgt. Pepper, in many ways, refines that breakthrough, as the Beatles consciously synthesized such disparate influences as psychedelia, art-song, classical music, rock & roll, and music hall, often in the course of one song. Not once does the diversity seem forced — the genius of the record is how the vaudevillian “When I’m 64” seems like a logical extension of “Within You Without You” and how it provides a gateway to the chiming guitars of “Lovely Rita.” There’s no discounting the individual contributions of each member or their producer, George Martin, but the preponderance of whimsy and self-conscious art gives the impression that Paul McCartney is the leader of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. He dominates the album in terms of compositions, setting the tone for the album with his unabashed melodicism and deviously clever arrangements. In comparison, Lennon’s contributions seem fewer, and a couple of them are a little slight but his major statements are stunning. “With a Little Help From My Friends” is the ideal Ringo tune, a rolling, friendly pop song that hides genuine Lennon anguish, à la “Help!”; “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” remains one of the touchstones of British psychedelia; and he’s the mastermind behind the bulk of “A Day in the Life,” a haunting number that skillfully blends Lennon’s verse and chorus with McCartney’s bridge. It’s possible to argue that there are better Beatles albums, yet no album is as historically important as this. After Sgt. Pepper, there were no rules to follow — rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse. Ironically, few tried to achieve the sweeping, all-encompassing embrace of music as the Beatles did here.

Happy Birthday Geddy Lee!

Vintage_Geddy_Lee_with_Quiver

Geddy Lee Weinrib (born Gary Lee Weinrib, July 29, 1953), OC, known professionally as Geddy Lee, is a Canadian musician and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Lee joined what would become Rush in September 1968, at the request of his childhood friend Alex Lifeson, replacing original bassist and frontman Jeff Jones. In addition to his composing, arranging, and performing duties for Rush, Lee has produced for various other bands, including Rocket Science. Lee’s first solo effort, My Favourite Headache, was released in 2000.

An award-winning musician, Lee’s style, technique, and skill on the bass guitar have inspired many rock musicians such as Cliff Burton of Metallica, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, and Les Claypool of Primus. Along with his Rush bandmates – guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart – Lee was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honoured, as a group. Lee is ranked 13th by Hit Parader on their list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal vocalists of all time.

Did you know? Bob Dylan wrecks his motorcycle and suffers a broken neck vertebra on this day in 1966.. Or did he?

Triumph_motorbike__summer_64

1966, Bob Dylan was riding his Triumph 55 motorcycle to a garage near his home in Woodstock, New York for repairs when the rear wheel locked. Dylan lost control and was thrown over the handlebars, suffering a broken neck vertebra. His recuperation led to a period of reclusive inactivity.