Sunday, July 01, 2007

album of the day

Crosstalk: The Best Of Moby Grape.

The 1960s is almost certainly the most minutely examined and documented decade in popular music history, and it's no great mystery: the birth of "rock" music, The Beatles, The Stones, The Doors, Dylan, Hendrix, The Who, etc. etc. Even so, there are some nuggets to be found among the groups who don't normally make it onto these sort of lists. Try Love's Forever Changes, for example, or Spirit's Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus.

Or try this. Moby Grape weren't even the most famous band in San Francisco; Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead grabbing most of the headlines. And you can hear the connection, though they're less strident than Jefferson Airplane, and more concise and less druggy than The Grateful Dead. So what you're left with are some cracking two- and three-minute psychedelic pop-rock nuggets, with some great harmonies and guitar playing; just the sort of thing you can imagine naked hippie chicks with flowers in their hair grooving to, as I like to do (the imagining, that is, not the naked grooving).

The tracks are arranged in chronological order, which means that, for a group who sprang into life fully-formed and gradually disintegrated over the next couple of years (1967-1969), the best stuff tends to be at the start, songs like Hey Grandma, 8:05 and Omaha. Which isn't to say the later stuff like Ooh Mama Ooh and Going Nowhere isn't pretty good too. And they even manage to sound a little bit Sly And The Family Stone on the funky Murder In My Heart For The Judge.

One of the reasons they never quite cracked it was the instability of founding member Skip Spence. An excellent advertisement for the hazards of mixing schizophrenia, alcohol and gargantuan quantities of LSD, Spence drifted around for the next 30 years or so before dying a couple of days before his 53rd birthday in 1999. And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can tell you that if you ever want to visit his grave, you need to pop over to Soquel Cemetery, a few miles down the coast from San Francisco. And be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. And then take them out of your hair, and pop them on the grave. It's what he would have wanted.

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