Monday, April 2, 2012

Classical Gas: Holst's The Planets In 60's Mod/Freakbeat/Psych

Gustav Holst's classical suite "The Planets" (with seven movements, each named for a planet) was first heard by the public in 1918 in London to a small audience. It has been stated in some places that the classical piece was a failure because of it's ominous tone and since World War One (or The Great War as it was known as prior to 1939)was underway it has been suggested that the public did not want something so dark and bleak sounding. It sadly never brought fame or fortune to it's composer in his lifetime. The piece obviously played a very large part in the orchestration for the very first "Star Wars" film in 1977 by John Williams.

My favorite movement from the suite has always been "Mars, Bringer Of War", which has been utilized quite a bit in our little 60's British psych/mod/freakbeat segment of 60's music as you can read below.  It's ominous tones seem to lend itself perfectly to the genre as our examples will hopefully rightly attest.

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British 60's band Sand's (formerly The Others of "Oh Yeah" fame) sole 45 output was this September 1967 single on Robert Stigwood's Reaction label (591017). Found on the B-side of a previously unissued Bee Gee's cover, "Mrs. Gillespie's Refrigerator", "Listen To The Sky" is a brilliant track.  Telling the tale of a reluctant aviator going off to war it degenerates into mod/freakbeat oblivion with air raid sirens, machine gun bursts and diving planes (replicated by sliding a pick up and down a guitar string) ending with the entire band striking up with a power pop/mod section of "Mars, Bringer Of War" in a style not unlike the Who's reading of "Hall Of The Mountain King".
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The debut single by the British band Family, "Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens" (Liberty LBF 15031) from October 1967 utilized "Mars Bringer Of War" during the end of the track in the midst of it's near Eastern Trafffic-esque groovy cacophony. The incessant riff played on a woodwind is both hypnotic and demented as it becomes sort of a freak out klaxon and meshes perfectly amid the thumping percussion's, phased backing vocals and out of nowhere, but perfectly segueing in comes a fuzz guitar playing the crescendo of "Mars, Bringer Of War" .

Davy Jones & The Lower Third onstage at the Marquee Club September 1965

It has been reported in both Kevin Cann's excellent Bowie book "Any Day Now: The London Years" and Nicholas Pegg's essential "The Complete David Bowie" that David Bowie (as Davy Jones) and his band The Lower Third, ended many of their 1965 performances at London's Marquee club with a feedback ladden version of "Mars, Bringer Of War". Bowie and members of the band have asserted that the group was known for being excessively loud (it has been suggested in some circles that this was to over compensate for their lack of musical ability) so one wonders if their reading was a good or bad thing to behold! Sadly no audio of these performances is known to exist.

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