Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Blues Magoos—
Basic Blues Magoos


Released 1968 on Mercury
The Seth Man, March 2003ce
“Basic Blues Magoos” would be The Blues Magoos’ third and final album for Mercury and it found their former psychedelic snot appeal abandoned for a brand new look and a whole new sound, as mirrored by the toned down sepia photography on the sleeve art. Their producer Bob Wyld was only responsible for four of the tracks on the album (the rest produced by the band themselves) which doesn’t explain why the entire album sounds equally ultra-compressed and sonically flat as a pancake as though emanating out from under the oppressive weight of too many quilts. Fortunately, it could not dampen the sheer exuberance of it one bit. Looking and sounding little like their previous “Psychedelic Lollipop” or “Electric Comic Book” albums, it was as though “Basic Blues Magoos” was purposefully constructed in dismissal of their previous manic psychedelic stance with attached hip merchandising angles. Everyone is a couple of haircuts older and look like a composite of members from The Small Faces (albeit with far smaller ears), The Kinks (lead vocalist Ralph Scala resembling Ray Davies about as much as he did Iggy on the front of their first album) and “Sunshine Help Me”-era Spooky Tooth but without the trippy cravats. It’s this whole vibe in one record: especially as they blast out a fantastic cover of The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” while sounding a hell of lot like The Small Faces circa “Itchycoo Park” for half the time. You feel like you have to peek every so often at the label just to make sure it hasn’t changed colour into a pink Immediate or Island behind your back (In fact, I almost entitled this piece “There Were But More Than Four Small Faces And They Came From The Bronx” or even “Too Early For Prog, Too Late For Psych Yet Too Fucked To Be Anything Else But Punk” but I didn’t because I get that way sometimes and besides it would be unfair to cast them as mere Small Faces copyists -- because they weren’t -- and besides: the presence that underlines the whole album is taken from their deepest imaginings that run from supernatural calm to errant foolishness to startling heaviness that were entirely their own.)

”Sybil Green (Of The In Between)” kicks off the album with a rhythm guitar riff that courses throughout remarkably like the one which would appear in the Yes track “And You And I” in four years time but only if it was performed by the lineup that cut “Time And A Word.” It’s deeply springtime-y in feel and verdant as hell as weightless lead organ lines skim across the lily pads of harmony vocals that respond to Scala’s Ray Davies-like quavering vocalising. It’s catchy as hell and a billowy, breezy frolic-in-a-grove with a Goddess groove complete with a slight return/fade out/back in and out again like of The Small Faces’ “I Feel Much Better” or Traffic’s “We’re A Fade, You Missed This.” A cover of The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” sprouts up next and is an excellent, driving workout of their early psychedelic pop charter. When “All The Better To See You With” bursts in, you can’t decide whether it owes more to The Small Faces (in particular, “Have You Ever Seen Me”), The Move’s “Fire Brigade” or The Who’s noisy, ’66-era pop art pyrotechnics. But since it’s an accurate composite of all three, it flashes by in an instant powered with a distinct soul rush carved out by a slashing rhythm guitar as background double bass drum hammers over electric piano banging up a tinny storm of Ian MacLagan proportions. The fury and the drumming dies away with the plaintively sung “Yellow Rose” as it brings the record into a place of reflection with quietly strummed acoustic guitar and even quieter electric guitar pluckings as an eerie, monophonic organ line brings to mind the supernatural mood and feeling of King Crimson’s gentle ode, “Moonchild.” Snapping out of this reverie is the brash “I Wanna Be There” and it is the highest spirited track on the album: driven by Ronnie Gilbert’s over-recorded bass, an enthusiastic arrangement and a chorus laden with hooky harmony vocals. Ending side one is the crushingly heavy “I Can Move A Mountain.” It decimates everything in its path, that’s how heavy. Ronnie Gilbert’s bass gets thrown up even higher than the muddy production can handle, along with smothering twin organ fills that descend as oppressive as any mellotron thunderhead with overdriven qualities that unflaggingly set upon reducing some mental Himalayan range into a molehill over and over. The drums are of flaying Keith Moon uncontrollability and after the gongs have been bashed repeatedly during the come down, you wonder how they ever submerged from the psychic murk of playing such a slow, un-refusing and relentless riff over and over and beyond senselessness and conclude that having tapped into such an unexpectedly psychic vein of vitality, were made only stronger for it.

“President’s Council On Psychedelic Fitness” kicks off side two with a slow soul number like “Fifty Two Percent” off the “Wild In The Streets” exploitation soundtrack until they break into an athletically tempo-ed section followed by a W.C. Fields-type politician imitation against a wave of fake audience adulation. Ha ha, ha...But look out, because what follows is by far both the scariest AND funniest track on the entire album: “The Scarecrow’s Love Affair.” Oh, I’ll never be able to figure out the lyrics: except the chorus/title and the opening lines of “I was tied together/And left out in a field” and the subsequent lines about how a heart started beating in his chest of hay but by that point my concentration is completely gone. Not only because I’m laughing so hard, but the vocals are being gargled and gurgled through a megaphone halfway down the block in a cartoon big, bad wolf voice and not some scarecrow with a straw-on. Weird and echoey effects are thrown all over the place while drums whack out crude and effective. At one point, the vocalist forsakes “singing” altogether and starts crowing like a rooster for an entire verse and then ending the whole sick mess is the sound of an old truck starting up its ancient engine and it almost conks out several times as it sputters from speaker to speaker for a little too long until...pfffffttt! -- It stalls to a halt. For no reason whatsoever.

“There She Goes” is total ’68 pop art flash and bang with over-recorded background vocals whispering in deafening loudness, “Here she comes.../Here she comes.../Here she comes...” like The Electric Prunes shot through with ‘the red with purple flashes’ of The Creation until a guitar rips through the mid section with frequency-tampered, geiger-countering crossed with police siren tones. “Accidental Meditation” is a brief acoustic instrumental with vocal/theremin tones floating lovingly all above the prettiness of it all. “You’re Getting Old” begins as a slow tempo and highly tempered blues, heavy on the organ, but soon moves into a darkly descriptive and compelling lament of youth long passed. There is a retarded guitar and cymbal workout in the bridge that is both uncoordinated and cluttered but effective in lightening up the proceedings by doing so. “Subliminal Sonic Laxative” is one minute long, consisting of a low tone that may be the infamous ‘brown note’ but recorded so poorly, it could never loosen anyone’s bowels, let alone cause the skinniest of farts to let loose. In fact, the only flow it sets up is the album’s rambunctious finale, “Chicken Wire Lady.” Despite or because of the sonic flatness The Magoos have been seemingly battling against for the whole record, the guitars are reduced to a barrage of the same over-echoed, ramshackled guitar set loose to let sparks fly upward that echoes the approach displayed on “Bull Of The Woods” (specifically, “Street Song”) with the same rhythmic thrust of “Wild Tiger Woman” by The Move played with all the pent-up rambunctiousness of The Small Faces blasting out “All Or Nothing” live...to the chorus refrain of “We’re just high” and references to passing out nickel bags to friends as a glistening, fluid guitar solo backwardly echoes zigzags in the coda.