For over forty years, the name Canned Heat has come to represent more than just the canned cooking- fuel used to heat buffet foods. Since the mid-1960’s, a Los Angeles, California area ‘boogie’ band named Canned Heat has been creating and playing a hybrid of blues and rock music that is entirely their own, a form that they call ‘boogie’ music. With over twenty one official albums, in addition to numerous compilations, small label releases and bootleg albums available, choosing the top ten songs by Canned Heat, is no easy task.
The band was formed by Alan “Blind Owl’ Wilson, on guitar, harmonica and vocals and Bob”The Bear” Hite, on vocals and harmonica in the mid- 1960’s. Their original lead guitarist was Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine and their first- class bass player was Larry “The Mole” Taylor. Harvey “The Snake” Mandel was also lead guitarist for Canned Heat for a short duration. On their first album, Canned Heat’s drummer was Frank Cook, who was replaced by Fito de la Parra in 1968, who is still Canned Heat’s drummer in 2006.
A very popular nightclub act in the LA area, Canned Heat became an Internationally known band after their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. In 1968, Canned Heat had a huge hit single with the classic “On The Road Again”. Their biggest hit song came shortly thereafter with the release of “Goin’ Up The Country”, renowned for its use of flute as a lead instrument. The song “Goin’ Up The Country” more or less became the theme song for the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in 1969. Canned Heat’s legendary performances at Woodstock are captured on both the Woodstock album/ CD and in the movie “Woodstock”.
In 1969, the band scored another hit song, with “Let’s Work Together”. In 1970, Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker, a master of boogie and blues, recorded the legendary “Hooker and Heat” album. Unfortunately, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson died in 1970, of an apparent drug overdose. The band retained most of the core members throughout the 1970’s, with some additional members joining. On the stellar 1973 release “The New Age”, rock and roll originator and innovator Little Richard, also the guest star and judge on 2006’s Celebrity Duets” television program, collaborates with Canned Heat for a raucous and rolling tribute to himself, titled “Rockin’ With The King’. Other notable songs on “The New Age” album are “Keep It Clean” and “Harley Davidson Blues”. Legendary New Orleans pianist and vocalist Dr John has played on several Canned Heat Albums, as well as another rock and roll icon, Fats Domino. Also master bluesman John Mayall has collaborated with Canned Heat.
Through the years, Canned Heat has released several albums with various members and has maintained a busy worldwide touring schedule. The unique and inimitable Bob “The Bear” Hite died in 1981 and Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine died in 1997. In 2006, Canned Heat is maintaining a steady touring schedule, including being one of the main acts in a touring multi-act show called the ” Hippie Festival”, which also features Rare Earth, Mountain, Country Joe McDonald, Melanie and others. The lone original (1968) member of Canned Heat still playing with the band, is their top- flight drummer, Fito de la Parra. Presented here are a lifelong Canned Heat fanatic’s choices for the top ten songs by Canned Heat.
A) Amphetamine Annie..from the “Boogie With Canned Heat” album
Bob Hite’s vocals are in top shape on this tale of a woman who was destroying herself with amphetamines. A hard- driving and bracing song with excellent guitar work.
B) Down In The Gutter, But Free..from the “Hallelujah” album
A free- form celebration of just being alive. The Bear’s growls are long and loud and the lead guitar is intentionally as basic as it gets. This song is akin to attending a church- revival meeting.
C) Dust My Broom..from the “Live At Topanga Canyon” album ( hard to find)
Although this classic Elmore James blues song has been recorded by dozens of performers, Canned Heat’s live version is incredibly crisp and tight and features some of their best lead guitar work ever. Bob “The Bear” Hite’s vocals are booming and powerful and the rythym section of Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Fito de la Parra provides a deep, driving locomotive for the rest of the band to accentuate.
D) Fried Hockey Boogie..from the “Boogie With Canned Heat” album
On this six minute masterpiece, the band members each take a turn playing a solo, after receiving an introduction from “The Bear”.
E) Goin’ Up The Country”..from the “Living The Blues” album
This happy, sunny tune chugs along with a driving backbeat and a beautifully melodic lead flute part. Perhaps Canned Heat’s most well- known song. Probably THE top song by Canned Heat.
F) Keep It Clean..from “The New Age” album
A very positive – vibe type of song.The lyrics are very interesting and the song has a great melody that lingers.
G) Let’s Work Together..from the “Future Blues” album
A remake of the Wilbert Harrison song, this very hummable tune is another positive- vibe song. The band has never sounded tighter musically, than on this song.
H) London Blues..from the “Future Blues” album
Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson’s distinctive high- pitched voice fits this song of infidelity and disappointment while on tour, perfectly. One of the very finest blues songs ever recorded by Canned Heat. This song rises to the top of the list of the top ten songs by Canned Heat.
I) On The Road Again..from the “Boogie With Canned Heat” album
Their first hit record, with Alan Wilson singing lead vocals. Truly one of the most classic rock songs ever made, by anyone. This song is almost hypnotic.
J) Same All Over..from the “Hallelujah’ album
In this song, Canned Heat rhapsodizes about touring all over the world, only to find that people are essentially the same, everywhere. This song is actually a positive- themed work.