Saturday, 30 October 2010

Silver Apples: a very special market-oriented sound

Silver Apples (electronics wizard Simeon Coxe and ace drummer Danny Taylor) deserve to be remembered as one of the handful of generally groundbreaking acts in late 60s American rock. The New York-based duo’s June 1968 debut was perhaps the earliest album to incorporate breakbeats, found sounds and atonal noise into (more-or-less) conventional song structures, and at its best their beat-heavy electronic music still sounds dazzling and other-worldly. Their achievement is all the more impressive when one considers the sheer logistical complications (and frequent electric shocks) involved in mobilising their battery of oscillators, generators and synthesisers. Their two albums are uneven, but both contain astounding music, with flourishes that may be mainstream now, but must have sounded completely out-there at the time. As with most visionaries, they were little appreciated while in business, and not much original press concerning them exists.  Here’s what I have.



Silver Apples signed to the small, mainstream-oriented Kapp label in April 1968. Their debut album was released that June, and came with a silver foil sleeve (which is a nightmare to photograph). It also came with a surprisingly lavish fold-out colour insert, from which the pictures above are taken (they are posing in sensible sweaters with cats: the electronic rock look for 1968). Here's the whole thing:


On June 7th the tremendous Go magazine (America's only pop weekly of the 1960s, distributed via radio stations - ) ran the following article:




The LP was launched at a reception held on the roof of the Manhattan building in which Coxe and Taylor lived and rehearsed. This article appeared in Go on June 14th:




And here's a picture of the launch party, taken from Billboard of June 22nd:


White-label mono copies were sent out as promos to the press and radio stations. Here's the hilarious press release that came with those, penned by one Tony Martell (who gives the strong impression that he'd rather be writing about a crooner):


Billboard covered the album in the same issue in which they wrote about the launch party. Billboard reviews tend to be bland, but this one contains the memorable comparison of the duo's music to 'the mating calls of two IBM machines':


The only other review I've encountered from the time was in Hi-Fi / Stereo Review's October 1968 issue, which dismissed it as 'moderately compelling' (though the reviewer does at least have the grace to concede that 'when it comes to the kinds and degrees of acidity, all I’ve got is Johnny Walker and heartburn, so I am probably not the best judge of such things’). On July 5th, Go ran this odd article, which gave as much attention to the duo's A&R man at Kapp, John Walsh, as to them:


(Walsh, incidentally, is thanked on the back of both their albums, with his Contact credit citing him as 'our Kapp contact and our local contact for...'). The same issue of Go contained an advert for the album, claiming that 'Silver Apples marry time to space through sound', as well as repeating the dumb instruction from the album's back cover to 'play twice before listening':


Coxe and Taylor played gigs on both coasts to support the record, as well as wasting no time in recording a follow-up. Contact appeared a mere five months later, in November, and advance copies were again accompanied by promotional material - but this time the PR wasn't handled by Kapp, but by Anonymous Arts, the hip company run by their manager Barry Bryant. First up was a general introduction to the new album, printed on pink paper:


Next came a biography of 'the simeon' (the name Coxe gave to the terrifying contraption he coaxed his electronic sounds from), printed on blue paper:



Third was a three-page biography of Coxe, printed on yellow paper:


And finally, having almost exhausted the colour options available at the time, there was a biography of Taylor on green paper:



On December 3rd the duo launched Contact with a week of gigs at New York's Cafe Au-Go-Go (supported by Pacific Gas & Electric, of all people). Billboard ran the following review in its December 14th issue:


and then offered these insights on December 28th:


General response was mixed. On January 3rd 1969, Go likened the LP to 'a wild jet plane ride' , while High Fidelity groused in April that it was 'full of interesting effects that are repeated endlessly, and would have been far more interesting if the liner notes had provided technical information. Still, at this point I’m ready to applaud anyone who can come up with even one new noise.' Stereo Review was even less fulsome in June, writing that 'Silver Apples jet into the nether-nether land of psychedelic, electronic-inspired musical tricks of tomorrow', adding that 'you need to be on a trip to get the most out of it. Stone cold sober and without the benefit of even an antihistamine tablet, it’s a bit puzzling', before concluding that 'you can’t listen to Silver Apples without experiencing an overwhelming impulse to break the record into several thousand pieces' and that 'Silver Apples drives cats and dogs bananas - so if you have pets, don’t play the record unless you want them to be unhappy.’ And that's as good an epitaph for them as I could ever devise.

5 comments:

  1. Unless I'm misinterpreting, I find it amazing that people just didn't seem to realize how groundbreaking they were. Maybe the reason is that they had no idea that it would be so long before anyone attempted anything remotely similar.

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  2. These documents are spectacular! I found original copies of both of their albums over the weekend, so my interest in this group has been renewed. Regarding Aaron's comment from a few months ago, I think it was really just a case of too much music too fast. In 1968-69 there were literally hundreds of new pop records released every week, and in this environment EVERY label and EVERY promoter said that EVERY new act was "the big thing" and "totally new and different." After a while the public just gets numb to such claims and sticks to what's on the radio. And as many have pointed out, the Kapp label was part of the problem for Silver Apples. If their records had come out on Elektra, it would have been an entirely different story.

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  3. There was a large number of records and new sounds happening in the sixsties all at the same time. What a incredible thing. And I think there is a lot of records waiting to be discovered because of that rich scene too.
    The 60's were the avant-garde time of nowadays history, and the silver apples were too.
    I read about a controversy involving their record cover Contact, from 1969. The back cover showed a plane crash and it caused a little bit of hearsay.

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  4. Hey, all these documents are great!!! It must take some time (and research) to find them!!! Thanks for your great text and for finding/sharing it with us!!!!!

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  5. I was all but 13 in '69 and had looked at the first Silver Apples album for many months before throwing down my 3.49 or whatever for the album. The cover intrigued me so much that I could not stop looking at it, and since there was basically no publications at the time except Rolling Stone and Cirkus, (Creem too) I just went with my gut and bought it. Although it was totally over my head I played it to death and never put it down. After many years I found the Contact lp at a used record store and couldn't believe it. There was another!!!!! Back then for 13 yr old it was literally impossible to find anyone listening to this stuff. All these many years later it still holds up and even more so.

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