Various Artists - Let's Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - Let's Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2016-10-14

Grapefruit follow their highly-prized compilations of British Hard Rock (I’m A Freak Baby), Folk (Dust On The Nettles), and Psych and Underground (Love, Poetry and Revolution) with a second 3-disc set of Underground Psychedelia, this time devoting all three discs to the seminal year of 1967. Once again, the set is aimed at the serious collector and deep dustbin-diver, as compiler David Wells avoids (or is legally forced to avoid) the obvious candidates (no Beatles, Who, Stones), and only a soupcon of recogniseable names (The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, The Pretty Things, The Spenser Davis Group, The Move, Procol Harum, and The Moody Blues) are included in the 4-hour, 80-track selection. And even these are represented by obscure tracks that even completists may not recognise. But Wells’ intention is to highlight a cross section of all the different sounds that were in the air that “tumultuous” year, and he’s done a marvelous job once again.

Since all the selections were released (or recorded – over two dozen went unreleased at the time) throughout 1967, Wells has chosen to eschew chronological order. Purists may argue with this decision, as it makes it difficult to spot obvious influences that later tracks picked up on by artists that even Wells terms “shameless bandwagon jumpers”. You’ll have to spot these yourself, but Wells’ usual intricately detailed liners (recording/release dates, labels, and catalogue numbers) should at least make for a fun musical scavenger hunt!

Of course, detailing 80 different tracks is impossible and invites boredom, so I’ll hit the highlights, lowlights, and surprises, and assure you that you won’t be disappointed should you decide to dumpster dive yourself into this reasonable priced set that’s selling for less than two individual CDs. And fans and collectors of these retrospective series will also be pleased to discover that only a few of the selections are available on the Rubbles, Chocolate Soup, or other popular series and compendiums, so you won’t be shelling out for too many repeat purchases. So sit back and enjoy a case history in British psychedelia in particular, and British rock in general, as many of the bands herein sported members who would go on to bigger (though not necessarily better) things.

The fun begins with penny whistles and a bunch of frolicking schoolkids kicking off the Toytown pop of The Alan Bown!’s ‘Toyland’, a lovely Bee-Gees-inspired slice of whimsy with a lyric that gives the box set its title. The Attack were one of the best psych-beat bands that never troubled the charts, although they included future Nice members Davey O’List and Bruce Davidson in their ranks. The demo ‘Magic In The Air’, with its strident guitars and false ending is one of many tracks herein that should’ve been huge. Episode Six are more famous for giving Deep Purple Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, but ‘I Can See Through You’ is an elaborately arranged tour de force that deserved better. No one needs to be introduced to Dantalian’s Chariot or ‘Madman Running Through The Fields’, as it is quite simply one of the finest psychedelic singles ever released and is available on almost every ’60 comp worth its salt. Oh, and Zoot Money and Andy Summers were in a later incarnation of The Animals before Mr. Summers met Mr. Sumner and became a zillionaire as a member of a quartet of recording coppers you may have heard tell about! Minor quibble: since this is so readily available, I would have preferred if Wells’ swapped it out for one of the equally brilliant other tracks they recorded in ’67 for an unreleased at the time album that Wells cobbled together for his Tenth Planet label about 20 years ago. ‘Soma’ and ‘High Flying Bird’ are excellent examples of the heady, navel-gazing Eastern-tinged psychedelia that would be right at home on the present collection. But I digress.

Coventry’s The Sorrows had more success in Italy than at home, but the rambunctious ‘Pink Purple Yellow and Red’ sounds like The Monkees on acid – in fact, the colours allegedly represent the stages of an acid trip. And bonus points to anyone who can identify the song the infectious bass line later appeared in! The Mirage have numerous Reg Dwight connections (they backed guitarist Caleb Quaye on his legendary ‘Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad’ single and included Elton’s future bassist Dee Murray), but the unreleased alternative version of B-side ‘Lazy Man’ is a pretty spot-on take on The Beatles’ B-side ‘Rain’! The flower-power anthem ‘Give Him A Flower’ may sound like the Bonzos gone psychedelic, but is in fact Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s debut B-side, released a year before he set the world and charts ablaze. Les Fleur-De-Lys were one of the unsung delights of British psychedelia, but their best work occurred outside 1967, so they are under represented by the rather pedestrian ’67 B-side ‘Prodigal Son’, one of the shortcomings of a set that pigeonholes its contents into a single year. Check out the career retrospective Reflections (Blueprint, 1996) to truly appreciate the band at the top of their game.

Another right band/wrong track selection is The Mickey Finn’s ‘Time To Start Loving You’, the forgettable flip to the essential freakbeat classic ‘Garden Of My Mind’. Wells included that gem on the aforementioned I’m A Freak Baby comp, so you know what to do. Completing the first triumvirate of wrong place/right time, The Fingers’ eerie, Bonzo-ish ‘Circus With A Female Clown’ (the mind boggles at what ol’ Viv could’ve done with a title like that!) is sidestepped for the shambolic ‘I Hear The Sun’ that epitomises why some tracks should remain unissued. However, after the band collapsed, most joined Mickey Jupp in Legend (before he found fame and (mis)fortune with a bunch of Stiffs), leaving guitarist Peter Eden to form the fabulously-named Crocheted Doughnut Ring (is it me, or does every other band or song seem tailor-made for Bonzodom?!), who subsequently recorded the brain-numbing ambient and experimental B-side ‘Nice’, easily the weirdest and strangest thing released in 1967 – or almost any other year. Whiffs of Pink Floyd at their headiest, John Peel reportedly loved it, but was prevented from playing it on BBC because the suits labeled it “too far out”. They weren’t wrong, but it’s brilliant, nevertheless. Decide for yourself.

Weirdness also abounds all over the pseudo Toytown psychedelia of The Good Thing Brigade’s spooky demo ‘My House Is Burning’. They eventually became Rubbles faves, Jason Crest. ‘Ice Woman’, from an ultra-rare, Dutch-only EP by The Motives features brilliant guitar work and a haunting vocal, as does Louise’s similarly unreleased ‘Look At The Sun’. Louise is a heavy psych quartet, by the way, not a pretty-voiced femme fatale, and are not too dissimilar from The Misunderstood. Neo Maya is not the latest sitar-wielding, Indian musical guru but the guitarist from the aforementioned Episode Six, and ‘I Won’t Hurt You’ is a haunting, minor-key masterpiece that’s not easily forgotten. The circus-like atmosphere of the Spencer Davis Group’s B-side ‘Sanity Inspector’ proves that talent will win out, even if your strongest component preferred playing in Traffic and most of your best tracks were behind you. Bowie completists may be unaware that one of his personally unrecorded songs was actually released twice. You can hear the Slender Plenty’s fuzz-drenched stomping version of ‘Silver Tree Top School For Boys’ and conclude for yourself why ol’ Dave never got round to recording his own version.

Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera pilfer a stomping, bass-heavy riff from ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ to drive ‘Flames’ through your skull; Wells reports it was a popular cover tune in several bands’ repertoires, including Led Zeppelin, who included it in their debut gig’s set list! The Pretty Things occasionally ventured beyond their Stonesy swaggering R&B into soundtrack work (as Electric Banana, whose debut album was also released in ’67), but their forays into psychedelia, soon to reach full flower on S.F. Sorrow were foisted upon an unuspecting public with the likes of ‘Deflecting Grey’, a virtual kitchen sink of effects, dreamy harmonies, fairground caliope giggles, and finger-shredding fuzz solos, all on display in a previously unreleased 5+ minute version.

Marc Bolan fans are surely aware of his brief stint in John’s Children and the oft-compiled ‘Desdemona’ still sounds great, with crazy, Hendrixian guitar wah-wahs and its glorious banned-by-the-BBC lyric “Desdemona/Lift up your skirt and fly”. John Williams’ ‘Flowers In Your Hair’ is admittedly a label-foisted attempt at ripping off John Phillips’/Scott McKenzie’s paean to San Francisco issued a few months earlier, and most of the attention it received was undoubtedly due to Jimmy Page’s assistance on the accompanying Maureeny Wishfull album. It doesn’t really hold a candle to its inspiration, but is a pleasant enough slice of folky acid pop.

Sweet Feeling’s ‘All So Long Ago’ is a nostalgic story song that owes more than its melody to The Kinks, while turn about fair play rules the day for Rupert’s People’s ‘Reflections of Charles Brown’, which is a slight rewrite of the flip side of the Sweet Feeling single we just discussed – guitarist Rod Lynton wrote both tracks! This one is another Fleur De Lys gem (with a tearful lyric and unapologetic rip of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale’ main melody, itself pilfered from Bach!), although it was mysteriously released under this new name. The real Fleur De Lys split afterward, and Lynton regrouped under the Rupert’s People moniker (with his mates from Sweet Feeling) for all subsequent releases. Whew!

Bowie’s death earlier this year has led to a swarm of dumpster diving for old forgotten rarities and The Riot Squad’s ‘Toy Soldier’ is a mess of mouth noises, burps, raspberries and assorted grunts, mouth farts, bombs exploding, coughing, race cars speeding around the tracks, et. al. all set to lyrics ripped off from Lou Reed’s ‘Venus In Furs’. Yuck! ‘The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripplestone’ by The Rats is another Bowie-related track featuring as it does his mate Mick Ronson on searing guitar, with phased drumming and Bowie-channeling Anthony Newley vocals from Benny Marshall. It’s all a beautiful mess, inspired by John Lennon’s character in Richard Lester’s post-Beatles anti-war film, How I Won The War.

Dave Davies’ ‘Funny Face’ is an odd bird. Billed as a solo single with backing by The Kinks, it appeared on The Kinks’ Something Else album a few months earlier. To me, that makes it a Kinks track with vocals by Dave instead of Ray. In either case, it’s pretty forgettable, owing too much to The Who’s ramshackle arrangements and manic Keef drumming. Dave’s career highlight remains ‘Death of A Clown’, another so-called solo track from the same Kinks album! And if that isn’t enough pseudo-Kinks for you, how about a listen to the patently obvious Kink tune ‘Village Green’ by The Brood, essentially Turquoise in disguise. Dave wrote this one, too, and it features The Who rhythm section having a larf, romping around the village green to the jolly little tune. And it’s a completely different track than Ray would write for the following year’s Preservation Society album! Clear as mud, right?

Peter & The Wolves’ cover of American harmony band The Garden Club’s ‘Little Girl Lost & Found’ pits fairytale lyrics featuring Little Miss Muffett, Alice in Wonderland, Little Boy Blue, et. al. with a bustling calliope backing, but you should really track down the superior original. Session superstar Big Jim Sullivan (so named to avoid confusion with Little Jim Page) needs no further introduction. Just sit back and groove to his sitar-drenched ‘Flower Power’ from his Sitar Beat cash-in album, recorded in the Summer of Love (August) but not released in the UK until 1968. It sneaks in under the 1967 banner due to its release in the US in the fall of 1967. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine George Harrison skinning up in the corner as he offers Sullivan encouragement.

Finally we arrive at Disk Three, and luckily there’s no drop in quality, despite continued offerings from generally unknown artists (which is true about the entire compilation, where many listeners may be unfamiliar with upwards of 90% of the acts and songs represented. The duo Hat & Tie is known, if at all, for the participants: Patrick Campbell-Lyons would go on to record several excellent albums as the leader of Nirvana (including, what he claims was the first rock opera) and Chris Thomas would later produce everyone from The Beatles to The Pretenders and Sex Pistols. The recorded output is less impressive, although ‘Finding It Rough’ does have its charms as a fuzzy pop plum. Another case of right band/wrong track is The Game’s ‘The Addicted Man’. Withdrawn because of its controversial lyric, it’s not a half bad slice of mod pop, but follow-up ‘It’s Shocking What They Call Me’ released shortly thereafter is much better – a Who-meets-Creation crunchfest with slashing guitar pyrotechnics (Terry Spencer) that rival Messrs. Townshend and Phillips.

The Honeybus are a cult pop psych band who recorded many ace tunes, of which ‘Delighted To See You’ was the first. Goofy kazoo and bird warbling effects can’t detract from the insanely catchy melody. The track is presented here in its previously unreleased demo version. And speaking of insanely catchy pop tunes, they don’t get much better than the bubblegum fun, fun, fun of The Flower Pot Men, whose 1967 Top 5 classic ‘Let’s Go To San Francisco’ has been overcomped to death. Here we get the follow-up, ‘A Walk In The Sky’, which weds a poptastic arrangement of “la la las” to lyrics about peppermint-green clouds and chocolate bar trees, all unleashed before they head back for some much-needed “tea” to refuel for the next session! Skip Bifferty, like the aforementioned Fleur de Lys should have been huge. A wonderful variety of tunes trickled out under their name, but they’ve become more popular today then when initially issued. Unfortunately, the ‘Schizoid Revolution’ demo included here doesn’t do them justice, as it a pretty dull number that heads off in too many different directions. While also heavily comped (which possibly explains why Wells passed on it), you really need to hear ‘On Love’ before passing final judgement.

On the other hand, no self-respecting Nuggets fan of the music of this era doesn’t already have The Purple Gang’s classic slice of none-too-subtle, kazoo-and-washboard-driven tomfoolery ‘Granny Takes A Trip’. If you are among the uninitiated, imagine (the American) Kaleidoscope at their most frantic, but with an indelible melody to carry the day. The Picadilly Line have been attracting attention from collectors of softer psych, and their psychedelic Simon and Garfunkel folk psych as presented on ‘Emily Small (The Huge World Thereof)’ is a good reason why. The accompanying album is also one of the lost gems of the 1967 psych scene. Jade Hexagram is one of the few (only?) Welsh bands represented here and their ‘Great Shadowy Strange’ is possibly the longest track presented, topping four minutes, but every second counts on this elaborately arranged psychedelic suite that’s full of high energy guitar, a myriad of time changes, and haunted vocals.

The Moody Blues are conspicuous in their presence amongst all the “no name” artists presented, but Wells has chosen the rare early single ‘Life’s Not Life’ to represent their psychedelic flowering. It’s kind of lost deciding whether to replicate ‘Go Now’ or switch horses and head in a more progressive direction and fails at both. If you don’t know Marmalade (occasionally, as here, mistakenly appended with “The” definite article), then I suggest you check out any of the numerous compilations of their material, as they were surely one of the finest pop psych bands of the era, with material ranging from Beatlesque pop (their cover of ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’ topped the charts in ’68, but is not one of their better releases) to progressive harmony pop (their biggest US hit, ‘Reflections Of My Life’) to unabashed Move-inflected psych (‘I See The Rain’, perhaps their finest three minutes. Wells has opted for its flip, ‘Laughing Man’ which veers a little too much into novelty territory, but is a nice teaser for better times ahead – they had nearly a dozen Top 10 hits in the decade from ’67-‘76!

This compilation is certainly full of lovely rarities, but nothing can top T.J. Assembly, which ‘Ginger’ stems from their privately-pressed album that cost 45 shillings to press. And they only pressed 25 of them! Somehow Wells got his hands on a copy and if ‘Ginger’ is representative, it rightly deserves its reputation as one of the rarest releases of the psychedelic era. For the record (sorry!), its pleasant Kinks-inspired dreamy pop with organ to fore and a slight Bee Gees aroma that excites every time I hear it. And speaking again of dreamy, orchestrated pop, The 23rd Turnoff’s ‘Michelangelo’ is, perhaps the finest creation of former Kirkbys singer/guitarist/songwriter Jimmy Campbell (not to be confused with Marmalade’s Junior Campbell!) It’s presented here in the band’s preferred demo version. As we wind down, Wells tosses in a little silliness in keeping with the tenor of the times – we present The Q.P.R. Supporters insane nonsense, the novelty extravaganza ‘Supporters – Support Us’. Loved by the only QPR supporter I know, The Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, it’s billed as “a psychedelic football record”, a tribute to the Queen’s Park Rangers who had just won the League Cup final. It’s as silly, drunken, and rabble rousing as expected. As well it should be. Fifty years on, QPR have never won another major trophy!

Novices and serious collectors alike will also appreciate Wells’ in-depth annotations that bring 1967 right into your living room as if you were just settling down to read the latest NME, Record Mirror, or Melody Maker. And there’s oodles of record sleeves, rare band photos, and gig adverts to stare out while groovin’ to the incredible (and often incredibly strange) sounds within. The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is sure to garner an enormous number of tributes; here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor and start your celebration early.

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