Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Out-of-Towners

"Out-of-Towners": Part 1
Well, as I have just returned from a fantastic trip out of the country, I think we need a post discussing popular groups from other countries. American and British musicians have generally received a lot of attention here at The '60s Beat, so here's a two-part series featuring those I respectfully call the the "Out-of-Towners."
Formed in 1962 in Melbourne, Australia, The Seekers were a highly popular band during the '60s with their distinctive harmonies and folk-influenced sound. Appealing to a broad audience, they were the first Australian pop group to achieve mainstream success in Britain and the U.S, as well as the first from "down under"to have a Top 5 hit in all three countries (Australia, UK, and U.S.) at the same time. They are noted for other achievements including being the first Australian band to sell a million records, were named the Best New Artist at the 1966 NME Poll Winner Awards, and were listed in the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest concert crowd ever gathered in the southern hemisphere. Their "Best of the Seekers" album in 1968 even knocked The Beatles (White Album) off the top of the UK charts. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, they performed "Georgy Girl" as the title song for the British film of the same name, becoming one of their biggest hits in 1966 and into 1967. With the distinct soprano voice of Judith Durham, here's a live performance by the classy Seekers.

Now how about a band that couldn't contrast more? Formed in Los Angeles, the Canadian-American hard rock band, Steppenwolf, enjoyed worldwide success from the '68 to '74, until clashing personalities ended the core lineup. Selling over 25 million records, the group released eight gold albums and twelve Billboard Hot 100 singles. Originally a Toronto, Ontario-based group called The Sparrows earlier in the '60s, frontman John Kay suggested the name Steppenwolf, inspired by the Hermann Hesse novel of the same name. Known for wearing his trademark sunglasses because of severe light-sensitivity, German-born Kay has served as the lead singer of the group for over 40 years since 1967. Written by Kay and bassist Rushton Moreve, "Magic Carpet Ride" was one of their biggest hits (second to "Born to Be Wild"), reaching #3 on the U.S. charts in 1968, and has become a classic of the early hard rock/acid rock genre.

Also originating in Toronto in the mid-'60s, the acclaimed and influential roots rock group known as The Band was more popular among fellow musicians and music journalists than with the general public. Beginning as a backing band for various frontmen, the name "The Band" worked well with the group when they became their own unit. With the five members each multi-instrumentalists, the group was known for fusing old country music with early rock and roll, playing several genres including Americana, blues rock, country rock, and folk rock, and are ranked #50 of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Released in June 1968, "The Weight" is their best known song and among the most popular songs of the late 1960s counterculture movement. Although the song did not have much mainstream success in the U.S. (scoring much higher on the Canadian and UK charts), it has since been voted #41 out of those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as well as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Featured in many movies, TV shows, and commercials, including the cult film Easy Rider, here's The Band's performance of "The Weight" at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

And we'll conclude with another Canadian rock group, The Guess Who from Winnipeg, Manitoba (and this is a case of "I've heard this song my entire life but this is not what I pictured the lead singer looking like!"). Initially formed in 1960 and going through several names, they were known as Chad Allan & the Expressions at the time of their first hit single in '65 (in Canada), however, in an attempt to build mystique around the record, the label credited the single to "Guess Who?" Even after the band was revealed, radio DJs still announced the group as Guess Who?, so they officially changed their name (the questions mark was dropped in 1968). With the addition of keyboardist/lead vocalist Burton Cummings in 1966, The Guess Who finally scored a U.S. record distribution deal after "These Eyes" became the group's breakthrough success in 1968. Written by Cummings and lead guitarist Randy Bachman (later of the '70s rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive), this song reached #6 on the U.S. charts in 1969 and sold over a million copies, marking the beginning of their international success that continued into the 1970s with edgier, hard rock songs.

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