Zal Yanovsky was the yin to John Sebastian’s yang in The Lovin’ Spoonful. He was the zany one who goofed around on stage while Sebastian kept his cool. This all blew up when Yanovsky, a Canadian, was caught in a drug bust and was reckoned by most of the hippy community to have sold out his dealer in some kind of plea bargain in order to avoid deportation. The Spoonful were caught up in this and became somewhat uncool and Yanovsky split from the band soon after. He soon faded into obscurity eventually returning to Canada where he ran a restaurant until his untimely death aged only 58. He only released one album after departing the Spoonful but what a doozy it was. Alive And Well In Argentina sprang from captivity in 1968 only to be widely ignored but over the years it has acquired a cult following with original editions a collector’s item.
While there are some echoes of Yanovsky’s spell in the Spoonful to be heard here and there, the album is a wacky collection of wacked out songs. There’s black humour galore, sonic experimentation and some blissfully stoned country and western songs and while there may a temptation to lump the album in with other sixties oddities such as The Fugs the album actually stands up as a great collection of well played songs and stands up well to the test of time. It was produced by Jerry Yester (who replaced Yanovsky in the Spoonful) and how much of its attraction is due to Yester’s work is up for debate. But with several of the songs interwoven with spoken word clips and featuring odd sound effects some of the album is like a rehearsal for Yester’s work with Judy Henske on another sixties cult album, Farewell Aldebaran. This is most apparent on the discordant instrumental Lt. Schtinkhausen which closed the original disc and which comes across like The Beatles on a bad acid trip.
Schtinkhausen might be a nod to the pioneering electronic music genius Stockhausen and Yanovsky alludes to other pioneers such as Edgar Allen Poe on the opening Raven In A Cage, a fine slice of psychedelic pop, and on the bizarre Hip Toad, a classic and stone cold immaculate word salad which surely would have had Kim Fowley spitting with envy. Much of the album consists of Yanovsky’s unique covers of familiar songs. George Jones’ Brown To Blue is given a tongue in cheek sincere delivery while Little Bitty Pretty One is just a hoot to listen to and impossible not to sing along with. Floyd Cramer’s piano instrumental Last Date is given a Santos & Johnny makeover allowing Yanovsky to showcase his guitar playing while Ivory Joe Hunter’s I Almost Lost My Mind is a kaleidoscopic slice of R’n’B which foreshadows The Band’s collection of covers on Moondog Matinee. He also, perhaps to prove a point, throws in an excellent cover of John Sebastian’s Priscilla Millionaira.
Yanovsky goes over the top on the magnificent title song which, of course, alludes to elderly Nazis in hiding. Here he goes all bluegrass us, perhaps influenced by the recent release of the movie Bonnie & Clyde with the song belting along banjo style until it’s hijacked by Teutonic voices plucked from documentary sources. It’s a song you probably wouldn’t get away with these days. Tucked in at the end of this reissue is Yanovsky’s attempt at a single. As Long As You’re Here. It’s like a wilder and wackier version of the Spoonful but there’s also a fine sting in the tail as the song ends in a chorus of “Is it a hit or a miss?” It was a miss unfortunately as was its B-side, also included here, which is the song played backwards.
It’s been a long time since we last heard this album but it’s been a total blast catching up on it again. So, if you buy just one sixties cult classic this week, buy this one.