I’m not a huge fan of blues music. Although I recognize its influence, it tends to strike me as somewhat formulaic and predictable. There are exceptions, though, and fairly close to the top of that list would be Cricklewood Green, a 1970 release by Ten Years After. While I don’t remember how it ended up in my collection, I listened to it frequently throughout high school and have since.
What does that have to do with his post or its title? Well, every song on the LP was written by Alvin Lee, the group’s founder, lead guitarist and singer, including my favorite, “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain.” Lee died Wednesday at age 68 of “unforeseen complications of a routine surgical procedure.” Given the album’s association with my youth, I was quite saddened when I heard the news on the radio on my way home that night. And what did I do before the night was over? Listen to the album.
Ten Years After probably became best known in the U.S. after its performance of “I’m Going Home” during its encore at Woodstock. The song, which made it to both the album and the film, is a taste of what I liked about Alvin Lee and the band. It is an outright blues piece that serves as the basis of an extended guitar jam by Lee. That’s why I think “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” is my favorite song on Cricklewood Green. With a little bit of studio contrivance at the beginning, the song simply builds into a tremendous jam. The same is true of “Love Like A Man” on (what was then) the album’s flip side. Most of the balance of the album is 12-bar blues rock, where the blues is a foundation for the superstructure Lee creates with his guitar.
I don’t think any of the individual tunes from Cricklewood Green hit the charts in the U.S. The album, though, hit number 14 on the Billboard charts, the highest charting album the band had. The next year “I’d Love To Change The World” (also written by Lee and perhaps my single favorite of the band’s work) reached the Top 40 and the album, A Space in Time hit number 17.
Ten Years After split up in 1974. Lee released a couple albums in the late 1970s with a band he called “Ten Years Later” but he’s spent most of his time as a solo artist. Some of that work is quite good; other parts, not so much. Ten Years After reunited for a while in 1988-89. Lee hasn’t played with the band since so the Ten Years After that has been on the road and recording over the last decade or so is sans Lee. Personally, I think anything called Ten Years After without Lee lacks its heart and soul.
So as someone who isn’t a big blues fan, I realize we’re lucky to have had Alvin Lee. And it’s a shame we’ve lost him.
Can you pull me up to Jupiter
When I’m all hung up on Mars?
Ten Years After, “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain,” Cricklewood Green