4/26/17

"WELL TURN IT UP MAN!"

Today we're going to take a closer look at the two little-known compilations that preceded and influenced one of the most recognized albums of all-time, as well as the two seldom-heard compilations released in that album's wake.
Sessions Records sold albums via radio and television spots and Freedom Rock is undoubtedly the company's most popular release though I prefer their music of the Eighties collections like Night Beat or The All-Nighter. The honchos at Sessions were wise enough to partner with all the Special Products/Special Markets divisions of the major labels to issue high-quality multiple record or tape compilations throughout the Seventies and early Eighties before issuing their first compact discs in 1987. The earliest Sessions compilations focused on single artists, the pre-Beatles era of rock and roll music, and contemporary easy listening or country music.
In 1973, Sessions partnered with RCA Special Products to release Get It Together!, the first collection of rock music from the late Sixties and early Seventies from Sessions. Twenty-five songs were spread across two records or a single eight-track tape including three tracks by The Guess Who. A couple of the acts had appeared at Woodstock (The Who and Jefferson Airplane appeared back to back to close out the famed festival's second day) and a couple more acts were British rock royalty (The Kinks, Cream) so there was an implied coolness or hipness to the music in spite of the ridiculous disco lasers cover art.
 
The cover art for the next release from Sessions and RCA Special Products was much improved, with clouds, flowers, and unmistakable elements of the United States flag, the very symbol of freedom. Freedom upped the ante with twenty-six songs on two records or one Special Collectors Edition eight-track tape. Several artists had appeared on Get It Together! though there is a marked increase in appearances by veterans of the fabled Woodstock stage: The Who and Jefferson Airplane reappear to kick off the compilation and are soon joined by Melanie Safka (as Melanie), Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald & The Fish and Jimi Hendrix. Obscure songs by The Doors and Steppenwolf are also included.

Many of the songs from both Get It It Together! and Freedom returned in digitally mastered form on Freedom Rock in 1987. One of Sessions earliest CD collections, it was the result of a partnership with Warner Special Products. I ordered the 2 CD set from the commercial the second or third time I saw it and I'll tell you why: One of my Dad's most favorite songs of all-time is the one-hit wonder known as "In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)", he and I spent several weekends in late 1975 (early 1976?) hitting many record stores all over town, looking for a copy of the 45 because Casey Kasem or someone on the radio had played a portion of the song, triggering a memory in Dad, who hadn't heard it in years. I remember him saying something like that single would be the first record he would put in a jukebox when he got one. We finally found a copy, a reissue on RCA's Gold Standard series of 45s. Some years later, compact discs were taking over the scene and my Dad says that on the off chance "In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)" is ever issued on CD, he wanted it. I should point out that he didn't own a CD player yet. Shortly after that conversation, I saw the song title scroll by in this Freedom Rock commercial at about the 1:09 mark and like I said, I ordered it. (After getting permission from my wife, of course.) When it arrived a couple of weeks later, I sat aside two late nights after work and carefully dubbed the two discs to two cassettes. There was about eight-ten minutes extra space at the end of each side of the TDK SA-90 cassettes and I filled it with a few tracks from Time-Life's Classic Rock discs, also a joint effort with Warner Special Products. "In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)" would eventually appear on 1969: The Beat Goes On, a Time-Life Classic Rock disc that showed up in my mailbox in 1989. I'd estimate that back in 1987, I had roughly half of the tracks from Freedom Rock on compact discs in the Classic Rock series and by 1989, I probably had all forty. We did eventually buy Dad a CD player but he never did get that jukebox.

After the success of Freedom Rock, Sessions continued their successful collaboration with Warner Special Products by releasing Summers Of Love, containing even more digitally mastered songs from Get It Together! and Freedom. Consistent compilation absentees The Beatles and Bob Dylan finally appear on Summers Of Love albeit as songwriters. Wilson Pickett makes McCartney's "Hey Jude" his own with an assist from Duane Allman while The Turtles cover Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" though not nearly as well as Johnny Cash. And then there is The Silkie, covering Lennon's most Dylanesque song, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away". Overall, Summers Of Love, advertised as containing 40 memorable soft rock hits, does indeed not rock as hard as previous albums featured here today. In addition, it has both a more soulful bent courtesy of a handful of Motown tracks and some blue-eyed variants as well as more of a British Invasion vibe, rounding out the clich├ęd Woodstock hippie thing (tie-dye, incense, Far Out!, etc.) that had been built up over the past three compilations. Bottom line: When I listen to Freedom Rock or the next album or both, I always bring Summers Of Love into the mix. It's the secret sauce that makes a good thing better. (side note: my copy of Summers Of Love has apparently disappeared from my collection so if anyone sees a copy for sale let me know. Thanks.) 

As more than one article on the interwebs has helpfully pointed out, the same two actors revived their hippie roles for the cover of Rock Revival, the fifth and final Woodstock era compilation from Sessions and Warner Special Products. You get even more digitally mastered goodness as a few more songs from Get It Together! and Freedom make the leap to shiny disc. Let me tell you a couple of things Rock Revival gets wrong. In some sort of careless oversight, "Oh How Happy" by Shades Of Blue also appears on the album above, Summers Of Love. I can understand tracks from the pre-digital age Get It Together! and Freedom showing up again with a new digital sheen but why did they repeat one song, that song, on two simultaneously released albums in 1991? Then the unstated "nothing after 1972" musical trust built up over the more than 100 tracks featured on the first four compilations is broken by four songs that came out in 1973 or, even more egregiously, after 1973. They are all good to great songs but they woke this listener from the music-induced trance he was in after hearing all those other songs that came out before 1973 which is incidentally the beginning of My Favorite Decade in Music, running up through 1982 - the singles greatest year in my music history. I won't ruin it for you by telling you which songs are not like the others but if you get a chance to listen to the playlist, see if you get the same feeling. These compilations as a whole share more than a few songs with this Warner Special Products album as well as this other Time-Life series not called Classic Rock but sharing many of its tracks and the majority of the songs are heard hourly on classic rock and classic pop radio. The most succinct review I could find of Freedom Rock (and it applies to all the albums I've featured today) sums up the utter ubiquitousness of many of these songs as they are heard on the radio, in commercials, on movie and television series soundtracks as well as out in the real world whether you're shopping, dining or pumping gas. I love gassing up the Blueberry late at night at deserted, brightly lit stations in otherwise dark desert landscapes with loud music playing overhead from speakers mounted underneath the towering canopy and covered in protective mesh so the birds can't crap on them. Anyway, the guy left the following comment on one of the half dozen Freedom Rock commercials currently posted on YouTube. To wit:
"Today this collection would be called Songs You Hear At Home Depot"

2 comments:

  1. I remember those Freedom Rock TV commercials. Man, what a blast from the past.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wasn't aware of the history behind Freedom Rocks. I remember the commercials, but never bought as I already had much of what was on them. (In retrospect, I would have been better off reversing that - buying the comps and not all the individual CDs!)

    ReplyDelete