The Use of Brute Force
Sometimes you hear an album that is so strange and creatively wonderful that the experience just blows you away. It’s like the sun and moon collide in your brain as you wonder, how did the musicians come up with that? This type of occurrence happened a lot in 1967. It was the year of such original and imaginative records as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter’s and Surrealistic Pillow, Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love, Aretha Frankin’s Aretha Arrives, Rolling Stones’ Between the Buttons and On Her Satanic Majesty‘s Request, Mothers of Invention’s Absolutely Free, Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy,the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Past and the first, eponymously named Velvet Underground & Nico, Grateful Dead, Procol Harum, and David Bowie albums. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So perhaps the fact that Brute Force’s brilliantly madcap I, Brute Force: Confections of Love was overlooked by the popular audience at the time is not a total shock. The sheer number of great discs made it impossible for one to hear and appreciate everything that came out. Still, it’s a shame that the record did not do better, because who knows what other music Brute (nee Stephen Friedland) could have come up with in the studio. The 11 tracks on the original Columbia Records release reveal a multitalented artist who could combine everything from classical orchestration to circus music, sitars to Broadway cabaret, doo wop garage rock to lilting Tin Pan Alley pop, etc., with sound effects and weird vocalizations, into an aural synthesis that made a kind of intuitive sense. Imagine walking down an urban street and hearing the sounds of neighbors working on cars, screaming out the window, practicing their instruments, blaring their hi fis, and such, on a sunny day. This new repackaging of the original record has it—like a modern day Rhapsody in Blue—and more.
There are 5 bonus cuts added, including the infamous “King of Foh”. The song is the rarest release on Apple Records, with a pressing of only 2,000 copies because the distributor refused to carry it. That’s despite the fact that George Harrison added a string section to the music, and both John Lennon and Yoko Ono loved the song and pushed for the company to issue the 45—and this was during the height of the Beatles’ heyday. The song is not obscene, nor does it urge violent revolution. Instead, the tribute to the good king urges one to “hail the foh king”, which sounded too close to an obscenity to the music industry at the time. The song is lovely and innocuous, which makes the censorship hard to understand.
Nevertheless, the song flopped because it was never heard and was impossible to find. I talked to Friedland about this at Las Manitas in Austin during a South by Southwest a few years ago. He blamed the failure of the single to chart and make him a star for his leaving the music business for about 30 years. He’s back, and performing with his beautiful and talented daughter (appropriately named Daughter of Force). Catch them if you can, as their performances are mind-blowing experiences.
But in the meantime, pick up Brute Force’s 1967 debut, which is being re-released by Bar/None for the first time since it was initially issued. While in some ways, songs like “Sitting on a Sandwich”, “Tapeworm of Love”, and “The Sad Sad World of Mothers and Fathers” may seem like nuggets from the original psychedelic era, the album’s playfulness and artistry make these tracks timeless and enjoyable today. Friedland possesses a theatrical voice that charms and wheedles the listening into grinning at the absurd world in which we live. Despite his bestial name, he’s as cuddly as a pussycat. And he preaches love. In fact, one of the bonus cuts, “Conjugations”, is a musical grammar lesson in which he conjugates the word “love” in all its forms and then translates the word into languages as diverse as Turkish, Chinese, and Russian, all while a horn section blares and a female chorus croons in background support. It’s a happening, baby!