Terminal Vibration: My Machines

The reel to reels rolling out waveforms from Paperclip People's The Secret Tapes Of Dr. Eich as CJ Bolland looks on from behind his Ravesignal III mask of circuitry
Extraterrestrial Raggabeats In Outer Space

One thing that's become apparent as we've moved through the various stations of this whole Terminal Vibration saga is that the music grows decidedly more electronic, and more sequenced, with every passing chapter. Starting out in the largely played-on-live-instruments punk/funk/new wave mash-up of the first few segments, it ever-so-gradually transitioned into the cavernous spaces of dub and hip hop's illogical sound mazes, before ultimately sliding into the whole electro/synth/industrial slipstream and the digital realms of house and techno earlier this year. Electronic music through and through, in other words.

SA-RA Creative Partners The Decadent Dimensions EP Wonderful Noise

The culmination of the tech jazz/r&b interface

That's where we left it before stopping off in the canyon for a spell, but now we're back again for the final chapter. The destination in our protracted journey — teasing out the connections between post punk and machine funk — lies in the rolling silicon hills of machine soul, music which as often as not sounds as if it were carved from slabs of onyx. The line between techno and machine soul is sometimes so subtle as to be barely detectable (see the oeuvres of Dâm-Funk, Juan Atkins, SA-RA Creative Partners and Anthony Shakir, for instance), but it's there nonetheless.

Underground Resistance Interstellar Fugitives Underground Resistance

Gibson-esque electroid post-hip hop madness

This faint delineation highlights that which is so undeniably distinctive about each form — even as they run parallel to each other as post-disco flavors of machine music — both are thrown into stark relief by their inherent proximity to one another. Like the colors red and green or orange and blue residing across one another on the same color wheel, one seems to illuminate the other, making it pop from the page. The juxtaposition of Anthony Shakir's Tracks For My Father against Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun, 69's 4 Jazz Funk Classics with Tony! Toni! Toné!'s Sons Of Soul or Missy Elliott's Da Real World with UR's Interstellar Fugitives seems to animate the sound and vision of all parties involved with an amplified clarity, serving as a decoder ring of sorts in getting to the heart of both musics.

Massive Attack Mezzanine Wild Bunch

Somewhere between Metal Box and Pony lies the Mezzanine

Throw in the breakbeat science of 4 Hero, A Guy Called Gerald, Shut Up And Dance and the Kemet Crew — on one hand — and Tricky, Terranova, Massive Attack and Smith & Mighty's time-ravaged trip hop noir on the other, and you've got a stunning image of the intersecting, criss-cross paths of modern music coming into their own at virtually the exact same time. Even now, we're still riding that wave, felt beneath the surface of today's pop fabric even if a frustratingly large swathe fails to live up to the initial promise. Diminishing returns, or a momentary calm before the storm? My money's on the latter... it has to be.

The Prodigy The Prodigy Experience XL

Trip Into Drum And Bass Version

In the meantime, over the course of this year it seemed to make sense to check in with this particular stretch of post-punk/post-disco road, one that seemed (in part at least) to imbue the music with tactile physicality and a sense of ATMOSPHERE. This was music that emerged from somewhere — be it Bristol, Chicago, New York or Detroit — with a singular story to tell, a story that was told as much between the lines as within them. Perhaps it's at this axis of human and machine interface — I'm talking about Mike Dean's basslines and Jimmy Douglass behind the boards, The Prodigy's on-the-fly mix-downs and Moodymann's mirage of sequencer programming and live instrumentation — where the magic happens?

Public Image Ltd. Metal Box Virgin

The key...

At any rate, just as with all the others, the final Machine Soul chapter of Terminal Vibration will feature a handful of satellite entries (the first of which we've already seen with the Alexander O'Neal record) cleaving to its theme, which in this case will last us for the remainder of the month (and year, for that matter). Then, we'll wrap up the whole Terminal Vibration saga with a monster break out to kick off the new year. There's also one record that perhaps makes sense of the entire selection, which we're going to give the deeper look-in it deserves, along with a bit of back story that improbably crosses wires with the canyon (but then, as I often say, it's all connected... it's all of a piece).

All of that coming very soon. Until then, stay tuned to the Terminal Vibration...

Alexander O’Neal – Alexander O’Neal

Alexander O'Neal looking dapper in a suit in shades of deep blue
Alexander O'Neal

In the annals of great soul men, Alexander O'Neal stands astride the worlds of smooth soul and modern r&b like a colossus. His incomparable croon took center stage on a prime selection of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis' finest productions, a series of machine-driven soul missives that defined the idea of the Minneapolis sound, alongside the output of figures like The S.O.S. Band, The Time and Prince himself. This was era-defining pop at the height of electro boogie's protracted reign, and a state-of-the-art retrofit of the smooth soul blueprint that went on to send reverberations throughout the remainder of the decade (and beyond — just ask The Neptunes).

The Time The Time Warner Bros.

O'Neal was originally a member of funky rabble-rousers The Time before being shunted aside (the reasons vary depending on who you ask), leaving Morris Day to embody the mischievous personality of the band in the public consciousness. It turned out to be an unlikely case where everyone seemed to benefit — most of all the listener — as The Time indulged its deliciously impish sense of humor across a series of wild, careening funk LPs while O'Neal's more subdued approach became the very definition of modern soul. Grown folks music, to borrow a phrase. So as much as it might be perversely enticing to imagine these very disparate approaches juxtaposed on the same slab of wax, the listener is free to enjoy twice the amount of good music than they likely otherwise would have. And that's always a good thing.

Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis

At any rate, this freed up Alexander O'Neal for to pursue a solo career in earnest, encouraged by Jam & Lewis (who themselves had been edged out of The Time shortly after). The duo crafted a lush sonic penthouse around O'Neal, which he inhabited with singularly debonair style, distinguished by an elegant, soulful voice and tailored suits to match. From the cover image on down, O'Neal's self-titled debut conjures up images of late night rendezvous, city lights, moonlight drives and panoramic, ECM-esque twilight skies. Naturally, the music itself is the perfect soundtrack to such furtive nocturnal activities, an ideal nighttime record whether you're out for a night drive or just chilling at your spot for the evening.

Alexander O'Neal Alexander O'Neal

Tabu 1985

With his self-titled debut, Alexander's overriding preoccupation lies with matters of the heart. In fact, that might have made an accurate alternate title for this record: Matters Of The Heart. Throughout the album's 42 minutes, he chronicles various states of heartbreak and healing in a frieze of passionate emotion, putting the soul in the machine with what sounds like a well of tortured experience to draw upon. From dramatic balladry to motorik mid-tempo burners and even maddening electro boogie workouts, Alexander O'Neal offers seven varied snapshots of this crazy thing called love.

Alexander O'Neal All True Man Tabu

The record opens with the sultry strains of A Broken Heart Can Mend, an unhurried mid-tempo slow burner that chugs beneath Alex's smoldering vocals as they glide across it all with an effortless panache. Coming on like deep house pitched-down about 10bpms, its lush groove seems to gently unfurl on an infinite, motorik plane while Alex is enveloped in the surrounding moonlit production. In a way, it even predicts the sound of the Frankie Knuckles Big House Mix of All True Man from six years later, underlined by the way those backing vocals coax out the chorus, offering a reassuring repetition of the song's title sentiment and comforting the wounded loverman in his declared vows to press on. Brilliant!

Alexander O'Neal reclines on a king size bed in his bathrobe
Still from the If You Were Here Tonight music video1

The graceful twilight architecture of If You Were Here Tonight follows, dropping the tempos way down into prototypical slow jam territory. This kicks off a three song run of prime balladry, all produced by Monte Moir (also of The Time). Don't tune out though, all you footloose kiddies, for this is one of the true highlights of the record (and that's really saying something with a tracklist this stellar). Crystalline harp-like synths duet with a Spanish guitar over crashing drums and a sustained proto-techno bassline in this towering quiet storm epic. Needless to say, Alex's vocals soar gracefully throughout.

He imbues each and every word with the most searching tone imaginable, and when he sings if you could only know my feelings, you will know how much I do believe, it's as if time itself stands still. He's for real, man! Deep synths sweep beneath it all in the aftermath of the chorus, embodying a sense of shelter from the storm. The whole thing brilliantly capturing the seeming life-and-death struggle and intolerable gravity of a soul caught in the throes of passion and romantic love. I imagine many could relate...

It all fades to reveal a loping percussion figure, the only thing accompanying Alex's sensual ad libs in a sea of reverb. It's the first of many seemingly off-the-cuff moments that give the record its buttoned-down, almost live feel. I'd compare its strikingly evocative effect to that achieved by Moodymann — specifically on things like the Kenny Dixon, Jr. Remix of Innerzone's version People Make The World Go Round — paradoxically managing to imbue these machine music proceedings with a strong sense of human intimacy.

Note also the rather expressive music video, the mood of which captures the whole nighttime in the city vibe of this record with a perfectly 1980s (that is, early music video-era) charm. But then, I suppose I'm a sucker for such things...

Alexander O'Neal Hearsay Tabu

After the fathoms-deep raw power of If You Were Here Tonight, you're more than ready for a bit of a breather, something a little less emotionally draining, and Alex delivers yet again in the shape of Do You Wanna Like I Do. The song lies in the middle of a three-song stretch of slow jams, building a sort of opulent momentum as the record progresses. The lovesick melody is carried by a bevy of crashing pianos, while an electro-funk bassline's pulse weaves through the gaps in the chord progression in studied slow-motion. The lustrous, shimmering atmosphere conjured up by Monte Moir offers the perfect counterpoint to Alex's pleas in a stirring fusion of hi-tech heartbreak, setting the stage for Hearsay's lush slow jams like Sunshine and Crying Overtime a couple years later.

Sade Diamond Life Epic

The record's last big slow jam comes into focus with Look At Us Now, which couldn't be further from the twin desperate pleas of If You Were Here Tonight and Do You Wanna Like I Do. With its casual saxophone sway evoking shades of Sade's Diamond Life, it seems to capture the quiet glow of contentment even as it finds Alex begging his woman to stay. It's almost as if he were trying to evince a quiet confidence in their state of affairs as he goes about building a case for her to stick around.

The effect takes every mildly disparaging remark you've ever heard about the aspirational aspects of this era's soul music and simultaneously fulfills and transcends them at once in a great cresting wave of world-weary optimism. The whole tune just shimmers, hanging there in midair as if suspended on nothing but moonlight and a prayer. It closes the first side leaving you ready to take on the world, and my bet is that she does stay after all.

Cherrelle High Priority Tabu

Conversely, the Innocent/Alex 9000/Innocent II medley opens the second side with a ten-minute strong electro boogie monster jam, still resolute but this time coming from an entirely different direction. It's the record's one true (extended) moment of uptempo funk, firmly in the tradition of marathon Minneapolis workouts like The Time's The Walk, Sheila E.'s The Glamorous Life and Prince And The Revolution's America. Featuring backing vocals from Tabu Records label-mate Cherrelle, with whom O'Neal would duet later that year on Saturday Love (from her debut LP, High Priority), the effect is not unlike that of The Glamorous Life's deadpan backing refrain.

Jellybean Johnson, the drummer from The Time, under hot pink lights
Jellybean Johnson, renaissance man

At the four-minute mark, the tune's snaking electro boogie synths spiral into a strained solo (nascent shades of proto-techno in evidence) before the tenor begins to shade toward the intimate. Then, fellow ex-Time member Jellybean Johnson starts shredding some guitar for the protracted mid-section, which also features gang shouts a la New Order's Confusion and some Prince/Ready For The World-style whoah-oh backing chants. Brilliant stuff, yeah?

Then, with but a minute-and-a-half remaining, the tune transforms entirely amid a rush of snares into a funky coda led by Terry Lewis' slap bass and the gang shouts as they return with a vengeance. This seems to be the Alex 9000 portion of the trip. The group vamps on the theme for a spell before cresting into Revolution-style buildup for the climax. Finally, the original groove returns for a couple bars (Innocent II) before collapsing completely into a cascading synth figure and the tortured distortions of Jellybean's guitar still hanging in the air.

Alex sings on stage, dancing in a sparkling mustard suit
Alexander O'Neal performs What's Missing on Soul Train2

What's Missing seems to fuse all the different aspects of this record — from the atmosphere of the lush slow jams to the motorik groove of the mid-tempo burners and even a casual return of nimble digital funk — into an infectious tonic that just might be my favorite thing here. On the face of it, the tune seems understated, slight even, but when that chorus hits — with Alex's passionate we used to have good love, but now its gone a naggingly infectious hook — I'd wager its the tune you'll have the most trouble getting out of your head.

In fact, of all the tunes here, I'm absolutely certain I remember hearing it on the radio when I was a kid (back when Michael Jackson was Captain EO and the Padres still wore brown and gold). I just noticed that there's some footage on Youtube of the man's performance of What's Missing on Soul Train, looking ten times more in-his-element than in any high concept music video. I should probably apologize in advance for the difficulty you'll have in getting this song out of your head, but trust me... you'll thank me later!

Stephanie Mills If I Were Your Woman MCA

The record closes with You Were Meant To Be My Lady Not My Girl, the title alone of which hints at this record's intended mature, sophisticated audience (see also Stephanie Mills' If I Were Your Woman). Alex ain't messing around here, he's down for commitment! The tune's slow-burning mid-tempo groove mirrors the opening moves of A Broken Heart Can Mend (shades too of The Gap Band's carefree Outstanding), this time offering the sweet catharsis of renewal.

In certain ways, the tune's elegant synth flourishes make me flash on the cascades of atmosphere in certain dreamy China Crisis moments (on one hand) and Larry Heard's mid-period, jazz-inflected soul man forays on the other. There's a definite sense of winding-down as the tune casually unfolds — even finding the band messing around and then collapsing into laughter over its extended coda of percussion — in contrast to the preceding songs' dramatic catharsis.

This is the sound of hard-won contentment, made all the more poignant in light of all the emotional turmoil that came before. It's the perfect way to end the record... the culminating moment in a survey of assorted conditions of the heart.

Leroy Hutson Hutson Curtom

When all is said and done, this is simply a superb album. The midpoint between Marvin Gaye's I Want You and Tony! Toni! Toné!'s Sons Of Soul, it's a crucial outpost connecting two very distinct eras of music. Alex's soulful delivery exists in the tradition of everything from Solomon Burke to Teddy Pendergrass, while its carefully-crafted song cycle evokes memories of classic records by the likes of Eddie Kendricks, Leroy Hutson and Isaac Hayes.

Ginuwine Ginuwine... The Bachelor 550

Meanwhile, its steel-rimmed dreamtime loverman moves seem to sow the seeds for everything from Chez Damier's lush deep house slates and Larry Heard's post-Mr. Fingers output to Janet Jackson's Jam & Lewis-fueled trajectory into the 90s and even Timbaland's post-disco r&b moves as laid out on records like Aaliyah's One In A Million, Ginuwine's The Bachelor and Playa's Cheers 2 U. It's a roots 'n future mash-up in an entirely different fashion than you'd usually expect.

Spacek Curvatia Island

Moving into more recent, esoteric terrain, Spacek's acid jazz-limned techno forays (especially the first album) seem to be the logical descendant of the record's most motorik mid-tempo moments, while even SA-RA's remarkably physical manifestations of machine soul seem to fulfill the promises made in Alexander O'Neal's electric blue twilight moves. In that sense, it's future music, pure and simple, in which entire futures are augured within its neon-lit blueprints.

Fingers Inc. Another Side Jack Trax

As such, it's one of the decade's greatest, most important records, lodged in at the axis of the decade alongside other crucial incursions like Jamie Principle's Waiting On An Angel, Model 500's Night Drive, Wally Badarou's Chief Inspector Tenor Saw's Fever and Mantronix's debut album, sharing with all those records a set of undoubtedly far-reaching implications. This lays out the foundations for a future music in the same way Fingers Inc.'s Another Side, Smith & Mighty's production for Fresh 4's Wishing On A Star and Guy's self-titled debut all would a few years later. Taken together, those four records are something like a compass rose for everything would come to be called machine soul.


As such, it makes this the perfect antidote to your typical 1980s decade overviews that tend to neglect the music from these shadowy corners of the soundscape for the more straightforward rock/new wave/synth pop/alternative-derived canon (plus rap — if you're lucky). There's a whole world out there! In a sense, that's what this whole Terminal Vibration saga is about, breaking open the more typical view of the decade to tease out some of its most innovative sounds, hidden in plain sight.

Alexander O'Neal is certainly definitive within the context of this trip's long-delayed machine soul-shaped denouement, setting us up perfectly for the final chapter. As such, for curious souls looking to unearth the shadowy origins of machine soul magic scrawled between the lines in this most misunderstood of decades, Alexander O'Neal is the perfect place to start. It's a key record or the eighties packed with great music... you can't go wrong.

Footnotes

1.

O'Neal, Alexander. If You Were Here Tonight. Alexander O'Neal. ?. Tabu, 1985. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7hY5W_oPqs

2.

Youtube. Soul Train, live performance ofWhat's Missing by O'Neal, Alexander. Live performance. 1985.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfKonO9KKm8

Motion 002

Motion 002: Trip Into The Groove

This latest Motion playlist dates back to late summer, with the tempo dropping accordingly. Still, the mix managed to hang around as the days grew shorter, its machine soul/trip hop/techno mash-up the perfect soundtrack to running at dusk as the city lights begin to switch on. As me move back into Terminal Vibration territory — particularly its final Machine Soul chapter — it seemed as good a time as any to blog it on up here...

LISTEN NOW

    Motion 002: Trip Into The Groove

  1. The Herbaliser What What Bring It Ninja Tune
  2. Tripping back into action with a bit of downbeat hip hop from Ninja Tune stalwarts The Herbaliser, we start out our trip on the downbeat tip (that way it's harder to fall behind the pace!). One of three tracks from their sophomore set Blow Your Headphones to feature the great Jean Grae (back when she was still known as What What), this is firmly in the vein of stoned mid-period hip hop like Bahamadia, The Pharcyde and Guru's Jazzmatazz series.

  3. Playa Don't Stop The Music Def Jam
  4. Peak-era Timbaland, featuring his chrome-plated r&b vision writ large on this production for the trio of Smokey, Black and Static. Static (aka Stephen Garrett was one of the songwriters in Timbaland's Bassment crew, responsible for tunes like Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody? and Try Again.

    This quasi-cover version of the classic Yarbrough & Peoples boogie chestnut is prototypical machine soul, picking up where Juan Atkins left off three years earlier with The Flow G-Funk Mix. Dig those deft harmonies weaving in and out of that trademark digi-funk riddim, the pulsing synth bassline shadowboxing Tim's clipped drum machine shuffle.

    The line between the finest trip hop (in the Smith & Mighty tradition) and this sort of pre-millennial tension is a thin one indeed.

  5. Mélaaz Non, Non, Non BMG
  6. Smoked-out French rap, this was picked up by Ultimate Dilemma for the Musical Dilemmas compilation and thus became something of an trip hop stone tablet by default, even showing up a decade later on Daddy G's stellar DJ-Kicks outing. Hardly surprising, given that it fits Massive Attack's remit perfectly (in fact, it would slot right in on Protection's cinematic second side).

    Having picked this up back in the day, I was pleased to get a little more context on the record in Kevin Pearce's excellent nineties dance tome A Cracked Jewel Case.

  7. Timbaland And Magoo Clock Strikes Blackground
  8. More Timbaland, this time from his own record with Magoo. Effortlessly funky machine music. His beats from this era are perfect for all your running needs. I know a lot of people don't dig it, but I'm actually a huge fan of Timbaland's style on the mic, midway between low-rocking trip hop mumble and Jamaican producer behind the boards, punching in on the mix.

    I used to listen to this album on continuous loop with Octave One's The Living Key To Images From Above, Reprazent's New Forms and the East Flatbush Project record, which along with Kevin Saunderson's X-Mix was my early '98 in a nutshell.

  9. Tricky DJ Milo & Luke Harris How's Your Life Studio !K7
  10. Recentish Tricky with fellow Bristol luminary DJ Milo. I was crushed that I missed the tour behind this album, which stopped in Linda Vista's Belly Up Tavern. This decade's found Tricky back in the groove in a big way, indeed recent records like False Idols rival his nineties output.

    Case in point How's Your Life. This is so subtle, so smooth even, and yet it's totally savage. I love the almost subconscious inevitability of that quiet storm loop, apparently from a mid-eighties Larry Carlton record. It just draws you into concentric orbit, Tricky running tings below the radar.

  11. Sade Surrender Your Love Kenny Larkin Remix Illegal Detroit
  12. Slowly swinging up to a house tempo with this killer Sade bootleg from Detroit. Not much to add to what I said here, but at this point in the run things really slide into the groove. Machine soul keeps you running like a machine, and for this tune's eleven minutes, you feel like you could keep on running forever.

  13. Yage Coda Coma Jumpin' & Pumpin'
  14. Some tasty Jumpin' & Pumpin' action, taken from Yage's Fuzzy Logic EP. This is up there in the upper echelon of post-Detroit work by the likes of 4 Hero, Basic Channel and The Black Dog. Killer breakbeat techno, its soaring synth choirs chopped with soundtrack strings and funereal organs that all recede gracefully into the overcast horizon. A snatch of dance vocal slides in over its rugged analogue bassline before the breaks kick back into gear.

    Another under-acknowledged masterpiece from the pre-FSOL Dougans and Cobain (and believe me, there's more where that came from), this is the equal of anything on Accelerator.

  15. Chaka Khan I Know You, I Live You Warner Bros.
  16. Sublime post-disco almost-boogie from the great Chaka Khan. All would-be divas take note of that soaring chorus, it's like sunlight reflecting off the surface of parting storm clouds. Later the basis for Agent-X's awesome Detroit house slate In The Morning, warped post-Kenny Dixon Jr./Moodymann filter-disco of the highest caliber. Hearing Chaka's original for the first time is such a joy.

  17. Throbbing Gristle Hot On The Heels Of Love Ratcliffe Remix NovaMute
  18. Impossibly lush take on this O.G. industrial crew's creepy slab of claustrophobic proto-techno. This remix by one half of Basement Jaxx takes it into big room, widescreen territory. Shimmering multi-layered synths shift and glide over a heavy Reese bassline and shuffling percussion. There's even an exotic vocal snatch chucked into the bargain.

    First heard this in a Luke Slater mix where it rubbed shoulders with Isolée and Dopplereffekt, this is originally from a compilation of remixes of Throbbing Gristle tunes by contemporary dance artists. Carl Craig even provides another, more faithful mix of Heels Of Love, but make no mistake: this Jaxx version is where its at. Visionary stuff.

  19. Alec Empire SuEcide Force Inc.
  20. Closing out the mix, and giving you that last little boost, is a pure adrenaline rush of rave techno from the pre-Atari Teenage Riot/Mille Plateaux Alec Empire. This would be a stone cold killer if it were just the sub-bass locking with the stop-start funk sample, but then that proto-trance lead drops into the mix and sends it all over the edge to the sublime. It just glides over the whole of it.

    The effect is breathtakingly cinematic, indeed this sort of thing belongs not in a museum but in a movie (preferably something based on a William Gibson novel). I've often thought that this track is a kindred spirit with Carl Craig's 69 output.

And that's it, you're back through the front door. Repeat as necessary. From downbeat to uptempo, once you dip into the second half of the mix you'll be impossible to stop. You are the machine.

The Herbaliser - Blow Your Headphones Playa - Cheers 2 U Mélaaz - Mélaaz Timbaland And Magoo - Welcome To Our World Tricky  - Skilled Mechanics Sade - Surrender Your Love (Illegal Remixes)
Yage - Fuzzy Logic EP Chaka Khan - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me Throbbing Gristle - Mutant Throbbing Gristle Alec Empire - SuEcide (Pt. 1)
Motion 002: Trip Into The Groove

Steely Dan

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen chilling in the lobby
Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

I grew up with this crew's music. Pops had all the albums, even Donald Fagen's solo record The Nightfly. Countdown To Ecstasy, The Royal Scam and Aja were in heavy rotation working on projects in the garage. I've still got distinct memories of Bodhisattva and Kid Charlemagne kicking off a hard day's work. I also remember hearing the radio announcement that they were coming to town in '94, with the duo back together for the first time in nearly 15 years. This the summer of Warren G's Regulate and its integral use the groove from frequent Dan collaborator Michael McDonald's I Keep Forgettin'. That was cool.

I was gutted to hear of Walter Becker's passing last year. Like Bowie, the duo seemed like they'd be around forever. I always thought I'd get the chance to see them play live after their triumphant comeback at the turn of the century, a time when they seemed to come to town with some regularity. Just goes to show you: don't put these things off! (Perhaps appropriately) this piece isn't terribly organized or in-depth, just a deeply personal selection of random access memories of these beatnik denizens residing comfortably at the interface of rock and jazz in singular fashion.

Steely Dan The Royal Scam ABC

I really came to Steely Dan's music around the turn of the century, when my brother Brian got into them in a big way. He was the skater getting down with the Purdie shuffle, knocking out a kickflip to The Caves Of Altamira. Around that time, we seemed to watch the great Aja documentary1 once a fortnight, in between movies like Tin Men, Scarface and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, videos that I'd check out from the Clairemont Library (where I was working at the time).

Steely Dan Aja ABC

That's one of the great music documentaries ever, sidestepping the often gossipy tenor of the format and getting down to the nitty gritty of the music itself (images of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker hunched over the mixing desk, isolating tracks in playback!). The other highlight being giants like Wayne Shorter and Bernie Purdie showing up like it's no big deal. It dovetailed nicely with the era's studio experimentation with Snakes, our post-Slam/Keven Saunderson beats inspiring dreams of being the Steely Dan of techno(!)2 Santiago, innit.

Kruder & Dorfmeister DJ-Kicks Studio !K7

The thing with this music is that it made perfect sense in light of what I happened to be listening to anyway, current favorites like 4 Hero, Innerzone Orchestra, Erykah Badu and As One alongside the vintage sounds of Herbie Hancock, Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield, music that I'd only recently begun to explore (now that I was finally making decent money working at the library!). Even slightly earlier, I remember hearing Karma's Look Up Dere — in the context of Kruder & Dorfmeister's DJ-Kicks — and clocking the sample from The Royal Scam. I used to listen to Jazzanova's remix anthology an awful lot too.

Steely Dan Countdown To Ecstasy ABC

My brother had all the albums so, due to that brotherly policy where you don't double up on albums the other one owns (since you can just borrow them down the hall),3 I didn't pick them up until a bit later. I remember the exact occasion like it was yesterday too: a young lady canceled a date with me the hour before, and rather than get all melancholy over the fact, I made a beeline for the Sports Arena Tower Records. My thinking being, hey, why not just spend the date money on records instead? Which of course turned it into a win/win situation in an instant!

Bryan Ferry Another Time, Another Place Island

I ended up scoring the bulk of both the Steely Dan and Bryan Ferry back catalogs (on sale, no less!), and then spent the rest of the day down at Mission Beach listening to them. I used to keep a beach chair stashed in my truck for just such occasions. Memories of the summer sun setting over the Pacific Ocean to the strains of Deacon Blues. Languid and bittersweet, and so on and so forth. That turned out to be a pretty good day.

Donald Fagen The Nightfly MCA

Not long after, I picked up the two new records — Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go, along with Fagen's solo debut The Nightfly. The latter record's central conceit mirroring my own fantasies of somehow scoring a late night slot on some local radio station, deep in the mix after midnight playing a selection of Recloose, UR and BFC records. My other foundational memory is of those landlocked mid-summer days back in '95, my brother and I chilling out to the sun-glazed daydream slipstream of China Crisis (two albums of whose were Becker-produced), beats melting into the urban haze.

Steely Dan Katy Lied ABC

If it's difficult to separate the music from the memories in this case, such are they so closely intertwined, it's even more so trying to choose a favorite album. Theirs is a discography you almost want to take in as a whole rather than anything more piecemeal, the whole story stretching the length of its expanse, creeping into its nooks and crannies. With key tracks like Razor Boy, Any World That I'm Welcome To and Third World Man never making the compilations, the singles don't even tell half the story!

And I couldn't do without the (totally atypical) Byrds-reminiscent hoedown With A Gun, even if the band themselves seem rater unimpressed by the track.

Steely Dan Can't Buy A Thrill ABC

As such, it's difficult to land on a favorite album. At various times it's been the relatively rugged Countdown To Ecstasy, The Royal Scam's overcast dread, Katy Lied's perfect fusion of both sides of the coin and (more recently) the sleek shapes of Gaucho. I still go back and forth. Sometimes I think that against all odds Can't Buy A Thrill is the one, with all the rough edges the debut outing entails. After all, Do It Again still sounds like the blueprint for the whole nineties Dust Brothers aesthetic. 'Nuff flavor!

Steely Dan Greatest Hits ABC

Complicating matters further is that the original 1970s Greatest Hits has what might be their greatest sleeve of all,4 while FM (recorded for the soundtrack to the film of the same name)5 came out a year later, thus missing the cut. Aja is a near perfect record (the volcanic build up to Wayne Shorter's solo in the title track, swoon!), but I always thought I Got The News let down the side a little bit. Maybe I should cook up a little playlist?

Steely Dan Pretzel Logic ABC

At the end of the day, Steely Dan, with their beatnik vibes and smart-ass sensibility, coupled with a supreme knack for penning a killer tune, often came out head and shoulders above many of their more serious peers.6 As such, it seemed like checking in with these cats was the perfect way to sign off with the canyon, for instance, seeing as these eternal outsiders technically weren't even canyon figures at all!

Steely Dan Gaucho MCA

The duo's search for studio perfection found them staring the machine squarely in the eye (see Gaucho's state-of-the-art production techniques, sequenced rhythms, etc.), standing in stark contrast to the longhair, loose-fitting spirit of the times (the be-suited jazz interface meets Kraftwerk?). That's a pretty far-sighted move, in retrospect. It's the perfect rejoinder to bring us back to the Room's normal mode of operation and into the realm of Terminal Vibration's final chapter: 1980 and the interface of machine soul.

Footnotes

1.

Classic Albums: Steely Dan - Aja. Eagle Vision, 1989. Documentary.

2.

Upon reflection, perhaps Deep Space Network fits the bill best of all?

3.

The same went for Van Halen and Led Zeppelin.

4.

And later sampled by Smith & Mighty on the great Bass Is Maternal LP.

5.

That sleeve always makes me flash on Spacetime Continuum's Double Fine Zone, which come to think of it isn't entirely inappropriate.

6.

Not unlike, dare I say it... Ween!

RAG018: Autumn 2018

Radio AG Episode 018 L.A.'s Desert Origins

Autumn 2018

Knee deep in the canyon, we pick up where we left off four years ago with the Autumn 2018 episode of Radio AG for your listening pleasure. Kicking off with a slew of rock hard canyon breaks, we shift gears from country rock into baroque pop and then bluesy rock 'n roll, ultimately hitting the homestretch checking into the marina for departure... strap yourselves in for an excursion into L.A.'s desert origins.

Listen Now

  1. The Parallax Sound Lab Radio AG Intro
  2. Greetings from San Diego...

  3. Dennis Wilson Dreamer Caribou
  4. From the bad Brother's solo debut, Pacific Ocean Blue, which negotiates The Beach Boys' sunshine pop in the overcast haze of late 1970s malaise. Dig the no-nonsense wall of pressure in that downbeat riverboat groove, not to mention the mile-high horn section in the towering chorus.

  5. Little Feat Strawberry Flats Warner Bros.
  6. Raw roots rock from Lowell George's band of L.A. outlaws, Little Feat's debut is completely indispensable, packed with indelible tune after tune in a stunning eleven song sequence. Like much of the record, this is driven by the heavy, low-slung breakbeats of Richie Hayward, complemented here by the brilliant piano lines of Bill Payne. The Clash in denim.

  7. Carole King Sweet Sweetheart Ode
  8. From King's oft-overlooked debut album, which exists in the shadow of her sophomore smash Tapestry. Lacking the trademark lush production that Lou Adler would later lend to that record (along which most of those on his Ode imprint), this was produced instead John Fischbach, with rougher edges than elsewhere but the added bonus of rock hard beats in the driver's seat. Shades of Stax/Volt may be felt between the lines.

  9. Stephen Stills Rock & Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass Atlantic
  10. More hip hop-ready canyon breaks, this time from Dallas Taylor on the Stephen Stills-helmed Manassas project, a canyon supergroup of sorts also including bassist extraordinaire Chris Hillman. Casually funky inna Wooden Ships/Cowboy Movie stylee, there's definite traces of Stills' love for Caribbean music in the extended bridge. A great record, Manassas.

  11. Essra Mohawk Spiral Reprise
  12. I'd always figured Mohawk's loosely funky 1975 self-titled album was my pick, but the multifaceted vision of Primordial Lovers crept up on me in a big way over the last year, plowing as it does a deeper furrow. The almost ESP Disk-style ramshackle folk/funk pile up of Spiral even presages the later album, while also harking back to Erica Pomerance's mind-blowing You Used To Think.

  13. Bob Dylan Quinn The Eskimo The Mighty Quinn Columbia
  14. More funky canyon breaks, from Dylan himself this time, while in the thick of his country rock phase. Taken from the oft-maligned Self Portrait, which is actually a true grab bag of delights in the tradition of The Basement Tapes. The Mighty Quinn was later covered by Manfred Mann to great effect, however its the ridiculous, ramshackle charm of Dylan's original that remains closest to my heart.

  15. The Byrds Fido Columbia
  16. This genial country rock tune, with its casually funky groove and rolling percussion breakdown, spun me 'round the first time I heard it. I just wasn't expecting this sort of magic in the band's late period albums — but like The Beach Boys' contemporary records — they're littered with them (see also Bad Night At The Whiskey and Lover Of The Bayou)! Taken from Ballad Of Easy Rider, the second album by The Mk. II Byrds, this features the lead vocals of John York (who also wrote the tune). One for the dog lovers out there.

  17. The Flying Burrito Bros Hot Burrito #2 A&M
  18. Peerless country rock from Gram's gang. Always loved this one's melding of sweet piano-led sentiment and fuzzed up frenzy, culminating in heavy organ and Parsons' exasperated cry of Jesus Christ! in the chorus. The chord progression that accompanies the So it goes bridge is simply magical. This tune exemplary of The Bros visionary fusion of soul and country, also seen in the band's choice of covers (Do Right Woman and Dark End Of The Street).

  19. Love Singing Cowboy Elektra
  20. Sublime acid-fried country from the second incarnation of Arthur Lee's Love, also known as garage era-Love (so named by me — just now — for the fact that the sessions were recorded in an abandoned warehouse). Dig the track's galloping (there's no other way to put it) cinematic thrust, riding roughshod over its rambling verse with a churning chorus and quintessentially Love-style bridge. Exiting just before the extended coda, and fading into...

  21. Crazy Horse Beggars Day Reprise
  22. 'Nuff dread, Beggars Day seems to exist as pure pressure, bearing down on the listener with its diamond-hard attack. When that savage organs enters the fray in the chorus, the effect is massive. Like Little Feat, Crazy Horse's debut is indispensable, dragging country rock down into the depths of the subconscious with the ragged glory that one would expect from the crew that Neil Young turned to whenever he really wanted to rock out.

  23. Eagles Too Many Hands Asylum
  24. Rolling, filmic country rock — with killer apocalyptic harmonies in the climax — from this band of canyon desperadoes, and one of the biggest bands of the era. That this song is almost obscure (or as obscure as an Eagles song can be, not making either of the band's Greatest Hits) is surprising. I'd never heard this song before picking up the album, and it just might be my favorite thing by the band. Why isn't this on classic rock radio?! Certainly beats that Life In The Fast Lane nonsense!!

  25. David Axelrod The Smile Capitol
  26. Impossibly lush baroque-jazz-psychedelic magic from David Axelrod's debut, with its towering chamber orchestra stylings balanced atop the funky framework of Carol Kaye's basslines and Earl Palmer's breakbeats. The original soundtrack in search of a film, this almost seems made with the nineties in mind (see also Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man OST). That the Rolling Stone hated it is an added bonus!

  27. Shawn Phillips Lookin' Up Lookin' Down A&M
  28. Mini-epic movement from right smack in the middle of Shawn Phillips' Second Contribution, a flowing suite of orchestral progressive folk. Lookin' Up Lookin' Down echoes the record's central melodic motif, outlined from the beginning, in a subdued, downbeat setting that gradually builds to a slow-motion crescendo adorned by Phillips' arcing falsetto to breathtaking effect. I'd venture that fans of Scott Walker would dig this.

  29. Captain Beyond Raging River Of Fear Capricorn
  30. West Coast metal in full effect! Shades of space rock too, in a high desert stylee. That crunchy riff, rock-hard beats and rolling bassline hit you like a kick in the chest, nimble to a level you'd hardly expect from such hard rocking music.

  31. Iron Butterfly Iron Butterfly Theme ATCO
  32. The flipside of the coin, Iron Butterfly's sludgy dirge Iron Butterfly Theme drags its tail across the desert sand like a dejected brontosaurus. This is stoner metal avant la lettre, its searing guitars crying to the heavens as sub-Doors organ runs and a throbbing bassline barely propels it all forward. You wouldn't like it...

  33. Buffalo Springfield Everydays ATCO
  34. L.A.'s other great folk rock institution gets down with some tasty lounge lizard action on their sophomore album, Buffalo Springfield Again. In many ways Neil Young's album (as George Harrison is to Revolver), featuring songs like Expecting To Fly and Broken Arrow, Everydays — a quintessential Stephen Stills moment — is nevertheless a highlight of the record.

  35. The Mamas & The Papas Got A Feelin' Dunhill
  36. Sublimely baroque folk pop from the canyon's first family, this ethereal ballad off the debut presages the lush turn the band later would take on Deliver. Gorgeously understated, with a languid, hypnotic sway, this is every bit the equal of the record's more famous moments like Monday Monday and California Dreamin'.

  37. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull El Solo Toro A&M
  38. Driving the point home with my whole Mamas/Tijuana Brass equations (illustrated most explicitly on Boys & Girls Together) with this laidback instrumental from Herb Alpert's debut LP. Self-released on his own A&M imprint, The Lonely Bull was the record that launched his empire in the first place. Squint and you'll find shades of Morricone tucked away in there...

  39. The Zodiac Taurus - The Voluptuary Elektra
  40. I've already gone on about this record in detail, and now you get to hear a little bit of it. Taurus - The Voluptuary represents the record at its most dreamlike and mellow. I'm only sorry that I couldn't include more of the track, with its eerie mood and spectral textures. Still, it's more than enough to set up Spirit for the lay up.

  41. Spirit Gramophone Man Ode
  42. After all, there's only one Spirit. This is choice material from their debut, its verses the very definition of languid even as they build to the exquisitely britpoppy chorus (see also Uncle Jack). Later sampled by Peanut Butter Wolf to great effect on My Vinyl Weighs A Ton, one of those great moments of trans-Californian continuity.

  43. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Where There's Woman Buddah
  44. Beefheart's debut album at its most overcast and foreboding (alongside Autumn's Child), I often think this bears more than a passing resemblance to the doom-laden atmosphere often conjured by Jefferson Airplane. Of course the track's rolling tom tom chorus is pure abstract blues, and just the sort of thing you'd expect from the good Captain.

  45. The Doors Ship Of Fools Elektra
  46. This has long been one of my favorite Doors moments, sounding like little else around. Superb contrast between the bouncy verses and the moody modal jazz shapes of the bridge, linking the band's dusty late-period blues material to their earlier Gothic psychedelia. It's also an invaluable conduit between peak-era psychedelia and 70s jazz fission as exemplified by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, which brings us to...

  47. Gabor Szabo Amazon Blue Thumb
  48. Signaling our arrival into marina territory, Gabor Szabo and Bobby Womack play dueling guitars over a sensually smooth proto-jazz funk rhythm. This is the greatest exotica track that never gets mentioned when discussing exotica (images of James Bond poolside spring to mind). You can't knock the effortless panache on display here.

  49. Crosby, Stills & Nash Dark Star Atlantic
  50. Overcast yacht disco from the canyon's golden trio (after all, they're actually on a yacht on the record's sleeve). I've always noted (perhaps hallucinated) virtual links with Bowie's The Secret Life Of Arabia and Franz Ferdinand's Outsiders, that same sense of ghost ships running down the horizon. That there are great, compact harmonies almost goes without saying...

  51. Warren Zevon Join Me In L.A. Asylum
  52. Understated monster groove from Zevon's debut, this is the square root of Nighttime In The Switching Yard (not to mention Ian Dury, Chris Rea and Sandinista!. Night drive music. The half-lit, neon-tinged mood here remarkably evocative, shearing as it does into weary-eyed 3 a.m. disco in the coda.

  53. Tim Buckley Sweet Surrender Warner Bros.
  54. The track John Lydon played on Capitol Radio back in 1977 on Tommy Vance's show. Its leisurely, snaking rhythm perfectly continuing the mood of the Zevon track, this song's erotic canyon sway lies directly in the kosmische drift of Buckley's Gypsy Woman, to which it's a more than worthy follow up. The spectral strings a particularly winning touch.

  55. Joni Mitchell Edith And The Kingpin Asylum
  56. From The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell's 1975 jazz-tinged paradise. I'm a huge fan of this era of the woman's music, there's so much to explore and get lost in. As I've said before, this goes down a treat with turn-of-the-century tech jazz and r&b (errant glimpses too of Stereolab). Edith And The Kingpin strangely (and effortlessly) moving.

  57. Beaver & Krause Peace Three Recap Nonesuch
  58. I was originally planning to sign off with Gandharva's Good Places, but switched to this blissful fragment of 1968 electronica at the last minute. Part of the reason I was initially disappointed with this duo's later work is that this sounds exactly like Boards Of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children about thirty years ahead of schedule.

    Fragile and divine, it's a fitting end to our little desert journey...

Radio AG
RAG018: The Records

Credits

Edits: Slye.

Time stretching: Slye and Nautilus Jones.

Vibes: Boz Scaggs, Greetings From L.A., Canned Heat, Fifth Dimension, Don Van Vliet, Palm Desert, Merle Haggard, The Omega Man, Kirk Degiorgio, The Soft Parade, Steely Dan, Fiona Apple, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?, Assault On Precinct 13, The Electric Prunes, MoWest, Jimi Tenor, The Island At The Top Of The World, Ian O'Brien, River Blindness, Janet Jackson, Wavelength, Public Image Ltd.

Note: Radio AG interstitials accompanied by recurring samples from Beaver & Krause's The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music.

The Zodiac – Cosmic Sounds

The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds

Elektra 1967

Once I posted the final cut of the Geology 35 last week, I began to have a nagging suspicion that I'd forgotten something. An unintentional omission, perhaps. It was there hanging in the back of my mind, gradually coalescing into a vague outline, seeming to be something at the David Axelrod/Fifty Foot Hose end of the spectrum. And then it hits me, Monday afternoon: I hadn't made an omission... I made the omission.

The omission was this little record, Cosmic Sounds, credited to a group called The Zodiac. Standing at the axis of The Byrds' Fifth Dimension, David Axelrod's Song Of Innocence and The Doors' self-titled debut, its emblematic of the entire L.A. beatnik trip melting into the long tail of psychedelia. It's the post-jazz slipstream of folk art's molten ore and studio-brewed sonic honey seeping down the cracks in the canyon, animating pictographs on the sandstone walls as they spring to life, dancing to the rhythms in stark relief against the night sky. Just check that sleeve art!

Fortunately, it's not too late to slip it in as November's Tile Of The Month, an appropriate climax to a simple two weeks in the canyon that transformed into an extended expedition downwards into canyon geology. So consider this an ornate and baroquely executed exclamation point to the whole affair, a Coda in the true Led Zeppelin sense of the word, illustrating the sacred geometry of this sprawling landscape and driving the point home.


Cosmic Sounds was initially envisioned by none other than Elektra head honcho Jac Holzman, inspired by the possibilities opened up by The Doors' self-titled debut. Songs like Light My Fire, The Crystal Ship and The End were a heady brew of visionary composition (at the nexus of post-jazz, rock and moody pop), extended (but tightly-reigned) jamming, smoldering atmosphere (props to Paul Rothchild) and Jim Morrison's portentous beatnik delivery. The band seemed to conjure up these great, writhing grooves that would twist and turn like moonlit shadows in the darkness, sounding utterly unique in the process — like nothing else before or since.

Jac Holzman with headphones in among the machines
Jac Holzman: The Dreamer

Holzman envisioned an experimental rock record that dove headfirst into the cresting sound of psychedelia, feathering in spoken word poetry and the newly unveiled sounds of the Moog synthesizer. On one hand, this could be flagged by more cynical minds as an attempt to cash in on a craze, particularly in light of Holzman's subsequent signing of bands like Clear Light, with their unavoidable similarities to the sound of Mr. Morrison's gang.

However, I'd argue that in addition to being a savvy businessman, Holzman was also a dreamer. One need look no further than projects like the Paxton Ranch endeavor, with Holzman willing to shell out $50,000 for a songwriter's retreat in hopes of conjuring up a rootsy Band-like atmosphere,1 or his taking a chance on synthesizers before there was even a market with records like Beaver & Krause's The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music.

Beaver & Krause The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music Nonesuch

Or for that matter, setting up Nonesuch Records in the first place, first as an outlet for budget classical releases aimed at the youth market, and then a home for experimental (and often synth-fueled) works to make inroads with the public. There was even the Nonesuch Explorer Series, devoted to bringing recordings of music from around the world to ears that otherwise wouldn't encounter them. Passion projects the lot of them, these were all chances taken in the name of adventure.

Alex Hassilev with banjo, during his tenure with The Limeliters
Alex Hassilev: The Producer

Holzman approached producer Alex Hassilev (who also played with folk trio The Limeliters) with the initial idea for the project, who began to assemble a crew to make Jac Holzman's vision a reality. His first recruit was songwriter and arranger Mort Garson, who'd written Our Day Will Come for Ruby & The Romantics2 and handled arrangements for some mid-sixties Esther Phillips sessions. The two began rooting around for a concept and eventually settled on a song cycle inspired by the twelve signs of the zodiac. Garson penned a suite of material that would turn out to be the perfect vehicle for Holzman's grand visions, and then set about gathering a motley crew of musicians to realize them.

The Wrecking Crew prepare for another take
Just another day at the studio with The Wrecking Crew

The nucleus of the group would be three musicians from The Wrecking Crew: pianist Mike Melvoin (father of Wendy Melvoin of Wendy & Lisa fame) and the crack rhythm section of bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine. The Wrecking Crew were an extended group of studio musicians who had played on scores of L.A. recordings sessions, including The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (you know, minor records like that). Vibes man Emil Richards would handle percussion, while Bud Shank — who'd played the famous flute solo in California Dreamin' — would provide his trademark flourishes to the proceedings.

Paul Beaver: The Synthesist With Mystique

The hidden x-factor of The Zodiac was to be Paul Beaver, who was still in the process of hooking up with partner in crime Bernie Krause (the synth duo met during this record's gestation). An early adopter of the Moog synthesizer (perhaps the early adopter), he was to provide synths and electronic treatments in post-production, further bolstering the otherworldly atmosphere of the proceedings. Consequently, Cosmic Sounds is the first appearance of the Moog synthesizer on a rock record.

The enigmatic Cyrus Faryar, through a glass darkly
Cyrus Faryar: The Beatnik Narrator

Rounding out this ad hoc psychedelic proposition was the Persian minstrel of Barham Boulevard,3 Cyrus Faryar. He'd serve as narrator, tour guide for the group's extended voyages, reciting the accompanying poetry (written by Jacques Wilson) in beatnik spoken-word style. Sounding something like a distant relative to both Jim Morrison and Eden Ahbez (the original don), he'd anchor the band's psychedelic meanderings to the hard concept outlined by Mort Garson.

As mentioned before, The Zodiac's Cosmic Sounds was — appropriately enough — inspired by the zodiac itself. Garson's song cycle comprises twelve individual songs, each one devoted to one of the twelve signs of the zodiac, each one inspired and colored by the mythological traits associated with its respective sign. Its sleeve emblazoned with the legend MUST BE PLAYED IN THE DARK, this is a head elpee in the truest sense of the word, a prog rock trip before The Nice had even got around to inventing prog in the first place.

The rear sleeve for Cosmic Sounds (note MUST BE PLAYED IN THE DARK message)

It's also an acid rock freakout to match the frenzy going on in contemporary San Francisco, albeit one with a candy-coated Technicolor sheen (like all those moments when old Disney films would suddenly jackknife into the psychedelic, this long before the dawn of psychedelia entered the popular imagination). Like the sleeve art (by Abe Gurvin and William S. Harvey), it's a tightly-executed foray into the wonderful world of the florid and surreal. It's an ornate soundtrack to the movie of your mind, and it all begins when you put the needle 'pon the record...


It all opens with Paul Beaver coaxing a siren song from his Moog, and Aries - The Fire Fighter launches into a cosmic rave up of sorts, beat set to overdrive and replete with spooked glass keyboards that echo 'round the soundscape and blend in terror with the synthetics in an alchemized information overload of Future Shock proportions. Then the beat drops out into a web of sitars descending from the ether. Cyrus intones, Mars, the master matchmaker, sulphurizes the sky... incendiary diamonds scorched the earth!

Hal Blaine behind the drum kit, doing his thing
Hal Blaine: Funky Drummer

And the rush continues, beats banging once again, organs set to attack this time. Carol Kaye's phenomenal low-slung bassline propels it all forward with the selfsame shades that she'd later bring to David Axelrod's Song Of Innocence, yet the beats aren't Earl Palmer's hip hop be bop breaks but Hal Blaine's inna full-on Scooby Doo chase scene rave up stylee (who's driving this flyin' umbrella?)! And leave it to Beaver, there's those intergalactic sound effects tumbling into the mix again, before the band smash into one last rave up for the road.

Bud Shank with his flute, somewhere in the harbor
Bud Shank: Mystical Flute Man

Shading into the pastoral after that opening onslaught, Taurus - The Voluptuary opens on a gently grinding bass figure before the flutes of Bud Shank enter the fray. His flutes a constant, haunting presence running right through the record from here on out. Spooked organs crash the party for but a moment, and Cyrus announces Taurus: broad-shouldered bearer of hope! At this point, we're comfortably in downbeat mode and a damn sight closer to David Axelrod territory, albeit with a handful of freaky touches thrown in for good measure. That spooked organ refrain is still hanging around there, dropping in and out of the mix like an errant thought you just can't seem to shake.

Movie poster for The Island At The Top Of The World
The Island At The Top Of The World

Treated harpsichords and a drone herald another razor-thin chase beat, and Gemini - The Cool Eye leaps into a gently soaring chord progression (one that seems to contain the germ of the theme from the great Island At The Top Of The World, if you can believe that!). Shades of mystery and some sword-and-sandal epic linger, before that haunting flute refrain returns on balance, leading into the breakdown whence Faryar intones, Five keen senses, five versatile fingers. Gemini! Adding up the day impatient to be done.4

Beaver & Krause caught between bouts of innovation, just two cool dudes chillin' against a brick wall
Beaver & Krause: Synth Pioneers

Eerie strings hang on the horizon in the unfolding of Cancer - The Moon Child's spooked intro, spaced-out treatments from Paul Beaver hover in among the tree tops. Carol Kaye's churning bassline presages another rave up, this time somewhat subdued in tempo. On one hand the most acid rock of the tracks on the record, with some tasty (uncredited) guitar licks in evidence, but on the other it veers the closest to soundtrack music (think Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory!) when it all explodes into a fluttering flute passage — replete withs bells! — even if it does recede back into Beaver's spooked-out atmospherics. It seems we're back where we started, tangled in a frieze of spooked strings, before a harpsichord-driven section pilots us toward the extended outro, synth baubles spilling over its entirety.

The Byrds Fifth Dimension Columbia

A Byrds-esque folk rock guitar figure kicks off Leo - The Lord Of Lights, before more of those mystical soundtrack progressions soar into view. Strangely enough, there's an almost proto-Numan quality to the synths, perhaps shades too of Neu! and Harmonia? Then again, maybe it's just my imagination running away with me! The rock beat kicks into a boom, boom, boom... boom, boom, boom tattoo before breaking off again. Medieval organs creep into view. It's like some mutant relative of both Fifth Dimension and Rubber Soul, that mysterious second cousin who never goes out and turns out to have been painting the Sistine Chapel on his living room ceiling all along.

Mort Garson stands with his machines
Mort Garson: The Mastermind

Five o'clock doesn't end the work day. Virgo's nimble watchmaker mind ticks on... Clocks tick and a cyclical guitar riff shuffles beneath another prime flute foray from Bud Shank. Then, Virgo - The Perpetual Perfectionist swoops into an ethereal string breakdown. Sitars and harpsichords duel with Beaver's treated percussion — either Buchla-derived sonix or sourced from Richards himself — and then bleeps ahoy! A circle is perfect, but the world isn't round... Virgo can prove it!5

Mort Garson The Wozard Of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey A&M

Needless to say the complexity of Garson's score is a constant treat throughout, with these idiosyncratic tunes sweeping and swerving with frequent surprises and left turns. Notably, Garson would go on to blaze a trail in early electronica alongside Beaver & Krause, with records like Lucifer's Black Mass and The Wozard Of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey.6 He even later masterminded a series of albums as Signs Of The Zodiac for A&M, comprised twelve records — each devoted to a different astrological sign — all released within the span of the year 1969!

Emil Richards plays his vibraphone at the Newport Jazz Festival
Emil Richards: King Of The Vibes

Side two opens with Libra - The Flower Child, at which point things begin to get real. Emil Richards is in the driver's seat now, coaxing the track along with what sounds like a talking drum (in the liners he's credited only with exotic percussion). Sitars pulse and bend through the track, and the patter of tablas snake in and out of earshot. By far the most serene of the tracks yet, its sound evidence of the possibilities inherent in the combination of post-war 1950s open-minded exploration of globe-spanning music with the implied mind-expansion of the nascent counterculture (by now in full swing).

Amon Düül II Dance Of The Lemmings Liberty

This is just the sort of thing that we have to look forward to in krautrock, and sure enough this record could be read as a blueprint (alongside Jefferson Airplane) for large swathes of the Amon Düül II discography. You can just picture the searing vocals of Renate Knaup over the top! Shades too perhaps of Nino Rota's haunting score to Fellini Satyricon, that same nagging sense of wistful melancholy one finds in its recurring five note refrain.

The Future Sound Of London Lifeforms Electronic Brain Violence

A martial rhythm and synth sonix straight off a Future Sound Of London record open Scorpio - The Passionate Hero, before descending into a tailspin of a staccato rhythm infested with the repetition of a dissonant organ tattoo boring into your skull. Passion is the true aphrodisiac, need is a burning journey. Bleeps scatter off into the horizon, soaring over a rolling percussive figure, the acid lines of a fuzz guitar railing against its surface. That beat returns alone in the last thirty seconds, tumbling and sounding super tricky this time, and you note the sheer Jaki Liebezeit-ness of it all.

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Liberty

Bells ring in the the technicolor dreamtime circus of Sagittarius - The Versatile Daredevil. Like the previous track, this is an expressionistic outing that seems intent on a literal recreation of its title (as opposed to the other songs' more impressionistic modes). Above the cacophony, bleeps spiral through the echo-chamber in a Fifty Foot Hose stylee.7 Interesting to note that Cosmic Sounds came out the day before The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, both records linking the lysergic dislocation of psychedelia with the chaos of the circus.

Mike Melvoin at the piano
Mike Melvoin: Electric Piano Man

Now this is more like it! Capricorn - The Uncapricious Climber begins with Mike Melvoin working the scales on electric piano, to which Cyrus replies Eight notes scale an octave, master the scale and you master the score, in a gloriously dead-eyed intro. Stumbling into a dragging dirge with bleeps in the ether, this protracted organ and sitar journey is haunted by Shank's bass flute and savage, low-slung guitars tweaked and shredded against the deep black of night. We're talking Funkadelic's March To The Witch's Castle territory here, no joke. Cyrus concludes, Saturn's musician plays as written, and in the end, people listen.

Ennio Morricone Duck, You Sucker: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack United Artists

Crystal notes hang high, haunting in the heavens, before the comforting sounds of an electric organ (shades of Duck, You Sucker) ring in Aquarius - The Lover Of Life. Watery organs flow throughout, and Emil Richards tickles the vibes inna spaced-out lacuna, sitars plucked in time to the shuffling rhythm. Lost in contemplation, sand dunes of the mind, and an aside from Cyrus that four-thousand dreams may decay into indigo dust.

It's stately, an understated epic: this doesn't have the stark modernism of David Axelrod's tight arrangements, but instead hinges on an axis of baroque counterpoint shot through with the florid colors of contemporary psychedelia. Part of this record's appeal lies in its mastery of vivid tonal coloring and texture. Indeed, there's not a bland note in sight, not a moment run of the mill. It's everything you'd hope possible in the year 1967: this record's a time capsule in the very best sense of the word, in that once you crack it open you're transported back there again. Timeless, in other words.

Ron Grainer The Omega Man: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Retrograde

Pisces - The Peace Piper is the final movement of this record's astrological suite, opening with a plaintive harpsichord motif punctuated by the eerie sound of a struck bell, its resonance detuned in the decay to disconcerting effect. This sounds exactly like moments in Ron Grainer's splendid score to The Omega Man (I wonder if he had a copy of Cosmic Sounds lying around). My shorthand always placed that soundtrack as Axelrod-inspired, but this bears an even greater resemblance to that score's general atmosphere.8

Ashra New Age Of Earth Virgin

In another eerie sonic prediction, there's some strange collision of Bud Shank's flutes and Paul Beaver's synths that sounds just like those piercingly sweet synths from Ashra's New Age Of Earth (particularly on Deep Distance). Emil Richards vibes — this time ever-so-slightly dissonant — truss up the bridge to the song's second phase, in which rolling tablas spar with a bass flute looming in the mist. Then, it cuts into a plaintive harpsichord solo and then pastoral atmosphere, before being undercut by droning bass notes seemingly imbued with great import. It's a supreme winding-down of these proceedings before a final showing of the struck bells in sequence (once again, très Omega Man!), and then it ends on a hanging note struck into the darkness...


In a sense, I'm glad that I forgot to include record in the far-reaching Geology 35, because it afforded a larger canvas to devote firstly to its many facets. It connects with so many of the threads tracing their way through the canyon, from the acid psychedelia of The Byrds' Fifth Dimension and The Electric Prunes to the baroque arrangements of David Axelrod and The Mamas & The Papas and the beatnik vibes of Eden Ahbez (and the collision of all three in the works of The Doors, Love and Spirit).

Pink Floyd The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Columbia

Secondly, this record had a rather outsized influence beyond what its no-show status in the rock lists might suggest. Por ejemplo, Roger Waters credited this record as a prime inspiration for some of Pink Floyd's wilder freakouts on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, its scattered rave ups prefiguring as they do classic astral rock like Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive. Floyd keyed into the record's most chaotic corners, amplifying them in their wildly phased forays into inner-space (with Syd Barrett the crazy diamond star around which it all orbits).

The Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed Deram

Conversely, The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward admitted that the record had a profound shaping influence on his group's impossibly lush The Days Of Future Passed, and you can see it all laid out in Technicolor: the ambitious, baroque arrangements, the spoken word interludes and the general conceptual thrust. The record takes on the mantle of Cosmic Sounds' ornate arrangements at their most colorful, fleshing them out with a full orchestra in tow and leaving the freakouts to the acid rockers.

Genesis From Genesis To Revelation Decca

I'd even hazard a guess as to some other possible points of influence. I can hear its eerie, baroque arrangements in Genesis' From Genesis To Revelation and it's overcast filmic sweep in Barış Manço's peak-era psychedelic funk. This record exudes the sixties in a way that I envisioned them as a youth, before you begin to discover all the various currents that make up an era in all its complexity (folk, blues rock, sunshine pop, free jazz, etc.). This is pure atmospheric psychedelia, arranged to perfection.

Carol Kaye with trademark shades and guitar
Carol Kaye: The Bass Articulator

Special note should be made of Carol Kaye's stellar basswork throughout. After all, her basslines — coupled with Earl Palmer's breakbeat drumming — are the peerless rhythm section upon which David Axelrod would later balance his orchestra. The record is very much cut from a similar cloth, albeit one aligned more in line the freakout spirit of the day (as opposed to that record's stately orchestral splendor). I tend to hear Axelrod's records — particularly Earth Rot — as a continuation of this same visionary impulse.

David Axelrod Earth Rot Capitol

In the same way that Axelrod's Song Of Innocence was rumored to have inspired Miles Davis protracted exploration of psychedelic rock figures with Bitches Brew (along with the records to come in its wake), I wonder how much The Zodiac's own experiments played into David Axelrod's grand visions to come. Even his Soul Zodiac record — produced with Cannonball Adderley and The Nat Adderley Sextet — seems an attempt to recreate this record's dynamic in a freaked-out, psychedelic jazz funk context: from the wild slabs of acid rock noise over ten-story tall breakbeats, right down to Rick Holmes spoken word narration.

It's a testament of the fortuitous confluence of ideas — between Jac Holzman, Alex Hassilev and Mort Garson (not to mention all musicians involved) — that its implications turned out to be so broad and far-reaching beyond the elusive promise of a one off-experiment.

Emil Richards New Sound Element "Stones" UNI

However, it's worth noting in passing that Cosmic Sounds actually exists as part of a loose trilogy, one which was recorded in a flurry during the first half of 1967. The first sessions were for the New Sound Elements "Stones" LP, a jazz date credited to vibes man Emil Richards. It features largely the same personnel (with the minor substitution of Joe Porcaro for Hal Blaine behind the kit). Notably Richards would go on to record the dawn-of-Indo jazz record Journey To Bliss as Emil Richards & The Microtonal Blues Band.

Hal Blaine Psychedelic Percussion Dunhill

The other album rounding out this trilogy is Hall Blaine's Psychedelic Percussion, which followed up his relatively straightforward surf rock debut Drums! Drums! À Go Go with a deeply strange slab of skittering psychedelia. It's thoroughly of a piece with the Cosmic Sounds and Stones outings, albeit one with a heavier emphasis — as one might expect — placed of killer breakbeats and tricky percussion. Taken together, the three records stand astride 1967 at a particularly unique angle, quite unlike anything else recorded in what turned out to be a banner year for pop music... one for the record books.

Truth be told, The Zodiac feels like the conceptual centerpiece around which those other records orbit, a kind of freaked out sequel to The Byrds' Fifth Dimension and unruly precursor to David Axelrod's trilogy of sixties records (in true Station To Station fashion). It's a crucial record lodged right in there, hovering in the background of the L.A. mystic like a spectral reminder of possibilities unleashed in broad strokes and big ideas (not to mention a healthy dose of studio magic).

Haunting the cosmic canyons, its reverberations are felt throughout the surrounding terrain until you return to it once again, those sounds ensconced within that faded time capsule, and you're transported back to the heady realm of Cosmic Sounds.

Footnotes

1.

Hoskyns, Barney. Hotel California. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2006. 28. Print.

2.

Later covered in fine style by Mr. Truck Turner himself, Isaac Hayes.

3.

So described by Jac Holzman himself

4.

The way he says Gemini always makes me flash on the breakdown in Patrick Pulsinger's awesome Citylights Part 2 City Of Starsigns, but I can't imagine it's actually sampled from this record.

5.

And they did, in 1989 with their lone self-titled album, perfect and self-contained like an expertly carved gemstone.

6.

SA-RA even included a snatch of The Wozard Of Iz's Killing Of The Witch (aka The Witch Must Be Killed) on their excellent Dark Matter & Pornography Mixtape Vol. 30".

7.

In fact, one could make the case that this is the L.A. analog to Fifty Foot Hose's Cauldron and The United States Of America's self-titled debut (albeit one released a whole year earlier!).

8.

Indeed, Ron Grainer's soundtrack to The Omega Man is another one that I could have included in the Golden 35, documenting as it does that film's evocation of the sprawling desolation and loneliness of a deserted, post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.

Geology 35

A study of routes beneath the canyon in 35 records

Now we go Into The Mystic as Van Morrison might say, venturing beyond the cozy climes of Laurel Canyon and assorted outposts into the realm of the metaphysical(!). That's right, now it's time for a little (psycho)geography lesson delving into the sounds beneath the sound. This is the music that lies at the fringes of canyon proper, framing the era and and putting its context in stark relief within the history books. Be it psychedelia, garage punk, yacht disco or the avant garde, this is all music that touches the records found in The Canyon 25 in some way, either in the form of trace deposits found within the music itself or as an edifice that the canyon defined itself against.

Nearly all of these records originate from L.A. (or at least Southern California), and the rare exceptions are nonetheless inexorably linked to the discussion. Many of these records represent a music and culture that the canyon scene saw itself as a respite from (psychedelia, garage punk), while others were freely acknowledged antecedents in the logical progression (folk rock, jazz, baroque pop). Some plainly represent what the canyon sound ultimately mutated into as the decade wore on (yacht) and the sounds that came in its wake (rootsy punk and alternative). Some figures from the canyon do manage to crop up in both lists, but only the ones who managed to somehow transcend the era with a combination of stylistic breadth and all-encompassing vision.

So what's the story then? As much as Tim Buckley's Happy Sad or Spirit's self-titled debut, this is all music that I can hear when I step outside every day to greet the California dawn. You can practically feel it emanating from the cracks in the pavement, embedded in the geology itself and running beneath your feet like an electric charge, through the canyons, ravines and riverbeds, stretching out in every direction: north toward the Sierra Nevada mountains and down south into Baja California, stretching east toward the vast deserts of Anza Borrego and the Mojave, and west into the Pacific Ocean. It practically haunts every corner of the landscape, a spectral reminder of days of future passed.

So let's take a look into these secret sounds, hidden like whispers beneath the rocks and soil, a chronology measured not in strata and sediment but in records and songs. Like minerals locked into the sand and stones, it all lies dormant, waiting: a spectral reminder of sound and visions sprung from the corridors of this Golden State and the lives lived within it, all through the long drawn passage of time. In the spirit of geology, we'll do this thing chronologically, starting us out at the dawn of the sixties. Yeah, I thought about beginning with cool jazz and figures like Chet Baker and Stan Getz, but that's all shadowy pre-history, and a whole other tale of its own.

When it comes to today's story, it all starts with Eden Ahbez...

1. Eden Ahbez Eden's Island The Music Of An Enchanted Isle

Del-Fi 1960

A man ahead of his time, living free up in the hills above L.A. — long before the word hippie had entered common parlance (let alone become a lifestyle choice) — with his wife and son, Eden Ahbez offered up a glimpse of the coming counterculture decades before the fact. Here was a man who lived as a vegetarian, studied Eastern mysticism, communed with nature and claimed to live on only three dollars a day. Ahbez famously wrote the song Nature Boy on a scrap of paper that found its way into the hands of Nat "King" Cole, who turned it into a standard that lives on to this day.

The stunning Eden's Island is largely cut from the same cloth, giving Ahbez a whole LP as his canvas. In that sense, it's the original singer-songwriter record. The sound perched midway between exotica and a jazz-tinged precursor to The Doors' sprawling beat visions (at times Ahbez even sounds like Jim Morrison), its drifting tone poems accompany Eden's tales — told in the first person as The Wanderer — chronicling a wayward journey to the shores of an enchanted isle. The whole trip flows together brilliantly, like a head elpee before its time.

2. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull

A&M 1962

Herb Alpert's lush, Mariachi-tinged sound was defined at the outset by his immortal instrumental The Lonely Bull. Inspired by a bullfight that Alpert attended in Mexico, the song was a winning attempt to capture the atmosphere of the arena: the palpable excitement, the banda playing from the balcony and teeming crowd chants of Olé! I've always loved languid moments like Never On Sunday and A Quiet Tear, hidden delights to be found here as well. This is the sound of old California, the forests, deserts and beaches, the muted glamour and Spanish architecture captured in films like Vertigo and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World. Accordingly, songs like The Lonely Bull and (later on) Love Potion #9 were massively successful, era-defining instrumental pop.

Perhaps the sound was too successful? For whatever reason, The Tijuana Brass never seemed to get the same critical reappraisal that other easy listening/exotica purveyors like Esquivel and Martin Denny experienced in the 90s. Critics seem to write them off somewhat, don't they? Pay no mind to the haters, I see this as an integral, instrumental antecedent to the likes of The Mamas & The Papas, Brian Wilson and The Free Design, and it gets filed as such in the Parallax Collection. Don't forget that it was Herb Alpert's trumpet sound and sumptuous production techniques that influenced Arthur Lee in crafting the windswept vistas of Love's Forever Changes.

3. Dick Dale And His Del-Tones Surfer's Choice

Deltone 1962

If there was a sound that defined L.A. before The Byrds, then surely it was surf rock. Dick Dale was one of the prime auteurs of the form, splitting his time between riding waves and capturing said experience in musical form, working with Leo Fender to perfect the sound of his Stratocaster guitar. Dale's Let's Go Trippin' which is often considered the first surf rock song, closes out this solid LP of early rock 'n roll, released on Dale's own Deltone imprint. There's nothing quite as savage as contemporary single Misirlou (although Dale reprises it here as Misirlou Twist!), but songs like Surf Beat and Shake N' Stomp certainly do the trick.

Surf rock was quickly brushed aside as yesterday's news in light of the British Invasion, but one need only look at its rediscovery at the hands of cultural institutions like The Cramps and Quentin Tarantino to see that history always has the last laugh. In fact, adjacent figures like Link Wray and later Randy Holden often make me wonder what this sound might have grown into if the British Invasion had never happened1 and it were given a few more years free reign to mutate and develop in the limelight. The result? Rock is less vocal, more instrumental? Less lyrical, more grooved-out?? Less ego, more id??? Well... that or the record companies mess it all up anyway!

4. Gil Evans The Individualism Of Gil Evans

Verve 1964

It may have been recorded in New York and Jersey, but this record's sprawling orchestral jazz is definitive West Coast splendor. Gil Evans arranged classic Miles Davis records like Miles Ahead and Sketches Of Spain in the wake of the L.A.-based cool jazz sound, and here he uses the big band to his full advantage in the middle of the hard bop era (with the nascent free jazz waiting in the wings). Tracks like El Toreador and The Barbara Song perfectly capture the lazy feeling of long afternoons in the summer, just as the first hints of dusk begin to creep in.

This is perhaps the key record in my running Jazz Mosaic concept, which I think I mentioned last time, its rich tapestries of sound bringing to mind the sweeping vistas and mid-century architecture stretching along the Pacific. This is the sound of strolling around the back roads of Del Mar or old La Jolla, of traversing the length of Balboa Park and stealing a moment in the shade of the Botanical Gardens. Real Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo vibes, shades too of Chinatown and The Parallax View. Records like these, once you hear them... well, you can still feel their presence in the surrounding world as you simply go about town.

5. The Beach Boys The Beach Boys Today!

Capitol 1965

When discussing L.A., there's no getting around The Beach Boys. Today! captures the band in the process of leaving the surf rock sound in earnest to focus on Brian Wilson's lonely teenage symphonies, resplendent with the very finest harmonies of the era. Arranged in classic Bowie in Berlin fashion, side one features upbeat pop magic like Do You Wanna Dance? and Help Me, Rhonda, while the entirety of side two is given over to Brian Wilson's gentle, contemplative numbers like Please Let Me Wonder and In The Back Of My Mind. So in a sense, a glimpse of Pet Sounds just around the corner.

I'm a huge fan of the atmosphere found in The Beach Boys' post-Pet Sounds records, the homespun proto-Beta Band sound of brilliantly sun-glazed records like Friends, Sunflower and Surf's Up. This the era when Dennis Wilson emerges as a key songwriter (see Pacific Ocean Blue), these often uneven records nevertheless contain a wealth of utterly unique music. Where else would you find songs like the skewed ambient pop of Feel Flows (shades of Brian Eno's vocal records), Diamond Head's low-slung stoned exotica and the clockwork r&b panache of Slip On Through all rubbing shoulders?

In fact, I was originally planning to include Sunflower (which you'll recall is actually my favorite Beach Boys moment), but ultimately decided to defer to chronology: after all, Today! is the original well that all those glorious sounds spring from.

6. Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited

Columbia 1965

Dylan the benchmark for singer-songwriters to this day. Inescapable. It was a toss up really between this, Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde, but Highway 61 wins because it captures him mid-stride, approaching folk rock from the opposite direction as The Byrds' shimmering sound, with a rude, shambling garage-inflected attack defining the whole affair. As far from down-home roots music as can be, this is future shock music firmly in step with the zeitgeist.

You can't knock the raw power of Like A Rolling Stone, carried on a cloud of Al Kooper's brilliant Hammond B3 organ licks, while Tombstone Blues and the title track continue to develop the rowdy garage rock sound first essayed on Subterranean Homesick Blues. Standing in stark contrast is the closing Desolation Row, a sparse and elegant eleven minute ballad that plays like the blueprint for the sensibilities (and in some cases, the entire careers) of many key canyon players.

7. The Mamas & The Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

Dunhill 1966

The first and the best. The lush arrangements and dreamy atmosphere of Deliver assured its place in The Canyon 25, but it can't match the pure pop blast of this record. The epochal Monday, Monday and California Dreamin' are masterpieces of sunshine pop, capturing the phantom Autumn atmosphere of Southern California better than anything else I can think of, while the remainder of the record is no slouch either, with traces of folk rock and Merseybeat feathered into John Phillips' baroque arrangements. Note Spanish Harlem, with its unmistakable echoes of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

One could make the case that If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears is as much a response to Rubber Soul as Pet Sounds was, with the kinetic Somebody Groovy and Straight Shooter mirroring that record's proto-breakbeat pop rock rollers. Believe it or not, there was a time when I liked this lot even more than The Beach Boys (a time before I owned any of the lads' later records, in fact). Even now I suspect it's a closer call than you might think, especially if you factor in John, The Wolfking Of L.A. and Cass Elliot's solo records!

8. The Byrds Fifth Dimension

Columbia 1966

This was my original Byrds pick for The Canyon 25, but then it would have been lodged in at #1 (after all, it's only one of my favorite records of all time). Fifth Dimension is the point where — with no warning — The Byrds transform folk rock into acid-drenched West Coast psychedelia once and for all. And topping off the canyon list with the cornerstone of acid rock would have been missing the point a bit, don't you think?! However, in the context of the outsider's Geology 35, its quite simply definitive: the skeleton key in making sense of today's entire musical selection.

Everyone knows Eight Miles High (Gene Clark's parting gift to the band), the grooved-out psychedelic rocker that rides Chris Hillman's bassline like a jet engine into the abyss, but the journey continues with further acid excursions like I See You and David Crosby's What's Happening?!?! All of which betray the band's fascination with the music of both John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar, particularly felt in Roger McGuinn's stunning quicksilver solos.

Conversely, the band still finds plenty of time to perfect the folk music wherein their roots lie. The gentle pastoral drift of Wild Mountain Thyme is perhaps their finest folk ballad, rendered even more majestic by the wistful frontier orchestra that accompanies it, while the subdued folk rocker John Riley is haunted by ghostly chamber strings of its own. Meanwhile, Mr. Spaceman delves into country rock (albeit of the space cowboy variety) before just about anyone else managed to get around to it.


In passing, I can't help but note that the CD reissue of this album has maybe the finest bounty of bonus tracks I've ever had the pleasure to find tucked away at the end of a disc. The contemporary, non-album single Why — which essays similar precincts to I See You and What's Happening?!?! — fits in with the preeding record perfectly, while I Know My Rider is a sparkling bit of country rock that makes a perfect counterpoint to Mr. Spaceman. And I've always felt that above all else the grooved-out Psychodrama City, along with the instrumental John Riley I, should have made the final cut of the original album. Come on guys!

At any rate, taken as a whole its a stunning package, and one of the best rock CDs you could ask for.

9. The Electric Prunes The Electric Prunes

Reprise 1967

Acid-psych garage punk, picking up where Fifth Dimension left off. I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night, which famously kicked off the Nuggets compilation, is the very definition of the form. Get Me To The World On Time, which was also included later on in the expanded four disc Nuggets box set, is similarly definitive. Both tracks representing the cresting of psychedelia 's reign in the wake of Eight Miles High and Tomorrow Never Knows, the record nevertheless does falter a little with a few missteps like the tepid ballad Onie (which, to be fair were foisted upon them by the record company).

Indeed, the Prunes seemed doomed from the start, plagued first with record company meddling on their debut, and then only getting to do their own thing on the sophomore Underground. It was a superior album experience, albeit one without a hit single, and the public had long since moved on anyway. Discontent, they hooked up with visionary L.A. producer David Axelrod, who had grand visions of merging psychedelic rock and Gregorian chant with a full orchestra in tow.

Alas, the original band members were gradually replaced by session men when they were unable to keep up with the demands of the material, and records like Mass In F. Minor and Release Of An Oath ultimately featured next to no involvement by the original band! And that as they say, was that. The music industry is a cruel mistress indeed... although we'll be returning to Axelrod shortly.

10. The Doors Strange Days

Elektra 1967

If The Electric Prunes couldn't quite make it happen, The Doors were the quintessential self-contained band in possession of a singular vision all its own. With a visionary frontman in Jim Morrison, they cut an unparalleled path through the seedy back end of the sixties, sowing the seeds for the bad vibes of the coming decade over the course of six stellar records running the gamut of moody psychedelia, dark cabaret and hard blues (often within the space of the same record) like no one before or since.

Strange Days — the second album — is their masterpiece, kicking off with the organ-smeared apocalyptic visions of the title track and not letting up until the epic eleven minute closer When The Music's Over comes crashing to an end. Jim Morrison at his Gothic peak here, although its the spectral gravity of Ray Manzarek's organ (wielded like a proto-synth) and Robbie Krieger's lunar guitars twisting and bending around John Densmore's nimble rhythms that give the Lizard King a crystal palace to haunt in the first place.

Songs like Moonlight Drive and I Can't See Your Face In My Mind embody the otherworldly atmosphere the band achieve here, which always reminds me of cruising around the deserted hills of the Heights after dark, the city spread out like a matrix of lights beneath.

11. Love Forever Changes

Elektra 1967

Sublime orchestral pop from Arthur Lee's original crew, shot through with tinges of florid psychedelia and acid rock. In terms of the core group, Johnny Echols' guitar — as showcased in songs like A House Is Not A Motel is the crucial factor here, but part of the record's appeal is how it transcends the parameters of the typical rock band. That the complex string arrangements and distinctive Herb Alpert-flavored trumpet lines are integrated so thoroughly into the band's sound is particularly ahead-of-its-time.

I'm not sure whether I'm alone in thinking this, but Forever Changes has always struck me as a hazy, overcast record, like one of those summer days in early August where the fog never lifts. Bringing to mind a day at the windswept cliffs of Torrey Pines, scaling the rocks down to the crashing waves below. I actually touched on this record for a moment here, in my record of the month write up on Four Sail. Indeed, I do slightly (and perhaps heretically) prefer the ragged acid country sound of the mighty Four Sail, but only by a whisker.

Still, a song a song like Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale — with its dueling horns and deft rhythmic flourishes, not to mention that soaring trumpet solo — is untouchable, sounding like a ray of sunlight scattered through the marine layer into a million shimmering diamonds on the surface of the ocean.

12. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Safe As Milk

Buddah 1967

One of the figures that seemed to keep cropping up in The Canyon 25 was Ry Cooder. A strange attractor of sorts, he played on the Crazy Horse, Little Feat and Randy Newman records. Well, here's another one: he was actually in The Magic Band early on, and his signature slide guitar work is all over this tasty record, which in my humble is the greatest blues rock album of them all. This plays like a high speed chase through the Mojave desert, where incidentally the good Captain (aka Don Van Vliet) would later retreat with The Magic Band to work out the tricky compositions for their fabled Trout Mask Replica double-album (the quintessential difficult album).

This record however — while still plying an abstract form of the blues — is far more approachable, radio-ready even. With prime garage punk like Zig Zag Wanderer and Abba Zaba, the twisted blues nightmares of Electricity and Plastic Factory and even shades of San Francisco (particularly The Airplane) in Where There's Woman, this record never tires for me. I mean, even Grown So Ugly — technically the boneyard track — plays like the birth of abstract blues and the blueprint for the entire oeuvre of The Mighty Groundhogs! Beefheart's one of those figures — up there with Can, James Brown and The Beatles — that's just impossible to critique, unparalleled, leaving behind an extensive, deeply unique body of work in their wake.


Incidentally, Ry Cooder left the band shortly after this record, due to a disastrous performance at the Mt. Tamalpais Festival. Apparently, as the band began to tear into Electricity, Van Vliet froze, straightened his tie, then abruptly walked off the 10ft stage and landed on manager Bob Krasnow (later claiming to have seen a girl in the audience turn into a fish, with bubbles coming from her mouth),2 effectively blowing any chance for the band to perform at the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival. Now that's style!

13. Iron Butterfly Heavy

ATCO 1968

One of the great bands to emerge from San Diego, Iron Butterfly upped the ante on hard rock with a gloomy organ-drenched sound that split the difference between Cream and Jefferson Airplane. Everyone knows their marathon In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which in edited-down form became a smash radio hit and propelled the record to the platinum status in the U.S. (the first record to do so, in fact). Perhaps I should have included that record instead, but I've always had a soft spot for the debut (particularly the closing instrumental Iron Butterfly Theme). Heavy indeed!

My earlier comments regarding surf rock apply here in full, with its doom-laden hard rock wailing to the heavens sounding like something from Can's Soundtracks, it's a sound almost completely devoid of ego. The stunning sleeve does seem to cement the band's image as the grandfathers of doom metal (shades of Sleep and Monster Magnet ahoy!). In the cold light of day, perhaps its not as hard-hitting as San Francisco's Blue Cheer, but a great blast of proto-metal nonetheless. I did want to include Blue Cheer as well, but only just now discovered that they were not in fact from L.A. (a misconception I've labored under for well over a decade) but were instead ragged outsiders terrorizing the Bay Area scene.


I'll always have a lot of love for much of the American hard rock and proto-metal — as forged by Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer, along with things like early Blue Öyster Cult, Pentagram and Grand Funk Railroad — seemingly terminal underdogs to the big guns in the British Isles like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (although Grand Funk were a hugely successful proposition in their own time). There's an inherent dusty, sun-baked quality to these band's high desert sound that's turned out to be remarkably prescient in light of later stoner metal bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Earth and The Melvins.

14. David Axelrod Song Of Innocence

Capitol 1968

Ah yes, David Axelrod's triumphant return. Inspired by proto-psychedelic visionary William Blake's collection of poems and illustrations Songs Of Innocence And Experience, this LP in widescreen features a crack studio band jamming out a kaleidoscopic soundtrack to an invisible film of the mind. This is one of those records that you'd swear someone traveled back in time to make, just to impress his buddies back home in the nineties: an entire orchestra balances atop hip hop-friendly breakbeats and Carol Kaye's well-deep basslines, while guitar hero Al Kasey pumps out acid-tinged guitar solos in the foreground. The whole thing executed with a jazz-informed turn on a dime precision, it's almost too good to be true.

Axelrod followed up with two similar records (the accompanying Songs Of Experience — yeah, U2 stole that idea too a few years back! — and Earth Rot) before delivering deep jazz funk slates like The Auction and Heavy Axe in the seventies. All of this prime material for roaming around the rolling hills, canyons and Spanish architecture of Balboa Park, its sweeping sonic vistas the perfect accompaniment for stops at the Museum Of Man, Botanical Gardens and the Timkin. Just ride the skyway over the San Diego Zoo as the bell tower tolls and you'll see what I mean.

Bonus Beat:

Cannonball Adderley Walk Tall: The David Axelrod Years

Stateside 1966-1976/2008

David Axelrod's main gig was as an a&r man, arranger and super producer, working with artists like Lou Rawls, David McCallum and Cannonball Adderley, with whom he had the most long-lasting relationship over the course of something like 18 albums. Records like Accent On Africa and Soul Zodiac were ambitious outings that melded soul jazz with cutting edge production techniques, more often than not with a heavily conceptual drive. I almost included the latter — with its timely collision of hard funk and flower power psychedelia — but couldn't resist the temptation to include this stellar compilation, which is a fascinating object in its own right.

This double-disc anthology provides an invaluable snapshot of the decade-long Axelrod/Adderley partnership, pulling first rate material like Taurus, Khutsana and Tensity together into one essential package. I've always thought that Tensity predicts the mood of something like Can's Halleluwah, albeit rendered with straight jazz stylings. I'm also reminded of Adderley's contemporaneous appearance in Clint Eastwood's great slacker-thriller film Play Misty For Me, when the gang go catch Cannonball's band performing live at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

That movie — with the windswept cliffs and rustic charm of Carmel (aka KaR-a-MeL) as its background — is another prime example of today's vibe de jour captured in film. Maybe I should put together a companion movie list or something... wrap it all up into a tidy trilogy?

15. Morton Subotnick The Wild Bull

Nonesuch 1968

Los Angeles native Morton Subotnick was the crucial purveyor of West Coast electronica, turning out records like Silver Apples Of The Moon (which you might remember was featured in the Deep Space 100... although I'll forgive you if you don't) in 1967. That the year of the Summer Of Love and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so well before such a thing was to be expected. The Wild Bull was his follow up, featuring another pair of sidelong inner-space excursions. What sets this record apart from preceding electronic music is its almost rhythmic propulsion, in which his sequenced machines unfurl these great chirping, clanking mechanical grooves beneath long, arcing synth drones. That's bleep-tastic!

It's worth noting that this came out on the Nonesuch imprint, a sub-label of Jac Holzman's Elektra Records, the spiritual home of folk in the fifties, and later The Doors, Love and Tim Buckley. Nonesuch was originally envisioned as an outlet for budget-line classical records oriented toward the youth market, but it gradually expanded into all sorts of strange arenas including electronic music, out psychedelia and even the Nonesuch Explorer Series, featuring music recorded around the world on records like Ram Narayan's Sarangi/The Voice Of A Hundred Colors, Los Chiriguanos Of Paraguay's Guaraní Songs & Dances, and David Lewiston's Tibetan Buddhism - Tantras Of Gyütö: Mahakala.

16. Dillard & Clark The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark

A&M 1968

Sublime incursion of shimmering country music from this dynamic duo of hard-partying folkies, a true meeting of the minds between Gene Clark (formerly of The Byrds) and Doug Dillard (formerly of, well, The Dillards). Another one that I very nearly included in The Canyon 25, but Sari reckoned that it crossed that invisible line into real-deal country. I suspect it hinges on Doug Dillard's bluegrass-informed mandolin picking, faithful as it is to the legacy of old-time stalwarts like Lester Flatt And Earl Scruggs, although the Eagles did later cover Train Leaves Here This Mornin' on their self-titled debut. In the context of today's rag tag crew of outsiders and iconoclasts, it fits in rather nicely.

This also standing in for the whole Bakersfield gang. I almost included Merle Haggard's I'm A Lonesome Fugitive but couldn't fit it into the schema. After all, Bakersfield is but a couple hours up the Interstate 5 from Laurel Canyon and yet worlds away. I quite like the early part of Barney Hoskyns' Hotel California, where he describes the rootsy scene surrounding the Troubadour (where Dillard & Clark held court).3 Doug Dillard started out in bluegrass group The Dillards, who I've always wanted to check out. In fact, I don't know half of what I should about this era's shadowy pre-history. Another one I want to hear is Chris Hillman's pre-Byrds bluegrass crew, The Hillmen. Maybe now is as good a time as any?

17. Spirit Clear

Ode 1969

Spirit's debut was the closest any record came to making both lists, but its trace country inflections marked it out for the canyon list alongside records like The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Nashville Skyline. Still, the band made a whole brace of records that further codified their unique sound, culminating in Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus, which is often usually the band's classic recording. However, their third album, Clear, is probably my favorite of the records to come in the wake of their debut. What's more, I remember hearing the record feted by none other than Kirk Degiorgio back in the day (this around the time of his canyon-friendly project The Beauty Room with frequent collaborator Jinadu)!

Spirit's sound is a jazz-inflected tonic that exists in that same heady slipstream as The Doors, Love and David Axelrod, all of which create these great nebulous sonic paintings that seem to reflect their Sunset Boulevard surroundings back at you through a dreamlike, kaleidoscopic lens. Do you remember those old Disney movies that merged reality with animation to surreal effect (movies like The Three Caballeros), when the artist's brush would paint a scene and then it would come to life as in the real world? Well, that's a lot like the effect these records tend to have.

18. Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Bizarre 1970

Ah yes, Frank Zappa. You didn't think I'd forget old Frank, did you? Zappa's an inescapable figure when discussing L.A. scene of the era. He actually lived in Laurel Canyon and was a mover and shaker on the L.A. scene, releasing records by Captain Beefheart, Tim Buckley, Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fischer on his twin imprints, Straight and Bizarre. Still, his own music had little to do with the canyon, in fact his flowing avant garde suites seem to exist in intentionally stark opposition to the mellow drift of the times.

I've never been a huge fan of the man's music, although he does give a great interview, and I do have a handful of his records. This one's pretty cool, offering up a knotty, West Coast vision of prog rock that's the maximalist cousin to Beefheart's Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Note the presence of future Little Feat ringleader Lowell George on guitar throughout. The Little House I Used To Live In is an extended twenty-minute suite that drifts through a piano sonata, fast-forward marching band, acid rock solo, jazz fusion stomp and harpsichord breakdown over the course of its long and winding trip.

19. Gabor Szabo High Contrast

Blue Thumb 1971

I was this close to trying squeeze this one into The Canyon 25, but it would have been pushing it, B.B. It really would have. At least that what Sari tells me, and she's usually right about these things. Still, these gently flowing bucolic jazz landscapes make a perfect counterpart to the groovier currents of the canyon. Recorded in L.A. with Bobby Womack, it is — like the great Gil e Jorge record — an excellent head-to-head guitar duel between two masters in a sympathetic setting. Like the Axelrod/Adderley link up, this is emblematic of the L.A. interchange happening between jazz, soul and rock at the time, a trend that against all odds slowly begins to be felt in the canyon itself.

The opening Breezin' was later taken into the charts by George Benson (who had a Weekend In L.A. of his own), but hearing the original for the first time is a real treat. A wistful daydream in musical form, it manages to strike the unlikely balance between the earthy and ethereal over a gently rolling soul jazz beat. The sultry Amazon follows, a shaken-not-stirred bit of sensual exotica, a soundtrack in search of a film in true Axelrod/trip hop style. Similarly, Azure Blue seems to conjure equally cinematic vibes, recalling the softest moments of soundtracks to films like Trouble Man, Superfly and The Mack about a year early.

In a particularly canyon-esque twist, the record even closes with I Remember When, a wistful country-western styled rumination that gradually builds into a subdued rave up of a sort, bringing the record's trans-continental journey all back home in an unexpectedly rootsy conclusion. Taken in its entirety, High Contrast is something like an instrumental counterpart to David Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name, and remains one of my favorite records to chill out to.

20. Beaver & Krause Gandharva

Warner Bros. 1971

Beaver & Krause were synth pioneers on the L.A. circuit, turning a whole lot of people in the rock world onto synths for the first time in the mid-sixties. George Harrison recorded his Electronic Sound LP on their kit, while Roger McGuinn famously bought a Moog after witnessing the duo's demo of the instrument's potential at the Monterey Pop Festival. Krause even played it on The Byrds' awesome Natural Harmony, which is easily one of my favorite songs ever. The duo debuted on record with The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music, a demonstration of the possibilities of the Moog synthesizer.

I always wanted to be blown away by their subsequent records but came away somewhat disappointed once I finally tracked them down. Not as savage as Silver Apples or as otherworldly as Fifty Foot Hose, nor as radical as Morton Subotnick or as fully realized as Tonto's Expanding Head Band, their records play more like a collection of minor experiments rather than any sort of sustained experience. Still, there's interest to be found in scattered moments like the sustained drone of Nine Moons In Alaska or Walkin's lonesome ambient gospel.

However, it's the on disc's second side — which was recorded at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco — where things really click. The sleeve of the record is emblazoned with the declaration A MUSICAL SOUNDTRACK FOR A NON-EXISTENT FILM, and melancholy tone poems like By Your Grace and Good Places certainly fit the bill. Their eerie reverb-drenched organ/saxophone duets are even somewhat redolent of later practitioners like Heldon and Lard Free at their most delicate, or even Bowie's Neuköln and Vangelis' Blade Runner Blues! Shades too of ECM. In passing, I've never understood why their Ragnarök album never made it to CD...

21. Shawn Phillips Second Contribution

A&M 1971

The Scott Walker of the canyon, Shawn Phillips employs his soaring pipes over a backing of funky beats and lush chamber orchestra. Blink and you'd swear it was one of David Axelrod's chamber phantasmagorias, but is none other than Elton John's main man Paul Buckmaster conducting the orchestral arrangements. That's rad. Songs like She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It's Getting Too Heavy To Laugh — in addition to beating Love out for today's longest song title by some distance — are quite powerful, their vast soundscapes gliding over furious rhythms in a striking tapestry of motion. I'm reminded of the gravity in Scott Walker's The Seventh Seal and (perhaps more abstractly) Carl Craig's Neurotic Behavior.

This is actually another one that I really wanted to include in The Canyon 25. Another one that nearly made it, but on reflection it was almost too much on the proper folk tip, staying true to the original spirit of the music Phillips often seems to intone like a herald rather than indulge in the more confessional nature of the canyon singer-songwriters. There's a strikingly ancient quality to his music as well that seems to key into the same eldritch medieval vibes that British folk groups like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span were exploring around the same time.

Indeed, Texan Phillips never seemed to totally fit in with the canyon crowd, splitting his time in the sixties between Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York's Greenwich Village. That in 1967 he finally up and moved to the coastal village of Positano in Campania, Italy — where he stayed through most of the seventies — seems to bear this out. Thankfully, he didn't stop recording and albums like Second Contribution and later Rumplestiltskin's Resolve were the triumphant result.

22. Captain Beyond Captain Beyond

Capricorn 1972

Captain Beyond were a supergroup back when that sort of thing was still a hot proposition, featuring lead singer Rod Evans (of Deep Purple), drummer Bobby Caldwell (who played with Johnny Winter's band), guitarist Larry Reinhardt (aka Rhino) and bassist Lee Dorman (both of Iron Butterfly). The sound they strike up epitomizes everything I said earlier regarding the dusty, high desert sound of American proto-metal, in this case delivered with rugged hard rock shapes and turn-on-a-dime rhythmic precision. The drum sound alone is worth the price of admission on this incredibly breakbeat-laden LP, which features some of my favorite rock-hard beats of all time. Really, the drums sound just exquisite!

I especially dig Rod Evans' vocal attack, chest-beating and macho inna working class Mark Farner stylee, yet never descending into cock rock leering, he seems to have his eyes set firmly on the stars (even delivering spoken word interludes from time to time). Indeed, as hinted by the cosmic sleeve art there's a satisfying amount of space rock feathered into the proceedings, as heard in As The Moon Speaks To The Waves Of The Sea (two steps from Hawkwind) and the interstellar bolero of Myopic Void. As The Moon Speaks Return even recalls the orbital heartache of Space Oddity, and for a moment you'd swear it was Bowie himself singing lead!

23. Tim Buckley Greetings From L.A.

Warner Bros. 1972

Dig that sleeve! Shades of Soylent Green, Omega Man and Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. I bought this record for my brother when he moved to Los Angeles! Tim Buckley, like Don Van Vliet, was a visionary iconoclast that managed to transcend his L.A. surroundings and blaze a singular path through the musical landscape as the sixties bled into the 1970s. Shifting and morphing through myriad phases, first by bending the rules of their chosen form (folk in Buckley's case, blues in Beefheart's) and then breaking them completely with increasingly abstract records like Starsailor and Lorca (or the Captain's Trout Mask Replica and Decals) before swerving back into the mainstream with increasingly r&b-soaked sides, their careers almost seemed in step to an eerie degree.

Greetings From L.A. picks up where the awesome proto-kosmische monster jam Gypsy Woman left off, with tunes like Get On Top, Devil Eyes and Sweet Surrender snaking on exceptionally carnal, loose-limbed rhythms. Notably, this record came up when John Lydon — then at height of his Sex Pistols notoriety — guested on Tommy Vance's Capitol Radio show, which found the punk playing Buckley's Sweet Surrender alongside selections from Can, Peter Hammill, Nico, Bobby Byrd, Captain Beefheart and Augustus Pablo, not to mention fellow canyon dweller Neil Young's Revolution Blues. Goodbye Johnny Rotten, hello Public Image! And the rest, as they say, is history.

24. Marvin Gaye Trouble Man: Motion Picture Soundtrack

Asylum 1972

In 1972, Berry Gordy moved the focal point of his Motown empire from Detroit to L.A., where he hoped to break into the film industry (ultimately doing so with films like Lady Sings The Blues, Mahogany and The Wiz). Soul purists often mark this as the beginning of the end, but here at The Parallax Room we know things were just getting started. Marvin Gaye's string of lush, dreamy records like Let's Get It On, I Want You and Here, My Dear begin with this record, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name and follow up to his epochal stone tablet What's Going On.

Tellingly, the film's action takes place not in the towering vertical metropolises of Detroit, Chicago or New York, but the horizontal urban sprawl of Los Angeles. And as I'm sure Dr. Robert Neville would tell you, it makes all the difference. Gaye's utterly absorbing soundtrack offers the perfect sonic counterpoint to that film's imagery, offering lush, sprawling instrumentals drenched in synthesizers and dreamy production techniques. Sun-glazed and moonlit in all the right places, it's all of a piece.

Indeed, the record gets so atmospherically heavy that I tend to place it in the same ballpark as Brian Eno's Another Green World and Les McCann's Layers, capturing the feel of the city with the same visionary sonic touch that those records essayed the pastoral and bucolic. Appropriately enough, along with Buckley's Greetings From L.A. it's also the axis on which this list hinges, setting us up for the home stretch and the next great geological phase of the 35...

25. Ned Doheny Ned Doheny

Asylum 1973

Ned Doheny seems to constantly hover in the background of Hotel California, rubbing shoulders with figures like Jackson Browne and Frazier Mohawk. He even shows up at the ill-fated Paxton Ranch endeavor, giving the clearest recollection of what was Elektra's attempt to mirror the communal spirit of The Band's fabled sessions at Big Pink. Like Gram Parsons, he was a rich kid, albeit one that seemed to treat his peers a good deal better! His own recordings wallowed somewhat in obscurity until the trusty Numero Group unexpectedly issued a compilation of his work augmented by rarities and demo versions.

If there's a figure that lies at crux upon which yacht begins to be felt in the canyon scene than it must be old Ned. His sound is a luxurious blend of gentle acoustic strumming, elegant Fender Rhodes jazz licks and nimble, funky rhythms. It's the casual sound of muted prosperity, of cruising the shoreline in a sports car, decked out in white suit and loafers, city lights hanging in the distance. A song like I Know Sorrow ought to be super well known, after all it's just like the sort of thing Christopher Cross would crash the charts with at the end of the decade. Fittingly, it's at this point that we say goodbye to the rustic climes of the canyon and venture confidently into yacht land. Goodbye canyon. Goodnight Ned!

26. Paul Horn Visions

Epic 1974

This is another one that Kirk Degiorgio indirectly hipped me to, which I was lucky enough to find on wax up at Lou's Records back in the day. Now it even has a CD release! In the sixties, Paul Horn was responsible for the solo flute album Inside, which was actually recorded inside the Taj Mahal. Notionally, it was a jazz album, but also something of an ambient record before the fact (shades of new age waiting in the wings). Visions is more on the straight jazz funk tip, albeit inflected by the blunted stylings of Stevie Wonder's contemporary records, it has definite strains of progressive soul. In fact, the record features Horn covering Too High, Visions and Living For The City... that's a third of Innervisions right there!

More pointedly, there are loads of canyon covers in here: Crosby, Stills & Nash's Guinnevere and Long Time Gone, David Crosby's Song With No Words and Joni Mitchell's Blue and Chelsea Morning. Shearing into florid strains of exotica, it all blends brilliantly in a record that pulls together disparate strands from canyon, jazz and soul in a quintessential L.A. sun-baked geological fusion. A Jazz Mosaic record through and through, this would appeal to fans of Les McCann's Layers and Gabor Szabo's High Contrast. Also, hip hop heads take note of High Tide, which served as the basis for the track Underwater on Ghostface Killah's Fishscale!

27. Joni Mitchell The Hissing Of Summer Lawns

Asylum 1975

Everyone's heard Joni Mitchell's confessional stone tablet Blue, without question one of the key canyon records, but did you know she swayed into such heavily jazz-inflected soundscapes soon afterward? Starting with Court And Spark and continuing with The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Hejira and Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, she delved ever deeper into the form, even collaborating with Charles Mingus on her tenth album Mingus (which turned out to be his final musical project) and touring with Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker and Jaco Pastorious (captured on the live double-album Shadows And Light).

This record, which I once heard tell was Prince's favorite album of all time, is splendid. Its a deeply engrossing sound that she achieves here, her soaring voice and acoustic strums melting into pools of Rhodes and rippling piano over exquisite bass-driven rhythms, it's casually brilliant like an elegant sashay across the room. Its sound is also oddly prescient, borne out by the fact that electronic jazz figureheads like Kirk Degiorgio and Ian O'Brien were still featuring songs from these records in the mix 25 years later alongside the likes of The Black Dog, 4 Hero and Anthony Shakir and it still managed to fit right in.4

The album is by turns moving (Edith And The Kingpin and The Boho Dance), casually funky (In France They Kiss On Main Street and the title track) and, in The Jungle Line, searingly innovative. Featuring Joni singing freewheeling lines over a snatch of Burundi drumming from the Ocora field recording Musique Du Burundi and a burning synthesizer refrain, if you heard it now you'd swear it came out yesterday. Notably, that same Ocora record also turns up in Peter Weir's film The Plumber and a few years later ostensibly even inspired Adam And The Ants' monumental Kings Of The Wild Frontier!

28. Warren Zevon Warren Zevon

Asylum 1976

Good old Warren he shall be Zevon, a cool dude if there ever was one. I'm not ashamed to admit that I first bought his Excitable Boy LP for the song Werewolves Of London. That's one of the great jukebox tunes ever, up there with Golden Years and Evil Ways. What really blew me away though was the proto-new wave avant funk workout Nighttime In The Switching Yard — a not-too-distant cousin to Ian Dury & The Blockheads' contemporary Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick — which prefigured all of The Clash's Sandinista!-era punk-disco moves by a solid couple years. I recently discovered there's even an appropriately moody music video5 to go along with it!

However, the bulk of Excitable Boy consisted of gutsy songs delivered from the heart, songs like Veracruz and Accidentally Like A Martyr. All of which naturally sent me digging back in time two years for his debut. This is a great record, indeed it made both Sari's and Leah's lists. I sort of regret not including it, although I had Zevon down as an outsider, too ruff, rugged and raw for the canyon, he's almost an L.A. counterpart to the heartland rock of figures like Detroit's Bob Seger or Jersey's Bruce Springsteen. He has them all beat, of course, with indelible songs like Desperados Under The Eaves, Join Me In L.A. and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.

29. Steely Dan Gaucho

MCA 1980

I always liked the bit in the Aja film where Walter Becker talks about the band's extended stay in Los Angeles, during which he and partner in crime Donald Fagen pined for their old stomping grounds in New York and wrote exclusively about New York characters... that is, until they finally got back to New York, where they immediately started writing songs about California!6 That's Gaucho, the duo's final record until they reformed twenty years later. Steely Dan are hard for me to narrow down to one favorite record, in the past I've thought Countdown To Ecstasy, Katy Lied and this record were the one. It's a tough call.

This has the benefit of their most streamlined, yacht-ready production. Hey Nineteen is just perfect, a real mainstay of 98.1 The Breeze back in the day, flawlessly capturing that feeling of warm, breezy summer nights in Southern California, populated with images of Piña coladas, fine Columbian and fetching young ladies who've never heard of Aretha Franklin. Glamour Profession is a definitive slice of slinky yacht disco (later reworked in the nineties on dubplate by — if memory serves — Chicago house stalwart Gemini), while you couldn't ask for a better signing off moment than Third World Man, a perfect send off for the duo, like The Doors riding into the sunset with Riders On The Storm.

30. Rickie Lee Jones Pirates

Warner Bros. 1981

The beat-damaged Rickie Lee Jones was widely hailed as the next Joni Mitchell, jumping in directly at the jazz end where Joni left off. Her 1979 debut was a genuine sensation, with the hit single Chuck E.'s In Love everywhere that year and Jones taking home the Grammy for best new artist. Pirates is her difficult second album, an avant yacht masterpiece made in the wake of her break up with former flame Tom Waits (the bars those two must have closed down!). It's a true embarrassment of riches, featuring a long list of jazz luminaries — figures like David Sanborn, Steve Gadd and Chuck Rainey, not to mention Steely Dan's Donald Fagen on synthesizer — in evidence throughout.

The record is defined by the arcing balladry of We Belong Together and Living It Up, along with a fragility best exemplified in Skeletons and The Returns (not to mention in Jones' often delicate voice), although she does find time to run the jazz down once again in Woody And Dutch On The Slow Train To Peking. Still, the record's undeniable centerpiece is Traces Of The Western Slopes, eight minutes of eerie, sweeping grandeur that seem to swoop and dive through the entire range of human emotion. It's genuinely heartening to reflect that only a decade later — and there's no way she could have expected this — a sample of Jones' spoken word recollection of what the skies looked like when she was young would kick off The Orb's epochal ambient house touchstone Little Fluffy Clouds!

31. Leon Ware Leon Ware

Elektra 1982

Smooth soul slate featuring lush backing from the cream of L.A. session players, including cameos from Rita Coolidge, Bonnie Bramlett and Bill Champlin.7 Ware was a crucial force in establishing the sumptuous MoWest sound, not least through his substantial songwriting contributions to Marvin Gaye's I Want You in 1976 (when Gaye was suffering from a severe case of writer's block). Indeed, his own Musical Massage LP (released later that year), played like a continuation of I Want You's themes and obsessions, speaking to the deep well of material he'd dreamt up by that point.

This 1982 outing is indubitably his yacht record, featuring slick, smoldering post-disco workouts like Lost In Love With You and Can I Touch You There alongside trademark slow jams like Shelter and Deeper Than Love. The inescapable highlight, however, is Why I Came To California, an unassuming bit of burning mid-tempo gossamer disco that seems to glide by on a cushion of ocean mist. A flawless portrait of Southern California at its most mellow and carefree, it never fails to blow away everyone I play it for.

32. X Under The Big Black Sun

Slash 1982

X were L.A. punks who in a strange twist of fate wound up having their first trio of records produced by Doors keyboard maestro Ray Manzarek. Sure enough, the shadowy vibes of his old band's work are increasingly felt over the course of the trilogy, starting with Los Angeles — a more or less straight punk blast — and culminating in the grand finale of dark Americana that is Under The Big Black Sun. In this respect, X were similar to other rootsy punks like The Gun Club in digging beyond punk's original calls for tabula rasa into the seedy prehistoric world of rockabilly, country and down and dirty blues.

Like The Cramps, this all keys directly back into surf rock and forward to Tarantino, in a sense signaling the spiritual birth of the nineties — all about excavation transmuted into innovation — alongside the works of Cybotron, Larry Heard and Grandmaster Flash. There's loads of L.A. punk that I could have included here as well — things like the Germs, Black Flag and even the Repo Man soundtrack — but this one has by far the strongest links with today's discussion, stretching all the way back to Dick Dale, Morrison Hotel and The Electric Prunes. Plus, it's a killer record!

33. Tom Waits Rain Dogs

Island 1983

Tom Waits was something like the gutter poet laureate of the canyon scene, busking his songs and prefiguring the sort of cloaked, rumpled anti-glamour that the great Mickey Rourke turned into an art form in the 1980s. He put out a sequence of great booze-soaked, beatnik crooner records over the course of the seventies — albums like Closing Time, Small Change and The Heart Of Saturday Night — and the Eagles even covered Ol' 55 (taken from his debut) on their On The Border LP.

The eighties saw Waits experience a drastic reinvention on par with David Bowie's in Berlin or Sly Stone's in the early 1970s, ditching his dive bar piano man aura for the seedy back alleys of the underworld, first with Heartattack And Vine and then perfecting it with his underground trilogy of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank's Wild Years. They're all about equally great, but Swordfishtrombones was the great unveiling and therefore the logical choice for this chronology. Waits' clanking, mechanical sound hits you headfirst with the opening, scene-setting Underground and continues in 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six, both of which feature Waits sounding like a wolf-man barking at the moon.

Songs like Shore Leave are shot through with a strange sort of bleached-bone hoodoo, its eerie marimbas and dive-bombing horns haunting the shadows around Waits' spoken asides and hoarse vagabond croon. Interesting to note that it was one of the few sounds critics could reach back to compare Tricky's music to when he emerged with records like Maxinquaye, Nearly God and Angels With Dirty Faces! Still, Waits manages to revisit the spirit of his trademark weepy ballads of old with Johnsburg, Illinois and the Salvation Army blues of In The Neighborhood, tugging at your heartstrings even as he dragged you back into his nightmare.


Tangentially, I've always thought you could make a strong case for Waits' underground trilogy as the L.A. analog to Bowie's legendary Berlin trilogy and Peter Gabriel's first three records. All three instances featuring drastic reinventions of idiosyncratic artists in the wake of prior success (Bowie's Ziggy Stardust years and Gabriel's tenure with Genesis), featuring experimentation with sound itself to a greater degree than anything they'd previously been associated. Also bringing to mind Scott Weiland's superb solo debut 12 Bar Blues, the restless experiments of which I've often thought are often cut from a similar cloth.

34. Meat Puppets Meat Puppets II

SST 1984

Hitting hard on SST and standing in for the rest of the alternative brigades8 are the Meat Puppets with their second album and its genre-warping collision of hardcore punk and country-western. Endlessly feted by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York even featured two songs from this record Plateau and Lake Of Fire, cementing its place as an alternative touchstone even in the wider world beyond indie rock. I hear it as an unspoken renegotiation of the twin debuts of Crazy Horse and Little Feat, its ragged shapes executed with near-telepathic interplay.

The Puppets originally hailed from Phoenix, Arizona, ultimately signing with Black Flag ringleader Greg Ginn's independent bastion SST at the behest of Joe Carducci. Their freewheeling, rambling sound reflects the sprawling, wide-open spaces of their high desert origins, with We're Here, Aurora Borealis and I'm A Mindless Idiot swerving almost unexpectedly into a a shimmering cascade of guitar arpeggios and approaching my oft-stated daydream of a Can-like, kosmische sound borne from the deserts of the southwest.

35. Ry Cooder Paris, Texas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Warner Bros. 1985

Ry Cooder's crystalline ambient blues. I always hoped to find a similar atmosphere in his seventies records, but from what I've heard so far they tend to be more on the traditionalist tip (not that there's anything wrong with that!). This from the soundtrack to the Wim Wenders film, starring Harry Dean Stanton and the relatively attractive Nastassja Kinski,9 its sprawling atmospheric shapes the perfect counterpart to the film's rambling desert travelogue. I just recently watched another movie from this era that Ry Cooder also scored, Johnny Handsome (starring Mickey Rourke and Morgan Freeman), and it's similarly evocative stuff, though nowhere near as affecting.

The opening theme bears a strong sense of portent, with Cooder bending notes out toward the horizon, lost in a sea of reverb reflecting the lonesome sprawl of the desert. The lone track to feature singing is the Mexican folk song Canción Mixteca, sung by none other than Harry Dean Stanton. His memorable extended monologue from the film is also included in I Knew These People, which features one of my favorite offhand bits of dialogue from any movie: when Nastassja Kinski's Jane says matter-of-factly Yep, I know that feelin'.10 The remainder of the record is purely instrumental, Ry Cooder's lonely six-string elegies tuned to the winds of the desert itself.11


This soundtrack plays like a fitting elegy to the canyon sound and the roots it harked back to, right there in the digital glare of 1985, arguably the year that the bottom fell out of new wave and back-to-the-roots music started to come back into favor in a big way. I'm talking about the rise of alternative in the popular consciousness, figures like R.E.M. and The Smiths (prefiguring Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden's eventual crashing of the mainstream party), not to mention U2's sudden fascination with Americana on The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum.12 Minneapolis' Replacements could even be read as a ramshackle, underground analog to heartland rockers like Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen.

It's at this point that the next wave of artists begin to rise, figures who actually made the original canyon lists the first time around like The Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star and Tracy Chapman. This music, increasingly felt as a presence as you move into the nineties, sits quite comfortably in the mix beside things like Homecoming, Nashville Skyline and If Only I Could Remember My Name. Alternative rockers like Dinosaur Jr. and The Jesus & Mary Chain even mellowed out into canyoneqsque territory as the decade progresses, paving the way for groups like Wilco and Built To Spill alongside a whole new generation of singer-songwriters.

Death In Vegas Scorpio Rising Concrete

Even certain quarters of electronic music took a left turn into the canyon, with the folktronica of Beth Orton, Dot Allison and Badly Drawn Boy conjuring up Memories Of Green in the wake of rave's long hangover, squaring the circle between Carole King and Morton Subotnick. Big beat block-rockers like The Chemical Brothers keyed into similar terrain with songs like Where Do I Begin and Asleep From Day (featuring vocals from Beth Orton and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, respectively), while Death In Vegas even transformed into a canyonesque proposition with Scorpio Rising (there's Hope Sandoval again, Dot Allison too).13 And with present day figures like Joanna Newsom, Dawes and Michael Nau all mining seams stretching outward from the canyon to varying degrees, its safe to say the Laurel Canyon vibes might well be here to stay.

It's a testament to the way these sounds live on in the rocks, rivers and trees, spreading out far and wide across the mountains, forests, beaches and desert plains of California and beyond, haunting the imagination long since the Geist has seemingly passed them by. And so if you step out your front door and into the bosom of the night, you can still feel their whispers around you on the cool of the evening breeze...

Footnotes

1.

Don't get me wrong, I dig The Beatles. Honest!!

2.

French, John. Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic. London: Proper, 2013. 253. Print.

3.

Hoskyns, Barney. Hotel California. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2006. 75-76. Print.

4.

Along with the old Op-ART Hall Of Fame list, I used to study those sets. STUDY them! It was my introduction to the notion that the right records from the past could sound more futuristic than swathes of brand new music on the radio. Even when I was young though, something's newness never meant much to me vs. its freshness, if you get my meaning. Some music is already stale the day it first drops!

5.

Warren Zevon. Nighttime In The Switching Yard. Excitable Boy. Rock Arena. Columbia, 1989. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqLZZ1jVTR8

6.

Classic Albums: Steely Dan - Aja. Eagle Vision, 1989. Documentary.

7.

Not to mention a cadre of players representing the South American contingent, including Brazil's Flora Purim and Airto Moreiro, along with Argentine sax man Gato Barbieri.

8.

I could have included the Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime, a quintessential L.A. record if there ever was one, but their diamond-edged post punk attack seemed to stray a bit too far from the brief... after all Van Halen and War didn't make it in here either!!

9.

Nah, I mean she's just stunningly, preposterously and unfairly gorgeous in this film.

10.

Which later gets sampled at the end of Primal Scream's I'm Coming Down, from their born again post-rave masterpiece Screamadelica.

11.

Cooder, Ry. From Buena Vista To Gospel And Blues. BBC Radio 4: Best Of Today, 10 May 2018. Interview.

12.

A move that — interestingly enough — was inspired in part by the soundtrack to Paris, Texas.

13.

Scorpio Rising even features an ace cover of Gene Clark's So You Say You Lost Your Baby, featuring vocals from Paul Weller.

Canyon Life

Essra Mohawk, Captain Beefheart, Hope Sandoval and The Doors haunt the moody climes of Borrego Palm Canyon
Ghosts of the canyon

I'm forever threatening to start to leaven these monster features with more bite-sized posts and off the cuff dispatches, only to let two weeks go by before checking in with y'all. One of these days I'll have to break down and start doing just that... so consider this the first of many dispatches from the coalface. Hopefully I can keep it up!

As you might expect, I've been knee deep in loads of great canyon and canyon-adjacent music ever since diving into The Canyon 25 project, only some of which has made its way up here. Last time out, I hinted that I've got another feature in the works which will serve as an analogue to the canyon proper 25: the deep geology list, tracking the myriad routes running beneath the canyon and stretching out in all directions.

Museum Of Man and the bell tower
Holy Thursday at the Museum Of Man

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that one can feel this music while going about town, as if the charge were still emanating from the city's canyons and palms. Just as I'm haunted by jazz mosaic sonic imagery when I traverse Balboa Park (with the Museum Of Man bell tower keying into real David Axelrod/Song Of Innocence vibes when it rings in the late afternoon), the faint spectre of Spirit, Love and Morrison Hotel serve as a skeleton key for unlocking the desert beneath the asphalt girding this town.

I've been rocking out to Love's Four Sail, blues-era Doors (see also L.A. Woman) and especially Captain Beefheart. Yea, that's right, the good old captain. The big revelation this time 'round has been Mirror Man, a record that I'd never spent a lot of time with but very recently came out and hit me with Ark Of The Covenant, pile driver force.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Mirror Man Buddah

This is a great record, recorded hot on the heels of The Magic Band's awesome Safe As Milk in 1967 (but held back from release until 1971), it offers a third eye vision of this band in light of that record's warped garage punk and the abstract blues of 1969's Trout Mask Replica. Consisting of four marathon blues workouts (the shortest is eight minutes long, the longest nineteen!), Mirror Man is striking in its single-minded focus on running these stomping grooves down like a well-oiled machine.

Strangely enough, the comparison that immediately springs to mind is Malcolm Mooney-era can, indeed the same pounding minimalism found in a song like Monster Movie's Yoo Doo Right is shared by tunes like Kandy Korn and 25th Century Quaker. Similarly, Tarotplane and the title track play like extended ruminations on Safe As Milk's most righteous grooves (think Electricity and Abba Zaba), making it the perfect companion piece to that classic record.

It all makes the perfect soundtrack to this early-November Indian Summer we've had going for a bit now, a mini-heatwave to tide us over as we gear up for the long winter...

Love – Four Sail

Love Four Sail

Elektra 1969

With this, Love's fourth album, we move deeper still into the canyon. In fact, this was actually the very last record to be cut from the original Canyon 25, not on the basis of quality but because it exists just that little bit too far inside acid rock territory to fit in with the down-home 25. Still, even if it does exist just outside the boundaries of what constitutes canyon proper, it truly is a phenomenal, unique record, more than worthy of our attention in the context of this excursion.

It also works as a perfect transition into the final chapter of the Two Weeks In The Canyon saga: what will be a sort of mirror image 25, a selection of records from the other side of the canyon. That feature should be appearing here sometime later next week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let us dig into this particular Love story and see where it takes us...

Love Love Elektra

Led by the late great psychedelic visionary Arthur Lee, Love started out as one of the original folk rock combos (alongside fellow Angelenos The Byrds), turning in their self-titled debut in early 1966 (right in between The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! and Fifth Dimension). It was a solid, garage-tinged record that nevertheless found the band still heavily indebted to their influences, most obviously The Byrds first and foremost but also British invasion bands like The Animals and The Who.

The band's chief songwriters — Lee and Bryan MacLean — were still finding their respective voices at this point, relying more heavily on cover versions — songs like Hey Joe (by folk singer Billy Roberts) and Bacharach/David's My Little Red Book — than they ever would again. It wasn't until the following year, on their sophomore album Da Capo, that the band began to carve out territory that was truly their own... and it turned out to be a world that no one else in rock had yet dreamed of.

Love Da Capo Elektra

Da Capo features another shot of the band in front of that same stone structure found on their debut (taken in the gardens of their communal home, which they dubbed The Castle), but its sound was a quantum leap from everything they'd done up to that point. Perhaps most notorious for the psychotic slab of garage punk called Seven & Seven Is, an excursion into warped surf rock (spiked with the distinct flavor of Ravel's Bolero) that would later appear on the epochal Nuggets box set. To this day, it remains one of the most extreme examples of sixties punk.

However, the real shape of things to come was to be found in the intricate arrangements of songs like Orange Skies (written by MacLean, it's the one song not credited Lee) and ¡Que Vida!. Replete with swirling organs, flutes and the distinct colorings of baroque pop, they found the band using the studio to their full advantage in creating songs with unique colorings firmly outside the bounds of straight ahead rock 'n roll. This was an approach that would of course come to full fruition later that year...

Love Forever Changes Elektra

Released a mere nine months after Da Capo, Forever Changes — often considered one of the finest albums of all time — is the record that really put them in the history books. At this point, the band developed a mastery of incorporating orchestral elements like strings and brass into the very fabric of their (by this point) extremely distinctive folk rock style. Tunes like A House Is Not A Motel sound like the blueprint for all the best indie rock about twenty years before the fact, haunted by the definitive guitar sound that Johnny Echols conjures up on his six-string.

Nimble, breakbeat-propelled excursions like Alone Again Or and Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale are graceful in a way seldom heard in rock up to that point, cementing the record's status as a deservedly acknowledged classic. Without giving too much away, its boundless reach into regions beyond the typical folk rock and country forms will inform the next and final chapter of the whole canyon saga, where we dive into the more jazz and orchestral-inflected waters on the other side of L.A. — with routes stretching into jazz, psychedelia, hard rock and beyond — of which Forever Changes arguably stands at the apex.


And yet, after the record's release, the band ultimately parted ways. The reasons were many, including substance abuse problems within the band and friction between Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean (who was frustrated at not having more of his songs on the record). Forever Changes was also much more successful a record in the U.K. than it ever was in the States, where it was destined to gradually attain its status as a lost classic over time. Ultimately, MacLean left the group and Lee, discontent, dismissed the rest of the band. After recording a masterpiece, Lee found himself in the wilderness and in need of a new crew to run with.

Photo of the band from the expanded CD reissue of Four Sail
Love MK. II

From left to right: Frank Fayad, George Suranovich, Jay Donnellan and Arthur Lee

It was at this point that he formed a completely new band, rounded out by Jay Donnellan on guitar, Frank Fayad on bass and George Suranovich on drums. Love MK. II got down to business in a converted L.A. warehouse, cutting three LPs worth of sun-baked high desert rock 'n roll in a series of marathon sessions. Four Sail was the first album culled from those sessions, and the band's final with Elektra (the remainder of the recordings would appear on the double-LP Out Here, released by Blue Thumb).

Focused version of the cover photo
Inset version of cover photo (taken from rear sleeve)

Starting from the cover photo and its iconic western imagery, which perfectly matches the acid country sounds found within, this record finds the newly minted Love operating as a looser and more free-wheeling outfit than Lee's previous band. His new circle of musicians also tended towards a harder, more blues-based approach, and he wisely met them halfway. Lee described writing songs around the new band, giving individual members space to express themselves musically, accounting for the change in direction toward a harder, more down-to-earth sound.

The band's liquid interplay defines the record, their turn-on-a-dime rhythmic theatrics kicking up a ramshackle glory with all the makings of a great cowboy movie. This is what you always wanted The Grateful Dead to sound like. Still, there's a lot of ground covered on Four Sail. Despite the swaggering bluster to this record's more turbulent theatrics, there's nevertheless some quietly intimate corners it manages to spend a considerable amount of time in. In short, it's a tour de force, and one certainly that deserves a second look here at Parallax Moves...

Love August Elektra

The record opens with the sort of trademark cyclical folk rock strum that one has grown to expect from Love, sounding like a dead ringer for what would one day be called alternative. Then, Jay Donnellan's acid-tinged guitar line rises on the crest of a machine gun rhythm from George Suranovich, heralding the record's masterful melding of musical forms with the blistering August. This is a place where country and folk, hard rock, sunshine pop and jazz all mix with wild abandon.

After slipping into a gently tumbling verse from Arthur Lee — his bittersweet paean to the month of August itself — the acid motif returns, serving as a wordless chorus as the guitars spar with scattershot snare riddims. At the tune's midpoint, it all drops back into that cyclical guitar pattern once again before collapsing into a violent eruption of Donnellan's acid guitar pyrotechnics through the tectonic plates of the track's rolling folk and country stylings, unveiling the new band's more hard-edged attack in full force. Indeed, Donnellan's guitars define this record.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid make their final assault
Guns Blazing

It's all gloriously cinematic, you can practically see the dust being kicked up by the horses as the gang rides into town. This is every kid's cowboy movie fantasies writ large in sonic form. There's a controlled fury to the band's blasts of noise that keys into the sort of abstract blues that bands like the Groundhogs had just begun to explore, the band trading their liquid mercury lines with near-telepathic interplay. When everything goes into overdrive at the tune's halfway mark — the band jamming furiously in a cascading pile-up of throbbing bass, crashing drums and Donnellan's acid-drenched guitars — it's like you're riding directly into a sandstorm. And then, without warning, it all ends on the same fanfare it rode in on.

The Lovin' Spoonful Do You Believe In Magic Kama Sutra

Without missing a beat, the band drops into Your Friend And Mine - Neil's Song a jaunty quasi-music hall number that recalls The Lovin' Spoonful's winning sunshine folk ditties like Best Friend and Lovin' You (see also Hot Tuna and The Kinks circa Muswell Hillbillies). Even Arthur Lee's lyrics sound like they're straight out of John Sebastian's playbook:

Only you can bring back the good old days.

Let's hear it again for a long lost friend.

...

Here's a little something to relax your mind

Now that we are two of a kind, my friend.

Donnellan's guitar carves out a little good time, country-inflected guitar line that runs through the entirety of the tune, occasionally creeping into the foreground for a playful kind of solo. The whole thing so brilliantly casual, tossed off even, making it a lovely playpen for Lee's vocals to wander after the blistering intensity of August.

It's not until the third song that we get something like the prototypical Love song. Sounding like a dead ringer for the original band's peak-era sound, I'm With You would have fit right in there on Forever Changes. It directly mirrors the quickstep approach of such prime material as Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale and A House Is Not A Motel, albeit with the overcast, baroque stylings of Forever Changes replaced with a sun-glazed blurriness.

Truly, it seems like no one else can pull this sort of thing off. Nimbly perched breakbeats carry the song's soaring trajectory as guitars seem to twist and turn on eight different planes, cymbals splashing up against the chorus like little waves as Lee recreates the horn section of Forever Changes himself with a wordless ba ba ba, ba ba-ba ba vocal. Simply sublime. It's worth noting one thing that isn't mentioned enough when discussing this band: Lee's vocals, which effortlessly veer between sweet falsetto, rich croon and mountain man roar (often in the space of a single song), and are some of the finest to be found in rock music.

Simon & Garfunkel Sounds Of Silence Columbia

Good Times creeps in out of nowhere on a jazzy shuffle, not unlike the one found in Simon And Garfunkel's Somewhere They Can't Find Me, albeit swinging a good deal harder. The guitars seem submerged in the mix before getting overdriven through a wah-wah pedal in the chorus, warping the entire groove and driving up the tension before rising into another one of Donnellan's linchpin solos. Nevertheless, Lee's vocals, switching as they do between the gentle grace of the smooth, cool cat verses and ragged rock 'n roll chorus (and back again), are the true star of the show.

The crew rides into the sunset at the end of Indiana Jones' Last Crusade
Singing Cowboy rides into the sunset

Opening with a ringing guitar fanfare underpinned by more of those trademark Suranovich rolling drums, Singing Cowboy seems to kick up a dust cloud with its galloping beat riding roughshod over Four Sail's halfway mark. This tune in particular really cements the record's unique feel, along with my idea of it as that rare thing: an acid country record, utterly distinctive and worthy of praise in its own right (and not just a footnote to Forever Changes). Lee's lyrics seem to bear this out:

Singing cowboy

It's do or die, boy.

Say goodbye, don't you cry

Look out kid, I'm coming after you.

Iconic words that brilliantly match the sonic imagery conjured up by the band, bringing to mind some unprecedented fusion of Ennio Morricone and Gordon Lightfoot. The bridge is classic Love, featuring a descending three-stab guitar riff that on second return explodes into another burnt bronze Donnellan solo. This leads naturally into the track's protracted denouement (which incidentally takes up the second half of its five minute running length) throughout which Lee keeps chanting coming through to you and gotta keep on rolling on as Frank Fayad's massive churning bassline takes center stage.

Four Sail rear sleeve

Side two opens with Dream, a listless take on the more whimsical corners of Love's sound. Lee confesses I just woke up from a dream and the band perfectly captures that bleary-eyed dislocation of waking up in a place you don't remember being. One's reminded of the moping, exhausted feeling of The Beatles' I'm So Tired, rendered here with the benefit of a killer proto-hip hop be bop drum break. Donnellan drops another one of his secret weapon guitar solos, this one a likkle bit contemplative and searching (and seemingly copied in part by Oasis on Champagne Supernova!). The band seems to gather its last bit of energy to go into cowboy fanfare mode again for the dismount, before collapsing completely.

A besuited Robert Montgomery in the movie Faithless
Robert Montgomery, the pre-code star of the screen

Surely spelling doom on the horizon, Robert Montgomery — the other big rocker here — opens with a razor blade guitar riff before Donnellan weaves his wrought iron lines across a twisted foundation of tortured bass and cymbal-splashing drums. This song isn't actually about the actor, but an autobiographical account of Lee returning to his old neighborhood to find that all the people that used to laugh at his proto-hippie style had by then jumped on the bandwagon. Sounding like he's clawing his way out from another bad dream, Lee unfurls a tale of lonely dislocation:

Robert Montgomery lived on the good side of town.

He went down to the people that he used to know, but they had changed

And though they looked different they still were the same...

It's like one of Ray Davies character studies rendered with shades of the apocalypse. Every note played, every drum crash, every stinging guitar line, seems to close in around Lee's soaring falsetto, matching his every move in a staggering dance of doom. Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, the track becomes a launching pad for some spiraling guitar work from Donnellan, but dark horse Frank Fayad rides in with some killer licks of his own, scrawled out in molten script at the rumbling low end.

Disco Inferno D.I. Go Pop Rough Trade

The searching Nothing is something like the mirror image of Dream, only the cyclical folk tension of its verses find sweet release in the soaring chorus, a constellation of glistening stardust guitar and fathoms deep bass underpinned by crashing drums breaking out in a nimble display of gentle fury. Once again, Suranovich anchors the tune with his expertly splashy drumming, as he has consistently throughout the record (with the exception of tracks two through four, which are handled more tautly and controlled by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown's Drachen Theaker).

Perhaps appropriately for a song called Nothing, there's a zen-like calm to the proceedings that seem to roll in and out with the tide. I often flash on Skip Spence's album closing Grey/Afro, with which it shares the same sense of stargazing shapes caught in a frieze of eternity while expanding rhythms drift in and out of focus. Whoa! It's all quite cosmic, and a secret ancestor to the sizzling post rock of Main, Flying Saucer Attack and Disco Inferno.

Alexander Spence Oar Columbia

While we're on the subject of Skip Spence, Four Sail's penultimate track Talking In My Sleep comes on like a slightly more upbeat take on the cowboy songs found on Oar. What might at first seem like a boneyard throwaway adds a key bit of levity to the record's heavy home stretch (just as Neil's Song had to side one), with Lee modulating his vocals down an octave in humorous fashion and then back up to a falsetto over the tune's gently chugging rhythm. It always cracks me up how Lee sings talking in my slee-ee-eep! Of course it all breaks off into another acid country jam carried by Donnellan's razor wire guitar a couple times before the song is through, which I suppose we'd be disappointed if it didn't!

Rodriguez Cold Fact Sussex

Always See Your Face closes the record out on a third and final whimsical note, albeit with a strong bittersweet aftertaste this time. This song has always struck me as predicting the sound of Rodriguez's Cold Fact (specifically songs like Forget It and Jane S. Piddy), with the pretty sting of its uncomplicated guitar melody underpinned by the added flourish of a chamber horn arrangement. Lee's sparse lyrics quite poignant in this context:

Won't somebody please

Help me with my miseries.

Can't somebody see, yeah

What this world has done to me.

And I know I know

And I say, oh, I say

That no matter where you go,

I will always see your face.

He's echoed by Donnellan's casually unfurled guitar solo at the song's midpoint, which sounds just something you might have heard on record decades later in the mid-nineties. It's the perfect signature etched onto a weary, accepting conclusion to this record's unspoken song cycle: a tragic epilogue to this cowboy movie of the mind.

Love Out Here Blue Thumb

And then it's all over... or is it? As mentioned earlier, the following double-album Out Here is a sprawling collection of 17 songs cut from the same cloth (the same sessions, in fact), and it makes a welcome companion piece to this record. This same band (minus Donnellan) turned in one more record — 1970's False Start — even roping in Hendrix on guitar for one song. And yet Four Sail is the cream of the crop, the peak of Love's Indian summer and a singular work that sounds like little else around (if at all, and even then only in bits and pieces).

I'll even go so far as to contend that it bests much of the San Francisco scene at its own game. I mean, I'll love them till the day I die, but Jefferson Airplane never made an LP this front-to-back consistent, this sharply focused. It plays like a brilliant short story, a no-nonsense filmic excursion that nevertheless manages to stay true to the band's garage punk roots (especially since, in essence, it was recorded in a garage!). One could read it as a precursor to something like Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with its ramshackle widescreen epics, even as it makes undeniable future moves that call to mind The Mighty Groundhogs.

The Doors Morrison Hotel Elektra

Then there's that undeniable sense of gravity found in the entirety of this record, an unforced sense of portent and mystery that manages to happen naturally as it unfolds. One can see why Jim Morrison had been an avowed fan of the group, dating all the way back to their early years. In fact, Four Sail even predicts The Doors dusty back to the roots blues rock moves on Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman by a whole year. Coincidence? I wonder...


At any rate, this is a crucial record down at the Parallax Room for similar reasons. On Four Sail, Love strike a perfect balance between spontaneous jamming and mapped-out arrangement, never getting bogged down in interminable solos even as they remain thoroughly unpredictable throughout. In a year like 1969 (the year of Woodstock, after all), that's no mean feat. And in the context of the canyon, it serves as the perfect segue between Laurel Canyon proper and where we'll be going next...