The Family That Plays Together (1968)
Model Shop (1969)
Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus (1970)
Bonus Tracks & Rarities
Have it both ways, with Spirit’s full reissues and a gathering of their bonuses and rarities. The later is hardly complete, however, as the history and catalog of one of L.A.’s finest is a tangled web, indeed. Since the death of Randy California, there’s also been a steady stream of vault issues that surely contain additional rarities from the band’s prime years (like the previous post, Potato Land)… but that’s for the uber-serious. We just wanted to pull together the low hanging fruit from the official label releases. As it turns out, Sundazed, the label responsible for the righteous unearthing of Spirit’s sole film soundtrack, Model Shop, had already thought of that – releasing two vinyl Lps, Now Or Anywhere & Eventide, with most of these tracks represented. Space forced a few lesser bonuses off, while some new ones were introduced. Get ‘em all below, along with rarities from two excellent gatherings, Time Circle (1968-1972) and Chronicles (1967-1992) (thanks to one of our readers for that one). We’ve limited the time frame to Spirit’s years with Ode and Epic, since things got weird after that. When California split, Ed Cassidy & John Locke hired a self-contained unit in The Staehley Brothers, who brought their own tunes with them to the “last” Spirit album, Feedback. We cheated a little and left in the Model Shop bonuses, even though they were eventually released on the album 35 years later, and we also included a couple of later, live track bonuses from 1974, but since one is a cool live jam of “Fresh-Garbage,” it’s all good. Click the covers for Amazon links. Track listings are in Comments. MORE SPIRIT HERE.
Listen to what they’re doing in the middle of “Mechanical World”… a military beat, high suspense strings, a most psychedelic guitar, cryptic and distant apocalyptic vocals. It’s not so much a “song” as it is a 5-member performance piece, with everybody carving out a distinct niche for themselves, seemingly incidental of what the others are up to. There’s also a hint of what The Moody Blues were about to get famous for the same year. Don’t bring up “Taurus,” though, a touchy situation since royalties were involved, as the instrumental Randy California song somehow found itself as the basis for Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” nearly four years later.
The debut was serious, dark, jazzy, experimental and outside-the-box in the best ways, but this album’s lead off track, “I Got A Line On You,” was an irresistible blast of rockin’ summer fun that finally brought the masses Spirit’s way. The AMG calls the first side of The Family That Plays Together “a wonderful and seamless suite, one of the greatest sides on Los Angeles rock,” and they’re not wrong. The vocals, by themselves, are worthy of study, as Spirit delivers intricate harmonies alongside the already fresh melodic ideas that shaped their often multi-part compositions. Check out the vox confidence of “Poor Richard,” and how expertly the voices buoy the deceptively simple instrumentation. This stuff really was different from what other bands were doing at the time, a feat in itself.
Model Shop, the band’s long-lost 1969 film soundtrack never saw the light of day, back in the day, save for a handful of the score’s short, instrumental forays that linked tracks on Spirit’s next album, Clear. It wouldn’t be until 2005 that Sundazed Records would pluck the music from obscurity to issue the complete score for the first time, and it displays a side of Spirit that true fans already knew existed, but in this full soundtrack setting, shines an all new light on the group’s prowess and abilities. Like finding a new set of ancient human bones, traditional thinking was instantly altered regarding Spirit’s potential and worth when they so easily nailed this soundtrack assignment. Model Shop represents a destiny that could have been, like, say… Pink Floyd, with soundtrack work providing a viable avenue for the group’s more experimental ideas. Unfortunately, that future was not to be. Hear “Mellow Fellow,” above.
When Spirit hit their rockin’ groove, they were unstoppable. “Dark Eyed Woman” featured yet another magnetic hook that lit up the radio whenever it came on, but… listen to what Spirit does with that opportunity. They launch into what sounds like a live-in-the-studio jazz jam, spiked with the pure psychedelic guitar solos that helped to define their sound, and for which I was always a total sucker for. By itself, this music could never make it on AM radio, but wrapped in that glorious riff, it found a home… at least regionally, if not nationally. The juxtaposition encapsulates Spirit’s entire philosophy. Hook ‘em in, then slap ‘em across the face until they understand. With instrumental interludes from Model Shop in tow, Clear offered more of the band’s impossibly friendly unpredictability.
Hard to believe that when it was first released in 1970, Spirit’s psych/pop essential, Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus – a record chock full of classics – couldn’t muster any hits. “Animal Zoo” was released six months ahead of the LP (and just skimmed the bottom of the charts), while the well-known cultural classic, “Nature’s Way,” was an FM – not AM – staple over the next few years. “Mr. Skin” later became a fan favorite (and minor FM hit), as well. But, Sardonicus wouldn’t go gold for another six years and its lack of initial success led both Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes to flee Spirit and form Jo Jo Gunne. Marking the end of one of the greatest gatherings of talent in a single place since Buffalo Springfield. Many view Dr. Sardonicus as the band’s most worthy, but you could almost say that about any of their albums to this point. Listen to the amazing vocal intricacies in “Love Has Found A Way,” which grow and develop all the way to the end of the tune. Brian Wilson would be pleased.
A fascinating album. It’s not Spirit, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Randy California followed Jay Ferguson’s and Mark Andes’ lead and went solo, but drummer Ed Cassidy (remember when bald guys were a novelty?) and keyboardist John Locke continued on, hiring a practically self-contained unit in the Staehley Brothers, who brought their own style and compositions to the “last” Spirit album, Feedback. I bought, but abandoned, this album in ’72, but listening back I missed something that jumps out of the speakers in this century; John Locke. Not only are his compositions (“Puesta del Scam” & “Darkness”) the most Spirited of the music here, but his keyboard work behind the dominating Staehleys is on fire. It’s like he was let out of a cage, just waiting for a chance to play some bottled-up, no-frills rock. Before this, “Spirit” was never this simplistic (for lack of a better word), which might be why Locke’s playing sounds so unfettered. Give a listen to “Cadillac Cowboys,” above. If, like I did, you listen to Feedback to hear a Spirit album, you’ll probably have the same negative reaction I did way back when. But the truth is, it’s not an awful album, it just has the wrong band name on the cover. David Briggs (of Neil Young fame) produces.