(Above) Front cover unfolded (Below) Inside cover unfolded
Listen – Jimmie Haskell – Prelude – MP3
Listen – Jimmie Haskell/Denny Doherty – To Claudia On Thursday – MP3
Welcome back to the second entry in the ongoing Iron Leg ‘Sounds of the Millennium’ series. This time out, the definition is stretched a little bit, since the “sounds” in question are actual songs, not performed by anyone that was in the band. Since covers of Millennium songs are few and far between, and the record in question is so interesting, and the numbers are sung by one of my all time favorite singers, well, I couldn’t resist.
Last summer I was down in Washington DC, DJing and getting in a lot of quality digging with my man (and newly minted father, congrats!!) DJ Birdman. On the last of these vinyl safaris, in an unassuming record store on the outskirts of town, he pulled a strange record out of a one of the crates.
He called me over to who me this unbelievable package, in which the cover (not really a self-contained record jacket at all) unfolded into a huge poster with an alternative history map of the USA on one side and a series of odd black and white photos on the other. That – in and of itself – was very cool, but when he refolded the cover something unusual caught my eye. I asled him to pass me the record, and after a closer look I confirmed that I had indeed seen a songwriting credit of ‘D. Rhodes/R. Edgar’ on one of the songs, those being Doug Rhodes and Ron Edgar, first of the Music Machine, and then later of the Millennium.
A split second later my eyes bugged out when I realized that the song that bore those credits was in fact the Millennium’s ‘Prelude’!! An even closer look revealed that record also included a version of ‘To Claudia On Thursday’ (written by the Millennium’s Joey Stec and Michael Fennelly) , which blends with ‘Prelude’ as the medley that opens the Millennium’s sole LP ‘Begin’.
It took a bit of examination before I concluded that the album in question was called ‘California ‘99’ and the artist was someone named Jimmie Haskell. Birdman was taking this one home, so as soon as I returned to home base, I set out into the wilds of the interwebs to find myself a copy. A few weeks later it came sailing through the mail slot.
Jimmie Haskell was a very busy arranger who worked on all kinds of records, from pop, to jazz, to heavy rock, eventually winning Grammys for his arrangements of Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and Chicago’s ‘If You Leave me Now’.
‘California ‘99’ is an at times bizarre concept album, mixing audio collage, original songs and interesting cover material all wrapped in a strange, post-apocalyptic alternate history of the United States in which social upheaval, mixed with a series of natural disasters literally and figuratively change the landscape of the country. It’s the kind of record, both musically and physically that could only have come out in the early 70s, when record companies, their senses dulled by mountains of pot and cocaine seemed to be green-lighting every single cockamamie concept album with elaborate packaging that was brought to them.
I always love when I find a record like Isaac Haye’s ‘Black Moses’ or an OG of Led Zeppelin’s III or ‘Physical Graffitti’ and the original ‘package’ is still intact. There was always something special back when I was a kid, when I’d come back from the flea market having found copies of Cheech and Chong’s ‘Big Bambu’ with the giant rolling paper intact. Back then you really felt you were getting something extraordinary, even if more often than not the music inside the package was substandard (having been produced inside the same narcotic tornado that allowed the package to be created in the first place.
Though Haskell wrote all the new material and arranged the album, ‘California ‘99’ features appearances by a number of guests, including Joe Walsh (then of the James Gang, which he would leave later that year), legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, vocalists Clydie King and Merry Clayton, Max Buda of the Kaleidoscope and on the Millennium covers, Denny Doherty of the Mamas and Papas.
While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that ‘California ‘99’ succeeds as a self-contained work – though it’s far from the worst/weirdest concept album of the time (1971) – it does features some great individual tracks, the finest of which are ‘Prelude’ and ‘To Claudia on Thursday’.
The ‘California ‘99’ versions of these songs are fairly faithful remakes with the addition of some Moog synthesizer. They are presented in reverse order, i.e. ‘To Claudia On Thursday’ closes out side one of the album and ‘Prelude’ opens side two. ‘Prelude’ includes a bit of narration from the album’s story, a snippet of which appears at the beginning of ‘Claudia’ as well. The ‘Prelude/To Claudia On Thursday’ medley is my favorite part of the Millennium’s ‘Begin’, and the fact that Haskell chose a vocalist of the caliber of Denny Doherty to perform ‘To Claudia…’ on ‘California ‘99’ has a lot to do with why the cover is so satisfying. I’ll post the songs here in the ‘Millennium’ order. You can listen to them however you like.
Interestingly, Doherty’s version of ‘To Claudia On Thursday’ was included as an extra on the 2004 UK Mamas and Papas ‘Complete Anthology’ boxed set.
I hope you dig the tunes, and I’ll be back later in the week with something psychedelic.