Despite the good intentions of record labels with a re-release schedule to fill there are only so many undiscovered, unappreciated at the time, “gems” to go around. There’s always a lot of good music about & it’s difficult for new talent to get a proper hearing & sometimes, y’know, these records are not that great. So, with apologies to Andwella’s Dream, Rainbow People & Pasha, all I’m sure worthy of investigation, my 3 selections from June 1969 are all by artists who enjoyed long successful careers. First up is Sheffield’s most famous gas fitter.
If ever there was a dead cert #1 record it was Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends”. The transformation of a familiar song, one of the ditties Lennon & McCartney gave Ringo to sing, into a soulful tour de force, a showcase for Joe’s leather-lunged vocal, was a masterstroke by producer Denny Cordell. In the early 1960’s there were young British men listening to & studying Ray Charles. In Newcastle, Belfast & Birmingham Eric Burdon, Van Morrison & Stevie Winwood got the message & discovered their own extraordinary voices. Joe Cocker was up to the same thing in Sheffield, Yorkshire. It took a little longer, a couple of false starts, before the world heard & saw Joe When it happened you certainly knew about it.
Joe had a few songs of his own but Cordell, identifying his talent as a interpreter of other people’s songs, pointed him in the direction of some very good material for his debut LP. Assembling an array of mainly British talent in the studio (Jimmy Page plays on 5 tracks) the production avoided the exaggerations of the hit single, retaining the power & audacity behind such a distinctive voice. Traffic’s “Feeling Alright” is a grand opening, two Dylan tunes “Just Like a Woman” & “I Shall Be Released” are treated with reverence. “Do I Still Figure in Your Life?”, written by Pete Dello for his group Honeybus was one that inexplicably got away in 1967. Joe does the song & himself justice on this version.
In August 1969 Joe rocked up at the Woodstock Festival & the US of A loved him. A tour with his Grease Band was immediately followed by a hook up with Leon Russell who had written Joe’s marvelous “Delta Lady” single. “Mad Dogs & Englishmen”, a Rock & Roll travelling show, established Joe Cocker as a major international star but the intensive workload & on-the-road excesses took a physical & mental toll. He returned to Sheffield & it was some time before he was able to record & tour again. Joe never had to go back to servicing your boiler & thankfully didn’t join the time’s lengthy Rock casualty list. He was a major talent.
For the past 5 years a new single by the Kinks had been a pretty big deal. Ever since 1964 when “You Really Got Me”, you know it, set a new standard for power chord guitar Rock most everything the group released on 7″ of vinyl had made the UK Top 10. Ray Davies was in the vanguard of a generation of British musicians who, following the lead of the Beatles, very quickly progressed from energetic imitation of their idols to expounding their own ideas about how the music should go & finding that millions were listening. The Kinks could rock but it was Ray’s mordant wit, one sharp, satirical eye on the Swinging Sixties, the other on the detail of English suburban life, that propelled an individual, consistent run of hits for which the group was best known.
The arrival of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” changed the game. Groups who had been judged on the success of their most recent 45 now needed an album. No problem for the Kinks, “Face to Face” (1966) & “Something Else By the Kinks” (1967) were…look, you’ll get no objectivity here, these two records are great examples of 1960’s British Pop-Rock, up there with “Revolver”, “Aftermath” & “The Who Sell Out”. Ray was honing his songwriting talent & so was brother Dave, the LP’s both included big hit singles but they didn’t sell very well. With ” The Village Green Preservation Society” the Kinks eschewed the psychedelic flourishes of their contemporaries favouring a wistful nostalgia, “pictures of things as they used to be”, vignettes about a past England which possibly never really existed. Of course now “Village Green” is more than well respected it’s deservedly a cherished artefact of the times. Lacking the broad strokes of “Tommy” or the expected grandeur of a Rock Opera it was in Ray’s words, “the most successful ever flop”. This time there was no hit single to help attract interest. (That would have been “Big Sky”, you hear? “Big Sky”).
In June 1969 “Drivin'” was our introduction to Ray’s next project. “Arthur (Or the Decline of the British Empire)” the soundtrack to a TV play that was never made. The LP was released later in the year & if anything his concept & vision is more fully realised this time around. Y’know I could name 20 or more Kinks singles without consulting the Google & “Drivin'” would not be one of them. That’s not because of any drop in quality, play it twice & hum it all day, more an indication that the group were no longer an automatic choice for the playlist on the UK’s only music radio station. On the b-side was “Mindless Child of Motherhood”, a brilliant Dave Davies track recorded for an intended solo LP that unfortunately we never heard. The Kinks may have been stuttering a little in 1969 but form is temporary while class is permanent. The next time out “Lola”, you know it, put them back where they belonged. The Kinks – God save ’em!
Down in that London on the 7th of June there was evidence of the British love of free stuff when 120,000 turned up in Hyde Park for a gig by a band yet to release a record & making their live debut. If Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood thought that their new collaboration could be a low-key affair they were wrong. Joined by drummer Ginger Baker, another former member of Cream & bassist Rick Grech who left Family to complete the line up & Blind Faith was immediately labelled a “supergroup”. An expectant audience spent a pleasant sunny afternoon in the Park but an under-rehearsed set of unfamiliar songs was not perhaps the soundtrack they anticipated.
The band’s eponymous debut LP is a fine example of British Rock. The extended Blues jams of Cream are avoided but so are their power & dexterity. I probably liked “Well All Right”, the Buddy Holly cover, more then than I do now. Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” & Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord”, two very good songs, are better realisations of the band’s intentions. A US arena tour opened at Madison Square Garden & Eric found in Delaney & Bonnie, the support act, a group he really wanted to play with. Blind Faith broke up, Steve Winwood went back to Traffic & recorded the sublime “John Barleycorn Must Die”. Well, that was quick, Blind Faith were not so super after all.