Sunday, 2 July 2017

Oliver!: The Misunderstood - I Can Take You To The Sun (20 March 1992)

Imagine a history where The Undertones never wrote Teenage Kicks.  In that instance, it's probable that on announcing Peel's death in October 2004, Radio 1 would have given over four minutes of the daytime schedule to a much admired, cult record from 1966.  A record which Peel, at least until he heard the opening drum beat of Teenage Kicks in 1978, had announced on air more than once as "The best pop (sic) record that has ever been recorded". He was talking about I Can Take You To The Sun by The Misunderstood and, as so often when Peel used hyperbole, a strong element of truth backed up his opinion.

Peel first encountered The Misunderstood when he saw them play at Pandora's Box in Hollywood, early in 1966.  It was a gig that he would, to the end of his days, cite as one of the 10 best gigs he ever saw.  He was so beguiled by them that he offered his services to them as a manager, arranging the opportunity for them to record some demos and then sending them to London where they had to explain to Peel's mother that he had said it would be OK for them to stay with her. By the time Peel returned to the UK himself in early 1967, The Misunderstood had split due to a plethora of issues including drugs, visa problems and being drafted into the U.S. Army.  But their short time together had yielded a handful of influential recordings of which I Can Take You To The Sun was the jewel in the crown, and one which Peel would periodically return to throughout his broadcasting career.

I Can Take You To The Sun is an astonishing piece of music.  It's use of textured fuzztone guitar owes a lot to The Yardbirds, but its opening minute alone throws out challenges to their contemporaries.  I can imagine the likes of Love and The Doors hearing the powerful, panoramic, rocky opening and thinking to themselves, "Shit, we need to raise our games".  The record also achieves a level of cosmic, sonic liftoff akin to what Pink Floyd were achieving in London clubs throughout 1966 before they got into the studio as well.

The track progresses in three movements over the course of about three and a half minutes: the garage rock opening which encapsulates the idea of the psychedelic troubadour before it became a cliche (greeting the sunrise with nothing but a guitar).  If the track can be read as a description of an LSD trip, then the opening section can be read as a dare to dream, a way of greeting the new morning which youth culture felt was approaching through 1966.  The second, instrumental, section with guitars snarling and Glenn Ross Campbell's steel guitar providing the rocket fuel, covers the journey to the sun.  The moment when perceptions expand but the harshness of the sound means that we can't be sure how smooth the journey is.  If nothing else, it puts to bed The Beatles' complaint that three guitars and a drum kit wouldn't be able to produce something like Tomorrow Never Knows on a 1966 stage.  And finally we come to the third and most audacious movement, as the electrics fade out and the sun is reached with an acoustic guitar duel.  All is peace and the sun is being used to warm and not to burn.  However, while the tone of this part of the song is gentle and ethereal, it acknowledges more earthbound truths than might seem to be apparent.  The line, "You've existed in a lie that will someday show/I can take you to the sun...but you don't want to go." is tremendously important in rooting the track's significance because it recognises that the coming psychedelic revolution would not, despite its best intentions, be a collective redemption.  People would be scared by the drugs, by the implied threat to orderly society, by the generation gaps, by The System, by the weirdness, by any number of reasons from engaging with it fully.  Some would make it to the sun, others would float off into space and many more - too many the song implies - would stay earthbound thanks to fear, suspicion and incuriosity.  The last section of the track can be seen as a lament for a battle, which had not yet been fought, but which The Misunderstood forecast would ultimately be lost due to overwhelming opposition.

The best pop record ever recorded?  Impossible to say, but with its mixture of vision, bliss, excitement and regret, it may very well deserve to be called the best psychedelic record ever made.  Peel spoke about how The Misunderstood's live shows of the time could bring people together in ways he had never seen - no one ordering drinks, Go-Go dancers in their cages downing tools, the whole venue pressed up to the stage simply listening to the music.  I Can Take You To The Sun captures all of that in the time it would have taken The Grateful Dead to plug in their instruments and tune up.

Video courtesy of hawkmoon03111951.

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