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 Amazon.com 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...
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