Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pretty Things start the Seventies

Contemporaries of the Stones, Pretty Things were, for many 60s garage fans an edgier, nastier band that never got the mainstream attention they deserved. Maybe that's a good thing if fame brings bloat and complacency. After briefly playing in an early incarnation of the Rolling Stones in 1962, Dick Taylor formed Pretty Things with vocalist Phil May, and promptly released a handful of garage classics like "Rosalyn", "Don't Bring Me Down", and "Road Runner" to fans eager to slam into the stage and each other in dingy dance halls. The 60's saw the Pretties release three albums before creating what most consider their definitive classic S.F. Sorrow.

Recorded at Abbey Roads Studios, S.F. Sorrow is considered one of the first concept albums, next to The Who's, Tommy. Engineered by Norman Smith, S.F. Sorrow is a blend of psychedelic and hard rock that should have sold a mint, but was lost in a year of monster releases by The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Kinks. Poor management, bad promotions, line-up changes and touring mishaps did little to help The Pretties earn the commercial successes that lessor bands found. S.F. Sorrow would be their last album in a decade that produced what many consider to be Pretty Thing's best material.

I was introduced to the Pretty Things about 10 years ago by a young guy working in a now gone record store in Tempe Arizona. He also told me to "stay away from their 70s stuff."

Well, I don't always listen to advice, and had heard that their first album in the 70s, Parachute, released in 1970 is considered another forgotten classic. With a lineup that includes Phil May doing vocals, Wally Waller on bass, John Povey on keyboards, Skip Allen on drums, and Vic Unitt on guitar, Parachute is another terrific record that fell under the radar for rock fans who got fed CSN, Jefferson Airplane, James Taylor and Grand Funk Railroad instead.

Here is "Cries from the Midnight Chorus" which is the 8th track on the first side of the album.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Edgar Rice Burroughs - Tarzan the Untamed

“You were not born and reared in the jungle by wild beasts and among wild beasts, or you would possess, as I do, the fatalism of the jungle.”

Ballantine Books, cover art by Boris Vallego 
Somber words for a rather dour Tarzan if you ask me. This isn't the Saturday matinee movie star Tarzan, but rather the existential loner that is the Tarzan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 7th Tarzan adventure, Tarzan the Untamed.

Tarzan has plenty of reason to be grim in this novel. In the opening pages we witness him returning home to his estate only to find it burned and razed to the ground by a patrol of German soldiers that were lost in the jungle. Tarzan is aware of the recent start of the World War (WWI), and has rushed home to his estate to stay with his mate Jane, unaware that Jane has already unknowingly welcomed a band of German soldiers and their guides into their estate during his absence. When Tarzan arrives, he finds evidence of a deadly struggle between his faithful servants and the German soldiers. Vultures circle overhead above the dead bodies of servant and soldier alike. Tarzan rushes into what’s left of the home’s foundation to discover Wasimbu, Jane’s Wasiri body guard, crucified to a wall, and Jane’s charred corpse lying in their bedroom. Stripped of his European trappings Tarzan reverts to the jungle beast he was raised as, and swears vengeance on all German soldiers that trespass within his continent.

The earliest chapters of the novel move quickly as Tarzan tracks the surviving soldiers to a German camp where he manages to infiltrate by night to hear the officers discuss their war plans against the British. He hears a few of the men brag about a captain who’d lead a company of men into the “English Lord’s” estate, killing members of the Wasiri tribe there, crucifying their leader, and raping and murdering the lady of the estate. Tarzan waits to catch one of them alone, pounces on him like a jungle cat and demands from him the names of Jane’s killers. It was Hauptmann Schneider and Under-lieutenant von Goss, his hapless victim replies. Then Tarzan takes the man by his throat, and wrings him by the neck three times in the air before hurling his lifeless body into the jungle. Armed with the names and a single-minded determination to kill all Germans, Tarzan thus begins his “untamed” adventure.

It’s the setup for a fairly straightforward plot, you’d think. But as the novel progresses the reader is taken on events that veer wildly from the mission of vengeance that Tarzan originally embarks upon. Yes, Tarzan gets to kill plenty of Germans in aide to the British soldiers he encounters on his search for Schneider and von Goss. He also dispatches a handful of savage cannibals and a slew of inhabitants of the lost city of Xuja. Yes, there is a lost city in this novel! There is also a beautiful German double agent named Bertha Kircher and a dashing British aviator named Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick to complicate Tarzan’s untamed adventures.

The main plot of vengeance for Jane’s murder is soon cast aside for a series of adventures involving chases, rescues and escapes featuring Bertha Kircher. Tarzan constantly reminds himself that he hates Bertha because she is German. Still, he is unable to kill her outright or leave her to the mercy of the jungle because she shows a remarkable level of courage and resourcefulness. And because she is a white woman! Yes, if you’re going to read a novel that is nearly a hundred years old featuring a savage and untamed Africa during a world war, you’re going to get a dose of racial (and cultural) stereotypes. Also, the novel was originally serialized in two separate publications as “Tarzan and the Huns” and “Tarzan and the Valley of Luna” before appearing in the present novel format as Tarzan the Untamed.

One fascinating aspect of the lost city of Xuja is that it’s inhabited by a race of lunatics. Simple and childlike one moment, gibbering and maniacal the next. As we’re told, one can immediately tell they’re maniacal imbeciles because of the shape of their heads and by their abnormally long canines. Bertha Kircher and Smith-Oldwick are kidnapped and swept deep within the walled city of Xuja. Smith-Oldwick is thrown into a lion pit while Bertha is taken before Xuja’s Queen Xanila.

As Bertha Kircher’s eyes alighted upon the occupant of the room the girl gave a little gasp of astonishment, for she recognized immediately that here was a creature more nearly of her own kind than any she had seen within the city’s walls. An old woman it was who looked at her through faded blue eyes, sunken deep in a wrinkled and toothless face. But the eyes were those of a sane and intelligent creature, and the wrinkled face was the face of a white woman.

Queen Xanila than tells Bertha of her capture by the Xujan’s from a band of Arabian slave raiders that had become lost in the “desolate and arid waste” that surrounds and protects the hidden valley of Xula. There they were attacked and killed by a patrol of Xujans and Xanila was brought before the palace of Xula’s ancient king where she was wedded to him against her will. For sixty years Xanila has remained confined within the palace walls, outlasting a series of Xujan kings, until the day Bertha is brought to her as a potential replacement.

Meanwhile, Smith-Oldwick is trapped in a lion pit, while Tarzan is outside the walled city of Xuja, planning yet another rescue before he can then abandon all vestiges of modern society and return to his childhood home among the great apes.

I have to say, I've yet to be let down by Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ability to churn out an exciting suspenseful tale. With tons of suspense, rescues, blood and gore, Tarzan the Untamed, wild and loosely plotted as it may be, was just as engrossing as the other novels I've devoured by ERB. It’s been a number of years since reading one, and who knows when I’ll get around to another Tarzan adventure (maybe sooner than later) but this one is a fine example of Burroughs delivering at the peak of the Tarzan saga. 

Oh yeah, and as for Jane's demise...well come on, you got to know that she's not going to be offed like that, so early in the game!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Classic Psychedelic Rock - Clear Light

To fully appreciate the spectacular sound of double drumming in CLEAR LIGHT, play this record at high volume.

Clear Light - Electra Records
All right, I've played this record loud a handful of times. In fact I'm playing it now as I write this to get into the groove, I can hear the dogs howling outside. But I have to say, I'm not getting the spectacular sound of double drumming. What I do get is a pretty decent psychedelic record from 1967 that pretty much went nowhere when it was released. I'm sure that Electra had ideas of having Clear Light ride the success of their other little combo at the time, The Doors. Hell, the kids really dig that new sound, and here we've got a handful of guys that look like a rock band, so let's sign 'em up, boys!

Members of the band listed on this record are: Cliff De Young - lead vocal, Bob Seal - guitar, Ralph Schuckett - organ, piano and celeste, Douglas Lubahn - bass guitar, Dallas Taylor - drums, Michael Ney - drums & percussion. And to round out the credits we have Robbie Robison - guru and Lee Housekeeper - seer and overseer. Produced by Paul A. Rothchild.

As for the music, it's a pretty fair example of rock and psyche blend. Sometimes it feels like the band is having an identity crises, which might explain why this is their one and only offering as Clear Light. Afterwards members of the band all went on to more successful ventures. Now, almost 50 years later, record nerds like me find their one and only album in plastic wraps stocked among assorted duds and nuggets in downtown record stores. I've seen copies of it a few times since picking up mine. I would imagine the prices asked for it are far more than the guys in Clear Light would have dreamed of. Actually, I didn't pay all that much; $9.99 plus tax; a good deal for a nice clean playing record. You can see a little wear on the edge of the cover, but I'm not complaining. I think it's also been released on CD, so you might see it there in your jaunts downtown.

I still don't get the need for two drummers though...