Mighty Baby "Mighty Baby" (Head Records, 1969) review
One of the great debut albums of all time by the UK's Mighty Baby.
Mighty Baby- "Mighty Baby" [Head Records 1969] Sometimes refered to as the "Egyptian Tomb" LP.
by Bob Mickey Spillane, host of The Dangerous R&R Show
Mighty Baby's self titled debut, one of the greatest of all psychedelic records of the 60's, was languishing in obscurity for over 10 years before Psycho Records reissued it in the 80's. After what was a limited pressing it went back in limbo until the advent of CD's when the word eventually got around and it's now considered a psychedelic classic. Hard to find on vinyl when it came out and even harder to find these days at garage sales, attics, musty & moldy basements, or even auctions, it's a skillful blend of psych, jazz, great melodies & songwriting. At it's core the music is wrapped around the instrumental dexterity of Martin Stone and Ian Whiteman's mesmerizing woodwind and keyboard passages.
Mighty Baby was formed in 1968 around Alan "Bam" King [guitar), Mike Evans (bass) and Roger Powell (drums), all were founding members of one of the UK's greatest Mod groups, The Action. Late-period arrivals Martin Stone (guitar, ex-Savoy Brown) and Ian Whiteman (piano, saxophone) completed the lineup and Mighty Baby was born. Stone & Whiteman actually joined the latter days of The Action making what would be known as "The Action/Mighty Baby Demos". Most of my record collecting acquaintances bow their heads and speak in hushed tones when the subject of Mighty Baby comes up. "You donżt have an extra copy kicking around? Do you? It doesn't have to be Mint....I'll take a beat up copy.. just so I have one, you know?"
But I digress.....as mentioned before, the roots of Mighty Baby lie in The Action, a mod band from London who formed in 1963 and gained a healthy following due to their powerhouse live shows and a clutch of five finger poppin' singles released between the years 1965 and 1967 on the Parlophone label. But as the mid 60's turned into the late 60's, striped bell bottoms and frilly chest baring Rod Stewart tops were being turned in for kaftans and acid tabs all around London. [Has anyone told Rod that he's a wee bit not happening these days? I mean really....The Cole Porter Songbook?!!??] Musical barriers weren't just being kicked down they were demolished and conciousness was being expanded. The Action was there front and center ready to mount their assault.
The initial change came when Action acquired guitarist Martin Stone and pianist Ian Whiteman into their fold. Stone was fresh from a stint of trying to psychedelicize Savoy Brown. As the story goes, Stone got Savoy Brown busted for drugs when he was searched at the airport and was promptly tossed out on his arse.....who knows how these rumors start?....you be the judge. One day I will have Martin Stone on The Dangerous R&R Show and we'll ask him. With two highly proficient and willing new members, The Action saw their opportunity to "Tune In, Turn On & Drop Out".
The Action loved jazz and while Mingus & Miles were admired they adored the king of freedom, John Coltrane. When Ian Whiteman joined the band they developed their particular style of "freeform" by covering Coltrane's INDIA. Mighty Baby's recording of this song is only available on a CD entitled FROM THE ATTIC. A live recording made in 1971, discovered in the attic of one of the members, and released by the band. The CD claims "That's all there is, there is no more". When Mighty Baby started playing their rock-fueled version of India with a belly full of enthusiasm and a head full of blotter, they confused the mods and sent dope soaked hippies into outer space.
The quintet's self-titled debut album, released on Head Records in 1969, starts with what is considered their theme song....
EGYPTIAN TOMB: What is this glorious racket coming out of my speakers? What instruments are creating that melody? From the opening my ears are standing up straighter than Lyndon B. Johnson's beagle at a photo shoot. Whitemans' sax [left channel] and Stones' guitar [right channel] are seamless and yet altogether miles apart. Then all of a sudden the chorus comes crashing down and I'm on my knees asking...no.. begging for more. A wonderful blend of jazz, rock and melody seemingly improvised but somehow you know that this isn't possible! Martin Stones' over amplified guitar notes seem liquid.....caressing every nuance....gaining momentum until it's dissipated finality. 5 minutes / 30 seconds of brilliance.
A FRIEND YOU KNOW BUT NEVER SEE: is lighter fare... maybe ....rolling piano, powerful drumming and guitarwork that is certainly skinny dipping in the "Oil-0-Joy" with a riff that The Bevis Frond might have borrowed for "African Violet" this is one outstanding track.
I'VE BEEN DOWN SO LONG: the band dips into the west-coast vibe, Whiteman trading in his sax for piano and again the interplay between he and Stone stands out. Michael Evans flexes his muscle on bass and it's Stone's turn to pan left to right. Ahhh.....it was almost 1970 but the lads were keeping the 60's alive for sure.
SAME WAY FROM THE SUN: Martin begins in the left channel working his way to the middle setting the stage for Alan Bam King..excellent vocal! The song morphs into a psych rave this time Stone jamming with himself. Just when it seems that the song is over [a big psych crash] the band comes fading back, speeding up things and here Whiteman shines on the big B-3 Hammond.
HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS: the laid back vibe is evident. Stone setting the pace, Whiteman picking it up for the first verse, a staggered chorus then back to the main theme, second chorus leading into another Stone mind-melting solo! Big business, Atom bombs, fighting for the Queen, reasons to exist again...."in a house without windowsżin a house where no wind blows"... Indeed.
TRIALS OF A CITY: rockin' in the Status Quo vein here..excellent production.. guitars, piano, sax, bass, drums....fun stuff with one of my favorite studio tricks, hand claps.
I'M FROM THE COUNTRY: opens with Stones' acoustic but it only takes a couple of bars before the band is in full bloom with their early take on "Americana". Martin Stone demonstrates that he's comfortable with a variety of styles, here taking on the Clarence White [Byrds] style of country rock guitar.
AT A POINT BETWEEN FATE AND DESTINY: recalls the pastoral musings of fellow countrymen, Barclay James Harvest. The rhythm is laid down with the acoustic guitar and Whiteman adds some soaring B-3 organ. Every passing minute gets you closer to the patented Mighty Baby jazz/rock improvisation. The tension is there teasing you but never quite fulfilling the promise making you want to turn the record back to side one for more.....brilliant IMHO.
Having dipped into that intoxicating world of psychedelia, I can say that this is perhaps one of the best debuts of the 60's, most certainly on every psychedelic record collectors top 10 list.
*The Mickster hosts "The Dangerous R&R Show" one of the specialty radio programs offered by WNTI 91.9 FM & www.wnti.org© Copyright 2013, WNTI