Their debut masterpiece
by Brett Abrahamsen
The Red Crayola's seminal debut album, The Parable of Arable Land, is arguably the greatest album of all time. Few have dared put forth this argument, but it's a compelling one. The complexity and chaos of its "free form freakouts" have never been matched. Almost as an afterthought, the album also includes three of the greatest rock songs of the era: "Hurricane Fighter Plane" (with a majestic, hallucinatory organ solo by Roky Erickson), "Pink Stainless Tail," and the ultimate protest anthem, "War Sucks."
It's difficult to argue conclusively that an album has been made that is better than Parable. Its "freakouts" far surpass the timid experiments of The Beatles on the unjustly lauded Sgt. Pepper, yet its melodic sense rivals any Beatles album. The only musician of the era who can justifiably claim to have recorded something as experimental as Parable is Frank Zappa, but even Zappa never recorded anything as mind-boggling as the "freakouts." And later experimental masterpieces - Trout Mask Replica, for instance - must be judged as imitations of Parable, albeit ones that do not attain the same density of sound.
Why, then, is Parable seldom - if ever - considered the greatest album of all time? Perhaps residual Beatlemania is to blame. Perhaps it's the human tendency to gravitate towards simple and catchy music instead of great and difficult music. Whatever the case, Parable is indisputably one of the masterpieces of the decade, far ahead of mediocrities like Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, Rubber Soul, and Revolver.
Unfortunately, the Red Crayola (forced to change their name to "the Red Krayola" for legal reasons) never produced another album in the league of Parable. Their second album, Coconut Hotel, was rejected by their record label (and it certainly was inferior to Parable), but it nevertheless contained some intriguing experiments. God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It appeared in its place; its blend of skewed pop and avant-garde jokes was impressive, but it didn't have the mind-blowing power of Parable. Mayo Thompson then released his solo album, Corky's Debt To His Father, a collection of solid if not spectacular country rock songs. His best post-Parable effort was not with the Red Krayola but with Pere Ubu, whose album The Art of Walking is a demented triumph. Thompson and Pere Ubu's David Thomas combined to produce one of the most eccentric albums of all time. The Red Krayola's late career peak was 1994's excellent Hazel, which was one of their best.
Thompson appears to have stopped making music. Drummer Rick Barthelme is now better known as a novelist (alas, it seems, not a very good one). The members of the "Familiar Ugly" (responsible for the free form freakouts) are perhaps impossible to track down. Nonetheless, it was their collective contribution that made Parable rock music's greatest masterpiece.
Also see our 2023 interview with Mayo Thompson
And see our 2007 article on and interview with Mayo Thompson of Red Crayola/Krayola
And yet another article on Red Crayola's debut album
And our article on God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It