When given a chance to comment on Parachutes in 2006, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin said “We know that’s terrible music, and we always try to think about what we can do next.” Nonetheless, two years later I still made it my first C.A.T. (and one of the few any of us would do on an album from the 21st Century). Three years after that, a spambot commented on that post “I am not sure where you’re getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for great info I was looking for this information for my mission.” Perhaps I can help.
Often we look back to our adolescent years and cringe at the music we once deemed “cool”. As we age so do our tastes in music. What’s weird for me is all my favorite bands in high school were obscure ‘60s groups. The Small Faces, The Move, Ten Years After. Those were the house bands on my iPod. Though if I had to pick one band that most defined my tastes as a moody, long-haired eighteen-year-old it would have to be Traffic. What drove me to listen to all of Traffic’s discography non-stop from 2006-2008? Why did it mean so much to me? I have no idea, but I can try to figure it out.
First off, I discovered one of my favorite bands in high school by way of one of my favorite bands in junior high, Cream. After Cream dissolved in 1969, insane drummer Ginger Baker and Eric “God” Clapton formed the supergroup Blind Faith. This is where I discovered the lead singer of Blind Faith, a gangly, English, 21-year-old with the voice of a Motown soul singer. I am of course referring to Steve “Higher Love” Winwood.
I enjoyed the Blind Faith record but what really caught my ear was Winwood. His ability as a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter separated him from your average British Invader. His talents were more jazz inspired and few could match his ability to belt out the blues. I was trying to think of who Winwood reminded me of and I think I’ve made up my mind. Steve Winwood is like the white Ray Charles… If Ray Charles wrote songs about gypsies and eagles.
So I put on my time helmet, traveled back to 1967 and fell in love with Winwood and his most notable group, Traffic. Their debut record Mr. Fantasy is a dizzying mishmash of psychedelia, blues, and middle eastern folk. It’s out there and doesn’t always work but when it does it’s fantastic. It was an important album in my life and helped prepare me for today’s album in question.
The self-titled Traffic was released in 1968 and featured a far less psychedelic yet far more accessible batch of songs. Much like the first Traffic album the track listing is evenly divided between guitarist/lead vocalist Dave Mason’s songs and drummer Jim Capaldi and other lead vocalist Steve Winwood’s songs. While Capaldi and Winwood trend more jazz, Mason is a tried-and-true pop songwriter. His most notable contribution being “Feelin’ Alright?” which would go on to be the signature song of Joe Cocker.
If Steve Winwood is underrated then Dave Mason is under-underrated. An accomplished songwriter, Mason’s greatness has always been overshadowed by his proximity to the greatness of others. Such greatness includes; playing 12 string acoustic guitar on Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, singing backup vocals on “Crosstown Traffic”, playing the Shenai on the Stone’s “Street Fighting Man” and Mellotron on “Factory Girl”. He was almost in Derek & the Dominos, played in the mid-90s version of Fleetwood Mac and even sang a duet with Michael Jackson in 1980. But how many people know his name? Not enough.
Jim Capaldi is another gem in the rough. Playing a variety of percussion instruments in addition to singing and drumming duties, Capaldi was the driving force of the band alongside Winwood. The only other member to play in every version of the ever-shuffling band, Capaldi was probably the best collaborator Winwood ever had.
Chris Wood rounds out the quartet on sax and flute and helped to distinguish the band’s unique jazz and folk sound. Much like Jon Lord made Deep Purple unique for playing the organ in a hard rock band, or Rob Lind playing sax in garage band the Sonics, Chris Wood provided this psychedelic blues outfit another dimension absent from the music of their contemporaries.
But the songs are what make it for me. “Pearly Queen” is like a long-lost Cream song, “Don’t Be Sad” is a soulful sing-a-long that wouldn’t feel out of place in Levon Helm and the Band’s catalog. “Who Knows What Tomorrow Bring” is hella cool. “Feelin’ Alright?” is iconic. The back half of the album brings the folk and the funk. I was amazed how easy it was to fall back into this record.
Why did this band, this album speak to me? I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I like it. It doesn’t seem to trend with most of my musical tastes. It’s an outlier, an enigma. Maybe it’s just good. Whatever the reason it was my first “Classic Album Tuesday” and I’m proud of it.
Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Be Sad,” “No Time to Live,” “Pearly Queen”
At the moment, I’m using my 30-year-old record player to listen to a vinyl copy of Moby Grape’s 50-year-old debut, an album I first listened to on mp3s downloaded from the song-sharing app Limewire. There have been many technological advances that have changed the way we listen to music (namely streaming) in the past 10 years, but this snapshot of my current listening habits is not a great example of that. Regardless, as we take a look back at 10 years of Mildly Pleased this week, we’ll take this particular Tuesday to look back at one of our longest-running features – Top Ten Thursdays. And we’ll do it by revisiting the first albums each of us ever christened classics back in 2008. Continue reading
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of White Light/White Heat. Like to the day. It was released EXACTLY fifty years ago TODAY. Just want that to sink in. Now onto this week’s “Classic Album Tuesday”.
I got into The Velvet Underground when I was in college and have vivid memories of how the Velvet’s consumed my life for the better half of a year. It started during a “Class 3 Killstorm” which is an extreme way of saying it was during winter when it was snowy. Cooped up inside, I paged through my Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums magazine and decided it was time to go underground.
In the nearly 10 years we’ve been doing this blog, usually looking for pop culture to write about tied to whatever season we’re going through, I’m not sure how I’ve never done a Classic Album Thursday for this album. But, maybe it’s just the nature of this particular season. You get caught up in end-of-year madness, trying to catch up with movies and music from the year’s past. Meanwhile, you end up scrambling to make sense of the holidays, busy trying to buy whatever things you can to make it seem like you hadn’t been neglecting the people around you the rest of the year. Continue reading
Now that you’re finally done blowing up your grandma’s outhouse courtesy of the good folks at Butterball, how about you blow out your ear-drums? Can you believe it’s been 40 years since Rocket to Russia hit record shelves? 40! That’s a whole Maggie Gyllenhaal. But gabba, gabba hey, have the years been good—as they have also been to Ms. Gyllenhaal—and Rocket to Russia is as explosive as ever.
Continuing “Classic Album Tuesdays: Halloween Edition” I give you this horror rock classic from cult favorite Roky Erickson. If you’re not familiar with Roky Erickson, I would highly recommend you read up on him or watch the excellent 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me. Otherwise here’s the short version…
Roky Erickson burst onto the scene in 1965 as the frontman and head songwriter of the Austin based rock band The 13th Floor Elevators. Penning the ‘60s classic, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” among others, Roky became a favorite among the garage rock circuit with his howling vocals and high energy performances. Trouble hit when Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1968 and unwillingly subjected to electroshock therapy. It got worse.
In 1969, Roky was arrested in Austin for the possession of a single joint and pled insanity to avoid a ten-year prison sentence. He was sent to an Austin mental hospital where he stayed until 1974. Finding focus in the late ‘70s, Roky combined his love of horror and sci-fi with hard rock and formed Roky Erickson and the Aliens. The band recorded two overlapping EPs—that were later combined to make today’s album—produced by former Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook.
It feels odd to commemorate what was still a dark period in Erickson’s life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find the beauty in the darkness. The track “I Think of Demons” could be a hit single for a more prominent artist. Someone like a Billy Idol. Probably would help if it wasn’t about demons though, and it’s not the only song about demons.
The leadoff track “Two Headed Dog is a bonafide classic from Erickson. Using the artist’s well-tested technique of finding a powerful phrase or hook and then repeating it over and over again. “Two-headed dog, two-headed dog. I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog.” There are other words but this phrase is pounded into your head so hard and so often you’re not soon to forget it.
My personal favorite track is the Ben E. King flavored “I Walked with a Zombie” which contains no more than the words “I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie last night.” It’s an oddly poignant number for such a silly b-movie hook. It just goes to show that even under all of Erickson’s crazy, there was still the soul of a talented songwriter trying to express himself.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that Erickson’s favorite subject is aliens. Around this time Erickson went as far as claiming he was an alien and that others wanted to harm him because of this fact. Erickson not long after became shut off from the world. He lived with his mother throughout the rest of the ‘80s and began a decades-long obsession with the mail, reading and collecting every piece of junk mail and writing back to chain letters.
Roky recorded sporadically throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that he got his life back on track. His brother sought to free him from his mother’s control. Roky started taking medication, got his driver’s license and started touring again. He even recorded a new album in 2010 with members of Okkervil River.
Roky has seen a great deal of light and darkness in life. The good news is he’s seen a great deal more light for the past decade or so and given us a lifetime of beautiful and powerful rock music. Thanks, Roky.
Favorite Tracks: “Click Your Fingers Applauding the Play,” “I Think of Demons,” “I Walked with a Zombie”