Telefunken – 1972
By the time that schoolmates Rainer Baur, Hermann Lange, Uwe Patzke, Helmut Treichel, and Nick Woodland formed Phallus Dei in 1969, drug use had already been synonymous with rock music for ages. In the years following the Summer of Love, musical endorsements of LSD, and public marijuana arrests, it had become rare, even uncool, to be a “clean” rockstar.
Yet, faced with the realities of drug abuse in their home town of Augsburg, Germany, the young band was fully aware of the very real consequences that addiction could lead to. From the start, Baur and Treichel made it clear that they would preach against drug use whenever and wherever they could in their music.
Messaging aside, the young band’s edgy sound and nihilistic attitudes quickly caught the attention of local Germans: including electronics company Telefunken, and producer Reinhold Mack. Now known as Gift, due to Telefunken’s insistence on their name being changed from Phallus Dei (latin for “God’s penis”), the group entered the studio to make their first record.
Consisting of eight songs, Gift’s self-titled debut is half-an-hour of solid hard rock – akin to acts like Led Zeppelin and the Jimi Hendrix Experience – yet it’s the LP’s very first track, “Drugs,” that cements the band’s place in the then-still-growing metal scene. Five minutes of bombastic drumming, along with harmonized-yet-distorted bass and thick guitar riffs, create a momentum that materializes immediately – only to build up and tease each time the song enters a new phase. The velocity in which the instruments are running seem to overwhelm Trichel’s vocals, which ask “if it’s wrong or right” to subject your body to drug use.
It’s those lyrics that – amongst a wave of acid nightmare influenced rock music – make this song stand out from its contemporaries. For a track that sounds like it very well may be preaching the spiritual benefits of drug usage, the fact that it does the exact opposite is fascinating.
Though the entire LP is a worthwhile listen, “Drugs” succeeds in a way that the band would never be able to replicate. While they could buck the trend of rock music embracing drug use, they couldn’t buck the trend of promising rock groups evolving into underwhelming prog bands, with their follow-up release, Blue Apple, and subsequent breakup in 1974.