Sunday, 23 March 2008

‘PSYCHEDELIC FAIRY-TALES …!!!

A Chocolate Watchband group retrospective through
the medium of a review of their 2005 CD compilation
‘MELTS IN YOUR BRAIN… NOT ON YOUR WRIST’ 
(Big Beat Records)

Lenny Kaye was supernaturally right to open side four of his original vinyl ‘Nuggets’ double-compilation with the Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”. It’s a track that sums up everything most startlingly dumb and moronically innovative about those neglected ‘arty-facts from the first psychedelic era’ which the album champions. All the feisty R&B thunder of the first Rolling Stones’ LP crashed into a whirlpool of electronic quarks. And the story behind the track is as labyrinthine as Mark Loomis’ strung-out neon guitar-fade that stings in and out of focus all the way into the final groove. The highlights of that story – as stacked up on the 2CD ‘Melts In Your Brain… Not On Your Wrist!’ anthology, plays something not unlike this. The Chocolate Watchband were a Southern Californian five-piece out of Cupertino, San Jose, with the kind of Brit-Invasion shaggy basin-cuts you only ever get to see in dark Indie-band videos today. With Loomis one of the group’s two Brian Jones-alike blonde fringes. They got seduced into studio-time by a certain Ed Cobb – former ‘Big Man’ bass-voice with a white Doo-Wop group called the Four Preps, who was by then the A&R all-rounder responsible for shoving his mutant protégés the Standells into the charts. He was also the guy who eventually got around to writing “Tainted Love” for Soft Cell… you with me thus far? With him the Watchband cut Cobb’s Punk-lascivious “Sweet Young Thing” as their debut 45rpm (December 1966). Over a nag-nagging Yardbirds oriental guitar riff sculpted out with a sharp harmonica edge, vocalist David Aguilar drools about the ‘sweet young thing’ who ‘lives a block away, with sweet sugar lips I like to kiss all day’. He climbs the stairs three-at-a-time to the 13th floor, ‘hey, sweet young thing, c’mon and open your door’, his bratty pout implying an opening of something more physical than just her door. But she’s not there. He ‘drives down the block, with his face hanging low’, until he hears the noise of a party. Peeping in through the blind – ‘who’s that creep she’s with?’ – and an outraged howl ‘what ‘BOUT ME ?!?!?’ Suddenly, she’s sweet no more, but ‘very wise’. Never mind. ‘I’m gonna split, goodbye!’ More sweet young things are a-waiting out there. Soon after, ‘No Way Out’ (September 1967) became the Watchband’s debut album, a treat from the vocals gradually fading up for the title track from beneath Airplane-style noodling, until the song eventually disintegrates in a storm of reverse-tape cut-ups. Next there’s the aforesaid “Let’s Talk About Girls”, a song done earlier in a less frantic incarnation by Tongues of Truth, and later ‘b’-sided wired with nervous tension by an angry young Undertones (probably on a recommendation from John Peel). But this time, during one of the Watchband’s frequent crack-ups, Aguilar didn’t even bother turning up for the session. Hence Don Bennett, a fellow writer and friend of Cobb’s steps over to slur and swagger the mock-Jagger brag over the band’s Bo Diddleyesque rhythms – ‘ah gotta lurve them awl, / nawt just a fyew,/ …let’s tawk about guuuurls, GURLS THAT BEG FOUR MORE !!!’ The saliva still glistens so fresh it adds extra lustre to the CD’s moist sheen. And that’s just for openers. Though it’s fair to say there’s little else that approaches the inspired dementia of “…Girls” on the album, there’s still a wealth of twisted esoterica aplenty on offer. “Gone And Passes By” lays spidery sitar drones over a soft Bo Diddley riff with all the inept enthusiasm of Brian Jones’ cultural tourism. “Expo 2000” and “Dark Side Of The Mushroom” are thinly-veiled instrumental sitar-spattered ambient jazzy chill-out tributes to the powers of hallucinogenic plants. Then they plunder Stephen Stills for “Hot Dusty Roads”, offer a straight cover of the Rolling Stones cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On”, add two versions of “Misty Lane”, and top it all up with period loopiness on overload with – would you believe, “Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?” Here, ‘too many people don’t know where they belong, they need someone to tell them right from wrong’ spat out over a prowling crawling beat stung with guitar breaks, ‘you’d better break away, try to be yourself, don’t leave your future to someone else’… sung more like ‘a sneered threat than a flowery invitation’ according to the liner-notes, as David pledges to ‘choose the right direction when I’m making my connection in this world’, with just the slyest suggestion of a narcotic sub-text. For its eventual CD incarnation the album was pumped up with eight bonus relics (two demos, plus early singles issued through the Uptown and Tower labels). Then, with scant regard for personnel continuity or logical sequence, the band’s second album ‘The Inner Mystique’ was midwived by Ed Cobb the following year, lit up by “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” – one of the period’s better Bob Dylan covers adding Jagger-vocals across a Byrds guitar arrangement via a Them matrix, and the paranoid “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – which fails to equal the malevolent alienation of the Kinks’ original. Next there’s their take on “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker”, a garage-band standard (penned by Electric Prunes’ writers Annette Tucker & Nancie Mantz) best known through its version by The Brogues - this is love, the lyric cajoles, but of a conditional kind, ‘don’t build your dreams too high’, sure – he’ll be ‘tender and true’, but can offer ‘no storybook romance’. No storybook ending for the Chocolate Watchband either, there would be no chart hits. Not ever. A third album – ‘One Step Beyond’, gathered in what bits and particles remained, less manic than before, with some attempts at progressive content wreathed in close harmonies. The Watchband as ‘serious’ musical icons? – naw, I think not. They’re far too valuable, and much too much fun, for that. Later, the soundtrack CD reissue of low-budget teen-exploitation movie ‘Riot On Sunset Strip’ would rescue two formerly overlooked Chocolate Watchband tracks, bringing a rare celluloid fragment of their contribution to the counter-culture back into print, alongside related cuts from Ed Cobb’s other clients the Standells. But even as the movie was enjoying its original Drive-in screenings – around 1970, the original, already well-fractured Watchband were melting away (Bill Flores as ex-bass, drummer Gary Andrijasevich, plus ex-second guitarist and second blonde fringe Sean Tolby), leaving archivist-labels Big Beat and Sundazed as executors of their battered acid-addled legacy. ‘Melts In Your Brain… Not On Your Wrist’ claims, with some justification, to gather the ‘complete recordings 1965-1967’ onto two shiny discs, complete with a corrective “Let’s Talk About Girls” re-writing history with a re-dubbed David Aguilar vocal. And it forms a glorious anthology of strangeness. Both sides of the early single “Misty Lane” c/w “She Weaves A Tender Trap” try for the soft dippy ‘Ruby Tuesday’ side of Pop-psyche. Their Britophilia surfaces most directly on their curiously over-amped early demo of Gerry Marsden’s “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”, a version of the Everly Brothers’ “Since You Broke My Heart” which is surely modelled on the Searchers’ earlier interpretation, and two superfluous Kinks covers – including “Till The End Of The Day”. Then there’s another, more manically inspired lost single, issued under the pseudonym the Hogs for cartoon-maestro Hanna-Barbera’s label, which runs full-throttle motorcycle effects across “Blues Theme”, while “Loose Lip Sync Ship” is a totally deranged studio Freak-Out, throwing in an improvised telly-evangelist ‘reading’ with a sneering spontaneous ‘row row row the boat’ fragment, and an absurd fifties-style cod talking bit ‘oh Baby, without you by my side, my whole complexion is a mess’. We can all give thanks to the ghost of Roky Erickson’s brain-cells for the compiler’s diligence in assembling such previously neglected classics into one well-presented pack. While David Aguilar? – he went on to become Professor of Astronomy at the University of Colorado. So apparently some psychedelic fairy tales do have happy endings…
REVIEW BY ANDREW DARLINGTON

CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND: THE CONFECTIONARY
“Blue’s Theme” c/w “Loose Lip Sync Ship” issued as by THE HOGS (1966 – Hanna Barbera HBR511) the ‘A’-side is a cover of a surf/drag instrumental by Davie Allan & The Arrows
“Sweet Young Thing” c/w “Baby Blue” (December 1966 – Uptown 740 single)
‘NO WAY OUT’ (September 1967 – LP Tower ST-5096) with Let’s Talk About Girls/ In The Midnight Hour/ Come On/ Dark Side Of The Mushroom/ Hot Dusty Road/ Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?/ Gone And Passes By/ No Way Out/ Expo 2000/ Gossamer Wings (re-issued on CD from Sundazed in 1994 augmented by In The Midnight Hour (alt)/ Milk Cow Blues/ Psychedelic Trip, and as ‘No Way Out… Plus’ on Big Beat CDWIKD 118, then Chiswick CDWIKD118) Personnel: Dave Aguilar (vocals), Mark Loomis (lead gtr), Sean Tolby (gtr), Bill Flores (bass), Gary Andrijasevich
“Misty Love” c/w “She Weaves A Tender Trap” (1967 – Uptown 749 single)
“Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?” c/w “No Way Out” (September 1967 – Tower 373 single)
‘THE INNER MYSTIQUE’ (February 1968 – LP Tower 5106) with Voyage Of The Trieste/ In The Past/ Inner Mystique/ I’m Not Like Everybody Else/ Medication/ Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go (Hank Ballard’s original)/ It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue/ I Ain’t No Miracle Worker + She Weaves A Tender Trap/ Misty Lane/ Baby Blue/ Sweet Young Thing (an album put together in late 1967 in the wake of the virtual collapse of the original line-up, and disconnected from active incarnations of the group. The 1994 Sundazed CD has bonus tracks plus Greg Prevost sleeve-notes quoting Sean Tolby, who died in 1990)
‘ONE STEP BEYOND’ (1969 – LP Tower 5153) with Uncle Morris/ How Ya Been/ Devil’s Motorcyle/ I Don’t Need No Doctor/ Flowers/ Fireface/ And She’s Lonely + Blues Theme/ Loose Lip Sync Ship + two tracks from the ‘Riot On Sunset Strip’ soundtrack, Don’t Need Your Lovin’ (alternate version of ‘Milk Cow Blues’) and Sitting There Standing (Third and final album under the original name, a strange mix of last and first sides by the Watch Band, with its scant 24-minute playing time augmented by bonus tracks for the 1994 Sundazed CD)
‘BEST OF THE CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND’ (1983 - Rhino R2 70108) with Let’s Talk About Girls/ Sweet Young Thing/ No Way Out/ Baby Blue/ Expo 2000/ In The Past/ I’m Not like Everybody Else/ Are You Gonna be There (At The Love-In)?/ Don’t Need Your Lovin’/ Misty Lane/ She Weaves A Tender Trap/ Sitting There Standing/ Milk-Cow Blues/ I Ain’t No Miracle Worker/ Gone And Passes By/ Dark Side Of The Mushroom/ Uncle Morris/ Voyage Of The Trieste
‘FORTY-FOUR’ (1984) Compilation including I’m Not Like Everybody Else/ It’s All Over Now Baby Blue etc
‘THE INNER MYSTIQUE/ ONE STEP BEYOND’ (1993) CD two-for-one on which the full original ‘The Inner Mystique’ and ‘One Step Beyond’ both get themselves compressed onto a single CD.
‘SITTING THERE STANDING’ (1996 EP – Sundazed SEP 109)
‘GET AWAY’ (1999) with Strike The Match/ Don’t Lie About Love/ So Screwed Up/ I Miss Love/ you’re The One/ Get Away/ I’m On Fire/ I Want You/ When I See You/ Hope/ Right Coast Girl (after a 32-year lay-off, an unlikely reformation!)
‘AT THE LOVE-IN: LIVE’ (2001) the reformed line-up with opportunistic live set.
‘MELTS IN YOUR BRAIN NOT ON YOUR WRIST’ (2005 – Big Beat CDWIK2249) 2CD compilation, the story continues…
also on various compilations including ‘RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP’ (1967, plus its enhanced CD reissue 1993, on Big Beat CDWIKD 113), ‘NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968’’ original double LP 1972 + 4CD box-set with three Chocolate Watch Band tracks in 1998, ‘PEBBLES vol.7’ (1979), ‘SUNDAZED SAMPLER 2’ (1998) and ‘GARAGE BAND CLASSICS’ (1998)
web-sites include http://www.chocolatewatchband.com
plus recommended http://www.littlestevensundergroundgarage.com/psychedelic/chocolatewatchband which has flashing paisley screen back-drop plus video-clip of the band’s Jagger twitch live at ‘Pandora’s Box’ Club

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