The Story of Moby Grape’s Debut Album
Of the many bands to emerge from the San Francisco area in the mid-'60s, the one that kind of got lost in the shuffle was Moby Grape, whose self-titled debut is an absolute classic of the era.
In the mid-'60s, there were many places one could refer to as mecca for the youth culture of the rock and roll world. Los Angeles had its own vibe, as did London. But the city that is most pegged as the go-to city of the era, was, of course, San Francisco. Before the cattle call for flower-haired trend followers bloomed into disaster, San Francisco was utterly unique.
With a youth culture built on the blocks left behind from the Beat generation, San Francisco's musicians embraced the roots of American music and planted them in lysergic soil. Blues, folk and country merged head-on with the influence of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to become the "San Francisco Sound." That would include everything from Sly Stone to the Beau Brummels to Big Brother & the Holding Company. In other words, a wide selection on the menu.
Skip Spence made the rounds on the scene. He started his musical path with a brief stint as a guitarist for the great Quicksilver Messenger Service before taking the job as the drummer for Jefferson Airplane, staying long enough to record their classic debut, "Takes Off." He soon found himself finding a new home in Moby Grape as a guitarist and songwriter. In many ways, the debut album from Moby Grape has more in common with L.A. bands like Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Love than the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. Short, catchy, aggressive songs built around jagged guitars and pounding drums that were a couple miles away from the Acid Test soundtracks of the Dead. Moby Grape served up pop with a punch, while still maintaining that certain San Francisco something in the mix.
Their self-titled debut was released on June 6, 1967. Songs like "Hey Grandma," "Fall on You," "Indifference" and the classic "Omaha" all should have been hits. A curious note on the Moby Grape album is that 10 of the songs from the album were actually released on a series of 45 RPM records. This promotional stunt failed horribly, with only "Omaha" charting on the Billboard Hot 100. This was an odd move at the time, especially when the album was coming into its own as the preferred way of listening.
An appearance at the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival later that month failed to set their career on fire the way it did for many others. Moby Grape would go on to record four more albums, but none would ever capture that spirit found on their debut. Guitarist Skip Spence left the band after two years to record his solo album Oar which is an acid casualty masterpiece of sorts, always roping in comparisons with Syd Barrett's solo LPs for its fragile weirdness.
Over the years, the praises, and songs, of Moby Grape have been sung by everyone from R.E.M. and the Black Crowes to the Move and Robert Plant, who has continually cited them as a big influence.
See Moby Grape and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '60s