Captain Beefheart


Band members                              Related acts

  line up xx (1967-68)

- Alex St. Claire (aka Alex Snouffer) (RIP) -- guitar

- Jeff Cotton --- lead guitar (replaced Gerry McGee)

- John "Drumbo" French -- drums

- Jerry Handley -- bass

- Mark Marcellino -- keyboards 

- Don Van Vliet (RIP 2010) -- vocals, harmonica

 

  line-up xx (1972)

- John "Drumbo" French -- drums, percussion

- William Harkeleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) -- guitar, slide guitar

- Mark Boston (aka Rockette Moton) -- bass, guitar

- Arthur Tripp III (aka Ed Marimba, aka Ted Cactus)  -- drums,

  percussion, harpsichord, piano

- Don Van Vliet (RIP 2010) -- vocals, harmonica, jungle bells

 

  supporting musicians: (1972)

- Rhys Clark -- drums, percussion

- Elliot Ingber (aka Winged Eel Fingerling) -- guitar

 

 

  line up xx (1974)

- Jimmy Caravan -- keyboards, star machine

- Mark Gibbons -- keyboards

- Ty Grimes -- percussion

- Ira Ingber -- bass

- Gene Pello -- drums, percussion

- Dean Smith -- guitar, slide guitar

- Michael Smotherman -- keyboards, backing vocals

- Don Van Vliet (RIP 2010) -- vocals, harmonica

- Bob West -- bass

 

  line up xx (1978)

- Eric Drew Feldman – keyboards, synthesizers

- Bruce Lambourne Fowler-- trombone, air bass 

- Richard Redus – slide guitar, bottleneck guitar, guitar, accordion,

  fretless bass 

- Jeff Moris Tepper – slide guitar, guitar, spell guitar 

- Robert Arthur Williams – drums, percussion 

 

  supporting musicians: (1978)

- Art Tripp III -- marimba, percussion

 

  line up xx (1982)

- Gary Lucas -- lead guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar

- Cliff Martinez -- drums, percussion

- Rick Snyder -- bass, viola, percussion

- Jeff Tepper -- steel guitar, slide guitar

- Don Van Vliet (RIP 2010) -- vocals, harmonica, sax, percussion

 

  supporting musicians (1982)

- Eric Drew Feldman -- keyboards

 

 

 

- Paul Blakely -- drums (1964-)

- Mark Boston -- bass, guitar (1972)

- Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) -- vocals, guitar,

  keyboards, harmonica (1967-)

- Jimmy Caravan -- keyboards (1974)

- Ry Cooder -- guitar, bass (1965-67)

- James Cotton (aka Antennae Jimmy Semens) -- guitar

  (replaced Doug Moon) (1965-)

- Roy Estrada (aka Orejon) -- bass (1972)

- John French (aka Drumbo) -- drums, percussion (1965-67)

- Mark Gibbons -- keyboards (1974)

- Ty Grimes -- percussion (1974)

- Jerry Handley -- bass (1964-67)

- Bill Harkleroad -- guitar (1972)

- Milt Holland -- percussion (1972)

- Ira Ingber -- bass (1974)

- Doug Moon -- guitar (1964)

- Rockette Morton -- bass, guitar (1972)

- Gene Pello -- drums (1974)

- Zoot Horn Rollo -- guitar, mandolin, steel guitar (1972)

- Alex St. Claire (aka Pyjama, aka Alex Snouffer) -- guitar

  (1964-67)

- Dean Smith -- lead guitar (1974)

- Michael Smootherman -- keyboards, backing vocals 

- Russ Titleman -- guitar (1967)

- Art Tripp (aka Ed Marimba) -- drums, keyboards (1972)

- Bob West -- bass (1974)

  

 

 

 

 

- B.C. & the Cavemen (Rockette Morton)

- The Executives (Rhys Clark)

- John French (solo efforts)

French Firth Kaiser & Thompson (John French)

- William Harkeleroad (solo efforts)

- Mallard (Bill Harkleroad and Rockette Morton)
- Rockette Morton (solo efforts)

- Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention (Art Tripp III)

 


 

Genre: progressive

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Safe As Milk

Company: Buddah

Catalog: BDM-1001 (mono)

Year: 1967

Country: Glendale, California

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring and edge wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not yet listed

Price: $75.00

Cost: $50.00

 

I'll admit to having a soft spot for oddball acts (just check out my collection of 35,000 LPs).  That said, Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) is in a league of his own.  Over some three decades he's been labeled everything from a groundbreaking musical innovator, to a full fledged kook.  As with most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere out there in the middle ground.

 

Although Beefheart''s accumulated a substantial recording catalog touching on everything from free-form poetry to bizarre combinations of musical genres, Beefheart's never enjoyed anything remotely approaching commercial success, but with the music community he's widely admired and he has one of the most rabid cult followings of any act we know.  

 

Van Vliet's personal life is as interesting as his musical career.  Born and raised in Southern California (Glendale), by the time he was four his artwork had won him acclaim as a child prodigy.  By the time he was in his teens he'd been offered a European art scholarship which his family politely elected to decline, instead relocating to the Mojave Desert where Van Vliet became friendly with fellow teen Frank Zappa.

 

Without much to do in the Mojave, Van Vliet picked up saxophone and harmonica, joining a pair of local R&B bands - The Omens and The Blackouts.  By the early 1960s he'd formally changed his name to 'Van Vliet' (his given surname was Vliet) and begun using the 'Captain Beefheart' moniker.  He'd also recruited his first Magic Band, consisting of drummer Paul Blakely, guitar players Doug Moon and Alex St. Clair, bassist Jerry Handley.  Quickly becoming staples on the dance and club scene, Beefheart and the Magic Band attracted the attention of A&M Records, which signed them to a contract, releasing the single "Diddy Wah Diddy" b/w "Who Do You Think You're Fooling" (A&M catalog number 794).  With the single becoming a minor radio hit, A&M agreed to finance a supporting album.  Unfortunately, after hearing the resulting tapes (particularly the song "Electricity"), A&M executives shelved the project.  Moon and Blakely dropped out of the band, with Beefheart eventually replacing them with Jeff Cotton (aka Antennae Jimmy Semens) , Ry Cooder and drummer John "Drumbo" French. 

 

Dropped by A&M, 1967 found Beefheart signed by the more adventuresome Buddah Records.  His first move was to recut much of the material previously shelved by A&M.  Produced by Bob Krasnow (with Richard Perry brought aboard midway through the sessions), 1967's "Safe As Milk" is as close as Beefheart's ever come to making a conventional pop album.  While nothing on the album actually qualifies as pop, most of the efforts exhibited recognizable song structures and melodies.  Propelled by Beefheart's ominous sandpaper vocals and typically weird lyrics and Cooder's imaginative arrangements and stinging slide guitar, compositions such as the leadoff rocker "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do", "Zig Zag Wanderer" and "Plastic Factory" displayed a kinked blues-rock flavor.  "I'm Glad" offered up a surprisingly effective slice of 1960s soul.  "Dropout Boogie" recalled a demented Kinks rocker, while the jangle guitar rocker "Call On Me" even sounded a bit like The Byrds had Roger McGuinn decided to record while suffering from a major psychotic episode.  Elsewhere, in case anyone doubted Beefheart's credentials as a resident eccentric, they needed only check out tracks such as the legendary theramin-enhanced, meltdown rocker "Electricity", "Abba Zaba", or "Autumn's Child".   Hard as it may be to believe, Buddah actually pulled a single from the LP - what was probably the most accessible effort, "Yellow Brick Road" b/w "Abba Zaba" (Buddah catalog number BDA 9).  (The album was originally released with a promotional "Safe As Milk" bumper sticker insert.) 

 

Today it may all sound rather tame (and quite commercial), but back in 1967 this was truly groundbreaking !!!  Well worth adding to your collection !!!

 

"Safe As Milk" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 2:15

2.) Zig Zag Wanderer (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 2:40

3.) Call On Me (Don Van Vliet) - 2:37

4.) Dropout Boogie (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann)- 2:32

5.) I'm Glad (Don Van Vliet) - 3:31

6.) Electricity (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 3:07

 

(side 2)

1.) Yellow Brick Road    (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 2:28

2.) Abba Zaba    (Don Van Vliet) - 2:44

3.) Plastic Factory    (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann - Jerry Handley) - 3:00

4.) Where There's Woman    (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann)2:05

5.) Grow So Ugly    (Robert Williams) - 2:27

6.) Autumn's Child    (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 4:02

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Mirror Man

Company: Buddah

Catalog: BDS 5077

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1971

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: unipack sleeve; gimmick sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $50.00

 

 

Word of warning - originally recorded in November 1967 but shelved until 1971, "MIrror Man" is not the place for most people to begin their Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band explorations.  It gets strong reviews from the critics, but I suspect many Beefheart fans find it challenging to sit through.  For many years I certainly found it in my "also-ran" pile of Beefheart offerings.

 

About all I can say is this is one weird-ass record.  Anyone expecting to hear something relatively straightforward and commercial like their 1967 debut "Safe As Milk" is in for a major shock.  Produced by Bob Krasnow, it's easily the oddest album I've ever heard on Artie Ripp, Hy Mizrahi and Phil Steinberg's Kama Sutra label (an imprint best know for it's bubblegum pop roster).  The original album sleeve erroneously claimed the tracks were recorded in one night in 1965.  The rear panel also included lyrics for three songs that weren't on the album - 'I Like the Way the Doo Dads Fly', 'Bleeding Golden Ladder' and 'One Nest Rolls After Another.' The four extended tracks were actually recorded in one extended 1967 recording session.   They were originally conceived as part of a double album set to be  entitled "It Comes to You in a Pain Wrapper."  (Such a great album title.)  It's pretty easy to see why Buddah executives shelved the project for five years.  By 1968 Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band had moved on Bob Krasnow's newly formed Blue Thumb label.  Van Vliet subsequently rummaged through the "Plain Wrapper" material, rerecording much of it for what became his Blue Thumb debut - 1968's "Strictly Personal."  More than willing to continue capitalizing on the Beefheart label; knowing that all ten of the band's fans would be willing to buy a new Beefheart album, in 1970 Kama Sutra pulled out some of those earlier tapes, slapping four extended efforts into what was the "Mirror Man" album.  So what do you get here?   Well, you get a series of loose, oddly compelling, extended blues jams.  The shortest of the four compositions, 'Kandy Korn' clocked in at eight minutes.  You're not exactly putting on your coat and running out to your local used record store now, are you?  (They probably wouldn't have a copy of the album anyhow.).  So here's the funny thing about this album.  There's no way in hell I ever would have thought an album featuring four extended jams would catch my attention.  This one didn't originally, but over time it's grown on me.  Like much of the Beefheart catalog, I can't really explain my fascination with these tracks.  Clocking in at almost twenty minutes, 'Tarotplane' should have been an exercise in boredom, but it's actually funky and entertaining. Buried in the arrangement 'Kandy Korn' has another cool melody, but is worth the price of admission to hear John French's master class in drumming.  I suspect trying to get through this track would have killed most drummers.  If you ever wanted to hear a musette solo check out the slinky, mystical '25th Century Quaker.'  Finally, showcasing Cotton and St. Claire, the title track was a surprisingly funky workout. Lyrically it was just Van Vliet repeating the title over and over with various effects added to the vocals, but it kind of cool.  Again, nothing like I expected, but a keeper.  

 

 

 

 

Boring factoid - the original packaging featured a picture of the 1970 Magic Band line-up.  A subsequent reissue dropped the band photo in favor of a picture of a slightly older Van Vliet.

 

 

 

 

"Mirror Man" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) 
Tarotplane (Don Van Vliet) - 19:00 rating: ***** stars

With a title nod to Robert Johnson's classic blues song 'Terraplane Blues', the best description I've ever read of 'Tarotplane' is "blues on acid."  The song is one of the great rock mysteries I've encountered.  It's basically the same riff stretched to the breaking point over nineteen minutes.  Yeah, around the seventeen minute mark they sounded exhausted, but they struggle on through the end.  Listening to any other band try to pull off a nineteen minute blues tune would send me out the door to cut my lawn, or some other chore.  I can sit through this one trying to figure out how a curmudgeon like Van Vliet and the rest of his crew managed to make this so darned funky.  Van Vliet's harmonica sound was also the source of puzzlement.  Not sure what effects were slapped on the instrument, but there was a section where it sounded like he was playing a sax that was warping the speakers.  I've subsequently read he was playing a musette (a double reed instrument that is part of the bagpipe family).  That would explain the weird middle-Eastern flavor that popped up around the three minute mark. By the way, guitarist Jeff Cotton has gone on record as saying they were stoned when they recorded the track.  Someone apparently spiked their tea.  That certainly explains how they kept the intensity up for so long.  Elsewhere, as a 65 year old I can appreciate the lyric "As long as you can boogie, you ain't too old."  Extra star for giving me that hope.

2.) Kandy Korn (Don Van Vliet) - 8:00 rating: **** stars

If someone ever asked me for an example of an "acid jam" guess where I would point them?  Clocking in at eight minutes (the album's shortest track), 'Kandy Korn' is another tune that took me a while to get into. It started out sounding like some sort of African chant, before buzzing off all over the map.  I initially thought it was just another endless jam, but over the years I've grown to admire it's much more than that.  Musically it bounces all over the place. but is built on a mesmerizing Cotton guitar riff.   While I'm not a drummer, the song's "secret sauce" comes in the form of John "Drumbo" French's performance.  Simply a master class in percussion.  It's amazing this song didn't kill him.  An updated, but equally weird version of  the song appeared on the "Strictly Personal" album.  This earlier version is superior.

 

(side 2)
1.) 25th Century Quaker
(Don Van Vliet) - 9:50 rating: **** stars

No idea if this is anything more than an urban myth, but Van Vliet's original idea was to have The Magic Band perform some of the more experimental catalog under an alias - The 25th Century Quakers complete with 17th century Quaker costumes.  With Van Vliet back on musette, his talk-sing vocals added a dark, mystical, slinky nervous energy to '25th Century Quaker.'  Like most of his catalog the lyrics are enigmatic - another one where I don't have a clue.  Shame there isn't some sort of Beefheart reference out there that explains his catalog.  Well, turns out there is an online reference that's pretty darn close:  http://www.beefheart.com/

2.) Mirror Man (Don Van Vliet) - 15:38 rating: **** stars

Another live, one-take performance, powered by Cotton and St. Claire's slide guitars and Van Vliet's harmonica, the title track was the album's catchiest performance. Geez, it's almost funky.  Lyrically this one was pretty simplistic - Van Vliet largely repeating the title over and over again with lots of effects added to the vocals.  A rerecorded version of the song appeared on the "Strictly Personal" album under the title 'Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man.'  It's surprising how fast 15 minutes can spin by.

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Strictly Personal

Company: Blue Thumb

Catalog: BTS 1

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1968

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; cut tower corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 282

Price: $40.00

 

Best time to play:  Saturday night beer bash (I'd suggest a Belgian beer for this one).

 

I had a high school friend who was a big CaptainmBeefheart fan and in spite of his efforts to convert me to the cause, I just couldn't get it.  I guess all those Foghat and Humble Pie albums didn't leave any room for The Captain's brand of aural chaos.   Forty years later this one's still an enigma to my ears, but I can admire and occasionally even enjoy some of the man's quirkiness.   

 

So I'm no Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band expert but by 1967 the bands was in a state of disarray.  On the personnel front lead guitarist Ry Cooder had been replaced by Gerry McGee, who was quickly replaced by Jeff Cotton. On the business front A&M had dropped the group, but they'd been signed by Buddah and recorded a bunch of material for a projected double album to be called "It Comes In a Plain Brown Wrapper.".  Probably not a big surprise, Buddah management balked at the project at which point Liberty Records briefly latched on to the band, before producer Bob Krasnow stepped in and signed them to his newly formed Blue Thumb label.  And here's where it gets truly odd.  Having finished the recording sessions, including re-recording some of the Buddah-era tracks, Beefheart and company headed off on a European tour leaving Krasnow to finish mixing the album which was finally released in 1968 under the title "Strictly Personnel".  Beefheart was apparently furious with the finished product  which included some strange psych touches and a high, somewhat tinny sound.  To my ears Krasnow's efforts weren't a major crime since in large part because it was a Beefheart album. C'mon, if you were buying a Beefheart album you kind of knew you were going to hear something different anyhow.  And in this case lots of it was probably aptly described as blues-from-mars.  If you were looking for traditional delta blues, you might what to run like hell 'cause tracks like 'Ah Feel Like Achid', ' Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man', and 'Gimme Dat Harp Boy' were going to come as major shocks to the unprepared.   No, I wouldn't want to hear this everyday, but then I can't think of any album I'd want to hear every day.  About all can say is that even if you don't end up loving it, you owe yourself the opportunity to hear the late Captain and this is a pretty good place to start.

 

"The Spotlight Kid" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Ah Feel Like Achid (Don Van Vliet) - 3:05
    rating: *** stars

Geez, Beefheart's always hard to describe to the uninitiated, but in this case hardcore delta blues with a blazing lunatic edge seems to cover the leadoff track 'Ah Feel Like Achid'.  It's actually hard to image a song with a more appropriate title.  The first thirty seconds was little more than Beefheart's raw voice with a touch of percussion.  Beefheart's equally raw harmonica then kicked in with Cotton's acoustic slide guitar and the rest of the band following.   Don't even ask me about the lyrics and the end of song heartbeat simply gave the song the perfect weird ending  

2.) Safe As Milk (Don Van Vliet) - 5:27   rating: **** stars

'Safe As Milk' was written and intended for the 1967 debut album (entitled "Safe As Milk"), but didn't make it on to the collection.  With a full band arrangement, the song appeared as a life threatening slice of punk aggression.   It got truly strange around the three minute mark where it turned totally discordant and experimental with John French turning in a weird percussion solo and Cotton seemingly playing his acoustic guitar with an iron.   A seriously scary piece of music, you probably didn't want to play this at a sweet 16 party.  Music for the psychopath in all of us ...   For anyone who hasn't seen the man live, YouTube has an early '80s clip of Van Vliet performing the song on French television: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbzmKPXgtZI 

3.) Trust Us (Don Van Vliet) - 8:09     rating: *** stars

Opening up with an effects treated spoken word segment, thanks to Cotton's insidious guitar riff, 'Trust Us' then shifted into a surprisingly catchy tune.  Beefheart had an amazing grizzled voice that always fascinating to hear (imagine an old guy who's just slammed in his thumb with a hammer), but he sounded totally bonkers throughout this performance; particularly about two thirds of the way through when he started to freelance.  The song ended with what sounded like a brief reprise of 'Ah Feel Like Achid'.  rating: **** stars

4.) Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man (Don Van Vliet) - 5:20    rating: **** stars

With a distinctly psychedelic feel (lots of phasing and effects on Beefheart's vocals), I'm guessing 'Son of Mirror Man - Mere Man'  was one of the tracks producer Krasnow played around with.  Slinky, dark, and scary blues, this one left you with the impression you didn't want to meet Van Vliet in a dark alley.    

 

(side 2)
1.) On Tomorrow (Don Van Vliet) - 3:27    rating: **** stars

Powered by Cotton's guitar, the opening chords of 'On Tomorrow' found the band dipping their toes into a jazzy environment before the song turned into a bluesy, Beefheart-led chant.  And as it turned out, this was one of the album highlights with the chanted refrain climbing into your head and refusing to leave.  

2.) Beatles Bones n' Smokin' Stones (Don Van Vliet) - 3:18   rating: **** stars

Complete with opening backward guitar, 'Beatles Bones n' Smokin' Stones' found Van Vliet taking on the Fab Four ...  Hard to tell given the typically enigmatic lyrics, but I'm guessing he wasn't a big fan ...  Strawberry Fields forever !!!   A perfect example of a song that's sooo weird that it's fascinating.   You've got to hear it through a good stereo, or a good set of headphones.  Wonder what a hardcore Beatles fan would thing ?  

3.) Gimme Dat Harp Boy (Don Van Vliet) - 5:05    rating: *** stars

Yeap, propelled by Beefheart's harmonica,  'Gimme Dat Harp Boy' found the band trotting out their mutant styled of blue-eyed blues.  

4.) Kandy Korn (Don Van Vliet) - 5:06    rating: *** stars

Hum, 'Kandy Korn' rises pretty high on the weirdness scale, seemingly bouncing between advertising jingle and complete band meltdown - about two minutes in you're left to wonder if they're even playing the same tune.  Krasnow's odd production certainly showed on this one with the song having a thin, high, and very irritating ring.

 

 

 

SRB 3/2013

he tracks for Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's second album were recorded between October 1967 and May 1968. One reason for giving the album the title Strictly Personal was that Van Vliet wrote all the songs, with no song doctor looking over his shoulder, as there was on the first album. The results are for the most part variations on the blues and more basic rock forms of the time. Where many of the tracks on the first album included both straight and slide guitar, Van Vliet here begins assembling his music around the rasping, whining sound two slide guitars make, a sound he would continue to favor. But even with the two slide guitars weaving and clashing, the sound of the album is much more monochrome, the songs much more sound-alike than those on the first album. Strictly Personal has an overall tone as unflashy as its manila cover art. Without Herb Bermann's input, the lyrics become more impressionistic, and at the same time they become sparser; some barely develop beyond their titles. The music on Strictly Personal doesn't impress the way Safe As Milk does. The compositions are simpler, more a beginner's, even a naif's music---there is nothing here with the complex structure of a "Dropout Boogie" or the harmonic richness of "Autumn's Child." But neither are there any songs which seem to be aimed toward Top 10 radio play, as there were on the first album. What Van Vliet is doing with the music here is almost literally levelling his musical landscape, stripping everything down to its bare bones so that he can begin to build something new. While Safe As Milk is certainly the first album by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Strictly Personal, true to its title, is the first album shaped solely by Van Vliet's sensibility. There is an immediacy and a physicality to the music which is missing from most of the previous album, which for all its originality comes from a more commercially calculated approach. Both compositionally and in its feeling of grinnin'-too-hard, Safe As Milk has more in common with the reviled Mercury albums of 1974 than it does with what came immediately before or after. The second album's cubist blues forms are in a direct line from the A&M singles. This album, rather than the more formally varies Safe As Milk, marks the beginning of the music to come. The album opens with "Ah Feel Like Ahcid," Van Vliet's reworking of bluesman Son House's "Death Letter Blues." Van Vliet imitates something of House's urgent singing style, but is overall more relaxed. The words at once pay homage to and parody the themes of traditional blues- Van Vliet sings about a woman with big "chicken legs" and that he thinks "the postman's groovy," while the slide guitar is playing Mississippi delta-style blues behind him. The song fades, and chords like a puffed-out-chest announce the next song, "Safe As Milk." The lyrics may have been inspired by bachelor pad living- the refrigerator has a blown out bulb and holds spoiled food, but Van Vliet still sees its chrome shelves as "looking like a harp." The slide guitars work through the verses in call and response patterns, rising treble lines answering heavily rhythmic chord passages. The guitars cross one another like a knife and sharpener, and John French plays in an all-out pounding style. Bass player Jerry Handley is buried beneath French's toms. The end of the song is a blurry coda of feedback and slide-wiggling, set over French's drums as they turn and slow and finally settle into slow rolls wandering through some phasing effects which push the drums from one speaker to another. This was a very new technique at the time; Jimi Hendrix used it to great effect as well. "Trust Us" begins like movie music suggesting an exotic island religion, with "ah-ahs" and a profoundly serious-sounding spoken intro. The lyrics- "Trust us; to find us you gotta look within," and an insistence that we all have to see before we see, be before we be, suggest the "us" in the title signifies our instincts, our inner feelings. One of the guitars plays a repetitive lick through most of the song. There are no solos as such, only variations on the repeated patterns. Again, as on "Safe As Milk," there is a meandering section where the guitars slowly investigate the notes they have been playing, and Van Vliet stretches out the syllables of a couple lines. This was the era of "raga rock," and early attempts at a Western-style electric trance music, and Van Vliet uses the repetitions in the music to great effect. The chant which ends the songs- Van Vliet repeating eight words again and again, intercutting them with ever more rapturous leaps into the falsetto, and French's drums being lowered by the production into the sound of a huge chamber- is indeed compelling, almost hypnotic. The songs fades out and another fragment of "Ah Feel Like Ahcid" fades in. The first three songs, then, are a suite. Some considered it a set of drug songs, and a case can be made for that. But what's most interesting is that the suite form suggests that the most basic Delta blues riffs and the most current electronically altered experimental effects all flow together for Van Vliet. Listening to "Moody Liz," an unfinished recording from the same time, we hear Van Vliet and other voices singing long note chants over a busy rhythm track. This was recorded some time between October 1967 and May 1968, but not released until 1992, on the I May Be Hungry But I Sure Ain't Weird CD. (this may be Ornette Coleman's influence. Some of Coleman's most successful compositions- "Lonely Woman," most famously- have this dynamic). One of the things the voices chant is "Trust Us..." This suggests that Van Vliet may have envisioned a more complicated suite structure for the album, then abandoned it. The fourth and final track on the first side is "Son of Mirror Man- Mere Man." The guitars again sound like anvils playing the blues. Van Vliet's comes up in the mix like a bullfrog attempting opera: "Mirr...orrrrrrrrr." The music is insistent, the lyrics a simple sing-song of opposites, "me / you," "Nearer than / farther than," that Van Vliet's voice turn to poetry. Half way through the track the rhythm changes, cuts itself in half and the band plays freely until Van Vliet's harmonica enters and the other instruments all step aside while Van Vliet plays, sings and scats, first fiercely and then more and more quietly until only a whispering harmonica reed remains. The phasing effects are at their most insistent here. The second side opens with "On Tomorrow." The opening riff has much the same rhythm as Zappa's "King Kong," but stubbornly holds its place on the scale, rather than slowly swinging down as Zappa's composition does. French's tom-toms provide the steady pulse that guides the busy traffic of changes through the first minute of the track. There are a number of changes in rhythm and sound, including a sequence which employs total silence for full beats as a tension-builder. Again, there are free passages, where the guitars and drums abandon even the varying beats that have structured the piece, and play with no definite rhythm, and utilizing the slide guitar player's freedom to play any interval between the set notes of a guitar fretboard, they also play with no set pitch. Some reverse guitar leads into "Beatle Bones N' Smokin Stones." A second, untreated guitar enters, apparently an electric guitar being played without an amplifier, from the dead sound of it. The melody has nothing in common with the Beatles' original ("Strawberry Fields Forever" is name-checked). The clearest musical reference is in John French's drumming, which evokes Ringo Starr's playing under the final fade-out section of the Beatles song. The lyrics have a simple springboard: if there are Strawberry Fields, then there certainly must be strawberry mice, strawberry butterflies, strawberry caterpillars, etc.. (John Lennon was reportedly not pleased by Van Vliet's reuse of his phrase, but if so Van Vliet bore him no ill feelings. According to Rick Snyder, "Midnight Hatsize Snyder" in the last incarnation of the Magic Band, Van Vliet had a clairvoyant episode the day before Lennon was killed, telling a journalist, "Something big is happening tonight---something horrible. You'll read about it in your papers tomorrow." The day after Lennon's assassination Van Vliet played a concert in New York City which began with him playing a soprano sax solo. He told the audience that the music was "from John, through Don, for Sean.") "Gimme Dat Harp Boy" is a simple riff-driven blues. One fan described it as Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" played backward. Van Vliet's harmonica, naturally enough, dominates. "Kandy Korn," an ode to the little yellow and orange sweets is one of Van Vliet's most minor songs, both lyrically and musically. But he clearly had a soft spot for it, continuing to perform it in concert more than a decade later. The phasing effects on Strictly Personal figure in the first of the feuds Van Vliet would have with record producers. According to Van Vliet, Krasnow put "psychedelic Bromo-Seltzer"- by which he meant phasing effects- on the record without his consent. "Phasing" is a technique whereby the sounds of two or more tracks go in and out of synchronization, the result being a whooshing effect, as if the sound were being carried and spun by a swift current. Phasing had been used as a technique to add excitement to records at least since Toni Fischer's 1960 hit "The Big Hurt." And just a month before recording began with Krasnow, in September of 1967, the English band the Small Faces released "Itchycoo Park," a heavily phased song which became a chart hit. If Krasnow (who has since died) made any public statement about this, no record of it is to be found in Van Vliet literature. But rumors persist that Van Vliet is some way authorized Krasnow to alter his tapes, and an attempt at emulating the Small Faces' success could have been at the root of it. Some have said that Van Vliet authorized Krasnow to do this, and only after negative comments by others did he condemn the mix. But, despite the cries of the purists and of Van Vliet himself, the phasing doesn't really mar the music, and some aspects- some of French's drum solo work, for instance- even seem to have been arranged with the idea of leaving enough space in the music to accommodate such effects. Bill Harkleroad was present when Van Vliet first saw a copy of the album, but his account leaves open the possibility that Van Vliet's anger was directed at the fact that Krasnow misled him about the possibility of the album coming out at all more than objections to the phasing effects Krasnow added to the album. And Van Vliet remained not just a business associate of but friends with Krasnow after the album was issued. One of Van Vliet's statements about the album's mix reflect their mixed relationship: "I told Krasner, I said I hope you had fun, but I think you should start playing yourself so you don't have to do that to mine. It didn't make me that mad at Krasnow, because he wanted to play. He wanted me to make it- he didn't do it vindictively or maliciously, he just wanted me to make it." It is interesting to note that phasing began as a physical manipulation of the tape, with the producer or engineer dragging his thumb along a copy of the master tape to produce the effect. It is not known whether Krasnow used physical manipulation or if he by then had the ability to produce the effect electronically, but when Krasnow asked Van Vliet to name his new label, Van Vliet chose "Blue Thumb." (Strictly Personal is BTS 1.) Along with the name, Van Vliet gave the ultimate endorsement of his own thumbprint: it was Van Vliet's print that became the label logo, spinning round and round as the albums played. Was this some private reference to an agreement about phasing? Strictly Personal is a short album, totalling just over thirty-five minutes. But it had originally been planned as half of a double-album set, with the working title of It Comes to You In a Plain Brown Wrapper.

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Spotlight Kid

Company: Reprise

Catalog: MS-2050

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1972

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5023

Price: $45.00

 

Best time to play: NOT on a quiet Sunday morning

 

 

Not sure what the marketing logic was, but "The Spotlight Kid" was released as a Captain Beefheart project, rather carrying the usual Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band title. Technically it didn't make much difference since most of the Magic Band players were here.  Besides, with or without The Magic Band, trying to describe any Captain Beefheart LP is going to be a challenge. 1972's self-produced "The Spotlight Kid" is no exception. Anyhow, here's an attempt.  Hard to believe, but tired of being broke and unable to attract enough of an audience to cover their bills (the band members were living on food stamps at the time), musically the collection was an attempt to churn out a more accessible album (I'm using that description in relative terms).  Exemplified by tracks like 'Grow Fins' and 'Blabber 'n Smoke' the album actually sported what were recognizable song structures, discernable rhythms and even an occasional melody.  Musically it showcased a typically wild mixture of Delta blues, boogie, hard jazz and the plain weird.  Backing from drummer Arthur Tripp III (aka Ed Marimba), bassist Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton) and guitarist William Harkeleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rolo) ws nothing short of amazing.  Check out the instrumental 'Alice in Blunderland.'  Still, the spotlight remained Don Van Vliet's voice and always bizarre lyrics.  That unique voice was an amazing instrument even though it was likely to scare anyone into top-40 playlists.  Every time I hear his ragged, raspy blues delivery on tracks like the title track and 'When It Blows It Stacks' I find it impossible to believe this wasn't some 70 year old contemporary of Muddy Waters, or Howlin' Wolf  ...  There's also something fascinatingly ominous in the way Beefheart and company pound out songs like 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby', 'White Jam' (hearing Beefheart singing in falsetto was definitely different) and what should have become a seasonal classic 'There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage'.  For hardcore fans don't worry as the man's weird side was present throughout - 'Grow Fins' seems to be a muse about meeting and falling in love with a mermaid and I won't even begin to try to figure out what 'There Ain't No Santa Clause On the Evenin' Stage' was about.  Can you imagine some top-40 radio station daring to spin one of these songs ...  you would have had mass hysteria in the listening public.  So was it Beefheart's commercial breakthrough?  Yeah it was given it was his first album to actually trip into the Billboard Top-200; peaking at # 131 (still his best seller).

 

"The Spotlight Kid" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby (Don Van Vliet) - 4:34 rating: **** stars

Geez, hearing Van Vliet ominously growing lyrics like "The moon was a drip on a dark hood ..." wasn't exactly going to see you get your dancing shoes on ...  For many folks it was more likely they were going  to head down the stairway in fear for your life.  As for the meaning ...  well good luck finding the answer.  One on-line interpretation that makes me smile: "...one common interpretation suggests that the song is a metaphorical representation of an individual’s transformative and empowering journey."  I suspect the good Captain would laugh reading that one.  So what could be scarier?  Well how about an April, 1972 live performance of the song on the German Beat Club program. Looking like a slimmed down Wolfman Jack surrounded by a crew of hyperactive mental facility escapees, you had to wonder what the German audience was thinking.  Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby (1972) (youtube.com)   After all these years I still haven't figured out why this one is so funky and whether being booglerized is a good thing, or a threat.

2.) White Jam (Don Van Vliet) - 2:57 rating: **** stars

Hard to believe I'm saying this, but the blues number 'White Jam' actually had a recognizable melody.  Yeah, Van Vliet's howling vocals did everything possible to sabotage it (Van Vliet sounded like he'd gotten a gigantic splinter caught in his thumb), but the melody was still there.  LOL

3.) Blabber 'n Smoke (Jan Van Vliet) - 2:48 rating: **** stars

With lyrics from Van Vliet's young, new wife (Janet), 'Blabber 'n Smoke' actually sported a pretty melody (complete with marimbas).  I Shoot, I never realized the man was an earlier environmentalist.  "Clean up the air, and treat the animals fair".

4.) When It Blows It Stacks (Don Van Vliet) - 3:41 rating: **** stars

Imagine an old blues guy having a mini-stroke in the middle of his performance ...  There you go.  Welcome to 'When It Blows It Stacks.'   Gawd, if you had a young daughter, this was one of your worst nightmares.  "Hide all the women in town When it blows its stacks All you girls make no mistake He’s as cold as ah snake sleepin’ in the shade ..."

5.) Alice in Blunderland (instrumental)  (Don Van Vliet) - 2:55

Without Van Vliet's vocals to siphon one's attention, the instrumental 'Alice in Blunderland' gave you a chance to check out the rest of the band's chops.  In this case the focus was on guest guitarist Elliot Ingber (aka Winged Eel Fingerling) who just went ape-sh*t on the track.

 

(side 2)
1.) The Spotlight Kid (Don Van Vliet) - 3:21
rating: *** stars

An almost breezy blues number ...  the title track is a good place to check out how bizarre Van Vliet's lyrics could be - "For his a la modes foe his a la modes ‘N the green frogs croakin’ around his abode ‘N the mud cat pond by the old willow road ..."  Excuse me, I would like to buy a noun.

2.) Click Clack (Don Van Vliet) - 3:31 rating: *** stars

I have to laugh at the thought of Reprise executives telling their marketing folks they want to release a single off of "The Spotlight Kid."  Talk about a suicide mission.  That said, 'Click Clack' was fairy tame and stood as a recognizable blues tune.  Since there was zero risk Captain Beefheart was ever going to have a hit, ultimately it probably didn't matter what was floated as a single.  Still it is amazing to consider Reprise actually tapped the track as a single (complete with a picture sleeve), though it apparently was only released in a promo format:  YouTube has a live performance of the song from the April, 1972 Beat Club set.  'Click Clack' starts at the 3:26 mark:  Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band (Live on Beat Club 1972). (youtube.com) 

- 1972's  'Click Clack' b/w 'Glider' (Reprise catalog number PRO 514).

3.) Grow Fins (Don Van Vliet) - 3:31 rating: **** stars

Another blues tune that had something approaching a recognizable melody. I have to admit Van Vliet's wailing harmonica sounds pretty good on this one.

4.) There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage (Don Van Vliet) - 3:13 rating: *** stars

I've frequently wondered why 'There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage' doesn't make more top-10 seasonal play lists.  Seriously, wouldn't you rather hear this than Wham's 'Last Christmas'. or Paul McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmastime'?  Imagine the late Howlin' Wolf wailing his displeasure over life and the holidays.

5.) Glider (Don Van Vliet) - 4:37 rating: *** stars

Beefheart fans are a weird collective and I'm not one of the inner sanctum converts.  For many of them 'Glider' is a top-10 performance.  To me it's a pedestrian slice of blues.  Yeah, powered by VanVliet's harmonica, William  (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) Harkeleroad's slide guitar, guest drummer Rhys Clark and the song found a funky groove and road it to the abrupt ending.  It just wasn't magical to my ears.  The track also served as the "B" side to their 'Click Clack' promotion single.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Clear Spot

Company: Reprise

Catalog: MS-2115

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1972

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG

Comments: includes original clear plastic sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4184

Price: $25.00

 

 

Hard to imagine using the words 'Captain Beefheart' and 'commercial' in the same sentence, but producer Ted Templeman actually managed to pull it off with 1972's "Clear Spot".  Mind you, using the term commercial with Beefheart is a relative concept ...  That said, who would've ever thought Beefheart had a great voice and was capable of writing some astoundingly commercial soul and R&B-flavored material ...  every time I hear the catchy 'Too Much Time' I'm simply floored - Delbert McClinton's never done anything as good.  Backed by The Magic Band the album found Beefheart and company pounding their way through a dozen tracks that were unlike anything they'd done up to that point.  Special credit goes to guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo who turned in some truly stunning performances - check out his meltdown solos on 'Nowdays a Woman's Gotta Hit a Man' and 'Long Neck Bottles'.  Sure, there was plenty of trademarked quirkiness (there's a fascinating online interview where producer Templeman discusses some of the Captain's unique recording approaches) and Beefheart's lyrics remained bizarre in the extreme (anyone doubting it need only check out 'Sun Zoom Spark' or 'Golden Birdie').  Anyone got a clue what "Magnet draw day from dark/ Sun zoom spark!" or "And the pantaloon duck/White goose-neck quacked/webcore, webcore'" are about ???) That said, material such as the blazing bluesy opener 'Low Yo Yo Stuff', the stunning title track and the thundering 'Big Eyed Beans from Venus' boasted recognizable melodies and even rocked !!!  (Interesting piece of trivia; Beefheart apparently wanted to press the album on clear vinyl, but in the face of opposition from Warner Brothers/Reprise settled for a clear plastic outer sleeve cover.)  Hard to imagine, but Reprise tapped the album for a single 'Too Much Time' b/w 'My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains' (Reprise catalog number 1113).

"Clear Spot" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Low Yo Yo Stuff   (Don Van Vliet) - 3:28

2.) Nowdays a Woman's Gotta Hit a Man   (Don Van Vliet) - 3:45

3.) Too Much Time   (Don Van Vliet) - 2:46

4.) Circumstances   (Don Van Vliet) - 3:11

5.) My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains   (Don Van Vliet) - 2:57

6.) Sun Zoom Spark   (Don Van Vliet) - 2:11

 

(side 2)
1.) Clear Spot   (Don Van Vliet) - 3:35

2.) Crazy Little Thing   (Don Van Vliet)- 2:35

3.) Long Neck Bottles   (Don Van Vliet) - 3:17

4.) Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles   (Don Van Vliet) - 2:54

5.) Big Eyed Beans from Venus   (Don Van Vliet) - 4:23

6.) Golden Birdies   (Don Van Vliet) - 1:37 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Bluejeans and Moonbeams

Company: Mercury

Catalog: SRM-1-1018

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1974

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 3366

Price: $20.00

Cost: $1.00

 

Every Captain Beefheart has its set of challenges.  It's just that some are easier to deal with than others.  1974's "Bluejeans and Moonbeams" was no different.  The album was recorded during a particularly trying timeframe for Don Vliet.  Having toured in support of 1974's "Unconditionally Guaranteed", The Magic Band called it quits, several members forming Mallard.  Having signed a new recording contract with Mercury (Virgin acquiring rights in the UK), Vliet quickly recruited a new band to record the new album.  

 

Against that troubled birth, "Bluejeans and Moonbeams" tends to get slaughtered by critics and fans alike.  Even Beefheart criticized it,, but I have to tell you that I disagree with all of those assessments.  Sure it may not be the Captain's crowning creative achievement, but as an odds and sods compilation, including leftover studio material ('Party Of Special Things To Do'), it was never less than entertaining.  The Captain's voice seldom sounded as good and his cover of J.J. Cale's 'Same Old Blues' was killer.  Elsewhere the lead off blues stomp 'Party of Special Things To Do' and the title track were quite good.  Besides, how could you not like an album that showcased Vliet in a romantic mood?  'Observatory Crest' and the ballad 'Further Than We've Gone' were beautiful, catchy and commercial enough to have been singles !!!   Courtesy of Dean Smith, the latter tune featured one of rock's all time great guitar solos.  Sure there were some real clunkers here.  'Pompadour Swamp' was a waste of vinyl, while the instrumental 'Captains Holiday' was a filler track that didn't even featured Captain Beefheart.  Yeah, unless you were a hardcore fan, you could probably survive without the album, but if you could find it cheap, buy it anyway. It was also a good place to introduce someone with top-40 tastes to Beefheart - certainly a better place to start than "Trout Mask Replica" LOL.

 

"Bluejeans and Moonbeams" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Party Of Special Things To Do   (Don Vliet - Elliot Ingber) - 3.12   rating: **** stars

"The camel wore a nitey ..."  Hum, hard to know what to make of that opener.   Luckily, with the exception of Beefheart's spoken word segment, the rest of 'Party Of Special Things To Do' turned out to be fairly funky.   Sad that more people seem to be aware of 2001 cover The White Stripes did than the Beefheart original.

2.) Same Old Blues   (J.J.Cale) - 4.00   rating: **** stars

The J.J. Cale original is simply killer, but slowing the song down and subjecting it to a Beefheart arrangement made this a classic performance.

3.) Observatory Crest   (Don Vliet - Elliot Ingber) - 3.28   rating: **** stars

All I can say is never in a million years would I have expected Captain Beefheart to churn out such a lovely song.  The twin guitar solo on this one was simply to-cry-for-beautiful.

4.) Pompadour Swamp   (Don Vliet) - 3.27   rating: *** stars

'You Taking to me?"   There really wasn't much to this one; the Captain ranting and raving over a breezy, slightly funky melody.   

5.) Captains Holiday (instrumental)   (Richard Feldman -  Walt Richmond - Steve Hickerson - Chuck Blackwell) - 5.42   rating: *** stars

Beefheart apparently isn't even on 'Captains Holiday' (giving the title a certain irony).  The song seems to have been a tape recorded by a bunch of Tulsa, Oklahoma musicians that was found lying around the studio and was "borrowed" in order to fill out the album.  Guitarist Steve Hickerson was  featured of lead and slide guitar.   The tune offered up an interesting mash-up of blues, reggae and Leon Russell-styled Tulsa rock.

 

(side 2)
1.) Rock and Roll's Evil Doll   (Don Vliet - Mark Gibbons - Ira Ingber) - 3.09   rating: **** stars

The album's funkiest tune with some stellar Dean Smith slide guitar ...

2.) Further Than We've Gone   (Don Vliet) - 5.00   rating: ***** stars

As pretty as 'Observation Crest' was, 'Further Than We've Gone' was even better.   The combination of the Captain's grainy voice and sweet keyboards made for a great performance, but when you added Dean Smith's stunning guitar solo, you were left to wonder how this one was ignored by the public.

3.) Twist Ah Luck   (Don Vliet - Mark Gibbons - Ira Ingber) - 3.17   rating: **** stars

Geez, hearing the rocking 'Twist Ah Luck' who would have ever imagined the Captain and company meeting The Rolling Stones at their own game ?   

4.) Bluejeans & Moonbeams   (Don Vliet) - 5.09   rating: **** stars

Another good track to introduce non-fans to Captain Beefheart with.  Always loved the cheesy synthesizer washes and once again Dean Smith turned in some of the prettiest lead guitar you'll ever hear.

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)

Company: Warner Brothers

Catalog: BSK-3256

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1978

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: includes lyric inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $50.00

 

Not that I run into copies of this album all the time, but on those rare occasions I do, I've always hesitated to make the purchase.  That reluctance has nothing to do with Don Van Vliet's album cover, rather stems from the fact this is one of those LPs critics rave about.  Past experience has shown I'm frequently not on the same page as the critics.  Regardless, I found a bargain copy at a thrift store and figured I might as well give it a shot since the price was right.

 

Talk about an album with a difficult "birth".   Signed at the time to Frank Zappa's DiscReet Records, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band finished recording "Bat Chain Puller" in 1976.  Release of the album became entangled in a nasty feud between DiscReet owners  Zappa and Herb Cohen.  Reportedly Cohen funded the album with Zappa royalty checks.  Unhappy that he'd funded the album, Zappa and Cohen both demanded an advance payment from DiscReet's worldwide distribution partner Virgin Records.  When Virgin refused, Zappa sued Cohen and refused to release the resulting master tapes, leaving the album to spend the next 36 years in legal limbo.  

 

Ending his long-standing partnership with Cohen and Zappa, Van Vliet decided to move on. He signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers.  I've always wondered why Warner Brothers thought they would get signing a cult artist like Captain Beefheart.  It certainly wasn't going to be massive sales.   In July, 1978 Van Vliet went into San Francisco's Automatt Studio.  With support from a newly recruited Magic Band line-up featuring keyboardist Eric Feldman, trombone player Bruce Fowler, guitarists Richard Redus and Jeff Tepper and drummer Robert  Williams, the end result was "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)" . Co-produced by Van Vliet and Pete Johnson,  the album featured re-recorded versions of four songs off the shelved album.  Ongoing litigation barred Van Vliet from using the original versions of  the title track, 'The Floppy Boot Stomp', 'Harry Irene' and 'Owed T'Alex.'  More of a snippet than a developed song, 'Apes-Ma' was also a "Bat Chain Puller" composition, but this version reflected a Van Vliet home recording, rather than a studio product. The instrumental 'Ice Rose', 'Candle Mambi' and 'Suction Prints' were all outtakes from earlier albums.  The collection was rounded out by four new compositions - You Know You're a Man', When I See Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy", "Love Lies" and "Tropical Hot Dog Night."   Overall the results are amongst his weirdest works.  The analogy I would use is like seeing a bad traffic accident ...  There's something horrifying in the resulting carnage, yet it's difficult to take your eyes off the scene.  Material like the title track and 'Harry Irene' and showcased Vliet's growl of a voice and his dense and enigmatic lyrics.  Seriously, can anyone explain what 'The Floppy Boot Stomp' is about?  Don't ask me how, but at the same time songs like 'Tropical Hot Dog Night' and the blazing 'You Know You're a Man' are somehow tuneful and memorable.

 

 

 

 

 

You also got to see some of Van Vliet's sought after art work.  Today his pieces regularly sell in the $10K - $20K range.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Pulled)" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) 
The Floppy Boot Stomp (Don Van Vliet) - 3:51 rating: **** stars

Wow ...  where do you start?  Even for Captain Beefheart 'The Floppy Boot Stomp" was ... well, it was different.  With the Magic Band rocking it up pretty good, the song featured four minutes of an increasingly intense Van Vliet reciting his unique visions.  Exemplified by lyrics like "And hell was just an ice cube melting off on the ground ..." I have to admit I don't have a clue what's going on. I actually looked online for an explanation of what the song was about.  Good luck with that, though I did see one hysterical interpretation: "The Captain's take on being possessed ..."  LOL I can kind of see it.  Just be warned this is not for everyone, but it is intriguing and highly addictive.  OMG, it's the Fentanyl of the music world.

2.) Tropical Hot Dog Night (Don Van Vliet) - 4:49  rating: **** stars

Van Vliet sounded like he was "singing" though the worst case of strep throat imaginable.  Propelled Bruce Fowler's trombone and Art Tripp's percussion, the album was set to a breezy, Latin-flavored melody.  Lyrically this was another one with a plotline that blew right by me.  Life when you are horny and suffer from erective dysfunction?  "I’m playin’ this song For all the young girls to come out to meet the monster tonight Meet the monster tonight, How would you like to be the lucky girl, The lucky one?"

3.) Ice Rose (instrumental) (Don Van Vliet) - 3:38 rating: *** stars

The instrumental 'Ice Rose' was supposedly a re-purposed version of 'Big Black Baby Shoes' which was an outtake from the "Strictly Personal" album.  Spotlighting Fowler's trombone, musically the piece is surprisingly commercial for such a complex piece of music.  Very Zappa-esque.

4.) Harry Irene (Don Van Vliet) - 3:43  rating: *** stars

Van Vliet channeling Harry Nilsson with a side order of Randy Newman ...  Powered by Eric Feldman's hypnotic piano, Richard Redus' accordion and Van Vliet's whistling, musically this was almost commercial for the man (obviously I'm using the description in very broad terms).  Shoot even Beefheart asked "what's the meaning of this ..."

5.) You Know You're a Man (Don Van Vliet) - 3:14 rating: **** stars

Wow, 'You Know You're a Man' found Beefheart discovering grunge-funk a full decade before anyone else even dreams about it.  Eric Feldman's bass solo and Jeff Temper's slide guitar are to-die-for glorious. Funny but this might be the "gateway" song for folks who've never experienced Captain Beefheart. 

6.) Bat Chain Puller (Don Van Vliet) - 5:27 rating: **** stars

The title track was supposedly inspired by the windshield wipers on Van Vliet's Volvo.  It's a wild piece of music showcasing Van Vliet and company at their most out there.  The lyrics are mind boggling, but there's something hypnotic about the track.  Every time I play it the darn thing stays in my head for days.  So once again I consulted the internet regarding the title and lo and behold, here's what I discovered: 

"A bat chain refers to the chain that hangs down from a signal post on a train line. The signal device that was pulled down was called a bat and different bats had different colours to signal the train driver as to the condition of the track ahead, or whether the train could proceed, etc. The bat chain puller was the person who set the signals for the approaching train according to track status reports received by telegraph.The song BCP probably metaphorically refers to the fact that this job is obsolete in the world of train spotters in this automated world."  Only in France ...  The video quality isn't great, but YouTube has a clip of Beefheart and company performing the song in 1980 for the French Chorus television show.  Note the bottle of Champaign on stage: Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller (youtube.com)

 

(side 2)
1.) 
When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy (Don Van Vliet) - 5:04  rating: **** stars

Odd coincidence, but I'm writing this on Valentines Day.  Yeah, the song was as bizarre as the title would have you think ...  The combination of a martial beat, Tepper and Redus' twin lead guitars and Fowler's trombone made it even odder  And once again the rocking melody was infectious.  Well, so are STDs.  Rock and roll trombone !!!

2.) Owed t' Alex (Don Van Vliet - Herb Bermann) - 4:07  rating: **** stars

With a dirty, harmonica powered blues groove, I always thought this was Beefheart trying to record a biker anthem. "Sparks, tattoos, two tats and a toot Helmets, crosses, and a patch to boot Engine hot, pipes burn white Glad I'm not home tonight Five miles back I took a spill Thought I almost paid my bill Makin' my putt to Carson City."  In fact, the song was written in the mid-'60s with the late writer and actor Herb Bermann, 'Owed t' Alex' was inspired by Alexis Snouffer (aka Alex St. Clair).  Alex was a longtime Beefheart friend and musical cohort.  He was the guitarist in the original Magic Band, playing on Captain Beefheart's first two albums. He rejoined the band in the mid-'70s, playing on a couple of albums ad then a third time for their 1972 tour in support of the "Clear Spot" album.  The song supposedly has something to do with St. Clair's trips to visit his mother.  He died of a heart attack in earlly 2006.

3.) Candle Mambo  (Don Van Vliet) - 3:24 rating: *** stars

The breezy 'Candle Mambo' was one of the album's biggest surprises given it had a conventional structure, Van Vliet actually sang and the melody was kind of sweet.  For hardcore fans, the track was an outtake dropped from the original "Bat Chain Puller" album.  Kudos to drummer Williams for not losing his mind trying to play on this one.

4.) Love Lies (Don Van Vliet) - 5:03  rating: **** stars

With kind of a blues vibe, 'Love Lives' demonstrated Van Vliet could actually sing.  Admittedly he had kind of a tortured, choking-on-phlegm delivery, but it was memorable.  Nice atmospheric trombone from Fowler.  Love the description "Streetlamps flutter like fireflies ..."

5.) Suction Prints (instrumental) (Don Van Vliet) - 4:25  rating: *** stars

The frenetic instrumental 'Suction Prints' was a reworking of a tune originally entitled 'Pompadour Swamp.'  An outtake from the "Clear Spot" album, this one gives the whole band a chance to stretch out, though musically it didn't do all that much for me.

6.) Apes-Ma (Don Van Vliet) - 0:44 rating: ** stars

A brief spoken word effort, I've always found 'Apes-Ma' disconcerting.  Another one where the lyric os a total mystery to me.  This was also a "Bat Chain Puller" composition, but since this version reflected a Van Vliet home recording, rather than a studio product, he was allowed to include it on the album.

 

 

 

 

Back to the original "Bat Chain Puller" album for a moment. Frank Zappa passed on in December, 1993.  Van Vliet's died in December, 2010.  Following Van Vliet's death, in 2011 Zappa's estate announced they would release the original album.  It took an additional year, but the collection his the shelves in February, 2012.  

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Doc at the Radar Station

Company: Virgin

Catalog: VA 13148

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1980

Grade (cover/record): VG+/ VG+

Comments: minor ring and edge wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5747

Price: $30.00

 

I remember reading a Rolling Stone review of this one and then actually hearing a snippet of it at a friend's house (hey there Mike), and thinking that these folks must have lost their collective minds.  How could anyone stomach this kind of stuff?  Ah the ignorance of youth. I  was wrong, wrong, wrong, and stupid..

"Doc at the Radar Station" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) 

 

(side 2)
1.) 

 

 

Generally acclaimed as the strongest album of his comeback, and by some as his best since Trout Mask Replica, Doc at the Radar Station had a tough, lean sound owing partly to the virtuosic new version of the Magic Band (featuring future Pixies sideman Eric Drew Feldman, New York downtown-scene guitarist Gary Lucas, and a returning John "Drumbo" French, among others) and partly to the clear, stripped-down production, which augmented the Captain's basic dual-guitar interplay and jumpy rhythms with extra percussion instruments and touches of Shiny Beast's synths and trombones. Many of the songs on Doc either reworked or fully developed unused material composed around the time of the creatively fertile Trout Mask sessions, which adds to the spirited performances. Even if the Captain's voice isn't quite what it once was, Doc at the Radar Station is an excellent, focused consolidation of Beefheart's past and then-present.

Vliet (Capt. Beefheart himself) on the cover, and the record starts off with Hot Head. The guitars are punch in with a fury that few punk songs have ever matched, and the eclectic jazzy guitar soloing over the power chords throughout the song make it one of the best on the album. Then Ashtray Heart kicks in and for the next few songs I'm reminded of the early 70's album Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Run Paint Run Run has great backup vocals, and Sue Egypt has an amazing breakdown midway through. The first side ends on a high note with Brickbats. Dirty Blue Gene starts off the second side with a bang, and goes straight in Best Batch Yet, which is probably the second best song on the album, with pounding drums that seem to drive the song the way hip-hop beats do today. Telephone reminds of "The Blimp" from the famous Trout Mask Replica album. It is fun and humorous. Then Flavor Bud Living kicks in with a guitar solo that is bluesy and twangy. Then the drums pound away in 4/4, and the gong hits and some metal clangs. Then the guitars come back and Beefheart bellows deep and whelps loud, screaching for The Sheriff of Hong Kong, which turns out to be one yet another great song on the album. Finally, the record closes with the humorously titled Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee. It starts off with a synthesizer, then the drums kick in at staccatto intervals, and Beefheart talks to you about absurd things (as the title would suggest). This record is milk and honey in a dream of rubies. It is a must-listen for anyone interested in the eclectic.

March 3, 2009 4

This is the type of work i wish Beefheart would have done more of. This is a very special album for Beefheart because here he (and his band, which includes the great Trombone work of Bruce Fowler) found the perfect balance between rock weirdness and avant garde originality. Nothing elsewhere sounds like this blues guitar drenched gumbo...which is also mellotron spiced, harmonica fueled and poetry stabbed . The captain spewed a master piece for sure in Doc at the Radar Station. I consider this the most daring and 'progressive' work he ever did. Get it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Captain Ziggy, December 8, 2007
By  rbux "rbux" (Seattle) - See all my reviews
The best of the Captn. A smokin' band, some his best material ever, sort of an American Ziggy Stardust feel, filtered through pure Beefheart. An absolutely essential rock and roll album.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars top notch, December 4, 2008
This is really high energy blues. Unsurpassed.

Around 1981 Captain Beefheart appeared on Saturday Night Live. As I recall, they played Ashtray Heart off this album. Wow! I just saw it live, by accident at a friend's apartment. Practically 30 years later I still remember that as a musical high point of my life. I hope those tapes are still around!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars BRING ME MY SCISSORS!!!, July 6, 2008
Don't be put off by the fact that this album was made toward the end of the Captain's career - Doc at the Radar Station is 100% essential, top quality Beefheart. It's harder and more aggressive than it's predecessor, Shiny Beast (an equally outstanding but very different album). It is very much a return to the Trout Mask Replica style of off-kilter poetry set to complex, dissonant music. The best songs on this album represent some of the best stuff he ever did. Hot Head, Sue Egypt, Dirty Blue Gene, and Best Batch Yet are some of my favorites, but there isn't a weak track on the album. Fans of the Captain will inevitably love Doc at the Radar Station
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beefheart Masterwork, June 2, 2009
By  J. Ross (NYC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Other reviewers here have spoken positively about this recording, and I want to add my voice to the chorus. This is a real masterpiece. It's second (and a close second, at that) only to "Trout Mask Replica." Some of the most brutal, shocking and yet delicately beautiful music Beefheart has produced. Slashing guitars, intricate rhythms and crushing poetry. "Sue Egypt" and "Making Love to a Vampire ..." still give me a rush nearly 30 years after my first hearing. The whole recording bristles with fire and intensity.

If you are considering buying this disc, you probably know something about Beefheart's music--at least, you have some idea of what you might hear. So I make this recommendation without reserve: Consider no longer. Get yourself a copy. You will not be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beefheart really got it right, April 28, 2009
By  JPH (Houston, TX) - See all my reviews
Beefheart's entire music career was preparation for "Doc at the Radar Station", one of his last three brilliant albums. It is the distillation of genius.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Classic , November 17, 2007
By  Jose Ruben Orantes Garcia (Chiapas, México) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   

 

 

Captain Beefheart, AKA Don Van Vliet,is one of a handful of musicians that uses straight rock instrumentation to create \"high\" art and this is his best record. It is his most consistent record. If you have never heard Beefheart before, please beaw...are that he is orthodox blues and rock what abstract expressionists are to representational artists. His records are performances of visceral, surreal poetry, half sung (in the best Howlin Wolf imitation possible) half read and screamed. His rhythms can be funky or wholly undanceable. Looking for new territory rooted in the blues? You've struck the load! Read more Less

 

As a freshman in high school, I'd use my lunch money to buy a Creem magazine instead of eat sometimes - I'd never heard of Capt. Beefheart, but Creem raved that his newest LP, Doc, was something special indeed so I put a dollar down on a special order at the local record store (cuz it certainly was not the kind of LP they'd normally stock - ha!). I skipped some more lunches while I waited for what seemed like a month for it to come in, meanwhile I'd read that Creem review a dozen times a day in anticipation. But, indeed, the day finally came and I threw down my saved up 7 bucks and took home this slab of vinyl which CHANGED MY LIFE. The first dozen spins were probably just chasing a high that comes from shock-value - then it just injected itself into me and I felt in my heart that the Captain was the most special artist on the planet. Every second of sound that comes forth from this record gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. Not many weeks have gone by in the last quarter century in which I haven't played this album. Seriously, I'd take a bullet for this album.
chickenqabal Oct 16, 2005 5.00 stars|+1
ASW 65513 CD (2006) [Rating21658786]
Propably my favorite Beefheart album after Safe as Milk. It's complex and weird but yet there are so many great tunes. Simply essential!
Roky Mar 30, 2009 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating12431439]
This is what I do whenever I'm in a really foul mood: I start listening to Doc At The Radar Station.
After having done that, I'm happy as a child.
Ready to face this gruesome world, again.
DivinePartridge Feb 01, 2009 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating20297800]
I like the stuff where he mixes his crazy and accessible side (mind you their accessible side is still pretty damn wierd)  This seems to borrow a little from the styles he's done before but adding more groove. best song HOT HEAD
girlbruise Jan 23, 2009 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating20157908]
Hot Head reminds me of a girl I used to live with at University.

It all came to a head Valentines night 2005. She was one crazy bitch.
Sly_Digs Jan 16, 2009 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating19968189]
If this doesn't convince your friends to stop smoking cigarettes (the voice) and pot (everything else), then they deserve whatever they have coming to them.
lonely_panda Jan 07, 2009 1.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating18326310]
Captain Beefheart gets all new wave on your ass!  I like his later stuff better than his early stuff, mostly cuz it's from an era that I understand better - move groove, more hard rock ... less hippy shit.  I saw some of this stuff performed on late night TV back in the day and it really had me thinking 'bout the amount of time that I'd spent listening to Aerosmith up to that point.  There was indeed a bigger world out there.
boydblake Oct 12, 2008 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating18067315]
Some decent songs here but it's never grabbed me in the way the albums either side of it do.
dalisllamas Sep 28, 2008 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating13521350]
This is gosh darned spazz-tastic!  Highly entertaining and impulsive sounding, and heck one can hardly claim that he didn't fully commit to this one.  Despite the strange shoutings and neurotic singing of Mr. Beefheart (which I honestly really like, it's kind of like an even more freaked out version of Frank Black) the music is super strong here and actually glues the album together nicely.  The instrumentation is rather simplistic yet extremely effective, the guitar work is perfect and everything plays off of each other in a way that can only happen once in a blue moon.  Some of the songs are incredibly short and in fact the album feels very short but we do have twelve bizzaro tracks that definitely explode with personality.  "Telephone", "Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee" and "Best Batch Yet" are just a few of my favorites.  I also really liked that I could hear where PJ Harvey got the influence for "Rid Of Me".  This is one of those weirdo albums which is actually very easy to like and it's a heck of a lot of fun, now I just have to find out if there are more fantastic Beefheart albums like this one.  Loads of fun for anyone looking for a wild adventure...I want what he's having!
Goregirl Jun 13, 2008 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating2570015]
"Sue Egypt" is flat-out my favorite Beefheart song, the greatest combination of poetry-lyrics and guitars ever, mesmerizing.
"Hot Head", "Ashtray Heart" and "Dirty Blue Gene" are also very fine. But most of the remainer dont do much for me. Yes, the 4 best songs are so good that I had to give it 9 out of 10
You seriously gonna tell me that "Run Paint Run Run" can't compete with anything from Safe as Milk? 1980 came and went, but this stands its ground. One, perhaps expected, downside: The high notes aren’t being hit anymore; the good Captain’s now scratchy and weathered voice cuts through the jerky guitars like a chainsaw gutting a forest. But he’s all over this mess, and some tracks are essentially just backing for his Beefheartian (is there any other description?) poetry. This has balance though, way more than any other album in his career; it delves deep when it has to, but isn’t afraid to shift it up either, funkin’ and funkin’ into the sunset. Most of this is just drunken anthems from some grimy bar that exists only in the mind of the record’s creator. An easy one to skip, for sure, but this is a pure twisted, psych genius.

Oh, and look at that cover art!
End Mar 13, 2008   |
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating389087]
Captain Beefheart “Doc at the Radar Station”
1980 Virgin
Sound Castle Recording Studios, LA
Produced and All songs: Don Van Vliet

Overall- 4

    Don Van Vliet (AKA Captain Beefheart) - vocals, Chinese gongs, harmonica, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
    Jeff Moris Tepper - slide guitar, guitar, nerve guitar
    Eric Drew Feldman - synthesizer, bass, mellotron, grand piano, electric piano
    Robert Arthur Williams - drums
    Bruce Lambourne Fowler - trombone
    John French - slide guitar, guitar, marimba, bass, drums
    Gary Lucas - guitar, French horn

  1. Hot Head – 4.5
  2. Ashtray Heart – 5
  3. A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond – 3.5
  4. Run Paint Run Run – 3.5
  5. Sue Egypt – 4
  6. Brickbats – 3.5
  7. Dirty Blue Gene – 4.5
  8. Best Batch Yet – 3.5
  9. Telephone – 3.5
  10. Flavor Bud Living – ?
  11. Sheriff of Hong Kong – 3.5
  12. Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee – 4
chuckelvis Feb 21, 2008 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating13803783]
Don vehemently denied that the first two tracks respresented in any way his response to punk rock.  Do you believe him?  Because I certainly don't.  (As an amusing side note, Beefheart performed these cuts on Saturday Night Live, and the next week the entire cast of the show was fired.  Coincidence?  You decide.)  Anyway, the best of the Magic Band's three post-comeback records; the presence of Bruce Fowler (whose playing greatly enhances "Run Paint Run Run") and John French (who improvised the entire drum track to "Sheriff of Hong Kong" in one take) greatly improves things, as does the sterling work of Eric Drew Feldman- by this time, the Mellotron's first go-round as a musical instrument had pretty much expired, especially in the States where it never took off in the first place, and so his use of it here, particularly on the closing cut, is arguably the first "modern" use of the instrument, freed from the washing-machine cliches of bad symphonic prog-rock.

Aside from that, the whole record bristles with tension even in the older recycled cuts like 1973's "Sue Egypt", with the only moments of respite being the "Decals"-style instrumentals.  You can almost hear Beefheart pacing the floorboards every time he opens his mouth.  Singing like he does here, it's no wonder he retired to the desert shortly after the record came out; nobody can be as agitated as he is here for long without keeling over dead.  Still, in 1980 agitation was the order of the day, and "Doc at the Radar Station" is certainly a record lazy rock critics would describe today as "angular", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.  A great record, then, but perhaps a bit of an object lesson in the perils of adapting to your milieu.
rushomancy Feb 16, 2008 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating10797004]
BOOOAAAHHH-Give you this mindsmasher;The Captain kills my brain and kicks my mumu through the underwear-Zoot Horn Rollo`s guitar work is sooo mad and mindbreaking,i love it!!!Telephone is straight from the Sanatorium,the floopy boot stomp is a ballbreaker,ashtray head and the Sheriff of HongKong are more than insane-i need the ambulance,doc!
GGGGRRRREEEEAAAT!!
badliver Aug 18, 2007 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating10310703]
you must love the painting, you must love all the songs
faustt Jul 17, 2007 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating9955046]
my favourite Beafheart album, all the other alternative bands were still playing catch-up, so much invention here.
piedpiker Jun 22, 2007 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating9783613]
It really pains me not to give this 5 stars. The songs are just so...perfect. Beefheart does New Wave, while maintaining his blues background and more than enough pleasant weirdness.

The half-star deduction is due to the fact that his voice is just not what it once was, and the hoarseness gets to be a little much on a few songs. I have a strong feeling that this isn't for effect either; he just simply couldn't reach the ultra-low gutteral territory he could on TMR or LMDOB. If this had been made in 1970, it would unquestionably be his best album. I still think that title can be bestowed on it, though.
Michael_M Jun 12, 2007 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating9695718]
When Beefheart was good, he was very good indeed, and "Dirty Blue Gene" is an example. The rest is great too. A lot of words, in the manner of Ice Cream for Crow, but he was pretty good at words, and this has the best of Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) musically as well  (I think these final three albums are my favourite of his). Need to listen to it more, but it's surely one of his very best.
stilton Jun 02, 2007 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating8802657]
More inspired lunacy from the Captain and crew. Doc at the Radar Station sounds like it actually was rehearsed. His tightest, most terse set of songs in a long while.
unearth Mar 30, 2007 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating945112]
My recent experience pulling out Decals for the first time in a long time showed me something instructive in listening to this - by the time of his records for Virgin, Captain Beefheart had found a way to integrate even his wildest material into something that could potentially pull in other listeners rather than confronting and alienating half of the people who might encounter his material. Take "Sheriff of Hong Kong" here. Never settles into a groove that lasts more than a few bars, screams and growls his head off, uses weird words and dissonance at will, and yet set alongside "Flash Gordon's Ape," say, or "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" it sounds positively rocking, as opposed to some aural art piece to be appreciated by connoisseurs and hipster cognoscenti and closet surrealists only. Which is weird, because the overall effect of this album is quite abrasive, aggressive, and confrontational. And some of it remains so, even with the experience of time (the band's especially, but mine too) and the crisp production lending it a (relative) smoothness. Hard to make a song called "Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee" that features a Mellotron, or the paranoiac nightmare of "Telephone" sound anything but weird. But just like "Peon" or "One Red Rose That I Mean" on Decals there's some sweetener to make the hard bits go down. And even as challenging as some of the hard bits are, there's a catchiness and humor to "Hot Head" and "Sheriff of Hong Kong" and "Ashtray Heart" and "Dirty Blue Gene" that make them far more palatable. I think the Captain's brush with at least attempting to cross over did him a world of good. Shiny Beast is still my favorite of his albums. This - at least partially because it's the first album of his I ever bought - runs second, even while I can acknowledge the groundbreaking accomplishments of both the terrific Lick My Decals Off, Baby and the titanic Trout Mask Replica
Might be the rockiest of all Beefheart's album, and surely one of he's best, "Doc" is a good start to anyone who is not familiar with Beefheart:it's a tight,focused album,weird,but not too weird,so it's relatively "easy" and probably the most influential on post punk acts like "Birthday party", "The fall", "Pere ubu" and no-wavers like James Chance on one side, and on the other side funk-punkers like John spencer and The make-up.

Surely, Beefheart's voice has changed during the years, but it's all for the good: it has more gruff and bass in it, but he can still play with it like an instrument, sort of like Nick Cave did in he's early years.

The world of Beefheart has it's own rules and private logic, and it's a fascinating place to be in:he's angle on blues,rock,funk and avant-garde makes a distinctive chaos, that sometimes require to get used to, but after you did, satisfaction is guaranteed.
The more you listen to him, the more details and ideas come into surface.

See also:Lick my decals,TMR,Shiny beast and Safe as Milk for other magnificent records by the master and the magic band.
samatoha Mar 12, 2006 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating688920]
In which Don Van Vliet gets a case of the punks. Well, New Wave, actually. Particularly on the two opening (and best) tracks. "Hot Head" is a bouncy, almost hoedownish, stomper regarding the latest strange woman that he finds himself involved with. One of the most musically straightforward things in the Beefheart catalog, it could have been played on some adventurous New Wave or "Modern Rock" station back in 1980 without the republic crumbling. Jeff Morris Tepper's repeated rapid fire slide guitar licks will stick in one's brain from the first time one hears this. "Ashtray Heart" is more fractured, but it's more tightly focused than is generally the case of fractured Beefheart tales of earlier albums. Although some of the lyrics are as surreal as ever, they clearly deal with the pain of a broken heart, and Van Vliet uses his upper register as well as his Howlin' Wolf imitation to express this quite eloquently. (Trivia footnote: Captain Beefheart performed both of these songs on the November 22, 1980 episode of Saturday Night Live. Both are worth watching, especially "Hot Head". Believe it or not, this represented his American television debut - 13 years after his first album was released. Unbelievable.)

Most of this album has a tautness to it that none of his other albums do - that's no doubt why it seems to be a favorite among his younger fans. This is a real benefit to the skittish "Dirty Blue Gene", a roller coaster ride of a song regarding a woman of whom the Captain reasons "she's not bad / she's just genetically mean". This also would have spruced up radio in 1980. Hell, it would sound just dandy today. Incidentally, P.J. Harvey (a huge Beefheart fan) would use the song's repeated phrase "Don't you wish you'd never met her?" on the title track of her album Rid of Me. This album's tautness also puts a fresh sheen on old tricks that crop up here from past albums. Trombonist Bruce Lambourne Fowler, such an integral part of Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), gives the loony "Run Paint Run Run" a slightly cracked New Orleans flavor. The good but inessential Gary Lucas guitar solo "Flavor Bud Living" (all 57 seconds of it) could have been on Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

This record is a bit uneven, despite the several dizzying high points. The title of "A Carrot Is As Close As a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond", unfortunately, is the most exciting thing about it. It's another instrumental that sounds like an outtake from Lick..., this time performed with the full band. On "Brickbats", which sounds like one of Ice Cream for Crow's lesser efforts, Van Vliet pronounces the word "bats" in the same half-choking, half-gagging manner that he does on Shiny Beast's "Bat Chain Puller", only on a song that isn't half as compelling or disturbing. The one song here that is truly disturbing is "Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee" (any song with the lyric "God, please, fuck my mind" will do that to you). I like the song quite a bit, but some other Beefheart fans do not. I do like the use of Chinese gongs on "Sheriff of Hong Kong", but the song could have had half of its nearly seven minutes removed.

Despite its unevenness, this might end up being one of your favorite Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band albums, because songs like "Hot Head" and "Ashtray Heart" are simply undeniable. This is a great starting point for the uninitiated.
Ellison Jan 24, 2006 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating3232466]
gee you know,i really like the captain. but on this particular voyage i'm lost in the fog.i gotta have good music, words come second. lot and lots of words but little music do i hear. next time!
mrgoggle Nov 29, 2005 2.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating3129165]
Ashtray Heart is godhead.
phnuggle Nov 15, 2005 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating2608326]
Years and years ago, the year this was released, in fact, I wandered into a very hip record store somewhere in south Minneapolis on some desperate search for an obscure bootleg Stones record or something inane like that, and as I start flipping through the bins, there comes this wacky, scratchy guitar and a voice like a burned out cigarette through the Advents on the wall and I begin to feel disoriented, dizzy, and nauseated. I drove home and told my wife I didn't feel well. I didn't know what had happened at the time, but years later, playing this album, I figured it out: I'd traveled lickety split in some fantastic time warp forward 20 years to the day I flashed finally on the genius of the music those cool record store kids were playing and then back home, made sick by the speed of travel and the subconscious realization that sadly I would miss this great music for 20 years. I feel much better now.
gmku Aug 30, 2005 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating2189043]
The good Captain wasn't particularly impressed by punk's reductionist tendency, but its energy can be heard all over this, the best of the albums from his so-called "comeback" phase.

Confirms that he'd lost none of his bite and waywardness and affirms that age need not wither inspiration.
OttoLuck Jun 16, 2005 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating1908448]
Captain Beefheart has got the blues, again! “I feel like a glass shrimp in a pink panty” he croaks, because "a man on a porcupine fence / Used me for an ashtray heart!” Wow, you know I can really identify with that. I hate it when that happens.

Anyway, Doc at the Radar Station is a wonderful album for Beefheart fans to sink their long, walrus-like tusks into, but the unconverted might slink away in fear of the bouncy looping guitar, tribal beats, and trance like ranting of the good Captain. It aint easy to digest, and a body unprepared for bitter medicine is liable to purge it. However, those who can take it will grow to appreciate the surrealist humor, the mad energy, and the sheer joy of chaos that Doc at the Radar Station brings.
Bumblepuppy Apr 19, 2005 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating1392248]
something for both kinds of Beefheart fans here. a few tracks don't hold up, but mostly it's good stuff.
"Hothead", "Ashtray Heart" and "Run Paint Run Run" are some of his funkiest songs ever. and if you waited through the straightforward boogie-blues of Clear Spot and the rather banal pop attempt of Unconditionally Guaranteed to have mind blown again like it was when you heard Trout Mask Replica, rejoice in songs like "Dirty Blue Gene", "Best Batch Yet" and "Sheriff of Hong Kong", which teeter on the precipice of rock and funk over _Trout Mask_'s bottomless pit of vomitous, stuttering splatter-blues.
Strange - everyone praise this as his best since Lick My Decals, while I think both Shiny Beast & Ice Cream For Crow are better. And, sure, there are several mindblowing cuts here, but the overall feel is a bit ...(can't find the word).
Highlights: "Dirty Blue Gene"(with John French on co-vocals - a rare thing on Beefheart records), "HotHead"(his flirt with New Wave) & "Sheriff of Hong Kong".
Gary Lucas' solo guitar piece "Flavor Bud Living" is nice, but not so astonishing as "Evening Bell" on Ice Cream For Crows.
And, at last, the one song I think is a drag - "Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on my Knee". How this can be so high ranked is a mystery to me - I think it's just boring
lulle Dec 03, 2004 3.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating1263324]
I bought this album because I had read critics rave about this guy for years,espically Lester Bangs,a critic I respected.I listened to this thing about twenty times before giving up.If liking Captain Beefheart makes you a musical intellect than call me dirt dumb and give me some Springsteen.
djdeak Nov 13, 2004 2.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating1212687]
I have a feeling this may become my favorite Beefheart album some day. Each listen, the masterpiece it probably is looms closer and closer, revealing new things in spades. That day has not arrived yet, and until then, it's merely an excellent album with better song titles and even better cover artwork.
TruthFairy Nov 02, 2004 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating1107258]
The only Beefheart I own.Yes,he is a nut.
gottdamm Sep 24, 2004 4.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating639290]
_"God,  please fuck my mind for good"_

Their 11th album since 1965 and the second last official album that Don Van Vliet wrote and recorded before he retired from the rock biz so that he could devote all of his time into painting and sculpture.  Don Van Vliets' songs sound as fresh as the day he penned them and god knows how he explained this type of muzak to his band, which by this phase had evolved into something truely terrifying and remarkable.  You have to place Don Van Vliet in the category of genius and years from now, most of his albums will be revered as great works of sonic art, amongst the cream of the rock generation and amongst the most interesting and innovative of the century.  Fuck Zappa, this mob had the creative juices flowing in a way that made Zappa look like a very feeble shadow of the real thang.  As usual Dons' vocals are a wonder to behold.  Spiralling in all directions, within an amazing 5 octave range.  His subject matter seems more like a sonic painting, leaving sound and language images flowing through the speakers in a way that a master painter creates a visual feast on a canvas.  There's a similar technique going on here.  What the man is singing about hardly matters, but that's not the point is it!  He runs the show here.  Someone once told me that many of the songs here were actually penned during ‘_Trout Mask Replica_’ era.  How long was he holding these back?

Side one is flawless and even though side two has a coupla weaker moments, it still makes enthralling listening.  '_Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on my Knee_' has Don sounding like a tripping beatnik, trying to remember some long lost dream.  This is a great album.  Don is sorely missed, marvel at his word associations and may his demented vision shine on somewhere for all eternity.
james_jones Feb 22, 2004 4.50 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating571303]
By 1980, every punkish new waver and their second cousin were going on about how much Beefheart was an influence, and that seemed to wake up Don "Rip" Van "Winkle" Vliet.  He suddenly stopped trying to appeal to the long haired masses (see Shiny Beast/Bat Chain Puller) and returned to the elusive rhythms, the controlled chaos of free jazz mixed with the rough edge of deep hollerin' blues he enjoyed doing so well.  But managed to effectively, effortlessly incorporate the muscle behind the better aspects of his followers - smacking those whipper-snappers on their peach fuzzy behinds.  It's really an amazing effect - a solid return to form, made seamlessly modern.  Truly amazing still, it still sounds timeless.  Even his other great stuff (Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals Off Baby, Clear Spot) sounds of its era, but this one, it just refuses to age.  It's pure foot-stompin, herky-jerkin roarin good strangeness ("fuck that poem" indeed).  Probably my favorite album cover of all time, too.
zeke Feb 14, 2004 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating567483]
the best or not? i'm not sure, except for the fact that it has the most beautiful cover i've ever seen. The music is brilliant. small delicate miniatures and compelling and complex labyrinths of sound, created by a group of masterful musicians led by the genius himself.
djorkaeff Jan 21, 2004 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating491004]
Who could imagiiiiinnnnneee....?
Well, what a trump card to play! Trout and Decals filtered not through dust speakers but through all the best bits of Shiny Beast and with some new perspectives also. This is an awesome riposte to the punk groups who were citing him as an influence at the time.
This time round the remarkable John 'Drumbo' French is on guitar, but drums on two songs (and even plays bass on "Sheriff Of Hong Kong" and marimba on "Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee"!) possibly to make up for being kicked out of the band on two previous occasions. The music has as much spark and the poetry as much imagination and humour as any other record they or anyone else ever made.
Top stuff
aubergine Dec 11, 2003 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating369926]
Doc ties with Safe As Milk as my favourite Beefheart. In some ways you could say this was the Captains "New Wave" move. He's got yet another talented Magic Band, this line up includes the return of John "Drumbo" French, future Jeff Buckley collaborator Gary Lucas, and Eric Drew Feldman who later worked with Pere Ubu and Frank Black. "Hot Head" could be my all time favourite Beefheart song. Other highlights include "Run Paint Run Run" and "Sheriff Of Hong Kong", and "Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee" must be one of Beefheart's most bizarre song titles!
Infofreak Oct 22, 2003   |
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating336676]
Start here. Go to 'Lick My Decals'. Work sideways through the rest. You'll get there in the end.
Any album with tracks on it called "A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond" and "Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee" is deserving of attention.  Apart from that, it's brilliant.
pwecko Dec 20, 2002 5.00 stars|
VA 13148 (1980) [Rating49877]
Doc is by far my favorite Captain Beefheart album. Everything--the music, the lyrics, even the album cover art--seems to gell in a way it never quite does on his other albums

 

 


Genre: bizarre/weird

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Ice Cream for Crow

Company: Epic

Catalog: ARE 38274

Country/State: Glendale, California

Year: 1982

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2701

Price: $40.00

 

 

Captain Beefheart's final studio album - 1982's "Ice Cream for Crow".  This set features backing from yet another new Magic Band line-up.  This time around it's carry-over guitarist Jeff Teppet and keyboardist Eric Feldman joined by manager/guitarist Gary Lucas, drummer Cliff Martinez and bassist Rick Snyder.  The album was recorded in the midst of an ongoing legal fight over rights to release Beefheart's previously recorded "Bat Chain Puller" album.   DiscReet Records co-founder and Frank Zappa business partner Herb Cohen had used some of Zappa's royalty funds to record the earlier album.  Zappa subsequently refused to release the master tapes, leaving Beefheart stuck between the warring factions.  Beefheart originally hoped to use about half of the previously recorded material for his new album, but Zappa refused the request. As a result Beefheart wrote several new tunes, rounding out the album with several previously written tunes (the instrumental 'Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian', 'The Past Sure Is Tense', and 'Witch Doctor Life'), and two tracks rescued from the "Bat Chain Puller" sessions ('"81" Poop Hatch' and a rerecorded 'The Thousandth and Tenth Day of the Human Totem Pole').  So if you're looking at a Captain Beefheart review, you already know what your getting into.  Unlike some of his earlier releases, this one made no attempts to be tuneful, or mainstream.   This was Van Vliet at his most experimental - Van Vliet being himself.  Yeah, in spite of himself, the title track had a certain quirky jauntiness and the instrumental 'Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian' actually had a pretty and discernable melody.  Elsewhere things were a little more challenging -  the spoken word  "81" Poop Hatch', 'Skeleton Makes Good', the instrumental 'Evening Bell'.  I'll give the album an extra star for being Beefheart's final studio album and the fact it is just so damn weird.  And this proved the end of Beefheart's recording career.  Suffering from multiple sclerosis, he subsequently turned his attention to abstract painting (his work having become quite collectible), passing on in December 2010.  He was 70.

 

"Ice Cream for Crow" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Ice Cream for Crow (Don van Vliet) - 4:35 
  rating: **** stars

The title track was built on a rollicking, mix of blues and rockabilly, with the Captain talking and snarling the typically enigmatic lyrics.  In an appearance on the David Letterman Show, Van Vliet described the title as reflecting the contrast to a black crow and vanilla ice cream.  Not sure what to make of that explanation.  Anyhow, this one's always made me feel slightly uncomfortable; kind of like walking down a dark street late at night.   Hard to believe, but Beefheart and the band actually made a video for the song.  Naturally MTV deemed it too weird for airplay - wonder if it had anything to do with the plants that show up around the two minute mark ?  The video was a little bizarre, as was some of Beefheart's original artwork.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqRHr5pEIFU   Amazing that Epic would actually float a Beefheart single:

 

 

 

 

- 1982's 'Ice Cream for Crow' b/w 'Light Reflected Off the Oceans of the Moon' (Epic catalog number 14-03190)

 

 

 

 

 

2.) The Host the Ghost the Most Holy-O (Don van Vliet) - 2:25   rating: **** stars

Geez, where do you even start?  Bluesy song-poem ("The sky is dark in daytime and still the blackbird's beauty lyrics clean ...") that you could probably write a thesis on and never even begin to approach the theme or meaning ...   The Captain sounded like he'd been gargling with sandpaper, but it actually rocked out.

3.) Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian (instrumental)  (Don van Vliet)- 4:20   rating: **** stars

Who knows what the title meant.   That said, it isn't every day that you get to describe a Captain Beefheart tune as being bucolic and melodic.  The aural equivalent to a lazy Saturday afternoon ...   

4.) Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat (Don van Vliet) - 3:13

I was never a great English student, but every time I hear 'Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat' I get the image of someone taking a dictionary, throwing it in blender and then reading the results "a dark olive was turned on ...".  WTF ???

5.) Evening Bell (instrumental) (Don van Vliet) - 2:12   rating: *** stars

Opening up with kind of boozy, country-tinged aura, it didn't take too long for this instrumental to get lost and increasing discordant.

6.) Cardboard Cutout Sundown (Don van Vliet) - 2:30   rating: *** stars

Best description I've ever heard for this one; "hollering madness".

 

(side 2)
1.) The Past Sure Is Tense
 (Don van Vliet) - 3:21   rating: *** stars

Great tune with some nice Gary Lucas steel guitar and a wicked meltdown segment.  Guess that was Beefheart wailing away on harmonica, though I'm not sure he was playing the same song as the rest of the band.   As to what van Vliet was rambling on about; well you're on your own trying to figure it out. 

2.) Ink Mathematics (Don van Vliet) - 1:40   rating: *** stars

'Ink Mathematics' was another tune where you were left wondering it Van Vliet and the magic Band were on the same page, let alone the same studio.  For their part, The magic Band sounded like they'd recently overdosed on free jazz, while Van Vliet sounded like ...  well like Van Vliet.

3.) The Witch Doctor Life (Don van Vliet) - 2:38   rating: *** stars

Another tune that had an engaging melody with Beefheart's spoken word poetry rambling on top off it.  At least this time around Van Vliet didn't sound ominous and threatening.  Weird, but not ominous and threatening.

4.) "81" Poop Hatch (Don van Vliet) - 2:39   rating; * star

Van Vliet apparently managed to rescue this one from the earlier "Bat Chain Puller" sessions.  No music - just Beefheart reciting original poetry.  Wonder what he was on when writing stuff like "My eays are burnt and bleeding and all that looks like a monkey on a silver bar ..."

5.) The Thousandth and Tenth Day of the Human Totem Pole (Don van Vliet) - 5:42   rating: **** stars

The Gospel according to Beefheart ... "it hadn't rained or manured for over two hours"  That says it all.  not quite sure what it says, but it covers the whole waterfront of philosophy.   Want to breakup a party ?  Play this around three minute mark where Van Vliet breaks out the sax solos.   And you thought David Bowie was an acquired taste on sax.

6.) Skeleton Makes Good (Don van Vliet) - 2:18   rating; * star

Supposedly written in one evening, the combination of ragged poetry and ragged, discordant musical accompaniment  made 'Skeleton Makes Good' a good example of Van Vliet at his most challenging.    What's the lyric from the old B-52's song ? "This ain't no disco ..."

 

 

 

 

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