21 June 2018

Reupload - H.T. - You And Me/ Love Can Wait

Minimal but strident and hard-hitting beat pop from Gibraltar of all places. 

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1966

It's fair to say that bands from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar have not been widely chronicled in the great encyclopaedia of pop.  The island has in the past hosted major rock festivals and concerts, but its homegrown talent hasn't really made any significant impact globally.  

H.T. were a group otherwise occasionally known as The Valverde Brothers (or is it the other way around?) who had a crack at pop success with this single.  The minimal nature of it is immediately striking without being particularly hard-hitting.  The verses consist of a simple pounding rhythm, the repetition of one finger-picked chord and something close to political protest singing.  "We're gonna plant an acorn, yeah… when it grows in eighty years, remind them of you and me!" they holler, then eventually the chorus gains a tiny bit of traction only for the song to quickly slide straight back into minimalism again, the verses acting as peculiar strips of emptiness between the main action.  It's structurally bizarre, but not threatening or snotty enough to be classified as garage or mod, far too meaty and beaty to be psychedelic, and despite its best intentions the jolliness of the vocals makes it seem like some peculiar hybrid of "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" and The Eyes.  I like it for being so strange within the confines of quite a bubblegum performance, but I suspect it might be an acquired taste.

17 June 2018

Sparrow - Don't Ask Me/ Hiawatha

Elaine Page and various stagey chums in hairy, hippyish supergroup

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

When people think of Elaine Page, it's likely to be her successful showtunes and theatrical appearances that spring to mind, not her appearances on popsike obscurity compilations. Nonetheless, her work as a pivotal member of Sparrow in the seventies did find its way on to Volume Six of "Circus Days", and their LP "Hatching Out" has found itself becoming a moderately sought-after item (zero points for the title or the sleeve though, Spark).

Sparrow consisted of a wide array of performers and musicians besides Page, and their LP is an odd pot pourri of rock, folk, faintly retro pop and MOR harmony pop. As such, "Don't Ask Me" is about as representative a release from it as any. Beginning with a "Be My Baby" inspired beat and continuing with an unashamedly Spector-ish production, it feels as if it could have been released in the previous decade, in common with a lot of Sparrow's work. Despite that, it never truly soars (and no, that wasn't my attempt at any kind of bird-related pun).

13 June 2018

Edward - Yr Arwerthwr (EP)

Welsh folk with a glint in its eye

Label: Sain
Year of Release: 1970

Well, here's a thing. Sain is a rather collectible and sought-after indie label, and has found its tracks compiled by many keen students of vinyl esoterica. Edward, though - or Edward M Jones to give him his full title - has always been strangely absent from modern Welsh language tracklistings everywhere.

That's perhaps understandable in one sense, as the music he created was frequently jaunty rather than deep and maudlin, and had a spring in its step without being particularly psychedelic or hippified. You could call his work a bit "square", even. Yet at the time, Edward was actually quite a significant figure in Welsh music, actually releasing a joint EP with the sixties Welsh superstar Mary Hopkin, with the pair even holding hands on the sleeve. Perhaps even more importantly than that, depending on your point of view, he also recorded children's Welsh language albums with Dafydd Iwan, then the president of Plaid Cymru.

So far as I can discern from the sleeve here,  he was - and presumably still is - also a Welsh nationalist and keen promoter of the Welsh language, which was also a large part of his dayjob with his young pupils as a teacher at Yshgol Cymraeg Bryntaf school in Cardiff.

10 June 2018

Chaser - Red Rum/ Country Boy

A glam rock song about a lovely horse. And it's rather good.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1975

Red Rum was everyone's favourite horse in the seventies. The three-times Grand National winner was given endless excitable press, and ended up with his bemused horsey face on cash-in T-shirts, mugs, posters and probably belt buckles for all I know.

While faintly glam rock tinged songs about racehorses might therefore seem strange from the perspective of the average person living in 2018, in Red Rum's case, it's understandable. You could argue that anyone trying to produce a stomping glam number about him was actually living up to the standards and expectations of their time - a squeaking analogue synth, a glitter beat and a tune about an equine champion was, really, none-more-mid-seventies.

The studio group Chaser also do a solid job of bigging up the champion horse, with buzzing, squeaking guitars, galloping rhythms, and a soaring chorus. Lyrically too, they appear to both celebrate and feel some sympathy for Red Rum, asking "Is that a tear in your eye?" and speculating that he might want to feel "free" - which is both an odd and interesting question for a single of this nature to ask. "There's a bottle of wine at the end of the line" they try to reassure him, which is even more peculiar for reasons I don't need to underline.

6 June 2018

Reupload - Eastside Kids - Subway Train/ Sunday Stranger

Two brilliant sixties garage instrumentals by unknown persons

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1965

It's always faintly frustrating when I locate a single I really like, but the artist(s) behind it seem so elusive that I'm unable to offer you good people any kind of background whatsoever. In this case, this bunch of Eastside [one word] Kids seem to have no relation to the other Los Angeles based East Side [two words] Kids who arrived later in the sixties and issued several singles, although there seems to be some dispute online about that fact.

Billy Carl co-authored the A-side "Subway Train" and there's evidence to suggest that this is Billy Carlucci who eventually served in the 1910 Fruitgum Company. It seems probable that he was a member of this very short-lived outfit too. The author W.E. Strange may also be the guitarist Billy Strange the session musician. As for the rest? No idea. No data. If you know, please pass your knowledge on. 

3 June 2018

Port Authority - When The Love Was Given Out/ Say It Again

"Great dancer! Fuzz guitar!" say the ebay sellers...

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

If you're anything like me, which if you're reading this already I suspect you are, you'll often browse ebay's auctions for promising sounding obscurities. While doing so, you'll occasionally notice that the final auction prices for some records you've never heard of slowly creeps up over the months and years, to the extent that you begin to wonder what might be going on. All this excitement and cash-flashing can't be the result of nothing, surely?

"When The Love Was Given Out" is a big case in point for me. My curiosity was tweaked by a chance recommendation of this record by someone, and by auctions referring to it as a "fuzz guitar dancer!!!" which seemed to pump the price up. Chancing upon a copy for a tenner on Discogs recently, I decided to take a gamble. And well...

30 May 2018

Marc Reid - For No One/ Lonely City Blue

Faithful but slightly baroque styled cover of The Beatles track

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

I've often wondered why there hasn't been a volume of Rubble - or a similar series - dedicated entirely to obscure Beatles covers. God knows there are enough of them to pick from, and despite the record label or the artist's manager's best hopes, the vast majority seemed to be complete flops.

Perhaps one reason such a project has never seen the light of day is the fact that very few of these releases messed with the original template much. For every track like The Score's "Please Please Me" (better than the original, in my controversial yet humble opinion) there are dozens if not hundreds of carbon copies of Fabs tunes - especially their album tracks, which record labels loved to take a punt on, hoping to repeat the success of Marmalade's "Ob La Di Ob La Da" or St Louis Union's "Girl".

Marc Reid's version of "For No One", then, isn't an especially radical reworking, but it does feature a thrumming harpsichord, woodwind arrangements and Reid's polite, rounded, considered vocals. As such, it's astonishing it hasn't featured on a "Fading Yellow" or "Piccadilly Sunshine" compilation yet, where it would be completely at home. It's a very pleasant listen indeed. If the data I have on its release date is correct, it was issued on exactly the same day (5th August 1966) as The Beatles "Revolver" LP, which would suggest that someone at CBS or his management heard an advance demo of the album and whisked him into the studio as quickly as possible to record a cover - such opportunism sometimes paid dividends for artists in the sixties, but it didn't work in this instance. 

27 May 2018

The Glass Menagerie - Do My Thing Myself/ Watching The World Pass By

The final, harder edged single by the cult Burnley popsike merchants. 

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

The Glass Menagerie are probably most famed among obsessive buyers of sixties compilations for their bursts of light psychedelia. From their cult classic "Frederick Jordan" to their cover of the Rolling Stones "She's A Rainbow", their output tends to litter popsike mixes the length and breadth of the land despite the fact (*lowers voice*) that they really weren't that "way out" at all. 

After they were dropped by Pye in 1968 following their failure of their cover of Harry Nilsson's "I Said Goodbye To Me" (which some have suggested David Bowie must have heard), Polydor took them on for two more singles. Their first effort for their new employers was the haunting "Have You Forgotten Who You Are", which was more of the same sound. Their second and final release for the label, though, was this little stormer. Judging by the contents of both the A-side and the flip, they were trying to go for a harder rock sound in the hope of a winning a new audience. Suffice to say, it obviously failed and they disappeared into oblivion not long afterwards.

23 May 2018

Reupload - The Fuckers - Sexy Roy Orbison

Incomprehensible Finnish punk rock courtesy of Bill Drummond and Mark Manning

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

You might remember that some time ago, I talked about Bill Drummond and Mark Manning (aka Zodiac Mindwarp) and their peculiar mission to create a series of fictional Finnish bands whose singles they could release in quantities of 500 copies each. From ambient brilliance to garage rock to techno stupidity, the singles were varied in style and tone.  Ultimately though, I doubt anyone was quite prepared for the non-existent Finnish punk band The Fuckers.  Drummond writes in his excellent tome "45":

"They are the only Lapp punk band in the world.  They have been together for over ten years, no line-up changes, thousands of gigs, no success and no selling out.  They always get drunk before they go on stage.  Once on stage they fall over, break strings, get in fights with each other or members of the audience.  The night always ends with them being ripped off by the promoter.  They hate everyone and everything, but especially Helsinki.  To them, Helsinki is full of soft, southern, disco-loving, homosexual, rich, arty wankers, and full of girls they want to shag but never can, things they want to own but never will.  The Fuckers are the eternal dispossessed outsiders, failures and fuck-ups.  All of their own doing, though of course they'll never see it that way.  As far as I'm concerned, The Fuckers are the greatest band in the world".

20 May 2018

Jefferson - Spider/ Can't Get You Out Of My Mind

Fantastic version of the creeping, vaguely psychedelic Kenny Young track

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

"Spider" is one of those songs which really should have been a smash. First released by its writer Kenny Young (of "Under the Boardwalk" fame) on the CBS label in July 1969, it contained all the drama and raunchiness the hit parade needed. After nobody bit, Clodagh Rogers covered it, but decided to relegate it to the B-side of her hit single "Biljo", where it was later rediscovered in charity shops by delighted people like me.

For my money, though, the 1971 attempt by Jefferson is the one to go for. On this disc, you get to hear everything being thrown at the wall in an attempt to make the record a hit - wailing guitars, thundering orchestral arrangements, rip-roaring vocals and a general air of sultriness combine to create a record which drips with atmosphere. A slightly sleazy atmosphere, admittedly, but one with such a powerful punch that you almost don't notice. 

17 May 2018

Erasmus Chorum - Oh Lord/ Holy House (On Sunday)/ Mary Jane

Earnest early rock single from future glam rockers 

Label: Chapter One
Year of Release: 1972

A curious one, this. An epic, overloaded three track single with two meaty rock tunes on the A-side and a six minute organ-driven slice of angst called "Mary Jane" on the flip, its tight grooves at 45rpm result in a horribly crap and under-powered sound (especially on my scuffed copy) but will probably gain some fans nonetheless. 

The A-side appears to be two separate, unconnected rock gospel pieces with an optimistic sheen, and its possible that the odd decision to put two tracks on side one confused the hell out of radio stations. Certainly, the fact that copies of this are near-on impossible to find now indicates a general lack of interest. Nonetheless, both show off a group who were clearly polished performers, and only a slightly limp production lets the side down.

13 May 2018

John D Bryant - Mr. Tambourine Man/ Lady Came From Baltimore

Lush, adult orientated 70s take of the Dylan/ Byrds classic. 

Label: Private Stock
Year of Release: 1978

John D Bryant has been on this blog before, and it's difficult to find much more to say about him. Beginning his career as a rather Dylanesque beatnik figure in the mid-sixties and gradually progressing into brighter, more tightly produced singer-songwriter fare, he managed to issue tons of records without once scoring a hit. Of these, debut 45 "Tell Me What You See" is the most abrasive, having a raw, garage feel, whereas the rather Jeff Lynne-esque "I Bring The Sun" is much fancied by psychedelic pop pickers.

By 1978, he'd been taken under the wing of Private Stock Records and "No Strings" and "Mr Tambourine Man" were his last singles. It has to be said, this one is an unusual release, being a smooth-as-silk AOR take on the Dylan classic, feeling strangely like "Rumours" era Fleetwood Mac in places. Clearly it was an attempt at harnessing the nostalgic pangs of an adult hippy audience who had since moved on to rather slicker fare. It has to be said, The Tremeloes' Alan Blakley does a good job in the producer's chair - the strings, female backing vocals and soaring arrangements give the track a yuppie euphoria it almost certainly didn't have before.

9 May 2018

Reupload - Cockpit (Featuring FR David) - Fifi/ Father Machine

The "Words" songsmith in an earlier, slightly more psych/ garage phase

Label: Butterfly
Year of Release: 1971

If you're a British person reading this blog entry, it's reasonably safe to assume that you know FR David for one thing and one thing only - the colossal global 1983 megahit "Words". A slightly fey, flowery and despairing ballad about one man's mammoth struggle to write a slightly fey, flowery and despairing ballad, its strangely meta subject matter clearly struck a chord with 8 million record buyers on Earth. "Well, I'm just a music man," shrugged David by way of explanation, "my words are coming out wrong". It was hard not to feel sorry for this gentle fellow, like some sort of parallel universe Elton John who was not only humble rather than arrogant, but had also failed to meet his Bernie Taupin. Not picking moss off a roof and getting "cross", just apologising... a lot.

Way, way before "Words", however, the Tunisian-born David (born Robert Fitoussi) had a long career in France with several records which are surprisingly overlooked by sixties pop aficionados. He began his career in 1965 as a member of the garage band Les Trefles who changed their name to Les Boots after one EP. Success was not forthcoming, so he split to go solo and issued, among other singles, the somewhat startling minor French hit "Symphonie". A berserk, hyperactive approximation of orchestral psychedelia, "Symphonie" is a single I've longed to own for years, but despite its hit status copies are irritatingly difficult to track down, and nor do mp3s of it seem to be readily available. Someone, somewhere needs to sort this out.

Seemingly restless, FR David shortly formed the rock group The David Explosion, who were known as Cockpit in some territories for reasons I can't fully fathom out. "Fifi/ Father Machine" was their first single, and it still has the spirit of the sixties coursing through its veins. The A-side sounds like his own garage days revisited with a three-chord roughness spearing its way through the middle of the track, whereas the B-side is faintly psychedelic in a solo McCartney way and slightly bizarre. His vocals encased in a tune riddled with mellotron noises, David exhorts "Father Machine" to allow humanity and emotions to return to a cold, logic-infested planet once more - it's not hard to form a clear line in your mind from this to "Words", but unlike his best-known work, "Father Machine" wobbles just on the right side of oddness. Hell, the Super Furry Animals have released worse slabs of sci-fi psychedelia than this one (you can imagine Gruff singing this, I swear).

6 May 2018

John Davidge - Fear Of Love/ Cold Road

'The British Lenny Bruce' on a gloomy Leonard Cohen tip

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1972

The British Alternative Comedy boom of the late seventies/ early eighties seemed to explode out of nowhere, but as key figures such as Alexei Sayle have noted, some of the elements were already in place. Out on the folk circuit, keen story-tellers such as Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrott and Richard Digance delivered observational material a world away from the punchy gagmeisters on the working man's club circuits, and formed an interesting (and increasingly popular) splinter group of their own. This helped shift expectations of what could and could not be accepted by live audiences. 

On the working man's club circuit itself, there were also weird outliers, performers such as John Cooper Clarke who understood how to keep their audiences onside while also going in unexpected new directions with their material. John Davidge - aka John Paul Joans - was, however, possibly the biggest fish out of water in these venues; a man who, if the video evidence we have is anything to go by, couldn't have given a fig whether the audience 'got him' or not. Prowling around the stage menacingly while talking about 'wars, IRA and all this nonsense' (according to Bernard Manning), he had long hair and was also prone to hippified musings on love, peace and 'the bomb'. Understandably, while a few young people in the audience appreciated his stance, others didn't enjoy their meal of pie and peas being disrupted with such heavy topics of conversation, and were even openly shocked by his material. 

Davidge's left-wing leanings, wild, anarchic behaviour and ghoulish delight at being heckled or dismissed by audiences feels, while rough around the edges, very ahead of its time for the early seventies, and indeed he himself predicted it was the comedy of the future. He openly boasted to a Granada documentary crew: "Audiences are more aware now... and somebody has to provide the new jokes." His forward thinking nature didn't go entirely unnoticed, with Bob Monkhouse enthusiastically praising him as "Britain's answer to Lenny Bruce" and a "brilliantly bitter and hilariously tasteless comedian".  

2 May 2018

John Drummond - Break My Mind/ Molly Bye Bye

Much-covered moody country rocker taken on by Irish showband star

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1968

It's interesting how many low selling singles by Irish showband artists got pressed up in the UK throughout the sixties. While the artists behind these records were often heroes of the gig circuit back in Ireland, they usually struggled to pick up attention and airplay in this country, and seemed to mainly sell to Irish ex-pats in the big cities. 

Certainly, smaller labels like King (covered in the previous entry) seemed to understand that there was a niche market for this stuff, just as much as the Jamaican ex-pats wanted to be able to buy certain records in their new home country. Pye also seemed to churn out endless Showband acts for UK distribution, and while copies are tough to track down, they usually turn up for 99p in the local Oxfam rather than £100 on Discogs. 

John Drummond - occasionally known as Big John Drummond - was a bass player on the showband circuit in his home country, and "Break My Mind" was a fondly received solo release on the Dolphin label just across the water. In the UK, somewhat predictably, it did nowt, and that's a shame. While Loudermilk's "Break My Mind" is a much-recorded country track, with versions being attempted by artists as varied as Roy Orbison, Linda Rondstadt and Gram Parsons, Drummond's take has its own particular snap and swing, and might have brought the track to a wider UK audience. 

29 April 2018

The Musicians - Jaunty Joe/ The Chelsea Set

Two sixties instros perfect for swinging your shopping bags down Carnaby Street to.

Label: King
Year of Release: 1967

A lot of easy listening tinged sixties instrumental singles are awfully uncollectible these days, and none more so than the slices of perkiness that soundtracked the later part of the decade. There are few British sixties youth films you can watch without hearing jaunty melodies and women singing "oo-doobe-doobe-doo!" in the background, but we have a tendency to consider these as rather kitsch tunes these days, not something we would willingly listen to of our own volition. They may have had a bit of a second wind in the mid-nineties (thanks to Mike Flowers) but since then, they've dipped back below the horizon again.

That's a shame, because I actually love this stuff. Cheery and bubbly without scrimping on the quality, there's an infectious charm and joy about them. They do sound like the soundtrack to every ageing bachelor's cocktail party, but there are far worse things in life to accompany than booze, fun and frivolity. 

"Jaunty Joe" is credited to a band called The Musicians, but like so many tracks of this ilk, I doubt the group were anything more than a studio entity. With a honking brass and a insistent hook, and a careful arrangement, it's a nice listen. "Jaunty Joe" was also released by the Ray McVay Orchestra to slightly more success, but this version sounds a bit rawer, a tiny bit more mod (though these things are all relative). It does sound like the lost theme tune to a seventies sit-com, and indeed somebody missed a trick by not using it as one. 

The flip "The Chelsea Set" is pretty much more of the same, though slightly less memorable and deserving of its flip side status as a result. 

25 April 2018

Reupload - The Denims - The Adler Sock

A 60s garage tribute to cheap socks that disintegrate easily in the wash. 

Label: The Adler Company/ Columbia
Year of Release: 1965

Rock and pop groups have always had an uneasy relationship with corporate sponsorship, to the extent that even in the present day (where the majority of musicians will allow their work to soundtrack adverts without shame) it puts a cringe on the face of many.  I myself have an ambivalent and perhaps hypocritical stance to the use of music on adverts - if it's The Fall, Clinic or Vashti Bunyan, my reflex reaction is to think "Well, I'm glad they're finally getting paid some money". If it's The White Stripes soundtracking an 'iconic global brand', I rub my face in my hands and sigh (even if the tune is rather good).

However, much as it may be logical to assume that The White Stripes were the first American garage band (we'll call them that for the sake of arguments, OK?) to take corporate dough, obscure New York racketeers The Denims were probably the first out of the gate in 1965, unless anyone knows better.  They were hardly household names in the USA, but that didn't stop The Adler Company from borrowing them for a promotional 45 about the benefit of Adler Socks, which were essentially cheap wool socks which tended to disintegrate or discolour after only a few washes.  "YEEEEEEAHHHH! DO THE SOCK!" the lead singer screeches as if his life depends on it, while the band kick up a fierce row in the background.  It's utterly unclear why The Adler Corporation thought such an act could flog feetwarmers, but I for one am thrilled they did - this is one of the most bizarre corporate spin-off singles I've ever encountered, a garage nugget with a commercial message attached.  It's likely to sound odder to British ears as this kind of harsh, abrasive punk noise never really made much headway in the UK charts, so the notion of using such an act to advertise clothing would have been unthinkable here.

21 April 2018

Bill Esher and The Beacons - Baby You're My Doughnut/ Sixty Seven

Slightly glammy piece of 70s boogie based on an odd compliment

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1973

"Kennedy came to Berlin and said: 'every free citizen of the world is a citizen of Berlin, and I have come to say to you Ich Bin Ein Berliner', and the crowd went f--kin' wild. The trouble is 'Ich Bin Ein Berliner' means 'I am a doughnut'" - Eddie Izzard.

OK, so it's extremely unlikely that this slice of laidback, light-hearted rock 'n' boogie was influenced by the error in Kennedy's speech. The odds of it being influenced by the record label they were signed to are probably higher. Nonetheless, "Baby You're My Doughnut" is a bloody weird compliment to pay someone, and not necessarily likely to illicit a positive response. The band do their best by adding "there's a sweetness at your centre", which suggests that any pleasantness or good-naturedness isn't present in the person from the offset. 

Never mind. While Bill Esher and his Beacons might not have found this compliment paying them many dividends in real life, the single itself is a likeable piece of light rock with a light glam thud to it. 

Much more enticing for me is the jam (no pun intended, on any level) on the flip. Rough, ready and showing a group with a keen ear and instinct for each other's playing, it really is a great few minutes, ploughing ahead with gusto.

18 April 2018

Magnificent Seven - Reggae Bagpipes/ Roll Out The Barrel

If you like a bit of reggae with your bagpipes, join our blog

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

Pop and rock, of course, have continually evolved as they've adopted and mixed and meshed various apparently conflicting styles. If during the sixties British groups hadn't had one eye on music hall ditties and the other on rhythm and blues, so much interesting material might never have been written and released.

But a combination of reggae and the sound of the bagpipes? Really? Never has the Simpsons slogan "Nuts and Gum, together at last!" felt more applicable. It's not as if "Reggae Bagpipes" is a mess, which is to the credit of everyone involved. While it doesn't have a particularly authentic production or arrangement going on, it would be just about credible enough to pass were it not for those droning great pipes playing "Scotland the Brave" throughout. 

15 April 2018

Laurie - I Love Onions/ I Want Him

Brilliant slice of epic 60s girl-pop on the flip of an ill-advised novelty track

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

A regular "Left and to the Back" reader once suggested to me that my catchphrase was probably "but you should check out the brilliant track on the B side!" It's not my fault, though. In the sixties and seventies especially, record companies seemed to have a habit of messing things up completely and burying perfectly good songs under a pile of musty mediocrity. And worse, as it happens.

Take the A-side here, for instance. "I Love Onions", is both baffling and bad. In it, Laurie whispers seductively about how much she enjoys the veg in question. Presumably the joke here is that onions are boring, not particularly exotic, and ill suited to such praise, and the contrast between the mundanity of onions and the sultry nature of Laurie's delivery will lead to humour. The song also has a music hall feel which suggests it's trying to emulate the kind of 78rpm tracks which celebrated bananas and watermelons. However you want to explain the joke, it's irritating and deeply unfunny, and should have been left in the can.

The flip, on the other hand, is majestic. It's a vampish track packed with drama, longing and a powerful, epic chorus which contrasts with the subtle, hushed verses, and a perfect slice of mid-sixties pop. It looks as if Graham Bonney - ex-Riot Squad member and one-hit wonder in the UK (thanks to "Super Girl") - had a lot to do with its construction, which explains its confidence and sense of drama. It's over in less than two-and-a-half minutes and leaves you wanting much, much more, from both the track, Laurie herself, and the guitarist who decides to let rip towards the end.

11 April 2018

Reupload - Medium Wave Band - Mellow Yellow/ Disney Girls

Bonzos styled take on a Donovan hit, backed with beautiful "Disney Girls" cover

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1976

When the irony-coated easy listening revival arrived in Britain in the nineties, there was a tendency to behave as if it was something new. In truth, knowing and faintly mocking easy listening covers have been a comedic part of pop music since at least the fifties, when rock and roll found itself fair game for all manner of inappropriately intricate cover versions.

During the seventies, session musician Graham Preskett also formed the Medium Wave Band ensemble who set about producing two delightful little singles of this ilk. The first one "Radio" has already been featured on this blog, but their cover of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" is probably better value for money. Where the original swells over with false bonhomie, especially during the irritating studio "party" towards the end (fake recording studio parties never fail to destroy the mood of a record for me) the Medium Wave Band tighten their ties and button up their jackets for this and deliver a much more considered version. Doubtlessly indebted to Vivian Stanshall and actually admirable in its detail, like all the best comedy records this is part-joke, part careful study.  To be honest, I get more plain and ordinary enjoyment out of it than I do giggles.

8 April 2018

Bitter Almond - In The Morning/ Silver

Optimistic springtime pop from short-lived early 70s UK group

Label: Warner Bros.
Year of Release: 1970

It's quite unusual to find an obscure British group on the Warner Bros label during this era, but nonetheless, that's what we've got here. Bitter Almond arrived in the summer of 1970 on a breeze of melodic optimism, then had one more 45 out on the equally American United Artists in 1971 ("Loving Each Other") before disappearing from view again.

"In The Morning" typifies the kind of brassy, well arranged sunshine pop which filled up the very early seventies. It's pure joy, with no dark underbelly in sight; music to take on warm countryside drives rather than contemplate the futility of existence while you eat your toast on a rainy Sunday morning ("Oof! Sounds lovely, Ken!"). As such, it's likely to have as many detractors as fans, but for my part, I think it's a bold and very well-written piece of pop which was actually unlucky not to have become a hit. Its slightly conservative sound may have disadvantaged it slightly by causing it not to stand out much on the airwaves, but beyond that, it's hard to understand what went wrong.

4 April 2018

Prince The Wonder Dog - Sausages (Wheels)/ We've Got A Dog

A novelty single by an actual real-life talking dog! - Well, kind of...

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1979

The TV programme "That's Life" washed endless pieces of absurd popular culture debris ashore in the seventies and eighties, but few have lived on in the public imagination as much as Prince the talking dog. Owned by the mild-mannered Paul Allen, a man who looked like a member of a twee indie band before such things really existed, the canine apparently had an impressive human vocabulary and was especially obsessed with the word "sausages". 

In reality, of course, all of the dog's words were formed by Paul Allen manipulating its jaw while it growled. He confessed to "That's Life" that his long-term ambition was to teach the dog to say the words by itself, but inevitably this plan never really came to fruition. This is deeply unsurprising as scientists also haven't managed to get dogs to talk of their own accord either - if nothing else, Allen was a man with lofty ambitions. You can see a full clip of his "That's Life" appearance here.

Prince ended up becoming a huge hit with viewers, to the extent that a single was almost inevitable. Amazingly, BBC Records and Tapes clearly passed on the possibility, and EMI took the dog on instead, resulting in this peculiar single. The A-side is a two-and-a-half minute musical skit on the dog's experiences in a recording studio dealing with a "music industry mogul" (inevitably, one of Esther's comedy stooges putting on a Hollywood voice). It should be abysmal, and there may be readers out there who will argue it is - it was certainly featured on the "World's Worst Records" blog several years ago - but I find it unnaturally funny. Something about Allen's gentle, understated manner, the use of the song "Wheels Cha Cha Cha" (always a good comedy stand-by) and the dog's ludicrous vocalisations make it far more amusing than it has any right to be. It's unashamedly cheap sounding and unbelievably silly, but if Danny Baker had discovered Prince The Wonder Dog rather than Esther Rantzen, a lot more of my readers would probably be appreciative of his existence. 

31 March 2018

Drill - If I Could Read Your Mind/ Pretty Girls

The Gordon Lightfoot hit given a strange New Wave interpretation

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1980

To a lot of people in the UK, Gordon Lightfoot is essentially a one-hit wonder, a Canadian curiosity whose sole chart entry "If You Could Read My Mind" occasionally gets airplay on Radio Two, or used in television soundtracks. It's a situation I've never quite got my head around. Skip across the ocean to Canada (or the USA for that matter) and he's something of a legend. Bob Dylan referred to him as the greatest folk singer of all time, and while I perhaps wouldn't stretch my praise that far, his LPs are all worth a punt, and usually turn up in the bargain bucket of your local second hand record emporium. Buy them at low prices while you still can - a record store cashier recently told me they're selling far faster than they used to. Quality and class always gets noticed in the end. 

The New Wave band Drill, who we've already featured on the blog with their single "Juliet", clearly had a certain fondness for Lightfoot, as they decided to take his sole British hit and inject it with their own inimitable style. Listening to it for the first time is a jarring experience. It's such a complete retooling of the track that it's initially barely recognisable, and you've got to give the group credit for not making this a slightly idle, angry punky facsimile.