Home / Vinyl Tap: The Dukes Of Stratosphere – 25 O’Clock

Vinyl Tap: The Dukes Of Stratosphere – 25 O’Clock

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #29: 

Tune in, turn on, drop dead; the road to hippie hell is paved with good vibrations. Brown acid and brain damage combine with blissed-out bacchanalian love-ins and cosmic consciousness teeters into full-totter bad karma and choking-on-your-own-vomit bummerdom. Before you know whether it's tomorrow or just the end of time, the Woodstock nation's freak flag is at half-mast and you've helter-skeltered into your own private LSD-is-groovy-kill-the-pigs Altamont.

But with the EP 25 O’Clock — somewhat anachronistically and curiously released April 1, 1985 — the sonic ecstasy of the Dukes of Stratosphere ensure that freak-out pop and flower power never flounders. These trippy avatars of the hip ‘n’ happening ever-high did more than mine pure nuggets of British psychedelia — they mixed in delectable pop reverb and resonance for an aural amalgam evoking everything from the Beatles to Pink Floyd, Barretted and Barrett-less.

The title song even stoops for a salute of psych-out sorts by merging into its Floydian soundscape an American "artyfact" invocation from the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night),” setting the latter’s lament that “Comes the dawn / Then you were gone…” against the Dukes' temporally anticipatory hope that “The ticking seconds hear them call / My spell of hours will make you fall.”

While the lyrical and musical shapes of happenings in “My Love Explodes” conjures up the over-under Yardbirds in a sideways-down Antonioni movie, “What In The World” is even more waywardly adventurous. For a for full-on mid-sixties sensibility, the Dukes here add an unmistakable Ray Davies-tinged vocal inflection while also recalling Revolver-era Beatles — think the “Tomorrow Never Knows” shriek-fest loopiness backwardly and barely masking a melodiously propulsive McCartney-style bass pattern in your ears and, it seems, in your eyes.

"Cannabis in tea / What in the world, acid is free,” indeed.

Speaking of the Kinks, “Your Gold Dress” is really “something else” in going back and forth between its influences instead of fusing them for a seemingly effortless blend. Just when you think you’re in for fuzz-toned eastern mysticism-enwrapped days of future droned, promising “a thousand melting Dali guitars… dripping slowly down,” up pops a poppy harpsichord-backed Kinks-size assurance in a pocket-symphonic surety of “Vibrations coming my way / When you’re floating on by.”

The Lennon-esque last song, “The Mole From The Ministry,” is the total trip in your mind and back in time, Sgt. Pepper- and Magical Mystery-style. This becomes clearer as things get fuzzier with the double-meaning wordplay, the Strawberry Fields-insinuations and druggy references to day-in-the-life “Holes appearing on the lawn,” and Lucy-in-the-allusions of walking flowers and a garden that “starts to rearrange / From perfect lawn to mountain range.”

Beyond the lyrical bent, the “Mole’s” overall musical and sonically psychedelic cast is enhanced by the ending, replete with "Walrus"-ian incantation — a smokes-pot smokes-pot certainty set in a hear-the-colors see-the-sounds psychical framework.

Otherwise, in this song and a few others, there’s a more modern power-pop quality that creeps in from time to time that I can’t quite pin down except to say I sometimes hear and see the colors and sounds of something else, someone else…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Marie–shouldn’t be a problem. There are many anthologies–Library of Congress, Smithsonian among others, also have album series available on CD.

    You might try one of the Smithsonian releases: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: Leadbelly Legacy Vol. 1.

  • Marie

    I just wanted to say thanks for the information. Now do you think I’ll be able to find a copy of the original by Leadbelly???

  • Beach Boys also had a version, originally on “20/20” (which also includes the Charles Manson ditty “Never Learn Not To Love”).

  • I have it as “Cotton Fields Back Home”, originally by Leadbelly. Google reveals all…

  • Donnie Marler

    Marie, That’s “Cotton Fields.” Creedence Clearwater Revival had a popular rendition of it if it’s the song I’m thinking of.

  • Marie

    I was hoping someone could help me…My Dad always sang a song as I was growing up. It went something like…
    “When I was a little bitty baby, my mama used to rock me and tell me this story about them cotton fields back home. Way down yonder in Louisiana
    just about a mile from Texarkana…”
    Anyway I would love to get a copy of the song but don’t know a title or an artist. Does anybody recognize this song.

  • And while I’m paraphrasing bit of Kenny Rogers & the First edition psychedelia (?!), I’ll leave everyone with these further lyrics to attest to XTC’s April Fools joke I alluded to in mentioning (and on my part knowingly acknowledging) the April 1st release date of “25 O’ Clock”:

    “Someone painted “April Fool” in big black letters on a “Dead End” sign
    I had my foot on the gas as I left the road and blew out my mind
    Eight miles outta Memphis and I got no spare
    Eight miles straight up downtown somewhere
    I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

  • Thanks Joan–while you’re coming down I suggest you just drop in periodically to see what condition your condition is in:

    “I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
    I tore my mind on a jagged sky
    I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

    –Kenny Rogers (!) and the First Edition

  • I tripped out just reading this, Gordon. All I can say is “whoa!”

  • Vern–you’re probably right about the CD-ability of Gravity. Just to mention, though–I came across Gas Food Lodginng LP and was surprised to see I have it in green vinyl (yes, with red center label).

  • Vern Halen

    Ah good ol’ Green on Red – they made one album distributed by a major label (Gravity Talks, WEA) and afterwards languished in indie obscurity despite making some more rather good albums (Gas Food Lodging & No Free Lunch). Sure wouldl like to find Gravity Talks on CD, but I suspect it’ll never see the light of day as a reissue.

  • Vern–I’m in a Paisley frame of mind now, too–I might dig out The Three O’ Clock or the first Green on Red (if I don’t reach for XTC’s “Black Sea next).

  • Tom: Thanks for that info–I wasn’t aware of it. Will seek it out.

  • For the record, everyone: Yes, I absolutely know that XTC was behind this. Hence, the clues (as Pico mentions “ecstasy” and “ecstatic”). After the “Rutles” Liner Notable earlier in the week, I was still in a playful mood.

  • Vern Halen

    The Dukes were fine, but I prefer my neo 60’s from the Paisley Underground – i.e., Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, et al. Hmmm. I’ll have to dig out the vinyl later tonight….

  • I love the efforts they made to actually make this sound like it was recorded in the 60s – the big echoy drums, panned vocals, etc.

    More Dukes goodness can be found on some of Partridge’s Fuzzy Warbles collections. If you’re a big XTC fan, the 8 discs (well, really 9 if you buy the Collector’s Album) are a treasure trove of unreleased goodies.

  • I just ripped Chips from the Chocolate Fireball for the ipod. Another reason why Partridge, Moulding and the others in XTC are pop music geniuses!

  • What Mark said. That was a side project for Partridge, Moulding & Co.

    Or maybe you hinted so when you said “the sonic ecstasy of the Dukes of Stratosphere ensure that freak-out pop and flower power never flounders.”



  • Mark Saleski

    the power pop quality that you hear probably comes from the guys from XTC, who are behind this crazy madness.