1967, Music

One Nation Underground (1967) by Pearls Before Swine

There is a school of thought about how music evolved before the internet that believes that music needs urbanization to really develop. This school of thought views music as evolving in scenes in specific major cities. The internet has made this no longer necessary as now anyone can communicate with anyone else and even create music without ever meeting each other. But I’m not sure the view was ever entirely correct as, at the height of the psychedelic era, there was a psychedelic scene in Texas (and likely other ones I have never heard of) and there was this band in the middle of nowhere in Florida.

To make music so out there in 1967 in Florida is impressive. And, given this record’s reputation, this band’s reputation, and this record’s sheer existence against the odds, I want to like it. But there is a rather big problem.

Though likely very original for the Florida music scene of the time (especially given that these guys weren’t even based in one of the major cities) it is not very original. In fact, quite the opposite, it sounds way too much like a combination of the records by two other bands, both of whom were based in New York City, where this record was recorded.

The garage rock on this record (such as it is) sounds to me entirely derivative of The Fugs (an admitted influence of the band, at least), who had been putting out albums for a full two years prior. How these guys had got their hands on a Fugs LP I’ll never know.

But there’s far more folk here (some of it “psych folk,” albeit mostly barely psychedelic) and music feels heavily indebted to The Holy Modal Rounders (whose members were also briefly Fugs) to a degree that is borderline ridiculous. (The Holy Modal Rounders had been putting out music for 3 years at this point so it’s not as if this take on folk music was original in 1967.) Again, I don’t know how these guys got their hands on albums by such an underground band, but it’s as if they listened to little else. (Well, they listened to Bob Dylan. “Playmate” is such a transparent Dylan impersonation that I’m not sure whether it’s bad or it’s a parody.)

I appreciate that these guys didn’t want to sound like “Average American Garage Band” and I appreciate that they wanted to make music different than what was on the radio at the time. Good on them. But anyone who has already heard their two biggest influences will find this debut to be extremely derivative despite its ambitions to be the opposite. It’s as if that theory I mentioned is correct. These guys were just too far out of a city to realize they were imitating rather than innovating.

Oh well.

6/10 because I appreciate the aesthetic, the drive and the fact that these guys were in Florida.

I will say, the terrible singing on “The Surrealist Waltz” seems like a direct influence on anti-folk and also on Anal Cunt’s acoustic numbers. So that’s… something.

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