Saturday, June 26, 2010


I love Seventies rock. If you asked me to choose to listen only to rock records made between 1964-68 or only rock records made between 1969-75, I'd choose the latter without blinking.

(It may seem like I'm cheating by setting the boundaries that way, but aesthetically speaking, rock in 1969 really did start to get uglier and meaner, returning to a primitivism the Summer of Love had forced down. Think of the first albums by the MC5, the Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath...only Blue Cheer were selling a truly unholy racket in '68.)

The early Seventies were a phenomenal period for rock music. I mean, I've done the litany before... Aerosmith, Alice Cooper (the band), the Allman Brothers Band, Atomic Rooster, Beck, Bogert & Appice, Black Cat Bones, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Widow, Buffalo, Cactus, Can, Captain Beyond, Deep Purple, Dr. Feelgood, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Faces, Faust, Flower Travellin' Band, Foghat, Free, Funkadelic, Genesis, Grand Funk Railroad, Granicus, the Grateful Dead (only the live albums, thanks), Groundhogs, Hawkwind, Randy Holden, Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull, Josefus, Jukin' Bone, King Crimson, Leaf Hound, Led Zeppelin, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Magma, Malo, Montrose, Mott the Hoople (I don't love 'em as much as some, but they had their moments), Mountain, Nazareth, Neu!, Nico, November, Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley (his early '70s trilogy—Raised On Rock, Good Times and Promised Land—are close to unimpeachable), Lou Reed (only Lou Reed Live and Rock 'n' Roll Animal, thanks), the Rolling Stones, Santana (not to mention Carlos Santana's albums with John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane), Savoy Brown, Bob Seger, Sir Lord Baltimore, Steppenwolf, Stray, Styx, Rod Stewart, Thin Lizzy, Toe Fat, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Van der Graaf Generator, West, Bruce & Laing, Wishbone Ash, Yes, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, ZZ Top... and that's just from scrolling my iPod. I'm sure there are dozens of groups I'm forgetting.

In the latter half of the decade, though, things really dropped off. At least that's how it seems to me. There were a few bands still producing quality work all the way up to the early '80s, like ZZ Top and Scorpions. And a new act or two popped up with records worth hearing (Rainbow, Van Halen, AC/DC). But in a lot of ways, rock really died after 1975. I'm not sure why. And don't tell me it was all due to punk. Punk was a ripple at the time, it seems to me; folks within the media bubble (New York, L.A.) paid attention to it, but it didn't filter out to the middle of the country for a couple of years, and when it did, it mutated into a hunchbacked, hairy-knuckled child named "hardcore." Whereupon the very critics who'd championed it in its art-school manifestation spat and turned their backs.

All this is a lead-in to say that I just got a six-pack of discs in the mail that probably won't cause me to re-evaluate my generally low opinion of mainstream hard rock from 1976 and beyond, but might convince me that there were some bright sparks I've heretofore overlooked. They're live albums created from episodes of the German TV show Rockpalast, and there are DVD versions, too (which I wasn't sent). I've got discs by the John Cipollina/Nick Gravenites Band, Jorma Kaukonen & Vital Parts (which might have been an ad hoc group, or records might be scarce, because none of the bandmembers are credited in the CD booklet), Spirit, Commander Cody, Paul Butterfield, and a double disc by Dickey Betts & Great Southern—one set from 1978, and a second from 2008.

I'm not sure any of these albums are gonna be any damn good at all. But they strike me as perfect examples of journeyman rock dudes cranking it up in a cultural atmosphere that really didn't have a place for them—they were past their prime, below the radar, touring European clubs instead of Stateside arenas, and falling back on the basics: country, blues and hard rock. (One surprise credit: Steve MacKay, saxophonist on the Stooges' Fun HouseFunhouse [Deluxe Edition], is blowing on the Commander Cody disc.) There are a lot of cover tunes, and a lot of extended jams, on these six discs. I'm hoping there are some pleasant surprises, too.

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