Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies

Joe ByrdFrom: Los Angeles, CA, USA

The American Metaphysical Circus is a 1969 psychedelic album by Joseph “Joe” Byrd. It was recorded after his departure from the band The United States of America, and featured some of the earliest recorded work in rock music utilizing extensive use of synthesizers and vocoder, along with an extended group of West Coast studio musicians Byrd named “The Field Hippies”.

The album is most noted for “The Sub-Sylvian Litanies”, which opened Side A. This three-part suite has been described as “an entire acid trip in 11 minutes”. Other album highlights include the equally psychedelic “The Elephant at the Door”, and the politically-charged “Invisible Man”, written for and aimed squarely at President Lyndon B. Johnson. Two of the more unusual tracks on the record are “Mister Fourth of July” — a ragtime tune complete with scratchy 78RPM-style effects, and “Leisure World”, featuring narration from long-time ABC voice-over and “Ghoulardi” originator Ernie Anderson in an ode to California’s first retirement mega-community.

Among the musicians featured on the record are prominent West Coast studio musicians Tom Scott and the late Ted Greene, who is credited with the album’s stellar guitar work in one of his few recorded appearances. Meyer Hirsch was a member of the Buddy Rich Big Band and is an experimental composer. Vocalist Victoria Bond has gone on to a prominent career as a classical composer, conductor and vocalist. Fred Selden, a student of Byrd’s at UCLA, joined the Don Ellis Orchestra (led by Byrd’s partner in the UCLA New Music Workshop), received a Grammy nomination, and later returned to UCLA to receive his Ph.D.

The extensive use of effects, delays, echoes, backwards vocals and other recording tricks and techniques are reminiscent of some of the experiments and work carried out by George Martin as well as Pink Floyd. Byrd in fact referenced Martin in a 2004 interview.

The album’s cult status was confirmed by its presence in the Columbia Masterworks catalog for an estimated twenty years. Byrd reported in 2002 in an interview published on and follow-up in regards to a letter filed in the infamous Napster music copyright case, that despite estimated sales of at least 100,000 units for The American Metaphysical Circus alone, he had never received a penny of royalties for either The United States of America or The American Metaphysical Circus from Sony/Columbia/CBS.

Because “The American Metaphysical Circus” offered a markedly different sound in its intense horn and woodwind arrangements and even more novel content than on the earlier “The United States of America” release, many fans of the earlier record are not as enchanted with the latter, and vice-versa. In the UK, the first United States of America was more well-known and highly regarded, in part because of the inclusion of one track on a popular Columbia sampler album, The Rock Machine Turns You On, which was not released in the United States. In the U.S. the remarkable persistence of “The American Metaphysical Circus” kept it in print for nearly twenty years in the Columbia catalog, whilst “The United States of America” was relegated to cut-out bins shortly after its 1968 release.

It has become a popular and oft-repeated misconception, with the more recent revival of interest in The United States of America, that The American Metaphysical Circus was not as popular or a commercial success, whereas factual information discussed by Byrd surrounding the Napster case and the experience of American record enthusiasts confirms exactly the opposite.

Prior to its re-release, mint vinyl copies of The American Metaphysical Circus were sold by collectors for prices sometimes in excess of $100US, and the both the original 1969 issue and 1996 CD still command premium prices on collector Web sites. Atlantis Records described the 1999 re-release as “sought after 60’s American Psych/Electronic rock classic from United States of American mainman Joseph Byrd”. Gatefold Records offered “Welcome re-issue of the 1969 followup to the United States of America album (Joe Byrd was the leader of that group). Trippy Moog and electronics noodling mixed with stunning bursts of fuzzed out guitars and acid-damaged lyrics”. The CD was reissued by the UK label Acadia in 2007. ~ Wikipedia

Joe Byrd interview 2004

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

Original LPs/EPs…

The American Metaphysical Circus – 1969
The American Metaphysical Cricus

  • Invisible Man
  • Kalyani
  • Moonsong-Pelog
  • The Elephant at the Door
  • The Sing-Along Song (Reprise)
  • You Can’t Ever Come Down