[Originally posted May 2011]
Released in 1969, this must be about the time I bought the album at Woolworths in Ipswich, Suffolk. It was loose in a scattered luckydip of cheap LPs presented, as I recall, in a chrome display cage. I bought a number of albums at Woolworths around this time and wish I had purchased more: usually completely unknown and selected by cover design and perhaps the linear notes if I bothered to read. So many have become ‘classics’ [though that is a relative term] but certainly a number are rare today.
This album too is inextricably linked to my formative years, two into living in England and having had my American roots and attachments challenged either by direct attack or ridicule [fellow students are a tough crowd, especially when they wear a black school uniform and you turn up for the first day at your new secondary modern wearing baby blue slacks with matching sneakers and yellow shirt with matching socks. I didn’t need to wear the neon sign that flashed Pick On Me]. But the point is by this time I wasn’t alienated by, for example, the anti-Vietnam war song Beelzebub’s Laughter, my Beach Boy sensibilities having been beaten out by then.
There is a strong sense as I listen now that these songs are crafted to reflect their time: the socio/political and even more ethereal themes of the ‘flowerpower’ generation targeted as a commercial rather than wholly committed audience appeal. Sunshine Fields of Love with its evocation of San Francisco backs this up, as clearly do the Country oriented albums Axton produced from ’64 to this date with their more homespun preoccupations.
That said, the drugs lament Snow Blind Friend has its honest and heartfelt core, a song made famous by Steppenwolf as was the other great Axton penned and Steppenwolf cover The Pusher, itself made famous in the film Easy Rider. Indeed, those who know just a little of Axton will probably do so indirectly by these two songs, and perhaps Joy to the World, or by his screen appearance in Gremlins.
Other songs on this album that resurrect powerful teenage memories are On The Natural, Way Before the Time of Towns, Childhood’s End and Revelations. Axton’s singing voice is unique. At times the long notes have the waver of Buffy Saint-Marie but in bass-baritone.
Another great Axton album I’ll mention now is Love Life with stonking versions of Maybeline and That’s All Right. It also includes the beautiful Billy’s Theme from the film Buster and Millie as well as another Axton gem Boney Fingers, with a great vocal accompaniment by Renee Armand. Linda Ronstadt guest-vocals on When the Morning Comes. Perhaps a superior musical album all round, but it just doesn’t have that similar significant place of When My Griffin is Gone in the nostalgic reconstruction of who I am.
Maybe the category needs to be refined to Top Fifty Influential Albums.