Each week, we dig in the crates to tell you about a “lost” or classic album we think you should hear. This week’s covers Goodthunder's self-titled debut.
The music industry was a towering, indestructible beast in the early 1970s, and major labels were free to gobble up as many fresh-faced rock bands as they pleased – signing them to one-album deals, booting them in the recording studio with a well-known producer, hoping their investment generated a hit or two, and spitting out the fledgling acts that didn't. Goodthunder fell into the latter category. A heavy prog-psych quintet from Los Angeles, they were signed by Elektra Records and linked up with producer Paul A. Rothchild (The Doors, Janis Joplin) for their lone, self-titled 1972 LP. When the results failed to spark widespread interest, they were rejected and forgotten – another casualty to the era's churn-and-burn mentality.
But in retrospect, we shouldn't complain about the 1970s rock machine – because it yielded a freedom of experimentation. Back when record execs were fueled by fat wallets and endless amounts of blow, the industry took risks on weird, non-commercial acts that may have otherwise withered away in garages. Goodthunder deserved their shot: The band's eight tracks touch on every prevalent form of rock in 1972 – from formative metal (David Hanson's stinging electric guitar solos) to symphonic-prog (Wayne Cook's ornate keyboard arrangements, complex shifts in tempo and structure) to psych and folk.
Occasionally the band hits all those marks at once: "I Can't Get Thru to You" layers Close to the Edge church organ, harmonized Allman Brothers Band guitar riffs, and cheeky, early Mothers of Invention vocals – a combination that looks bizarre on paper but sounds seamless. "Run into the street, my feet don't understand me / Just until I find the empty hallway leading," barks frontman James Cahoon Lindsay, swept up in the giddy sonic collage. (The muscular, bare-bones engineering comes courtesy of one one Fritz Richmond, a journeyman musician – once described as "the undisputed king and reigned world champion of the jug and washtub bass" – who helped record albums The Doors, Warren Zevon, and Jackson Browne.)
Goodthunder's most freewheeling song structures recall the album cover's hallucinatory lion, crashing through a hall of mirrors: The dynamic "For a Breath" opens in borderline-metal territory, shifting midway through to a jazz-funk groove then climaxing with a more psychedelic take on its initial theme. "P.O.W." strongly recalls Wishbone Ash's bewitching, bluesy prog circa Argus – an album that, perhaps coincidentally, came out the same year.
A whole LP at that pace would make Goodthunder not only a Lost Classic but a Lost Masterpiece, but other tracks find the band straining for an AOR hit – with slightly generic results. Lead single "Sentries" peaks after its random opening blast of carnival calliope, settling for a faceless blues-rock chug, peppered with lyrics like, "You've gotta dance 'til you lose your mind." While "Rollin' Up My Mind" carves out a serviceable blues-psych Hammond organ atmosphere, Lindsay spoils the mood by adopting a Southern rock vocal approach – part UFO Club, part honky tonk.
But for all its inconsistencies, Goodthunder displays a wide-reaching craftsmanship rare in obscure '70s rock. And it's tantalizing to consider what could have happened with a couple more albums under their collective belt. After their one-shot release, some of the band members regrouped for the 1976 prog-pop project Daddy Warbucks, before they all linked up (minus Lindsay) to form hard-rock/AOR groups L.A. Jets and 1994. But even in this revamped style, the songs suffered the same eventual fate.
These days, it's hard to tell Goodthunder even existed. The only band member with a noteworthy track record is keyboardist Wayne Cook, who subsequently played with both Steppenwolf and soft-rock one-hit-wonder Player (the guys responsible for 1977 chart-topper "Baby Come Back"). Biographical information on the quintet is basically non-existent, and very few copies of Goodthunder are floating around on Discogs – though you can find one for a reasonable rate. (I bought my sealed copy for five bucks at a collectibles mall, rolling the dice based on the bad-ass cover.)
But a few Goodthunder diehards appear to be among us. Wounded Bird Records reissued the album on CD in 2009, delighting a handful of Amazon commenters. And "P.O.W." was featured on 2007 five-CD box set Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records: 1963-1973 – an opportunity for completists to discover the band by accident. No matter the method – whether YouTube or flea market or your hippie uncle's basement record collection – Goodthunder is worth the hunt.
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