Saturday, January 31, 2015

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 021: Kyrie Eleison by The Electric Prunes

How much drugs were people taking during the late 60s? Enough that someone thought combining the setting of a Gregorian chanted Latin mass with the freakout psychedelia of the Electric Prunes was just what the public was clamoring for, that’s how much. After the group’s previous album, “Underground,” had failed to yield a hit, arranger David Axelrod secured the rights to the Prunes’ name and corralled the band, along with a few members of The Collectors, into recording his experimental hybrid of rock and religious material.

The Rolling Stone review of the album from 1968 was fairly representative of the reception which “Mass in F Minor” received from the critics.

“The whole idea of doing a rock mass is slightly cockeyed – it would have to be the product of a mind well-seasoned in the pretensions of Stan Kenton (jazz’s resident Wagnerian) or Don Ellis. In any case the plague is upon us, and the unfortunate perpetrators of this assault on the ears are the Electric Prunes, a rather unexceptional group to say the least… Whenever the Prunes sing, a falsetto-tinged, off tune, weak voiced, entirely repugnant howl emanates from the group… The instrumental work of the rest of the album is an uncontrolled feedback bag… such vaudevillian aspects of the record almost make it worth owning as an unintended joke.”

Despite it’s critical drubbing, however, “Mass in F Minor” does have its fans, particularly the opening track, “Kyrie Eleison,” which was featured prominently in the quintessential 60’s road-trip film, “Easy Rider.” As noted in the old Catholic Encyclopedia…

“Kyrie Eleison (Greek for "Lord have mercy"; the Latin transliteration supposes a pronunciation as in Modern Greek) is a very old, even pre-Christian, expression used constantly in all Christian liturgies. Arrian quotes it in the second century: "Invoking God we say Kyrie Eleison" (Diatrib√¶ Epicteti, II, 7). A more obvious precedent for Christian use was the occurrence of the same formula in the Old Testament (Psalm 4:2, 6:3, 9:14, 25:11, 121:3; Isaiah 33:2; Tobit 8:10; etc., in the Septuagint). In these places it seems already to be a quasi-liturgical exclamation. So also in the New Testament the form occurs repeatedly (Matthew 9:27, 20:30, 15:22; Mark 10:47; Luke 16:24, 17:13).”

We still open the mass with the Kyrie to this day. Of course, Axelrod’s arrangement of it is certainly nothing you’d actually want to hear while at church, but if you’re in the mood for a little hippie style worship while driving around, the track is fairly palatable.

And if nothing else, it at least shows that the celebration of the mystery of God isn’t limited to any one form. As liner note maestro Stan Cornyn notes on the back cover “Mass in F Minor,” “Christen worship has been graven on granite and vested in shining robes and danced in jungles and shared on lake shores and sung in foxholes and tacked on cathedral doors and played to jazz and performed on Broadway and droned in cathedrals. Christian worship has forms as many as the creative energies of man. ‘The Mass in F Minor’ is one of these.”

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth, announce his salvation, day after day. Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; to be feared above all gods.” (1 Chronicles 16:23-25, NABRE)

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