Jan & Dean: Avant-Pop Pioneers?

I picked up a double album anthology of Jan & Dean’s best work and found myself rather bemused by one particular track – and outright befuddled by an entire album side:

Jan & Dean

First, the song – 1964’s “The Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association,” one of the odder pop refrains and my entry for Most Ungainly Song Title Award:

Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association

[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to hear “The Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association” by Jan & Dean.]

I love the muscular opening, as well as the song’s sheer goofiness, while the satiric edge of the lyrics challenge conventional notions of the group as mere musical lightweights.  This one song would seem to anticipate “the cutting-edge comedy concepts” (Wikipedia) of the next two years, 1965-1966, which saw the release of Jan & Dean Meet Batman and Filet of Soul.

Which brings us to side 4 of the Jan & Dean Anthology Album.  All it takes is one listen.  This stuff is, shall we say, pretty out there. There are some telling clues on the back cover, however, that I only now notice in retrospect.  For one thing, the first 3 sides are grouped together as a unit at the top of the back cover, while side 4 is all by its lonesome on the bottom.  But a more subtle touch – none of the tracks on side 4 list the recording dates as is done for each of the songs on the other 3 sides.

And then you look at the song titles themselves:  “Pigeon Joke”; “Brass Section Intro”; “Beatle Part of Our Portion”; “Thank You Dean,” and the like.  As it turns out, side 4 is a 20-minute selection from the never-released Filet of Soul album.  As Mark A. Moore            – preeminent Jan & Dean scholar – so aptly puts it, Filet of Soul can only be described as “Jan & Dean as a nightclub act … in the Twilight Zone.”   The mixed-media splicing techniques on display on side 4, which I determined later to have been recorded in the months straddling 1965-66, seem to be somewhat unprecedented in pop music.  And very much along the lines of the innovative audio engineering – and caustic social commentary – made famous on Freak Out by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, their debut (and one of rock’s first double LPs), but more importantly, a hugely influential album that got the lion’s share of the credit for the use of music as cutting-edge social satire (that, at times, also delights in the sophomoric), even though Filet of Soul predates the release of Freak Out by at least several months.

But given that the original Filet of Soul:  A “Live” One was rejected by Liberty (possibly as many as 3 times) and never released in its day, it is very easy to see why Zappa & the Mothers got all the glory as innovators in this particular realm of pop music.  Perhaps it is inaccurate to call this music “pop,” since its very prickliness limits its appeal to a fairly narrow segment of the popular market.

Even though the selections on side 4 seemed to skewer (in no particular order) their fans, the record industry, the South, and the Beatles, most of all Jan & Dean seem intent on violently deconstructing their own squeaky-clean popular image.   I can only assume that this aspect of the Jan & Dean story inspired the Monkees to do something somewhat similar a couple years later with the release of their icon-busting, surrealist anti-Monkee cinematic misadventure, Head.

Caution:  These two excerpts from side 4 are for the musically adventurous only – not advised for those who have little to no patience for juvenility or humor in their music.

Jan & Dean-1
Jan & Dean-2

What’s nice about both of these clips is that you get to hear Jan & Dean announce each of the musicians in the band – since the album is a “live” one – and these are all top L.A. studio musicians that have played, often uncredited, on countless pop hits.

Final note – Liberty did release something in 1966 called Filet of Soul, but alas, it is nearly devoid of any strangeness and bears little to no resemblance to the selections mysteriously included on side 4 of the anthology.  Mark A. Moore lists the running order of one bootleg acetate of the Filet of Soul album – this is the “long” version:

Honolulu Lulu
Boys Down at the Plant
Cathy’s Clown (short version)
Pigeon Joke / Rhino Joke
Brass Section Intro
Dead Man’s Curve (short version)
Beatle Part of Our Portion
Rhythm Section Intro
Michelle
Whistling Dixie
Thank You Dean
Norwegian Wood
1-2-3
Lightning Strikes
Hide Your Love Away
And Now Back to the Show
Let’s Hang On Intro
Hang On Sloopy