Cult Classics Album Breakdown 11

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.

Arthur Brown (centre), me (right) and my mate, Greg (left)

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…

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Todd V. Wolfson

Top track trio:

Prelude/Nightmare

Fire

Come And Buy


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 6

Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

Disraeli Gears reads like a Cream Greatest Hits – except it’s better!

Eric Clapton has been involved in some amazing projects over the last fifty plus years, but this one (bar maybe his solo Unplugged album) is the defining moment of his career. It charted Cream’s super powers; their progression into a psychedelic avenue of swirling, kaleidoscopic rock music in a burgeoning scene that boasted the likes of Hendrix, Sgt Pepper era Beatles, Steppenwolf, The Doors, Iron Butterfly and Spirit.

Disraeli Gears spawned two all-time classic rock singles – Strange Brew and Sunshine Of Your Love – both Clapton masterpieces that have never faded in terms of popularity and influence. Strange Brew, the album’s opening track, is a radical groove built upon Jack Bruce’s pioneering frontline bass. Clapton’s guitar work is, quite simply, very special. Dreamy, ambiguous lyrics are the norm on this record – and it’s not rocket science working out why. Clapton, whose drug problems nearly killed him, was literally traversing other dimensions. Ginger Baker probably lived fifty years longer than expected. Jack Bruce’s struggles were well documented.

Sunshine Of Your Love is the soundtrack to a jilted generation. A genius riff ably supported by stunning drum sequences from Ginger Baker, and mesmerising duel vocals by Bruce and Clapton. World Of Pain is psychedelia personified; a stoned reflection of one’s view from a window: “Outside my window is a tree / They’re only forming / And it stands in the grey of the city / No time for pity for the tree or me.” Clapton’s Beach Boys wah wobble lifts the song sky high. It’s an album that makes you wonder about the capabilities of the imagination.

Dance The Night Away boasts a fantastic vocal from Jack Bruce – testament to his great talent as a co-frontman. Tales Of Brave Ulysses is an surging, ethereal number featuring a mesmeric spoken vocal from Bruce, whereas Blue Condition is a total change in direction; Ginger Baker singing in his monotone Cockney drawl to a light hearted melody, echoing the Small Faces Ogden’s Nutgone Flake era. For a man who came across as warm as an iceberg in everyday life, Baker’s voice is rather endearing.

Swlabr features more stunning guitar playing from Clapton, whose natural ability to follow the song with just enough of everything and never too much of anything, has remained nothing short of genius. We’re Going Wrong is a powerful ballad in which Baker takes flight with his fearless drumming, and Outside Woman Blues, one of Clapton’s finest and most underrated arrangements. It’s a thumping, infectious fast-Blues with a profound ability to draw you towards the repeat button.

The album takes another diversion with Take It Back – a rolling and tumbling, harmonica driven number with a melody reminiscent of late Beatles material. The album’s closing track, Mother’s Lament, is another comic-cockney ditty led by Baker – an odd ending to a storming Rock record, but charming all the same.

Cream reformed in 2005 to play five sell-out nights at The Royal Albert Hall, London, for one last time. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did not look like well men. Clapton, rather ironically considering his terrible vices in the 60’s and 70’s, looked in great health. Bruce and Baker are now gone – Bruce in 2014 of liver disease, and Baker in 2019 having reached the milestone of 80. It’s Clapton’s turn to look frail now, though at 75 he’s still on the live scene, albeit much less frequently. He’s the last man standing from this pioneering power-trio.

Cream as a cohesive unit were absolutely untouchable – and the reunion of 2005 a marvellous event which will live long in the memory. Much of Disraeli Gears was returned to during this farewell residency, and why not. It’s a seminal album from a unique and trailblazing period in music history.

Music like this should never fade into obscurity – and believe me, it wont.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Top track trio:

Strange Brew

Sunshine Of Your Love

Outside Woman Blues