28 January 2013

Group Therapy - Can't Stop Loving You Baby/ I Must Go

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

Occasionally mistakenly identified by baffled collectors as a British band on the cusp of mod and hard rock, Group Therapy were in fact a New York act who began their careers in a rather conservative fashion.  Cover versions and slightly tepid pop were the order of the day, none of which charted in America or achieved much radio play.

Their career in the USA was failing to generate much heat, and so in 1969 they packed their suitcases and descended on British shores to support Moby Grape on tour.  Eye-witness reports suggest that the previously unheard band, who had yet to release anything in the UK, gave Moby Grape a very frightening run for their money.  Philips subsequently signed the act in an attempt to capitalise on the interest.

If this single is representative of their live act, you can fully understand why audiences reacted in the way they did.  The change of sound for the act in 1969 originally led me to suspect that there were two different Group Therapies in circulation, so great is the chasm between their early days and the Grape tour - for this, my friends, really is the business.  Squawking, screaming vocals, a tight, driving rhythm section, and a thunderous organ combine to deliver a track which sits right between the garage lands of old and the coming hard rock storm.  The moody organ break in the middle of the track does subtract from the single's dancefloor potential somewhat, but adds to the listening experience by creating a song which is more than just a bog-standard garage rave-up.   Even the B-side "I Must Go" is worthy of a listen, being a piece of similarly intense, if rather more brooding, blue-eyed soul.  Indeed, lead singer Ray Kennedy was originally encouraged to take up singing by Otis Redding whilst working as a jobbing sax player. "You should put that horn down and go sing," Redding advised him.

Whilst this single really should have pushed Group Therapy into the big time in Britain at least, it didn't click for them.  Nor did its predecessor, a cover of "River Deep Mountain High".  Philips gave up on them, and the band subsequently split, leaving three albums behind them ("People Get Ready For Group Therapy", "37 Minutes of Group Therapy" and "You're In Need of Group Therapy" - a constant punning on the group name which feels as if it belongs in the script for "Spinal Tap").  All was not completely lost for Kennedy, who went on to have a successful career as a session musician and songwriter, working with Jeff Beck, Aerosmith, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Fleetwood Mac amongst others.  Beyond those achievements, the fact that he co-wrote the brilliant "Sail On Sailor" with Brian Wilson is likely to be of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers.

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