Watch the video above for the unboxing and video review – Phil
STEPPENWOLF Magic Carpet Ride – The Dunhill/ABC 1967-1971 (8CD box) Cherry Red
Hard rock pioneers, and famed for the line “Heavy Metal Thunder” in their hit Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf formed in the late 60s, and mixed blues, rock and a harsh hard edged West Coast psyche. Amongst their late 60s hits was Magic Carpet Ride (a song written about enjoying a new stereo system and the journey it can take you on), after which this box is titled. The eight albums here are from the band’s original run, before taking a break (during which vocalist John Kay released two solo albums), and reforming for a couple more albums during the 70s.
Originally formed in Canada as Sparrow (after Kay’s family had fled East Germany), the band relocated to America’s West Coast and changed their name. And opening this lavish box, after a poster and a hefty booklet, the first CD out is their eponymous debut. Originally released on ABC Dunhill, as the box set’s title suggests, the replica card sleeve has a white background as per later pressings, rather than the silver of the original. The sound is lovely, spot on, and opener Sookie Sookie is a classic. A great cover of Hoyt Axton’s The Pusher, and of course Born To Be Wild. The album closes with the fine Ostrich, a track written when they were stilled Sparrow. Plenty of bonus tracks, like many of the discs here, many being mono single edits that filled the recent ABC Singles 2CD set. And alongside vocalist / harmonica player / guitarist Kay were lead guitarist Michael Monarch, organ player Goldy McJohn, bassist Rushton Moreve and drummer Jerry Edmonton. Worth noting that Jerry’s brother Dennis Edmonton (also a member of Sparrow) wrote Born To Be Wild, under the pseudonym of Mars Bonfire.
Also released in 1968 was The Second, which featured Magic Carpet Ride. There’s much in keeping with the debut, a good bluesy metal feeling. Tighten Up Your Wig features the classic line (about being narrow minded): If You Fell On A Pin You’d Go Blind In Both Eyes. Then the track 28 has a classic and equally catchy 60s pop feel.
1969’s At Your Birthday Party (reproduced here in a gatefold sleeve) features artwork of the band sitting in the remnants of amplifiers and equipment in a charred house which had belonged Canned Heat. The album takes more a hard rock direction, losing much of the psychedelia of the first two albums. Here is proof that beyond the well known hit singles there is still plenty of top quality rock music.
Released later the same year, partly as a contractual obligation given the pressure to release albums by the label, is the Early Steppenwolf set, which is a live album by The Sparrow recorded not long before they became Steppenwolf. Remarkably good, especially the 20 minute version of The Pusher.
Also from 1969 was Monster, again in a nice gatefold sleeve. Reviewed at the time as clunky and preachy (tracks like the title track and the marvellous Draft Resister dig at the government and the Vietnam War), but they are fantastic tracks that still sit well today. When I spoke to John Kay in 2011, he told me that the Nixon administration provided lots to protest against, and that he’d taken a lot of influence from the Byrds in that electric rock could have meaningful lyrics, there wasn’t much going lyrically with Elvis).
Next up is the Steppenwolf Live set which is largely a great set and a wonderful listen. The only issue is that (at the record label’s insistence) 2 or 3 new studio re-recordings were edited in to bulk up the playing time, to justify a double album.
The band’s last two albums before the initial break up, Steppenwolf 7 and For Ladies Only, are here again reproduced in the original gatefold card sleeves, and neither sold as well at the time. The was a bigger production, a nod to progressive rock, and on the latter criticism of sexist lyrics. But here we have the advantage of hindsight: while there was a change (loss?) in identity, there are still some fantastic songs. Exhaustion and pressure from the label caused the split and was probably instrumental in the band sounding like they were trying to do too much here.
This set brings together the original eight albums well together well, and I’d go so far as to say it’s essential. There’s so much more to the band than the couple of hit singles everyone knows. And with the box, booklet and complete singles edits as bonuses, it’s a very fine package and long overdue.
Between the 70s output and John Kay’s solo output, even before the 80s work, there’s enough to warrant a second box, which I genuinely hope is forthcoming.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine