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"Can you hear it in the morning, it sings the golden song"

Class D

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




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Just another San Francisco band, ya know. Unfortunately, in the public eye Quicksilver Messenger Service aren't really notorious for anything but the name. They never made history like the Jefferson Airplane, never created a world religion like the Grateful Dead, and never even made it onto the official alternative list of "weird lost treasures" like Moby Grape. They were there at the time, made up some music, smoked some pot, played some shows, stayed together for a bit too long, and ended up in complete obscurity. Sort of like, uh, well, you know, the average mediocre fate of the average mediocre band.

Fact is, QMS may be "average", but they're anything but mediocre. The band revolved around a couple of really talented guitarists, capable of adjusting to a lot of different styles, from typical "acid guitar" to blues-rock and jazz. One of the main forces behind it was songwriter Dino Valenti (Valente), also known as Chet Powers, Jesse Oris Farrow, and under a couple thousand other names - a guy with his own flaws but also with creative ideas a-plenty. And at one time, the band could even boast the inclusion of none other than the fabulous pianist Nicky Hopkins as an official member, an honour that neither the Kinks nor the Rolling Stones nor any of the countless bands Nicky had played with could ever garner.

In short, QMS had a whole pool of talent to burn, or, rather, to dessicate. And they did. Starting out with a relatively accessible "hippie-folk" record, they followed it with a thoroughly unaccessible "hippie-jam" one, and afterwards plunged into cautious experimentation with a whole lot of things, merging psychedelia, folk-rock, blues, country, and artsiness in one boiling pot that never seemed to have much of a conceptual nature but was almost always nice to the touch, at least. It can't be said that Quicksilver made a whole lot of innovation in any one particular sphere, but they touched upon many, and, frankly, just wrote good songs, if that ain't enough for you.

Perhaps the band's problem was that they arrived upon the scene too late. Their first record was released in 1968, by which time the Dead and the Airplane had already established their acts, and as good as their self-titled debut was, it didn't exactly carve them an independent niche. Then, in 1969, Happy Trails came out - it was hailed by the musical press, but it was firmly grounded in the San Francisco acid jam tradition which was already on the way out, unless you were the Grateful Dead, of course. Plus it blew their "accessibility" to smithereens and crushed any hopes of the band finding itself a corner of the pop market.

Even more ironically, the band's best work, the Hopkins/Valenti period, came at a time when the San Francisco scene was already past its peak. With all the new names like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and the embryonic arena-rock and glam-rock scene, who really needed half-assed Friscan bands in the early Seventies? For all we know, QMS could be releasing twelve records per year since 1970 and nobody'd even blink. Not having made a really big name for themselves in the Sixties, there was little hope of making this name bigger in the Seventies. They tried, though, and Valenti tried steering the band in a poppier direction - but the only thing he managed to do was to lose the respect of those few fans who revered the band for their Happy Trails-like jamming.

Funny enough, after all these long years it is still the worst (in my opinion) QMS record (Happy Trails) that usually gets the most part of the critical acclaim. Needless to say, any hopes of the "average music fan" sitting through it and getting an avid desire to acquaint themselves with anything else coming from that same band will most probably be suffocated. In case you're still listening, Happy Trails for QMS is the equivalent of Trout Mask Replica for Captain Beefheart, except that TMR is at least "challenging" in a sense, whereas Happy Trails is basically just an LP packed with boring acid jamming. So you could take my advice instead - try to lay your hands on at least a couple post-'69 QMS records. One brief listen to Hopkins' piano thunderstorms on 'Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder', Valenti's epic wailing on 'What About Me', or Duncan's scorching blues solos on 'Play My Guitar' may be enough to convince you that there was a good side to the Frisco scene. And spread the word then!

Lineup: John Cipollina (guitar, vocals); Gary Duncan (guitar, vocals); David Freiberg (bass, vocals); Greg Elmore (drums). Nicky Hopkins added on keyboards, 1970. Dino Valenti (vocals, guitar, flute) added, late 1970. Cipollina, Freiberg, and Hopkins all quit, 1971, replaced by Mark Ryan (bass), Mark Naftalin (keyboards), Chuck Steaks (keyboards). Naftalin quit, 1972, band collapsed soon afterwards.

Interesting tidbit - bassist David Freiberg later joined the last incarnation of the Jefferson Airplane, and then migrated into the first incarnation of the Jefferson Starship, further proving that there's one hell of a bond between all of the Friscan bands. But don't worry, QMS sounds nothing like the Starship. Trust me on that one.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

The Grand San Francisco hip-guitar sound in all its glory, and sometimes, it can be addictive.

Best song: PRIDE OF MAN

Track listing: 1) Pride Of Man; 2) Light Your Windows; 3) Dino's Song; 4) Gold And Silver; 5) It's Been Too Long; 6) The Fool.

The debut album by Quicksilver Messenger Service, I suppose, didn't exactly prove the world that there really was a necessity for such a band on our planet in the light of the existence of bands like the Byrds and, of course, Jefferson Airplane. They seemed to play typical hippie-dippie music, but with no distinguishable edge. So it was 'dark'. So what? The Airplane were 'darker'. So it was emotionally resonant and kinda pretentious. So what? The Byrds were more emotionally resonant and even more pretentious when it came to heralding the hopes of the generation.

In other words: find me an excuse to buy a QMS album, and I'll go buy one. Well... if there is a unique formula for this record, it goes somewhat like this: take a slightly more lightweight, folksier mark of the Airplane, throw out all the fuzz-and-buzz and, more important, Throw Out The Acid - this is by no means an acid rock masterpiece or anything. If anything, QMS lyrics and QMS spirit could rather be classified on the 'progressive' rack - they were certainly quite pretentious, at least if compared to the other bands on the Frisco scene. Just check out the lyrics on 'The Fool'! 'Can you hear it in the morning, it sings the golden song, I saw his moving ever on the run, from and to the sound of one'. Doesn't it remind you of one Jon Anderson? Nevertheless, most of the lyrics are devoted to rather simple love thematics - but no acid for miles around. Not that they weren't on acid, of course - to be in a Frisco band at the time and not be on acid was probably the equal of appearing in the White House without wearing a tie - but you couldn't tell judging by the music.

In any case, there are some really prime compositions on here. Not that the band members wrote much of them. The best song, without a doubt, is the one that opens the album ('Pride Of Man')- it's a soulful, emotional masterpiece that's very Airplane-like (I can almost imagine how it could be sung by Grace Slick). It's a cover of a tune that was probably originally a gospel number, judging by the powerful apocalyptic lyrics, and they do it complete justice; the band's patented two-guitar attack works perfectly well, and Gary Duncan's vocals (if it's Duncan who sings the song) are tense, emotional and deeply moving. Taken in the context of the hippie movement, the song works perfectly: if the refrain doesn't stick in your head immediately, you're one tonedeaf dude.

The other three shorter compositions on here are also all recommendable. The guitar duet sounds fresh and inviting, as Duncan and John Cipollina churn out sloppy, but lively riffage and the band goes harmonizing on cute little hippie pop songs - Dino Valenti's 'Dino's Song', for instance (Valenti was the band's main collaborator and song provider at the moment), or somebody else's 'It's Been Too Long', which has a totally fascinating, unpredictable vocal melody. Less intriguing is the band's own 'Light Your Windows', but that's maybe because of the extreme sloppiness of the melody. All of this doesn't bother me that much, though, because it's a very interesting kind of sloppiness. It ain't your average unprofessional sloppiness, and it sure ain't the drunken sloppiness typical of macho braggard bands like the Faces. It's that charming 'hippie sloppiness' which so often characterizes bands that had all these self-taught guitar virtuosos who had their own unique, 'untamed' style and didn't know shit about how to gel their sound together, not to mention carefully producing it in the studio. Remember that it was San Francisco - nobody gave a damn about giving these guys' sound a glossy polish, and so much for the better; the music ends up sounding completely fresh and not a tiny bit artificial or 'dated' today. Some of today's bands, in fact, could kill for such an 'anti-production', but it's too late: this pure, unadulterated guitar sound is simply impossible to recreate any more. Take it like a fact.

So, if the album was just a little EP consisting of these four songs, it would have easily gotten the highest rating possible - yeah, yeah, that's right. Unfortunately, they had to go ahead and spoil all the fun with two lengthy, deadly dull jams: the seven-minute long 'Gold And Silver' and the twelve-minute long 'The Fool'. The first tune is completely forgettable: the band just limps along slowly, sticking around one primitive jamming theme and never knowing when to stop or even where to go. As for 'The Fool', it starts out even duller, and I'd personally cut the throats of the band's guitarists for putting us to such an embarrassing slow torture. However, it is kinda saved in the middle - after about four and a half minutes of interminable noodling, the band suddenly finds something interesting, a weird, oddball psychedelic jam which I could only describe as a 'hallucinogenous reinterpretation of Ravel's 'Bolero''. It's indeed very bolero-like, although the direct inspiration might come not from Ravel, but from somebody else (I doubt it, though, as the composition was among the most eagerly imitated by the hippie and the avantgarde scene at the time). Anyway, they choose a super-distorted, ragged wah-wah guitar tone for the main theme, which nearly freaked me out the first time I heard it. Heh. And then the vocals finally come in, singing the lyrics I typed in above, but that's just more relative crap. Dig that guitar tone.

I wasn't surprised, of course - nah, not me. Why should I be surprised? Hippies always have their flaws, and if you wish to enjoy all the advantages of hippie music, you have to tolerate its excesses, as well. So I eagerly give this record a 10, just for all the good, pleasant stuff contained therein. No, QMS could never hope to beat the Airplane with that stuff; problem is, by 1968 the Airplane were no longer on a creative peak themselves, so the competition was quite justified. In the long run, QMS lost, of course, which is a pity... but which is also predictable. Hell, everything on this planet is predictable.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

The quintessential 'stupid hippie crap' album - and a great find for studiosos interested in the San Francisco scene.

Best song: HAPPY TRAILS (yeah, it's a joke)

Track listing: 1) Who Do You Love (part 1); 2) When You Love; 3) Where You Love; 4) How You Love; 5) Which Do You Love; 6) Who Do You Love; 7) Mona; 8) Maiden Of The Cancer; 9) Moon Cavalry; 10) Happy Trails.

Well, here I am reviewing yet another record by our infamous gang of San Francisco parasites... wish me luck.

This album here is one of the several major points of controversy among the American public. Basically, in 1969, John Cipollina, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore and David Freiberg took counsel to decide what really constituted the essence of 'free' hippie music. Their decision was Happy Trails. An album that defies - but it doesn't defy good taste. It defies common sense (at least the way I've always interpreted common sense!).

Most of these recordings are live, most of them having been played at the Fillmore West and East; however, they are never presented as disjointed tracks, but rather like two lengthy jams, each of which occupies an entire side of the album. On both of these, Quicksilver show themselves to be terrific and reverential fans of the venerable Bo Diddley (yeah, that's the guy who only wrote one melody in his entire life, setting all his songs to it, but what a melody it was! Perfect! Like a good old blues pattern!), since Side A is all built around 'Who Do You Love', and Side B starts with a cover of 'Mona' before venturing off into non-related jammy ideas. Trying to sit through these jams and pay attention to them is, however, a totally useless idea - and it only makes matters worse. If you have, for some unexplainable reason, purchased this album, never make the mistake of paying attention to it. Put on the record and go play a computer game, or just do your maths in the corner of the room. This is the only way for the record to make an impression on you.

The funny thing is, many people actually appreciate this kind of stuff, and the record itself has acquired an almost 'classic' status. While browsing through the QMS site, I read a contemporary review by Greil Marcus', raving and ranting all about how this recording of 'Who Do You Love' was so ecstatic and wild and quintessential for rock. I always thought Greil Marcus was a smart guy, but his phrase about this jam being 'some of the hardest rock' he's ever seen puts him in the range of mindless, obsolete idiots in one stroke. Remember, this wasn't the year 1962! This was the beginning of the year 1969! Hendrix and the Who were crushing the world with their music; Led Zeppelin had released their mastodontic debut; and geez, even the Beatles already did 'Helter Skelter'. Compared to these outstanding efforts, the timid wankings of John Cipollina just don't go anywhere. This only shows how much the American press was obsolete and narrow-minded (and chauvinistic, too) at the time, if cretins like Greil Marcus were willing to embrace third-rate hippie stuff like QMS above the Who.

Now, let's be honest. While QMS were indeed third-rate hippie stuff, this does not implicitly mean that they were crap (not for me, at least: I never buy stuff about 'hippie crap', and never fall into the easy trap of identifying the first word with the second). In fact, the band does show elements of skill and, sometimes, even excitement. Cipollina and Duncan are both quite professional live guitarists, and they have mastered the 'San Franciscan guitar sound' as pioneered by Jorma Kaukonen (with trippy wah-wahs, spaced-out tremolo effects, etc.) quite fine. In fact, 'Who Do You Love' starts out rather impressively, with good drumwork and moody vocals. Later on, though, it starts branching out - first into a lengthy guitar solo ('When You Love'), next, into a bunch of noisemaking with audience participation as the 'main point' ('Where You Love'), then into another guitar solo ('How You Love'), then into a bass solo ('Which Do You Love'), and finally reverts back to the original. All the expressions in parentheses are actually 'song sub-titles' thought of by the band members. (Further suggestions: 'Why You Love', 'Inasmuch As What You Love', 'Wherefore Whenever Whichever You Love', and 'What The F*** Makes You Think You're So Clever And Funny?')

As background listening, all these parts are fun, except for the audience participation bit which is really a pain-in-the-ass for me. At least, they rarely lose the beat, and you can tap your foot and everything, and you can learn how to play guitar, too. All very nice. The problem is, they are no Cream. Another problem is that you turn the album over to the second side hoping to get a bit of fresh air and find out that you're gonna get more of the old crap, only worse. They start off with 'Mona'. 'Mona', in case you don't know it, is a) another Bo Diddley song; b) another Bo Diddley song with the same beat; c) another Bo Diddley song with the same beat done by QMS in the same style as the previous one; d) lastly, I only acknowledge the song when the Rolling Stones do it. So it's crappy. Even worse is the ensuing jam session ('Cavalry') that goes on for thirteen minutes in an unknown direction. And when the record ends with a painfully short, tongue-in-cheek 'cowboy song' (title track), it sounds so terribly out of place that... wait. The album cover has a cowboy painting on it, now doesn't it? Which actually means that it's not the title track that sounds out of place, it's everything else. Now that I've thought of it, I thought Greil Marcus compared the whole show with an exciting cowboy trip... Through some waterless Arizona desert, I'd bet.

You can get this if you wish, of course (who am I to dissuade you?), but don't waste your time on this one unless you're a big fan of, say, the Airplane. Unfortunately, this album manages to, indeed, epitomize all the worst excesses of American hippie music, and never concentrate on the best. Stick to the debut instead, at least it has some good songs on it, to put it short, plain and simple.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Sometimes transforming a "Session Man" into a "Regular Man" produces amazing results.


Track listing: 1) Shady Grove; 2) Flute Song; 3) 3 Or 4 Feet From Home; 4) Too Far; 5) Holy Moly; 6) Joseph's Coat; 7) Flashing Lonesome; 8) Words Can't Say; 9) Edward (The Mad Shirt Grinder).

Nicky Hopkins climbs on board as a full-fledged band member, and Quicksilver Messenger Service go in an unpredictable direction. Then again, how unpredictable is it, really? Many a-hippie band at the time heard The Band do marvels with roots-rock and decided to go the same way (see the Grateful Dead for example number one, and all those Airplane offshoots too); Quicksilver Messenger Service, however, were different in that they decided to rely on Hopkins' impeccable keyboard skills to lead them in this direction, and this makes up for a truly unique listen.

First and foremost let me tell you that 'Edward (The Mad Shirt Grinder)', the nine-minute instrumental "jam" that ends this record, isn't just the best tune on it. It might, for all I know, simply be the most accomplished, emotional, technically immaculate, resplendent instrumental composition to ever come out of the entire California rock movement of the Sixties. It's essentially "jazz", I guess, but the kind of jazz that prefers real intensity and melodicity to pretentious senseless noodling, with beautiful, yet powerful keyboards and sensitive, moody guitars all over the place. In fact, the interplay between Hopkins' piano, Cipollina's guitars, and those tricky little organ patterns that can be heard in the background if you're attentive (more Hopkins overdubs?) is simply stunning, and any art-rock lover who'd want to dismiss the Frisco scene offhand would have no choice but to seriously reevaluate his position after hearing this track. Yeah, I suppose that the slow middle part of the number can get a little tedious at times, but it's essentially needed for contrast with the fast part - the one that really gets the blood flowing, with Hopkins unleashing all those unbelievable piano riffs upon us. Of course, the track is hardly typical for the Frisco scene: it's credited to Hopkins, and it's Hopkins that makes all the difference, and with all respect to Nicky, he's a very alien element to the SF/LA spirit of the times. But it takes some real gall and adventurousness for a bunch of stoned-out hippie-guitar playing kids to get Britain's most required piano session man to join and provide them with his ideas, doesn't it?

In any case, Hopkins plays a crucial role on the other eight songs as well - much too often, his inspired playing is able to bring even the weakest material to life. I wouldn't want to say, though, that the album is awash in weaker material: Happy Trails it's not. In fact, it's all pleasant and endearing as hell, if hell can ever be endearing, that is. Starting from the album cover, dammit. Isn't that album cover simply beautiful? That velvet green, mmm... And the carriage with the horse on the back sleeve, too, don't forget 'bout the horse. I love green. The songs are... well, the songs are kinda green, too, in that they're a) relaxative, b) inspired, c) very raw, sometimes to better, sometimes to worse effect. Seems like Nicky was the most hard-workin' guy at the sessions, and I don't blame him.

A lot of those numbers are essentially R'n'B pastiches, rambling, introspective numbers that take a long time to develop and sometimes don't develop at all. Like Freiberg's 'Too Far', for instance, which sounds - don't laugh - exactly like all those early Mott The Hoople introspective tunes with Ian Hunter doodling away at the piano and mumbling something exceedingly clever and vaguely self-pitying. Hunter, however, simply can't touch Hopkins, which means that throughout most of the songs I pay little attention to lyrics or vocals and mostly just enjoy the magnificent organ swirls and piano tinkles. 'Holy Moly' is even better - a swirling R'n'B anthem replete with celeste, harpsichord and God knows what else, Nicky really revels in his multi-instrumentalism and virtuosity. And then the song quickens up the pace and the guitars go frenetic and it's a marvelous rave-up in the best tradition of British blues-rock bands. Like Ten Years After.

Other highlights include the title track, that starts with a majestic pseudo-classical keyboard intro and then incorporates an oddly arranged Diddley beat where the lead singer sounds like a particularly revved-up Eric Burdon; Cipollina's generic, but extra-weird in its "muddy" production blues number '3 Or 4 Feet From Home', complete with dog noises in the beginning (impersonated by Nicky, if we are to believe the liner notes); and the medievally-influenced 'Joseph's Coat', with somber backing chorale vocals and more of those catchy piano riffs. In other words, creativity abounds: you may like or dislike the record, but you'll have to admit that SF bands were rarely that inventive, either before or after this album. And I blame it on Nicky - there's no way the band could have made such a giant step up from Happy Trails without his participation.

There are, of course, a few weak spots - the lengthy 'Flute Song' suffers from, well, lengthiness, lack of easily perceptible melody and very poor vocals (and it doesn't even have a flute!), and 'Flashing Lonesome' is too dang chaotic and disstructured to be truly enjoyable, and 'Words Can't Say' is a pretty routine country excourse, but none of these songs tug at my easily offendable nerves, and I'm willing to nearly neglect them in favour of the real gems. Too bad this album doesn't get more recognition; it's easily one of the "lost gems" of the hippie epoch, and easily the one album you need to get if you ever wanted to prove to somebody that Nicky Hopkins was more than just a nice session pianist. I'd call it, in fact, one of the most important records to tie in "psychedelic rock" with "roots rock" and "art rock" (the other record of the kind would have to be Family's Music In A Doll's House), but I'd be one lucky man if I found another lucky man to agree with me on this one, so I'm just patiently waiting for comments.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

More jazz--Latin-folk niceties from the nicest Frisco guys around.


Track listing: 1) What About Me; 2) Local Color; 3) Baby Baby; 4) Won't Kill Me; 5) Long Haired Lady; 6) Subway; 7) Spindrifter; 8) Good Old Rock And Roll; 9) All In My Mind; 10) Call On Me.

The second Valenti-led QMS album further consolidates their status as "the band that has the prettiest nothing to say of all the nothings". They get ever more diverse and reaching: here Valenti, under his "Jesse Oris Farlow" pseudonym, experiments with R'n'B, Latin, and even contemporary art-rock, not forgetting Mother Psychedelia either. There's nothing that would place them at the "top" of any of these genres, but at the same time it always sounds like they know what they're doing. Maybe you'll miss the Cipollina/Duncan guitar heroics (don't worry, they would soon return on their next album), but Valenti and Co. will never make you feel embarrassed about buying the album. And all this considering the fact that I just don't care all that much for Dino's voice. In case you wondered, he sounds like a shriller, whinier, and fifty percent less majestic copy of Gary Brooker.

As Valenti's role in the band keeps swelling, so the role of Hopkins keeps diminishing; on some of the tracks he doesn't even play piano (replaced by, I kid you not, a guy under the name of Mark Naftalin), and those tracks where he does play piano are usually so thickly produced that you don't get to appreciate his talents. Nevertheless, he is still getting one piano instrumental ('Spindrifter') - which just so happens to be the best number on here, in my opinion. It also happens to be the "purest" artistic statement by Nicky I've heard up to this point, considering that even 'Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder' was a collective piece - here, he just gets Greg Elmore to drum for him, and all the rest is his masterful polyphonic playing. I don't even really know how to name the style in which he's playing. It's a little jazzy, a little classical, and a little R'n'B-ish all at once, and it's more uplifting and powerful than any Elton John piano solo. Go Nicky go! Too bad you never convinced the Rolling Stones to let you have such an instrumental on an album of theirs - I seriously doubt all that many people will be able to locate some obscure shitty QMS record in order to hear it.

Cipollina and Freiberg also have one contribution each, and they're good and add flavour and piquance to the record, but neither is a "real song" in the most basic understanding of the term. Cipollina's 'Local Color' is a bluesy slide-drenched guitar jam, not outstanding in terms of style, but featuring some really cool "guitar interweaving" techniques all the same that got my ears all perky and twitchy. Hey, nothing can get a reviewer going like the sound of three or four guitars playing different melodic parts without a trace of dissonance. And Freiberg's 'Won't Kill Me' is one of those short "joke-country-blues" throwaways that usually fall under the definition of "filler", but it's some of the tastiest and friendliest filler on a Frisco band record, with guitars and pianos a-plenty and a cute little echo effect thrown on to make it even goofier.

Which leaves us with Valenti and his songwriting. Well, I suppose they might still be playing the title track on some of the more knowledgeable classic rock stations around: it was a minor hit in its time, and it's a waterproof classic rock radio standard, what with the bombastic hummable chorus and all. Musically, though, it's an evident Santana imitation, with the same rhythmic pattern as all of his 'Oye Como Va' compositions, only with nary a guitar solo in sight, because Dino's lyrics - or, rather, ruminations on the fates of counter-culture - just don't leave space for any. At nearly seven minutes, it almost claims Dylanesque status ("you're gonna listen to every drop of my fuckin' message until I've squeezed out every single word I can squeeze out on the subject"), but somehow the melody is so catchy and the rhythm so uplifting it never truly feels overlong.

Elsewhere, we have 'Long Haired Lady'. Yeah, it's one of these odd coincidences - the album came out less than half a year before McCartney's Ram did, and both albums have a song called 'Long Haired Lady' in which the title is sung in practically the same manner. Could McCartney have "borrowed" this chorus? Heh. Probably not. He probably never heard the record anyway, there was way too much stuff in 1970 that would make higher priorities... but anyway, there's not much else in common between the two. The QMS song is an exercise in "medieval psychedelia", awash in "phased" guitars and echoes, moving along slowly and without a rhythm section, yet pausing every now and then to let Valenti almost growl out 'my long haired lady...' with a slight element of menace and, uh, the "impending doom" thing. Imagine yourself one of those wishy-washy Dave Crosby rants, only with a harsher, less sissy edge to it, and there you have it.

Valenti's 'Subway' is also a pretty decent take on hard rock, with a riff that transgresses the "memorable" junction and stops a few miles before the "classic" junction, but hey, you could do worse, I think. 'All In My Mind' is also a pretty hippy ballad, co-written with Gary Duncan, and actually, the only song I'm thoroughly not a fan of is 'Call On Me': screaming R'n'B just isn't these guys' forte. But then again, that's not the point. The point is that What About Me had to be a big sprawling diverse album, with a lot of ground covered, if only to prove that there was a way for San Francisco bands to continue existing in the Seventies other than by selling their souls to the Spirit of Country-Western in one large sweep.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Flawed, but goddammit that Valenti guy knows a good song from a piece of dogshit.


Track listing: 1) Hope; 2) I Found Love; 3) Song For Frisco; 4) Play My Guitar; 5) Rebel; 6) Fire Brothers; 7) Out Of My Mind; 8) Don't Cry My Lady Love; 9) The Truth.

This is hardly even Quicksilver Messenger Service, if you get my drift (and actually, "Messenger Service" doesn't even appear on the album anywhere - probably to reflect the huge personnel changes). For reasons I wouldn't know about Cipollina, Freiberg, and Hopkins had all jumped ship after What About Me - freeing the band of two crucial founding members and one crucial latecomer. Maybe they just looked at the calendar, said to themselves, "Hey, what are we doing still playing in an acid rock band in this Led Zeppelin age?", and took off. Or maybe they got sick of Valenti taking lead vocals on all the songs. But whatever the reason, the amazing thing is that Valenti and Duncan found the strength not only to continue, but actually to make their next album as enjoyable as anything before it.

Narrowing the stylistic palette a little and concentrating on psychedelized folk rock with a little injection of heavy blues-rock now and then, Valenti writes six songs (which he now has no problems in crediting to his rightful name), Duncan writes two, they rearrange an old folk song, and come out with nary a stinker in sight. Sometimes the songs aren't justified in their length, and the obvious highlights are intertwined with "merely good" material occasionally, but there's really not a second on this record that would disgust me in any way possible. It's almost as if... well, imagine an average guy like me and you looking at all the San Francisco excesses and saying to himself: "Hey, you know, these hippies aren't exactly talentless or anything, but they smoke so much weed they keep fucking their shit up. Let me try and cleanse this stuff - maybe I'll be able to salvage the good and weed out all the excessive rubbish. Then maybe people will learn to treat these potheads better." That's what Quicksilver is: a typical Haight-Ashbury record, but without the unreasonable jamming, without the "stoned mantra" approach, without the "tripping first, music next" message. But with real strong hooks, a joint folk/rock/country foundation, and a reasonably "far out" atmosphere.

Once again I remember Greil Marcus and his "heavification" of Happy Trails... funny, isn't it, that by the time QMS had really developed a, well, not exactly "heavy", but let's call it an "ass-kicking" guitar style, nobody wanted to be writing about them already. 'Play My Guitar' is nothing but a generic blues-rocker as far as playing simple chords goes, but the Duncan vs. Valenti interplay deserves the highest praise from me. Hey, I love sharpness in my blues, and these guys blueswail on here like no other Frisco band I've ever heard. Goddamn it they're good. Maybe if Kaukonen had a decent "pardner" in the Airplane, he could have given this pair some competition. As it is, no. This is one hot motherfuckin' blues-rock composition. Who'd a thunk that.

'Hope' is everything that late-period Byrds (aka the Roger McGuinn Experience) wanted to be and never became: an uplifting folk-rock anthem with overdriven electric guitars and a lead singer with a secret ambition to be the next Prophet Ezekiel. Had the prophet possessed a songwriting ability comparable with Bob Dylan, this would be better than 'This Wheel's On Fire'; as it is, it is much more repetitive and lacks a clearly identifiable hook, but compensates for it with sheer power. Duncan's 'I Found Love', though, is anything but hookless: starting from the delicious introductory guitar solo, going on in the great "classic Sixties pop song" tradition with a rollickin' vocal melody over rollickin' piano chords and tasty bursts of lead guitar, then unpredictably slipping into a hard-rocking section that weirdly predicts the classic solo Ozzy Osbourne sound (I'm almost not joking here), and then going back to where it all started in one delightful twist. A pop masterpiece if there ever was one.

What are the other highlights for me? Well, I like 'Rebel' a lot, not even because of the melody but because of all the insane screaming and wailing attacking the poor listener from each speaker in turn. Where Roger McGuinn, for instance, would probably just take the song and leave it at that, these guys display some sheer creativity - the wailings, the wild feedback outbursts, the echo on the vocals, that's all novel and makes the song unusual. Another obvious plus is the beautiful 'Don't Cry My Lady Love', a good example of the "liberalization of the Frisco style" I've been speaking of above. A slow, elaborate waltzing piece that in any other hands would have eventually sagged under its own weight and turned into a lullaby no matter how self-consciously pretty the chorus could have been - here it is saved by a gorgeous classical/bluesy piano part accompanying the melody throughout, and when the solo section comes along, it's actually two pretty piano melodies played at the same time. Had I not known for sure that Hopkins was no longer a member of the band, I wouldn't hesitate in lavishing even more high praise upon the guy, but no - apparently it's courtesy of "that other guy" with the ridiculous name of Naftalin, and the second piano part is courtesy of a guy called, uh, eh, Chuck Steaks. What an irony of fate.

There is also Duncan's 'Fire Brothers', which goes far beyond the Frisco style(s)... it's more like a cross between an old medieval folk chant and a repetitive hypnotic proto-ambient composition, with a looped piano part and a simple echoey acoustic strum the only instruments behind the lead vocals. I won't say anything more because I find it hard to categorize the song in any way. Just know that a band that can write this kind of songs deserves as much attention as you can spare it.

I could go on, I suppose, telling about the subtle virtues of 'Song For Frisco' or about how much the riff of 'The Truth' rocks my world even if the song doesn't deserve to go on for seven minutes, but what's the point? No point in that. The point is that, believe it or not, some Quicksilver "fans" actually believe that Valenti destroyed the band's potential, leading them away from the "real thing" of Happy Trails and into, well, I dunno what, into "pop shit" I presume. Like Phil Collins "ruined" Genesis. So consider yourself warned! This is a very highly rated pop shit album! From somebody whose tastes sink as low as Madonna's 'Lucky Star'!


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