Julian Cope’s Album of the Month
Hairy ChapterCan’t Get Through
AOTM #3, August 2000ce
Released 1971 on Bacillus
“My education will never let me be free.”
- Harry Unte of Hairy Chapter.
In 1971, this Nordelic KO of an album saw the immaculately named German band Hairy Chapter briefly joining the Warrior Guitar Gods of their ancestral dreams. They'd made albums before which were all-right-now in a fuzzy, garagey way, but with the release of Can't Get Through, Hairy Chapter finally recorded a righteous royal shit-stirrer which should be in the collection of every 21st Century Head. For Can't Get Through was a blood-lusty and maniacally lunar combination of the first Funkadelic LP, Alice Cooper's Love It To Death, Led Zeppelin 2 and Amon Duul 2's Yeti. All of the aforementioned sum up the male aspects of this rave, but maybe Sir Lord Baltimore playing Fleetwood Mac's "Green Manalishi" 45 more fairly describes the spectral she-muse summoned up on this monsterious slab of Bonn sub-culture. For, like the Hoary Whore-shadow who inhabits the first Baltimore LP, the whole of Can't Get Through seems to be a Mare's Nest motivated by some hidden (or perhaps accidentally invoked) White Lady, who is determined to punish both the guitarist and the singer unless they over-achieve far beyond their hitherto wildest dreams.
The Laser's Edge magazine once called this LP "Uninhibited guitar debauchery," and it would be churlish in the extreme not to award some sort of posthumous Golden Guitar medal to so unsung an axe hero as Hairy Chapter's Harry Titlbach. He coaxes, caresses, and finally wrings out such heathen howls from his instrument that it is impossible not to visualise him as anything other than a cartoon. In my mind's eye, I see him wild-eyed and tormented, making endless prowls back and forth across the stage, from the foot-pedal of his evermore distorted amplifier to the mikestand of his singer and cohort, the equally tortured longhair known as Harry Unte. Yes, this group was led by two guys called Harry and, on this album, they were both demented. Maybe they should have been called Harry Chapter! Maybe it was some crazy in-joke lost in the mists of time!
For this Can't Get Through LP, singer Harry Unte was inhabited by the same spectral muse as his guitar partner. Listen to the vocal delivery and you soon understand that, whatever mysterious force it was which had him by the balls, this singer may have needed the revolution right now, but, more than that, he needed to get cosmically laid; and pronto, Tonto! "Gimme your body" he howls. "I wanna ball you all night long," he wails. "I wanna hold your luscious breasts in my hands," he implores. But, best of all, "I… I… I wanna see your 27 fingers explode in my body." Hell, Harry, doesn't everyone?
Hairy Chapter had been together since the late 60s, but, by 1971, these longhair guys were Bonn punks with the bit between their teeth. They had a big new record label behind them and a bigtime record producer helping them. And, from the Funkadelic-like start of Can't Get Through to its blazing Amon Duul 2 stun-guitar photo-finish, they were far out, flat out and putting the cat out. As though aware that their other albums didn't cut the mustard, and unaware that this was to be their Goddess-fuelled swansong, everything on the record is weighty with a real sense of moment and dread. In 1969, they had recorded the obscure Electric Sounds For Dancing LP, followed by the disappointing Eyes album for the tiny Opp record label.1 But the passing of one whole year and the release of a slew of 'heavy' albums from other bands turned Hairy Chapter from slack Yardbird-alikes into a proud warrior caste with a post-barbarian Guitar Army battleplan. Gone were the late 60s fuzz leads and the blues structures and the muted guitar-blasts of 1970's Eyes LP. Replacing them came long and intricately arranged barrages of compelling mood and mania; undulating hoodoo which pulled the carpet from under the feet of listeners and sent them down sonic tunnels into underground wells of pure mystery.
Of course, it may well be that the arrival of Dieter Dierks as their producer imbued the members of Hairy Chapter with a sense that this was finally their moment. Can't Get Through was recorded for the new and hip Bacillus record label, and this was only the second release for that company, which had been conceived as the German Polygram label's answer to the genuinely underground companies which had sprung out of the 1960s. Unlike labels such as Ohr and, much later, Brain Records, who concentrated on the real Krautrock (being the most German sounding music they could find), the strategy of the staff at Bacillus seems to have been based on marketing music which would compete with British and American bands. So money and expectations abounded with the recording of Can't Get Through, and the genius of Dieter Dierks was there to channel it and manipulate it. And he truly kept his part of the deal brilliantly. Though Hairy Chapter was in no way a Krautrock band, being far too convinced of themselves as being genuine competition for the British and Americans, powerful elements of Krautrock are still contained within these grooves and having Dieter Dierks at the sound desk is surely the reason. For it was Dierks who confronted Hairy Chapter's hard rock with outright psychedelic production and even co-wrote one of the songs.
Can't Get Through begins with the chiming Hendrix Funkadelia of "There's a kind of nothing", which summons the Ur-Klang of the Krautreaper but all too soon breaks down into a low-key weird acoustic thing. I say all too soon because their one mistake was not making this opening track 10-minutes long. Or, perhaps, even beginning the album with the epic nine-minute title song which follows, for "Can't Get Through" is epic in a heavy way, the way that early 70s groups only got when they'd played this stuff live on stage before recording it. Coming on like something off the Groundhogs' Split, all arranged and furious, it features Harry Unte's classy words: "Reality has got to die" and "My education will never let me be free". The vocals are confidently snotty and unself-consciously whining, and the guitars and drum interplay is epic in the same way that Alice Cooper's Killer actually supersedes Love It To Death both musically and emotionally. Does Harry Unte really sing "My parents tried to make a white person out of me"? It surely sounds that way, before Total Guitar Wars take over the song and huge psychedelic metal riffs obliterate the whole band. Finally, unaccompanied wild rhythm-less soloing reminds all of us that Dieter Dierks is, of course, the dread at the controls.
But my favourite song is definitely "It Must Be an Officer's Daughter", the eight-minute behemoth which opens side two. For here it is that the White Lady really strikes hardest. Yes, this the one in which Harry Unte wants to ball her all night long and feel her luscious breasts and feel her 27 fingers explode inside his body. Anyone who has felt Peter Green's White Lady at his back when listening to "Green Manalishi" will stiffen and blanche at the psychic hand job that the singer receives on this song.
By the time Hairy Chapter gets to "We Crossed Over", they've taken on elements of Amon Duul 1 playing Man Who Sold the World, as gothic choral vocals and solo piccolo trumpet illustrates a tale of them breaking through into the Underworld, or through the Berlin Wall, or both. Its acoustic mystery is pure Bowie Krautrock and it totally intrigues my psychic ass.
Can't Get Through finishes with the Amon Duul 2-riffing of "You Gotta Follow this Masquerade" - more of that White Lady-on-my-trail vocal cut with the epic Guitar Wolf Howl of Harry Titlbach. The entire album under 40 minutes long and they're done and gone forever. Hairy Chapter was a brief chapter with few pictures but a way with words and vats of spare rock'n'roll riffs just looking for their moment. As Dag Erik Asbjornsen so accurately commented in his marvellous book Cosmic Dreams at Play, Can't Get Through is "one of those screaming diz, dumbo IQ-reducing monsters that some people can never get enough of." Right ON!
- For an instant comparison of 1971's Can't Get Through to 1970's Eyes, get hold of both on one CD now released on the Second Battle record label, catalogue number 038.