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Friday, April 13, 2007

Underplayed Vinyl: Steppenwolf

One of my favorite albums from my high school days, the first Steppenwolf album, was the best of the group's output. The fact that I had not read Herman Hesse did not diminish my enjoyment.
1. Sookie Sookie - a song by soul singer/songwriter Don Covey, who wrote Aretha's hits See Saw and Chain of Fools. The second single from the album, it failed to chart. It's funky, in a rock sort of way.
2. Everybody's Next One - a pleasant rocker about sex.
3. Berry Rides Again - rock and roll, with great Berryesque guitar riffs, and a piano that borrows from Berry's pianist, johnny Johnson. Cops many of his terms, like "Johnny B. Goode" or "Roll Over Beethoven".
4. Hootchie Kootchie Man - bluesy cover of the Willie Dixon song, as good as any of the Led Zeppelin blues covers
5. Born to Be Wild - interesting that song got buried this deep into the album. The third single WAS the charm, as it ended up going up to #2 on the charts. Possibly the song least reflective of the rest of the album. "Heavy metal thunder", indeed. Became THE biker anthem when it was used in the movie Easy Rider.
6. Your Wall's Too High - slow rock tune that changes rhythms ends side one.
7. Desperation - organ-driven rhythm and blues styling that has a feel of the title
8. The Pusher - the other song by the group that shows up in Easy Rider. Sonically, it's more in keeping with the rest of the album than the hit, with those very creepy chords. A gripping take on the song by Hoyt Axton, who also wrote Greenback Dollar and Three Dog Night's Joy to the World.
9. A Girl I Knew. The first single, a commercial dud. Starts and ends with a lovely harpsichord, in contrast to the louder tunes on the album.
10. Take What You Need - straight ahead bluesy rock
11. The Ostrich - my favorite song on the album, the political/ecological rocker. This song is a precursor to the even more didactic (and longer) title cut on Steppenwolf's Monster album.
We'll call you when you're six years old
And drag you to the factory
To train your brain for eighteen years
With promise of security
But then you're free
And forty years you waste to chase the dollar sign
So you may die in Florida
At the pleasant age of sixty-nine

The water's getting hard to drink
We've mangled up the countryside
The air will choke you when you breathe
We're all committing suicide
But it's alright
It's progress folks keep pushin' till your body rots
Will strip the earth of all its green
And then divide her into parking lots

But there's nothing you and I can do
You and I are only two
What's right and wrong is hard to say
Forget about it for today
We'll stick our heads into the sand
Just pretend that all is grand
Then hope that everything turns out ok

You're free to speak your mind my friend
As long as you agree with me
Don't criticize the fatherland
Or those who shape your destiny
'Cause if you do
You'll lose your job your mind and all the friends you knew
We'll send out all our boys in blue
They'll find a way to silence you


The first Steppenwolf is the bluesiest of the groups's albums and has made, if not my 10 island albums, a top 25 list. Not so incidentally, yesterday was lead singer John Kay's 63rd birthday. Kay and his mother fled from Soviet-occupied East Germany to West Germany when he was four, and ended up in Canada in 1958. Kay joined a blues band in Toronto called The Sparrows in 1965, which had been formed the year before with a different lead singer. The group moved to San Francisco in 1967, changed their sound somewhat, and got the recording contract that led to this album.



Uthaclena said...

Ah, blasts from the past! An album I USED TO have - but then, somehow, it didn't stay with me when I got DIVORCED! Wonder how THAT happened...

When I first discovered Steppenwolf - prolly 1966 - I bought THREE albums simultaneously: Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf the Second, and Steppenwolf Live at the Matrix, all with metallic album covers. The first two I have replaced with CDs, but I can't seem to find the live album, a real shame because of the jamming they do around "The Pusher."

Tom the Dog said...

Sorry I didn't notice this sooner -- still tied up with real world troubles. But I HAD to comment here. You KNOW what a huge Hoyt Axton fan I am! (At least I think you do.) I was all set to jump in with my two cents on "The Pusher," and you go and beat me to the punch! Good man. Well, now I have to say SOMETHING about Hoyt, so I'll add that one of Ringo Starr's biggest solo hits was a cover of a Hoyt tune -- "The No-No Song." ("No no no no, I don't smoke it no more, I'm tired of waking up on the floor.") Poor Hoyt, always seeing covers of his songs become more popular than his original versions.