Today’s question… what do these three things have in common?
And the answer is…
And now to elaborate… Lou Adler (born 1933) is a is a Grammy Award-winning American record producer, music executive, talent manager, songwriter, film director and producer. He was the producer behind The Mamas and Papas (and, incidentally, also the producer of Carole King‘s Tapestry). In 1967 he was the driving force behind the legendary Monterey Pop Festival and as well as the subsequent film documentary. So that explains The Ms and Ps clip from the festival.
Dylan? The recently announced Nobel Prize winner was an important folk singer in the ’60’s who, in 1965 “went electric”. He may have lost a few diehard folk fans in the transition but he gained a huge following in his merging of folk and rock. It would a serious understatement to say his music (and, of course, lyrics) were influential to an entire generation of writers, performers and producers …and that includes Lou Adler. That influence will become apparent as we look (in a moment) at an Adler-produced album recorded in 1969.
Oh Happy Day? Well that song (recorded in 1967) became a hit for The Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969… reaching #4 in the US (Billboard), #2 in Canada and #1 in Germany! Gospel (with its spiritual roots) had been the basis for R and B music for decades and, by the end of the sixties, taking its rightful place in popular music.
I came across another Edwin Hawkins Singers clip which begins to draw these disparate threads together. It is from a special recorded by the group in 1971…notice how that concert opens.
The song, Blowin’ in the Wind, was written in 1962 by our friend, Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan and here given a spirited Gospel interpretation by the group.
And now… here’s where this all (hopefully) dovetails. In 1969, a very successful Lou Adler decided to take the music of Dylan and give it a Gospel twist (emulating the recent success of The Edwin Hawkins Singers). To do so, he drew together a choir of very talented (but perhaps less famous) singers. Many were studio musicians while a few (such as Merry Clayton) had a achieved a degree of fame for their work with the major acts of the period. Adler dubbed them The Brothers and Sisters (of LA) and set to work to produce an album of Dylan hits in traditional Gospel style. The result was Dylan’s Gospel.
The album leads off (appropriately) with The Times They Are A-Changing…
Adler was doubtless acting both on the perceived embrace of gospel in popular music and on his own admiration for both Dylan and the genre. That the album did not gain the sustained recognition Adler anticipated can be seen in Rolling Stone’s 2014 article ‘Dylan’s Gospel,’ a Lost Album of Bob Dylan Covers, Resurfaces . The long out-of-print album was reissued that same year through Light in the Attic Records. And…if you like what you hear it is still available through their online site. If you would like a further taste of “gospelized” Dylan, you can currently find the entire album on Youtube.
Light in the Attic produced its own brief documentary on the occasion of the reissue…
I might finally note that I probably would be unaware of this album without the generosity of our middle son (Patrick) who is himself a fan of the unexpected and the obscure in popular music. A birthday gift certificate from Light in the Attic led me to a detailed perusal of their catalogue (itself the definition of obscure, one could argue), I settled on Dylan’s Gospel and an album by The Free Design. More about the latter later…