Graded on a Curve: Country Joe and
The Fish,
I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-
to-Die

Pop Quiz: A hippie is anyone who’s anyone who’s ever: a) stood by the side of the road holding a sign that reads “Will Work for Tofu? b) been rushed to the hospital with tie-dye poisoning , c) emerged from the womb wearing a peace symbol, d) expressed reverence for all living things, including rocks e), kept all of their wordly possessions in a small cloth satchel beneath their Mexican poncho or f) all of the above.

If you guessed f) you’re correct, which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Country Joe and The Fish. Aside from the Grateful Dead, these furry freak brothers were perhaps the shaggiest of the bands residing in the psychedelic garden of Eden that was San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District, which would soon be packed 50 flower children per square foot and a necessary stop for tour buses filled with straights eager to gawk at the colorful animals in the face-painted zoo. (“To your left,” says your guide, “you will see trio of “trippies” smoking what they call a “twist of zoot.”)

Led by Joseph Allen “Country Joe” McDonald and Barry “The Fish” Melton, Country Joe and the Fish were a vital force in the musical culture of the time, but they haven’t aged well. The vast majority of people who weren’t around when the Age of Aquarius collided head on with the increasingly violent protests against the Vietnam War would be hard pressed to name a single one of the band’s songs, aside (perhaps) from “The Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m/Fixin’-to-Die.” I guess you could you say this puts Country Joe and the Fish in the odd position of being one-hit wonders whose one hit you’ll never hear on the radio.

The band’s best known LP is 1967’s I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die, a hodge-podge of songs that are, I’m sorry to report, nothing to write your draft board about. Unlike the Grateful Dead, whose audience would grow many thousand-folds over the years, Country Joe and The Fish have been relegated to footnote status, and this, their sophomore LP, explains why. Aside from “Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die”–which I have never once listened to except in conjunction with Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More–only the sadly truncated guitar freakout “Easter Jam” stands out.

The LP’s remaining songs are, if not bad, inconsequential. Its guitar strum and cymbal crash lend the instrumental “Colors for Julia” minor drone appeal, while the folk rocker “Who Am I” could pass for a Byrds outtake. Then there’s “Pat’s Song,” which despite its ghastly title and limpid opening has a psychedelic edge to it. As for the sloppy blues number “Rock Coast Line,” one might almost call it a garage rock song but for the fact that hippies don’t own garages.

The so-so “Thursday” goes from LSD commercial to Mama’s and Papas’ wimp folk to pretty nice instrumental in three minutes, while “Magoo” opens on an atmospheric “Riders on the Storm” note before shape-shifting into an acid-trip simulator complete with crashing surf and hallucinatory vocals. “Thought Dream” opens with a preacher type pleading “Please don’t drop that H-Bomb on me” before morphing into a mildly mesmerizing folk drone. As for “Janis,” McDonald’s broken-hearted love letter to Janis Joplin, it’s a hopelessly forgettable song that I can only hope I forget.

I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die is a relic from a lost age, and recommend only to those wondering what else was happening in the Haight while the Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company were making history. Country Joe and The Fish will forever be remembered for their galvanizing performance of “The Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die” at Woodstock, but as for this album, I guess you had to be there.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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