Spotlight Album Review #7

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The Isle of Wight festival, often referred to as the "British Woodstock", took place on that island off England's south coast in late August of 1970. It was actually the third and final annual festival to be held on that island; the tradition was revived in 2002. The 1970 festival became the subject of the documentary film Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival; due to financing problems, the film was not completed and released until 1996. It is currently available on DVD. Besides offering good performance clips from many of the artists who performed, it also is a revealing look at that particular moment in time. The festival attendees demonstrated a destructive entitlement attitude, showing why the hippie counterculture movement was doomed.

Several artists have had footage from their Isle Of Wight performances released on CD and/or video (i.e. The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Taste). But the 2-CD soundtrack album to the film is the only CD release to feature various artists' performances from the 1970 festival. It generally contains the same songs that were represented by clips in the film. Between songs, it also contains sound clips of key moments from the documentary film (the profanities uttered by people in that footage are the reason the CD was packaged with a parental advisory sticker). The physical CD is currently out of print in the U.S., but the album is now available digitally.

The first disc contains two moments significant to music history: songs from Jimi Hendrix (three weeks before his death) and the Doors (less than a year before Jim Morrison's death). It was the last U.K. show for either of these legendary figures. Hendrix sounds remarkably on the ball, considering the bad physical shape he was reportedly in that day. Morrison also comes off well here: by most accounts, Morrison seemed weary during the Doors' set, but during "When The Music's Over" his vocal dynamics are mostly on target. Free's "All Right Now" is a rousing opener, and Ten Years After get a particularly impressive showcase. Also, the disc contains examples of the progressive rock which was then becoming dominant. The Emerson, Lake and Palmer set was the first public performance ever for the first prog-rock supergroup. Their three-part instrumental is basically a showoff session; if you watch the film, you'll get an even better idea of the trio's pomposity. The rest of the tracks are folk numbers, featuring the good (Joni Mitchell's confident performances of "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Woodstock"), the bad (Kris Kristofferson's bland performance of his much-covered "Me And Bobby McGee"), and the weird (Leonard Cohen's droning "Suzanne", which is hard to get out of your head).

The second disc is the less interesting one, though it opens with two strong Who numbers. It also contains two better prog-rock selections: the Moody Blues do well in this setting with "Nights In White Satin", and Family's blues-tinged form of art-rock still sounds unique. A stoned-sounding John Sebastian comes off better here than he did in the Woodstock movie. Rory Gallagher's Taste offer a strong blues-rock moment, though it's not in the same league as Ten Years After's track. Tiny Tim gives us a blessedly short moment of camp. Anyone familiar with Joan Baez can easily predict what her rendition of "Let It Be" sounds like. The main point of interest this disc might hold for music historians is a 14-minute Miles Davis jam, from the precise time period in which he is often credited for creating the jazz-fusion genre.

Notes: The Bob Dylan song "Desolation Row" is not a live performance; it is a 1965 studio recording that plays over the film's closing credits, and closes the CD. Dylan performed at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, but not at the 1970 festival. The Great Awakening's instrumental version of "Amazing Grace" was played over the PA system at the festival. That short-lived group was led by session guitarist David Cohen, who (contrary to rumor) was not the same David Cohen who had played guitar and keyboards for Country Joe and the Fish.

Track Listing:

Disc One

1. FREE - All Right Now
2. JETHRO TULL - My Sunday Feeling
3. LEONARD COHEN - Suzanne
4. JIMI HENDRIX - Foxy Lady
5. JIMI HENDRIX - Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)
6. TEN YEARS AFTER - Can't Keep From Cryin' / Extension On One Chord
8. JONI MITCHELL - Big Yellow Taxi
9. JONI MITCHELL - Woodstock
10. E.L.P. - Blue Rondo A La Turk / Pictures At An Exhibition / Drum Solo
11. THE DOORS - When The Music's Over

Disc Two

1. THE WHO - Young Man Blues
2. THE WHO - Naked Eye
3. TINY TIM - There'll Always Be An England
4. TASTE - Sinner Boy
5. JOAN BAEZ - Let It Be
6. MOODY BLUES - Nights In White Satin
7. DONOVAN - Catch The Wind
8. FAMILY - Weaver's Answer
9. JOHN SEBASTIAN - Red Eye Express
10. MILES DAVIS - Call It Anything
11. GREAT AWAKENING - Amazing Grace
12. BOB DYLAN - Desolation Row

More information about the artists who performed at the festival


Other Spotlight Album Reviews:

#1: Sigur Ros - "Von" (1997)

#2: Various Artists - "Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea" (1981)

#3: Gerry Goffin - "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment" (1973)

#4: Graces - "Perfect View" (1989)

#5: Genesis - "Calling All Stations" (1997)

#6: hindu love gods (1990)

#8: Distractions - "Nobody's Perfect" (1980)

#9: Deconstruction (1994)

#10: Juicy Groove - "First Taste" (1978)

#11: Emmylou Harris - "Gliding Bird" (1969)

#12: Various Artists - "Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett" (1987)

#13: Candy - "Whatever Happened To Fun..." (1985)

#14: RTZ - "Return To Zero" (1991)

#15: Klark Kent - "Kollected Works" (1995)

#16: Various Artists - "Rainy Day" (1984)

#17: Alex Chilton - "1970" (1996)

#18: Feist - "Monarch Lay Your Jewelled Head Down" (1999)

#19: Attila (1970)

#20: Slipknot - "Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat." (1996)

#21: Eyes Adrift (2002)

#22: Stoney and Meatloaf (1971)

#23: Elliott Murphy - "Aquashow" (1973)

#24: Evanescence - "Origin" (2000)