27 February 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 47 - Jimmy Cross - I Want My Baby Back

Jimmy Cross - I Want My Baby Back

Who: Jimmy Cross
What: I Want My Baby Back (b/w "Play the Other Side" - cuh, thanks chaps...)
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
When: 1965 (this reissue 1978)
Label: Wanted (original label Tollie)
Cost: One pound

Another very obvious choice for a blog of this nature, but one I make few apologies for. After all, this is the Ben Hur of novelty awfulness, the bad taste record by which all other bad taste records must be judged, and certainly an education to those who think they've heard it all before.

This single was originally a very minor hit in America for Jimmy Cross, getting into the lower reaches of the Hot 100 back in 1965. Recorded as a very heavy-handed parody of the numerous death tunes (such as "Leader of the Pack") which were stinking up the charts like rotting corpses in a morgue during a gravedigger's strike, it took the concept as far as it could conceivably go. The sleeve art on display here should give you an idea of how the story for this tune develops, if it could be indeed called a tune - at times it more closely resembles a parodical comedy sketch. Key line: "Well I wasn't about to slam on the brakes, 'cos I didn't have none to start with".

Leaving aside any questions anyone may have about taste, the record appeared to grow in notoriety over the years, a situation which finally peaked when Kenny Everett played it on his "World's Worst Wireless Show" on Capital Radio in 1977. Inviting the public to vote for the worst song of all time after he broadcast several shows of outlandish cuts and outright drivel, the public responded to take this right to number one - hence the etching on the tombstone you can see on the sleeve.

There were numerous rumours at the time that Jimmy Cross was simply Harry Nilsson moonlighting under another name, and whilst that's an enjoyable thought, it's sadly untrue. Confusion does still surround the singer's identity, however, and the most realistic explanation I've read so far is that he was a radio producer who happened to have the right kind of Southern accent for the song's narrative parts, but otherwise had little creative input into the disc's contents.

As for the song's much-envied position of being the worst record of all time, I could certainly think of one or two singles which have emerged since which may deserve the title more, although admittedly not many more than that. Perhaps it's time for an update of Everett's concept on British radio. And perhaps some of the challengers are another topic for another time....

24 February 2010

Doctor and the Medics - Miracle of the Age


Label: IRS
Year of Release: 1985

Hopefully Doctor and the Medics will need little introduction to British readers of a certain generation at least - their biggest hit single, a cover of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" was an inescapable number one hit in 1986. Frequently incorrectly tagged as "one hit wonders", they in fact scored again with "More" in the same year which reached number 29, but their fortunes tailed off gradually from that point on, perhaps not helped by their rather mediocre and not particularly hard hitting "Laughing at the Pieces" album from the same time.

Ostensibly formed as a psychedelic rock revival outfit, Doctor and the Medics didn't really score very many points on the freak-out-ometer. Their clothes were outlandish, and they certainly had some interesting song titles - their very first single was entitled "The Druids Are Here" - but the material itself appeared to have rather more glam leanings with very precise eighties production values. Much of it was no less enjoyable for that, and their contribution to organising events on the London underground psychedelic circuit in the eighties should also be noted, but they certainly weren't especially way out.

Early flop "Miracle of the Age" is no exception, really, but is notable for having been produced by Andy Partridge out of XTC. It's hard to really sense his presence on this record, since it doesn't sound much unlike the band's later material, but I've no doubt that fans of his will find the contents of this single of curiosity value.

As for the good Doctor and his cohorts, they're still going strong around the British gig circuit, playing clubs, festivals and the revival circuit, largely playing covers of other people's songs rather than their own material. They even stayed in my Uncle's hotel once, and he probably enjoyed their company a tiny bit too much if the stories I've since heard are anything to go by.

20 February 2010

Timebox - Girl Don't Make Me Wait (b/w "Gone Is The Sad Man")

Timebox -Girl Don't Make Me Wait

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1968

OK, so I win no points at all for originality where this upload is concerned - I'm sure if you asked a hundred dedicated fans of sixties obscurities what the fifty great lost singles of the era were, this one would feature in the list of most people. Nonetheless, I've got a sneaking suspicion that there may still be a few readers out there who actually haven't heard both sides of this marvel of double-sided brilliance, so it's always worth throwing out there again.

The A-side "Girl Don't Make Me Wait" is absolutely fantastic, and sounds like it should have been an enormous hit. From the vibraphone chiming intro right down to the subtle orchestral flourishes and the epic chorus, it's a masterful piece of pop-soul which sounds wonderful on the dancefloor to this day. The public's lapse in taste is baffling and breathtaking in this instance.

Even the B-side is acknowledged to also be a strong piece of work, featuring on the "Nuggets II" box set and consisting of the kind of light whimsical psychedelic pop Richard Wright out of Pink Floyd wouldn't have shied away from during this era. The arrangement again is rich and imaginative, featuring fuzzy guitars, swooping bass lines and bouncing rhythms.

After the departure of a few key members Timebox changed their name to Patto, and the more beard-stroking elements of their music took over completely as they morphed into a jazz-rock ensemble. I've never heard a note of Patto's music, and I'm not terribly sure I want to, but Timebox certainly cut a number of singles which are worthy of further investigation. In particular, their version of "Beggin'" (which was a very minor hit for them in Britain) has a bit more bite than The Four Seasons version for my tastes.

(Both the A side and B side of this single are available through both commercial outlets and YouTube.  Thanks to Jimmy The Ferret for the YouTube clips). 

17 February 2010

Yellow Dog - Little Gods

Yellow Dog - Little Gods

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1978

Of all the songwriters I've bothered to feature on L&TB, Kenny Young is probably one of the most criminally under-referenced despite his success rate. Most readers will be only too aware of his back catalogue when the names of his tracks are tripped off the tongue - among his successes are the evergreen classic "Under the Boardwalk", and besides that there's "Captain of Your Ship", "Ai No Corrida", and the rather ignored (by the standards of most top ten hits) "Just One More Night" by Yellow Dog. Lovers of popsike will also know him as the man responsible for Blue Yoghurt's "Lydia", or perhaps San Francisco Earthquake's "Fairy Tales Can Come True" which I featured on "Pictures of Marshmallow Men". He's surely due some sort of career round-up compilation, but nobody seems to be particularly embracing that idea with any enthusiasm.

If we're talking about longevity which crosses several decades, what's noticeable about most sixties songwriters and session men is that diversity of approach was often their only means of survival. Whilst the bands of that era may have huffed and puffed and refused to dilute their "sound, man", songwriters relying on hits to pay the mortgage (and without a troupe of fans to keep them clothed) mixed and matched styles to suit the times. So it proved with Kenny Young, who by the late seventies was incredibly quick off the bat with a distinctly New Wave sound for his project Yellow Dog, ostensibly a studio-bound concoction of session men with him on lead vocals.

Nobody was fooled, of course - do you really think those beards would have been accepted by the punks of the time? - but one hit was enjoyed by the makeshift band before diminishing returns set in. Follow-up single "Wait Until Midnight" only got to number 54, and "Little Gods" failed to chart at all. That's a pity, since for my money this is the most interesting record of the lot, perhaps capturing the jerky quirkiness of New Wave rather too well for its own good, sounding marginally more like an early XTC B-side or an unheard track by The Vapors than a potential smash hit. Many music industry types and bands were quick to write off the punk movement as a pathetic fad, but I can sense a certain degree of affection for the New Wave genre seeping out of these grooves, and if forced to do a blind guess, you'd never realise a seasoned Brill Building songwriter was behind it.

You can read an interview with Kenny Young here, which really hammers home the sheer quantity of recordings he's been behind. That said, I'd quite like to forget I ever heard the B-side to this particular single "Fat Johnny", which is yet another aggravating example of a songwriter filling up the flip by attempting to be some sort of parodying stand-up comedian. Save the jokes and the humour for the ladies at the bar, please.

And yes, the record really does glow in the dark, too. Once when my bedside lamp was broken, I placed it near the door in my bedroom so I could find the exit easily in the dark if I wanted to go to the toilet at some unexpected hour. It worked, I tell you, and perhaps even prevented a drunken urine-stained pyjama type incident.

15 February 2010

An Inch Is Better Than A Mile (In The Right Direction)

Right... I'm very sure that most of you have noticed that whilst the favoured file upload site of the moment for L&TB is Sharebee, it does have tendencies to collapse horribly. For a free service, it's actually fantastic, but its limitations are becoming apparent. The last three uploads I tried to send to the site failed utterly without explanation, and whilst I won't bore you with the subject (it's hardly a scintillating topic of everyday conversation) I have thought that it's perhaps time to move on.

Given that, I'll be trying new ways of offering single (rather than album) downloads on here in future. Please see above for a "Box" download of the minor pre-fame Soup Dragons hit "Can't Take No More". Sample it. Download it. Preview It. Do what you will with it. Just please let me know if for any reason it doesn't work and you can't access it.

I like the idea of being able to embed mp3s on this site, purely because with novelty singles and other similar items, it's probably better to let people simply play the tracks rather than forcing them to download them to get a sense of what's on offer. Not so much a case of "try before you buy", but try before you invest time and hard drive space. If it doesn't work well, I'll stop again. In the meantime, however... let's give this a go, shall we?

13 February 2010

Bedlam Opera - When It's So Familiar/ Effervescent Architecture

Bedlam Opera - when it's so familiar

Label: white label
Year of Release: 1999

Given how much critics love to create "scenes" - and we're not talking about the kind of "scene" where they go into a cake shop and loudly accuse the man on the till of selling stale doughnuts, no, we're talking about music "scenes" here - it's somewhat surprising how many of them missed the trick of spotting a particular nineties trend. Following the arrival of Tindersticks into John Peel's Festive Fifty, a whole host of other bands with diverse instrumentation which would have made ELO look lo-fi trickled through the decade, their thoughtful brand of widescreen, cinematic pop almost acting as a counter-balance to the cartoonish brashness of Britpop. Besides Tindersticks themselves were Divine Comedy, the criminally under-rated Jack, My Life Story, and this lot, who gained considerably less attention than their conceptual cohorts.

Possibly more than any of the other bands, an awkward, almost Tom Waits inspired artiness is apparent in Bedlam Opera's output, which is particularly obvious on one side of the double A-side here. "Effervescent Architecture" is a manic, wide-eyed six minute surreal sea shanty which is actually probably my least favourite side. Far better to my ears is its companion, the rather delicate and melodramatic "When It's So Familiar", with its despondent keyboard lines, hollering vocals and sudden, hanging ending (is that what the morbid sleeve is referring to?) It's a piece of work you could imagine Scott Walker nodding approvingly to.

Whilst this single never got an official release as such, the personnel in Bedlam Opera did go off to do other notable things. Joe Murphy formed Sergeant Buzfuz, whose marvellous "High Slang" album was released last year to strong reviews and plentiful evening radio play (I notice that one optimistic soul has placed this single on e-bay as a "Buzfuz rarity"). Chris T-T was briefly a member of the band before going solo and releasing a string of critically acclaimed and cultishly successful albums (he does not, however, feature on this recording). Lead singer MJB is now a poet who has worked with the likes of Sean Bonney. And even if any of what I've said means absolutely nothing to you, rest assured it's not a bad strike rate for one London group, even if they probably did have the unfair advantage of having considerably more members than most London bands, therefore an increased likelihood of having an impressive alumni.

I'm rather sad to report that the keyboard player on this track Matt Cole died in a road accident back in 2005 - I knew him personally, and whilst he never did say anything about it to me, I'm sure he'd have liked this single to have been heard by a few more people. There's also a whole unissued album "in the can" somewhere.

10 February 2010

Rivals - Speedway (b/w "Hoskins Rides Again")

Rivals - Speedway

Label: Decca

Year of Release: 1974

Back in the seventies in Britain when World of Sport started showing things on ITV the majority of the population had never really previously thought of as being "sport", the world of speedway racing had a brief flurry of popularity. Some of the previously cultish, fringe sports such as snooker and darts inevitably benefitted massively from ITV's liberal (for which read you can also read "cheap") screening policies, and remain popular today - others had mere novelty interest, and it merely seems bizarre by present day standards that anybody would ever have much cared.

So popular was Speedway for awhile that this single was put out by the "star" racers of the day (the label doesn't offer any information on who they were). Like most singles by sporting stars, it does show a noticeable lack of talent in the vocal department - most of them sound as if staying in time is an enormous hassle, never mind staying in tune or adopting any expression in their voices at all. "Speedway! Spee--eeee--eedway!" they sing flatly and unenthusiastically as if they're singing "Kum Ba Yah" in church on Sunday. Still, if having an amazing voice were any indication of motorcycle ridin' prowess, Scott Walker would have been tearing around the track like a man possessed as well as issuing classic albums.

Sadly, the tune has no hints of glam rock about it, and therefore doesn't score very highly on the Denim or Earl Brutus-ometer, something I was secretly hoping would happen when I bought it. It sounds more like a knees-up tune around a pub piano. Of more interest to me is the fact that the copyright holders are Threshold Records, which was the Moody Blues' record label/ business venture. Were they in some way bankrolling this record, or even playing on it? It seems extremely unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Maybe Brum's most sensitive proggers had a balti-dripping, motorcycle loving side to them too.

6 February 2010

Fluffy - Hypersonic (b/w "Crossdresser")


Label: Parkway
Year of Release: 1995

Let's "cut to the chase", as I believe they say in pretentious sales circles, and be honest here. It's been a particularly silly few months for vinyl shopping. I have in my "to upload" pile at present a Eurodisco single from the 1970s for Manchester City fans, a perky soul number about murdering the man your wife is having an affair with using a broken bottle, and a track performed by some speedway stars from the seventies. All prime L&TB material, really, but if I uploaded these little curios one after the other, I suspect people would lose patience. It's always better to spread the oddities out a little.

When confronted with such a situation - and don't you feel privileged to have me break down the third wall here and explain how this blog works? - I generally tend to upload something I think is "quite good" rather than exemplary, but try to make it material which received savage critical maulings at the time. So then - Fluffy... Fluffy, Fluffy, Fluffy... where do we begin?

Fluffy were a prime example of a mid-nineties band who (rather like Menswear, in fact) people knew about before they'd seen the band live or heard a note of their music. Unlike Menswear, who were noted for their sartorial in-crowd cool, Fluffy received coverage in both the NME and the Daily Mail for having members who were from rather privileged backgrounds. Pandora Ormsby-Gore, we were reliably informed, was distantly related to royalty, probably a first for a punk band. This wasn't the most auspicious of starts.

Ormsby-Gore left the band before this debut single was released (whether she jumped or was pushed remains unclear) but the accusations of false punkness and general inauthenticity clung to the band from that point on, and they were doomed before the intro of the first recorded work even began. Pointing out the double-standards of the music press at this point isn't particularly hard work, since they were prone to contradicting themselves on a weekly basis, but it's worth noting that Justine Frischmann wasn't exactly from impoverished stock either, yet was still fawned over as if this didn't matter much.

Viewing past the smokescreen of critical sneers, and the hype their record label surrounded them with, a band who were actually pretty good lay in wait for those prepared to keep an open mind. "Hypersonic" sounds uncannily like a product of the early nineties rather than the mid-nineties, and could be placed on a mixtape alongside The Voodoo Queens without any noticeable flinches from listeners. It has an energy and fierce white noise which propels the whole thing along with gusto, and is a long way away from being the worst this period in alternative music had to offer. Had they been writing about being from the streets or being the rough types from town we might all have had purpose to laugh up our sleeves (although we didn't when Joe Strummer tried), but in reality Fluffy were just some women making a loud racket. You don't have to be common to do that, as anyone who has visited a bar near Sloane Square will tell you.

Lead singer Amanda Rootes always insisted she was from an ordinary background, but I do know for a fact that at least one other member went to an extremely good public school, so the circles the band moved on certainly weren't working class. However, much the same could be said of the writers, directors and producers at the BBC, well over half of all the artists in the Top 40 this week, 75% of the publishing industry, and probably most of the journalists who had the band in their sights. The media is posh, and a quite-good punk band from London perhaps weren't the most inspiring or relevant individuals to be guillotined for that particular crime. Perhaps they reminded people a bit too much of the shortcomings of their immediate work environment.

Towards the end, the band said that all they had wanted to do was be like The New York Dolls. They almost certainly won't receive the same kind of serious reappraisal since there are no lost classics 'in the can' (that I know of, at least) but I hope a few people are willing to give "Hypersonic" a listen and wonder what on Earth the critical brickbats were all about.

They were certainly subversive in one sense, though - I'm sadly unable to show you the original sleeve for "Hypersonic", since it features a vibrator which a lot of photo upload sites are refusing to accept, and I'd rather stay out of Blogger-related trouble too. You've got to wonder.

3 February 2010

Egton Runners - Won't Somebody Play My Record? (b/w "Flip Me")

Egton Runners - Won't Somebody Play My Record

Label: DJM

Year of Release: 1979

This particular novelty track may be of minor interest to sixties-heads purely and simply because one of the songwriters responsible, John Carter, was also responsible for a number of oddly shaped psych-pop trinkets. Probably his finest and oddest hour was the lost classic "Laughing Man", released on Spark in 1968, which is available on the "Lysergic Diversions" compilation here.

"Won't Somebody Play My Record?", on the other hand, is either a desperate pean from a desperate man or a bit of studio tomfoolery (or both?). It's the sad and sorry tale of a record company plugger desperately trying to get his record played on a record station. If nothing else, the lyrics paint a vivid picture of the narrow options available in the industry at the time, as the plugger's entire efforts revolve around banging on one BBC door and then another. If he tried that now, he'd be booted out of the company offices by lunchtime.

The countrified pop on offer here sadly didn't really get played on the radio, and as a result it joins the long, teetering pile of novelty singles nobody much cared about or picked up on at the time. John Carter gave up on pop music the very same year, and focussed his career on penning advertising jingles instead, writing work for Vauxhall and Rowntree amongst others. Despite this, he apparently still markets his back-catalogue through Sunny Records, including a great deal of unreleased material - here's hoping there's a few more "Laughing Man"s out there in the can.