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.