Saturday, January 30, 2010

Traffic: Mr. Fantasy

Today’s feature album is Traffic’s debut LP: Mr. Fantasy, which was released in late 1967. The title cut (more or less) “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is our lead cut. If the voice sounds familiar, it is Steve Winwood, who had an illustrious solo career in the 1980s as well as being the front man for the Traffic, Blind Faith, the Spencer Davis Group, and Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

While not their best album and a little more eclectic than their later recordings, the “Mr. Fantasy” LP has some nice gems that we will also feature. The song “Dear Mr. Fantasy” features harmonica, but in remains uncredited on the album, so I am not sure which one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists are playing it. It could be Winwood, Mason, or Wood. I am leaning towards Chris Wood being the purveyor of the mouth organ, but alas, I cannot be sure of this.

The UK Version of the Album Cover featuring all four members

I became aware of Traffic and their music when Jim Roach on WDVE highlighted a three hour show dedicated to their music. I believe that Traffic was one of the first groups I heard him feature and was able to capture with my new AM/FM/Cassette player that I got for Christmas 1972. I taped this special and listened to it religiously. During the next several months, I found this and their second LP, “Traffic,” in a cutout bin in a F.W. Woolworths. I bought them both and soon was fully appreciating the talents of this band.

Like many albums that originated in Britain, American record companies often tinkered with the covers, album names, and track listing. When United Artist became the American licensee of this recording, the psychedelic cover featuring the lineup at the time of the recording on the cover as released in the UK was scrapped for a more conventional photo shot of the band’s lineup at the time of the release. Dave Mason, who appears on the album, left the band in 1967, and only Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi appear on the cover.

Mason would join the band for the Traffic LP and exit again only to rejoin a third time for the tour that produced the 1971 LP, “Welcome to the Canteen.” In addition to the cover change, UA management decided to rename the LP as “Heaven is in Your Mind” after another one of the tracks.

First US release sans Dave Mason under the temporary new title

Heaven is in your Mind

In time, United Artists reverted back to the original title, but keeping the photo of the band used on the previous incarnation of the album.

Second version of the US release that reverted to the original album title

The American release also featured a different line up of tracks and, unusual for a US release, more songs than the UK version. The US version had 12 songs versus the UK version with 10. This was unlike Beatles recordings that had less cuts than their British counterparts – most of which were issued under different album titles.

Notably added to the mix were two British singles that were not part of the UK LP release: “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe.” Previously unreleased in the US, these classic Traffic hits were now presented to the American buying public. “Paper Sun,” released in May 1967, peaked in the UK at #5. The US version also included “Hole in My Shoe” and its flipside “Smiling Phases.” This single was released in August topped the British charts at #2.

Paper Sun

Hole in My Shoe

If all of the LP’s songs were available on YouTube, I would have provided a YouTube playlist. Because they are not, I’ll leave you with one of the album’s ballads, “No Face, No Name, No Number.”

No Face, No Name, No Number

1 comment:

  1. It was Dave Mason who played the harmonica (along with the bass guitar) on "Dear Mr. Fantasy."