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Count Five “Psychotic Reaction”

Most fans of garage know Count Five as the group behind the classic single “Psychotic Reaction” – a three minute and eight second distillation of everything that’s great about the genre, from its immediately recognizable opening fuzz riff to its last wigged-out break. Eminent garageologists all agree on the track’s importance in the canon, and its inclusion on the original Nuggets LP cemented its hall-of-fame status long ago. But make no mistake, the sum of Count Five is much more than that one single. If you like “Psychotic Reaction,” you’ll love Psychotic Reaction.

Of course, Psychotic Reaction the album wouldn’t exist but for the success of “Psychotic Reaction” the single, so some background information is in order. Count Five began in the suburbs of San Jose, California, when John “Sean” Byrne, recently arrived from Dublin, Ireland, heard The Squires practicing R&B and British Invasion covers in a garage. Byrne asked if he could sit in, and being the closest thing in San Jose to a real Beatle, he was immediately asked to join the band. Flash forward a year, and with competition for bookings becoming increasingly fierce, the quintet attempted to stand out from the rest of the pack by donning vampire capes and becoming Count Five. (Check out this promo shot of the band in full Dracula regalia, awkwardly standing in front of the Winchester Mystery House).

The capes didn’t last long, but as Count Five, the band began to write original material and soon came up with the basic structure of “Psychotic Reaction.” Although the song was a hit with local audiences, record labels weren’t interested and the band endured months of failed auditions. But Count Five pressed on, revising and reworking “Psychotic Reaction” until the fledgling Los Angeles label Double Shot decided to take a chance on the song, though it ended up hedging its bet with some last-minute cutting and splicing. (A producer made the wise decision to copy the rave-up section in the middle of the completed track and add it to the end as a fade out). Released as a single in June 1966, “Psychotic Reaction” began to dominate radio playlists across the country, and was a national top five hit by September. To capitalize on the success of the single, the suits at Double Shot immediately pressured the band to record a full-length album. Yet despite the hurried circumstances of the album’s origin, with songs literally being written in the airplane on the way from San Jose to the studio in Los Angeles, Psychotic Reaction has a high killer-to-filler ratio.

The album was rush-released in October: eleven tracks of caveman stomp and Maestro Fuzz-Tone inside a genius album cover that makes you forget about that earlier promo shot – the band looks like they’ve quickly and ruthlessly disposed of some poor soul foolhardy enough to call them a poor man’s Yardbirds. While none of its tracks overshadow the greatness that is “Psychotic Reaction,” the shambolic perfection of “Pretty Big Mouth” comes close. With its propulsive circular fuzz riff, sly lyrics, and brilliant key change at the chorus, the track absolutely nails the smart-aleck swagger every garage band circa-1966 tried to cop to. “Peace Of Mind,” the follow-up single to “Psychotic Reaction,” is another contender for best track: an unholy racket of strident, siren-like guitar, surf drumbeats, and heavy doses of controlled feedback, all barely held together by an insistent three-note bass groove. (To these ears, “Peace Of Mind” sounds similar to the proto-punk the Monks were recording over in Germany around the same time). Unfortunately, AM radio wasn’t quite ready for “Peace Of Mind,” and the single failed to chart.

While the trio of “Psychotic Reaction,” “Pretty Big Mouth,” and “Peace Of Mind” make this album essential for any garage devotee, there’s also the hopped-up mayhem of “Double Decker Bus” to consider. While it’s basically a double-time rewrite of their hit single, complete with a rave-up midsection, you won’t hear any complaints from me. Other notable tracks include “They’re Gonna Get You,” with its falsetto verses and abrupt tempo changes, and the trippy, disoriented vibe of “The Morning After.” As mentioned above, Psychotic Reaction does contain some filler. The inclusion of two workmanlike Who covers (“My Generation” and “Out In The Street”) offer no surprises, and there’s a couple of backward-looking tracks that feel out of place with the rest of the album, such as the beefed-up British Beat of “Can’t Get Your Lovin’.”

Band members complained in later interviews that due to the hurried nature of the recording sessions, they never had the chance to shape the songs the way they wanted them to sound, but in my opinion, whatever perceived flaws there may be are part of the album’s perfection. Although subsequent non-album singles would sound more assured and incorporate newfangled effects such as the wah-wah pedal, they lacked the raw simplicity of this album. On Psychotic Reaction, there’s nothing fancy, nothing complicated or too clever – just fuzz and low-end stomp that squarely connect on a primal level. Do yourself a favor and take this album for a spin the next time you’re looking for a garage fix. Your inner teenage punk will thank you for it.

Both mono and stereo versions of the original vinyl album can be found quite easily, but for the last word on Count Five, check out Big Beat’s Psychotic Revelation – The Ultimate Count Five, which contains the original album in mono, unedited versions of “Psychotic Reaction” and “They’re Gonna Get You,” plus non-album singles and essential demos.

Q. Since we’re on the subject, what are your top five U.S. garage singles? Mine are included in the comments below. . .

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“Pretty Big Mouth”

:) Original Vinyl | 1966 | Double Shot | search ebay]
:D CD Reissue | 2003 | Big Beat | buy here ]

Book A Trip: The Psych Pop Sounds Of Capitol Records

Shortly after the sonic experimentalism of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, the rules for creating the perfect pop single changed. A catchy refrain wasn’t enough– producers and musicians were now expected to use studio technology to dress up pop hooks with trippy effects, unconventional instrumentation, and multilayered harmonies. Book A Trip: The Psych Pop Sounds Of Capitol Records collects twenty-six singles that attempted to capture some of that studio magic.

As is to be expected, there’s a distinct Beatles/Beach Boys influence throughout the tracks. Although a few betray perhaps a bit too much influence (such as The Tuneful Trolley’s magical mystery tour through the Fabs’ 1967 recorded output in “Written Charter”), the majority of the acts comped here took the newfound sense of musical adventure as a starting point and charted their own path. I can’t think of a better example than the anything-goes production of Tim Wilde’s “Popcorn Double Feature,” which not only brazenly mixes dit, dit, dits and bah, bah, bahs, but throws in an electric sitar breakdown followed by an exuberant trombone solo. And did I mention the random bubble sounds?

There’s a wide range of psych pop styles represented among the twenty-six tracks, including attempts by decidedly non-groovy Capitol acts such as The Four Preps and The Lettermen to update their sound. Yet even the more conventional numbers contain surprises in their arrangements and are worth a listen, especially Leon Russell’s Pet Sounds influenced orchestration on the Preps’ “Hitchhiker.” On the whole, Book A Trip is loaded with fine examples of psych pop and sunshine pop, with many tracks containing elements of both genres– you won’t find any bad trips here.

A personal favorite is the faux-British psychedelia of The Act Of Creation’s “Yesterday Noontime,” its insistent percussive riff competing with undulating peals of guitar and lysergic backing vocals. Other high points include the handclaps and soaring harmonies of Fargo’s “Robins, Robins,” the pumping harpsichord of Stained Glass’s “Lady In Lace,” and the quirky vaudeville of the Sidewalk Skipper Band’s “(Would You Believe) It’s Raining Flowers In My House.”

Moorpark Intersection’s sole Capitol single (co-produced by David Axelrod) is another highlight. “I Think I’ll Just Go And Find Me A Flower,” ambles along on a sunny acoustic riff, nodding to the country-psych direction the band would later follow as Morning, while the flip, “Yesterday Holds On,” is a much heavier slice of orchestral psych pop.

With Book A Trip, Now Sounds has put together a first-rate compilation, featuring pristine sound and detailed track-by-track information– the CD graphics even replicate the classic Capitol “swirl” 45 label. Whether you’re new to the genre or a sixties pop aficionado, there’s much to recommend here.

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“Yesterday Noontime”

:D CD | 2010 | Now Sounds | buy here ]

Lee Hazlewood “Love and Other Crimes”

Shortly after the release of the million-selling Nancy & Lee, Lee Hazlewood exercised his newfound clout with Reprise and headed to Paris to record a new solo album. Along for the ride were rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Donnie Owens and Wrecking Crew members James Burton, Hal Blaine, Chuck Berghofer, and Don Randi. If Hazlewood’s stream of consciousness notes on the back of the album are to be believed, they lived the life of the jet set, their days and nights a bacchanal of fine wine, beautiful women, and Lotus Europas with all the extras. Fortunately for us, Hazlewood and crew still managed to find the time to record the stunning Love and Other Crimes.

A baroque precursor to his minimalist Requiem For An Almost LadyLove and Other Crimes finds Hazlewood in a reflective mood, sifting through the ashes of a love gone wrong. Yet the album isn’t all loser’s tears and raindrops – by the end of side two, Hazlewood is unbowed, undefeated, and above all, unrepentant.

This is prime Hazlewood and essential listening for fans of the man and his work. With its sophisticated production, this is a truly great sounding album, and at just under thirty minutes, it demands to be listened to from start to finish. James Burton and company effortlessly shift from country-fried pop to jazzy lounge to elegant ballads and back again. Among the inventive arrangements, “She Comes Running” and “Pour Man’” successfully pair twangy guitar and harpsichord, with “Pour Man’” coming off like a mash-up of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue.” And you haven’t heard Burton’s trademark volume swell technique until you’ve heard it on full display in “Rosacoke Street.” Even Chuck Berghofer’s distinct upright bass work deserves special mention – listen for his famous “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” bass slide at the end of “Pour Man’.”

Tracking down an original copy of this album is highly recommended – to these ears, Hazlewood’s voice has never sounded better. Although Love and Other Crimes doesn’t appear to have been reissued as a stand-alone CD, tracks from the album are available on several compilations. However, note that the import LHI compilation, which inexplicably shares the same title and cover art as Love And Other Crimes, only contains four tracks from the album. A better bet is Rhino Handmade’s two-disc Strung Out On Something New, which presents Hazlewood’s three Reprise albums in their entirety, as well as a handful of hard‑to-find singles produced by or featuring Hazlewood.

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“Forget Marie”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Reprise | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Rhino Handmade | 2CD Comp | buy here ]