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The Arthur Brown Band - The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown  CD (album) cover

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN

The Arthur Brown Band

 

Proto-Prog

4.07 | 135 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I hate to date myself but I will for the sake of this review. (Oh, the sacrifices I make for prog!) Back in the golden vinyl age circa 1959 one of the first 45 rpm singles I ever acquired as a wee child was "The Happy Organ" by Dave "Baby" Cortez and I fell head- over-heels in love with the irresistible sound of the Hammond organ. Later on in the early 60s my evolving musical tastes led me to discover the growling, jazzy stylings of "The Incredible Jimmy Smith." So in 1968 when the roaring pulse of that instrument came blaring out of the radio on "Fire" I felt a great sense of redemption and relief in the thought that perhaps the rock and roll world had at long last caught on to the magic of the big B3. I'm not saying they were the first but if this band helped to inspire Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Tony Kaye, Alan Price and hundreds more keyboard players to bring this awesome room-filler to the forefront of modern music then they certainly deserve to be honored here as proto-prog. Thank God somebody did it!

The liner notes on the back of the cover by Charles Fox of the New Statesman read "Arthur Brown could easily be the first genuine artist to come out of our local underground. He's disconcerting, even faintly perverse, but distinctly original and very, very English." It's hard to top that description because it goes a long way in describing the incendiary but short-lived phenomenon that was "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown." The fact that Kit Lambert (The Who's producer) was at the helm and none other than Pete Townsend was credited as associate producer lends a considerable respectability to this, their first LP.

The album starts with a dramatic orchestral score for a prelude, then Vincent Crane's Hammond guides you into "Nightmare" where you get your first exposure to Brown's otherworldly approach to singing. His persona as some kind of spawn from Hell is presented in full here with his wide-eyed exclamations that "it's cold out here" and that the "price of entry (back into the Hotel Hades, presumably) is sin." (His whole "I am the God of Hellfire" thing was pretty controversial stuff for the Bible belt, to be sure.) After a short Handel-ish horn fanfare you are treated to "Fire Poem" which is pretty much a spoken recital by AB over some hip, swingin' (Yeah, baby!), boppin' down Carnaby Street, cool jazz from Crane and the group. It's a perfect lead-in to the song that would put them on the map and eventually reach #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, "Fire." AB's infectious and impossible to ignore delivery over the band's tight track roiling underneath made this a fitting tune for the rebellious youth of the era and the pyromaniac's ultimate anthem for all time to come. And, of course, there for me and all the world to hear was Vincent's gigantic Hammond organ roaring like a lion.

"Come and Buy" has an intriguing musical atmosphere with strong dynamics but I can't help but picture Professor Snape at Hogwarts in my mind, snarling the opening verse to his cowering wizardry students. And later on in the number AB starts to sound like Tom Jones on acid. However, you've got to think that a young Ian Gillian was listening intently every time Brown went into his power falsetto and didn't hesitate to use it liberally on songs like "Child in Time" and other Deep Purple epics. A very moody piece in two parts, the combination of "Time" and "Confusion" follows. Halfway through the track a heavy dirge of an organ riff emerges from the fiery abyss to keep things from getting stale musically but AB (for the third time) repeats the two phrases I mentioned earlier and he starts to come off like your strange uncle who's had a few and thinks he's a evil sorcerer or something. Enough already.

Thankfully their driving version of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic "I Put a Spell on You" is next and it's the best cut on the album. Vincent's organ performance is magnificent and AB does some very admirable soul shouting. (I just about wore the grooves out on this track alone.) "Spontaneous Apple Creation" has a good bit of general weirdness and spacey effects going on behind AB's narration of a convoluted tale. There's not much to it but Drachen Theaker's jazzy drums are worth listening for. By now the label executives had to be asking Arthur "Do you have any songs that aren't about the devil?" and so we get the very out-of-place pop ditty "Rest Cure" that would have been better suited for someone like LuLu to cover.

Speaking of drums, the opening snare salvo by Theaker on James Brown's "Money" is yet another highlight of the proceedings. Again, AB comes through with a very soulful vocal to do the tune justice. The most progressive cut is the ender, "Child of My Kingdom" wherein they take you through various and sometimes odd musical phases. It starts with an eerie melody, then breaks into a jazzy piano swing, then moves to a "mod" chorus complete with unison whistling, then transitions into a blues shuffle and a barrelhouse piano solo. They jump in and out of these segments, making this track unpredictable yet compelling entertainment.

This eccentric, demonically-possessed album peaked at a lofty #7. Alas, Arthur Brown was never able to come within screaming distance of the charts ever again. He eventually moved to Austin, Texas and started a house painting company with former Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black. But his influence upon later shock rock performers and Vincent Crane's impact on progressive rock with his mighty Hammond B3 organ cannot be overlooked. It certainly got my undivided attention as an impressionable proto-prog teen. I now look at this album as a well done novelty piece more than anything else but for the progressive rock historian it's a definite must- have. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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