Man were Wales’ finest sons. Originally formed in 1962 in Swansea as The Bystanders, they were a singles band with a heavy touring schedule for the time. A minor hit broke the Top 50 in 1966, but with the exit of Vic Oakley, guitarist Micky Jones, keyboardist Clive John and the rhythm section of Ray Williams and Jeffrey Jones reemerged as Man in 1968, with a musical switch to psychedelia and the addition of Deke Leonard, previously in Dream. Their debut album Revelation was issued on the Pye label in early 1969, and saw release in the US on the Philips label, under the name Manpower. Ostensibly a concept record about the course of human life, their debut reveals an album chock with the psychedelia of the time. “And In The Beginning” offers the heavy intro, complete with spoken-word and some great guitar from Jones, “Sudden Life” adds a little blues to the mix. The acoustic “Love” steps back a bit, while the faux-orgasm vocals of “Erotica” was shocking for its time (and a hit in France). The second side’s “Blind Man” is another good-time rocking number, but “And Castles Rise In Children’s Eyes, with John’s organ to the fore, highlights Man at their most psychedelic and progressive. “Just Don’t Stand There (Come In Out Of The Rain)” follows up with further keyboard acrobatics from John, while “The Future Hides Its Face” closes, reprising the opening theme. An excellent second album, 2 Ozs of Plastic with a Hole In The Middle, saw release in September and built on the debut, and further touring earned them success on the continent, which they subsequently made their base.
The core of Colosseum first appeared together (according to rock cartographer Pete Frame) as Bluesbreakers #89, on John Mayall’s Bare Wires album. After Mayall broke up that short-lived line-up, drummer Jon Hiseman reunited with bassist Tony Reeves, organist Dave Greenslade and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, and guitarist/singer James Litherland was recruited after an extensive search. Reconstituted as Colosseum, Hiseman had assembled one of London’s first and finest jazz-rock hybrids. Their loud and powerful debut is an absolute stunner. Acknowledging their R&B roots, both “Walking In the Park” and the heavy “The Kettle” swing with ballsy precision. The title track is the jazziest, with excellent soloing from everyone. The album’s gem however is the decidedly progressive “Valentyne Sweet” (not to be confused with the album of the same name) that covers most of the second side; the dialogue between the band members is electric as they blow through each section. The classics also come into play: that same J.S. Bach chord sequence in Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” pops up here as well. The album was well received in the UK, reaching No. 15, and saw release with the tracklisting above, in the US on ABC Dunhill in July, 1969. Litherland then left the band for the similarly sounding Mogul Thrash, but not before recording further sessions for their second album. The first record on the seminal Vertigo label, Valentyne Suite, released in November, also found similar success, also reaching No. 15. [Refers to US pressing.]
After ending 1968 with the rockin’ single “Second Generation Woman” (again without chart success), Family enlisted IBC producer Glyn Johns for their next album, Entertainment. Best known for his work with the Rolling Stones, Johns striped back the production, bringing the rhythm section and Charlie Whitney’s guitar work to the fore. The record is still primarily an acoustic affair, but with a substantially greater rock-n-roll feel. Ric Grech provided the classic “How-hi-the-li” and “Face In The Cloud”, with the Chapman/Whitney team adding the strong “Weaver’s Answer” and “Observations From a Hill”. “Summer 67” reprises a raga-esque arrangement, while “Dim” is strictly hillbilly. Although the album contained no singles, it still reached the UK’s No. 6 position. With Peter Grant (of Led Zeppelin fame) as tour manager, Family set off to tour the US in April. Grech however proved the foil and abruptly quit to join Blind Faith. Adding John Weider on bass, they resumed the tour in Detroit, but Roger Chapman’s reputed fist-fight with promoter Bill Graham (of Fillmore legend) didn’t further the band’s prospects there. The band would never have enjoy chart success in the US. Back in the UK, Family performed at the Rolling Stone's Hyde Park gig in July and the Isle of Wight festival in August. In October, they released their next single, “No Mule’s Fool” b/w “Good Friend Of Mine”, which reached the No. 29. Jim King was next to leave, due to personal issues. With previous brief spell in Blossom Toes and Eclection, the keyboards and vibes of John “Poli” Palmer would next augment Family, prompting a quick rearrangement of King's parts on their upcoming self-produced album.
The Genesis story began at the Charterhouse public school in Surrey. Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips were all classmates in two competing bands. Adding drummer Chris Stewart, they joined forces in 1967 with the hopes of becoming a songwriting collective. The band's earliest efforts were proffered through the old school tie, when pop producer and fellow Carthusian Jonathan King agreed to produce some demos. The contact eventually led to a recording contract from Decca. It's obvious the boys were middle class and that upbringing unquestioningly influenced their music, in fact it's a point that can't be avoided: indeed, the progressive aesthetic was never lowbrow nor pedestrian. Over the course of the next year, the band would record a pair of singles and their debut album From Genesis To Revelation at London's Regent Studios whenever the boys were on holiday, with John Silver eventually replacing Stewart on drums. It is of course a very early effort from the group, a pre-history full of the naiveté of both the era, and their ages. Chipping through the syrupy string arrangements, the album does reveal the talent of some very young artists. "Where the Sour Turns to Sweet" contains a strong melodic sense, while "Am I Very Wrong" benefits from some heavy phasing. Gabriel's vocals are particularly expressive, and in pop tradition, mixed right up front and center. There are also snippets of originality that would later evolve into Genesis' grand twelve-string sound and prog rock compositions. Witness the brief appearance of "Twilight Alehouse" between "The Fireside Song" and "The Serpent". Although the album and the associated singles sold minimally, the inauspicious debut did not go unnoticed, earning a fine review in London's underground newspaper, the International Times.
Le Orme (“the footprint”) had typical enough roots for any band from the 60s. Formed by guitarist Aldo Tagliapietra in Venice, the four piece band, original named after the Italian translation for The Shadows, was a beat era group that recorded singles for the Car Juke Box label. Guitarist Nino Smeraldi Claudio and Claudio Galieti bass guitar rounded out the lineup, with drummer Michi Dei Rossi joining in 1968 after their first single, “Senti L’Estate Che Torna” b/w “Mita Mita”. The band expanded to a five piece when keyboardist Anthony Pagliuca hopped on board prior to recording their first album. Ad Gloriam, released in 1969, follows on the heels of the New Trolls debut as one of the early rock records to come from an Italian band. The album is more than a curiosity however, and illustrates the shift from beat era into psychedelia. After the brief “Introduzione”, the gentle, playful pop of “Ad Gloriam” kicks off, revealing the harmonious vocals of the band. “Oggi Verra” bounces with a punchy bass, while “Milano 1968” goes for the psychedelic fuzz. Tagliapietra’s voice is distinct; a high tenor with a soothing tone, it would mark the band’s sound for the ensuing decade. The mellow “Flori Di Giglio” sports a child’s voice, while the lengthy “Non So Restare Solo” sports some interesting instrumental work. Following the album’s release, Galieti and Rossi left for military service (the latter only temporarily) while musical differences forced Smeraldi from the band and Tagliapietra switched to bass. Le Orme’s singles from the era were compiled on the album L'Aurora Delle Orme by Car Juke Box in 1970. However recordings of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondò A La Turk” and J.S. Bach’s “Concerto No. 3” would remain in the can until 1973.
Following their second 1968 US tour supporting Jimi Hendrix Experience Soft Machine effectively broke up. Robert Wyatt stayed in the US (where he would record his first solo album), while Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers returned to London; the latter sold his bass and departed for Ibiza, from where he would eventually launch a moderately successful solo career. But a recording commitment to Probe Records prompted new sessions for the band, this time at London's Olympic Studios. Wyatt and Ratledge invited roadie Hugh Hopper to join up. It just so happened that not only was he an accomplished bassist, but along with his brother Brian (who added sax to the album), he was also from the same Canterbury breeding ground of The Wilde Flowers. Several of Hopper's compositions had already found their way into the Softs repertoire, including the classic "Memories". His songs also comprised the bulk of the album's first side, the somewhat lighter "Rivmic Melodies" set. Here Ayers' songwriting is replaced with more literary fragments, including Wyatt's classic reading of "A Concise British Alphabet". The instrumental "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" is particularly strong, and the different sections flow together like water, underscoring an unbelievable continuity of sound. Apart from Hopper's uncharacteristic acoustic guitar on "Dedicated To You But You Weren't Listening", side two, subtitled "Esther's Nose Job", contains more of Ratledge's discrete compositions. Again, the Softs rely on their stream of consciousness arranging skills to tie it all together. Hopper's more accomplished bass playing is more fitting over Ayers psychedelic plodding, and combined with Ratledge's overdriven organ and Wyatt's busy but persistent drumming, this "music for your mind" is a sonic tour de force. Volume Two is an absolute classic album of any musical era. The album was their first to see release in the UK.
Just 17 years old when he joined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1962, drummer Anthony Williams spent his teen years playing in the clubs of Boston. By the end of the decade though, Williams was off in a completely different direction. New York City was a fertile ground at the time, and the seeds of fusion were being sown. Williams (among many others) jammed with Jimi Hendrix, and there’s little doubt of the guitarist’s influence on what would follow. Adding guitarist John McLaughlin and Larry Young on organ, The Tony Williams Lifetime set out in May 1969 to record what would become the landmark jazz-rock album, Emergency! Although the album suffers from a sub-standard recording, it’s one of the heaviest records ever - and of course, jazz purists hated it! Williams’ post-bop beat doesn’t swing, it rocks. But what’s most striking about his playing is that he’s all over the drum kit - just as a guitarist or keyboardist would play lead with their respective instrument. Williams’ take at “singing” is usually a love-hate affair; for this author, it’s as experimental as the rest of the album and full of black soul: just listen to his ramblings on the spacey “Where”. The pace slows for “Via The Spectrum Road” before McLaughlin previews the direction of his next group on the ensuing “Spectrum”. Both McLaughlin’s and Young’s performances are exemplary; the guitarist’s rock-toned guitar and the swirling chords of the organist’s Hammond B3 on “Sangria For Three” are full of overdrive. McLaughlin’s mate (and ex-Cream bassist) Jack Bruce joined for the group’s next album Turn It Over in 1970. However, tensions tore the band apart, and Williams and Young would next record two comparably disappointing albums with others. In the mid-‘70s, Williams would form the New Lifetime (including guitarist Allan Holdsworth) for another two albums of more predictable jazz fusion. Miles Davis and John McLaughlin may have received more attention for their work contemporaneous to the original Lifetime, but make no doubt: it all starts here.
By the time of the album's release, The Who had established themselves as one of England's premier live attractions. But on vinyl, they remained largely a singles band, save the ten-minute “A Quick One While He's Away” from A Quick One (Happy Jack in the US). At the prodding of manager Kit Lambert (and under the influence of both Arthur Brown and The Pretty Things), Pete Townsend penned his mammoth “rock opera”. Over its four sides of vinyl, Tommy traces a war child's tortured adolescence to messiah-like rise and fall via the spiritual vehicle of pinball... a far cry from moonchildren or crimson kings, but equally audacious! Regardless, the album is ripe of Townsend's genius; from ready-made singles, to major chord anthems, the album retains a genuine charm that carries the work from start to finish. The Who's spirited performance is within, but never foremost. The songs came first, setting them apart from most progressive bands of the era, though musically the instrumental “Sparks” is a technical highlight. Tommy of course was a huge commercial success, landing in the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic, along with a massive hit single in “Pinball Wizard”. However, his life didn't end there either. Live presentations by The Who were mainly truncated versions, although Townsend did re-record the work with the London Symphony Orchestra and some of London's rock elite (Sandy Denny, Steve Winwood, Maggie Bell, Ringo Starr) in 1972. This would all be eclipsed by the release of Ken Russell's star-studded film and soundtrack in 1975, and would unfortunately become what most people would remember of Tommy: complete excess. Meanwhile, Townsend would attempt two follow-ups to the rock opera, the abandoned “Lighthouse” session that resulted in the Who's Next album and, in 1973, and a true successor in Quadrophenia.
The Surrey-based Stormville Shakers had their start in 1961. Like the Yardbirds, also from Surrey, they gigged relentlessly, playing R&B and often backing American musicians visiting the UK. Prior to recording a couple of singles in the late 60s, the Shakers changed their name to the more contemporary sounding Circus. Released in 1967, their first single “Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday” b/w “Sink Or Swim” was written by the Shaker’s founder, Phillip Goodhand-Tait. Yet following one further single, he left the band to concentrate on a career as a songwriter following his success with Love Affair’s “Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday” and a contract from Dick James Music. The band now consisted of original bassist Kirk Riddle, guitarist and vocalist Ian Jelfs, and most famously to progressive fans, sax player and flautist Mel Collins. Prior to recording their debut album for Transatlantic Records, Chris Burrows joined on drums. A cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” opens the album. Clocking in at over seven minutes its spirited interpretation is propelled by the dirty rhythm of Riddle and Burrows, plus a thick-toned guitar from Jelfs. Think Jethro Tull of the same era. Collins’ “Pleasures Of A Lifetime” features the gentle tone and chords of Jelfs guitar, breaking to a swinging break with Collins sax solo; it’s a mature number, with a sympathetic lyric. Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” and the brief “Goodnight John Morgan come across as jazz by numbers. “Father Of My Daughter”, another Collins composition, is again another gentle affair, benefited by tabla, while the Mingus cover “II B.S.” again shows the band’s fiery bluesy side. But further covers of John Phillips’ “Monday Monday” and Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” are mediocre at best. The band scored a residency at the Marquee Club in the spring of 1969 and a second album was reportedly in the can, but Collins received an offer to join King Crimson, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The original Amon Düül saw its beginning in 1967 as an art commune in Munich, albeit one of a more sociopolitical nature than that of a musical group. The majority of their recordings stem from two jam sessions recorded in 1968/69 and were mainly released posthumously. Led by Chris Karrer, Amon Düül II was formed in 1968 as a live band, featuring the more “musically proficient members” of the commune, with Johannes Weinzierl, Falk-Ulrich Rogner, Renate Knaup, Peter Leopold and Dieter Serfas all in the original lineup. But constant personnel changes would mark the band’s existence, as well as guests too numerous to document on their recorded output. Christian “Shrat” Thierfeld on bongos and Brit Dave Anderson on bass drifted in. Jazz saxophonist Olaf Kübler is another key player, in addition to managing the band, he signed them to the United Artists/Liberty label and would produced the band’s first several albums. They released their debut album, Phallus Dei, in 1969. There’s some affinity to the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd, yet what’s inside is much, much more bizarre. Knaup’s voice is immediately recognizable; it’s very much the antithesis of her British counterparts, in fact, so is Amon Düül II. Their compositions are based on improvisations, with an emphasis on the raw and freak out of psychedelia, yet with a hint of (deliberate?) amateurism. The opener “Kanaan” however remains the archetype, brooding under a near-tribal beat. As much of a groundbreaking example of German “krautrock” as the album would become, it’s equally known for its rather controversial title, which translate from Latin to “God’s Penis”.
Upon his departure from Jethro Tull after their debut album This Was, guitarist Mick Abrahams went on to form Blodwyn Pig with saxophonist Jack Lancaster, drummer Rob Berg and bassist Andy Pyle. Their debut album, Ahead Rings Out, saw release on Island Records. It’s very much in the vein of the then-current Jethro Tull, leaving one to wonder what really were the circumstances surrounding Abrahams and his split. “It’s Only Love” opens, with a big brass sound, courtesy of the multiple saxes of Lancaster. A performer of note, he was often known to play more than one sax at a time. “Dear Jill”, also the single from the album, pulls back a bit, offering a laid back classic slice of British blues. Abrahams vocals are very reminiscent of Ian Anderson’s. “Walk On The Water” continues in fine style with Abraham’s guitar to the fore, while Lancaster’s “The Modern Alchemist” offers him a chance to shine to the jazzier side of the band. “See My Way” and “Summer Day” offer more rocking blues, while “Change Song” opts for acoustic guitar and violin. It’s a very capable and original album of the era, offering another progressive take on blues rock. Given Jethro Tull’s success, it’s no surprise that Blodwyn Pig also found similar; the album also broke into the UK charts, cresting at No 9. The following April saw another release from the band, Getting To This. It reached No. 8 in the UK charts and also breached the top 100 in the US. However, Abrahams then left the band and cut a solo album for Chrysalis before forming yet another band, this obviously titled Mick Abrahams Band. Blodwyn Pig would soldier on, first with and ex-Yes Pete Banks on guitar and then later with ex-Pink Fairy Larry Wallis.
Compared to their first record, the band documented on If Only For A Moment sounds like a completely different one offering a much heavier Blossom Toes. With two feet firmly planted in the “underground” sound of London’s late 60s, there’s obviously some influence from California’s acid rock, especially with the lyrical themes. The opening track, “Peace Loving Man”, is a bit of a lark, sounding more like what Gong (another Giorgio Gomelsky managed band) would later record, than anything previously known as Blossom Toes! On “Kiss Of Confusion”, guitarists Jim Cregan and Brian Godding get down to the business of the inventing the “dual lead” approach later popularized by Wishbone Ash. Featuring delicate guitar interplay, the duo are all about dynamics. One moment light and airy, the next bursting with emotion, Blossom Toes know how to work a riff inside and out. “Listen To The Silence” and “Love Bomb” follow suit. Musically “Bill Boo’s A Gunman” isn’t far from Family’s oeuvre. Underpinned beneath the guitar work is the deft drum work of Barry Reeves and the melodic bass of Brian Belshaw. “Indian Summer” features a lovely chorus, while Richie Haven’s “Just Above My Hobby Horses Head” swings over sitar and Belshaw’s deep tenor. In late 1969, the band were involved in a car crash following a gig at Bristol University, bring the group to an abrupt end. Godding and Belshaw would reunite in 1971 with Kevin Westlake for an album under the rather odd name of B.B. Blunder (Brian and Brian’s Blunder tape). Worker’s Playground carries on the Blossom Toes, and features Julie Driscoll on guest vocals. Godding would later guest with Magma on their MDK album, but eventually turn to session work. Cregan joined Family after brief spell with John Weider in Stud, and later became Rod Stewart’s musical director, co-penning many of the star’s hits.
One look at the background of the members of Can (Stockhausen, WDR etc.), and the last thing you’d think is that they were a rock band. Similarly, listening to the music of Can, you’d also have to stretch the concept of rock-n-roll to fit them in. Krautrock was Germany’s answer to the psychedelic and progressive music of the late ‘60s, and certainly a unique idiom in and of itself. But even Can’s post-psychedelic groove had much more to do with the avant-garde, even by krautrock’s standards. The core musicians of bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt founded Can in 1968 in Cologne. The debut album, Monster Movie, featured American Malcolm Mooney on vocals (if you can call them that). Can doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the “freak out” or “space rock” traditions of their pioneering krautrock brethren. Instead, the band treated each song as groove - but in the most non-ethnic sense. The incessant metronomic beat of “You Do Right” is epic, while “Father Cannot Yell” the quintessential classic; the band lock onto the groove and ride it straight through some freaky inner space, with Karoli’s guitar the screeching electric counterpoint to Mooney’s breathy vocal “rap”. The proto-punk of “Outside My Door” shows the influence of the Velvet Underground, but with its symphonic refrain, “Mary Mary So Contrary” reveals a slightly psychedelic edge. The album remains both a milestone and one of the most unique in the timeline; but take a look around - it’s also light years from the British progressive rock of the era. Following Mooney’s departure (for health reasons), the band enlisted the similarly unique talent of Damo Suzuki for their next four albums, including the magnificent Ege Bamyasi in 1972. All continued the refinement of the path first laid down on this stunning debut.
Upon review, The Nice's third self-titled record is certainly not their strongest effort, failing to offer any progress on the band's prior two releases. In fact, it contains little new studio material at all. The album opens with "Azrael (Revisited)", but Keith Emerson's piano is no substitute for David O'List's guitar that featured on the original single. Evidently short of material, The Nice then add two covers: a particularly languid reading of Tim Hardin's "Hang On to a Dream" did little but break into an extended solo from Emerson, while Bob Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" is laborious at best. With its jazzy horn arrangements, "For Example" fares infinitely better and offers another glimpse at the band's formula. The second side of the record was recorded during the band's first tour of the US, at the Fillmore East in New York. The Nice were in their element on stage, and the live rendition of "Rondo" gives a pretty good estimation of what the fuss was all about. It was during that tour that Emerson was first introduced to King Crimson's Greg Lake. Oddly, the album was the first for The Nice to chart, rising to No. 3 in the UK. Yet somehow disappointed by their stagnant success (and perhaps lack of material), Emerson would barely make it through the year with the band. However, two posthumous albums were released, again mainly taken from live recordings. The first, Five Bridges Suite, was released in June 1970, would be the most successful Nice album, reaching No. 2 in the UK. Its attraction was the suite of the same name, recorded live with an orchestra at Fairfield Hall. Released in April 1971, Elegy would also make the UK Top 5. Lee Jackson would subsequently form Jackson Heights, releasing four nondescript albums over the next few years, before teaming up again with Brian Davison in 1974 in The Nice clone Refugee. Emerson was of course off to ELP, where things would reach a natural conclusion.
The Yes story starts in 1966 with a band called the Syn. Bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Peter Banks spent two years with that band, progressing along the way from R&B covers to psychedelia, establishing a residency at the Marquee Club and cutting two singles for Deram. Ultimately, success wasn't in the cards, but the two reunited later in Mabel Greer's Toyshop. Vocalist Jon Anderson was persuaded to join, but upon recruiting drummer Bill Bruford and organist Tony Kaye, they changed their name to Yes. Now talk about being in the right place at the right time: Yes secured one of their first engagements as the opening act for Cream's farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Thus, expectations were high when they signed to Atlantic Records. Their debut record is chock full of what would define their trademark sound: Anderson's distinctive voice, along with the band's tight harmonies, and Squire's trebly bass lines that soar right along with the melody. Not to be overlooked too are some of the subtleties of Yes, in particular Kaye's organ: never overpowering, but always in the right place. Banks' fluid guitar work and Bruford's drumming have a strong jazz element, just witness the cover of "I See You". For a non-musician, the exceptionally strong melodies of "Looking Around" and "Survival" prove Anderson was already an accomplished songwriter. But overall, Yes' strength was in arrangement. Whether a Beatles cover or an original tune such as "Harold Land", clever appropriations turn anything into lively, highly melodic Yes music. Yet despite the hyped-up liner notes, the album did not chart.
By the time Jethro Tull got around to releasing their strong second effort, Martin Barre had joined on guitar, as Mick Abrahams was off to start Blodwyn Pig. Barre's addition was substantial in the evolution of the band, his guitar style being more sympathetic to their burgeoning progressive style. Written by Ian Anderson to appease management's desire for a single, they released "Living In The Past" in May. It soared right up the UK charts, reaching No. 3. The album followed with even greater results. Stand Up features all original compositions from Anderson, with the exception of a spirited interpretation of Bach's "Bouree". Although the blues influence is still apparent on tracks like "Nothing Is Easy" and "A New Day Yesterday", Anderson's original style was becoming more and more prominent. "Look Into The Sun" and "Reasons For Waiting" adopt an acoustic though certainly not folk approach which would become one of his signatures. "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" and "Fat Man" follow suit. The band is particularly strong throughout, with Clive Bunker's drumming an overlooked asset. "For A Thousand Mothers" succinctly closes the album. The album rose to No. 1 in the UK, and made a Top 20 appearance in the US on the heels of their first tour of America, where they would support Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps the first unqualified mainstream success of progressive rock, the album remains one of the finest of any era.
Led by the indefatigable Peter Hammill here begins the musical quest of Van Der Graaf Generator. Over the next decade, he would divide his time between leading VDGG and a prolific solo career; though where those lines separate would at times be difficult to identify. The band had already been through iteration or two by the time it got around to recording The Aerosol Grey Machine. Hammill and co-conspirator Chris Judge Smith formed the band with organist Nick Pearne in 1968 while still at Manchester University. Moving to London, the duo spent the next year attempting to record, having already secured a recording contract with Mercury. More fruitful was the assembly of a full band, with Hugh Banton on organ, Guy Evans on drums, Keith Ellis on bass, and a relationship with Charisma impresario Tony Stratton-Smith. However, Judge left after they recorded their first single "People You Were Going To" b/w "Firebrand", and after a few gigs, their equipment was stolen and the band split up. Originally conceived as a solo album, Hammill rounded up the others in July 1969 to record what eventually was released as the first VDGG album. "Afterwards" opens and immediately reveals the promise: a gentle, indeed, beautiful song that introduces Hammill's voice, as distinct as his songwriting. However, the following "Orthenian St" and "Into A Game" offer the first glimpse of what the band could offer. Evan's delicate drumming and Banton's monstrous organ would remain the hallmarks of VDGG, while the thick, rhythmic bass of Ellis would only propel this album. Both "Necromancer" and "Octopus" further demonstrate the band's virtuosity, and in true VDGG fashion close in a chaotic finale. Oddly, the album was only released in the US.
Somewhere early in the continuum of rock-n-roll is the genius of Frank Zappa. Raised in the high desert outside of Los Angeles, legend has it that a young Frank was granted a long-distance phone call for his fifteenth birthday: the recipient was composer Edgard Varese... Zappa’s first release was in late 1966. Credited to The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out! was a sprawling (and one of the first) double-album set with little precedent; it shunned the burgeoning hippie vibe of the West Coast for something far stranger: a mélange of music styles from highbrow classicism to down-in-the-gutter rock-n-roll. Retaining only Ian Underwood from the original Mothers, Hot Rats was Zappa’s first “solo” record, and remains one of his most monumental achievements. The opening track “Peaches En Regalia” is a brief but engaging sample of what’s in store: sprightly melodic arrangements, wonderful execution, with a sound that’s jazzy but nowhere near jazz. The album was reputedly one of the first recorded to sixteen-track tape, and that’s Underwood playing all the brass, flute and keyboard parts; no mean feat! “Willie the Pimp” features a cursory vocal appearance from Captain Beefhart, but what Zappa is really pimping here is himself; the track is one of his most overt displays of his lead guitar playing. “Son of Mr. Green Genes” again features Zappa’s great musical arrangements, but the following “Little Umbrellas” does more with less. “The Gumbo Variations” is a down and dirty rocker, with room for a lot of soloing, including the violin playing of Sugar Cane Harris. However, the closing track, “It Must Be A Camel” is the album’s real highlight: Zappa’s composition is as engaging as it is unique; it simply defies categorization. The album was a bona fide commercial success, rising to No. 9 in the UK charts. Zappa would reactivate The Mothers and release countless records over the ensuing decades, though fanboys are directed to the period surrounding Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo for complimentary offerings. Prolific, exacting and unprecedented, there’s little argument of Frank Zappa’s genius; but genius is something that rarely crossed the timeline. His influence of course is another matter, as many artists would name check Zappa over the ensuing years.
South Shields born Tony Hill was a member of US band The Misunderstood during their chaotic sojourn to London in the late 60. A few years after the implosion of that band, Hill set his sight on a new group, teaming up with violinist Simon House, bassist Peter Pavli, and drummer Roger “Rog” Hadden as High Tide. A publishing deal with Apple Core and management with Wayne Bardell and Clearwater Productions, the band signed a deal with United Artists/Liberty records and set to record their debut album, yet in a rather odd arrangement. Denver “Denny” Gerrard was a recording artist for Deram that needed a backing band, so in exchange for their services, High Tide was afforded studio time to complete their debut album, Sea Shanties, released in 1969. “Futillist’s Lament” opens the album with a raw, aggressive blast of electric guitar and violin. There’s no sugar coating this psychedelic rock; rough at the edges, thundering and relentless, it’s some of the heaviest rock for its time. “Death Warmed Up” continues the relentless thunder. House’s violin, often played through a wah-wah, soars to uncomfortable heights. “Pushed But Not Forgotten” offers some respite, highlighting Hill’s deep 60s baritone. “Missing Out” offers some interesting interplay between Hill’s overdriven guitar and House’s violin, while the closing “Nowhere” hints at the blues, but with a progressive edge. It’s a stunning debut, one simply without peer. The band’s self titled second album was released in 1970, and picked up where the debut left off. But despite constant gigging it failed to sell and the contract with Liberty was canceled. House then left the band for the Third Ear Band and unable to get a third album going, things fell apart for the band. After Hadden suffered a breakdown, Hill and Pavli relocated to Puddletown, Dorset, to work with Drachen Theaker in Rustic Hinge. Pavli would later join Michael Moorcock’s Deep Six, while House would later work with David Bowie and Hawkwind.
The painfully documented history of King Crimson informs us of their birth on January 13th, 1969 at the basement of the Fulham Palace Café, London. With the arrival of Ian McDonald, the trio of Giles, Giles and Fripp had expanded a year earlier. Lyricist Peter Sinfield, McDonald's songwriting partner, became the band's fifth member; this included the duties of road manager, light artist, resident hippie etc. Yet at Robert Fripp's persistence, fellow Bournemouth guitarist Greg Lake joined on bass and vocals, replacing Peter Giles. Lake had previously been in The Gods, with Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake (both later to Uriah Heep). The recording of their debut was twice abandoned (once with the Moody Blues' producer Tony Clark), but a third self-produced effort, with E.G. Management's David Enthoven and John Gaydon footing the bill, proved more than successful. As "21st Century Schizoid Man" blasts away, the power of the band is immediately apparent: King Crimson resounds like nothing before it. Undoubtedly propelled by Giles inventive drumming, the band's interplay is precise and their sound is simultaneously immense yet with detail; Fripp's screeching guitar solo is positively terrifying. The Mellotron figures prominently, dominating both "Epitaph" and the title track. This was no mere accoutrement, rather the band was writing specifically for the instrument. It's an important point: the technology of the era was instrumental in defining the genre of progressive rock. The album's gentler moments, "I Talk To The Wind" and "Moonchild", showcase McDonald's ability as a composer and Fripp's grace (and considerable jazz influence) as a guitarist, especially in the latter's improvised half. Here the band is both mature and meticulous. Throughout the album, King Crimson shows their wares. Listening to the flute solo in the title track, it's obvious that McDonald is an accomplished soloist, but that he's showing us he can play is very central to the progressive aesthetic: there is no hiding his virtuosity or creativity; in fact he's flaunting it. Even Sinfield's words - quite sympathetic to Lake's voice - rise to new heights, however, the jury may still be out on whether they "crack at the seam". King Crimson reaches a new level of perfection, on what Pete Townsend called at the time an "uncanny masterpiece". Even the cover art, a harrowing face painted by Barry Godber, would set the album apart. King Crimson's timely support slot at the Rolling Stones free concert in London's Hyde Park in July was also good fortune. The album - arguably the first prog rock record - awaited a flurry of interest; it peaked at No. 5 in the UK, while in the US it broke into the Top 30. Crimso would then end their first year with a two-month tour of the US.