In 1968, Deep Purple scored some success in America with a cover of Joe South's "Hush", but their three albums for comedian Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton label were patchy at best. Although the musicianship was high - Jon Lord's classically inspired organ breaks and Ritchie Blackmore's fast guitar runs - they had one awful vocalist in Rod Evans. Rocking-out Colosseum style, the instrumental "Hard Road (Wring That Neck)" from Book of Taliesyn was probably the best nugget from that period. When the label folded, the band regrouped and brought on Roger Glover and Ian Gillian from Episode Six. The first release from the Mark II band was Lord's five-part Concerto For Group and Orchestra. Recorded (and broadcast) from the Royal Albert Hall, the band warmed up with three songs ("Wring That Neck", "Child In Time" and "Hush") before launching into the "classical" piece. The Royal Philharmonic play, the band rocks out, the Philharmonic play some more, the band rocks out... and so it goes. Lord's classical writing is of soundtrack quality at best, while the band's parts are typical heavy rock and a lot - and I mean a lot - of soloing. Not any great integration between the two, but it was, as Lord said, "a beginning". Sounds more like an excuse. However, it was Deep Purple's first charting album in the UK, hitting No. 26. Six months later, the band released the single "Black Night" from the album in Rock. Lord's classical ambitions were shelved (though the band's version of his Gemini Suite would follow), and Blackmore now guided their heavy riffing formula off of the timeline and on to mammoth international success as one of the premier heavy rock bands of the 1970s. Just look to Italy for more musically successful attempts at the rock plus orchestra combination.
Family entered 1970 with what was arguably their strongest lineup – vocalist Roger Chapman, guitarist Charlie Whitney and drummer Rob Townsend were now accompanied by bassist and violinist John Weider and Poli Palmer on keyboards and vibes. Produced by the band, their subsequent album A Song For Me would be their most successful. “No Mule's Fool” blasts the record open, providing proof-positive that the band's on-stage power easily translates to vinyl. The album is littered with Chapman/Whitney classics, include the beautiful “Some Poor Soul” and the racuous “Love Is A Sleeper, but the pair also collaborated with Weider, on the instrumental “93's Ok J” and the long rambunctious title track, and with the departed Ric Grech, on the strong “Wheels”. The album presents a more eclectic and indeed electric selection of songs, the arrangements also benefiting from Palmer's diverse instrumentation. Released in January, the album reached No. 4 in the UK. Further touring in the US did not change their fortunes stateside, but there was no shortage of work in the UK; Family recorded for another three BBC programs. A single in August, “Strange Band” b/w “The Weaver's Answer”/”Hung Up Down” nearly broke the UK top 10. The half studio - half live Anyway also provided further commercial success, reaching No. 7. Bar the previous single, the album comprise all new material, including the powerful studio track “Part Of The Road”. Originally meant as a double album, the live side was recorded at Fairfield Halls the previous July; the concert was also filmed, but the video footage remains unreleased.
Organist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer were first paired together in Arthur Brown's Crazy World. They split off during a US tour in 1969, returning to England to form Atomic Rooster. According to legend, it was during a psychedelic experience that Crane first envisioned the "rooster", and after which his subsequent psychiatric problems began to surface. Crane was a huge fan of James Brown, while Palmer was into Buddy Rich; that they both brought those influences to Atomic Rooster gave the band its unique character. Nick Graham was recruited after a short list of names failed to pan out. Graham was a versatile musician, playing bass, guitar and flute, and providing vocals, often reminiscent of The Who's Roger Daltry (not necessarily a good thing). Propelled by Palmer's hard-driving foundation, Crane's hard rocking songs are fit with progressive arrangements (check out the horn section of "Broken Wings") and his virtuoso keyboard skills. However, it's on a track like "Banstead" - an epithet to the Mental Hospital he was admitted to - where Crane turns the frenzy down a notch that his talent really shines through. The lamenting "Winter" is similar, its sparse arrangement augmented with a beautiful solo cello and flute. Unfortunately line-up changes would always plague the Rooster and shortly before the album's release, Graham quit the band. The album reached No. 49 in the UK, but by the end of the year, Palmer too had left, to join Messrs. Emerson and Lake. Crane, undeterred, forged on.
After their debut album's release, careful manipulation from Tony Stratton-Smith released Peter Hammill from his contract with Mercury Records, allowing Van Der Graaf Generator into the Charisma stable. The band reformed permanently (enough): Guy Evans brought bassist Nic Potter from their interim gig in The Misunderstood, but with the arrival of sax player David Jackson, previously with Chris Judge Smith in Heebalob, all the pieces were in place. Thus, VDGG began in earnest with their second album. They weren't your typical band: lacking (for all intensive purpose) electric guitar, Jackson's saxophone was the lead instrument, and in Roland Kirk style, he would even play two or three at a time. Hugh Banton was, of course, the ace in hand and an organist of great distinction; certainly in the league of a Keith Emerson or Vincent Crane. The powerful "Darkness" opens the album, at once revealing VDGG's original craft. Jackson is the true signature of the band; his wailing sax work is unique, masking any trace of influence with his own originality. The elegant "Refugees" carries on in the tradition of "Afterward", as does the second side's "Out Of My Book". Both are in sharp contrast to the apocalyptic refrains of "After The Flood" and "White Hammer". Bold, brash, and above all genuine, they alternate between calm and storm, another of the idiosyncrasies that would define the band. The album served as their debut in their native UK, and even managed to do something no other VDGG album would: it reached No. 47 in the album charts. The band toured considerably in the first half of the year, returning to Trident in the summer to record their third record.
Jethro Tull scored another two Top 10 singles in the UK with "Sweet Dreams" b/w "17" and "Witches Promise" b/w "Teacher" prior to the release of this, their third album. The flip side of the latter would later become an FM staple in the US. The success prompted their first headlining tour of America (with Yes in support). On Benefit, their bluesy jazz took some substantial refinement into what would eventually become the Tull sound. In came Blackpool mate John Evan on piano and organ, but more importantly, out came Anderson the raconteur. Acoustic guitar in one hand, flute in the other, his highly original songwriting soars in such songs as "Sossity; You're a Woman" and "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me". The album is darker and moodier, but still exceptional: "Alive and Well and Living In" benefits from Evan's piano, while "Inside" again reflects the less aggressive nature of the album. The album would reach No. 3 and No. 11 in the UK and US, respectively. One for the books, Jethro Tull was now one of the first commercially accepted and successful progressive rock acts, on par with Led Zeppelin. Bassist Glenn Cornick departed after the album, to be replaced by another John Evan Band alumnus, Jeffrey Hammond. His name should be familiar, as he was the subject of many prior Tull songs.
True to form, King Crimson imploded after their US tour in late 1969. Ian McDonald and Michael Giles had too much too soon and would depart to record an eponymous record. Similarly, Greg Lake had met up with Keith Emerson while on the tour, and agreed to form a band upon their return to the UK. Thus, Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield were left with the reigns of the band, and faced with the task of recording the follow- up (though both Lake and Giles did make contributions to the album, with the latter's brother Peter adding bass). With all the upheaval, little new material was written. The crazy "Cat Food" b/w "Groon" single came out in March, previewing where the following album (and not this album) would go. Much of the material for the album then was culled from their live set. The rocking "Pictures Of A City" was first heard as "A Man, A City"; it tracks the same territory as "21st Century Schizoid Man", but Mel Collin's horns and Giles fabulous drumming are sublime on record. Another archetype, the title track takes its stately melodies and refines them further. It's those two tracks and the fierce Mellotron orgy "The Devil's Triangle", based on Gustav Holst's Mars (from the composer's orchestral suite, "The Planets"), that make up the bulk of the album. "Cadence and Cascade" is also reprised, this time with Gordon Haskell singing. Perhaps overlooked in Crim history, In the Wake of Poseidon did closely follow the blueprint of its predecessor; however, it's a carefully constructed album, with excellent production one of its many charities. The album was again well received, reaching No. 4 in the UK, and No. 31 in the US charts. Haskell, another Bournemouth native, and hired hands Collins and Keith Tippett would remain in service for another album, barely.
Quatermass drew their name from the original science-fiction program on the BBC. Bassist John Gustafson and organist Peter Robinson first joined up with drummer Mick Underwood in Episode Six. That line-up however proved to be extremely short-lived as the trio went off to form Quatermass in July 1969. They signed to EMI's Harvest label and their debut was recorded at A.I.R. Studios. Not that far from Atomic Rooster or Deep Purple, the band's music is hard-driving organ rock that never forgets its R&B roots - just check out "Good Lord Knows". Robinson is quite an organist; his solo in "Gemini" is over the top while "Make Up Your Mind" dances in more progressive territories. "Laughin' Tackle" features Robinson's string arrangements, but unfortunately is interrupted (for some reason or another) with a drum solo. All told, the album is a very original take on the bass- drum-organ combination and features a brilliant cover from Hipgnosis. Around the time of the album's release, both Gustafson and Robinson made significant contributions to the soon-to-be-released Jesus Christ Superstar album. Known as a formidable live act, the band even managed to tour the US in 1971. However, with little success to show for their efforts, they broke up. Robinson would next team up with percussionist Morris Pert in Come To The Edge and then Suntreader, and much later in the timeline in Brand X. Gustafson formed the short-lived Hard Stuff with John DuCann and John Hammond of Atomic Rooster, before turning to session work (most notably with Roxy Music).
Originally from Oldham, Lancashire, guitarist John Lees, keyboardist Stuart “Wooly” Wolstenholme, bassist Les Holroyd and drummer Melvin Pritchard first turned professional together in 1967, drawing the names Barclay, James, and Harvest out of a hat. They released a pair of singles to some acclaim (notably John Peel), before being signed to EMI’s new Harvest label. Their debut album was produced by EMI’s Norman Smith, but its rich orchestration from “resident musical director” Robert Godfrey is certainly more characteristic. Both “Taking Some Time On” and “Good Morning Lovechild” contain punchy if uncharacteristically rocking melodies. The Beatles’ influenced “Mother Dear” and “The Iron Maiden” also turn to folk influences, but “Dark Now My Sky” is what the album is all about. The orchestra kicks off, topped with Lees’ soaring lead guitar, coalescing into a gentle melody before the waves of orchestra follow in to close. More than classically inspired, the band and orchestra actually achieve a far greater degree of integration than most; though what it has to do with rock music is really anyone’s guess. To wit, following the album’s release, the band undertook a tour accompanied by an orchestra. Their next few albums for Harvest followed in similar fashion; however, it would take a label change and live album for the band to finally hit the charts in the UK. Though not strictly prog rock, BJH would endure fashion and fate for over two decades with their unique brand of middleweight music. They would eventually find a substantial audience in Germany.
With S.F. Sorrow a non-starter, The Pretty Things again donned their alter-ego Electric Banana to record library music for DeWolfe Publishing, ostensibly to fill the coffers. Three albums, containing both vocal and instrumental versions, were released between 1967-1969. Also recorded around this time was an album with Philippe DeBarge. The wealthy Frenchman commissioned the band the to record an album that featured himself on vocals. In Fall 1969, The Pretty Things headed back into Abbey Road studios with producer Norman Smith. Skip Alan was back behind the drum kit, however, founding member Dick Taylor had departed, being replaced by Vic Unitt from the Edgar Broughton Band. The result is the dark psychedelia of Parachute. The album is split, one side reflecting city life, while the other, escape to the country, however the tracks flow together seamlessly, their melodicism and vocal harmonies a kind of glue, as well as Smith's masterful Abbey Road production. "Miss Fay Regrets" and "Cries From The Midnight Circus" present a much harder and heavier edge, while the second side's "Grass" is haunting, even without the Mellotron. It is again another undisputed masterpiece from the band, and a testament to the Phil May and Wally Waller writing team. Although critically acclaimed upon release (there is some talk of it being Rolling Stone's "Album of the Year"), the album spent only a few weeks in the UK charts, reaching #43, and again saw belated release in the US on the Rare Earth label. Pete Tolson joined the group shortly thereafter, yet touring and a phenomenal single ("October 26th" b/w "Cold Stone") didn't change the bands fortunes, and they fell apart. The Pretty Things regrouped to record several albums in the 70s, even hooking up with Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and the Swan Song label. Yet commercial success remained elusive as did stable lineups, and by the early 80s the Pretties were no more.
Soft Machine's Third album represents a significant shift from previous efforts. Their stream of consciousness songwriting had now given way to straight-out instrumental fusion. The album presents four compositions, each spanning one album side, further confusing whether the Softs were really ever a rock band. And so intense within the group was this change that the only vocal track - Wyatt's superb "Moon in June" - was recorded (for the most part) without participation from any other member! The change was precipitated by the arrival of a four-piece brass section led by saxophonist Elton Dean in late 1969. This short-lived septet was a monster, as live recordings of Hopper's opener "Facelift" suggest. But by the time the Softs got around to recording the album, only Dean and saxophonist Lyn Dobson remained. The version here was recorded live in January by the quintet. Ratledge's "Slightly All The Time" suffers slightly from languor and foreshadows the direction he would take the band, but his redemption is just two sides latter in the quasi-electronic "Out Bloody Rageous". The album remains a landmark recording of British jazz-rock and even managed to bring the Softs into the UK charts, resting at No. 18. The quartet (sans Dobson) soldiered through one final album, Fourth, before Wyatt quit. Then under Ratledge's exclusive tutelage, Soft Machine would continue in the direction of instrumental jazz-rock. They recorded a number of albums, some distinguished, some not, but all worthy of a listen. By mid-decade however, the band would be hijacked by ex-Nucleus members and contain not a single original member.
Although Traffic had broken up, two posthumous releases (a live album and a compilation) still managed to chart for the band in America. Yet Blind Faith barely got started before it ended and Winwood's next move, tentatively titled Mad Shadows, was originally conceived as a solo record. However, the album quickly became a Traffic release with the addition of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, and certainly ranks as one of the band's finest recordings. Traffic absolutely tears down the first album side with "Glad/ Freedom Rider". The former is a driving instrumental that cops the riff of the Soft Machine's "We Did It Again". Having abandoned any trace of psychedelia from their previous work, Traffic stretch out into instrumental improvisation without ever noodling around. Winwood's ability to merge his influences (and handle both keyboard and guitar) is impeccable and certainly cemented his ever-growing reputation as a musician. Both "Empty Pages" and "Stranger to Himself " present a mature Winwood and foreshadow his massive solo success a decade later. "Every Mother's Son" sounds like a Blind Faith leftover, yet it breaks down into some of Winwood's finest organ playing. But John Barleycorn Must Die may always be remembered by the sublime acoustic arrangement of its title track, based on a traditional folk song. The album was a bona fide success, reaching No. 5 in the UK and No. 11 in the US.
Yes' second album didn't break a whole lot of new ground for the band, but it did confirm what most already knew: they were a force to be reckoned with. In the studio, Eddie Offord sat fortuitously at the engineer's desk for the first time with the band. But Time and a Word wouldn't be the quantum leap Yes needed to propel them into the big league. In fact, the only leap here was Tony Cox's orchestral arrangements, a rather de rigueur post-psychedelic ornamentation of the day. To their credit, the strings work better here than on other albums from the era, thanks in part Tony Colton's up-front production. The album has a huge sound, propelled relentlessly by the Squire and Bruford rhythm team. Yes still aren't 100% on original tunes as capable covers of Ritchie Havens and Stephen Stills songs comprise half of the first side. The Jon Anderson penned "Then" is particular satisfying, while his "Clear Days" benefits from Cox's "Eleanor Rigby" style arrangement. Anderson's lyrics tackle some cosmic themes for the first time on "Astral Traveler", something he'd more than return to. His old Warrior's mate David Foster co-wrote both "Time And A Word" and "Sweet Dreams", two great pop songs that would crop up in Yes' live set over the next decade. But wait, this was supposed to be prog rock, wasn't it? The album managed to crack the UK charts, rising to No. 45. Peter Banks left the band just after the album was released; so soon after, in fact, that it was Steve Howe who appears on the album's US cover!
By 1970, Caravan enlisted the services of manager Terry King who in turn secured the band a long-term recording contract with Decca. First out was the Soft Machine-esque single "If I Could Do It All Over Again I'd Do It All Over You" b/w "Hello Hello". It had some success, which resulted in a Top of the Pops appearance and raised the bar for their second effort to which the band responded with the incredulously titled If I Could Do It All Over Again I'd Do It All Over You. The humor was of course English and judging by the album's titles, (e.g. "And I Wish I Were Stoned"), earned them every affectation they garnered. Each side opens with a side of the 45; however, the album contains fluidity that would become the grand (so-called) Canterbury tradition: continuous play. "As I Feel I Die" starts off meekly, but picks up at a brisk pace as it unfolds. "With an Ear to the Ground", the first in a Caravan tradition of multi-section suites, contains some particularly delicate moments, thanks in part to Jimmy Hastings' flute work. But their greatest strength here is excellent songwriting, highly original with a slightly psychedelic bent. Caravan's groove was neither funky nor bluesy yet it had an undeniable swing. Sweeping melodies dominate, flowing in between with riff and groove - most notably on the epic (and appreciably hard rocking) "For Richard". It would remain a concert favorite for years to come.
Having graduated from Charterhouse, the boys - vocalist Peter Gabriel, guitarists Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, and keyboardist Tony Banks - decided to become professional musicians, and in the summer of 1969 set off to do so. Replacing John Silver, drummer John Mayhew was found via a Melody Maker advert. They settled into old classmate (and road manager) Richard McPhail's parents' cottage and began writing and rehearsing. It was here, in these idyllic surroundings and under the influence of King Crimson's debut that the band's early compositions and live set congealed. Meanwhile, they began gigging - anywhere anyone would book them. During a brief residency at Ronnie Scott's (Upstairs), Tony Stratton-Smith first went to hear them (on producer John Anthony's recommendation), and in a leap of faith signed them to his Charisma label. They entered Trident to record their second album in June. Trespass is gentle and immature - and one hundred percent Genesis. Most everything the band would be known for is within albeit in nascent form: the twelve string guitars, the lyricism and drama, and above all the originality. You had to hand it to Stratton-Smith: left to their own devices, he allowed each group to evolve into their own particular and peculiar styles. Genesis was no exception. "Looking for Someone" is delicate, but full of dynamics. Standouts include the elegant "Stagnation" with one of Tony Banks' most sensitive organ solos, and their raucous and electric set-closer, "The Knife". Shortly after the recording, Anthony Phillips decided to leave the band. One of the primary writers, Genesis' future would again be left to uncertainty. However, with the support of Charisma, relief was just around the corner.
Gentle Giant arose from the remains of the brothers Shulman pop group, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. That band had some minor chart success, and the single "Kites" even broke into the UK Top 10 in August 1967. More surprisingly were the idolizing legions of teenage girls that the band attracted, as documented in the British television show Man Alive. But at the turn of the decade, the three Shulman brothers - Derrick, Phil and Ray - were ready to make the switch over to a more serious and progressive sound and show the world their considerable musical talents. They teamed up with Royal College of Music graduate Kerry Minnear on keyboards and drafted Gary Green on guitar, while Martin Smith would be the band's first drummer. Their first album was released on the infamous Vertigo label, one of the new labels of the burgeoning progressive scene. An auspicious debut, Gentle Giant would become one of the more celebrated and cerebral bands of the progressive era, their complex arrangements, shifting time signatures, and expansive artillery of instruments their trademarks. Some of that is here in their debut, particularly on "Giant", with its excellent keyboard break, and in the Moog bass line from "Alucard" (Dracula backwards). Giant were a clever lot! But composition would also remain their strong suit. Take "Nothing at All" - gentle folk number? Not really. It breaks down into a cacophony of phased drums and piano. In fact, Gentle Giant tends to be much more bawdy than brainy here. The bluesy digression of "Why Not" offers some of the same, but also reveals another Giant tradition - the ability to rock out - something the band never forgot. Charting however would always be a problem, especially in their native England.
Pink Floyd's fifth album, Atom Heart Mother, appeared a full year after the disappointing studio half of Ummagumma. Originally titled "The Amazing Pudding", the album-side long title track was an amalgam of work the Floyd had been kicking around at the time. Of course, 1970 turned out to be the year for adding orchestras to rock music, something that even the Floyd would succumb to. Composer Ron Geesin was called in to score the already-recorded backing track. He and Roger Waters had first collaborated together almost two years prior (though the soundtrack, The Body, would see release in November). Yet the piece's wavering tempo and the so-called "professional" musicians nearly proved his undoing. "Father's Shout" rises up to David Gilmour's cinematic main theme, while "Breasty Milk" continues the (more or less) symphonic nature of the track. The choir then takes over on "Mother Fore" until Gilmour's bluesy licks open "Funky Dung". From there, the main theme reprises itself between blasts of Mellotron and shouts of choir, before the final section, "Remergence" offers one last big finale. For the most part, the effort fails; the concept more interesting than the actual execution. But what an experiment it was! A clutch of songs from the individual band members fill the second side. "If" proves to be a Waters archetype, while Rick Wright's Beach Boy-esque "Summer '68" remains one of his finest offerings. The last track, group composition "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast", is somewhat of a sleeper; though full of delicate, sleepy melodies, psychedelic it's certainly is not; in fact, it's probably the most un-Floyd like piece of music they'd write. The album cover offered no name or title; only the picture of a cow, the magnificent Lullubelle III. Despite the lack of critical zeal to the record, it turned out to be Pink Floyd's first No. 1 in the UK. Although EMI would release an essential compilation of singles, Relics, the following May, little would be heard from Pink Floyd over the next year.
Named after the Terry Riley composition, Curved Air was another unique idiom of the progressive era, one with no shortage of talent either. Violinist Darryl Way was a Royal College of Music graduate, while multi-instrumentalist Francis Monkman was from the competing Royal Academy of Music. Seeking to meld their knowledge of classical music and rock the two joined forces as Sisyphus in 1969, adding drummer Florian Pilkington- Miska and bassist Robert Martin. They morphed into Curved Air proper when they added one of the most unlikely of progressive devices, the female voice. (Did I fail to mention that progressive rock was a near exclusive men's club?) However, this was in the capable possession of Sonja Kristina, just freed from the London production of Hair. As the opening track (and single) "It Happened Today" demonstrates, their music was ripe with West Coast influence. The second half ascends into a more classically inspired instrumental, but overall the album's highbrow orchestral embellishments do little to lift any excitement from the average tunes. That's not to say the album isn't without some redemption. Monkman's echoed guitar work on "Propositions" is novel, as is his Mellotron on Way's "Situations". But even Way's violin tour de force "Vivaldi" ends up a screechy mess. Their debut album has the distinction of being the first picture disc, which no doubt helped propel it into the UK Top 10.
In the tradition of Cream and Blind Faith before them, ELP was the first supergroup of the progressive era, combining the talents of keyboard player Keith Emerson from The Nice, ex- King Crimson singer and bassist Greg Lake, and former Crazy World and Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. Ostensibly, Lake agreed to join as the new band would be an outlet for his guitar playing (something he'd never manage to pull off with Robert Fripp in King Crimson), while Palmer finally succumbed to endless cajoling. Immediately evident on their debut "super" would be the operative word: the ELP modus operandi was over the top. Their brand of prog rock was based on virtuosity and appropriation. Themes, whole handed, were lifted from composers such as Bartok and Janacek, in particular check out the second side's "Three Fates". Of course, Emerson's command of the Hammond organ is nothing short of superb - out of it he draws incredible tones, just witness the menacing "Knife-Edge". "Tank" serves as a showcase for Palmer's considerable drum talents, with the track growing to mammoth proportions live. Lake's "Take A Pebble" demonstrates his contribution to the Crimson puzzle and the gentler side of ELP. His "Lucky Man" was indeed; the single charted in the US, reaching No. 48, despite Emerson's whooping Moog solo, one of the first (and most incredulous) in a pop context. Despite the blatant showing-off, success seemed to always be in the band's cards. The album rose to No. 4 in the UK, while reaching No. 18 in the US.
Somewhere along King Crimson's first American tour, both multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles decided to part ways with their cohorts (both hated touring). Returning to England, they recorded this eponymous album, enlisting the help of Peter Giles on bass and Steve Winwood (for one track). As much as Fripp became synonymous with King Crimson, it is evident from these recordings that both McDonald and Giles were also important variables in the initial equation of that band. The opening track, "Suite in C" confirms the Giles brothers are one powerful rhythm section, and though Michael's songwriting was limited to the wonderful "Tomorrow's People", it's perhaps the best track on the album. But while "Flight of The Ibis" contains the original melody to "Cadence and Cascade", the album also represents the difference between the duo and King Crimson. Lyrically, McDonald is more narrative than poetic and his arrangements remain light, if not lighthearted. In particular check out the lush arrangement of the second side's McDonald/Sinfield suite "Birdman". Again, it's a wild and varied affair, with the writing dating back mostly to 1968. The album remains a minor classic from the era. From here, McDonald would end up in the massively successful Foreigner, while Giles would switch exclusively to session work (including John G. Perry and Anthony Phillips). He remains one of the most accomplished drummers of the era, despite his low profile. More recently, the album has gained some notoriety as a sample source for its numerous drum breaks.
Rare Bird was part of the original Charisma Records stable of Tony Stratton-Smith. Formed in 1969, the original lineup was built around two keyboardists, Graham Field and Dave Kaffinetti, who added Steve Gould on bass and vocals, and Mark Ashton on drums. Their first self-titled album was released in late 1969 and featured classically-inspired organ rock, best demonstrated in the track “God Of War”. But “Sympathy”, released as a single, rose to No. 27 in the UK charts and sold a reputed million copies world-wide. Rare Bird’s next album, the wonderfully titled As Your Mind Flies By, is generally regarded as a prog rock classic. Continuing the direction of their previous album, “What You Want To Know” opens and one thing is instantly clear: Gould’s soul-tinged voice is powerful yet untamed; to wit, the short “Down On The Floor” aches with overwrought emotion. “Hammerhead” offers a model not at all unlike labelmates Van Der Graaf Generator or Genesis. Underneath, the band performs perfunctory prog rock: driven by Field’s organ and the excellent rhythm section of Gould and Ashton, Kaffinetti’s piano adds a distinct color. “I’m Thinking” furthers it, offering an even more detailed arrangement. The second side is encompassed by the album-side long track “Flight”. Again, it’s a veritable archetype that stands up to any of their contemporaries: driving rhythm, plenty of organ, slightly chaotic digression, and a gloriously ostentatious finale; though why the vocals on “Central Park” sound like a tortured Greg Lake is anyone’s guess. Prior to their third (and largely underrated) 1972 album Epic Forest, Field and Ashton would depart, the former releasing one eponymous album of heavy organ rock as Fields, with Andy McCulloch, previously of King Crimson.