29 March 2020

Adam Mike and Tim - Flowers On The Wall/ Give That Girl A Break

For those about to self-isolate, we salute you

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

The unimaginatively named Adam, Mike and Tim - who, for a period, were actually Tim-less, having a man called Peter on entirely fraudulent Timothy duties instead - began their recording careers by taking a beat pop direction with their debut 45 "Little Baby" in 1964 before taking a folk rock tack.

Perhaps they knew they were playing to their strengths. With their impeccable vocal harmonies and homespun rustic charm, the trio managed to be both vaguely hip and earthy but also ideal slick, professional filler on TV and radio. Blessed with a large number of "Thank Your Lucky Stars" appearances and some airplay in the UK, they must have seemed likely to have a hit through their continual media presence alone.

As it turns out, the public were broadly indifferent to their records, and even when they recorded an extraordinarily prescient and sitar-drenched cover of the Paul Simon track "A Most Peculiar Man" in April 1966, they remained sidelined. That would prove to be their final recorded effort.

Their fourth single, however, was an utterly ace cover of the Statler Brothers track "Flowers On The Wall" which imitated the harmonies of the original with pin-point accuracy, but also added a certain frantic and sardonic rush, making this for me by far the better version. Gone are the finger-pluckin' hoe-down vibes, and in place is a stomping piece of sardonic Brit-folk.

Numerous people have pointed out that lying behind the chirpiness of "Flowers On The Wall" is clearly the tale of one individual driven to isolation, madness and denial by the world around them. The line "Playing solitaire with a deck of 51" is probably the ultimate give-away - the insinuation that someone is playing without a full deck doesn't need to be spelt out. Perhaps in these times of Coronavirus and self-isolation, though, a new meaning could be brought to the song, though I doubt we'll be so desperate that we'll be watching "Captain Kangeroo" to pass the time.

25 March 2020

Steven Lancaster - San Francisco Street/ Miguel Fernando Stan Sebastian Brown

Optimistic Shel Talmy produced British popsike exploring the idea that anywhere can be San Francisco really...

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Throughout 1967, San Francisco seemed to be sold to non-residents as a utopian ideal, the peace-loving place of hippies, beatniks, oddballs and the kids of the future. These days, it's an impossibly expensive place to live and a strong city to invest in some prime hillside real-estate. Somewhere in between those two moments, the hippy drug comedown produced a degree of crime, chaos and vagrancy amongst the idealistic thinking. Beware anyone selling you utopia, kids. Eventually, you end up paying for it. Hey, why do you think I can't afford to live in Walthamstow anymore?

Steven Lancaster here - actually songwriter Len Moseley, who later went on to join and write for Wild Silk - was perhaps more philosophically minded about the situation, keen to inform listeners that in fact, San Francisco could be created anywhere, whether you had the money for a plane ticket or an apartment. All you need (besides love) was the will to let it exist and let your own state of mind form that community. 

While Moseley had clearly never visited Ilford, it's an optimistic thought that permeates through this dash of popsike convincingly. Shel Talmy was on production duties to give the track his usual masterly oversight, but instead of the usual guitar crunching, feedback and distortion, he opted for a more subdued approach here. The end result is sweet, simple, and completely in keeping with the zeitgeist of the times, but possibly lacking enough of a memorable melody line to enter the Top 40.

22 March 2020

Reupload - Academy/ Polly Perkins - Munching The Candy/ Rachel's Dream

Uh-oh. Dot Cotton's sister off "Eastenders" has been taking special tablets. Someone alert Doctor Legg.

Label: Morgan Blue Town
Year of Release: 1969

Life wasn't easy for independent labels in the sixties, and Morgan was no exception. Constantly dealing with shambolic distribution networks, very few of them scored hits. President Records broke the mould in the later part of the decade, but Joe Meek's struggles with Triumph and the financial struggles experienced by Strike Records spoke volumes about the hurdles many truly independent businesses had to deal with.

Far from being just an independent label, though, Morgan was also a large and well-respected recording studio in North London, with an in-house session team of musicians and songwriters who regularly bypassed the Morgan label and licensed their product to majors (The Smoke's "My Friend Jack" probably being the most famous example). The best Morgan recordings, such as those by The Smoke, Bobak Jons Malone and Fortes Mentum, were compiled on a superb Sanctuary Records release called "House of Many Windows" some years ago. This is now out-of-print, but copies are well worth tracking down - the team had developed a distinctive and actually incredibly agreeable sound by the late sixties, filled with tricksy and classical inspired arrangements, a low-end bass fuzz, and peculiar woozy but nonetheless poppy psychedelia. Whereas a lot of other psychedelic pop of the period sounded like the melodic equivalent of cheap Christmas cracker toys, Morgan took their mission seriously - in anyone else's hands, a track like Fortes Mentum's "Saga of a Wrinkled Man" would have possibly sounded cheap and nasty. Not for no reason did one prominent Morgan man Will Malone go on to become the arranger for The Verve in the nineties (and it is just about possible to hear the similarities if you really try).

Morgan Blue Town was an incredibly short-lived offshoot of the main label which attempted to reposition their product in a more progressive vain, appealing to the hippy and student markets. Any recordings on the label tend to be hopelessly scarce now, including this single by actress, Ready Steady Go compere and singer Polly Perkins.

This is actually a somewhat threadbare inclusion to their usually heavily produced catalogue. Polly Perkins had failed to score any hit singles in her music career, but was nonetheless a "known name" at this point who had already put out some commercial sounding grooves - so her sudden shift to progressive sounding music must have seemed bizarre at the time, a bit like Twinkle suddenly going a bit way-out and boarding the weed bus to rural Cambridgeshire. Nonetheless, "Munching The Candy" is a very folky, campfire effort which nods and winks in the direction of naughty drug-taking behaviour. "Rachel's Dream", on the other hand, is a rather more epic B-side which considers the plight of the Jewish people. No, really.

18 March 2020

John Carter - One More Mile To Freedom/ The Saddest Word I Know

Top songwriter breaks out on his own to produce sophisticated seventies pop

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

John Carter. How many times have we talked about the man on "Left and to the Back"? Well, we mentioned him as recently as Sunday in relation to Solent's "My World Fell Down". With partners such as Ken Lewis and Gillian Shakespeare, he was an extraordinarily prolific songwriter throughout the sixties and seventies, and in common with most melody peddlers, had far more flops to his name than hits as he toyed, tweaked and speculated with sounds in order to accumulate.

Seldom did he strike out and record under his own name, though "Laughing Man", his duet with fellow writer Russ Alquist, is probably one of my favourite psychedelic era obscurities. This one, "One More Mile To Freedom", is the chalkiest of chalk against that particular Brie, though, being a much more considered, serious attempt at sophisticated seventies pop without a whiff of marijuana induced silliness in the room. 

Rather, "One More Mile To Freedom" is strident, triumphant and epic, sounding like something you'd put on your car stereo shortly after quitting the worst job of your life. Once again, it proves that Carter had the enviable ability to shift and change genres and styles to suit the era's demands. 

15 March 2020

Solent - My World Fell Down/ The Sound of Summer's Over

Faithful but slightly modernised, de-psyched version of the Sagittarius song

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The fact that the John Carter and Geoff Stephens penned "My World Fell Down" failed to chart when issued by The Ivy League is probably one of the great injustices of the sixties. Seldom has one song approximated the West Coast sound so faithfully and so well, and with such a sumptuous melody, only to fall by the wayside.

It was improved upon further in 1967 by Americans Sagittarius, who fleshed its sound out further still with disorientating sound effects which seemed to be knowing nods to Brian Wilson's Smile sessions, all acting as the cherry on the top of an utterly superb song. That fared somewhat better, climbing to number 70 in the US Charts, but its failure to become a significant hit doomed the track into being swept up by Nuggets, Rubble and other rarities compilations in the decades down the line. 

Whoever Solent were - that's not entirely clear, though someone called "Bobby S" has claimed vocal duties over on the 45Cat website - they obviously couldn't believe the song's lack of luck, and had another crack at it. This time round, the song is given a politer, smoother mix and almost more nostalgic, sorrowful harmonies. The track by now seems to be harking back to a sixties surfing shoreline as a distant memory (not that such things were that common in the UK to begin with) and the flipside adds to that mournful air, asking very gently where those surfing summers went to. "Don't worry baby" one of the singers sighs, and you almost get the sense they're mopping Brian Wilson's brow, trying to get him down to the south coast of the UK to work his magic.