Mono Mondays: Dr. John, Babylon
Last month, you may have noticed that we released a big ol’ seven-album set collecting Dr. John’s Atco output from 1968 through 1974, but if you’re not really familiar with the good Doctor’s output, then we can understand if you found the idea of plunking down that much dough a little bit intimidating. If you’re looking for a gateway drug into the Dr. John sound, though, you’re in luck, because this week’s Mono Monday release is…well, it’s not necessarily the best of all possible entry points into his catalog – it certainly doesn’t have what you’d call a mainstream sound – but one thing’s for sure: if you fall in love with Babylon, then it’s hard to imagine that you won’t quickly find yourself digging deeper into Dr. John’s discography.
It’s fair to describe Babylon as a political album, at least compared to Dr. John’s other efforts, but when you consider what was going on in the world at the time, with the war in Vietnam battling for headlines with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., there were plenty of things on people’s minds that came out through their art.
“It was a heavy time for me,” admitted Dr. John, in his autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon. “In its lyrics and music, this album reflects these chaotic days. At times hard-driving, at other times following a deliberately spacy, disorienting groove, Babylon was the band's attempt to say something about the times—and to do it with a few unusual musical time signatures. The lead song, ‘Babylon,’ sets the tone. To a 3/4 and 10/4 groove, it lays out my own sick-ass view of the world then—namely, that I felt our number was up. We were trying to get into something...with visions of the end of the world—as if Hieronymus Bosch had cut an album."
At the time, Dr. John thought the album would kill his career, or at least not exactly please his label. In the end, though, Atco let him keep on keepin’ on, and Babylon has gone on to find quite a few fans over the years, in particular the folks over at Julian Cope’s Head Heritage website, who close their review of the album thusly:
“It is now a gray and pale morning before sunrise as the ‘Lonesome Guitar Strangler’ drags his drunken, junkie-ridden body through the dirt, mud, and rain of the alleys and gutters on his way out of town, "so full of hate" and cursing the town to its ultimate doom and destruction, spinning his white hot free jazz guitar racket into eternity.”
Say, did we mention that it’s not exactly a mainstream album? Once you’ve heard it, though, you’ll never forget it.