Beacon Street Union
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1966-69)
- Robert Rhodes (aka Robert Rosenblatt)-- keyboards, bass
- Paul Tartachny -- lead guitar, vocals
- Wayne Ulaky -- bass, vocals
- Richard Weisburg -- drums, percussion
- John Lincoln Wright (RIP 2011) -- vocals, percussion
- Peter Ivers (RIP 1983) -- harmonica
- Eagle (Robert Rhodes, Wayne Ulaky and John Lincoln Wright)
- The Sour Mash Boys (John Lincoln Wright)
- John Lincoln Wright (solo efforts)
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: The Eyes of Beacon Street Union
Country/State: Boston, Massachusetts
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; minor paper tear bottom center of cover
Catalog ID: 2923
Keyboard player Robert Rhodes, guitarist Paul Tartachny, bassist Wayne Ulaky, drummer Richard Weisberg and vocalist John Lincoln Wright met in 1966 while attending Boston College. Like a sizeable part of the mid-'60s college population they discovered a mutual interest in music (as opposed to classes), deciding to form a band. Named after a Boston Street, Beacon Street Union attracted the attention of producer Alan Lorber who signed them to MGM as part of his vision for a "Bosstown Sound" that would compete with the music community (and profits) associated with the burgeoning San Francisco music scene. By the middle of 1967 they'd dropped out of college and made their way to New York where they recorded their debut album with producer Wes Farrell.
With all of the band members contributing to songwriting duties (bassist Ulaky was the prime writer), the Wes Farrell produced "The Eyes of Beacon Street Union" was one of the most varied and unfocused albums I've ever heard. Over the span of eleven tracks they managed to take stabs at a myriad of musical styles including:
- blues (a cover of Brownie McGhee's 'Sportin' Life')
- garage-rock (the blazing 'Sadie Said No'),
- proto-Krautrock sound collages (the instrumental 'Four Hundred and Five')
- old-timey pop (a re-imagined take of Chuck Berry's 'Beautiful Delilah')
- hardcore psychedelia ('Mystic Mourning')
- social commentary ('Green Destroys the Gold')
Add in over-the-top pretense (the spoken word opener 'Recitation' and damnation of mankind 'The Prophet') and it was tough to figure out what was going on. The overall result was analogous to a team meeting where the group decides to throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-if-anything-sticks. The group certainly had talent. Wright may not have been the best singer, but he held his own against some challenging material (he later turned his attention to country music). The Ulaky - Weisburg rhythm section kept it all together while Rhodes Hammond fills added texture and depth and Tartachny fuzz solos added fury. Far from a perfect debut, yet there was something intriguing and endearing about their efforts. They just sounded so sincere ... And I know it's cheesy, but I loved producer Farrell's phasing effects. It's a blast to hear this album on a good stereo, or quality headphones.
In spite of massive blowback to the entire MGM "Bosstown" marketing scheme, their album managed to hit # 75 on the US charts.
of Beacon Street Union" track listing:
1.) Recitation (Robert Pomerine) / My Love Is (Wayne Ulaky) - 4:07 rating: *** stars
Producer Tom Wilson's spoken word segment 'Recitation' will make you smile and wonder what were the grandparents thinking? Can you imagine turning in something like "A new mystery is dying and with it Spring. The last band of coastal brigands is crawling down the mountain to visit us but it will never find the road back, good, good, let them rot in the stifling air of their flowerspun graves" for an English assignment? Equally cool was the channel to channel sound shifting that started 'My Love Is'. Ah the funny '60s ... 'My Love Is' offered up a nice blend of lysergic influences, Mamas and the Papas harmonies and a tasty Paul Tartachny fuzz guitar solo. Make sure you listen to it with a good pair of headphones.
2.) Beautiful Delilah (Chuck Berry) - 2:47 rating: ** stars
They reinterepted Chuck Berry's 'Beautiful Delilah' as a bouncy, old-timey track with some crazy mixing. Not sure if it was John Lincoln Wright handling vocals, but if so the man sounded like he'd overdosed on whippets. Frankly I'd rather hear The Kinks version.
3.) Sportin' Life (Brownie McGhee) - 3:09 rating: ** stars
I guess every mid-'60s recording contract included provisions that mandated you had to cover a Dylan tune or a classic blues song. These guys obvious opted for the latter with a bland remake of the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee classic. Not sure why the credits showed it as a Beacon Street Union original
4.) Four Hundred and Five (instrumental) (Robert Rhodes - Paul Tartachny - Wayne Ulaky - Richard Weisburg - John Lincoln Wright - Wes Farrell) - 2:09 rating: **** stars
Reportedly pressed at the wrong speed, the instrumental 'Four Hundred and Five' was full of bleeps, burps, studio effects and what sounded like electronic drums (but weren't). Credited as a group composition the track sounded like an early slice of Krautrock. Must have been a shock to hear this in 1968 ! Extra star for being so bizarre. Kudos to MGM for the suicidal marketing decision to release it as the second single:
- 1968's 'Four Hundred and Five' (instrumental) b/w 'flip side to the 'Blue Suede Shoes' (MGM catalog number K13935)
5.) Mystic Mourning (Robert Rhodes - Wayne Ulaky - Richard Weisburg) - 5:58 rating: **** stars
'Mystic Mourning' was the album's most outright psychedelic offering. With it's ominous instruments and channel panning vocals the song simply dripped lysergic influences. Hearing it straight is challenging enough. I'm speculating hearing it stoned must have been like hearing your face melt off. = )
1.) Sadie Said No - 2:46 (Wayne Ulaky John Lincoln Wright) -2:46 rating: **** stars
Geez, did I put on a Seeds album by mistake? Just when you thought the band had explored pretty much every genre known to mankind 'Sadie Said No' demonstrated they could rock with a vengeance. Paul Tartachny's spotlight moment !!! Panning his guitar across the right and left channels was a cool experience.
2.) Speed Kills ( Wayne Ulaky - John Lincoln Wright) -1:42 rating: *** stars
Geez you just don't hear stereo panning like this anymore. Giving the tune's hyperactive structure and delivery (including Wright's vocals and Tartachny's fuzz guitar solo), I'm guessing the song title was a pretty accurate commentary on lifestyle choices. Impressive given anti-drugs songs were rare and not particularly "cool" at the time. The version on the 'South Side Incident' single featured a different mix.
3.) Blue Avenue ( Wayne Ulaky) - 2:50 rating: **** stars
I'm not sure there was ever a true "Bosstown Sound" but 'Blue Avenue' is how I picture it in my mind - frenetic drumming, heavy organ fills and surprisingly sweet vocals draped with acid tinges. Robert Rhodes' keyboards took the spotlight on this one.
4.) South End Incident (I'm Afraid) ( Wayne Ulaky) - 3:53 rating: **** stars
Wright's speak/sing delivery was an acquired taste as was the song's weird stop-and-start structure. I originally took the song's lyrics as a reflection of an experience with Boston street violence (sounded like he was describing a knifing), but now I wonder if it's just an analogy to some woman "ripping" him apart emotionally. The song was released as their first single:
- 1968's 'South Side Incident' b/w 'Speed Kills' (MGM catalog number K13865)
5.) Green Destroys the Gold ( Wayne Ulaky) - 4:00 rating: **** stars
The title was certainly attention grabbing - a commentary on the ecological cost of the modern world? Great tune. Love Tartachny's solo on this one.
6.) The Prophet (Wayne Ulaky - John Lincoln Wright) - 4:44 rating: **** stars
Well, 'The Prophet' ended the album on a "let's party' note - NOT. Dark and ominous, taken literally the song painted an incredibly dark picture of mankind's future. Even Christ wouldn't be able to turn us around ... Extra star for the uplifting messaging.
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