Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band - Safe As Milk
"I may be hungry but I sure ain't weird" - Captain Beefheart, Safe As Milk
Being the line that finishes the song Safe As Milk, which appears here in the form of a bonus track but did so officially on the later Strictly Personal, Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), claimed one thing from the relative safety of his first two albums and set off on a series of recordings to immediately disprove it.
According to John Peel, who was so enamoured of Beefheart that he drove him between venues, the Captain and his Magic Band were booked to play a gig on their first UK tour following the release of Safe As Milk at Frank Freeman's Dancing School in Kidderminster. Thinking that this was some kind of groovy name for a late-60's counter-culture happening, Peel drove Beefheart to Kidderminster only to find that said venue was indeed a dancing school run by Frank Freeman and his wife Wynne who would make sandwiches for the band before and after the show.
Only those present can know what Kidderminster made of Beefheart's skewed rock and blues but they should be thankful that it was Safe As Milk that was being promoted and not the later and more daunting Trout Mask Replica. For if you are at all interested in sampling the recorded output of one of rock's greatest artists, Safe As Milk is without doubt the point at which you should begin.
Opening with Ry Cooder's slide introduction to Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do, the opening track bucks like a devil with each chorus lifting the music into a rhythm into which all instruments, including Van Vliet's voice, become locked. Zig Zag Wanderer continues this opening, being a bass rumble that holds the melody in the same tonal range as Van Vliet's booming vocal while brittle guitars ride over the top. With Call On Me and Dropout Boogie being good-time stompers and I'm Glad showing that Beefheart could do ballads, it Electricity that forms the centrepiece of the album, being a theremin-driven track over which Van Vliet yelps that a, "High voltage man kisses night, brings the light to those who need to hide their shadow deeds" before a quickening chorus lifts the song out of its psychedelic opening to as conventional as piece of rock music as Beefheart would get. Yellow Brick Road keeps this aspect of the album before Abba Zaba and Plastic Factory drag the album into rough and ready blues.
Thereafter, the album winds down to close with the tender and spooked Autumn's Child but not before Grown So Ugly in which a man finds on waking, he was grown so ugly that he, "don't even know myself". That he ends by the song by pleading with his girlfriend not to throw him out shows that despite the often and fairly made accusation that Beefheart is odd, he can also be wildly funny. However, despite all else, Beefheart has a knack of connecting phrases to bring meaning to his songs, often recalling the imagery of the Mojave desert, where he now lives. Therefore, in songs like Plastic Factory, Beefheart states where he wants to be at with, "Wind and wave all blowin'; Mountain 'n' sky showin'" against where he is with, "Motor's engine churnin', fac'trys no place for me boss man, let me be." On the page even, these don't look particularly strong lyrics, reminiscent of the southern blues so influential to Beefheart, but when locked against the angular rock of this album, the songs are incredibly accurate in their painting of a picture. Things would get a lot better and very soon, reaching the highs of songs like The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back on Trout Mask Replica.
This remastered release of Safe As Milk includes seven bonus tracks, beginning with Safe As Milk (Take 5), which are mostly instrumentals and demonstrate how well-formed and tight Beefheart's backing by The Magic Band really was. Best of all, these seven tracks indicate that the psychedelic boogie of Safe As Milk was ready to be left behind for the wailing desert blues of Strictly Personal and Trout Mask Replica, after which nothing would be the same again.