Now Playing: The Ones on Ashwood House
This has to be one of the most obscure items ever in my possession. I spotted it on eBay a couple of years ago with no info attached, but the seller's suggestion that 'one track sounds like David Crosby' was enough for me to take a shot. Scrutinizing the record and the other material clarifies a thing or two, but I've been unable to find any references to this at all.
So what is it? Well, first there's a sturdy, black outer slipcase in roughly quarto format, showing a big sun which turns out to be an orange-tinted image of a meditating hippie. The slipcase holds a printed magazine whose cover at first glance seems to be completely blank. Looking closer one can make out the words 'THE AMERICAN' embossed in white-on-white, and at another spot is a printed serial number. This may sound very much like The Beatles' White Album, which obviously is the intention. Looking for production year yields an early 1970 date from various clues, making the White Album reference seem a bit dated.
The magazine, apparently called 'The American', turns out to be a typical college yearbook thing from an obviously free-spirited, or even anarchaic instititution. It's a thick, generous mag with nice print quality, though only black and white. The contents are the usual mixture of poetry, political rallying calls, absurd prose snips, underground comics and similar brainstorms from any and all students who wanted to take part. I've gone over it cursory and saw nothing that seemed particularly different or psychedelic. The most interesting question is the geographical origins, which wasn't entirely easy to figure out. From what I gathered I am however pretty sure that this emanates from The American University in Washington DC.
Now, here's what's really interesting, and the reason I bought this. Along with the year-book came a 33 rpm flexi-disc featuring three tracks. The credits are scant, but a couple of names overlap with the staff at the college magazine, so it's obviously a campus production. The appearance of the text 'The American' seals any doubts on its relationship to the slipcase and magazine, into which it was slipped when I found it. Although the two clearly belong together, there is no reference in the magazine to the flexi disc, from what I can see.
In any event, the flexi comes housed in a rather attractive monochrome art sleeve which is full of nicely drawn mushrooms, palm tree-size cannabis plants and some psychedelic patterns. The back cover is blank. The flexi disc itself is two-sided and credits 'Earth Matrix Ltd' as the (probably fictious) label. Side 1 has two shorter tracks, clocking in at a total of 6.5 minutes, while side 2 has one long track of almost exactly the same length, suggesting that this may have been a technical limit set for the flexi production.
Now, I wouldn't have bothered writing any of this if the music had turned out to be some generic, mediocre campus folk thing. Luckily it is not, although the second track on side 1 fails to breathe any particular life into the IRA folk hymn "The Patriot Game", the melody which Bobby Dylan borrowed for "With God On Our Side". Preceding it we get "Come Into My Garden" credited to Susan Manning, a risqué, or more precisely downright dirty little Judy Collins parody featuring various sexual invites from Ms Manning. I wonder how her friends reacted when they heard her gladly proclaiming that the visitor could well "enter through the rear gate". Let us hope her parents were kept unaware of this special class project of Susan's.
OK, so side 1 is student zeitgeist nonsense, but what it's really all about is the long track on side 2, the one that was said to sound like David Crosby. Well, in short, it does sound like David Crosby, his late '60s mood of flowing oceanic hippie psych mystique to be precise. I've uploaded a 75-second clip so you can get an idea about this number, which is titled "Gently All Around (Warmth)" and credited to one Wall Matthews with assistance (probably second guitar) by a Mac Walter. None of these names appear in The American magazine, or on the tracks on side 1. So the mystery is at its thickest just where the music is the best, a phenomena familiar to many veteran record collectors. There is a tempo shift with an intense acoustic guitar break before the Crosby ocean flow returns and the song ends. Due to this being a flexi the sound isn't all that great, but all in all this is one of the more interesting things I've found of late. In terms of obscurity few can top it, so if you know anything about this artefact or the people involved, please post a comment below and I'll contact you.
THE AMERICAN EP (DC)
The American 1970 (Earth Matrix Ltd) [33 rpm 7" 2-sided flexi]
Songs credited as follows: "Come Into My Garden" featuring Susan Manning; "The Patriot Game" featuring Jack Purdy, David Taylor & Donald Colwell; "Gently All Around" featuring Wall Matthews with Mac Walter. [PL]
Is that you, Susan Manning? And is this me?