Tag Archives: psychedelic music

Country Joe and The Fish – Electric Music for the Mind and Body – Classic Music Review

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Smoke plenty of grass, hash, vacuum cleaner residue or whatever you’ve got before you slip this baby on the turntable.

This wasn’t working out, so I called my dad.

“Dad!”

“Hey, Sunshine.”

“You told me I’d love Country Joe. I’ve listened to this album three times and I’m beginning to despise him.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one thing . . . he meows.”

“What?”

“He meows. On every fucking song, like ‘meow, ’bout country ways.'”

“Come on, he wasn’t that bad.”

“And his band sucks, too. Where did they get that organist—from Question Mark and the Mysterians? And Fish can’t play a blues scale to save his life. It’s awful.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but what do you want me to do about it?”

“Give me some tips, pointers—send me a special mandala or something—I’ve got a review to write and I want to find at least one redeeming quality in this piece of shit.”

“Hmm. Maybe you need to get in the mood.”

“Okay. How?”

“Score some weed.”

“And how do I do that? I haven’t acquainted myself with many drug dealers in Paris.”

“Come on, you have to have some dope smokers at work.”

“Dad, I’m the fucking boss! I can’t ask my staff to score me some weed!”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Well, go hang out near the Sorbonne and follow your nose.”

“You’re a big help.”

“Get some candles, some Indian cloth, a portable light show . . . ”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”

My partner overheard the conversation and said, “I know where we can get some marijuana.”

“You’re kidding. How would you know?” She works for an accounting firm, for fuck’s sake. I don’t want to know about any accounting firms filled with potheads.

“Javi.” That’s her brother in Madrid, a major Kinks fan and a rock ‘n’ roll aficionado. “He can get it somewhere around Retiro Park and I can have him mail me some.”

I briefly considered the likelihood of the gendarmes having pot-sniffing dogs to check packages mailed within the Euro Zone and gave her a thumbs-up. While I waited for the grass to arrive, I started prepping for Moby Grape.

Javi sent us two fat joints wrapped in about a pound of tissue paper. “We’ll do this together,” I told her. “It’ll be fun!”

“I’ve never smoked marijuana,” she blushed.

“It’s been a while for me, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll have to wait until the pâtisseries have closed or we’ll gain a couple of kilos in one night.”

On the night in question, we filled the apartment with cheap-ass votive candles and burned jasmine incense sticks to set the mood, then sat cross-legged on the rug facing each other and shared a joint while listening to Electric Music for the Mind and Body. The experience did not improve my opinion, but we did giggle a lot at the silliness coming out of the speakers. My partner cheated (bless her heart) and surprised me with a pair of eclairs for the evening (one chocolate, one caramel). As we ate we moaned with every bite, very much like we do when fucking.

That triggered us to spend the rest of the night fucking in earnest and forget all about those country ways. Now I have to write this review . . . straight. I’m saving the other joint for Big Brother and the Holding Company or The Incredible String Band.

If you go to the various review sites or Amazon, you’ll read comments like this about Electric Music for the Mind and Body (spelling and punctuation errors uncorrected):

This record is the “Rosetta Stone” for psychedelic music. If you want to hear the real deal; this is it. Nothing has ever been it’s equal in this genera. The music, blends blues, folk, and rock, in ways only dreamed of. Not even the Jefferson Airplane could match it’s complex mix of old and “Never Heard of Before”. “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” stands as a testement to where a love song can actually go, without really being a love song at all. The dense yet rich “Death Sound” is just plain creepy. “Super Bird” slaps “then” President Johnson right square in the jaw with some biting satire. And, “Grace” is a “TRIP” in every sence of the word. The sounds and words played hear are like a time capsule of it’s time. Truly one of the GREAT albums from an entire decade of truly great music. Enter the “Electric Music for the Mind and Body” and be prepared to be forever changed…..for the better. (Amazon reviewer)

Their full-length debut is their most joyous and cohesive statement and one of the most important and enduring documents of the psychedelic era, the band’s swirl of distorted guitar and organ at its most inventive. In contrast to Jefferson Airplane, who were at their best working within conventional song structures, and the Grateful Dead, who hadn’t quite yet figured out how to transpose their music to the recording studio, Country Joe & the Fish delivered a fully formed, uncompromising, and yet utterly accessible — in fact, often delightfully witty — body of psychedelic music the first time out. Ranging in mood from good-timey to downright apocalyptic, it embraced all of the facets of the band’s music, which were startling in their diversity: soaring guitar and keyboard excursions (“Flying High,” “Section 43,” “Bass Strings,” “The Masked Marauder”), the group’s folk roots (“Sad and Lonely Times”), McDonald’s personal ode to Grace Slick (“Grace”), and their in-your-face politics (“Superbird”). Hardly any band since the Beatles had ever come up with such a perfect and perfectly bold introduction to who and what they were, and the results — given the prodigious talents and wide-ranging orientation of this group — might’ve scared off most major record labels. Additionally, this is one of the best-performed records of its period, most of it so bracing and exciting that one gets some of the intensity of a live performance. The CD reissue also has the virtue of being one of the best analog-to-digital transfers ever issued on one of Vanguard Records’ classic albums, with startlingly vivid stereo separation and a close, intimate sound. (Bruce Eder, AllMusic)

Electric Music is perhaps the greatest psychedelic album of all time. Different aspects of the psychedelic experience (except those of the brown acid variety) are represented here from the crazed chaotic energy of “Superbird”, the deeply meditative (or stoned) “Bass Strings”, the soulfully flowing “Section 43”, to the sheer fun of this album. During a psychedelic experience, one is often able to percieve or rather hear colors in music. Electric music is replete with them and examples can be found on the organ solo of “Love” to Barry Melton’s guitar solo on “The Masked Marauder”. The mix of different tones on this album has been seldom paralled especially in the digital ninties. Chicken Hirsh’s resonant tom tom drums, Bruce Barthol’s rich bass, David Cohen milky organ and Barry Melton’s guitar provide a nice rich timbre palete throughout the album particular evident on the instrumentals “Section 43” and “The! Masked Marauder”. Barry Melton’s vocals on “Love” sound like Satchmo on acid and add to the fun of this masterpiece. Country Joe once told me that the songs were arranged so that you would forget the tune you just hear before the one you were hearing. He also said that the band “tested” the album out themselves. Now if that’s not quality control I don’t know what is. An analog masterpiece for those curious to know what music sounded like before the digital age. A high recommend. (Amazon reviewer)

I have now given the opposition equal time. I’ve listened to this album in stereo and mono, in vinyl and digital versions, under the influence and not. It stinks. The musicianship is piss-poor. The lyrics are filled with period clichés and gibberish. The vocals are uniformly weak and rare attempts at harmony fail miserably. “Bracing?” Like sitting on a porcupine. “Exciting?” Only because the grating noises make it impossible to sleep. “Delightfully witty?” Perhaps to aging hippies and third-graders. “Soaring guitar?” From a guy who can’t fucking play? “Prodigious talents?” How many talents does it take to reach prodigious? If it’s more than one, fuhgeddaboudit.

It’s not all bad, but bad enough. Here’s the blow-by-blow:

“Flying High”: Of course they had to open with a drug song, and the drug song opens with a dreadful attempt at blues guitar. Look. I’m average at piano and flute, but I’m a really bad guitar player. I can make a lot of noise but that’s about it. Therefore, when I respond to a lead solo by saying, “Shit! I can do better than that!” you know that I’ve set the bar as low as it can go. Country Joe’s vocal is classically laconic, hip and laid-all-the-way back, appropriate for lyrics that are full of that irritating attitude of hippie musicians that what they’re laying down can only be understood by those who are cool, hip and out-of-sight. Period clichés include (but are not limited to) “cats,” “diggin’,” and “trip” (used as a double entendre). The story is about how Country Joe gets caught in the rain in L. A. (Spock, what are the odds?) with his “axe” and is picked up by two “cats” in a Cadillac. One’s wearing a bowler hat, the other a fez, primarily to make the song sound weird and exotic. They drive in silence and Country Joe serenades the strange duo with his “harp.” Finally the Good Samaritans either get bored or sick of Country Joe’s harmonica and they drop him off at LAX and give him twenty bucks to fly home to the Bay Area. I confirmed with my dad that $19 fares did exist back then on a now-defunct airline called PSA. I’m so relieved to know that Country Joe had enough left over for a few Baby Ruths and Butterfingers.

“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine”: This was the big single from the album, opening with a terribly cheesy organ in bad need of tuning. Barry Melton complements the mood with cliche counterpoint blues-like licks and Country Joe delivers a wink-wink vocal as he runs through a set of lyrics about a girl who thinks all the answers can be found in books and memorizes that data so she can pose as the source of infinite wisdom. The lyrics are easily the best on the album, flowing naturally and euphonically:

The joy of life she dresses in black
With celestial secrets engraved in her back
And her face keeps flashing that she’s got the knack,
But you know when you look into her eyes
All she’s learned she’s had to memorize
And the only way you’ll ever get her high
Is to let her do her thing and then watch you die,
Sweet Lorraine, ah, sweet Lorraine.

Of course, there’s the implication that you had to get high to prove you were cool, but the hippies possessed tremendous cognitive dissonance, and the “love everybody” tagline pretty much meant “love everybody but the straights.” I do have to say here that Chicken Hirsh does a very solid job on the drums, almost enough to allow you to tune out that horrid organ and equally horrid guitar.

“Death Sound” (aka “Death Sound Blues”): The title pretty much says it all. These guys had absolutely no fucking business attempting blues, but the form was a popular album-filler choice of several San Francisco bands. Whoever played that tambourine should have been imprisoned for life.

“Porpoise Mouth” (aka “Happiness Is a Porpoise Mouth”): Is one of the keys on the organ stuck? The Fish shift from blues to black light with this incredibly stiff waltz made worse by stoner poetry. What’s odd is that the lyrics don’t mention a waltz, but a polka: “The maple plants patterns in the sky/Its leaves to kiss the wind/While scores of glittering bugs and flies/Dance polkas on her limbs.” Hey, a polka would sound pretty good right about now! Is Myron Floren in the house? I howled with raucous laughter at the sexual innuendo in the closing verse:

Reeds and brass, the marching drums
Make a joyous sound
Trees bend low with nuts and plums
Then fall to find the ground.
I hunger for your porpoise mouth
And stand erect for love.
The sun burns up the winter sky
And all the earth is love.

If a guy walked into my bedroom and said, “I hunger for your porpoise mouth and stand erect for love,” I’d call the police.

“Section 43”: Before hearing this song I had no idea that the actual length of eternity is seven minutes and twenty-three seconds. This is a slow-tempo instrumental piece in five movements with barely perceptible movement. The first section establishes the main theme, if you can call it that. The second section is the least offensive and might have been better if a.) SOMEONE HAD PULLED THE PLUG ON THAT FUCKING ORGAN and b.) they’d realized their guitars were out of tune—a fact you can hear very clearly at the end of the passage. The third section repeats the main theme as if it were actually worth repeating and you’ll all be relieved to know that Country Joe did not leave his harp in the back seat of that Cadillac in L. A., for he serenades us with it here. The harmonica neither fits the tone or mood of the piece, so I’m assuming they used it because it was too hard to learn the saxophone. When the other instruments fade and we’re left with the organ and harmonica for a few seconds, the effect is truly ear-splitting and likely harmful to dogs. Barry Melton then opens the fourth section with a clunky guitar that signals to the band that it’s time to get dissonant for a few seconds (as if they weren’t already) and then the FUCKING ORGAN TAKES CENTER STAGE, which I suppose blew a lot of minds back in the day, assuming they weren’t already blown. The final section returns to the main theme (arrgh!) and fades relatively nicely over arpeggiated guitar chords. If this was “Section 43” I certainly hope that there are no sections 1-42 lying about, waiting for Country Joe and The Fish to become relevant again in the music trade.

“Superbird”: This is the song about President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was rightfully unpopular for wasting tens of thousands of lives in a completely pointless display of Texas machismo and for burning enough cash to send the American economy into the crapper for the next decade. This is also the song that the Amazon reviewer called “biting satire,” and I would suggest that he might want to brush up on Jonathan Swift or watch a few episodes of Monty Python to recalibrate his definition of satire. The song is a missed punch that attempts to capitalize on the fact that there was a Lady Bird and a Lynda Bird in the Johnson family. Country Joe’s big threat to Lyndon is found in the final line of the chorus: “Gonna send you back to Texas, make you work on your ranch.” I’m sure LBJ was trembling in his cowboy boots. To his credit, Country Joe would produce better satiric poetry on the next album with “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.”

“Sad and Lonely Times”: This laid-back swaying country tune seems to be more their style, and even Barry Melton has a passable turn on the lead guitar. The Fish get clever with a dual vocal split between channels where each vocalist sings complementary lyrics. Unfortunately, neither vocalist manages to hit the notes consistently, creating a series of harmonies that are very similar to what you’d hear during the sing-along at the end of a long party when everybody’s drunk and nobody gives a fuck.

“Love”: As in “Summer of Love, The,” I suppose. After a canned false start, Barry Melton proves that he can’t sing either.

“Bass Strings”: This is one of those slow—and I mean SLOW—drippy hippie numbers that call up images of rooms filled with red light, smoke and people sprawled all over the floor, like you see on the cover of Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy. Structurally it’s completely uninteresting and not much more than a 12-bar blues where the bars last for eons. Country Joe emits a few more meows and generally sounds like he should be on the floor with the rest. “Perfect for those special moments of catatonia” would be a good tagline. The lyrics, however, are precious and priceless, a glimpse into a culture long ago, far away, gone with the wind and all that stuff:

Hey partner, won’t you pass that reefer round,
My world is spinnin’, yeah, just got to slow it down.
Oh, yes you know I’ve sure got to slow it down.
Get so high this time that you know
I’ll never come down, I’ll never come down.

I believe I’ll go out to the seashore, let the waves wash my mind,
Open up my head now just to see what I can find.
Oh, yes you know I’m gonna see what I can find,
Just one more trip now, you know I’ll stay high
All the time, all the time.

Yes, I’ll go out to the desert just to try and find my past.
Truth lives all around me, but it’s just beyond my grasp.
Oh, yes you know it’s just beyond my grasp.
I’ll let the sand and the stars and the wind
Carry me back, oh carry me back.

L.S.D.
L.S.D.
L.S.D.

The “L. S. D.” repetition is whispered so the pigs wouldn’t hear it.

“Masked Marauder”: This is weird: despite the dominance of that third-hand organ, I actually enjoy this piece. Bruce Barthol steps up and shows serious facility with the bass, and Hirsh is spot-on with the drums. The vocal interlude where Country Joe la-las through a pretty little melody is his best and most consistent vocal on the album. He even gets another turn on the harmonica and creates a sweet reverie that makes you think of sunny days near a gently-flowing river.

“Grace”: The alleged masterpiece of the album is Country Joe’s ode to Grace Slick, another one of those very SLOW meditative pieces that give you a glimpse into eternity. The first verse calls up memories of Monty Python’s “Silly Noises” sketch with what I suppose is the sound of rain falling or diamonds falling or rain falling on diamonds, since that’s what’s happening in the lyrics. The repeated couplet is amateurish in the extreme, as Country Joe garbles English syntax for no discernible reason:

Cold rain to splash water diamonds colored green and
Flash the sun to paint green her hair.

He then repeats the line, “Your silver streak flash” three times through a delayed echo and some kind of flanger or phaser, then closes the verse by repeating the line “Across the tiny door of my eye.” The second verse brings us more silly noises. The couplet in this verse is “Warm wind to touch the trees colored blue and/Flash the moon to paint blue my heart.” Isn’t “language torture” a felony in California? By now the constant shimmering of cymbals is getting positively annoying. The third verse is identical to the other two, only varying in the couplet, “Soft skin to spend the every day colored gold and/Flash the sea to paint gold our love.” Wow, man.

Trying to piece this all together, I conclude that when you combine diamonds and water, it turns a woman’s hair green, that warm winds turn trees blue and trigger a sympathetic vibration in the human heart that turns it blue as well, and that the purpose of soft skin is to spend an entire day colored gold so you can flash your naked body to the sea and paint your partner gold so you can make love. Makes sense to me!

In looking for a way to end this sorry review, I originally thought I’d just say that Electric Music for the Mind and Body is the classic “you had to be there” album and leave it at that. I wrote the first draft that way, but it felt incomplete. I called on my partner to help me, and after a drink, a cigarette and some oral sex (enjoyed simultaneously, of course), I was finally able to articulate the missing something.

Imagine you’re part of an archaeological team of the future digging through the rubble of what was once called Haight-Ashbury. Miraculously, you find a sealed copy of Electric Music for the Mind and Body, consult your technological-historical database, use your starship’s replicator to replicate a turntable and begin to study the music. You and your learned colleagues then gather together to speculate as to what made it possible for these primitive people in ancient times to develop the stamina needed to put up with such awful music. Digging deeper into the pit, the team finds evidence of hemp seeds, desiccated fragments of hallucinogenic mushrooms and a faded text titled The Psychedelic Experience. After reading a few sentences, you no longer need to speculate: you have your answer.

Original Hypothesis: You had to be there.

Modified Hypotheses: You had to be there and be stoned out of your fucking mind.

GO TO THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES: MOBY GRAPE

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Part One – Classic Music Review

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My Psychedelia Series is off to a bumpy start.

Okay, try to follow this plot: a rich young dilettante meets three young guys at a posh L. A. party where The Yardbirds provide the entertainment. They get to chatting and the dilettante finds out the three young men are musically inclined. He offers to bankroll the band and buy them shiny new equipment under one condition: that they let him shake the tambourine on stage so he could fill his bed with suntanned L. A. chicks. “What the hell,” say the young men, still in their teens and no doubt imbued with devil-may-care attitudes.

Things move fast. The dilettante uses his bucks to buy them equipment and that essential component of a psychedelic band, a light show. He books them into the L. A. hot spots and finances their first recordings. Of course, they should have figured it out when he forced them to accept one of the most ridiculous band names ever invented, but when you’re young, what the fuck do you know? The dilettante then begins to demand more creative input. “The part that was frustrating,” said member Shaun Harris, “Was that he had no musical aptitude of any kind and so what he was trying to do to be different and innovative ended up sounding contrived. It was an embarrassment.”

The result of such an arrangement is a breathtakingly uneven album with a few lovely splashes of post-Rubber Soul melodic pop unable to cover the smell of some of the stinkiest crap you’ll ever smell on record. The author of the 2001 liner notes for Part One makes the absurd defense that “it is precisely the unexpected juxtapositions within the album which make it so powerful.” Oh, for fuck’s sake. That’s such a stupid comment that it doesn’t even reach the mediocre level of “spin.” Anyone trying to spin Part One into a psychedelic masterpiece is either stoned or stone deaf.

The dilettante mentioned above went by the name of Bob Markley, and his control and cacophonous contributions pretty much cancel out the virtues displayed by brothers Shaun and Danny Harris and guitarist Michael Lloyd, the unfortunate trio at the heart of the story. Those three were responsible for the more coherent, pretty songs on the record, but their credible contributions are few and far between. And while they wrote some pleasant little numbers, those songs are a long way from “Penny Lane” or “Care of Cell 44.” They’re all tunes with simple chords and simple melodies presented within a fairly limited vocal range; two in particular rise to the level of “pretty damned good.” There are strong hints of The Beatles, The Left Banke, The Byrds and The Cyrkle in their offerings, so we’re not talking breathtaking originality here. In summary, despite the “experimental” moniker, this is an album that sticks to what was in vogue at the time with several departures into the truly weird-just-to-be-weird.

The album opens limply with “Shifting Sands,” written by a third-rate songwriter named Baker Knight who had written some minor songs for Elvis and Ricky Nelson, which gave him serious cred in Bob Markley’s eyes. It’s a three-chord minor key song spiced by a game attempt at a trippy lead guitar part that shows only that the lead guitarist needed more practice. It also doesn’t help that the song is sung slightly off-key and that sometimes the rhythms don’t sync very well to the music. My dad came up with a good description of the sound: “On this one, they sound like the teenage garage bands who used to play at the high school mixers. Four or five guys who learned a few chords, sang through their noses to try to sound British and waited for the chicks to come their way.”

Generally speaking, the originals conceived by the trio (though Markley horned in on the songwriting credits) are the better songs, and I found “I Won’t Hurt You” particularly beautiful and moving. Sometimes we hear a song that triggers unexpected emotions due to a connection to a deeply personal experience, and that’s what happened to me with “I Won’t Hurt You.” Shaun Harris and Michael Lloyd had no idea that a woman who was not even born yet would hear this song forty-eight years after its conception and relate it to her experience volunteering in a domestic violence center in Abidjan. I’ve been trying to put that experience behind me, but the gentle repetition of the lines, “I won’t hurt you, I won’t hurt you” brought it all back in waves of tears. While listening, I thought that hearing those words would have meant much more to the women I saw than “I love you,” or “I’m sorry” (not that they would have ever heard either from their vicious husbands).

Even without my distorted lens, this is a very pretty song with surprisingly vivid lyrics. The arrangement is stark and simple: an imitation of a rapid heartbeat on the drums and quiet lo-fi guitar on the opposite channel. The vocal is also quiet, shy and tentative, as if the singer is probing for an opening in a relationship. The narrator chooses to build trust through self-disclosure, and it is this sharing of vulnerability makes the repetition of “I won’t hurt you” even more moving:

I’ve lost all my pride
I’ve been to paradise
And out the other side
With no one to guide me
Torn apart by a fiery wheel (or will) inside

I won’t hurt you
I won’t hurt you
I won’t hurt you
I won’t hurt you

I’m an untouched diamond
That’s golden and brilliant without illumination
Your mouth’s a constellation
The stars are in your eyes
I’ll take a spaceship
And try and go and find you

Even the rudimentary instrumental passage—a call-and-response of three strummed guitar chords piped through opposite channels—works astonishingly well. I am now starting to feel that these guys may have something here.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Inexplicably released as a single, “1906” is a mind-dump written by Bob Markley who convincingly verifies the lack of musical talent spotted by the other band members and piles it on with an embarrassing display of moronic poetry in a pathetic attempt to position himself as a Frank Zappa-like genius. The “poem” allegedly has something to do with a dog sensing an imminent earthquake, but the only thing I sense here is what comes out of a dog’s ass. This one gets a triple oh-for-fuck’s sake for the go-go house band backing track and for insane blather like this:

A circus light keeps flashing
A stone crumbled and fell
Steel beams snapped like toothpicks
I don’t feel well

Many strangers have arrived
Wearing immense black boots
Selling buttons at my door
I don’t feel well

See the frightened foxes
See the hunchback in the park
He’s blind and can’t run for cover
I don’t feel well

Hear my master’s ugly voice
See the teeth marks on my leash
Only freaks know all the answers
I don’t feel well

I am so excited to have finally discovered the Ed Wood of Poetry.

They follow this stinker with the equally ear-splitting cover of Zappa’s “Help, I’m a Rock.” My dad and I have argued for years about Frank Zappa, both staunchly defending our positions. To my once-a-hippie-always-a-hippie father, Frank Zappa is a genius. To me, he’s a period piece whose “humor” and “insight” is forever suspended in the amber of the 1960’s, and his “genius” more the work of self-promotion than inspiration. No, I wasn’t there, and you can decide for yourself if that’s an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to objectivity. My verdict is this “song” flat-out sucks.

Isn’t “turkey” is a term applied to three consecutive strikes in bowling? I think we can safely apply that concept here. “Will You Walk With Me” completes the turkey—a more melodic disaster, but a disaster nonetheless. It begins with some very sweet guitar picking, soon to be followed by gentle strings. The listeners have now been conditioned for the sonic equivalent of the scent of flowers and gentle breezes. It’s a trick! The lyrics are fucking creepy!

Will you walk with me in the morning? Do, my love.
Will you walk with me in the morning? Do, my love.
Don’t worry about the people any more.
You’ll never see the people any more.

Tell me where have all the people gone?
Will you tell me where have all the people gone?
Don’t worry about the people any more.
You’ll never see the people any more.

Arrgh! What happened to the people? Is the narrator a super-being who wished all the people into the twilight zone because they made his love unhappy? Or did he do the typically American thing and mow them all down with a machine gun? Or is this guy a sex-crazed killer with a helpless wench chained to the water pipes in his basement? Is he now walking her to her demise? Is that why she’ll never see the people any more? The combination of disappearing humanity and the softness of the background creates a chilling irony that I seriously doubt was intended. The string-laden arrangement makes you think of “Pretty Ballerina,” but this is something out of a really, really bad horror movie—a movie directed by . . . Ed Wood.

Just when I was ready to fling the disk into the Seine, they restrain my impulse with “Transparent Day,” a melodic and catchy number that has 1966 written all over it: the Rickenbacker-like jangle, the breezy, skipping-down-the-street beat and the soft and breathy vocals sweetened by a touch of harmony. The vocal arrangement is very effective: call-and-response from both sides of the stereo on the lines of the verses that come together in the middle for the closing line. The instrumental passage features one of the better uses of the harpsichord in the pop songs of the era, and also features the most imaginative chord and rhythmic shifts on the entire album. If they had filled the album with songs of the quality of “Transparent Day” and “I Won’t Hurt You,” they might have had a masterpiece instead of a mid-60’s relic.

But on this album one good song invites disaster, and it arrives in the form of “Leilya,” where they cop a Bo Diddley-type riff and sound pretty much like amateurs before they decide to make it worse—much worse—with the introduction of a B-movie ghoul (I’m not kidding) who growls out the name “Leilya” with a mwa-ha-ha undertone. A long instrumental section devolves into crashing waves of noise, then inexplicably shifts to a Bach-tinged acoustic guitar for a few seconds before the awful noise returns. This is no doubt one of the “unexpected juxtapositions” that make this album a classic, and you know what? I’m going to change my mind and agree with that assessment. Part One is a classic . . . along the lines of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster.

Are we sure that Ed Wood didn’t produce this record? He was still alive in 1966, living in L A., and whoa! I just checked his filmography and Ed Wood made no films in 1966! I think I’m onto something here!

Next comes a song written by (according to the liner notes) “the immortal P. F. Sloan.” I had no idea that P. F. Sloan had attained such a lofty status; personally, I always get him confused with P. J. Proby. If you don’t know who P. F. Sloan is, he’s the guy who wrote “Eve of Destruction,” “Secret Agent Man” and Herman’s Hermits “A Must to Avoid.” I look at that list and think if P. F. Sloan is immortal, what does that make Lennon-McCartney, Bob Dylan and Ray Davies? Mega-gods? By the way, P. F. Sloan is still alive, and I’m going to start tracking the obituaries to see if he really is immortal once I’m done with my Ed Wood investigation. As for the band’s rendition of this immortally-influenced contribution, they sound very, very much like their L. A. neighbors, The Byrds. There’s a jangly Ric, strategically positioned harmonies and the proper folk-rock feel. The melody is somewhat pleasant but the lyrics are quite sexist: the narrator is trying to convince a woman with obvious intelligence and dreams beyond her station in life that where she really belongs is with him, no doubt scrubbing the sinks and fixing the meat loaf. Funny, I always assumed immortals would be imbued with superior wisdom.

Adding insult to injury and once again proving that connections always trump talent, Baker Knight returns with his second composition on the album, another minor key period piece doubtless influenced by the success of The Beau Brummels’ “Laugh, Laugh.” The band tries to spice things up (twice) with a double-time instrumental passage that at least manages to assuage our pain with some comic relief. It’s followed by Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde producer Bob Johnston’s meager contribution, “S’cuse Me, Miss Rose,” a poorly-arranged upbeat rocker where no one in the band seems to agree on the tempo. The album ends with a Van Dyke Parks throwaway number, “High Coin,” a country-tinged instrumental that opens (for no ostensible purpose) with a very long and badly recorded drum roll that segues into a spoken announcement of the album’s title. By this time I would have thought they would have tried to deny all knowledge of this album and come up with alibis in case anyone had bothered to investigate this atrocity.

After Part One, the WCPAEB (whew!) released three more albums that I do not want to hear. Back in the day, my father bought all of their records (fucking music junkies—they’re hopeless!), but admitted that he traded in the last three after a single spin. He kept this one, a decision driven more by collector syndrome than validation of musical excellence. What I hear are two pretty good songs and a whole lot of trash from a band that got into the studio because some loser’s daddy made a lot of money from oil wells.

I’ll get back to you on the Ed Wood angle ASAP.

GO TO THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES: ELECTRIC MUSIC FOR THE MIND AND BODY BY COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH

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