Almost Credible Reviews

Home | Album Reviews | WRC Links | Ratings Explanation

b00000729s.01.jpg

Back To The Monk's Page

Black Monk Time—8
 
Released: 1966

1) Monk Time  2) Shut Up  3) Boys Are Boys And Girls Are Choice  4) Higgle-Dy-Piggle-Dy  5) I Hate You  6) Oh, How To Do Now  7) Complication  8) We Do Wie Du  9) Drunken Maria  10) Love Came Tublin' Down  11) Blast Off!  12) That's My Girl

 

Stationed on a Frankfurt military base in Germany, 1964, five American GIs formed a band and called themselves the Torquays.  Gary Burger handled lead guitar, Larry Clark played organ, Dave Day was on rhythm guitar, Roger Johnston was the drummer, and Eddie Shaw played bass.  All five of the members tried their hand at singing (both lead and background), as the band performed the standard Chuck Berry and early rock and roll tunes.

 

Eventually though, something happened.  It was a gradual shift, but the band began to experiment with sounds.  First, Burger became fascinated with feedback and began to incorporate it into his playing (yes, the use of feedback here predates Hendrix, the Who, and even the Beatles) and he became the band’s lead vocalist with his rough, yet comedic style.  Then, in another attempt to find a different sound, Dave Day replaced his rhythm guitar with a six-string banjo.  Integrate these three elements with Roger Johnson’s primitive drumming of tribal beats (he rarely used a cymbal), Larry Clark’s moody organ, and Shaw’s rock steady bass, and the band realized they were creating a brand new noise.     

 

Even after being individually discharged from the army in 1965, the band stayed in Germany and kept honing their unusual sound.  Looking for an edge, they changed their name to the Monks.  Fully taking on the characteristics of their new name, the entire band shaved their heads in the traditional tonsure style (which was heavily worn by monks of the Middle Ages), began wearing white hangmen’s nooses around their necks, and dressed in black at all times.  With this new image, the Monks got the gig of house band at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg (made famous by a stint from the Beatles earlier in the decade).  Just like the Fab Four, the Monks played six to eight hours a night, virtually every night, to hostile German crowds, and just like the Beatles, the Monks indulged themselves in the booze, whores, and pills almost to the point of no return. 

 

At the tail end of 1965 though, the band was signed by Polydor and went into the studio to record their one and only album on an outdated four-track recorder.  Basically unheard of for the time, the Monks recorded their debut album, “Black Monk Time,” using only original songs and these originals were unlike most everything that had been heard before.  Their debut was so radical that it has often been called a precursor to Punk, or even the first Punk album.  Black Monk Time” though shares virtually nothing with the Sex Pistols or the Damned in terms of music, as it is pure 1960s: pretentious, catchy, structured, and innocent.  It does have a similar attitude however, with songs titled “Shut Up,” “I Hate You,” and “Blast Off” and with every track on the album being under three and a half minutes (and most under two and a half). 

 

Like the later movement, each song sounds similar, but here there is a steady, constant, marching beat (no doubt derived from the band’s time in the armed forces).  The bass, banjo, and drums form a never wavering, repeating-riff backdrop while the organ and guitar overlay their manic soloing, all producing a very surreal atmosphere, borderline creepy on many of the tunes.  Basically every song on the album sounds like the Doors “Not To Touch The Earth,” but with nowhere near the lyrical imagery.  In fact, the lyrics are few and far between, but Burger’s voice is compelling to say the least.  He is rock’s first nerdy, whiny singer, a definite influence on the styles of Weezer, Violent Femmes, Ween, and the Flaming Lips.  And his style is punctuated by some of the zaniest, off key background voices you’ll ever hear courtesy of the rest of the band.      

 

Listening to this album makes you think that the Monks must have been absolutely unbelievable live.  It all starts with “Monk Time” which has the pace of the Batman Theme song, and acts as the album’s intro with Gary introducing all the members of the band, protesting the war in Vietnam, and telling how much he loves James Bond and Pussy Galore.  Crazy background vocals with the grooving organ make this just an insane 1960s song and the Monks signature tune.  Shut Up” is next and is much more haunting and strange, with its hypnotic backbeat and spooky organ.  The band harmonizes while singing throughout most of this marching song, but the instrumental break is the reason for the existence of this tune: the organ is outlandish and the bass absolutely shines soloing overtop of the organ.  A bass solo was rare enough for the time, but to do it without dropping out the rest of the band (ala “My Generation”) was ridiculously innovative. 

 

For “Boys Are Boys And Girls Are Choice” picture the Doors as happy as the have ever been in their life, playing a spontaneous one-minute tune on stage just for fun.  Oh, and now picture them all drunk off their asses.  Higgle-Dy-Piggle-Dy” is an easy highlight as Burger’s voice is amazing here and his guitar solo is even better.  The pulsating backdrop the band produces is mesmerizing, forcing you to tap your feet and move your head.  The chorus is insanely fun to listen to and this sounds very similar to the Ramones.  I Hate You” just can’t be any better.  An amazingly animalistic anthem, this marching tune is absolutely wild, but somehow catchy and addicting.  It is the longest track on the album and features Burger screaming “I hate you with a passion” and “My hate’s everlasting” while the rest of the bad sings “But call me.”  Sweet!     

 

Burger sings recklessly overtop of a never changing electric chord sequence while the band tries to keep up with their background vocals on “Oh, How To Do Now.”  It is too long at three minutes, and the chorus kind of hurts my ears, but the groove is great.  Complication” is a sinister Frank Zappa sounding song about people dying with excellent drumming.  Clark plays an intense, laser beam like organ solo and this song sincerely sounds like a bunch of eighth graders making up music on the playground to make their friends laugh.  It was released as a single (backed by “Oh How To Do Now”) but tanked.  We Do Wie Du” is much more melodic, but only because the melody is a direct rip-off of “Louie, Louie.”  In the Monks hands though, the guitar solo overtop of the bass is absolutely killer. 

 

Drunken Maria” is the first tune where you can distinctly hear Dave Day’s rhythm banjo.  It is kind of a drunken, German sing-along song that was probably a blast to play live.  I don’t know if they ever heard of the Monks, but Violent Femmes copied the style heard on this tune (and basically the entire record) perfectly on their early 1980s masterpieces.  Love Comes Tumbling Down” has a great beat and it is by far the most structured song on the album.  It easily could have been a single based on how catchy it is and the Buddy Holly like vocals.  Blast Off!” begins just as it should with Burger’s gradual sonic lift off.  The band soon catches up and turns the tune into a swirling exercise in scales and it all culminates with a countdown—cheesy, but so Sixties.  That’s My Girl” closes out the album on a fun note, with Burger screaming out the vocals and having a great time.  The bouncing rhythm covers up a song that apparently dealt with a real situation in the band where Dave Day and Larry Clark fell in love with the same girl.

 

This is a special album—absolutely unique and groundbreaking.  Not actually punk because the band could play…not actually dark because the band had a great sense of humor…not actually goofy because the band did have an edge…this is just actually great.  Every fan of the Ramones, Violent Femmes, and Ween should own this album, and really you should too. 

 

Note: The band’s official website at www.the-monks.com/ features a complete history of the band and features a message board in which the band members actually respond to your messages for those interested.  All pictures seen here were copied from that site.

emi0031.jpg
The site was designed by Burnttoast45