50th Anniversary of Safe As Milk

Is it really 50 years since I first heard the Safe As Milk album?

Well, yes it is and I still play it regularly. It still sounds fresh and exciting although probably not quite as ‘weird’ as it originally sounded to me all that time ago. Hey, Beefheart soon got much weirder but Safe As Milk is still one hell of a debut album.

Not only was it a debut album but it was the first release on a brand new label, Buddah, set up by Kama Sutra Records. They must have had some faith in the band back then. It’s a pity the Mt Tamalpais show ended in disaster and the proposed Monterey appearance didn’t happen. Those shows could have made the band’s career and would probably have repaid Kama Sutra in spades, and maybe, just maybe made some money for Don and the Magic Band. Perhaps that did happen in a parallel universe somewhere and Don went on to become a superstar headlining stadium shows around the world. Hmmm, but I have to wonder whether that would have been a good thing or not?

Safe As Milk was the starting point for so many of Don’s long term fans and it is still a great album to begin your voyage into the world of Beefheart. Many of the songs on that album would continue to be performed by Don throughout his playing career with Abba Zaba being the one making the most appearances and with most incarnations of the Magic Band.

Having said it’s the album’s 50th anniversary I can’t be precise about the exact date on which it was released. The accepted wisdom for many years has been that it came out in September 1967, however there is a lot of evidence which points to an earlier month … probably some time in late June 1967.

John French certainly says June is the month as he recalls hearing songs from the album on the radio and actually taking a copy of the album to a local radio station. Although I suppose they could have been promo copies. The DJ and Beefheart evangelist, John Peel, played the album on his ‘Perfumed Garden’ show from the UK pirate radio station Radio London in July 1967. And there is printed evidence from the New Action Albums section of the music paper, Billboard, in August 1967 which indicates that the album is selling well.

Everything definitely points to the September release date being wrong but infuriatingly there doesn’t seem to be any record of the exact date. But having discussed it with my old friend and Beefheart collector extraordinaire, Paul Brown, we’re going with June 1967 as the correct date.

Whatever the date just dig out your copy of Safe As Milk and give it an anniversary spin, you know it makes sense …

And while you’re listening check out all the info we have about the album:

  • who played what,
  • the different releases … and there’s been a lot ’em over the years!
  • the SAM demos
  • the SAM acetate
  • the sound of SAM … why does it sound like that and what’s the best version?
John French, Jerry Handley, Alex Snouffer and Don Van Vliet from the Safe As Milk photo session by Guy Webster


  1. The first time I heard of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band was when I was listening to John Peel on Radio London; he played several songs from the Safe As Milk LP including Electricity and Abba Zabba. In view of the fact that Radio London was closed down on 15th August 1967, he must have obtained a copy before that date – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was officially released before September, only that he had got hold of it well before that date. I assumed that he had brought it over from the US where it had already been released, but I could be wrong about that.

  2. I first got wind of it when the Mothers (sans Frank) made an in-studio at WBUR in Boston c. Nov. ’67 to promote a show in town, and played some tracks from SAM they said were by an old high-school friend of Franks and described the music as ‘psychedelic delta blues’ – the tracks played were Abba Zabba and Electricity, I believe, and they completely blew my 14 yr old mind; they were just what I was looking for somehow, with some familiarity with the country blues already. Just the ticket! Badgered the bow-tied factotum at the Harvard Coop for weeks – Captain BEEF HEART?” he sniffed incredulously – until he located a mono copy in the Buddha bin, which did nicely. Didn’t hear in stereo for quite some years…

  3. My first encounter happened by total surprise when I was already fully grown up, living not in the US but in Germany, and Don was already living in seclusion. I was listening to “Clear spot” sometime early in the morning after a night of intense record spinning at a friend’s place. And man, it changed the world to me! Had to get hold of everything the Captain had put on tape. SAM, like every one of Don’s records, never gets old. It’s like a first-time listening experience every time I put it on!
    So where is our 50th anniversary deluxe set?

    1. Author

      Yes, indeed! The record company seems to have completely ignored this anniversary!

  4. Hmmmm, apparently there is a fan-wizard’s remaster of the desirable MONO floating about tweaked from orig. vinyl. Justice after the Sundazed fiasco. Anyone here grabbed it yet?

  5. Sad bugger that I am, I have the opening to Electricity as my ringtone on my mobile, trouble is I also still play the album on a regular basis at home and on the go and it always makes my mate Nick laugh when I try to answer the phone when it comes on my iPod.

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