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Music / Emergency!

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"And here I was, being exposed to where jazz would be in 100 years' time. Look at the personnel — a 23 year-old drummer who creates a kind of continuous thunder that ebbs and flows, not so much a rhythm, more as if he’s holding four conversations with himself simultaneously. John McLaughlin on guitar, playing this psychedelically painted Fender Jaguar through a series of malfunctioning foot pedals. And the real alien who’s dropped through from the future is their blind Hammond organist Larry Young. No need for a bass player, as Young played the pedals with his feet, and with his hands made music that sounded like someone shoving a screwdriver into a flying saucer engine, or something flying through a wide-mile cloud of swarf."
Andy Partridge, Word magazine.note 

Emergency! was the 1969 debut of The Tony Williams Lifetime, an early jazz-rock group fronted by longtime Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams. The Lifetime at this stage was a Power Trio featuring guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young. As with much early Jazz Fusion, Emergency! received mostly negative reviews from the jazz press upon release, though Robert Christgau was an admirer; he gave this album an A, and compared the follow-up Turn It Over it to a less "stupid" Led Zeppelin. But, again like much early fusion jazz, the album is now Vindicated by History and regularly receives perfect scores in retrospective reviews.

Incidentally, one major aspect of the album's sound, namely its rather distorted sound, was more or less a case of Throw It In!: the engineer who recorded the album was used to recording acoustic jazz and didn't know what to do with electric instruments, but the band decided they liked the sound and opted not to re-record it. (Modern listeners used to the Loudness War, however, may wonder what the fuss was about, as the album's dynamics are at least fully intact, and the album isn't particularly distorted by modern standards. However, to audiences in 1969, the album's sound was a shock.)


Side One

  1. "Emergency" (9:35)
  2. "Beyond Games" (8:17)

Side Two

  1. "Where" (12:10)
  2. "Vashkar" (4:59)

Side Three

  1. "Via the Spectrum Road" (7:49)
  2. "Spectrum" (8:50)

Side Four

  1. "Sangria for Three" (13:07)
  2. "Something Spiritual" (5:37)


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  • Alliterative Title: "Something Spiritual".
  • Cover Version: "Vashkar" by Carla Bley and "Something Special" by Dave Herman. The album also features a self-cover of sorts in "Spectrum", which McLaughlin had recorded already on his solo debut album, Extrapolation, earlier that year; however, here it is stretched out to more than twice the length of the Extrapolation version.
  • Creator's Oddball: A member of the second great quintet playing "primitive" guitar rock? Blasphemy!
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to most jazz of the time (not all: John Coltrane's The Olatunji Concert was recorded in 1967 - though not released until 2001 - and remains one of the darkest and edgiest works released in any genre), it was louder, more dissonant, more distorted, and overall harder-edged. Notably, this album presaged the recording of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (on which McLaughlin also played, and which marked a considerably darker turn in Davis' material) by a few months.
  • Epic Rocking: While they're short by the standards of early fusion, five tracks break eight minutes and a fifth clocks in at 7:50. The longest is "Sangria for Three" at 13:07.
  • Excited Episode Title!: Emergency!
  • Face on the Cover: A shot of Williams playing the drums.
  • Instrumentals: The majority of the album, aside from some poetry read by Williams.
  • Lead Drummer: Aside from having his name in the band name, Williams did the few vocals, albeit not well.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Taken up to eleven at this point, since the Lifetime didn't even have one; Larry Young's organ fulfilled the same purpose. Averted by the time of their second album, when Lead Bassist Jack Bruce joined the band.
  • One-Word Title: Emergency!. Also the tracks "Where", "Vashkar" and "Spectrum".
  • Progressive Rock: In addition to being jazz fusion, it's also a case of this, due to its overall complexity and structure and its incorporation of rhythms from both rock and jazz. (Christgau's praise of this record is therefore particularly noteworthy, since he's also known to hate the genre. He's also given good reviews to McLaughlin's work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which also qualifies as progressive rock.)
  • Psychedelic Rock: Type 2. A recording accident pumping up the distortion - responsible for the "drinking" sound on Young's organ - made it more of an example than intended.
  • Questioning Title?: "Where?"
  • Rock Trio: This lineup of the Lifetime, later averted with the addition of Jack Bruce.
  • Rule of Three: "Sangria for Three".
  • Stylistic Suck: The album's production is an accidental case that the band decided to keep. The distortion on the recording gives it a raw edge that suits the material.
  • Trope Maker: No less a source than Rolling Stone magazine considers this to be the first jazz fusion album, though other sources may list one of Miles Davis' contemporaneous recordings instead (In a Silent Way is a popular choice). In any case, it's pretty much universally agreed to be one of the first.
  • Uncommon Time: If John McLaughlin is listed on the album credits, you can usually expect at least one case of this. In this case, it's "Via the Spectrum Road", which is 11/8 (and which McLaughlin, unsurprisingly, co-wrote).