Psych and Prog

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

High Rise “High Rise II” (PSF, 1986)

Japan has produced a fair number of musical units who go to sonic extremes that you rarely hear in the West. To name just a handful, Merzbow, Massona, Boredoms, Fumiya Tanaka, and even Teengenerate boast catalogs that often make their Anglo-American counterparts seem a tad restrained. High Rise, too, occupy a lofty place in the pantheon of tinnitus-inducing terrorizers from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Their sophomore full-length, II, pushes rock to a precipice of oblivion where few have gone, straining song form to near-bursting point and going so far into the red that they push the needle into oxblood on the VU meter. It’s a helluva thing.

The 53-second opener “Cycle Goddess” offers a revved-up, raucous appetizer to tip you off to the ramalama banquet ahead. The next song, “Turn You Cry,” could almost be an early Ramones or Clash tune; this is what passes for a radio song in High Rise land. Bassist Asahito Nanjo’s vulnerable, slightly reverbed vocal gets buried beneath a squealing, pummeling rock avalanche that sounds like guitarist Munehiro Narita has two more axmeisters supplementing his barbed-wire wall of rococo squealing and metallic sheets of clangor. Dr. Euro’s wrecking ball drums miraculously punch their way through the ultra-thick guitar/bass lava flow. Hard to believe only three humans are creating this monstrous sound.

The dense, adrenalized rock of “Cotton Top” roils in the tradition of MC5’s “Black To Comm,” Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” the Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” and Blue Cheer’s “Parchment Farm.” Rolling and tumbling relentlessly toward a termination station, “Cotton Top” is noisy hard rock distilled to a lethal essence. You know the drill, but you’ve never felt it this hard and this intensely. “Last Rites” ups the ante yet again, its bulging, aggressive rock making you feel as if you’re on top of the world, even as High Rise are intent on blowing it up. Narita proves himself a guitar guerrilla, spraying bullets and throwing flames in every direction at once, mowing down apathy and inertia with killer instincts. He crams in more ideas per minute than most guitarists do over a full LP.

Even though it’s over 13 minutes long, “Pop Sicle” is the album’s single, a quasi-’60s-style beat song that’s as hooky as anything on Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and almost as blurred and riddled with feedback and fuzz. High Rise knew they’d hit on a seductive riff here, and they wring every last drop of psychedelic-groove juice out of it. “Pop Sicle” accelerates in the second half until your eyes are pinwheeling in their sockets and your ear drums are pulsating at 180 bpms. The song’s a psychedelic speed freak apotheosis and makes nearly everything else in the rock canon seem earthbound and moribund.

In 2018, Black Editions did a beautiful remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of II. Even that may be hard to score now, but you should put in the effort. Streaming is not the proper way to absorb High Rise’s shock tactics. -Buckley Mayfield

Shuggie Otis “Freedom Flight” (Epic, 1971)

Shuggie Otis still isn’t as famous and celebrated as he ought to be. Although his discography is relatively small, his name should be uttered in the same reverent tones the listening public reserves for superstars such as Sylvester Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.

Now, Otis’ 1970 debut LP proper Here Comes Shuggie Otis has some stellar moments, but Freedom Flight is where he really blossoms. He would follow it up in 1974 with another classic, Inspiration Information, before going many years without releasing new music. David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label revived interest in Otis’ mellifluous mélange of psychedelia, blues, and funk with its 2001 reissue of Inspiration Information that included four cuts from Freedom Flight. It was one of the best music-biz moves the Talking Heads frontman has ever made.

Otis certainly had connections to some of the top players in the biz thanks to his father, the R&B artist/bandleader Johnny Otis. But still, for a 17-year-old to create an album as ambitious and brilliant as Freedom Flight is astonishing. It’s no wonder legends such as Frank Zappa, Al Kooper, and the Rolling Stones wanted to tap the multi-instrumentalist prodigy’s talents.

Ice Cold Daydream” is a fantastic opening number, complex yet catchy funk rock that could make Sly Stone do the splits out of respect. Shuggie’s guitar effects are sweet as hell, and he plays organ and bass like a badass, too. Somehow I’d gone my whole life not knowing about Mike Kowalski—who’s played with the Beach Boys, Nick Drake, and John Martyn—but he proves himself to be a truly funky drummer. Papa Johnny chips in with percussion, which was very nice of him.

Shuggie flexes his formidable blues muscles on “Me And My Woman” and “Purple.” Written by Gene Barge, the former song is about a roller-coaster romance and though it’s pretty straight-ahead, it’ll put serious lead in your pencil. (Does anyone still use this expression? No? Cool.) Shuggie plays guitar, bass, and keys, and his guitar solo is a thing of ornate beauty, while his rhythm guitar chikka-wakkas are nasty. “Purple” is a simmering, shimmering seven-minute blues stroll that one could imagine working well in a classy strip joint. Shuggie once again excels on guitar, bass, and organ and Jim “Supe” Bradshaw adds crucial harmonica accompaniment.

My two favorite tracks here are “Sweet Thang” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” The former was co-written with certified Dirty Old Man Johnny Otis and received high-powered help from George Duke on organ, Wilton Felder on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. This is swampy funk that’s greasier than Dr. John’s Gris-Gris in a New Orleans grease fire. “Sweet Thang” is so sexy, I can’t think of a metaphor or simile that’ll do it justice, but your libido will surely throb like it’s never throbbed before. “Strawberry Letter 23” is Shuggie’s most famous song, thanks to the Brothers Johnson’s glazed-soul cover that dominated radio in 1977—and justifiably so. Shuggie plays everything on it, and dozens of listens to his and the Brothers Johnson’s versions cannot diminish the elegant elation that this mellow, pastel soul gem induces. Shuggie’s sleigh and orchestral bells and his gilded, ascending guitar arpeggios lift this song to the seventh circle of heaven. It’s one of the purest expressions of enchantment ever put to tape, up there with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”

Finally, the nearly 13-minute “Freedom Flight” is a patiently unfolding, bluesadelic drift that’ll get you floating in the way that a Hendrix jam at its most blissed-out can do. Duke, Dunbar, and Felder appear again, but it’s Richard Aplanalp on tenor sax and oboe who steals the song. Aplanalp played on Bruce Palmer’s The Cycle Is Complete, and it shows. His blowing has that tender yet questing tone that suggests intimacy with the eternal. The band achieves a peaceful, easy feeling, in excelsis. “Freedom Flight” serves as an exclamation mark in lavender haze to an album that’s a manifesto of artistic adventurousness… created, I remind you, by a 17-year-old. -Buckley Mayfield

Love Battery “Dayglo” (Sub Pop, 1992)

Love Battery are the semi-forgotten men of Seattle’s early-’90s rock explosion. And that’s not right. Too psychedelic for grunge purists despite having Sub Pop’s imprimatur and too grunge-y for psych-rock purists despite cutting a righteous cover of Pink Floyd’s “Ibiza Bar,” Love Battery never caught on like some of their Emerald City brethren: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc. But it was not for lack of quality songs and albums. Sometimes shit just doesn’t break for a band—even with major-label backing, which they received from PolyGram subsidiary Atlas after departing Sub Pop. (/sarcasm)

But Love Battery—who were named after a Buzzcocks song off 1978’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen, although they don’t really sound like that British pop-punk group—released at least one dynamite full-length: Dayglo. Now tragically out of print on both vinyl and CD (prices for the latter are outrageous), Dayglo holds its own with the strongest early-era Sub Pop releases: Bleach, Prison, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Pigeonhed, Severe Exposure, etc.

Right away on “Out Of Focus,” Love Battery establish the bossness of their twin-guitar attack, with Kevin Whitworth and Ron Nine’s radiant fuzz tones intertwining in perfect disharmony. The song moves with a juggernaut stateliness, exuding psychedelic vibes that sting rather than mollify. Nine’s exasperated vocals are like a less abrasive cousin to Kurt Cobain’s. He even had the Nirvana frontman’s blond hair, making Love Battery’s lack of commercial success seem like a cruel conspiracy. I mean, listen to “Foot,” with its speedy, surging rock geared to put said appendage to the pedal to the (heady) metal. More exhilarating than “Rusty Cage” and “Even Flow” combined, it should have been a hit, but maybe it was too exciting for radio. “Damaged” wows with a woozy slide guitar motif that leads into a riff/chord progression that alludes to Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” and the Whitworth/Nine guitar army proves it’s just as mighty as that of Mark Arm/Steve Turner.

Talk about a strong opening triptych. But then “See Your Mind” raises the bar even higher. It’s pure fucking adrenaline, mercurial, revved-up biker rock with liquid acid in its gas tank. The way Nine and the band sing “mind” here will blow yours. By contrast, “Side (With You)” is a massive, lurching power ballad on which Whitworth peels off a wonderfully serpentine solo. Things return to uptempo fireworks with “Cool School (Trane Of Thought),” a slamming, turbulent tribute to jazz and Beatniks that sounds closer to James Blood Ulmer playing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” than to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, all of whom are name-checked on this bad boy. The vicious coda will flip your wig and then incinerate it. “Sometimes” and “23 Modern Stories” prove that even Love Battery’s ballads hit with a bludgeoning beauty and a slurring majesty. “Blonde” boasts fantastic, swerving dynamics and melismatic guitar riffs with horn-like tones. It’s a real tour de force of their dueling guitar alchemy. By album’s end, you realize why Dayglo is an apt title; because this record stood out from Seattle’s grunge status quo, soaring above its muddy jams purling in the garden of sound.

The main goal of this review is to spur a quality label to reissue Dayglo on a physical format, with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks… the whole (Ron) Nine. It’s too good and important to be relegated to the streaming services. Jonathan Poneman, white courtesy telephone… -Buckley Mayfield

Loop “The World In Your Eyes” (Head, 1987)

Loop’s heyday was brief (1987-1990), but it burned intensely. Over three studio albums, 11 singles and EPs, and a few compilations, the British group—who were named after an obscure Velvet Underground track—combined the best qualities of indomitable rock icons the Stooges and Hawkwind. (Many listeners and critics in the ’80s accused Loop of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the latter were such blatant emulators of older rock legends that the claim strikes me as absurd. Both Loop and Spacemen 3 siphoned inspiration from similar unimpeachable sources and possessed similar sonic aesthetics, so no wonder their music bore close resemblances. It was not at all hard for me to embrace both artists with conflict-free gusto.)

Why am I reviewing The World In Your Eyes—a comp of early singles that later grew to an odds-and-ends triple CD release in 2009—instead of a studio album proper? Because it most impressively represents Loop’s strengths and range and it contains my favorite track by them: “Burning World.” They are the rare band whose every release is worth copping, though, so if you see anything bearing that wavy Loop logo, grab it.

The World In Your Eyes begins with Loop’s weakest track, “16 Dreams,” whose linear, fuzz-and-grind guitar/bass attack (Suicide-al throb transposed to Neanderthal rock dynamics) is the closest they came to the C86 indie-rock aesthetic that still lingered in Britain then. John Wills—who later formed the sporadically great Hair And Skin Trading Co. with Loop bassist Neil Mackay—brings the boxiest drum sound ever, and it’s not right (Stooges reference intended) for Loop. Better is “Head On”’s methodical, serpentine rock—on the prowl like Iggy’s younger, less confident brother. Bandleader Robert Hampson lets off a wonderfully elastic wah-wah guitar solo, but again, the 4-square beats sound as if they’re coming from a lethargic drum machine.

The aforementioned “Burning World” slows everything the fuck down to an opiated plod and piles stacks and stacks of delayed and phased guitars over tambourine-enhanced beats that clomp out a laggard tempo. Mackay’s bass line is sly seduction itself, bobbing elegantly eastward. The band leverage a lysergic, languorous whorl that rhymes perfectly with Opal’s “Soul Giver.” Nine minutes is just a tease for the gilded eternity that this blissfully apocalyptic song betokens. Hard to follow that, but Loop made their cover of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” even more ominous than the original through the armada-of-wasps buzz that the guitars and bass generate. Hampson & co. were utterly in synch with Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s unstoppable monomania, so it was no surprise they took a stab at this song. (Side note: Loop had fantastic taste in covers: Can’s “Mother Sky,” Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Godflesh’s “Like Rats”; you can hear ’em all on that triple-disc comp mentioned earlier.)

With “Spinning (Parts 1 & 2),” Loop really hit their primal-rocking stride. One guitar drones and one emits solar flare solos over the memorably buoyant bass line and brute, Klaus Dinger-esque Apache beat. Now they wanna be Iggy’s dogs. “Deep Hit” is the most Spacemen 3-like song here, a sexy, sloping head-nodder that induces total understanding of the raptures of heroin without ever having to inject it. I could wander pleasurably through all of eternity amid these shivering, fuzzed-out guitars that are funhouse-mirrored to heaven and back. “I’ll Take You There” is not the Staple Singers song, but rather a pinwheeling orb of caustic guitar radiation that hovers with malevolent intent. The insistent maracas action seems to be lifted from Steve Reich’s Four Organs, which I appreciate.

Brittle Head Girl” is essentially a tribute to Faust’s “Jennifer,” its see-sawing bass line and woozy guitar shimmy complementing Hampson’s earnest paean to a… brittle head girl. It was the closest Loop ever came to writing a pop song (even if “Black Sun” was their “Black Hole Sun”), but dense, regressive radio programmers weren’t ready for such hushed sublimity.

As their name implies, Loop were all about the trance-inducing power of repetition. They blew out the minimalist exoskeletons of their songs to firmament-filling dimensions, troweling on the guitar effects, generating the most brutal yet mind-expanding textures, and Moebius-stripping themselves—and you—into deep, asteroidal space. -Buckley Mayfield

Chrome “Alien Soundtracks” (Siren, 1977)

Alien Soundtracks was where Chrome became the Chrome over which freaks worldwide have been flipping their lids for over four decades. Following the solid yet fairly trad 1976 debut LP The Visitation with founder Damon Edge at the controls, Alien Soundtracks is the San Francisco industrial-psychedelic-rock band’s first record with the uniquely blasted guitarist Helios Creed in the lineup. And what a difference he made.

Though recorded during punk’s first rude bloom, Alien Soundtracks aptly sounds as if it’s beaming in from a more grotesque and bizarre planet, one on which Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone—gawd love ’em—would seem like innocuous cartoon figures. Allegedly recorded to accompany a live sex show, Alien Soundtracks indeed generates erotic charges, but in a form that Pornhub likely would regard as too twisted.

Album-opener “Chromosome Damage” fades in as if rising from a pit, then clicks into an accelerated, warped rock attack that reeks of rocket fuel and amphetamines. Edge croaks, “I wanna fly, I wanna fly away” before the song just fades out and morphs into a nightmarish, backward-sucking inversion of French psychonauts Heldon. Creed’s guitar sounds like if Jimi Hendrix were irradiated with Strontium-90; Helios forges some of the sickest tones ever to be associated with the mundane term “rock.” The lysergic intro of “All Data Lost” leads into a skittering, Jaki Liebezeit ca. Tago Mago ratatat and Edge’s voice downshifts into a Syd Barrett-like murmur that ripples into infinity. “SS Cygni” finds Chrome at their funkiest, but this is the hypnotic machine chug of This Heat more than it’s the bon vivant strutting of James Brown or the Meters. ‘Tis a pity it doesn’t last at least three times longer. By contrast, “Nova Feedback” is eerie, menacing, and woozy, as Creed peels off proggy, contemplative riffs that contrast with the doom-laden business roiling below. It’s a masterpiece of chiaroscuro.

The strangeness does not let up on side 2. “Pigmies In Zee Park” unloads helter-skelter guitar, percussion, synths, and mysterious vocal consternation before a gong hit produces a segue into a Floydian head trip. Edge dares a grotesque mockery of a Johnny Mathis croon about “pigmies [sic] in the park by the zoo waiting for you.” It’s damned creepy. Finally, things shift again into a manic, automaton shuffle, like a threshing machine operating in triple time. The move epitomizes Chrome’s masterly madness. “Slip It To The Android” almost comes across as a novelty-dance track, with its bustling bongo-like beats and insectoid Moog buzzes, but Creed’s needly guitar solos and Gary Spain’s Jean-Luc Ponty-esque electric-violin riffs reveal Chrome’s rarely noted Frank Zappa influence.

The methodical funk of “Pharoah Chromium” could be early Black Sabbath covering Funkadelic’s “You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks,” with an articulate, anguished Creed solo glazing this strange trudge. It sounds as if Helios let second guitarist John Lambdin take lead on “ST 37,” a Residents boogie cross-hatched with all sorts of wonky synth tones and percussion timbres. It was distinctive enough to inspire a ’90s Texas band to name themselves after it. “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile” is as bizarre as its title, and it enables Creed to flaunt that muted, radiated tone that hovers in the region of Richard Pinhas’ axe work for French sci-fi-obsessed psych juggernaut Heldon. Here and elsewhere, Creed proves he can finesse exceedingly precise arabesques or unleash massively distorted riffs that dwarf Tony Iommi’s.

That sound would dominate the essential 1979 follow-up, Half Machine Lip Moves and other otherworldly classics such as 3rd From The Sun, but all of Chrome’s ostentatious mutations cohered most rewardingly on Alien Soundtracks.

(Alien Soundtracks has been reissued on vinyl four times. A word to the wise, though: Avoid the Cleopatra editions—which is good advice in general for any release.) -Buckley Mayfield

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets album was II. Obviously. And it’s not hard to understand why Nirvana covered three songs off of it (“Plateau,” “Lake Of Fire,” and “Oh, Me”). Its combo of poignant, desert-fried mysticism and virtuoso, Tasmanian Devil punk packed a distinctive punch—especially for 1984. As great as II is, though, I like Meat Puppets’ follow-up even more.

When Up On The Sun tumbled off the SST Records conveyor belt of awesomeness in 1985, it hit fans like a solar flare. Curt Kirkwood (guitar), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrick Bostrom (drums) had taken another great leap forward, leaving behind their punk roots for a bizarre agglomeration of psychedelia, country/bluegrass, and prog rock. I’m happy to report that Up On The Sun still blazes as hot as it did over 35 years ago. Either that or I’m stuck in my 23-year-old mindset. Anyway

The opening title track finds Curt in mellow stoner sage vocal mode (think Jerry Garcia crossed with Steve Miller) as the group slouch into a Grateful Dead-like, implied-funk amble. Then the buoyant chorus shocks you into a body-wide alertness, as if you’ve actually found yourself on the titular star. Helluva way to begin your best album. The intro to “Maiden’s Milk” barges in with a Zappa-esque motif of absurdly frilly prog-jazzitude, then the song shifts to a swift, Leo Kottke-esque bluegrass romp, with bonus chipper whistles. Here, we become aware that Curt switches into different styles and tones with an unparalleled, speedy nonchalance that would make Frank’s mustache curl with envy.

The album’s greatest achievement, “Away” recalls both the Police’s “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” and the Feelies’ “Away” (what are the odds?). There’s a faint undercurrent of swerving, Möbius-strip insistence in Curt’s guitar riff that speaks of Afrobeat knowledge, and the track feels as if it’s going to fly right out of the grooves into that fiery orb in the sky. The mercurial country funk of “Animal Kingdom” is awash with wonder about said domain, and the bridge features Cris’ bass mimicking noises of imaginary creatures. Nice!

Another highlight is “Swimming Ground,” which combines head-spinning country-rock euphoria and touching nostalgia for a childhood idyll. It’s as if the Puppets spiked the concept of “Americana” with the strongest amphetamines and LSD—both of which it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the band consuming in those heady days. “Buckethead” is not a tribute to the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, as he didn’t hit public consciousness till the early ’90s, but the fleet, fluttering filigrees Curt peels off here would surely make him doff his KFC container in respect. The song sounds as if Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads had lost their uptightness and put pedal to the metal. It gives quirkiness a good name.

Up On The Sun‘s remaining five songs offer nonstop excitement. “Enchanted Porkfist” is a clunky pun, but this fast and furious instrumental zooms and curlicues like an American Southwestern Gentle Giant. It’s a new breed of prog rock in which unpredictable tempo changes and virtuosity sound as natural as getting a sunburn in Arizona, Meat Puppets’ home base. Throughout, Curt flaunts superhuman reflexes yet an unbelievably gentle touch that enables him to generate riffs that zip by at an astonishing clip while also sounding velvety, twinkly, and pliable—it really is miraculous, like the Dead’s “Dark Star” at 78rpm. “Creator” abounds with Curt’s faux-wise gobbledygook about deities—which is just as valid as any “good book”’s gobbledygook, and it boasts the advantage of rocking way harder than the Bible or Koran.

Every Meat Puppets release after Up On The Sun receded farther away from its unprecedented incandescence, and that’s okay. Cobain and company knew that trying cover anything on it would be a fool’s errand, because the songs here are too dauntingly sui generis. You have to know your limitations. -Buckley Mayfield

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (Atlantic, 1971)

This major-label album has emerged through nearly five decades of fluctuating interest and apathy to become at once a bargain-bin staple and a cult favorite. You don’t see that happen very often. My used copy’s cover is torn and frayed as much as David Crosby’s life has been, and that ugly exterior somehow makes the music within the grooves seem that much more special.

If I Could Only Remember My Name arose in the aftermath of Crosby’s emotional devastation following the death of his girlfriend, Christine. The former Byrd was eight miles low when he entered the studio. Emotionally and artistically buoyed by friends in high places (and high friends in spaces), Croz manifested a record that was like a miraculous mirage of folk-rock jamming and heart-string-tugging lyrics.

Name might have been the greatest pity party ever thrown, and it proved that a dozen or so millionaire musicians can set aside their egos and create an enduring work of healing spirituality, in order to mend a damaged psyche. It’s also the rare LP that has influenced middling indie-rock artists such as Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens as well as delighted lovers of rarefied psychedelia.

It begins with “Music Is Love,” a pinnacle of hippie rock. The song rides an easygoing acoustic-guitar riff and hand percussion/handclap rhythm, bolstered by a simple, indisputable message/mantra: “Everybody’s saying music is love.” Everybody was saying no such thing back then or at any other time, but isn’t it lovely to think so? Through the pure beauty of the tune, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Written by Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, this tune must’ve made Stephen Stills very jealous.

Then comes the “Cowgirl In The Sand”-like “Cowboy Movie,” which sounds like a laid-back James Gang with its subtle, clipped funk undertow. Grateful Dead members dominate here, with Jerry Garcia on guitars, Mickey Hart on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on tambourine. Over their Haight-Ashbury groove, Crosby relates a harrowing tall tale about an Indian woman who’s not what she seems. Not sure this track needs to be over eight minutes, but maybe the drugs were kicking in real nice when Croz and company cut it. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” is a mellow, wee-hours CSN tune with gorgeous wordless vocal harmonies—a motif on Name. With Nash joining Croz on vocals, the song goes airborne thanks to Garcia and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen unspooling liquid gold filigrees.

For a lot of people (maybe even me), “Laughing” is the LP’s peak. You have the goddess Joni Mitchell and Nash on silken backing vocals, Garcia getting glorious on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums. They all lock into synch for this languorous sigh of a song that’s like a more rhythmically easygoing version of “Cowboy Movie.” Think of it as the aural analogue to the LP cover, on which the descending sun glows above the ocean that’s superimposed over Crosby’s pensive stare. The album’s most menacing track, “What Are Their Names” starts with spare, “Dark Star”-esque intrigue, thanks to Garcia’s spindly, stellar picking. With Mitchell, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and David Freiberg on backing vocals, Croz and the crew intone lyrics about the evil men who run the country/world. Timeless stuff, unfortunately. Bonus: Seattle resident and Santana star Michael Shrieve’s on drums.

The album’s final four songs are marked by some of the most beautiful and majestic vocal arrangements and performances of the ’70s. The traditional “Orleans” is a showcase for Crosby’s soaring choirboy voice and delicately gorgeous acoustic-guitar strumming. You can hear its profound influence on Fleet Foxes, for what that’s worth. This track bleeds seamlessly into “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here,” whose vocal origami of ancient-sounding majesty prefigures Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. Yep.

There are fewer rougher bummers than losing a lover to death, obviously, but Crosby and his posse of West Coast all-stars turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest lemonade on If I Could Only Remember My Name. -Buckley Mayfield

The Supremes “New Ways But Love Stays” (Motown, 1970)

If you abandoned the Supremes after Diana Ross departed the hit-making vocal group, you should reconsider. Start making amends by listening to New Ways But Love Stays, the second studio album with Jean Terrell as their lead singer. Ably assisted by Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong, and the Andantes, the Supremes proved they could thrive without their head diva, scoring their biggest post-Diana hit with “Stoned Love” (#7 on the Billboard singles chart), a slice of irresistible soul that’s at once brassy and blissful—a very difficult feat.

See, another reason not to bail on the Supremes sans Ross is that Motown in 1970 was still producing some of the most ambitious and ingenious soul music in the world. I wish I could tell you who’s responsible for the luxurious backing on New Ways, but Berry Gordy was stingy with credits for some unfathomable reason. Frank Wilson produced every song here except one, though, and he deserves plaudits for the maximalist, orchestral excitement happening here. And whoever selected the songs to cover merits a medal.

The album opens with a version of the Spinners’ “Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music.” A love song, uh, supreme, this is sumptuous, busy soul that testifies with intricate vocal arrangements and vaguely psych-rock guitar embellishments. And is that a Minnie Riperton-like wail or synth hijinks at the end? Whatever the case, it’s awesome. A reverent cover of a reverent song, the Supremes’ “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is executed with utmost skill and nuanced feeling. It elegantly explodes when it needs to, although Art Garfunkel still has the ladies beat with that showstopping chorus. I bet Paul Simon was pleased, and not just for the royalty checks.

Doing one of the Beatles’ funkiest and oddest songs, “Come Together,” may seem counterintuitive, but the Motown brain trust and the Supremes made it something special. They made a sitar the lead instrument, surprisingly relegating the bass to the background. It’s pretty funny as well to hear Terrell sing “walrus gumboot” and to ham it up on the “hold him in his armchair, you can feel his disease” line. What goofy fun this is. Speaking of which, the rendition of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is the album’s peak. I realize you may be skeptical, but hear me out. This accidental jock jam and 1968 chart-topper by one-hit wonders Steam has been transformed by the Funk Brothers into a clap-happy charmer with sitar accouterments, slamming beats, and sax filigrees to fly for. This is DJ gold, and you should see people’s faces when you tell them who’s responsible for it.

Some other highlights on New Ways include the mellow and funky “It’s Time To Break Down,” which hip-hop producer DJ Premier sampled for Gang Starr’s “JFK 2 LAX.” You just can’t deny orchestral soul with that mighty Motown budget behind it. And while “Shine On Me” may be boilerplate Motown upfulness, it bears so much vocal creamy sweetness and is inflated by inspirational horn charts, you may mistake it for a Rotary Connection joint.

New Ways‘ original title and cover caused some controversy within Motown’s offices. Stoned Love was deemed too drug-friendly and the women’s black turtlenecks were considered an endorsement of the Black Panthers, so compromises were made. Weak sauce, Mr. Gordy, but thanks anyway for releasing such a gem.

*The 1991 CD reissue contains a bonus cut of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With.” -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Priddy “You’ve Come This Way Before” (Dot, 1968)

Nancy Priddy had a one-and-done solo career in music, but You’ve Come This Way Before stands as one of the best albums by an actor—perhaps a low bar, but still. (Priddy acted in TV shows such as Bewitched, Matlock, and The Waltons, and gave birth to another actor, Christina Applegate.)

Before she retired from music for good, though, Priddy racked up impressive credits with the great, grave folk singer/poet Leonard Cohen and synth master Mort Garson. For Cohen, Priddy sang backup on three tunes from his 1967 debut LP, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, including “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.” With Garson, she flexed thespian prowess to recite astrological insights over Mort’s abstract Moog emissions for myriad Signs Of The Zodiac records. On the gossip tip, Priddy briefly dated Stephen Stills and inspired the Buffalo Springfield song “Pretty Girl Why.”

It was while working with NYC folk group the Bitter End Singers that Priddy met producer Phil Ramone, as well as arrangers Manny Albam and John Simon, all of whom would contribute considerable skills to You’ve Come This Way Before. The musicians are uncredited, but the internet reveals that Bernard Purdie mans the drumkit, and you can tell that’s true from the subtly funky beats on the album-opening title track. Whoever else is backing Priddy’s dulcet, coquettish singing, they’re a killer crew.

Now, most women making records in the ’60s didn’t have much autonomy with regard to songwriting, but Priddy pens every tune here, and the lyrics bear a poetic depth about the vagaries of romance and existence. They’re closer to Joni Mitchell, Bobbie Gentry, and Nico than to those of the evanescent pop stars of the time, e.g., “A chess game played by gods/In which there are no odds/A Master Plan directing man to something more/Our pathways are magnetic/Our logic is synthetic/Our struggle is so pathetic, and a bore.”

Those lyrics to “You’ve Come This Way Before” add luster to the hip, understatedly funky sunshine pop that spectacularly blossoms, thanks partially to the ever-resourceful Purdie. The arrangers whip up exquisite quiet/loud/quiet dynamics while Priddy expresses kittenish charm with sporadic forays into dulcet belting. She’s not quite Dusty Springfield or Bobbie Gentry, but Priddy’s a capable conveyor of subtle emotions.

If you dig orchestral pop à la Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier, you’ll love “Ebony Glass,” which achieves a majestic moroseness through harpsichord, violins, harps, and glockenspiel. “Mystic Lady”is an arty ballad with lush melodies, surprising, intricate vocal arrangements, and prog-like dynamics—a tour de force with soul. Named after the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, “Christina’s World” is as ornate and sweeping as the Left Banke, thanks to the arranging and conducting of Everett Gordon. The album’s most uptempo song, “My Friend Frank,” is almost as quirky as Lothar And The Hand People and as swinging as the United States Of America’s “Hard Coming Love.” Respect to whoever plays the madly swirling, spiritual organ solo.

Two of the LP’s highlights remind me of another late-’60s woman singer-songwriter who should’ve been much bigger: Margo Guryan (see my review of her Take A Picture album on this blog). “We Could Have It All”’s towering feel-good pop also recalls the 5th Dimension and it makes you feel as if you’re soaring to your final reward. Another should’ve been hit, “On The Other Side Of The River,” offers nonstop excitement, hip-swiveling rhythms, and melodic sweetness, much like Guryan’s “Love,” which is highest praise.

Modern Harmonic reissued You’ve Come This Way Before on vinyl in 2020 and the UK label Rev-Ola re-released it on CD in 2005. Grip this jewel before it slips out of print again. -Buckley Mayfield

Kraftwerk “Kraftwerk” (Philips, 1970)

Musicians sometimes have very poor insight into what constitutes their best work. Bob Seger and Alex Chilton come to mind. One of the most extreme cases of this unfortunate phenomenon is Kraftwerk. The legendary German group’s founders—Ralf Hütter and the late Florian Schneider-Esleben—are/were undoubtedly intelligent people, but for baffling reasons, they refuse(d) to acknowledge the existence of their pre-Autobahn releases. It’s a shame, because Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf & Florian represent some of their greatest, most adventurous creations.

Like many of their early ’70s Deutschland compatriots (Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust, Popol Vuh, Et Cetera, etc.), Kraftwerk were both striving to distinguish themselves from post-WWII German culture and not simply imitate the era’s dominant Anglo-American rock paradigms. Operating under this liberating notion, Kraftwerk created some of the most revolutionary experimental rock and electronic music of all time. Most heads still aren’t ready to absorb the genius percolating on these early records (plus that of Tone Float by Organisation, Ralf and Florian’s pre-Kraftwerk band).

The sounds on Kraftwerk et al. diametrically oppose the precise, linear driving musik and robotic electro-funk that marked their work from the mid-’70s onward. No doubt, all of that stuff should be revered, too, and its influence is staggering. But it’s so frustrating that the creators of those early releases disown them, making the LPs ripe for bootlegging and gray-area reissues. I normally don’t condone buying those, but in this case, do what you gotta do to get ’em.

So, finally, to Kraftwerk’s debut album. Produced by the studio wizard Conny Plank, it consists of four long tracks, each a mind-blower. Opener “Ruckzuck” (translation: Right Now) is the pinnacle of flute-centric avant-rock. Schneider’s electronically treated instrument stutters and splutters with contrapuntal ingenuity, forming a mesmerizing motif over Andreas Hohmann’s motorik drums and Hütter’s guitar stabs and organ whorls. An interlude of cymbal and warped-to-hell flute crescendos will shock you with a horror-film force. That rupture is indicative of a piece that keeps regenerating, changing tempo, accruing strange textures, ebbing and flowing, and throwing surprises at your ears at a frantic rate. “Ruckzuck” is nightmarish yet euphoric psychedelic music as you’ve never heard it before. Schneider proves himself to be the Sonny Sharrock of the flute, a mad genius who took his instrument’s timbres to heretofore unexplored and untamed realms..

Stratovarius” (Schneider plays violin, too) resembles Can’s “Aumgn,” emitting several minutes of maleficent squall and alienating drones. Eventually, a slack, quasi-funky rhythm emerges along with cantankerous guitar feedback and squawks. When the song shifts into a freak-rock rave-up à la Can’s “Outside My Door,” it reveals Kraftwerk deconstructing rock into fascinating shapes while ratcheting up the intensity to horrifying dimensions. “Megaherz” is an electronic experiment in extreme dynamics and tonalities, but it’s not without its tender, beautiful passages. The one in which Schneider’s flute and Hütter’s organ and triangle cohere into a meditative respite is exemplary.

Von Himmel Hoch” (From Heaven Above in English) remains one of history’s maddest album-finales. It begins with a series of otherworldly aircraft noises, explosions, and alarms. Gradually, a menagerie of bizarre animal growls generated with a modified organ called a “tubon” coheres into a powerful rhythm, underscored by future Neu! member Klaus Dinger’s pugilistic drums. As some of the most fucked-up borborygmus/stomach gurgles ever laid to tape ensue, you think, “It’s too bad Roger Waters and Ron Geesin didn’t conceive these sounds for their Music From The Body LP.” Unexpectedly, the track gets urgently funky near the end, before finishing with a bass frequency explosion. WOWOW.

To reiterate, it’s shameful that Kraftwerk is out-of-print. Instead, it deserves a reissue with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks, the works. Come on, Ralf. Quit being such a Scheisskopf. -Buckley Mayfield

Can “Monster Movie” (Music Factory, 1969)

Choosing a favorite Can album is like pinpointing your favorite orgasm—damn near impossible, but fun to contemplate. As with many things music-oriented, it depends on your mood. One of the great things about these German geniuses (plus their American and Japanese vocalists) is how different each LP is. On any given day, your fave could be the unique funk bomb of Ege Bamyasi, the aquatic space-out of Future Days, the psych-rock/musique-concrète amalgam of Tago Mago, the proto-techno rhythmagic of Soon Over Babaluma, the alien dub and robo-funk of Flow Motion, or the raw-nerved, Velvet Underground-inflected trips and trance jams of Monster Movie. Or yet another one. Choose your adventure, etc.

My lifelong love affair with Can—whom I consider the greatest rock band ever—began with Monster Movie in the very early ’80s. I was smitten from the first seconds of “Father Cannot Yell,” which is a skewed, avant-garde take on the Velvet Underground at their most adrenalized—but with a loose-cannon, African-American sculptor on vocals instead of a NYC hipster. Nothing else really sounded like this in 1969: Holger Czukay’s ominous pulsations of sinewy bass; Jaki Liebezeit’s robust, tricky beats; Irmin Schmidt’s synapse-sizzling keyboard fibrillations; and Michael Karoli’s radiant guitar; Mooney’s spluttering of a disturbing, primal, parental scenario. “Father Cannot Yell” is not so much a traditional rock song as it is a surge of panicky energy that makes you think earth is spinning off its axis.

The next track, “Mary, Mary So Contrary,” ushers in a 180º shift to slack, clanging rock in the vein of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Cream’s “World Of Pain.” Karoli’s articulate guitar lead whines and snakes through the song like a tortuous siren and is underpinned by Liebezeit’s emphatic, deceptive funk beats. Mooney’s obsessive, lyrics about the titular woman are strange, but this might be the most conventional love song in Can’s canon, outside of “She Brings The Rain.” “Outside My Door” features a wonderfully doleful train-whistle harmonica wafting over a spasming psych-rock roar that’s somewhere between 13th Floor Elevators ca. Bull Of The Woods and Mass In F Minor-era Electric Prunes. Mooney looses a stream of discombobulated consciousness in which the standout line is “Any color is bad.”

Monster Movie climaxes on “Yoo Doo Right.” A 20-minute Ouroboros jam of throbbing intensity and sublime subterranean tremors, this is really Holger and Jaki’s show. The formidable rhythm section creates an undulating foundation of low frequencies, heavy on the bass twang and tom-toms, over which Schmidt’s keys and Karoli’s guitar fill the firmament with aching drones that hint at VU’s “Black Angel’s Death Song.” Mooney sings about his lust-object mantras as if possessed: “once I was blind now I can see/now that you’re in love with me/you made a believer out of me, babe/you made a believer out of me/she said, ‘yoo doo right, yoo doo right.’” At around 8 minutes, the song reduces to rimshots and Mooney sadly intoning the lyrics for a minute; then the rest of the band resume forging periodic swells of keyboard burbles and a fuzzed-out guitar riff that’s like a fanfare for an advanced civilization. Czukay and Liebezeit continue to build a mountain of rhythm out of bare necessities. Mooney’s OCD rants and tender singing capture the mindset of a man in an agitated state of romantic thralldom. It’s an exhausting yet exhilarating trip.

Monster Movie contains some of Can’s most straightforward rock moments, but also their most prodigious improv epic (just nudging out “Halleluwah”). It’s a start-to-finish mind-bender and a rewarding entry point into their incomparable catalog. -Buckley Mayfield