Archive for September, 2007

The Music Machine “The Bonniwell Music Machine”

Bonniwell Music Machine

Fans of garage and psych are probably familiar with this LA band of Talk Talk fame. Sean Bonniwell and the Music Machine released two records and a plethora of quality outtakes and are sadly remembered, if at all, for their sole hit record, Talk Talk.

The Music Machine covered themselves in black and played a grinding, relentless form of experimental garage rock.

Their music was full of tension and uneasiness, and many consider Bonniwell a tortured genuis.

Sean Bonniwell is really one of the grandfathers of punk rock. Rock critics and fans alike often forget how good the original band was. Talk Talk’s follow up was the brilliant People In Me which barely dented the charts and in early 66 Bonniwell unleashed Point of No Return, a track with a swirling mass of organ and futuristic blasts of guitar.

The Bonniwell Music Machine album above was recorded mostly with the original lineup who had recorded the 1966 debut. That debut was sabotaged, managers and producers forced Bonniwell to fill half the record with cover versions of current popular hits. Stellar originals battled it out with covers of Neil Diamonds’ Cherry Cherry and a respectable gutsy stab at Hey Joe. Their second album was released in 1967 and was a small victory for a band who had fought for absolute creative control. The recording sessions were tension fuelled wars between management, Bonniwell, and the band. Eventually, the band left Bonniwell, feeling that he sided with management and ruled with an iron fist. Bonniwell Music Machine saw the band forge ahead and move beyond their garage roots.

The most popular song off the album, Double Yellow Line, was a real flame thrower, supposedly written while Sean was behind the wheel driving to the recording sessions! It was a unique statement that featured Bonniewell’s rants and hangups over some razor sharp guitars, a killer beat and strange fish bowl-like organ. Talk Me Down, Bottom of the Soul and the Eagle Never Hunts the Fly were just as vital and displayed Bonniewell’s alienation in spades. The Eagle Hunts was a monstrous, intense rocker with a wonderful fuzz meltdown that was supposedly disowned by the band during the recording sessions. Other strange pop songs like the psychedelic harpsichord-laden, harmony-rich Trap were a welcomed change in direction. Absolutely Positively was a fantastic fist pounding garage-punk anthem and Discrepancy was notable for two distinct vocalizations.

It’s always great to see a garage band enter the studio stoked about the possibilities of recording and come out creating their acid punk masterpiece. Bonniwell was definitely a rock star in his own mind, making this record their definitive statement. In 1969 Bonniewell would take a drastic left turn and release Close, a solo album of crooner pop that showed little signs of the Music Machine’s past glories.

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“Double Yellow Line”

Their brilliant 1966 single:

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“Point Of No Return”

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The Louvin Brothers “Satan is Real”

Satan Is Real

Here’s an essential country gospel record for any collection. Satan is Real is most (in)famous for its cover, which is a photograph of a real set designed and ignited by the Louvin’s themselves, highlighted by the magnificent 12 foot plywood Satan depiction, and noted in the liners to have nearly killed the fellas when the flames got out of hand. This album should be every bit as well known, however, for its quality of sound.

Regardless of your interest in religion, there is no denying the beauty and intensity in music devoted to the Higher Power. And as the Byrds taught us, there can be a campy joy, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, in singing together about “The Christian Life” and “Satan’s Jeweled Crown.” However, Charlie and Ira Louvin did NOT sing these songs with even the slightest intention of mockery; you can hear it in their passionate, strikingly harmonious singing. “You can hear him in songs that give praise to idols and sinful things of this world!

Aside from the shock of hearing the finest harmonized voices from the history of country music singing and preaching on the woes of doomed sinners and the realness of Satan, there is a perfectly restrained country combo backing, with church organ, snare drum, upright bass and excellently twanged electric guitar. Each song is well written and completely memorable. It’s a perfect, yet challenging and rewarding, album.

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“Satan Is Real”

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The C.A. Quintet “Trip Thru Hell”

Trip Thru Hell

The C.A. Quintet’s Trip Thru Hell is one of the most unique LPs from the 60s. It was a small indie pressing of under 500 from the Candy Floss label, making it a very rare 1968/1969 release. Originals will set you back a pretty penny (possibly over $1,000) but are worth it considering the CD version does not faithfully recreate the back side of the LP.

Prior to this LP, the Minneapolis-based C.A. Quintet had released a few respectable, though restrained, garage rock singles. Then something tweaked in the mind of Ken Erwin, the mastermind behind the Quintet, and the band’s frat rock would become infused with a dark, weird edge.  The Trip came housed in a classic, striking jacket and was a truly original acid concept album chronicling the hells of earth. It’s an album that takes you into another world, another mind, and there are some deep, lysergic excursions to behold.  The title track is a 9-minute instrumental with a prominent bass groove, angelic and eerie background vocals, shimmering organ, a suprisingly effective phased drum solo, and demented guitar distortions. The track may not sound as demonic as its title implies, but  it was unlike anything recorded before or since, and certainly worth the trip.  “Cold Spider” has Ken Erwin screaming his lungs out over some nice whacked out raga leads and Hendrix-style feedback. They bust out the brass for “Colorado,” “Sleepy Hollow Lane,” “Smooth As Silk,” “Trip Thru Hell (Part 2)” and “Underground Music,” which are dark oddities and compelling highlights.

Listening to this record may be an overwhelming experience for some, so in one sense it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s pure psychedelia with a strong vision, and does not fit the ‘incredibly strange music’ tag at all. The C.A. Quintet were an engmatic band that was full of life but by the end of the 60s they faded into obscurity.  A 2LP vinyl reissue is available from Sundazed.

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“Underground Music”

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The Stranglers “Rattus Norvegicus”

Rattus Norvegicus

Rattus Norvegicus doesn’t have a huge audience in America. It’s a record passed over by a lot of rock aficionados, and swarms of gob spitting punk purists haven’t heard a note of its snarl. How did this happen? It’s got all the right ingredients – songs of alienation, angst, attitude and anarchy archetypes. Hell, it’s even oozing with pre-punk psychedelic rock influences like The Doors, with a Manzarek like organ carrying its melodies along in a drunken stupor. The problem may be that (despite its influences) the album, like The Stranglers themselves, was a little too British. It’s an ethnocentric disease that’s paralyzed American music lovers from the ears down for decades. Groups like The Kinks, The Jam and The Stranglers never amassed the amount of attention from U.S. audiences that they rightfully deserved. Shame. They were talented, hungry and damn fine rock stars.

The record (which is named after the scientific labeling of a type of Norway rodent) is hard to pin down. It has the edge of an expletive laden punk EP and the long sweeping takes of your standard prog-rock concept album. The opening lyrics on their debut track “Sometimes” cuts in on the heavy organ crutch and grinding Peter Gunn style bass with a lip curled, “Someday I’m gonna smack your face. Somebody’s gonna call your bluff. Somebody’s gonna treat you rough.” The beauty of Rattus Norvegicus can be found here, with its ability to simultaneously affront and appease. The band’s sweet and sour take on the burgeoning punk movement would become a calling card for subsequent albums and would set them apart from the cookie-cutter one act groups forming at the time.

The star of the show is easily “Peaches”, a song that drips attitude with a schoolboy’s playful demeanor. The track may have confused some audiences into thinking that, lyrically speaking, The Stranglers were a sexist group of misanthropes who were quick to criticize any and every race, creed and belief structure. In actuality Hugh Cromwell, Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and crew were amateur satirists commenting on society at a confusing time in England’s history. Had it not been for the run ins with the law and being acquaintances of the notorious Finchley Boys street gang, people might have seen the lyrics for a song like “Ugly” as observant or hilarious.

But when you hear the lyrics “I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death, but I had to go to work and she laced my coffee with acid” out of context, you can’t be blamed for your assumptions.

Rattus Norvegicus doesn’t follow a straight and uncompromising journey into the abyss, a point of view that most punks initially adopted at that time. Instead the record is a cornucopia of surprising solos and swells of melody. “Princess of the Streets” seems completely disjointed from entries like “Goodbye Toulouse”, a song that hints at the future sound of the band and a lot of the brilliance they already had as songwriters. Punk was something that can be nailed to a particular style, a particular time and a certain type of attitude. Well in The Stranglers’ defense, Cromwell has been cited as saying that they never considered themselves punks. Their later albums delving into more pop friendly waters (as well as the production of a few concept albums) should come as no surprise then. Why should they be nailed to the punk rock cross when they never considered themselves its apostles to begin with?

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“Peaches”

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The Paupers “Magic People”

Magic People

In 1967 the great band from the North released their debut record. The Paupers, along with the Guess Who, were one of the first Canadian bands to capitalize on the British Invasion. They started releasing singles in 1965 with a lineup consisting of Denny Gerrard (Bass), Skip Prokop (Drums), Bill Marion (Guitars) and Chuck Beal (Guitars). Prokop and Marion handled all the songwriting chores on their first clutch of singles.

Their early sound was a classy mixture of roots music, blues and folk-rock (think early Byrds or Lovin’ Spoonful crossed with the Blues Project circa 1965). The band began rehearsing 14 hours a day, honing their setlist and evolving into one of the tightest bands around. They hit the hip Yorkville District of Canada, playing to packed out venues daily and in return this gained them immense popularity. Rumor has it that the Paupers blew the mighty Jefferson Airplane off stage one night. In 1966/1967, Bill Marion exited the band for reasons unknown, prompting the Paupers to recruit Adam Mitchell. Mitchell (guitar and vocals) proved to be an excellent songwriting partner for Prokop, and at this point the band set out to create their debut lp.

Magic People has a good mid 60’s sound and is anchored by the band’s folk-rock leanings. There are a trio of good psychedelic sunshine pop fuzz rockers on the record. These songs, Magic People, It’s Your Mind and Think I Care, are highlighted by Prokop’s distinct drum patterns, special guitar effects, and great raga soloing. The only dud on the album is One Rainy Day, which is a jaunty good time Lovin’ Spoonful rocker. The remaining six songs are good to great folk-rockers, that recall the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Beau Brummels. The catchy You and Me feels like a throw back to a 1965 Byrds or Brummels folk-rock sound. Tudor Impressions is excellent, reflective, and abstract, including horns, sparkling accoustic guitars and a Beach Boys-like harmony pop ending. Black Thank You Package and My Love Hides From Your View have a great outsider feel. Black Thank You Package has a distinct, exciting intro and a catchy chorus while My Love Hides is an absolute haunting masterpiece of acid-folk.

Later on in the year the band would play at the seminal Monterey Pop Festival. Everything that could go wrong for them did. Band members took doses of acid that were way too strong and had equipment/sound check problems. Thus, it was the beginning of the end for the Paupers, a group of individuals who had began with so much promise. In 1968, beneath all the internal turmoil, the Paupers were able to squeeze one more lp out. Ellis Island is a little mini psychedelic gem and fans are strongly urged to check this great album out as well.

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“My Love Hides From Your View”

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The Move “Shazam”

Shazam

The Move are more of a household name in the UK, unlike in the US where most folks have never even heard of the Move or Roy Wood. Shazam is a prog rock/power pop tour de force that skyrockets to 11 from the opening lick and teeters at (and nearly over) the top throughout; you can hear a theatricality in Shazam that would hint at the band The Move would become, ELO.

This record comes off as a blueprint for heavy metal, glam rock, hair rock and all its derivatives (I can picture Jack Black singing these tunes), and as it was released in 1970, it most likely was used as such, though the album is definably progressive rock. The magic is in the album’s transitory sound: it’s probably one of the heaviest albums that still retains the glimmer and style of the 60s.

Hello Susie busts it open like a Yes climax, right off the bat, and lead vocalist Carl Wayne sets the tone with his gnarly shout. Beautiful Daughter is probably my favorite track from this set, with it’s clever phrasing and chamber orchestra. Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited is the real eye opener, it always catches my attention when this album plays. If you can’t make it past the first few minutes (this album is NOT for everyone) just wait until the middle where there’s an excellent prog reworking of Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and other classical melodies (can’t quite peg them, anybody know?). The 2nd side of the album consists of three cover songs, with The Last Thing On My Mind sounding surprisingly byrdsian.

Shazam was considered a snapshot of the eccentric Move’s live act. You can allow yourself to judge this one by the cover.

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“Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited”

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Mighty Baby “Mighty Baby”

Mighty Baby

When the Action broke up in the late 60s, they reformed minus Reggie King as Azoth. The Azoth name was short lived, leading the band to settle on Mighty Baby. The Action had played the club circuit for years, releasing many excellent mod singles before plunging into the world of psychedelia. This band had always worked hard, and now they were finally given the luxury to record a long player.

Mighty Baby’s album was released in 1969 off the small independent Head label. At this point, Mighty Baby could technically and instrumentally hold their own against rock’s finest: The Grateful Dead, King Crimson, Collosuem, Caravan and the Allman Brothers. The album is miles away from the soulful, sweaty mod garage of their mid 60s singles and could best be described as a melding of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young harmonies, Allman Brothers guitar improv and Notorious Byrd Brothers psychedelia.

Few debut openers are as good as the revolutionary Egyptian Tomb. It’s a sleek, powerful piece of psychedelia with strong west coast style guitar interplay. At 5:30 minutes, this great song never falls flat and is definitely one of the defining moments of British acid rock. Same Way From The Sun has a similar stoned vibe with psychedelic echo and sounds like it could have been lifted from a really good latter day Byrds album. The spacious, pounding A Friend You Know But Never See, yet another highlight, rocks really hard with some interesting raga style guitar and has a strange mountain air aura. Other works such as the rural I’m From The Country provided a sound Mighty Baby would further explore on their next album, the equally brilliant Jug of Love from 1971.

Mighty Baby along with the Action and various band member’s solo careers are one of rock’s great lost family trees. During their peak they were innovative and unstoppable, thus the “English Grateful Dead” label really doesn’t do them any justice.

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Egyptian Tomb”

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Neil Young “Tonight’s The Night”

Tonight’s The Night

Easily my favorite Neil Young record.  I grew up not listening to Neil because I had never latched on to the sound of his radio hits. But a while back I got into his records (starting with On The Beach) and realized what a miss I had made. If you made this same mistake, go start with above record and make amends.

It’s a bit seedy and a little drunk;  Neil tells it like it is on “Borrowed Tune”: “..singing this borrowed tune…too wasted to write my own.” When I first heard this late night piano confessional, a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Lady Jane, the final lyrics gave me the chills. Then they come in with “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,”  a remake of the rollickin’ Crazy Horse tune, and you’re sold. Easy as that.

It was recorded in 1973 and released in 1975. The whole record feels as if it was as loosely constructed as possible, like they just wrapped a couple of one-take sessions in newspaper and dropped ’em off at the video store. It’s a masterpiece, on about loss, sorrow, and drugs. Apparently, this album was part of the ‘Ditch Triology‘, an unofficial grouping of three experimental albums recorded after his initial commercial successes.

The first of the trilogy is a live record called Time Fades Away which still hasn’t seen release. Give it a look @ aquariumdrunkard.com.

I love this song “Albuquerque.” It make you think every city should have a song.

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“Albuquerque”

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Manfred Mann Chapter Three “Volume 1”

Volume 1

Manfred Mann’s Chapter 3 was this band’s third lineup formed around late 1968/early 1969. Mann had taken in bassist Steve York from the legendary progressive psychedelic band East of Eden. It was the start of something new and fresh, a total departure from the blues-rock and psych pop lineups of the mid to late 60’s.

Each Manfred Mann lineup has at least one classic record on offer but Volume 1 is unique even within these ranks. Volume 1 was something that Mike Hugg and Mann had wanted to do for sometime but feared the possibility of a commercial failure. Hugg handles most of the lead vocals on a record that I’ve heard described by some as a darker version of Traffic circa 1969. The sound is very progressive, peppered with jazzy horns, keyboards/organ, a slow stoned ambience, creative arrangements and Hugg’s quite original although bizarre vocals. Mister You’re A Better Man Than I, the original version, finally makes an appearance, in a slow jazzy build up that’s a definite highlight. Totally different than the Yardbirds’ masterpiece of the mid 60’s, it’s still superb and worth your time.

Other songs like the brilliant Devil Woman fall in between the exotic and avant-garde with strange percussion, a demented Mike Hugg, sound effects, and soaring female backup vocals. Sometimes and One Way Glass are the most pop oriented of the bunch but are dreamy jazz inflected gems. I would have to give this album one of the highest possible ratings for early progressive rock (1969) because of the musicianship, originality, and overall downer mood. Chapter 3 released one other solid record in 1970 and supposedly have a shelved 3rd album awaiting release (it’s supposedly their best from what I have read)!

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“Sometimes”

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Iggy Pop “The Idiot”

The Idiot

Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” is a record that breaks a lot of rules musically. It’s sweet but classless. It’s reminiscent as well as groundbreaking. Its sound is timeless as it is dated. This album will make you as confused as the mad men who wrote it. This is classic Iggy for the main reason that it’s nothing like he’s done before. It’s immediately likable for that best of reasons: because you don’t have a clear-cut idea of why you like it.

As soon as “Sister Midnight” kicks in, the influences of the album’s co-author are evident. David Bowie (specifically of the Berlin Trilogy variety) touched this project. The man produced it and shares writing royalties from the first to last track, and it’s heard throughout.

This undoubtedly had a major hand in pop’s new direction, but that’s not to undermine the growth of Iggy as an artist.

This record showcases a lyrical prowess that wasn’t always expressed with The Stooges. Maybe it was the lack of the machine gun guitars, presence of the more soulful Bowie (prevalent on the track“Tiny Girls”) or the stay in the mental hospital that changed him, but pop music morphed.

“Nightclubbing” has a heartbeat intro that slowly bleeds life into the rest of the arrangement. It rises like a sedated Frankenstein and moves heavily towards Iggy’s lyrics – which have him sounding like he’s singing in an S & M themed karaoke bar. The song, along with “Funtime” and “Dum Dum Boys”, sets the stage for the new theme of the record – Iggy’s taking his time. He’s going to sing these songs slow and steady, fused with a new baritone and an amazing grasp of minimalist songwriting. “China Girl” is a perfect example. Take in the lines of any of these songs at face value and they can be dismissed just as easily as they were ingested. Accept the flaws and you will be rewarded.

Some may long for the frenzied sound of Raw Power. Some may dismiss the otherworldliness that reels in “Mass Production” – the closing track. But deserters will miss out on a lot of what makes The Idiot such an iconic album…the mood.
Iggy would make another record (the also brilliant Lust For Life) with Bowie at the helm the same year before moving on. Both are poignant because they accomplish a true rarity: a recording that is testament to a time when an artist had nothing to lose.

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“Baby”

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