Thursday, August 7, 2008

In search of the ultimate evolutionary concept album part 1: "Darwin!" by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso

In the Rough Guide to Evolution, I was keen at the outset to have a section that documented popular music that had been influenced by, or that celebrated, Darwin and his theory of evolution. Even before my proposal had been accepted I found what I though must be the ultimate concept album on evolution—a little known progressive rock album called “Darwin!” 

I was encouraged by the commissioning editor’s assurance that this would definitely earn me brownie points with the founder of Rough Guides, Mark Ellingham, who is a great fan of progrock. But unfortunately, this all counted for naught, as Ellingham left the company just as I signed up.

So, let’s start with the caveat: progrock is an acquired taste, not for the faint-hearted. Although my musical tastes have veered off towards reggae, dub and world music, I still hold a nostalgic affection for progrock, which was the music to listen to when I was a teenager in the early 1970s.


“Darwin!” was released in 1972 as the second album by Italian progrock band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. The album cover features the lead singer of the band in a psychedelic landscape within the face of a watch (presumably a reference to Paley’s watchmaker?).  The album is held in high regard among progrock fans. See, for example, these reviews:

Over the years, Banco, or BMS as they are called, have re-recorded and re-released various tracks from the album. You can listen to a medium-quality mono version of a more recent and shorter version of the opening track here on youtube:


However, purists still cling to the vintage 1970s feel of the original, which UK readers can buy from iTunes here.

NB: for some reason, Darwin! is not available in the US iTunes store, but US readers can buy an overpriced CD of the original album from or try their luck with a DVD of a live performance (but this will be regionalised). I will e-mail the band to complain about lack of availability in the US!

BUT, all is not lost: BMS are performing live next month in North America, here in Montreal!

The original album opens with a long track, L’evoluzione (“Evolution”), which lasts for fourteen minutes and encompasses a range of musical styles, from mellow to frenetic as it re-tells the origin of life on Earth.

The lyrics are, unsurprisingly, in Italian, which makes the track less accessible for an English-speaking audience. But I append a translation, which is a joint effort between myself and my colleague Barbara Bordalejo. Anyone with better translation skills, feel free to submit your own version!

Later tracks in the album include

  • "La conquista della posizione eretta" Conquest of the upright stance
  • “Danza dei grandi rettili”: Dance of the great reptiles
  • "Cento mani e cento occhi"  A hundred hands and a hundred eyes
  • "750,000 anni fa ... L'amore?" 750.000 years ago ... Love?"
  • "Miserere alla storia" The psalm of history
  • "Ed ora io domando tempo al tempo ed egli mi risponde ... Non ne ho!" And Now I wonder time to time and he answered me ... I have not!

Last year I contacted BMS letting them know that the Darwin bicentenary year was coming. Iaia de Capitani, Banco’s manager e-mailed me back to say that

Actually Banco is working on a new Darwin project looking forward to the Darwin Bicentennial. The new work is "L'evoluzione" of the evolution.

I tried to get the organizer of the Shresbury Darwin Festival interested in having BMS play l’evoluzione in Darwin’s home town on Darwin’s 200th birthday, but he thought there wouldn’t be enough interest among English festival goers :-(

So, in conclusion, there is no doubt that Darwin! is a strong contender for greatest concept albums yet created on the theme of Darwin and evolution—some progrock fans see it as the best progrock album ever! But, as we shall see in a subsequent post, there is at least one other serious contender...

 L'evoluzione: Evolution

Prova, prova a pensare un po' diverso

niente da grandi dei fu fabbricato

ma il creato s'è creato da sé

cellule fibre energia e calore.


Try, try to think a little differently

Nothing was made by great Gods

But creation has created itself

Cells, fibres, energy and heat.

Ruota dentro una nube la terra

gonfia al caldo tende le membra.

Ah la madre è pronta partorirà

già inarca il grembo

vuole un figlio e lo avrà

figlio di terra e di elettricità.

Strati grigi di lava e di corallo

cieli umidi e senza colori


The earth rotates within a cloud,

Heat inflates the organs

Oh, the mother will soon give birth

Now the womb contracts

Wants a child and will soon have one

Son of earth and electricity

Grey layers of lava and coral

Humid skies without colours


ecco il mondo sta respirando

muschi e licheni verdi spugne di terra

fanno da serra al germoglio che verrà.

Informi esseri il mare vomita

sospinti a cumuli su spiagge putride

i branchi torbidi la terra ospita

strisciando salgono sui loro simili

e il tempo cambierà i corpi flaccidi

in forme utili a sopravvivere.


Here the world is breathing.

Green moss and lichen, sponges of earth

Act as greenhouse for the buds that will come.

The sea vomits beings without form,

Damp heaps on putrid beaches.

The welcoming soil is home to turbid branches;

They emerge, crawling over their fellows

And time will mould the flaccid bodies

Into forms fit for survival.


Un sole misero il verde stempera

tra felci giovani di spore cariche

e suoni liberi in cerchio muovono

spirali acustiche nell'aria vergine.

Ed io che stupido ancora a credere

a chi mi dice che la carne è polvere.


A miserable sun nurses the vegetation

Through young ferns charged with spores

And free sounds circle round

Acoustic spirals in the virgin air.

And am I so stupid still to believe

Him who tells me that flesh is dust?



E se nel fossile di un cranio atavico

riscopro forme che a me somigliano

allora Adamo non può più esistere

e sette giorni soli son pochi per creare

e ora ditemi se la mia genesi

fu d'altri uomini o di quadrumani.


And if in the fossil of an atavistic skull

I rediscover forms that are similar to me

Then Adam can no longer exist

And seven days alone are too few for creation

And now tell me if my own genesis

Is not of men but of apes.


Adamo è morto ormai e la mia genesi

non è di uomini ma di quadrumani.


Now Adam is dead and my genesis

Is not of men but of apes.


Alto, arabescando un alcione

stride sulle ginestre e sul mare

ora il sole sa chi riscaldare


High up, circling in arabesques, a halcyon bird

Squeals over the sea and shrubs of broom and

Now the sun knows whom  to warm



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