Thursday, 24 July 2014

turn on, tune in, to 'the united states of america'

Esoteric Records have recently put out a re-release of one of the 60's real cult obscurities. This short lived band, if that's what you could call them in the conventional sense, were better known here in the UK for a track on a CBS sampler "Rock Machine Turns You On" from 1968. The track "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar" by the equally oddly named 'The United States of America'.

The only album they ever released, and subsequently failed to sell, was the self titled "The United States of America" has now steadily gained wider recognition over the years and acknowledgement for it's importance in the left field world of psychedelic and avant garde rock of the 60's. That and the highly collectable price that always goes with these rarities. An original and even rarer copy in it's plain manilla sleeve which wrapped the cover preferred by CBS (pic below) is now hundreds of dollars as most owners of the album at the time tore that off to get at the record inside.
And if today's 68,000 YouTube hits on one of their songs had been transferred to sales at the time the story might have been different. As it was this group of like minded musicians and vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz very soon found they were rather more of unlike minds and they folded after a failed attempt to tour and promote their debut album. The gigs had a rough start with equipment failures due to the amount of gear, there were all ready power plays in the band for leadership and to top that lot off they were all busted for Mary Jane during the tour.
The performances they did actually produce were best described as more performance art than all out rock.
But what this lot did leave behind is something of a unique experience in music of the day.

    " a time when there was a receptive audience for “underground music” which combined musical experimentalism with radical social and/or political lyrics – other examples, in their very different ways, including the Velvet Underground (who shared a common background in the New York experimental music scene; according to Moskowitz, Nico at one point tried to join the USA), Frank Zappa (whom Byrd considered a niche-marketer "subsumed in a self-referential loop", Love's Forever Changes, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jefferson Airplane".

This album is completely uncompromising. You'll lock into the goings on in one track and then find yourself thrown in a collage of distortion, hard rock, avant garde electronic the next. One minute marching bands colliding with fuzz keyboards and delicate singing. And unusually for the day not an electric guitar in sight apart from the fretless bass.

Here's a short track called "The Garden of Earthly Delights" and possibly the most conventional in terms of psychedelic rock on the record. Below that is the full album.
The remastered re-release on Esoteric (part of Cherry Red Records) has extra tracks and various printed ephemera. Get it from here