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The S/T is a rip of the first pressing MONO vinyl, WOW is from a reissue with bonus tracks on CD. I didn’t skip GRAPE JAM out of laziness, it’s just particularly not very good. Meandering jams, they couldn’t even give it away at the time. They even tried discounting it heavily if you bought a copy of WOW and nobody really cared. -Ian!

Moby Grape’s career was a long, sad series of minor disasters, in which nearly anything that could have gone wrong did (poor handling by their record company, a variety of legal problems, a truly regrettable deal with their manager, creative and personal differences among the bandmembers, and the tragic breakdown of guitarist and songwriter Skip Spence), but their self-titled debut album was their one moment of unqualified triumph. Moby Grape is one of the finest (perhaps the finest) album to come out of the San Francisco psychedelic scene, brimming with great songs and fresh ideas while blessedly avoiding the pitfalls that pockmarked the work of their contemporaries — no long, unfocused jams, no self-indulgent philosophy, and no attempts to sonically re-create the sound of an acid trip. Instead, Moby Grape built their sound around the brilliantly interwoven guitar work of Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis, and Skip Spence, and the clear, bright harmonies of all five members (drummer Don Stevenson and bassist Bob Mosely sang just as well as they held down the backbeat). As songwriters, Moby Grape blended straight-ahead rock & roll, smart pop, blues, country, and folk accents into a flavorful brew that was all their own, with a clever melodic sense that reflected the lysergic energy surrounding them without drowning in it. And producer David Rubinson got it all on tape in a manner that captured the band’s infectious energy and soaring melodies with uncluttered clarity, while subtly exploring the possibilities of the stereo mixing process. “Omaha,” “Fall on You,” “Hey Grandma,” and “8:05” sound like obvious hits (and might have been if Columbia hadn’t released them as singles all at once), but the truth is there isn’t a dud track to be found here, and time has been extremely kind to this record. Moby Grape is as refreshing today as it was upon first release, and if fate prevented the group from making a follow-up that was as consistently strong, for one brief shining moment Moby Grape proved to the world they were one of America’s great bands. While history remembers the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane as being more important, the truth is neither group ever made an album quite this good.

Between the time that Moby Grape released their brilliant self-titled debut and when their second album Wow appeared in 1968, a little thing called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band happened, and for the next few years it was no longer enough for a band with some claim to importance to just play rock & roll, even if they approached it with the freshness and imagination Moby Grape displayed on their first LP. Bowing to the pervading influences of the day, Wow is a far more ambitious album than Moby Grape, trading in the latter’s energetic simplicity for an expansive production complete with strings, horns, and lots of willful eccentricity, best typified by the helium-treated vocals on the hillbilly pastiche “Funky Tunk” and “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot,” a woozy ’60s dance band number complete with introduction from Arthur Godfrey (the band went so far as to master the tune at 78 rpm on the original vinyl edition). While at first glance Wow pales in comparison to the instant classic Moby Grape, repeated listening reveals this album has plenty of strengths despite the excess gingerbread; the horn-driven boogie of “Can’t Be So Bad” swings hard, “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” is a tough and funky blues number, “He,” “Rose Colored Eyes,” and “Bitter Wind” are lovely folk-rock tunes with shimmering harmonies (even if the latter is marred by a pretentious noise collage at the close), and “Motorcycle Irene” is a witty tribute to a hard-livin’ biker mama. Wow lacks the rev-it-up spirit of Moby Grape’s masterpiece, but Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, and Skip Spence’s guitar work is just as impressive and richly layered, and the group’s harmonies and songwriting chops are still in solid shape. While the unobtrusive production on Moby Grape showcased the group’s many virtues, those attributes are visible on Wow despite the layers of studio excess, which sapped the momentum and charm of this band without snuffing them out altogether.

-Mark Deming, allmusic.com

DOWNLOAD:
MOBY GRAPE (1967)
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WOW (1968)
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320kbps

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