In June 2016 - Los Angeles band SPIRIT are making the news for their alleged plagiarism court case with Led Zeppelin over the opening acoustic guitar refrain for "Stairway To Heaven" which Spirit survivors feel the Zepsters lifted from their song "Taurus" off their June 1968 self-titled album - "Spirit". Personally I'd rather have punters focus on the good Doctor Sardonicus - their sophisticated 3rd platter from late 1970. So here are the dreamlike details...
UK released November 1996 (reissued October 2009) - "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" by SPIRIT on Epic/Legacy 485173 2 (Barcode 5099748517326) features the 12-track 1970 album Remastered onto CD with Four Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (54:20 minutes):
1. Prelude - Nothin' To Hide
2. Nature's Way
3. Animal Zoo
4. Love Has Found A Way
5. Why Can't I Be Free
6. Mr. Skin
7. Space Child [Side 2]
8. When I Touch You
9. Street Worm
10. Life Has Just Begun
11. Morning Will Come
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 3rd studio album "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" - released November 1970 in the USA on Epic E 30267 and February 1971 in the UK on Epic S EPC 64191. Produced by DAVID BRIGGS - the album peaked at No. 63 on the USA Pop LP charts (didn't chart in the UK).
Tracks 1, 2, 5, 10, 11 and 12 written by RANDY CALIFORNIA (Lead Guitars & Vocals) - Tracks 3, 6, 8 and 9 written by JAY FERGUSON (Lead Vocals & Percussion) - Track 7 written by JOHN LOCKE (Keyboards) - Track 4 co-written between JAY FERGUSON and JOHN LOCKE. The other band members were MARK ANDES on Bass and Vocals with ED CASSIDY on Drums and Percussion.
13. Rougher Road - Previously Unreleased, Recorded 1970, Randy California song
14. Animal Zoo (Mono Single Mix) - July 1970 USA 7" single on Epic 5-10648, A-side
15. Morning Will Come - Previously Unreleased, Recorded 1970, Randy California song
16. Red Light Roll On - July 1970 USA 7" single on Epic 5-10648, Non-Album B-side to "Animal Zoo"
NOTES: Tracks 1 to 12 are STEREO - Tracks 13 to 16 in MONO
The 12-page booklet features new liner notes by Randy California that gives a track-by-track description of the song and its creation - there are several black and white promo photos of the group - Biogs on each original member of the band (the five listed above) - discussion of the famous 'distorted faces' artwork/photograph and the usual reissue credits with the whole effort dedicated to the original LP producer DAVID BRIGGS who did so much to get the sounds they wanted on different tracks. Produced for CD by BOB IRWIN - VIC ANESINI carried out the Remaster at Sony Studios in New York. He's a name I've sung the praises of before. Anesini has handled very prestigious SONY catalogue – Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Nilsson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carole King, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Santana, Paul Simon, Mountain and The Jayhawks to name but a few. I seek out his work because it’s the best to my ears. His work here is fabulous. I had the 1990 Mobile Fidelity CD for years and audio-wise they're as good as each other with the Epic/Legacy issue being a helluva lot cheaper and easier to acquire. Let's get to the Californian music...
"Prelude - Nothin' To Hide" is a wickedly good opener showcasing the Bluesy slide guitar of Randy California arising out of an Acoustic beginning. Its 3:43 minutes is full of clever chords, vocal layering and that unexpected slide break (funky) - it's lyrics about being "married to the same bride" sounding racy without knowing why. The acoustic balladry of "Nature's Way" comes as a melodic calmer after all the preceding speaker-to-speaker riffage. "Nature's Way" is a short but gorgeous song and one I return to again and again. It's followed by the album's lead off single "Animal Zoo" - the 7" Mono Single Mix of which is a Bonus Track. You can hear why Epic picked it's upbeat rhythms as an album taster - that hooky beat, the Bass break and Keyboard interlude making it more musically interesting that most anything else on the scene at the time. And as they sing "...much too fat...and a little too long..." during the sound-effect fade out in their best Todd Rundgren mad hatter voices - it had a 'Spirit' sound.
"Love Has Found A Way" floats in with speeded up guitar sounds floating over clever melodic vocal lines - sort of Frank Zappa with a melody at its vibe core. The one-minute and acoustic "Why Can't I Be Free" feels like a beautiful plea for peace of mind as it swirls around in a haze of marijuana. But then we get Side 1's other masterpiece - the brill "Mr. Skin" - it's fantastic choppy beat benefitting from Brass Arrangements done by David Blumberg. Epic in Britain gave it a belated 7" single release in February 1973 with "Nature's Way" on the B-side (Epic S EPC 7082).
Side 2 opens with probably my fave instrumental by them – the trippy brilliance of “Space Child” – a piano floater with superb sound scapes and ideas. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this but my Mobile Fidelity CD played the track to 3:44 minutes while it’s always been 3:25 minutes on this Epic CD? We then get wickedly good speaker-to-speaker guitar in the driving "When I Touch You" - a Jay Ferguson song that already has Jo Jo Gunne in it - the band he would form after Spirit with Mark Andes and his brother Matthew. "Street Worm" could easily be "Stand Up" or "Benefit" Jethro Tull - a very catchy Guitar/Piano duo back up Ferguson's wailing about 'not making any deal' with the man. Things go seriously melodic with the beautifully produced "Life Has Just Begun" - an acoustic builder where all their voices are featured to great effect (wonderful remaster). The album goes into its only Rock 'n' Roll boogie in the shape of "Morning Will Come" (lyrics from it title this review) cleverly offset by the faded-in Elton John-type piano of "Soldier" - a serious song giving huge power by the pipe organ Producer David Briggs recorded for the finisher. It rounds off an album that just grows and grows with each listen...
I had expected the Bonus Tracks to be throwaway - but if anything the Previously Unreleased Byrds-sounding "Rougher Road" is a bit of a gem. The single mix of "Animal Zoo" has a visceral punch in Mono - not so sure about the Alternate Mono Mix of "Morning Will Come" which I think loses its power compared to the finished Stereo LP cut. The 'tapes rolling - this is Take No. 1' dialogue at the beginning of the non-album B-side "Red Light Roll On" only adds to its excellence (shame there appears to be no Stereo variant of this wicked groover).
Mid 2016 and there's a variant of SPIRIT is still kicking around today - but many will cast their hearts back 46 years to this period album - "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus".
Strange, melodic, rocking, trippy, socially contemporary and so much more - the sum of all its crazy and disparate parts working together as a one very cool and cohesive whole.
As we used to say in the schoolyard when we were being terminally hip - I dig it man...