For the next line-up of Atomic Rooster, Vincent Crane teamed up with the talented guitarist John Cann (later DuCann), previously in Andromeda, and his own foot and left hand (on the lower manual) as bassist. Ric Parnell served a brief spell behind the drum kit, but not before Cann brought in the much underrated John Hammond instead. Thus constituted, the trio of Crane, Cann and Hammond would burn bright during their short existence. Early in 1971, the band released their second album, Death Walks Behind you. Crane's obsession with the darker side of the psyche was fairly unique at the time and as the title suggests, the album had no shortage of gloom and doom. A consistently heavy rock affair, it is distinguished by Cann's guitar playing, but not necessarily his vocals (as the title track attests). The instrumental "Vug" however kicks into high gear, and the interplay between Crane's organ and Cann's guitar is positively electric. Bluesy and ballsy, it is indicative of their heavy chomping sound. "Gershatzer" is another instrumental barnstormer, with Hammond this time letting loose on the drum kit. Several Cann compositions grace the record, the best, "Seven Lonely Streets", is fitted with a shimmering organ arrangement. Crane switches to piano for the more accomplished melody of "Nobody Else", a precursor to what the next album would have in store. The single "Tomorrow Night" b/w "Play The Game" climbed just shy of the UK Top 10, while the album reached No. 12, and even break into the US Top 100, where the band had signed to Elektra Records.
Step back a few years to the unbearably named Uriel, from which Egg was (sorry) hatched. Uriel was founded in 1968 by bassist Mont Campbell, guitarist Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart - who we are to believe, only took up the organ because of his intimidation by Hillage's superior guitar playing! They eventually recruited Clive Brooks on drums through a Melody Maker advert. Uriel played bluesy psychedelia - self-described as part Cream and part The Nice. The band gigged sporadically around London and recorded one posthumous album, released under the more pleasant moniker, Arzachel. After Hillage's departure for University, the band dropped all blues numbers from their set and moved forward with compositions built around classical motifs and bizarre time signatures. At this point, the management of Middle Earth club approached them, and convinced them to change their name to Egg. They eventually signed to Deram, releasing their first album in spring 1970. It was a solid debut, but not without some traces of influence. Encompassing the record's second side, the instrumental "Symphony No. 2" was substantial. (Of course, it also begged the question, where is "No. 1"?) Egg's second album, The Polite Force, remains the classic. It begins with Mont Campbell's recitation on the autobiographical "Visit to Newport Hospital". Again the second side is dominated by an instrumental, this time the veritable "Long Piece No.3". Stewart provides the classic Hammond/Leslie tone, while drummer Brooks keeps meticulous time. The second section's motif is simply transcendent. Prone to digress into wonderful moments of psychedelic weirdness, it truly is a complicated and original piece, and one that avoids the typical pomposity of organ rock, perhaps its greatest triumph. The record has much in common with Stewart's later Canterbury efforts. But Egg (really sorry) broke up in 1972, and Stewart turned his attention to Hillage's new band, Khan. Egg would record a final "reunion" album, The Civil Surface, for Virgin in 1974, simply because they were offered.
The Yes Album was that herculean leap that helped the band not only save their recording contract with Atlantic, but also served as the artistic step that put them into prog rock's elite. With new blood Steve Howe on guitar, Yes spent a few months isolated in the country writing new material (including fantastic arrangements of Paul Simon's "America" and the Young Rascals' "It's Love"). In retrospect, the elements had been in place on the prior two albums, but here Yes stretch out their compositions, giving them room to blossom without ever getting too bloated. Nine minutes may be a long time for most songs, but not for the four epic tracks contained within. Both "Starship Trooper" and "Yours is No Disgrace" are typical Yes material, hard riffing, melodic and cinematic, however the chomping "Perpetual Change" remains underrated in the Yes canon. "Your Move/I've Seen All Good People" would become the perennial crowd-pleaser and radio favorite; it starts as a simple sing-a-long acoustic number before moving into the foot-stomping second section. Jon Anderson's words move like a game of chess, interweaving both the meaning and cadence to great effect. Certainly Howe's input and versatile guitar playing is a great new asset, but his ragtime solo "Clap" first presented here would eventually be performed with circus-act regularity. The album gave Yes its first UK Top 10, reaching No. 7 and even managed to reach the US Top 40. After the album's release, Yes made an appearance on BBC's Top Of The Pops and were then off on their first tour of America, in support of a very popular Jethro Tull.
On Aqualung, the lines began to blur between myth and man: Is Jethro Tull Ian Anderson? Is Anderson Aqualung? Is Aqualung Jethro Tull? Like the disheveled character on the album's cover or the band's portrait on the gatefold, Anderson and company become larger than life with Aqualung - and in fact became all three. Anderson (and wife Jenny who penned the title track's lyrics) tackles his views on religion, giving the album the loose distinction of "concept". Here Jethro Tull takes their music to a new commercial level, bridging their own brew with the hard riffing of the then- current heavy rock into concise pop songs. "My God", "Hymn 43" and "Locomotive Breath" are chock-full of classic riffs and hooks, with Barre's double-tracked guitar the ace in the hole. The title track and "Locomotive Breath" are also undeniably FM radio-friendly hits; the album would become standard issue to nearly every guitar-wielding teenager of the era. Yet it's also interspersed with gentler moments that hearken back to the Tull of the previous album, in particular on "Mother Goose". In a role he would hold for a decade, David Palmer debuts his orchestration skills on "Wond'ring Aloud". The band toured the US extensively in support of the album, which finally cracked the US Top 10 at No. 7. In the UK, it would rise to No. 4. It was one of the first albums of the progressive era to earn a gold award and has since garnered multi-platinum status.
Caravan's third album sports a fine cover illustration from Anne Marie Anderson, and on the turntable the album steps up a notch from their previous efforts. Richard Sinclair's affable (and perennial favorite) "Golf Girl" kicks off; it's concise pop Caravan style and "Love To Love You" and the title track offer more of the same. The production (courtesy David Hitchcock) and instrumentation are immaculate, while the melodies and lighthearted subject matter again typically English. Next, "Winter Wine" presents a mini-version of what the second side has to offer: the epic "Nine Feet Underground". Caravan's entrant into prog rock's album- side long composition, it certainly wins them top honors. Conceived by Dave Sinclair as an entity, the eight sections flow together seamlessly, hypnotically propelled through the twenty-minute piece by the laid-back Coughlan/Sinclair rhythm section. From the opening riff until the very end there can be little debate that Sinclair's Hammond organ steals the show. Continually shifting and changing tone, he carries the melody on each section with pure simplicity. Hastings' guitar may be way down in the mix, but his melancholic voice is the icing on the track. It remains one of the finest moments of not only Caravan, but of progressive rock in general. The album failed to chart, but remained in Decca's catalog for years, eventually earning a gold record for the band. Caravan continued hectic touring; however, change was just around the corner. Dave Sinclair left in August to join Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole.
The original Amon Düül saw its beginning in 1967 as a hippie commune in Munich, albeit one more of a sociopolitical nature than that of a musical group. (All their recordings stem from two jam sessions). Led by Chris Karrer, Amon Düül II was formed in 1968 as a live band, with Johannes Weinzierl, Falk-Ulrich Rogner, Renate Knaup and Dieter Serfas in the original lineup. They released their debut album, Phallus Dei, in 1969. There’s some affinity to the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd, yet what’s inside is much, much more bizarre. Knaup’s voice is immediately recognizable; it’s very much the antithesis of her British counterparts, in fact, so is Amon Düül II. Their compositions are based on improvisations, with an emphasis on the raw and freak out of psychedelia, yet with a hint of (deliberate?) amateurism. The double-album Yeti appeared the following year, but their next album, Dance Of The Lemmings, saw international release on the United Artists label in 1971. Three of the sides are album-side long tracks: “Syntelman’s March Of The Roaring Seventies” is the archetype; there’s a hint of acoustic folk in Karrer’s writing, but propelled by Lothar Meid’s pummeling bass and Peter Leopold’s brisk drumming it takes on a new dimension. Aided by Mellotron, “Restless Skylight - Transistor - Child” descends into darker space, while “The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church” treads the kosmische. The fourth side features several shorter tracks, all more or less guitar-based, with “Toxicological Whispering” featuring the lead guitar of Weinzierl. There’s little precedent for Amon Düül II’s music, krautrock, progressive or otherwise. The band would record several more albums for United Artists, including the eponymous Utopia album in 1973. The long psychedelic jams would yield to more conventional structures yet always with the band’s unique signatures. In 1975, Amon Düül II switched to Atlantic/Atco Records, and withstanding far too numerous personnel changes to mention, would continue to release records until the early ‘80s.
If Emerson, Lake & Palmer had earned a "flash" rock reputation, their second album, Tarkus offers something in defense. "Tarkus" tells the story of a battle between a mythical manticore and a tank/armadillo beast, but more importantly, it's where ELP gets down to the business of serious composition. And what they present is nothing short of impressive. "Tarkus" is busy, fierce and perhaps best of all, relentless. No slow middle sections or acoustic interludes; this is full on ELP, hammering on the organ, bass and drum kit all the way through and adding a modicum of electric guitar and synthesizer for good measure. In contrast, the second side offers more discrete (and shorter) material. A honky-tonk piano kicks off the cross-dressing tale of "Jeremy Bender", perhaps another progressive cousin to Syd Barrett's "Arnold Layne". "Bitches Crystal" gives a hint or two of things to come, while "A Time And a Place" is just downright heavy rock. Lake provides a passionate, even Crimson-esque, vocal to the credited Bach adaptation "The Only Way", however the hypnotic piano riff of the interred "Infinite Space" is a welcome moment of restraint - and jazz - for the band. Eddie "Are you ready?" Offord again engineered the record while Lake produced, and as usual, the pair achieved sonic perfection. The album gave ELP their first and only No. 1 record in the UK and broke them into the US Top 10.
Immediately recognizable by their oriental-flavored album covers, Jade Warrior was based around the duo of guitarist Tony Duhig and percussionist Jon Field. They drifted through a series of bands during the mid-to-late '60s, eventually forming July with Tom Newman and releasing one often overlooked psychedelic album before breaking up. Adopting the name Jade Warrior, the pair then recruited Glenn Havard on vocals and bass and secured a contract with Vertigo, reportedly because they shared the same management as Afro-rock band Assagai (also courted by Vertigo). Although the Jethro Tull comparisons are inevitable, their music occupies a much different space. Foremost, Field is a percussionist. Suitably, their songs are not anchored with drumming, allowing for a far more expansive sound. Havard is a good vocalist and his bass always adds substance; the remainder is dynamics, ranging from the gentle of Field's flute to the overdriven guitar of Duhig. Their compositions also range from the bluesy "A Prenormal Day at Brighton" at one end of the spectrum, to African influenced "Masai Morning" at the other end. But the gentleness of "Windweaver" or "Dragonfly Day" is the Warrior's strong suit. The second side opts for more bluesy numbers, but the acoustic "Sundial Song" gives a glimpse at their future. The following year the band released two albums: Released, its highlight being the lengthy jam "Barazinbar" with drummer Allan Price and saxophonist Dave Conners; and Last Autumn's Dream, offering the closest the band would come to regular songs. The band then toured the US in support of Dave Mason, adding Duhig's brother David on guitar. Two further albums were recorded in 1973, but would not see release for decades. With their recording contract with Vertigo canceled, the band would creep into 1974 in limbo.
Hailing from Genoa, the New Trolls were one of the first original Italian rock bands (the other was the Anglo-Italian invention, The Trip). Story has it the band was “created” by a music critic choosing an ideal lineup: Guitarist Vittorio Di Scalzi, vocalist (and guitarist) Nico Di Paolo, drummer Gianni Belleno, keyboardist Mauro Chiarugi and bassist Giorgio D’Adamo were also fortunate enough to land a supporting spot on the Rolling Stones 1967 tour of Italy. After several successful singles (and two albums compiling them), the band collaborated with Argentinean composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov for Concerto Grosso per i New Trolls. Based on the baroque form of music, the piece opens with “Allegro”; alternating between the brisk waves of strings is the proto-typical hard blues of the era. The syrupy “Adagio” follows, a rather unspectacular vocal number, while “Cadenza Andante” features solo violin. Only the closing “Tempo Shadows” gets really electric, courtesy the Jimi Hendrix-influenced guitar of Di Paolo. Encompassing the second side is an in-studio improvisation from the band. After a protracted organ intro, the band rocks out, ranging from more flute-driven rock to jazzy Santana-esque grooves, and ending in one long drum solo… No, I’m not really impressed. But according to Paolo Barotto in his “The Return Of Italian Pop”, the record sold a phenomenal 800,000 copies in Italy and is generally regarded as the foundation of Italian progressive rock. Bacalov, who spent the ‘60s composing soundtracks for spaghetti westerns, would render the same services for Osanna the following year and Il Rovescio Della Madaglia in 1973, the former undoubtedly the crowning musical achievement. In 1972, the New Trolls issued two albums: the half-live, half-studio Searching For A Land included a switch to English-language vocals, while UT was generally better received. The band then famously split; De Scalzi would form the New Trolls Atomic System (to avoid legal hassles) and issue one excellent self-titled album of progressive rock in 1973. Di Palo would form Ibis with most of the other members of the New Trolls, releasing three albums of (more or less) hard rock. In 1976 the factions made up and reformed the New Trolls, uniting De Scalzi, Di Palo, and Belleno with new members. Their first recording was Concerto Grosso No. 2, but unfortunately it provided little to further their legacy.
Having already spent the majority of the year on tour with VDGG (including dates on the now legendary Charisma "Six Bob" tour), Peter Hammill's first solo album was recorded in what must have been an exceptionally busy year for him. As a solo artist, Hammill was a slightly different creature. It wouldn't be incorrect (at this stage) to call the singer-songwriter acoustic, but in a progressive tradition he certainly was original. The album, as Hammill states on the liner notes, is "an album of songs rather than a musical extravaganza". (That of course, he was saving for the next VDGG album). Most of the songs were years old by the time the album was recorded, many first being cataloged in the early days of VDGG. Adding to the overall color of the album, Fool's Mate features a host of colleagues, including all of VDGG, Robert Fripp, and Ray Jackson and Rod Clements from Lindisfarne. Both sides of the album open with uncharacteristically rollicking numbers. "Imperial Zeppelin" is one of two co-written with former VDGG member Chris Judge Smith (the other being the excellent "Viking"). Some of the album has the zest of the Aerosol Grey Machine album, in particular the plodding of "Candle" and the brisk "Re-awakening". But the portraits of "Solitude" and "Child", both are bleak and beautiful simultaneously, point in the direction Hammill's career would follow (for now anyway). Two other tracks, "Vision" and "The Birds", would both crop up a decade later in re-recordings, again reaffirming their timelessness. Hammill would become one of the most prolific solo artists of the genre, but all of that would have to wait; there was still much unfinished business in VDGG to attend to.
Judging by the success of their last album and single, this was indeed the year of the Rooster (actually the Boar). Another single, this time penned by John Cann, was released in July. "Devil's Answer" b/w "The Rock" was another genuine hit reaching No. 4 in the UK Charts. However, the creative differences between him and Vincent Crane had come to a head. Crane recruited vocalist Pete French to re-record the vocals on the nearly completed album. In retrospect, it was a decidedly good addition; French is a more accomplished vocalist and the album In Hearing Of rates as one of their finest. "Breakthrough" and the instrumental "A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down" are fierce rockers. But again, the slower tracks best demonstrate Crane's significant talent. He switches to piano for the bittersweet "Decision/Indecision" and the absolutely sublime "Black Snake" is proof positive of Crane's expert command of the Hammond organ (and a rare vocal from him as well). Drummers also take note: John Hammond's drumming is simply superb throughout. The album's strength though is its songwriting, giving it a continuity that the previous efforts lacked; it definitely ranks as their finest. Of some minor note to prog rock punters, the album cover and gatefold sport one of Roger Dean's most un- cosmic creations! The album reached No. 18 in the UK charts and again saw release in the US. Yet both Hammond and Cann would depart the band, first forming Bullet, and then the hard rocking Hard Stuff. Crane, with French, brought in guitarist Steve Bolton and drummer Ric Parnell for the subsequent tour, including a supporting slot for The Who at George Harrison's UK Benefit for Bangladesh.
The title of Gentle Giant's second album, Acquiring The Taste, was of course a reference to their musical oeuvre. The liner notes insist, "It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge ... to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music". And there you have it - the progressive ethos! The band plays what seems to be an orchestra of instruments over the course of the album. From the baroque recorders on "Wreck" to the alto and tenor saxophones of "The Moon Is Down", Giant extends the range of their music in a genuinely eclectic way. Remember this was 1971: if you wanted new sounds, you had to come up with them on your own: there were no magic buttons to press. The string quartet on "Black Cat" is highly effective, lending warmth to the feline interpretation. Dig the Carlos-esque Moog synthesizers of the title track. Throughout the album the Giant's performance is, of course, exemplary, as is Tony Visconti's impeccable production. Both "Plain Truth" and "The House The Street The Room" carry a familiar heaviness the band would often revisit. Lyrically, the album also stretches out, referencing literary works such as 16th century monk François Rabelais in "Pantagruel's Nativity". The liner notes further offer the conclusion "to give you something far more substantial... at the risk of being very unpopular". For the most part they succeed on both accounts: their technical ability was never lost in itself as it was used to further the compositions, and they did not sell very well! The album, like the previous, did not chart on either side of the Atlantic. Gentle Giant would, however, record another two albums for Vertigo.
One of Germany's rock pioneers, Achim Reichel founded the beat-era Rattles, Germany's answer to the Beatles, with Herbert Hildebrandt in 1960. Military service drew Reichel from the band, but upon discharge he continued his musical career with the pop group Wonderland. However at the start of the '70s, his interests in Eastern philosophies coincided with the burgeoning progressive trend. Teaming with lyricist Frank Dostal, first up was the just plain weird Wonderland Band. The story really begins in 1971 with Die Grüne Reise (The Green Journey), the first album under Reichel's new moniker, A.R. & Machines. Billed as a "soundtrack to the intended motion picture", the album is certainly a trip. Reichel recorded the album by himself, adding voice, percussion and electronic effects (Dostal provided the lyrics). Of course "Machines" refers to the tape recorders that made up Reichel's signature "echo-guitar". He layers guitar line over guitar line into a very hypnotic effect, and effectively predates just about everyone that came after (Fripp, Göttsching, Schickert, etc.). "Schönes Babylon" for example is truly resplendent; it's a completely different take on the kosmische. There's also a hippie vibe throughout the record that could be seen as strength ("I'll Be Your Singer") or not ("Come On, People"). Yet twangy, mantric and certainly psychedelic, the album is Reichel's own progressive twist on rock-n-roll, culminating in the whacked-out "Truth and Probability", where Reichel now layers his voice through the tape machines! The album saw release on Polydor, as did the following year's double-album opus, Echo. Produced again by Reichel, the album enlisted the services of Conny Plank as engineer, and a host of guest musicians. With the "Machines" hypnotic echo-guitar in full force, it's mostly augmented with acoustic guitar and tabla rhythms, and Reichel's deep baritone croon, however Lucifer Friends' Peter Hecht's orchestration is sublime. It's an unprecedented set, certainly one of the most massively amazing albums of the era. Reichel then setup his own Zebra imprint with Polydor, releasing a variety of artists, including Kin Ping Meh, Ougenweide and Randy Pie. He would release a few more A.R. & Machines albums, including the excellent IV in 1973; however by mid-decade Reichel's involvement with the progressive would be limited to that of a producer and label head, as his (very successful) solo career would pursue more commercial grounds.
Infinitely more rewarding than their debut was Curved Air's prophetically titled Second Album. Bassist Ian Eyre replaced Robert Martin, the first in what would become an all too often occurrence for the band. The considerable musical talents of the classically trained duo of violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman finally gel here, even though their compositions split the album's sides. Way's "Young Mother" opens and features some excellent synthesizer work from Monkman. The funky "Back Street Luv" b/w "Everdance" was a hit for the band the previous summer, reaching No. 5 in the UK. Kristina's voice is quite unique for rock, let alone progressive rock: it's very formal and always up in the mix, something Renaissance would replicate a few years later. Monkman's "Everdance" is a refreshing change with Way's violin well integrated into the song, while "Piece Of Mind" finally delivers the kind of fusion of rock and classics the band initially promised. The album was again well received in the UK, perhaps this time (without picture disc) more genuinely so, reaching No. 11. Bassist Mike Wedgewood was on board for their next album in 1972, Phantasmagoria. It again presents a further refinement of Curved Air's classical sound, especially on compositions like "Marie Antoinette" and "Over And Above". The album again charted in the UK, albeit only reaching No. 20. It would be the last with both Way and Monkman (for now anyway) as the band would undergo massive personnel changes.
Success may have proved too much for Arthur Brown, as his attempts to keep the Crazy World together ultimately failed. With Theaker returning, Brown assembled a new band, provisionally entitled Puddletown Express, in late 1969, with George Khan on sax, organist Jonah Mitchell, bassist Dennis Taylor and Android Funnel (Andy Rickell) on guitar. A follow- up to the Crazy World was recorded, but ultimately abandoned. (It did see release decades later as Strange Lands, as did the Brown-less Rustic Hinge recordings). Brown then formed Kingdom Come in 1970 with yet another revolving cast, this time including Dave Ambrose, Rob Tait, Andy McCulloch, Andy Dalby and Mike Harris. Initial rehearsals from this nascent group were also released decades later. The band, now with Dalby, Harris, Slim Steer on drums and Des Fisher on bass, held together long enough to record their debut at London's Olympic and Monmouth's Rockfield studios. Galactic Zoo Dossier is a highly crafted prog rock classic, and without a doubt, one of the most bizarre albums of the era. The album plays continuous, which should be no surprise; a self- proclaimed "multi-media experience", the concert was Kingdom Come's forte, costumes, props, and all. The album plays out: "Space Plucks", for instance, co-written with Vincent Crane, contains one of those classic organ hooks, while "Gypsy Escape" illustrates the classic prog rock jam and the exceptional musicality of the band. The unmistakable voice of Brown and his R&B influences lend a soulful slant to the proceedings, something rare for English music from this period. Just check out his passionate delivery on "Sunrise". The album saw release on Polydor in the UK, but despite extensive touring failed to chart.
Offering its own take on progressive rock during the 1970s, The Netherlands spawned groups ranging from the well-know of Focus and Kayak, to the lesser-known Supersister and Alquin. One of the most successful, Earth & Fire combined the talents of the brothers Koerts, Chris on guitar and Gerard on keyboards, and Hans Ziech on bass. After adding female vocalist Jerney Kaagman, the band fell under the wing of Golden Earring. Their initial success was as a singles band; from early 1970 through the mid-‘70s, they consistently littered the Dutch hit parade with their English-language singles. Their self-titled debut was typical of the era; psychedelic rock with some good arrangements, but not without the West Coast vibe of Jefferson Airplane. Ton van der Kleij then replaced original drummer Cees Kalis, and after purchasing a Mellotron, the band moved into a more progressive direction, releasing Song Of The Marching Children in 1971. “Carnaval Of The Animals” (sic) is quite literal, while “Ebbtide” has good pop overtones. Gerard’s classically inspired organ leads “Storm and Thunder” yet “In the Mountains” tracks the same ground as Focus. It’s all good music, but nowhere near essential. The highlight however, is the album-side long title track. The protracted introduction sweeps open to the large symphonic refrain of “Opening The Seal”; the themes of “Childhood” and “Affliction” are sweetly melancholic, and the story - one of those biblical life to death ones - is actually quite dark. An acoustic guitar works the transition from “Damnation” to the long dirge-like fade of “The March”. Kaagman’s voice doesn’t have the range of her progressive contemporaries, yet she’s got a powerful delivery that’s well-suited for the music. Throughout the piece each section is well-integrated into the next, and the track features a trove of Mellotron, synthesizers, and other keyboards. It’s a unique twist on prog rock, but one that’s quite symphonic and superbly executed by the band; truly classic. The album was produced by Jaap Eggermont, of Golden Earring fame, as were Earth & Fire’s other albums. Released in 1973, the band’s next album, Atlantis, again continued in this direction, but their latter releases would see a much more conventional slant as the band moved on to commercial terrain.
There's a certain tradition in the Netherlands it seems, beginning with the original Dutch export Ekseption, of souping-up classical themes in a rock format. Focus definitely ventured onto this path, but borrowed more from the baroque and renaissance eras, and more importantly, used those influences to create something of their own. Keyboardist and flautist Thijs Van Leer formed the group in 1969 as the pit band for the Dutch production of "Hair". At the end of the year, guitarist Jan Akkerman was recruited from another Dutch rock band, Brainbox. Their debut album, In and Out of Focus, yielded a substantial hit across Europe in the Jethro Tull- clone single "House of The King" (oddly omitted from the US release). The remainder of the album is just as solid: Akkerman's guitar is fierce, even when the surrounding compositions seem lightweight. But Focus then broke up. Akkerman then teamed up with countrymen Cyril Havermans and former Brainbox drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, before inviting Van Leer and the name Focus back. Reconstituted, they recorded Moving Waves in London, with Mike Vernon producing. The frantic guitar of Jan Akkerman and are-you-serious yodeling of Thys Van Leer open the album on the gimmick track "Hocus Pocus". It would yield them a Top 10 single in the UK and US, albeit some eighteen months later. (Pundits check out the "fast version" on the flip side.) The jazzier pace of "Focus II" and elegance of "Janis" however is far more familiar. But the second side's "Eruption" is the step in the progressive direction that clearly validates the album as classic. Completely instrumental, the different movements showcase the band's musical faculty, but Akkerman's blistering guitar in "Tommy" is the standout. Though failing to chart upon release, the album would eventually earn gold status on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1969, guitarist Dave Brock and drummer Terry Ollis gathered up saxophonist Nik Turner, synthesist Dik Mik Davies and guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton, and after a few name and personnel changes launched the ultimate underground band, Hawkwind. They quickly earned a reputation from playing free concerts in and around London, and also from the counter-culture (Friends magazine, drugs) associated with those events. Most notable was outside the gates of the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 in an inflatable "bubble" tent. Musically, however, Hawkwind were never that adventurous: rooted in hippie folksiness, most compositions were fuelled by a straight-ahead driving rhythm that rarely faltered. But mad saxophone soloing and electronic effects coupled with sci-fi imagery (courtesy of author Michael Moorcock) gave them the space rock tag. Indeed, Hawkwind's music was all about the trip. Their inauspicious debut album behind them, X In Search of Space got down to serious business. Bassist Dave Anderson was recruited fresh from the über-German Amon Düül II, providing another sonic clue to the Hawk's puzzle. The album's first side motors right through "You Shouldn't Do That" before crash-landing on the tripped-out psychedelia of Brock's "You Know You're Only Dreaming". Side two begins with Hawkwind's first classic, "Master Of The Universe", centering on a main riff that wouldn't be out of place in a Black Sabbath tune. The balance of the side treads more tentative grounds, with a couple of acoustic numbers and the excellent "Adjust Me". The album jacket itself was a very lavish affair, complete with die-cut cover and elaborate comic book from Bob Calvert and Barney Bubbles. No doubt, it sold quite well in the UK, breaking into the Top 20.
Pawn Hearts is the final statement of VDGG's first generation and they certainly end it with a masterpiece. The album's first side contains "Lemmings" and Man-Erg", the latter having been the only number previously road tested before recording. Both are full of VDGG mechanics - the relative calm of "Man-Erg" pierced by Hugh Banton's hammering organ, while "Lemmings" reaches down to even darker imagery, both lyrically and sonically. Initial plans for the album called for a double, with a live side and solo numbers written each by Banton, David Jackson, and Guy Evans (recorded and in the vaults!) to offset Peter Hammill's "Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers", which encompasses the entire second side. Written primarily "on the back of the tour bus", it is Hammill's epic life-struggle saga. Dense and thematic, the composition cruises along like a shipwreck: one moment peaceful, the next a sonic maelstrom. The band is in top form throughout, with Banton adding ARP and Mellotron to his armory: VDGG never sounded better on record; it's also a veritable example of what could be achieved in a recording studio at the time. The spry "Theme One", title music written by George Martin for the BBC, was included on the US release of the album. Again, despite constant touring, the album failed to chart in the UK. But in 1972, VDGG toured Italy three times, where the album would reach No. 1. However by the end of the year, relations with Charisma came to a head and the band penniless, called it a day. Hammill would embark on a solo career, recording three solo albums, most with contributions from the other VDGG members, eventually leading to the reformation of the band in late 1974.
Perhaps the most easily recognizable “trademark of quality” from the era, the Vertigo label delivered a wide range of music during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. A few of their acts, Black Sabbath and Rod Stewart for example, went on to superstardom, while most others would have to be content in releasing what would become some of the most collectible records of the era. Beggars Opera was one of the latter. Formed in Glasgow in 1969, the band consisted of vocalist Martin Griffiths, keyboardist Alan Park, drummer Raymond Wilson and guitarist Ricky Gardiner. Their first album, Act One, was released in early 1971; a predictably good mixture of underground sounds with classical overtones. Adding Gordon Sellar on bass and Virginia Scott on Mellotron, the band released the Waters Of Change later in the year. Scott had previously co-written some numbers for the band, but her addition here is most unique: she’s one of the few female musicians in the timeline. Underneath a grinding organ, the classic “Time Machine” unfolds with washes of Mellotron alongside its tight groove. The bouncy “I’ve No Idea” follows with similar progressive verisimilitude; it’s also a showcase of Park’s considerable talent. The second side’s “Festival” presents a typically stately melody for the band, one that more than compliments the formality of Griffith’s voice. “Silver Peacock” flourishes in the band’s arrangement, while “The Fox” closes with more of the band’s quasi-classical music and one electric finale. The album was best received in Germany, where the band would now concentrate their fortunes. Another album, Pathfinder, followed in 1972, but the band then suffered some changes, including the loss of both Griffiths and musical direction (check out the languishing cover of “MacArthur Park”), and after one final album for Vertigo broke up. In 1974, Gardiner, with both Scott and ex-Savoy Brown vocalist Pete Scott, recorded two albums as Beggars Opera for a German label. More successful was his role as guitarist for David Bowie’s Low album, which eventually led him to Iggy Pop’s band. Beggars Opera would record a final album in 1981.