By Warren Kurtz
We celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock with flip sides from artists who performed at the festival and were featured in the film and triple album soundtrack.
“SOMETHING’S COMING ON” JOE COCKER
(flip side of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” November 1968)
Watching Joe Cocker in his tie-dyed T-shirt deliver emotion and power on The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” is one of the many key moments in the 1970 Woodstock documentary film. The studio version, featuring Jimmy Page’s electric guitar, was Joe Cocker’s first Top 100 single in the U.S., a version with growing popularity as FM rock stations evolved. Its flip side was a song included in the Woodstock set, but not on Joe Cocker’s debut album, called “Something’s Coming On.” It was co-written by Joe Cocker and Chris Stainton, who played keyboards and bass in his backup group, The Grease Band. The recording began with the lyrics, “Something’s coming on, don’t know what it is but it’s getting stronger. Feel it in my bones, hope you let it last a little longer.” Quickly, Joe shifted to a trademark growl on the next lines. The group Blood, Sweat & Tears were fans of this flip side and included it in their Woodstock set later the same day as Joe performed it and recorded a version of it for their third album in 1970.
“COMING INTO LOS ANGELES” ARLO GUTHRIE
(flip side of “Alice’s Rock & Roll Restaurant,”
For the film, Arlo Guthrie’s up-tempo opening folk rock number from his set was selected, “Coming into Los Angeles.” This was Arlo’s colorful tale of a flight from London to L.A. In the film, he ended his interview topically with, “Far out, man.” Arlo first received acclaim at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival with his 18-minute folk narrative, “Alice’s Restaurant,” based on a true story on how well intended trash removal led to an arrest for littering and made him ineligible for the Vietnam draft. The performance resulted in Arlo getting signed to Reprise, where the entire first side of his debut album, Alice’s Restaurant, was the full tale. At the end of the ’60s, after the Woodstock festival and before the 1970 film, Reprise tried to capture the essence of Arlo on a single. For the A-side, an up-tempo country-rock version of “Alice’s Restaurant” was recorded with Doug Kershaw on violin called “Alice’s Rock & Roll Restaurant.” It was basically the chorus of the anti-draft anthem repeated over and over for close to five minutes. The flip side was the studio version of “Coming into Los Angeles” from his Running Down the Road album.
“YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW” JOHN SEBASTIAN
(flip side of “Rainbows All Over Your Blues,” March 1970)
While Joe Cocker wore a tie-dyed T-shirt, John Sebastian sported an entire tie-dyed outfit of a jean jacket and pants for his five song set, which included three new solo songs followed by two from his Lovin’ Spoonful days. One of the new songs was his optimistic single “Rainbows All Over Your Blues.” The flip side of the single was “You’re a Big Boy Now,” the lone Lovin’ Spoonful remake on his solo debut album. This song, which debuted in 1966 as the title song for a Francis Ford Coppola comedy film, was given a simple treatment on this new recording with John singing and playing acoustic guitar as the sole instrument to showcase his composition. Like its A-side, this flip side was another encouraging song, with John telling the boy, “You’ve been prepared as long as time allows” and then, “the girls, they’re taking notice of you,” along with a bold promise, “love will make you strong as a team of wild horses.”
“HELPLESS” CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG
(flip side of “Woodstock,” March 1970)
There were plenty of music lovers, outside of the Northeast, who never heard of Woodstock in 1969 and first learned of it in the spring of 1970, through Joni Mitchell’s composition about the event, sung by her friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The single’s release coincided with the film’s debut, which would have an increased audience that summer at drive-in theaters. If anyone was curious as to, “Who is Young?,” this new addition to the established Crosby, Stills & Nash could be heard on the single’s flip side “Helpless,” with the opening line of high vocal notes, “There is a town in north Ontario,” a reflection of Neil Young’s country of birth, Canada. Like Joni Mitchell, he left Canada for California in the ’60s. He became a member of Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills. The gentleness of “Helpless” continued on his first U.S. Top 40 solo single later that year, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” Both “Woodstock” and “Helpless” were included on CSNY’s only studio album that decade, Déjà Vu.