Monday, August 13, 2018

Country Joe & The Fish - I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die (1967) [Original USA Stereo Mix]

Country Joe & The Fish – I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die
Original 1967 USA Stereo LP
Vanguard VSD-79266
~ThePoodleBites rip in 96kHz / 24bit FLAC + high-resolution scans~

Here is a primo mastering of Country Joe & The Fish's best album. The fact that the band was able to release this masterpiece within the same year as Electric Music is quite astounding and speaks to the band's mastery of their craft. I've been wanting to do this LP for years (looking at my HDD now, it's been over 5 years since I did my first raw transfer of this album), but I wanted to ensure that my mastering would beat all digital versions of this album currently available, including all other rips and the CD remasters. The early CD version is really bad, way too loud (and some claim the wrong mix), and while the 2013 is a bit quieter, it's still very compressed / limited and the tape has numerous dropouts / problems that are apparent throughout the album. Since the incredible dynamics of this LP are certainly unparalleled by any rock album of its time, the numerous quiet sections throughout the LP are notorious for noise even on the cleanest copies. For this rip, I opened a vintage copy that had remained sealed for over 50 years before reaching my hands. Finding this was not easy, and I still feel bad for opening it, but this rip was certainly worth it.




This album has a very special meaning to me, as it was the first psychedelic rock LP that I owned, and when I finally got that first copy, it was in nearly constant rotation on my turntable. I knew the title track from the infamous Woodstock performance, and I remember crawling around the house as a young kiddo singing that song before I could even understand what the words meant. But what's amazing here, is that immediately after perhaps the ultimate protest song of the 1960s, with its tongue-in-cheek tone and ironic juxtaposition of psychedelic ragtime with machine guns, Country Joe & The Fish manages to maintain their audience. This is certainly the furthest from a one-hit album as any of the great '60s masterpieces. 

Instead of continuing their political critiques, which the band was able to pull off stunningly well, the second track "Who Am I" is in every way the antithesis of the first. While the "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" presents a very critical view of external negativity, "Who Am I" drastically changes tone into a quiet self-reflection which is in every way as scathing as the opener. The solemn statements and sheer honesty of Country Joe's words present his feelings as both genuine and relatable, which come as a complete shell shock after the bombastic opener. This amazing juxtaposition while maintaining meaningful continuity is something that the band would have on no other album.

Following this is the most beautiful "Pat's Song," where we see two motifs for the first time: the first is of the band's affinity for fixing compositions to particular individuals, and the second is of color. There are certainly many colors here, from a heavily distorted guitar giving way to a mesmerizing bell solo, again flaunting the band's ability to maintain musicality while traversing incredible dynamical landscapes. 

If nothing else, "Rock Coast Blues" extends the vivid color of the San Francisco coast while exemplifying the band's ability for extremely tight performances. The following "Magoo" which ends side 1 is a perfect track in every way -- the band incorporates the sound of thunderstorms which emphasis the dramatic cymbal rolls and melodic guitars, then suddenly Joe's voice explodes and echos across the sky -- a most incredible, ripping, deeply spiritual song, matching again the level of "Who Am I" but this time Joe talks in a second-person perspective to his audience, undeniably rare in rock music. The song builds to a startling crescendo, echoing "life before death" and "stay as you are," and just when you think it's time to get up and flip the album, the band surprises you -- there's more! An extremely and purposefully contemplative guitar trio again builds with the band to a crescendo which suddenly ends not in the darkness of before but on a somewhat more mysterious note.

Upon flipping the album side, it becomes clear that the band learned from Shakespeare that you can't be so serious for long -- and indeed, if the existential beauty that ends the first part of the album had immediately continued, it may have felt as if the band was trying too hard. Not the case! Here, McDonald again finds a new mood to swing into, with a love song written to his ex-lover Janis Joplin. "Into my life on waves of electrical sound," and you can immediately feel the electrical waves flowing through the Fish's music and feel the intensity of McDonald's emotions. "Janis" epitomizes the purity which most love songs lack, but if you listen closely, you may be surprised that it's not as happy as it first seems. 

After taking an entire album side worth of music's break from satire, the band comes in with "The Bomb Song" as the introduction to the much deeper-rooted "Thought Dream" -- here again the band demonstrates that while they are capable of heavy criticism, their propensity for meaningful sound is just as strong. After a reprise of the H-bomb "prayer," the band sings a radio ad-style ode to LSD. This is where the difference between the band's first album, Electric Music, and this sophomore work becomes most obvious to me. While the first record gives a wink and a whisper, here the band has lost their fears and anxieties and clearly embraced their audience, which leads both to something more brutal (as with the title track) but more honest, and thus more timeless. "The Acid Commercial" has been the first track on my 12-hour playlist ever since I first made it.

"Thursday" is next, which is the last vocal song on the album; it's a love song that is perhaps a remembrance of "Janis" but is more likely meant to show the concept of forward motion through time and the evolution of personal state through the apparent relationship contrast. After a final word, the band manages to find an influence they still haven't cited in their dictionary and goes into "Eastern Jam," which is exactly as it says, a jam over a simple I / bVII chord progression, which is surprisingly the furthest thing from boring, as the band maintains the concept of motion while growing to an unknown goal, but for some reason steps out of the way for what will be the album's closer.

The album ends with "Colors For Susan," another contemplative instrumental which brings back the motif of color and here combines it with a wide range of chordal resolutions in various unpredictable fashions. This track to me has always seemed like ascension -- after travelling through the diverse hardships the band creates, they end it with a final coda, and it brings a resolution to the LP that probably would be least expected naively listening to the record's first track. 

I believe this album is a true masterpiece of the genre, one of the undisputed classics, and if you can take the time out of your day to sit down, listen and make it all the way through, I have no doubts that you will likely agree.

Country Joe McDonald - vocals, guitar, bells, tambourine
Barry Melton - vocals, guitar
David Cohen - guitar, organ
Bruce Barthol - bass, harmonica
Gary "Chicken" Hirsh - drums

Track Listing:
01) "The 'Fish' Cheer & I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" -- 3:43
02) "Who Am I" -- 4:04
03) "Pat's Song" -- 5:25
04) "Rock Coast Blues" -- 3:55
05) "Magoo" -- 4:45
06) "Janis" -- 2:36
07) "The Bomb Song" -- 1:06
08) "Thought Dream" -- 5:04
09) "The Bomb Song (Reprise)" -- 0:27
10) "The Acid Commercial" -- 0:37
11) "Thursday" -- 2:41
12) "Eastern Jam" -- 4:29
13) "Colors For Susan" -- 5:58

Vinyl Condition: Mint (vintage sealed copy)
**Note: scans are from my backup copy since I didn't feel like removing the shrink on my new copy. I also have not scanned the gigantic Fish Game (wow! I still need to play this), but you should be able to find it elsewhere, whereas this sound quality is only available here ;) 

***Also, I included a (basically) raw rip of my "old" (backup) copy, you can disregard / delete this if uninterested in crackly vinyl. 

Dynamic Range: DR 13

Lineage:
– Audio-Technica AT150MLx Dual Moving-Magnet Cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Direct Drive Professional Turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– TCC TC-754 RIAA Phono Preamp (new regulated power supply, added LM7812 regulator)
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2018 (recording)
– iZotope RX 6 Audio Editor (manual declicking, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.2.2 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.3.19 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)


Enjoy, and please leave a note of thanks below so that I know my work is not in vain! :) 

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this excellent rip!
    BTW, have you been here: http://profstoned.blogspot.com/ ?

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    1. Yes, I really enjoy the profstoned site, there are some excellent rips there. I am also planning on ripping my copy of Aoxomoxoa at some point, as profstoned's transfer had some noise / groove damage that is not present on my copy.

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  2. Many thanks TPB, trully apreciated, one of the best 60's records IMHO. gnihtytterp

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  3. Many thanks for this one too - it saves me trying to repair my lp rip!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Hard to find a clean-player for this one, and there's lots of quiet sections too which doesn't make anything easier.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Louis, glad you're enjoying it! :)

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  5. Thank you Mr Poodlebites. This sounds great. Today is my first visit here. Here is a quote from the Country Joe website-
    "In 1970, Pete Seeger recorded a version of "Fixin' to Die Rag" for a 45 release. We know that at least a few advance DJ copies were produced, like the one pictured here. But something went wrong. The details are unclear, but Pete did mention once that the distributors refused to handle it. It was never released, and shortly afterward Pete left Columbia, his longtime label." And if it is OK to leave a link, you can hear it on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pi_Gwhi27k
    Wouldn't it be something to run across that rare single.
    Thank you again for all your hard work.
    steVe

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    1. Hi Steve, thanks for the comment -- glad you're enjoying the music & blog. Wow, I have never heard Pete Seeger's version of this track before! Thanks for sharing the link. It would be very cool to find that single. Another one that would be cool to pick up is this EP, which was released the year before their first LP and features unique mixes: https://www.discogs.com/Country-Joe-And-The-Fish-Country-Joe-And-The-Fish/master/968044
      Example on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlS_DopvoZc

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    2. Yes, But if you can find the 3 original EPs the price will scare you. But another forgotten gem is The Life & Times of Country Joe & The Fish. https://www.discogs.com/Country-Joe-And-The-Fish-The-Life-And-Times-Of-Country-Joe-And-The-Fish-From-Haight-Ashbury-To-Woods/release/893848
      I played the heck out of this double album. It does contain Fixin To Die and Bass Strings EP versions. Maybe more. Going from memory here,sorry. The songs on the first LP are not chronological but are arranged for a nice flow. Both sides of the second LP are live versions that at the time were not available anywhere else.May be not still.
      You probably know that the original EPs have all been collected together on a CD. I don't know if they were ever released on vinyl.
      Nice talkin' to ya,
      steVe

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  6. my fave cj album, ever since I bought it when first released,stellear job on the blog and album, and a belated thanks for freak out, the first double album I ever bought, I still remember the heft of all that cardboard, it now sounds better than on my original lenco with orthophone, and 2 x 15 watt radio shack realistic amp....not to toot my ]\own horn but on my blog there are goodies you may like, I buy frequently cds in Tokyo like the original levitt and McClure album, which is a must have

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I remember when I first heard "Freak Out!" back in my early school days, "Brain Police" was a real brain-melter, I'd never heard ANYTHING like that before … Zappa surely was a one-of-a-kind genius!

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  7. Thank you tpb!
    I found your blog only recently and just last night downloaded the I feel like I'm Fixin' album to CD. I have the album but hearing your rip is amazing. I felt like I was hearing it for the first time! They don't need to make a new version of this album. Yours is the definitive version. I will treasure this one. Now off to hear the freak Out album...

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    1. Thanks for your kind words! This is a great one...

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  8. I will freely admit I've never been able to get into this band, but your post inspired me to give them another shot.

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  9. Always thought this was a disappointment after the wonders of their first. Felt as if the band had used all their best songs on Electric Music. I bought both CD's 2013 remasters and thought they were a vast improvement on the originals with vivid bass and drums and much improved sound overall. I have to say you have worked wonders with both records, especially Fixin' to Die and I take my hat off to you!

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    1. This was the first CJFish record I ever heard and so it has a special place in my heart. I love Electric Music too but always thought this sophomore effort worked together better as a cohesive unit.

      The recent CD remaster would've been perfect if they would've just done a flat transfer from the tape (and somehow fixed all the extra tape dropouts), but those CDs are just too darn loud!

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  10. Found your site via the link from profstoned. I'm really looking forward to hearing of the treasures you have uploaded here. I just listened to your take on Love's Four Sail and loved it. Moving onto this. Thanks for all the effort you put into it.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. It is quite the honor to be linked on the good Prof's blog. His blog was half the reason I wanted to start ripping myself.

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  11. This is one of my favorite albums, blew my mind when I was a teen -- thank you TPB!

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    1. Yep, it blew my mind in those days too... And years later I still rank it as a personal favorite. Thanks for the comment man, rock on!

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  12. Love electric music LP, be interesting to hear this, thanx 4 sharing :)

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