Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Misunderstood—
Before The Dream Faded

Released 1982 on Cherry Red
The Seth Man, November 2006ce
Perched as much on the edge of their collective group mind as much as the huge precipice on the cover of “Before The Dream Faded,” The Misunderstood’s material extended far beyond the reach of the period in which it was conceived. The extraordinarily advanced tracks on side one from 1966 reveal them as one of the earliest and most original probes into psychedelic Rock, taking place of pride alongside those other like-minded pioneers from the same year: The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Blues Magoos, The Deep and...not too many others.

The Misunderstood’s roots are typical pre-’66: Not only in how they belie the peaks of originality and dimension they’d soon scale, but in the process of how the best members from adjacent groups eventually congregated into a single unit as they persisted with burrowing through surf, blues and folk-rock to then arrive at something that sounded like nothing else. The most notable component came in early 1966 with the arrival of the controlled and fucking exquisite table-mounted steel guitar playing of Glenn Ross Campbell. Adding a previously-unheard sonic dimension to the already roughhewn proceedings immersed in the dual guitar lessons of The Yardbirds and spat out with a vengeance, with Campbell in tow their sound raged and coalesced into a fully loaded collision of The Yardbirds’ own rave-up technique crossed with that band’s own “Steeled Blues” taken to its ultimate conclusion laced with recurrent “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” freak-outs (and it was prior to this last-named track’s release.) Ignoring the usual trappings of Hawaii and Nashville associated with his instrument, Campbell instead wrung forth a variety of sounds ranging from electrified fence broadsword caresses amplified through a jet engine/Marshall Major combo to lonesome stretches of sci-fi mindscaping that verged on the telepathic. And the rest of the band were anything but slouches on their respective instruments: The rhythm section of bassist Steve Whiting and drummer Rick Moe were both powerfully locked together yet knew exactly when to fall off into silence and back again and with cloud bursting force; vocalist Rick Brown’s low commanding tones were in direct counterpoint to his compassionate, questing lyrics and with the entry of the incisive and igniting work of guitarist Tony Hill in late summer of 1966, the lineup was aligned and set to go running through inner space with a READY, STEADY, GO!

Although initially based an hour east of Los Angeles in Riverside, California, The Misunderstood would become best known during the last nine months of their duration which they spent gigging and recording in London, England. Due largely in part to the influence of the expatriate British DJ John Ravenscroft (forevermore otherwise known as John Peel) who was broadcasting from radio station KMEN in San Bernardino, he would be instrumental in furthering the group’s development by securing periodic gigs, recording demos and finally advising them to seek their fortune in London. In June of 1966, they did just that and by year’s end were signed by Fontana Records, who released two perfect singles by the group: “I Can Take You To The Sun”/“Who Do You Love” and “Children Of The Sun”/“I Unseen.” These four sides plus previously unreleased demos of “My Mind” and “Find A Hidden Door” comprise side one of “Before The Dream Ended” to make it the definitive Misunderstood compilation. It’s a perfect spin from start to finish in every way: The material, the programming of the tracks and the tight editing between tracks all conspire to make it seem one complete suite rather than six songs.1 All are dynamic, averaging from 2-to-2-and-a-half-minutes in length and are dense, fast moving and hectically-paced as they course through myriad antechambers of multi-part arrangements, roughed-up freak-outs and wild sonic embellishments previously the sole domain of sci-fi soundtracking. A listing of prominent nouns from their song titles (SUN, MIND, LOVE, UNSEEN, DOOR, SUN) reveal the themes of their own penetrating spirit that read like cosmic shorthand for their goal: which used as a clarion call in one their best tracks ever was to “FIND THE HIDDEN DOOR.”

The album explodes outward with the B-side of their first single, “Children Of The Sun.” The regimented, slow march rhythm taken from The Yardbirds “Shapes of Things” is overlaid with Campbell’s astute though jarring accenting on his horizontally mounted steel guitar. Even as the notes edge into feedback and lurch out of tune, he’s controlling all aspects even though the vibrato feels more shaped by the push and pull of magnetic force or gravity itself and the effect is shattering. The drumming is powerful and perfectly placed with the ex-surf drumming expertise of Rick Moe, whose doubles it up the into clattering after the chorus just like Jim McCarty did on The Yardbirds’ “I’m A Man” (and therefore: “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five, natch) to drive the fucker forward. And when the low, powerful vocals of Rick Brown intone, “Relax yourself and drift/Into the regions of your mind” this is when you realise this isn’t a typical 1966 “beat” single but a visionary battering at the door of the future. As is “My Mind” which follows with a short, sharp drum beat, taut bass line and stinging modal riffing to batter the silence as accompanying backwards guitar zips by. Strafing and skittering from the slide of Glenn Ross Campbell and Whiting’s swooping “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown” bass darkens the background as vocalist Rick Brown loudly brays over the fray “Cause all time to stop...!/Cause all light to fade...!” then switching to utmost urgency against the musical backdrop twisting in the wind: “There’s no sense...!/In this dimension...!” A serene steel guitar interlude is then rudely switched into round upon round of incoming sonic mortar unleashed in the form of furiously rhythmic-strummed guitar exchanges against steel guitar as both crosshatch into the fourth (dimension) insane rave-up of the album. A mass of string quartet-like guitar tones introduce an unorthodox cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” that bears scant semblance to the original save the lyrics and half of the earnest strummed rhythm guitar lines...which is exactly all that remains after the rush of the roiling steel guitar runs lead the group to follow its wrecked abandon. During the breakdown, Campbell’s steel guitar runs are gliding over a reflective pool, streaking across the sky like breath. The ‘blink-blink-blink’ of volume knobs ends it “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” as fuck, then a slight return where everything once again is topped off with a bombastic finale.

“I Unseen” quickly cuts in with a KILLER psychedelic garage punk riff, gnarled fuzz folding over itself again and again and...You know, this is the REAL ‘Little Boy Blues’ and I don’t mean the Chicago garage punkers; I mean the Little Boy and the Fat Man. The dynamic duo of a nightmare no one wants to think about but already happened two times and the third ain’t gonna be no one’s idea of a charmer not least of all because the people to think any ideas are gonna be gone just like the thousands that were vapourised under a 20,000 feet high mushroom cloud one August morning in Hiroshima. A seven-year old narrates her death in a flash with the opening line, “I come and stand at every door...”2 which leads into “For I am dead.../Yes I am dead...” which was by anyone’s standards, highly atypical and heavy fare for a 1966 B-side. Rick Brown blows harp, sucks juice out of the air as the band blasts out tight and forcefully in successive shock waves.

One breath of space later, it’s straight into the organized anarchy of “Find A Hidden Door.” This piece hurtles through more doorways than Don Adams during the “Get Smart” opening credits as successions of airlocked portals are crashed through, fuelled by amphetamined ancestral memories of (yup, again) The Yardbirds’ “I’m Not Talking” with explosive-bolt momentum as a hugely-wielded and deftly handled stop-and-start arrangement to cause all instrumentation to cut away during the non-chorus vocal parts and rush back in on the double when the vocals fall silent. What a blistering track, and it’s too much when you hear the bass pumping out low end that climbs up to shake the studio rafters. It ends with a sweet steel phrasing and amplifier buzz which near-seamlessly wafts its way into the opening strains of a single, muted slide run and the relative calm of solace finally reached with the multi-part “I Can Take You To The Sun.” Released as the A-side of their first single, it’s stunning and beautiful like “Antique Doll” by The Electric Prunes two years beforehand, but with additional texturing and unfolding post-trip clarity. Building cymbals restrain the drum skins from being hit as the volume controlled sliding of the steel guitar gently rises all into a crescendo that lifts ever higher to then fade into a delicate solo acoustic passage from Tony Hill.

Mostly culled from their first, self-produced single and a four-song acetate both dating from 1965, side two shows how far The Misunderstood had evolved in the course of a year. In these earliest blues band-to-folk rock transitions, placing the strongest material on side one also allows for the earlier material on side 2 to shine on its own, exhibiting the strong songwriting and arrangement sensibilities that were already in position for imminent liftoff. The title and credits for the second side are slightly askew as regards the first track, “I’m Not Talking” which was in fact recorded in London in August, 1966 (with pre-Tony Hill guitarist Greg Treadway) and not the previous summer in Riverside. It’s as brutally raw as it is brief, and it’s perfect they choose this Yardbirds track to record as it holds the lurching yet tight gear shifting qualities which they would wind up working into most of their original material. A disconcerting backwards-masked introduction of cavernous voices fans out to ripping guitar raga escapades fuzzed to fuck and combined with pulsating throb bass, needling steel guitar runs and even the cymbals that seem to be splashing backwards.

The remainder of side 2 features recordings made in 1965 with the pre-Campbell lineup of Rick Brown (lead vocals, harmonica); Steve Whiting (bass); Rick Moe (drums); Greg Treadway (guitar, organ) and George Phelps (rhythm guitar). Entering with the slow blues shuffle of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking,” the B-side of their very first single with the top side a cover of Jimmy Reed’s revision of “Little Red Rooster” entitled “You Don’t Have To Go Out.” Four demos (“I Need Your Love,” “I Cried My Eyes Out,” Like I Do” and “You’ve Got Me Crying Over Love”) flesh out the rest of the album with a variety of approaches from Byrdsian-folk rock, near-surf vocal harmony combined with doo-wop to something that sounds like a cross between the murky, organ-led “Don’t Call My Name” by The Weads and some such plaintive plea from the likes of The Castaways.

Sometime during the last week of 1966, the first of a variety of circumstances (overseas draft notices, lack of proper work visas and shady management) conspired to undermine and eventually cause The Misunderstood to dissolve completely by springtime of 1967. Soon, promotional copy for another new group, The Pink Floyd, would promise “The Projected Sound of ‘67” and would reach far greater success. It causes one to pause and reflect that if things had worked out just a little bit differently, 1967 may have been a year that would have belonged just as much to The Misunderstood. But although it was for the briefest of instances, that hidden door they once sang of finding DID reveal itself to them, although right as it was closing. With their goal attained, at least were allowed a glimpse beyond its threshold for at least for a moment; and that’s an act unclaimed by most.

Dedicated to the memory of John Peel -- who listened, felt and believed...at a variety of speeds.

  1. At a press reception held to unveil ‘The New Sound of ‘67’, The Misunderstood performed “My Mind,” the instrumental “The Trip (To Innerspace)” [aka: “Journey Into The Unknown”], “Children of the Sun” and “I Can Take You To The Sun” as a single run through.
  2. The lyrics from “Kız Çocuğu” (‘Little Girl’) by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet were arranged and recorded by Pete Seeger for his 1961 album on Folkways, “Gazette Vol. 2” under the title, “I Come And Stand At Every Door.” As the direct provenance of both The Byrds’ cover of the same name and The Misunderstood’s “I Unseen,” Mike Stax notes in his insightful and massive article in UGLY THINGS that The Misunderstood recorded an early demo of “I Unseen” in January ‘66 months prior to those twelve-stringed, Dickensian-shaded ‘Bards of the Electronic Jet-Age Generation’ recording their own interpretation on May 16, 1966 and released two months later on their “Fifth Dimension” album.