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The Seeds: A Web of Sound

The L.A. group The Seeds have an incredibly apt name because from their humble, barely visible germ sprung some mighty, mighty oaks. Like The Doors (very woody) and Alice Cooper (kinda tinny). There is a direct connection from The Seeds' organ/synth-heavy Flower Power psychedelia - chiefly authored by unsung '60s keyboard genius Daryl Hooper - to Ray Manzarek and all the rooms of the Morrison Hotel. And the proto-punk screechings and snotty ramblings of Seeds singer Sky Saxon. . . well, I think it's safe to say that raw '60s garage rock reached some of kind climax with him and it was up to Alice and Iggy to take that stash and run with it, later handing it off to the kids at CBGBs.

seeds_web.jpgThe Seeds were the farmers, planting the crops that grew into so many branches of loud and damaged rock. They are best known, of course, for that unsurpassed slice of garage-y bliss "Pushin' Too Hard," which, when it came out in 1966, pushed its way into the Top 40 thanks to Saxon's spooky-druggy, angry-yet-emotionless repetitiveness and one of the great early fuzz guitar solos by Jan Savage (who later became an LAPD cop, in about as big a turnaround from Flower Power as you can get . . . Sky Saxon claims to have coined the term "flower power," by the way).

Another essential element of The Seeds' sound evident on "Pushin' Too Hard" was Hooper's carnival-like organ, and his electric keyboard solo which, I swear, sounds as if The Doors had come out bit earlier than we all thought. Saxon was quoted by music writer Ralph Hulett as saying the lyrics were his reaction to the Sunset Strip riots in 1966 in which the cops and L.A. city fathers moved to close the Pandora's Box music club and rock fans reacted by going nuts in the streets and staging protests. These episodes were also the inspiration for the Stephen Stills classic "For What It's Worth."

"Pushin' Too Hard" was on The Seeds' first eponymous LP. It's infamous for its primitiveness - which I think is a good thing, really. But in my opinion, their second disc, A Web Of Sound, released later in 1966, was the group's high point artistically. Of course, it also was the point in which it became obvious they were never going to score a Top 40 hit again. Their sound was so extremely strange and Sky Saxon's lyrics were so repetitive that it consigned them to the has-been file pretty quickly. It took Jim Morrison's persona to take that sound and really put it out to a post-Flower Power mass audience. But as a weird and fascinating glimpse into the psychedelicized soul, Sky can give Jimbo a run for his whiskey money any day.

Here's my take on A Web of Sound, one of the all-time craziest mid-'60s pioneering rock 'n' roll records.

1. "Mr. Farmer." Perhaps the first major label song to hint broadly and openly about maryjane. Not even the Beatles were doing that yet. And it's such a weird-ass song. It has a great rolling organ intro from Hooper, and soon Sky is telling us the story of a city man who gets fed up, moves to the country, buys five acres, and well, waters his crops. He sings:

He used to live in an apartment in a big old city
With thick and priestly windows built right in it
But he decided to move to a little tiny town
He wanted to be a farmer all year round
And on a country road where you can't see a thing
He's got five acres filled little green things, he said
He's working so hard all night and day

Mr. Farmer let me watch your crops
Mr. Farmer let me water your crops
Mr. Farmer let me harvest your crops
I want to have a dream come true
I said a farmer, farmer, farmer
I want to be just like you

Banned by pretty much every radio station in its day, "Mr. Farmer" is now one of the favorite cult classics of college station DJs everywhere.

The Seeds/Mr. Farmer

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2. "Pictures and Designs." The melody is pretty much "Pushin' Too Hard," but Savage's guitar is totally loony, with Hooper's dissonant, calliope-style acid organ straight-out, pure Doors. Amazing. It's just like "Light My Fire." Who copied whom? They were both living the Sunset Strip life at the time. It's got an ascending crescendo, with a trippy stereo back-n-forth and explosion at the end.

3. "Tripmaker." I think the title says it all. There's this really wacky whistle, like the kind they used to use in cartoons when something flies up into the air. There's the same Saxon vocals (again with the "night and day" lyric a la "Pushin'") a nice chugging-train-like snare, excellent fuzz guitar solo from Savage, and Hooper's electric piano taking the break lead. Note: Hooper was also one of the first to use a keyboard bass, which he played live a lot as Saxon would dump his guitar to concentrate on the vocals. This is something else Manzarek picked up for The Doors.

4. "I Tell Myself." Here's a much more restrained Sky. Rather than his usual Mick Jagger imitation, here he sounds a lot more like Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits . . . only on acid. This is about as close to a pop song you'll get from The Seeds, albeit with a spooky bottleneck guitar and backwards vocals.

5. "A Faded Picture." Wow. After a very Doorsy keyboard intro, Sky is fully in Jagger mode, circa "As Tears Go By" on this somber, five-minute tone-poem/ballad. Really, it's kind of like the Stones and the Doors got ripped on the Sunset Strip in 1966, stayed out all night then and wandered into a studio in a pensive mood. "I want to go back to my happy place," Sky sings. Hooper kicks in a reedy organ solo, with music box chimes.

6. "Rollin' Machine." Get on, get on with me, Ride my rollin' machine! Another sly MJ reference. There's a great carnie, evil fun-house calliope vibe to thus tune thanks to Hooper. It also has an overpowering fuzz bass and distorted bottleneck guitar.

7. "Just Let Go." This has got a very funky bass, rather than the usual fuzz bass. It's also the highlight of Sky Saxon's repetitive lyric technique, endlessly repeating "Justa, justa, justa set yourself free, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon run with me." This is a also an overtly sexual song, of which there are actually surprisingly few on A Web Of Sound. There are some really nice moans and groans, as well as a "woo-woo-woo!" Here is a video of Sky Sunlight Saxon (as he renamed himself in the '70s after converting to the Yahowha sect) with the reformed Seeds in 2005:

Sky Saxon & the Seeds/Just Let Go

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8. "Up in Her Room." Oh. My. God. This has got to be one of the greatest epics in early rock history. A 14-minute opus . . . unheard of in 1966. This has really got to be one of biggest opening shots of the sex and drugs revolution, as well as an envelope-pushing concept song that, I'm thinking, must have helped invent the whole ethos of "psychedelic rock." Lyrically, here's a nice bit from it:

She's got the kind of body
I idolize
I justa wanna lie
Here by your side
Up in her room
Going up in her room
Up in her room
Tear me up in her room
Mmmmmmmmmmm!
Mmmmmmmmmmm!
Mmmmmmmmmmm!
Mmmmmmmmmmm!

It's got an upbeat beginning, with Keith Richards-like guitar riff straight out of "Time Is On My Side." Its steady-rocking beat is endlessly repeating - basically for almost a quarter of an hour. Its intensity ebbs and flows, heaving, up and down like . . . well, like a baseball game. Yeah, a baseball game. At the 7-minute mark, the signature gets denser, more drum fills. At 9:30, organ comes in, drums get louder. By 12 minutes, Sky is just la-la-la-ing, as a crescendo builds . . . two chords repeating over and over . . . finally, fret strumming . . . and the end.

Was it good for you? It was for me. The next year, Saxon and The Seeds abandoned garage punk and turned into laid-back hippie pop troubadours. They were quickly forgotten after that. A shame. The Doors ended up getting the Classic Rawk chops that The Seeds showed on A Web of Sound really could have belonged the them.

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From Chad Everett to Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Swaggart to Prince, the Beachwood Bins are teeming with great and not-so-great moments in rock history.



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Posted on November 10, 2008


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