This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number twenty seven in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
This is a boxed set of two CD’s which includes a double sided folded-out, and the set is titled “Fire – The Story of Arthur Brown“. Released in 2003 on the Castle Music label (a subsidiary of Sanctuary Records) it’s code is CMEDD 674.
Artists like Arthur Brown have largely been forgotten, or at the very least overlooked, when there are discussions on the music from the 1960’s that emanated out of Britain.
Arthur Brown was born in 1942 and although he had a dalliance in a number of ‘no-name’ bands around London in the earlier part of the 60’s, his first taste of fame was being a temporary member of the London group, The Ramong Sound.
They would become the far more famous as the soul group, The Foundations (Build me Up Buttercup – 1968).
However, by the time the Foundations had the hit, he had left the group to form his own band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Brown actually has a four octave range (Freddy Mercury and Roy Orbison only had a three octave range), and the ability to sing in that range along with his famous high pitch screams made him stand out.
Then there was the ‘on-stage hair burning’, the stripping on stage and the general high incendiary conflagration format of his shows, quickly became a ‘must’ for music followers.
Artists to follow who would either ‘rip-off’ his act, or acknowledge their debt included, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Kiss and Australia’s own Geoff Krozier (Crozier).
In 1968, the debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Produced by The Who’s manager Kit Lambert, with executive-production by Pete Townshend, it came out on Track Records, the label begun by Lambert and Chris Stamp.
This album spun off an equally surprising hit single, “Fire”, and contained a version of “I Put a Spell on You” originally recorded by Screaming Jay Hawkins, a similarly bizarre showman. “Fire” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The initial group members making up The Crazy World included Vincent Crane (Hammond organ and piano) – who went on to play with Atomic Rooster), Drachen Theaker (drums), and Nick Greenwood (bass).
According to Brown, “We found it difficult to get bookings at first. We were laughed at. But when Joe Boyd saw us and got a gig at UFO, the audience loved it – the costumes, the make-up, the rhyming stuff, the political comment, the humorous take on drugs. At that stage, we played a mix of psychedelic songs and more straightforward soul songs.”
Circumstances bought them to the attention of Pete Townshend, of the Who, and he alerted his manager, Kit Lambert as well as Chris Stamp at Track Records.
Before long The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was in the same stable as the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and were destined to go places.
Their debut single “Devil’s Grip” failed to make an impact. There were many dramas with the people at Atlantic records declaring that Drachen (the drummer) couldn’t keep time, and had to be replaced.
The story is long and convoluted, and readers interested in the full story can seek it out, but in essence while his trademark track “Fire” was released in 1968 and went to #1, and the album to #2. All looked fine for the band.
In fact, Arthur Brown will most likely be most remembered for his memorable opening lines to “Fire“, when he proclaims, “I am the God of Hell Fire!”
On the basis of the reception audiences and the buying public had to this track, and supported by his manic live performances, he shot into predominance, making the cover of Rolling Stone – not to be taken lightly!
Being unable to recreate the success of the album Fire, he formed a new band in the early 1970’s, called “Arthur Browns Kingdom Come“.
That group also put out several albums, but again that early success in sales eluded him. However, there is little doubt that he was pioneering colourful theatrical music mixed with hard rock.
The group split, reformed, split again and Brown was never really able to recapture the magic of the moment of 1968. It wasn’t helped with various producers making incredible demands such as, he should shave his beard, cut his hair and should sing like Tom Jones!
Later Brown provided the vocals for the track “The Tell-Tale Heart” on the album “Tales of Mystery and Imagination“, by the Alan Parsons Project. He also had a small part as the priest in the film version of the Who’s, Tommy!
So, onto this double CD release. As I have made much of the accompanying booklets to all the multi-disc release reviews I have done in this series, I should be consistent and do so now.
There is no booklet – shame!!
There is a densely packed fold-out, double sided full colour on gloss paper, measuring about 24cm x 48cm. I
t has much to admire and there are some great photo’s, and the information is dense, however, to fit it all in the print size was reduced to something like 8 point, which is really small. All this could have been overcome with a smaller but better laid out booklet!
In regard to the CD? Well, it lays out 36 tracks of the best and least known Arthur Brown tracks. In may ways this is the ultimate and best release of his material. It is very comprehensive and laid out in order of release, which is always a good move.
1. Prelude Nightmare
2. You Don’t Know
3. Don’t Tell Me
4. Baby You Know What You’re Doing
5. The Green Ball
6. Devils Grip
7. Give Him A Flower
8. Rest Cure
9. Fanfare Fire Poem (Mono Version)
10. Fire (Stereo Version)
11. I Put A Spell On You
12. Child Of My Kingdom
13. The Lord Doesn’t Want You
14. Eternal Messenger
15. Night Of The Pigs
17. Creep Creation
18. Love Is (The Spirit That Will Never Die)
19. Time Captives (Alt Take)
20. Spirit Of Joy
2. The Lord Will Find A Way
3. Eyesight To The Blind
4. The Gremlin (The Song Of)
5. Universal Zoo
6. The Lord Is My Saviour
7. Tight Rope
9. The Fire Ant Said To The Cockroach
10. Lord Of The Dance
11. Hound Dog
12. Let A Little Sunshine (Into Your Life)
14. A Hard Rains A Gonna Fall
15. Silver Machine
16. Fire (Die Drupps Remix)
Given so much is made of Fire and the associated tracks, it seems to make sense to play tracks 1, 9 and 10 from CD#1, as these are the tracks that played a major part in his stage performances.
Prelude: Nightmare (Track #1)
Dynamic explosions in my brain
Shattered me to drops of rain
Falling from a yellow sky
On orange faces to an opened eye
Stop me, hold me back as I jerk
Stop me, voices from all those at work
Lips don’t want to criticize, you know
Eyes can never tell you lies
It’s the words
Take that fire burning my brain
Let me love it higher
Why is it so cold out here, so cold
Let me in
The price of your entry is sin
Go away then return
Know which face you have to turn
Eyes are glaring, voice’s flaring
The track commences with soft gentle strings and a wind instrument, punctuated by heavy breathing. The calm lasts only a few seconds before a trademark ‘twisted’ organ line comes in, and Brown commences his journey. We shorty get an idea of his wonderfully controlled screams.
Track # 9 – Fanfare Fire Poem.
This track was also featured heavily in his shows once Fire became so popular, and the fact that it is in its original ‘mono’ format rather than being remixed in stereo is a good thing.
There is an argument to re-mix some mono tracks from the earlier days into stereo, but like the re-colourisation of old black & white movies, the better the movie the more it should be shown in the way it was filmed. The same often goes for music.
The track starts with a fanfare, declaring that there is intent, much the same as the ‘gladiators’ were introduced into the arenas of Rome.
But it’s not Brown who follows the fanfare up, but he is in fact introduced by a female voice, declaring, “There is only one way out! Go bath yourself in FIRE.” Then and only then, does the great man enter the arena, or in our case, our speakers.
And I was lying in the grass
by a river.
And as I lay, the grass turned to sand
and the river turned to a sea.
And suddenly the sea burst into flames
and the sand was burning.
And I breathed in,
and there was smoke in my lungs,
and there was FIRE IN MY BRAIN!
And I looked around me
and there were all these shapes being sucked into the flames.
And they were rising and trying to escape
and I knew that I had to get out.
And I looked above me and I saw a shape
that was smiling down at me and beckoning, saying
“Come on home!”
And I raised myself and I tried to get outta the flames
and I was getting higher and higher and higher and higher
and I reached out towards the shape
and as I reached out the shape shed
and my hands were empty!
And I was falling!
I was falling
I was falling into the flames
and I knew that I was gonna burn!
I was gonna burn!
Oh it’s so HOT in here!
LET ME OUT!! PLEASE!!!
Fanfare Fire Poem
Mind you it is only a 2 minute track, but it dovetails beautifully into the next track, track #10 – Fire
I have already spoken of this track and it delivers everything that makes Arthur Brown so amazing.
His vocal range, his passion, ‘that’ scream, and the chord change E♭ C7 Fm, when played on the Hammond organ, adds a really demented dimension to the music.
That very same organ sound, and particularly the riff it plays throughout the track, became almost as well know as the guitar riff in the Stones “Satisfaction“!
The final track from CD #1 to make mention of, is a track made famous by Screaming Jay Hawkins some 12 years prior.
Yet it may have well been written for Brown and he certainly delivers in a way the would have Hawkins proud.
I’m talking about track #11 – “I Put A Spell On You“.
One of the differences in the two versions (and incidentally there have been over 50 artists record this track) is the fact that Brown gives it an almost operatic overtone, utilising his wonderful vocal range.
I Put A Spell On You
We move across the CD #2. None of the tracks on CD#2 came close to being a “hit”, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of some of the pieces.
The first track of interest is track #5 – Universal Zoo.
This was originally recorded by Arthur Brown for a 1977 concept album titled “Intergalactic Touring Band“, which featured tracks by Rod Argent, Ben E. King and Meatloaf, among some.
An interesting track and given the title of the album you might rightly expect a “Sci-Fi” styled track – when in fact its quite a funky piece.
Kicking off with just percussion and animal sounds, it breaks into quite a piece of music with the introduction of a “Queen-style” piece of rock guitar (played by Dave Scance), with Brown kicking with some powerfully presented vocals.
Sure there are “sci-fi/science” references but even outside the show it was written for it would have made a great piece for Brown to have used – but Intergalactic Touring Band is a live theatre piece, and the works were performed using the London Symphony Orchestra and a raft of musicians.
Track #10 is The Lord of the Dance.
Now we’re invited to ‘dance with Arthur Brown’.
The liner notes claim this is a traditional composition, however it may have been based upon a traditional composition, itself originally a hymn, but in fact the words were written by Sydney Carter in the 1960’s.
Yet it is a piece that Brown really gets passionate about. When you listen to some of the tracks like this one as well as, ‘The Lord Is My Saviour’ and ‘The Lord Will Find a Way‘ (all three are on this album), you might be forgiven for thinking that Brown is a closet Christian.
He isn’t, although like his Australian counter-part Geof Krozier, his words and act were still steeped in both the conventional western religion along with a very healthy dose of paganism, spiritualism and esoteric pieces of eastern religions!
What he is, is a great showman who brings his music alive and we can imagine the response to this track with audiences, and they would be up dancing!
Lord of the Dance
So we move to track #15 which is Silver Machine.
Now Hawkwind themselves had troubles delivering the vocals to this track, and that story can be found in their bio, so it was no wonder to me that they called upon Brown to provide those lyrics for a live performance of it, and, he never failed them.
Love or hate the music of Hawkwind, there is no disputing the fact that Arthur Brown provides in this track, the best vocal version of all versions and for Brown, this might just have been the most powerful piece of backing music he ever sang to.
The shame of it is, that I believe his voice is just a bit too buried in the mix – the album producers would disagree, of course!
In 2002 Brown was asked to re-record Fire with the German industrial group – Die Krupps.
It wasn’t a match made in heaven, in fact in my opinion it wasn’t even ‘dark’ enough to have been made in hell!
Yet Brown graciously conceded that (while) “it wasn’t exactly the way I would have done it . . . it did reach out to a new audience“. I think he was far more comfortable with the likes of Hawkwind, although he did do some vocals with the iconic German composer Klaus Schultz.
This version has synthesised horns, a rather ‘shonky’ incessant drum machine pattern and synthesised effects.
One interesting fact is that this version is almost 25 years after his original version, and his voice is as good as ever, in fact in some ways is bottom end is smoother, while his trademark 4+ octave scream is still as powerful.
Really, instead of intensity it has pace! Is this a good thing? I don’t think so but I would suspect the clubs would disagree. So that you can compare I present it for your consideration.
Fire (Die Krupps Mix)
So in conclusion.
It is not only the most thorough Arthur Brown compilation to date, it’s the only one.
Even if there were others on the market, this would still be among the best because it covers his entire career, from 1965 (You Don’t Know) through to 2003 (a cover of Dylan’s Hard Rain Gonna Fall), giving a complete picture of one of the weirdest eccentrics in rock & roll.
Is he still performing? You bet your life, in fact on reading this review when it is published, you have time to catch him at:
April 1st, 2014 – Sandgasse, Offenbach Germany
April 5th, 2014 – Tribute, Sandnes Norway
or maybe April 17 in Wolverhampton UK!
Oh yes, his itinerary is full because he continues to pull the crowds! I guess he still has “it”!
If you choose to seek this set out, be aware that there have unfortunately been other releases with the same name, and have a different track listing, and are nowhere as comprehensive.
I could not find a copy of Ebay, but located several second hand copies around the $18 – $25.00 mark. It is a great set to have, eSpecially if you have no other works by Arthur Brown and so I suggest you use the CD code (CMEDD 674) to assist you.
There are an interesting selection of Arthur Brown clips on Youtube, and so i have selected four. Although I have provided within the review a copy of “Fire”, it is such a celebrated track i thought I should provide one of the video clips of that performance.
Live Performance & Interview (1968)
Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, Glastonbury Fayre festival, (1971)
The Bridge (2010)
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following CD reviews:
#21. 2nu – Ponderous