It doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi of songs from other 1969 releases, like Abbey Road by The Beatles or Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown, but “Hair Pie: Bake 2” from Captain Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica does have an odd intrigue about it. It makes a mess of things in the same way that a couple of people who’ve rarely picked up an instrument would.
It’s this quality, in fact, that turns the song into a car wreck you just can’t look away from. You want to see how it all ends.
“Hair Pie: Bake 2” instantly drops listeners into the middle of the chaos. It’s busy beginning comes from guitars carrying two different tunes and hands beating lazily against what sounds like a wood slab in place of regular drums (but it isn’t). For the first twenty-ish seconds, it sounds as if novice musicians are mostly on the same page about a ragtime-adjacent song they just learned how to play, but they don’t have all the notes down quite yet.
Then things move deeper into left field after a quick soundbite of someone mumbling; it sounds like they gave up. The tempo slows, a horn comes out of nowhere, the guitars stop playing their original melodies, and there’s random beating on the drums. Much like what would happen after someone yells “Back to the drawing board!” the musicians make this part sound like a warm-up or everyone deciding to play their own songs: look over the notes again, retune, adjust and then come back. Around the 51-second mark, the song moves into something more unified again before falling off the deep end for a second time with more mumbling, off-key instrument playing and overmodulated audio and someone blowing into the microphone.
“Hair Bake: Pie 2” conjures up the feeling of riding a roller coaster in the way it moves back and forth between parts that only make some sense and others that don’t make any sense at all. At around 2:27, there’s nothing left but ambient noise and an erratic horn.
Understandably so, the album didn’t do well when in its initial release stateside, but has since been deemed an important piece of work in experimentation. David Fricke wrote in a June 2019 Rolling Stone article that Trout Mask Replica ” still sounds like a tomorrow that has not arrived, a music created at a crossroads of sound and language so far distant it continues to defy definitive summation and universal translation.”
Singer Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) used the piano for much of the album’s composition, even though he had zero experience playing the instrument. This decision alone showcases the “rules”, or lack thereof, that Trout Mask Replica considered following.
People love weird and quirky things, music included. But even more than that, people love a challenge and listening to this is definitely not reminiscent of the feeling one gets while having a morning cup of coffee. It’s not traditional, structurally perfect or something you want to relax to, but that’s the supposed genius of it the song and the album. It doesn’t make sense because it wasn’t necessarily built to.
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