Hackamore Brick

One Kiss Leads to Another (Kama Sutra 1971)


This album stands firmly at the  intersection of all that I love about the music of the early 70s. Most folks seem to peg it as a scruffier descendent of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, which is kind of fitting since most folks don’t even pay proper tribute to it in the VU pantheon. I kind of like that it is regarded as a lesser cousin to watered down stock. However, we all know that pedigrees don’t mean shit, so we gotta embrace what we encounter on its own merits. To be honest, I do hear echoes of Loaded, but only in the fact that that both are loosely played, kind of stoned and slightly ragged takes on what happens after the afterglow of Woodstock fades, but you still like to play folk, blues and good time rock n’ roll in an earnest fashion. There isn’t an ounce of pretension to One Kiss Leads to Another. Yeah, it’s kind of obvious they like Lou Reed like any other maladjusted longhair, but there is something sweet and sentimental about their take that lacks the overbearing artifice he engineered for himself. Add a love of the 70s am smoothness of early Bread, Poco or even a blue collar version of Colin Blunstone and you kind of have an idea of what planet these guys were transmitting from in 1971.

Yeah, I’m kind contradicting myself by immediately grasping at the VU straw, but the opener “Reachin” immediately conjures the same wistful hoodoo of “Ride Into the Sun” or “I Found a Reason” as vocalist Chick Newman sings of reaching for the last moments of sunshine as the day slowly turns dark as night. It’s supposedly a metaphor for the Vietnam War and its devastating effect upon the idealism and “can do” spirit of America. It is an ode to the fallen soldiers that had their optimism crushed by the the brutality of war. On a larger scale, it deals with a larger issue of the loss of innocence and how can anyone resist a hardening heart when the world is such a fucked terrain. Idealism gets squashed so easily and he wants to know why. You ask yourself the same damn thing after hearing it.

Now where they deviate from the VU blueprint is on the closer “Zip Gun Woman” which could almost pass as a late 70s punk tune if it wasn’t punctuated by a psychedelic organ boogaloo straight out of a live Santana or Yes album. It’s such an angry, frustrated number that lacks the musical vocabulary to qualify as proto-punk, but the piss and vinegar marks it as a definite precursor weighed down by a hippie palette. “I Watched You Rhumba” is another walkabout round the Loaded influence as it swings more than their heroes ever could due to their art-school trappings. It’s a simpleminded ode to yearning and lust that taps into the primal desires one has when they see the object of their affection for the first time. Nothing fancy, just a slightly horny ode to watching a lover rhumba on the dancefloor as you thank your lucky stars that you mustered the courage to ever speak to her.

Is One Kiss Leads to Another groundbreaking or influential? No, it isn’t anything more than a well-played rock album that invites repeated listens because it traffics in the time honored subjects of lust, betrayal, good tunes and a frothy brew in a way that makes them feel like AM staples even though Hackamore Brick never got a whiff of radio airplay.

Billy Nicholls

Would You Believe (Immediate 1968)


Folks tend to flock towards the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle, Love’s Forever Changes and the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society due to history anointing them as the touchstones of late 60s psych-pop. However, this era was rife with albums that fell just short of the brilliance of these classics. This was such a fertile period for the genre and bands like the Hollies, Bee Gees, Sagittarius, Flaming Groovies recorded great works that are somewhat forgotten in the glow of these anointed favorites. One of my favorit also-rans from this period is Billy Nicholls’ Would You Believe as it borrows bits and pieces from the big three, but it buries its melancholy sentiments beneath uplifting harmonies, carefully orchestrated arrangement and the occassional bluster of a raucous riff.

Nicholls’ songs are great on their own, but much credit must be paid to the influence of Andrew Loog Oldham, producer of the Rolling Stones, manager of the Small Faces and head of the Immediate label. He is responsible for the lush backing of Would You Believe’s most memorable songs. In fact, his production works so well because the incessant positivity of these arrangements conflicts with some depressing sentiments. I’ve always been a sucker for sour notes dolled up in fancy clothing, so I tend to favor the tunes where Billy smiles to hide the tears.What is even more amazing is that much of the album was created while he was 16 years old and that the Small Faces provide backup on some of the tracks. Supposedly, Oldham viewed Nicholls’ as a potential cash cow that he could mold into a British Brian Wilson to serve as a bookend to Mick Jagger, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Anyone who can pen such a slice of sunshine like “Life is Short” is ok with me. The entire song revolves around a innocent obsession where the “ba-ba-ba’s” mask the desperation of a young man obsessed with a woman who won’t give him the day. He gets so caught up in the fact that life is transient and get so worked up about the pursuit that I almost want to chase behind that waggish scamp. His romanticism constantly gets the better of him and the result is a song like “It Brings me Down” which documents his angst in sublime fashion as piano, guitar, harpsichord and drums collide in a fruity manner that celebrates the orchestral excess of the time period. Plus, the instrumental coda at the end of this song is a perfect way to go out as it backwards tracks its way to Beatledom.

Nicholls became disilluisioned with the album’s lack of success, broke with Oldham and recorded a couple solo albums that I’d love to hear. It is a shame because the optimistic moments hint at a bright future that was never fulfilled.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Lick My Decals Off, Baby (Bizarre/Straight 1970)


Throughout my life, I have chosen small purgatories instead of making wild leaps. Sometimes it just seemed more prudent to ponder before making an action that may directly impact my path in this wooly wilderness. Please do not typecast me as a 99 pound pantywaist since I’ve also acted rashly to both my benefit and detriment in the realms of love, money, profession and mental well-being. Most of these stationary moments have lasted weeks or maybe months, but there is one in particular that lasted an entire year. I had graduated from my Western Pennsylvania college and decided to take a job as a record store manager and see where my long-term relationship would lead this old sap. I spent most of my days listening to Yes and Neil Young and occasionally laid on the floor while soaking in Everybody Knows This is Knowhere or Yessongs as if they were my current gospel. The other manager used to drive around with a mannequin of skeleton in the backseat of his car and pull a string to make it wave during Halloween, but many times it was in July. He also fantasized about jumping into the trash compactor while setting himself ablaze, so it is pretty certain that this purgatory deviated more towards a personal hell instead of a heaven. However, there was a numb calm to these days spent opening albums and listening to them while folks fawned over Princess Di and her sappy anthem.

During these moments of malaise, I was thoroughly embiggened every time that the truck arrived with the latest batch of cut-out cassettes. For every Front 242 disaster and emasculated Iggy Pop disaster, there was my virgin experience with Skip Spence, Hawkwind, United States of America, Flaming Groovies as well as the album highlighted here–Lick My Decals Off, Baby. My only experience with the Captain was in a vague appreciation of Trout mask replica that never went past second base. It was all maneuvering and weaving and bobbing without pathos. I still like it, but Lick My Decals was dense, but there was a melancholy about its songs that became addictive.

Many may disagree, but Lick My Decals is far superior to anything Captain Beefheart ever recorded. It is a close cousin to Trout Mask Replica and some songs fall victim to the chops and noodling of its predecesor, but this one is really touching if you listen to it as much as I have. “One Rose That I Mean” is one of my favorite tracks as it echoes John Fahey and early Leo Kottke, but there is so much hurt in this instrumental. Its meager crescendos seem crippled by the emotion involved in its creation.

For example, “Petrifed Forest” starts off with a kaleidoscope of stuttering riffs, poetic rants and rhythmic acrobatics, but there is a break in the storm and he gets it suddenly turns into a romantic coda and he makes a cryptic claim that he “only wants to rumble through your petrified forest.” It lasts only twenty seconds, but the complexity suddenly becomes a simple plea for a chance at love with someone who isn’t willing to accept his intentions.

I also love the weird eroticism and playfulness at work on this album. On the title track, the old Captain is kind of a love starved soul that devotes his time to “licking you everywhere it’s pink” and to “lick his decals off, baby.” There is more than a perverse tale at work as the Magic Band drives the song along its own peculiar manner. Yes, the the image of Captain Beefheart licking every inch of you may inspire disgust or an idiosyncratic explosion of the sexual kind, but one must admit that his paean to hedonism is quite an image to have lodged in your noggin.

Overall, Lick My Decals Off, Baby is the last we would see of the unhinged and somewhat insane side of the band before they became a bit more polished and bluesy. More importantly, his later songs fail to touch me like Decals, Mirror Man, Safe as Milk and much of Trout Mask Replica. This is his peak, but his slide is infinitely more entertaining than most musicians’ best compositions.