Illustration by Edward Sorel from the cover art of A Colder Eye, 1983
The Monks are back! This week, Light in the Attic Records released the entire oeuvre of the Monks on two releases, Black Monk Time and The Early Years, available on CD and vinyl. It's good to see this material back in print. Black Monk Time is the band's only real album, the other release being a collection of demos and early recordings that was previously available as Five Upstart Americans. This release was actually my first exposure to the Monks, purchased for a dollar at the now-closed Overstock.com outlet store. I remember being blown away reading their story in the liner notes. Five American GIs stationed in Germany in the mid-60s decide to form a band to play local German clubs. They eventually shaved tonsures into their heads and started dressing in black, calling themselves the Monks. With a unique sound of lead guitar, pulsing organ, electric banjo, bass, and thumping tribal drums, the Monks were unlike anything else going on at the time (except maybe the Fugs, who were probably not well-known enough to be an influence).
The awesome proto-punk of Black Monk Time is the Monks' real definitive work, but there's something special about their early recordings as well. The songs on Five Upstart Americans are primitive and groove-oriented, largely instrumental with some chanted vocals at the beginning or end of the track. The harsh banjo strumming makes the sound unique, and each of the demo tracks starts with a hymn-like intro on organ that breaks down as the song begins. One of my favorite Monks tracks is the early jam "Hushie Pushie", an odd twist on the old standard "Tiger Rag". Instead of "Hold that tiger!", the Monks call out repeatedly to a cat named "Hushie Pushie" on the refrain. You really need to hear it to understand how great it is. Get the new Monks releases at Light in the Attic. And, to get a full idea of how demented the Monks were, watch them deconstruct pop music with giant tambourines as they perform "Monk Chant" on a German teen dance show in 1965 HERE.
"Hushie Pushie" by the Monks