Classic album review: Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera (1968)

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Source: album artwork

On a planet where many people throughout the course of history never got their dues, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera are a perfect example. Exuding extreme talent throughout the album, one would wonder why they never made it big. What can I say? Life is unfair sometimes. These guys deserved to be more famous than they ever were, with talent at all angles. There are too many great songs on this LP for it to be overlooked. While supporting Pink Floyd on tour in 1967, the band decided to go the psychedelic route. Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera consisted of backing lead singer Dave Terry, drummer Richard Hudson, lead guitarist Colin Forster, bassist John Ford, and keyboardist Jimmy Horrocks. Each member clearly knew what they were doing with their given instrument, and they all combined their talents to create an explosion of exemplary psychedelic sounds.

After an introduction track, where leader Elmer Gantry introduces his band mates, the album goes into a startling sound of cosmic Freakbeat, with the mesmerizing “Mother Writes”. The song grabs you at all ends, refusing to let go by any means. They took a number from heavier sounding songs of the time, such as “Manic Depression” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Blue Cheer’s rendition of “Summertime Blues”, and made their own sound out of it. Truly remarkable. However, if heavy is not what you are looking for, look no further than “What’s the Point of Leaving” a Beatlesesque tune (think of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, perhaps). It is a swirling ride of lysergic wonderment, where the melody will get stuck inside your membrane for days to come. This and “Flames” are perhaps the two catchiest numbers on here, with the latter having a chorus so tremendous, it would be high on my list of favorite choruses ever!

However, catchy songs were not all what this band were about. The resonating “Long Nights of Summer” is one to forever associate with the season. The imagery in the lyrics are so superb, and the way Elmer executes it in the vocal delivery should give goosebumps down one’s spine. The same goes for “Reaction of a Young Man” I mentioned that the chorus to “Flames” could be on a list of favorites ever, but you can include this on there too. This and Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” remain among the ultimate ‘bike riding songs.’

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Source: Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera

The band really knew what they were doing, as shown in the instrumental “Water Sly Meets Bill Bailey.” When listening, one could imagine themselves going down a marathon of slides, with an abundance of twists and turns. Crunchy guitar sounds all around, it makes for one impressive vocal-less tune. The cutesy “Lookin’ for a Happy Life” is not even close to being one of the best on here, yet it still creeps up on you regardless. You might not notice it at first, but chances are you will eventually. As mentioned, success was extremely limited for the band. Frustrations abound, lead vocalist Dave Terry (Elmer) and guitarist Colin Forster left, and those that remained in the band put out a second album, entitled “Ride a Hustler’s Dream” under the name “Velvet Opera” With more disappointment commercially this time around, the band broke up altogether.

All in all, this self-titled LP from Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera should be listened to by any fan of late 60’s music at least once. That one time will more than likely turn into multiple listens, and from there it will probably turn into a record that the listener will never forget. Their recordings for the BBC should also not be ignored, including a breathtaking rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”

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