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Great, Revolutionary Albums You Never Heard

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I know it’s fashionable to mock what’s now known as “Art Rock” — but if ya weren’t there on that sorta burned-out commercialized teenage landscape in the sixties, you might not understand the appeal or significance of music that is more complicated than three chords accompanied by some childish, cheezy, romantic lyrics.

Well. Sit tight, you young, impatient, ethno-culture-centric assholes.

See, it’s the mid-1960s…

My friends and I have just started smoking pot and doing acid. (And that’s just on the way to school in the morning!) We’re starting to see god more often — and experiencing that transcendental feeling that we’re one with Universe, time is meaningless, and Love Is All You Need.

What we need is some cooler music.

Why? ‘Cause we’re gettin’ kinda sick of the three-chord, domesticated primate, testosterone-soaked, silver-backed carnivorous-predator stuff that is coming out of American garages, English pubs, and rock music and pop radio in general. We’re TRANSCENDING, fer-christ-sakes — and we need a soundtrack as complex as our meandering minds and our holy hallucinations.

5/4 time. More instruments. More ‘colors’. More weirdness. Something to challenge the mind. Something to raise the consciousness.

Yeah, I know that all sounds slightly naive and pretentious to someone raised on greed, MTV, and the pursuit of MBAs from impressive-sounding universities — but that says more about the contemporary young than it does about us old hippies. Transforming consciousness was a primary goal of life. And so, of course, it came to be associated with our music.

Cut to 1967. A band appears with the pretentious, yet timely name of “The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band”.

Hell, with the likes of a young Andrew Warhola shaking up the visual art world, I’ll buy the album just because I love the name of the group!

…Not to mention the covers! — some of the most memorable art works in the history of rock — especially the album I want to mention first:

WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTATL BAND – VOLUME III

Volumes I started out good, Volume II was better (and included a later radio hit, “Smell of Incense” — for a cover band called Southwest FOB) — but Volume III turned out to be their masterpiece.

West Coast consisted mainly of two brothers, Shaun and Danny Harris. The had a history of music training, since their father was the famous and world-renowned composer Roy Harris. They played a number of instruments, sang beautiful close harmonies, and wrote ethereal, folkish-rock tunes that sound like nothing before or since. They included special new effects in the recording studio, experimented with sounds, styles, and structures.

The Harris brothers teamed up with a wacky, opportunist ego maniac in LA named Bob Markley, who was either a nut-case or a genius. Either way, Markley wrote some lyrics, sang, banged a tambourine, and helped to shape the albums and careers of the Harris brothers.

This album, like the others listed here, is almost indescribable. Lyrical, beautiful, strange, varied, and revolutionary — this album can almost fit into a psychedelic folk-rock genre, but barely.

Cut to later in 1968: my friends and I are going to see a guy named Jimi Hendrix play in a small auditorium here in Cowtown. We’re excited to see our new psychedelic guitar hero, but early in the evening, something happens that CHANGES OUR LIVES FOREVER.

The lights go down in the auditorium. A pulsating light show covers the walls of the auditorium, 360 degrees of liquid, swirling colors. The music starts; it’s like nothing we’ve ever heard. Through the colorful haze, we can see three guys onstage; a bass guitarist, an organ player, and a drummer. For the next hour and a half, the music DOESN’T STOP. One continuous song, unfolding as a series of aural doors that unfold inside each other — heading toward infinity. Or is that the end? We don’t know. Wait. The lights come up. The band starts to exit. Was that drummer really naked? No, he wore a g-string and had a shirt painted on his bare upper torso.

Who the hell was that? WHAT the hell was that?

Cool concert! Cool music! An even cooler name!

THE SOFT MACHINE

After that performance, Jimi Hendrix was more like a sorta interesting afterthought. About six months later, when Soft Machine Volume I came out on vinyl, we learned that we’d heard the entire album that night of the Hendrix concert. Wow. These guys combine jazz, rock, psychedilia, and a bit of dada. Jeesus, their titles sound like something by Breton, Satie, or Tzara! They even have a song referring to the great Alfred Jarry, dadaist weirdo! What’s not to love!? Music BY AND FOR intellectual dadaists!

Volume II came out a few months later, and is probably the single greatest, most revolutionary album in ‘art-rock’ history. It inspired generations of musicians, many of whom became known as the “Canterbury scene” — based on their geographic location in England. Caravan, Egg, Gong, Matching Mole, King Crimson, Hatfield and the North — all of these bands shared a common cultural lineage with Soft Machine.

Micheal Ratledge (keyboards) and Robert Wyatt (vocals/drums) were the heart of the original Soft Machine, but they broke up the band shortly after touring America with Hendrix. They continued to record a few more studio albums, (Volume III is an abstract, jazzy masterpiece), but gave up on the band and let the name Soft Machine continue under other musicians. (The great Allan Holdsworth played guitar for one later incarnation of SM.)

Lucky for you, Volume I and II have been repackaged as a pair on a single CD. For Vol. II, it might take a few listens before you ‘get it’, but once you do, this album will seep into your DNA and give you many hours of listening pleasure.

By the way: Robert Wyatt is known by MANY in the music cult/underground as the Greatest Drummer in rock history. No one played like Wyatt, especially that infamous high-hat, but tragically, in the early 70s — Wyatt fell out a window, broke his spine, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He still makes great records, plays many instruments — all from his wheelchair. His most recent work provided beautiful vocals on the soundtrack to the film “Winged Migration”

Cut to 1968.

The Beatles Sargeant Pepper just blew everybody away. They left pop music and rock music in the dust. They took a gigantic, musical leap — and no one was even on the same planet, let alone on the same page.

So an American rock verteran went into the studio with the goal of topping the Beatles; he wanted to push the boundaries beyond Sgt. Pepper, to go farther and faster into the future of music. He wanted, and he explicitly stated this at the time, “to make music that is transcendental, that changes the mind”.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys?

You must be joking. The guy’s name was Don Gallucci, and his band/album “TOUCH” makes Pet Sounds sound like a series of nursery rhymes.

Don Gallucci was the original keyboardist for the Kingsmen. His three-chord paw thumping on Louie Louie became the most recognized chords in the history of rock. But Don Gallucci was a highly trained classical musician, and after his days with the Kingsmen and a transitional group called, “Don and the Goodtimes”, he decided to blow the minds of the music world with the most artistic, beautiful, jazzy, classically-based album in American history.

And he did.

It’s spacey, jazzy, it’s loud, it rocks, it’s quiet, it sounds like Eric Satie, Stravinsky, the Beatles. It’s indescribable. And it’s one of the great American masterpieces to emerge from the psychedelic era.

I might add that many later bands — including Kansas and Yes — pointed to the Touch album as a life-changing experience.

Notes:

* Hendrix heard a studio rehearsal and was so blown away that he decided to give Gallucci enough money to continue his recordings.

* Songs 1-7 are from the original album. Stop there. The last note was meant to liquify your acid-addled brain and suck it out through your ears. Many a stoned listener ended up in the emergency room after cut #7.

* Cut #7, titled “Seventy-Five” is an 11 minute masterpiece that contains one of the most beautiful guitar solos in musical history.

Have fun, and don’t forget: they don’t make ‘em like they used to!

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About Mark Shark

  • http://www.thebmrant.com Matt

    “The guy’s name was Don Gallucci, and his band/album “TOUCH” makes Pet Sounds sound like a series of nursery rhymes.”

    Wow. Those are big words. You mention Yes was influenced? Does that mean Touch is pretentious prog rock with 45 minute songs?

  • Shark

    The answer is YES.

    Well, no; actually — I think 11 minutes is the longest tune (the incredible last cut from the original album, a song mentioned above called “Seventy-Five”. But more than a few parts of this album sound almost exactly like Yes.

    A lot of the later prog-rock people paid homage to the Touch album as highly liberating and influential.

    I also forgot to mention that Gallucci penned a song called “The Death of Howard Greer” that was to be his answer to the Beatles “A Day In The Life”. And it comes pretty darn close.

    Check it out and lemmee know what ya think.

    re. “…Does that mean Touch is pretentious prog rock with 45 minute songs?”

    See the opening sentence in the essay above.

    heh.

  • HW Saxton

    Don Gallucci was also the producer of
    what is considered to be the greatest LP
    by Iggy & The Stooges – “Funhouse”.

  • Shark

    Sax, thanks for that info; I didn’t have time to get to Gallucci’s producing career.

    Funnty that — for all his accomplishments — he’ll be remembered for those 3 chords in Louie-Louie.

    Dunt dunt dunt —
    dunt dunt –
    dunt dunt dunt –
    dunt dunt…

  • Ann

    Don was brilliant and impressed by Vanilla Fudge. He put his heart into the Touch recordings. It was a big departure from the mainstream music that brought him to Hollywood and it is not hard to see why he lost one group of followers and found another. This was also a rough time for all the band members who could not always understand Don’s pursuit of the mystic, The third way, etc. we parted ways at that time and I would like to know how he is and if he found his passion in art, music, or life.

  • Ann

    Sorry, that was Forth Way, Gurdjieff, that he was into. I wanted to put the record straight.

  • Shark

    Ann, thanks for your comments.

    The Vanilla Fudge influence is interesting; they were definitely pushing the boundaries with that first album.

    BTW: Sounds like you were a personal friend of Gallucci..?

    Do tell!

  • Andre Gauthier

    I fully agree with your review of the TOUCH album, and your perception of the wonderful “75”. I’ve just found and bought the CD after a quest of more that 30 years and “75” is still impressive even after all those years. This album is undoubtedly a milestone in rock’s history.

  • http://www.thebyrdbrains.com Iain McLennon

    I grew up with Don Gallucci as my personal/professional hero – While The Kingsmen did not impress me, Don & The Goodtimes were everything a developing musician could hope for. To me, they were particularly accessible through a close acquaintance with his cousin, with whom I shared classrooms throughout grade school. If they were contemplating a new song, I would have the lyrics to it before anyone else!

    When TOUCH came out, it was exactly what Gallucci meant to create: A place in the future of music. It was also genius, a term not casually (or always deservedly) applied to rock musicians. I can’t say it eclipsed The Beatles, but maybe it did on a different level. It certainly would have eclipsed everything out there, had it not been so far ahead of its time. To paraphrase George Harrison, Don had the word, but few had ears to hear.

    TOUCH stands alone in many respects – it remains a unique recording that holds its place as such, without contenders – it remains a faithful friend to those who had ears to hear, all those years ago – and it is a DELIGHTFUL discovery for those just knocking upon its door. What IS genius is the brave young record exec who exhibited the foresight to make this recording available on CD for future generations to enjoy – which is exactly what Don envisioned.

  • http://www.thebyrdbrains.com Iain McLennon

    I saw The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band at the 1967-68 Teenage Fair in Portland, Oregon. My band was playing the opposite side of the Coliseum and, on a break, I got over to check them out. A VERY ambitious bit of entertainment, to say the least –

    For those who never experienced it (which is the only way to describe the event), I remember it this way: There is a huge red/white-striped circus tent. One would find their way through the darkened interior to find (reads, stumble into) a folding chair, one of a couple of hundred in this dark tent. Did I mention it was dark?

    Among the sixty or so people who similarly found their seats, I sat awaiting, what? The answer was a light show akin to Gary Ewing on acid; maybe I shouldn’t go there, but those who know what I mean will understand and forgive. Lights of every color and configuration then known began to bathe the interior of the tent walls which were conveniently white – then the swirling oils began. Then somewhere among all of this incredible visual stimulation, some very loud music began.

    I mean no evil in saying this, but I honestly don’t remember a note of it, nor any of those who created it. The band (was it a band???) and the music was completely secondary to the light show. I DO recall walking out after a couple of minutes with two thoughts: What could this have possibly cost and, why would anyone do such a thing?

    I intend to buy the album for the simple reason that many things were WAAAY ahead of me in those days, and just maybe I might better align with something 38 years old (hmmm… I’m now 54 and can very well see myself aligning with something 38 years old, were I not happily married with two Standard Poodles… but I digress). I might actually GET it, without the distraction of the lights and oils and incense. If not, there’s always e-Bay –

    Cheers!

  • Himtroy

    Oh man, I’m so glad just to see someone even MENTION the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, let alone actually know something about them. I absolutely love the albums, as well as the Markley album(well, it’s basically just the next WCPAEB album, seeing as it’s the same band). I can’t imagine how well they grooved live, I wish I could’ve seen them. I’ve tried to dig up more stuff that anybody in the band did or any bootlegs (I’d do anything for some live material), but with no sucess. Do you know of any other acts any of the members were part of that I could find any material from?

  • Bruce Hauser – Bassist in Touch

    Thanks all for the kind words about our group Touch. It was a labor of love and intended to evoke a positive life experience in/for the listener.

    The Fourth Way was the original/1st name of Touch and we performed at two locations using that name. The Avalon Ballroom thanks to Family Dog Productions/Chet Helms and The Galaxy Club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles thanks to Rose & Michael Dietch. We got the name from The Fourth Way and In Search of the Miraculous, books by P D Ouspensky which relate the teachings of G I Gurdjieff in a format designed to be understood by people of the Western World on a path to consciousness.

    Gurdjieff: “A man does not see the real world. The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep. He is asleep.

    Only by beginning to remember himself does a man really awaken. And then all surrounding life acquires for him a different aspect. He sees that it is the life of sleeping people, a life in sleep. All that men say, all that they do, they say and do in sleep.

    How can one awaken? How can one escape this sleep? These questions are the most important, the most vital that can ever confront a man.”

    Now it’s nearly 40 years later and that aspect of the human existance hasn’t really changed. So we continue to seek and hope that Touch’s music may have awakened us if for only a moment.

    Thanks & best regards,

  • JC Mosquito

    I know I mentioned this in a thread once, but when I was about 11 or 12 years old, through a series of trivial circumstances, I ended up down my block hanging out with a cool 16 – 17 year old who really knew his music. “Lookit this crap my mom got me for my birthday (Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night). Jusy because he has long hair.” He showed me a few more from his collection, then said, “Lookit this – it’s by a band called Touch. No one knows who they are, bu they might be the greatest band EVER.”

    I spent years looking for that record, but literally, no one I ever met had ever heard of them – most people thought I was crazy or had misheard or misread the name. I finally forgot about it, but about a year ago, Touch was mentioned right here on bc. Now I just gotta track one down and lissen to it…….

  • sauce

    Every now and then I would pull out Touch, put it on the turntable, plug in the headphones jacked way up and relive listening to it on my old RCA record player in the middle of the night, listening only to the sounds coming up off the needle so I wouldn’t wake my parents. Man those were good days.

    The music has never lost its appeal and after being able to find a fairly unused version at a record store in New York in 2001 I started listening to it more often. I then came across a CD version in 2003 and listen to it even more now since I can’t wear it out.

    But nothing can replace the sound of it on vinyl. Does anybody know if new vinyl versions are available anywhere? I saw one available at the Tower Records website but there is no photo or song listing so I’m not sure it’s the same album.

  • http://www.myspace.com/seventyfivemusic smitty

    Copies of the original vinyl Touch LP turn up on ebay from time to time. I’ve created a Touch myspace tribute page to the band which contains 5 streaming songs in there entirety as well as many never before seen photos. I obviously can’t post the url, but at the risk of upsetting the spam filter, it can be readily googled at Touch myspace.
    Truly, many prominent prog groups owe a huge debt to this band. ZCheck it out…

  • shark

    I’m so glad this article did what it did for so many people. To see Bruce Hauser from TOUCH add to it; to turn others on to the likes of West Coast P.A.E.B. and Soft Machine: it’s really a nice feeling for me, a reward of love and passion FOR my love and passions. It makes me very happy.