The good Captain is all I want to listen to, not sure what this says about me as person, but with music this good I don’t care!
Captain Beefheart. Where to start? The beginning is normally the best place, but considering the amount of myth about Beefheart I’ll skip that. Apart from saying that Captain Beefheart was born in 1941 under the name Don Van Vliet. The end of the story is inevitable, retirement and eventually death, so I won’t start there. Instead I’ll start in 1967. This is an important year as it marks the release of Vliet/Beefheart’s Safe as Milk (arguably the greatest debut ever!). Although it only clocks in at 32 minutes, it is chocked full of the best psychedelic desert blues freakout’s ever committed to tape.
From the opening riffs you realise this is unlike any blues album you’ve heard before. It’s primal blues, but with a pop twist. The guitar work is incendiary and the interplay with the rhythm section is flawless. But the main event is Vliet’s vocals. They croon, howl, squeak, bellow. The rest of the album is a journey into parts unknown. A year later the follow up Strictly Personal was released. Sadly this isn’t a great album. The songs aren’t as good, mainly because guitar genius Ry Cooder left due to Vliet’s adhock (putting it lightly) view to his musicians. Also the production is pretty muddy. Instead of striving for something different (as the debut had done) it followed the late 1960’s psychedelic trend. Ultimately it’s a disappointment. His next album would be nothing like this. Trout Mask Replica is a beast. I could write a novella about this album and still not run out of things to say. Over the years t has divided opinion and critics alike. Some claim it’s one of the greatest albums others made. Others state it’s just noise and they’re making it up as they go along. The only advice I can give is the more you play it, the more it makes sense. After this he released, personally speaking, his greatest work. Lick My Decals Off, Baby. It is a mixture of this debut and Trout Mask Replica. While Trout Mask Replica was a monster at 79 minutes, Decals is more concise at 40 minutes.
Sadly after Decals Beefheart got scared and tried to make more ‘traditional’ albums. While by his standard they were mild, they still seemed too wild for the mainstream. He then released two more albums that were aimed at the crossover. These fared worse than the previous two. Which is a shame as they’re chocked full of great tracks. He vanished until 1978 and went back to basics. By this time he had attracted a new legion of followers (some of which joined his magic Band). Punk had been and gone and fans were more into abrasive, aggressive, angular guitar work, so his next two albums fared better. Then the inevitable came. The farewell album. As swansongs go, it’s pretty good. People hoped for another album, but alas that was all he wrote. Vliet died in 2010.
The track I have picked today is from one of this most derided albums Blue Jeans and Moonbeams. This album finds Beefheart at his most romantic and poetic. Just listen to Observatory Crest and not well up. Party of Special Things to Do has a great riff, and the imagery of the lyrics are brilliant. As today is Friday it felt rude not to share this.