What if I told you an album took only five tracks to distill almost every musical ethos of The Seventies within it? Smoke ’em if you got ’em, rockers; here comes Mirage, from British prog superstars(I know, saying “British” prog superstars is a tad redundant) Camel.
Why not start with something a little Yes-meets Allman-Brothers-Band? The time signature jumps and style changes firmly and immediately land the album in the prog camp, but the keyboards are a tiny bit pedestrian to start off, and the guitar is awfully bluesy; could this be (gasp!) PLAIN OLD ROCK? Luckily, this is a progressive rock song, so in the nearly six minutes of length, there are two or three songs worth of riffs and genre shifts, with some of them extra Seventies-stretch-rock sounding; they just didn’t give each style a title in this song… something that they will fix later on.
BONUS TRIVIA: This album was released in 1974, so, naturally, the European branch of Camel cigarettes made special, five-in-a-pack Camel boxes
and gave them away for free at concerts. This explains why you were born with poorly developed lungs, or why your make-believe wife was given the COPD-esque name of “Wheezy”…SEVENTIES.
No, it’s not enough to have a mellotron in the band; “Supertwister” features an actual flute. Like the Seventies usually did. It also features…
… 5/8 time, just to make sure that this is a prog-rock ballad, not a soft-rock ballad.
… the TruFlute Actual Wind Instrument Authentication System’s patented “Mix The Breaths That The Flute Player Takes As Loud As Possible” technique.
… every cymbal in the drummer’s set being fluttered on consistently, to add something more high-end than the flute for balance, plus auxiliary percussion fun like finger cymbals and ratchets. Eat it, Jon Anderson! And…
… BONUS ELLIPSES: the sound of a beer being poured into a glass to end the track. Because it’s 1974, and that’s what you did.
3. “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider”
When you realized that I was going to break down each track of a Seventies prog album, you may have thought to yourself, “which song will be first to have multiple titles,” or “which song will be the first to be over nine minutes long,” or “which will be the first song to be titled after something related to J. R. R. Tolkien?” Well, guess what? We’re here!
This is also the track where the pedestrian chords played my the keyboardist are handed over to the guitarist, giving the mini Moog the opportunity to set the true prog tone. The keyboard playing still isn’t spacey-spectacular or Jon Lord-ish(RIP, btw), but there are some wonderfully mystical moments, especially at the end of The White Rider.
BONUS TRIVIA: The use of literature as muse didn’t end here for Camel. For their next album, each member was to suggest a novel to inspire the band. And, being The Seventies, the first band member suggested a far-out Herman Hesse novel, Siddhartha. When that one failed to inspire? Some other member picked a novel… ANOTHER HERMAN HESSE NOVEL. The band decided on the maudlin “The Snow Goose” as their inspiration instead(the author was such a prude that the band had to remove the lyrics from the album and rename it Inspired by The Snow Goose to avoid legal trouble; all of this because of an assumed connection with the cigarette manufacturer. Not very Seventies, if you ask me….)
I have recently heard, for the first time, this sonic conceit taken to it’s most prog-logical conclusion by Rush, with the song “Cygnus X-1” from A Farewell To Kings. A Farewell To Kings, for what it’s worth, was released in 1977, so Camel gets to claim dibs.
This song is the goods: starts with some chimes and wind effects, then some Moog, then some super-Seventies doubling of the melodic line with the guitar and keyboard, the bringing back the flutter of cymbals, the jangly guitar chords, and the Allman-Brothers riffs from earlier, and genuinely taking all of that straight to outer space. Here the keyboard parts seem less pedestrian and more spacious; once the guitarist comes with his space rock solo about three-and-a-half minutes in and everything starts to boogie a bit for two or so minutes… something personal happens.
It sounds like music my friends and I made. Just a tiny bit. But oh, just enough. I have to stop what I’m doing.
I usually write and edit an essay with the music playing in the background, waiting for my unoccupied subconscious mind to pick out themes and musical references. And each time this part of this song came on I would go through a spiritual ritual that I have picked up through some books I’ve read; to wait for the fear and self-doubt to pass, I would say blessings for each one of them. Out loud. Five names, each a blessing, five times. By then, the song was back to the guitar and keyboard doubling, and I was back to normal.
The last time this happened was in the parking lot of a Burger King, stopping for
lunch in Nevada, MO. Blessings for all of them in the space boogie, down the Arabic scale of the guitar. Blessings for all of them.
BONUS TRIVIA: Rush would later do a song called “Earthshine”. It kinda blows.
5. “Lady Fantasy: Encounter/Smiles For You/Lady Fantasy”
How do you know it’s 1974? Because a band’s triple-titled, thirteen-minute song was their big hit. For both personal and musical reasons, it is to me an anticlimactic finish after “Earthrise”, but it also serves as a recap, stylistically, of the whole album you listened to so far; plenty of blusey guitar soloing; every timbre of keyboard sound gets reintroduced, and every guitar filter and effect gets reused; romance, space, and fantasy make a thematic statement again. After the lyrics”saw you sitting on a sunbeam/in the middle of my daydream”, the band closes out with one of my favorite rock flourishes of the album, with Seventies wah-wah fading out so the keyboard could have the last say(see, Brent? They did it, too…).
TRACKS TRIVIA: Yes, this is not The Seventies, so needless to say I have the Japanese version of the CD re-release of Mirage, with live bonus tracks. But the original album only had five tracks. Five wonderful and perfectly Seventies tracks. If you’ve never heard this album? Worth your time to give it a listen, if I have not already convinced you. If you have heard it? Bless you.