Arthur Brown has that slightly unfortunate (or fortunate?!) problem of being remembered as a one hit wonder. The Whitby-born British singer songwriter, heralded for his outlandish flamboyance and theatrical, banshee bewailing, had that single….
Yes, you may remember.
He was the loony-looking stick-thin shaman dancing about in a flaming helmet screaming ‘I am the God of Hellfire!’ on those grainy, pixelated snippets of late 60’s footage. Fire, his only enduring single release in a career that is worthy of so much more, reached No. 1 in the UK in August 1968 and No.2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 a few months later. It not only snatched him from the underground shadows of psychedelic obscurity and into the global spotlight, but saw him emerge as the Godfather of the kind of shock rock that would inspire Alice Cooper, Kiss and Marilyn Manson, amongst others.
As a result of the emphatic success of Fire, its parent album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown reached number 2 in on the UK Album Charts and number 7 in the US. That, in itself, is achievement aplenty. However, critics have suggested that the aforementioned massive single, Fire – a terrific, if not eerie brain-worm – was solely responsible for the album’s success. I beg to differ. I think this is a stunning record, which offers so much more than a disappointing one-hit-wonder slog through baggage. In fact, Fire isn’t even the best track on it.
Arthur Brown has a voice that can only be described as a gift. Who or what gifted it to him is up for debate. I mean, the guy is eccentric to say the least. Weird, even. A completely free-spirited man with zero inhibitions, and a knack of hypnotising you with his unexpected ascents from deeply resonant monologues to compelling falsetto screams.
If you ever get chance to see Arthur live (he’s touching 79), you’ll never be the same again. I’ve had the pleasure twice. The first time he was supporting former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, and performed the vast majority of his set either lying inside a wicker sack or cavorting in the audience. The second time, after I’d recovered from the trauma, he was performing his own headline show in The Robin, Wolverhampton, and was equally as colourful. I was older then – I’d seen much more shit going down on the streets and in the sewers, so Arthur wasn’t quite as intimidatingly martian. In fact, I met him after the show (see pic below) and managed to get a signed record – the real shock was that he was so indistinguishably normal. The God of Hellfire was, in fact, just Arthur. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown is the cornerstone of Brown’s wild, dramatic live-rock-theatre. Prelude/Nightmare, and Fanfare/Fire Poem, the poetic and somewhat narcotic openers, precede Fire, and build the sort of tension and anticipation that you rarely hear on a record. The angelic declaration: “There’s only one way out – go bathe yourself in fire” at the beginning of Fanfare is both eerie and profound in equal measure. Time/Confusion is such a beautiful comedown, and the menacing Come And Buy that follows enough to make you hide in bed pull the sheets over your head.
Yes, it’s a dark record – but that’s the heart of the appeal for me. Brown’s voice is spectacular on his cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, I Put A Spell On You. I mean, this guy can really sing. Don’t be fooled by all the pomp and ceremony. At the root of it all is a very special singer. There’s some amazing musicianship on this album too, not least on closing track I’ve Got Money – a raucous, soulful swagger.
Much bigger names have failed to have an album as successful on the world stage as The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. You don’t top the charts on both side of the Atlantic on the strength of just one song. The proof is in the pudding. This is a great and timeless album, and just about as cult as it gets.
…Fire…I’ll take you to burn…Fire…I’ll take you to learn…
Top track trio:
Come And Buy