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Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride:The Dunhill / ABC Years (1967-1971)

Morphing in 1967 from The Sparrows into Steppenwolf, this legendary band would continue on, in one shape or another, for just over 50 years. However, for many it was their initial eight album run between ’67 and 1972 where they made their longest lasting mark. Often seen as one of the originators of heavy metal alongside Blue Cheer and Vanilla Fudge, there’s little denying that the single “Born To Be Wild”, which featured on the band’s first, self-titled album, continues to be their calling card, but thanks to this eight disc and multi-bonus track housing set from Cherry Red/Esoteric, comes the welcome opportunity to discover that Steppenwolf dug much deeper than a handful of well remembered hits.

The self-titled debut itself arrived in 1968 and found a line-up of John Kay on lead vocals, guitars, harmonica, Michael Monarch (guitars), Goldy McJohn (keyboards), Rushton Moreve (bass) and Jerry Edmonton (drums) crafting a mixture of blues covers and originals into a quite remarkably coherent statement. With “Born To BeWild” and the Steppenwolf version of the Hoyt Axton number, “The Pusher” (which was also to be a standard for the band across their career) both featuring in the era-defining film Easy Rider, it’s understandable that Steppenwolf found themselves not just as rock sensations but also figureheads in what would become a tumultuous time across The States. Now, some 53 years later, Steppenwolf, the album, still sounds ridiculously fresh, daring and vibrant, the John Kay penned “Berry Rides Again” strutting eagerly in its Chuck Berry adulation, while “The Ostrich” adds some fire in the belly. Factor in the instantly memorable “Sookie Sookie”, a heartfelt cover of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and the much more psych-lite of “A Girl I Used To Know” and it’s easy to hear why this debut remains so revered. Bonus tracks on this first disc are (as is the theme elsewhere) mono-single versions of eight of the album’s eleven tracks and while, arguably, that hardly makes them essential listening, comparing and contrasting these sonically different offerings is good fun.

Appearing later the same year, it’s no great surprise that The Second didn’t veer far from the debut’s blueprint, although it did find the band ditching cover versions in favour of original material. Drummer Jerry Edmonton takes on lead vocals for the impressive opener “Faster Than The Speed Of Life”, which with hindsight, feels much more ‘current’ than much of the band’s output, especially when it’s followed by the more traditional blues shuffle of “Tighten Up Your Wig” and its sharp harmonica blasts. Here and elsewhere it’s the bonding of bass, drums and rhythm guitar that sets the band’s stall out and it has to be said that they hit as a seriously impressive unit time and again. And yet, when The Second adds a looser air, “None Of Your Doing” still grabs the attention, although it’s the hit single “Magic Carpet Ride” that stands out (in contrast to the debut it was the only single and as such this boogie blast and “Spiritual Fantasy” are the only mono-version bonuses on this disc). Again, “Magic…” really has stood the test of time and if nothing else, what really comes across on this set is just how relevant Steppenwolf continue to sound. With the likes of the lolling “Don’t Step On The Grass Sam” making a very sixties stand against ‘the man’, the band’s politics were also really beginning to shine through as The Second easily matched its predecessor.

As was the way back then, no thought was given to a Steppenwolf’s artistic process and hence March 1969 saw the band’s third studio album in 14 months hit the shelves. Working at this pace casualties were almost assured, bassist Rushton Moreve departing with Nick St. Nicholas taking his place, while for guitarist Michael Monarch, the At Your Birthday Party album would be his last with the outfit. It might also be fair to say that the breakneck speed at which the band were being expected to come up with new material began to show, album number three not quite having the same consistency as what had come before. However, even with that in mind, the airy “Lovely Meter” is quite wonderful, while “Jupiter Child” heads in a much dirtier, grittier direction. With “Rock Me” possessing a serious boogie-strut and “Happy Birthday” being far from the joyous celebration its name might suggest, while the overall standard on this album may see a slight dip, there’s a maturity shown that more than makes up for it.

In what would feel near impossible by modern standards, the fourth Steppenwolf album would see release in August 1969 but in truth the live recording Early Steppenwolf wasn’t actually Steppenwolf at all. Instead it found Kay, McJohn, St. Nicholas, Edmonton and guitarist Mars Bonfire (who actually wrote “Born To Be Wild”) performing in the pre-Steppenwolf band The Sparrows in 1967, and as such, it really doesn’t, but kinda does, feature much Steppenwolf music at all. Instead there are two originals in the shape of the cool, brooding “Power Play” and an early version of “Tighten Up Your Wig”, which is much less rock n’ roll than the version that would be cooked up in the studio a few months down the line from this recording. With covers of “Howlin’ For My Darling” and “I’m Going Upstairs” alongside a reworking of “Corina Corina” making up the first half the show, the second section comes features a 21 minute-plus meandering of “The Pusher”. Now, had I been there (6 years before I was born) maybe I’d have gotten utterly lost in the psychedelic swirls and drum plays that trundle on for 15 minutes before the song proper splutters into life, but as a listening experience now, I have to admit that it makes for tough going and considering its length, it also makes Early Steppenwolf easily the least essential of the albums presented here.

November ’69 saw the next album proper, Monster, introducing guitarist Larry Byrom to the band as Steppenwolf began to reflect an unravelling political and social America back on itself. The opening salvo of “Monster/Suicide/America” not just the most ambitious, multi-faceted piece the band had produced, but biting in its distaste for what the American Dream had come to stand for. Followed by “Draft Resister”, which was even more forthright in its disillusionment with the ruling classes, Steppenwolf were pulling no punches and while for many Monster lacks the killer songs that featured on the band’s first two albums, the depth and clarity on show here keeps me coming back to this album more than any of the others in this box. A new version of “Power Play”maintains the focus with some excellent guitar work, while the simple instrumental repetitiveness of “Fag” becomes really quite hypnotic. Admittedly the closing duo of “What Would You Do (If I Did That To You)” and “From Here To There Eventually” maybe don’t quite have the musical intrigue that the earlier cuts do, but in the hands of, for example, Deep Purple, the latter could have been huge. Again, the bonuses are mono-single versions of a couple of album cuts, but the edited down single of “Monster” from the three part album opener offers a different feel to the way the song was offered up on the album itself.

Moving into 1970 would see the frenetic speed of operations continue, January finding the double Steppenwolf Live being released, this near 70 minute offering being a much better representation of the band than their previous live album. That said there are a few interesting quirks still in evidence, the single from the album “Hey Lawdy Mama” a studio recording that’s merged into “Magic Carpet Ride” to unsuccessfully make it feel like part of the live show, while both “Twisted” and “Corina Corina” too are studio cuts badly overdubbed with audience noise to unsuccessfully make them feel like part of the original recording. Used as a way to lengthen the set to make it an ‘official’ double album length, the addition of these three songs was done against the band’s wishes and it’s easy to hear why, even if all three are good versions of good songs. It’s also worth noting that both “Twisted” and “Hey Lawdy…” feature ‘talk-box guitar’ way back in its infancy, with the results sounding very scratchy indeed. And yet, for all its faults, gathering together their early hits, some new material and much of Monster, Steppenwolf Live really is rather magnificent.

Something which can’t quite be said for the understandably unimaginatively titled Steppenwolf 7, which emerged in November 1970. In a first for the band, this album failed to yield a top 40 single, but that’s not to say that there’s not still much to enjoy. Opener “Ball Crusher” is a mid-paced power-force of riff fuelled rock, while the much more organic “Renegade” finds singer/guitarist John Kay recounting he and his mother fleeing a Soviet Occupation Zone in 1948 as they bolted to The West. For me it’s the highlight of the album. The Hoyt Axton cover (he who wrote “The Pusher”) of “Snowblind Friend” adds a country slant as the song once again shines a light on drug culture, but held up against “The Pusher” it falls quite some way short in terms of impact. The first album to feature new bassist George Biondo, the four-string man actually contributes hard hitting, blues soaked lead vocals to “Fat Jack”, while sharing singing duties with Kay on both the cleverly rhythmical “Foggy Mental Breakdown”, where the pair combine quite brilliantly, and “Who Needs Ya”, which possesses a seriously memorable groove. Whereas the brass and more humorous intent of “Earschplittenloudenboomer”, while ridiculous in name, finds a band trying to stretch out musically. Not a truly celebrated album from Steppenwolf, 7 stands up surprinsly well all these years later. And also worthy of mention is the mono-bonus of non-album track “Steaming Night Hog”.

Those experiments and musical expansions would deepen as the band’s eighth and final album for Dunhill/ABC, For Ladies Only, was released in November 1971 as a slightly more progressive rock feel was infused into the raw rock n’ roll the band had made their name with. However, with yet more line-up changes - Kent Henry now on guitar alongside Kay - it appeared that Steppenwolf were hitting rough waters and as a statement, For Ladies Only failed to calm the storm. Based round a ‘concept’ of feminism, the album comes across as rather confused due to some songs having much more traditional ‘romantic’ themes and the inner gatefold cover featuring a phallic looking car heading past the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Musically, the likes of the title track still proves decidedly satisfying and considering we are only three years on from the band’s debut, the growth and maturity in song writing and arrangement is stark. What maybe is lacking however, is a couple of truly memorable moments and while “I’m Asking” and “The Night Time’s For You” are catchy and intriguing, there isn’t much here that reeks of ‘hit’. For me that maybe makes this the most rewarding album on show but at the time it became the first long-player from the band not to break the top 50 in the US album charts. If you want further proof of where the band might have been headed musically, sample the psychedelic swoop and swirl of bonus cut “For Madmen Only”, which pretty much lives up to its name.

And with that, after a farewell performance in 1972, Steppenwolf were gone. A short reunion would take place between 1974 and 1976 and then a version of the band with McJohn and St. Nicholas would carry the torch between ’76 and 1980. Kay would then keep the flame alive with ever varying line-ups but for many the true Steppenwolf story is the one told here. The band’s six studio and two live albums released between 1968 and 1971 all there is that you need to know. That assessment may, in truth be a little harsh on what followed but there’s no doubt that with the albums remastered from the original Dunhill/ABC tapes (although some stories suggest those were destroyed in the infamous Universal warehouse fire…) and coming alongside an excellent booklet/essay, this excellent box set is where the true Steppenwolf majesty lies.

Track Listing
Steppenwolf - Remastered Released in January 1968

1. Sookie Sookie
 2. Everybody’s Next One 
3. Berry Rides Again 
4. Hootchie Kootchie Man 
5. Born To Be Wild 
6. Your Wall’s Too High 
7. Desperation 
8. The Pusher 
9. A Girl I Knew 
10. Take What You Need 
11. The Ostrich 
12. Sookie Sookie 
13. Born To Be Wild 
14. Everybody’s Next One 
15. Take What You Need 
16. A Girl I Knew 
17. The Ostrich 
18. The Pusher
 19. Berry Rides Again

The Second - Remastered
Released in October 1968

1. Faster Than The Speed Of Life 
2. Tighten Up Your Wig 
3. None Of Your Doing 
4. Spiritual Fantasy 
5. Don’t Step On The Grass Sam 
6. 28
 7. Magic Carpet Ride 
8. Disappointment Number (Unknown) 
9. Lost And Found By Trial And Error 
10. Hodge, Podge, Strained Through A Leslie 
11. Resurrection 
12. Reflections
 Bonus tracks
13. Magic Carpet Ride (mono single version) 
14. Spiritual Fantasy (mono single version)

At Your Birthday Party - Remastered
Released in March 1969

1. Don’t Cry 
2. Chicken Wolf 
3. Lovely Meter 
4. Round And Down 
5. It’s Never Too Late 
6. Sleeping Dreaming 
7. Jupiter Child 8. She’ll Be Better 
9. Cat Killer 
10. Rock Me 
11. God Fearing Man 
12. Mango Juice 
13. Happy Birthday 
14 Rock Me
 15. Jupiter Child 
16. It’s Never Too Late 
17. Happy Birthday

Early Steppenwolf - Remastered Released in July 1969 (Live at The Matrix 1967)

1 Power Play
 2. Howlin’ For My Baby
 3. Goin’ Upstairs 
4. Corina, Corina 
5. Tighten Up Your Wig 
6. The Pusher

Monster - Remastered
Released in November 1969

1. Monster / Suicide / America 
2. Draft Resister 
3. Power Play 
4. Move Over 
5. Fag
 6. What Would You Do (If I Did That to You)
 7. From Here to There Eventually 
Bonus tracks
 8. Monster (single version) 
9. Move Over (mono single version)
 10. Power Play (mono single version)

Steppenwolf Live - Remastered Released in April 1970

1. Sookie Sookie
 2. Don’t Step On The Grass 
3. Tighten Up Your Wig 
4. Monster 
5. Draft Resister 
6. Power Play
 7. Corina, Corina 
8. Twisted 
9. From Here To There Eventually 
10. Hey Lawdy Mama
 11. Magic Carpet Ride 
12. The Pusher 
13. Born To Be Wild 
 14. Hey Lawdy Mama 
15. Twisted
 16. Corina, Corina

Steppenwolf 7 - Remastered Released in November 1970

1. Ball Crusher 
2. Forty Days And Forty Nights 
3. Fat Jack 
4. Renegade 
5. Foggy Mental Breakdown 
6. Snow Blind Friend 
7. Who Needs Ya 
8. Earschplittenloudenboomer
 9. Hippo Stomp 
Bonus tracks
 10. Screaming Night Hog 
11. Snowblind Friend (single version) 
12. Hippo Stomp (single version)

For Ladies Only - Remastered Released in November 1971

1. For Ladies Only 
2. I’m Asking 
3. Shackles And Chains 
4. Tenderness 
5. The Night Time’s For You 
6. Jaded Strumpet 
7. Sparkle Eyes
 8. Black Pit 
9. Ride with Me
 10. In Hopes Of A Garden
 Bonus tracks 11. For Madmen Only 
12. For Ladies Only (single version) 
13. Ride With Me (mono single version)

Added: November 20th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Steppenwolf @ Cherry Red
Hits: 1146
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride:The Dunhill / ABC Years (1967-1971)
Posted by Steven Reid on 2021-11-25 19:16:19
My Score:

I reviewed this set from a promo-download, so don't actually know how the discs are stored unfortunately.

Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride:The Dunhill / ABC Years (1967-1971)
Posted by Hector Pilar on 2021-11-23 02:21:15
My Score:

How are the cds packaged? digipak or regular. The Japanese versions were essential but too costly for me but looks like everything they added as bonus are on this box so not a bad deal.

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