Black Monk Time and Early Years 1964–1965
(Light in the Attic)
Even (especially?) in the '60s, having a gimmick could really help a rock band. The Monks had a great one: Five American GIs based in Germany, they wore monk robes, nooses as ties, and cut their hair into tonsures while kicking out a brutal yet fun brand of proto–garage punk. The Europeans went mad for the Monks, but the band only garnered a cult following in the States. But the list of musicians who worship the Monks runs long, including Iggy Pop, Jack White, and Colin Greenwood.
Gimmicks have their place, but ultimately it's the music that determines whether you'll give a damn decades after the recordings appeared. The Monks' only LP, 1966's Black Monk Time, stands the test of time, with impeccable military posture. "Monk Time" starts the album with fiercely urgent rhythms and vehement antiviolence rants from vocalist Gary Burger. It's one of the greatest debut openers ever, and it serves as the Monks' effective blueprint. That is, nearly everything in their arsenal is deployed percussively: banjo, guitar, organ, drums, voices.
In the mid-'60s, this was about the hardest stuff a kid could lay ears on. "Higgle-Dy - Piggle-Dy" pushes too hard, like the Seeds; repetitive as a motherfucker, but the riff and rhythm are so savagely awesome, you could rock it all day without suffering fatigue. The scouring "I Hate You" turns bile into a smile. "Oh, How to Do Now" even locks into what could be a primitive techno groove. Combine this adrenalized power with tunes that instantly nestle in your mind and beats that rouse primal energies, and you wonder if military service might be a boon to musicians' creativity. It worked out that way for the Monks, anyway.
The Early Years 1964–1965 is for hardcore fans. It's a nifty addendum to Black Monk Time, with alternate, typically more tentative takes of tracks that wound up on that magnum opus, plus songs dating back to the group's time as the Torquays. Of the previously unreleased tracks, "Pretty Suzanne" shows a prettier, more delicate side of these Yanks abroad; "Hushie Pushie" is quaintly charming, bustling skiffle with a lovely, chiming guitar motif; and "Space Age" is a kitsch, hip-swiveling Joe Meek homage that foreshadows Silver Apples' bleepy boogie.
If you can only get one, spring for Black Monk Time, an all-time classic that's aged better than most releases of its era. LITA once more offers deluxe, definitive editions of records that have languished out of print for too long.