Tuesday 13 August 2013

Bad Vibrations - 10 Great Dark Songs From The 1960's

As  Eddie Cochrane used to sing, There ain't no cure for the summertime blues....I must admit, I'm generally not too keen on summer. I'm terrible at dealing with heat, and I hate when weather forces me to wear just a t-shirt. Unlike the last two or three years, this year, we exceptionally do have an actual summer in Britain, with sun and heat and all, and frankly, I've had enough. On a more personal note, bad things in my life always seem to happen in summer, which would probably explain my dislike of it. This summer is no exception. So far, it has been rather dreadful, to put it mildly...

That it not to say it was completely rubbish. One of the high points was on Friday, when I sneaked in without a ticket to Patti Smith gig. She played a low-fi gig in a church in Brighton literally five minutes away from where I live. Tickets (£30 a pop) sold out really quickly, but thanks to kindness of friends, some masterful deception, and knowing the weak points of the venue, I have found myself inside shortly before Patti Smith went onstage. Any guilt I might have had about robbing Patti of £30 evaporated when she read an excerpt from her book Just Kids (an account of her life as a poverty - stricken bohemian in late 60's/early 70's New York), in which she talked about Robert Mapplethorne stealing that William Blake print (I'll spare you the details, read the book if you're interested). After that, I couldn't help but think that me sneaking into that gig was something that Patti - or her younger self, at least - would have approved of. Or so I like to tell myself. Funnily enough, she did a cover of Eddie Cochrane's Summertime Blues...

Anecdotes about my mischief aside, let me get to the point. Since usual summer playlists consist of 'feelgood' songs, I feel like doing something exactly opposite. Here I compiled a list of my my favourite dark songs from the 1960's. First, a couple of rules - what do I consider to be a 'dark' song? Well, it either has to have minor chord changes, or lyrics that talk about dark side of human nature or world in general. Something that makes you feel a bit uneasy. The songs I picked are 'dark' but not necessarily depressing. You can even dance to most of them. Overall, I would say that anger and confusion - rather that sadness - are prevailing emotions in the songs. The list is based purely on my personal taste, I don't claim the songs to be 'the best' - just the ones I like the most. Also, I tried to avoid 'too obvious' choices, like The Doors or Velvet Underground - in this blog I like to champion the obscure and the overlooked, not the overexposed (unless it's Syd Barrett or Brian Jones, that is). Unusually for me, most of the bands I included are American, rather than British. It's strange, I  never intended this blog to be exclusively about Britain in the 1960's, it's just that British Psychedelia and Swinging London era are a part of the 1960's I am most passionate about. But hopefully, brief departure from those themes will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air to this blog.

So, for those of you who like me, can't quite get into summer spirit, I present a look at the 1960's from a darker perspective... 

10. 'SEARCHING ' - THE OMENS (1966)

I don't know much about The Omens - they were one of countless bands that were being formed in the mid-1960's across America by kids, inspired by Beatles or Stones. I am not sure whether they ever released any other single that 'Searching ' or whether they ever played outside their hometown - wherever it was. Although there's nothing original about the lyrics to 'Searching ' the same cannot be said about that great apocalyptic riff and psychedelic solos on guitar and organ. For 60's Garage aficionados, this is an undisputed classic and instant dancefloor filler at every Psych/Beat/Garage clubnight today..



Some of the best music recorded in 1960's never found its way to charts. Take We The People - brilliant band from Orlando led by certain Wayne Proctor. They released quite a few great singles between 1966 and 1969. Their song 'In The Past' should have been a huge hit. Same with 'You Burn Me Up And Down' , 'Mirror Of Your Mind' (which charted locally, apparently) and indeed 'My Brother, The Man' - which was a track from We The People's sole album Too Much Noise (1968). Just like in  'Searching' by The Omens, the power of the song is in this rather sinister riff. Commercial success might have eluded We The People, but with time they acquired a status of a cool, obscure band it is fashionable to list as an influence. Especially since London Psych/Mod/Goth heroes The Horrors paid tribute to We The People by stealing the riff from 'My Brother, The Man' for their own song 'Count In Fives' in 2007.



Hmm...Did I say 'no obvious choices'? Well, I lied..... But let's face it, when it comes to painting a bleak picture of reality, who can surpass protest-era Dylan? 'When The Ship Comes In' is a track from 1964 album The Times They Are-A-Changing. Reportedly, it was written one night after Dylan, while touring America with Joan Baez, was refused a hotel room due to his 'scruffy appearance'. A receptionist wouldn't give him a room unless Baez vouched for his 'good character'. Most of us mere mortals would probably demand to see manager and give him hard time, but Dylan sat in the lobby, and he quickly composed this little masterpiece about social injustice and the new order violently replacing the old one. Simple and pretty short (for Dylan's standards) song, but it contains more rage and anger than all the Clash, Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys records put together. The new world anticipated by Dylan, failed to materialise. Perhaps that's what prompted him to abandon protest songs in favour of more introspective material in the mid-1960's. But that failure only makes this song still relevant today.  

It won't let me insert a video, listen to it here.


Another obscure corker from American Mid-West.  It starts off with a motif from 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King' by Edvard Grieg played on farfisa organ and then it descends into messy garage-rock madness. With the wild, howling vocals and distorted guitar, this song makes The Stones sound like Rosemary Clooney. I'm not sure whether The Jesters Of Newport ever recorded anything else, but they certainly deserve to be remembered for this brilliant song, which can be heard on Back From The Grave Vol. 5 compilation.

Click here to listen


Electro pioneers Silver Apples were one of those bands who were so far ahead of their time, that nobody really 'got them' at the time of their existence. This New York  duo consisting of  synth player Simeon Oliver Coxe and drummer Danny Taylor released two albums between 1968 and 1969. Their eponymous first LP can only be described as a musical equivalent of insanity. You'll hear sounds you didn't even know were  possible to make - well, certainly not in 1968, at least. ' A Pox On You' might not be their best song (to me it's 'You're Not Fooling Me'), but it's definitely the most sinister-sounding one.  Silver Apples were thoroughly misunderstood and forgotten for many years, while the credit for many things they did first, went instead to much less impressive band from mid-1970's - Suicide. Luckily, in the last few years, Silver Apples were rediscovered and quickly achieved cult status in certain circles. Today, every Shoreditch hipster owns a vinyl reissue of their first album, and claims to have been into them before you were.


The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band were a bizarre creation. The band consisted of Bob Markley - failed crooner and TV presenter in his mid thirties, and teenage brothers Shaun and Danny Harris. The band was put together and masterminded by legendary LA producer Kim Fowley in order to cash up on flower-power phenomenon. TWCPAEB released four albums between 1966 and 1970. Their brand of sitar-led psychedelic rock was nice, but rather unremarkable. Not 'Pop Art' at all and certainly not 'Experimental'. The West Coast Hippie Bandwagon Chasers - that would be much more suitable name for this band. Nevertheless, they had their three minutes of genius with '1906' - B-side of their 1967 single 'Shifting Sands'. The song sounds nothing like the rest of their material - it's fast, it has great riff and melody. I don't know whether the title of the song is supposed to be a reference to 1906 earthquake in San Francisco which destroyed 80% of the city - lyrics (which are spoken, and in the background) seem to be more about bad drug experience. Whatever it's about, it's one of the greatest dark songs of 1960's. Today it can be heard as a bonus track on the reissue of TWCPAEB's third album A Child's Guide To Good And Evil (1968), the cover of which you can see at the top of this post.


The Rokes were a band from London active mostly in Italy, where they had a hit with an Italian-language version of 'When You Walk In The Room'. Although they released a few singles in UK, none of them ever charted. 'When The Wind Arises' is a B-side of their final UK single 'The Works Of Bartholomew'. It is a very powerful and theatrical piece of psychedelic rock - a kind of song you'd want to hear while walking at the edge of the cliff during stormy night (my favourite pastime). I first heard it on Real Life Permanent Dream box set, and it's been one of my favourite songs ever since.

3. 'SKITZO BLUES' - SILK (1969)

A great piece of heavy, farfisa-led psych from America. Silk were a band from Cleveland signed to ABC. They released their sole LP Smooth As Raw Silk in 1969. 'Skitzo Blues' is a track from that album, and it can also be heard on Bevis Frond -curated psych compilation The Room Of Loud Sound.

Click here to listen to Skitzo Blues.

2. 'ALL ENDS UP' - TRACTOR (1969)

Prog Rock......the overblown, self-indulgent excesses of  ELP, Yes or Genesis in the mid-1970's had made prog terminally uncool. People almost forget that during its early years - between 1967 and 1971, prog was one of the most exciting genres. Back then, prog was less about long solos and showing-off and more about taking music into the exciting unknown directions. The living proof of that is this great track by Tractor - British band from Rochdale, Lancashire. The long, electronic intro builds up until you're hit with this amazing riff which takes you on a 7 minute dark odyssey. I first heard 'All Ends Up' at the Mousetrap about a year ago, and I must say it sounds even more impressive in the club with a proper soundsystem. I'd listen to this song on the loop for the next few weeks. Even now, I am still not bored with it. Great track from a band which should have been much bigger.



Now, I don't think I would be able to pick 'my favourite song ever', but I could certainly narrow the choices down to five, and this song would definitely be one of my top five. To me, it's one of the most perfect songs ever - it has everything: powerful, sinister riff, distorted vocals, great lyrics and overall weird and wonderful atmosphere. This song captures bad drug experience so well, that after hearing it, you will never have to even do drugs to know what it's like..
As for The Attack, they were a Mod band from London which was caught in the rapidly changing trends. They started off playing soul music - their single 'Anymore Than I Do' is a Mod classic - before moving on psychedelia in the late 1966. Despite having few good singles such as 'Too Old' , commercial success never came and The Attack disbanded in early 1968. Their guitarist Davey O'List went on to join The Nice, and remaining members formed heavy psych band Andromeda. 'Strange House' remains their finest hour and a cult classic - especially since London Psych/Mod/Goth heroes The Horrors paid tribute to  The Attack by stealing the title and naming their debut album Strange House in 2007.

Conclusion: Punk...Goth...Electro...all these genres already existed in 1960's, before the terms were coined.

So, that's it. Hope you enjoyed this little list. I welcome any additions - Can you think of any other great dark songs from 1960's?  Other than Doors or Velvet Underground?

Small correction: All Ends Up by Tractor is actually from 1972, not 1969 as I initially thought. But frankly I just can't be arsed to change it. It's still a great song which you need to hear.


Catherine said...

I find winter awfully difficult to deal with. The short daylight hours, cold and darkness, and for some reason work always becomes especially stressful in June to August so I end up working longer than I should. At least you were able to get into to the Pattie Smith gig! That would cheer me up immensely

The first “dark” song I could think of was In the year 2525 which I think as far as dystopian songs go that’s the most disturbing. And Ballad of a Thin man would be another obvious one.
As for non-obvious ones Black Mass by Jason Crest is one that I've come across recently that I think might fit with the others listed.
Some good selections here!

Peter said...

I forgot that you ve'got winter in Australia now..

I love Black Mass by Jason Crest, in fact I almost included it in this post.

Ana said...

I honestly can't wait for the Summer to be gone. I much rather wrap myself up during the Winter than being constantly uncomfortable during the Summer... About tracks I have two that you might already know but here they go anyway: Tommy Scott's I can only give you everything and Big Bertha by Windmill

(didn't find the Tommy Scott link, sorry..) xx

Peter said...

I am glad I am not the only one...

I didn't know that Windmill track, thanks for that.
I don't know Tommy Scott's version of 'I can only give you everything' but I know The Troggs, Them and I think MC5 recorded it, The Troggs version probably being my favourite..

Emmanuelle said...