16 November 2014

Unisex - The Music Man/ Lovers



Label: Birds Nest
Year of Release: 1978

Birds Nest are another label I can't quite walk past when I see them lingering in the second hand racks. Partly owned by John Peel's manager and ex-Elektra Director Clive Selwood, they're not a label who released a great deal of hard-hitting, experimental rock, but they did seem to favour the quirky and the bizarre, as well as clearly having a typical seventies minor label love of strange novelty records.

"The Music Man" is a silky smooth disco number with a rich baritone vocal with breathy, seductive interjections - highly corny by today's standards, although the fact that the group are called Unisex clearly drops plenty of hints that this isn't a timeless piece of work. It isn't without charm, though, and while I wouldn't have the guts to drop this one into the middle of a DJ set, it raises a smile in its own timelocked 1970s way.

I can find no record of who Unisex were, but it's safe to say that Muff Murfin - co-owner of the label - probably had a strong hand in producing them. There are other far better examples of disco on the label, with Warlord's "Ultimate Warlord" with its Airy flip "I Shall Return" being something I really ought to examine at some point.

11 November 2014

Mike Morton Combination - Burning Bridges/ You Gotta Be Mine



Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1970

Well, I don't know if any of you good people know who Mike Morton was, or who his "combination" were - but I've drawn a blank. One thing's for sure, he's among the very rare and select group of people to actually put his own group's name (rather than a pseudonym or blank credit) to a cheapo "covers" record of the "hits of the day", namely a Super Six EP release in 1971 which featured, among other things, "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". The smart money must be that he was simply a jobbing session man who took work where could find it, and occasionally put his own records out for novelty or soundtrack work. In fact, the sheer quantity of "Mike Morton's Eight", "Mike Morton Orchestra" and just plain "Mike Morton" releases over the years is embarrassing proof that I probably should be a tiny bit more aware of his work.

"Burning Bridges" must have seemed like a nice little earner on the surface, as it featured in the Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas starring film "Kelly's Heroes". It kicks in with a strident rhythm and fanfare before sliding back into standard smooth seventies pop, before ricocheting back into an anthemic Hollywood sound again. A very minor hit elsewhere in the world, it failed to attract much business in the UK, and has since become a bit of a curio here.

It's also another odd single to crop up on the tiny Plexium label, a hitless and short-lived affair whose output is tricky to come by these days. While none of their records are truly outstanding, they're a faintly undermined source for quirky slices of late sixties and early seventies pop.

6 November 2014

Stevenson's Rocket - Alright Baby/ Teenager Dreamer



Label: Magnet
Year of Release: 1975

Pete Waterman has had a longer career than many people tend to give him credit for. Long before his golden patch with PWL in the eighties, his fingers were in many pop pies, of which Stevenson's Rocket were probably the most hyped. A group of keen and cute teenagers who played their own instruments (Kevin Harris on vocals, Alan Twigg on bass, Mick Crowshaw on guitar, Steve Bray on drums and Dave Reid on keyboards) they were fortunate to be spotted by the Hitman while playing a live set in Tiffany's in their native Coventry.

Gifted with ample television slots, press and radio play, their debut single "Alright Baby" sounds like an absolute sure-fire hit, and deserved far better than the paltry number 37 placing it achieved. All the best elements of teenage fifties Spector pop collide with the anthemic sugar-rush of seventies bubblegum, and it's possibly one of the finer Waterman obscurities. Rumours (which I haven't been able to verify) abound that it was bumped out of the charts after a chart hype campaign was unveiled, which would certainly be one good explanation for its failure.

The Rocket managed two more singles after this before fading into complete obscurity, despite seeming to have started their careers on an absolute media high. Their present whereabouts are unknown, but I and a number of other people online would be keen to have word of what they're up to now.

1 November 2014

The Explosive - (Who Planted Thorns) In Miss Alice's Garden/ I Get My Kicks From Living



Label: President
Year of Release: 1969

The Explosive were simply Decca group The Plague (of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" and "Looking For The Sun" fame) operating under another moniker. No line-up changes, no mess, no fuss, just a simple alteration of the band name, perhaps to shake off the curse of "psychedelic flop single" that might have clung to them at that point. They consisted of Ken Ali on vocals and guitar, Bill Dale on bass and vocals, Russ Harness on keyboards and John Truelove on drums. 

Signing to President, they fared a little bit better, but not so much that they ever managed a bona-fide hit single. However, a string of 45s emerged on that label of which this is probably the finest. The A-side is a slightly more bizarre version of Tom Northcott's cult US single, is widely available on iTunes and YouTube, and is therefore off-limits for the purposes of this blog - however, it's worth a spin just to hear the band go to town on the original track and, in my opinion, improve it with their splashes of wah-wah guitar, eccentric reggae-tinged rhythms and quirky vocals. Somewhere amidst the racket, the sound of the art school seventies is being created.

The flip "I Get My Kicks From Living" has clearly had less thrown into the blender, but is still an optimistic and carefree slice of sixties pop. 

The Explosive were finally dropped by President at the end of 1970, but they quickly signed to the tiny Plexium label and issued at least one more marvel, the fantastic and groovesome "Hey Presto, Magic Man", a track I've been after on seven inch for years now, but copies are astoundingly hard to come by. 

29 October 2014

Reupload - The Dots - Helen In Your Headphones/ Come And Get It






















Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1982

Well, alrighty! Were it not for the wonders of the Internet, it's highly probable that I'd never have bothered placing this record on my "to buy" list. For years, "Helen In Your Headphones" existed in my brain without a title or a band name to go with it - all I could remember was a video which had both confused and vaguely scared me as a small child. One day whilst surfing on YouTube in a distracted fashion, the video popped up in one of the sidebars, banging my memory chimes very roughly. And Cliff almighty, it still disorientates me to this day. How such a brilliant and slightly unreal clip can be consigned to the dustbin of television history is a mystery, although I wouldn't bet against this going viral at some point in the next few years (and with any luck, I'll start the ball rolling with this entry - I'm still bitter that I didn't discover that Trololo sensation first, which is the most Left and to the Back-centric viral hit I've ever come across).

"Helen In Your Headphones" is an acquired taste, but it's definitely a special piece of work, wobbling on the usually awkward boundaries of parody and pop where so many an act with good intentions has fallen before. It begins with a barrage of eighties radio-speak, continues into a bouyant take on eighties synth-pop, then promptly splats headlong into a chorus so preposterously New Wave that it sounds ahead of its time, sporting the kind of punk era-referencing chorus the likes of Bis and indeed Dex Dexter were penning in the late nineties. Lyrically, it deals with the topic of an obsessed female fan of a radio DJ - "Hi Hi It's Helen... I just wanna tell you that your voice makes me go oh-oh-oh-oh" she sings insistently, out-creeping the rather oily DJ in question.

Whilst there's no doubting the record's capacity to irritate some people, I personally think it's brilliant, having a rare combination of a superb pop hook, tightness and conciseness, and a sense of humour which is delightful as well as being astute. It might be controversial to compare this to the Bonzo's "Craig Torso Show", but it does parody a certain vain, slippery element of the eighties "biz" to surprisingly strong effect, in much the same way that the Bonzos picked up on the flippant, self absorbed nature of some pirate radio jocks.

Two things stood in the way of chart success for The Dots, however - one would be the record having its own DJ intro, which may have proved difficult for DJs to work around themselves (especially if they were preposterous enough and Wayne Carr-esque enough to sound very similar). Perhaps mindful of this possible pitfall, EMI's plugging division apparently starting giving Radio One DJs expensive headphones as gifts to promote the single. Somebody got wind of the fact, thought it constituted payola, and the song was subsequently banned from the BBC's airwaves as a result. Given this fact, it actually did fairly well to climb as high as number 96 in the charts, its final resting place.

The Dots were from Leicester, and this appears to have been their only single, meaning EMI's rather rash marketing decision may have deprived us of other follow-ups. The rather scratched B-side "Come And Get It" is presented here for your pleasure as well, but doesn't really give any decent clues about where the band would have gone next. Still, with this one-off effort they really spoiled us.