The late 1960s were a time when record companies were
willing to give just about any clever, musically adept young person to shoot for
the galaxies with a conceptual vision of what rock ‘n’ roll could be. Among the
more eccentric efforts – not because it was mind-blowingly psychedelic, but
rather because it was the opposite, a kind of Top 40 turns comedy cabaret – was
Stephen Friedland’s 1967 I, Brute Force –
Confections of Love, released under his nom
de rock ‘n’ roll, Brute Force.
Friedland was a songwriter for a publishing company owned by
the Tokens (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “I Hear Trumpets Blow”) and served time
as the group’s organist. That may not seem like a lot – the Tokens were hardly
the Beatles – but it meant something in the still-viable world of Brill
Building pop-rock. So Friedland got a contract with Columbia Records to make
this album, produced by John Simon, who was working with Tiny Tim on the You Are What You Eat soundtrack at about
the same time. It was released, and has more or less disappeared right
afterward until this reissue with five added tracks.
The original songs, imaginatively orchestrated and containing
lush and catchy melodies, are satiric in the arch, knowing way of, say the
Strangeloves (“I Want Candy”) – the vocals have a flat, forced artificiality, a
mock naughtiness, that sounds out of an off-Broadway revue or a Tom Lehrer
parody. You’d think it would have aged badly, and some of it has.
But some of these songs have an inspired absurdist
sensibility that is pretty genius – the classic “To Sit on a Sandwich” is
exactly about that; and “Bruce’s Circus Metaphor” is as billed to the extreme (“You juggled my poor heart/like the
tumblers in ring two/You gave me peanuts/while the strong man smiled at you”). The opener, with some modest “Leader of the Pack”/”Leader of the Laundromat”
sound effects, “In Jim’s Garage,” is the tale of a lonely girl getting some
“repair work” with a guy who fixes cars. “Oh, you grease monkey, you,” you can
hear Friedland call out at song’s end.
Perhaps of most interest is the last of the five extra
songs, the deceptively gentle, introspective ballad “King of Fuh.” It’s at first
a sweet song about the dreams of the lonely man, who wishes to be worshipped
like royalty, and imagines himself the “fuh king.” But say that fast, and
you’ll get it. In 1968, Friedland actually got George Harrison and John Lennon
to release it on Apple Records, but distributor Capitol/EMI refused it. This is
its first official release since that ignoble effort. It’s worth the wait.
DOWNLOAD: “To Sit
on a Sandwich,” “The King of Fuh.” STEVEN ROSEN