Saturday, January 13, 2018

Blind Faith Jars Rock Out of Its Doldrums

by John Morthland, Music Aficionado:!/article/Original_Blind_Faith_Review_by_rocksbackpages

The year 1969 has not been a very good one for rock and roll. Outside of Tommy and the Band's decision to go on tour, we haven't had much to get excited about.

But the other arts have suffered as well. Like Jim Morrison in Miami and John and Yoko on their album cover, the 'best' of the novel—Portnoy's Complaint, film—I Am Curious (Yellow) and theatre—numerous examples, have practically had to jerk off to their audiences in order to draw attention to otherwise-undistinguished products.

Art theorists have hypothesized that artists are usually most inspired in times of crisis, that the forces of history push them to greater personal achievements. Perhaps the reason this does not hold true today is that while crisis is one thing, times are getting out of hand. With scientists calmly packing away quart bottles of nerve gas that can kill fifty people with one drop, military helicopters staging air attacks on their own populations, and atrocities bizarre beyond the imagination, the artist, too, must eventually feel the strain. Art suffers at the hands of Reality.

Blind Faith can be viewed as an attempt to jar rock out of these doldrums. The group is based on the idea that if you take three of the best soloists around and form them into a single smooth-functioning unit, the result will be one incredible rock band. Ego conflicts must be kept at a minimum; solos are taken not because someone feels like flashing for a while, but because the song calls for a solo at that point.

The formula works nearly perfectly on this album—when it is followed. The music is phenomenal in places, weak in others. Unfortunately, the weakest song on the album is fifteen minutes long and takes up almost a whole side.

Listen Now
By far the best song is Presence of the Lord, an Eric Clapton hymn which explains in part how Blind Faith ever came to be. The majesty of the organ even makes it sound like a church song, until Clapton wah-wahs off on a quick solo that's so good it makes me want to apologize for every snide thing I've ever said or thought about him. The first time I heard this song, it brought me out of my listening chair, mouth wide open in awe. It still does. Never has a guitarist said so much so beautifully in such a short time. The solo is so inspirational it can't help but make the lyrics that much more believable.

Listen Now
In fact, it's so good it tends to overshadow two other very fine cuts on the album. Had to Cry Today goes through several interesting changes, Clapton always bringing it back to the main theme. The choice of Rick Grech, heretofore almost unknown, as bassist is fully justified by his work on this song. Can't Find My Way Home, a pleading Stevie Winwood tune, features Ginger Baker's highly innovative percussion and the delightful line, 'Well I'm wasted and I can't find my way home.'

Blind Faith

Listen Now
Do What You Like is a fine five-minute rock song which is destroyed when it is dragged out ten extra minutes by solos for the sake of solos. Baker's lyrics state the Blind Faith formula ('Do right use your head/Everybody must be fed/Get together break your bread/Yes together that's what I said.'), but the music then proceeds to obliterate it. Winwood's solo is the only one worthy of remaining in the song; he is the most consistent musician on the album. Clapton's is perfectly competent, but nothing new or exceptional. Baker confuses quantity with quality; his solo starts out nicely enough, but quickly falls apart despite his insistence on continuing. Poor Ginger is bound and determined to someday match the original version of Toad; he is, at this rate, destined to retire a very frustrated drummer. The bass solo is sheer self-indulgence.

I don't know what the explanation for this cut is, but I could venture a calculated guess. Atlantic President Ahmet Ertegun was recently quoted as saying, 'If we'd known they were going to do this well (on the American tour), we wouldn't have rushed the album'. I wouldn't be surprised if this song falls into the throwaway solo rut because Blind Faith didn't have enough new material to fill an album in time to meet Atlantic's deadline, and resolved the problem by extending a song they already did have. If so, add avaricious businessmen to the list of handicaps the artist must face.

This album is better than any of Cream's and about as good as any of Traffic's. On the basis of the potential shown in the best cuts, and writing off "Do What You Like" as a fluke mistake that won't be repeated, I'm already anxious for the next Blind Faith album. If they ever get it together all at once, rock and roll will never be the same.

Monday, November 27, 2017

They Got High With a Little Help from Their Friends

by Holden McNeely, Culture Sonar:

One of the most important traits of The Beatles was their ability to embody the zeitgeist. The swinging ‘60s, the hippie movement, the Summer of Love, and recreational drugs all came into play in their music at the pinnacle of their career – the primary mind-altering substances being marijuana and LSD. 

Who turned them on to pot? None other than Bob Dylan! According to Peter Brown’s The Love You Make, Dylan had misinterpreted the lyrics for “I Want To Hold Your Hand” — by mistaking “I can’t hide” for “I get high.” And so he brought a big bag of weed to the band during one of their NYC visits.

In George Case’s Out of Our Heads, Ringo recalls, “That was the first time that I’d really smoked marijuana and I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.” Per The Quotable Stoner, Paul McCartney also reminisced about that encounter: “Bob came round to our hotel, and he said to us, ‘Here, try a bit of this.’ It is very indiscreet to say this, because I don’t know whether Bob is telling people he turned the Beatles on to marijuana. But it was funny.”

For the next stretch of their careers, The Beatles were, well, periodically stoned. Don’t believe us? Here’s a quote from Jacqueline Edmondson’s biography John Lennon about their performances in the hit movie Help!: “The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic. But with Help!, [director] Dick Lester didn’t tell us what it was about… partly because we were smoking marijuana for breakfast… Nobody could communicate with us; it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time.”

The influence of marijuana on their music became pronounced in 1966, via their album Revolver. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Brian Roylance’s The Beatles, their personal assistant/road manager Neil Aspinall said of pot during the recording sessions, “I guess it made recording a bit slower, but it didn’t affect the quality of the work.” At points, the influence was stronger than others: Lennon attributed the backwards guitar effect in the song “Rain” directly to being high.

“I got home from the studio stoned out of my mind on marijuana and, as I usually do, I listened to what I’d recorded that day. Somehow I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, ‘I know what to do with it, I know…Listen to this!’ That one was a gift of God – of Jah, actually, the god of marijuana. Jah gave me that one” (from David Sheff’s All We Are Saying).

Around this time, the “Wicked Dentist” (revealed in Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll to be John Riley) famously introduced George Harrison and Lennon to LSD. It’s a sprawling story, but the long and short of it is that Riley invited the two Beatles and their wives over for dinner one night and dosed their coffee. He had intended to try and spark some kind of orgy but instead the foursome ended up in an elevator at a London nightclub shrieking madly as they hallucinated that their transport was engulfed in flames. Lennon remarked on this moment that, “The lift stops and the door opens and we’re all going ‘Aaahhhh’, and we just see that it’s the club.” As bad trips go, it could’ve been worse.

Yet the after-effects were profound. Quoted in Rock ‘n’ Roll Myths, George Harrison had this to say: “The first time I had acid, a light-bulb went on in my head and I began to have realisations which were not simply, ‘I think I’ll do this, or ‘I think that must be because of that.’ The question and answer disappeared into each other. An illumination goes on inside: in ten minutes I lived a thousand years.” The band mates’ subsequent experiences on acid led to several songs such as “She Said, She Said” — inspired by a trip at an LA house party where a young Peter Fonda whispered in Lennon’s ear, “I know what it’s like to be dead.”

Other trippy examples abound: tracks like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields” have hallucinatory qualities; albums like Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour are entire odes to the psychedelic experience. Ironically, The Beatles were largely turned off to further experimentation after a visit to Haight-Ashbury, arguably the countercultural capital of the time. In fact, The Beatles cleaned up for a time after that in a big way. They traveled to India where they gained sober enlightenment with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Drugs aren’t the only way to get high, you know.

Holden McNeely

PS: We dig into some other concept albums worth another listen. Plus, a look at some more recent projects keeping that ’60s vibe going.

Photo: Jim Gray/Keystone/Hulton Archive, courtesy of Getty Images