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Songs of Experience (David Axelrod album)

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Songs of Experience
David Axelrod - Songs of Experience.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 1969
GenreJazz fusion
ProducerDavid Axelrod
David Axelrod chronology
Song of Innocence
Songs of Experience
Earth Rot

Songs of Experience is the second studio album by American composer and producer David Axelrod. It was released in October 1969 by Capitol Records.

Axelrod composed, arranged, and produced the album while recording with session musicians such as guitarist Al Casey, drummer Earl Palmer, and conductor Don Randi. As with his 1968 debut album Song of Innocence, Axelrod and his musicians performed musical interpretations of English poet William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, an 18th-century illustrated collection of poems.

A jazz fusion album, Songs of Experience explores darker sounds than its predecessor, as the poems Axelrod selected dealt with the darker side of humanity. Its music was partly inspired by composer Gunther Schuller's Third Stream concept. Axelrod composed Baroque orchestrations with rock, R&B, pop, and folk music elements.

Songs of Experience received retrospective acclaim from music critics, who found Axelrod's compositions musically varied and innovative. In the years since its original release, musicians also praised it as a source for sampling in hip hop production. Some of its songs have been sampled frequently by hip hop artists and producers. In 2000, the album was reissued by EMI.


The album was inspired by Songs of Experience, an illustration collection of poems by William Blake.

As he had on the 1968 album Song of Innocence, Axelrod composed musical interpretations of the works of English poet William Blake on Songs of Experience.[1] He used eight poems from Blake's Songs of Experience (1794).[2] The album's gatefold packaging featured Blake's poems reprinted for each song and liner notes that stated, "an anthology of awareness after birth ... based on the 18th century poems of William Blake."[3] Blake's poems began with the premise of birth and innocence, and explored themes of life experience, rite of passage, and changes of perspective in life.[4]

Musical style[edit]

A jazz fusion album,[5] Songs of Experience was partly inspired by Gunther Schuller's Third Stream concept, which fused American jazz with European classical music. Axelrod supported his Baroque orchestrations on the album with rhythms and melodies from rock, R&B, and pop music.[1] The album's suite is more orchestral and less rock-oriented than Song of Innocence. Its symphony is embellished with percussive sounds, British and Irish folk song elements, and stylistic innovations from contemporary arranger Gerald Wilson.[2]

With Songs of Experience, Axelrod explored darker sounds,[2] as the poems he had chosen dealt with the darker side of humanity.[4] For "The Human Abstract", he used ascending piano, bass, and percussion instruments to evoke the ghost described in Blake's poem.[4] It is a bass-driven, funky song that juxtaposes augmented sevenths strummed on an electric guitar against an acoustic piano and muted horns.[2] According to music critic Thom Jurek, "The Divine Image" and "A Little Girl Lost" elicit feelings of majesty and "pastoral sadness", respectively.[2] "London" was recorded by Axelrod as a tone poem to reflect Blake's opening stanza about the spiritual climate of London at the onset of the Industrial Revolution: "I wander thro' each charted'd street / Near where the chart'd Thames does flow / And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe."[4]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Songs of Experience was released in October 1969 by Capitol Records on stereo LP.[6] In a retrospective review, AllMusic's Thom Jurek gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and said that Axelrod "succeeded in spades" in his search for a sound that "best exemplified not only his feelings but also the heady text he sought to sonically illustrate." Jurek felt that his compositions were diverse, lush, and able to resemble literature by "using as much space as they do sound for dramatic and dynamic effect", and that Axelrod created original palettes for rock instrumentation through his complex use of the horn section's "various colors".[2] Lynell George of the Los Angeles Times called it a "prescient, genre-defying" solo project,[7] and NME journalist John Mulvey viewed it as a "landmark" album.[8] Mojo cited the album, along with Song of Innocence, as Axelrod's artistic peak and particularly praised "The Human Abstract" as "beautiful and blank", evoking "the view from Arthur Lee's castle of an endless pale blue sky and the vast deathly city beneath it."[9] Songs of Experience was reissued on CD in 2000 by EMI.[10]

Songs from the album have been sampled frequently by hip hop producers and artists, including Black Moon, who sampled "A Divine Image", and DJ Shadow, who sampled the luminous piano line from "The Human Abstract" on his 1996 song "Midnight in a Perfect World".[11] English hip hop producer Metabeats called Songs of Experience one of his favorite sources for sampling music and said of the album in an interview for Hip Hop Connection: "You could sample everything on this record, and I think everyone already has. Axelrod is pretty much a sound library in himself – the quality is amazing."[12] American musician John McEntire ranked it third on his list of top-five albums and called it "early crate-digger stuff. Great, funky rhythm-section playing, crazy, overblown string arrangements."[13] In a 2000 interview for The Wire, rapper and producer Mike Ladd spoke of the album recording "London", deeming it "crazy stuff" that deviated from the one-dimensional rhythm loops of contemporary hip hop production. He went on the say, "this is definitely the kind of stuff I'm planning to do for the next album, incorporate more fusion elements and stuff like that. This is a really good production. I like it because it's little parts with gaps, which I don't normally have. Somebody told me I should listen to [Axelrod]. This is one I'm definitely going to buy I'd like to do more stuff with complicated melodies, everybody playing together, drum breaks, things like that."[14]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were composed, arranged, and produced by David Axelrod.[3]

Side one
1."A Poison Tree"3:10
2."A Little Girl Lost"3:24
4."The Sick Rose"4:47
Side two
1."The School Boy"2:30
2."The Human Abstract"5:32
3."The Fly"4:50
4."A Divine Image"4:39


Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Murph, John (November 2005). "Autumn Chill: 41 of the Season's Best Albums, Part II". JazzTimes. Quincy. Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Jurek, Thom. "Songs of Experience – David Axelrod". AllMusic. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Songs of Experience (gatefold LP reissue). David Axelrod. Capitol Records. 2000. SKAO-338.
  4. ^ a b c d 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 April 2, 2013.
  5. ^ Cotner, David (2006). "David Cotner scopes out 7" records, 3" CDs and other odds & ends". Signal to Noise. Burlington (41): 53. ...the nourishing jazz fusion of Axelrod's own albums released at this time — Song of Innocence (1968) and Songs of Experience (1970).
  6. ^ Schwann, William (1970). Schwann Monthly Guide to Stereo Records. Cambridge. 22 (1–3). Songs of Experience (10-69) Cap. SKAO-338CS1 maint: Untitled periodical (link)
  7. ^ George, Lynell (June 3, 2007). "Replay". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved February 17, 2013.
  8. ^ Mulvey, John (May 17, 2000). "David Axelrod – Songs of Innocence/ Songs of Experience". NME. London. Archived from the original on August 23, 2000. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  9. ^ "Reissues". Mojo. London (146): 136. January 2006.
  10. ^ Kessler, Ken. "Rock Reissues". High Fidelity News and Record Review. London. 45 (7–12): 93.
  11. ^ Fennessey, Sean (September 15, 2005). "David Axelrod: The Edge: David Axelrod At Capitol 1966–1970". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  12. ^ Douieb, Corin (December 2007). "My Melody". Hip Hop Connection. London (219): 40.
  13. ^ "5 Spot". CMJ New Music Monthly. New York (122): 5. 2004. ISSN 1074-6978. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  14. ^ Shapiro, Peter (2000). "Oral Pleasure". The Wire. London. 197: 24.

External links[edit]