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(1974 Albums) Classical Albums

Can you see what Emerson, Lake & Palmer did to me?

Yes, courtesy of budget labels MFP (Music for Pleasure) and (I think it was) Hallmark, I stuck my proverbial toe in the murky waters of classical music, snapping up Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition“, Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and Tchaikovsky’s magnificent “1812 Overture

It would be years later before I expanded my ‘classical tastes’ further – courtesy of, strangely, my accountant who listened to no other genre – but for a 16-year-old with a musical sense for ‘all things” I don’t think I did too badly for starters did I?

The Mussorgsky purchase was most certainly based on my love for ELP and their interpretation of “Pictures…”. I guess I needed to hear the source of Mr Emerson’s inspiration?

I think the New World Symphony came about because it was featured in “Soylent Green“, a film I had seen the previous summer. Specifically the scene where old-timer Sol (a stupendous acting performance by Edward G Robinson) – in what has otherwise become a desolate world – offers himself up for euthanasia and before ‘departing’ is treated to great food, pretty visuals and a soundtrack of his choosing.

As for the 1812, I have no idea why it may have fallen across my radar in 1974. Maybe it was played at a TIBS meeting? Whatever the reason it remains a stunningly broody piece of music, culminating as it does with those booming canons.

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January 7th 1974

“Berfday. Got lamp, pygamas, £2 from Mormor – bought Stranded – Roxy – Smart!”

So the wild and crazy out-of-control teenager turns 16 and celebrates with … erm… some pyjamas (mis-spelled), a lamp (a lamp??) and a couple of quid from his Danish grandmother.

However, it seems like I made up for it a little later in the day, treating myself to the merest glimpse of Marilyn Cole’s nipples….erm, I mean Roxy Music’s third album, Stranded

Stranded was the group’s first album without Brian Eno, he and Bryan Ferry having fallen out over who was really ‘leading’ the band. With all due respect to Eno, I do feel as though the ‘better man won’ in that regard. Ferry is a stylish crooner in comparison to Brian’s somewhat grotesque “Addams Family” appearance and thin vocals.

(In time, Eno would turn out to be a MUCH bigger hero of mine than Ferry, but we’ll save my feelings on that until reference to him appears in my diary pages)

To enter the grooves of  Stranded one must first get by the striking cover art. Another Anthony Price photo shoot, another superb piece of glamorous titillation. Despite coming from Portsmouth in England, model Marilyn Cole grew up to be a very attractive woman indeed. She was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in January 1972 (indeed, hers was the first full frontal centrespread to appear in the magazine) as well as Playmate of the Year in 1973.

Although dating Bryan Ferry at the time of the photo shoot (but not by the time of the album’s release), it is alleged she was *ahem* actively pursued by Playboy boss Hugh Hefner but ended up marrying the then head of the organisation’s London operations (and renowned playboy in his own right) Victor Lownes.

 

Lucky blighter that Victor!

No Eno. Jobson!

Back to the album itself, which kicks off with “Street Life“, the only cut released as a single (reaching #9 on the UK Singles chart in November 1973). Moody atmospheric electronics start the track off, before it kicks into overdrive, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the “ghost of Eno” was still amongst the group. His place in the group had been taken by Eddie Jobson, a multi-instrumentalist previously with the band Curved Air. Whilst Jobson’s keyboard noodlings were never as innovative as Eno’s, his contribution to Roxy Music really came to the fore with his ability to play the violin, musically adding a ….erm… whole new string to Ferry’s bow.

“Street Life” is a real swaying cruncher of a song, despite only really having one chorus in the middle, and features Ferry almost growling out his thinly veiled allegorical lyrics. His attack on the media (in light of his new found fame and predilection for stunning female companionship) is palpable:
Hey good-looking boys – gather around
The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind,
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

It’s a pop song which I feel has fully stood the test of time. Conversely, it’s really the only cut on Stranded which harked back to their previous two albums. I’ll admit that personally I think Roxy Music were a much more interesting act with Eno in the line up. It may be because Brian often managed to quell some of Ferry’s predeliction to overt romanticism, or at least disguise it somehow. On “Stranded” however, Ferry was holding on to the reins all by himself… and did a bloody good job!

Personally I’ve always been of the opinion that the rest of this album and the next two albums (“Country Life” & “Siren”) almost represented a kind of “Roxy Music Mk II”.

As if to prove my point – and to prove that Roxy Mk II could be every bit as good as Mk I – “Just Like You” is the next track. This song never fails to move me. It luxuriates in its own languid gorgeousness, Ferry’s crooning beyond reproach. The lyrics are a little bit “moon in june”-ish but he believes every single line and sings them with such conviction its impossible to criticise.

Just when Ferry has lulled you into a soporific state of mind, along comes the somewhat bizarre “Amazona“. It goes off on so many tangents, lilting and tilting here there and everywhere before almost settling on a driving rhythm at the 3-minute mark, then scaring you again with the world highest-pitched guitar solo from co-writer Phil Manzanera. An odd song, but a brilliant one.

Psalm“, closing Side 1 is alleged to be the first song Ferry ever wrote for Roxy Music back in the band’s formative stage. It starts with what sounds like a church organ overlaid with Ferry’s vocals. Slowly, drums, guitar, oboe, violin and a (real? electronic?) choir all contribute to what appears to be some kind of tribute to a multitude of different religions. The song is written – and Ferry sings it – in such a manner that it sounds like a traditional composition from the 40’s or 50’s (surely his intent?), his voice now starting to more regularly display that strange vibrato he does so well.

Side 2 opener is “Serenade“, probably my least favourite cut of the eight. The rhythm feels all wrong to me – always has – and I think the guitar solo halfway through is the only thing that vaguely redeems it.

Where “Serenade” fails, the next two cuts more than make up. “A Song for Europe” is, quite simply, a majestic work of art. Ferry’s immaculate phrasing underscored perfectly by the accompanying musicianship. The simple bass riff at the 3:24 minute mark sets up Mackay’s sax which then does battle with Ferry singing in a variety of tongues – I think it’s Latin, French and Italian? Somewhat weirdly, I often find myself muttering Ferry’s (somewhat awful) pun halfway through the number, where he alludes to Venice with “and the bridge… it sighs”

If that wasn’t enough, it’s followed by “Mother of Pearl” one of my favourite ever ‘corkers’ by Roxy Music, indeed it would almost certainly be one of my ‘Desert Island Discs‘ if I were ever invited on to the programme. Ferry’s lyrics are 100% top notch from start to finish, even if I’ve never really been certain what he’s banging on about. For me it’s just one of those songs that sounds right, if that makes sense?

Sunset” closes an almost perfect album, perfectly. It’s an ode to death, but it could just as easily be referring to the end of a lovely summer’s day. One word: GORGEOUS!

Is “Stranded” Roxy’s best album? Depends who you talk to. For me, it’s certainly the best of their output from this era, although there are cuts from both “For Your Pleasure” and “Country Life” I wish were on it too, just to selfishly make it 100% perfect.

I do think that, in 1974, I was in a weird minority of music fans. I knew lots of people at school who liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Roxy Music, but rarely both. It was almost as if everybody had to fit into one camp or the other. Likewise there seemed to be ‘rivalry’ between ELP and Yes fans, T.Rex & Slade fans, even Roxy Music and Bowie fans.

Me? I was just into it all.

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December 27th 1973

“Bort Brain Salad Surgery – not very good but alright”

Wha??

Doubtless buoyed by “christmas money” I went out and bought Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s new opus – released a mere month earlier – only to get it home and immediately deem it “not very good, but alright

Do I sense dissatisfaction setting in with progressive rock gods Keith, Greg & Carl? (I use their first names here to deliberately suggest certain levels of abundant familiarity). “Not very good, but alright“? Wow, talk about fence-sitting.

Let’s take a look at the evidence shall we?….

There’s no doubting “Brain Salad Surgery” was ELP’s most ambitious and flamboyant project to date.

H.R.Giger in 2008 - is it just me, or is he starting to morph into one of his own paintings?

It started with the unsettling album cover, an admittedly fantastic piece of airbrushed work by surreal artist H.R.Giger. It is said that Giger was so flattered Keith Emerson had asked him to design a cover for the band, he painted the piece in just two days – in actual 12″ x 12″ size – including all the incredible detail as well as coming up with the now-distinctive ELP logo.

There was much talk in 1973 of phallic imagery at play with the cover, which, to be honest I never saw then, nor do I see now. Instead all I see is some kind of artistic pre-cursor to a massive selection of sci-fi movies where a human being is taken over by robots, or at least some kind of mechanical device. (Indeed, Giger’s notion was that of a “mechanical woman”)

With excess being the mandatory name of the game for most Prog acts in the 70’s, the sleeve was not a straightforward one. It expensively and expansively folded out, over and over, to present the buyer with a selection of images, the most frightening of which were actually those of the band themselves. Greg Lake apparently trying to pass himself off as some kind of pre-pubescent Donny Osmond.

“Brain Salad Surgery” remains one of my favourite album covers of all time. Not because of all the die-cut nonsense – which, as I found out to my horror, was easy to rip or tear – but for H.R. Giger’s stunning artwork. Indeed, it took me on a multi-decade journey of appreciation for Giger’s output, including (but far from limited to) the set and creature design he did for the “Alien” movie franchise.

As for the music itself, I’ve since come to realise how my initial reticence came about. This album contains both some of ELP’s finest moments… and some of their very worst.

It opens with some of their very worst. Never a good idea.

Track 1 is an adaptation of William Blake ‘s timeless hymn “Jerusalem“. (So bad there’s not even a recording of it to link to on You Tube!) In their infinite lack of wisdom, Manticore Records decided to release this track as the single, only to find it banned by the BBC, who rightly argued it was in ‘poor taste’. I could wax lyrically about just how bad this adaptation is, but probably not without copious levels of family-unfriendly swearing.

Side 1 Track 2 “Toccata” makes up for the weak opener. It is an almost-psychedelic take on Argentinian composer Ginastera ‘s 1st Piano Concerto, with Emerson’s sound effects and Palmer’s electronic drums to the fore throughout. It would prove to be a live favourite, essentially because it automatically lends itself so well to visual excesses on stage.

Still You Turn Me On” is one of Greg Lake’s trademark sugary-sweet love ballads. However, I’ll admit to having a soft spot for this one, despite the distraction of lyrics such as
Every day a little sadder
A little madder
Someone get me a ladder

Benny the Bouncer”  is another throwaway piece of nonsense that the band habitually littered their albums with. (Think “Jeremy Bender” on Tarkus or “Hoedown” on Trilogy). Once again, no link to an original recording of the song, but there IS this marching band version from 1983! (My wife will like this clip having been in the flag corps for such events)

The rest of the album is filled up with one grand ELP ‘epic’. Or, rather, isn’t. “Karn Evil 9” is a ‘suite’ of three ‘impressions’, the first impression split into two parts, resulting in…. yep, four tracks.. um, all of which appear to have very little to do with one another.

Despite this – and despite the band drafting in maddeningly-dodgy lyricist Pete Sinfield (he of the PFM & King Crimson connection) – this thirty-minute musical montage contains (in my humble opinion) 26 minutes of some of the band’s finest work.

Karn Evil 9 – 1st Impression, Part I” closes side 1 of the album., but it’s “Karn Evil 9 – 1st Impression, Part II” at the start of Side 2 which most people will recognise. Why?…

The opening lyric, “Welcome Back my Friends to the Show that never Ends….” has become an iconic statement ever since, even reaching the hallowed portals of the White House! (OK, OK…. so Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett character actually muttered it in an episode of  TV’s The West Wing).  Plus, the ensuing music – perhaps, if you will, the ‘riff’ – has been used over and over again in TV shows, documentaries, commercials and more.

Karn Evil 9 – 2nd Impression is a meandering go-nowhere instrumental featuring drums, bass and piano with Emerson briefly interpolating an old number by influential jazz musician Sonny Rollins. For me it is the thorn in Karn Evil 9‘s side

Karn Evil 9 – 3rd Impression” finds the band returning to a war theme, something they had done so well on Tarkus a few years previous. With a somewhat hokey “man vs machine” concept (to tie in with the cover art) this cut is over-the-top ELP at their most extravagantly bombastic. The battle runs for over 9 minutes with Emerson’s electronics, Lake’s loud vocals and Palmer’s computerised drums all fighting one another for centre stage, the latter even finding time to include a 70’s/Prog-rock staple; the extended drum solo.

As with most other ‘concept’ albums/pieces I mostly managed to ignore the storyline running rampant through “Karn Evil 9”, preferring to just concentrate on grooving along with the rhythms and soundscapes on offer.

There’s no doubting that this album was the last ELP studio album I had/have any real fondness for. Even in retrospect I can see why my review was mixed. 50% of this album is great, the rest is utter pants.

I suspect too that my musical tastes were already subtly diversifying and – let’s face it boys and girls – there’s only so much ELP one person can take isn’t there? There were, however, still a couple more ELP releases to come that I wouldn’t shun. One was an earwormy single, the other an utterly ludicrous triple live album… both of which, I am sure, will be highlighted in future EFA70sTRO posts.

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September 6th 1973

“Bort Photos of Ghosts – Premiata Forneria Marconi – SMART, spesh Celebration”

Two reasons why I was attracted to this album by relative unknowns Premiata Forneria Marconi … or to give them their easier name, PFM.

1• This Italian group were ‘discovered’ by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and signed to the trio’s own Manticore Records.

2• One Sunday afternoon whilst listening to DJ Kenny Everett’s irreverent radio show on BBC Radio 1 he played the track “Celebration” a half-dozen times over and over.

The mix of ELP-ish keyboard stylings with flutes and strong drum work (plus vague yodels) reminiscent of Focus sucked me in straight away. In my humble opinion, “Celebration” was – and still is – a GREAT prog-rock pop song, worthy of classic status.

The album itself is actually a set of (“English”) reworkings of the band’s second studio album “Per Un Amico”, with new lyrics courtesy of Pete Sinfield from King Crimson. I hasten to add that these were NOT translations of the original Italian lyrics, but brand new words.

Opener, “River of Life” kicks off proceedings gently with lute and flute to the fore, eventually accompanied by a harpsichord. At around the 1:30 mark the gentleness briefly gives way to heavy prog-rock drums and then reverts to lightweight meanderings, with guitar work VERY reminiscent of Focus’ Jan Akkerman.

Celebration” is next. And it IS!

The title track, “Photos of Ghosts, follows. Like “River of Life” it swaps light and dark all the way through, its dominant piano/violin theme almost mesmerising. Sinfield’s lyrics leave a little to be desired though…

Black roses laced with silver by a broken moon.
Ten million stars and the whispered harmonies of leaves.
We were these.
Beside a dried up fountain lie five dusty tomes
with faded pasted pictures of love’s reverie.
Across each cover is written,”Herein are Photos of Ghosts”
of ghosts, of ghosts,
of the days we ran and the days we sang.

It’s twaddle really, isn’t it?

To make up for it, “Old Rain” is a beautiful, lilting instrumental.

Il Banchetto” is the only track on the album performed by the band in their native Italian. I know not why. Maybe Pete Sinfield had lost his Encyclopedia of ProgRock lyrical clichés that day?

Mr 9 ’till 5” is my second favourite cut on the album after “Celebration”. Predates Dolly Parton and/or Sheena Easton by years. The wild drums and violin perfectly compliment one another, whilst vocalist Flavio Primoli displays a certain charm in trying to pronounce words entirely foreign to him.

The album’s closer “Promenade the Puzzle” is very, let’s say, Jethro Tull-esque, both in its composition and lyrical content.

I know that when I got this album, I pretty much played nothing else for a while. As a result, it’s one of the handful of albums that I know extremely intimately, each nuance, instrument and note are always anticipated and expected.

Perhaps weirdly, I have never, EVER got into any of PFM’s many other albums. “Chocolate Kings”, “Cook” and more have been sampled occasionally but rarely enjoyed.

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September 4th 1973

“BAK TO SCHOOL! Went up Nigs, went over park, Mart P also came. Bought Hotel”

Ha-ha-ha. My entry makes it sound as though, that night, I simply “bought a hotel”!

“Hello, is that the Savoy?”

“Yes, how can we help you?”

“I’d like to buy your hotel please”

“Why certainly sir, just bring your collection of Emerson, Lake & Palmer LP’s, a ticket stub from the Bowie concert and… if you happen to have a gaudily-painted transistor radio.. well that should be more than enough for our ornate West End business”

I know cynics amongst you may think my ‘price’ for a hotel was 4 green houses…. but you’d be wrong! Wrong, I tells ya!

Sadly, the truth is no more exciting than a paperback of Arthur Hailey’s then best-seller “Hotel”. This often-saucy tale about what goes on behind the doors of a New Orleans hotel was a HUGE book at the time and like many other people I got sucked into the inevitable slipstream.

Unlike his other HUGE seller – “Airport” – “Hotel” was never made into a feature film, but I seem to remember a tawdry TV mini-series based on it? James Brolin? (Checks t’internet… yep!)

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An Aside – My “History of Music” Project: Part V

Yes, it’s yellow paper. No it hasn’t yellowed over the years. It was yellow form the start, from a large box of foolscap-sized paper by Dad bought for 5 shillings (25p/35¢) from British Rail some 6 or 7 years previous.

Please note gratuitous introduction of Emerson, Lake & Palmer… plus a ludicrous remark commenting that Man were “the most promising name in rock today”. To coin a phrase… LOL!!

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An Aside – My “History of Music” Project: Part II

Here’s the inside front cover showing the contents.

One may notice there is a certain ‘favouritism’ still at play with an indexed mention of not only Emerson, Lake & Palmer but the “Welsh Pub Rock Boom” (i.e. Man).

One may further notice that I have a problem spelling “psychedelic

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