Skip Spence is one of those deep rock legends, known mostly to rock history fans. He borders in between popular '60s psychedelia and later introverted folk music that may qualify as 'outsider music'. Spence came to some fame as one of the many members of Jefferson Airplane, and had further success as a lead member of Moby Grape for a short while. Both groups were at the forefront of the San Francisco '60s psychedelic rock genre.
After Moby Grape, Spence had some tough battles with drugs (he reportedly attacked a band member with an axe while on LSD) and mental illness (after leaving Moby Grape in 1968 he ended up in a psychiatric ward in New York). While in the hospital, he wrote all the songs that would end up on his solo masterpiece, Oar
. Upon his release, he went to Nashville, and recorded all the songs in just a few days, playing all the instruments himself. Many years later, a re-release of the gorgeous album included some bonus tracks, among them a strange piece called "Furry Heroine (Halo of Gold)."
Thirty years later, a tribute album called More Oar
was organized. The tracks on it are arranged in the same sequence as Oar
, and were performed by such artists as Robert Plant and Tom Waits (the two most famous participants). Beck tackled "Halo Of Gold."
Spence's original version of the song sounds like a folk song played on bass, and has a very unique feel. His take does feel like a demo, unfinished, just a first take, and in many ways, Beck jumped on it and finished it off for Skip.
Beck's cover of "Halo of Gold" includes a great bassline from Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and a beautiful keyboard riff somewhat similar to the one on "Jack-ass
." (Also listen out for the loud belch in the background!)
I am not going to discuss the lyrics too much because this is a Beck website and he did not write them. It's pretty easy to see why Beck would be attracted to Spence though. Spence's songs and lyrics have lots of striking images, wordplay, and musical references. In "Halo of Gold" alone, you've got an allusion to Johnny Cash, funky music, a rock chorus, sexy lyrics like "she's got a body of sixteen, or seventeen" and bluesy lyrics like "Have you got a fine place to slip to when you're feeling down?" The eclecticism and songwriting talent are surely what Beck would admire in Spence.
(And, of course, ten years after this song was covered, Beck unleashed his Record Club project, where he and some friends would go into the studio and cover an album in its entirety in one day. For one of these, he and Wilco did Oar
! However, they did not include "Halo Of Gold," since it was not part of the original album, but an outtake.)