Spotify shows you songs that your friends recently played, and tonight I noticed that my son recently listened to “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles” by Captain Beefheart.
I was so proud.
It just showed up in his Discover Weekly list, and he was surprised at how normal it sounded. There’s reasons for that.
Musically, I group Captain Beefheart’s work into three categories:
- Pre- Trout Mask Replica
- Trout Mask Replica
- Post- Trout Mask Replica
Pre- Trout Mask Replica
There’s more than Safe as Milk but that’s the one I can talk about, and y’know? It’s mid-60s Psychedelia. It’s Southern California rockers trying to align with the British Invasion. There is “Dropout Boogie”, a great song that was the 60s version of “mashup”‘d with “Apache” from the Shadows to become “Apache Drop Out”. That’s the standout track, but it’s all pretty good. Pretty normal for that time and place.
There’s also “Diddy Wah Diddy”. I love it, I really do, but will someone please tell me what “Diddy Wah Diddy” means?
Trout Mask Replica
This is just about the weirdest album ever released on a major label. Vox did a very good but poorly-titled video on the wonder of this album, and there while you can find it on YouTube, it isn’t on Spotify. I believe it’s because it was recorded for Frank Zappa’s imprint, and the rights to that corner of the Captain’s discography are confused.
My personal favorite is “Orange Claw Hammer”, which takes the form of a sea shanty and sounds, to me, like a classic Treasure Island pirate trying to connect with his daughter (maybe he only believes it’s his daughter) after being “shanghai’d by a high-hat beaver-mustache man and his pirate friend” several decades before.
It has a reputation; the hardest music. Listening to it is a challenge, something you endure rather than enjoy. The audio equivalent to habanero peppers. There’s something to that, but there’s pleasures to be found in it, beyond the polyrhythms and non-sequiturs. Even if the recording process and the band dynamics at the time were Mansonesque.
Post- Trout Mask Replica
There are a number of post- TMR albums, but I mostly, for this post, want to talk about Clear Spot.
Clear Spot was produced by Ted Templeman. I, a rock kid from the 1980s, know Ted Templeman because he produced Van Halen from Van Halen to 1984, but he did more than that. He produced Nicolette Larson, the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, Little Feat, Carly Simon, Van Morrison. He made albums under the name “The Templeman Twins” where he covered contemporary songs like it was still the 1920s. He was the living embodiment of what “Hollywood” Steve Huey named Yacht Rock.
You take Beefheart’s weirdness and add Templeman’s smoothness and what you get is, as I keep saying, “almost not weird”. “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles” is very much an identifiable love song, and Joan Osborne released a cover of it early in her career.
Since I’m calling out individual tracks, I’ll link to “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains”, the ever-topical “Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man” and the track that as I guitar player will always stan, “Bug-Eyed Beans From Venus”, featuring guitar work from Mister Zoot Horn Rollo.
“Bug-Eyed Bean From Venus”? Zoot Horn Rollo”? Yeah, it’s still weird, but it’s almost not.
Give it a try.