Michael Rabon & the Five Americans – Now and Then

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I picked up Michael Rabon & the Five Americans’ (often referred to as just The Five Americans) Now and Then on a recommendation. This double album, which would be their last, was released by Abnak in 1968. They had three previous albums released to varying degrees of mild success. Shortly after releasing this album, the band disbanded, and they all went their separate ways: most to careers out of the music industry. The cool thing about this band is that they never reunited, so they only existed for a very brief time between 1965–1969. This band is truly an underground 60s garage band, as this album was never converted to CD nor is it available on iTunes. That being said, I don’t know why not. This album opens up with a high energy garage-based tune, “I See the Light–’69.” This song is actually a reprise of their earlier 1966 song. A perfect choice to begin the album; it’s one of the best songs on the album. “A Taste of Livin'” follows as another song with a great beat. The third song of the album, “Molly Black,” is a fine song that shows off the bands psychedelic skills. It’s a bluesy psychedelic journey reminiscent of Cream. Michael Rabon & the Five Americans continue the psychedelic blues with “Medusa.” This song demonstrates the bands improvisational skills, at least to a small degree. “A Change on You” follows as a soulful blues track that even flirts with protopunk. This versatile song is perhaps my favorite of the album. Unfortunately, side one ends on a bit of a sour note: “Jondel” slows the pace far too dramatically with a psychedelic repetition. Despite this slight blip, the first side of this double album is truly remarkable considering it comes from a band of such obscurity. Side two begins with the blues number “Ignert Woman.” Besides the fact that it’s no 21st century PC, this song is really a great song. It, too, shows off the bands improvisational skills. “Ignert Woman” is followed by “Amavi,” a short little soft tune that has a nice beat and melody. It does well to keep the album’s fast tempo while perhaps lightening the mood a little. “Big Sur” is the third song on side two, and it does not disappoint. A very solid 60s heartbreak song. The next song is “Red Cape,” a song that starts of simple and repetitive but grows into a complex number. Another solid tune with not much to complain about. Unfortunately, the final song of this side is again not up to par with rest of the album. “8 to 5 Man” is an example of good songwriting; however, it’s musical composition leaves much to ask for. The song is drowned in a groaning keyboard; I’m not sure what they were thinking with this one. Never fear, side three picks things back up again with “Virginia Girl,” a pop rock song with a little psychedelic influence. It’s a pretty catchy and fun tune. “7:30 Guided Tour” follows as a true psychedelic song. This song sounds like it comes straight from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fans of that album and the psychedelic era will absolutely love this song. “Pink Lemonade” also carries a heavy psychedelic vibe, but isn’t as strong as “7:30 Guided Tour.” The next song, “Peace and Love,” is a song that sounds exactly like you’d expect it to. It’s very cliché 60s hippie rock, but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. There’s a couple cool riffs in it too. Really a fun song, despite the stereotypes. “You’re in Love” closes out side three, and it’s a really nice 60s love song. “She’s Too Good To Me” opens up the final side of this double album. It’s not near as good as the previous love song––”You’re in Love,” but it’s okay. “Generation Gap,” the second song of side four, is a bit of a conundrum. It’s perhaps the best song on the album, but at the same time it’s the most unoriginal. It’s a blatant rip-off of The Who’s “My Generation,” but if you’re going to rip-off a song, you couldn’t really pick a better one. “God Didn’t Smile on Me” isn’t as excellent as the rest of the album, especially coming after “Generation Gap,” but they can’t all be perfect. “Disneyland” is not only the strangest song on this album, but perhaps one of the strangest songs I’ve heard in a while. It sounds like Disney paid them to write it for a promotional video. That being said, if you can get past the original weirdness, it’s kind of fun and does have a little psychedelic undertone. This epic double album closes with “Scrooge,” a song that really completes the album by getting back to their garage rock roots. Really a great song to bring things home. Overall, this album is really powerful. Sometimes double albums can lose steam, but this one goes the distance. There were a few songs that could use reworking or perhaps replacing, but the sound of the album was very positive overall. This double album helps map the band’s career by growing from garage rock songs to blues and psychedelic rock songs. The band shows its versatility and magnitude and time after time impresses the listener. The only other problem with the album is that it seemed to lack in creativity too often. The band seems to have mastered imitating 60s powerhouses like The Beatles, The Who, and Cream, but unfortunately, they never seem to find a sound that is truly their own. Perhaps this is why the band, despite being great musicians who can produce a beautiful and cohesive album, were never launched into that elusive stardom. And perhaps this lack of originality is why I don’t feel comfortable giving the album an A.  B+

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Paul Revere & the Raiders – A Christmas Present… and Past

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Okay, so with later hits like their 1971 song “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” Paul Revere & the Raiders are not really an underground band per se; however, with their early songs like “Kicks” (1966) and “Steppin’ Out” (1966), they had an enormous influence on garage rock and protopunk, and it would be a shame not to include them in a blog like this. That being said, I stumbled across this album a few weeks ago and thought “what the hell.” I’m not really a Christmas music enthusiast, but the album looked fun and ’tis the season. This 1967 Columbia album comes after a major lineup shuffle in early 1967 that saw three members leave the band and songwriter Mark Lindsay seize control of the direction of the band. From this point on Paul Revere & the Raiders would move away from their garage rock beginnings towards a more radio friendly style; however, A Christmas Present… and Past still contains that raw sound of 60s garage rock. The first track, “Introduction,” is a humorous way to set the mood for a fun and eccentric rest of the album. The first original Christmas recording, “Wear a Christmas Smile,” is a solid pop rock number. Really nothing special, but it’s a decent tune. The only traditional Christmas song on the album, “Jingle Bells,” follows as the best rendition of “Jingle Bells” I’ve ever heard. After a couple verses, the chorus is repeated faster and harder each time in a more raw and powerful way. It’s one of the best tracks on the album. “Brotherly Love” is a soft melodic original that helps transition into the fifth and best track of the album: “Rain, Sleet, Snow.” This song is heavy and stripped down and makes for an excellent underground 60s tune. This song carries the rest of the album without a doubt. “Peace” closes side one with a Christmas-like instrumental. Side two opens with “Valley Forge,” a Vietnam-era protest song hidden under a Christmas mask. This song grows on you the more you listen to it. “Dear Mr. Claus” is one of the more traditional-sounding Christmas songs of the album. It seems to be there as a filler to give the album a more universal Christmas appeal. “Macy’s Window” follows as another song that seems to have been written for the radio. It doesn’t have any of the garage rock sound that some of the better songs of the album do. “Christmas Spirit” is the worst song on the album and takes the spirit out of the album. The album closes with “A Heavy Christmas Message,” which is exactly what it says it is, but then leads into an amazing fast and heavy instrumental featuring a soloing kazoo. The album ends on a high note. Overall, this album seems to be stuck between two audiences: the garage rock fan who is seeking a little Christmas fun and the traditional Christmas music enthusiast. If you’re willing to put up with a little junk in order to find some true seasonal gems, then this album is well worth picking up.  C+

The Blues Project – Projections

ImageFor my next album review, I’ve decided to go with Projections from the Greenwich Village band The Blues Project. Released by Verve in 1966, this is the band’s first studio album after releasing a live cut titled Live at The Cafe Au Go Go. This would end up being the band’s only studio album with this original lineup, though a few more were released with varying lineups. Interestingly, two of the members would later go on to found Blood, Sweat & Tears, but please don’t let that influence your opinion of The Blues Project, because they have quite different sounds. As the name implies, The Blues Project has a strong blues base, but they are also heavily invested in psychedelic rock. The first track, “I Can’t Keep from Crying,” comes out swinging with a wild psychedelic blues rock sound sure to get your heart racing. After the bluesy power of the first track, “Steve’s Song” brings you back down with a light psychedelic tune with a heavy flute. Fans of The Moody Blues will love this song due to its similar progressive psychedelic sound. A cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” harkens back to that early rock ‘n’ roll sound for the album’s third track. This number is my personal favorite: it takes that raw electric sound of Chuck Berry and gives it a hardened 60s edge. The final track of side one is a cover of Muddy Waters’s “Two Trains Running.” This lengthy cover is entrenched in the rhythmic blues sound of the Deep South’s earliest blues masters. This 11-and-a-half minute song shows off the band’s improvisational skills and demonstrates why they are considered one of the earliest jam bands. Fans of southern blues and/or jam bands will love this tribute, but those who aren’t may want to go ahead and flip the record. The first track of side two, “Wake Me, Shake Me,” is the band’s attempt to move towards a more radio friendly garage rock style. It’s a very solid tune. “Cheryl’s Going Home” follows as another psychedelically influenced blues rock song. For the third track, “Flute Thing” is an instrumental number similar in style to “Steve’s Song” except with even more flute. Lovers of that pure psychedelic sound will have their hearts melted. “Caress Me Baby” is a cover of another Mississippi blues master, Jimmy Reed (who is also coincidentally covered on the previously reviewed Blues Magoos album Electric Comic Book). This song runs with that same rhythmic blues sound as “Two Trains Running.” It’s a beautiful blues love song with a great harmonica solo. To wrap up the album, The Blues Project goes with a radio friendly “Fly Away” that could easily be mistaken as a tune from The Beatles’s middle years (Rubber Soul-Revolver). It’s a spectacular song that should have brought them more fame than it did. For the blues rock or psychedelic rock fan this album is an absolute must. It’s an incredible adventure into the very heart of 60s underground music and well worth going out of your way to find it.  A

Blues Magoos – Electric Comic Book

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For my first album review, I’ve decided to go with a recent addition to my collection: an album called Electric Comic Book by Blues Magoos. Released in 1967 on Mercury Records, this album is the group’s second album following their 1966 release of Psychedelic Lollipop. The band would only have one more album with this line up (Basic Blues Magoos) before breaking up in 1968. This album is a perfect album to start with because it encompasses a wide range of 60s underground styles. At different times this album is garage rock, psychedelic rock, protopunk, and blues. Visually, the album cover is appealing. The colorful text and layout let’s you know you’re dealing with something magical from the 60s. From the moment you drop the needle on side one, you’re asking yourself “Why have I not heard of these guys before?!” Side one begins with “Pipe Dream” a song that immediately displays the bands versatility. It’s definitely one of the highs on the album. From there the Blues Magoos go through two more solid originals––”There’s a Chance We Can Make It” and “Life is Just a Cher O’Bowlies.” The fourth track is the peak of the album. It’s a cover of Them’s “Gloria.” If you’ve heard the original, it’s pretty similar with perhaps a slightly harder, more protopunk feel to it. The fifth track is a short, quirky song called “Intermission,” that transitions between side one and side two in a comedic way. All in all, side one is an amazing adventure into the 60s underground. Unfortunately, side two loses steam pretty quickly. The first track “Albert Common is Dead” is an interesting psychedelic journey, but it’s not as fresh as I’d have hoped. Things only get worse with “Summer is the Man,” a slow, reflective tune that disappoints. By the time you reach “Baby, I Want You,” you may start wondering why you turned the record over, but hold steady: it improves. The fourth track, a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Let’s Get Together,” is a true gem. It’s even bluesier (if that’s a word) than Reed’s original and really hits the spot after the slow beginning of side two. “Take My Love” is a solid tune for track five that recalls an early 60s rock ‘n’ roll. The sixth recording, “Rush Hour” will be a hidden masterpiece for some and the worst track for others. It’s much more protopunk than anything on the album and sounds like something The Velevet Underground could have done in their early experimental years. The album closes on a comedic rendition of Porky Pig’s “That’s All Folks.” Overall the album is extremely solid. If you come across this album in your local record store, snatch it up before someone else does.  B+

Underground Music of the 1960s: Garage, Psychedelic, and Protopunk Music

Welcome to my blog. I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Charlie Diehl, and for as long as I can remember, I have been a collector. As a kid I began by collecting baseball cards. In college I started collecting modern first edition books, and later still I was turned on to original theatrical movie posters. Most recently, I have developed a taste for vinyl. To support my collection addiction, I run a collectibles eBay store where I sell all of the aforementioned things and much more. I have decided to begin this blog because the kind of records I most appreciate are lesser known bands from the mid-to-late 60s, mostly in the garage, psychedelic, and protopunk genres. Being a novice vinyl collector, I was a little lost on where to start with my collection. I searched the internet for a website of reviews of these underground 60s albums, but found nothing like I was hoping to find. I hope in beginning this blog I will be able to share the knowledge and opinions I gain along my journey of collecting 60s garage, psychedelic, and protopunk music. I will review and share all the albums I discover along the way.