CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and the MAGIC BAND – ” Safe As Milk ” Classic Album

Posted: May 7, 2015 in MUSIC
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reDiscover Captain Beefheart’s ‘Safe As Milk’

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band “accessible” earliest outing, Safe As Milk, is shot through with unexpected detours; a collision of influences, from Delta blues to popular candy bars; and a torrent of esoteric lyrics that more than earn themselves song titles the likes of ‘Zig Zag Wanderer’ (“You can dance/You can prance/Freeze these old timbers/Drop some beams,” indeed).

Despite having released a couple of singles for A&M in 1966, the label found Beefheart’s subsequent demos too perplexing to release as an album, so the good Captain took them to Bob Krasnow, vice president of Kama Sutra Records. Krasnow agreed to issue Beefheart and The Magic Band’s debut on his nascent Buddah subsidiary, in September 1967. Recruiting fledgling guitarist Ry Cooder on an array of guitars and percussion instruments was another masterstroke decision, as Cooder ensured that Safe As Milk kept one foot in the authentic Americana camp, while allowing Beefheart to digress on his flights of fancy.

Perhaps both the album’s authentic blues influences and Beefheart’s early attempts at deconstructing them hit perfection on the likes of opener ‘Sure ’Nuff ‘N’ Yes, I Do’ and the epochal ‘Electricity’. The former cops a lick from blues classic ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’’, with Beefheart introducing himself: “I was born in the desert, came up in New Orleans,” the first of many myth-making proclamations from the man born Don Van Vliet. The latter, however, is where the Beefheart legend really begins. With a tortured Theramin line, a maelstrom of slide guitars and Beefheart’s own vocals approximating the very sound of electricity itself (it’s said that his voice was so powerful that it destroyed the microphone during the recording sessions), the song fairly approximates the sound of Tesla coils mating.

Not that Safe As Milk leaps from one overwhelming barrage to another. ‘I’m Glad’ is a comparatively straightforward doo-wop outing, while ‘Abba Zaba’, named after Beefheart’s favourite peanut butter-infused sweet, hides a relatively delicate arrangement underneath layers of inscrutable lyrics.

Even in the anything-goes atmosphere of 1967, a year that saw The Beatles release Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Doors issue their self-titled debut, the Rolling Stones accept Their Satanic Majesties Request, Hendrix ask Are You Experienced? and The Velvet Underground emerge with their nihilistic debut, Safe As Milk was considered too weird to stick. Naturally, it went nowhere in the charts. It did, however, establish Beefheart as a compelling songwriter whose disregard for conventional song structures would pay dividends on albums to come.

This is the Buddah Records’ remastered reissue of The Magic Band’s 1967 debut album, “Safe as Milk”. The reissue was released in 1999, containing the original 12 tracks, as well as 7 bonus tracks that were originally intended for the unreleased “Brown Wrapper” follow-up album. The bonus tracks were recorded about 2 months after the original release of Safe as Milk, as well as from the same sessions used to record the songs for the 1971 album “Mirror Man”.

While more conventional and accessible than Beefheart’s later work, “Safe As Milk” is still an incredible album that introduced the bluesy, idiosyncratic, and experimental groundwork that would be expanded upon in The Magic Band’s later work such as Trout Mask Replica. The non-replicable sound of the band can most easily be heard in Electricity, through the Captain’s raw, sour vocals, the constantly-changing tempo, and Samuel Hoffman’s fitting use of the theremin.

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This letter was sent out to promote the Abba Zaba 45 in the US in late August 1967, and takes the opportunity to give the album an extra push too. I guess Cecil was Cecil Holmes, Marty was Marty Thau, Bob was Bob Krasnow, and Neil was Neil Bogart.

Just this year, Sundazed Music released a mono reissue of the album in both CD and LP format – it’s a restoration of the original mono mix owned by the original album producer Richard Perry, featuring an incredibly improved production quality (primarily making Beefheart’s vocals mono as opposed to being far-left or far-right as noticeable in the video).

1: Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do – 0:00
2: Zig Zag Wanderer – 2:15
3: Call On Me – 4:55
4: Dropout Boogie – 7:32
5: I’m Glad – 10:04
6: Electricity – 13:35
7: Yellow Brick Road – 16:42
8: Abba Zaba – 19:11
9: Plastic Factory – 21:55
10: Where There’s Woman – 25:04
11: Grown So Ugly – 27:13
12: Autumn’s Child – 29:40
13: Safe as Milk (Take 5)* – 33:42
14: On Tomorrow* – 37:56
15: Big Black Baby Shoes* – 44:53
16: Flower Pot* – 49:43
17: Dirty Blue Gene* – 53:39
18: Trust Us (Take 9)* – 56:23
19: Korn Ring Finger* – 1:03:45

  1. earthbalm says:

    Reblogged this on Earth Balm Music and commented:
    Great album. Love “Sure ’nuff”.

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