THREE 68 BEES

One of the best albums of the 60s was released in January 1968. It garnished folk-rock, psychedelic, country and pop tunes with flourishes of Eastern tonalities, smatterings of jazz and a knowing awareness of what four chaps from Liverpool were doing over in the UK.

We are talking about The Notorious Byrd Brothers, behind whose pastoral cover image lay a shimmering psychedelic classic cooked in a stew of acrimony and disharmony.

The Byrds were doing very well but everyone was restless. Twitching with creativity, the individual members were pushing against the confines of a contrary 60s pop scene wanting both predictability and freshness. And pushing against each other. David Crosby was famously sacked during the recording sessions while Michael Clarke left then briefly returned. 

The 1997 Sony/Columbia CD re-issue contains some brilliant bonus tracks (including the self-explanatory “Moog Raga” and Crosby’s limpid “Triad”) plus studio ‘chat’ that amply demonstrates the tensions. It is not edifying listening. 

So how did Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman (and kind of Gene Clark), along with Crosby and Clarke, produce such a sparkling piece of 60s psychedelic rock? There’s no answer, really, and nor does there need to be. Notorious Byrd Brothers is complete and, in its own way, perfect. The songs are rich, often laced with experimental sounds and occasional brass flourishes while the interpolation of influences means it still sounds fresh and exciting. 

Glorious harmonies bedeck “Draft Morning” with beads of irony; pedal steel guitar infiltrates “Change Is Now”; jazz-waltz tones dance with a fucked-up electric guitar solo in “Tribal Gathering” some; serious phasing and strings evoking Eleanor Rigby after a killer joint adorn the country two-step of “Old John Robinson” (all this in under two minutes, thank you very much) …and so it goes.

I came relatively late to this album, but have no hesitation in commending Notorious Byrd Brothers as a classic that would grace any eclectic music collection.

*

Released in June 1968, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown was the sole LP by this eccentric outfit, lead by the man of the title and featuring the keyboard talents and compositional prowess of Vincent Crane. Side one features a themed suite of songs, one of the earliest ‘concepts’ and  clearly signalling the morphing of psychedelic music into progressive. But while fellow countrymen The Moody Blues built their 1967 concept album Days Of Future Passed around an average urban day in the life of Everyman, Arthur Brown took his listeners to Hell, and left them there. 

The single, “Fire” was a major hit, reaching the #1 spot in the UK and Canada, and #2 on the US Billboard Chart. This carried the album along strongly but did not prevent the fracturing of the Crazy World.

The fame of the LP rests squarely on its first side:

  1. “Prelude/Nightmare” (Arthur Brown)  [3:28]
  2. “Fanfare/Fire Poem” (Brown, Vincent Crane)  [1:51]
  3. “Fire” (Brown, Crane, Mike Finesilver, Peter Ker)  [2:54]
  4. “Come and Buy” (Brown, Crane)  [5:40]
  5. “Time” (Brown)  [3:07]
  6. “Confusion” (Crane)  [2:08]

Riffing, churning organ, psychedelic surges, and towering over all, the operatic vocal insanity of Arthur Brown. I particularly like the ominous sales pitch of “Come and Buy” where Brown works serious voodoo over brass flourishes and the dark preaching of Crane’s organ.

The second side has versions of songs by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (a sinister “I put a spell on you”) and, somewhat surprisingly, James Brown. The other three songs are Brown/Crane creations.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown won’t be everyone’s cup of theatrical tea, but it is heavy and insistent in a way that makes it more than a curio for those interested in the genesis of prog, while fans of Ian Gillan will doubtless appreciate Arthur’s vocal histrionics. Extraordinarily, Mr Brown reformed the band in 2000, after a thirty year hiatus, and is still active. All power to the God of Hellfire.

*

Jeff Beck was a Yardbird. After he flew the coop in late 1966, Beck released a couple of singles before putting together an outfit to record an album. To do the singing, Beck recruited his mate Rod Stewart, who puts in a sterling effort throughout Truth, the patchy but entertaining album released in August 1968. Ronnie Wood plays bass and Micky Waller thumps the drums. Guests include John Paul Jones on “Beck’s Bolero” while Nicky Hopkins plays piano on that song plus several others.

The blues re-workings (“You Shook Me”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”) are powerful, very heavy and loaded with guitar, naturally enough. There are also some missteps. “Ol’ Man River” is cringe-worthy while “Greensleeves” is nice but totally out-of-place. The bonus tracks on the 2005 re-issue are interesting, adding the afore-mentioned singles and their b-sides. Thus we have Graham Gouldman’s psychedelic “Tallyman”, a forgettable “Love Is Blue” and the innocent fun of “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. 

Truth is revered for being one of the earliest ‘heavy’ albums and important in the emergence of hard rock over the next couple of years. As such, it deserves a listen but would probably not be considered essential.

*

Byrds, Brown, Beck. Three albums turning 50 this year.

Any of these give you a particular buzz? Do share.

32 comments

  1. Love the studio chat on notorious Byrd brothers!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The ‘behind the scenes’ reveal, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “You’re not helping us make money… you’re making us lose it”

      Liked by 4 people

  2. chris delprete · · Reply

    I read somewhere a few years ago that the horse on the front cover was meant to represent David Crosby. Harsh but fair I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a musical urban myth, but a very funny one. And persistent too. The lovely punch line was McGuinn, fed up with the accusation that they’d taken a shot at Crosby by using the horse in the cover shoot, dryly observed something along these lines: “If we’d really wanted to depict David, we’d have used the other end of the horse”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. chris delprete · · Reply

        Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story and that was a very amusing one. Though you damn it with faint praise I do like ‘Truth’, a template Led Zeppelin borrowed (cough) the following year. Liked the next one ‘Beck-Ola’ too. Even had a soft spot for Beck, Bogert and Appice. Keep up the great work it gets me thinking and listening.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You know, Chris, I did wonder whether I was coming down a bit heavy (tee hee) on Truth. I do know that I can sometimes feel a little frustrated with Jeff Beck due to a measure of inconsistency in his albums. Such a great guitarist, no doubt at all.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I also came to Notorious Byrd Brothers late. I was working in bookshops during the 90’s and heard it via a colleague who was playing it over the shop tannoy. Some months later having moved to a new branch I bought what I now realise is the 97 extended reissue, slapped it on, cranked up the volume and then 45 minutes later was rather puzzled when the whole thing descended into a Crosby festival of fuckery. Strangely we did notice an upturn in sales of DH Lawrence that day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I want to like those Jeff Beck Group albums more than I do. But I find it kinda stodgy and lumpen. Some good songs but overall leaves me cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even harder than me, HMO!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been reading a lot about the Byrds recently in Uncut. Your review’s got me seriously tempted to invest in that CD…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terrific! It’s a ripper.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For years I saw that Byrds album but always skipped over it for some reason. I suppose it was one needs to be fully invested in the Byrds because they had a few incarnations, and unless you’re aware of them all it can get confusing. But now you have me curious about the studio chatter (I love gossip), so perhaps now I’m finally ready for this album. Thanks for the push, Bruce. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marty. I think one part of my ‘slow uptake’ of NBBs was the country-ish cover, that genre not being my bag at all. But the album is pure US late 60s psychedelia. And as you may have read in the comments, some love the ‘audio verity’ extras!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, I just put ebay bids on two of the albums and purchased one. These three LPs sounded too good to miss. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great! Hope you really enjoy them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love Notorious Byrd Brothers unconditionally. Exceptional album and with a really very excellent album cover – regardless of whether or not there is any hidden message there.

    I definitely like Truth more than you, though I would agree that it’s not without its (significant) miss-steps. Beck-Ola is the one I pick more often than not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seems like ‘Truth’ is an example of me being not-quite-in-step with my fellow blogsters. That’s OK – I don’t dislike it, just not a big fan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PS. Will probably do Beck-Ola next year!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely okay, Bruce. It’d be a tad boring if we all had the same opinion on stuff, huh?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Though this one-shot was not repeated, “The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown” remains an exhilaratingly reckless slice of psychedelia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely description, Hotfox!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So far, I haven’t warmed up to the Byrds as much as I expected that I would – so I’m keen to check out The Notorious Byrd Brothers based on your review, that album could be the tipping point!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could be! Or at least a pleasant adventure.
      Cheers Geoff.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pedant’s Corner: According to discogs (and Spotify) the first bonus track on the ’97 Sony CD re-issue of The Notorious Byrd Brothers is “Moog Raga” – nothing to do with the moon as far as I can see.

    Like

    1. Better, perhaps, to call it ‘Proofreader’s Corner’.
      I suspect that was an auto-correct that slipped through the sub-editor’s net. They have been whipped soundly and sent for 100 hours research on Robert Moog.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Truth is a fave . ‘Sweethearts’ is the Byrds I pull out the most (I’m a big Hillman fan) and you have me cirious on the brown album. I might have dabbled with his music but ‘Fire’ is the only one i really know. The organ reference has me curious. He showed up in the ‘Tommy’ movie did he not?

    Like

  13. Arthur Brown is my one here – my parents were and are big fans. He sings a lot of soul stuff live still, I have a lovely photo of my mum and him taken a few years ago – he’s a nice chap too by all accounts.

    The Galactic Zoo Dossier is the LP of his I knew best, some good Viv Stanshall on there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GZD is a very enjoyable album (even for non-prog-heads, it seems!).

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Love The Byrds, though I’m not as familiar with the NBB offering. Interesting that Carole King and hubby Gerry Goffin contributed a couple of tunes to the mix. I’m completely unfamiliar with Arthur Brown, but love that LP cover!

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  15. […] Beck – Truth  […]

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  16. […] addition to a KS album… vocals. The inimitable Arthur Brown (recently encountered in these pages here) intones a long poem by the composer in a ten minute chunk (beginning at 8’30”) before […]

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