Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Happy Dragon Band - 1978 - The Happy Dragon Band

The Happy Dragon Band 
1978
The Happy Dragon Band



01. 3-D Free
02. Positive People
03. In Flight
04. Long Time
05. Bowling Pin Intro
06. Lyrics Of Love
07. Disco American
08. Inside The Pyramid
09. Astro Phunk
10. 3-D Free (Electronic)

The Happy Dragon (vocals, synths, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard),
Tom Carson (vocals, guitar, keyboards),
Cicely Lonergan (vocals),
Clem Riccobono (vocals),
Gary Meisner (guitar),
Scott Strawbridge (guitar),
Brian White (guitar),
Dennis Craner (bass),
John Fraga (bass),
Mike deMartino (keyboards),
John "Bee" Badanjek (drums),
Ralph Sarafino (drums),
Mike Orzel (tambourine)


Oooh, we've got a weird one here. Seriously. But very cool we think. Didn't know what to expect from the whimsical band name and front cover artwork, but it wouldn't have been *this* anyway! The first track, "3-D, Free" starts things off pretty freaky with spacey vocal effects and a lethargic reggae beat, with heartfelt lyrics, singing lines like "I saw police shooting rats". It's reprised later at the end of the album in an even more wigged out "electronic" version. This is definitely psychedelic rock music, but also very futuristic for its time (circa 1977-1978), hinting at new wave/punk. With track two, "Positive People", things get even more Devo. And it doesn't get any more normal as it goes. Capt. Beefheart also seems to be at this party... weird weird weird. But these folks have a knack for melody amist the madness.
Having release a little noticed 1974 album for Capitol under the guise of Phantom's Divine Comedy, four years later drummer John Bdanjeck, singer/guitarist Tom Carson, bassist Dennis Craner, keyboardist Mike DeMartino and guitarist Gary Meisner reappeared as The Happy Dragon Band. Released by the small Michigan-based Fiddlers label, anyone expecting to hear another set of faux Doors-inspired psych was bound to be surprised by 1978's "The Happy Dragon Band". Whereas the earlier Phantom LP featured all-original material, here all nine tracks were penned by a Tommy Court. Whoever he was, Court was also credited with production, engineering and direction. Musically the set was a major shocker. Dropping their earlier pseudo-Doors stance, material such as "3-D Free", "In Flight" and the instrumental "Bowling Pin Intro" found the band plunging headlong into outright experimentation. Featuring extended tracks filled with synthesizers, odd sound effects and dazed vocals, the results didn't make for a particularly commercial outting. That said, the album sports a weird, hypnotizing appeal that's worth a couple of spins. Dark, heavy and disturbing, part of the aura may be explained by the liner notes.

Tom Court aka Tommy Court is 'The Happy Dragon' (stated on back of sleeve) 
This album is in memory of my friend Ritchie and my child Ritchie Joe

By the end of the 1970s, the hangover had worn off and underground psych entered a problematic phase, a second adolescence. If psychedelic rock had ever been a movement, it certainly wasn’t anymore, having undergone fragmentation and dispersal into the comparatively humorless realms of progressive rock and heavy metal. At the end of the decade, punk began to rear its ugly head, borrowing the DIY ethos of underground psych toward its own polemical ends. Though (post-)punk eventually addressed the need for music that appealed to the “higher” four circuits of human consciousness, in 1978 it was a stripped-down, primitive snarl without so much as a lysergic residue.

It is this background that makes a record like The Happy Dragon-Band — the sole album released by the eponymous Detroit band led by composer Tommy Court — such a unique case. It was recorded and released at a time in which there was barely any context for what it offered, an eclectic mashup of apocalyptic psych-folk and brain damaged groove glued together by a no-budget production with occasional side trips into abstract electronic noise. It was an idiosyncratic response to void times by a composer who was aware of the adventurous periphery of psychedelia. Captain Beefheart, Chrome, and Comus are a few of the possible reference points, and those are just the “C”s. This is not to suggest that the album is derivative. On the contrary, it is remarkably coherent and assured. That confidence of tone is especially true of the vocals, which alternate between the starry-eyed euphoria of first-wave psych and the acidic sneer of punk. Even as the band fumbles and trips over itself, the vocals carry the weird banner of The Happy Dragon-Band ever forward.

Released on the tiny Michigan-based indie Fiddlers Music, the album made very little impact and was quickly forgotten until a later generation of rare psych collectors retroactively recognized it as a lost classic. This led to a digital reissue in 2005 by bootleg label Radioactive. Due to poor research and the echo chamber quality of the internet, the record has frequently been incorrectly attributed to the Detroit group who recorded the Doors-esque album Phantom’s Divine Comedy in 1974. Listening to the two albums side-by-side should confirm the lack of even a slight similarity between the two. Phantom is derivative and staid, an avant la lettre throwback with the pedantic overtones of art rock thrown in for bad measure. The Happy Dragon-Band, for all their flaws, were startlingly original, and completely in step with the flux of their particular moment. Look no further than the album’s opening track “3-D Free,” a loping reggae jam with lyrics that evoke a bizarre apocalyptic vision: “All the buildings started to fall/ I saw police shooting rats swarming in the drains.”

1 comment:




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