Third (Soft Machine album)
|Studio album by Soft Machine|
|Released||6 June 1970|
|Recorded||April–May 1970 at IBC, London ("Facelift" live in Croydon and Birmingham, January 1970; re-issue bonus tracks live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, August 1970)|
|Genre||Progressive rock, Canterbury scene, experimental rock, jazz fusion, free jazz|
|Label||CBS (UK), Columbia (USA), Sony BMG (UK re-issue)|
|Soft Machine chronology|
Third is the third studio album by the Canterbury associated band Soft Machine, originally released in 1970 as a double LP, with each side of the original vinyl consisting of a single, long composition.
Third's music explores the emerging jazz fusion of the type present on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, which was released just a few months earlier. Third marks the most major of Soft Machine's several shifts in musical genre over their career, completing their transition from psychedelic music to jazz, and is a significant milestone of the Canterbury scene, featuring interplay between the band's personnel: Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass and newest member Elton Dean on saxophone. Lyn Dobson appears on saxophone and flute on "Facelift", recorded while he was a full member of the band (then a quintet), although he is credited as an additional performer. Jimmy Hastings (brother of Pye Hastings from Caravan) makes substantial contributions on flute and clarinet on "Slightly All The Time", free-jazz violinist Rab Spall (then a bandmate of Wyatt's in the part-time ensemble Amazing Band) is heard on the coda to "Moon In June", and Nick Evans (a member of the band during its short-lived septet incarnation) makes brief appearances on trombone in "Slightly All The Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous".
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Much of the production technique in recording and editing on the entire album is quite unpolished, perhaps deliberately so, especially on side one where some of the extracts have low fidelity monophonic sound and excessive tape hiss. On this and other tracks, edits are often quite coarse, and sometimes combine sections that are slightly out of tune with each other. Some of this may be explained by lower recording industry standards of the time, but much of it appears to be the result of combining home recordings and collages (mostly done at the home of the band's soundman Bob Woolford, using his tape machines) with professional studio recordings made at IBC Studios, an in-demand London studio at the time and a favourite of the Bee Gees and The Who in particular.
"Slightly All the Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous" are the most straightforward tracks in Soft Machine's new jazz sound, and set the tone for this and their next two albums. "Esther's Nose Job" on the bonus disc originally appeared on Volume Two, and no longer includes its cacophonous introduction, but adds a new section, "Pigling Bland", which appeared as a track on its own on the group's Fifth album a few years later. This version does not contain the lyrics found in the original, but it does include some scat singing from Wyatt. All three pieces on the bonus disc are performed as one continuous suite. (The original vinyl edition had a fade-out and fade-in of the drum solo connecting the second and third pieces, as was necessary for a two-sided record.)
"Facelift" is the most radical track. The version on the album was recorded live at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 4 January 1970 (the first by the quintet version of the band), with a brief section from the Mothers Club, Birmingham, 11 January 1970, and some recordings from the 1969 Spaced project.
While a large part of the finished product is essentially a live recording, parts involve tape collage and speeding up, slowing down, looping and backwards playing of tapes, the ending being the most memorable part, where two different treatments of the same basic riff (one from the live concert, the other, at double speed, from Spaced) are heard simultaneously, backwards.
At the time of the 5-piece line-up, "Facelift" was typically expanded with solo improvisations and showcases by Lyn Dobson on flute, vocals and harmonica. Incidentally, "Facelift" didn't last as long at the Croydon concert as other versions from the same time, being still in embryonic state by that point.
Slightly All the Time
Although each side has one long track, side two has several sub-sections with titles. On the back cover and label, it is listed as just "Slightly All the Time", but the track list printed on the inner gatefold states:
- "Slightly All the Time" (Ratledge) / "Noisette" (Hopper) 0:40 / "Slightly All the Time" (Ratledge)
"Noisette" is the only track on the original UK edition to show a timing, and it is only approximate to help identify the section, which is not banded separately, and appears about 3/4 of the way into the piece, with a reprise at the end. On some CD editions, the track listing is further broken down, as:
- "Slightly All the Time" (Ratledge) / "Noisette" (Hopper) / "Backwards" (Ratledge) / "Slightly All the Time (reprise)" (Ratledge)
"Backwards" is the section that takes up most of the last five minutes of the track. With this modification, "Slightly All the Time (reprise)" is not really correct, as the ending is actually a reprise of "Noisette". The two middle sections of this revised track list originally appeared in the middle of a suite called "Mousetrap", composed by Hugh Hopper, and appeared in a BBC broadcast in 1969 prior to the recording of Third (later issued on the group's Triple Echo compilation album in 1977, and subsequently re-issued on other compilations) with this breakdown:
- "Mousetrap" (Hopper) / "Noisette" (Hopper) / "Backwards" (Ratledge) / "Mousetrap (reprise)" (Hopper)
On Third, the riff from "Mousetrap" can be heard near the end of "Backwards", and gives the impression the group are about to launch into this piece to close (and it's possible they did so in the original studio session), but an abrupt edit brings the music to a reprise of "Noisette" instead.
Before the "Noisette" and "Backwards" sections were added to "Slightly All the Time", Soft Machine performed a shorter version of "Slightly" as part of a suite which also included an abbreviated "Out-Bloody-Rageous". A BBC studio performance of this suite can be found on Triple Echo and other compilations.
Years later, "Backwards" appeared as a track on its own when it was covered by fellow Canterbury band Caravan on their 1973 album For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, as part of the "A-Hunting We Shall Go" medley.
"Slightly All the Time" was used as the background for the syndicated "Realities" news program distributed by many 1970s-era "underground" radio stations.
Moon in June
"Moon in June" (without "The" preceding it, although the word has been unwittingly added to some alternate versions in compilations) is the last song with lyrics that Soft Machine ever recorded, and their last look back to their progressive rock, pre-jazz sound. The song is in 3 parts. Part 1 is a pastiche of vocal themes, borrowing from Soft Machine's earlier "That's How Much I Need You Now" and "You Don't Remember", but largely from new vignettes recorded in a demo by Wyatt in October 1968 while on holiday in New York state. An excerpt from a different demo of Part 1, recorded in November 1968, was included on Robert Wyatt's 2001 Flotsam Jetsam archival release.
Part 2 of Moon in June is a long instrumental section composed later. It is more in keeping with the group's collective jazz-rock experimentation of that time period. Part 3 is largely a drone in which Wyatt is joined by Rab Spall on violin, playing a free form solo that was recorded independently and without reference to the music it accompanies. The section was then added with tape speed variations to make the violin speed up and slow down in time with beats of the music. During Part 3, Wyatt's scat singing includes uncredited renditions of two Kevin Ayers songs: "Singing a Song in the Morning" and "Hat Song". A demo of parts 2 and 3 was recorded by the group in the Spring of 1969. This was subsequently spliced onto the October 1968 demo to be included on Soft Machine's 2002 Backwards archival release.
When he recorded the commercial version of Moon in June for Soft Machine's Third album, Wyatt had to face the rest of the group's disinterest in playing the song, leading him to attempt to overdub most of the instrumental parts himself. Fellow members do appear on sections of the piece - Hugh Hopper plays a brief bass theme a few minutes into the song, and both he and Mike Ratledge perform in Part 2. In addition, the group performed Moon in June live on several occasions. A 24 May 1970 recording consisting of a shortened version of parts 2 and 3 only, played live in London, is to be found on the Backwards album. A pre-Third performance that includes a drastically shortened instrumental Part 1 was recorded live at the above-mentioned Fairfield Halls concert and appears on Soft Machine's 2000 Noisette archival release.
The final song on the album is an instrumental composed by Mike Ratledge. Its name inspired the names of the 2005 Soft Machine biography Soft Machine: Out-Blood-Rageous, and a 2 CD anthology from 2005 entitled Out-Bloody-Rageous An Anthology 1967-1973.
In 2007 the album was re-issued on CD by Sony BMG with a second disc comprising a complete live album, Live at the Proms 1970, which had been previously released by a small independent company called Reckless Records in 1988. This album was recorded at The BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall in The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, London, for BBC Radio Three on 13 August 1970. The band's performance, opening for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, marked the first time that a popular-music band played at the classical festival. The disparity of the Soft Machine's concert as compared to the hall's usual fare is explained by Robert Wyatt on the Reckless album's liner notes:
We was invited by Tom Souster, who had an evening using the hall to do what he liked with. I believe he'd heard our second LP, asked us on the strength of that. He discovered us on the way to discovering Motown. Via the Who, I think. Anyway it was brave of him to invite us despite the withering contempt of the posh music establishment. Before our bit, I went out the back for a quick fag and then the doorman didn't want to let me back in. "I've got to play in there", I said. "You must be kidding, son", he said, "they only have proper music in there". Not that night they didn't.
- Robert Wyatt, album liner notes
Both discs were re-mastered for the re-issue, improving the sound quality significantly.
- "Facelift" (Hugh Hopper) – 18:45
- "Slightly All the Time" (Mike Ratledge) – 18:12
- Including: "Noisette" (Hopper), "Backwards" (Ratledge) and "Noisette Reprise" (Hopper)
- "Moon in June" (Robert Wyatt) – 19:08
- "Out-Bloody-Rageous" (Ratledge) – 19:10
Bonus disc from 2007 CD re-issue
- "Out-Bloody-Rageous" (Ratledge) – 11:54
- "Facelift" (Hopper) – 11:22
- "Esther's Nose Job" – 15:39
- "Pig" (Ratledge)
- "Orange Skin Food" (Ratledge)
- "A Door Opens and Closes" (Ratledge)
- "Pigling Bland" (Ratledge)
- "10:30 Returns to the Bedroom" (Ratledge / Hopper / Wyatt)
- Mike Ratledge – Hohner Pianet, Lowrey organ, piano
- Hugh Hopper – bass guitar
- Robert Wyatt – drums, vocals (3), plus on 3 (uncredited): Hammond organ, Mellotron, Hohner Pianet, piano, bass
- Elton Dean – alto saxophone, saxello (all but 3)
- Additional personnel
- Lyn Dobson – soprano saxophone, flute (1)
- Jimmy Hastings – flute, bass clarinet (2,4)
- Rab Spall – violin (3)
- Nick Evans – trombone (2,4)
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