Of all publications, the Wall Street Journal keeps the spirit of 1960s music alive with its "Anatomy of a Song" feature in the newspaper's excellent Arena section, which runs each Friday.
A few weeks ago, the WSJ talked to former Jefferson Airplane/Starship singer Gracie Slick about the creation of "White Rabbit."
On Friday, Steppenwolf's John Kay and Michael Monarch talk about the writing and recording of "Magic Carpet Ride," a more groundbreaking song than I realized. Released in 1968, the song was one of the first with an extended segment of guitar distortion, as ace WSJ reporter Marc Myers notes.
Thus Steppenwolf set the stage for later heavy metal bands. Although some would view this as a dubious achievement, it's impressive in its own right. Kay's raw lyrics are nowhere near Bob Dylan's or Lennon/McCartney's, but they effectively complement the music.
While I was the classic rock snob in the '60s, I always liked Steppenwolf. Even now when "Magic Carpet Ride" or "Born to Be Wild" plays on my Sirius/XM '60s station, I feel a rush of joy.
Kay in his retrospective about the song makes clear that the band despite its druggy outlaw image was disciplined, innovative and ambitious. The band developed a distinctive sound that was more sophisticated than many other rock acts.
Plus, they got their name from a band member who had read Herman Hesse's 1927 novel "Steppenwolf."
That brought back memories of my Hesse phase, when I read all of the German writer's dreamy metaphysical novels. I remember few details today, but the books' atmosphere remains with me: rain-swept medieval cities, young heroes embarking on quests seeking enlightenment, teachers who impart secret knowledge.
By the way, Kay says he didn't write "Magic Carpet Ride" after taking acid. He says the song was inspired by the improved stereo system he was able to buy after "Born to Be Wild" rose to the top of the charts.