The Paupers – Magic People

ImageThe Paupers are known for two things: playing at the Monterey International Pop Festival and being Canadian. Their success at Monterey and other live shows led to a well-funded but ultimately commercially unsuccessful debut album, Magic People, released in late 1967 on Verve Forecast. Although they are known as a Canadian psychedelic rock band, their sound was much more versatile and much more like the sounds coming out of San Francisco in the mid to late 60s. Songs like the title track “Magic People” and “Think I Care” are typical psychedelic rock songs of the era, although they tend to favor more dominate and complex drum parts than most psychedelic rock of the time. Like many psychedelic rock bands, The Paupers incorporated guitar distortion, but it is not near as prominent as most of their contemporaries. The Paupers also played well outside the psychedelic rock genre. Their song “Let Me Be” is a classic folk rock song that evokes the songwriting and sound of John Denver or Peter, Paul and Mary. They also dabbled in traditional pop with songs like “One Rainy Day.” This song has great harmonies and range, demonstrating the band’s ability to work outside their persona. Although the album is stocked full of good singles, there are several songs on the album that are underwhelming and/or underdeveloped. Songs like “Black Thank You Package” or “Tudor Impressions” seem to lack direction, more like a jam session tune than a well-structured album number. This album does a good job of demonstrating the band’s skills but it also leaves the listener with a feeling that they could do better. B-

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The Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine

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Unfortunately, the story of the Lemon Pipers and their battle for control with their record company was all too common in the 60s. Soon after being signed to Buddah Records, the band was pushed into the bubblegum pop genre by their label despite their objections. The label hired Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz to write some songs for the band, one of which would go on to be the Lemon Piper’s most popular tune, “Green Tambourine.” After “Green Tambourine” was successfully released as a pre-album single, the label further pushed the band to record bubblegum/psychedelic pop material. The band however, was much more interested in rock ‘n’ roll. Thus, Green Tambourine the band’s debut album, released in 1968, was a compromise––half of the songs are pop-oriented, label pleasers, whereas the other half are rock-based songs written by the band members themselves. The resulting album is an eclectic mix of genres and subgenres that actually works surprisingly well together. Although the band was quite reluctant to record the songs the label had written for them, these songs are surprisingly good. “Green Tambourine” was obviously the most successful song on the album, but just because it did well on the charts, does not mean that it is overly poppy or simplistic. It has a strong melody with just enough psychedelic rock influence to keep it from being a cookie cutter bubblegum song. “Shoeshine Boy” and “The Shoemaker of Leatherwear Square” are also surprisingly good songs written by Leka and Pinz. Both songs are concept songs that edge more towards psychedelic rock than pop, but contain elements of both. The only two songs that are really pop-heavy are “Rice is Nice” and “Blueberry Blue,” but even these two songs have enough interesting arrangements and psychedelic sounds to maintain the band’s credibility. When the Lemon Pipers were allowed to write their own material, they really showed their wide range and eclectic tastes. For example, “Ask Me If I Care” has strong folk-rock influences, sounding like something The Hollies may have produced. On the other hand, “Straglin’ Behind” and “Fifty Year Void” are blues-rock numbers with psychedelic influences. “Fifty Year Void” especially has that hard driving rhythm common in blues songs. The song that really tops the album is the nine-minute psychedelic trip, “Through With You.” This song is adventurous and bold, experimenting with unusual arrangements and different psychedelic sound effects. This song alone is reason enough to buy the album. Despite their reluctance to record material that was essentially forced upon them, The Lemon Pipers were able to produce an exciting and diverse album, which remains an essential album for all enthusiasts of 60s psychedelic music. Unfortunately the Lemon Pipers would get so fed up with their label telling them what to record that they would leave the music industry entirely. They broke up after just one more record (Jungle Marmalade), and several of them would never be involved in the music industry on a professional level again.  A

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Midnight Ride

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Often described as America’s answer to the British Invasion, these colonial clad rockers are part Beatles, part Stones and part Dylan. Released on Columbia Records in 1966, Midnight Ride is said to be Paul Revere & the Raiders’ response to Rubber Soul. Not only are both albums influenced by the sounds of Bob Dylan and New York’s growing folk rock scene, but both albums also push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll even further with bold experimentation and fearless disregard for convention. However, Midnight Ride seems to take bolder steps toward a harder, faster and edgier rock sound that at times sounds like something Iggy Pop and the Stooges could have recorded years later. For example, “Louie, Go Home,” has simple and repetitive chords that break down into a chaotic cluster of clashing instruments topped off by the screaming vocals of Mark Lindsay. The song is more than just a loud and fast garage rock song; it’s a call to action. Meant as a response to the classic garage rock song “Louie, Louie,” “Louie, Go Home” takes rock ‘n’ roll to the next level––a level that we now call protopunk. In this same vein, Paul Revere & the Raiders recorded “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” Although The Monkees’ cover version was––and still is––the far more popular version, “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” was first recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders. These garage rockers were the first to inject the power and attitude into this now wildly popular hard rocking anthem. Despite being masters of loud, fast and hard, Paul Revere & the Raiders show their range with great folk rock numbers like “There’s Always Tomorrow” and “There She Goes.” These songs demonstrate the band’s under-appreciated songwriting abilities and their pure musicianship. Almost every band member plays multiple instruments on the album, and they demonstrate fantastic range going from heavy and fast to scaled back and smooth. The band even tries their hand at slower love songs like “Little Girl in the 4th Row” and “Melody for an Unknown Girl.” Even these songs, while dramatically different from the garage rock sound their known for, are well arranged and written, being spaced on the album perfectly as to inject some softness into the heavy world of garage rock. All in all, this record is amazing. Not only are the individual songs fantastic, but the band’s collaboration and adaptability really shines through. This album is primarily comprised of original songs written by the band members. In fact, all five band members have individual songwriting credits on the album––a feat rarely accomplished in the mid 60s. Although some audiophiles might think it’s a stretch to compare such a little known album to a rock ‘n’ roll mammoth like Rubber SoulMidnight Ride truly proves that notoriety has nothing to do with influence. Midnight Ride played a vital role in shaping the sound of rock ‘n’ roll music. Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Iggy Pop and the Stooges are deeply indebted to Paul Revere and the Raiders for trailblazing the path toward a harder, faster and edgier rock ‘n’ roll sound.  A+

The Lettermen – Spring!

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Although spring usually indicates growth, freshness and rebirth, Spring! is anything but fresh. Released in 1967 on Capitol Records, this album is unfortunately, little more than more of the same 60s soft pop from The Lettermen. The Lettermen carved a name for themselves in the early 60s with their handsome looks and smooth harmonization; however, by the late 60s their popularity was beginning to wane and they were in need of a fresh approach. Unfortunately, instead of putting their talents together and coming up with some original material, the boys borrowed hits from the charts here and there, hoping to record something that could crack into the top 100. Despite their best intentions none of the songs took off–most were nothing more than mediocre covers of pop singles. For example, their cover of “Happy Together” is a solid tune, but it’s almost indistinguishable from the original version released by The Turtles just a few months earlier. The “5” Royales’s hit “Dedicated to the One I Love” is also featured on this album despite the fact that a cover version by The Mamas and the Papas had already charted a few months before. The one redeeming song on the album is the psychedelic pop song “Mr. Sun.” It draws heavy influences from The Beatles’s crossover into the psychedelic genre, although it still remains unique and fun. Despite being a welcome relief from the monotony of mediocre covers, “Mr. Sun” is not enough to prop up the entire album. Perhaps if The Lettermen had focused more on quality rather than quantity (this was their 14th album over a six-year period), they could have produced stronger albums and stayed together longer. (One of the three boys, Bob Engemann, would sell his interest in the group shortly after this album’s release, although The Lettermen name still lives on today after many, many lineup changes.) The only reason to pick up this album is for “Mr. Sun,” but if you can find it on a 45 somewhere, you’re better off going that route.  D

The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen on Campus

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Still soaking in their lingering success from their mega-hit single “Louie, Louie,” The Kingsmen quickly churned out their fourth studio album in just as many years. Released on Wand Records in 1965, The Kingsmen on Campus strays from the pure garage rock sound that dominated the band’s first three studio albums. Beginning with The Kingsmen in Person (reviewed in January 2013) and continuing through Volumes II (reviewed in May 2013) and III, The Kingsmen made a name for themselves with raw guitars, aggressive vocals and simple but driving rhythms. However, The Kingsmen on Campus deviates from this style by covering conventional rock ‘n’ roll hits like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Stand By Me.” While the band does put their own unique spin on both of these covers, they do not put a raw and heavy garage rock spin on them but rather perform jazzy sax-heavy renditions. With these jazzy covers, The Kingsmen are clearly way out of their element. Although many bands can successfully diversify their sound, The Kingsmen seem to solely be masters of attitude-filled garage rock. In this case, they should have stuck with what they knew. Despite the failed attempts at evolving their style, the album is not wholly a failure. In fact, there are several powerful tracks that harken back to the band’s amateurish rock ‘n’ roll style. Songs like “Rosalie,” “The Climb” and “Genevieve” match the rhythm and style of early Kingsmen songs. These songs are much heavier and faster than many of this album’s songs. They are full of the energy and emotion that is garage rock. Unfortunately these real garage rock tunes are not quite enough to overcome the pop-friendly covers littered throughout the album. While The Kingsmen’s pure, raw sound does find its way to the surface from time to time, overall, this album is a disappointing departure for one of the greatest garage rock bands of the 60s.  B-

The Cowsills – The Cowsills in Concert

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The one thing anyone knows about The Cowsills is that the family band was the basis for the popular TV show The Partridge Family, and quite frankly, that’s not an inaccurate way of thinking about this 60s band. The Cowsills first gained success in the mid- to late-60s by performing bubblegum pop covers of popular songs. Their famed peaked in 1969 after they recorded the title song for the wildly popular musical Hair. The Cowsills then went on an extensive tour to capitalize on their newfound fame, which led to the release of The Cowsills in Concert in late 1969 on MGM Records. The album of course contains their signature song “Hair,” but the vast majority of the tracks are covers of songs popular at the time including “Monday, Monday,” “Good Vibrations” and “Paperback Writer” among others. Most of these songs are pretty much straightforward covers with little or no deviation from the original recordings. While none of the songs are really bad, they certainly don’t experiment or attempt to excite listeners in any new way. It’s hard to distinguish any sense of who the band really is since they almost exclusively cover others’ songs. Perhaps the one refreshing song on the album is “Act Naturally.” It too is a cover, but it’s very different from the other songs on the album as it never achieved “mega hit” status and actually dabbles with a twangier sound than you’d expect from such a predictable bubblegum pop band. It’s hard to truly recommend this album because it lacks something of its own. While the songs are good, they’re good in the same way that an oldies radio station is good––they are songs that you’ve heard a million times and might even enjoy singing along to, but they’re really not exciting or energizing in any way. Ultimately, The Cowsills lacked creativity, originality and that extra something special to set them apart from the thousands of other musicians trying to make it in the mid- to late-60s. If you’re looking for something feel-good this album might be okay for you; if you’re looking for something radical, check out the plethora of great 60s underground reviews below.  D+

The Fugs – The Fugs First Album

ImagePart jug band, part freak folk, part psychedelic rock, part Allen Ginsburg-esque Beat poetry, part rhythm-and-blues-experimental-garage-protopunk rock, The Fugs instantaneously defied all that was known and believed to be true about music when they hit the scene in the mid 60s. Before The Fugs First Album was released in 1965 on ESP-Disk, it was briefly released as The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Points of View, and General Dissatisfaction on Folkways Records. If this original album title is not enough to help define who they are and what they do, imagine chaotic and raunchy music played with traditional, nontraditional and self-created instruments played with little or no care for rhythm or harmonization. This album is raunchy, disorganized, self-imposing and at times can barely be described as music. Yet, it’s beautiful. The Fugs’ complete defiance of all socially accepted norms surrounding rock ‘n’ roll music is bewildering at first; however the deeper down the rabbit hole you are willing to travel with the band, the more pleasantly refreshing the album becomes. Take for example, the song “Carpe Diem:” at first several vocalists appear to be horrifically out of step with one other. At times, it’s almost as if three different people are singing three songs all on top of each other. The song lacks anything that could be described as harmony by contemporary pop standards; however, by the second or third listen, the song begins to reveal its own system of harmonization that puts the focus on the content of the song rather than the delivery. Ultimately, The Fugs are just as much poets as they are musicians. With clear ties to the British Romantic poetry movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s, the band wanders into a prehistoric version of spoken word with little or no assistance from musical instruments. For example “Ah! Sunflower, Weary of Time” is a recitation of William Blake’s poem with the addition of new lyrics set to minimal guitar and tambourine sounds. While The Fugs can be soft and poetic with renditions of Beat and Romantic poetry, they can also be raunchy with in-your-face numbers like “Boobs a Lot” and “Nothing.” Whereas “Boobs a Lot” is sexual, vulgar and purposely over the top, “Nothing” is a disturbing yet magically beautiful psychedelic Nihilistic chant about a full range of nothingness. The Fugs would go on to produce quite a few more experimental freak folk albums throughout the 60s, but none would be as jarring and envelope-pushing as The Fugs First Album. As the 60s progressed, the weirdness bar was set higher and higher, but The Fugs were arguably the ones who set it first and set it the highest. Their music was such a break from their contemporaries that it is often overlooked in the vast saga of 60s music. Although The Fugs are strange, their strangeness paved the way for other underground sounds, including psychedelic rock, punk rock and experimental rock. Many people will not like this album. In fact, most people will find it vulgar or chaotic or both. But for those who like the weird, the freaky, the unclassifiable––this is your album.  A