Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Blues Magoos—
One By One/Dante's Inferno


Released 1967 on Mercury
The Seth Man, March 2003ce
The Blues Magoos followed up their “Pipe Dream”/“There’s A Chance We Can Make It” single with “One By One”/“Dante’s Inferno,” a single that illustrates their two distinct stylistic moods which cohabitated throughout their first pair of albums, “Psychedelic Lollipop” and “Electric Comic Book.” The version of “One By One” appearing on the single is far brighter in both recording and tempo than its original version off “Psychedelic Lollipop,” a romantic Byrdsian harmony vocal love ballad that issues forth far cleaner in comparison with the LP version as the drums are far more prominent and not just resigned behind the buoyancy of the trademark Vox Continental organ fills which previously hogged the foreground along with the vocals. Their romantic/lonesome pining angle was especially strong on their first album with tracks like “Queen Of My Nights” and “Love Seems Doomed” although they seemed to snap out of it on “Electric Comic Book” when they proclaimed “Take my love/And shove it up your heart!”

The other side of their musical coin was personified by some of the earliest psychedelic rock that took off where The Yardbirds’ “I’m A Man” left off. In passing, Nick Kent once compared the embryonic Pink Floyd to The Blues Magoos and that assessment isn’t as far off the mark as one might think: Just listen to their most raved-up moments from their first two albums -- “Tobacco Road,” “Gloria” or their absolute proto-psych-metal genius high water mark, “Rush Hour” -- and the B-side that is “Dante’s Inferno” and connecting the microdots to “Pow R. Toc H” or “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” isn’t all that far-fetched. It’s all there: the cheesy organ and skittering guitar runs played through the most primitive of amplification (Vox for the Magoos, Selmer for The Floyd) as feedback and electronically-created reverb and echo effects burrowing their way through instrumental passages for good reason and no reason at all. It was so early, all these bands could do was just crudely forge ahead undaunted into that unknown territory marked only as ‘psychedelic’ before anyone knew exactly what it was supposed to sound like and just played what they thought psychedelic music could be.

And “Dante’s Inferno” is such an exploration: a noisy freeform that appeared on no Blues Magoos album and after one listen, you’ll immediately know why. Because it is a zapping, electronically enhanced freak out instrumental, running at about three minutes in length and probably sounded more like an eternity to the ears of the typical Blues Magoos fan of the time as there is no beat nor vocals (unless if hysterical screaming and unearthly groaning qualifies as such.) And although it isn’t long enough to travel each and every single circle of Hell, they do give a cursory audio tour of the highlights (cuz how you gonna cut and fit a version of an epic poem on the B-side of a single, anyway?!! Well, The Blues Magoos did, since brevity is the essence of wit and The Magoos were such a pack of jokers.) The volume continually shoots up and down erratically throughout like a roller coaster ride over the volume faders as the organ, guitars and drums all leap up and down unpredictably in the mix, disappear and then return with no warning. ”Owww! Owww! Owww!” intones vocalist Ralph Scala, tip-toeing quickly over a carpet of white hot coals down there in Sheol as alarming bursts and squeals of guitar shoot rocket upwards in reverbed, nerve-shattering din-making. The drums rush by beatlessly with only errant hits as the guitar soon perches on the furthest reaches of falling into feedback altogether as pitch and echo are manipulated and thrown all over the place, totally over-recorded and in your face and mind.

The Blues Magoos were not above gimmicks. In fact, they embraced every single one. They weren’t above inserting the odd jokey goofball track here and there on their albums, because their action-packed approach more than made up for them giving the occasional Bronx cheer just for laughs and their hasty rave-ups that flung bits of psychedelic bubblegum confetti all around as early as they did only confirms The Blues Magoos’ place in the vanguard of psychedelic rock. They carved a niche for themselves with fabulously hook-ridden singles, amazing hairstyles, electric suits, oversized lava lamps flanking the stage during their live performances and most importantly: just kicking out some noise for the teen set who were looking for some loud, fast songs that kept up with the pace of their own imagination and existence...and was kicks besides.


Note:
“Dante’s Inferno” was probably concocted quickly to insure immediate DJ playtime attention to focus on the A side, as though in an effort to avoid a repeat scenario that played out with their previous single, “Pipe Dream”/“There’s A Chance We Can Make It.” When first issued, DJs deemed both sides equally playable and hit-worthy, causing the on-air playtime of “Pipe Dream” effectively cut in half and kept it from charting anywhere near the position of their top 10 single, “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet.” However, there would be no choice but for DJ’s to play “One By One” with such a random freak-out lurking on the other side. Ha!