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John Barleycorn Must Die

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John Barleycorn Must Die
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 1970 (1970-07)
RecordedFebruary–April 1970
StudioIsland and Olympic, London
ProducerChris Blackwell, Steve Winwood, Guy Stevens
Traffic chronology
Last Exit
John Barleycorn Must Die
Welcome to the Canteen
Singles from John Barleycorn Must Die
  1. "Empty Pages"
    Released: July 1, 1970 (US only)

John Barleycorn Must Die is the fourth studio album by English rock band Traffic, released in 1970 as Island ILPS 9116 in the United Kingdom, United Artists UAS 5504 in the United States, and as Polydor 2334 013 in Canada. It marked the band's comeback after a brief disbandment, and peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Top LPs chart, making it their highest-charting album in the US,[2] and has been certified a gold record by the RIAA. In addition, the single "Empty Pages" spent eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 74.[3] The album was marginally less successful in the UK, reaching number 11 on the UK Albums Chart.[4]

Background and content[edit]

In late 1968, Traffic disbanded, with guitarist Dave Mason leaving the group for the second time prior to the completion of the Traffic album. In 1969, Steve Winwood joined the supergroup Blind Faith, while drummer and lyricist Jim Capaldi and woodwinds player Chris Wood turned to session work. Wood and Winwood also joined Blind Faith's drummer Ginger Baker in his post-Blind Faith group Ginger Baker's Air Force for their first album, Ginger Baker's Air Force (1970).[5]

At the beginning of 1970, after the demise of Blind Faith, Winwood returned to the studio ostensibly to make his first solo album, originally to be titled Mad Shadows. He recorded two tracks with producer Guy Stevens, "Stranger to Himself" and "Every Mother's Son", but yearned for like-minded musicians to accompany, inviting Wood and Capaldi to join him. Thus Winwood's erstwhile solo album became the reunion of Traffic (minus Dave Mason), and a re-launch of the band's career.[6] Mad Shadows would go on to be the title of Mott the Hoople's second album, also produced by Guy Stevens, and the new Winwood/Traffic album took its title from one of its tracks and became John Barleycorn Must Die.

The album featured influences from jazz and blues, but the version of the traditional English folk tune that provided the album's title, "John Barleycorn", also showed the musicians attending to a modern interpretation of traditional folk music in the vein of contemporary British bands Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Whereas previous Traffic albums had been dominated by more concise song structures, John Barleycorn saw the group develop into a looser, jam-oriented progressive rock and jazz fusion style, setting the tone for their subsequent output in the 1970s.

The album was reissued for compact disc in the UK on 1 November 1999, with five bonus tracks, including three recorded in concert from the Fillmore East in New York City. In the US, the remastered reissue of 27 February 2001 included only the two studio bonus tracks.

Steve Winwood oversaw a deluxe edition that was released on 15 March 2011,[7] featuring the original studio album, digitally remastered on disc one, plus a second disc of bonus material, including more of the Fillmore East concert, with alternate mixes and versions of album tracks.


The original LP release of the album had the front cover design on a background consisting of a photograph of burlap. Later LP copies had the design on a grey background. The cover is displayed prominently during a party scene in the 1971 movie by Dario Argento, Four Flies on Grey Velvet.


Professional ratings
Review scores
American Songwriter[9]
Christgau's Record GuideC+[10]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[11]
The Great Rock Discography7/10[12]
Record Collector[15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[16]

Retrospective reviews of the album have been mixed. AllMusic criticised the vocal sections as "excuses for Winwood to exercise his expressive voice as punctuation to the extended instrumental sections", but made note of how the album took the band's jazz/rock leanings beyond mere jamming.[8] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau said the departure of Mason hurt Traffic's songwriting on the album, leaving the band to depend on Winwood's "feckless improvised rock, or is it folksong-based jazz?"[10]

However, John Barleycorn Must Die was voted number 369 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition (2000).[18] It was also included in The MOJO Collection: The Greatest Albums of All Time, which described it as "a magnificent album" that provided "a remarkable showcase" for Winwood's gifts.[19] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[20]

Track listing and personnel[edit]

Side one
1."Glad"Steve Winwood
2."Freedom Rider"Winwood, Jim Capaldi
    • Winwood — vocals, organ, piano, percussion
    • Wood — saxophone, electric saxophone, flute, percussion
    • Capaldi — drums, percussion
3."Empty Pages"Winwood, Capaldi[nb 1]
    • Winwood — vocals, organ, electric piano, bass guitar
    • Wood — organ
    • Capaldi — drums, percussion
Side two
4."Stranger to Himself"Winwood, Capaldi
    • Winwood — vocals, all instruments
    • Capaldi — vocals
5."John Barleycorn (Must Die)"traditional; arranged by Winwood
    • Winwood — vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
    • Wood — flute, percussion
    • Capaldi — vocals, tambourine
6."Every Mother's Son"Winwood, Capaldi
    • Winwood — vocals, all instruments other than drums
    • Capaldi — drums
Total length:35:06

Previously unreleased studio bonus tracks 4. ("I Just Want You To Know") and 8. ("Sittin' Here Thinkin' of My Love") are solo demos by Winwood. The live tracks, recorded on 18/19 November at the Fillmore East, comprise what was to have been side one of Live Traffic (ILPS 9142), presumably shelved in favor of Welcome to the Canteen.

1999 reissue
1."Glad"Winwood 6:59
2."Freedom Rider"Winwood, Capaldi 5:30
3."Empty Pages"Winwood, Capaldi 4:34
4."I Just Want You to Know"Winwood, Capaldi
    • Winwood — vocals, all instruments
5."Stranger to Himself"Winwood, Capaldi 3:57
6."John Barleycorn"traditional; arranged by Winwood 6:27
7."Every Mother's Son"Winwood, Capaldi 7:08
8."Sittin' Here Thinkin' of My Love"Winwood, Capaldi
    • Winwood — vocals, all instruments
9."Backstage and Introduction" (live; introduction by Bill Graham)Winwood, Capaldi 1:50
10."Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring" (live)Capaldi, Winwood, Chris Wood
11."Glad" (live)Winwood
    • Winwood — Hammond organ
    • Wood — saxophone
    • Grech — bass guitar
    • Capaldi — drums

Island Records 314 548 541-2, also includes the previously unreleased tracks "I Just Want You to Know" and "Sittin' Here Thinkin' of My Love".

2001 US remastered reissue
2."Freedom Rider"5:29
3."Empty Pages"4:38
4."I Just Want You to Know"1:33
5."Stranger to Himself"3:57
6."John Barleycorn"6:26
7."Every Mother's Son"7:08
8."Sittin' Here Thinkin' of My Love"3:24
2011 deluxe reissue disc two
1."Stranger to Himself" (alternative mix)Winwood, Capaldi4:09
2."John Barleycorn Must Die" (first version)traditional; arranged by Winwood5:05
3."Every Mother's Son" (alternative mix)Winwood, Capaldi7:03
4."Back Stage and Introduction" 1:44
5."Medicated Goo" (live)Winwood, Jimmy Miller4:17
6."Empty Pages" (live)Winwood, Capaldi4:47
7."Forty Thousand Headmen" (live)Winwood, Capaldi4:30
8."Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?" (live)Winwood, Capaldi, Wood5:16
9."Every Mother's Song" (live)Winwood, Capaldi7:00
10."Glad" / "Freedom Rider" (live)Winwood / Winwood, Capaldi14:30

Tracks 4–10 recorded on 18–19 November 1970 at the Fillmore East.



  • Steve Winwood – acoustic piano (1, 2, 5), organ (1, 2, 3), percussion (1, 2), vocals (2-6), electric piano (3), bass guitar (3), all instruments (4), acoustic guitar (5), all other instruments (6)
  • Jim Capaldi – drums (1, 2, 3, 5, 6), percussion (1, 2, 3), backing vocals (4, 5), tambourine (5)
  • Chris Wood – percussion (1, 2, 5), saxophone (1, 2), electric saxophone (1, 2), flute (1, 2, 5), organ (3)


  • Chris Blackwell – producer (1, 2, 3, 5)
  • Steve Winwood – producer (1, 2, 3, 5)
  • Guy Stevens – producer (4, 6)
  • Brian Humphries – engineer
  • Andy Johns – engineer
  • Lee Hulko – mastering
  • Mike Sida – album design
  • Richard Polak – photography


Chart (1970/71) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[21] 14
United Kingdom (Official Charts Company) 11
United States (Billboard 200) 5


  1. ^ Murphy, Sean (29 March 2017). "The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 4, 40–21". PopMatters. Retrieved 19 May 2019. ... and a more jam-based jazz-rock on the masterful (but not-proggy) John Barleycorn Must Die
  2. ^ "Billboard 200 – Traffic". Billboard. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Empty Pages" Chart History, Billboard.com. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  4. ^ Traffic in the UK Charts Archived 20 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The Official Charts. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  5. ^ Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, editors. The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock. New York: Harmony Books, 1977, p. 234.
  6. ^ John Barleycorn Must Die, 1999 reissue Island Records IMCD 266 546499-2, liner notes p. 3.
  7. ^ Progressive Rock with a Capital P. – PopMatters.
  8. ^ a b AllMusic: Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die (1970) album review by William Ruhlmann
  9. ^ Horowitz, Hal (30 March 2011). "Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die: Deluxe Edition". American Songwriter. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: T". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 16 March 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  11. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  12. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2004). "Traffic". The Great Rock Discography (7 ed.). Canongate Books. p. 1557–59. ISBN 1-84195-615-5.
  13. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel, eds. (1999). "Traffic". MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. p. 1162. ISBN 1-57859-061-2.
  14. ^ Murphy, Sean (6 May 2011). "Progressive rock with a capital P: Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die". PopMatters. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  15. ^ Needs, Kris (20 March 2011). "John Barleycorn Must Die: Deluxe Edition". Record Collector. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  16. ^ Evans, Paul (2004). "Traffic". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 821. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  17. ^ Young, Rob (April 2011). "Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die: Deluxe Edition". Uncut (167): 94.
  18. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 143. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  19. ^ Jim Irvin, ed. (2000). The MOJO Collection: The Greatest Albums of All Time. Mojo Books. p. 223. ISBN 978-1841950679.
  20. ^ Heatley, Michael (2006). "Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Universe Publishing. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-7893-1371-3.
  21. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 312. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.


  1. ^ The 2011 reissue credits both the studio and live versions of this song to Winwood alone.

External links[edit]