West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Vol. 3: A Child’s Guide To Good & Evil (1968)

“The rest of the world is wrong, don’t let anyone change you”

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High on Jackpot’s truly excellent mono reissues of WCPAEB’s Part One and Vol. 2 (confusingly their debut was an even earlier private press LP called Volume One) I am going to sit down with the best of these four, Vol. 3. The band’s long weird saga is pretty well documented, but in short, they were comprised of three precociously talented teenagers and a much older millionaire’s son with no musical aptitude whatsoever. Some of the founding core of Michael Lloyd, Dan Harris, Shaun Harris and Bob Markley were absent for Vol. 3 but were all back for their final two albums (the last under another moniker entirely, but neither are essential). My conditional and hopelessly dorky case for Vol. 3 being their masterpiece is based on a mystery that no one has been able to explain: The vastly superior song order that appears on the back cover, but does not reflect the actual content. I became acquainted with the album about 20 years ago on a bootleg CD using the track order as listed, so when I finally heard an original domestic LP it seemed all wrong to me. This was clearly an eleventh-hour change in production, and I remember emailing the reissue producer of the subsequent Sundazed CD edition, figuring there must be something about it in the Reprise files, but he didn’t seem to think it was a very interesting question. The discrepancy would be merely academic if not for the fact that my preferred track sequence did in fact reach the market with the original 1968 pressing in Germany (again, this song order appears on all of the album jackets worldwide, but none of the other territories actually follow it—the center labels however, get it right). I’ve even tried to convince my pal at Jackpot that this alternate version is worthy and historically accurate—and that the experience of the more common edition is akin to what he once described in a different context as a “shuffle play nightmare.” There’s a recent unofficial LP based on the German version, and I’ll be playing that while trying to argue how track sequencing can make or break an album.

At the height of US involvement in Vietnam, darkly satirical anti-war songs like “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” were in vogue, and WCPAEB had theirs—”Suppose They Give A War” on the previous album, and “A Child Of A Few Hours Is Burning To Death” here. With its twangy guitars and easy canter, it just sounds like an album opener, and too commanding a song to be astray in the middle of side two, where most listeners will find it. The eerie verses about the horrors of napalm are punctuated with the snarky refrain “we should have called Suzie and Bobby, they like to watch fires!” On a soaring guitar double-tracked by sitar, “A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil” continues in this haunted mode with its nasally delivered litany of terrors the young should fear. Bob Markley warned in an earlier song to “stay away from dirty old men” and was eventually busted for corrupting underage girls, making his advice to adolescents trying to navigate a nightmare world suspect. Unlike all other versions of the album, “Ritual #1” and “Ritual #2” are consecuR-5319630-1390448307-4549.jpegtive here, and both are simple songs with outlandish production effects, and each continue to chronicle the threats to flower children everywhere with, respectively: “There she goes being chased down the road to ruin” and “You’ll make pretty beads / you’ll make pretty flowers / let’s lay on the long green grass and look at them / and at each other.”

If the listener isn’t sufficiently creeped out by now, this is the point in the record they would be faced with another button-pusher—a silent track entitled “Anniversary of World War III.” It was to be the penultimate ‘song’ of the first side as listed on the record jackets in the USA, UK, France, Canada, New Zealand and Venezuela—but the Germans dispense of it entirely, clumsily removing the title from the back cover and an actual place on the album itself. It ‘appears’ at the end in the other countries, but as a conceptual piece, it would have had a more confrontational effect placed in the midst of a side, as opposed to a position that could be so easily skipped—or omitted entirely. (Say what you will about Markley, and indulgences like this are almost certainly his, but he’s also the constant in a series of albums with memorable songs and interesting sounds). Instead, the Germans go straight to the faux live track, “Watch Yourself”—the record’s longest song, with a fuzzy lead and moderately exotic percussion, and concluding with the band’s trademark spoken namecheck of themselves that appears in some form on each of their albums. Notably—and perhaps my best evidence for something being screwy with the sequencing—the tense here is “you’ve been listening” which makes sense for the end of an LP side, not for the first song on the flip.

Sonically-speaking, the darkness lifts considerably on the second half of the album, suggesting the two sides may have originally been conceived as “evil” and “good” (this theory almost holds in the more familiar version too, where the “good” comes first). Again, I’m biased by familiarity, and while “Eighteen Is Over The Hill” (c’mon Bob—yuck) is a perfectly pretty song to open side two, its not impactful enough to start the album (as is does for most listeners). The sunnier, more pastoral sound is evident in the singing pedal steel of “In The Country” though lyrically unrest persists, with the declaration “San Francisco is dead” (just a year after the Summer Of Love) and the freaks still need worry that “any minute the Man will bust us.” “As Kind As Summer” is little more than gimmicky detour, but holds true to the themes of “good” and “evil” with some manual tape manipulation on those very words. WCPAEB never did anything lovelier than “As The World Rises and Falls” but an ever-present menace remains with “be careful he has whips and chains.” The silly “Our Drummer Always Plays In The Nude” would be preposterous if the band had one at the time, but even more so in light of the fact that their percussion duties were usually fulfilled by session players. Paradoxically it’s too trivial of a throwaway for the middle of side one (where it appears in most editions) but has an amiable bounce that is a perfect note to fade out on—especially if you’re fed up with being hassled by the Man and just want to let your freak flag fly.

R-2156456-1412642906-8943.jpegNot ready for this brief album to be over, I immediately put on my noisy Reprise (US) copy—and stubbornly maintain that most of the songs don’t belong where they are slotted. Jackpot will be reissuing Vol. 3 in mono too, and there’s no question that it will sound great, and to hear it I’ll have no choice but to engage with it in the song order that seems to suit most people just fine. Apparently the hangup is mine alone, as I’m the only person troubled by all this, but I’m gonna go with the song that assures me “the rest of the world is wrong.” Someone—Markley, management or the Man—made these presentation choices, and we’ll never know why, so I just need to open my mind a bit to find out what it really means when I’m told: “You’ve been listening / to the West Coast / Pop Art / Experimental Band.”

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