Posts Tagged ‘ 1969 ’

Mike Stuart Span “Children of Tomorrow”

The cosmopolitan seaside resort of Brighton, Sussex – my own birthplace, as it happens – has been a Mecca for the more unbuttoned forms of the performing arts ever since the louche patronage of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Strangely, especially given its nearness to “Swinging” London, it produced only a sparse crop of memorable artists and groups in the halcyon years of pop and rock music. During their brief sojourn as a recording act, the Mike Stuart Span were the only such from Brighton – and that at the height of the sixties beat/psych era when groups were being signed nationwide in hundreds.

Like many of their contemporaries, they launched as a beat group, became a mod-soul outfit, then floated off into psychedelia before gravitating towards progressive rock. Starting around 1963 as the Mighty Atoms, they underwent numerous personnel changes and name-changes, first to the Extremes and then to the Mike Stuart Span – after their vocalist, Stuart Michael Hobday – before landing a contract with EMI Columbia in 1966 under which they released a couple of Stax-ish singles. These both bombed and EMI let the band go. Dumping their keyboards and horn section, the remaining four-piece – Hobday, guitarist Brian Bennett,  bassist Roger McCabe and drummer Gary Murphy – recorded an acid-tinged cover of “Rescue Me” and a couple of similarly lysergic originals for Decca, who branded these insufficiently commercial and declined to release them at all. Taking what appeared to be the only remaining path, the band cut, at their own expense, two unashamedly psychedelic originals “Children Of Tomorrow” and “Concerto Of Thoughts” and issued these in 1967 in a run of 500 singles on a small independent label, Jewel. The record received sufficient exposure and critical acclaim to gain them local support slots to Cream and Hendrix, a couple of John Peel sessions, a BBC TV documentary (on struggling rock bands!), a misguided pure-pop single on Fontana and, eventually, an offer to sign to the UK branch of Elektra, under condition that they change their name; this they did yet again, to Leviathan. Two fine guitar-led prog-rock singles on the new label came and went unnoticed in 1969, and sessions for an LP were completed but Elektra head honcho Jak Holzman was dissatisfied with the product. With the prospect of the album’s release fading, the band called it a day and split late in ’69, all but Bennett leaving the music industry. “Children Of Tomorrow” resurfaced as an uber-rarity during the 1980s psych revival. Interest slowly grew and a compilation (officially-sanctioned) of most of the band’s psych/prog-era studio work finally appeared in 1996.

This new collection, Children Of Tomorrow, represents the entire studio output of the band in all its incarnations on all labels apart from about half of the aborted Elektra album, and gives a fascinating insight into a band exploring every avenue to try to make the big-time, with talent to spare but luck totally lacking. The whole story is laid out in the splendid accompanying booklet. Of the music, the early soul-based tracks are solid and energetic if unoriginal, while the Decca efforts are worthy generic acid-pop. From here things improve markedly; both sides of the Jewel single are splendidly druggy stuff, fully deserving of their high rating. But best of all IMHO are the demos the band cut before the Elektra signing and the sides subsequently released as Leviathan singles; the tight arrangements, imperious vocals and wallpaper-stripping guitar work of “World In My Head”, “Second Production”, “Flames”, “Blue Day” and “Remember The Times” suggest that the cancelled album would have been a fine prog-guitar artefact. Allegedly the master tapes still languish in Elektra’s vaults, and Warner has hinted in the past about finally releasing the album in original form. If it ever appears, it will almost certainly have been worth the wait.

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“Children of Tomorrow”

:D Compilation | 2011 | Grapefruit | buy here ]

Buffy Sainte-Marie “Illuminations”

Beginning with 1967’s Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, the music of Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie began to take on a decidedly schizophrenic nature. Traditionally celebrated for her biting political songs, as well as her stark approach to folksong, the late sixties saw her take her distinctive sound in a series of surprising directions. Candlelight experimented with sweeping orchestral arrangements and electric pop music, while its follow-up, I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, saw Buffy immersing herself deep in Nashville traditions. Come winter, 1969, and the young firebrand decided to turn the tables once again, releasing what is perhaps her most esoteric album of all: Illuminations.

From the very first notes you know you’re in for something unique. “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” is an eerie, electronically treated adaptation of lines from Leonard Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers, featuring bizarre production touches courtesy of Vanguard Records president Maynard Solomon himself. Buffy’s voice and guitar are taken and warped into distorted moans and oscillating loops of sound that build upon themselves into a kind of electric witch’s chant. I should warn you not to get too comfortable with all this, though, because if this record is anything, it’s unpredictable. After almost five minutes, this unsettling opening fades into the short, church organ hymnal “Mary,” before a gnarly electric guitar and banjo jerk into the rapid-fire folk-rock of “Better To Find Out For Yourself,” featuring Buffy at her yelping, wailing best. In the clucking fadeout, what might return but Solomon’s electronic screeching, teasing the record back down into a dark, candlelit vampire ballad.

Honestly, I could go on for the entirety of the track list like this, as every song here is  indispensable to the whole. In fact, I’m almost tempted to label this one a concept album, with the opening track acting as a sort of manifesto. As for the music, though, it’s everywhere, from the raw west coast psychedelia of “He’s A Keeper of the Fire” to the caustic “Suffer the Little Children,” which itself sounds straight out of one of Buffy’s earlier records. One of the most wild segments is when the stomping “With You, Honey” closes with a shrill scream and dissolves into the pretty, lilting acoustic love song “Guess Who I Saw In Paris.” This latter track is so overly cute that in any other context I might write it off as a low point, but in context with the rest of the music here it somehow comes off as extraordinary. Like the rest of the album, it’s hard to really put the magic into words. This is one you just have to experience.

Interestingly enough, this album was not only groundbreaking musically, but it was also the very first quadrophonic vocal record ever made. Unfortunately, it appears that few people cared about either of those two points at the time of its release, as it was a huge commercial disaster and would quickly be deleted from Vanguard’s catalog. If you can, I would recommend you all find a vinyl copy, since this seems like the kind of record that was born for the needle, but should that fail there’s always Vanguard’s compact disc reissue. Also worth checking out is Buffy’s follow up to this one, She Used To Want To Be A Ballerina, which, of course, sounds little like Illuminations, but does feature Jack Nitzsche and the original lineup of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

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:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2000 | Vanguard | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Country Joe McDonald “Thinking of Woody Guthrie”

During the reigning years of San Francisco headband Country Joe and the Fish, singer and songwriter Joe McDonald took some time out to head to Nashville and record a pair of solo albums with the city’s top session men. Released on the iconic Vanguard Records, these two albums saw McDonald take a broad left turn, away from psychedelia and deep into the traditional folk and country music that had helped inform his earlier years as a radical-political folksinger. Indeed, the first of these two albums, Thinking of Woody Guthrie, was a heartfelt, play-it-straight tribute to the daddy of them all (the radical-political folksingers, that is).

With Nashville aces such as Grady Martin, Norbert Putnam, and Buddy Harmon on board, nobody can accuse McDonald of doing the country thing half-assed. The band lends a warm Opry-house vibe to the wide range of Guthrie material on display, from the weary “Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road” (see “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”) to “Tom Joad,” the seven minute Steinbeckian epic that closes the first side of the album. The music tends to be dense, but the sound is always crisp, with sharp guitar and steel lines darting in and out across McDonald’s plainspoken singing. Martin’s electric sitar lines in “Pastures of Plenty” and the woven acoustics that drive “Tom Joad” are particularly notable. At some points in the proceedings, one does wish that McDonald’s voice was a little more emotive, but as it stands he does a fine job at conveying what is otherwise well-worn material.

All things considered, it would be a stretch to suggest that Thinking of Woody Guthrie is an essential record, but for what it is it manages to stand remarkably strong. Anyone putting together an electric album of Guthrie songs risks missing the point completely and overdoing the material, but McDonald’s take is understated enough to avoid this misstep. He is always sympathetic to the song. In fact, as he himself notes in the spoken introduction to “This Land Is Your Land,” the magic in Woody Guthrie’s songs lay in the fact that Guthrie “never gave you the feeling that he was better than you in any way, and he never gave you the feeling that he was worse than you. But that he loved you, because you were just like him and he was just like you.” I’d argue that the same can be said for old Country Joe here.

An unusual release such as this often risks being forgotten, and left to rot in the vaults, but fortunately Vanguard Records has been remarkably good about keeping their material in print, and their reissue from the early nineties is still widely available. I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin; this is a great record if you’re looking to take some Guthrie songs on the road.

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“Pastures of Plenty”

:D Reissue | 1991 | Vanguard | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]

Bread “Bread”

Bread were known as one of the premier 70s soft rock acts and rightly so, as they produced some of the best music that genre has to offer.  This debut, released by Elektra in 1969, is much different than those early 70s records.  Bread, is closer to Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut album (also from 1969), combining Buffalo Springfield and Byrds folk-rock influences with a Brit pop feel that recalls late period Beatles or Paul McCartney’s early solo work.

The album is an underrated delight.  Every song is rock solid, displaying a diverse range of popular rock styles from the time, such as lite psych, folk-rock, country-rock and soft pop.  David Gates is usually thought of as the master craftsmen in Bread but Robb Royer and James Griffin contribute fine material to Bread.  Songs like the powerful “Move Over” (there’s fiddle on this Griffin penned classic) suggest Bread could rock hard when they wanted to while other great tracks like “London Bridge” are dressed up with moog synthesizer – it’s all about the fine production details on this album.  “Could I,” “You Can’t Measure The Cost,” and “Look At Me” are pop gems, displaying leftover psych residuals from the previous two years.   “Don’t Shut Me Out,” along with many of the album’s songs, seemed to have obvious radio potential – hooks galore, strong songwriting and lovely harmonies.

Vinyl copies are fairly easy to find.  Bread can only be bought on cd as part of a 5 disc box set which will set you back about $20 (not a bad deal at all).  One of the great debuts from 1969 – don’t miss out on this one.

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“Move Over”

:) Original | 1969 | Elektra | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Hickory Wind “Hickory Wind”

This group took their name from the classic Byrds/Gram Parsons song.  Hickory Wind, from Indiana, were fairly young musicians when they cut this mini gem in 1969.  If you consider the limited studio technology on hand, Hickory Wind came up big, with a very good country-rock garage psych private press LP.  Initially, when you look at the record, it resembles one of those male/female folk duo LPs or maybe a private press christian rock album (note the small crucifix at the bottom of the record and the amatuer illustration).  Thankfully, it’s neither of those.   There are mild Buffalo Springfield, Byrds and Beatles echoes throughout the album but closer, more accurate references might be  Riley or Spur.

Most of the albums tracks are strong but only a handful qualify as excellent.   “Father Come With Me” and the bizarre spoken word number “Mr. Man” give the album its psychedelic folk-rock sheen – both are great tracks with lots of organ and moody garage vocals.  “Time and Changes,” a pounding garage rocker with sizzling fuzz would soon be recut by B.F. Trike, which was essentially a later version of Hickory Wind.  In some circles, “Time and Changes” is considered a classic.  The remaining cuts have a strong country-rock/folk-rock flavor.  The bare bones production of Hickory Wind gives these compositions a unique quality that makes this album memorable – no albums I know of have quite this sound.  “Country Boy,” “The Loner,” “I Don’t Believe,” “Judy,” and “Maybe Tomorrow” are well worth hearing, all eerie slices of early country-rock/Americana.

I’ve read other reviews that describe Hickory Wind as only half a good album or not that good at all.  Don’t believe this.  Hickory Wind is a fine album – consistent throughout with lots of interesting twists and turns.  Check out the recent Beatball reissue as original vinyl LPs will be impossible to find (just 100 original Gigantic label LPs were pressed).  Rockadelic would release B.F. Trike’s only album, which is also a good post psychedelic hard rock album.

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“Country Boy”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Beatball | buy here ]
:) Vinyl | 1969 | Gigantic | search ebay ]

Earth Opera “Great American Eagle Tragedy”

Earth Opera was one of several groups to come out of the rather infamous “Bosstown” scene, a motley wave of rather disparate bands modeled on the highly successful San Francisco sound and pushed by MGM publicity man Alan Lorber. Despite being grouped together in marketing and subsequent rock and roll history, the only real common denominator among these groups is, well, Boston. Each band really did have its own unique sound and aesthetic, and each deserves to be looked at independent from the record company hype that clouded their reputations back in the late 1960s. Earth Opera, headed by future bluegrass pioneers David Grisman and Peter Rowan (who had already made something of a name for himself singing with Bill Monroe), gave testimony to this spirit of individuality when they released The Great American Eagle Tragedy in 1968.

The album opens with what could have been a killer single, Rowan’s“Home To You”. This song would later be re-recorded by Seatrain in the early 1970s, but the original recording is absolutely superior. Soaring harmonies and snaking steel guitar lines make this one probably the closest Earth Opera got to country rock, which, though eminently enjoyable, doesn’t quite prepare you for the weirdness to follow. “Mad Lydia’s Waltz” is a surreal and atmospheric sketch of a woman heading down a “cobblestone alley” to meet her lover. The lyrics and trilling mandolin almost draw the sound into the British folk rock territory of Fairport Convention, and Rowan’s keening vocals really do border on unsettling.

From there, the band skips through a myriad of sounds, from the rather pale, lightweight pop of “Alfie Finney” to the rollicking “Sanctuary From the Law”. Earth Opera has a well-defined sound, and their real talent is in exploring that sound from all possible angles. The end result is that every cut has its own distinct character, while at the same time working towards building a coherent whole. This whole comes together beautifully on the undeniable centerpiece to the record, the ten-and-a-half minute title track. “The Great American Eagle Tragedy” begins with the mournful wailing of saxophones, with the band eventually building into an explosive early climax and a brief bit of silence. Heavy drums draw the music back in and the band rumbles into a pounding anti-war anthem replete with free-jazz fuzz guitars, whistling flute improvisations and some of the most intense vocal screaming I’ve heard on a 1960s recording. To be perfectly honest, experiencing this song may be worth the price of the album alone.

It’s hard to imagine what could possibly follow “The Great American Eagle Tragedy,” but somehow the band clears the hurdle by throwing in an undeniably catchy rocker that somehow manages to compare love to a roast beef sandwich against a backdrop of mangled guitars. It may sound ridiculous, but this is one you’ll be humming to yourself long after the needle’s been lifted. The tasteful production, courtesy of underground folk legend Peter Siegel, helps keep this gnarly tangle of instruments and sounds in order, and really does give the record just the right amount of fine-tuning it needs to succeed.

Earth Opera released a self-titled record before this one, which is rather different from its follow-up, but definitely solid. Both albums were reissued on compact disc by Wounded Bird Records in 2001, but it looks as though The Great American Eagle Tragedy has since gone out of print. Fortunately, you can find original copies of the album relatively cheap, and seeing as Edsel Records recently reissued it on vinyl, new copies aren’t that hard to snag.

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“Home to You”

:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Wounded Bird | buy here ]
:) Vinyl |  1969 | Elektra | search ebay ]

Dale Hawkins “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”

Dale Hawkins, cousin of the legendary rockabilly raver Ronnie Hawkins, is most commonly remembered for writing and recording the original version of the swamp-rock standard “Suzie Q” in 1957. Born and raised in Louisiana, Hawkins had reached a milestone at the beginning of his career by bringing the sound of the swamp to the masses. However, Hawkins was much more than just a writer or a singer, and he spent the next ten years recording more singles for Chess Records and working behind the scenes as a producer and A&R man.

By 1967 Hawkins was itchin’ to cut an lp of his own again and headed into a small studio in Los Angeles where, he began work on what was to become L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas. Holed up in bassist Joe Osborn’s basement studio, Hawkins began laying the framework for his new record along with the help of Taj Mahal, James Burton, Ry Cooder, and Paul Murphy. Hawkins had established a practice of playing with up and coming musicians when he successfully enlisted the help of a young James Burton for the twangy signature lick on “Suzie Q”, and things were no different this time around with youngbloods Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal along for the ride. Hawkins would later travel to Memphis, TN where he worked with Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and Wayne Jackson & the Memphis Horns at Ardent Recordings and then to Tyler, Texas where Hawkins hunkered down in a funky little studio and finished the record with the help of Texas Garage Rock obscurites Mouse & The Traps. When all was said and done he had managed to lay down ten slices of pure swamp-funk genius, even getting songwriting help along the way from Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame and the writer of “The Letter”, Wayne Carson. Pretty impressive.

L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas sounds like the front cover looks. That is to say, laid back, down-home, stoned, and restless all at once–it’s a deep fried oddball of an album that takes the genre to new levels and doesn’t sound exactly like anything else out there. The closest points of comparison for Hawkins’ funky noise would no doubt be the kindred spirits of Jim Ford, Link Wray, and Bobby Charles, although the kinda eerie haunted vibe that possesses part of the album brings to mind Skip Spence’s acid masterpiece “Oar” more than the music of Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins or Dale’s former Chess Records labelmates. Simply put, L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas is weird, in a totally wonderful way.

The title track is an instant southern juke joint dance floor classic–throw it on the turntable and watch the hips begin to shake! A perfect introduction to the record, right on par with the title track off of Jim Ford’s excellent “Harlan County” lp; the equation begins with an undeniably funky Levon Helm-esque drum beat and ends with a fat and brassy horn part courtesy of The Memphis Horns, with some slinky slide guitar from Ry Cooder and some twangin’ tele from James Burton thrown in for good measure. “Heavy On My Mind”, co-written with the help of Carson, has a great muggy southern vibe and rollicks along at a brisk pace, aided by more excellent guitar work from his young dream team of killer pickers.

Things get freaky on “Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love To Town”, a song about a disabled Vietnam vet and his unfaithful wife, which Kenny Rogers later scored a hit with. Along with the help of his friends in Mouse & The Traps, Hawkins managed to record a version of this song that really nails the subject matter. It’s deep, dark, murky, and weird, like a bad trip put to wax. Hawkins and the boys must have been chowin’ down on some mighty strange gumbo in that funky little Texas studio to cook up something this chewy. Meanwhile, Bobby Charles co-write “La-La, La-La” is a catchy little winsome pop ditty, and “Little Rain Cloud” is a swamp masterpiece that simply must be heard to be believed. The only place Hawkins comes close to missing the mark is on his cover of the great Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, which falls just short of the high level of excellence set by Reed’s original version. Nevertheless, the tune fits in pretty perfectly with the freaked out funky vibe of the whole album.

The late 60’s and 70’s were a time when handfuls of great record producers such as Alan Parsons, John Simon and Jack Nitzsche were spending time on the other side of the glass recording albums of their own. Hawkins’ background as both a musician and a producer allowed him to make a record that’s distinctive and exciting in “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”. There was nothing like it before, and nothing’s come along since. Dig in, y’all.

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“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bell | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Revola | buy here ]

Horses (self-titled)

Horses was a Los Angeles band pieced together by the crack songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert following the success of their lysergic bubblegum anthem “Incense and Peppermints” for the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Toting a bag full of new Carter and Gilbert songs, Horses recorded one album for the White Whale label in 1969, likely expecting the excitement around the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s record to carry over to their own. However, things weren’t quite that easy, and their self-titled record went nowhere fast despite containing a wealth of great material.

The first cut on the record, “Freight Train,” is an uptempo boogie number that was apparently being considered by Johnny Cash for his winning Orange Blossom Special album. Carter and Gilbert decided not to allow Cash to record it, however, wanting to reserve it for Horses. It would have been interesting to hear what the Man in Black would have made of the tune, but alas that was never to be. Either way, it’s a driving opener, and should have made quite a single. The melodic bass work here is courtesy of Dave Torbert, who would later go on to replace Phil Lesh in the New Riders of the Purple Sage. His playing is extraordinary throughout the record, and is definitely worth checking out if you are a student or enthusiast of the instrument in a rock and roll context.

Perhaps Horses’ greatest achievement on this record is that they manage to establish a unique and distinctive sound, a lack of which has brought many similar bands to an early grave. A key component to this sound, the subtle psychedelic flourishes, is perhaps best exemplified by “Birdie in a Cage,” in which the chorus brings in an electric organ and a floating vocal melody. It can’t really be said that Carter and Gilbert’s lyrics are very extraordinary here, but they function well enough in the context of the songs, and by no means detract from the overall experience. The theme to more or less every song is either travel or women, with the notable exception being the single “Class of ’69,” which seems designed to appeal to Summer of Love sentimentality and the revolutionary atmosphere of the times. It doesn’t quite succeed, being too firmly rooted in mainstream attitudes to really catch the spirit of the counter-culture. Nonetheless, it makes for a entertaining song.

The highlight of the record may very well come with the end of the record’s first side. “Run, Rabbit, Run” has a funky guitar riff and a memorable, if somewhat weird, chorus. Meanwhile, “Horseradish” serves as a showcase for Horses as instrumentalists, and the track fits firmly into a Little Walter blues bag, replete with rollicking amplified harmonica. Even this track proves to be memorable, a rare feat for what might otherwise have been mere filler.

It’s more or less impossible to find original copies of this album, seeing as people aren’t even sure whether or not it made it past the “promotional only” pressing stage. However, Rev-Ola Records has reissued it on compact disc with an early single by one of Tim Gilbert’s earlier projects, the Rainy Daze. These two tracks are more in a psychedelic garage rock bag, and aren’t all that memorable. In fact, the first of the tracks, “Make Me Laugh,” may be the one cut on the disc worth skipping, as it has a deadpan laugh going through it that tends to be extremely irritating.

It seems to speak for the unpredictability of the record industry that Gilbert and Carter weren’t able to make Horses a success. Modeled after popular groups like Moby Grape and the Buffalo Springfield, Horses had the musicianship and the songs that many of their contemporaries lacked. Now, however, the group is best remembered for having a singer by the name of Don Johnson. No, this is not the actor Don Johnson, though most of what you read about Horses says otherwise. It’s a real shame that this unusual piece of trivia has tended to obscure a righteous record by an extremely talented group, and Horses is long overdue for re-evaluation.

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:D CD Reissue | 2003 | Revola | 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 ]

White Noise “An Electric Storm”

One of the strangest releases of 1969 was this collaboration between David Vorhaus, an American orchestral double-bass player and composer with a background in avant-garde classical music, and Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, a pair of sound-effects engineers from the BBC’s Radiophonic workshop, providers of themes and incidental sounds for such shows as Out Into Space and Doctor Who. What drew these unlikely bedfellows together was a shared desire to create experimental electronic art music, at a time when Bob Moog’s early experiments in the US were still barely getting off the ground and available electronic sound generators were limited to military surplus oscillators and simple home-built circuits. The process involved endlessly overlaid electronic tones, percussion, vocal tracks and found sounds, assembled into recognisable pieces via hundreds of tape edits on a bank of six two-track Revoxes.

So what has all this to do with rock’n’roll? Well, the demos produced by Vorhaus and Co. stirred unexpected interest from Chris Blackwell, the innovative proprietor of Island, the burgeoning UK psychedelic/progressive music independent. As a result of its release on that respected imprint, the ensuing album, which took a year to assemble, was taken up by the most hardcore of those admirers of trippy sounds who’d already got past early Pink Floyd, Zappa, the Nice and other leftfield pioneers from the world of rock and who were prepared to tolerate the lack of rock instrumentation and flowing hair in the pursuit of true psychedelic weirdness.

A friend played me this album soon after its release, and I promptly declared it unlistenable. (Mind you, I’d also just declared Lennon’s “Revolution 9” and Zappa’s Freak Out unlistenable, so that’s where I was at the time.) Forty years later my liberalised ears find these recordings irresistible. I know it’s a cliché, but this record truly is unlike anything else; probably the nearest thing to it is The United States Of America’s eponymous opus from the previous year, which similarly marries electronics, avant-garde composition and general strangeness but lacks the peculiarly British whimsy, emotional gamut and outrageous sonic variety of An Electric Storm.

Of the seven tracks, only the first five manage to approach conventional song structures. Four of these are quirky love songs involving various permutations of synthesised accompaniments with Ute Lemper-like vocals, the highlight being the simulated group orgasm voiced by a group of male and female vocalists on “My Game Of Loving”. By contrast “Here Come The Fleas” is a charming comic interlude reminiscent of the Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals”, festooned with electronic bleeps, clicks and boings. Thereafter, any resemblance between the remaining tracks and music as conventionally understood in terms of harmonic structures is purely accidental. The lengthy, maudlin but beautifully-constructed “The Visitation” chronicles in cinematic fashion the revisiting of “the girl with roses in her eyes” by her deceased biker lover, while the closing “Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” starts with a cod-Black Magic chant which segues into a full-blown, percussion-driven electronic rendering of a hurricane; its seven minutes were allegedly constructed in one evening when Island became impatient for the album’s completion.

If all this sounds difficult, that’s because it undoubtedly is. It’s also compulsive, fascinating and occasionally mind-blowing, and successive CD reissues in 1994 and 2007 indicate that there’s still a market of brave souls out there willing to give it a go. Are you brave enough?

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“Your Hidden Dreams”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Universal | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Island | search ebay ]