Rhinofy-The First Traffic Album

It was a stiff in America. And it was different from the original U.K. release, with a lame green cover. Traffic was one of those bands most people didn’t pay attention to until they broke up.

But the musicians paid heed. Because they covered a number of the songs from the disc. People knew these famous covers before they knew the originals. Let’s uncover some of them.

1. “Smiling Phases”

The best Blood, Sweat & Tears album is the first. But the most famous is the second. To say it dominated the airwaves would be to posit it was bigger and more intense than Bieber Fever. And it was. The big hits were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel”. But the very first song after the Erik Satie intro was this.

The Traffic original hearkens back to what came before as opposed to what was yet to come. It was more akin to midsixties English singles with garage band production and imprecise background vocals than the polished production released by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Never mind the long instrumental interlude in the BS&T take.

The Traffic version was the blueprint. You’ve got to give credit to BS&T for seeing the internal nugget and expanding upon it.

2. “Coloured Rain”

And here’s where it gets interesting. This cover is by Al Kooper, from his solo debut, “I Stand Alone”, after he got kicked out of his own band, the aforementioned Blood, Sweat & Tears. The original features Stevie Winwood right up front, who quite possibly possesses the best voice in rock and roll. And he has not lost a step. Take a look at his recently posted video of “John Barleycorn (Must Die)”

But “John Barleycorn (Must Die)” came after the band reunited, when Winwood started cutting a solo album and ended up calling in his old bandmates and the result ended up being billed as Traffic.

Traffic’s original “Coloured Rain” has got some great swirling organ, but it’s simple. Kooper’s take has got everything but the kitchen sink, and that’s what makes it so great, the production, from the rainstorm in the intro to the horns to… Sure, Kooper doesn’t have the voice of Winwood, but who does?

“Coloured Rain” is still unknown by most. Start with Kooper’s rendition. He blows the song up, it looks forward as opposed to back. Miracles could now be performed in the studio, and Al utilized every trick. The track is spacy and psychedelic and bluesy all at the same time.

3. “Dear Mr. Fantasy”

This is the one song that got traction off of Traffic’s debut. Deservedly so. The guitarwork is hypnotic, Winwood’s voice is at its peak, the term “masterpiece” was created for this. And be sure to see Winwood live today, to see him work out on the outro, hitting every note from the original on his guitar, your jaw will drop. Still, at the time, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s live cover got more airplay, it was even more famous.

You see this was a live performance of “Super Session”. Not quite as good, “Live Adventures Of Michael Bloomfield & Al Kooper” sold and sold, because people just couldn’t get enough of that sound. “Super Session” was an institution, and the lemmings couldn’t pass on the follow-up.

Not to denigrate it. It’s just that the original “Super Session” was a trendsetter. A breakthrough. And the live album was just a further exploration on the theme.

Yet it possesses Mike Bloomfield’s exquisite guitarwork, a god who hit the heights with Butterfield, Dylan and Kooper, but has faded away and is not radiating. That’s one of the problems with passing early. Your legacy may unjustly fade.

Once upon a time, jam music didn’t only mean hippies, tie-dye and fringe, hell, George Harrison even included a full jam disc in the “All Things Must Pass” box. Credit Kooper for starting the trend. Proving you could jam with an east coast mentality as easily as one from San Francisco.

Be sure to hang in there for the segue into “Hey Jude”. Also, legendarily, the vocal mic cuts out at the end and the room mic is employed on the recording. It was quiet enough to get it. You see, attending the show used to be like going to church, a religious experience. We sat, didn’t stand. We perched on our posteriors and let our minds drift, set free by the music.

4. “Heaven Is In Your Mind”

Can I be sacrilegious and say that I prefer the Three Dog Night version?

This was before “Joy To The World” and “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”, this was long before Three Dog Night was one of the biggest acts in the land, positively cringeworthy.

You see once upon a time, they were just lauded vocalists, L.A. phenoms who didn’t have much impact as you moved east. “One” got airplay elsewhere, but when “Captured Live At The Forum” was released, most people were still clueless.

Now there’s a recording of “Heaven Is In Your Mind” on the initial studio album, but I discovered the live take first. My friend Marc owned the album. It’s the first cut you hear after dropping the needle. The act explodes right after the introduction, as the audience screams and the band rocks in a way they never did on subsequent Three Dog Night productions. But the vocals are mixed right up front, there’s a joy in the performance which is infectious. You get caught up in the energy.

I’ll include the original Three Dog Night studio recording for comparison. And, of course, the Traffic original. Which has the same melody, but the track is completely different, a drug trip in the middle of the night, slowed down with heavy piano rhythm.

5. “No Face, No Name, No Number”

By time Bryan Ferry’s “Olympia” album came out, this song from Traffic’s debut was no longer an unknown rarity. The original is far superior, but a great song works no matter who records it.

And if you search on Spotify you can find a Steve Marriott cover of “Berkshire Poppies”, but just like the Ferry cover, the release came long after Traffic became part of the musical fabric.

But what’s fascinating is how before this was the case, the musicians were clued in. And decided to cover the songs of a band most people had never heard of.

Then again, this is when people wrote songs instead of beats. When we were all glued to the radio ready to be exposed to life-changing material.

Traffic went on to glory.

But at this point, in the late sixties, after the release of its debut, other acts were carrying the flag.

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