Having rechristened themselves as Samurai, the bulk of Web regrouped for a new album, signing to the Greenwich Gramophone Company. Replacing the departed Tom Harris were two brass players, Don Fay and Tony Roberts, the former having played on Elton John’s debut album. Samurai recorded their eponymous album at Wessex Sound with Robin Thompson at the controls. The funky little groove of “Saving It for So Long” starts the album and picks up right were Web’s I Spider left off. Dave Lawson’s compositions are exemplary, and the additional horns add yet another dimension to the band’s jazz-influenced progressive rock. “More Rain” slows a bit, highlighted by Fay’s flute and Lawson’s plaintive lyrics, while “Maudie James” and “Holy Padlock” feature Lawson’s distinct vocal delivery. “Give a Little Love” powers away with Tony Edwards’s guitar, and “Face in the Mirror” contains a fury reminiscent of Van der Graaf Generator. The final track, “As I Dried Away the Tears,” again offers everything Samurai has to offer: superb musicianship, precise execution and expert arrangement; it’s a wonder why the album didn’t set the charts on fire. But their record label was short-lived, and to obscurity Samurai would remain. Lawson then joined Greenslade, where he would remain for that band’s course; but little if anything would be heard of the other members, save Roberts who did extensive session work. Following his tenure in Greenslade, Lawson would work with many others, including Stackridge and Roy Harper, before launching a career in sound design.
Spring hailed from Leicester, in the Midlands of central England, and consisted of vocalist Pat Moran, guitarist Ray Martinez, keyboardist Kips Brown, drummer Pick Withers and bassist Adrian Maloney. Strangely enough, when their van broke down “somewhere in Wales,” it was none other than Rockfield Studio boss Kingsley Ward who came to their aid. Subsequently signed by the Neon/RCA label, the band recorded their eponymous album in 1971, with Gus Dudgeon producing. The opening chords of “The Prisoner (Eight by Ten)” reveal the key to the Spring sound: the gentle voice of Moran and Brown’s stately Mellotron. “Grails” features some tasty guitar licks from Martinez; but again, it’s those blasts of Mellotron halfway through that provide the edge to an otherwise melodic tune. “Boats” has a folky vibe, while “Shipwrecked Soldier” rides the marching beat of Withers’s drums. “Golden Fleece” and “Inside Out” bear down harder, with the former’s middle section offering Martinez and Brown the chance to show their chops. Throughout, the band offers a warm, gentle progressive rock, yet one completely awash in Mellotron, played by up to three members of the band. Despite an active touring schedule, attempts to get a second album together failed and the band subsequently broke up after recording only a handful of demos. But the members of Spring had good fortune. Moran became a sound engineer, most famously working at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth with Van der Graaf Generator and Rush. Withers worked as a session musician, until he became a founding member of Dire Straits in 1978.
Amon Düül II’s second release, the double-album Yeti, appeared in November 1970. The improvisations there were more structured, but encompassed most of the album. Released as a single, the appreciably hard-rocking “Archangels Thunderbird” b/w “(Excerpts from) Soap Shop Rock” was a stormer, pointing to the future. The cover features an iconic collage of a grim reaper, in fact a tribute to Wolfgang Krischke, their soundman that died of hypothermia during an LSD trip. Another single was released, “Rattlesnakeplumcake” b/w “Between the Eyes,” again featuring the heavier aspects of the band’s music. Their next release, the double-album Dance Of The Lemmings (aka Tanz der Lemminge), saw international release on the United Artists label in June 1971. Lothar Meid had arrived on bass, replacing Dave Anderson after he left for the UK and Hawkwind. Three of the sides are album-side-long tracks: “Syntelman’s March of the Roaring Seventies” is as exemplary as any here; there’s a hint of acoustic folk in Chris Karrer’s writing, but propelled by Meid’s pummeling bass and Peter Leopold’s brisk percussion, the track takes on a new dimension. Aided by Mellotron, “Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child” descends into darker space, while “The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church” treads the kosmische. The remainder of the fourth side, “Chamsin Soundtrack,” features several shorter tracks, all (more or less) guitar-based, with “Toxicological Whispering” featuring the lead guitar of John Weinzierl. There’s little precedent for Amon Düül II’s music, progressive or otherwise. Both albums present true classics, with their eight sides of vinyl remaining a cornerstone of what would eventually be known as krautrock.
Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, Clouds’ history goes back to the early 1960s and a band called The Premiers. Among its members were bassist Ian Ellis and drummer Harry Hughes, and later, keyboardist Billy Ritchie. Relocating to London, the band, now a trio called 1-2-3, they landed a residency at the Marquee Club in 1967. This eventually attracted the attention of NEMS and Brian Epstein, and along with a slew of fledgling keyboard players to witness Ritchie’s command of the organ. Following Epstein’s untimely death, the band changed their name to Clouds and signed with Terry Ellis and Chrysalis Records. Their debut recording, The Clouds Scrapbook, was released in 1969. Like all of their recordings, it featured orchestral arrangements from future Jethro Tull member David Palmer and production from Andy Johns. Firmly rooted in the 60s, the album is a pastiche of short songs, ranging from music hall to pop to schmaltz; so whatever their live legacy may have been, it didn’t translate to vinyl. A second album, Up Above Our Heads, saw release on Deram in 1970, but in the US only-an empty attempt to break into the North American market. Fortunately, the band’s third album-Watercolour Days, released in 1971-was head and shoulders above the rest. The opening title track is a compositional triumph, combining brilliant songwriting and musical arrangement. “Cold Sweat” grinds deeper, approaching the heavy organ of Atomic Rooster or Deep Purple; while the sultry swirling organ of “Lighthouse” mixes perfectly with the dual vocals of Ritchie and Ellis. The second side’s “Mind of a Child” and “I am the Melody” remain rooted in 60s pop, yet the album’s uniform texture provides a cohesiveness. Despite an international touring schedule throughout their career and capable records, Clouds never found the success they hoped for, and the band called it quits in late 1971. While the prog genre was just coming into full bloom, Clouds would drift from memory and remain a relic of a decade past.
If Emerson, Lake & Palmer had earned a “flash” rock reputation through their live appearances, their second album Tarkus offered up more than something in their defense. Encompassing the first side of the album, the seven-part “Tarkus,” excellently depicted on the album sleeve by William Neal, relates a story of reverse evolution, in a battle between a mythical Manticore and a tank/armadillo beast Tarkus. More importantly, it’s where ELP-and Keith Emerson in particular-buckled down for some serious composition; what they present is nothing short of impressive. “Tarkus” is fierce, engaging, and perhaps best of all, relentless. With no slow middle sections or acoustic respite, the track presents the full-on power of hammering organ, bass and drum through to its end, with a modicum of electric guitar and synthesizer thrown in for good measure. By contrast, the second side offers more discrete (and shorter) material. A honky-tonk piano kicks off the cross-dressing tale of “Jeremy Bender,” which is perhaps another cousin-track to Syd Barrett’s “Arnold Layne.” “Bitches Crystal” hints at things to come, while “A Time and a Place” is the heaviest organ rock. Greg Lake provides a passionate, even Crimson-esque, vocal to the credited J.S. Bach adaptation “The Only Way (Hymn);” though the hypnotic piano riff of “Infinite Space (Conclusion)” submits a welcome moment of restraint-and jazz. Eddie “Are you ready?” Offord engineered the record, while Lake produced; and as usual, the pair achieved a result that nears the gold standard for the era. The album gave ELP their first and only No. 1 record in the UK and finally broke them into the US Top 10.
Born in Bournemouth, Dorset, Gordon Haskell was a childhood friend of Robert Fripp. The pair formed their first band, League of Gentlemen, while at grammar school, with Haskell on bass and vocals. When Fripp went off to college, Haskell joined the Southampton-based psychedelic band Les Fleur de Lys. Working as a house band for the Atlantic/Stax label, the band recorded a couple of classic singles, including “Gong with the Luminous Nose” b/w “Hammer Head.” By the late 60s, however, Haskell was writing his own songs and took a paying gig with The Flowerpotmen. His first, somewhat obscure album offered his songwriting to the world; others would hit the charts in South Africa and Australia with his songs. Haskell then teamed with Fripp on a track for In The Wake Of Poseidon, “Cadence and Cascade,” which, after some cajoling, led to Haskell’s further participation on King Crimson’s third album, Lizard. However, the relationship between Haskell and Fripp turned toxic, and his time with the band was short-lived. Haskell then signed with Ahmet Ertegun’s Atco Records and recorded a second solo album, with producer Arif Mardin and guests Dave Kaffinetti from Rare Bird, Alan Barry from Fields, and John Wetton and Bill Aktinson (Harrison) from Mogul Thrash. It Is And It Isn’t highlights the gentler side of the progressive, with poignant songwriting and affecting lyrics. Certainly, the aforementioned “Cadence and Cascade” provides a blueprint; whether it’s the hooks of “Could Be,” “Sitting by the Fire” and “Spider,” or the introspection of “Upside Down” and “Just a Lovely Day,” Haskell’s songwriting is top-notch. His voice, distinct and pleasant, and the musicians offer an excellent backdrop to Mardin’s string arrangements. Unfortunately, the album was released to little acclaim, despite some high-profile gigs backing Stackridge and Wishbone Ash; the former would cover his excellent “Worms” on their 1975 Extravaganza album. With his solo career on hold, Haskell reverted to bass playing, spending the rest of the decade as a journeyman.
Immediately recognizable by their Orient-inspired album covers, Jade Warrior formed around the duo of guitarist Tony Duhig and percussionist Jon Field. During the mid-to-late 60s, the two drifted through a series of bands, eventually forming July with Tom Newman. Adopting the name Jade Warrior, the pair then recruited Glyn Havard on vocals and bass and secured a contract with Vertigo, reportedly because they shared the same management as Afro-rock band Assagai (also courted by Vertigo). Though the Jethro Tull comparisons are inevitable, their music occupies a much different space. Foremost, Field is a percussionist; and suitably, their songs are not anchored by drumming, which allows for a more expansive sound. Havard is a good vocalist and his bass adds substance; but the rest of the magic is dynamics, ranging from the mildness of Field’s flute to the heavy of Duhig’s overdriven guitar. Their compositions range from the bluesy “A Prenormal Day at Brighton” at one end of the spectrum, to the African-influenced “Masai Morning” at the other end. But the gentleness of “Windweaver” and “Dragonfly Day” is the Warrior’s strong suit. The second side opts for more bluesy numbers, while the acoustic “Sundial Song” bestows a glimpse into their future. The following year, the band delivered two albums: Released, its highlight being the lengthy jam “Barazinbar” with drummer Allan Price and saxophonist Dave Conners; and Last Autumn’s Dream, which offered the closest the band would come to mainstream songs. The band then toured the US in support of Dave Mason, adding Duhig’s brother David on guitar. Two subsequent albums were recorded in 1973, but without a label, neither would see release for decades.
The Trip were an Anglo-Italian group that had origins in London. Enrico “Riki” Maiocchi, of the pop group I Camaleonti, recruited a young Ritchie Blackmore, Billy Gray and Avrid Andersen, among others, and moved to Turin, Italy. Blackmore bowed out early, and was replaced by organist Joe Vescovi; but by the time the band recorded their first album in 1970 for RCA Italiana, Maiocchi was out too. Their debut finds The Trip mixing blues rock with heavy organ and rich harmonies, and some classical influences. However, their second album, Caronte, based on the mythological character Charon, finds their music moving toward the realm of British prog rock. Vescovi, with his self-proclaimed influence of Keith Emerson, is up to task; so while the influence is obvious, there’s still originality in The Trip’s take on the progressive. Yet they never lose their heavy blues-rock roots, as the opener “Caronte I” attests. “Two Brothers” follows suit, opting for vocals this time, à la Atomic Rooster or Lucifer’s Friend. “Little Janie,” an ode to Janis Joplin, eschews the prog for something lighter, while the similar “L’ultima ora e Ode a J. Hendrix” is a little more run-of-the-mill, offering only a few plaintive guitar lines over the prolonged final section. Gray and drummer Pino Sinnone then left, the latter replaced by Furio Chirico, and the new three piece recorded 1972’s Alantide. Venturing deeper into the style of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, it features the furious drumming of Chirico. One final album, the even more playful Time For A Change, was released on Trident Records in 1974. But it was time for a change, indeed. The band split, with Chirico co-founding Arti e Mestieri and Vescovi briefly joining Aqua Fragile and then I Dik Dik.
For his second album for BYG, Daevid Allen returned to London, as Jean Karakos wanted some Soft Machine star power on board. His visa issues resolved, Allen could legally enter the UK; and after a gig supporting Soft Machine at the Roundhouse, BYG booked Marquee Studios and the ensuing Banana Moon album was recorded over a period of “bacchanalia-filled” days. Gongster Christian Tritsch’s guitar and bass ignite the opening “It’s the Time of Your Life,” which also features Delivery’s Pip Pyle on drums. The wistful “Memories,” penned by Hugh Hopper and a staple from early The Wilde Flowers days, features Robert Wyatt on vocals, thus fulfilling Karakos’s wish. Wyatt and bassist Archie Legget provide the rhythm section for most of the album. “Fred The Fish and the Chip On His Shoulder” has a sing-along feel, obviously reflecting the pub-like mood of the recording session. “White Neck Blooze” features Allen performing an uncanny and dead-on Kevin Ayers impersonation, complete with backing vocals from Barry St. John and Legget’s cohorts, Maggie Bell and Gary Wright. The second side features Allen’s “Stoned Innocent Frankenstein”-a lovely and melodic number that descends into the darker space of “And His Adventures in the Land of Flip.” The latter track is a full-on monster of spontaneous jamming, featuring Wyatt, Legget and violinist Gerry Field. The side closes with “I Am a Bowl,” another instant composition graced with Soft Machine guest Nick Evans’s trombone. The album saw release in July on the French BYG label and was reissued by Caroline Records in 1975.
Having already spent most of the year on tour with VdGG, Peter Hammill’s first solo album was recorded in what must have been an exceptionally busy year for him. As a solo artist, Hammill was a slightly different creature. It wouldn’t be incorrect (at this stage) to call the singer-songwriter acoustic; but in true progressive tradition, his song-form certainly was original. The album, as Hammill states on the liner notes, is “an album of songs rather than a musical extravaganza” (that of course, he was saving for the next VdGG album). Most of the songs were years old by the time the album was recorded, many first being cataloged in the early days of VdGG. Adding to the overall color of the album, Fool’s Mate features a host of colleagues, including all of VdGG and Robert Fripp, plus Ray Jackson and Rod Clements from Lindisfarne. Both sides of the album open with uncharacteristically rollicking numbers. “Imperial Zeppelin” is one of two songs co-written with former VdGG member Chris Judge Smith (the other being the excellent “Viking”). Some of the album shows the zest of The Aerosol Grey Machine-in particular, the lumbering “Candle” and the brisk “Re-awakening.” But the portraits of “Solitude” and “Child,” both simultaneously bleak and beautiful, point in the direction that Hammill’s solo career would follow (for now, anyway). Two other tracks, “Vision” and “The Birds,” would both crop up a decade later in re-recordings, again reaffirming their timelessness. Hammill would become one of the most prolific solo artists of the genre, but all of that would have to wait; there was still much unfinished business in VdGG to attend to.
Judging by the success of their last album and single, this was indeed the year of the Rooster (though technically, it was the Year of the Boar). Another single, this time penned by John Du Cann, was released in July. “Devil’s Answer” b/w “The Rock” was a hit, reaching No. 4 on the UK charts. However, the creative differences between Du Cann and Vincent Crane had come to a head. Crane recruited vocalist Pete French, formerly in Leafhound, to re-record Du Cann’s vocals on the nearly completed album. In retrospect, it was a good addition; French is a more accomplished vocalist and the album, In Hearing Of, rates as Atomic Rooster’s finest. “Breakthrough” and the instrumental “A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down” are fierce rockers. But again, the quieter tracks best demonstrate Crane’s significant talent. He switches to piano for the bittersweet “Decision/Indecision” while the sublime “Black Snake” proves Crane’s expert command of the Hammond organ (and offers a rare vocal from him as well). Drummers also take note: Paul Hammond is superb throughout. The album’s strength, though, is its songwriting, giving it a continuity that the band’s previous efforts lacked. Of some minor note to prog rock punters, the album cover and gatefold sport one of Roger Dean’s most un-cosmic creations. The album reached No. 18 in the UK charts. Yet both Hammond and Du Cann would depart the band-forming the hard-rocking Hard Stuff with John Gustafson. Crane, with French, recruited guitarist Steve Bolton and drummer Ric Parnell for the subsequent tour, which included a supporting slot for The Who at George Harrison’s UK Concert for Bangladesh.
Founded by Irishman John O’Brien-Docker, Hamburg’s The City Preachers was folk-rock band that featured (among others) vocalists Inga Rumpf and Dagmar Krause, as well as drummer Udo Lindenberg. They split in 1968, with Rumpf, Krause and Lindenberg teaming up with French keyboardist Jean-Jacques Kravetz and bassist Karl-Heinz Schott. By 1970, however, Krause left to eventually join Slapp Happy (but not before recording the split-album I.D. Company with Rumpf), while Lindenberg went off to Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. Carsten Bohn was brought in on drums; and reconstituted as Frumpy (a play on Inga’s name), the band switched their musical direction to the newly awakening progressive. Signed to Philips, their debut album All Will Be Changed was recorded in August 1970, and they promptly hit the road with a 50-date German tour supporting Spooky Tooth. The blueprint was there: They had bluesy rock with classical digressions, even separated out as individual tracks; and though songs like “Floating” and “Indian Rope Man” showcase the band’s talents, nothing, absolutely nothing, could prepare the world for the sonic onslaught that was Frumpy 2. “Good Winds” opens like a punch in the face; Kravetz’s roaring organ tone just perfect, Inga’s voice belting out a growl unparalleled by any woman in rock. “How the Gipsy Was Born” (sic) and “Take Care of Illusion” continue the pace, with the rhythm section of Bohn and Schott pounding furiously and with aplomb. The addition of guitarist Rainer Baumann enriches the overall sound, but his role is mainly playing leads. It’s a magical record: one of the heaviest and most relentless of the era. But the intensity wouldn’t last; after a third album, By The Way, released in early 1972, Frumpy split. Rumpf, Kravetz and Schott recruited new members-drummer Curt Cress (ex-Orange Peel) and guitarist Frank Diez (ex-Emergency)-and formed the more commercially-orientated Atlantis.
The title of Gentle Giant’s second album, Acquiring The Taste, was of course a reference to their musical oeuvre. The liner notes insist, “It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge… to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music.” And there you have it: the progressive ethos! The band plays what seems to be an orchestra of instruments over the course of the album. From the baroque recorders on “Wreck” to the alto and tenor saxophones of “The Moon Is Down,” Giant extend the range of their music in a genuinely eclectic way. Remember, this was 1971: If you wanted new sounds, you had to come up with them on your own; there were no magic buttons to press. The string quartet on “Black Cat” is highly effective, lending warmth to the feline interpretation. And dig the Walter Carlos-esque Moog synthesizer of the title track. Throughout the album, the Giant’s performance is, of course, consummate, as is Tony Visconti’s impeccable production. Both “Plain Truth” and “The House, the Street, the Room” carry a familiar heaviness the band would often revisit. Lyrically, the album also stretches out, referencing the literary works of 16th century humanist François Rabelais in “Pantagruel’s Nativity.” The liner notes further describe and predict the album’s conclusion: “to give you something far more substantial… at the risk of being very unpopular.” For the most part, Gentle Giant succeed on both counts: Their technical ability was enormous, and their albums did not sell very well. The album was their first to see release in the US, yet it failed again to chart. Gentle Giant would, however, record another two albums for Vertigo.
Though fusion could be described as the combination of jazz and rock, it may be more accurate to acknowledge its rise as “when jazz got electric.” Mahavishnu Orchestra was definitely electric, perhaps even manic at times. Guitarist John McLaughlin had just left The Tony Williams Lifetime, where things had continued, according to the guitarist, “getting louder and louder.” Of course, the Yorkshire-born McLaughlin had been at it for more than a decade; he played with everyone from Graham Bond to Brian Auger to Jack Bruce, and culminated the trip on Miles Davis’s legendary fusion works, In A Silent Way and Bitches’ Brew. But while Davis was out to explore improvisation and groove, McLaughlin wanted a team to perform his compositions. He handpicked the international cast and, as the title suggests, lit a fire under them. Drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Rick Laird supply the fierce rhythm section, and soaring—almost always in unison—are the soloists: Violinist Jerry Goodman had spent time in The Flock, while Czech-born Jan Hammer had recently immigrated to the US. Yet McLaughlin’s guitar steals the show; his fluid arpeggios generate fury and speed; just check out “Dawn” or “The Noonward Race.” It’s no wonder this massively influential album became a legend in both jazz and progressive circles—virtuosity never sounded this good. Marketed to a rock audience, it sold well too, reaching No. 89 in the US; the image of McLaughlin and his double-neck guitar certainly helped, as did their concerts, which were primarily offered to rock audiences. Their follow-up, Birds of Fire, managed to reach the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet by 1974, the constant touring took its toll and the band broke up. McLaughlin would recruit a new lineup (featuring Jean-Luc Ponty, Gayle Moran and Narada Michael Walden) for two albums in the mid-70s, which focused more on construction than execution. Still, The Inner Mounting Flame remains a significant and bold musical step in the history of rock and jazz music alike.
Hailing from Genoa, the New Trolls were one of the first Italian rock bands. Story has it the band was “created” by a music critic choosing an ideal lineup: guitarist Vittorio De Scalzi, vocalist (and guitarist) Nico Di Palo, drummer Gianni Belleno, keyboardist Mauro Chiarugi and bassist Giorgio D’Adamo were all fortunate enough to land a supporting spot on The Rolling Stones’ 1967 tour of Italy. After several successful singles (and two albums compiling them), the band collaborated with Argentinean composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov for Concerto Grosso per i New Trolls. Based on Baroque music, the piece opens with “Allegro,” with the hard blues of the era alternating between brisk waves of strings. The syrupy “Adagio (Shadows)” follows, a rather unspectacular vocal number; while “Cadenza - Andante Con Moto” features solo violin. Only the closing “Shadows (Per Jimi Hendrix)” goes electric, courtesy of Di Palo’s Jimi Hendrix-influenced guitar. Encompassing the second side is an in-studio improvisation from the band. After a protracted organ intro, the band rocks out, ranging from flute-driven rock to jazzy Santana-esque grooves and ends in one long drum solo. But according to Paolo Barotto in his The Return of Italian Pop, the record sold a phenomenal 800,000 copies in Italy and is generally regarded as the foundation of Italian progressive rock. Bacalov, who spent the 60s composing soundtracks for spaghetti westerns, would render the same services for Osanna the following year and Il Rovescio della Medaglia in 1973, though the former was undoubtedly his crowning musical achievement. In 1972, the New Trolls issued two albums: The half-live, half-studio Searching For A Land included a switch to English-language vocals, while UT was generally better received-in fact, one of the band’s finest records. The band then split; De Scalzi formed the New Trolls Atomic System (to avoid legal hassles) and issued a self-titled album of progressive rock in 1973, while Di Palo formed Ibis with most of the other members of the New Trolls. In 1976 the factions made up and reformed the New Trolls, uniting De Scalzi, Di Palo and Belleno with new members. Their first recording was Concerto Grosso No. 2; but unfortunately, it did little to further their legacy.
One of Germany’s rock pioneers, Achim Reichel founded beat-era The Rattles, the country’s equivalent to The Beatles, with Herbert Hildebrandt in 1960. Military service drew Reichel from the band; but upon discharge, he continued his musical career with the pop group Wonderland. At the start of the 70s, however, his interests in Eastern philosophies coincided with the burgeoning progressive trend. Teaming with lyricist Frank Dostal, he launched the just plain weird Wonderland Band. In 1971, Die Grüne Reise (“The Green Journey”) was the first album under Reichel’s new moniker, A.R. & Machines. Billed as a “soundtrack to the intended motion picture,” the album is certainly a trip. Reichel recorded the album by himself, adding vocals, percussion and electronic effects; Dostal wrote the lyrics. “Machines” refers to the tape recorders that made up Reichel’s signature “echo-guitar.” In layering multiple guitar lines to hypnotic effect, he predates just about everyone that would follow (Robert Fripp, Manuel Göttsching, Günter Schickert, etc.). “Beautiful Babylon,” for example, is resplendent, and offers a completely different take on the kosmische. There’s also a hippie vibe throughout the record that could be seen as strength (“I’ll Be Your Singer”), or not (“Come On, People”). Yet the album-twangy, metric and definitely psychedelic-is Reichel’s own progressive twist on rock ‘n’ roll, culminating in the whacked-out “Truth and Probability” with Reichel now layering his voice through the tape machines! The album saw release on Polydor, as did the following year’s double-album opus, Echo. Produced again by Reichel, the album enlisted the services of Conny Plank as engineer, and featured a host of guest musicians. With the “Machines” hypnotic echo-guitar in full force, it’s largely augmented by acoustic guitar, tabla rhythms and Reichel’s deep baritone croon-though Peter Hecht’s orchestration also shines. It’s an unprecedented set, and one of the most stunning albums of the era. Later Reichel set up his own Zebra imprint with Polydor and released albums by a variety of artists, including Kin Ping Meh, Ougenweide and Randy Pie. He also would release a few more A.R. & Machines albums, including the excellent IV in 1973. By mid-decade, however, Reichel’s involvement with progressive rock would be limited to that of producer and label head, as his (successful) solo career settled into more commercial territory, beginning with Dat Shanty Alb’m in 1976.
Infinitely more rewarding than their debut was Curved Air’s aptly titled Second Album. Bassist Ian Eyre replaced Robert Martin, the first in what would become an all-too-frequent occurrence for the band. The considerable musical talents of the classically-trained violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman finally gel here, even though their compositions split the album’s sides. Way’s “Young Mother” opens and features some excellent synthesizer work from Monkman. The funky “Back Street Luv” b/w “Everdance” was a hit for the band the previous summer, reaching No. 5 in the UK. Sonja Kristina’s voice is unique for rock, let alone progressive rock: It’s rather formal and always up in the mix, something Renaissance would replicate a few years later. Monkman’s “Everdance” is a refreshing change, with Way’s violin well-integrated into the song; while “Piece of Mind” finally delivers the fusion of rock and classics the band initially promised. The album was well-received in the UK, perhaps this time (without picture disc) more genuinely so, reaching No. 11 on the charts. Bassist Mike Wedgwood was on board for their next album, 1972’s Phantasmagoria, which continued to refine Curved Air’s classical sound-especially on compositions like “Marie Antoinette” and “Over and Above.” The album again charted in the UK, albeit only reaching No. 20. It would be the last album with both Way and Monkman (for now, anyway), as the band would soon undergo massive personnel changes.
Founded in 1965, the Royal Servants was a beat-era band from Reichenbach, Swabia, in the southwest of Germany. Like most groups of the era, their music matured from beat to psychedelic to something a little more progressive. We, the group's first album, was recorded in 1970 for the Swiss Elite Special label. A curious mix of organ, driving rhythm and English-language lyrics, it was a competent work of the era. But after sharing a bill with the German-language rock pioneers Ihre Kinder, a band from Nuremberg that shared similar beat-era roots (as Jonah & The Whales), the Royal Servants rebranded themselves as Eulenspygel-after Till Eulenspiegel, a figure in medieval folklore (literally "owl glass")-and began singing in their native tongue. Featuring original Servant and guitarist Matthias James "Till" Thurow with later Servants Ronald "Ronnie" Libal on bass, Günter Klinger on drums and Detlev Nottrodt on guitar, the band included Rainier "Mulo" Maulbetsch on vocals, Karlheinz Großhans on organ and Cornelius Hauptmann on flute. Signing to the Intercord imprint Spiegelei (literally "mirror egg," but German for "sunny-side up" which may explain the album's cover), their "second" album was released in Autumn 1971. The bluesy riff of "Till" rips open the album, revealing the baritone voice of Maulbetsch. "Son My" breaks down to a driving kosmische groove, with the dual guitars of Thurow and Nottrodt trading licks over Hauptmann's flute and Großhans's organ. "Konsumgewäsche" ("Consumption") cops a mean break, but the lyric's political message-as with many German bands of the era-is lost to the non-native speaker. "Staub Auf Deinem Haar" ("Dust on Your Hair") again features a jazzy groove, but the opening of "Das Lied Vom Ende" ("Song of the End") begins with classical ambitions, before descending into the band's shifting and rhythmic meters, here with Thurow adding violin. The band had significant support from their record label, and toured extensively in support of the album. Highlighted by the epic track "Abfall," Eulenspygel recorded a second album, Ausschuß ("Committee"), at The Beatles' Apple Studios in 1972, but further recordings failed to materialize, and by 1973 the band had called it a day.
Success may have proved too much for Arthur Brown, as his attempts to keep the Crazy World together failed. Along with Drachen Theaker, Brown assembled a new band, provisionally called Puddletown Express, in late 1969. The lineup included saxophonist George Khan, organist Jonah Mitchell, bassist Dennis Taylor and guitarist Andy Rickell, aka “Android Funnel.” A follow-up to the Crazy World was recorded, but ultimately abandoned. (It did see release decades later as Strange Lands, as did the Brown-less Rustic Hinge recordings). Brown then formed Kingdom Come in 1970 with yet another revolving cast, this time involving Dave Ambrose, Rob Tait, Andrew McCulloch, Andy Dalby and Michael “Goodge” Harris. Initial rehearsals from this nascent group were also released decades later. The band-now with Dalby, Harris, Martin “Slim” Steer on drums and Desmond Fisher on bass-held together long enough to record their debut at London’s Olympic and Monmouth’s Rockfield studios. Galactic Zoo Dossier is a highly crafted prog rock classic; and without a doubt, one of the most bizarre albums of the era. The record plays continuously, which should be no surprise; a self-proclaimed “multi-media experience,” the concert stage-with face painting, costumes, props and all-was Kingdom Come’s forte. And the album plays out: “Space Plucks,” co-written with Vincent Crane, contains one of his classic organ hooks, while “Gypsy Escape” illustrates the exceptional musicality of the band. The unmistakable voice of Brown and his R&B influences lend a soulful slant to the proceedings, something rare for English music from this period. Just check out his passionate delivery on “Sunrise.” The album saw release on Polydor in the UK, but despite extensive touring, failed to chart.
In the 1970s, the Netherlands spawned groups ranging from the better-known Golden Earring, Focus and Kayak to the lesser-known Supersister and Alquin. On the latter end of the spectrum, Earth and Fire combined the talents of the brothers Koerts-Chris on guitar and Gerard on keyboards-with Hans Ziech on bass and female vocalist Jerney Kaagman. Their initial success was as a singles band; from the early-to-mid 70s, they consistently littered the Dutch record charts with their English-language hits. Their self-titled debut was typical of the era: psychedelic rock with some good arrangements, but not without the West Coast influence of Jefferson Airplane. Ton van der Kleij then replaced original drummer Cees Kalis; and after purchasing a Mellotron, the band moved in a musically progressive direction, releasing Song Of The Marching Children in 1971. “Carnaval of the Animals” (sic) is circus music, while “Ebbtide” has pop overtones. Gerard’s classically-inspired organ leads “Storm and Thunder,” yet “In the Mountains” tracks the same ground as Focus. It’s all good music, but nowhere near essential. The highlight, though, is the album’s side-long title track. The protracted introduction sweeps into the large symphonic refrain of “Opening the Seal;” the themes of “Childhood” and “Affliction” are sweetly melancholic, while the story-one of those biblical life-to-death tales-is dark. An acoustic guitar works the transition from “Damnation” to the long, dirge-like fade of “The March.” Kaagman’s voice doesn’t have the range of her progressive contemporaries, but she’s got a powerful delivery that’s well-suited for the music. Throughout the piece, each section is integrated into the next, and the track features a trove of Mellotron, synthesizers and other keyboards. It’s a unique twist on prog rock, but one that’s also symphonic and superbly executed by the band. Jaap Eggermont, of Golden Earring fame, produced the album, as well as the rest of Earth and Fire’s discography. The band’s next album-Atlantis, released in 1973-continued in the same progressive direction; though their later releases would take less risks as the band moved on to more commercial terrain.