23 January 2012

Embassy Big 4 - Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere/ Mr Tambourine Man

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1965

We've been here before, and regular readers will know the drill, but for the benefit of those of you who have just tuned into this blog... Embassy were a tireless label in the early sixties, churning out endless discs of session musicians covering the hits of the day. Their platters would then end up in the budget rack of Woolworths waiting to be purchased by punters who felt that their approximations of hit singles were affordable alternatives to the real thing. So infamous were their offerings that John Lennon even jokingly referenced the label as a possible home for The Beatles when their chances of getting signed seemed slim.

Like the "Top of the Pops" albums that followed them, Embassy recordings were a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from faithful interpretations to wayward messes. This "Big Four" EP is particularly absurd in that it contains two ballads and two counter-cultural anthems, so Gene Pitney's "Looking Thru The Eyes of Love" shares Side One with "Anywhere, Anyhow, Anywhere" by The Who, and Side Two pairs "Mr Tambourine Man" with Lulu's top ten ballad "Leave A Little Love". If ever you needed proof that such things as youth splinter groups and demographics hadn't been fully defined by 1965, here it is staring at you in the face.

"Left and to the Back" readers are likely to be more interested in "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" by The Who and "Mr Tambourine Man", and their interest will probably be inflated further still when they realise that neither version is particularly faithful. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" is, in particular, a really interesting approximation due to the fact that Embassy studio band The Jaybirds clearly don't know what to do with The Who's sound. The drumming sounds primitive and punkish rather than copying Keith Moon's ambitious style, the lead vocals yelping, desperate and close to the style of Jim Sohns of The Shadows Of Knight (though don't get excited - I'm not suggesting it is him) and the feedback-heavy break of the original is replaced with something a bit more synthetic and measured. It sounds more like a bunch of teenagers in a garage trying to copy The Who, and whilst I doubt that's actually the case, it's a peculiar old listen to say the least. It doesn't top The Who's original, but something about the hollow, primal simplicity of it almost reminds me of The White Stripes, which is no bad thing at all.

Meanwhile, The Typhoons - a session band previously known to handle The Beatles material on Embassy, although I don't know if the personnel remained the same throughout all their recordings - battle with "Mr Tambourine Man". It's a fey, gentle take which sounds influenced more by English folk than the American folk rock scene that spawned The Byrds, sounding sleepy and contended rather than urgent, preaching and elated. Readers won't be in a hurry to replace The Byrds version on their iPods with this one, but once again the different approach is at least an interesting interpretation.

As for Terry Brandon's take on "Looking Through The Eyes of Love" and Sally Hyde's version of "Leave A Little Love" - I hate to be dismissive, but neither track really captured my imagination in the first place, so my opinions on these reinterpretations are unlikely to be balanced or fair. They're here for anyone who feels curious enough to hear them, though.

And I hate to say it, chaps, but sorry for the surface noise on some of these recordings. It's difficult to find Embassy records in Excellent condition, and what we've got is the best I can obtain at the moment.

1. Terry Brandon: Looking Thru The Eyes of Love
2. The Jaybirds: Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
3. The Typhoons: Mr Tambourine Man
4. Sally Hyde: Leave A Little Love


Mr Pinkwhistle said...

Excellent writing as always and thanks for pointing me towards all the forgotten or never heard songs you have posted. For once I might be able to add a piece of info, although it's hard to verify. For years I've understood that the Jaybirds were an early incarnation of Ten Years After, but that Alvin Lee was anxious to deny any involvement with the Embassy recordings. Listening to Anyway,
Anyhow, Anywhere, it's easier to understand why!

With all due respect to the tireless and hard working Mr Lee and his bandmates, they always did seem like a group who had spent their formative years assiduously woodshedding and trying (but
failing) to copy other styles and influences, then eventually developing at least impressive technical skills. Perhaps the likes of The X factor have replaced the function once performed by budget lables such as Embassy. If Simon Cowell is the new
Devil, then he has the whiff not of sulphur but of Woolworths about him.

23 Daves said...

Do we know that Alvin Lee was definitely involved with The Jaybirds, Pinkwhistle, or has this not been fully verified by him? It's a very interesting story if so. I don't actually think this version of AAA is anything to be ashamed of, to be honest, but musicians do get touchy about this sort of thing, and I think it may be a huge reason why we tend not to get many people from flop 60s bands coming forward to confess their involvement with work. Often I think they went on to session jobs which were more lucrative, and they don't want their names attached to their early work. (There's also a very minor 80s indie musician who has begged me not to upload an early single of his to L&TB, a request I have respected).

Brilliant comment about the stench of Woolworths hanging around Cowell, by the way. It did always have a unique smell about it, didn't it? A combination of floor polish, plastic and chipboard.

Mr Pinkwhistle said...

I wish I hadn't started this! It could be that - yet again - I've been misled by some record dealer, the kind who pronounces confidently that Jimmy Page plays on that Lulu single you've just put back in the box (when you just know that it's actually Duane Allman). I'm pretty sure that's how I first heard the TYA story, in relation I think to a German comp that featured the Jaybirds and the Typhoons. I have done some quick 'research' and this is typical of the kind of dispute that surfaces online....

On his enthusiastic and enjoyable roots and traces: spurensicherung blog (of which you and your readers are doubtless aware) Lolly Pope writes in the liner notes to one of his 'Tommyknockers' comps:
''There's a bit of confusion about The Jaybirds on the Embassy label, but reliable sources confirm, that this was the combo with Alvin Lee and Leo Lyons, who recorded cover versions of top 20 hits for Woolworth's cheapo label. Ric Lee joined later, and Ten Years After was born.''

However, Anonymous comments on the same post:

''Alvin Lee with The Jaybirds never recorded. The Jaybirds who recorded on Embassy label was fronted by Ray Pilgrim.''

So you pays your money... (less than 7/6 for a regular full price single I hope). I've also come across a 'Chronology of Alvin Lee & Ten Years After' site which claims that in 1964
''The Jaybirds, including personel Alvin Lee, Leo Lyons, releases two (cover versions of hits) singles,

Juliet / Here I Go Again (Embassy WB635)
All Day And All Of The Night / Google Eye (Embassy WB663)
Good Golly Miss Molly / A World (Embassy WB626)
Can't Buy Me Love / I Love You (Embassy WB625) .''

Lastly, Nick Hamlyn in his Penguin Record Collector's guide repeats the Alvin Lee story (and notes Lee's denial), but that book is riddled with magesterial errors (as are we all).

If I comment again other than to say thanks, expect me to proclaim that Paul McCartney did in fact die in 1969.

23 Daves said...

Ha! Sorry about that. Conflicting information, then... I wouldn't want to make a judgement call on this one, but it certainly seems within the realms of possibility that Alvin Lee *may* have been involved. Or may not.

Anonymous said...

Would really appreciate a re-up of this post as an avid collector of Dylan covers.