AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #74 : CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

A guest posting from George Forsyth

Captain-beefheart

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.

2. Blabber’n’smoke

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!

10. Circumstances

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”.

8 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #74 : CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

  1. Another great write, George, which – again – shows what a shame it is that JML Rabbit is no longer active!

    As for Beefheart, well, I know a fair bit of the Replica tunes from Peel and I must say, I’m rather fond of them. Have to listen to the album in its entirety, I assume … and to the other stuff as well perhaps …

  2. A fabulous post that exemplifies everything that is great about the Imaginary Compilation series. From George’s 10, I would probably only have personally chosen 2, perhaps 3, titles, but this is such a terrific listen that it’s impossible to argue with. A wonderfully enjoyable selection.
    My own introduction to the good Captain came via hearing John Peel play ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do’ sometime around 1973. Later, I steered clear of ‘Trout Mask Replica’ for several years, so scared was I of it’s reputation for being unlistenable. When I finally summoned up the courage, I found that I liked it a lot. I’m kind of glad I didn’t go to it first though.

  3. I have tried to listen to TMR all the way through – I really have, on several occasions – but without success. It annoys me to the extent that Cardiacs annoy MrsRobster. That’s quite annoyed. Safe As Milk is the one that pacifies me. Other than than, my knowledge of the Captain is patchy to say the least, so I shall run through this comp later and hopefully enjoy (most of) it.

  4. Well said Swede and well done George. You have to kind of be in the mood for Beefheart but, when you are, there’s no one else to compare him to. Zappa maybe. I love ‘Zig Zag Wanderer’ (from Safe as Milk), with its inimitable vocals and dope baseline, but you just can’t fault any of these picks.

  5. Your words are causing me to want to make the effort. That’s the highest compliment I can give. Thoroughly entertaining. Just like the old days on your blog. Don’t stay away so long next time.

  6. Well done George and hope to read more of you. TMR is really hard to listen to and as Robster said it was the same to me. But listening to your tracks I will try again

  7. I sold my wedding ring after my divorce and purchased TMR. The guy in the record shop said I would get more pleasure from TMR. He was right

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