Chad & Jeremy & LSD
by Kim Cooper (from Scram #9)
You can quibble all you want about precisely when the psychedelic era set its roots, but in pop music it’s clear that the apex of convulsive flourishing was 1967. Every artist with half an ounce of media savvy recorded a psychedelic song or album, and amongst the dripping lysergic swirls of overwrought cover art, idiotically-employed tape effects, interminable “far out” phraseology, and such gimmicks as the rare chance to see The Rolling Stones in 3D wizard garb (gear! fab! unngh…?), there were some remarkable surprises.
Purchase the album here.
Their early records were a baffling blend of pop smarts and pretentious schlock, jarring arrangements and strange cover versions. Frequently the boys’ voices were drowned in so much orchestration and reverb as to render them nearly unrecognizable. Despite some good moments, theirs’ was a career far more notable for marketing than for any creative distinction.
And so Chad & Jeremy might have easily remained, had they not hatched the brilliant idea to split London for L.A. sometime around 1965. The pair cleverly consolidated their stateside fame with regular appearances on Hullabaloo, and by guest starring on Batman (Catwoman steals their voices, spelling instant gloom for Gotham’s teeny populace), The Dick Van Dyke and Patty Duke shows.
Close proximity to the television industry, a fertile West Coast music scene, and that high quality Frisco windowpane combined to spell revelation for our heroes, and by 1967 they were ready to show the world precisely what side their crumpet was buttered on. The result, Of Cabbages And Kings (Columbia CS 9471/ CL 2671), is a masterpiece of high-concept psych-pop, richly-orchestrated, unfailingly melodic, gorgeously produced (by under-rated hot rod meister Gary Usher), and brimming with multiple layers of real meaning. If there was any justice in the world – ha! – then never again would Chad & Jeremy have been mistaken for Peter & Gordon.
Cabbages is a true collaboration between Clyde (who wrote most of the songs and the side-long experiment “The Progress Suite, Movements 1 thru 5”), Stuart (who arranged and scored), and the scarily-talented Usher. The perverse world-view of the disc is quickly delineated in the first track, “Rest in Peace,” a delightful musical portrait of a man who knows a thing or two about the real face behind the painted-on smiles. The melody is lovely, words as arch as Tower Bridge.
“My name it is Matthews
And I’ve got it made
A memorial maker
It’s a profitable trade
I don’t solicit business
There’s no point in trying
What I like about my customers
They just keep on dying
Here lies Frederick
Mourned by his wife
He led a blameless life
He couldn’t win the way she treated him
His gravestone should have read
‘Here lies Fred, he’s better off dead’
Rest in peace
Rest in peace
They bring the names of husbands
They bring the names of wives
They want me to perpetuate
Their awful dreary lives”
No “Strawberry Fields Forever,” this. In Chad & Jeremy’s psychedelic world, it’s the dark, square trap of British middle class life that’s observed with a rapier eye, dipped in bile and road grit and laid down on magnetic tape under California skies.
Los Angeles has traditionally provided a psychic haven for British writers, a retreat from which they can cast an increasingly jaundiced eye home. So it’s no accident that this most English of records would have been entirely created on the left coast, from which distant vantage a precise satirical vision of Britannia could be honed.
In a stroke of fortune, homegrown genius Usher was selected to forge iridescent nets of sound to contain their cruel ruminations. What might have seemed merely bitter in other surroundings becomes glorious under Usher’s umbrella. The cat who would produce the Byrds, Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Gene Clark trotted out all the tricks for this pair – even though the three didn’t particularly get along. Usher thought their songs uncommercial indulgences, and was irked by their rejection of the exquisite “My World Fell Down,” which he and Curt Boettcher would soon record as Sagittarius. Personal feelings aside, Cabbages is one of Usher’s finest productions.
But it’s not all nastiness and nostalgia for our two émigrés. “Can I See You” is a true classic of lovelorn pop, with a perfectly structured lyric introducing the anxious lover who makes a gentlemanly request to meet his ex, and grows increasingly hopeful and impassioned as the one-sided specifics of their reunion are delineated. Settling into courtly resignation, Jeremy coos,
“And I see you
You look a little older now, perhaps
Or maybe I am younger
And I touch you
I take your hand as a stranger now
And want to hold it longer
But you must go
You’ll never guess I still love you so
But I saw you
I saw you”
It’s an exceptionally beautiful piece of music, precise and moving.
The too-frank teen melodrama “Family Way” is an incredible artifact, and the everything-but-the-Chinese-wok production suggests the group had a blast recording it. The moody buzzing undertone created by double-tracking the vocals sounds especially great. Set up like any number of clichéd young-lovers-thwarted scenarios, Chad & Jeremy quickly kick their tale into hyperdrive with the revelation that the kids don’t just wanna get married, they haveta get married! The distaff parental reactions are classics of Anglo passive aggression, culminating in the desperate offer of a one-way ticket to sunny Mozambique for the young gentleman. Only it’s already too late: the insistent cry of an infant loops in to close the track as tastelessly as it began. Amazing!
A highlight of the album is “I’ll Get Around to It If and When I Can,” written by James William Guercio, but perfectly pitched to the tone of the original material. The deliberately crafted tune becomes somewhat amusing after one learns a few key facts about its author, a perpetually peripheral figure in pop music. Chicago scenester and consummate hustler, Guercio hoped to parlay his gig as Chad & Jeremy’s bassist into a Columbia house producer’s chair. He gained additional leverage as The Buckinghams’ manager, but that group soon socked him with a lawsuit for publishing fraud. Before long he was back as Chicago’s manager, and he would produce them, Blood Sweat & Tears, and even Moondog for Columbia. But success didn’t still Guercio’s natural hustle: see Clive Davis’ 1974 biography Clive, where he talks about Guercio and Mike Curb’s clumsy attempt to sneak a pre-hit Chicago out from under Columbia’s contractual nose. Later, Guercio was the Beach Boys’ road manager, and still more interestingly, he both scored and directed the idiosyncratic Robert Blake motorcycle cop flick, Electra Glide in Blue. A man with a talent for being where the action was, Jimmy Guercio. One wonders what schemes he’s working today.
The idea of allocating the flip side of a record to a side-long experiment wasn’t a new one – Love’s “Revelation” had stunk up Da Capo the year before — but Cabbages’ “Progress Suite” is one of the more interesting examples of the trend. The implications of such a composition are clear: the artistes presenting the work feel hemmed in by the commercial requirements of pop writing, and fancy themselves capable of producing something more meaningful and moving than just another “yeah yeah yeah” hit. Ambitious, arrogant, and doubly blessed with a sympathetic producer and access to the best equipment extant, our heroes let it rip, revealing their caustic vision of the first two thirds of the century in an effective, demented aural collage.
The suite begins with a “Prologue” containing some very convincing sitar playing by Chad – and since no one west of Bombay was playing the sitar prior to 1966, it’s all the more impressive.
The second movement is the pessimistically-titled “Decline,” a chaotic layering of commercial signifiers, the mid-20th century encapsulated in brief: car horns, jangling phones, the human babble and that of the barnyard, clacking teletypes emotionlessly conveying information (bad news, most likely) full-bore machine noise in full stereo. It’s a fluid tone poem in darkest hue, stressful and increasingly sinister with the eventual introduction of police sirens and fire bells. All but buried in the murk is a hauntingly insistent melody line that soldiers on, oblivious to the chaos that surrounds it. A toilet is flushed, a martial pennywhistle blows, and the section closes with a Kinksish vision of a great empire dying out before your ears.
After that, a listener both needs and deserves a break, and Chad & Jeremy prove their pop intuition is true by offering “Editorial,” a nifty little tune, catchy as sin, suspended in the amber of this experimental platter. The only catch: the subject of “Editorial” is world hunger, and melody can’t obscure the cynical creepiness of the lyric.
“Look at the progress we’ve made
Get your vitamin quota
In your soup ready-made
Forget that there’s hunger around you
Look at the progress we’ve seen
Perhaps you should cut down
On sugar and cream
You can’t button your jacket around you
What happens now
Better pray to your gods
And hope that somehow
Far from the shack you call home
They aren’t burning the grain
That has ripened and grown
‘Cause the prices have fallen again, so
Eat up your rice, Billy dear
They’re starving in India
At least that’s what I hear
Come on, my child, cram it down you
But we are okay
In our shiny new car
Look at us now
You can see we’ve come far
Here I am playing electric guitar
Look at the progress we’ve made”
“Fall” is an instant bad trip comprised of nationalistic sloganeering over soldier’s rhythms, animal sounds, a smattering of spy jazz, civil defense sirens, international war reports, machine gun fire and a breath of slinky sitar, the whole mess building up until it culminates in a nuclear blast. Fun guys, Chad & Jeremy.
The “Epilogue” is a vocal number, gloomy but not particularly catchy. They should have left off with the explosion, really.
It ends with a whimper, but overall Of Cabbages And Kings is glorious, and the good news is that this absurdly rare disc has just received a domestic CD re-issue on M.I.L. Multimedia. Grab yourself a copy and rejoice.
The best tracks on The Ark are Clyde’s buoyant “Imagination,” the British Invasion nostalgia-piece “Transatlantic Trauma 1966” (“I’m writing from Boston/ And Chad is uptight/ I broke two strings on stage last night…”), and a great song from the soundtrack to AIP’s sexploitation pic “3 in the Attic.”
Usher’s production is maybe the best thing about the record — to his almost immediate detriment. The cost of The Ark was $75,000, an enormous sum in 1968. Stuart had many elaborate demands for this record, and the producer seems to have acquiesced to most. But then the record sold bubkus, and soon Gary Usher was looking for another job. You can get The Ark on CD too (Japanese import MVP M32224), if you’re inclined, and fans of Cabbages probably will be, but here’s an instance where you’re advised to buy in the order of production.
It would be easy to dismiss this pair based on the bulk of their recorded activities — a staggering eight albums in the three years before Cabbages — but easy dismissals are for squares.
Maybe it was the sunshine, or the windowpane, or Gary Usher’s golden touch. Whatever independent forces conspired to work their wiles upon Chad & Jeremy, the fact remains: Of Cabbages And Kings exists and it is perfect. Call it one of the gems of the psychedelic era, and marvel at the improbability of it all. And maybe wonder, just in passing, what Peter & Gordon might have lurking in the vaults.