As the 70's were born, Hard rock moved in to dominate the rock and roll marketplace. Good times and swingin' la-la-la-I-love-you sounds were slowly replaced by steel and massive amplification. While some bands offered up power chords, others offered the theatrical with mood, surrealism, stark passages, iconoclastic lyrics, and downright expert musicianship. A new breed of superhuman had emerged. Musicians were now warriors with something to say and plenty of album time to say it.
In 1970, I was transformed by a band named Pink Floyd. The album "UmmaGumma" zapped my head into new proportions. Curiosity for the slowly emerging "progressive rock" drove me further and further toward the sublime of new British invaders. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer were phenomenal. So were Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and The Moody Blues. This was "mind" music, floating at times, then soaring, ripping through walls of iron with satanic talons and fire-breathing fury. Accomplished musicians bled themselves out on vinyl and each disc was a new adventure into a more advanced universe. Yet, as passionate the guitar playing, as thunderous the keyboard and mellotron work, there were other edges to the music; spacey echoes, distant chants and extraterrestrial harmonies were the alter ego of heavy rock. The world was changing, and I wanted to be there when it did. Thankfully, I was.
Turn off your mind relax, and float downstream...
John Lennon's liquid mantra urged a great many of us to turn off our minds and float. Easily, the 70's were the most prolific era in terms of music and creativity. Fashion may have taken a serious turn for the worst, but to make up for the horror of bell bottoms, the music was by far, born again with a vengeance. Perhaps the 70's were a staging ground, a field for some type of controlled experiment. Whatever the era was, it paved the way for yet another British invasion, and new champions of American rock.
Hard Rock was the style that emerged from the late 60's into the 70's. 60's bands like Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, and Grand Funk Railroad taught many of us 70's kids about the power of power chords. Walls of amps, and pedal effects were the new thing. The music was driven, powerful, emotive, and probably sounded no better than it did during the epic 60's, it just had more style and flavor to it. Black Sabbath churned British soil as did other UK bands. The likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and UFO forged new musical empires wrought with raw performance value and, in some cases, outstanding songwriting ability.
"We're an American Band"
As magnificent as the new British invasion was, America was turning out the same talent, pound for pound. Grand Funk Railroad tore up U.S. turf whilst filling stadiums around the world. (They managed to sell out Shea stadium faster than The Beatles!) Other bands like The James Gang, Bloodrock, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult became national rock legends that opened new doors and mystified audiences with gigantic hard-driving sound. Not only had new doors opened, these bands created a working template for numerous rock acts for decades to come.
Other bands like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Jefferson Starship, Argent, Rush, Boston, Ted Nugent, and J. Geils Band set the world's teeth on edge. The list is so much longer, but these were just a few of the groups that stamped their souls into the hearts of young America. Johnny Winter played guitar like it was on fire. He ripped through his licks at light speed, thrusting us into a near asthma attack. The scary looking albino with three feet of hair was the only artist I knew of that released a two-record set ("Second Winter") with only three sides!
One particular band that truly moved me was Chicago. In their prime, they were raw and blasted energy. To a young hard rocker like myself, horns were absolutely unthinkable. Yet, Chicago turned their rhythm section into a maelstrom of sweetness. Accompanied by strong guitar and outstanding song writing ability, they held their own against everyone else. Before the demise of guitarist Terry Kath, Chicago was a driving force. They were innovative, and one of the most original jam bands of all time.
Jimi Hendrix flipped his Fender Strat upside down, and did likewise to the world. In order to play left-handed, he didn't use a lefty guitar, he merely flipped a strat upside down. And he did it in such a way that he would leave his mark on us forever. Once asked how he defined psychedelic music, Jimi responded: "playing all the wrong notes on purpose." Quite a modest response coming from a musical giant, for his notes were not wrong. Instead they transported us to his planet, a fantasy world of electric ladies and midnight lamps; a world full of wah-wah pedal and guitar scales that redefined the face of rock and roll.
Most of the albums I bought were strictly upon experiment. The covers attracted me. "Bloodrock Live" was an interesting album, with some great, memorable tunes. "Castle of Thoughts", and "Breach of Lease" were my favorites. I also liked "D.O.A." Savoy Brown's "Hellbound Train" likewise appealed to me with its comic book cover art. As it turns out, the album was-and is-red hot.
"Come on baby light my fire...
One day, my world changed forever. In 1967 I heard a song called "Light my Fire" which lifted me from the mundane struggles of seventh grade to an elevated plateau of higher learning. From that day forward, whatever the Doors did was gospel. I lived, breathed, ate, slept, and dreamt The Doors. I listened to, and wore out every Doors album I had. Soon, every scratch, pop, and hiss became to me a knee-jerk reflex as part of the song, and each time an album was replaced, I had to re-learn the songs without the skips.
Taken from my 60's site:
"A very innovative teacher at Kellogg school in 1967 named Mr. Pennings introduced me to my first experiences with an unusual new musical group known then as The Doors. The song "Light My Fire" was as near a renaissance experience as I could ever dream of during that prophetic spring of 1967. For Mr. Pennings, "The Doors" were a revelation; something new that would forever change the face of the 60's movement. He explained to us about the changing world, and the genius of The Doors. How correct he was, and I admired him for playing the album on a small record player in the classroom. The grinding, continual rhythm, and sensuous darkness that would hallmark the latter 60's music, was probably the greatest thing I'd ever heard. To this day when I hear the song, I'm back in that classroom in 1967. The Doors were only a part of the great colorful period of 1967. Everything was young and bright, and it all exploded in color and powerful music. From that first listening of "Light My Fire," I was hooked on The Doors forever.
The Doors' music became highly influential, and a key staple to my earliest 70's library. Every album it seemed had that "one song" that became a sort of anthem. My absolute Doors favorites are: "Strange Days", "Light My Fire", "Roadhouse Blues", "The Crystal Ship", "The End" and "L.A. Woman".
Jim Morrison delivered me to consciousness; his rebellion was as plain to see as the nose on my face. "Peace Frog/Blue Sunday" bring back some seriously strong memories. Needless to say that "The Doors Absolutely Live" was a brilliant pressing and a prelude to my 70's experience. "The Celebration of the Lizard" was such a welcome--and in my opinion, needed performance.
"Or Yew Radie to Roack?"
Humble Pie could have been those guys that your parents warned you about.(Okay, first they may have warned you about Steppenwolf), After that, it could have been Humble Pie, hard rock's answer to The Rolling Stones. These guys were raw and rockin'. They were the bad Brits on the block. Whereas the Stones were the nastiest, Humble Pie were the kids waiting around the corner to kick your ass. Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton were in fine form back then. Their album "Rockin' the Fillmore" is legendary.
Other 70's favorites for me were Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Cold Blood, Hot Tuna, and of course, the Beatles. Back to the British imports, I was a tremendous fan of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Rolling Stones. The Stones would eventually replace the Beatles as my number one favorite straight rock and roll band. Their latter recordings from the period of 1970-1976 were my favorite period. Sonic light speed guitar came to us in the form of Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. Just watching him play brought the word "methamphetamines" to mind.
1970 also found me sampling the world of Santana, but only for a short period. As much as I tried, I felt no real connection with that band. Then, on one cold November day, I took two buses, and walked several blocks to the local Fred Meyer store in search of something I'd heard playing at school in art class. The album: a monumental treasure called "The Who Live at Leeds." Townsend's black and white poster that came with the file cabinet of paper inserts in the album hung proudly on my wall. It was a great poster though a bit small. But, what the H, it was free. And Pete, flailing away at his Rickenbacher, was in fine company with my assorted black light posters and the moody drift of sandalwood cone incense. It was at this point that I realized that The Who were a serious force to be reckoned with. They had power and fury, a wild drummer, a centaur-like frontman, and one gifted guitarist-composer. They had songs that made your ears bleed, your butt sweat, and brought a lump to your throat on some of their more sincere efforts. And though bassist John Entwistle stood in the background, he was a formidable personality to me, the grinding foundation behind some of their more rocking tunes--especially on the "Leeds" LP.
Memorable cuts are for me the rendition of "My Generation" and the furious guitar work of the "Overture" from "Tommy". Next was "Magic Bus", a tune that I found rather obnoxious in its studio release, but on this live album, it was tremendous. The reason? Keith Moon. Plus these guys literally took off like bottle rockets. It was unbelievable how they could transform into such an energetic ass-stomping hard rock act while churning out accomplished studio works that would grow into legendary achievements. Who lesson number 1: hear them live, then hear the studio stuff.
My definitive 70's record collection grew to epic proportions. Osibisa, an African group, reminded me of Santana, though, for some reason, they were more engaging. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer were my induction to serious "grown up" rock music. They were trained classical musicians that turned the world upside down with their particular frenzy of music. I saw them in 1974. It was an exceptional concert.
The 70's brought higher technology to rock music. To the right is a "Mellotron", the keyboard instrument that added a touch of maturity to music. It was basically a keyboard with a set of tape loops of symphony instruments and chorale voices. It could therefore mimic full orchestral sounds. Sadly, too many technical problems with this instrument forced its early demise. I loved Mellotrons and miss them as they added such a great dimension to music.
Hard rock was what basic rock n' roll morphed into once the sounds became heavier and with more drive than the norm. Many albums were loud and ferocious. They branded heavy chords like leviathan footsteps on hollow ground coupled with strangely magnetic songs or just plain old-fashioned Rock/R&B appeal. Riding the wave of this newer form of music created multiplicity in both members and bands, and new groups seemed to crawling out of the woodwork. One most memorable would have to have been Black Sabbath. Their premiere LP was the most played record in my high school art class since "Woodstock". Every kid had it, and in our class, we were fortunate enough to have a younger, more progressive teacher who allowed us to play records while we worked. Hence, my first introduction to the iron talons of Black Sabbath.
The term "Hard Rock" not only carved its way into modern music with a power chord bent, but swiftly became its own classification. Soon, "heavy" was replaced by "hard" and the musical styles followed suit. The songs got longer, harder, faster, meaner, and at times, far more technically precise. Hard rock was a fire spreading out of control, devouring anything in its path. Guitarists of the 60's who then sounded good, now sounded great. Guitar distortion was meaner and cleaner. Pedal effects were more sophisticated, and musicians had more or less become journeymen of the trade.
The 70's Psychedelic music
Psychedelic music is a 60's baby; Experimentation in rock and roll was never more fabulous than it was in those mid-to-late 60's. Psychedelic music now is nothing more than a carry over from the 60's. In fact, it was refined and re-worked just as much as it is being refined re-worked today. Essentially, and as a genre, psychedelic music was created to either enhance, or resemble the hallucinatory qualities of LSD. It was "mind" music to the extreme, usually with inconsistent patterns and long drawn out compositions. Still, the music was undeniably cerebral and altogether pleasing. It was "trippy" and generally led the listener toward fantasy voyages and freaky musical journeys. Psychedelic music is certainly a stand-alone category, and the mid to latter 60's bands like Pink Floyd, Iron Butterfly, The Soft Machine, Curved Air, and Quicksilver Messenger Service were the proof positive harbingers of a fantastic revolutionary sound. When I think of psychedelia I think of Syd Barret or the more artistic works from The Doors or even the synth-driven bands like Tangerine Dream. Though classified as Electronica, TD most definitely held their own in the land of psychedelia.
So, enough preamble. Just what is Psychedelic anyway? I can only explain it as a formless creation, perhaps tied down to an initial series of chords and structural notes and harmonies. A brilliant psychedelic composition could be rootbound in traditional rock, yet drifting off in several "chapters" perhaps never setting back down to earth, or returning exactly as it left. Such would be the case with an exemplary piece by Pink Floyd called "Careful, with that Axe, Eugene." The song begins with just the slightest ambient pulse: bass guitar droning the same notes over and over again. Then the fog rolls in with soft keyboard and synth. From there a few celestial harmonies lay in to create a textured quilt of mood and masterpiece. Suddenly a scream breaks the nirvana, and away we go blazing into a bright and ethereal netherworld of guitar, keyboards, and drums ablaze. Like hypnosis, we return to the exact plane of mental existence as where we started without hardly ever realizing we left earth. This is a perfect song.
Let us not end there: "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" by the Electric Prunes is a classic psyche tune. Also, check out "Mind Flowers" by The Ultimate Spinach. This could be a dictionary definition of psychedelic music.