Not Bitter, But Sweet: Revisiting The Holy Mackerel
May 10, 2018

Singer-Songwriter Paul Williams reminisces on his 1968 debut, The Holy Mackerel, along with his friend and fan Richard Barone. These notes were originally published in the printed insert of Ship To Shore PhonoCo's 2016 re-issue of The Holy Mackerel.


As Ship To Shore PhonoCo. enters its fifth year as a record label, we are honored to be at the helm of an eclectic and exciting line-up of releases for 2018. One of these releases, which our readers may have seen teased on social media, is a re-issue of Someday Man, a gem from the first year of the Seventies by two men who would define the sounds of the decade: Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. The release will boast extensive liner notes, rare photos, color vinyl and bonus tracks – but that's all we'll say for now!


Paul Williams, 1968

In the meantime, we felt it appropriate to re-visit our 2016 reissue of Paul Williams' 1968 debut, The Holy Mackerel. Actually, rather than call it William's debut, it is more fair to say that he fronted the group, which also included Paul's brother Mentor Williams ("Drift Away"), Jefferson Airplane's first bassist Bob Harvey, and former Turtles drummer Don Murray.

The Holy Mackerel Original 2 Track Master Reels

Our re-issue was to be the first time The Holy Mackerel had appeared on its original format since its release, and, as fans ourselves, we wanted our version to embody the original essence of the album, while offering something new. We decided to offer the album on both “Bitter Honey” translucent gold vinyl (fitting now when one considers that the song “Bitter Honey” was an early collaboration by Williams and Roger Nichols which foreshadowed the duo's amazing work on Someday Man and beyond) as well as classic black for the purists.

Scorpio Red Turkish Picture Sleeve

We were thrilled when the release received favorable reviews. Shindig called it “edifying to have this sweet album of intricately woven pop back on black wax.” And Modern-Vinyl noted, “Ship to Shore Phono Co really put their heart into this release, and it shows in the details...the insert has pictures of the cover art from their 45s, as well as pictures of the original master reels. The vinyl is translucent orange, and features a recreation of the classic 3 color Reprise label, which is a very nice touch. Inside, there are extensive liner notes by Richard Barone and Paul Williams.”


"I'm so pleased to see this alive again!" - Paul Williams receives a of The Holy Mackerel copy from Richard Barone (Bottom Left) and Ship to Shore's Justin Martell (Top Right)

And now that our readers have indulged that bit of self-aggrandizing, we have arrived at the main point of revisiting this release; those liner notes by Richard Barone and Paul Williams, which were previously available only on the printed insert of our The Holy Mackerel re-issue. So, to tide fans over as they wait a few months for Someday Man, we are publishing them online for the first time - Enjoy!

Singer-Songwriter Paul Williams on The Holy Mackerel: There were wall-to-wall lessons to be learned while recording the album. Of course it all begins with the choice of songs but the collaborative creative process brought a level of excitement I'd never experienced before.

The only thing more impressive than Richard Perry doing his magic was the unintended beauty of the unplanned gifts. From drum fills at the wrong spot that were perfect ... to accidentally erasing the drum track towards the end of 1984 ... It felt as if invisible hands contributed to the work. Hardly a masterpiece it is clearly a labor of love.

Bongos Frontman Richard Barone on The Holy Mackerel: There is nothing more intriguing than discovering obscure early recordings by artists who later became household names. It’s all there - the familiar signature vocal sound, the melodic sensibility, the recognizable wordplay - and yet it’s all unfamiliar, like stepping in a dream into a strange room in your home that you didn’t know existed.

That’s how it feels listening to The Holy Mackerel, a colorful, candy-coated carnival collage of sound with sweeping vocal effects, stereophonic soundscapes of swooping cello, flute solos, electric sitars and phase-shifted shaker percussion. And then, in a way that could only effectively happen in the late 1960s, the gear shifts along with the phase, and there’s a wailing harmonica on a three-part harmony country song, a whimsical wingding in the woods, a cosmic, futuristic orchestration, a rockin’ potboiler, then a straight ahead piano ballad. It’s a mind-bender.

And there in the middle of it all is the silky elfin tones of the great, diminutive, soon-to-be-famous Mr. Paul Williams. This is more than merely the seeds of genius; this is maximum genius in miniature.

The other members of this holiest of Mackerels — Paul’s brother Mentor Williams, Bob Harvey (Jefferson Airplane), guitarist George Hiller, flautist/vocalist Cynthia Fitzpatrick and former Turtle Don Murray — all rise to the occasion. The lineup might have later changed, but no matter. In my mind, it’s Paul’s strong central presence - his self-aware knowledge that he had something truly unique to offer. Something that would soon break him though to the top of the charts, onto our TV sets and movie screens, and into the hearts and minds of all of us. His is the driving force here. You can feel it throughout the album. It never lets you down.

And what record producer could have helmed this post-Sgt. Pepper collection that is at once a bizarrely eccentric psychedelic mind fuck, and a richly-textured, dangerously commercial pop contender — other than the brilliant Richard Perry? That same year Perry gave a similar treatment to the landmark God Bless Tiny Tim, which incidentally featured Williams’ “Fill Your Heart” (co-written with collaborator Biff Rose). Soon, Perry himself was on his way to acclaim by becoming one of the architects of the sound of the 70s and 80s. But this was the 60s, from which all good things came.

Now, draw yourself a bubble bath, pick yourself some Wildflowers, get into a lotus position, or do whatever it is you do. Then drop the needle onto the lead-in groove and learn The Secret of Pleasure. Holy Mackerel, this is good.

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The Holy Mackerel is available in both Bitter Honey Gold and Classic Black in our store, HERE!


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