Music genres never spontaneously come into existence. It’s always a process of crossbreeding, both intentional and accidental, that causes a new form of popular music to lurch its way into existence. This messy evolution process was true for heavy metal. This enduring form of music was born in the center of a venn diagram that also included psychedelic rock, experimentation with the blues and the kind of freeform weirdness and bad juju that have always informed the edgier styles of music.
You can dive right into this phantom zone of guitar-driven bludgeoning with I’m A Freak 2 Baby, a triple-CD box that is Grapefruit Records’ sequel to their I’m A Freak Baby compilation. Like its predecessor, it collects an impressive array of obscurities from the late ’60s and early ’70s that fall in the middle of that heavy psych/proto-metal spectrum. You’ll see a few familiar names in its track list but the majority of its epic running time is devoted to hardcore obscurities, including tracks from private-press albums and unreleased demos. Simply put, this one goes deep in its pursuit of amplified weirdness.
Disc One has the most familiar names of the set in its track list: Budgie accidentally invents the stoner genre with “Guts,” The Move shows off their late-period ‘sludge rock with pop hooks’ style on “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues” and Jeff Beck’s solo redux of “Shape Of Things” features a vocal from Rod Stewart between all the furious riffing. There are plenty of cult acts that heavy metal vets know, as well: Iron Claw, Andromeda, Leaf Hound and Patto all pop up here. Gems from the more obscure end of the spectrum here include Bodkin delivering an organ/guitar alloy blues with prog time changes in “Plastic Man” and Stack Waddy’s tribal-drummed proto-punk deconstruction of the Pretty Things hit “Rosalyn.”
On Disc Two, the most familiar track is Atomic Rooster’s classic half-prog/half-metal monolith, “Death Walks Behind You.” The remainder of the disc digs deeper into the strata of obscure but satisfying proto-metal: highlights include the modern riffs and smart arrangement of Tear Gas’s “Woman For Sale,” the shambolic tension-and-release jam “Somewhere To Go” from the Deviants and the tautly-arranged “Daze” from Three Man Army, which alternates between quiet verses and fuzzy guitar breaks where the riffs grow tougher as the song progresses. Elsewhere, the Edgar Broughton Band comes with a likeably freaky Beefheart/Shadows mashup with “Apache Dropout” and the jazzy, keyboard-heavy “Fussing And Fighting” by Sunday adds a little finesse between more sledgehammer-styled tracks.
Disc Three maintains the stew experimental heaviness right through to the end. A novel inclusion here is a demo version of “Fire” by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown that dispenses with the horn section of the hit version so you can concentrate on Vincent Crane’s Hammond organ theatrics. More freaky fun arrives in the form of the galloping psych-pop of “So Long I’m Moving On” by High Horse, the Deep Purple-esque epic “Back In Time” from Warhorse (including ex-Purple bassist Nick Simper) and a taut heavy-boogie version of the blues standard “Hoochie Coochie Man” by 9.30 Fly, complete with a tribal-drum intro that anticipates glam rock. Listen out also for “Big Jim Salter” by Stone The Crows, a heavy blues number driven by excellent vocals from Maggie Bell, the sole female lead vocalist on this set.
The value of this generous package is topped off by a thick liner notes booklet from compiler David Wells. You’ll need to break out a magnifying glass for the tiny text but its worth it because the stories Wells uncovers are fascinating and the writing is often quite witty, to book (favorite moment: when he notes that Stack Waddy’s take on “Rosalyn” here “makes the Pretty Things sound like Freddie & The Dreamers.”).
In summation, I’m A Freak 2 Baby is another solid excavation of the heavy-psych/proto-metal archives for those interested in this sort of eardrum-battering archaeology. If you liked the first set, this is a worthy and similarly freaky sequel.