Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Alrune Rod - Hej Du

Alrune Rod
Hej Du

AOTM #59, April 2005ce
Released 1970 on Sonet Records
Side One
  1. Du Taler Og Sir’ (7.51)
  2. Hej D (15.11)
Side Two
  1. Perlesoen (21.51)
    1. Prelude
    2. Nu
    3. Prov
    4. ?
    5. Invitation
    6. Neden/Under
    7. Ny Dag
    8. Finale

Note 1: As I’ve shown in KRAUTROCKSAMPLER and several articles here on Unsung, not bringing much by way of artistic merit to the Swinging Sixties party until the tail-end of ’69 ultimately worked in favour of the West German and Japanese rock’n’rollers, because their sheer physical distance from the party allowed time for them to subsume into both their own music and lyrics the later ghastliness of Altamont and The Manson Family AND the earlier well-meaning idealism of the Peace Love Dove ‘All You Need Is Love’ ’67 period. And so that calamitous mix of simultaneous rampant expectation and utter devastation that so depressed British and U.S. youth after the multiple collective ‘60s highs ultimately made far more poetic sense to German and Japanese youth still picking their way through their own shattered (and newly-Americanised) homelands. However, as my earlier DANSKROCKSAMPLER article showed, other peripheral-yet-slightly-less-damaged youth cultures (ignored or dismissed at the time as Johnny-Come-Lately art statements) nowadays yield a high level of excellent rock’n’roll, much still awaiting serious excavation. That this is the case no longer surprises me; hell, motherfuckers, if 21st century underground rock’n’roll is virtually impossible to keep track of, then what chance have we of keeping up with the remote past?

Note 2: Many thanks again to my publisher friend Ole Knudsen of Kobenhavn for laying on me such righteous translations of the HEJ DU sleevenotes and lyrics, and giving me a cultural context in which to lay down these ideas. Son of Knud, U-Rock!

Neverending Compositions

It’s the Spring of 1970 (cue feedback guitars and doomy riff organ), and two longhairs are walking down Stroget, Copenhagen’s King’s Road, talking it like they’re walking it and wondering how long it’s all gonna last. Both are musicians but one is the poet too, and he says to his mate:

“Brother, today you have that same manic gleam in your eyes that I saw first time I met you. Here we are lucky to be striding down Stroget, but you still spend half the time neurotic that all this is an illusion. How much more free can you get? Get on with being it NOW! You crow about not being tied to your missus, but where would you live without her flat? You say you’re not scared of the police, but you’d never have the guts to go to a country where losing your freedom would be a real possibility.”

And so this classic album HEJ DU begins amidst hippie idealism, the new Danish youth realism, and a joyously abandoned musical soundtrack that vibrates like the Sum Total of all of the West’s best underground psychedelic soul music. Themes, man, this band has a fucking plethora of great themes. Most especially uber catchy is the song playing out as they stride down Stroget entitled “Du Taler Og S’ir” (“You Talk And Say”) and the aforementioned poet is Leif Roden, a tall ultra skinny longhair with a Holger Czukay moustache and a sunburst Fender P-bass that propels what the Danish press have dubbed Alrune Rod’s ‘Neverending Compositions’, long psychedelicised T.C.B. soul revues of ever-building epiphanies and cascading angelic vocal refrains, occasionally re-grouping into ambulant drifts of rhythmless formless stillwaterscapes. The joy of HEJ DU is that it sounds like all late 60s heavy music simultaneously AND like none of it specifically. Organ, guitar, bass and drums were rarely used more sparingly than here on Alrune Rod’s records, with no real lead instruments at all, and lots of ‘ooh’ angelick vocals and plane, train, automobile sound FX thrown in. This is deffo predominantly a band of groovers informed equally by the Chambers Brothers’ epic “Time Has Come Today” workout AND British organ-dominated art rock such as Pink Floyd, The Nice and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. So despite its being 1970, these are guys who still wanna look ultra-cool and score with the dollies. Which means the so-called lead guitar is in reality more of an FX extravaganza-cum-shrine to the tasty lick - Davy O’List from The Nice springs to mind, or Yes’ Pete Banks-period, or maybe what Steve Winwood did on the first couple of Traffic LPs. In Alrune Rod’s music, fuzz riffs and noises proliferate, and throw off kilter the overdriven curtains of dirge and stewing Hammond organ, which is itself a cross between the drones of ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ Rick Wright and the R&B-based driving riffs of Yes’ Tony Kaye, Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Van Der Graaf Generator’s Hugh Banton all throw in. But the main reason that Leif Roden has such a spring in his step as he navigates the Stroget pavements is because he’s full of hope for the Rod’s future. Alrune Rod’s first LP has done well on the Danish scene and now Roden’s working on copping some more hip Anglo-Americanisms to Danskify for instalment number two - indeed, even the album title HEJ DU (literally ‘Hey You’) was the popular Danish hippie greeting of the time, reflecting Roden’s drive to give it all a local context.

Meanwhile, here in the early 21st century, I gots to admit that the main reason HEJ DU has been so heavily rotated these past months (even listened to almost all 21-minutes of “Perlesoen (Pearly Lake)” in the carwash the other day around two in the afternoon, when no-one was behind me waiting), is because it takes me back sonically without merely being something I listened to as a kid. Like, sometimes when I feel the need to play punk rock without all the attendant associations of the past, I put MINUTES TO GO on by The Sods, and right at that moment their late arrival swoop of breathless stupidity sums up punk better in one twenty minutes side of vinyl than all the originators could. Similarly, playing the title-track from The Sweet’s SWEET FANNY ADAMS does Glam better for me in 5 minutes than umpteen repeated listenings to “The Jean (yawn yawn) Genie” ever could. And for Alrune Rod, being Danish allowed them to retain in their sonic mash certain ingredients that had by 1970 become shut out and shunned as ‘old gimmickry’ in the lands of the originators. Guitar phasing, organ phasing, ‘Astronomie Dominie’-style howling-at-the-Moon, all these add-ons might hide short-comings in the musicians themselves, but their presence also allowed the overall musical effect to be one of psychedelia rather than progressive rock. Hell, HEJ DU even gets a long, rambling and very mid-‘60s set of poetic sleevenotes for stoners to giggle at as they listen.

Geise - Guitar

Leif Roden - Bass & Lead Vocals

Pastor Zeigler - Organ & Piano

Karsten Host - Drums

And all three epic tunes on this record remind me of Amon Duul 2’s title track from YETI, insofar as they shift from beacon to terrific beacon of raging sun worship via valley pathways of intriguing low-key mystery. Did you ever wish that the four piece Soft Machine of the “Love Make Sweet Music” 45 had made an entire LP of that exquisite psychedelic soul, rather than just padding out the sublime “Why Are We Sleeping?” with 30-minutes of so-jazz/so-what freeform drywank-o-thon? Or wished that organ-grinding behemoths such as Mountain and Vanilla Sludge had – rather than indulging in some typically undignified and seemingly endless 12-minute ‘Heavy Rigby” en suite cover version du jour – had instead dared to knee popular music in the nuts by slinging out such semi-coagulated spittoon fodder as the ultra-monolithic Iron Butterfly’s 17-minute “In A Gadda Da Vidda”? Yeah, me too. Which is why this particular Alrune Rod LP deserves its place as an Album of the Month… not because of the many musical barriers it broke at the time of its release, but instead because of the confident manner in which its Danish creators accepted all the various ingredients in the menu being served up to them by the various chefs of British and American rock’n’roll. Just as William Burroughs suggested that an author in a dry spell is best engaged in creative reading, so Leif Roden took on the job of creative hoarding. Riffage, rhythms, intros, tail-outs, you name it – they were all grist to Roden’s Alrune Rod mill. But, like the cultural kleptomania of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, the songs of Alrune Rod that annexed so shamelessly sections of other peoples’ work did it so seamlessly and with such witty craftsmanship that the listener quickly gives up yelling “Oi, I know that bit” and just gets on with enjoyment of the overall piece. There’s little point in my telling you precisely where I reckon Leif Roden got all his source material from, because I’m not enough of a know-it-all to be up for the job, nor is Leif Roden merely the smart sonic cut’n’paster I’m in danger of accusing him of being. The strength of this record is the manner in which it all hangs together, building, dipping, dropping down, swaying, re-grouping then building again and again.

Moreover, Alrune Rod had the luxury of being able to stretch out their material over two 20-minutes long LP sides only after Sonet Records had in mid-1969 sought to kick-start the band’s career with a nice safe piece of Institutional Psychedelia as their first single, a five minute long “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera” equivalent to show they meant business. Typically of the time, this first 45 ‘Pigen Pa Stranden’ was a bit of a curveball and quite unlike their real direction. Just as Van Der Graaf Generator hiccupped their way into existence via a doom 45 especially for them by George ‘The Beatles’ Martin, so Alrune Rod’s earliest commercial venture was a Danish Tin Pan Alley re-write of Cat Stevens’ hoary doom vehicle ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’. Written by Danish singer/songwriter Bent Birkholm, its huge stop-start organ cross-pollinated the aforementioned with Procol Harem’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, without laying to rest the spectre of either. Much better was the Rod’s own gleeful B-side ‘Tael Aldrig I Morgen Med’ which conjures up the same Daft Vader atmosphere of Hammill’s later ‘Imperial Zeppelin’. Fucking beautiful, man!

However, I’ll conclude this by telling y’all that HEJ DU is damned listenable and refreshing and stonkingly groovy. Alrune Rod’s self-titled debut LP was also quite killer but this second LP is definitely the real shit, right? The later LPs have their moments (especially ALRUNE ROCK) but are in most ways too generic. Focus now on the largeness of HEJ DU and allow its riffs to cascade over your melted plastic brain and tell me these gentlemen achieved one delightful motherfucker of a long-playing record. And whilst I try hard not to become ensnared in cosiness in my rock’n’roll, something about the pulse, the heartbeat of HEJ DU, for me really captures how marvellously soul music and psychedelically-styled music could occasionally unite. As Leif himself says in the title track:

“Your ears are used to lies,
But your body can find its way towards yourself.”