A registered Communist starts a band called The United States of America and lands a major label record deal before playing a single live gig? Only in the Sixties. After studying with avant-garde legend John Cage in New York City, composer Joseph Byrd moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and decided to form a psychedelic rock band. His first recruit was ex-girlfriend Dorothy Moskowitz, whose icy vocals formed the perfect complement for the trippy sonic experiments Byrd had in mind.
The band recorded only one self-titled album before dissolving, but it was a memorable one."The American Metaphysical Circus" begins the album with a lilting calliope tune upon which Byrd heaps one patriotic marching band tune after another. Just when the whole insane cacaphony is on the verge of collapse, in comes Moskowitz - transmitting from a sinking submarine. "Cloud Song" features delicate plucked bass and an ever-haunting melody. Like an LSD flashback, the final minutes of closing track "The American Way of Love" features snippets of all the preceding songs flowing in and out of consciousness. "The United States of America" sold poorly upon release, thanks to Columbia's near total lack of faith. As Byrd puts it, "There was scant enthusiasm from the executives for a band whose name they hated, whose music they didn't understand, and whose politics they thought treasonous." But over the years, the group has developed a devoted cult following and influenced numerous modern bands, most notably Broadcast.
Despite releasing only one album, The United States of America was among the most revolutionary bands of the late '60s -- grounded equally in psychedelia and the avant-garde, their music eschewed guitars in favor of strings, keyboards and haunting electronics, predating the ambient pop of the modern era by several decades. Leader Joseph Byrd had studied with contemporary classical composers including John Cage (together with Yoko Ono); after the USA's single record he went on to form the equally short-lived Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies.