The Grateful Dead, American Beauty, Warner Brothers WS-1893, 1970
For the 364th album that I am featuring during this year long exercise, I’ve chosen something by The Grateful Dead. The perennially touring San Francisco based band that made a career out of touring and selling a peaceful laid back vibe for 30 years rarely had a hit record, but this one came close. In classic Deadhead style, American Beauty took four years to achieve Gold status, and 16 years to reach Platinum. The Grateful Dead never worked well with a deadline….
1970 was the year of the twin classic Dead albums. Workingman’s Dead came out in February, while American Beauty was released in November. Both are highly influenced by Country and Bluegrass, along with a healthy dose of hanging out with Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. For a while there the drugs were somewhat under control, and the band decided to really focus on writing and recording, in part to impress their new label, Warner Brothers. When Rolling Stone last updated their Top 500 Albums list, Workingman’s Dead came in at #262 and American Beauty came in at #258. They really are fraternal twins.
Perhaps this record came in a tad higher because of the “hit” single Trucking’. I always loved the fact that The Dead were so popular despite the fact that for years the #64 high chart position of Trucking’ was the biggest single the band ever had. It wasn’t until A Touch Of Grey from In The Dark hit #9 in 1987 that Trucking’ was finally surpassed. Because they have always been in demand, Grateful Dead albums are truly collectible today. Finding this record for $8 is a minor miracle, especially given its condition. Generally I try to play a record once before writing about it, but this clean copy of this amazing piece of Dead memorabilia has been in high rotation on my turntable since I found it.
Cost: $8, $11 Remaining
Van Morrison, Moondance, Warner Brothers WS-1835, 1970
Sometimes a remarkable album comes out by someone you’d least expect from. Yes, Van Morrison had made bit of a name for himself as the lead singer of Them, and with a slightly bubblegum-ish 1967 hit single, Brown Eyed Girl. But who knew he had THIS in him? Brown Eyed Girl was a big enough hit that he got a major label deal with Warner Brothers, and Morrison spent most of 1968 preparing his Warner’s debut, Astral Weeks. It was a very jazzy and abstract record that was a hit with musicians and critics but didn’t really sell.
Moondance was the follow-up, and Morrison spent most of 1969 writing and recording it in Woodstock New York. When a half million hippies rolled into town, Morrison left for the city where he finished the record. Dropping a needle on side one, the record opens with And It Stoned Me, a song that literally jumps out at you. From there, you’re drawn in deeper and deeper until it ends. Crazy Love, Moondance, and Into The Mystic are classics of their-or any other-era. Yes, I love this record.
Oddly, there were no hit singles from Moondance. Come Running and Crazy Love were both released as singles, but neither charted. For some bizarre reason, Moondance was released as a single at the height of the Disco era in 1977, when it climbed all the way to #92. The album only reached #29 on the charts, but despite failing in all of the traditional measures of a hit album, Moondance still sold over three million copies. It has probably never been out of print. Naturally, I held out for an original Warner Brothers copy, with its gatefold cover and extensive liner notes.
Cost: $7, $19 Remaining
The Beatles, The Beatles Again (a/k/a Hey Jude), Apple SW-385, 1970
This is a really weird one. Generally, a Beatles album is an example of a well crafted piece of pop music that will always stand the test of time. The Beatles never took the easy road, they we always expanding horizons. At least until this record came out. In case you couldn’t tell from the cover photography, these are four Beatles who are not exactly comfortable in their surroundings and seem lost in what they are doing. As it turns out, these pictures were taken at the last photo shoot the group ever had. As another sign of the band’s problems, the photo shoot was in August 1969 at John Lennon’s estate and this album was released at the end of February 1970. Apple was rotting at the core.
The not so creative force behind this record was Alan Klein, John Lennon’s choice to run the group’s business affairs. Mick Jagger had once remarked how Klein had saved The Stones from some British taxes, and that was good enough for John (and George & Ringo) to choose him to run their affairs (over Paul’s objections). With sales of Abbey Road slowing down, and with no new recording going on or any idea when Phil Spector might be done editing the Get Back/Let It Be sessions for release, Klein needed a “new” album in stores to keep up cash flows and justify his existence. The only thing to do was to look back to the group’s biggest hit, Hey Jude, and build an album of already released songs to go along with it.
Ah, but what songs! Since Hey Jude was never released on an album, the idea was to put it out with other past singles that had also never been released on an album in the US. While they didn’t look as far back as Vee-Jay released songs like Misey, There’s A Place, and Love Me Do, they did start with the six year old Can’t Buy Me Love. That song and I Should Have Known Better were both in A Hard Day’s Night, but that album was a United Artists release. 1966’s Paperback Writer and Rain are the other true oldies, with the rest of the songs being A and B sides from some non album singles. But the whole package reeks of a cash in, and it came along at a time when tempers were high with the group. This move didn’t help the internal struggles and three months later Paul announced he left the group. This album was a nail in the coffin.
Cost: $5, $32 Remaining
The Jackson 5, ABC, Motown MS-709, 1970
It’s no secret that 1970 was the year of The Jackson 5. Besides The Beatles in 1964, no other artist exploded on the charts with such memorable songs as they did. This was their second album, and it yielded their second and third #1 singles. In a real passing of the torch moment, ABC knocked out The Beatles’ Let It Be from #1, and a few weeks later, The Love You Save replaced The Long And Winding Road.
This is real bubblegum soul music, both insanely catchy and seemingly simple, the songs are actually pretty intricate. Unlike their first album, which featured songs with much more mature material, this album’s tracks are similar lyrically to the title track. Reading the lyrics to ABC, you would think it was nothing more than a poem written by a 3rd grader. It takes real talent write and produce something so light and have it end up as something significant or silly. This album isn’t silly.
Ok, perhaps the inner sleeve is. Original period Motown albums all have printed inner sleeves featuring fan club news or new release ads. Jackson 5 inner sleeves though, took this to an all time high in a kitschy, Tito-Rific way. It remains unclear how many Soul-Mates Jermaine met or how many Marlon posters people paid $0.25 for, but reading one of these today is pretty great. Any Motown record is collectible, and double that for a Jackson 5 record. Because they weren’t usually bought by audiophiles, finding a decent one at a decent price is a challenge. There’s one less out there now!
Cost: $5, $117 Remaining
The Bee Gees, Cucumber Castle, Atco SD33-327, 1970
Much like The Beatles, The Bee Gees were breaking up in early 1970. Brother Robin quit the group just as the recording of this album began, and halfway though the sessions, Barry & Maurice fired the rest of the original band. You might guess that all that drama would leave to a bitter recording experience full of unhappy songs, and guess what? That’s what this album is! The cover art even shows two very confused Bee Gees looking in opposite directions for some kind of sign of a brighter future.
The whole experience was so rotten that Barry announced he was leaving the group before the record even came out, leaving Maurice as the only Bee Gee left. Had they not been brothers, that would have been it, and Disco might never have happened. But this crummy album did just well enough to keep the public’s interest in the group going in parts of the world (#7 in Italy!) that there was demand for more Bee Gee music. Much more than there was from Robin or Barry Gibb solo records anyway.
I’d say that this record is really only for all the Bee Gee crazed people out there, and both of them already have their copy. That means I was able to get this near-mint copy for $2, and it’ll occupy my shelf until I have a “name that group” contest. This just doesn’t sound at all like a Bee Gees record at all, but it’s perfect for your next Game Of Thrones watch party.
Cost: $2, $214 Remaining
Ray Stevens, Everything Is Beautiful, Barnaby Z12-35005, 1970
Ray Stevens sure has had a career. After all, how many novelty acts are in the Christian Music Hall Of Fame? Able to top the R&B, Pop and Country charts, win Grammys, and have a network TV show, you’d think he’d be regarded as a household name. But probably due to the natural life span of a mostly novelty hit career and a notorious reputation of being a difficult person to do business with tend to keep him as an afterthought today.
This was probably his signature non-novelty record. If there’s one thing Ray Stevens has, it’s a sense of timing. It’s not everyone that could release a memorable Streaking record the week after a guy streaked on live TV at The Oscars. Chosen to host the summer replacement show for Andy Williams in 1970, Ray wrote Everything Is Beautiful for the show’s theme song and it took of like wildfire on the pop charts. It came along at a time when semi-christian themes we’re popping up in the Top 40, and it sounded wonderful next to Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky and Ocean’s Put Your Hand In The Hand. Besides the #1 hit title track, the rest of the album is an odd mix of Rock hits of the day, and Ray Stevens is no Joe Cocker when it comes to them.
Barnaby Records was Andy Williams’ own label. Named for his dog, Williams only really started a record company because he bought the master tapes of the defunct Cadence Records to avoid a competitor from snapping them up, re-releasing them, and competing with his new Columbia recordings. Ray Stevens had the only real hits the label ever released. I suppose the next time I’ll listen to this record will be to calm down after Ray Stevens goes on another public rant about health care reform or climate change to remind myself that everyone is beautiful in their own way.
Cost: $2, $218 Remaining
Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die, United Artists UAS-5504, 1970
The era of the Anglo-American super group was in full swing by 1970. Like conference realignment in college sports, once the teams star switching around, it takes a while for the dust to settle. The Hollies and The Byrds may not have had much in common, but their cast offs created some really great music together. This album could be one of the more wacky combinations of them all.
Steve Winwood was the teenaged lead singer for The Spencer Davis Group. He quickly left to form Traffic, which had immediate success before breaking up in 1969. Winwood joined Blind Faith with Eric Clapton for their one terrific album. The plan for this album was for it to be Steve Winwood’s first solo record. But when he showed the first few tunes to some of his old Traffic bandmates, they decided to re-form and finish the record as a Traffic album.
I just wish it was a better record. It isn’t bad per se, but there’s no hidden gems or hit singles. There are only six songs, but they’re all really long and border on freeform improvisation. Because of the band’s reputation, it sold really well, peaking at #5 and being certified Gold, but because it kinda stinks, it’s a very easy record to find today. It sold as well as the average Led Zeppelin album, but people actually want those records and not this one. I’ll give it a listen every n ow and then, but John Barleycorn really did die here.
Cost: $2, $387 Remaining