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1973 Albums

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Måltid > Samla Mammas Manna

November, 1973
Sweden
Silence Records
5
Lars Hollmer, Hans Bruniusson, Lars Krantz and Henrik Bebben Öberg formed the Uppsala-based Samla Mammas Manna in 1969. Not your typical rock band, even by a long shot, they released their self-titled debut in 1971 on Sweden's Silence Records. Mostly centered on Hollmer's electric piano and organ, it was a mishmash of ideas and lo-fi recording in the keyboardist's chicken house. Subsequently, percussionist Öberg dropped out; and prior to their second album's recording, guitarist Coste Apetrea joined up. Released in 1973 on Silence, Måltid ("meal time") is a hallmark of the band's unique style. Certainly, the album contains inspiration from Frank Zappa and a healthy dose of improvisation; but the root of SMM's compositions lie in Nordic folk tunes—SMM's trick is turning these themes into modern rock. "Dundrets Fröjder" starts with a bevy of ideas, eventually settles down for a verse or two of nonsense lyrics and then rises again into a tight groove, augmented by Mellotron; if only it went on longer. Throughout the album, bassist Krantz and drummer Bruniusson are incredibly tight, driving each musical fragment to the next with ease. "Syster System" flows into the bouncing riff of "Tärningen," which is a veritable display for Apetrea's guitar. "Minareten" closes, and it's another potent exhibition of SMM firepower. Released in 1974, the band's next album Klossa Knapitatet continued where the previous left off, and their next project saw the band record Gregory Allan Fitzpatrick's Snorungarnas Symfoni in 1976. Apetrea split in the mid-70s to work with guitarist Jukka Tolonen and members of Wigwam; and in 1978, the rest of SMM participated in Chris Culter's inaugural Rock in Opposition festival: a movement the band would embrace. Yet with guitarist Eino Haapala now on board, SMM switched their spelling to Zamla Mammaz Manna for another round of albums, again on Silence. By the early 80s, though, Hollmer and Haapala were recording as Von Zamla, yet retiring the name altogether in 1982.

Dedicato A Frazz > Semiramis

November, 1973
Italy
Trident (2), Trident (2)
4.75
Semiramis was another Italian group that forged a substantial legacy based on one recording. Formed in Rome in the early 70s by the brothers Zarrillo—keyboardist Maurizio and vocalist Michele—the band also featured bassist Marcello Reddavide and drummer Memmo Pulvano. Like Cervello, they were all teenagers at the time. Also a guitarist, brother Michele joined in 1972, replacing the band's original vocalist. Then Semiramis earned a slot at the Festival pop di Villa Pamphili in Rome, held in late May 1972. Spread over three days, the festival featured dozens of RPI groups—including Banco, New Trolls and Osanna, along with Hawkwind, Amon Düül II and Van der Graaf Generator—playing to a reported 100,000 plus audience; yes, it was the Italian Woodstock. Adding drummer Paolo Faenza and keyboardist Giampiero Artegiani, Semiramis then signed to Trident Records and recorded their debut album, Dedicato A Frazz, which was released in 1973. "La bottega del rigattiere" ("The Junk Dealer's Shop") opens the album, revealing a dense rock progressivo Italiano. Layers of keyboards, vibraphone and guitar fill the soundstage as the song shifts through several themes. "Luna Park" jumps off frenetically before settling down, while the ensuing "Uno Zoo Di Vetro" ("A Glass Zoo") is the opposite; it scuttles its gentle beginning for something downright metal, shifts gears for a resplendent finale and then sideswipes again with a sideways solo vibraphone finish. You get the point: Semiramis pour everything into the mix. "Dietro Una Porta Di Carta" ("Behind a Paper Door") offers more of Michele's heavy guitar, while "Frazz" shifts violently between themes. The album stands as one of the most original and exciting displays of RPI, but it wasn't to last: Weathering further lineup changes, the band broke up after a final performance at the Villa Pamphili festival in 1974. Michele Zarrillo briefly joined Il Rovescio della Medaglia before forging a successful Italian solo career in the 80s.

The Machine That Cried > String Driven Thing

November, 1973
US
Charisma
0
String Driven Thing were a Glaswegian folk-rock band formed by Chris and Pauline Adams, who released one album before eventually relocating to London and finding a home with the Charisma label. By the time of their second self-titled album in late 1972, the duo had recruited classically-trained violinist Graham Smith and bassist Colin Wilson. A (more or less) drumless affair, tracks like “Easy to Be Free,” “Jack Diamond” and “My Real Hero” highlighted Adams’s folksy and somewhat dark songwriting. Smith’s violin was to the forefront of the basic backing of guitar and bass, and, of course, the vocal harmonies of both Adamses. For their second album with Charisma, The Machine That Cried, drummer Billy “The Kid” Fairley came on board to make the most of Shel Talmy’s expert production. “Heartfeeder” starts off with a bang, with the rhythm section providing a rollicking bounce, a great counterpoint to Smith’s sharp violin. “To See You” is folksier, while “Night Club” quickly moves into a funky little groove with Adams’s half-spoken vocal sounding more American than British. The second side features more of Adams’s songwriting, including the bleak-sounding chorus of “People on the Street,” Pauline’s gentle-voiced “The House” and the hard-rocking title track. Despite high-profile touring with the Charisma stable of bands on both sides of the Atlantic, success was elusive; Adams’s health issues ultimately drove him and Pauline from the band. Smith then recruited a completely new lineup for further two albums with Charisma, however, the band folded in 1975. Smith would eventually join Van Der Graaf.

Fandangos In Space > Carmen

December, 1973
US
ABC Records
4
Born in Los Angeles, California, David Clark Allen and sister Angela were raised on Spanish music, as their parents operated a club on the Sunset Strip. In the early 70s, the pair met another kindred spirit: dancer Roberto Amaral. With a vision of combining flamenco music with rock, they formed Carmen with former The Gods and Toe Fat drummer Brian Glascock. However, it took moving to London and catching the attention of the glam world for the band to take flight. It's no wonder, as their live show featured dancing of Angela and Amaral's flamenco dancing on a specially amplified stage: a feat of aural and visual spectacle. Glascock did not make the trip, but Carmen added his brother John on bass—he had recently departed Chicken Shack after a brief stay—and recruited drummer Paul Fenton. It was through Fenton that the band gained management and, most importantly, a recording contract with Regal Zonophone. With Tony Visconti at the helm, Carmen recorded their debut album, Fandangos In Space, in 1973. As the spirited "Bulerias" attests, the band present a rousing, well-crafted hybrid of (you guessed it) Latin music and progressive rock. Despite a few dips, the album powers through; "Looking Outside (My Window)" and the title track are the highlights. Carmen enjoyed success on the touring circuit, recording again with Visconti for 1974's Dancing On A Cold Wind before returning to the US in 1975 to open for Jethro Tull's War Child tour. But when the band decamped to a farm in Long View, Massachusetts to record a third album, The Gypsies, things quickly fell apart. Management vanished with their money and Fenton was injured in a horse riding accident. Glascock subsequently left for Jethro Tull, while Allen eventually left the music business in the early 80s.

Inside > Eloy

December, 1973
United States
Janus Records
4
From Hannover, Eloy formed in 1969, taking their name from sci-fi author H.G. Wells's Time Machine. As with many German bands at the time, Eloy covered English bands, which had considerable influence on their music. Oddly enough, the band gained a recording contract by winning a talent contest. Their hard rock debut, sung in English (as were all their albums), was a private release, but constant touring led to a deal with EMI. For their second album, Inside, guitarist and vocalist Frank Bornemann had taken control of the band's musical direction as, unsurprisingly, it took a turn to the sci-fi and the progressive. Combining the bluesy riffs of early Jethro Tull and the psychedelic jams of Pink Floyd, the album is still quite a statement. The first side is comprised entirely of "Land of Nobody" and features the excellent organ work of Manfred Wieczorke. Fritz Randow and Wolfgang Stocker's plodding rhythm section are new for the album, but Stocker wouldn't last for another. The second side features three shorter tracks that further highlight the band's unique combination of both hard and progressive rock. Bornemann's voice is "like Ian Anderson with a German accent" and something you either like or (more than likely) don't. Recorded while Bornemann simultaneously produced the Scorpions second album, their next album, Floating, followed in much the same direction. Both created some stir in the US, but unfortunately their record label Janus went bankrupt. Eloy, however, would soldier on.

In A Glass House > Gentle Giant

December, 1973
United Kingdom
WWA Records
4.125
Gentle Giant recorded their fifth album in the still-settling wake of the eldest Shulman Phil's departure. The band was back at Advision, but for the first time since their debut without engineer Martin Rushent. Like the black-and-white cover, In A Glass House has a stark, monochromatic feel to it; but nevertheless contains some classic Giant material. "The Runaway" kicks off on John Weathers's solid offbeat; and along with "Experience," both songs would remain concert favorites for some years, albeit in shortened form. "An Inmates Lullaby," one of the quiet tunes on the album, is exceptional: The track's percussive vibes provide emphasis rather than embellishment. "Way of Life" clicks away under Weathers's fierce tempo, but it sounds a little too neat; while the noodling arrangement of "Experience" opens the second side. But all of Gentle Giant's studio trickery sounds, well, just like studio trickery. And although Weathers's drums are curiously up in the mix (a good thing), one can't help but get the feeling that the album was constructed, layer by layer and part by part, rather than played by a band. Still, it's difficult to throw stones at the album: The luscious melody and strings of "A Reunion" complement a tender vocal from Kerry Minnear and together are sublime. The title track is the album's hardest rocking affair, and also perhaps the most successful; its incessant beat drives the song forward through its various sections, holding interest throughout. Gary Green's guitar work is particularly strong here, as is Derek Shulman's direct vocal. Though the album never saw release in the US, it went on to sell a reputed 150,000 copies on import and attain near-legendary status with fans. Not bad for an album that was rejected by their US label, Columbia.

Angel's Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible Part 2) > Gong

December, 1973
United Kingdom
Virgin
5
While Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth were off in Majorca, the core group of Tim Blake, Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe—with newcomers Mike Howlett on bass and Pierre Moerlen on drums—spent the spring touring France as Paragong. When the couple returned, this "classic" lineup completed their first UK tour in the summer, and then returned to France to record the second installment of the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. In terms of musical composition, this album is one of the more democratic in Gong's oeuvre, with all members participating; but the story is, once again, all Allen's. Angel's Egg eschews lengthy numbers for more of a storybook presentation. That said, the album opens with "Other Side of the Sky," one of Gong's most ornate invocations. Malherbe's lyrical alto saxophone and Blake's spacey synthesizers gradually rise as the groove gains mass, culminating in Hillage's distinct guitar runs. The straightforward rocker "Sold to the Highest Buddha" follows, and quickly morphs down into a jazzy groove; next, Hillage's space guitar returns for "Castle in the Clouds." The sexy "Prostitute Poem" highlights both Smyth's unique space whisper and feminism, while Allen responds with his sympathetic "Selene." The second side begins with Malherbe's signature "Flute Salad" before sliding down into the pure fun of "Oily Way." "Outer Temple" features another glorious groove, something that would be fully exploited on Gong's next album. The percussion of "Percolations" turns tuneful for "Love Is How Y Make It (sic)," the lyric of which is the most straight-forward and unambiguous Gong's mythology would ever get. Finally, the album ends with two songs proper: Both Hillage and Allen trade off vocals on "I Niver Glid Before (sic)," and Malherbe's "Eat That Phone Book Coda" closes succinctly. Performed impeccably and with considerable production, Angel's Egg is one of the few albums of the era that is just plain fun, and remains the most coherent presentation of Allen's mythology with Gong.

Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh > Magma

December, 1973
United States
A&M Records
4
Armed with a two-album deal from A&M Records (and reportedly signed by Herb Alpert) it was at manager Giorgio Gomelsky's request that Christian Vander firmly took the reins of Magma to realize his epic work, Mekanïk Destrukïw Kommandöh. It tells the story of Nebëhr Gudahtt, a sort of apocalyptic prophet from the planet Kobaia—Book of Revelations-type stuff, really. Recorded versions existed as early as January and the piece was performed in New York in July (with a horn section that included the Brecker Brothers); the album, however, is the grandest of presentations. If there is a musical reference, it wouldn't be Vander's fondness for John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, but rather choral works, such as Igor Stravinsky's Les Noces or Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Throughout the piece, Vander's modus operandi is this "force rythmique," a combination of his deft drumming, Jannick Top's bass supreme and keyboardist Jean-Luc Manderlier's swirling electric piano; static and relentless, it's a kind of musical intercourse, always teasing towards the edge of climax. Vander is also joined on choral acrobatics by Klaus Blasquiz, his wife Stella Vander and others, while stalwarts René Garber and Teddy Lasry provide the brass. Like a storm front on the horizon, the heavy rhythm of "Hortz Fur Dëhn Stekënhn West" wraps the chorus in a circular motion, teetering on the edge of furious cacophony. "Ïma sürï Dondaï" offers a brief respite before the tempestuous choral and horn arrangements again storm in. By the second side's "Nebëhr Gudahtt," with Vander and Blasquiz's falsettos approaching hysteria, the listening gets difficult; still, the Top/Vander rhythm section grinds through "Mekanïk Kommandöh" before the epic work reaches its final, glorious climax. Regardless of the pretension, Magma remains one of the most original groups of the progressive era, and MDK is their masterwork: "Zeuhl" starts here.

Freedom Is Frightening > Yamash'ta, Stomu

December, 1973
United Kingdom
Island Records
5
Hailing from Japan, Tsutomu Yamashita, better known as Stomu Yamash'ta, was a classically-trained percussionist whose earliest recording featured the works of 20th century composers Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies and Toru Takemitsu. After releasing his first original percussion composition, Red Buddha, Yamash'ta toured Europe with his Red Buddha Theatre Company, which eventually led him to London and Island Records. His first two releases for the label, Floating Music in 1972 and Man From The East in 1973, were with fellow percussionist Morris Pert's band, Come To The Edge (which was eventually re-christened Suntreader). Both saw a fusion of eastern and western music, with the latter album also containing pieces for Yamash'ta's theatre company. He then formed his own band, East Wind, with guitarist Gary Boyle, bassist Hugh Hopper and keyboardist Brian Gascoigne. Expectedly, they skirted with another fusion of sound; but this time, it was of the funky-jazz type best demonstrated on the excellent Freedom Is Frightening. The slow-building title track grinds to Gascoigne's organ and Yamash'ta's drums, "Rolling Nuns" undulates over Hopper's bass and "Pine on the Horizon" brings Yamash'ta's percussion to the fore. Its fiery fusion doesn't mind dipping down with a few rockin' breaks, courtesy of Boyle's guitar. Featuring violin from Yamash'ta's wife Hisako, the more pastoral "Wind Words" gently closes the record. Amid touring, another couple of albums would (now with vocalists) appear in quick succession, all again for Island Records.

Cosmic Century > Wallenstein

December, 1973
Germany
Kosmische Musik
3
In 1973, Wallenstein switched to Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's Kosmische Musik label, and saw some personnel changes. Jerry Berkers left and was replaced by bassist Dieter Meier; while a new member, Joachim Reiser, joined on violin. The band then rechristened itself as "The Symphonic Rock Orchestra" and released the excellent Cosmic Century album. Jürgen Dollase's piano still dominates, but as the lead-off track "Rory Blanchford" attests, Reiser's violin is indeed a new texture. The flowing arpeggios of "Grand Piano" follow right into the appreciably rocking "Silver Arms;" here, Dollase adds organ and synthesizer to his armory, but it's Bill Barone's guitar work that's blistering. "The Marvellous Child" continues in similar fashion; Dollase's vocals aren't particularly strong, but they're entirely fitting. Both "Song of Wire" and "The Cosmic Couriers Meet South Philly Willy" ride their lively symphonic arrangements, with Barone's guitar again dominating. Wallenstein's fourth album (with Jürgen Pluta now on bass) Stories, Songs & Symphonies followed in 1975; and in some ways, it's a love or hate affair. If you liked the direction of the previous album, it's even more idiomatic of Wallenstein's original music; however, it also marked the end of an era. In 1977, Dollase would sign to RCA and release the more commercial No More Love, retaining only Pluta from the previous lineup. The following year, Dollase recruited an entirely new band to continue in an even more conventional direction, and found moderate chart success before he retired from music altogether in the early 1980s. Harald Grosskopf would hookup with Klaus Schulze for a few years in the mid-70s before releasing his first solo album in 1980.

Tales From Topographic Oceans > Yes

December, 1973
United States
Atlantic
4.6
Tales From Topographic Oceans has the dubious distinction of being either the mother lode or motherf&#ker of all prog rock albums. The initial idea for the grandiose album came to Jon Anderson from a footnote regarding Shastric scriptures in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi. Evidently, this was the grand concept he'd been searching for (imagine that!), and it allowed his lyrics to blossom into full-blown biblical verse. Together with Steve Howe, they put most of the initial musical ideas down during the same tours of 1973 that generated the triple-album Yessongs. Actualizing those ideas in the studio was of course more difficult, and even wooden cows and accompanying foliage were reduced to compost by the end of the sessions. Drummer Alan White makes his studio debut with Yes on the album. Previously a member of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Ginger Baker's Air Force, journeyman White was most recently with Joe Cocker's touring band. Of course, having Eddie Offord as a roommate made the link to Yes tenable, and White got the nod days before their US tour in July 1972. Spanning four sides of vinyl, the sprawling double-album epitomizes the prog rock axiom of "more is more." The question, however, is-does it work? The first side, "The Revealing Science of God," and to a slightly lesser extent "The Remembering," on the second side, certainly do. They're classic Yes music: melodic and inviting, jam-packed with ideas and inventive playing, on par with the band's previous album. The rest of the trip, however, turns more experimental, but arduous as well. The acoustic number "Leaves of Green" ends the third side; of course, the 15 minutes spent getting there does little except introduce us to the names of some ancient Atlantean peoples and their sun rituals. The final side, "Ritual," suffers a similar fate. In edited form, the beautiful main section of "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" would rival any of Yes' previous work; but at 22-plus minutes, it simply goes on too long. Still, what Yes fan wouldn't want a double-album of new material, teeming with everything they love about the band? Well, Rick Wakeman for one. He made his exit quickly after the album's promotional tour. Critically, the album was universally slaughtered, though it topped the UK charts at No. 1 and rose to No. 6 in the US. So, back to my original supposition: You decide.