Saturday, February 13, 2016

Safe As Milk & Show # 600

Released in 1967 on Buddah Records, Safe As Milk is the debut album from Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. Prior to this Captain Beefheart released two singles for A&M, one of which was their gritty, soulful cover of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy”. Captain Beefheart’s voice, an instrument in itself has been said to have the ability to sing in eleven different octaves and is demonstrated here in many different forms. On Safe As Milk, the band line-up changed slightly from the earlier A&M incarnation of the band. For this album John French was added on drums and a young Ry Cooder on guitar. The album shows Beefheart’s deep love of the blues and R&B, which caused a young Don Van Vliet and Frank Zappa to share a friendship, is apparent here. Along with the blues influence found here, there are also the elements of experimentation that Captain Beefheart would be known for. The result is music that has been called psychedelic, blues, pop and garage all at once.

“Sure 'Nuff Yes I Do” opens Safe As Milk with a blistering, sliding blues guitar lick and with the lines “I was born in the desert/Came on it from New Orleans/Came upon a tornado/Sunlight in the sky/I wait around all day with the moon sticking in my eye”. The lyrics and the song are based on Muddy Waters “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” and its earlier incarnation by Cannon’s Jug Stompers. However, these lines also reference the atmosphere that would be created on Safe As Milk. They also show Captain Beefheart taking elements of his past to make his own form of the blues. He creates his own myth here, one that would change and perpetuate mysteriousness and strangeness throughout his career. The hazy rhythms and erratic, jumping basslines by Jerry Handley waver in amongst the drum patterns of John French, Ry Cooder & Alex St. Clair’s guitar interplay and Captain Beefheart’s gritty voice.

“Zig Zag Wanderer” drifts with a psychedelic, R&B rave-up fashion. The song which many feel reference the rolling papers of the same name has also been said to feature a combination of three bass parts recorded by Jerry Handley, Ry Cooder and engineer Gerry Maker that at times overlap each other. In addition to the supposed meanings of this track’s lyrics, they also reference a lost, presumably homeless character trying to find their place. “Call On Me” travels into an R&B and soul groove, “Dropout Boogie” features heavy basslines and fuzzy guitar lines that drop in unison with Captain Beefheart’s vocals. It’s hard not to refer to this song with its rough and gritty energy as garage rock. “I’m Glad” slows down the pace venturing into doo-wop and soul territory, “Electricity” blends elements psychedelia with the blues and Captain Beefheart’s shifting vocal range in an unconventional way. If there is any proof of his ability to sing in different vocal ranges it is on this track that was also rumoured to get the band booted from A&M for being too negative. In addition to the eerie Theremin featured on this track, during the recording of Beefheart’s vocals for “Electricity” the microphone shattered.

Side two starts with a person describing a reference tone with sound effects that sounds like they could have been lifted from an episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone TV program before we settle into the song “Yellow Brick Road”. A more upbeat and dreamy piece, this song features a shuffling rhythm, bluesy guitar slides and a tale that seems to reference the very same yellow brick road from The Wizard Of Oz, telling a tale of loss of innocence.

“Abba Zaba” is where Safe As Milk really goes into a different musical direction. The music on this track is dominated by African rhythms, bass & guitar work by Ry Cooder, additional percussion by Taj Mahal and of course the puzzling lyrics by Captain Beefheart. While the lyrics repeat themselves in what upon first listen could seem nonsensical to the average listener, “Abba Zaba” apparently is a song about evolution. It also references the candy bar of the same name. Originally, Safe As Milk was to be titled Abba Zaba however Captain Beefheart & Co. couldn’t get permission to use the name and logo. On the back cover of this album, it is peppered with the very same yellow and black-checkered pattern that is featured on the candy bars packaging.

The dirty Delta blues assembly line groove of “Plastic Factory” ventures into garage rock territory, while lyrically this song, credited to Van Vliet and bassist Jerry Handley, contrasts monotonous factory life with nature imagery. “Grown So Ugly” is the only cover featured on Safe As Milk. Originally by Robert Pete Williams, this track is notable for its deep, biting groove that was rearranged by Ry Cooder. “Autumn’s Child” ends the album. This track with its slithering Theremin parts changes time signatures several times and drips with psychedelia and surreal lyrics.

At first look, Safe As Milk may seem to be just another album from the 60s, but it is much more than that. The album flirts with the delta blues, R&B, in a style that can be called garage-punk, among other things. The lyrics are at times surreal and the music explores odd time signatures. Captain Beefheart would explore this more extremely on 1969’s experimental Trout Mask Replica. For those that pay attention the songs on Safe As Milk leap out of the front cover that looks very similar to The Rolling Stones UK album Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass). It provides listeners with a refreshing alternative to the other sounds that were being created in 1967. Safe As Milk sounds just as fresh and different today as it did when it was originally released in 1967.

Captain Beefheart Playlist:

1. Frank Zappa - The Birth Of Captain Beefheart (1964 Demo) (Mystery Disc - 1998)
2. Frank Zappa - Metal Man Has Won His Wings (1964 Demo) (Mystery Disc - 1998)
3. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Dropout Boogie (Safe As Milk - 1967)
4. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Click Clack (The Spotlight Kid - 1972)
5. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Party of Special Things to Do (Bluejeans & Moonbeams - 1974)
6. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - My Head is my Only House When it Rains (Clear Spot - 1972)
7. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Love Lies (Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) - 1978)
8. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Bat Chain Puller (Bat Chain Puller - Recorded 1976 released 2012)
9. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - My Human Gets Me Blues (Trout Mask Replica - 1969)
11. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Moonlight On Vermont (Trout Mask Replica - 1969)
12. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Ashtray Heart (Doc at the Radar Station - 1980)
13. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Ice Cream for Crow (Ice Cream for Crow - 1982)
14. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Full Moon Hot Sun (Unconditionally Guaranteed - 1974)
15. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - I Love You, You Big Dummy (Lick My Decals Off, Baby - 1970)
16. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Petrified Forest (Like My Decals Off, Baby - 1970)
17. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - On Tomorrow (Strictly Personal - 1968)
18. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Grow Fins (The Spotlight Kid - 1972)
19. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Electricity (Safe as Milk - 1967)
20. Frank Zappa - Willie The Pimp (Hot Rats - 1969)
21. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Old Fart At Play (Trout Mask Replica - 1969)
22. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Yellow Brick Road (Safe As Milk - 1967)
23. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Just Got Back From The City (1966 Demo) (Grow Fins: Rarities 1965-1982 - 1999)
24. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Diddy Wah Diddy (The Legendary A&M Sessions - 1984)
25. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Sure ’Nuff ’N Yes I Do (Safe As Milk - 1967)
26. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Zig Zag Wanderer (Safe As Milk - 1967)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for February 13. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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