Before he became Patti Smith’s lead guitarist, Lenny Kaye compiled the 2 album set, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Released in 1972, the two-LP set covered American garage rock and psychedelia from the years 1965 to 1968 and was a major influence on punk rock. Rhino Records reissued an expanded version of the set in 1998, with 118 tracks in total. I’m profiling and rating each of these 118 tracks, working backwards.
From: New Jersey
Aphoristic Rating: 8/10
A QUESTION OF TEMPERATURE – The Balloon Farm [2:36]
(Michael Appel/Edward Schnug/Donald Henny)
Personnel/MIKE APPEL * DON HENNY * JAY SAKS * ED SCHNUG
Produced by PETER SHEKERYK for HUGO & LUIGI PRODUCTIONS
Recorded in New York, NY
Laurie single #LR-3405 (10/67); Pop #37
Drummer Don Henny (not Henley….) and guitarist Ed Shnug played together in the New Jersey band Adam. Their gimmick was that all four members took the name Adam, and only single was titled ‘Eve’. After Adam broke up, they were joined by singer/guitarist Mike Appel and bassist Jay Saks and formed The Balloon Farm, named after a New York nightclub.
‘A Question of Temperature’ was the band’s first single, although it was misspelled as ‘A Question of Tempature’ on the label. It was a successful debut, cracking the Billboard Top 40. It’s a strong single, hitting a balance of sonic experimentation and catchiness. The guitar riff is memorable, and the arrangement is interesting with the stacked backing vocals and the theremin squiggling away in the background. It’s produced by Peter Schekeryk, who’d go onto success in the 1970s as the husband and manager of Melanie.
“The Balloon Farm was not what I would call a working band,” explains Appel. Although they did play some live shows, the band was conceived more as a vehicle for recording original material. “A Question of Temperature,” co-written by Appel, Schnug and Henny, was one of the first songs to emerge from the new alliance. “I came with the framework for the song and the guitar riff and then everybody pitched in with the rest of the music,” remembers Mike. “I think, being a wordy guy, I wrote the lyrics.”
Right away, it was clear there was something special about it. It was different—weird even— but also catchy and commercial. “When you don’t have preconceived notions about how to go about something, you sometimes fall into a very creative state and do things you could not have done if you had been musically trained,” reflects Mike. “All of us loved music, but none of us were trained. Thank God!”
Schekeryk produced the session with Appel’s assistance, playing up the song’s inherent quirkiness with a punchy, metronomic backbeat, and some squiggly Theremin embellishments. “We used a Theremin because the Beach Boys did in ‘Good Vibrations,’” says Mike. “Brian Wilson used it melodically; we used it like wackos! I sung lead, background, and played lead guitar.” Along with the dominant fuzz guitar hook, Appel also played the atmospheric volume swell accents on the bridge section. “It wasn’t a volume pedal,” he reveals. “I moved the volume up and down by moving the volume knob on the guitar itself while I picked out the notes of the ‘volume guitar solo’. The volume knob was moved by my right hand’s pinky and the thumb and index finger of my right hand plucked the individual notes out. The left hand obviously had to depress the correct notes as well.”
The Balloon Farm’s career never took off – the follow-up single failed, and they never made a full album. Many rock fans, however, will recognise Mike Appel’s name – he managed fellow New Jersey musician Bruce Springsteen over his early career. Their relationship soured – Appel and Springsteen became embroiled in a legal battle that kept Springsteen out of the recording studio for more than a year in his 1970s prime.