Amon Düül II is one of the best bands to emerge from the late 60’s, despite having one of the worst names imaginable. They made some of the most bizarre, original and exciting music of their time, and were remarkably prescient of bands that would come some 30 years later. But their catalogue is insanely confusing and has more misses than hits, so I decided to put together a guide for curious music snobs.
Amon Düül began as a crazy hippy commune in Germany, banging different instruments for 12 hours at a time. The commune included women, children and what I’m sure was a giant cauldron of LSD. Someone had channeled their inner-spirit to flip on some recording equipment, which spawned Amon Düül’s first album Psychedelic Underground. The album basically sounds like a bunch of hippies chanting and playing what sounds like Fat Albert’s Junkyard Gang if someone reconstructed it outside of the cartoon world. If that sounds appealing to you, then by all means, put your bong down and pick this one up. But soon some of the more musical members of the commune said “Look, I may be tripping face right now, but we could probably do better than this.” and broke off to make their own music.
They decided to call themselves Amon Düül II, because heaven forbid you give up such a memorable and easily pronounced name. Rolls right off the tongue. And surely it wouldn’t make their discography difficult to research.
They debuted with Phallus Dei, which is latin for God’s Penis. The only thing more epic than that title is the music within, which careens from said hippy clattering to spooky space rock to rhythmic bongo explosions. The whole thing is pretty frightening. The 20 minute title track switches motifs about a dozen times, and when the nonsense vocals finally come barging in, a climax of weirdness is hit that makes Zappa’s oddest moments sound like the Jonas Brothers. Not that the Jonas Brothers aren’t the weirdest fucking thing on the planet, but you get my drift.
Apparently God’s Penis wasn’t exemplary enough of the hugeness of their trip, so they expanded to a double LP format for their next album Yeti. Yeti is one of the most amazing albums I have ever heard, and they were such a tight band they were able to make the entire second disc improvisational. It winds, it grinds, and the album hits its apex with a track called Eye-Shaking King. Just give this thing a listen:
Jesus Christ. That was from 1970, and is about a trillion times heavier than anything from its time. Hell, I’d be hard up to find stuff even now that’s that heavy, let alone scary. And what is going on with those vocals? It sounds like an angry demon singing into a saxophone or something. Can you imagine the guy who penned that song? Or the band meeting where he presented it? “Look, guys, this is what needs to go on the record. It is what the world needs. I only wrote the first half down, we’ll figure out something for the second half when we finish performing the first half. Just trust me.”
One year later, Amon Düül II came out with another double LP, Tanz der Lemminge which translates into Dance of the Lemmings. Apparently their bad trip was cooling down a bit, because the album doesn’t have the same frightening heights as Yeti. Not that it isn’t as weird, it’s a little stranger if anything, but there’s nothing on it that compares to Eye-Shaking King or Archangels Thunderbird. A little more aimless, but no less interesting.
No, they were saving the boring shit for a few albums. After the incredible album Wolf City, they saw where the 70’s were going musically worldwide, which is straight down the fucking toilet. If Styx could make pointless prog rock exercises, then doggunnit, Germany will follow suit. And they kept farting along through the 80’s, with most of the core members putting down their instruments, wiping off their facepaint and finding something else to do.
The remaining members made it remarkably easy for the record buying public to avoid their shitty new albums. The early Amon Düül II albums have awesome album artwork. Check out the cover to Wolf City:
Colorful, timeless and totally without precedent. They look like Animal Collective records. When the new Amon Duul II took the reins they decided to put out records that look like this:
They may as well have called the album Mildewy Record Your Dad Bought Back in the Late 70’s Because it Only Cost Twenty-Five Cents. These albums had a much wider distribution, so they’re much easier to find, but trust me, they’re as bad as they look. And usually when you do find them they’re in terrible shape, because the waste-cases that actually owned and listened to them never kept the record in its sleeve so it’s clotted with 20 year old dust and marijuana stems.
The CD reissues are terrific for the most part. They have the original artwork, colorful cardboard gatefolds, and even have CD’s that look like the original vinyl LP’s. The booklets that are included give you neat photos of the band and some of the most poorly translated liner notes I have ever seen. Every single one I’ve read refer to the accompanying album as a “masterpiece”, so the word loses a little bit of its weight.
Oh, and what’s this? Bonus tracks? YES! Sheesh, Phallus Dei’s bonus tracks are as long the album itself! But don’t be fooled, dear reader, because whoever made these bonus tracks are NOT the Amon Düül II of that time. Whoever it is that recorded these things sounds like they made them with free music software on a late 90’s eMachine, and have no qualms with dragging the cursor so that they’re over 10 minutes long. So don’t be afraid to erase them from your iTunes if you’re looking to save hard drive space or are afraid of them coming on in a shuffle at a party, making you look like the lamest person in the universe.
The Best Show on WFMU is my favorite radio program.
If you haven’t heard it, check out their archive @ WFMU.org/bs. There’s a fervent following to the show, with good reason. Most of the show is taken up by monologues from Scharpling, but about once an episode, Jon Wurster from the Mountain Goats calls in as one (or more) of his characters from the fictional town of New Bridge, NJ. The results are about as funny as audio can be, going in directions that are unexpected and original. Listen to an example of a Scharpling and Wurster call HERE.
The show can be daunting to newcomers, being 3 hours long once a week (for 10 years) but now’s as good a point to jump in as any other. There’s even a new podcast with “Best Of’s” to listen to.
The best way to listen, however, is live on Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM. You can call in, but make sure you have something to say. Tom has a short attention span for idiocy.
Also be sure to check out the Friends of Tom community @ friendsoftom.com.
If you already listen, WFMU is having its yearly fundraiser, so pony-up @ WFMU.org.
I was broke, and job opportunities were scarce in Buffalo. With the downturn of the global economy, I had to make certain sacrifices, starting with my diet. No longer would I be able to eat out at fancy restaurants every night of the week; I had to shop at a grocery store like some sort of homeless person or single mother.
One afternoon, while perusing the aisles of a store, I came across a product that responded to my age and demographic:
EXTREME BLAZIN’ BUFFALO WING PRINGLES
Wow, what a novel idea! All the flavor of a chicken wing without the guilt and revulsion of eating a disembodied chicken limb. I flipped the can over to check the ingredients; Disodium Inosinate! Wow, these truly were a space aged snack! I tossed the can into my cart, and they landed softly on the bag of adult diapers I planned on playing with later.
Back at my house, I sat alone on my couch with the open can of Pringles resting on my lap. The smell of chicken wings spread and reached my nostrils, and I knew that a life-changing experience was upon me
“Well, here it goes, Balloon.” I said to my dog Balloon. I lifted one of the sensually-shaped chips to my mouth, and CRUNCH! Every color imaginable flashed in my eyes, and the world around me seemed to melt away. Then, there I was, in a completely white room sitting on a white chair. In front of me was the Pringle Man himself, his flat head floating a few feet off the ground. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he uttered a sound I found myself back in my apartment, my dog looking at me worriedly.
I looked around the room, and everything was in its place. The lamp, the television, the giant painting of Tyrese Gibson, as if they had forgotten they had melted before my eyes moments earlier. I looked down at myself, and said “Uh oh. Looks like I’ll have to change my pants, Balloon.” When Balloon looked at me quizzically, I returned with a wink and a nod.
The ensuing weeks the Pringles helped me forget that I was in serious financial trouble. The credit card bills, the eviction notices all melted away with the crunch of a chip. I had come so close to getting the Pringle man to speak to me, and was sure that he would have the answers.
After eating a chip and returning to earth one day, however, I looked down and saw that I had accumulated a great deal of body fat from the chips. This might not be sustainable I thought to myself. Trying to think of an idea, I looked to the can, which I had taken to doing the last few weeks. The word “EXTREME” caught my eye, then an amazing idea popped into my brain.
I grabbed my skateboard and ran out the door.
Squinting to keep the sunlight out of my eyes, I walked up and down my busy commercial street. It didn’t take too long for me to find five 14 year old boys drinking Slurpies outside of a 7-11. They had long, curly hair and clothes that looked extremely expensive. I walked up to them excitedly.
“Hey guys, whadap?” I asked, trying to do the gang-symbol for the Bloods but failing.
“Hi.” One of them said, nudging his friend and smirking. “What’s up fatso?”
“Nothin….” I said, trying to tug my shirt over my belly. “Just wanted to see if you dudes wanted to skate.”
“Um…” They replied.
“I’ll buy you cigarettes…” I said.
“Well, alright.” Another returned. I had my witnesses.
I went into the 7-11 and came out with three tubes of Pringles and a carton of cigarettes. They tore into them with glee, sticking them into their mouths and lighting them with the lighters I had supplied for them. They coughed and wheezed explosively. I said “Yeah, cigarettes are da bomb.”
“Thanks, dude.” One said between coughs.
“No problemo,” I said, setting the skateboard onto the ground. “Now are y’all ready for this?”
They nodded apathetically. I put one foot onto my skateboard and opened a can of Pringles. I took seven or eight chips, propelled myself on the skateboard, and put the chips in my mouth.
I awoke to blinding sunlight, my back flat on the concrete. I sat up, holding my pounding head with my hand. The fourteen year olds were nowhere to be found, and neither were the Pringles and cigarettes. I looked down at myself, and saw what I was looking for all along. A trickle of blood ran from my knee, and I took out my cellphone and snapped a photo of it.
Sitting at my typewriter, I drafted a letter:
This letter is to inform you that you are being sued. Your EXTREME BUFFALO WING PRINGLES caused me immense physical and emotional distress. Your marketing seems to be aimed at people who live the Extreme Sports Lifestyle, so being an Extreme Sports Enthusiast, I tried eating them while skateboarding. Instead of enhancing my Extreme Sports abilities, however, I fell off my skateboard, and my body became horribly mutilated beyond recognition. I had some fellow Extreme Athletes witness the event, however, the gore and violence made them run off to pursue treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
I, Tom Van Deusen, am suing you, Pringles, for 1.5 BILLION dollars. I have attached two photos, one of my wound that I took with my camera phone before fainting in despair, and another of a hobo, because you assholes will be so poor after I’m done suing you that you’ll be homeless.
Thomas C. Van Deusen
Attached: Photo of Disfigured Knee, Drawing of Hobo.
Weeks passed, and I didn’t receive a check from Pringles. Sad and dejected, I decided to comfort myself with food. Perusing the shelf at the supermarket for my favorite canned chip, I was flabbergasted to see:
EXTREME DILL PICKLE PRINGLES
I squealed in delight and knocked their entire stock into my shopping cart. While I wasn’t sure of the profitability of this new business venture, I knew that good things were coming my way.