28 August 2010
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1968
Easy listening hasn't really featured much on "Left and to the Back" before, largely because there are countless other blogs doing a fine job of covering that area themselves. But here we have something of an "easy listening collectible" (in other words, you won't find it discarded in Oxfam for 50p - in fact, you'll be lucky to buy a copy on ebay for less than six pounds).
Like most of the output on Major Minor, "Soul Coaxing (aka Ame Caline)" was something of an airplay staple over on Radio Caroline, and has been referred to before now as the radio station's "theme". I believe, however, that this is an internet myth, and it seems to be the case that the sheer ubiquity of the record made it seem as if it was some kind of pirate radio soundtrack. It's clearly proved a nostalgic pleasure for many people who are happy to get their credit cards out as soon as they see it listed over on an auction site.
That's a rather simplistic reading of the track's appeal, though, and doesn't explain why I - a man born in the seventies, with no personal connections to the tune at all - shelled out for it earlier this year. The truth is that whilst "Soul Coaxing" has a very simple, rather repetitive main melody, the arrangement has such a rich, warm texture that it's like wrapping yourself in a giant, fluffy audio duvet. Bass heavy piano lines thud beneath airy strings, and as the track continues little frills and embellishes become increasingly apparent. Angelic vocals are buried deep in the mix, acting as an eerie undertow rather than a cheesy device at the forefront of the arrangement, and the track builds up then demolishes itself again, only to return with further variations. Skittish little melodic runs also add to the appeal - the whole thing is splattered in the kind of detail and colour the likes of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson would have considered astonishing, and it's a testament to the ability of Raymond Lefevre's abilities as an arranger. There's also a choppiness to this, a dramatic edge which rocks between foreboding and joy, which does make it sound like a seafaring theme of sorts, whether that's intentional (probably not) or otherwise.
If you don't like easy listening records normally, you'll probably still enjoy this. And if you don't like it, well... I'm almost tempted to say that I don't like you much.
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1968
And because I'm feeling generous, you're getting two Lefevre discs for the price of one today. "Days of Pearly Spencer" was technically the B-side to "Delilah", but I'd imagine that the majority of L&TB readers would be more interested in hearing Lefevre take on David McWilliams rather than Thomas Jones.
"Days of Pearly Spencer" isn't quite up there with "Soul Coaxing", but it's still a thing of wonder. Again, the drama created through Lefevre's arrangement is instantly gripping, and the somewhat unexpected buzz of an electric guitar (or is it actually a stylophone treated with distortion?) for the chorus replaces the original muffled, megaphone-delivered vocals. It's a brilliant example of how the best easy listening covers replaced vocals not with idle string arrangements, but with instrumentation which closely resembled the original vocalist's style or the effects on the original disc.
In comparison, "Delilah" can only be described as OK, and really should have been the B-side in this case.
Lefevre worked on film soundtracks in his native France throughout much of his life, and his death in 2008 was mourned by many a tasteful person both there and in other countries. As you can probably tell, I'm fond of a lot of the material he created.
25 August 2010
Hopefully Spotify isn't an unknown service to most readers of this blog - and if it is, you've been missing out on a treat which at one point I felt might make mp3 blogging as we know it redundant. As their music library became ever more extensive, taking in comedy records, exotica, sixties beat and psychedelia and long-forgotten novelty flops, I grew ever more convinced that my blog entries would eventually just contain links back to them.
The reality is that Spotify hasn't been quite so revolutionary as this yet. The rapid expansion of their music library seemed to slow to a steady trickle recently, and the work of some artists even disappeared altogether - but for all these setbacks, it's still remains an impressive service, and it's easy enough to waste an entire evening away digging through their virtual vaults.
Readers of this blog might like to know that there is now a "Left and to the Back" playlist over there, featuring artists we've talked about before. Naturally, the amount of crossover between us and them is rather paltry to say the least - they don't even have a copy of "Fish and Chips in Spain" by Grahame Lister on their catalogues, the idle bastards, and don't even bother looking for astrological predictions with Maurice Woodruff - but given that this blog is now well over 250 entries old, there's more than enough similar content to create a medium sized audio buffet from.
Take a look here. And yes, this entry is my way of apologising for the fact that I haven't managed to find a mid-week mp3 upload as would usually be the arrangement. But the tail-end of August is a good time to catch one's breath - I've sometimes felt that for the number of people paying attention at this time of year, you might as well just leave a CDR of some obscure recording on a stranger's garden wall.
21 August 2010
Label: Di-Lema Records
Year of RElease: 1992
"If you want to be like me, you've got to suffer..."
Princess Diana hopefully needs few introductions to readers of "Left and to the Back", whatever their nationality or generation. The "Squidgy" tape, however, was a curious case indeed - an intimate recorded mobile phone conversation between her Di-ness and 'friend' James Gilbey, which an amateur radio ham apparently managed to catch on the airwaves as it happened. Or so it seemed. Subsequent investigations proved that far from being live on the air, the telephone conversation was rebroadcast several times over in the hope of catching someone's attention, which pointed towards darker forces afoot at Buckingham Palace and (possibly) within MI5. Various users of Wikipedia do a sterling job of picking the incident to pieces here.
It was Diana's misfortune to have such a conversation right at a point in time where a lot of techno and Dance music still had dangerous, edgy connotations in the mainstream media, and the idea of free parties (or 'raves') were still fresh in the brains of tabloid hacks. The sampling frenzy numerous DJs and producers embarked upon in search of a hit seemed never ending, and a new angle was always vital - especially one that gained the artist free press. Bear in mind that many of these sample-heavy efforts would never have picked up radio airplay without becoming hits first, and were sometimes a bit too clunky and gimmicky to be taken seriously in clubland, a place where opportunistic tomfoolery was often frowned upon. Therefore, whilst it might seem strange that somebody would have taken Diana's misfortune and tacked a techno beat on to it now - especially in the light of her subsequent death - it was something you would have placed money on at the time. What better way for some more naughty 'ravers' to find their way into the disapproving tabloid press?
In the event, this didn't sell. Special premium rate phonelines were set up by "The Sun" newspaper so people could listen to Diana having a private conversation, so anyone desperate to hear her chat could do so without feeling the urge to dance at the same time. In the end, the tabloid press were far more shocking and business-minded than the people on E - who ever would have thought? This sure as hell wasn't going to get played on the Johnny Beerling era Radio One, and whilst it did pick up some club spins, it clearly didn't get enough attention to actually shift the necessary units. When I found a seven inch copy (yes, these do exist, contrary to other Internet rumours) in a second-hand store in Reykjavik, my brain jangled with the long-buried memory of the track's existence. A flop which gathered about a week's worth of press attention before promptly being buried again, it was an easy thing to manage to forget.
Strangely though, even now (or perhaps especially now) it's hard not to be impressed by the record's cheek. Not since The Sex Pistol's "God Save The Queen" had something with its designs on the charts so brazenly mocked a member of the Royal Family, and in actual fact, behind the slightly basic construction of the record lie some slightly chilling effects. It's like hearing a private phone conversation cutting into a pirate radio broadcast, fizzing and fuzzing in and out of coherency. Whether that was the intentional effect or not is a moot point, but something about it seems disquieting and gently uncomfortable rather than outright shocking or funny.
As for Princess Diana herself, she never did have a hit single, perhaps making her the most famous person never to have a smash, and not The Grumbleweeds as I previously stated. I'm also aware that by posting this up here for public consumption I'm leaving myself open to all manner of Royalist oddballs surfing in from Google, and things may turn sour. Therefore, for the benefit of anyone spoiling for a fight about whether this record is in bad taste or not, I may as well declare my general indifference - meaning I won't be much fun to have a ruck with. What's done is done, and nobody at the time of this release knew Diana was going to meet a tragic end, therefore I present it to you as a very odd slice of recording history rather than a snigger-fest at the dead lady's expense.
Still, though - troubled, paranoid and lonely the woman may have been, but surely there were far worthier candidates for everyone's concerns and affection? I'd like to think that even she would have agreed with that point, even if she probably wouldn't have been seen dead on the dancefloor while this played.
18 August 2010
Year of Release: 1966
I was going to upload this one some time ago, but then another blogger spent a bit of time tearing it a new hole, which gave me cause to pause and think whether it was really worth the effort. It's certainly true to say that this single is not representative of most of the output of the Manchester-based St Louis Union, and shouldn't be taken as such - but it does underline how a lot of the harder-edged mod bands of the sixties were smoothed off for wider public consumption.
St Louis Union were the winners of a Melody Maker beat contest in 1965, supposedly beating Pink Floyd on the way (although the date should be a giveaway to the fact that this would have been a very fledgling Floyd indeed). The subsequent record contract they earned must have been brilliant news on top of the victory, but one wonders if this Beatles number was really the first thing they'd have liked to get their teeth around. "Girl" sounds anaemic, weary and rather sedated - and whilst the song always had an element of despondency about it anyway, you can sense a complete lack of passion and commitment from the band here. That wasn't enough to stop it from becoming a hit, however, reaching number 11 in the charts.
Much, much better is their version of "Respect" on the B-side, which gives a fuller flavour of the band's sound, even if their cover must bring the tally of available versions up to some three figure number. Hearing them let rip on that track, you can start to understand why they had a devoted live following in the north of England.
Whilst St Louis Union failed to have any more hits, the keyboard player David Tomlinson had an unlikely second wave of success in the seventies and eighties, working with Howard Devoto in Magazine, and Steve Strange in Visage. For these purposes, his stage-name Dave Formula was craftily created, and oh look - an album he contributed to with Romo band InAura was already available to download on Left and to the Back some time ago. The difference between that upload and this, however, really couldn't be more marked.
14 August 2010
Who: Maurice Woodruff and His Orchestra
What: Virgo Predictions for 1969 and Virgo Characteristics
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
Sometimes when you pick up one of these records - which some second hand stores have started filing under a special "Oddities" section purely for the benefit of saps like me - you doubt it will be as promising as it looks. Most commercially sponsored singles are just junk, too slick to be laughable, and performed by people watching the clock in the studio, meaning they'll never be good pieces of work in their own right. Somewhere in my box of seven inches I've got Noel Edmonds introducing a promotional record for Royal Mail greetings cards, which I've long thought about uploading - it's just that there's nothing particularly interesting about it.
This attempt at a commercially sponsored record, however, which I assume came free with x amount of packs of Tetley's tea, is so flawed it's brilliant. For the uninitiated, Maurice Woodruff was a well-known "psychic" in the sixties, having famous clients who included Peter Sellers, who made many of his career decisions through the man. On this record, Woodruff sounds less like a trustworthy mystic than an invented Sellers character - his voice is weedy and hesitant, and the net result sounds untrustworthy and ridiculous even if you believe in astrology. Woodruff has the voice of a gentleman who sold housewives black market materials during World War II, and not at all like the sort of person whose palms I'd choose to cross with any silver. The over-dramatic orchestral music which greets Maurice is so blaring and pompous it also makes his eventual entrance seem even more ridiculous - like a malnourished, rapidly blinking man emerging from behind the Wizard of Oz's curtains.
As for whether his predictions are accurate, we'd need a Virgo who was around in 1969 to come forward and verify that. Any volunteers?
11 August 2010
Year of Release: 1967
These days, I would hope that most people are aware of the fact that the Scandinavian countries have well-developed and extraordinarily creative music industries of their own (a sentence I'm aware sounds slightly condescending, but isn't meant to be). In the sixties, however, if any Scandies attempted to break the UK or US markets, they were normally blocked out. It's tempting to put this solely down to isolationism and xenophobia - and those two traits were certainly common to both Britons and Yanks at the time - but there again, when you consider that every teenage boy or girl with a guitar in London, Liverpool, Manchester, New York, LA and San Francisco (and beyond) were courting labels and darkening their knuckles knocking on the relevant doors, life was never going to be easy for somebody trying to infiltrate from the outside.
Ola and the Janglers - despite their ridiculous name, another thing I'll warrant stood in their way - were a hugely popular group in their native Sweden, scoring numerous hits. Their material varied from the rich, weeping, Walker Brothers-esque ballad "What A Way To Die", to rather more abrasive garage poppers like "I'm Thinking Of You", straight along to this, something so downright mod it should have been given away free with all Vespa purchases. The strummed, clanging guitars and Ola's charmingly hesitant vocals bounce keenly off Motown rhythms, and the whole thing is danceable enough to trigger activity in any well person's limbs. It should have been a hit, and doubtless was in the areas Britons refer to as "continental Europe".
Whilst this didn't really do the business, they were the first Swedish group ever to chart in the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA, their cover of Chris Montez's "Let's Dance" managing to climb up to number 92. Ola's career continued in Sweden over the decades as well, recording a duet with Abba's Agnetha Fältskog in 1986 - somebody who completely changed international perceptions of Swedish music with her own career.
Incidentally, I have to confess that I don't like the B-side to "I Can Wait" - even the title, "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo", is bloody irritating. It's not without it's fans, though, so feel free to sample it below. You've nothing to lose.
7 August 2010
Year of Release: 1982
Steve Wright has already been covered once on this blog. It's fair to say he issued a rather ambitious array of singles, all designed for mass appeal, all falling way short of the mark. In reality, only this one - his debut - entered the "Top of the Pops" regions of the charts, and even then at a rather anaemic number 40. One rung lower and we wouldn't even be bothering to call him a one hit wonder.
How "I'm Alright" succeeded where "Mr Angry" and "Get Some Therapy" failed is fairly easy to see - there's a jaunty tune going on here which more or less apes Chas and Dave's "Sideboard Song". Cocker-nee knees up styled ditties were modest sales news for a brief period of the early eighties, and for once Wrighty found himself on the right side of present trends - although the less we talk about his non-fashionable style on the sleeve of this record the better. Is it me, or is sporting something dangerously close to an Alan Partridge tie and badge blazer combination set?
Any readers of a certain age or nationality who don't understand the whole "I'm Alright, You Alright" reference probably didn't hear the catchphrase blaring out of their radios. Put simply, a jingle featuring various geezerish sounding men asking "I'm alright, you alright?"/ "Yeah, I'm alright, you alright?" used to be be played with alarming frequency, looping on and on for seemingly as long as Steve got bored with it - and Wrighty had a very high boredom threshold indeed. The catchphrase apparently originated when he overheard two punks saying it to each other whilst sat on a public bench somewhere in London, so essentially the entire thing is the creation of two mohawked men pissed up on Special Brew, and not his own sober work. If they'd known the mass appeal their blurtings had, chances are they'd have topped themselves.
The B-side focusses on the topic of a social worker called Damien, and for all I know it may have been cutting-edge satire in 1982 (somehow I doubt it, however). The observations about a politically correct, new age gimp who talks about 'solar powered Christmas tree lights' are way beneath the abilities of even Richard Littlejohn these days, and one has to wonder why Steve didn't surround himself with fewer sycophants, and some more people willing to shove a sock in his gob on occasion. But at the risk of sounding too much like Mr Angry, I will close this blog entry on that thought...
4 August 2010
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1966
"She just takes me halfway there/ I tried and tried and tired/ I didn't get anywhere".
Why yes, it's yet another moping rock and roll nursery rhyme about some evil woman failing to give a man his conjugal rights. At the slightly messy, dirty end of rock culture in the sixties, women either featured in lyrics as delightful, sprightly darlings on the dancefloor, or evil hussies who just didn't "give out" often enough. In its own way this kind of stereotyping was just as offensive and conservative as the kind of stuff going on out in Easy Listening land about finding the perfect housewife.
Still, sentiments aside, "Daytime" is actually a solid piece of early psychedelia. Supposedly performed by The Darwin's Theory, it's actually French beat combo Les Cinq Gentlemen in disguise for the benefit of the British market. Radio Caroline boss (and owner of the Major Minor label) Phil Solomon caught them live on a trip to France and was so blown away by their show that he offered them a deal there and then. He had originally hoped that they would translate one of their tracks "Si Tu Reviens Chez Moi" into English and re-record it, but for whatever reason, this was not to be. Therefore, all English audiences were ever given was this track, alongside the chaotic, five-mad-bastards-going-berserk-around-a-piano flipside "Hosanna". I don't know about you readers, but I always like to imagine they're playing a game of musical chairs around the instrument, hence all the audible excitement and huff and puff on the recording.
"Daytime", on the other hand, is a simple piece of Dylanry featuring a mourning organ, repetitive riff, and strangely haunting melody. Due to Solomon's fingers being in another pirate-shaped pie, it achieved quite a bit of airplay on the good ship Caroline (the first time I ever heard the track was on an old, crackly tape recording of a sixties Caroline show) but this failed to translate into success. Les Cinq Gentlemen were therefore left to continue with their careers in France, issuing five EPs in the process which are highly sought after by collectors both at home and abroad these days.
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