Is it heresy to suggest that this is not only one of the best Velvets covers but arguably a better version than the original? Especially when you learn that it was recorded in a tent. By a bunch of GIs. In the middle of the jungle in Vietnam.
The Electrical Banana were conscripts and their story is recorded in the singer and guitarist Dean Ellis Kohler’s memoir Rock’n’Roll Soldier.
I haven’t read it but I’d like to. And I’m now working my way through the album from which this is taken – the splendidly titled Aliens, Psychos & Wild Things: Rare & Unissued Virginia Garage 1964-1967.
Impressively, it stretches to four volumes: Virginia must have been a groovy place in the mid-Sixties.
This is what Kohler says about it in his memoir: “It was 1966. I was a year out of high school and had three things on my mind. Girls. Cars. And, especially, my rock band, the Satellites. We’d just landed a recording contract. Soon, the whole world would be listening to my songs on the radio. And then my draft notice arrived.
“Before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to family and friends and boarding a train bound for basic training. I became part of a brand new military police unit, the Army’s 127th MP Company, created especially for duty in war-torn Vietnam.
“It was the beginning of a journey that would take me to places I never could have fathomed, to see and do things I never could have imagined. But even in Nam, I couldn’t give up my rock star dreams. I improvised some instruments and equipment, taught a few fellow MPs to play, and formed my own touring rock band right there in the combat zone – all without missing a single patrol.
“What started as a lark, though, ultimately became a lifeline for me and the band, as well as the thousands of combat-weary troops we played for. One moment we were going toe to toe with the Vietcong. The next we were crossing the deadly An Khe Pass to play “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” for a crowd of cheering GIs.
If you can believe it, we even cut a record there in the jungle, crafting a makeshift sound studio on a war-zone mountainside. By forming the band – we called it the Electrical Banana, after a line in a Donovan song – the guys and I created our own bit of order out of the chaos of Vietnam, bringing some sense of normalcy to the surreal hell of war.”