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1970 “I’ve Seen Sunny Days I Thought Would Never End”

July 31, 2015

1970 was a year of contrasts for me. The early winter/spring was the end of my middle year (sophomore year) at Taft School where I suffered through some bullying and medical ailments including a bad case of bronchitis at the end of the school year. The second half of the year was quite different. I had a great summer (worked for my dad’s investment counseling firm as a messenger) and then returned to Taft for my junior year with my best roommate at Taft (Eric Kitchen) and discovered a new passion (bridge playing) and of course, rock music.

The Beatles Before and After

When it came to rock music in 1970, the year was also divided into two parts-Pre and Post Beatles breakup. Though John Lennon privately informed the other Beatles in the fall of 1969 that he would be leaving the group, the official break-up occurred on April 10th, 1970 when Paul McCartney publicly announced his departure. Shortly thereafter in May, the Let It Be album was released , but strangely most of the album was actually recorded in early 1969 , BEFORE the Beatles recorded “Abbey Road” . ( This of course probably meant that it was not a coincidence that the last full musical track on Abbey Road was called “The End”) . “Let it Be” was originally produced by Glyn Johns but the Beatles were unhappy with the result and shelved the project in Mid-1969. Eventually in the winter of 1969-70, Phil Spector was hired to complete the album with its release in 1970. The album was only mediocre by Beatles standards ( and many critics panned it at the time) , but even a mediocre Beatle record is still very good by other artists standards!

The strengths of the album include the singles “Let it Be” (released in March 1970 but recorded in early 1969) and “Get Back” released in early 1969, which were among the best recordings the Beatles ever made. Other very good songs from the album include Lennon’s “Across the Universe” and McCartney’s simple, childlike but beautiful “Two of Us”. Unfortunately, an excellent tune “The Long and Winding Road” was  diminished on the album, ironically by Spector’s overproduction. Other tracks largely credited to Lennon and Harrison on the album ( “I Dig a Pony”, “One after 909” “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” ) paled in comparison to their contributions on “Abbey Road” (e.g. “Come Together” “I Want You” “Sun King” “Something” and the outstanding “Here Comes the Sun”) . Nonetheless, it didn’t stop me from running out and buying the album and playing it constantly when I finished my middle year at Taft in late May.

By the second half of 1970, the post-Beatles era had begun. All four Beatles released their first solo albums starting with “McCartney” in May. (Yes, even Ringo released TWO!  albums in 1970, and while they were OK efforts, I bought neither so won’t have anything to say about them). Though critically panned at the time, “McCartney” was a respectable first effort and including some good songs “That Would Be Something”, “Every Night” “Junk”, and “Teddy Boy”, as well as in my opinion Paul’s best post-Beatles song EVER “Maybe I’m Amazed”. McCartney played ALL the instruments on the album and fortunately Linda only joined as a backup singer in a few of the songs. The album was less rock-oriented and more soft rock than anything the Beatles had ever done, or for that matter many of Paul’s recent Beatles songs. Further, the album definitely suffered from the unfinished nature of many of the tracks. In fact, this under production was quite intentional as Paul was reacting to his intense displeasure with Phil Spector’s overproduction of the “Let it Be” album  and particularly the song “The Long and Winding Road”.

John Lennon released his first album “Plastic Ono Band” which contrasted sharply with “McCartney”. This was John Lennon engaging in “primal scream”  therapy, dealing with all of his inner emotions such as his rift with McCartney, his feelings about his fame as a Beatle – “Working Class Hero”, his relationship with Yoko – “God”, or his childhood anger of losing his mother at an early age – “Mother”. It is a brilliant album with great lyrics and fitting music and vocals. However, while I bought it eventually, I had trouble playing  it a lot , perhaps because it was very dark and depressing. In contrast, Lennon also had an excellent rousing and far more upbeat single, “Instant Karma” released in early 1970 under the Plastic Ono Band. He also had an interesting single “Cold Turkey” which is the only one I can remember that said “PLAY LOUD” and featured sharp and yes LOUD guitar work from Eric Clapton.

Last but not least, George Harrison released “All Things Must Pass” at the end of 1970, an ambitious triple album. This was actually Harrison’s second solo album ( he released an experimental , instrumental-only album in 1968 called “Wonderwall Music”) and it benefits greatly from George’s pent up supply of songs that he wrote but the Beatles did not record during the 1967-70 period. However, like most triple albums (let alone double albums), the album would have been much better (and less expensive ) if it had been a double album. Nonetheless, it contains a number of songs that rank as George’s best of his solo career, including “My Sweet Lord” (despite the unintentional plagiarism of the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”) and “Isn’t it a Pity”, the wonderful guitar playing of “Wah Wah” and “What is Life”, the two excellent collaborations with Dylan “If Not for You” and “I’d Have You Anytime”, and the brilliant finality of “All Things Must Pass”.

Simon And Garfunkel and Folk-Rock/ Soft Rock Movement

Early 1970 also marked the release of the last studio album by Simon and Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” . The title song was arguably their best song ever and quickly went to the top of the US charts. But the album had much more including the beautiful 1969 single “The Boxer”, the cheery and funny “Cecilia”, the classical  sounding “El Condor Paso”, the upbeat and rousing “Baby Driver” and “Keep the Customer Satisfied” , and last but not least, a great live remake of the Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love”. While the group was to not split officially until 1971, the album was their last real collaboration. Fortunately for us, it was arguably the best album of 1970 and certainly the group’s most acclaimed (with the album and title song winning multiple Grammy’s in 1971). It naturally was another of my immediate buys when I got home in late May of 1970.

In addition to the Beatles solo contributions and Simon and Garfunkel final album, 1970 rock was decidedly folk-rock oriented. With no new studio material from the Rolling Stones or the Who, no popular songs from the Doors (though still some excellent recordings such as the album “Morrison Hotel”), and the fading fortunes of Steppenwolf and Deep Purple, there was a dearth of hard rock songs, so folk-rock and softer rock was king. My favorite albums and songs followed this pattern in 1970.

Crosby, Stills and Nash followed up with their huge success in 1969, by adding former Stills band mate Neil Young to the mix and releasing CSNY’s first album “Deja Vu” in March 1970. This included three excellent hit singles “Woodstock” ( a rock cover of the Joni Mitchell folk ballad of the concert), “Teach Your Children” and “Our House” (the latter two Graham Nash compositions), and even better contributions from Stills “Carry On” and Neil Young “Helpless” and “Country Girl”. In fact, this is one of those rare albums where all the songs were very good. By the end of the year, despite the rousing success of their collaboration and their subsequent summer tour the group had imploded. In fact, all four came out with solo albums during late 1970/early 1971. I bought both the “Steven Stills” solo album and Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”. However, I barely listened to the Stills album other than the first song on Side 1 – the very catchy hit single “Love the One Your With” (which is why and probably everyone else bought the album) as well as the first track on Side 2 “Sit Yourself Down”. In contrast, “After the Gold Rush” included some of Young’s best songs ever such as “Southern Man” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Tell Me Why” and “When You Dance”. Neil Young also penned one of the best songs of the year “Ohio” which CSNY quickly recorded after the Kent State shootings.

Folk rock came from a new direction with the release of James Taylor’s second album “Sweet Baby James” which was his first commercial success. My sister Bonnie bought the album in mid-1970 after hearing Taylor at her first Brown spring weekend as a freshman and during the summer months I started playing the album more than she did. It is without question Taylor’s best album including the beautiful hit song “Fire and Rain” and some excellent folk tunes such as “Sunny Skies” “Blossom” and “Sweet Baby James”, though my favorite song was “Country Road” which I couldn’t help but hum/sing when I was “walking on a country road”.

Several other soft rock/pop groups included the new group Bread that began a string of top ten hits with two solid entries “Make it With You” and my favorite by them “It Don’t Matter Me” in the fall of 1970. Neil Diamond had two good songs with “Solitary Man” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” though the latter suffered from overexposure on top-40 radio. Even Ray Stevens took time away from his horrid, novelty-song career (which was only to get worse with “The Streak” a few years later) and charted the very successful and beautiful pop tune “Everything is Beautiful”. Meanwhile, Three Dog Night had great commercial success with conventional rock songs “Mama Told Me” early in the year and “One Man Band” late in the year, two reasonably good efforts. But it was the softer rock sound of “Celebrate” and the acoustic “Out in the C0untry” that remain my two favorites by the group. The Hollies had their first hit single in about three years with the irresistible  “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” another favorite of mine.

Meanwhile, the summer of 1970 was when I discovered the Moody Blues. Working as a messenger on Wall Street I would hear the song “Question” playing on radios in stores and buildings and in the street. I found the song very catchy and soon bought the album ” A Question of Balance” and absolutely loved it. Songs such as “It’s Up to You” “Dawning is the Day” “As the Tide Rushes In” were beautiful ballads and “Bet you feel small” and ‘The Tortoise and the Hare” were pure fun rock songs. Were the Moody Blues “pretentious”? Sure, songs like “The Balance” which included drummer Graeme Edge’s voiceover were a bit ridiculous. BUT to all those critics who dislike the Moodies, (and have kept them out of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) I say they have forgotten what rock music was all about which was good music , good singing and simple pure fun. And that the Moodies had plenty of!

Another discovery for me in 1970 was the group “Chicago” and their superb hit singles “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4” which featured a new brass, rock and jazz fusion sound that was both unique and irresistible.  I liked “Make Me Smile” when it came out in the Spring of 1970 but really loved “25 or 6 to 4” which had both a catchy guitar and brass riff, as well as an excellent guitar solo from Terry Kath and certainly qualified as one of the best rock songs of the year. I eventually bought the album “Chicago” which was actually Chicago’s second album and one of many double albums for the group. And though it was a good double album it would have been an outstanding single album!

I found myself listening almost exclusively to Sides 2 and 3 which featured several excellent songs written by keyboardist Robert Lamm- “Fancy Colours” “Wake Up Sunshine” and “25 or 6 to 4” as well as the outstanding 13 minute “Ballet of a Girl from Buchanan” written by trombonist James Pankow.  This latter composition was actually a compendium of 7 songs that flowed smoothly together –“Make Me Smile” “So Much to Say, So Much to Give”; Two instrumentals -“West Virginia Fantasies”, “Anxiety’s Moment”,  “Colour My World” (later to become a hit single), To Be Free (another short instrumental), and the finale “Now more than ever” which was the last verse of the single version of “Make Me Smile”.  Chicago, which I have since seen live in concert three times (twice in a fairly intimate night club setting in Vegas), did a wonderful job playing the “Ballet of a Girl from Buchanan” to open one of these concerts.

In October,  Chicago released “Does Anybody Know What Time it is?” which was from the first album “Chicago Transit Authority” released in 1969. Another great Chicago song this was to become their third top 10 song of 1970. More about “Chicago Transit Authority” when I cover 1971 next year.

Hard Rock is NOT dead

The more conventional, hard rock sound that had ruled the airwaves in the late 1960s was by no means “dead” though it was evolving. In the U.S. , Creedence Clearwater Revival remained dominant in 1970 and continued their pattern of releasing successful two-sided hits beginning with “Travelling Band/ Who’ll Stop the Rain (Jan 1970); “Up Around The Bend/ Run Thru the Jungle” (April 1970) ; and finally “Looking Out My Back Door/ Long as I Can See the Light” (July 1970). “Cosmo’s Factory” also released in July was the groups best and most successful album and in addition to the six double-sided hit songs of 1970 included a great 11 minute cover of “I Heard it Thru the Grapevine”. My two favorites CCR songs of the year were the outstanding “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (John Fogerty’s recollections of Woodstock, but a song that resonates with anyone who is tired of the rain) and the musically and lyrically fun “Looking Out My Back Door” which displays Fogerty’s often underrated guitar playing front and center.

Santana released “Abraxas” which highlighted the group’s unique fusion of blues, jazz, latin and rock music and most notably Carlos Santana’s distinctive and superb guitar playing. The album included two outstanding song/jams “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Oyo Como Va” and three excellent instrumental songs most notably “Samba Pa Ti”. But the album cover actually resulted in one fellow student being expelled from Taft, as he plagiarized, for his “original” poetry project, quotations on the back of the album from Herman Hesse’s “Demian”. This might be the dumbest expulsion story ever, since our English teacher had used “Demian” in his course the previous year  and owned the Abraxas album!

Several other excellent rock songs were released in 1970 by relatively new American groups. This included “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image, another very catchy song I remember hearing as I was delivering messages on Wall Street. (Lyrically, this song raised many questions as to what it was really about. At the time, I heard  the theory that it was about the USS Pueblo which was monitoring North Korean military communications in 1968 just off the shore of North Korea, and was captured by the North Koreans. Other have speculated it was about Jerry Garcia. However, the song writer has never really answered the question.). Grand Funk Railroad released the album “Closer to Home” highlighted by the 10 minute song “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)”. The second half of the song became a single in the fall of 1970, though the whole song was played constantly on FM progressive radio and eventually ranked as one of the top 100 rock songs by several major progressive radio stations. I loved the whole song particularly the bass playing that linked the two parts of the song, and definitely bought the album in 1971 because of it. (In fact, it was probably the only song that Grand Funk ever recorded that I really liked).

Other very good rock songs included Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” (a stark contrast to John Lennon’s anti-religious “God”),   “All Right Now” by Free (with a great guitar “hook”) which later was to become the Stanford University marching band’s theme song at football games (much to my delight when I attended games in 1978-79). Canadian group Guess Who had the excellent “No Time” and the outstanding double-sided hit “American Woman/Undun”. “American Woman” had  the highly recognizable guitar riff that Randy Bachman developed quite by accident while messing around after a concert playing guitar variations of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Notably, the group’s output suffered after Randy Bachman parted ways with the group eventually to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

From across the pond, Eric Clapton was without a group in 1970, but still had a good solo rock composition “After Midnight” . Meanwhile, Joe Cocker fresh off his new founded success at Woodstock, hit it big with three excellent rock remakes  “She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window” “Cry Me A River”, and “The Letter”. Though I wasn’t yet a big fan of Led Zeppelin’s music, it was hard not to enjoy the ultimate hard rocker “The Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin III.

Last but certainly not least, the Kinks had two excellent songs in 1970 with late 1970’s “Apeman” (which was Ray Davies first “environmental” song) and the totally unique and brilliant “Lola”.  Lyrics such as “Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand why she walks like a woman and talks like a man” and “girls will boys and boys will be girls, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world” certainly cemented Davies’ reputation as an extraordinary rock lyricist willing to even take on transvestite issues. Musically, the song was equally brilliant with excellent guitar work and a great tune. Further the song had wonderful pacing which changed from simple acoustic guitar and solo singing in the innocent portion of the song, to louder rock vocals and electric guitar as Lola’s true nature is revealed.

Motown, Soul and R&B

It was a solid year for soul music led per usual by Motown . The Temptations emerged as the top Motown group (with the Supremes having lost Diana Ross) and continued their success with two great singles “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion”. I particularly like the latter song, as it combined wonderful vocals from the Temps, a driving beat, an excellent tune and the first Temptations song with overtly social and political message:

“Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve everything
And the band played on”

“Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors
Mod clothes in demand, population out of hand, suicide, too many bills
Hippies moving to the hills, people all over the world are shouting
‘End the war’ and the band played on”

Diana Ross, having recently left the Supremes, had a great cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Meanwhile, the Supremes with new lead singer Jean Terrell had two top ten hits with “Up the Ladder to the Roof” and the infectious “Stoned Love”. Smoky Robinson and the Miracles had the excellent #1 smash “Tears of a Clown” with lyrics by Smokey and music co-written by Stevie Wonder.  But perhaps the biggest Motown song of the year was from relatively unheralded Edwin Starr (who had only one previous hit “Twenty Five Miles”) with his outstanding vocal on “War”. The record has stood the test of time, being part of a gag on a Seinfeld episode more than 20 years later when Elaine tried to convince an aspiring Russian author that the original title of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” was actually “War What is it Good For.. (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING)”.

The Jackson 5 dominated the charts with three #1 hits in 1970 “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, “I’ll be There”. I will admit that I didn’t like the juvenile sound of the group and particularly could not tolerate Michael’s vocal in the massively overplayed “I’ll Be There”, but in retrospect, Jackson 5 songs such as “The Love You Save” were very good records. Stevie Wonder had begun writing or co-writing his own songs and also produced his first record “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” in 1970, an excellent soul/rocker. Stevie also produced the Spinners first big hit “It’s a Shame” another personal favorite of mine in 1970. Rare Earth, Motown’s only white group and one of its few rock groups, had considerable success during the year with two Temptation rock song remakes “Get Ready” and “I Know I’m Losing You”.

Outside of Motown, Soul/R&B and funk music was led by San Fransisco’s  Sly and the Family Stone with its excellent hit “Thank You“(Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and the almost equally good b-side “Everybody is a Star”. Other good R&B songs included “Gimme Just a Little More Time” by the Chairman of the Board, “Love on a Two Way Street” by the Moments, “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” by Friends of Distinction,  and another of my personal favorites “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” by the Delfonics.

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1970 wasn’t all good. There were two huge hits by the Carpenters, the no. 1 hit “Close to You” and the no. 2 hit “We’ve Only Just Begun” which drove me crazy due to their saccharin sweetness, their incessant air play and their “wah wah” and “la la” choruses. (In retrospect, I will note that Karen Carpenter has a gorgeous voice and the songs were good, so perhaps if they had toned down the overproduction, I might have had a different opinion). Similarly, Tony Orlando and Dawn two big hits “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” were just horrid. And there was the silly, cloying inanity of the Partridge Family’s “I think I love you”, and the Poppy Family (Terry and Susan Jacks) doing “Which Way are you going Billy?”. And last but certainly not least, there was the simply awful Bobby Sherman doing  “Julie, Julie, Do You Love Me?” and though not his last big hit, perhaps his most prescient “Easy Come, Easy Go”.

1970 also was a year that saw us lose two major groups, The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel,  and a year where the Supremes saw their last major successes. But by year-end, I was beginning to enjoy school and life much more. Analogously, there were many new artists or artists that were hitting their peak by 1970 (who I would enjoy for many years to come) such as Chicago, the Moody Blues, James Taylor, The Spinners and the Delfonics as well as the individual Beatles as solo artists. And 1971 was around the corner, with the return of the Rolling Stones and the Who and some of their best material by far. It was the beginning of “sunny days, I thought would never end”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From → Music 60s70s

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