Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1968-69)
- Philip Black -- vocals, lead guitar
- Len Feigin (aka Len Fagan) (RIP 2020) -- drums, percussion
- David Roush -- vocals, rhythm guitar
- Larry Watson -- bass
- The Coon Elder Band (Philip Black)
- The Freebs (Len Fagan)
- The Handguns (Len Fagan)
- Stepson (Len Fagan)
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Life Is But a Dream
Country/State: Los Angeles, California
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve
Catalog ID: --
Here's a late-'60s, one-shot outfit that hasn't left much of a biographical footprint. Based in Los Angeles, by the time the group was signed to Imperial, the line-up featured singers/guitarists Philip Black and David Roush, drummer Len Feigin (aka Len Fagen), and bass player Larry Watson. I read somewhere the band's original drummer quit over "musical differences" before the group went into the recording studio with producer Dallas Smith. I stumbled across an interview Feigin did with Klemen Breznikar for the online It's Pyschedelic Baby magazine where he briefly talked about Wichita Fall:
"Len: I didnít play with a band I was happy with until early 1968, when I was a founding member of a group called Wichita Fall. We were a kind of Buffalo Springfield style, but after securing an album deal with Liberty/Imperial records, they cut our balls of, put an orchestra on the album, and I hated what our melodic Rock band had been turned into. The album was re-released in 2011, on a label, out of England, called Cherry Red/Tune In. It included extensive liner notes and two bonus tracks, and it STILL sucks!!"
Seemingly a concept piece with a plotline totally lost on my ears, 1968's "Life Is But a Dream" was a good example of late-'60s musical excesses. Penned by singers/guitarists Black and Roush, the album featured thirteen compositions structured into four extended suites. The entire album featured a haphazard mix of pop and pseudo-classical song structures and arrangements. Imagine a band that had fallen hopelessly in love with "Eleanor Rigby' and decided to stretch it out over a complete album. Perhaps a third tier version of Michael Brown and The Left Banke? Mind you, there's a spot in my cold heart for "sunshine" or "Baroque" pop, but it's a genre that quickly wears out its welcome and it doesn't take long for this album to do the same. Exemplified by songs like the opener 'Morning Song', 'Once In the Morning' and the single 'Going To Ohio' the album just didn't have a lot going for it in the realm of memorable melodies, insightful lyrics, or clever arrangements. It made for one of those albums where I've repeatedly tried to warm up to it, but it never does more than remind me of a lame mix of The Association and The Moody Blues. As for the The Buffalo Springfield comparison - maybe their live shows, but listening to the album the comparison is totally lost to my ears. Not even close .... The band's label apparently spent a lot of money on the collection which included hiring arranger Butler and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. By the way, Butler's overwhelming orchesteral arrangements which frequently threatened to drown the band certainly didn't help.
But a Dream" track listing:
1.) a.) Morning Song (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:09 rating: *** stars
Opening up with some nice Philip Black acoustic guitar, 'Morning Song' was quickly enveloped in strings and Artie Butler's orchestral arrangement that gave the song a weird mash-up of daytime television soundtrack and lite psych moves. Complete with sweet vocals from Black and rhythm guitarist David Roush, the resutl t was pretty, but ultimately very lightweight.
b.) Once In the Morning (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:33 rating: ** stars
Complete with harpishord and another elaborate string arrangement, I guess 'Once In the Morning' would qualify as a slice of "Baroque" pop. There wasn't much of a melody on this one and it just came off as way too pretenseous for their own good,
c.) Sunny Road (Philip Black - David Roush) - 3:49 rating: ** stars
'Sunny Road' offered up a pretty ballad, but once again fell victim to an almost cloying arrangement. Things didn't get much better when the song abruptly shifted into mid-day talk show theme song mode.
2.) a.) Going To Ohio (Philip Black - David Roush) - 3:23 rating: *** stars
A weird choice for a single, the pop-oriented 'Going To Ohio' has always reminded me of something Harry Nilsson might have written in his mid-'60s prime. With one of the album's bouncier melodies and the requisite orchestration (blaring horns this time around), it was just too odd for airplay.
- 1968's 'Going To Ohio' b/w 'Ornamental Sideshow' (Imperial catalog number 66365)
b.) Playground (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:43 rating: *** stars
Another pop-ballad, 'Playground' came close to bubblegum pop. Sweet and perhaps the album's most conventional track.
c.) Ornamental Sideshow (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:56 rating: *** stars
Kicked along by some nice harpsichord, 'Ornamental Sideshow' was another one of their pop-oriented tracks but added a touch of acid influences to the mix. Easy to imagine them playing this one on The Merv Griffin Show. The song also served as the "B" to their debut single.
1.) a.) Poor Mr. Drake's Afternoon Show (Philip Black - David Roush) - 3:14 rating: ** stars
Even if you never heard the song, there's a good chance the title would identify this as a late-'60s composition. Another one of the stronger melodies, strip away the orchestration and this could have been a cute slice of lite-psych. With the orchestration it was just kind of a muddy mess.
b.) Crystal Rain (Philip Black - David Roush) - 3:28 rating: ** stars
The opening segment of 'Crystal Rain' reminded me of a slice of Broadway show incidental instrumentation. When the vocals and acoustic guitars kicked in the tune shifted towards Donovan-styled folk. I'll admit the tune showcased Black and Roush's lovely vocals.
c.) Hectivity (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:48 rating: *** stars
'Hectivity' was one of the weirder songs - buried in the song was a great melody, but once again the song structure was too fragmented and MOR-ish to survive.
d.) Schubert's Theme (instrumental) (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:40 rating: ** star
Based on the title I was expecting a slice of classical music, but 'Schubert's Theme' was a pretty, if anonymous slice of television incidental music. Halfway through the tune shifted into high gear and television theme song territory.
2.) a.) Night Time Suite (instrumental) (Philip Black - David Roush) - 1:05 rating: ** star
Bland, totally forgettable soundtrack instrumental. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
b.) Are You Sleeping? (Philip Black - David Roush) - 1:11 rating: ** star
Geez, 'Are You Sleeping? ' was nothing more than an orchestrated version of the 'Frere Jacques' theme.
c.) Life Is But a Dream (Philip Black - David Roush) - 2:50 rating: ** star
'Life Is But a Dream' wrapped the nursery rhyme 'Row, Row , Row Your Boat' in the same kind of orchestration. I can only speculate they needed to fill out the album's short running time.
There was one non-LP single: Easily their most commercial rocker, 'Lovely Love' had a great melody and a tasty Larry Watson bass line. Shame it wasn't included on the album since it had the hit potential missing from the LP.
- 1969's 'Lovely Love' b/w 'Ginger Blue' (Imperial catalog number 66372)
After playing in the band Stepson and running the Los Angeles club The Coconut Teaszer for years, Fagan passed away from COVID in May 2020. Here's a link to his obituary: Len Fagan, Coconut Teaszer visionary, dies of coronavirus - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
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