Arguably Gong’s greatest album, You marked the culmination of both the Radio Gnome Trilogy, and of singer, guitarist and visionary Daevid Allen’s first tenure with the band. The Radio Gnome series, which was Allen’s brainchild, cumulatively told a mythological parable that was as ingenious as it was ludicrously comic.
1973’s Flying Teapot album opened the tale with lead character Zero The Hero searching for meaning in the physical world, helped in his task by The Pot Head Pixies from Planet Gong. Angel’s Egg, released later the same year, found a drug-induced Zero exploring the planet. In the process he discovers the secret of flying teapots, hangs out with space prostitutes and uncovers a grand plan to activate everyone’s third eye via a global concert of freaks.
Listen to You on Spotify.
Soundtracking this madcap tale was an amalgamation of jazz and prog dubbed “space-rock”. With superb musicianship prevalent throughout, it was a style characterised by synth wizard Tim Blake’s atmospheric swirls, Steve Hillage’s virtuoso guitar work, Didier Malherbe’s saxophone skronks, the tight rhythms of bassist Mike Howlett and drummer Pierre Moerlen, and Gilli Smyth’s distinctive “space whispers”.
You, the final instalment in the series, was recorded at Manor Studios, Oxfordshire, in the summer of 1974, and released that October. It finds our hero returned from his trip to Planet Gong; as he attempts to bring his vision to life, he builds temples and organises a Feast Of Freaks. Ultimately missing out on the third-eye revelation, Zero is forced to spend his life spinning around the wheel of births and deaths.
Musically, the album kicks off with a series of manically creative, sonically diverse skits, with spoken-word opener ‘Thoughts For Naught’ setting a suitably exotic and ethereal tone. The trad-jazz of ‘A PHP’s Advice’ segues into the religious chants and synth atmospherics of ‘Magick Mother Invocation’. The fourth track, the majestic ‘Master Builder’, is the first song proper, building a head of steam with flute and tribal drums before some wild saxophone freak-outs and axe shreds from Didier Malherbe and Steve Hillage, respectively. The beautiful, proto-ambient instrumental ‘A Sprinkling Of Clouds’ follows, before the hypnotically funky ‘Isle Of Everywhere’. Closer ‘You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever’ found them at their most manically creative, with Mike Howlett’s bass grooves underpinning Daevid Allen’s space-jazz scats.
Following the album’s release, husband and wife Allen and Smyth departed the band. As conservatoire-trained drummer Pierre Moerlin took over the creative reigns, Gong went on to pursue a more pronouncedly jazz-rock direction, beginning with 1977’s follow up, Shamal.
The Love From Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973-75 box set is out now. Pre-order it here.