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Safe as Milk is the debut studio album by American rock group Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, released in June 1967 by Buddah Records. A heavily blues-influenced work, the album featured a 20-year-old Ry Cooder, who played guitar and wrote some of the arrangements. Before recording Safe as Milk, the band had released a couple of singles through A&M Records, and it was to this company that the group first proposed their début album in 1966. They presented the label with a set of R&B-influenced demos, which the label felt were too unconventional and decided to drop the band. Beefheart later said the label dropped them after hearing the song “Electricity” and declaring it “too negative”. A&M’s Jerry Moss thought the content too risqué for his daughter’s ears. This, plus Leonard Grant’s severance as manager, added to the discontent. The band instead turned to Bob Krasnow, who was then working for Kama Sutra Records; he recruited them to record for the company’s new subsidiary label, Buddah.

Meanwhile, Beefheart had been secretly planning changes to the Magic Band’s line-up—a practice common throughout the group’s existence. The group that recorded the two A&M singles had consisted of Doug Moon and Richard Hepner on guitars, Jerry Handley on bass, and Alex St. Clair on drums. Hepner had already left, and Beefheart was keen to replace Moon with Ry Cooder, who was then playing with Gary Marker and Taj Mahal in the Rising Sons. These and other changes resulted in a Magic Band with Handley on bass, St. Clair on guitar, and John French on drums, with Cooder providing additional guitar parts. Cooder’s arrival had been swayed by Marker, who had spent time with Beefheart and had been given to believe he would produce the album; in fact, Marker was only engaged in demo recording.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do” 2:15
2. “Zig Zag Wanderer” 2:40
3. “Call on Me” (Van Vliet) 2:37
4. “Dropout Boogie” 2:32
5. “I’m Glad” (Van Vliet) 3:31
6. “Electricity” 3:07

Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Yellow Brick Road” 2:28
8. “Abba Zaba” (Van Vliet) 2:44
9. “Plastic Factory” (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) 3:08
10. “Where There’s Woman” 2:09
11. “Grown So Ugly” (Robert Pete Williams) 2:27
12. “Autumn’s Child” 4:02

AllMusic Review: Beefheart’s first proper studio album is a much more accessible, pop-inflected brand of blues-rock than the efforts that followed in the late ’60s — which isn’t to say that it’s exactly normal and straightforward. Featuring Ry Cooder on guitar, this is blues-rock gone slightly askew, with jagged, fractured rhythms, soulful, twisting vocals from Van Vliet, and more doo wop, soul, straight blues, and folk-rock influences than he would employ on his more avant-garde outings. “Zig Zag Wanderer,” “Call on Me,” and “Yellow Brick Road” are some of his most enduring and riff-driven songs, although there’s plenty of weirdness on tracks like “Electricity” and “Abba Zaba.” [Buddha’s 1999 reissue of Safe as Milk contained restored artwork and seven bonus tracks — Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 6.5/10

Listen to Album on Spotify

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