Yet there were many interesting off-shoots and pathways along the development of this genre-shift in the1960s. As far as I’m concerned, the only major act to give The Byrds any serious competition in the folk-rock world, in terms of sheer quality of material, was The Lovin’ Spoonful. Though, technically, they called their music “electric jug band music” and did not try to compete with the morose subject matter then prevailing in the lyrics of the folk-rock genre (epitomized by “Eve of Destruction” – what a bummer that record was, eh?). Besides - they all dressed differently with loud striped shirts and wrote upbeat, catchy tunes. And they sure had chemistry onstage – check out this great clip from the TNT Show:
“Farewell Aldebaran” came to my attention through the Zappa connection. It was recently given a little profile on a DVD dedicated to celebrating the Bizarre / Straight label (which included such diverse acts as Captain Beefheart, Tim Buckley, Alice Cooper and The Persuasions). It’s a great DVD. And writer Richie Unterberger, through his passionate advocacy of this record, convinced me to give it another listen. Why did I need some extra prodding? Simply put, “Farewell Aldebaran” ranks as one of the most disorienting albums I have ever heard. I literally couldn’t make it past the first four songs without feeling sonically overwhelmed. There’s so much going on in the first 12 minutes of this record it can take time to digest. The overall production is psychedelic, but Henske’s vocal delivery is psychedelic enough without the extra effects!
Here’s a breakdown of the opening four songs with links to hear them….
(Can't get the link for "Lullaby" to post here - try clicking the link below to hear it!)
Lullaby – harpsichord…..slow…..tinkling intro with piano. Henske’s voice is a haunted, quivering, spooky – no, …………CREEPY and breathy creature here. Nightmarish lullaby indeed….unsettling…..DISTURBING! Yet, somehow hauntingly beautiful…….now is this THE SAME singer we heard on the previous two songs?? What’s really emerging as a psychedelic motif is the drastic mood-swing vocalizing on just the first three songs alone…chameleon-like. Shape-shifting. Unfixed. Who IS this Judy Henske? I can’t for the life of me come to consensus yet as to what kind of singer covers all this artistic ground in such a short amount of album space…
St. Nicholas Hall – uuhhhh……I’m really dumbfounded with this one. A commentary about how congregational life can become so pre-occupied with mundane concerns that the larger, loftier goals of belief can get drowned out…….set to a parody church choir complete with a very early and creative use of a synthesizer / keyboard effect that is made to sound like a human voice (I don’t know the name of this thing – it’s the same sound Marvin Gaye later used on the “What’s Going On” album – you KNOW that sound….). The effect has this weird creepiness about it – the “inhuman” human-voice keyboard thing just sends it over the edge. Yet this track is one of the high points of the record. It is such a sophisticated performance that hits an admittedly obscure topic so smack on the head it’s unsettling. The result is tragi-comic. It’s funny and weird all at once.
There are many other great moments that follow through the rest of the album, but I’ll let you explore the remainder on your own. In fact, the album culminates on the title track – saved for last – end of side two. “Farewell Aldebaran”, the song, is so outrageously bizarre I won’t spoil the fun. A masterful, albiet creepy and weird, ending to a cult classic of the highest order.
Jerry and Judy would eventually part company as husband and wife in the early 70s, but this record proved that their union, aside from producing the child pictured with them on the front cover, produced a folk-rock classic of such singular artistic merit as to be impossible to follow. “Farewell Aldebaran” is readily available, though in somewhat grey-market conditions as a result of a complicated legal issue that holds other Bizarre/Straight titles in limbo. Perhaps the estate of Herb Cohen will manage to settle whatever outstanding concerns exist so there can be a more proper reissue of this record. It’s not an easy listen, but certainly worth the effort. Here’s a link to a really excellent interview with Jerry Yester about the events leading up to and surrounding the recording of this album – there are some great and surprising twists to the tale.
Who knew how far out folk rock could get? No farther than this, my friends! Unless you consider Sun Ra “folk-jazz”. Next stop, Mars!