No. 25: ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’

it's a beautiful day psychedelic music albumDavid Laflamme doesn’t want you to buy his classic psychedelic album, “It’s a Beautiful Day.”

Not that the CD can be found on any old record store shelf. Decades of lawsuits and hostility have combined to send this FM staple underground, with prices for “It’s a Beautiful Day” currently topping out at about $100 on online retail sites.

A curious fate for an album so ubiquitous in the dimming of the hippie era, soaring on the wings of its famous opener, “White Bird.”

The singer/violinist Laflamme, in fact, has said he doesn’t even like playing “White Bird.” But he dislikes Matthew Katz a whole lot more.

Katz was the San Francisco music manager behind Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and Laflamme’s group, It’s a Beautiful Day. Decades of litigation followed Katz’s hippie era machinations, with the careers of Moby Grape and Beautiful Day basically destroyed by the resulting nastiness. There’s lots to be read online about these epic legal bummers … but we hear the music calling.

“It’s a Beautiful Day” plays rough here and there, but for the most part it’s psychedelic lite, a 4 a.m. chill. The forward-looking touches of world music ring true enough these days. The LP’s influence no doubt extended as far as Dead Can Dance (and its demon spawn). Yet the overwrought singing, awkward classical musical interludes and hippy-dippy lyrics betray the work’s 1960s roots. In any case, the album has been going in and out of style over the past 40 years.

The band It’s a Beautiful Day was a late bloomer out of the psychedelic boomtown that was San Francisco. Laflamme was there at the beginning of West Coast psychedelia, a fixture on the hippy scene. The former symphony orchestra violinist played with all of the heavy Bay area bands. He helped form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, bringing echoes of the great Stéphane Grappelli to the acoustic band’s mix of gypsy jazz, swing and roots music.

Laflamme’s own band was formed in San Francisco in the summer of love, but got its start in Seattle, playing a residency at the Encore Ballroom, at Katz’s insistence. The song “White Bird” came out of these days, when the band had little but a place to stay — the attic of an old Victorian mansion.

“We were like caged birds in that attic,” Laflamme says. “We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable.”

The “White Bird” line “the leaves blow across the long black road to the darkened sky and its rage” came from the view Laflamme and his (first) wife Linda had looking out the window.

After returning to SF, the band got its break opening for Cream on its Farewell tour. The year later, Laflamme and co. etched their music onto vinyl.

The debut album “It’s a Beautiful Day” was released on Columbia in 1969. While neither the album nor the single, “White Bird,” were smash hits, the records performed respectably and their popularity grew over the decade. “White Bird,” sung by Laflamme and Pattie Santos, became an FM radio staple (and cliche).

“White Bird” and “Hot Summer Day” open the album with a mid-tempo groove that holds up beautifully for the most part, but the songs do suffer from some dated passages. Sonically, both songs offer mystery and revelation.

It’s hard to hear “White Bird” with new ears, but notice how Laflamme keeps his powder dry, introducing his bowed violin only at the 1:35 mark. The Spanish/Django guitar gives the song a sophistication rare for the time.

“Hot Summer Day” features lovely call-and-response vocals, with Santos and Laflamme both evoking the vocals of Martin Balin. Linda’s B-3 organ provides the undercurrent. An understated bit of wah-wah reminds us we’re in psychedelic waters.

Alas, “Wasted Union Blues” and “Girl With No Eyes” kill the buzz — the former a crappy heavy rocker and the latter a baroque piddle with harpsichord. With better songs here, “It’s a Beautiful Day” could have been a masterpiece.

The heart of the matter can be found on side 2, in the “Eastern” trilogy.

The wordless “Bombay Calling” proves exotic and rhythmically sophisticated. Seemingly effortless, it’s a Lear Jet flyby of a foreign land. (This was the song copped by Deep Purple for “Child in Time.”)

If “Bombay” evokes the bustle and spirit of India, then the song into which it fades, “Bulgaria,” brings us to the darker places. Laflamme and Santos finally find their own way as a vocal team on this ghostly track, singing as if in trances — setting aside the Jefferson Airplane template.

Then we’re galloping off to “Time Is,” a 10-minute freakout and showcase for the band that recalls Zappa and, well, “Time Has Come Today.” Unfortunately there’s a ’60s drum solo and a line about “even flowers must die” but the song gets back on track before wrapping this outstanding trilogy in a heart-stopping flash.

Comments

  1. Squirrel says:

    It’s a Beautiful Day was released in 1969. I listened to it long before I ever smoked pot, and I first did that on New Year’s Eve, 1969.

    As for the songs panned here — it isn’t likely that the author heard the album for the first time when he was on acid, spacing out on op-art dayglo posters, surrounded by burning candles and lifted by a cloud of incense and hashish, or he would have nothing negative to say about the psychedelic power of the album, either in part or as a whole.

    No offense, but Girl With No Eyes is absolutely mind-blowing on psychedelics. So is Wasted Union Blues. Time Is is nothing like Time Has Come Today if you are stoned out of your gourd, either.

    The albums following this album pretty much fell flat, although some songs were marginally entertaining. Mostly corny sounding, as David LaFlamme’s dramatic vocal renditioning sounds entirely bored, one album after the other. Linda LaFlamme apparently was the cosmic spark that left the band after this album.

    I would have this album somewhere in the top 10, probably ahead of Sgt. Peppers for pure tripping power.

    Wheels of Fire and Happy Trails should be somewhere in this list. A very nice website. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Squirrel, for the correction on the date, I must have been tripping.

    Probably did hear the album for the first time whilst high on this or that, can’t recall what I thought of those two songs then. Now, meh. I remember loving “Bombay Calling,” for sure.

    I do think “It’s a Beautiful Day” has gotten a bum rap over the years; it is a much better album than reported out by critics like Robert Christgau, who trashed it.

    “Wheels of FIre” and, especially, “Happy Trails” definitely make the psychedelic albums list.

    Thanks for the suggestions and feedback, hope you’ll be back with more ace comments like these.

  3. I just loved the cover at first, man,, but also bought the first King Crimson album for the purple and blood screaming cover . . . you can still find a pretty good copy of the cover and vinyl LP in the music listening room at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I last listened thru headfones back in 2007 – straight as an arrow, man; this album STILL freaks me out!

  4. I still to this day when I hear IABD played can remember how absolutely dead-still the world became, and then became a much more stellar world, worth living in, joy born where none existed before.

    It just burns me up that a band this talented got shafted beyond belief.

  5. Rusty Suender says:

    I’ve been a big fan of It’s A Beautiful Day since I first heard the album” Marrying Maiden”. It brings me back to the 1970′s when I went to college up near Stowe Vermont (Johnson State College). The gang I hung out with turned me onto the LP one day when we were all tripping on acid and smashed out of our minds on wine (along with Vermont Cabot and grapes). The song “Essence Of Now” and “Searching For The Dolphins” were absolutely my favorites. I wished I could’ve seen them in concert.

  6. MUCHO thanks for posting this clip! I’m only 45, so I’ve had to educate myself over time about the vast history of Pop — including the ’60s explosion(s).
    One of the most jaw-dropping records I’ve ever heard (and one of the best debuts) was this gem … simply incredible, and I place it alongside the Airplane and Moby Grape for pure Cali sweetness. I’m writing up the LP for my current blog post — trying to turn on more folks to it … whatever came after, THIS initial record is a mind-bender!

  7. I was at U of I in Urbana Il in the 1970s. Heard these guys. I did various psychodelics, and must have heard them. yes, the lyrics are hippie-dippie, and there is a lot of pretentious blather. But the violin is good. I also THINK I remember seeing them live in Chicago in maybe 1972, but the memory is really hazy — I was probably fairly high on something — the venue was really weird, and I remember little. Good memories tho.

  8. I do love this LP and would recommend anyone to get a copy of this one and Marrying Maiden. However I still do agree in part with the initial review of the LP. It does get a bit hippy dippy dated at times. However, It’s just as well I like all that and can see through it. Fortunately the slightly awkward hippy moments dont dominate the debut LP and they dont destroy the overall atmosphere of what afterall is a great LP. I first heard it in the Greek Islands ! It was my holiday mates ( a group of great Greek Hippies ) that played the LP every night at sunset ! loved it ! As English wasnt theirf first language they didnt notice the odd lyrical blunder ! Overall though a great LP with a great great great cover . Worth getting the record version as well as the CD !

    • Ed — I wonder what younger listeners make of this record. Always worth revisiting, especially at sunset. Maybe I’ll try that in the Fla. Keys next week …

  9. It seems like yesterday when I saw them for the first time . Wow this clip brings back good feelings and good times !!!

  10. What happened to the alboms between the 1st and the maiden I remember having 3 but not the maiden?Anyone remember the names thought 1 was its a big bad beautiful Day.

  11. Peter O`Connor says:

    How can anyone not love IABD? I saw them live in a gymnasium at St John Fisher College back in the day. They opened for the Allman Brothers with Duane and this is no shit after that show ended all people were talking about was It`s A Beautiful Day. Incredible! Sincerely Peter

    • Funny which bands are remembered and which are more or less forgotten. Back then, they were all new to us. And so acts like Terry Reid, Sweetwater, PG&E, Arthur Brown were routinely smoking what are now the name-brand bands. (I once saw John Lee Hooker follow Hendrix and make him look like a clown.) Thanks for the comment, Peter.

  12. Jack Hopkins says:

    That first album is the best with Marrying Maiden second. I heard “White Bird” straight in the early 70s, played nightly on the local fm station that turned hip at night after 7 pm. It seems like it holds up well today, despite a few hippie references. What I want to know is what is the “odd lyrical blunder” one poster mentioned?

  13. david wasserman says:

    I have loved this album from 1st time I ever heard it, play it often, and never get tired of it! It inspires me, comforts me, takes me back to ‘those thrilling days of yesteryear.’ To me, the entire album works, is treasured, not a false moment in it for me…

    even saw IABD a few years ago play in small church to about 300 people in san diego…

  14. Aquaria says:

    I’m one of the people who came to this because one of my parents was a total hippie. My mother was a Frank Sinatra and Elvis square. Where they agreed was on things like no TV, reading books, healthy food, and this album.

    I spent way, way, way too many evenings having this album forced on me, with no escape. How dare I try to avoid “family” time?! And then there were the car trips. There was no escape.

    So when my parents divorced right after I was out of high school, my dad taking his IABD 8-track with him, I thought I was finally–FINALLY–free of that sound. Then one day, I was floating around Youtube, and saw IABD featured on that dumb sidebar while I was watching Maru videos (go figure). For laughs, I clicked on it, and now the music won’t let me go.

    I actually got a sentimental tear when I heard the familiar strains of White Bird again. I’m back in our living room with this album on the sideboard-sized stereo, a fire blazing, my brothers playing a card or board game around the old shipyard cargo plank that we used for a coffee table (yes, seriously), my mother doing macrame, my dad getting stoned out of his mind, and me reading a book in the hanging wicker cocoon chair that we never got around to hanging, so it sat on the floor. You’d have to be careful when you were using it, because it would flip over if you weren’t careful.

    Yeah, we were a weird, groovy hippie back to basics family. And I’m damned glad of it!

    I listen to the album all the time now, and realize why my parents liked it so much. It’s really a crazy, wonderful sound, like nothing else. And that’s a good thing, when music has gone so cookie-cutter lately.

    Oh–and my 25-year-old son came by one day, and I had IABD playing on my iPod dock. He stopped, cocked his head, and then looked to me. “What is that?”

    “It’s a Beautiful Day. Why?”

    “I like it! Why haven’t you played that before?”

  15. John Davison says:

    David was content to sell copies of this CD at his Chislehurst UK concert in August 2013, amongst several others and a vinyl album.

  16. Hi all: I disagree with the statements made about Girl With No Eyes and Wasted Union Blues. I love this entire album. Sure, it’s dated. Most albums from this era are dated. But most albums from this era also evoke great memories, happy thoughts and a belief that with a little effort, we can change the world for the better.

  17. Michael Lannes says:

    I saw them in Concert at the Los Angeles Collisium as an opening act for Jetro Tull.

  18. Rapewta says:

    This LP got a whole lot of spin time on the turntable. It is really good music that fit in perfectly for the time period. I can remember many times when someone who tell me the story about the first time they heard “White Bird” and the impact it had on their senses. Me included.

    Of course, I picked up the following LP but like a lot of groups, the continued offerings did not match the quality of the previous release. No matter. I still listen to this LP today and would argue that it belongs in the top ten all time psychedelic music list.

  19. Smoke Rings says:

    Brilliant album for what it is. Saw them live in 1972 and they came over to our house and partied after the show. Everyone except Pattie Santos. Wild night with some people dancing on tables. They were a good show.

    I also saw Zappa and the Mothers, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, the Dead, Airplane, Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Vanilla Fudge, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Young Rascals, Yes, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, BB King, John Lee Hooker and the Doors among others in that era.

    Looking back the Doors, Stones and Sly were the most dynamic live band shows with James Brown being recognized as a stand alone genius of a musical performer. All the others including IABD were very entertaining and good concert fun at the time. How one ranks their music depends on taste and that’s a very personal choice.

    For me, the “It’s a Beautiful Day” album takes me to a very certain place, a place I cherish even more as time goes on.

  20. Steve Corbin says:

    I’m 61 years old. IABD is my favorite band this side of the Beatles. My favorite activity is hang gliding, for 37 years now. Before I fly, I make sure to listen to IABD so that their music is firmly implanted in my brain while I’m flying.

    Over many years of soaring above the hustle and bustle of earthbound life, hearing “Hot Summer Day at Carnegie Hall” ringing in my brain, I know for a fact that this is some of the best music ever made, a wonderful influence of Beethoven and Mozart on rock’n’roll. I can only hope to someday meeting David and shaking his hand, and telling him face to face how much Joy his compositions have given me for all these years.

    I’ll fight anyone that disagrees with me.

Trackbacks

  1. Past Daily says:

    […] It’s A Beautiful Day were one of those bands that epitomized the San Francisco Sound in the late 1960s. Having been associated with and often on the same bill with The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother & The Holding Company, it would only seem natural they would achieve the same level of recognition and popularity. […]

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