Section 43 Turns 50

The past is the push of you, me, all, precisely the same,
And what is yet untried and afterward is for you, me, all, precisely the same.
I do not know what is untried and afterward,
But I know it will in its turn prove sufficient, and cannot fail.
~ Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself, Section 43.


Unlike bluegrass, where one can point to Bill Monroe’s “Mule Skinner Blues” (1940) as the discrete start of a new musical genre, progressive rock’s emergence was gradual. With Revolver and “Eight Miles High” the boundaries of pop music were expanded; 1967 would see the arrival of free-form or fusionist jam tracks likes Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” Buffalo Springield’s “Bluebird” (the hard to find long version), and Jefferson Airplane’s 24 minute epic “Spare Chaynge” (pared down to its last 9-1/2 minutes for After Bathing at Baxter’s). 

Fifty years ago this month Country Joe & The Fish entered the studio in San Francisco to record their first LP. The last track of side one may be the most proto-prog recording of the ’60s. “Section 43” reminds us that prog rock got its biggest push from the counter-culture’s psychedelia and acid rock. Whereas the aforementioned jam pieces are largely improvisational, this multi-part mini-epic displays as much attention to form as freak out.

Now, I have a confession to make. I had never heard “Section 43” until a few weeks ago. In 1967 I was a first-grader, and the greatest rock band in the world was The Monkees. When I later watched the Woodstock documentary I associated Country Joe with the acrid protest song, “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag.” I didn’t look into the band further. It wasn’t until I watched Jack O’Donnell’s documentary on the Summer of Love,  Revolution, that I caught the music on the soundtrack and went on a quest to know who performed it.

Watching the film I thought I might be hearing some previously uncovered Floyd track. The Farfisa organ and bass line put me in mind of Rick Wright and Roger Waters. Upon learning it was Country Joe & The Fish my mind was blown — and impressed.

The piece follows a verse-chorus-verse-verse-chorus structure. The choruses build tension waltzing slowly through minor and dissonant chords. The first and third verses showcase interplay between Barry “The Fish” Melton’s Gibson SG and David Bennett Cohen’s keyboard. The middle verses are bisected by what Richie Unterberger calls “an unexpected, almost circus-like atonal passage.” Up to that jarring break our ears are treated to a bracing harmonica solo from bassist Bruce Barthol, as salient on that instrument as with the heavy strings, while Gary “Chicken” Hirsh’s cymbals crash and tom-tom’s dance all around.

But it’s Melton’s note-bending, Near Eastern inflection on the second guitar solo that’s the highlight of this track. Country Joe McDonald? Why, he wrote the thing, and his ringing hollow-bodied Gibson keeps the whole contraption aloft.

The band opened with “Section 43” on the final morning of the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, an event memorable for Pete Townshend smashing his guitar and Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his. But Rolling Stone rated “Section 43” among the 15 greatest musical moments captured on film. Not so much for the shots of the band themselves (though Melton’s army jacket and blue jean combo would be a look emulated on school buses for years to come). It was the yawning, scratching youth summoned from slumber by Country Joe’s yell, and stumbling to the stage front that were the real stars of the clip.

Barthol’s harmonica solo isn’t present in this version. Country Joe blows the last dying notes on the harp as the camera switches to the tapping feet of a sleepy and spacey young woman, too tired or too high or perhaps too deeply moved to clap, but whose bleary-eyed, Mona Lisa smile tells us that we have might have just passed a key signpost on the road to Proghalla.




Rare Riverside Boxset Available at Burning Shed


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Rare box set available at Burning Shed

For the Riverside diehards among us, Burning Shed has for sale the Riverside Reality Dream Boxset, originally released in Poland in 2011, but extremely hard to find in North America.  Believe me, I’ve searched high and low for a decently priced copy here in the States.  Now, it’s available again.  Order as soon as you can.  My guess is that they will go quickly.

Burning Shed’s description:

A six cd box set collection containing Riverside’s Reality Dream studio trilogy, Out Of Myself (2003), Second Life Syndrome (2005) and Rapid Eye Movement (2007), plus the contemporaneous extras and live releases Voices In My Head (2005), Second Live Syndrome (2008) and Rapid Eye Movement II (2007).

Presented in a beautiful six panel digipak.

Pre-order for 24th March shipping.

N.B. This is the 2011 Polish release on the Mystic Production label.

To order, go here:

soundstreamsunday: “Marquee Moon” by Television


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television-2Even with an acknowledgment that the guitar crossroads intersect and break and branch through Jimi Hendrix, there’s not an over-regard for Hendrix’s impact on New York punk in the 1970s.  But, in his quick transition from darling of the London psychedelic blues scene back to an American identity, in an atmosphere where racial politics and music were increasingly conflated in the funk and jazz musics of the late 1960s, Hendrix was central in the rise of a “street” culture that demanded a breaking of barriers of race and class.  While he outraged critics with his national anthem at Woodstock, he inspired a generation who saw in it both brutal truth and lovely homage, and as he spent his last summer building his Electric Lady studio in Greenwich Village, his presence as a New Yorker was inspiring to the small cadre of poets, visual artists, and musicians who would evolve into the New York punk scene.  To the members of the band that would become Television, Hendrix was proof that the electric guitar could continue to break ground, and that to do that you had to be uncompromising (this is probably the real ethic that links Hendrix to the punks).

It could certainly be argued that Television’s classic album Marquee Moon, a monument of guitar virtuosity that inspired players of all genres, is hardly a punk album in the same sense that, say, Ramones is a punk album.  But they both represent a culture that was inclusive enough to count among its members Lou Reed, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, Blondie, and Talking Heads, and that inspired some of England’s most established progressive rock musicians, particularly Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, and Robert Fripp.  Marquee Moon‘s title song is representative of the record as a whole: guitarists Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine intertwine their playing like a Picasso-esque version of Duane and Dicky, it’s all angles, and with a dry production that lets Billy Ficca’s drums and Fred Smith’s bass pop in the mix.  As well, Verlaine’s approach to singing was revolutionary for its time, his high, nervy vocal delivering its Bowery poetics atop the killer riffs.  Both arty and danceable, this is the rock and roll truth, and, working within and at times breaking the boundaries and burdens of Hendrix’s legacy, it again transformed the possibilities and future of guitar-based music.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

GrimspoundPaLooza: Big Big Train


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As we approach the release of Big Big Train’s tenth album, GRIMSPOUND, don’t hesitate to catch up on all things Big Big Train.  As far as I know, we have more articles about the band than any other site on the web, with the important exception of the band’s official website.

Enjoy and celebrate one of the greatest artistic acts over the past century.  Greg, Rachel, Rikard, Dave, David, Danny, Nick, Andy, and Rob.  Amazing humans, amazing collective.

Big Big Train–Interview, part I–2013

Big Big Train–Interview, part II–2013

Greg Spawton–Interview–2013

Greg Spawton–Interview–2015

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