[Review] The Nice: The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (1968)

You can literally hear psychedelic rock morph into progressive rock on this classic debut from The Nice.

Kronomyth 1.0: A progodelic penny for your thoughts.

Whether or not what we’re witnessing here is the dawn of prog, The Nice certainly cast psychedelic music in a new light on their debut album. Recorded in August 1967, just as Pink Floyd released their first album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack wasn’t issued until March 1968 yet, even so, it was light years ahead of most of their contemporaries. The quasi-classical arrangements from Keith Emerson, the surreal and frequently atonal guitar work of David O’List, the absurd lyrics from Lee Jackson and aggressive drumming of Brian Davison sounded like psychedelic rock on really good drugs.

It is an imperfect album, finding its perfect expression in the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. At least in my opinion. Tantalising Maggie, for example, would be improved on “Jeremy Bender” and “The Sheriff,” while both Rondo and War and Peace feel like dry runs for ELP. That’s not meant to take away from what The Nice achieve here. Flower King of Flies, Bonnie K and especially The Cry of Eugene are great songs that stand on their own. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, selected as the single, is also a nice psychedelic rock number, sounding like a cross between The Beach Boys and The Mothers. And then there is the truly transcendentally strange Dawn featuring the whispers of a madman.

Emerson’s keyboards carry the album about half the time. O’List is a unique guitarist, even stranger than Syd Barrett, but he’s too far out for me. You could probably make a separate study just of his guitar on this album. And if Davison and Jackson fall short of Carl Palmer and Greg Lake, who doesn’t? I do think, however, that the album could have benefited immensely from an outside producer. Maybe there’s a good remix/remaster of this, but I haven’t heard it yet.

My final thoughts on the album are that it’s remarkably ambitious, almost frighteningly inventive, but partially ineffective because of muffled production and musicians who frankly didn’t fit together as seamlessly as they might. Definitely worth a listen for prog fans and worthy of its own little slice of immortality for the role it played in developing and defining the field of progressive rock.

Original elpee version

A1. Flower King of Flies (Lee Jackson/Keith Emerson) (3:56)
A2. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (Keith Emerson/David O’List) (2:47)
A3. Bonnie K (Lee Jackson/David O’List) (3:22)
A4. Rondo (Emerlist Davjack) (8:25)
B1. War and Peace (Emerlist Davjack) (5:13)
B2. Tantalising Maggie (Lee Jackson/Keith Emerson) (4:30)
B3. Dawn (Keith Emerson/Lee Jackson/Brian Davison) (5:07)
B4. The Cry of Eugene (Lee Jackson/David O’List/Keith Emerson) (4:30)

2CD reissue bonus tracks
A9. Promo 7” Sampler for Album
A10. Azrial (Angel of Death)
A11. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (mono single)
A12. The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon
A13. America/Second Amendment
B1. Flower King of Flies (alt. Autumn 67 version/mix)
B2. Bonnie K (alt. Autumn 67 version)
B3. Dawn (alt. Autumn 67 version)
B4. Tantalising Maggie (alternative version)
B5. The Cry of Eugene (alt. Autumn 67 version)
B6. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (alt. Autumn 67 version)
B7. Daddy, Where Did I Come From? (alternate version)
B8. America/Second Amendment (alternative stereo version)
BBC Sessions
B9. Sombrero Sam
B10. Get to You
B11. The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon
B12. Brandenburger
B13. Little Arabella (and Sorcery)

The Players

Brian Davison (drums, tubular bells, tymps), Keith Emerson (organ, piano, harpsichord, vocals), Lee Jackson (bass, guitar, vocals, tymps), David O’List (guitar, trumpet, flute, vocals). Arranged and produced by Emerlist Davjack.

The Pictures

Cover design by Derek Burton.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on March 1, 1968 in the UK (Immediate, IMLP/IMSP 016) and the US (Immediate, Z12 52004).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in Canada (Daffodil, SBA 16037) with unique cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (Columbia Special Products, P11633).
  3. Re-issued on re-sequenced elpee in 1976 in the UK (Charly/Immediate, CR 300021) with different cover and track order (A2/A1/A3/A4/B4/B1/B2/B3).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1992 in the US (Sony, AK/AT 52425).
  5. Re-released on expanded 2CD in 2003 in Europe (Castle, CMQDD790) with 18 bonus tracks.
The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack reissue
Charly CR 300021 album cover

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