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1974 Albums

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Journey To The Centre Of The Earth > Wakeman, Rick

May, 1974
United States
A&M Records
4.57143
In early 1974, Rick Wakeman took a break with Yes to complete the even more ambitious Journey To The Centre Of The Earth with the London Symphony Orchestra. Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall on January 18th, 1974 with full choir, narrator David Hemmings and Wakeman's own English Rock Ensemble, his interpretation of Jules Verne's classic tale had little to do with prog rock, let alone rock music. That hardly mattered: By the time the keyboardist announced his departure from Yes, the album was a UK No. 1 and US No. 3, and even earned himself a Grammy Award nomination. The public's appetite for Wakeman's grandiose works was certainly real. So real, in fact, that Wakeman wrote The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table in 1975 while recovering from a mild heart attack (incurred following the last performance of Journey). Obviously not heeding his doctor's advice, Wakeman had that live premiere, complete with orchestra and ice-skating extravaganza, at Wembley's Empire Pool; and the album rose to No. 2 in the UK and the Top 20 in the US. But despite the success, Wakeman's finances took a nosedive and a rethink was in order. In the interim, he composed the soundtrack for Ken Russell's Lisztomania, which featured Roger Daltrey as the 18th Century "pop" sensation. The next year saw Wakeman scaled back with a new English Rock Ensemble and world tour for 1976's sci-fi album No Earthly Connection. Somewhat a return to form, it would make the UK Top 10, yet only rise to No. 67 in the US. By the end of 1976, Wakeman's solo career was on hold, with the world awaiting his next move.

Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters > Calvert, Robert

May, 1974
UK
United Artists Records
3.666665
South African-born Robert Calvert's time in Hawkwind had, up until this point, been tentative; his documented mental instabilities kept him from having a permanent position with the band. Following his departure after the Space Ritual tour, Calvert teamed up with Brian Eno for a pair of solo albums. The first, Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters, presented the true story of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, a plane with a dubious safety record. A mix of spoken-word passages and songs, the album is every bit as good as a Hawkwind release. "The Aerospace Inferno," "The Widow Maker" and "The Right Stuff" all have that trademark Hawkwind rhythm; and it's no wonder as his backing band was—wait for it—Hawkwind! Simon King, Lemmy, Nik Turner and Paul Rudolph, along with a bevy of guests (including Vivian Stanshall and Jim Capaldi) all add their mark to Calvert's songwriting. It's a good preview of his upcoming role with Hawkwind, and to his future contribution to the band's overall sound. "The Song Of The Gremlin" features Arthur Brown, with Adrian Wagner on keyboards. The second side continues the story, again mixing spoken word tracks between each music track. "Hero with a Wing" slows the pace, offering a dark, brooding monologue from Calvert; but the following "Ejection" is the album's crown jewel, and every bit a Hawkwind classic as any the band ever released. The album saw release on United Artists to positive acclaim, but did not chart. The following year, Calvert would again team with Eno for a second album, Lucky Leif and the Longships; however, their chemistry wasn't as strong as their first time around, with only Rudolph, Turner and Simon House from Hawkwind participating. Later in 1975, Calvert would return to Hawkwind to begin a new chapter with the band on Charisma Records.

Au-Delà Du Délire > Ange

June, 1974
France
Philips
4.666665
France never really took to rock ‘n' roll the way other Europeans did; in the 60s, French rock bands were few and far between, the yé-yé of Johnny Hallyday notwithstanding. Yet in the early 70s, "rock progressif" slowly infiltrated French culture; and of those bands that did emerge (Atoll, Catharsis, Mona Lisa), Ange was certainly the most quintessential. Formed in 1970 by brothers Christian and Francis Décamps, the band had consolidated into their most classic lineup in 1971, with Jean-Michel Brézovar on guitar, Daniel Haas on bass and Gérard Jelsch on drums. Their debut album, Caricatures, saw release in 1972 on the Phillips label, and immediately reveals their sonic signature: foreboding melodies of Francis's Viscount organ punctuated by the rest of the band's stop/start dynamic. Of course, the most identifiable trait was Christian's partly sung, partly spoken "chant." 1973's Le Cimetière des Arlequins followed, earning the band their first gold record. But Ange's crowning achievement is the excellent Au-delà du Délire ("Beyond Delirium"), released in 1974. The violin that opens "Godevin le Vilain" succinctly points out the obvious: Ange's music could only be French. Unfortunately for the non-speaker, the degree of theatre and drama within Christian's delivery defies mere translation. "Les Longues Nuits d'Isaac" cranks up the prog rock quotient, Christian's impassioned delivery now just as electric. With acoustic guitars picking away, the central melody of "Ballade Pour Une Orgie" is magnificent and lighter than the typically dark, sweeping melodies and progressive aplomb that dominate the album. The second side blasts off with "Exode;" the symphonic introduction and fiery close are reminiscent of Genesis' earlier work, but Ange are by no means a reproduction. "La Bataille Du Sucre" offers more of the band's cabaret, while "Fils de Lumière" follows with another electric workout. Although relatively raw and unsophisticated, the album is still perfectly detailed; just listen to the title track's beautiful melody. Its arrangement and instrumentation provide one of the more resplendent examples of early 70s prog rock; regardless of it sounding dated, it's nonetheless a true classic. Like Hallyday, the band never found commercial success outside the French-speaking world. And although their 1976 release, Par les fils de Mandrin, saw a re-recording in English (as By The Sons Of Mandrin), it was quickly withdrawn soon after release (the band was not happy with it). The band soldiered on well into the 80s, releasing albums of varying quality over continually shifting lineups.

Biglietto Per L'Inferno > Biglietto per l'Inferno

June, 1974
Italy
Trident (2), Trident (2)
4
Formed in 1972 in Lecco, Lombardy, Biglietto Per L'Inferno ("Ticket to Hell") was another Italian band that released one classic album before breaking up. The band was discovered at a music festival, and subsequently offered a contract with the Trident label, home to The Trip and Semiramis. The band centered around the keyboard talents of two Giuseppes, "Baffo" Banfi and Cossa, plus guitarist Marco Mainetti, vocalist and flautist Claudio Canali and a rhythm section of bassist Fausto Branchini and drummer Mauro Gnecchi. Their self-titled album, Biglietto Per L'Inferno, is another classic of Rock progressivo italiano, mixing heavy rock with symphonic overtures. "Ansia" ("Anxiety") gently opens the record, revealing a heady mix of organ and piano. The dual keyboards of Banfi and Cossa certainly charge the sonic palette, but the histrionics of guitarist Mainetti also have a large presence on the album. "Confessione" offers a bit of VdGG, and as the title suggests, a dark subject matter; while the track's backing chorus is reminiscent of Lucifer's Friend's voicings. "Una strana Regina" is a more introspective composition, while "Il Nevare" is a no-holds-barred rocker. The album closes with "L'Amico Suicida," another well-constructed number. Through its 14-plus minutes, the composition is full of suspense and surprises; and, of course, a splendid finale. Released in 1974, the album was produced by Maurizio Salvadori, who worked with such diverse artists as Dedalus, The Trip and Garybaldi. A second album produced by Eugenia Finardi was reputedly in the can; but with the Trident label folding, it wouldn't see release until decades later; the band subsequently broke up. Keyboardist Banfi would forge a solo career in the late 70s, offering a few albums of electronic music for Klaus Schulze's Innovative Communication label.

Tristan Et Yseult > Magma

June, 1974
France
Barclay
0
Christian Vander's previous effort (MDK) was the third installment of his Theusz Hamtaahk ("Time of Hatred") trilogy: the account of the struggle between the planets Kobaïa and Earth. "Wurdah Ïtah," released as the soundtrack for Yvan Lagrange's film of the Tristan et Iseult tragedy, was the second part. Recorded in April 1974, it was presented as a Vander solo album, with the drummer also providing the main vocal and piano. Jannick Top, of course, was on hand with his sturdy bass, while Stella Vander and Klaus Blasquiz also contributed vocals. "Malawëlëkaahm" ("Incantation") opens the piece, alternating between a pulsing groove and something far more melodic. But what's most revealing is the crispness and clarity of the recording. Reduced to piano, voice and the aforementioned rhythm of Vander and Top, the album showcases the essence of the Magma sound, which at this time was Vander's rhythmic drumming and Top's bass tone. Describing the latter's tone, Julian Cope said, "He didn't have amplifiers; he just plugged straight into the National Grid." "Fur Dïhhël Kobaïa" approaches the majesty of the "celestial" and the grandeur of Carl Orff's cantata, while "Blüm Tendiwa" just plain swings. The second side continues the journey, and it's a flowing work of unwavering splendor. "Ëk Sün Da Zëss" undulates over Top's massive bass, which takes an even deeper rumble on the finale, "De Zeuhl Ündazïr." The album was released on Barclay Records and later reissued on the Egg label in 1978; it was later retitled Wurdah Ïtah. The first section of the trilogy, Theusz Hamtaahk, would see the light of day in 1980 on Retrospektiw I-II, though versions were recorded for Radio Bremen and the BBC's Top Gear in Early 1974.

Dance Of The Flames > Guru Guru

June, 1974
Germany
Atlantic
3.5
Following Ax Genrich's departure, Guru Guru added Eiliff's Houschäng Nejadépour on guitar, releasing the histrionics of Dance Of The Flames. It's a great record, combining guitar-heavy, instrumental fusion with the band's usual goofiness. "Dagobert Duck's 100th Birthday" contains the typically quirky Guru Guru melody; but here, a heavy arrangement dominates, with Hans Hartmann's bass up in the mix. "The Girl from Hirschhorn" and "The Day of Timestop" showcase Nejadépour's exceptional guitar playing, with the latter even charting Mahavishnu Orchestra territory. The title track covers similar ground—except for Neumeier's backwards drumming! The band gets acoustic for the next few tracks; "Samba Das Rosas" is just that, while "Rallulli" is ethnically percussive. Nejadépour's solo acoustic guitar track "At the Juncture of Light and Dark" leads into the electric fireworks of "God's Endless Love for Men," reprising the promise of the first side. But it wouldn't last; despite a brief interlude with Gila's Conny Veit, the band broke up in 1974. Neumeier would spend the next year or so doing session work, as part of Genrich's Highdelberg project and, most notably, on Harmonia's Deluxe album. He then worked with Conny Plank to record a solo album for Atlantic in 1975, Mani Und Seine Freunde. Featuring members of Kraan, Karthago, Kollektiv and Harmonia, it wrapped up his post-Guru Guru work experience, while musically-with its funky, up-tempo and Zappa-esque lunacy on "Chicken Rock" and ethereal tribal rhythm on "From Another World"-it pointed to Neumeier's future.

Köhntarkösz > Magma

June, 1974
United States
A&M Records
4.666665
With the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy complete, Christian Vander here offers the second part of a new trilogy, Köhntarkösz. Once again filled with Magma's dramatic music, the album Köhntarkösz is mostly comprised of the two parts of its title track. "Part One" is built around a relatively simple refrain, pounded into several mutations over the course of the album side. Much of Magma's sonic enormity from the previous record is replaced with sparser musical arrangements and a great use of space. Both the new dual keyboard approach and refinement of the vocals render the work much easier on the ears. But the powerful rhythm of Vander and bassist Jannick Top is still front and center, and the premise is still the same; yet here Magma's dark and foreboding muse doesn't suffer from claustrophobia, and ultimately it's far more rewarding. Penned by Top, the short "Ork Alarm" closes the side, grinding under his sawing cello and mega-bass. It's a perfect example of the direction his solo work would take. "Part Two" immediately comes across as lighter and more melodic, built around the hypnotic playing of keyboardists Gerard Bikialo on organ and Michel Graillier on electric piano, but after the former adds a ripping solo, the track descends into more familiar chaos, which of course rises to a frenetic crescendo, vocalist Klaus Blasquiz in perfect form. The album winds down with the calming tribute "Coltrane Sündïa" (which translates from Kobaïan to "Coltrane Rest in Peace"). The album, recorded with The Manor Mobile's Simon Heyworth engineering and ex-Blossom Toes Brian Godding on guitar, again saw release on A&M Records. Magma would then undertake a short tour of the UK following the album's release.

Einsjäger & Siebenjäger > Popol Vuh

June, 1974
Germany
Kosmische Musik
3.666665
Under the guise of Popol Vuh, the Munich-based Florian Fricke created one of the most original bodies of work during the 1970s. His first two records were krautrock of the most kosmische type. Released in 1970, Affenstunde ("Monkey Hour") saw Fricke's hand on the Moog synthesizer; he was one of the first in Germany to own one. By 1972, he had switched to organ for the following In Den Gärten Pharaos (now recording for the Pilz/Ohr label), but had yet to find the quintessential Popol Vuh sound. Adding Conny Veit from Gila on guitar and Djong Yun on vocals, Hosianna Mantra approached bliss. The drum-less pieces floated high above the ebbing piano and soaring guitar runs; it's truly heavenly music. In 1973, Daniel Fichelscher from Amon Düül II joined on drums and guitar, and Popol Vuh's music finally turned ever-so-slightly toward the progressive. The next three albums comprised a trilogy based on biblical texts. Released in 1974, Einsjäger & Siebenjäger is perhaps the most "progressive" of this trio. Here, the music is built around the trio of Fricke (now exclusively) on piano, Fichelscher on guitar and drums, and Yun providing vocals. Encompassing the second side, the title track is a tour de force. Opening cautiously, it slowly builds momentum, until the drums finally kick in and Fichelscher's guitar playing takes off. He's got a clean tone (almost indistinguishable from Viet's) that complements Fricke's piano. Rooted in improvisation, the song doesn't seem to follow any structure other than its own. But even when interpreting darker moods, the music remains spiritual and uplifting, and effectively predates most new age music. Popol Vuh's next few albums would further what was started here, and reach a pinnacle with 1976's Letzte Tage - Letze Nächte. That same year, Fricke would score the soundtrack for Werner Herzog's Aguirre; and in so doing, established a relationship that would extend for decades and provide a further outlet for his music well into the 80s.

SBB > SBB

June, 1974
Poland
Polskie Nagrania Muza
4
Hailing from Poland, SBB was first known as the Silesian Blues Band, and later adopted the more political "Szukaj, Burz, Buduj" (Polish for "Search, Breakup, Build"). Formed in 1971 in Siemianowice, Upper Silesia by bassist Józef Skrzek with Antymos Apostolis (confusingly aka Apostolis Anthimos) on guitar and Jerzy Piotrowski on drums, the band was adopted by popular singer and organist Czeslaw Niemen as his backing band. Niemen recorded three albums in English for the CBS label, beginning with Strange Is This World in 1970. A mix of heavy blues, passionate vocals and organ, it was followed up by another heady mix of the progressive rock in 1973, Ode To Venus, before SBB broke off on their own in early 1974. Immediately a best-seller, SBB's self-titled debut is a live recording from a club in Warszawa. Released by Poland's national record label, Muza, the album reveals a mighty powerful group. Two sprawling jams cover each side of the record; free form, yet rooted in heavy rock, Anthimos also reveals himself as one electrifying guitarist. Skrzek switches between bass and organ, while Piotrowski provides a constant driving rhythm. The band's next album, 1975's career-defining Nowy Horyzont ("New Horizon"), ventures further into the realms of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as adding symphonic touches to their sound-often interrupted by Skrzek's solo piano vignettes. Touring throughout Europe, the band was in their element playing live, and without a doubt, SBB was a world-class group. Two more albums appeared for Muza: Pamiec ("Memory") followed in 1976, and Ze Slowem Biegne Do Ciebie ("With the Word I Run To You") in 1977; with Skrzek incorporating diverse keyboards, both furthered the band's evolving long-form progressive rock. Yet by 1978, SBB began to look outside Poland's borders; first recording for the East German Amiga and Czech Supraphon labels, and later for the German Spiegelei label; the albums saw further reliance of vocals, and a move to more marketable sound. However, after a final album in 1980, SBB was no more, though their legacy stands as Poland's greatest musical export.

Rock Bottom > Wyatt, Robert

July, 1974
United States
Virgin
4.857145
Robert Wyatt spent the beginning of 1973 in Venice, idling his time and writing the songs that would eventually comprise his second solo record. Upon returning to England, the spring saw Wyatt playing in WMMW- with saxophonist Gary Windo, keyboardist David MacRae and bassist Ron Mathewson. He then attempted to revive Matching Mole one final time, with Windo, Curved Air's Francis Monkman and a returning Bill MacCormick. In June, however, at a party for Lady June and Gilli Smyth, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a fourth-story window. The accident paralyzed him from the waist down and dashed any further attempts for a Mole reunion. Wyatt gradually convalesced, aided in part from the generosity of Julie Christie and Jean Shrimpton, as well as a benefit concert hosted by Pink Floyd and Soft Machine on November 4th, at the Rainbow Theatre. Wyatt thus separates himself from his "drummer biped" self from this point on, with Rock Bottom being the first record of his new life. Recorded early in 1974, Wyatt focuses on keyboards and voice, as well as percussion, to produce a wonderfully melancholic record. Tracks like the gentle "Sea Song" and the intimate duo of "Alifib" and "Alifie" are certainly personal, whereas the more up-tempo "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" skips over a reverse-recorded backing. Mongezi Feza's trumpet features on the former, while Mike Oldfield's guitar is a sublime addition to the beginning of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road;" the track ends though in the slow-motion of harmonium, Ivor Cutler's voice and Fred Frith's viola. The album was produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and featured a host of Canterbury friends, including drummer Laurie Allan and bassists Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper. True to his resolve, Wyatt had a Top 40 single in the UK with a remake of Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer" b/w "Memories" in September (the song was previously a hit for The Monkees), though his appearance in a wheelchair for a Top Of The Pops appearance sparked controversy. Wyatt would record his next solo album, the like-minded Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, in 1975, before semi-retiring for the remainder of the decade.

Clic > Battiato, Franco

September, 1974
United Kingdom
Island Records
0
Franco Battiato's next two recordings saw his music take another step towards the avant-garde. Combining synthesizers, piano, electronics, voices and tapes into a musique concrete of effortless, hypnotic music, Sulle Corde di Aries was released in 1973. "Sequenze e Frequenze" covered the first side, while three shorter tracks filled the second; here, Battiato opted for an eastern flavor, combining electronics and acoustic tabla, with his layered voice providing the magnetic icing. Clic followed the next year, again for the Bla Bla label. Leaving the tabla rhythms behind, Battiato instead arms himself with a kitchen sink of tape effects at the mixing console. The combination of sequencers and strings on "Propiedad Prohibida" is a standout. All in all, there's more atmosphere here than on most "ambient" recordings of the era. Both albums were compiled for international release by Island in 1974 (released though as Clic), substituting an extended version of "Revolution in the Air" from the former for the entire second side of the latter. Battiato then performed a series of concerts in London (supporting Magma), and completed a re-recording of his first album in English as well. However, a car accident hastened his return to Italy and scuttled attempts at international exposure. His albums during the latter half of the 70s veered straight off the timeline, as they had everything to do with 20th century avant-garde music, much more so than his acknowledged influence of Karlheinz Stockhausen here (the album was dedicated to him). But towards the end of the decade, Battiato would again change musical direction with the times—launching him to the top of the Italian charts, and on to a long and successful solo career in his native Italy.

The Power And The Glory > Gentle Giant

September, 1974
United States
Capitol Records
4.75
For Gentle Giant's sixth album, the band wanted a "more spontaneous feel," prompting them to record most of the tracks on the first or second take. To that end, they succeeded, as The Power And The Glory ranks as one of the band's most unified and cohesive efforts. The album revolves around the concept of political power; and whether intentionally or not, the album's recording did coincide with the Watergate hearings, making it by-and-large a contemporary subject—something for which prog rock would rarely be known. Gentle Giant are meticulous throughout the album, constructing each phrase to the next with absolute precision. The band adeptly moves from instrument to instrument, each providing a unique color to the notes that they play. The performance is sprightly, while the recording is exceptionally clean; a prime example of vinyl's fidelity. Like the opener "Proclamation," none of the tracks exceed the six-minute mark. "So Sincere" is atypically dissonant; live, however, the track would take on Giant proportions. "Aspirations" features a melancholic electric piano, with exceptional acoustic guitar from Gary Green. Grounded by a quirky percussive riff, "Playing the Game" is the album's sleeper. The song also contains one of the era's classic organ solos from Kerry Minnear. "No God's a Man" is lighter and inventive, while "The Face" has that bluesy throwback to earlier Giant music. "Valedictory" scornfully reprises the opening riff of "Proclamation;" the story has come full circle, and the album ends just as it started. Never that popular in their native England, Gentle Giant fared better in the US, where they had signed to Capitol Records. The album reached No. 78 on the US charts. A single, "The Power and the Glory" b/w "Playing the Game" was released in the UK, but quickly withdrawn.

Hall Of The Mountain Grill > Hawkwind

September, 1974
United States
United Artists Records
4
Hawkwind's ranks continued to revolve: Dik Mik left the band the previous August, followed by Robert Calvert, who left to record a solo album. Hawkwind returned to the US in March, for their 1999 Party tour, adding Simon House, ex-High Tide and Third Ear Band, on keyboards and violin. The album, Hall Of The Mountain Grill, its title taken from a cafe the band liked to frequent, also gives a nod to the work of classical composer Edvard Grieg. "The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)" kicks off with a rollicking beat and chorus; House's presence is immediate, with his Mellotron lines painting the sonic landscape. He next adds violin to the ensuing slow-building instrumental "Wind of Change." Nik Turner's "D-Rider" continues, his vocal held back in the murky mix; while Dave Brock's acoustic "Web Weaver" closes the side. With its memorable chorus, Brock delivers a classic with "You'd Better Believe It," recorded live at Edmonton Sundown. The title track features House on piano, while Lemmy and Mick Farren deliver the rock ‘n' roll of "Lost Johnny." Del Dettmar's "Goat Willow" provides another instrumental interlude, before the band closes with the hard-rocking (and live) "Paradox." It's another classic album from Hawkwind, one that benefits from both House's musical contributions and Roy Thomas Baker's production. The single "Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)" b/w "It's So Easy" failed to chart, but the album rose to No. 16 in the UK and nearly broke the Top 100 in the US. However, disaster nearly fell the band when they returned to the US in the fall, as the IRS impounded their equipment due to suspected tax evasion.

Black Hole Star > Neutrons, The

September, 1974
US
Import Records
5
Phil Ryan was a member of the Welsh band Eyes of Blue in the 60s, along with John "Pugwash" Weathers and Ray "Taff" Williams. In 1970, they joined Pete Brown & Piblokto!, recording just one single, "Flying Hero Sandwich" b/w "My Last Band" before Will Youatt joined. However, Brown disbanded Piblokto! (an Inuit word for "arctic hysteria") in Fall 1971. In early 1972, Clive John split from Man, and joined up with bassist Youatt and keyboardist Ryan, forming Iorworth Pritchard and the Neutrons. They never got around to recording, and all three subsequently returned to Man. After appearing on Man's Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day and Back Into The Future albums, Youatt and Ryan left in 1973 to reform The Neutrons. Their first album, Black Hole Star, featured both Weathers on drums and Williams on guitar. Musically similar to Nektar, "Living in the World Today" offers The Neutron's music. Weathers ever-solid drumming propels the tune, with Ryan's excellent keyboards to the fore. Driven by a great vocal line, "Mermaid and Chips," with guest Caromay Dixon on vocals, is another tour de force for Ryan's piano and keyboards. "Dangerous Decisions" offers that continuous melody over a driving rhythm that made Genesis-and here The Neutrons'-songs so epic. Dedicated to "the late, great" Graham Bond, "Dance of the Psychedelic Lounge Lizards" features The Incredible String Band's Stuart Gordon on violin and Help Yourself's Dave Charles on drums. It's got a rousing chorus, while the folksy "Going To India" again features Gordon on violin, but with Dixon handling the lead vocal. The album closes with "Snow Covered Eyes," another great example of the band's music. Released by United Artists in 1974, the album featured a silver foil cover, with the band's logo designed by Rick Griffin. The album also saw a US release on Import Records. The duo would record a follow up album, Tales From The Blue Cocoons, in 1975, with Charles on drums and Williams on guitar. It was another solid and expertly performed record, however, after the supporting tour, The Neutrons subsequently broke up. Ryan returned to Man, while Charles went on to Rockfield Studios as a recording engineer.

Sea Son > Secret Oyster

September, 1974
US
Peters International, Inc.
4
If Danish rock begins with Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, a band that featured composer and all-around musician Karsten Vogel, Secret Oyster was Denmark's first supergroup. With keyboardist Kenneth Knudsen from the Danish band Coronarias Dans and guitarist Claus Bøhling from Hurdy Gurdy, Vogel launched Secret Oyster to explore jazz fusion realms for the three composers. Signing to CBS, the band released their self-titled first album in 1973, that gained a US release as Furtive Pearl on the Peter's International Cosmos imprint. Outwardly jazzy, with plenty of soloing, the core to Oyster was its driving rhythm section—here with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Bo Thrige Andersen. As the track "Public Oyster" demonstrated, when the band hit a groove, they turned up the rock quotient to ride it hard. Their second album, Sea Son, also saw US release on the Cosmos imprint, in late 1974. Jess Staehr, from Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, joined on bass, while Ole Streenberg, previously in Coronarias Dans, joined on drums. The short "Oyster Jungle" opens with all the pieces in place: punchy bass, crisp drumming, electric piano, Moog, sax and a bright riff—fusion, European-style. "Mind Movie" rides along a simple motif and features some stellar guitar work from Bøhling, while "Pajamamafia" gets a little funky in the middle. "Black Mist" opens the second side with a heavy riff, but steps up to some jazzy fusion, courtesy of Vogel's sax. A string quartet augments the electric piano and guitar of the somber "Painforest." But "Paella" rides Staehr's bass line into Gong-like territory; and just like the dish, it's a mixture of everything great the band could deliver. The band toured Europe and the UK, including an opening slot for Captain Beefheart. Their next album, Vidunderlige Kælling, was a soundtrack to a ballet by Flemming Flint and saw release in 1975; while a final album, Straight To the Krankenhaus, saw the band move to more predictable fusion territory.

Portable Madness > Sensations' Fix

September, 1974
United States
Polydor
3
Hailing from Florence, Sensations' Fix was really a front for Franco Falsini; in addition to playing guitar and keyboards, he also wrote and produced most of the band's music in-wait for it-Virginia. Joining him were two Americans: bassist Richard Ursillo, previously with Campo di Marte, and drummer Keith Edwards. Their debut album, Fragments Of Light, was released in 1974 on Polydor, and is certainly the most un-Italian of all the progressive rock to come out of Italy. While comparisons to Germany's krautrock may be in order-the album does rely heavily on electronics-the connection is tenuous at best. Portable Madness also appeared in 1974, revealing a darker edge, and is somewhat akin to Heldon's contemporaneous offerings. The sinister demeanor of "Smooth and Round" opens the album, before segueing directly into the angular guitar riff of "Fullglast." Halfway through, after a somewhat awkward transition, Falsini's keyboards take over and the track goes symphonic. The band gets heavy on "Phase One And Phase Two;" and the guitar/keyboard unison continues through to the closing "Underwater," which features one rubbery bass from Ursillo. After a synthesizer introduction, that same frenetic rhythm continues on "Pasty Day Resistance" while "Leave My Chemistry Alone" again reveals an ominous outlook. There's a uniformity to the music, with the vigorous rhythm always driving the melodic compositions forward. Unfortunately, the album suffers from lo-fi production—or maybe it's just a poor pressing? The soundtrack Nasso Freddo ("Cold Nose"), a solo album from Falsini, was released by Polydor in 1975. It's an album of (mostly) electronic keyboard works; and although it's like other similar albums of the era, Falsini's murky edge sets it apart. In 1976, the band added keyboardist Stephen Head and introduced vocals to their music, releasing the Finest Finger album. It's not that much of a departure, yet enjoys better production than previous efforts. A couple more albums appeared, including one for the US All Ears label in 1977; but disappointingly, all steered towards more conventional rock. After moving to the US in the late 70s, the band would change their name to Sheriff, releasing an album of pedestrian rock in 1979.

Crime Of The Century > Supertramp

September, 1974
United States
A&M Records
5
Founded in 1969 by Rick Davies, Supertramp initially had the luxury of being funded by a Dutch millionaire, Stanley August Miesegaes. Davies teamed with Rodger Hodgson and recorded two albums, the first of which was an interesting progressive record, reminiscent of Genesis or Caravan in places; the second was known for its cover. But by 1972, they had run out of favor with both their benefactor and their record label. The pair eventually assembled another lineup and set to record their breakthrough album, Crime Of The Century. The Davies/Hodgson-penned songs roughly revolve around the theme of sanity, which gives the album a concept of sorts and draws another parallel with Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. The other thing, of course, is the immaculate production, courtesy of Ken Scott. Powered by Hodgson's distinct voice and signature electric piano, the album is slightly more pop-oriented than progressive; but nonetheless, it's a prime example of art rock from the era. The songwriting also is an early example of what would offer success to many British prog rock bands in the 80s and beyond. But I'll give credit where credit's due: Each song is more than memorable, and the band performs flawlessly throughout. The album reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 38 in the US. The single "Bloody Well Right" b/w "Dreamer" charted in the US the following year. Supertramp would then rocket to success (both commercially and artistically) with each successive album, culminating in the perfect pop of Breakfast In America in 1979. After a live double-album in the early 80s, the band would slowly meet their commercial demise, with Davies and Hodgson famously breaking their partnership.

Trace > Trace

September, 1974
United States
Sire
3.666665
Hailing from the Netherlands, Trace featured the talents of two (cousins) van der Lindens. Rick, the classically-trained keyboard player, cut his teeth with classical performance before leading Ekseption (sic) for nearly five years. That band found considerable success by rocking up classical adaptations and jazz standards, though they offered little more than novelty. And yet, this would become the popular Dutch variant of prog rock. Drummer Pierre had been in several Dutch groups, including Brainbox and Focus. In 1974, the pair joined up with bassist Jaap van Eik to form Trace. Unsurprisingly, the album offers a combination of classical adaptations interspersed with original numbers. The originals, such as the jazzy "Once" and "Progression," are the highlights. Rick was clearly a first-rate talent, and his performance is technically perfect, if a bit of an exercise. Expectedly, the album went gold in their native Netherlands. Trace released a second album, Birds, in 1975, but now with English drummer Ian Mosley, fresh from Darryl Way's Wolf. The first side contained a continuous suite written by Rick; and overall the album felt more varied, even introducing a little guitar and vocal into the equation. "Opus 1065" was a standout, with Darryl Way adding violin. Like their debut album, it also saw release in the US on Sire Records. A final album, White Ladies, appeared in 1976, after which Rick would go solo and Mosley on to Steve Hackett's band.

Mass Media Stars > Acqua Fragile

October, 1974
US
Import Records
4
The Acqua Fragile story begins in 1971 in the city of Parma with two bands, Il Moschettieri ("The Musketeers") and Gli Immortali ("The Immortals"). The former included bassist Franz Dondi, keyboardist Maurizio Mori and guitarist Gino Campanini and supported The Rolling Stones on their first Italian tour; while the latter offered vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti and drummer and primary composer Piero Canavera. The new band, spotted and adopted by Premiata Forneria Marconi and their management, spent the next couple of years supporting many foreign acts in Italy. They signed to Numero Uno, and Claudio Fabi produced their debut album in 1973. Acqua Fragile is very much in the style of early Charisma-era Genesis; but, in a unique twist for an Italian band of this era, featured English-language lyrics—sung by the vibrato-laden voice of Lanzetti, who, conveniently enough, had spent his college years in the US. Their second album, Mass Media Stars, was released in 1974 and saw release in the US on Import Records. "Cosmic Mind Affair" blasts off with the band's trademark harmonies, bouncing over capable, lively Rock progressivo italiano. "Bar Gazing" reveals the band's gentler, acoustic side, while the title track opens with some intricate interplay over a great bass line from Dondi before arriving at the first verse. "Professor" has that playful lilt and rich vocals that exemplify Acqua Fragile's music. Overall, the album is a big step up from their previous effort, but it wouldn't last. Mori then left the band to resume university, and Lanzetti joined PFM for their Chocolate Kings album. The addition of The Trip's keyboardist Joe Vescovi and vocalist Roby Facini from the pop group I Dik Dik did not change Acqua Fragile's fortunes however, and the band broke up in 1975.

You > Gong

October, 1974
United States
Virgin Records America, Inc.
5
With the opening tracks "Thought for Naught/A P.H.P.'s Advice," Didier Malherbe and Daevid Allen playfully set the stage for the third and final installment of Gong's Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. For the most part though, Gong forgoes the song format of the previous album and instead rides the long rock-solid grooves of Mike Howlett and Pierre Moerlen's ace rhythm team. That said, it's hardly surprising that You is Gong's strongest release yet. The mantra of "Master Builder" ignites with Steve Hillage's formidable lead guitar. "A Sprinkling of Clouds" creeps out of Tim Blake's pulsing VCS3 synthesizer, again building into an instrumental tour de force. The second side starts playfully again, before descending into the mega-riff of "The Isle of Everywhere," which is probably the ultimate example of Gong at their best; both Malherbe and Hillage have plenty of room to solo over the hypnotic head-nod groove (credited to the collective Compagnie d'Opera Invisible de Thibet, or C.O.I.T.) From there, Allen winds up Zero the Hero's cosmic adventure fittingly, with the spacious and sprawling "You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever" (sic). Unfortunately, Allen did. Following a bad trip before a gig in Cheltenham, England in April 1975, he took his leave from the band (Gilli Smyth left after the You sessions). The others would continue on; and from there, the amount of music released under the Gong banner would blossom exponentially (a good thing). This album, however, was the only from the band to see a US release. In 1977, Virgin released a double-album, Live Etc., that documented the trilogy era with live and non-album tracks. That same year, in May, the trilogy band would unite (with a host of Gong side projects) for a one-off concert at Nouvel Hippodrome de Paris; their performance was released as Gong Est Mort, Viva Gong! on the French Tapioca label.