As far as I know, I have never, ever heard this song before. I know Woodstock, the music festival, obviously, and I know Southern Comfort, the whisky flavoured liqueur that I haven’t drunk since an unfortunate incident when I was nineteen… Combining these two things in my mind, I begin to picture a Country & Western, smoke-tinged ballad…
Woodstock, by Matthews Southern Comfort (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 25th October – 15th November 1970
…and I’m not a million miles away. It’s a soft record – a soft voice, uber-soft rock – a comfy blanket that wraps itself around you and lulls you to sleep in its echoey rhythm. We are stardust, We are golden, And we’ve got to get ourselves, Back to the garden… The singer is a hitchhiker, on his way to Woodstock. His companion is a child of God, off to join a rock and roll band, looking to set his soul free.
It’s a song for fans of imagery. He feels like a cog, stuck in something turning… At one point he dreams of bombers in the sky that turn into butterflies above our nation, which works both as a trippy picture and as a ‘make love not war’ kind of statement. The garden could be the farm where Woodstock was held, or it could be the Garden of Eden, with the singer hoping for a return to innocence. It’s a melancholy sounding song, though; not one that sounds terribly hopeful. The sixties are over, after all, and the hippy dream has died. Contrast ‘Woodstock’ with the hope of If you’re goin’, To San Francisco, Be sure to wear, Some flowers in your hair… and All you need is love… from just three years ago.
Actually, maybe this #1 officially marks the end of the sixties. 1970 has wandered around without really knowing where it’s going – a year of eclectic chart-toppers. This record could be the gunshot that puts us out of our misery, that leads us into a bold new decade, ten months late… Or not. I have to confess that midway through my first listen to this song, I checked how long was left and my heart sank to see a full minute and a half remaining…
It’s a bit limp. A little Simon & Garfunkel, a little Eagles, a little Fleetwood Mac, a little meh… I do like the sinister, mournful reverbing solo, though. That bit can stay! Matthews Southern Comfort were a British band, led by singer Iain Matthews, who had previously been in folk band Fairport Convention. He did not, to the best of my knowledge, play at Woodstock. Neither did Joni Mitchell, the writer of this song, which surprised me. She based the lyrics on what she heard from her then boyfriend, Graham Nash of The Hollies (Crosby, Stills & Nash also did a version.) Mitchell’s original – listen here – isn’t as warm or as chart-friendly as Matthews’.
It’s cool that Joni Mitchell has a number one single by proxy, and that one of the biggest pop culture moments of the twentieth century gets a belated mention at the top of the pop charts, but I can’t really warm to this song. It’s just floated past me… And, actually, if you want a proper taste of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, then you would do well to hang around and catch our next number one single…
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17 thoughts on “292. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews Southern Comfort”
This is my favorite version of the song, though it is obscure here. Most Americans seem to prefer CSN&Y’s version. It was Joni’s B-side to “Big Yellow Taxi”. All three of these were released in the same year.
Apparently, Iain sang it, originally, in Joni’s form but, recorded it much differently:
Every time I hear Iain (Ian) Matthews’ name, I always think about his late 70s hit “Shake It” that was in the movie “Little Darlings.”
I think I prefer Joni’s, even though I sometimes struggle to get into her work… It’s the rawest. This one would be my least favourite, with CSNY’s in between. I do like that every version does something different with the song, though.
I’ll have to check ‘Shake It’ out too!
Joni has a very high, powerful voice. I did a post some time back about Mama Cass’s variety show and Joni was on it:
The main version I’m familiar with is the Crosby, Stills,Nash and Young version. I have heard this a few times but not many. It is certainly a more laid back version of the song…but I’ll take the CSN&Y version…I like the rawness of the guitars combined with their smooth voices.
I’d go: Joni > CSN and Y > Matthews SoCo.
But I do like the way each act does something different with the song.
Yeah this is pretty weak. I prefer the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version. It’s important to understand that though Woodstock happened in 1969, its full cultural impact happened in 1970 with the release and success of the documentary film and soundtrack giving people not at the festival a glimpse of what it was like. This isn’t like now where you can instantly find footage online after a concert.
On my blog, I’m marking my birthday next month by reviewing the #1 hits of my birth year 1999 along with other notable hits of that year. I start off with the first #1 of ’99 and a largely forgettable ballad collaboration that hasn’t aged well when you see one of the artists behind it. And I’m finishing up my 1968 best-selling album review on the next artist you’ll be discussing so talk about perfect timing!
You make a good point about Woodstock. I do feel that the seventies don’t really get going until around 1972, when glam rock starts to dominate the charts. Until then it was 60s leftovers and terrible novelties…
And eesh… I have no recollection of that Celine Dion/R Kelly duet. Nor do I want to start remembering it… As horrible as he is, I can’t deny that certain R Kelly songs are part of the soundtrack to me growing up. Just not this one!
Pretty much the first couple years of every decade is just a continuation of the last decade. Even now in 2020 with the pandemic, a lot of the culture and music feels like a continuation of the late 2010s. Plus, decades are arbitrary measures of time. Almost nothing fits neatly into the set time of a decade. In terms of the US charts, the 70s also don’t kick in till 1972 when you had Philly soul, easy listening, and folk singer-songwriter rock kick in. Though the one thing I noticed about 1970 is how a lot of the big 60s acts seemed to break up or in the case of your next review die. It’s like the people who defined the decade were ready to mark its end.
I don’t blame you for not remembering I’m Your Angel. It’s so funny how a song that was so big in its day has been largely forgotten as if it never happened.
I think I mentioned in my last Elvis post, that it was interesting how many of the huge sixties acts seemed to die away (sometimes literally) at the turn of the decade, at least in terms of topping the charts. Apart from Elvis, who went and scored one of his biggest hits, but he was clearly beyond categorising by that point…
And the reason Joni Mitchell didn’t perform at Woodstock was that she was scheduled to appear on the Dick Cavett talk show in Manhattan the time of the festival and her management felt she wouldn’t make it out in time with the crowds and traffic so she wrote the song going by the reports of the festival.
The original of this had more ambience than the digital version – some reberb, from what I recall. Brighter-sounding that this. And I think this is one of the songs that really had to have been listened to them, to ‘get’ its atmosphere. I’ve always liked this version (and the cs&n one. Joni Mitchell’s is good, but I have always found her voice a little too strident on it), it’s a sort of ‘relaxing at the end of a difficult day’ sort of song. Not really meant to be anything else. As for the lyrics, they were very hippie in nature and I don’t find them in the least pessimistic, just a little over-dreamy. Kinda like waking up from a crazy dream and writing it down.
I don’t have any issue with the lyrics, they’re fine for what they are, I just feel that this cover is a little too lifeless, certainly in comparison with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
And ‘strident’ is an excellent word to describe Joni Mitchell’s voice : )
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Wow, this is so neutered and soft compared to the CSNY version, which actually rocks and is a 5/5. Joni’s version is good too. This version is not a bad version – it’s pleasant well-made soft rock that would quickly take over the pop charts, especially in the States.