Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground

by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:10 Release Date:2017-10-20
Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground
Pearls Before Swine - One Nation Underground

Right off, Pearls Before Swine's debut album One Nation Underground absolutely deserves to be in the classic albums of all time, no ifs or buts. I don't even know where to start. Tom Rapp, the guy behind it all, the band and album name, the album cover being Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”, and no band photo in sight, the ESP label it came out on, the music, lyrics and the album’s significance in the general scheme of things, and what went on after it too? 

Rapp turned out to be one of more enigmatic and at the same time, archetypical characters of the second part of the Sixties anti-war and hippie movements, and the music it brought along. It was all evident on One Nation Underground, the title reflecting the music within, the ideas Rapp presented, the underground label that released it, and the manner in which it was recorded. ESP, run by hippie masters The Fugs, was possibly the first label of the time that could be compared to what is today known as "independent."  The label fit all the principles Rapp stood for, including a miserly recording budget, and in the truly underground sound that came out of speakers.

The choice of a cover was a shock in itself at the time, but in many ways represented the music and lyrics contained inside. It introduced younger generations to both Bosch and classical painters in general, and Rapp continued the trend on the second album Balaklava, which contained an even gorier painting - Peter Breughel's The Elder - to fit the theme of that album. The band was nowhere to be seen. After all, it was one nation underground…

The opener, “Another Time,” turns out to be the first song Rapp wrote after he suffered a serious traffic accident, unscathed, and has a predictable theme of the universe’s indifference. It also turns out to be one of the songs PBS are best known for, turning up on almost any and all ‘acid folk’ compilations. And yes, you can put a lot of credit for the invention of the genre on Rapp (basically, put the rap on Rapp). It also introduces the essence of Rapp’s musical concept - the assimilation of all the folk, country, pop, classics with the introduction of instrumentation (cellos, sarangi, wind chimes, etc.) that can only be compared to Incredible String Band on the other side of the pond.

“Playmate” sounds like a Bob Dylan spoof, with its Blonde On Blonde style vocals and garage-style (with a banjo to boot). Dylan followed Rapp throughout his career, from the beginning of his musical steps to being an inspiration with “Blowing In The Wind.” In essence, Rapp was accepting Dylan in his electric form. After all, he and a certain Robert Zimmerman more or less started out at the same time at a local talent show competition in Minnesota. Rapp came in second, Mr. Zimmerman came in fifth.

“Ballad To An Amber Lady” conforms Rapp’s perfect touch with folk, while “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse” confirms Rapp’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything, including poets, classical and modern, with lyrics like: “This may strike you odd-ily/But I want you, bodily./Don't blame me, dear,/Blame McLuhan,/His media were your ruin”, set to a musical theme fit for a children’s playground.

“Drop Out!” is self-explanatory, and certainly thematic for 1967 when the album was out, and “Morning Song” could be pointed out as one of the themes drones developed in modern rock. It goes on, with both musical and lyrical variation as on “Regions of May” and “Uncle John,” and finishes even stronger with “I Shall Not Care” being a triptych of themes and “The Surrealist Waltz” setting itself as a fitting conclusion.

In a simple overview, One Nation Underground was not only a political, social and musical statement of the times, but also an album that brought standard folk music into modern times. It actually is one of the key acid folk albums of all times.

All odds where that the album would sink into total oblivion. It sold anywhere between 100,000 and 250,00, actually making ESP live on for a few years. But then, no matter what came after for Pearls Before Swine and Tom Rapp as a solo artist, it basically all went downwards. Nothing to do with either music or Rapp’s lyrics. ’Too much thinking,’ both musically and lyrically simply fell out of grace, and Rapp went broke. No new music was heard from him after 1973. Last he was heard of was before the turn of the century, working as an anti-corporate lawyer in Philadelphia. At least he stayed true to his personal principles.

So can this reissue, with its beautifully restored sound, turn back the clock? Probably not, but it deserves more than just a cursory historical listen; it is absolutely essential to any collection.

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars