A diamond in the rough

By Tom MacIntosh

Cricklewood Green was the 4th studio album by English blues rockers Ten Years After, (TYA) released in 1970, it is a record typical of the druggy, trippy sounds of the day, with rousing guitar work by lead guitarist Alvin Lee on his semi-hollow body Gibson ES-335 ‘Big Red’ or his Heritage H-535. The record is perhaps their best studio recording worked over by sound engineer Andy Johns with effects and tricks that were new for the time, and keep this record clean and somewhat crisp from top to bottom.  

Founded in 1966, this band of Englishmen named the group in honour of Elvis Presley, Lee’s idol, 10 years after his most successful year in 1956. Cricklewood Green is a tasty collection of driving rock pieces starting off with two gems, Sugar on the Road, which sounds spacey at first then faraway drums emerge up close with Lee’s mercurial riffs and a bass groove that soar. Working on the Road is a chugging bluesy rock number that features not only brilliant work by the lead guitar and organ, but Ric Lees drum work propels the song to climactic heights. Track three 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain is classic psychedelica that floats on the TYA jam approach, which is intensely moody. “I want to know you, I want to show you, I want to grow you, inside of me. I want to see you I want to free you, I want to be you, inside of me; a trippy song ,definitive of the day. Things turn towards honky tonk-like country in Year 3000 Blues, where the band shows off their abundant talents with Leo Lyons on bass, and Chic Churchill on keyboards. This is a tidy little ditty much admired in the American south for its twang and giddyup!

Track 8, Me and My Baby showcases their jazz/swing chops to surprising delight, with Lyons ‘walking’ bassline, some delicious tickling of the ivories by Churchill, and Lee’s signature guitar work to round off the number. Love Like a Man hit #10 on U.K. singles chart and got a ton of FM radio airtime. The song is reminiscent of The Doors, with some excellent organ licks that built on a rolling rhythm section and a scorching series of solos by Lee that make this record perhaps their best ever. A ‘fun fact’ about this song is that it was the first record to have a song played in 2 speeds, a 3-minute 45rpm on one side, and an 8-minute version played at 33 rpms on the other, (the long one is on this album).  

The album closes with the hippy-like acoustic set on Circles, where you can practically smell the sweet ‘summer of loveincense in the air. As The Sun Still Burns Away, is another churning rocker built on the organ and guitar riff-off, and tops off this superb album.

Alvin Lee was considered by many the fastest lead guitarist of his day, with his lightning finger work on his crisp, disciplined solos. The record is a mixed bag of delights to put it simply; from blues/rock, to psychedelic, from country to jazzy hip-hop. It is a classic, a record  for your collection and one that would make space on any Christmas shopping list.