The late 1960s saw a huge amount of creative, groundbreaking and awesome releases in the western music world in general. It was a time like no other, and many of the postwar hippie generation delivered music that was interesting and good around this time.
Country Joe and the Fish were hippies, no doubt about it. The odd name of the band actually refers to Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, both Communist leaders of the Asian continent. This is known to be their best overall work, so let’s jump in and have a listen.
Flying High has fuzz based guitars and kicks off with a pictographic sort of lyrical imagery with the singing and sounding like an ode to marijuana. It’s a good start to this album, and is a nicely crafted piece of melodic hippie pop. A nice way to start this album. Good psychedelic music here.
Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine begins with some psychedelic organ playing, with more Eric Clapton sounding guitar, which is interesting to listen to. It’s a decent and catchy tune, and is very well crafted pop/rock music. It has a tale about said woman who causes pain and grief to someone. It has some well written lyrics here, and the track is quite a good listen. Interesting tune.
Next is Death Sound which actually sounds like a cool bluesy romp. This sort of thing is a good change and variation of the more typical psychedelic rock/pop of the time. It refers to “nails in the coffin of love”, which is a lament on a broken relationship. The whole piece sounds awesome, and although is somewhat dated today, it still is great music, which is what counts. Good effort. The guitar playing here is very good, alternating with effects.
Following is Porpoise Mouth which sounds a lot like proto-Reggae music, although it sounds more like Tim Buckley than it does Bob Marley. It has some simple psychedelic lyrical imagery to hear, but the song title and lyrics at the end refer to sexual intercourse which is interesting and somewhat humourous.
Section 43 kicks off with a subtle bass riff, before some rather typical psychedelic hippie instrumentation kicks in, including single coil sounding guitars and an organ sound. It has a weird fade out early on, before it returns swiftly. Some arpeggiated guitar parts come next, which are mellow and good to hear. Shortly afterward enters another section of this instrumental with well played harmonica which is a good addition to the piece. An acoustic/electric guitar hybrid sound then leads in, showing an original and rocking array of instrumentation. The organ solo then hits its peak. This is a good hippie instrumental, with a multitude of clever song and instrumental structures. Towards the end, we hear a good mixture of arpeggios and sounds to finish, great stuff.
Super Bird is about LBJ, the former U.S.A. 1960s president who it seems that the band have it against, oddly enough (especially considering their Communist namesake). It’s a good tune, with a very good guitar solo in it as well. It’s quirky to hear, and is a nice, but dated sentiment.
Next is Sad And Lonely Times sounds a lot like west coast U.S.A. psychedelic pop. It’s a good song to hear if you feel down, because it’s a cheer up to the listener. The guitar playing here sounds wonderful and precise, just going to show the world the power of love, which is something that The Beatles were so influential and successful by doing, which obviously inspired these guys.
Following is the false start intro, going into Love, which has some excellent borderline screaming here on the record. Some really excellent organ and guitar playing are here to, the guitar solos are magnificent. The drumming as well has rolling, semi Mitch Mitchell beats. A good song to hear.
Bass Strings is next. From the start, it is smoking marijuana and dropping acid set to music and lyrics. It’s a nice, low key tune to hear, even if you hate drugs and don’t like the idea of doing them. The subtle, smooth vocal here and the low end driven instrumentation is really druggy, but fantastic listening. Definitely a highlight from this album, and a good first listen for those who don’t know the band’s music. Is this hippie music? Very much so. The guitar playing is really very awesome, and takes you to another place. “L-S-D” is whispered repeatedly at the end, a great song here.
The Masked Marauder comes next, which is another good tune which is very psychedelic. The instrumentation is excellent and is well thought. Shortly into the song, some “la la las” and a quirky groove based section enter as accompaniment. No lyrics, but a well played harmonica is here. The outro finishes with some awesome drum rolls, not bad indeed.
Lastly, Grace finishes the album, sounding psychedelic. It’s a very interesting and well written piece of lyrical surrealism directly referring to effects of psychedelic drug use. Remember, this is 1967 music, so that has to be taken in mind about. Still, it’s a low tempo and chilled sounding song that you would not want to blast too loud, if you dig the message. There are dual tracked vocals, ascending bass patterns and great guitar playing with effects. It’s very interesting listening and has some great sound effects in it that are too adventurous for most people to even consider in the new millennium. Towards the end, it builds up into a louder and increasingly psychedelic mixture of music. The outro is interesting, too.
This album is not the greatest psychedelic rock album ever, but it is definitely worth listening to. It is Country Joe and the Fish’s best album after all. If you ever want a slide of real drug influenced hippy music, this is a good one. Yes, it sounds very dated, but is worth a listen, even today.