The Litter’s “Emerge” is Back on Vinyl & Ready to Destroy Your Preconceptions of Music
by Mat Weir
Follow Your Gut
I never take advice from strangers unless I know they are a credible source. I’m a skeptic at heart and in a town like Santa Cruz everyone thinks they know the real knowledge. You know, the kind the government isn’t really telling you, or that the FDA is covering up. Every local knows you don’t even have to walk anywhere to find advice from strangers. Just post up on Pacific Avenue and wait three minutes, maybe even four, and you’ll have someone telling you something that will change your life because it did theirs. Usually the meth sores and/or liquor breath are a testament to this.
However, as a being of chaos, once in a while I’ll asses the person and go with my gut if it leads me on. I’ve never regretted this because it always ends well, whether it’s smoking a blunt in New York at 4 a.m. with guys claiming to be Bloods or discovering one of the greatest albums in rock history that surprisingly few know about.
I was shown the Litter’s third and final work, 1969’s Emerge, about two years ago, while working at the buy counter in the back of our store. A couple dropped off a stack of records and immediately I knew it was going to be a rare buy; maybe not in price, but in musical value. Both could have easily been mistaken for hipsters by your standard suburbanite, but there was nothing ironic about their hippie outfits. In fact, they looked like they walked right out of the records they were selling; everything was underground psyche, garage rock and odd progressive albums I don’t even remember.
I originally passed on Emerge because of giant chew marks in the spine (the old saying is true, eh?), but when the guy came to collect his money, he donated the passes. Before leaving, he looked at me from behind his sunglasses and beard with a raised eyebrow.
“You ever hear this?” he asked, raising the odd cover with a grey and white psychedelic photo of the band with the words “Emerge The Litter” in gold.
Of course I said, “No,” wondering what this lengthy alien was getting to.
“Maaaan, you have to listen to this. Nobody knows about this band,” he said over his shoulder before walking out. “But if you like rock ‘n’ roll, it will blow your mind.”
Something told me he knew what he was talking about, so I put it on for my next pick at work then proceeded to buy it immediately after the needle lifted on side two.
Seeing the Future
The Litter formed in Minneapolis in 1966 (by the merging of two other Minneapolis acts, The Tabs and The Victors) as a typical, stripped-down, garage act for the time–ala the Yardbirds, Rolling Stones, et al. Their first single, “Action Woman” is their most popular from the time and is featured on the debut LP, Distortions. In 1968, the Litter released the sophmore LP, $100 Fine, in the same garage rock theme. However, by 1969 (and with a line-up change here or there) the Litter saw how psyche was changing music and decided to take it a step further.
Emerge is one of the few albums that bridges the gap between rock and proto-punk/metal. Every listen is filled with the Stooges, Uriah Heap, Blue Cheer, and even some heavier Cream. Maybe it’s because they recorded the album in Detroit (THE rock ‘n’ roll city), or maybe they just knew how to draw from enough sources to make the alchemy right, or maybe the gods just chose them to be the torch bearers, I don’t know. What I am sure of, is this is an album a lot of mid to late ’60s bands wish they could’ve made.
Not only are Dan Rinaldi & Ray Melina’s wailing guitar riffs reminiscent of Hendrix or the MC5, but they’re fuzzier than either bands’ afros. Throw in J. Worthington Kane’s FUZZED-OUT, driving-to-heavy-metal-levels bass lines & Tom Murray’s domination of the double-bass kit for a splash of early Sabbath. Floating throughout are Mark Gallagaher’s vocals, one minute screeching and the next crooning in a jazzy pool of pro-alternative society & heartbreak lyrics.
The Minnesotan boys even throw in a couple of covers in true 1960s tradition. Side one ends with Buffalo Springfield’s, “For What It’s Worth,” and while the original is mournful and thought-provoking, the Litter turn it into a full-fledged rock tune with expanded guitar riffs, conjuring images of the opening scene in Terry Guilliam’s film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, when Raul Duke and Dr. Gonzo shoot across the desert in their fire red, “Land Shark” Cadillac.
Flip it over and side two kicks off with a milestone version of Burt Bacharach’s “Little Red Book” that will shame Love’s version, any day. As if that isn’t enough, the side ends with a 12 and a half minute song, “Future of the Past,” which slowly climbs a mountain of psychedelic chaos, only to throw itself over the cliff. It ends with a drum solo by Murray where—if you have just the right chemical cocktail on a lonely night and the foresight of a rock ‘n roll guru—you can imagine some kid in 1969, putting on Emerge for the first time, and seeing the future of rock ‘n roll.
While the mainstream has their Zeppelins, and Joplins, many of us appreciate their importance but understand it’s the underground that pushes the boundaries of art. It’s the people who were ahead of their time, the ones that influence the younger generations who later become famous. Albums like Emerge that take the familiar and set it on fire, blazing paths for future genres of music and generations of music fans. And sometimes, all it takes is a stranger to light the match to show the way.
Emerge was reissued last week on Cleopatra Records and is currently available at Streetlight Records!!!