What’s the Freakiest Thing? – An Xperience Column
Written by Staff on February 4, 2024
What’s the Freakiest Thing? – An Xperience Column – by Johnny Mystery.
Go to a time when things were soulful. It was a time when boys with guitars and drums would attempt to play R&B and not quite pull it off. In the process of said attempt, they would pull a whole new sound down from the heavens. These lads had no horns, no saxophones or angelic choirs to emulate a wall of sound, nor the knowledge to do so, even if they did have access to the proper tools. What they would create, would be some of the freakiest beat music ever produced. So now you get where the term Freakbeat comes from.
This music grew out of the Northern Soul clubs that sprung up in England, many of which were populated by Vespa driving, pill popping, American soul loving British kids, who had zero direction and didn’t much care. In other words, they were like the Punks who would follow them over ten years later. The big attraction at these shows was “The Who.” You could say The Who was one of the first freakbeat groups-billing themselves, “Maximum R&B.” I would probably put The Kinks in this category too and even The Pretty Things to a lesser extent.
But the next generation of bands coming out of the great R&B explosion were looking to leave the old times behind. They were ready to experiment with newer sounds, arrangements, sound effects, instruments and anything different they could get their hands on. Though they were several years away from the psychedelic era, new groups and producers were looking to push the boundaries of what studio engineers were willing to do and often would take to the controls themselves when the record companies A&R men weren’t around.
The greatest freak bands in my opinion are the ones you might be less familiar with or might not have heard of at all. In order to get attention, they had to be more outrageous and experimental than anybody else burning up the airwaves on Radio Caroline that week. Most of those bands were produced by British producer Joe Meek. Meek is best known for recording the first song to top both the British and U.S. charts- “Telstar” by “The Tornados.” The spacey record started out with the sound of a toilet being flushed, backwards. You read that right.
Meek operated out of his apartment, using it as his office and studio. One of his biggest stars turned out to be the Tornado’s bass player, “Heinz.” The tall blond bassist was sort of a pre-punk “Sting.” Heinz biggest hit was “I’m Not A Bad Guy” from 1966. A good single with the distinction of having a pre-Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar.
Check out “You’re Holding Me Down” by “The Buzz” which is considered one of the wildest Meek productions ever! The public however was not digging its frantic energy for some reason. It sank like a stone because it was just too far ahead of its time.
Another Meek production that was too far ahead for its own good was by an outfit called “The Riot Squad.” Check out“ I Take It That We’re Through” from 1966. This sounds exactly, and I mean exactly like a New Wave song from the 1980s. It is absolutely uncanny! It sounds like Elvis Costello via “This Year’s Model.” I had to play it back three times to believe it. Certain parts, such as the saxophone solo, has got Roxy Music written all over it. Somebody should check Andy Mackay’s record collection. Incidentally, members of the band included Jimi Hendrix drummer, Mitch Mitchel and David Bowie spent a year as their singer.
The Honeycombs who featured a rare female drummer, scored a huge hit with Meek with “Have I The Right.” Check out a B-side of theirs called-“Can’t Get Through To You.” Listen to the riff and the structure and soon you’ll hear “The B-52s” playing ‘Rock Lobster” and prepare to be stunned.
Check out “David John and The Mood.” From 1965 comes “Digging For Gold” and even though it failed to chart it is now considered one of Joe Meeks finest productions along with another relative flop, “Love To See You Strut” which was as great a jumping rave-up as anything on the charts at that time. It appeared as the B-side of a Bo Diddley cover called “Bring It To Jerome.” Their cover of “Pretty Thing” featured none other than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on background vocals.
Saving what I consider, the best for last, check out “The Syndicats” featuring future “Yes” guitarist, Steve Howe. “Crawdaddy Simone” released in 1965 is probably the freakiest of the Freak Beat movement. It starts out like a normal blues song but soon turns into complete chaos with one of the craziest guitar solos ever committed to vinyl as it ends with a wild beer bottle slide. On another of their singles “What To Do” the keyboard and drum arrangements bring Devo and The B-52’s to mind again.
Next issue, we’ll explore some more Freak Beat in my second part of this subject. You might even recognize some of the songs we’ll talk about. Till then, get to the record shop-QUICK!