The top of the Billboard album chart in the early months of 1969 had something for everybody: the Beatles’ psychedelic flights on the White Album, Glen Campbell’s adult country/pop on Wichita Lineman, and a bit of supper-club Motown with the Supremes/Temptations TV soundtrack TCB. So its fitting that in that democratic season, jazz (of a sort) should get its moment at the top, too.
The first Blood Sweat and Tears album, Child Is Father to the Man, released in 1968, was a successful attempt to mix a big horn section with a rock band. It was an ambitious and elaborate brew of jazz, classical, and even psychedelic influences. While it was critically acclaimed, it didn’t produce a hit single. Founder Al Kooper left the band, which immediately retooled for album #2, Blood Sweat and Tears. The eventual Grammy winner for Album of the Year still gave the players a little room to stretch out, but the singles were edited to maximize the pop hooks and de-emphasize the jazz.
And what singles they were: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “And When I Die” all went to #2 on the pop chart in 1969, and were big hits on the easy-listening chart, too. All three were never off the radio for years thereafter. The voice of lead singer David Clayton-Thomas became one of the most familiar in pop music, at least for a while. Here he is with the band doing “Spinning Wheel” on TV in 1969.
Blood Sweat and Tears spent seven weeks at #1 in all. It first made it on March 29, 1969, stayed a week, was displaced by Wichita Lineman for a week, then spent two more weeks at the top in April. After a 13-week hiatus, it returned to the top for four more weeks in July and August.
That 13-week interval at #1 belonged to one landmark album that produced hit after hit, even though the hits it produced didn’t appear on it. And its impact went far beyond the radio and the record charts. The story will be in our next installment.