Before there was an Alice Cooper, there was an Arthur Brown. Cooper may have made the genre of shock rock popular, but it was Brown who was one of the pioneers. There were others before Brown, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch, to name two. But it was Arthur Brown who has been credited by many musicians as the artist that gave them the inspiration.
Arthur Brown is an English singer, who performed elaborate and innovative stage performances, and is considered one of the pioneers of the shock rock genre. It was not enough for Brown to sing his songs, he had to perform them visually, giving the audience a feeling of being involved in the music, giving them something to remember, more than just something to hear, but to see and feel.
Arthur Brown did not have much personal commercial success, however there were some interesting connections that he had with some other famous musicians of the day. Brown’s debut album in 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, was produced by The Who’s manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend, The Who’s legendary guitarist and songwriter.
Brown got himself booted from a tour with Jimi Hendrix, due to his preoccupation with fire, which was an important part of both his stage act, and the regularly recurring theme of his debut album. A mainstay of Brown’s stage performances was his burning helmet, which caused him to be perpetually in harm’s way, not only on his person, but also on the stages and venues in which he performed.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown has a recurring theme of fire and hell, which makes it kind of creepy for me. I remember hearing Brown opening the song Fire by exclaiming “I am the god of hellfire,” and subsequently having the bejesus scared out of me. Of course, as I got older, I recognised this as a means of artistic expression, and a bit of fun, but nonetheless, the theme of darkness and fire and hell permeate throughout parts of the record.
Fire was a big hit back in 1968, reaching number one in The United Kingdom and Canada, and eventually reaching number two in The States and charted in many other countries as well. It sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc.
The song Fire is considered a psychedelic song, but it did not feature that psychedelic guitar sound and it’s lack of bass made it a bit different than many of the other hits during the psychedelic sixties. There was a strong presences of the organ, which is associated with the psychedelic sound. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was Brown’s one and only record during the sixties, with Fire being his only hit and most recognisable song.
When discussing and contemplating the career of Arthur Brown, he is most remembered for his one hit song, and the influential stage performances that he made popular. The influence was far reaching, and as mentioned earlier, many musicians claimed Brown as an artist to emulate, including KISS, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, as well as others. What he lacked in personal success and acclaim, he certainly passed on to others. A good, if not strange record.