Let’s Get Mystical, Funky & Mellow

Having landed in June 1972 for two earlier posts this week and having written a bit about what we might have been playing at KVSC-FM, the St. Cloud State student radio station, I thought I’d dabble a little more with what was going on forty years ago. So I headed to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive to see what the well-appointed progressive station had on its playlist during the first weeks of that long-ago month.

Well, pickings were pretty slim when I sorted for ARSA data for “progressive” stations, but I did come up with an album survey from KSJO-FM in San Jose, California, dated June 19, 1972. Here are the top twenty albums from that week at KJSO:

Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones
Honky Chateau by Elton John
Big Bambu by Cheech and Chong
America Eats Its Young by Funkadelic
Blue River by Eric Andersen
Foghat by Foghat
Rock and Roll Cutie by Randalls Island
Demons & Wizards by Uriah Heep
Grave New World by the Strawbs
Mousetrap by Spencer Davis
Sail Away by Randy Newman
Castles by Joy of Cooking
Roots and Branches by the Dillards
Lean On Me by Bill Withers
Angel Came by Black Oak Arkansas
Bump City by Tower of Power
So Tough by the Beach Boys
Preserve Wildlife by Mama Lion
Smokin’ OP’s by Bob Seger

Listed as “Hot Stuff” was All Day Music by War.

There is one bit of weirdness in that list: I find no evidence of a group called Randall’s Island or an album titled Rock and Roll Cutie. Randall’s Island was, however, the title of a 1970 album by Elliott Randall, and his next album was titled Rock and Roll City. That later album, however, was not released until 1973, according to both Wikipedia and All-Music Guide. I am baffled.

Beyond that, it’s an interesting mash-up, which was certainly the mode for a progressive station, I think. Several of those albums – the Eric Andersen, the Joy of Cooking and Exile on Main Street – are among my favorites, and I also enjoy the albums by Bob Seger, Bill Withers, Elton John, the Strawbs, the Dillards and Tower of Power.

Without listening to it for the first time in years, I would guess that Big Bambu is deeply dated, and I sadly have no clue about the Funkadelic and Beach Boys albums on that list, the latter of which was a roots-rock exercise that should really be given its full title: Carl & The Passions: So Tough.

Other than that, it’s an interesting mix, one that could provide a few hours of decent listening (and I chuckled when Mama Lion showed up here for the second time in just a few weeks). So let’s pull three tracks from that list of twenty-one albums, and we’ll try to make them something new to these precincts.

We’ll start with “The Wizard,” the opener to the Uriah Heep album. It’s a track that starts in a quiet acoustic mood and then works its way to something far heavier, a pattern that was especially popular with British bands, it seems to me. Led Zeppelin is the easiest other example to come up with, and the approach always sounds to me as if the bands were trying – purposefully or not – to bridge the gap between the British folk tradition (think of the quieter stuff of Fairport Convention) and the nascent heavy metal approach that now, actually, sounds almost sedate. The album, Demons and Wizards, went to No. 23; the best-known track from the album was the single “Easy Livin’,” which went to No. 39 in September of 1972.

Shifting gears, we’ll move to another opening track, this time “You Hit the Nail on the Head,” the opener to Funkadelic’s two-LP America Eats Its Young. Ned Raggett of All-Music Guide singles out co-producer and keyboard player Bernie Worrell for his “surging, never-stop keyboards . . . with his magnificent lead break on the opening ‘You Hit the Nail on the Head’ making for one of the best performances ever on Hammond organ.” The album went to No. 123 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 22 on the R&B Albums chart. One single, “Loose Booty,” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 118, while another, “A Joyful Process,” went to No. 38 on the R&B chart.

As I wrote and listened this morning, I was also digging around in the Echoes In The Wind archives and I was stunned to realize that I’ve never shared Eric Andersen’s original version of “Blue River.” I’ve told the tale before, how the album Blue River was supposed to have positioned Andersen as the next big thing but that the master tapes for his next album, Stages, were lost and it was three years and a label change until Andersen’s next record – Be True To You – came out. All of that, however, makes Blue River sound like a stage-setter when it’s actually one of the great albums of the singer-songwriter era: melodic, literate, sometimes sweet and sometimes melancholy. It went to No. 169 on the Billboard 200, but commercial success – or its lack thereof – doesn’t really matter when you spend a little time with Andersen down on the Blue River.

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2 Responses to “Let’s Get Mystical, Funky & Mellow”

  1. David Lenander says:

    It’s funny, I love Eric Andersen far more today than most other recording artists, but I never really liked this recording that well until a few years ago. I know that he loved Joni Mitchell’s harmony, which she came up with the first time she heard Eric sing his brand new song at a party, and I love harmony and Joni Mitchell. But somehow, it was hearing Eric sing “Blue River” with just his guitar at the Whole Coffeehouse (U of MN-Mpls) in the mid to late 70s that converted me. It was finding a nice .mp3 version of the Be True To You album that first brought me to your blog, in fact. Thanks again for that! I already had STAGES, and of course the LPs, but I was hardly using the turntable anymore. Today I can appreciate this recording, and the rest of the album, by the way. I actually think he got better with the GHOSTS UPON THE ROAD CD and later work, but I still love his early and mid-period work, too.

  2. David Lenander says:

    I was astonished that Joy of Cooking and the Strawbs ever ranked that high on any American playlist, I don’t remember hearing either band on the progressive radio station here, much less the AOR or pop formats. Maybe something by the Strawbs at some point. The Joy got played on feminist radio programs on neighborhood access radio, and maybe the Strawbs got played on the same radio station (KFAI, Fresh Air Radio) on programs devoted to British & Celtic folk rock, but that would’ve been later, in the late 70s and 80s. It was probably in the late 70s that I was collecting Strawbs albums, mostly as cutouts or used. Sandy & the Strawbs ALL OUR OWN WORK, issued long after the brief alliance between Sandy Denny & the Strawbs ended (but Judy Collins heard the tape & recorded WHO KNOWS WHERE THE TIME GOES) is one of my favorite albums, even though in some ways it’s not very good or at least is so limited and a product of its time. BURSTING AT THE SEAMS is probably my favorite of the regular albums, but I loved some of their work, but only some. Too much David Cousins at once is too much for me.

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