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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Barbarians: Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl


1) Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl; 2) Mr. Tambourine Man; 3) House Of The Rising Sun; 4) Marie Elena; 5) Bo Diddley; 6) Memphis, Tennessee; 7) What The New Breed Say; 8) Take It Or Leave It; 9) I'll Keep On Seeing You; 10) Linguica; 11) Susy Q; 12) I've Got A Woman; 13*) Moulty; 14*) Hey Little Bird; 15*) You've Got To Un­der­stand.

The Barbarians are only remembered these days because of two songs on the Nuggets boxset — and the vivid, idiosyncratic image that goes along with them: long-haired, sandal-wearing ruf­fians with a drummer (Victor Moulton) who happened to have a hook for his right hand. (You can see the hook all right on their only well-filmed appearance at the T.A.M.I. show, but not the sandals — for some reason, the camera just would not focus on the feet, as if sandal-wearing were even a worse public offense than Elvis' girating hips).

I would not exactly say that this select memory of the band is unjustified. The two songs are fine and memorable indeed. 'Moulty', their tongue-in-cheek ode to the drummer's calamity (on which only the drummer himself actually played — ironically, backed by none other than The Hawks, later to be The Band), I used to detest as a cheap gimmick, but at least it showed a certain level of creativity, and the unpredictable transition from the soft, «cooing» atmosphere of the verses into the bass-heavy screamfest of the chorus is, today, in all the rock'n'roll textbooks anyway. And 'Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl', the only time the band ever got close to a national hit, is lu­cky enough to strike a public nerve while being poppy and catchy as hell.

Other than that, the band's only LP, wisely named after the hit title track, has next to nothing of interest. Producer Doug Morris was the only semi-competent songwriter in sight, contributing to both of the above mentioned tracks as well as 'What The New Breed Say', another sign-o'-the-ti­mes pop-rocker built on unoriginal guitar lines and modestly catchy vocals. Most of the rest are simply cover versions of tunes from all over the place, ranging from competent, but unnecessary (a surf-rock rearrangement of 'Susie Q') to barely competent and annoying ('Mr. Tambourine Man', which they steal from the Birds without even matching its quality, let alone improving on it or adding a single new twist) to downright awful ('House Of The Rising Sun' — Mr. Lead Singer, if you have just shown a complete inability to be Roger McGuinn, what is it exactly that makes you think you can be Eric Burdon?). Nobody in the band simply had the right chops to do these things properly, or the right head to do them uniquely.

Clearly, the Barbarians were strictly a singles band: the only thing one will ever need from them are the A-sides of their 45s: 'Moulty', 'Are You...', 'What The New Breed Say', and possibly their first and best one — 'Hey Little Bird', with a ferocious proto-hard rock riff, monumental fuzz bass and a great swaggery vocal tone (sort of like a more street-wise, slum-evil twin brother of Mick Jagger's). Unluckily, neither 'Breed' nor 'Bird' are to be found on Nuggets, even though, in my opinion, both belong there more firmly than 'Moulty'. But it's also true that neither of them tells any horrifying thrills about one-armed drummers.

Not that the Barbarians could not have become an LP-oriented band: after all, we know plenty of examples of Sixties' artists whose first albums were derivative suckfests. But some guys have all the luck and some don't even get the scraps. Like so many others, the Barbarians did not manage to fit in, got lost in between bad publicity and personal conflict, and disbanded around 1967. Se­veral of the members later founded another band, Black Pearl, which got the chance to release a couple bad psychedelic rock albums in 1969-70 before vanishing into thin air — I've heard a few of the tracks and, perhaps, after all, the Barbarians really could not have made the transition into the LP era. But thanks for leaving us with an unforgettable image.

Check "Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl" (MP3) on Amazon

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