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1969 Albums

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Sea Shanties > High Tide

October, 1969
UK
Liberty
5
South Shields-born Tony Hill was a member of the US band The Misunderstood during their chaotic sojourn to London in the late 60s. A few years after the implosion of that band, Hill set his sights on a new group, teaming up with violinist Simon House, bassist Peter Pavli and drummer Roger "Rog" Hadden as High Tide. After landing a publishing deal with Apple Corps and finding management under Wayne Bardell and Clearwater Productions, the band signed with Liberty Records and set to record their debut album-yet in an odd arrangement: Denver "Denny" Gerrard was a recording artist for Deram who needed a backing band; so, in exchange for High Tide's services, the band was afforded studio time to complete Sea Shanties, released in October 1969. "Futilist's Lament" opens the album with a raw, aggressive blast of electric guitar and violin. There's no sugarcoating this psychedelic rock; rough at the edges, thundering and relentless, it's some of the heaviest rock of its time. "Death Warmed Up" continues the unabating thunder. House's violin, often played through a wah-wah, surges to uncomfortable heights. "Pushed, but Not Forgotten" offers some respite, highlighting Hill's deep 60s baritone voice. "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 their contract with Liberty was canceled. House then left for The Third Ear Band. Unable to get a third album going, High Tide fell apart; Hadden suffered a breakdown; and later, Hill and Pavli relocated to Puddletown, Dorset, to work with Drachen Theaker in Rustic Hinge. Eventually, Pavli would work with Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix, while House would work with Hawkwind and later David Bowie's band.

In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson) > King Crimson

October, 1969
United States
Atlantic
4.857145
The painstakingly documented history of King Crimson begins with their birth on January 13th, 1969 in the basement of the Fulham Palace Café, London. The trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp had expanded a year earlier with the arrival of Ian McDonald. 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. The recording of their debut album 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 successful. The power of the band is immediately apparent as "21st Century Schizoid Man" blasts away: King Crimson resounds like nothing before it. Propelled by Michael Giles's inventive drumming, the band's interplay is precise, and their sound is simultaneously immense yet detailed; Fripp's screeching guitar solo is positively terrifying. The Mellotron figures prominently, dominating both "Epitaph" and the title track. This was no mere accessory; rather, the band were writing specifically for the instrument. It's an important point as 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 display their talents. Listening to the flute solo in the title track, it's obvious that McDonald is an accomplished soloist; yet that he's showing us he can play is central to the progressive aesthetic as well: There is no hiding his virtuosity or creativity; in fact, he's flaunting it. Even Sinfield's words, sympathetic to Lake's voice, soar, though it's a matter of taste as to whether they "crack at the seam." In The Court Of The Crimson King sets a new standard for rock music, on what Pete Townshend called an "uncanny masterpiece." The cover art, a harrowing face painted by Barry Godber, also would set the album apart. King Crimson's timely supporting slot at The Rolling Stones' free concert in London's Hyde Park in July was most fortunate. Consequently, 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. King Crimson ended their first year with a two-month tour of the US.

Ummagumma > Pink Floyd

October, 1969
United States
Harvest
3.5
Released after the varied (but commercially successful) soundtrack More, Ummagumma was intended to be a tour de force for Pink Floyd. The two-record set is half-live and half-studio-recorded and constitutes the first release on EMI's new Harvest sub-label. Offering the first live document of the band, the first disc was culled from a series of concerts recorded in April and May. Here, "Careful with That Axe, Eugene," the archetype of their slow-building space rock, makes its first appearance on album. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and "A Saucerful of Secrets," along with the Syd Barrett-written "Astronomy Domine," also feature. Only "Interstellar Overdrive" from their live set is absent (though it does appear on a test pressing of the album). Whether the excitement of the live Floyd experience comes across on the record is open to debate. Nonetheless, it's a good trip, with the live record enduring as the definitive document of this era in Pink Floyd's career. When it came to new material, however, the band were in a conundrum; rather than committing The Man and The Journey, two song suites first debuted live in April 1969, the band chose to showcase themselves individually by featuring a solo composition from each member on the studio record. Unfortunately, they all come across as unsensational experimentation. Even Roger Waters's cleverly titled "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with A Pict" is merely cleverly titled. And yet, the album was the Floyd's most successful to date, reaching No. 5 in the UK; and at No. 74 in the US, also gave the band their first US chart appearance.

Bakerloo > Bakerloo

November, 1969
UK
Harvest, EMI
5
Guitarist David "Clem" Clempson and bassist Terry Poole founded The Bakerloo Blues Line in early 1968, in their native Tamworth, Staffordshire. The band went through a series of notorious drummers, including John Hinch, Pete York, Bill Ward and Poli Palmer, before Keith Baker joined the fold. Managed by Jim "Big Bear" Simpson, the band were an early signing of the EMI Records imprint Harvest, and have the distinction of opening for Led Zeppelin's debut gig in October 1968 at the Marquee Club. Their first release, "Drivin' Bachwards" b/w "Once upon a Time," saw release in May 1969—the former an interpretation of the fifth movement of J.S. Bach's "Lute Suite in E minor," more famously covered by Jethro Tull in August. Their debut album, produced by Gus Dudgeon, kicks off with a tribute to their manager. "Big Bear Folly," a raucous blues number steeped in the prevailing hard blues of 1969, features a fiery Clempson on lead guitar. "Bring It on Home," a Willie Dixon number, is more traditional, and the following "Drivin' Bachwards" even more so. "Last Blues" slows down and stretches out, creating an evocative mood accentuated by Poole's vocals. "Son of Moonshine," however, presents Bakerloo at their heaviest, with a little "Cat's Squirrel" thrown in for good measure. After a hectic year with nonstop touring, the band fell apart towards the end of 1969. Clempson then accepted an invitation to join Colosseum following James Litherland's departure. Poole and Baker went on to May Blitz, but left before any recordings were made. Poole would later perform with Graham Bond and Colin Blunstone, while Baker would play drums on Uriah Heep's Salisbury album.

Joy Of A Toy > Ayers, Kevin

November, 1969
United States
Harvest
3
After Kevin Ayers's split from Soft Machine, manager Peter Jenner and a contract from Harvest coaxed him away from Majorca. Back in England, he quickly assembled his old Softs cohorts at EMI Studios to record his debut solo album, Joy Of A Toy. New to the fold was David Bedford, a classical composer by trade, offering his arrangement skills and doubling on keyboards. The album jumps off with the classic (if dated) psychedelia of "Joy of a Toy Continued." Bedford's arrangement augments "Town Feeling," but it's really all Ayers. His distinctive baritone and no-nonsense approach belie his expressive talent. "Girl on a Swing" and "Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)" are at once beautiful and wistful, even though "The Lady Rachel" is the favorite. Either way, Ayers's melodies are infectious. "Song for Insane Times" is Soft Machine-esque, with Mike Ratledge's truncated solo at the end being the dead giveaway. Both "The Clarietta Rag" and "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" continue with merry psychedelia, though "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" (something in Malaysian) is trippier. Ayers is a first-rate songwriter, and on this debut, a first-rate performer; but both wouldn't always hold true. Ayers released a couple of singles, but even "Singing a Song in The Morning" b/w "Eleanor's Cake Which Ate Her" recorded with Caravan and Syd Barrett, failed to raise interest. The album did see a release in the US; however, it failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.

Renaissance > Renaissance (Yardbirds)

December, 1969
United States
Elektra
4.5
Following the demise of The Yardbirds, guitarist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty opted for a completely different direction than the American blues of their former band: music that combined classical, jazz and folk influences - how progressive! With Relf's sister Jane on vocals, bassist Louis Cennamo and pianist John Hawken were the keys to this new direction of "classical interpretation." The lengthy "Kings & Queens" opens the album; Relf's guitar takes a back seat to Hawken's piano, which paces through hook and quotation with surprising imagination. The band's execution throughout is impeccable: Cennamo and McCarty are a tight rhythm section, giving the arrangements a lift. Revealing a strong folk influence, Jane Relf takes her first crack at lead vocals on "Island." "Bullet," clocking in at over 11 minutes, gets gritty and ends with Cennamo's solo bass fading into an eerie chorus. All in all, it is an auspicious debut that managed to reach No. 60 in the UK. Renaissance recorded a second album, Illusion, the following year; however, it would not see release until 1971. Folksier, it contains the most vital track the band would record, the excellent "Past Orbits of Dust," featuring Don Shinn on electric piano. But the band had already begun to splinter: Hawken guided a transitional lineup in 1970 with some members of the Nashville Teens, but by the time the next Renaissance album was released in 1972, none of the original members would be present. However, adopting the name Illusion, Hawken, McCarty, Cennamo and Jane Relf would regroup in 1977 for two nondescript albums on Island Records.