45 Years Ago: Ten Years After Release ‘Ssssh’
When Ten Years After released ‘Ssssh,’ their third studio album (and fourth overall, counting the live ‘Undead’) in August of 1969, the British quartet had no idea that their still-nascent career was about to accelerate into overdrive through a serendipitous set of circumstances — within and beyond their control.
In terms of the former, the new album represented an unconditional improvement upon the often tentative and unfocused releases that preceded it by dispensing with some of the myriad psychedelic distractions of the day in order to crystalize the definitive blues-rock direction that would become the signature Ten Years After sound.
The opening 'Bad Scene' alternated between frantic boogie and breath-catching breaks, before the remainder of side one began addressing band leader Alvin Lee’s wide-ranging suspicions about the opposite sex with growing intensity. First came the relatively tame and slippery, bite-sized ‘Two-Time Mama,’ then the more forceful, fierce, and fuzz-laden ‘Stoned Woman,’ and finally a fittingly lecherous cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ that duly evolved into an extended instrumental jam.
Side two opened in a more relaxed, almost pastoral fashion via the acoustic guitar-driven, slowly building ‘If You Should Love Me,’ before segueing into the rather Mod-ish ‘I Don't Know that You Don't Know My Name’ (showcasing Chick Churchill on piano and Ric Lee’s tribal bongos), the mumbling, stumbling groove of ‘The Stomp,’ and, wrapping things up, another gut wrenching, virtually proto-metallic reading of a classic blues grind — this time Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘I Woke Up This Morning.’
As for circumstances beyond the band’s control: the same month of ‘Ssssh’s’ release found Ten Years After performing a career-making set at the historic Woodstock Festival, and the resulting publicity and acclaim put them on the map, boosting the new album all the way to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 and No. 4 back home in the U.K.
What’s more, even the music fans who initially failed to recognize the significance of TYA’s Woodstock appearance amid the sheer hype surrounding megastars like the Who, Janis Joplin and Hendrix (or had missed out on the event, altogether), eventually “got the memo” when the festival’s official soundtrack LP emerged the following year, carrying the band’s sizzling blast through ‘I’m Going Home’ as a highlight.
By then, the men in Ten Years After were already busy promoting their next album of era-defining blues-rock, ‘Cricklewood Green,’ with many more creative and commercial benchmarks still ahead, waiting to solidify their legacy for the ages. But you could make strong case that this golden period began with 'Ssssh' and the one-of-a-kind circumstances surrounding it's arrival.