Part of the liner notes to this album claim that it is ’The Musical equivalent of a full-blown LSD trip.” Whether that is actually true or not, I can imagine a lot of people back in the day dropping a couple of tabs, before putting it on the turntable. In 1969, LSD guru Timothy Leary was attempting to run for the governorship of California. However due to two previous convictions for the possession of illicit substances, he was sentenced to ten years jail, dashing his hopes of becoming America’s most progressive politician (one of his policies was to legalise marijuana, and put a tax on it, something which has since happened in that state).
Originally conceived as a way of raising funds for his political campaign, You Can Be Anyone This Time Around was released in April 1970, while Leary was still serving his sentence. The LP is built around three tracks, or ‘raps’ as they are often referred to, each consisting of spoken-word dialogue by Leary that was overdubbed over ‘the music.’
The first track, “Live And Let Live,” stems from an all-night jam session on 30th September 1969 involving Jimi Hendrix on bass (not guitar as some have said), Stephen Stills (guitar), John Sebastian (guitar) and Buddy Miles (drums). The track was recorded by Alan Douglas at The Record Plant, not so much with the intention of ever releasing it, but purely for historical purposes. Though later, he heavily edited the untitled jam and overdubbed extracts taken from a press conference held by Leary at Douglas’ offices.
The other two ‘songs’, the title track and “What Do You Turn On When You Turn On” are little more than patchworks of samples edited together using existing music by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and of course Ravi Shankar. Now I’d love to declare that there is a certain genius going on here, but the truth is, the whole thing just sounds like a mess of disparate sounds and dialogue slipping in and out of reality. Or perhaps I ought to have ingested a little STP before writing this review, in order to experience a whole new understanding of the album’s convoluted contents.
You Can Be Anyone This Time Around is very much a product of the era in which it was created. Is it innovative? Of Course. Is it engaging? Definitely. But will it blow the listener’s mind? Hardly – or at least not in the 21st Century. Still, the album remains a fascinating time capsule of an age now long gone (excepts in the memories of those who lived through it). So, as the man himself famously said, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Well, at least for half an hour or so anyway.