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Class ?

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Rhythm & Blues, Roots Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years


Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Blue Cheer fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Blue Cheer fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Postponed until the page is more comprehensive.



Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 10

Louder than Hendrix - that's about the only redeeming quality for this album, but what a fun quality for 1968!


Track listing: 1) Summertime Blues; 2) Rock Me Baby; 3) Doctor Please; 4) Out Of Focus; 5) Parchment Farm; 6) Second Time Around.

I nearly laughed my pants off when I first heard this album. Remember somewhere else on this site I used to ramble about 'profanation' and how every respectable genre of the late Sixties/early Seventies turned out to be profanated in the late Seventies/early Eighties by all these loads of talentless bands who copied the form but entirely missed the essence? Like how brainless punks were profanating the Who and stupid metalheads were profanating Led Zeppelin and overblown ambitious 'post-proggers' were profanating ELP and Genesis and suchlike.

Well, turns out that genre profanation existed as early as 1968 - when Blue Cheer burst on the San Francisco scene with their debut album. Because this is, in all honesty, a complete and unabashed profanation of Hendrix and his hard rock style of 1967-68. Everything about this record is kinda fake, starting from the very title itself. Vincebus Eruptum? This is supposed to be Latin, but to my humble knowledge, the form 'vincebus' cannot really exist in Latin - I can't even figure out if it's supposed to be a misguided verbal or nominal form. The closest thing I could imagine is that the correct title for the record would look something like 'vinculis erupti', which would make perfect sense - 'broken out from chains'. Because they do sound like they're unchained. Well... unstraightjacketed, that is.

The Hendrix influence is felt from the very start: even if the first song on here is their version of Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues', they break into Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' riff first, and only go on to Cochran from there. But it's not that guitarist Leigh Stephens is a suitable Hendrix disciple. The volume and the amount of distortion are indeed overwhelming; with their Marshall amps, it's obvious that the main aim is 'can we have that thing louder than everybody else's?' Meanwhile, Dick Peterson screams his head off (although I can't hear the basswork very well - maybe I'm not supposed to at all?), and drummer Paul Whaley thumps far louder than Mitch Mitchell; actually, he's got a proto-John Bonham kind of mastodontic sound, even if it's nowhere near as precise, and, frankly, I don't suppose Whaley had gotten his drugs/vodka fill to Bonzo's extent, which prevents him from going completely overboard. So, at any rate, the album is a great choice for putting on at around 3 A.M. with your speakers aimed at your neighbours' windows if you want to find the easiest way to get arrested for international terrorism.

Unfortunately, the guys kinda forgot everything else. For instance, they forgot that they really needed to learn how to play their instruments - Stephens' guitar playing techniques are primitive and can't be compensated by even the maximum level of distortion possible at the time. Not to mention singing: Peterson's screaming is okay in certain places, but it doesn't seem like he's actually capable of doing anything else. And, of course, they don't even try writing actual songs: half of the album are covers, and the other half is a mess of nearly atonal, chaotic jams that could only be called 'songs' because they are listed separately on the album cover and are (sometimes) structured according to the verse/chorus pattern.

So it's a profanation all right. What saves the record from utter disaster is that it's one of the earliest profanations in rock, and so, without maybe even knowing it, this record became an influence on the later metal scene, including Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Second, at least it's a consolation to know that Blue Cheer weren't just one of the innumerable bands to mindlessly rip off Hendrix; they had a specific identity, and they were quite an unusual outfit for the West Coast at the time. The uncompromising nature of the record - six heavy sludgefests without a break - must also be admired; not even Iron Butterfly, their main competition in the genre, were that obstinate. And third, what the hell, it's a fun record. It's a Sixties record, see; it's pretty interesting to hear a 'profanation record' out of the Sixties, whatever be. At any rate, I'd much better headbang to Vincebus Eruptum than to anything by Cinderella or Def Leppard.

Turning to the actual songs, I'd like to point out that their version of 'Summertime Blues', while nowhere near as scorching and impressive as the Who's live rendition of the song, is still pretty impressive and deserved to be a minor hit which it was. I don't know why they preferred to throw out the 'deep bass vocal line' out of every verse, though; my feeble guess is that it has something to do with Peterson's lack of vocal ability. But Stephens' vibratos on here are unbeatable. The blues covers 'Rock Me Baby' (copped from Hendrix?) and 'Parchment Farm' (copped from John Mayall?) aren't particularly impressive, though, but at least they're familiar songs (to me), and that's all right with me. Out of the originals, 'Out Of Focus' is probably the best because it has something about it which, in a better life, would be called a 'riff', and 'Second Time Around' has a groovy amateurish chaotic section that's not too innovative (sounds like it was derived from Hendrix's 'EXP'), but it's also louder than Hendrix, and that's interesting.

A stupid and derivative album it is, for sure, but it just goes to show you why the Sixties were the best rock decade after all: even such a blatant profanation had its moments, if only because it was still requiring some originality and a certain freshness of sound - this sounds like a real band playing real rock'n'roll music, not like a robotic outfit playing technically perfect, but soulless and formulaic drivel. Of course, it doesn't have a lot to do with the members of Blue Cheer themselves; had they been all born fifteen years later, they would all be forming a generic Eighties' hair metal band for sure. Yet another proof of how the epoch and the environment actually have such a great influence on people.



Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 11

Oh no, now they're trying to amateurishly deconstruct heaviness and acid at the same time. Ridiculous, but cool in a perverted kind of way.

Best song: COME AND GET IT

Track listing: 1) Feathers From Your Tree; 2) Sun Cycle; 3) Just A Little Bit; 4) Gypsy Ball; 5) Come And Get It; 6) Satisfaction; 7) The Hunter; 8) Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger; 9) Babylon; [BONUS TRACK:] 10) Fortunes.

Christ! This must be the worst production on any album I've ever heard. In fact, the first impression from this bunch of messy, disconnected, dissonant, rambling "songs" is that every single member of the band filled his innards with as much bourbon as possible, then avidly threw up on every single instrument and gadget, then recorded the album without even bothering to clear the vomit out of the speakers. Or something to that effect. The guitars are constantly out of tune, the drummer is constantly out of synch, and the volume level gives a very vivid impression of a busy groundhog merrily chewing on the knobs for lack of a better source of nutrition. Now d'ya get the picture?

And it's sort of fun. I mean, it's sort of Vincebus Eruptum Vol. 2, but better in many respects - more songs, shorter songs (so if they happen to fall upon a particularly yucky groove, at least they don't have to rub it in so badly), and they found more different ways to vent their amateurish frustration. I would even go as far as to say there are actual melodies on here, and that in the hands of better producers and arrangers, some of these songs would even have hit potential. Like, 'Come And Get It', for instance, has nothing to do with the Paul McCartney/Badfinger song of the same name - it's an obvious naughty rocker as opposed to the bublegummy pop of its more famous counterpart - but dammit if it ain't a really cool rocker, with great memorable riffage and an amusing hysterical delivery from Peterson, plus Stephens tries to really solo like a particularly mad Jimi Hendrix; of course he can't really do it, but it's still funny to hear him try. Actually, they're driving themselves so wild at times you could confuse this with actual Hendrix, it's just that what Hendrix did with one guitar they do with a series of overdubs.

The absurdity reaches its absolute peak when they offer their interpretation of 'Satisfaction', arguably the first "deconstruction" of the song way before Devo had a go at it, although, of course, I would never suspect Blue Cheer even knew the word "deconstruction", let alone acted upon serious impulse to effectuate one. Nope. Instead, they just crash and bash, and the drummer keeps missing the cues, and the guitar sounds like a slaughtered cow before they make another pause and it starts sounding like a distorted siren wail and everything just sort of collapses in a rabid drunken mess. It has to be heard to be believed. It's "drunk moozak" at its dumbest, and I'd betcha anything it inspired gazillions of talentless teenagers for miles around to follow in these guys' footsteps. I mean, it's not even Nuggets level (while we're at it, most of the bands on Nuggets were quite professional when it came to playing) - it's one hundred percent drunk/drugged-out enthusiasm with zero percent skill.

Pure and refined. Which doesn't mean I can't trace any direct positive influences, because I can. Check out that one instrumental section at the end of 'Feathers From Your Tree', for instance, where two guitars - one thick and distorted, one whiny and distorted - battle with each other. It's only a few brief seconds, but it's more or less exactly the same thing you hear in the instrumental section of Black Sabbath's 'Into The Void', ladies and gentlemen. And that's hardly the only Sabbath-style passage on here, two years before Sabbath actually appeared.

Like I said, though, there's a very strong psychedelic influence here (just look at the friggin' album cover). Stephens is very hot about the Clapton-pioneered "woman tone", which was sort of like the key element to a large chunk of guitar psychedelia in 1967-68, and combining it with the rougher attack and then overdubbing the two ad infinitum and layering on echo, reverb, fuzz and what-not, they produce trippy chaotic messes like the one on 'Just A Little Bit', again, very much not unlike the chaotic psychedelic passages you'd hear on Hendrix's 1967-68 records. There's also a two-minute instrumental ditty called 'Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger' - ring a bell? Well, maybe not exactly, but for some reasons I keep getting Grateful Dead associations (three guesses why), although the music itself is much heavier than anything the Dead ever dared not to dread.

They're not forgetting their blues roots either, turning in a hilarious rendition of Booker T. Jones' 'The Hunter', which is probably the most - or, rather, the only - "calm and collected" tune on the album, and, surprisingly, quite effective in its stomp. I guess even when they're "calm and collected" they're still so murderously raw that they can't help but attract attention. Although, granted, the final tune, 'Babylon', also has a pretty well-defined riff, that is, until it slips into a rather generic bluesy mid-section. But still, these are footnotes: the basic meat of the album are these first three or four "psychedelic" tracks that, believe it or not, have rather grown on me over the several times I've listened to this record. 'Feathers From Your Tree' is, I think, very much like Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd could have sounded had they been more intent on being "heavy" with their psychedelia than, uh, I dunno, "astral" or something.

The CD reissue of the album also yields one bonus track, an original composition from Peterson called 'Fortunes' (maybe an obscure B-side?), which, however, sounds significantly different from everything else: it's much poppier and better defined. It also has a ton of guitar overdubs (as well as some out-of-tune keyboards to good effect), but it's so compactly put together it seems the band was recording it in a sober state, and this kind of song I could easily see included on Nuggets. That said, it doesn't spoil anything. Nope.

A fun album, overall, although I guess if you want to hear Blue Cheer at their most "mastodontic", Vincebus Eruptum is still your best bet. But if you're more interested in how it was possible to take this bizarre mess of bluesy, rocky, and psychy influences and mold it into a glorious DIY mess (rather than in merely kicking some ass, I mean), Outsideinside will be both more informative - and more entertaining, I'd warrant. However, be careful with everything that came afterwards! The "classic" Blue Cheer begins in 1968 and ends in the same year as well.



Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 9

Psychedelic and ballsy, but without too much of an identity this time.


Track listing: 1) When It All Gets Old; 2) West Coast Child Of Sunshine; 3) I Want My Baby Back; 4) Aces 'N' Eights; 5) As Long As I Live; 6) It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry; 7) Peace Of Mind; 8) Fruit & Icebergs; 9) Honey Butter Lover; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) All Night Long; 11) Fortunes.

A big change of style occurred here, on Blue Cheer's third record - with Leigh Stephens calling it quits and his being replaced first by Randy Holden and then by Bruce Stephens, their sound has shifted significantly. Somehow they managed to leave all their infamous heaviness behind, and apart from a couple gritty guitar workouts (particularly on the two lengthiest tracks on Side B), this sounds nothing like Vincebus Eruptum. This is both for the better and for the worse in certain respects. The good news is that with the addition of a new guitarist and an extra keyboard player (Burns Kellog), the band's playing skills are definitely up: the album is far less monotonous than before, and they rarely resort to odd distortion and fuzz tricks so as to mask the lack of technical proficiency because they finally got that technical proficiency. Bruce is a far more inventive guitarist than Leigh, and his solos and riffs never sound boring - with Leigh, one's initial feeling was 'wow, that dude really kicks ass', but once your ear adjusted to the high volume level, those solos just started sounding primitive and stupid. And that piano player is pretty good at his keyboards, too. In all, Improved! is definitely 'improved' because I can no longer call Blue Cheer music 'profanation': it's not that the record displays a hell of a lot of originality, but it at least displays some good taste.

On the other hand, sad as it may seem, the band's old gritty style was their main identity and their crucial point which separated them from everybody else at the time, at least, on the West Coast. No sooner have they abandoned the unabashed heaviness that the songs just started sounding generic and faceless. They now turn to face more of a "pure" psychedelia and/or folk/country direction, and if one wanted to really pigeonhole that style, I'd say they present us with something like an American version of Traffic with a little bit more heaviness and roughness. So they manage to outdo Traffic in the singing department (Peterson is now developing a completely authentic bluesman roar) and, of course, the energy level is consistently higher. The problem is, their compositional talents are at an all-time low, and the songs are even less memorable than on your average Traffic record; any deviation from the 'blues cover' formula results in something pretty forgettable.

The first two songs are more or less tolerable - 'When It All Gets Old' sounds oddly like a Stones number, and could easily be mistaken for an inferior Satanic outtake, with the same type of spacey harmonies and overall psycho atmosphere, but it misses a good riff and is only distinguishable through a catchy chorus. Likewise, 'West Coast Child Of Sunshine' has an interesting structure for a pop song, but the muddy production and the clumsy shifts between the faster/slower parts of the song prevent it from hitting the listener real hard - you'd have to be a diehard to fall in love with it.

Then there's the album centerpiece, the seven-minute mastodont 'Peace Of Mind' - perhaps the crowning achievement of the band's 'psycho' yearnings. To give the band their due, the only cheap gimmick here is the percussion fade-in in the intro; later on, the psycho effect is achieved 'moderately' by means of the dreary, hypnotic guitar/vocals mantraic interplay. The climactic point comes in with the overdubbed guitar solos: pretty simple, they still manage to find all the weak spots in our souls to achieve a near-cathartic effect. Kinda reminds me of Big Brother...

Still, not even the terrific solo is enough to guarantee the excruciating seven minute length - is that a joke or what? So I far prefer the more bluesy numbers on here, the best of these being 'Fruit & Iceburgs', which looks as if the band were paying tribute to their colleagues in Iron Butterfly: a superb bass riff, a catchy vocal melody, a lot of tension and excitement, and some more first-rate guitar solos, like an embryonic primal version of Jimmy Page's work. Well, actually, some people far prefer 'primal' guitarwork to technically perfect, and this is an excellent choice for the potential caveman (although he'd better be advised to check out the Stooges first). Also excellent is their performance on 'I Want My Baby Back', with a very involving transgression from the barroom piano intro to the main fast boyd of the song; Peterson's vocals are kinda funny, as he roars out these ultra-stupid lyrics like an exemplary Neandertal gentleman, and the guitar solos drive the song forward as successfully as possible.

Bonus tracks on the CD issue also include two contemporary single bonus tracks - 'All Night Long' is well worth the price of admission, as it's hard to meet such a groovy piano boogie on any other Blue Cheer record, and it's a fine tribute to the British Invasion (did I mention that I hear quite a bit of the Kinks and the Pretty Things on this record, too? Well, keep that in mind); as for 'Fortunes', I'd bet my life it's nothing but an uncredited version of the classic 'Fortune Teller', reworked to near unrecognisability, but still recognisable; I don't have anything against the principle, actually, as I strongly suppose that many fabulous songs had been born by simply reworking and gradually modifying older fabulous songs (am I the only one who suspects the riff to 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is just a very simple reworking of the riff to 'Satisfaction'?), but at least the guys could have modified the lyrics! If you're stealing a song named 'Fortune Teller', don't call it 'Fortunes', for Chrissake! Did they think people would be so stupid so as not to take the hint?

In any case, I don't think the album is really worth hunting for - the style is not idiosyncratic, and the percentage of filler is overwhelming; but just like so many other albums not worth hunting for, it does have its little share of classics, so don't be afraid to pick it up if you see it on sale for a penny or so. Oh, and you actually might get a kick of their cover of 'It Takes A Lot To Laugh', too. Peterson roars like a wounded boar on that one!



Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 10

Well, I could recommend this to any garage/glam fan without any reservations. Not that it's a tremendous compliment.

Best song: NATURAL MAN

Track listing: 1) Fool; 2) You're Gonna Need Someone; 3) Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham; 4) Saturday Freedom; 5) Ain't That The Way (Love's Supposed To You); 6) Rock And Roll Queens; 7) Better When We Try; 8) Natural Man; 9) Lovin' You's Easy; 10) The Same Old Story.

Hmm, now this ain't bad. It's still Blue Cheer, which means there's no big reason to listen to it, but once you're stuck in a room with nothing to listen to but Blue Cheer and Mick Jagger's last solo album, the choice should be obvious. It is a bit heavier than their last effort, and sounds like the, well, the quintessential "dirty American album" of the late Sixties/early Seventies, with emphasis on "dirty", i.e. they're very much still in the same ballpark as all those Detroit bands from the MC5 to Alice Cooper, but also with a large jet of Mott The Hoople thrown in, and a streak of San Franciscan jamming for good measure. That's easily the biggest problem: they still sound too much like everybody else, and have absolutely nothing resembling an identity of their own.

The tunes aren't also all that memorable. They're trying to add more "fat" to the proceedings, with multiple layers of guitars, keyboards, harmonicas, and backing vocals, but much too often, it seems they're doing this at the expense of good melodies. Like Humble Pie on the other sound of the Atlantic, they sound BIG but once the record is over, they won't sound like anything in the depths of your mind. A song like 'Rock And Roll Queens' might boogie along powerfully, with several ass-kicking guitar parts, a bold vivid organ line, one finger on the crummy piano, and Peterson's wild yelling, all raising steam, but when you get down to it, the song is so primitive and bland it's surprising it actually manages to exist. As if to make matters worse, Mott The Hoople had released their 'Rock And Roll Queen' the very same year, and it was a highlight of their debut.

Yet if you let your hair down and allow yourself to simply have a good ol' rock-n-roll time, Blue Cheer will still provide you with entertainment. Good old blues-rock, dressed up in big proto-glam arrangements, with an adequate bunch of vocalists - stuff like that never really hurt anybody. Yes, so I would sure prefer if they'd given all that material to Slade instead, but you can't always get what you want. On the positive side, there's at least one pretty damn cool riff here, in Kellogg/Peterson's 'Natural Man', and at least one pretty cool bassline... in Kellogg/Peterson's 'Natural Man'. A quintessential barroom rocker if there ever was one, but an honestly catchy one, and I like how these guys manage to capture the essence of cock rock without overdoing it like all those later bozos of the Foreigner division. Say, whoever thought it was a good idea to cross cock-rock posturing with histrionic pseudo-operatic vocals? Lou Gramm? Dave Coverdale? Whoever it was, he was the true slayer of rock'n'roll, not King Crimson.

The boys are also using outside songwriter Gary Yoder to pen two of the songs, the second one of which is just about the most hilarious piece of "lounge blues" put to music - the album-closing number 'The Same Old Story', built as sort of a "dialogue" according to the same principle as the one in the Stones' 'Dear Doctor'. The message is simple, "I'm being cheated, she's denying I'm being cheated", and the half-drunk, sloppy refrain, "oh no, it's the same old story, I have to hear it over again" should be considered a classic moment in the history of rock'n'roll, or, at least, in the history of barroom rock. It's better than 'Rock'n'Roll Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu', and that's saying something.

The only other two songs I have blurred memories about are: the cover of Delaney Bramlett's 'Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham', which is more or less a good song (not being written by any of the Blue Cheer members actually counts as something), with its "hiccupy" organ riff and anthemic chorus; and Bruce Stephens' lengthy psychedelic jam 'Saturday Freedom', the heaviest, longest, and most questionable inclusion on the album. I mean, hearing long guitar jams from Blue Cheer is something we've grown unaccustomed to since their debut album at least, and even back then it was pretty much a hit-and-miss occupation. Well, it sort of rocks, I must say, and Stephens' lead parts shouldn't be laughed at, but for this particular period, and from this particular non-virtuoso kind of bands, I would rather take something more carefully constructed, like the instrumental sections in Alice Cooper's 'Halo Of Flies', for instance. Still, it ain't horrible, that jam.

Even the ballads aren't horrible - 'Better When We Try' slightly elevates the pretension level, and it looks for a few seconds as if they were trying to push a "power ballad" on us, but then you realize it's really just a typical late-Sixties folkish tune of the kind you'd often meet on stoned Frisco bands' records, just with a relatively loud arrangement. It's positively uninteresting but I can imagine how people could take a liking to it all the same.

Maybe you just caught me in a good mood, today, of course, because I look at the tracklist once more and I say to myself, hey, that's exactly the kind of album I'm supposed to despise, but then I say, nah, it's kinda cute. I'll save the bad words for something else. Besides, 'Natural Man' and 'The Same Old Story' are on my list of "really cool songs nobody knows about" already, so I don't wanna sound hypocritical.


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