Rotary Connection

Rotary Connection

The first Rotary Connection album is one of the most unprecedented, influential, and gloriously bonkers records of the late '60s, an era not lacking in out-there albums. Its origins are as unexpected as everything else about it —Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records cofounder Leonard, decided the legendary Chicago blues label needed to move with the times. He assembled a group led by composer/arranger Charles Stepney featuring multiple vocalists including future solo star Minnie Riperton. The multiracial (in itself notable for the time) ensemble, egged on by cowriter Chess, created a dizzying, kaleidoscopic mix of rock, soul, pop, classical, choral gospel, and psychedelic strangeness, shot through with electronic experimentalism and Eastern exotica. Rotary Connection's 1967 debut, a surprise success, made them famous for completely reinventing hits of the day in a startling collision of styles. The Rolling Stones' folkish "Lady Jane" opens with an orchestral fantasia (courtesy of the Chicago Symphony no less) punctuated by inventive, world-exploring percussion. Electric harpsichord and strings bring a baroque-pop feel to the Sam & Dave smash "Soul Man," while electronic effects make the vibe on The Lovin' Spoonful's "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" both spaced-out and outer-spacey. Chess reimagined The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" as a sort of sci-fi church hymn, playing crazed theremin over ecclesiastical-sounding organ and Latin mass-style vocals. Unencumbered by preconceived structures, the originals are even wilder and weirder. In years to come, the approach pioneered on Rotary Connection would be a key influence on prog rock, ‘70s R&B, and more.

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