The Baroques: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 18, 2022

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THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD

555) The Baroques — “Mary Jane”

From the lone single (’67) and the lone album by Milwaukee’s Baroques comes a classic psych/garage track “Mary Jane” that was banned for being a pro-marijuana song. But was it? Matt Kessler calls the song “a stand-out track which immediately grabs your attention with infectious electric piano . . . . accompanied by . . . vocals (that sound as if [the] voice box had been spliced with that of a bumble bee’s!) make this a truly unique listening experience. . . . of rhythmic ecstasy.” (https://moofmag.com/2018/01/05/album-review-the-baroques-1967/)

As to impact of “Mary Jane”, Sonic Hits reports that:

The Baroques formed in 1966. In January 1967 they signed a contract with Chess Records. By June 1967, both the album “Iowa” and single “Mary Jane” were released and banned in the same week. The ban was imposed by some local DJs whose stations directors thought “Mary Jane” was a pro-drug song about marijuana. [It was actually] an anti-drug song but no one got it. Instead The Baroques became infamous as “acid-heads” due to the “far-out” sounds on the record. At this point, [songwriter, singer and lead guitarist] Jay [Berkenhagen] had never tried drugs in his life. That soon changed and the band found itself pulling stunts at their live shows involving catapults, baby doll parts, and lip-synching onstage.

https://sonichits.com/video/The_Baroques/Mary_Jane

Matt Kessler adds that “local radio DJs. . . . wrongly assumed that “Mary Jane” was a pro-drug song, which was not at all the case. However, the band fed off this reputation, and began pulling wild and daring stunts during their concerts.”

As to the album as a whole, Jay Millar calls it “the perfect record. It takes elements of both garage and psych rock and is sort of the happy medium in between. It’s just so strange, and it has the charm and lyrical angst that can only be found in youth.” (https://www.jsonline.com/story/entertainment/music/2017/11/22/fifty-years-after-break-up-milwaukee-band-baroques-ready-rediscovery/889709001/)

Richie Unterberger adds that:

Popular only on a regional level, the Milwaukee group (originally called “The Complete Unknowns,” until someone probably realized how dangerously self-fulfilling it could be) was dominated by the morose compositions and low, odd vocal range of . . . Jay Berkenhagen . . . . With a slight garage feel, their unusual, occasionally oddball material was built around electric (sometimes “baroque”) keyboards and fuzz guitar riffs, which occasional detours into uplifting folk-rock and freak-out jamming. . . .

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-baroques-mn0000033563/biography

And Bob Koch adds that:

[The album] is somewhat of an anomaly when compared to many of the era’s more famous psychedelic touchstones; there’s nothing specifically mystical in the lyrics, or any coded drug references, or epic extended jams. . . . [It] is also notable for being released by Chicago R&B titan Chess Records. At the time Chess was looking for a way to break back into the rock market, a place they’d been largely absent from since The Beatles changed the rules of the game a few years before. It would end up being one of only a couple post-Fab Four rock albums on Chess . . . . [I]t sold fairly well regionally at the time . . . . It’s one of the more unique sounding garage-era albums, featuring an unconventional mix of mopiness and wackiness, hard-edged guitar and subtle harpsichord, droniness and catchiness. . . .

https://isthmus.com/arts/vinyl-cave/vinyl-cave-the-baroques-by-the-baroques/

Matt Kessler opines rapturously that:

[T]he [album’s] self-titled acid drenched magnificence .. . is extremely unique. . . . Their psychedelic/garage/pop hybrid was done by others, but the essence of darkness that is represented in this album makes their sound its own entity. . . . Some of these songs would undoubtedly fit perfectly inside movie scenes where a character may meet his or hers unfortunate demise…Extremely atmospheric, and filled with a moody fuzz guitar tone that segues into the bashing chorus where drummer Dean Nimmer lets loose with all of his might, finishing with an otherworldly psychedelic freakout.

“Girl, take a look around you. See how this place has found you. . . . But if you come with me, you are going to see how happy your life will be with me, you’ll see. Oh Mary Jane, take me away from all this. Mary Jane, take me away from all this. A new name and a new life for us. A new world will be waiting for us. And I know it will be a world [before?] you and me and oh how happy we’ll be when we are free. Oh Mary Jane, take me away from all this. Mary Jane, take me away from all this. A new name and a new life for us, a new world we will find.”

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