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Sunday, February 20, 2005
Catch The Wind
Now that I've laid my cards on the table about age, let's get back to the music.
Today, let's talk about Folk-Rock, one of the most important and influential of rock genres in the 1960's.
Our story first goes back to 1965-1966 when a spate of bands appeared, both in America and in the British Isles, who applied newly minted rock structure to either folk music songs, or songs written in a folkie manner. In America, this would have been The Byrds, perhaps one of the most influential American groups ever, Buffalo Springfield, which launched the careers of Neil Young and Stephen Stills, The Turtles, known for poppy hits like "Happy Together", but a very Byrdsy outfit at its outset, and, of course, Bob Dylan, who famously defied his hardcore folkie audience by plugging in a guitar and going electric at the Newport Folk Festival.
The year before, in 1964, the Beatles had opened a floodgate known as the British Invasion. Rock n Roll had been moribund for years, ever since Elvis went into the army, and Chuck Berry went to jail. The Beatles were exuberently electric; their contemporaries like the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and the Animals dominated the charts in 1964-1965.
The American folk-rock bands built upon the folk music created by Bob Dylan, with its acoustic base, emphasis on lyrics, and hipster patina and fused it with this new music coming from England; the hooks of the Beatles, the harmonies of the Hollies, and came up with something very new and instantly listenable. The Byrds' Jim (later known as Roger) McGuinn added a 12-string guitar to the mix (possibly inspired by the Beatles' use of a 12-string on A Hard Days Night), and suddenly America had rock on the charts again, after being nearly rendered irrelevant musically by the British Invasion.
This new folk-rock, in turn, affected what was happening in England. The Beatles sounded Dylanified on Rubber Soul in late '65, even the Stones and Hollies started playing around with folk-rock.
Who were the folk music artists that served as a template for the folk rockers? In America, Woody Guthrie deserves special note, as Dylan had modeled himself as a kind of Neo-Guthrie with his first few acoustic albums. Peter, Paul, and Mary had a string of top selling albums giving folk a more contemporary feeling (and covering a lot of Dylan songs). Buffy St. Marie, a native American, contributed songs widely covered by the new folk rockers, among them "Universal Soldier" (Donovan), and "Codine" (Charlatans, Quicksilver Messenger Service, many others). The earnest Ian and Sylvia and the humorous Kingston Trio also had big early 60's folk music hits.
In retrospect, folk-rock killed folk; no wonder they were so pissed off at Dylan at Newport. Once the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were established, nobody much bothered with the purely acoustic folk anymore. Peter Paul and Mary noted this at the time with an uncharacteristic rock tune "I Dig Rock N Roll Music" a 1967 song that almost sounded fearful in its smug dismissal of rock.
Folk-rock's own days ultimately were numbered too. After a three year heyday, the folk-rock bands discovered LSD and acid rock, and became more progressive. In America, they either went psychedelic (the Byrds), or began introducing country music to the mix (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Dylan). In England, folk-rock had a longer shelf-life, in the hands of Fairport Convention, the Strawbs, Steeleye Span, and others, but by the early 70's the sound was largely gone.
It's all essential listening for the true rock scholar; while no folk-rock has dated especially well, the best of it is still compelling listening even today. An utter novice could do much worse than start with the Byrds and mid-60's Dylan, and work their way from there.
So: today, we'll have a genre playlist (it has been a while since the last one). I've created a random playlist of all titles tagged "folk-rock" in my library, a pool of 688 titles. The first 10 songs randomly selected by the Media Center are profiled, Jam Tags (1-5 stars) follow:
1. Gene Clark: Boston ****
Gene Clark was the first to quit the Byrds, a band plagued by frequent lineup changes throughout the remainder of its existence. Here, he delivers as Byrdsy a tune as you could ask for, with a slightly pronouced British Invasion beat to it. Clark's solo material, which include folk-rock, country-rock, and psychedelic pop is usually interesting listening; unfortunately, it's not always easy to find anymore. Clark died in 1991.
2. Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Blues ****
Recorded 1962, this is prime Dylan from the height of the folkie renaissance. A talking blues with guitar and harp, this is simplicity itself, and a good example of Dylan's original Woody Guthrie fixation as well as an example of his sense of humor. There are better cuts on this album, the indispensible Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but even the lesser tracks on that album shine with the wit and integrity Dylan approached them with.
3. Buffalo Springfield: Mr. Soul *****
One of Neil Young's very first songs of note, Mr. Soul is an aggressive rocker with backward guitars, a pounding beat, and trippy lyrics. Buffalo Springfield is only remembered for a handful of hits today, but all three of their original albums belong in the true rock scholar's library; direct descendants of this band include CSN, Neil Young, and Poco.
4. The Band: Caledonia Mission ***
The Band (formerly the Hawks) first gained prominence as Bob Dylan's backing band after Dylan's conversion to electric music. In 1968, they broke out on their own while Dylan was sidelined after a motorcycle crash with Music From Big Pink; a mixture of folk, rock, a hint of gospel, and pre-folk Americana. This one is sung by bassist Rick Danko, and while it isn't among their most noteworthy tunes, it has a good ragged feel to it, and fine playing.
5. Skip Spence: All Come To Meet Her ****
Skip Spence was one of the more mysterious figures of rock history. Original drummer for Jefferson Airplane (despite being a guitarist; he was chosen because he 'looked like a drummer'), he left after one album to form seminal Haight Ashbury band Moby Grape. Later kicked out of Moby Grape for erratic behavior, Spence spent a year out of sight, and then came up with Oar, his only solo recording. He then spent the next 25 years in a Syd Barrett-like Mental illness void. He resurfaced in a late 90's version of Moby Grape, but died in 1999. Oar is one of the most enigmatic albums ever. "All Come To Meet Her" isn't one of the key cuts, but it does have all of what Spence had to deliver; solid folk-rock with very strange heavily echoed vocals, a crunchy guitar, psychedelic drumming, and a haunting, almost depressive melody. 60's fans of the obscure should track down the whole album, as well as collectors of 'descent into madness' albums.
6. The Mamas and Papas: Monday, Monday (live, Monterey Pop Festival, 1967) ****
The Monterey Pop festival of 1967 was the first great rock festival, and featured nearly every significant name in rock music at the time. Compared to Woodstock, the music at Monterey is fresher, more energetic, and better recorded. The event was set up by the Mamas and Papas, who closed the festival with an 8-song set on the final day. "Monday Monday" was a well known hit that probably needs no introduction; and it's done surprising well here --there's no question they could sing, give or take a bum note here and there. The entire set is worth having; aside from an interesting mix of titles, it benefits from the really entertaining stage patter from Mama Cass Elliott.
7. Simon and Garfunkel: Red Rubber Ball (live) ***
This song was recorded by the Cyrkle (noted more for being the only American band managed by Brian Epstien), who took it into the top 5. Simon and Garfunkel never released their own version in their time, but live and studio versions have appeared in box sets. In fact, it's a very minor song; Simon was writing much better material at the time, and was on the verge of coming into his own. Still, it's got a catchy chorus and some humor to it, and Simon and Garfunkel fans ought to seek it out.
8. The Turtles: Eve of Destruction ****
Cover version of the much more well known Barry McGuire song. This is a prime example of the genre; lots of strummed guitars, a chiming electric, prominent tambourine, sensitive anti-war lyric, three part harmony. This sticks so close to the original arrangement, you're probably better off just sticking with Barry McGuire. But if you like the tune, this one is a little more "rock" and the Turtles can sing better than McGuire did. Once hopelessly dated, the sentiments of this song are becoming relevent again.
9. Richie Havens: Handsome Johnny (live at Woodstock, 1969) ***
Known for his show stopping Woodstock performance of "Freedom", his very peculiar guitar style, and his gravelly, expressive voice, this additional Woodstock recording turned up on the 25th anniversary box set. This isn't in the same league as Freedom, but it sounds fine. Busy strumming, anti-war lyrics, the same soulful Yeahs as on "Freedom", congas in the background. Havens is eminately likable, but suffered from a sameyness of approach to his material; this could easily be any of a couple of dozen other Havens tunes.
10. Donovan: Hi It's Been A Long Time ***
Donovan was a peculiar chap. From Scotland, he rode the British Invasion wave to the states with acoustic folk numbers like "Catch The Wind". By the late 60's however, he had developed into a progressive-pop maestro, with extraordinarily mixed results. This is an obscure album cut from his wildly inconsistent 1968 album, Hurdy Gurdy Man. Not really folk-rock, this has more in common with the Sgt. Pepper-style psychedelic pop that was all over at the time. Horns, strings, lots of whimsy. Sometimes these kinds of Donovan songs were utter embarrassments; this one is actually catchy enough that I can see myself playing it again.
We'll revisit folk-rock again in the future, this hardly puts a dent in it. It's not funky music, and you can't dance to it. But fans of melody and lyricism and 60's music in general should explore the genre further; it also leads to a lot of interesting off-roads and byways.
When you talk folk and folk rock, you gotta mention the novelist and Pinchon buddy who dated and married Joanie Baez's kid sister so he could record some vinyl with her. That would be Richard Farina. Too bad about the motorcyle crash.
Very true; Richard and Mimi Farina didn't come up on the random play, but I do have some of their stuff in my library.
Richard was killed in a motorcycle crash as you noted (I think in '66?). Mimi died in 2001.
hi there! thanks for dropping by..yup, i also wondered myself about the left hand and right hand driving, so i went up and looked it up. thanks for sharing the info on the artistes..that's very interesting!Post a Comment