Spirit / Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus – Which Labels Have the Best Sound?

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Spirit

More Psychedelic Rock

Don’t bother with the black label Epic reissues. In our experience they are consistently awful.

Yellow is the original label and orange the first reissue; both can be good.

The reviews reproduced below tell the story of the album far better than I can. If you like Pink Floyd, The Beatles (circa Revolver and Pepper), and the myriad other bands who took off in the direction of Psych Rock and Art Rock, you should find much to like here.

And if you don’t we give you your money back.

Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996

The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus was Spirit’s crowning moment and one of the era’s great underrated albums. Loosely conceptual, it housed songs that were Spirit’s prettiest (“Nature’s Way”), funkiest (“Mr. Skin”) and hippest (“Animal Zoo,” “Nothin’ to Hide”). Rather than dated, it still sounds fresh today. * * * * *

Jaime Gonzalo, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005

By 1970 southern California’s Spirit had recorded three innovative LPs, but their synthesis of rock, classical, and jazz had thus far awoken little interest. Powerful West Coast impresario Lou Adler, who had signed the band to his label Ode in 1968, abandoned them.

To top it all, a split had arisen in the camp, between Spirit’s main creative forces — guitar whiz Randy California (who had played with and learned from Jimi Hendrix when both were in the Blue Flames) and singer Jay Ferguson. California championed experiment; Ferguson was after straightforward commerciality.

Feelings could not have been worse when Spirit recorded Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. Luckily, David Briggs, who worked with Neil Young, managed to harness all the animosity into Spirit’s masterwork. The album was enriched by meaty horn arrangements (“Morning Will Come”), imaginative vocal harmonies (“Nothin’ To Hide”), and a structured approach to psychedelic studio trickery such as stereo panning and tapes run backward.

The band experimented with the then new Moog on “Love Has Found A Way” and “Space Child” and unveiled perfect rock singles in “Mr. Skin” and the funky “Animal Zoo” — still light years ahead of their time. It also spawned a classic FM single, the acoustic treat “Nature’s Way.”

After a New Year’s Eve concert at Fillmore East that year, the band split; the album finally went platinum five years later, a belated reward for the superb job done by Briggs and Spirit’s original line-up. Oh, and “Dr. Sardonicus?” It is the nickname Spirit coined for the mixing desk at the studio.

AMG Review

Although Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus has the reputation of being Spirit’s most far-out album, it actually contains the most disciplined songwriting and playing of the original lineup, cutting back on some of the drifting and offering some of their more melodic tunes. The lilting “Nature’s Way” was the most endearing FM standard on the album, which also included some of Spirit’s best songs in “Animal Zoo” and “Mr. Skin.”

Wikipedia on The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus is an album released by the psychedelic rock ensemble Spirit. Produced by David Briggs, who is best known for his work with Neil Young, and whom they chose on Young’s recommendation. The original LP was released in 1970 by Epic shortly before the original group disbanded.

This diverse yet cohesive effort is a sci-fi-based, loose concept album. The album’s second song is the key track “Nature’s Way”, the most notable hit (along with “I’ve Got a Line on You” – #28 in Canada) the band would ever produce. “Mr. Skin” also became a hit single in the U.S., three years after the album’s release. The album also includes several other less well-known tunes which are considered to have had an impact on the genre of experimental rock in the United States.

The album influenced many other groups — the track “Morning Will Come” presaged the emerging glam rock trend and sounds strikingly similar to the music of Marc Bolan and T. Rex, and the piano figure that opens the instrumental track “Space Child” closely resembles the piano intro of the 1978 Steely Dan hit “FM”. A modern nod to Spirit was given by Sam Beam of lo-fi indie band Iron and Wine. The breakdown in “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” matches that in “Prelude-Nothing to Hide”.

Just as in previous attempts, Spirit fused aspects of jazz and folk together with their traditional rock stylings, but also introduced added elements of space rock, or popular music’s science-fiction subset. This innovative LP is also notable as one of the first rock albums to use the newly-developed Moog synthesizer.

Like The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, it is critically regarded as a landmark of art-rock, with a tapestry of literary themes about the fragility of life and the complexity of the human experience…

Spirit Bio From Wikipedia

The group’s first album, Spirit, was released in 1968. “Mechanical World” was released as a single (it lists the playing time merely as “very long”). The album was a substantial underground hit, reaching #31 and staying on the charts for over eight months. The album displayed jazz influences, as well as using elaborate string arrangements (not found on their subsequent recordings) and is the most overtly psychedelic of their albums.

They capitalized on the success of their first album with another single, “I Got A Line On You”. Released in November 1968, a month before their second album, The Family That Plays Together, it became their biggest hit single, reaching #25 on the charts (#28 in Canada). The album matched its success, reaching #22. They also went on tour that year with support band Led Zeppelin, who were heavily influenced by Spirit — Led Zeppelin played an extended medley during their early 1969 shows that featured “Fresh Garbage” among other songs, Jimmy Page’s use of a theremin has been attributed to his seeing Randy California use one which he had mounted to his amplifier, and it is now widely accepted that Page lifted the descending guitar figure from Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus” for Led Zeppelin’s signature tune “Stairway To Heaven”.

After this success, the group was asked by French film director Jacques Demy to record the soundtrack to his film, Model Shop and they also made a brief appearance in the film. Their third album, Clear, released in 1969, reached #55 on the charts. Spirit were offered the spot right before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, but they were advised to turn it down and concentrate on a promotional tour for their third album. Record company managers felt that the festival would not be significant, which it did not seem so at that time, and so they missed out on the massive international exposure that the festival and the subsequent film documentary generated.

“1984” and the Sardonicus era

In 1970, Spirit started working on what is widely considered to be their best LP, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. On the recommendation of Neil Young the band chose David Briggs as the producer. It was a prolific time for the group’s writers and the album was finally released in late 1970. Especially memorable was Randy California’s poignant “Nature’s Way”, which was written in an afternoon when the group was playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.