Recorded in Japan in July 1973, this massive, three-LP live album was available outside the United States in 1974 but held back from domestic release in the U.S. It features the same "New Santana Band" that recorded Welcome, and combines that group's jazz and spiritual influences with performances of earlier Latin rock favorites like "Oye Como Va."
As phenomenally popular as Earth, Wind & Fire was from the mid-'70s to the early '80s, it's easy to forget that the band was hardly an overnight success. With Head to the Sky – EWF's fourth album overall, second with Philip Bailey, and second for Columbia – Maurice White's very spiritual and ambitious brand of soul and funk was starting to pay off commercially. The Latin-influenced "Evil" became the soulsters' biggest hit up to that point, and material ranging from the hauntingly pretty title song (which boasts one of Bailey's finest performances ever) to the jazz fusion gem "Zanzibar" is just as rewarding. The lineup White unveiled with Last Days and Time was working out beautifully; Bailey was clearly proving to be a major asset. Also worth noting is the presence of singer Jessica Cleaves, who left after this album and, several years later, resurfaced in George Clinton's eccentric female group the Brides of Funkenstein.
With 1970's Workingman's Dead, the Grateful Dead went through an overnight metamorphosis, turning abruptly from tripped-out free-form rock toward sublime acoustic folk and Americana. Taking notes on vocal harmonies from friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Dead used the softer statements of their fourth studio album as a subtle but moving reflection on the turmoil, heaviness, and hope America's youth was facing as the idealistic '60s ended. American Beauty was recorded just a few months after its predecessor, both expanding and improving on the bluegrass, folk, and psychedelic country explorations of Workingman's Dead with some of the band's most brilliant compositions. The songs here have a noticeably more relaxed and joyous feel. Having dived headfirst into this new sound with the previous album, the bandmembers found the summit of their collaborative powers here, with lyricist Robert Hunter penning some of his most poetic work, Jerry Garcia focusing more on gliding pedal steel than his regular electric lead guitar work, and standout lead vocal performances coming from Bob Weir (on the anthem to hippie love "Sugar Magnolia"), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (on the husky blues of "Operator"), and Phil Lesh (on the near-perfect opening tune, "Box of Rain").
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The Chicago Transit Authority recorded this double-barreled follow-up to their eponymously titled 1969 debut effort. The contents of Chicago II (1970) underscore the solid foundation of complex jazz changes with heavy electric rock & roll that the band so brazenly forged on the first set. The septet also continued its ability to blend the seemingly divergent musical styles into some of the best and most effective pop music of the era. One thing that had changed was the band's name, which was shortened to simply Chicago to avoid any potential litigious situations from the city of Chicago's transportation department – which claimed the name as proprietary property. Musically, James Pankow (trombone) was about to further cross-pollinate the band's sound with the multifaceted six-song "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon." The classically inspired suite also garnered the band two of its most beloved hits – the upbeat pop opener "Make Me Smile" as well as the achingly poignant "Color My World" – both of which remained at the center of the group's live sets.