Second of two in a row from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, this one coming from Electric Ladyland, their third and last proper outing, and even that’s somewhat confused. With 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) about as far and deep and abstract as any Hendrix recording would ever go – the unit here being Mr. Hendrix (doubling up on bass as well as guitar) and Mitch Mitchell (drums), with Traffic’s Chris Wood throwing in on flute (and the studio techs, of course — Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren, take a bow). All in aid of an epic investigation of oceans at least as deep as the human mind and soul, touching on themes of crisis, apocalypse, transcendence, the earth’s dry land abandoned, a return to the sea embraced, mermaids, Atlantis even. And superb it all is, the very best music being not unlike an ocean with depths beyond imagining. It’s possible that psychedelic drugs were involved.
“Because sometimes it’s not about the notes or the words or the chords etc – sometimes what makes for great music is its architecture. Which is certainly true of Pink Floyd and how they made it and played it through the late 1960s, early 1970s, post the psychedelic implosion of their main man, Syd Barrett, pre all that Dark Side of the Moon seriousness and precision. The live Ummagumma version of the ‘song‘ that was originally known as The Massed Gadgets Of Hercules gets the nod here because it’s prime evidence of just how far (and deep and high) the Floyd’s free live adventures had taken them in a comparatively short stretch of time, the key word being stretch. Because it may have been only year in a temporal sense between the release of Saucerful of Secrets and the live show that made it to Ummagumma, but clearly aeons had passed in more psychedelic realms. Never played the same way twice, and even if it was, it was never heard the same way, or so it was explained to me once. Which is what the cover of Ummagumma is all about apparently. Eternity simultaneously repeating and collapsing within itself on nice summer day, somewhere in England. I’d say maybe you had to be there, but I think we all were in some strange and metaphysical way.” (Philip Random)
In the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. “All hail Lester Bangs‘ mostly lucid raving about Astral Weeks, without which I may never have found myself in the thrall of Van Morrison’s Madame George and its nine plus minutes of mystical, magical longing, all childlike visions and the smell of sweet perfume. No way, you say. Astral Weeks is famous enough, I would’ve stumbled upon it eventually. But that’s not how the universe works, I say. Because if I hadn’t spent a week or three in the grim eternity of a mid-1980s February pouring over its ever second, who knows what might have happened, what mystical butterflies would have remained dormant, never flapped their wings and set great cosmic vibrations in motion? The Berlin Wall may never have come down. The Cold War may have brewed hot and catastrophic. The end of all things. Maybe. As for Madame George, it seems to be about a cross-dresser, but it’s really about all of us, how we’ll never really get to hold that thing we desire the most, and yet the reaching for it, the yearning, well that redeems us, doesn’t it, confirms our humanity? And if you haven’t yet found the time to sit still for about forty-eight minutes and listen to the miracle of Astral Weeks in its entirety, well, what are you waiting for? The world could end at any second.” (Philip Random)
“Second of two in a row from the Velvet Underground, with Sister Ray likely to hit many as more weaponry than music, or as a DJ friend once put it, some songs you play for people, some you play at them. Either way, it’s a seventeen-plus-minute argument for A. how willfully out of step the Velvets were with pretty much everything else that was going down at the time (1968), and B. how brilliantly, thunderously, violently ahead of that time they were. By which I mean, the world needed Sister Ray. It just didn’t know it yet. At least, that’s how it worked for me. Discovered maybe fifteen years after the fact, mucking around through the bowels of a radio station‘s record library, educating myself. And I ain’t gonna lie. The extreme length was a particular selling point because not only did it force the limits of what we called The Reality Barrier, it also gave one time to cover a prolonged smoke or bathroom break – all the prog-rock epics of yore still being frowned upon in those contentious, battle weary days of the so-called Winter of Hate.” (Philip Random)
In which the amazing Peggy Lee takes on a Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller ode to disillusionment (based on a Thomas Mann short story) and doesn’t just own it, she immortalizes it. Because, yes as a matter of fact, there is nobody more punk than a little girl who’s seen it all, from burning buildings to broken hearts to dancing bears, and been at best bemused. But that’s no reason not to break out the booze, have a party, death being the greatest disappointment of all, you might as well do some proper living first.
“Being a little kid in the 1960s definitely had its pluses, Tiny Tim among them. What other decade would allow such a sublime and beautiful weirdo into their TV rooms en masse with appearances on Ed Sullivan, Rowan + Martin, the Smothers Brothers, even Hockey Night In Canada? Tiptoe Through The Tulips was the insanely catchy hit, of course, but that whole 1968 album God Bless Tiny Tim was erupting with weird wonder, and my best friend Patrick had it. We quickly nailed The Other Side as the high water mark mainly because of the insane laughter at the beginning. How could we not laugh along? Meanwhile the icebergs were all melting, the oceans were rising (yup, even back then in ’68), yet all the world was singing, having a swimming time, becoming fish, the map having changed and with it we. The man was onto something. Seriously.” (Philip Random)
There are two Voodoo Chiles on Jimi Hendrix‘s four-sided masterpiece Electric Ladyland, the second one (the Slight Return) being the one everybody’s heard perhaps too many times (even if it is full-on genius). But the first version which takes up the bulk of side one – that still sounds as fresh and immediate as the fifteen minutes or so in which it originally came to be. Stevie Winwood‘s the guy that dropped in to groove away on the Hammond organ in what amounted to pretty much a free jam. As for the rhythm section, that seems to have been the Experience’s Mitch Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady who just happened to be hanging around. It was that kind of scene, that kind of album.
“True fact. For most of the 1980s, the Beatles pretty much always lost those Beatles vs Stones arguments (unless you were hanging out with idiots). Not that the ’80s Stones were up to anything new that was particularly necessary, just that their older stuff had the sort of teeth the times required. Though Yer Blues from the so-called White Album, also excelled in that regard — a blues as voracious as anything the Stones ever put to vinyl, or any other pale skinned band for that matter. As much a send-up of the whole idea of white guys churning out authentic black music as it was a genuine howl from the soul of a guy who really was so lonely he wanted to die, it still conjures chills and wins arguments. Because it’s true, the Stones may have been a better blues outfit but Beatles had the best actual song.” (Philip Random)
If you were concerned with the cutting edges of things, you knew that by summer 1968, the peace and love part of the ’60s was most definitely on the wane. Which was good news for the Rolling Stones who generally couldn’t see the point in all the flower power stuff. They were more comfortable with grittier, grimier, dirtier options, like Stray Cat Blues, the one about the fifteen year old groupie who liked to drag her fingernails down the backs of her fave rock stars, who no, as a matter of fact, hadn’t asked to see her ID. Shock for shock’s sake? Probably. But it’s a hell of a groove from a hell of an album from a hell of a time.