Balthazar consults his book of numbers

I’ve been on a bit of a binge lately for psych-era Pretty Things, and so when I found a download of a selection of the songs they’d recorded for various soundtracks and the like, under the name “Electric Banana,” I was pleased to find (among some earlier, rather more pop tracks, and some later tracks adding a slight soul-funk edge) their version of “Alexander,” a song I’d long been familiar with in Plasticland’s cover version.

As anyone who’s heard Plasticland is aware, the Pretty Things were a key influence on the later band’s sound, and so it’s unsurprising that their cover is pretty faithful to the original. The main additions are the scratchy violin and mellotron intro, and the similar ending soundscape. Unfortunately, they eliminate the vocal harmonies on the chorus, and I prefer the way Wally Waller ends the melody line on that drooping ninth.

Interesting to note the different lyrics: I’m guessing Glenn Rehse and company transcribed them by ear (missing what fairly clearly is the opening line of the second verse – I suppose if the name didn’t pop out at you, it wouldn’t be obvious). Online sources render the chorus as “You’ll only kneel at the fire god”—which does not sound at all right. Rehse sings “You, loving me, loved the fire god”—while this fine band appreciation at Julian Cope’s website renders it “You…Loving me…Like a fire god…” (which would mean Liz Phair stole the concept with that line about the guy who “fucks like a volcano”…). I think (my transcription of) Rehse’s version is the best – and I’m sort of thinking, then, the song becomes an ancestor also of Eno’s “Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch”‘s (literally) burning lover.

The Pretty Things (as “Electric Banana”) “Alexander” (1969)

Plasticland “Alexander” (1983)

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