Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Fools on the hill 24 : Sizzling Sitar Special - 29 deliciously droning popsike & acid-folk gems from the late-60's to mid-70's

At last! The long-awaited Sitar Volume is finally online! We apologize for the time it took, but we were cursed from the very beginning. Deciding on what direction this comp would take took a while, finding all of the albums featured here took AGES… then the computer took a break and left with an entire year's worth of work. Once the old computer got reanimated, we discovered that all tracks were of a very low bitrate and quality… then we decided to redo everything. I, for one, wasn't quite satisfied with the way it flowed. So back to the drawing board, so to speak, and after many burning of the midnight oil, we can finally present you the Fools on the hill "Sizzling Sitar Special".
Brace yourselves for another monster post.
None of us would be listening to this comp (nor would there be record to hold) if David Crosby (of Crosby, Still, Nash etc) hadn't played a Ravi Shankar record for George Harrison way back in the early part of 1965. If nothing else the 60's were a giant whirlpool of synchronicity: that is millions of seemingly unrelated events all converging at once to create mutations and permutations unimagined. The widespread use of marijuan, hashish, mescaline, psilocibin and LSD was connected to a widespread interest in eastern mysticism, itself connected to various cultural trends, sucha as fashion (Nehru jacket, anybody?), film ("The Trip", Peter Seller's "The Party") and music.
Beatle George sitar debut of "Norwegian Wood" was responsible for countless bands and artists experimenting with this exotic instrument.
Through his relationship with Harrison, India's Master Sitarist Ravi Shankar found suddenly himself on stage at Monterey Pop, Woodstock and other large late-60's festivals where stoned but friendly audience would applaud wildly for both the songs AND the tuning.
The use of the drone note in Indian music is similar to the use of the drone in Scottish, British and related folk music (think of the bagpipe), which explains the sitar never sounds entirely out of place in Western folk music.

This also accounts for the large doses of acid-folk present in this comp. Strangely, we couldn't find enough punkers to appear, probably because the sitar's mood is not menacing enough. You will have your share of downer induced popsike nuggets, though. The droning and swooping sounds of the sitar lends itself nicely to be an extra instrument in orchestrated pop pieces of which you'll find the best examples herein. Similarly, it is difficult to ignore some psychexploitation tunes (see my post and reflections on the subject here), as they don't sound as silly as they used to. The pace of this comp is quite mellow, power chords being extremely difficult to play on this instrument and the moods range from happy dreamy to slightly deranged. As most of our FOTH comps, this really needs listening to uninterrupted. I am aware that it represents around an hour and a half of listening pleasure but, trust me, it's an interesting trip.

Get your deliciously droning deranged ditties here.

I will post a track-by-track listing with album covers and notes a bit later today or tomorrow. I still have to work for living, y'see.

1 - Defecting Grey - The Pretty Things from S.F. Sorrow LP (1968)
The Pretty Things are often remembered as a great R&B band… but when they went psychedelic, their way was way creepier than most. This seemingly inoffensive lullabye suddenly transforms itself into a sea of rage & fury. One of their best moment and a great opener.

2 - Real life permanent dream - Tomorrow from S/T LP (1968)
How Tomorrow didn't manage to score a top ten hit with this classic slab of psychedelia is still a mystery. Features all the right sounds and themes of 1967-68. A case of too much too late?

3 - Paper Sun - Traffic - Single (1967)
Issued around the time of their initial LP, but not on the original pressing.
All these three songs are from UK artists and have a distinctive British psych sound. Now let's cross the Atlantic…

4 -Morning Sunshine - The Fredric from Phases and Faces (1968)
From Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Fredric issued a rare, limited-run album in the late '60s, Phases and Faces, that's highly valued in some collector quarters. It would be ultimately inaccurate to call this garage psychedelia; it's too clean-cut and poppy, with conscientious harmonies, guitar-organ interplay, and light lovelorn lyrics. They were a very young group, and it shows in the callow songwriting, despite the well-executed arrangements. Still a sweet piece of dreamy sitar pop.

5 - Grain of Sand - Whizz Jones from Right Now LP (1972)
One of the most revered guitarists and songwriters on the British folk scene. The unreal, almost otherworldly acoustic guitar stylings in this Down-home, minor-key, sitar- blues arrangement of Pete Seeger's "One Grain of Sand" showcase Jones' particular genius, the sitar is just the icing on the cake.

6 -Music of the Ages - C.O.B. from Spirit of Love LP (1971)
C.O.B. stands for Clive’s Original Band and Spirit of Love was their first album released in 1971 on CBS (69010). Clive Palmer is a well known British folk musician that started out as one of the original Incredible String Band members. This song is a surprisingly engaging piece of rock- and psychedelic-tinged British folk music reminiscent of the Incredible String Band at their most melodic.

7 - Three Kingfishers - Donovan from the sunshine Superman LP (1966)
Amongst the very first Western players of the sitar. Rightly deserves to be featured here along his mentors and friends The Beatles. A very classy mix of folk and Indian music which inspired heavily the later Acid folk scene.

8 - Norwegian Wood (this Bird has flown) - The Beatles - from Rubber Soul (1965)
THE song that introduced the sitar to the Western world: a Milestone. George Harrison becomes the first rock guitarist to play a sitar on a rock record, thanks to coaching from Ravi Shankar. He would remain an impressive Sitar player until his death in 2001.

9 - Song for Brunhilde - Abacus from S/T LP (1971)
To stay in the acid folk mood, this sitar-ladden, laid-back gem from little known German crossover/prog band Abacus.

10- Renunciation - Ananda Shankar from Ananda Shankar and his Music LP (1975)
In order to avoid a 14 minute Raga by Ravi, his nephew's own brand of Eastern/Western crossover was selected instead. While most of his efforts can sound dangerously close to exploitation or Bollywood film music, this song is a cut above the rest, thanks to the more rocking guitarwork.

11 - La Rotta- Bröselmaschine - from a unknown LP (?)
Legendary German acid-Folk-Rock lets go on this fine mix of fuzz guitar and jangly sitar. Originally featured on "Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers Vol. 1"… I never managed to find the original LP… If you have it , I will gladly accept a rip of it. An even rockier live version of this song exists on their live DVD from 2006 (Cover pictured).

12 - Dance of the Red Moon - Calendula (?)
A totally unknown band featured on Headswirlers volume 5. Any Info welcomed. The booming bass and drums leads nicely into the next…

13 - Tomorrow never knows - the Beatles - Revolver LP (1966)
This is our first compilation to feature the Beatles TWICE! After the seminal Norwegian Woods, they take the sitar to the extreme, to such a point where you wonder if it is there at all… Trust me, it's all over the track. One of their greatest moments.

14 - Wispy Paisley Sky - The Fraternity of Man - S/T LP (1968).
Proof that some of the 60's worst album can hide absolute gems! In the middle of a very belligerent, and only mildly interesting album, a diamond in the mud shines. One half of the album is pre Hurriah Heep R'nR/R'n'B… very disposable iMHO, but has the famous "Don't bogart that joint" song. The other half is quite crazy. Very well produced. Which side was this song on? I'll let you discover.

15 - It's Love - the Misty Wizards - 45 single (1967)
Ex- Spike Drivers and goatee fanatics release a classic flower psych 45 single with just about everything that made 60's music cool as fuck… Instant classic.

16 - The Way - July from S/T Album (1968)
Über-classic piece of psychedelia, their self-titled album features this wandering sitar song.

17 - Maker - The Hollies - from Butterfly (1967)
Butterfly is the last album with their original singer, Graham Nash, who went on to join Crosby Still etc. This is the closest the Hollies ever came to psychedelia. It was a shock for me to discover that LP. Beautiful lyrics, peaceful poppy mood.

18 - White Summer - The Yardbirds - from Little Games Sessions LP (1967)
Look ! A song with a sitar that is not a sitar! Only Jimmy Page could pull that one out. Very far from the usual Rave-up, this acoustic piece really showcases why, at one point, Jeff was at the same God level as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.

19 - Where will the grass grow? - Moonkyte from S/T LP (1971)
Slightly under-par, their lone album is an interesting acid-folk compilation. It tends to be a bit tiring, as the singing and oblique, sometimes goofy, lyrics never really change song after song. Still this avant-garde, eco-friendly song has great stretches of almost doomy sitar… it fits rightly on this comp.

20 - Solitude - The Flames - from the Soulfire! LP (1971)
Another strange find. All the way from South Africa, this hard soul band suddenly decided they should insert this pseudo Raga just before a cover of "You keep me hangin' on" I nearly didn't make it through the LP. This is a pure stroke of luck. Enjoy.

21 - Bells/sattva - The Rascals - From their Once Upon A Dream LP (1968)
After 3 solid pop albums, The Rascals were feeling that their own brand of blue-eyed soul was a bit dated. Inspired by Sergeant Pepper's and Pet Sounds, they released this ambitious, if not flawed, "concept" album. Full of mini classics, this songs nevertheless shines out from the pack. I can never tire of it.

22 - Black Widow Spider - Them - from Time In, Time Out for… (1968)
I could copy word to word my commentary about the Pretty Things here… or how a impressive hard- driving R&B band turns psychedelic. Again, it turns way creepier than most bands of the same time. I think the whole "Love" thing got lost with them.
Creepy crawly indeed.

23 - Black Butter - Present - The Strawberry Alarm Clock - from Strawberries Means Love (1968)
Seminal band sounds like they have abused the so-called "Black Butter", like I'm hearing backwards sitars, man. Funny how this stuff hits you. This sticks like a sore thumb in the middle of their usual sunshine pop songs.

24 - East Indian Traffic - Okko Bekker - from Sitar and Electronics LP (1971)
This is straying dangerously close to Psychexploitation. Just a look at the groovy cover should have warned us. Strangely the mix of tablas, fuzzed out guitars and sitar on this album falls nicely into place. One of the most interesting album (if you forget the goofy Bollywood Beatles covers) that I found while piecing this comp.

25 - Indian Beat - Chim Kotari - from Sound Of Sitar LP (1966)
One of the very first example of a sitar in action. 1966 playing was straight and it gives the whole album a very dated Bollywood sound. The rest of the album is quite forgettable, way too many covers and a general easy listening feel to it.
Still, this is to be considered as a milestone, believe it or not.

26 - She's Leaving Home - Big Jim Sullivan - from Sitar Beat LP (1968)
Session guitarist supremo (and one of the few real sitar player at the time) Big Jim Sullivan demonstrates how it's done "correctly". Sadly, most of the album, while of interest, is again straying way too close to the easy listening side. Maybe his sessions clients (Kinks, Cat Stevens and some more forgettable ones) got the best of him. The few personal compositions on the LP should have told him to stick with them instead of hashing out covers.

27 - A Child's Guide to Good & Evil - The West Coast Pop At Experimental Band - From their Third Album (Same as song Title) (1968)
One of the most overlooked band and album from the sixties. Period. The Polanski case will sadly adds to the creepy content of this LP, Markley being obviously very fond of under age girls. I'd rather not know how many of them fell victim to his "charms". Despite this ugly undercurrent, the songs always manage to let innocence and love prevail. If you don't know this album, find it straightaway.

28 - Time & Motion Study Man - The Twilights - from their 45 Single (1967)
This Australian band moved to England and released a string of acid-pop gems. While some of their albums have truly daft moments, this 45 is one of band's high-water mark, along with "Cathy Come Home". Their "Once Upon a Twilight" LP is another overlooked 60's forgotten small masterpiece.

29 - Spinning Wheel - Blonde on Blonde from their Contrasts LP (1969)
Despite their particularly naff name, this Welsh band nearly achieved star success. Most of this album is more prog psych than we can usually bear but this looping, sitar-laden number rounds off neatly the comp. It also a good way to loop the entire comp, try it: you'll thank us later.


Unknown said...


vincent the soul chef said...

Damn this comp looks really good. I'll be cleaning the glass pieces and picking only the best botanicals for this one. :)

Thanks as always.

Peace and blessings

tomatodon said...

sad to hear you have to work for a living. thanks for the postings.

FuzzyWasabi said...

Anyone who read through the post will find a link (or two)…

Trolley said...

whoah. mind-blower.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff. Btw, it wasn't Donovan but Shawn Philips who played sitar on SSM.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Page plays "White Summer", not Jeff Beck.

FuzzyWasabi said...

I wasn't implying Donovan played sitar; but I mean, it's HIS album right?

Yep, I goofed up on "White Summer"… corrected now, thanks.

phil said...

looks bloody good to me grabbing it now thank you

aldo said...

It looks like a nice comp, with lots of old favourites.
Defecting Grey was a 1967 single released before S.F.Sorrow and not included on the LP...that is unless you buy a CD with bonus tracks...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the efforts. I just started the listening and it's great! Cheers, Philip

Anonymous said...

Hi, just discovered your blog. Lot of great music here. Thanks for putting in the work.

Kevin Anthony said...

Thanks very much for this comp,

Kevin Anthony

jose kortozirkuito said...

Buff! Impresionante, voy oyendo los otros volumenes y este es el que más me gusta.
Gracias por compartir tanta música
Jose Kortozirkuito, http://tommentonenlacuadra.blogspot.com/

mike said...

Hello FW. Your compilation seems really fascinating. I can't download for the moment coz I'm not wring from my machine, but I definately will!
I'm not a 60's70's80's artist but I did record a pop-rock song with sitar. I was getting really sick of all the recent stuff with sitar samples and a beats and wanted to make a real song with sitar.
If you're interested you can hear it on myspace or deezer. Artist : Mike Carley song: Donnez
Also I did a song with a dilruba player (indian violin but with sympathetic strings). The song is called "From Varanasi to Reading Gaol". I'd love some feedback.
Thanks for you great work and I will be back to check out your blog......Mike