Rock Bottom (album)

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Rock Bottom
Rwrockbottom.jpg
Studio album by Robert Wyatt
Released 26 July 1974 (1974-07-26)
Recorded Delfina's Farm, Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire (basic tracks), February 1974 – The Manor Studio, Oxfordshire and CBS, London, April–May 1974 (overdubs)
Genre Progressive rock, Canterbury scene, jazz fusion, art rock
Length 39:31
Label Virgin Records
Producer Nick Mason
Robert Wyatt chronology
The End of an Ear
(1970)The End of an Ear1970
Rock Bottom
(1974)
Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard
(1975)Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard1975
Alternative cover
Cover of the 1998 re-issue
Cover of the 1998 re-issue

Rock Bottom is the second solo album by former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt. It was released on 26 July 1974 by Virgin Records. The album was produced by Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason, and was recorded following a 1973 accident which left Wyatt a paraplegic. He enlisted musicians such as Ivor Cutler, Hugh Hopper, Richard Sinclair, Laurie Allan, and Fred Frith in the recording.

The album has received acclaim as a seminal work of art rock. Although Rock Bottom is technically Wyatt's second solo LP, he has stated that he considers its predecessor The End of an Ear as juvenilia and not part of the recognised "canon" of Wyatt solo records.

Background[edit]

The band Matching Mole disbanded soon after the release of Little Red Record in 1972, and Wyatt began composing the material that later appeared on Rock Bottom. The album's preparation was interrupted by an accident on the night of 1 June 1973. During a raucous party, at Vale Court, Hall Road, Maida Vale in London, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a third-floor bathroom window and was paralysed from the waist down. Wyatt has used a wheelchair ever since. He later called the event the beginning of his maturity and in hospital he continued to work on the songs that would appear on Rock Bottom "in a trance." "I was just relieved that I could do something from a wheelchair," Wyatt explained . "If anything, being a paraplegic helped me with the music because being in hospital left me free to dream, and to really think through the music."[1]

Within six months he was back at work in the recording studio and appeared on stage at London's Rainbow Theatre with Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, who lent financial support by playing a benefit concert for him. Although the music itself is intense and often harrowing, and the lyrics to the songs are dense and obviously deeply personal, Wyatt has denied that the material was a direct result of the accident and the long period of recuperation. Indeed, much of the album had been written while in Venice in early 1973 prior to Wyatt's accident, where his partner and future wife (the poet Alfreda Benge) was working as an assistant editor on Nicolas Roeg's film Don't Look Now.[2]

Recording[edit]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Enlisting friends and luminaries such as Fred Frith, Ivor Cutler and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason (who produced the album), Wyatt recorded most of the album shortly after his release from hospital. In July 1974, the album was released to great critical acclaim. Cutler's performance (reciting a semi-nonsensical narrative three quarters of the way through "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" and intoning the same poem in a flat baritone voice at the end of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road" to close the album) was singled out for its brilliance, which resulted in his being offered a three-album deal with Virgin Records.

The record's abstract sketches of pain, loss and suffering are shot through with vivid flashes of love and renewal, inspired as it was by his relationship with Alfreda Benge, whom he married on the day of Rock Bottom's release. Benge provided the artwork for all his album covers and considerable lyrical assistance.

Rock Bottom contains six songs, some of which have more traditional song structures (for instance the opening "Sea Song" or "Alifib"), while others are less defined, more expressionist pieces displaying a jazz influence (as in "Alife", or the album's centrepiece "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"). Side two starts with a medley of sorts ("Alifib/Alife"), with Wyatt first singing and then reciting in a disjointed manner lyrics apparently dedicated to Benge, who replies with her own vocal at the end of "Alife". The LP closer, "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road", is divided into two parts; the first is a melodic progressive rock song featuring prominent electric guitars, predominantly multi-tracked by Mike Oldfield, and a chant-like vocal refrain, while the second part—bearing little resemblance to the first—features only a droning harmonium, viola and guest vocalist Ivor Cutler reciting bizarre lyrics in a monotone voice.

Album artwork[edit]

Rock Bottom has been released with two different covers, both featuring artworks by Benge. The cover found on the original LP and several reissues is a pencil drawing of a scene at an ocean shore. The upper area of the cover, inspired by a Victorian-era book cover, depicts activity along the beach and off to the horizon, while the bottom third gives an underwater view of strange animal and plant life in the sea.[3] Details include three teenage girls playing at the beach,[4] a faraway steamer, seagulls and sandcastles.[3] Benge intended the cover's subdued style to strike a contrast with the dominant trend of fantastical progressive-rock album art, best typified by Roger Dean's science fiction-inspired artwork for Yes.[3] At a time when "all the covers were getting more and more complicated, competing with each other for pizzazz," Benge said, "the only way to counter that ... was to be absolutely minimal and quiet."[3]

Release[edit]

Promotion[edit]

Concert at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane[edit]

"I'm a Believer" single[edit]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
All Music Guide
(4th ed., 2001)
5/5 stars[5]
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[6]
Robert Christgau's
Consumer Guide
B+[7]
The Independent5/5 stars[8]
Mojo5/5 stars[9]
Pitchfork9.0/10[10]
Q5/5 stars[11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide
(3rd ed., 1992)
3.5/5 stars[12]
Spin10/10[13]
Uncut5/5 stars[14]

Rock Bottom sold better than expected, and was released to acclaim from critics. The British musical press praised the album, with positive reviews in NME,[15] Melody Maker,[16] Sounds,[17] and the Record and Radio Mirror.[18] The album charted in the United States on Billboard FM Action—a chart that measured airplay of LPs on "progressive rock" radio stations—where it peaked at number 13 in 1975.[19]

Robert Christgau wrote of Rock Bottom in a retrospective review, "I'm at a loss to describe this album of 'drones and songs' conceived and recorded after Wyatt's crippling accident except to say that the keyboards that dominate instrumentally are of a piece with his lovely tortured-to-vulnerable quaver and that the mood is that of a paraplegic with the spirit to conceive and record an album of drones and songs."[7]

Reviewing the album for Pitchfork, Douglas Wolk said:

The six songs of Rock Bottom were a new kind of music for Wyatt: very slow, exquisitely deliberate. (It's easy to hear echoes of the album in latter-day Radiohead, among others.) The magnificent "Sea Song" is the most immediately gripping piece here, but everything has peculiar little joys that take their time emerging.[10]

Pitchfork listed it as the 98th best album of the 1970s.[20] In 2015, NME ranked the album at 358 on its list of the 500 "greatest albums of all time."[21]

Legacy[edit]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Robert Wyatt.

Side one
No.TitleLength
1."Sea Song"6:31
2."A Last Straw"5:46
3."Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"7:40
Side two
No.TitleLength
4."Alifib"6:55
5."Alife"6:31
6."Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road"6:08

Personnel[edit]

Production[edit]

  • Nick Mason – Producer
  • Steve Cox – Engineer
  • Dick Palmer – Engineer
  • Toby Bird – Assistant Engineer

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Aston 1991.
  2. ^ Wyatt 1998.
  3. ^ a b c d O'Dair 2015, p. 210.
  4. ^ Aston 1989.
  5. ^ Powers 2001, p. 450.
  6. ^ Powers, Jim. "Rock Bottom - Robert Wyatt". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2018. 
  7. ^ a b Christgau 1990, p. 428.
  8. ^ Gill, Andy. "Classic Album: Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom (Domino)". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 March 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Paytress 2005.
  10. ^ a b Wolk, Douglas (4 November 2010). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom / Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard / Nothing Can Stop Us / Old Rottenhat / Dondestan (Revisited)". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2018. 
  11. ^ Segal 2014.
  12. ^ Evans 1992, p. 787.
  13. ^ Sharp 1998, p. 144.
  14. ^ Cavanagh, David. "Album review: Robert Wyatt - Reissues". Uncut. Archived from the original on 2 January 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  15. ^ MacDonald 1974.
  16. ^ Lake 1974.
  17. ^ Peacock 1974.
  18. ^ Harvey 1974.
  19. ^ See:
  20. ^ Dahlen, Chris (23 June 2004). "The 100 Best Albums of the 1970s: Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom". Pitchfork. p. 1. Archived from the original on 13 March 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2018. 
  21. ^ Beaumont 2015, p. 8.

Sources[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Beaumont, Mark, ed. (2015). "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". NME Special Collector's Edition: The 1000 Greatest Albums & Tracks of All Time. London: Time Inc. – via Scribd. 
Bertoncelli, Riccardo (it) (2010). Storia leggendaria della musica rock (in Italian). Florence: Giunti Editore. ISBN 9788809764545. 
Brook, Chris (1992). "Fred Frith". In Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to More Than 1200 Artists and Bands (3rd ed.). London: Rough Guides. pp. 396–397. ISBN 1-85828-457-0. 
Christgau, Robert (1990) [first published 1981 by Ticknor and Fields under an alternate title]. Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80409-3 – via RobertChristgau.com. 
DeRogatis, Jim (2003). Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-634-05548-8. 
Dister, Alain (1993) [first published in French as L'Âge du rock by Éditions Gallimard in 1992]. The Story of Rock: Smash Hits and Superstars. Abrams Discoveries [Découvertes Gallimard] (2nd ed.). New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-2831-0. 
Dougan, John (2001). "Robert Wyatt". In Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (4th ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 450. ISBN 0-87930-627-0. 
Ellingham, Mark (1992). "Robert Wyatt". In Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to More Than 1200 Artists and Bands (3rd ed.). London: Rough Guides. pp. 1189–1192. ISBN 1-85828-457-0. 
Elliott, Richard (2016) [first published 2014 by Ashgate Publishing]. "'You can't just say "words"': Literature and Nonsense in the Work of Robert Wyatt". In Carroll, Rachel; Hansen, Adam. Litpop: Writing and Popular Music. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. pp. 49–62. ISBN 978-1-315-59271-8. 
Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Woodstra, Chris (2001). "Rock / Rock Styles". In Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (4th ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 1–7. ISBN 0-87930-627-0. 
Evans, Paul (1992). "Robert Wyatt". In DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly. The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). New York: Straight Arrow Publishers. p. 787. ISBN 0-679-73729-4. 
Irvin, Jim; McLear, Colin, eds. (1992). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (4th ed.). Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-973-3. 
King, Michael (1994). Wrong Movements: A Robert Wyatt History. Wembley: SAF Publishing. ISBN 0-946719-10-1. 
McKay, George (2013). Shakin' All Over: Popular Music and Disability. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-12004-8. 
Moon, Tom (2008). "Rock Bottom". 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. New York: Workman. pp. 874–875. ISBN 0-85965-439-7. Archived from the original on 28 March 2010. 
O'Dair, Marcus (2015) [first published 2014 in the UK by Serpent's Tail]. Different Every Time: The Authorized Biography of Robert Wyatt. Berkeley, California: Soft Skull Press. ISBN 978-1-59376-616-0. 
Powers, Jim (2001). "Rock Bottom / 1974 / Thirsty Ear". In Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (4th ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 450. ISBN 0-87930-627-0. 
Reynolds, Simon; Press, Joy (1996) [first published 1994 in the UK by Serpent's Tail]. The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-80273-X. 
Scaruffi, Piero (2009) [1st ed. published in 2003]. A History of Rock and Dance Music. Vol. 1: From the Guitar to the Laptop, From Chicago to Shanghai (1951–1989) (2nd ed.). Redwood City, California: Omniware. ISBN 978-0-9765531-5-1. 
Unterberger, Richie (1998). Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-534-7. 
Weigel, David (2017). The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-24226-3. 

Print articles[edit]

Aston, Martin (August 1989). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard"Paid subscription required. Q. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Aston, Martin (October 1991). "Comrade Softy". Q. London. 
Bell, Clive (June 1998). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Hannibal HNCD1426 CD) / Robert Wyatt: Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (Hannibal HNCD1427 CD)"Paid subscription required. Reviews: Soundcheck. The Wire. No. 172. London. p. 68 – via Exact Editions. 
Cook, Richard (18 April 1981). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom / Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (Virgin)"Paid subscription required. New Musical Express. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Cook, Richard (August 1994). "Robert Wyatt: Going Back a Bit – A Little History of Robert Wyatt (Virgin)"Paid subscription required. Mojo. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
DiMartino, Dave (January 1987). "The Things You Should Know About Robert Wyatt"Paid subscription required. Creem. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Goldman, Vivien (15 March 1980). "Up From Rock Bottom". Melody Maker. London. 
Harvey, Peter (3 August 1974). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Virgin V2017)" (PDF). Albums. Record and Radio Mirror. London. p. 16 – via AmericanRadioHistory.com. 
Hoskyns, Barney (March 1999). "Nothing Can Stop Robert Wyatt: An Interview"Paid subscription required. Mojo. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Jones, Allan (26 October 1974). "Eno: On Top of Tiger Mountain". Melody Maker. London. 
Lake, Steve (4 August 1974). "Rock Bottom". Reviews. Melody Maker. London. 
Leroy, Aymeric (2003). Solar Flares Burn for You (liner notes). Robert Wyatt. Silver Spring, Maryland: Cuneiform Records. Rune 175. 
Lock, Graham (16 August 1980). "Quiet Wyatt Breaks His Silence". New Musical Express. London. 
MacDonald, Ian (27 July 1974). "Can a Wyatt man sing the blues? Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Virgin)"Paid subscription required. Albums. New Musical Express. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Murray, Charles Shaar (14 September 1974). "Robert Wyatt: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London"Paid subscription required. New Musical Express. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Murray, Charles Shaar (26 October 1974). "I Played Robert Wyatt at 78rpm and Saw God"Paid subscription required. New Musical Express. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Mulvey, John (October 2007). "The Freewheelin' Robert Wyatt". Uncut. No. 125. London. p. 72. 
Paytress, Mark (November 2005). "Robert Wyatt: The Mojo Interview". Mojo. No. 144. London. 
Peacock, Steve (10 August 1974). "Rock Bottom review". Sounds. 
Penman, Ian (April 2000). "England's Dreaming"Paid subscription required. The Wire. No. 194. London. pp. 26–32 – via Exact Editions. 
Pinnock, Tom (December 2014). "Album by Album: Robert Wyatt". Uncut. No. 211. London. 
Randall, Mac (August 1992). "Robert Wyatt & Bill Nelson: Tough Guys Don't Dance"Paid subscription required. Musician – via Rock's Backpages. 
Reynolds, Simon (1994). "Robert Wyatt: Going Back a Bit - A Little History of Robert Wyatt (Virgin)"Paid subscription required. Melody Maker. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Romney, Jonathan (July 1994). "Robert Wyatt: Going Back a Bit — A Little History Of... Virgin CDVM 9031 CD"Paid subscription required. The Wire. No. 125. London. p. 70 – via Exact Editions. 
Sandall, Robert (2 October 2003). "Triumph of a Late Bloomer: Robert Wyatt"Paid subscription required. The Daily Telegraph. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Segal, Victoria (December 2014). "Soft Touch: Singular Art-Rock Outlier's Career Compiled". Q. No. 341. London. 
Sharp, Chris (November 1998). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Thirsty Ear) / Robert Wyatt: Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (Thirsty Ear)". Reviews: Retro Active. Spin. Vol. 14 no. 11. New York. pp. 144–145 – via Google Books. 
Stubbs, David (December 1997). "Robert Wyatt"Paid subscription required. Uncut. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Stubbs, David (July 1998). "Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom/Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard"Paid subscription required. Uncut. London – via Rock's Backpages. 
Watson, Ben (September 1991). "There's a Wyatt Going On"Paid subscription required. The Wire. No. 91. London. pp. 42–45 – via Exact Editions. 
Wyatt, Robert (1998) [in CD reissue; first edition LP published 1974 by Virgin Records]. "Rock Bottom (The Odd History of a Piece of Music)". Rock Bottom (liner notes). Robert Wyatt. London: Hannibal Records. HNCD 1426. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gonin, Philippe (2017). Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom. "Discogonie" series (in French). 5. Paris: Éditions Densité. ISBN 978-2-919296-04-0.