31 October 2009

God's Children - Hey Does Somebody Care (b/w "Lonely Lullaby")

God's Children - Lullaby

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1968

Of course we care, God's Children.

This was sold to me at a cheap price in a North London record store as being a prime piece of "Walker Brothers styled pop". "Great!" thought I, got it home and found that it's actually more of an authentic soul ballad.

This has its fans amongst collectors, it would seem, and isn't a bad example of the genre, but really is a lights-down-low, come-here-baby, pleading sensitive soul kind of ballad which will repulse as many people as it appeals to. If the lead singer didn't get down on one knee and beckon to a lady in the audience during live performances of this number, it was an utterly wasted opportunity. If the backing vocalists didn't spin around on their heels and point for the "Doo doo doo" parts as well, that would have been another let down for all concerned.

Melodramatic lyrics about "the ruins of my heart" abound throughout the disc. So, perhaps not that un-Walkerish then, the more I think about it. As you were.

28 October 2009

Rolf Harris - Bony

You may remember that I linked to the above clip some months ago when discussing the more obscure end of Rolf Harris' career, begging readers for more information on its origins. Just last week, Tim Worthington of the Out on Blue Six blog was kind enough to post me a full mp3 of the track which was recently discovered on a complilation by the man entitled "The Australian Album". On top of that, information came to light that the track originally featured on the "Two Little Boys" EP (rather than single) on Festival Records in Australia.

I still have yet to discover a copy of the single in Britain anywhere, although the fact that he recorded a promo clip for it in preparation for an edition of Top of the Pops would suggest that it was at least planned to be a proper, fully fledged A-side on these shores at some point (wouldn't it?). This download is purely the "Bony" track itself, and no information on what the B-side might have been - but come on, this is gold, with or without the full package. You won't hear the like very often.

As you'll have gathered from the video clip, "Bony" is a queer release indeed, but the full version reveals further absurdities, stylistically fitting somewhere between Chris Morris' "Dancer Prancer" music, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch's "Zabadak" and Roxy Music's "Triptych". Admittedly I'm exaggerating to perhaps unacceptable degrees here, but "Bony" is not what you'd expect of Harris at all, and was actually a self-penned effort to boot. Whatever, EMI clearly weren't keen on the idea of him recording his own "Tilt" or "Metal Machine Music", because no similar noises have really been forthcoming since, unless we count the ones he's done on the Churchill advert.

Thanks to Tim again.

(post-publishing edit: A friend of mine has contacted me to suggest that this song is about a fictional Australian detective called "Bony", the star of many detective novels by Arthur Upfield. His nickname was Napolean Bonaparte, hence the references to the man throughout this song. The lyrics make much more sense if you know this, but on the other hand, nobody can deny that this is a slice of oddness.

Jay Strange has also kindly left me an mp3 download of another Rolf moment "Tutankhamun")

24 October 2009

Chocolate Soup for Diabetics Vols 4 & 5

Chcolate Soup for Diabetics Volume 4

Chocolate Soup for Diabetics Volume 5

Label: none given

Year of Release: 2002

Sorry kids - I've had to remove the download links for these, as they're commercially available again (even on iTunes, of all places). But you did have over two years to download these CDs, and if you haven't done it by now...

"Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" was widely regarded to be one of the major "gateway" albums for British garage and psychedelic nuts in the eighties, issuing some of the finest obscure cuts around. The influence the series had was such that almost all of the singles chosen for inclusion now command three figure sums both on e-bay and in collector's stores, and some of the bigger flops presented have been ripped off or sampled by larger acts since. If you think that it's a coincidence that Sebadoh's "Flame" sounds exactly like The Hush's "Grey", then you're a very generous soul. Lou Barlow clearly had ample supplies of Chocolate Soup at home.

A major fault with the original vinyl issues, however, is that the mastering was frequently shocking and of a bootleg quality (indeed, the legitimacy of the series has frequently been called into question). Some tracks play at faster speeds than they should do, a fact which became startlingly apparent when I first got to hear official reissues of Apple's "Buffalo Billy Can" and The Tickle's "Subway" much later on. Also, whilst mastering compilations straight from the original vinyl isn't that unusual a practice in this particular world, seldom has it been handled with as little clarity as the first three volumes in this series.

Volumes 4 and 5 appeared on CD rather unannounced in the early part of this decade, nearly twenty years after their younger brothers and sisters, presumably emerging from the same source. From memory, they were on the CD racks of independent music stores for about three months before disappearing again, presumably only ever having been pressed up in extremely limited runs. The first thing that's noticeable about both is that the sound quality is a huge improvement, and whilst most tracks still appear to be mastered from vinyl, the compiler has obviously learned a thing or two about effective noise reduction. The second thing, unfortunately, is that there's a sense of the bottom of the barrel being scraped. There are some fantastic little tracks buried away on these albums, but they're snuggling up alongside some very ordinary beat band fare which will only be of interest to completists of that ilk.

On the plus side, any album which includes Family's "Scene Through The Eye of A Lens", The Darwin's Theory's "Hosanna", or Mike Rabin's "Head Over Heels" is worth a sniff, but steel yourselves - neither of these CDs are up to the lofty standards the first few outings set, although at least you can enjoy them without muddy sound.

Volume 4 tracklisting:

1. Chords Five - Universal Vagrant (1967)
2. The Anteeks - I Don't Want You (1966)
3. The Perishers - How Does It Feel (1966)
4. The Exceptions - The Eagle Flies on Friday (1966)
5. The Rebel Rousers - As I Look (1968)
6. Alan Avon & The Toyshop - Night To Remember (1970)
7. The Dodos - Make Up My Mind (1968)
8. Roger Young - It's Been Nice (1966)
9. The Answers - Just A Fear (1966)
10. Force Five - Don't Know Which Way To Turn (1966)
11. The Darwin's Theory - Hosanna (1966)
12. The Transatlantics - Look Before You Leap (1966)
13. The Longboatmen - Take Her Any Time (1966)
14. Linda Van Dyck with Boo & The Boo Boos - Stengun (1966)
15. Gary Walker - You Don't Love Me (1966)
16. Caleb - Woman of Distinction (1967)
17. The Trend - Shot on Sight (1966)
18. The Family - Scene Through The Eye of A Lens (1967)
19. Steve Aldo - You're Absolutely Right (1966)
20. The Peasants - Let's Get Together (1965)
21. The Original Road Runners - Waterloo Man (1966)

Volume 5 tracklisting:

1. The Quotations - Cool It (1968)
2. The Transatlantics - Don't Fight It (1966)
3. The Longboatmen - Only In Her Home Town (1966)
4. The Ways & Means - Breaking Up A Dream (1968)
5. Chords Five - I Am Only Dreaming (1967)
6. The Moving Finger - Shake and Finger Pop (1969)
7. The Authentics - Climbing Through (1964)
8. The Mickey Finn - Garden Of My Mind (1967)
9. Force Five - Baby Let Your Hair Down (1966)
10. St. Louis Union - English Tea (1966)
11. The Magic Lanterns - I Stumbled (1966)
12. The Bad Boys - She's A Breakaway (1966)
13. The Sons Of Fred - Baby What You Want Me To Do (1966)
14. Boo & The Boo Boos - Oriental Boo (1966)
15. Mike Rabin & The Demons - Head Over Heels (1964)
16. Caleb - Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad (1967)
17. Wayne Gibson & The Dynamics - Baby Baby Baby Pity Me (1965)
18. The Petards - Tartarex (1969)
19. The J&B - Wow! Wow! Wow! (1966)
20. King-Size Taylor - Thinkin' (1966)
21. The Four Squares - Don't You Know I Love You (1964)

20 October 2009

Top of the Spot(ifie)s

Top of the Pops

"A bad cover version of love is not the real thing/ bikini clad girl on the front who invited you in" Bad Cover Version, Pulp

Since we've already touched upon the subject of budget cover albums and EPs this month, we may as well keep the theme rolling with the news that a whole crateload of "Top of the Pops" albums have now worked their way on to Spotify. There's good news and bad news attached to this - the bad news is clearly that a lot of retro bloggers are probably going now to wonder if it's really worth the trouble of uploading those thirty volumes they found in Oxfam last week. The good news, of course, is that we now have unlimited access to these sounds in digital quality - although your definition of good news might vary from mine.

Since this discovery, it's become a game of mine to highlight the good, the interesting, and the awfully inaccurate cover versions that exist in the series. It's been well documented before now that the bargain bin version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" is actually quite impressive given the limited studio and arrangement time the piece was clearly given. Queen spent several half-lives and a country mile's worth of mastertape on the original, so whilst the version presented here may not be absolutely perfect, it shows a low=budget respect for the original arrangements akin to Andy Partridge's Beatles re-recordings.

Given this fact, it's astonishing how far off the mark other efforts are - clearly some session musicians who were hired to do a job had an unhealthy disrespect for other tracks. If BoRap can be nailed, then what's the major issue with "Mouldy Old Dough", for Stavely Makepiece's sake? The piano sounds wobbly and warped, the rhythm inaccurate, and the vocals like Granddad out of "Only Fools and Horses" with half a cheeseburger in his gob. To say that the session musicians concerned must have despised this track to treat it with such contempt is to understate the case to some considerable degree.

Gary Numan's "Cars" isn't quite so maltreated, although the synthesisers used have a touch of the Rumbelows about them, and the vocals appear to be done by a man who sounds like Gilbert O'Sullivan doing an impression of an American new wave vocalist who is in turn doing a poor impression of Gary Numan. If this was the intention, I'm seriously impressed.

And talking of XTC, as we were earlier, that particular band seem to be particularly ill-served by the series. "Senses Working Overtime" suffers from bum notes and miscued rhythms, and is sung with the incorrect lyrics ("I can see his well-turned taste"?) with the vocals of a drunken village idiot being kicked around a bar, wailing for mercy as he goes. "Sgt Rock" fares little better, being an anaemic approximation of the song sung by somebody who'd clearly rather be in Steppenwolf. They put more effort into their Benny Hill impressions, so you have to wonder why Swindon's finest were treated with so little respect.

I could go on, perhaps pointing out other items such as "Virginia Plain", a rather unsympathetic version of L&TB fave Gary Shearston's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" performed with tone-deaf vocals (Arthur Mullard eat your heart out), and a ridiculously Tiny Tim styled version of Sparks' "Something for the Girl With Everything", but if I keep on in this way I'll be rather spoiling your own fun having a dig around. Please do leave a comment if you manage to find anything particularly accomplished or absurd.

Whether you love or hate this series, its popularity was baffling. That the music industry in Britain made the decision to expel these budget cover albums from the main charts in the mid-seventies is an indication of how much the public appeared to have a soft spot for them, and even when they were consigned to their own special "budget chart" they remained strong sellers. The musicians behind the work were often of a high quality, with the likes of Bowie (*cough*)* and Elton John beavering away on the releases, and the latter's work was so extensive that a separate compilation has been created of his own efforts. I'd prefer to think of the series as being a very interesting anomaly, whilst not particularly wanting one of the items to ever be gift-wrapped and given to me again by a cheapskate relative, thank you very much indeed.

(*No, I doubt Bowie or his musicians had anything to do with that linked version of "Space Oddity", but it is rather impressive).

18 October 2009

Is She Weird?

Is She Weird?

Years active: 1990-93 (?)

When I started this blog, I did originally intend to spend some time focussing on bands who were never signed, believing that somewhere within my array of CDRs, cassettes, and self-financed singles lay some top class numbers. I soon discarded this idea after a mere one entry (Golden Section) after realising that most bands remain unsigned for a reason. Of course, some of the demos I still have reveal a bunch of bands who were definitely good at what they did, but the primary issue in almost all cases is the fact that they lacked any identity of their own, and were frequently either chasing the tails of the current passing trend or desperately in thrall to a particular individual or individuals (you wouldn't believe how many Oasis clones there were around at one point in the mid-nineties - or actually, you probably would).

So then, to put the sound of "Is She Weird?" into some kind of perspective, it's worth noting that they were an early nineties Southend based band as opposed to one buzzing around Camden in the mid-nineties like desperate Britpop chancers. Way, way ahead of the game by London standards never mind provincial standards, the band combined a love of classic sixties pop with a hard-edged, spittle fuelled vocals. Traces of the styles of various EMF, Wonder Stuff and Jesus Jones wannabes are, in retrospect, present and correct - the band even used to cover forgotten Columbia-signed band Bedazzled's "Stageshow Days" live - but they're by no means the dominant force, the band instead preferring to write immediate, "Revolver"-era Beatles pop with some utterly furious and majestic drumming, and rollercoaster song structures. A listen to "Burden Me" below, for example, reveals a band who weren't exactly wholly catering for the good chaps and ladies wishing to groove on the dancefloor. There's a darkness and detail there that almost all of their peers locally struggled to deliver.

The band were never likely to be awarded any points for experimentation, but the fact they weren't signed remains a bit of a mystery. That they suffered from frequent line-up problems may well have been an issue, however - nothing turns an A&R Rep's head in the opposite direction quicker than a band whose personnel changes seemingly on a monthly basis. Initially, the band began life with Andy Hayes on Guitar and Vocals, Misha Ellis on drums, Rod Quinn on lead guitar and Peter Blanchard on bass. This line-up seemed stable enough for a bit, but then seemed to rupture, and the band appeared to develop a revolving doors policy, until by the end the only stable members of the line-up were Andy and Misha (pictured above). Indeed, the band apparently split during the recording of a self-financed album, which I still have a rough demo of somewhere in my flat, although I don't own a cassette player to listen to it on anymore.

Live they were great, too, possessing a furious arrogance and energy which was sorely lacking in most indie bands at the time. I wasn't a seasoned gig-goer at this point in my life, but at their best they certainly out-performed a whole slurry of other acts I would later go on to witness getting major deals and even success.

By the time the band actually sounded halfway current, they'd split for good, leaving Andy Hayes to go on to production work with OK-ish mod band Mantaray, and the others to disappear off to do I know not what. Unbelievably, a post-split Myspace page has been set up by a band member (I can only assume) but all attempts to contact somebody through it have proved to be futile, so I can only assume they're either avoiding me or it's not checked very often anymore - hence the trail goes cold, and I have no further information to give.

The below tracks are taken from a couple of self-financed vinyl singles they put out locally, but you'd do well to head over to the MySpace page as well to listen to "Mantelpiece", a superb piece of almost unsuitably joyous pop about the woes of infamy. Really, it may as well be their anthem. And yep, that version of "I Am The Walrus" does predate Oasis' version - although one can hardly quibble about who covered what first.

13 October 2009

The Critters - Don't Let the Rain Fall Down On Me

Critters - Don't Let The Rain

Label: Kapp
Date of Release: 1967

Another band we've covered before, I'm afraid. Nonetheless, that's no reason not to explore their back catalogue in a little depth, and this recent discovery is a bit of a gem, albeit a rather scratched and scuffed up one.

"Don't Let The Rain Fall Down On Me" was written by lead guitarist Jim Ryan in a ten-minute session in his Villanova University dorm room after being drenched by a downpour (whether the same can be applied to Fran Healy out of Travis for his similarly titled effort is open to speculation) and is a slightly Walker Brothers-tinged ballad with a very downbeat air. It was The Critters' last hit in America, popping into the Top 40 on a quick social call in 1967. Britain, it would seem, completely ignored the disc.

The B-side, "Walk Like A Man" is perhaps more pleasing, being a much more chest-beating statement of intent, albeit drenched in the same sugary melodies.

I doubt there will be any further chapters to add to the Critters story on this blog, but if any other discs crop up on these shores, I'm sure I'll add them eventually.

10 October 2009

Pictures of Marshmallow Men

Pictures of Marshmallow Men

Because it's about time again, isn't it? Yep, correctly guessed, this is yet another homebrew compilation, although on this occasion I'll stop short of calling it a 'psychedelic' compilation. There's plenty of that sort of content on here, but this time I've delved into my hard drive and record collection to attempt to find tracks from both the sixties and early seventies which blend well together. This includes the slightly demonic triptych of "Painting on Wood", "Black Mass" and "Never Care" at the start, which slowly and eventually morphs into the soft pop which dominates the latter end of the compilation.

I'm not going to even attempt to pretend that this album has an overall theme as such, and nor is it trying to make any kind of particular point about genres or production styles. Just think of it as a compilation tape of tracks that deserve to be heard more widely.

This time I've also tried to include the whole 100MB bundle in one download - if that causes anyone any difficulties, please comment and let me know and I'll split it into two parts again.

1. The Magicians – Painting on Wood (MCA - 1968)

As ridiculous as it sounds, clearly it wasn’t just Scott Walker who was inspired to write a song after viewing Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” film. The Magicians – of whom I know nothing, I’m sorry to say – were clearly moved enough to also follow suit. Unlike Walker’s musings on the topic, “Painting on Wood” is much more flamboyant and folk driven, and also features some funky piano lines which seem vaguely inappropriate. But hey, if you’re playing a game of chess with Death, there’s nothing to be lost by having a little foot-tapping session too.

2. Eyes of Blue – Never Care (Deram – 1968)

Neath-dwelling rockers the Eyes of Blue started life as a “blue eyed soul” band, before gradually morphing into a psychedelic (and eventually progressive) act. “Never Care” seems to be part of the bridge from psych to prog, but the trilling, folksy backing vocals on this one still show shades of whimsy.

3. Jason Crest – Black Mass (Philips – 1969)

When information about this track was sparse, myths persisted that it was a work of propaganda by some particularly determined Christians. Absolute rubbish, of course, as the Jason Crest were a band from Tonbridge who had already had a long and varied history by this point, putting out various pieces of organ-driven mysticism. “Black Mass”, on the other hand, is a berserk piece of work filled with demonic screams, disorientating echos, monk chants and thunderous noises. It was to prove their last recording, but if you’re going to leave pop’s big waiting room, it doesn’t hurt to do so in this bold manner.

4. Keith Relf – Shapes in My Mind (Columbia - 1966)

Keith Relf had a rather more overground career as the singer with the Yardbirds, but this particular solo release was greeted with public apathy. “My body shrinks into my head/ I must have help or I’ll be dead” he informs us gravely. “Shapes in My Mind” is catchy enough to bypass such absurdities and perhaps should have charted, but the public were having none of it.

5. Kate – Don’t Make a Sound (CBS – 1968)

This is a bit more tranquil. Kate were a London-based band (and not a person) who signed to CBS and also briefly boasted ex-Pretty Thing Viv Prince among their number. Three singles were all they managed, of which this track is probably the most pleasing.

6. Jigsaw – Tumblin’ (Music Factory - 1968)

Jigsaw managed to make some serious money with “Sky High” in the seventies, but before they broke through they spent long years on the pub circuit honing their craft, and putting out singles through a wide variety of record labels, including the small indie Music Factory. “Tumblin’” is hardly the most progressive track in the world, but utilizes heavy phasing and some neat organ grooves to good effect.

7. Geranium Pond – Marshmallow Man (never released)

Geranium Pond never really made any impact in the sixties, but appearances on compilations since have revealed a rather quirky outfit whose approach to psychedelia almost seems modern at times, treading a similar path to the likes of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci or The Henry Road.

8. Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – Dream Starts (Direction – 1968)

I’ve mentioned before that the eponymous Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera album is a seriously under-rated piece of work, and somehow isolating certain tracks from the work seems to always leave them feeling a little lost regardless of what compilation or mixtape you shove them on. It takes a lot to undo “Dream Starts”, however, which uses shimmering vocals, harmonies and a brass backing to amazing effect.

9. Serendipity – I’m Flying (CBS - 1968)

A sweet little track from Serendipity, a band from Tunbridge Wells who released two singles for CBS and recorded half an album before calling it a day.

10. Kenny Everett – Nice Time (Deram - 1969)

Kenny Everett’s friendship with John Lennon is well known, but the fact he released a string of non-comedic singles in the sixties seems to be less popularly acknowledged. As “Nice Time” proves, he had a rather Jeff Lynne-ish way of approaching music hall styled tracks, and it’s all surprisingly agreeable. This was also the theme to his TV show of the same name

11. Cyan – Toby’s Shop (RCA - 1972)

If we were being cynical we could argue that the childlike nature of this track has druggish connotations (“Toby always hides the secret of his pies” and “For just six pennies he can make the sun shine” indeed) but I suspect that by 1972 the time had long since passed for such references on mainstream pop singles. Still, we can dream. Cyan hailed from Italy and had a long career in their native country.

12. Grapefruit – Yes (RCA – 1968)

We’ve already covered Grapefruit on this blog, so there’s little to add except to say… no, I don’t know if Lennon and McCartney had anything to do with the work on this track, but probably not. “Yes” is a strident little piece of work, mind you.

13. Jason Eddie & The Centremen – Singing The Blues (Parlophone - 1966)

A particularly absurd Joe Meek track (and that’s saying something) which almost charted, the clattering, rattling approach to this version of “Singing The Blues” is so jarring that it makes cover versions by The Residents seem less questionable when played afterwards.

14. Brian Diamond and The Cutters – Shake Shout & Go (Fontana - 1964)

Whereas Brian Diamond and his Cutters manage to accidentally invent the B52s, even writing “Rock Lobster” for them in the process. There is some speculation as to whether the B52s directly ripped off this track, and if it had actually been a hit I’d say the lawyers would have had a field day kicking them around their bloody Love Shack before now. As it sank without trace, this can only be a particularly absurd coincidence despite the glaring similarities.

15. Los Brincos – Passport (Page One - 1968)

Los Brincos were proper pop stars in their native Spain, and it’s no wonder, since they released Who-ish barnstormers like this one. The British charts in the sixties closed their gates to their charms, however, which seems more than slightly unjust.

16. The Game – The Addicted Man (shelved Parlophone release)

Mod band The Game attempted to release this single about drug addiction, but the uproar it created on Juke Box Jury was such that EMI got cold feet and shelved the entire release, sneaking out another single in its place. It’s a very messy, noisy track indeed, with punkish guitars slamming all over the shop, and had it not been for the uproar it’s doubtful it would have had a chance to make an impression on the teenage public anyway.

17. Callum Bryce – Lovemaker (Conder – 1968)

A superb little single which had everything going for it, it seems – even being used on a Woodpecker cider advert (with the lyrics amended to “Woodpecker, Woodpecker, Woodpecker yes I would”). Despite the promotion, it would seem that being on a tiny independent label (run by Peter Knight Howard, an ex-associate of Joe Meek’s) hampered the band’s progress. Whilst ex-members of the Yardbirds were rumoured to be involved, actual concrete information about Callum Bryce has been difficult to come by, and the only information I can give you is that when I tried to bid on ebay for this single, the closing sum was $424. No, I didn’t win…

18. Zebedee – She Couldn’t Make Gravy (Decca – 1971)

This is essentially The Tickle in all but name, taking a slightly more glam approach as the seventies dawned. It didn’t help them gain success, but “She Couldn’t Make Gravy” features the same quirk and bounce which was apparent on “Subway” and “Good Evening”, albeit less swamped in studio effects. Lyrically, this track also has parallels with “I’m Gonna Get Me A Woman” by Mike Conway.

19. San Francisco Earthquake – Fairy Tales Can Come True (Mercury – 1968)

Songwriter Kenny Young (of “Under the Boardwalk” fame) was almost entirely responsible for this foray into toytown psych. Later in the seventies, he would also attempt New Wave under the name Yellow Dog. For all I know, he’s possibly arranging a retro-eighties synthpop single as we speak.

20. Esprit De Corps – If (Would it Turn Out Wrong) (Jam – 1972)

Radio One DJ Mike Read always seemed to dabble in pop music, and you get the sense that he’s slightly disappointed none of his efforts have ever seemed to get off the ground. Of all of them, “If” is probably the best thing he’s been associated with, a phasing-ridden atmospheric ballad which probably seemed a bit dated for 1972. Still, it fits snugly at home on here.

21. Fresh Air – It Takes Too Long (Philips – 1971)

Another mystery, I’m afraid. This apparently isn’t the same Fresh Air who released “Running Wild” in the sixties, of whom I also know nothing. “It Takes Too Long” veers dangerously close to parodying George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, but comes at it from a rather Chris Bell-ish angle, and is actually a really good little single. This originally came to my attention on the brilliant “Pure Pop” blog.

22. Marvin & Farrar – So Hard To Live With (EMI – 1973)

This is, in case it needs to be spelt out to you, Hank Marvin and John Farrar out of the Shadows. Bored of the restrictions placed on them by being in an instrumental outfit, they recorded a few vocal harmony lead pieces of work to little success. “So Hard To Live With” is so close to the seventies Beach Boys in style and spirit it could almost be an out-take.

23. Unit 4+2 – 3:30am (Fontana – 1969)

By 1969 Unit 4+2 seemed so passé that nobody much was paying any attention, and during that time they slipped out this beautifully atmospheric, doom-laden ballad. People still looked the other way, but it’s remained a favourite of modern-day psychedelic compilations since.

24. Billy Fury – In My Room (label and date information uncertain)

We’ve already covered Jimmy Campbell on this blog via the 23rd Turnoff entry, but in it I conveniently failed to mention that Billy Fury was enough of a fan to cover some of his tracks. “In My Room” is an absurd choice, with its references to posters of “Hitler, John and Paul”, and although Fury does a stirling job of covering it, one has to wonder what his fans thought. Incidentally, this appears on a Fury compilation album from 1984, but I can find no trace of its release date prior to that. Does anyone know? Or did it remain an out-take until the eighties?

25. Ginger Ale – “Sugar Suzy” (Injection – 1971)

And we’ll finish on a nice, tranquil noise. Ginger Ale hailed from Amsterdam and had existed in one form or another since 1961 – however, this particular soft pop effort was relegated to B-side status in the seventies. It’s also a nice note to finish on.

9 October 2009

Brilliant - It's a Man's Man's Man's World/ Love is War

Brilliant - Man's World

Brilliant - Love Is War

Label: Food
Year of Release: 1985

Before Jimmy Cauty formed the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (aka The KLF, aka The Timelords, aka Disco 2000, etc) with Bill Drummond, he had a minor career of his own with Brilliant, one of the very few Stock Aitken and Waterman produced acts to fail commercially. Cauty has recalled his time with SAW as being an interesting learning curve, as their production techniques tended to involve treating musicians as unnecessary appendages, preferring to use the available studio technology as the building blocks for each track. Rather than flounce out of the studio in a huff, he absorbed their ways, which informed a great deal of the KLF's techniques in later years.

Online, much has been made of the fact that Brilliant's singles aren't going to be of anything more than passing interest to most KLF fans. Whilst this is likely, there is still a certain charm about both of these efforts, with the remake of "...Man's Man's Man's World" in particular being notably un-SAWish in its noises, sounding more like an approximation of Scritti Politti at moments. Perhaps Pete Waterman had been listening to "Cupid and Psyche" a lot at the time. The self-produced flip side of the disc "Crash The Car" also uses some very KLF styled loops and beats as its basis, which may prove interesting to fans - the un-named instrumentals from the "Shag Times" album have a certain something in common with it. It's clearly a very throwaway B-side, but it indicates that while Cauty might have learned a lot from the mighty eighties trio, Brilliant's records might possibly been closer to their actual name if he'd had more of a lead in directing their sound. As always, we could speculate forever...

Brilliant were definitely given reasonable airplay at the time of their releases, so their failure isn't down to lack of exposure, but more likely public disinterest. However, as Cauty met Drummond through David Balfe who ran Food Records, and the KLF were the result of that introduction, the end results weren't all negative.

7 October 2009

Yet More Beatles Covers - Avenue Recordings Ltd (and David Byron)


Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1969

Discarded budget cover version albums and EPs are bog-standard charity shop fare up and down the United Kingdom.  Some people regard these waxings with affection, believing them to be interesting and entertaining reinterpretations of hits.  Others - and I have to confess, I'm one of the others - feel that they're a bit of a waste of space on the whole, and unless there's some spectacularly odd attempt to nail a style which falls uniquely and entertainingly flat, there's not a lot to be said for them.  I've heard more anaemic, clock-watching rock cover versions on these records than I feel I ever needed to, and the conclusion I've drawn is that they're not a good talking point.

There are exceptions to the general rule, however, and this EP may be one of them.  Many artists who went on to a greater degree of success recorded for the likes of Avenue, Pickwick, Embassy and Contour, knocking out quickie covers of hits for small wedges of money.  Elton John and David Bowie are two of the most famous artistes to bother the budget studios for some spare cash, Elton recording enough to see his attempts reissued on to one full-length CD recently.  There's a certain thrilling absurdity to hearing Reginald Dwight sing "Young, Gifted and Black", or treating your ears to Bowie's unique vocal whine working its way through "Penny Lane".  The logic of entering recording studios for the pair was purely monetary, given that they were both struggling musicians for years before earning a serious living.  Elton seems to regard his efforts with slight embarrassment these days, whereas Bowie's opinions are unrecorded - although the album "Pin Ups" would suggest that he hadn't quite got the covers bug out of his system by the seventies.

Plenty of other musicians recorded for the labels, though, and naturally others went on to success, too.  If the Internet is to be believed, David Byron, the lead singer of seventies rockers Uriah Heep, puts his tonsils around John Lennon's "Cold Turkey" on this particular EP (a fact I only realised after doing a bit of research after buying it).  The version obviously rocks considerably harder and has a great deal more teeth-gritting angst and geetar riffage about it than Lennon's slightly docile original, and Byron makes the song sound very much his own rather than bothering to attempt to make it sound like a carbon copy.  Given that I actually think "Cold Turkey" is probably one of Lennon's weaker efforts I'm still not sold on the song itself, but this is worth pricking your ears up for once, despite the weak quality of the vinyl it originated from.

Elsewhere on the EP, another session muso who probably never got to achieve any degree of fame works his way through a slightly saccharine cover of Harrison's "Something", which fails to really reinterpret or even successfully replicate the original.  Still, you can't have it all - and huge apologies for the jumps and scratches you'll hear in places, and the poor sound quality which I believe has more to do with the standard of the original pressing than anything else.  I've tried remixing this to improve the results, but it's not easy work. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody had used this record to eat their dinner off at some point.

Like a tool, I've also lost this record somewhere in my increasingly cluttered flat, so what you see above is a scan of another Avenue disc taken from the fantastic Seventies labels site.  If the owner objects to its use, please do drop me a line and I'll take it down - I'll probably take it down as soon as I locate the actual copy of what I'm providing here anyway.

Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town
Cold Turkey
Baby I Know

6 October 2009

One Hit Wonders #6 - The Harmony Grass - Move in a Little Closer, Baby (b/w Happiness is Toy Shaped)

Harmony Grass - Move in a Little Closer Baby

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

We're back, you muvvas!  And whilst it would have been tempting to return reinvigorated with a huge great blast of satanic rock and roll, that would perhaps be a bit too predictable - so have a fresh slice of toytown psychedelia instead, rather in the manner one might enjoy a nice slither of Battenburg cake on a Sunday afternoon.

The Harmony Grass were essentially just sixties scene stalwarts Tony Rivers and the Castaways under another name, switching labels and desperately trying to get a hit by posing as a new act.  The Castaways specialised in a rather English bastardisation of American West Coast harmony pop, but despite airplay and some acclaim failed to really attract much attention.  The Harmony Grass, on the other hand, just about managed to chart with this, taking it to number 24.  The A-side is essentially a piece of fluff which stylistically predates the likes of the Bay City Rollers - forward thinking it may be in its production values, but essential it isn't.

It's the B-side most L&TB viewers will be interested in, which is a combination of twee toytown English pop and The Beach Boys, beginning with some intricate vocal harmonies then continuing to muse and speculate on the wonder of toys.  The entire sub-genre of toytown psychedelia was very much an afterthought by the nineties specialist music press, and the label wouldn't have been bandied around at the time at all (unless somebody can prove otherwise).  However, if the movement had existed there's precious little doubt that "Happiness..." would have been one of the spearheading tracks, an anthem for the movement alongside Jeff Lynne's "I Love My Toys".  Allegedly, Brian Wilson actually heard the track once and gave it the thumbs up for its arrangement, and praise can't really come much higher than that.  

Despite their studio skills, however, the Harmony Grass couldn't sustain the public's interest for more than this single, and the game was up not long afterwards.