1 September 2011
Gene Latter - Sweet Little Rock n Roller/ Auntie Annie's Place
Label: Vogue (France)
Year of Release: 1974
Ah... you wait all of your blogging life for an obscure Gene Latter single to turn up in a second hand record store, then two come along at once (this one was found in the rather brilliant "Record Museum" in Brussels, by the way). Although to be frank, the difference between this record and our last Latter upload "Sign on The Dotted Line" could barely be more extreme.
Latter appeared to have a scattershot approach towards musical genres throughout his entire career, doing sitar-tinged Rolling Stones cover versions, pounding Northern Soul tracks, and supremely ridiculous disco records (check out "John Travolta You Are A Superstar" for an example of just how far the boat of ludicrousness can be pushed out to sea). Perhaps it therefore shouldn't be a surprise to me that this single consists of two genres for the price of one, with a piece of pounding glam rock on the A-side and some second-hand popsike on the flip. "Sweet Little Rock N Roller" is a likable but inessential seventies thudder which seems to be drawing its inspiration from both Abba and Suzi Quatro without quite managing to scale the heights that either artist managed. Still, those influences were clearly enough to push this record towards some moderate sales on the continent, even if it was greeted with utter disinterest in the UK. A full version can be purchased over on iTunes if you're interested.
It's what's occurring on the flip-side which is a source of both surprise and bemusement to any seasoned "psych collectible" head, however, "Auntie Annie's Place" being a cover version of a track whose original version nestled on the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums. The original was released by a studio group called Kidrock and paired with the whimsical "Ice Cream Man" and released as a single specifically targeted towards the Infant and Junior School market in 1973. Whilst managing to become a minor hit in Spain thanks to the use of it on an ice cream commercial (as you'd expect) it did absolutely zip-all business in the UK, despite being a perfectly good piece of toytown pop in its own right. Fully grown (and probably predominantly middle-aged) "Circus Days" listeners were in fact listening to this for years without being informed that it was actually supposed to be appreciated by pre-pubescents.
The B-side "Auntie Annie's Place" was a stripped-back and sweet but unambitious piece of acoustic musing on the subject of going to visit one's favourite relative and her friendly dogs. Probably recorded in as few takes as time would allow, the understated nature of the work actually made it seem perhaps too subtle for kiddies, but as Marty Feldman once observed, artists can do whatever they want on the B-side... So in this case, why Latter has taken the song and given it a truly epic orchestral arrangement defies logic. The lyrics of child-like wonder remain, but are instead delivered with Latter giving them a full-throttle, high powered performance, in front of strings that would have shocked Suede circa "Dog Man Star". Such high production values are seldom found tucked away on flip-sides, which makes me wonder if at some point this was being mooted as the headline song.
It has to be said, the melodrama also suits the track, converting it from a piece of folksy acoustic musing into a Bowie-esque piece of musical theatre. "Auntie Annie's Place" - whatever that may be - now sounds like it lives in some glaring technicolour valley, whereas the original seemed to me as if might have been suggesting a run-down and barely converted straw barn. It turns the track into an incredibly unlikely but pretty damn marvellous observation on childhood nostalgia.
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