There’s a branch of 1970s progressive rock called the “Canterbury Scene,” which is a jazzier, more experimental variant of the genre. Amongst its leading groups are Camel, Caravan, and Soft Machine. I’m the last person to ask anything more about the movement, as admittedly, I like a handful of songs/albums by these gents but I’ve never taken the deep-end plunge into the subgenre (It’s nice to always have new lands to conquer, sez Leif Erickson… oh boy.)
My favorite album in this vein is Soft Machine’s 1970 release “Third.” Four sides, four songs, long before Yes ever tried to pull off that stunt with “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” It’s best described as psychedelic, ambient, oddball proto-jazz fusion, highlighted by the saxophone improvisations of Elton Dean (who is best known as a former bandmate of Reginald Dwight and the inspiration for the first half of Reg’s stage name).
Given the newly snowy Maine landscape, I threw that album on today, and its Side Four track, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” reminded me of perhaps my most subversive act ever in my radio career: I actually played this song, in its entirety, on a powerful commercial FM signal.
Now, it’s not like I played this in afternoon drive on a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer. A bit of context: I worked at Claremont, New Hampshire’s WHDQ (aka Q106) for the first five years of my professional career. During most of that stretch, I hosted, wrote and produced a specialty album cuts show called “Beyond and Before.” It was a two hour show that gave airtime to lesser known tracks by major artists, but I would always make sure to include one or two tracks per week from a lesser-remembered band; a Spirit, a Quicksilver Messenger Service or a King Crimson if you will. It was the closest equivalent to old-school free form radio in the market at that time. The show aired on Sunday nights, a pretty dead time for radio listenership in the grand scheme of things.
I had a tradition that on long weekends, I would do a “Long Song Special.” This basically meant a venue to play exclusively songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Carouselambra,” Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” and so on and so forth.
Though I generally prepared the show a few days in advance and recorded it a day or two before, depending on how busy or uninspired I was during the week I would sometimes develop my playlist and script hours before it aired. On this particular Sunday, it was a rather overcast day that I knew would end with a fairly foggy night. Since I had the Soft Machine album in my Case-Logic, it dawned on me that “Out-Bloody-Rageous” would be a the perfect mood piece to wrap up that week’s show given the atmosphere, in the same way that “Summer of ‘69” sounds great at 5 o’clock on a sunny summer Friday (according to lab results).
Of the thousands of songs I’ve played in my radio career thus far, Soft Machine’s “Out-Bloody-Rageous” was the least commercial song I ever have or ever will have played.
Would I play “Out-Bloody-Rageous” given the chance today? Not-Bloody-Likely. But boy, am I glad I got away with it that one time.