Elephant’s Memory, “Mongoose” (1970): Forgotten Series

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Besides being great singers and songwriters, what do Carly Simon and John Lennon have in common? They both worked with Elephant’s Memory!

For a short while in 1968, Carly Simon was the lead vocalist of the New York band. Come 1972, Elephant’s Memory hooked up with John Lennon and Yoko One, backing the couple on their Some Time In New York City album. That same year, Elephant’s Memory scored a deal with the Apple label, which released their third album. John also played on Elephant’s Memory, and 1972 further saw the band performing concerts and appearing on television with Lennon and his wife. To boot, Yoko’s 1973 album, Approximately Infinite Universe album contained contributions from Elephant’s Memory.

But prior to the John and Yoko connection, the band had already gotten their feet in the door. A pair of their songs, “Old Man Willow” and “Jungle Gym At The Zoo,” were featured on the Midnight Cowboy movie soundtrack album in 1969, and the band was awarded a gold disc for their efforts.
As well, Elephant’s Memory garnered a Top 50 hit single in the early fall of 1970 with “Mongoose” (Metromedia Records).

By poaching the acid-baked funk of the Chambers Brothers and the Temptations, then flicking their own way-out interactions into the frying pan, a weighty wallop was conceived. Chugging hard rock rhythms pummel jazz and soul inflections to such an extent that, if the song were a person, it would be covered with welts and bruises. A gruff growl snarls the lyrics that carry an almost rap-like feel, and you have to remember this was long before the genre was coined. A shrilly sax, complemented by odd tempos and a blistering break give the thudding tune a coat of credence in the avant-garde department.

There’s nothing pretty about “Mongoose,” as it’s raw, dirty, and crudely executed. But hey, that’s rock and roll, and here’s a jam that recalls the days when artistic freedom thrived and was tolerated.

Special thanks to Chip Muellemann.

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