The Monks albums
Gary Burger – Vocals, Guitar
Eddie Shaw – Bass
Dave Day – Electric Banjo
Larry Clark – Keyboards
Roger Johnston – Drums
Best Album: Black Monk Time
Biggest Influences: The Who, Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, The Sonics
Black Monk Time – (4.5 / 5)
The Monk’s debut album at first sounds like many similar garage acts of the time, obviously influenced by the sound of The Who or The Animals, but once the singer starts singing we all know we are in for something different that changed the annals of rock music forever. The first words out of Baker’s mouth are verdicts about the war in Vietnam, weapons of mass destruction, James Bond characters, and other things he loves and hates. It is of its time, but also timeless in its anger. The rest of the album matches the intensity of the first song but diverges the fervor across a unique sonic tapestry. The Monks sound is very rooted in rhythm and blues but also incorporates disharmony in the background vocals (“Shut Up”), nonsense language and catchy surf-rock choruses (“Higgle-Dy”, “We Do Wi”), and thoughts on teenage relationships and hilarious circumstances (“Boys are Boys and Girls are Chance”, “That’s My Girl”). While the music is pretty traditional and repetitive, the intentions of the band and especially the psychotic vocalist produce a wild nature to the music that is rare in rock even to this day. The pinnacle of the album is probably “I Hate You”, a tune so depressed and full of disgust that it sounds as if the singer is strangling his girlfriend while singing it.
A sound this wild and of its time would be rare for a band out of Great Britain or America in the 1960’s but even stranger that it came from American army members living in Germany. EVEN stranger than that is that the band appeared with shaved heads and dressed in monk’s attire for their live shows. Not only was The Monk’s sole album influential on the New Wave and Punk scene of the late 1970’s (MC5, Pere Ubu, The Ramones, just to name a few), but it also clearly influenced a more important scene of early rock n’ roll: the Krautrock movement of Germany in the late 1960’s and early 70’s . It is hard to hear Faust, can, or Kraftwerk without thinking a little of the Monk’s debut album. A lot of these songs have surprises in the structures that are well thought out and controlled even sounding as chaotic as you might expect from reasonably amateur musicians. While the last half of the record isn’t quite as strong as the first, there are still gems to be found in the percussive “Complication” and the wild, call and response chants of “Drunken Maria”. The album is quick and to the point, about 25 minutes in original length, not unheard of for albums of its time but it retains a special kind of quality that separates in from other young acts of the time. There is a fire beating beneath the heart of Black Monk Time that is hard to replicate and hard to describe in the first place; that fire rages, even fifty years after its original release. It is a stunning, absorbing listen, and proves simple ideas often makes the best music.
Greatest Songs: I Hate You, Shut Up, Complication, Oh How to Do Now