The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for the ‘The United States of America’ Category

The American Metaphysical Circus: Esoteric Label Mines Art Rock From The USA, John Cale

with one comment

United States of AmericaUnder the auspices of its new president, Clive Davis, Columbia Records aggressively courted the rock revolution in the late 1960s. The classy home to Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams built upon its successes with Paul Revere and the Raiders, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan to tap into the youth market with a wide variety of rock artists. Two outré albums from the venerable Columbia catalogue have recently been reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint, and they both live up to the label’s name.

The United States of America only released one album in its short career. The self-titled 1968 LP for Columbia’s classical Masterworks division was unusual even for the heady, excitingly adventurous times and a true example of “alternative” rock! The six-person band consisting of Joseph Byrd (electronic music/electric harpsichord/organ/calliope/piano), Dorothy Moskowitz (lead vocals), Gordon Marron (electric violin/ring modulator), Rand Forbes (electric bass), Craig Woodson (electric drums/percussion) and Ed Bogas (“occasional” organ/piano/calliope) defiantly rejected the conventions of the young rock scene. With no guitar player, the band’s sound was heavily electronic and unabashedly avant-garde. Byrd was a student of avant-garde hero John Cage and a member of the Fluxus “anti-art” art movement. Despite these credentials, he became interested in the power of pop and rock with young people. Through an association with Masterworks head, producer John McClure, Byrd and co. were signed to Columbia in the hopes of earning their underground sound a wider audience.

Byrd and the band dubbed The United States of America blended San Francisco-style acid rock with dense soundscapes and experimentation achieved by electronically altering the sound of conventional instrumentation. The self-titled The United States of America was uncompromising and unlike any other release on the pop-rock scene. Produced by David Rubinson – who would go on to collaborate with Herbie Hancock, The Pointer Sisters and Phoebe Snow – it melded compositional and musical sophistication with utter primitivism. Its tracks formed a song cycle about American life, with sharply satirical, often absurdist lyrical observations and no concessions to a commercial sensibility. Columbia marketed the album with an ad reading, “There’s a United States of America that’s a far cry from Mom, Apple Pie and The Flag,” but it was never destined for mainstream success.

After the jump: more on The United States of America, plus a lost album from John Cale and Terry Riley – and order links, track listings, etc.! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 30, 2014 at 10:19