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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Psychotic Reaction"

The Count Five - "Psychotic Reaction" (1966)

The essay, that became the basis for the book Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by legendary rock critic Lester Bangs was named for this single.

I gotta say, I think the band is properly called Count Five or Count V without the 'The' but that's what the book has. At the time of this recording, lead singer and primary songwriter John Byrne was 19 and attending San Jose City College with at least two other members of the band. The youngest member of the band was still in high school.  They performed in 'Count Dracula' style capes and played up Byrne's international (he was Irish) heritage to take advantage of the British Invasion popularity. The single was a big local hit, so they recorded a few more, toured the California coast for about a year, recorded an album, had a #5 US singles hit and then turned down a nation wide tour to go back to school. They disappeared and never recorded again, a classic one hit wonder.

The song is a perfect embodiment of the mid sixties electric blues sound so associated with Eric Clapton. Whether in his work with The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, or Cream; the Clapton sound is what Count Five and many others were emulating. The Animals and The Rolling Stones were also big fans of the sound, and America was buying anything that sounded like it. On this track the pounding might as well be on a crate as a drum set, but it serves its purpose well. Layered guitars all playing similar notes with different sound qualities, a harmonica and a vocal about love from a bouncy yet hinting of anger voice were just what the doctor ordered. The middle and end sections, with their sped up driving beat, rising electric guitar solo, frenzied backing guitar effects and train-with-no-breaks harmonica is what all the fuss is about. There were probably thousands of garage bands in 1966. Hundreds of them had more than a handful of tour dates, and dozens of them cut a record and thought they could be something. But that sound was so heartfelt and raw and real that it doesn't surprise me what happened to their legacy.

Remember me mentioning Lester Bangs? He wrote an essay in 1971 about garage rock. In it he described the legacy of the Count Five and talked about their first album Psychotic Reaction and their second album Carburetor Dung as well as other albums and concerts. The thing is, he created everything after the first album. The band had split up, but Bangs created a fictional account of the group. This got them an odd amount of attention, and the song actually was popular with American soldiers in Vietnam years after the band had broken up.

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