Traffic were an English rock band, formed in Birmingham, in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They began as a psychedelic rock group and diversified their sound through the use of instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques in their music. Their first three singles were “Paper Sun”, “Hole in My Shoe”, and “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.
Traffic disbanded in 1969, during which time Winwood joined Blind Faith, then reunited in 1970 to release the critically acclaimed album John Barleycorn Must Die. The band’s line-up varied from this point until they disbanded again in 1974. A partial reunion, with Winwood and Capaldi, took place in 1994. Here are all of Traffic’s albums ranked.
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7. Last Exit (1969)
“Two late singles of the first era of Traffic (pre-1970), a few studio throwaways, and two live performances from the Winwood/Wood-Capaldi tour (after Mason left for the final time). The latter features a brilliantly conceived version of “Feelin’ Good” (made famous by Nina Simone) that doesn’t quite succeed, but remains a highlight of the band’s history; the main reason I bought the original album.”
6. When the Eagle Flies (1974)
“Having listened to and enjoying Traffic for the last 40 plus years, When the Eagle Flies, to me has to be the most mesmerising album in the whole Traffic catalog. Free spirited jazz improvisations with vocals. The center piece “Dream Gerrard” is the absolute pinnacle of Traffic achievement. Several of the songs are flowing and serene and full of wit but alas, “Dream Gerrard” ranks with ‘Roll Right Sones’, ‘Low Spark of high-heeled boys’, ‘Shoot out at the Fantasy factory’ and ‘40,000 headmen’ as the most reprentable offerings from Traffic MkII. No disappointment here. 4.5 stars for the Remastered edition, wish there were out takes or left over songs that could have offered more from the period, but I will take this as is gladly.”
5. Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973)
“Traffic walked the razor’s edge of recognition and acclaim versus respect and admiration. Shootout follows Low Spark and attempts to extend the former’s vibe. This may be the one clear instance of Traffic actually aiming to duplicate a previous success. Considering that the success was artistic, as well as, monetary excuses the attempt (somewhat). If Shootout and Low Spark had been a double album (another period touch), then any perceived minor misses would have been bolstered by the obvious excuse that exhibit A was not as strong when compared to exhibit B.”
4. Mr. Fantasy (1967)
“I really loved The Spencer Davis Group from the beginning to the end, even after Steve Winwood’s departure. When Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group, i wondered why? After one listen to this record i found out why? I thought it was a WOW! What a difference a group makes. Dear Mr. Fantasy will always stand out as an anthem of the 60’s. But, it doesn’t stop there. Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dealer, Hope I Never Find Me There and House for Everyone are real tunes. I forgot to mention Paper Sun, that was the group’s first single. The album is just a masterpiece from the start to finish.”
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3. Traffic (1968)
“This is one of the all time great classic albums from the Sixties. Traffic was so innovative, as much jazz as rock, it had the complexity to last. I remember this being played in the art room in my high school when it first came out. (Pretty amazing – music wasn’t allowed in classrooms at that time.) The other fave in the art room was Joe Cocker’s With a Little Help From My Friends. I had a great art teacher! He introduced us all to the very best of what is now classic rock early on, so we could squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it!”
2. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1969)
“One of the most underrated albums of the rock era IMO. A perfect blend of rock, jazz and international music. Winwood and the boys employ some African instruments to create a soft, almost dreamy atmosphere on several pieces. A shame this ensemble did not stay together. I had bought this album as a teenage lad, tossed the vinyl in the mid 1980’s. Rebought it and it sounds better than ever. They don’t make music like this any more. This is original composition. Long live the Rock of the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s. Never to be outdone.”
1. John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)
“I can’t decide if this is their best or perhaps The Low Spark… certainly for me, it is one of the two and it could depend on the mood I’m in as the other has some nice psychedelic songs on from Dave Mason. This is really the other side of where they were then (even though it’s a ‘comeback’ album) so it’s more straightforward pop/rock with a folky tinge on a couple of songs although it kicks of with the jazz-samba-ish Glad and then into the funkier Freedom Rider. That’s about the best segue from one incredible pieces of music to another, that I’ve ever come across.”