Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25: Captain Beyond, "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)"

Artist: Captain Beyond
Song: "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)"
Album: Captain Beyond
Year: 1972

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Though the formation of so-called "super groups" is almost always impossible to predict, in nearly every case, the music yielded was someone easy to comprehend, as it was a combination of those involved.  Rarely does the music of such a band take an entirely new direction, and this is understandable, as it was their sound in the first place that made them worthy of being in such a band.  Yet there are a few cases where a team of exceptional musicians came together, and the resulting sound had little in common with the previous sounds of the members, and in one case, the group has somehow managed to fade into relative rock obscurity.  Bringing together members of Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly, along with one of the finest drummers of his generation, few groups could boast similar pedigrees to that found in Captain Beyond.  However, even with such a history, a name, and the resulting music, few are aware of the bands' existence, yet their 1972 self-titled debut remains without question one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.  Perfectly balancing all of the talents of the band, few records are as mesmerizing as one can find here, and it is an ideal example of the whole being far greater than the sum of its parts.  Many of the songs flow directly into the next, and yet it is the albums' lead track, "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)," that quickly proves why Captain Beyond is such an extraordinary band.

Even from the first notes of "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)," the song has a feel that quickly draws in the listener, as the shuffling drum beat from Bobby Caldwell is nothing short of perfect.  Having honed his talents with the likes of Johnny Winter, he is able to establish the groove before the rest of the band enters. and though simple, his opening progression sets the tone for the monumental musical achievement that quickly follows.  As the guitar of former Iron Butterfly member Larry Reinhardt enters the song, the full personality of the group becomes apparent, as there is a heavy, yet not overwhelming feel to "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)."  It is within the guitar work that the somewhat strange style of the band comes into focus, as there is clearly a "southern rock" element present, and looking at the band members' former groups, this seems rather out of place.  However, the band deploys this style with absolute perfection, and one would think that this was the sound they'd been playing their entire lives.  The way in which the bassline from fellow ex-Iron Butterfly member Lee Dorman injects a groove and attitude into the song is truly fantastic, and there is a chemistry between the trio of musicians that remains largely unrivaled.  The "jam" section that occurs in the latter half of the song is absolutely mind blowing, and it is in this moment that one can hear the link to all of the band members' exploratory past.

Working in perfect harmony with the music over which he sings, former Deep Purple vocalist Rod Evans provides the idea finishing touch to the sound on "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)."  Easily working the entire vocal range, there is a swagger within his voice that helps to give the song even more personality.  Furthermore, there is a "twang" in his singing that is as "southern" as one can find anywhere, and it is amazing to compare his vocals within the realm of Captain Beyond to his other recordings.  The ease with which he is able to sing in this style almost instantly ranks him with the finest vocalists in history, and it is this almost unexpected sound that adds further intrigue to "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)."  Yet it is also the content of the lyrics that makes his performance so fantastic, and the title of the song perfectly reflects the mood that is conveyed through both the music and singing.  There is a fantastic sense of tension that runs throughout the song, and yet at the same time, it is almost impossible to not get completely caught up in the rhythm.  The way in which Evans is able to quickly paint an almost sci-fi idea of floating above the world with your problems below is absolutely superb, and there is a unique magic that can be felt when he sings lines like, "...forget about your cares, and remember underneath you is just a sea of air..."  It is the way that he masterfully works each word that makes his performance so exceptional, and this proves to be the ideal finishing element to "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)."

It is almost impossible to understand just how or why Captain Beyond has faded into relative obscurity over the decades, as even with a short listening, the outstanding talents of the group become quickly apparent.  Furthermore, there is an absolutely unique sound to their music, as they find a way to blend the "southern rock" style with a sci-fi feel, and this has never been done elsewhere to the standards one finds throughout their 1972 debut album.  The hard-hitting, deep groove that the band deploys remains fresh and completely captivating even after countless listenings, and this in itself is an undeniable marker of a truly fantastic song.  Yet it is the combined effort of the four musicians that makes "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)" such an exceptional achievement, and it is songs like this that prove the real power that can come from amazing musicians who are able to put their egos aside for the betterment of the group as a whole.  After hearing "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)," it is impossible to deny Captain Beyond the status of "super group," and it also becomes apparent that the name they selected is rather fitting of their unique musical sound.  From the twisting guitars to the almost looming bass to the soaring vocals, there is truly not an off moment anywhere on the song, and it is the absolute uniqueness of the band and song that set Captain Beyond and their 1972 song, "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)" so far apart from every other song in the history of recorded music.

1 comment:

dave said...

Hello Mr. Guru,
I absolutely agree and enjoyed your review of CB's first album, first song, but please, don't stop there.
The whole album is a masterpiece! I doubt I will ever tire of cranking it up as loud as I can take, and marvel at their engineering and musical creativity. My biggest challenge now is to get/understand the real lyrics to their songs. So far, I do not agree with the postings I have found to date. The Japanese translation is way-off. I wonder why nobody has been able to get the undisputed truth?
Hey Rod Evans, help us out here brother! Love the sound.
dpaulsmusic @