Gentle Giant - Three Friends

Year of Release: 1972
Label: Columbia
Catalog Number: CK31649
Format: CD
Total Time: 35:26:00

In much the same way that Yes's first albums, Yes and Time And A Word were warm-ups for the real thing (The Yes Album), I think of Gentle Giant's first two albums, Gentle Giant and Acquiring The Taste, as warm-ups for their third, Three Friends. To be truthful, Three Friends was the first Gentle Giant album I ever heard, so that might have something to do with my viewpoint -- but I don't think so.

I still remember the first time I heard Gentle Giant. It was 1972, and I was sitting in my bedroom listening to the radio, when on came this incredible song that sounded like nothing I'd heard before. I didn't know the term "progressive rock" in those days. For all I know, that term hadn't even been coined yet. When I called the DJ to find out who the band was, the only way I knew to describe the song was that it was kind of in the style of Emerson Lake and Palmer. I rushed out that day and bought the album Three Friends and have been a Gentle Giant fanatic ever since.

Of course, Gentle Giant sounds nothing like Emerson Lake and Palmer, except maybe for the use of what was then advanced keyboard technology. EL&P was the only frame of reference I had at that time, though. (Well, I had the first King Crimson album, but that one wasn't overtly progressive in the same way EL&P and Gentle Giant were.) I didn't know that the thing that had grabbed my attention was called progressive rock. I hadn't even heard of Yes yet! Needless to say, I began wearing out the grooves of Gentle Giant's Three Friends albums along with Emerson Lake and Palmer's first disk.

In a way, though, Three Friends is still part of Gentle Giant's warm-up. Although it's progressive and complex, it nowhere near approaches the complexity of what was to come with the next album, Octopus. Three Friends sounds almost tentative, as if Gentle Giant were carefully testing the waters, trying to figure out how far they were going to be able to take their music. Many of the songs on Three Friends are on the quiet side, with a sparse arrangements and mixes. For example, while the track "Prologue" starts off as an energetic romp, it soon gives way to a more subtle section that features a soft lead vocal with intertwined background vocals. This track's instrumental centerpiece is also restrained, with delightful, gentle interplay between bass, guitar, and several keyboard parts. The louder main theme returns here and there throughout the song, but it's the quieter bits that grab the listener's imagination.

Still on the quiet side is the second track, "Schooldays," which opens with a placid vibraphone and guitar theme that leads into laidback verses, featuring Philip Shulman's amazing voice. (In fact, the album's first two songs feature Philip Shulman's delicate vocal touch.) The vocal sections lead into a very jazzy vibraphone solo, before a return of the main vocal theme closes things out. More music in this vein includes the first half of "Peel The Paint," which again features Philip Shulman's vocals.

The tracks on which Gentle Giant brings up the volume are rocking numbers in the usual Gentle Giant rock vein. For example, "Working All Day" is the first that features Derek Shulman's English pub-like vocals. As you might expect, guitar is featured prominently here. Other songs in this vein include the second half of "Peel The Paint," which has Derek on vocals and features a bluesy guitar solo. Ditto "Mister Class and Quality," although this track actually treads the middle of the road between songs like "Prologue" and the second half of "Peel The Paint."

Though not the epitome of the Gentle Giant sound (it's close), Three Friends is, in a lot of ways, the classiest album that the Giant ever released. No prog collection is complete without this amazing piece of music. It's one of those albums that you can enjoy a hundred times and still want more.

Prologue (6:13) / Schooldays (7:37) / Working All Day (5:12) / Peel The Paint (7:31) / Mister Class And Quality? (3:22) / Three Friends (5:26)

Kerry Minnear - keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, moog, vocals
Ray Shulman - bass, violin, 12-string guitar, vocals
Gary Green - guitars, percussion
Derek Shulman - vocals
Malcolm Mortimore - drums
Philip Shulman - saxophone, vocals

Gentle Giant (1970)
Acquiring The Taste (1971)
Three Friends (1972)
Octopus (1973)
In A Glass House (1973)
The Power And The Glory (1974/1990)
Freehand (1975)
Interview (1976)
The Official Live Gentle Giant: Playing The Fool (1977)
Pretentious (1977)
Civilian (1980)
Missing Piece (1977)
Giant For A Day (1978)
In Concert (1994)
The Last Steps (1996)
Out Of The Woods (1996)
Under Construction (1997)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents... (1998)
Out Of The Fire (1998)
Live (Playing The Fool)/Civilian (1999)
Totally Out Of The Woods (2000)
Live In Rome 1974 (2000)
In A Palesport House [live] (2001)
Experience [live] (2002)
Endless Life [live] (2003)
Artistically Cryme [live] (2003)
The Missing Face [live] (2003)
Way Of Life (2004)
Playing The Cleveland [live] (2004)
Prologue (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: February 11th 2001
Reviewer: Clayton Walnum

Artist website:
Hits: 2407
Language: english


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