Along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who were the archetypal British sixties band, masters of both rock and pop thanks to the four individuals who, while never the best of friends, played as more than the sum of their parts. While viewed by some people as musically limited, Pete Townshend was both an able rhythm guitarist and excellent songwriter; John Entwistle, a pioneering bass player whose previous musical experience (on French horn) proved to be an asset; Roger Daltry, a fine singer and frontman; and of course Keith Moon, "Moon the Loon", one of those rare individuals who has a natural innate ability to play the drums brilliantly, not to mention a penchant for behaviour that ensured the Who were never far from the headlines.
Daltry, Entwistle and Townshend had played together in various combos before settling as the High Numbers and then being joined by Keith Moon, whereafter they became the Who. Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were reasonably astute managers but even so Townsend's and Moon's habit of smashing up their gear on stage at every gig, while a crowd-puller, meant that the band were actually in debt for most of the Sixties until Townsend conceived the rock opera Tommy at a time when people were receptive to a lengthy concept album. While it may not have aged well as an idea, the music was compelling and was joined later with a typically over-the-top film by Ken Russell that in some ways remains watchable, even if one's tongue remains pressed firmly in cheek. The ensuing rewards from Tommy, plus a downturn in touring, meant greater stability for all the band apart from Moon, who used his money to go and live the life of a wild man in Los Angeles. Although not a malicious character, his genuinely extrovert behaviour coupled with heavy drinking and subsequent alcoholism wore both himself and other people down to the point where it was starting to tell on his decreasing number of musical performances. Towards the end of his life he had begun to recognise the problem but tragically overdosed on the pills that were supposed to help him deal with it. He was in his early thirties and in many ways his legacy as a drummer remains unrivalled.
Roger Daltrey was later to acknowledge that really the death of Keith Moon was the death of the Who proper, but at the time they decided to soldier on and eventually settled on ex-Small Faces and Faces drummer Kenny Clark. In some ways this may have been a mistake, as Clark's style was rather dissimilar to Moon's. Certainly after that subsequent Who releases never made much impact, although some might have argued that by the late Seventies their time had gone. Ironically they attracted a fresh wave of interest in the wake of the '79 Mod revival, but this did not amount to much support and was fairly ephemeral. The Eighties saw Townsend also struggling with a drink problem and the Who seemed destined for an untidy ending, but by the end of the decade the three original members had decided to put the group back together for several showpiece concerts with star-studded support from the likes of Billy Idol and other younger icons, much as they had enlisted several of their own generation for the Tommy film project in the early seventies. It seems from now on that future Who events will take this format, not least because the abuse Townsend inflicted on his ears as a youth have left him with a serious hearing problem.
Sadly, John Entwistle died in 2003 after indulging in drugs while in the company of a lady other than his wife - a sorry and rather sordid end to the life of one of the pioneers of the bass guitar.
Townsend, Daltry and Entwistle have all made reasonably good or even excellent solo albums over the years since the sixties, some of which are probably worth checking out, the best known being Daltry's collaboration with Leo Sayer (better than it looks on paper) and Entwistle's Ox projects.
Is there anybody who hasn't heard Nights in White Satin? Long after everything else done by the Moody Blues has turned to dust, this one will still be remembered. In fact, since the seventies it is probably the only track that people do remember, which in some ways is a pity as there is more to the legacy of the band. Many people would also be surprised to find that they started out life as an R'n'B band led by Denny Laine, who had jumped ship from The Diplomats to lead them onto Top of the Pops with the piano-driven Go Now.
In fact as an R'n'B band the Moody Blues did not make a great deal of impact, and Laine and bassist Clint Warwick eventually left. The group soldiered on to ever-decreasing audiences until (shades of Spinal Tap) they were playing the northern cabaret circuit to punters eating chicken and chips. Justin Hayward and John Lodge recall that the nadir came when after a performance one of the said punters came and told them how bad he thought they were, and complained of having brought his wife and paid good money to hear them. Whether the subsequent change was quite as spontaneous as the said musos make out is open to speculation, but at any rate the group signed up the new Mellotron keyboard and recorded their next LP as the concept album "Days of Future Past" (1967). Although hardly a bestseller today, it can be considered one of the first concept albums and opened up the floodgates for several years' worth of the genre.
In fact the creative life of the Moody Blues in some ways was a short one, from 1967 until 1972, during which period they released several LPs. Again it may seem astonishing, but in some ways, particularly in the US, the band were treated like gurus, an attitude taken up by Mike Pindar in particular who acquired the nickname of the "Mad Monk" and a reputation for taking the guru thing a bit too seriously. After a lengthy world tour thereafter they split up in 1973, only to regroup again in 1978. By then, however, the musical scene had changed seriously to their detriment, and the group seemed unwilling to change what has been drily referred to as their "winning formula". Mike Pindar left for good at some point, to be replaced by Swiss ex-Yes journeyman Patrick Moraz. The latter years have seen a couple of LP releases but the Moody Blues (like many other older bands) have essentially become a "greatest hits" type performance.
"Turned a whiter.... shade of PALE...." Another timeless song, for better or for worse, and one that was even used for a paint commercial: counter-culture artefacts always seem to end up being absorbed into the world of commerce.... If there is one song that Procol Harum made, this is the one that most people will remember.
In fact this was by no means the most original thing that the group did. Whiter Shade of Pale was virtually a reworking of a piece by JS Bach, as was a track on the same LP, Repent Walpurgis. Singles and tracks like Homburg and Conquistador were also catchy, quirky psychedelic pop, a halfway house between sixties pop and the late decade concept-style abstract musings. The two main ingredients of the Procol Harum sound were the twin keyboards, piano and organ, played by Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher respectively, and the lyrics of Keith Reid, which were sometimes nonsense but never slapdash. Drumming was provided by B J Wilson, a drummer who was seriously considered for the Led Zeppelin seat before John Bonham. None of the band's changing lineup could ever be described as a household name, with the possible exception of Robin Trower whose restrained playing gave way to a full-blown Hendrix pastiche when he left the group. David Knights on the bass also left, followed by Matthew Fisher, and so the nucleus of the group was essentially Brooker, Reid and Wilson, with Chris Copping joining later on bass and organ.
Like so many of their contemporaries, Procol Harum spanned the gap between sixties pop and seventies rock but faded out thereafter, calling it a day in the middle of the following decade. In the nineties Brooker, Reid and Fisher did reform to produce an LP, but nothing seems to have happened since.
"Bzzz... grrrr.... diddleliddleliddle..." What was that noise? In this case it was Frippertronics on the guitar, or the alternative electronic reworking of a vocal or mellotron, as on 21st Century Schizoid Man off the LP "Court of the Crimson King". Subtitled "An observation by King Crimson", the pretentiousness of the latter told you something about the sort of direction the group were moving in, ie they (or at least Robert Fripp, main founder and guitarist) wanted to be taken seriously. Whether this was always a good thing could be questioned, as it certainly was by some of Fripp's colleagues, who had a habit of jumping ship every LP or tour.
King Crimson were actually Fripp's second commercial venture after an apparently somewhat zany trio, Fripp, Fripp and Giles. In Crimson the zaniness disappeared (at least supposedly) and you got full-blown symphonic sound from guitar, mellotron and reeds. When it was good, it was very very good: when it wasn't, it was, to most people's ears anyway, just a racket. On some tracks you could almost hear the weight of Fripp's thoughts, especially when he would try to drag themes of Eastern philosophy or mysticism in.
The first LP, "Court of the Crimson King", remains perhaps the best known of the early LPs, and featured an excellent lineup that included, apart from Fripp, Greg Lake on bass and vocals, Ian MacDonald on reeds and keyboards, and Michael Giles on drums. Incidentally Neil Peart of Rush once quoted Giles as the drummer that had most influenced him in his early years. However, while touring the USA the group spontaneously destructed, leaving Fripp to pick up the pieces. Thereafter he recruited other players, or lured back originals on a temporary basis, and made a succession of LPs that had a mixed reception: certainly the two successors to "Court...", "Wake of Poseidon" and "Lizard" were rather slated. The material made with John Wetton (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums) is worth listening to, however, and Bruford has since worked fairly frequently with Fripp. Others, such as Mel Collins on sax and Dave Cross on electric violin, feature on the odd album.
True to form, in the mid Seventies Fripp announced that the world was shortly to end anyway (or something on those lines) and that he was therefore retiring to his Dorset cottage (thus, incidentally, revealing something of the mindset of the English gentleman rocker). What was perhaps more astonishing to most people was that a few years later he married flame-haired New Wave artiste Toyah Wilcox and made a couple of musical collaborations with her. In the early Eighties Fripp resurrected King Crimson with "Beat" and has since made more LPs, this time with a fairly stable lineup consisting of himself and Bruford plus Adrian Belew (guitar) and Tony Lewin (bass and bass stick). Another ongoing Fripp project, with track titles such as Cycling to Afghanistan, is the League of Crafty Guitarists. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Marillion in some ways were the last of the big name progressive rock bands, finding commercial success that eluded their most of their contemporaries during the upsurge of interest in rock in the Eighties. Reviled originally as a Genesis rip-off (particularly by Genesis fans, as I recall), they moved in fact in a different direction lyrically. While the early Genesis was full of English whimsicality and word punning, Marillion were altogether more direct, dealing with universal themes without descending into the banality of so much lyricism that tries to be "relevant".
The original Marillion took its name from the J R Tolkien fantasy The Silmarillion, a common point of departure for many prog bands. When Steve Rothery (guitar) joined, they dropped the "Sil" and became simply Marillion. At the time the group was a three piece, including Rothery (today the only original member), drummer Mick Pointer and bass/vocalist Doug Irvine. Brian Jelliman subsequently joined on keyboards. When Irvine left they auditioned for a bass player/vocalist, but the ad was answered by Diz Minitt (bass) and Derek Dick (vocals, better known as Fish) from Scotland. This lineup worked out well for a while until Diz Minitt left on the grounds that both he and Rothery couldn't play riff style at the same time - perhaps a bit of a blow for his friend Fish. The band recruited instead bassist Pete Trewevas. Shortly afterwards Jelliman left to be replaced by Mark Kelly. The final lineup change was somewhat unfortunate as things came to a head between Pointer and the rest of the band after the first LP, Script for a Jester's Tear, was produced. Actual accounts vary but one claims that the rest of the band issued him with an ultimatum. This train of events culminated in Pointer's departure. Eventually, after one or two false starts, drummer Ian Mosley was recruited.
The group cut four LPs during Fish's tenure as vocalist. The third and fourth, Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws, were more or less full-blown concept albums. Misplaced Childhood was filled with angst about a broken relationship and a subsequent self-examination, and while perhaps a bit obsessional, gave the group a hit with "Kayleigh". Clutching at Straws dealt with Fish's struggle with alcoholism, a dark yet sometimes wryly amusing LP that again produced some radio-friendly tracks such as "Incommunicado". Shortly after, when the group seemed arguably at the pinnacle of artistic achievement, Fish suddenly announced his decision to quit. In retrospect this seems to have been a mutual agreement, since he and the rest of the group had begun to pull in different directions. Nevertheless at the time it looked like a fatal blow for both parties.
In fact Marillion survived by recruiting new frontman Steve Hogarth who seemed to fill Fish's shoes, if not in the exact style as before, and continued to accrue commercial success. For his part Fish enjoyed a reasonable if somewhat low-key career, both with his own band and in collaborations with others.
The Kinks started out life doing R'n'B covers virtually indistinguishably from a host of other bands in the sixties, and might have stayed that way if it were not for the songwriting genius of Ray Davies, who together with his brother Dave was to form the nucleus of the group throughout its long career through the highs and lows of pop. In fact the lineup of the Kinks was fairly stable for most of the sixties: the Davies brothers on guitars (Dave being a competent lead player well-suited to matching Ray's material), Mick Avory on bass and Peter Quaife on drums. Having broken through with the power-pop hits "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night", the Kinks then proved capable of a tender side with songs such as "Tired of Waiting For You" and "Set Me Free", but more importantly Ray Davies also showed a true songwriter's powers of observation with songs "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (an amused dig at the "Carnabetian Army" of Carnaby Street, then London's hippest clothing spot), "A Well Respected Man" (ditto some of the upper-middle classes) and, most poignantly, "Waterloo Sunset", which still evokes the feeling of commuters travelling home today. As modism gave way to flower power, while his contemporaries were dropping acid Davies seemed to be immersing himself into being almost stereotypically English, evoking memories of colonialism and the village green. At the same time he never lost his cutting edge, as could be seen in the tracks "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" (a classic ballad of insecurity and defensiveness without being whiney) and, most controversially, "Lola" (about an encounter with a transvestite). Indeed the chief Kink did seem to touch on the insecurity of sexuality and romance, without being too blunt about it.
By the end of the seventies both Avory and Quaife had left the band and it seemed that the Kinks might be played out as a musical force, but they enjoyed a brief renaissance at the beginning of the following decade with the singles "Come Dancing" and "Don't Forget to Dance", the first of these certainly using Davies' old trick of evoking a bygone era. Since then Ray Davies has espoused an anti-European Union platform.
From whimsical flower-child and drug-tinged pop to a bleak view of modern society, Pink Floyd like football is indeed a game of two halves, with perhaps injury time if one takes into account the post-Roger Waters period. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here....
The Pink Floyd started out in the mid-sixties as the inspiration of Syd Barrett, guitarist and songwriter, Roger Waters on bass, Rick Wright (formerly a jazzer until, by his own account, Sergeant Pepper) on keyboards and Nick Mason on drums. The group's first single, "Arnold Layne", was a short pop ditty about the trials of a crossdresser (accompanied by a surreal video of the four musicians on the beach) and was banned by the BBC. Apart from Barrett's penchant for writing short but catchy songs, however, the group were also at this point into the underground scene as exemplified by stints at the UFO club in London, long free-form improvisations (captured by the short film Let's Freak Out in London Tonight) and, in Syd's case anyway, drugs. The first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was a mainly Barrett affair that summed up his dichotomy with songs that were partially frightening, partly child-like. Unfortunately the use of drugs, especially LSD, led to a rapid psychic collapse: as somebody later put it, the light in his eyes seemed to suddenly go out. Barrett's behaviour became more and more unpredictable to the point where it was tacitly decided that another guitarist needed to be brought in, and this became briefly the five-man Pink Floyd with David Gilmour on guitar. The second album, Saucerful of Secrets, contained fewer and longer pieces, with Waters and the others taking on more of the songwriting: in fact Jug Band Blues was the only Barrett track on the album (and typically was distinguished by having a Salvation Army brass band). One night after this, the band decided that it simply was no longer worth collecting the lost guitarist on the way to the gig, and this marked the end of Barrett's spell with Pink Floyd.
Most observers thought that the loss of the troubled songwriter would mean the demise of the group, but in fact Waters stepped into the breach with his own visions of how things should done. After a tentative period that included the film soundtracks More and Obscured by Clouds, the double album Ummagumma with writing contributions from all four members (including a drum solo by Mason) and the albums Atom Heart Mother (with 23-minute orchestral track) and Echoes (one side devoted to one track), the group finally struck gold with the grandiloquent but bleak Dark Side of the Moon. The lyrical standard was high but dark, dealing with subjects such as materialism, ageing and insanity. By this time too the group's sound had changed completely from the late sixties pop whimsy of the early singles to sprawling but simple soundscapes. The ingredients were in fact quite straightforward: a full backing sound from the keyboards, simply supported by the drums and bass, with Gilmour's blues guitar unleashed for full effect. Ironically, given their past experimentation in "freaking out", the group's music was now also rigidly structured, and in the pre-MIDI era relied on tapes and sound effects in some places.
Dark Side of the Moon was obviously going to be difficult to follow, but Pink Floyd made a creditable album in Wish You Were Here, an LP that included the monumental "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", a sprawling tribute to the lost Syd Barrett, who after a couple of erratic solo LPs (The Madcap Laughs and Barrett) had settled incommunicado in Cambridgeshire. After this came Animals which further expanded on Waters' dark vision of society, and then The Wall, an album which seemed largely autobiographical and indeed bitter. (Gilmour was later to dismiss it as "a whinge"). By now however cracks were beginning to appear as Waters' attitude became more and more autocratic, so much so that Rick Wright was pushed out of the group and the following album The Final Cut was described as "an album by Roger Waters, performed by the Pink Floyd". The album, which dealt largely with war, was not received as favourably by critics or public and in fact marked the end of Pink Floyd, at least for a couple of years, the individual members pursuing subsequent solo projects.
In the mid eighties however Gilmour and Mason decided to revive the name and the group but without Waters. This led to an acrimonious court case in which the drummer and guitarist won the right to proceed without their one-time leader and chief songwriter. The bitterness of the feelings left is shown by the fact that after the first post-Waters album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the subsequent album The Division Bell was largely and graphically about the breakup between the four musicians. Roger Waters continued to make ever-ambitious solo albums, including The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Radio KAOS and Amused to Death. His own concerts were no less complex, one apparently featuring the bassist himself in a telephone booth on the stage taking real phone calls and questions from the audience.
In 2005 the original band (including Waters) reformed to play at Live Aid. In 2006 Barrett died of pancreatic cancer, aged 60, at his home in Cambridgeshire, having lived in more or less self-imposed exile for 30 years or so, painting, gardening and battling with ill health. Rick Wright died of cancer in 2008. The history of the band up to and including the Live Aid 2005 concert has been covered by Nick Mason in his book Inside Out.
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