on 28 February 2010
The good Captain's first album has bits of doo-wop, bits of 60's pop, bits of psychedelia and, of course, a huge dollop of warped delta-blues. He hasn't quite worked out exactly where he's going (though the seven bonus tracks on this remastered version give you a pretty good idea) but he, and we, know there'll be hell to pay getting there.
Ry Cooder plays on it and was indeed, briefly, a member of the Magic Band, until things got too weird for him and he high-tailed it out of there. It was produced by Richard Perry, who went on to produce Leo Sayer, Carly Simon and Barbara Streisand among others; nothing like starting how you mean to go on eh?
In my opinion you can forget your Brian Wilson and your Arthur Lee - Don Van Vliet was the `real' genius who came out of the West Coast in the 60's; a man who's music, even today, makes me laugh, makes me shuffle about the room in an approximation of dancing, makes me mad, makes me sad, makes me wonder. There really was nobody like him: and in 1982 he just stopped! Imagine that - he just stopped! He didn't want to do it anymore - he'd said everything he wanted to in music . Just think of the all the other musicians from the 60's and 70's who's reputations would be so much greater today had they followed suit. (McCartney, Bowie, Ferry - there's three to start off with, and that's before I even think about it - oh yeah, the Stones - there's another one).
`Electricity' is the best song on the original album (and there's a great live version on YouTube), but `Zig Zag Wanderer', `Abba Zabba', `Plastic Factory' and `Grown So Ugly' are all absolutely brilliant as well. The bonus tracks don't actually fit, they were recorded at a completely different time, with a fairly different Magic Band, and are a little more, er, difficult for the non-fan. They're still great though, especially `Safe As Milk', `Dirty Blue Gene' and `Korn Ring Finger' - oh let's face it they're all great.
I would recommend those wishing to take a first nervous step into the world of the Captain start off with the 2 album set of `The Spotlight Kid'/`Clear Spot' rather than this, but sooner or later make sure you get around to it, it's great!
on 12 August 2005
This is a band that developed FAST during the 60's. To think that this album was recorded the year after their 1966 single "Diddy Wah Diddy" - a Bo Diddley cover performed in a manner that made the group sound like any mediocre pop group of early/mid 60's, and 2 years before the revolutionary 1969 Frank Zappa production "Trout Mask Replica" (for which Van Vliet was given 100% artistic freedom)...
Blues elements have always been apparent in Beefheart's singing as well as in his music, and it's probably the strongest element on "Safe as Milk;" the album starts off with a slide-guitar dominated tune, played over a commonly used blues structure used by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, among others.
"Grown So Ugly," though not a 12 bar structure completely in 4/4, is also a blues tune and cover of blues singer/guitarist Robert Pete Williams. The guitars on the other tracks are also very bluesy, with perhaps the exception of the 3/4 R&B/doo-wop tune "I'm Glad," which--Beefheart's voice aside--musically sounds unlike the rest of the album.
Another bluesy element is Beefheart's distorted tremolo harmonica (introduced on "Plastic Factory") which, just like his emotional singing on "Where There's Woman," is performed from his heart in a skillful, personal way.
The overall sound has been digitally improved. It's not only clearer than on the original LP record, but also compared to earlier CD releases of the album. This has made the audio picture wider and the listening experience "easier" if you will. Some might disagree and call this kind of "updating" rape of art. While I can appreciate such a point of view, I must say that I prefer the digitally re-mastered version (of THIS album) for a number of reasons:
- The Captain's singing in the left channel on "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I do" doesn't suffer from being too low in volume anymore.
- The balance between the instruments is more accurate to how it was intended from the start (though no BIG changes have been made - it's not re-MIXED). The reason some tracks originally suffered from "bad balance" is that the music was recorded on 4 tracks, but due to a low production budget, had to be mixed on 2.
- Though improvements have been made by shifting certain frequencies it still sounds dirty and "old" like it should.
There is, in my opinion, a downside to this, though: the guitar sound on "Call On Me" is a bit brighter than earlier - the pogo stick/fast feather sounding kind of tremolo/vibrato effect is much more obvious now than before (I had barely noticed it earlier.) It makes the guitar sound a bit out-of-tune, and the whole mix of the song seems a bit thicker because of this, but it's no BIG problem, though I could have lived without the uplifting of that element.
With the 7 bonus tracks the CD runs over 71 minutes, but the original "Safe as Milk," i.e. the 12 first tracks, is a bit under 34 minutes long.
Several of the bonus tracks are quite interesting; take 5 of the song "Safe as Milk," which originally appeared on the 1968 "Strictly Personal" album, is featured here, with--in comparison to the "Strictly Personal" version--a much sharper mix.
This also goes for take 9 of "Trust Us," - a song that also originally appeared on "Strictly Personal."
The takes are quite similar to their "true form" though the bonus track "Safe as Milk" runs a bit shorter - it lacks the minute of hectic drumming at the end.
The instrumental "Big Black Baby Shoes" is an early version of "Ice Rose" (which wasn't further developed and re-recorded until 12 years later.) "Ice Rose" is included on the 1979 album "Shiny Beast/Bat Chain Puller," where the main melody is played on trombone by Bruce Fowler. "Big Black Baby Shoes" isn't as organized or skillfully played as "Ice Rose," but it's an interesting listen for comparison.
"Dirty Blue Gene" is an early version of "The Witch Doctor Life," which wasn't re-recorded until the making of "Ice Cream for Crown," where no original Magic Band members were featured, and lyrics had been added. Again, the version played 15 years earlier wasn't played as skillfully, but it's still candy for your ears.
On "Korn Ring Finger" Van Vliet introduces the "manual tremolo" effect by turning the mic on and off while singing a long note - this effect was to be used a lot during the "Mirror Man" session.
"Safe as Milk" was, upon its release, John Lennon's favorite album. With the original LP release of this album, a "Safe as Milk" sticker was featured, and there's a famous picture (famous to Beefheart fans anyway) of Lennon laying in his apartment on a couch and reading a magazine, with two "Safe as Milk" stickers on the doors of a cupboard in the background.
Aside from the orginal Magic Band--which consisted of John "Drumbo" French, Alex St. Clair Snouffer, Ry Cooper and Jerry Handley--Doug Moon, Russ Titelman, Milt Holland, Taj Mahal, Sam Hoffman and Richard Perry participate on various instruments here and there throughout the album.
Don't expect it to be another "Trout Mask Replica" if that's all you've heard by Captain Beefheart, but don't think that you're unable to like this music just because you like "Trout Mask" - I like both. This album has perhaps more commercial potential than any other Magic Band release, and should appeal especially to fans of slide guitar/harmonica dominated 60's rock with a raw, bluesy sound.
Just like the sticker on the CD-case reads, this is "one of the most extraordinary debut albums in history."
on 17 February 2007
The Magic Captain is wierd (wired?) & strange by any popular measure but this first album is more accessible than Trout Mask or Strictly Personal or even the Spotlight Kid. Whoever takes any notice of popular measure anyhow. Critics invariably get it wrong, and maybe this review is no different. Check it out for yourself.
Really there are so many varied opinions about this album that there's little sense to be made of them all. The only opinion that counts is yours but, for what it's worth, I think this is five star stuff. But then wierd & strange is okay by me (I still like Syd Barrett!) It's certainly original, unique, unusual and powerful.
Few artists can genuinely have the mantle of genius festooned around their mad foreheads in a garland of Californian daisies – but Captain Beefheart is one of them. His 1967 debut is still a bit of a beast to digest in 2015 – but my admiration for it and him only grow as the years pass. Nothing about this album is "safe" let alone a comforting and warm glass of milk come those night-time tremors - which is of course what makes it so good and groundbreaking. Here goes with the Abba Zaba and the Dropout Boogie...
US released June 1999 (September 1999 in the UK) – "Safe As Milk" by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and THE MAGIC BAND on BMG/RCA/Buddah 74321 69175 2 (Barcode 743216917525) is an Expanded Edition CD and breaks down as follows (71:13 minutes):
1. Sho 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do
2. Zig Zag Wanderer
3. Call On Me
4. Dropout Boogie
5. I'm Glad
7. Yellow Brick Road [Side 2]
8. Abba Zaba
9. Plastic Factory
10. Where There's Woman
11. Grown So Ugly
12. Autumn's Child
Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut album "Safe As Milk" – released September 1967 in the USA on Buddah BDM 1001 (Mono) and Buddah BDS 5001 (Stereo) and February 1968 in the UK on Pye International NPL 28110 (initially in Mono only). A Stereo version finally showed in 1970 in the UK on Buddah 623 171 – this CD Remaster uses the STEREO mix.
13. Safe As Milk (Take 5)
14. On Tomorrow
15. Big Black Baby Shoes
16. Flower Pot
17. Dirty Blue Gene
18. Trust Us (Take 9)
19. Korn Ring Finger
Tracks 13 to 19 are all Previously Unreleased, Recorded Oct to Nov 1967 with Alex St. Clair Snouffer and Jeff Cotton on Guitars instead of Ry Cooder. Captain Beefheart, Jeff Handley and John French as per the LP line-up.
The 12-page booklet (in a rather dull black and white) has a history of the album and the genre-bending talents of Don Van Vliet of Glendale, California (alias Captain Beefheart) written by JOHN PLATT with help from Mike Barnes and Gary Marker. There are reissue credits and a repro of the 'Baby Jesus' bumper sticker. On the rear of the booklet there’s a gorgeous colour photo of the band as a four-piece – Alex St. Clair Snouffer (Guitar), John French (Drums), Captain Beefheart (Vocals, Harmonica and Bass Marimba) and Jerry Handley (Bass). There are also long notes on the CD Bonus Tracks ("Mirror Sessions" outtakes etc).
The remasters are by ELLIOTT FEDERMAN and come with a warning that "sonic imperfections exist due to the condition of the master tapes". He’s unfortunately proven right about this. Some tracks are fantastic – others very hissy and even corrupted in the top end. There’s also a very definite audio chasm between the album and the bonus tracks – the LP has its rough moments but the Bonus tracks (later 1967 recordings for the second album done just a month after the release of "Safe As Milk") are fantastic sounding - and in truth would probably have sat better as "Trout Mask Replica" outakes. It’s a case of taking the rough with the smooth – but luckily because there isn't that much rough - I'd say they’ve done a superb job with what they had...
It opens with the Howlin’ Wolf/Johnny Winter guitar blues of "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" - a genius hybrid track with ex Rising Sons guitar wizard RY COODER providing lead guitar. We then get into real Beefheart songscapes with the decidedly rough recording of "Zig Zag Wanderer" – a jagged irksome little monster like the "adaptor...adaptor" distorted guitar chug of "Dropout Boogie" (both tracks benefitting from the percussive drums of Milt Holland). Unfortunately there are heavy hiss levels on "I'm Glad" where Don comes on like some Street Corner vocal group pleading "so sad baby". But as always with the Captain - he can blindside you with how pretty a song he can write when he stops pushing the musical boundaries with the rest of the album. The Byrds-ish "Call My Name" could have been a single too with its "free love" coda ideal for the time.
But if one track practically defines the jagged songwriting strangled-vocals genius of Captain Beefheart it would be the stunning "Electricity". Described as a variant of 'Blues' by some more scholarly than I – it comes at you like a sonic beast from another world and could only be a product of the hyper-inventive super-productive and mad-as-a-dingbat-on-acid 60ts counter-culture. Throughout its jerk-rhythms and weird-sounding guitars - Sam Hoffman plays a thing called a 'Theremin' - an early variant of an electronic Moog instrument that had been used to create those scary outer-space noises in films like "The Day The Earth Stood Still". Combined with Beefheart giving it his best strangling-a-cat voice – its astonishing stuff even now. Pye actually reissued "Electricity" in June 1978 as a British 7” single on Buddah BDS 466 - the audio bosom-buddy B-side to "Sho 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do". Not sure if either was entirely Thursday night 'Top Of The Pops' material but I’d pay good money to see Pans People do an interpretive dance routine for either (yum yum).
Speaking of singles - Pye UK tried the jaunty Side 2 opener "Yellow Brick Road" b/w "Abba Zaba" on Pye International 7N 25443 in January 1968 but not surprisingly it tanked and is now a £50-plus rarity (Taj Mahal plays percussion on "Yellow Brick Road"). His fantastic Bluesy Harmonica gives the brilliant "Plastic Factory" a real Paul Butterfield edge. "Where There's Woman" and "Grown So Ugly" are suitably touching and poisonous at the same time but the album finishes on a total winner. Russ Titelman plays guitar while Sam Hoffman twiddles his Theremin on the brilliant Side 2 finisher "Autumn's Child" – a song where you actually feel like you're listening to a new kind of music being created as you listen.
The BONUS TRACKS are part of the "Mirror Sessions" which were essentially going to be a double-album follow-up for Buddah Records (their 2nd album). Parts of it turned up on the "Mirror Man" LP issued by Buddah in May 1971. "Trout Mask Replica" fans will love the near seven-minute guitar instrumental rampage that is "On Tomorrow". Even better is "Big Black Baby Shoes" – another five-minute sliding guitar instrumental which is discordantly musical in that way only Captain Beefheart can be. "Flower Pot" is brilliant too and my fave bonus amongst the seven – the band boogieing in that jagged "Trout" way through four minutes of Beefheart Funk.
The equally good/strange "Strictly Personal" would follow in 1968 and the epoch-making game-changing double "Trout Mask Replica" in late 1969 – but this is where all that discordant yet melodious jerky-motion started.
An animal-sculpting child prodigy TV star at the age of 10 – Don Van Vliet was always a bit special and a just bit bonkers in the temporal lobe area. Captain Beefheart famously walked off stage once and collapsed into the grass face first – later claiming he stopped the band mid-song (fixed his tie first before he left stage) because he saw a woman in the audience turn into a 'goldfish'. Now that’s my kind of visionary...
on 20 June 2007
Amazing. I have found my new favourite band, thanks to seeing the film "Captain Beefheart: Under Review".
This is EXACTLY the kind of music I like. It seems criminal that I should be 29 years old before I hear this music, but at the same time I'm glad because it shows that there are still amazing things to discover.
This music is so groovy yet so complex at the same time that I just find it irresistible. The first track, "Sure 'Nuff N' Yes I Do" is a little throwaway, but once you get to "Zig Zag Wanderer" you're just grooving. It sounds so fresh, and just blows anything else out of the water. I used to think The Doors were good, but compared to this... they just seem so lame!
Since I've been listening to this record it seems I've had a different track in my head each day: "Dropout Boogie", "Abba Zaba", "Yellow Brick Road", "Plastic Factory"... they're all so infectious.
I love the production: vocal in one ear with a spiky clean guitar, and rhythm section in the other ear (for the most part). The performances are on the money - especially Beefheart himself whose combination of blues and soul-like singing with some weird eccentric moments ["Eeeeeelec-tri-city....ngaa-ngaa-ngaaaaa-aaaahh!] are like nothing I've heard before. This music is just audacious. It's so refreshingly brilliant I just found myself laughing out loud at it's genius.
So this CD contains the original 12 tracks from Safe As Milk as well as 7 (I think) bonus tracks - totalling about half an hour each. To experience this record properly I listened just to the album tracks a few times first before trying the bonus tracks. True enough, the bonus tracks aren't up to scratch with the album tracks, but when isolated, they are still original examples of quality work. They just lack the swing and groove that the album has.
So anyway, if you haven't already, discover this now. I know it's not for everyone, I just find it hard to understand how anyone that's into quality, groove-based rock n' roll could not like it.
Postscript: I was wrong about "Sure Nuff N' Yes I Do". I really like it now, it's just not one that sticks in my head. I love the pause every couple of bars when the music kicks in. It's logical, but somehow totally chaotic.
A bit more postscript: "Sure 'Nuff N' Yes I Do" stuck in my head yesterday. I don't usually keep adding to my reviews, but this record just keeps revealing more and more to me as time goes on.
Fat grooves on: "Sure Nuff N' Yes I Do", "Zig Zag Wanderer", "Plastic Factory".
Crazy genius on: "Electricity", "Abba Zaba", "Dropout Boogie".
Incredible singing on: "So Glad Baby", "Autumn's Child".
Great drumming on: "Dropout Boogie", "Electricity".
Is this Captain Beefheart's best album? Not quite. But neither for that matter is the boundary breaking "Trout Mask Replica". The honours in this reviewers humble opinion go to the magnificent metal delta blues of 1972's "Clear Spot", but were you to buy all three records you would be investing in an artist who John Peel once declared "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of pop music, it's Beefheart." The wonderful "Safe as Milk" is Van Vliet's debut album recorded in the Spring of 1967 at Sunset Sound Studios, later for the finished work at RCA Studios in Hollywood.
The Magic Band members were:
Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, (Vocals, Harmonica & Bass Marimba).
Alex Snouffer, (Guitar).
Jerry Handley (Bass Guitar).
John French, aka John 'Drumbo' French (Drums & Percussion).
Ry Cooder (Guitar, Slide Guitar & Bass Guitar)
Taj Mahal (Percussion), Russ Titelman (Guitar),
Milt Holland (Log Drums & Percussion),
Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman (Theremin).
Here is a Mono version of this great album which is the way it was originally recorded by producer Richard Perry. Huge thanks go to the specialist Sundazed label for restoring Perry's original mix which was later altered by the label without Beefheart's involvement. It sounds great but frankly, the other version was highly listenable despite a discernible layer of hiss. What strikes you today about this album is how it runs as a manifesto for a long list of the most influential bands of this era like the White Stripes, Grinderman, the Kills, Black keys and a host of others. More than this when released at the height of the summer of love in 1967 this album went so far against the grain it was positively perverse. Time has nonetheless seen its reputation grow as other more fashionable products of that era are consigned as museum pieces. In this context, the judgment of David Fricke's liner notes to the album is emphatic, that this album "Created in a year rich in historic debuts and transformative statements about rock's dynamic and expressive possibilities, Safe As Milk was so far in it was out." Look at the band decked out in expensive suits on the inside cover with driving gloves and trilby hats for sartorial proof.The music speaks for itself and is as fresh as sweet Sunday morning (albeit with a bit of a hangover). Beefheart's voice should have been studied by David Attenborough it's that primal and the brilliant musicians behind him whip up a storm. Unfortunately, for the young 20-year-old guitar prodigy Ry Cooder who arranged most of the album, the madness of Beefheart was all too much and he was gone as soon as it was in the vaults. Cooder tells the story how previous band guitarist Doug Moon became so enraged by Van Vliet's unrelenting criticism that he once pointed a loaded crossbow at him, only to have Van Vliet tell him, "Get that f@@@ing thing out of here, get out of here and get back in your room".
When it comes to the songs Beefheart's base metal was Chicago blues with a twist and even here with the brilliant "Electricity" (a song surely as important as "Tomorrow never knows"?), he starts to chart a route to the avant-garde. Other more straightforward songs include the classic blues shuffle opener "Sure Nuff N' Yes I Do", the emerging pop psychedelics of "Zig Zag Wanderer", the gorgeous doo-wop of "I'm Glad" and the belting blues of "Grown so ugly" which Jack White ought to pay royalties towards. Beefheart's love of the lyrical absurd which he later developed with Frank Zappa and took to its logical conclusion on "Trout Mask Replica" is on display with the joyous "ABBA Zaba". With lines like "Run run morning soon Indian dream tiger moon /Yellow bird fly high go battle sky to shatter the moon/Babbette baboon gonna catch her soon Babbette bab", there is surreal humour here in spades. Ultimately it is the dirty blues of "Plastic Factory" that Beefheart makes the most sense as the twisted son of Howlin Wolf and voice that is sometimes astonishing especially on "Where there's woman". In this sense it a shame that Beefheart has become unfairly associated with a certain kind of rock snobbery. See the famous clip in the film "Hi Fidelity" when record store assistant Jack Black refuses to sell this album to a "underserving customer". Overall as the liner notes to an earlier edition of "Safe as Milk" state "only a handful of rock performers can genuinely claim to have radically changed the parameters of the genre and one of them is Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart".
on 17 April 2012
I can't praise this album enough, having not heard it since the eighties I was taken aback by just how good this record is. It makes you wish that Van Vliet had done a few more R&B albums before veering off into avant garde territory. The stereo mix on this cd whilst typical polarised sixties style does open up the sound a lot more than the old mono version that was originally released on cd as a twofer with Mirror Man. The mastering too is great.
I played this 3 times in a row when i opened the package, it's just flawless as an album Even tracks i was less keen on as a kid such as "I'm Glad" have grown on me. Opener "Sho nuff yes I do" bursts out of the speakers compressed to death by the engineers it pulls along with the fabulous meaty Jerry Handley bass that dominates all early Beefheart tracks. "Electricity" shows the direction the band were headed with it's jagged rhythms and tempo changes, and Ry Cooders arrangement of Grown so ugly has to be an album highlight.
Less engaging are the alternate Mirror Man era recordings which probably should have remained unreleased as they don't add very much to what we already have from that period
Go out and by this now and start to rewrite the book on what the 60's were really about, you never here this stuff on oldies stations and we are the poorer for it.
on 28 September 2009
This Remastering was a severe letdown. I already had a copy of Safe As Milk dating from the Nineties, and thought perhaps the sound of a new edition would reveal untapped nuances. How wrong I was. The somewhat muddy sound of the original is in now way improved; in fact, the sublime, manic ambience which at least is conveyed on that disc is here gone entirely--ruined by a too fussy excercise in "cleaning-up". The crime is all the more unforgivable as the whole thing seems to have been overseen by members of The Teenage Fanclub, supposed pop afficianados.
Don't waste your money on this unnecessary tinkering. Search out one of the earlier imprints instead.
on 26 October 2009
"Safe as Milk" has already received some excellent and informative views so I shall be brief. This is simply one of the greatest debuts ever - against the "competition" from the 1960s it blows all but "The Velvet Underground & Nico" out of the water. It is accessible, innovative, eclectic, distinctive, features some of Beefheart's greatest singing and the playing is immaculate. Highlights are "Electricity", "Abba Zaba" and "Autumn's Child" (about the last of which Ry Cooder became impossibly misty-eyed on the BBC documentary on Beefheart narrated by John Peel). For all their genius, "Trout Mask Replica" and "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" ask an awful lot of the listener (but boy are they worth it). By comparison, "Safe As Milk" is simply one of those recordings which everyone should own.
Time to own up. I love this album and play it far more often than the Captain's later and much more celebrated releases. It's far more accessible than the latter though the man's sense of humour is very definitely present on many of the tracks here. In 1967 no one else had thought to subvert blues material to the extent that Beefheart did on tracks like "Electricity" and "Abba Zabba". We had seen blues rock ushered in by Cream but in comparison to the Captain this was deadly serious stuff. But refreshingly - for I feel that the blues (and Howlin' Wolf's sound in particular) took on too great a role in his later music - there were also other forms of popular music, soul in particular, which the Captain took on and made his own, albeit in his own peculiar way, in this album. We'd never hear the likes of "Call on Me" and "Autumn's Child" again from Beefheart as his music disappeared into the wilder forms of experimentation. Personally I missed much of this so-called simpler stuff in his later offerings.
AllMusic commented that this was "blues-rock gone slightly askew, with jagged fractured thythms, soulful, twisting vocals from Van Vliet, and more doo wop, soul, straight blues and folk-rock influences than he would employ on his more avant garde outings". I couldn't have put it better myself. "Safe as Milk" certainly stood out in the midst of 1967's more psychedelic offerings and justifiably so.