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LP (12" album, 33 rpm), Mono
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Blue Cheer looms large in the annals of hard rock, laying down the sonic foundations of heavy metal, and serving as a crucial influence on the birth of punk, grunge and stoner rock. While the rest of the rock world was mellowing out and embracing the spirit of the Summer of Love, the seminal San Francisco power trio was churning out ballsy blues-rock anthems whose fuzz-heavy, adrenaline-charged intensity helped to alter the course of contemporary music.
Vincebus Eruptum, Blue Cheer's landmark 1968 debut, is widely regarded as Ground Zero of the heavy metal explosion. The album, featuring the classic Blue Cheer lineup of guitarist Leigh Stephens, bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson and drummer Paul Whaley, includes the trio's mind-melting reading of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," which became a Top 20 single, along with such raw, overdriven originals as "Doctor Please" and "Second Time Around" and distinctive reworkings of the blues standards "Rock Me Baby" and "Parchment Farm." Long out of print on vinyl, with original copies trading for steep collectors' prices, this legendary debut is available once again in its original format, complete with its unique original cover design.
"A heavy metal precursor, Blue Cheer were there at the start and became true pioneers. Their cracking debut, Vincebus Eruptum, sounds primordial, even by today's standards. Lord knows how it must have gone across in 1968. Though entrenched in blues-rock, the Cheer's sheer power broke new boundaries. On this re-issue of the rare, mono mix of the album, the drums retain their chunky presence alongside the thick, stodgy bass. Check out the unlikely hit, Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues.' The same year's follow-up, Outsideinside, tried to retain the force but added panache to the production- and it worked. Each member of the band appeared to be better represented, with their individual talents brought to the fore. Clarity doesn't replace power, though- the word was that parts of Outsideinside literally had to be recorded outside because they were so loud. Leaving the band (as some claim, due to deafness) just two LP's in, co-founder Leigh Stephens subsequently released his debut solo LP. Praised by many, it was slammed by Cheer fans. Moving away from his band's energy storm, Red Weather was more psychedelic, and both inventive and creative enough to survive the shift in focus. As a bonus for hardcore name-trackers, it features uber-session bloke Nicky Hopkins, Blossom Toes' Kevin Westlake and Jeff Beck Band's Mick Waller." -- Record Collector, April 2010
"Just as the German King Tiger outgunned the allied Sherman in World War II, so California's Blue Cheer out-louded their peers with their 1968 debut. These super-dence blues rock tunes owe Hendrix a debt and are prone to powering off Blues Magoos-style, but come in their own special engine oil and LSD marinade (see the surprise Top 20 cover of Summertime Blues). A long-spurned, now essential stop-off on the cakewalk to stoner-rock nirvana. The reissue comes with an embossed sleeve and a poem from Owsley Stanley." -- Mojo, April 2010
This being an audiophile 'zine one might expect that the records appearing herein to be judged with sound quality as perhaps not the main focus of the review, but certainly a major factor when considering whether they should be recommended for inclusion in one's collection. Well, here we have two albums that despite their lack of just about any evidence of audiophile-approved traits (other than the vinyl's modern-day pressing quality and the excellent transfer from original master tapes to vinyl), should be a mandatory purchase for anyone even slightly interested in the conception and gestation of hard rock/psychedelic blues/heavy metal that these landmark albums brought into the world in 1968. These two Marshall-stack-laden slabs are not just forbearers of what would become the genre that is now considered heavy metal, but quintessential examples of excellent rock music, period.
Blue Cheer formed in 1966 in their hometown of San Francisco, and within a year settled into a power-trio of unequaled sonic might. Their first album, Vincebus Eruptum was recorded late in 1967 and released early the next year on Philips, and later in '68 their second album Outsideinside was released. One would think that being located in San Francisco this band would get caught in the torrent of flower-power ideology that was flowing forth in and around the city, but according to Blue Cheer's bassist and vocalist Dickie Peterson, "We were the ugly stepchildren. Everybody in San Francisco scene was all kiss babies and eat flowers. We were sort of kiss flowers and eat babies". This less than hippy attitude is made obvious as soon as the stylus traces the first grooves of either of these two records.
OK, so you're not going to be able to use either of these albums as demonstration discs. But it makes little sense depriving oneself just because at certain points these albums sound as if they were recorded from the next room through an open door. It's a shame that these records don't have the sound quality of say, Led Zeppelin's first two albums that were released during the next two years. One might suspect that the less than state-of-the-art facility that Blue Cheer used for the first album in their native San Francisco might have had something to do with the the less than reference quality sound. Yet the follow-up Outsideinside was recorded at some top flight studios on both coasts, and even sported some pretty famous engineering talent including the illustrious Eddie Kramer. Yet this album's sound quality is also second-rate. It was most likely due to the challenges of recording a band with all of their amp's volume controls set to 11 the entire time. It has been rumored that the band had to relocate to a different studio during one of the recording sessions because of noise complaints from the neighborhood around the facility. Yet despite these sonic limitations, and especially on the mono Vincebus Eruptum, the term "wall-of-sound" is very, very apt. And because of these excellent transfers performed by Sundazed Records, the best I've ever heard from any other pressings on both vinyl and CD. An added bonus is that the album sleeves are also top-notch, the embossed front cover of the first and gatefold of the second are exact reproductions of the originals.
I have the impression that I'm hearing exactly what was on the master tapes as they were recorded. I doubt very much that the band and the studio staff set out to make the resulting sound of these albums anything but what they intended, and with these slabs of wax, at least when being played on my system, it is easy to get the impression that the air in and around the recording studio during these sessions became super-saturated with sound waves--and if you've ever experienced an overwhelmingly loud band in a small space you'd realize that the "P" in SPLs (Sound Pressure Levels) can be brutal.
It would be a shame to purchase one of these albums without the other. But since the best place to start is usually the beginning, Vincebus Eruptum should be spun first. And the fact that it is a monaural pressing is fabulous, not just because back in those heady days stereophonic sound was still in its infancy with regards to rock music. This is not to say that many great stereo rock records weren't released--of course there were. But the the truth is that in most cases they really weren't truly "stereophonic" as classical releases were, it was simply just two-channel sound. This was at least partially because at most four-track tape used in most recording studios, so during mix down it was just a matter of deciding which and how much of these tracks ended up in which of the two speakers. There are some great rock albums from around the same period that had engineers that realized that a nice stereo spread could be obtained by using a pair of overhead mics for the drum set. But many didn't get the memo, and the drums were relegated to one track--and to add insult to injury were panned to one side. The overused practice of pseudo-psychedelic swooping between the speakers, especially the lead guitar hardly makes a record "stereo", so things just ended up sounding just like plain old dual-mono. Sundazed Records' outstanding pressing of the reissue of Vincebus Eruptum from the original mono master tape is practically a revaluation, especially to the ears belonging to yours truly that has only heard the stereo pressing throughout my adult life. The mono version is so much more of an "in your face" experience. As it should be.
Vincebus contains six songs, half of them are cover tunes. Side one starts with the classic Jerry Capehart/Eddie Cochran "Summertime Blues", which was to be Blue Cheer's only "hit" record (it peaked at #14 on Billboard's pop singles chart). Next is the chestnut "Rock Me Baby", and the side ends with the now classic Peterson bruiser "Doctor Please", with his lyrics taking an anti-recreational drug stance and at the same time proclaiming an unrequited love for a member of the opposite sex, but you have to squint your ears to decipher the lyrics under the guitar/bass/drums blitzkrieg. Side two begins its onslaught with Peterson's "Out Of Focus", with its overdubbed guitar lick madness that rightfully earned guitarist Leigh Stephens a fervent underground following. Next up is the requisite "Parchment Farm", but side two ends with the barnburner that is the Dickie Peterson opus "Second Time Around". Thankfully, the concept of a "power ballad" never entered the members of Blue Cheer's minds, so throughout the album's brief thirty-two minute playing time one barely gets the opportunity to come up for air.
Outsideinside's recording quality is a bit better than Vincebus, but it has little to do with it being a "stereo" pressing. Like I said, it was recorded at some noted studios by some renowned engineers but still ends up sounding rather lo-fi. But despite the lack of fidelity the massive sound of the band members in all their glory are still decipherable through one's speakers. Over the years I've met legions of fans of this album, and although its sound quality rarely comes into question, what they do agree upon is that it is one of the best hard rock (electric-power-blues?) recordings ever committed to vinyl. Throughout the years I've gone back and forth in regards to whether it is a better album than Vincebus, but eventually realized that that debate is a waste of my time--they both deserve equal time on my turntable. But I do sometimes favor Outsideinside for a few reasons, and major among those is the more concise, developed songwriting made even more amazing that the album was released such a short time since the first. The songs are shorter, leaving less room for extended improvisation, leading to Mr. Stevens' guitar solos being more focused mini-explosions. And this time eight of of ten songs are original compositions. Immediately upon playing the opening "Feathers From Your Tree" one can hear the confidence not only in its writing, but the massive "whomp" factor coming into play--thanks in large part to the pounding of drummer Paul Whaley. The third song is Peterson's bluesy, flanged, rocking "Just A Little Bit", another of the eight originals that compose the ten masterpieces. It's worth mentioning again that the purchase of both these albums should be mandatory for all even slightly interested in this period of rock 'n' roll. -Tom Lyle -- Positive Feedback Online, Issue 49
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Vincebus Eruptum artfully combines the subtly of professional wrestling with the acoustic dynamics of jackhammers. This group was only after two things - volume and intensity. While the "power trio" was not a new concept then - see Hendrix and Cream - Blue Cheer definitely kicked it up a notch. The album is surprisingly entertaining to listen to today, 40 years after its release. This is perhaps because - amazingly - it introduced a prodigiously influential sound. You can say it gave rise to heavy metal if you like, but frankly, I'm much more taken by the resemblance to Led Zeppelin. The ear-bleed volume, the desire to over-do everything, and the certainty that the harder you strike an object the more compelling your point will become, all scream Zep.
Blue Cheer manages to handle two blues classics in pretty respectable fashion, and their rendition of Parchment (sic) Farm helped put a little jingle in the pocket of its author, Mose Allison, which is a good thing. The LSD references, and they could hardly be stronger - Blue Cheer being slang for a type of LSD - a poem by LSD purveyor, Owsley, on the jacket - are something of a mystery. LSD, for you kids out there that never tried it, tends to be a rather cerebral, breezy experience, something akin to floating in an aquarium full of exotic, tropical fish - and being able to communicate with them. This music, by contrast, which is ideally suited to smashing your head against a spinning millstone, calls to mind different intoxicants. Moonshine perhaps, crystal meth, or sterno. It's a fun little album, absolutely unruly, but good fun. If you decide to buy it and play it, make sure your neighbors are out - or dead.
And speaking of being 16 and high school and all that, I remember asking some of the kids who had taken Latin (which I didn't get around to 'til college) what "Vincebus Eruptum," and no one could tell me for sure. Turns out it didn't really MEAN anything, I later learned. But it didn't quite mean "nothing" either. Most English speakers recognize the roots of these pseudo words ("vincebus" derived from VINCERE ("to defeat, to win")and "eruptum's" kinda obvious, wouldn't you say?) It was a playful, defiantly pseudo-erudite title.
Some maintain that Blue Cheer's sound was as inauthentic as their Latin, but that's missing the point. It may seem like the band was a poor man's Hendrix without the necessary experience, but that was the beauty part. Hendrix was at least 50% technical wizardry and was capable of being, you know, kinda subtle (not a BAD thing, of course, but not at all PUNK or proto-punk). These guys were. A friend of mine complained once to me that all the songs on VINCEBUS ERUPTUM were in the same key, same tempo, same volume level "Precisely," I responded!
He probably thought I was agreeing with him.