Talking about great first albums that dwarf everything that came after, the story of Blood Sweat and Tears is a good one.
Al Kooper and Steve Katz played together in the Blues Project. Kooper, known for going electric with Dylan and producing Hendrix and playing on Let it Bleed with the Stones, was something of a quiet star. He wanted to start a jazz-rock fusion band before that was really a thing. Blood Sweat and Tears was to be his band, named after a Johnny Cash album, for some incongruent reason.
But the better point is that these musicians, working only a few years after the Beatles and Motown and others launched the brave new world of modern pop, rock and soul music that was both fantastically popular and often formally ambitious, were trying to take it up another notch. Could they make music that incorporated blues sounds, pop song structures, horn parts and maybe even strings, plus backwards masking when it worked, to make pop music?
The band’s first album, The Child is the Father to the Man, has fantastic cover art. It also meets the challenge in spades. It is an album full of improbable pop hits, though it was slow to catch on despite the band’s pedigree and the attention it garnered even before its music had been heard.
But even after its minor success, the band thought Kooper’s voice, which I think is an major asset, was not that exact. Which is also true. So they canned him, even though he was the band’s leader. They offered him the keyboard job. I’m sure he cursed. And after that Blood Sweat and Tears were dead to me.
But for one album this improbable ensemble really nailed it.