The Free Design – Butterflies are Free: The Original Recordings 1968-1972

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If you’ve seen Last House on the Left or Cannibal Holocaust, you’ll know that the most disturbing element of the films can be the jarring effect of lush musical arrangements over scenes of violence and social/moral degeneration. In isolation, the soundtracks are glorious. In context, they’re horrifying. Such was my experience of listening to the complete early recordings of The Free Design during the second lockdown.

The Free Design were a band made up of the Dedrick siblings, with material primarily written and arranged by the classically trained Chris Dedrick. Taking inspiration equally from the Greenwich Village folk scene and the hippyish groups rising up in California in the late 60s/early 70s, Dedrick mingled folk melodies, baroque harmonies and the sunlit haze of the West Coast into some of the dreamiest music of the era. Nowadays (as probably at the time) the overall sound is undeniably twee, but behind it there is a strict sincerity. The band avoided major label money and stuck with the independent Project 3 to release their albums. This included an album for children The Free Design Sing for Very Important People (including a cover of the Sesame Street theme tune), and six albums for grown-ups (which still sound a lot like the kids album). Cherry Red have delightfully packages their first run of albums (minus their single comeback album in the 2000s) with a booklet full of information and a wedge of rare singles and mono mixes.

The band specialise in a whimsical sort of pop that relaxes the soul, even when it tries to be edgy (there are a couple of token tracks about the Vietnam war slung in the mix). Even the covers they choose are of a twee persuasion: Simon and Garfunkel’s “…(Feelin’ Groovy)” rather than one of their existential ballads; Beatles songs selected from arch-musical hall apologist Paul’s contributions; “Happy Together” by the Turtles, and so forth. Even “California Dreamin’”, a song that has considerable menace for a pop tune, is twisted so that its dark edges are lit with sunshine and flower petals. The later albums (notably There is a Song) do revert to a subdued minimalism, stretching passed the layered and intricate sweeps of vocals found in the earlier material, but there is always a moment in there that returns to the happy-go-lucky roots. Each album is at least half full of arrangements that the Beach Boys would have been proud of, and what’s left is still pretty damn fine. Underrated and criminally ignored are terms that are thrown about liberally. I continue to do so here. Underrated. Criminally ignored.

Despite listening to these albums as the world collapsed around me for the second time in a year, there was an infectious optimism and love throughout each of the 4 CDs here that reminded me things had been worse and could be better. Even when I wasn’t being hypnotised out of my cynicism, the albums contain a catalogue of arrangements and melodies that any fan of music should venture into in order to understand how simple songs can be constructed in such a way as to add depth and complexity beyond immediate listening. These folks have been raved about by artists such as Stereolab, Beck and Cornelius. Again, they’re a band that are listened to by the bands you listen to. Allow yourself to join their world. Just make sure the news isn’t on in the background.

  • Words by Angri Peters
  • Available on Cherry Red Records on 27 November 2020 through Cherry Red website

CD1:

Kites Are Fun (1967)

  1. Kites Are Fun
  2. Make The Madness Stop
  3. When Love Is Young
  4. The Proper Ornaments
  5. My Brother Woody
  6. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
  7. Don’t Turn Away
  8. Umbrellas
  9. Michelle
  10. Never Tell The World
  11. A Man And A Woman

You Could Be Born Again (1968)

  1. Stay Another Season
  2. You Could Be Born Again
  3. A Leaf Has Veins
  4. California Dreamin’
  5. The Windows Of The World
  6. Eleanor Rigby
  7. Quartet No. 6 In D Minor
  8. I Like The Sunrise
  9. I Found Love
  10. Daniel Dolphin
  11. Happy Together
  12. Ivy On A Windy Day
  13. An Elegy

CD2:

Heaven / Earth (1969)

  1. My Very Own Angel
  2. Now Is The Time
  3. If I Were A Carpenter
  4. You Be You And I’ll Be Me
  5. Girls Alone
  6. 2002 – A Hit Song
  7. Summertime
  8. Where Do I Go
  9. Hurry Sundown
  10. Memories
  11. Dorian Benediction

Sing For Very Important People (1970)

  1. Don’t Cry, Baby
  2. Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street?
  3. Children’s Waltz
  4. Scarlet Tree
  5. Little Cowboy
  6. Love You
  7. Ronda Go ‘Round
  8. Bubbles
  9. Daniel Dolphin
  10. Kites Are Fun
  11. Lullaby

CD3:

Stars / Time /Bubbles / Love (1970)

  1. Bubbles
  2. Tomorrow Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life
  3. Kije’s Ouija
  4. Butterflies Are Free
  5. Stay Off Your Frown
  6. Starlight
  7. Time And Love
  8. I’m A Yogi
  9. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
  10. Howdjadoo (Fly Me Down)
  11. That’s All People

One By One (1972)

  1. One By One
  2. Felt So Good
  3. Friendly Man
  4. Light My Fire
  5. Like To Love
  6. You Are My Sunshine
  7. Go Lean On A River
  8. Going Back
  9. Love Me
  10. Friends (Thank You All)

CD4:

There Is A Song (1972)

  1. Canada In Springtime
  2. Kum Ba Yah
  3. Peter, Paul And Mary
  4. Pineapple Crabapple
  5. The Symbols Ring
  6. Stay
  7. I Wanna Be There
  8. There Is A Song
  9. A Child Is Born
  10. Love Does Not Die
  11. Chorale
  12. Fugue

Bonus Tracks

  1. Kites Are Fun (Mono Single)
  2. The Proper Ornaments (Mono Single)
  3. You Be You And I’ll Be Me (Mono Single)
  4. Never Tell The World (Mono Single)
  5. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Mono Single)
  6. I Found Love (Mono Single)
  7. Umbrellas (Mono Single)
  8. Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) (Single)
  9. Christmas Is The Day (Single)
  10. Ellen Dedrick Nature Boy (Single)
  11. Ellen Dedrick Settlement Boy (Single)
  12. Butterflies Are Free (Single Version)
  13. To A Black Boy