Various Artists – Can’t Seem To Come Down - The American Sounds Of 1968

Various Artists – Can’t Seem To Come Down – The American Sounds Of 1968

Listening to the Grapefruit label’s compilations of seminal years in rock is a lot like reading a history book. Much of it is boring and forgettable, some of it piques your interest, and occasionally there is something that just gobsmacks you with its brilliance. Such is the case with Can’t Seem To Come Down, a musical journey through the year 1968. Psychedelia was still rampant, but bubblegum pop was beginning to rear its silly head. More serious musicians and songwriters skirted the mainstream with Baroque pop that was just too sophisticated for mass consumption, while rock, folk and country joined together in an uneasy alliance to eventually become Americana.

As before, project manager David Wells has searched high and low to find not just the tunes that charted. He also digs deep for regional bands that made the scene locally and artists who quickly faded before becoming revered influences. The fact that the three disc set is arranged chronologically shines a spotlight on the ways in which rock music developed (or held on to the past) even within the course of a year. Psychedelia was still the centre of the pop music universe, but country rock and heavy metal were both taking their first nascent steps onto the charts.

Disc One opens with one of the better bands recording in 1968. Spirit was a fantastic, original band that stood apart from the crowd, as represented here by the tune Fresh Garbage. Other already noteworthy or soon-to-become-so bands helped to begin the year with a bang. Bob Dylan’s iconic All Along The Watchtower sounds quaint and demo-ish compared to the unforgettable Hendrix version that would follow. The Byrds offered their anti-war sentiments in the moving Draft Morning, and the Velvet Underground showed why they would become the touchstone for a million other bands with Here She Comes Now. Steppenwolf got flipped when the bland pop of Everybody’s Next One was ignored by DJs in favour of B-Side Born To Be Wild. Zappa and the Mothers of Invention riled up the hippies with their scathing critique of the San Francisco scene in Who Needs the Peace Corps. Del Shannon attempted to resurrect his career, but Silver Birch, replete with horns and orchestra, just did not make the cut. Psychedelic darlings the Strawberry Alarm Clock released the trippy but catchy Pretty Song From Psych-Out, a soundtrack tune that proves these guys had talent. The Grateful Dead also drove head on into the proverbial brick wall with the single version of Dark Star, a two and a half minute tune that would extend to thirty minutes in future concerts. Synths would begin to find their way into the hearts of serious musicians such as The United States Of America’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Heady Baroque pop gave it a good try in the shape of Ars Nova’s Fields Of People, and folky harmonies abounded in the form of Hearts And Flowers’ Tin Angel (famous for launching the career of future Eagle Bernie Leadon) and Mortimer’s Dedicated Music Man.

Disc Two picks up in April 1968 when garage rock bands began to flower. We The People’s When I Arrive, The Kaleidoscope’s Just A Taste and The Movement’s Green Knight were all about rocking good fun. But then so was the bubblegum pop of the 1910 Fruitgum Company, who rebelled with a serious stab at music with (Poor Old) Mr. Jensen, a commercial flop. Undaunted, songwriters of the day attempted to push the boundaries of pop with mature and more sophisticated fare. At the head of the pack was The Left Banke (Dark Is The Bark) with The Peppermint Trolley giving them a run for their money (Trust), but neither would fare well. Bucking the trend, The Band’s This Wheel’s On Fire, a co-write with Dylan, was destined to be a classic, as was its complete opposite, Iron Butterfly’s proto-metal juggernaut In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Dennis Wilson showed that Brian was not the only talented Wilson brother with the Beach Boys’ Little Bird. Further excursions into synth weirdness showed how far ahead of the times Silver Apples were with Oscillations. At the same time, bright lights like Love (Laughing Stock) and Electric Prunes (Shadows) were running out of creative energy.

By the time August (and Disc Three) rolled around, Buffalo Springfield had pieced together a third album from scraps such as Steven Stills’ Questions, a song rewritten and given new life on CSNY’s Déjà vu album. Folk continued its dalliance with rock to produce some beautiful pieces like Glad’s Johnny Silver’s Ride (an ode to John Lennon), the Children’s Maypole, and the Jefferson Airplane-influenced Johan Sebastion Cheetah by The Yankee Dollar. The Fugs’ mashup of Gregorian chant, expressive horns and a hefty dose of rock made Crystal Liaison a highlight, with KAK hot on their rollicking good time heels via Everything’s Changing. Trippy folk was dying out, but H.P. Lovecraft breathed some life into the dying beast with Mobius Trip. Rock bands turned up the volume with the Nazz’s Back Of Your Mind and a more sophisticated but still guttural Blue Cheer doing Feathers From Your Tree. Captain Beefheart turned up the noise with the barely listenable Safe As Milk and Moving Sidewalks virtually assaulted the Beatle’s I Wanna Hold Your Hand with a metal pipe. The Beau Brummels dropped Anglophilia for country on Turn Around, but SRC continued its embrace of the English Invasion with Daystar. Several tunes I would have loved to hear in context, such as Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover and the Monkees’ Can You Dig It were not included in the review copy.

Half the fun of the Grapefruit Records experience is the liner notes. Writer David Wells once more provides geeked-out research about bands you know and those you likely have never heard of. Even if not every song on Can’t Seem To Come Down sticks with you, each one is worth hearing at least once. Like that history book in high school, you might not have appreciated it fully back then, but in retrospect there are plenty of cool things worth remembering. Keep them coming, Mr. Wells.

Disc One

01. Spirit – Fresh Garbage (3:14)
02. Things To Come – Come Alive (3:02)
03. The Lemon Pipers – The Shoemaker Of Leatherware Square (2:01)
04. The Merry-Go-Round – Come Ride, Come Ride (2:49)
05. The Byrds – Draft Morning (2:38)
06. Bob Dylan – All Along The Watchtower (2:31)
07. The Velvet Underground – Here She Comes Now (2:03)
08. Tom Rush – No Regrets (3:52)
09. Steppenwolf – Everybody’s Next One (2:57)
10. The Savage Resurrection – Thing In ‘E’ (3:04)
11. Children of The Mushroom – You Can’t Erase A Mirror (3:01)
12. Diamond Rings – Which End Is Up (2:38)
13. Piece Kor – Words of the Raven (2:43)
14. The Mothers of invention – Who Needs the Peace Corps (2:36)
15. Strawberry Alarm Clock – Pretty Song From Psych-Out (3:18)
16. The Nomads – Three O’Clock Merrian Webster Time (3:18)
17. Sidewalk Skipper Band – Strawberry Tuesday (2:48)
18. Del Shannon – Silver Birch (3:08)
19. Brian Hyland – Delilah (3:09)
20. The Baroque Monthly – You Are Your Only Mystery (3:08)
21. Spontaneous Corruption – Freaky Girl (2:39)
22. The United States of America – Garden of Earthly Delights (2:40)
23. Mortimer – Dedicated Music Man (3:26)
24. Ars Nova – Fields of People (2:54)
25. Crystal Chandelier – The Setting of Despair (2:44)
26. Grateful Dead – Dark Star (Single Version) (2:42)
27. Hearts and Flowers – Tin Angel (Will you Ever Come Down) (4:35)

Time: 79:38

Disc Two
01. We the People – When I Arrive (3:05)
02. 1910 Fruitgum Company – (Poor Old) Mr. Jensen (2:19)
03. The Kaleidoscope – Just A Taste (2:15)
04. The Human Beinz – The face (2:44)
05. The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Eighteen Is Over The Hill (2:42)
06. Lemon Fog – Summer (3:47)
07. Critters – Awake In A Dream (2:24)
08. Eternity’s Children – Rupert White (2:10)
09. Quicksilver Messenger Service – Light Your Windows (2:36)
10. The Phoenix Trolley – Three Part Invention (Too Many Trees In The Forest) (2:18)
11. Love – Laughing Stock (2:33)
12. The Beach Boys – Little Bird (1:59)
13. Silver Apples – Oscillations (2:49)
14. The Electric Prunes – Shadows (2:22)
15. Graf Zepplin – You’re In My Mind (2:38)
16. The Left Banke – Dark Is The Bark (3:30)
17. October Country – Cowboys and Indians (2:15)
18. The Millennium – The Island (3:22)
19. The Wind In the Willows – Wheel Of Changes (4:02)
20. The World Column – The Lantern Gospel (3:30)
21. The Band – This Wheel’s On Fire (3:12)
22. Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Single Edit) (2:54)
23. The Truth – P.S. (Prognosis Stenosis) (3:16)
24. The Movement – Green Night (3:01)
25. The Vectors – Paisley Haze (2:30)
26. The Sunstone Lollypop – Never Sad (2:40)
27. The Peppermint Trolley – Trust (2:38)
28. Mother’s Worry – Can’t Seem To Come Down (2:54)

Time: 78:25

Disc Three
01. Buffalo Springfield – Questions (2:37)
02. The Seeds – Satisfy You (Single Mix) (2:07)
03. The Children – Maypole (2:49)
04. The Yankee Dollar – Johann Sebastian Cheetah (3:05)
05. The Fugs – Crystal Liaison (3:36)
06. KAK – Everything’s Changing (4:05)
07. Blue Cheer – Feathers From Your Tree (3:31)
08. Velvet Haze – Last Day On Earth (2:21)
09. SRC – Daystar (4:27)
10. H. P. Lovecraft – Mobius Trip (2:46)
11. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe As Milk (5:29)
12. The Fallen Angels – I’ll Drive You From My Mind (4:27)
13. The Little Boy Blues – Mr. Tripp Wouldn’t Listen (3:42)
14. Nazz – Back Of Your Mind (3:47)
15. The Ravelles – Psychedelic Movement (2:32)
16. The Yellow Payges – Crowd Pleaser (2:24)
17. The Moving Sidewalks – I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Alternate take 2) (3:25)
18. Brass Buttons – Hell Will Take Care Of You (2:59)
19. The Beau Brummels – Turn Around (3:02)
20. Glad – Johnny Silver’s Ride (3:21)
21. Merrell Frankhauser & H.M.S. Bounty – Rich Man’s Fable*
22. Tommy James & The Shondells – Crimson and Clover*
23. The Free Design – An Elegy*
24. The Monkees – Can You Dig It*

*Not available for review

Way too many to list…

Record Label: Grapefruit | Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 19th July 2024

Grapefruit – Website (at Cherry Red Records) | Facebook
Cherry Red Records – Compilation Info at Cherry Red | Facebook | X