30 April 2011

Funktion - Dance of the Clangers

Funktion - Dance of the Clangers

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1972

A perplexing mystery of a disc, this one.  Released initially on Pye in 1972, then again on the Beacon label in 1973 under the name "The Clangers", this single is a very obvious attempt at cashing in on the phenomenon of those moon dwelling, dustbin lid clashing beasts who were all over British children's television in the seventies.

Anyone expecting a child-pleasing record akin to The Teletubbies is going to be confused, however.  "Dance of the Clangers" is actually a bass heavy, organ driven reggae track with a few Swanee whistles tacked on as an afterthought.  The whistling effects aren't especially Clanger-like - as many a media pundit has pointed out before now, The Clangers always sounded as if they were talking in their own rhythmic language, whereas here it's just a bunch of tootling and pootling noises looking for a place to fit in the mix.  It may fail as a tribute, but in fairness it cooks a decent enough groove and holds its own with some of the strongest instrumentals of the period.  Therefore, it's a failed novelty single, but a perfectly good reggae track.  It's not often that something clearly marketed as cheap tat ends up coming up trumps as a genuinely good piece of forgotten music instead, but you can count this among the very small pile of records that applies to.

I'll finish on a standard plea - if you were behind this record or know who was, please do let me know.

27 April 2011

The Truth - Jingle Jangle (b/w "Hey Gyp")

The Truth - Jingle Jangle

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

Despite their presence on this blog, North London duo The Truth were actually no strangers to the charts, having hit number 27 in 1966 with their cover version of The Beatles' "Girl".  Beyond that, however, their career was somewhat underwhelming, their six other singles failing to register with the public.

Performed by a duo consisting of ex-hairdressers Frank Aiello and Steve Gold, "Jingle Jangle" is a Reg Presley penned ditty which would perhaps have been too subtle in its West Coast harmony derived popness to leap out of the radio.  Despite its lack of punchy immediacy, it is a perfectly pleasant piece of work, and one which might have made sense as a follow-up to a hit rather than an attempt to hoist the act back into the public eye again.

The B-side, however, is the one which still frequently gets spins on mod dancefloors to this day.  We've already heard Keith Shields' version of "Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)", but The Truth's attempt is full of aggression and incessant pounding, going nowhere in particular but building and building on its stripped back, hectoring theme, like a a more sharply suited and soulful version of The Monks.  One of those mod records which possibly lays the foundations for harder edged sounds, it's a little bit mean and arguably makes more sense in a club than in a living room - but it still should be heard.

Once The Truth decided to call it a day, Steve Gold renamed himself Steve Jameson and cut a number of other discs, including the Northern Soul favourite "Goodbye Nothing To Say".

23 April 2011

Easter Island

Elizabethan Astronaut 1

Er... sorry.  I know I usually do at least two entries a week here on "Left and to the Back", but it's a busy old hive here at the moment.  My blogging idleness in this instance is partly influenced by that and the fact that the stats for this site traditionally plummet over Easter anyway while you lot visit your relatives and stuff cocoa into your fat gobs.  While I'm not wanted, why should I put in the effort, eh?  Answer me that.  And anyway, it's been at least a year-and-a-half since this blog has had any sort of interruption or break.

"We wouldn't get this sort of silence from somebody who worked in the professional media, you know!"  Yes, I do know.  That's what happens when people deliver content for free, you naughty, Big Society dwelling Creme Egg lovers.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a proper update.  In the meantime, admire the picture of my Elizabethan Astronaut stacking record player above (forty pounds off ebay, a bargain) or visit some of the other blog links to the left of the page.  The grandly but accurately titled "Lord of the Boot Sale" is the undisputed novelty vinyl collecting champion, even having a copy of Jimmy Savile's much sought-after "Ahab the Arab".  Freaky Trigger are still continuing their detailed and fantastic reviews of every British number one single ever.   And "Yes It's Number One" are analysing the series of "Top of the Pops" repeats on BBC4.  If ye are desperate for web content, the content is there.

See you in a few days.

20 April 2011

Raymond Lefevre - A Whiter Shade of Pale

Raymond Lefevre - Whiter Shade of Pale

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

I'm an enormous fan of Raymond Lefevre which regular readers will already know, as I gushed on at some length about the man's skills as an arranger here.  The subject of that entry, "Soul Coaxing", is undoubtedly his finest moment and the one most people would choose to highlight.  I'm not going to argue with that, but his strengths don't really stop there.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is a single which has perhaps become over-familiar, being one of the most played records of all time on the global airwaves.  Lefevre's version highlights the song's strengths and even edits it down, resisting the temptation to use the orchestra to make an epic record sound in some way more "classical".   In this context, it perversely ends up sounding more concise and "pop" than the original whilst retaining its swooning, delirious feel, at times sounding melodramatic where the Harum's version frequently sounded self-consciously mysterious.  For me, the absence of the slightly overblown and surreal lyrics is also a plus point, although I recognise millions of people will disagree with me.

There's really not much more to add here - as many readers will despise this as like it, but for me this is supremely well realised easy listening music which barely puts a foot wrong in its translation.

King Curtis also cut a version of "Whiter Shade of Pale" which was eventually used in the soundtrack of "Withnail and I", and for me that's also a worthy interpretation - and may be another entry for another day.

Sorry for the pops and clicks, by the way - this isn't a perfect copy of the single.

16 April 2011

Reupload - Whiteout - Detroit

Label: Silvertone
Year of Release: 1994

I predict I'm going to get an almighty slagging from some random readers for daring to speak positively about this single. There is, you see, a particular mindset which dictates that 99% of all British guitar pop singles released between the years 1994 - 97 were awful. Actually, we'll just call the whole thing "Britpop" and save time.

Whilst I hold Britpop responsible for a vast number of ills (the invasion of dumb, posh, high fashion kids into a movement that was supposed to be an 'alternative' safe haven from that stuff and The Kaiser Chiefs to name but two things) it's something of a fallacy to say that the era which spawned it was blighted with low quality product. For one thing, I refuse to accept that Kurt Cobain was somehow more intelligent or lyrically astute than Jarvis Cocker, and nor do I think that Slowdive (good though they actually were) played with as broad a sonic palette as the Super Furry Animals. You can hate the era for how it turned "indie" into a middle of the road fashion statement, for how it killed the music press's marginally leftfield sensibility, or for how at its worst it gave us dullards like Echobelly, but to say it was "all shit" is a sweeping lazy statement. Not only was a lot of the output at the time breathtaking or even exhilirating, it also saw bands as diverse as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Leftfield getting Radio One playlisted amidst the confusion. For about a year, the music scene was actually huge fun, and there was a sense that bands who should exist only on the margins were creeping into the mainstream - until the inevitable comedown when 600 awful Oasis clones parachuted into Camden. Defining the entire era by that horrific moment, however, is as unfair as defining Punk by the cascade of Oi! bands that emerged by the time the party was over. Pick the fag end of any movement and you'll observe similar nonsense. Perhaps some of the better material just needs to be rediscovered by a generation who can't quite remember how bad things got towards the end of the era.

Which brings us, two paragraphs late(r), on to the single in question. Whiteout didn't actually start out as also-rans in the whole race, actually being considered as serious contenders for a time. The four scruffy teens from Scotland weren't necessarily playing with new ideas, seemingly copping riffs from the Faces and numerous sixties bands, but they did so in a way that, for a time, actually made them seem as if they might be as good as the debut album-era Oasis. If that sounds laughable, one listen of "Detroit" should make things slightly clearer - it fizzes with an energy that a lot of bands at the same time couldn't have topped, has one of the better choruses of the year, and actually sounds completely in love with itself, even risking the kind of key change at the end which other bands would be too knowing to bother with. It's the sort of thing that could only have been created by a gaggle of arrogant teens with tremendously low self-doubt - which may be repugnant to some, but in my opinion the best simple rock ideas should be done precisely this way. It's the vinyl equivalent of a firework display which pulls out thousands of pounds worth of pyrotechnics right near the end when you thought it couldn't top itself. At no point across its four minutes does it ever trough out.

Whiteout didn't hit the big time, of course, and a number of factors have been blamed for this - their label (Silvertone were supposedly never the most organised cookies), the fact they based themselves in Scotland rather than moving to London to be on the media's doorstep, or the fact that certain journalists in the press never quite took to them. Personally, I have to wonder if leaving most of the singles off their album "Bite It" and filling it with lots of slow tempo ballads was the best move in the world - after all, Dadrock styled epics were never really what the majority of us rated them for in the first place. Despite that, though, "Detroit" is one of my favourite singles of 1994, whether you like it or not. And let's face it, this blog shouldn't really be about going for the easy options all the time.

The B-side "Dee Troyt" is a slightly unusual slow version which was produced by Brian O'Shaugnessy, who created The Firm's "Star Trekkin'", then went on to produce Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Denim and Misty's Big Adventure. What a peculiar career the man has had.

(This blog entry was originally posted on 27 October 2008.  I have no real information to add at this point, except to say - who the hell are the Kaiser Chiefs, exactly?  How time flies when you're having fun).

13 April 2011

Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1976 (recorded 1971)

In a nineties interview, Jarvis Cocker once said that whilst he was high on drugs, he began to believe that he was in fact Paul Nicholas, the curly haired, lovable rogue of "Just Good Friends" fame.  He made it sound as if the entire experience was an appalling one, a bad trip from hell, but in fact this record proves that a way-out Nicholas may not be such a terrible thing after all.

For the benefit of overseas readers, "Just Good Friends" was a sit-com following the adventures of Nicholas' character Vince Pinner, a plastic cigarette smoking, softly spoken lothario whose catchphrase to his unfortunate girlfriend Penny was a slightly wounded and unimaginative "Sorry, Pen" (hers, for the record, was "You're a rat, Vince" which isn't much better).  However, long before that sit-com he had a varied career in film and theatre, a string of tepid pop hits in the seventies, and in the sixties had worked with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Pete Townshend (covering his song "Join My Gang") and even David Bowie, who wrote "Over The Wall We Go" for him.  For somebody who is best remembered as a rather middle-of-the-road figure, Paul Nicholas actually has a CV many credible rock stars would give their eye teeth for.

Despite even this, "Lamplighter" is still a surprise and also something of a mystery.  Recorded in 1971 but finally appearing in 1976 as the B-side to the dreadful hit single "Reggae Like It Used To Be", it's filled to the brim with shimmering Eastern-sounding guitar lines, stripped to the bone, threadbare drum patterns, howling, almost Iggy-ish vocals, and nonsensical lyrics, like a particularly perverse White Stripes joke.  You can easily imagine Nicholas wearing leather trousers whilst performing the track, perhaps beckoning to a lady in the front row.  It sounds like a sixties nugget, but was recorded both too late and by the wrong person, and has remained largely ignored until quite recently.

Record dealers are getting wise to the contents of this track these days, and frequently pricing it up at £5 or over as a "psychedelic oddity" despite the dodgy A side, but there are still cheap copies about - I saw one for 50p in a well-known second hand store chain quite recently, so you should keep an eye open for it and grab one if ever you get the chance.  It's both a talking point and actually a genuinely good track.

9 April 2011

Los Brincos - Passport/ Lola

Los Brincos - Lola/ Passport

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1967

As I'd hope we've established on multiple occasions on "Left and to the Back" now, a largely unknown band in the UK may actually have been enormously successful in mainland Europe.  Los Brincos are one such case in point, a Spanish rock band who topped the charts in their home country with the Spanish language version of the A-side of this disc.  From 1964-68, the "Spanish Beatles" (as they were apparently frequently dubbed) issued hit singles and albums, all without really creating much of an impression on this island.

In the case of "Lola", I'm sorry to say that I'm not surprised.  It's a wet blanket of a track whose traditional Spanish influences sound tacked on (with the emphasis on the word "tack") rather than appearing natural and seamless.  Not even the production work of Larry Page could rescue the thing, and whilst it may have made for some smoochy dances in Madrid discos, it sounds like a bad forerunner to "Spanish Eyes" to my ears.

Don't log off just yet, however, because the B-side is arguably one of the best mod tracks ever to be relegated to supporting status.  In it, the young lothario of a lead singer lectures a girl who is not yet of legal age about her lies - "I saw the truth in your passport!" he splutters, backed by some pounding drums, vocal harmonies and crashing guitars The Who would have been proud of.  A different kettle of fish to Gary Puckett's "Young Girl", it's an addictive and energetic piece of work which really should have been given A side status.  Sadly, sitting on the flip of an undistinguished flop in Britain, it sank without trace until very recently, when it was dug up for inclusion on the "We Can Fly" series of compilation albums.  It's the kind of irrepressible freakbeat the sixties was supposed to be full of, but in reality very few bands really let themselves go wild in quite the same manner.  

Los Brincos split in 1968, but reformed again in 2000 due to popular demand with Spanish audiences, only to cease work altogether when their (brilliant) drummer and songwriter Fernando Arbex died in 2003.

6 April 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 72 - Tik and Tok - Summer in the City

Tik and Tok - Summer in the City

Who: Tik and Tok
What: Summer in the City (b/w Crisis)
Label: Survival
When: 1981
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
Cost: 50p

Readers of a certain vintage may have hazy memories of Tik and Tok, a robotic dance duo who appeared on all manner of television programmes in the early eighties.  Robotic dancing in the present day and age is popularly regarded to be the folly of Covent Garden street performers rather than cutting edge cabaret, but like mime, the Jim Rose Circus and puppets that emit cuss words, there was a brief point in time where it seemed an exotic and thoroughly modern affair.  Such things usually have a shelf-life of six months to a year before the allure fades and the talent becomes a gimmick, and so it proved with this duo, whose career high wasn't especially prolonged.

For a time, however, Tik and Tok were actually quite mainstream, popping up on Kenny Everett's television programmes and The Royal Variety Show, and supporting Gary Numan on tour (as well as being supported by a young Depeche Mode).  Until I stumbled across this record in the racks of "Music and Video Exchange", I had no memory of what they sounded like, and was expecting the kind of staccato, psuedo-futuristic and alienated fare we've already heard from The Techno Twins and Karel Fialka.  On the contrary, their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" here is actually surprisingly upbeat and effective.  Taking the simplistic stomping rhythms of the original and highlighting them for robotic effect, it's a piece of electronic music that's dated amazingly well, sounding almost like a piece of noughties post-modern pastiche.   The original song is good enough to weather most changes to the original arrangement, but Tik and Tok manage to make it sound as if it always was a piece of eighties electro-pop right from the first hearing, which is actually an astonishing feat for a familiar, evergreen single.  I bought this half-expecting to burst out laughing on the first spin, only to find myself getting strangely into it and promptly putting it on my iPod playlist.

The B-side "Crisis" has aged well too, sounding inspired by Kraftwerk and German electronic pop, and featuring a strange and jarring piece of dialogue which is supposed to be one of the Kray Twins dialling a wrong number and getting through to the robo-duo's HQ.  Again, it manages to give the impression of Shoreditch and Hoxton circa 2005 rather than the Kenny Everett Video Show circa 1981, although whether that's innovative or a grave war crime depends upon your personal perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tik and Tok are still performing today, and apparently regularly appearing at Star Wars conventions thanks to their appearance in "Return of the Jedi".  It almost feels as if I should finish this blog entry on a sarcastic or ironical comment, but actually... why should I?  It would be far too lazy and far too easy, and unnecessary given the fact that I like this single.

2 April 2011

ReUpload - Wolfgang - Sandman

Wolfgang - Sandman

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1970

Brilliant flop records in the sixties were ten a penny, which is why there are so many Rubble, Pebble and Nuggets compilations out there, not to mention numerous illegal bootleg spin offs and label cash-ins. It was estimated at one point in 1967 that 60% of all young people in America alone were claiming to be in a band - with that amount of activity going on, it's no wonder so much good material got buried.

This has since lead to people like me desperately digging every single flop record from the period out of remainder boxes in second hand record stores in the hope that I've found another "one", moving a step ahead of the compilation compilers. Invariably, this stance goes horribly wrong, and I end up returning home with yet another woeful singer-songwriter disc with half-arsed orchestral backing (it's astonishing how many of these people got financed in the sixties - studio orchestras must have made a pretty penny backing mediocre provincial solo artists singing ballads. How come nobody has done a bootleg compilation of these yet, eh?)

Once every so often, I may find something which just about passes, though. And this is one example. Wolfgang's "Sandman" is not a breathtaking lost classic, but is a piece of short, chirpy, slightly bubblegum pop which possibly seemed rather too retro by the time it was issued in 1970. Its honking harmonica riff and twee simplicity probably seemed like a relic of the early sixties to the ears of the children of the new decade, which would explain how it ended up being ignored entirely.

The trouble is, I haven't really managed to find any information out about Wolfgang at all. The songwriting credit goes to "Schmidtt", so it may be the same Wolfgang Schmidtt who issued "Girl from Monmouth County" on RCA in 1969 - but from there, the trail goes cold, and I can't say I've ever heard or encountered that single either. The label also tells us that the song is a UK studio recording, so this is unlikely to have been a European hit which was issued on Bell in Britain.

So then - should anyone know who this Wolfgang character is, please leave a comment below and put me out of my misery. Feel free to embarrass me by telling me this was a massive hit in the Netherlands or somewhere if you like, or that he was later a major figure in some glam rock band, just so long as I know...

The B-side "You" is a lazy piece of filler which isn't worth the bother, but I include it bundled into the download for the Wolfgang completists out there.

(This entry was originally uploaded on 29 July 2008.  I'm still none the wiser as to who Wolfgang is, and I've always felt that this single was a bit unfairly ignored when I originally posted it.  It's a sprightly piece of pop which is as far from freakbeat, mod, soul or psychedelia as things get, but it still has a certain charm.  I may be alone in that belief, however...)