The First Edition

The First Edition '69

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Following up an acid-soaked garage rock classic like "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" with the country-rock of Mike Settle's beautiful "But You Know I Love You" going into the Top 20 exactly a year later was truly an about face for the First Edition. And when the Mel Tillis tune "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" almost equaled the first album's 45's Top Ten status, Kenny Rogers had built a foundation which would serve him well as he would make the move into the country-pop market seven years after the First Edition's seven Top 40 entries. Hits number two and number three are on this third album, Mike Settle being credited with half of the songwriting or getting co-writing credit on five of the album's ten titles; he would release a self-titled solo outing in 1971 on Uni with an updated version of "But You Know I Love You." To understand production genius, listen to the work here by Jimmy Bowen, Mike Post, and Glen D. Hardin, then spin "But You Know I Love You" as re-cut for Rogers' Ten Years of Gold disc on United Artists. Rogers selected five of the First Edition's greatest hits to remake on his 1977 solo "best of," including the two from First Edition '69 -- there may have been contract issues with the band and/or Reprise, or maybe Rogers wanted the music to totally have his latter-day stamp. His voice is in fine form on the original version of "But You Know I Love You," the younger Rogers perhaps being more precise on these early recordings, or maybe the producers were insistent. Mike Settle shows why he's a better songwriter than lead singer on "I Just Wanna Give My Love to You," but Thelma Camacho picks up the slack with a great performance on "It's Gonna Be Better." Keep in mind this was before Kenny Rogers took control of the group, and the full-band feel is wondrous, especially with the first-rate production work blending strings, voices, acoustic guitars, and all the other elements in vintage '60s rock fashion. Indeed, this is the graduate school for ex-members of the New Christy Minstrels. Comacho gives a seductive "let me come inside" on "It's Gonna Be Better" long before Rod Stewart made that statement in "Tonight's the Night." "The Last Few Threads of Love" sounds like a Monkees outtake, but Settle's voice is truly unsettling and only shows how a non-singer like Rogers would have the opportunity to shine. The fuzz guitar here is rather odd and not as astounding or useful as on "Just Dropped In." What is interesting is that the version of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" works better on the remake on Ten Years of Gold. The understated production was a little too hardcore country for fans of rock & roll, and the first track on side two with its gospel feel, "Trying Just As Hard As I Can," might've been less abrasive. Still, it's hard to deny the appeal of "Ruby" to some pop radio audiences, as it did linger right under the Top Five on the national charts. Thelma Camacho and Terry Williams make a definite early Jefferson Airplane-type statement on "Run Through Your Mind," while the equally cerebral "It's Raining in My Mind" has the duo backed by a heavy string section, their voices blending beautifully with the classical instrumentation. This particular song is so exquisite it balances out the album's weaker spots. Clearly, Thelma Camacho should have been given some hit material to sing on. As the band concept dissolved, so did the need to spread the tunes around evenly. Settle, Williams, and Rogers do a fine CSNY job on "Sleep Comes Easy," their harmonies perfect. Though a later album would be called Transition, it was this second album that was the true transition, and there's enough evidence here that the First Edition were contenders. Kenny Rogers' personality and charm were better suited to a solo career, and he certainly deserved his fame. It's just too bad this excellent ensemble couldn't have moved on as well.

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