Rotary Connection – 1967 – Rotary Connection
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One of the best Psychedelic Soul albums of all time, with an incredible baroque spacey soul sound that still feels very fresh today! The group’s vocals are especially eerie and float around these wild arrangements by Charles Stepney, peppered with strings, soul, fuzzy guitars, and even slight bits of electronics. The album features their incredible cut “Memory Band” the one that begins with those cool sitar riffs.
2. Rapid Transit
3. Turn Me On
4. Pink Noise
5. Lady Jane
6. Like A Rolling Stone
7. Soul Man
8. Sursum Mentes
9.Didn’t Want To Have To Do It
13. Rotary Connection
Not your typical psychedelic pop record, this was the brainchild of Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records founder Leonard), who wanted to take the Beatles’ innovations of classical instrumentation, phenomenal production values, and crazy experimentation to their extreme. He assembled a very talented team: arranger and composer Charles Stephney went on to tremendous success with Earth Wind & Fire; bandmember Sidney Barnes was soon to work with George Clinton; and backup singer Riperton would later make her name as a solo artist. The arrangements rely heavily on choral singing, plus organ and strings, and occasional sitar, theremin and tabla: no guitars to speak of. At its best the record integrates classical methods better than anything else going on at the time (“Amen”), and the production is ear-catching (“Soul Man”). At its worst, the group is just covering tunes by better bands, all using the same neoclassical schtick – like the Vanilla Fudge with chops. Unfortunately, the record’s at its worst about four times as often as it’s at its best: there are half a dozen painful endless covers like “Ruby Tuesday” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” The disc loses further points for including brief snippets of each track at the end of the record (title track), and for an uncredited ripoff of the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” fade (“Black Noise”). Definitely of interest to students of 60s psychedelia.
The most inexplicable aspect of Rotary Connection’s debut is that its strange and experimental qualities are often referred to as charming but dated, while Love’s Forever Changes (released the same year), a record that is just a shade less bizarre and no more psychedelic, is universally viewed as timeless. There’s no mistaking that this is hardly a flawless record — this band, more an experiment than anything else, was only beginning to find its feet. For every cover that radically reshapes the original and either stuns ears or elicits screams of blasphemy (“Like a Rolling Stone”), there’s one that falls completely flat in its blandness (“Soul Man”). And for every original that is rife with otherworldly melodies and luscious combinations of countless musical styles (“Memory Band”), there’s something like the ghostly “what you’ve just heard” audio collage/megamix that closes out the album (“Rotary Connection”). The consensus seems to be that this is the only essential record this group released, and that they were such an oddball entity that this is all one can take of them. That’s just plain silly, evident from any number of the sparkling moments found on the LPs that followed. Minnie Riperton had yet to take the spotlight she deserved in this group — so in a sense, this could be seen as the least-representative Rotary Connection record, as fascinating as it is.