Starting in the late ’60s and continuing into the dawn of the ’70s, the music business saw the musical style known as “rock & roll” mutating into what would be known as just “rock.” The concessions to the pre-rock music business fell by the wayside as musicians experimented with borrowing from different genres, adding more daring lyrical subject matter and pushing their songs toward longer running times.
The more intense musicians at the vanguard of this transformative process also worked on ways to make the music sound tougher, bigger and more hard-hitting: running it through larger amps, experimenting with effects and tuning guitars down for a hard, ominous sound. A lot of this kind of experimentation began in the world of psychedelic rock, where the need for otherworldly sounds naturally delved into freaky territory. Along the way, subgenres known as hard rock and heavy metal were born.
You can get an interesting snapshot of that psych/heavy crossover in I’m A Freak, Baby, a three-CD box set released in 2016 by Cherry Red sublabel Grapefruit records. The subtitle for this box is “A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-1972.” It delivers everything promised in that description, creating a kind of sonic travelogue through the many molten and strange sounds conceived during that era of British popular music.
Disc One sets the tone on the opening cut, “All In Your Mind” by Stray: over nearly ten minutes, acid-rock jamming periodically gives way to brash hard-rock riffing as the lyrics set up a theme of fearless journeying into what the mind can conceive. You also get blues-rockers Chicken Shack delving into heavy territory with an amped-up cover of the proto-heavy staple “Goin’ Down” and freak-scene darlings the Deviants drenching “I’m Coming Home” into a vat of fuzz. Other highlights include “Do It,” a proto-metal affirmation and surprise U.K. hit from the Pink Fairies, a bit of early punk from Crushed Butler and an early Hawkwind track from when they were called Hawkwind Zoo.
Disc Two maintains the heaviness and weirdness: “Primitive Man” by Jerusalem has the multiple sections and time changes of progressive rock but also has taut, molten riffs, early Sabbath acolytes Iron Claw do their best Iommi doom-riff impression on “Skullcrusher” and Stack Waddy pulverizes Bo Diddley into freakbeat material with their oddball cover of “Bring It To Jerome.” Inbetween the Move deliver their heaviest hit in the stomping “Brontosaurus” and the Edgar Broughton Band takes what could have been a Hendrix-style electric blues and adds freaky vocals and distortion that give it a lunatic edge.
Disc Three bounds out of the gates with gonzo hit single “Race With The Devil” by The Gun, which boasts brass as part of its heavy attack along with crazy-man laughter in the instrumental breaks. Other highlights include Third World War delivering an edgy, wah-drenched anthem for the proles in “Ascension Day,” a pre-Motorhead Lemmy popping up on the sizzling Eastern-inflected psych of “Elevator” and the panzer-style musical attack and witty lyrics of “Too Old” by cult fave Andromeda. You also get a throbbing cover of the scary Dylan murder ballad “Hollis Brown” by Fusion Farm, a tribal-drummed psych drone from Velvet Fogg on “Yellow Cave Woman and early heavy-hit singles from Uriah Heep, the Yardbirds and blues-era Fleetwood Mac.
In short, you get a lot of entertaining pre-hard rock freakouts in this set, with additional value added by smart sequencing – a Deep Purple cut leads into the Jerusalem song, which was produced by Purple’s Ian Gillan – and a thick book of liner notes by David Well that lay out biographies for everyone involved along with a fistful of nifty trivia. If you’re fascinated by this chrysalis-like era for rock and how psychedelia intertwined with hard rock, I’m A Freak, Baby is a great way to broaden your horizons on these topics.