Spirit / Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

More Spirit

 A record that belongs in any serious Rock Music Collection.

  • A stunning copy of Spirit’s 1970 Trippy Masterpiece – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Huge, lively and dynamic – this legendary Psych album creates a wall to wall, three dimensional psychedelic world of its own
  • Nature’s Way, Animal Zoo and Mr. Skin all sound amazing on this copy – there’s really not a bad track to be found
  • “Spirit’s crowning moment and one of the era’s great underrated albums … enriched by meaty horn arrangements, imaginative vocal harmonies, and a structured approach to psychedelic studio trickery such as stereo panning and tapes run backward.”

The soundfield is huge and transparent, there’s real richness and body to the instruments, and there’s no edge at all to the vocals. Believe me, it’s the rare copy that has all of these qualities, the only one in our shootout as a matter of fact.

This and Spirit’s first album are absolute Rock Classics in my book, records that belong in any popular music lover’s collection.

What outstanding Spirit sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Psych Album Guaranteed to Make You a Fan

This copy has the kind of sound I always dreamed (no pun intended) this album could have, but it took years of listening — mostly to one flat, grainy, smeary copy after another — to get here.

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 review under the Twelve Dreams tab above tells 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, you should find much to like here.

And if you don’t love the album as much as we do we are happy to give you your money back. This is one of a handful of Classic Psych albums that every audiophile worth his salt should, at the very least, get to know. I would be surprised if 12 Dreams doesn’t make you a Spirit fan.

What We’re Listening For on Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.


One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.


Side One

Prelude – Nothin’ to Hide 
Nature’s Way 
Animal Zoo 
Love Has Found a Way 
Why Can’t I Be Free 
Mr. Skin

Side Two

Space Child 
When I Touch You
Street Worm 
Life Has Just Begun
Morning Will Come 

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

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.

– Jaime Gonzalo, 2005

Wikipedia Rave

“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…”

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.

Spirit Bio

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”[1].

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

After the release of Clear, California was called upon again to give the group a hit single. With the group producing the record on their own, they recorded a song California had written called “1984”. With a title that echoed the George Orwell book of the same name, it was one of California’s finest, and it boasted an excellent production job (and was one of the most ferocious things that Spirit would ever record).[citation needed] And it looked at first like it would be the group’s biggest hit yet. Soon after being released, it raced up the charts to #69.

In retrospect, nobody is completely sure why the single had such a brief chart life, but there are several possibilities. It is no secret that Lou Adler’s alliance with Epic Records was uneasy at best, and at the time that the single was released, Adler’s distribution deal with Epic came to an end. He had been eager to move distribution of the label to A&M Records, which he did as soon as the deal with Epic ended, which might have killed the commercial availability of the single (though Adler ended up giving Spirit’s contract to Epic in the process). It has also been said that there was a tip sheet distributed to radio stations outlining the song’s supposed political and social views, and opining that it might not be appropriate for air play . The song would finally see general release on The Best Of Spirit in 1973.

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.

Epic released an early mix of “Animal Zoo” as a single, but this only made it to #97 on the charts. 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, illustrated by recurring lyric “life has just begun”, and continued the group’s pioneering exploration of enviromnental issues in their lyrics (cf. “Fresh Garbage”). The album is also notable for its inventive production and the use of a modular Moog synthesizer.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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