Quite simply, this is the best rock album ever.
Less simply, it is not really a rock album. It is a bluesy, rocky, multi faceted, arty, album that is difficult to pigeon hole. The only easy description is that it is clearly the work of a genius.
By now I think that I have nailed my colours to the mast. I love this album, I have always loved this album. I am one of those poor sad so and so’s who will quote lyrics from their favourite artists, Beefheart being one.
I bought this as soon as it came out. I was so struck with it I played it to my mates the next time they all came round, they hated it. It was quite some time before I met anyone else who admitted to liking it. Throughout my life this album has been like a secret code known to only a few of us. When out with an old girlfriend watching Wilko Johnson playing in a blues club in Blackpool – OK a room above a pub – we got chatting to a couple only to find that he was a secret Beefheartian. The women rolled their eyes as we chatted about the albums, the sayings and the general wonderfulness of “The Captain”.
He had actually run into The Captain in a restaurant after a show. The Captain came into the restaurant where John was eating. Naturally John went over to The Captain and said how much he had enjoyed the show. When The Captain left he came over to John and gave him his napkin. On it was one of The Captain’s drawings, and although it would be valuable (The captain being a collectable artist) Joh obviously treasured it.
One day while cleaning his partner found the napkin, and, without thinking, threw it away! Amazingly their relationship survived, but John recounted the trauma with great passion in his voice. THAT is what being a Beefheartian means to us.
So, what is so great about TMR?
Released in June ’69 it was released on Zappa’s Straight Records label. Zappa, who was a long term friend of Beefheart’s was also the producer of this mystifying album. It was a double album with 28 tracks. It is said that all the instrumentals were recorded in under 6 hours. Having said that the band spent 8 months learning, writing, and practicing the songs.
To say that they spent 8 months rehearsing may give a benign gloss to what was a brutal process. They practiced for up to 14 hours a day. The band was in a house the suburb of Los Angeles, rarely going out except for buying and occasionally steeling food. They had no money. Captain Beefheart was a tyrant. He would pick on a band member and taunt and bully him into submission. All band members suffered at his hands. There are some that said the bullying took on a physical edge. The atmosphere within the house has been called cult like with Captain Beefheart at its head.
The music shows many influences, it has an obvious blues element as well as elements of free jazz. There are more subtle influences. Is that a guitar line from a Gene Autrey song? Yup. Someone highlighted a melody from Mile Davis to me that I had not noticed. There is gospel in there as well. Captain Beefheart was catholic in his tastes, just like his old mucker FZ.
Since its release (it was nota commercial success in the USA initially but it did fair better in the UK) TMR is always mentioned in the lists of the most important and best albums released, show me a list and I will find you TMR.
As John Peel said said of the album: “If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work.”
The only mystery is why it is only at number 5 of my list.