Blues Magoos – Psychedelic Lollipop + Electric Comic Book

January 01, 1970

(Sundazed)

 

www.sundazed.com

 

The decade
of the 1960s was a truly magical time for rock ‘n’ roll music. It began in the
’50s with Bill Haley dancin’ around his timepiece and Elvis singing about a
hound dog, and jumped quickly into the new decade with the Beatles wanting to
hold your hand and the explosion of the whole British Invasion thing (i.e. the
Stones, the Who, the Kinks, et al). Independent and major record labels alike
cashed in on the seemingly-endless “Baby Boomer” youth movement, and
if a lot of people in positions of authority didn’t really understand the whole
rock ‘n’ roll thing, they were not nearly as risk adverse as their corporate
cousins of today.

 

During the
1960s, labels often signed artists and threw records out into the marketplace
to see what trends they could create or, more often than not, ride on the
coattails of until the fad was thoroughly played out. Yeah, this mindset
resulted in a lot of crap singles and albums being released, and your local Salvation Army or Goodwill store are probably
stacked to the rafters with some of them. But this marketing philosophy also
meant that a lot of interesting, entertaining, and imaginative music hit the
streets during the 1960s and early ’70s, a lot of it subsequently disappearing
into the rabbit hole of obscurity.

 

“One
hit wonder” is the phrase often used to describe a lot of these obscure
bands and artists of the 1960s, musicians that were able to put their finger on
the pulse of the teen zeitgeist for one brief, all-too-quickly-gone moment of
success. This moment was usually represented by a single song that dominated AM
radio for the space of three or four weeks before consigning the artist to a
life of performances at potting sheds, teen dance clubs, and county fairs until
they threw in the towel. The Bronx, New
York based Blues Magoos were the literal definition
of the “one hit wonder,” the lead-off track on their 1966 debut album
Psychedelic Lollipop a number five
hit single with the infectious sing-along “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’
Yet.” It was a height they’d never reach again.

 

The song’s
prominent bass line, chiming keyboards, escalating guitar solos, and vocal
harmonies successfully combined a psychedelic-pop soul with a garage rock
heartbeat, driving “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” into the upper
reaches of the charts. Unlike many one hit wonders of the era, however, the
remainder of Psychedelic Lollipop isn’t mere chaff. The haunting “Love Seems Doomed” might have been an
unlikely pop hit, the song’s melancholy vocals matched by swirling
instrumentation, eerie keyboards, and an altogether depressing vibe that is all
the more impressive given the buoyant nature of the band’s big hit single.

 

The band’s
inspired reading of J.D. Loudermilk’s white-trash classic “Tobacco
Road” is more indicative of their garage-blues roots. Delivered with
appropriate soul and snarling instrumentation, the song’s familiar riffs are
extended to a radio unfriendly four-and-a-half minutes with a psychedelic jam
more worthy of Iron Butterfly than a Top 40 pop band. Mike Esposito’s lead
guitar squeals like a trapped animal, while vocalist Ralph Scala’s keyboard
waxes and wanes ominously like the soundtrack to a Hammer horror film. The rest
of the band chimes in with a clash of instrumentation before they march back
into the song’s more comfortable territory. Everything that would follow after
this raucous cover of “Tobacco Road” might seem tame by comparison,
but Psychedelic Lollipop offers a few
other fine moments.

 

The bluesy
“I’ll Go Crazy” mutes Scala’s vocals beneath the instrumentation, his
soulful delivery accented by the syncopated harmonies and scraps of twangy
guitar. The band’s original “Sometimes I Think About” is a rather
sophisticated (for the era) rock song with a dark ambience that is helped along
by dirge-like vocals and arcane keyboard fills that borderline on feedback. The
guitarwork here is quite nice, provocative even, displaying a cool tone and
timbre that plays well off the organ riffing. “She’s Coming Home” is another
great rocker, with plenty of guitar and screaming keyboards, rowdy harmonies,
and an overall steely resolve that eschews psychedelic frippery in favor of
muscular blues-rock.

 

Less than
six months passed between the release of Psychedelic
Lollipop
and the band’s sophomore effort, Electric Comic Book, but the resulting recordings sound years
apart. The band had spent much of the time in-between the two albums touring, tightening
up the chemistry between the individual players. Plus, the world had changed
rapidly during the ensuing days and weeks, and the songs on Electric Comic Book evince more of the
psychedelic flavor hinted at by the band’s debut. While the Blues Magoos’ label
obviously tried to position the band to take advantage of this “flower
power” imagery, they just as obviously had some other ideas.

 

While Electric Comic Book didn’t yield any hit
singles – the closest it came was with the #60 chart spot achieved by
“Pipe Dream” – the album offers up an engaging mix of psychedelic
rock and blue-eyed soul nonetheless. Scala’s raging keyboards dominate
“Pipe Dream,” an up-tempo rocker that displays a punkish intensity,
Scala’s low-key vocals overshadowed by the song’s intricate arrangement and the
complex interplay of Mike Esposito and Emil “Peppy” Thielhelm’s
guitars. The dreamy “There’s A Chance We Can Make It” is stone-washed
in a veritable wall of sound, the sharp guitarplay and solid rhythms spinning
around the spacey vocal harmonies, creating a sort of discordant and
disconcerting edge to the performance.

 

The less
said about the ridiculous “Life Is Just A Cher O’ Bowlies” the
better, the song a bad example of psyche-pop with dreary guitars, a
claustrophobic mix, and a ridiculously inane sing-along chorus that a
six-year-old would know better than to blurt aloud. Better is the Blues Magoos’
reading of the garage-rock classic “Gloria;” the band breathes new
life into Van Morrison’s too-frequently covered gem by mixing in some chaotic
instrumentation and gang vocals (not harmony, really), scraps of Esposito’s
guitar clashing with Scala’s keys while the overall instrumental anarchy really
drives the song to new (punkish) heights. While the CD cover shows
“Gloria” at a mere 2:12, the stereo clocks it in at a delightfully
pumped-up six-minutes of savvy, street-smart rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills.

 

Much the
rest of Electric Comic Book alternates between muscular, grungy rock and psyche-pop. One stand-out is the
British-sounding “Albert Common Is Dead,” a brief treatise on 1960s
conformity and consumerism that mixes Syd Barrett-era psychedelic Pink Floyd
with fast-and-furious instrumentation often delivered at Ramones-level
intensity. A cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Let’s Get Together” highlights
the band’s R&B roots with slippery guitarplay, a funky beat, gruff vocals,
and honky-tonk piano-pounding while “Take My Love” treads close to
Young Rascals’ turf with a soulful keyboard riff, a shuffling rhythm, and
raucous harmonies. “Rush Hour” is a flat-out rocker with snarling
vocals, tightwire guitar, and a steady locomotive heartbeat.

 

With the
benefit of better than 40 years of hindsight, the performances on Electric Comic Book sound a bit more
rushed, the songs less fully-formed that those on Psychedelic Lollipop. Listening to the two albums together (just
slightly more than an hour, really), however, with updated digital sound, the contrast
between them isn’t so apparent as to be distracting. Instead, these two albums
sound like different sides of the same coin.

 

The Blues
Magoos may have been the result of a certain time and place in pop culture
history, when record labels were more willing to experiment, but these albums
are more than mere relics of the 1960s, Blues Magoos much more than a mere
“one hit wonder.” These albums are the sound of a band trying to find
itself while adrift in the constantly-changing cultural rapids which, when you
think of it, is the story of rock ‘n’ roll itself. The Rev sez “check ’em
out!”  

 

DOWNLOAD: “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet,”
“Tobacco Road,” “Pipe Dream,” “Gloria” REV. KEITH
A. GORDON

 

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