The Best of Spirit
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2003, Volume 10, #5
Written by John Metzger
The California music scene in the late 1960s was one of the most eclectic and creative gatherings of artists ever assembled in the same place at the same time. Many of the bands, both from Los Angeles and San Francisco, went on to become household names and are still well-recognized today. Others disappeared, seemingly without a trace, occasionally turning up as a trivia question on classic rock radio, but otherwise being largely forgotten. Of course, some deserved to fade from view, but others, such as Spirit, should have experienced a far better fate.
Thereís no question that after its first four albums, Spirit should have called it quits; then, perhaps, it might be more fondly remembered today. Although founding member and guitar prodigy Randy California kept the name alive right up until his tragic death by drowning in 1997, the group never came close to capturing the magic of its early releases.
But what magic there was. Spirit was L.A.'s response to The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and as such, its music was as pop-oriented as it was psychedelically heavy. The Best of Spirit ó originally released in 1973 and now expanded to sixteen tracks ó features a superb distillation of the bandís first four albums. What it loses in some of the conceptual aspects of the groupís releases, it makes up for with perfect concision. The bandís first hit Iíve Got a Line on You is undoubtedly its most recognizable song. After all, itís an enduring classic, a perennial favorite for classic rock radio. But often overlooked are the many other songs featured on this release. The politically minded 1984 hinted at ground later explored by the Talking Heads; like T-Rex, Spirit fused glam with Memphis soul on Morning Will Come; Taurus was later recycled in Led Zeppelinís Stairway to Heaven; the pairing of Natureís Way and Animal Zoo raised environmental concerns, while recalling The Who as much as Neil Young; and the jazz-meets-classical groove of Fresh-Garbage eluded to the then-burgeoning progressive rock movement.
In other words, Spirit seamlessly shifted among a variety of styles, incorporating the sounds of its time with elements of jazz, classical, folk, and blues in order to create something new. Indeed, Wilcoís Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are as much direct descendents of this genre-busting format as is the music of Phish. In the late 1960s, adventurous creativity was more the rule than the exception. Of course, the opposite is true today as bands shy away from from tinkering with a successful formula. This is all the more reason why a group like Spirit deserves not to be forgotten but to be remembered and appreciated for what it accomplished. Ĺ
The Best of Spirit is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box