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Published on: 10/13/2003
Last Visited: 10/13/2003
This lecture concerns the American brand of Art Rock as produced from about 1967 to 1979.In earlier lectures we went over the Side Long Song Phenomenon, the major Orchestral Rock compositions and some of the lesser known English Art Rock groups, especially that branch that I like to call the Canterbury Hippies.This lecture may seem a lot like the first lecture about the side long songs because it covers the same period pretty intensively, but we'll broaden the scope to include music that wasn't necessarily in the long format and proceed into some of the mainstream Art Rock that Americans produced in the Seventies.
Question here?Can I give a definition of Art Rock?Damn, I thought I did that before!Well, the Supreme Court version is "I know it when I hear it," but seriously, it's a piece of music in the rock idiom that is appealing more intellectually or musically, that is, not formulated along pop lines for mass consumption.It's usually somewhat experimental.It often employs a long structure with several themes like classical music, though sometimes it's a suite of individual songs.One unifying feature is that Art Rock almost always features keyboards more than guitar.The earliest pieces used either Leslie organs or mellotrons, but these instruments gave way to synthesizers in the early Seventies.The keyboards rule, though the best Art Rock has them balanced with some of the most fantastic rock guitar ever recorded.It usually allows each musician the space for a solo, and it may be part improvised, but it's not to be confused with the long jams that many American bands indulge in.Ultimately Art Rock is not so much for dancing as for listening and it often tells a story or has a philosophical theme to the lyrics, but there are no firm rules to any of these things.
In America Art Rock is less about bands and more about individual pieces.In the late Sixties there was an explosion of long compositions by quite a few bands, each trying to out-psychedelic the other, however very few bands stayed with Art Rock and really made a career of it.So, a pop review quiz, what was the piece that caused the explosion of Art Rock more than any other, starting in 1968?Hands?C'mon, wake up!It was also the first platinum album.Yes, over there, Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
That piece was covered pretty well in the first lecture, but it can't be over emphasized what happened after its release.Suddenly lots of groups were making Art Rock, hoping for the same kind of platinum success, most notably the Hippie groups that were charging forth from San Francisco, including Jefferson Airplane, The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, H.P. Lovecraft and It's A Beautiful Day.FM radio was into playing all these groups back then, even their long pieces; I don't think a similar wave of music could happen today.
The biggest of these in the late Sixties was The Jefferson Airplane and probably the most Art Rock of the bunch.Why?Because they never seemed to care much about making hits, but strangely they didn't have the keyboard emphasis that most other Art Rock bands did.The band hit their peak in Art with After Bathing At Baxters, but there wasn't a hit single on that album and afterwards they concentrated on shorter pieces.The great exception to this was Paul Kantner's 1970 solo album Blows Against The Empire, which features Grace Slick and Jack Cassady of the Airplane in addition to David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, David Freiberg, and others.The title piece was a twenty minute suite that told the story of hijacking the first starship and contained some fantastic work, and there were more keyboards than most Airplane albums, including some fine spacey sound effects that simulated the Starship.The final piece of the suite, "Have You Seen The Stars Tonight," still ranks as one of the best single pieces out of the Airplane's whole catalogue and that suite is arguably the best single side on any of their albums.
The Steve Miller Band also had quite a lot of Art Rock in the early albums, but especially so on the first, Children Of The Future, which has quintessential mellotron work and segues through completely on the title side.It rivals anything the Moody Blues ever did with the mellotron.Steve still had a flair for Art Rock well into the Seventies on shorter pieces like "Baby's House" from Your Saving Grace that features Nicky Hopkins on piano and organ.By the way, Nicky Hopkins, almost wherever he plays, you can consider the cut Art Rock, even when it's with the Rolling Stones.
Question over here, David?Isn't Hopkins from England?
Absolutely he is.But he also shows up in so many fine American pieces and I really hadn't the proper place to mention him before.He's one of the all time great session men of the Sixties and Seventies and is probably most famous for his piano work on several albums by the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck and on a lot of The Beatles solo work; but Hopkins was also a full member of the American band Quicksilver by their third album and gave much of their later work strong keyboard presence.
Anyway Art Rock requires more structure than The Dead used on most of their performances but some of the later albums from the Seventies, most notably Blues For Allah and Terrapin Station, are very good examples of Art Rock.Also you should include Jerry Garcia's first solo album, Garcia, in this category as it was very experimental and features quite a lot more synthesizers than any other Dead album.In their live shows, you're right, their music melted into this big pot of bubbling hippie jazz.Fun in its own way but not Art Rock.
Early works like The Gift, Heroin and Sister Ray are very experimental, non-pop affairs that are very intellectual but in a confrontational, shocking way and I think they qualify as Art Rock even though the Velvets weren't much for keyboards and don't sound at all like the flower power types from the West Coast.Punk owes a lot more to them than Art Rock.
The Doors in LA certainly had the required keyboards though.Their two main long pieces, "The End" from their first album and "When The Music's Over" from their second, both caused a dark revolution that counterbalanced the hippie anthems of the Bay Area bands.Even "Not To Touch The Earth," "The Soft Parade" and the more popular "Riders Of The Storm" from later albums are good examples of Art Rock.Depressing, though.
Los Angeles also saw groups like Arthur Lee's Love blossom in 1967, way ahead of Iron Butterfly.Again, if you can, find a copy of Da Capo and give a listen to "Revelation" on it.The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds could be included in Art Rock as well as some of the later pieces on the later album Surf's Up.You can't listen to "Feel Flows" and say that's not Art Rock.You could even call the early Neil Young Buffalo Springfield piece, "Broken Arrow," a bit of Art.A lesser known Art Rocker would be Tim Buckley, the father of Jeff Buckley, who had some lovely work before his untimely death.Though he seems to be catalogued by most people as a folk-rock artist, listen to "Pleasant Street" from the Hello Goodbye album.
And you can't talk about LA in this period without mentioning Frank Zappa.He was always off in his own dimension of course; his albums just don't have the sweetness that accompany most art rock work and the keyboards usually are not the focal point of the piece; and yet he put together lots of longer thematic pieces that deserve note, such as "Lumpy Gravy," "Billy The Mountain," "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" and later "Gregory Peccary."Without question his monumental three album Joe's Garage is an Art Rock masterpiece.Dare we call it rock opera?Its 1979 release marks the last of Art Rock's Golden Era, even though he also released another long thematic album, Thing Fish, in the mid-Eighties.
However the main thrust of American rock music moved away from Art Rock early in the Seventies with the success of major groups like the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, plus the Southern Rock of The Allman Brothers and others.
Their keyboard driven sound eventually took them back to Art Rock and the later albums, The Grand Illusion and Come See The Paradise, are very, very good.
Sorry, too commercial for real Art Rock though they had a few moments.Santana?A better choice and some of the mid-seventies albums like Borboletta and Welcome are very jazzy and artsy, but no.Michael Quatro?Wow, now that brings back memories!Quatro's best album, In Collaboration With The Gods, is a hard rock take on Art Rock that is a real favorite, but he's kind of a flash in the pan.No, the guy I'm thinking of made some serious Art Rock happen over several albums.
That's some serious Art!She still made some great Art Rock that's uniquely her own right up through the Eighties and even today.Check out Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm, Night Ride Home or Turbulent Indigo.
But still you haven't guessed whom I'm thinking of.No, I'm looking for a guy who put out great solo work, was a major producer and a fantastic guitarist in his own right and had extremely talented band that made Art Rock of great density, almost fusion music.
Not to be missed is "The International Feel," also known as The Wizard Side of