Mountain: Nantucket Sleighride - Album Of The Week Club review

UK rockers of a certain age were introduced to Nantucket Sleighride by political broadcasting on the TV, but there was also an album attached to the song

Mountain - Nantucket Sleighride
Mountain: Nantucket Sleighride

1. Don't Look Around
2. Taunta (Sammy's Tune)
3. Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)
4. You Can't Get Away
5. Tired Angels (To J.M.H.)
6. The Animal Trainer and the Toad
7. My Lady
8. Travellin' in the Dark (To E.M.P.)
9. The Great Train Robbery

When Mountain went into the Record Plant studios in autumn 1970 to put the finishing touches to their second album, there were already mutterings within the camp that bass player/producer Felix Pappalardi and his girlfriend (later wife) Gail Collins were exerting a stranglehold on the band’s output. 

When the band played at the Woodstock festival in 1969, it was only their fourth gig together. Their debut album, 1970’s Mountain Climbing!, had been a pretty democratic affair, with drummer Corky Laing providing the initial idea for its hit single, Mississippi Queen, with cowbell intro and David Rea’s lyric.

The follow-up, Nantucket Sleighride, was much darker, with Tired Angels (a morbid, Lord Of The Rings-influenced tribute to Jimi Hendrix), the claustrophobic, curse-like My Lady and The Great Train Robbery, which depicted the infamous villains behind the 1963 heist as outlaw heroes.

Those tracks paled into insignificance next to the title track, a fictional account of a true episode involving 19th-century whaling ship The Essex, which left Nantucket on an ill-starred hunt that ended in cannibalism.

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Background

Leslie West's epiphany came the night when Cream played the Fillmore East. “We took some LSD," he says, "and the curtain opened and Eric was wearing all his buckskin: they looked great, man. They opened with Sunshine Of Your Love and I looked at my brother and said, ‘My God, we really need to practise.’ I was stunned by how great they sounded, man. The show didn’t end till 4am. It made me a lifelong Cream fan. I was like a groupie for Cream.”

Small world. West’s first band was The Vagrants, an R&B footnote that brought him into the orbit of Felix Pappalardi, producer of Eric Clapton and co’s 1967 masterpiece Disraeli Gears. “Could The Vagrants have been stars?” he wonders. “No. We had a great show, strobe lights, all that stuff. But we were a local group, and we just couldn’t record. Felix came in and tried to record us. He did two singles with us that didn’t really do anything.”

Pappalardi entered the frame again in the late 60s. “Somehow, I got in touch with him. I’d started this group Mountain. Went in the studio. Felix had two weeks before he had to go and produce Cream’s Goodbye, or maybe Jack Bruce’s Songs For A Tailor. But we didn’t have any original songs. I said, ‘Y’know, if we can’t do this album, I guess we may break up.’ And Felix said, ‘That might not be the worst thing in the world. If you put something together, give me a call.’ Well, I called him in three days, came back, went in the studio, and we did my first album, Mountain [1969].”

With Pappalardi joining as bassist and co-writer, Mountain planted their flag deep in the 70s blues-rock scene with classics such as Mississippi Queen and Nantucket Sleighride. A rueful West can only speculate how high they might have flown had Pappalardi’s wife not disrupted the partnership (and shot her husband dead in 1983). 

“She stuck her two cents in, got in the middle of Felix and I, caused a lot of crap,” he recalls. “All of a sudden, we were going to shows in separate cars. Drugs entered into it. I guess we got as much good out of it as we could. I love the Nantucket Sleighride album [1971], but after that, we started to go downhill.”

Other albums released in January 1971

  • Chicago III - Chicago
  • Pearl - Janis Joplin
  • Deliverin' - Poco
  • Hooker 'n Heat - John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat
  • ZZ Top's First Album - ZZ Top
  • Extraction - Gary Wright
  • Little Feat - Little Feat
  • Melting Pot - Booker T & the MG's
  • The Point! - Harry Nilsson
  • Salisbury - Uriah Heep

What they said...

"Following the success of Climbing! and appearances at Woodstock and other outdoor festivals of the day, Mountain recorded more of the same for Nantucket Sleighride. The title track is a nice mixture of classical-leaning intertwined with moderate rock; both Don't Look Around and The Animal Trainer And The Toad continue on the hard rock path so well-worn by this band. Not groundbreaking, but it is well worth listening to." (AllMusic)

"Although Nantucket Sleighride was also a commercial success, the album didn’t live up to the promise of the band’s debut. While still a solid effort, Nantucket Sleighride lacked the organic edginess of Cream and mutated into fairly typical, early ’70s hard rock. Nevertheless, there are a few moments that do stand out. Drummer Corky Laing injected some much needed energy into the furious Don’t Look Around as well as the title track, which foreshadowed the art-rock arrival of Rush." (MusicBox)

"This recording did not have the rawness and brashness of the previous outing; it was more complex musically and lyrically while maintaining the bands musical integrity and giving it more polish at the same time, there was still something missing. Felix had more influence on this recording and seemed to tighten the grip on the West energy level; hence, the big mans toughness and brashness did not prevail and neither did his sledgehammer guitar." (All-Reviews)

What you said...

Steve Dev: One of the very first albums I bought as a kid. And I still spin it regularly. The opening assault of Don't Look Around sucks you right in without hinting at the nuanced passion of the rest of the album, performed by skilled artisans. A supergroup. Still rates 10/10 for me.

Fred Varcoe: Seemed to have been ignored in the U.K. but this album shows they were as good as anyone else out there. Pure rock, three awesome musicians in West, Pappalardi and Laing. I think there'll be quite a few people out there thinking, 'Why didn't I buy this album 50 years ago?' I'm one of them...

Bill Griffin: The first thing I noticed when this started playing was how much it sounded like Bloodrock (D.O.A. notwithstanding; that's even an outlier track for them). The more it played, the more like Bloodrock it sounded. That's not necessarily a bad thing as I really like them but one should probably not make an album sound as if Terry Knight produced it. Having said that, the title track alone makes it worth owning. Simply one of the best rock songs ever recorded. Also, listen to Astronomy from Blue Oyster Cult and tell me if they didn't cop the melody from Nantucket Sleighride.

Warren Bubb: Classic 70s rock. Brilliant Guitar work from Leslie West. Only spoilt by a flat, lifeless early 70s production. Time for a re-master?

Richard Cardenas: Title song is a song I don’t ever think of nor do I look for. However, every time it comes on it transforms me back to my teen years in middle and high school. It’s a song loved by kids who had an extensive love of music. 

I really like Mountain and was lucky enough to see them live, once with Edgar Winter and Thee Image. 

There’s a hip stoner rock vibe to this record that includes a feel unique to the early 70’s (I don’t mean it’s dated) that I just love.

Hai Kixmiller: 30+ minutes of disappointment! 

As soon as the needle drops into the groove, the first song, Don't Look Around, sounds like a Cream song. It's the wall of drums and bass bashing you in the face that dominate this song. West's minimalist guitar soloing adds some much needed melodic respite from the drums. A little bit of research showed my why my first thoughts were of the band Cream. Mountain's bassist, Felix Pappalardi, was the producer for Cream.

The album is full of mediocre attempts at "grandiose" storytelling. Pappalardi's weak and nasal voice just doesn't quite get as soulful as it should be on songs like Tired Angels, My Lady, and Nantucket Sleighride. West's guitar work on the album is well... just boring. Corky Laing's drumming is stellar, but the production volume should have been dialled down some. The drum productions have always been an issue we me when it comes to the power trio bands. 

Unfortunately for Mountain, Mississippi Queen will always be the yardstick that all their other songs are compared to. And Nantucket Sleighride just doesn't match, no, it doesn't even come close to the primal, ferocity of Mississippi Queen. Nantucket Sleighride comes across like a classical minstrel recital with amplifiers. Maybe if Nantucket Sleighride had come out before Climbing, things would have been different for Mountain.

Valentina Narcisse: I had never listened to any music by them before. I had heard of the name but they were definitely not a band on my radar or that I was interested in listening to. However, I really loved this album and wasn't expecting to be this blown away by it. I really liked the song Tired Angels.

Mike Knoop: Sometimes a little research can turn a meh album into a much more fulfilling experience. I was having trouble deciphering the lyrics so I Googled them and WOWZA! found a tale of drugs and murder to rival Layla

Nantucket Sleighride sounds like two different albums by two bands uncomfortably mashed together. Leslie West brings and/or sings the rowdy rockers like Don't Look Around, You Can't Get Away, The Animal Trainer and the Toad. They’re fine, but the songs that really shine are the ones by bassist/singer/producer/songwriter Felix Pappalardi and his then girlfriend (and lyricist and cover artist) Gail Collins. The title track and Tired Angels remind me of the beautiful yet spooky tunes that Blue Öyster Cult used to write.

Where it gets interesting – in a tabloid journalism sort of way – is that Gail knew Felix was getting the getting on the side so infidelity keeps cropping up in the lyrics. From namedropping the other woman in the title track to lyrics like, "If your heart was a diamond and your love was gold, you'd be a ring on my finger, you don't need to be told that it ain't no use tryin' to cheat on me" or “What you gonna do when you can't seem to understand? How ya' gonna feel when your woman's with another man?” Talk about a passive aggressive smackdown! In that context, My Lady sure sounds like a “Baby, I’m sorry” song.

Another great pick – and to think I never listened to it before because the title made it sound like a holiday album!

John Davidson: I was vaguely aware of Mountain back in the 70s, having first heard Nantucket Sleighride (the track) as the theme music to a Sunday news/politics programme Weekend World. But beyond that song I didn't really give them much attention.

The production and tone are very much of the turn of the 60s into the 70s with hints of early Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash in the song structures.

Highlights for me are:

The opener... Don't Look Around which is an excellent rocker. I like the bluesy voice, dense keyboards and strong guitar married to a pacey beat.

The title track.. which starts slow before ripping in to the instrumental break and back again. It's aged well .

Tired Angels - which sounds like a cross between Early Jethro Tull and Wishbone Ash. with the vocal phrasing of a BOC track.

Beyond that the album is competent without being outstanding.

Good choice though as it made me listen to a few songs I haven't heard before or in many years.

Carl Black: Wow, what a great album. This what an album is all about, all the tracks are consistently good, in my opinion, no obvious single choice, no problem for me. I've known of Mountain for a few years, and I'm shocked they weren't bigger in the UK. That Hammond organ drives the guitar forward and makes the sound heavier. The title track and the great train robbery were my favourite tracks but every track on this album had its merits. I will be listening again. 

Shane Hall: I love this album! Nantucket Sleighride is an underrated classic from an underrated group that is perhaps best known for the iconic single Mississippi Queen and a performance at Woodstock. In many ways, I like this album better than the predecessor, Climbing. Besides the brilliant title track, inspired by the incident involving the 19th century whaling ship The Essex, highlights include the album opener Don't Look Around, the Hendrix tribute Tired Angels, and the slide guitar-heavy blues rocker The Great Train Robbery.

Andrew Williams: The whole album is completely dominated by the awesome title track which ranks as one of my all time favourites. This is in no small part due to it being the theme tune back in the 70s to Weekend World and was probably this ten year old's first introduction to 'heavy' music. Is the rest of the album worthy? Yes. Go listen.

Shane Reho: Not bad at all, but not spectacular either. It starts off on a very high note, with Don't Look Around kicking things in gear (much like Never in My Life from Climbing) and the title track keeping things rolling. However, after that, the genuine highlights are harder to pick out. The problem here is that this album doesn't offer much that Climbing didn't, and that makes this one feel like a bit of a retread. 7/10. Track picks: Don't Look Around, Nantucket Sleighride, My Lady.

Brian Carr: Many years ago, I made the observation that new music could stop being made today and I would probably still be able to find “new” music for the rest of my life - music that’s new to me because my tastes expanded or I missed it when it was first released. Once again, the Classic Rock Album of the Week Club has proven me correct.

When I fired Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride up for the first time, Don’t Look Around about took my head off. Absolutely slamming! Laing’s drumming is a bit busier than I would like, but it doesn’t matter - killer opening. Taunta into the title track is a major downshift in tone, but not in brilliance. What a beautiful, haunting track.

You Can’t Get Away ramps it back up, but the background vocals give me my first overt reminder of Cream. (Cream is talented and important, but I never liked Jack Bruce’s voice, so I haven’t listened much.) This reminder continues into Tired Angels, where I realise how similar Pappalardi’s voice is to Bruce’s.

The rest of the album has fine songs and playing (The Animal Trainer’s honky tonk piano reminds me of The Faces). The production sounds raw, especially after the crystal clear sound of last week’s choice. There are enough flaws here to keep it from the 9-10 range, but it definitely rocks enough to get added to my Apple Music library.

Sam Cummins: I'm listening to it twice. I liked it, looked up the lyrics to two songs and that ratcheted up my rating of it. Man, the guitar phrasing on that last song, the live Travellling in the Dark, is just fantastic! 7 out of 10.

Gary Claydon: Mountain were a band that pretty much passed me by in the 70s. I knew Mississippi Queen and of course Nantucket Sleighride which was, as already mentioned, familiar as the theme to TV programme Weekend World and because Quartz did a pretty much note-for-note cover of it. 

It was only the soap opera surrounding the death of Felix Pappalardi at the hands of his wife that made me take a bit of interest in the band. I bought a copy of Nantucket Sleighride from a second hand shop and gave it a few listens. I'm not going to pretend it blew me away then or now. But my opinion of this album is pretty much unchanged. It's very competent heavy blues rock and fairly typical of that period. 

The obvious influence is Cream but that's no surprise given Pappalardi's production work with them. I like Corky Laing's drumming, but it's Leslie West's guitar work which really shines here. It's easy to forget just how good the guy was (is still!). Stand out tracks for me are the title track with it's gory tale of a fishing trip from hell and Travellin' In The Dark, especially the live version. All in all this is good solid hard/blues rock. It's been a good while since I listened to this so thanks for giving me reason to revisit it.

Final Score: 7.17 ⁄10 (117 votes cast, with a total score of 839)

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