This week, on a distant, dusty website rather drily titled “World Radio History”, packed with media & music ephemera only of interest to obsessives such as myself, I was able to access the Billboard magazine chart archive that provided the initial impetus for these weekly posts from 50 years ago. This was a time before the B’board hotshots attempted to put their hand in my wallet & fortunately the Cash Box archive gave up first the contemporary R&B chart & this year those lower reaches, higher numbers (101-150) from the album listing. Billboard’s ranking goes all the way up to 200, that’s 50 better right? Nah, there’s ample choice at Cash Box & they helped me out when I needed it, the greed heads at Billboard can stick their bigger album chart right up their paywall!
My first selection is a Greatest Hits collection, well it was around my house, not so much if you lived between 3,500 & 5,500 miles to the West of here. Of the 14 tracks on “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy”, a collection of early 45s by the Who, just four of them had reached the US Top 40 with only “I Can See For Miles” making the Top 10. By 1972 the Who were “the Greatest Show On Earth” (L.A.Times), show-stopping at festivals, Rolling Stones’ TV special-stealing, successive platinum albums with a Rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind kid, a wall-shaking Live record & “Who’s Next”, a proper grown-up Rock classic. Way back in 1965, Pete & Keith still in their teens, John & Roger just 20, fashioned their Maximum R&B energy into the hit “I Can’t Explain”, ending the year with “My Generation”, recorded one day in October, released two weeks later, Townshend’s bold anthem about the young idea, lyrics we believed in, Daltrey stuttering over them like the pilled-up Mods in their audience. I’m aware that the USA was not yet swinging like a pendulum do but “My Generation”, a statement record that moved the music forward only made it to #74 in the US Hot 100. Why don’t you all fu-fu-fade away!
Encouraged by Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, their West London Situationist managers, the Who gained popularity & notoriety while the talent & ambition of Pete Townshend, chasing the next hit single, turned Pop into Pop Art. 1966 produced “Substitute”, “I’m A Boy” & “Happy Jack”, all great records. The group were kept busy in the UK & Europe, I guess the US record company, Decca, already mistaking the feedback on tracks for faulty master tapes, had problems persuading radio stations to air songs about gender confusion & a man who slept on a beach. Unsurprisingly the perfect “Pictures Of Lily”, concerning the comfort of masturbation, didn’t catch on either. Pete was looking to extend his range & after “I Can See For Miles”, from “The Who Sell Out”, a dazzling record, it was at the expense of the self-contained three minute story single. “Magic Bus”, here in its full, over four minutes, length & the idiosyncratic, marvellous “Dogs” (not included) were less focused. His vision was fully realised with “Tommy”, “Pinball Wizard” just so. Rock & Roll was moving on up & the Who were in the vanguard. “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy” is an essential compilation from exciting times when, with a rush & an amphetamine-fuelled push, Townshend, Entwistle & the indefatigable Moon were developing as a great power trio, Pete’s lyrics for Daltrey pointing out some stuff to the youth that no-one else was. The kids were alright. (oh yeah, MBB&B was #120 on this week’s chart.
Steve Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1966 just as that Haight-Ashbury scene & all the bands connected with it was about to blow up, attracting a bunch of men with unsigned record contracts to the Bay Area. Steve had been around, in Milwaukee guitar virtuoso Les Paul was his godfather, in Dallas artists such as T Bone Walker & Charles Mingus were guests at his family home. In Chicago he found kindred spirits, young white men who wanted to play the Blues, he formed a band, jammed with Muddy Waters & Howlin’ Wolf. The Steve Miller Blues Band signed with Capitol Records, a label they remained with for 20 years, & were sent to Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, where the Beatles & the Stones recorded & young engineer Glyn Johns was waiting to debut as a producer. “Children of the Future” (1968) didn’t garner great sales but its mix of Blues with a touch a psychedelia, gentler Folk-Rock & yeah, a sprinkling of Prog was built to last & following records did very well thank you. Make it nice in here, all have a smoke, put on “Sailor” or “Brave New World”, songs like “Quicksilver Girl” & “Seasons” keeping it mellow, the Blues braggadocio of “Gangster of Love” & “Space Cowboy” amusing & a most pleasant evening was had.
“Recall the Beginning…A Journey To Eden”, a new entry at #136, was Steve Miller Band’s seventh album. The line-up had changed, recruiting Ben Sidran to replace Boz Scaggs, both talented friends from college, was a shrewd move. “Rock Love” (1971), live tracks with an unseasoned group & studio leftovers, had been released while Steve was recovering from a motorcycle accident & was badly received. “Recall…” deserved more attention & closer listening, the Blues-based tracks have familiar structures but are all “written by Steve Miller”, the atmospheric side two is that thing the band did, the playing immaculate, Steve is the guitarist of choice of many folks. “Fandango” was released as a 45 though the group had never had a hit single, well not by 1972. “The Joker” (1973) had a lightness of touch & humour that had not always been apparent. It also had a killer title track that brought the Steve Miller Band platinum albums & Top 10 singles. These well crafted, self-produced, catchy Pop-Rock hits sounded great on the radio & I by no means begrudge Steve Miller’s ability to sell millions of records. If I need a shot of SMB it’s the foghorns & stoned groove of “Songs For Our Ancestors”, the textured space jams of “Sailor” & those early records that find their way on to my turntable.
Canned Heat were formed by a couple of Blues aficionados, Bob “Bear” Hite, who had an extensive collection of 78 rpm records & Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who before he moved to California had worked with Mississippi John Hurt then taught Son House the songs he had forgotten when the two Country Blues legends were re-discovered. Joined by guitarist Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, bass player Larry “Mole” Taylor & eventually drummer Fito de la Parra what began as a jug band proved to be most effective when they plugged their instruments into the mains. A debut album of energetic cover versions was followed by original songs on “Boogie With Canned Heat” (1968). Boogie, a John Lee Hooker-inspired shuffle was what the band did, with Hite, a big man, as singer & hype man the others gelled, jammed & brought the Heat. The real jewel was Alan Wilson, a talented harmonica & slide guitar player whose high-pitched croon (based on Skip James) reworked first “On The Road Again” then “Going Up The Country” into distinctive hit records, songs that are still instantly recognisable & welcome. With hit records & an onstage presence Canned Heat were, by the end of the decade, a very popular group but Alan was uncomfortable with the Rock & Roll lifestyle, his depression, which led to hospitalisation, exacerbated by his use of barbiturates to help him sleep. In September 1970 he was found dead in his sleeping bag behind Hite’s house. Alan must have been pleased with “Hooker & Heat”, a double album recorded with one of his idols & released after his death. It was a record that got a lot of play round at our house, our introduction to John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest Blues men.
Canned Heat were kept busy, “Historical Figures & Ancient Heads”, #108 on the chart, was their seventh studio record. Vestine had left & returned, there was a new bass player & guitarist Joel Scott Hill, a guy I saw later in a rehashed Flying Burrito Brothers, had replaced Wilson. It’s not Heat’s best record, some ordinary Rock & Roll, too many “life on the road” songs. There should have been more tracks like “Utah”, credited to the whole group, where they hit a Blues groove & play it like they mean it. The first time I saw Canned Heat, the sun rose at a Summer festival & they played like the group who succeeded at Monterey & Woodstock. The third time, just a few years later, it was a pretty standard set of bar-room Boogie. Apart from providing two of the group’s three hit 45s the Blind Owl was the compass of Canned Heat, keeping them on the course that these Blues enthusiasts had set to bring the music to the US. Hite died in 1981 when the heroin was too strong & the cocaine he was given didn’t help. Fito abides & Canned Heat are still around. If I need a little Heat I may not reach for the 40 minute long “Refried Boogie” but I’m happy to hear “Fried Hockey Boogie” (11 minutes) & their often experimental early work.