Captain Beefheart Album by Album thread *

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by vinyl diehard, Jan 18, 2018.

  1. It was the interview Don did on Letterman circa 1983 where they showed the Ice Cream for Crow video that first put the Captain on my radar. Thanks, Dave. :tiphat:
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  2. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    I agree, the songs are fantastic, the band is great, the weak spot is really Beefheart himself, who sounds kind of tired, there really aren't any standout vocal performances on the album. Not only that, but it seems, I don't know exactly how to describe this, sort of like an indie album - the preceding two albums were so confident and in-your-face and this sounds a bit small and shambling. But, yes, it's still pretty great!
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2018
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  3. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Ice Cream for Crow - music dates back to the Spotlight Kid sessions (used for Run Paint at that time), I like the simple boogie beat (even though Beefheart would shout out to some of his audiences on the Doc tour "we don't do boogie!" this is an exception, like "I'm Gonna Booglerize You"), it's catchy. And the lyrics are great. The vocal performance, like much of the album, is not as strong as on albums past.

    Semi Multicolored Caucasian - dates back to the immediate post Lick My Decals Off Baby rehearsals, a favorite of Jan's who insisted it be included. Really a beautiful instrument although it seems out of place with the rest of the material. Don rehearsed a version with a false start (kind of like how he messed with Pompadour Swamp/Ice Rose on the Spotlight Kid sessions, a weird stop/start version), and when Jan heard the recorded rehearsal she told him he had ruined the song and he went back to the band and had them play it straight. Not many people could dictate to Don how to do his music, but clearly Jan could!

    Hey Garland - the music underneath the Trout Mask era poem is the same music as Light Reflected Off the Oceans of the Moon, but with the sax mixed out. Trout Mask lyrics, a polyrhythmic backing track reminiscent of Trout Mask - what's not to love? John French thinks the music is too intentionally imitative and just a retread but I dig it.

    Evening Bell - Don's piano ramblings transcribed to guitar are getting less and less interesting. This is not a peer of One Red Rose, Peon, or even Flavor Bud Living. John French compares it to a similarly long rambling transcription piece on Bat Chain Puller, Seam Crooked Sam.

    Past Sure is Tense - music from Little Scratch from the Brown Star sessions, lyrics are pretty funny, nice to see the Beefheart wordplay and humor in evidence.

    Witch Doctor Life - music dates to the Brown Wrapper/Strictly Personal sessions!! It was also recorded during the Spotlight Kid sessions. A solid effort, along with the new cuts Cardboard Cutout Sundown, Ink Mathematics, Skeleton Makes Good and The Host the Most.

    Human Totem Pole - this is the Bat Chain cut with John and Robert Williams' parts removed and replaced by the new band. Morris Tepper has said this was a big mistake, the recut version never came together like the original.

    So overall there are enough good cuts to make the album worthwhile, but the fire in Don's vocals for Doc at the Radar Station are less evident, his voice sounds more strained and maybe a little "tired." I would rank this last of the Beefheart albums excluding UG and BJ&M.
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  4. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    I love this record. Gary Lucas' guitar work in particular--in fact all the guitar interplay. I understand the disappointment many feel about the vocals. The album doesn't have a lot of great singing on it. Too much rasp and not a lot of roar and resonance. The vocals are more recitations than singing performances, but they are fantastic recitations. Resourceful use of the various textures left to him and full of bits of uncanny timing. The words themselves are as good as anything else in the catalog.

    Last peek at clarity's chain.


    PIGGIES Forum Resident

    An enjoyable album that has it's moments, but not as consistent as it's two predecessors
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  6. JimSpark

    JimSpark Forum Resident

    I love Ice Cream For Crow. "The Host The Ghost The Most Holy-O" is probably my favorite Beefheart song of all, there's so much emotion in the way he recites the lyrics, particularly those toward the end, it gives me chills every time:

    I watched her cut with clarity
    the sea of Satan's red rolling water
    that stung my eyes with vile vile brine
    And clung to the vine that choked Mary's only Son
    God in vain to slaughter
    I can't darken your dark cross door no more
    The light lovely one with the nothing door
    and oh that pours life water
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  7. JimSpark

    JimSpark Forum Resident

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  8. I love this track, too. The way I read it, the “her” in the first line you quote refers back to the “mast of mercy” from a couple of lines before, which makes this all the more poignant. I agree the vocal is remarkable here.
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  9. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    Vocally and lyrically it's the best track on the album.
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  10. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Musical "director" band leader co arranger on this is Jeff Morris Tepper apparently. Interesting that Jeff is the only musician to be in every Magic Band configuration from Feb 1976 to June 1982.

    Bill Harkleroad and Mark Boston were in the band August 68 to April 74, so Jeff had had the longest tenure of any Magic Band member! Maybe he should write a book?
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
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  11. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Backtracking slightly - we heard how great the Doc band and Don sounded on SNL. There's lots of tapes out there of dates on that tour, most of mediocre sound quality, but very little video of the band. Here is a red hot performance in Paris from Nov 1980 with great video and sound quality where Don is singing at his absolute best. Vocals are spot on with the famed power and range in evidence. Enjoy!

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  12. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    John French was in and out of the Magic Band about 4 or 5 times, I'm not sure that adds up to more than Tepper though.
  13. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Perhaps I should say Tepper had the longest continuous tenure in the Magic Band of any musician. French starting in 1966 and ending in 1980 had the longest association with Don but there were long periods when he was out of the Band and the music business entirely. Maybe I'll do some research and add up John's total time with the Magic Band and see how it compares.
  14. vinyl diehard

    vinyl diehard Two-Channel Forever Thread Starter

    Great video. Did Europeans appreciate CB more than North American?
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  15. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    That wouldn't be difficult.
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  16. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Absolutely. Trout Mask Replica charted somewhere in the upper range of top 100 albums in the U.K. - I can't find the exact position though.

    Decals was # 20, Don's highest chart position in the U.K. A major contribution to this success was John Peel's tireless championing of Beefheart's music.

    Mirror Man hit # 49, Spotlight Kid # 44, Clear Spot didn't chart. Ice Cream for Crow was # 90.

    I don't have chart info on Shiny Beast or Doc at the Radar Station but I believe both did chart.

    In contrast Don's highest album chart placement in the US was # 131 for Spotlight Kid!
  17. Pants Party

    Pants Party Lunch

    Washington, DC
    Ink Math-ma-tistics! "ersonally, I always thought Ice Cream For Crow was more accessible than Doc At The Radar Station. Probably because the title track just hops right out into your living room. Like the lid just accidentally popped off a can of snakes.

    Don's voice has definitely changed by this point. It sounds even more weathered and parched than it did on Doc. But, man does it work. Don never had a problem using what he had. Painting with his "dark rubber mouth."

    I've always loved the whole Ice Cream For Cream album. And it's grown on me more and more with each listen.
  18. kendo

    kendo Forum Resident

    Oot Beh,Scotland
    Thanks to this thread I revisited "Ice Cream For Crow" digging out the LP and it really stands out, an excellent finale for Beefheart to bow out of music on.
    It also came to my notice that I don't have this on CD which I'll have to rectify, however while I was rummaging through my vinyl I found this...


    ...which had managed to escape from the 12" single pile.

  19. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    OK, I looked up John's on and off tenure with the band, and I get 6 years and 6 months:

    Oct 66-Aug 69
    April 70-Sep 71
    June 75-April 76
    June-July 76
    Mar 80-July 80

    So that's two months more than Tepper!
  20. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident

    Looks like Third Man Records is putting out a deluxe TMR: Home
  21. The Zodiac

    The Zodiac God's Lonely Man

    I love "Ice Cream for Crow", though I might slightly regret there is more spoken word type performances from Don rather than actually singing. But that's okay.
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  22. vinyl diehard

    vinyl diehard Two-Channel Forever Thread Starter

    From Rolling Stone:

    Ice Cream for Crow
    , Captain Beefheart's twelfth album, will surely attain the sacred status enjoyed by the rest of this beloved eccentric's musical canon, and it will do so without so much as a critical blink. So it should be: in the arid expanses of rock & roll, Beefheart's fecund gift for words and music stands out like a flower rising from parched earth.

    Personally, I have nothing but gratitude for almost every note he's ever played, but a few observations about his new record may be in order. First, in addition to the whooping crane and the manatee, Captain Beefheart's voice should be added to the list of endangered species. These days, he's not so much singing as delivering raspy recitations, and his touted seven-and-a-half octave range — a sad casualty of cigarettes and age? — is nowhere in evidence. Second, he doesn't seem entirely at ease before the microphone, and on several compositionsâ€"notably, "Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat"â€" he sounds disconcertingly self-conscious (the mix doesn't help). Then there's the disturbing cover snapshot of the Captain, hat held to heart, looking a hundred years old, his face conveying the wounded fright of a hunted animal.

    His countenance may reflect a terrible knowledge and fear of man's capacity for destructiveness, but encouragingly, the dark realities of the nuclear age have inspired him to spew forth some of his cleverest lyrical images (i.e., "the moon popped up like a gallery duck") and some of the most aggressive, angular music he's made since Trout Mask Replica. Like that landmark record, Ice Cream for Crow is a world unto itself: a crazy, clanging place where "steel appendage" and "glass finger" guitars evoke a clamorous dialogue among buzzing insects, jabbering birds, slithery reptiles and fleet-footed mammals. All this forest chatter is, set against a jumbly rhythmic backdrop that sounds as orderly as coconuts hitting the ground. Occasionally, the Captain himself sticks his head out to bleat a few bars on a harp or a horn. If all this sounds like chaos, it's the ecstatic chaos of nature, the hum of the organic world in which man is an intruder.

    If truth be told, the record's not so weird, once you acclimate yourself. "Ice Cream for Crow," for instance, is a joyful bit of baying at the moon that marries a Howlin' Wolf bellow to a John Lee Hooker boogie. "The Witch Doctor Life" struts loopily to what can only be described as a good, old-fashioned musical hook. And "Evening Bell" is a lovely solo guitar exercise for which Gary Lucas should receive some sort of award for finger contortioning.

    But by and large, the Captain is pissed off with the man-made world ("This pirate-flag headlong disaster-course vessel") and the fools at the helm ("No, you got the wrong idea/No, you got the wrong intent"). Left untampered with, he knows that the immutable laws of nature will always establish a balance; he knows too that there'll be nothing left to revive when the earth is an empty cinder swimming through space. On such songs as "The Host, the Ghost, the Most Holy-O" and "The Past Sure Is Tense," Beefheart sounds an ecological alarm, and the Magic Band bumps, grinds, glints, glistens and groans to the Captain's minutist musical tics with pinpoint-accurate playing. Once again, Captain Beefheart has stomped some mighty dinosaur tracks across the back of a modern world gone berserk. Are you still gonna pretend that you don't hear him?
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  23. vinyl diehard

    vinyl diehard Two-Channel Forever Thread Starter

    From Perfect Sound Forever:

    Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

    Ice Cream For Crow
    by Dave Lang
    (February 1999)

    As luck would have it, at the last minute I'm asked to review my second-fave Captain Beefheart record. I'm glad I'm given the opportunity to wax lyrical on Ice Cream for Crow. Firstly, it's because it's one of those more obscure Beefheart records that doesn't often pop up in conversations regarding The Man. That is, the three token albums that are forever held up as his best work seem to be Trout Mask Replica (the obvious one), Lick My Decals Off, Baby (many aficionados hail this one as a more concise, economic and weirder take on the classic TMR "sound") and Doc at the Radar Station (usually considered the best of his post-punk "comeback" records). Secondly, it's because it's an album that practically no-one seems to ever write about, period. And thirdly, it's because it also happens to be his last recorded work, and a high point to leave, too. Whilst that may seem a trivial point to you, and maybe it is, I think you also have to ask yourself: why did Beefheart stop recording after this record? There's the obvious reason that he became increasingly sick of the inane ******** that is the music biz, but as well as that, was Beefheart fully satisfied with Ice Cream...? I don't really know, but I gather that if he wasn't, he surely would have made another stab at making a "last record".
    Well, I don't know how "satisfied" Beefheart is/was with his swan song effort, but for my two cents I'd have to say that you couldn't ask for a better farewell. This is Beefheart's best "rock" album, easily. Beefheart never made a non-rock record in his life, sure, but I'm using the term to denote a more straight forward quality in his work. This isn't implying sell-out and orthodoxy (such is to blaspheme, of course); I simply mean that this album ROCKS. Doc at the Radar Station rocks, too, yet its sense of musical discipline is so strong and tight, so down to the note, that it lacks the looseness to let go of itself. In the context of what it is as an album, that's fine. Doc was Captain's response to the punk movement: he was going to play it hard and fast, and he recruited some younger New Wave-oriented musicians to accomplish the task. He'd proven himself, he'd made what was widely considered his best record since Trout Mask Replica. Yet Doc almost sounds over-worked on, like he had to prove himself. I mean none of this as a slight on the record - it's an excellent piece of work, believe me - but it must be discussed to get an idea of how Ice Cream works as its follow-up.

    The best thing about Ice Cream is that it meshes up the best elements of Beefheart: rampaging garage rock, Delta blues, dislocated jazz/avant-garde rhythms, and most of all, very catchy songs. The bulk of the record borders on twisted pop, much like Safe As Milk: a mixture of wild R & B/trash-rock and maudlin, schlocky harmonies. The entire package, in fact, is so consistently good, that I feel I must break it down to a track-by-track basis.

    Track one: "Ice Cream for Crow" This opener sets the pace: it kicks. It's a basic blues riff, speeded to the hilt with the Captain growling out the verses, then the chorus comes in. Suddenly, it's nice pop, slide guitar twangs out some beautiful high notes and Beefheart snarls the line: "Ice Cream for Crow." It goes for over four minutes, verse-chorus. It could go for 40 and I wouldn't complain.

    Track two: "The Host the Ghost the Most Holy-O" This is like Decals-era Beefheart slowed to a near crawl. Abrupt, clunking rhythms that nearly crumble at the seams, yet are kept in line by the disciplinary figure of the Captain. The ending chant's cool, too: "This is a toast to the most holiest ghost."

    Track three: "Semi Multicoloured Caucasian" The album's best track, and an instrumental at that. This one goes to show that a truly expressive band can give a song more emotion and feeling than even a highly gifted vocalist/lyricist can. I don't know whether vocals would have really added to this song: it's perfect as it is. A lilting country noodle that brings to mind some of those early Meat Puppets records of the same era (think II or Up On the Sun), this is the sound of sitting on a back porch in the desert watching the sun melt. I can imagine the man himself has spent many a night doing exactly the same.

    Track four: "Hey Garland, I Dig You Tweed Coat" Some real weirdness here, and I like it. More jazz-oriented, this Replica-ish piece resembles some of the more obtuse songs from that very period: vocals non-/sensically rambling over the top of the Magic Band jamming together to a ludicrously convoluted jam that's probably virtually unrepeatable from a playing perspective.

    Track five: "Evening Bell" Short guitar instrumental, like Derek Bailey meets Son House. Dig it.

    Track six: "Cardboard Cutout Sundown" More Replica/Decals-style mess, which is always a good thing. "You know that hardly a day goes by in the cardboard cutout sundown." This track reminds me of what Mark E. Smith once said when asked why he liked Beefheart so much: because it's freeform with discipline.

    Track seven: "The Past Sure Is Tense" Again, a real fave of mine, and much like the title song, one that plays it a bit straight and rocks along. Featuring a heavily reverbed guitar and a pretty basic blues riff, this one once again shows Beefheart's unique pop sensibilities in the way he assimilates what one may consider some fairly "ugly" rock'n'roll with catchy harmonies when the chorus swings in. This shoulda been a hit single.

    Track eight: "Ink Mathematics" A brief track at less than two minutes, this is another one that wouldn't sound too out of place ca. '69/'70. A nice racket.

    Track nine: "The Witch Doctor Life" Another pop gem, which brings in a pleasant country/desert feel and finishes the sheen with a bit of marimba on top. I once read some rock crit saying something along the lines of Beefheart being not an avant-garde artist, but a FOLK artist. A track like this demonstrates why. It's essentially folk music - peoples' music - with a twist. Zappa spent his entire life trying so hard to be avant-garde, whereas Beefheart was the real thing, whether he liked it or not.

    Track ten: "'81 Poop Hatch" A spoken word piece, though very easy on the years. The Captain sounds like he's reading a children's story: no gruff, all smooth.

    Track eleven: "The Thousandth and Tenth Day of the Human Totem Pole" This starts off as a stiff, robotic opus that brings to mind Devo or something, and then falls apart halfway through before it completely crumbles into a mess within two of its five-minute duration. Like the best tracks from Replica, this has got Beefheart bellowing away on saxophone like a demented Albert Ayler, bleeting out "tuneless" lines that sound totally IN tune, given the backing music. Free and loose, this shows him and his Magic Band in peak form when creating a soundscape of bong-addled musical collisions. I'm sure there's a music sheet for it somewhere, but it doesn't sound like it. The album's peak of ridiculousness, this is the sort of track I play to non-Beefheartites to give them the creeps.

    Track twelve: "Skeleton Makes Good" The last track, a brief effort that yet again rates as one of his most experimental numbers, this has got the Magic Band clamoring everywhere to make it sound "together." I'm not sure what the instrument is - I think it's a detuned acoustic guitar - but it gets strummed and hacked throughout, along with some metal percussion tinkling away, and the result is almost, dare I say, "industrial," yet dizzying and liberating. Captain's vocals are at his constipated best.

    That's a track-by-track summation that probably doesn't really do it too much justice. Once again, I think it must be said that context is important here. This album was released at a time when "rock" music of any stripe wasn't very fashionable, yet it rocks harder than the bulk of its contemporaries. Whilst many admirers of Beefheart from the punk era had either gone New Wave, synth-pop or completely underground (due to an uncaring "rock" press, but let's not into that), Beefheart sounds oblivious to it all.

    The rough, earthy sound of Ice Cream for Crow, along with its stunning sleeve art comprising of a mournful photo of The Man placed on top of an original, desert-tinged painting by himself, always brings to mind visions of Beefheart heroically sailing off to his caravan in the Arizona desert for a lifetime of retirement after one of his strongest artistic statements. Most of all this record is FUN. There's humour, there's an excellent array of his most varied styles - pop, rock, blues, avant-jazz - but there's also a real warmth to the proceedings. Beefheart sounds like a father figure reading firey sermons, more confident than ever, though there's also a vulnerability in his voice, like he's beaten and doesn't want to offer anymore to the world. I'm not surprised this was his last recorded work, the music biz is way too ignorant, conservative and shallow to put up with such greatness.
  24. vinyl diehard

    vinyl diehard Two-Channel Forever Thread Starter

  25. lou

    lou Forum Resident

    Are we going to discuss the posthumous releases - Grow Fins, original Bat Chain Puller, plus live releases and the A & M sessions?
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