12 December 2018

Next of Kin - Merry Christmas/ Sunday Children Sunday Morning

Interesting attempt at festive ska from Mitch Murray and friends

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

Well, ho ho ho, what have we here in Santa's sack? Blow me down if it isn't a bit of cod-ska co-written by the songwriter Mitch Murray, of "How Do You Do It?", "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Is This The Way To Amarillo?" fame. Ho ho ho, off you go young man, get off my knee, there are others waiting, this record didn't bloody sell and I've got tons to get rid of, you know.

Mitch was, it's safe to say, not a man who had probably even holidayed in the Caribbean, much less been a member of a ska band. The Mike Leander production credit also indicates that there wasn't somebody from that background present to steer the ship towards those waters, so by rights, this disc should be a hopeless shambles.

It's interesting to find out that it's not terrible, then. It wouldn't pass muster with the average sixties skin who would almost certainly sniff out the distinctly Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da styled fake accents, but those cheap brass sounds, the raw production and the repetitive nature of the tune make it a strong parody of a late sixties ska track at the very least. It's unquestionably a cynical cash-in on a "current sound", but the attention to detail is impressive.

9 December 2018

Tiger Tim - Merry Christmas, Mr. Christmas/ Moving On

Radio Clyde veteran takes a stab at the Christmas charts and fails nobly

Label: President
Year of Release: 1975

Given that singles released by radio DJs are normally either super-whacky novelty items or embarrassing attempts by fading names to gain a future on the cabaret circuit, I expected the worst here. Shockingly though, "Merry Christmas Mr. Christmas" is a bit of a festive corker released in a decade that wasn't short of them. 

Pleasingly arranged with an unobtrusive and not at all sickly orchestra, an incredibly sticky chorus and subtle melodic changes, it sounds full of warmth and goodwill, and very much like a hit. If the Bay City Rollers had put it out, you can guarantee it would have been enormous, but in the hands of a local radio star who had little presence outside Scotland, it disappeared from view. 

"Tiger" Tim Stevens began working as a radio DJ in the West of Scotland in 1973, spending most of his career on Radio Clyde where he remained until 2010. 1975 saw him going off-air to attempt a career in music, of which this single and "Stargirl" on the GTO label were the only results. Despite the fact that "Stargirl" used a slightly more voguish glam sound, it also failed to generate sales.

5 December 2018

Carnegy Hall - The Bells of San Francisco/ Slightly Cracked

A psychedelic Christmas single? Oh, go on then

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Let's face it, it's doubtful anyone's surprised by the fact that a psychedelic Christmas single was released at the tail end of 1967 - what's truly surprising is that the market wasn't flooded with kaleidoscopic Christmas elves and festive carols with groovy phasing. (Though at the very least Syd Barrett said that "Apples and Oranges" had a 'touch of Christmas' about it, I suppose).

Sadly, anyone expecting anything authentic here is going to be sorely disappointed. It's a rather flippant novelty cash-in, and while it starts promisingly with its bells and an ominous whirring sound, it quickly descends into child-like whimsy. While we're informed that Father Christmas is on his "psychedelic way", the track itself is more akin to Scott MacKenzie on a tight budget than Soft Machine. "Ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling, a very hippy Christmas Day" the track continues, making you wonder if this was one of the key markers towards the "hippy wigs in Woolworths" moment in society. 

The songwriter Geoff Stephens seems to be the driving force behind the track, who by this point had already chalked up an impressive tally of enormous hits for Manfred Mann ("Semi Detached Suburban Mister James"), Dave Berry ("The Crying Game"), The New Vaudeville Band ("Winchester Cathedral"), and The Applejacks ("Tell Me When"). He would later go on to write "There's A Kind of Hush", "Sorry Suzanne", "Silver Lady" and "Lights of Cincinnati" among others, so the fact this record flopped probably hasn't featured in his nightmares much over the last fifty years. 

2 December 2018

The Rubber Band - Hendrix Songbook (LP)

Strange but oddly satisfying studio tribute to everyone's favourite guitar biter

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

It would be tempting to cock a snook at this LP if you saw it in the racks of your local second hand record shop. It looks cheap, has a crap sleeve, and sixties tribute albums almost always tend to veer towards either bland easy listening arrangements or a group of hurried session musos trying to sound as much like their subject matter as possible. Buy enough of these things and you realise that most of them aren't even good for laughs.

This, however, is unexpected enough to be interesting. It consists almost entirely of uniquely arranged instrumental versions of respected Hendrix tunes, though the inclusion of "All Along The Watchtower" seems to indicate that all concerned were more concerned with whether Hendrix had ever performed, rather than penned, the tracks. It's not the kind of deluxe, carefully crafted culture clash you'd expect of such a project today, but there are enough puffing flutes and wailing guitars to prick up the average Hendrix fan's ears.

The Rubber Band were a Los Angeles based studio group consisting of Stan Ayeroff on guitar, Steve Baim on drums and Michael Lloyd on keyboards, bass and vocals. The player of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers in that line-up is probably Ayeroff, who was originally in The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and subsequently moved into the world of jazz. As a session player  and arranger, he has also worked with Rod Stewart and Roger Daltrey. 

28 November 2018

Ranee and Raj - Feel Like A Clown/ Rainbow Land

Sweet boy-girl pop with an Eastern and faintly psychedelic tinge

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Sri Lankan pop stars are still a relatively rare deal in the UK, and these two were the first to have any mainstream media exposure here. Nimal Mendis and Sandra Edema both had a solid background in their native country, with Sandra having managed a Sri Lankan hit single at the humble age of twelve ("Oh My Lover") and Mendis authoring the soundtracks to a number of Sri Lankan films.

Mendis's first big break in England was placing the song "Kiss Kiss Kiss" with the singer Mary Marshall in 1958. Notable for being imaginatively engineered by Joe Meek with heavy use of echo and a decidedly forward-thinking sound, the track unfortunately failed to sell, but opened other doors for Mendis in the UK, including songwriting for the British folk group "One Two and Three" in 1965. 

A few years after this unlikely dalliance with British folk music, Mendis and Edema teamed up to release a couple of singles, this being closely followed by "Don't Tell Me I Must Go". At the time, this 45 was widely predicted to be a smash, with the pair being given a slot on "Top of the Pops" to promote it, and promising amounts of airplay. In the end, it sold in disappointing quantities and is quite hard to track down today. Perhaps that's due to the fact that "Feel Like A Clown" is one of those truly frustrating records which feels as if it's building towards an astonishing chorus - Edema's vocals are yearning and truly beautiful towards the end of each verse - only to settle into something hooky but somewhat pedestrian by comparison.