Erkin Koray - "Ve..." (Mechul: Singles & Rarities)
When David Crosby wrote “Almost Cut My Hair,” he already owned a yacht that he could board if anyone gave him too much trouble about his coif. Erkin Koray, the father of Turkish rock and roll, once paid for his long hair with a blade in the gut, but he kept his freak flag flying, and even now that age and male pattern baldness have claimed a lot of his locks, he keeps what’s left shaggy. In Turkey, they don’t mess around. That bad-assedness is just one of the reasons that the music on Meçhul stands out from the reams of exhumed psychedelia bulking up mail order catalogs these days.
Seduced by the sounds of Fats Domino and Elvis Presley, Koray first played rock and roll in the mid-’50s, when he was still a teenager. The Turkish music industry didn’t exactly welcome him; it took Koray a decade to make his first single, and he didn’t make an LP (a self-titled collection of 7” tracks) until 1973. So even though a third of the tracks on Meçhul precede his first album, they don’t sound like the work of some rookie. He sounds supremely confident shifting between stun-guitar fuzztones, virile baglama (an indigenous lute) licks, and murderous screams on “Ve…,” one of the record’s earliest tunes. “Kendim Ettim Kendum Buldum,” which was also recorded in 1970, transitions with equal panache between an anguished croon (it communicates volumes even though non-Turkish listeners won’t understand a word) and stinging, trebly leads that top the quasi-Eastern guitar of so many American or British psych acts.
Koray knew what was happening around the world, and he was sure enough of himself that he could borrow from sources as diverse as Detroit and Cairo without betraying his essential self. If “Krallar,” the song whose fantastic sleeve is reproduced on Meçhul‘s cover, wasn’t sung in Turkish, it could be a prime Amboy Dukes cut. But with its intricate handclaps and stirring chorus, “Cümbür Cemaat” sounds quite aware of the conventions of Middle Eastern pop.
Reportedly the songs on Meçhul come from Koray’s own collection, but they must have been mint copies; there are no pops, crackles, or drop-outs. The digipak reproduces a couple of single sleeves, which look so cool that one wishes for more; that, and the stingy annotation (a little discographical information or some personal reminiscences would have been nice) are the only problems with this excellent set.