Lee Michaels – Recital (1968)

frontcover1After a somewhat uneven debut album, Lee Michaels found his footing on this record. Michaels, a keen student of R&B as well as classical music, was obviously able to wrangle a bit more artistic control at A&M, and it shows. Overdubs of piano, harpsichord, and organ by Michaels created a wonderful sonic depth, and along with John Barbata’s solid drumming, the result is staggering. Michaels was not exactly a singer/songwriter, but on this record, songs such as “Blind” and “Fell in Love Today” find a real voice for his R&B leanings. The record also contains the fabulous single “If I Lose You,” which should have been a Top 40 hit. In the end, Recital is a very funky pop album that was ahead of its time. (by Matthew Greenwald)

RECITAL is Lee Michaels second album, released on vinyl as A&M SP 4152. There are still some guitar solos, but this time out Lee is in the foreground playing harpsichord, organ and piano while belting out blues vocals with uptempo percussion. “Spare Change” is an instrumental experiment which is fascinating. Other great cuts are “The War,” “Grocery Soldier” and “If I Lose You.” This one was more of a critical than commercial success, but definitely worthwhile.(by an amazon customer)

Truth be told, this isn’t my favorite Lee Michaels production. In fact, it’s not even in second or third place. I’d rank Lee’s best to be ‘Fifth’, followed by his self-titled third album, followed by ‘Live’, a two disc vinyl release. That being said, how many 1960’s lee-michaelsartists made effective, prolific use of the harpsichord? Only an odd guy named Lurch who sat behind the pearly whites once a week comes to mind. Still, it’s the presence of the harpsichord and occasional piano displacing Lee’s compelling Hammond B3 organ runs that lowers my opinion of this, Lee’s sophomore effort from 1968. When I’m in the mood for some Lee Michaels, I’m in the mood for some thick, solid, boisterous organ propping up Lee’s wailing, bluesy vocals.

On the upside, Lee probably hits deeper notes with his lyrics on this release than he typically does. In fact, the flaming anti-Vietnam War rhetoric from ‘The War’ is some of the most scathing and provoking imagery of the era. Consider “How would you like to spend five years in jail for refusing to fight the war… How would you like to watch a baby burn, could you march on and kill one more?” The second track, ‘Time Is Over’ presents an appealing chorus of “Look at your wishes, remember they’re all that remain, and you will learn to love all of your fantasies”. Lee’s soulful, overdubbed wails accompany the lyrics over light and fragile harpsichord runs. Another lyrical coup is scored, oddly enough, on the 42 second blip known as ‘What Can He Do?’, which questions how a plain clothes cop can cope when “the whole world’s out on bail”? (Don Schmittdiel)


Lee Michaels in 1971

John Barbata (drums)
Frank Davis (drums)
Larry Knechtel (bass)
Drake Levin (guitar)
Lee Michaels (keyboards, vocals, bass)


01. If I Lose You (Marks/Michaels) 2.21
02. Time Is Over (Michaels) 3.34
03. No Part Of It (Michaels) 2.11
04. Fell In Love Today (Michaels) 1.54
05. Blind (Michaels) 2.53
06. Grocery Soldier (Michaels) 2.32
07. What Can He Do (Michaels) 0.42
08. Basic Knowledge (Michaels) 3.29
09. Gonna Leave (Michaels) 2.24
10. The War (Michaels) 3.15
11. Spare Change (Michaels) 7.25



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Lee Michaels – Carnival Of Life (1968)

FrontCover1An eclectic singer, songwriter, and performer, Lee Michaels made music that had the physical impact of hard rock, the creative ambition of psychedelia and progressive rock, and the passion and grit of rhythm & blues, the latter facet reinforced by Michaels’ vocals, which could swing from sweet to soulfully gritty at a moment’s notice. Michaels was also a gifted keyboard player, and often played full concerts at the organ with only a drummer to accompany him. (Michaels was also a sure hand at the piano and harpsichord.) One could argue that Michaels’ wide-ranging sound was one of the reasons he didn’t enjoy greater commercial success despite the loyalty of his audience, though Michaels did enjoy a Top Ten hit in 1971 with “Do You Know What I Mean.”

Lee Eugene Michaels was born on November 24, 1945, in Los Angeles, California. By the mid-’60s, Michaels was already a fixture on the California music scene; he was playing keyboards with the Sentinels, a surf rock band with an R&B influence that also featured LeeMichaelsJohn Barbata (who later played with the Turtles), and he wrote a tune that appeared on the debut album of the sunshine pop band the Holy Mackerel (featuring songwriter and media personality Paul Williams). Michaels later moved on to play in the band the Strangers, led by future Canned Heat guitarist Joel Scott Hill. Michaels soon bowed out of the Strangers, and his tenure in the Family Tree, a San Francisco band featuring future power pop icon Bob Segarini, was also short-lived, though Michaels opted to stay in the Bay Area. In time, Michaels struck out as a solo artist, and he landed a record deal with A&M Records, which released his debut album, Carnival of Life, in 1968. The psychedelic-influenced effort produced only marginal sales, and Michaels returned with the tougher-sounding Recital before the year was out.

Musically, Michaels hit his stride with his self-titled third album, released in 1969, which paired him with drummer Barry “Frosty” Smith and featured “Heighty Hi,” which became an FM radio staple, and Michaels’ signature cover of “Stormy Monday.” Frosty became Michaels’ on-stage foil, and his super-amped organ setup and Frosty’s drumming made for a power duo with enough muscle to share stages with the leading hard rock acts of the day. Michaels built his own studio in his home, and used the space to record 1970’s Barrel, which featured him, Frosty, and guitarist Drake Levin in a set of funky and topical hard rock. For 1971’s Fifth, Michaels recruited Joel Larson to play drums in Frosty’s absence, and while the album wasn’t one of his most ambitious, a white soul number with a solid groove, “Do You Know What I Mean,” connected with radio programmers and gave Michaels the biggest hit of his career, rising to number six on the singles chart.

LeeMichaels2The success of Fifth and “Do You Know What I Mean” made Lee Michaels a genuine rock star, but his next album didn’t connect with his new fans; 1972’s Space & First Takes was dominated by a pair of semi-improvised extended jams (each in the neighborhood of 15 minutes) that found Michaels swapping his keyboards for a guitar. The album brought tensions between Michaels and A&M to a head, and by the end of 1972 Michaels gave the label Lee Michaels Live, a concert set recorded in New York that fulfilled his commitments to the label. Michaels promptly signed a new deal with Columbia Records, but neither 1973’s Nice Day for Something or 1974’s Tailface made much of an impression with fans or record buyers, and Michaels and Columbia soon parted ways. Within a few years Michaels went into semi-retirement, and while he released Absolute Lee in 1996 and My Life in 2008, for the most part Michaels stayed out of the public eye. After his music career faded out, Michaels opened a restaurant in Marina del Rey, California centered around a spicy shrimp dish he’d created; Killer Shrimp became a success, and the family-run business now boasts six locations in California and Nevada. (by Mark Denning)

Lee Michaels, a veteran of the Los Angeles and San Francisco bar-band scene in the mid-’60s, struck out on his own in 1967 after fronting bands with such illustrious alumni as Joel Scott Hill, Bob Mosley, and John Barbata. Michaels’ music was characterized by his soulful vocals and equally soulful organ playing. These awesome talents would be polished on his second and third albums, but his debut, while interesting, falls a bit short. The main LeeMichaels3problem is that A&M saw Michaels as sort of a psychedelic singer/songwriter/rocker. In reality, he was sort of a California version of Steve Winwood. Carnival of Life has some excellent performances by Michaels and especially drummer Eddie Hoh. Both rock hard on the album’s nine cuts, but the material is a bit dated and tends to end up in some hard-rock clichés of the period. Still, it’s a promising if quirky start of what would be a fine career. (by Matthew Greenwald)

Released in 1968, Carnival of Life marked Michaels’ album debut. A varied disc, it displays his strong, soulful vocals out front of a full band; there’s lots of heavy guitar riffage, and the dramatic “Hello” may remind some listeners of Vanilla Fudge. Michaels’ keyboard work (organ, piano, harpsichord) is prominent but – unlike his later work – not a central focus of the record. Carnival of Life is a “band” record in every sense of the term. The famed “Hendrix chord” is a centerpiece of the hard rocking “Love,” which was released as a single but didn’t chart. The title track departs a bit from the heaviness to focus on harpsichord. The baroque-flavored “Sounding the Sleeping” is ambitious in its structure and arrangement, a sort of proto-progressive rock. Tack piano moves “My Friends” along. The list of musicians backing Lee on this disc include organist Rev. Gary Davis and in-demand session drummer Eddie Hoh. Overall, Michaels’ debut is an r&b flavored rock disc that – while it’s typical of the sounds of 1968 – has worn rather well. Carnival of Life didn’t make a mark on the Billboard charts of the era. (by Billy Kopp)


Gary Davis (organ)
Eddie Hoh (drums)
John Keski (bass)
Lee Michaels (keyboards, harpsichord)
Hamilton W. Watt (guitar)


01. Hello 4.24
02. Another One 4.08
03. StreetCar 3.35
04. Love 5.07
05. Carnival Of Life 3.00
06. Why 3.23
07. Tomorrow 4.33
08. Sounding The Sleeping 4.05
09. My Friends 2.40

All songs written by Lee Michaels



Lee Michaels – Barrel (1970)

FrontCover1Barrel wasn’t quite Michaels in his most minimalist two-man band format. Drummer Frosty was still the prime accompanist, and Michaels played most of the other instruments, but Drake Levin did help out on guitar. The strengths of the album are the strengths of most of Michaels’s early-1970s material: rich funk-rock-gospel vocals and keyboards. The weaknesses are also common to much of Michaels’s albums from the period: a lack of truly outstanding songs and a reliance upon slow to mid-tempo bluesy songs that sound too much alike. Some moderate circa-1970 counterculture sentiments surfaced in songs like “What Now America,” but the undoubted highlight was his rousing cover of Moby Grape’s “Murder in My Heart (For the Judge).”  (by Ritchie Unterberger)

For me it´s one of the best albums by Lee Michaels … listen to “What Now Amercia” and you´ll know what I mean !

Frosty (drums)
Lee Michaels (keyboards, vocals, all other instruments)
Drake Levin (guitar)

01. Mad Dog (Michaels) 3.47
02. What Now America (Michaels) 3.27
03. Uummmm My Lady (Michaels) 3.03
04. Thumbs (Michaels) 4.05
05. When Johnny Comes Marching Home (Traditional) 2.04
06. Murder In My Heart For The Judge (Stevenson) 3.38
07. Day Of Change (Michaels) 3.35
08. Think I’ll Cry (Michaels) 2.45
09. Games (Michaels) 3.12
10. Didn’t Know What I Had (Michaels) 3.16
11. As Long as I Can (Michaels) 1.29