14 September 2019

King Koss - Spinning Wheel/ Louisiana

Sweaty pub soul take on the much-covered Blood Sweat and Tears tune - gritty and good

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

I've lost count of how many covers of "Spinning Wheel" there have been now. Blood Sweat and Tears may have written it and birthed it, but it was subsequently taken on by artists as diverse as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr, James Brown and Nancy Wilson and, perhaps most notoriously, was butchered by reggae duo Mel and Dave so badly that Kenny Everett gave it a placing on his "World's Worst Records" compilation. Beyond that, it's appearance in adverts and samples has also been apparent.

Chalk one more up on the list, then, because this single by the mysterious King Koss also aims its eyes on the spinning wheel prize. It's actually pretty damn good, managing to transplant the feel of a sweaty, swinging basement dwelling blue-eyed soul group to vinyl without losing any of the rawness.  I haven't DJ'ed in a couple of years now, but if I was asked I might take a chance on this at the right moment - the song is familiar enough to get people on the floor, but the pounding urgency of this version would also probably keep most of them there.

This was King Koss's only single, and we must file him next to numerous strange and (these days) faceless one-off Polydor releases which were licensed from independent companies. Had it been a hit, no doubt he would have been drilled into doing the necessary broadcasting and press publicity to make more of a name for himself, but this clearly didn't sell enough copies to get him beyond passing mentions. If you know who he was, drop us a line.

11 September 2019

U.S.A.U.K. - Illinois/ Heads You Win

Mysterious 70s pop-rock outfit with presumably Transatlantic membership

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1977

God help me, it's one of those dastardly cases of a band name I can't find in any reference book which is also more or less impossible to Google. Not only does "U.S.A.U.K." mainly call up examples of trade deals and companies with Transatlantic headquarters on everyone's favourite search engine, the group made the A-sides of their only two singles about popular areas of the US. The follow-up to "Illinois" was "California Bound", causing the group to get further hidden among business websites.

You can't kick a group for not predicting the future well enough, though, and I'm forced to conclude that this band's debut single is a pretty good slice of pop-rock boogie. It's not impossible to imagine it being produced in a pub rock style by Nick "Basher" Lowe, but instead the group went for a slicker production and ended up with this - a halfway house between Camden boozers and West Coast snazz.

The B-side "Heads You Win" is even more polished, owing a minor debt to Steely Dan. It would probably have caused a toothy grin to slide all over Whispering Bob Harris' visage at the time. 

8 September 2019

Reupload - J.A. Freedman - Love Got A Mind Of Its Own/ When You Walked Out Of My Life

Obscure 60s singer-songwriter with hugely under-appreciated release

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

A more recent enthusiastic addition to the list of records known only as "popsike", "Love Got A Mind Of Its Own" is a peculiar yet lovely piece of singer-songcraft to be filed alongside Bill Fay or Nick Garrie. Thudding but minimal basslines connect with a meandering and loping ballad and some powerful vocals, and the effect of the whole is actually pretty marvellous. 

However, it's the A-side that really got all the publicity at the time - naturally. "When You Walked Out Of My Life" was the winning entry representing Great Britain at the International Grand Prix RTL Music Competition in 1969, organised by Radio Luxembourg. It's not a patch on its flip, unfortunately, being pretty standard run-of-the-mill balladry, but its not without its fans online.

J.A. Freedman, aka Jules Freedman, issued an album through Decca in the same year entitled "My Name is J.A. Freedman… I Also Sing" which is now often cited as one of the scarcest sixties LPs in that label's catalogue. Featuring top session workers Herbie Flowers, Kenny Clare and Don Lusher, it's apparently hit-and-miss but the hits - such as "Love Got A Mind…" - are strong enough for it to finally see some belated acclaim falling its way and the asking price rising drastically.

4 September 2019

Chamber Pop Ensemble - Walk Away Renee/ 59th Street Bridge Song

Two obscure and prim, buttoned-up takes on American sixties pop

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

Back in 1968, the producer Irving Martin had the brainwave of gathering a collection of current tunes noted for their "strong melodic content" and arranging them for a small chamber orchestra. Among the sounds he singled out for attention were the likes of "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Up Up And Away" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", all of which seem like good choices. Also selected were "Satisfaction" and "I Was Kasier Bill's Batman" which, for different reasons, beg a few questions.

The LP slipped out that year without much press or public attention, presumably attracting neither the pop kids nor their easy listening Mums and Dads when I suspect it was meant to pull in both. More unexpected still was the solitary single launched from the platter, this sweet and subdued take on "Walk Away Renee" - a song so choicely and gently arranged in the first place you have to wonder if it ever needed this treatment.

2 September 2019

Man In A Shop - records now for sale on Discogs

Readers, when my wife isn't barking her catchphrase "Where do you get this shit from?!" when I'm playing records by castrato clowns and suchlike, her other favourite utterance is "Can you please just get RID of some of these records?"

She's got a point, to be fair. We live in a very small house and I have duplicates in my collection, plus records I liked once but could live without owning on vinyl, and records I bought for the purpose of DJ'ing only to discover that they weren't going to get the dancefloor moving... and on the list goes. As soon as you find yourself close to becoming one of those hoarders you were warned about, it's time to take action.

Therefore, I've taken the step of opening up a Discogs shop which will be gradually added to over time. You can take a look at it here.

While most of it is currently the kind of fare you'd expect to find on this blog, there's no reason it will necessarily stay that way - a clear-out is a clear-out. There's already a lovely UK London promo copy of "Little Bit O' Soul" up for grabs (which I have duplicate copies of at home) and there's no reason why there won't be more of that sort of thing. So keep checking weekly to see what I've added. 

1 September 2019

The Rubber Band - Cream Songbook

Nine instrumental takes on Cream's finest moments - expect harpsichords, flutes and some bombast

Label: GRT
Year of Release: 1969

Regular readers will probably remember that back in December, I uploaded The Rubber Band's "Jimi Hendrix Songbook" for everyone's enjoyment - an instrumental tribute LP which included richly arranged and occasionally intriguing versions of the tongue-wiggling wonder's top tunes.

There was a long series of these LPs, and reader Arthur Van Daele very kindly got in touch sending me mp3s of the others, which I then stashed to one side for a convenient moment. The Cream LP still seems to have the heavy involvement of Michael Lloyd, who largely led on the Hendrix project. This time round, though, there are no uncredited 'celebrity' drop-ins from the likes of Warren Zevon, though I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong.

What you get is some thunderous orchestral takes on Cream's songbook, which don't take as many liberties with the original tracks as the Hendrix LP, though the puffing flutes and zinging harpsichords on "Sunshine Of Your Love" (mp3 sample available below) are somewhat unexpected, as is that track's hysterical ending.

28 August 2019

Albert Embankment - As Tears Go By/ Cover Me

Intense cover of the Stones penned track with gravely male vocals and Joe Cocker's backing singers

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

The back catalogue of Decca in the early seventies is perplexing to say the least. The label had lost their cash cow by that point (The Rolling Stones) and seemingly their sense of direction as well. They staggered forward like a corporate zombie, scoring the occasional middle-of-the-road hit almost by chance, then moving on taking whatever else happened to fall in their path. 

Sometimes this approach worked, but worryingly frequently it didn't. Anyone heard of Ditch Cassidy, Country Jug, Farnborough Firework Factory, Music Room, Rivington Pike or Colin Pilditch? Bonus points offered if you've ever even seen a copy of any of these artist's singles - some of them are absurdly scarce, and no, I've absolutely no idea what most of them sound like (I did bid on the Farnborough Firework Factory 45 on eBay not long ago, but the winning bidder was too enthusiastic for my cautious self). The label was financially propped up by the handling of MCA's British arm and manufacturing and distribution of Jonathan King's initially extraordinarily successful UK Records, but in its own right was worryingly dizzy.

Albert Embankment always seemed to me to be yet another example of a one-single wonder on the label, as rare as it was mysterious. The A-side is a cover version of the label's old boy wonders The Stones, but is a distinctly empassioned version, ignoring Marianne Faithful's take and instead incorporating throat-shredding lead vocals and gospel styled backing vocals. Without wishing to accuse anyone involved in the recording of unoriginality, it was clearly put together by people who either admired Joe Cocker or noted his success with "A Little Help From My Friends", and tried applying the same technique to the Rolling Stones catalogue.

Sadly, my copy of it is quite scratched and I'm highly unlikely to come across another one soon (if ever). Nevertheless, it's not ruined and you can hear that the recording works well, putting a new spin on an old classic which will delight some listeners and leave others cold. It all depends on how tied you feel to the intentions of the original. 

25 August 2019

Reupload - Bill Kenwright - Tiggy/ The House That Fell On Its Face

Epic, manic, "Eloise"/ "Bernadette" styled pop from actor, theatre producer and Everton FC Chair Bill Kenwright. (Comes with John Pantry penned flip, popsike fans). 

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1969

Bill Kenwright CBE is a man who has beavered away for many decades in entertainment, a name as likely to pop up in the background as well as the foreground of popular culture. During the late sixties just before this single was issued, he was busy playing the Coronation Street character Gordon Clegg, who ended up being woven in and out of the soap's plots over the next few years whenever the man's availability would allow. Prior to that - and perhaps unbeknownst to many viewers - he had a moderately successful singing career in the clubs and a number of singles were issued.

To say "Tiggy" is an unexpectedly epic example of his work would be an understatement. It starts with an urgent morse code riff, flows neatly into an urgent sounding verse then an epic, steamrollering chorus - like "Eloise", the track tries to slap you into submission, with all the fire alarms activating and water jetting down from the emergency sprinkler system. Whoever "Tiggy" was, Kenwright was manically keen to get her attention, though I'd personally have been a little afraid; but nobody can deny the overpowering first impression the track makes. It's a testament to producer Eddie Tre-Vett's usual skills in creating a powerful yet considered racket when needed, and it's somewhat surprising this didn't manage to at least become a minor hit.

The B-side "The House That Fell On Its Face" is also of interest to aficionados of popsike, being penned by producer Eddie Tre-Vett's boy wonder John Pantry. In total contrast to the A-side, it's one of Pantry's delicate, mournful pieces about a disintegrated relationship, closer to "Glasshouse Green Splinter Red" than anything by The Factory. Kenwright appears to be doing an impersonation of Pantry's vocal style throughout, suggesting that it may have been quickly recorded after hearing a rough demo.

21 August 2019

Stephen Shane - I'm Beginning To Touch You/ Someone Who Cares

Slick, slow seventies pop from this one single wonder

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1972

This is yet another single on the Jam label contributed courtesy of Left and to the Back reader Eduardo Ojeda Marins. It clearly shows that they were trying their hardest to be a credible and successful label for pop hits (and not just ones by Blackfoot Sue).

The A-side is a faithful cover of the Anders and Poncia single "I'm Beginning To Touch You" which pulls back the slightly obsessive urgency of the original and turns it into a seductive piece of smoothie pop instead. If Anders and Poncia sound overwhelmed by the situation, Shane has got the romantic situation all under control - he's the corner of the bedroom with his acoustic guitar, his shirt undone by two or three buttons, and a glint in his eye. 

While Shane seemingly didn't issue any other records under his own name, he was responsible for a run of productions throughout the seventies, including records from such characters as Bill & Buster, Bitter Suite, MacArthur Park, Still Life, and some blokes called Bill Oddie and John Cleese working together for the Athletes Club Fund. None of these were big sellers, though (no, not even the last one) and he appears to have moved on to other projects after 1976.

18 August 2019

Dave & Don - What A Feeling/ That's My Way

Rich, Righteous vocal duet from British duo

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Polydor's sixties back catalogue seems to be littered with singles which, whatever their modern market value, are bloody tough to find copies of these days. Seemingly taking a punt on all manner of independent recordings and club artists as they tried to establish a stronger business in Britain, there are still some nice, shiny offerings buried in their slurry pile.

This single, for example, wasn't a duet recorded by Dave Hill and Don Powell out of Slade, despite the label link - don't be so silly. Instead, it was scene veterans Don Fox and Dave Reid singing in rich baritones together, in a manner which will probably be enticing to fans of the brothers both Walker and Righteous. Both sides were written by Fox, and the A-side "What A Feeling" is simple but optimistic pop which on a fairer week might have sold better. In the heavily loaded release schedules of November 1967, however, it barely had a hope.

Don Fox was born in Stamford Hill in London and had recorded numerous singles before this one, from his debut release "Be My Girl" on Decca in 1957, to his take on "T'Aint What You Do" on the Triumph label in 1960 (after Joe Meek had left the business), but tended to be more of a live performer than a studio star by this point in his career. The same applied to his singing partner Dave Reid, who was mainly known for doing lead vocals for The Ten O'Clock Follies at the Talk of The Town. 

14 August 2019

Precious Few - Young Girl/ Little Children Sleep

When different record companies release different versions of the same song on one day, there is only one winner...

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

Given what we now understand about the shadier world of showbiz, "Young Girl" is at best a slightly awkward listen. Lyrically, of course, the song outlines a fairly reasonable personal resolution to avoid "relations" with an under-age girl - if only many convicted celebrities had shown similar restraint - but something about Gary Puckett's howling, hollering, carpet-chewing delivery feels uncomfortable, like he's in Room 101 being tormented in some way. "Get out of HERE before I have the TIME to change my MIND!" indeed - it wouldn't stand up in a court of law, you know. "She just wouldn't leave the room before my desires got the better of me, your honour". 

For those of you who would prefer to hear a more subdued version of the song (which still feels a mite uncomfortable) Norwich's Precious Few are here, the boys to entertain you. Pye issued their cover of the song on exactly the same day Gary Puckett's cut was issued on CBS in the UK, leading to a chart stand-off which Puckett clearly led. While he bashed his fists against the wall screaming at the number one spot until it gave way, the Precious Few could only manage two weeks on the "Breakers List" (the "bubbling under" section of the official chart).

Their take on it comes from an anglicised beat perspective, much more flippant and organ-driven. If Puckett sounds troubled, the group here sound as if they're trying to give somebody the brush-off in a flattering way. "Really, no, this has been a lovely evening, but now the truth is out and erm... my lust... sorry, my LOVE for you has been exposed as inappropriate," they appear to be telling the young lady in question. (The "Get out of here" line still sounds dodgy, mind).

11 August 2019

Reupload - Epic Splendor - A Little Rain Must Fall/ Cowboys and Indians

Zesty Northern Soul styled sounds on the A-side, psych on the flip, and everyone wins

Label: Hot Biscuit Disc Company
Year of Release: 1967

The Epic Splendor were formed from the ashes of the New York based act Little Bits of Sound, and we've already covered their excellent and supremely under-rated single "It Could Be Wonderful" elsewhere on this blog. They were signed to the short-lived (and million dollar funded) US Capitol subsidiary Hot Biscuit and this was the first single the label issued.

"A Little Rain Must Fall" is generally treated with either huge enthusiasm or shrugging indifference by a lot of collectors these days, being regarded as a lost Northern Soul floor-filler by some commenters, or a slice of summery, breezy bubblegum by others. For my money, it's a beautiful, life-affirming little disc and I'd actually spent the last few years looking for a copy at a reasonable price. The lyrics are filled with gentle picture poster philosophy, filled to the brim with observations about how a "little rain must fall" before we get to enjoy the sunshine, but it's delivered with such spring and zest, and such an uptempo light soul arrangement, that it does indeed mirror the heartbreak and the passion necessary for a top northern soul spin. Its slightly gentle production may doom it for some in this respect, though - I can fully understand how it won't (and doesn't) win the rubber stamp of approval from everyone.

The B-side "Cowboys and Indians", on the other hand, is sneery outsider psychedelic pop about the marginalised life of a man with an alternative lifestyle, at total odds with the top side. "I suppose the way I live would blow people's brains/ but then the way they live has always blown mine" sneers the vocalist, bringing back images of an "Easy Rider" character on the dusty highway. 

Whatever you expect from sixties music, either the A-side or the B-side is bound to be a winner for you. 

7 August 2019

Dolphin - Hey Joe/ Dubby Dubby

Mellow reggae take on the Hendrix/ Leaves classic

Label: Gale
Year of Release: 1980

The enigmatic Dolphin - essentially a solo project by songwriter Paul Carman given a group name - are one of those obscure seventies groups whose work hasn't yet excited the average record collector. Releasing smooth, FM radio takes on Byrds and Spector classics such as "Goin Back" and "And Then I Kissed Her", their earliest 1976 releases on Private Stock landed at a time when increasingly few people gave a damn for such sophisticated fare. 

A shame, as those singles would have been pretty enough to have reached a larger section of the public a few years previously. Despite their no-show on the charts, the project continued with gusto with a total of six singles on Private Stock, one LP ("Goodbye") and then finally this 45 and another LP on the small Gale label. 

"Hey Joe" is the one that seems to be picking up a little bit more attention now. While it's a reggae take on the Hendrix classic, inevitably it is somewhat inauthentic - try to push it on the nearest skinhead or dancehall DJ and you're likely to be publicly mocked. It is a smooth and lilting attempt, though, taking The Leaves and Hendrix's wrath and angst and turning it into a despondent, low skank (can you actually skank despondently?) The passing of time has allowed the origins of this one to be forgotten and a few listeners to prick up their ears.

4 August 2019

The Airchords - Piccolo Man/ Walking On New Grass

Irish Showband legends with a Carter-Lewis-Alquist penned bit of 'popsike'

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

The Irish Showband circuit was an unusual, occasionally makeshift phenomenon where rock, pop, soul and sentimental balladry co-existed in a prefab cabaret world. The excellent BBC documentary "How Ireland Learned to Party" gave context to the chaos, telling tales of bands hauling themselves up and down Ireland's A roads to makeshift rural venues and concert halls alike.

The showband circuit seldom harboured rebellious acts, but The Airchords probably still seemed like the least rock and roll of the lot, initially consisting entirely of members of the Irish Air Corps, and undertaking their initial rehearsals in a military dining block room. Forget about Elvis Presley bring forced into military service - The Airchords were the military, finely drilled, clean-cut and obedient, and barely a trace of long hair in sight.

Despite this - or perhaps partly because of it - they were briefly top pop stars in Eire, having large hits  with "The Leaving Of Liverpool" and "The Irish Soldier", and a 1967 number one with "Treat Me Daughter Kindly". "Piccolo Man", on the other hand, peaked at a slightly more tentative number 16 on the Irish Charts, seeming not to grab the public's imagination as much as their previous bursts of sentimental bravado. 

At the bare minimum, though, the song managed better in Ireland than elsewhere. The track, partly penned by in-demand songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis, never really took off in the UK or mainland Europe despite its populist "Puppet On A String" styled oompah bounce. The Airchords clearly tackle it with straight-ahead efficiency and vigour - even if the intro does at one point sound like the old TV ident to Scottish Television - but it possibly didn't give the Irish public enough to chew on. 

The B-side is arguably better here, being a downright swingin' take on "Walking On New Grass". You can just picture audiences being driven wild by the uptempo devil-may-care tale of musicians on the road.

31 July 2019

The Feminine Touch - Hurry On Home/ Some Things Take A Little Time

A chipper chunk of bubblegum from this Manchester female trio

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

The volume of chirpy early seventies pop tunes that leaked out unnoticed is enormous. You might think that there was a mountainous profit to be made from coming up with breezy melodies, possibly while checking Tony Burrows' availability for vocals in the process, but in the competitive world of the hit parade, there were numerous examples that barely registered.

This one is yet another case. With a chugging rhythm and a prim but poppy chorus, "Hurry On Home" seems to have one eye on the success of The Archies and Shocking Blue, but it was a failed gambit. It's not going to be appreciated by every visitor to this site, some of whom may prefer their pop on the less commercial side, but it nonetheless has a bounce and catchiness to it many other singles of the era didn't get close to.

Janet Kilbourn was the composer of the A-side here, and also wrote a number of other tracks during the era, including "Maybe We've Been Loving Too Long" for Pickettywitch and The Flying Machine and "Shame Shame" for The Laurels. Beyond that, the trail goes cold so I can only assume her work eventually dried up. 

28 July 2019

Reupload - Blossom Dearie - Discover Who I Am/ The Music Played

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Blossom Dearie was a hugely respected jazz singer and pianist from New York who never really broke through to mainstream success either at home or in the UK, though she did have a hit in France with her version of "Lullaby of Birdland". Very much a musician's musician and friendly with the likes of Scott Walker, her club stints in London, France and the USA were all highly acclaimed and her back catalogue is impressively deep.

This B-side is, if I'm not mistaken, an absurd curveball in her catalogue, being a piece of reflective, gentle and almost psychedelic pop. Without wishing to make obvious comparisons within her social circle, there are shades of Scott about it, from the arrangements through to the considered, introspective lyrics. It swells, fades and swells again, relaxing in its own melancholia and never reaching for an obvious hook. That may turn some listeners off, but for people who like their pop to be subtle and considered, it's an absolute plus - it's a track to wallow in rather than ride or cling to.

24 July 2019

Dyan Diamond - Mystery Dance/ Western Ave.

Teenage punk managed by Kim Fowley takes on Elvis Costello song

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1978

Venus and The Razorblades were a mixed gender punk band who tend not to be widely discussed these days. They were managed by the sketchy music mogul Kim Fowley after he severed his relationship with The Runaways, and never quite managed the same degree of press attention, perhaps feeling on the surface like a repetition of the same trick. Singers Dyan Diamond and Vicki Razorblade were 14 and 17 years old respectively, mirroring his previous "teen female rock band sensation" stunt.

On top of that, they signed to Spark Records in the UK just as that label was about to keel over (It's probably news to most readers that Spark lasted long enough to sign a punk act). Their style was also, for all its merits, distinctly American - this wasn't ramshackle, rapidfire hard punk but rather rough and ready rock music sounding as if it belonged in spit and sawdust bars where Hells Angels hung out. Tracks like "Dog Food" give a strong impression of where their heads were at - part New York Dolls, part Gene Vincent with some of the spirit of The Runaways thrown in. 

After the group failed to have any success on either continent, Fowley turned all his attention to Dyan Diamond, feeling that she would be a huge solo star. Her solitary single was a spirited cover of Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance", which - like his original effort - is over and done with in under two minutes. While Costello's version has very slight elements of knowing nerdy pastiche about it, though, Diamond cranks up the attitude a notch and turns it into a straight-ahead head-down rocker. 

21 July 2019

The Zebra - Miss Anne (Ain't That Kind Of Man)/ Groovy Personality

Lovely piece of vaguely psychedelic sixties pop with soul B-side

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

A bit of a mystery disc this, but a lovely one nonetheless. On the A-side, the intriguingly titled "Miss Anne (Ain't That Kind Of Man)" is - perhaps disappointingly - a lyrical tale of a haughty lady after a wealthy suitor, and not an "Arnold Layne" styled story. Giddy orchestral arrangements, chirpy fairground organs and strummed acoustic guitars give the whole thing a late sixties hippy pop vibe, and it has a chorus with such a heavy hook that it nudges the track slightly towards the bubblegum side of the street as well.

Confusingly, the flip sounds so different that it could easily be the work of a different band, and I wouldn't be amazed to find out that it was. "Groovy Personality" is closer to soul-pop, with much more impassioned vocals and a less frivolous feel.

The fact that Paul Leka appears to be up to his neck in this work only adds to my suspicions that this is a studio group. Leka has also worked as a producer and arranger with The Lemon Pipers, Steam, Peppermint Rainbow, The Left Banke and The Palace Guard, and for a time seemed to be everyone's go-to guy for luxurious, paisley pop arrangements. Famously, he also penned "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" and "Green Tambourine", both huge hits of the era. Later on, he also worked with REO Speedwagon, which fits the general story less well but is a interesting fact to throw out nonetheless.

17 July 2019

The Embers - Chelsea Boots/ Samantha

Sixties instro-pop with - on the flip - a distinct Joe Meek feel

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1963

What could be better than a sixties guitar instrumental about everyone's favourite footwear - then and now - Chelsea Boots? The boots with an elasticated removal strap at the back which always gets used with rushed relief at the end of the day when you need to remove an agonising new pair of the things (I still think some kind of minor medal should be awarded to anyone who has endured a month of discomfort trying to wear a new pair "in").

As you'd expect, the A-side here has a typical, merry Carnaby Street skip about it, perfect for swinging your shopping bag along to having bought such shoes. It sounds perfect as incidental backing music, but perhaps lacked a strong enough melody or hook to become a charting single. 

The flipside generally tends to be more discussed online. "Samantha" apes Joe Meek's production style so much that I only hope he never heard it. If he had, I'm sure the familiar scream of "Rotten pigs!" would have been heard, closely followed by some objects being thrown around the room. Clearly, it's not as precise or as clean a style as Meek managed, but it's a neat imitation.

14 July 2019

Reupload - The Colours - The Dance/ Sinking

60ft Dolls man Rick Parfitt in early mod revival incarnation. This is ace, by the way. 

Label: Loco
Year of Release: 1983

While the early eighties are generally remembered as being a time of enormous musical progress - be that through groundbreaking developments in synthesised sound, increased glossy production values, or the more interesting ideas in prog getting absorbed into the more commercial strain of New Pop - it was also a time of enormous revivalism or adaptions of pre-existing sounds. And certainly, out there in indie-land, it was considerably easier for a band with basic, stripped back ideas to get the sound they wanted out into the shops than for an act with aspirations towards the big, expensive Trevor Horn sound. Away from the Woolworths racks, the basic guitar pop sound often reigned. 

The Colours, then, hailed from Newport and were one of many, many bands during the period to clearly be inspired by the sharp, snappy immediacy of the mod revival sounds going on around them. "The Dance" is actually a very smart example, too, having a kicking edge to it that all the best examples of that period did as well as a highly memorable chorus. Their restricted studio budget may even have actually helped keep a necessary roughness to this. There's a firm Dexys edge here, as well as a confident, aggressive swagger. 

This was their only single, and it's very tricky to find any details about their full line-up. However, apparently the Parfitt in the "Parfitt-Rose" songwriting credit is Richard Parfitt who went on to join the moderately successful The Truth, leading to The Colours demise. Perhaps more notably, he was also a founding member of cult nineties indie band 60ft Dolls, and once they split became a session musician and songwriter, both performing for and penning numerous tracks for fellow Welsh popstar Duffy. In fact, Duffy credits Parfitt with discovering her and "changing her life". 

10 July 2019

Doubloon - Go Anywhere/ Look Every Day

Soul influenced flop from the Australian "Nickel Queen" film

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1972

I can't claim any credit for finding this one. Rather, "Left and to the Back" reader Eduardo Ojeda Marins got in touch with me a month ago to tell me that he was a collector of the Jam label, and to ask if I wanted to hear any more examples of their catalogue. Of course I did!

The Jam label has always intrigued me. From its messy toddler-sodding-up-a-formica-table-in-a-B&B design to its connections with stars like Edward Woodward and Mike Read and flash in the pan acts like Blackfoot Sue, it's always seemed like one of those seventies labels without much focus but with lots of curiosities in its discography. Some of these records also sold so poorly that finding copies now is an uphill struggle.

Doubloon was their 28th release, plopping into record stores in November 1972 to rather limited interest. We are handily informed that it could originally be heard in the soundtrack to the Australian film "Nickel Queen", though the name Doubloon was only given to the UK issue - in its native country, the single was issued under the name of the two key performers, Kerrie Biddell and Terry Kaff. The former was a prominent and respected jazz performer down under, whereas the main activity I can see from Kaff apart from this single is a Neil Diamond covers LP.

That makes an awful lot of sense when you hear his Bisto-rich voice introducing the opening lines of this record - "Blimey, that man sounds like he might be heavily influenced by Neil Diamond!" I found myself thinking before even bothering to do any research - but no matter. The arrangements of both sides of this record owe as much to the soul trends of the day as they do to the performer of "I Am I Said", and those sweeping orchestral sounds are as likely to remind you of the slower, sweeter moments on a Northern Soul obscurities compilation.

7 July 2019

The Wanted - In The Midnight Hour/ Here To Stay

Storming, urgent garage rock burst of the Pickett classic

Label: A&M
Year of Release: 1967

"In The Midnight Hour" is one of those songs which has has always been buzzing somewhere in the background all my life - on the radio, at parties, in the set of that well-meaning sixth form college covers band who played 'all the classics' their teenage abilities could cope with, on a relative's Atlantic soul compilation in the car... and there is probably nobody reading this right now who hasn't heard it.

However, in the sixties its simplicity made it an attractive set choice for the numerous young garage bands popping up all over the USA, meaning that besides Pickett's powerful and popular original rendition, there are a number of others which sound like a bunch of speedy spotty herberts thrashing around as if the 'midnight hour' in question couldn't come quickly enough. 

The Wanted's rendition is probably my favourite of that set. Sacrificing groove and soul for thrash and fury, it picks the song up, grabs it by the arms and swings around their cramped quarters, bashing it against the walls and ceiling and leaving it in a heap after less than two minutes. Like the best garage tracks, it translates the energy and attitude of a strong but chaotic live show to vinyl with effectiveness, making you feel as if you can taste the cheap, fizzy beer on tap and smell the armpits of the fat bald man in front of you (so maybe it's not all good, then). 

The group were from Grosse Pointe in Michigan. They consisted of Arnie DeClark on rhythm guitar, Dave Fermstrum on organ, Bill Montgomery on bass, Tim Shea on lead guitar and Chip Steiner on drums. According to the Garage Hangover website, the owner of the Detroit Sound label they began releasing records on was the drummer's father Irv Steiner, a mightily convenient connection that presumably enabled them to put out rockers like this one on a label usually reserved for proper soul releases. Sometimes nepotism can work out well for all of us.

3 July 2019

Simon Groom - Can't Help Falling In Love/ Goldie

Rather poor cover of the classic song by ex-Blue Peter presenter Groom.

Label: Own label
Year of Release: 1992

If any moderately famous television personalities happen to be reading this blog, here's a little bit of advice for you - if you've recorded a track, and it's not for charity, and you can't get any record company interested in it, even though they surely know that it's guaranteed at least some publicity... well, forget it. You've clearly become far too invested in the process to understand something that's crystal clear to them, which is that nobody is going to care. Once you've blown a wad of notes on recording studio time it might feel wasteful, but releasing the thing on your own label and paying for the marketing and distribution out of your pension savings almost never results in a return. Just ask Tom Watt, aka Lofty off "Eastenders".

The enthusiastic, lovable Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom's cover of "Can't Help Falling In Love" is possibly one of the more baffling examples of such a vanity disc. Issued on his own label in 1992 in a high-gloss, full-colour sleeve and available in a variety of formats (a friend of mine bought the cassingle version as a joke birthday present for someone) it was clearly no low-budget undertaking. The recording itself is also clearly not the work of slackers, featuring up-to-the-minute Stock Aitken and Waterman-esque basslines, juddering rhythms and synth-trumpet fanfares. Anti-pop musos may find it somewhat "plastic" sounding, and it does veer close to elevator music at times, but it's certainly not unpolished. In the promotional appearance Groom made to plug the single on "Blue Peter" (which you really do need to watch) he was even accompanied by accomplished, smiling dancers, choreographed within an inch of their lives and doing their best to present it as a serious piece of work.

The problems really begin and end with Groom's vocals. They're frail and periodically out of key, and not in the charming, authentic or frail way Bernard Sumner, Robert Smith or Jarvis Cocker all occasionally manage. There's no anger or fragility here, no folkish earthiness. When his voice wobbles out of key, it's always because he's straining hard to hit the right notes like a Las Vegas pro and falling short. It's like a bar-room karaoke performance that almost gets it right, but doesn't quite make it over the line. He hasn't accepted his limitations or found his true singing voice, and a few more lessons prior to getting into the recording studio booth might have elevated this single from "bad" to "surprising but unremarkable".

Groom had appeared performing Elvis Presley numbers on "Blue Peter" before, and was known for being a huge fan of the man. At the point of the release of this record, he said that it had always been his ambition to release an Elvis tribute record. With this, it got ticked off his bucket list, but it didn't find an audience despite his efforts. Perhaps in the end, that didn't matter all that much to him.

30 June 2019

Repload - Sarah Jane - Listen People/ The World Is Round

Hushed, delicate and haunting take on the Graham Gouldman track

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1966

The post-nineties music scene has been completely flooded with female stars after a long period of women in rock and pop - and certainly female singer-songwriters - being rather sidelined. That some of the largest selling records of the last fifteen years have been made by Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, and (*sharp intake of breath, wince*) Dido is a sign of the marketplace becoming a lot more even, not through any kind of concerted right-on media campaign, but entirely through consumer choice.

It's easy to forget that back in the sixties there was a similar push and rush of female artists, although back then a hell of a lot more of them failed to get more than one hit, and many more didn't chart at all. For every Sandie Shaw there was an Adrienne Poster, for every Lulu a Bobbie Miller. In fact, I'm going to mention Twinkle's late non-hit "Micky" at this juncture not because it's especially relevant to the record in hand (it isn't at all) but because its failure to chart is one of the era's biggest injustices. It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to.

But moving on to the matter in hand - Sarah Jane's version of the Gouldman-penned "Listen People" is an understated proposition to say the least. In fact, it almost turns understated into a genre of its own. A delicate orchestra brushes strings in the background while Sarah Jane sings so softly it's as if the whole performance is being carried on a summer breeze. Even turning the volume up to ten probably wouldn't trouble the neighbours. It wouldn't be the last time such a style took hold, and nor was it the first - Marianne Faithfull also had similar subtle ways to begin with, and Vashti Bunyan would certainly usually favour the delicate arrangement over the strident. Unlike either of those artists, however, Sarah Jane would neither score immediate success nor achieve eventual acclaim, and this single seems to have been her only outing.

26 June 2019

The Castells - Two Lovers/ Jerusalem

Dreamy psychedelia or gentle, easy pop? Or both? You decide.

Label: Masquerade
Year of Release: 1967

This one comes firmly recommended from a number of sources online, with the words "dreamy" and "psychedelia" often being used in close proximity to each other in people's descriptions. As I'm a sucker for the kind of swirling, mid-summer haziness of many of 1967's releases, I decided to take a gamble on this one while it was still cheap. 

And guess what? I'm not really sure it is especially psychedelic, but I'll leave you to judge for yourselves on that point. What it certainly does is take the melody from Adagio in G Minor, plonk it on a shimmering church organ, place the most delicate brushes of rhythms behind it, and push a cooing female vocal about romantic reminiscence to the forefront. If this makes matters sound rather saccharine, that's probably unfair - the song has a very melancholic, nostalgic air and focuses on memories of youthful love rather than the giddy rush of the present. No sooner has it made its point than it fades, dream-like, into the dawn. There's no doubt it's exceptionally well arranged and performed, and a solid recording all round, but claims of "lost psych classic!" or even "lost sixties smash" seem to be exaggerated.

Nestling on the flip is a somewhat muted version of the old Last Night Of The Proms classic, William Blake's "Jerusalem". There's a touch of the Ronnie Hazelhursts about the arrangement here, and I doubt it will be replacing Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty's version at the end of "It's Grim Up North" as top contemporary cover anytime soon. 

23 June 2019

Susan Fassbender - Merry-Go-Round/ Reasons

Slightly neurotic but hooky new wave pop from the under-rated Fassbender

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1981

"Left and to the Back" has keenly supported Susan Fassbender's work before now. Her debut single and hit "Twilight Cafe" is probably the most persuasive and brilliantly penned one hit wonder of the eighties, and deserved to chart a lot higher than its final number 21 placing.

CBS only took Susan Fassbender on when it was clear that "Twilight Cafe" was going to be too in-demand for her original label Criminal to cope with, and there's a sense that they weren't entirely behind her work after that point, seeing her as an adopted stray rather than one of their A&R Department's own special discoveries. Her second single, the perky "Stay", made very little impression, and "Merry-Go-Round" ended up as her final release. After this, there was no LP, and no additional 45s.

This was a ridiculous move on their part. The demos that were recorded by her and Kay Russell have since been released, and point towards an assured pair of songwriters with plenty of other tricks up their sleeves. Given the fact that numerous one hit, three-chord wonder punk acts were being kept on the books of various labels in the hope of further success, Fassbender's ejection from the premises of CBS felt very premature.

"Merry-Go-Round" is actually a solid single which was unlucky not to have charted, and in a more established act's hands probably would have done. Sugary but faintly neurotic, it has Teardrops styled keyboard lines and a confident if rather bubblegum chorus.