CLASSIC ALBUM: COUNTRY JOE AND THE FISH-ELECTRIC MUSIC FOR THE MIND AND BODY.
Classic Album: Country Joe and The Fish Electric Music For The Mind and Body.
Classic is one of the most overused words in the English language. However, classic is the perfect way to describe Country Joe and The Fish’s 1967 debut album, Electric Music For The Mind and Body. Quite simply, Electric Music For The Mind and Body is a psychedelic classic. Country Joe McDonald, not known for exaggeration, says as much. He says” “if you want to understand psychedelic music, and you haven’t heard Electric Music For The Mind and Body, then you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.” There’s a lot of truth in what he’s saying.
After all, Electric Music For The Mind and Body was one of the first psychedelic rock albums released, and nowadays, Country Joe and The Fish, are regarded as pioneers of psychedelic rock. They formed in 1965, and six months later, released their debut E.P. Talking Issue No. 1 on the Rag Baby label. This was a groundbreaking statement of intent that saw Country Joe and The Fish start as they meant to go on, releasing pioneering music.
Not only that, but here was a band whose music was full of social comment and highly political. Given their name was a reference to Joseph Stalin and a quotation from Chairman Mao, that’s no surprise. Known for their genre-melting, lysergic music, Country Joe and The Fish were at the vanguard of the anti-Vietnam war movement. Their highly politicized music played a huge part in the emerging counter-culture. Country Joe and The Fish played at the anti-Vietnam teach-ins in 1965 and four years later, in 1969, played at the legendary Woodstock Festival. By then, Country Joe and The Fish had released a trio of albums that today, are recognized as psychedelic classics. This includes their debut album, Electric Music For The Mind and Body, which I’ll tell you about.
For their debut album Electric Music For The Mind and Body, Country Joe McDonald wrote ten of the eleven tracks. The exception was Love which was written by the five members of the band, Country Joe McDonald, Gary “Chicken” Hirsh, Bruce Barthol, Barry Melton and David Cohen. They recorded the eleven songs that became Electric Music For The Mind and Body at Sierra Sound Laboratories, in Berkeley, California.
Producer Samuel Charters took charge of the recording of Electric Music For The Mind and Body began at Sierra Sound Laboratories. Founder member Country Joe McDonald sang lead vocals, played guitar, bells and tambourine. The rhythm section included drummer Gary “Chicken” Hirsh, bassist Bruce Barthol who also played harmonica and guitarists Barry Melton and David Cohen. Some of Electric Music For The Mind was recorded in 1966. Electric Music For The Mind which was released in January 1967, introduced the world to psychedelic rock.
Critical acclaim greeted the release of Electric Music For The Body and Mind in January 1967. Country Joe and The Fish watched as the album reached number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200. Their fusion of psychedelic rock and lyrics with a social conscience was a successful combination that struck a chord with music lovers. That was no surprise given the quality of music on Electric Music For The Body and Mind.
Flying High, which opens Electric Music For The Body and Mind, is a fusion of rock, psychedelia, blues and jazz. Searing, chiming, guitars, broody bass and dramatic drums provide a backdrop to Country Joe’s vocal. His vocal is full of despair at the situation he finds himself. You can picture the bedraggled picture he paints. The the lyrics take on a lysergic, surreal quality. Add to this, the banks of keyboards and Country Joe and The Fish come into their own, with their unique brand of pioneering psychedelic rock. Genre-melting, with a strong, surreal and witty narrative, this is groundbreaking music.
Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine is reminiscent of Pink Floyd and The Beatles. That’s no surprise, as these bands must have been influenced by Country Joe and The Fish. With waves of wistful organ, jangling guitars and a mid-tempo rhythm section, Country Joe’s vocal has a lysergic, dreamy sound. Sounding nicely mellow, his psychedelic lyrics tell the story of “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.” His description hardly endears you to her. Despite that, you can’t help but be enthralled by Country Joe and The Fish at their psychedelic best as they tell the story of the mythical, mystical Martha Lorraine.
Death Sound Blues sees Country Joe and The Fish look to the blues for inspiration. Seamlessly, they become a barnstorming electric blues band, unleashing some twelve-bar blues. Against a slow, shuffling arrangement, where scorching, crystalline guitars join the rhythm section and shakers, Country Joe delivers a languid, heartbroken vocal. With his relationship over, he doesn’t no which way to turn? Reverb and echo is added, adding to the drama, emotion and heartbreak of this slice of psychedelic blues, which is one of the highlights of Electric Music For The Body and Mind.
Psychedelic, surreal and grandiose, that’s the perfect description of Porpoise Mouth. It’s a track that sounds as if it would provide inspirational to prog rock. Against a spacious arrangement, stabs of organ and bursts of drums accompany Country Joe’s vocal. It sounds as if it belongs in another era. You’re taken on a journey back through time, where Country Joe sounds as if he’s a medieval jester. His job is entertaining the court. The addition of the harpsichord adds to this, before the track takes on a dark, moody psychedelic sound. Before that though, it was like a journey through the ages, courtesy of Country Joe and The Fish.
Section 43 is a seven-minute epic. Here a banks of keyboards, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section take the track in the direction of psychedelia. Wistful, thoughtful and pensive, it’s a track you loose yourself in. It has a mesmeric quality that draws you in. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds, revealing its secrets. Bursts of a bluesy harmonica and drums lock into a groove, which sounds not unlike The Doors. From there, the band embark on a glorious jam, before heading in the direction of experimental music and free jazz. It’s a case of being determined to push musical boundaries further than ever before. To do this, rock, psychedelia, experimental and jazz, are fused creating a pioneering pot pourri of musical influences.
Super Bird literally bursts into life. Soon, musical genres melt into one and Country Joe’s political lyrics soar above the arrangement. West Coast rock, psychedelia and pop unite. Chiming, jangling guitars, a bubbling bass, drum rolls and keyboards accompany Country Joe. He struts his way through the song, his delivery impassioned and confident. He and the rest of the band become an unstoppable musical force, giving what’s one of their best performances on Electric Music For The Mind And Body.
Sad And Lonely Times has a bluesy, sixties sound. A harmonica, percussion and bass lead rhythm section join forces. They provide the backdrop for Country Joe’s tender, wistful vocal. As he deliver a heartfelt vocals, West Coast guitars jangle and chime. Later, harmonies are added, proving the perfect finishing touch to this quite beautiful, joyous song.
After a false start, Love gets underway. Country Joe’s powerful, throaty vocal is sung in a bluesy style. Behind him, keyboards, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section unite. They showcase their considerable skills Country Joe’s vocal drops out. When he returns, this spurs them on, and they reach greater heights, fusing blues, rock and psychedelia, proving how versatile a group they were.
Bass Strings has a moody, melancholy sound. Keyboards, rhythm section and Country Joe’s emotive, soul-baring vocal create a dark, pensive backdrop. Full of despair and desperation, Country Joe’s sings, hopes and promises, “one more trip now.” His lysergic vocal is full of pain and misery, maybe for fear of what he’ll see or find?
Keyboards dominate the introduction to The Masked Marauder. When they drop out, he rest of the band take centre-stage. Guitars chime, before Country Joe scats against a theatrical backdrop. Featuring a carnival organ, crystalline and searing guitars and then bluesy harmonica, it’s another experimental, genre-melting, track that veers between thoughtful to dramatic.
Closing Electric Music For The Mind And Body is Grace, where Country Joe and The Fish pay homage to Grace Slick, of Jefferson Airplane during a seven-minute track. Slow, spacious, understated and thoughtful describes the track. Country Joe’s serenades Grace Slick against a minimalist arrangement. Instruments flit in and out of the arrangement, with space left within it. They’re akin to a series of dramatic pauses that punctuate this alternative paean to Grace Slick.
Electric Music For The Mind And Body is best described an ambitious, adventurous and innovative album. It features thoughtful, poignant lyrics, some of which are full of social comment. The music on Music For The Mind And Body is cerebral and intelligent. Sadly music is no longer like this. That’s a great shame and huge loss. This was music for the mind, which sought answers to “big” questions. Unfortunately, nowadays, music like this isn’t released by m major labels On the odd occasion it’s released, it’s not by major labels, but by brave independent labels who believe in the music. This means that no longer do we hear the modern equivalent of musical pioneers like Country Joe and The Fish.
On Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish fused musical influences and genres. Everything from acid rock, country, folk, jazz, psychedelia and rock became one on Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish’s critically acclaimed, eloquent and erudite debut album. It was no ordinary album and Country Joe and The Fish were ordinary bands. They were innovators, pioneers, agitators and some said rabble rousers. They weren’t. All they wanted was justice and an end to an unjust war. That didn’t make them rabble rousers or rebels. No. Instead, they were music’s conscience. Country Joe and The Fish were also pioneers.
They were pioneers who were at the vanguard of psychedelic rock. Country Joe and The Fish were one of the inventors of psychedelic rock. Their first two albums Electric Music For The Mind And Body and I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die are two of the finest albums of the psychedelic rock era.
Electric Music For The Mind And Body which was recently rereleased by Vanguard Masters is a cerebral, psychedelic classic. Groundbreaking and genre-melting, Country Joe and The Fish rewrote the musical rule book with Electric Music For The Mind And Body which is a psychedelic Magnus Opus that was one of the best albums released in 1967, which was a vintage year for music.
Classic Album: Country Joe and The Fish Electric Music For The Mind and Body.