A guest posting from George Forsyth
ANY song that begins with a gruff male voice saying “A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast ‘n’ bulbous, got me?” will really grab your attention. And it would be churlish in the extreme not include that song on this compilation.
It’s taken from Captain Beefheart’s best known album, and the first album of his I heard. Utter shit, unlistenable, load of bollocks. These are some phrases that might occur to you, and certainly occurred to me at the time, if it’s the first Beefheart album you listen to. That album is Troutmask Replica. A few years later I heard Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid, and these are much more accessible, two very fine rock albums, some great blues songs, even soul tracks, and a great introduction to one aspect of Captain Beefheart’s music.
I would then recommend Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), and make sure you get the 1978 release. And then you’re hooked, and you’ll pick up the rest, some of which are a bit patchy, and one is, well, bland, and that’s not something usually associated with Beefheart’s music.
One other thing that holds a great appeal are the song titles, no-one I don’t think comes close to writing such brilliant titles.
Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish.
My Human Gets Me Blues.
She’s Too Much for My Mirror.
I Wanna Find a Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have to Go.
My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains.
When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy.
Ice Cream For Crow.
By the way, none of them are included here.
So here’s ten tracks by Captain Beefheart, not representative of his output, just some tracks that I definitely like and that just possibly some of you might like. There’s blues, rock, pop, soul, jazz, prog, and weird. And not just all in one song, although one of them gets quite close.
1. Bat Chain Puller
Track 6 from Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). If you don’t like this, stop here. Of course, that means your taste in music has gone badly, BADLY, awry, because this song is outstanding, a great vocal, a relentless, pumping, rhythm, some great musical flourishes and variations, but god-alone knows what the hell this song is about.
From The Spotlight Kid.
3. Moonlight on Vermont
From Troutmask Replica.
4. Gimme Dat Harp Boy
From the 1968 album Strictly Personal. More blues with a Beefheart twist. As with quite a few of his records, there’s a tale of betrayal and dispute with this release, but it’s not as bad as some reviews have made out.
5. Woe is uh me bop
From Lick My Decals Off, Baby. I bought this in Swordfish Records, Birmingham, a shop owned by a Beefheart fanatic.
6. Plastic Factory
From the Safe as Milk album. More evidence that Beefheart was just a bluesman at heart? There used to be record shop in Birmingham called Plastic Factory; I’m certain this song is not about it.
7. Pachuco Cadaver
From Troutmask Replica.
8. Full Moon, Hot Sun
From Unconditionally Guaranteed. This was the album that Beefheart disowned, and that caused his band to walk out on him, because they felt it wasn’t challenging enough. Also they were, allegedly, getting paid in food stamps, which probably didn’t help. But it’s not a bad record, it’s straightforward(ish) pop/rock/blues
9. Making Love to A Vampire With a Monkey on my Knee
From Doc At The Radar Station. Come on, how could I not include a song with that title!
From Clear Spot. Another towering vocal, and a great blues track
In the last place I taught at, I must have wittered on about Beefheart to one class quite a bit, without ever playing them a tune (something I stopped doing many years ago, and didn’t start again until my last year in the job, and it was usually Welsh prog band Gong, or King Crimson).
Anyway, one young man had a word with me at the end of what was probably a thoroughly exciting calculus lesson, and said he’d bought a Beefheart album, and that him and his dad had played it in the car. “Not Troutmask Replica, not Troutmask Replica, not Troutmask Replica” I was thinking.
“Which one, Sam?” I asked, hoping for Clear Spot or The Spotlight Kid. You, dear reader, already know the answer. A lovely young man, he did not swear or use any even mildly risqué words when describing what him and his dad thought of it.
A final word about Troutmask Replica. To listen, sit yourself down in your music room, shut the door, and play in its entirety. It’s an arresting listen. I did so in preparation for this ICA and on several occasions I had to put down my Rebus book and just listen.
I then put on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), turned up the volume more, by which point the doorbell in the room started flashing. (The music room is in the converted attic, and to save my partner walking up the two flights of stairs we bought one of those remote/wireless bells).
“A cup of tea” I thought.
No, just a polite reminder that it was “a bit loud, George”.