done it again. They've confounded me completely.
Hearing Black Monk Time for the first time
was, of course, a mind-shattering experience. But
you probably know that already, don't you?
Seeing The Monks on video, via some badly-dubbed
old German TV clips, was another revelation altogether.
Who would've thought that this angry, howling music
could have looked like such FUN on stage?
And now, here it is again. You've heard about the
material that's on this CD....and, like me, wondered
if you'd ever get to hear it yourself. And now you
can. But, as I said, you'll be confounded. It's
nothing like you'd expect. It's an epiphany.
I have always rolled my eyes in disgust when confronted
with glassy-eyed blue-skinned "Tape Traders" who,
zombie-like, compile endless stacks of C90 cassettes
with 38 different live versions of ONE SONG by their
favorite band--37 of which sound EXACTLY THE SAME
to me except for one or two little Guitar Farts
right before the third verse. Who needs it? Music
was meant to be ENJOYED on some level--not over-intellectualized
Which brings us to Five Upstart Americans
by The Monks, newly released on Johan Kugelberg's
OMPLATTEN label--home of the Mutantes reissues.
Why, you might wonder, did we need this disc? We
already have, arguably, one of the finest-honed
bejeweled nuggets of the 1960s in Black Monk
Time--of what actual use is the "work tape?"
Aren't we in danger of indulging in that over-intellectualization
we were just speaking about?
Of course you know the story. These are the demo
recordings that the band made, as they were morphing
from Torquays to Monks. They're grasping around
in the dark, trying to form a sound which has no
blueprint. Yet, as you listen to it, you can FEEL
how close they are to their final goal--and yet,
how close they still are to sounding like The Torquays.
Sounds like something you can imagine without actually
hearing it, right? Well, you're wrong.
You've heard two of these tracks already, of course,
and that's what's going to mess you up. The bonus
tracks on the Black Monk Time CD are from
these sessions--and they are, surprisingly, the
two LEAST representative of the overall mood of
the proceedings. They're stark, bare, harrowing.
The rest of the session will have you in stitches.
The whole FEELING of it is totally unexpected. Starting
right up front, at the beginning of each track,
with Larry's organ intros--they're not spooky and
foreboding at all, but very straight and churchy.
Roger has not yet settled in totally on his unique
spartan drumming style--he's literally straddling
halfway between Bar Band Roger and the Roger From
Hell that you have come to know and love. Ditto
for Eddie's bass--make no mistake, it does growl
like an angry mongrel, but it's turned up to only
eleven rather than the subsequent fourteen.
Dave's banjo sound is nothing like it is on BMT
either. It sounds like a BANJO here. This will not
disappoint you. If anything, it's even MORE unsettling
hearing this music being played on such a happy-sounding
by the way, we must do something about this "BMT"
acronym we've all been using. If you're a New Yorker,
it's at once unsettling and appropriate--to us,
y'see, BMT will always stand for "Brooklyn/Manhattan
Transit", and a screaming subway train is as good
an analogy for the Monks in 1966 as it was for the
Dolls in 1973. Perhaps we can get the boys to call
their forthcoming live album "IRT", and then the
reunion album could be "IND." Oh well. Those of
you in the REST of the world can just ignore all
of that. In fact, you had better.
Musically, Gary's guitar is probably the closest
to fully-formed, although you can tell he's still
exploring. It's his SINGING that's very different
here--it's much more "musical" (read: "normal")
than on BMT. An even greater revelation:
his spoken introductions to several of the songs
indicate what a pile of fun was being had by all
Here's what you get: thoroughly different versions
of Monk Time, Wie Du, Higgledy Piggledy,
and a TOTALLY different rendering of Love Came
Tumbling Down--a song that I never felt received
enough credit for its thoroughly schizo intensity--a
song that manages to blend post-doo-wop vocalising
with the kind of instrumental skronk that would
not sound out of place on a Blue Cheer album, for
Christ's sake....(think I'm kidding? Find someone
who knows music but doesn't know the Monks. Play
them JUST THE LAST LINE OF THE CHORUS on the BMT
version....."In your arms I must re-TURRRRRNNNNNNNN".....and
ask 'em who it is. Betcha they guess Johnny Maestro
and the Crests.) The version on FUA lacks
those harmonies but makes up for it in sheer weirdness.
You also get another version of Boys Are Boys,
and two songs you've heard about but never HEARD:
Uschi Puschi [sic] and Pretty Suzanne.
The former is everything you've hoped for and more,
and I'll leave it at that. The latter is, I think,
the very best example of the Monks' musical and
lyrical strategy......they make those two words,
"Pretty Suzanne" speak volumes just via repetition......there's
no "Pretty Suzanne, she lights up the sky with her
ey-ey-eyes," or any such nonsense.
(Not even "Pretty Suzanne, she smells like a man"
or "Pretty Suzanne, even on the can." No charge
Seriously, those two words are all you get. Whether
you speak English or not, you will get the message.
And you will fill in the blanks yourself. You can't
Finally--and a huge bag of kudos to whomever came
up with this idea--you get both sides of the original
and impossibly rare Torquays 45, Boys Are Boys
and There She Walks. These have previously
been available on a German compilation CD of dubious
legality--well, no, that's not true, it was of ZERO
legality--but whomever compiled that one used a
very scratchy copy of the 45. I don't know what
the source was for this CD, but they sound perfect.
And if you haven't heard THESE either--whooooooo.
If you make the mistake, as I did, of thinking the
Torquays were a competent but standard-issue "Frat
House" style band, this will open your eyes so wide
they may fall out of your head into your corned
beef hash. There She Walks, in particular,
is an astonishing composition--the verses are broken
up into odd-shaped fragments and re-combined at
the end, in a way that was totally unheard-of at
the time.....it may remind you of the way artists
like XTC play with the song-form and subject it
to a virtual vivisection........ah, well, there's
really no point in trying to describe this to you.
The only way you'll ever understand this is if you
HEAR it......and this is what I recommend you do.
A huge tip of the hat to Omplatten for an excellent
package, as well.....great liners by Eddie and Gary.....and
great pictures as well. Some you've seen, some you
haven't. Two pictures in particular are quite telling:
the one on the cover, reproduced above, shows the
Monks as you know them. One of the shots on the
inside is much more representative, I think, of
the band that created these demos--they have the
Monks LOOK, but their faces tell a different story
altogether. It's a whole coming-of-age metaphor
that I won't bore you with. Suffice to say that
the guy who would soon howl "I hate you with a passion
baybaaaaayyyy" looks, for all the world, like a
cross between Eddie Haskell and Mike Love. And I
hope he reads that with the affection it's intended
with, or I'm gonna have to go hide under something......
version: Buy this. Now.