The second is my favorite. Traffic album, that is.
I haven’t been able to get “Hey, Western Union Man” out of my brain, I keep singing the lyrics to myself, it’s great to be infected by a tune, and playing Al Kooper’s “I Stand Alone” album on my phone, I heard “Coloured Rain.”
The first Traffic album didn’t break through. Today everybody knows “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” no, that’s not true, the generations have turned over, the old farts have their music and most of it will be forgotten with them, time keeps passing and they keep making new music, and the Beatles will sustain, but most everything else won’t.
Ironically, what made “Dear Mr. Fantasy” most famous was Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s live rendition of it, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I discovered the second Traffic album at Mike Ginsberg’s house in, West Hartford, Connecticut. I met him on this summer program in New Hampshire, we took a bus up, and I remember having to get off so the vehicle could make it up the hill. This was during the ’68 Convention, the one in Chicago, I was not in front of the TV set, I only know it by legend, and that’s what’s making me crazy, all these people testifying to how it once was even though they didn’t live through it, quoting “Billboard” charts, but those were different back then, and nearly meaningless in the FM rock period from ’67 to ’80.
And one of Traffic’s flaws, if you can call it that, was that it came out too early, the initial LP was released at the end of ’67, when underground FM radio barely existed, you heard about titles by word of mouth, like this and “Are You Experienced?” But by ’68, the FM album sound was infiltrating, and it was in October of that year that the second, eponymous Traffic album was released.
Then the band broke up.
Then they got back together, and released “John Barleycorn” and “Low Spark,” and went out again on the unexpected high of “When The Eagle Flies,” but it was that album in ’68, without the band’s name on the cover, that resonates.
It’s the one with “Feelin’ Alright.”
Yes, Dave Mason was now a full-fledged member of the band. But he sings his version differently from the ultimately more famous Joe Cocker rendition, Dave’s world-weary.
Seems I’ve got to have a change of scene…
And then there’s “40,000 Headmen,” which I saw in a glorious rendition during the comeback tour at the Fillmore East.
And my personal favorite, “Cryin’ To Be Heard.”
But this is about the first LP.
Both were produced by Jimmy Miller, a man whose reputation has faded with time, even though he made the best Stones LPs, but they sound completely different, the second is relaxed, the first is edgier, looking for the group’s sound, but it does have “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”
And the English and U.S. albums are not identical, but my favorite non-“Fantasy” track is “Dealer, which is haunting, about a subject that was still taboo at the time.
And there are more songs that were covered by other acts and became huge before most people had any idea who Traffic was.
Of course there was Blood, Sweat & Tears’ rendition of “Smiling Phases,” arguably better, even though the cognoscenti may consider that heresy.
And while I’m going against the church, I’ll also say that Three Dog Night’s version of “Heaven Is In Your Mind” is superior too. I was not a huge fan, but my friend Marc Goloff bought the live Three Dog Night LP and I was enraptured by their rendition that opened the album.
And then there was “Coloured Rain.”
Feels like coloured rain
Tastes like coloured rain
The original features Steve Winwood, one of the best rock vocalists of all time, one who still has his pipes, and it’s the same song, with great keyboards, but it’s missing the drama of Kooper’s rendition, it’s a demo compared to the cake Al bakes.
First and foremost there’s the storm, Al was into production, sound effects, and then a flourish fit for a symphony or a Broadway pit orchestra and then…
Yesterday I was a young boy
Searching for my way
Not knowing that I wanted
Living life from day to day
That was us when we were young. We were searching for answers, we were experimenting.
And Al’s take is all about the chorus, and it’s not as good as his version of “Hey, Western Union Man,” yet it contains phasers and all that modern stuff and it’s a song by a legendary band you should know.
Even if you don’t.