Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Trails - Quicksilver Messenger Service

Happy Trails
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Capitol  ST-120

The second album by Quicksilver Messenger Service with another excellent cover by Globe Propaganda.  I had it on display in my room for many years.  I bought it at Tower Records in Berkeley around 1979.  When I read the description of it in "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" by Logan and Woffinden as one of "the best examples of the San Francisco sound at its purest" I had to have it.  I was obsessed with the San Francisco sound at the time and I wasn't disappointed.  I spent many an evening listening to this record through my headphones in my dark room with just a few candles for a light show imagining what it must have been like watching them at the Fillmore or the Avalon Ballroom.  I don't listen to it too much anymore but when I do, I still feel that magic.  Side One is devoted to a 25 minute live version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love."  Thanks to bootlegs and archival releases there are numerous other versions of Quicksilver's various performances of this song, but this is still my favorite.  I even like the bass solo and the audience participation/percussion solo section and that's pretty rare for me.  The guitar interplay between John Cippolina and Gary Duncan is dazzling.  I'm not a big fan of long jams, but this one really goes places.  It is so dynamic and propulsive that when it is finally over I still want more.  Side two is just as good.  It kicks off with another live Bo Diddley cover, "Mona."  It is a lot shorter, maybe too short.  It has a great bass riff courtesy of David Freiberg that provides a solid framework for some exciting flights by the guitarists.  Just a killer song, it could go on for the rest of the record as far as I'm concerned.  Instead it segues into Gary Duncan's stately "Maiden of The Cancer Moon" which sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western.  It features more inspired guitar work.  It in turn segues into another western-themed song, the 13 minute "Calvary."  Like the previous song it is an instrumental (although there is some dialogue of sorts) but it has a wider variety of moods and textures.  It is basically the rock equivalent to classical program music, I believe it is the psychedelic soundscape of a battle between Native Americans and U. S. Calvary troops or something of that nature.  I can't really think of another song that is even remotely like it, it rocks too hard and is too trippy to be prog-rock, yet it is more structured and coherent than most psychedelic epics.  I imagine it must be what it is like watching a John Ford movie on acid.  The swirling sonic frenzy eventually calms and segues into a cover of Dale Evans' "Happy Trails" ending a brilliant album.  It is easily the best record Quicksilver ever released, only their debut even comes close.  It is also one of the best albums to come out of San Francisco and one of the best acid rock albums ever.  Recommended for Ennio Morricone fans who dig Bo Diddley.

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