Magic Carpet Ride: The Dunhill / ABC Years 1967 - 1971 by Steppenwolf

Release date: November 26, 2021
Label: Esoteric Recordings

From the moment Peter Fonda throws his Timex watch onto the ground during the opening sequences of the 1969 classic Easy Rider, he along with Dennis Hopper’s character knows that there’s no turning back as the bursting bike riding anthem of Steppenwolf‘s ‘Born to Be Wild’ kicks into gear as the opening credits starts the movie off with a bang. It’s hard to imagine that when people think of the band all they think of those two hit songs, ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘Magic Carpet Ride’.

But for Steppenwolf it’s more than just the two hits. It goes beyond the heavier structures during their time frame in the late ‘60s. This 8-CD box set from Esoteric Recordings consists of the band’s first eight albums they did during the time they were signed to the Dunhill / ABC label from 1967 to 1971. Formed in 1967 by John Kay, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, and drummer Jerry Edmonton, who was previously part of the Canadian group, The Sparrows. Soon they were joined by lead guitarist Michael Monarch and bassist Rushton Moreve.

They came out of the late ‘60s like a giant battering ram waiting to happen with pure bluesy, organ-driven, and heavy hard-rocking cannon blast that was waiting to happen. Going through this amazing box set is like a trip back in time to see how much Steppenwolf were so far ahead of its time and going beyond the hit classics as we enter inside Aladdin’s lamp to see what deeper cuts that deserve some recognition.


The gentle turned acid rocker ‘A Girl I Knew’ shows a softer side in Steppenwolf. You have the Renaissance waltz-like sound from Goldy’s harpsichord turned into a blistering rocker with a chugging acoustic guitar in the middle of a room with its nod to both Family’s Music in a Doll’s House and a pre-Supertramp sound as it becomes this train ride into the unknown.

An early live version of ‘The Pusher’ from Early Steppenwolf which was recorded at The Matrix in 1967, showcases them going into the Syd Barrett-era of Pink Floyd from a continuation of ‘Pow R. Toc. H’. It becomes this nightmarish free-for-all with synthesisers going bat shit crazy, Indian tribe drumming, bits of the early CAN sound as Steppenwolf have suddenly transformed into a krautrock band during the 21-minute improve as they get in their bikes riding into the sunset of a blues-rocking voyage during the last five minutes of the song.

‘Move Over’ is the band’s nod to the Motown sound in the styles of The Temptations ‘Get Ready’. You can tell that they have a love of the Soul/R&B sound as it becomes a message of peace and bringing together as one before the stormy weather kicks in while the clock-ticking rocker of refusing to join any war during the period when everything gets heavier for John tackling the ‘Draft Resister’.

It is an insane song of being caught in this prison to join up the Vietnam war. And it becomes a stick of dynamite waiting to be exploded with some brutal guitar lines setting the scenery that’s about to happen. ‘Screaming Night Hog’ sounds amazing in Mono. The guitar riff intro is a nod to Creedence Clearwater Revival, followed by John’s harmonica melody in hot pursuit as Goldy’s organ raises the roof with temperatures boiling.

But alongside Kay, its George Biondo who would later joined the band in 1968 replacing bassist Nick St. Nicholas that can lay down those heavy blues rocking tempos on ‘Fat Jack’ as Byrom bends those strings so hard along with the powder keg riffs he would create, followed by ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ and the snarling punches with some pounding piano lines for ‘Who Needs Ya’.

And who couldn’t forget ‘Take What You Need’. This is where John Kay tips his hat off to Steve Winwood’s Traffic. I can imagine the band listened to Traffic’s music for inspiration of the song with some mid-rising surviving lyrical sections that some Winwood lyrical structures while channeling the raw vocals between Edgar Broughton and Captain Beefheart with organ, harmonica and guitar riff vibes on the 12-bar crunches, ‘Tighten Up Your Wig’ and ‘Chicken Wig’.

Edmonton’s soothing vocals on the folky-like mournful arrangement ‘Lovely Meter’ goes into a Beatle-sque approach over a romance of a girl you will be with for the rest of time before Nick St. Nicholas tap dances into the night of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with ‘Sleeping Dreaming’ as he time travels back to the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s.

The slow-driven metallic roar of the live version, ‘Don’t Step On the Grass, Sam’ recorded at Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium for the Steppenwolf Live album originally released in 1970 is filled with political vibes dealing with Uncle Sam’s intercept on capturing half a million tourists for about a week and scored three joints.


It details the dark side of Uncle Sam and how America is supposed as homemade as Apple Pie. But beneath the crust showcases a brutal imagery of what America was becoming during that time frame and Steppenwolf fit right in that scene. It proved that it wasn’t just peace and love, but detailing on what the hell was going on behind closed doors and they were bringing it to the audience and its listeners.

‘Power Play’ brings the thunder with some chugging driven beats that carries a bit of an early sound of ZZ Top’s music as Byrom’s guitar textures just brings the auditorium to a standstill along with the dealing about being cure, but the truth is filled with corruption and greed on ‘From Here to There Eventually’.

The autobiographical song ‘Renegade’ details the struggle that John and his mother had to embark on a flight from the Soviet occupation zone to the West in the late 40s. You can feel the pain in Kay’s voice and the challenge his Mom had to go through with its emotional folk-like arrangement by reaching the promise land while he makes a phone call by speaking in German on ‘Earschplittenloudenboomer’.

It is a dark instrumental as the boys ride on their bikes once more, knowing that the groove is only getting more percussion-like atmospheres from Edmonton as he lets out the congas, guiro, and having a Latin-influenced sound on the composition. You can imagine Steppenwolf in Havana, Cuba doing the Comparsas from dusk till dawn to a crowd pleasing audience.

The box set is quite a revelation. It made me open my eyes more to reveal that Steppenwolf weren’t just a bike-riding band, but a group that had energy, freedom, rebellion, and in your face. Did it have attitude? Yes. But they were the real deal. So it’s time to embark on a magic carpet ride to be a part of Steppenwolf’s adventure and understand why they were ahead of their time. So let’s get our motors runnin’ and head down to the highway to look for more adventures of Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride: The Dunhill / ABC Years 1967-1971.

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