I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #4:
Cabbages, limes, grapes of green,
Everything young and in between:
My brush is my mind,
My paint is my soul,
And I’m a driveling jellyroll blue
Of question marks
Food for thought. Extra on the silly, hold the high seriousness, please.
The 25 cents I paid for this absurd and very eccentric 1967 album, I, Brute Force: Confections of Love, was well worth it. After stumbling across it at a library sale — initially attracted by the odd title — it turned out to be a happy accident, an intriguing discovery. And a weird, weird record.[ADBLOCKHERE]Not that I can exactly describe this head-scratcher. I acknowledge the usual touchstones, but with a little variation: Brute Force, then, is akin to Weird Al, Harry Nilsson, and Jonathon Richman all rolled into an off day. I much prefer to go with my first instinct, however, in which I see the Brute that smacks of Eric Von Zipper singing Jimmy Webb – the MacArthur-Park Jimmy Webb. And I know it’s only a conceit of mine that has the resident leather-jacketed comic-relief leader of the pack in all those 1960s Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello Beach Party movies singing not the sublime songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or “Galveston,” but crooning about such subject matters that melt in the dark with all the sweet, green icing flowing down – and all because “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” Apparently the anguished Webb can’t bear the torment since “it took so long to bake it / And I’ll never have that recipe again / Oh, no!”
Oh yes – there you have it: Brute Force, the anti-Richard Harris, if you will (and even if you won’t). Backed up by an orchestra and a girly chorus, the Columbia Records artist captured and sustained on vinyl the moment when Jimmy Webb got liquored up and decided his true genius lay in getting in touch with his inner Nipsey Russell and confounding the public with whack-job songs – many concerned with the digestive tracks of all creatures great and small. How else do you explain “The Tapeworm of Love” that was “eating my heart over you” or “Brute’s Circus Metaphor” wherein, even though the “circus tent is folded now and our love must be too,” you “still won’t bring me the cotton candy of your love.” But moreover, consider Mr. Force’s “To Sit on a Sandwich,” in which the concept of “comfort food” is expanded a bit:
Sandwich, To sit on a sandwich.
Nothing could be finer, nothing could be better.
Nothing could be nicer, nothing could be wiser
In this day and age
Of such advanced civilization
Than to pounce
And sit on a sandwich.
More fun with food. And fun with words, too, because that’s what really distinguishes this odd duck of a disc, in inconsistent fashion alternately striking and cringe-worthy with a high quirk factor. “I had a dream in which I dreamt that you were dreaming / And we awoke and found ourselves awake in dreamland. / We kissed and found that love was stuffed with kisses and stuff…” (“No Olympian Height”).
Stuff ‘n’ nonsense, perhaps. But that’s not all – there’s stories, too. He, Brute Force, is full of them, such as the love story found among the greasy rags and auto parts of “Jim’s Garage,” where the owner “may be greasy and dirty, but that’s just a mark of his honesty.” And in “The Sad Sad World of Mothers and Fathers,” we hear the loudly played televised baseball game being watched by the heedless father while his jezebel daughter is getting a little “paradise by the dashboard light” with the local ne’er-do-well riff-raff punk of a boyfriend just outside in a parked car. The same old story, it seems. What, meat loaf again?
There’s a story behind Brute Force, of course, of course. Brute was born Stephen Friedland in New Jersey, and after playing guitar and keyboards for the Tokens, he became a songwriter, penning songs for such artists as Del Shannon, the Chiffons, and the Cyrcle. After Confections, which he called “a paradigm of being far ahead of its time” (nice way to rationalize its out-of-prints status, too) Brute released his notorious single “The King of Fuh” — or the “Fuh King” — in 1969, which was released on the Beatles’ Apple label after being acclaimed by George Harrison. Quick on the heels, Brute came out with Extemporaneous, a sought-after live recording of comedy songs, political potshots and improvisations performed before a small audience.
I like to picture the audience members sitting on sandwiches. Nothing could be finer.