The Chambers Brothers: “Time Has Come Today” (The Time Has Come, 1967)
I remember the first time I heard this. The circumstances weren’t special—I was sitting in my room, listening to the radio, waiting for WAQY to get through the same Eagles and Led Zeppelin songs they played every day and give me something that wasn’t in the regular rotation. I did this almost every evening while I put off doing my homework until the last minute.
Then this came on.
That opening, with the echoing cowbells, the simple but effective guitar fanfare, and finally the drum fill that blasts us into the first verse, immediately struck me as different. They had a spooky, ramshackle quality to them that wasn’t common on classic rock radio, and that first verse…. I was hooked.
The four Chambers Brothers, George, Willie, Joe and Lester, has been performing for 15 years by the time this song came out. They originally toured as a gospel-folk quartet, then went electric after Dylan’s controversial show at Newport. Drummer Brian Keenan rounded out the new, electrified Chambers Brothers, and they developed a raw psychedelic soul sound, of which this song is the absolute apex, though they have a ton of other great tracks, and they have several albums well worth listening to.
That’s Willie or Joe singing lead on this song (I’m not positive which), and it’s his performance that turns the song into a comment on the tumult of the era. He sounds completely swept along on the tide of the song, spitting out the words as though this is his only chance to say it. This is even more pronounced when the song recapitulates a the very end.
The psychedelic breakdown, with the deceleration, wobbly percussion overdubs, and wild build-up, is the instrumental complement to that performance.
In way, this song is everything we were supposed to learn about the 60s—turbulent, psychedelic, exploratory, a little bit out of control. I think the fact that the guitarists aren’t anything like virtuosos (Willie and Joe had only recently begun playing electric) helps a lot. They briefly allude to “The Little Drummer Boy” while the drums go crazy in the background, but otherwise, it’s pretty much just ragged jamming.
This is, in the end, a song I just don’t think I could ever get tired of. It does too much too well and captures a feeling in the process that never seems wrong.
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