Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blue Cheer – "Summertime Blues" (1968)

Lord, I got to raise a fuss
Lord, I got to raise a holler

Blue Cheer sure as hell raised not only a fuss but also a holler on their cover of “Summertime Blues,” which Eddie Cochran originally recorded in 1958.  

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It seems counterintuitive that many of the loudest and “heaviest” bands of the sixties – bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grand Funk Railroad, and James Gang – were power trios with only a single guitar player.

Blue Cheer was as loud and heavy as anyone.  Jim Morrison said they were “the single most powerful band I’ve ever seen.”

From The Mix website:

As the tale goes, Blue Cheer were so loud that at one show a dog sitting on an amplifier actually exploded.  Taking blues-rock cues from England and adding sun-blocking stacks of Marshall amps, these acid-charred hippies . . .  practically invented heavy metal.

I second that emotion: if Blue Cheer’s first album, Vincebus Eruptum, isn’t the original heavy metal album, I don’t know what is.   (Vincebus Eruptum was released in January 1968 – a full year before Led Zeppelin and two years before Black Sabbath.)

But calling Vincebus Eruptum a heavy metal album doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s also a psychedelic/acid rock album, a punk album, and a grunge album.

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I bought Vincebus Eruptum for 33 cents at a discount store in my hometown that was so low-budget that it made Walmart look like Neiman Marcus.  (By the way, the album’s name is faux Latin – it doesn’t mean anything.)

I loved Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues” even more than the Eddie Cochran original (which may be the best rock ’n’ roll song of the 1950s).  But I think I only listened to the rest of the album once.  

AllMusic’s Mark Deming has described Vincebus Eruptum as “a glorious celebration of rock & roll primitivism run through enough Marshall amps to deafen an army.” 

Primitive, yes – loud enough to deafen an army, yes.  (It has been called “the loudest record ever made.”)

But I’m not so sure about “glorious” – maybe I need to give it another listen. 

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Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues” is one of those rare covers that turns an iconic song inside out and upside down, and ends up with something that’s completely different from the original but just as good.

Blue Cheer
The only other cover that I can think of that is comparable is Vanilla Fudge’s apocalyptic version of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

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By the way, Blue Cheer’s name was inspired by a variety of LSD that was manufactured by Owsley Stanley, who not only was the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer but also the creator of that band’s skull logo.

From all accounts, it seems that the members of the band consumed more than their fair share of Blue Cheer.

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Here’s the first paragraph of a piece about Blue Cheer that appeared in 2016 on the Teamrock website.  It’s as excessive and over-the-top as the Vincebus Eruptum album:

They were the bellowing Gods Of F*ck.  There were no big ugly noises in rock’n’roll before Blue Cheer.  They created sonic brutality, coiling their teenage angst into an angry fist of sludge and feedback and hurling it at stunned, stoned hippies like a wave of mutilation.  Everything about them was badass.  They had a Hell’s Angel for a manager, they were despised by the other bands in their scene, and they played so loud that people ran from them in fear.  Proto-punk, proto-metal and proto-rehab, Blue Cheer took acid, wore tight pants, cranked their walls of Marshall stacks and proved, once and for all, that when it came to all things rock, excess was always best.

When “Summertime Blues” became a top 20 hit single, Blue Cheer appeared on TV shows like American Bandstand (you can click here to see video of that appearance) and The Steve Allen Comedy Hour to promote the record.

Here’s how Steve Allen introduced them: “Ladies and gentlemen, Blue Cheer.  Run for your lives!”

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Here’s “Summertime Blues”:

Click below to buy the record from Amazon:

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