When I first started collecting records back in the day, there was always this album looming as one of the holy grails of psychedelic ’60s LPs: Volume One by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (WCPAEB). I mean, really, if you came across this album it would typically be located behind the counter, usually framed or at least in plastic up high on the wall. An untouchable.
Thus, I never actually got to hear this vinyl tomb.
Until last week, that is, when I found a brand new copy of a relatively recent reissue on Reprise for a mere $12.98. For that price I could afford to, um, experiment on this so-called experimental band. The cover art looks great and the pressing is a thick, quiet, lovingly pressed (by Rhino) 180-gram slab with a a faithful reproduction of the original three-color Reprise Records label (yellow, pink, green). Technically, it sounds pretty good, too — your typical, cliched mid-’60s psychedelic rock music with wailing guitars, groovy drums, whiny disaffected vocals, and so on.
And therein lies the rub on this album. While it’s called an “experimental” album, really its nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to clone and repackage Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable for more sensitive West Coast audiences. I mean, even back cover of the album kinda mimics the Velvet’s LP.
Some perspective might help: you see, when Warhol brought his groundbreaking music and light show to LA — showcasing The Velvet Underground with its stunning blonde singer Nico — the response was cold. In fact, the response was hostile to the point that after their second night performing in LA, they were shut down, reported as pornographic to the police, and unable to perform further.
The Velvet Underground’s gritty vision of New York’s dark underbelly clashed head-on with West Coast hippie culture, and even more so with LA’s manufactured take on it.
So it’s rather funny listening to The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: this is exactly the kind of phony psychedelia that Frank Zappa was calling out on his 1966 debut with The Mothers of Invention (Freak Out) and later on 1967’s We’re Only In It for the Money.
Ironically, Zappa and The Velvet Underground were put on the same bill and didn’t really get along.
Quite perfectly, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band includes a particularly lame cover of Zappa’s “Help I’m A Rock” on this album. Plastic People, indeed.
Assuming the Wiki is accurate on this one, the band’s origins indeed are genuinely disingenuous. Without naming names, this quote is telling:
… the adopted son of an oil tycoon, and a law graduate, moved to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a star. He was already a local TV personality in Oklahoma, but his initial attempts to develop a Hollywood career, either in movies or as a pop singer, met with little success.
Well, eventually the band got together and they connected with producer Kim Fowley, who helped massage them into marketable product easily digestible to softer West Coast audiences; they gained popularity, especially for their live light show, accomplishing their mission of paralleling Warhol and company. I’m sure if you were stoned and drunk on a leather flask of cheap wine it could be a fun night out on the town.
This album plays like a watered down version of a post-Lou Reed, Doug Yule-era Velvet Underground album. I’m quite sure the music on the failed final Velvet Underground album, Squeeze, (which did not include Lou Reed) is more heartfelt than this (I admit I haven’t listened to that album again since the one time I heard it in college).
To the point, though!
If you want to get a good dose of early Southern California Coast psychedelic music, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band is not your first stop on the trip. Get Forever Changes by Love and the first couple albums by The Doors and The Buffalo Springfield. Then drive up the coast while listening to The Mamas & The Papas and The Byrds. When you get to San Francisco buy the first few albums by The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and The Jefferson Airplane.
But, hey, remember kids… don’t forget… don’t forget to put a flower in your hair!
Then go get the first albums by Texas’ 13th Floor Elevators before flying back to NY while immersing yourself in Zappa’s We’re Only In It For The Money.
Then play the first Velvet Underground LP.
Skip The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and check out bands like these for a much better and more authentic dose of the psychedelic ’60s.
Zappa’s original “Help I’m a Rock” is way more psychedelic and he didn’t do drugs!