Safe as Milk

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Safe as Milk
Safe as Milk.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1967[1]
RecordedSpring 1967
StudioRCA Studios, Los Angeles
Genre
Length33:40
LabelBuddah
ProducerRichard Perry, Bob Krasnow
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band chronology
Safe as Milk
(1967)
Strictly Personal
(1968)
Singles from Safe as Milk
  1. "Yellow Brick Road" / "Abba Zaba"
    Released: August 17, 1967
  2. "Plastic Factory" / "Where There's Woman"
    Released: March 25, 1969

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.

Background[edit]

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.[6] 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.[6] Beefheart later said the label dropped them after hearing the song "Electricity" and declaring it "too negative".[7] 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.[8]

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 Vliet and had been given to believe he would produce the album; in fact, Marker was only engaged in demo recording.

Music and lyrics[edit]

The album is heavily influenced by the Delta blues, and this is apparent from the opening bars of the first track, "Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do", based on Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'".[9] The opening lyric, "Well I was born in the desert ...", quotes "New Minglewood Blues" by Cannon's Jug Stompers, an early version of "Rollin' and Tumblin". Elsewhere, the album features a version of Robert Pete Williams' "Grown So Ugly" arranged by Cooder.[10]

Another of the more distinctive songs on the album is "Abba Zaba", one of three compositions credited solely to Beefheart using his real name. An AllMusic review of the track states, "Although not directly blues influenced 'Abba Zaba' contains peripheral elements of the wiry delta sound that informed much of the album", noting that Cooder's influence is heard here in the "chiming, intricate guitar lines" and "up front and biting bass work".[11] The track is named after the Abba-Zaba candy bar, which was supposedly a favorite of the young Beefheart. The band had, at one point, planned to name the album after the confection, but the bar's manufacturer, the Cardinet Candy Co., refused permission for use of the name, and the album was retitled. The black and yellow checkerboard pattern on the album's back sleeve, designed by Tom Wilkes, is a relic of this idea—echoing the black and yellow colors of the candy bar wrapper.[11] Writing an obituary for Beefheart in 2010, for The Washington Post, Matt Schudel said:

"Mr. Van Vliet's lyrics and song titles owed a great deal to surreal poetry. Try as they might, his fans had a difficult time analyzing such lines as these from "Abba Zabba" on the 1966 album Safe as Milk:

Mother say son, she say son, you can't lose, with the stuff you use
Abba Zabba go-zoom Babbette baboon
Run, run, monsoon, Indian dream, tiger moon.[12]

For some time, the involvement of a Herb Bermann as co-writer on eight of the tracks was a point of confusion, as Vliet did not employ him, or indeed any regular co-writer at any other time in his career, and never discussed or clarified his role in the album. There was little record of his existence, though his name incidentally also appeared in a reference to an unproduced screenplay for After the Gold Rush on the 1971 Neil Young album of the same name. Various Magic Band members had in fact indicated that the name may have been nothing other than a publishing-related pseudonym. It was only in 2003 that Bermann himself was finally located and interviewed, and his involvement as co-writer confirmed.[13]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[2]

Safe As Milk was prominently advertised in Billboard, World Countdown and elsewhere in June 1967.[citation needed] However, the band's planned appearance at the Monterey Festival that month fell through, and the record did not achieve popular success, failing to chart in either the United States, where none of Beefheart's albums would ever enter the top 100, or in the United Kingdom, where the band would enjoy modest success with later works such as Trout Mask Replica (1969). John Lennon had two Safe As Milk promotional stickers on cupboard doors at his home.[14][15]

The album made a greater impact in Europe than in the U.S., with the British underground DJ John Peel being a noted admirer from the start, though the original British release was in mono only.

The album was included in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[16]

Legacy[edit]

In 2019 the track Zig Zag Wanderer was used as the soundtrack for a Hyundai advertisement.[17]

Reissues[edit]

The album was released in the UK on Pye International, and subsequently reissued in Pye's budget Marble Arch series (albeit bearing Pye International labels on the disc itself) as a 10-track, omitting "I'm Glad" and "Grown So Ugly". When Buddah's UK distribution passed to Polydor in 1970 it was again reissued, this time on Buddah in Polydor's budget 99 series and retitled Dropout Boogie.[18] Initially the track listing of this release matched the Marble Arch version, but the missing tracks were quickly restored. This 99 series release was also the first appearance in the UK of a stereo mix of the album.

In 1999, the now-correctly spelled Buddha Records, owned by Sony BMG who had acquired Buddah's back catalogue, remastered the album onto CD. They added seven bonus tracks, taken from the sessions for the unreleased Brown Wrapper follow-up album. These tracks had been recorded around November 1967 (two months after Safe as Milk's release), and were from the same sessions that yielded the songs on Mirror Man (1971). BMG's Buddha also released The Mirror Man Sessions on CD in 1999, effectively an official issue of the unphased versions of Mirror Man, with five further bonus tracks taken from the same sessions.

In 2013, Sundazed Records released the mono mix of Safe As Milk on LP and CD.[19]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Herb Bermann and Don Van Vliet except where noted. All CD bonus tracks written Don Van Vliet.

Side one
No.TitleLength
1."Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do"2:15
2."Zig Zag Wanderer"2:40
3."Call on Me[20]" (Van Vliet)2:37
4."Dropout Boogie"2:32
5."I'm Glad" (Van Vliet)3:31
6."Electricity"3:07
Side two
No.TitleLength
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
CD bonus tracks
No.TitleLength
13."Safe as Milk (Take 5)"4:13
14."On Tomorrow"6:56
15."Big Black Baby Shoes"4:50
16."Flower Pot"3:55
17."Dirty Blue Gene"2:43
18."Trust Us (Take 9)"7:22
19."Korn Ring Finger"7:26

Personnel[edit]

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band[edit]

  • Don Van Vliet – lead vocals, harmonica, marimba, arrangements
  • Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals, bass, percussion
  • Ry Cooder – guitar, bass, slide guitar, percussion, arrangements
  • Jerry Handley – bass (except 8, 10), backing vocals
  • John French – drums, backing vocals, percussion

Additional musicians[edit]

Production[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "50th Anniversary of Safe As Milk >> Captain Beefheart Radar Station". Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. Allmusic review
  3. ^ "A beginner's guide to the weird world of Captain Beefheart". 6 November 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  4. ^ Cooper, Kim; Smay, David (2005). Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. Routledge.
  5. ^ "The 50 best psychedelic rock albums of the Summer of Love". BrooklynVegan. June 16, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Barnes, p. 28
  7. ^ Barnes, p. 29
  8. ^ Barnes, p. 30
  9. ^ Barnes, p. 36
  10. ^ Barnes, p. 42
  11. ^ a b Planer, Lindsay. Allmusic song review: "Abba Zaba"
  12. ^ Schudel, Matt (19 December 2010). "Don Van Vliet, avant-garde rocker who performed as Captain Beefheart, dies at 69". Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  13. ^ The search for the mystery co-songwriter from Safe As Milk Archived June 24, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Photo of John Lennon lounging at his Surrey home, with "Safe as Milk" bumper stickers visible". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  15. ^ Tom Adams (10 Aug 2015). Looking Through You: The Beatles Book Monthly Photo Archive. Omnibus Press. p. 195.
  16. ^ ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  17. ^ "Tailored For Petrol Heads". adsoftheworld.com. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band - Dropout Boogie". Discogs. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Captain Beefheart on Sundazed!". Sundazed. 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  20. ^ Some sources credit "Call on Me" to earlier Magic Band drummer Vic Mortensen, and not Van Vliet or Bermann.

External links[edit]