13th Floor Elevators: 7th Heaven; Music of the Spheres (Charly/Southbound)

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The Thirteen Floor Elevators: It's All Over Now Baby Blue
13th Floor Elevators: 7th Heaven; Music of the Spheres (Charly/Southbound)

As with Syd Barrett, the music of 13th Floor Elevators has been overshadowed by the story of the madness, in the case of the Elevators the increasingly bizarre behaviour of their frontman Roky Erickson.

Out of Austin, Texas in the mid Sixties, the Elevators were a raw and elemental garageband along the lines of England's Downliners Sect and Pretty Things, or Paul Revere and the Raiders out of Oregon.

With the throat-scouring vocals of Erickson, they scored a couple of local hits with You're Gonna Miss me and Tried to Hide in '66, and made their way to the West Coast where they ran headlong into the burgeoning psychedelic scene and LSD. They ate up both and played alongside Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and others, and followed up their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (which included You're Gonna Miss Me and the stunning Reverberation) with another psyched-out classic Easter Everywhere.

Within a few years however things had gone on the slide and when Erickson was busted for marijuana possession he chose to go into a psychiatric hospital than prison. Bad move.

The band broke up -- Ronnie Leatherman was drafted, lyricist Tommy Hall was spiraling out through acid, guitarist Stacy Sutherland jailed for possession -- and although Erickson did record again when he was released four years later he was badly damaged Until the past decade was in and out of music battling mental illness.

But back to the music . . . a few years ago a four CD box set of Elevators music was released but given they were erratic that might be a bridge too far for most. Cue this beautiful and informatively packaged singles collection -- 18 tracks, booklet giving details on each, another booklet enticing you to their albums and those on their International Artists Records label.

Their garageband noise is excellent -- on Levitation they sound like the Monkees put through the Revere/Raiders wringer -- as is their wonderful slow version of Dylan's It's All Over Now Baby Blue.

Their version of the blues standard Before You Accuse Me is okay but hardly essential (although proved Sutherland was a helluva good blues guitarist) -- however everything else is raw and exciting garageband psyched out r'n'b rock.

She Lives in a Time of Her Own sounds like a very disturbed Byrds track; Slip Inside This House (from Easter Everywhere) is more anxious than anything by the likes of Country Joe at the time; the B-side Splash 1 is an uncharacteristic guitar-jangle ballad; May the Circle Be Unbroken is a haunting, menacing reverb-heavy piece which closed their third and final studio album in '69, there's a faithfully hiccuping cover of Buddy Holly's I'm Gonna Love You Too . . . 

Raw r'n'b to treble-heavy psychedelic rock to Buddy Holly . . . Then some different mixes of four tracks. 

As with the previously posted collection by the Flamin' Groovies, if this band is new to you, you only know a track or two, or you've only heard the stories, here is an accessible, impressive one-stop into their diversity and convoluted history.

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