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

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The Electric Prunes – Underground

ImageIn this follow-up to their self-titled debut, The Electric Prunes define themselves as a unique psychedelic rock band by including much more original material than on their first album. Released on Reprise Records in August of 1967, just four months after their debut album, this album demonstrates how much the band had matured in such a short span of time. While their self-titled debut album was successful and was certainly a solid effort, it lacks original material and fails to establish a unique sound for the band. This album, however, displays a psychedelic rock band willing to diversify their sound. Instead of creating more cookie-cutter psychedelic rock songs, the band adds complexity and depth with their own newly found songwriting skills. This increased complexity is evident as soon as the needle drops. The opening song “The Great Banana Hoax,” is an original tune built on the foundation of solid rhythmic garage rock beat with spurts of psychedelic effects. Instead of dominating their sound with fuzzy guitars and intricate melodic psychedelic beats as they did on their first album, The Prunes incorporate these characteristics much more subtly and handsomely. Time and again they show that they are more than just a bag of cool studio effects––they are solid rock musicians as well. Songs like “Wind-Up Toys” and “Hideaway” are other great examples of original songs using psychedelic effects more selectively. These songs still certainly qualify as psychedelic rock songs; however, they may not be as buzzy and fuzzy as most of the songs on their first album. The biggest surprise on this album is the original single “It’s Not Fair.” This song is so unique that it evades categorization. It might be described as honky-psychedelic-garage-country-rock. “It’s Not Fair” incorporates subtle psychedelic effects into a driving honky-tonk country rhythm played by garage rock musicians. It is perhaps my favorite song on the album. My only complaint with the album is that it could feature even more original tunes. While seven originals is a whole lot more than two, the cover songs on the album aren’t quite as strong as the band’s own material. In particular, “I Happen to Love You” and “I” lack the same enthusiasm as other efforts. This criticism is perhaps a bit nitpicky, as neither song is all that bad. When both sides are played through, there’s really very little to be disappointed with. This album is necessary for any psychedelic or garage rock fan, particularly fans that enjoy the subtle nuances that can separate one psychedelic 60s rock band from another.  A

Vanilla Fudge – Vanilla Fudge

ImageAlthough Vanilla Fudge has often been described as one of the greatest cover bands of the 60s, this self-titled debut album remains exquisitely unique. Released on Atco Records in 1967, this Vanilla Fudge is composed of almost entirely covers except for a few short interval instrumental songs. Despite the fact that most of these songs are considered cover songs, Vanilla Fudge is able to inject such an exuberant amount of psychedelic sound into the very core of each song, warping and distorting the sound so many times over that the word “cover” no longer seems very accurate. For example, the opening track is a cover of The Beatles’ famous song “Ticket to Ride.” However, it is immediately clear that this version of the song is unlike any other version of the song previously recorded. For starters, the entire song is played at a much slower tempo. Slowing the tempo of songs would become the signature style of Vanilla Fudge. This technique allows the band to explore more distortion, extend solos and jams, and tap into the very depth of sound. “Ticket to Ride” is a psychedelic combination of all of these features, including Mark Stein’s extensive keyboard jams. Most of the album continues in this exploratory vein with each cover song having its own highs and lows of experimental psychedelic exploration.  Perhaps one of the most unique and personally gratifying covers is that of Cher’s “Bang Bang.” It contains a variety of quick guitar jams and dominant keyboard numbers all while maintaining a loosely centered core of this Cher’s original song. While their unique covers are usually what draws fans in, they can also have the opposite effect on listeners. After going through an entire album, their experimental psychedelic sound can become nearly formulaic and even burdening. While their ability to explore the depth of popular rock songs is unquestioned, this can act as both a gift and a curse depending upon the listener’s mindset and sensibilities. That being said, this album is worth picking up purely for its one-of-a-kind approach to rock ‘n’ roll.  B

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Vol. III: A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil

ImageFor those of you who have never heard of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, any discussion of the band must include some back story of band leader Bob Markley. Bob Markley was the adopted son of an oil tycoon from Oklahoma. After moving to California in the early to mid 60s, Markley used his extensive funds to create an experimental art/music group modeled after Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground. Drawing on his law school background, Markley ensured that he had complete control over the sound and artistic output of the band, often using it as a vehicle for his strange and sometimes creepy (he was widely reported to have a thing for underage girls) beliefs. Although the rest of the band members were turned off by Markley’s apparent obsession with children, they continued this ever-strained collaboration due to Markley’s wealth, connections, and perceived ability to make them famous. Between their founding in 1966 and their slow dissolution eventually culminating in 1970, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band recorded six albums, with Vol. III: A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil being released on Reprise Records in 1968 as their fourth album. Despite the band’s internal struggle, they were often able to produce a very high quality of 60s psychedelic rock, and A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil is no exception. The band’s commitment to the psychedelic sound is clear from the moment the needle drops. The first two songs, “Eighteen Is Over the Hill” and “In the Country,” are textbook examples of 60s psychedelic pop. Working from a pop base, The West Coast Pop Art Band introduces a heavily distorted guitar, acid-inspired studio effects, and general weirdness. Most of the songs on the album each have their own combination of psychedelic attributes in order to make each song unique, quirky, and fun. Some highlights on the album include “Ritual #2” and “A Child of a Few Hours Is Burning to Death.” Both songs introduce Eastern-inspired sounds and instruments to make these songs complex and delightful, at least from an instrumental point of view. From a lyrical point of view, both of these songs along with several others on the album contain morbid and bizarre lyrics written by Bob Markley. Although the band’s sound is often phenomenal, Markley’s lyrics can be off-putting. The most obvious example of this is in the title track, “A Child’s Guide to Good and Evil.” This track is instrumentally creative and fun, but Bob Markley detracts from the overall experience by speaking over the music with very weird and morbid lyrics. This being said, however, in many songs the vocal harmony of the group can be quite catchy and enjoyable, specifically on “In the Country” and “Our Drummer Always Plays in the Nude.” Overall this album speaks to the band’s continuous internal struggle: on one hand, the band could be so much better without Markley’s controlling presence, but on the other hand, the great sound they do produce would not have been possible without his direction and resources. No matter how you feel about Bob Markley and his beliefs, this album is a must for the 60s psychedelic fan. Even if you’re not a huge psychedelic rock fan, this album is incredibly creative and well worth your time.  B+

The Standells – The Standells in Person at P.J.’s

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Although The Standells are more well known today for being early pioneers of punk rock, in their first album, The Standells in Person at P.J.’s, they prove themselves to be solid garage rock musicians. Soon after signing to Liberty Records in 1964, The Standells released this album, recordings from a series of concerts at P.J.’s in Hollywood. The band would later go on to pioneer the raw sound of punk rock, but at this point in their career they were known to perform groovy garage rock classics. There is surely no shortage of solid tunes on this album. In addition to a great rendition of the world’s best-known garage rock, “Louie, Louie,” The Standells also do excellent covers or “Money (That’s What I Want) and John Lennon’s “You Can’t Do That.” While all three songs are top-notch, there’s a certain lack of authenticity. That is to say: the band plays the songs as would most garage rock bands from the era and don’t do anything to necessarily set themselves apart from the crowd. However, “Money (That’s What I Want),” was released as a single from the album and became their breakout single though it never charted. The band also does several more comedic garage rock songs with “Bony Moronie,” “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and “Linda-Lu.” Of the three, “Linda-Lu” is perhaps the best (although all are fun to listen to) because of its rolling repetition of certain syllables. Its unique and clever. For the blues fans of the blog, The Standells, like many garage rock bands, do harder, faster versions of blues classics, like the ever-popular Jimmy Reed’s “Help Yourself” and Johnny Otis’s “So Fine.” Both are high quality transitions from deep blues to 60s garage rock. All of these songs are very good, but not spectacular. That’s where “What Have I Got of My Own” and “I’ll Go Crazy” step in. “What Have I Got of My Own” is strikingly different from Trini Lopez’s popular version. It’s deeper and more hypnotic, with cooler guitar riffs. It’s my personal favorite from the album and far superior to any other version I’ve heard. “I’ll Go Crazy” gives “What Have I Got of My Own” a run for its money on best song. It is almost like a glimpse into the future of the band. It’s much more raw and up tempo than anything else, demonstrating their knack for early protopunk. Overall, this album is very good. There isn’t a single song on the album that I dislike. That being said, being their first album, The Standells didn’t do as much as I would have liked to make themselves unique. It would take a couple more years and a couple more albums for The Standells to fully carve their place in history.  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.