10 September 2009

Al Stewart - The Elf (b/w "Turn Into Earth")

Al Stewart - The Elf

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Al Stewart must surely be familiar to most readers as being the seventies singer-songwriter responsible for the oft-referenced "Year of the Cat".  As at least one friend of mine has pointed out before, there barely seemed like a time when you could buy an RCA long player in the seventies without finding his albums advertised on the inner sleeve, although his sales in Britain weren't actually particularly impressive.  

Way before he began burbling on about felines and their connection to calendar years, however, Al Stewart was a sixties troubadour, strumming his stuff around the bars and clubs of Britain, and parting with hard-earned money to fund Yoko Ono's arts projects.  Featuring guitar work from Jimmy Page, this single is a two-headed beast with a jaunty little Donovan-esque A-side which contemplates elves hiding in bushes listening to him play music.   It predates a lot of the Middle Earth styled psychedelic musing about mystical creatures by a fair year, but isn't really the most impressive offering here.  That honour goes to the B-side, "Turn Into Earth" which is, without exaggeration, one of the best pieces of British psychedelia there is.  Taking the Yardbirds original and giving it an air of stoned, almost proto-dub reggae mystique, it is quite simply breathtaking, containing echo-ridden drum patterns, laidback vocals, and a woozy, ill-at-ease sense of something unwell in the opium den.   It builds and builds until it reaches a point where it comes to its decisive conclusion, fading suddenly as if to taunt the listener who wants more.

Nobody bought this, obviously, and original copies (mine's a facsimile) go for hundreds of pounds.  But not without reason - this is bloody great, kids.  Now, best not to talk too much about his time in Tony Blackburn's band...



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