Revisiting The Youngbloods' Elephant Mountain

Revisiting The Youngbloods' <em>Elephant Mountain</em>

Written by Jay Jay French

The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain (RCA IMP6051)

Released April 1969 by RCA Records
Re-mastered 2023 by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio
Sourced from original master tapes
Pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Record Technology, Inc.


My first-ever concert at the Fillmore East in New York City was on November 23, 1968.

The headliner was Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat was the middle act and the Youngbloods opened the show.

I was so excited, 16 years old and everything about the concert experience was shiny and new. Everything was great. I hadn't gotten to the point where something “sucked.”

No. It was all exciting and fresh.

I liked Iron Butterfly and already bought the mega-hit album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. According to Atlantic Records executives I spoke with at one time, it was the first RIAA Gold-certified rock album. That album was given Gold record status in 1968, and eventually went double-platinum.

Anyway, having taken LSD for the first time in April 1968, I will surmise that I was high on acid at this concert.

What an occasion!

The opening band was the Youngbloods and I was blown away. They were riding high off their super-hippie anthem “Get Together,” which had been an FM staple for the past year.



The Youngbloods in 1968. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.


They played a song called “Darkness, Darkness that wasn't released yet and I remember that it was haunting and beautiful.

That's about all I remember except that I also loved Canned Heat and Iron Butterfly. The night was memorable because it was my introduction to the whole new world of live shows. 

Over the next 12 months I was able to see dozens of the world's most famous artists like the Stones. Hendrix, Blind Faith, Free, Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Terry Reid, Ten Years After, the Jeff Beck Group, Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Mountain, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Chicago (when they were still called the Chicago Transit Authority/CTA), Pacific Gas & Electric, Lee Michaels, Janis Joplin, the Nice, Family, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Joe Cocker, NRBQ, Jethro Tull, Blues Image, Man, and the Who.

The point of listing all these artists and shows is because I feel it's important to give atmospheric context to this review.

My memory was that the three bands at my first Fillmore East concert, the Youngbloods, Canned Heat, and Butterfly, were important to me at the time.

My memory of this moment is such that I wanted to go back to a time.

I bought the Youngbloods album Elephant Mountain when it was first released in 1969, and when I saw that it had just been re-released in an audiophile 180-gram vinyl version, I had to find out where this album stood in my emotional memory bank.


I went into my record collection and found my original 1968 copy of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and my original 1968 copy of Canned Heat’s Boogie with Canned Heat.

Back in those days, if you didn't have the latest release of a band you had just seen, you bought it the next day.

What did not survive my many moves between girlfriends and band relocation was Elephant Mountain.

The original Elephant Mountain album came out a good six months after I saw that first show, and I couldn't wait for the re-release copy to arrive from Acoustic Sounds.

I hadn't thought about the Youngbloods for many years.

I could have downloaded or streamed the album but I wanted to create the entire experience again (if that was possible).

The new vinyl package came with a great six-page insert with photos and lots of historical information.

First off, I learned that Charlie Daniels – yes, that Charlie Daniels – was the producer known as Charles E. Daniels at that time. Then I learned the album's seemingly free-form style was due to the band's insistence (and subsequent acquiescence by their record label RCA) that music should be a wondrous spontaneous creation full of experimental instruments and sounds never (or rarely) heard before. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was used as the example to the record label that the band should be left to record whatever they felt was right.


I read all of this before I played the album.

Elephant Mountain refers to the geographical area where the band was situated – Marin County. This is important to know as the band was surrounded by the newly-explosive effect of the Grateful Dead, the Airplane and all the San Francisco jam bands of the era.

In the liner notes, the one band member quoted the most extensively, known as Banana (how ’60s) said that this kind of meandering jam style had no effect on the band. In fact, he went on to say that the band was part of and an extension of bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield, and the folk-rock scene.

OK, I finally put the album on and the opening track “Darkness, Darkness” immediately took me back to 1968 and 1969.

On the plus side, lead vocalist Jesse Colin Young has a voice that sounds of the times – in the best sense. Like listening to Bob Lind’s voice on the song “Elusive Butterfly” or Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).” Trust me, if you lived through those times the vocal vibes from these voices have a lot of meaning.

Jesse’s vocals, at certain times, actually recall Janis Joplin’s at her most sincere and non-histrionic.

After that opener, the band plays it all soft, however, and the recording, while very clean, lies fairly flat. For a band that says they were not part of that San Francisco jam scene, there seems to be plenty of that on this album. The liner notes tell a story that the band wrote the songs prior to recording, but as the album progresses what they may call rehearsed songs sound to me like they don't know when to stop. It is very strange that an album can contain some tightly-written material and then veer off where jamming fills a lot of space. It makes for nice background music, but I'm trying to remember if I used to play the entire album or just a track or two.

To put this in perspective, I played all the Buffalo Springfield albums in their entirety over and over, as I did with the Dead, Airplane, Love, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, the Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, The Doors, etc.

Bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Turtles, and The Mamas & the Papas had many huge radio hits, so the albums they released were not that important to me, but all those bands had a very tight focus.

The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain, however, came at a time where you were supposed to sit around stoned out of your mind and you were supposed to groove on it.

Apparently I did but got bored with it. Now, listening to it is an interesting exercise in memory retention and musical context.

The legendary Kevin Gray did the pure analog LP transfer and the sonics, given the times, are what you would expect, meaning the more you like the songs the more you will like this album. The vinyl transfer is dead quiet, but then again, so is the music, so there are not a lot of dynamics going on.

My consumption of LSD, beginning in 1968 and peaking into 1970, however, made many marginal things extremely acceptable. It is in this contact that I will say that the next time I want to hear “Darkness, Darkness,” I probably will stream that song, as there is little in the musical noodling here on the rest of the album to hold my interest. Some musicians may really like the quasi-jazz leanings, as it seems that the band is trying to make a point. I'm not enough of a musician, however, to care about this as a “cool” factor.

Our editor, Frank Doris, though, tells me he thinks “Ride the Wind,” which he first heard about 15 years ago, is one of the most marvelous songs he’s ever listened to.

Yes, listening to the entire Youngbloods Elephant Mountain was a fun snapshot in time and fairly enjoyable, but only proves the old cliché:

You can't go home again.

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