Le Cirque: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — July 29, 2022*


535) Le Cirque — “Land of Oz”

Leon Russell and Marc Benno made quite a team. First, with Le Cirque and then with Asylum Choir — heavenly psychedelia before Russell found fame. “Land of Oz” was the bodacious Beatlesque A-side of Le Cirque’s only single (’67). As Ace Records says, “the Beatles-flavoured ‘Land Of Oz’ [was] released before [Russell’s] name became well known to the public, although he was already established as a leading session musician on the Los Angeles recording scene.” (https://acerecords.co.uk/the-songs-of-leon-russell) And, as Egyptian Chimney emotes, “Land of Oz” is an “[e]arly Leon Russell psych-oddity . . . . This nugget is totally ruling my trip to the dentist” (https://www.dreamchimney.com/tracks/27237)

Todd Lucas writes that:

The group was surely nothing more than a one off, a studio concoction. In fact, Leon Russell co-wrote and produced this single and also reportedly played on it. . . . [O]bvious Beatles influence to me. . . . I’d definitely cite the Fab Four’s Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper era material as a reference point. Here we have a song that’s pure pop, with an intoxicating hook that’s also dressed up as light pysch, via the lyrics, vocals and some studio gimmickry. . . . The lyrics are what I’d call “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”-light, conjuring vague psychedelic images and including a call for sitars and violins, which come in at the appropriate times. The vocals are sung in a trippy manner by stretching out some of the words. Near the end of the song, we get sped up vocals that’ll either have you thinking Munchkins or Alvin & the Chipmunks, I’m not sure which. But even the goofy effects can’t spoil the fun here. The song is just too good a period piece and otherwise excellent.


Yeah, that Chipmunks stuff at the end is totally annoying! But it can’t spoil the fun!

We all know who Leon Russell was, but just a bit about his early years by Jason Ankeny:

The ultimate rock & roll session man, Leon Russell’s long and storied career included collaborations with a virtual who’s who of music icons spanning from Jerry Lee Lewis to Phil Spector to The Rolling Stones. A similar eclecticism and scope also surfaced in his solo work, which couched his charmingly gravelly voice in a rustic yet rich swamp pop fusion of country, blues, and gospel. . . . As a member of Phil Spector’s renowned studio group, Russell played on many of the finest pop singles of the ’60s, also arranging classics like Ike & Tina Turner’s . . . “River Deep, Mountain High”; other hits bearing his input include the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring,” and Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey.”


Marc Benno? Chris Darius writes that:

“By 1973, Texas singer, songwriter, guitarist, and piano player Marc Benno had spent better than a decade as an all-star studio pro, lending his talents to recordings by folks like Rita Coolidge and the Doors. Benno recorded a pair of albums with friend and fellow session-player Leon Russell as the Asylum Choir.


William Ruhlmann adds that:

Marc Benno came up playing guitar in various bands in Austin, TX, in the late ’60s, then moved to Los Angeles, where he hooked up with Leon Russell and formed the duo Asylum Choir which released one album in 1968 and recorded a second before splitting up. (The second [album] was released in the wake of Leon Russell’s success in 1971 and hit #70 in the charts.) He made four albums of mainstream pop/rock in the 1970s, the most successful of which was the third, Ambush, in 1972.


Benno reminisces about Le Cirque:

“[M]y funkiest band was back in 67, at the height of the psychedelic movement. It was call Le Circ, and we all dressed up in circus costumes made from drapes. Leon arranged our first single, ‘The Land of Oz’ that came out on the old Buddha label. If this sounds a little bizarre, bear in mind that in 1967 Dallas was not exactly the most liberal city in the world, and someone with Benno’s off-the-wall approach to rock was looked upon as being, well, a little “strange”, but “the best was yet to come.”


Man, I wish I was there!

* OK, I need to admit that the picture is from their Asylum Choir days. You can go out there and try to find a Le Cirque photo!

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