DAVID PEEL & THE LOWER EAST SIDE - The Pope Smokes Dope (1972)
The Pope Smokes Dope managed to push the buttons of almost everyone in authority around the world back in 1972, with the result that it was ultimately banned almost everywhere except the United States, Canada, and Japan. David Peel & the Lower East Side open the album with the upbeat "Everybody's Smoking Marijuana" - which starts out with a goof/homage to Country Joe & the Fish - and the vicious Merle Haggard/"Okie from Muskogee" parody / answer song "The Hippie from New York City," both still as laugh-out-loud funny in the 21st century as they were back when, and leading into the catchy and delightful "Ballad of New York City." And from there, listeners plunge into a phantasmagoria of countercultural images, sensibilities, phrases, and humor, and this album is arguably the finest piece of musical agitprop ever to emerge from the '60s counterculture (even if it took till 1972 to appear). Under John Lennon and Yoko Ono's production, Peel is presented without compromise with the most rudimentary of guitar and percussion accompaniment, none of it amplified, yet it does hold together as a coherent and cohesive statement, musical and otherwise. It's funny where it should be, serious in all the right places, scary sometimes, and the result is a listening experience that's ultimately laugh-provoking and savage. Some elements of the album recall Lennon and Ono's Sometime in New York City, but there's a much greater resemblance to the Country Joe & the Fish Rag Baby EPs from mid-'60s Berkeley, only with some more subtle edges and quietly sophisticated attributes - and other parts of this album will recall the work of rival / contemporary Lower East Side denizens the Fugs. Perhaps the high point (so to speak) is "F Is Not a Dirty Word," in which Peel goes through the origins and usages of the word in question, and he's not only etymologically correct throughout but musically adept and engaging - and damned funny. And he almost tops himself with "The Birth Control Blues," an account of youthful ingenuity and improvisation concerning the subject at hand set in an early-'60s rock idiom -- specifically recalling "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" - that evolves into a stunning spoken word piece with musical accompaniment. And after all of that, "The Pope Smokes Dope" is almost anticlimactic, except that it's so outrageous a song and filled with such irreverent conceits that it carries listeners to the end successfully.
TRACKS: 01. I'm A Runaway 02. Everybody's Smoking Marijuana 03. The Hippie From New York City 04. The Ballad Of New York City 05. The Ballad Of Bob Dylan 06. The Chicago Conspiracy 07. I'm Gonna Start Another Riot 08. McDonald's Farm 09. F Is Not A Dirty Word 10. The Birth Control Blues 11. The Hip Generation 12. The Pope Smokes Dope 13. Amerika 14. How Did You Meet David Peel 15. Everybody's Smokin' (Remix)
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