The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more peruse previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This edition we discuss Poco’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces.
For those not up to snuff on their music history, Poco is a Southern California country rock group considered to be the pioneers of the country rock genre. The group was founded by Jim Messina and Richie Furay after the Buffalo Springfield band disbanded back in 1968. The original intention was to create a new group with pedal steel guitar player Rusty Young with whom they’d done Furay’s Buffalo Springfield tune “Kind Woman”. The original line-up consisted of Messina (guitar and vocals), Furay (guitar, 12-string guitar and vocals), Young (steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar and piano), Randy Meisner(bass, guitar and vocals) and George Grantham (drums and vocals).
Their premiere platter was recorded in 1969 and was titled Pickin’ Up the Pieces. The name referenced the break-up of Buffalo Springfield and was one of the earliest examples of country rock. The 13-track album opens with a brief introductory track by Furay titled “Foreword”.
It’s followed by the first full song on the LP “What a Day” which is perhaps the listener’s first exposure to Furay’s song writing talents. “Nobody’s Fool” is next and this, too, is a Furay composition. Next is the only collaborative cut by the founders—Furay and Messina and composer Skip Goodwin. It’s titled “Calico Lady”.
The recording once again focuses on Furay’s solo songs with “First Love” which is perhaps slightly overshadowed by “Make Me a Smile” which is co-composed by Furay and Messina. This also provides further evidence of what the band’s founding fathers were capable of having worked together for quite some time prior to this.
The next two tracks are again Furay pieces; the first being “Short Changed”. While some of these songs back to Furay’s stint in Buffalo Springfield the next track was not. His song “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” was not only the title track and “first Poco-intended” tune but was also the first track ever recorded by the band. Furay recalls: “(I)t summarized the attitude we wanted to convey in our music: good, wholesome & positive.”
The next number is noteworthy as being the only track written by Young. Titled “Grand Junction” it had an identity all its own. It is followed by the final Furay-Messina collaboration “Oh Yeah” which also is the longest cut included here although it really isn’t all that noticeable coming in at just a bit over 4 minutes.
The band inserts but one more Furay solo composition. It’s called “Just in Case It Happens, Yes Indeed”. It is—to some fans and critics alike—all too quickly followed by the first of two Furay-Goodwin songs the tuneful “Tomorrow” and the apt closing cut “Consequently, So Long”.
Shortly before the record hit the racks the band would go through a radical roster change. Meisner was asked to leave due to an upset over his being excluded from the final mix playback sessions. Only Furay and Messina would handle production. Meisner’s bass and backing vocals were kept in the mix but George Grantham’s lead vocals would be used in place of Meisner’s on the finished tapes and his image on the album cover was replaced with that of a dog.
Released on the Epic label on May 19, 1969 with a running length of nearly 23 minutes the record would reach number 63 on the Billboard album chart. The titular single, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”, would not achieve commercial success. It has, however, gone on to be considered “instrumental in the creation of the then new genre country rock”. The project would go on to be re=released with the addition of a previously unreleased alternate take of “Do You Feel It Too”.
Even though the album was subsequently reduced to a 4-star rating in a 1983 Rolling Stone publication it still remains a seminal release. The truth is Pickin’ Up the Pieces/Epic BXN-26460 was actually an excellent mix of Beatles-inspired harmony, beat and melody along with country and western’s then fresh, un-tapped rock possibilities. While the band would later eke out the hit song “Crazy Love”, this disc was indeed their finest moment.
Perhaps Furay himself said it best when he said: “We were innovators, pioneering the way for a whole new ‘Southern California sound’ that many groups who followed would capitalize on.”
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.