Thursday, August 3, 2023

Rick Saucedo - Heaven Was Blue (1978 us, mindblowing haunting acid folk psych rock, 2005 remaster)

In the brightly colored beehive where rare psychedelia drips like honey from the walls there's been buzz on this mysterious LP for several years, partly due to its musical appeal, partly due to the background story, which is a tale worth telling. Rick Saucedo is mainly known as an Illinois-based Elvis impersonator, and a successful one at that, but some time when the King's ghost wasn't looking he sneaked out and cut himself two sides of music that were as far to the other end of the spectrum as you can imagine; dreamy, melodic 60s-style psychedelia. The acidrock sleuths and dead wax bloodhounds tracked him down (of course), but were forced to deal with his manager -- possibly a "connected" guy -- who wasn't likely to see the merit of throwing light on this bizarre sidetrack in Saucedo's career. In fact, when a bunch of psych fans rounded up a healthy bag of coins in the hope of getting a few "Heaven Was Blue":s in return, the manager simply kept the money and made himself scarce!

Thus: a $900 price tag, continuing buzz, and the exact reissue now present before us. But the strangeness doesn't end quite there, because this LP has a skeleton in the closet, one that the psych mafia honchos were reluctant to share except behind locked doors. If you pressed your ear to the wall you could pick up references to a dread "50s medley" that screwed up the LP and, it was said, kept it from being bootlegged. It certainly explained why most tapes of the LP being traded only contained about 28 minutes of music; I know because I had one, and it was one of my most played tapes of an incomplete album ever. The "50s medley" rumor seemed a terrible waste as the rest of the LP was spellbinding, almost like a psych head's fantasy invention rather than an actual vinyl object.

So let's get that brylcreem skeleton out into direct sunlight and see what it's made of. Well, to begin with it's two separate tracks rather than a medley. Secondly, I wouldn't call them "50s" in some heinous Sha-Na-Na retro manner, but rather examples of the roots rock material you can find on albums by thousands of 1970s artists big and small. They're originals (I think) and do sound like a tribute to a bygone era, but I actually was expecting worse. My guess is that the Elvis impersonator angle influenced this urban myth out of proportion. These two tracks do not exactly improve or belong on the LP, and I'll probably skip by 'em -- easy to do as they close side 1 -- most times I play it, but that's about how bad it is. Case closed. Onward to the real meat.

"Heaven Was Blue" opens with "Reality", a dreamy yet concise trip of rich guitar tapestries and nice folky hooks. It sounds rather similar to those two other lost-in-time psych masters, Bobb Trimble and Michael Angelo, and could be seen as the perfect halfway house between them -- flowing and multilayered like Bobb's music (even to the point of having ghostly voices speak in the background), while the wistful vocals and droning melody come straight out of the 1967 Lennon school of Michael A. Rick Saucedo was obviously unaware of these competing acts, yet it's remarkable that three such outstanding psych timewarps exist with so much in common. If anyone finds the explanatory "X" factor be sure to send it my way. It's one hell of an album opener anyway.

Saucedo then spins a few wheels on his kaleidoscope and via a single echoing guitar note we flow into "In my mind", a counterpart and alternative to the "Reality" of almost the exact same duration. It's at least as strong as the opening track, a little heavier with fuzz chords chugging underneath the multilayered guitars and a more cutting vocal style, albeit still totally in a 1967-68 flowerpsych mood, while a reference to Jesus towards the end may recall D R Hooker. Along with the great use of organ and booming bass the track is reminiscent of the best tracks on Rain Parade's classic 1983 debut album, and one could spend a few hours discussing why "Heaven was blue" is one of the last relics of the original acid music era while the Parade's "Emergency" is instead one of the first (and best) retro LPs. We don't have time for such nonsense here, though.

Skipping past the two roots rockers discussed above it's time to flip the LP over and parachute into the marvelously painted landscape that constitutes Saucedo's sidelong title track. If it seems that "In my mind" and "Reality" gave promises of melodic psych nirvana, then "Heaven was blue" is the realization. Clocking in at almost 19 minutes it is something unique in the psych world; a successful transportation of the acid heritage from John Lennon's "Revolver" into the domains of carefully composed suites usually associated with bad 70s rock. It could have been just another J D Blackfoot, except that Saucedo pulls it off like a charm, don't ask me how -- stacking new melodies, guitar figures and arrangements atop the old ones every 3 minutes or so, each more swirling and enchanting than the last, and retaining a sense of progression throughout. The fact that it's less than a perfect performance, with guitars occasionally strolling off-key and the drummer seeming to wing it as he goes along, enforces the human warmth and removes any progrock specter forcefully. 

There is a particular segment that begins around the 5:30-minute mark and lasts about 120 seconds which I am inclined to take as a glimpse of a place BEYOND psychedelia, beyond Lennon and Trimble and Michael Angelo and all the other acid geniuses, great or small, and everyone must hear this because it's the place where we should be. Exactly how a moonlighting Elvis impersonator found it is one for our children's children to ponder; in any event the whole "Heaven was blue" track is an amazing display of creativity and control, and when it's over it's like having been subjected to a dazzling Ludovico-method technicolor montage of everything you hallucinated on the walls when discovering the greatness of psychedelia long ago: "Sunshine superman"; "Porpoise song"; "Renaissance fair"; "Matilda mother"; they're all in there, along with thunder and rain sound FX, meandering acid guitars, and howling dogs.

You will notice I haven't said much about Rick Saucedo's lyrics and I have to admit it took a while for me to even notice them, considering the spellbinding nature of the music. But they're rather interesting I must say, and just like Trimble and to some extent Michael Angelo there's a darkness lurking beneath the hippie vibe. The lyrics for Saucedo's title track are thankfully printed on the back cover and at first I took them as some kind of agnostic love & brotherhood statement, but if you really get down to it they look a bit, um... sacrilegious, like maybe it isn't a coincidence that his dog is named Satan. The three psych tracks all deal with Death, its consequences and meaning; a theme reinforced by the back cover drawing of a graveyard with tombstones for the various people involved in making the LP. I've heard say that the whole LP came about after the shock Saucedo got from the King's death in 1977, and if so that provides an interesting subtext for the ambiguous message he delivers.  

The "Heaven was blue" album as a whole is a challenge for a reviewer, and for once I'm going to abandon my principles and comment directly on the numerical rating. The three psychedelic tracks are as perfect "10"s as I've come across, while the two rockers get slapped with a "4" each. Taking the playtime of the tracks into account, this yields the formula (9*10 + 7*4 + 19*10) / 35 = 8.8. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. I could take another point off for Saucedo being such a schmuck to screw with what could have been one of the greatest psych LPs of all time, but truth is that about 5 minutes into side 2 those two rockers seem a distant memory, like a bad dream about to be forgotten. Oh yeah, the current reissue is a bootleg but looks and sounds real nice, certainly better than my old CD-R, so get it quick before it sells out.
1. Reality - 4:25
2. In My Mind - 4:12
3. Country Shakin'History Makin' - 2:48
4. Ka Mon We're Gonna Rock All Night Long - 3:52 
5.a.Heaven Was Blue
   c.Set Us Free
   d.Empty Pillow
   e.Angels March In Hell
   f.Some Call It Magic
   g.Angels March Out Of Hell
   h.Heaven Was Blue (Reprise)  - 18:29
All compositions by Rick Saucedo

*Rick Saucedo - Vocals, Lead, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Drums, Piano, Synthesizer
*Joe Lentino - Drums
*Jim Johnson - Piano
*Peggy Counsell - Backing Vocals