Some time ago now – possibly too long ago, in fact – Sweeping the Nation blog challenged its readers to compile a Muxtape (see here: http://www.muxtape.com/) for a variety of different years. Noting with an angry tut that 1967 had already been claimed by one person by the time I noticed their request, I instead opted for 1968, which I suppose is more of a challenge. If 1967 was the height of the Summer of Love and record labels throwing money at anything with an even vaguely tie-dye hue about it, 1968 was when psychedelic pop gave way slightly to hard rock and the first fruits of progressive rock.
All that said, there was still a surprising volume of old school mod and psychedelic material lurking around throughout the calendar year, as I think this virtual tape proves. That most of these people failed to have major hits with the material provided shouldn’t come as a large shock, since their material would have perhaps seemed slightly out of fashion – but it doesn’t stop some of it from being perfectly enjoyable forty years down the line.
The Deviants – You’d Better Hold On
This garage squawker is partly the work of the International Times editor Mick Farren, who barks his way through the lead vocals. It wasn’t a hit at the time, possibly being a tad too noisy for the mainstream UK pop charts.
The Who – Dogs
The Who are clearly deeply ashamed of this one, since seemingly the only place you can obtain it is on the Maximum R&B box set. Their Greatest Hits and Singles albums pretend it never even existed. It does indeed sound like more of a Small Faces pastiche than any of their other material, and as such represents something of a wrongfoot in their musical progress, but nonetheless it’s a perfectly good single. I also can’t be the only person who has wondered if this cockney tinged ditty about dog tracks was more of an inspiration for Blur’s “Parklife” than “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”…
Interesting fact – the band may choose to disown it, but this still charted one place higher than the supposedly “seminal” (but actually quite dreary) follow-up “Magic Bus”.
The Sound Barrier – Groovin’ Slow
Talking of the Small Faces, as we were, here’s another band who clearly loved them. Not much is known about The Sound Barrier, unfortunately, as they only released this one single on the independent Beacon Records label, which at one point was run out of a spare room in a lumberyard in North London. All I can tell you about the band is that one of them had a moustache to be envious of.
Billy Nicholls – London Social Degree
And yea, the Small Faces themselves do indeed play backing music for Billy Nicholls on this one. Billy Nicholls was supposed to have released the album “Would You Believe” on Immediate Records at the time, but somehow it got shelved and wasn’t released until very recently. This is one of the stand-out tracks. Billy went on to write “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try)” for Leo Sayer, which is considerably less enjoyable but doubtless helped him pay off the mortgage.
Timebox – Girl Don’t Let Me Wait
If ever there was a track which regularly gets aired at Northern Soul and Sixties club nights that’s aching to be covered by some opportunistic soul (who will probably make a huge hash of it) it’s this one. Timebox had a long history of releasing mod and psychedelic flavoured singles, but this one is much more in the blue-eyed soul vein, and is fantastic.
The Penny Peeps – Little Man With A Stick
Utterly despised by the band at the time, but chosen by the record company as an A-side, this former Tony Blackburn single of the week is eccentric enough to be endearing to my ears. No amount of plays by the boy wonder on the breakfast show could turn it into a hit, though.
Pink Floyd – Point me At The Sky
The post-Barrett period was an extremely stressful and trying time for the Floyd, who had yet to perfect their prog-rock leanings, and as a result frequently tried to emulate Syd’s style instead. Whilst there were occasions when this grated and sounded more like pastiche than anything else, there were also times when they produced some fantastic pop as a result, or some brilliantly floaty psychedelic miniatures. “Point Me At The Sky” is in the former territory, and deserved to be a hit single, but by this stage nobody in the pop market was really interested in them. Not to worry – multi-platinum concept albums and stadiums beckoned.
Anan – I Wonder Where My Sister’s Gone
Christian Martyrdom is a subject which seldom comes up in pop music, so it’s nice of Anan to address it. They were a duo from York who met whilst working as cowboys on a holiday ranch, which obviously lead quite neatly (in some way) into producing baffling and actually rather frightening pieces of work like this. Imagine the most demented “Smile” out-take, then add some screams, and you’re almost there…
Rainbow Ffolly – Sun Sing
Equally unusual is Rainbow Ffolly’s “Sun Sing”, from their album “Sallies Fforth” which is now a heavily in-demand cult item. The band were poorly promoted by EMI and split after that release, and it still remains very unclear as to whether they were actually trying to be part of the psychedelic movement, or else ripping it to shreds.
The Idle Race – The Birthday
Jeff Lynne has been the recipient of a lot of unnecessary mockery over the years. Even if you don’t like the finest singles ELO released – and what kind of human being does that make you? – as a member of the Idle Race he also produced some of the finest material of the late sixties as well. The deliberately childlike nature of much of the work was partly an attempt to counter-balance the pilled up, masculine aggression of mod at the time, and involved Jeff and the boys sticking Rupert the Bear pictures on their guitars. Such behaviour predated the twee elements of eighties indie, and sonically they would seem to have influenced the Super Furry Animals as well (less so on this track, but more noticeably on “Imposters of Life’s Magazine”). The Fall also covered “The Birthday”, and namechecked them in “No Christmas for John Quays”.
Is there a case to be made for Jeff Lynne being a cog in the wheel of alternative music? You bet your aviator shades and stick-on beard there is, pal.
The Peep Show – Espirit De Corps
Fellow Brummies The Peep Show had even less luck with their folkier take on things, though. Their first single “Your Servant Stephen” was about pregnancy out of wedlock, and caused David Jacobs to blow his top on Juke Box Jury about the subject matter. This follow up about World War II was largely ignored, but has a certain Kinksy charm.
The Magic Mixture – Moonbeams
A fascinating one-off album by the Magic Mixture (from where this stems) was funded – albeit in a paltry way – by the budget label Saga. The band were assembled into an infant school hall after hours, and made to record most of the LP entirely live before it was pressed up on cheap vinyl and sent to Woolworths for the costcutting general public’s consumption. A great deal of Saga’s output was inevitably awful, but much of this album stands up. Whether the echos on this track were the work of an on-site engineer or just the effect of the emptiness of the school hall is hard to say, but it certainly gives the song a distinct eerie, spacey feel.
And there we have it! I hope you enjoy it, friends. Normal Left and to the Back service will be resumed in a couple of days.
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