Glass Harp – Synergy

Jam bands have reputations for playing live sets filled with long improvisational solos. It’s not so much a specific genre as it is a philosophical approach to musical performance. Along with their late 1960s contemporaries the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, Glass Harp helped define what it meant to be a jam band in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

On record, Glass Harp had more of a progressive rock sound than the southern rock influences of the Allmans or the west coast trippy psychedelics that the Dead were known for. But like most early jam bands, Glass Harp’s albums often incorporated the musical leanings of their peers while holding on to a style that was all their own. In that realm, Glass Harp’s second album, “Synergy”, is best described as a Progressive rock album with flairs of psychedelic and southern rock. A deep cut rock album from 1971 that shouldn’t be passed up by any music lover or record collector.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

…or should I say “In the Garden of Eden”.

That is what the title song was originally supposed to be called. But when you’re too inebriated, sometimes the words don’t come out right when you try to tell your bandmates the title of the killer new song you wrote. Eastern philosophy and mysticism was hugely popular in 1968, and the drunkenly slurred title sure had that mystic vibe to it, so Iron Butterfly decided to call the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” instead.

The song is a 17 minute psychedelic epic based around a heavy blues riff that fills the entire second side of the album. An edited down version, eliminating among other pats, a two and a half minute drum solo in the middle, was release to radio stations in 1968. It became Iron Butterfly’s biggest hit single. The album followed suit, eventually selling over 30 million copies. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is considered by many to be the very fist heavy metal song.

J. D. Blackfoot – The Song of Crazy Horse

The title track to J. D. Blackfoot’s 1973 album “The Song of Crazy Horse”, is an epic 14 minute American history lesson about the life and times of the Lakota (Sioux) American Indian leader, Crazy Horse. It’s a powerful song that speaks of the savage injustice done to the native Americans in the 19th century; how Crazy Horse led his people to fight back, ultimately wiping out the U. S. Army’s 7th Cavalry at Custer’s Last Stand, and wrapping up with Crazy Horse’s arrest and controversial death while in custody of U.S. officials the following year. With a combination of country and psychedelic rock, the song makes a powerful statement to the mistreatment of native Americans in the 19th century; a time in American history that is seldom spoken of.

The remainder of “The Song of Crazy Horse” is not nearly as lyrically intense or musically dispersed as its namesake song. “Ride Away” closes out side one as a folksy epilogue to the epic that preceded it. Side two is filled with blues rooted rockers and ballads with one oddity thrown in. The contrast in the offbeat humor of “Flushed You from the Toilets of My Heart” can’t help but stand out from the rest of this album. It serves as a reminder from J. D. Blackfoot that amongst all this seriousness, he can still have some fun. After that diversion, the album closes out with the somberly beautiful “Comin’ Down”.

“The Song of Crazy Horse” was J. D. Blackfoot’s second album. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, he moved to New Zealand before recording this album. Although it was very successful in his adoptive country, it failed to dent the charts in the his country of origin.

Gentle Giant – Three Friends

The story of three childhood friends and the very different paths their lives take after going their separate ways; falling out of touch with each other in adulthood. That’s the concept behind Gentle Giants eclectic 1972 progressive rock showcase.

One becomes part of the blue-collar working class. He feels trapped in a dead-end job living paycheck to paycheck. Another becomes a starving artist. Answering to no one but himself and expressing the good and hidden evil he sees in the world through his paintbrush. The third becomes a successful businessman. With his trophy wife and materialistic lifestyle he looks uses people to his own ends and looks down on the on the lazy working class and unambitious artists.

It’s not a deep concept, but it’s one that can be easily combined with different musical themes that make for a diverse combination of intricately complex arrangements which is what Gentle Giant’s music is all about.

The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

You really can feel the influence of producer Todd Rundgren on the Psychedelic Furs third album, “Forever Now”. Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

Adding just a little polish to their post-punk sound and expanding their music with the occasional cello or horns, Rundgren helped give The Psychedelic Furs their first big hit album in the US. They already had two in the UK, with producer Steve Lillywhite in the control room.

But Todd Rundgren wasn’t The Furs first choice to sit at the helm of “Forever Now”. David Bowie was a big proponent of the Psychedelic Furs, speaking highly of them on numerous occasions. The Furs had also considered Bowie a big influence and approached him first. Unfortunately, Bowie was tied up with work on his own album, “Let’s Dance”.

Although Steve Lillywhite was responsible for opening American audiences to The Psychedelic Furs, giving them their first taste of success across the Atlantic with their second album, “Talk Talk Talk” it was “Forever Now” that opened the band up to a broader base and gave them their first album to break into Billboard’s Hot 100. The song “Love My Way” also received significant airplay on MTV. Along with “Talk Talk Talk”, “Forever Now” is the Psychedelic Furs at their creative best.

Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

Santana

The band Santana, named after latin rock legend Carlos Santana released their debut album in 1969, a couple of weeks after they played an unforgettable set at the original Woodstock music festival. That incredible performance showcased the band’s freeform jam band style that helped this record shoot up to the number four position on the Billboard charts shortly after its release. That despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music critics. Rolling Stone, perhaps the most influential music publication back then, said the album showcased “hollow technique” and had “no real content”. Meh, what do they know? Decades later, in 2003, they would give Santana’s eponymous debut accolades, describing it as “thrilling” and ranking it as the 150th greatest album of all time.

In their early days, Santana was first and foremost, a jam band. Much like freeform jazz musicians are masters of improvisation, Santana focused on playing by feel, never performing a song the same way twice. That’s why even though they were relatively unknown when they took the stage at Woodstock, everyone remembered them long after they triumphantly walked off it. It is that jam band mastery of musical improvisation that shines through on this record; something hard to pull off in the studio…unless you’re really good. And from the very beginning, Carlos Santana and his namesake band proved they were among the best.

Leon Russell – Carney

Unlike CDs, albums have two sides and must be flipped halfway through to listen to an entire album “Carney”, Leon Russell’s 1972 masterpiece takes full advantage of this. “Carney” really could be considered two half albums; one roots rock, the other psychedelic rock. Both of them showcasing Leon Russell at his best.

That’s not to say side two doesn’t still touch on the strong songwriting Russell was known for – Russell’s songs have been recorded by more than 200 other artists. The flip side even contains what is possibly his most recorded songs. “This Masquerade” has found its way on over 75 records by others, the best known version being George Benson’s breakout hit single in 1976.

Amazingly, Leon Russell never released “This Masquerade” as a single, at least not as the A-side of one. It wound up being the B-side to “Tightrope” which also kicks off side one of “Carney” and became Leon Russell’s first hit single.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

It was ignored by most rock critics when it was released in 1967. Its songs were near to never played on the radio. Its initial sales were next to dismal.

Yet…

By the 1990s it was regarded as one of the most influential rock records ever made. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #13 in its list of the greatest rock and roll records of all time. In 2006, it became one of only a handful of rock albums ever added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, recognized for being either culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Spoiler alert: It’s all three.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined to fail.

Yet…

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined for legendary success.