Friday, February 18, 2022


Are You Loving' Me More, But Enjoying' It Less/The Electric Prunes

The Electric Prunes must be one of the best names for a band ever. Or worst. I'll bet some of you may even have heard of the band, and most of that familiarity will be from watching Easy Rider, the film. (Even) older readers may conceivably have already been familiar with the band, before 1970, with their single, arguably more memorable for the title than the melody.

I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)/The Electric Prunes

'I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)' was a prime slice of garage rock, clearly hitting a chord somewhere, as it attained a number 11 and 49 on the US and UK chart of 1966/7 respectively. A heady whiff of psychedelic fuzz guitar, cheesy organ and clattering drums, it is the face of the fella on the right of the video still that gives me most pleasure, the epitome of the lights on yet no-one at home. Yup, thought a thousand and one prototype freaks and hippies, I'll have some of what he's dreaming. That would, could and should have been that, a song and style more destined for cult status and bargain bins, up there with ? and the Mysterians. Indeed, when 'Nuggets', that groundbreaking compilation of all things equivalent, subtitled 'Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68', came out, in 1972, it was deemed significant enough to open side one. (Incidentally, the compiler of said project was a mild-mannered writer, who also worked at the Village Oldies record shop in New York, a fella by the name of Lenny Kaye. Yup, the one that became, a little later, that Lenny Kaye.)

Ain't It Hard (1st single)

The band have an interesting and unfortunate story. Formed out of the remains of L.A. surf group, the Sanctions, their core was James Lowe, on vocals, and Mark Tulin, on bass, the aim to provide a form of free form garage rock. With various additional members coming and going, eventually enough buzz was made to catch the ears of one Dave Hassinger, an RCA records producer. He also got them to adopt the name he had come up with, something less than loved by the band at first exposure. After the unsuccessful 'Ain't it Hard', still under Hassinger's supervision, they were signed to Reprise. In much the same way as their own name was dispatched, so too then were their songs, with the songwriting team of Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz drafted in to write them song new songs. When their debut album dropped, Tucker had had a hand in eight of the songs, including the one at the head of this piece and 'Dream', scuppering the wishes of the actual band members for a greater involvement. Arguably, what impression the actual musicians made was more upon the sound than the content; such was the response to the heavy distortion on IHTMTD(LN), that Vox, the makers of the Continental amplifier, signed them up as ambassadors, with the expectation of even greater sonic distortions built into the future direction plotted on their behalf. A second album did manage some escape from Hassinger's grip, allowing the band to submit more of their own material. However, with yet more changes in the membership, the reliance on effects over melody largely failed to trouble the chart. But a high profile European tour put their name on the map.

Agnus Dei/Mass In F Minor

Kol Nidre/Release of an Oath

Returning to the USA somewhat high and dry, Hassinger again sold them a concept to get them a greater appeal, a bizarre concoction whereby gregorian chant and psychedelia could be wed. Enter David Axelrod, a classically trained musician, who wrote the complex and complicated score for, first, Mass in F Minor, sung in ancient greek and latin, drawn from the Catholic litany, with a few equivalent nods to the Orthodox church. Lowe, Tulin et al were up for it but were sadly not up to it, it proving beyond their instrumental prowess and capacity. OK, Lowe, Tulin and Quint Weakley, the drummer, appeared on the album, most of the performance actually came from a team of hired hands. When it came to the live replication, try as they might, it was a disaster, a single live show in Santa Monica. That should have been that. But, do you recall, who idea was the name of the band? Correct, Hassinger thus also owning the rights to the use, setting up a new Electric Prunes, again convening with Axelrod, for a reprise of sorts, this time built around the Jewish prayer, Kol Nidre. This album, Release of an Oath, contained absolutely zilch input from the old band. It failed to gain the acclaim of the Mass in F Minor, so the raggle taggle of new musicians went back on the road as just another rock band, still free of any connection to the band that had begat them, bar the idea and their svengali's name. That version lurched on until 1970, before calling it quits.

You Never Had It Better/Stockholm '67

Meanwhile, Nuggets had been released, gaining some restored interest in the original iteration. Plus their earliest demos had at last seen the light of day, and, with the trickle out of re-releases of both their initial records and the Axelrod years, they were becoming quite the cult favourite. In 1997, the Stockholm '67 LP was released, 30 years on after the European tour, and the four original members, Lowe, Tulin, Weakley and Ken Williams, the fuzz guitar provider, were available. Reconvening in 1999, after a couple of years they dropped an album of new material, Artifact, the spelling a careful play on the word, a whisper shy of the spelling of the Nuggets subtitle, and of the correct spelling. But an artefact it was, a more balanced and mature take on their psychedelia, and led to tours and further studio work. Of course, as is now the law, the band still play on, even though the aged original core have largely passed on or over; Tulin died in 2011, with Williams and Weakley only intermittent participants anyway. James Lowe remains at the helm, with the rest of the band relative newcomers of between 8 and 18 years standing. Not bad for a band effectively finished in the 1960s.

Lost Dream/Artifact

Finally, a live 'Dream', from 2008.

I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)/Live performance

All the early Prunes

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Love: The Loving Kind

Nanci Griffith: The Loving Kind

Every once in a while, I’m struck when something that seems so incredibly wrong still existed in my lifetime. Like the fact that married women couldn’t get credit cards in their own name until the 1970s, or that people of the same gender couldn’t get married until a few years ago. But it really is incredible that in my lifetime there were places in this country where it was still illegal for blacks and whites to get married, until the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in 1967, that such laws were unconstitutional in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. And yes, that was their last name, which couldn’t have been more perfect.  (And no, I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's on my list.)

That it took just over 100 years from the end of the Civil War (and just under that from the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment which, by its clear and unambiguous terms, prevents states from making or enforcing “any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;” and which prevented any state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) to have the Supreme Court make such a ruling, is incredible, unless you have any knowledge of American history, and its inherent racism. (And whether the Supreme Court, as currently constituted would do the same, unanimously, actually seems unlikely to me.) 

Even with the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama continued to enforce a similar law until 1970, when the—wait for it—Nixon administration went to federal court to stop it. And Alabama actually kept the law on its books until 2000, when 60% of its voters approved a constitutional amendment to remove it. Which means that 40% of the voters still wanted to keep it. 

In 1958 (a few years before my lifetime), Mildred Jeter, a woman of Native American, European and African American heritage from Central Point, Virginia married Richard Loving, a white man (and descendant of a Confederate soldier), who was a friend of Mildred’s brothers and who reportedly had many close black friends, after Mildred became pregnant. They were married in Washington, D.C. and returned to Virginia, where their marriage was illegal. Remarkably (or, maybe not so remarkably), they were ratted out to the sheriff, who arrested them. They pleaded guilty, were convicted on January 6, 1959 and sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state. So, they moved to Washington, DC, but missed their hometown, despite the whole being snitched on and arrested for being married thing. 

In 1964, Mildred wrote to Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, who referred her to the ACLU, which filed a motion to vacate the conviction and set aside the sentences. When the state court sat on the motion for a year, the ACLU brought suit in federal court, prompting the state court judge to deny the motion, stating, remarkably (or, maybe not so remarkably): 

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix 

In 1966, the Virginia Supreme Court, hearing the appeal of this ignorant and racist decision, upheld the state ban on interracial marriage, using an extremely convoluted interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment (which had been endorsed previously by the U.S. Supreme Court). It was that decision that was rejected by the United States Supreme Court, which found that the law really, really, really violated the Constitution (and reversed its prior, totally wrong, interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment). 

Mildred and Richard moved back to Virginia and lived there for the rest of their lives. Richard was killed by a drunk driver in 1975; the accident cost Mildred an eye. She lived on until 2008, when she died of pneumonia. 

One person who read Mildred’s obituary was Nanci Griffith, who wrote “The Loving Kind,” about the Lovings and their case, and released it in 2009 as the title song of an album. It’s a good story song and does not sound at all like a law school casebook. 

Of course, it wasn’t until 2015 that the Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, extended the logic and holding of Loving to prevent bans on same-sex marriage. These cases, and others, used to give me hope that our country was making social progress, which the Supreme Court (eventually) caught up to. But that hope does not seem justified at this time.