Requiem For A Harlequin: David Allan Coe’s 1973 Psychedelic, Proto-Rap, concept album, about the asphalt jungle and civil rights movement

What’s that you say? David Allan Coe preached racial harmony and recorded a Psychedelic Proto-Hip-Hop album? Oh, yes he did, and if it were a wallet pulled from a bag, you could damn well bet that it’s the one that says, “bad motherfucker”.

Requiem For A Harlequin, Coe’s 1973 sophomore release, is a bizarre melange of musical influences, tied together by his socio-political narrative describing the plight of the downtrodden and the impending cultural shift which is “not a war of black and white, but a war of young and old”. His proclamation that he is a “racial radical”, whose “skin is white, eyes are blue, but there’s black blood in my soul”, may come as a surprise, as it did to me, to those familiar with his later “underground” albums, whose racist lyrical content might earn him the sobriquet, “Hillbilly Skrewdriver”. Wishing only to acknowledge, and not disseminate, such recordings any further, I will say that here he sounds earnest when wishing people to “make brotherly love your emphatic slogan”.

For all it’s messages of hope, Requiem paints a bleak picture of the realities of life “as a statistic of the asphalt jungle, where the cesspools of humanity drain”, populated with pimps and pushers, thieves and addicts, and inequality of every stripe, in a world governed by “the dark tales your fathers and grandfathers indoctrinated you with”. In fact, Coe wants to start humanity anew: “Do not conform to society’s rules. Don’t be a puppet no more. Live for tomorrow and forget yesterday”. Lyrically it’s an amalgam of Hippie ideology, and street knowledge akin to a white version of Iceberg Slim, or Lightnin’ Rod, whose legendary albums are considered the antecedents of Hip-Hop , and share much in common with Requiem.

Okay, so you say, “yeah, that sounds interesting lyrically, but what about the music, man?!”. Ah, yes, the music (*smile takes over face). Holy shit, Requiem travels through a bevy of popular contemporary genres (and again, contributes to another yet to be coined), including Blues, Folk, Rock, Gospel, Soul, Funk, even a trippy echoed out flute/organ number (and oddly, no Country, really), and throws in wailing, feedback laden, Psychedelic guitar, for that perfect Exploitation sound. Did you ever think that a David Allan Coe record would be a beat digger’s manna? Probably not, but just listen to him exclaim, “The beating drums, the guitar craze and the new sounds called Soul. Hey! Yeah! Well, alright!”, as that blown out guitar, funky break and groovin’ organ take you straight to Funk nirvana.

What more can I say? This album is just one surprise after another, and at 27 minutes, much too short. Unfortunately, there has never been a reissue, and in my decade plus of searching (and, no, I can’t afford an Ebay copy, on the rare occasion that one surfaces) it remains the only DAC record which I have not stumbled upon. His first record, Penitentiary Blues, released on the same label, SSS, three years prior, is significantly more common. Even if I find someone ditching their David Allan Coellection, the odds of this being in there, are slim at best. Well, until my day comes, I will content myself with the benefits of the digital age, and stream away. I recommend you do the same.

The aforementioned debut also has some monsters, and has been referred to as “Voodoo Blues”, most appropriately for his Screamin’ Jay rip off, Monkey David Wine.


2 responses to “Requiem For A Harlequin: David Allan Coe’s 1973 Psychedelic, Proto-Rap, concept album, about the asphalt jungle and civil rights movement

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