Throughout his career, David Bowie has always had one eye on stardom and the other on his music. His art however was the careful balance of the two; his popularity rarely wavered throughout the vast swings of his musical offerings. In the 60s, he ventured from R&B to singer-songwriter with keyboardist Rick Wakeman in tow, culminating with the classic “Space Oddity”. In 1970, he then released an incredibly progressive album of hard rock, The Man Who Sold The World, before launching into glam rock and the Spiders From Mars. In the mid 70s, Bowie turned to a writing collaboration with Brian Eno, and more surprisingly, the krautrock of Germany for inspiration. With longtime producer Tony Visconti and band, the duo headed to Europe to record two albums, both released in 1977. Recorded in France (and mixed in Berlin) first up in January was Low. Bowie provided the tunes on the first side, but it was mostly Eno and his tricks for the veneer. There is a modern, electronic, Euro-ness afoot, but one that’s unmistakably tuneful, and no denying the “Sound And Vision” the pair generate. The second side takes an abrupt left turn towards the ambient: song-less and drum-less, Bowie and Eno follow their muse and simply paint with sound. The melody of “Warszawa” has a passing familiarity, one that’s entirely romantic. “Art Decade” travels over the gentle pulse of the Chamberlain, an early sampler. The eerie “Weeping Wall” is 100% Bowie, while the cinematic “Subterranean” could simply go on forever. True to form, the formula was a success, the album reaching No. 2 in the UK and No. 11 in the US. Recorded at Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, the grittier Heroes followed in October, with Robert Fripp’s thick-toned guitar the unmistakable addition. It reached No. 3 in the UK yet dipped to No. 35 in the US. Bowie and Eno would reunite for a final collaboration in their so-called Berlin trilogy, the more conventional Lodger in 1979. After one final dalliance with art rock on Scary Monsters in 1980, Bowie would sanitize his act and move into very commercial territory for the remainder of the 80s.
Following the release of their last album in 1975, Pink Floyd spent a couple months touring America (culminating in Roger Waters' notorious "spat" incident) and a single UK appearance in July at Knebworth. The band then spent 1976 sinking hundreds of thousands of pounds into their Britannia Row Studio, where Animals was recorded. The bulk of the album had already been written; "Dogs" first appeared on the DSOM tour as "You Gotta Be Crazy", while "Sheep" was previously "Raving and Drooling". Roger Waters again dominates the picture, providing the grand concept for the album. Grouping people into Orwellian divisions of dogs, pigs and sheep may have provided for some interesting lyrical matter, but never mind a deeper meaning - one ultimately gets the feeling that he hates them all. His brief acoustic "Pigs On The Wing Parts 1 & 2" bookend the album, both memorable and unmemorable at the same time. Waters' "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" however is new material, though it certainly wouldn't have been out of place on the preceding album. Richard Wright and David Gilmour both provide some of their most heroic performances on the album; in particular check out the latter's guitar solo on "Dogs". In fact, the album stands as one of the band's hardest rocking affairs, and perhaps one of their most listenable. The well-matured tracks are perfect constructs, and the production well suited for the material. Aubrey Powell's black and white photography furthers the Orwellian motif. In fact the visual element of the album - the pig flying above the smoke stacks of Battersea Power Station - would provide a lasting image for the band, one that featured prominently on the subsequent "In The Flesh" tour and a decade later, in lawsuits. Although failing to top the charts, it earned Pink Floyd a No. 2 and No. 3 in the UK and US respectively. Not bad considering, "punk" had just broke.
During his tenure in Gong, Pierre Moerlen took more than one sabbatical for a parallel career in classical music as a percussionist with the Percussions de Strasbourg in his native France. Thus, when he set to recruit a new lineup for the band, it was only natural which direction he would take. With the returning Mireille Bauer, he added two other percussionists, his brother Benoit and Mino Cinelou. The line-up was rounded out with former Gong (and Magma) bassist Francis Moze returning after a near five-year absence, and guitarist Allan Holdsworth, fresh from Soft Machine. Both the title track and "Night Illusion" open with the guitarist's signature tone, revealing a very jazzy band underneath. Obviously the emphasis is on rhythm; Moerlen and company provide a densely-arranged fusion, with Moze's fretless bass a superb compliment. True to its name, "Percolations" is the percussion tour de force on the album, featuring the xylophone work of Benoit. The second side has another two numbers featuring Holdsworth's huge guitar riffs, "Shadows Of " and "Esnuria", the latter also featuring one last contribution from a lingering Didier Malherbe. Throughout Moerlen delivers his powerful and unique take on fusion, which more often than not emphasized the "rock" in jazz-rock. After the Gong reunion concert in Paris in May (where most Gongs past and present took the stage), PM Gong would endure further lineup changes: two Americans, bassist Hansford Rowe and guitarist Bon Lozaga, would join Moerlen and his brother Benoit on a semi-permanent basis. With a recording contract now with Arista, Moerlen would cut a series of like-minded albums over the next few years, beginning with Expresso II in early 1978. All would feature guest musicians, with Mick Taylor, Mike Oldfield, Darryl Way, Didier Lockwood and Steve Winwood making appearances. However, after the 1981 release Leave It Open, Moerlen would retire the band for the steady work of Mike Oldfield's live band.
By the time Ian Anderson got around to writing this, Jethro Tull's tenth studio album, he had moved outside London for a life in the country and, presumably, gotten over the fact that he was indeed too young to die. Although the subject matter of the album (and image on the cover) may have turned folksy, there's little folk music inside Songs From The Wood. The title track opens with Anderson's multi-tracked vocals, before breaking into a typical Tull-style rocker. But while the production may suit the instrumental fire, his voice sounds unnatural and over -produced. Long time orchestral arranger David Palmer is the new player on board, now giving the band four hands on the keyboards. "Hunting Girl" and "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)" both feature good arrangement, making the most of both keyboardists and offering some great guitar work from Martin Barre. "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" was first released the previous November for the holiday season and managed (surprise, surprise) to chart in the UK Top 40. The second side's "Velvet Green" is primarily an acoustic number, while "The Whistler" has a folksy hook and a great instrumental break. A single edit managed some action in the US, albeit in the lower reaches of the chart. However, the album charted well, reaching No. 13 in the UK and No. 8 in the US. Later in the year Jethro Tull would complete their first tour of the UK in over three years.
Peter Gabriel's first solo album came some three years after his departure from Genesis. (Trainspotters take note: his first post-Genesis release was a cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" on the soundtrack for 1976 film All This And World War II.) Recorded in Toronto, Gabriel teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin, then best known for his work with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. It should come as no surprise, for here Gabriel set to distance himself from his previous band and work. And apart from his distinct voice, the album offers little of the former; instead it's a relatively modern (for the time that is) rock record. The results are mixed: whereas there's little excuse for the barbershop quartet of "Excuse Me" or the straight-up blues of "Waiting for the Big One", tracks like "Modern Love" and "Down The Dolce Vita" are just mainstream rock, and not that exciting. "Moribund The Burgermeister" is probably representative as any other track on the album. Gabriel's voice is in great form and he's expressing a lot of ideas, but they tend to be snippets that don't encompass an entire song. Ultimately the production is the big let down. Yet juxtaposing an intimate vocal against a dense arrangement of sound, "Humdrum" does give a glimpse of where his solo work would eventually go; even the haunting melody of "Here Comes The Flood" would be revisited a few years later on Robert Fripp's solo record, Exposure. The album does however contain one instant classic: "Solsbury Hill". Gabriel's ode to his old band, it's a song where all points - production, instrumentation, voice - connect. As a single, it reached No. 13 in the UK. The album rose to No. 7 in UK and No. 38 in the USA. Simply referred to as Peter Gabriel, the cover featured the first in a series of iconic images of Gabriel instead of titles. The "car" featured on the cover is a Lancia Flavia that was owned by Hipgnosis boss Storm Thorgerson.
Seal Level Founded by keyboardist Chuck Leavell and the powerful rhythm section of drummer Jai Johanny Johanson and bassist Lamar Williams, the trio was first heard opening shows for the Allman Brothers Band under the moniker We Three. Jaimoe of course was a founding member of the Allman Bros., while both Leavell and Williams joined up in 1972. Now I’m not in any way proposing either as prog rock: both bands played American southern rock, but often with a particularly progressive flair; just check out the live rendition of the classic album-side long “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” off of the Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas album. It’s a veritable fusion of rock, jazz and instrumental virtuosity of the type that made the Allman Bros. a legend and southern rock good listening. Adding Jimmy Nalls on guitar and adopting the name Sea Level, they signed a deal with Capricorn Records (who else) and released their first album in 1977. With a bright piano hammering over the infectiously brisk rhythm, “Rain In Spain” kicks off the half-instrumental album; it’s an altogether unique mix of rock, blues and jazz. “Tidal Wave” continues the pace, with Leavell adding electric piano underneath Nalls exceptionally clean and crisp guitar. The vocal tracks are for the most part throwaway boogie rock, but the lengthy “Nothing Matters But The Fever” reveals a dark edge of something a little deeper. With the rhythm section of Jaimoe and Williams always swinging underneath, both “Grand Larceny” and a cover of Paul Simon’s “Scarborough Fair” conclude the album’s instrumental fusion. The album’s exceptional production was courtesy Stewart Levine, who also lent similar services to the comparatively shallow Dixie Dregs at the time. The album would reach No. 43 in the US charts. Later in the year, the band swell to a septet and would release a second album, with a sharper focus on commerciality; the jazzy fusion was restricted to just a couple of tracks. The band would release three more albums, the funky electric edge of 1978’s On The Edge a standout, until finally drifting out to sea in 1980.
Anthony Phillips first appeared in the timeline as the original guitarist for Genesis. He left them in 1970, unable to make the commitment to a life in a rock band, and returned to formal music studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Eventually he rekindled his friendship with Mike Rutherford and in 1974 and the pair began work on what would later become The Geese & The Ghost. Phillips also worked with future Mother Gong guitarist Harry Williamson at the time, but that material would remain unreleased for decades. True to form, Phillips' never left his Genesis connection that far behind. The gentle twelve-string number "Which Way The Wind Blows" would not sound out of place on the then current Genesis album and Phil Collins even provides most of the vocals on the album. But it's the baroque styling of "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times" that both dominates the album and reveals Phillips' art. He and Rutherford paint gentle landscapes, not unlike the Peter Cross penned covers, with their stringed instruments fluttering away. The arrangements are exquisite, with flute, oboe and cello all adding color. Phillips takes a vocal (and piano) break on the terribly romantic "Collections"; only the second part of the title track provides any electricity to this decidedly pastoral and romantic affair. Through to the mid-'80s, Phillips would stick to this formula with his "library" series of instrumental vignettes, all bearing the subtitle "Private Parts and Pieces". Though completely anachronistic, the album was a genuine success, reputedly selling tens of thousands of copies. It earned Phillips a contract with Arista and a shot at a few larger-budget commercial albums that would follow.
In 1976, after a couple of albums as a quartet, Can scored a hit single in the UK with the bizarre disco of “I Want More” (it reached No. 26). Released in 1976, Flow Motion pointed the band in a new direction, reaching a pinnacle on 1977’s Saw Delight. New to the fold were two ex-Traffic members, percussionist Reebop Kwaku-Baah and bassist Roscoe Gee. The groovy riff of “Don’t Say No” leads off - it’s “You do Right” seven years later. Obviously the band has changed; the tracks here have a slightly ethnic flavor, favoring the percussive drumming of Jaki Liebezeit and the rhythm guitar of Michael Karoli. Written by Gee, “Call Me” is introduced by some of Holgar Czukay’s sound manipulations; it’s a path his solo career would follow. But the track’s groove is immediate and incessant; Irmin Schmidt’s keyboards float in and out of the mix as does Karoli’s feedback guitar. Gee’s vocal is the perfect compliment. The longer “Animal Waves” continues the ethnic trip with a bit more authenticity and grit. “Fly By Night” closes the album, a perfectly matured slice of Can’s (more or less) now-commercial music. The band would release two further albums, mostly without Czukay’s involvement: an underrated album of smooth ethno-fusion Out Of Reach appeared in 1978 (so underrated in fact that the band have dropped all references to it), and in 1979 one final album, Can (later re-titled Inner Space). Can remains perhaps one of the most musically enigmatic groups of the era and these later albums unfortunately their most misunderstood.
ELP's three-year absence from the rock arena broke during the heyday of "punk". And what more unfashionable concept would the band offer than this album! Even the simple black & white album cover signaled that Works would be as pretentious as it could get: three sides of the vinyl each credited to a band member, with the fourth finally owning up to the band. (On a positive note, the boys hadn't pulled a Yes and each released separate solo albums!) At any rate, first up is Emerson's contribution, his "Piano Concerto No. 1". Nothing short of classical music, it is influenced by the regular suspects (Copeland, Ravel) and features the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by - you guessed it - Emerson himself. Not to be undone, Lake's songs are equally earnest and unmemorable, although he did provide the album's single, in the languorous "C'est La Vie". Peter Sinfield's lyrics and Godfrey Salmon's syrupy orchestrations are perfect compliments to Lake's overwrought croon. Palmer's side fares little better, though he did manage to get two-thirds of the way through without a drum solo. Yet the fourth side provides one track of redemption: ELP's cover of Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". Broad, bold, and of course, pretentious, it just "works"; it also provided the band with a No. 2 single in the UK and undoubtedly royalties for years to come. But whatever was written or said about the album (it was universally panned), success was at hand: it managed to just scuttle the Top 10 spot on both sides of the Atlantic. A compilation of shorter tracks recorded around the same time (plus the b-side "Brain Salad Surgery"), Works II, was released six months later, offering little more than detritus and outtakes. ELP would then take an orchestra in tow for a well attended though financially disastrous tour of North America in 1978, recordings of which were eventually released as in Concert.
Despite his return to Harvest Records, Kevin Ayers broke with the past for his next record, retaining only guitarist Ollie Halsall. Muff Winwood was brought in to produce, and by all accounts, the combination should have been magic. “Star” is a shining beauty of a track, with Family’s Rob Townsend and Taste’s Charlie McCracken providing the rhythm section this time around. “The Owl” contains a witty lyric, while “Mr Cool” and “Everyone Knows The Song” goes for the faux-Caribbean vibe. “Help Me” turns up the heavy, while “Blue” goes for the epic, with old friend David Bedford providing the choral arrangement. “Yes I Do” is simple and effect, Ayers voice accompanied just with piano. Only “The Ballad of Mr. Snake” should have stayed on the scrap heap. Throughout the record, Ayers’ songwriting is typically up to snuff and the material is relatively commercial (enough). However, the album contains everything that simultaneously impresses and disappoints one about Ayers’ work. But it’s hard not to be seduced by his deep baritone and lyrical wit. He put a band together for some BBC work, but no tour was forthcoming. The album also saw release in the US on ABC Dunhill. Rainbow Takeaway appeared the following year, produced by Slapp Happy’s Anthony Moore, but again, despite a good (enough) showing, he would take permanent retreat to Majorca. One final album for Harvest appeared in 1980, That’s What You Get Babe. Ayers would then continue to release albums on a variety of labels, working most notably Ollie Halsall, for many years, but as the decade progressed, it would seem that his better days and work were behind him.
Joining Nova for their final two records were bassist Barry “SunJon” Johnson and drummer Ric Parnell, the latter previously in Atomic Rooster and Ibis (and son of the famous big band leader Jack Parnell). The band had moved to the US, relocating first to Colorado and then on to Southern California; according to Elio D’Anna, “in England, all there were were a lot of punk bands!” Narada Michael Walden was still around, but in a different role, here producing Wings Of Love, which again was recorded at Trident Studios in London. “You Are Light” leads off and talk about a change! Sung by Johnson, the track has more in common with Earth Wind & Fire than any of their previous works - though it’s not that I’m complaining. Rustici still offers his blistering fast guitar work, and the band’s instrumentality retains all its razor sharp precision. The new slant carries on to the following track, “Marshall Dillion”, with Elio D’Anna now providing some sonic icing under the funky bass and tight groove of the Johnson/Parnell rhythm section. “Blue Lake”, with Rustici handling vocals, is similar to the more ethereal numbers that featured prominently on their last album. Both “Gold Sky Boat” and “Inner Star” again offer the commercial tilt, but with the band’s exceptional performance underneath, who are they trying to kid? This is still world-class fusion! Just check out the electricity of “Loveliness About You”. The album’s compositions definitely present a paradigm shift, but fortunately Nova keeps the quality control high and delivers another consistent slice of vocal fusion. Their final release, 1978’s Sun City, however would take the focus on vocals to an extreme and offer no instrumental tracks; unfortunately the compositions (and lyrics) would slide towards mediocrity. Without any chart success, the band would break up, with Rossett and D’Anna returning to Italy. Rustici remained in the US, earning quite a reputation as a session musician, before turning to production for an even more rewarding career.
Following his time with Neu! and Harmonia, Michael Rother turned to a solo career, releasing a series of albums on the Sky label during the late 1970s and early 1980s. First up was Flamende Herzen, translated to Flaming Hearts, in 1977. Recorded with Conny Plank, the album also marked the beginning of Rother’s relationship with drummer Jaki Liebezeit of Can. Purely instrumental, the album features Rother’s signature guitar work. Pure in tone and simple in execution, the title track layers each guitar part expertly, creating a gentle, moving mood, eventually uplifted by Liebezeit’s drumming. “Zyklodrom” follows with a big synth, yielding to strumming guitar, and again bursts open when the drums kick in. Simple melodies predominate, layered with various textures, and propelled by the motorik beat. The overall feel to Rother’s music is both stirring and uplifting, and indeed heartening. “Karussell” is similar, but the more minimal landscape and drum machine beat of “Feuerland” is a little starker. “Zeni” closes, driven by Liebezeit’s quick beat. The following year, the album would become the soundtrack to a film of the same name, from director Walter Bockmayer. Rother’s next album, Sterntaler, also appeared in 1978, while the excellent Katzenmusik saw release in 1979. Both were successful, in fact, the guitarist was voted Musician Of The Year by readers of Germany’s longstanding Sounds magazine. By the early 80s, Rother had signed with Polydor Records and ventured away from the guitar-dominated work of the Sky recordings, yet on to continued musical success.
Brand X began around the trio of guitarist John Goodsall, keyboardist Robin Lumely and bassist Percy Jones. Of course, having Phil Collins in the drummer's seat didn't hurt their prospects either, but Brand X was truly a collective, and Collins was, lest we forget, one helluva drummer. They first teamed up during sessions for The eddie howell Gramophone Record in 1975, and then again on Lumely's album with Jack Lancaster (of Blodwyn Pig fame), Marscape. Though earlier recordings exist, the first Brand X album proper was recorded and released in 1976. Unorthodox Behaviour was a rather predictable set of fusion: slightly funky, excellent in execution and for the most part, forgetful. Their follow-up, Moroccan Roll, however, is another matter. The caliber of Brand X of course was never in question; the band members were all well-known session musicians in their own right. Here the compositions make great use of this potential, following little formula but their own. Percussionist extraordinaire Morris Pert had joined their ranks, adding his unique talent to the band's vibrant sound. Gone is the fusion cliché and in is something much more original and exciting. The opening track "Sun In The Night" features Collins' making a rare vocal appearance (for Brand X anyway), and in Sanskrit nonetheless. His "Why Should I Lend You Mine" makes great use of space; the interplay never gets too congested. Goodsall is a blistering guitarist. His "Hate Zone" is funky, while his "Macrocosm" traverses the ethereal. Lumley's "Disco Suicide" offers a more conventional melody to which the band coalesces. Jones offers his manic bass work throughout, and a more typical fusion on "Malaga Virgen". The album, released by Charisma Records (and Passport in the US), rose to No. 37 in the UK charts. The band traveled to the US and Canada to tour, with Collins now dividing his time between both Genesis and Brand X as best he could. Like an ever-revolving door, Brand X in one lineup or another (and sometimes two) continued on and released a few more albums, all of similar quality and interest, over the ensuing years. Shortly after the turn of the decade however, the band finally collapsed, their final two albums just compilations of previously recorded outtakes.
Originating from Virginia, Happy The Man was one of America's premier progressive rock bands. Guitarist Stanley Whitaker and drummer Mick Beck founded the band, eventually adding keyboardist Kit Watkins, instrumentalist Frank Wyatt and bassist Rick Kennell. Moving to Washington D.C., the band attracted the interest of Peter Gabriel, who at the time was searching for a backing band. HTM however were committed to their music and settled for a contract with Arista Records instead. Their debut album was produced by Ken Scott and reveals highly complex music, rich in layers and superbly crafted. And with clever titles: "Stump Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest" and "Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo" are typically lively numbers, with everyone getting into the well-arranged fray. "Upon The Rainbow" and "On Time As A Helix Of Precious Laughs" are the only vocal numbers. As early as 1974, HTM had a series of singers in its ranks, including Dan Owen (who would later turn up with Anthony Phillips). However, the complexity of their music made the combination improbable and they decided for the most part to continue as an instrumental band. The darker melody of "Carousel" spirals to great effect, while the closing track "New York's Dream Suite" is suitably cinematic. Their second album, Crafty Hands, also produced by Scott, saw release in 1978. Unfortunately Arista then dropped the band. A final set of demos was recorded in 1979 with Frenchman Coco Roussel on drums, but that album would not see release for years. After a short stint with Camel, Watkins would embark on a solo career during the '80s with a series of instrumental albums, bordering new age instrumental music.
With Alto Pappert's departure, Kraan was again a quartet. Although Ingo Bischof's tenure would be intermittent over the long run, it would have some permanence for now. He brought along fellow Karthago member Tommy Goldschmidt for the sessions that resulted in their sixth album, Wiederhören. Half the album was recorded with Conny Plank at his studio in Neunkirchen, while the band self-produced the other half. Yet both sides of the album kick off with atypically feel-good numbers ("Just One Way" and "Let's Take a Ride"), proving again that Kraan may indeed have been the happiest band in Germany. The instrumentals "Vollgas Ahoi" ("full steam ahead") and "Yaqui Yagua" are the album's highlights. The former is driven by the relentless rhythm of Hellmut Hattler and Jan Fride, while the latter is charmed with Peter Wolbrandt's excellent guitar and wordless vocal. Kraan put on the brakes for the quieter "Silky Way", a rare entrée in their repertoire, and close with Bischof and Wolbrandt playing show-off on "Wiederhören". Kraan seem to hit their stride both in composition and execution with the eight tracks contained in the oddly named album. It garnered much acclaim in their native Germany, but unfortunately would not see any foreign release. In the spring, Hattler assembled the Kraan clan and a slew of guests (Guru Guru, Cluster) at Plank's studio to record his first (and only) solo album. Not surprisingly, Bassball, also released on EMI in 1977, wasn't that different from a Kraan record, and the band quickly returned to Plank's studio to record their next record for EMI.
Concentrating more on arrangement and production, the Jumbo album, released in 1975, presented a more polished Grobschnitt on record. It was even successful enough to prompt a re-recording and release "mit deutsche texten" for their home country, where the band carried the zaniness of the album onto the concert stage. Meanwhile main man Eroc released his second solo album, just before the band reconvened in the studio for this, their fourth record. Here Grobschnitt take on symphonic proportions for the progressive fantasy of Rockpommel's Land. Sung in English, with German liner notes included inside (go figure), the fairy tale revolves around a boy daydreaming about his paper airplane. Ernie and a large bird, Maraboo, all travel to Severity Town where Black Shirts punish Mr. Glee for being nice to children... you get the drift. Inside the Roger Dean-like cover however is an equally illustrative record. "Ernie's Reise" sets the stage. The band sounds light and effortless, alternating between moments of gentle beauty and symphonic grandeur. "Severity Town" offers more of their romance with sound and oddly enough what might be the first "scratching" on record. The short "Anywhere" opens the second side that is dominated by the title track. "Rockpommel's Land" is again indicative of the band's tight execution and luscious melodies. The album again sports a slick production, courtesy Conny Plank and Eroc, and remains their classic statement. Grobschnitt's next record was the 1978 live album Solar Music, which attempted (and succeeded) to replicate the band's live set on vinyl. The band then promoted lighting man Toni Mollo to vocalist for the 1979 album, Merry Go Round. Another like-minded album followed but with continuing personnel and musical direction changes (including "Rock in deutsch"); Grobschnitt's best days were behind them.
Following a brief solo career (with Brian Eno producing), Robert Calvert returned fulltime to Hawkwind as lead vocalist/poet. The band signed to Charisma Records, first releasing Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music in 1976. True to its title, the album features an even more refined sound; as their hippieness fades (as on the excellent "Steppenwolf" for example), Dave Brock's big chord rockers reveal a very contemporary band - or did the times simply catch up with them? The album reached No. 33 in the UK charts, as did the compilation Roadhawks, issued around the same time. But coming into 1977, Alan Powell, Paul Rudolph and Nik Turner were given the boot. (Turner formed Sphynx, releasing Xitintoday with various ex- Gong musicians). Retaining Simons' House and King, Brock and Calvert recruited Adrian Shaw on bass. Released in 1977, Quark Strangeness and Charm presents the most "modern" Hawkwind album yet. The Brock/Calvert songwriting team has hit their stride and the band is at its most progressive: "Spirit Of The Age" motors over a very krautrock beat. House's keyboards in particular add punch to the recordings, but it is Calvert's presentation that's most immediate; little wonder he would become so influential. "Damnation Alley's" riff is typical rock-n-roll, but the song's middle section offers a rather complex-sounding instrumental workout that glides effortlessly into the somber "Fable Of A Failed Race". The honky-tonk of the title track is then contrasted with the menacing riff of "Hassan I Sah Ba". House again steals the show with the percolating electronic sequence of "Vulcan Forge" that leads into the autobiographical "Days Of The Underground". Lastly, King provides another fiery instrumental to close: "Iron Dream", the title taken from the Norman Spinrad book. The album continued their chart success, rising to No. 30 in the UK. But true to form, after returning from a US tour in early 1978 the whole Hawkwind ship crash-landed. After a brief sidestep as the Hawklords (the start of their notorious legal in-fighting) and a contractual obligation album P.X.R.5 to shore things up with Charisma, the Hawk would resurface just before the end of the decade with Brock assembling yet another lineup. Enduring fame, fate and fashion, Hawkwind continues to this day.
Brian Eno, one of England’s most original artist of sound, arrived in Germany post-Roxy Music, and camped up with Harmonia in Forst. Recordings, both studio and live, were made, but wouldn’t see release until decades later. Cluster in the meantime had switched to Sky Records and released Sowiesoso in 1976. Amidst his work with David Bowie on the so-called Berlin trilogy, Eno began a collaboration with Roedelius and Moebius. The first, billed as Cluster + Eno, saw release in 1977. Recorded at Conny Plank’s studio, the album is quite ambient in nature. The tinkling piano of “Ho Renomo” opens, revealing a simple improvisation, with Holgar Czukay adding bass. “Schöne Hände” features some nice synth work, but it’s obvious that the exploration here is that of sound and texture, and not composition. “Wermut” and “Mit Simaen” barely crawl over their piano motifs, though “Selange” offers a bit of rhythm and melody. “One” turns presumably to the inside of a piano, rendering it a slightly eastern bent and the closing Für Luise” epitomizes their slow-building landscapes. Suitably, the album’s cover features a lone microphone and stand held up to the sky. Another album, After The Heat, billed to Moebius, Roedelius and Eno, saw release in 1979 and is far more substantial in composition, even offering vocals. The Eno (and Bowie) connection must have helped sales, yet both albums did not see release outside of Germany. Cluster would record a couple more albums for the Sky label, the first with Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream producing, before Moebius and Roedelius turned to solo work for the ensuing decade.
Estranged son of famed composer Maurice Jarre, French synthesist Jean Michel Jarre studied at Pierre Schaeffer's GRM during the late '60s and early '70s. His earliest release was a 45, "La Cage" b/w "Eros", a mixture of electronics and tape collages - none of which should be surprising considering his pedigree. From there to the international success of Oxygene was quite a leap, especially considering Jarre had composed just few soundtracks in between utilizing his own burgeoning home studio. Of course this was no academic affair; his electronic styling here is akin to that of Vangelis, Synergy or even Tomita: "regular" music played with electronic instruments. In between the whooshes of sound he uses melody rather than rhythm or dissonance to hook the listener; in fact, "Part 2" borrows a motif that has more than a striking resemblance to the pop standard "Winter Wonderland"! Jarre uses a battery of keyboards and synthesizers to create an album that's entirely enjoyable, with the latter half even approaching the progressive. In fact, the album's sonic signature, one bound to those instruments, is perhaps its greatest triumph: it sounds fantastic. Yet it's a veritable statement nonetheless, predating the lighter instrumental new age music of the 1980s, and providing a career path of many others to follow. And Jarre's celebrity aside, the album is largely responsible for launching electronic music into the popular music mainstream. Not only was it a phenomenal success in his native France, but the album also reached No. 2 in the UK (with the single, "Oxygene Part 4" rose to No. 4), while breaking into the Top 100 in the US. In 1978, he released the me-too follow-up Equinoxe to similar success. Since then, he has made a habit of performing concerts on the grandest of scale, including some of the first from a Western artist in China. Jarre would release Oxygene 7-13 in 1997 and a rerecording of the original album for its 30th anniversary in 2007.
Though late in the game for progressive rock, especially of the Italian variety, Locanda De Fate, that’s The Inn of the Fairies in English, hailed from Asti in the Piedmont region. The band featured two keyboard players, Michele Conta and Oscar Mazzoglio, as well as two guitarists, Ezio Vevey and Alberto Gaviglio. The rhythm section was rounded out with Giorgio Gardino on drums and Luciano Boero on bass. Their eponymous album, Forse le Lucciole non si amano piu, was released in 1977 on the Polydor label. It’s dominated with the substantial interplay between the guitarists and keyboardists, which makes for some very dense and highly arranged music. A playful piano opens the instrumental “A Volte Un Istante Di Quiete”; both guitars then join in, revealing the group’s big and romantic sound. The lengthy title track (which translates to something about Fireflies not loving) offers Italian vocals. Leonardo Sasso’s voice is very much the Italian tenor variety and perfect for the album. Gaviglio, Conta and Vevey are the main composers and throughout the album offer consistent even perky sound, with only “Non Chiudere A Chiave Le Stelle” offers respite from the incessant arrangements. “Vendesi Saggezza” closes, it’s final section turning up the rock quotient. The album is regarded as one of the classic albums of Rock Progressivo Italiano, but buyer beware: if classically-inspired symphonic rock is not your taste, then it just may not be so. A single “New York” b/w “New Lune” was released in 1978, but it was commercial in nature and not of much interest. Further shedding of members and their name didn’t change the band’s fortunes and La Locanda broke up in 1980.