28 Apr 2013

Kim Fowley "Wildfire : The Complete Imperial Recordings 1968-1969" Review

Reissued by Tune In Records (Cherry Red)

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Kim Fowley was already a larger than life legend when these recordings were made, having among other things produced the Rivington's "Papa Oom Mow Mow" which would be borrowed by the Trashmen for their huge hit "Surfin' Bird", as well as releasing the way ahead of it's time (and frequently banned) 45 "The Trip" in 1965, before heading to the UK to work with Cat Stevens, The Soft Machine, and Them.
On returning, Fowley fell back in with an old friend, teenage wunderkind Michael Lloyd of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, with whom he collaborated on a number of fruitful projects, particularly Smoke, St. John Green and The Fire Escape.
Before long he was signed by Imperial, and that's where we come in with this new two disc collection from Tune In Records.
First on the cards (chronologically anyway)  is "Born To Be Wild", an album of instrumental cover versions of popular songs of the day done in a lightly psychedelic, organ-heavy, lounge funk style, geared towards the fortysomething wannabe hipsters of L.A. It struck a chord and according to Fowley sold 76,000 copies. Not bad for what is essentially an exploitation record, recorded in around four hours. Admittedly it doesn't have a great reputation among collectors but it's not bad of it's type, and is certainly a lot more funky than most of it's exploitation peers. It also benefits from being spread over both discs as bonus tracks to it's two more well regarded follow ups on this collection, a decision that may rankle the more anally retentive out there, but certainly improves the flow immeasurably.
With the success of "Born to be Wild", Fowley was given more freedom for his second Imperial release, and the fruits of this are "Outrageous" in both name and character. Largely improvised in studio and recorded in one session with a band led by Steppenwolf's Mars Bonfire, "Outrageous" is probably Fowley's most infamous and well regarded album. Over a bedrock of the most raw, nasty proto-punk the world had probably heard in 1968, Fowley rants and raves his way through stream of consciousness lyrics that occasionally coalesce into memorable anthems ("Bubblegum", "Wildfire", "Animal Man"), but more often than not resemble a more demented Jim Morrison. "It was time to make a rebellious record" said Fowley, and that's exactly what he did. This would have scared the bejesus out of any dentists out there expecting more "Born To Be Mild". Imperial Records were freaked out too and  demanded a less obnoxious album that would sell and hopefully not offend anyone.
"Good Clean Fun" is Fowley's amusing response to that request, a bizarre mixture of comedy and rock music inspired by Fowley's brief association with the Mothers of Invention. Fowley called in a diverse bunch of friends to help on the record including among others, the Byrds' Skip Battin, a young Warren Zevon (whom Battin was producing at the time), and a couple of passing Bonzos, Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall.
The results are predictably unpredictable, with a large portion of the album given over to spoken word, broken up by the excellent Byrdsian country of "Baby Rocked Her Dolly", and the unexpectedly poignant "I'm Not Young Anymore", one of several early Zevon compositions to be found here.
An impressive package - music for freaks to be sure, but always entertaining and sporadically inspired, these are fascinating period pieces that still pack quite a punch today.

Available here on Tune In Records.

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