Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Crack The Sky's debut album in 1975

In my opinion, Crack The Sky may be the ultimate cult band, perhaps the biggest one in the last 30 years. There's probably an excellent chance you may never have heard of them, and I wouldn't be surprised. They have released, get this, 22 albums since 1975. A few of them are live, and there are a couple of greatest hits (!) (my favorite one being Crack Attic).

But nothing, in all that time, diminishes the absolute greatness of their debut album on Lifesong Records, distributed then by CBS.

This album was presented to me by a fellow from Newburgh, NY named Doug, a fellow freshman who lived down the hall from me in the dorm. He had the best stereo system on the floor. One day, he showed me that he had bought this album based on two reasons only: he loved the name of the band and the album cover. That was it. He had not heard a moment of the music. So he put it on the turntable, let the needle down, and history was made.

Radio, still in its progressive days, when classic rock was new rock, played one song from the album, a rather apocalyptic number called "Ice." Despite even more commercial songs on the album, I don't think the public heard anything more than "Ice" on the radio. Still, pockets of fans were being turned on by Crack The Sky's groundbreaking debut.

Crack The Sky is often described as "progressive rock," but that would lead you to believe they were like Genesis and Yes, full of synth noodling and epic song lengths. That would be totally wrong. Imagine a one-of-a-kind combination of Steely Dan's "Reeling In The Years" with Frank Zappa's sarcastic lyrical bite, along with the first King Crimson album's complex rock guitar lines and crunch and that may come close to describing Crack The Sky.

Band leader, singer, and main songwriter John Palumbo must have been a mad genius when he put this all together. His lyrics were cynical, cinematic and satirical, and the music was precisely arranged with twisting and turning twin lead guitars, complex drumming that snapped with every time shift, and Palumbo's sardonic, somewhat sarcastic vocals. The producers brought in the Brecker Brothers horns on a couple of tunes and who knows what those guys thought.

"Surf City" pits surfers against sharks; the ballad "Robots For Ronnie" is a fat smelly kid's predicament when his parents buy him a pair of robot pets because "The guys think he's a queer because he doesn't drink beer or watch football"; the dazzling "She's A Dancer" is Palumbo's take on the Kinks' "Lola" hidden gender scenario with a heavy funk break, dark guitar runs and trumpet solo; and the finale "Sleep," is a dramatic confession of the stories that creep into Palumbo's head at night, ending in a parade of bagpipes, tubular bells, and waves of acoustic guitars.

It's hard to pick my favorite lyric sets from this album, but here's a sampling...

From "I Don't Have A Tie"
Take a ride to the other side of the town
Your eyes are open wide, look around
And find out where you're going
Social lady is a lawnchair wife,
With a new hairstyle, and a different life
Sleeps alone in her bed at night.

I don't have a tie
To wear to your affair
I don't have a tie to wear.
I don't have a tie
To wear to your affair
I don't have a tie to wear.

From "She's A Dancer"
She's a dancer
And she sparkles and she shines.
She's an attractor
Oh, she loves to wine and dine.
They say she's a lady,
But I just don't know
All right, I like the way she moves
All right, I like the way she moves
All right
She's a dancer
And all the boys have fun.
They attract her
And she keeps them on the run.
They say she's a lady,
But I have my doubts.
All right, I like the way she moves
All right, I like the way she moves
All right
When I look into her eyes
I can see through his disguise
Oh, am I surprised.

From "Ice"
When the summer night has changed its warmer breezes to the icy cold of silent winter freezes, will you be there?
When the flowers in the windows of the neighbors start to bow their frozen heads and to leave us, will I see you there?

Will you stand by me against the cold night,
Or are you afraid of the ice?
Afraid of the ice?

When the waters of the roaring ocean bring a chilling feeling and the beach is closing, are you near me?
When the cloudy skies are blocking out the sun and suddenly your nose has begun to run, do you still hear me?

The critics fell over this record understandably (Rolling Stone said it was deservedly Album Of The Year), but it was not a wide commercial hit. The second album, Animal Notes, was more of the same, and sold even less. I'm convinced these guys were just ahead of their time and frankly, didn't fit in commercially at the late 70's rise of disco and punk.

Palumbo left the band and then rejoined. They began to close their shows with a wild cover of The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus," which I believe stands to this day. And for some reason, the city of Baltimore embraced this band like no other place (even though they were from Ohio) and made them their own. In 1995, the Baltimore City Paper published a now legendary piece about the history of Crack The Sky, how they came together, fell apart, and came together again, and I strongly recommend you read it here.

If you like what you see and want to check out this album, download it from eMusic here.

I went searching long and hard for Crack The Sky videos and found these live ones which I do not think do the album any justice. I was hoping to find videos and embedded players of the original recordings, but no success. As a bonus, I have included the cool single from the second album, "We Want Mine," straight from the original recording -- a bitter and funny song about the band getting ripped off of its money by the record business.




WE WANT MINE ("We don't want your money...")



Anonymous said...

I can't believe no one ever commented on this. LOVE Crack the Sky. ....Mind Baby.....

Anonymous said...

A bar I used to frequent had an internet jukebox, and I would play Crack The Sky tunes. The jukebox no longer has them on the box, but people were amazed at this band....

Anonymous said...

The great CTS! The Beatles of Baltimore ❣️