Country Joe & the Fish

What's That Spell? Fish

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In the absence of any official documentary or compilation covering Country Joe & the Fish's peak years, this nearly two-hour unauthorized DVD assembles bits and pieces from 1967 through 1974. While it's uneven in terms of the quality and/or transfer of the original footage, as well as the content of the clips themselves, Fish fans are guaranteed to find much of interest here. First up is a half-hour documentary on "A Day in the Life of Country Joe & the Fish," made for San Francisco public TV station KQED in 1967, that's little better technique-wise than a home video. You do, however, get some scenes of the group rehearsing, as well as some fairly brief comments from all the members explaining how the band formed and what kind of musical/political stance they take. The Monterey Pop Festival footage is officially available and hence not of much value on a disc such as this, and the three songs from the Bitter End in 1968 are, unfortunately, mimed to a backing track, though the band has the good sense to comically camp it up. The best find by far on the DVD is the section of seven songs, mostly outtakes, from Woodstock, with numbers from both Country Joe McDonald's solo acoustic performance (including "Janis," "Rockin' Round the World," and "Flying High") and less satisfying, lower-fidelity footage of the full Fish. Also good: three songs (including two versions of "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag") from a 1970 episode of Playboy After Dark (!); excerpts from 1968-1970 hippie films in which the Fish have musical and acting cameos, and McDonald's solo performance of "Freedom" from a Dutch 1970 rock festival. The three songs from a 1974 German TV broadcast that end the DVD are of an almost entirely different version of the band than the Summer of Love lineup, with ex-United States of America singer Dorothy Moskowitz on keyboards and backup vocals. As there's even more Country Joe & the Fish from this period known to exist that didn't make it onto this package, the material's certainly there for a good over-the-counter Fish DVD; whether anyone will take the plunge to do it right and at such length is a very open question.