Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Safe As Milk

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Safe As Milk


Released 1967 on Buddah
Reviewed by zmnathanson, 03/07/2009ce


I first got into Captain Beefheart's music by accident when I first head his cover of Bo Diddley's Diddy Wah Diddy from the Nuggets compilation back when I was finished with High School back in the summer of 2004. And it scared me at first. It scared me because I didn't quite get it on how a painter and a musician coming from the outskirts of California just playing his heart out as a cross between Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker could just could be a raunchy motherfucker than ever. Turns out it all works out fine. That's when I bought Trout Mask Replica by accident to get me started. When I first heard it, I thought why would Frank Zappa produce this bizarre twisted avant-garde rocker that no one would play on a Prom or at a Bar Mitzvah party. No one would. And the second time, I heard it, I fell in love with it. And I realized this is how the Avant-Garde music scene of the late '60s and early '70s is supposed to be sound. Even though I got my mind set with Frank Zappa, Henry Cow, The Soft Machine, and the Zeuhl kings of Klingon Magma, Captain Beefheart took the genres and wrapped it up like a magnifying glass that was looking at a different angle of Blues Rock. And that's when I got a hold of his debut album, Safe As Milk. 42 years later, it stills sound fresh and makes you want to start a band of your own. I still enjoy this album and also a die hard fan of the Captain himself. Jesus Don, you sure made one killer album that would have gotten Cream and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers on your knees and worshipping you as a god of the Blues and Jazz scene that would make you go for more.

Safe As Milk is the way that the Garage Rock scene of the '60s could have been sounded and not just a fucking one hit wonder bullshit from poppy excuses from The Partridge Family and the goddamn boy band The Osmonds. This is how the proto-punk scene first took notice and that genre took everyone by suprise with word of mouth and the talk of the town and giving the mainstream music scene that is happening right now, to give them a sincere fuck you. Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) does remind me again of the son of Howlin' Wolf and Edgar Broughton's little brother and he makes you feel so comfortable with and giving everyone including the listener, a wake up call. He still has that raspy vocal that he would do and sometimes scream and do croony ballads and showing his fist to the audience while playing the harmonica and sax. John "Drumbo" French who isn't just a drummer for the Magic Band, he plays the drums very simple and does it top notch. He does the cross of Jazz and Bluesy taste along with the Indian tribe that is very similar to John Densmore's playing with the Doors. Very fucking awesome! The late Alex St. Clair Snouffer who unlike Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Jeff Beck and John Lennon, was like the lost guitarist of the band, is a true magnificent player while doing heavy rhythms on the guitar and the solos are like nothing you've ever heard ala FUZZTONE STYLE! Jerry Handley's bass playing is almost punk like and very Blues Magoos like while doing some interesting bass notes to follow the voice of the Captain. You can tell that the Magic Band were like the Garage Punk Experiementations of the beginning of the late '60s while the New York Art Rockers of The Velvet Underground were doing a screeching take of Art Punk. Well in a roundabout way, it wouldn't just match now would it my Beefheart fans?!

But here's a little history about the Captian himself. Don Van Vliet drove a Helms Bakery truck from his father who passed away of a heart attack and then when he grew up, he became fast friends with Frank Zappa who went to the same School with him. He left High School to pursue a music career while staying at home and listening Blues Records from the night to the very early stages of the morning while screaming at his Mom to give him a Pepsi by screaming "SUE, GET ME A PEPSI!" Also, legend has it, he met his true icon Aldous Huxley, who's famous for his controversial novel, The Devils of Loudon, while selling Vaccum cleaners. When he met his hero, he was blown away and didn't know what to say and look at the equipment and said to him and pointing at the Vaccum Cleaner and said 'SIR! THIS SUCKS!'

But anyway, let's get to Safe As Milk. Now I know people wanted to ask me, 'Zack why in god's name would you name Safe As Milk as one of Captain Beefheart's essential masterpiece?' Well, here's why Beefheart fans. It was a beginning for him because after they did some covers of the old R&B songs, he wanted to move on to the bizarre and weird side of Rock and Roll. He wasn't singing about Peace and Love to the Hippie generation. He wasn't going to be like Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack. And was NOT going to be like Eric Clapton or any band that was going to be named the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He was going to be like a painter that made a strange album for the anti-Hippie fans to say 'I could defintelty related to this guy. He's defintely speaking to me and what's going on the world today.' It was also an autobiographical album also. He was almost the next Picasso and the next Salvador Dali. Looking at the front cover of his debut, you can tell that they weren't just at a gigantic city, but more of a Farm that would make the Animals be really interested in his homage to the Cows and thinking 'Ain't this nice than performing for a bunch of Fucking pussies?'

'Sure Nuff N Yes I Do' which starts off as a slide guitar solo done by guitarist Ry Cooder and beginning the line 'Well I was born in the desert, came on up from New Orleans'. And then after Cooder's solo introduction, it becomes like a cross between Creedence Clearwater Revival meets The Monks in a very swampy garage punk rock foot stomping music as the band play like a train chugging really fast while Beefheart is singing and almost doing a foot-stomp while singing along. You can tell that he's really enjoying this during his pre Repilca-era and just singing while doing his vocals. In one moment he's telling the young girls to find out what he's doing and asking come by to see him and he's very worthy either to make sweet love and sleep with them. I always wonder if the Captain was watching underground movies from the Something Weird-era and seeing Art Films that been X-Rated and wondering to make an alternate soundtrack for a Porn FIlm from France. A good combination of Blues Rock and Sex.

You have to understand that Don Van Vliet was way ahead of his time while he was in his late '20s and he is remained a Cult figure throughout his fans. Zig-Zag Wanderer is as heavy than anyone else. What's going on in this piece is that the guitar and the bass sound like a pounding punk taste and then the drums is doing a Sky Saxon take on the number and then the bass is doing a garage rockin take as Captain sings about the Wanderer's back story and then ending with a disturning sound of the Gong. Call On Me is almost a romantic rocker which would have made Jim Morrison very happy and wish he could have written this about Pamela Morrison. We never expect Beefheart singing about a girl that he's maybe in love with, but this is a real fun song in an homage to the 13th Floor Elevators debut album. Dropout Boogie is a growling number which deals with the Teenagers life about love and the low life of School and life at work is like a fucking circus. Its really disturbing and also during the piece it becomes a Carousel piece and then the twingly guitar noise and then back to the Fuzztone sound which would make you hunt for sexy girls either at Playboy or a Hustler and playing this up to 11 would have them going erotic on your ass.

I'm Glad is a parody dedicated to the croony ballads which has a great horn section that is so perfecto for this waltzy jazz bluesy take. He's actually taking a pisstake on Tom Jones with this as he sings about the person's ex-girlfriend with odd lines including 'You went away I cried night and day/for what you done I had to pay/Left me so blue I don't know/where to go or what to do/please come back and let the sun shine through' I feel that he's taking a snap against the dull lyrics about the walking in the park nonsense but he makes it kind of funny in a tribute to the teenage girls in the audience as if they want to dance to this, but maybe not. As if that wasn't weird, here comes another disturbing fucked up in the ass number that was famously covered by Sonic Youth, Electricity. It reminded me of a '50s B-Movie that has gone fucking wrong that includes a weird song that features a Theremin that sets the tone in a dysfunctional way which features the bass almost doing a live version of Dylan's Maggie's Farm at Newport while the guitar is doing a Sky Saxon and the Seeds take as the Captain sings soft and raunchy like his icon Howlin' Wolf and then it becomes really fucking loud with the theremin as it goes up with the feedback and then ending in a sinister climax.

Yellow Brick Road begins with a spoken introduction: 'The following tone is a reference tone recording at our operating level' and then it becomes a parody piss take of the Hippie Generation and The Wizard of Oz in a shitty way. When the band comes in it becomes a Psychedelic comedic country rock number. The guitar sounds very twangy while the bass is more jazz and fuzzy and the drums go country and pumping at the same time as Beefheart sings soft on this: 'Around the corner the wind blew back follow the yellow brick road/It ended up in black on black/I was taught the gift of love/Smiling children painted joy sunshine bright girl and boy/bag of tricks and candy sticks peppermint kite for my toy' and then the roar of the background vocals going:

YELLOW BRICK BLACK ON BLACK!
KEEP ON WALKING AND DON'T GO BACK!

The song is strange, but really well producted in a weird way along with Electricity as it ends with a Beefheart singing 'I'm following the Yellow Brick Road' again as it fades off into the sunset. Abba Zaba which is actually a Candy Bar which was the Captain's favorite, begins with a disturbing Cherokee Rocking number that is very Buffalo Springfield like and then it the insturments stop and the Bass comes in doing a crazy bass solo. Reminding me a bit of The Who's instrumental take of The Ox, the bass takes over for a split second and the drums come in as if he's following the bassist and then the twisted guitar solo comes in and then Beefheart comes back in singing weird languages and then becomes a cherokee tribe and then ending as it goes into the raunchy homage to the sounds of Chicago sounds of the Blues with Plastic Factory. Its very hard as Ry comes back doing some heavy duty guitar solo as the Captain is roaring on the Harmonica that seems as if he's doing with the fuzztone sound and then it becomes very British Rock for a split second and then back into the Sleazy sound. And the lyrics with: 'Phos'phrous chimney burnin'/Modern-men's a-learnin'/Time and space a-turnin'/ Motor's engine churnin'/fac'trys no place for me boss man let me be.' Get the feeling that Muddy Waters might have listened to this while he was coming up for material for Electric Mud.

Unlike his Blues heroes, he goes back to the darker territory again with Where There's Woman. It doesn't remind me of Hendrix, but it reminded me something of a daydream of X-rated girls giving you honey and wine and making you their lover. It sounds very Doors meets the Electric Prunes like sound with the guitar and the drums setting the scenery of the sexy love of Women and then it becomes an upbeat tempo with the bridge lyric of 'Where there's woman honey wine /Where there's woman loving time/Where there's love for a lover of my kind'. and the finale 'Where there's woman honey wine/Where there's woman lovin' time/Where there's love for a lover of my kind/Where there's woman/maybe a little baby girl ooooooh!'.

Grown So Ugly is back to the pounding sounds to finding out how disgusting your whole body is as the music becomes a quirky tempo and then the organ comes in as Beefheart wails and then it moves a rauchous groove and then becomes a folk rock number gone wrong in a extremeful way as the Captain sings 'For to comb my head/I made a move/Didn't know what to do/I tipped way forward/Got to break and run' Looks like he's looking for his girlfriend that he hasn't seen for a while or trying to run away from the law and let's hear him just pumping up the song like a motherfucker.

Autumn's Child ends the album with a avant-garde psychedelic croony love song. A cross between Coltrane meets the Theremin which comes back in the number. Beefheart sings as if he's having an emotion breakdown as the Theremin is helping him not to fight back tears about the love of the child and then it becomes a free-for-all carnival rocking number as he talks about fishing and eating Apples together in the sunny side of the park as it calms down and then back into destructive mode by ending it in a disturbing tone as we listen to the Captain go into a lunacy mode that no other artists has done before as it ends with the guitar going up and down with the chords. Twisted, fun and sometimes to Lick Your Decals Off, The Captain is one of the true legends of obscure music. Want some more? Well Sure 'nuff baby sure 'nuff 'n yes I do.


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