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Psychedelic Shock Rock Pioneer Arthur Brown is an Acquired Taste.
As hard as I try, this album will never be more than novelty to me. When its playing, it makes me grin the way The Ying Yang Twins make me grin. Having said that, I also certainly respect the fact that it is a cornerstone of 60’s psychedelia. Its safe to say that progressive rock was also influenced by this album. The band at the time of recording consisted of Brown on vocals, Vincent Crane on organ and keyboards and Drachen Theaker on drums. Theaker would be replaced by Carl Palmer for the tour. He went on to work with the band Love through 1969. He died of a brain tumor in 1992. Crane and Palmer would leave to form Atomic Rooster.
Released in the Fall of 1968, the album was produced by The Who’s manager Kit Lambert with assistance from Who guitarist Pete Townsend. Brown wanted to record a full length rock opera but Lambert advised not to do so, so a truce was struck and only the first half of the album seems to be in conceptual format. Oddly enough, less than a year later The Who would release “Tommy”. Hmmmmm.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown reached #7 on the Billboard Pop Album charts. The single “Fire” would reach #1 in the UK, #2 in North America and #19 in Australia.
As mentioned earlier, the first half of the album is conceptual, sort of a rock opera about Hell and/or ones journey to and time spent in said place. The music in these five songs is rather one dimensional, heavy on the organ. Horn arrangements and Browns vocal acrobatics are what really bring the songs to life. I may have neglected to mention there are no guitars on the album. Only organ, drums, bass and the occasional orchestral blurts. And vocals of course. The second half of the album opens with a cover of Screamin Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You. Its a smoother version minus the grunts and screams of the original. A highlight towards the end of the album is a song called I’ve Got Money. Its a bit of a departure from the rest of the songs. It features a funky drum intro with a driving soulful keyboard and vocal performance. It would have to be my favorite track on the album.
Arthur Brown is also revered as being a founding father of the Shock Rock genre. Someone commented that his stage antics made Frank Zappa look like Daryl Hall. Brown’s stage performance was theatrical to say the least. He sported black and white face paint and outrageous costumes. Often times he would strip completely naked during a concert. And lets not forget the various helmets that he would set fire to while wearing them. Shock Rockers from Alice Cooper to Iggy to Rammstein all seems to bring elements of Arthur Brown into their performances.
Your tolerance for psychedelia will determine your ability to take this album seriously. Even so, it’s worth a listen. And if you’re a fan of shock rock, you must tip your hat to the God Of Hellfire!!
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