1970 Capitol Records SKAO-456
Genres: Jazz, Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Eschatological Funk
“A musical comment on the state of the environment. Contemporary music with ancient yet timely words set to the theme of ecology.”
Lyrics adapted by Michael T. Axelrod from The Book Of Isaiah, The Old Testament and adapted from Song Of The Earth Spirit, A Navajo origin legend.”
A1 Part I 2:48
A2 Part II 4:28
A3 Part III 5:04
A4 Part IV 3:08
B1 Part I 3:44
B2 Part II 3:43
B3 Part III 5:41
Composed By – David A. Axelrod
Bass – Robert West (Except B3)
Chorus – Clark Eran Gassman, Diana Lee, Gerri Engemann, Jacqueline Mae Ellen, Janice Gassman, Jerry Whitman, Jon Joyce, Lewis E. Moreford, Tom Bahler
Drums – Earl Palmer
Guitar – Dennis Budimir, Louis Morell
Piano – Don Randi
Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Jack Kelso, William E. Green
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Ernie Watt
Trombone – Richard Hyde, Richard Leith
Trumpet – Allen De Rienzo, Frederick Hill
Vibraphone – Gary Coleman
Track B3 only: bass – Arthur Wright, vibraphone – Sonny Anderson
Produced by David Axelrod
Lyrics adapted by Michael T. Axelrod
Recording engineers – Gene Hicks, Rex Updegraft
Cover painting – Renate Drutts
Vinyl ripping info: First pressing Capitol vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; AUdioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
Earth, like a drunk man, is
David Axelrod passed away in February, but if he were still around, I believe he would rededicate this album to the people of Pittsburgh AND Paris. And the people of London, who will have their own rot to deal with if they don’t help kick out the Tories from Downing Street next Thursday.
Axelrod worked as a producer and arranger for years for hit-making Capitol artists like Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley before getting a chance to showcase his composing skills, and unleash his unique eschatological funk and grooves onto a mostly unsuspecting, “unwoke” audience. His first creations utilized the rock band The Electric Prunes with their two 1968 albums “Mass In F Minor” and “Release Of An Oath,” the former album yielding the bewitching track Kayrie Eleison which appeared in the film Easy Rider the following year. The band itself barely appears on the records: Axelrod used the the Los Angeles studio collective known as The Wrecking Crew to record most of his complex ‘score’ to these cinematic psychedelic rock records. The name of The Electric Prunes, whose genuine albums are worth exploring in their own right, helped move some units. They were still basking in the glow of a big hit, “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night,” and it is kind of a shame that Axelrod’s ambitious production may have split up the band – they were unable to reproduce this material in a live setting, and things pretty much fell apart after a few disastrous attempts.
But for Axelrod’s muse, at least, the timing was right. Only in the late 1960’s could anyone, even a well-established studio arranger and producer, convince a major label to release a pair of mostly instrumental albums inspired by the poems of William Blake, containing an alchemist’s brew of jazz, rock, funk, and baroque classical sensibilities. Although the nascent genre of “fusion” didn’t really have a firm definition yet, this was definitely not part of it. The emphasis is on ensemble playing, with soloing restricted to short passages used for coloration, with everything conducted like an orchestra by Axelrod’s baton. Still making heavy use of The Wrecking Crew, he created these dreamy soundtracks for a psychedelic end-times that seemed right around the corner. So it seems only natural that his next project moved away from the messianic, revealed visions of Blake and towards a much more terrestrial subject: the poisoning of the earth. Lyrics are sung out like a funeral dirge by the chorus – “The foundations / of the earth are / being broken / broken down” – or “That you are destroying your own land / And instead of sweet fruits and waters / There is a growing rottenness.” These prophetic rumblings were adapted by David’s son Michael from science fiction works like the Old and New Testaments and Navajo origin stories. They lend themselves well to the chanted enunciation provided for them. But on the whole, this album – which at a running time of a mere 28 minutes would likely be considered an EP today – comes across with a lot less urgency than the subject matter suggests. There were passages on the angelic William Blake albums that had frenetic blasts of angst-y, mind-melting doom, and strangely there is none of that here, with things staying almost uniformly downbeat and mellow. The impeccable drum work of Earl Palmer – whose work with the first wave of black rock and roll artists in New Orleans can be heard as a major influence in people like John Bonham and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie – injects some needed momentum and drive to break up the more stoic orchestrated passages. But even Earl sounds like he is just calmly reading his charts and wondering when he can light his next cigarette during a pause. Oh and I’d be amiss not to point out the stellar bass work of Robert West on this album.
Maybe anti-climax was an intentional theme of the whole composition, the lack of crescendos a reflection of humankind’s unintelligent design, a sonic world ending with Eliot’s whimper. In which case my above characterizations may be a bit unfair, as it sounds a bit like I am not giving this record my full recommendation. That’s not really my intention. For the newcomer to Axelrod, I would recommend spending some time with his first two albums, which are a bit more compelling. Unfortunately neither of them are featured on this blog. But if you enjoy Earth Rot – and there is lots to enjoy here – then you will love those other records when you hear them, so I will rationalize my presenting this album first as clearing the path of any potential disappointments for you.
Really though, the timing was right: forty-seven years later, and there are world leaders so beholden to their puppet-masters, determined to wring every last drop of the earth’s natural resources for profit, that they will stand up and make symbolic, ignorant, vulgar gestures, declaring “Go fuck yourself!” to the welfare of the planet. But the message of the ecological movement did seep into the grassroots pretty firmly, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before the know-nothing tyrants are shaken from the tree of power. One can always hope, anyway.
The time-scale of the impending ecological catastrophe has always been one of the only parts of it subject to much scientific debate. It is certain that we’re experiencing very real consequences of humanity’s follies, and they impact the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, who confront our ecological stupidity in a much more direct and inescapable way than the world’s rich, who are busy diverting the water table to unnaturally grow imported species of grass at their Florida resorts and golf courses (or in Phoenix or Dubai, for that matter). The earth may normally operate at a geological pace of tens of thousands of years, but it feels like stupid men have strapped that close to a fusion cell battery and wound it up coil-tight, anxious to accelerate that Doomsday Clock. The execs at Capitol Records, for example, were predicting in 1970 that they might not have anyone left to sell records to within their lifetime (see the accompanying inner sleeve below). They were wrong, of course, as Baby Boomers went on to profit handsomely from exploitation and the transfer of wealth to an increasingly tiny fraction of humanity, allowing them to invest in Hi-Fi stereo systems that cost more than most automobiles, on which – between Eagles and Clapton records – they might even put on Earth Rot for a spin. Capitol was at least humble enough to show some reservations on the limits of “corporate activism,” beginning and ending their message with “We sell music.”
The striking image above, of a gas-masked guy wearing some huge-ass headphones (which are fashionable again, whaddya know), may have been one of the more oblique ad campaigns of the music business. Since there is no mention of ‘Earth Rot’ anywhere on it, I had my doubts whether this inner sleeve was unique to this release. I seemed to recall seeing it before. It turns out that the image also graces the cover of a compilation album released in 1970 to coincide with the first celebration of Earth Day. That record opens up with the first “Warnings” segment from Earth Rot, leading right into… Hear Comes The Sun by The Beatles, conveniently also part of the Capitol roster of artists. Perhaps the proceeds of this compilation album went to benefit a good cause, in which case I won’t criticize it for being a shallow cash-grab and sterling example of the commodification of dissent. The track selection does not form an coherent message except in the vaguest of ways, throwing together the above tunes with tracks by Quicksilver, Roy Harper, Fred Neil’s lovely Dolphins, Steve Miller Band’s Brave New World, and the scathing political barbs of Pink Floyd’s Several Species Of Small Fury Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict, which I had apparently been misinterpreting all these years as a plea in solidarity with the Scottish Home Rule movement.
This ends the blog post on Earth Rot on a bit of a digression. As one of the other great statements on man’s folly at the time, Slaughterhouse Five, would have said, “So it goes.”