26 February 2009
Year of Release: 1967
I really don't think I need to write much of an introduction here - but hopefully those of you who haven't heard this track already will be well aware, just from the title alone, that it's a satirical stab from Pete and Dud at the psychedelic scene.
It wasn't their only attempt, naturally. "Bedazzled" - from the film of the same name - parodied the "new and exciting sounds" which were coming out of London town with such effectiveness that the platter still gets played at psychedelic club nights to this day. The shimmering production techniques and attention to detail on that single sounded suspiciously like the work of two people who secretly wouldn't have minded in on at all, whereas "LS Bumble Bee" is a much more direct piss-take, supposedly inspired by The Beach Boys. It's a cornucopia of layered sound effects, ridiculous lyrics ("Freak out baby, the bee is coming!"), ludicrous puns and childish melodies. If you weren't aware of its origins, "Bedazzled" could easily be mistaken for the real deal, whereas this is just complete silliness. The bootleggers who put it on compilations of lost Beatle tunes in the seventies really do need their ears syringing.
The B-side is probably of equal interest to Pete and Dud enthusiasts, being a five minute lecture about the perils of drug taking. It's also included in the download.
23 February 2009
Who: Lenny Henry
What: Mole in the Hole (b/w "The (Algernon Wants You To Say) Okay Song")
Label: Jet Records
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
It's a sad and sorry tale of "citation needed", I'm afraid, since I can't trace the original interview, but I would happily swear on my dead dog's grave that Lenny Henry has said before now that he would quite like to distance himself from this record. The only thing which gives me any pangs of doubt is the fact that if you want to distance yourself from what you consider to be an embarrassing novelty single, it's a little daft to draw attention to it in the first place, since nobody bought the damn thing. Hell, does The Fast Show's Mark Williams ever talk about his "I Wanna Be Together" flop novelty rave record? Of course he doesn't.
The A Side "Mole in the Hole" is neither here nor there, being a confusion of David Bellamy impersonations, rasta-mimicking "OK-AYYY"s, and fairground melodies - the connection between them all seems none too clear to me. It sounds like somebody decided to throw loads of different musical and comedy elements to the wall to see if any would stick. It's not anything to be particularly ashamed of, but if I were Lenny Henry I probably wouldn't bother to highlight it on my CV either.
The B Side "The (Algernon Wants You To Say) Okay Song" is more interesting, however, in that it's actually a reasonably good reggae-tinged pop song. There's nothing particularly comedic about it unless you count his Tiswas-inspired references to condensed milk sandwiches (and Lee "Scratch" Perry has certainly been more absurd than that without having any of his output labelled as "comedic"). In terms of career peaks and troughs, it beats a lot of Lenworth's supposedly alternative rivals and their attempts to break into the music scene, as a listen to this followed by Alexei Sayle's "Ullo John Gotta New Motor" will prove.
Lenny Henry released a single as Theophilus P Wildebeest as well, although I have precious little memory of it apart from the fact that his voice was surprisingly powerful on the recording. It's bound to turn up in a junkbucket somewhere near me soon, and if it does, I may very well upload that as well.
Sorry I'm updating this blog less regularly than usual, incidentally. I'm sure some people probably thought I'd "got a life" since the stereotypical image of bloggers is that we all sit around in our pyjamas just living from update to update, but in actual fact if I don't blog it's usually a sign that I have sod all spare time, and that my dayjob is taking over my life. Unpaid overtime, you are my very unwelcome foe. Of course, there's always the time off in lieu as per my contractual arrangements, but I'm probably never going to realise or see that at the present rate... Apologies for the unnecessary personal footnote, although hopefully it's educational for some people about to sign work contracts as well.
18 February 2009
Year of Release: 1991
When I started this blog, I made a solemn vow not to make life too easy for myself all the time. Uploading a Moonshake EP is an example of going for the easy option, purely because precious few people would deny that whilst their noises may not have agreed with the popular ear, they certainly had imagination to spare. Going for the tough option, on the other hand, involves uploading items that received crap reviews as well as poor sales at the time not because they were misunderstood, difficult to get to grips with or ahead of the plot, just that the general consensus (which seems very unlikely to change whatever I say to the contrary) was that they were awful.
So then, The Bridewell Taxis' supposedly "Madchester" cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" was never going to get an easy ride. The fact that many of you are possibly laughing at that sentence alone speaks volumes. It came out at a point where many indie bands were scoring rogue hits with covers of classics, the biggest smash of which was undoubtedly Candy Flip's shameful "Strawberry Fields Forever", a record which does get raved about online now, but frankly I don't care if I never hear it again. It was increasingly being seen as an opportunistic move, an attempt to launch whole careers off the back of other people's good work which, as it happened, very seldom actually paid dividends.
Then there's the minor issue of the tastes of the early nineties - "Don't Fear The Reaper" was, as cover version choices go, inadvisable. Most bands at the time were idly whacking on funky drummer loops and wah-wah guitar to bog-standard covers of sixties classics to gain psychedelic cool points. The excesses of seventies adult rock hadn't really been explored yet, for the simple reason that music critics were still surprisingly sniffy about that era.
Given these walloping great facts, then, you could be forgiven for wondering what the case for the defence actually is. Primarily, I would argue that "Don't Fear The Reaper" is actually a really good song, but Blue Oyster Cult's original version of it has multi-tracked vocals so limping, anaemic and lifeless they sound like two lovers committing suicide by slowly drowning in porridge. Suffering from the worst kind of clinical seventies over-production, there's no emotion in the rendition at all, and a lot of nastily fussy guitar lines far too high up in the mix (and if you're reading this and shaking your head, you should probably be aware that I'd be happy to throw even worse insults at some album Pink Floyd did called "Dark Side of the Moon").
What The Bridewell Taxis did was create something which is definitely rougher, with squeaking organs where the guitars would normally be, a slightly harder, more agitated vocal, and some brilliant subtle use of brass which reminds me of the Salvation Army band on a weekend. It's a much more pleasing version which is more foggy and autumnal, but still manages to add some grit into the mix. And well... you can't deny that the driving riff was always a good one to start with.
It helps that I always did like The Bridewell Taxis too, a band who were much hyped by the NME and Melody Maker when they entered the music scene, then promptly forgotten about as soon as it became apparent they weren't going to go the distance. Despite the fact they hailed from Leeds, they were lumped in with the Manchester movement, which actually made precious little sense for reasons far beyond those of location. The noises they created appeared to owe a greater debt to the Northern alternative bands of the early eighties like The Teardrop Explodes and Wah! than any current white label spinning at the Hacienda. Their solitary trombone player also added a very low-budget Northern Soul effect, like some token, lo-fi nod to the mod movement.
Irrespective of whether they had press acclaim on their side or not, they appeared to suffer from line-up difficulties at an early hour, released an album called "Cage" as The Bridewells which contained none of their initial singles and was a huge disappointment, then disappeared. Nobody has mentioned them much since, and me bringing up their allegedly "ill advised" cover version isn't likely to do them many favours. So... check out "Spirit" as well, the video for which has been kindly uploaded by Chris Hoy on YouTube:
15 February 2009
Year of Release: 1998
What's fantastic about the internet - or thoroughly grim, depending upon your point of view - is that the odd slips artists make when traversing the rocky road of fame are no longer locked in the record company vault forever. If musicians have a skeleton in their cupboards anywhere at all, which most of them do, it only takes one person to submit the mp3 to Sharebee and it ends up becoming common knowledge.
There again, I've never really quite understood why people are so ashamed of their pasts. Does a twenty two year old man permanently grit his teeth at night, unable to sleep about some dreadful piece of juvenile trash he wrote aged twelve? One would hope not. And when we come to listen to this oddity from Neil Hannon recorded ten years ago, I hope we don't poke the finger at him for a whole number of other reasons besides. For one thing, "Need Your Love So Bad" was a one-off experiment recorded as a seven inch single that hurt absolutely nobody's pockets that badly. The vast majority of us probably bought it purely because we wanted to hear would it would be like to hear Neil Hannon singing a reggae track (It sounds exactly as you'd expect it to, I'm afraid - a bit of an out-of-place mess).
For quite another thing, this appears to have been recorded out of the kindness of Hannon's heart. Elvis DaCosta did some live work with him, and asked if he could be repaid by having Hannon guest on one of his records. As a result, he flew over to Jamaica to do it, and this was the end result. For as much as such collaborations are talked about in the news section of the music press seemingly every week, very few artists at their commercial peaks actually bother to record limited singles with friends or up and coming musicians, not unless they're given financial incentives to do so. Neil Hannon really had nothing to gain here, and was probably always going to come out of the whole affair sounding like a skinny Irish man fiddling with an alien genre.
At best, "Need Your Love So Bad" sounds sweet and naive, at worst it sounds uncomfortable - and whilst this surely can't have been the intention (although who knows?) it frequently sounds as if Elvis and Neil are singing a love song to each other. But - and this is an explosive, rule-breaking, sentence-beginning "but" - at least it showed a willingness on his part to try something new and risk seeming like a fool in the process, something far too few musicians attempt, sticking with ideas which only exist within their limited comfort zones.
As a footnote, you're not the only person wondering about the sloppy label-glueing work on the photo above, or the incorrect spelling of "Niel" - I thought the same when I purchased the single myself, and probably loudly tutted to myself.
Footnote number 2: The more eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed that I've changed the description of this blog slightly so that it's now a lot broader in its aims, allowing the odd flop by an established musician to slip into the mix. It continues my very laidback attitude to blogging - I was never mad keen on setting up a site which focussed purely on one era of music in the first place, as I'm sure you've noticed. There's tons of hidden goodness out there from all eras, and if you want a blog that focusses purely upon glam rock or psychedelia, or even punk, the Internet is your giant virtual oyster.
The narrower the definitions for what qualifies for inclusion on LOTB are, the less fun it is for me, the less material I'll actually find, the less frequently I'll update it, the less anybody will read it, the less the whole damn thing will actually have a point in existing. So yes, there will be more sixties and seventies offerings uploaded soon. And more flop bits and curios from established artists. And more besides. It's just more interesting to me to have a regularly updated blog than one which crawls to a halt as soon as one particular area seems temporarily exhausted.
Or: It's my party and I'll cry if I want to. Thanks.
12 February 2009
Year of Release: 1991
Sometimes when I'm rummaging around the flat for possible things to upload to this blog, my greasy little paws chance upon something I really should have considered a long, long time ago.
Moonshake really weren't everybody's particular cup of tea. Formed by David Callahan of The Wolfhounds after that band had decided its time was up, their fans must have been baffled by the sudden shift in approach. Whereas The Wolfhounds specialised in a fierce, brittle and politically charged kind of indie guitar pop, Moonshake were a mongralised meeting of electronica, dub, krautrock, and "shoegazing" indie dream-pop, whilst still retaining some of the old spittle of yore.
Curiously, this first EP slipped out on Creation Records, but for whatever reason (possibly the label's perilous financial state at the time) they opted not to stay there and shifted to Too Pure for their debut album "Eva Luna". Whilst that album had heavier basslines and a more noticeable identity of its own, this EP is admittedly far closer to the sonic experimentation of My Bloody Valentine. The loops shimmer, the beats thud along like a drunk rolling slowly down some stairs, and the vocals are buried deep in the mix. Suffice to say, it's impossible to feel indifferent to this - you will either think it's sheer bilge or really rather good.
The first track "Gravity" in particular manages to be hypnotic in a repetitive, krautrock way whilst also being tremendously dense with ideas, and whilst the "Eva Luna" album (which was a critical fave rave at the time, but is seldom if ever referenced now) had a more definite identity, there's a more pleasing subtlety to these tracks to my ears. You can start hurling your collection of "Indie Top 20" albums in my face if you must, but I honestly believe that "Coming" on side two of this EP shows more balls, innovation and downright unsettling surprises than anything the Slowdives of this world managed. There are unexpected shifts, atmospheres and lyrics which make you stop and pay attention - it's difficult to focus on anything else whilst this is playing. This is the sound of people with big, broad record collections and the creative talent to understand how to take the most effective ideas from each to create something bold and relatively unique.
That Moonshake have been largely forgotten about in the 21st Century whilst plenty of people seem to be falling over themselves to download a lot of inferior material from the early nineties is a deep shame. That I hadn't actually played them in years myself is something you should perhaps punish me for as well, although depriving myself of these noises for so long and for no good reason might possibly be punishment enough.
9 February 2009
Who: Master Singers
What: The Highway Code
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: Two pounds
"What a funny chart you guys have!" - that's what Katrina out of Katrina and the Waves once said in reference to the British Top 40, and who am I to argue with the Eurovision winner? It is indeed a strange list, filled with all manner of urban noises, children's ditties, has-beens hitting it lucky with fortunate re-issues, and even unexpected bursts of Eurodisco. True, the majority of the chart will always be filled with stuff which is also hitting big in mainland Europe and America, but it's the anomalies I love, the outsider stuff gnawing its way through the nation's favourite pop list which makes it unpredictable and exciting even today.
This single is a prime example of a long-forgotten one hit wonder, a George Martin produced novelty track which - logic should dictate - should have struggled to sell a handful of copies. In fact, a single consisting entirely of a quartet of schoolmasters singing extracts from The Highway Code in an Anglican chant style got to number 25 in the charts. As Richard Littlejohn would doubtless splutter, you couldn't make it up - but that's precisely the sort of thing I like.
You can read the full story of the track here - it would seem that what started life as a simple private joke/recording ended up falling into the hands of the BBC, who played it once and kickstarted a very minor phenomenon. Such was its success, in fact, that even a follow up single consisting of a Weather Forecast being delivered as an Anglican chant got to number 45.
Whilst I find the single amusing for a couple of plays, I do have to admit that its success is highly baffling. The boxes and under-counter bins of second hand stores up and down the land are filled with similar cross-genre joke ideas which never flew, so it's a bit of a mystery why this one captured everyone's imagination. George Martin's involvement probably helped, since anything with his name on it was guaranteed some kind of exposure at this point. Perhaps it seemed vaguely anarchic as well, this religious reading of the Department of Transport's key text. Like so many minor novelty hits, however, it's largely been forgotten about in the years since, which is why it's nice to offer it up for download here.
The B-side, incidentally, is Highway Code advice dispensed via the folk genre, which isn't as effective. As I've said before on this blog, plenty of folk music is ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek and frivolous itself, therefore there's very rarely anything funny about sending it up.
Click to Download
And oh look, somebody's made a YouTube video for the follow-up single Weather Forecast:
8 February 2009
Year of Release: 1995
It's a peculiarity of popular culture that mods - rather like goths - have never really disappeared at any point since the phenomenon first appeared. There may have been moments in time where they seemed much more visible than others, such as at the height of Britpop, or during the peak of Paul Weller's powers in the early eighties, but even during moments where the mainstream press couldn't have cared less about their existence, they've still been around. A pub local to me is regularly distrurbed by the hornet buzz of a swarm of approaching scooters, which is the prelude to a bunch of slightly overweight, middle aged mods entering trying to look as cool as a uncooked microwave meal fresh from the freezer. On top of that, there are more retro mod nights in the capital than any music journalist could really give a stuff about, but they're utterly impossible to miss.
During the Britpop boom, some of the more underground mod bands (who almost all seemed to have links to Billy Childish) got swept along in the slipstream of retromania, and almost achieved a certain respectability outside of the usual fanzines and club nights. The Clique - not to be mistaken with the sixties band of the same name - were one such act. A quick listen to the A-side "Bareback Donkey Riding" reveals a tight and energetic outfit who clearly warranted the attention, but it's the flip side, a cover version of Otis Redding's "Security", which really shows how blistering they could be. It's an incessant, pounding, squawking, rough and ready take which shames the likes of The Horrors now, and more to the point knows exactly how not to outstay its welcome. There's obviously nothing original or revolutionary about either side of vinyl, but it's a stark reminder of how few people can actually do this stuff well whilst simultaneously making it sound easy.
If the production style sounds rather familiar, that's because Liam Watson recorded this single at Toe Rag studios - both of which were later used by The White Stripes for their "Elephant" album. The same use of sixties analogue technology is utilised to create an altogether unmodern noise, which is probably one reason why the whole thing hangs together so well. The visitors to this blog who are only interested in sixties vinyl would still be daft not to give this a listen.
4 February 2009
Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1970
This is another release on Larry Page's Page One Records which I include for curiosity value rather than actual musical merit. Elton John and Bernie Taupin were, at this point in their careers, mere fledging songwriters without much of a career to speak of. Deep Feeling, on the other hand, were British prog rockers in search of a breakthrough.
We've already touched upon Elton John's early career in this blog, and given Argosy's psychedelic pop outing "Imagine" a feature on one of our compilations. Far from his career following a straight, certain line from nobody to somebody, he in actual fact worked on so many records - largely on the sly - that even the biggest fans of his work have enormous difficulties ascertaining what he played on and when. Essentially a jobbing session muso for many years, he cropped up on the albums of friends, on cheap cover version records found in the budget wire racks at Woolworths, and God knows what else. In fact, if you want to go above God and ask Elton himself, I doubt even he would be able to tell you.
This record's relatively low price on the collector's market (three quid to me - any more than that and I doubt I'd have bothered) is indicative of the fact that most people are convinced of his lack of involvement beyond the songwriting itself in this case, though, and it's not as if the song was any sort of exclusive at the time. His own (superior) version sits happily on his debut "Empty Sky" album.
As for Deep Feeling, they followed Elton on to the DJM label eventually to release a six track album which is apparently highly sought after by prog collectors, although I should stress that I've never heard it myself. "Skyline Pigeon" doesn't hint at that style much at all, being a rather saccharine and chipper cover which doesn't really invest in the song's potential. It's pleasant enough, but it certainly doesn't sound like anything which could or should have been a hit. Still, I doubt Elton was much worried - "Your Song" was just around the corner, and things in his career were about to change enormously.
1 February 2009
Who:Larry Page Orchestra
What: Wichita Lineman (b/w Scarboro Fair)
Label: Page One
Where: Reflex Records, Soho (RIP)
Larry Page was, to say the least, a peculiar man. One of the many entrepreneurs in the sixties to set up his own label and become a flash, young man-about-town, we shouldn't necessarily mistake flamboyance and youth for progressiveness or modernity. Despite the fact that he discovered and signed The Troggs, and worked extensively with The Kinks, his other major project The Larry Page Orchestra was nothing other than an easy listening ensemble created to give the Mums and Dads a flavour of what their offspring were listening to. Their album "Kinky Sounds", for example, just turned Ray Davies' output into cocktail lounge bar fare (it's quite good fun, though).
In total fairness to the project, some of the output was seriously imaginative. The orchestra's version of "Zabadak!" by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, for example, manages to sound more interesting and absurd than the original, playing with textures and arrangements that the ridiculously named band only hinted at. It was heard very recently in the "Bang Bang It's Reeves and Mortimer" series backing the pair clumsily attempting to get out of their car. Other chunks of their output, on the other hand, were rather lazy and aped the original arrangements as closely as possible - Page's attitude to how the project could survive in the present day is rather telling: "All you need to do is take, say, an REM song, construct a good rhythm track with strings and substitute Michael Stipe's voice with a sax." Quite.
A lot of their tracks were recorded in one take, but the quality of the session players being used generally meant that mistakes are almost impossible to spot. "Wichita Lineman" is no exception, and positively floats out of your stereo speakers. It's certainly not better than the original, but different enough to justify the use of vinyl, and in any case as a song it's more or less impossible to butcher. It sounds as you'd expect an easy listening version of the track to, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
There was a series of reissues of LPO material in the nineties to cash in on the easy listening revival, and I would happily upload one of them ("Music for Night People") on here, were it not for the fact that my PC won't recognise it for reasons known only to itself. You'll have to make do with this for now, but it's enough to be getting on with.
If you need something to look at whilst it's playing, simply stare at the picture of Larry Page and his lovely ladies below.
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