Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Ten Years After
It’s always cool to hear artists perform songs that you’ve always known from listening to records. I remember once seeing the Who in the Houston Astrodome, and when Pete Townshend hit those familiar chords to begin “Pinball Wizard,” I literally got goosebumps because this was a song I’d heard thousands of times on the radio and on record. It’s even better when an artist or band plays a song you had completely forgotten about.
This was the case last year at the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, held at the Bethel Woods Center in New York. Ten Years After took the stage, and although Alvin Lee is no longer their frontman/guitarist, the band is still pretty good. They were doing some of their familiar blues-rock things (and saving Woodstock highlight “I’m Going Home” for last) when one of the band asked, “Anybody like psychedelic songs?” It was an introduction to the song “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain,” from the 1970 album Cricklewood Green – which is the record we’re spinning today.
Woodstock happened in 1969, and the band’s performance of “I’m Going Home” at the festival and in the subsequent movie made them huge stars. Ten Years After, led by fiery guitarist Alvin Lee, formed in 1966 – ten years after the first appearance of Elvis Presley, who Lee idolized. TYA was a blues-rock band, in the style of the early Rolling Stones, and before the Woodstock watershed they made a minor name for themselves by touring Europe and the United States. Their 1969 album Stonedhenge found them turning a little more experimental, but not really “psychedelic” (despite what the title implies) – the album featured some jazz and classical touches.
But when Cricklewood Green came out in 1970, TYA could now be considered a truly psychedelic outfit. The eight songs that appear on the original LP were all written by Alvin Lee, but bandmates Chick Churchill (keyboards), Ric Lee (drums) and Leo Lyons (bass) apparently had a lot of input in the final sound of the entire record. The result is a more comfortable and assured set than its predecessor, mixing the trademark blues workouts (“Me and My Baby”) with some songs featuring diverse styles (the rock shuffle “Working On the Road,”, the almost country-ish “Year 3,000 Blues” and the ballad “Circles”). Most likely, it’s the best album of the Alvin Lee years.
At this point (1970) many bands were still operating in the pure 1960s mode, but I would suggest that Ten Years After (along with their forward-thinking British mates Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and maybe even the Rolling Stones) was looking ahead with Cricklewood Green, setting up a blueprint of sorts for a lot of the music that would follow in the early 1970s. Certainly you could give Alvin Lee a lot of the credit – at this point he was a fiery, explosive guitarist in the same league as Page, Clapton, Beck and Santana.
The album’s high points are, of course, the spacey “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain,” seasoned beautifully by Churchill’s organ playing, and the seven-minute-long centerpiece “Love Like A Man.” Built around a hypnotic blues guitar riff and solid backing organ fills, the song swirls ever higher as it rocks along on Lee’s virtuoso solos. It’s a rock classic, in my book.
At the Woodstock reunion in Bethel last year, Ten Years After appeared with the same lineup they had in 1970, but without Alvin Lee. The new frontman is Joe Gooch, a much-younger British rocker (born in 1977) but a pretty damn good guitarist and singer who has been with TYA since 2004. And their set was the best of the day – not only did they do versions of “I’d Love To Change The World” and “I’m Going Home” that could stand proudly next to the Alvin Lee versions, but they also played “50,000 Miles” and “Love Like A Man.” Far out. And awesome. (As a bonus, I’ve included the version of “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” as played by the Gooch version of TYA at the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.)