IT REALLY DOESN’T matter whether you like Long John Baldry or not, if you like Elton John and Rod Stewart that’s good enough. The chances are that you will like this album because they each produced a side of this album, and there’s probably more of them than of Long John, although I haven’t heard Baldry other than on this album.
Starting with Rod Stewart’s side (because it’s side one), you find an interesting selection of songs from such diverse sources as Tuli Kupferberg, Ledbelly, Gator Creek, Willie Dixon, and Ron Davies. The first of the songs is ‘Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King of Rock and Roll’, which is a lot of monologue leading into a song that could easily fit into Gasoline Alley right between ‘You’re My Girl’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’. The backing is really fine throughout this side, featuring Ronnie Wood and Sam Mitchell (who he?) on guitars, Ian Armitt (?) on really good funky piano, and the great drumming of Mickey Waller. ‘Black Girl’ is a traditional blues with some good vocal exchange between John and Maggie Bell, spiced up with the mandolin of Ray Jackson. ‘It Ain’t Easy’ is a screaming slow one that picks up abruptly, with some fine electric guitar from Woodie. ‘Morning Morning’ sounds like Richie Havens would do a nice job on it, and Long John does fine, too. ‘I’m Ready’ is the only Chicago blues number, and probably the best cut on the album; the band really rocks from the initial guitar intro to the ending which rings of the 45 version of ‘It’s All Over Now’ by Rod Stewart. A perfect song for the old Jeff Beck Group.
This side sounds exactly like Rod Stewart told Long John exactly what to sing (song-wise), but basically Stewart did a really good job of picking the right songs for his voice. I mean, they’re Stewart-ish, but they’re Baldry-ish, too. Basically, it’s a really good first side to an album.
Unfortunately, Elton John exerts his influence all too much on side two. The choice of songs is alright, but there isn’t quite as much variety.
‘Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield’ isn’t bad, but it isn’t very good, either. No fault of anyone, it just isn’t one of Randy Newman’s better songs. ‘Mr. Rubin’ is a perfect Elton John song, as is ‘Rock Me When He’s Gone’ …but they aren’t John Baldry songs. They sound like somebody copping from Elton John, which may be deserved in this case or not, but it still doesn’t make it any better.
‘Flying’, one of the best songs Rod Stewart ever recorded, is the low point of the album. It sounds like it’s really stretching the range of Long John’s voice to the point where he’s talking. Truly wretched stuff, it should have been recorded in a different key or not at all.
So I’m still waiting for the first John Baldry album (he had one released here in 1964, but it never reached mine ears). Maybe this is a good album in spots, but it’s not a single artist, it’s a fusion of two or three. Get somebody like Glyn Johns to produce him, backed by Mickey Waller and Pete Sears (from Silver Metre….if they’re not into something else already), and Maggie Bell. But you gotta get rid of these meddlers, they’ll screw up everything Really.
© Jon Tiven, Phonograph Record, August 1971