29 March 2012
Year of Release: 1974
This one has already been featured over on the mighty PurePop blog, but sometimes when a record is this fantastic you have to spread the love around a little bit. For - and I have not a shred of doubt in my mind when I say this - the A-side "Gimme Your Money Please" sounds like one of the finest unrecognised proto-punk records ever. You be the judge.
Originally recorded by Bachman Turner Overdrive, their version of "Gimme Your Money Please" is a rather straightforward piece of rock and roll boogie, probably great if you like that kind of thing, but personally speaking it fails to hold my attention. One-record wonders Leather Head, on the other hand, took the original track, put a honking great electric organ behind it, spittle drenched vocals up front, and turned it into what was probably supposed to be a nod to the pub rock movement but actually sounds frighteningly like The Stranglers - and for once, I really don't think this is an idle, off-the-cuff comparison or a piece of lazy journalism, though I have no doubt that some punks will argue that Guildford's finest are merely an incorrectly classified pub rock band anyway. So huge is the resemblance to The Stranglers that there have even been minor Internet rumours in the past that the two bands were in some way aware of each other or linked, but even if the former is true (the actual town of Leatherhead from which the band derive their name is, after all, very close to Guildford) I'd suggest the latter is very unlikely. We may have to chalk this one up to coincidence and have done with it.
Anyone expecting a similarly "Rattus Norvegicus" shaped B-side will be hugely disappointed with "Epitaph", which is a six minute piece of mournful progressive rock utilising mellotrons (although I've a sneaking suspicion that some readers of this blog may go nuts for it - apologies for the pops and crackles for anyone who did hope to hear a clean, pristine version). One can only assume that at the time Philips snapped up Leather Head for a suck-it-and-see one single deal, they hadn't fully decided on their direction and created a single with two sides which were completely at odds with each other. Still, despite its pretentious lyrics "Epitaph" is not without its charms, and to be honest it's hard to understand how this single hasn't become a huge collector's item given that most obscure prog discs seem to go for vastly inflated sums nowadays, and Leather Head's take on the genre is actually quite convincing as well.
If you're reading this and were a member of Leather Head, or even know who they were, please leave a comment. This is a mystery I've been quite keen to tidy up for some time now, purely because I happen to be very keen on the A-side to this record and feel it slipped under the radar utterly unnecessarily.
26 March 2012
Year of Release: 1972
Ah, memories. If you grew up in Britain in the seventies, television was a wonderful thing in the early and late afternoon, crammed with shows whose appeal has yet to completely wane. From the sheer animated eccentricity of "The Magic Roundabout" through to the outer space freaky Socialist moon creature whimsy of "The Clangers", and on to the rather more socially aware "Paddington Bear", it's impossible not to talk about these shows without getting wistful and dreamy. Filled with knowing jokey nods to the adults in the room, the overall concept seemed to be about family viewing, rather than simply sitting children down in front of the television by themselves.
"Inigo Pipkin" - or "Pipkins" as it became known by the time I was aware of it - was actually my favourite programme as a toddler. If forced to articulate the reasons now I'm not sure I could tell you why. I wasn't really capable of intellectualising why the content of "Pipkins" was superior to "Rainbow" back then, and if you'd ask me I'd probably have said something about some of the puppets being funny. Love it I did, though, and as an adult viewer now the show has obviously taken on added dimensions. I wouldn't have known what "camp" was as a four year old, much less been able to tell you that's what Hartley Hare was, and nor would I have appeciated the fact that the puppets were rather moth-eaten beasts, a fact numerous YouTube commenters have since leapt up to point out.
The theme tune was ace as well, being a thing of popsike wonder, all close vocal harmonies and soaring melodies dedicated to a "puppet maker man". The perfect introduction to the rather gentle, cosy nature of the programme, it made you feel as if you were entering a safe world where eccentric old men could make a living owning a shop which purely sold tatty puppet animals to local children. Ah, those were the days. But those days never really existed.
Jackie Lee's single version of "Inigo Pipkin" is significantly different from the television theme tune, sadly. Here she seems to have gone for a little bit of a reggae lilt, which is a bit silly given that the show couldn't have been less Jamaican or urban. It's impossible to destroy the track's charm's completely, though, and its original intentions shine through.
The B-side "End Of Rainbow" is also taken from her "Rupert The Bear" album, and is an incredibly sweet, beautifully sung yet matter-of-fact meditation on the wonders of the human imagination and its power over the problems of the day. "The world is full of cruel reality/ and people losing all their sanity" she sings honestly - steady on Jackie, there are children in the room who know nothing about breakdowns.
As for the lady herself, she was born in Ireland and had a long recording career throughout the sixties and seventies, popping out a number of singles which are now seen as mod classics. She is perhaps most famed for her television and advert theme work, but there's little doubt in my mind that she could and should have been a much bigger star. "I Gotta Be With You", issued under the name Emma Rede, has since become a Northern Soul favourite and is proof of a huge talent.
25 March 2012
Yep, you can't fail to have noticed, really - the painters and decorators have been in. I've just given the template for this blog a radical redesign and overhaul. As I stated in the birthday entry, four years is a long time for any blog or website to exist without any changes to its basic design at all, and it felt like time to move on to something a little more slick.
If you really dislike the new layout or find any elements of it trying, please let me know. It's likely I'll tweak a few things here and there as I go along, but please don't hold off from telling me if it's crashing or slowing down your machine, you're finding anything hard to read, or you just plain find the new layout utterly repugnant. If enough people complain, it's nothing I can't undo (though it's very unlikely that the blog will ever look exactly as it did before).
The new layout won't change the way the blog is written or organised in any other respect - I'm not planning to make the entries shorter, for example - so these are really just background changes rather than sweeping ones. Up and on...
22 March 2012
Year of Release: 1981
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.
(Update: This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2009. I still haven't found a Theophilus P Wildebeest single, and nor have I found reference to the above interview in question. A reader did pop by to comment on the fact that John Peel played the B-side to this record and commented positively on it, however, so I clearly wasn't alone in my assessment of the disc.)
21 March 2012
Today marks the fourth birthday of "Left and to the Back", which is a decidedly odd thought. When I first started this blog in 2008, I originally supposed that it had one year's life in it, two at a push - after that, I'd probably run out of records to talk about and also run out of enthusiasm. Whilst digging around for interesting discs is actually more of a challenge now than it was then, the flow of material hasn't threatened to dry up completely, and updating this blog is still a huge pleasure rather than a chore. Hopefully I'll still be doing this for awhile yet.
I also originally supposed that the volume of visitors to this space would always be a steady trickle of 40-50 regular interested readers - how many people can there be out there who are actually interested in flop records, after all? - but it's now a hell of a lot more than that, and the blog has picked up press and attention from all over the world and in the most unlikely places. Clearly there are more people out there like me than I originally thought. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
What next? Well, I think it's about time I changed the design format of the blog, don't you? It looks like what it is - a very basic template from the last decade. If any of you feel particularly attached to its threadbare orangeness please do feel free to pipe up, but this anniversary has reminded me that I probably do need to pull my finger out and make some changes.
And did I really need to create a birthday entry? Nah, not really. It's a little bit silly. But it's also nice to mark the passing of time in a self-indulgent way.
19 March 2012
Year of Release: 1966
There's not much more I can add about Gary Walker that I haven't already mentioned on my other entry dedicated to "You Don't Love Me" here (and I apologise once again for the bizarre format of that blog entry. It seemed like an amusing idea at the time). It's worth repeating again that whilst the Walker Brothers were hugely popular, and for a very brief period rivals to The Beatles in many international territories, Gary Walker always seemed to be the most sidelined member. Therefore, his solo singles were a chance to wriggle free of the big ballad template and produce singles which did actually swing.
"Twinkie Lee" is a fair enough example, and actually charted in the low twenties in the UK, but it's the B-side "She Makes Me Feel Better" which is more likely to be heard at mod nights and on sixties obscurity compilations these days. Rivalling "You Don't Love Me" for fuzz guitar garage sounds and energy, it manages to combine ladies fashion ("tight sweaters and kinky shoes") and suicide ("if you ever leave baby/ don't know what I'll do/ go down to the river/ and drown myself for you") in one neat little package. Lyrically that's hardly up there with the nihilistic observations of Brother Scott, but it's certainly unusual enough to be worthy of mention.
And come on, the Gary Walker revival must surely be kicked into action soon.
15 March 2012
Year of Release: 1969
You'll never be able to convince everyone of the benefits of a lot of easy listening and lounge music, but sometimes it's hard to understand why. Frequently perceived as laidback, smooth and blending into the background, it could actually often be quite rowdy, speedy, and bold, like both sides of this mysterious outing from the late sixties.
Side One opens with what sounds like a forgotten ident for an ITV regional station, then - POW! The horns blast into life, a guitar joins the party, and eventually after a few more horn blasts, a stylophone steps in. It's true to say I'm probably losing a few readers here, but such cynical types need to remember that there was a time in musical history when the stylophone was considered a novel enough instrument to be given pride of place on professional recordings, and not just a toy (David Bowie, we were continually reminded, used it on "Space Oddity"). The way the device is used as part of the arsenal of a lounge orchestra in this instance is peculiar and strangely likable, and the tune swings along at a merry, almost mod beat speed.
At the risk of repeating a refrain very familiar to this blog, it's actually the B-side I prefer. "Hello Again" starts off sounding exactly like the work of a freakbeat outfit before establishing its easy credentials - but again, the speed, vim and vigour of the thing shouldn't be underestimated. If placed mid-way through a standard mod DJ set, nobody would flinch (much).
I know nothing about Geraldo 1969 who I'm going to assume were a session ensemble put together by the Morgan Studios team. The Morgan label itself was of course owned by the recording studios of the same name, and failed to produce any hits at all during its existence. We've covered its history in a bit more depth elsewhere, and the compilation "House of Many Windows" is well worth tracking down, highlighting as it does some marvellous pieces of psychedelic pop which came out of that stable at the time.
12 March 2012
Year of Release: 1966
Now here's something of a mystery. In 1966, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (hereafter known as DDDBMT) released the British number two hit "Bend It". Penned by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, it featured traditional Greek-influenced melodies, a strong bouzouki sound (apparently achieved via an electrified mandolin) and eventually became the audio backdrop for one of Gilbert and George's pieces of art. Never DDDBMT's strongest moment, it nonetheless captured the imagination of the British and European public and stormed the charts, even getting to Number One in Germany.
However, it seems as if a similar single was penned by Howard and Blaikley and released a mere few weeks before DDDBMT's version. "The Bend" is lyrically and musically very similar, and whilst you can't easily accuse people of self-plagiarism in a court of law, there was something very odd afoot here. According to the available timelines I have, "The Bend" was issued in the dying weeks of August 1966, with "Bend It" following rapidly on its heels in early September. It's entirely possible that Dave Dee and his merry band had enough space in their busy schedules to rush into a studio and record a similar track as soon as it became apparent that nobody was interested in this disc, but it doesn't seem too likely. So why on earth did Howard and Blaikley and Fontana Records issue two very similar sounding records involving presumably identical dances at exactly the same time? Was the thinking that they could actually create a bizarre Greek-flavoured scene, or bombard the charts with a certain noise?
A few rumours have flown around Internet-land about this record for awhile, and one theory is that this is actually DDDBMT larking around. However, I think the most likely explanation is that The Potatoes were a studio based creation, and for whatever reason Fontana decided not to get behind them and gave this record a half-hearted release later than originally planned. The concept was floated again with DDDBMT, an act with a strong chart history behind them, and once that record took off the whole matter was forgotten. As nobody concerned has ever come forward to clarify matters, that's probably the only answer we're going to get.
As for the record? Well, it is what it is. A foot-stomping novelty disc which pings and zings along, steadily getting increasingly frantic. It's not hard to imagine it having been a hit - certainly DDDBMT proved that could be done - but it does seem rather as if the whole thing had been suffocated at birth.
8 March 2012
Label: Independence (in the USA, Pye in the UK)
Year of Release: 1967
We already dealt with The Montanas on this blog just before Christmas, and I'd rather not bore regular readers (or indeed myself) with a long repetition of the facts. So let's just stick to the basics this time - they were a Dudley based pop band who were taken under the wing of studio mastermind Tony Hatch with the idea that they'd have a massive UK career. With an act that was apparently versatile enough to include slick vocal harmonies, musical parodies and comedy, they were well appreciated on the light entertainment circuit, but perhaps not so adored by the emerging underground.
Side one of this record showcases their talents exquisitely. "You've Got To Be Loved" is a piece of harmony pop which is almost perfect in its delivery, full of intricate orchestral arrangements and the joys of Spring and none the worse for it. It sounds as if it should have been a pop hit, and indeed nearly was in the USA where it eventually settled for a mid-table placing in the Billboard 100. In the UK, however, it was largely ignored, although curiously its cause seems to have been taken up by a few Motown and Northern Soul heads since - not undeservedly I'd say, since whilst it has a gentleness which borders on the twee, it does predate and predict a lot of the lighter soul records that emerged in the following decade.
Perhaps the fact The Montanas style didn't really fit the emerging psychedelic style inspired the biting satire of the flipside "Difference of Opinion" which attacks hippies with gritted teeth. "People like you make us tired/ trying to appear inspired" the band sing in gentle harmony at one point, while mocking sub-Dylan musings clutter the majority of the rest of the lyrics. Sadly, I can't actually include the track in full since it's already available on iTunes for purchase, but a Youtube clip is available here, and you can buy the thing with your hard earned money here. Suffice to say that the band sound like they're growling defensively at people they probably felt were beginning to make them seem irrelevant, and perhaps if they happened to play a northern club after Pink Floyd had visited the track might have got sympathetic roars of approval from the audience (not my personal opinion, you understand, but the Floyd did get short shrift from a lot of club audiences outside of London at the time). Oddly, for all its sneering "Difference of Opinion" is such a good parody of a psych track that its worked its way on to numerous compilations and DJ sets since. If there's one thing you can't fault these chaps for, it's attention to detail.
5 March 2012
Label: Double Dekker
Year of Release: 1994
Readers, I very seldom use "Left and to the Back" as a personal blog where I reminisce about my own days of yore. There's absolutely nothing wrong with mp3 blogs with the personal touch, of course, and if you scroll down the side bar to your left you'll find links to plenty which do occasionally invite their regular visitors into their own world. It's just I rarely feel I have interesting stories to tell - most of these tracks are so obscure that they won't have soundtracked a collective social experience for me at all.
Duke Baysee, on the other hand, is a bizarre case to say the least. For some years, he was actually my late night conductor on the number 38 bus through London, reeling off tickets and taking fares from the often drunken public. While most conductors bore the slurring sideswipes of many an aggressive half-cut human with brave faces, Baysee took matters one stage further. He would dance, skip and shimmy around the vehicle, whilst occasionally singing or honking and wailing blues riffs on his harmonica. With a co-ordination I envied, he used to race up and down the stairs in a manner which would have seen me falling flat on my face (especially after a few beers) singing whatever song took his fancy. His attitude usually brought enormous cheer to a route which wasn't a trouble-free one to say the least, trawling as it did through some of the roughest areas of London. Whilst he later claimed to start singing and prancing around on the job as a way of "pissing miserable passengers off", it did seem to actually diffuse situations - I observed his fellow conductors in the same area getting far more abuse than he was ever on the receiving end of. His off-the-wall personality saw him through.
How the word got out about Baysee isn't made clear, but in the nineties both the Radio One DJ Gary Davies and the pop mogul Simon Cowell became interested in this rather absurd London figure, and he was offered a record deal. A round of press interviews followed where he revealed that he had been badly assaulted in the course of his duties twice (and incidentally, given that I've witnessed assaults on buses in the same area if not the same route, I don't think that this claim is a piece of Cowell encouraged exaggeration) and had only originally become a conductor when his own picture framing business went bankrupt. Left with a job he couldn't abide (claiming it felt "close to begging") working with difficult members of the public, he began trying to make the best of a bad situation, which clearly led to welcome if perhaps unexpected music industry interest.
His subsequent pop career was unfortunately not a major success (bar one big Japanese hit) but his work was successful enough that his name still feels naggingly familiar to chart-watchers ("Sugar Sugar" climbed to number 30 in 1994) without them necessarily being able to immediately place why. This follow up, a spirited cover of the sixties classic "Do You Love Me?", has a bundle of energy and cheer about it, and is perhaps actually his better single, but it hovered outside the top 40 before naffing off forever. It's true to say that in typical Cowell fashion there's nothing about the record which screams "Classic Pop", but Baysee's character hasn't been smoothed over or shaved away here. If anything, he's the record's centrepiece, a London eccentric being given a lot of room to smear his goodwill across a commercial pop song. If you ever met him, it seems completely appropriate.
Once his career faded away, Baysee returned to his old job, riding bus routes through London collecting fares, singing and playing his harmonica. As for me, by 2004 I knew that I would be leaving Britain to live in Australia, probably on a temporary basis, but possibly permanently. On one of my last nights out in the capital I rode the bus and there was Baysee, riffing away whilst taking fares. As I alighted the Routemaster on what I thought may be one of my last journeys, he began playing "Killing Me Softly" on his harmonica - it was a very late and still night, and I could hear him playing the tune as the bus rode off into the distance, fading away slowly as I began the walk towards my front door. It was such an eerie moment that I made a note of it in my diary, and wondered to myself if there would be other characters like him outside London.
As it turned out, I only resided in Australia for a year, but by the time I returned to London the Routemaster buses had been decommissioned in favour of driver-only services, and gone too was Duke Baysee. There were rumours that he had tried to relaunch his pop career to what I can only assume was general disinterest, and what became of him after that is something of a mystery. Part of me hopes that he's found another role where he can cheerfully assault the public with his songs and banter, and that he's not locked away in some anonymous office back-room somewhere - unless, of course, that's what he wants. But I'll always remember him as being a unique character, a charismatic individual who stamped his personality on his job so hugely that my wife and I referred to his service as "the Baysee Bus", and considered getting him as our conductor as being the perfect finish to a good night out.
As for the "Happy Busman" by The Frank And Walters - forget it, lads. In London we had someone far, far better.
1. Do You Love Me?
2. Do you Love Me? (Shake It Mix)
3. Do you Love Me? (Jungle Crazy Mix)
4. Preservation Dub
1 March 2012
Label: Warner Brothers
Year of Release: 1972
In Britain, we’re completely used to the “Rock the Vote” campaign where pop stars will nag young people to register. Paul Weller is generally a constant, usually appearing in the press with such a weary face in the accompanying articles that one loses the will to do anything for the rest of the day after seeing it, much less take part in the democratic process.
As is so often the case, the Yanks were on to the whole campaign way before we were. And so it was in the 1972 election over there that somebody persuaded folk rockers Mason Proffit to produce a promotional ditty on the subject. “Put down your toke, learn to vote, then you can hit 'em where they're gonna feel!” they urged hippies everywhere.
Somehow (and I’m not entirely sure how) this single ended up for sale in a second hand store in London, from where I bought it. It contains the full song on the A-side, plus three promotional radio slot features on the B-side which contain members of the band clearly reading facts about voting off a piece of paper to an instrumental version. How many hippies bothered to put down their spliffs and wander down to the polling booth after hearing this remains undocumented, as does the rumour that Paul Weller will be doing a soulful cover version of the track at the next British election.
(This entry was originally uploaded in June 2008. At this point the blog was still taking its first toddling steps and I clearly thought that giving background information about the act in question was a mere frippery, something nobody really cared about. I obviously deemed it far more important to needlessly take the piss out of the unrelated and largely irrelevant Paul Weller.
So then, to right that wrong, here goes... Mason Profitt were a cultishly successful folk rock band from Chicago formed by brothers Terry Talbot and John Michael Talbot. They issued five albums as Mason Profitt, and enjoyed acclaim from several of their contemporaries but sadly not many sales. None of their albums hit the Billboard 100, and eventually the band dissolved in 1973 (not long after this promotional item was released) to leave the brothers to drift off to record contemporary Christian music instead, for which they have received a Grammy Awards nomination. They have never performed with Paul Weller or been members of The Style Council.
There, that wasn't especially taxing, was it? Excuse me while I pop in my time machine to give the me of four years ago a kick up the arse.)
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