Take One: Country Joe and the Fish – The 1967 Single ‘Not So Sweet Lorraine’ – ‘All Those Magical Things’

by | Sep 12, 2015 | 0 comments

Released as a single just as the legendary Summer of Love was dawning,
‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ was the first and only 7’ by lysergic rock
pioneers and Berkley based musicians Country Joe and the Fish to chart
nationally. Backed with ‘The Masked Marauder’, both of the tracks originate
from the LP, Electric Music for the Mind
and Body,
a spaced out conglomerate of country, raga, psych, blues and
‘freedom’ music.  Looked at in hindsight,
the record is now accepted as a highly influential album and a perfect
representation of the West Coast music scene of the era. Country Joe and the
Fish were stalwarts of the blossoming psychedelic rock scene of the West Coast,
blending elements of the ragged and rich jamming of the Airplane and Dead with
their own rustic jug band influences and political undertones.
‘Not So Sweet Lorraine’ begins with the wheezing horror
vibrato of the recognizable Farfisa organ, a mainstay of the band’s
aesthetic.  Barry Melton’s capo’d Gibson SG
guitar creates a silvery tonal spider web underneath the fractured organ drone.
There is a tangible folksy sensibility to the introduction though it is
outlined with a thick day-glo pen point that quivers with the electricity of an
acid trip.
The song then emerges from the demented prelude and settles
into sensual hypnotizing groove that brings to mind mini skirted dancers, flashing
strobes and hallucinations. The band locks into an effortless fissure with
instrumentation that flows smoothly like creek water over rocks. Already the song is a fluid and morphing collusion of styles and blended statements.
 The lyrical content is strange and unique contrasting the
‘hip’ counter culture elements of drugs, peace and free love with the dramas of
dark magic, dysfunction and an undertow of sinister intentions by the songs subject.
The verses encapsulate the yin/yang of the developing hippy generation by
expressing the light and shade of not only the youth of the time, but of the
differing off shoots making up the counterculture. The ‘Femme Fatale’ character
could have its characterization based in on a real person, as the description
is of a practicing witch if you would. The woman is studied in folk medicines
learned from discussion and practice on unassuming ‘hippy’ youth looking for
directive and quite possibly to Lorraine for the ‘answer’.
Lorraine uses her knowledge and know how to increase her own
self worth as the narrator of the song can never really tell what her true
intentions are.  ‘The only way you’ll
ever get her high, is to let her do her thing and then watch you die’. Lorraine
casts her spell over her naïve subjects using her books, spells, jewelry and
special tinctures. In return she receives self confirmation and an invisible
power her niceties allow her to achieve. Heavy. The portrayal of these
aforementioned bizarre relationship dynamics are what make the song worthy of
The ‘out of the sight’ instrumentation frames the
aforementioned lyrical context with its own slightly creepy shading. Barry Melton’s
quicksilver six string injections echo Joe McDonald’s dry and plaintive
pleading throughout the funky verses with distorted reprisals of the melody.
Melton wraps the song in his stellar and stringy guitar statements. All of this
adds up to a mystical déjà vu ambiance that is hard to define.
The chorus becomes a reentry into the trippy introductory theme, this time with McDonald singing in a drawn out collaborative
melody. The third change of the song
follows on horseback into a double time rhythm where McDonald quotes
Lorraine’s bluesy admonishment, ‘Well you know that it’s a shame and a
pity, you were raised up in the city and you never learned nothing ’bout
country ways’, to a shifty blues backing before dropping perfectly, coin into
bucket back into the verse. The organ honk honks on the beat, Gary Hirsh
tumbles around the kit and Bruce Bartol’s bass pounds on the root resulting in
a dizzying restatement of the central riff. The song fades with Melton spinning the song into silence while Joe moans on about Lorraine’s ‘country ways’.

 In the ‘rock room’s opinion the 1967
single ‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ is the consummate representation of the
halcyon days of 1960’s psychedelic rock neatly packaged into a 7’ piece of
vinyl.  The song’s essential elements are
comprised of everything that makes the mid to late 1960’s so fruitful as far as
creative and boundary stretching rock and roll goes. The organic analysis of music’s roots and then
the deconstruction of these forms into new elements are fully displayed by
Country Joe and the Fish on this song as well as the accompanying LP. Lyrically and musically the song features a shared vision and focus and is successful in its strange dissemination of these values. The concert
performances of ‘Sweet Lorraine’ are even more stunning as represented in the rendition from Monterey Pop 1967 I have included here for your enjoyment. As
always, thanks for reading.


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