The Tony Williams Lifetime – “Emergency!” (1969)

August 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

The debut album by Lifetime, featuring former Miles Davis sidemen, drummer Tony Williams and guitarist John McLaughlin, and also featuring organ player Larry Young. This band was basically the start of what became known as fusion. Simply put, they were a monster!
This review was written by XTC leader Andy Partridge for
Word magazine for the June 2005 issue (#28) in a feature called “The Most Underrated Albums of Our Time”…  


I got this album at about the same time as I bought Trout Mask Replica, a cataclysmic time for my brain to be exposed to where rock was going to end up in 100 years’ time in terms of invention, complexity and poetry — and, dammit, the words of Trout Mask are the very best Americana. And here I was being exposed to where jazz would end up in 100 years’ time.

Look at the personnel — a 23 year-old drummer [Tony Williams] who creates a kind of continuous thunder that ebbs and flows, not so much a rhythm, more as if he’s holding four conversations with himself simultaneously. John McLaughlin’s on guitar, playing this psychedelically painted Fender Jaguar through a series of malfunctioning foot pedals. And the real alien who’s dropped through from the future is their blind Hammond organist Larry Young. No need for a bass player, as Young played the pedals with his feet, and with his hands made music that sounded like someone shoving a screwdriver into a flying saucer engine, or something flying through a wide-mile cloud of swarf.

I’ve never heard music like this, loosely-based songs — with about five O’s in looooosely — and a singing drummer; in fact, when you heard Tony Williams, you realised where a certain other drummer with a disarmingly wispy voice [Robert Wyatt] could have got it from.

When you buy this on CD, the booklet comes with a disclaimer saying it was so badly recorded — two albums in two days! — the original eight-track tape was distorted, but that distortion only adds to their vitality and makes this the most electronic album I’ve ever heard. It turns their fire and desperate playing into an alarmingly fizzy video-focus relief. You feel as though you have been shrunk down to a sub-atomic size and you’re approaching a planet comprised of one atom. And as you enter its ‘scape, this is the sound that you hear. It’s fantastic!

Andy Partridge


  1. Tor Hershman said,

    “Debra Kadabra” and, of course, “The Blimp” are pure genuis.

  2. Bill Bartmann said,

    Great site…keep up the good work.

  3. Bill Bartmann said,

    Cool site, love the info.

    • dunno said,

      Well chosen, Andy. Two great double albums. Stickin’ with ‘Emergency’, there was so much more to write ! Badly recorded maybe, but that adds to its great sound SLUR – WHIRL, it suits the sound’s decadent excitement. The guitarist’s control of the clash of new jazz & classic blues is cooly poised. So much better than his contributions to ‘Escalator Over The Hill’. As ( if I remember ) the liner notes said, ‘ this music grows the more you here it ‘. And, Andy, what about ‘ Dark Star ‘ ? This is Pop !

  4. dunno said,

    Here hear !

  5. dunno said,

    Since no-one’s talkin’, and we’ve got time..’ Trout Mask Replica’ eaters.. give me 48 hours to sketch out the songs for a Californian double album to compete with my hot pal Frank Zappa, who had offered me studio time with no constraints. Make a mess.. or make a wilder album than mine. Thank God Don did it. And not just once. Praise to the band. Thanks for the mental energy. Recommended alone, the first time.

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