To most of the world, the first official Strawbs album (discounting a previous Sandy Denny collaboration released only in Denmark years later) was a self-titled 1969 release that showed the British band to be focused on folk-rock with a sideline in slightly psychedelic pop. However, if history had worked out a little differently, the public would have been given a much more eclectic first impression of the Strawbs. The first sessions for the record took place in London in 1968 with future Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon at the helm, with arrangements by future David Bowie/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti. In keeping with the open-ended spirit of the era, Dudgeon, Visconti, and the band decided on an expansive, try-anything aesthetic, perhaps aiming to end up with their own little Sgt. Pepper's in the process.
The results proved a little too left-field for the label's liking. A&M intervened, and a number of tracks were dropped, replaced with more "appropriately" produced tunes. Of a Time presents the original sessions in their entirety (plus a generous helping of extras), giving us a tantalizing view of what might have been. Among the songs deemed unfit for public consumption by A&M: "And You Need Me" could have come off the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle, while "Ah Me, Ah My" features the sort of orchestrated music hall moves eventually perfected by the Kinks. "Just the Same in Every Way" has a swinging, mod-jazzy feel, complete with bluesy piano licks. The strings-and-bongos arrangement of "Whichever Way the Wind Blows" borders on Martin Denny-esque exotica, and the tongue-in-cheek "Sweetling" features a full-on swing band with brass ablaze. In retrospect, it's hard to say whether the original version of the album would have been hailed as an inspired musical mélange or dismissed as an unfocused flop, but regardless, it makes for a fascinating listen decades after the fact.