Why Johnny Rivers doesn’t have revered cult status like Lee Hazlewood, is beyond me. Starting his career in the mid 50′s and peaking in the mid 60′s with a slew of hits and live albums, that made the Whiskey a Go Go nightclub famous, he is a supreme interpreter of songs, many of his covers becoming the hit versions, as in the case of Memphis, Mountain of Love, Seventh Son, and perhaps the second best version of Tracks of my Tears. He has a unique, soulful voice that sometimes reveals his Louisiana roots and is a talented songwriter, co writing the classic, Poor Side of Town, his only number one record and a personal favourite of mine.
Realization from 1968, with its psychedelic album cover and Johnny’s new long hair and peace symbol look, saw him experimenting with more introspective songs as well as a collaborating with James Hendricks, songwriter and former member of the Mugwumps – a band that also included Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott, and John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky before they would find fame in the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
The album opens with an eerie cover of the classic, Hey Joe, followed by Look to Your Soul written by Mr. Hendricks, a great ballad with a classic late 60′s arrangement. Next, The Way We Live, a Rivers’ original, and though it’s anti-war theme seems a bit dated Rivers delivers a great vocal.
Summer Rain another Hendricks tune was the big hit single from the album, replete with storm sound effects and Beatles’ song name-dropping. He finishes the side going baroque with a cover of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale.
Side two opens with the Oscar Brown Jr. tune, Brother Where Are You?” which is soulful with great backing vocals. Next up is my fave on the album, a Rivers/Hendricks tune, Something Strange, another haunting ballad with a chill-inducing orchestral arrangement.
The album loses momentum with the next two tracks, the weakest on the LP – a cover of Scott “San Francisco” McKenzie’s What’s the Difference? and another Rivers’ original, Going Back to Big Sur with sadly dated hippie lyrics.
The album finishes with a fine cover of Dylan’s Positively 4th Street, with a fine vocal performance and some tasty dobro guitar. Rivers would continue to have hits like Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu in 1972 and Slow Dancing in 1977.