I have waxed lyrical about The Astronauts on this blog before so refer to those comments for background and philosophical ruminations, if any.
I can't move forward without saying The Astronauts were a working bad.
By that I mean , artistic considerations are important but you have to pay the bills and this band was one of many where music was an occupation as well as (or instead of) a calling.
And, The Astronauts, worked … both in the studio and on the road.
Their debut album "Surfin' with The Astronauts" made a minor splash (sic) in the US (and around the world) in 1963.
Its sound of Fender reverb tonnage and two rhythm guitars certainly caught the ear of the youth and with its "beach" theme it became an instant classic of "surf rock".
Not bad for a bunch of boys from Boulder, Colorado (which is nowhere near surf for you geographically challenged).
They followed that album with this, recorded live at the Club Baja in Denver (though the liner notes seem to suggest the club is in Boulder).
Live albums from this era I am always suspicious of given that a lot of live albums from the early days of rock aren't really live but studio jobs with applause between tracks.
Here, I will give them the benefit of a doubt (even though no songs from the first hit album are played live here).
In any event this is more of the same – frenzied hits surfed up. This is killer stuff and the Astronauts know how to rock out. The seeds of their frat rock and garage rock excursions can be heard in these sides but generally this is music for dancing by a band who know what the audience wants.
Much like their other albums The Astronauts do hits of the day, a original (or two) and a few covers from the 50s rock era (not surprisingly given the band can trace it's roots back to 1956).
Sure, if this was a contemporary band and they were doing an original, a few Pearl Jam and U2 covers, a few Mumford and Sons, Radiohead and Coldplay covers I would have nothing good to say about them.
But, I love the sound of the early 1960s … the music is still fresh, raw and vital. There is no pretensions. The good times are tonight and tonight starts when this record is put on the turntable. This is the soundtrack to a million dances in the midwest 1964 and to a million living rooms(or so I believe).
To my ears it us glorious …and I still think it would be perfect for parties.
Tracks – Origins
- Bo Diddley – (Bo Diddley / Ellas McDaniel) – The Bo Diddley song by Bo Diddley from 1955
- If I Had a Hammer – (Lee Hays / Pete Seeger) – Originally popularised by Pete Seeger, Trini Lopez had a go go version that went to #3 in the US in 1963 which The Astronauts have covered.
- It's So Easy – (Buddy Holly / Norman Petty) – The original is by Buddy Holly and the Crickets from 1958. As much as the song is identified with him it failed to chart in the US.
- Dream Lover – (Bobby Darin) – Darin's magnificent 1959 hit
- Wine, Wine, Wine – (The Astronauts) – an original
- Money (That's What I Want) – (Janie Bradford / Berry Gordy, Jr.) – Barrett Strong's #2 R&B Hit from 1960 and a staple of second generation rock bands. The song was later recorded by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kingsmen, Richard Wylie and His Band, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Searchers, The Flying Lizards, The Sonics, Buddy Guy and many others
- Big Boss Man – (Luther Dixon / Al Smith) – Jimmy Reed's great blues tune. Well covered: The Pretty Things (1964), Charlie Rich (1965) Jerry Lee Lewis (1966),Elvis Presley (1967 – a #38US hit), Bill Cosby (1967), Bobbie Gentry (1968), Grateful Dead (1971), B.B. King (1985), Steve Miller Band (1986), Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 1995), Junior Reid (1999), and The Kentucky Headhunters (2005) and others
- Stormy Monday – (T-Bone Walker) – Possibly T-Bone walkers most famous song from 1947
- Shortnin' Bread – (Traditional) – said to be a traditional though the song by James Whitcomb Riley from 1900. It has been done by everyone in most genres: old timey, country, rock folk. The Astronauts were probably trying to draw from the fol explosion at te time.
- I Need You – (Rick Nelson) – Rick's song from 1963 (#83US).
- What'd I Say – (Ray Charles) – Ray Charles' song from 1959. It was a hit (#6US, #1 R&B) and became successful , well covered and very influential. The Astronauts would have been well versed with Ray's song but it is worth mentioning that Elvis Presley had a #21US hit with it in 1964 (it was in his film "Viva Las Vegas") and this has more than a passing resemblance to his version. (They were also on the same label as him and in Hollywood (filming songs for a beach film) at the same time as him)
Tracks (best in italics)
- Bo Diddley – (Bo Diddley / Ellas McDaniel) – Excellent. The band almost beat out Bo. It's not as mean but the emphasis on the beat is irresistible,
- If I Had a Hammer – (Lee Hays / Pete Seeger) – Lopez's version is definitive but this one really rock and takes the song further into frat rock territory
- It's So Easy – (Buddy Holly / Norman Petty) – A good version. It's more rockier than Holly's but it's not as good.
- Dream Lover – (Bobby Darin) – Darin's version was locked in 1959 but The Astronauts have managed to bring it up to 1964. The beat is a little faster and there are some nice musical asides.
- Wine, Wine, Wine – (The Astronauts) – an original and one with a great sentiment (or sediment, ha …lame). This one really moves.
- Money (That's What I Want) – (Janie Bradford / Berry Gordy, Jr.) – another great updating and perhaps one of the best versions of "money". This is nasty with some tuff guitar.
- Big Boss Man – (Luther Dixon / Al Smith) – A thumping version.
- Stormy Monday – (T-Bone Walker) – The Astronauts here haven't played with the blues of the song. The sentiment in the song certainly applies to the audiences they were playing to I suspect.
- Shortnin' Bread – (Traditional) – despite it's up-tempo beat it seems a little out of place here.
- I Need You – (Rick Nelson) – likewise this is pure pop rock. Clearly the Astronauts were giving their "live" audience all the hits of the day regardless of genre.
- What'd I Say – (Ray Charles) – a great version, though more guitar based and similar to Elvis's cover of the song also 1964.
Perfect for parties … I'm keeping it.
Wine, Wine, Wine
Money (That's What I Want)
a typical Astronauts gig:
- Wikipedia: "Associated acts: For a while, the same band – Fifield, Patterson, McLerran, Bretz and Jenkins – performed in the US under the name SunshineWard, who released one single, "Sally Go Around The Roses", in 1967. Patterson then left the band and music business, and Fifield and McLerran formed a new band, Hardwater, with Tony Murillo and Peter M. Wyant. In 1968, the band released two singles and an album, Hardwater, on Capitol Records, produced by David Axelrod. Fifield also had a role in assisting Axelrod and record engineer David Hassinger, who owned the rights to the group name of The Electric Prunes, to find a new group of musicians to take on that group's name for their record, Mass in F Minor. Fifield contacted fellow Colorado musicians, Richard Whetstone, John Herron and Mark Kincaid, who then agreed to form one of the final line-ups of The Electric Prunes."