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"Gimme an F!"

Class E

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Psychedelia
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Country Joe & The Fish fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Country Joe & The Fish 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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Country Joe & The Fish? Ain't this some sort of cheesy joke? Well, yes, it is, but there's nothing wrong with a corny joke now and then. The band has so often been exposed as the main scapegoat for all the excesses and general lameness of the San Francisco scene that I figured a close encounter with these guys wouldn't hurt; at best, it could crush a few myths, and at worst, it could all but a hundred percent justify 'em.

Well, as it turns out, the truth always lies in the middle. The essence of Country Joe & The Fish was a political stance; the band itself was formed around the "core duo" of Joe McDonald and Barry Melton, both former political activists located in Berkeley, CA (where else?), and actually grew out of an idea to have a 'talking issue' of McDonald's political journal when there wasn't enough written material. Musically, McDonald and Melton's roots were in folk and jugband music, but they quickly made the transition to rock'n'roll, spurred on by Dylan and company, and their first record, issued in 1967, was hardly a temptative treading of water; it presented an established, self-assured style, although what that style was exactly would be hard to define.

It's true that neither McDonald nor Melton had a lot of songwriting talent, and while the band members were anything but total zeros in the professional sense, no member of the band will certainly be remembered with the same kind of awe that fans feel towards the bass playing of Jack Casady or the guitar heroics of Jerry Garcia. These deficiencies, however, Country Joe & The Fish tried to compensate with lots of bravado, torrential energy and "lust for life", and sheer entertainment value, as well as sincerity - Joe McDonald might have been a brainless, simplistic, pretentious, whiny sunovabitch for all I care, but he MEANT to be one! Just like Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame! In a different key, though.

Strange enough, one positive aspect of the band's existence is their unbridled desire to mess around with everything they could smell in the air. Country? Jugband? Electric blues? Psychedelia? Pop rock? There's a little bit of everything in their catalog. As "masters of psychedelia", they were undoubtedly one of the worst bands on the planet Earth, as proved by most of their songs on the second album; apparently, their idea of psychedelia was to get stoned and record whatever comes into their head before the feeling wears off. Hey, wait a minute... well, yes, but apparently it does make a difference whether you're a good instrumental player or not if you're recording something while "in the grip of stronger stuff". Granted, some of those songs might serve as a better incentive for aspiring "musicians" than any wretched Nuggets, because they prove you can put material on record not only if you know nothing but the basic three chords, but even if you have nothing but a battered acoustic guitar to play them on, as well as suffer from acute cerebral hemorrhage, but the time for these experiments has passed anyway. Nowadays, you take your lessons of inefficiency from Nickelback, not from Country Joe.

On the other hand, there is a lot of fun to be found in selected places throughout their catalog. The band's name may give one shivers ("Country Joe" is the WWII nickname of Stalin, and "The Fish" is a Maoist reference), but frankly, their political material does not go far beyond extremely angry, but usually reasonable, protest against social inequality and the Vietnam war, and whenever they're delivering a political anthem, it's either funny ('Super Bird'), or goofy ('The Harlem Song'), or both ('I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die', of course - their most easily recognizable tune). And apparently, they had a good sense of humour about their political issues, unlike, say, Jefferson Airplane; Country Joe's most politicized album, 1969's Together, almost reads like a crazyass carnival recording in places.

Other spheres that the Fish tried to tackle never yielded all that easily to 'em, but still, their attempts at R'n'B do range from real crappy and annoying ('The Love Machine') to "so lame I can't stop giggling" ('Rock And Soul Music'). They had a good, if not extraordinary, sense o' the blues, and in a way, did help pioneer country-rock along with middle-and-late-period Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield. The important thing to remember here is that if you expect the Fish catalog to consist of nothing but anti-Lyndon Johnson diatribes, on one hand, and stoned repetitive hippie arpeggios with a lot of echo, on the other hand, you're in for a big surprise. The band was never really politicized or psychedelicized in the exact degree that you'd think 'em to be from reading stuff about them. It wasn't a great band, and it wasn't even a very good band, but it's still a band worth getting to know for everybody interested in fully understanding the spirit of Sixties - the spirit where you couldn't really put an all-encompassing label on any one band, however much you'd want to. For proof, be sure to check out Here We Are Again and see how much politics or psychedelia you find on there.

Lineup: Joe McDonald - vocals, rhythm guitar; Barry Melton - vocals, lead guitar; David Cohen - guitar, keyboards; Bruce Barthol - bass guitar; Gary "Chicken" Hirsch - drums. Barthol quit, 1969, replaced by session players, then Doug Metzner. Cohen quit, 1969, replaced by Mark Kapner. Hirsch quit, 1970, replaced by Greg Dewey; group disbanded soon afterwards.



Year Of Release: 1967

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Hey, these guys can't write a decent song to save their lives, but at least the gimmick is fresh when it's only just started.

Best song: FLYING HIGH

Track listing: 1) Flying High; 2) Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine; 3) Death Sound; 4) Porpoise Mouth; 5) Section 43; 6) Super Bird; 7) Sad And Lonely Times; 8) Love; 9) Bass Strings; 10) The Masked Marauder; 11) Grace.

Well, essentially the Fish's debut will only appeal to real diehard fans of the Frisco scene, but then again, even from my quite different perspective, it's hardly the worst record released in 1967. I sure heard worse ones, even from the same scene (Baxter's, anyone?). Once and for all, the Fish prove that there ain't a major, or even a simply good, songwriter anywhere in the band, and that they're not going for professionalism either - or maybe they were just too stoned while recording, because at times I can almost feel the drummer slumping over his seat and starting to punch the instrument with his nose or something. But it would also be useless to deny the spark of creativity: this album was done with a passion, and you can certainly see how these guys were really bent on "shattering boundaries", both in the musical area and the lyrical one.

Above all, stoned or not, they have some energy. Barry Melton's guitar tone never experienced any serious changes throughout all of his stay in the band, but it's a nice tone, sort of a cross between the aggressive nuggets-like garage style and the drugged-out Kaukonen/Garcia style, but overall, closer to the former than the latter. So if you throw on this record and adjust your volume loud enough, the opening tune, 'Flying High', will give you a good punch. A slightly weird blues-rocker about hiking a ride, no less, punctuated by the ambiguous chorus "I went flying high all the way", I think Christgau called this the best (and the only good) song ever done by these guys, and in a way, I agree. However, it is given some competition by the second track, the Dylan-esque character assassination of 'Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine', where Joe McDonald's powerful and slightly sly vocals first come into serious consideration, and you also get a serious introduction into the organ sound of David Cohen - the Force is currently telling me that he is the most well-trained musician in the band, but then again, what is the Force next to Robert Christgau?

Anyway, Electric Music works well on a lot of levels. It is inspired, energetic, and diverse; it just doesn't have many good songs to go along with the energy. The guys try on the blues ('Death Sound'), folk ('Sad And Lonely Times'), rock & roll ('Love'), and psychedelia (almost everything else). They also distinguish themselves with 'Super Bird', an unveiled, in fact, a thoroughly direct, attack on Lyndon Johnson, thus initiating their active political agenda and actually introducing politics into rock music; try as I might, I just can't find an earlier rock song that would directly criticize or attack any actual government or political institution, as that kind of thing had primarily been reserved for folksy protest songs. I mean, introducing politics into rock music isn't a tremendous asset by itself, no more than Black Sabbath and the like introducing Satanist motives into it, but both things were unavoidable, which means someone had to do it, and as pioneers of this business, CJ & The Fish do deserve some acclaim. Besides, the song is a hoot - unmemorable as everything else, but how can you not let out a smirk when it ends with the lines "yeah, gonna make him eat flowers... yeah, make him drop some acid..."?

Another thing is that very little of this material is offensive or actively boring in a, well, active way. 'Sad And Lonely Times' begins in exactly the same way as you'd expect a classic Neil Young country tune to begin, and I'll be damned if you could actually distinguish it from a Neil Young composition had Neil taken lead vocals on it. The minimalistic psychedelic waltz of 'Porpoise Mouth' is gimmicky, but fun, and not something you'd often witness on an Airplane record, for instance. 'Love' (is that Barry Melton on lead vocals? Awful voice, but kinda fits the vibe on this one) actually rocks a bit, and 'Bass Strings', slow, lethargic, and drugged-out as it is, has an excellent organ part to it - it's essentially a psychedelic drone based on a classic blues progression, and it's got mood to it. Plus, they chant 'L-S-D! L-S-D!' in the end. How cool is that?

The album's two supposed letdowns are the seven-minute tracks that close each side, and I'll agree, they are no great shakes. 'Grace' pushes the "lethargy" a bit too far; by utterly dispatching any traces of rhythm and relegating the drummer to occasional cymbal thrashing, it predicts the general comatose feel of the band's second album, and is only vaguely redeemed by several cool bits in the vocal melody. However, 'Section 43', as amateurish and unprofessional as it is, should be definitely given another listen, as it is not very typical for a Frisco psychedelic jam. It's not a jam, actually; "jam" would mean the band concentrating around one theme and then letting the guitarist take over and drone on one string or something like that for a million years while the acid slowly takes over your brain. It's more of a multi-section composition, with each individual section completely worthless by itself (because the guitarist can't really play too well, not when he's taking experimental risks, at least), but the entire pattern results in something like a "psychedelic symphony", with bluesy parts, Eastern sounding parts, and super-slow folksy drones. Again, I'd have to put my thumbs up here for the sheer daring - this was a brave and risky venture for early 1967, when even the Airplane were still mostly churning out short psycho-pop songs, and long instrumental sequences on rock records were practically unheard of.

So it turns out that Electric Music IS a very important document of the times, and an essential purchase for any fan of Sixties music. But don't get me wrong - it's not at all hard to listen to, or even to enjoy; the band's got plenty of attitude and inventiveness to compensate for the lack of hooks. In fact, it's almost a weak 11, and in a way, the best record ever made by these guys, although I'd still give the props to Together for sheer madness. Too bad they had to blow it so soon with their second try...



Year Of Release: 1967

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

There's, like, about as many notes on this entire album as in one randomly selected Steve Howe solo. And I mean it in a bad way.


Track listing: 1) The Fish Cheer & I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag; 2) Who Am I; 3) Pat's Song; 4) Rock Coast Blues; 5) Magoo; 6) Janis; 7) Thought Dream; 8) Thursday; 9) Eastern Jam; 10) Colours For Susan.

Okay, this is horrible. As in: really, really, really horrible. A couple pretty good songs and a couple more nicely done atmospheric constructs and the rest is the result of the worst Summer of Love hangover ever had by anybody except by maybe, uh, like, the New Animals? Well, anyway, if you really want an example of a quintessentially, proverbially bad hippie album, this is your best bet. I've been reviewing hippie albums for quite some time now, and it's actually the first time I've come across a record that is really entirely dedicated to reflecting the worst excesses of its era. Everything that was bad about hippie music, everything we consider "dated", everything that Mr Zappa made fun of, is present here to a large degree and in such a way that you really can't make any objections. Starting with the album cover, of course, which is sort of like a poor man's Satanic Majesties or maybe a spoof on the Mothers of Invention who were, in turn, a spoof on Country Joe & The Like. Well, that one's not so bad as it is hilarious.

Ironically, it is this very record that starts off with the very best song Country Joe ever did, his world-famous 'I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag', later featured in a solo acoustic version in the Woodstock movie with Joe revving up the crowds. Introduced by the so-called "Fish Cheer" ("gimme an F! gimme an I! gimme an S! gimme an H! what's that spell?" - later transformed into the "Fuck Cheer" at Woodstock, although the liner notes to the soundtrack still shyly call it "Fish Cheer", leading the innocent me into confusion), it is angry, funny, hilarious, catchy, and indeed, tremendously sing-alongish. Hey, not every political song is bad. It's definitely ridiculous that Country Joe & The Fish's official homepage proudly speaks of 'em as "the band that stopped the Vietnam War" or something along the lines of that, but after all, it was a true enough song, wasn't it? And you gotta love that ridiculous kazoo. With that freaky album cover and the kazoo and the drunken crowd cheering FISH!, it's almost as if they're inviting you to a circus show of their own...

...NOT. As soon as the 'rag' is over, the album takes a sharp turn and leads us away from the rowdiness and the excitement, never to return back there again. In fact, it becomes so goddamn different I sometimes think that it was simply rushed out too quickly, more precisely, as soon as Joe finally got the permission from the record company to put the 'Rag' onto record (it was supposed to go on the debut but was pulled off at the last minute for evident reasons). Few of the other songs even sound like songs; at times, it's more like they smoked their reefer, went into the studio, absent-mindedly plucked their instruments, and then just passed out.

Of course, you could argue that something like 'Colors For Susan' invents ambient music ten years before it was actually invented, but that's one way of looking at it. Another way is that I can play most of these progressions without taking one guitar lesson - mostly, it's just one arpeggio after another, plloiing, [pause], pllloing, [pause], pllloing, [pause], and so on, for six bleeding minutes. Now, if Brian Eno takes these arpeggios and makes a seventy-minute album of 'em looped, and calls it Friday Morning, that's an artistic statement; when Country Joe & The Fish take them and make a six-minute song called 'Colors For Susan', that's the side effect of a bad acid trip. This is supposed to be an album of songs, not first year musical school exercises. And if you thought that was harsh, wait until you hear their 'Eastern Jam' (sic!). Lots of badly sounding distorted guitar, with Indian influences indeed, but with no purpose other than to accompany you on your journey you-know-where.

It's all so slow, so lethargic, and so dreadfully stoned, that it's a hard work to distinguish between the decent and the awful. Repeated listens brought out the mellow charms of 'Who Am I', a little bit of metaphysical meditation set to a relatively upbeat acoustic folk melody, and the stern creepy majesty of 'Pat's Song', distinguished by David's excellent organ solo (and then an ear-destructive psychedelic guitar solo from Barry which is still miles ahead of the wretched 'Eastern Jam'). And if you're in a melancholy and depressive mood, you might even enjoy 'Magoo', with its thunderstorm sounds and endless echo on the vocals as Joe is apparently imitating a Zeus or something.

Can't remember anything else, though. Slooooow, nooooooodling, creeeeeeping, sleep-inducing stuff where they treat every note as if it were a dollar bill escaping their pocketbook; the title of the album appears to be oh-so-true even if it originally referred only to the title track. It's not that the band ever had a true virtuoso, but it's obvious that the playing here is primarily so wretched because you just can't live on drugs all day long and still be a great player, well, unless you're Keith Richards, of course. Nothing is as proverbially dreadful as the last two tracks - so maybe I was a bit harsh in the intro - but nothing even remotely approaches the power of the first song. In fact, after the necessary three listens I myself start feeling as if I've just ingested a whole pack of illegally acquired substances...

Oh, wait, I've almost forgotten. There's 'The Bomb Song' on here, too. (It's not listed among the tracks though). You know how 'The Bomb Song' goes? It goes: "Well, I said please/ Please don't drop/Don't drop that h-bomb/H-bomb on me". Sing to the motive of your famous spiritual. It sure ain't no 'Fixin'-To-Die-Rag' though. In fact, it's downright stupid, and hardly adds any points to the finished product.



Year Of Release: 1968

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

The Mad Album for the band, where all the songs suck and rule at the same time.


Track listing: 1) Rock And Soul Music; 2) Susan; 3) Mojo Navigator; 4) Bright Suburban Mr & Mrs Clean Machine; 5) Good Guys/Bad Guys Cheer & The Streets Of Your Town; 6) The Fish Moan; 7) The Harlem Song; 8) Waltzing In The Moonlight; 9) Away Bounce My Bubbles; 10) Cetacean; 11) An Untitled Protest.

Whew, finally they are leaving bad psychedelia behind, for the most part at least. Instead, much more focus is made on the band's political side, but that's A-OK with me; at least you can't make a serious political statement by playing five arpeggiated acoustic chords over the course of one minute. The album sleeve is supposedly decorated with a photo of Country Joe's wedding, and there's more about it in the liner notes, which apparently makes Together somewhat of a "first", followed closely by John and Yoko's Wedding Album a year later. Heavens be pleased, this is a hundred times more listenable, tho'.

It's quite messy, to tell you the truth. Nothing really sticks in my head, and confusion rules supreme, but hey, it's a FUN type of confusion at least, and the band are actually TRYING to raise some steam this time around. You know how sometimes musicians try to do something and they can't do it and it still sounds fun? Well, that's 'Rock And Soul Music' to you. See, the Fish loved James Brown a lot, and they thought of doing something "cool" and "innovative" and they decided to 'merge' rock and soul music and call it, yeah, well, you guessed. Well, the result is indeed a bit of R'n'B done without brass but with a lot of wailing guitar, not very innovative, I'd say, compared to the actual work of James Brown, or Sly Stone, but it's fun! It's fun to hear Joe grunt his way through the uhhhhhhs and owwwwws as if he were moving heavy furniture, fun to hear the amateurish guitar solos, fun to hear the "we call it the sock-it-to-me riff" consisting of, count it, one power chord, fun to hear Joe say the word 'd-d-d-d-dynamite', and fun to hear that 'your love is like a rainbow' conclusion. Actually, the short snippet of the tune that was shown in the Woodstock movie was done much tighter than it was here in this early version, but this one is no slouch either. These guys are really so much into it it's tremendous fun to hear them going.

I was originally afraid that would be the end of the fun, because the second song, 'Susan', is a quiet lenient ballad (although still better than most of the stuff on Fixin'-To-Die), but turns out that the quiet vibe only reappears seven tracks later in 'Away Bounce My Bubbles', exactly the kind of minimalist drugged-out crap that killed off the previous album. Fortunately, it's just two and a half minutes long. And then there's Joe's 'An Untitled Protest', which he comments upon in the liner notes as "A Death Mantra. No More War!", and that's a pretty accurate description. Again, it kinda sucks, but it's also quite unnerving to hear such a gloomy, apocalyptic note from such a generally 'good-timey' band, not to mention actually ending the album on it.

However, the sequence from track 4 to track 8 is pretty crazy. First we have 'Bright Suburban Mr & Mrs Clean Machine', where Joe and Co. satirize everyday middle-class life ('look away, fill your heads with decay...') to a cozy little music-hall number, complete with a little tap-dancing and ending with a "third floor: underwear, Barbie dolls, war toys, underarm deodorants, hair-spray, plastic artificial flowers, bubble bath powder" announcement. Then there's the hilarious 'Good Guys/Bad Guys Cheer', which is a real hoot and I'm not gonna spoil the secret here, particularly since it would look much dumber on paper than it does on record; it leads into 'The Streets Of Your Town', a tuneless, but very passionate rant against New York City... the loony 'Fish Moan'... then, 'The Harlem Song', which is almost like a tiny four-minute rock opera about the district, replete with introduction, verses, bits of comic dialog, well, a song full of life, if you know what I mean. And 'Waltzing In The Moonlight' is a hilarious parody on Latin music if there ever was one. Well, I dunno, maybe it was unintentionally hilarious, which would only make it more hilarious.

Anyway, good, bad, whatever, I hereby declare this to be the best Country Joe & The Fish album. It's not funny enough to be the epitome of funniness, not corny enough to be the epitome of corniness, not aggressive enough to be the epitome of aggressiveness, but somehow it tries to be all these things at once, fails, and still remains entertaining and bursting with life and energy. Where Fixin' To Die just sucks because it's so slow, stoned, and, well, boring, this one is anything but boring. In fact, I prefer to think of it in terms of a musical or a little theatrical performance rather than a collection of songs; as a collection of isolated songs, it would get an 8 from me at most. Oh, and don't forget to have the lyrics sheet beside you when you're listening. That's the point.



Year Of Release: 1969

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

What! Woodstock disillusionment hasn't yet set in, and these guys are already mellowing out?

Best song: I'LL SURVIVE

Track listing: 1) Here I Go Again; 2) Donovan's Reef; 3) It's So Nice To Have Love; 4) Baby You're Driving Me Crazy; 5) Crystal Blues; 6) For No Reason; 7) I'll Survive; 8) Maria; 9) My Girl; 10) Doctor Of Electricity.

Now this doesn't at all sound like Together. In fact, it doesn't really sound like any of the previous albums. That is not to say it sounds fine and dandy. Somewhere along the line, somebody must have told 'em fishes: "Hey, you guys are cool and all, but when are you gettin' to move yer lazy asses and play music instead of crappin' all over the catwalk with yer shit?" And look-a here, Country Joe & The Fish make an album that ain't neither psychedelic nor political - an album chockful of actual songs in which they play actual music. Weird, eh? Oh, I mean there's actually still some psychedelia and some politics left, but for the most part the band starts concentrating on melodies, concentrating like there was no tomorrow. Here we are again and we wanna play our instruments.

Which is fine and cool, but the problem is, Country Joe & The Fish could not play their instruments. Or, rather, they could (and they added several new members that were actually more professional than the old crowd), but by the general instrumental standards of 1969, they couldn't. They also couldn't pull a decent melody out of their you-know-what if it begged to be let out; no wonder the best songs on here are those that employ the most traditional chord sequences and stylistic patterns. Nothing makes me more glad than seeing them completely let go of their lethargic take on psychedelia, but nothing makes me less glad than seeing them abandon the merry carnivalesque boogaloo of Together, either. Without their trademarks, they're just a... just a.... heck, I don't know what the hell they are.

Well, they become sort of a roots-rock band, with country, blues, jazz, and even lounge muzak inclinations. Pretty curious considering the album came out in July '69 - as if they decided to fuck their hippie image even before most hippie bands started doing the same (or fading away). But whatever triggered that change, looks like they joined the "roots-rock revolution" for good, and instead of a shallow, but fun political band-for-one-day turned into a fairly mediocre roots-rock ensemble that at times seems to imitate The Band and at other times seems to imitate late-period Byrds and then at still other times sound exactly like Chicago, only a trillion times less experienced.

Still, every dog has its day, and every mediocre roots-rock album has its share of pleasant niceties. I count four such niceties here. First, it's 'Here I Go Again', an electric country waltz with tasteful orchestration and touching romanticism-a-plenty and a real tear-bringer of a chorus, opening up a really emotional, really sincere streak in the soul of Joe McDonald that I have never really witnessed before. Then, quite a different feeling - the band that used to end their songs by chanting of 'L-S-D, L-S-D' now sing a song about the tragic effect that chemical substances inflicted on the protagonist's girlfriend ('Crystal Blues'). Melton delivers easily the best soloing of his life, blueswailing as ferociously as Eric Clapton on a good day (actually it seems to be a guitar duet with Joe - check out the ass-kickin' conclusion to the song!), and McDonald's vocals are so grief-stricken I'm a-startin' to wonder if there's an autobiographical message in here: 'she used to be pretty, now she can't even remember her name'. Call this an exception to the rule, but it's a terrific example of first-rate Chicago blues here. And to think that these guys had been wasting time with crap like 'Colours For Susan'!

My favourite song, though, is the bit of lightweight ragtime, 'I'll Survive', another song about separation and loss, but this time, with an optimistic conclusion ('and I find I'm still living, much to my surprise/It'll be lonesome without you but I'll survive'). New member Mark Kapner plays some nifty piano licks, the strings and guitars add touches of grace and prettiness, and the vocal melody is as catchy as you'd expect from a poppy ragtime-based song. Finally, there's Melton's composition 'My Girl' (not the Smokey Robinson song), sort of a Twenties' pastiche that goes down easy on the ears, ain't too memorable, but, again, overwhelms you with its overaccentuated friendliness.

But the rest of this stuff? Hmm... More of those lazy, snail-paced ballads like 'For No Reason', about which I can't even say that it "goes nowhere" because it doesn't go. It stays in one spot all the time. Or a ballad like 'Maria', which somehow manages to go overboard with the orchestration trick; where 'Here I Go Again' was a great inspiring country waltz, 'Maria' sounds fake, contrived, and way too sappy - could as well be listening to Barry Manilow. 'Donovan's Reef' tries to build itself up from a jazzy foundation in the same way that a lengthy Chicago jam could, for instance, but doesn't achieve anything during its four minutes; neither does the clumsy 'Doctor Of Electricity', one of the very few "politically-lyricized" numbers on the record, despite having the bass parts played by the notorious Jack Casady himself.

In short, there's way too much mediocrity, which isn't that surprising. It's actually more surprising that we got 'Here I Go Again', 'Crystal Blues', and 'I'll Survive' on here - three excellent songs which should not be forgotten, especially not by lovers of solid American roots-rock. Hey, we all know a band like CJF couldn't make a masterpiece of their fourth album (at least, empiric evidence usually speaks against such possibilities), but that's no reason to close our eyes on a good song when we see one.



Year Of Release: 1970

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

Well, at least they didn't ruin their hearing recording this album.


Track listing: 1) Sing Sing Sing; 2) She's A Bird; 3) Mara; 4) Hang On; 5) The Baby Song; 6) Hey Bobby; 7) Silver And Gold; 8) Rockin' Around The World; 9) The Love Machine; 10) The Return Of Sweet Lorraine; 11) Hand Of Man.

By 1970, Country Joe & The Fish were so much of an anachronism they more or less realized it themselves. McDonald had already started making solo records, and out of the original members, only Melton still remains for this last attempt at making some sort of statement. Obviously, neither Joe's nor Barry's heart were in this material at all, much less so than in Here We Are Again even. Stylistically, this is a very lightweight, very feeble, very unmemorable exercise in country-rock, so goshdarn quiet and inobtrusive I have a hard time believing I've actually sat through the album at all - it's somewhere out there, you know, as if the main aim of the record was to bypass the listener entirely.

Heck, even the best song on here, Joe's loving ode to his favourite musical style ('Rockin' Round The World' - nothing to do with Fogerty's 'Rockin' All Over The World', which is much better anyway), you'd expect it to be bringing down the house, but the command is given - "play as quiet as possible!", and the drummer sets a soft steady rhythm, and the piano player plays a three note riff in the left channel and Melton quietly plays some tasty soft licks in the right channel, and Joe sings as if he were trying out a lullaby. If rockin' all over the world were so dang quiet, nobody outside the States would have noticed it much.

Melton tries to rip it up once on his pseudo-R'n'B sendup 'The Love Machine', but this results in one of the most embarrassing tracks the band ever recorded. Lord Jesus save me, it's got a drum solo! The day that Country Joe & The Fish recorded a drum solo, the world changed, and the rivers all ran dry and the birds started singing and all the sweet innocent grasshoppers mutated into fiersome locusts. And the day I heard that solo, not once, but thrice, I started thinking about just how unwisely we mortals spend the time given to us. And as if that wasn't enough, you also get Melton roaring out 'now people I'm talking about LO-O-O-O-O-OVE! And I'm talking about a MACHI-I-I-I-I-INE yeah!'. Trust me - you don't want to hear Barry Melton roaring that out. Everyone gets delusions of grandeur every once in a while, and in this particular case Melton thinks of himself as James Brown, which is pretty much the equivalent of me thinking of myself as Mark Twain.

I got few good things to tell about the rest of this insipid, uninspired material. 'The Love Machine' is the only cringe-inducing moment, but if something ain't awful that sure don't mean it's genius. 'Hey Bobby' is another upbeat political declaration, and if I'm not mistaken, Bobby is the Bobby, whom McDonald tediously accuses in terms of 'I hear you've got yourself another scene/It's called a retreat'. Well, Joe, first of all, Bobby's been retreating before you even released your very first album, and second, trying to pick up steam and arouse your former companions from their political slumber isn't very well done when all you can back it up with is a few feeble acoustic strums and a vocal delivery that gives the song less energy than a Hank Williams delivery would. 'The Baby Song' is a "hypnotic" acoustic ballad, and its refrain goes "come with me, come with me, and we shall make a baby" - apparently, there are certain common motives between "cock rock" and "hippie rock", except that the former isn't at least hypocritical. Heh, I'm joking, of course, but the song does sound extremely corny, and it's a good thing not too many critics of the hippie scene actually had the chance to hear it.

Occasionally their country-rock/-blues schtick does work for me, like on the groovy organ-led 'Hang On', but it's a well-established fact the song blatantly lifts the main hook off the Stones' 'Prodigal Son', and buddy, you just don't lift hooks from Rolling Stones songs, unless your name is Ray Davies and you spend your latter days openly "quoting" each and every one of your rocker friends of yore, yourself included. The Rolling Stones may have lifted that hook themselves, of course, but that's not important, because you ain't never heard the original version of 'Prodigal Son', but you definitely have heard Beggars' Banquet. Unjust? Well, son, life sucks in the first place, and you gotta be tough to survive. Lift hooks from your inferiors, never lift 'em from your betters; the first law of social-Darwinism in action here.

Also, never exploit your past achievements in vain; the Fish have a track here called 'The Return Of Sweet Lorraine', which has nothing in common with 'Not So Sweet...', but for some reason feels the need to bring an old character back to life. Well, actually, it's not even the same character; 'Not So Sweet...' was a socially biting character assassination, but 'The Return' is a psychedelic ballad with mystical overtones instead. Dreary, lethargic, moving slower than a fettered brontosaurus, in short, everything you'd expect from a quintessential CJ Fish psychedelic ballad. At least they have the nerve to end the album on a more upbeat note with the moderately catchy 'Hand Of Man'.

Whatever you may feel towards individual tracks, though, the jury's decision is simple here - total loss of interest in their own band and one pathetic kind of a swan song. Fortunately, they had the bravery to disintegrate the band soon afterwards, with Country Joe embarking on a lengthy, uneven, and mostly unknown solo career.


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