Song: "I'm Going Home"
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While in most cases, it takes years of consistent recordings, or at least one amazing album for a band to become legendary, there are a handful of cases where a single moment was able to earn equal accolades. It is these unique cases that are impossible to classify in a single group, and yet in almost every instance, they remain the most stunning moments in music history. Though in many ways, they were overshadowed by the larger historical event, at least one of these special events occurred in Bethel, New York on August 17, 1969. In the final hours of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, an unassuming blues-rock band from England took to the stage, and when they left, they had forever etched their names into the books of rock and roll history. Though they had gained a bit of notice with their live release a year earlier, Undead, slotted between Country Joe & The Fish and The Band, they were in many ways, still one of the lesser known bands at the festival. Similarly, their album that followed their performance at Woodstock would boast the hit single, “Love Like A Man,” but the band would break up only five years following their legendary performance. The band was Ten Years After, and there has simply never been as stunning and explosive a blues-rock recording as one finds in their performance at Woodstock when they blew away the crowd with their song, “I’m Going Home.”
“I’m Going Home” is one of the amazing songs in history that, right from the start, is in high gear, and never relents even a bit. The opening guitar solo is without question one of the most blistering and aggressive opening riffs in music history, and once you hear it, you can never forget it. The man responsible for both the riff and the song, band founder and lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, is unquestionably one of the most powerful players in history, and though this performance is somewhat lesser known, it is impossible to argue that it is anything less than extraordinary. Lee absolutely destroys the entire song, never lamenting, and his performance is one of the earliest appearances of a true “shredder” on guitar. Giving the song a funky, yet moving feel, bassist Leo Lyons is an absolutely perfect compliment to Lee’s guitar. Also playing a bit off kilter and almost taking a “metal” approach at some points, drummer Ric Lee helps to keep the song right on the edge of chaos, and it is one of the finest moments that marks the transition of blues-rock to metal and punk styles. Though he was in the band at the time and at on stage at Woodstock, keyboard player Chick Churchill is nowhere to be found in the audio, which is a bit tragic, as his playing brings an amazing energy to much of the bands’ studio work. The true spirit of the festival is also captured on this recording, as the audience is clapping from the start, and during many of the songs’ breakdowns, they can be heard as loud as the performers, clearly in awe of the ten-minute musical treat they are getting from the band. It is this shared energy between the band and audience that helps to create a very special feel to “I’m Going Home,” and one has to assume that the band performed as well as they did due to the amazing vibe coming from the crowd.
Along with the high-octane musical performance, “I’m Going Home” is equally impressive in the vocal performance. Strangely enough, this is one of the few songs of the band that features Alvin Lee on vocals, and it is clear through both his guitar playing and singing that he is “in the zone.” Perfectly capturing the essence of blues and injecting it with the energy and attitude of rock and roll, there are few vocal performances anywhere in history that can compare to Lee’s work on “I’m Going Home.” From his more straightforward singing to his truly inspiring yells to the quieter, yet heavy spoken parts, Lee shines throughout the entire song. As hard-rock as the song is, there is never a question that it is a blues song, as the lyrics follow the blues format, and the subject matter of a man letting his woman know that he’ll be home soon is as “classic blues” as one can get. It is also during this performance of “I’m Going Home” that Lee pays tribute to one of the bands’ main influences, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, as he quotes everything from “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” to "Mean Woman Blues." This clear mixture of the early foundations of rock and roll, and Ten Years After’s more aggressive approach places them as one of the unique bands that was a bridge between sounds, and it is perhaps no more clear than in the vocal work of Alvin Lee.
In nearly every aspect of life, one can apply the theory of “playing to the level of the opponent” as a way to justify a breakout performance. In the world of music, one can make this comment on a number of bands who found their finest moment when they took the stage at 1969’s Woodstock Music & Arts Festival. Among these amazing performances, one cannot overlook or overstate the genre-crossing and scene-changing set that was pulled off my Ten Years After. Though they had already made a bit of a name for themselves with a minor hit the year previous, after their performance of “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock, they were nothing short of music legends. Listening to all of the recordings from the festival, it is clear that they had the crowd far more engaged than a majority of acts, and this is without question due to the fact that the energy they brought to the stage was unlike that of any of their peers. Throughout “I’m Going Home,” Alvin Lee gives the performance of a lifetime, and it remains one of the finest live recordings in history. From his fierce, intense guitar playing to his truly inspired vocals, Lee instantly catapulted himself into the music elite, and there has rarely been an equally stunning display since. The rest of the band is also clearly “in the pocket,” as they push one another to greater musical heights as the energy of the song builds to an unparalleled climax. Though it is often lost among the “big names” on the bill, there is no question that one of, if not the highlight of the entire Woodstock Music & Arts Festival was Ten Years After’s monumental performance of “I’m Going Home.”