Having finished A Dylan A Day a few weeks ago, there was a request to take on A Van Der Graaf Generator A Day.

Here’s the first: AVDGGAD 01 – The Aeresol Grey Machine (1969)

Main man Peter Hammill made much of his reputation as a guitarist, so it’s a little odd that this first VDGG album is so keyboard heavy.

Lyrically, the whole album is something of a mindfuck. Here’s an almost but not quite track-by-track…

Orthenian St. is ostensibly about an averted accident on an icy road. Part I closes with a nice Neu-like repetition (yes – I know that Neu! came later) before slipping back into folk-prog. The same motorik feel comes back around at the end of part II

Running Back has some nice flute going on and studio echo that reminds me of what Jonathan King did on some of the tracks on the first Genesis recordings. Its lyrics seem to be about a relationship the narrator has returned to after trying to leave.

The much harder Into A Game has the narrator pushing a partner away who is trying to return (Now we’re into a game / And it’s all a bit strange / But familiar too / The rules never change / I know it, but do you?). Its closing features some nicely improvised jazz piano.

Now this is the place where listening to a continuous medium such as a CD (or single track video) shows up how different it was to listen to a recording with two sides. Side B opens with the title track, a 47-second music-hall takeoff reminiscent of I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper (used in A Clockwork Orange, but probably not an influence on the later VDGG track A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers). It just sounds really weird coming after Into A Game. The jarring is similar to that produced by Sergeant Peppers’ side 2 inner groove and the alarm at that follows The Wanderer on U2’s Zooropa.

vdgg-agmSide two is otherwise dedicated to the kind of lyrical mythology that prog and sub-par fantasy novels became famous/infamous for. Aquarians and Necromancer both have silliness like ‘My form is mystic, but my heart is pure / You’d better believe what I say / I am the Necromancer’, but particularly on the latter, the drumming and synth work are quite intriguing.
Octopus is a little less like that, but is still an interesting example of early prog rock.
The version of the album I found on Vevo is taken (I think) from the German reissue which closes with The People You Were Going To and Firebrand. The first of these is an odd address to another person much like Running Back. It’s more of a straight up folk rock piece than what otherwise populated side two. On the other hand, Firebrand is most definitely another one of those heavy keyboard, heavy mythology pieces of fantasy rock. The vocals are histrionic and the lyrics…well, the chorus goes like so:
“I ride an icy stallion, fire at each end
and poison at the centre;
you won’t hear my words as I scream into the darkness:
his plans are like a firebrand,
his plans are like a firebrand.”

The closing of the song makes reference to a couple of folks named Njal and Hildiglum. I had to look them up – they come out of an 10th century Icelandic saga. Much like Peter Gabriel did with The Fountain of Salmacis a couple of years later, Hammill seems to have lifted the lyrics nearly wholesale from the older text.

All in all, quite a satisfying album, though I think I’d prefer to have heard just the album either as it was released or as it was sequenced by the band. I give it ****.