Atomic Rooster's "Devil's Answer" single.
Atomic Rooster was formed in the summer of 1969, when The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had to cease touring in the middle of their second U.S. tour because of keyboardist Vincent Crane’s mental illness. When he recovered, he and drummer Carl Palmer left the band and returned to England, the return date being June 13, 1969, the year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar. He met with ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones to discuss a collaboration. When Jones died, they recruited Nick Graham on bass and vocals. This trio of Crane, Palmer and Graham formed the first Atomic Rooster lineup. The band began playing live dates around London; their first headlining gig was opening for Deep Purple. Atomic Rooster signed with B & C Records; their first album, “Atomic Rooster”, was released in February 1970. In March 1970, they added a guitarist, John Du Cann, but just as Du Cann joined, Graham left. Du Cann took over vocal duties while Crane overdubbed bass lines with his Hammond organ. This lineup lasted until June 1970, when Palmer left to join Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He was replaced by Ric Parnell on a temporary basis and then by Paul Hammond, who joined in August 1970. This lineup recorded their second album, “Death Walks Behind You”, released in September 1970, which was also their first album to receive a U.S. release. The single “Tomorrow Night” (from “Death Walks Behind You”), reached #11 on the U.K. Singles Chart in February 1971. In June 1971, the non-album single, “Devil’s Answer” b/w “The Rock”, reached #4 in the U.K. This is today’s featured single.
“Devil’s Answer” begins with a simple melody played on Crane’s Hammond organ, soon accompanied by a crunching guitar sound achieved by Cann sliding a pick down the A string. Soon Du Cann’s guitar dominates the sound, with some horns added for musical texture. Soon we hear Du Cann’s rather abstract-sounding lyrics: “People are looking but they don’t know what to do/It’s the time of the season for the people like you/Come back tomorrow, show the scars on your face/It’s a clue to the answer we all chase”. Crane’s keyboards are never lost in the mix, and help provide the backbone of Atomic Rooster’s sound here, along with Hammond’s drums. While “Devil’s Answer” may not be the most impressive song I’ve ever heard, it’s a prime example of the salad days of progressive rock, before the genre started to devolve into a parody of itself.
Picture sleeve issued by Philips for the German release of "Devil's Answer".
The B-side, “The Rock”, begins with a drum beat from Hammond, followed by a bass line (presumably provided by Crane), soon joined by Du Cann on guitar. The song is a four and a half minute instrumental, one which provides ample opportunity for both Du Cann and Crane to shine, with relatively lengthy passages featuring Du Cann’s guitar-playing and Crane’s organ-playing respectively. Although this track is not essential listening for any but the most die-hard Atomic Rooster fan, it’s a solid track, and one which allows the band to indulge some of their jazzier inclinations. “The Rock” was included on the band’s next studio album, “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster” (though “Devil’s Answer” was not).
This single (catalog #: CB 157) was released in the United Kingdom and United States (as well as Spain and Greece) on B & C Records. There was no picture sleeve issued with this single. In France and Germany, the single was issued on Philips (with a picture sleeve, shown above). By mid-1971, Atomic Rooster added vocalist Pete French to the lineup. The new musical direction of the band did not please Du Cann and Hammond, and they left shortly after recording of the band’s third album, “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster” (1971), was complete. This album did well in the wake of “Devil’s Answer”, peaking at #18 in the U.K. The band recruited Steve Bolton to replace Du Cann on guitar, and once again Ric Parnell became the band’s drummer. Pete French left the band at the end of the year, and Crane recruited Chris Farlowe. The band switched to Dawn Records for their next album, “Made in England” (1972). The album was not as successful as its predecessor, and by the end of 1972, Bolton left the band, and was replaced by John Goodsall (a.k.a. Jonny Mandala). Their fifth album, “Nice and Greasy” (1973), was released with this lineup, and met with little success. After two years without a hit, Dawn Records dropped Atomic Rooster from its roster in 1974. At this point, Parnall, Farlowe and Mandala left the band. After one final single on Decca Records in March 1974 and a benefit concert for the RSPCA in February 1975 (in which Crane was backed by the blues band Sam Apple Pie), Crane disbanded Atomic Rooster. In 1980, Crane and Du Cann reunited, recruiting session drummer Preston Heyman to record an album called “Atomic Rooster” (1980). The album release was followed by a tour; however in October 1980 Heyman left and was replaced by Paul Hammond. This lineup lasted until 1982, when Du Cann left the band. John McCoy stepped in on bass. On the subsequent album, “Headline News” (1983), Crane played keyboards and bass and sang, Hammond played drums, and several guest musicians played guitar, including David Gilmour and Bernie Tormé. Crane once again disbanded Atomic Rooster at the end of 1983, and eventually joined Dexy’s Midnight Runners in 1985. After Dexy’s Midnight Runners disbanded in 1987, Crane and Du Cann intended to reform Atomic Rooster once again. However, Crane’s mental illness intervened and he died of an overdose of painkillers on February 14, 1989. Paul Hammond died in 1993. With Du Cann the only band member still living from the “Death Walks Behind You” lineup, another reunion seems unlikely.