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1969 Albums

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Ars Longa Vita Brevis > Nice, The

February, 1969
United States
Immediate
3.75
With David O'List gone, Keith Emerson firmly took charge of The Nice. It should then be no surprise that their second effort finds the trio progressing deeper into classical music realm to further flaunt Emerson's keyboard histrionics. Their six-minute rendition of Leonard Bernstein's "America" (recorded while O'List was still with the band) was released as a single and nearly reached the UK Top 20 in July. Whether this was based on musical merit is another story; The Nice drew sharp criticism from the West Side Story composer after they burned an American flag during their Royal Albert Hall performance of the number. Bad taste was one of the band's unfortunate legacies; in fact the interminable "Daddy Where Do I Come From" actually attempts to explain the obvious! But the big switch in direction on the album is witnessed in Sibelius' "Intermezzo from Karelia Suite". It's this deconstruction of classical music that would become the band's enduring legacy, and heavily influence the legions of progressives, Italian and otherwise. The second side found Emerson and company extending Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3" into mammoth proportions. The first movement is interpreted with a drum solo from Brian Davison, while the second benefits from a contribution from a lingering O'List. The third section adds orchestration from Robert Stewart, while the fourth is dominated by Emerson's organ soloing. Ultimately the issue is interpretation or appropriation. Ars Longa, Vita Brevis translates to "Art is boundless, life is short". Whatever your verdict, here laid the foundation for much of prog rock.

Those Who Are About To Die Salute You > Colosseum

March, 1969
United States
Dunhill
3.333335
The core of Colosseum first appeared together (according to rock cartographer Pete Frame) as Blues Breakers #89, on John Mayall's Bare Wires album. After Mayall broke up that short-lived line-up, drummer John Hiseman reunited with bassist Tony Reeves, organist Dave Greenslade and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, and guitarist/singer James Litherland was recruited after an extensive search. Reconstituted as Colosseum, Hiseman had assembled one of London's first and finest jazz-rock hybrids. Their loud and powerful debut is an absolute stunner. Acknowledging their R&B roots, both "Walking In the Park" and the heavy "The Kettle" swing with ballsy precision. The title track is the jazziest, with excellent soloing from everyone. The album's gem however is the decidedly progressive "Valentyne Sweet" (not to be confused with the album of the same name) that covers most of the second side; the dialogue between the band members is electric as they blow through each section. The classics also come into play: that same J.S. Bach chord sequence in Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" pops up here as well. The album was well received in the UK, reaching No. 15. The first record on the seminal Vertigo label, Valentyne Suite, released in November, also found similar success. Personnel changes then behest the band: bassist Mark Clarke and guitarist Dave "Clem" Clempson would replace Reeves and Litherland, while bluesman Chris Farlowe would join on vocals. Colosseum would record two final albums: the studio Daughter of Time and a phenomenal live two-record set in 1971. Both again only charted in the UK. [Refers to US pressing].

Family Entertainment > Family

March, 1969
United States
Reprise Records
3.666665
After ending 1968 with the rockin’ single “Second Generation Woman” (again without chart success), Family enlisted IBC producer Glyn Johns for their next album, Entertainment. Best known for his work with the Rolling Stones, Johns striped back the production, bringing the rhythm section and Charlie Whitney’s guitar work to the fore. The record is still primarily an acoustic affair, but with a substantially greater rock-n-roll feel. Ric Grech provided the classic “How-hi-the-li” and “Face In The Cloud”, with the Chapman/Whitney team adding the strong “Weaver’s Answer” and “Observations From a Hill”. “Summer 67” reprises a raga-esque arrangement, while “Dim” is strictly hillbilly. Although the album contained no singles, it still reached the UK’s No. 6 position. With Peter Grant (of Led Zeppelin fame) as tour manager, Family set off to tour the US in April. Grech however proved the foil and abruptly quit to join Blind Faith. Adding John Weider on bass, they resumed the tour in Detroit, but Roger Chapman’s reputed fist-fight with promoter Bill Graham (of Fillmore legend) didn’t further the band’s prospects there. The band would never have enjoy chart success in the US. Back in the UK, Family performed at the Rolling Stone's Hyde Park gig in July and the Isle of Wight festival in August. In October, they released their next single, “No Mule’s Fool” b/w “Good Friend Of Mine”, which reached the No. 29. Jim King was next to leave, due to personal issues. With previous brief spell in Blossom Toes and Eclection, the keyboards and vibes of John “Poli” Palmer would next augment Family, prompting a quick rearrangement of King's parts on their upcoming self-produced album.

From Genesis To Revelation > Genesis

March, 1969
United States
London Records
2.4
The Genesis story began at the Charterhouse public school in Surrey. Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips were all classmates in two competing bands. Adding drummer Chris Stewart, they joined forces in 1967 with the hopes of becoming a songwriting collective. The band's earliest efforts were proffered through the old school tie, when pop producer and fellow Carthusian Jonathan King agreed to produce some demos. The contact eventually led to a recording contract from Decca. It's obvious the boys were middle class and that upbringing unquestioningly influenced their music, in fact it's a point that can't be avoided: indeed, the progressive aesthetic was never lowbrow nor pedestrian. Over the course of the next year, the band would record a pair of singles and their debut album From Genesis To Revelation at London's Regent Studios whenever the boys were on holiday, with John Silver eventually replacing Stewart on drums. It is of course a very early effort from the group, a pre-history full of the naiveté of both the era, and their ages. Chipping through the syrupy string arrangements, the album does reveal the talent of some very young artists. "Where the Sour Turns to Sweet" contains a strong melodic sense, while "Am I Very Wrong" benefits from some heavy phasing. Gabriel's vocals are particularly expressive, and in pop tradition, mixed right up front and center. There are also snippets of originality that would later evolve into Genesis' grand twelve-string sound and prog rock compositions. Witness the brief appearance of "Twilight Alehouse" between "The Fireside Song" and "The Serpent". Although the album and the associated singles sold minimally, the inauspicious debut did not go unnoticed, earning a fine review in London's underground newspaper, the International Times.

Volume Two > Soft Machine, The

April, 1969
United States
Probe
4.4
Following their second 1968 US tour supporting Jimi Hendrix Experience Soft Machine effectively broke up. Robert Wyatt stayed in the US (where he would record his first solo album), while Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers returned to London; the latter sold his bass and departed for Ibiza, from where he would eventually launch a moderately successful solo career. But a recording commitment to Probe Records prompted new sessions for the band, this time at London's Olympic Studios. Wyatt and Ratledge invited roadie Hugh Hopper to join up. It just so happened that not only was he an accomplished bassist, but along with his brother Brian (who added sax to the album), he was also from the same Canterbury breeding ground of The Wilde Flowers. Several of Hopper's compositions had already found their way into the Softs repertoire, including the classic "Memories". His songs also comprised the bulk of the album's first side, the somewhat lighter "Rivmic Melodies" set. Here Ayers' songwriting is replaced with more literary fragments, including Wyatt's classic reading of "A Concise British Alphabet". The instrumental "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" is particularly strong, and the different sections flow together like water, underscoring an unbelievable continuity of sound. Apart from Hopper's uncharacteristic acoustic guitar on "Dedicated To You But You Weren't Listening", side two, subtitled "Esther's Nose Job", contains more of Ratledge's discrete compositions. Again, the Softs rely on their stream of consciousness arranging skills to tie it all together. Hopper's more accomplished bass playing is more fitting over Ayers psychedelic plodding, and combined with Ratledge's overdriven organ and Wyatt's busy but persistent drumming, this "music for your mind" is a sonic tour de force. Volume Two is an absolute classic album of any musical era. The album was their first to see release in the UK.

Emergency! > Tony Williams Lifetime, The

May, 1969
United States
Polydor
5
Just 17 years old when he joined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1962, drummer Anthony Williams spent his teen years playing in the clubs of Boston. By the end of the decade though, Williams was off in a completely different direction. New York City was a fertile ground at the time, and the seeds of fusion were being sown. Williams (among many others) jammed with Jimi Hendrix, and there’s little doubt of the guitarist’s influence on what would follow. Adding guitarist John McLaughlin and Larry Young on organ, The Tony Williams Lifetime set out in May 1969 to record what would become the landmark jazz-rock album, Emergency! Although the album suffers from a sub-standard recording, it’s one of the heaviest records ever - and of course, jazz purists hated it! Williams’ post-bop beat doesn’t swing, it rocks. But what’s most striking about his playing is that he’s all over the drum kit - just as a guitarist or keyboardist would play lead with their respective instrument. Williams’ take at “singing” is usually a love-hate affair; for this author, it’s as experimental as the rest of the album and full of black soul: just listen to his ramblings on the spacey “Where”. The pace slows for “Via The Spectrum Road” before McLaughlin previews the direction of his next group on the ensuing “Spectrum”. Both McLaughlin’s and Young’s performances are exemplary; the guitarist’s rock-toned guitar and the swirling chords of the organist’s Hammond B3 on “Sangria For Three” are full of overdrive. McLaughlin’s mate (and ex-Cream bassist) Jack Bruce joined for the group’s next album Turn It Over in 1970. However, tensions tore the band apart, and Williams and Young would next record two comparably disappointing albums with others. In the mid-‘70s, Williams would form the New Lifetime (including guitarist Allan Holdsworth) for another two albums of more predictable jazz fusion. Miles Davis and John McLaughlin may have received more attention for their work contemporaneous to the original Lifetime, but make no doubt: it all starts here.

Tommy > Who, The

May, 1969
United States
Decca
4.285715
By the time of the album's release, The Who had established themselves as one of England's premier live attractions. But on vinyl, they remained largely a singles band, save the ten-minute “A Quick One While He's Away” from A Quick One (Happy Jack in the US). At the prodding of manager Kit Lambert (and under the influence of both Arthur Brown and The Pretty Things), Pete Townsend penned his mammoth “rock opera”. Over its four sides of vinyl, Tommy traces a war child's tortured adolescence to messiah-like rise and fall via the spiritual vehicle of pinball... a far cry from moonchildren or crimson kings, but equally audacious! Regardless, the album is ripe of Townsend's genius; from ready-made singles, to major chord anthems, the album retains a genuine charm that carries the work from start to finish. The Who's spirited performance is within, but never foremost. The songs came first, setting them apart from most progressive bands of the era, though musically the instrumental “Sparks” is a technical highlight. Tommy of course was a huge commercial success, landing in the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic, along with a massive hit single in “Pinball Wizard”. However, his life didn't end there either. Live presentations by The Who were mainly truncated versions, although Townsend did re-record the work with the London Symphony Orchestra and some of London's rock elite (Sandy Denny, Steve Winwood, Maggie Bell, Ringo Starr) in 1972. This would all be eclipsed by the release of Ken Russell's star-studded film and soundtrack in 1975, and would unfortunately become what most people would remember of Tommy: complete excess. Meanwhile, Townsend would attempt two follow-ups to the rock opera, the abandoned “Lighthouse” session that resulted in the Who's Next album and, in 1973, and a true successor in Quadrophenia.

Phallus Dei > Amon Düül II

July, 1969
Germany
Liberty
4.5
The original Amon Düül saw its beginning in 1967 as an art commune in Munich, albeit one of a more sociopolitical nature than that of a musical group. The majority of their recordings stem from two jam sessions recorded in 1968/69 and were mainly released posthumously. Led by Chris Karrer, Amon Düül II was formed in 1968 as a live band, featuring the more “musically proficient members” of the commune, with Johannes Weinzierl, Falk-Ulrich Rogner, Renate Knaup, Peter Leopold and Dieter Serfas all in the original lineup. But constant personnel changes would mark the band’s existence, as well as guests too numerous to document on their recorded output. Christian “Shrat” Thierfeld on bongos and Brit Dave Anderson on bass drifted in. Jazz saxophonist Olaf Kübler is another key player, in addition to managing the band, he signed them to the United Artists/Liberty label and would produced the band’s first several albums. They released their debut album, Phallus Dei, in 1969. There’s some affinity to the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd, yet what’s inside is much, much more bizarre. Knaup’s voice is immediately recognizable; it’s very much the antithesis of her British counterparts, in fact, so is Amon Düül II. Their compositions are based on improvisations, with an emphasis on the raw and freak out of psychedelia, yet with a hint of (deliberate?) amateurism. The opener “Kanaan” however remains the archetype, brooding under a near-tribal beat. As much of a groundbreaking example of German “krautrock” as the album would become, it’s equally known for its rather controversial title, which translate from Latin to “God’s Penis”.

Monster Movie > Can

August, 1969
United Kingdom
United Artists Records
4
One look at the background of the members of Can (Stockhausen, WDR etc.), and the last thing you’d think is that they were a rock band. Similarly, listening to the music of Can, you’d also have to stretch the concept of rock-n-roll to fit them in. Krautrock was Germany’s answer to the psychedelic and progressive music of the late ‘60s, and certainly a unique idiom in and of itself. But even Can’s post-psychedelic groove had much more to do with the avant-garde, even by krautrock’s standards. The core musicians of bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt founded Can in 1968 in Cologne. The debut album, Monster Movie, featured American Malcolm Mooney on vocals (if you can call them that). Can doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the “freak out” or “space rock” traditions of their pioneering krautrock brethren. Instead, the band treated each song as groove - but in the most non-ethnic sense. The incessant metronomic beat of “You Do Right” is epic, while “Father Cannot Yell” the quintessential classic; the band lock onto the groove and ride it straight through some freaky inner space, with Karoli’s guitar the screeching electric counterpoint to Mooney’s breathy vocal “rap”. The proto-punk of “Outside My Door” shows the influence of the Velvet Underground, but with its symphonic refrain, “Mary Mary So Contrary” reveals a slightly psychedelic edge. The album remains both a milestone and one of the most unique in the timeline; but take a look around - it’s also light years from the British progressive rock of the era. Following Mooney’s departure (for health reasons), the band enlisted the similarly unique talent of Damo Suzuki for their next four albums, including the magnificent Ege Bamyasi in 1972. All continued the refinement of the path first laid down on this stunning debut.

Nice > Nice, The

August, 1969
United States
Immediate
3
Upon review, The Nice's third self-titled record is certainly not their strongest effort, failing to offer any progress on the band's prior two releases. In fact, it contains little new studio material at all. The album opens with "Azrael (Revisited)", but Keith Emerson's piano is no substitute for David O'List's guitar that featured on the original single. Evidently short of material, The Nice then add two covers: a particularly languid reading of Tim Hardin's "Hang On to a Dream" did little but break into an extended solo from Emerson, while Bob Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" is laborious at best. With its jazzy horn arrangements, "For Example" fares infinitely better and offers another glimpse at the band's formula. The second side of the record was recorded during the band's first tour of the US, at the Fillmore East in New York. The Nice were in their element on stage, and the live rendition of "Rondo" gives a pretty good estimation of what the fuss was all about. It was during that tour that Emerson was first introduced to King Crimson's Greg Lake. Oddly, the album was the first for The Nice to chart, rising to No. 3 in the UK. Yet somehow disappointed by their stagnant success (and perhaps lack of material), Emerson would barely make it through the year with the band. However, two posthumous albums were released, again mainly taken from live recordings. The first, Five Bridges Suite, was released in June 1970, would be the most successful Nice album, reaching No. 2 in the UK. Its attraction was the suite of the same name, recorded live with an orchestra at Fairfield Hall. Released in April 1971, Elegy would also make the UK Top 5. Lee Jackson would subsequently form Jackson Heights, releasing four nondescript albums over the next few years, before teaming up again with Brian Davison in 1974 in The Nice clone Refugee. Emerson was of course off to ELP, where things would reach a natural conclusion.

Yes > Yes

August, 1969
United States
Atlantic
3
The Yes story starts in 1966 with a band called the Syn. Bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Peter Banks spent two years with that band, progressing along the way from R&B covers to psychedelia, establishing a residency at the Marquee Club and cutting two singles for Deram. Ultimately, success wasn't in the cards, but the two reunited later in Mabel Greer's Toyshop. Vocalist Jon Anderson was persuaded to join, but upon recruiting drummer Bill Bruford and organist Tony Kaye, they changed their name to Yes. Now talk about being in the right place at the right time: Yes secured one of their first engagements as the opening act for Cream's farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Thus, expectations were high when they signed to Atlantic Records. Their debut record is chock full of what would define their trademark sound: Anderson's distinctive voice, along with the band's tight harmonies, and Squire's trebly bass lines that soar right along with the melody. Not to be overlooked too are some of the subtleties of Yes, in particular Kaye's organ: never overpowering, but always in the right place. Banks' fluid guitar work and Bruford's drumming have a strong jazz element, just witness the cover of "I See You". For a non-musician, the exceptionally strong melodies of "Looking Around" and "Survival" prove Anderson was already an accomplished songwriter. But overall, Yes' strength was in arrangement. Whether a Beatles cover or an original tune such as "Harold Land", clever appropriations turn anything into lively, highly melodic Yes music. Yet despite the hyped-up liner notes, the album did not chart.

Stand Up > Jethro Tull

September, 1969
United States
Reprise Records
4.625
By the time Jethro Tull got around to releasing their strong second effort, Martin Barre had joined on guitar, as Mick Abrahams was off to start Blodwyn Pig. Barre's addition was substantial in the evolution of the band, his guitar style being more sympathetic to their burgeoning progressive style. Written by Ian Anderson to appease management's desire for a single, they released "Living In The Past" in May. It soared right up the UK charts, reaching No. 3. The album followed with even greater results. Stand Up features all original compositions from Anderson, with the exception of a spirited interpretation of Bach's "Bouree". Although the blues influence is still apparent on tracks like "Nothing Is Easy" and "A New Day Yesterday", Anderson's original style was becoming more and more prominent. "Look Into The Sun" and "Reasons For Waiting" adopt an acoustic though certainly not folk approach which would become one of his signatures. "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" and "Fat Man" follow suit. The band is particularly strong throughout, with Clive Bunker's drumming an overlooked asset. "For A Thousand Mothers" succinctly closes the album. The album rose to No. 1 in the UK, and made a Top 20 appearance in the US on the heels of their first tour of America, where they would support Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps the first unqualified mainstream success of progressive rock, the album remains one of the finest of any era.

The Aerosol Grey Machine > Van Der Graaf Generator

September, 1969
United States
Fontana
2.833335
Led by the indefatigable Peter Hammill here begins the musical quest of Van Der Graaf Generator. Over the next decade, he would divide his time between leading VDGG and a prolific solo career; though where those lines separate would at times be difficult to identify. The band had already been through iteration or two by the time it got around to recording The Aerosol Grey Machine. Hammill and co-conspirator Chris Judge Smith formed the band with organist Nick Pearne in 1968 while still at Manchester University. Moving to London, the duo spent the next year attempting to record, having already secured a recording contract with Mercury. More fruitful was the assembly of a full band, with Hugh Banton on organ, Guy Evans on drums, Keith Ellis on bass, and a relationship with Charisma impresario Tony Stratton-Smith. However, Judge left after they recorded their first single "People You Were Going To" b/w "Firebrand", and after a few gigs, their equipment was stolen and the band split up. Originally conceived as a solo album, Hammill rounded up the others in July 1969 to record what eventually was released as the first VDGG album. "Afterwards" opens and immediately reveals the promise: a gentle, indeed, beautiful song that introduces Hammill's voice, as distinct as his songwriting. However, the following "Orthenian St" and "Into A Game" offer the first glimpse of what the band could offer. Evan's delicate drumming and Banton's monstrous organ would remain the hallmarks of VDGG, while the thick, rhythmic bass of Ellis would only propel this album. Both "Necromancer" and "Octopus" further demonstrate the band's virtuosity, and in true VDGG fashion close in a chaotic finale. Oddly, the album was only released in the US.

Hot Rats > Zappa, Frank

October, 1969
United States
4
Somewhere early in the continuum of rock-n-roll is the genius of Frank Zappa. Raised in the high desert outside of Los Angeles, legend has it that a young Frank was granted a long-distance phone call for his fifteenth birthday: the recipient was composer Edgard Varese... Zappa’s first release was in late 1966. Credited to The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out! was a sprawling (and one of the first) double-album set with little precedent; it shunned the burgeoning hippie vibe of the West Coast for something far stranger: a mélange of music styles from highbrow classicism to down-in-the-gutter rock-n-roll. Retaining only Ian Underwood from the original Mothers, Hot Rats was Zappa’s first “solo” record, and remains one of his most monumental achievements. The opening track “Peaches En Regalia” is a brief but engaging sample of what’s in store: sprightly melodic arrangements, wonderful execution, with a sound that’s jazzy but nowhere near jazz. The album was reputedly one of the first recorded to sixteen-track tape, and that’s Underwood playing all the brass, flute and keyboard parts; no mean feat! “Willie the Pimp” features a cursory vocal appearance from Captain Beefhart, but what Zappa is really pimping here is himself; the track is one of his most overt displays of his lead guitar playing. “Son of Mr. Green Genes” again features Zappa’s great musical arrangements, but the following “Little Umbrellas” does more with less. “The Gumbo Variations” is a down and dirty rocker, with room for a lot of soloing, including the violin playing of Sugar Cane Harris. However, the closing track, “It Must Be A Camel” is the album’s real highlight: Zappa’s composition is as engaging as it is unique; it simply defies categorization. The album was a bona fide commercial success, rising to No. 9 in the UK charts. Zappa would reactivate The Mothers and release countless records over the ensuing decades, though fanboys are directed to the period surrounding Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo for complimentary offerings. Prolific, exacting and unprecedented, there’s little argument of Frank Zappa’s genius; but genius is something that rarely crossed the timeline. His influence of course is another matter, as many artists would name check Zappa over the ensuing years.

In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson) > King Crimson

October, 1969
United States
Atlantic
4.8
The painfully documented history of King Crimson informs us of their birth on January 13th, 1969 at the basement of the Fulham Palace Café, London. With the arrival of Ian McDonald, the trio of Giles, Giles and Fripp had expanded a year earlier. Lyricist Peter Sinfield, McDonald's songwriting partner, became the band's fifth member; this included the duties of road manager, light artist, resident hippie etc. Yet at Robert Fripp's persistence, fellow Bournemouth guitarist Greg Lake joined on bass and vocals, replacing Peter Giles. Lake had previously been in The Gods, with Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake (both later to Uriah Heep). The recording of their debut was twice abandoned (once with the Moody Blues' producer Tony Clark), but a third self-produced effort, with E.G. Management's David Enthoven and John Gaydon footing the bill, proved more than successful. As "21st Century Schizoid Man" blasts away, the power of the band is immediately apparent: King Crimson resounds like nothing before it. Undoubtedly propelled by Giles inventive drumming, the band's interplay is precise and their sound is simultaneously immense yet with detail; Fripp's screeching guitar solo is positively terrifying. The Mellotron figures prominently, dominating both "Epitaph" and the title track. This was no mere accoutrement, rather the band was writing specifically for the instrument. It's an important point: the technology of the era was instrumental in defining the genre of progressive rock. The album's gentler moments, "I Talk To The Wind" and "Moonchild", showcase McDonald's ability as a composer and Fripp's grace (and considerable jazz influence) as a guitarist, especially in the latter's improvised half. Here the band is both mature and meticulous. Throughout the album, King Crimson shows their wares. Listening to the flute solo in the title track, it's obvious that McDonald is an accomplished soloist, but that he's showing us he can play is very central to the progressive aesthetic: there is no hiding his virtuosity or creativity; in fact he's flaunting it. Even Sinfield's words - quite sympathetic to Lake's voice - rise to new heights, however, the jury may still be out on whether they "crack at the seam". King Crimson reaches a new level of perfection, on what Pete Townsend called at the time an "uncanny masterpiece". Even the cover art, a harrowing face painted by Barry Godber, would set the album apart. King Crimson's timely support slot at the Rolling Stones free concert in London's Hyde Park in July was also good fortune. The album - arguably the first prog rock record - awaited a flurry of interest; it peaked at No. 5 in the UK, while in the US it broke into the Top 30. Crimso would then end their first year with a two-month tour of the US.

Ummagumma > Pink Floyd

October, 1969
United States
Harvest
3.75
Released after the varied (but commercially successful) soundtrack More, Ummagumma was intended to be a tour de force for Pink Floyd. The two-record set is half-live and half-studio, and the first release on EMI's new Harvest sub-label. The first disc was culled from a series of concerts recorded earlier in the summer, offering the first live document of Pink Floyd. Here, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", the archetype of their slow-building space rock, makes its first appearance. Also included are "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" and "A Saucerful Of Secrets", along with the Syd Barrett written "Astronomy Domine". From their live set, only "Interstellar Overdrive" is absent (though it does appear on a test pressing of the album). Whether the excitement of the live Floyd experience comes across on record is open to debate. The compositions are linear in form and rely on texture more than any musical invention to get their point across. The trip nonetheless is a good one and the live record is the definitive document of this era of the band's career. The Floyd would prove highly influential to an entire generation of Germans, manifesting in the ubiquitous form of krautrock, and these live tracks probably provided the blueprint. When it came to new material, the Floyd were in a conundrum; rather than committing "The Man and The Journey", two song suites first debuted live in April 1969, to vinyl, the band chose to showcase themselves individually by featuring a solo composition from each member on the studio record. Unfortunately, they all come across equally as unsensational experimentation. Even Roger Water's cleverly titled "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict" is merely cleverly titled - perhaps the sum is indeed greater than the parts? The album was the Floyd's most successful to date, reaching No. 5 in the UK, and at No. 74, also gave them their first chart appearance in the US.

Joy Of A Toy > Ayers, Kevin

November, 1969
United States
Harvest
4
After his split from Soft Machine, manager Peter Jenner and a contract from Harvest coaxed Kevin Ayers away from Majorca. Back in the UK he quickly assembled his old Softs cohorts at Abbey Road to record his debut solo album, Joy of a Toy. New to the fold is David Bedford, a classical composer by trade, offering his arrangement skills and doubling on keyboards. The album jumps off with the classic (if dated) psychedelia of "Joy of A Toy Continued". Bedford's arrangement augments "Town Feeling", but it's really all Ayers. His distinctive baritone and no-nonsense approach belie his great songwriting talent. "Girl On A Swing" and "Eleanor's Cake Which Ate Her" are at once both beautiful and plaintive, although "The Lady Rachel" is all too often the quoted favorite. But either way, Ayer's melodies are simply infectious. "Song For Insane Times" is quite Soft Machine-esque, Ratledge's truncated solo at the end the dead giveaway. Both "Clarietta Rag" and "Stop This Drain" continue with glad-happy psychedelia, while "Oleh Olah Bandu Bandong" (something in Malaysian) is certainly trippier. Ayers is a first rate songwriter and on this debut, a first rate performer, but both wouldn't always hold consistently true. He released a series of singles around the same time, but even "Singing A Song in The Morning", recorded with Caravan and Syd Barrett, failed to raise interest. The album did see a release in the US, however it failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic. For his 1970 release, Shooting at The Moon, Ayers had assembled his first band, The Whole World, including Bedford, busker-extraordinaire Lol Coxhill and a young Mike Oldfield. What a weird album it was, but prog rock it certainly wasn't. He would go on to record another two albums for Harvest, both containing everything that simultaneously impresses and disappoints one about his work. Ayers switched managers (to Elton John's) and labels again, and recorded the well-known album, June 1, 1974 for Island, but success was still elusive. Ayers continued to release albums on a variety of labels, working most notably with Ollie Halsall, but as the decade progressed, it would seem that his better days were behind him.

Renaissance > Renaissance (Yardbirds)

December, 1969
United States
Elektra
4
Following the demise of The Yardbirds, guitarist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty opted for a completely different direction than the American blues of their former band: that of music combining classical, jazz and folk influence - how progressive! With Relf 's sister Jane on vocals, bassist Louis Cennamo and pianist John Hawken were the key in this new direction of "classical interpretation". The lengthy "Kings & Queens" opens the album; Relf 's guitar takes a back seat to Hawken's piano, which paces through hook and quotation with surprising imagination. The band's execution throughout is impeccable: Cennamo and McCarty are a tight rhythm section, giving the arrangements a certain lift. Jane Relf takes her first crack at lead vocal on "Island", revealing a strong folk influence. "Bullet", clocking in at over eleven minutes, gets a little gritty and ends with Cennamo's solo bass fading into an eerie chorus. All in all it is an auspicious debut that managed to reach No. 60 in the UK. Renaissance recorded a second album, Illusion, over the following year; however it would not see release until 1971. Folksier, it contains the most vital track the band would record, the excellent "Past Orbits Of Dust", featuring Don Shinn on electric piano. But the band had already begun to splinter and the album sunk with little trace. By the time the next Renaissance album was released (in 1972 for Capitol Records) none of the original members would be present; but that's another story for later in the timeline. However, adopting the name Illusion, Hawken, McCarty, Cennamo and Jane Relf would regroup in 1977 for two nondescript albums on Island.