The Ophelias

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The Ophelias
TheOphelias.jpeg
Background information
OriginSan Francisco, California, United States
GenresRock, Neo-psychedelia, Art rock, Art-punk
Years active1984–1989
LabelsRough Trade Records
Strange Weekend Records
Past membersLeslie Medford
Samuel Babbitt
Terry von Blankers
Reuben Chandler
Geoffrey Armour
Keith Dion
Edward Benton
David Immergluck
Alain Lucchesi

The Ophelias were a psychedelic rock band led by singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Leslie Medford. Medford formed the band in San Francisco in October 1984 and disbanded the quartet in September 1989. The band was signed twice, first by Strange Weekend Records for one album, then by Rough Trade Records, for whom they produced 2 albums and an EP.

The Ophelias recorded music that was described as "original"[1][2] and "incredibly diverse"[3] and "a sound that can alternate from raunchy to sweet in seconds."[3] Leslie Medford's lyrics were "impressively literate"[3] and J. F. Tiger described The Ophelias as "musical literature in an era practically devoid of such a thing… this band makes the listener think, and takes the listener into a secret world where other 'new music' dares not go."[4] Medford was an unusually versatile lead vocalist, who "isn't shy about forcing his chameleon voice into Beefhearty growls, flowery Daltry-Townshend falsettos and strained Marc Bolan-David Bowie brays."[5] They have been compared to Pink Floyd,[5][6] Mark Bolan and T-Rex,[5][2][3] Faces,[5] The Zombies,[3] Van der Graaf Generator,[6] Frank Zappa,[2] Queen[3] and XTC,[3] although Nils Berstein wrote "Let's just say the Ophelias have no influences."

David Fricke argued in Rolling Stone that The Ophelias were one of the only genuinely psychedelic bands of the 1980s. "In the Sixties, psychedelia wasn't just a sound; it was a state of mind. The biggest drag about Eighties psychedelia is that for every dozen bands that talk about blowing minds (reciting the proper influences, trotting out the hip covers), there are really only one or two that can blow anything other than hot air. The Ophelias, from (where else?) San Francisco, belong to that delightfully manic minority."[6]

David Immerglück was the Ophelias lead guitarist from 1987 to 1989, the period of the band's greatest exposure. He is the band's best-known alumnus having gone on to membership in Counting Crows, John Hiatt, Camper van Beethoven, Cracker and others, as well as session work, studio production and music engineering.

History[edit]

"Mister Rabbit"[edit]

The Ophelias eccentric version of the anti-discrimination folk song "Mister Rabbit" appeared on SF Unscene – a 1985 compilation album. It received positive notice in Spin Magazine (May 1986) and other publications.[7] It brought with it the first major exposure for the group, not just locally but nationally as "Mister Rabbit" was quickly embraced by university and underground radio stations around the country. The zenith of the buzz surrounding the track came in May 1986 when Spin Magazine reviewed SF Unscene and specifically "Mister Rabbit" with a double exposure photograph captioned: "Leslie Medford of The Ophelias makes like a nun." [8]

The Ophelias[edit]

The band's debut album was released by Strange Weekend Records in March 1987. The Ophelias entered the KUSF Top 20 at number 4 the first week of April 1987.[9] Dave Marrs wrote in Beef Free Magazine, "The Ophelias have delivered a tour de force with their debut. Perhaps the best independent album to come out of San Francisco in recent years, this album is brilliant." College Music Journal (New York) ran a review which ended, "What finally emerges is a mesh of the ephemeral mystery of Bolan and Donovan, with a weird, confident modernism that makes them a leading contender."[10]

By this time, the band's live shows were already receiving rave reviews. Joni Hollar of the Daily Californian wrote:

"I've seen The Ophelias three times now, twice in the last few days, and they are just amazing. [...] The Ophelias are fortunate in several respects: the musicians do new things with the music yet retain a certain warped traditionalism, they are accomplished enough to play around with a multitude of styles, and they have a particularly strong singer/songwriter. These forces will, I think, combine fortuitously to make The Ophelias well-known beyond the local scene. Lately, the only bands I notice are the ones who don't fit into any specific genre, whose music is so original that hearing them is like hearing a completely new way of playing."[11]

The Night Of Halloween[edit]

The Ophelias became one of the first signees to the US wing of Rough Trade Records and released The Night Of Halloween – a 3-song EP – in August 1987. The Hard Report (an 80s era radio industry journal) wrote "Their sweeping debut album is still planted firmly in the minds of alternative programmers but it looks like they are at it again. The daring arrangements, biting acoustics and dazzling creativity continue as San Francisco's Ophelias carve a spectacular niche in the underground community."[12]

Oriental Head[edit]

Oriental Head was a 10-song LP released by Rough Trade Records in May 1988. The record received Top 35 airplay at 159 radio stations around the USA, reached the Top 10 at 48 stations, and reached Number 1 at 9 radio stations. WODU Norfolk, VA; WDCR Hanover, NH; WMMR Minneapolis, MN; WUOG Athens, GA; WRUV Burlington, VT; KTEQ Rapid City, SD; WPRB Princeton, NJ; KMUW Wichita, KS; KUSF, San Francisco, CA.[13]

Ann Powers wrote that they "get down harder and in a more straightforward way than on their previous recordings," and the songs "recall the glory days of satin pants rock and roll".[14]

Immerglück recalled, “When the record came out shortly thereafter, on an excellent and storied label, no less, I was just on top of the world. Honestly, it’s still one of my favourite albums I’ve ever made! I really believed (and still may) we’d made the BEST album to come out of the SF Bay Area since “Surrealistic Pillow”, Santana’s “Abraxas”, Quicksilver’s “Happy Trails”, Skip Spence’s “Oar”, or Garcia’s first solo album."[8]

The Big O[edit]

A 12-song LP released in March 1989 on Rough Trade Records, The Big O received Top 35 airplay at 136 radio stations around the USA, reached the Top 10 at 29 stations, and reached Number 1 at 5 radio stations. WCWM Williamsburg, VA; WVKR Poughkeepsie, NY; WLFT East Lansing, MI; WWUH West Hartford, CT.; KCPR San Luis Obispo, CA.[15]

The record was reviewed in both Spin[16] and Rolling Stone, where David Fricke described the record as "futurist acid pop" and "like vintage English freak beat – early Pink Floyd, a pithier Van der Graaf Generator – laced with postpunk menace."[17] Rock journalist Ann Powers wrote in Calendar Magazine (San Francisco): "No other San Francisco band reaches the heights of supreme imagination, ego and crunchiness required for true rock stardom as well as the Ophelias.” Hard Report said, "This is one of the most original and fascinating groups the American independent scene has to offer. Every part of this music machine is working overtime and bandmaster Leslie Medford jumps in and out of this world with a shy, unsettled voice and moody abstract lyrics. From the blasting cacophony of horns to a quiet stab of silence, adventurous listening is a guarantee on an album that stretches your imagination while tempting the rest with one catchy chorus after another."[8]

Vinyl copies of The Big O were packaged in a die-cut, round album jacket, the last occurrence of this before the music industry stopped manufacturing vinyl albums in 1990. (Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake (1968) by Small Faces, E Pluribus Funk (1971) by Grand Funk Railroad, and The Big Express (1984) by XTC, are other examples of albums released with round sleeves.)

Bare Bodkin[edit]

A 15-track compilation album released in 2017, Bare Bodkin includes material personally selected by bandleader Leslie Medford from each of the band's studio releases, in addition to five previously-unreleased tracks which were recorded before the band's breakup.

About the album, Medford said, “I approached Bare Bodkin as if it would be the last will and testament of The Ophelias, as if it alone might be our legacy. [...] I use [the] four opening "new" songs to make a kind of personal statement about my feelings as to the prime aesthetic thrust of The Ophelias, musically, lyrically, visually...an extended prologue and set-up for the perhaps more-familiar numbers [.]"[18]

Guitarist/engineer David Immerglück, in a retrospective on the band, waxed nostalgic about two of the songs newly-released on Bare Bodkin:

"[I] would love to have had “Sleepy Hamlet” which was in the can and “The Golden Calf Played Rock ‘n’ Roll” which was recorded but not used [on The Big O.]"[19]

O List![edit]

On 4 December 2018 The Ophelias released O List! a live performance album with seventeen songs[20]. These feature Leslie Medford, David Immerglück, and Terry von Blankers on all tracks, with the last two drummers, Edward Benton on twelve, and Alain Lucchesi on five tracks, respectively. O List! not only includes live versions of previously released studio tracks which often diverge wildly from the studio takes, but also has over thirty minutes of non-album tracks, including covers by Gong and David Bowie. “The Hanged Man”, “Dead In The Water”, “Capitol”, and “Dreamer’s Waltz” are all band originals which make their debut on O List! In toto listeners are treated to an hour of The Ophelias live, circa 1987-89, as the band alternates muscular, heavy psychedelic rock with interludes of gentle and sweet – this dichotomy being an Ophelias’ calling card.

Reception and Influence[edit]

In Rock And The Pop Narcotic, his 1991 book concerning the distinction and divide between "pop" and "rock" in mid- and late- twentieth century music, critic and record label entrepreneur Joe Carducci gave The Ophelias positive mention[21], furthering his essential premise that popularity is no index of quality.

Furthermore, Game Theory's Scott Miller was vocal in his fandom for the band. About "Palindrome" Scott Miller wrote "This recording stands out amid those of the era—it sounds absolutely like a million bucks." Miller ranks it the fourth-best song released in 1987.[22]

In his book "Music: What Happened?", along with ranking "Leah Hirsig" the third-best song of 1989, Scott Miller writes:

...Front person Leslie Medford was a multi-instrumentalist eccentric who had a wild singing style; Michael Quercio and I idolized him. An indie band on Rough Trade, the Ophs had as much pro impact as any band in late-eighties SF and their recordings have the most modern punch as any I can think of in retrospect. One secret weapon was David Immergluck, a true ace guitarist who eventually wound up in the Counting Crows—the wrong place to figure out how great he is. This is the right place;... [22]

Discography[edit]

  • The Ophelias (1987 Strange Weekend Records)
  • The Night Of Halloween (1987 Rough Trade)
  • Oriental Head (1988 Rough Trade)
  • The Big O (1989 Rough Trade)
  • Bare Bodkin (2017 Browbeat)
  • O List! (2018 Browbeat)

Members[edit]

  • Leslie Medford (October 1984 – September 1989)
  • Samuel Babbitt (October 1984 – June 1986)
  • Terry von Blankers (December 1984 – September 1989)
  • Reuben Chandler (December 1984 – June 1985)
  • Geoffrey Armour (December 1985 – June 1987)
  • Keith Dion (October 1986 – September 1987)
  • Edward Benton (July 1987 – April 1989)
  • David Immergluck (November 1987 – September 1989)
  • Alain Lucchesi (May 1989 – September 1989)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Ophelias Oriental Head Rough Trade". Hard Report. June 3, 1988. This is one of the most original and fascinating groups the American independent scene has to offer.
  2. ^ a b c Johnston, Jack (August 1988). "The Ophelias – The Big O". Vinyl Propaganda. Los Angeles. The Ophelias have a distinctly original approach to retro-psychedelia, incorporating as much Zappa as Marc Bolan and T-Rex, elements surprisingly untapped thus far. A cover The Nervous Breakdown's "I Dig Your Mind" is brilliant, eerie, erotic, and quintessentially sixties garage. Medford digs into his Zappa vocal quirk bag for this one, and his versatility feeds other songs to create the Ophelias' trademark sound.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Berstein, Nils (July–August 1987). "The Ophelias:The Big O". Option. Los Angeles. This immensely original and entertaining San Francisco quartet are based in solid rock'n'roll – beefy acoustic and electric guitars and heavy beats – but where they go from there is anyone's guess. Their oddly powerful and incredibly diverse music incorporates trumpets, harmonica, and pedal steel (among other instruments) in a sound that can alternate from raunchy to sweet in seconds. The only musical comparison that pops up with any consistency is T-Rex; after that compare them to the Zombies, Queen, XTC and everyone in between. Let's just say the Ophelias have no influences. The impressively literate lyrics are enticingly psychedelic, though in a mystical/magical sense rather than acid and flower power. The Ophelias conjure up intense imagery and sing (largely about sex) with infectious confidence and celebration.
  4. ^ J.F.Tiger (November 1988). "The Ophelias". S.G.N. Magazine. Seattle.
  5. ^ a b c d Richardson, Derek (22 March 1989). "The Ophelias". Bay Guardian. San Francisco. By restoring the rock to "art rock" Leslie Medford avoids most of the precious pitfalls of such Magical Mystery Tour followers as Yes and ELO. He goes back to earliest Pink Floyd and Faces for his dementia and realizes it here better than ever before. Medford isn't shy about forcing his chameleon voice into Beefhearty growls, flowery Daltry-Townshend falsettos and strained Marc Bolan-David Bowie brays. "Strange New Glasses", the poppy opener built on briskly strummed acoustic guitar, harkens early Who, while Side Two's "When Winter Comes" reveals the Ophelias' debt to T-Rex and Hunky Dory [Bowie's 1971 LP]. Medford zap(pa)s his strange brews with the kind of humor that cuts through the ostensible pretense of the mix-and-match sounds. Only the closing "Lawrence of Euphoria" with its heavy breathing Nixonian basso, is jokey beyond redemption, but it's over fast and reminds you how rich the rest of the record was.
  6. ^ a b c Fricke, David (June 29, 1989). "On The Edge". Rolling Stone. In the Sixties, psychedelia wasn't just a sound; it was a state of mind. The biggest drag about Eighties psychedelia is that for every dozen bands that talk about blowing minds (reciting the proper influences, trotting out the hip covers), there are really only one or two that can blow anything other than hot air. The Ophelias, from (where else?) San Francisco, belong to that delightfully manic minority. Their fourth release, The Big O (Rough Trade LP, cassette and CD), is a potent tab of futurist acid pop, with a jagged ensemble intensity that sounds like vintage English freak beat – early Pink Floyd, a pithier Van der Graaf Generator – laced with postpunk menace. Leslie Medford's occasional trumpet adds a spooky Renaissance gentility.
  7. ^ `Enthal, Andrea (May 1986). "Underground". Spin Magazine.
  8. ^ a b c Strange, Jay (2018-04-29). "ART INTO DUST: The Story of The Ophelias". ART INTO DUST. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  9. ^ Tim Hide, Musical Director, KUSF (January 15, 1987). Playlist (Report). KUSF.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Strange, Jay (2018-04-29). "ART INTO DUST: The Story of The Ophelias". ART INTO DUST. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  11. ^ Hollar, Joni (April 23, 1986). ""Locals Outshine Stars"". Daily Californian.
  12. ^ "The Ophelia's The Night of Halloween 12 Rough Trade". Hard Report. No. #15. October 23, 1987.
  13. ^ "Priority Emphasis". College Music Journal. July 1, 1988.
  14. ^ Powers, Ann (June 1, 1988). "The Ophelias/Oriental Head (Rough Trade)". Calendar. San Francisco. No other San Francisco band reaches the heights of supreme imagination, ego and crunchiness required for true rock stardom as well as the Ophelias. On Oriental Head the boys get down harder and in a more straightforward way than on their previous recordings. Lead singer Leslie Medford is still doing all kinds of crazy things with his mouth (blasting his trumpet, recorder and harmonica), and his vocals are stronger than ever. Dave Immerglück keeps things nicely heavy with his guitar. "Stay With Me" and "Turn Into A Berry" are beautiful masterpieces that recall the glory days of satin pants rock and roll.
  15. ^ "Priority Emphasis". College Music Journal. May 5, 1989.
  16. ^ Blashill, Pat (July 1989). "The Ophelias The Big O Rough Trade". Spin. …raucous despite their immaculate manners.
  17. ^ Fricke, David (June 29, 1989). "On The Edge". Rolling Stone. Their fourth release, The Big O (Rough Trade LP, cassette and CD), is a potent tab of futurist acid pop, with a jagged ensemble intensity that sounds like vintage English freak beat – early Pink Floyd, a pithier Van der Graaf Generator – laced with postpunk menace. Leslie Medford's occasional trumpet adds a spooky Renaissance gentility.
  18. ^ Strange, Jay (2018-04-29). "ART INTO DUST: The Story of The Ophelias". ART INTO DUST. Retrieved 2018-09-16.
  19. ^ Strange, Jay (2018-04-29). "ART INTO DUST: The Story of The Ophelias". ART INTO DUST. Retrieved 2018-09-16.
  20. ^ "O List! - The Ophelias ...Live, by The Ophelias". The Ophelias. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  21. ^ Carducci, Joe (1994). Rock and the Pop Narcotic. Los Angeles, CA: 2.13.61. p. 391. ISBN 9-781880-985113.
  22. ^ a b Miller, Scott (2012). Music: What Happened?. Alameda, CA: 125 Books. pp. 134, 142–143. ISBN 978-0-615-38196-1.

External Links[edit]