21 October 2018

UK Bonds - Anything You Do Is Alright/ The Last Thing I Ever Do

Two sharp slices of 60s Brummie mod-pop

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1966

OK, it's very unusual for me to put a record quite this battered-looking up on to "Left and to the Back", but in my defence, it is knackered in a fairly unique way. With an horrendous looking label and the pops and crackles intensifying towards the final moments of the audio, the most severe damage appears to have taken place towards the centre - almost as if somebody had stored it directly next to a four inch circular sander.

Suffice to say, it plays far better than you'd expect, and is a scarce enough record for me to deem it worthy of inclusion here. With tinkling piano lines, crashing Townshend-esque chords, a steady backbeat and icy cool vocals, "Everything You Do Is Alright" is straight ahead mod-pop for switched on kids. The track was also later attempted by Northern Soul favourites Chapter Five on CBS, though copies of that single seem equally tricky to come by.

The flip "The Last Thing I Ever Do" has been compiled on sixties rarities compilations before, but for my tastes isn't as satisfying - the vocals feel a bit less confident and the backing too plodding and pedestrian by comparison. 

17 October 2018

Bill - Car Boot Sale/ John Parr

Oddly despairing Steve Wright sponsored novelty single on the pointlessness of car boot consumerism

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1993

"Listen to Steve Wright In The Afternoon. Viewed from a certain angle the man is a genius. Find that angle and view. He is the most popular DJ in the country. He has been the heartbeat of the British psyche since 1985. You don't even have to like him to be awed by him. This... is not an attempt at obvious irony, it is for real."
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - "The Manual - How to Have a Number One the Easy Way"

Over the years, the above paragraph from the KLF's guide to making number one hits has troubled me. Once they've mentioned Steve Wright in relation to their summer smash "Doctorin' The Tardis", some parallels become very clear - Wrighty even used comedy dalek voices on his show, though noticeably after Drummond and Cauty used them first (and after Victor Lewis Smith, for that matter).

One person who has suggested that Steve Wright might actually be more of a subversive than you'd expect is Richard Easter, his radio sidekick for many years, who was responsible for a vast number of the comedy characters and musical sketches which littered his Radio One show. Easter's work-rate was actually phenomenal. Whereas most comedy writers will tend to focus their efforts on material for a couple of radio or television series a year, he rapidly contributed a lot of work to Wright's radio show five days a week, continually bearing the broad Radio One audience in mind. As such, it's not surprising that characters like Dr. Fish Filliter or Arnie Terminator's angry consumer complaints aren't necessarily award-winning or groundbreaking material, but all were short, sharp, absurd, almost always utterly silly and occasionally unexpectedly close to the (fish) bone. As comedic contributions to a mainstream radio show go, they were far more successful than most attempts at the time, and helped to keep Wright's ratings buoyant and people like me listening.

Easter was also a keen writer of catchy novelty ditties, which saw him score a bona-fide major hit through Epic Records with Arnee and the Terminators "I'll Be Back" (penned in two hours and apparently never intended for commercial release, though it seems to have inadvertently invented the sound of Scooter). Doubtless other major labels were keen to capture the lightning success of that unlikely hit, and Mercury obviously felt his satirical melodic musings on the tedium of car boot sales - repeated at extremely regular intervals throughout Steve Wright's show - would be the next top ten smash in line.

14 October 2018

Worth - Let's Go Back To Yesterday/ Let Me Be

Sweeping orchestral pop from Norm Bellis under a group name

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1971

Following The Love Affair's success in 1967 with the (actually incredibly good) "Everlasting Love", record labels seemed to sense that there was clearly a cash cow to be milked. Stuff psychedelia, prog rock, funk, reggae and all that jazz. Platinum discs seemed more likely to fall at your feet if you just picked a catchy pop song, put an epic, sweeping, pounding orchestra behind a powerful vocalist, and gave the project a group name. 

This wasn't a foolproof hit-making method, though, and quite a number of singles fell completely short of the Top 40. Long-standing act Worth - not a group, so far as I can ascertain, but the work of pop scene and Apple Music stalwart Norm Bellis - had five attempts to bite the chart cherry between 1970-73, and failed on each occasion, although his fourth flipside "Hey Mister Lonely" apparently picked up some attention outside the UK.

10 October 2018

Reupload - Starlings - Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)/ Typhoons - Little Red Rooster

Powerful and surprisingly brilliant cover of the girl-group classic on the budget Woolies label

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1964

We've encountered the Embassy label on "Left and to the Back" before, of course. (YesWe have). It was the label John Lennon referred to in a moment of despondency, jokingly commenting that even they had rejected The Beatles. Pressing up cheap sound-a-like discs for the cash-strapped or just plain unfussy, they were responsible for some truly awful howlers in their time. Just listen to this appalling caterwauling take on "Wimoweh" if you don't believe me, or this underpowered take on The Beatles themselves. 

Occasionally, though, Embassy did turn up trumps, and it's to the credit of the session musicians they hired when things did go to plan. Frequently thrown in at the deep end, given next-to-no time to learn the songs and even less time than that to record them (usually a few takes at most) when these discs sound good, they sound good under the most pressured and unlikely of circumstances. 

So then, if you were pop-picking in Woolworths in 1964, this record would actually have been a rather good buy. The version of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" is a staggeringly effective take on the girl group classic. Joan Baxter handles the lead vocals and positively nails the yearning qualities of the song - so much so that this actually becomes a perfectly strong alternative version rather than just a cheap substitute for the real thing. This isn't some kind of dilute-to-taste ageing session muso's take on teenage heartbreak, there's genuine power and a certain innocence behind the performance, piercing right through everything else. 

7 October 2018

The Pickwicks - Apple Blossom Time/ I Don't Want To Tell You Again

Debut Beat Pop effort from eccentrically garbed Coventry bunch

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1964

We've already covered The Pickwicks once on "Left and to the Back" when we took a look at their uptempo, searing garagey efforts "Little By Little" and their cover of Ray Davies' "I Took My Baby Home". 

Their debut release "Apple Blossom Time" was somewhat more conventional by comparison, being a more controlled and less frisky beat offering. It's an odd track for a sixties band to be covering, being penned in the twenties then performed by all manner of pre-rock and roll stars including The Andrews Sisters, Vera Lynn, Nat King Cole and Artie Shaw.  Its romantic imagery and sweet-natured lyrics seem rather tame and decidedly un-teen, but the group do inject it with a certain oomph and even add some squeaky keyboards which make it feel as if it indirectly invented Lipps Inc's "Funky Town".