Moby Grape (San Francisco ‘67) Rating: A-
Many people consider this the great lost rock band of the '60s, and for good reason. More song oriented and less psychedelic than their more famous San Francisco peers (Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane), Moby Grape were five singer-songwriters strong. This debut is slightly dated to the ‘60s but is still uncommonly strong, as the band rolls through thirteen concise songs (the album is only 31 minutes long) that are highlighted by the band’s then unique three-pronged guitar attack and varied vocal harmonies. While not every song here is a bulls eye, songs such as “Hey Grandma,” a briskly-paced, groovy rocker with excellent guitar work and a catchy harmonized chorus, “Fall On You,” another frenetic rocker with terrific drumming (this one really grooves along) and more good guitar and harmonies, “8:05,” a pretty Dead-like ballad, “Come In The Morning,” an r&b-influenced rocker worthy of The Rascals that may be my favorite song here, “Omaha,” a chaotic, fast-paced garage rocker with another notable drumming performance from Don Stevenson, and “Sitting by the Window,” a moody folk blues ballad, are all great ‘60s songs. Extremely eclectic, the band effectively taps into the blues, country music, Byrdsy folk rock, and (of course) psychedelia, all without ever lingering too long at any one stop. While the singing is sometimes ragged (though generally not in a bad way, and soulful, intense lead vocals highlight slower songs such as “Mr. Blues” and (parts of) “Someday”) and the hippie-ish lyrics can seem trapped in time, the group’s lashing guitars and exuberant performances overcomes any serious flaws. My minor complaints about the album are that some of the songs are too short (“Indifference” seems like an epic by comparison at over 4 minutes) and that the album on the whole isn’t quite substantial enough for me to place it among the all-time greats of its era (it’s damn good though). Unfortunately, an overly zealous promotional push by the band’s record company (who, in an unprecedented and ill-advised move, released 5 singles simultaneously) backfired badly, and the album never took off like it should have. The band never recovered, and subsequent attempts never reached this album’s level of achievement. Management difficulties also helped the band become a tragic footnote to the Summer Of Love; their problems came to a head when Skip Spence branded a fire axe towards his bandmates and landed in Bellevue (joining Syd Barrett and Peter Green as talented '60s acid casualties) and Bob Mosley joined the Marines. They dissolved quietly, though their occasional reformations over the years are always greeted fondly by a dedicated cult following who I'm sure can't help but wonder what might've been.