Published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov., 2004), available from The Arthur Store
My Top Ten Favorite Psychedelic Folk Songs
by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
I was invited to create a list of my personal FAVORITE music and so I did, for an English newspaper The Independent. I was happy to illustrate how different my taste is to the endless dark mediocrity of current so-called Industrial Music that people seem to assume I would like when I NEVER have!
A note about the number of Incredible String Band songs in the following list: In 1969, I was a member of The Exploding Galaxy kinetic performance troupe in London. Some members left to form Stone Monkey, who danced with the ISB for a while. I had been listening to the Incredible String Band since school. The surrealism and FREEDOM of the lyrics is what continually engages me: the subject matter of absurdity and spirituality combined. I feel the ISB are probably the lyrical geniuses of the ’60s and onwards, far more than the Beatles or Dylan, who become predictable and never really extended the form of the song as an open system in the same way. Once one gets the ISB all the other musics fall into place. These are the true troubadours of the last two centuries. They explore divinity and magick from a lyrical chivalric dimension. Combine this with the interdimensionality and you have works beyond compare. SUBLIME!
Go and explore, there are more stories in the drug mine of British folk than man hath dreamed of and Lewis Carroll hath penned to his own particular blend of paper.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
New York City, April 2004
1. “Meet Me on the Ledge” by Fairport Convention
(from What We Did On Our Holidays, 1968)
When I was at Hull University this song was on the student-picked juke box. The in-joke amongst we flower children/soon-to-be-drop-outs was that when we wanted to score hash from the University dealer we’d put this record on as a buying signal and meet outside by the “hedge.”
2. “When I Get Home” by Pentangle
(from Light Flight compilation double CD, 1971)
This is amazing! Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson and the crew evoke the most immersive sense of melancholy. I saw all the guitarists individually in the Hall of Residence cafeteria so this always makes me smell gravy and roast potatoes instead of think of alcoholism. A whiskydelic song as Lady Jaye would say.
3. “A Very Cellular Song” by the Incredible String Band
(from The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, 1968)
Probably my equal favorite song of all time. Full of whimsy, weirdness, surreal lyrics that insist they are profound when you know they are more likely just found. When it gets to a sequence which describes the feelings of an amoeba you know that you are, after all, in the presence of genius!
4. “Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal” by Dr. Strangely Strange
(from Kip of the Serenes, 1970)
I can’t imagine life without this band. They always bring joy to my heart. Rumor has it the main singer split to become a full-on Zen priest so they only made two albums. Both are total classics of British pre-Raphaelite fairytales. No other people can pull off this nonsense poetry so authentically. The genius Joe Boyd brought them from Eire to record their masterpiece. You do not love words if you cannot love this song which has the silliest chorus ever written.
5. “Sign On My Mind” by Dr. Strangely Strange
(from Heavy Petting, 1970)
I used to have this on vinyl and the cover unfolded as intricately and dadaistically as the music and lyrics. Gnomic hippies peer from insubstantial cut-out trees as we are led a merry frolic into the surprise of a guitar solo by Gary Moore of Thin Lizzy fame! I have seriously considered doing a cover version of this song with The Master Musicians of Jajouka playing the flute parts.
6. “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake
(from Five Leaves Left, 1969)
The myth says that Rizzla rolling papers had one paper that said “Five Leaves Left” to warn stoners of impending doom. Of course, I could have chosen ANY song by Nick Drake. The intensity of melancholia drenching the analog tape, the sheer PRESENCE of his voice is an honor to share, as is the raw intimacy with which he describes turmoil, creating confusion in us by delicately flecking every edge of his words with guilty beauty.
7. “My Father Was a Lighthouse Keeper” by the Incredible String Band
(from Earthspan, 1972)
Here I am duty bound to confess I have at least 20 ISB CDs and albums! Never, ever, on any day, in any mood do I feel less than joyous to hear their voices and humor, their grand metaphysics and acid-drenched morality plays. At first I wasn’t sure about this era. L. Ron Hubbard supposedly wanted to guide their parables. But there is something in the violin—as an electric violin player since 1966 myself, I am a sucker for them. Now, I bellow along and feel the sea spray soak my mediaeval hose as I witness a murderous foam.
8. “Translucent Carriages” by Pearls Before Swine
(from Balaklava, 1965)
Tom Rapp is one of the great undiscovered poet songwriters from Eastern USA. Originally on ESP Disc alongside the Fugs and other neo-Beat nutters he occasionally lets slip a seductive lisp. I have never figured out the meaning of this song (which was first played to me by Annie Ryan in Liverpool in a post-acid glow) even though I did record it for the Psychic TV Pagan Day album. Answers on a dog-tag please. He is a lawyer now. Sensible man saw too much of the larval nature of mankind for his own peace of heart.
9. “War in Peace” by Alexander “Skip” Spence
(from Oar, 1969)
Skip was a Canadian bass player who switched to drums for the Jefferson Airplane during the acid madness until he was dropped in 1966 for missing a rehearsal! He turned up like a mad penny in Moby Grape next, still erratic and enigmatic. There’s the touch of Syd Barrett tragedy in the implosion and incompleteness of many of his songs. His deranged inspiration sneaks him in as folksy acid.
10. “Ducks on a Pond” by the Incredible String Band
(from Wee Tam and the Big Huge, 1968)
Yes, I know, there are so many others and where DO you draw the psychedelic line? By its very natyre it meanders and has no beginning, edge or point. I wanted to include the Blossom Toes’ “We Are Ever So Clean”; Nirvana’s “All of Us”; anything quirky by Syd Barrett (which means everything he did). Why I even toyed with Kaleidoscope from the USA and Dantalian’s Chariot (whose guitarist went on to play in The Police!!! Oh Andy Summers, ouch!). But “Ducks” is the 1968 masterpiece. A total artwork. A monster that will not shut up or stop spiralling around and around as dumb as a duck and as crazy as a fox complete with “inky scratches everywhere.”