A registered Communist starts a band called The United States of America and lands a major label record deal before playing a single live gig? Only in the Sixties . . .
After studying with avant-garde legend John Cage in New York City, composer Joseph Byrd moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and decided to form a psychedelic rock band.
His first recruit was ex-girlfriend Dorothy Moskowitz, whose icy vocals formed the perfect complement for the trippy sonic experiments Byrd had in mind.
The band recorded only one self-titled album before dissolving, but it was a memorable one.
The album begins with The American Metaphysical Circus, with a lilting calliope tune upon which Byrd heaps one patriotic marching band tune after another. Just when the whole insane cacophony is on the verge of collapse, in comes Moskowitz – transmitting from a sinking submarine.
Cloud Song features delicate plucked bass and an ever-haunting melody, and like an LSD flashback, the final minutes of closing track The American Way Of Love features snippets of all the preceding songs flowing in and out of consciousness.
The United States Of America sold poorly upon release, thanks to Columbia’s near total lack of faith. As Byrd put it, “There was scant enthusiasm from the executives for a band whose name they hated, whose music they didn’t understand, and whose politics they thought treasonous”.
But over the years, the group has developed a devoted cult following and influenced numerous modern bands, most notably Broadcast.