“Nightmare Of Percussion”, which starts off Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s second LP Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow (1968), immediately serves as notice to listeners that this album isn’t going to be playing it safe musically. A bouncy, slapdash drums-and-bass intro leads to a guitar slowly feeding back — already stranger than most of the band’s first LP Incense And Peppermints.
And then come the vocals: sung in an itchy near-monotone, the herky-jerky, sick-sounding performance recalls the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery” more than anything else. The words themselves seem to be concerned with percussion that envelops the listener and his fruitless attempts at escape:
Bringing on tears
Afraid, I ran to the population of noise”
As advertised, it’s a nightmare of a song about percussion. After a short psychedelic jam, recalling the mania of “The World’s On Fire”, the choked voice of the protagonist cries out in pain. Convincingly. It’s an extremely unsettling way for a band coming off of a #1 hit song to begin their follow-up album. Immediately afterwards the singer’s last pitiful gulp, a calming and more mature voice, sounding like an educational film narrator and over a suddenly soft rose-petal bed of decidedly percussion-less (and beatless) bliss music, dispassionately addresses the song’s protagonist with the chilling:
“Don’t worry about dying;
You were meant not to live”
After a short and impenetrable speech, the authoritative voice explains that he has “mutated your ears to do not a thing” but be slowly tortured by the sound of percussion. While this is all happening, sparkly high-pitched bells ring like wind chimes in the background and psychedelic Doors-like guitars meander randomly up and down the fretboard. The track fades out in this fashion, the voice intoning the word “percussion” over and over, each time with greater urgency.
At just under three minutes, “Nightmare Of Percussion” is, in keeping with the era, more like a little intro piece to a larger whole of the album rather than a 70s-style opening heavy rock song. If this is the intro, though, what does it promise for the rest of the record? Sounds like a bad trip; a downer of the most inescapable kind. (Fortunately, Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow isn’t actually as incessantly queasy as “Nightmare Of Percussion”, though there are some odd moments to come.)
Whatever SAC’s intention was for this song is left unanswered. All we have is one of the most unusual and dissonant openings to any album of the era, an inarguably psychedelic and ineluctably creepy song that pulls you into the world of the album whether you like it or not. When listening to Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow (and this song only appears there, not being included on any compilations), you can’t really look away until it’s over, so unusual is the voyage. “Nightmare Of Percussion” is its violent, exitless siren song. You were warned.
LP: Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow (1968)