Songs of Innocence and Experience (Allen Ginsberg album)

Songs of Innocence and Experience is an album by American beat poet and writer Allen Ginsberg, recorded in 1969. For the recording, Ginsberg sang pieces from 18th-century English poet William Blake's illustrated poetry collection of the same name and set them to musical accompaniment, performed with a host of jazz musicians.[1]

Songs of Innocence and Experience
Studio album by
RecordedJune–July 1969 in New York City
GenreFolk rock, jazz
LabelMGM, Verve Forecast
Producer"Miles Associates" (Barry Miles)
Allen Ginsberg chronology
Ginsberg's Thing
Songs of Innocence and Experience
America Today! (The World's Greatest Poets Vol. I)

The album was first released in 1970 on LP by MGM Records and Verve Forecast Records. It soon went out of print and remained so until 2017, when Omnivore Recordings released The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience double CD, featuring previously unreleased recordings from the same time period and in a similar vein as the original album.


...simple lyrics have great authority when employed to construct dreamlike or nightmarish images...

Allen Ginsberg discussing William Blake's poetry[2]

In 1948, Ginsberg experienced a religious vision of 18th-century English poet William Blake appearing in his East Harlem apartment and reciting poetry to Ginsberg.[3] He was profoundly moved by this experience and inspired to set Blake's poetry to music.[4] According to art historian Stephen F. Eisenman, "all at once, Ginsberg later said, he apprehended the unity of things material and spiritual, religious and carnal. Looking out the window, he saw 'into the depths of the universe' and understood that 'this was the moment that I was born for.'"[2]

Ginsberg's witness of the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests and riot in Chicago provided another impetus to record the album.[5] He chose to perform pieces from Blake's illustrated Songs of Innocence and Experience collection, which thematized the importance and sanctity of childhood, featuring critiques of systemic child abuse ("The Chimney Sweeper"), organized religion ("The Garden of Love"), and "the institutionalized culture of benevolence that perpetuated poverty" ("Holy Thursday").[2] After Chicago, he went to upstate New York and experimented with setting Blake's poems to music on a pump organ before recording the album.[5]

Recording and production

Ginsberg recorded Songs of Innocence and Experience in New York City from June to July 1969. With Barry Miles producing, he sang and played harmonium, piano, and finger cymbals. He was accompanied by a host of jazz musicians during the sessions, including trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Herman Wright, guitarist Jon Sholle, French horn player Julius Watkins, and arranger/vocalist/pianist Bob Dorough; Ginsberg's life-partner, fellow poet Peter Orlovsky, also contributed vocals.[5] Ginsberg had invited bassist Charles Mingus to perform on the album, but Mingus declined.[6]

According to Relix magazine's Jeff Tamarkin, the resulting music pitted Ginsberg's "intonations and somewhat droning delivery" of Blake's words, with a grasp on their "inherent rhythms and melodies", against contemporary "folk-rock/jazz-based forms" in songs averaging under two minutes in length.[7]

Release and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic (2017 CD)[5]
Christgau's Record Guide (1970 LP)A–[8]

Songs of Innocence and Experience was released as an LP record in 1970 by MGM Records and Verve Forecast Records. The record was credited as being "by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg", while its production was credited to "Miles Associates".[9]

Reviewing for The Village Voice that same year, music critic Robert Christgau gave the record an "A" and hailed it as "a collaboration of genius", crediting Ginsberg for singing in the manner of Blake's writing—"crude, human, touching, and superb"—and enhancing the source material with his musicians, a feat Christgau found seemingly impossible.[10] Rolling Stone magazine's Lester Bangs was impressed by Ginsberg's lithe, high-toned voice and found the record effortless and unpretentious, "like a labor of love, a salute from a young visionary to an ancient sage, executed with delicacy and charm in a vocal style reminiscent of an Anglo-American muezzin."[11] John G. Simon from The Harvard Crimson said the music demonstrates a range of styles and is not the most accessible but still unforgettable, offering listeners a way to remember the words to Blake's poetry as they would know the lyrics to popular music songs.[12]

Ginsberg later considered buying the rights to the album back from MGM so that he could record the remainder of Blake's poems from the Songs of Innocence and Experience collection, and release the recording as a double album.[13] The original album eventually went out of print[14] and remained so until the release of The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience by Omnivore Recordings on June 23, 2017. A double-compact disc reissue, the Omnivore set featured a second disc of previously unreleased recordings of Blake settings and other spiritually-themed performances, cut by Ginsberg in San Francisco between July and August 1971. Reviewing the reissue for AllMusic, Thom Jurek said, "As much of a treasure as this document is, it's disc two that holds the greatest revelations. ... As a whole, they are an inspiring, provocative, and life-affirming chapter in his legacy."[5]

Track listing

LP: Side one

  1. (a) "Introduction" / (b) "The Shepherd"
  2. "The Echoing Green"
  3. "The Lamb"
  4. "The Little Black Boy"
  5. "The Blossom"
  6. "The Chimney Sweepers"
  7. "The Little Boy Lost"
  8. (a) "The Little Boy Found" / (b) "Laughing Song"
  9. "Holy Thursday"
  10. "Night"

LP: Side two

  1. "Introduction"
  2. "Nurses Song"
  3. "The Sick Rose"
  4. "Ah! Sun-Flower"
  5. "The Garden of Love"
  6. "London"
  7. "The Human Abstract"
  8. "To Tirzah"
  9. "The Grey Monk"


Credits for the 2017 CD, taken from AllMusic:[5]

  • Michael Aldrich – Choir/Chorus
  • Greg Allen – Design, Reissue Art Director
  • Dave Baker – Engineer
  • Gordon Ball – Photography
  • Audrey Bilger – Project Assistant
  • William Blake – Composer, Illustrations
  • Cyril Caster – Arranger, Choir/Chorus, French Horn, Guitar, Trumpet
  • Don Cherry – Bass, Choir/Chorus, Finger Cymbals, Flute (Wood), Gourd, Harpsichord, Sleigh Bells, Trumpet
  • Lee Crabtree – Arranger
  • Dutch Cramblitt – Project Assistant
  • Elsa Dorfman – Project Assistant
  • Bob Dorough – Arranger, Choir/Chorus, Harpsichord, Organ, Piano, Project Assistant
  • Allen Ginsberg – Arranger, Choir/Chorus, Composer, Finger Cymbals, Harmonium, Piano, Primary Artist, Tibetan Trumpet, Tuning, Vocals
  • Elaine Gongora – Art Direction
  • Michael Graves – Mastering, Restoration
  • Peter Hale – Associate Producer
  • Matt Hoffman – Choir/Chorus
  • Peter Hornbeck – Viola, Violin
  • Elvin Jones – Drums
  • John Kilgore – Project Assistant
  • Steve Knutson – Project Assistant
  • Tim Lawrence – Project Assistant
  • Tom Lee – Project Assistant
  • Sid Maurer – Art Direction
  • Fred McDarrah – Photography
  • Michael McInnerney – Cover Photo
  • Jon Meyer – Flute, Project Assistant
  • Barry Miles – Photography, Producer
  • Tim Noakes – Project Assistant
  • Bill O'Hanlon – Project Assistant
  • Peter Orlovsky – Producer, Vocals
  • Kari Pearson – Editorial
  • Brad Rosenberger – Project Assistant
  • Arthur Russell – Cello
  • Jerry Schmidt – Photography
  • Alan Senauke – Mandolin, Project Assistant
  • Jon Sholle – Arranger, Autoharp, Bass, Bass (Electric), Drums, Guitar
  • Dorothy Stefanski – Editorial
  • Pat Thomas – Compilation Producer, Liner Notes, Producer
  • John Townley – Project Assistant
  • Julius Watkins – French Horn
  • Herman Wright – Bass
  • Peter Wright – Project Assistant
  • Janet Zeitz – Choir/Chorus, Flute

See also


  1. Tim Lawrence (1 January 2009). Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-1992. Duke University Press. pp. 37–. ISBN 978-0-8223-9085-5.
  2. Stephens, Christopher John (November 27, 2017). "No Reader of 'William Blake and the Age of Aquarius' Will Remain Unmoved". PopMatters. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  3. James Campbell (1999). This is the Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris. University of California Press. pp. 86–. ISBN 978-0-520-23033-0.
  4. William Lawlor (1 January 2005). Beat Culture: Lifestyles, Icons, and Impact. ABC-CLIO. pp. 155–. ISBN 978-1-85109-400-4.
  5. Jurek, Thom (2017). "The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience - Allen Ginsberg". AllMusic. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  6. Scott Saul (30 June 2009). Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Harvard University Press. pp. 324–. ISBN 978-0-674-04310-7.
  7. Tamarkin, Jeff (September 7, 2017). "Allen Ginsberg: The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience". Relix. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  8. Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: G". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved February 24, 2019 via
  9. Morgan, Bill (1995). The Works of Allen Ginsberg, 1941-1994: A Descriptive Bibliography. ABC-CLIO. p. 360. ISBN 0313293899. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  10. Christgau, Robert (April 23, 1970). "Consumer Guide (9)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  11. Bangs, Lester (June 11, 1970). Rolling Stone. New York: 60.CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  12. Simon, John G. (September 21, 1970). "'The Spirit of a Man is Raised'-Allen Ginsberg Singing Blake". The Harvard Crimson. Cambridge. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  13. Barry Miles (1 September 2011). In The Seventies: Adventures in the Counter-Culture. Profile Books. pp. 69–. ISBN 978-1-84765-494-6.
  14. Anthony DeCurtis; James Henke; Holly George-Warren, eds. (1992). The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). Random House. p. 283. ISBN 0679737294.

Further reading

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