Song of Innocence
|Song of Innocence|
|Studio album by David Axelrod|
|Studio||Capitol Studios in Los Angeles|
|Genre||Jazz fusion, baroque pop, psychedelic R&B|
|David Axelrod chronology|
Song of Innocence is the debut album of American composer and producer David Axelrod, released in October 1968 by Capitol Records. Axelrod sought to capitalize on the experimental climate of popular music at the time and composed the album as a suite-like tone poem based on Songs of Innocence, a 1789 illustrated collection of poems by William Blake. It was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles with an orchestra and a variety of studio musicians, including keyboardist and conductor Don Randi, guitarist Al Casey, bassist Carol Kaye, and drummer Earl Palmer.
Song of Innocence is an instrumental jazz fusion album that incorporates elements of classical, rock, funk, pop, and theatre music. It is arranged for bass, drums, and string instruments, written in the rock idiom with tempos centered on rock-based patterns by Palmer. Axelrod used contrast in his orchestral compositions and interspersed the album's euphoric psychedelic R&B form with dramatic, harrowing arrangements to reflect the supernatural themes found in Blake's poems. The music's reverent, psychedelic overtones evoke their themes of innocence and spirituality.
Although Song of Innocence was innovative for its application of rock and jazz techniques, it was not commercially successful and confounded contemporary music critics, who viewed it as an ambitious curiosity piece. In the 1990s, critics reassessed the album as a classic, while leading disc jockeys in hip hop and electronica rediscovered and sampled the album's music. "Holy Thursday", the album's best-known song, was frequently sampled by hip hop producers. The renewed interest in Axelrod's work prompted Stateside Records to reissue Song of Innocence in 2000.
In 1968, David Axelrod gained national fame for his controversial mass composition Mass in F Minor, which he wrote in a contemporary rock vein for the Electric Prunes. Axelrod, who was challenged by what he described as a "new breed of record buyer ... more sophisticated in his thinking", was one of several Los Angeles-based musical eccentrics during the late 1960s who expanded on the mid-1960s studio experiments of Brian Wilson and George Martin. After his success with the Electric Prunes, he was asked to record a similar album by Capitol Records, for whom he worked as a staff producer and songwriter. Axelrod wanted to further capitalize on the experimental climate of popular music at the time and chose to adapt works by English poet William Blake on an album.
At the time, Blake musical settings were at the height of their popularity among musicians and composers. Numerous serious music composers had set his poems to music since the 1870s, and the practice was eventually adapted in other musical fields during the 20th century, including popular music, musical theatre, and the 1960s folk idiom. Axelrod, a self-professed "Blake freak", had been fascinated by Blake's painting and poetry since his late teens and frequently read the poems as an adult. He conceived Song of Innocence after he had bought an edition of Blake's complete poetry while working in Capitol's art department and considered the concept for a few years before Mass in F Minor. Axelrod was not sociable with colleagues, such as record executives who could have helped him professionally, and felt that he could identify with Blake; he considered the poet "very bad at making new friends".
Axelrod composed Song of Innocence in one week and began recording in mid-1968. He recorded the album at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and enlisted his close-knit group of veteran studio musicians, including keyboardist and conductor Don Randi, guitarist Al Casey, bassist Carol Kaye, and drummer Earl Palmer. He had worked with them when producing sessions for other recording artists. Axelrod also worked with violinist Harry Bluestone.
Axelrod did not play any instruments on the album; he instead wrote arrangements for his orchestra and utilized 33 players to perform his notated charts. He had learned how to read and orchestrate complex music charts from jazz musicians during the 1950s. Randi conducted the orchestra and played both piano and organ on the album. Axelrod preferred listening to a session from a recording booth like his contemporary Igor Stravinsky and explained in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, "That way the sounds don't seem to go all over the place; music seems so small in a studio." Axelrod originally wanted some of the album's compositions to feature a large-scale choir, but was uncertain if he could find the appropriate ensemble, so he recorded an entirely instrumental album and included one Blake setting for each section of the score.
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
A jazz fusion album, Song of Innocence combines jazz elements with impressionistic musical figures and hard rock guitar solos. Its music also incorporates funk, rock, theatre, and pop styles. Music journalists categorized the album as jazz-rock, baroque pop, and psychedelic R&B. John Murph of JazzTimes magazine found it "more art pop than jazz". Axelrod, who had produced bebop albums before working for Capitol, asserted that jazz played a crucial role in the music: "For years, all I did was jazz. When I first got in the record business, I was so into jazz that I had never heard Elvis Presley. I still probably listen to jazz more than anything else."
Song of Innocence is a tone poem suite based on Blake's illustrated 1789 collection of poems Songs of Innocence. Axelrod's compositions borrow titles from the poems, which dealt with themes such as visions, religious iniquity, rite of passage, and life experience after a person's birth and innocence. Mary Campbell of The Baltimore Sun said the classical and Christian church music elements make the record sound "reverent, as if describing a biblical story". Les Inrockuptibles described it as a "psyche-liturgical" work dedicated to Blake. According to AllMusic's Thom Jurek, psychedelia is implicit in the musical form and feeling, which impel Axelrod to "celebrate the wildness and folly of youth with celebration and verve".
The music was written in the rock idiom and arranged for bass, drums, and strings. As a composer, Axelrod eschewed the conventional unison approach to orchestral writing and developed more contrasts, while centering his tempos around rock-based patterns played by Earl Palmer. Most of the drumming has a 4
4 time signature. Axelrod's instrumental ensemble is utilized as a rock orchestra. They play melodramatic strings, which are tied to strong, echo-laden breakbeats. The music is also embellished with abundant electric piano, intricate raw basslines, and Echoplex effects. Axelrod used elements of suspense to reflect the supernatural themes found in Blake's poems. According to music journalist David N. Howard, the album's "euphorically" upbeat psychedelic R&B form is interspersed by "dramatically sparse" and "harrowing" arrangements.
Song of Innocence uses key musical phrases that are expanded upon as the album progresses. Axelrod was interested in György Ligeti's 1961 piece Atmosphères and Lukas Foss' idea of starting a piece with a sustained chord, having musicians improvise over 100 bars, and ending with another chord as they finish. "Urizen" opens the album with long sustained chords, sound effects, reverbed guitar stabs, and a supple bassline. On "Holy Thursday", the rhythm section plays a slow, jazzed-out groove and bluesy bop piano lines, as a big band vamp is played by a large-scale string section. In response to their swing style, the brass section and guitarists play dramatic, high-pitched overtones built around a complex melody. The middle of the album is typified by more traditional jazz passages and the presence of a psychedelic harpsichord. "The Smile" has hyperactive drums, offbeat bass, and a progressive string part. The songs near the end steadily transition to heady psychedelia and abound in gritty guitars and disorienting organ licks. For "The Mental Traveler", Axelrod said that he tried to experiment with atonality, but "chickened out".
Release and reception
Song of Innocence was released in October 1968 by Capitol Records. It received radio exposure on both AM and FM stations with songs such as the title track and "Holy Thursday", which became the album's best-known recording. The album, however, was not a commercial success and only sold 75,000 copies by October 1969.
Song of Innocence confounded contemporary music critics, who regarded it as an ambitious novelty. Billboard magazine called it "an aesthetic mix of music and philosophy ... chock full of mysticism, creativity, and change", and felt that Axelrod's idyllic music is interesting enough to impact the record chart. In his review for Gramophone magazine, Alasdair Clayre wrote that his impressions of Blake "reveal a depth of imagination and skill warranting attention beyond the confines of pop music", proving that Axelrod can compose innovatively for a large orchestra, which he felt comprised the best of California's studio musicians on Song of Innocence. However, Clayre questioned whether the "occasional guitar gobbling" reflected Axelrod's genuine ideas or "an obligatory concession to contemporary sound" on an otherwise compelling album. The magazine's Nigel Hunter said that its songs are "of absorbing power and depth", and that only the electric guitar parts make them difficult to listen at times.
In a negative review of the album, Nat Freedland of Entertainment World criticized Axelrod for "indulging himself here to little avail". Stereo Review magazine's Paul Kresh panned Song of Innocence as a pretentious, inadequate album dependent on movie music tricks and outdated techniques such as forced climaxes and gaudy orchestration. Kresh asserted that it falls severely short of the concept Axelrod aspired to and that "only the most uneducated will be taken in by the mountains of misterioso claptrap that surround these squeaking musical mice."
Song of Innocence was one of many concept albums recorded as rock music was developing in various directions during the late 1960s, following in the wake of the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was innovative for its original application of both rock and jazz techniques. According to music journalist Zaid Mudhaffer, the term "jazz fusion" was coined in a review of the album when it was released. Axelrod followed the album up in 1969 with the similarly Blake-inspired Songs of Experience, which adapted Gunther Schuller's third stream concept to baroque orchestrations and rock, pop, and R&B rhythms and melodies. Both albums established him as an unpredictable, challenging conceptual artist. His instrumental interpretations of Blake were the first in jazz and were followed by Rafał Augustyn's Niewinnosc (1971), Adrian Mitchell's 1971 musical Tyger: A Celebration of William Blake with composer Mike Westbrook, and Westbrook's subsequent Blake-inspired works, including The Westbrook Blake: "Bright as Fire" (1980).
During the late 1990s, Axelrod's albums were reassessed and considered innovative by critics, including Song of Innocence, which was regarded as a classic. NME magazine called it "sky-kissingly high and divine", and found Axelrod versatile enough to "soar above his own pretensions". Mojo cited it as "the heart of Axelrod's legacy". John Bush of AllMusic said it "sounded like nothing else from its era," and Thom Jurek said the music continues to sound new upon each listen due to a lack of "cynicism and hipper-than-thou posturing". In a four-and-a-half star review of the album, Jurek argued that it was innovative in 1968 and still "withstands the test of time better than the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album that allegedly inspired it". Tiny Mix Tapes, which gave it a perfect score, said Song of Innocence sounds engagingly magnificent and diverse, and cited it as one of the most dynamic musical fusions and "one of the most unique and thought provoking musical efforts of the last several decades".
Axelrod's music was rediscovered and sampled by leading disc jockeys in the 1990s including hip hop producers. When sampling in hip hop peaked during the early and mid-1990s, they searched for archived records with atmospheric beats and strings to sample. Los Angeles-based disc jockey B+ recalled finding a copy of the album at a Goodwill in Culver City and said that it appealed to him because of its dissonant quality, musical dynamics, and string sound: "This big sound. It was like somehow [Axelrod] was summoning the future, that you can project this environment, this moment into the future." Electronica pioneers such as DJ Cam and DJ Shadow also sampled Song of Innocence. The latter producer sampled the album's choral themes and piano motifs on his influential debut album Endtroducing..... (1996).
The renewed interest in Axelrod's work prompted Stateside Records to reissue Song of Innocence in 2000. Upon its reissue, Now wrote that, after sounding odd during the 1960s, the songs became "a sampler's dream come true – who knew?" David Keenan of The Wire attributed Axelrod's sampling legacy with producers such as DJ Premier and DJ Shadow to Palmer, "the original badass drummer [who] played on all of these tracks". He facetiously critiqued that the album's songs "may reek of stale joss sticks and patchouli-scented self-actualisation, but in their very datedness they somehow sound very modern." Pitchfork Media's Sean Fennessey felt that Axelrod's first two albums are "essential if only as a tour guide through early 90s hip-hop", having "literally been a rap producer's delight for years".
"The Smile" was sampled by Pete Rock on his 1998 song "Strange Fruit" and by DJ Premier on Royce da 5'9"'s 2009 song "Shake This". "Holy Thursday" was frequently sampled by producers, including The Beatnuts on their 1994 song "Hit Me with That", UNKLE on their 1998 song "Rabbit in Your Headlights", and Swizz Beatz on Lil Wayne's 2008 song "Dr. Carter". In a 2013 list for Complex, DJ and production duo Kon and Amir named "Holy Thursday" the greatest hip hop sample of all time.
|5.||"Song of Innocence"||4:32|
|7.||"The Mental Traveler"||4:03|
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- David Axelrod – arranger, producer, vocals
- Benjamin Barrett – musician
- Arnold Belnick – musician
- Harry Bluestone – violin
- Bobby Bruce – musician
- Al Casey – guitar
- Gary Coleman – background vocals
- Douglas Davis – musician
- Alvin Dinkin – musician
- Gene Estes – percussion
- Anne Goodman – musician
- Freddie Hill – trumpet
- Bill Hinshaw – musician
- Harry Hyams – musician
- Carol Kaye – bass
- Raphael Kramer – musician
- Richard Leith – trombone
- Arthur Maebe – horn
- Leonard Malarsky – musician
- Lew McCreary – horn
- Ollie Mitchell – trumpet
- Gareth Nuttycombe – musician
- Rob Owen – reissue co-ordination (2000)
- Earl Palmer – drums
- Joe Polito – engineer
- Don Randi – conductor, organ, piano
- The Red Room – artwork re-generation (2000)
- Nigel Reeve – reissue co-ordination (2000)
- Allen Di Rienzo – musician
- Howard Roberts – guitar
- Vincent de Rosa – horn
- Nathan Ross – musician
- Henry Roth – musician
- Myron Sandler – musician
- Harold Schneier – musician
- Sid Sharp – musician
- Jack Shulman – musician
- Henry Sigismonti – wind
- Marshall Sosson – musician
- Tony Terran – musician
- Pete Wyant – musician
- Tibor Zelig – musician
|United States||October 1968||Capitol Records||stereo LP||ST-2982|
|United States||1975||stereo LP reissue||ST-11362|
|United Kingdom||2000||Stateside Records, EMI||CD reissue||5 21588|
- Anon. 1968b, p. 4; Anon. 2006, p. 136; Clayre 1969, p. 1482
- Anon. 1968b, p. 4.
- Fitch 1990, p. xxvi.
- Fitch 1990, pp. xxi–xxiii; Fitch 1990, pp. xxi–xxii; Fitch 1990, p. xxv
- Murph 2005; Howard 2004, p. 99; Unterberger 2000
- Monson 1968, p. B5; Unterberger 2000
- Murph 2005.
- Unterberger 2000; Howard 2004, p. 99
- Anon. 2001; Howard 2004, p. 99
- Anon. 2000b.
- Anon. 1969, p. 25; Fitch 1990, p. 9; Anon. 1968b, p. 4
- Anon. 1969, p. 25.
- Monson 1968, p. B5.
- Howard 2004, p. 99.
- Jurek n.d.; Kern n.d.
- Cotner 2006, p. 53; Anon. 1968b, p. 4
- Kern n.d.; Sonksen 2012
- Sonksen 2012.
- Kresh 1969, p. 115.
- Howey & Reimer 2006, p. 532; Anon. 2006, p. 136; Sonksen 2012
- Campbell 1968, p. B4.
- Conte 2000.
- Jurek n.d..
- Anon. 1979, p. 68.
- Bush n.d..
- Cotner 2006, p. 53.
- Kern n.d..
- Kresh 1969, p. 115; Kern n.d.
- Weiner et al. 2008.
- Schwann 1970, p. 229.
- Anon. 1968b, p. 4; Jurek n.d.
- Howard 2004, p. 99; Anon. 1969, p. 25
- Anon. 1968a, p. 30.
- Clayre 1969, p. 1482.
- Hunter 1969, p. 928.
- Freedland 1969, p. 45.
- Lewis 1972, pp. 98–99.
- Tiegel 1971, p. 58.
- Mudhaffer 2014.
- Fitch 1990, p. xxv; Fitch 1990, p. 8; Fitch 1990, pp. 241–242
- Unterberger n.d.; Wolfson 2004
- Anon. 2000a.
- Anon. 2006, p. 136.
- Keenan 2000, p. 54.
- George 2007.
- Anon. 2007, p. 630.
- Anon. 2009.
- Anon. 1999.
- Fennessey 2005.
- Fennessey 2005; Mudhaffer 2014
- Goh 2006; Anon. 2013; Fennessey 2005; Benbow 2008
- Anon. 2013.
- Anon. n.d..
- Fitch 1990, p. 9.
- Anon. (September 28, 1968). "Album Reviews". Billboard (Cincinnati) 80 (39): 30. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (September 28, 1968). "Axelrod: Hunter of New Sounds". Billboard (Los Angeles) 80 (39). Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (October 3, 1969). "Al DeLory & David Axelrod". Entertainment World (Hollywood) 1 (1).
- Anon. (January 20, 1979). "Talent in Action – Freddie Hubbard, Joe Sample, Joe Farrell, David Axelrod". Billboard (Los Angeles) 91 (3): 68. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (December 28, 1999). "Top 10 Reissues". Now 20 (17) (Toronto). Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (2000). "Songs of Innocence/ Songs of Experience". NME (London) (May 17). Archived from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (2000). Song of Innocence (CD reissue booklet). David Axelrod. London: Stateside Records. 7243 5 21588 2 9.
- Anon. (2001). "David Axelrod". The Fader (New York) (7). Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (January 2006). "Reissues". Mojo (London) (146).
- Anon. (2007). "DJ Shadow". In Irvin, Jim; McLear, Colin. The Mojo Collection (4th ed.). Canongate Books. ISBN 1-84767-643-X.
- Anon. (2009). "David Axelrod's 'Live at the Royal Festival Hall' on vinyl". Fact (London) (March 5). Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (2013). "1. David Axelrod "Holy Thursday" (1968) — Kon + Amir Present: The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Samples of All Time". Complex (New York) (May 17). Archived from the original on June 16, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Anon. (n.d.). "Rare Record Price Guide". Metropolis International. Retrieved November 20, 2012. (subscription required)
- Benbow, Julian (2008). "On 'Carter III,' Lil' Wayne perfects the art of the brag". Boston Globe (June 9). Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Bush, John (n.d.). "David Axelrod – Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Campbell, Mary (October 21, 1968). "Rock Influence". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 20, 2012. (subscription required)
- Weiner, Johan; Sylvester, Nick; Eells, Josh; Christgau, Robert (June 11, 2008). "The Great Lil Wayne Debate: Is Tha Carter III a Classic?". Blender (New York). Archived from the original on February 13, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Clayre, Alasdair (April 1969). "Keeping Track: A Cross Section of Recent Popular LPs, EPs and Singles". Gramophone (London) 46.
- Conte, Christophe (2000). "David Axelrod". Les Inrockuptibles (in French) (Paris) (November 30).
- Cotner, David (2006). "David Cotner scopes out 7" records, 3" CDs and other odds & ends". Signal to Noise (Burlington) (41).
- Fennessey, Sean (September 15, 2005). "David Axelrod: The Edge: David Axelrod At Capitol 1966–1970". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Fitch, Donald (1990). Blake Set to Music: A Bibliography of Musical Settings of the Poems and Prose of William Blake. University of California Press. ISBN 0520097343.
- Freedland, Nat (October 3, 1969). "Music–Recording". Entertainment World (Hollywood) 1 (1).
- George, Lynell (2007). "Replay". Los Angeles Times (June 3). Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Goh, Daryl (2006). "David Axelrod's The Edge of Music: An Exploration of 50 Years in Music". The Star (February 27) (Malaysia). Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Howard, David N. (2004). Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0634055607.
- Howey, Ann F.; Stephen Ray, Reimer (2006). A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500–2000). Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 1843840685.
- Hunter, Nigel (1969). "The Critics' Choice—1969". Gramophone (London) 47 (December): 928.
- Jurek, Thom (n.d.). "Song of Innocence – David Axelrod : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Keenan, David (2000). "Boomerang – New reissues: rated on the rebound". The Wire (London) (197–202): 54.
- Kern (n.d.). "David Axelrod – Songs of Innocence". Tiny Mix Tapes. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Kresh, Paul (March 1969). "Stereo Tape". Stereo Review (New York) 22 (3): 115.
- Lewis, Roger (1972). Outlaws of America: The Underground Press and Its Context. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140215867.
- Monson, Karen (1968). "His Own Things". Los Angeles Times (December 31). Retrieved November 20, 2012. (subscription required)
- Mudhaffer, Zaid (January 20, 2014). "Heavy Axe: A Guide to David Axelrod". Red Bull Music Academy. Archived from the original on June 23, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
- Murph, John (2005). "Autumn Chill: 41 of the Season's Best Albums, Part II". JazzTimes (Quincy) (November). Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Schwann, William (1970). "Long Playing Record Catalog". Schwann Monthly Guide to Stereo Records (Cambridge) 22 (1–3).
- Sonksen, Mike (June 15, 2012). "LA Letters > Songs of Innocence and Experience: The Tone Poems of David Axelrod and William Blake". KCET. Archived from the original on April 2, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Tiegel, Eliot (July 17, 1971). "Axelrod: Trend to Blend Sounds". Billboard (Los Angeles) 83 (29). Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Unterberger, Richie (2000). David Axelrod's Rock Interpretation of Handel's Messiah (LP reissue liner notes). David Axelrod. New York: RCA Records. LSP-4636.
- Unterberger, Richie (n.d.). "Heavy Axe – David Axelrod". AllMusic. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Wolfson, Richard (March 16, 2004). "The alchemist of crossover". The Daily Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2012.