Monday 31 October 2011

THE MILLENNIUM: transmitting general happiness

I think Begin by The Millennium is one of the greatest pop records ever made. It was notorious in its day for being the most expensive album Columbia had ever recorded, but - in the absence of a performing band to plug it - sales were low. The back cover promised it was 'TO BE CONTINUED', but the septet split soon after its July 1968 release, dooming it to retrospective cult worship. Here are some odds and ends I've found relating to it.

The first reference I've seen to them was in Record World of March 23rd 1968. It managed to misspell their name in two ways; many subsequent references limited themselves to omitting one of the Ns. Interesting to note that Curt Boettcher (pronounced 'Betcher', by the way) was already being called 'a true genius':

Here's the earliest contemporaneous interview with him that I'm aware of. It appeared as part of a feature about the occult in the April 1968 issue of the faux-hip and short-lived  Cheetah magazine, and would have been conducted at the time that Begin was being recorded:

Here's a snippet from TeenSet of June 1968:

Begin was released in July, trailed by a 45 coupling It's You and I Just Want To Be Your Friend. Here's the picture sleeve a few copies came with:

(Incidentally, a handful of copies of the picture sleeve show Joey Stec's middle finger extended, in the manner of Don Stevenson on the first Moby Grape sleeve; as with that LP, Columbia swiftly airbrushed it out.)

A launch party for the album was held on July 19th. Here's the invitation (and yes, the brownies did follow the Alice B. Toklas recipe):

Here are the (strangely drab) cover and the insert that a few copies came with. Originally it folded over the back cover, showing a tear-off 'Mee Moo' logo strip, as below. It contains thanks from the band on one side and a bad poem by one Brian Longe on the other:

It was also issued on 8-track cartridge:

Various ads appeared in the contemporary press:

To accompany its release, the band was interviewed by Bob Garcia for the July 26th edition of the weekly Los Angeles underground newspaper Open City:

On August 3rd, Cash Box reported that Columbia was 'sponsoring public hearings of the album' in various locations', and quoted Gary Usher claiming that the response was wildly enthusiastic: 

I haven't found many reviews, and the ones I have are mixed:

‘New group with a unique sound that should quickly establish them with the fans. With the flair and feel of The Mamas & The Papas and The Stone Poneys, they offer a diversified program that’s musically first-rate. ‘It’s You’ is a smooth rock ballad with singles potential, and ‘Anthem’ is outstanding’ – Billboard, 31/8/68

‘The vocal and instrumental arrangements and the harmonic textures this group achieves are surpassed only by the quality of the original material written by its members’ – Saturday Review, August 1968

'Soft-rock sounds are coming back into favor, although, of neccessity, they are now much more complex. Columhia’s new group, the Millennium, explores the intricacies of 'new rock' in a manner which could bring many new listeners into the fold. Strong points of this set are the vocal harmony (slight Association influence here) and the ultra-pretty songs. Exposure should move product' – Cash Box, 7/9/68

‘Soft, full, light – sometimes overdone arrangements, but generally excellent songs and vocals’ – TeenSet, October 1968

‘Despite certain pretensions (extraneous sounds, etc) incorporated into the music, what The Millennium offers is faultlessly-surfaced teeny-bopper fare. There is no denying the septet’s smoothness and professionalism, but equally there’s no denying the essential vacuity of its material. Production is absolutely first-rate, as befits an album of this type. Not much for serious listeners, however’ – Down Beat, 15/5/69

This article appeared in TeenSet of December 1968:

In the February 20th 1970 issue of Fusion, Clive Davis - head of Columbia at the time - had the following to say. (Both the interviewers and Davis seem to be conflating Begin and Present Tense by Sagittarius, which was released simultaneously.)

What do producers do at Columbia these days?
I think we allow a great deal of freedom to our producers. We allow them to do work and build up a track record upon which we can judge their creative standards. In the past I think this has been abused by a number of producers - certainly not by all, but there have been producers both in and outside of Columbia who have not held the highest standards for themselves and have perhaps lowered their sights and signed artists who they feel are competent but yet who don't have the degree of charisma to really step out above competition.

Gary Usher and the Millennium, for example? We understand they became pretty expensive.
I think the truth about that is Gary never really knew how much money he was spending, and that responsibility was entrusted to him. The progress reports showed a much lower amount than was actually being spent. We knew that it was going to be more expensive than the average album. We did not know that it was becoming as heavy an expense as it did. Listening to the quality of the tapes. I was quite impressed. Millennium had an exciting sound. But there are very few recording entities that have ever made it without building up charisma and a following. Also to make records sell, you have to perform and of course they never did appear around. There are basic principles as to why records sell and, number one, this group did not perform and appear around to create an underground following. We sold a fairly respectable number of the Millennium album — not enough to re­coup the recording cost — but they certainly created quite a stir among a number of people.

Did the group exist?
In the recording studio. They never appeared in person. Another principle is that if a group doesn't appear in person, the only way you can break the album is to get a single from the album. We couldn't break a single with them.

Where'd they come from?
This was Gary Usher's project that he worked on with Curt Boettcher. The two of them put together the art­ists for Millennium. It was a studio group that they just formed. They signed the group. Mostly everyone I know liked the Millennium album. There were hardly any negative comments. I know my friend Jac Holzman at Elektra once said that if he had to bring three albums to an island to live with over a period of years, the Millennium album would be one of them.

The cult reputation of Begin was well underway by December 1971, when the following paragraph appeared in Phonograph Record Magazine, in an article about Millennium member Michael Fennelly's new band Crabby Appleton:

In the autumn of 1974 Fennelly gave this revealing interview to the ever-great ZigZag magazine:

A detailed conversation with Curt Boettcher appeared in the December 1974 and January 1975 issues of ZigZag, but it's too long to reproduce here. Sorry! 


  1. Thanks for the post. I'm a huge fan of Curt Boettcher, Sandy Salisbury, Lee Mallory, and all the rest. Great Music. And your information is fantastic.

  2. Curt was undoubtedly one of the greats of the 60s. It's kind of a shame the music world doesn't hold him in higher regard... sometimes it's nice to keep a secret.
    Interesting comments from Clive Davis... wonder if he had a hand in destroying Boettcher and Usher much as he has so many who crossed the devil.