Thursday, May 13, 2010

Albums of Magic and Beauty #3... Realization

Johnny Rivers Realization (US 1968)

I've loved the album for as long as I can remember. It's one of those records that has a particularly fragile front cover - the purple seems to come off if you rub it even slightly making really mint covers, forty-plus years later, very hard to find. Every time I find one, I buy it, resulting in a small section in my record racks devoted to Realization preservation.

There are two versions on CD, one the album alone, and another that takes advantage of CD length to include a second LP as bonus. It took a while, but I sought out the single LP version for the same reason I don't want "bonus tracks" popping up at the end of Sgt. Pepper.

This was the LP's first single, released before the album and climbed to #14 on the US Billboard charts. Try as I might, I could not find a video for it that didn't sort of suck.  Just hit play and then look away from the monitor until it's over.

I always get a kick out of the Sgt. Pepper reference since that album was the soundtrack of that summer more than any other single record has ever been the soundtrack of an extended moment (even though it had no singles released from it and wasn't on many jukeboxes).

Writing for the All Music Guide web site, James Chrispell and Bruce Eder provide a really nice succinct description:

Not a concept album, but a song cycle depicting life in southern California in the late '60s, Realization is a fine cycle to catch a ride on. It's also a serious surprise -- when psychedelia reared its head in 1967, the results were frequently disastrous for those performers who'd been specializing in straight-ahead rock and roll, and few had rocked harder or more straight-ahead than Johnny Rivers. Instead of jumping on a bandwagon that had nothing to do with where he was musically, he hijacked the sounds of psychedelic rock -- much as the Temptations did at Motown -- and took it where he was going. Acting as his own producer for the first time, Rivers opened up a slightly gentler side to his work that's equally valid and a lot more interesting, if not quite as exciting as his rock & roll classics. After a few sonic digressions as a lead-in, "Hey Joe" gets going, carrying listeners into Rivers' gorgeous rendition of James Hendricks' "Look to Your Soul." His own achingly beautiful "The Way We Live" follows, and then comes Hendricks' "Summer Rain," which turned into Rivers' last big hit of the 1960s. And then he has the temerity to take "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and make it prettier and harder -- but less spacy -- than the Procol Harum original; from there he plunges into blue-eyed soul on "Brother, Where Are You." The surprises continue right through to the rather delicate, introspective reading of "Positively Fourth Street" at the close, Rivers succeeding in evoking a vast array of thoughts and emotions. For his trouble, helped by the two hits, he was rewarded with a Top Five charting album, and one that has continued to find new admirers across the decades.

River's take on "Hey Joe" (background on the song as well as over 1,500 cover versions listed here) is unique for it's optimistic psychedelia - instead of "shooting his old lady" Joe finds enlightenment.  Standout versions of "Look To Your Soul" and "The Way We Live" are a perfect lead in to "Summer Rain."

Track after track the album maintains a specific tone - a blend of a wistful melancholy with a trace of confusion that is directly tethered to a gradually emerging post-psychedelic culture.

Somewhere along the way I found a picture sleeve 45 released before the album, "Look To Your Soul" with "Something Strange" on the b-side. Rivers is pictured on the front, in a poncho and peace sign medallion in a dark and slightly fuzzy photo.  The labels credit the tracks as "From the album The Realization of Mr. Beelzebub."

In Chronicles, the first volume of his autobiography, Bob Dylan picks River's cover of "Positively 4th Street" that closes Realization as his favorite cover of any of his songs. Whether he would have said the same thing five minutes later aside, Realization remains an album of some magic and beauty.

*You should be able to download the album here, courtesy of Psychedelic Lion.

1 comment:

drfeelgoed said...

Listening to it now, thanks!