“Too late to talk about it”: Spirit – The Thirteenth Dream (1984)

Although their original line-up was together for just 3 years, Spirit are one of my favourite bands.  Now, while some chap named Jimmy Page might disagree, he was a big fan of their first album, and it is said that his walls were plastered with Spirit posters.  In fact, he liked them so much that he used Taurus as the blueprint for Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.  It’s not all that hard to see why folks like Spirit.  Here’s a band who drew a line between Love and The Doors.  Some incredible pop-rock numbers (like The Family That Plays Together’s I Got A Line On You), off kilter psychedelic shenanigans (Fresh Garbage) and jazz leanings (see Clear and the Model Shop soundtrack).  They were incredible.

However, it all went awry after Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus.  Although the album was a highlight – one of the most consistently inspired psychedelic rock albums of, well, of ever – the band just couldn’t survive.  California pursued a solo career, Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes formed Jo Jo Gunne, and John Locke and Ed Cassidy flew the Spirit flag for a while by recording the fairly pedestrian Feedback and touring for a bit.  Locke and Cassidy eventually called it quits (Locke going on to have a stint in Hawkwind before joining Nazareth) and Spirit was pretty much done.  After Epic rejected the follow-up to California’s brilliant Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, he put together a new Spirit and, alongside Cassidy, became the keeper of the flame.

There’s a good chunk of Spirit albums out there, but nothing was ever quite as inspired or fully realised as those first four albums.  Of course, the success of those was due to the musical chemistry the band had and the song-writing contributions of California, Ferguson and Locke (as well as his piano and keyboard flourishes).  Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty worthwhile cuts among the CassiFornia years, but the best of that can be found on the Mercury Years compilation (though there is also a bit of filler on there – par for the course with double CD sets, right?).

Although they had reformed for Further Along, it would be another couple of years before the original line-up would record together again… and, well, that’s the subject of this here post.  Hurrah! 1984’s The Thirteenth Dream (Spirit Of ’84 to friends in Canadaland and Americaland) is that reunion album and, well, it’s pretty much a ‘greatest hits’ collection for Mercury – some re-recordings of old favourites and three new tracks – penned by Ferguson and one with Randy California.  It’s a strange album, but I’ve been listening to this a fair bit over the last few weeks.

I guess the tracks to focus on here are the originals. Of those, Black Satin Nights stands out.  It’s unlike anything Spirit had recorded during their original run; it’s a straight-up 80’s rocker with a punchy hook and a great chorus.  Locke provides a nice bit of synth over the choppy guitar and, like I say, that chorus.  It’s easy to think of this as a rock radio hit and it’s familiar without sounding 80’s rockageneric.  It’s actually pretty brilliant and you’ll find yourself singing along.  Then before long you’ll be singing unaccompanied.  I dare say if Merury got behind it, Spirit could have had a hit on their hands.

The second new one is Pick It Up.  While it’s not a poor track, it does suffer from that rockgenericitus thing with it’s… well, actually, it’s just not very memorable or worthwhile talking about.  It’s pop rock by numbers and definitely not one of Ferguson’s best.  All Over the World, meanwhile, is a bit better, even if it’s a bit mnah.  Lyrically it’s all peace and love, but again it’s just not all that memorable and, like Pick It Up, it gets a bit repetitive.

On the other hand, the revisited ‘hits’ are fairly decent.  Well, mostly.  I guess they allow the band a chance to jam on tracks that they had fun playing during their initial run, while also seeing how they translate in the new slick digital world as slick 80’s rock numbers.  It also gives Mercury a bit of a pay day too, right?

thirteenth dream inner

Although not exactly brilliant, the slick pop-rockery of these versions of Mechanical World and Fresh Garbage are pretty enjoyable if unnecessary.   The most successful tracks are those that already illustrated Spirit’s pop-rock side (1984 and Mr. Skin, for example), but the seven minutes plus of this I Got A Line On You is a bit trying.  Unfortunately, it comes off sounding a tad laboured.  In fact, I dare say I’d sooner listen to Alice Cooper’s version.

So, like I say, I’ve had this on a few times over the last couple of weeks and I’ve been enjoying it. California is as great as always on the guitar, but it does feel as though the magic of this line-up is lost.  Maybe if they’d have spent a bit more time in the studio and collaborated on another 7 tracks rather than revisiting and restructuring tracks that were pretty much perfect there would have been a different trajectory for the band.  Especially if Mercury had got behind Black Satin Nights.  Or maybe not.

I guess my enjoyment of this one serves as a reminder that sometimes familiarity is all you need to enjoy music.

Next stop, the Sunset Highland Motel.

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30 Comments

    1. I’d recommend checking out The Family That Plays Together and Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus for further listening. You really can’t go wrong with either of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you memory, you saved me again. I bought “The Family That Plays Together” on the strength of that. Always liked the idea of cross-generational bands but after The Staple Singers and The Partridge Family I can only come up with Chicory Tip.

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      2. I honestly can’t think of many, either… The Carter Family and Tweedy are all that come to mind. Oh, and the current Van Halen line-up!

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    1. Nice to know Spirit got a nod on that list. I tend to think they’re often overlooked (likely the result of the post-Twelve Dreams stuff diluting the awesomeness of the first 4 albums).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A J Post….A J Post!
    Jimmy Page eh? Haha..someone squeezed his and Plant’s Lemon for a few dollars didn’t they?
    Good to see u back J…..

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    1. Cheers, Deke.

      Squeezed their Blind Lemon Jefferson, more like. But aye, the estate of Randy lost the case against those plagiarists!

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      1. Yeah, it’s difficult to come up with something original given the sheer amount of music out there…

        Though I find it hard to believe (especially with their previous form) that Page had never heard Spirit’s Taurus.

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    1. That’s the one with the Star Trek shenanigans, eh?

      Rapture In The Chambers is pretty good, thought the artwork would certainly put you off, and California Blues is actually worthwhile, too.

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  2. It is a very suspicious ploy, the re-recording of glory days songs. While saluting your efforts in positivity, I think my Spirited activities should focus on those early albums; I know them less well than they deserve.
    Quite interested in the ‘line between Love and The Doors’ framing too. Makes me wonder if that’s part of why I’ve never quite felt the Spirit – I’m not a big fan of either of those West Coast bands either. Thanks for a thought provoking post, J.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I may have undersold Spirit a bit here, to be honest. There’s more about those early albums than drawing a line between Love and The Doors. They rock, they roll, they have some really hazy freak-outs.

      I couldn’t recommend the first four albums enough. I really couldn’t. I know they got the reissue treatment not so long ago and, from what I understand, they’re really pretty great.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review J. My dad was really into Randy California’s solos stuff – did a real hard rock one called (from memory) ‘Childhood’s End’. Such an underrated band and such an underrated guitarist, he could just do it all.

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    1. Cheers, sir.

      Randy’s solo stuff is a bit patchy, but he is very underrated. Childhood’s End is a crackin’ track; definitely one of his better numbers.

      It didn’t get any better than Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, though. That’s a damn fine album.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t like Coop’s at all. Certainly not the version he cut in the early 90’s. That Blackfoot one was pretty interesting… a bit slower. I spotted a belter from the Jeff Healy Band on the YouTube while listening to Blackfoot.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hot damn! J.’s in the mix!

    Another band I keep meaning to get to, so I appreciate this as a primer. I have (at least) Sardonicus and Twirly Birds on LP, and I keep meaning to get to them… Bookmarking for when I do!

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  5. It always strikes me as so sad, but I think when something burns so brightly creatively, there’s inevitably going to be fall-out. I do love hearing where everyone goes post-split. It’s so interesting how they scatter, who goes into what, what other bands are born from the ashes. Rock n roll is pretty incestuous!

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