THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD
598) Mars Bonfire — “Lady Moon Walker”
This ’68 album track and ’69 A-side is a tasty pop psych treat from the sole solo album by the writer of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Let’s call it “Born to Be Mellow.” Richie Unterberger says that “in particular [“Lady Moon Walker”] is an overlooked psych-pop gem, with Bonfire’s best deployment of attractive melodies, spacy lyrics, and pleasing keyboard textures.” (https://www.allmusic.com/album/faster-than-the-speed-of-life-mw0000735341) The album, which was “originally released on the Uni label in 1968, [then] re-issued on Columbia” (Garwood Pickjon, http://rockasteria.blogspot.com/2019/04/mars-bonfire-faster-than-speed-of-life.html?m=1) is called by Fred Beldin “a lost masterpiece of introspective psych-pop full of great tunes”. (http://rockasteria.blogspot.com/2019/04/mars-bonfire-faster-than-speed-of-life.html?m=1)
Derek Hammond writes that:
Mars referred to his solo outing as “a publisher’s demo with artwork”, but it’s much better than that. [M]any of these tracks ended up on Steppenwolf LPs . . . but here they reflect a strong personal Warhol influence to end up sounding very Loaded, or like a less showy, laidback Doors. I’m sure he wouldn’t agree, but it’s a shame Mars didn’t need to work again beyond the mid 70s.https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/faster-than-the-speed-oflife
As to Mars, born Dennis Eugene McCrohan, Beldin says the he “has earned himself rock ‘n’ roll immortality, not to mention lifetime royalty checks, for penning Steppenwolf’s inescapable classic “Born to Be Wild,” that eternal anthem of would-be bikers and weekend hellraisers worldwide.”
Juliette Jagger gives us some history:
In the early 1960s, Bonfire had played in a moderately successful Canadian band called The Sparrow. Having gotten their start playing . . . in Toronto . . , the band eventually secured a deal with Capitol Records out of New York before making their way to the West Coast where they opened for popular acts of the day including The Doors and Steve Miller Band. Then in 1967, Bonfire decided to leave the group and strike out on his own. “Songwriting was really what I loved to do,” he says. “When I was growing up, my Dad operated a popular dance hall . . . so music was always around. I never really saw myself as a musician per say. I can’t play much on an instrument and I can’t sing very well, but writing songs always seemed to come naturally to me and I didn’t feel I needed to be a part of a group to do that.” When The Sparrow (then known only as Sparrow) dissolved a short while later, Bonfire’s former bandmates . . . approached him about songs for their new group, a hard rock band called Steppenwolf. “At that time, I had been walking the streets of Hollywood trying to get a deal as a songwriter . . . . I actually presented ‘Born To Be Wild’ to three or four publishers, but nobody showed any interest. Luckily the guys were interested. They’d initially approached me about rejoining them in their new band, but I declined. Then a few months later they asked me if had any songs I could contribute. That’s when I showed them ‘Born To Be Wild.’ They immediately liked it, and took it for their debut album.”https://amplify.nmc.ca/origin-stories-mars-bonfire-on-steppenwolfs-born-to-be-wild/
Richie Unterberger adds:
Mars Bonfire’s late-’60s material occasionally bears some resemblance to Steppenwolf, particularly in the use of heavy organs. But in fact this is certainly on the lighter and more pop-flecked side than Steppenwolf, which might both disappointment Steppenwolf fans who seek this out on the basis of the “Born to Be Wild” connection, and make this LP a rather pleasant surprise to those fearing bombastic late-’60s hard rock on the order of Steppenwolf’s less impressive aspects. . . . [O]n about half the album Bonfire favors a pretty airy pop-psychedelic approach . . . to both his songwriting and arrangements. . . .https://www.allmusic.com/album/faster-than-the-speed-of-life-mw0000735341
Lastly, Derek Hammond tells us that:
The story of Mars Bonfire . . . is a strange inversion of the usual “lost folk/psych-rock classic” trajectory of briefly burning talent and hope, frustration and failure. It just so happens that Mars was an early member of Canadian LA rock legends Steppenwolf, quitting the band just before they cut his Born To Be Wild, which 10 minutes’ work provided him with a tidy annual income in perpetuity. [He c]ontinu[ed] as a session man for Steppenwolf, Kim Fowley, The Seeds and even the Modern Lovers . . . .https://recordcollectormag.com/reviews/album/faster-than-the-speed-oflife
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