All images courtesy of Getty Images
By Christine Naprava
I discovered The Human Expression in the parking lot of a ShopRite grocery store. It was late summer, I was in my late teens, and when my mother asked me if I wanted to tag along while she made a late-night trip to the grocery store, I agreed only because I knew I wouldn’t have to go inside or put my phone down. I was falling for 60s garage rock at the time, and YouTube was my sole source. While my mother perused the aisles of the grocery store, I waited out in the car and idly clicked on one garage rock song after another. Some were good, others were okay. I clicked on a thumbnail of a black and red 45, thinking I’d be presented with more of the same. This is where my Human Expression love story begins.
“Every Night” by The Human Expression was better than good. I consumed the full two minutes and thirty-seven seconds of the song and then promptly typed the band’s name into the YouTube search bar. They didn’t have a ton of songs to their name, but I couldn’t find a song of theirs that I didn’t like. It was clear: What the Human Expression had to offer was small but significant.
A Surprising History:
The Human Expression was a here-and-gone American garage and psychedelic rock band from Los Angeles. The band, which was formed in 1966, consisted of lead vocalist Jim Quarles, rhythm guitarist Jim Foster, lead guitarist Martin Eshleman, bassist Tom Hamilton, and drummer Armand Poulin. Members Jim Quarles and Jim Foster are credited with getting The Human Expression off the ground. Quarles came up with the far-out name and Foster’s father managed the band. With no prior experience whatsoever, Quarles and Foster began writing songs for The Human Expression. These songs would go on to be performed at local venues and school dances.
The band eventually secured a recording contract with Accent Records thanks to their first demo single, which included the aforementioned “Every Night,” as well as a song called “Readin’ Your Will,” which I will discuss at length later in the article. An official single including “Every Night,” in addition to “Love At Psychedelic Velocity,” yet another song that I will later discuss at length, was released soon thereafter.
The Human Expression was known for their killer performances and played all across the Sunset Strip, but they were limited in what venues they could play as they were still minors. Their second single included “Optical Sound” and “Calm Me Down,” and in spite of “Optical Sound” proving that The Human Expression had extreme range and talent, the single did not provide the band with the needed exposure. Their inevitable downfall began when bassist Tom Hamilton accidentally slammed a door on lead guitarist Martin Eshleman’s hand. Eshleman suffered from severed tendons and an artery and was forced to leave the band as a result of his injury. A new guitarist was brought in, but Quarles left The Human Expression not long after, claiming that the chemistry of the band had been ruined by Eshleman’s departure.
The crux of The Human Expression’s downfall blew my mind and it’s likely to blow your mind too. The band chose “Sweet Child of Nothingness” as their third single as opposed to a song authored by Mars Bonfire called “Born to Be Wild.” Ever heard of it? Quarles wasn’t sold on the lyrics, and so The Human Expression turned down Steppenwolf’s iconic rock ‘N’ roll hit.
Founding member Jim Quarles might’ve been done with The Human Expression, but he wasn’t done with music. He went on to do some solo recording after leaving the band and even established his own recording studio. In 1994, Collectable Records released a 14-track CD titled Love At Psychedelic Velocity, which includes all of The Human Expression’s demos and released singles, as well as Quarles’ never-before-released demo recordings. You better believe this gem is part of my Apple Music library.
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the music. As I stated earlier, there isn’t a Human Expression song that I don’t like, but of course there’s some I like more than others. In this article, I will discuss my top four Human Expression songs, arranged from least to most favorite.
4) “Optical Sound”:
I’m going to kick off the list with a Human Expression song that’s more psychedelic than it is garage rock. Most Human Expression songs are a wonderful meld of both, but “Optical Sound” definitely leans more heavily toward the psychedelic sound you’d come to expect from a late 60s rock band from southern California.
Let’s start with the lyrics, shall we? A brief, feel-good instrumental intro gives way to my favorite Human Expression lyrics of all time: “As the light of the sunrise nears, I hate to think what went on in here. Reassemble my shattered mind before the eyes of another kind.” At the beginning of the second verse, listeners are presented with another one of my favorite Human Expression lyrics: “Look in the mirror, see. The image stares at me.” Since this is a psychedelic rock song, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “Optical Sound” centers around drug use and experimentation. The lyrics are trippy enough on their own, but the vocals and instrumentation, which I will get into below, further cement the fact that the band members either dabbled in sixties counterculture or were at least intrigued by it.
Quarles possesses tremendous vocal range, and in “Optical Sound,” listeners are given a mellow, more subdued version of Quarles’ singing voice that never makes an appearance in other Human Expression songs. He delivers the lyrics to “Optical Sound” in an almost methodical manner, which may sound off-putting but works so well for the peculiar nature of this track that Rate Your Music user astroturf78 describes as, “Alluringly nightmarish, but tuneful all the same.”
As I alluded to earlier in the article, “Optical Sound” differed from previously released Human Expression singles. The song relies on studio electronic effects, and those added sound effects, coupled with the bass-heavy instrumentation, make for an even-paced single that stands far apart from other 60s garage rock songs.
The instrumental buildup beginning at one-minute and thirty-four seconds and the consequent release at one-minute and fifty-four seconds is what really makes “Optical Sound.” During this part of the song, I like to imagine myself twirling up, up, up and gracefully drifting back down on a pillow of air as the track winds down and drifts off. What more could you ask for from a 60s psychedelic rock song?
3) “Every Night”:
“Every Night” poses listeners with a challenge: Do they listen to this song while cruising late night with the windows down or do they stay at home in the privacy of a dark room and let this song take them away? Those may be oddly specific questions, but boy does this song take my mind places. Another Human Expression track with a brief, instrumental intro, Quarles eases listeners into “Every Night” by delivering the lyrics of the first verse calmly, calculatedly, and piece by piece. His voice is as soft as in “Optical Sound” but noticeably warmer, lending “Every Night” a cozy feeling.
The softness of the intro and first verse are a stark contrast from the chorus, which sneaks up on you and perfectly demonstrates Quarles’ vocal range. His singing voice goes from soft and warm to loud and rough as he proclaims the following, “And yes I’m gonna make you mine, well no matter what you do. I’m gonna love you pretty baby so you’ll like my love is true.” Only a few seconds before, Quarles was telling his baby that he loved her and that he was going to make her his in the most soothing of singing voices.
The gentleness returns in the second verse, and with the second verse comes my favorite “Every Night” lyrics: “Well if you leave me, now don’t come back again. ’Cause if you leave me, I want this misery to end.” While the rest of this Human Expression track doesn’t set the world on fire, the outro provides a satisfactory finish to a garage rock song that will no doubt shock you with its ingenuity.
2) “Readin’ Your Will”:
A badass song with a menacing title that you can dance your heart out to: That’s “Readin’ Your Will” in a nutshell. Even as I write this, I’m moving my body along to the song the best I can while sitting in a desk chair. It’s impossible not to.
Of the four songs on this list, “Readin’ Your Will” is the most traditional garage rock song of all. You know this song is going to be bad in a very good way from the fast-paced, drum-thumping intro. If you thought Quarles’ vocals were rough in the chorus of “Every Night,” then just wait until you hear his singing voice in “Readin’ Your Will.” He belts the lyrics like his life depends on it.
The track maintains a fast pace from the very beginning to the very end and possesses lyrics that only grow stronger and more accusatory as the song goes on. The best, most potent lyrics in the song are the ones that Quarles repeats several times: “And you’re sick, and it’s wrong, and baby it won’t be long ’til they’re readin’ your will.” Some other favorites of mine include, “Well if it ain’t a flash, it’s not for you. Now every night you got a habit with somebody new yeah,” and, “And well you got no guts, and you got no will. All you want is another thrill.”
Without ever losing steam, “Readin’ Your Will” switches up briefly at the one-minute and forty-seven-second mark. What sounds like a horse galloping (you have to believe me on this one) is introduced at this point in the song. The track has been strictly instrumental for roughly ten seconds and remains instrumental-only until one-minute and fifty-seven seconds when Quarles states, “Found something new to blow your mind.” After pummeling your eardrums for close to three minutes, “Readin’ Your Will” drifts off but never winds down, even in its final seconds.
1) “Love At Psychedelic Velocity”:
I couldn’t not place this treat of a title track in first place. “Love At Psychedelic Velocity” is the closest listeners will ever get to a Human Expression 60s-beach-party-rock-song. Imagine the swimsuit-clad cast of Beach, Blanket, Bingo (or any 60s beach party movie, really) losing it to this song and tell me it doesn’t fit perfectly.
I’ve been giving a lot of credit to Quarles throughout this entire article, but I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that every member of the band−Foster, Eshleman, Hamilton, and Poulin−put their heart and soul into every Human Expression track, specifically “Love At Psychedelic Velocity.” The guitar and drum work in the seven-second instrumental intro alone is impressive.
For the first thirty-six seconds, listeners get an unbelievably brash, fast-paced garage rock song layered overtop of Quarles’ signature rough vocals. In this part of the song, Quarles can be heard chanting, “She gives me satisfaction like I’ve never had, like I’ve never had now, like I’ve never had,” which bleeds effortlessly into my favorite part of the song, AKA the reason I placed “Love At Psychedelic Velocity” at number one. At the thirty-seven-second mark, the song suddenly slows down and takes on a mellow, relaxed feel before building back up in the most blissful way. Every time I grace my ears with the guitar shredding and drumming in this part of the song is like the very first time. I will never, ever tire of what the Human Expression manages to achieve at this point in the track.
Again, the song slows and gives listeners, and the band members, a chance to rest, but not for long. The track builds back up more expectedly this time as Quarles repeats, “Now come on, come on, come on now, well come on, well come on baby, now come on…” The band members sound as though they might take flight along with their instruments, and just when you think the song can’t get any more intense, it all comes to a head and blows up in listeners ears at two-minutes and thirty-one seconds. I’ve got two things to say about the ending of this song: Don’t listen to it with your earbuds in or headphones on unless you lower the volume and know now that it’s way ahead of its time.
The Human Expression could’ve had it all, but their music doesn’t allow you to mope or dwell on what could’ve been. They married psychedelic rock with garage rock and gave us just enough timeless hits to remember them by. They were here for a good time, not a long time, and it shows.
Obviously, The Human Expression was from a time before music videos, but that doesn’t mean fans haven’t created their own videos over the years. As a gift from me to you, I give you all the best fan-made Human Expression music video I could find. Thank you, YouTube account holder blacflag, for your time and service, and thank you, Human Expression, for all you did in the name of 60s garage rock.
– Christine Naprava (@Cnaprava) is a columnist for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org