discography - collectors items
'safe as milk' acetate
spring 1967 acetate kamasutra records u3rm-5547/8 white (rca) label
13:40 and 11:10 minutes
found back november 1998
an acetate - a product from olden times - is a metal disc with a tiny layer of vinyl around it. those records look like normal singles and elpees but the metal element inside makes them 'cold' to the touch, and much heavier. because of the thin material they could only be used for two goals: as a demo, or as a test pressing to check the sound and/or decide what to use. they usually were made 'on the spot' right after a studio session, and in general have hand-written notes on blank (manufacturer or studio) labels. most of the times there was only ONE COPY made!
actually there is no outside to this test pressing: it's encased in a plain paper sleeve with a hand-written approval note 'shadow's coming. fudge' ('shadow' was the nickname of george morton, one of the producers of the record company). the only available information, including miss-spelled titles, is neatly typed out for 'kamasutra records' on white rca labels, and the recording - which was gonna be called 'captain beefheart' it seems - even wears official numbers! the tracks all are version of songs that later would be the main part of their debut elpee safe as milk.
ALEX SNOUFFER alex (pyjama) st. claire * guitar
RY COODER * guitar * slide guitar ** bass guitar
JERRY HANDLEY * bass guitar
JOHN FRENCH drumbo * drums * percussion
DON VAN VLIET captain beefheart * vocals * harmonica ** bass marimba
RUSS TITELMAN ** guitar
MILT HOLLAND ** percussion ** log drums
TAJ MAHAL ** percussion
SAMUEL HOFFMAN ** theremin
ELECTRICITY version 4 - 2:59 minutes (on album 3:06)
the theremin is more prominent than on the following version - parts of don's vocals seem to have been re-dubbed - used for 'safe as milk' with a lower volume of the theremin, and better vocals at the beginning
ELECTRICITY version 5 - 2:59 (on album 3:06)
theremin more in balance with the total sound - singing without 'paste work' idea - at a certain point some music and vocal parts have changed places with each other (clear difference with 'safe as milk') - not used for 'safe as milk' except for the starting vocals
PLASTIC FACTORY version 2 - 2:58 (on album 3:05)
despite the bad technical level of the recording practically the basic track for the 'safe as milk' edition
GROWN SO UGLY version 3 - 2:19 (on album 2:25)
the (pasted to it) beginning of this version is at a much lower volume than the rest of the song, which must have lead to using an other (longer) take for the later release on 'safe as milk', which also included an over-dub of the tambourine at the end
WHERE THERE'S WOMAN version 2 - 2:07 (on album 2:07)
not the slightest change to 'safe as milk' noticeable
YELLOW BRICK ROAD version 2 - 2:12 (on album 2:24 including intro 0:12)
exact as on 'safe as milk', with the exception of the 'reference tone recorded at our operating labo' intro of course
ABBA ZABA version 2 - 2:41 (on album 2:41)
some minor technical corrections and another song for 'safe as milk' was ready...
AUTUMN'S CHILD version 2 - 3:49 (on album 3:59)
ten seconds of difference in playing time is quite a lot, and indeed: for the definite version they rearranged and added some extra noises to the 'interval with breaks'
SURE 'NUFF 'N' YES I DO version 2 - 2:13 (on album 2:14)
not changed for 'safe as milk'
THE SOUND AND NOISES
this record was made to be listened to just a few (ten) times - and not intended to be found back recently, after more than thirty years of forgotten existence. it's kind of a wonder the vinyl has sustained the wear and tear of time and still is well listenable. in fact, the sound quality is excellent - of course! don't forget it was taped at a professional studio - despite the inevitable, quite heavy creaking proper to the transient material it was pressed on. some tracks even play almost stainless for most of the time. and oh yeah, like the notes like to say: this acetate is monoaural (that's a petrified word too).
'anonymous' sent me a tape of this to study... but i give up, folks! it's impossible to spot important differences which would force me to call it alternate versions. i think all the later released sounds already are on this test record, just the mixing balance is different. these recordings are the 'rough takes' mastered for 'safe as milk'. and that's one of the charming things of this unique (in several meanings) record! these songs mostly are takes-in-one, complete with all the 'sharp edges' and bits of 'dissatisfying notes' later polished away. that gives them a more 'live' feeling and natural swing, and i really like this old warmth of the nowadays well-known music.
perhaps it would be best if someone would analyse the recordings electronically (you know, measuring the spectra of the sounds, and comparing those dancing lines of frequencies and balance - or how the hell that works) for a more precise answer...
one of the revolutionary oddities of 'safe as milk' is the prominent use of a theremin (to keep it simple: the first electronic music instrument, famous for its 'horror sound'). as don van vliet stated somewhere, the professional player - who couldn't be hired every day - immediately understood what the captain expected from him. so, after the only session they needed, this test record must have been pressed 'right away'. although there is no clue to the exact date of it, this historic fact must have happened around may 1967.
in hindsight, actually captain beefheart and the magic band that day finished two-third of their first album. it would be re(?)titled 'safe as milk' when they had agreed on four more songs: 'zig zag wanderer', 'call on me' [fast version], 'dropout boogie' and 'i'm glad'. and beside the logical musical interest of this one-off disc there is another circumstance which considerably increases the worth of it. for this record - if you hadn't noticed it, big dummy - wasn't done for the label that released the debut album at all!...
no, all future biographies on beefheart will have to mention that - after a&m rejected his demo of the songs for his first album - he signed to 'kamasutra', and nót 'buddah'! and that it went this way: the intended record eventually was brought out as the first - mind that too! - release of the later established sub-label (run by the captain's producer bob krasnow). a dazzling discovery, isn't it?
and then, what makes this truly unique product even more precious for any collector: don must have had this simple elpee at home for a while, touched it (to true fans his suction prints never evaporate!), played it, and... liked it!
you'll agree, this is a very sensational one-of-a-kind rarity!
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo