3 December 2023

The Paupers - Southdown Road/ Numbers


Label: Verve Forecast
Year of Release: 1969

The Paupers were not exactly a blessed Canadian band. Formed in Toronto in 1964, they prided themselves on a (possibly exaggerated) work ethic and heavily hyped "live tightness", offering audiences in the area a dependable experience for the price of their gig tickets. 

What they sadly lacked was a steady line-up. Between their debut single "Never Send You Flowers" emerging in 1965 and this final effort in 1969, they lost two key original players - vocalist and rhythm guitarist Dan Marion and bass player Denny Gerrard - and were sent on long American tours which didn't result in significant success across the border.

Despite internal HR struggles, their musical journey was surprisingly fast. The debut 45 is without question a naive, slightly ramshackle, spindly fawn of a record which sounds as if it may fall over at any moment. The follow-up "If I Told My Baby" is punchier but still clearly a product of the beat era. 

By 1967's "Simple Deed", however, the group were hairy, laidback and were finally settling into a much more progressive sound, which resulted in a number 21 Canadian hit.  The chart success didn't last, though, and the following album and accompanying single "Magic People" didn't create a huge impression despite a lot of record label backing and hype, managing only to climb to number 178 on the US charts. 

By the time "Southdown Road" emerged the band were on their last legs, skint and in a state of disarray, but it doesn't show in these grooves. While the A-side isn't as memorable as it might be, the flipside "Numbers" is mean, heavy slice of hippy rock which provides no hints to the band's imminent demise. 

29 November 2023

Reupload - Mike Wade - On The Make


Label: [acetate]
Year of Release: [n/a]

Acetates, particularly ones of unreleased songs, spark huge excitement in me. It doesn't necessarily matter if the song isn't a lost gem - I've been getting my knees dirty digging in plastic crates for long enough now to know that's a very rare occurrence - it's just interesting to get hold of a polished recording which never made it past the private studio pressing stage. If a record that only sold fifty copies is scarce, then an acetate which was only shared among a handful of people is always going to feel a bit like a "precious thing" to a record collector.

The trouble is, acetates usually aren't very cheap either, and if I'm being honest, they tend not to overly enthuse "Left and to the Back" readers, who perhaps sense that if it wasn't good enough to make it into record shops, it's probably not worth clicking to investigate further. If I'm being fair, that's not usually an unreasonable assumption. "So what have we here?" you may well ask while stroking your chins, and let me tell you...

Mike Wade was one of many theatrical, big-voiced male solo singers in the sixties, who issued one 45 on Beacon ("Lovers", backed with the danceable "Two Three Four") and two on Polydor ("Happiness" and "Lovin' You Lovin' Me"). With a singing style which does seem rather reminiscent of Scott Walker at times, he nonetheless failed to take the kind of creative risks our dearly departed friend did - there were to be no songs about death or Stalin, nor meat punched for its percussive qualities round at Mike's house.

As Scott became ever more introspective and experimental, perhaps record label bosses saw Mike Wade as being somebody who could be wheeled into his place. That really wasn't to be, though - all his singles sold poorly, and it's very tricky to track down any of them now. Scott's, on the other hand, have been reissued time and time over.

26 November 2023

Val and the V's - I Like The Way/ With This Theme

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

It's astonishing that so few family groups emerged in the sixties. Parents were still popping out sprogs in the fifties at a rate where there often wasn't much of an age gap between them, the beat boom tempted any kid with the means into a group, and say what you want about your family (and I know you will) but... well, they're just there, aren't they? You've lived with them for long enough to already have a firm impression about their talent and reliability, and living in the same house makes organising rehearsals a doddle.

Val Melfi and her Vs (Vinnie Melfi on guitar and Viv Melfi on drums) firmly kept things in the family way, though, and were circuit veterans by the time they inked a deal with CBS, having played working man's clubs and cabaret clubs across the land, even gaining a residency at the Piccadilly Club in London. Their material wasn't purely middle of the road and had enough verve and swing to keep the kids happy.

The CBS debut "Do It Again A Little Bit Slower" was perhaps a little too rigid and understated, but this follow-up makes up for it. "I Like The Way" is a cover of the Tommy James and The Shondells song, and Val's tones are seductive here, snaking their way around a superb Keith Mansfield arrangement and a strident groove. By the time the organ break seeps in, you too will be wiggling your hips around the living room. This is pure Radio London stuff, and on a lucky week may actually have become a hit.

19 November 2023

The Nocturnes - Why (Am I Treated So Bad)/ Save The Last Dance For Me


Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Birmingham's The Nocturnes have featured on numerous psychedelic compilations, but you could be forgiven for wondering why. They could probably be more realistically and fairly defined as a harmony pop group with occasional tinges of Jimmy Webb's influence around the edges; indeed, their sprightly version of his track "Carpet Man" was compiled on the EMI CD "Psychedelia at Abbey Road" where it felt only slightly out of place.

"Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" was their second single after their debut release "I Wish You Would Show Me Your Mind", and is another interesting interpretation. "Why..." was originally written by Roebuck Staples of The Staples Singers in response to an incident at the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Nine black students attempted to enrol at the school in 1957 and were met with protests and blocked by the National Guard - the song is a response to this incident and in its original incarnation is a gutsy, bluesy, gospel-tinged protest.

The Nocturnes, however, obviously heard some of the gospel elements, noticed a discernible eeriness to them and decided to amp up these aspects. This version opens with a droning organ then introduces vocals which sound as if they've escaped from the mouths of the spectres on "Johnny Remember Me". Thudding, echoing beats occasionally introduce themselves like funeral drums, and the end effect may not be quite what The Staple Singers had in mind - in fact, there's a whole debate to be had here about whether a white Brummie group deviating from Roebuck Staples' intentions is appropriate - but it is startling. It's not exactly the precursor to The Specials "Ghost Town", but it does nonetheless take a politically charged topic and cut it through with a desolate, windblown feel. 

The B-side, on the other hand, is a fairly hollow pedestrian jog through The Drifters classic which sounds as if it may have been recorded in one take. You can't have everything.

12 November 2023

Sunny Goodge Street - If My Name Was Oscar/ Just Ain't Right


Label: Fraternity
Year of Release: 1974

It's been said so often that I'm reluctant to repeat it, but the idea that "toytown" psychedelic pop evaporated out of existence on New Years Eve in 1969 is fanciful. Unfashionable styles and genres never disappear from music completely; they just become gradually less commonly sighted in any given week's new release pile. Why, you could argue that some of They Might Be Giants' work is essentially toytown psychedelia or popsike and I might not completely disagree with you. 

The stylistic origins of bouncy, merry-happy sixties tunes about cobblers, market stall owners, watch makers and eccentric tramps were obviously in The Beatles and The Kinks more music-hall orientated work, and the former group had such a colossal influence on pop music that simply stamping it out was going to be impossible.

Certainly, the Dayton, Ohio group Sunny Goodge Street - named after the superb Donovan song - seemed in thrall to that side of the Fabs, as the A-side to this single proves. It's rude and lazy to describe the work of others by referring to their obvious influences, but in this case I almost have no choice. "If My Name Was Oscar" is almost exactly what you'd get if "When I'm 64" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" bred and had a baby song of their own. It's a jaunty, japey minute and forty seconds of music hall styled self-doubt, only delivered with an American accent. "If I had a beard/ would you think that I was weird/ would you tell me I had to shave?" they ask. Yes we would. Get busy with the blades and foam, hairies. 

Somewhat more oddly, they also sing "If my name was Oscar/ would you love me just the same/ would I have to change my name/ who would be to blame?" which doesn't make an awful lot of sense to me - was the name Oscar spectacularly unhip and undesirable by 1974, to the extent that men were adopting pseudonyms to avoid romantic embarrassment? It all seems a bit much to me.

Side B of this single is an entirely different proposition, though, as Sunny Goodge Street rock out in a much more seventies-friendly fashion, sounding almost like a completely different band. People who feel uncomfortable around twee sixties styled pop may therefore find more to enjoy away from the plug side.