Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band are one of the most influential bands of the 1970s and of all time. They released their ninth album Bluejeans & Moonbeams in 1974. Showing the nature of the band, and it’s cult following, as the album followed a more mainstream style than its predecessors such as 1969’s iconic Trout Mask Replica, Bluejeans & Moonbeams failed to chart.
The album was also a departure for the band. Having no formal musical training or instrumental experience throughout his career, Captain Beefheart himself, vocalist Don Van Vliet, had always relied on a musical director within the band, who could translate his unorthodox musical ideas from the abstract to reality.
On his previous albums, the role had successively been filled by Alex St. Clair, John French and Bill Harkleroad. However, as the recording of the previous album Unconditionally Guaranteed earlier that year, Van Vliet was without an intermediary.
As a result, the album is widely considered to be the nadir of Van Vliet’s career. Keyboardist on Bluejeans, Michael Smotherman said: “Don was just as confused as he could be throughout the whole process … I would push his face up to the microphone and he would start singing. And when it was time to stop I would pull him back gently.”
Former Magic Band member John French re-listened to the album again in 2017, his first listen since its release back in 1974. He levelled that Van Vliet sounded lost in places as if he “didn’t really know exactly where to sing” and that “it must have been difficult for him to function in that environment”.
French also claimed that Van Vliet even said that the only good part about the album was the cover art by his cousin, Victor Hayden. Hayden had also featured on Trout Mask Replica as “The Mascara Snake”, a title bestowed upon him by Van Vliet. However, this did not stop Bluejeans from gaining a cult following. It has influenced three sizeable acts. Kate Bush considers it one of her top ten albums. Mercury Rev covered the track ‘Observatory Crest’ for a BBC session in 1999.
Most famously though, Detroit duo The White Stripes released an early EP in 2000 entitled Party of Special Things to Do. Released on Sub Pop, it contains three raw Captain Beefheart covers, including Bluejeans‘ opening track, from which it gets its title.
Party of Special Things to Do second track is ‘China Pig’, track eleven from Trout Mask Replica, which was originally recorded in 1969 as a spontaneous improvisation. The White Stripes‘ version is fairly faithful to the Delta blues-esque original, however, it does add sparse percussion, accentuating Jack White’s guitar.
Third and final track on the EP is the cover of ‘Ashtray Heart’. This is definitely the standout track from the album. The raw, visceral energy of earlier White Stripes is captured and they add a heavier twist to the original. The bridge is a sludgey, drone, with White vocalising over the top sounding like an unhinged madman reciting Van Vliet’s classic lyric: “someone’s had too much to think”.
This rare White Stripes EP was originally released as a 7″. To many, this record has been regarded as a turning point in the band’s career. It is perceived as being the inspirational catalyst in the creation of Jack White’s signature musical sound. The original release was part of the Sub Pop Singles Club in a limited edition pressing of 1,300 copies on half-red, half-white vinyl.
In 2011, Party of Special Things to Do was reissued by White’s own Third Man Records as a part of their Vault subscription service. In Keeping with Third Man’s ethos of committing records to experimental vinyl aesthetics, the record was pressed as a tri-colour record in red, black and white.
In November 2005, The White Stripes performed ‘Party of Special Things to Do’ as part of their iconic From the Basement set.
Listen to The White Stripes visceral cover of ‘Party of Special Things to Do’, below.