Episode one hundred and fifty-eight of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “White Rabbit”, Jefferson Airplane, and the rise of the San Francisco sound. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a twenty-three-minute bonus episode available, on "Omaha" by Moby Grape. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Erratum I refer to Back to Methuselah by Robert Heinlein. This is of course a play by George Bernard Shaw. What I meant to say was Methuselah's Children. Resources I hope to upload a Mixcloud tomorrow, and will edit it in, but have had some problems with the site today. Jefferson Airplane's first four studio albums, plus a 1968 live album, can be found in this box set. I've referred to three main books here. Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin is written with the co-operation of the band members, but still finds room to criticise them. Jefferson Airplane On Track by Richard Molesworth is a song-by-song guide to the band's music. And Been So Long: My Life and Music by Jorma Kaukonen is Kaukonen's autobiography. Some information on Skip Spence and Matthew Katz also comes from What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean?: The Moby Grape Story, by Cam Cobb, which I also used for this week's bonus. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before I start, I need to confess an important and hugely embarrassing error in this episode. I've only ever seen Marty Balin's name written down, never heard it spoken, and only after recording the episode, during the editing process, did I discover I mispronounce it throughout. It's usually an advantage for the podcast that I get my information from books rather than TV documentaries and the like, because they contain far more information, but occasionally it causes problems like that. My apologies. Also a brief note that this episode contains some mentions of racism, antisemitism, drug and alcohol abuse, and gun violence. One of the themes we've looked at in recent episodes is the way the centre of the musical world -- at least the musical world as it was regarded by the people who thought of themselves as hip in the mid-sixties -- was changing in 1967. Up to this point, for a few years there had been two clear centres of the rock and pop music worlds. In the UK, there was London, and any British band who meant anything had to base themselves there. And in the US, at some point around 1963, the centre of the music industry had moved West. Up to then it had largely been based in New York, and there was still a thriving industry there as of the mid sixties. But increasingly the records that mattered, that everyone in the country had been listening to, had come out of LA Soul music was, of course, still coming primarily from Detroit and from the Country-Soul triangle in Tennessee and Alabama, but when it came to the new brand of electric-guitar rock that was taking over the airwaves, LA was, up until the first few months of 1967, the only city that was competing with London, and was the place to be. But as we heard in the episode on "San Francisco", with the Monterey Pop Festival all that started to change. While the business part of the music business remained centred in LA, and would largely remain so, LA was no longer the hip place to be. Almost overnight, jangly guitars, harmonies, and Brian Jones hairstyles were out, and feedback, extended solos, and droopy moustaches were in. The place to be was no longer LA, but a few hundred miles North, in San Francisco -- something that the LA bands were not all entirely happy about: [Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Who Needs the Peace Corps?"] In truth, the San Francisco music scene, unlike many of the scenes we've looked at so far in this series, had rather a limited impact on the wider world of music. Bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company were all both massively commercially successful and highly regarded by critics, but unlike many of the other bands we've looked at before and will look at in future, they didn't have much of an influence on the bands that would come after them, musically at least. Possibly this is because the music from the San Francisco scene was always primarily that -- music created by and for a specific group of people, and inextricable from its context. The San Francisco musicians were defining themselves by their geographical location, their peers, and the situation they were in, and their music was so specifically of the place and time that to attempt to copy it outside of that context would appear ridiculous, so while many of those bands remain much loved to this day, and many made some great music, it's very hard to point to ways in which that music influenced later bands. But what they did influence was the whole of rock music culture. For at least the next thirty years, and arguably to this day, the parameters in which rock musicians worked if they wanted to be taken seriously – their aesthetic and political ideals, their methods of collaboration, the cultural norms around drug use and sexual promiscuity, ideas of artistic freedom and authenticity, the choice of acceptable instruments – in short, what it meant to be a rock musician rather than a pop, jazz, country, or soul artist – all those things were defined by the cultural and behavioural norms of the San Francisco scene between about 1966 and 68. Without the San Francisco scene there's no Woodstock, no Rolling Stone magazine, no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no hippies, no groupies, no rock stars. So over the next few months we're going to take several trips to the Bay Area, and look at the bands which, for a brief time, defined the counterculture in America. The story of Jefferson Airplane -- and unlike other bands we've looked at recently, like The Pink Floyd and The Buffalo Springfield, they never had a definite article at the start of their name to wither away like a vestigial organ in subsequent years -- starts with Marty Balin. Balin was born in Ohio, but was a relatively sickly child -- he later talked about being autistic, and seems to have had the chronic illnesses that so often go with neurodivergence -- so in the hope that the dry air would be good for his chest his family moved to Arizona. Then when his father couldn't find work there, they moved further west to San Francisco, in the Haight-Ashbury area, long before that area became the byword for the hippie movement. But it was in LA that he started his music career, and got his surname. Balin had been named Marty Buchwald as a kid, but when he was nineteen he had accompanied a friend to LA to visit a music publisher, and had ended up singing backing vocals on her demos. While he was there, he had encountered the arranger Jimmy Haskell. Haskell was on his way to becoming one of the most prominent arrangers in the music industry, and in his long career he would go on to do arrangements for Bobby Gentry, Blondie, Steely Dan, Simon and Garfunkel, and many others. But at the time he was best known for his work on Ricky Nelson's hits: [Excerpt: Ricky Nelson, "Hello Mary Lou"] Haskell thought that Marty had the makings of a Ricky Nelson style star, as he was a good-looking young man with a decent voice, and he became a mentor for the young man. Making the kind of records that Haskell arranged was expensive, and so Haskell suggested a deal to him -- if Marty's father would pay for studio time and musicians, Haskell would make a record with him and find him a label to put it out. Marty's father did indeed pay for the studio time and the musicians -- some of the finest working in LA at the time. The record, released under the name Marty Balin, featured Jack Nitzsche on keyboards, Earl Palmer on drums, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Red Callender on bass, and Glen Campbell and Barney Kessell on guitars, and came out on Challenge Records, a label owned by Gene Autry: [Excerpt: Marty Balin, "Nobody But You"] Neither that, nor Balin's follow-up single, sold a noticeable amount of copies, and his career as a teen idol was over before it had begun. Instead, as many musicians of his age did, he decided to get into folk music, joining a vocal harmony group called the Town Criers, who patterned themselves after the Weavers, and performed the same kind of material that every other clean-cut folk vocal group was performing at the time -- the kind of songs that John Phillips and Steve Stills and Cass Elliot and Van Dyke Parks and the rest were all performing in their own groups at the same time. The Town Criers never made any records while they were together, but some archival recordings of them have been released over the decades: [Excerpt: The Town Criers, "900 Miles"] The Town Criers split up, and Balin started performing as a solo folkie again. But like all those other then-folk musicians, Balin realised that he had to adapt to the K/T-event level folk music extinction that happened when the Beatles hit America like a meteorite. He had to form a folk-rock group if he wanted to survive -- and given that there were no venues for such a group to play in San Francisco, he also had to start a nightclub for them to play in. He started hanging around the hootenannies in the area, looking for musicians who might form an electric band. The first person he decided on was a performer called Paul Kantner, mainly because he liked his attitude. Kantner had got on stage in front of a particularly drunk, loud, crowd, and performed precisely half a song before deciding he wasn't going to perform in front of people like that and walking off stage. Kantner was the only member of the new group to be a San Franciscan -- he'd been born and brought up in the city. He'd got into folk music at university, where he'd also met a guitar player named Jorma Kaukonen, who had turned him on to cannabis, and the two had started giving music lessons at a music shop in San Jose. There Kantner had also been responsible for booking acts at a local folk club, where he'd first encountered acts like Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, a jug band which included Jerry Garcia, Pigpen McKernan, and Bob Weir, who would later go on to be the core members of the Grateful Dead: [Excerpt: Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, "In the Jailhouse Now"] Kantner had moved around a bit between Northern and Southern California, and had been friendly with two other musicians on the Californian folk scene, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn. When their new group, the Byrds, suddenly became huge, Kantner became aware of the possibility of doing something similar himself, and so when Marty Balin approached him to form a band, he agreed. On bass, they got in a musician called Bob Harvey, who actually played double bass rather than electric, and who stuck to that for the first few gigs the group played -- he had previously been in a band called the Slippery Rock String Band. On drums, they brought in Jerry Peloquin, who had formerly worked for the police, but now had a day job as an optician. And on vocals, they brought in Signe Toley -- who would soon marry and change her name to Signe Anderson, so that's how I'll talk about her to avoid confusion. The group also needed a lead guitarist though -- both Balin and Kantner were decent rhythm players and singers, but they needed someone who was a better instrumentalist. They decided to ask Kantner's old friend Jorma Kaukonen. Kaukonen was someone who was seriously into what would now be called Americana or roots music. He'd started playing the guitar as a teenager, not like most people of his generation inspired by Elvis or Buddy Holly, but rather after a friend of his had shown him how to play an old Carter Family song, "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy": [Excerpt: The Carter Family, "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy"] Kaukonen had had a far more interesting life than most of the rest of the group. His father had worked for the State Department -- and there's some suggestion he'd worked for the CIA -- and the family had travelled all over the world, staying in Pakistan, the Philippines, and Finland. For most of his childhood, he'd gone by the name Jerry, because other kids beat him up for having a foreign name and called him a Nazi, but by the time he turned twenty he was happy enough using his birth name. Kaukonen wasn't completely immune to the appeal of rock and roll -- he'd formed a rock band, The Triumphs, with his friend Jack Casady when he was a teenager, and he loved Ricky Nelson's records -- but his fate as a folkie had been pretty much sealed when he went to Antioch College. There he met up with a blues guitarist called Ian Buchanan. Buchanan never had much of a career as a professional, but he had supposedly spent nine years studying with the blues and ragtime guitar legend Rev. Gary Davis, and he was certainly a fine guitarist, as can be heard on his contribution to The Blues Project, the album Elektra put out of white Greenwich Village musicians like John Sebastian and Dave Van Ronk playing old blues songs: [Excerpt: Ian Buchanan, "The Winding Boy"] Kaukonen became something of a disciple of Buchanan -- he said later that Buchanan probably taught him how to play because he was such a terrible player and Buchanan couldn't stand to listen to it -- as did John Hammond Jr, another student at Antioch at the same time. After studying at Antioch, Kaukonen started to travel around, including spells in Greenwich Village and in the Philippines, before settling in Santa Clara, where he studied for a sociology degree and became part of a social circle that included Dino Valenti, Jerry Garcia, and Billy Roberts, the credited writer of "Hey Joe". He also started performing as a duo with a singer called Janis Joplin. Various of their recordings from this period circulate, mostly recorded at Kaukonen's home with the sound of his wife typing in the background while the duo rehearse, as on this performance of an old Bessie Smith song: [Excerpt: Jorma Kaukonen and Janis Joplin, "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out"] By 1965 Kaukonen saw himself firmly as a folk-blues purist, who would not even think of playing rock and roll music, which he viewed with more than a little contempt. But he allowed himself to be brought along to audition for the new group, and Ken Kesey happened to be there. Kesey was a novelist who had written two best-selling books, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, and used the financial independence that gave him to organise a group of friends who called themselves the Merry Pranksters, who drove from coast to coast and back again in a psychedelic-painted bus, before starting a series of events that became known as Acid Tests, parties at which everyone was on LSD, immortalised in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Nobody has ever said why Kesey was there, but he had brought along an Echoplex, a reverb unit one could put a guitar through -- and nobody has explained why Kesey, who wasn't a musician, had an Echoplex to hand. But Kaukonen loved the sound that he could get by putting his guitar through the device, and so for that reason more than any other he decided to become an electric player and join the band, going out and buying a Rickenbacker twelve-string and Vox Treble Booster because that was what Roger McGuinn used. He would later also get a Guild Thunderbird six-string guitar and a Standel Super Imperial amp, following the same principle of buying the equipment used by other guitarists he liked, as they were what Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin' Spoonful used. He would use them for all his six-string playing for the next couple of years, only later to discover that the Lovin' Spoonful despised them and only used them because they had an endorsement deal with the manufacturers. Kaukonen was also the one who came up with the new group's name. He and his friends had a running joke where they had "Bluesman names", things like "Blind Outrage" and "Little Sun Goldfarb". Kaukonen's bluesman name, given to him by his friend Steve Talbot, had been Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane, a reference to the 1920s blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson: [Excerpt: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Match Box Blues"] At the band meeting where they were trying to decide on a name, Kaukonen got frustrated at the ridiculous suggestions that were being made, and said "You want a stupid name? Howzabout this... Jefferson Airplane?" He said in his autobiography "It was one of those rare moments when everyone in the band agreed, and that was that. I think it was the only band meeting that ever allowed me to come away smiling." The newly-named Jefferson Airplane started to rehearse at the Matrix Club, the club that Balin had decided to open. This was run with three sound engineer friends, who put in the seed capital for the club. Balin had stock options in the club, which he got by trading a share of the band's future earnings to his partners, though as the group became bigger he eventually sold his stock in the club back to his business partners. Before their first public performance, they started working with a manager, Matthew Katz, mostly because Katz had access to a recording of a then-unreleased Bob Dylan song, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune": [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune"] The group knew that the best way for a folk-rock band to make a name for themselves was to perform a Dylan song nobody else had yet heard, and so they agreed to be managed by Katz. Katz started a pre-publicity blitz, giving out posters, badges, and bumper stickers saying "Jefferson Airplane Loves You" all over San Francisco -- and insisting that none of the band members were allowed to say "Hello" when they answered the phone any more, they had to say "Jefferson Airplane Loves You!" For their early rehearsals and gigs, they were performing almost entirely cover versions of blues and folk songs, things like Fred Neil's "The Other Side of This Life" and Dino Valenti's "Get Together" which were the common currency of the early folk-rock movement, and songs by their friends, like one called "Flower Bomb" by David Crosby, which Crosby now denies ever having written. They did start writing the odd song, but at this point they were more focused on performance than on writing. They also hired a press agent, their friend Bill Thompson. Thompson was friends with the two main music writers at the San Francisco Chronicle, Ralph Gleason, the famous jazz critic, who had recently started also reviewing rock music, and John Wasserman. Thompson got both men to come to the opening night of the Matrix, and both gave the group glowing reviews in the Chronicle. Record labels started sniffing around the group immediately as a result of this coverage, and according to Katz he managed to get a bidding war started by making sure that when A&R men came to the club there were always two of them from different labels, so they would see the other person and realise they weren't the only ones interested. But before signing a record deal they needed to make some personnel changes. The first member to go was Jerry Peloquin, for both musical and personal reasons. Peloquin was used to keeping strict time and the other musicians had a more free-flowing idea of what tempo they should be playing at, but also he had worked for the police while the other members were all taking tons of illegal drugs. The final break with Peloquin came when he did the rest of the group a favour -- Paul Kantner's glasses broke during a rehearsal, and as Peloquin was an optician he offered to take them back to his shop and fix them. When he got back, he found them auditioning replacements for him. He beat Kantner up, and that was the end of Jerry Peloquin in Jefferson Airplane. His replacement was Skip Spence, who the group had met when he had accompanied three friends to the Matrix, which they were using as a rehearsal room. Spence's friends went on to be the core members of Quicksilver Messenger Service along with Dino Valenti: [Excerpt: Quicksilver Messenger Service, "Dino's Song"] But Balin decided that Spence looked like a rock star, and told him that he was now Jefferson Airplane's drummer, despite Spence being a guitarist and singer, not a drummer. But Spence was game, and learned to play the drums. Next they needed to get rid of Bob Harvey. According to Harvey, the decision to sack him came after David Crosby saw the band rehearsing and said "Nice song, but get rid of the bass player" (along with an expletive before the word bass which I can't say without incurring the wrath of Apple). Crosby denies ever having said this. Harvey had started out in the group on double bass, but to show willing he'd switched in his last few gigs to playing an electric bass. When he was sacked by the group, he returned to double bass, and to the Slippery Rock String Band, who released one single in 1967: [Excerpt: The Slippery Rock String Band, "Tule Fog"] Harvey's replacement was Kaukonen's old friend Jack Casady, who Kaukonen knew was now playing bass, though he'd only ever heard him playing guitar when they'd played together. Casady was rather cautious about joining a rock band, but then Kaukonen told him that the band were getting fifty dollars a week salary each from Katz, and Casady flew over from Washington DC to San Francisco to join the band. For the first few gigs, he used Bob Harvey's bass, which Harvey was good enough to lend him despite having been sacked from the band. Unfortunately, right from the start Casady and Kantner didn't get on. When Casady flew in from Washington, he had a much more clean-cut appearance than the rest of the band -- one they've described as being nerdy, with short, slicked-back, side-parted hair and a handlebar moustache. Kantner insisted that Casady shave the moustache off, and he responded by shaving only one side, so in profile on one side he looked clean-shaven, while from the other side he looked like he had a full moustache. Kantner also didn't like Casady's general attitude, or his playing style, at all -- though most critics since this point have pointed to Casady's bass playing as being the most interesting and distinctive thing about Jefferson Airplane's style. This lineup seems to have been the one that travelled to LA to audition for various record companies -- a move that immediately brought the group a certain amount of criticism for selling out, both for auditioning for record companies and for going to LA at all, two things that were already anathema on the San Francisco scene. The only audition anyone remembers them having specifically is one for Phil Spector, who according to Kaukonen was waving a gun around during the audition, so he and Casady walked out. Around this time as well, the group performed at an event billed as "A Tribute to Dr. Strange", organised by the radical hippie collective Family Dog. Marvel Comics, rather than being the multi-billion-dollar Disney-owned corporate juggernaut it is now, was regarded as a hip, almost underground, company -- and around this time they briefly started billing their comics not as comics but as "Marvel Pop Art Productions". The magical adventures of Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and in particular the art by far-right libertarian artist Steve Ditko, were regarded as clear parallels to both the occult dabblings and hallucinogen use popular among the hippies, though Ditko had no time for either, following as he did an extreme version of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. It was at the Tribute to Dr. Strange that Jefferson Airplane performed for the first time with a band named The Great Society, whose lead singer, Grace Slick, would later become very important in Jefferson Airplane's story: [Excerpt: The Great Society, "Someone to Love"] That gig was also the first one where the band and their friends noticed that large chunks of the audience were now dressing up in costumes that were reminiscent of the Old West. Up to this point, while Katz had been managing the group and paying them fifty dollars a week even on weeks when they didn't perform, he'd been doing so without a formal contract, in part because the group didn't trust him much. But now they were starting to get interest from record labels, and in particular RCA Records desperately wanted them. While RCA had been the label who had signed Elvis Presley, they had otherwise largely ignored rock and roll, considering that since they had the biggest rock star in the world they didn't need other ones, and concentrating largely on middle-of-the-road acts. But by the mid-sixties Elvis' star had faded somewhat, and they were desperate to get some of the action for the new music -- and unlike the other major American labels, they didn't have a reciprocal arrangement with a British label that allowed them to release anything by any of the new British stars. The group were introduced to RCA by Rod McKuen, a songwriter and poet who later became America's best-selling poet and wrote songs that sold over a hundred million copies. At this point McKuen was in his Jacques Brel phase, recording loose translations of the Belgian songwriter's songs with McKuen translating the lyrics: [Excerpt: Rod McKuen, "Seasons in the Sun"] McKuen thought that Jefferson Airplane might be a useful market for his own songs, and brought the group to RCA. RCA offered Jefferson Airplane twenty-five thousand dollars to sign with them, and Katz convinced the group that RCA wouldn't give them this money without them having signed a management contract with him. Kaukonen, Kantner, Spence, and Balin all signed without much hesitation, but Jack Casady didn't yet sign, as he was the new boy and nobody knew if he was going to be in the band for the long haul. The other person who refused to sign was Signe Anderson. In her case, she had a much better reason for refusing to sign, as unlike the rest of the band she had actually read the contract, and she found it to be extremely worrying. She did eventually back down on the day of the group's first recording session, but she later had the contract renegotiated. Jack Casady also signed the contract right at the start of the first session -- or at least, he thought he'd signed the contract then. He certainly signed *something*, without having read it. But much later, during a court case involving the band's longstanding legal disputes with Katz, it was revealed that the signature on the contract wasn't Casady's, and was badly forged. What he actually *did* sign that day has never been revealed, to him or to anyone else. Katz also signed all the group as songwriters to his own publishing company, telling them that they legally needed to sign with him if they wanted to make records, and also claimed to RCA that he had power of attorney for the band, which they say they never gave him -- though to be fair to Katz, given the band members' habit of signing things without reading or understanding them, it doesn't seem beyond the realms of possibility that they did. The producer chosen for the group's first album was Tommy Oliver, a friend of Katz's who had previously been an arranger on some of Doris Day's records, and whose next major act after finishing the Jefferson Airplane album was Trombones Unlimited, who released records like "Holiday for Trombones": [Excerpt: Trombones Unlimited, "Holiday For Trombones"] The group weren't particularly thrilled with this choice, but were happier with their engineer, Dave Hassinger, who had worked on records like "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, and had a far better understanding of the kind of music the group were making. They spent about three months recording their first album, even while continually being attacked as sellouts. The album is not considered their best work, though it does contain "Blues From an Airplane", a collaboration between Spence and Balin: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Blues From an Airplane"] Even before the album came out, though, things were starting to change for the group. Firstly, they started playing bigger venues -- their home base went from being the Matrix club to the Fillmore, a large auditorium run by the promoter Bill Graham. They also started to get an international reputation. The British singer-songwriter Donovan released a track called "The Fat Angel" which namechecked the group: [Excerpt: Donovan, "The Fat Angel"] The group also needed a new drummer. Skip Spence decided to go on holiday to Mexico without telling the rest of the band. There had already been some friction with Spence, as he was very eager to become a guitarist and songwriter, and the band already had three songwriting guitarists and didn't really see why they needed a fourth. They sacked Spence, who went on to form Moby Grape, who were also managed by Katz: [Excerpt: Moby Grape, "Omaha"] For his replacement they brought in Spencer Dryden, who was a Hollywood brat like their friend David Crosby -- in Dryden's case he was Charlie Chaplin's nephew, and his father worked as Chaplin's assistant. The story normally goes that the great session drummer Earl Palmer recommended Dryden to the group, but it's also the case that Dryden had been in a band, the Heartbeats, with Tommy Oliver and the great blues guitarist Roy Buchanan, so it may well be that Oliver had recommended him. Dryden had been primarily a jazz musician, playing with people like the West Coast jazz legend Charles Lloyd, though like most jazzers he would slum it on occasion by playing rock and roll music to pay the bills. But then he'd seen an early performance by the Mothers of Invention, and realised that rock music could have a serious artistic purpose too. He'd joined a band called The Ashes, who had released one single, the Jackie DeShannon song "Is There Anything I Can Do?" in December 1965: [Excerpt: The Ashes, "Is There Anything I Can Do?"] The Ashes split up once Dryden left the group to join Jefferson Airplane, but they soon reformed without him as The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, who hooked up with Gary Usher and released several albums of psychedelic sunshine pop. Dryden played his first gig with the group at a Republican Party event on June the sixth, 1966. But by the time Dryden had joined, other problems had become apparent. The group were already feeling like it had been a big mistake to accede to Katz's demands to sign a formal contract with him, and Balin in particular was getting annoyed that he wouldn't let the band see their finances. All the money was getting paid to Katz, who then doled out money to the band when they asked for it, and they had no idea if he was actually paying them what they were owed or not. The group's first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, finally came out in September, and it was a comparative flop. It sold well in San Francisco itself, selling around ten thousand copies in the area, but sold basically nothing anywhere else in the country -- the group's local reputation hadn't extended outside their own immediate scene. It didn't help that the album was pulled and reissued, as RCA censored the initial version of the album because of objections to the lyrics. The song "Runnin' Round This World" was pulled off the album altogether for containing the word "trips", while in "Let Me In" they had to rerecord two lines -- “I gotta get in, you know where" was altered to "You shut the door now it ain't fair" and "Don't tell me you want money" became "Don't tell me it's so funny". Similarly in "Run Around" the phrase "as you lay under me" became "as you stay here by me". Things were also becoming difficult for Anderson. She had had a baby in May and was not only unhappy with having to tour while she had a small child, she was also the band member who was most vocally opposed to Katz. Added to that, her husband did not get on well at all with the group, and she felt trapped between her marriage and her bandmates. Reports differ as to whether she quit the band or was fired, but after a disastrous appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, one way or another she was out of the band. Her replacement was already waiting in the wings. Grace Slick, the lead singer of the Great Society, had been inspired by going to one of the early Jefferson Airplane gigs. She later said "I went to see Jefferson Airplane at the Matrix, and they were making more money in a day than I made in a week. They only worked for two or three hours a night, and they got to hang out. I thought 'This looks a lot better than what I'm doing.' I knew I could more or less carry a tune, and I figured if they could do it I could." She was married at the time to a film student named Jerry Slick, and indeed she had done the music for his final project at film school, a film called "Everybody Hits Their Brother Once", which sadly I can't find online. She was also having an affair with Jerry's brother Darby, though as the Slicks were in an open marriage this wasn't particularly untoward. The three of them, with a couple of other musicians, had formed The Great Society, named as a joke about President Johnson's programme of the same name. The Great Society was the name Johnson had given to his whole programme of domestic reforms, including civil rights for Black people, the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts, and more. While those projects were broadly popular among the younger generation, Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam had made him so personally unpopular that even his progressive domestic programme was regarded with suspicion and contempt. The Great Society had set themselves up as local rivals to Jefferson Airplane -- where Jefferson Airplane had buttons saying "Jefferson Airplane Loves You!" the Great Society put out buttons saying "The Great Society Really Doesn't Like You Much At All". They signed to Autumn Records, and recorded a song that Darby Slick had written, titled "Someone to Love" -- though the song would later be retitled "Somebody to Love": [Excerpt: The Great Society, "Someone to Love"] That track was produced by Sly Stone, who at the time was working as a producer for Autumn Records. The Great Society, though, didn't like working with Stone, because he insisted on them doing forty-five takes to try to sound professional, as none of them were particularly competent musicians. Grace Slick later said "Sly could play any instrument known to man. He could have just made the record himself, except for the singers. It was kind of degrading in a way" -- and on another occasion she said that he *did* end up playing all the instruments on the finished record. "Someone to Love" was put out as a promo record, but never released to the general public, and nor were any of the Great Society's other recordings for Autumn Records released. Their contract expired and they were let go, at which point they were about to sign to Mercury Records, but then Darby Slick and another member decided to go off to India for a while. Grace's marriage to Jerry was falling apart, though they would stay legally married for several years, and the Great Society looked like it was at an end, so when Grace got the offer to join Jefferson Airplane to replace Signe Anderson, she jumped at the chance. At first, she was purely a harmony singer -- she didn't take over any of the lead vocal parts that Anderson had previously sung, as she had a very different vocal style, and instead she just sang the harmony parts that Anderson had sung on songs with other lead vocalists. But two months after the album they were back in the studio again, recording their second album, and Slick sang lead on several songs there. As well as the new lineup, there was another important change in the studio. They were still working with Dave Hassinger, but they had a new producer, Rick Jarrard. Jarrard was at one point a member of the folk group The Wellingtons, who did the theme tune for "Gilligan's Island", though I can't find anything to say whether or not he was in the group when they recorded that track: [Excerpt: The Wellingtons, "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island"] Jarrard had also been in the similar folk group The Greenwood County Singers, where as we heard in the episode on "Heroes and Villains" he replaced Van Dyke Parks. He'd also released a few singles under his own name, including a version of Parks' "High Coin": [Excerpt: Rick Jarrard, "High Coin"] While Jarrard had similar musical roots to those of Jefferson Airplane's members, and would go on to produce records by people like Harry Nilsson and The Family Tree, he wasn't any more liked by the band than their previous producer had been. So much so, that a few of the band members have claimed that while Jarrard is the credited producer, much of the work that one would normally expect to be done by a producer was actually done by their friend Jerry Garcia, who according to the band members gave them a lot of arranging and structural advice, and was present in the studio and played guitar on several tracks. Jarrard, on the other hand, said categorically "I never met Jerry Garcia. I produced that album from start to finish, never heard from Jerry Garcia, never talked to Jerry Garcia. He was not involved creatively on that album at all." According to the band, though, it was Garcia who had the idea of almost doubling the speed of the retitled "Somebody to Love", turning it into an uptempo rocker: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Somebody to Love"] And one thing everyone is agreed on is that it was Garcia who came up with the album title, when after listening to some of the recordings he said "That's as surrealistic as a pillow!" It was while they were working on the album that was eventually titled Surrealistic Pillow that they finally broke with Katz as their manager, bringing Bill Thompson in as a temporary replacement. Or at least, it was then that they tried to break with Katz. Katz sued the group over their contract, and won. Then they appealed, and they won. Then Katz appealed the appeal, and the Superior Court insisted that if he wanted to appeal the ruling, he had to put up a bond for the fifty thousand dollars the group said he owed them. He didn't, so in 1970, four years after they sacked him as their manager, the appeal was dismissed. Katz appealed the dismissal, and won that appeal, and the case dragged on for another three years, at which point Katz dragged RCA Records into the lawsuit. As a result of being dragged into the mess, RCA decided to stop paying the group their songwriting royalties from record sales directly, and instead put the money into an escrow account. The claims and counterclaims and appeals *finally* ended in 1987, twenty years after the lawsuits had started and fourteen years after the band had stopped receiving their songwriting royalties. In the end, the group won on almost every point, and finally received one point three million dollars in back royalties and seven hundred thousand dollars in interest that had accrued, while Katz got a small token payment. Early in 1967, when the sessions for Surrealistic Pillow had finished, but before the album was released, Newsweek did a big story on the San Francisco scene, which drew national attention to the bands there, and the first big event of what would come to be called the hippie scene, the Human Be-In, happened in Golden Gate Park in January. As the group's audience was expanding rapidly, they asked Bill Graham to be their manager, as he was the most business-minded of the people around the group. The first single from the album, "My Best Friend", a song written by Skip Spence before he quit the band, came out in January 1967 and had no more success than their earlier recordings had, and didn't make the Hot 100. The album came out in February, and was still no higher than number 137 on the charts in March, when the second single, "Somebody to Love", was released: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Somebody to Love"] That entered the charts at the start of April, and by June it had made number five. The single's success also pushed its parent album up to number three by August, just behind the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Monkees' Headquarters. The success of the single also led to the group being asked to do commercials for Levis jeans: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Levis commercial"] That once again got them accused of selling out. Abbie Hoffman, the leader of the Yippies, wrote to the Village Voice about the commercials, saying "It summarized for me all the doubts I have about the hippie philosophy. I realise they are just doing their 'thing', but while the Jefferson Airplane grooves with its thing, over 100 workers in the Levi Strauss plant on the Tennessee-Georgia border are doing their thing, which consists of being on strike to protest deplorable working conditions." The third single from the album, "White Rabbit", came out on the twenty-fourth of June, the day before the Beatles recorded "All You Need is Love", nine days after the release of "See Emily Play", and a week after the group played the Monterey Pop Festival, to give you some idea of how compressed a time period we've been in recently. We talked in the last episode about how there's a big difference between American and British psychedelia at this point in time, because the political nature of the American counterculture was determined by the fact that so many people were being sent off to die in Vietnam. Of all the San Francisco bands, though, Jefferson Airplane were by far the least political -- they were into the culture part of the counterculture, but would often and repeatedly disavow any deeper political meaning in their songs. In early 1968, for example, in a press conference, they said “Don't ask us anything about politics. We don't know anything about it. And what we did know, we just forgot.” So it's perhaps not surprising that of all the American groups, they were the one that was most similar to the British psychedelic groups in their influences, and in particular their frequent references to children's fantasy literature. "White Rabbit" was a perfect example of this. It had started out as "White Rabbit Blues", a song that Slick had written influenced by Alice in Wonderland, and originally performed by the Great Society: [Excerpt: The Great Society, "White Rabbit"] Slick explained the lyrics, and their association between childhood fantasy stories and drugs, later by saying "It's an interesting song but it didn't do what I wanted it to. What I was trying to say was that between the ages of zero and five the information and the input you get is almost indelible. In other words, once a Catholic, always a Catholic. And the parents read us these books, like Alice in Wonderland where she gets high, tall, and she takes mushrooms, a hookah, pills, alcohol. And then there's The Wizard of Oz, where they fall into a field of poppies and when they wake up they see Oz. And then there's Peter Pan, where if you sprinkle white dust on you, you could fly. And then you wonder why we do it? Well, what did you read to me?" While the lyrical inspiration for the track was from Alice in Wonderland, the musical inspiration is less obvious. Slick has on multiple occasions said that the idea for the music came from listening to Miles Davis' album "Sketches of Spain", and in particular to Davis' version of -- and I apologise for almost certainly mangling the Spanish pronunciation badly here -- "Concierto de Aranjuez", though I see little musical resemblance to it myself. [Excerpt: Miles Davis, "Concierto de Aranjuez"] She has also, though, talked about how the song was influenced by Ravel's "Bolero", and in particular the way the piece keeps building in intensity, starting softly and slowly building up, rather than having the dynamic peaks and troughs of most music. And that is definitely a connection I can hear in the music: [Excerpt: Ravel, "Bolero"] Jefferson Airplane's version of "White Rabbit", like their version of "Somebody to Love", was far more professional, far -- and apologies for the pun -- slicker than The Great Society's version. It's also much shorter. The version by The Great Society has a four and a half minute instrumental intro before Slick's vocal enters. By contrast, the version on Surrealistic Pillow comes in at under two and a half minutes in total, and is a tight pop song: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit"] Jack Casady has more recently said that the group originally recorded the song more or less as a lark, because they assumed that all the drug references would mean that RCA would make them remove the song from the album -- after all, they'd cut a song from the earlier album because it had a reference to a trip, so how could they possibly allow a song like "White Rabbit" with its lyrics about pills and mushrooms? But it was left on the album, and ended up making the top ten on the pop charts, peaking at number eight: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit"] In an interview last year, Slick said she still largely lives off the royalties from writing that one song. It would be the last hit single Jefferson Airplane would ever have. Marty Balin later said "Fame changes your life. It's a bit like prison. It ruined the band. Everybody became rich and selfish and self-centred and couldn't care about the band. That was pretty much the end of it all. After that it was just working and living the high life and watching the band destroy itself, living on its laurels." They started work on their third album, After Bathing at Baxter's, in May 1967, while "Somebody to Love" was still climbing the charts. This time, the album was produced by Al Schmitt. Unlike the two previous producers, Schmitt was a fan of the band, and decided the best thing to do was to just let them do their own thing without interfering. The album took months to record, rather than the weeks that Surrealistic Pillow had taken, and cost almost ten times as much money to record. In part the time it took was because of the promotional work the band had to do. Bill Graham was sending them all over the country to perform, which they didn't appreciate. The group complained to Graham in business meetings, saying they wanted to only play in big cities where there were lots of hippies. Graham pointed out in turn that if they wanted to keep having any kind of success, they needed to play places other than San Francisco, LA, New York, and Chicago, because in fact most of the population of the US didn't live in those four cities. They grudgingly took his point. But there were other arguments all the time as well. They argued about whether Graham should be taking his cut from the net or the gross. They argued about Graham trying to push for the next single to be another Grace Slick lead vocal -- they felt like he was trying to make them into just Grace Slick's backing band, while he thought it made sense to follow up two big hits with more singles with the same vocalist. There was also a lawsuit from Balin's former partners in the Matrix, who remembered that bit in the contract about having a share in the group's income and sued for six hundred thousand dollars -- that was settled out of court three years later. And there were interpersonal squabbles too. Some of these were about the music -- Dryden didn't like the fact that Kaukonen's guitar solos were getting longer and longer, and Balin only contributed one song to the new album because all the other band members made fun of him for writing short, poppy, love songs rather than extended psychedelic jams -- but also the group had become basically two rival factions. On one side were Kaukonen and Casady, the old friends and virtuoso instrumentalists, who wanted to extend the instrumental sections of the songs more to show off their playing. On the other side were Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden, the two oldest members of the group by age, but the most recent people to join. They were also unusual in the San Francisco scene for having alcohol as their drug of choice -- drinking was thought of by most of the hippies as being a bit classless, but they were both alcoholics. They were also sleeping together, and generally on the side of shorter, less exploratory, songs. Kantner, who was attracted to Slick, usually ended up siding with her and Dryden, and this left Balin the odd man out in the middle. He later said "I got disgusted with all the ego trips, and the band was so stoned that I couldn't even talk to them. Everybody was in their little shell". While they were still working on the album, they released the first single from it, Kantner's "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil". The "Pooneil" in the song was a figure that combined two of Kantner's influences: the Greenwich Village singer-songwriter Fred Neil, the writer of "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Dolphins"; and Winnie the Pooh. The song contained several lines taken from A.A. Milne's children's stories: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil"] That only made number forty-two on the charts. It was the last Jefferson Airplane single to make the top fifty. At a gig in Bakersfield they got arrested for inciting a riot, because they encouraged the crowd to dance, even though local by-laws said that nobody under sixteen was allowed to dance, and then they nearly got arrested again after Kantner's behaviour on the private plane they'd chartered to get them back to San Francisco that night. Kantner had been chain-smoking, and this annoyed the pilot, who asked Kantner to put his cigarette out, so Kantner opened the door of the plane mid-flight and threw the lit cigarette out. They'd chartered that plane because they wanted to make sure they got to see a new group, Cream, who were playing the Fillmore: [Excerpt: Cream, "Strange Brew"] After seeing that, the divisions in the band were even wider -- Kaukonen and Casady now *knew* that what the band needed was to do long, extended, instrumental jams. Cream were the future, two-minute pop songs were the past. Though they weren't completely averse to two-minute pop songs. The group were recording at RCA studios at the same time as the Monkees, and members of the two groups would often jam together. The idea of selling out might have been anathema to their *audience*, but the band members themselves didn't care about things like that. Indeed, at one point the group returned from a gig to the mansion they were renting and found squatters had moved in and were using their private pool -- so they shot at the water. The squatters quickly moved on. As Dryden put it "We all -- Paul, Jorma, Grace, and myself -- had guns. We weren't hippies. Hippies were the people that lived on the streets down in Haight-Ashbury. We were basically musicians and art school kids. We were into guns and machinery" After Bathing at Baxter's only went to number seventeen on the charts, not a bad position but a flop compared to their previous album, and Bill Graham in particular took this as more proof that he had been right when for the last few months he'd been attacking the group as self-indulgent. Eventually, Slick and Dryden decided that either Bill Graham was going as their manager, or they were going. Slick even went so far as to try to negotiate a solo deal with Elektra Records -- as the voice on the hits, everyone was telling her she was the only one who mattered anyway. David Anderle, who was working for the label, agreed a deal with her, but Jac Holzman refused to authorise the deal, saying "Judy Collins doesn't get that much money, why should Grace Slick?" The group did fire Graham, and went one further and tried to become his competitors. They teamed up with the Grateful Dead to open a new venue, the Carousel Ballroom, to compete with the Fillmore, but after a few months they realised they were no good at running a venue and sold it to Graham. Graham, who was apparently unhappy with the fact that the people living around the Fillmore were largely Black given that the bands he booked appealed to mostly white audiences, closed the original Fillmore, renamed the Carousel the Fillmore West, and opened up a second venue in New York, the Fillmore East. The divisions in the band were getting worse -- Kaukonen and Casady were taking more and more speed, which was making them play longer and faster instrumental solos whether or not the rest of the band wanted them to, and Dryden, whose hands often bled from trying to play along with them, definitely did not want them to. But the group soldiered on and recorded their fourth album, Crown of Creation. This album contained several songs that were influenced by science fiction novels. The most famous of these was inspired by the right-libertarian author Robert Heinlein, who was hugely influential on the counterculture. Jefferson Airplane's friends the Monkees had already recorded a song based on Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, an unintentionally disturbing novel about a thirty-year-old man who falls in love with a twelve-year-old girl, and who uses a combination of time travel and cryogenic freezing to make their ages closer together so he can marry her: [Excerpt: The Monkees, "The Door Into Summer"] Now Jefferson Airplane were recording a song based on Heinlein's most famous novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. Stranger in a Strange Land has dated badly, thanks to its casual homophobia and rape-apologia, but at the time it was hugely popular in hippie circles for its advocacy of free love and group marriages -- so popular that a religion, the Church of All Worlds, based itself on the book. David Crosby had taken inspiration from it and written "Triad", a song asking two women if they'll enter into a polygamous relationship with him, and recorded it with the Byrds: [Excerpt: The Byrds, "Triad"] But the other members of the Byrds disliked the song, and it was left unreleased for decades. As Crosby was friendly with Jefferson Airplane, and as members of the band were themselves advocates of open relationships, they recorded their own version with Slick singing lead: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Triad"] The other song on the album influenced by science fiction was the title track, Paul Kantner's "Crown of Creation". This song was inspired by The Chrysalids, a novel by the British writer John Wyndham. The Chrysalids is one of Wyndham's most influential novels, a post-apocalyptic story about young children who are born with mutant superpowers and have to hide them from their parents as they will be killed if they're discovered. The novel is often thought to have inspired Marvel Comics' X-Men, and while there's an unpleasant eugenic taste to its ending, with the idea that two species can't survive in the same ecological niche and the younger, "superior", species must outcompete the old, that idea also had a lot of influence in the counterculture, as well as being a popular one in science fiction. Kantner's song took whole lines from The Chrysalids, much as he had earlier done with A.A. Milne: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Crown of Creation"] The Crown of Creation album was in some ways a return to the more focused songwriting of Surrealistic Pillow, although the sessions weren't without their experiments. Slick and Dryden collaborated with Frank Zappa and members of the Mothers of Invention on an avant-garde track called "Would You Like a Snack?" (not the same song as the later Zappa song of the same name) which was intended for the album, though went unreleased until a CD box set decades later: [Excerpt: Grace Slick and Frank Zappa, "Would You Like a Snack?"] But the finished album was generally considered less self-indulgent than After Bathing at Baxter's, and did better on the charts as a result. It reached number six, becoming their second and last top ten album, helped by the group's appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1968, a month after it came out. That appearance was actually organised by Colonel Tom Parker, who suggested them to Sullivan as a favour to RCA Records. But another TV appearance at the time was less successful. They appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, one of the most popular TV shows among the young, hip, audience that the group needed to appeal to, but Slick appeared in blackface. She's later said that there was no political intent behind this, and that she was just trying the different makeup she found in the dressing room as a purely aesthetic thing, but that doesn't really explain the Black power salute she gives at one point. Slick was increasingly obnoxious on stage, as her drinking was getting worse and her relationship with Dryden was starting to break down. Just before the Smothers Brothers appearance she was accused at a benefit for the Whitney Museum of having called the audience "filthy Jews", though she has always said that what she actually said was "filthy jewels", and she was talking about the ostentatious jewellery some of the audience were wearing. The group struggled through a performance at Altamont -- an event we will talk about in a future episode, so I won't go into it here, except to say that it was a horrifying experience for everyone involved -- and performed at Woodstock, before releasing their fifth studio album, Volunteers, in 1969: [Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers"] That album made the top twenty, but was the last album by the classic lineup of the band. By this point Spencer Dryden and Grace Slick had broken up, with Slick starting to date Kantner, and Dryden was also disappointed at the group's musical direction, and left. Balin also left, feeling sidelined in the group. They released several more albums with varying lineups, including at various points their old friend David Frieberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service, the violinist Papa John Creach, and the former drummer of the Turtles, Johnny Barbata. But as of 1970 the group's members had already started working on two side projects -- an acoustic band called Hot Tuna, led by Kaukonen and Casady, which sometimes also featured Balin, and a project called Paul Kantner's Jefferson Starship, which also featured Slick and had recorded an album, Blows Against the Empire, the second side of which was based on the Robert Heinlein novel Back to Methuselah, and which became one of the first albums ever nominated for science fiction's Hugo Awards: [Excerpt: Jefferson Starship, "Have You Seen The Stars Tonite"] That album featured contributions from David Crosby and members of the Grateful Dead, as well as Casady on two tracks, but in 1974 when Kaukonen and Casady quit Jefferson Airplane to make Hot Tuna their full-time band, Kantner, Slick, and Frieberg turned Jefferson Starship into a full band. Over the next decade, Jefferson Starship had a lot of moderate-sized hits, with a varying lineup that at one time or another saw several members, including Slick, go and return, and saw Marty Balin back with them for a while. In 1984, Kantner left the group, and sued them to stop them using the Jefferson Starship name. A settlement was reached in which none of Kantner, Slick, Kaukonen, or Casady could use the words "Jefferson" or "Airplane" in their band-names without the permission of all the others, and the remaining members of Jefferson Starship renamed their band just Starship -- and had three number one singles in the late eighties with Slick on lead, becoming far more commercially successful than their precursor bands had ever been: [Excerpt: Starship, "We Built This City on Rock & Roll"] Slick left Starship in 1989, and there was a brief Jefferson Airplane reunion tour, with all the classic members but Dryden, but then Slick decided that she was getting too old to perform rock and roll music, and decided to retire from music and become a painter, something she's stuck to for more than thirty years. Kantner and Balin formed a new Jefferson Starship, called Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation, but Kantner died in January 2016, coincidentally on the same day as Signe Anderson, who had occasionally guested with her old bandmates in the new version of the band. Balin, who had quit the reunited Jefferson Starship due to health reasons, died two years later. Dryden had died in 2005. Currently, there are three bands touring that descend directly from Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna still continue to perform, there's a version of Starship that tours featuring one original member, Mickey Thomas, and the reunited Jefferson Starship still tour, led by David Frieberg. Grace Slick has given the latter group her blessing, and even co-wrote one song on their most recent album, released in 2020, though she still doesn't perform any more. Jefferson Airplane's period in the commercial spotlight was brief -- they had charting singles for only a matter of months, and while they had top twenty albums for a few years after their peak, they really only mattered to the wider world during that brief period of the Summer of Love. But precisely because their period of success was so short, their music is indelibly associated with that time. To this day there's nothing as evocative of summer 1967 as "White Rabbit", even for those of us who weren't born then. And while Grace Slick had her problems, as I've made very clear in this episode, she inspired a whole generation of women who went on to be singers themselves, as one of the first prominent women to sing lead with an electric rock band. And when she got tired of doing that, she stopped, and got on with her other artistic pursuits, without feeling the need to go back and revisit the past for ever diminishing returns. One might only wish that some of her male peers had followed her example.
Our guest this week is podcaster and producer Tilt Araiza, who joins Tyler to talk about Michael Bentine and his ground-breaking television series It's A Square World. Written by Bentine and John Law, It's A Square World ran on the BBC from 1960-64 totalling 57 episodes and was a clear influence on later comedy series, notably Monty Python's Flying Circus. As well as Bentine the programme featured the likes of Clive Dunn, Frank Thornton, Deryck Guyler, John Bluthal, Benny Lee, Dick Emery, Ronnie Barker and Sherie Winton. It won the Press Prize at the Rose d'Or Festival in Montreux in 1963 and scooped a Light Entertainment BAFTA award the year before. This week's show is roughly divided into two parts: the second half mainly focuses on It's A Square World but firstly Tilt & Tyler talk more generally about Bentine's extraordinary life. Having grown up enjoying many of the trappings of privilege his early years were marked by an inability to communicate properly, thanks to some avoidable home-surgery on his tonsils. Later he faced innumerable barriers to entry into the Second World War due to his Peruvian roots and when he finally did enter the services he was almost killed due to a mistake during a routine typhoid vaccination and was in a coma for several weeks. He later recovered and joined Military Intelligence and was among those who helped liberate Bergen-Belsen. Despite all this he retained an optimistic, positive disposition and swept away on the currents of his imagination and facility for invention he found success as a comedian and performer in the late nineteen-forties. He met Harry Secombe who in turn introduced him to some friends of his, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, and the seeds of The Goon Show were planted. Bentine would later go on to find fame on television with shows like It's A Square World and also his childrens' series such as the much-loved Potty Time in the seventies. A committed believer in the paranormal he became President of the Association For the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena and somehow found time to sail yachts, shoot, practise archery and go on hovercraft expeditions up the Amazon. As for It's A Square World, producer Barry Lupino told the Radio Times in 1961: “It has been called a diversion for the low in brow – but I wonder? The topics are lofty enough. What could be more uplifting than the opening of the Royal Academy?... Nor of course shall we overlook the situation in Volcania, of the effects of children's television on the adult viewer, and the arrival and departure of distinguished personages in the great metropolis.” The series also has the distinction of likely producing the first Dr Who parody – with Clive Dunn turning up barely a month after DW began dressed in an unmistakably Hartnellesque fashion. All this and more is up for discussion in what is likely to be the first of a two part Bentine retrospective (Tilt will return next year).
Episode one hundred and fifty-seven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “See Emily Play", the birth of the UK underground, and the career of Roger Barrett, known as Syd. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a twenty-five-minute bonus episode available, on "First Girl I Loved" by the Incredible String Band. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Resources No Mixcloud this time, due to the number of Pink Floyd songs. I referred to two biographies of Barrett in this episode -- A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman is the one I would recommend, and the one whose narrative I have largely followed. Some of the information has been superseded by newer discoveries, but Chapman is almost unique in people writing about Barrett in that he actually seems to care about the facts and try to get things right rather than make up something more interesting. Crazy Diamond by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson is much less reliable, but does have quite a few interview quotes that aren't duplicated by Chapman. Information about Joe Boyd comes from Boyd's book White Bicycles. In this and future episodes on Pink Floyd I'm also relying on Nick Mason's Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd and Pink Floyd: All the Songs by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin. The compilation Relics contains many of the most important tracks from Barrett's time with Pink Floyd, while Piper at the Gates of Dawn is his one full album with them. Those who want a fuller history of his time with the group will want to get Piper and also the box set Cambridge St/ation 1965-1967. Barrett only released two solo albums during his career. They're available as a bundle here. Completists will also want the rarities and outtakes collection Opel. ERRATA: I talk about “Interstellar Overdrive” as if Barrett wrote it solo. The song is credited to all four members, but it was Barrett who came up with the riff I talk about. And annoyingly, given the lengths I went to to deal correctly with Barrett's name, I repeatedly refer to "Dave" Gilmour, when Gilmour prefers David. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript A note before I begin -- this episode deals with drug use and mental illness, so anyone who might be upset by those subjects might want to skip this one. But also, there's a rather unique problem in how I deal with the name of the main artist in the story today. The man everyone knows as Syd Barrett was born Roger Barrett, used that name with his family for his whole life, and in later years very strongly disliked being called "Syd", yet everyone other than his family called him that at all times until he left the music industry, and that's the name that appears on record labels, including his solo albums. I don't believe it's right to refer to people by names they choose not to go by themselves, but the name Barrett went by throughout his brief period in the public eye was different from the one he went by later, and by all accounts he was actually distressed by its use in later years. So what I'm going to do in this episode is refer to him as "Roger Barrett" when a full name is necessary for disambiguation or just "Barrett" otherwise, but I'll leave any quotes from other people referring to "Syd" as they were originally phrased. In future episodes on Pink Floyd, I'll refer to him just as Barrett, but in episodes where I discuss his influence on other artists, I will probably have to use "Syd Barrett" because otherwise people who haven't listened to this episode won't know what on Earth I'm talking about. Anyway, on with the show. “It's gone!” sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. “So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!” he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound. “Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,” he said presently. “O Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.” That's a quote from a chapter titled "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" from the classic children's book The Wind in the Willows -- a book which for most of its length is a fairly straightforward story about anthropomorphic animals having jovial adventures, but which in that one chapter has Rat and Mole suddenly encounter the Great God Pan and have a hallucinatory, transcendental experience caused by his music, one so extreme it's wiped from their minds, as they simply cannot process it. The book, and the chapter, was a favourite of Roger Barrett, a young child born in Cambridge in 1946. Barrett came from an intellectual but not especially bookish family. His father, Dr. Arthur Barrett, was a pathologist -- there's a room in Addenbrooke's Hospital named after him -- but he was also an avid watercolour painter, a world-leading authority on fungi, and a member of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society who was apparently an extraordinarily good singer; while his mother Winifred was a stay-at-home mother who was nonetheless very active in the community, organising a local Girl Guide troupe. They never particularly encouraged their family to read, but young Roger did particularly enjoy the more pastoral end of the children's literature of the time. As well as the Wind in the Willows he also loved Alice in Wonderland, and the Little Grey Men books -- a series of stories about tiny gnomes and their adventures in the countryside. But his two big passions were music and painting. He got his first ukulele at age eleven, and by the time his father died, just before Roger's sixteenth birthday, he had graduated to playing a full-sized guitar. At the time his musical tastes were largely the same as those of any other British teenager -- he liked Chubby Checker, for example -- though he did have a tendency to prefer the quirkier end of things, and some of the first songs he tried to play on the guitar were those of Joe Brown: [Excerpt: Joe Brown, "I'm Henry VIII I Am"] Barrett grew up in Cambridge, and for those who don't know it, Cambridge is an incubator of a very particular kind of eccentricity. The university tends to attract rather unworldly intellectual overachievers to the city -- people who might not be able to survive in many other situations but who can thrive in that one -- and every description of Barrett's father suggests he was such a person -- Barrett's sister Rosemary has said that she believes that most of the family were autistic, though whether this is a belief based on popular media portrayals or a deeper understanding I don't know. But certainly Cambridge is full of eccentric people with remarkable achievements, and such people tend to have children with a certain type of personality, who try simultaneously to live up to and rebel against expectations of greatness that come from having parents who are regarded as great, and to do so with rather less awareness of social norms than the typical rebel has. In the case of Roger Barrett, he, like so many others of his generation, was encouraged to go into the sciences -- as indeed his father had, both in his career as a pathologist and in his avocation as a mycologist. The fifties and sixties were a time, much like today, when what we now refer to as the STEM subjects were regarded as new and exciting and modern. But rather than following in his father's professional footsteps, Roger Barrett instead followed his hobbies. Dr. Barrett was a painter and musician in his spare time, and Roger was to turn to those things to earn his living. For much of his teens, it seemed that art would be the direction he would go in. He was, everyone agrees, a hugely talented painter, and he was particularly noted for his mastery of colours. But he was also becoming more and more interested in R&B music, especially the music of Bo Diddley, who became his new biggest influence: [Excerpt: Bo Diddley, "Who Do You Love?"] He would often spend hours with his friend Dave Gilmour, a much more advanced guitarist, trying to learn blues riffs. By this point Barrett had already received the nickname "Syd". Depending on which story you believe, he either got it when he started attending a jazz club where an elderly jazzer named Sid Barrett played, and the people were amused that their youngest attendee, like one of the oldest, was called Barrett; or, more plausibly, he turned up to a Scout meeting once wearing a flat cap rather than the normal scout beret, and he got nicknamed "Sid" because it made him look working-class and "Sid" was a working-class sort of name. In 1962, by the time he was sixteen, Barrett joined a short-lived group called Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, on rhythm guitar. The group's lead singer, Geoff Mottlow, would go on to join a band called the Boston Crabs who would have a minor hit in 1965 with a version of the Coasters song "Down in Mexico": [Excerpt: The Boston Crabs, "Down in Mexico"] The bass player from the Mottoes, Tony Sainty, and the drummer Clive Welham, would go on to form another band, The Jokers Wild, with Barrett's friend Dave Gilmour. Barrett also briefly joined another band, Those Without, but his time with them was similarly brief. Some sources -- though ones I consider generally less reliable -- say that the Mottoes' bass player wasn't Tony Sainty, but was Roger Waters, the son of one of Barrett's teachers, and that one of the reasons the band split up was that Waters had moved down to London to study architecture. I don't think that's the case, but it's definitely true that Barrett knew Waters, and when he moved to London himself the next year to go to Camberwell Art College, he moved into a house where Waters was already living. Two previous tenants at the same house, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, had formed a loose band with Waters and various other amateur musicians like Keith Noble, Shelagh Noble, and Clive Metcalfe. That band was sometimes known as the Screaming Abdabs, The Megadeaths, or The Tea Set -- the latter as a sly reference to slang terms for cannabis -- but was mostly known at first as Sigma 6, named after a manifesto by the novelist Alexander Trocchi for a kind of spontaneous university. They were also sometimes known as Leonard's Lodgers, after the landlord of the home that Barrett was moving into, Mike Leonard, who would occasionally sit in on organ and would later, as the band became more of a coherent unit, act as a roadie and put on light shows behind them -- Leonard was himself very interested in avant-garde and experimental art, and it was his idea to play around with the group's lighting. By the time Barrett moved in with Waters in 1964, the group had settled on the Tea Set name, and consisted of Waters on bass, Mason on drums, Wright on keyboards, singer Chris Dennis, and guitarist Rado Klose. Of the group, Klose was the only one who was a skilled musician -- he was a very good jazz guitarist, while the other members were barely adequate. By this time Barrett's musical interests were expanding to include folk music -- his girlfriend at the time talked later about him taking her to see Bob Dylan on his first UK tour and thinking "My first reaction was seeing all these people like Syd. It was almost as if every town had sent one Syd Barrett there. It was my first time seeing people like him." But the music he was most into was the blues. And as the Tea Set were turning into a blues band, he joined them. He even had a name for the new band that would make them more bluesy. He'd read the back of a record cover which had named two extremely obscure blues musicians -- musicians he may never even have heard. Pink Anderson: [Excerpt: Pink Anderson, "Boll Weevil"] And Floyd Council: [Excerpt: Floyd Council, "Runaway Man Blues"] Barrett suggested that they put together the names of the two bluesmen, and presumably because "Anderson Council" didn't have quite the right ring, they went for The Pink Floyd -- though for a while yet they would sometimes still perform as The Tea Set, and they were sometimes also called The Pink Floyd Sound. Dennis left soon after Barrett joined, and the new five-piece Pink Floyd Sound started trying to get more gigs. They auditioned for Ready Steady Go! and were turned down, but did get some decent support slots, including for a band called the Tridents: [Excerpt: The Tridents, "Tiger in Your Tank"] The members of the group were particularly impressed by the Tridents' guitarist and the way he altered his sound using feedback -- Barrett even sent a letter to his girlfriend with a drawing of the guitarist, one Jeff Beck, raving about how good he was. At this point, the group were mostly performing cover versions, but they did have a handful of originals, and it was these they recorded in their first demo sessions in late 1964 and early 1965. They included "Walk With Me Sydney", a song written by Roger Waters as a parody of "Work With Me Annie" and "Dance With Me Henry" -- and, given the lyrics, possibly also Hank Ballard's follow-up "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More) and featuring Rick Wright's then-wife Juliette Gale as Etta James to Barrett's Richard Berry: [Excerpt: The Tea Set, "Walk With Me Sydney"] And four songs by Barrett, including one called "Double-O Bo" which was a Bo Diddley rip-off, and "Butterfly", the most interesting of these early recordings: [Excerpt: The Tea Set, "Butterfly"] At this point, Barrett was very unsure of his own vocal abilities, and wrote a letter to his girlfriend saying "Emo says why don't I give up 'cos it sounds horrible, and I would but I can't get Fred to join because he's got a group (p'raps you knew!) so I still have to sing." "Fred" was a nickname for his old friend Dave Gilmour, who was playing in his own band, Joker's Wild, at this point. Summer 1965 saw two important events in the life of the group. The first was that Barrett took LSD for the first time. The rest of the group weren't interested in trying it, and would indeed generally be one of the more sober bands in the rock business, despite the reputation their music got. The other members would for the most part try acid once or twice, around late 1966, but generally steer clear of it. Barrett, by contrast, took it on a very regular basis, and it would influence all the work he did from that point on. The other event was that Rado Klose left the group. Klose was the only really proficient musician in the group, but he had very different tastes to the other members, preferring to play jazz to R&B and pop, and he was also falling behind in his university studies, and decided to put that ahead of remaining in the band. This meant that the group members had to radically rethink the way they were making music. They couldn't rely on instrumental proficiency, so they had to rely on ideas. One of the things they started to do was use echo. They got primitive echo devices and put both Barrett's guitar and Wright's keyboard through them, allowing them to create new sounds that hadn't been heard on stage before. But they were still mostly doing the same Slim Harpo and Bo Diddley numbers everyone else was doing, and weren't able to be particularly interesting while playing them. But for a while they carried on doing the normal gigs, like a birthday party they played in late 1965, where on the same bill was a young American folk singer named Paul Simon, and Joker's Wild, the band Dave Gilmour was in, who backed Simon on a version of "Johnny B. Goode". A couple of weeks after that party, Joker's Wild went into the studio to record their only privately-pressed five-song record, of them performing recent hits: [Excerpt: Joker's Wild, "Walk Like a Man"] But The Pink Floyd Sound weren't as musically tight as Joker's Wild, and they couldn't make a living as a cover band even if they wanted to. They had to do something different. Inspiration then came from a very unexpected source. I mentioned earlier that one of the names the group had been performing under had been inspired by a manifesto for a spontaneous university by the writer Alexander Trocchi. Trocchi's ideas had actually been put into practice by an organisation calling itself the London Free School, based in Notting Hill. The London Free School was an interesting mixture of people from what was then known as the New Left, but who were already rapidly aging, the people who had been the cornerstone of radical campaigning in the late fifties and early sixties, who had run the Aldermaston marches against nuclear weapons and so on, and a new breed of countercultural people who in a year or two would be defined as hippies but at the time were not so easy to pigeonhole. These people were mostly politically radical but very privileged people -- one of the founder members of the London Free School was Peter Jenner, who was the son of a vicar and the grandson of a Labour MP -- and they were trying to put their radical ideas into practice. The London Free School was meant to be a collective of people who would help each other and themselves, and who would educate each other. You'd go to the collective wanting to learn how to do something, whether that's how to improve the housing in your area or navigate some particularly difficult piece of bureaucracy, or how to play a musical instrument, and someone who had that skill would teach you how to do it, while you hopefully taught them something else of value. The London Free School, like all such utopian schemes, ended up falling apart, but it had a wider cultural impact than most such schemes. Britain's first underground newspaper, the International Times, was put together by people involved in the Free School, and the annual Notting Hill Carnival, which is now one of the biggest outdoor events in Britain every year with a million attendees, came from the merger of outdoor events organised by the Free School with older community events. A group of musicians called AMM was associated with many of the people involved in the Free School. AMM performed totally improvised music, with no structure and no normal sense of melody and harmony: [Excerpt: AMM, "What Is There In Uselesness To Cause You Distress?"] Keith Rowe, the guitarist in AMM, wanted to find his own technique uninfluenced by American jazz guitarists, and thought of that in terms that appealed very strongly to the painterly Barrett, saying "For the Americans to develop an American school of painting, they somehow had to ditch or lose European easel painting techniques. They had to make a break with the past. What did that possibly mean if you were a jazz guitar player? For me, symbolically, it was Pollock laying the canvas on the floor, which immediately abandons European easel technique. I could see that by laying the canvas down, it became inappropriate to apply easel techniques. I thought if I did that with a guitar, I would just lose all those techniques, because they would be physically impossible to do." Rowe's technique-free technique inspired Barrett to make similar noises with his guitar, and to think less in terms of melody and harmony than pure sound. AMM's first record came out in 1966. Four of the Free School people decided to put together their own record label, DNA, and they got an agreement with Elektra Records to distribute its first release -- Joe Boyd, the head of Elektra in the UK, was another London Free School member, and someone who had plenty of experience with disruptive art already, having been on the sound engineering team at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan went electric. AMM went into the studio and recorded AMMMusic: [Excerpt: AMM, "What Is There In Uselesness To Cause You Distress?"] After that came out, though, Peter Jenner, one of the people who'd started the label, came to a realisation. He said later "We'd made this one record with AMM. Great record, very seminal, seriously avant-garde, but I'd started adding up and I'd worked out that the deal we had, we got two percent of retail, out of which we, the label, had to pay for recording costs and pay ourselves. I came to the conclusion that we were going to have to sell a hell of a lot of records just to pay the recording costs, let alone pay ourselves any money and build a label, so I realised we had to have a pop band because pop bands sold a lot of records. It was as simple as that and I was as naive as that." Jenner abandoned DNA records for the moment, and he and his friend Andrew King decided they were going to become pop managers. and they found The Pink Floyd Sound playing at an event at the Marquee, one of a series of events that were variously known as Spontaneous Underground and The Trip. Other participants in those events included Soft Machine; Mose Allison; Donovan, performing improvised songs backed by sitar players; Graham Bond; a performer who played Bach pieces while backed by African drummers; and The Poison Bellows, a poetry duo consisting of Spike Hawkins and Johnny Byrne, who may of all of these performers be the one who other than Pink Floyd themselves has had the most cultural impact in the UK -- after writing the exploitation novel Groupie and co-writing a film adaptation of Spike Milligan's war memoirs, Byrne became a TV screenwriter, writing many episodes of Space: 1999 and Doctor Who before creating the long-running TV series Heartbeat. Jenner and King decided they wanted to sign The Pink Floyd Sound and make records with them, and the group agreed -- but only after their summer holidays. They were all still students, and so they dispersed during the summer. Waters and Wright went on holiday to Greece, where they tried acid for the first of only a small number of occasions and were unimpressed, while Mason went on a trip round America by Greyhound bus. Barrett, meanwhile, stayed behind, and started writing more songs, encouraged by Jenner, who insisted that the band needed to stop relying on blues covers and come up with their own material, and who saw Barrett as the focus of the group. Jenner later described them as "Four not terribly competent musicians who managed between them to create something that was extraordinary. Syd was the main creative drive behind the band - he was the singer and lead guitarist. Roger couldn't tune his bass because he was tone deaf, it had to be tuned by Rick. Rick could write a bit of a tune and Roger could knock out a couple of words if necessary. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' was the first song Roger ever wrote, and he only did it because Syd encouraged everyone to write. Syd was very hesitant about his writing, but when he produced these great songs everyone else thought 'Well, it must be easy'" Of course, we know this isn't quite true -- Waters had written "Walk with me Sydney" -- but it is definitely the case that everyone involved thought of Barrett as the main creative force in the group, and that he was the one that Jenner was encouraging to write new material. After the summer holidays, the group reconvened, and one of their first actions was to play a benefit for the London Free School. Jenner said later "Andrew King and myself were both vicars' sons, and we knew that when you want to raise money for the parish you have to have a social. So in a very old-fashioned way we said 'let's put on a social'. Like in the Just William books, like a whist drive. We thought 'You can't have a whist drive. That's not cool. Let's have a band. That would be cool.' And the only band we knew was the band I was starting to get involved with." After a couple of these events went well, Joe Boyd suggested that they make those events a regular club night, and the UFO Club was born. Jenner and King started working on the light shows for the group, and then bringing in other people, and the light show became an integral part of the group's mystique -- rather than standing in a spotlight as other groups would, they worked in shadows, with distorted kaleidoscopic lights playing on them, distancing themselves from the audience. The highlight of their sets was a long piece called "Interstellar Overdrive", and this became one of the group's first professional recordings, when they went into the studio with Joe Boyd to record it for the soundtrack of a film titled Tonite Let's All Make Love in London. There are conflicting stories about the inspiration for the main riff for "Interstellar Overdrive". One apparent source is the riff from Love's version of the Bacharach and David song "My Little Red Book". Depending on who you ask, either Barrett was obsessed with Love's first album and copied the riff, or Peter Jenner tried to hum him the riff and Barrett copied what Jenner was humming: [Excerpt: Love, "My Little Red Book"] More prosaically, Roger Waters has always claimed that the main inspiration was from "Old Ned", Ron Grainer's theme tune for the sitcom Steptoe and Son (which for American listeners was remade over there as Sanford and Son): [Excerpt: Ron Grainer, "Old Ned"] Of course it's entirely possible, and even likely, that Barrett was inspired by both, and if so that would neatly sum up the whole range of Pink Floyd's influences at this point. "My Little Red Book" was a cover by an American garage-psych/folk-rock band of a hit by Manfred Mann, a group who were best known for pop singles but were also serious blues and jazz musicians, while Steptoe and Son was a whimsical but dark and very English sitcom about a way of life that was slowly disappearing. And you can definitely hear both influences in the main riff of the track they recorded with Boyd: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "Interstellar Overdrive"] "Interstellar Overdrive" was one of two types of song that The Pink Floyd were performing at this time -- a long, extended, instrumental psychedelic excuse for freaky sounds, inspired by things like the second disc of Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention. When they went into the studio again with Boyd later in January 1967, to record what they hoped would be their first single, they recorded two of the other kind of songs -- whimsical story songs inspired equally by the incidents of everyday life and by children's literature. What became the B-side, "Candy and a Currant Bun", was based around the riff from "Smokestack Lightnin'" by Howlin' Wolf: [Excerpt: Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightnin'"] That song had become a favourite on the British blues scene, and was thus the inspiration for many songs of the type that get called "quintessentially English". Ray Davies, who was in many ways the major songwriter at this time who was closest to Barrett stylistically, would a year later use the riff for the Kinks song "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains", but in this case Barrett had originally written a song titled "Let's Roll Another One", about sexual longing and cannabis. The lyrics were hastily rewritten in the studio to remove the controversial drug references-- and supposedly this caused some conflict between Barrett and Waters, with Waters pushing for the change, while Barrett argued against it, though like many of the stories from this period this sounds like the kind of thing that gets said by people wanting to push particular images of both men. Either way, the lyric was changed to be about sweet treats rather than drugs, though the lascivious elements remained in. And some people even argue that there was another lyric change -- where Barrett sings "walk with me", there's a slight "f" sound in his vocal. As someone who does a lot of microphone work myself, it sounds to me like just one of those things that happens while recording, but a lot of people are very insistent that Barrett is deliberately singing a different word altogether: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "Candy and a Currant Bun"] The A-side, meanwhile, was inspired by real life. Both Barrett and Waters had mothers who used to take in female lodgers, and both had regularly had their lodgers' underwear stolen from washing lines. While they didn't know anything else about the thief, he became in Barrett's imagination a man who liked to dress up in the clothing after he stole it: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "Arnold Layne"] After recording the two tracks with Joe Boyd, the natural assumption was that the record would be put out on Elektra, the label which Boyd worked for in the UK, but Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra records, wasn't interested, and so a bidding war began for the single, as by this point the group were the hottest thing in London. For a while it looked like they were going to sign to Track Records, the label owned by the Who's management, but in the end EMI won out. Right as they signed, the News of the World was doing a whole series of articles about pop stars and their drug use, and the last of the articles talked about The Pink Floyd and their association with LSD, even though they hadn't released a record yet. EMI had to put out a press release saying that the group were not psychedelic, insisting"The Pink Floyd are not trying to create hallucinatory effects in their audience." It was only after getting signed that the group became full-time professionals. Waters had by this point graduated from university and was working as a trainee architect, and quit his job to become a pop star. Wright dropped out of university, but Mason and Barrett took sabbaticals. Barrett in particular seems to have seen this very much as a temporary thing, talking about how he was making so much money it would be foolish not to take the opportunity while it lasted, but how he was going to resume his studies in a year. "Arnold Layne" made the top twenty, and it would have gone higher had the pirate radio station Radio London, at the time the single most popular radio station when it came to pop music, not banned the track because of its sexual content. However, it would be the only single Joe Boyd would work on with the group. EMI insisted on only using in-house producers, and so while Joe Boyd would go on to a great career as a producer, and we'll see him again, he was replaced with Norman Smith. Smith had been the chief engineer on the Beatles records up to Rubber Soul, after which he'd been promoted to being a producer in his own right, and Geoff Emerick had taken over. He also had aspirations to pop stardom himself, and a few years later would have a transatlantic hit with "Oh Babe, What Would You Say?" under the name Hurricane Smith: [Excerpt: Hurricane Smith, "Oh Babe, What Would You Say?"] Smith's production of the group would prove controversial among some of the group's longtime fans, who thought that he did too much to curtail their more experimental side, as he would try to get the group to record songs that were more structured and more commercial, and would cut down their improvisations into a more manageable form. Others, notably Peter Jenner, thought that Smith was the perfect producer for the group. They started work on their first album, which was mostly recorded in studio three of Abbey Road, while the Beatles were just finishing off work on Sgt Pepper in studio two. The album was titled The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, after the chapter from The Wind in the Willows, and other than a few extended instrumental showcases, most of the album was made up of short, whimsical, songs by Barrett that were strongly infused with imagery from late-Victorian and Edwardian children's books. This is one of the big differences between the British and American psychedelic scenes. Both the British and American undergrounds were made up of the same type of people -- a mixture of older radical activists, often Communists, who had come up in Britain in the Ban the Bomb campaigns and in America in the Civil Rights movement; and younger people, usually middle-class students with radical politics from a privileged background, who were into experimenting with drugs and alternative lifestyles. But the social situations were different. In America, the younger members of the underground were angry and scared, as their principal interest was in stopping the war in Vietnam in which so many of them were being killed. And the music of the older generation of the underground, the Civil Rights activists, was shot through with influence from the blues, gospel, and American folk music, with a strong Black influence. So that's what the American psychedelic groups played, for the most part, very bluesy, very angry, music, By contrast, the British younger generation of hippies were not being drafted to go to war, and mostly had little to complain about, other than a feeling of being stifled by their parents' generation's expectations. And while most of them were influenced by the blues, that wasn't the music that had been popular among the older underground people, who had either been listening to experimental European art music or had been influenced by Ewan MacColl and his associates into listening instead to traditional old English ballads, things like the story of Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer, where someone is spirited away to the land of the fairies: [Excerpt: Ewan MacColl, "Thomas the Rhymer"] As a result, most British musicians, when exposed to the culture of the underground over here, created music that looked back to an idealised childhood of their grandparents' generation, songs that were nostalgic for a past just before the one they could remember (as opposed to their own childhoods, which had taken place in war or the immediate aftermath of it, dominated by poverty, rationing, and bomb sites (though of course Barrett's childhood in Cambridge had been far closer to this mythic idyll than those of his contemporaries from Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, or London). So almost every British musician who was making music that might be called psychedelic was writing songs that were influenced both by experimental art music and by pre-War popular song, and which conjured up images from older children's books. Most notably of course at this point the Beatles were recording songs like "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" about places from their childhood, and taking lyrical inspiration from Victorian circus posters and the works of Lewis Carroll, but Barrett was similarly inspired. One of the books he loved most as a child was "The Little Grey Men" by BB, a penname for Denys Watkins-Pitchford. The book told the story of three gnomes, Baldmoney, Sneezewort, and Dodder, and their adventures on a boat when the fourth member of their little group, Cloudberry, who's a bit of a rebellious loner and more adventurous than the other three, goes exploring on his own and they have to go off and find him. Barrett's song "The Gnome" doesn't use any precise details from the book, but its combination of whimsy about a gnome named Grimble-gromble and a reverence for nature is very much in the mould of BB's work: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "The Gnome"] Another huge influence on Barrett was Hillaire Belloc. Belloc is someone who is not read much any more, as sadly he is mostly known for the intense antisemitism in some of his writing, which stains it just as so much of early twentieth-century literature is stained, but he was one of the most influential writers of the early part of the twentieth century. Like his friend GK Chesterton he was simultaneously an author of Catholic apologia and a political campaigner -- he was a Liberal MP for a few years, and a strong advocate of an economic system known as Distributism, and had a peculiar mixture of very progressive and extremely reactionary ideas which resonated with a lot of the atmosphere in the British underground of the time, even though he would likely have profoundly disapproved of them. But Belloc wrote in a variety of styles, including poems for children, which are the works of his that have aged the best, and were a huge influence on later children's writers like Roald Dahl with their gleeful comic cruelty. Barrett's "Matilda Mother" had lyrics that were, other than the chorus where Barrett begs his mother to read him more of the story, taken verbatim from three poems from Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children -- "Jim, Who Ran away from his Nurse, and was Eaten by a Lion", "Henry King (Who chewed bits of String, and was cut off in Dreadful Agonies)", and "Matilda (Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death)" -- the titles of those give some idea of the kind of thing Belloc would write: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "Matilda Mother (early version)"] Sadly for Barrett, Belloc's estate refused to allow permission for his poems to be used, and so he had to rework the lyrics, writing new fairy-tale lyrics for the finished version. Other sources of inspiration for lyrics came from books like the I Ching, which Barrett used for "Chapter 24", having bought a copy from the Indica Bookshop, the same place that John Lennon had bought The Psychedelic Experience, and there's been some suggestion that he was deliberately trying to copy Lennon in taking lyrical ideas from a book of ancient mystic wisdom. During the recording of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the group continued playing live. As they'd now had a hit single, most of their performances were at Top Rank Ballrooms and other such venues around the country, on bills with other top chart groups, playing to audiences who seemed unimpressed or actively hostile. They also, though made two important appearances. The more well-known of these was at the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, a benefit for International Times magazine with people including Yoko Ono, their future collaborator Ron Geesin, John's Children, Soft Machine, and The Move also performing. The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream is now largely regarded as *the* pivotal moment in the development of the UK counterculture, though even at the time some participants noted that there seemed to be a rift developing between the performers, who were often fairly straightforward beer-drinking ambitious young men who had latched on to kaftans and talk about enlightenment as the latest gimmick they could use to get ahead in the industry, and the audience who seemed to be true believers. Their other major performance was at an event called "Games for May -- Space Age Relaxation for the Climax of Spring", where they were able to do a full long set in a concert space with a quadrophonic sound system, rather than performing in the utterly sub-par environments most pop bands had to at this point. They came up with a new song written for the event, which became their second single, "See Emily Play". [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "See Emily Play"] Emily was apparently always a favourite name of Barrett's, and he even talked with one girlfriend about the possibility of naming their first child Emily, but the Emily of the song seems to have had a specific inspiration. One of the youngest attendees at the London Free School was an actual schoolgirl, Emily Young, who would go along to their events with her schoolfriend Anjelica Huston (who later became a well-known film star). Young is now a world-renowned artist, regarded as arguably Britain's greatest living stone sculptor, but at the time she was very like the other people at the London Free School -- she was from a very privileged background, her father was Wayland Young, 2nd Baron Kennet, a Labour Peer and minister who later joined the SDP. But being younger than the rest of the attendees, and still a little naive, she was still trying to find her own personality, and would take on attributes and attitudes of other people without fully understanding them, hence the song's opening lines, "Emily tries, but misunderstands/She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dream til tomorrow". The song gets a little darker towards the end though, and the image in the last verse, where she puts on a gown and floats down a river forever *could* be a gentle, pastoral, image of someone going on a boat ride, but it also could be a reference to two rather darker sources. Barrett was known to pick up imagery both from classic literature and from Arthurian legend, and so the lines inevitably conjure up both the idea of Ophelia drowning herself and of the Lady of Shallot in Tennyson's Arthurian poem, who is trapped in a tower but finds a boat, and floats down the river to Camelot but dies before the boat reaches the castle: [Excerpt: The Pink Floyd, "See Emily Play"] The song also evokes very specific memories of Barrett's childhood -- according to Roger Waters, the woods mentioned in the lyrics are meant to be woods in which they had played as children, on the road out of Cambridge towards the Gog and Magog Hills. The song was apparently seven minutes long in its earliest versions, and required a great deal of editing to get down to single length, but it was worth it, as the track made the top ten. And that was where the problems started. There are two different stories told about what happened to Roger Barrett over the next forty years, and both stories are told by people with particular agendas, who want particular versions of him to become the accepted truth. Both stories are, in the extreme versions that have been popularised, utterly incompatible with each other, but both are fairly compatible with the scanty evidence we have. Possibly the truth lies somewhere between them. In one version of the story, around this time Barrett had a total mental breakdown, brought on or exacerbated by his overuse of LSD and Mandrax (a prescription drug consisting of a mixture of the antihistamine diphenhydramine and the sedative methaqualone, which was marketed in the US under the brand-name Quaalude), and that from late summer 1967 on he was unable to lead a normal life, and spent the rest of his life as a burned-out shell. The other version of the story is that Barrett was a little fragile, and did have periods of mental illness, but for the most part was able to function fairly well. In this version of the story, he was neurodivergent, and found celebrity distressing, but more than that he found the whole process of working within commercial restrictions upsetting -- having to appear on TV pop shows and go on package tours was just not something he found himself able to do, but he was responsible for a whole apparatus of people who relied on him and his group for their living. In this telling, he was surrounded by parasites who looked on him as their combination meal-ticket-cum-guru, and was simply not suited for the role and wanted to sabotage it so he could have a private life instead. Either way, *something* seems to have changed in Barrett in a profound way in the early summer of 1967. Joe Boyd talks about meeting him after not having seen him for a few weeks, and all the light being gone from his eyes. The group appeared on Top of the Pops, Britain's top pop TV show, three times to promote "See Emily Play", but by the third time Barrett didn't even pretend to mime along with the single. Towards the end of July, they were meant to record a session for the BBC's Saturday Club radio show, but Barrett walked out of the studio before completing the first song. It's notable that Barrett's non-cooperation or inability to function was very much dependent on circumstance. He was not able to perform for Saturday Club, a mainstream pop show aimed at a mass audience, but gave perfectly good performances on several sessions for John Peel's radio show The Perfumed Garden, a show firmly aimed at Pink Floyd's own underground niche. On the thirty-first of July, three days after the Saturday Club walkout, all the group's performances for the next month were cancelled, due to "nervous exhaustion". But on the eighth of August, they went back into the studio, to record "Scream Thy Last Scream", a song Barrett wrote and which Nick Mason sang: [Excerpt: Pink Floyd, "Scream Thy Last Scream"] That was scheduled as the group's next single, but the record company vetoed it, and it wouldn't see an official release for forty-nine years. Instead they recorded another single, "Apples and Oranges": [Excerpt: Pink Floyd, "Apples and Oranges"] That was the last thing the group released while Barrett was a member. In November 1967 they went on a tour of the US, making appearances on American Bandstand and the Pat Boone Show, as well as playing several gigs. According to legend, Barrett was almost catatonic on the Pat Boone show, though no footage of that appears to be available anywhere -- and the same things were said about their performance on Bandstand, and when that turned up, it turned out Barrett seemed no more uncomfortable miming to their new single than any of the rest of the band, and was no less polite when Dick Clark asked them questions about hamburgers. But on shows on the US tour, Barrett would do things like detune his guitar so it just made clanging sounds, or just play a single note throughout the show. These are, again, things that could be taken in two different ways, and I have no way to judge which is the more correct. On one level, they could be a sign of a chaotic, disordered, mind, someone dealing with severe mental health difficulties. On the other, they're the kind of thing that Barrett was applauded and praised for in the confines of the kind of avant-garde underground audience that would pay to hear AMM or Yoko Ono, the kind of people they'd been performing for less than a year earlier, but which were absolutely not appropriate for a pop group trying to promote their latest hit single. It could be that Barrett was severely unwell, or it could just be that he wanted to be an experimental artist and his bandmates wanted to be pop stars -- and one thing absolutely everyone agrees is that the rest of the group were more ambitious than Barrett was. Whichever was the case, though, something had to give. They cut the US tour short, but immediately started another British package tour, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Move, Amen Corner and the Nice. After that tour they started work on their next album, A Saucerful of Secrets. Where Barrett was the lead singer and principal songwriter on Piper at the Gates of Dawn, he only sings and writes one song on A Saucerful of Secrets, which is otherwise written by Waters and Wright, and only appears at all on two more of the tracks -- by the time it was released he was out of the group. The last song he tried to get the group to record was called "Have You Got it Yet?" and it was only after spending some time rehearsing it that the rest of the band realised that the song was a practical joke on them -- every time they played it, he would change the song around so they would mess up, and pretend they just hadn't learned the song yet. They brought in Barrett's old friend Dave Gilmour, initially to be a fifth member on stage to give the band some stability in their performances, but after five shows with the five-man lineup they decided just not to bother picking Barrett up, but didn't mention he was out of the group, to avoid awkwardness. At the time, Barrett and Rick Wright were flatmates, and Wright would actually lie to Barrett and say he was just going out to buy a packet of cigarettes, and then go and play gigs without him. After a couple of months of this, it was officially announced that Barrett was leaving the group. Jenner and King went with him, convinced that he was the real talent in the group and would have a solo career, and the group carried on with new management. We'll be looking at them more in future episodes. Barrett made a start at recording a solo album in mid-1968, but didn't get very far. Jenner produced those sessions, and later said "It seemed a good idea to go into the studio because I knew he had the songs. And he would sometimes play bits and pieces and you would think 'Oh that's great.' It was a 'he's got a bit of a cold today and it might get better' approach. It wasn't a cold -- and you knew it wasn't a cold -- but I kept thinking if he did the right things he'd come back to join us. He'd gone out and maybe he'd come back. That was always the analogy in my head. I wanted to make it feel friendly for him, and that where we were was a comfortable place and that he could come back and find himself again. I obviously didn't succeed." A handful of tracks from those sessions have since been released, including a version of “Golden Hair”, a setting by Barrett of a poem by James Joyce that he would later revisit: [Excerpt: Syd Barrett, “Golden Hair (first version)”] Eleven months later, he went back into the studio again, this time with producer Malcolm Jones, to record an album that later became The Madcap Laughs, his first solo album. The recording process for the album has been the source of some controversy, as initially Jones was producing the whole album, and they were working in a way that Barrett never worked before. Where previously he had cut backing tracks first and only later overdubbed his vocals, this time he started by recording acoustic guitar and vocals, and then overdubbed on top of that. But after several sessions, Jones was pulled off the album, and Gilmour and Waters were asked to produce the rest of the sessions. This may seem a bit of a callous decision, since Gilmour was the person who had replaced Barrett in his group, but apparently the two of them had remained friends, and indeed Gilmour thought that Barrett had only got better as a songwriter since leaving the band. Where Malcolm Jones had been trying, by his account, to put out something that sounded like a serious, professional, record, Gilmour and Waters seemed to regard what they were doing more as producing a piece of audio verite documentary, including false starts and studio chatter. Jones believed that this put Barrett in a bad light, saying the outtakes "show Syd, at best as out of tune, which he rarely was, and at worst as out of control (which, again, he never was)." Gilmour and Waters, on the other hand, thought that material was necessary to provide some context for why the album wasn't as slick and professional as some might have hoped. The eventual record was a hodge-podge of different styles from different sessions, with bits from the Jenner sessions, the Jones sessions, and the Waters and Gilmour sessions all mixed together, with some tracks just Barrett badly double-tracking himself with an acoustic guitar, while other tracks feature full backing by Soft Machine. However, despite Jones' accusations that the album was more-or-less sabotaged by Gilmour and Waters, the fact remains that the best tracks on the album are the ones Barrett's former bandmates produced, and there are some magnificent moments on there. But it's a disturbing album to listen to, in the same way other albums by people with clear talent but clear mental illness are, like Skip Spence's Oar, Roky Erickson's later work, or the Beach Boys Love You. In each case, the pleasure one gets is a real pleasure from real aesthetic appreciation of the work, but entangled with an awareness that the work would not exist in that form were the creator not suffering. The pleasure doesn't come from the suffering -- these are real artists creating real art, not the kind of outsider art that is really just a modern-day freak-show -- but it's still inextricable from it: [Excerpt: Syd Barrett, "Dark Globe"] The Madcap Laughs did well enough that Barrett got to record a follow-up, titled simply Barrett. This one was recorded over a period of only a handful of months, with Gilmour and Rick Wright producing, and a band consisting of Gilmour, Wright, and drummer Jerry Shirley. The album is generally considered both more consistent and less interesting than The Madcap Laughs, with less really interesting material, though there are some enjoyable moments on it: [Excerpt: Syd Barrett, "Effervescing Elephant"] But the album is a little aimless, and people who knew him at the time seem agreed that that was a reflection of his life. He had nothing he *needed* to be doing -- no tour dates, no deadlines, no pressure at all, and he had a bit of money from record royalties -- so he just did nothing at all. The one solo gig he ever played, with the band who backed him on Barrett, lasted four songs, and he walked off half-way through the fourth. He moved back to Cambridge for a while in the early seventies, and he tried putting together a new band with Twink, the drummer of the Pink Fairies and Pretty Things, Fred Frith, and Jack Monck, but Frith left after one gig. The other three performed a handful of shows either as "Stars" or as "Barrett, Adler, and Monck", just in the Cambridge area, but soon Barrett got bored again. He moved back to London, and in 1974 he made one final attempt to make a record, going into the studio with Peter Jenner, where he recorded a handful of tracks that were never released. But given that the titles of those tracks were things like "Boogie #1", "Boogie #2", "Slow Boogie", "Fast Boogie", "Chooka-Chooka Chug Chug" and "John Lee Hooker", I suspect we're not missing out on a lost masterpiece. Around this time there was a general resurgence in interest in Barrett, prompted by David Bowie having recorded a version of "See Emily Play" on his covers album Pin-Ups, which came out in late 1973: [Excerpt: David Bowie, "See Emily Play"] At the same time, the journalist Nick Kent wrote a long profile of Barrett, The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett, which like Kent's piece on Brian Wilson a year later, managed to be a remarkable piece of writing with a sense of sympathy for its subject and understanding of his music, but also a less-than-accurate piece of journalism which led to a lot of myths and disinformation being propagated. Barrett briefly visited his old bandmates in the studio in 1975 while they were recording the album Wish You Were Here -- some say even during the recording of the song "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond", which was written specifically about Barrett, though Nick Mason claims otherwise -- and they didn't recognise him at first, because by this point he had a shaved head and had put on a great deal of weight. He seemed rather sad, and that was the last time any of them saw him, apart from Roger Waters, who saw him in Harrod's a few years later. That time, as soon as Barrett recognised Waters, he dropped his bag and ran out of the shop. For the next thirty-one years, Barrett made no public appearances. The last time he ever voluntarily spoke to a journalist, other than telling them to go away, was in 1982, just after he'd moved back to Cambridge, when someone doorstopped him and he answered a few questions and posed for a photo before saying "OK! That's enough, this is distressing for me, thank you." He had the reputation for the rest of his life of being a shut-in, a recluse, an acid casualty. His family, on the other hand, have always claimed that while he was never particularly mentally or physically healthy, he wasn't a shut-in, and would go to the pub, meet up with his mother a couple of times a week to go shopping, and chat to the women behind the counter at Sainsbury's and at the pharmacy. He was also apparently very good with children who lived in the neighbourhood. Whatever the truth of his final decades, though, however mentally well or unwell he actually was, one thing is very clear, which is that he was an extremely private man, who did not want attention, and who was greatly distressed by the constant stream of people coming and looking through his letterbox, trying to take photos of him, trying to interview him, and so on. Everyone on his street knew that when people came asking which was Syd Barrett's house, they were meant to say that no-one of that name lived there -- and they were telling the truth. By the time he moved back, he had stopped answering to "Syd" altogether, and according to his sister "He came to hate the name latterly, and what it meant." He did, in 2001, go round to his sister's house to watch a documentary about himself on the TV -- he didn't own a TV himself -- but he didn't enjoy it and his only comment was that the music was too noisy. By this point he never listened to rock music, just to jazz and classical music, usually on the radio. He was financially secure -- Dave Gilmour made sure that when compilations came out they always included some music from Barrett's period in the group so he would receive royalties, even though Gilmour had no contact with him after 1975 -- and he spent most of his time painting -- he would take photos of the paintings when they were completed, and then burn the originals. There are many stories about those last few decades, but given how much he valued his privacy, it wouldn't be right to share them. This is a history of rock music, and 1975 was the last time Roger Keith Barrett ever had anything to do with rock music voluntarily. He died of cancer in 2006, and at his funeral there was a reading from The Little Grey Men, which was also quoted in the Order of Service -- "The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours lights and shades; these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.” There was no rock music played at Barrett's funeral -- instead there were a selection of pieces by Handel, Haydn, and Bach, ending with Bach's Allemande from the Partita No. IV in D major, one of his favourite pieces: [Excerpt: Glenn Gould, "Allemande from the Partita No. IV in D major"] As they stared blankly in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces; and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and lighthearted as before. Mole rubbed his eyes and stared at Rat, who was looking about him in a puzzled sort of way. “I beg your pardon; what did you say, Rat?” he asked. “I think I was only remarking,” said Rat slowly, “that this was the right sort of place, and that here, if anywhere, we should find him. And look! Why, there he is, the little fellow!” And with a cry of delight he ran towards the slumbering Portly. But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can re-capture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties; so Mole, after struggling with his memory for a brief space, shook his head sadly and followed the Rat.
Episode one hundred and fifty-six of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “I Was Made to Love Her", the early career of Stevie Wonder, and the Detroit riots of 1967. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Resources As usual, I've put together a Mixcloud playlist of all the recordings excerpted in this episode. The best value way to get all of Stevie Wonder's early singles is this MP3 collection, which has the original mono single mixes of fifty-five tracks for a very reasonable price. For those who prefer physical media, this is a decent single-CD collection of his early work at a very low price indeed. As well as the general Motown information listed below, I've also referred to Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder by Mark Ribowsky, which rather astonishingly is the only full-length biography of Wonder, to Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul by Craig Werner, and to Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul by Stuart Cosgrove. For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I've used the following resources: Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown. To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy's own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography. Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown. I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown. The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown's thirty-year history. How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier's autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers'. Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson by "Dr Licks" is a mixture of a short biography of the great bass player, and tablature of his most impressive bass parts. And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript A quick note before I begin -- this episode deals with disability and racism, and also deals from the very beginning with sex work and domestic violence. It also has some discussion of police violence and sexual assault. As always I will try to deal with those subjects as non-judgementally and sensitively as possible, but if you worry that anything about those subjects might disturb you, please check the transcript. Calvin Judkins was not a good man. Lula Mae Hardaway thought at first he might be, when he took her in, with her infant son whose father had left before the boy was born. He was someone who seemed, when he played the piano, to be deeply sensitive and emotional, and he even did the decent thing and married her when he got her pregnant. She thought she could save him, even though he was a street hustler and not even very good at it, and thirty years older than her -- she was only nineteen, he was nearly fifty. But she soon discovered that he wasn't interested in being saved, and instead he was interested in hurting her. He became physically and financially abusive, and started pimping her out. Lula would eventually realise that Calvin Judkins was no good, but not until she got pregnant again, shortly after the birth of her second son. Her third son was born premature -- different sources give different numbers for how premature, with some saying four months and others six weeks -- and while he apparently went by Stevland Judkins throughout his early childhood, the name on his birth certificate was apparently Stevland Morris, Lula having decided not to give another child the surname of her abuser, though nobody has ever properly explained where she got the surname "Morris" from. Little Stevland was put in an incubator with an oxygen mask, which saved the tiny child's life but destroyed his sight, giving him a condition called retinopathy of prematurity -- a condition which nowadays can be prevented and cured, but in 1951 was just an unavoidable consequence for some portion of premature babies. Shortly after the family moved from Saginaw to Detroit, Lula kicked Calvin out, and he would remain only a peripheral figure in his children's lives, but one thing he did do was notice young Stevland's interest in music, and on his increasingly infrequent visits to his wife and kids -- visits that usually ended with violence -- he would bring along toy instruments for the young child to play, like a harmonica and a set of bongos. Stevie was a real prodigy, and by the time he was nine he had a collection of real musical instruments, because everyone could see that the kid was something special. A neighbour who owned a piano gave it to Stevie when she moved out and couldn't take it with her. A local Lions Club gave him a drum kit at a party they organised for local blind children, and a barber gave him a chromatic harmonica after seeing him play his toy one. Stevie gave his first professional performance when he was eight. His mother had taken him to a picnic in the park, and there was a band playing, and the little boy got as close to the stage as he could and started dancing wildly. The MC of the show asked the child who he was, and he said "My name is Stevie, and I can sing and play drums", so of course they got the cute kid up on stage behind the drum kit while the band played Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love": [Excerpt: Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"] He did well enough that they paid him seventy-five cents -- an enormous amount for a small child at that time -- though he was disappointed afterwards that they hadn't played something faster that would really allow him to show off his drumming skills. After that he would perform semi-regularly at small events, and always ask to be paid in quarters rather than paper money, because he liked the sound of the coins -- one of his party tricks was to be able to tell one coin from another by the sound of them hitting a table. Soon he formed a duo with a neighbourhood friend, John Glover, who was a couple of years older and could play guitar while Stevie sang and played harmonica and bongos. The two were friends, and both accomplished musicians for their age, but that wasn't the only reason Stevie latched on to Glover. Even as young as he was, he knew that Motown was soon going to be the place to be in Detroit if you were a musician, and Glover had an in -- his cousin was Ronnie White of the Miracles. Stevie and John performed as a duo everywhere they could and honed their act, performing particularly at the talent shows which were such an incubator of Black musical talent at the time, and they also at this point seem to have got the attention of Clarence Paul, but it was White who brought the duo to Motown. Stevie and John first played for White and Bobby Rodgers, another of the Miracles, then when they were impressed they took them through the several layers of Motown people who would have to sign off on signing a new act. First they were taken to see Brian Holland, who was a rising star within Motown as "Please Mr. Postman" was just entering the charts. They impressed him with a performance of the Miracles song "Bad Girl": [Excerpt: The Miracles, "Bad Girl"] After that, Stevie and John went to see Mickey Stevenson, who was at first sceptical, thinking that a kid so young -- Stevie was only eleven at the time -- must be some kind of novelty act rather than a serious musician. He said later "It was like, what's next, the singing mouse?" But Stevenson was won over by the child's talent. Normally, Stevenson had the power to sign whoever he liked to the label, but given the extra legal complications involved in signing someone under-age, he had to get Berry Gordy's permission. Gordy didn't even like signing teenagers because of all the extra paperwork that would be involved, and he certainly wasn't interested in signing pre-teens. But he came down to the studio to see what Stevie could do, and was amazed, not by his singing -- Gordy didn't think much of that -- but by his instrumental ability. First Stevie played harmonica and bongos as proficiently as an adult professional, and then he made his way around the studio playing on every other instrument in the place -- often only a few notes, but competent on them all. Gordy decided to sign the duo -- and the initial contract was for an act named "Steve and John" -- but it was soon decided to separate them. Glover would be allowed to hang around Motown while he was finishing school, and there would be a place for him when he finished -- he later became a staff songwriter, working on tracks for the Four Tops and the Miracles among others, and he would even later write a number one hit, "You Don't Have to be a Star (to be in My Show)" for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr -- but they were going to make Stevie a star right now. The man put in charge of that was Clarence Paul. Paul, under his birth name of Clarence Pauling, had started his career in the "5" Royales, a vocal group he formed with his brother Lowman Pauling that had been signed to Apollo Records by Ralph Bass, and later to King Records. Paul seems to have been on at least some of the earliest recordings by the group, so is likely on their first single, "Give Me One More Chance": [Excerpt: The "5" Royales, "Give Me One More Chance"] But Paul was drafted to go and fight in the Korean War, and so wasn't part of the group's string of hit singles, mostly written by his brother Lowman, like "Think", which later became better known in James Brown's cover version, or "Dedicated to the One I Love", later covered by the Shirelles, but in its original version dominated by Lowman's stinging guitar playing: [Excerpt: The "5" Royales, "Dedicated to the One I Love"] After being discharged, Clarence had shortened his name to Clarence Paul, and had started recording for all the usual R&B labels like Roulette and Federal, with little success: [Excerpt: Clarence Paul, "I'm Gonna Love You, Love You Til I Die"] He'd also co-written "I Need Your Lovin'", which had been an R&B hit for Roy Hamilton: [Excerpt: Roy Hamilton, "I Need Your Lovin'"] Paul had recently come to work for Motown – one of the things Berry Gordy did to try to make his label more attractive was to hire the relatives of R&B stars on other labels, in the hopes of getting them to switch to Motown – and he was the new man on the team, not given any of the important work to do. He was working with acts like Henry Lumpkin and the Valladiers, and had also been the producer of "Mind Over Matter", the single the Temptations had released as The Pirates in a desperate attempt to get a hit: [Excerpt: The Pirates, "Mind Over Matter"] Paul was the person you turned to when no-one else was interested, and who would come up with bizarre ideas. A year or so after the time period we're talking about, it was him who produced an album of country music for the Supremes, before they'd had a hit, and came up with "The Man With the Rock and Roll Banjo Band" for them: [Excerpt: The Supremes, "The Man With The Rock and Roll Banjo Band"] So, Paul was the perfect person to give a child -- by this time twelve years old -- who had the triple novelties of being a multi-instrumentalist, a child, and blind. Stevie started spending all his time around the Motown studios, partly because he was eager to learn everything about making records and partly because his home life wasn't particularly great and he wanted to be somewhere else. He earned the affection and irritation, in equal measure, of people at Motown both for his habit of wandering into the middle of sessions because he couldn't see the light that showed that the studio was in use, and for his practical joking. He was a great mimic, and would do things like phoning one of the engineers and imitating Berry Gordy's voice, telling the engineer that Stevie would be coming down, and to give him studio equipment to take home. He'd also astonish women by complimenting them, in detail, on their dresses, having been told in advance what they looked like by an accomplice. But other "jokes" were less welcome -- he would regularly sexually assault women working at Motown, grabbing their breasts or buttocks and then claiming it was an accident because he couldn't see what he was doing. Most of the women he molested still speak of him fondly, and say everybody loved him, and this may even be the case -- and certainly I don't think any of us should be judged too harshly for what we did when we were twelve -- but this kind of thing led to a certain amount of pressure to make Stevie's career worth the extra effort he was causing everyone at Motown. Because Berry Gordy was not impressed with Stevie's vocals, the decision was made to promote him as a jazz instrumentalist, and so Clarence Paul insisted that his first release be an album, rather than doing what everyone would normally do and only put out an album after a hit single. Paul reasoned that there was no way on Earth they were going to be able to get a hit single with a jazz instrumental by a twelve-year-old kid, and eventually persuaded Gordy of the wisdom of this idea. So they started work on The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, released under his new stagename of Little Stevie Wonder, supposedly a name given to him after Berry Gordy said "That kid's a wonder!", though Mickey Stevenson always said that the name came from a brainstorming session between him and Clarence Paul. The album featured Stevie on harmonica, piano, and organ on different tracks, but on the opening track, "Fingertips", he's playing the bongos that give the track its name: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips (studio version)"] The composition of that track is credited to Paul and the arranger Hank Cosby, but Beans Bowles, who played flute on the track, always claimed that he came up with the melody, and it seems quite likely to me that most of the tracks on the album were created more or less as jam sessions -- though Wonder's contributions were all overdubbed later. The album sat in the can for several months -- Berry Gordy was not at all sure of its commercial potential. Instead, he told Paul to go in another direction -- focusing on Wonder's blindness, he decided that what they needed to do was create an association in listeners' minds with Ray Charles, who at this point was at the peak of his commercial power. So back into the studio went Wonder and Paul, to record an album made up almost entirely of Ray Charles covers, titled Tribute to Uncle Ray. (Some sources have the Ray Charles tribute album recorded first -- and given Motown's lax record-keeping at this time it may be impossible to know for sure -- but this is the way round that Mark Ribowsky's biography of Wonder has it). But at Motown's regular quality control meeting it was decided that there wasn't a single on the album, and you didn't release an album like that without having a hit single first. By this point, Clarence Paul was convinced that Berry Gordy was just looking for excuses not to do anything with Wonder -- and there may have been a grain of truth to that. There's some evidence that Gordy was worried that the kid wouldn't be able to sing once his voice broke, and was scared of having another Frankie Lymon on his hands. But the decision was made that rather than put out either of those albums, they would put out a single. The A-side was a song called "I Call it Pretty Music But the Old People Call it the Blues, Part 1", which very much played on Wonder's image as a loveable naive kid: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "I Call it Pretty Music But the Old People Call it the Blues, Part 1"] The B-side, meanwhile, was part two -- a slowed-down, near instrumental, version of the song, reframed as an actual blues, and as a showcase for Wonder's harmonica playing rather than his vocals. The single wasn't a hit, but it made number 101 on the Billboard charts, just missing the Hot One Hundred, which for the debut single of a new artist wasn't too bad, especially for Motown at this point in time, when most of its releases were flopping. That was good enough that Gordy authorised the release of the two albums that they had in the can. The next single, "Little Water Boy", was a rather baffling duet with Clarence Paul, which did nothing at all on the charts. [Excerpt: Clarence Paul and Little Stevie Wonder, "Little Water Boy"] After this came another flop single, written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Janie Bradford, before the record that finally broke Little Stevie Wonder out into the mainstream in a big way. While Wonder hadn't had a hit yet, he was sent out on the first Motortown Revue tour, along with almost every other act on the label. Because he hadn't had a hit, he was supposed to only play one song per show, but nobody had told him how long that song should be. He had quickly become a great live performer, and the audiences were excited to watch him, so when he went into extended harmonica solos rather than quickly finishing the song, the audience would be with him. Clarence Paul, who came along on the tour, would have to motion to the onstage bandleader to stop the music, but the bandleader would know that the audiences were with Stevie, and so would just keep the song going as long as Stevie was playing. Often Paul would have to go on to the stage and shout in Wonder's ear to stop playing -- and often Wonder would ignore him, and have to be physically dragged off stage by Paul, still playing, causing the audience to boo Paul for stopping him from playing. Wonder would complain off-stage that the audience had been enjoying it, and didn't seem to get it into his head that he wasn't the star of the show, that the audiences *were* enjoying him, but were *there* to see the Miracles and Mary Wells and the Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye. This made all the acts who had to go on after him, and who were running late as a result, furious at him -- especially since one aspect of Wonder's blindness was that his circadian rhythms weren't regulated by sunlight in the same way that the sighted members of the tour's were. He would often wake up the entire tour bus by playing his harmonica at two or three in the morning, while they were all trying to sleep. Soon Berry Gordy insisted that Clarence Paul be on stage with Wonder throughout his performance, ready to drag him off stage, so that he wouldn't have to come out onto the stage to do it. But one of the first times he had done this had been on one of the very first Motortown Revue shows, before any of his records had come out. There he'd done a performance of "Fingertips", playing the flute part on harmonica rather than only playing bongos throughout as he had on the studio version -- leaving the percussion to Marvin Gaye, who was playing drums for Wonder's set: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2)"] But he'd extended the song with a little bit of call-and-response vocalising: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2)"] After the long performance ended, Clarence Paul dragged Wonder off-stage and the MC asked the audience to give him a round of applause -- but then Stevie came running back on and carried on playing: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2)"] By this point, though, the musicians had started to change over -- Mary Wells, who was on after Wonder, was using different musicians from his, and some of her players were already on stage. You can hear Joe Swift, who was playing bass for Wells, asking what key he was meant to be playing in: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2)"] Eventually, after six and a half minutes, they got Wonder off stage, but that performance became the two sides of Wonder's next single, with "Fingertips Part 2", the part with the ad lib singing and the false ending, rather than the instrumental part one, being labelled as the side the DJs should play. When it was released, the song started a slow climb up the charts, and by August 1963, three months after it came out, it was at number one -- only the second ever Motown number one, and the first ever live single to get there. Not only that, but Motown released a live album -- Recorded Live, the Twelve-Year-Old Genius (though as many people point out he was thirteen when it was released -- he was twelve when it was recorded though) and that made number one on the albums chart, becoming the first Motown album ever to do so. They followed up "Fingertips" with a similar sounding track, "Workout, Stevie, Workout", which made number thirty-three. After that, his albums -- though not yet his singles -- started to be released as by "Stevie Wonder" with no "Little" -- he'd had a bit of a growth spurt and his voice was breaking, and so marketing him as a child prodigy was not going to work much longer and they needed to transition him into a star with adult potential. In the Motown of 1963 that meant cutting an album of standards, because the belief at the time in Motown was that the future for their entertainers was doing show tunes at the Copacabana. But for some reason the audience who had wanted an R&B harmonica instrumental with call-and-response improvised gospel-influenced yelling was not in the mood for a thirteen year old singing "Put on a Happy Face" and "When You Wish Upon a Star", and especially not when the instrumental tracks were recorded in a key that suited him at age twelve but not thirteen, so he was clearly straining. "Fingertips" being a massive hit also meant Stevie was now near the top of the bill on the Motortown Revue when it went on its second tour. But this actually put him in a precarious position. When he had been down at the bottom of the bill and unknown, nobody expected anything from him, and he was following other minor acts, so when he was surprisingly good the audiences went wild. Now, near the top of the bill, he had to go on after Marvin Gaye, and he was not nearly so impressive in that context. The audiences were polite enough, but not in the raptures he was used to. Although Stevie could still beat Gaye in some circumstances. At Motown staff parties, Berry Gordy would always have a contest where he'd pit two artists against each other to see who could win the crowd over, something he thought instilled a fun and useful competitive spirit in his artists. They'd alternate songs, two songs each, and Gordy would decide on the winner based on audience response. For the 1963 Motown Christmas party, it was Stevie versus Marvin. Wonder went first, with "Workout, Stevie, Workout", and was apparently impressive, but then Gaye topped him with a version of "Hitch-Hike". So Stevie had to top that, and apparently did, with a hugely extended version of "I Call it Pretty Music", reworked in the Ray Charles style he'd used for "Fingertips". So Marvin Gaye had to top that with the final song of the contest, and he did, performing "Stubborn Kind of Fellow": [Excerpt: Marvin Gaye, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow"] And he was great. So great, it turned the crowd against him. They started booing, and someone in the audience shouted "Marvin, you should be ashamed of yourself, taking advantage of a little blind kid!" The crowd got so hostile Berry Gordy had to stop the performance and end the party early. He never had another contest like that again. There were other problems, as well. Wonder had been assigned a tutor, a young man named Ted Hull, who began to take serious control over his life. Hull was legally blind, so could teach Wonder using Braille, but unlike Wonder had some sight -- enough that he was even able to get a drivers' license and a co-pilot license for planes. Hull was put in loco parentis on most of Stevie's tours, and soon became basically inseparable from him, but this caused a lot of problems, not least because Hull was a conservative white man, while almost everyone else at Motown was Black, and Stevie was socially liberal and on the side of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements. Hull started to collaborate on songwriting with Wonder, which most people at Motown were OK with but which now seems like a serious conflict of interest, and he also started calling himself Stevie's "manager" -- which did *not* impress the people at Motown, who had their own conflict of interest because with Stevie, like with all their artists, they were his management company and agents as well as his record label and publishers. Motown grudgingly tolerated Hull, though, mostly because he was someone they could pass Lula Mae Hardaway to to deal with her complaints. Stevie's mother was not very impressed with the way that Motown were handling her son, and would make her opinion known to anyone who would listen. Hull and Hardaway did not get on at all, but he could be relied on to save the Gordy family members from having to deal with her. Wonder was sent over to Europe for Christmas 1963, to perform shows at the Paris Olympia and do some British media appearances. But both his mother and Hull had come along, and their clear dislike for each other was making him stressed. He started to get pains in his throat whenever he sang -- pains which everyone assumed were a stress reaction to the unhealthy atmosphere that happened whenever Hull and his mother were in the same room together, but which later turned out to be throat nodules that required surgery. Because of this, his singing was generally not up to standard, which meant he was moved to a less prominent place on the bill, which in turn led to his mother accusing the Gordy family of being against him and trying to stop him becoming a star. Wonder started to take her side and believe that Motown were conspiring against him, and at one point he even "accidentally" dropped a bottle of wine on Ted Hull's foot, breaking one of his toes, because he saw Hull as part of the enemy that was Motown. Before leaving for those shows, he had recorded the album he later considered the worst of his career. While he was now just plain Stevie on albums, he wasn't for his single releases, or in his first film appearance, where he was still Little Stevie Wonder. Berry Gordy was already trying to get a foot in the door in Hollywood -- by the end of the decade Motown would be moving from Detroit to LA -- and his first real connections there were with American International Pictures, the low-budget film-makers who have come up a lot in connection with the LA scene. AIP were the producers of the successful low-budget series of beach party films, which combined appearances by teen heartthrobs Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in swimsuits with cameo appearances by old film stars fallen on hard times, and with musical performances by bands like the Bobby Fuller Four. There would be a couple of Motown connections to these films -- most notably, the Supremes would do the theme tune for Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine -- but Muscle Beach Party was to be the first. Most of the music for Muscle Beach Party was written by Brian Wilson, Roger Christian, and Gary Usher, as one might expect for a film about surfing, and was performed by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the film's major musical guests, with Annette, Frankie, and Donna Loren [pron Lorren] adding vocals, on songs like "Muscle Bustle": [Excerpt: Donna Loren with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, "Muscle Bustle"] The film followed the formula in every way -- it also had a cameo appearance by Peter Lorre, his last film appearance before his death, and it featured Little Stevie Wonder playing one of the few songs not written by the surf and car writers, a piece of nothing called "Happy Street". Stevie also featured in the follow-up, Bikini Beach, which came out a little under four months later, again doing a single number, "Happy Feelin'". To cash in on his appearances in these films, and having tried releasing albums of Little Stevie as jazz multi-instrumentalist, Ray Charles tribute act, live soulman and Andy Williams-style crooner, they now decided to see if they could sell him as a surf singer. Or at least, as Motown's idea of a surf singer, which meant a lot of songs about the beach and the sea -- mostly old standards like "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "Ebb Tide" -- backed by rather schlocky Wrecking Crew arrangements. And this is as good a place as any to take on one of the bits of disinformation that goes around about Motown. I've addressed this before, but it's worth repeating here in slightly more detail. Carol Kaye, one of the go-to Wrecking Crew bass players, is a known credit thief, and claims to have played on hundreds of records she didn't -- claims which too many people take seriously because she is a genuine pioneer and was for a long time undercredited on many records she *did* play on. In particular, she claims to have played on almost all the classic Motown hits that James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers played on, like the title track for this episode, and she claims this despite evidence including notarised statements from everyone involved in the records, the release of session recordings that show producers talking to the Funk Brothers, and most importantly the evidence of the recordings themselves, which have all the characteristics of the Detroit studio and sound like the Funk Brothers playing, and have absolutely nothing in common, sonically, with the records the Wrecking Crew played on at Gold Star, Western, and other LA studios. The Wrecking Crew *did* play on a lot of Motown records, but with a handful of exceptions, mostly by Brenda Holloway, the records they played on were quickie knock-off album tracks and potboiler albums made to tie in with film or TV work -- soundtracks to TV specials the acts did, and that kind of thing. And in this case, the Wrecking Crew played on the entire Stevie at the Beach album, including the last single to be released as by "Little Stevie Wonder", "Castles in the Sand", which was arranged by Jack Nitzsche: [Excerpt: Little Stevie Wonder, "Castles in the Sand"] Apparently the idea of surfin' Stevie didn't catch on any more than that of swingin' Stevie had earlier. Indeed, throughout 1964 and 65 Motown seem to have had less than no idea what they were doing with Stevie Wonder, and he himself refers to all his recordings from this period as an embarrassment, saving particular scorn for the second single from Stevie at the Beach, "Hey Harmonica Man", possibly because that, unlike most of his other singles around this point, was a minor hit, reaching number twenty-nine on the charts. Motown were still pushing Wonder hard -- he even got an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in May 1964, only the second Motown act to appear on it after the Marvelettes -- but Wonder was getting more and more unhappy with the decisions they were making. He loathed the Stevie at the Beach album -- the records he'd made earlier, while patchy and not things he'd chosen, were at least in some way related to his musical interests. He *did* love jazz, and he *did* love Ray Charles, and he *did* love old standards, and the records were made by his friend Clarence Paul and with the studio musicians he'd grown to know in Detroit. But Stevie at the Beach was something that was imposed on Clarence Paul from above, it was cut with unfamiliar musicians, Stevie thought the films he was appearing in were embarrassing, and he wasn't even having much commercial success, which was the whole point of these compromises. He started to get more rebellious against Paul in the studio, though many of these decisions weren't made by Paul, and he would complain to anyone who would listen that if he was just allowed to do the music he wanted to sing, the way he wanted to sing it, he would have more hits. But for nine months he did basically no singing other than that Ed Sullivan Show appearance -- he had to recover from the operation to remove the throat nodules. When he did return to the studio, the first single he cut remained unreleased, and while some stuff from the archives was released between the start of 1964 and March 1965, the first single he recorded and released after the throat nodules, "Kiss Me Baby", which came out in March, was a complete flop. That single was released to coincide with the first Motown tour of Europe, which we looked at in the episode on "Stop! In the Name of Love", and which was mostly set up to promote the Supremes, but which also featured Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, and the Temptations. Even though Stevie had not had a major hit in eighteen months by this point, he was still brought along on the tour, the only solo artist to be included -- at this point Gordy thought that solo artists looked outdated compared to vocal groups, in a world dominated by bands, and so other solo artists like Marvin Gaye weren't invited. This was a sign that Gordy was happier with Stevie than his recent lack of chart success might suggest. One of the main reasons that Gordy had been in two minds about him was that he'd had no idea if Wonder would still be able to sing well after his voice broke. But now, as he was about to turn fifteen, his adult voice had more or less stabilised, and Gordy knew that he was capable of having a long career, if they just gave him the proper material. But for now his job on the tour was to do his couple of hits, smile, and be on the lower rungs of the ladder. But even that was still a prominent place to be given the scaled-down nature of this bill compared to the Motortown Revues. While the tour was in England, for example, Dusty Springfield presented a TV special focusing on all the acts on the tour, and while the Supremes were the main stars, Stevie got to do two songs, and also took part in the finale, a version of "Mickey's Monkey" led by Smokey Robinson but with all the performers joining in, with Wonder getting a harmonica solo: [Excerpt: Smokey Robinson and the Motown acts, "Mickey's Monkey"] Sadly, there was one aspect of the trip to the UK that was extremely upsetting for Wonder. Almost all the media attention he got -- which was relatively little, as he wasn't a Supreme -- was about his blindness, and one reporter in particular convinced him that there was an operation he could have to restore his sight, but that Motown were preventing him from finding out about it in order to keep his gimmick going. He was devastated about this, and then further devastated when Ted Hull finally convinced him that it wasn't true, and that he'd been lied to. Meanwhile other newspapers were reporting that he *could* see, and that he was just feigning blindness to boost his record sales. After the tour, a live recording of Wonder singing the blues standard "High Heeled Sneakers" was released as a single, and barely made the R&B top thirty, and didn't hit the top forty on the pop charts. Stevie's initial contract with Motown was going to expire in the middle of 1966, so there was a year to get him back to a point where he was having the kind of hits that other Motown acts were regularly getting at this point. Otherwise, it looked like his career might end by the time he was sixteen. The B-side to "High Heeled Sneakers" was another duet with Clarence Paul, who dominates the vocal sound for much of it -- a version of Willie Nelson's country classic "Funny How Time Slips Away": [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder and Clarence Paul, "Funny How Time Slips Away"] There are a few of these duet records scattered through Wonder's early career -- we'll hear another one a little later -- and they're mostly dismissed as Paul trying to muscle his way into a revival of his own recording career as an artist, and there may be some truth in that. But they're also a natural extension of the way the two of them worked in the studio. Motown didn't have the facilities to give Wonder Braille lyric sheets, and Paul didn't trust him to be able to remember the lyrics, so often when they made a record, Paul would be just off-mic, reciting the lyrics to Wonder fractionally ahead of him singing them. So it was more or less natural that this dynamic would leak out onto records, but not everyone saw it that way. But at the same time, there has been some suggestion that Paul was among those manoeuvring to get rid of Wonder from Motown as soon as his contract was finished -- despite the fact that Wonder was the only act Paul had worked on any big hits for. Either way, Paul and Wonder were starting to chafe at working with each other in the studio, and while Paul remained his on-stage musical director, the opportunity to work on Wonder's singles for what would surely be his last few months at Motown was given to Hank Cosby and Sylvia Moy. Cosby was a saxophone player and staff songwriter who had been working with Wonder and Paul for years -- he'd co-written "Fingertips" and several other tracks -- while Moy was a staff songwriter who was working as an apprentice to Cosby. Basically, at this point, nobody else wanted the job of writing for Wonder, and as Moy was having no luck getting songs cut by any other artists and her career was looking about as dead as Wonder's, they started working together. Wonder was, at this point, full of musical ideas but with absolutely no discipline. He's said in interviews that at this point he was writing a hundred and fifty songs a month, but these were often not full songs -- they were fragments, hooks, or a single verse, or a few lines, which he would pass on to Moy, who would turn his ideas into structured songs that fit the Motown hit template, usually with the assistance of Cosby. Then Cosby would come up with an arrangement, and would co-produce with Mickey Stevenson. The first song they came up with in this manner was a sign of how Wonder was looking outside the world of Motown to the rock music that was starting to dominate the US charts -- but which was itself inspired by Motown music. We heard in the last episode on the Rolling Stones how "Nowhere to Run" by the Vandellas: [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Nowhere to Run"] had inspired the Stones' "Satisfaction": [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"] And Wonder in turn was inspired by "Satisfaction" to come up with his own song -- though again, much of the work making it into an actual finished song was done by Sylvia Moy. They took the four-on-the-floor beat and basic melody of "Satisfaction" and brought it back to Motown, where those things had originated -- though they hadn't originated with Stevie, and this was his first record to sound like a Motown record in the way we think of those things. As a sign of how, despite the way these stories are usually told, the histories of rock and soul were completely and complexly intertwined, that four-on-the-floor beat itself was a conscious attempt by Holland, Dozier, and Holland to appeal to white listeners -- on the grounds that while Black people generally clapped on the backbeat, white people didn't, and so having a four-on-the-floor beat wouldn't throw them off. So Cosby, Moy, and Wonder, in trying to come up with a "Satisfaction" soundalike were Black Motown writers trying to copy a white rock band trying to copy Black Motown writers trying to appeal to a white rock audience. Wonder came up with the basic chorus hook, which was based around a lot of current slang terms he was fond of: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "Uptight"] Then Moy, with some assistance from Cosby, filled it out into a full song. Lyrically, it was as close to social comment as Motown had come at this point -- Wonder was, like many of his peers in soul music, interested in the power of popular music to make political statements, and he would become a much more political artist in the next few years, but at this point it's still couched in the acceptable boy-meets-girl romantic love song that Motown specialised in. But in 1965 a story about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks dating a rich girl inevitably raised the idea that the boy and girl might be of different races -- a subject that was very, very, controversial in the mid-sixties. [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "Uptight"] "Uptight" made number three on the pop charts and number one on the R&B charts, and saved Stevie Wonder's career. And this is where, for all that I've criticised Motown in this episode, their strategy paid off. Mickey Stevenson talked a lot about how in the early sixties Motown didn't give up on artists -- if someone had potential but was not yet having hits or finding the right approach, they would keep putting out singles in a holding pattern, trying different things and seeing what would work, rather than toss them aside. It had already worked for the Temptations and the Supremes, and now it had worked for Stevie Wonder. He would be the last beneficiary of this policy -- soon things would change, and Motown would become increasingly focused on trying to get the maximum returns out of a small number of stars, rather than building careers for a range of artists -- but it paid off brilliantly for Wonder. "Uptight" was such a reinvention of Wonder's career, sound, and image that many of his fans consider it the real start of his career -- everything before it only counting as prologue. The follow-up, "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby", was an "Uptight" soundalike, and as with Motown soundalike follow-ups in general, it didn't do quite as well, but it still made the top twenty on the pop chart and got to number four on the R&B chart. Stevie Wonder was now safe at Motown, and so he was going to do something no other Motown act had ever done before -- he was going to record a protest song and release it as a single. For about a year he'd been ending his shows with a version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", sung as a duet with Clarence Paul, who was still his on stage bandleader even though the two weren't working together in the studio as much. Wonder brought that into the studio, and recorded it with Paul back as the producer, and as his duet partner. Berry Gordy wasn't happy with the choice of single, but Wonder pushed, and Gordy knew that Wonder was on a winning streak and gave in, and so "Blowin' in the Wind" became Stevie Wonder's next single: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder and Clarence Paul, "Blowin' in the Wind"] "Blowin' in the Wind" made the top ten, and number one on the R&B charts, and convinced Gordy that there was some commercial potential in going after the socially aware market, and over the next few years Motown would start putting out more and more political records. Because Motown convention was to have the producer of a hit record produce the next hit for that artist, and keep doing so until they had a flop, Paul was given the opportunity to produce the next single. "A Place in the Sun" was another ambiguously socially-aware song, co-written by the only white writer on Motown staff, Ron Miller, who happened to live in the same building as Stevie's tutor-cum-manager Ted Hull. "A Place in the Sun" was a pleasant enough song, inspired by "A Change is Gonna Come", but with a more watered-down, generic, message of hope, but the record was lifted by Stevie's voice, and again made the top ten. This meant that Paul and Miller, and Miller's writing partner Bryan Mills, got to work on his next two singles -- his 1966 Christmas song "Someday at Christmas", which made number twenty-four, and the ballad "Travellin' Man" which made thirty-two. The downward trajectory with Paul meant that Wonder was soon working with other producers again. Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol cut another Miller and Mills song with him, "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday": [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday"] But that was left in the can, as not good enough to release, and Stevie was soon back working with Cosby. The two of them had come up with an instrumental together in late 1966, but had not been able to come up with any words for it, so they played it for Smokey Robinson, who said their instrumental sounded like circus music, and wrote lyrics about a clown: [Excerpt: The Miracles, "The Tears of a Clown"] The Miracles cut that as album filler, but it was released three years later as a single and became the Miracles' only number one hit with Smokey Robinson as lead singer. So Wonder and Cosby definitely still had their commercial touch, even if their renewed collaboration with Moy, who they started working with again, took a while to find a hit. To start with, Wonder returned to the idea of taking inspiration from a hit by a white British group, as he had with "Uptight". This time it was the Beatles, and the track "Michelle", from the Rubber Soul album: [Excerpt: The Beatles, "Michelle"] Wonder took the idea of a song with some French lyrics, and a melody with some similarities to the Beatles song, and came up with "My Cherie Amour", which Cosby and Moy finished off. [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "My Cherie Amour"] Gordy wouldn't allow that to be released, saying it was too close to "Michelle" and people would think it was a rip-off, and it stayed in the vaults for several years. Cosby also produced a version of a song Ron Miller had written with Orlando Murden, "For Once in My Life", which pretty much every other Motown act was recording versions of -- the Four Tops, the Temptations, Billy Eckstine, Martha and the Vandellas and Barbra McNair all cut versions of it in 1967, and Gordy wouldn't let Wonder's version be put out either. So they had to return to the drawing board. But in truth, Stevie Wonder was not the biggest thing worrying Berry Gordy at this point. He was dealing with problems in the Supremes, which we'll look at in a future episode -- they were about to get rid of Florence Ballard, and thus possibly destroy one of the biggest acts in the world, but Gordy thought that if they *didn't* get rid of her they would be destroying themselves even more certainly. Not only that, but Gordy was in the midst of a secret affair with Diana Ross, Holland, Dozier, and Holland were getting restless about their contracts, and his producers kept bringing him unlistenable garbage that would never be a hit. Like Norman Whitfield, insisting that this track he'd cut with Marvin Gaye, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine", should be a single. Gordy had put his foot down about that one too, just like he had about "My Cherie Amour", and wouldn't allow it to be released. Meanwhile, many of the smaller acts on the label were starting to feel like they were being ignored by Gordy, and had formed what amounted to a union, having regular meetings at Clarence Paul's house to discuss how they could pressure the label to put the same effort into their careers as into those of the big stars. And the Funk Brothers, the musicians who played on all of Motown's hits, were also getting restless -- they contributed to the arrangements, and they did more for the sound of the records than half the credited producers; why weren't they getting production credits and royalties? Harvey Fuqua had divorced Gordy's sister Gwen, and so became persona non grata at the label and was in the process of leaving Motown, and so was Mickey Stevenson, Gordy's second in command, because Gordy wouldn't give him any stock in the company. And Detroit itself was on edge. The crime rate in the city had started to go up, but even worse, the *perception* of crime was going up. The Detroit News had been running a campaign to whip up fear, which it called its Secret Witness campaign, and running constant headlines about rapes, murders, and muggings. These in turn had led to increased calls for more funds for the police, calls which inevitably contained a strong racial element and at least implicitly linked the perceived rise in crime to the ongoing Civil Rights movement. At this point the police in Detroit were ninety-three percent white, even though Detroit's population was over thirty percent Black. The Mayor and Police Commissioner were trying to bring in some modest reforms, but they weren't going anywhere near fast enough for the Black population who felt harassed and attacked by the police, but were still going too fast for the white people who were being whipped up into a state of terror about supposedly soft-on-crime policies, and for the police who felt under siege and betrayed by the politicians. And this wasn't the only problem affecting the city, and especially affecting Black people. Redlining and underfunded housing projects meant that the large Black population was being crammed into smaller and smaller spaces with fewer local amenities. A few Black people who were lucky enough to become rich -- many of them associated with Motown -- were able to move into majority-white areas, but that was just leading to white flight, and to an increase in racial tensions. The police were on edge after the murder of George Overman Jr, the son of a policeman, and though they arrested the killers that was just another sign that they weren't being shown enough respect. They started organising "blu flu"s -- the police weren't allowed to strike, so they'd claim en masse that they were off sick, as a protest against the supposed soft-on-crime administration. Meanwhile John Sinclair was organising "love-ins", gatherings of hippies at which new bands like the MC5 played, which were being invaded by gangs of bikers who were there to beat up the hippies. And the Detroit auto industry was on its knees -- working conditions had got bad enough that the mostly Black workforce organised a series of wildcat strikes. All in all, Detroit was looking less and less like somewhere that Berry Gordy wanted to stay, and the small LA subsidiary of Motown was rapidly becoming, in his head if nowhere else, the more important part of the company, and its future. He was starting to think that maybe he should leave all these ungrateful people behind in their dangerous city, and move the parts of the operation that actually mattered out to Hollywood. Stevie Wonder was, of course, one of the parts that mattered, but the pressure was on in 1967 to come up with a hit as big as his records from 1965 and early 66, before he'd been sidetracked down the ballad route. The song that was eventually released was one on which Stevie's mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, had a co-writing credit: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made to Love Her"] "I Was Made to Love Her" was inspired by Wonder's first love, a girl from the same housing projects as him, and he talked about the song being special to him because it was true, saying it "kind of speaks of my first love to a girl named Angie, who was a very beautiful woman... Actually, she was my third girlfriend but my first love. I used to call Angie up and, like, we would talk and say, 'I love you, I love you,' and we'd talk and we'd both go to sleep on the phone. And this was like from Detroit to California, right? You know, mother said, 'Boy, what you doing - get off the phone!' Boy, I tell you, it was ridiculous." But while it was inspired by her, like with many of the songs from this period, much of the lyric came from Moy -- her mother grew up in Arkansas, and that's why the lyric started "I was born in Little Rock", as *her* inspiration came from stories told by her parents. But truth be told, the lyrics weren't particularly detailed or impressive, just a standard story of young love. Rather what mattered in the record was the music. The song was structured differently from many Motown records, including most of Wonder's earlier ones. Most Motown records had a huge amount of dynamic variation, and a clear demarcation between verse and chorus. Even a record like "Dancing in the Street", which took most of its power from the tension and release caused by spending most of the track on one chord, had the release that came with the line "All we need is music", and could be clearly subdivided into different sections. "I Was Made to Love Her" wasn't like that. There was a tiny section which functioned as a middle eight -- and which cover versions like the one by the Beach Boys later that year tend to cut out, because it disrupts the song's flow: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made to Love Her"] But other than that, the song has no verse or chorus, no distinct sections, it's just a series of lyrical couplets over the same four chords, repeating over and over, an incessant groove that could really go on indefinitely: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made to Love Her"] This is as close as Motown had come at this point to the new genre of funk, of records that were just staying with one groove throughout. It wasn't a funk record, not yet -- it was still a pop-soul record, But what made it extraordinary was the bass line, and this is why I had to emphasise earlier that this was a record by the Funk Brothers, not the Wrecking Crew, no matter how much some Crew members may claim otherwise. As on most of Cosby's sessions, James Jamerson was given free reign to come up with his own part with little guidance, and what he came up with is extraordinary. This was at a time when rock and pop basslines were becoming a little more mobile, thanks to the influence of Jamerson in Detroit, Brian Wilson in LA, and Paul McCartney in London. But for the most part, even those bass parts had been fairly straightforward technically -- often inventive, but usually just crotchets and quavers, still keeping rhythm along with the drums rather than in dialogue with them, roaming free rhythmically. Jamerson had started to change his approach, inspired by the change in studio equipment. Motown had upgraded to eight-track recording in 1965, and once he'd become aware of the possibilities, and of the greater prominence that his bass parts could have if they were recorded on their own track, Jamerson had become a much busier player. Jamerson was a jazz musician by inclination, and so would have been very aware of John Coltrane's legendary "sheets of sound", in which Coltrane would play fast arpeggios and scales, in clusters of five and seven notes, usually in semiquaver runs (though sometimes in even smaller fractions -- his solo in Miles Davis' "Straight, No Chaser" is mostly semiquavers but has a short passage in hemidemisemiquavers): [Excerpt: Miles Davis, "Straight, No Chaser"] Jamerson started to adapt the "sheets of sound" style to bass playing, treating the bass almost as a jazz solo instrument -- though unlike Coltrane he was also very, very concerned with creating something that people could tap their feet to. Much like James Brown, Jamerson was taking jazz techniques and repurposing them for dance music. The most notable example of that up to this point had been in the Four Tops' "Bernadette", where there are a few scuffling semiquaver runs thrown in, and which is a much more fluid part than most of his playing previously: [Excerpt: The Four Tops, "Bernadette"] But on "Bernadette", Jamerson had been limited by Holland, Dozier, and Holland, who liked him to improvise but around a framework they created. Cosby, on the other hand, because he had been a Funk Brother himself, was much more aware of the musicians' improvisational abilities, and would largely give them a free hand. This led to a truly remarkable bass part on "I Was Made to Love Her", which is somewhat buried in the single mix, but Marcus Miller did an isolated recreation of the part for the accompanying CD to a book on Jamerson, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and listening to that you can hear just how inventive it is: [Excerpt: Marcus Miller, "I Was Made to Love Her"] This was exciting stuff -- though much less so for the touring musicians who went on the road with the Motown revues while Jamerson largely stayed in Detroit recording. Jamerson's family would later talk about him coming home grumbling because complaints from the touring musicians had been brought to him, and he'd been asked to play less difficult parts so they'd find it easier to replicate them on stage. "I Was Made to Love Her" wouldn't exist without Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby, Sylvia Moy, or Lula Mae Hardaway, but it's James Jamerson's record through and through: [Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made to Love Her"] It went to number two on the charts, sat between "Light My Fire" at number one, and "All You Need is Love" at number three, with the Beatles song soon to overtake it and make number one itself. But within a few weeks of "I Was Made to Love Her" reaching its chart peak, things in Detroit would change irrevocably. On the 23rd of July, the police busted an illegal drinking den. They thought they were only going to get about twenty-five people there, but there turned out to be a big party on. They tried to arrest seventy-four people, but their wagon wouldn't fit them all in so they had to call reinforcements and make the arrestees wait around til more wagons arrived. A crowd of hundreds gathered while they were waiting. Someone threw a brick at a squad car window, a rumour went round that the police had bayonetted someone, and soon the city was in flames. Riots lasted for days, with people burning down and looting businesses, but what really made the situation bad was the police's overreaction. They basically started shooting at young Black men, using them as target practice, and later claiming they were snipers, arsonists, and looters -- but there were cases like the Algiers Motel incident, where the police raided a motel where several Black men, including the members of the soul group The Dramatics, were hiding out along with a few white women. The police sexually assaulted the women, and then killed three of the men for associating with white women, in what was described as a "lynching with bullets". The policemen in question were later acquitted of all charges. The National Guard were called in, as were Federal troops -- the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne from Clarksville, the division in which Jimi Hendrix had recently served. After four days of rioting, one of the bloodiest riots in US history was at an end, with forty-three people dead (of whom thirty-three were Black and only one was a policeman). Official counts had 1,189 people injured, and over 7,200 arrests, almost all of them of Black people. A lot of the histories written later say that Black-owned businesses were spared during the riots, but that wasn't really the case. For example, Joe's Record Shop, owned by Joe Von Battle, who had put out the first records by C.L. Franklin and his daughter Aretha, was burned down, destroying not only the stock of records for sale but the master tapes of hundreds of recordings of Black artists, many of them unreleased and so now lost forever. John Lee Hooker, one of the artists whose music Von Battle had released, soon put out a song, "The Motor City is Burning", about the events: [Excerpt: John Lee Hooker, "The Motor City is Burning"] But one business that did remain unburned was Motown, with the Hitsville studio going untouched by flames and unlooted. Motown legend has this being down to the rioters showing respect for the studio that had done so much for Detroit, but it seems likely to have just been luck. Although Motown wasn't completely unscathed -- a National Guard tank fired a shell through the building, leaving a gigantic hole, which Berry Gordy saw as soon as he got back from a business trip he'd been on during the rioting. That was what made Berry Gordy decide once and for all that things needed to change. Motown owned a whole row of houses near the studio, which they used as additional office space and for everything other than the core business of making records. Gordy immediately started to sell them, and move the admin work into temporary rented space. He hadn't announced it yet, and it would be a few years before the move was complete, but from that moment on, the die was cast. Motown was going to leave Detroit and move to Hollywood.
Episode one hundred and fifty-five of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks, and the self-inflicted damage the group did to their career between 1965 and 1967. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a nineteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Excerpt From a Teenage Opera" by Keith West. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Resources No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many Kinks songs. I've used several resources for this and future episodes on the Kinks, most notably Ray Davies: A Complicated Life by Johnny Rogan and You Really Got Me by Nick Hasted. X-Ray by Ray Davies is a remarkable autobiography with a framing story set in a dystopian science-fiction future, while Kink by Dave Davies is more revealing but less well-written. The Anthology 1964-1971 is a great box set that covers the Kinks' Pye years, which overlap almost exactly with their period of greatest creativity. For those who don't want a full box set, this two-CD set covers all the big hits. And this is the interview with Rasa I discuss in the episode. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before I start, this episode has some mentions of racism and homophobia, several discussions of physical violence, one mention of domestic violence, and some discussion of mental illness. I've tried to discuss these things with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but there's a tabloid element to some of my sources which inevitably percolates through, so be warned if you find those things upsetting. One of the promises I made right at the start of this project was that I would not be doing the thing that almost all podcasts do of making huge chunks of the episodes be about myself -- if I've had to update people about something in my life that affects the podcast, I've done it in separate admin episodes, so the episodes themselves will not be taken up with stuff about me. The podcast is not about me. I am making a very slight exception in this episode, for reasons that will become clear -- there's no way for me to tell this particular story the way I need to without bringing myself into it at least a little. So I wanted to state upfront that this is a one-off thing. The podcast is not suddenly going to change. But one question that I get asked a lot -- far more than I'd expect -- is "do the people you talk about in the podcast ever get in touch with you about what you've said?" Now that has actually happened twice, both times involving people leaving comments on relatively early episodes. The first time is probably the single thing I'm proudest of achieving with this series, and it was a comment left on the episode on "Goodnight My Love" a couple of years back: [Excerpt: Jesse Belvin, "Goodnight My Love"] That comment was from Debra Frazier and read “Jesse Belvin is my Beloved Uncle, my mother's brother. I've been waiting all my life for him to be recognized in this manner. I must say the content in this podcast is 100% correct!Joann and Jesse practically raised me. Can't express how grateful I am. Just so glad someone got it right. I still miss them dearly to this day. My world was forever changed Feb. 6th 1960. I can remember him writing most of those songs right there in my grandmother's living room. I think I'm his last living closest relative, that knows everything in this podcast is true." That comment by itself would have justified me doing this whole podcast. The other such comment actually came a couple of weeks ago, and was on the episode on "Only You": [Excerpt: The Platters, "Only You"] That was a longer comment, from Gayle Schrieber, an associate of Buck Ram, and started "Well, you got some of it right. Your smart-assed sarcasm and know-it-all attitude is irritating since I Do know it all from the business side but what the heck. You did better than most people – with the exception of Marv Goldberg." Given that Marv Goldberg is the single biggest expert on 1950s vocal groups in the world, I'll take that as at least a backhanded compliment. So those are the only two people who I've talked about in the podcast who've commented, but before the podcast I had a blog, and at various times people whose work I wrote about would comment -- John Cowsill of the Cowsills still remembers a blog post where I said nice things about him fourteen years ago, for example. And there was one comment on a blog post I made four or five years ago which confirmed something I'd suspected for a while… When we left the Kinks, at the end of 1964, they had just recorded their first album. That album was not very good, but did go to number three in the UK album charts, which is a much better result than it sounds. Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon got to number one in 1960, but otherwise the only rock acts to make number one on the album charts from the start of the sixties through the end of 1967 were Elvis, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Monkees. In the first few years of the sixties they were interspersed with the 101 Strings, trad jazz, the soundtrack to West Side Story, and a blackface minstrel group, The George Mitchell Singers. From mid-1963 through to the end of 1967, though, literally the only things to get to number one on the album charts were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Monkees, and the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. That tiny cabal was eventually broken at the end of 1967 by Val Doonican Rocks… But Gently, and from 1968 on the top of the album charts becomes something like what we would expect today, with a whole variety of different acts, I make this point to point out two things The first is that number three on the album charts is an extremely good position for the Kinks to be in -- when they reached that point the Rolling Stones' second album had just entered at number one, and Beatles For Sale had dropped to number two after eight weeks at the top -- and the second is that for most rock artists and record labels, the album market was simply not big enough or competitive enough until 1968 for it to really matter. What did matter was the singles chart. And "You Really Got Me" had been a genuinely revolutionary hit record. According to Ray Davies it had caused particular consternation to both the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, both of whom had thought they would be the first to get to number one with a dirty, distorted, R&B-influenced guitar-riff song. And so three weeks after the release of the album came the group's second single. Originally, the plan had been to release a track Ray had been working on called "Tired of Waiting", but that was a slower track, and it was decided that the best thing to do would be to try to replicate the sound of their first hit. So instead, they released "All Day And All Of The Night": [Excerpt: The Kinks, "All Day And All Of The Night"] That track was recorded by the same team as had recorded "You Really Got Me", except with Perry Ford replacing Arthur Greenslade on piano. Once again, Bobby Graham was on drums rather than Mick Avory, and when Ray Davies suggested that he might want to play a different drum pattern, Graham just asked him witheringly "Who do you think you are?" "All Day and All of the Night" went to number two -- a very impressive result for a soundalike follow-up -- and was kept off the number one spot first by "Baby Love" by the Supremes and then by "Little Red Rooster" by the Rolling Stones. The group quickly followed it up with an EP, Kinksize Session, consisting of three mediocre originals plus the group's version of "Louie Louie". By February 1965 that had hit number one on the EP charts, knocking the Rolling Stones off. Things were going as well as possible for the group. Ray and his girlfriend Rasa got married towards the end of 1964 -- they had to, as Rasa was pregnant and from a very religious Catholic family. By contrast, Dave was leading the kind of life that can only really be led by a seventeen-year-old pop star -- he moved out of the family home and in with Mick Avory after his mother caught him in bed with five women, and once out of her watchful gaze he also started having affairs with men, which was still illegal in 1964. (And which indeed would still be illegal for seventeen-year-olds until 2001). In January, they released their third hit single, "Tired of Waiting for You". The track was a ballad rather than a rocker, but still essentially another variant on the theme of "You Really Got Me" -- a song based around a few repeated phrases of lyric, and with a chorus with two major chords a tone apart. "You Really Got Me"'s chorus has the change going up: [Plays "You Really Got Me" chorus chords] While "Tired Of Waiting For You"'s chorus has the change going down: [Plays "Tired of Waiting For You" chorus chords] But it's trivially easy to switch between the two if you play them in the same key: [Demonstrates] Ray has talked about how "Tired of Waiting for You" was partly inspired by how he felt tired of waiting for the fame that the Kinks deserved, and the music was written even before "You Really Got Me". But when they went into the studio to record it, the only lyrics he had were the chorus. Once they'd recorded the backing track, he worked on the lyrics at home, before coming back into the studio to record his vocals, with Rasa adding backing vocals on the softer middle eight: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Tired of Waiting For You"] After that track was recorded, the group went on a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. The flight out to Australia was thirty-four hours, and also required a number of stops. One stop to refuel in Moscow saw the group forced back onto the plane at gunpoint after Pete Quaife unwisely made a joke about the recently-deposed Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev. They also had a stop of a couple of days in Mumbai, where Ray was woken up by the sounds of fishermen chanting at the riverside, and enchanted by both the sound and the image. In Adelaide, Ray and Dave met up for the first time in years with their sister Rose and her husband Arthur. Ray was impressed by their comparative wealth, but disliked the slick modernity of their new suburban home. Dave became so emotional about seeing his big sister again that he talked about not leaving her house, not going to the show that night, and just staying in Australia so they could all be a family again. Rose sadly told him that he knew he couldn't do that, and he eventually agreed. But the tour wasn't all touching family reunions. They also got into a friendly rivalry with Manfred Mann, who were also on the tour and were competing with the Kinks to be the third-biggest group in the UK behind the Beatles and the Stones, and at one point both bands ended up on the same floor of the same hotel as the Stones, who were on their own Australian tour. The hotel manager came up in the night after a complaint about the noise, saw the damage that the combined partying of the three groups had caused, and barricaded them into that floor, locking the doors and the lift shafts, so that the damage could be contained to one floor. "Tired of Waiting" hit number one in the UK while the group were on tour, and it also became their biggest hit in the US, reaching number six, so on the way home they stopped off in the US for a quick promotional appearance on Hullabaloo. According to Ray's accounts, they were asked to do a dance like Freddie and the Dreamers, he and Mick decided to waltz together instead, and the cameras cut away horrified at the implied homosexuality. In fact, examining the footage shows the cameras staying on the group as Mick approaches Ray, arms extended, apparently offering to waltz, while Ray backs off nervous and confused, unsure what's going on. Meanwhile Dave and Pete on the other side of the stage are being gloriously camp with their arms around each other's shoulders. When they finally got back to the UK, they were shocked to hear this on the radio: [Excerpt: The Who, "I Can't Explain"] Ray was horrified that someone had apparently stolen the group's sound, especially when he found out it was the Who, who as the High Numbers had had a bit of a rivalry with the group. He said later "Dave thought it was us! It was produced by Shel Talmy, like we were. They used the same session singers as us, and Perry Ford played piano, like he did on ‘All Day And All Of The Night'. I felt a bit appalled by that. I think that was worse than stealing a song – they were actually stealing our whole style!” Pete Townshend later admitted as much, saying that he had deliberately demoed "I Can't Explain" to sound as much like the Kinks as possible so that Talmy would see its potential. But the Kinks were still, for the moment, doing far better than the Who. In March, shortly after returning from their foreign tour, they released their second album, Kinda Kinks. Like their first album, it was a very patchy effort, but it made number two on the charts, behind the Rolling Stones. But Ray Davies was starting to get unhappy. He was dissatisfied with everything about his life. He would talk later about looking at his wife lying in bed sleeping and thinking "What's she doing here?", and he was increasingly wondering if the celebrity pop star life was right for him, simultaneously resenting and craving the limelight, and doing things like phoning the music papers to deny rumours that he was leaving the Kinks -- rumours which didn't exist until he made those phone calls. As he thought the Who had stolen the Kinks' style, Ray decided to go in a different direction for the next Kinks single, and recorded "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy", which was apparently intended to sound like Motown, though to my ears it bears no resemblance: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy"] That only went to number nineteen -- still a hit, but a worry for a band who had had three massive hits in a row. Several of the band started to worry seriously that they were going to end up with no career at all. It didn't help that on the tour after recording that, Ray came down with pneumonia. Then Dave came down with bronchitis. Then Pete Quaife hit his head and had to be hospitalised with severe bleeding and concussion. According to Quaife, he fainted in a public toilet and hit his head on the bowl on the way down, but other band members have suggested that Quaife -- who had a reputation for telling tall stories, even in a band whose members are all known for rewriting history -- was ashamed after getting into a fight. In April they played the NME Poll-Winners' Party, on the same bill as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Moody Blues, the Searchers, Freddie And The Dreamers, Herman's Hermits, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, the Rockin' Berries, the Seekers, the Ivy League, Them, the Bachelors, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Twinkle, Tom Jones, Donovan, and Sounds Incorporated. Because they got there late they ended up headlining, going on after the Beatles, even though they hadn't won an award, only come second in best new group, coming far behind the Stones but just ahead of Manfred Mann and the Animals. The next single, "Set Me Free", was a conscious attempt to correct course after "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" had been less successful: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Set Me Free"] The song is once again repetitive, and once again based on a riff, structured similarly to "Tired of Waiting" but faster and more upbeat, and with a Beatles-style falsetto in the chorus. It worked -- it returned the group to the top ten -- but Ray wasn't happy at writing to order. He said in August of that year “I'm ashamed of that song. I can stand to hear and even sing most of the songs I've written, but not that one. It's built around pure idiot harmonies that have been used in a thousand songs.” More recently he's talked about how the lyric was an expression of him wanting to be set free from the constraint of having to write a hit song in the style he felt he was outgrowing. By the time the single was released, though, it looked like the group might not even be together any longer. There had always been tensions in the band. Ray and Dave had a relationship that made the Everly Brothers look like the model of family amity, and while Pete Quaife stayed out of the arguments for the most part, Mick Avory couldn't. The core of the group had always been the Davies brothers, and Quaife had known them for years, but Avory was a relative newcomer and hadn't grown up with them, and they also regarded him as a bit less intelligent than the rest of the group. He became the butt of jokes on a fairly constant basis. That would have been OK, except that Avory was also an essentially passive person, who didn't want to take sides in conflicts, while Dave Davies thought that as he and Avory were flatmates they should be on the same side, and resented when Avory didn't take his side in arguments with Ray. As Dave remembered it, the trigger came when he wanted to change the setlist and Mick didn't support him against Ray. In others' recollection, it came when the rest of the band tried to get Dave away from a party and he got violent with them. Both may be true. Either way, Dave got drunk and threw a suitcase at the back of a departing Mick, who was normally a fairly placid person but had had enough, and so he turned round, furious, grabbed Dave, got him in a headlock and just started punching, blackening both his eyes. According to some reports, Avory was so infuriated with Dave that he knocked him out, and Dave was so drunk and angry that when he came to he went for Avory again, and got knocked out again. The next day, the group were driven to their show in separate cars -- the Davies brothers in one, the rhythm section in the other -- they had separate dressing rooms, and made their entrance from separate directions. They got through the first song OK, and then Dave Davies insulted Avory's drumming, spat at him, and kicked his drums so they scattered all over the stage. At this point, a lot of the audience were still thinking this was part of the act, but Avory saw red again and picked up his hi-hat cymbal and smashed it down edge-first onto Dave's head. Everyone involved says that if his aim had been very slightly different he would have actually killed Dave. As it is, Dave collapsed, unconscious, bleeding everywhere. Ray screamed "My brother! He's killed my little brother!" and Mick, convinced he was a murderer, ran out of the theatre, still wearing his stage outfit of a hunting jacket and frilly shirt. He was running away for his life -- and that was literal, as Britain still technically had the death penalty at this point; while the last executions in Britain took place in 1964, capital punishment for murder wasn't abolished until late 1965 -- but at the same time a gang of screaming girls outside who didn't know what was going on were chasing him because he was a pop star. He managed to get back to London, where he found that the police had been looking for him but that Dave was alive and didn't want to press charges. However, he obviously couldn't go back to their shared home, and they had to cancel gigs because Dave had been hospitalised. It looked like the group were finished for good. Four days after that, Ray and Rasa's daughter Louisa was born, and shortly after that Ray was in the studio again, recording demos: [Excerpt: Ray Davies, "I Go to Sleep (demo)"] That song was part of a project that Larry Page, the group's co-manager, and Eddie Kassner, their publisher, had of making Ray's songwriting a bigger income source, and getting his songs recorded by other artists. Ray had been asked to write it for Peggy Lee, who soon recorded her own version: [Excerpt: Peggy Lee, "I Go to Sleep"] Several of the other tracks on that demo session featured Mitch Mitchell on drums. At the time, Mitchell was playing with another band that Page managed, and there seems to have been some thought of him possibly replacing Avory in the group. But instead, Larry Page cut the Gordian knot. He invited each band member to a meeting, just the two of them -- and didn't tell them that he'd scheduled all these meetings at the same time. When they got there, they found that they'd been tricked into having a full band meeting, at which point Page just talked to them about arrangements for their forthcoming American tour, and didn't let them get a word in until he'd finished. At the end he asked if they had any questions, and Mick Avory said he'd need some new cymbals because he'd broken his old ones on Dave's head. Before going on tour, the group recorded a song that Ray had written inspired by that droning chanting he'd heard in Mumbai. The song was variously titled "See My Friend" and "See My Friends" -- it has been released under both titles, and Ray seems to sing both words at different times -- and Ray told Maureen Cleave "The song is about homosexuality… It's like a football team and the way they're always kissing each other.” (We will be talking about Ray Davies' attitudes towards sexuality and gender in a future episode, but suffice to say that like much of Davies' worldview, he has a weird mixture of very progressive and very reactionary views, and he is also prone to observe behaviours in other people's private lives and make them part of his own public persona). The guitar part was recorded on a bad twelve-string guitar that fed back in the studio, creating a drone sound, which Shel Talmy picked up on and heavily compressed, creating a sound that bore more than a little resemblance to a sitar: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "See My Friend"] If that had been released at the time, it would have made the Kinks into trend-setters. Instead it was left in the can for nearly three months, and in the meantime the Yardbirds released the similar-sounding "Heart Full of Soul", making the Kinks look like bandwagon-jumpers when their own record came out, and reinforcing a paranoid belief that Ray had started to develop that his competitors were stealing his ideas. The track taking so long to come out was down to repercussions from the group's American tour, which changed the course of their whole career in ways they could not possibly have predicted. This was still the era when the musicians' unions of the US and UK had a restrictive one-in, one-out policy for musicians, and you couldn't get a visa to play in the US without the musicians' union's agreement -- and the AFM were not very keen on the British invasion, which they saw as taking jobs away from their members. There are countless stories from this period of bands like the Moody Blues getting to the US only to find that the arrangements have fallen through and they can't perform. Around this time, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders were told they weren't notable enough to get permission to play more than one gig, even though they were at number one on the charts in the US at the time. So it took a great deal of effort to get the Kinks' first US tour arranged, and they had to make a good impression. Unfortunately, while the Beatles and Stones knew how to play the game and give irreverent, cheeky answers that still left the interviewers amused and satisfied, the Kinks were just flat-out confusing and rude: [Excerpt: The Kinks Interview with Clay Cole] The whole tour went badly. They were booked into unsuitable venues, and there were a series of events like the group being booked on the same bill as the Dave Clark Five, and both groups having in their contract that they would be the headliner. Promoters started to complain about them to their management and the unions, and Ray was behaving worse and worse. By the time the tour hit LA, Ray was being truly obnoxious. According to Larry Page he refused to play one TV show because there was a Black drummer on the same show. Page said that it was not about personal prejudice -- though it's hard to see how it could not be, at least in part -- but just picking something arbitrary to complain about to show he had the power to mess things up. While shooting a spot for the show Where The Action Is, Ray got into a physical fight with one of the other cast members over nothing. What Ray didn't realise was that the person in question was a representative for AFTRA, the screen performers' union, and was already unhappy because Dave had earlier refused to join the union. Their behaviour got reported up the chain. The day after the fight was supposed to be the highlight of the tour, but Ray was missing his wife. In the mid-sixties, the Beach Boys would put on a big Summer Spectacular at the Hollywood Bowl every year, and the Kinks were due to play it, on a bill which as well as the Beach Boys also featured the Byrds, the Righteous Brothers, Dino, Desi & Billy, and Sonny and Cher. But Ray said he wasn't going on unless Rasa was there. And he didn't tell Larry Page, who was there, that. Instead, he told a journalist at the Daily Mirror in London, and the first Page heard about it was when the journalist phoned him to confirm that Ray wouldn't be playing. Now, they had already been working to try to get Rasa there for the show, because Ray had been complaining for a while. But Rasa didn't have a passport. Not only that, but she was an immigrant and her family were from Lithuania, and the US State Department weren't exactly keen on people from the Eastern Bloc flying to the US. And it was a long flight. I don't know exactly how long a flight from London to LA took then, but it takes eleven and a half hours now, and it will have been around that length. Somehow, working a miracle, Larry Page co-ordinated with his co-managers Robert Wace and Grenville Collins back in London -- difficult in itself as Wace and Collins and Page and his business partner Eddie Kassner were by now in two different factions, because Ray had been manipulating them and playing them off against each other for months. But the three of them worked together and somehow got Rasa to LA in time for Ray to go on stage. Page waited around long enough to see that Ray had got on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, then flew back to London. He had had enough of Ray's nonsense, and didn't really see any need to be there anyway, because they had a road manager, their publisher, their agent, and plenty of support staff. He felt that he was only there to be someone for Ray Davies to annoy and take his frustrations out on. And indeed, once Page flew back to the UK, Ray calmed down, though how much of that was the presence of Rasa it's hard to say. Their road manager at the time though said "If Larry wasn't there, Ray couldn't make problems because there was nobody there to make them to. He couldn't make problems for me because I just ignored them. For example, in Hawaii, the shirts got stolen. Ray said, ‘No way am I going onstage without my shirt.' So I turned around and said to him, ‘Great, don't go on!' Of course, they went on.” They did miss the gig the next night in San Francisco, with more or less the same lineup as the Hollywood Bowl show -- they'd had problems with the promoter of that show at an earlier gig in Reno, and so Ray said they weren't going to play unless they got paid in cash upfront. When the promoter refused, the group just walked on stage, waved, and walked off. But other than that, the rest of the tour went OK. What they didn't realise until later was that they had made so many enemies on that tour that it would be impossible for them to return to the US for another four years. They weren't blacklisted, as such, they just didn't get the special treatment that was necessary to make it possible for them to visit there. From that point on they would still have a few hits in the US, but nothing like the sustained massive success they had in the UK in the same period. Ray felt abandoned by Page, and started to side more and more with Wace and Collins. Page though was still trying to promote Ray's songwriting. Some of this, like the album "Kinky Music" by the Larry Page Orchestra, released during the tour, was possibly not the kind of promotion that anyone wanted, though some of it has a certain kitsch charm: [Excerpt: The Larry Page Orchestra, "All Day And All Of The Night"] Incidentally, the guitarist on that album was Jimmy Page, who had previously played rhythm guitar on a few Kinks album tracks. But other stuff that Larry Page was doing would be genuinely helpful. For example, on the tour he had become friendly with Stone and Greene, the managers who we heard about in the Buffalo Springfield episode. At this point they were managing Sonny and Cher, and when they came over to the UK, Page took the opportunity to get Cher into the studio to cut a version of Ray's "I Go to Sleep": [Excerpt: Cher, "I Go to Sleep"] Most songwriters, when told that the biggest new star of the year was cutting a cover version of one of their tracks for her next album, would be delighted. Ray Davies, on the other hand, went to the session and confronted Page, screaming about how Page was stealing his ideas. And it was Page being marginalised that caused "See My Friend" to be delayed, because while they were in the US, Page had produced the group in Gold Star Studios, recording a version of Ray's song "Ring the Bells", and Page wanted that as the next single, but the group had a contract with Shel Talmy which said he would be their producer. They couldn't release anything Talmy hadn't produced, but Page, who had control over the group's publishing with his business partner Kassner, wouldn't let them release "See My Friend". Eventually, Talmy won out, and "See My Friend" became the group's next single. It made the top ten on the Record Retailer chart, the one that's now the official UK chart cited in most sources, but only number fifteen on the NME chart which more people paid attention to at the time, and only spent a few weeks on the charts. Ray spent the summer complaining in the music papers about how the track -- "the only one I've really liked", as he said at the time -- wasn't selling as much as it deserved, and also insulting Larry Page and boasting about his own abilities, saying he was a better singer than Andy Williams and Tony Bennett. The group sacked Larry Page as their co-manager, and legal battles between Page and Kassner on one side and Collins and Wace on the other would continue for years, tying up much of the group's money. Page went on to produce a new band he was managing, making records that sounded very like the Kinks' early hits: [Excerpt: The Troggs, "Wild Thing"] The Kinks, meanwhile, decided to go in a different direction for their new EP, Kwyet Kinks, an EP of mostly softer, folk- and country-inspired songs. The most interesting thing on Kwyet Kinks was "Well-Respected Man", which saw Ray's songwriting go in a completely different direction as he started to write gentle social satires with more complex lyrics, rather than the repetitive riff-based songs he'd been doing before. That track was released as a single in the US, which didn't have much of an EP market, and made the top twenty there, despite its use of a word that in England at the time had a double meaning -- either a cigarette or a younger boy at a public school who has to be the servant of an older boy -- but in America was only used as a slur for gay people: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Well Respected Man"] The group's next album, The Kink Kontroversy, was mostly written in a single week, and is another quickie knockoff album. It had the hit single "Til the End of the Day", another attempt at getting back to their old style of riffy rockers, and one which made the top ten. It also had a rerecorded version of "Ring the Bells", the song Larry Page had wanted to release as a single: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Ring the Bells"] I'm sure that when Ray Davies heard "Ruby Tuesday" a little over a year later he didn't feel any better about the possibility that people were stealing his ideas. The Kink Kontroversy was a transitional album for the group in many ways. It was the first album to prominently feature Nicky Hopkins, who would be an integral part of the band's sound for the next three years, and the last one to feature a session drummer (Clem Cattini, rather than Avory, played on most of the tracks). From this point on there would essentially be a six-person group of studio Kinks who would make the records -- the four Kinks themselves, Rasa Davies on backing vocals, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. At the end of 1965 the group were flailing, mired in lawsuits, and had gone from being the third biggest group in the country at the start of the year to maybe the tenth or twentieth by the end of it. Something had to change. And it did with the group's next single, which in both its sound and its satirical subject matter was very much a return to the style of "Well Respected Man". "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" was inspired by anger. Ray was never a particularly sociable person, and he was not the kind to do the rounds of all the fashionable clubs like the other pop stars, including his brother, would. But he did feel a need to make some kind of effort and would occasionally host parties at his home for members of the fashionable set. But Davies didn't keep up with fashion the way they did, and some of them would mock him for the way he dressed. At one such party he got into a fistfight with someone who was making fun of his slightly flared trousers, kicked all the guests out, and then went to a typewriter and banged out a lyric mocking the guest and everyone like him: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"] The song wasn't popular with Ray's bandmates -- Dave thought it was too soft and wimpy, while Quaife got annoyed at the time Ray spent in the studio trying to make the opening guitar part sound a bit like a ukulele. But they couldn't argue with the results -- it went to number five on the charts, their biggest success since "Tired of Waiting for You" more than a year earlier, and more importantly in some ways it became part of the culture in a way their more recent singles hadn't. "Til The End of the Day" had made the top ten, but it wasn't a record that stuck in people's minds. But "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" was so popular that Ray soon got sick of people coming up to him in the street and singing "Oh yes he is!" at him. But then, Ray was getting sick of everything. In early 1966 he had a full-scale breakdown, brought on by the flu but really just down to pure exhaustion. Friends from this time say that Ray was an introverted control freak, always neurotic and trying to get control and success, but sabotaging it as soon as he attained it so that he didn't have to deal with the public. Just before a tour of Belgium, Rasa gave him an ultimatum -- either he sought medical help or she would leave him. He picked up their phone and slammed it into her face, blacking her eye -- the only time he was ever physically violent to her, she would later emphasise -- at which point it became imperative to get medical help for his mental condition. Ray stayed at home while the rest of the band went to Belgium -- they got in a substitute rhythm player, and Dave took the lead vocals -- though the tour didn't make them any new friends. Their co-manager Grenville Collins went along and with the tact and diplomacy for which the British upper classes are renowned the world over, would say things like “I understand every bloody word you're saying but I won't speak your filthy language. De Gaulle won't speak English, why should I speak French?” At home, Ray was doing worse and worse. When some pre-recorded footage of the Kinks singing "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" came on the TV, he unplugged it and stuck it in the oven. He said later "I was completely out of my mind. I went to sleep and I woke up a week later with a beard. I don't know what happened to me. I'd run into the West End with my money stuffed in my socks, I'd tried to punch my press agent, I was chased down Denmark Street by the police, hustled into a taxi by a psychiatrist and driven off somewhere. And I didn't know. I woke up and I said, ‘What's happening? When do we leave for Belgium?' And they said, ‘Ray it's all right. You had a collapse. Don't worry. You'll get better.'” He did get better, though for a long time he found himself unable to listen to any contemporary rock music other than Bob Dylan -- electric guitars made him think of the pop world that had made him ill -- and so he spent his time listening to classical and jazz records. He didn't want to be a pop star any more, and convinced himself he could quit the band if he went out on top by writing a number one single. And so he did: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Sunny Afternoon"] Or at least, I say it's a single he wrote, but it's here that I finally get to a point I've been dancing round since the beginning of the episode. The chorus line, "In the summertime", was Rasa's suggestion, and in one of the only two interviews I've ever come across with her, for Johnny Rogan's biography of Ray, she calls the song "the only one where I wrote some words". But there's evidence, including another interview with her I'll talk about in a bit, that suggests that's not quite the case. For years, I thought it was an interesting coincidence that Ray Davies' songwriting ability follows a curve that almost precisely matches that of his relationship with Rasa. At the start, he's clearly talented -- "You Really Got Me" is a great track -- but he's an unformed writer and most of his work is pretty poor stuff. Then he marries Rasa, and his writing starts to become more interesting. Rasa starts to regularly contribute in the studio, and he becomes one of the great songwriters of his generation. For a five-year period in the mid-to-late-sixties, the period when their marriage is at its strongest, Ray writes a string of classic songs that are the equal of any catalogue in popular music. Then around 1970 Rasa stops coming to the studio, and their marriage is under strain. The records become patchier -- still plenty of classic tracks, but a lot more misses. And then in 1973, she left him, and his songwriting fell off a cliff. If you look at a typical Ray Davies concert setlist from 2017, the last time he toured, he did twenty songs, of which two were from his new album, one was the Kinks' one-off hit "Come Dancing" from 1983, and every other song was from the period when he and Rasa were married. Now, for a long time I just thought that was interesting, but likely a coincidence. After all, most rock songwriters do their most important work in their twenties, divorces have a way of messing people's mental health up, musical fashions change… there are a myriad reasons why these things could be like that. But… the circumstantial evidence just kept piling up. Ray's paranoia about people stealing his ideas meant that he became a lot more paranoid and secretive in his songwriting process, and would often not tell his bandmates the titles of the songs, the lyrics, or the vocal melody, until after they'd recorded the backing tracks -- they would record the tracks knowing the chord changes and tempo, but not what the actual song was. Increasingly he would be dictating parts to Quaife and Nicky Hopkins in the studio from the piano, telling them exactly what to play. But while Pete Quaife thought that Ray was being dictatorial in the studio and resented it, he resented something else more. As late as 1999 he was complaining about, in his words, "the silly little bint from Bradford virtually running the damn studio", telling him what to do, and feeling unable to argue back even though he regarded her as "a jumped-up groupie". Dave, on the other hand, valued Rasa's musical intuition and felt that Ray was the same. And she was apparently actually more up-to-date with the music in the charts than any of the band -- while they were out on the road, she would stay at home and listen to the radio and make note of what was charting and why. All this started to seem like a lot of circumstantial evidence that Rasa was possibly far more involved in the creation of the music than she gets credit for -- and given that she was never credited for her vocal parts on any Kinks records, was it too unbelievable that she might have contributed to the songwriting without credit? But then I found the other interview with Rasa I'm aware of, a short sidebar piece I'll link in the liner notes, and I'm going to quote that here: "Rasa, however, would sometimes take a very active role during the writing of the songs, many of which were written in the family home, even on occasion adding to the lyrics. She suggested the words “In the summertime” to ‘Sunny Afternoon', it is claimed. She now says, “I would make suggestions for a backing melody, sing along while Ray was playing the song(s) on the piano; at times I would add a lyric line or word(s). It was rewarding for me and was a major part of our life.” That was enough for me to become convinced that Rasa was a proper collaborator with Ray. I laid all this out in a blog post, being very careful how I phrased what I thought -- that while Ray Davies was probably the principal author of the songs credited to him (and to be clear, that is definitely what I think -- there's a stylistic continuity throughout his work that makes it very clear that the same man did the bulk of the work on all of it), the songs were the work of a writing partnership. As I said in that post "But even if Rasa only contributed ten percent, that seems likely to me to have been the ten percent that pulled those songs up to greatness. Even if all she did was pull Ray back from his more excessive instincts, perhaps cause him to show a little more compassion in his more satirical works (and the thing that's most notable about his post-Rasa songwriting is how much less compassionate it is), suggest a melodic line should go up instead of down at the end of a verse, that kind of thing… the cumulative effect of those sorts of suggestions can be enormous." I was just laying out my opinion, not stating anything as a certainty, though I was morally sure that Rasa deserved at least that much credit. And then Rasa commented on the post, saying "Dear Andrew. Your article was so informative and certainly not mischaracterised. Thank you for the 'history' of my input working with Ray. As I said previously, that time was magical and joyous." I think that's as close a statement as we're likely to get that the Kinks' biggest hits were actually the result of the songwriting team of Davies and Davies, and not of Ray alone, since nobody seems interested at all in a woman who sang on -- and likely co-wrote -- some of the biggest hit records of the sixties. Rasa gets mentioned in two sentences in the band's Wikipedia page, and as far as I can tell has only been interviewed twice -- an extensive interview by Johnny Rogan for his biography of Ray, in which he sadly doesn't seem to have pressed her on her songwriting contributions, and the sidebar above. I will probably continue to refer to Ray writing songs in this and the next episode on the Kinks, because I don't know for sure who wrote what, and he is the one who is legally credited as the sole writer. But… just bear that in mind. And bear it in mind whenever I or anyone else talk about the wives and girlfriends of other rock stars, because I'm sure she's not the only one. "Sunny Afternoon" knocked "Paperback Writer" off the number one spot, but by the time it did, Pete Quaife was out of the band. He'd fallen out with the Davies brothers so badly that he'd insisted on travelling separately from them, and he'd been in a car crash that had hospitalised him for six weeks. They'd quickly hired a temporary replacement, John Dalton, who had previously played with The Mark Four, the group that had evolved into The Creation. They needed him to mime for a TV appearance pretty much straight away, so they asked him "can you play a descending D minor scale?" and when he said yes he was hired -- because the opening of "Sunny Afternoon" used a trick Ray was very fond of, of holding a chord in the guitars while the bass descends in a scale, only changing chord when the notes would clash too badly, and then changing to the closest possible chord: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Sunny Afternoon"] Around this time, the group also successfully renegotiated their contract with Pye Records, with the help of a new lawyer they had been advised to get in touch with -- Allen Klein. As well as helping renegotiate their contracts, Klein also passed on a demo of one of Ray's new songs to Herman's Hermits. “Dandy” was going to be on the Kinks' next album, but the Hermits released it as a single in the US and took it into the top ten: [Excerpt: Herman's Hermits, “Dandy”] In September, Pete Quaife formally quit the band -- he hadn't played with them in months after his accident -- and the next month the album Face To Face, recorded while Quaife was still in the group, was released. Face to Face was the group's first really solid album, and much of the album was in the same vein as "Sunny Afternoon" -- satirical songs that turned on the songwriter as much as on the people they were ostensibly about. It didn't do as well as the previous albums, but did still make the top twenty on the album chart. The group continued work, recording a new single, "Dead End Street", a song which is musically very similar to "Sunny Afternoon", but is lyrically astonishingly bleak, dealing with poverty and depression rather than more normal topics for a pop song. The group produced a promotional film for it, but the film was banned by the BBC as being in bad taste, as it showed the group as undertakers. But the single happened to be released two days after the broadcast of "Cathy Come Home", the seminal drama about homelessness, which suddenly brought homelessness onto the political agenda. While "Dead End Street" wasn't technically about homelessness, it was close enough that when the TV programme Panorama did a piece on the subject, they used "Dead End Street" to soundtrack it. The song made the top five, an astonishing achievement for something so dark: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Dead End Street"] But the track also showed the next possible breach in the Kinks' hitmaking team -- when it was originally recorded, Shel Talmy had produced it, and had a French horn playing, but after he left the session, the band brought in a trombone player to replace the French horn, and rerecorded it without him. They would continue working with him for a little while, recording some of the tracks for their next album, but by the time the next single came out, Talmy would be out of the picture for good. But Pete Quaife, on the other hand, was nowhere near as out of the group as he had seemed. While he'd quit the band in September, Ray persuaded him to rejoin the band four days before "Dead End Street" came out, and John Dalton was back to working in his day job as a builder, though we'll be hearing more from him. The group put out a single in Europe, "Mr. Pleasant", a return to the style of "Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion": [Excerpt: The Kinks, “Mr. Pleasant”] That was a big hit in the Netherlands, but it wasn't released in the UK. They were working on something rather different. Ray had had the idea of writing a song called "Liverpool Sunset", about Liverpool, and about the decline of the Merseybeat bands who had been at the top of the profession when the Kinks had been starting out. But then the Beatles had released "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", and Ray hadn't wanted to release anything about Liverpool's geography and look like he had stolen from them, given his attitudes to plagiarism. He said later "I sensed that the Beatles weren't going to be around long. When they moved to London, and ended up in Knightsbridge or wherever, I was still in Muswell Hill. I was loyal to my origins. Maybe I felt when they left it was all over for Merseybeat.” So instead, he -- or he and Rasa -- came up with a song about London, and about loneliness, and about a couple, Terry and Julie -- Terry was named after his nephew Terry who lived in Australia, while Julie's name came from Julie Christie, as she was then starring in a film with a Terry, Terrence Stamp: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset"] It's interesting to look at the musical inspirations for the song. Many people at the time pointed out the song's similarity to "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band, which had come out six months earlier with a similar melody and was also named after a place: [Excerpt: The New Vaudeville Band, "Winchester Cathedral"] And indeed Spike Milligan had parodied that song and replaced the lyrics with something more London-centric: [Excerpt: Spike Milligan, "Tower Bridge"] But it seems likely that Ray had taken inspiration from an older piece of music. We've talked before about Ferd Grofe in several episodes -- he was the one who orchestrated the original version of "Rhapsody in Blue", who wrote the piece of music that inspired Don Everly to write "Cathy's Clown", and who wrote the first music for the Novachord, the prototype synthesiser from the 1930s. As we saw earlier, Ray was listening to a lot of classical and jazz music rather than rock at this point, and one has to wonder if, at some point during his illness the previous year, he had come across Metropolis: A Blue Fantasy, which Grofe had written for Paul Whiteman's band in 1928, very much in the style of "Rhapsody in Blue", and this section, eight and a half minutes in, in particular: [Excerpt: Paul Whiteman, "Metropolis: A Blue Fantasy" ] "Waterloo Sunset" took three weeks to record. They started out, as usual, with a backing track recorded without the rest of the group knowing anything about the song they were recording -- though the group members did contribute some ideas to the arrangement, which was unusual by this point. Pete Quaife contributed to the bass part, while Dave Davies suggested the slapback echo on the guitar: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset, Instrumental Take 2"] Only weeks later did they add the vocals. Ray had an ear infection, so rather than use headphones he sang to a playback through a speaker, which meant he had to sing more gently, giving the vocal a different tone from his normal singing style: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset"] And in one of the few contributions Rasa made that has been generally acknowledged, she came up with the "Sha la la" vocals in the middle eight: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset"] And the idea of having the track fade out on cascading, round-like vocals: [Excerpt: The Kinks, "Waterloo Sunset"] Once again the Kinks were at a turning point. A few weeks after "Waterloo Sunset" came out, the Monterey Pop Festival finally broke the Who in America -- a festival the Kinks were invited to play, but had to turn down because of their visa problems. It felt like the group were being passed by -- Ray has talked about how "Waterloo Sunset" would have been another good point for him to quit the group as he kept threatening to, or at least to stay home and just make the records, like Brian Wilson, while letting the band tour with Dave on lead vocals. He decided against it, though, as he would for decades to come. That attitude, of simultaneously wanting to be part of something and be a distanced, dispassionate observer of it, is what made "Waterloo Sunset" so special. As Ray has said, in words that seem almost to invoke the story of Moses: "it's a culmination of all my desires and hopes – it's a song about people going to a better world, but somehow I stayed where I was and became the observer in the song rather than the person who is proactive . . . I did not cross the river. They did and had a good life apparently." Ray stayed with the group, and we'll be picking up on what he and they did next in about a year's time. "Waterloo Sunset" went to number two on the charts, and has since become the most beloved song in the Kinks' whole catalogue. It's been called "the most beautiful song in the English language", and "the most beautiful song of the rock 'n' roll era", though Ray Davies, ever self-critical when he's not being self-aggrandising, thinks it could be improved upon. But most of the rest of us disagree. As the song itself says, "Waterloo Sunset's fine".
Episode one hundred and fifty-four of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs is the last of our four-part mini-series on LA sunshine pop and folk-rock in summer 1967. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a fifteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Baby, Now That I've Found You" by the Foundations. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Resources There is no Mixcloud this week, because there were too many Turtles songs in the episode. There's relatively little information available about the Turtles compared to other bands of their era, and so apart from the sources on the general LA scene referenced in all these podcasts, the information here comes from a small number of sources. This DVD is a decent short documentary on the band's career. Howard Kaylan's autobiography, Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, Etc., is a fun read, if inevitably biased towards his own viewpoint. Jim Pons' Hard Core Love: Sex, Football, and Rock and Roll in the Kingdom of God is much less fun, being as it is largely organised around how his life led up to his latter-day religious beliefs, but is the only other book I'm aware of with a substantial amount of coverage of the Turtles. There are many compilations of the Turtles' material available, of which All The Singles is by far and away the best. The box set of all their albums with bonus tracks is now out of print on CD, but can still be bought as MP3s. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript We've spent a lot of time recently in the LA of summer 1967, at the point where the sunshine pop sound that was created when the surf harmonies of the Beach Boys collided with folk rock was at its apex, right before fashions changed and tight sunny pop songs with harmonies from LA became yesterday's news, and extended blues-rock improvisations from San Francisco became the latest in thing. This episode is the last part of this four-episode sequence, and is going to be shorter than those others. In many ways this one is a bridge between this sequence and next episode, where we travel back to London, because we're saying goodbye for a while to the LA scene, and when we do return to LA it will be, for the most part, to look at music that's a lot less sunshine and a lot more shadow. So this is a brief fade-out while we sing ba-ba-ba, a three-minute pop-song of an episode, a last bit of sunshine pop before we return to longer, more complicated, stories in two weeks' time, at which point the sun will firmly set. Like many musicians associated with LA, Howard Kaylan was born elsewhere and migrated there as a child, and he seems to have regarded his move from upstate New York to LA as essentially a move to Disneyland itself. That impression can only have been made stronger by the fact that soon after his family moved there he got his first childhood girlfriend -- who happened to be a Mouseketeer on the TV. And TV was how young Howard filtered most of his perceptions -- particularly TV comedy. By the age of fourteen he was the president of the Soupy Sales Fan Club, and he was also obsessed with the works of Ernie Kovacs, Sid Caesar, and the great satirist and parodist Stan Freberg: [Excerpt: Stan Freberg, "St. George and the Dragonet"] Second only to his love of comedy, though, was his love of music, and it was on the trip from New York to LA that he saw a show that would eventually change his life. Along the way, his family had gone to Las Vegas, and while there they had seen Louis Prima and Keeley Smith do their nightclub act. Prima is someone I would have liked to do a full podcast episode on when I was covering the fifties, and who I did do a Patreon bonus episode on. He's now probably best known for doing the voice of King Louis in the Jungle Book: [Excerpt: Louis Prima, "I Wanna Be Like You (the Monkey Song)"] But he was also a jump blues musician who made some very good records in a similar style to Louis Jordan, like "Jump, Jive, an' Wail" [Excerpt: Louis Prima, "Jump, Jive, an' Wail"] But like Jordan, Prima dealt at least as much in comedy as in music -- usually comedy involving stereotypes about his Italian-American ethnic origins. At the time young Howard Kaylan saw him, he was working a double act with his then-wife Keeley Smith. The act would consist of Smith trying to sing a song straight, while Prima would clown around, interject, and act like a fool, as Smith grew more and more exasperated, and would eventually start contemptuously mocking Prima. [Excerpt: Louis Prima and Keeley Smith, "Embraceable You/I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good"] This is of course a fairly standard double-act format, as anyone who has suffered through an episode of The Little and Large Show will be all too painfully aware, but Prima and Smith did it better than most, and to young Howard Kaylan, this was the greatest entertainment imaginable. But while comedy was the closest thing to Kaylan's heart, music was a close second. He was a regular listener to Art Laboe's radio show, and in a brief period as a teenage shoplifter he obtained records like Ray Charles' album Genius + Soul = Jazz: [Excerpt: Ray Charles, "One Mint Julep"] and the single "Tossin' and Turnin'" by Bobby Lewis: [Excerpt: Bobby Lewis, "Tossin' and Turnin'"] "Tossin' and Turnin'" made a deep impression on Kaylan, because of the saxophone solo, which was actually a saxophone duet. On the record, baritone sax player Frank Henry played a solo, and it was doubled by the great tenor sax player King Curtis, who was just playing a mouthpiece rather than a full instrument, making a high-pitched squeaking sound: [Excerpt: Bobby Lewis, "Tossin' and Turnin'"] Curtis was of course also responsible for another great saxophone part a couple of years earlier, on a record that Kaylan loved because it combined comedy and rock and roll, "Yakety Yak": [Excerpt: The Coasters, "Yakety Yak"] Those two saxophone parts inspired Kaylan to become a rock and roller. He was already learning the clarinet and playing part time in an amateur Dixieland band, and it was easy enough to switch to saxophone, which has the same fingering. Within a matter of weeks of starting to play sax, he was invited to join a band called the Nightriders, who consisted of Chuck Portz on bass, Al Nichol on guitar, and Glen Wilson on drums. The Nightriders became locally popular, and would perform sets largely made up of Johnny and the Hurricanes and Ventures material. While he was becoming a budding King Curtis, Kaylan was still a schoolkid, and one of the classes he found most enjoyable was choir class. There was another kid in choir who Kaylan got on with, and one day that kid, Mark Volman came up to him, and had a conversation that Kaylan would recollect decades later in his autobiography: “So I hear you're in a rock 'n' roll band.” “Yep.” “Um, do you think I could join it?” “Well, what do you do?” “Nothing.” “Nothing?” “Nope.” “Sounds good to me. I'll ask Al.” Volman initially became the group's roadie and occasional tambourine player, and would also get on stage to sing a bit during their very occasional vocal numbers, but was mostly "in the band" in name only at first -- he didn't get a share of the group's money, but he was allowed to say he was in the group because that meant that his friends would come to the Nightriders' shows, and he was popular among the surfing crowd. Eventually, Volman's father started to complain that his son wasn't getting any money from being in the band, while the rest of the group were, and they explained to him that Volman was just carrying the instruments while they were all playing them. Volman's father said "if Mark plays an instrument, will you give him equal shares?" and they said that that was fair, so Volman got an alto sax to play along with Kaylan's tenor. Volman had also been taking clarinet lessons, and the two soon became a tight horn section for the group, which went through a few lineup changes and soon settled on a lineup of Volman and Kaylan on saxes, Nichol on lead guitar, Jim Tucker on rhythm guitar, Portz on bass, and Don Murray on drums. That new lineup became known as the Crossfires, presumably after the Johnny and the Hurricanes song of the same name: [Excerpt: Johnny and the Hurricanes, "Crossfire"] Volman and Kaylan worked out choreographed dance steps to do while playing their saxes, and the group even developed a group of obsessive fans who called themselves the Chunky Club, named after one of the group's originals: [Excerpt: The Crossfires, "Chunky"] At this point the group were pretty much only playing instrumentals, though they would do occasional vocals on R&B songs like "Money" or their version of Don and Dewey's "Justine", songs which required more enthusiasm than vocal ability. But their first single, released on a tiny label, was another surf instrumental, a song called "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde": [Excerpt: The Crossfires, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde"] The group became popular enough locally that they became the house band at the Revelaire Club in Redondo Beach. There as well as playing their own sets, they would also be the backing band for any touring acts that came through without their own band, quickly gaining the kind of performing ability that comes from having to learn a new artist's entire repertoire in a few days and be able to perform it with them live with little or no rehearsal. They backed artists like the Coasters, the Drifters, Bobby Vee, the Rivingtons, and dozens of other major acts, and as part of that Volman and Kaylan would, on songs that required backing vocals, sing harmonies rather than playing saxophone. And that harmony-singing ability became important when the British Invasion happened, and suddenly people didn't want to hear surf instrumentals, but vocals along the lines of the new British groups. The Crossfires' next attempt at a single was another original, this one an attempt at sounding like one of their favourite new British groups, the Kinks: [Excerpt: The Crossfires, "One Potato, Two Potato"] This change to vocals necessitated a change in the group dynamic. Volman and Kaylan ditched the saxophones, and discovered that between them they made one great frontman. The two have never been excessively close on a personal level, but both have always known that the other has qualities they needed. Frank Zappa would later rather dismissively say "I regard Howard as a fine singer, and Mark as a great tambourine player and fat person", and it's definitely true that Kaylan is one of the truly great vocalists to come out of the LA scene in this period, while Volman is merely a good harmony singer, not anything particularly special -- though he *is* a good harmony singer -- but it undersells Volman's contribution. There's a reason the two men performed together for nearly sixty years. Kaylan is a great singer, but also by nature rather reserved, and he always looked uncomfortable on stage, as well as, frankly, not exactly looking like a rock star (Kaylan describes himself not inaccurately as looking like a potato several times in his autobiography). Volman, on the other hand, is a merely good singer, but he has a naturally outgoing personality, and while he's also not the most conventionally good-looking of people he has a *memorable* appearance in a way that Kaylan doesn't. Volman could do all the normal frontman stuff, the stuff that makes a show an actual show -- the jokes, the dancing, the between-song patter, the getting the crowd going, while Kaylan could concentrate on the singing. They started doing a variation on the routine that had so enthralled Howard Kaylan when he'd seen Louis Prima and Keeley Smith do it as a child. Kaylan would stand more or less stock still, looking rather awkward, but singing like an angel, while Volman would dance around, clown, act the fool, and generally do everything he could to disrupt the performance -- short of actually disrupting it in reality. It worked, and Volman became one of that small but illustrious group of people -- the band member who makes the least contribution to the sound of the music but the biggest contribution to the feel of the band itself, and without whom they wouldn't be the same. After "One Potato, Two Potato" was a flop, the Crossfires were signed to their third label. This label, White Whale, was just starting out, and the Crossfires were to become their only real hit act. Or rather, the Turtles were. The owners of White Whale knew that they didn't have much promotional budget and that their label was not a known quantity -- it was a tiny label with no track record. But they thought of a way they could turn that to their advantage. Everyone knew that the Beatles, before Capitol had picked up their contracts, had had their records released on a bunch of obscure labels like Swan and Tollie. People *might* look for records on tiny independent labels if they thought it might be another British act who were unknown in the US but could be as good as the Beatles. So they chose a name for the group that they thought sounded as English as possible -- an animal name that started with "the", and ended in "les", just like the Beatles. The group, all teenagers at the time, were desperate enough that they agreed to change their name, and from that point on they became the Turtles. In order to try and jump on as many bandwagons as possible, the label wanted to position them as a folk-rock band, so their first single under the Turtles name was a cover of a Bob Dylan song, from Another Side of Bob Dylan: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "It Ain't Me Babe"] That song's hit potential had already been seen by Johnny Cash, who'd had a country hit with it a few months before. But the Turtles took the song in a different direction, inspired by Kaylan's *other* great influence, along with Prima and Smith. Kaylan was a big fan of the Zombies, one of the more interesting of the British Invasion groups, and particularly of their singer Colin Blunstone. Kaylan imitated Blunstone on the group's hit single, "She's Not There", on which Blunstone sang in a breathy, hushed, voice on the verses: [Excerpt: The Zombies, "She's Not There"] before the song went into a more stomping chorus on which Blunstone sang in a fuller voice: [Excerpt: The Zombies, "She's Not There"] Kaylan did this on the Turtles' version of "It Ain't Me Babe", starting off with a quiet verse: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "It Ain't Me Babe"] Before, like the Zombies, going into a foursquare, more uptempo, louder chorus: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "It Ain't Me Babe"] The single became a national top ten hit, and even sort of got the approval of Bob Dylan. On the group's first national tour, Dylan was at one club show, which they ended with "It Ain't Me Babe", and after the show the group were introduced to the great songwriter, who was somewhat the worse for wear. Dylan said “Hey, that was a great song you just played, man. That should be your single", and then passed out into his food. With the group's first single becoming a top ten hit, Volman and Kaylan got themselves a house in Laurel Canyon, which was not yet the rock star Mecca it was soon to become, but which was starting to get a few interesting residents. They would soon count Henry Diltz of the Modern Folk Quartet, Danny Hutton, and Frank Zappa among their neighbours. Soon Richie Furay would move in with them, and the house would be used by the future members of the Buffalo Springfield as their rehearsal space. The Turtles were rapidly becoming part of the in crowd. But they needed a follow-up single, and so Bones Howe, who was producing their records, brought in P.F. Sloan to play them a few of his new songs. They liked "Eve of Destruction" enough to earmark it as a possible album track, but they didn't think they would do it justice, and so it was passed on to Barry McGuire. But Sloan did have something for them -- a pseudo-protest song called "Let Me Be" that was very clearly patterned after their version of "It Ain't Me Babe", and which was just rebellious enough to make them seem a little bit daring, but which was far more teenage angst than political manifesto: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Let Me Be"] That did relatively well, making the top thirty -- well enough for the group to rush out an album which was padded out with some sloppy cover versions of other Dylan songs, a version of "Eve of Destruction", and a few originals written by Kaylan. But the group weren't happy with the idea of being protest singers. They were a bunch of young men who were more motivated by having a good time than by politics, and they didn't think that it made sense for them to be posing as angry politicised rebels. Not only that, but there was a significant drop-off between "It Ain't Me Babe" and "Let Me Be". They needed to do better. They got the clue for their new direction while they were in New York. There they saw their friends in the Mothers of Invention playing their legendary residency at the Garrick Theatre, but they also saw a new band, the Lovin' Spoonful, who were playing music that was clearly related to the music the Turtles were doing -- full of harmonies and melody, and inspired by folk music -- but with no sense of rebelliousness at all. They called it "Good Time Music": [Excerpt: The Lovin' Spoonful, "Good Time Music"] As soon as they got back to LA, they told Bones Howe and the executives at White Whale that they weren't going to be a folk-rock group any more, they were going to be "good time music", just like the Lovin' Spoonful. They were expecting some resistance, but they were told that that was fine, and that PF Sloan had some good time music songs too. "You Baby" made the top twenty: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "You Baby"] The Turtles were important enough in the hierarchy of LA stars that Kaylan and Tucker were even invited by David Crosby to meet the Beatles at Derek Taylor's house when they were in LA on their last tour -- this may be the same day that the Beatles met Brian and Carl Wilson, as I talked about in the episode on "All You Need is Love", though Howard Kaylan describes this as being a party and that sounded like more of an intimate gathering. If it was that day, there was nearly a third Beach Boy there. The Turtles knew David Marks, the Beach Boys' former rhythm guitarist, because they'd played a lot in Inglewood where he'd grown up, and Marks asked if he could tag along with Kaylan and Tucker to meet the Beatles. They agreed, and drove up to the house, and actually saw George Harrison through the window, but that was as close as they got to the Beatles that day. There was a heavy police presence around the house because it was known that the Beatles were there, and one of the police officers asked them to drive back and park somewhere else and walk up, because there had been complaints from neighbours about the number of cars around. They were about to do just that, when Marks started yelling obscenities and making pig noises at the police, so they were all arrested, and the police claimed to find a single cannabis seed in the car. Charges were dropped, but now Kaylan was on the police's radar, and so he moved out of the Laurel Canyon home to avoid bringing police attention to Buffalo Springfield, so that Neil Young and Bruce Palmer wouldn't get deported. But generally the group were doing well. But there was a problem. And that problem was their record label. They rushed out another album to cash in on the success of "You Baby", one that was done so quickly that it had "Let Me Be" on it again, just as the previous album had, and which included a version of the old standard "All My Trials", with the songwriting credited to the two owners of White Whale records. And they pumped out a lot of singles. A LOT of singles, ranging from a song written for them by new songwriter Warren Zevon, to cover versions of Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" and the old standard "We'll Meet Again". Of the five singles after "You Baby", the one that charted highest was a song actually written by a couple of the band members. But for some reason a song with verses in 5/4 time and choruses in 6/4 with lyrics like "killing the living and living to kill, the grim reaper of love thrives on pain" didn't appeal to the group's good-time music pop audience and only reached number eighty-one: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Grim Reaper of Love"] The group started falling apart. Don Murray became convinced that the rest of the band were conspiring against him and wanted him out, so he walked out of the group in the middle of a rehearsal for a TV show. They got Joel Larson of the Grass Roots -- the group who had a number of hits with Sloan and Barri songs -- to sub for a few gigs before getting in a permanent replacement, Johnny Barbata, who came to them on the recommendation of Gene Clark, and who was one of the best drummers on the scene -- someone who was not only a great drummer but a great showman, who would twirl his drumsticks between his fingers with every beat, and who would regularly engage in drum battles with Buddy Rich. By the time they hit their fifth flop single in a row, they lost their bass player as well -- Chuck Portz decided he was going to quit music and become a fisherman instead. They replaced him with Chip Douglas of the Modern Folk Quartet. Then they very nearly lost their singers. Volman and Kaylan both got their draft notices at the same time, and it seemed likely they would end up having to go and fight in the Vietnam war. Kaylan was distraught, but his mother told him "Speak to your cousin Herb". Cousin Herb was Herb Cohen, the manager of the Mothers of Invention and numerous other LA acts, including the Modern Folk Quartet, and Kaylan only vaguely knew him at this time, but he agreed to meet up with them, and told them “Stop worrying! I got Zappa out, I got Tim Buckley out, and I'll get you out.” Cohen told Volman and Kaylan to not wash for a week before their induction, to take every drug of every different kind they could find right before going in, to deliberately disobey every order, to fail the logic tests, and to sexually proposition the male officers dealing with the induction. They followed his orders to the letter, and got marked as 4-F, unfit for service. They still needed a hit though, and eventually they found something by going back to their good-time music idea. It was a song from the Koppelman-Rubin publishing company -- the same company that did the Lovin Spoonful's management and production. The song in question was by Alan Gordon and Gary Bonner, two former members of a group called the Magicians, who had had a minor success with a single called "An Invitation to Cry": [Excerpt: The Magicians, "An Invitation to Cry"] The Magicians had split up, and Bonner and Gordon were trying to make a go of things as professional songwriters, but had had little success to this point. The song on the demo had been passed over by everyone, and the demo was not at all impressive, just a scratchy acetate with Bonner singing off-key and playing acoustic rhythm guitar and Gordon slapping his knees to provide rhythm, but the group heard something in it. They played the song live for months, refining the arrangement, before taking it into the studio. There are arguments to this day as to who deserves the credit for the sound on "Happy Together" -- Chip Douglas apparently did the bulk of the arrangement work while they were on tour, but the group's new producer, Joe Wissert, a former staff engineer for Cameo-Parkway, also claimed credit for much of it. Either way, "Happy Together" is a small masterpiece of dynamics. The song is structured much like the songs that had made the Turtles' name, with the old Zombies idea of the soft verse and much louder chorus: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Happy Together"] But the track is really made by the tiny details of the arrangement, the way instruments and vocal parts come in and out as the track builds up, dies down, and builds again. If you listen to the isolated tracks, there are fantastic touches like the juxtaposition of the bassoon and oboe (which I think is played on a mellotron): [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Happy Together", isolated tracks] And a similar level of care and attention was put into the vocal arrangement by Douglas, with some parts just Kaylan singing solo, other parts having Volman double him, and of course the famous "bah bah bah" massed vocals: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Happy Together", isolated vocals] At the end of the track, thinking he was probably going to do another take, Kaylan decided to fool around and sing "How is the weather?", which Bonner and Gordon had jokingly done on the demo. But the group loved it, and insisted that was the take they were going to use: [Excerpt: The Turtles, "Happy Together"] "Happy Together" knocked "Penny Lane" by the Beatles off the number one spot in the US, but by that point the group had already had another lineup change. The Monkees had decided they wanted to make records without the hit factory that had been overseeing them, and had asked Chip Douglas if he wanted to produce their first recordings as a self-contained band. Given that the Monkees were the biggest thing in the American music industry at the time, Douglas had agreed, and so the group needed their third bass player in a year. The one they went for was Jim Pons. Pons had seen the Beatles play at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964, and decided he wanted to become a pop star. The next day he'd been in a car crash, which had paid out enough insurance money that he was able to buy two guitars, a bass, drums, and amps, and use them to start his own band. That band was originally called The Rockwells, but quickly changed their name to the Leaves, and became a regular fixture at Ciro's on Sunset Strip, first as customers, then after beating Love in the auditions, as the new resident band when the Byrds left. For a while the Leaves had occasionally had guest vocals from a singer called Richard Marin, but Pons eventually decided to get rid of him, because, as he put it "I wanted us to look like The Beatles. There were no Mexicans in The Beatles". He is at pains in his autobiography to assure us that he's not a bigot, and that Marin understood. I'm sure he did. Marin went on to be better known as Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong. The Leaves were signed by Pat Boone to his production company, and through that company they got signed to Mira Records. Their first single, produced by Nik Venet, had been a version of "Love Minus Zero (No Limit)", a song by Bob Dylan: [Excerpt: The Leaves, "Love Minus Zero (No Limit)"] That had become a local hit, though not a national one, and the Leaves had become one of the biggest bands on the Sunset Strip scene, hanging out with all the other bands. They had become friendly with the Doors before the Doors got a record deal, and Pat Boone had even asked for an introduction, as he was thinking of signing them, but unfortunately when he met Jim Morrison, Morrison had drunk a lot of vodka, and given that Morrison was an obnoxious drunk Boone had second thoughts, and so the world missed out on the chance of a collaboration between the Doors and Pat Boone. Their second single was "Hey Joe" -- as was their third and fourth, as we discussed in that episode: [Excerpt: The Leaves, "Hey Joe"] Their third version of "Hey Joe" had become a top forty hit, but they didn't have a follow-up, and their second album, All The Good That's Happening, while it's a good album, sold poorly. Various band members quit or fell out, and when Johnny Barbata knocked on Jim Pons' door it was an easy decision to quit and join a band that had a current number one hit. When Pons joined, the group had already recorded the Happy Together album. That album included the follow-up to "Happy Together", another Bonner and Gordon song, "She'd Rather Be With Me": [Excerpt: The Turtles, "She'd Rather Be With Me"] None of the group were tremendously impressed with that song, but it did very well, becoming the group's second-biggest hit in the US, reaching number three, and actually becoming a bigger hit than "Happy Together" in parts of Europe. Before "Happy Together" the group hadn't really made much impact outside the US. In the UK, their early singles had been released by Pye, the smallish label that had the Kinks and Donovan, but which didn't have much promotional budget, and they'd sunk without trace. For "You Baby" they'd switched to Immediate, the indie label that Andrew Oldham had set up, and it had done a little better but still not charted. But from "Happy Together" they were on Decca, a much bigger label, and "Happy Together" had made number twelve in the charts in the UK, and "She'd Rather Be With Me" reached number four. So the new lineup of the group went on a UK tour. As soon as they got to the hotel, they found they had a message from Graham Nash of the Hollies, saying he would like to meet up with them. They all went round to Nash's house, and found Donovan was also there, and Nash played them a tape he'd just been given of Sgt Pepper, which wouldn't come out for a few more days. At this point they were living every dream a bunch of Anglophile American musicians could possibly have. Jim Tucker mentioned that he would love to meet the Beatles, and Nash suggested they do just that. On their way out the door, Donovan said to them, "beware of Lennon". It was when they got to the Speakeasy club that the first faux-pas of the evening happened. Nash introduced them to Justin Hayward and John Lodge of the Moody Blues, and Volman said how much he loved their record "Go Now": [Excerpt: The Moody Blues, "Go Now"] The problem was that Hayward and Lodge had joined the group after that record had come out, to replace its lead singer Denny Laine. Oh well, they were still going to meet the Beatles, right? They got to the table where John, Paul, and Ringo were sat, at a tense moment -- Paul was having a row with Jane Asher, who stormed out just as the Turtles were getting there. But at first, everything seemed to go well. The Beatles all expressed their admiration for "Happy Together" and sang the "ba ba ba" parts at them, and Paul and Kaylan bonded over their shared love for "Justine" by Don and Dewey, a song which the Crossfires had performed in their club sets, and started singing it together: [Excerpt: Don and Dewey, "Justine"] But John Lennon was often a mean drunk, and he noticed that Jim Tucker seemed to be the weak link in the group, and soon started bullying him, mocking his clothes, his name, and everything he said. This devastated Tucker, who had idolised Lennon up to that point, and blurted out "I'm sorry I ever met you", to which Lennon just responded "You never did, son, you never did". The group walked out, hurt and confused -- and according to Kaylan in his autobiography, Tucker was so demoralised by Lennon's abuse that he quit music forever shortly afterwards, though Tucker says that this wasn't the reason he quit. From their return to LA on, the Turtles would be down to just a five-piece band. After leaving the club, the group went off in different directions, but then Kaylan (and this is according to Kaylan's autobiography, there are no other sources for this) was approached by Brian Jones, asking for his autograph because he loved the Turtles so much. Jones introduced Kaylan to the friend he was with, Jimi Hendrix, and they went out for dinner, but Jones soon disappeared with a girl he'd met. and left Kaylan and Hendrix alone. They were drinking a lot -- more than Kaylan was used to -- and he was tired, and the omelette that Hendrix had ordered for Kaylan was creamier than he was expecting... and Kaylan capped what had been a night full of unimaginable highs and lows by vomiting all over Jimi Hendrix's expensive red velvet suit. Rather amazingly after all this, the Moody Blues, the Beatles, and Hendrix, all showed up to the Turtles' London gig and apparently enjoyed it. After "She'd Rather Be With Me", the next single to be released wasn't really a proper single, it was a theme song they'd been asked to record for a dire sex comedy titled "Guide for the Married Man", and is mostly notable for being composed by John Williams, the man who would later go on to compose the music for Star Wars. That didn't chart, but the group followed it with two more top twenty hits written by Bonner and Gordon, "You Know What I Mean" and "She's My Girl". But then the group decided that Bonner and Gordon weren't giving them their best material, and started turning down their submissions, like a song called "Celebrity Ball" which they thought had no commercial potential, at least until the song was picked up by their friends Three Dog Night, retitled "Celebrate", and made the top twenty: [Excerpt: Three Dog Night, "Celebrate"] Instead, the group decided to start recording more of their own material. They were worried that in the fast-changing rock world bands that did other songwriters' material were losing credibility. But "Sound Asleep", their first effort in this new plan, only made number forty-seven on the charts. Clearly they needed a different plan. They called in their old bass player Chip Douglas, who was now an experienced hitmaker as a producer. He called in *his* friend Harry Nilsson, who wrote "The Story of Rock & Roll" for the group, but that didn't do much better, only making number forty-eight. But the group persevered, starting work on a new album produced by Douglas, The Turtles Present The Battle of the Bands, the conceit of which was that every track would be presented as being by a different band. So there were tracks by Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts, Fats Mallard and the Bluegrass Fireball, The Atomic Enchilada, and so on, all done in the styles suggested by those band names