The Album List #36: Moby Grape “Moby Grape”

Bands this great should never be neglected.

Rarely does a band enter its recording career as assured in their sound as Moby Grape. The quirky sunshine pop and harmonies of this Cali band are perfection. Sure, they were undone a bit by hype and marketing overkill, but still, the songs are fantastic.

Still, it does say something that the band’s best known and best song was written by previously lauded on this very list, Skip Spence. The dazzling “Omaha”, the only hit on the album, is two and a half minutes of feedback, harmonies, and friendship. Rarely has a song just sound happy. As we all know, Skippy was not happy, and infamously tried to attack band mate Jerry Miller with an axe. But for a moment, you believe he really had just one moment of pure bliss.

A three guitar attack from Skippy, Peter Lewis, and Miller made for an interesting, kinetic sound. As the guitars fought for ears, they created some beautiful sonic moments.  For instance, the rich guitar sounds of “Hey Grandma”, with a gentle country lope, sounds like the Byrds gone even bolder. It proceeded what the Byrds would do with Sweetheart of the Rodeo by a full year.

Other songs, like Robert Plant Favourite “8:05”, and Mosley’s amazingly sunshine piece “Come In The Morning”, with its soaring guitars and bright harmonies, just makes on wonder about what might have been,  while the darker, heavier “Someday” gives great moments of contrast. The album runs quick- only two songs top the three-minute mark. The hints of music future seep through- alt country, punk, glam all saw their roots in Moby Grape. Even ultimate cock rock God Robert Plant was a fan. They had it going on.

The album was made notorious by the label’s aggressive marketing campaign that saw ten of the album’s thirteen songs be released as single. Only “Omaha/Someday” charted.  The speedy, pre-punk “Omaha” was a poor choice to be teamed with the slower, more typical psychedelia of “Someday”.  The over the top campaign was viewed as a failure. The Grape never succeeded outside of “Omaha”, especially after Skippy left the band.

But as a band, their legacy is one of waste- wasted talent, wasted opportunity, wasted vision. The fact that they were both the most talented and the  most accessible band out of the San Fransisco scene should have gotten them long careers. But the loss of Skippy left a glaring hole in the lineup that the rest of the extremely talented members could not fill. The band would release a few albums that were met with diminishing returns, and eventually split.

But they left one of the greatest debuts- nay, one of the greatest full stop- albums of all time. They just might have been what we all needed.



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