Various Artists: Beautiful Freaks review – when bands used to stick it to the man

Fri, Aug 30, 2019, 05:00


Beautiful Freaks

Various Artists



As implied by its subtitle (“Waving our flag high – music from the original counter-culture”), this fascinating compilation of mostly 1960s left-of-centre US acts posits the notion that “sticking it to the man . . . a state of mind and an ideal” no longer exists.

Commodification of alternative and/or underground culture and submission to the dictates of commerce has seen to that.

Yet there was a time when truly alternative music (“too abstract for the soldiers, too square for the Panthers,” states album compiler Tony Harlow, plainly declaring the American perspective) made a mark.

It epitomised, of course, artistic autonomy and dissent, and while many of the names gathered here might not mean much to a wider demographic, there is a sense of what it means to be different in an increasingly standardised world.

And so we have freak-out tracks from the likes of The Grateful Dead, Hawkwind, Gong, Brigitte Fontaine and Yoko Ono (whose primal scream track, Why, is both representative and unlistenable), spoken word from Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, and protest songs from Country Joe & the Fish.

End result? An intriguing glimpse into an era of turning on, tuning in and dropping out.