The only people who seem to have forgotten this one are radio programmers.
Nobody who was listening to the radio in 1968 will ever forget “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE!!!” jumping out of the speakers. It should come as no great surprise that Arthur Brown was as crazy and psychotic as his signature song, at least on stage. If your parents hated this song, which is likely, they would have been left speechless by the performance video, which we’ll watch in a moment.
Arthur Brown was born in England in 1942, and bounced around a number of bands in the 60’s. After a spell in Paris, he returned to the UK and became a member of a ska group called The Ramong Sound. After he left that group, they adopted an American-style soul sound and became the Foundations. Yes, the “Build Me Up, Buttercup” group. He then formed The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1967 and soon became known for his outrageous stage show which, along with his face makeup, would be echoed by such artists as Alice Cooper, Kiss, Marilyn Manson, and Insane Clown Posse. If he wasn’t the craziest one-hit wonder ever, I don’t know who could have surpassed him. His powerful singing voice had a four-octave range, which came in handy for the screaming.
The band’s self-titled album was released in 1968 and zoomed to the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic. There was a strong connection with The Who – the producer was their manager Kit Lambert, the associate producer was none other than Pete Townshend, and it was released on The Who’s label, Track Records, in the UK (it was on Atlantic in the States). The album made #7 in the U.S., and the single, “Fire,” was #1 in the UK and Canada, #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and made the top ten in much of Europe. The song is unique among psychedelic rock in that it has no guitar or bass guitar; it’s carried by Vincent Crane’s Hammond organ and a horn section. Brown spent 1968 and ’69 touring, including a tour with Jimi Hendrix that he was kicked off for nearly setting the stage on fire. Hey, he WAS the god of hellfire…
Brown never had another hit single or top album; probably fitting for someone so original. He toured America again in 1969 with a new drummer – Carl Palmer, who later became one third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He and Crane left the band in mid-1969, and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was no more. He formed a new band, Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, which released three albums in the 70’s. He had a small but memorable role as “The Priest” in the 1975 film version of “Tommy,” and has continued recording right up to this day – his last album was released in 2013.
So let’s watch The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in their heyday on the British show “Top of the Pops.” I’m not happy that the ending of the song is cut off, but the clip is priceless. Let’s roll it!
Wow. That was shock rock before the term was invented. I can almost understand why oldies and classic rock radio don’t touch this one in spite of the fact that it was a huge hit. They’re programming to females, and the only woman I’ve ever known who liked this song was scary, too. (She was also a fan of Mr. Bungle. I’m pretty sure she would have killed me in my sleep.)
All right, join me again next time for another journey into radio’s scrap heap. It’ll make you say “oh, wow!” Really.