The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown: Album Of The Week Club Review

Arthur Brown's debut album is infamous for one song... but does it deserve more respect?

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The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

Prelude/Nightmare
Fanfare/Fire Poem
Fire
Come and Buy
Time
Confusion
I Put a Spell on You
Spontaneous Apple Creation
Rest Cure
I've Got Money
Child of My Kingdom

Arthur Brown has always had a warm and intense relationship with Fire. That single (now a bone fide classic) reached No. 1 in the UK in August 1968 and No.2 in the US chart a couple of months later. And although it was Arthur’s only chart appearance, it briefly took him from the shadows of being an underground cult figure into the full glare of rock stardom.

From time to time you’ll catch a grainy monochrome clip of manic-looking Arthur on some retro TV show, prancing about in his flaming helmet, sinister black-and-white face paint and outlandish cape, his voice building from the deep, resonant ‘I am the God of Hellfire!’ introduction to the song’s high-pitched screaming climax. Even 25 years on such a vision makes compelling viewing.

Fire was a cornerstone of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s wild theatrical shows. And Arthur was always looking to give the act a spectacular twist. Like the time he made his entrance at London’s Roundhouse, swinging down a rope from the ceiling in full regalia, helmet ablaze. “Anybody down there on acid – and there must have been a few – seeing this figure flying down with flames coming out of his head must have thought God was coming,” he laughs.

But there was more to Arthur than that one song. The album from whence it came was hit on both sides of The Atlantic, an album so successful Arthur felt in a powerful  enough position to turn a £650,000 advance for album number two. It was never to be. The band splintered and the album, Strangelands, didn't see the light of day for nearly 20 years. 

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Background

It was Pete Townshend who got Arthur Brown signed to The Who’s managers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert and their Track Records. Suddenly there was some commercial muscle behind the Crazy World. Their first single, Devil’s Grip caught the essence of the band’s creepy, compulsive style but didn’t have a catchy enough hook to chart. However, Atlantic Records in the US were keen for an album, and the band began recording The Fire Suite based around the song that was already a highlight of their set.

But Kit Lambert wasn’t happy with a concept album. “He wanted more cover versions like I Put A Spell On You,” Arthur says. “In the end he let us have the first side of the album while he had the second.” It made for an uneven album, not helped by being recorded in different studios, although the highlights were pretty high. But that was just the start of the album’s woes.

“Kit took the album to America and Atlantic said: ‘It’s great, but the drummer’s out of time.’ He came back and got Vincent [Crane] to write some brass arrangements. The drums were buried; if you listen, it’s the brass that’s carrying it.”

They were on their first American tour – supporting the likes of The Doors, Frank Zappa and The MC5 – when Chris Stamp arrived with acetates of the album. “We found a record player and put it on,” Arthur recalls, “and at the end of the first song Drachen [Theaker, drummer] walked across and said: ‘You fucking cunts!’ He picked up the record and hurled it against the wall.”

Other albums released in June 1968

  • In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly
  • Bare Wires - John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
  • Friends - The Beach Boys
  • A Saucerful of Secrets - Pink Floyd
  • 40 Blue Fingers, Freshly Packed and Ready to Serve - Chicken Shack
  • Children of the Future - Steve Miller Band
  • Fairport Convention - Fairport Convention
  • It's All About - Spooky Tooth
  • Os Mutantes - Os Mutantes
  • The Pentangle - Pentangle
  • Randy Newman - Randy Newman
  • Renaissance - Vanilla Fudge
  • Silver Apples - Silver Apples

What they said...

"Though a bit over the top, this album was still powerful and surprisingly melodic, and managed to be quite bluesy and soulful even as the band overhauled chestnuts by James Brown and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Spontaneous Apple Creation is a willfully histrionic, atonal song that gives Captain Beefheart a run for his money. Though this one-shot was not (and perhaps could not ever be) repeated, it remains an exhilaratingly reckless slice of psychedelia." (AllMusic)

"The group’s only album is one of the masterpieces of late 60’s British rock, a confident, flamboyant debut that has few equals. The album opened with Prelude – Nightmare, a powerful piece of early progressive rock with crazed vocals, thundering drums and soulful organ via Vincent Crane – a true classic. The two covers, I Put A Spell On You and I’ve Got Money are surprisingly fine examples of British R&B. Spontaneous Apple Creation is possibly the album’s most psychedelic cut with lots of sound effects and nonsensical lyrics but a good piece of music regardless. The band flirts with basic pop on the catchy Rest Cure but for many Child of My Kingdom was the group’s finest moment on LP. This track is a superb piece of British R&B with hints of psychedelia and just plain lostness." (Rising Storm)

"You can take a pretty cold, academic appreciation of what it has to offer and its various , but the bottom line is that The Crazy World of Arthur Brown continues to present a vision that nothing else quite matches, and which doesn’t quite match anything else. It is warped in the truest and most satisfying of stylistic senses." (The Obelisk)

What you said...

Maxwell Marco Martello: This album is downright great.

Of course everybody and their mother is familiar with the smash hit Fire, but there is more to that. It’s part of a side-long hellish suite. Spooky organ courtesy of the late Vincent Crane and manic drumming courtesy of a fella whose name escapes me (but is not Carl Palmer, he only toured the record, didn’t play on it) make sure that crazy man Arthur Brown has a great backbone to scream upon!

And I credit his screams as being a mandatory passage in the history of heavy metal.

Ian Gillan was singing inoffensively in Episode Six before he heard Arthur’s shrieks!

My favorite picks are the voodoo infused cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ I put a Spell on You, which opens side B, and album closer Child of my Kingdom, whose organ riff, doubled by the sung verses, is eerily evil! 

I don’t have the LP, but I have the old CD that features the whole album in stereo with the mono version of side A added as bonus. Stereo is the way to go, if you ask me!

Poor old Vince will go on to create awesome music in Atomic Rooster. Without him, Arthur’s world wasn’t just crazy enough (poor fella was a manic depressive who ultimately committed suicide in the 80’s).

Lil trivia: Vincent Crane teamed up with Peter Green on his Katmandu project (non-related to Dave King’s Hair metal outfit of the same name that he squashed inbetween his stints with Fastway and Flogging Molly, of all bands)! What a duo it must have been! Their only LP is fairly straightforward blues, but their poor minds and souls were slightly deranged in the mid 80s.

David Jones: It was a one trick pony in 1968. It hasn’t learnt any others.

Joe Cogan: I like the album, especially Fire, and Arthur Brown has a tremendous set of pipes, but this is very much a period piece, like the Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request. It's a great addition to the playlist if you're having an Austin Powers-themed party.

Gavin Norman: Superb album - have a couple of copies including a very nice splattered vinyl from a few years ago - proper concept album that links through front to back - and a definite late night listening album - great for Halloween and has that wonderful single Fire. Ahead of its time and a 60’s classic

Brett Deighton: I have never listened to this album so was happy to broaden my musical horizons. OK, so I didn’t love it. Perhaps I’m not quite crazy enough for the World of Arthur Brown. I did like Fire and the vocals on I Put A Spell On You are killer. Maybe the rest of the tracks will grow on me.

John Davidson: Other than the ubiquitous Fire I'd not heard anything else by The Crazy world of Arthur Brown.

A live rundown as I listen through for the first time:

1. Sounds like Deep Purple Mk 2/ Uriah Heep (not bad)
2. Psychedelic ranting over a Hammond Organ
3. Good track - heard it rather too often but still interesting.
4. Psychedelic ramblings / Uriah Heep on a bad day
5. Psychedelic ramblings / Deep Purple on a bad day
6. I prefer CCRs cover of this
7. Psychedelic ramblings that sound like Frankenfurter before he became a trans-sexual transvestite from the planet (you know the rest)
8. A tune and a song ! I wonder if David Bowie liked this when he started out.
9. Psychedelic Soul
10. Poetic blues - of the type later bettered by Jethro Tull

Ahead of its time perhaps in 1968, but was probably dated by 1970 and hasn't improved over the years between. I'd give it a 3/10 and I'm probably being generous. 

Mike Knoop: Like the twisted bastard child of an incoherent tent revival and a macabre Vegas lounge act - and I mean that in the best way. It's unbelievable that this ever showed up on TV, aside from being on some basic cable televangelist's "10 Most Dangerous" list - and I mean that in the best way too.

I am generally suspicious of early psychedelia because the organ often overpowers the lead guitar. No, not the Doors or Pink Floyd, but I know it when I hear it. So I was stunned at how much I like an album with no lead guitar. Vincent Crane is incredible. Obviously I need to check out some Atomic Rooster. Of course, he has bandmates that are able to keep up with him. The rhythm section is up to task but there's a reason that this band was called the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The guy's voice is an unnatural phenomenon. I hear Eric Burdon, Bob Calvert, Ian Gillian, Tim Curry, Brian Connolly, and a smidgen of King Diamond all coming out of one person. Staggering stuff.

I will check out Atomic Rooster and the original Kingdom Come (a funny coincidence after last week's faux Zep pick) but I am glad there was never The Crazy World of Arthur Brown II - I still bring you fire!!! This creation of beautiful battiness could never be topped.

Públio Leal: I can see some similarities between this band's approach and the sound of albums of that same era like the first ones by The Doors, Deep Purple and Alice Cooper. Although this stuff is much darker. But, to be honest, this record is way behind in sound quality and creativity in comparison to The Doors' self titled album. It sounds better than the first Purple and Cooper. Too psychedelic for my taste, but great vocals and keyboards, I have to say.

Carl Black: Wow, that was cosmic. I had no idea what was going on during this album. Which may well be the point. However listening to fire embedded in this album, made a lot more sense than listening to it in isolation. I've seen the god of hellfire twice. Once opening the main stage at Guilfest (Guildford) the other when watching Hawkwind opening for Motorhead at Wembley arena. This gangly gentleman, with a sock over his head started doing this very fast, disjointed dancing. Half way through the number he pulled the sock off his head for the big reveal. It's difficult not to like Arthur Brown, and that's how I feel about this album, without loving it.

Brian Carr: Well, I guess I can now say I’ve heard The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I can hear some Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa in there, and when he screams, it’s impossible to not hear similarities between Mr. Brown and Ian Gillan, so I know Brown left his mark (oh, that didn’t sound right, did it?). 

But the album is so dated in sound. The organ is so overbearing that the horn and string interludes are immensely welcome breaks. There is a dark, sometimes interesting vibe to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and I imagine the music may have been way more interesting live, but short of hearing him on Alice Cooper’s radio show, I doubt I’ll ever hear the album again.

Gary Claydon: Arthur Brown was never on my musical radar. I only really remember knowingly hearing two of his songs-the ubiquitous Fire and his -admittedly excellent-rendition of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You. And that was it. Until, a few years ago, I went along to a Hawkwind gig and the support was Arthur Brown. So I stood there waiting for some wild-eyed screaming loon to come on stage and sure enough there he was, bizarrely decked out, launching into his set. And the first thing that struck me was-this guy can really sing! Sure, he could do the screeching and the wailing when needed but mostly he had an excellent, really soulful voice. 

Pleasantly surprised by a very enjoyable & accomplished set, I resolved to check out his back catalogue. At this point it would be great if I could say I discovered a wealth of fantastic material and was instantly converted to his number one fan. But I didn't and I wasn't. Starting with the debut album I found that his work got progressively more experimental as time went by, often pointlessly so, sometimes downright silly but overall mainly just plain dull. I remember thinking something along the lines of "what a waste of such a great voice" but later realized this was needlessly derogatory of me for here was a guy who ploughed his own furrow and the rest be damned. I remember commenting to my missus when we saw him live that there was someone who was clearly enjoying himself and I suspect that is exactly what he was doing on most of his albums and good on him for that. So who was I to label his career a waste?

As for the album in question, I don't think it has aged particularly well. Brown's vocals are fine for the most part but large parts of the album are just swamped by the organ. I have nothing against keyboards but, although there are always exceptions, I am very much of the opinion that if it don't got guitars, it ain't rock'n'roll. Vincent Crane was an unquestionably talented musician but here his organ overwhelms much of the proceedings. When it doesn't do so is when the album works best, the iconic Fire being the prime example. This wild ride of psychedelic soul is made by Brown's vocals and Crane's organ playing. Similarly I Put A Spell On You, which is as good a version of this song as any, including the original, in my opinion. Album closer Child of My Kingdom shows off Brown's voice very well and benefits from being sung over piano. The rest of the album is very much of it's time.

A classic album? Not in my opinion. It's certainly not an essential listen. I've got to be honest, I find the man infinitely more interesting than his music. By one of those happy coincidences, not long after seeing him live for the first time, I came across, in a charity shop, a copy of a biography written by Polly Marshall ( I have to admit I had to google the author as I couldn't remember the name and the book left my possession a few years ago). That was well worth a read. The man has led an interesting life to put it mildly and, it's nice to have seen him have something of a minor renaissance late in his career. The world would be a duller place without characters like of Arthur Brown.

Robert Dunn: I have struggled with this review as I suspect that certain psychoactive substances may have helped with some of this album, although much of it was very good indeed. Sorry to be a cliche, but all I can say was that this was groovy. I dug it

Roland Bearne: Well this was different. Knew Fire but nothing else (I was three when it came out!). Performance art, psych, Prog, comic hippy satire (give him a flower)? A unique and highly entertaining listen. Ian Gillan MUST have had some scream coaching from him, surely? The way they produce the sound is almost identical. And no guitar... I liked something with no guitar. Crazy!

Final Score: 5.65 ⁄10 (99 votes cast, with a total score of 560)

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