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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blues Magoos: Electric Comic Book


BLUES MAGOOS: ELECTRIC COMIC BOOK (1967)

1) Pipe Dream; 2) There's A Chance We Can Make It; 3) Life Is Just A Cher O'Bowlies; 4) Gloria; 5) Intermission; 6) Albert Common Is Dead; 7) Summer Is The Man; 8) Baby, I Want You; 9) Let's Get Together; 10) Take My Love; 11) Rush Hour; 12) That's All Folks.

As bold and presumptuous as a title like ʽThere's A Chance We Can Make Itʼ might sound, the Blues Ma­goos' second album, taken in the context of its time, clearly shows that there is really no chance whatsoever of their making it. The band does find itself ready to conform to the usual re­quirements: compared to the six covers on Psychedelic Lollipop, this follow-up only has two, with every member of the band, even the drummer, joining the resident songwriters' guild — and its title and structure give it even more of a «mock-conceptual» flavor. Unfortunately, not only is this not a Sgt. Pepper, it isn't even quite on the level of second-rate 1967-style psychedelic apings by the likes of the Pretty Things or the Hollies.

The problems remain the same — lack of songwriting talent — and they are best illustrated on the opening number: ʽPipe Dreamʼ is fast, energetic, and psychedelic-tinged, but not a single in­strumental or vocal line is shaped into a decent hook. Ralph Scala's organ and Mike Esposito's «raga-blues» guitar, played Frisco-style, rub nicely against each other, but the same could be said about a million other songs from the same year. The song has neither the catchiness nor the ten­sion build-up of ʽWe Ain't Got Nothin' Yetʼ, and it is actually surprising that they managed to get as high as No. 60 on the charts with it — what with all the insane competition going around.

The other three songs that the band released as singles are even less impressive: ʽSummer Is The Manʼ is tender folk-pop in the vein of the Searchers, but without that band's competence and per­fectionism to compensate for the sappiness; ʽLife Is Just A Cher O'Bowliesʼ is a weird retro throwaway in the style of, say, Del Shannon — it probably has the catchiest vocal melody on the album, but it is not quite clear what particular business does a ballsy garage rock band cover by switching to such a «namby-pamby» style; and ʽThere's A Chanceʼ tries to melt your brain with continuous feedback and droning vocals, but since there is no hook attached, it is not clear what need there is of this song — surely, if we just want the feedback and the trippy atmosphere, we'd all rather listen to Jimi than to these guys.

Overall, the only original number here that shows potential is the very last song — ʽRush Hourʼ could have been a top-notch heavy rocker (in fact, its distorted guitar / organ duet niftily presages the classic Deep Purple pairing of Lord and Blackmore) if only the song had better... better every­thing: better production, better mix separation, better playing, better singing, better internal de­velopment, better coda... other than that, great job, really.

But there is no better proof than the band's totally successful, impressive cover of Them's ʽGloriaʼ to the statement that the lack of songwriting talent was their main problem — it is a very worthy successor to ʽTobacco Roadʼ as a psycho freakout, and one where the insane jamming section actually stays more in touch with the main sung part (on ʽTobacco Roadʼ, the basic melody and the crazy free-form section were, after all, sewn together rather crudely). This is arguably the first extended, six-minute long, interpretation of ʽGloriaʼ found on record (earlier Gants, Shadows Of Knight, and other covers ran for less than three minutes, respecting the original), and might just as well be one of the best.

Additionally, it is humorous to discover that a song called ʽLet's Get Togetherʼ, which, given the circumstances, you'd probably expect to be a Jefferson Airplane-type peace-and-love hippie an­them, is really a cover of a Jimmy Reed booze-blues number — together with a drunk, teetering-tottering imitation of Jimmy's «toothless» delivery. Nothing special, that is, but just the kind of material towards which the Blues Magoos clearly feel a more natural affection than towards all sorts of flower power stuff.

The «conceptual» nature of the record shows in the brief links — the ʽIntermissionʼ and the ele­ven second-long Looney Tunes finale (ʽThat's All Folksʼ); together with the album title, they pro­vide a «pulpy» spirit, amusing and self-ironic at the same time. But even here, the band only dips one small finger in the water — by the end of the year, The Who Sell Out would show every­body how far one can go in that direction without fear of drowning the good stuff in kitsch and parody. All in all, Electric Comic Book, listenable and modestly enjoyable as it is, still feels like a failed exam — reinforcing the feeling that ʽNothing Yetʼ was just an accidental fluke.

Check "Electric Comic Book" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Electric Comic Book" (MP3) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. This version of Gloria also displays some Lord/Blackmore-like interplay (or rather battling) of organ and guitar. And just like Gillan the vocals (I have no idea who provides them) add to the fun. DP Mark II took this a few steps further, but in the 60's nobody did this - well, perhaps the Artwoods, but nobody knew them.
    I don't know the entire album, but Gloria and Rush Hour warm my heart.

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  2. Peppy Castro (Emil Thielhelm) had better days ahead, starting with the fine early-70s pop quartet Barnaby Bye. In 1976, he aced the funky/hard rock marketplace with Wiggy Bits, and in 1981/82 he helmed melodic rockers Balance on two superb albums. Perhaps this site is due for some Balance?

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  3. George, you're being needlessly stingy here. Albums such "Underground" by the Electric Prunes or this one tend to reveal their true worth only years later. After everyone is sick to death of the Doors, Hendrix, Airplane, etc., it's albums like this that finally get their second-tier due. It's either this, or Terry Knight and the Pack. Which would you rather hear?

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