I hope the new week finds you well, or at least well enough to withstand having your ears turned inside out and your mind blown.
The record you see before you is one that I hunted for a long, LONG time.
You already know that I am a huge fan of the mid-60s Sunset Strip Au Go Go sound, embodied in those records that once they fall under the needle, release into the air the very essence of flashing lights, op art, granny glasses and the sweet onrush (yet not complete onset) of psychedelic expansion.
‘Hallucinations’ by Baker Knight and the Knightmares is such a record.
I first heard it maybe ten years ago when Rhino Handmade released the comp that borrowed its name from the song, ‘Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults’.
There is nothing quite like having your cage good and rattled by a song that you have never heard before, so much so that all you want to do is hear it again right away, which is what happened when I hit play on that very comp.
‘Hallucinations’ is perhaps the finest example of the form that I have ever heard, representing the gateway from the SoCal of pre-1965, with hot rods, surfboards and sun, into the world of 1966 and beyond in which minds were starting to open, yet not so far that brains were spilling out on the sidewalk (if you know what I mean).
As discussed years ago when I first dropped/pontificated on ‘Iron Leg Digital Trip #5: The Party’, there’s something very groovy when someone outside of a scene looks inward and tried to recreated a simulacrum thereof. In that case, I was talking about largely square Hollywood types glomming onto youth culture, with highly skilled craftsmen like Mancini applying their gifts to the groovy.
What you get with ‘Hallucinations’ is kind of the same thing, but created a lot closer to the source.
Thomas Baker Knight started out as a rockabilly cat, meeting Ricky Nelson in the late 50s and writing a grip of tunes – including ‘Lonesome Town’ – for him. He went on to write songs like ‘The Wonder of You’ (recorded by Elvis, among others), a bunch of cuts for Dean Martin (including ‘Somewhere There’s a Someone’) and tracks for folks like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
So, how did that guy (the one in the picture up top) end up writing and performing one of the absolute masterpieces of the early days of psychedelia?
The likely answer, is that Baker Knight was both a sponge (able to absorb the sounds around him) and a chameleon (then able to use those sounds in the proper way to emulate something he was not).
However, in my humble opinion, there’s no way to explain the perfection of ‘Hallucinations’ without assuming that somewhere, deep inside his Brylcreem soul, Baker Knight had a pageboyed, gogo dancing, freak stirring the pot so that just this one time, a record like this might pop out and make its way onto wax.
‘Hallucinations’ is as hard-hitting as any basement-crafted garage number, but also benefits from actual musical skill and craftsmanship.
Produced by Jimmy Bowen, the record features huge swaths of tremolo, fuzz, pounding drums and most interestingly, some tastefully applied Moog synthesizer!
Bowen manages to weave quite a rich tapestry of sound without tripping over himself. There are waves of guitar, vocals and sound effects moving through the mix without the power of the basic rhythm section getting lost.
This is one of those records that not only fills your ears, but also puts your minds eye to work. While I wouldn’t quite say that it rises to the level of synesthesia, you can’t help but “see” this record as it plays. It probably has something to do with how vividly a listener is already acquainted with the world of 66/67 LA, but if you are, ‘Hallucinations’ will take you there.
Oddly, despite his huge success as a songwriter for others, none of Baker Knight’s own records had any chart success.
Later in his life, Knight returned to his native Alabama, where he passed away in 2005.
I hope you dig this one as much as I do, and I’ll see you next week.