The Other Half

Released 1968 on Acta
The Seth Man, September 2001ce
“When The Other Half records, all their amplifiers are turned to maximum volume…it is the hope of The Other Half that you enhance your enjoyment of this record by playing it at least once at FULL VOLUME.”
-Anonymous original liner notes to “The Other Half” (1968).

Despite the cover looking like every inch a typical Summer of Love cash-in as the cover of the “Revolution” soundtrack, The Other Half’s sole album contains awesome incendiary rock performed with amplifier knobs glued to the furthest most clockwise position available that stayed there for the duration. Of their five singles, all but the first (the legendary “Mr. Pharmacist”/“I’ve Come So Far”) were on the Acta label and of those four, all but one B-side (“No Doubt About It”) provided the bedrock upon which a further two tracks were recorded, creating an album with a running time just squeaking under 28 minutes. But for all its brevity, an inordinate supply of elevating mind destruction prevailed, most of which was provided by the guitar of Randy Holden. Already more than halfway on the road between his previous group and side 2 of Blue Cheer’s third album, Holden had been continually pushing the sonic envelope as his forays into controlled feedback and channeling of power through volume nearly blew all the fuses as his extraordinary battery of customised pedals and amps wove sound into towers of near-uncontrollable feedback, howls and unending lines of sustain. Oh, Holden steps out in a most roughshod manner here despite the album’s straight-jacketing record company hi-jinks like overdubbing audience FX on the first two tracks (As the liners explain, they took the advice of engineer Leo De Gar Kulka who set about to ‘faithfully duplicate their live performance such as at The Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, where they draw ‘turn away crowds’’) which was about as fake as Jack Nicholson’s ponytail in “Psych Out.” The first track that suffers from this clued-out direction is “Introduction,” where a snootful of snot comes shooting out from vocalist Jeff Nowlen as Holden joins in on second vocals in a wooden call and response which quickly breaks down into laughter and an exchange of words. Holden then quietly informs Nowlen after his harmonica solo he’s in the wrong key and since it’s clear they’ve already given up with the charade, they sneak in a final exchange that probably sent ol’ Leo De Gar Kulka’s blood pressure skyward:

“Ain’t gonna say it!”
“Every time you sing it --”
“--Clap hard.”
“I don’t want the clap!”
(Wild applause)

Just as the torrential downpour of Beatlemania screaming ensues into the red, OH NO:

The album REALLY begins from this point on as the group have now hurtled themselves headlong into a blistering whirlwind of Arthur Lee’s unissued classic, “Feathered Fish” (which for some strange reason is credited to Country Joe.) Holden has now unhitched his guitar from the main wagon train and is running rampant on a steed of his own in true longhair noise mongering fashion with no apologies at all. Following is “Flight Of The Dragon Lady” opening with a jaunty bass line and lightly-tapped drums’n’cymbals when WHOOOM: right into another Golden Holden Opus of ultimo sustaino, navigating completely controlled, earsplitting guitar through hairpin back alleys of silence with a super-slowed grace that manages to JUST FIT the tempo and what the rest of the band are doing. If anyone else had blinked for even one millisecond, it would’ve immediately fallen apart but Holden just keeps reining it in with a lot of space, control and even more volume. He hits a note in the middle section break that is placed sonically somewhere between the lowest foghorn and the worst public fart never lived down. It’s a wonder someone had not only the ability or desire to play that, but got it down as early as Holden did. On record, no less. But it just gets better...

Despite its title, “Wonderful Day” is a first Love LP moody downer with its heart planted firmly in the ‘66 greaser tradition of beaten-off women frustration. And I’m frustrated, too, because Holden has temporarily suspended all fuzz and sustain monopolisation for the time being. But he returns like he never left for the penultimate outing of side one, “I Need You.” A freakin’ high-energy release of a shit storm whose opening is a ’65 live Who guitar and drum freak out/destructo-barrage, sets its course into the late night railroad junction of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Except here Holden releases a stentorian double slash of guitar after every line as accent AND IT IS LOUD AS ALL FUCK. It’s so saw-toothy and savage it applies even more of a crunch as vocalist Nowlen has taken to enunciate ala Mick Jagger during his highly affected “Lady Jane” fop period. It works hilariously well as the vocals are pitched high in the mix as the now adenoidally-endowed Nowlen is issuing forth the word “way” like “WAUHHHYY” in yet another woman’n’frustration epic, encased in a flower punker with Holden operating like he’s already in Blue Cheer, tugging constantly on the sleeves of his compatriots to kick it out even half as brutally loud and sloppy. He then raises the stakes to unbelievable heights with a solo accompanied by nothing but vertiginous drum rolls into a resounding fury-fuck of all time. The freakily titled “Oz Lee Eaves Drops” opens with tight, hammering drumming that serves to shore up Nowlen’s proclamations of unearthly powers (“I can bring the sun up/Yes, and I can turn the tide.”) Everything cuts out for a sudden, near-random harmonica and guitar interplay except those moronic insistently, non-stop spazzaroo drums. Finally, Nowlen states “Only I can get you high!” and repeats it during the stuttered ending, guffawing up a storm in all certainty because that quip probably sent old man De Gar Kulka’s hypertension to hover even above the decibel level of Holden’s amps.

“Bad Day” begins the second side as if in response to the previous side’s “Wonderful Day” bum-out. It runs at a carefree clip; sunny and clean being the forecast for this particular sublimated “Satisfaction”-riff out, with extra fuzz guitar snarling-age thrown in for good measure. “Morning Fire” opens with a bass line all tippy-toes creeping in the dark and set against a bleeping UFO signal with military snare work. Holden’s ringing playing is as loud as it is downered, adding to the wandering loveless in the wilderness scene complete with the mantra-like chorus: “I sat in front of a morning fire/With the kindling of our love/I sat in front of a morning fire/With a burning moon above.” The fragility of the vocal delivery and the ringing, rippling guitar lines create a piece of gruff punk that is supremely transcendental. The album concludes with the elongated “What Can I Do For You” that is subtitled into two sections: ‘First Half’ and ‘Other Half.’ An initial rallying cry of “HEY!” bursts in as the band is already into their slow, druggy sexual come-on piece. Like a hornier, hashish’ed and altogether heavier “Viola Lee Blues,” it grinds on throughout the more vocal based ‘First Half’ segment. A short silence demarcates the beginning of “Other Half” the ‘half song’ that wasn’t issued as a single version because of its length and harrowing guitar penetrations. The drums scatter fill and the group have taken it WAAAYY down. And Holden’s guitar is WAAAYY up, and this indelicate balance allows him to wrench out a sonic run-on sentence of outbursts that send vibrato, howling sustain and plain NOISE riffing to rebound left, right and centre, almost irregardless of what the rest of the band are playing. When the vocals return, Holden mimics them on guitar and soon chases them down a wormhole of abstractions. He’s breaking in his bucking bronco guitar, and it’s not giving in a single inch although it’s rearing up on its hind legs. When the final build erupts, he is conspicuously absent...that is, until the final, circuit-breaking feedback howl that ends the album and must’ve sent all three of their co-producers scattering from the studio in record time. Perfect.