70 FROM ’70 — THE TOP TEN — #8

8.  SOFT MACHINE — Third

Did my brain in, this one, the first few times I listened. Blasted a hole in my expectations of rock music. Of course, that is largely because Third is not a rock record. It is a progressive jazz-rock experimental break-the-mould throw-down-the-gauntlet challenge to pop-rock ears. Kind of like a prog Trout Mask Replica on magic mushrooms (as distinct from brown acid). Not really… the Beefheart double-LP has 28 tracks while Third has four sides and four pieces, but you get the drift; Third is one-of-a-kind and still provides a more-than-hearty meal for the 21st C listener. The interplay between the quartet of Mike Ratledge on organ (and piano), Elton Dean on sax(es) and the potent rhythm section of Robert Wyatt (drums/vocals) and Hugh Hopper on bass is both powerful and intricate. Guests add different textures now and then and other influences such as minimalism poke their noses in. If this is ‘cosmic music’—as it is sometimes described—then it is the sound of solar systems forming.

Despite only ‘getting’ a part of the music, I’ve grown to love this sprawling opus (there’s that double LP adjective again!) and play it (by VC standards) quite often. If you like the idea of having your head rearranged, give it a try*.

* Maybe don’t start with “Facelift” (side one). It’s a monster.

Afterthought: Although I cannot explain exactly why, this is one of my favourite album covers, ever. Perhaps it’s the hand-made quality, the elegant simplicity, or maybethe look of a brown paper package waiting to be wrapped up with string. Regardless, it’s one of my favourite things. I bought it at the long-defunct Blue Moon Records in Elwood for $6.95 in the mid-80s and didn’t play it much for the next 20 years.

*

Soft Machine take work but reward effort. Any friends of Third out there? 

 

24 comments

  1. I like this one, and have owned it for years on CD, but it might not have occurred to me to include it on a list like this – kind of exists outside the confines of rock music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an interesting conundrum for this period of increasing diversity and expansion of styles. That’s kind of the point I was trying to make in the opening section. I think that it gets easier to categorise over the next couple of years (say, 71-75) but in 1970, it was all happening. Who could possibly have anticipated that Soft Machine II would be followed by this monster!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess genres are a bit more distinct going forward. Can’s Soundtracks, which you’ve already covered, is maybe even more forward thinking – ‘Mother Sky’ is totally out there.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, the context/year is vital Graham. Can were breaking moulds here there and everywhere, as were Soft Machine with the eccentric pop of their first two albums. But in 1970 there were no genres (or at least, only very broad ones) and everyone had to kind of work it out as they went along; there weren’t labels to cling to back then.
          That’s a big part of what makes the period 1969–1972 fascinating. A whole set of new templates for what music could be.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll get to this at some point in the next year and a half – so I may be a friend of Third soon, thanks for the tip about side 1!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it in the book, Geoff? Wow, that’s surprising.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Recall our conversation about Bitches Brew? Same goes here. 😳

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I do – so if I start today, it looks like I’ll be able to begin processing the album in a year and a half!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Yet another unknown entity. (*Sigh*) But I’ve got to say, that gatefold photo is a gem: a balalaika, a bongo, orange-patterned fabrics and an air of stoned/drunken ennui!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it wonderful? That’s what gatefold inners are for, eh? A panorama of stoned ennui. (I’m gonna steal that, of course). 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, that’s quite something to chew on – glad you gave the direction to skip the first tune! 🙂

    While it’s clearly not in my wheelhouse, I’m happy to report I listened to tacks 2-4. I can’t deny my silly pop ear (remember, my favorite band of all time are The Beatles!) at times was looking for a verse and chorus structure and some frigging’ harmony singing. All you need is vocals, vocals is all you need! But I can handle this music – just don’t ask me to listen to it again – ever! 🙂

    On a more series note, it’s evident these guys were/are talented musicians – looks like they are still around, or at least some version of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you say, Christian, there is nothing remotely ‘pop’ about this album (nor any subsequent Soft Machine releases) though I’d argue that the first two LPs have a skewed pop sensibility that might delight fans of early Captain Beefheart. As Graham (Aphoristical) and I have been discussing, the 1970 context is important. Rock/Pop was just beginning to explode/fragment.
      We’ll be on safer ground with #7!

      Like

  5. I don’t know Third at all and Soft Machine more in theory than in actuality. While it shares not a single member with the line-up on Third, I did see the current version of the band live last year and loved both the show and their latest studio album – 2018’s Hidden Details – that I grabbed while there. Coincidentally, I also came across and brought home a few weeks back 1973’s Seven — which overlaps one member with Third and two with Hidden Details — and listened to it for the first time tonight in honor of this post. I spun it right after John Barleycorn Must Die in what turned out to be a good pairing as they carry similar groove and sax.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Karl Jenkins arrived for Six and kind of took over the composing duties from the quietly receding co-founder Mike Ratledge (both albums were 1973). Like Gong under Pierre Moulen, the Softs became more jazz-rock (a description, not a judgement).
      I’d missed the release of that 2018 album.
      If you like the jazz-rock style, try Bundles. It also has the fabulous Alan Holdsworth on guitar (who also graced several Gong albums).

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Yep, I’m on the friendly terms with Third (and 4,5,6,7 as well). I’ve impression they were reaching out for Miles as he was reaching out for rock format and they both ended in similar place – Softs with this and he with Bitches brew.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are excellent albums to befriend, that’s for sure. And a fascinating hypothesis, mr artterrorist.

      Did someone mention Bitches Brew? 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fabulous record. Have all Soft’s catalogue but I have a special soft spot for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent. Although ‘Friends of Third’ may be quite a small box of chocolates, there are no soft centres.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great choice Bruce. I ran for the hills after about 2 minutes of pulling this one out of my dad’s collection when I was 13. Not sure I could deal with it any better now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a beast (in parts).

      Like

  9. I will dive into this one because “Bruce said so”. Missed it . I have been listening to ‘Bundles” in the last while. (ME just did a take on Holdsworth).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, CB. Gotta feature some Alan H. Never did an obit either. ME?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Music Enthusiast on the ME. Apologies.

        Liked by 1 person

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