The Monks – “Black Monk Time” (1966)

October 5, 2009 at 1:36 am (Fran Fried, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Fran Fried’s July 10, 2009 posting on Amazon’s website. The Monks are one of the great unsung rock & roll bands of the mid-60s. Fran has made me want to buy this reissue, due to his raving over the impressive sound quality of the remastering.
And to quote Spinal Tap…how much more black can that album cover get?.
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Gawd, the Sound! The sound!

 

So there I was, in this record store in the Mission District in San Francisco, wondering whether I wanted to drop some $$$ I probably shouldn’t have been blowing in order to get, in essence, one song. Then again, the song was the instrumental “Monk Chant,” which The Monks never recorded in the studio, taken from their appearance on a West German “bandstand”-type show called Beat-Club. And here it was, on this new reissue of Black Monk Time.

What can I tell ya? When you get the fever, you get the fever. If you’ve seen the clip of the performance on YouTube or (in pristine form) in the documentary Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, then you probably have the fever, too, and you can understand why I just had to buy the new reissue of a CD I’ve had for years. It’s just a mad, two-minute, free-form church/jazz organ-meets-primal guitar noise free-for all, and now I can play it whenever I want – which will probably be often.

And I popped the CD in the deck for the long, thankless drive back to Fresno that night and was in for another bonus. No, not the other heretofore-unreleased track, “Pretty Suzanne” (an OK song with mad, distorted bass) – it was the sound quality itself. This cannot be a 1966 recording. This is a 2009 recording masquerading as a ’60s garage record. The studio tracks are so pronounced that I didn’t know whether I was listening to a brand new album or someone had swapped out my sound system while I was walking around the city. The background is clean, Larry Spangler’s church organ is more arcing and punctuating than ever, Roger Johnston’s drums are so much more brutally crystal-clear, Dave Day’s rhythm banjo rips through the speaker, Eddie Shaw’s bass is tremendously, pointedly fuzzy, and Gary Burger’s guitar feedback and shouting soar above the rest of the madness in a way that sound equipment couldn’t have possibly translated in their heyday.

If you consider yourself a rock’n’roll fan and you’re unaware of The Monks – well, you need to become aware and need to hear what you’ve been missing. They’re not only the great lost American rock band (five ex-GIs who stayed in West Germany and recorded this one album for Polydor in ’66, broke up in ’67 and reunited to play two shows at Cavestomp! in New York in 1999), they’re also essentially the first punk band. The Sonics (“The Witch”) predated them musically by about two years, but The Monks’ sound and image and attitude had the ’70s punks beat by a decade. They were the anti-Beatles; when everyone grew their hair long and started wearing colorful threads, they cut their hair short, shaved tonsures into their skulls and wore somber black. When The Beatles and others were singing love songs, the monks were singing “I Hate You” and “Complication” and asking “Why’d you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?” Gary was playing with feedback about the time Lennon was doing the same, Dave was playing rhythm banjo and Roger was prone to playing with the butt ends of his sticks. And nothing ever sounded or looked like them before or after.

If you’re already aware of The Monks and have Black Monk Time, you need to reacquaint yourself with it. This pressing/remastering is like having a second chance to enjoy the sensation of listening to a great album for the first time. Plus, I’m assuming the band is getting royalties off this reissue, where they didn’t get any off the original re-ishes in the ’90s. And the accompanying booklet has tremendous pics. The only two trifling complaints: The booklet print is too damn small and, while each copy of the CD has a collector’s card (I have Larry), there has to be a way to collect all nine…

Fran Fried

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