29 March 2020

Adam Mike and Tim - Flowers On The Wall/ Give That Girl A Break

For those about to self-isolate, we salute you

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

The unimaginatively named Adam, Mike and Tim - who, for a period, were actually Tim-less, having a man called Peter on entirely fraudulent Timothy duties instead - began their recording careers by taking a beat pop direction with their debut 45 "Little Baby" in 1964 before taking a folk rock tack.

Perhaps they knew they were playing to their strengths. With their impeccable vocal harmonies and homespun rustic charm, the trio managed to be both vaguely hip and earthy but also ideal slick, professional filler on TV and radio. Blessed with a large number of "Thank Your Lucky Stars" appearances and some airplay in the UK, they must have seemed likely to have a hit through their continual media presence alone.

As it turns out, the public were broadly indifferent to their records, and even when they recorded an extraordinarily prescient and sitar-drenched cover of the Paul Simon track "A Most Peculiar Man" in April 1966, they remained sidelined. That would prove to be their final recorded effort.

Their fourth single, however, was an utterly ace cover of the Statler Brothers track "Flowers On The Wall" which imitated the harmonies of the original with pin-point accuracy, but also added a certain frantic and sardonic rush, making this for me by far the better version. Gone are the finger-pluckin' hoe-down vibes, and in place is a stomping piece of sardonic Brit-folk.

Numerous people have pointed out that lying behind the chirpiness of "Flowers On The Wall" is clearly the tale of one individual driven to isolation, madness and denial by the world around them. The line "Playing solitaire with a deck of 51" is probably the ultimate give-away - the insinuation that someone is playing without a full deck doesn't need to be spelt out. Perhaps in these times of Coronavirus and self-isolation, though, a new meaning could be brought to the song, though I doubt we'll be so desperate that we'll be watching "Captain Kangeroo" to pass the time.

25 March 2020

Steven Lancaster - San Francisco Street/ Miguel Fernando Stan Sebastian Brown

Optimistic Shel Talmy produced British popsike exploring the idea that anywhere can be San Francisco really...

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Throughout 1967, San Francisco seemed to be sold to non-residents as a utopian ideal, the peace-loving place of hippies, beatniks, oddballs and the kids of the future. These days, it's an impossibly expensive place to live and a strong city to invest in some prime hillside real-estate. Somewhere in between those two moments, the hippy drug comedown produced a degree of crime, chaos and vagrancy amongst the idealistic thinking. Beware anyone selling you utopia, kids. Eventually, you end up paying for it. Hey, why do you think I can't afford to live in Walthamstow anymore?

Steven Lancaster here - actually songwriter Len Moseley, who later went on to join and write for Wild Silk - was perhaps more philosophically minded about the situation, keen to inform listeners that in fact, San Francisco could be created anywhere, whether you had the money for a plane ticket or an apartment. All you need (besides love) was the will to let it exist and let your own state of mind form that community. 

While Moseley had clearly never visited Ilford, it's an optimistic thought that permeates through this dash of popsike convincingly. Shel Talmy was on production duties to give the track his usual masterly oversight, but instead of the usual guitar crunching, feedback and distortion, he opted for a more subdued approach here. The end result is sweet, simple, and completely in keeping with the zeitgeist of the times, but possibly lacking enough of a memorable melody line to enter the Top 40.

22 March 2020

Reupload - Academy/ Polly Perkins - Munching The Candy/ Rachel's Dream

Uh-oh. Dot Cotton's sister off "Eastenders" has been taking special tablets. Someone alert Doctor Legg.

Label: Morgan Blue Town
Year of Release: 1969

Life wasn't easy for independent labels in the sixties, and Morgan was no exception. Constantly dealing with shambolic distribution networks, very few of them scored hits. President Records broke the mould in the later part of the decade, but Joe Meek's struggles with Triumph and the financial struggles experienced by Strike Records spoke volumes about the hurdles many truly independent businesses had to deal with.

Far from being just an independent label, though, Morgan was also a large and well-respected recording studio in North London, with an in-house session team of musicians and songwriters who regularly bypassed the Morgan label and licensed their product to majors (The Smoke's "My Friend Jack" probably being the most famous example). The best Morgan recordings, such as those by The Smoke, Bobak Jons Malone and Fortes Mentum, were compiled on a superb Sanctuary Records release called "House of Many Windows" some years ago. This is now out-of-print, but copies are well worth tracking down - the team had developed a distinctive and actually incredibly agreeable sound by the late sixties, filled with tricksy and classical inspired arrangements, a low-end bass fuzz, and peculiar woozy but nonetheless poppy psychedelia. Whereas a lot of other psychedelic pop of the period sounded like the melodic equivalent of cheap Christmas cracker toys, Morgan took their mission seriously - in anyone else's hands, a track like Fortes Mentum's "Saga of a Wrinkled Man" would have possibly sounded cheap and nasty. Not for no reason did one prominent Morgan man Will Malone go on to become the arranger for The Verve in the nineties (and it is just about possible to hear the similarities if you really try).

Morgan Blue Town was an incredibly short-lived offshoot of the main label which attempted to reposition their product in a more progressive vain, appealing to the hippy and student markets. Any recordings on the label tend to be hopelessly scarce now, including this single by actress, Ready Steady Go compere and singer Polly Perkins.

This is actually a somewhat threadbare inclusion to their usually heavily produced catalogue. Polly Perkins had failed to score any hit singles in her music career, but was nonetheless a "known name" at this point who had already put out some commercial sounding grooves - so her sudden shift to progressive sounding music must have seemed bizarre at the time, a bit like Twinkle suddenly going a bit way-out and boarding the weed bus to rural Cambridgeshire. Nonetheless, "Munching The Candy" is a very folky, campfire effort which nods and winks in the direction of naughty drug-taking behaviour. "Rachel's Dream", on the other hand, is a rather more epic B-side which considers the plight of the Jewish people. No, really.

18 March 2020

John Carter - One More Mile To Freedom/ The Saddest Word I Know

Top songwriter breaks out on his own to produce sophisticated seventies pop

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

John Carter. How many times have we talked about the man on "Left and to the Back"? Well, we mentioned him as recently as Sunday in relation to Solent's "My World Fell Down". With partners such as Ken Lewis and Gillian Shakespeare, he was an extraordinarily prolific songwriter throughout the sixties and seventies, and in common with most melody peddlers, had far more flops to his name than hits as he toyed, tweaked and speculated with sounds in order to accumulate.

Seldom did he strike out and record under his own name, though "Laughing Man", his duet with fellow writer Russ Alquist, is probably one of my favourite psychedelic era obscurities. This one, "One More Mile To Freedom", is the chalkiest of chalk against that particular Brie, though, being a much more considered, serious attempt at sophisticated seventies pop without a whiff of marijuana induced silliness in the room. 

Rather, "One More Mile To Freedom" is strident, triumphant and epic, sounding like something you'd put on your car stereo shortly after quitting the worst job of your life. Once again, it proves that Carter had the enviable ability to shift and change genres and styles to suit the era's demands. 

15 March 2020

Solent - My World Fell Down/ The Sound of Summer's Over

Faithful but slightly modernised, de-psyched version of the Sagittarius song

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The fact that the John Carter and Geoff Stephens penned "My World Fell Down" failed to chart when issued by The Ivy League is probably one of the great injustices of the sixties. Seldom has one song approximated the West Coast sound so faithfully and so well, and with such a sumptuous melody, only to fall by the wayside.

It was improved upon further in 1967 by Americans Sagittarius, who fleshed its sound out further still with disorientating sound effects which seemed to be knowing nods to Brian Wilson's Smile sessions, all acting as the cherry on the top of an utterly superb song. That fared somewhat better, climbing to number 70 in the US Charts, but its failure to become a significant hit doomed the track into being swept up by Nuggets, Rubble and other rarities compilations in the decades down the line. 

Whoever Solent were - that's not entirely clear, though someone called "Bobby S" has claimed vocal duties over on the 45Cat website - they obviously couldn't believe the song's lack of luck, and had another crack at it. This time round, the song is given a politer, smoother mix and almost more nostalgic, sorrowful harmonies. The track by now seems to be harking back to a sixties surfing shoreline as a distant memory (not that such things were that common in the UK to begin with) and the flipside adds to that mournful air, asking very gently where those surfing summers went to. "Don't worry baby" one of the singers sighs, and you almost get the sense they're mopping Brian Wilson's brow, trying to get him down to the south coast of the UK to work his magic. 

12 March 2020

Katch 22 - It's Soft Rock & Allsorts It's Katch 22 (LP)

It's mostly Soft Rock with some pleasing harmonies though, let's be honest. 

Label: Saga
Year of Release: 1968

Sleevenotes: "The Katch 22 have built up a tremendous following during 1967 and this album has been produced in appreciation of the great demand from you, their fans, to hear more of this talented young group.

Four of the twelve tracks featured in the album were written by the KATCH, I like "Thoughts On A Rainy Day" for its sweet simplicity, and in contrast, "There Ain't No Use In Hangin' On" which the boys feature in their stage act, is a fantastic 'knee-shaker' full of the tremendous vitality which KATCH fans have come to recognise as being a trade-mark of the group.

The boys have asked me to thank Richard Hartley for helping out on the arrangement. Richard is a member of "Fire", another group handled by TokeNam Aw who produced this brilliant showcase for the KATCH's exceptional talent, and also produces the group's singles.

As KATCH 22's agent and friend, I have been in association with them for quite a while and I'm convinced that they have the elusive star quality which will take them to the top - and where else more appropriate for such a 'KATCHY' group."

John Edward.

As I've mentioned before, Saga were a well-known budget label, perhaps most famed for their cut-price classical LPs and brass band discs rather than the kind of output which really shook the room. Nonetheless, towards the end of the decade they had the idea of booking in a few groups into cheap recording studios, figuring that there was (quite literally) hungry talent out there to be exploited and no real reason why the budget market shouldn't cater for pop music fans as well.

Saga's deals were so threadbare - usually involving a one-off payment for the groups in question and no royalties - that it's hard to imagine why anyone would have put their hat in the ring, however desperate they were. While none of the few pop and rock LPs that slipped out during this brief period are lost classics, they do contain some interesting ideas and a few genuinely stellar songs. "Moonbeams" by the Magic Mixture (recorded in an infant's school hall) is a neat, spacey track which manages to recall Joe Meek and sound like of-the-moment psychedelia simultaneously, and the "Five Day Week Straw People" concept LP is a charmer in general.

Katch 22's LP is perhaps the biggest selling and most unexpected of the bundle. As the sleevenotes suggest, Brixton's Katch 22 - or THE KATCH in block caps, as their agent seemed to wish to refer to them - were a fairly serious proposition at this point, felt by some music critics to be poised for success. What did they want with a budget LP label?

There are two answers to this question. The first is probably "quick and easy access to money" (in other words, the same reason Elton John had dalliances with budget labels later on) and secondly, a long player with a full colour sleeve in the wire racks at Woolworths at a cut-down price, recorded quickly but professionally, probably allowed them more promotion than a few flop 45s in the remainder bin. At a low, low price, there's no doubt this also attracted buyers who wouldn't have touched Katch 22 product on impulse at the full whack.

And what did they get for their money? Well, an LP that's competent and pleasant enough to accompany your tea and toast on a Sunday afternoon, but certainly won't shake your house's foundations. The terribly titled "It's Soft Rock and Allsorts It's Katch 22" (which competes with Giorgio Moroder's "That's Bubblegum, That's Giorgio!" for the Most Sloppy and Literal Album Title Of All Time award) does at least prepare you for what's up ahead. The group are slick, keen, professional musicians who specialise in rich vocal harmonies and tranquil takes on numerous West Coast pop hits.

11 March 2020

Shop Around

The Discogs shop is still open, readers, and the stock is growing all the time.

I usually put new stock online every weekend (if I have time!) and the best bargains tend to fly off the "shelves" (or the wooden boxes in my house) before the end of the day, so it's worth being quick on your feet. I'll often sell in-demand ultra-rarities at bargain prices in order to ensure a quick sale. A household clear-out is the name of the game, so if you keep watching, you might get lucky.

What's left is the kind of assortment of goodies and curios you'd expect from a blog like "Left and to the Back", and there's probably something in there you'd either be proud to own or have been seeking out for awhile. So pay the store a visit - sooner or later, it's going to have something you want. 

8 March 2020

Reupload - What Four - Stop In The Name Of Love/ Asparagus

Demented garage rock, and yes, the B-side is about the all-American goodness of that vegetable - though I think it's a satire on "squares" and "straights"

Label: Tower
Year of Release: 1968

Once every so often I stumble upon a sixties garage punk single that really causes me to pull "WTF?" faces. This shouldn't happen often, of course... I've been around the block enough times to realise that a lot of garage singles are highly bizarre artefacts, so I'm already prepared. But still, when I purchased this one, I felt sure that what I'd be getting was an uptempo, abrasive take on the Supremes classic. And what I got instead was...

Well, it's hard to describe this version of "Stop In The Name Of Love". The first listen to it is highly perplexing, as the band choose to make all the most quirky sounds at the places you'd least expect them. The "Think it over" segment of the original tune, for example, is the calm after the huge warning sign of the chorus. What Four instead place a clanking, pounding riff behind it that makes it sound like an extension of the chorus's hysteria, the next level up. This is not a pop song anymore, it's the noise of five railway barriers sounding off simultaneously through valve amplifiers.

I had hoped that this might be a good single to DJ with, but I suspect it might actually clear dance floors. It's not a bad record by any means, and I actually enjoy its peculiar elements hugely, it's just too irregular for most dancers to be able to make a connection with. I suspect the point of inspiration may have been Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On", but "Stop" here is much more abrasive and stripped back.

The B-side "Asparagus" is possibly a bit more promising in the dance-floor department, being a proper uptempo garage pounder with layers of lyrical absurdity about accepting the universal goodness of American asparagus over the top. I suspect its a metaphor for the kind of meaningless middle-of-the-road demands made by "squares", readers. But the track has a loose, rhythmically simple enthusiastic drive behind it, akin to the kind of garage rock you might suspect Jack White would most enjoy.

4 March 2020

Shirley & Johnny - Don't Make Me Over/ Baby Baby Baby

Slick Bacharach/David cover from sixties pop stalwarts with punchy flip

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1969

Shirley & Johnny are one of those sixties acts who had such considerable respect in the industry that they were allowed to pump out single after single without once ever reaching the Top 40. Nine in total came out across different labels (Philips, Parlophone, Mercury), but despite the chances they were given, sufficient progress was never really made.

The duo were an oddly conventional showbizzy affair by the standards of the era who were nonetheless very well-suited to cosy press stories. They consisted of a boyfriend/girlfriend couple (Shirley Bagnall and Johnny Francis) who periodically performed and recorded songs penned by Bagnall's father Richard, who had begun songwriting on a whim after taking an interest in his boy's career. This set-up might lead you to suspect that the pair weren't belting out proto-Freakbeat anthems, and you'd be utterly correct - Poppa Bagnall declared via a press release that "young people... like sentimental songs today just as we liked sentimental songs in my day" - but nonetheless, there was a consistent quality and occasional surprises lurking on most of their recordings. 

By the time this, their seventh release, hit the Woolworths stores of this green and pleasant land, old man Bagnall had seemingly been given the heave-ho and the pair went for the safe option of a Bacharach and David A-side. It's a sturdy, pleasant and pretty take on a song it's very difficult to ruin, and both have voices which are powerful and emotive enough to lend it a faintly new feel.

The flip is much more interesting, though - while it takes awhile to get moving, by the time it does you'll be swept along with its pounding insistence. It's not a radical departure, but it certainly sounds closer to American soul than anything else they tended to do. The track was also issued later in the year as an A-side by Sue Lynne whose slightly less commanding version can be heard here.  

1 March 2020

Linda Kendrick - Sympathy for the Devil/ He Wrote Me A Letter

Flamboyant but brilliant and strangely rocking cover of the Stones classic

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1974

Make no mistake, "Sympathy For The Devil" was always a slightly camp track to begin with. For all its muscular grooves and guitar heroism, the very concept of Mick Jagger meeting with the smoky one for a conversation does have a faint whiff of pantomime about it.  Imagine the outcomes of that scenario and keep a straight face. 

Not everyone will agree with me, though, and the listeners who have been treating the track as the epitome of serious rock since the day they first heard it may not appreciate the take Linda Kendrick delivered in 1974. To my ears, though, this is magnificent and amps up the theatrical elements to a stunning degree. Beginning with a gospel choir (though the Stones were no strangers to those themselves) and then letting Kendrick run riot with the ultimate vampish performance, the entire track is renewed with a particularly Soho shade of menace. Linda's dramatic vocals are so superb it's almost impossible not to feel impish glee at the whole thing, and those sliding country guitars just add a touch of dramatic magic.

By 1974, she was no inexperienced new face, having already earned her stripes in the sixties gigging up and down the country with prime support spots to artists such as Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black, with a brace of singles on Polydor and Philips already behind her. This experience led to an acclaimed role in the long-running musical "Hair" where Kendrick's performances are still regarded favourably by those who saw them.  

26 February 2020

Zenith - A Fool That Was In Love/ Silent Words

Sophisticated but well-written mid-seventies pop from ex-White Plains boys

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1975

Dawn was a perplexing label. Started by its parent label Pye as a home to more progressive and hippy-friendly artists (akin to EMI's Harvest or Decca's Deram) it started off on-spec with huge hits from the hairy festival jugband act Mungo Jerry and lesser-selling pieces of wonderfulness from more subdued acts such as Heron. Eventually, though, these beardy releases gave way to all manner of commercial rock and pop, including releases from The Glitter Band and Brotherhood of Man. 

This 45 definitely exists at the end of Dawn's catalogue marked "sophisticated pop". Only the stray sound of a sitar low in the mix shows any concessions to the label's past - the rest of the track is taken up with hooky choruses and zingy but breezy orchestral arrangements, having more in common with Edison's Lighthouse than anything likely to have got John Peel excited.

Still, it's deftly done, and certainly could have been a hit - the song is determined to make maximum impact, and pushes itself forward with hook after hook on top of a pristine arrangement. That possibly shouldn't be too surprising, given that the group were formed from the remains of White Plains, and their sound practically invented the slick, careful but potent 70s pop formula. 

23 February 2020

Reupload - Buzz - The Digger on Mars/ Jubilee Rock

Fascinating bit of atmospheric proggy glam on the flip of a Silver Jubilee novelty 45

Label: Crystal
Year of Release: 1977

Another record with something unusual and interesting on the flip, and something utterly insubstantial on the A-side. The 1977 Silver Jubilee only really produced one single which anyone still talks about, and that's The Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen". There were others which took a much more positive tone, such as Neil Innes' seldom referenced (by him or anyone else) "Silver Jubilee", or a multitude of associated singles BBC Records and Tapes slipped out. None made any real impact with the public, and it might be tempting to think that's because we're a bunch of Republicans at heart, but I rather suspect it had more to do with the quality of the material on offer.

Take this A-side, for example, a forgettable piece of chugging pop-rock with some boy scouts and girl guides singing on it. It was surely intended as a joyous party record, but nobody involved sounds enthused enough to really carry it. The vocals alone sound like the work of somebody who was keen to get the whole business over and done with as quickly as possible.

The B-side gives us some clues as to why, and makes it apparent that this clearly wasn't a band whose ambitions lay with Royal event novelty tie-in singles. It sounds out-of-time for 1977 but also notable. Clearly taking its cues from both the David Bowie and Pink Floyd back catalogue, "The Digger On Mars" combines whizzing analogue synths, chugging Glam Rock guitars, and a surprisingly ambitious arrangement. Just when you think the song has settled into a knuckle-dragging, punchy glam rut, there's a superb middle-eight which sounds almost prog in its leanings, a "Dark Side of The Moon" inspired piece of spacey introspection. Then the drums burst in again, the song returns, and this time buzzes full-throttle into something much more minimal and repetitive and almost - but not quite - motorik. A three minute song of clear thirds, then, and the last thing on Earth you'd expect to find buried on the back side of a Royal Family tribute record.

19 February 2020

Bear Foot - Frightened/ Girl Are You A Woman Now

Obscure, quirky one-off Pye 45 with slightly glam leanings

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

Here's a puzzler. This single is listed by all other sources as being by the group "Bare Foot", but my copy - as you can plainly see - has been corrected with typed stickers to show that the group's name is actually "Bear Foot". This makes some kind of sense, I suppose. If "Bare Foot" is an awful and uninspiring band name, "Bear Foot" is at least a slightly rocky and acceptable pun by comparison.

I'm going to assume that these stickers and doodlings are indicative of a record company error and this was either the group or their management trying to cover up the mistake, because the alternative is that somebody falsely corrected it very carefully for no good reason at all, which seems pointless. That said, the sleeve this comes in has been vandalised so it says "Pye The Shit Makers" rather than "Pye The Hit Makers", so it's terribly hard to know what's the truth and what isn't. Was this the work of somebody who was particularly disgruntled with the label they were signed to, or the "doings" of a disaffected youth with a felt-tip pen, too much time on his or her hands and no youth club to go to? (Anyone who graffitis record labels for no good reason, particularly in ways designed to create confusion fifty years hence, should obviously be given community service at the very least in my opinion, possibly involving tidying up second hand record shops or something). 

Anyway, all this speculation over a trifling matter brings us no closer to the record itself. "Frightened" is a slightly quirky A-side which pre-empts the over-accentuated vowels and drawls of the artier side of glam rock. The horn and rhythm section underneath swings in a much more traditional way, though, and stops the track from truly weirding out. Likeable though it is, you're left with the impression that it could have pushed the boat out much further than it did. There's something here which is perfectly fine and an enjoyable listen, but hamstrung slightly by its rigid arrangement - the freak flag could have been flown a lot higher. 

16 February 2020

Kracker - A Song For Polly/ Medicated Goo

If you thought only Rolling Stones members released records on the Rolling Stones record label, think again...

Label: Rolling Stones
Year of Release: 1973

Aside from occasional Keith Richards approved releases by Peter Tosh - man, Keith loves his "heavy, happy dudes" - the Rolling Stones record label was, as its name would suggest, mainly an outlet for group-related activities. If the band's name wasn't on the label, then it was usually a Bill Wyman solo project. 

This one-off single by Kracker on the label is a peculiar exception, though. The Stones had a strong interest in the Chicago based group, and after their debut LP "La Familia" came out on ABC Dunhill in 1972, approached them with an arrangement that the second would emerge on the then relatively new Rolling Stones label outside the USA, and the group would support The Stones on tour. Clearly hoping for a shot in the arm from the Jagger and Richards fraternity, Kracker keenly accepted, but watched as this single and the accompanying album "Kracker Brand" didn't really progress them any further ahead.

On reflection, there's nothing here to suggest that the group should have become world-beaters, and if the Rolling Stones were desperate to poach a group from a US label, one wonders why they picked on Kracker in particular. Nonetheless, "A Song For Polly" has a rattling, rolling rhythm and an anthemic quality which will definitely appeal to some readers. 

The B-side, though, is likely to be where most of the interest goes. The non-LP cover version of Traffic's "Medicated Goo" shows the band's skills off finely as they plough through the song with gusto. You're left with the impression that most of the appeal probably came from their abilities as a live act, and it's a shame it's often tough to judge that from their recorded work - but the flip gives one of the strongest impressions. 

12 February 2020

Lucien Alexander - Baby You've Been On My Mind

Sweet and warm Dylan cover from mystery singer

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Who would dare to count the number of Bob Dylan covers that littered the sixties, hits and non-hits alike? Some honourable attempts have been made to compile the best Bob covers on to single compilations, and a vinyl copy of "It Ain't Me Babe" sits proudly in my collection, pulled out on the rare occasions that I fancy hearing Bryan Ferry, Spirit, Johnny Cash and The Tremeloes in one sitting.  The obscurities, though? Would you want the job of rustling through every crate in the land past all the acetates of English folk groups and workshy beat combos plundering his songbook?

Nonetheless, "Baby You've Been On My Mind" is actually a good one-off obscurity by the mysterious Lucien Alexander, beautifully arranged, sweetly delivered and sounding distinctly like a possible summer hit. Unfortunately, given that it was issued in December 1967, that was never going to be.

The flip "Play Along (Miss R.)", here in a rather scuffed and scratchy guise - sorry kids - isn't significantly different, but has a slightly British Isles folk-rock feel to it. Think Al Stewart or David McWilliams at his least contemplative, and you're almost there.

9 February 2020

Reupload - Carpetbaggers - Sorry/ Beautiful Gas

The Allied Carpets advert theme retooled for chart success (that never came). Strange Ron and Russ Mael influence on this version.

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1982

Roger Greenaway is a hugely successful songwriter whose list of tracks would be the envy of anyone trying to get the public's ear. From "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" to Andy Williams' under-praised "Home Lovin' Man", to the... er... unique novelty talents of The Pipkins, his abilities and work with Roger Cook often seemed effortless throughout the sixties and seventies.

Besides his attempts to crack the charts, he also had a successful career writing songs for television adverts, some of them among the most iconic jingles of the period. This is a two-sided single boasting two of his better known efforts retooled for home listening, released on the short-lived relaunched eighties version of the Page One label.

A-side "Sorry" is actually the music used by Allied Carpets to flog their wares to excited home improvers, and would usually be accompanied by the slogan "Allied for carpets for you". However, it's only in this rewritten seven inch guise with the corporate sponsorship removed that you realise how much the damn jingle sounded like a Sparks tribute. "Sorry" suffers from a slightly cheap, Rumbelows synthesiser production, but besides that the jerkiness of the arrangement, the wryness of the lyrics and the vocal stylings smack of Ron and Russ Mael. All this begs the question - how on earth did anyone in the marketing department think that a subtle reference to the Mael brothers might have put people in mind of luxury carpet fittings? Did Ron's hypnotic stare indirectly help to sell many a roll of quality feltback? Could he, even today, resuscitate the ailing fortunes of the carpet showroom and cause a shift away from the modern trend in wooden floorings and laminates? We may never find out.

5 February 2020

Force West - Sherry/ Mr. Blue

Bristol wonders - also known as the Oscar Bicycle and Shakane - with their final shot at success

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Nobody could ever accuse Bristolians Force West of not trying their hardest to break through to a larger audience. They had three record contracts and seven singles out across four years, opening with "I Can't Give What I Haven't Got" on Decca in 1965, and closing with this effort. 

The group were initially formed from the remains of the groups The Jaguars and The Diatones. While they issued one vaguely psychedelic record under the pseudonym Oscar Bicycle in 1968, Force West tended to specialise in carefully arranged, commercially sound beat and harmony pop, and as such their output hasn't had many appearances on sixties obscurities compilations. Nonetheless, their records were generally neat, likeable affairs with an excess of warmth in their grooves; their hearts and souls were clearly somewhere on the American West Coast rather than the western edge of the UK. A quick listen to the beautiful 45 "A Walk In The Rain" gives you a firm impression of their sun-kissed pop.  

Their cover of that old chestnut "Sherry" was their last attempt for a single on CBS, and in common with a lot of last-ditch cover versions foisted on groups who have previously failed to chart, it's... OK.  The group handle the track with care and even give it a slightly tropical feel in an attempt to bring out different tones and colours. Ultimately though, I've never been enough of a fan of the song itself to appreciate any particular interpretation of it, so it's probably wasted on my ears.

Better is the B-side "Mr. Blue" which sounds uncannily like an early Jeff Lynne ballad - a huge coincidence given that the song's title being only one word short of ELO's most famous moment - filled with tremulous vocals and a weary, Sally Army styled brass arrangement in the background. It will doubtless have seemed a bit dated for 1969, but it's a lovely moment and appropriately downbeat enough to act as the band's final bow.

2 February 2020

Nimbo - When The Swallows Fly/ Noticeingly By

Second single from Pye signings who refused to accept the sixties were over

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1972

There's a tendency to think that once the sixties finished and a new decade dawned, everyone involved in music realised they had to move on and buck their ideas up fast, and start thinking of the next "big sound". In reality, quite a few bands carried on as normal, even when barely anyone else noticed. 

Pye was actually a fantastic label for issuing mildly psychedelic or sixties pop sounds long past the point anyone else cared, and for this reason Sanctuary Records dedicated album four in their "Psychedelic Pstones" series to post-1969 recordings and didn't struggle to fill a whole CD at all. Nimbo are one of the groups sitting snugly at home on the record, with their debut 1971 single "Forget Her" - and a sound which made it perfectly clear that they were struggling to forget The Beatles. 

Less easily found and certainly less talked about is this, their follow-up, which has an ambitious and damn fine reading of The Bee Gees "When The Swallows Fly" on the A-side, which explores every last avenue afforded by the song, turning into a towering rock ballad. Possibly too reflective and subtle to make it on to daytime radio, it remains a deeply obscure release.

Over on the flipside, though, the group are up to their old Beatle-loving tricks, and turn in an original song which chimes and jangles with old-school, naive beat merriment. If it feels a little rushed in places, it makes up for that with enthusiasm and charm, and was surely one of the least 1972 sounding tracks issued that year.

29 January 2020

Levity Lancers - Oh Play That Thing/ Too Late

Highly Bonzos-esque piece of likeable daftness with darker flipside

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1969

The mainstream reputation of the Bonzo Dog Band in the UK - if indeed they have much of a "mainstream" reputation these days - is probably that they were a bunch of funster one-hit wonders. More knowledgable music and comedy lovers might point to their work in "Do Not Adjust Your Set" and how it helped to launch the Python team, and also the gentle subversion and genuinely great songwriting on their LPs. 

Depressingly few would probably rank them as counter-cultural satirists these days, but nonetheless that's almost certainly where they often sat. Behind the slapstick, the gurning and the gentle farces on display in their work lay some pretty savage wrecking of societal norms, as well as the gleeful dismantling of the fragile webs most pop songs and pop careers are spun with. When I first heard a bootleg recording of "The Craig Torso Show" in a second hand record shop in the nineties, I was blown away by how playful and skewering it was simultaneously, giving UK pirate radio - the template for all pop radio that followed - a playful poke in the ribs while also giving it a fair warning. "Look," it seemed to say, "We can boil down the basic essence of one of your ridiculous shows in under four minutes. This isn't something you should be able to build a career on." "The Pink Half Of The Drainpipe" too is clearly Stanshall railing against suburban normality and who people expected him to be and who he wanted the freedom to be. (Others have also pointed out that Stanshall's on-the-street vox pops predated other satirists use of the gullible public by many years, but we're in danger of digressing out of control now and need to talk about this record...)

The point I was coming to, dear readers, is that while the Bonzos influenced other groups such as (most famously) the New Vaudeville Band, all of those bands tended to grasp at the cosy, the nostalgic and the faintly daffy elements of their output rather than the tough stuff to emulate. Most, of course, contented themselves with quick careers on the pub, student union and cabaret circuit before naffing off to the next session job once demand died down. 

I don't think I'm being unfair when I suggest that Levity Lancers were probably a very short-lived proposition who came and went very quickly. So far as I can tell, this was their only single, but despite the fact that it cosies up to the 78rpm era with pie-eyed nostalgia, it manages to be sweet and relatable too; toytown, psychedelic era observational lyricisms come through here. The A-side "Oh Play That Thing" is about the adventures of a woman and her brass instrument which is both silly and enjoyable, while the B-side "Too Late" owes a debt to Ray Davies, highlighting broken-down bungalows and lives spent in old age, loneliness, waste and dull routine. If Dukes of Stratosphear/ XTC had taken on the Bonzos, this might have been the end result (key reference points here for that band might be "Bungalow" or "Dying") Jollity, merry melodies and casual observations seem to be masking something much sadder and more regrettable.

26 January 2020

Reupload - Blue U - I've Been Lonely For So Long/ Melinda Marie

Tommy Vance forsakes the foaming nut brown ale for some special tablets

Label: York
Year of Release: 1972

Radio One Rock Jockey Tommy Vance was, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent and rather self-effacing chap who was to Rock (with a capital "R") and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal what John Peel was to indie bands. If you weren't one of the underweight floppy fringed kids in the corner of the student refectory listening to the latest Close Lobsters cassette on your Walkman, and instead chose to perch your more significant arse among the fluffy bearded boys who always carried guitars everywhere, chances are Vance's evening rock show was an important part of your week.

Nonetheless, metallers are a notoriously ungrateful bunch - ask any non-metaller who has ever been booked to support a Heavy Metal band by mistake - who adore their beery hijinks. Apocrypha has it that at the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival back in the eighties, Vance asked the audience to all chant "Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show!" to supply him with an impressive sounding jingle. True to form, the ungrateful bastards instead all yelled in unison "Tommy Vance is a wanker!" and the recording was deemed unsuitable for broadcast.

God alone knows what they would have made of this single. The A-side was produced by Vance but seems rather Vance-free in terms of the performance - it's a fairly straight piece of soul-inspired pop which is sprightly but unlikely to get reassessed by a club DJ anytime soon.

The B-side, on the other hand, is Vance overload. Accompanied by ambient aircraft noises and pretty much nothing else, our man Tommy sings a simplistic song-poem about the mysterious Melinda Marie, who is leaving him on a plane eight miles high. His voice sounds sleepy, tranquil, faintly under the influence (though I doubt he actually was) and altogether lacking the usual gruff Man-in-Denim tones for which he would become famous. It was doubtless a studio afterthought, a quickie recording job to give the single a B-side, but it's a strangely fascinating piece of work, both due to the person involved and also a certain amount of prescience on its part. After all, spin forward to the eighties and Jane's acapella effort "It's A Fine Day" and you have a record cut from a rather similar cloth. Nobody has yet taken Vance's effort here and turned it into a dance track, but I suspect it's only a matter of time.

23 January 2020

Oak Tree - The Sun, It Always Shone/ My Baby Don't Cry

Epic 70s pop on President

Label: President
Year of Release: 1971

President has had a long and unusual history. Starting as one of the first big independent labels in 1966 and continuing to the present day, it had very early success with The Equals. From that point, it took on all manner of styles, groups and genres, from soul to psychedelia and reggae, and even had a late flush of cult hipster success with Robots In Disguise in the noughties.

Its release schedules throw up all manner of one-off artists and flops, making it a fascinating company for collectors, and Oak Tree were one of many. The A-side here is a huge, epic tune which brings to mind Father Dick Byrne singing his heart out on a Song For Ireland. Most listeners will probably get more joy out of the B-side, which is a Gene Pitney-esque, swinging ballad with a certain rawness in its bones. Once again, this is one to flip the sides for. 

19 January 2020

Vigrass & Osborne - Men Of Learning/ Forever Autumn

A Lego advert with some lyrics put to it, or "War of the Worlds"?

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1972

As someone who hasn't necessarily been a keen student of all things Jeff Wayne, it took blogger (and ex-Green and ex-London Assembly politician) Darren Johnson to bring this one to my attention. 

Vigrass & Osborne were a slightly folky harmony pop duo who came under Jeff Wayne's charge for one LP in 1972. Gary Osborne had previously been a member of the UK (rather than US) Chocolate Watch Band who issued two singles on Decca in 1967, one of them being the highly sought-after "Requiem". Paul Vigrass, on the other hand, had served time as a solo artist on RCA as well as briefly delivering lead vocals for a post-Tony Burrows line-up of Edison Lighthouse.

Their debut album "Queues" was a collaborative effort with Wayne, with him providing the music and the duo providing lyrics for all the tracks. Despite being a contemplative and highly melodic album, it didn't achieve a lot of attention at the time, and despite occasional reissues around the world appears to have drifted off-catalogue once again.

That's surprising when you consider that one of the key tracks from Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" project was already hiding away both on the LP, and on the B-side to the second single from it. "Forever Autumn" is, in this guise, slightly choppier and breezier than the eventual Justin Hayward version, clipping along like a song whisked through a gale, which was surely the intention. Droning synths and fluttering flutes rush past the song's post-romance angst, and for me, it's actually a more effective and evocative version, appropriately summing up the turmoil and confusion of a relationship's end. There again, it was the first version, and therefore had every right to be better.

15 January 2020

Fuzz Face - Mighty Quinn/ Voices From The Sky

"Groovy" sitar and organ instro version of the Dylan/ Manfred classic

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1968

Anything I write about the progression of "Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)" from a "Great White Wonder" Dylan bootleg track to a major hit for Manfed Mann is probably going to be a bit of a waste of energy - everyone knows the story, after all. Dylan's songbook was continually plundered throughout the late sixties (and indeed beyond) by bands desperate for both cred and hits, and the adventures of Quinn the Eskimo were possibly the poppiest of options on offer, as well as handily buried on an unofficial release.

While Manfred Mann had shot to number one with their version of the track by February 1968, Fuzz Face here - who I'm 99.9% confident were some sort of American studio group - were latecomers to the party, issuing their version in April of that year. In fairness, it puts a slightly different spin on things, loading an instrumental version of the track with guitar effects, sitars, organs and decidedly "groovy" backing rhythms, making it prime fodder for anyone's house party. You can dance to this with much greater ease than the Mann's rather stompier take. 

Commercially, though, there wasn't much room in the charts for two versions of the same song at roughly the same time, and this sank on both sides of the pond. A shame, but it wasn't at all unusual for instrumental versions of pop hits to do this, however innovative or otherwise faintly psychedelic they were.

12 January 2020

Reupload - Trevor Burton - Fight For My Country/ Janie Slow Down

Utterly marvellous anthemic electro-psych glam from ex-Move man

Label: Wizard
Year of Release: 1971/72

After Trevor Burton left The Move, he had huge plans for his future. Not for him the usual course of putting an advert in Melody Maker for musicians and waiting for the results - on the contrary, he wanted to tap into the much in-vogue (at the time) practice of forming a supergroup of respected and talented musicians.

The ridiculously named Balls were born, consisting of Brummie wunderkinds like Steve Gibbons of The Uglys, Richard Tandy (later of ELO), and Denny Laine from The Moody Blues. In truth, the formation of the group was muddy, complicated and fraught with difficulties and intense arguments. A revolving doors policy appeared to be in operation, and describing the personnel coherently here would be a task and a half. If you're really interested, the excellent Brum Beat website has patched together a very patient and detailed overview of their history here.

During the chaos of rehearsals and recording, it would seem that only one usable piece of work emerged, and that was this single, which consisted of Burton, Steve Gibbons and Denny Laine. Originally released under the group's name Balls in January 1971, it failed to sell, and was subsequently reissued as an edited version in 1972 under Trevor Burton's name. That also flopped, and the track was then reissued again on Birds Nest Records in 1975 under the name B L and G (with the track retitled as "Live In The Mountains"), where it also did precisely nothing. After that point, clearly everyone involved simply gave up.

I suspect the single's sales chances were harmed by the fact that it only appeared an entire year after Balls ceased to exist, but it's not hard to hear why many people felt the track had enormous potential. Strident, cocksure, anthemic and unusual, the buzzing analogue synths spin throughout the track like helicopter rotary blades while Burton and the boys build a naive but relatable anti-military message over the top. "Why don't we all go and live in the mountains?" Burton roars, and far from being the usual pile of old hoary supergroup mush, this actually sounds like psychedelic Brum beat crossed with early electronica and glam - a squidgy, messy soup of ideas taking place on the cusp of two decades which shouldn't really work, but does so brilliantly. I'd be willing to bet that at least one member of the Super Furry Animals likes this one...

8 January 2020

Variation - Snowbird/ Nebula

Phil Cordell's attempt to repeat his Springwater success

Label: Warner Bros
Year of Release: 1973

One of the big surprise hits of 1971 was Springwater's "I Will Return", a guitar instrumental released when the charts weren't exactly chock full of them. The days of the music press having a "Best Instrumental Group" category in their reader's polls had long passed, and the idea of a group having a lead guitarist out front, not singing but Hank Marvinning to his heart's content, was passé to say the least. Springwater, however, bucked the trend and reached the top five in November of that year after a slow trudge up the charts.

Springwater were somewhat different to the usual format in that all the instruments on their recordings were played by one man, Phil Cordell. It proved to be a complete one-off success, though, and other singles released by "them" - including a somewhat unexpected cover of "Jerusalem" - flopped. Given that, it's a slight surprise to find this was also written, recorded and released by Phil Cordell in 1972, only under the name Variation. Issued in January 1973 mere moments after the Springwater name had been abandoned, it doesn't really offer any progression on the formula and is really just more of the same; quite haunting, very strongly performed and subtle, but unlikely to change his fortunes. The public were clearly not interested in more of the same. 

The flipside here is more interesting, being a church organ led piece of minimalism which sounds almost post-rock in its ambitions - slow, atmospheric and lingering like a low, druggy mist. It's possible that if Cordell had written more material of this ilk and sprawled it across an LP, he may have an underground hit of sorts.