You may recall (‘way back in 2016) that I mentioned two albums which I had obtained thanks to a gift certificate from our middle son. The first, Dylan’s Gospel, featured a fine assembly of studio musicians performing some of Dylan’s best-known hits of the time in a gospel setting. It’s a good album and, in its distinctive treatment of the songs, as timely today as it was when it was recorded.
The other album I purchased is, in that respect, quite a different beast. Where the Dylan album feels as relevant today as it did in 1969, Heaven/Earth by The Free Design is most definitely emotive of its era.
This album is the third of seven albums released between 1967 and 1972. The New York band consisted (eventually) of five siblings with some musical support from their extended family (father/uncle). The music has been described as “sunshine pop” and “baroque pop” with jazz overtones. The group did not achieve great commercial success (note no charted singles) in its day, but was influential with later bands and has enjoyed (oddly enough) a longevity not routinely accorded to its contemporaries.
Here are three examples which might serve to illustrate…
A. My Very Own Angel
This song leads off the Heaven/Earth and shows off the complex vocals and smooth arrangements which characterize the album.
B. You Be You and I’ll Be Me
The next song has (for me at least) a very specific sound… actually I easily could picture it recorded several years earlier (circa 1967) and played at Expo ’67. You can hear some of their jazz underpinnings in this arrangement.
C. Where Do I Go (from the musical Hair)
It was hardly an innovation to employ a string accompaniment (think Yesterday, Michelle, Eleanor Rigby as examples) in the ’60’s but I do think this is, nonetheless, an effective arrangement (with a solid solo vocal).
A couple of observations…
While I find some of their songs feel dated (the downside of being “of their period”), they do have smooth harmonies. When I first listened to this album, I thought… The Association on sedatives… To amplify the point, listen to My Very Own Angel again and then Happiness Is from The Association‘s 1967 album Insight Out. (Note the instrumentation and complex vocals in both…)
About 30 years after The Free Design disbanded, the surviving members reformed in order to perform on a Beach Boys tribute album, Caroline Now! That experience helped to convince the group to record a new album of their own in 2001 called Cosmic Peekaboo. Meanwhile here’s their take on that BB song…
Finally, there are few examples of live performance by the group… but here’s one from 1968…