The United States Of America: The Columbia Recordings: Remastered

Electronic psych milestone reactivated and added to.

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1968’s The Rock Machine Turns You On was the first budget-priced sampler album, presenting CBS Records’ cutting-edge artists for a bargain 75 pence. Nestled among the Dylan, Byrds and Moby Grape was a strange hybrid of dixieland jazz and demented electronics called I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar by a band calling themselves the United States Of America.

Although it came with electronically enhanced attitude, the track couldn’t prepare those it seduced for the forbidden pleasures of the album it came from, The United States Of America, which presaged sampling with its sound collage experiments, pioneered the use of oscillating electronic gadgets later adopted by the likes of Hawkwind, and laid a psychedelic punk template for bands such as Blondie.

The group was formed in late ’67 by UCLA ethnomusicologist Joseph Byrd, a former Yoko Ono associate from New York’s experimental school armed with custom-built noise machines, and taboo-tackling lyrics reflecting America’s sleazy underbelly, who hooked up with Dorothy Moskowitz (gonad-freezing vocals), Gordon Marron (scything electric violin), drummer Craig Woodson and bassist Rand Forbes.

Veering between dreamily lysergic and savage psych-rock, creepily unhinged ditties such as The Garden Of Earthly Delights, The American Metaphysical Circus, Coming Down and Love Song For The Dead Che darkly defined the era while pointing to how electronics would be used in the future. The band then disintegrated, leaving one of rock’s most epoch-making sets with a swelling posthumous legend, consolidated by this annotated reissue the bonus demos and out-takes of which add further insights into this 60s milestone.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!