Song Of The Day 11/4/2015: The United States of America – “The American Way of Love”

Allegations of Weirdness – The United States Of America aren’t mentioned often in the discussion of rock’s greatest one-and-done bands – not as much as the Sex Pistols, the La’s, Minor Threat, or fully half the bands Eric Clapton joined – but if the conversation comes up you could do worse. The USA was the brainchild of Joseph Byrd, a keyboardist and writer who bounced around various strata of the ’60s music experience. Byrd did a bunch of things in a very short time: country, rock, jazz vibes, avant garde, arranging, composing, multimedia. He’d already attained a modest level of global notoriety when he ditched it for the West Coast, which has been the ruin of many a poor boy.

Byrd still maintained a scholarly, admirably open-minded approach to music even then. In 1967, buoyed by an increasing interest in experimental music and the more creditable lessons to be gleaned from the Summer Of Love, Byrd formed the USA with a group of UCLA students. David Rubinstein, the ’60s music maven who’d go on to become Herbie Hancock’s full-time producer, somehow got the band signed to Columbia Records, who released their sole album in March of 1968.

It’s a right and proper freakout, from an era when lots of people claimed to be freaking out but were probably just clearing their throats. Not the United States Of America, though. Byrd’s music-historian approach collided head-on with radical expressionism – not to mention tape loops, extraneous sound effects, and an impressive electronic sheen. The electronics on the album are all the more amazing when you realize that they didn’t have much of a budget at all, and instead relied on homemade components and the all-important ring modulator. They went particularly crazy with the ring modulator. This is the sound that would make the Krautrock girls cry.

From start to finish the album’s a fascinating and highly witty lurch through jagged membranes and Communism Lite, with nods to rapidly subduing Americana and the scratchy old guard. Today’s three-part suite is the closing track on the album. It starts out like any other band that could have been the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s understudy in Blow Up, but stay patient until the two-minute-or-so mark when Byrd throws the World Book Encyclopedia out the window and lets the birds in. It’s a nicely structured decay into beautiful torpor, capped off by an unfailingly polite marching band. U-S-A!

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