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Old 11-09-2013, 10:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Three Friends (1972)

1972 was one of the greatest years in rock history. Consider some of the most recently released albums by September of that year (some of these were actually released in late 1971 but I still identify them as coming from '72)

Deep Purple - Machine Head
Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album (IMO one unbelievably overplayed overblown song from being one of the greatest albums ever made)
Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick
Yes - Close To The Edge
Wishbone Ash - Argus
Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street
ELP - Trilogy
Genesis - Foxtrot
Neil Young - Harvest

In other words, some of the best work to come from all of these great bands. About to be released, but not quite out yet, was Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Well, that's a pretty good album but not the best Sabbath album, nearly by consensus, and while most would pick Paranoid my favorite Sabbath album was 1971's Master Of Reality, which in early September of '72 was the most recently released Sabbath album when I went to see them in Memorial Coliseum in Portland (Ozzy was bitching about Vol. 4 not being released all during their set)

Opening that show was a band I'd never heard of named Gentle Giant. We weren't exactly sure what to expect of course. So they get up on the stage, look at each other, then rip off a salvo of tighter-than-fuck riffs from the opening song of what I would discover after the show was their new album, their third release but the first to chart in the US, Three Friends. Then, they all stop on a dime. My friend and I just looked at each other in amazement and at exactly the same time said "TIGHT!", then they launch into Prologue, the appropriately named opening track from Three Friends



(A note, the above image is the US released cover of Three Friends, the image was actually used on their eponymous 1st album, but since that album wasn't released stateside they used the above cover. The actual Three Friends cover that was released in the UK will be seen in the YouTube videos I will be posting)


This changed EVERYTHING for me. This is the event that launched me headlong into the world of Progressive Rock, and I've never looked back. This was the greatest and most unlikely opening act I've ever seen, before or since. And I did enjoy Black Sabbath that night, very much so, but leaving the show that night all my thoughts were on obtaining a copy of Three Friends


Three Friends is a concept album, and a brilliantly conceived and executed one at that. The premise of the album is set up in the opening song, Prologue



Of particular note here is the simple little breakdown that starts at 3:02, then builds and builds.

The next track is "Schooldays". This track is just incredible, the way the vocals accentuate each other, the syncopated percussion, the storyline of a simpler life before each of the three friends were separated by the oppresive demands of adulthood.



"How long is ever isn't is strange - Schooldays together why do they change"

Then each of the now-adult friends tells their story

One friend becomes a laborer, a lunchpail workaday blue-collar wage-slave in "Working All Day"



This track ended side one of the vinyl record

Side two opened with the second friend telling his story of becoming an artist, and all the demons and debauchery and a sense of a life wasted that goes with it, in "Peel The Paint". This song was the closest thing to a rocker (although is starts quietly) on Three Friends and was the only track from this album that was performed live on later tours.



The last two tracks of Three Friends are melded together, they can't be played separately without ruining both songs, but before I review them both a note on the CD release. The idiot record company (I forget which one) COMPLETELY fucked up the separation point of the two songs, putting at the 3:23 mark (you can hear this happen in this YouTube). When you listen to this song it will just be unbegoddamlievably fecking obvious. It pisses me off to no fecking end that they not only fucked this up but to this day still stupidly insist that they are right and everyone else in the world is wrong. Idiots. But I digress...

The first section of this incredible medley is the third friend who becomes a "successful" middle-management business executive, "Mr. Class & Quality?" paint a picture of a man who looks down his nose at what he perceives as the lower classes, including his two schoolfriends

"Middleman sees straight ahead and never crosses borders
Never understood the artist or the lazy workers
The world needs steady men like me to give and take the orders
Give and take the orders
Give and take the orders"

This leads to the title track, the epilogue to the story, "Three Friends" (CORRECT timepoint 5:50)

"Once three friends
Sweet in sadness
Now part of their past

In the end
Full of gladness
Went from class to class"

What is most remarkable about this final track is that it is in fact one repeated musical phrase, and is without question the longest such repeated phrase in any music of any genre I'm aware of. The first 28 seconds of "Mr. Class & Quality?" opens with a doubletime tempo of this exact phrase, then once "Three Friends" begins at 5:50 it takes until 6:29 to repeat. This just had me floored back when I first heard this album and it still sends shivers up my spine today.



I've seen there's a poll here on MB about the Gentle Giant discography, I cast the lone vote for Three Friends. Not only is it a great album, but this is the band and the album that changed everything I thought about music. It is unquestionably in my mind the most under-rated Giant release.
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Old 11-10-2013, 11:30 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I had all of Giant's releases on vinyl. I thought their most underrated was "Acquiring the Taste" but you can make a good case for "Three Friends." "In a Glass House" was another. But then let's face it, this was a horribly underrated band. Ignored by rockers, not fully embraced by the proggers, dismissed by the folkies who went for more "pure" stuff like Steeleye Span. I got to see them open once for Renaissance at Ford Auditorium in Detroit like back in '79 or so. They were phenomenal to say the least. There are very few bands that have that kind of superior writing, musicianship and singing all at the same time. Certainly nothing like it could ever have come out of America.

I also agree that 1972 was an excellent year for rock. Really the period from '70-'73 was great. After that, Kiss showed up and everything began a slow but inexorable decline.

Deep Purple - Machine Head
Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album (IMO one unbelievably overplayed overblown song from being one of the greatest albums ever made)
Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick
Yes - Close To The Edge
Wishbone Ash - Argus
Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street
ELP - Trilogy
Genesis - Foxtrot
Neil Young - Harvest

I had all of those except for the Wishbone Ash. In addition, I had:

Elton John - Honky Chateau
Black Sabbath - Volume 4
David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Blue Oyster Cult - Blue Oyster Cult
ZZ Topp - Rio Grande Mud
Lou Reed - Transformer
T. Rex - The Slider
Stephen Stills - Manassas
Captain Beyond (just found it on CD)
Zeit - Tangerine Dream
Gentle Giant - Octopus
King Crimson - Earthbound
Steeleye Span - Below the Salt
Pentangle - Solomon's Seal

That's going through my vinyl collection, which I still have. I bought the Pentangle after seeing them at the Grande Ballroom the year before. I really liked them but the crowd started to boo. Russ Gibb, the owner, stormed out onstage and told everybody to shut up and to show some respect, that these guys came all the way from England to play for us and anyone who didn't like it could leave right now and get their money back but anyone who doesn't leave needs to shut up. Some did leave but most stayed and acted a little more civilized after that. Russ Gibb also owned KEENER radio which started the "Paul is dead" broadcasts that went viral before there was any such thing as going viral. He said it was just a joke inspired by some stoned out kid who called the station and he couldn't believe that it took off the way it did.
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Old 11-10-2013, 05:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Some other great releases from 1972:

David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust...........
Todd Rundgren- Sometime, Anything?
Night Sun- Mournin
Mott the Hoople- All the Young Dudes
Uriah Heep- Demons and Wizards
Randy Newman- Sail Away
Big Star- #1 Record
Captain Beyond- Captain Beyond

As for Gentle Giant I thought Octopus was the better of the two albums that they put out in 1972.
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Old 05-14-2014, 02:21 PM   #4 (permalink)
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A quick update, I've decided to do a catalog review of Gentle Giant. Unlike my Ditty Bops review I won't be starting from the beginning of the catalog, like the Bops review I will be reviewing them in the order in which I heard them. Next up: Octopus
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Old 05-14-2014, 02:30 PM   #5 (permalink)
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BTW Thank you Pete
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Old 05-14-2014, 06:07 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Looking forward to the reviews and digging in deeper. Embarrassed to say I never heard them until I got involved with the prog rock album club. Love what I have heard so far.
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Old 05-14-2014, 06:17 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Looking forward to the reviews and digging in deeper. Embarrassed to say I never heard them until I got involved with the prog rock album club. Love what I have heard so far.

Well I will be using my review of the eponymous 1st album that I posted to TPRAC thread when it becomes time, but I can't over-emphasize what I said there, the 1st album is NOTHING compared to what would come later. IMO they found their greatness on the third album posted above & never let it go until the record executives forced them to dumb their music down in 1977. Not that there's ANYTHING wrong with the DIY movement that was really flourishing then, it just wasn't who Giant was. And their near consensus least favorite of those three last albums is my pick for the only really successful attempt at pop-Giant. I will get to that album last.
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Old 05-14-2014, 08:53 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Octopus (1972)

Having had the life-changing experience of seeing Giant open for Black Sabbath in September 13th, 1972 in Portland I totally immersed myself in Three Friends. However, I was also undergoing some family drama at that time and missed the release of Octopus in December, to me this was a 1973 album. Once I got though all the turmoil of moving out of Mom's house and moving in with my dad, and getting through that awful freshman year of high school, I finally got a chance to pick up a copy of their fourth studio album (although to me at that time it was the second, the first two were not released stateside until after the very moderate success they had in the US starting with the third album).

Octopus is most people's pick for the best Giant album, and while I place Three Friends and The Power And The Glory ever so slightly ahead of it, it is a truly magnificent record and securely placed them in the top echelon of the great Prog bands of the 1970's (although decades would pass before this was widely recognized).

The copy I purchased in 1973 had this cover as it was released in the US



The top of the "jar" being jigsaw cut where the blue background is in the above image. However, I VASTLY prefer the Roger Dean UK cover



"There coming over Charaton Bridge / Look do you see the man who is poor but rich"

"The Advent Of Panurge" opens this album and is inspired by "The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel" by 16th century novelist François Rabelais.

Gargantua and Pantagruel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Panurge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



There was no more "developing" of the Giant style here, it is in full bloom, the nothing-like-it-in-music vocal layering, Minnear's multitudes of keyboards. I never really understood the bridge section with improvised dialog in different languages, but that section would be replaced by an incredible recorder section on future tours, a high point of their amazing shows (this will be reviewed here when I get to their live album)

The second track on the album is "Raconteur, Troubadour"



When I was trying to explain why I loved this album so much to one of my friends in 1973, I described how this song structure reminded me of machinery, how it's beat so wonderfully mechanical. I was met with "oh, you don't want your music to sound mechanical" without even hearing the song or any sense of doing something different than everyone else. And I ran into this a lot in my youth, most of the people I knew had very pedestrian early-'70's taste and almost everybody just thought I was weird. I'm ok with that.

Then the closest thing to a rocker on Octopus, "A Cry for Everyone", inspired by the work and beliefs of the Algerian-French writer Albert Camus.



They never really played this on future tours (in fact the entire album would be condensed into a 15-20 minute medley, again this will be reviewed later). I love the round interplay between Keyboardist Minnear and Guitarist Gary Green here. One thing that's the closest thing to a negative on Octopus is here, a fairly clumsy bridge segue that can be found on several songs, as mentioned on the first track. There's a stoppage of everyone but Minnear, who plays a pretty disconnected Synth bridge that somewhat pulls the energy of the song away, but it's short and they get right back on track after.

Then side one concludes with the centerpiece of the album. I have never ever, before or since (with the exception of a track on a future album, the last great studio Giant album) heard any song by any other artist quite like "Knots"



This vocal stylization is all Giant, baby. Plus the melodic percussion. This is the no-doubt-about-it high point of this great album for me. "Knots" is inspired by "The Book Knots" by the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing.

Side two opens with a laugh and a spinning coin, then the instrumental "The Boys in the Band"



This would be the opening of the Octopus medley that they played on future tours.

Then comes a backhanded ode to their road crew, "Dogs Life"



I have to wonder if they had to hire a new crew after this was released. It is not exactly complimentary. But I love it

Then comes, for me, the closest thing to a down moment on Octopus, "Think of Me with Kindness"



I certainly don't mean to sound like this is anything but a lovely lovely ballad, it absolutely is, but I think they have done a better ballad on the first album ("Funny Ways"), and the quiet song on Three Friends (Schooldays) just unmercifully OBLITERATES this. Again I like it, it's not a skipper like many songs on their Pop-Giant albums, but IMO it sits below the level of the rest of this album.

Then the finale



I love the pedal effects Green uses on his guitar on the opening salvo, in fact parts it sound more like Minnear's keyboard than a guitar.

Again, I don't agree with most that this is the absolute greatest Giant album, but it's a solid nine out of the Giant scale ten. Next is a 10/10, The Power and the Glory.
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Old 05-21-2014, 02:18 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default The Power And The Glory (1974)

Before I dig into TP&TG a quick reminder that these reviews will not be in a chronological timeline but rather in the order (to the best of my recollection) of which I heard them. There will be some doubt as to this order in future albums but up until the live album (two future reviews from this) there is no question in this regard. This is mainly due to the fact that I'm in the US and three albums were not released stateside until after 1976, including a 1973 album released in Europe but not in my country. Accordingly, the next album that I heard was 1974's The Power And The Glory.



Most fan polls register either Octopus or TP&TG as Giants best. I place it as #2 behind Three Friends (I appear to be all alone in this). TP&TG is one magnificent album, virtually every Giant fan will agree to this.

The opening song is "Proclamation"



Opening with Minnear's keys, when Derek Shulman begins the first verse, it seems somewhat off beat with what Kerry is playing. It isn't of course, no one in the prog era threw off the time sigs quite like Giant. Once Ray Shulman's bass and John Weathers drums kick in, everything works like clockwork. Then after an instrumental bridge (which was IMO the main thing keeping Octopus out of the top tier Giant for me), they pick up the tempo, then outro into one of the quirkiest (and IMO best) songs in the entire Giant catalog (and that's saying something), "So Sincere"



The track opens with bowed instruments, some playing bowed and some playing pizzicato. This section seems almost impossibly free time, and when the vocals enter this effect only increases. But, after all, this is Gentle Giant, once Weathers enters the song everything fits perfectly. This would become a centerpiece of the future tours, to be reviewed soon.

The next track is the ballad "Aspirations", one of the best pure ballads (I would put "Schooldays" from Three Friends atop that list but I'm not 100% sure I'd call it a ballad), a much MUCH better such ballad IMO than "Think Of Me With Kindness" from Octopus. Just flipping beautiful, but still containing the signature Giant counterpoint and instrumental interplay. A wonderful fan vid here



Next comes "Playing The Game" with some incredible round interplay between all the instrumentation. Nobody but Giant, baby. The song appears to be closing at the three minute mark, but they break into a fairly extended bridge section, that effortlessly glides into the last verse and outro. These bridge sections were somewhat of a downfall on Octopus but they're outstanding here.



This ended side one of the vinyl record. Side two began with the frantic "Cogs In Cogs". No one, NO ONE else in rock in the 70's could pull off these kinds of crazy arrangements. Another fantastic bridge section here



Then comes the wonderful "No God's A Man" with incredible roundplay in the voices. I also love Ray Shulman's basswork in the final choruses.



The wild instrumental interplay just keeps coming in "The Face"



This great album closes with "Valedictory", a reprise of "Proclamation". Why wasn't this track named "Proclimation (Reprise)"? Because this is Gentle Giant, that'd be too easy



They would next release an album that finally got some VERY moderate radioplay on the AOR stations (at least in Portland), but as usual Giant remained wildly unpopular with most of the Prog fans (BTW the term Prog is relatively recent, we didn't widely use that term in the 1970's), Free Hand will be next
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Old 05-25-2014, 01:43 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Free Hand (1975)

Following the release of TP&TG Giant had changed labels, signing with Chrysalis Records. Up to this point Giant was writing music strictly for their own fulfillment, whether or not it was popular. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations in that regard, even at the pinnacle of the Prog era, when bands such as Yes, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer were selling out arenas and selling millions of records, Giant toiled in relative obscurity (In fact I even saw Giant open for Yes in '76 in a 12,000 seat arena in Portland, and while I was blown away, most paid scant attention to their set). Their next offering was a first attempt to be a little more commercially viable, but at the same time staying true to who they were. This would not be the case after 1977.




Free Hand became the first (and in fact the only) Giant release to crack the US Top 50 album charts at #48. They left the dissonance of songs like "Knots" and "So Sincere" behind, but maintained their trademark Giant arrangements of both instrumentation and vocals, and while few Giant faithful would pronounce Free Hand as their absolute finest work, nearly all would still give it good to very good marks within their amazing catalog. I would give Free Hand a solid 9 on the Giant scale 10.

Free Hand Opens with "Just The Same", fingers snap in a staccato rhythm, Green's guitar and Minnear's keys enter in a counter-rhythm, then drums bass and vocals kick it in what would be unthinkable timing for most bands but par for the course for Giant




Then one of their greatest vocalisms, which is really saying something, "On Reflection" keeps away from the dissonance of songs like "Knots" but is every bit the poly-vocal arrangement and is as signature as any Giant song could ever hope to be. Nobody, NOBODY but Giant could have pulled this off.




And JIC you think this is studio wizardry, they could TOTALLY do this live, as will be demonstrated on my next review.

The next track concludes side one, the title track leaves NOTHING behind in the polyrhythm and evolved arrangement department. The lyrics are a little bitter but this would hardly be the first or last such instance.




Side two begins with maybe the most dated sound on any Giant album, the gameplay sound of pong. Then once the instrumentation of "Time To Kill" begins, full-on classic Giant rhythmic counterpoint here...




Then one of my favorite ballads, done sea-shanty style, in the whole Giant catalog, the gorgeous "His Last Voyage", featuring my pick for the prettiest bass guitar track ever laid down on tape




Then the magnificent instrumental "Talybont", done in medieval style. Again, no one else in music does it like Giant




This great album concludes with another flawless track, "Mobile"




After Free Hand was released, record company executives began sticking their filthy money-grubbing hands into Giant's affairs, Free Hand started to sell a little but bands like Yes, Tull, and ELP were making millions and Giant was still unprofitable. This will be reflected two reviews from now on an album which was released in 1976 but somehow missed by your humble author. The next album I would experience would be a 1977 double-record live album, one of the least produced, truest to the concert experience live albums ever made, and one which told the young Paul Smeenus that there were as yet undiscovered albums in the Giant catalog. Playing The Fool is next
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