And the way I feel just makes me want to scream.
The Chemical Brothers - 'The Private Psychedelic Reel' (Dig Your Own Hole - 1997)
There’s a point around the three-minute mark into The Chemical Brothers’ song ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ where what sounds like a Formula One car comes careering into earshot and then pans across from right to left, complete with Doppler Effect. If you listen to this on headphones, it sounds like a tiny car driving at 200 mph around the gap between your skull and your scalp. The duo’s second album, 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, is an album full of big moments, and one of my favourites is about four minutes later when the F1 car returns after a drop-out and is joined by what sounds like the world’s largest mosquito landing on the back of your head.
On their website, the band gave a track-by-track account last year for the album’s 25th anniversary, and that phasing was something that the track could have more of;
I really remember this because I wanted the whole track to phase. Now there’s such thing that it’s an easy thing to do. I remember on the desk we had two versions of the track. And then there was a section of faders that had a pencil sellotaped to them, and we had one load go into this thing called a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. There were a lot of takes of trying to do it so it caught a good sweep of the phase. So you’d be on the desk, and to group the faders together so you could move them all at the same time we had a pencil sellotaped to it, and moving it around and trying to get a good one.
The song starts pretty slowly, which makes sense as it follows the Sunday morning comedown of ‘Where Do I Begin’ and Beth Orton’s hungover vocals. We couldn’t come sliding out of that and crashing into this as a one-two punch. So it is only after two minutes that the drums kick in, and we get a four-second loop that permeates throughout most of the rest of the song’s nine-plus minutes, waxing and waning until the last minute or so as the song’s epilogue descends into white noise and electronic wibble.
The Run Out Grooves is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Where the song ultimately succeeds and pushes it into being one of the high points of The Chemical Brothers’ discography and a landmark recording of the nineties is that it brings together the psychedelic influences that the band have absorbed from tracks like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by The Beatles that they plundered on ‘Setting Sun’ and ‘Let Forever Be’ but rather than borrow from the components of a named Beatles song, by layering a droning sitar and building up at atmosphere of someone having an acid freak-outthey instead capture the sense of grandness, ambition and exploration that the Fab Four progressed through thirty years earlier. It also builds on Ed Simmons’ love of Public Enemy by peppering the song with sirens and breakbeats as if they’d called in The Bomb Squad to augment the production.
The final piece of the puzzle was to bring Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue to improvise on clarinet and aid in turning the end of the song into a kaleidoscopic freak-out. The Chemical Brothers have always had a knack for using guests from the aforementioned Orton and Donahue through Wayne Coyne, Noel Gallagher, Q-Tip, Tim Burgess and even video direction from Michel Gondry to supplement what they bring to the table. Still, there is a sense that Donahue’s contribution helped set the course for the next phase in Mercury Rev’s career. Donahue told The Quietus in 2011 that;
Somewhere in 1996 or 1997, I can't remember, nothing was happening, everything was at a complete standstill, we'd barely even began writing Deserter's Songs. I was thinking 'well, OK, I've got to go out there and pump gas for the rest of my life'. Then out of the blue I got a call from Tom and Ed from the Chemical Brothers, who said 'would you like to play on a song?', which was the 'Private Psychedelic Reel'. I almost cried, because I couldn't believe someone remembered me and the band to the point that they'd actually call up and say 'we want to work with you'. They sent me the basic tracks, and I think they were hoping for me to do one or two things and then send it back. I probably recorded 47,000 tracks, I was so exuberant, I just couldn't believe it. I remember it was a great sun through the clouds moment in a long period of darkness, it did warm me up from the chill. I thank them to this day.
The Chemical Brothers would return the favour by taking the closer from Deserter’s Songs, ‘Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp’ and turning it into a sun-kissed Balearic ballad with their remix.
That sense of collaboration as the catalyst to spur both parties to higher heights pushes this song from very good to excellent for me. It was the first and best time that The Chemical Brothers nailed the concept of mixing electronic music with psychedelic rock. They did so on a track that brings to mind the swagger and confidence of My Bloody Valentineand The Stone Roses closing albums with ‘Soon’ and ‘I Am The Resurrection’ and was one that The Chemical Brothers, perhaps wisely, decided they weren’t going to top so never attempted to try scaling the mountain again.
Speaking of vocals, usually, I would use a lyric from the song to head up the entry, and on the handful of occasions where we have featured an instrumental that has proved difficult, I’ve gone to the sampled song in the back half of the track. The header lyric can be found in the Andy Weatherall remix of James’ ‘Come Home’.
The song’s title allegedly references the name of the soundtrack the Beatles used to accompany their acid trips.
Donahue’s contribution to inspiring both parties to up their game is much like the direction that Kevin Shields aided Primal Scream in achieving in 1999 and 2000 on Xtrmntr.