Have you ever seen a talent show on TV where one act is so unbelievably good and despite all the talent they not only don’t win, but they don’t even make the finals? You have? It’s annoying isn’t it? Well if there was a TV talent show for albums, then Camels 1974 album, Mirage would be one of those albums that would do just that, a clear winner that would not even make the finals.
Mirage was voted number 21 in the 50 greatest Prog rock albums of all time in Rolling Stone magazine so musically, why it would fail to sell well is a mystery. Mirage is a well rounded, jazz, folk, metal fantasy-themed progressive rock album of the highest order yet it failed to enter the UK album charts and only just crawled into the US billboard 200. Perhaps its to do with the bands endorsements of cigarettes that had something to do with its lack of publicity and therefore lack of sales?
If you want more information on the group Camel then here is a full biography on Last.Fm otherwise if you’re interested in Camels second album, Mirage, the bands finest work then stick with me. I’ll take you on a Mirage journey in more detail starting with all the facts and figures of chart positions and pressings and then we’ll look at a few other oddities and concentrate of the music with a little help from Billboard 200, Paul McCartney, Londons’ Philharmonia Orchestra and some cigarettes…
According to RateYourMusic.com the album was first released in the UK on 1st March 1974 and was rolled out to USA, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Greece in the same year. The Deram was the first and most valuable of the labels, although it was also pressed on Passport, Janus, London, King and North American labels . I have an original UK pressed Deram with the inner sleeve as seen below and in Rare Record Collector 2016 guide it’s valued at £50. I would add though, I wouldn’t sell it at any price, so please don’t ask!
Finding chart positions has been difficult because Mirage didn’t set the world on fire but after some research I have found back issues of billboard magazine which has helped track down the USA positions. It’s first occurrence in the USA charts was at position 205 on 16th November 1974 where it was in the “bubbling under” section of the Billboard 200 pop charts and a week later when it had crawled to position 203 before eventually breaking into the charts at position 188 on 30th November 1974. During the Christmas weekend it reached it’s highest position of 149 where it stayed for a fortnight before slowly slipping down the charts. On 1st March 1975 it finally left the US 200, having dropped from position 185 the previous week after 13 weeks and that’s it – that’s all I have.
We’ll take a walk through the tracks in a moment but before we do lets look at why the album was problematic from the start…
You see the band didn’t get their name from the humped, spitting creature that roams the deserts but from the cigarettes they smoked and there lies the problem because not everyone shared their love of the cancerous weed, particularly the American music industry. The bands website has the full details but from a marketing point of view, cigarette endorsements, even in the 70s were a disaster. What was even worse was the iconic camel cigarette logo cover on the USA version of album had to be scrapped and replaced with this…
…the USA cover is not very inspiring is it?
Let’s go through the tunes…
Album Review Side 1
Side one opens with Freefall (5mins 55sec) featuring Andy Latimers stunning guitar and some super fast drumming from Andy Ward. The lyrics and the vocals are a little tame in this track but it’s all backed up with an ensemble of rock/jazz guitar and organ work creating a genuinely bright and interesting start to the album. The quality of Latimers playing is a significant strength to the album either on flute or guitar. His skills were recognised at the prog rock music awards in 2014 when he was awarded for his lifetime achievement.
Up next is one of the highlights of prog rock Supertwister (3mins 20 sec)
This kicks off with Latimer on flute and an exciting percussion back drop with ground breaking use of bottles and aerosols providing the rhythm and ends with probably the greatest ending to a record in the world (I should have used a Carlsberg for this picture but we only had Tetley)
We’re now into the last track, three part 9 mins 18sec of Nimrodel, Procession and The White Rider which all combine to form one song. A slow intro leads onto church bells ringing and crowds cheering before leading to the JR Tolkien Lord of the Rings inspired “White Rider” , featuring echoing guitar solos similar or better than Dire Straits Mark Knopfler coupled with Peter Bardens mini moog, organ, and celeste . There’s even sections where the mini moog takes centre stage very similar to Mike Oldfields Tubular Bells and also sections where the Mellotron gets an airing. Don’t know what a Mellotron is? It’s the instrument used in the introduction of Beatles Strawberry Fields for Ever, Paul McCartney explains
Album Review Side 2
OK now flip it over to side 2 (for those listening on vinyl of course)
Earthrise (6mins 50secs) starts with some howling wind sound effects to set the scene and the mini moog is providing the “vocals” for an instrumental that just doesn’t need lyrics to tell the story. A real belter of a rock song for you to let your hair down to, Doug Ferguson laying a base with his bass (what else!)
and then track two side 2 is Lady Fantasy at a very healthy 12mins and 59 seconds long – not quite 13 minutes (which would be unlucky I guess) “Listen very carefully my words are about to unfold”
This is pure prog, all over the place, up and down, varied and magical with a large helping of full heavy metal mixed with elegant guitar, organ and Celeste solos. If you don’t know what a Celeste is then Elizabeth Burley of the London Philharmonia will explain. The track builds and builds before finally heading for a mellow “Dire Straits” finale.
Mirage is pure poetry so play it again and again, you’ll never get bored of listening to this album .