Musicians have been making "future music" since humankind was self-aware of existing in a modern period and correspondingly excited for what was to come. Such compositions can be considered both ahead of their time and also showcase the artist's personal vision of Tomorrowland. At times innovative, “future music” is often just overproduced, audiophile crap that will eventually end up on a free compilation album provided by Bose as a show-off CD for their new sound system. Nevertheless, it seems somewhat obvious that when a technologically advanced instrument enters the musical universe, it usually makes the more progressive artists giddy and provides a strong catalyst to make forward-looking music (Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno, Radiohead, etc.). So, given the massive acceleration in technological advancements over the past 50 years, it really comes as no surprise that musicians have become increasingly infatuated with the future. Perhaps due to the ease of allowing a computer to take on more of the creative workload, there is now a surplus of techno with themes centering on robots, mathematical ascension, oppressive totalitarian regimes, and other now-standard symbols for the future. Has it yet become clichéd that today’s future is routinely envisioned as a cold place where simple synthesized melodies serve as our desperate communication over the daily grind of 4/4 house beats?
Sun Ra was always obsessed with the future. Whether he was shocking the jazz world by using unconventional electric instruments in his Arkestra or serving as Earth's official ambassador to Saturn, Mr. Ra was constantly fixated on the days beyond. Ironically, though, the self-proclaimed "afrofuturist" was constantly looking to the past for the inspiration to best depict his musical visions, particularly to those ancient Egyptian periods which borne his name. Yet for his 1966 solo album Monorails and Satellites, Sun Ra did not revert to the pyramids for inspiration, but instead decided to revisit his roots as a prodigious piano playing youth from Birmingham.
Best known for his maximalist compositions, lingering improvisations, and silly stage costumes, Sun Ra's genius was occasionally obscured by his elaborate (and often gimmicky) image. It is on his rare solo albums where we can get a clear view of the bones of his convoluted imagination. On such instances, he proves it is not necessary to use a modern instrument that mimics satellite noises in order to conjure up images of orbiting spacecraft -- a simple piano can suffice just fine. Whereas Monorails and Satellites may be considered avant-garde in comparison to most solo jazz piano albums (especially among others released in the mid-‘60s), it still serves as Sun Ra's most beautiful, most accessible, and most likeable picture of the future.
The first two songs on Monorails and Satellites, "Space Towers" and "Cogitation," with their percussive, off-rhythm driving chords, stage our future at a bustling place, concentrating more on progression than with patience for the aesthetic. However, the album then softens with Sun Ra playing more pointed, complex lines that transition the mood from a hard-hitting, drunk Duke Ellington into a less-swingy, attention-deficit Thelonious Monk. There are few recurring melodic themes throughout the album, but plenty of stylistic shifts that teeter between the effortlessly gorgeous and the complicated flurry, similar to a later-years John Fahey record. You get the feeling that this is the type of music that George Jetson would listen to when he has his mid-life crisis, eats some trippy mushrooms, and decides to go to a dive jazz bar in the slummy part of Orbit City to see a show. There is no fancy computer-driven music here, just a senile old guy who likes his piano just fine and who can still remember the days when space travel was a novel, exciting phenomenon.
It has been 41 years since the release of Monorails and Satellites, and we are still fixated to our televisions when astronauts have problems returning home from a routine space station mission. Our world has changed a great deal (but not really), and unfortunately, the future appears increasingly more grim than hopeful. Maybe that’s why Sun Ra’s legacy has stuck around so long (his Arkestra continues to outlive him) -- listening to his abstract-to-the-point-of-playful compositions foretell of a simpler, if not zany, life ahead.
“In retrospect, I knew that was the last optimism I was gonna have for a long time.” - Ryan Adams
The cliché about Ryan Adams is that he always knows exactly what he’s doing. That every pratfall and every “fuck you” and every bit of record company bating is just a calibrated put-on. Indeed, his five years in Whiskeytown were years well-spent; he was an insufferable little bitch right from the get-go (the band only produced three proper albums, but the lineup changes were in the teens), and by the time it all crumbled down around him, he was Paul Westerberg, he was Gram Parsons. A guy who could melt your heart with two chords and an “ooh-la-la” before belting you one in the teeth and stealing your french fries or your girlfriend.
But if Adams always had one hand on the wheel, it doesn’t show on Faithless Street, Whiskeytown’s 1995 debut. He sounds terrified; his voice flows against his own songwriting, which is achingly confident. On “Midway Park,” a gorgeous double helix of pedal steel arpeggios continually builds and is shattered by the howling, slobbering chorus: “We’ll lie/ We’ll lie/ Don’t tell the truth/ Just lie.” On the doleful title track, Adams admits, “I started this damn country band/ ’Cause punk rock is too hard to sing.”
Faithless Street was reissued by Outpost in 1998, refurbished and expanded nearly twofold. Three of the nine bonus tracks -- “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” “16 Days,” and “Yesterday’s News” -- are copped from the Stranger’s Almanac album, but they sound better here, especially the classic “Excuse Me” (ravaged on Almanac as a duet with Alejandro Escovedo).
The real gem, though, is “Desperate Ain’t Lonely,” on which Adams shares vocals with violinist Caitlin Cary. There’s a definite tension there that isn’t sexual (not to my knowledge, anyway) or the result of creative differences (she stuck it out until the very end). It’s just their voices. He sounds wrecked, she sounds strong. She’s moving on, he’s not.
And some might say he never did.
Here's another set of lovingly packaged reissues from Renascent -- Britain’s foremost archivists of out-of-print and often painfully overlooked guitar rock -- of The House of Love’s self-titled 1988 debut and their super rare 1987 singles collection The German Album (so named due to its original release in, you guessed it, Germany). Two albums that, since their release, deserve to be recognized as touchstones for many popular trends in British pop and rock: from shoegaze to Britpop to whoever the hell NME and Q have plastered all over their covers this month.
The House of Love fit somewhere in between the tail end of The Smiths and the rise of The Stone Roses on the British rock timeline; in fact, the sounds of those two bands present a good basis from which to approach these albums. Less emotive and literate (read: less pretentious) than Morrissey, but more focused and articulate (read: smarter) than Ian Brown, Guy Chadwick’s voice seems to melt between the guitars, his oblique lyrics never less than insightful, with hints of political awareness and a philosophical muse poking through the nonchalant façade. It’s a side Chadwick shows on “Welt,” when he proclaims, “I would like to criticize.” However, the band certainly makes it difficult to critique when the results are so pristine, some 20 years on.
While The German Album was never conceived as a whole, it arguably contains a stronger set of songs, largely due to the urgent delivery of the earliest 12-inch singles. The first four tracks — “Destroy the Heart,” “Shine On,” “Real Animal,” and “Nothing To Me” — stand up to any like-minded tracks from the era, recalling the moody anthems of predecessors The Chameleons and Echo and the Bunnymen, especially the latter’s work on Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here.
The House of Love, on the other hand, is moodier and slower, just missing classic status by a few cuts. Leadoff track “Christine” is the best song that The Jesus and Mary Chain never wrote, and if you’re familiar with that band's first two albums — Psychocandy and Darklands — you probably have an idea of how fucking good it might sound. “Salome” reminds me of The Psychedelic Furs, if Richard Butler’s voice had been sanded down to a croon.
In spite of its occasional brilliance, the relative restraint when compared to The German Album forces me to wonder if The House of Love ever should have conceptualized an entire LP. This isn’t to say it’s bad — far from it, in fact. But at times the band’s ambition in the studio is so grandiose it occasionally suffocates the music. The single format, however, gave the band an opportunity to reign in their sound, providing some of the rawness that suited them so well in their early days.
Regardless of its propensity for overproduction, The House of Love still comes out as a beautiful collection of distinctly British pop, a counterpoint to the spare reverb and echo of The German Album. And both — I repeat, BOTH — of these albums belong in any ‘80s rock collection that runs the gamut from post-punk to shoegaze. Yeah, they’re expensive as all hell, and you will probably have to order them online (unless you live in the U.K.), but where’s the fun in finding them easily? These are the kind of albums destined to be tracked down and located by obsessives only. They are truly diamonds in the rough, and they probably wouldn’t shine as bright if they weren’t so hard to come across.
1966: Malachi - Holy Music
The press release for this reissue claims that, since Holy Music was put to tape August 1966, it’s “one of the earliest specifically psychedelic albums ever recorded.” I beg to differ. Though the album features a pre-Red Krayola Steve Cunningham and otherworldly Tibetan Buddhist John Newbern, their only major label vanity project doesn’t really fall under my definition of psychedelic. Psychedelia comes from the Greek meaning “mind-manifest” and typically pertains to heightened and altered states of awareness. In music, this typically represents the effort of translating and expressing a piece of the psychedelic experience. What you have with this fossil may just be the first non-psychedelic acid record.
What brings me to this conclusion is the fact that, save for a few random minutes of hymnal chants, swishing water field recordings, and some kind of harpsichord and strings, each ten-odd-minute jam consists of intermittent mouth harp and intermittent acoustic guitar strumming. Aside from the few bars of Eastern mantra, every sound is intermittent at best, making the overall experience more disjointed and boring than any acid trip I’ve ever taken. Since Owsley cooked up his first batch of white lightning acid in March of ‘65 and this album was recorded the following year, the connection is obvious. Acid was legal at the time, after all, so it got around quickly and thoroughly. With that fact in hand, this is exactly the kind of album you would expect two hippies on pure ‘60s LSD to make if they had access to recording equipment, a small handful of random instruments, and nowhere better to be. I don’t know if you could really call that psychedelic in its execution, as it is simultaneously, aggravatingly random and drearily monotonous. Granted, it may trip people out if you pop this on during a road trip, but it’s sure not going to be from over-stimulation. Whatever vibrations those two guys were experiencing did not get picked up by the recording gear.
I’m sure Newbern had good intentions then and even to this day (he’s still making music), but outside of pre-converted Buddhists looking for some mildly distracting meditation sounds, Holy Music isn’t going to open the minds of people. Since this Fallout issue is its first ever appearance on CD, I’d imagine it hasn’t done much so far. For my money, you gotta stick with the 13th Floor Elevators. Their debut, The Psychedelic Sounds Of was recorded just two months later and is a hundred times more fulfilling. Furthermore, The Holy Modal Rounders released their self-titled debut with the track “Hesitation Blues,” which features the term “psychedelic” in 1964, so there really isn’t anything remarkable about this album. Well, except the obvious question: how the hell did Holy Music ever get released in the first place?
"This is my brand new song: lightning and thunder, hailstone, brimstone and fire, music, hurricane and tidal wave judgement. Mixed by earthquake, produced by flood." -- Lee Perry
If you are unfamiliar with Lee Perry, your music history class is missing a very important chapter in the lesson plan. Not knowing or understanding the importance of Perry's achievements should be a crime punishable by law, especially if you consider yourself a dub/reggae aficionado. While I admittedly didn't know of him myself until I was informally introduced via the work of Adrian Sherwood in the ‘80s, I felt a great retroactive shame upon my deflowering -- all those wasted years I spent in the darkness.
Lee Perry is one of the two key figures (alongside King Tubby) in the creation/cultivation of dub, hailed as the innovator of the turntable "scratch" effect and considered the creator of "reggae" due to his production of The Pioneers' "Long Shot Kick the Bucket." This track featured the first example of the reggae rhythm, which was initially so unique that no one knew what to call it, a rhythm that has been described by Perry as feeling as though you're stepping in glue. He additionally produced works for Bob Marley and The Wailers, The Heptones, Junior Byles, and Max Romeo in his self-built studio, The Black Ark. These credentials are surely worth a little more than a passing glance, and amazingly, this is just scratching the proverbial surface (excuse the pun).
This new 2-disc release, Ape-Ology, brings together 1978's Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread and Return of the Super Ape, as well as 1976's Scratch the Super Ape, with the pot being amply sweetened with seven bonus tracks, including the mixes of the dub plate "From Creation," which appears for the first time ever on vinyl or CD. What most assuredly stretches across these two discs is the sound of a maverick, the soul of an inventor, and the eccentricities of a man who creates, not detracts from, the brilliance. While I am sure by now that most of you Perry newbies are already off to your local shop or are online browsing in quest of this grail, I'll help the doubters along a little by delving into the volumes on offer here.
The first ten tracks of disc one comprise Scratch the Super Ape, presented how Perry had originally intended (as opposed to the Island issuing). The soul present throughout this album is so deep that one needs a life-preserver not to drown in it, most notably present on two highlights that are blessed with the warm, vibrant vocal harmonies of The Heptones: "Dread Lion," with its stumbling beat and trembling bass line (funk-driven to point of sickness), and "Zion Blood," with cooing wordless passages driven by conga. As exceptional as these songs are, no single track suffers under the weight of another; they each establish themselves as utterly essential, as the weighty toast of Prince Jazzbo on "Croaking Lizard" goes lengths in proving. What stands as the most remarkable feat of Super Ape is that each track is as vital today as in ‘76, refusing to age in spite of any lingering hiss that conspires against it.
The remainder of disc one, the album Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Cornbread, is yet another stunning work. Would it be too ambitious to declare it a masterpiece? Not really. It eagerly displays a broader view of Perry's unique character through stronger, experimental stylings and his unabashed vocals, all backed by The Full Experience. While his voice may not be as developed as The Heptones' or Prince Jazzbo's from Scratch the Super Ape, by utilizing it as an instrument in addition to being a vehicle for lyrics through unique phrasing and wordless noises, he creates his own atmospheric stylings. "Evil Tongue" demonstrates the greatest example of this -- lyrically damning, claustrophobic to the last beat, and thoroughly infectious and demented at every angle. Not to mention "Soul Fire" and the title track, which both feature a striking, authoritative presence. With Roast Fish, Perry delivers an uncompromising, powerful, and sometimes humorous record that observed, questioned, and challenged issues relevant to himself and the culture from which he came.
Disc two houses Return of the Super Ape, which displays another step forward in Perry's production. Ambitiously futuristic and, judging by its initial reception, bordering on the indecipherable, Perry's effects were driving this album with a stronger hand than Scratch and Roast, and it certainly wasn't any less engaging. It was just a different beast -- more sparse and seeming to drift in a vacuum. Take for example the highly twisted vibe of "Bird in Hand," which finds him reaching into a Cab Calloway vocal play. You wonder if Perry was up a tree, his stripes disappearing like yarn unwinding, leaving nothing more than a dancing Cheshire Cat smile; 'twas Brilling and the Slithy Toves,' indeed. The wobbly effect-laden "Jah Jah A Natty Dread" is yet another example of Perry's singularity and futuristic approach that, if released today, would still leave listeners with gaping maws. He was seriously untouchable on this record, with perhaps the only low point being his interpretation of Stevie Wonder-penned, Rufus/Chaka Khan-owned "Tell Me Something Good."
The second disc is rounded out by seven bonus tracks, including four mixes of the aforementioned cult anthem dub plate "From Creation" featuring Clive Hylton, which served as a special for the Coxson International Sound System. With the faith-invested vocals of Hylton, this astonishing track is elevated to breathtaking levels, creating a truly transcendent moment on record. This is followed perfectly with its three heavy dub counterparts. There are also two versions of the "Roast Fish and Cornbread" track from the album of the same name. The "JA Single Mix" is a mere skeletal version of the completed mix, while the "Corn Dub (JA Single Mix)" presents a slightly fuller version. The final track on disc two is the wondrous bass swagger of "OK Corral," featuring U Roy. Reportedly unreleased since its creation in 1970, this track is remarkable on every level.
Admittedly, Ape-Ology does suffer from a lack of fuller liner notes, and the packaging could have been yards better -- just visualize a box set with each disc housed in its own foldout digipak with original art work, full credits, and historical essays... mmmm, delicious -- but if this review was not a convincing enough argument for this collection's essentialness, there is nothing more that I could possibly do to persuade you. Instead, closing this review out will be a list of the astonishing musicians that were present on the three main albums, as they are as equally important as the man himself in the creation of these records, and each deserve a special place in everyone's collection:
Boris Gardiner, Anthony "Benbow" Creary, Earl "Chinna" Smith, Bobby Ellis, Richard "Dirty Harry" Hall, Vin Gordon, Prince Jazzbo, Mikey Richards, Winston Wright, Keith Stirling, Sly Dunbar, Noel "Scully" Simms, Egbert Evans, Herman Marquis, Vin Gordon, The Heptones, The Full Experience, Billy Boy, Geoffrey Chung.
Now to work on getting that monument built...
Gram Parsons was like a musical Easter Bunny. He jumped onto the scene, and before we even realized what he left for us, he was gone. All we have now is a tiny amount of always-welcome eggs he left for anyone willing to look. From The International Submarine Band to the majority of records made by his main protégé, Emmylou Harris, we find albums and songs that spread a sense of free-wheelin’ beauty and life rarely found in any musician's legacy. We find artists who walk the same line as he did -- musicians who stroll down the halls of music history, respectful of the past but determined to have their own songs fill the same jukeboxes; music that fits into his dreams of a glorious stew of past, present rock ‘n’ roll, country, and R&B he termed “Cosmic American Music.”
Ms. Harris walked this very tightrope with her major label debut, Pieces of the Sky, an album as achingly beautiful as a sunrise and as mournful as a sunset. The album feels like you’re going to a log cabin home, sitting on rolling acres of land in rural California, drinking a few glasses of wine with Harris, and then sitting back to listen to her beautiful, fragile voice as she mines the playlist in her head. These are songs you can tell she loves, and you never forget it, you never doubt it. And once you feel sufficiently placed within the classics of country and western music, she attempts to pull you toward new ground by following Parsons’ lead and goading country music, the large lumbering beast that it is, to a new kind of sound, a sound unafraid of change and rhythm & blues and boys with mop-top haircuts.
The rollicking rendition of Rodney Crowell’s “Bluebird Wine” kicks off the album, and it's like a fountain of youth. Which is one of the most surprising and ultimately rewarding aspects of this album. No matter how many classic songs spin by, no matter how respectful everything is to the dusty LPs of yesteryear, this album always sounds fresh and alive. Like a child’s first step or a pimply faced kid's first power chord, you get the desire to always keep moving, to stay alive, to keep on truckin’ no matter what life throws at you.
Believe me, life got thrown at Emmylou, and this album revels in it. Since she was dealing with the recent death of her aforementioned mentor Gram Parsons, it's no surprise that these ten songs resemble therapy sessions, from the brand new start of “Bluebird Wine,” to the depression of “Too Far Gone,” to the drunken apathy of “Bottle Let Me Down” (which is, by the way, an awesome version of the Merle Haggard tune). By the time the fourth track of side one begins, you miss Gram yourself. Meanwhile, “Boulder to Birmingham” is such an overwhelmingly gorgeous song that it can’t do anything but break your cold hipster heart at least a little.
Harris learned well from Parsons, and it shows. She does what few artists can and swiftly runs through classic songs like Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” or The Louvin Brother’s “If I Could Only Win Your Love” with a loving devotion as only a person who truly needed this music can. She never tries to outdo the originals, yet these renditions are unmistakably hers, and hers alone. Her cover of The Beatles’ “For No One” flows by with more sadness and longing and regret than Paul or John could ever muster. It’s a cover that adds a freshness to an album that already feels like a winner from track one.
Finally Pieces of the Sky concludes with “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” and Harris’ crown begins to rest peacefully on her head. Whether that silver dollar is one that picks a couple of her songs on a trusty Wurlitzer or the honky-tonk she sings, she deserves her crown, and this album was the start of her rule.
1970: The Stooges - Fun House
by James Ubaghs (age 17), brother of [Charles Ubaghs->http://www.tinymixtapes.com/_Charles-Ubaghs_]
How do you begin a review of something as monumental as The Stooges Fun House, arguably their crowning achievement? I don’t know how to start that review but I will say this: Fun House is a fucking badass rock and roll album.
In an era of spineless, hollow sentimentally, and nice serious musicians making nice serious music (that’s still boring no matter how weird it’s trying to be) Fun House makes my little 17 year old mind explode. It’s daring, it’s innovative while remaining entirely tangible. It makes a tired old genre seem rife with limitless possibilities, and simply put, it rocks.
Opener “ Down on the Street” sets the tone for a consistent 37 minutes of raw rock roll. A deceptively simple but violently effective rhythm section stomps along, with Ron Asheton’s brilliantly simplistic guitar lines driving it all forward. Iggy Pop gives possibly his best performance ever recorded. His irreverent lyrics “Out of my mind on Saturday night…I feel all right” are delivered with awe inspiring passion and his singing/un-hinged screaming manage to give an untold depth to what could merely be idiotic at the hands of another singer.
No single song stands out like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on their debut but instead each song complements the album as a whole, constantly building in momentum until it explodes into the savage cacophonous wall (and attached apartment block) of sound in the album closer, “ L.A bBues,” that escalates the rest of the album to it’s logical conclusion.
Sadly they don’t make ‘em as great as they used to. In fact they never did make them this good, because I have a strong suspicion that punk rock never managed to match the brilliance of this zygote.
Instead of lamenting on this predicament like a poor emo kid steadily carving nice little geometric shapes into the side of my arm I find myself filled with a new urge. Besides the urge to fuck and get wasted, I feel the urge to go out and make my own Fun House. It’ll probably amount to nothing but I’m going to do it anyway.
What the hell are you going to do?
[Editor’s Note: I’m so proud of my little brother]
By Jessica Roth (age 12) and Samuel Roth (age 11), cousins of [Plastique Song->http://www.www.tinymixtapes.com/_Plastique-Song_]
SELF kicks off with "Borateen," a great head banging rave type song, all my friends can dance to it too. Sounding a lot like a young synthesizing Incubus, it plays with many different riffs, which Mike Mahaffey makes it all interesting. Dancing to "Sophomore' is way too easy, it reminds my mom of an old Boston song called “Tribe” but I think it has a little Weezer in it. Lyrics are clear, kids really like that. Something you can sing to a good deal. The layering of Mike's own brand of music is cool, makes me (and my brother) wonder how he'd actually sound in a concert. So much mixing... what would he actually play? What would he choose to bring to the stage? Just push a button.
Track three, "Stewardess" is good. Some super high soft vocals we weren't crazy about and a little too Foo Fighters repetitiveness going on. "So Low" is one of the best tracks on the CD. Got up and danced, listening to it made me feel like I was at a party. Has right amount of high vocals mixed with a crashing rock beat... loved it. This song could be longer. Two songs that didn't do it for me were "Marathon Shirt" and "Lucid Anne." These tracks should be replaced with more of the good stuff, like in "Canon." This track (7) sticks! Listen to this! Teens love this stuff. If Mike wants to sell CDs he needs to keep mixing in this genre.
"Missed the friction" and "super" are just okay, nothing to write home about. "Mother nature's fault" has some great lyrics and pauses in the song that make the track memorable. Twinge of All American Rejects infused in this song, liked it quite a bit. The voice mix sounds cool.
Jazzy swing turn in "Big Important Nothing". This track is funky... not sure what Mike is trying to show us, way out of the pop rock style that the CD is mostly comprised of. More Buble' than Mahaffey. Good tune though. Than back to what the CD is about, "Lost my Senses" rocks out. Partially sounds like my cousin Ben's band Ace and Artemis, which rocks (by the way). More of this please.
Check this CD out by SELF, then check out my favs "So Low," “Canon," "Mother Nature's Fault" and "Lost my Senses".
Think that crack-afro sporting, B-movie actress murderer Phil Spector is crazy? Yeah, I suppose he is, but Joe Meek has him beat across the board. He was a maverick pioneer of independent music, invented way more shit in the studio, and quite probably killed more people than old Phil. After you hear his story though, you’ll know he earned it the whole way. Why a major motion picture has yet to be made about him is beyond me. [Editor's note: A play about Joe Meek entitled Telstar: The Joe Meek Story ran in London’s West End in 2005.]
Born under the star Robert George Meek in 1929, Joe’s life long love (and hate) affair with music began when a brief stint in the Royal Air Force as a radio operator peaked his interest in outer space and the limitless possibilities of electronic sound. In his early twenties, he got a job with the Midlands Electric Board, which allowed him to gather up and begin creating gear, including a disc cutter. From there, he found work as a sound engineer for independent studios and started to make his name in the business, both as an innovative genius and as someone difficult to work with. Being forced out of a lucrative Landsdowne partnership by one Denis Preston would turn out to be something of a blessing in disguise.
In early 1960, Meek co-founded Triumph Records and disappointingly produced his first top 10 single, “Angela Jones” by Michael Cox. The disappointment here is based on the fact that it may have been a number one if the mom & pop pressing plants of the day – to which his self-supported label was completely dependant upon – could have kept ahead of demand. That year, Meek arguably created the first concept album as the guiding force behind the “Outer Space A Music Fantasy” theme for Rod Freeman & the Blue Men’s I Hear a New World, which was also remarkably ahead of its time in regards to its use of homemade electronic sound. Triumph did not last long as a label, but important lessons had been learned and new ground was constantly being broken.
It was around the time of Triumph’s fizzling when Joe figured out that, since he didn’t have the muscle to commercially back a hit, he could find far easier success by signing artists himself then merely leasing their material to major labels for a tidy profit. This shift was convenient since his next and by far most successful enterprise was to build a home studio above a leather-goods store and become more independent than ever while proving himself capable of scoring several UK number one hits. Hell, he basically kicked off the British Invasion by producing the Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” which was the first British record to hit the top of the US Hot 100, winning an Ivor Novello Award in the process. However, by the time The Beatles started experimenting with psychedelics, the hits started drying up. Meek’s unique flavor of Saturday morning Cowboys & Injuns cartoon rock was starting to be viewed as camp by a maturing generation that demanded a socio-political consciousness more relevant to their lives.
Times were changing and he fell into a cycle of drugs, paranoia (believing Decca had microphones in his studio’s wallpaper to steal ideas), rage, depression, and obsession with paranormal and occult activities. He believed his hero, Buddy Holly, and others who broke on through to the other side were trying to contact him from beyond the grave; he would record graveyards to try and hear the dead, but instead got a talking cat meowing for help. Having been brought up on charges of homosexuality earlier in the '60s – just being gay was illegal back then – which meant the pigs had free reign to pester and blackmail him, while his finances scattered to the wind under frail legal structures (he was unable to earn any royalties from “Telstar” in his lifetime due to an ultimately failed plagiarism suit). In January of ’67, the body of a former associate of Meek was discovered in a suitcase, leaving the police to declare they’d be brutally interrogating all known homosexuals in the UK. With no foreseeable good news on the horizon, Joe shot his landlady and himself with a single-barrel shotgun borrowed from Tornados bassist Heinz Burt on February 3rd, exactly eight years to the day after Buddy Holly went down with Richie Valens in his lap.
During the 245 singles (of which 45 cracked the top 50) and assorted albums he’d put his distinctive stamp on, he basically created the modern methods of compression, echo, reverb, sampling, multiple overdubbing on a two track, and the seemingly obvious process of recording individual pieces of a song separately, then arranging them together into a single composition. This was actually a big step forward from just putting a mic in the middle of a jam and hoping for the best, as was the fashion for the first half century of recording when they had to record directly onto vinyl in one live take.
Vampire, Cowboys, Spacemen, & Spooks is one of a few Meek compilations being released at once, though this one focuses specifically on his purely emotive instrumental work. Joe had very particular views concerning the use of the human voice as a musical instrument. After all, this is the man who walked into a Rod Stewart recording session screaming with his fingers knuckle deep in his ears until Rod stopped singing and left, while refusing to work with the Beatles (whom he considered “just a bunch of noise”), David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones. Aldous Huxley said, “after silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music” and I’m sure Meek would agree. His thematic subject matter certainly clung to the realms of the ineffable, and that sphere is given supreme definition here with some 60 tracks on two CDs.
Many of his most renowned hits are here, including a rare studio mix of the previously mentioned “Telstar” and other Tornados rarities, but the focus of this collection is on creating a whole picture of the man. Half a dozen previously unreleased tracks have now fulfilled their destiny, such as the sweetly sorrowful “Moon Rocket” by Roger Lavern & The Microns – which samples a take off before smoothing out on a rollicking, adventurous beat with a disembodied piano keeping the timing out front – as well as a raucous Animals blues version of “Besame Mucho” by Dave Roland. The lone vocal track (not counting the odd “doo-doo-doo ooooh-aaaah” chorus and the forgettable Dauphine Street Six number “Shenandoah”) shows Meek’s vision of complimentary vocals with his self-titled orchestra’s “Cry My Heart,” where at least a three-part harmony hammers home a bleak tale of love lost, but that’s a real rarity here. The emphasis is on ideas and themes, not mere words. Tracks like The Thunderbolts’ “Lost Planet” and the Moontrekkers’ “Night of the Vampire” presuppose electronica, hip-hop and their future fusions with rock in and of themselves alone, and covers like the aforementioned “Besame Mucho” and The Saints’ version of “Wipeout” always add something vital and refreshing.
Granted, all 60 cuts can’t be winners, but the collection paints a clear picture of a tragically undervalued genius. Being mostly without words, there’s not much obstructing our emotional impression of the man and his many achievements in the early-to-mid '60s. He’s the reason why these recording have aged so well and, what’s more, provide an essential link in the chain for any music fan with an interest in history. Everything in the charts today owes this man a reach-around.
2007: The Dragons - BFI
Well, fuck me if this isn’t one of the most interesting releases of the year. See, I make it a point to download anything Ninja Tune puts out, so I gave this Dragons thing a shot as soon as it became available online. I was immediately impressed by their new signing as the sprawling psychedelic masterpiece before me sounded nothing like what I was used to from the label, heavy in live-played vintage keyboards and double-tracked, AM radio vocals. When I investigated further on my way to purchase said release, I discovered quite the story.
Much to my surprise, BFI was actually recorded by the Dragon brothers at the tail end 1969 and early the following year. Doug, Daryl, and Dennis were the sons of a symphony conductor and a soprano opera singer, and thus from good musical stock. Living in Malibu and gigging around L.A. exposed their minds to the surreal sounds of The Doors, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane, but their urge to add something to the West Coast cannon was only igniting. They called in a favor from a friend at Sunwest Recording Studios in Hollywood and laid down the album then known only as Blue Forces Intelligence, or BFI for short. However, none of the majors were particularly interested in balls trippin’ psychedelia at the time and were unable (or unwilling) to hear a hit in the project, so no one would touch it.
Thus, BFI’s master tapes got shoved in a drawer somewhere and forgotten for 37 years. The three boys would find work as session musicians, ending up in The Beach Boys’ backing band for a while, before splitting off in their own directions. Doug garnered a modest fan base as a touring artist in early '80s Australia before moving to Hawaii. Daryl would indeed score several major hits as The Captain with Toni Tennille. Dennis built a moderately successful career as a producer, working with Captain Daryl as well as Cheech & Chong and the Surf Punks (also performing as their drummer). It was only thanks to a crate digging expedition that Strictly Kev/DJ Food was made aware of The Dragons via an obscure surf movie soundtrack and, in turn, Ninja Tune. Otherwise, we’d still be at square on, and I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now.
This is a truly remarkable album for too many reasons to count. BFI is as fresh and vivid today as it was the day Jabba froze it in carbonite. “Food For My Soul” is a jive piece of West Coast psych-pop soul, crucial not only for its inclusion on the last DJ Food instalment in the Solid Steel mix series, but for its obvious hit potential. A potential that reveals an utter lack of foresight shown by labels before I was born. “Are You There” borrows some heavy Doors and Santana (minus Carlos’ guitar) style for a mid-tempo expression of relationship dissatisfaction, with Edwin Starr like vocals, that could have been an easy follow-up single. Their use of keyboards, synths, and organs, as well as phasing and samples filtered through jazz, rock, and pop structures of the day perhaps came a couple years too late for the psyche prom, but the skill and vision present deserves its proper place in history. I mean, they printed Metal Machine Music as soon as it was recorded just a handful of years later and it was just a pile of noise with a name attached. At least Ninja Tune has finally made the effort to set things right. The karma wheel has been realigned... for now.