Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NGC-4594 (the sounds we missed in the sixties)

In college, several friends and acquaintances formed NGC-4594, an early psychedelic rock band whose 45 RPM single “Going Home” made Billboard's Top 100 and who played opposite the Doors, the Mothers of Invention and other celebrated rock bands during their short-lived career. Personal and artistic problems broke up the band in the late sixties, before they could release the fourteen songs they had composed for an album. Fortunately, Steve Starger, the band's organist and, later, the keyboardist in my poetry band, had a copy and made a cassette for me twenty years ago. The tunes, joyful, lively and unabashedly psychedelic, sounded a few steps ahead of other bands that became better known in their time. I'd always thought NGC-4594 a deserved better fate.

Over the past fifteen years I've occasionally surfed the net to see how much attention, if any, other people were paying to NGC-4594. In used vinyl circles the band had gained a reputation as a precursor to many well-known psychedelic bands. One correspondent said NGC-4594 was playing Ultimate Spinach before Ultimate Spinach arrived on the scene.

Several days ago, on a “whatever happened to” surf, I discovered that a British label has released NGC-4594's 1960s recordings under the title Skipping Through the Night. If the release didn't promise the former band members the heady stardom and nonstop kicks of sixties rock stars, it gave recognition four-decades delayed to a half-dozen talented musicians who had moved on, some in the music business and some in other fields, while at least one had died.

It also gave the diehard fans of psychedelic rock a document that would broaden their knowledge of the music's development. NGC-4594 differed from other rock bands of the period because of the jazz influence several members brought to it. Since many of the members composed music, poetry or fiction, their lyrics were stronger than what I heard in many other bands of the sixties. Although the band lacked a celebrity lead singer, the vocals shared by Dan Shanok, Dave Bliss and Chaz Mirsky blended well, with each of the vocalists singing to their strengths. The combination of captivating vocals and sophisticated instrumental backing enticed more than one listener.

With the release of Skipping Through the Night, online commentary on NGC-4594 has increased. I've yet to read a negative comment. Most listeners appreciate it as a “precursor” or an “underground” band ahead of its time.

I've listened to Skipping Through the Night several times since I downloaded it to my iPod a few days ago. Forty-four years after its creation, the music still holds up. Although I have my personal favorites, this is one of the few occasions when I can say that I like all fourteen tunes almost equally. I recommend this recording to anyone who likes good music and especially to anyone who wants a greater sense what the sixties could have been.

I've lived long enough now to “witness history,” and give a little more respect to the reality of my experience. Although I've been out of touch with most of the members of NGC-4594 for almost as long as the band has been apart, I've watched several of its members make the best of their lives, personally and artistically, with no expectation of seeing their best work released. If the band's remaining members can't receive the glory they might have experienced in the sixties, they have the satisfaction, maybe even a tear of joy, of knowing that what we call history finally has corrected itself in their favor, and that every now and then over the course of a life, justice finally does come your way.

I recommend this record very highly.

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  1. Hello, I am one of the people who actually have this 45, I found a copy back in the 1980s.
    It's on the Smash label. I just ordered a copy of the band's CD yesterday, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's good! I did a search for the band online and found your blog.

    The song "Skipping Thru the Night" is excellent in my opinion, although I never thought to compare it to Ultimate Spinach!

    Even before I discovered the 45 I had a copy of a 1967 interview with the band in a magazine called Hit Parader. The interview mentions that some of the band members had jazz backgrounds and that is certainly reflected in the sound of "Skipping".

  2. Just got the NGC-4594 CD over the weekend, this is an awesome psychedelic band! I had forgotten how great the track "Going Home" is.
    It's hard to compare them to anyone else, they had their own unique sound.

  3. Hi Art

    I hate to one-up you, but I had the 45 in 1967, then lost it in a flood in 2003. I Iike "Skipping" a lot. I agree the band is excellent, and think it could have been an important band back then. I used to play jazz with Bliss in high school and college. Starger later was the synth player in my Poetry Band of the early 1990s. NGC sang with a lot of life and spirit.