116. THE MISUNDERSTOOD- BEFORE THE DREAM FADED (1982*)

When it comes to the Champions League Cup Final of pub debates – that of course being which are the greatest albums ever made – there inevitably arises the odd point of contention. For instance, there are those records which proffer such a sharp contrast in styles between their two sides so as to make consensus virtually impossible. These albums may be a major triumph (Low, Bringing It All Back Home, Neu ’75), a minor triumph (Rust Never Sleeps), or perhaps something less than a triumph (Abbey Road). Then there are those double albums (The Beatles, Tago Mago) and triple albums (Sandinista!, All Things Must Pass) which some will argue would have been better as a single volume, and others (Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Wall) which others reckon ought not to exist at all. Next there are those albums let down by at least one clunker (Surfs Up, Younger Than Yesterday, dare I be as bold to suggest Revolver?) But might it be a legitimate choice to include a record based on the merits of only one of its two sides? I certainly think so. Take for example Da Capo by Love, justly lauded in the original book The Perfect Collection. A magnificent first side certainly, but who ever really listens to ‘Revelation’? Then there’s the whole issue around the validity of including compilation albums. Often a hung jury is declared on that one.
Given the latter two considerations, it may appear like utter folly to make allowance for one whole side of what is ostensibly a Best Of compilation, for that album would for many, fail the test on both counts. And yet it would be equally foolish to exclude Before The Dream Faded by The Misunderstood on the basis of the otherwise quite reasonable gripe that it contains only six tracks worthy of note. For what if those six tracks authentically rank among the greatest psychedelic tracks ever recorded?

The Misunderstood were formed in Riverside California in 1963, one of the many thousands of garage bands to spring up across the States following the Brit Invasion. And like so many other bands of the time, their sound was a coalescence of bruising R&B, Bo Diddley shuffles and high-powered beat music. Nothing particularly new there, but by ’65 the embryonic fourpiece had gained a reputation as a fearsome live act. Not only that, but they also staked a claim to be one of the first bands to pioneer the live psychedelic light show. John Peel, then working as a DJ at KMEN in California, immediately recognised their potential, rating their performance at Pandora’s Box in Hollywood in early ’66 as one of the ten best live performances he ever witnessed in his life. At Peel’s behest the band were persuaded to move to London, in retrospect a somewhat strange move, considering the explosion of acid rock and psychedelia taking place back home in California. By then however, they had undergone some personnel changes – guitarists Greg Treadwell and George Phelps were replaced by Tony Hill and Glenn Ross Campbell respectively – leading to a vital and inspirational alteration of their sonic landscape. Now, with Campbell’s steel guitar at the centre, no-one else sounded remotely like them. The future looked promising, but after recording only seven tracks in London, vocalist Rick Brown was forced to return to The States to face the draft board. Eventually Fontana picked up the band, releasing two 45s before they disbanded. Peel famously quipped that: “By God, they were a great band! If they hadn’t been broken up by the US Government when they tried to draft Rick … they would have ruled the world.” Of that claim, one can only speculate. The four sides of those 45s along with two other tracks recorded at the time, make up the first side of Before The Dream Faded. And well, this is really about as good as it gets…

On ‘Children Of The Sun’ which initially appeared as one side of the second 45 from the sessions, Steve Whiting’s turbo charged bass struggles to wrap itself around Tony Hill’s scything feedback-drenched guitar. This is ‘Shapes Of Things’ on a seriously heavy dose of steroids and Whiting’s three-dimensional throb takes on a life of it’s own, predating John Cale’s jaw dropping outro on ‘White Light/ White Heat’ by over twelve months. Meanwhile, Rick Brown’s primitive howl seems at first to speed up then to slow down – is it poor mastering, or is it designed to mess with your head? – as he emphatically proclaims his acid-fried manifesto: “Let go lovely children/Close your eyes and drift away/When you wake again tomorrow/You’ll be born again to stay/Thus the word of love has spoken/You’ve joined the children of the sun.”


As explosive as ‘Children Of The Sun’ is, ‘My Mind’ is even more innovative, beginning with some Eastern raga-esque harmonics before Whiting’s pummelling sliding bass distortions take over. Brown is on top form now: “If there is anyone in my mind/Would they please take themselves away/Cause all time to stop/Cause all light to fade” …then a stuttering frenetic mess of thoughts and sound:..”There is no sense in this dimension/If I could leave there’d be no question/Of what I’d find/Peace of mind yeah…” and then…suddenly…the strangest intrusion you will ever hear in the middle of a madcap psychedelic wigout – Campbell’s steel guitar. Playing a different tune. On its own. It belongs as much here as a theremin solo would in the middle of ‘Pretty Vacant’ – at first that sense of utter incongruousness is unavoidable but slowly gives way to the realisation that this is insanely beautiful, utterly inspirational.

Next up and you expect they might have dug out their old workclothes to tackle Bo’s ‘Who Do You Love’. Not so. First of all the intro segues so seamlessly from the tail of ‘My Mind’ as to render the junction indistinguishable, before it’s zig zagging chords slowly begin to relent and Diddley’s standard is savagely ripped apart like a rag doll. And then Campbell repeats his feat, although this time, it seems less a bizarre musical interlude, than one of the most beautiful and haunting instrumental sections in all of popular music. If, on acid, Brian Wilson really did see God, then Campbell must have ingested a double dose of the same compound, for this brief but bewitching passage is genuinely paradisaical.

The macabre lyrical content of ‘I Unseen’ (“I’m only seven although I died/In Hiroshima long ago/I’m seven now as I was then/For I am dead, yes I am dead/My hair was scorched by swirling flame/My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind/Death came and turned my bones to dust/And that was scattered by the wind”) is adapted from a work by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet (The Byrds’ did likewise on ‘I Come And Stand At Every Door’) and might possibly even outweigh its sonic potency, while the intensity and immediacy of its galloping rhythm illustrates the crucial advantage of a perfectly fluid album sequence. The first chords of this Yardbirds raveup turned inside out, are merely a bugle blast short of the charge of the Light Brigade, and provide the perfect counterpoint to the twisted elongated coda of ‘Who Do You Love’. Brown’s stonking harmonica solo is just the icing on the cake.

By the time ‘Find A Hidden Door’s demented staccato rhythms begin to melt your mind, Campbell’s steel guitar is now orchestrating proceedings like some all-seeing eye. By now the tempo is relentless, and one’s mind begins to crave momentary respite from the onslaught…

Cue ‘I Can Take You To The Sun’, the first 45 to appear on Fontana. In 1968, Peel famously called it “the best popular record that has ever been recorded”, and he wasn’t far off the mark. It plays with light and shade, power and fragility, as skilfully as The Velvets and Syd did at the same time. Building to a pulsating crescendo, suddenly the valves are loosened, and Hill demonstrates his versatility with a beautiful acoustic passage, the balalaika-style picking just unnerving enough to leave you suitably disoriented before the needle locks into the run out groove.

The second side here – a collection of recordings, most of which date from a year earlier, and which feature the original lineup, are by no means bad, but they do not compare with the sheer power, verve and originality of the later tracks, and seem to exist as if merely to emphasise the incredible metamorphosis in the band’s sound. Suffice to say, the songs on the first side more than make up for it. The band’s promise may have been tragically unfulfilled, but the dreams they have woven will never fade. (JJ)

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94. GLORIA – SHADOWS OF KNIGHT (1966)

42. MONSTER MOVIE – CAN (1969)

MONSTER MOVIE – CAN (1969)

“Birth of a new line,” assert the sleevenotes of Monster Movie. Ay – you could say that. There had been little, if anything, like this before and it’s a record which simply could not have been made at the start of the decade it appeared in, or even three years earlier. Astonishment at how far ahead of its time it is increases, not recedes, with time and it still sounds utterly fresh.
Only a few others – Beatles, Velvets, Hendrix, Floyd, Beefheart – rival Can for sheer originality but they dragged things even further forward and outward than any of them. They never made any secret of their early debt to the Velvets, in particular, but just as Shakespeare influenced Joyce, another completely new language was created,  complete with (very) tenses and (extremely) irregular verbs.
The band’s German majority had disparate backgrounds in rock, jazz and avant-garde classical, the last element in particular setting them apart from the British-American axis which had hitherto dominated popular music. Even so, equally distinctive was the contribution of American singer Malcolm Mooney, whose schooling was in art and who found himself in Europe to keep away from the very real prospect of the draft.
If Mooney was battllng an all too present threat, so were his colleagues, although theirs was one shaped by the immediate past. The generation gap in the UK was at least partly a product of perceived ingratitude of youth towards the parents and grandparents who had fought and won for their freedom; Germany had lost, had to deal with a horrifying legacy and, despite a vast economic regeneration and a genuine will to atone, many of those who were children in the war or were born afterwards were unconvinced. Whatever they did or thought at the time, or afterwards, West Germany was still being run by a generation directly involved in the war and many of the youth wanted only a clean break. This, and a more prosaic distaste for the prevalent schlager music (crudely, caricatured Eurovision knees-ups blended with old-style north European oompah) gave much of the impetus to the extraordinary torrent of innovation from Germany from 1968 onwards.
Can weren’t as politically radical as Amon Duul II, as consistently on the edge as Faust (though they were easily a match at their most extreme) or as sonically advanced as Kraftwerk ( but, at first, neither were Kraftwerk). What gave them the edge was a staggering versatility and a mastery of the most elusive alchemy – the ability to be experimental, groundbreaking and accessible at the same time. All of which made them an irresistible, unfathomable force of nature.
I first heard Can in 1980, as the summer of Closer, Crocodiles and Seventeen Seconds gave way to the autumn of More Specials and Remain In Light. Their name was being bandied around as post-punk precursors but I had little idea what to expect from Cannibalism, the compilation borrowed from Bishopbriggs Library which housed three of Monster Movie’s four tracks.
They shared an opening track, Father Cannot Yell, a title which to my 11-year-old mind seemed the result of a combination of prog pomposity and English as a second language (not quite grasping yet that the singer at this stage was a native English speaker). My initial response was irritation – what’s with the two-minute repetition of “uh-uh-uh-uh?” Is this him driving home the point that father indeed cannot yell? Or is he just vocalising worldlessly? The irritation soon turned to mesmerism and I came to realise the wisdom of Pete Shelley’s sleevenotes, in which he admitted to hating some Can songs at first but was forced to concede first hearings can be misleading. Now, I’m hard put to think of a mightier, more compelling or simply greater opening track – Wire’s Reuters and Robert Wyatt’s Sea Song are up there – which wrong-foots you immediately on its era, with Irmin Schmidt producing a crazed Morse code from some form of keyboard, which or may not be a primitive synth, while drummmer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay dominate the song, demolishing any preconceptions you might have of what a rhythm section is and setting up a wind–tunnel barrage punctuated sparingly but scorchingly by the late Michael Karoli’s guitar tirades (solos really doesn’t cover it). Julian Cope described his first band, the appropriately Germanically-named Softgraundt, as “pure Can, all bass and drums” – presumably, Father Cannot Yell was the touchstone, as it was for. to name just a handful of others, Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, Siouxsie and the Banshees The Fall, Wire and Pere Ubu.
Mary, Mary So Contrary is the one Monster Movie song not to appear on Cannibalism and so I first heard it years after the rest. The lyric is, largely, made up of the near-eponymous nursery rhyme, a sign that even ultra-modern Can weren’t completely immune to the otherwise ubiquitous hippy whimsy. In keeping with the lyrical theme, it’s partly medieval-sounding, albeit in a manner similar to Venus In Furs, and also points a way forward, sharing some ground with Deadlock, which would be recorded a year later with Mooney’s replacement, Damo Suzuki. It’s also Mooney’s most restrained performance on the album, although these things are relative, just as Al Pacino is more restrained in Serpico than in Scarface.
One word has always encapsulated Outside My Door for me – exhilirating. It has a fuller band sound than anywhere else on the album, with unexpected colour from a harmonica and, in the coda, what is either a hammering piano or a tolling bell. Liebezeit’s scatergun drumming parallels Keith  Moon at his most freeform and opens the door to Buzzcocks’ John Maher, while Karoli’s suitably buzzsaw solo is an object lesson for the same band’s Shelley and Diggle. Mooney, meanwhile, invites James Brown and Otis Redding along and succeeds in drowning them out.
The former side two is occupied in its entirety by the 20-minute Yoo Doo Right, for many the crowning glory not just of Monster Movie but of Can’s entire repertoire. It is, of course, fantastic but – here comes the heresy – it does go on just a little.When we taped it (it never did kill music) from Cannibalism, the album shared a C90 with side two of Talking Heads ’77, meaning that Yoo Doo Right ended after nine minutes (at “Gotcha, gotcha, doo wa”) and I’ve always felt that most of the highlights come before this cut-off point: the first shift of the bass from riff to melody at 0:25 (Czukay once likened his instrument’s role to the king in chess – moving little but changing everything when doing so); the single-note organ figure at 1:56; the most metalically chiming guitar you’ll ever hear at 4:16; a single, possibly accidental, cymbal crash at 6:27; a guitar turning into a raygun at 6:44 and the final collapse at 8:05, leaving nothing but Mooney exhaustedly contemplating “a drumbeat 21 hours a day” and every second of those hours being ticked off. But there still remains plenty of tension and drama in the second half, with Mooney’s very real isolation unresolved – at the end, as at the beginning, “I’m in love with my girl, she’s away/Man, you gotta move on.”
Can would take on many more influences – funk, Eastern European folk, traditional African music – and would shed many more skins to become ever more magical. If ever there’s been music that takes you places, that music belongs to Can – they stand up to repeated listens more than just about any other band and the disparate strands of their sound prompted me to seek out as much about the world as I ever learned in geography.Monster Movie was one of their first steps, and some dismiss it in favour of the admittedly brilliant Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, but it captures them at their most viscerally thrilling (PG).

41. PERE UBU – TERMINAL TOWER (comp. 1985)

“We are the longest-lasting, most disastrous commercial outfit to ever appear in rock ‘n’ roll. No one can come close to matching our loss to longevity ratio.” (David Thomas)

How does one measure success? Consider The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake or Big Star for example: virtually nobody bought their records during their short careers, yet collectively their music has influenced scores of musicians and set substantially more youthful pulses racing than that of say, Yes or Fleetwood Mac. By contrast, those two would not be named as musical touchstones by too many modern rock bands, despite accruing bank balances large enough to shame Rupert Murdoch.

The world wasn’t ready for Pere Ubu, so commercial success was never a viable prospect. In a musical wasteland yet to be administered its life-saving punk booster, and inhabited by flatulent megalomaniacs, tedious singer-songwriters, prog excess, glam frippery and poker-faced AOR, there was undoubtedly a gaping hole to be filled. Aspiring young musicians and fans alike might have hoped for, nay even expected, in such desperate times, a messianic gang of rebels, beats or brats to put an end to it all, to kick off those caftans and get back to basics. Only The New York Dolls had threatened to do anything of the sort, but it had been too much too soon for them. Some would have found in 10cc or Steely Dan a distasteful smugness, and craved something a bit more audacious, primitive. That would have to wait a while longer. Nevertheless, who in 1975 could have expected anything quite like this? And who was listening anyway?

It has been suggested that Pere Ubu’s music came from nowhere, but that is neither factually nor figuratively accurate, for first of all, their origins lie in the industrial heartland of Middle America – Cleveland Ohio, and secondly, they are the descendants of an illustrious if loosely connected experimental art-punk heritage which includes artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, The Red Crayola, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, Silver Apples, early Roxy Music and Faust, although none of those influences may be immediately obvious.

In fact, Pere Ubu evolved out of the remnants of local proto-punk pioneers Rocket From The Tombs, who during their chaotic eighteen-month lifespan cooked up for Cleveland the unholiest of rackets and gained for themselves mythical status into the bargain. Theirs is one of the great ‘coulda shoulda’ stories of ’70s rock, and when the inevitable disintegration unfolded, the legend was assured. In the meantime two of the band went on to form The Dead Boys, while Thomas – shorn of his RFTT Crocus Behemoth alter-ego, as well as his long hair – and guitarist Peter Laughner, worked a moonlight flit, leaving with a small handful of RFTT’s best tracks to form Pere Ubu, the name according to Thomas  “a joke invented to have something to give journalists when they yelp for a neat sound bite or pigeonhole.” That may indeed be true but it is also nicked from Alfred Jarry’s play ‘Ubu Roi’]

But what of the music? How to pin down a frenzied fusion of Dadaist experimentation, bizarre rhythmic dissonance, sci-fi surrealism, avant-garde adventurism, thrilling garage punk and musique concrete – all wrapped in Thomas’ desperately freakish vocal delivery, characterised by his infantile almost inhuman, yelps and absurdist lyrical humour, accompanied by guitars so loud they sound “like a nuclear explosion”, uniquely garnished by Allan Ravenstine’s radioactive synth rumblings, which sound like they come from another planet, often groaning and skittering like the fragile digestive system of a distressed extraterrestrial?

Terminal Tower (named after the structure which dominates the Cleveland skyline) brings together the band’s early Hearthan singles and B-Sides and is selected here in preference to the Datapanik In The Year Zero EP, which did much the same thing, due to the latter’s omission of ‘Final Solution’, arguably the band’s greatest achievement. [NB. The recent DITYZ box set makes amends  for this]

The album includes a few later self-consciously arty out-takes, without which it could survive quite happily, but would be worth buying for the first three tracks alone. On one half of their debut single, ‘Heart of Darkness’, with its prowling bass line, Thomas’ paranoiac discontent is unveiled:

“Maybe you see further than I can see / or maybe things just look differently / Maybe I’m nothing but a shadow on the wall / Maybe love’s a tomb where you dance at night / Maybe sanctuary is an electric light / I get so tired it’s like I’m another man / and everything I see seems so underhanded / I don’t see anything that I want / and I don’t see anything that I want.”

The song’s portentous threatening  atmosphere has no direct musical precedent – but is a clear blueprint for Joy Division’s despairing bass-driven sound. And without them, how different would the musical landscape of the early 1980s have looked?

‘Heart of Darkness’ was coupled with the apocalyptic ’30 Seconds Over Tokyo’ – a dissonant fusion of throbbing bass belching and Beefheartian dismemberment: synths snarl and fizz, and anarchic guitars rocket their sonic symphonies of feedback through a sequence of musical meltdowns and muffled screams, culminating in a genuinely shocking ending which sounds like someone’s dragged the record off the turntable – the stylus ripping through the vinyl with great ferocity, the volume control left in tatters.

The early version of ‘Untitled’ is pleasing enough but was given a more robust reworking as the title track to their indisputably classic debut album The Modern Dance where the Ubu experiment reached it’s fullest expression.

Meanwhile one can detect  in ‘Cloud 149’ an impetus for the music of Josef K and The Fire Engines and ‘My Dark Ages (I Don’t Get Around)’, is an ironic Beach Boys pastiche, once again showcasing Thomas’ self-deprecating witticisms: (“I don’t get around / I don’t fall in love much”)

That dark humour is much in evidence on the best track of all, the band’s second single ‘Final Solution’. It is nigh on impossible to believe that this music was made in 1976, and if you have not heard it before, then I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Those who are familiar will rightfully claim it as one of the most thrilling and influential records of the 1970s. One can forgive it’s preposterous take on teenage dread (Thomas will recall that his mom really did throw him out ’till I get some pants that fit’. No joke), for it takes us on an astonishing sonic roller coaster: a throbbing crackling discordant sing-a-long classic, containing spy movie motifs, synths taking off into outer space, ghostly voices, and Tom Herman’s cataclysmic guitar: one moment the sound of a bell, the next stretching out like Hendrix did on If Six Was Nine, before paving the way for Marquee Moon’ with his angst-ridden solo to finish, Thomas screaming over the top almost unintelligibly “I don’t need a cure, I need a final solution.”

A useful analogy: imagine how audiences in 1976 might have experienced the first sitting of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, a contemporary artwork, likewise imbued with a decidedly surrealistic streak. The comparison has been made before – and not simply because of the uncanny physical resemblance between David Thomas and Jack Nance (Eraserhead‘s protagonist, Henry Spencer). In truth, like David Lynch’s cult classic, Pere Ubu were so far ahead of the game, that by the time I’d eventually caught up with them (many years later, at The Venue in Edinburgh in March 1988), they still sounded like nothing else on earth. If Bob Dylan kicked popular music ‘kicking and screaming’ into the 20th Century, Pere Ubu were in an awful hurry to take it into the next one. In many ways, the world has yet to catch up.

Thomas might have insisted that Pere Ubu wrote ‘pop songs’, the band themselves have used the term ‘avant-garage’, while the general public may have called their music plain weird . Me? I simply prefer to call it modern rock’n’roll. Now in their 40th year – give or take a few intervals, changes in personnel and personal tragedies (Laughner succumbed to acute pancreatitis in 1977) – their influence can be heard in the likes of Joy Division, Husker Du, Minutemen, Pixies, Throbbing Gristle, Butthole Surfers and more obviously, in fellow Ohioans, Devo. Ubu have outlasted all of those, so surely that accounts for some measure of success. And for the Pere Ubu devotee, a series of decisive victories. (JJ)

3. THE CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND – FORTY FOUR (1984)

The Chocolate Watchband – ‘Forty Four’

The Chocolate Watchband only recorded three albums in their short lifetime. Unfortunately none of those records was recorded in its entirety by the core line up of Dave Aguilar, Sean Tolby, Bill Flores, Mark Loomis and Gary Andrijasevich. Instead producer Ed Cobb used  a combination of friends and session musicians to fill out their records. Even their most famous song ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’ was released before singer Aguilar could record his vocals. Admittedly some of the longer psychedelic instrumental on their first two records are pretty great. But it is a crying shame as these guys were the real deal, street walkin’ cheetahs on the Sunset Strip, capable of blowing any of their contemporaries away.

Fortunately this situation was rectified in 1984, with the release of Forty Four, which compiles the cream of the San Jose Five’s output. Rockers like Sweet Young Thing, Sitting There Standing, Don’t Need Your Lovin’ and Are You Gonna Be There may show the obvious influences of the Stones and the Yardbirds but are played with the aggression and raw power of the Stooges and the MC5.  Loomis and Tolby’s guitars roar and bite, snarl and zing in the same way that Wayne Kramers and Fred Sonic Smiths do.

There was more to them then mere power merchants. They could dish out gorgeous folk rock like Misty Lane and She Weaves a Tender Trap, out Davie Allen on his own fuzz-toned Blues Theme, psychedelia on No Way Out, genuine weirdness on Loose Lip Sync Ship. Best of all is the shimmering Bo Diddley trance dance of Gone And Passes By.

So what held them back? Could have been their own irreverent attitude (theres a story of them supporting the Seeds, and only playing Seeds covers! That’s my kind of band!). Most likely it was just that the label saw them as a vehicle for Ed Cobb’s more experimental ideas, and the deal they signed gave them no control over what went on the records.

The Chocolate Watchband were one of the sixties biggest could-have-should-have-been bands. Perfectly programmed, Forty Four lays out their legacy for you, and deserves to sit  alongside Safe As Milk, Teenage Head and High Time. (TT)