Records That Let Their Freakflag Fly

Records That Let Their Freakflag Fly: Greatest “Moments” in Rock History
John McBain, of Wellwater Conspiracy, lets his freakflag fly, and is rambling about the greatest “moments” in rock history:

THE FIREBIRDS/31 FLAVORS CROWN RECORDS (1969)

I get a real kick out of late sixties exploitive “psychedelia”. Sure, the Beatles were this and that, and they broke a lot of ground, but try to talk to me about I Am The Walrus and the conversation ends right there. I’ll take the 1001 Strings version on any given day. Same goes for bands like Blue Cheer. While I’m happy that they will always be there for me, massive burnout set in years ago. I tried their later albums (awful), picked up their post-Cheer stuff (once again, horrid), and finally resigned myself to the fact that it ended abruptly with Outside/Inside and there was nothing that I could do about it.

Then I bought Arf Arf Records latest offering, “An Overdose of Heavy Psych”, a typically so so garage/psych compilation that puts a lot of wear on your cd players skip button. On first listen I found a few winners, but grew weary of the half assed song selection that is the kiss of death for most of these collections. Then I found the Firebirds.

Imagine Blue Cheer with even less finesse and you’ve got the FireBirds. I’m guessing that the big label guys were looking for the quick buck but couldn’t get the session musicians to capture the “NOW SOUND”. So they went to Plan B. They assembled the most inept, tuneless, talentless power trio ever and threw em in the studio, gave em a pat on the back, and told them, “Try to sound like that Hendrix guy.” The cut, “Reflections” is their interpretation. Owing nothing to Jimi, it reminds me of a Vincebus Eruptum song that was too sloppy even by Cheer standards. (Is that possible? Yes it is) This trainwreck of a song appeared on a later record, slowed down by half, and retitled as “Distortions of Darkness”. On this “version”, what was once a really bad Band of Gypsies ripoff is now akin to the sound of thousands of oil drums falling down a staircase.

“No Tomorrows” is more of the same. Just when you think that these geniuses are gonna get their act together, the drummer chimes in with a drum fill that sounds like two guys throwing floor toms at each other. Meanwhile the bass player is trying to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, he’s the bass player for the FireBirds.

As if this wasn’t enough, they saw fit to take an endless jam, cut it up into equally horrible sections, and release it as “Free Bass” and its companion piece, “Free Drums”.

With all of that said, I couldn’t possibly touch on the sheer majesty that is the FireBirds/31 Flavors. You can literally hear them falling to pieces. If the six Arf Arf tracks aren’t enough for you, look for the FireBirds LP, “Light My Fire”, or The 31 Flavors gem, “Hair”. (Note; they are the same band.)

MORGAN…self titled (ABC/PROBE) reissued on CD

Recorded on the cusp of the so called “Flower Power Movement” of the mid to late sixties, this brain crushing psych masterpiece embodies = everything that is and always will be psych/rock. Fumbling drums, pointy direct fuzz guitars, songs about the merits of dining on squirrels, open ended jams, Its all here. No commercial potential whatsoever. Brilliant.

THE MUSIC MACHINE… Bonniwells Music Machine reissued on Sundazed

The tightest, heaviest, garage band of them all. When these guys hit the charts with “Talk Talk” in 1966, for a brief moment, it seemed like anything was possible. The Music Machine could have easily continued down the path of mass acceptance. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. Instead of lightening things up, they took the route of Dante and gave us “The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly”, a tuned down bass heavy monster that periodically spits out some of the most satisfying saturated fuzz that I have ever heard. And what in the hell is Sean Bonniwell singing about? Garbage trucks? You’re the engine, I’m the caboose? Does it matter? Hell no. Venture further into this record and you’ll find gems like “Double Yellow Line”, a should have been a hit that serves as a blueprint for the perfect pop song. And don’t forget the lead off track, Bottom of The Soul, where once again, the bass tells the story. The most essential pre-metal record in existence.

DEEP PURPLE…In Rock..

Sounds like they recorded this one in Richie Blackmore’s tool shed. Extremely dry, at times completely blown out, and so cool that its hard to reconcile with the fact that they’re Brits. Unlike Zep, Purple steered clear of of the doe-eyed reverence/thievery for American Blues that most English bands lived on. In Rock is about consumption, speed, and drumfills. Their most “alive” sounding record, it completely makes amends for that whole Revolutionary War thing. Richie, I forgive you.

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD…Grand Funk Railroad

Their “Paranoid” is infinitely cooler than Sabbaths “Paranoid” on several levels. One, Mark Farner puts his wah wah in FRONT of his fuzzbox and proceeds to quack like duck. Two, its got a crying baby tagged onto the end. AND an explosion. Take that Geezer. God Bless America! Also, don’t pass over “Got This Thing On The Move”, where we find Grand Funk desperately grasping for a Motown groove, only to be gloriously dragged down by bad guitar tone and bad attitude all round. A personal rock highlight of mine involves the late, great New Jersey band, Dimebag, and their near-mimicry of this song at a show whose date and location I can’t recall. All that I remember is that the guitarist and bassplayer were on Seconals, and come to think of it, so was I. Wait a minute…was I actually there? I could have sworn that….I know they played it…For the sake of argument, lets just say that they did.

THE SHOCKING BLUE…At Home

An absolutely perfect, completely satisfying dose of psych/pop. Lets all stand up and give a round of applause for Robbie Van Leeuwen, the heart and soul of this record, and one of the most tasteful guitar players that I have ever heard. One moment he’s picking out some Swede country, the next moment he’s dropping a truckload of compressed fuzz on your unsuspecting head. Highlights include The Long and Lonesome Road (fuzz heaven!), California Here I Come (The Shocking Blue in a very San Francisco state of mind), I’m A Woman (pronounced “vuman”, damn that’s sexy…) and hell, every other track as well. To sum up, PERFECTION.

SHADOWS OF KNIGHT…I Am The Hunter (1970)

Although puny in comparison to the FireBirds, this end of the road offering from the Shadows Of Knight is a great representative of that period in garage rock when Vex amps were replaced with Marshalls, and a once mighty band seemed dated and obsolete (only exception; Grand Funk) Blame it on Jimmy Page and Robert Fucking Plant. Feeling a need to compete, the Shadows, working from an obvious James Gang blueprint, tried the BluesRock thing and sank like a stone. What was once vital and sincere was now a big fat joke. “You’re the fox and I am the hunter”? Make it stop! Where’s the raveup? This can’t be the Shadows of Knight! Oh well, end of an era. Bottom line? Its a really cool song. Fu Manchu should cover it.

THE SELECTIVE HISTORY OF “DUMB” ROCK -Pt.27

The Troggs…Feels Like A Woman…Reg Presley takes a glorious pop band into the realm of Geezer and fails in the most heroic fashion. One senses that he listened to the first Sabbath record, saw the moneymaking potential in it, and gave it a whirl. Produced by Roger Bain, the secret weapon of early Sabbath, this “heavy” cut takes a simple progression, piles on the guitar overload, tosses in some horrendous lyrics, squeezes it to the point of self destruction, and the end result is a laugh riot. Utterly ridiculous. The Troggs quickly aborted this “new” sound, and returned to the original formula. What a damn shame. A landmark track.

THE GREATEST “MOMENTS” IN ROCK HISTORY

PETE TOWNSHEND’S GUITAR SOLO ON “I CAN SEE FOR MILES”
At a time when the “solo” was everything, Pete looks Clapton, Beck, and Hendrix square in the eye and gives them a big “Fuck You” with one note. Predating Neil Young’s equally cool Cinnamon Girl solo by a dogs age, his one note solo strips “showmanship” down to its core. The greatest solo of em all. So there.

JEFF BECK’S GUITAR TONE ON THE 1967 BBC SESSION JEFF BECK GROUP
How did he do it? I’m guessing that its a Telecaster with a ColorSound ToneBender fuzz. Maybe I’m wrong. All that I know is that it is, without a doubt, THE COOLEST tone ever. If you can find a bootleg of these sessions, grab it. His “clean” sound sounds bright and brittle, the overdubs are loud and almost hornlike, and when it comes time for the solo, the biggest, fattest fuzziest tone you’ll ever hear completely obliterates the backing track. This “wondertone” is at its best on “Hi Ho Silver Lining”, and a mind altering version of Stevie Wonder’s “Loving You Has Made My Life Sweeter Than Ever.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an official release.

LOU REEDS PAUSE ON “I HEARD HER CALL MY NAME”
Ok, so he’s a big loser now. Who isn’t. Still, you have to give it up for Lou in his prime. And this split second from this cut will always save me from the hell that is “the mature ” Lou Reed. So what’s so special about this moment. Go dig out your copy of White Light, White Heat and wait for the part when Lou says,” and then my mind split open”. Did you hear it? that brief instant where Lou has lost control of his guitar? That second of “nothing” followed by a pretty cool solo? THAT pause is everything.

WAYNE KRAMER DROPS A BOMB ON FUTURE NOW
I’m a Fred “Sonic” Smith fan. Always will be. But on this one, Wayne is king. This awe inspiring moment arrives in the solo section of Future Now, off of High Time, their best LP. Wayne revs up with some of his patented Chuck Berry noodling, steps back to give the spotlight to “Sonic”, then pulls the rug out from under him with a loud and clumsy/cool vroom way down low on the neck. Again, one note says it all. Note; the vroom is much more prominent on the “Brothers In Arms” ROIR CD. Amen, brother Wayne.

BILL WARD MISSES THE DRUMHEAD COMPLETELY AND WHACKS HIS RIMS
This can be found on just about every song on every early Sabbath record. Happy hunting. By the way, he did it more than a few times when I saw them last month. God bless his consistency.

OZZY AND HIS BRAIN/MIND FIXATION
Years ago, I showed up for Monster Magnet practice, only to find Tim Cronin and Dave Wyndorf having a Sabbath listening party. While the music was the centerpiece, they seemed to be getting a kick out of counting how many times, especially on the first four albums, Ozzy mentioned his brain and/or mind. I seem to recall it being well into the double digits. Maybe the stoner rockers can make a game of it. Kinda like counting the number of jellybeans in a jar. Good luck!

-John McBain, April ’99