Happy the Man - s/t. 1977 USA
CD reissues: 1988 Arista (Japan); 1999 One Way; 2000 Musea (France); 2006 BMG/Arista (Japan mini-LP); 2012 Esoteric (UK)
Happy the Man were a band from Washington DC, by way of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They were just the type of quirky band that found themselves on the progressive oriented Arista label in the mid to late 70s, even though the label owner wasn't really a fan himself. But he was supportive of his staff, and they did have an interest in promoting what essentially was considered an "English thing" in the States. The liner notes indicate that the band have been called the "Grandfathers of progressive rock" in the United States, but that's a ridiculous assertion, and all one needs to do is review this list to prove my point: USA Midwest / Ontario Progressive Rock (1970's/early 80s). Even if one considers major labels, 1977 is late to the game.
With that out of the way, Happy the Man is entirely unique. If nothing else, the placement of tracks is extraordinary. Opener 'Starborne' is about as beautiful and tranquil a song as has ever been put on vinyl. Hardly the blast-out-of-the-gates hyper complex prog song that was even the norm back then. This is then followed by the complex and quirky 'Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest', yet another instrumental. It's clear at this point, Happy the Man has no commercial potential whatsoever. And yet here they are on a major label, and best I can tell, the album sold relatively well in its day. 'Upon the Rainbow' is the first song that will at least sound familiar, with vocals tacked on at the end of the recordings. Why? Because once again the label owner wanted something to promote beyond an audience that in effect were a small cabal. From here, the blueprint had been drawn, and the other tracks more or less fall into the 3 buckets above. Those who are bellyaching about the vocals, clearly didn't hear the album close, as there's only two tracks total with them in place. Personally I find them quite good considering they were stand-ins to begin with.
Happy the Man is an album that stands clearly on its own, and has aged very well because of it. There's really no other album like it, even if its British prog influences are obvious.
I currently own 3 copies of this album. The original LP, the first press Japanese CD and the Esoteric CD. The first two have the best sound, and the latter provides a unique mastering with excellent liner notes. Original LPs are not the kind of thing you'll likely find in a brick and mortar, but are easy to find through internet sales channels at low prices.