Hey, are you like me? Dig 1960s garage rock that’s dripping with attitude? If so, then I think you’re gonna love the Koala. This snotty, New York band released just one album in the late ‘60s—and it’s fantastic.
In early 1968, five teenage kids from Brooklyn were gigging locally in a rock band called the United Popcorn Federation, when they were signed to major label. By April, they were recording their debut LP for Capital Records. A single was released before the end of the year, though the label insisted on charging their name to the Koala and pushing them as an Australian group—! Well, it worked for The Strangeloves….The single received some area airplay, which all but vanished by the time their self-titled debut album came out in early 1969.
As with their name, the guys were not consulted on what songs would be chosen for their single, nor the artwork used for their LP, which they only saw after it was pressed. Adding to the group’s frustration, members were misidentified in the gatefold sleeve. Like the 45, the album received little promotion and quickly disappeared. The bad breaks continued, as they were sent contracts to play the Woodstock festival, but the offer fell through.
It’s a shame the Koala never really had a chance, as there’s some incredible material on their one and only LP. Around twelve years ago, I heard the record for the first time, and wrote a review of it for AllMusic. I realize this is a bit awkward, but as I largely stand by the review, I’m going to quote most of it here.
The Koala prove themselves to be above average players, full of passion and conviction on their lone album. “Look at the Way She Comes” is typical of the band’s best material: a Who/Stones hybrid with bile-inducing vocals, wild psych guitar, and a tight, nearly deranged performance—plus, it’s a great tune. At first, “Strange Feelings” seems to be teen-punk angst all the way, but features an unexpected yet seamless raga detour. “Poppa Duke Tyler” borrows both the melody and subject manner of “Eleanor Rigby,” but instead of going the somber route the Beatles took, Koala uses the universal theme of loneliness to produce a stomping, unhinged rocker—complete with a fuzz-tastic guitar solo from Louis Dambra—where the protagonist is actually driven to the brink of madness from the isolation. Like many garage vocalists from the mid-to-late ‘60s, singer Jay Mala’s super-snotty, Jagger-like snarl foreshadows punk, but Mala has so much New York attitude and an obvious dedication that he should stand with his peers as one of the most effective vocalists of the era.
Truly one of the misplaced gems of ‘60s garage psych-punk.
To give you a taste of the record, here’s the aforementioned “Look at the Way She Comes”:
If this song doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will.
Not long after the album tanked, lead guitarist Louis Dambra quit, and formed the early heavy metal band, Sir Lord Baltimore. The Koala soldiered on, recording a handful of songs for a planned second album, before Capital dropped them. By 1973, they had broken up.
Singer Jay Mala joined glam band the Magic Tramps, and was later briefly the lead vocalist for the Joe Perry Project.
In 2010, the Koala album was given the limited edition/180 gram treatment. A CD had appeared a few years prior, but it’s a bootleg. A digital version is currently available on multiple platforms, though I can’t confirm it’s legit.
A stream of the full Koala record:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The explosive teenage garage rock of Pittsburgh proto-punks, the Swamp Rats