Underground Almost Greats: The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

Thirteenth Floor Elevators had some great psychedelic garage songs in the last 60s before coming apart under the dual pressures of The Law and frontman Roky Erickson going nuts.  Despite this, I don’t think they were ever really going to make it big, mainly for one reason, this guy:

Tommy Hall – electric jug vocals, songwriter

Maybe it isn’t fair to blame a band’s lack of success on the guy who put the band together and contributed lyrics.  But electric jug didn’t catch on for a reason:

I like this song.  I know, the production is pretty weak, but it’s pretty good freakout music.  Hear that pinging sound in the back?  That’s the jug.  It sounds kind of cool.  BUT NOT WHEN YOU PLAY IT ONE EVERY SONG.

UNCLE!

NO MAS!

Seriously, these are great songs, but know when to say when with the electric jug.  The other thing was that the production was crap.  It’s not really their fault, they were not a famous band working at a time when only really famous bands were getting good production quality for their records.  If you want an idea of what could have been, this is probably their best known song, You’re Gonna Miss Me, recorded in 1966:

It’s a garage classic.  But it’s not really all that listenable today.  This is Radio Birdman covering the song ten years later and utterly destroying the original:

The Thirteenth Floor Elevators broke up when Roky Erickson was sentenced to time in prison for marijuana possession and chose to go to a psychiatric hospital instead.  That might sound like a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest style dodge, but Roky was by all accounts genuinely insane, a working man’s Syd Barret.  He was held until 1972.

Unlike Syd Barret, Roky has been in and out of the public eye.  He put out a few solo albums over the years, most notably Roky Erickson and the Aliens and The Evil One.

It’s weird shit, but not terrible.

The Thirteenth Floor Elevators never really lived up to their potential, but party thanks to inclusion on the first Nuggets album, they were popular with a lot of early punk bands.  I’d say they were great, but that stupid jug puts me off.  Oh well.

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