As '60s psychedelics go, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown was everything you'd hope a bad trip could be -- a crazy world indeed, and a nightmarish one, full of fires and spells and spontaneous apples -- and 30-plus years on, it retains that potency, a prime-time pop star with his head ablaze, insisting that he -- and not Mick "Sympathy for the So-Called Devil" Jagger -- was the real God of Hellfire. Considering the sheer enormity of the Crazy World's one hit, 1968's "Fire," the band's subsequent obscurity is baffling. Certainly their follow-up singles were strong enough, and their eponymous debut album remains one of the classics of the era. Neither was there any problem with exposure; forget the BBC radio session which opens this album with five startling performances, British TV viewers got Brown everywhere they looked, including -- the source for the two tracks which close this collection -- the Tom Jones show! If the band's failure remains mystifying, however, the sheer magic of their music is unassailable. The official RetroActive label remastering of the band's entire studio output includes two of the tracks here, the B-sides "What's Happening" and "Devil's Grip," but such duplication in no ways prevents this from standing as an unimpeachable companion volume. Rougher in execution than the records, the opening BBC session captures the Crazies in a playful ("Child of My Kingdom" boasts ragtime piano and whistling!) but also committed mood, with "Come and Buy" running fairy rings round its studio counterpart, in terms of sinister passion, at least. Later, "You Don't Know" finally gives us the chance to hear Brown's first-ever recording, a limited-edition flexi cut while he was still at college in 1965, and sold for student charity. It's a raw, and not very well recorded, rewrite of "Fever," but it proves Brown's voice was always one of the most remarkable around. Even in youthful R&B shouter mode, you can hear the hellfire trying to escape. Demos from 1969-70 are both stronger and a lot more enjoyable than much of what has escaped elsewhere from this particular period -- Brown was getting heavily into experimental pastures following the Crazy World's dissolution, but these tracks (plus the 1971 BBC session "Sunrise") prove he could still cut a rocking rug when he wanted to. And, finally, the aforementioned pair from the Tom Jones television show take us back to where we came in, with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown threatening to become the hottest thing around, and even MOR pop programmers unable to resist their incendiary power. One listen to this astonishing album, and neither will you.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson