In Febuary 1990 The KLF released their concept album Chill Out, coining the phrase ‘ambient house’ with their downtempo soundtrack for a fictional roadtrip along the southern border of America.
As so often with The KLF, the basic idea came to them not as the result of meticulous research but from a happy accident in their studio instead.
Apparently recorded without edits in one single take, the whole album was attempted several times – if a mistake was made, they started again.
JC: There are no edits on it, and quite a few times we’d get near the end and make a mistake, and so we’d have to go all the way back to the beginning again and set it all up from scratch. It was like spinning plates (laughs). We used two DAT players, a record player, a couple of cassette players and a 12-track, feeding through a mixer and back to a DAT.
BD: And we’d bounce things from DAT to DAT as we went along. We started Chill Out with 20 minutes of pads and went from there.Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty (Sound On Sound, Apr 1991)
While this might give the impression that Chill Out is nothing but a mere collage of train noises and rural sounds The KLF assured journalists that the album’s apparent formlessness was intentional.
Among the ‘bits and pieces’ used on Chill Out are versions of the KLF’s past Pure Trance singles, including a stripped down version of 3 a.m. Eternal mixed into “After The Love” by Jesus Loves You, and a beatless (and then yet unreleased) Last Train To Trancentral.
Despite being their biggest hit at the time Chill Out does not feature any mix of What Time Is Love, though a very Chill Out-inspired remix later appeared on the Remodelled & Remixed single which in turn was included with the 2021 streaming-only album Come Down Dawn.
A Mind-Wandering Journey
Even though the track titles suggest a romantic road trip across the southern gulf coast of the United States, The KLF openly admit that they only ever visited these places with their fingers moving on the map.
It’s easy to see how, even before the needle drops for the first time, these titles start telling a story.
Apart from the music itself Chill Out is probably best known for its iconic sheep-in-the-countryside artwork. According to Bill this was a reminiscence to another iconic record sleeve, namely Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, and how for The KLF it captured the post-rave atmosphere.
Looking for a similar image Bill and Jimmy went to a photo-library and asked for a picture like the Pink Floyd cover but with sheep instead.
Coining The Phrase ‘Ambient House’
Trying to find a handy name to describe their sound, The KLF came up with the phrase ‘ambient house’ to separate the album’s style from the more rhythm focused four-on-the-floor club tracks.
An Orb Album In Disguise?
There had been some confusion concerning the recording of ‘Chill Out’ coming from a Volume interview with The Orb’s Alex Paterson, where the interviewer writes the following.
However since this is not a direct quote from Paterson, it is more reasonable to believe the KLF’s actual statements. It is possible that the interviewer was confusing Chill Out with the Space album, which was indeed recorded originally as an Orb album by Jimmy and Alex.
There were infamous weekend-long parties held at Trancentral though, and Paterson will have had some guiding/inspirational input, but it’s really the interplay between Bill and Jimmy that makes the KLF great. Chill Out is unquestionably a KLF record – just listen to steel guitars and sheep noises.
Promotion & Advertising
Chill Out received little to no promotion other than a few lines in the KLF’s own Info Sheets.
Don’t bother trying to listen to this LP if you have neither first switched off the lights and then laid your body to rest on the floor. Hopefully then the trip will be complete.
WARNING — Drugs can seriously impair/improve your judgement.
CHILL OUT will be out in early 1990.KLF Info Sheet #7, Dec 1989
One of the Info Sheets also suggests that The KLF had planned to release at least one accompanying ‘seven-inch ambient single’ along with a video. This might refer to the unreleased Madrugada Eterna single of which one (albeit not quite ambient) mix appeared in the White Room movie promo video.
Tracks & Formats
|LP / 05 Feb 1990|
|A1||Brownsville Turnaround On The Tex-Mex Border||1:43|
|A2||Pulling Out Of Ricardo And The Dusk Is Falling Fast||1:29|
|A3||Six Hours To Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold||3:01|
|A4||Dream Time In Lake Jackson||2:37|
|A6||Justified And Ancient Seems A Long Time Ago||1:09|
|A7||Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul||2:40|
|B1||3AM Somewhere Out Of Beaumont||9:50|
|B2||Witchita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard||5:57|
|B3||Trancentral Lost In My Mind||0:56|
|B4||The Lights Of Baton Rouge Pass By||3:26|
|B5||A Melody From A Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back||1:51|
|B6||Rock Radio Into The Nineties And Beyond||1:27|
|B7||Alone Again With The Dawn Coming Up||0:43|
The LP release has been bootlegged multiple times – see our FAQ for details.
|CD / 05 Feb 1990|
|1||Brownsville Turnaround On The Tex-Mex Border||1:43|
|2||Pulling Out Of Ricardo And The Dusk Is Falling Fast||1:29|
|3||Six Hours To Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold||3:01|
|4||Dream Time In Lake Jackson||2:37|
|6||Justified And Ancient Seems A Long Time Ago||1:09|
|7||Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul||2:40|
|8||3AM Somewhere Out Of Beaumont||9:50|
|9||Witchita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard||5:57|
|10||Trancentral Lost In My Mind||0:56|
|11||The Lights Of Baton Rouge Pass By||3:26|
|12||A Melody From A Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back||1:51|
|13||Rock Radio Into The Nineties And Beyond||1:27|
|14||Alone Again With The Dawn Coming Up||0:43|
Differences between the UK and US pressings
The UK CD has only one track, 45 minutes long. The US CD on TVT/Wax Trax separates this into 14 tracks, based on the ‘song’ titles and approximate timings printed on the label of the UK LP. It seems that the KLF consider Chill Out to be one continuous piece of music, but had to invent a separation into songs so that song-writing royalties can be paid to those sampled. For instance ‘P. Green’ is credited with co-co-writing 3AM Somewhere Outside of Beaumont with Drummond and Cauty, and of course this is Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, writer of Albatross, the melody that is heavily sampled on this track.
The Wax Trax release furthermore lacks the train engine sound at the beginning of the B-side and moves it to Elvis On The Radio… instead, and cuts the last 30 seconds of Alone Again. The reason for these changes remains unknown.
14 thoughts on “Chill Out”
You forgot to mention that Wax Trax version is shorter.
It misses engine sound at the start of side B and Alone Again is shorter edit.
Thanks Adam, will add this to the last paragraph. The UK version is superior in every regard, though much harder to find unless you want to get yourself a bootleg.
The train engine sound definitely makes it “the last train” to transcendental…
Absolutely one of the best ambient albums ever!
Listening to it late at night on long trips back from the American Southwest it becomes hypnotic and, so to speak, transcendental.
It also has some painfully beautiful steel guitar work in it, and I’ve never been able to listen to Elvis’s “In the Ghetto’ without hearing echoes of “Chillout.”
The album is a lesson in how to listen to the background “ambient” sounds that often come from the mundane add sublimity to the the music of the universe that ever surrounds us.
Thanks for the joy it brings…
anyone know where the cover photo with the sheep comes from??
All we know is that it’s a stock photo from a library (updated the text to include that info).
Had the vinyl edition of this from release and a year or so afterwards wanted to get a CD copy as had just bought my first CD player , couldn’t find a copy anywhere for love nor money, about a year later had a temp girl working in the office and she casually mentioned in conversation that she had a copy, kerching!, I worked at a brewery at the time and she was having a party , so traded a couple of cases of beer for her copy , she thought it was a bit crap!, still have that copy today, thanks Georgina wherever you are !
I noticed you stated the train noses at the start on the B-side are mssing on the US release. They’ve actually been moved to “Elvis On The Radio”, making it clock in at 3:02.
Well spotted – updated the last paragraph accordingly.
Do you imagine what a Q-Sound mix of this album, with many of the sound effects mixed to sounds more atmospheric would sound like? (see several notable Q-Sound mixed albums from the 90s, just not the Madonna one)
I love this album so much I put my LP in a frame and put it on the wall. My 4 year old laughed at the cover and asked me why the sheep are in the shape of a question mark! In nearly 30 years I’d never noticed that and just thought it was a group of sheep randomly sitting in a field. In trying to find if the picture had been digitally altered I landed on this website. There’s no mention of it so assume it must just be a happy coincidence.
It most probably is, though it nicely fits with The KLF’s “Why Sheep?” motto. 😉
There really isn’t anything quite like this album. Yes it’s ambient, but it’s much more than that. It’s alive, there’s no denying that.
First, your site is incredible! As proof of what I’m about to say, not many hours ago I uploaded the full UK release of this album to YouTube.
The sound missing from the US Wax Trax! release is that of a vehicle engine, not a train engine. It was not moved to “Elvis On The Radio”. It was removed entirely. “Elvis …” is the same on both releases. Further, no audio content is missing from “Alone Again …”. When viewed as one continuous track like the UK release, it is all there.
What may be most likely is that the track divisions on the US release weren’t adjusted properly to account for the removal of the vehicle engine sound.