howdy pop pickers
A good opening paragraph should give one, or if you like you the reader, a pretty firm and easily understood indication of what is to follow. This enables you to know if you’re going to be interested in it prior to electing to commit time towards further reading. In this respect, yes I have been guilty of not doing this, and yes I shall continue with this ubiquitous sin.
In this post I propose to travel, dear reader, from the whim of wishing to listen to some unobtrusive, decidedly non-threatening quasi-folk music to what must be the most daunting, intimidating, striking and quite possibly brilliant work of psychedelic rock which I have ever heard. This journey shall go through the wonder and beauty that is linear notes on a proper, physical release and subsequent ownership of music.
Somewhere around here should be a picture of the album we will reach on this journey, hopefully presented in the glory of Commodore 64 mode. This is presented early on to let you know where we are going with all of this, in case you wish to decide that you have been far enough.
Right, back to the start. As a select few friends and members of my family know, I really quite like the Vintage TV channel. As in there was some panic when it went off of Freesat for a bit, as we don’t have that Freeview thing on our massive yet non-digital tuner blessed television set.
A consequence of frequently having Vintage TV on is the one hears the same batch of songs again and again. And, for good measure, again. They seem to have a fairly limited number of tracks which they play the videos of. To this end, if you relied on Vintage TV alone for musical information you’d swear that David Bowie was a one hit wonder and that wonder was All The Young Dudes, despite the fact that his own recording of it didn’t actually ever come out as a single. But, I digress some.
One track repeated is called Fire & Rain, off of someone called James Taylor. It’s soft, unchallenging and rather beautiful music and lyrics grew on me to such an extent that I thought yes, I will have some of that, and so purchased – via one of them “internet” things – a suitably priced set of his recordings, featuring this song.
And yes, at the same time I bought (yet) another CD of Jon & Vangelis. This I did in the hope that somewhere out there is a recording by them that matches the eloquence and excellence of The Friends Of Mr Cairo. So far this has not been the case. And still not with this, Chronicles as it is called, which purports to be a “best of”. A best of which features something from The Friends Of Mr Cairo but, bizarrely, neither I’ll Find My Way Home or State Of Independence. Hey ho.
To be honest I did not really enjoy much of Chronicles, and I suspect the disc won’t be played again. I will also, most probably, resign myself to the fact that The Friends Of Mr Cairo is a one off for me, and it is the only Jon & Vangelis album I am going to enjoy and play on a frequent basis. An advantage of owning the CD, however, was that it came with a booklet, and a booklet that had some lovely linear notes for me to read
Hang on, what’s that I read? Vangelis, prior to being a renowned film and tv composer and occasional recorder of stuff with Jon Anderson, was in an avant garde, progressive psychedelic folk hippie band called Aphrodite’s Child? With Demis Roussos? As in, the Demis Roussos? How is it that I had not ever before heard of this band?
It would be fair to say that I’ve always appreciated and respected Vangelis, but it had not dawned on or occurred to me to investigate the chap beyond what I knew, which was soundtracks and The Friends Of Mr Cairo. It never occurred to me that he might have started off in a more mainstream band. And it certainly never struck me that he might have been in a band with the legendary Demis Roussos.
This all intrigued me. I went off to have a look at another one of them “internet” things, then, so as it may share with me knowledge of this band Aphrodite’s Child. The first thing that cropped up was a music video, or sorts, for a song entitled Four Horsemen. And so I clicked on it to watch, and soon after I did what my (considerably) better half would describe as a little giddy dance of joy and excitement, for it felt like I had just discovered the bestest and most totes awesome thing ever.
Without knowing the context of the song – a searing, soaring amazing slice of unbridled psychedelic funktasia – I thought this was amazing, man, and wanted to explore more. Some further exploration revealed that Four Horseman was from a double album sized concept record called 666. A record that I did indeed go off and purchase on the basis of Four Horsemen, and indeed the video clip I saw for Aegean Sea.
Yes, we are getting to the record itself soon, but for now this. Thank you, then, linear notes. I am indebted to them existing for without them I possibly would not have stumbled upon Aphrodite’s Child. Whilst I understand the ease and convenience of all this “digital download” business, my fear remains that there’s a generation which does not appreciate the fact that the music itself is only half of the love of music. You don’t bond with data files. With a physical slice of music, you do however take in the artwork, take pleasure in holding it and can glean all sorts of information from what has, in a most considered and informed way, been included with the packaging. But this is a case I have argued before. Far be it from me to try turning the tide of what people find easier now.
And so on to this record. Mostly. If the title of it sounds rather Biblical, well, that would be because it unmistakably is. The album name, and the theme explored in this psychedelic rock opera concept, comes straight off of The Book of Revelation from the New Testament.
What is the concept? The album depicts people watching a circus show which has acts based on the events from Revelation, whilst outside the circus the actual events described in Revelation are sweeping the planet. Yes, quite meta, post-modernist, etc. By all accounts, and I have read as much as I can, the intention of the band – or perhaps rather Vangelis – was to unleash a concept record which, in terms of structure and scope, fell “between Sgt Pepper and Tommy”. Whilst I would never ever tolerate a word against the latter, I dare to suggest that the band met and exceeded this scope.
If we leave aside influences on this record, once heard you cannot avoid or ignore the clear influence it had itself on what was to follow. Upon playing I was very much “oh”. Whilst, as we shall have a look at in a bit, this album was not all that big a seller on release, it ended up on the turntables of all the right people. Elements of the post-1972 works of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Led Zeppelin and dozens more were clearly influenced and inspired by what they heard here. And beyond, as it happens. On one track, the instrumental The Wedding Of The Lamb, you can hear guitar parts and refrains which echoed all the way to appearing on the song Blackstar by David Bowie.
It would be disingenuous and wrong to say those bands “stole” from this 666 album. But to hear this record is to learn to where those artists owe a debt of thanks.
As I said earlier, this is a brilliant record, but also a daunting and challenging one. In terms of the psychedelic vibe it transmits, if my understanding of how hallucinogenic work I believe if you took LSD, or if you like acid, and listened to this in a darkened room then you would go on a trip from which you would not return. Perfectly sober it’s still quite something.
This is perhaps none more true than on a track called ∞, or if you prefer Infinity. This is a track which reminds you that, once, music was created in a way to be truly powerful, overwhelming, dangerous, challenging and menacing. The primordial sounds of this track are unmistakably and quite intentionally sexual in nature, ranging from sacrificial to offered to taken to submissive to orgasmic to bliss to fatalistic and beyond. Whilst ∞ runs for some five minutes I am led to believe the original version ran for closer to forty. The band was instructed to edit it down and Vangelis yielded. Part of me hopes that the full blown version still exists somewhere and will get released one day; part of me fears hearing it as it was fully intended.
Infinity, or as Vangelis named it ∞, was one of the most prominent reasons why the record label refused to release this album for about a year. Despite the fact that the record seemed in no way to be commercial or likely to sell well, they sensed danger and controversy with it. Is it in fact blasphemous? Yes, no, maybe – it depends on how you interpret, read and understand the Bible. In whichever way, you’d be neither wrong nor right to say it is or it isn’t, for it just is.
The label, as it turns out, was quite correct in their fears of financial success eluding this record. It, for the most part, failed to chart anywhere in the world, and was routinely overlooked or ignored. Except, of course, by other musicians.
Many interesting stories surround the recording of the record. The most prominent is that whilst the members of Aphrodite’s Child loved the creative process of making this album and generating music together, they were drifting apart as people. And as we know today, two of the members – Vangelis and Demis – went off to achieve such incredible success and recognition as solo artists that their membership of Aphrodite’s Child rarely registers anywhere. Except linear notes.
Would I suggest that you, the reader of this, go off and buy or otherwise obtain a copy of 666? Frankly, yes. It’s genius, and what’s more it sounds good. Have a look and a listen to the parts I have highlighted above on one of them “internet” things. Hopefully it will inspire you to give the whole album a go. If not, the Aphrodite’s Child material before this was all pop and a little hippie – maybe give that a go.
With a diminishing, if not decreasing, level of new and exciting music being generated this century it is something of a blessed relief – revelation if you like – to learn that there are wonderful secrets left in the last century still to be discovered.
If you’re reading this after reading all of the above and are not just here from a slim form of skimming it, you’ve endured some two thousand words off of me. For that I thank you kindly, and I really hope it’s been mostly interesting for someone somewhere.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!