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