COUNTRY JOE McDONALD – Love is a Fire – (Fantasy) – 1976

country joe mcdonald - love is a fire

Allmusic: "A native of Washington, D.C., McDonald grew up in El Monte, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, where his parents, Florence and Worden, had moved to escape political difficulties in the capital city. Music played an important role through McDonald's childhood, and he attended many concerts at El Monte Legion Stadium; after becoming enchanted by Dixieland music, he frequented the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa Beach.

At the age of 17, McDonald enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Following his discharge after three years, he attended City College in Los Angeles for a year. Although he moved to Berkeley to continue his schooling, McDonald was distracted by his love of music and spent most of his time playing in bands like the Berkeley String Quartet and the Instant Action Jug Band, which included future bandmate Barry Melton.

McDonald continued to be active in politics in the mid-'60s, and published a left-wing magazine, Rag Baby. After publishing the first few issues of the magazine, McDonald conceived the idea of recording a special "talking" issue. Released as an EP, the issue featured two songs, "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag," a Dixieland-like indictment of the Vietnam War, and "Superbird," a satire aimed at President Lyndon Johnson; both were credited to "Country Joe & the Fish." Following the completion of the project, McDonald and Melton agreed to form a more serious rock band.

With McDonald's political lyrics set to a dynamic rock beat, Country Joe & the Fish became popular in the San Francisco Bay area, performing frequently at the Jabberwocky coffeehouse in Berkeley and the Avalon and Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco".

Country Joe was 34 in 1976.

The Vietnam War had ended, racial integration (on paper) had occurred, women had become liberated (at least white middle class women), the new generation had become (arguably) more self indulgent than the last, those in authority were never going to be held (automatically) in esteem, and the 60s were uncool.

What was left for a political, hippie hipster, radical, folkie who epitomised the militant 1960s and who sang uncompromising songs of rebellion, emancipation and liberation to do?

Make an album of love songs?

Yes, and why not, the music stars of the 60s that had something to say about America were finding the going tough.

Dylan was on the verge of turning to God, Phil Ochs had (seemingly) killed himself, Arlo Guthrie couldn't sell a record, Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship, The Byrds had broken up (for the last time), Lou Reed had been forgotten and was putting out "Metal Machine Music", Iggy Pop was battling drug demons, the MC5 had either scattered on were in jail, Brian Wilson was a virtual recluse.

Yes, but, Country Joe doing love songs?

The concept isn't all that silly. Country Joe could turn directions on a dime and the love song, in the US popular music songbook, is a subject matter as old, no, older, than all other themes.

And if there was one thing that Country Joe understood it was American popular music songbbook.

Country Joe's solo career, as I have commented on before,  seems to get overlooked in relation to his career as lead in Country Joes & The Fish.

And, to make things worse (or perhaps not surprisingly so), Country Joe's later solo career is even more over looked that his earlier solo career,

Try googling a review of this album or any of the late 70s albums and you won't find much out there.

McDonald had dabbled with but formally went solo in the early 70s.

Initially he took up where Country Joe & The Fish left off (though there were exceptions)…. strident, confrontational songs about the world.

After a half dozen albums he wasn't selling. The appeal of a love song album in this context didn't seem a bad idea. It's not as if he hadn't written love songs before and he had a deep knowledge of the great American songbook and the songwriters of the pre rock era.

And what would have been a good idea would have been to put out an album of newly written old timey love songs and bite into the market that Jim Kweskin and Leon Redbone  had (an admittedly small market).,

But Country Joe instead put out this album.

This is, variously, folk, American songbook, MOR, soft rock, and even light disco.


It's like Country Joe was trying to reinvent himself and get everyone to forget his past.

He is now a singer of love songs.

The trouble is that, though thematically it's about love, stylistically it's all over the place. There are some contemporary (circa 1976) music styles that just don't suit Country Joe (or his voice).

What keeps it together (just) is the fact that Country Joe's does it straight but you KNOW it's Country Joe.

Joe's love songs never hit the truth or any depth on love in it's many facets but his slightly surreal world view (something that goes back to The Fish days) makes the songs, …. err interesting.

There was no market for this.

No surprises there.

Tracks (best in italics)

  • It Won't Burn – horns, like bad Philly soul, punctuate a generally silly song with nothing to say. "Love is a flame that keeps us warm" …indeed.
  • You're The Song  –  70s backing vocals and bland lyrics in this MOR tune.
  • In Love Naturally  – this works as if references back to country folk.
  • Oh, No    – this is just plain weird and more than a little dull.
  • Baby, Baby  – Country Joe moves into Seals & Croft territory and it's not too bad but you don't expect it.
  • True Love At Last    – more MOR with a slight Poco vibe. Not too bad.
  • Who´s Gonna Fry Your Eggs  – A old school old timey love song. "Who's gonna fry your eggs when your hair is grey". A very relevant question, and a good song.
  • Colortone  – I'm not sure what this is.
  • I Need You (This And That)   – some of the cheesiest lyrics this side of John Sebastian but it is so silly it is thoroughly engaging.
  • Love Is A Fire – Country Joe goes 70s funky …. wtf.

And …

This is not a success but it won't take up much space on the shelf between the other Country Joe albums. …. I'm keeping it.
Chart Action
Nothing no where

Who´s Gonna Fry Your Eggs   
mp3 attached

Country Joe McDonald – Who's Gonna Fry Your Eggs

Love Is A Fire



Country Joe & The Fish–the-fish-p25282




About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
This entry was posted in Singer Songwriter, Soft Rock and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply