19
May
13

Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

I’ve been aware of the band Traffic without knowing a thing about them for my entire adult life, so when I let the needle hit the vinyl and the room filled with aural imagery, I thought, wow, there’s probably a few experiences for me left in this fully lived life if I bother to open my mind and somehow come up with the money to pay for it all. Nowhere on this record is a date, but my sources tell me it was released in 1967 and was indeed the band’s first album. This is one of those album covers that open up, and inside there are a lot of pictures – what looks like a misconceived photo session with a jester, and then portraits of the band members. Dave Mason’s is the most pretentious of the four, sitting in a stark room, back to the camera, playing some instrument (he’s credited with sitar, tambura, shakkai, and “meletron” – as well as guitar, vocals, and “bass guitar.” The photos of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood are classic “hey girls!” dude-in-band pics. The fourth photo is uncredited, but process of elimination tells me it must be Steve Winwood; he’s in a meadow, an axe held high above his head, about to take a vicious swing at something just off camera – one might assume the art director, or jester, or perhaps Dave Mason.

The songwriting credit is spread around and the songs are all over the place, exercising show-off virtuosity while maintaining a whimsicality that pushes the message: “We don’t take ourselves all that seriously, we’re just having a good time! Though actually, you should take us seriously.” False starts, Cheech and Chong joint lighting sounds, wacky lyrics (“My bed is made of candy floss, the house is made of cheese”). Each song is a new adventure. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” steals that riff from the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe” – though, who knows where these things originated. Maybe Hendrix is Mr. Fantasy! We needn’t assume “Mr. Fantasy” means “drugs.” Though side two does start out with a song called “Dealer” –  a bit of a corny “south of the border” thing. The song “Coloured Rain” starts out sounding just like “Pinball Wizard” (which didn’t come out until a couple years later), but then it goes into a really nice, heavy saxophone, organ, and percussion dominated jam that’s my favorite thing on the album.

You’ve got to wonder about the name of the band, as I generally don’t think of “traffic” as something in any way good or unique. It would be kind of like naming your band “Headache.” Which I’m sure someone has done. I wonder if back in 1967 they thought of traffic differently, like how they would always have the photo of the huge highway “cloverleaf” in the grade school social studies books, like those were the coolest things ever, and not the ecological and aesthetic nightmares they are. Then again, there is drug “trafficking” – not to keep on about the drug references here. Oh, and the final thing – the album cover is a pretty remarkable photograph – and it’s one of those that opens up, so it’s like 24″ x 12″ – with a fire blazing in a brazier on the left side (or back) and the band members on the right, with candles in Chianti bottles. The band members are all looking at – seemingly in awe – in the middle of the photo – a guy sitting cross-legged with an acoustic guitar – and if I’m not mistaken, it’s “Papa” John Phillips! Now why would these guys, Traffic, put John Phillips on their album cover? Hey, this was The Sixties.

 

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