Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Psychedelic Fruitbasket: Strawberries

As a devotee (cultist, even) of the 1966-1969 era of rock music, I have spent eons wading through the woolly discographies of obscure psychedelic bands searching for scrumptious nuggets of psych-pop. There is a widespread, though small, cottage industry interested in this time period, when it seems that half of the teenage population in the UK and US tried to start a band and be the next Beatles—for every new Beatles sound innovation, fifty bands sprung up out of nowhere, trying to tap into the magic. While much of the time period's distinctive and characteristic sounds are attributed, not without reason, to drug use, acid and marijuana are only part of the picture. Inspired by the distortion of time and space induced by psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs, musicians like John Lennon tried to translate their experiences into musical terms, in the process reworking the rules and parameters of the pop song: now the drones of classical Indian music, heavily distorted and swirling guitar sounds, surreal Dada-influenced lyrics, weird codas, abrupt shifts in style and tempo, and increasingly lengthy and complex arrangements became part of the musical vocabulary. None of these innovations was new, to be sure—but their application to popular song was shocking, and the leap from "Love Me Do" to "Tomorrow Never Knows", for instance, remains a marvel.

One small area in which the Beatles characteristically took the lead was their peculiar affinity for using fruit as a theme in their songs. While Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" (with its infamous "electrical banana") predated "Strawberry Fields Forever" by several months (it came out in the US in October '66 and in the UK in February '67, at the same time as the Beatles smash), Lennon's classic meditation on childhood and reality seems to have opened the floodgates: soon, psychedelic songs with fruit-related titles (not to mention bands named after fruit) would abound. From the nonsense "cranberry sauce" uttered in the song's breakdown to the band's Apple record label, fruit would become a byword for psychedelic song form.

Further posts will cover the best fruit-psych songs I've managed to track down. As a nod to John Lennon, today's serving will contain strawberries. First up is a cover of the song that started it all by the short-lived group Tomorrow, whose excellent (and lone) 1968 album features Steve Howe (later famous in Yes), the Nuggets II classic "My White Bicycle", and a song called "Revolution" which supposedly provoked Lennon's song of the same title.

Tomorrow cover "Strawberry Fields Forever":

Next up is another cover, this time by Balsara & His Singing Sitars. I know nothing about this band, other than that they seem to follow the trend of doing exploito-covers of Beatles tracks. This instrumental cover is pretty good, in my opinion. I found it on Volume 8 of the wondrous series Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers.

Balsara & His Singing Sitars cover "Strawberry Fields Forever":

Finally, a cut by the Apples In Stereo, a modern retro act whose Beatles-worship extends from their band name to their close attention to late-60s production techniques. This track, "Strawberryfire", is from their excellent 1999 mini-album Her Wallpaper Reverie.

The Apples In Stereo, "Strawberryfire":

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