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Blonde on Blonde

Psychedelic/Space Rock

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Blonde on Blonde Contrasts album cover
3.39 | 19 ratings | 3 reviews | 11% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Ride with Captain Max (5:21)
2. Spinning Wheel (2:45)
3. No Sleep Blues (3:22)
4. Goodbye (2:13)
5. I Need My Friend (3:14)
6. Mother Earth (5:01)

7. Eleanor Rigby (3:17)
8. Conversationally Making the Grade (4:13)
9. Regency (1:59)
10. Island On an Island (3:00)
11. Don't Be Too Long (2:36)
12. Jeanette Isabella (3:49)

CD bonus tracks
12. All Day, All Night
13. Country Life

Line-up / Musicians

- Gareth Johnson / lead guitar, sitar, lute, electronic effects
- Ralph Denyer / vocals, guitar
- Richard Hopkins (aka Richard John) / bass, keyboards
- Les Hicks / drums, percussion

Releases information

Pye NSPL 18288
Janus JLS-3003
1994: Repertoire Records (REP4521-WP)
1995: Contrasts .plus (See For Miles SEECD 406)
2001: Castle / Sanctuary Psychedelic Pstones (CMRCD257)

Thanks to Eetu Pellonpää for the addition
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BLONDE ON BLONDE Contrasts ratings distribution

(19 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
Good, but non-essential (37%)
Collectors/fans only (16%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

BLONDE ON BLONDE Contrasts reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Real Progressive Rock

If you were wondering what Progressive Sounded like before King Crimson, well here's the answer.

OK, I take that back.

Here's an answer.

Blonde on Blonde took the popular styles of the time (and one or two of their favourite bands), chucked them into a pot and pepped it up a bit - not with virtuoso playing, complicated time signatures, classical references or side-long suites (I don't even get the feel of a concept to the album, except that side 1 contrasts with side 2 in terms of overall style), but with energy that compressed the influences until a new and progressive style popped out.

This is not music that radically changed the status quo (although it does sound a little like the early outings by Parfitt and Rossi's outfit), but music that drew a thick line underneath what had been achieved in music in the late 1960s (which was a huge amount, so this was no mean feat), and raised questions about what else could be done with it. It didn't sit in a corner trying to blend in with everyone else, it was trying out new approaches to the old stuff, with a bit of a swagger, but without some of the preposterous excesses of the times, as if it was trying to cut the crap and get on with the job of doing something different in its own terms.

You would think that they would be making some kind of social statement, considering the album they took their band name from, but I don't really get that from the lyrics - I get more of a musical statement of intent from this album, as well as a great collection of highly and sometimes surprisingly enjoyable 1960s tunes.

Ride With Captain Max starts out a bit of a typical 1960s number, with Mod overtones - think of a highly energetic and less quaint Kaleidoscope or the Small Faces and you're part way there. There's also a smattering of heavy blues a la Yardbirds or even Cream - but it's the Who-like energy that is most noticeable. This drops to a fairly typical sounding acoustic guitar-driven psych song passage, which in turn gives way to a much more boisterous and darker heavy rock passage. Back to the acoustic guitar, and the lyrics get a restatement, with a cross-rhythmic percsussion section, and back to the hi-energy. This structuring approach reminds me of a simplified version of the Clouds. There's no mistaking the catchy rock-pop flavour of this song though.

Spinning Wheel is a grin-inducing sitar-driven affair, with a catchy and simple little melody over an oom-pah bass that gets rather irritating after a while - but you can see the intent here, to conjour up the spinning wheel image, and empahsise a kind of Raga flavour at the same time. There is no let up in the energy.

No Sleep Blues is an entertaining interpretation of the Incredible String Band song, full of angelic slide guitar, tempo change, and such a connection with the original spirit of the piece, that if the ICB had ever rocked up, this is probably what they would have sounded like.

Goodbye reminds me even more strongly of the Clouds, although with the organ taking a more back seat role, and classical music merely hinted at with tinkling harpsichord lines.

I Need My Friend shows a return to heavy blues rock, with some nice twists, hints at the style of the Spencer Davis Group - but infused with some original melodic ideas and a real feel of the changeover in rock style from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

Mother Earth is altogether a more sophisticated composition, still in a heavy blues rock vein, but with a more progressive atmosphere overlaying the repetitive riffs of the parent form. The chorus seems designed to be sungalong in a stadium, while the breakdown before the instrumental carries an late-night bar-gig intimacy about it.

What a contrast for the B-Side - the cover of Eleanor Rigby starts with an almost unrecognisable introduction, and replaces the string quartet with an insistent acoustic and gentle percussion - and a trumpet. With this interpretation, you'd think that the song had been written by the guys on Blonde on Blonde themselves. Your mileage may vary, but there's so much to like in this version that I'd be hard pushed to say whether the original was better than this or not.

Next up, back to 1960s psychedelia, with a large dash of Small Faces, Cream and all manner of other popular bands, making for something that you'd think would sound a bit cheesey and derived - but instead, thanks to the high-energy so typical of this album, creating a style that is original and yet a product of the times simultaneously. The instrumental catches you unawares, with its simplicity and ever-shifting strands of sonic goodness.

A folk flavour infuses the short instrumental Regency, giving the feel of an interlude in a greater whole, with some really nice counterpoint providing excellent movement.

The folk feeling continues in the intro to Island on an Island - pity the recorder is almost a quarter of a tone out of tune, but here it does lend an authentic (if occasionally painful) flavour to a song that conjoures up images on a Celtic shoreline in a summer twighlight in the fabric of the music.

Don't Be Too Long maintains the folk feel, spinning a tale of separation.

The original album ended with Jeanette Isabella, another song that could have been written by Clouds, with lush Hammond backing filling in the space around the guitar nicely, as the pleasantly faintly hoarse vocals tell the story.

The bonuses are nice inclusions that fit in well with the rest of the material, Country Life also sounding uncannily like the Clouds, All Day and All Night heavy in sitar, recalling the Beatles' early use of the instrument, like a Hi-Energy Within You Without You.

Many, many times better than Yes' debut of the same year, in terms of overall energy, arrangement variety and vocal quality - this album is an authentic representation of what was being called Progressive Rock in 1969, before the release of King Crimson's debut, although not really what we'd think of as Prog Rock now.

Many of the essential elements are here - yet at the same time, it can be quite hard to hear how this differs from a lot of the psychedelic pop rock music of the time, from our 21st century viewpoint - apart from an almost indescribable quality.

I think that quality lies in how the several genres (folk, blues, psych and rock) are fused together with a fresh energy, that successfully heralds in, and provides a missing link to the Progressive Rock that was about to explode on an unprepared world. The one thing it really lacks is the improvisational feel of jazz - but there are brief moments of this, buried in the songs themselves.

Recommended, especially to historians - but a great listen for anyone, and indisputably part of the foundation of Prog Rock, albeit a small corner compared to, say Pink Floyd or the Beatles.

I guess this is a 3.5 starrer, really ;o)

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Most likely you go your way and we'll go ours

If it was not for the fact that their albums came a little too late, Welsh band Blonde on Blonde would probably be listed on this site under the "Proto Prog" category. Their music certainly has psychedelic content, but it lacks the sophistication generally associated with genuine prog, even in its infancy. "Contrasts", the band's first album, dates from 1969, and thus just about falls within the proto prog period (defined retrospectively of course). It is an album of short tracks, the longest being around 5 minutes, but the band still manage to explore some interesting and at the time adventurous styles and sounds.

The opening "Ride with Captain Max" (no relation!) for example has some fine lead guitar and a dynamic arrangement, while the following Beatlesesque "Spinning wheel" (not the BS&T song) combines eastern sitar sounds with pop harmonies.

The inclusion of three cover versions, two written by the Incredible String Band's Robin Williamson plus a Beatles song, betrays a band still unsure of its own song writing talents, but performance wise little is left behind in the cupboard. To be fair, the covers are more accurately described as interpretations, the ISB certainly never sounded like this, and "Eleanor Rigby" is barely recognisable at times, especially the intro.

Elsewhere, "Mother earth" displays more overt prog leanings that the majority of the tracks, with organ and guitar supporting an anthemic vocal. The short harpsichord instrumental "Regency" is pleasant if a little out of place while "Island on an island" prolongs the folk feel in a soft regency ballad, complete with recorders and lute.

Overall, an enjoyable album, but one which only flirts with the very edges of prog. The music is performed with admirable competence, and the album offers the promise of greater things to come.

This would be Ralph Denyer's only album with the band, his duties being assumed by David Thomas for the following "Rebirth". Denyer would however go on to form the superb one album band "Aquila" (also listed on this site).

Latest members reviews

5 stars BLONDE ON BLONDE were a British Psychedelic Rock band from Newport in South Wales, who were named after the 1966 album of the same name by Bob Dylan. There was also a short-lived Pop duo of the same name in the late 1970's, featuring two well-known British glamour models, so they're unlikely to ... (read more)

Report this review (#2311542) | Posted by Psychedelic Paul | Sunday, February 2, 2020 | Review Permanlink

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