Jive Time Turntable

Josefus “Dead Man” (Hookah, 1970)

A human skull on a record cover usually leaves me cold, as I associate it with the sort of metal subgenres I find unappealing or the kind of edgelord industrial music for which I have no patience. For that reason, I avoided Josefus’ Dead Man for years, pre-internet. Finally, enough praise from reputable sources eroded my bias and I copped Numero Group/JR’s 2014 reissue. Ever since, the Southern-fried, hard-rock good times have been rolling at the Mayfield domicile.

The obi strip of my reissue hypes this Texas quartet as “being far ‘too psychedelic’ and skull-crushing for Houston’s International Artists label to touch.” I dunno about that, record-company guy, but Kenny Rogers’ bro Lelan did sort of blow it by not signing these sensitive hombres. I mean, Josefus were no Bubble Puppy, but come on… They

The album starts with “Crazy Man,” whose midtempo, wistful boogie recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” and is buoyed by Pete Bailey’s biker-rock soul belting. Bailey comes off as something of a Lone Star State Robert Plant (but way more vulnerable), lending his singing a higher degree of pathos than Bob. “Crazy Man” establishes Bailey’s habit of choking up at crucial moments, which intensifies the songs’ poignancy. On “I Need A Woman,” Josefus grind out some testosteronic, ominous blues rock in which Bailey leers in a manner that would make ZZ Top blush, if not Greetings From L.A.-era Tim Buckley. Lust never sleeps.

Dead Man‘s nadir is, perhaps surprisingly, “Gimmie Shelter” [sic]. This adequate cover only serves to spotlight how awesome the Stones’ original—and indeed, Merry Clayton’s rendition—is. Josefus simply fail to invest the song with the ominous gravitas it demands, treating it more as an opportunity to rock a party. Dudes, you went on a fool’s errand (and misspelled “Gimme”), but Mick and Keith’s accountants surely appreciated your effort. However, Josefus rebound spectacularly with the album’s greatest cut, “Country Boy.” Drummer Doug Tull’s fantastic breakbeat in the intro gives way to a killer riff that lilts with a frilly panache. Bailey wishes/laments, “I’d love to spend some time being a rich girl’s toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy/Ain’t nobody out here who’s on my side/I’m so ugly I gotta stay in and hide/Sweet rich darlin’ let me be your toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy.” Even though I’m one of the world’s most urban mofos, I can sympathize with Bailey—which is a testament to the freighted emotion of his delivery.

With its marauding riff, unpredictable, prog-ish dynamics, and Plant-like wails, “Proposition” scans as the heaviest track on the record. So it’s apt—and kind of funny—near the end when the band quotes the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Album-closer “Dead Man” begins with a methodical ramble, its rhythm akin to the Doors’ “Five To One” and Ibliss’ “High Life.” Ray Turner’s bass riff is a master class in strutting hypnosis. The track’s marathon length allows guitarist Dave Mitchell to flex many of his flashiest riffs and Turner to generate a relentless, low-end cascade à la the MC5’s “Black To Comm.” There’s enough exciting ebbing and flowing dynamics and showmanship here to reward the listener for the duration of its 17 minutes. When the music’s over, turn out the lights.

Original copies of Dead Man have gone for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. The only one for sale on Discogs now lists at $2,750. Pure insanity… Thankfully, reasonably priced, legit reissues shouldn’t be too hard to find. Find out once and for all why it seems so sad to be a country boy. -Buckley Mayfield

Billy Preston “Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music” (A&M, 1973)

With his inspirational presence and formidable keyboard prowess still fresh in the minds of folks who watched Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, it seems germane to review an album by Billy Preston. The late William Everett Preston, as you may know, is the only musician who’s played with the Beatles and the Stones—except for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones. No matter your feelings on those bands, you have to respect a musician who could convince two of the biggest acts in entertainment history to request his services. Add the fact that Miles Davis named a track on Get Up With It after Preston and you have a man with certified legend status.

Aside from his stints with those biggies and other luminaries such as Little Richard, Ray Charles, and the Everly Brothers, Preston created a lot of treasurable music on his solo releases, but his heavy-handed paeans to god and Christianity can grate on non-believers’ nerves. Nevertheless, it’s worth enduring the sometimes cringeworthy lyrical sentiments to hear the dazzling music accompanying them, and Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music certainly has its share of the latter. The opening title track is a luscious soul mantra that doubles as a banally obvious thesis statement for the album, as Preston leads his band through boilerplate snippets of jazz, rock and roll, gospel, while name-checking “My Sweet Lord” by his buddy, George Harrison, which Bill covered on 1971’s Encouraging Words. Not the most auspicious start, but it gets better… much better.

Moving on, “You’re So Unique” is brash R&B with understated yet urgent propulsion, delivering Sly Stone/Stevie Wonder-esque complexity within a convivial party-jam framework. David T. Walker’s stinging guitar leads lend a freak-rock vibe to the song and Preston’s flamboyant keyboard vamps strut with trademark nonchalance. If you dig rousing gospel romps replete with massed handclaps (bolstered by Preston’s soulful, consoling pipes), “My Soul Is A Witness” will make you want to sprint around your house of worship. “Sunday Morning” (not the Velvet Underground song) possesses a bouncy rhythm akin to the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and is surprisingly buoyed by Dennis Coates’ banjo. “You Got Me For Company” is a well-crafted orchestral ballad, up there with your Nilssons, Van Dyke Parkses, Jim Webbs, and, indeed, your Paul McCartneys.

Speaking of Macca, one of the album’s better deep cuts, “Listen To The Wind” carries faint echoes of the “Blackbird” in its intro before wheeling into a soaring, Rotary Connection-like psych-soul showcase. Speaking of the Beatles, “I’m So Tired” is not the White Album tune, but rather a variation on the triumphant “Space Race” theme (more of which later), with Preston singing with utmost passion and improvisational verve. “I’m so tired of being around people who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground,” he laments, and who can’t sympathize? The keyboards ripple at absurdly high pitches, and you can imagine Dick Hyman getting jealous of Bill’s nutty tones curlicuing in the stereo field.

On a similar vibe, “Space Race” was a rare instrumental hit (#4 in the US) and one of the exemplars of ambitious ’70s funk. The keybs are practically Gershon Kingsley/Jean-Jacques Perrey-level quirky and timbrally extreme. Every second of this track is crammed with excitement and invention. I still cane this ultimate futuristic driving song and that other far-out Preston instrumental, “Outa-Space,” in DJ sets and can’t foresee ever stopping. They’re aural Ecstasy, without the inevitable serotonin depletion.

Another highlight is “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” At 3:50, it’s about half as long as Bob Dylan’s epic skewering of hypocrisy, consumerism, and bellicosity from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. Instead of stark folk-guitar strumming, Preston generates an orchestral-funk dark storm that evokes David Axelrod and Jean-Claude Vannier while singing with a cool stoicism à la jazz hepcats Mose Allison and Ben Sidran. Billy swaps out Dylan’s stern menace and weathered ruefulness for some stained-glass testifying, in keeping with his gospel roots. Consequently, he bestows us one of the most inventive Dylan covers extant.

Honestly, Preston should have ended the album with this song, but instead he tacked on “Minuet For Me,” a short, piano-heavy classical reverie that flexes his strident virtuosity. It’s impressive, but would’ve hit harder near the record’s beginning. Whatever the case, it’s yet one more piece of evidence for Preston’s stunning skills and range. Respect. -Buckley Mayfield

Heldon “Interface” (Cobra, 1977)

When someone opines that “French music is weak” or some such uninformed blather, you should drop a dose of Heldon on them—specifically Interface, guitar/synth master Richard Pinhas and company’s most devastating platter. There are many other such records from France with which you could hit said ignorami, but Interface‘s payload might be the most effective. The album’s dominated by Moog synthesizer emissions, but there’s nothing trendy or whimsical about these tracks. Interface might be the mother of all bombs from the fecund ’70s French underground.

Pinhas helmed a nearly flawless seven-album run from 1974 to 1978, moving from cosmique Fripp-ian guitar drones and pensive pastoralism to futuristic electronic brutality, peaking in the latter mode on 1977’s Interface—although 1976’s Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale gives it a run for its laser beams. With their later LPs, Heldon, according to The Stranger, “invented a kind of end-times proto-techno that the French military should’ve enlisted for defense purposes.” Can’t argue with that.

“Les Soucoupes Volantes Vertes”—which was written by drummer François Auger—instantly tingles your nerves and puts you on your toes, prepping you for combat with aliens as it fades in with a throbbing Moog bass, skewed beats, and elasticated Moog III and Moog B riffs. “Which freakin’ planet am I on?” you’ll wonder, as your adrenaline dangerously spikes. On the two-part “Jet Girl,” Pinhas’ obsession with Robert Fripp resurfaces in the form of elephantine guitar wails amid rolling and thumping drums and ominously oscillating Moog bass. The track’s an approximation of a chaotic, cyborgian King Crimson, as cold and terrifying as an Antarctic ice storm.

Bandleader Pinhas lets bassist Patrick Gauthier take the reins for “Le Retour Des Soucoupes Volanes”; it’s some rugged man-machine shit, powered by Moog bass and drums, but with radiant ostinatos around the edges—a weird blend of contrasts. Another showcase for Auger, “Bal-A-Fou” is a spacey tantalizer with unusual percussion timbres and accents that recall Herbie Hancock’s early-’70s groups at their farthest out. When Auger’s drums enter, things build to a momentous tumult. By song’s end, you’re convinced that Heldon should’ve been scoring blockbuster interstellar-war movies instead of John Williams and his ilk. “Le Fils Des Soucoupes Volantes (Vertes)” reprises the opening track’s steamrolling menace, but is even more intense.

All of this great stuff is but a prelude for the pièce de résistance, “Interface.” The mother(fucker) of all dystopian, automatons-dueling-to-the-death epics, it’s a 19-minute ordeal of panned, flanged, and deranged drums, airlock synthesized percussion, pitched-down cymbal splashes, strident guitar anguish, and a Moog bass part so springy it makes you think of trampolines the size of football fields. The way the bass interacts with Auger’s slanted martial beats and manic fills is utterly hypnotic. Every element’s geared to make you feel as if the walls are closing in, the heat is rising, the end is near. Seemingly no one here gets out alive, until… Pinhas ruins the doom-laden vibe with a glammed-up, ’50s-vintage guitar riff in the final 10 seconds. I get the joke, but resent how it disrupts the riveting spell the preceding 18 minutes had cast. “Interface”’s relentless terminal march found an analog in Billy Cobham’s “Inner Conflicts,” even though the legendary fusion drummer claims not to have heard it. Whatever the case, if you crave more of that infernal Heldon vibe, check out Cobham’s unintentional tribute.

Thankfully, Interface rarely falls out of print. The excellent German label Bureau B most recently reissued it in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield

Doris Norton “Personal Computer” (Durium, 1984)

Whether it’s down to sexism or her Italian nationality (or perhaps both), composer/musician Doris Norton has gone largely overlooked as a major figure in the computer-based electronic-music world. (Before her solo career, Norton played in the gothic prog-rock group Jacula.) Thankfully, in 2018, Mannequin Records reissued three of Norton’s ’80s albums: 1983’s Norton Computer For Peace, 1984’s Personal Computer, and 1985’s Artificial Intelligence. I bought them all and instantly wondered how they’d escaped my radar, as I’m an avid fan of avant-garde European electronic music. But somehow I’d read nary a word nor heard a note of Norton’s music till three years ago. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

My favorite of that trilogy is Personal Computer, her fifth LP overall. During the ’80s, Norton was sponsored by Apple Computer, and made a music program for IBM USA, so the title is no mere superficial signifier. Personal Computer is a wonderful entry point for the Norton novice, although if you’re expecting it to hit with the paradigm-shifting impact of Kraftwerk’s similarly titled 1981 classic Computer World, you’ll be disappointed. Nevertheless, Personal Computer is tonally and melodically sophisticated, with rhythms that can get a floor humming. Created with assistance from Antonius Rex, the record’s a rare blend of heady academia and dance-floor decadence, with a dash of neon-sprayed synth-pop ebullience.

The title track rollicks out of the gate like a dance anthem for video-game geeks, a serious kick-drum pummel propelling everything toward a starry grid in the matrix. The warped, femme-android vocals add a layer of otherness to the storming Yellow Magic Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark hullabaloo happening. “Norton Apple Software” flaunts a sproingy, robotic rhythm that punctuates a swarming and sputtering synth attack, foreshadowing the stardusted turbulence of Detroit electro unit Drexciya. The bombastic synth symphony “Binary Love” creates a huge impression with punishing 4/4 beats, scything hi-hats, and fake wind howls. Forget the noble aim of soundtracking video games; Norton sounds like she’s shooting for Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters. Similarly reaching for the stars is “Parallel Interface,” with its madly hectic riffs spiraling skyward in contrast with elasticated 303 bass palpitations and brutal, methodical beats.

It may not be the most extravagant cut here, but “Caution Radiation Norton” is my favorite on the album. Its beats and hysterically bleepy synths ripple in an odd meter, while sampled male chants serve as both drones and punctuation, showcasing Norton at her most idiosyncratic. “A.D.A. Converter” is an ominous squelcher that marches to battle with a grim, majestic finality, closing the album with an aptly somber mood for the Mutually Assured Destruction vibes that haunted the year 1984. You might say that Norton captured the spirit of George Orwell’s dystopian novel in a novel way, too. -Buckley Mayfield

Graham Central Station “Ain’t No ‘Bout-A-Doubt It” (Warner Bros., 1975)

Graham Central Station’s third album is as uneven as Sly Stone’s concert attendance record, but when it’s on, it is ON. Sly’s former bassist, Mr. Larry Graham, helms this party album/Christianity recruiting ad with high(er)-powered, low-frequency authority. For Christ’s sake, Graham slapped a verse from I Corinthians 15:51, 52 on the album’s back cover and had the band dress in white robes while looking at what appears to be a Mark Rothko painting. Worship the color field, y’all!

Now, I harbor serious skepticism toward piety of any stripe. But I’m willing to set all that aside to hear old thunder thumbs do his fonky thing on the four-string. One does wonder how such a hardcore Christer could produce such filthy tones and orgiastic bass lines, but, as the cliché goes, Goddess works in mysterious ways.

You may feel as if your favorite deity blessed you as Ain’t No ‘Bout-A-Doubt It‘s first track, “The Jam,” which is not only the zenith of Graham Central Station’s discography, it’s one of the greatest opening album tracks ever. It’s as if Graham took the funk lightning he gleaned during his time with Sly & The Family Stone, added thunder, and then threw in a tornado for the sheer hell of it. There’s enough strutting bravura and explicit lasciviousness in its eight minutes to fuel a stadium-sized bacchanal. Robert Sam’s keyboard swirls, whorls, and catcalls should be sanctioned by the FDA; Graham’s bass growls and grunts are rated XXX, Manuel “The Deacon” Kellough’s drumming is in the key of F(UCK). This bomb is followed by “Your Love,” GCS’s biggest hit (#38), but it sounds like a bloated dud to your critic. It’s a mid-’70s update on romantic soul balladry with falsetto vocals, churchy organ vamps, Billy Preston-esque clavinet warbles. Unfortunately, the syrupy emotion’s ladled very thickly onto an inane foundation.

Thankfully, the remaining three songs on side 1 redeem that misstep. The brisk, bubbling funk workout It’s Alright” is a paean to music’s power featuring Graham’s immortal line, “Dancin’ and sangin’ is all I really ever wanted to do.” David Dynamite’s guitar pays homage to James Brown’s “Sex Machine” riff while Hershall Happiness’ clavinet blurts immeasurably funkify the party and Graham’s bass solo is as repetitive as Holger Czukay’s in Can’s “Yoo Doo Right”—a great thing. GCS high-step into the end zone and spike the football right through to the earth’s core. On “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” GCS adorn Ann Peebles’ classic 1973 Memphis soul lament with a robust vocal arrangement led by Chocolate’s alpha-female belting and a stomping rhythm that’s the polar opposite of the original’s spare framework. A bulbous rager geared to optimize the pleasure principle, “It Ain’t Nothing But A Warner Bros. Party” surely had a young Prince taking notes to this unstoppable groove organism. It’s yet more proof that GCS are maximalists who strive to overwhelm your senses and stoke your libido to the boiling point, with an evangelical fervor.

The less said about side 2’s showbiz-y schmaltz, gospel-inflected R&B boilerplate, and cloying MOR soul with cult-y, pro-Christianity vibes the better. However, “Water” boasts a methodical, libidinous funk in the rich vein of Sly’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” The groove’s so damn filthy, you’ll forgive Graham’s heavy-handed xian propaganda (“Seeking first GOD’s Kingdom/For sure’s the only way/SATAN’s out to get you/And that’s without a doubt”). Sure, Lar, whatever you say.

Like most Graham Central Station albums, Ain’t No ‘Bout-A-Doubt It can be found for low prices in used-vinyl bins. When the band’s firing at peak capacity, they make you feel as if your entire body is a G spot. -Buckley Mayfield

Deodato “Prelude” (CTI, 1972)

Brazilian keyboardist/composer/arranger Eumir Deodato’s records are bargain-bin staples, but some of them are cheap heat. Case in point: Prelude. First, it boasts the hugely unlikely hit “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” a jazz-funk reinvention of Richard Strauss’ momentous classical piece that illuminated Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey four years earlier. Second, it contains the oft-sampled “September 13,” a tune that Deodato wrote with the powerful, dexterous fusion drummer Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, George Duke, et al.). Third, the cover has that lovely glossy sheen that Creed Taylor used on all of his CTI label releases. Because records should feel good, too.

My first encounter with album-opener “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” dates back to the mid ’90s. As I was browsing in a massive, CD-dominated Cleveland record store, one of the clerks decided to play Prelude. “Zarathustra” soon swept me to deep Kubrickian space, with Deodato and company renovating the stars to glitter with an ungodly radiance. After an intro of tambourines, burbling organ, and paradiddles, the piece soon shifts into a higher gear with a funky Cobham beat that wonderfully lags behind Deodato’s fanciful electric-piano acrobatics and Stan Clarke’s cat-like bass strut. Then in a move that upstages everybody, John Tropea inscribes baroque calligraphy on the firmament with a mercurial, diamond-hard guitar solo. These nine minutes of virtuosity and inventiveness take that Strauss opus to zones heretofore unknown. Talk about an album blowing its wad right out of the gate…

The rest of side one can’t help seeming slight. The Deodato composition “Spirit Of Summer” offers a stark contrast, as Eumir and the boys downshift into a pensive ballad that swells, swirls, and glimmers like a WWII-era Hollywood soundtrack—or perhaps a Quincy Jones-like approximation of same. A rococo guitar solo by Jay Berliner (Van Morrison’s axe man on Astral Weeks) lends the piece a flamenco air while the flute and orchestrations tilt the coda into airy-confection territory. “Carly & Carole” verges on frou-frou, if competent, dinner jazz, wafting pleasantly on mellow plumes of flute.

On side two, things initially remain a tad lightweight with “Baubles, Bangles And Beads,” which comes off as a sprightly, Herb Alpert-esque jazz-pop trifle. But after a bit, Tropea’s hip, snaky electric-guitar solo signals to the other players to elevate their game accordingly, with bassist Ron Carter, Cobham, and conga masters Airto and Ray Barretto especially standing out. Thankfully, the final two cuts restore our faith in Deodato. “Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun” levitates on Hubert Laws’ unspeakably beautiful flute solo, icy piano cascades, funky conga and flute action, and Marvin Stamm’s bold trumpet solo. This song really blossoms and then ebbs into cerebral, Bitches Brew-like introspection. Claude Debussy-penned music likely has never grooved so hard. Prelude closes on Deodato and Cobham’s très funky “September 13.” That much-sampled intro features Cobham so deep in the pocket, he punches through it. Tropea’s laconic chicka-wokka guitar accents and filthy flare-ups split the difference between Carlos Santana and Harvey Mandel while probing bass, fruity electric piano, and triumphant flutes brighten the corners. Eumir sure did bookend this album with burners.

As I type, there are many copies of Prelude classing up used-vinyl bins nationwide, and they’re priced to move. No sophisticated home should be without one. -Buckley Mayfield

The 13th Floor Elevators “Bull Of The Woods” (International Artists, 1969)

The production’s flawed, Roky Erickson only appears on four of the album’s 11 songs, the band members sound world-weary, and Tommy Hall’s jug mostly has gone AWOL. Yet Bull Of The Woods—which was recorded in 1968 when the 13th Floor Elevators were disintegrating and Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and experiencing the torments of electroconvulsive therapy at a Houston psychiatric hospital—is fantastic. As much as I love the foundational psych-rock documents The Psychedelic Sounds Of… and Easter Everywhere, I often feel that Bull is my favorite work by these Texan psych-rock icons. And that’s a testament to the songwriting and guitar-playing chops of Stacy Sutherland, who forever has remained in Roky’s shadow—unjustly so! Listening to Bull might be akin to hearing a mythical Velvet Underground record on which Sterling Morrison somehow grabbed the reins from Lou Reed and revealed his hidden genius.

Now, as a vocalist, Sutherland’s the polar opposite of Roky: drawling, understated, uncharismatic. No matter. Stacy can write fascinating, multi-part songs and play a mean guitar; his is a glinting, choppy style with implied funkiness. You can hear that right away on the Roky-sung opening track “Livin’ On.” It choogles into earshot like CCR on downers or JJ Cale with a brawnier backing band, with Sutherland’s guitar clanging slyly at oblique angles above the laid-back groove. “Barnyard Blues” is Sutherland channeling Dr. John’s casually funky, swampy rhythm sorcery, powered by Ronnie Leatherman’s stalking, fathoms-deep bass line and Danny Thomas’ in-the-pocket drumming.

“Till Then”—co-written by Sutherland and Hall, with the former singing—is a paragon of beautiful, breezy rock, swathed in consoling “la la la”s. The song suavely bewitches until a mini rave-up raises the roof—the first of many such moves that distinguish Sutherland and Hall’s uncanny penchant for breathtaking dynamics. For those missing the more aggressive feel of Easter Everywhere, Roky and Hall’s “Never Another” will fill the void, although Hall’s electrified-jug bloops are mixed way down low. Thomas’ horn arrangements sound as if they were dropped in from a Herb Alpert session, but their incongruity charms, against the odds. Sutherland achieves some kind of peak with “Rose And The Thorn.” A sublime, existential slice of psychedelia that ebbs and flows with unpredictable fluidity, it’s like four great songs stitched together by a masterly editor, lifting you higher with every savvy swerve. “Down By The River” is not a Neil Young cover, but rather a Stones-like rocker with understated swagger in its groove and deceptively stinging guitar shafts that foreshadow the great ’90s trashadelic group Royal Trux.

With Sutherland’s “Scarlet And Gold,” the bass and drums achieve serious dub motion and pressure while Stacy sings with mellow gravitas, his earnest voice halo’d by gorgeous backing “oh”s. The song boasts another thrilling dynamic shift that launches the song into a higher stratum of psychedelic splendor, as Sutherland again proves himself the master of this strategy. “Street Song” sounds like a more lysergic take on the Stooges “Little Doll” template. This is tectonic-plate-shuddering rock augmented by some astonishing proto-dub churn, streaked with pitiless guitar pyrotechnics. Monumental metamorphoses occur, each surprising change elevating you to a higher state of consciousness. Fucking genius.

But this isn’t even Bull‘s peak. That would be “Dr. Doom,” on which Roky and Stacy sing in splendid unison. Of all the phenomenal songs in the Elevators’ canon, this one hits hardest and deepest for me. It’s sacred music distilled into three minutes of spiritual psych-pop, and its almost comical horn overdubs somehow enable it to soar even higher. The lyrics are mystical poetry sung with so much sincerity, you swallow them whole and feel enlarged for doing so. In this way, the song’s like the Beach Boys’ greatest tune, “Feel Flows.” Dig this heavy handful:

(chorus) Beginning no end, alpha no omega
Two mouths one voice still appears
(verse) We won’t join in sameness, we are each one different
We won’t join in oneness when we’re each one whole
We’ll be like in feeling, being of the spirit
Housed in body crystals, ever always soul
We’ll be right beside him, all we’ve been is beauty
All will be in union, from our life unfolds

From this summit, Bull gently descends back to earth. Bass boss Leatherman comes through with “With You,” a sweet waltz-time swooner with bliss-inducing vocal arrangements. In retrospect, maybe the Elevators should’ve given Ronnie more chances to write. And ol’ Roky delivers an ideal album-closer with “May The Circle Remain Unbroken,” an eerie, sparse ballad that sounds as if Erickson is evaporating before our ears, hymning his demise with an angelic hush, as we, with perfect hindsight, see the circle breaking brutally.

I’ve listened to Bull Of The Woods at least 100 times in my life and have found it to be the rare album that never loses an iota of its luster. Make no mistake: The Elevators got stuck at the top floor. -Buckley Mayfield

Ciccone Youth “The Whitey Album” (Enigma/Blast First, 1988)

When The Whitey Album came out, many Sonic Youth fans and critics treated it as a trifling post-modern prank. And yes, it does have its share of shtick, starting with the project name and nudge-wink title. You wondered if Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley were trolling their underground-rock fan base with two Madonna covers, a karaoke take on Robert Palmer’s MTV smash “Addicted To Love,” a clever-clever homage to John Cage’s “4′ 33”,” and an embarrassing rap fiasco. But while at the time those moments dominated the discourse around The Whitey Album, the record actually contains some of the Youth’s most interesting anomalies.

Remember, the recording of The Whitey Album occurred between 1986’s EVOL and 1987’s Sister—Sonic Youth’s peak period. So even if they were just screwing around, they couldn’t not create fascinating shit. Plus, they had fIREHOSE bassist/vocalist Mike Watt in the studio with them. Back then, Watt was depressed about the tragic vehicular death of long-time Minutemen bandmate D. Boon. When Watt traveled to the East Coast with girlfriend/Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, who was headed to Yale for an internship, he stayed with Sonic Youth for a bit and ended up recording two songs with them destined for EVOL. The Ciccone Youth side project was part of an effort to inspire Watt to start playing music again and lift him out of his funk. It worked, and in the process SY fans got a nice little curio.

As for the Madonna and Palmer covers, they inspired yuks back in the day, but did Ciccone Youth do it for the lulz or because they genuinely loved the songs? With 20/20 hindsight, I’ll say both. Another goof, the self-explanatory “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu,” finds Gordon and Suzanne Sasic talking about managing Dinosaur Jr. while listening to “Negativland.” Near the end, there’s a short burst of grandiose noise rock with what sounds like guitar god J Mascis going the fuck off on his axe. But “Tuff Titty Rap” [insert Beavis & Butthead laugh] is the group’s nadir, with Moore “rapping” over clunky, rudimentary drum-machine beats. 40 seconds of it is too long.

Now let’s move on to the good parts that compose the majority of The Whitey Album. “G-Force” pits Kim Gordon freestyling a spoken-word story about a brash woman up for adventure against oneiric, slow-motion psychedelia with subliminally funky drum-machine beats. “Platoon II” offers more basic, funky beats, which are swathed with ice-cold guitar feedback and gently delayed klang. It’s a real low-key head-nodder that foreshadows Dälek, who are the only hip-hop crew ever to collaborate with krautrock legends Faust. “Macbeth” is rugged, ruthless funky rock that stands among Sonic Youth’s best songs. “Children Of Satan/Third Fig” excellent hypnotic rock with a pseudo-robotic beat that augments the sonorous clangor and chiming of the guitars, until a bass riff ruptures the mesmerism at song’s end. The revelation here is how damned groovy this unintentional (?) funk comes across.

Some other highlights include “Moby-Dik,” a minute of Dieter Moebius-like electronic weirdness; “March Of The Ciccone Robots,” which sounds like a cover of PiL’s “Chant” with a ton of sludge caked on it and powered by pummeling, quasi-techno beats; and “Making The Nature Scene,” a scouring, beat-heavy rework of a harrowing Confusion Is Sex song that sounds like Big Stick.

So, look beyond the gimmicks and you have a fascinating oddity from an underground band who, when The Whitey Album received its delayed release, were ascending to alt-rock-mainstream success. More than 30 years later, the record stands out not as wry meta-commentary, but as a brilliant lark/tangent in Sonic Youth’s sprawling catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Roy Ayers “Coffy” (Polydor, 1973)

Blaxploitation flicks flourished briefly and brightly in the ’70s, but most have been forgotten, except by fanatical film scholars and heady hip-hop producers. But the soundtracks that accompanied them have had a much longer shelf life in the public’s consciousness. Thankfully, the guardians of these gritty and flamboyant urban cinemascapes have kept awareness and availability alive all these decades later, and heads are consequently richer for having easy access to classics of the genre such as Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, James Brown’s Black Caesar, Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song. Along with these monuments to long-sideburned coolness, Roy Ayers’ Coffy belongs snugly in the top 10.

Of course, Ayers had established himself as a jazz-funk catalyst previous to this swanky soundtrack, and consequently his catalog has become one of the most fertile plundering grounds for hip-hop producers. In Ayers’ canon, Coffy is one of the richest source for said samples. I haven’t seen the movie, in which a nurse tries to get justice and revenge against the drug dealers responsible for misleading her 11-year old sister to drug addiction, but no matter. Ayers and his crack team of musicians have forged a treasure trove of action-packed jams that slap, from penthouse to pavement.

“Coffy Is The Color” kicks things off in a manner as peppy and funky as Curtis Mayfield or Stevie Wonder on happy pills, powered by chikka-wakka guitar from Billy Nichols (or is it Bob Rose?), William King’s percolating congas, Ayers’ lithe vibes, and Richard Davis’ tensile yet rubbery bass. Ayers sings, and he ain’t bad for a vibraphonist, though he’s no Curtis or Stevie. “Pricilla’s Theme” starts as a mellow gold instrumental, a breezy, cushiony reverie that’s silk-sheet luxury… until Ayers goes elegantly manic on vibes and the bass/drums/percussion groove gets (gy)rated XXX. Talk about a split personality!

On “King George,” Ayers places his stage-whispered chat about the titular pimp over a lubricious, methodical rhythm that evokes War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” If you’re gonna evoke, evoke the best, right? “Aragon” is as super-fly as Mayfield’s “Super Fly,” but soul-jazzier; Roy and comrades pack so much coolness, tension, and action into 2 minutes 52 seconds. “ King’s Last Ride” is as flashy and funky as a pimp’s wardrobe, but it’s a tease at 65 seconds. On “Brawling Broads” (oh those wacky ’70s), Richard Davis’ strutting bass line and Dennis Davis’ in the pocket slaps undergird Ayers’ delicately spine-tingling vibes motif. “Escape” brings white-knuckled suspense funk with rapid bongos/congas, trombone, and trumpet. Co-written by orchestrator/keyboardist Harry Whitaker, “Exotic Dance” is the classiest strip-club jam you’ll ever hear. Whitaker’s electric piano is a soulful swirl that would fog up Ramsey Lewis’ spectacles. Ayers leaves the two strangest tracks for last, with “Vittroni’s Theme” and “End Of Sugarman,” recalling Roy Budd and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, respectively. Respect!

Of course, there are a couple of satiny, seductive soul ballads that sparkle like jizz on a moon-illuminated headboard, but the real reason to gulp this Coffy is for the velvet-sinewed funk. Plus, the vibraphone—especially in Ayers’ deft hands—is such a bountiful source of beguilingly cool timbres that these tracks hit with a freshness beyond what most soundtracks in the genre can generate. -Buckley Mayfield

Seesselberg “Synthetik 1.” (self-released, 1973)

I’m fascinated by artists who release one amazing album and then go quiet, for whatever reason. Examples? Skip Spence, the United States Of America, Tomorrow, Friendsound, Ibliss, McDonald & Giles, Kendra Smith, Young Marble Giants. German brother duo Seesselberg belong in this pantheon, too.

In the early ’70s, Wolf (b. 1941) and Eckhart (b. 1952) Seesselberg self-released some of the most innovative electronic music this side of Conrad Schnitzler and Morton Subotnick, and then vanished in a puff of fried synth circuitry. If you own one of original 1,000 copies pressed, however, you could sell it and travel the world on the earnings.

Thankfully, golden-eared curators have kept the nine precious cuts on Synthetik 1. in circulation over the decades, preserving what sounds like the birth of certain strains of IDM and techno, over 10-20 years before those styles emerged. The Seesselberg bros were clever electronics boffins who built their own synths, which obviously added special sauce to their distinctive sound. These 46 minutes reveal two nerds reveling in the temperamental strangeness of their gear, testing its parameters, and thereby drawing a blueprint for future synth iconoclasts to emulate—assuming they had the keen instincts to find Synthetik 1. and the maverick talent to fuck with its DNA. It is indeed an exclusive cult who have done so.

Synthetik 1. starts spectacularly with “Overture (If Somebody Survives We Will Have A Return Match),” a compendium of burbling, zapping, and oscillating sounds that sets a disorienting tone and warns the listener that Seesselberg are serious about sending you to the craziest quadrants of the omniverse. The 62-second “Eintrachtkreis-Paranoia” is a staccato panic-inducer that resembles the Ronald Frangipane-composed “Fuck Machine” sequence in The Holy Mountain. The equally brief “Verhütungsfreudenwalzer (Kontinenzmusik Für Eine Akademie)” sounds like a computer stuttering a disturbing mantra. These two snippets come off like the brothers playfully fucking about with their equipment. The more focused “Speedy Achmed (Verhaltensanweisung)” offers low-key, sinister pulsations and eldritch screeches that foreshadow Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey. The A-side closes with a nearly 11-minute track bearing an absurdly long German title. Its ominous whirs, distant abattoir emissions, and eerie avian whistles make it a close cousin of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band‘s “Jetsex.”

The flip side begins with Synthetik 1.‘s highlight, “Phönix,” a 10-minute piece Wolf composed for a 1972 film of the same name. It’s a dazzling menagerie of high-pitched synth discombobulations ruptured by pulsating spaceship-door percussion, emergency-warning bleeps, and weaponized drones. I imagine the track scoring the movie’s climactic scenes in which astronauts meet terminal doom. There’s no way anyone gets out of this piece alive. The last two tracks (both with long German titles you’ll instantly forget) reiterate Synthetik 1.‘s m.o.: creating bizarre electronic abstractions that “go nowhere” in the traditional sense that dull people expect them to venture to. Essentially, Seesselberg are all about generating an interesting array of tones for its own sake—escapism with a sense of danger about it.

Some will complain that Synthetik 1. lacks “humanity” or “warmth,” but sometimes it feels great simply to immerse oneself in the alien sonography of custom-built synthesizers and lose all sense of reality. Seesselberg made that scenario a breathtaking certainty nearly 50 years ago. Enter their secret society.

[Synthetik 1. has been reissued officially on CD by Plate Lunch (2001) and on LP by Wah Wah (2013). Both are pricey imports, but totally worth it.] -Buckley Mayfield

Darondo “Let My People Go” (Luv N’ Haight/Ubiquity, 2006)

The late Bay Area vocalist Darondo flared brightly and briefly from 1972 to 1974, releasing three swanky singles and opening a show for James Brown before exiting the music biz. In the ensuing decades, Darondo’s life took an unpredictable path that led him into television hosting, working as a physical therapist, and getting hooked on cocaine, before he eventually circled back to singing in his 60s, thanks to Costa Mesa-based Ubiquity Records sub-label Luv N’ Haight re-releasing his small output with bonus tracks on the tight and wonderful collection Let My People Go. I’m glad I had the pleasure to see William Daron Pulliam perform in Costa Mesa in the late ’00s; he could still sing and dance like a man half his age. Sadly, he passed away in 2013 at age 66.

If the opening title track doesn’t get your libido throbbing, you may want to see a doctor. It’s low-slung, sexy funk that swings like an elephant schlong, with Darondo’s voice exuding a weary vibrancy that effortlessly oozes soul, not unlike Al Green’s and Curtis Mayfield’s. But wait, it gets better. “Legs (Part 1)” is simply one of the most prurient funk jams extant, like Commodores’ “Brick House” multiplied by AWB’s “Schoolboy Crush,” but much cooler and more understated. I’ll go out on a limb and call it better than more famous lower-extremity-worshipping songs such as Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” and ZZ Top’s “Legs.” As a bonus, it boasts one of the filthiest falsetto performances on tape. Sadly, I don’t think Part 2 ever got released.

For a change of pace, swoony, swaying soul ballad “Didn’t I” drifts into earshot, laden with regret over a failed relationship. It became Darondo’s most covered song and the track that appeared most often in other media: the TV shows Breaking Bad, High Fidelity, The Blacklist, and The Deuce, among others. Pure seduction in song. The disc’s other ballads are silk-sheet nice, as well. “I Want Your Love So Bad” offers midtempo, honeyed yearning for a woman’s heart. Darondo brings more Green-like falsetto testifying and romantic showboating and the keyboard solo is a crystalline, serpentine spine-tingler. Yet more Green-like shivers ensue with “Sure Know How To Love Me”; those emphatic Hi Records rimshots that make you feel 73% slicker than you actually are buttress a languorous soul heart-melter that’s smooth, luxurious, yet not at all oleaginous. (Here would be a good time to praise Al Tanner’s production and Eddie Foster’s guitar work. Also, the comp’s last three tracks are enhanced by San Francisco musician Bing Ji Ling. Unfortunately, I could find no other credits.)

But as sweet as those mellow panty-droppers are, Let My People Go really thrives on its funkier cuts, such as “My Momma And My Poppa,” a paean to Darondo’s parents that will make you want to add another member to your family, if you catch my drift, and “True,” whose spare, methodical funk with sample-worthy beats is the closest D comes to the mighty Meters.

Darondo didn’t record much, but the nine songs he left have incredible staying power. Luv N’ Haight reissued Let My People Go on vinyl in 2018, but it’s already scarce and pricey. Perhaps another re-release is in order. -Buckley Mayfield

Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield