All Hopped Up Music and Maps: Chapter 12
“All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Chapter 12 of my book All Hopped Up and Ready To Go: Music from The Streets Of New York 1927-77, deals with the music that emerged from the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the second half of the 1960s. I found this the most culturally exciting chapter of the book, which might explain why it initially came in at about twice its published length. It was a period of incredible political, social, and accordingly, musical foment, as reflected by the largely experimental music of the Velvet Underground, Godz, Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders. To get the mix off to a relatively comfortable start, and given that I took its title for that of the chapter, I have opened with the single version of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” with Nico on vocals, recorded in 1966. For historical purposes, however, I refer you to the lengthy multiple takes of the demo version from 1965, which can be found on the box set Peel Slowly and See. It reveals that in their earliest incarnation, the Velvet Underground – or at least Lou Reed – were beholden to New York’s folk scene.
Indeed, though the Velvets are often cited as the most influential of downtown New York bands, most of their contemporaries had already released a couple of albums by the time The Velvet Underground & Nico (which also featured “I’m Waiting For The Man,” included here) was released in 1967. The Holy Modal Rounders, for example, whose Peter Stampfel and Stephen Weber doubled up as founding members of the Fugs, recorded “Hesitation Blues” (with the first known lyrical use of the word “psychedelic”) and the enduring “Mr. Spaceman” the day before President Kennedy was assassinated, way back in November 1963; both songs were included on their eponymous debut LP, which was widely panned at the time but did much to establish a splinter scene of Village (anti-) folk musicians. That scene soon found its figureheads in The Fugs, who are included on this mix performing the late Tuli Kupferberg’s wonderfully appropriate (to the era) “Nothing,” from their 1965 Folkways debut, The Village Fugs – Ballads and Songs of Contemporary Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction, a song that cites Allen Ginsberg and the Village Voice amongst other downtown Manhattan staples. I’ve also included the harder rocking and still relevant “Kill For Peace” from the following year’s eponymous LP, released on what had been, until then, a primarily avant-garde jazz label, ESP.
The Fugs provided the inspiration for another group of Lower East Side residents, the Godz, who recorded two albums of wildly unscripted “music,” also for ESP, in 1966 and ‘67. From Contact High with The Godz, we hear the comparatively conventional “Lay In The Sun” (which the Fugs’ Ed Sanders, a classically trained poet, liked to refer to by its grammatically correct title, “Lie In the Sun”); from Godz II, the aptly titled “Riffin.” ESP had arguably its greatest commercial success with Pearls Before Swine, the nom de plume for Thomas D. Rapp, who was initially based in Florida but recorded his highly successful 1967 debut One Nation Underground in New York City; included on this mix is his anti-war song “Uncle John.”
David Peel came to prominence performing in Washington Square Park on Sundays (in a very different scene that that written about in Chapter 8), but named his group for his preferred area, the Lower East Side. His debut LP was entitled Have a Marijuana, after a writer from Time magazine misheard the title of “I Like Marijuana” (included here), when performed by Peel at a 1968 Yip-in at Grand Central Station. That LP, recorded “live on the streets of New York” (i.e. in Washington Square Park) was a surprise hit, leading Peel to recruit a band for its eventual follow-up, The American Revolution, the highlight of which was surely the group’s loveably enduring singalong anthem, “the Lower East Side.”
In my initial draft of this chapter, I followed the downtown music scene through to the very end of the 1960s with short segments on the Group Image, Lothar and the Hand People, and the Silver Apples. My editor insisted that these acts didn’t fall into the chapter’s overall ethos and that I was simply being completist. She was right, but that’s the beauty of the Internet. I’ve included in this mix “That’s Another Story” from the 1968 LP Presenting Lothar and the Hand People, and “Oscillations,” a minor hit from that year’s highly successful Silver Apples debut. More to the point, I’m including in this post, the previously discarded section, right here:
In the collectivist hippie heyday of 1967-68, when new organizations sprang up as regularly as new bands, the Group Image walked the thin line between commune and rock group. A Village-based collective that operated as visual artists and political activists while maintaining a solid core of musicians, they held down a lengthy residency through 1968 at the Diplomat Hotel near Time Square with a presumably psychedelic “music dance and light show.” But when it came time for the Group Image musicians to make an album, co-produced by Shadow Morton for the Community label, they could not rise above comparisons to the Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane. (Morton had greater success with Vanilla Fudge, one of the many Long Island covers bands indebted to the Rascals, whose painfully slow interpretation of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” eventually became a major national hit and helped pave the way for the heavy metal sound.) Then there was Lothar and The Hand People, whose putative leader was in fact a theremin. In 1968 they could be found headlining above Sly and the Family Stone and the Youngbloods, which led to a deal with Capitol and, in 1969, a minor hit with “Space Hymn” though, like some of the other Lower East Side groups, the music did not so well stand the test of time.
The use of proto-electronic instrumentation was far better realized by the Silver Apples, a duo of disgruntled Greenwich Village cover band performers: Simeon Coxe, who developed a vast interweaved bank of oscillators, over which he sang poetry written by a friend Warren Stanley; and Dan Taylor, who tuned his ten tom tom drums to the oscillator chords, themselves identified by colors rather than notes or keys. Signing with a small independent label, Kapp Records, and self-producing their debut album because no one else knew how to record such music, the duo found themselves with a surprise hit on their hands; Silver Apples spent ten weeks in the album charts in 1968, with lead track “Oscillators” getting considerable airplay. This led not only to national tours but to an invitation from Mayor Lindsay to perform their futuristic music in Central Park during the Moon Landing of July 1969. Though the Silver Apples had not come up through the avant-garde mix of the Lower East Side, they found themselves performing at the Fillmore alongside the Fugs, Mailer and Ginsberg, and working at La Mama as the live musicians for Cockstrong, a play put on through John Vaccaro’s appropriately-named Playhouse of the Ridiculous. A second album for Kapp, Contact, coincided with the label’s demise, and the act failed to continue its career elsewhere, but the Silver Apples’ influence on electronic music would prove considerable.
View 12) All Tomorrow’s Parties in a larger map