There was quite a bit of turbulence following Blood, Sweat & Tears after their debut Child Is Father to the Man, with Al Kooper, Jerry Weiss, and Randy Brecker all leaving the band. David Clayton-Thomas was hired to be the new lead singer, and the group decided for a more pop-oriented feel for their sophomore effort Blood, Sweat & Tears. It seems everything worked out fine, considering the record hit #1 on the US on this date in 1969 and was certified 4x platinum by the RIAA. Let’s take a closer look at the Album of the Year from the 1970 Grammys.
The band immediately shows their classical training with an adaption of Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies for “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie,” which features a lovely flute solo by the arranger Dick Halligan. Although the tune came as a shock to the listeners, it was an immediate demand by the group to be taken seriously. Traffic was a group that was already taken seriously, so BS&T next covered “Smiling Phases” off of Traffic’s Mr Fantasy. Unfortunately, this version tried to do way too much musically and ended up suffering. Since Steve Katz wrote it, Clayton-Thomas gave him the lead vocals to “Sometimes In Winter,” which was influenced by Tim Buckley. The song never gained the popularity as the band’s hits, but it’s a big fan favorite. Another weak track is “More and More,” which strains under the heavy brass arrangement (however, the live version is much better).
Thankfully, it’s followed up by another cover-this time, Laura Nyro’s classic “And When I Die,” which was turned into a mini-suite that encompassed many styles. The song hit #2 on the pop charts. Surprisingly, BS&T’s version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” didn’t hit the Top 40, despite the fact that it’s probably the band’s most well-known song. Side Two opens with another massive hit, Clayton-Thomas’ own “Spinning Wheel,” which peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts. It won a Grammy by itself in 1970 for Best Instrumental Arrangement.
A hit for Brenda Holloway in 1967, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” was really adapted by BS&T into their own style, thanks to the several keyboard fills. In the spring of 1969, the song hit #2 on the pop charts. The longest song on the record is the free jazz jam “Blues, Pt 2” which allows all members their time to shine. Don’t worry about missing the shoutout to “Sunshine of Your Love”-the horns will blast it in your face. Maybe to end the album on a soft note, a reprise of “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie” closes the record the same way it was opened.