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Old 09-06-2016, 06:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Golden Earring - s/t - 1970

The long-lived Dutch rock band Golden Earring is of course best known for their 1973 worldwide breakthrough hit “Radar Love”, an arena rock milestone which had been deliberately constructed to appeal to the American marketplace. Formed in the mid 1960‘s, the band had made their name in their native Holland by dominating the charts with a series of Beatles-aping pop singles. And when the Fab Four graduated to the role of pioneers in the emerging genre of psych-pop later in the decade, the Earring dutifully followed in their footsteps.
In between this early stage of Golden Earring’s existence and the career zenith of “Radar Love”, there lies a transitional period covering the years 1970-72. During these years the band played a brand of rock popular with many headlining European groups of the era - a blend of the two budding genres of progressive rock and heavy metal, with an emphasis on the contrast between the heavy and the light. This resulted in an overlooked period of the band’s history which produced three excellent albums of the genre - 1970‘s GOLDEN EARRING (also known as THE WALL OF DOLLS), 1971‘s SEVEN TEARS, and 1972‘s TOGETHER. The first of these LPs is the one which will be the subject of this review.
Instrumentally, the noticeably unique element in GOLDEN EARRING is the overarching use of the flute, played by lead vocalist Barry Hay. This gives many of the album’s nine tracks a distinct Jethro Tull flavor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening track “Yellow and Blue”, which begins as a languid acoustic ode to the sunrise and then midway through erupts into the kind of lively instrumental farrago which was Ian Anderson’s trademark.
Track two, “The Loner”, is probably the weakest number on the album. A slow, plodding and repetitive blues number which never gets off the ground despite deft and competent guitar work. Not helping the cause are subpar lyrics (“They call me the loner / Because I’m all alone” - Well, that would stand to reason, would it not?)
Track three, “This is the Time of Year”, is a decided improvement. To the modern ear this song is evocative of classic Led Zeppelin tunes such as “Over the Hills and Far Away” which begin as rustic acoustic finger-picking ballads and then suddenly and without warning, the heavy guitars explode upon the scene and send all listeners into “Beavis and Butthead” head-banging mode.
Track four, and the last of side one, “Big Tree, Blue Sea" is the most ambitiously progressive song on the album. The most impressive aspect of this effort is the seamless synchronization of all of the instrumental sounds in the main driving groove which echoes Tull’s most definitive work (as in songs like “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath”). As all great prog tracks do, “Big Tree, Blue Sea” incorporates several distinct stages, offering up a mellow and tranquil interlude to be followed by a savage guitar attack. Then everything culminates in a perfectly orchestrated instrumental jam to end side one. The band thought so much of this song that they re-recorded it, in a more commercially streamlined version, for the American version of 1973‘s MOONTAN album; but it is hard to imagine any classic rock afficionado who would not prefer the original.
Side two begins with “The Wall of Dolls”, and now the band that comes to mind is early Black Sabbath. A somber keyboard intro sets the stage for an assault of slow paced but heavy guitars which create a doom ‘n gloom atmosphere over which Hay Ozzy-esquely screams out scenes of bizarre imagery. A prehistoric relic of early goth metal.
The next song “Back Home”, is the album’s proffered single. And it is perfectly conceived from a commercial standpoint both in conception and execution. Driven by a simple, compelling, irresistible riff from guitarist George Kooymans; underpinned by solid drumwork from Cesar Chavez; and brought to a climax with a rousing driving guitar and lilting flute solo, the song contains all of the essential elements for a great rock single: A simple musical and lyrical theme which is driven home by powerful, solid, to the point playing and anchored by a great hook. Although far lesser known, “Back Home” is every bit as good as “Radar Love” and one of the best songs done by any band in the year 1970.
The follow-up, “See See”, is a lushly beautiful acoustic tour-de-force with strong elements of psychedelia. This latter is emphasized by the conga-style percussion. Kooyman’s guitar, Hay’s vocals and Chavez’s drums build to a crescendo at the end of each verse, with a result suggesting a whiplash effect. Once again, a seamless blending of diverse instrumentation and a masterful job on vocals by Hay.
“I’m Gonna Send My Pigeons to the Sky”, appears to be an attempt to recreate the structure of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”, a song which the band had the previous year recorded a nineteen-minute cover version of. By contrast, this offering only clocks in at six minutes, but presents the same basic structure of a simple verse and lyric utilized to bookend a lengthy and multifaceted guitar jam session. Although interesting in its own right, this track does not reach the level of excellence provided by the other offerings on side two and consequently comes off as one of the record’s lesser songs.
GOLDEN EARRING concludes with the album‘s most poignant track, “As Long as the Wind Blows”, a heart-rending, mournful, slow blues number highlighted by the well-placed punctuation of a wailing electric guitar or bass, as well as Hay’s vocals being equal to the task. I have focused on the musicianship in this review and really haven’t touched on the importance of Barry’s singing performance to the success of this album. While Hay is not a singer with great range; he does possess power, control and confidence, which are every bit as if not more important, and he delivers his vocals solidly but not in an overbearing fashion (as some vocalists who feel the need to overcompensate often do).
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