Friday, September 22, 2017

Electric Music for Mind and Body

Country Joe & The Fish's full-length debut, Electric Music for The Mind and Body, is their most joyous and cohesive statement, and one of the most important and enduring portraits of the psychedelic era. The band's swirl of distorted guitars and organ is at its most inventive and evolutionary. In contrast to Jefferson Airplane, who were at their best working within conventional song structures, and the Grateful Dead, who hadn't quite figured out how to transpose their music to the recording studio, Country Joe & the Fish delivered a fully formed, uncompromising, and yet utterly accessible body of [forgotten] psychedelic music the first time out.

The vibe centers around Barry Melton’s expert lead guitar, a tinny organ sound, and Country Joe McDonald’s humorous, biting, and incisive lyrics. Their music bordered on the weird and unusual without crossing the line of obscruity. "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" was a good example of their sound hidden beneath the music and one of the more unusual anti-romantic love songs on record. 

Ranging in mood from good-timey to downright apocalyptic, Mind and Body embraced all of the facets of the band's music, which were startling in their diversity: soaring guitar and keyboard excursions ("Flying High," "Section 43," "Bass Strings," "The Masked Marauder"), the group's folk roots ("Sad and Lonely Times"), McDonald's personal ode to Grace Slick ("Grace"), and their in-your-face politics ("Superbird"). Country Joe would become known for their political commentary and anti-Vietnam War stance, of which "Super Bird" was an early example. It was basically a trashing of the Johnson administration complete with Marvel Comics superhero imagery. They just don't create them like that anymore. Hardly any band since the Beatles had come up with such a perfect and perfectly bold introduction to who and what they were, and the results — given the prodigious talents and wide-ranging orientation of this group — might've scared off most major record labels. Additionally, this is one of the best-performed records of its period, most of it so bracing and exciting that one gets some of the intensity of a live performance. One of Vanguard Records' classic albums, with startlingly vivid stereo separation and a close, intimate sound.

All in all, here was a band representative of the scene in The Bay Area in the 1960's — the blending of folk/jugband music, protest music, jazz, Eastern rhythms, a bit of humor, and rock 'n' roll, all electrified into one slab of great music and [usually] thoughtful lyrics. 

Simply put, Electric Music for Mind and Body is a quintessential, late 60's psychedelic album that helped define the Bay Area happening, which lasted, in reality, only a short time — really a matter of months. Despite the Summer of Love, 1967 was also the year that the "Death of Hippie" march took place in the Haight, including a coffin filled with "hippie stuff." Things were changing fast, even for a period when change seemed constant and exciting. So fast that Country Joe's LP, is perpetually overlooked, indeed virtually forgotten.