In Britain, Beat poetry and music meant one Albert Hall concert of duffle coats, poetry readings and jazz. In America, it meant The Fugs: hairy before hair became an issue, irreverent to the point of blasphemy, an outrage against decency. When even Frank Zappa disdains a band as "smut rock", you know they're really pushing it. But, as this three-CD set of their four Reprise albums proves, that wasn't their only achievement. Centred on the Beat poets Ed Sanders, Ken Weaver and Tuli Kupferberg, The Fugs plied a largely folk-rock course that also drew broadly on American popular music. Like Zappa's Mothers, they enjoyed subversive pastiches of pop, psychedelia, blues, show tunes and doowop (as on "Wet Dream", one of many sexual-liberation anthems), but also incorporated Eastern chants and drones, especially when Allen Ginsberg dropped by with his finger-cymbals. Embracing drug culture, poetry (a beautiful setting of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"), classics and social issues, theirs was a broad church of rebellious themes whose folksy manner has been dilutely echoed in the nu-folk movement. Minus the overt sex and politics, of course.
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