Michael Chapman “Fully Qualified Survivor”

Michael Chapman, apart from being a prolific English songwriter whose revered work spans four decades, is probably the best guitar smith you have never heard. While his skills are best evidenced on this album’s predecessor, Rainmaker, the original songwriting and tight production, seemingly informed by all music that came before it, steal the show here.

It’s as if every style of rock music were somehow harnessed and tamed into Michael’s unique folk vision. The album sounds fresh as anything recorded today, yet still of its time, sparkling with punchy drum fills and orchestral arrangements. The album opens with an understated triumph: experimental strings create a soundscape for the soothing rhythm of Aviator to “take my time away.” I cannot think of another 9 minute song that doesn’t seem to last long enough. The lyrics on the album evoke a feeling of hopelessness, and there is a kind of sad tone but all together I believe it can be an uplifting album. This may be thanks to sharing much of the same personnel responsible for early albums by Elton John and David Bowie. During Fully Qualified’s hardest moments, though, I hear a striking resemblance to Bowie’s classic Man Who Sold The World.

Stranger In The Room and Soulful Lady lend a classic rock balance to softer songs like the immortal Postcards From Scarborough, by far the most famous Chapman song. Through several interludes, we are treated to Chapman’s masterful six-string suites. I know my fair share of fingerpicking but still have trouble believing that Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime is actually performed on one guitar by one person. In any case, it’s a piece that should be standard fare in guitar workshops the world over. But note that I’m not talking about the trite electric guitar leads, performed by Mick Ronson who would team up with Bowie for Space Oddity thanks to this record.

Fully Qualified Survivor is an exceptional collection of songs and your best introduction to one of England’s great underappreciated artists. One of the best.

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“Andru’s Easy Rider/Trinkets & Rings”

:D CD Reissue | 2011 | LITA |  buy ]
:) LP Reissue | 2011 | LITA | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | Harvest | search ebay ]

Spirit “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”

12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus

Perhaps Spirit’s finest album although some fans champion the psych pop of 68’s The Family That Plays Together.  Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was released by Epic in 1970. Sessions for the album came to a grinding halt when Randy California fell off a horse and suffered a fractured skull. He spent one month in the hospital and because of this it took the group nearly 6 months to complete Sardonicus. On top of this, tensions within the group were mounting. Randy California (guitarist) and Jay Ferguson (vocals) could not agree on the future direction of Spirit; Ferguson wanted to play commerical rock n roll while California favored a loose, experimental approach. This would be the last lp from the original lineup as internal friction would lead to Spirit’s demise. The band split up after the recording of this album, which was subsequently pieced together by producer David Briggs.

If you were to round up all the essential LA/California rock albums from the late 60’s/early 70’s this would be amongst the very best on that list. The songs on Sardonicus are more structured than before, only “Space Child,” a trippy progressive instrumental, has a slight jazz/fusion element that was featured so prominently on earlier albums.  “Animal Zoo” (a psych pop gem), “Mr. Skin” (quirky hard rock with horns), and the gorgeous “Nature’s Way” were all released as singles in 1970.  “Nature’s Way” is one of Spirit’s most popular tracks and a definite highlight on Sardonicus. The vocals and electric/acoustic guitars on this number are positively sublime and create a very intimate mood; it’s the kind of song that’ll stick in your head for years to come. Other great tracks were the moody piano ballad “Soldier” and the psychedelic folk-rocker “Life Has Just Begun,” which features a beautiful chorus.

While the Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus contained some of Spirit’s most radio friendly material, the group was still experimenting aplenty.  “When I Touch You,” one of their best hard rock tracks, featured a strong psych influence and a fine vocal performance from Jay Ferguson. Another track, “Love Has Found A Way” is a morass of backwards effects, strange lead vocals, and pristine harmonies. Two other hard rockers, “Prelude – Nothin’ To Hide” and “Street Worm” are full of great guitar work, clever fuzz effects, and killer solos: these tracks cleary explain why Randy California is so highly esteemed by his peers. Despite its clean, commercial production and the fact that it was loved by musicians and critics alike, Sardonicus did not sell.

The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was as good as any record coming out in 1970, certainly up there with the era’s very best.  And although Sardonicus is progressive and  foward thinking, it never sounds dated or self indulgent, the LP is a true masterpiece. It’s been reissued many, many times and originals on vinyl are easy to find. The best reissues have been put out by Sundazed (vinyl), Epic/Sony (cd) and Repertoire Records (cd). Spirit would soldier on with drummer Ed Cassidy and guitarist Randy California, releasing some fine albums and playing many memorable live shows. Ferguson went on to form Jo Jo Gunne, a commercial hard rock/boogie band that saw success in the 1970s.

In 1997 Randy California tragically died in Hawaii while saving his son from a dangerous ocean wave. It was a sad end to one of rock’s great groups.

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“Why Can’t I Be Free”

:) Vinyl Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
:D CD Reissue | Sony | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | Epic | 1970 | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

PODCAST 18 Garage,Psych


Running Time: 52:27 | File Size 72.1 MB
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1.  Help Me by The Kensington Market 1969 (Aardvark – Pacemaker)

2.  I’ll Be The One by Madd, Inc. – 1966 (45 from The Ikon Records Story – Frantic Records)

3.  Shake by The Shadows Of Night – 1968 (45 from The Shadows Of Night– Rev-Ola)

4.  Little Boy Blue by Tonto & The Renegades – 1966 (45 from Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story)

5.  Rich Man’s Fable by H.M.S. Bounty – 1968 (Things – Sundazed)

6.   Pretty Things – Oh by The Blue Things – 1965 (45 from Blow Your Mind)

7.  So Easy She Goes By by David Blue – 1966 (David Blue– Collectors Choice)

8.  On Tour by The Chancellors – 1966 (45 from Back From The Grave Vol. 8)

9.  Back Home by Cuby & The Blizzards – 1966 (45 from Singles A’s & B’s)

10.  You Do Things by The 49th Parallel – 1966 (45 from The 49th Parallel Complete – Pacemaker)

11.  I Want Your Love by The Pretty Things – 1965 (Get The Picture – Snapper)

12.  Eagle’s Son by The Electric Banana – 1967 (Electric Banana Blows Your Mind)

13.  Mazy by The Peep Show – 1968 (45 from Mazy: The Secret World of The Peep Show – Castle)

14.  Professor Black by The Lost & Found – 1968 (45 from Everybody’s Here – Charly)

15.  Frustration by Painted Ship – 1967 (45 from Acid Dreams Testament – Past & Present)

16.  Do Re Me by Mock Duck – 1968 (45 from Test Record – Gear Fab Records)

17.  Mr. Greene by The Palace Guards – 1968 (45 from Complete Recordings – Gear Fab Records)

18.  Farewell Aldebaran by Henske & Yester – 1969 (Farewell Aldebaran)

Electronic Pioneers: Louis & Bebe Barron “Forbidden Planet”

Forbidden Planet

In 1956, MGM released the science fiction film, Forbidden Planet. The picture stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Neilson and the brilliant Robby The Robot. How exciting it must have been to experience this film in the theater in 1956! Technically speaking, the film is remarkable, featuring sophisticated visual effects and a visionary musical score.

For Forbidden Planet, married NY duo Louis & Bebe Barron produced one of the very first wholly electronic movie scores. The music was created using custom electronic circuits built by the Barrons, circuitry that they claim was influenced by cybernetics.

Louis and Bebe Barron:

“In Scoring Forbidden Planet – as in all our work – we created individual cybernetic circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a ‘voice.’ “

These “cybernetic circuits” were used to build multi-musical sound layers, as well as most of the film’s “inorganic” sound effects. This is a wonderful achievement: the basic connection created between the sound effects and the sound music. The SFX and the musical score are interwoven to create a neat, all-electronic union between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

Tape echo and reverberation seem to be used widely as a sound processor within this production, helping to further a “space-like” or “far-out” atmosphere. All-together, this pioneer production is a fine example of pre-synthesizer electronic music making!

This score might not be the easiest to listen to on its own. I would recommend viewing the movie first, paying special attention to how the electronic music influences the film, and vice-versa. Later, listen to the soundtrack alone, preferably with headphones (there are some excellent uses of stereophonic sound within). I can assure you you won’t be disappointed, or un-moved. This soundtrack is a must have for those interested in early electronic music and electronic music history. A memorable release!

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“Battle With The Invisible Monster”

:D CD Reissue: 1995 | Small Planet Records | Buy From GNP Crescendo ]

Nilsson “Aerial Pandemonium Ballet”

Aerial Pandemonium Ballet

My friend actually got mad at me for not telling him about this album sooner. I had always thought it was one of those private albums, that you love but don’t really mention to anyone. But, as it turns out, this one is best shared.

So here it is, ladies and gentleman, may I present, in the center ring, Nilsson! And his mash-up album (way ahead of its time), Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. When Harry hit it big with The Point! and his rendition of Freddy Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin‘ practically scored the entirety of Midnight Cowboy, he went back in the vaults and re-released his first two albums (Pandemonium Shadow Show and Aerial Ballet), only mixed together as one.

Nilsson was the Beatles’ favorite American recording artist and he pays them a fitting tribute in the bonus tracks with “You Can’t Do That” which every Beatles fan MUST hear. Also, I heard once that Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song was about John Lennon but I’m not sure if this is true; this was recorded well before the lost weekend.

Can’t recommend this one enough, especially if you haven’t yet heard Harry’s beautiful three-octave crooning or his cyclical songwriting skills. Some folks think the original two albums are better, which is fine, but this must be the first mash-up! Go Nilsson.

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“Without Her”

One is a Number Divided By Two

Comus “First Utterance”

Quite reasonably described in recent reviews as “acoustic death metal” and “too weird for folkies, too folky for weirdos”, it would be hard to identify any album from the sixties/seventies cusp that was more wilfully intended to alienate the mainstream record-buying public than this totally unique progressive folk effort by Comus. First Utterance was, and still is, “difficult”. Fortunately today an appreciative audience exists for “difficult” stuff like this.

Kent-based art students Roger Wootton and Glenn Goring had played acoustic covers of Velvet Underground numbers in London folk clubs, thereby alienating the contemporary folk audience as early as 1968. Enlisting several classically-trained players, they became Comus, after the seventeenth-century masque (musical drama) by John Milton, and debuted at the Beckenham Arts Lab, the southeast London pub session hosted by a young David Bowie. The stage act now centred round Wootton’s lyrically-disturbing songs which drew from the themes of the original Comus – sorcery and attempted rape – and other similarly cheerful topics: murder, mutilation and mental illness. The accompaniment was fully acoustic apart from Andy Hellaby’s Fender bass, with Wootton on 6-string, Goring on 12-string and slide, Colin Pearson on violin and viola, Rob Young on flute and oboe and Bobbie Watson’s homespun vocals. There was no drummer but various band members contributed enthusiastic hand percussion when not soloing. Indeed, apart from Wootton’s lyrics the band’s other distinctive feature was the intensity and variety of sounds they conjured from their acoustic toolkit, matched by Wootton’s astonishing vocal variations which ranged from a demented Bolan warble via a Roger Chapman bleat to a John Lydon shriek.

A support slot with Bowie at London’s prestigious Festival Hall led to Comus’s signing with Pye’s adventurous progressive arm, Dawn, and a tortuous series of recording sessions. On its 1970 release the album received reasonable support, including a pre-release maxi-single comprising leadoff track “Diana” and two non-album songs plus a slot on the fondly-remembered Dawn Penny Concerts college tour. Despite this the album never appealed to other than a few wigged-out diehards, and it died an appropriate slow death, the band folding. In 1974, at the request of the nascent Virgin Records, Wootton, Watson and Hellaby reconvened as Comus with guest musicians to produce a more conventional folk-prog album To Keep From Crying, but this also stiffed and marked the end of the band until, thirty-four years later, the entire original outfit sans Young was enticed back together by a Swedish cult following for a live appearance at a Stockholm festival.

“Diana” conjures up the darkest of Dionysian images, operating around a disconcerting riff set off by cacophonous goblin voices and sweet atonal strings. “The Herald” is a serenely beautiful twelve-minute suite in three sections with allegorical day/night lyrics, lush woodwinds and a shimmering acoustic guitar centre section. By contrast the eleven-minute “Drip Drip” with its chilling references to nudity, bloody death and forest burial builds to a thunderous jam with howling strings and rattling percussion. “The Bite” chronicles the tortured nightmares of a condemned man’s final night of sleep to an inappropriately cheery guitar and flute backing reminiscent of Jethro Tull. The closing “The Prisoner” is a desperate cry for help from an inmate of a lunatic asylum which starts innocuously enough but progresses to a fractured, crazed finale. Subject matter notwithstanding, the quality of the music itself throughout makes it possible to appreciate the album without delving too deeply into the words, which suits me just fine.

First Utterance was reissued as a single CD by Phantom Sound & Vision in 2004, and is currently available as part of a comprehensive 2CD set Song To Comus on Castle that includes the whole of both albums and the maxi-single, both sides of a late Wootton solo single and an unreleased outtake plus an excellent historical booklet. All the Comus you could conceivably want, frankly. If you really need to digest the lyrics, visit Comus’s website.

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“The Prisoner”

:) Original |  1970 | Dawn | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2005 | Castle | buy here ]

Bachdenkel “Lemmings”

Bachdenkel started out life as the U NO Who.  This late 60s group had been active on the Birmingham scene for some time and played psychedelic pop.  They recorded a handful of respectable tracks which were pitched to the Beatles’ Apple label but no deal ever materialized.  The U NO Who would go on to become Bachdenkel at the end of the decade.  Bachdenkel’s lineup looked something like this:  Colin Swinburne on vocals, guitar, piano, organ and harpsichord, Peter Kimberley on vocals, bass and piano, Brian Smith on drums, and Karel Beer on Organ.

Bachdenkel would relocate to France and record the great Lemmings album in 1970.  Although the LP was completed by the summer of 1970, Phillips didn’t release Lemmings until 1973 – released throughout Europe but not in the UK.  This really sealed this unique British group’s fate – unfairly so because they were very talented.  I believe a UK reissue/rerelease appeared in the late 70s (maybe 1978-) but by that time Bachdenkel had ceased to exist.    The group released another solid progressive album titled Stalingrad (1975) and toured Europe in 1976 before breaking up.

And as for the Lemmings LP? It’s one of the best 70s progressive rock albums out there.  The musicians here keep their egos in check and know when to end a song, unlike Yes or ELP.  To me this is a much better (and more interesting) album than anything Yes or ELP would ever release.  The ringing guitars dominate Bachdenkel’s sound but there are tasteful keyboards as well.  Some people have linked Bachdenkel’s sound to Caravan, Abbey Road era Beatles, and King Crimson.  These are all valid comparisons – think of Bachdenkel as a missing link between the Beatles and the mighty Crimso, progressive guitar pop with a slight psychedelic hangover.  “An Appointment With The Master”, the LP’s most popular song, is a lost classic that might be what the Beatles would have sounded like had they lasted into the progressive rock era.  Crashing drums and superb psychedelic guitar work give this cut a fresh edge.  “Translation” and “Equals” are also outstanding dark mood pieces that sound completely modern by today’s standards – this LP has not dated one bit.  All of Lemmings 7 tracks are excellent, whether it be the 11 minute epic “The Settlement Song” or the shorter, tuneful tracks like “Long Time Living” – every works beautifully.  So…interesting arrangements that take chances (unique twists and turns), a dark aura, rock solid songwriting, Caravan-like vocals, and great musicianship unify this very special musical statement.  Any fan of classic rock needs to own this essential masterpiece.

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:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Ork | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Philips | search ebay ]

Emerald Web “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”

Emerald Web was the wind playing electronic duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl.  Although they’d become better known for their work scoring nature documentaries (including many collaborations with Carl Sagan), Emerald Web’s 1979 debut album was a milestone in electronic psychedelia- rooted in the prog of the mid 70s and foreshadowing much of what would come in the early 80s.

Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales mixes analog synthesizing with the heavy use of wind instruments, augmented occasionally by the angelic vocals of Kat Epple. The sound is incredibly unique. There is a very haunting experimental quality to this music that prevents it from sounding like muzak, although it occasionally veers in that direction.

The Lyricon wind controller makes a very early recorded appearance on this album and is one of the reasons the many sounds heard here are hard to place. The line is constantly blurred between live flutes and the electronic approximations, even occasionally mimicking bird calls. It’s these sound combinations that give the songs an otherworldly quality- like hearing indigenous music from another planet.

Although some pastoral vocal songs show up here and there, eerily dreamy instrumentals make up a little more than half the record. These are certainly among the highlights and show Emerald Web’s talent for crafting soundtrack music that would come to the fore later on. “The Flight of the Raven” is a brief but gorgeous piece, summing up all that is good about this record in under three minutes. Fleeting melodies give way to dramatic clashing synths, fading away at just the right moment. “The Powerstone” recalls early King Crimson, especially the vibe of “Moonchild”. It’s on this track that Emerald Web’s knack for creating natural sounding tones and soundscapes from very electronic instruments is most evident.

This record is highly recommended for fans of golden era progressive and electronic music. Originally released as a private pressing on Stargate, Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales LPs are somewhat rare these days, although they do turn up regularly on eBay.

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“Fight of the Raven”

:) Original Vinyl | 1979 | Stargate | search ebay ]

The Nightcrawlers “The Little Black Egg”

The Little Black Egg

What the Hell is that little black egg all about!? I’m still not sure, but ever since that jangly mess of a song got permanently stuck in my head, I’ve found myself wanting one too. If that egg’s anything like the tune, then it must be something good. It was certainly good enough to crack the billboard charts and secure The Nightcrawlers a spot in that pantheon of garage bands (along with the Syndicate of Sound and The Choir) with nothing more to offer than one remarkable song.

Well I’m glad to say that ain’t the case. With any of those bands. And especially Florida’s The Nightcrawlers, who were kind enough to leave behind a whole album of equally deranged folky-garage songs. Big Beat’s reissue of The Little Black Egg LP adds some fine bonus cuts that are sure to please both 60s punk and folk-rock fans alike. When they’re not bashing your head in with harmony laced stompers (“I Don’t Remember” “Who Knows”), they slip into a plaintive mood and climb quietly up and down a minor chord (“The Last Ship”). Perhaps the finest cut is the jangle-punk gem “Basket of Flowers” which sounds something like the early Turtles being pulverized in The Swamp Rats’ blender. Charlie Conlon’s often inscrutable lyrics and ability to chameleon his vocals to fit the songs gives the album a unique edge, making it stick out from the crowd like a priest in a strip club. A feat that very few mid-60s bands were able to pull off.

All this is enough to qualify LBE as an underappreciated classic, but what they should really be revered for is leaving us utterly devastated with what has to be one of the saddest songs ever recorded, “If You Want My Love”. This one could even give the almighty Hank Sr. a run for his money in the broken heart department. Prepare to be torn apart by slow, eerie guitars, sparse percussion and agony-laden lyrics: “My heart it was broken when you said…If you want my love, you have to die for it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be mine.” Maybe? Damn, it doesn’t get much harsher than that.

The album was reissued on CD by Big Beat (Ace) with some great unreleased cuts along with some less charming Brit R&B imitations. The extensive liner notes feature an oral history by members of the band that may shed some light on the mystery of that damn egg. Read it and find out.

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“A Basket Of Flowers”

[ Buy @ Amazon | Vinyl Search @ eBay ]

Morgen “Morgen”

Morgen was a hard rock/psych band that hailed from Long Island, NY.  They were fronted by guitarist/vocalist/wild man Steve Morgen but also included drummer Bob Maiman and guitarists Barry Stock and Rennie Genossa.  In 1969, record label Probe (ABC) released the group’s sole offering.

The album’s best known track is the classic “Welcome To The Void.”  40+ years later this cut’s over the top acid guitar work and pounding drums still shred the best of speakers.  Certainly a unique mixture of acid garage and hard rock, “Welcome To The Void” is essential listening.  There are other great cuts to be found on Morgen, like the stealth rocker “Purple” and the freaky fuzz corker “Of Dreams.”  “Eternity In Between,” probably influenced by the Who, is another excellent track that begins with ringing guitars and crashing drums.  This 5 minute song is nearly ruined by a two and a half minute drum solo.

Steve Morgen’s sexually charged lyrics and over the top vocals will irritate some listeners but that’s really a minor complaint as most of Morgen is full of great fuzz guitar solos and solid songs.  No beads or flowers for these guys, Morgen is straight up brooding hard rock psych.  A mini gem of a record that will reward patient listeners.

Over the years Morgen has been reissued by grey area bootleggers Eva and Radioactive.  Originals may set you back a few hundred dollars.

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“Welcome To The Void”

:) Original Vinyl |1969 | Probe | search ebay ]