Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Chico Magnetic Band—
Pop Or Not/Inverse Pop


Released 1970 on CBS
The Seth Man, July 2004ce
Chico, a simple name originating from the streets of West Side Story in America. His first single is a track from his LP which will be released in France in October. He is a wild-man on stage, well ahead of his time, and is accompanied by three exceptionnal (sic) musicians, the two songs on this 45 are loaded with humour and demonstrate a degree of research in sound never before reached.”
(-Original sleeve notes to Chico Magnetic Band’s “Pop Or Not”/“Inverse Pop” single)



Simultaneously clearing and clouding up the chronological order of Chico Magnetic Band’s small but impressively heavy discography of three singles and one album, it would appear by the vintage of other CBS albums displayed on the single’s back sleeve (“Redbone,” "Second Winter" by Johnny Winter, "Chicago II" and the heinously-named double LP compilation “Superb Super Pop Session No. 2”) that “Pop Or Not” was released in 1970. But the wording of the liner notes only confuses the issue. Do they mean that THIS 45 is his first single in question? Because if it is, why did neither side make it onto the album? But if they were referring to Chico Magnetic Band’s first (and only) album, then it would make PERFECT sense as the “My Sorrow”/ “We All Come And Go” single did appear on it. Even accepting this, a final discrepancy remains: why would sleeve notes appearing on a CBS single be mentioning two different releases on an unrelated label especially when this single is from 1970 while the ‘first single’ is dated at 1971? (I put this out there only because one can’t really gain a complete perspective on a rock’n’roll tale this arcane without a feel for the discography -- of which, Chico Magnetic Band’s has gotta be one of the most nonplussing, ever. It’s ridiculous: FOUR RECORDS and only ONE bears the year of release, that most basic information outside of ‘side 1’ and ‘side 2.’)

Keeping with this facade of simplicity, this one-off single is not so much Chico Magnetic Band as it is Jean-Pierre Massiera. Both sides were his compositions and Chico Magnetic Band’s role resigned to supplying raw audio material which he then incorporated into his rhythmically wrenching tape-sped cut-up stew of manipulations as he saw fit. The three-way chemistry present comprised of 1) Chico; 2) the Magnetic Band themselves drummer Patrick Garel, bassist Alain Mazet and guitarist Bernard Monneri and 3) Jean-Pierre Massiera’s musique concrète instrumentals was nothing but vibe for these three creative atoms. Because for as loose as Chico was, he made the band even looser and heavier and although Massiera was a master of organising sound (even using his signature ‘pop’ noun in the title of every song he contributed to Chico Magnetic Band) he knew when not force his hand. He rarely did, and the results were magnificent.

“Pop Or Not” does not sound like your typical rock’n’roll single A-side from 1970 except for the slight fuzz guitar introduction. But then it parts with a woman laughing as though feathery dalliances are applied to her every orifice while a samba rhythm cuts in and out electronic fissures that crack and spray geysers of colours, sounding scarily similar to Irene Papas’ unbridled vocal upheavals on Aphrodite’s Child’s “Infinity” (I wonder if it is indeed that Hera of Greek cinema here. Maybe she returned to Europa-Sonor Studios to fetch her forgotten purse on her way to the set of “Z” and wound up contributing as a favour to Chico and his right-on stance.) But whoever this mystery woman is, her enchanting and supine vocal ecstasies adhere strictly to Massiera’s slicing grid while remaining effortlessly musical throughout three breakdowns where elements drop off into nowhere as everything from car horns, oscillators and electronic tape speed manipulations percolate and rebound all around pleasured mademoiselle’s giddy laughing jags, which in turn maintain counterpoint to the pre-recorded percussion lines. Weird.

Massiera was more inventive an artist then just content with running the A-side backwards over a loop of electronic burps and wheezes and calling it “Inverse Pop”. No: here it’s an entirely different set of confabulations altogether with Chico entering the fray with vocals over a weave of slurping bass and drums sucking back into time as brass sections are deftly applied with dreamlike colouration: “Something’s goin’ on, man…something’s goin’ on in this world…” Against a backwards drum track, backwards brass and a most fowad bass line, Chico continually slips in sideways with proclamations like, “Hey man,” “Whuzzyername?” and “I’ve seen my mind” like the son of “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow” over backward brass and string arrangements what whiz out of the backward backdrop, quickly careening in volume and then disappearing as fast as they came. Weirder.

Chico BARELY appears on his first single. Weirdest! (Now how ROCK is that? I ask you...)

This was not somebody who went to sleep each night after beholding his own image in a mirror, lamenting to himself “Oh, to be a star!” then crying himself to sleep like some big old baby while clutching his prized Jimi LPs to his fevered brow as tears splash onto their laminated sleeves (Of course, Chico being THE MAN, said long players in question were the original British mono pressings and therefore able to weather any sob-a-thon and therefore kept primo for eons) because stardom wasn’t his reason for existence. It certainly didn’t consume him a fraction as much as the fire in his eyes, the flame in his heart, the steam in his head, no Way-Ho-Say! He hadda unleash his demons in order that they would unleash him and it weren’t no Faustian handshake, neither: it was a fist and it was the way the cosmos worked for Chico. And it was as though in five-fingered-of-fate approval of his singular outpourings of zeitgeistian freak-rock sounds that he was kept in a state of deathless grace by disappearing in a puff of sativa smoke right after their third and final single and splitting for locations unknown and thereby spared the ignoble fate of releasing a sporadic stream of burning fecal matter masquerading as LPs throughout the following decades or zigzagging like a lobotomised zombie through each and every genre in search of returning fortunes, money for coke, ex-wives, rent, or court settlement payments. Whether adult comedy, watered-down funk, disco, reggae, soca, NWOBHM or the inevitable embarrassment of a reunion album, nothing would be spared except his unique astral soul projections and they all charted the sad and all-too-inevitable trajectory of one who’s time had long come and gone, reflected by the series of illegitimate record labels they appeared on with predictably crap titles the like of “Chico II,” “Funky Butt Chico,” “Chico’s Back!,” “Soar Ass Chico,” “Chico Inna Dancehall Stylee,” “The Ghost And Mrs. Chico” and “Chico Magnetic Band: Caught Live In The Act At Le Tea Rooms de Marshall Petain, Aix-en-Provence, April 1998.” But his output diminished considerably for a couple of years after the release of his notorious 1979 twelve-inch maxi single of “Sexxxy Lady” released on RCA (not Elvis’ old label but Radiozione Campari Association, a short-lived Sardinian-based enterprise specialising in cover versions of then-popular soca hits with alleged ties to the underworld) where even its outrageous “5 minute live orgasm solo!” championed on the back cover was faked on an overdub by Chico’s then-manager/consort internationale, Claudia “Inflagrante” DeLicto... All to brief notoriety and a closed courtroom appearance in Monaco that ruled in his favour only after a series of kickbacks to the local gendarmerie was guaranteed.

Fame is a cruel and fleeting mistress. But thankfully, these possible futures were not to be for the single-named entity they called Chico: who was and still is every inch a hero, a freewheelin’ cat supreme and a total fucking upstanding rock’n’roller of the highest possible order.