Spirit: Potato Land (1973/1981)

Spirit are one of those bands from the golden age of classic rock that I don't think get enough attention (in terms of radio play or general credibility).  I mean, sure, you'll sometimes hear "Got A Line On You" -- an uncharacteristically straight-ahead rocker -- on the radio, or maybe even "Fresh Garbage," but can you name much more than that?  Which is a damn shame, because their catalog is littered with greatness (as well as weirdness). 

They had a run of good-to-great albums in the late 60s, which, like other California bands of the era, managed a fascinating hodge-podge of rock, folk, blues, and psychedelia; they then broke up for awhile before regrouping for a few much less esteemed yet occasionally brilliant 70s albums.

In between incarnations, band founder Randy California hooked up with a few of the original band members to record a bizarre semi-concept album of sorts with the unwieldy title The Adventures of Kaptain Kopter & Commander Cassidy in Potato Land.  It sat in storage for awhile, but a rough-sounding mix was released in 1981, and in the years since there have been various re-packagings with greatly improved sound and enough outtakes and alternate versions to make it difficult to determine exactly what does and does not constitute the proper album.

But the core of the record is intermittently fantastic.  As with some of the Spirit albums of the later 70s, there is a bunch of meandering electronic experimentation, spoken-word narratives, and general Zappa-esque (or Funkadelic-esque) weirdness.  But if you skip all of that -- and I ended up burning myself a copy of this which leaves that aside and sticks to the music -- there's still enough for a fascinating, if relatively short, album.

The highlight is the closing number, "My Friend," quite possibly one of the greatest songs you've never heard.  Jangly guitars and buoyant synths and anthemic earworm hooks that will haunt you for days, it's the sort of thing I can imagine playing over the closing credits of every road trip movie ever.  Why "My Friend" isn't an overplayed staple of FM radio is something I will never understand.  Seriously, it's just great, go play it now and I can't imagine you'll disagree.  Here's an audio rip:
Nearly as great is the opening number, "We've Got A Lot To Learn," a bit more on the folky, pure seventies sunshine pop side, calling back to Spirit's earlier days, complete with sappy horns and falsetto harmonies and everything.  Good fun.  "Open Up Your Heart" is a lovely, pastoral ballad; "Morning Light" is more sunshine pop, a little fluffy but endearing; and "Donut House" is a weird, nonsensical bit of psychedelic pop.  The balance of the album is all over the place, but if you sift through some of the studio weirdness there are other delights to be found.

Here's an audio rip of "We've Got A Lot To Learn":
A couple years back, there was a massive 4-cd reissue of Potato Land, combining various studio versions of the album's tracks with 2 cd's of (rough, at times unlistenable) live tracks from the era.  It's a bit of overkill, but I used it to burn myself a personalized version of the album combining the best studio tracks while weeding out the self-indulgent weirdness.

Comments

  1. It's not often that a record I've never even heard of crosses my radar, especially one from this era. Sure, I'm familiar with Spirit and recognize their albums after years of sifting through used records, but this one has somehow eluded me. Anyway, I'm still in the process of absorbing this, but I'm really enjoying the songs and wondering where they've been all my life. "We've Got a Lot to Learn" is going on my next mix tape. Or will it be "Open Up Your Heart"?

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