The Anniversary Of Flight

Originally posted December 17, 2008

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was titled Men of Science or something like that. (It’s one of the few books from my childhood that has not stayed with me over the years, for some reason, so I’m not at all sure of the title.) I got it as a birthday present when I was eight, and it didn’t take me long at all to work my way through the biographies in the slender volume.

I recall reading the stories of Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, Guglielmo Marconi, Enrico Fermi and the Wright Brothers. I think that the book also had chapters on Henry Ford and on Pierre and Marie Curie, but I’m not certain. (There were some scientists missing, if I recall the book correctly. I’d think that chapters on Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and a few others should have been there but weren’t, if my memory is accurate.)

Beyond broadening a young boy’s knowledge (and the book was, I recall, aimed specifically at boys in a way that it might not be today), I think that one of the goals of the book’s authors was to guide its readers toward science and scientific thinking as a career. Well, to me at age eight, a life in science wasn’t all that attractive. But the book did make me think: I remember reading the entry on Marconi, which presented the inventor’s internal thoughts as he prepared to test his mechanism for sending and receiving radio waves. “How do they know what he thought?” I wondered. “Who told them that?” In other words, what was their source? I was being a editor.

The book came to mind as I looked at today’s date. It was 105 years ago today that Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first recorded powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (There are other claims to the Wrights’ achievement, says Wikipedia, but authorities favor the Wrights.) So it’s a good day for songs about flying.

A Six Pack of Flying

“Flying Sorcery” by Al Stewart from Year of the Cat, 1976

“Flying” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy, 1971

“Learning To Fly” by Pink Floyd from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987

“Come Fly With Me” by Wild Butter from Wild Butter, 1970

“Flying High” by Country Joe & the Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

“Fly Baby Fly” by the Main Ingredient from Bitter Sweet, 1972

A few notes:

When it came out in 1976, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat was one of those LP’s that for a year or so was never far from my turntable. Like most U.S listeners, I was unfamiliar with the native of Glasgow, Scotland, until then, but the songs on Year of the Cat – melodic, filled with historic and cultural allusions and produced remarkably well by Alan Parsons – made me a fan. While I like the title song immensely, “Flying Sorcery” is, for those very reasons – the combination of melody, intelligent lyric and pristine production – my favorite Stewart track.

It Ain’t Easy was the album that helped Long John Baldry become lots more hip than he ever had been, at least in England, where he was well known as a folk-blues singer who had drifted over the years to the middle of the road. In the U.S., I would guess, he wasn’t known much at all. But 1971’s It Ain’t Easy – with Rod Stewart producing the first side of the LP and Elton John producing the second – brought Baldry back to attention in the U.K. and into the U.S. spotlight for the first time. The opening track, “Conditional Discharge/Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock & Roll,” was a staple of FM radio in the early Seventies. “Flying” was a track from the second side of the album, and Elton John’s work on both piano and organ are good, but to me, the long track works because of the byplay between Baldry and the background singers, led by Lesley Duncan, a studio stalwart in Britain in those years.

“Learning to Fly” is a track from Pink Floyd’s 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. A single edit was released and spent eight weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 that October and November, peaking at No. 70.

Anything I know about Wild Butter, I learned from Leonard at the blog Redtelephone66. When he posted Wild Butter’s self-titled 1970 album last February, Leonard wrote:

“Wild Butter was started in 1970 by drummer/lead singer Rick Garen and keyboard player Jerry Buckner. Garen had previously been in the Collection and recorded a demo called ‘Little Man.’ Former Rogues member Jerry was impressed and got Eric Stevens, WIXY program director and manager of Damnation of Adam Blessing, interested as well. Stevens took it to New York and after a week or two Buckner got a call saying the band had a LP recording deal with United Artists, only there was no band, yet, although UA didn’t know that. ‘Put a band together’ was the request [,] and Rick and Jerry talked to their Akron peers and found Jon Senne’ (guitar) and Steve Price (bass) willing to get on board. Wild Butter played a month or so before recording the LP at Cleveland Recording. ‘Little Man’ was not done, but a whole LP was, including excellent songwriting contributions from everyone. Considering the short time the band had to work up the songs, the high level of writing, musicianship, and vocals are amazing, and the LP is certainly a lost treasure of 1970 contemporary unpretentious melodic rock.”

One of the Rolling Stone album guides said something to the effect that in 1967, any self-respecting hippie had to own a copy of Electric Music For The Mind And Body. Given the number of vinyl copies of the album I’ve seen over the years in used music stores and pawnshops and at garage sales, that might be correct. “Flying High,” the album’s opening track, represents pretty accurately the ethos of the album and the group and most likely most young folks in California in 1967.

“Fly Baby Fly” is a nice bit of light pop-soul from the Main Ingredient’s Bitter Sweet album, the same album that included “Everybody Plays The Fool,” which went to No. 3 in 1972.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

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