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Fifty years ago, a musician called Captain Beefheart set off on the weirdest musical career of all time

His band's debut album proved that progress isn't linear. Experimental rock music was never so good again

By Alex Dean  

Captain Beefheart performing in Toronto in the 1970s. Photo: Jean-Luc/Leahtwosaints

“Babbette baboon, abba zaba zoom.”

Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk, from which those lyrics are taken, ushered in one of rock music’s most important—and unusual—careers. Real name Don Van Vliet—known to die-hards simply as “The Captain”—Beefheart fused Mississippi delta blues with avant jazz to astonishing effect. His debut album, 60 years old in September, still sounds breathtakingly experimental—and reminds us that progress isn’t linear. Rock music has not reached the same heights since.

Don Van Vliet had always been peculiar,…

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