Poppies: Assorted Finery from the First Psychedelic Age

Photo courtesy of Concord Music Group

Poppies is a journey through the outer reaches of obscure but brilliant psychedelic songs on this wonderfully crafted compilation from Craft Recordings.

Poppies: Assorted Finery from the First Psychedelic Age

Craft Recordings

13 April 2019

In the early 1980s, I was a big fan of the Ian Astbury led Southern Death Cult/Death Cult/The Cult trio of post-punk, gothic bands. Astbury was a captivating figure, dressed as he was then, in Native American clothes and daubed with face paint. For a lad from the Midlands in the UK, the only Indians (as Native Americans we more widely called then) I knew about was Tonto from the Lone Ranger and the waiters who served us in the curry houses of Birmingham we frequented.

I recall hearing and taping Astbury on a BBC Radio One program one evening where he was talked about and played some of the music that inspired and influenced him. I can still vividly recall hearing the strange but utterly mesmerizing voice coming through the tiny transistor radio speakers, undulating, vibrating and warbling across the airwaves. It turned out to be Buffy Sainte-Marie singing what I think was "Now That the Buffalo's Gone". I was transfixed. It sparked a lifelong interest in Native American history and a love of Buffy's music and heritage.

I mention this because Sainte-Marie's "Poppies" opens the wonderfully eclectic compilation from Craft Recordings, Poppies: Assorted Finery From the First Psychedelic Age.

Compiled of Vanguard, Stax, and Original Sound catalogs there are some deep cuts on the album that force us to rethink or perhaps reframe, our notion of what constitutes psychedelic music. The album moves away from the pure rock connotations of psychedelia to include folk, world, R&B, soul, jazz and contemporary classical music. Released on CD, there is also a limited edition gatefold red vinyl pressing alongside comprehensive liner notes written by Alac Paloa which help shine some much-needed light on the artists included herein.

Taken from her 1969 album, Illuminations, Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Poppies" is an ethereal song comprised of hushed, baroque and operatic vocals, a shimmering instrumental backdrop with hints of minimal electronica coursing through it. It's majestic and unsettling, something that could easily be at home in the films such as The Wicker Man.

Lighter, brighter is the organ-driven pop-psych "Smell of Incense" (incredibly released on a Stax imprint called Hip) by the Texas group Southwest F.O.B. and the more obvious fuzzy psych sounds of Jefferson Lee's "Sorcerella".

With a nod to the medieval sounds of the harpsichord, the Gospel hit us with "Redeemer", possibly the only psychedelic Christmas song ever released and this is followed by the brilliant extended wig out provided by Detroit's the Frost and their track Stand in the Shadows. The guitar duel between Dick Wagner and Dan Hartman is worth the price of admission alone.

Closing Side A is an interesting band called the Sot Weed Factor. Contemporaries of Neil Young and Barry McGuire, residents at the Topanga Coral in LA and featuring future Canned Heat drummer Adolfo "Fito" De La Parra, the Sot Weed Factor never quite made it, but they did leave us with the baroque-psych classic in "Say It Isn't So".

Opening Side two is another Stax related oddity. The Honey Jug's "In 1582 We" features an Edison Cylinder player and a slow Brit Beat style delivery. It's a strange song that seems very of its time but still founds fresh when listening to it some 50 years later.

The Pasternak Progress is arguably the best connected of the acts on the album. Singer Joe was the son of film producer Joe and brother of legendary DJ Emperor Rosko. Represented here with "Flower Eyes", it's a flower power type song with bright vocals and great keyboard flourishes. It wouldn't sound out of place on a Doors album.

If Joe Pasternak is the best connected then Circus Maximus is arguably the best known. Featuring, as Alan Palao so memorably says, future cosmic cowboy Jerry Jeff Walker (writer of Mr. Bojangles no less), "Bright Light Lovers" is a rollicking 1960s garage tune, reminding this listener of the Rolling Stones.

The Serpent Power consisted of husband and wife duo David and Tina Meltzer, veterans of the 1950s Beatnik Movement. A lively folk-tinged track "Open House" zips along with bright harmonies and uplifting lyrics. The Human Jungle's "When Will You Happen to Me" is the closest track on the album to what we would conceive as psychedelic rock with light Brit Beat style vocals and ascending keyboards and stabs of guitar licks. It's a great track.

Chapter VI and Erik close out the album with "Oracle" and "Why Come Another Day" respectively. Chapter VI have traces of the Doors in the sound of their keyboards (most notably "Light My Fire") while the enigmatic Erik (Erik Heller) bookends Buffy Saint-Marie's opener with soft, baroque vocals on another killer track. His debut album Look Where I Am was released in 1967 and disappeared without much fuss. On the strength of this track though it's should be well worth tracking down.

This album offers a great introduction to some of the more obscure and non-traditional psychedelic music of the late 1960s with some brilliant tracks that could well lead you down new paths of discovery.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.