Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Danny Ben-Israel—
Bullshit 3 1/4


Released 1970 on Israel
The Seth Man, September 2003ce
As a young Israeli musician, Ben-Israel started his artistic pursuits while in a military band and during that time recording two singles that became hits on the Israeli charts. Once discharged, he pursued a variety of artistic directions that ranged from working in musicals, writing and recording songs for soundtrack albums. For a short period in 1968, Ben-Israel moved to Austria where he formed a band that spent its brief career opening for Bill Haley & The Comets while recording the album “Happy Birthday, Rock’n’Roll” (judging from its title, it possibly functioned as nothing more than a gig souvenir.) Later in the same year, Ben-Israel returned to Israel where he recorded Hebrew versions of San Remo Festival hits and became involved once more with Israeli musical stage productions. It was at this time that Ben-Israel began composing and recording the songs that would wind up becoming his self-produced solo album, “Bullshit 3 1/4.”

“Bullshit 3 1/4” was a quantum leap away from all of Ben-Israel’s previous musical endeavours as evidenced by the title’s decided lack of commercial potential, the provocative cover artwork and songs that free-formed and furry-freaked all over the place. Ben-Israel’s production was economical and clean while the unorthodox arrangements work tremendously within all eight original songs. And throughout Ben-Israel rages about everything in front of him: from the hypocrisies of straight society to escapism via irresponsible drug use and if he had a dog he’d probably be down on all fours barking and snarling into the microphone. And although the lyrics are all sung in Hebrew, its lack of comprehension to foreign ears doesn’t detract because not only does the very out-there and emotional rock’n’roll that is “Bullshit 3 1/4” make the lyrics take a back seat, the dynamic range and shifting of the vocals between singing, screaming, and whispering speak meanings beyond language.

“Bullshit 3 1/4" opens with the aptly-titled “Another Kind Of Song” (re-titled “A Different Song” on the CD reissue), and it’s a fantastically scattered free-form where random e-guitar strums up an expressionist storm over a freak-out miscellany of sax, xylophones and resounding thundercloud tympani all Amon Düül-like while Ben-Israel’s vocals skitter over yards of hot sands in its bare feet. “The Schizophrenic War Of Utzik Pachnutzik” (also referred to by the fantastic and unwieldy alternate title, “Utzik Pachnutzik’s Schizophrenic War Against The Tyrant Kis’on Rodanovski”) follows. It is melancholy, driving and freaky all at once, hinting at the same feel as the drunken breakdown in Roxy Music’s “Sea Breezes” as the regimented tambourine playing doubles as a drum machine. Before long, the sound of marching feet and a firefight of ricocheting gunshots rebound behind double-tracked vocals that only overlap by accident.

On the following two tracks, Ben-Israel is backed by an underground rock group from Jerusalem known as The Electric Stage and their show-stopping guitarist Shlomo Mizrahi pulls off fuzztone-drenched lead after lead with a keenly twinned sense of abandon and appropriateness. “When The Party’s Over” (retitled on the CD as “After All The Fun”) sounds like it’s going to plunge back into random freak-out-ery, but it soon shifts gear into an improvisation only a little more structured as Ben-Israel ratchets up the vocal craziness by getting it all off his chest and outta his head and carrying on over the entire jam session. He’ll take the first consonant of a word and repeat THAT for the next few seconds, as though warming up to catch the revolving musical carousel of sounds that surround him. Toy buzzers, slide whistles and clipped stylophone tones all battle over the audio rush hour of the foreground, but lead guitarist Mizrahi is fluid enough to give and take which is key because hardheaded Danny ain’t budging an inch with berating, instructing, laughing, yelling and making faces throughout. The rhythm section rolls steadily on and allows Mizrahi to just carry on with his improvisations over Ben-Israel’s ranting that stretches from yelling to quietly questioning tones to immediately flying off the handle again and again as the stylophone harassment continually cuts through everything. By contrast, it’s followed by “Enough Hash” which is definitely the craziest and most upbeat moment of the album. There must be a Middle Eastern exploitation film somewhere out there where the psychedelic party scene has this track playing in the background. It’s completely psychedelic soul au-go-go with blistering guitar displays and an excellent solo to boot as The Electric Stage back Ben-Israel’s delivery of the most astonishingly neck-vein popping variety. He never misses a beat while cutting loose over the whole mess tremendously. It’s a splendid mover and a groover despite the fact I think the lyrics may be directed against some young lady in Ben-Israel’s life who preferred hash over anything else...“Enough Hash” is excellent on every level I can think of, and even some I can’t.

Side two of “Bullshit 3 1/4” starts off gently and melodic with “And If” as uplifting tones of Mediterranean lilting connects the vocals and accompaniment with tearful cheer. Acoustics strum and gently pick out against some of Ben-Israel’s biggest vocal moments of the album, complete with reoccurring stereo-panned whooshes that pass by as unconcerned as the tone of the ballad itself. The acoustic “Danny Bottle Neck” is a light-hearted stomp like Syd Barrett’s “Octopus” combined into a cover of “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” as rendered by lackadaisically struck percussion, harmonica and battered studio piano over Ben-Israel’s beach fire and driftwood acoustic. Opening with picking and scratching doper acoustic guitar and congas, “Israel ‘70” a densely-woven sound collage that stitches together excerpts from political speeches, radio broadcasts, a U.N. voting session and other taped sound effects as ultra-clipped stylophone tones and variable tape speed manipulations waft in and out. Ben-Israel vocals are struggling to find words, keeping perched on the edge of sanity’s orgasm while nervously humming as if unselfconscious communing directly with his muse. He then finally breaks out into singing and is free -- at least for the moment -- while the band drop in right on cue behind him. It’s as though they’re clearing a space for their new song of hope against the anguished backdrop of pick/scratch acoustic guitar pattern and the sound of political finger-pointing. The balance of the mix starts favouring Ben-Israel and band, tilting from the crazily plucked acoustic and then tilting back again in stereo stalemate. Soon, Ben-Israel abandons the backing band and all lyrical considerations -- reduced to wailing wordless prayers while rocking on his haunches as though any minute some inevitable hammer will come down from on high and smite him and his vision to smithereens.

The album ends with the acoustic folk song “Why Not?” as nighttime percussion click-clacks in the cavernous darkness behind Ben-Israel’s sonorous vocals and illuminating acoustic strumming. And with it concludes this lost 1970 Mediterranean classic without a fraction of bullshit anywhere.

After this album was released upon an entirely disinterested Israeli public in 1970, Ben-Israel moved to New York City for several years where he continued performing and writing music with various aggregations. Throughout the next three decades he was constantly on the move until recently returning to Israel once more to continue writing and composing for stage productions.