Audrey takes a look at the darker side of the 70’s music scene with Manson family connection, Jimmy Page, and more, all connected to a strange rock and roll album…
From the beginning, there were always connections between the Manson family and music. The obvious story was the one of Charlie’s own failed music career, and the horrible crimes that were committed because of that. I’m not going to talk about that today, though: there was another member of the Manson family was also creating interesting music before any of the murders happened in ’69. That man is Bobby Beausoleil, and much like Charlie, he is currently serving a life sentence for murder.
Though this article obviously isn’t meant to be about his motives or the details of the crime (this is primarily a music blog, after all), I will divulge a bit of information about what happened: Beausoleil was involved in the murder of Gary Hinman, a music teacher; allegedly, Hinman owed money to the Manson family for a bad batch of mescaline that they had purchased from him and sold to a biker gang, who subsequently demanded their money refunded when they realized the drugs were faulty. On July 27, 1969, Beausoleil (along with family members Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner) showed up at Hinman’s house in an attempt to get their money back. When he refused to pay them, Hinman called Manson to the scene, who arrived at the house and promptly chopped Hinman’s ear off with a sword. When Hinman still insisted that he didn’t have money to give them, Beausoleil stabbed him to death. Afterwards, they wrote “Political Piggy” on the wall in his blood. Alongside that, they also drew a paw print in an attempt to make it appear that the crime was committed by the Black Panthers. This was the first of the string of gruesome murders committed by the Manson Family: a little over a week later, Beausoleil was arrested after he was found driving Hinman’s car.
Before his incarceration, Beausoleil played in several different bands; the most notable of which was Arthur Lee’s Grass Roots (no relation to Creed Bratton’s band of the same name), who later became the very influential Love. He also played in a psychedelic rock band called The Orkustra following the Grass Roots’ dissolution. Not only was Beausoleil involved in music, but he was also an aspiring actor, which is incidentally where his most famous recording Lucifer Rising comes into the picture.
It’s impossible to talk about this album without bringing up yet another important ‘60s icon: Kenneth Anger. If you’re not familiar with the name, Anger made a lot of experimental short films throughout the ‘40s up until recent years, usually blending surrealist imagery with occultist themes. Anger was a follower of Aleister Crowley’s religion of Thelema and made many references to it in his works, including the short film Lucifer Rising, which featured Beausoleil in a major role. The original plan was that Bobby would be the star of the production and that the music would be composed by Jimmy Page. Unfortunately, there were many issues during the production of the film. The actual filming was delayed many times due to a number of problems: Anger claimed that Beausoleil stole the original footage, but the rest of the cast stated that this didn’t happen and that Anger simply ran out of money. Another major issue involved the soundtrack; Page and Anger had a falling out during the creation of the film: one story says that Anger began to question Page’s devotion to the Thelemic way and, because of this, he placed a curse on the Led Zeppelin star. Another, likelier story is that Page wasn’t working as quickly as Anger wanted him to and, in his stead, the filmmaker tapped Beausoleil to compose the score in addition to being involved as an actor. Either way, after an argument with Charlotte Martin – Page’s longtime lover and the mother of his first child – Anger washed his hands of Page.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad decision on Anger’s part considering that Beausoleil is an extremely talented musician in his own right. The most amazing thing about this record is that it was entirely recorded behind bars. Even more remarkable, especially considering the occult and otherwise taboo themes of Anger’s films, Beausoleil was given permission by the warden of Tracy State Prison – where he was incarcerated for his involvement in the Manson crimes – to create this soundtrack. With the help of some incredibly skilled inmates, the record was created in the late ‘70s. I really wish that I could find more information about the recording process of this album: it sounds absolutely incredible given where it was recorded. I can’t imagine that a prison in the 1970s would keep very many (if any) decent musical instruments around, let alone any recording equipment, so the amount of cooperation between the prison and the outside world would have been unprecedented. Despite the locale where it was made, this album sounds as if professional engineers were on hand to record it using somewhat decent studio equipment. While this technical consideration would be quite remarkable if true, I suppose it made sense that they were able to find such great musicians among the inmates given that this was a prison in southern California during the drug-conservative 1970s: there were probably plenty of talented musicians who were incarcerated for narcotics and other minor crimes.
The album is completely instrumental and separated into six movements. The music contained within is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd; all the tracks are dreamy psychedelic soundscapes that act as a showcase for Beausoleil’s exquisite compositional skills and guitar work. That’s not to say that Beausoleil’s playing is the most important part of the record; the session musicians are incredibly tight and focused as well – especially the horn player. There are moments in the fifth movement where the trumpet becomes the main focus, and is just as beautiful as the guitar on the rest of the album.
While it isn’t necessary to do so if one merely wishes to enjoy the record as a musical statement, it helps to watch the film to see how the portions of the score that were selected for inclusion (the soundtrack album’s runtime is about 46 minutes to the film’s 29) complement Anger’s visuals. Due to all of the production delays involving the soundtrack’s rather unique circumstances, Lucifer Rising – although completely filmed by 1972 – wasn’t released until 1980. Although it features luminaries such as Anger himself and Marianne Faithful (as well as Mick Jagger’s brother, Chris, in a minor role), there is no dialogue to speak of, giving Beausoleil’s musical contribution an even greater importance. The finished work is loaded with Thelemic symbolism as well as a lot of very dated looking psychedelic effects, which makes for an entertaining watch if you’re in the right mindset (stoned *cough*). Honestly, I would have probably enjoyed Anger’s film a lot more if I were knowledgeable about Crowley and his teachings: as I’m only mildly aware of Crowley’s philosophies, I’m sure that most of the symbolism went straight over my head. Even if I didn’t completely understand what was going on, it’s still cool to have Anger’s cinematography in the back of my head while listening to the album: I can’t hear it now without picturing pyramids and volcanoes.
Since this record was written by a famous murderer and completely performed by inmates, one would think that this album would only hold value as a curiosity for record collectors and outsider music enthusiasts, yet this is not the case at all. It is probably best not to get caught up with that notion since this album doesn’t deserve to be cast aside as simply a novelty: It is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the ostensibly limiting conditions under which it was created. Anyone interested in hearing some really great psychedelic instrumentals and guitar work should check this one out, since – even casting aside its interesting context – it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Culture Fusion has a new writer, Edwin Oslan, who will be contributing on Wednesdays. This is where I would normally go in-depth on what the writer is going to cover and their own style but Edwin helpfully provided this solid little self introduction. Tomorrow, I’ll post the first part of his epic Hawkwind discography review. That’s right: he’s doing all of them. He’s nothing if not incredibly ambitious (and he and I share a name: one of my middle names is Edwin…)
Without further ado…
I’m Edwin and I like weird music, old horror, cult and exploitation films and reading old E.C. comics like Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy along with Warren magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella. I collect things and like drinking. People think I need to write about something just so they don’t hear me talking about it so much.
The name “Savage Hippie” comes from a Melvins song. When asked about this in an interview Buzz Osbourne said that the song was a reference to Alice Cooper, Charles Manson and other long haired freaks from the late 60s and early 70s who may have emerged from the psychedelic era but did not share in the hippie ideology. After all it was Alice who said his group put the stake in the heart of the love generation. Also my friends Sarah called me a hippie once because of all the “psychedelic rock” I listen to.
You know there was punk rock once but the most unfortunate thing about it is that certain journalists give the impression that before the first Ramones album came out, the musical landscape was completely baron (excepting the Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, etc.) and that, I feel is utter nonsense.
Aside from the bizarre notion that the punk rockers only listened to five bands, it’s clear just from John Lydon’s vast musical taste that there was so much interesting music available at the time. Sure, there were was corporate rock and arena rock and bands that played 20 minute guitar solos and sang about nothing but that doesn’t paint the whole picture, does it?
Thanks to John Lydon and Mark E. Smith name dropping their favorites, I got into (in no particular order) Hawkwind, Can, Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, the Pretty Things, the Monks, the Move, the Creation, the Other Half and the Groundhogs. And through those I found about so much more in the sub-sub-genres of psychedelic, prog, Krautrock, early heavy rock, proto punk and proto metal and who knows what else. There is also something called Zuul, which is seems pretty cool.
I like a lot of music but one thing that I’m absolutely addicted to are nicely packaged CD reissues – I know vinyl rules, blah blah, I buy a ton of that as well – but I love when you get a really nicely designed package with extensive liner notes, photos and extra tracks, so that the original issue of whatever is expanded to like three times its length with b-sides, outtakes, demos, live versions and the whole thing. And thankfully reissue labels like Castle/Sanctuary, Akarma, Cherry Red/Esoteric/Reactive/Atomhenge do this beautifully, making a bunch of old, obscure and ultimately weird bands available again.
Anyway, I digress. Although, I don’t know what from since this all seems like one long rambling piece with no particular direction but, I guess, the point I want to make is that I like music and writing about it. Also that I find the pre-punk era often times more interesting than the punk era. The old idiom holds true that in the spirit of “no rules,” they created lots of rules, didn’t they? That’s probably why I lean towards the weirder side of punk and post punk and experimental stuff.
So, then, it seems weird that punk introduced all of this chaos when prior that, the late 60s seemed a lot wilder and weirder. Plus, again, there’s a notion that the 60s was all peace and love. But, come on; biker gangs, satanic cults, bad trips and well, you get the idea.
Again I don’t really know where I was going with this. According to Frank Zappa the freaks in Hollywood were way freakier than the hippies in San Francisco. Oh, and I don’t plan to talk about the Stooges, MC5, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, T. Rex (though I might write about Tyrannosaurus Rex) and New York Dolls too much since that’s been covered ad nauseam. These are all great mind you but you don’t need another blog telling you about this stuff. If you don’t all three Stooges and MC5 albums, both New York Dolls albums and the classic Alice Cooper band stuff, then I really can’t help you. In fact, nobody can; you fail.
Today at Culture Fusion we are featuring a guest reviewer, Metal-Alholic and all around musical omnivore Sean M. Hebner. Sean presents a unique and highly enthusiastic approach to writing that exactly mirrors talking to him (he talks just like this in person, at a mile a minute and with endless hand gestures and peals of laughter) and which results in a rather personable, informal writing style which is a lot of fun to read.
He chose to review “Shazam!” by The Move on his own impetus after reading a few of my Move reviews. He has been a fan of this album for some years and has a lot to say about how it fits in with the history of Metal and Hard Rock. I hope you enjoy!
SHAZAM! By THE MOVE
A Review by Sean M. Hebner
Rating: 5/5 whozawhatsis
Unlike the leader of this blog (who is older than me by a smattering of years), I was not exposed to a plethora of Progressive Rock growing up. I discovered Heavy Metal at the age of 12 or 13 and was a ‘purest’ for a good many years after that. But my long time obsession with metal and some well placed covers of ‘’Uriah Heep” and “Mike Oldfield” songs got curious about metals roots.
Over the past several years, I have been growing my psychedelic and Progressive knowledge and in the process started a job where my boss, *Redacted*, was a music fanatic. He is as obsessed with “great” music as I am with Metal. He hadn’t really steered me wrong yet, turning me on to such artists as Nick Lowe and Richard Thompson.
So when *Redacted* told me that SHAZAM! By The Move was his favorite album of all time I decided it needed a listen. So I sampled it on Amazon.com, when WHOLY SHIT WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS BEFORE and bought the download. It felt so…ahead of its time. Cause it was clever…without being wanky. It was toned and paced well while being Mellow and Crushingly Heavy all at the same time. More people need to hear this album; in fact, if you haven’t heard this album yet, DO IT NOW!
Now we’ll go track by track:
ALBUM OPENER: Hello Susie – Hot DAMN! That’s almost a metal intro! Oh man I’m in love already the grand “circus” like delivery of the lyrics. This approach becomes common place in the future of heavy epic music and I’m glad to see it has such strong roots.
I’m reminded of “Grand Illusion” by Styx and the role that they played influencing heavy pop rock as well as anything by Queen. But it’s NOWHERE NEAR as pretentious! I’m not one that really pays close attention to lyrics and lyrical content doesn’t make or break a song for me.
SECOND TRACK – Beautiful Daughter. OMG they turned to the Beatles!! Because I’m easily distracted: the wiki article discussing this album uses the word Heavy Metal a lot. This is WRONG: its Proto Metal. Heavy Metal won’t exist till Iron Maiden gets Bruce and Black Sabbath gets DIO.
THIRD TRACK – Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited this one is my personal Favorites on the album as it’s all over the place. Musical Perfection. Lock the door and throw the keys away! I love the references to Alice in wonderland and the firkin BASS. I LOVE the bass playing on this album. Entwistle can shove it!!
Then the song ‘ends’ and CLASSICAL MUSIC!! Wait. WAIT.. FANTASIA!!! AWW YEAH! I get this. This album was written for people with my sense of humor and sense of musicianship. I am not a musician but if I were this is what I’d try to do. Singing the guitar part is my favorite part!!!!!
Track Four – Fields of People. Ok now this is a cover as is the rest of the second half of the album and not having heard the original I can say that this song rocks if only in this context. Its by and large a product of the seventies and its at the same time moving in the direction of the future of heavy music.
Track five – Don’t Make my baby blue A Proto-Metal cover song……………………… If that doesn’t get you sexually aroused then The Move and/or Heavy Music isn’t for you.
Track Six – Last thing on my mind. When most people make the family tree of heavy metal you don’t see The Move on any lists per-say I’m ADDING them to the list. Even This last ballad, so depressing and soul crushing. Melancholy. So good, Roy Wood is the Crazy Uncle to Heavy Metal. And SATAN bless (curse?) him!
Overall this is a Must own for anyone who loves Heavy Metal and wants to understand the roots of metal more fully. Especially those of us who Like Mr. Bungle and its derivatives. I’m thinking that The Move has a lot to do with making these sub-genres of jazzy metal.
Also this is my first written review and its 6 hours before I have to be up for work in the morning. I like to ramble.
The more I listen to the Move, the more I frigging love them. Case in point: I have now given all four of their studio albums a single listen and am currently listening to the second disc of the 2012 live album “Live at the Fillmore 1969” the only document (and only likely document) of a full concert by “The Move” on their only tour of America in 1969.
Nominally, my new review style is supposed to avoid repeating bands too many times but I simply have to comment on this album: it really proves to me the fantastic nature of the band and really makes me lament how overlooked and under valued they are in general.
The story behind this album goes as follows: singer Carl Wayne held onto the tapes of the show for decades hoping that they could be cleaned up as recording technology improved. And they were: the sound isn’t exactly “crystal clear” but it’s clear enough to be enjoyable with a minimum of muddiness or dissonance. The only problem that bothered me was the balance between vocals and instruments: when all the band members start singing in intricate harmony, it tends to overshadow the instruments.
Nevermind that. Let’s go on to the good signs of the album, which are many.
In the studio up to this point (1969, before the simultaneously heavier and more intricate days of the Jeff Lynne era) the Move had been more…delicate in the studio. They had only released one album, 1968’s “The Move” which was a masterpiece of pop songwriting, diverse arrangement ideas and bizarre lyrical ideas.
It also showcased a tight band that had mastered a solid interplay of rhythm guitar, lead, bass, drums, lead vocals mixed with four and five part harmonies. It was the only album to feature original rhythm guitarist Trevor Burton and bass player “Ace” something or other who suffered from a bad acid trip that caused an early departure that switched Burton to bass.
By the time the band travelled to America, Burton had departed to be replaced by Rick Price, who stayed with the band for two more years. Burton departed due to the “softness” of the singles that he felt betrayed the band’s hard rocking roots.
One wonders how Burton would have felt hearing the band performances on this album? The set starts with the riff heavy “Open My Eyes” by The Nazz and the band fully adapts to the purpose, stretching it out to nearly seven minutes with wild Wood guitar (who knew the guy was a super star?) and wild, wild drum bashing by Bevan (nearly Moon level, which makes me feel the man is severely under rated as a drummer) with solid bass from Price and Wayne…
I feel like Wayne is the big discovery listening to this album. Wayne always had a great voice but always seemed more set to “croon” (as he pushed the band to the lucrative cabaret circuit) but he really roars on the album in a way I wouldn’t have expected from him.
He really reminds me of Rod Evans from the first period of Deep Purple: a rather smooth, yet powerful voice that fits in well with the general style of the band. It may not be the “Gillian-esque” or “Dio-style” scream that has set the style for heavy metal vocalization but its no less powerful for its intricacies, subtlety and power.
Another huge discovery is hearing Wood unleash on guitar: it’s no shock that this band was as big as they were on the touring circuit. Wood is a minor master on guitar, more in the vein of “Hendrix” or garage rock superstars as opposed to the flash of Ritchie Blackmore and his tone is satisfyingly thick, his leads and solos solid (and integrating direct classical approaches from time to time) and leads the band through song-after-song with an amazing fluency and grace while maintaining a steady, hard rocking groove.
Fivesongs from the 1970’s “Shazaam” are highlighted here: “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “The Last Thing On My Mind,” epic length Ars Nova cover “Fields of People,” reworked Wood classic “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and new Wood original “Hello Susie.”
Three tracks go over 10 minutes and two stretch to 14 minutes and 17 minutes. A highlight for this reviewer is closing “Under the Ice” one of The Nazz’s hardest rocking, tightest written tunes stretched to a bizarre 14 minutes.
“Fields of People” remains a classic as its a tightly written psychedelic classic extended with wild Wood ideas (including bizarre, near sitar style sounds from a “banjo-tar”) and bashing drums from Bevan that at times remind me of a less bass heavy Who…which is a huge, huge compliment from me.
The set is closed out with a further three songs from a second night at the Fillmore, repeats of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and “The Last Thing On My Mind.” They’re good but don’t differ incredibly from the previous night’s versions. It’s still good to have them though.
Closing out the set is a great 10 minute interview from the intelligent and insightful Bev Bevan, reflecting on the tour with a humorous and self deprecating style that holds the attention all the way through.
I can’t recommend this enough to fans of hard hitting, yet ambitious, well played and tastefully arranged raw guitar rock. There are other drawbacks: the song set isn’t ideal for fans of “The Move”’s earlier, gentler singles and was in fact designed as a way to impress west coast audience; the endless jamming, while entertaining, can become a bit wearing after awhile if one isn’t ready for it; it’s not representative of the first line-up of the band which is said to have burned even tighter and brighter.
However, it’s highly unlikely that very many other shows were recorded by “The Move” (especially the first lineup which wasn’t around long) and in the absence of any other live album (not to discount the EP “Something Else by the Move”) this may be the only live set we ever get by the band.
Thank God it’s great! Get it.
Songs to YouTube:
Both Nazz Covers are phenomenal and blow poor Todd outta the water.
“Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” was always one of Wood’s best tunes and the rearrangement is great.
“Fields of People” may be the longest song of the set but its melodies are amazing and the band pulls them off with pizazz.
Since I just reviewed Jeff Lynne’s “The Idle Race” and am currently listening to a wide range of Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood related products (having purchased the discography of both men recently) I decided I’d try out a review of the first of their “The Move” collaborations: 1971’s “Looking On.”
I actually listened to the first two albums by “The Move” before getting to this one and thought of reviewing them first but I decided to stick with “Looking On” because a) it was the first of three collaborations between these two talented men b) it’s rather underrated and ignored throughout both men’s careers and most importantly c) I’m currently listening to it. Talk about “real time” reviewing!
“Looking On” came at a point when the original line-up of “The Move” had completely collapsed, leaving just Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and replacement bass player Rick Price left to pick up the pieces.
Wood had been trying to seduce Lynne to join “The Move” for a few years but was unable to due to Lynne banking on the success of “The Idle Race.” After the failure of their superb second LP, the Lynne written and produced “The Idle Race” it became clear to the ambitious Lynne that he had to change things up. And moving to a highly successful band like “The Move” was a great idea.
In theory: Wood was already moving past “The Move” (pun not intended) as a sonic idea and wanted to integrate strings and classical ideas into rock and roll. He and Lynne were on the same page (“Come with Me” from “The Idle Race” should be all the proof you need of that) and both were ready to create a group called “Electric Light Orchestra” to explore those ideas.
But contract obligations ruined their plans: “The Move” owed their record label a few albums. So the two decided to stop touring and crank out the albums they needed to finish their contract. “Looking On” was designed as a swan song but they would record one more album before retiring “The Move.”
Wow! Sorry to drown you in so much history but I think it’s important to understanding this rather…unique album. “The Move” were a highly successful psychedelic pop band that had been turning towards a heavier sound for some time (being in the band’s natural inclinations) and Lynne was fresh out of the idyllic “Idle Race” and was perhaps hungry for a…more ballsy sound.
So, “Looking On” sees the two (Bevan and Price are good at their instruments but aren’t exactly key creative forces for the band) creating a heavy, heavy, heavy sound that completely betrays their past styles. Of course, going “heavy” made sense with the times but…not the way these guys went heavy.
They basically go heavy while betraying their pop sensibilities.
Opening “Looking On” starts as a plodding, mastodon of a song with heavy, heavy guitar tones and a slow, slow tempo. Wood was never a great “riff” writer so the song sort of sits there looming at you angrily without affecting you for quite some time.
Thankfully, the band was smart enough to throw in an excellent, emotionally engaging instrumental section with wild guitar solos, sitars, saxes and an epic, moving melody that helped end the song on a high note and get the listener engaged.
Basically, “experimentation” is the name of the game here and the band goes all out. “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” starts out as a precursor of Wood’s later “Wizzard” group: it starts with a heavy, slide riff with a bluesy, nearly “country” feel that is nice without being incredibly catchy.
Then, out of nowhere, the music stops and a striking and loud cello riff pops up for a few seconds. Why hello, ELO! I knew you were coming. Roy then overdubs an army of saxophones during the verses and choruses that has to be hard to be believed.
And then there’s the infamous “Brontosaurus” with it’s “Lady Madonna” rip riff that lumbers along like a…brontosaurus with the insane and inane “you know she can really do the brontosaurus” chorus gradually transforming into a completely convincing and exhilarating fast paced rock and roll jam.
Lynne makes two huge contributions with the slowly building, immaculate, melodic epic “What?” that serves as a precursor to his ELO approach to writing ballads. It builds in a slow, slow way as Lynne pops out great melodies, one after another while he and Roy overdub as many manic instruments as possible to create a near symphonic sound without the use of a symphony or mellotron.
Even better is Lynne’s “Open Up Said the World at the Door” which is highlighted by a wild multi-part song structure, great Lynne melodies and harmonies that sound EXACTLY like Queen (who had yet to emerge on the scene, I remind you) with great drum performances from Bevan (including a drum solo highlighted by a section being played backwards). Later in the song, a pounding piano riff is balanced with a delicate yet hard hitting oboe part by Wood that sounds EXACTLY like Roxy Music (who, again, hadn’t yet emerged).
A stern piano, bass and guitar rhythm pound out an epic coda as Wood shows off some epic guitar moves that illustrate how sadly underrated the man is in ever aspect of his musical career.
“Feel Too Good” is basically Wood’s version of “Open Up” and features some of his wildest guitar playing of all time and an out of nowhere and mind boggling accapella“doo wop” outro.
The whole album is like that: if the song is under written or potentially unengaging (which most, frankly, are), Roy and Jeff throw in wild instrumental sections, weird slide guitar solos, overdubbed saxophones, odd chanting voices layered with special effects, thick, thick bass tones and wild, ear catching melody and rhythm changes.
Does this sound like a head spinning, exhilarating art metal experience? It mostly definitely is all of that and more. However, those looking for the delicate melodies of the earlier “The Move” albums, the quaint psychedelia of “Idle Race” or even the ambitious classical stance of “Electric Light Orchestra” are going to be sorely disappointed.
And this lack of pop sensibility is a flaw: none of these songs will stay in your head for very long unless you sit around and listen to the album for days on end, which I would avoid: you may end up going quite mad and end up in the “Cherry Blossom Clinic.”
But weird sonic details will stick around in your head, like the odd moog bass that pops up out of nowhere in “Brontosaurus” and thickens the sound even further. Or the relatively simple yet hard driving boogie of “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues.”
And then there is the lyrics. You won’t really remember any lyrics or song concepts beyond “She can really do the brontosaurus” which should give you a sense of the lack of lyrical sense common throughout the album. Which is a shame, as both Wood and Lynne have some minor, yet solid lyrical insight: gone are the intriguing looks into insanity and obsession, replaced with…odes to dinosaurs.
Roy and Jeff were obviously more concerned with fully expressing themselves for the first time without the interference of a record company or the confines of writing pop singles. They quite obviously focus on the music arrangements before anything else (including, concise, clever melodies and biting lyrics).
However, fans of weird, wild music that maintains some sense of focus without dipping into pointless avant guardisms or dissonances should really enjoy this album. Especially if they like early “Led Zeppelin” and “Blue Cheer.” An obvious must buy, along with everything else by “The Move.”
Songs to YouTube:
“What?” should give further evidence to “Lynne Haters” that the man does have godly talents.
“When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” gives a little insight into the future development of the first Electric Light Orchestra album.
Finally, “Open Up Said the World at the Door” is worth it just to hear the sounds of Queen and Roxy Music before either existed.
And so my little break stretched on and on until it had been nearly a year before I posted anything…so much has changed in so many ways but one thing remains…I love music…and I love writing about music.
Hello fans of “Culture Fusion Reviews.” I hope things are treating you well. I’m doing well. I won’t go into it but I will briefly explain my abrupt departure and my triumphant return as quickly as possible:
- New jobs
- Life in general
- Sustaining interest
And there is the biggest problem with writing blogs: keeping up an interest and sustaining an interest. I decided to come back because my new jobs have balanced out, my love life is non-existent (in a good way) and I had a burst of interest to write about music again.
New format though: not doing complete discographies in a mad rush. This is part of what drove me crazy and bored me to tears. Just doing the last album I heard. And the last album I heard was…
“Birthday Party” by the Idle Race.
“Who the hell?” you may say and you wouldn’t be the only one. Idle Race is one of a million “also-rans” of the psychedelic era that had a somewhat unique vision, a decent songwriting voice and excellent production and solid-to-raving reviews (Marc Bolan of T-Rex was a huge fan) that simply didn’t have the “it” factor to make it big and which disbanded after a few years.
However, you can pick up a two CD collection named “Back to the Story” that includes everything they recorded: three albums and a variety of singles and non-album tracks. None of their songs were a huge hit and you hardly ever hear them mentioned but as a footnote…and the only reason they maintain that footnote status is because of their connection to Electric Light Orchestra.
That’s right, ELO: the pomp and circumstance, cello, violin and guitar “classical” prog-pop band led by somewhat controversial songwriter-guitarist-producer (and owner of huge hair and aviator glasses) Jeff Lynne. Basically, the Idle Race was an early proving ground for Lynne’s songwriting, arranging and production genius.
So, is it any good? That’s an interesting question. It’s not ELO: it’s very much a product of its era. This means the songs are generally very gentle excursions into musical whimsy: a 23 second orchestra version of “Happy Birthday to You” is the second track on the album; sound pans from speaker to speaker; music hall melodies clash again mellotrons and off-beat vocal harmonies; pianos, horns and strings take up a huge section of the sonic blueprint, sometimes drowning out the band themselves (also consisting of drums, bass, guitar and piano; catchy, sometimes complex melodies sustaining interest throughout as the arrangements shift on a dime to give the album a surprising sense of diversity.
Basically, it sounds like any number of minor first rate and major second rate psychedelic bands of the time (not an insult: second rate psychedelic bands are sometimes the most fun) falling more on the “whimsy Sgt. Pepper” vibe as opposed to the “psychotic space ravings” of early Pink Floyd. It’s gentle music for gentle people with an occasional burst of fuzz guitar and bass to wake you up. Basically, they often sound like a rougher, tougher “Left Banke” but without so many intense classical leanings.
The lyrics, however, are a different story. Lynne has never been a super amazing lyricist: for ELO: at his worst he’s competent while at his best he can be insightful and interesting. But the Idle Race, and especially this first album, is an interesting study in “musical and lyrical contrasts” similar to the “Steely Dan” method of contrasting gentle, smooth music with wild lyrics (but with different sonic focuses).
Lynne explores areas of madness, depravity, lust, love and the seedy, crazy side of the world in a way he never really touched in ELO. Songs like “I Like My Toys” are nearly child-like in the music and arrangements with a lyrical message that crouches the concept of “toys” with “madness” in a unique way.
To me, this contrast between musical gentleness and lyrical strangeness is what helps the album stand out a bit from the psychedelic pack: while not exactly a completely unique idea the band pull it off well and in their own unique style. Yes, the basic style is very similar to the whimsy sides of the Beatles psychedelic style but delving even deeper into near child-like levels of silliness and musical lightness.
The production is solid and typical of the time with lots of experiments in filtering, panning, sound effects and a dense layering of sound giving the album a somewhat uniform but still appealing sound. Of course, the album isn’t perfect and has some flaws (the uniform sound, the sometimes grating childishness of things as well as Lynne’s continuing obsession with de-emphasizing his great voice) but it serves as an early taster for greater things for Lynne and serves as a good case for understanding why the great Roy Wood held Jeff in such high esteem and why Jeff was able to briefly conquer the world with ELO.
Songs to check out on YouTube:
First song “Skeleton and the Roundabout” is a harbinger of their general style and of the silly delights of the rest of the album: carnivelesque melodies and arrangements, great vocal melodies, solid band performances and arrangements as well as a lyrical message that will have you scratching your head (in a good way).
“Follow Me Follow” continues in a similar vein but in a more sentimental manner foreshadowing Jeffy’s skills with love ballads.
“Lucky Man” a great music hall atmosphere with solid vocal harmonies, a great refrain and a lyrical message that touches on insanity.