Cult albums and lost gems of 1970 – Amon Düül II, Nick Drake, Linda Perhacs and more


Cult classics and lost gems of the 70s

Celebrating 50 years of freakbeat, Getintothis’ Gary Aster takes a walk from the wild side to the psychedelic side of 1970 and shares lost albums and killer cult tunes. 

It was fifty years ago, 1970.

Ah, the past – it’s a foreign country you know; they do things differently there, but it’s not nostalgia if you don’t remember it from the first time around.

Fifty years ago and the sixties were officially over, as a new uncertain and less optimistic decade got underway.

The Beatles had split up and, newly liberated, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all issued solo albums to varying levels of acclaim.

However, 1970 also saw the release of significant offerings from Black Sabbath, Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Santana and The Stooges amongst others.

But you know those albums already.

So instead we want to throw the spotlight on some lesser-known and half-forgotten gems, albums that didn’t set the world alight on the first release but which have slowly gathered a well-earned word-of-mouth reputation amongst collectors of rare and precious vinyl.

Cult classics, if you like, or B-music.

Here are ten (mostly) overlooked treasures now half a century old but still worthy of our fading attention.

Cult Classics of 1969, underloved albums from Axelrod to Sunforest and beyond

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Cosmo’s Factory

In less than three years, CCR knocked out six great albums before their inevitable split, which remains a remarkable achievement matched by few.

Chief songwriter and driving force of the band John Fogerty later remarked that this particular album was probably their best effort, and we concur.

It can hardly be described as a cult classic, however, having spent nine weeks at the top of the US album charts, although it fared rather more modestly here in the UK.

Despite this initial success, today it is often overshadowed by other records from that time which didn’t sell even half as many on first pressing, hence its inclusion here.

Alongside cover versions of Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison songs, (all given the CCR treatment of Southern-tinged rock/pop boogie), are Fogerty-penned originals like Run Through the Jungle and Who’ll Stop the Rain, which addressed contemporary concerns about the war in Vietnam.

In terms of its overall sound, however, it’s a fairly mainstream record which eschews much of the psychedelic and experimental soundscapes of the band’s San Francisco contemporaries but is none the worse for it.

Sometimes it’s good just to hear traditional song structures and arrangements when they’re as well-played, well-produced and catchy as this.

Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship: Blows Against the Empire

This is an adventurous and ambitious sci-fi concept album with environmental themes, telling the story of space-ship hijacked in a rebellious effort to escape a dangerously polluted earth, but don’t let that put you off.

It’s arguably a more current record now, half a century later on than it was on first release and the tale is told with imagination and good humour.

A collaborative effort, it’s largely the work of Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner and Grace Slick but features a host of other San Francisco music luminaries guesting throughout.

Most or all of the Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead appear somewhere along the way, accompanying the complex vocal harmony arrangements of David Freiberg, Graham Nash and David Crosby.

The latter, incidentally, was recording his first solo album in the same studio with the same shifting cast of musicians at that time.

It features a range of musical styles from the stoner-rock of album-opener Mau Mau to the gentle folk sounds of The Baby Tree, occasionally interspersed with experimental transitionary passages of early electronica.

A mixed bag then, including some political references and targets which now seem obscure, but with a satirical edge that still rewards on repeated listens.

Spirit: The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus

An album made in transition with some behind the scenes turmoil which would soon lead to significant line-up changes in the band.

Yet despite it all, this is surely Spirit’s best and most accomplished recording.

Though it flopped on its first release, the album had very favourable reviews and soon became something of an underground favourite, continuing to sell modestly for some years and eventually achieving gold status in the US five years later.

Working for the first time with Neil Young’s producer David Briggs, the band delivered an adventurous suite of songs – a concept album that marks the shift from psychedelia towards prog-rock.

The literary and philosophical themes of the record’s intelligent lyrics avoid the usual prog-rock clichés however, and the record has often been cited as an early example of art-rock.

An album of unexpected twists and turns from gentle folk-tinged balladry to heavy rocking, riff-laden prog and Zappa-esque experimentalism, guitarist Randy California’s playing throughout is a particular highlight.

But this is band of highly accomplished musicians all vying for the listener’s attention, which makes for a dizzying and rewarding listen throughout.

It’s certainly a good one for headphones and deservedly continues to enjoy cult classic status, regularly appearing on lists and in pieces like this one.

The Temptations: Psychedelic Shack

It was Sly Stone who first turned Motown producer Norman Whitfield on to psychedelia, inspiring a new direction, soon to be called psychedelic soul, and the first fruits of this newfound influence were to be heard on The Temptations’ Cloud Nine.

It was an unexpected turn for a well-established act like The Temptations to make and was most fully realised on their 1970 psychedelic Shack album.

Whitfield and host of well-known session players lingered for much longer in the studio than previously, experimenting with sounds and effects, multi-tracking and overlaying to provide intricate instrumental backing tracks to which the Temptations would add their vocal parts in the final stages of recording.

Dennis Coffey’s guitar, variously filtered through wah-wah pedal, fuzz box (or both) adds layers of trippy interlocking parts to the album’s title track, and to great effect on the epic Take A Stroll Thru Your Mind, considered by some to be a masterpiece.

Though not a huge hit by The Temptations’ standards, the album was a big influence on the sounds and methods of many who followed including Isaac Hayes, Funkadelic and even Barry White.

Its appeal endures to this day – seek it out.

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Meic Stevens: Outlander

A big fish in the relatively small pond of Welsh language music for decades now, this remains, more or less, Meic Stevens’ only recorded foray into English.

He trod the familiar path of many 60s folk singers towards blues and eventually psychedelia, and he’s been variously dubbed both the Welsh Bob Dylan and the Welsh Syd Barrett.

Though an early, John Paul Jones produced single had flopped, Stevens impressed Warner Brothers enough to receive a generous advance on this album, which was recorded with producer Ian Samwell and a ten-piece session band called Indo Jazz Fusions.

Spirited album opener Rowena recalls Donovan’s better late 60s recordings. Other highlights include Midnight Comes and Love Owed, on which the Dylan influence is most apparent.

But those tracks contrast wildly with others like Ghost Town, which teeters on the brink of collapse into full-on psychedelic freak out.

The album failed to attract much attention on its release but its reputation since then has grown and Stevens’ music has been cited as an influence by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals amongst others.

Affinity: Affinity

Built around the core of a jazz trio formed in Brighton in the late ‘60s, with the addition of singer Linda Hoyle and guitarist Mike Jopp, Affinity recorded this, their only album, for the legendary Vertigo label, which specialised in early progressive rock and jazz fusion recordings.

It was a good fit for the band’s impressively accomplished muso offerings.

The album successfully combines original band compositions with adventurous, don’t-stick-to-the-script cover versions into a pleasingly cohesive whole.

Hoyle’s vocals (at times somewhat reminiscent of Grace Slick) and Lynton Naiff’s Hammond organ dominate throughout and the record successfully captures the sound of a band at the top of their game.

Brass and string arrangements by a certain John Paul Jones (him again, moonlighting from Led Zeppelin) add colour and depth to a suite of adventurously arranged songs and complement the virtuoso performances that attracted Ronnie Scott’s attention, leading to a succession of Affinity gigs at his legendary jazz club and soon an offer to manage the band, which they accepted.

It’s been re-issued on several occasions, with further bonus material, which is just as well because original copies are few and far between and now change hands for hundreds of pounds. Check it out and hear why.

Ananda Shankar: Ananda Shankar

This album was originally intended as a collaboration between Ananda Shankar and Jimi Hendrix.

But the 26-year-old classically trained sitar player (and nephew of Ravi) was shrewd enough to realise that he would inevitably be overshadowed by his rather more famous musical partner, who, as it soon tragically turned out, was not long for this world.

Instead, Shankar pressed on alone, arguably laying the foundations of a new musical genre, subsequently termed raga rock, which fused Western rock and early electronica with elements of Indian classical music.

It can be seen as a precursor to the many ‘world’ fusions which grew in popularity a decade or so later.

Accompanying Shankar’s sitar, the Moog synthesizer is a dominant presence on this largely instrumental record.

It includes dancefloor-filling cover versions of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Light My Fire, alongside more gentle, almost ambient pieces, and more spiritual, but still decidedly danceable tracks like Metamorphosis and album-closer Raghupati.

An album very much of the vinyl era in two distinct parts, its first side places Western sounds to the fore. Side two more prominently features Shankar’s classical Indian influences.

The album successfully treads a fine line producing music that is both accessible to those unfamiliar with Indian classical music without overly compromising its integrity.

Nick Drake: Bryter Layter

Despite an impressive host of supporters, champions and collaborators including Joe Boyd, John Cale, Fairport Convention and John Martyn, Nick Drake’s music languished in obscurity during his short life.

His remarkable debut, Five Leaves Left, was almost completely overlooked and ignored its release.

This, his second effort, fared no better but contradicts the myth of Drake as an unrelentingly bleak character trading only in melancholy. At times the record is playful and joyous.

Instrumental album-opener Introduction is warm and welcoming, and the now much-celebrated Northern Sky is not the work of someone despairing of life in this world.

At The Chime Of A City Clock features a lush string arrangement, with the core of Fairport Convention as backing-band and a saxophone adds further light and colour.

Even the sombre Poor Boy seems partly tongue-in-cheek and suggests Drake is gently chastising himself for his low mood – an effort to resist wallowing in despair.

But elsewhere on Fly and One Of These Things First we catch a glimpse of the depressed Drake of legend, a myth that grew following his death.

It’s a good introduction to Drake’s music for the uninitiated containing moments of quiet, reflective beauty and showcases his considerable talents as a songwriter and accomplished, unconventional guitar player.

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Linda Perhacs: Parallelograms

Another lost gem which originally sank without a trace but was later discovered by crate-digging DJs, and which has proved to be a rich source of samples for the likes of Daft Punk, Lowkey and Prefuse 73.

The album was also championed by many of those prominent during the acid-folk revival of the late 90s and early 2000s, leading to Perhacs making guest appearances on recordings by Devendra Banhart, Mark Pritchard and others.

It’s not difficult to hear why. This is a strikingly beautiful record and just about the best example of its kind that we can think of. Perhacs’ music has a captivatingly mysterious and spiritual quality, sung with a very fine, controlled and expressive voice.

Though the lyrics stray at times into the more airy-fairy concerns and clichés of naive psychedelia, she has a gift for melody and harmony that transcends them.

The songs are delicately and imaginatively arranged; at a time when seemingly everyone was experimenting sonically in the studio, this record still manages to push the boundaries further.

This is most evident on the album’s centrepiece and title track, which has appeared on numerous compilation albums in recent years and still has the capacity to stop listeners in their tracks on first hearing it, even now half a century later.

Amon Düül II: Yeti

Don’t call it space rock and definitely don’t call it krautrock, unless you wish to incur the wrath Johannes Weinzierl, “no one said it then. Everyone said psychedelic underground”.

Recorded and released in early 1970, this double album was originally intended to be a single-player, but such was the prolific success of the band’s studio improvisations (which formed the basis of the album) that the band decided to press on.

They completed all the tracks which later filled the first disc in only half their allocated time for recording.

It’s a heavy record with some monstrous riffs and convoluted multi-part pieces so dense that during one particularly complicated change on Archangels Thunderbird we hear the track collapse.

But they re-start so brilliantly that it makes the final cut as a moment of musical serendipity. Elsewhere on the album’s first disc the sound is of a tightly-rehearsed band.

It’s clear that these were the songs that were already at least partly-written before entering the studio.

It is the album’s unplanned second disc that really pushes the boat out, however, with three lengthy and experimental improvisations.

With hindsight and all due respect to Johannes Weinzierl we can readily understand why listeners would describe this music as space rock. If it to be categorised as such then it is surely one the best examples of its kind.

Check it out, and boldly go…