Sunday, July 25, 2010

March 10, 2010: Feed Your Baby Acid: 14 Psychedelic Songs Aimed at Kids



A rather odd off-shoot of all the chemical experimentation going down in the mid-‘60s pop scene found groups embracing their new found, pin-pupiled “innocence” and brewing up psychedelic kiddie tunes. Like Captain Kangaroo after a hit of Orange Sunshine, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, and just about anyone who was anyone leaped onto the trippy toddler choo choo. In his book 33 1/3: The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, Andy Miller describes this short-lived genre as the “something far-out in the nursery strand of British psychedelia.” The dominant influences were, indeed, English eccentrics like Lewis Carroll and, to a much lesser extent, Kenneth Graham and nonsense guru Edward Lear. As was the case with most things British and trippy, The Beatles led the way with…

1. “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles (1966)

The Beatles were diddling with kiddie ditties long before Lennon decided to transfer his Lewis Carroll-obsession from the printed pages of In His Own Write to Beatle tunes like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “I Am the Walrus”. The Fabs’ first foray into children’s music actually came from the mind of Paul McCartney, although pal Donovan Leitch claimed to help compose “Yellow Submarine”. Donovan certainly joined in on the merry sing-a-long chorus about a magical undersea vessel. As a track on the relatively bleak Revolver, “Yellow Submarine” offers some respite from all the dead spinsters, drug dealers, and “People standing ‘round who’ll screw you in the ground.” Its central theme of escape did not escape Beatle-analysts, who read drug connotations into the lyrics. However, composer McCartney and singer Ringo Starr both asserted that “Yellow Submarine” was nothing more than a children’s song.







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2. “Dandelion” by The Rolling Stones (1967)

One thing could always be counted on in the topsy turvy mid-‘60s pop environment: whatever The Beatles did, The Stones would do four months later. When The Beatles released their folk-rock masterpiece Rubber Soul in late ’65, The Stones followed with Aftermath in the Spring of ’66. When the Beatles dabbled with sitars on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, The Stones did the same with “Paint It Black”. The Beatles went whole-hog psychedelic on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, so The Stones did too on Their Satanic Majesties Request And when The Beatles returned to rootsy Rock & Roll with “Lady Madonna” and “The White Album… yep… The Stones released “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Beggars Banquet. So, as odd a move as it was for the filthy, furious Rolling Stones to try their hands at children’s music, it still shouldn’t be a shocker considering that The Beatles had success with the genre a few months prior. And as was often the case with their clockwork aping of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones did it better. Although “Dandelion” opts for daft nursery rhymes rather than the storybook yarn-spinning of “Yellow Submarine”, it is much more interesting musically, with its very Lennon and McCartney-esque harmonies and unsettlingly elliptical cries of “Blow away dandy-liiiiiiiine!” Charlie Watts’s merciless drumming and Bill Wyman’s greasy basswork keep “Dandelion” firmly in Stones territory.







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3. “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree” by The Move (1967)

Few bands embraced sing-songy children’s music with the zeal of The Move. Even when pounding out rhythms with the fury of a bunch of Birmingham geezers in gangster suits, The Move always supplied a touch of toddler whimsy because composer Roy Wood couldn’t suppress his love for a simple melody and a silly lyric. But the cutesy “tra la la la” tune and tinker-toy keyboards of “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree” mask a rather disturbing tale of a peeping tom. Or does it? After all, the song ends with the pervy peeper and the bikini-clad dolly bird innocently twisting and frugging around the title lemon tree. Still, I’ll wager this is not a number for the wee ones.







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4. “Pegasus” by The Hollies (1967)

At their best, The Hollies were pop’s masters of uncloying sweetness. Songs like “Carrie Anne” and “On a Carousel” trot right up to the precipice of bubble gum without tumbling into the saccharine abyss. They weren’t always that sure-footed, though (“Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe”? “Charlie and Fred”? Ugh). When The Hollies made their kiddie pop bid with “Pegasus”, they could have easily made a blunder of seismic proportions, yet the song has a melancholic tone that undercuts its cutesiness. This may be due to the somewhat flat lead vocal by guitarist Tony Hicks. That melancholic tone certainly can’t be credited to the whinnying trumpets or the “Hey, kids…it’s magic time!” chimes and harps.







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5. “The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane” by Timon (1967)

In the liner notes of Nuggets II, the annotators compare Tymon Dogg’s grim, gruesome “The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane” to the equally creepy work of Edward Gorey. That’s a pretty apt description of a song with the chorus “She’ll find her place; she’ll find a head to pound on.” Timon’s rather unpalatable bit of demented whimsy unsurprisingly did not score him a hit, and essentially did in his career, although he was not without his admirers. In fact, 14 years after releasing “The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane”, Timon was invited to sing his own composition “Lose This Skin” on The Clash’s sprawling Sandinista!







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6. “A Dream for Julie” by Kaleidoscope (1967)

Not to be confused with the American cult band of the same name, the Kaleidoscope that recorded “A Dream for Julie” possessed an unmistakable Britishness. This particular paean to dancing Mexican clowns, strawberry monkeys, and sentient bubbles is quite like “The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane” sans all the head-pounding.







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7. “The Tinker and the Crab” by Donovan (1967)

Alleged “Yellow Submarine” co-author Donovan was at the forefront of kiddie psych. He was so enamored with singing children’s songs that he released two entire albums of such music. The double-album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden contained one platter of songs aimed at adults and one “for little ones”… which was its title when released as a single-disc L.P. in the States. The record was a fairly hit-or-miss assemblage of sparely arranged folk music. By far its best track is “The Tinker and the Crab”, an impressionistic character sketch that suggests a fairy tale without stooping to convey a coherent story. A few years later, Donovan recorded yet another children’s album, the better yet still inconsistent H.M.S. Donovan, while peppering albums in between with more delightful songs for little ones, such as “Happiness Runs”, “Riki Tiki Tavi”, and “I Like My Shirt”.







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8. “Silas Stingy” by The Who (1967)

Eternally obsessed with childhood and adolescence, Pete Townshend unleashed the most powerful and least patronizing string of songs-for-and-about kids in the ‘60s. “I’m a Boy”, “Happy Jack”, “Little Billy”, “Christmas”— all classics. Yet The Who’s writer with the most innate ability to write songs for children may have been John Entwistle, who penned fairy tales as potent as those of the Brothers Grimm because he never shied away from confronting death and misery. From the squashed arachnid of “Boris the Spider” to the demented title character(s) of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” to the murderous brother of “I’ve Been Away”, Entwistle wrote songs directly aimed at kids who couldn’t get enough of Hammer Horror movies and E.C. Comics. On “Silas Stingy” (which begins “Once upon a time…”) he even gives voice to his kiddie listenership, as they taunt the title miser with choruses of “There’s goes mingy Stingy!” In classic Entwistle fashion, this Dickensian tale of mingy stinginess percolates with paranoia, bitterness, and humor blacker than a sooty London sky.







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9. “The Gnome” by Pink Floyd (1967)

Consuming a legendary dosage of acid, Syd Barrett plummeted into a fantasy land in which he was able to fully indulge his whimsical impulses. Surreal flights of fancy fuel early Floyd freakouts like “See Emily Play”, “Bike”, and “Flaming”. “The Gnome”, however, is far more coherent, and therefore, arguably more accessible to young ones. “I want to tell you a story…” Barrett begins, and amazingly enough, he actually does tell a story! The gnome named Grimble Crumble drinks a little wine, plays a little dress up, and goes on a big adventure without ever flitting off into incomprehensible territory. “The Gnome” is a Syd Barrett song more likely to enchant children than traumatize them. As such, it’s a real anomaly.







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10. “Three Jolly Little Dwarfs” by Tomorrow (1968)

Another song about little people for little people, although unlike Floyd’s “The Gnome”, the drug of choice at the heart of “Three Jolly Little Dwarfs” seems more like speed than LSD. Tomorrow sprints through this wacky romp at a jittery rate, and it all ends with the Dwarfs’ home being annihilated by a spoilsport Giant. Not so jolly after all.







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11. “Phenomenal Cat” by The Kinks (1968)

In the grasp of a composer less expert than Ray Davies, “Phenomenal Cat” would likely be the most unbearably precious song ever recorded. With its fluttery Mellotron woodwinds, Smurfy vocal effects, and “Thumb thumb diddle-um-die” refrain, “Phenomenal Cat” has the makings of a twee disaster. But the reflective and satirical tone of Davies’s lyric, which paints the magical flying cat as a self-consuming mystic, is genuinely funny and the sparse arrangement of Mellotron, percussion, and tremeloed guitar is as exquisite as any other on the miraculous Village Green Preservation Society.







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12. “Gong with the Luminous Nose” by Les Fleur de Leys (1968)

Perhaps the heaviest entry in the kiddie-psych genre is Les Fleur de Leys’ “Gong with the Luminous Nose”. With a lumbering riff lifted from Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and a lyric lifted from Edward Lear’s “Dong with a Luminous Nose”, this track is likely to make the average four-year old go deaf. The lyric is basically pulled word-for-word from the Lear poem, but Les Fleur de Leys smartly altered the name of the title creature… “Dong” possibly being a term too suggestive to get any radio-play in 1968. Although, knowing those perverse British scribes of children’s literature, Lear may have been fully aware of what he was doing when he wrote about his Dong in 1877.







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13. “Happy Days Toy Town” by Small Faces (1968)

An absolute classic of British whimsy, Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake features a side-long song-cycle about a mad cap’s quest for the moon narrated by double-speaking comedian Stanley Unwin. The tale of Happiness Stan culminates in a knees-up called “Happy Days Toy Town”— ideal for any rowdy squad of drunken toddlers. The track offers trenchant philosophical nuggets like “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran” before Unwin describes a demented party in which Little Boy Blue freaks out the revelers with his Mellotron and Huckleberry Tickle-my-finger-hole shows up. With a name like that, there’s no question that non-G-rated activities are about to ensue.







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14. “Dance Round the May Pole” by The Acid Gallery (1969)

If you suss that “Dance Round the May Pole” sounds more than a little like The Move, give yourself a kewpie doll. Roy Wood wrote and produced this number and lends his reedy pipes to the chorus. The rest of the ridiculously named Acid Gallery was made up of members of The Epics. Coupling a heavy-handedly lysergic band name with a tune ideal for any toddler’s daily frolic, Roy Wood may have created the ultimate kiddie-psych classic.





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