Thursday, August 7, 2014

Captain Beefheart - It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band –
It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Trust Us
2.  Mirror Man

Side B:
3.  Korn Ring Finger
4.  25th Century Quaker
5.  Safe As Milk

Side C:
6.  Moody Liz
7.  Tarotplane

Side D:
8.  On Tomorrow
9.  Beatle Bones n’ Smokin’ Stones
10.  Gimme Dat Harp Boy
11.  Kandy Korn

This was a long-overlooked follower-request from a few years ago and I was recently reminded to do it!  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1968 double-album It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.  Originally scrapped with half of the material re-recorded and infamously “psychedelicized” for the album Strictly Personal and the other half released as 1972’s Mirror Man, this reconstruction attempts to cull all the originally intended material for the double album that was supposed to be their sophomore release, more successfully bridging the gap between 1967’s Safe As Milk and 1969’s Trout Mask Replica.  Some tracks have been crossfaded to make a continuous side of music (notably Side D) and the most pristine sources are used for the best soundquality, including a vinyl rip of an original pressing of Mirror Man. 
After a prominent rise of notoriety upon the release of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s psychedelic-blues debut Safe As Milk in 1967, the group stood at a crossroads of how to proceed: continue being a cutting edge cult act or expanding their horizons?  After a disastrous warm-up performance for their scheduled 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, it seemed that breakthrough success would elude the riotous bunch.   To make matters worse, Don Van Vliet’s band had been damaged by lineup changes due to members who had had enough of The Captain’s drug hallucinations and erratic behavior.  Prodigal guitarist Ry Cooder vacated to be replaced briefly by Gerry McGee, who was in turn replaced by Jeff Cotton. 

Despite the troubled waters, Don reunited with a Magic Band that consisted of Cotton, Alex St. Clair Snouffer, Jerry Handley and John French in the fall of 1967 to record their follow-up to Safe As Milk.  The album was planned to be a double album and was to follow the contemporary fad of extended improvisational jams, as well as featuring a more “live” feel as compared to the first record.  The album was to be called It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper, in reference to an ambiguous parcel containing either narcotics, drug paraphernalia or possibly pornography.  The cover art was to feature exactly that as well, a plain brown wrapper marked ‘strictly personal’! 

This parcel was never delivered however, as the recording sessions came to a halt.  No reason was ever given, but it has been suggested that their label Buddha Records had pulled the plug out of disinterest.  A consolation was offered by the producer of the Plain Brown Wrapper sessions, Bob Krasnow, who convinced the band to rerecord some of the material and release it on his label Blue Thumb.  Recorded in April and May of 1968, Don & his crew recut the more ”commercial” tracks from the Fall 1967 sessions at a much more abbreviated length (“Mirror Man” was cut from the original 15 minutes down to 5!).  In a move that angered Beefheart fans for ages, Krasnow took the liberty himself (allegedly) to overdub numerous faux-psychedelic effects onto the newly-recorded album, even completely burying the mixes under unlistenable phasing.  The released album—Strictly Personal—was a commercial disaster and The Captain disowned the album, claiming the effects were added without his permission.  Some speculate that was untrue and Don had given his approval only to later turn on the album after its failure.  Either way, this folly of questionable truth is just simply a part of the Captain Beefheart mythos, as was everything else. 

After the critical success of the seminal experimental and Frank Zappa-produced rock album Trout Mask Replica (not to mention its respectable follow-up Lick My Decals Off Baby), Buddha Records wished to capitalize on Captain Beefheart’s renewed cult status and artistic credibility.  Going back to the original fall 1967 Plain Brown Wrapper tapes, they compiled a single-disc of material, primarily focusing on the extended live improvisations.  1971’s Mirror Man showed the world (or at least the few who were listening) what Strictly Personal was supposed to sound like, to some extent.  But it was not without its own short comings: not only was it merely half of the original Plain Brown Wrapper album, but it featured anachronistic cover art, improper musician credits and Buddha falsely claimed the album was recorded in one night in 1965! 

Years passed before fans were able to piece together the Plain Brown Wrapper album, beginning with questionably-legal British import I May Be Hungry But I Ain’t Weird in 1992.  Suffering from the same fate as other early Captain Beefheart CD reissues of poor mastering and use of inferior mastertapes, it wasn’t until 1999 when Buddha Records released The Mirror Man Sessions, essentially a properly-mastered Mirror Man with five outtakes from the Plain Brown Wrapper sessions included as bonus tracks.  Seven more outtakes (presumably the rest of the listenable material) were included as bonus tracks on their remaster of Safe As Milk.  Finally, Sundazed Records collected all the non-Mirror Man outtakes and one more additional track in their own vinyl-only 2008 reconstruction of It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper (which made no attempt to literally reconstruct the lost album, unlike my own reconstruction).

While all the pieces are now available to recreate It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper, we still have the task to wrap it all up as one.  The layout of my reconstruction was rather simple: each of the four sides would feature one of the lengthy live jam sessions, with one whole side following Side B of Strictly Personal as close as possible (giving one an alternate and more authentic take on the album).  I also used a pristine needledrop vinyl rip of Mirror Man by Euripides for those tracks, as it features the album’s original EQ and mastering parameters that has since been lost, deeper bass and crisper highs.  It is of note that the Sundazed vinyl utilized the same mastering as the 1999 Buddha remasters, so it was not used here as source material.  I also chose to exclude the instrumental tracks that Captain Beefheart had never gotten around to recording vocals for (“Big Black Baby Shoes”, “Flower Pot” and “Dirty Gene”), thus making a more finished-sounding album (although the instrumental “On Tomorrow” was used to mimic the tracklist for Strictly Personal).  The end result is eleven tracks that span two 45-minute discs and offer a purer Captain Beefheart album than Strictly Personal, with this effectively replacing it. 

Side A of my reconstruction begins with take 12 of “Trust Us” from the Safe As Milk remaster, selected over take 6 as take 12 featured vocal overdubs, suggesting it was the master take.  This is followed by the epic “Mirror Man” from Euripides’ vinyl rip of the album.  Side B begins with the reserved Delta Blues “Korn Ring Finger” from the Safe As Milk remaster, followed by “25th Century Quaker” from Euripides’ Mirror Man vinyl rip, concluding with take 12 of ”Safe as Milk” from The Mirror Man Sessions, again chosen over take 5 because of its vocal overdubs.

The second disc begins with the decidingly upbeat take 8 of “Moody Liz” from The Mirror Man Sessions (chosen over the overdub-less take 16 from Sundazed’s Plain Brown Wrapper) and the rest of the side C belongs to “Tarotplane” from Mirror Man.  The final side of the album attempts to offer an alternate, unadorned version of side B of Strictly Personal, beginning with the instrumental “On Tomorrow” from the Safe As Milk remaster, which is segued into “Beatle Bones n’ Smokin’ Stones” from The Mirror Man Sessions. The final descending bassline is hard edited into “Gimme Dat Harp Boy”, also from The Mirror Man Sessions.  The album concludes with possibly the most commercial track of the lot, “Kandy Korn” from Euripides’ vinyl rip of Mirror Man.  

Sources Used:
Mirror Man (Euripides vinyl rip, 1971 Buddha Records)
Safe As Milk (CD remaster, 1999 Buddha Records)
The Mirror Man Sessions (CD, 1999 Buddha Records)

flac --> wav --> editing in Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included


  1. Very neat. Thanks. Can't wait to listen.

  2. Brilliant and unexpected! Thank you, once again, for your time and skill.

  3. Minor imperfection, mp3 files, 1st five have artist "labelled" in WMP as "...and the Magic Band", the rest as "...& His Magic Band", and changing the properties doesn't make a difference. They won't go in the same album in WMP. It's beyond me. Still another great virtual release.

  4. Thanks so much for your fantastic blog! Browsing it is the most fun I've had online in a long while...

  5. This is a fantastic and necessary reconstruction, but it's a shame you didn't include Big Black Baby Shoes, one of my favourite Beefheart tracks of all time. I think it was a finished instrumental rather than an unfinished track, since the rerecorded version (retitled Ice Rose) had appeared without vocals on Shiny Beast years later. Still, great reconstruction otherwise.

  6. Thank for your blog. Very entertaining. Would you consider taking on Guns N' Roses Use your illusion as a single disc. Thank you again.


    • Beach Boys: Add Some Music
    • Beach Boys: California (1974)
    • Beach Boys: Holland Revisited
    • Beach Boys: Lei’d in Hawaii
    • Beach Boys: Oldies (Love You, 15 Big Ones & other oldies covers)
    • Beach Boys: Reverberation
    • Beach Boys: Wild Honey/Smiley Smile (combined & reimagined)
    • Beach Boys: Winds of Change
    • Beach Boys: Worst Of
    • Beatles: Bizarro World
    • Beatles: Great Lost Psychedelic Album
    • Beatles: Helter Skelter
    • Beatles: More post-Beatles reimaginings (continuous series)
    • Beatles: Revisions of classic work (other potential Beatles-era albums)
    • Beatles: The Real Last Album
    • Beatles: White Album (alternative or single version)
    • Beatles: Worst Of
    • Bee Gees: A Kick in the Head…(1972-73)
    • Bee Gees: Halloween
    • Big Star: Third (Revised)
    • Buffalo Springfield: Stampede
    • Derek & the Dominoes: Second Album
    • Dylan: & the Dead (Mix)
    • Dylan: Oh Mercy (revision & improved)
    • Dylan: Etc (80s & 90s albums reimagined & improved)
    • Dylan: Self Portrait #2 (revised as single or recreated as 4-CD set)
    • Hendrix: Band of Gypsys (studio recordings)
    • Hendrix: Black Gold
    • Kinks: Four More Respected Gentlemen
    • Kinks: Great Lost Kinks Album #2
    • Morrison (Van): Before Astral Weeks (lost album) [Bang material + studio demos]
    • Morrison (Van): Mechanical Bliss
    • Nilsson: Sings the Beatles
    • Rolling Stones: Could You Walk on the Water?
    • Rolling Stones: Necrophilia
    • Rolling Stones: Lost, unrealized albums from ‘70s & ‘80s
    • Small Faces: 4th -- 1862
    • Springsteen: Nebraska (electric)
    • Springsteen: Reconstruction of his classic albums w/ extra tracks
    • Stooges: 4th (post-Raw Power)
    • Brian Wilson: Brian Loves You
    • Brian Wilson: Sweet Insanity
    • The Who: Jigsaw Puzzle
    • The Who: Naked Eye
    • The Who: Rock Is Dead
    • The Who: Other potential lost ‘60s albums
    • Yardbirds: Last Album (1968)

    1. Hey Robert Hull. I'm just curious on how or why you would "improve" on Dylan's Oh Mercy? It's the shining diamond between Infidels and Time Out Of Mind. Maybe even the best between Blood On The Tracks and Time Out Of Mind.

  8. This is a review of the album based on Piero Scaruffi "History of Rock Music" (
    "Although in this period the Magic Band produced great freak-music, almost no one noticed. Well received only by the few radicals in his circle, Beefheart felt like a solitary cactus in a desert full of quick sand. He had the folk-rock of the Byrds - followed by San Francisco flower-power - on his tail, while the Mersey Beat was spreading from coast to coast. His tour failed miserably and the record executives bolted.
    The session recorded in Los Angeles in October-November 1967 was released on It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper (Buddha, 1968).
    The album contains three long cuts and eight medium-length cuts and it ventures beyond every previous experiment: vocal gargles, orchestral swoons, and cannibalistic rhythms are used to distort the blues, iliciting the atmosphere of an infernal happening. The musicians compose a hallucinating mosaic of sounds at the edge of premeditated cacophony, even if in fact every cut follows a well defined line without ever losing control. Rugged and desperate, it presents itself, without interruptions, as one entity. Despite the smuttiness of the sound, the album reveals an impressive number of avant garde solutions. The free experimentation of jazz, in particular, is the true inspiration behind the work.
    The lyrics of these cuts, in the brief parts that are sung, are surrealistic and intentionally idiotic, a call to infantilism and acid trips in service of a musical theater of the absurd. This music is the most faithful expression of the freak culture, of its marginalization more than its rebellion, of its inexhaustible creativity, of its academic disgust, of its infantile ferocity, of its desecrating vision of the world.
    The long jams on the album give a hint of how the Magic Band played live. The music of these jams is a blues regressed to a barbaric stage: on one hand the band plays in a childish way, indulging in false notes and playing out of time; on the other hand the singer lashes out, drools, swears and spews with a hoarse, choked and rusty voice. In reality the band brilliantly revolutionized the western concept of harmony, and the singer paraded a register able to cover seven and a half octaves, anything from Otis Redding to Howling Wolf. The blues simply became a pretext to attack the dogmas of commercial music: whereas commercial music was a polished, baroque castle of harmonies and melodies, the Magic Band proposed the wildest, most primitive music, executed in the most naive manner. Their primordial instincts, captured live, caught the rules marketing off guard. The Beatles' simple-minded choruses were buried under granite mountains of unstable arrangements, under jungles of free noise, under ferocious hurricanes of rhythm."

  9. "The nineteen minute long Tarotplane is a poster for Beefheart's creative blues. The great bedlam of guitars and percussion, and the "shenai" that Van Vliet blows atonally, shapes an aesthetic of ugliness that could serve as a prelude to a revolutionary non-music, or anti-music, if Beefheart, distant light years from any form of historical or artistic musical consciousness, were not so opposed to intellectual labels. The title paraphrases Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues, but instead cites Blind Willie Johnson's You' re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond and Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle. Kandy Korn, devastated by an abominable chorus, contains the humorous germs common to the freaks. In practice it is the confession of an art conceived exclusively as game. The same can be said for 25th Century Quaker, a satirical fantasy built on the structure of the extended song, with a coda of pyrotechnic free-blues.
    The end of Mirror Man consists of fifteen minutes of anarchical improvisation, a free-jazz jam for four wrecked blues men, in which the instrument that astonishes the most, in its brilliant genius, is Beefheart's voice. The poison, the spasms, the pain of that voice showcases the most impossible sonic range, a black, visceral vocalization like that of a demented epileptic on the verge of a crisis. This is the soundtrack of a horror movie: screaming vampires, roaring King Kongs, agonizing lepers, delirious shamans, possessed zombies; a parade of hissing, cawing, prattling, mewing, oinking, braying monsters, all coming through the chameleon-like voice of Beefheart, a voice raised in the desert, made of rattle snakes, vultures, cactus, jackals, spiny bushes, barren hills and torrid sun.
    The delirious vocals in Ah Feel Like Ahcid, built on a simple, sleepy instrumental base with echoes of Son House's Death Letter, and Trust Us, with its tribal and demonic grand finale, where the climax is reached with a scream halfway between the call of a muezzin, the howl of a witch and the high note of an opera tenor, and the creative adornments of Gimme Dat Harp Boy, with obscene folk wit, rotten harmonica and obsessive rhythm on the riff of Willie Dixon's Spoonful, confer to Beefheart the stature of singer without equal, in the history of both blues and jazz.
    The musical chaos of Safe As Milk, with a dissonant guitar solo finale sustained by galloping drums, and On Tomorrow consecrates the record as a gigantic organic compost heap that drags itself along sputtering from the harmonica and vomiting from the guitar.
    The personal homage to the Merseybeat, Beatle Bone ' n' Smokin' Stones, with a parody of Strawberry Fields Forever that irritated John Lennon, is - beside the personal venting of a misunderstood artist - one of the most powerful satires on the presumed deities of the Mount Olympus of rock music: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The naive blues in Safe As Milk leaps forward to be transformed in free acid blues, in which psychedelia and improvisation complement each other and justify one another. The route is set toward absolute chaos."

  10. P.S.: Thank you for this reconstruction!

  11. Loving the shit out of your blog. thanks for taking the time to do this and sharing.

  12. This is a fantastic piece of work! You may already be aware of this story, but according to John French in his book (Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic):

    The double album was supposed to be split into two different groups. Disc One was the arranged music (Trust Us, Kandy Korn, On Tomorrow, Beatle Bones, Moody Liz, Flower Pot, Dirty Blue Gene, etc.) done by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. The other half (Mirror Man, Tarotplane, Korn Ring and Finger, Gimme Dat Harp Boy, Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker, etc.) was done as an inprovised avant-garde blues album by Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker - a "different" group.

    The idea here was that Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band would be us playing under our pseudonyms - which is why they were made up at the time. Whereas Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker would be the warmup act - us performing the more improvised stuff, using our own names, and dressed up in Quaker outfits.

    1. I was not aware of that! If I had, maybe my reconstruction here would be a bit different.

      But then again, disc 1 (the CB&HMB part) would be a bit short and unfinished and disc 2 (the 25CQ part) would be too long and would just be the Mirror Man album. I still like the idea of the longer pieces evenly distributed to each side of the 2LP with "Trust Us" beginning the album and a recreated Side B of Strictly Personal closing the album. I feel it really creates a journey.

  13. I agree completely - I like the way that you sequenced the double album! And who knows whether the mercurial Van Vliet would have followed through on the 25th C. Quaker idea. Drumbo's book (which is overlong and badly needed an editor) says that they went as far as finding Quaker outfits and being photographed in them, but they never played a show where the Quakers opened for the Magic Band. The book does confirm that when Krasnow brought an acetate of the completed Strictly Personal album, Beefheart was angry with him about the psychedelic effects that were added to the recordings. I would venture a guess that CB and the MB would be pleased with what you've done.

    1. PS - the second and third paragraphs of my 2/27 comment were direct quotes from John French's book, and I should have indicated that.

    2. Yep, I looked it up last night, and found you were quoting him directly haha

      But out of curiosity, I toyed with the tracklist to accommodate French's account, and it's pretty interesting. For those of you reading who would want to make Plain Brown Wrapper as a dual CB&HMB/25CQ set, I would suggest to sequence it like this:

      Side A:
      1. Trust Us
      2. Big Black Baby Shoes
      3. Safe As Milk
      4. Moody Liz

      Side B:
      5. On Tomorrow
      6. Beatle Bones n Smokin Stones
      7. Gimme Dat Harp Boy
      8. Kandy Korn

      Side C:
      1. Mirror Man
      2. 25th Century Quaker

      Side D:
      3. Korn Ring Finger
      4. Tarotplane

      You'd need to add one of the instrumentals I originally dropped just to round up disc 1 to match the overly-long disc 2; I'd suggest Baby Shoes, as the closing drum pattern should blend into the opening drums of Safe As Milk. Also, Gimme Dat Harp just simply won't fit on disc 2, so it needs to remain on disc 1, still completing the "Strictly Personal side".

      This sequence flows really nice, but even then it's a really uneven set, suffering from the problems stated above. But an interesting alternate listen nonetheless!

    3. Cool! I will try Plain Brown Wrapper both ways. I also recently read the Lou Reed bio Transformer, and your VU IV reconstruction makes a great audio companion to Victor Bockris' account of that period in the band's history. Neither book paints a very flattering portrait of their bandleaders...

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Never knew it could be like this (wipes away a tear).
    Much respect for this loving reconstruction.
    Rare Van Vliet poetry here:



  16. Seems a bit like THE MIRROR MAN SESSIONS,which came out in 1999.

  17. By Trust Us take 12 you mean 9? I am curious because i just can't find it.

    1. Ooops yep that's a typo. Meant I chose Take 9 over Take 6.

  18. I know that is there no pre strictly personal version of Ah Feel Like Ahcid, but its a great song, so in my opinion it should be included.

  19. Did you think of mixing instrumental with vocal version of On Tomorrow?

  20. I just wanted to drop in to say that I printed out a special CD cover for this using a carefully cropped up Food Lion brown grocery bag and it looks and feels great.

  21. Hi, after this post piqued my interest, I asked John French directly on his Facebook page about exactly how this might look and he came back with the following:

    "Simon got me going on the running order on if all the pieces could have been used on a double album from the TTG ( some released as The Mirror Man Sessions) recordings. Here's my list, though I think there's way too much material. My thoughts included "Safe as Milk" as a starter ( as the sequel to the album?) and Kandy Korn as the strong finish for the "CB" Material and "Quaker" as a good opening for the Quaker section, but I get flummoxed because Mirror Man is so long. I think some editing somewhere would have been needed to include all the pieces.

    Safe as Milk
    Flower Pot
    Moody Liz
    On Tomorrow
    Trust Us
    Beatle Bones
    Dirty Blue Gene
    Big Black Baby Shoes
    Kandy Korn
    25thCentury Quaker
    Mirror Man
    Gimme Dat Harp Boy
    Korn Ring Finger

    The above is just a grouping of the albums into two categories. The first is CB&HMB and Second is TFCQ. I also am pretty sure Don wanted to start the first side with "Safe as Milk" as the first piece, and the second disk ( side 3) with TFCQ. The problem is, the running times. As I recall, vinyl was best at 18 mins. a side but if it needed to be crowded, up to 22? You vinyl guys will know this better than I. This might be a start. I'm pretty sure one disk was supposed to be exclusively CB and the other Quaker. The one "iffy" number here is "Harp Boy," but I would definitely put it more with the blues jams than arranged."

    1. Wow, neat! Maybe I'll have to update this one then!

    2. If you update this, sonic, you should upgrade the Safe as Milk reissue sourced tracks by using aksman's rip of the Music on Vinyl 2xLP reissue, which includes those tracks in a superior presentation.

  22. Replies
    1. I actually have upgraded this, and it's my next post! Meant to a few weeks ago, but I've been swamped at work. Hopefully this weekend.