Glaring Oversight Number X
While thinking a bit more about the whole Sgt. Pepper's deal, I thought of this record. Imagine my shock and outrage (OK, "outrage" is a stretch, but...) when I searched for the streaming audio on my handy new ultimate website, and this album was not on the list! Here was a record that was released chronologically about 6 months after Sgt. Pepper's. In my opinion, it is every bit as experimental, without being derivative. The primary difference is that the experimentation is way more about instrument choice, and incorporation of a jazz style, and much less about sound effects (though there are some) and studio gimmicks. Another difference is that these guys were UNBELIEVABLE musicians. [The Beatles, for all their professed virtues, could NEVER be confused for the type of accomplished musicians in Traffic.] Now, normally, I wouldn't give two shits to say someone I liked was "an accomplished musician". But, these guys could play with feeling too.
Traffic, on MR. FANTASY, was Steve Winwood (organ, guitar, bass guitar, piano, harpsichord, percussion, and vocals), Jim Capaldi (drums, percussion, and vocals), Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, organ, and vocals), and Dave Mason (guitar, meletron*, sitar, tambura, shakkai, bass guitar, and vocals).
*that's the spelling on the liner notes of my LP
The songs are as follows:
1. Heaven Is in Your Mind (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood) - 4:16
2. Berkshire Poppies (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood) - 2:55
3. House for Everyone (Mason) - 2:02
4. No Face, No Name, No Number (Winwood/Capaldi) - 3:31
5. Dear Mr. Fantasy (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood) - 5:39
1. Dealer (Capaldi) - 3:10
2. Utterly Simple (Mason) - 3:17
3. Coloured Rain (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood) - 2:41
4. Hope I Never Find Me There (Mason) - 2:06
5. Giving to You (Wood/Mason/Winwood/Capaldi) - 4:17
The absolute masterpiece of the LP, however, is the 2nd single, "Dear Mr. Fantasy". What a seminal piece of psychedelia, but in an almost understated way. There's no long, "Whole Lotta Love" sound effect break. It's still fundamentally just a rock and roll song at heart. And, man, what a killer fucking example of bent-string, guitar-soloing glory! It's not quite Bari Watts on "Once More", but it is absolutely as good as you will EVER hear on the radio! There is no detail on who played which instrument on which song. However, since Dave Mason is the only member NOT given a writing credit on this song, I've always operated under the assumption that Winwood was doing the honors on lead guitar. Mason was an accomplished guitarist, but was much more likely to play acoustic guitar (trivia: he played 12-string on the Hendrix version of "All Along The Watchtower").
One of the more experimental songs is "Berkshire Poppies", with its sound effects, background conversation noise, and multiple musical changes. "House for Everyone" features some great horn work. "No Face, No Name, No Number" has a mellow, acoustic start, before the accompaniment joins, and features some plaintive vocals (the title apparently describes the type of female companion Winwood wishes to meet). "Coloured Rain" is a slow-paced, but solid rocker with a great keyboard/guitar mix. The finale, "Giving to You" is practically a free-form jazz piece, with a crazy, faux-hipster-conversation cacaphony of an intro (and ending).
In the end, I can only suppose this album falls short in Rolling Stone's eyes because it was an album by a UK band that only sold in the UK. Its sales fell flat in the U.S. (Now, had it been a New York band that only sold in the UK, or a UK band that sold well in the USA...) Of course, subsequent releases, including their eponymous follow-up sold much better stateside, and they're nowhere to be found in the "Top 500" either. I don't know. I guess I just don't get it.
Bottom line: This is a great piece of '60s experimentation that's actually interesting to listen to after all these years! And, damn it all, "Dear Mr. Fantasy" is worth the price of admission by itself. It just sucks that this album didn't make the list, because I can't stream the audio at work. But, at least it gave me an excuse to dust off my old vinyl copy at home last night!