26 May 2019

Tony Merrick - Lady Jane/ Michelle

A Stones cover one one side + Beatles cover on the other = near-hit single

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

Depending on how far you want to push or stretch the term, Tony Merrick could be regarded as a one hit wonder thanks to this single. It spent a solitary week at number 49 in June 1966 before dipping back down under the waves again - so close and yet so far.

It's not too surprising it was at least faintly in-demand for awhile. Both sides cover the two biggest hitting bands of the sixties, with "Lady Jane" taking on Jagger and Richards and "Michelle" naturally being another cover of The Beatles track. The A-side here is beautifully arranged, sounding like a touching and innocent piece of baroque styled pop, with strumming harpsichord sounds meeting plucked nylon guitar strings. Merrick's vocal performance is gentile and ever so slightly arch, suiting both the song and the arrangement.

"Michelle" on the flip side is less interesting, unfortunately, though it's not a Beatles track of which I'm especially fond, so your experience of it may differ.

22 May 2019

The Candy Dates - Some Other Time/ Show Me How To Live

Folk-beat group with Opportunity Knocks pedigree

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

For a group who managed a mere two singles on Pye before disappearing, The Candy Dates did seem to have a reasonably high media profile in 1965. This was largely due to their presence on the Opportunity Knocks programme, where their jaunty folk-beat songs obviously struck a chord with family audiences - sweet vocal harmonies for the Mums and Dads, and a steady beat to keep the kids happy.

Despite their mainstream exposure, the group's debut single "A Day Just Like That" sold poorly, and it was perhaps only to be expected that if "Some Other Time" didn't perform better, Pye's patience would snap. Lo and behold, readers, it didn't, and the band were dropped.

It is a bouyant and sugary effort, though, with lots of perky organ riffs and cute boy-girl harmony vocals. The flipside "Show Me How To Live" is much slower and more autumnal, and worked its way on to the "Ripple" compilation series some years ago.

Without wishing to sound as if I'm giving the group a back-handed compliment, part of the appeal of their sound is their cute naiveté. Their performances are largely solid, but the occasional wobble in the vocal harmonies and the simple riffs point towards a bunch of musicians who were offered recording opportunities at a point where they weren't necessarily tightly developed. Nonetheless, I'd like to think that if Pye had persevered and let them develop rather than treating them as a passing talent show fad, their third or fourth single might have broken through.

19 May 2019

Reupload - David and David - In The City/ Good Morning Morning

Like Elton John covering Nick Drake. Kinda. I suppose. 

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1970

While this piece of popsike hasn't quite slipped through the net - it did end up on a "Curiosity Shop" compilation recently - it has, it's safe to say, been rather largely ignored since its release despite the Gus Dudgeon production credit. Shunned even by the mighty Bible of all things sixties and esoteric, the "Tapesty of Delights" encyclopaedia, it's inexplicable that this one has been left to gather dust for so long.

There's an unquestionable Moody Blues air about the proceedings on "In The City", with a great deal of melodramatic vocalisations and despairing orchestrations about the angst of urban life, but the song has enough of a pop edge to succeed by the time the chorus rolls around. It's naive, charming, slightly silly and sweet and also somehow a tad epic with it, qualities that rarely occur in the same song at the same time. If Elton John actually had got around to covering Nick Drake, it might have ended up sounding a bit like this.

David and David were clearly a duo (and spare me the jokes about David Steel and David Owen of the Liberal/ SDP alliance, please). The identity of one of these Davids is unclear, but the other is clearly David Mindel, who would later go on to join the widely compiled Esprit de Corps whose "If (Would It Turn Out Wrong)" has been a mainstay of sixties rarity LPs. I think this is a slightly better single than that, though - not as woozy or psychedelic sounding, despite its earlier release date, but certainly a much more convincing and strident piece of work.

16 May 2019

Rhys Eye - Yellow Submarine/ I Just Can't Lose That Tune

Fascinating but sombre reading of the jaunty Beatles tune

Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1975

"Yellow Submarine" is probably one of the less analysed Beatles songs in their oeuvre, despite being one of the best known. At my infant school, it was wheeled out for sing-a-longs in school assemblies in halls that whiffed of chips and baked beans, and it was a track I was used to hearing on cartoons or during intervals at local children's theatre shows. Marrying upbeat melodies to nonsense lyrics, it seemed like the very definition of "harmless fun".

Clearly not everybody thought that way, though. Paul Phillips, who would later on find brief fame as Driver 67, was troubled by the sense it was an "other-worldly excursion into all sorts of sub-conscious emotions that I couldn’t put my finger on". Whether this was something he talked about to his friends or decided to keep to himself, when he eventually had gainful A&R employment at CBS he was surprised to find someone who agreed with him turning up to an audition.

Peter Bennett, who recorded and wrote under the name Rhys Eye, dropped by insisting he had a fantastic idea, but if he simply told Phillips what it was there was every possibility he would be cut out of the picture and find it being used by another artist on CBS. Phillips arranged for a legal waiver to be signed stating that whether he accepted or rejected the idea, it would remain the intellectual property of Mr. Eye.

And this, amazingly, was it - something that confirmed Phillips wasn't the only one bowing his head to Ringo's honking about strangely coloured submersible warships. Bennett's idea was simply a heartfelt, bluesy, troubled take on a Beatles song most listeners haven't really bothered to read much into. In Rhys Eyes' hands, "Yellow Submarine" becomes reflective and regretful, sounding like a hymn to lost childhood, lost friends and perhaps lost innocence - or, more than that, a nostalgia for absurd, exaggerated things that were never truly as the singer believed eating away at him like a deadly, slow poison. 

Whether it works is something not everyone is going to agree on, but it certainly fits the current decade's model of finding sorrow or opportunities for plaintive, melancholy expression in the most unlikely source material. If an advertising executive from John Lewis hears this and doesn't use it in their next Christmas campaign, then I'll be lost for words.

12 May 2019

Mortimer - Dedicated Music Man/ To Understand Someone

New York garage rockers The Teddy Boys taking an unexpectedly folk-pop turn prior to becoming Beatle proteges

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1967

The late sixties saw lot of groups suddenly changing tack stylistically, some because they took the special tablets so widely associated with the later era, and others because they realised the times they were a-changin' and didn't want to be seen as irrelevant. It's impossible to say how many had authentic, pure motivations and how many were just being cynical - and in the end, it doesn't matter terribly if the results are worthwhile.

Mortimer, consisting of Guy Masson, Tom Smith, and Tony Van Benschoten, had largely operated under the name The Teddy Boys, who were a storming garage rock group perhaps best known for their single "Jezebel". By February 1967 they'd changed their name to Pinnochio and The Puppets to issue "Fusion" on Mercury, then they appeared to throw all their electrified instruments into a skip to pursue a rather more semi-acoustic, hippy-ish, harmony driven direction.

Tony Secunda's (Move/ Procol Harum manager) cousin Daniel Secunda swooped down to take over the group's affairs, and they became quite hot property in New York, regularly performing to enthusiastic audiences. "Dedicated Music Man" was probably their closest crack at the hit parade, and showcases their abilities, which bear a strong and striking resemblance to the folk-rock scene of the time. The song has a strong, determined pop chorus as well, but was possibly not powerful enough to stand a chance in the very crowded 1967 marketplace.