It’s the late 60s’, and a cacophony of static, crosstalk, and distorted rock and roll can be heard blaring from cheap transistor radios as you race down the hallway to your next class. AM radio is the mainstay of most music hungry teens. Only a few isolated ‘stoners and heads’ have made the transition from AM to FM for those deep LP cuts extending beyond the allotted three-minute time limit for a hit single. But for the majority of school age kids AM radio and the Billboard Top 20 is the soundtrack to their lives. Popular music was the lifeblood of the American youth and the pulsating 4/4 beat transmitted by those cheap transistor radios delivered the groove to our auditory system.
The 60s’ was a great decade for popular rock music of every ilk: heralding the invasion of shaggy haired Brits and the lads from Liverpool, a plethora of American garage rock bands from every major city, the dynasty of Barry Gordy and the Detroit Motown sound, sugar sweet yummy yummy Bubblegum music, tributes to hots rods, muscle cars and surfers from artists like THE BEACH BOYS and JAN and DEAN, love songs from THE ASSOCIATION, THE TURTLES, MAMAS AND PAPAS and NEW COLONY SIX, as well as chart toppers from popular mainstream artists like Neil Diamond, Lou Christie, Donovan, Petula Clark, and Tom Jones, and even Sergeant Barry Sandler snagged a hit single about the Green Berets.
And it was a time for quirky novelty songs like "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" (THE FIFTH ESTATE), "They’re Coming To Take Me Away" (NAPOLEON XIV), and "Winchester Cathedral" (THE NEW VAUDVILLE BAND); as well as some amazing ‘One Hit Wonders’ that topped the charts then disappeared into oblivion – examples being: THE ELECTRIC PRUNES ("Too Much To Dream"), THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS ("You’re Gonna Miss Me"), COUNT FIVE ("Psychotic Reaction"), BLUES MAGOOS ("We Aint Got Nothin’ Yet"), STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK ("Incense And Peppermint"), SOUL SURVIVORS ("Expressway To Your Heart"), and CRAZY ELEPHANT ("Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’") to name a few.
One such ‘One Hit Wonder’ came in the guise of charismatic front man Arthur Brown and his trio THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN, consisting of vocalist Brown, Drachen Theaker (drums) and Vincent Crane (keyboards). Brown’s blistering 1968 hit single "Fire" became the antithesis of the 1967 Summer Of Love, with frightening lyrics spouting anarchy and Hellspawn destruction. Brown delivered the lines with manic screeching fury.
Arthur Brown’s performance was a tour de force. His vocal chord gymnastics were as amazing as the sustained feedback Hendrix coaxed from his guitar. And like many others who thought "Fire" kicked ass, I anxiously awaited a follow-up single that never materialized.
The group disbanded shortly thereafter in the midst of their 1969 American tour before the release of their second album "Strangelands" – which would not see the light of day until 1989.
The raucous napalm inferno that had been THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN quietly flickered into a fading ember and the group became little more than a footnote in rock and roll history as just another ‘One Hit Wonder’.
But that was hardly the end of Arthur Brown. He materialized with a new group KINGDOM COME, and produced "Galactic Zoo Dossier" – an adventurous excursion into early pioneering prog, space, and electronic rock. And although not a commercial success at the time of its release it is now considered the pinnacle of his music legacy.
Brown was a ground breaking pioneer in flamboyant theatrical shock rock, predating the antics of Alice Cooper, Kiss, Marilyn Manson, and Peter Gabriel with his use of make-up, pyrotechnics, and bizarre on-stage antics, including stripping down to his bare flesh, a mock crucifixion, and nearly setting himself and everyone around him ablaze.
Arthur Brown may have looked like the title character of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (in Kabuki make-up) but sang like a demented version of the popular Welsh crooner Tom Jones.
Musically the compositions on "Galactic Zoo Dossier" are firmly in the early psychedelic/ progressive/space rock genre: adventurous, complex, energetic, and occasionally bizarre and totally off-the-wall.
For those looking for a point of reference, musically speaking, KINGDOM COME is comparable to THE NICE, HAWKWIND, ZAPPA, and ATOMIC ROOSTER. As for comparisons to Brown’s voice that’s another matter – he is unique – and the only person to come close to his passion and fury is Janis Joplin.
The bulk of the vocals on "Galactic Zoo Dossier" are handled by Brown, but on the track "Trouble", the lead vocals are provided by Julian Paul Brown. The tune is reminiscent of the material on x-Crimson alumni Pete Sinfield’s solo album "Still"; very trippy and sedate.
The surrounding cast of musicians assembled by Brown is top notch and up to the task of performing the adventurous tunes on "Galactic Zoo Dossier" – they are: Desmond John Fisher (bass), Michael William Greenville Harris (organ, keyboards), Denis Taylor (lights), Marin Phillip John Steer (drums), Julian Paul Brown (vocals), Andrew Kenneth Dalby (guitar), and of course Arthur Brown (vocals and general mayhem).
Esoteric Recordings and the team of Mark and Vicky Powell, and 24-bit digital re-mastering by Paschal Byrne at The Audio Archive Company have done another masterful job of reviving and re-issuing a lost gem. As well as making available previously unreleased bonus tracks.
"Galactic Zoo Dossier" is required listening for progressive rock fans and a welcome addition to anyone’s music collection.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on September 16th, 2010