Saturday, May 31, 2014

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band - "Part One" (1967) Reprise Records

I offer up here for your idle contemplation one of the gems of my LP collection, the first proper album release by the mysterious, obscure and oh-so-entertaining 1960s psychedelic pop legend known as The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Never heard of em? There's a reason!

Our backstory: At some point in the mid 1980s I became infatuated with 1960s psychedelic music and was looking for something a bit more "extreme" in nature than the Beatles, Byrds, King Crimson and other better known names from that post-"Sgt. Pepper's" era. I even turned to the Monkees for a while and believe it or not they made some pretty trippy stuff. No, really.

But I wanted something authentic, steeped in the aura of the California sunshine and windowpane acid mystique, and Captain Beefheart had yet to be re-discovered. One day found me wandering into Desertshore Records on the SU hill (upstairs in the Marshall St. location, if that helps date when this occurred) quite stoned on some decent enough bud to have this record seize my imagination. Like literally, as in halfway through their showstopper "Help I'm A Rock" I announced to the rotund proprietor that I absolutely f*cking HAD to have this album, name your price. Boy was he pissed off, whining about how he had just gotten it in, but he sold it to me.

For what was then the rather pricy sum of $9.99 for a used record (CDs had just been introduced and you could get a mint used double LP of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" for $5) I got to take home a genuine bonafide mystery on 33rpm. An impenetrable, completely bizarre record that my music collection had not the likes of.

Reverse cover, will work on getting some better pix once daylight returns to Syracuse. I can say with certainty that my pothead beer swilling buddies actually took to this as quickly as I did, as many of the compositions are almost cartoon like in their display of the latest cutting edge 1966/1967 psychedelic production techniques. Weirdly processed vocals, channel-shifting instruments, echoing reverb and a startlingly open and honest attitude about the point of the record, which was to freak its listeners out. Period.

Recorded in 1966, mixed and finally pressed by Warner Bros. Reprise Records in 1967. No clue as to how many they manufactured but the album now runs in the $40 - $75 range online, with my example's cover and disc both being a bit worn & thus likely valued at the lower end of that spectrum. Not that I'd ever part with it! I struggled through this album many times while under the influence of various recipes, determined to figure out what the deal with it was. To my eternal joy some of my conclusions have been borne out by historical research by others, but for the most part one would listen to this album in awe rather than out of enjoyment for whatever particular skein of pop music it purports to represent. I never figured it out, really, and that's why it's managed to deliver the goods all over again now 30 years on.

Side one, with the timeless cover of Frank Zappa's "Help I'm a Rock" and the dementedly masterful "1906", which is about anything but the earthquake. "Shifting Sands" has a forlorn plaintive nature to it that literally brought me to tears at least once while dosed out of my skull, while "I Won't Hurt You" and "Will You Walk With Me" both evoke the gentler side of the band's original namesake, Lou Reed's Velvet Underground which pop artist Andy Warhol unleashed on the world as part of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable touring art happening shebang. Insightful researchers have opined that the band's guru Bob Markley managed to catch the EPI during a west coast booking and its influence eventually found form in the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

Side two. In the good old days "Transparent Day" was always my favorite cut from the LP, sounding remarkably Byrds-like and ripe for a mind game in responding verbally during playings "You can see right through it." Nobody got it, and these days "Here's Where You Belong" is the more favorable of the two on my ears, likewise aping the early 12 string dominated sound of the Byrds. Either one could have been a decently charting single (they went with "1906" and it flopped). "If You Want This Love" was another cut that always got to me, has a unique timbre and use of minor/major chord changes that is strangely evocative of emotions which sometimes one would rather not have touched on acid trips. "Scuse Me Miss Rose" is a 50s style rocker that was almost a relief from the sense of doubt, and "High Coin" became a mix tape favorite with it's rollicking hillbilly fingerpicking and spoken word intro, which seems to refer to nothing. Perfect.

But my favorite cut from the LP these days? "Leiyla" with it's seemingly unique blend of Bo Diddly electric guitars, a classical passage literally dropped into the middle of the mix as a sort of stylistic non-sequitor, and a genuinely disturbing take on Big Bopper-esque quasi-spoken word yowlings which for years gave me nothing short of the creeps. What is the point of it all? A question which still continues to elude an answer from me other than it was free-form art rock before the term existed. The only thing I could ever think to compare it to was "Pushing Too Hard" by the Seeds -- a group that WCPAEB shared live billings with more than once -- but even that isn't quite right. That's a song, this is sonic mayhem and for my money is likely the closest approximation on record of what they may have sounded like live. Maybe.

The madness that is "Leiyla" on YouTube.

Liner sleeve with all those hip Reprise releases from late 1966 when the LP was produced.

That original $9.99 price tag from Desertshore. Something tells me that to a real collector this sleeve may be worth more than the record or cover. Dunno, and you'd have to pry it from my cold dead fingers before we'd find out.

And the current West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band collection, still in heavy rotation listening three months on with "Part One" and followup albums "Vol. 2" and "A Child's Guide to Good and Evil" on CD remasters by 1960s oddities specialist label Sundazed. I also had their CD of the first WCPAEB release "Vol. 1" but along with my Sundazed CD of the Zakary Thaks (Texas' finest 1960s garage band) it disappeared between apartment moves. Hoping it turns up in an old box of clothes or something, even though I do recall being decidedly non-plussed by it.

"Tracy Had a Hard Day Sunday", with Bob Markley on bongo drums. Tells the story of an acquaintance who burnt the candle at both ends & started flipping out on Monday.

The three Sundazed CDs flipped open with their marvelous design artwork. There's also two subsequent releases, 1969's "Where's My Daddy?" and the gloriously titled "Markley: A Group" which I've been saving my lunch money for, plus a sampler of relics related to the group's members that is apparently more entertaining than any of the standard album releases. Have them in my Amazon shopping basket and hoping some week to come up enough on top to be able to afford them. Until then there's always YouTube.

"A Child's Guide to Good & Evil"

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