There are a few albums that I wish I’d been alive to get into when they were released — just for what it must have been like to drop the needle on them for the very first time. The first Residents album is one of those — given that it’s an album that paved the way for a lot of what was to come but didn’t have much in the way of antecedents.
Black Monk Time is one of those records. And what an introduction it has. The first thing you hear is Gary Burger shouting “ALLRIGHT MY NAME’S GARY! LET’S GO! IT’S BEAT TIME, IT’S HOP TIME, IT’S MONK TIME! YOU KNOW WE DON’T LIKE THE ARMY WHAT ARM WHO CARES WHAT ARMY WHY DO YOU KILL ALL THOSE KIDS OVER THERE IN VIETNAM MAAAAD VIET CONG!” — and yes, that last bit is basically all one sentence — over a cool drum/bass groove with a squealing organ and metallic, rhythmic banjo…. and then everything but the drum and bass end up rebelling against the singer, causing him to shout out in protest of the sound. Not something you’d necessarily expect to hear in early 1966.
The odd thing about the Monks is that they were something of a pre-fab group. Kind of, anyway. They started out as a standard Beat group called the 5 Torquays until they met up with a couple of former ad men who became their managers — coming up with the look and idea for the sound. The Monks themselves, however, were of course a big part of Monkdom — after all, they wrote all their own songs (“Boys Are Boys And Girls Are Choice” was originally a Torquays record!) and embraced the rules and regulations given them by their managers. And, at least for a while, it worked. Only for a while, unfortunately — despite the plans to have three Monks albums — Black, Silver and Gold Monk Time — only Black was recorded. After their managers left in protest of the label wanting a more pop-oriented Monks, the band imploded. Oddly enough — the singles that did get released of the pop-era were still really good and, well, interesting. “I Can’t Get Over You” b/w “Cuckoo” was an actual hit in Europe — but it’s far from being pap — sort of the Monks doing a vocal parody on the Four Seasons, while being miles better than just about anything the Four Seasons ever did.
Still — most of the true classics are on the original album. “Complication” is a GREAT song — it was released as a single, although it didn’t do much on the charts… but it SHOULD have. And there’s always “I Hate You (But Call Me)”, “Oh How To Do Now” and… well, basically the whole damn record, really. Not a stiff on it. Very rhythmic music, a little bit in the vein of shouting-type of 1950s R&B — sort of an alternate universe pop music. Luckily we’ve got in this universe — and the new reissue from Light In The Attic (also responsible for the outstanding reissue of Historie De Melody Nelson which came out around the same time) is readily available with expanded liner notes and a whole mess of bonus tracks and just about anything a Monks fan could want — including a rare, unreleased, thought lost single, “Pretty Suzanne” — a single pressed in the large quantity of ONE. This is another one of those essential records everyone should own. It’s arty and experimental but also weirdly accessible. Still — I wish I could have been there in March 1966 to drop the needle for the very first time.