Great Speckled Bird — “Love What You’re Doing Child”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — January 2, 2022

306) Great Speckled Bird — “Love What You’re Doing Child”

Canadian country-rock from the eponymous ’70 album by the folk-rock duo Ian & Sylvia and their new band. Randall Adams calls it “one of the best country rock albums of all time.” He goes on:

[The album] immediately sank without a trace . . . . Propelled by the toughest country rock sound anybody was doing in 1969, Ian Tyson brings together a handful of timeless classic songs seldom matched . . . . It’s tempting to imagine what might have become of this record if it had been released on a proper record label and if it had been billed as “Ian & Sylvia & the Great Speckled Bird.” Surely it would now be on every record shelf that also holds “Sweatheart of the Rodeo,” “Nashville Skyline” and Michael Nesmith’s first few solo albums.

And Jason Nardelli:

The album itself was a great mixture of early country-rock and folk. At the time it was a bold move for the Tysons to break free from their folk straight jackets. The band was very tight from live gigging, containing some good musicians [who] play with an added venom, incorporating different tones and textures to their guitar playing that work just brilliantly. The concept of the Great Speckled Bird was to change the direction of folk as well as add electricity and rock n roll power to contemporary country music. . . .

Richie Unterberger says in All Music Guide that:

By the late ’60s, [Ian & Sylvia] were leaning decidedly more toward a country-rock direction . . . . Great Speckled Bird . . . differed from that effort in that it was the work of a real band . . . . Produced by a young Todd Rundgren in Nashville, the album . . . suffered from poor distribution and consequent low sales. Great Speckled Bird toured as well, but got a mixed reception, in part because those expecting straight folk from Ian & Sylvia weren’t prepared for a full band with electric instruments. They were part of the Festival Express tour in 1970, which had them cross Canada with a traveling rock festival of sorts that also included the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, and Delaney & Bonnie.

And Bob Gottlieb, also in AMG, concludes that:

It is not the perfect album, but when you realize it was made in 1969, and the great courage it took for these two folksingers to follow their instinct and make this album, you appreciate it even more.

Wait a second, all this adulation is a bit over the top! Is everyone confusing Great Speckled Bird with Bob Dylan at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival?! Thank God there wasn’t cancel culture back then. Can you imagine what that would have meant for Bob and Ian and Sylvia? Deplatformed!!! Talk about “Now you don’t talk so loud, now you don’t seem so proud, about having to be scrounging your next meal. How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a homepage. Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.”

In any event, a fine album and a great funky song that begins with the sage advice to “[l]ove what you’re doing child, do what you love to do” (which pretty much sums up the impetus for this blog).*

* The rest of the lyrics are quite puzzling. I have a Japanese release of the album and I can’t tell whether the lyrics are simply obtuse or whether they were mangled by a Japanese translator. In any event, I think the song has something to do with urging women to accept their husbands/boyfriends for what they are, since “men get drunk.” I’d love to hear others’ opinions.

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