Back in the 80s, when my record obsession turned into my job, I had a secret weapon to get a customer high and hooked on obscure heavy psych LPs. A little taste of Morgen was as sure a bet as a tab of Purple Haze.
Recorded in 1968, this self-titled masterpiece was supposed to be the first LP on the Probe label, the "progressive" wing of ABC Records. Shady management drama kept the album in the can until 1969. When the record dropped, the single "She's The Nitetime" got some minor airplay around St. Louis, but never broke out nationally. LPs that are now priced around $500 were dumped into cut-out bargain bins at K-Marts across the country. The LP vanished.
Four decades later, I've heard this record playing in rock clubs from Helsinki to London, from Melbourne to Berlin. The long track "Love" has topped a quarter million hits on YouTube and you'd be hard pressed to find an indie rock guitar star who doesn't worship this psychedelic monster from New York City.
Steve Morgen started out around the Washington Square folk scene of the early 60s, but like the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, and so many others, the folkie was transformed by the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and the British Invasion. He went electric and built out a band. At legendarily heavy shows at NYC hot spots like the Cafe Au Go Go, Ondine, and Steve Paul's Scene, you could find Jimi Hendrix, members of the Who, and others getting their minds blown along with everybody else.
Some clothing ads ran in national magazines with the Morgen men (at the time called "Steve Morgen's Dream Spectrum") posing during the peak time where psychedelia had washed across the rest of the USA. It didn't happen. The band broke up and Steve took off on a motorcycle odyssey across Europe, disillusioned. Then he moved to LA, did some bit roles on cop shows like Starsky & Hutch and got into the celebrity bodyguard business in the wake of the Manson murders.
Amazingly, this mindblower's had no authorized reissue. I tried with Steve Morgen's help in the late 90s, Matador tried after that, but the tapes are held by MCA and no financially feasible deal is possible at this time. This is a pity. I'd really like to hear the faster alternate version of "Purple" that Steve says is the only finished track not used on the LP. Fortunately, the album's been bootlegged numerous times, so finding a copy is no problem.
Every track is different, but taken together this is one of the few perfect psych records. Crunching power chords and savage meth-raga fuzz riffs on "Welcome To The Void," acidic otherworldly vocals on "Of Dreams" that sound like Lucy (the one from the sky, with diamonds) wandered into a meadow with a mysterious sexy girl. After much deliberation I realized "Beggin' Your Pardon (Miss Joan)" is the record's peak. It's one mad and heavy pick up line delivered in a such a twisted Renfield manner that it'll surely scare her away, unless she's looking for trouble.
This one came at a time when psychedelia was dominated by flower power, but you can file this beast along with the MC5, Velvet Underground, and the Stooges. It's dark, and it rips open wounds. Hence, it's aged well and sounds vital 44 years after its release.
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll... A very long way in this case, but if success is measured by an ever expanding audience and influence on bands today, Morgen is moving steadily up the charts that matter. The choice of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for the cover image says it all.
Paul is in the deeply heavy psych/fuzz rock band Endless Boogie. They are the secret favorite group of every good musician in New York.