30 June 2011

Fresh Air - It Takes Too Long

Fresh Air - It Takes Too Long

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1972

And just in case you thought that absolutely all the top drawer sixties influenced pop had been compiled somewhere by someone, here's yet another discarded piece of vinyl which is utterly under-valued on the collector's market.

In fairness, "It Takes Too Long" isn't quite the obscurity that "The Company I Keep" was two entries ago. Unlike that single, it's had a fairly high profile internet airing already on the seventies obsessed "Purepop" blog, and a quick google reveals quite a bit of cyber-chatter about it elsewhere too.  It appears on the surface to be something of a loved record amongst aficionados of the obscure (including me) but nobody can ever get past the first paragraph without mentioning George Harrison, for the pure and simple reason that the A-side is a shameless imitation of the Fab lentil curry eating one.  Coming across slightly like Chris Bell copping a few riffs from "My Sweet Lord", it's what might have been produced in the soundlabs at Creation Records had Teenage Fanclub spent their time ripping off The Beatles rather than Oasis.  This is absolutely no bad thing, but it's not difficult to see why the public rejected this record in 1972, a mere two years after Harrison issued the single this appears to be aping.  It's a case of too much nineties post-modernism far too soon.  That's a shame in a way, because "It Takes Too Long" has some gorgeous whining guitar fretwork, close vocal harmonies which would elate even the most cynical soul, and a slow, steady build which means the simplicity of the melody itself never grows tiresome.  It's a gentle, charming piece of pop which wears its influences very closely on its sleeve, but seems more affectionate, warm and considered than cheeky.

The B-side "Here Comes Summer" does plough its own furrow more successfully, being a close harmony piece of acoustic season pondering, but is unfortunately a lot less interesting as a result, being a breezy, tranquil affair without much of a chorus.

Fresh Air are something of an enigma as well, given that no particular source can agree definitively on whether this lot are the same band who released the Rubble-compiled "Running Wild" in 1969.  Given the complete difference in style, vocals, and record labels, and the length of the gaps between each single released, I'd be tempted to nix any suggestions that the performers are the same.  Bam Caruso suggested in their liner notes that the band name Fresh Air might have been owned by a music business svengali placing their tunes with whichever session musicians would take them, but in that case the songwriting and production credits do not align in a convincing way (although I have no access to the label information for the third release under that name, "Bye Bye Jane").  If anyone knows the truth about this band, or indeed any band at all operating under this moniker, I'm sure a lot of collectors would be relieved if you could pass on the information.

In the meantime, just enjoy a record which sounds as if it might have been a summer smash in another dimension.

27 June 2011

One Hit Wonders #19 - Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard - You're The One That I Want

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1978

Let's not beat around the bush too much on this one - this is quite simply one of the worst singles ever to enter the British Top 40.  My Dad doesn't think so. My Dad thinks this is hilarious.  On the rare occasions it pops up on television, usually as an example of either television or radio hell, he laughs quite heartily at the inept nature of the track. I, on the other hand, have never really been in on the joke.

The concept behind this record is really rather simple.  Olivia Newton John and John Travolta were both glamorous, admired and lusted after individuals in 1978, so what could be more comedic than taking two ageing and unglamorous British celebrities and giving them a "Grease" duet to cover?  Quite a bit, as it turned out.  "You're The One That I Want" is really a piece of drunken pub karaoke before such a thing had been invented.  In every bar-room karaoke session in the world, I'd be willing to bet there's a drunk, ageing couple in the corner who decide, against better wisdom, that it would be hilarious to take on a raunchy modern song much beloved of those young people.  I've seen this done in bars around London with all manner of Lady Gaga, Girls Aloud and Katy Perry tracks, and it's been a chore to witness on those occasions, but I suppose credit should be given to Baker and Mullard for being way ahead of the game and getting their particular singalong released on Pye and sending it flying into the charts.

You do have to give them further credit for being so diabolical, which was surely most of the point.  Mullard bellows away and sings "Oh yus indeed", and Baker seems game enough but fails to hit the notes on  several occasions.  Trouble is, there's nothing actually funny about the failure, it's just gratingly awful, pure and simple.  Time has not been kind to this particular attempt at humour, and what we're left with is a screecher of a track which should never have been let out of the recording studio's doors.

Much has also been made of the fact that their ill-rehearsed "Top of the Pops" performance (complete with fluffed lines and confused, bewildered looks) caused the record's sales to drop to unexpectedly low levels the following week, with numbers in the hundreds being occasionally quoted.  I've always suspected that this is an exaggeration, purely because the single's chart movements (50-22-23-22-31-35) don't really suggest crashing sales at any point.  What is more miraculous is the fact that there was any kind of demand capable of lifting this chartbound in the first place.

Mullard and Baker were stars of the British screen for a great deal of their careers, with Mullard taking on roles in "The Ladykillers" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", whilst Baker enjoyed success in a variety of mainstream television comedies.  This record was among the last things either of them did.  Whether further career opportunities would have emerged had it not been for this disc is difficult to say - both were in the twilight of their careers - but it surely can't have helped matters.  Sometimes novelty records come with a very heavy price attached, a lesson many comic talents would do well to learn.

The lesser-heard B-side "Save All Your Kisses For Me", on the other hand, is pure comedy gold, filled with asides and punchlines that really make you wonder why it was never the A-side (I'm just joshing, readers - it's an absolute dog of a flipside as well).

25 June 2011

Just out of curiosity

What do you generally visit this blog hoping to see?

Because it's always good to know.  I've been noticing lately that posts I'd expect to be popular have been crashing and burning stat-wise (and comment-wise), whereas ones I'd expect nobody to care about have been doing rather well.  It's difficult to get people to leave comments on mp3 blogs, no matter how many people they attract, and this might just solve a few riddles for me.

And of course, feel free to drop further hints by commenting.  I'm all ears.

23 June 2011

Brindley D Spender - The Company I Keep

Brindley D Spender Company I Keep

Label: Domain
Year of Release: 1968

In the world of that thing we call "popsike", it's beginning to get tougher and tougher to find items which remain uncompiled.  So many compilations summing up the late sixties era have by now been released by labels both big and small that very few stones are left unturned - and when you consider some of the sheer nonsense that's been remastered by major labels, you could be forgiven for thinking the bottom of the barrel has so many scratch-marks on it that it might resemble a Pollock painting in etched form.

This is why turning up something which remains generally unreferenced is a huge thrill, and whilst I wouldn't want to make massive claims for "The Company I Keep", it's still a damn strong example of popsike balladry, having the same rueful, dark charm that a great many of the more reflective moments on the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums had.  In this case, Mr Spender appears to be giving a girlfriend of his a thorough dressing-down for thinking ill of his friends and associates, and failing to be polite and welcoming.  Perhaps his lady friend had been bored shitless by their talk of musical obscurities.  It's difficult to say - but what we can ascertain from the grooves we're presented with here is that the track has a simultaneously dreamy and dark nature, pulling in the delicate but detailed orchestral arrangements so beloved of many artists during this era, but adding a layer of spite on top which sounds as if might actually be genuine.  There's a summery nature to the disc, but rest assured there are thunder-clouds on the horizon, which gives the record a bit of a kick that many of its more well-known cousins definitely lacked.

Brindley D Spender is something of an enigma, but I have managed to ascertain that his real name is Ken Smart, and he'd previously been a member of the Rubble compiled Sons of Fred, as well as a member of Odyssey who were briefly signed to the independent Strike label.  From there, the trail goes cold and it's impossible for me to ascertain what became of him or where he went next (if anywhere).  If anyone knows, please check in and share the information.

I can't find much information on Domain Records either, although it would seem that they were an indie manufactured and distributed by President if my basic identification of British sixties pressing styles is anything to go by - and it's probably not.  (And don't call me sad.  You won't be calling me sad when I find a really rare Beatles outsource pressing in Oxfam through learning this stuff, will you?  You will?  Oh).

20 June 2011

Reupload - Dracula's Daughter - Candy

You'll remember, of course, that I once mentioned that Bill Drummond and Mark Manning (aka Zodiac Mindwarp) wrote and released a number of records in 1997 under the guise of up-and-coming acts from Finland? Oh, you don't. Well, if you really need more information on the slightly baffling project (which in fairness is no more or less baffling than most Drummond activities) a website still sits here.

As only 500 copies of each were ever pressed and imported to Britain, they're naturally extremely scarce, and actually tremendously varied in quality as well. Some - such as KLF roadie Gimpo's self-titled "Gimpo" - are an absolute waste of precious pressing plant resources. Others - like Aurora Borealis' self-titled "Aurora Borealis" - were actually extremely good, but I won't waffle on about that one too much since it's already been posted on this blog elsewhere.

Draculas (sic) Daughter's "Candy" sits somewhere between the two. Manning and Drummond periodically used local Finnish musicians and singers for the recordings and just directed their style, and it seems fairly safe to say that's what happened in this case. What you've got here, then, is a pretty good Velvet Underground apeing disc which wouldn't have been out of place amidst the mid eighties music scene, or indeed the late sixties one. It's hypnotic, repetitive and insistent, and features some agreeably lazy, scuzzed up guitar work in the instrumental break. Please don't ask me why the original title "Supermodel" is scrubbed out on the label, because I have absolutely no clue...

One has to wonder if Drummond was trying to belatedly achieve with Kalevala a project he mooted a long time ago for Zoo Records, where he created "parallel universe" versions of bands on their catalogue. The Teardrop Explodes were to become Whopper, and featured Cope's alter-ego Kevin Stapleton on lead vocals who "enjoyed a game of rugby and liked the odd pint". These occasionally poorly disguised Finnish bands with their records released by a fictional clueless sounding Finnish indie record label owner do bring to mind a parallel universe Zoo Records, set up in Helsinki rather than Liverpool. Only Drummond could honestly back me up on my hunch, though, and I've a funny feeling he won't bother.

16 June 2011

Wallace Collection - Dear Beloved Secretary

Wallace Collection - Dear Beloved Secretary

Label: Odeon
Year of Release: 1969

Whatever was it with the sixties obsession with secretaries?  Look at the poor woman in the picture above, trying to get on with some doubtless important business whilst a bunch of unsavoury hairies hang around her looking smug and pleased with themselves for even being in the same room as a lady.  Secretaries were also always portrayed as spectacle wearers, but the kind who would probably rip their glasses off at a minute's notice, toss their hair around, and deliver a ravishing smile.  In reality, you have to suspect this probably happened rarely in dull day jobs, and that any female PAs or administrative assistants with the capacity to be stunning probably didn't waste their time flirting with the civil engineers or solicitors in their immediate environments, and went to swinging clubs to meet men instead.  Or OK, that's what I'd have done if I'd been an attractive woman in my prime during the mid-to-late sixties.  Not that I've thought about this.  Much.

We're also in danger of drifting slightly off-topic here, but The Wallace Collection have provided us with a sleeve so downright distracting that it's their own fault.  "Dear Beloved Secretary" is indeed a woe-filled piece of chamber pop about being in love with one's chief Personal Assistant, and actually looking forward to going to work in the morning so you can sigh in her presence.  Or ogle her.  It depends entirely on your personal interpretation.  The Wallace Collection are quite sweet natured about it, though,  so I'm going to suggest that they're assuming the role of innocent, sexually inexperienced men scribbling love poetry rather than behaving like PA-bothering types (such as Larry Page in this photo here).  The song also incorporates some typewriter and bell ringing noises, which is as cutesy as things get.

For my money - and it was indeed my money - the B-side "Hello Suzannah" is a neater, chirpier piece of popsike with hints of The Move in its grooves.  Neither side really scales much beyond the level of middle-of-the-road sixties pop, but there's a politeness and quaintness to the material the Wallace Collection produced which I always find endearing.  Especially considering the era they operated in, there was something particularly wide-eyed and innocent about their work.

Their most famous track of all was "Daydream", later swallowed by both the Beta Band (for "Squares") and I Monster (for the unimaginatively titled "Daydream in Blue") in its Gunter Kallmann Choir incarnation to create two brilliant Top 40 singles in the UK.  The original Wallace Collection version of it did no business in Britain at all, but was a huge hit in their native Belgium and the continent.  The impact of that track meant the band did have some continued success across Europe,  but not enough to really sustain their careers beyond the early seventies, after which point they called it quits.

As for the secretary - who knows?  She's probably retired and living in Antwerp these days.

13 June 2011

Cameron - Close Encounters of The Third Kind

Cameron - Close Encounters of a Third Kind

Label: RAK
Year of Release: 1978

Perhaps more than any other musical genre, disco wasn't afraid to use current trends and gimmicks and make them the focal point of any record.  Forget "Kung Fu Fighting", because disco crossed all the boundaries, even giving goth-rock a run for its money in the zombie killer stakes (Andy Forray's dubious and incredibly creepy "Drac's Back" and Zorro's "Phantasm" on blood splattered twelve inch vinyl are only two such examples.  I own the latter and may well upload it eventually).

Moving away from the graveyard and out into space, this particular single focussed itself on the five note riff the aliens broadcast to Earth in Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  In itself, this is the kind of conceit you could imagine an early nineties novelty rave record being based on (probably a Sheffield bleep parody) but this is pure seventies commercial dancefloor fare, all squelchy synths and slapped bass lines.  That it fared poorly in the charts, not even getting within the UK top 75, just goes to prove that sometimes a tie-in with a blockbusting film isn't enough.

As for who Cameron is or was or where he or she came from, we may never know, although it's safe to say it has nothing to do with the Prime Minster Dave.  Perhaps, like the greys in the film itself, we're not supposed to actually know the origins of this disc, and are merely listening to the record as the privileged few Earth-dwellers to catch its friendly, welcoming melodies.  Except it's not really as exciting as that, is it?  Not even close, in fact...

(Ignore the title on the sleeve above, by the way.  It says "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" on the record label, so that's what I'm running with).  

9 June 2011

The Flies - House of Love

The Flies - House of Love

Label: Decca (this reissue Acme)
Year of Release: 1967

They were a rum bunch of old coves, The Flies.  Hitless to the last, they were one of London's underground dwelling hippy house acts, appearing at the "14 Hour Technicolour Dream" wearing palm-leaf skirts and emptying flour all over the audience, then sneering in the music press that Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd had "sold out".

Given the above, you'd assume that their recorded output would sound rather like AMM, or perhaps the proto-prog of The Nice, all experimental and boundary breaking, making "Interstellar Overdrive" sound like "Love Me Do".  In fact, what you actually got was some very sharp, abrasive and distinctly mod-ish rock music - in other words, this was essentially a band who hadn't really progressed much from the "clean living under difficult circumstances" model, but were damned if they were going to let anyone think they were behind the fashion of the times.

Whilst the sheer cheek of the situation might lead you to switch off, it should be noted that they were actually very, very sharp at what they did.  Their version of The Monkees' "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" leaves the song sounding mean, menacing and groovy, and this track is so savage and swaggering it somehow manages to sound like the work of some early nineties Madchester band.  Funky basslines and pounding rhythms combine with vocals so over-annunciated Liam Gallagher would be impressed.  The resultant cocktail ends up being what the music press of 1966 would probably have called a magnificent rave-up.  Unfortunately for The Flies, the year was 1967, not 1966 - light years in sixties developmental terms -  and this may well have been what caused the track to fail.  Little else stands in its way apart from perhaps the slightly unambitious repetition in the chorus, but plenty of other acts succeeded with similar minimalism at the time.

The B-side "It Had To Be You" is a cover version of the standard, and almost sounds sarcastic in comparison - although it has a certain similarity to our old friends Breeze we uncovered many entries ago.  Don't worry, I'm not even attempting to suggest that both acts are one and the same.

The Flies split in 1968 after one final single, "Magic Train".

6 June 2011

The Regents - See You Later

The Regents - See You Later

Label: Arista
Year of Release: 1980

You have to feel at least slightly sorry for the punk and new wave bands who only began to feel the benefits of major label aid towards the end of 1979.  Despite some presence in the charts from the best of punk's old guard at this point, breaking new acts with an abrasive, simplistic sound was a tricky task.  Most ramshackle acts managed one freak hit at best, and were then subject to the slow drip of diminishing returns.

The Regents were no exception to this rule.  Their debut single "7 Teen" fared well enough - and still crops up on budget label "Best of the Seventies" CDs to this day, usually programmed amongst some other punk/ new wave fare - but this, the follow up, is one of the genre's more ridiculously under-exposed releases despite actually sounding somewhat better then The Regents' actual proper hit.  "See You Later" managed to climb to number 44 in the charts, and would apparently have been granted a "Top of the Pops" slot if the BBC hadn't been on strike that week.  What would have happened to the track and the band's career thereafter under more favourable circumstances is something we can only guess at.

"See You Later" is stupendously dumb and silly, containing lyrics The Ramones would have considered too pre-school.  "She said 'I'll see you later'/ He said oh no no no no/ I don't want to be a waiter" snaps the lead singer Martin Sheller in no uncertain terms, while backing singer Bric Brak whoops in the background like an extra from a scene in "Grease".  It's daft enough to be likable and energetic enough to sweep you along, but it's perhaps not the kind of material to make you wonder hard about what might have been for the band.

Only the B-side really gives you pause for thought.  "Oh Terry!" appears to be a sinister and warped reinterpretation of the main side, consisting of echoing footsteps, growling vocals, electronic oscillations, and female voices that are either yelping in pleasure or fear.  It's a sick and dark piece of work which shows The Regents were perfectly capable of experimenting with ideas when they put their minds to it, and is something of an unexpected shock, akin to finding an ambient track on the flipside of a Rezillos single.  Still though, you strongly suspect that they had a giggle to themselves immediately after the red recording studio light flicked off.

(Both of these tracks are now commercially available on iTunes- go there to get your pleasure).

2 June 2011

Sir Henry and His Butlers - Camp/ Pretty Style

Sir Henry and His Butlers - Camp

Label: Metronome
Year of Release: 1967

This is arguably one of the more baffling singles to be issued during the late sixties, and Lord knows there were plenty of other contenders.  The A-side "Camp" is a proto-Lieutenant Pigeon instrumental consisting of kazoos and a barrel organ, shouts and cheers, and little which would suggest it was going to storm the charts.  It's a clown car of a record, all wonky wheels and dodgy brakes.  As a piece of incidental music for the final cheerful item on a regional news programme it might pass, but as an A-side?  Never.

This does absolutely nothing to prepare you for the flip, which is an elongated piece of psychedelia with droning sitars, guitar riffage reminiscent of Joe Cocker's version of "A Little Help From My Friends", and some very dramatic, hollering vocals about nothing discernible.  It's absurdly compelling in the way that the most freakish American psych underground tracks are, and the fact that the band are from Copenhagen is a red herring to say the least.

Apparently Sir Henry and His Butlers were quite a draw in their home country of Denmark for a period of time, but their other releases are considerably more pop orientated and not at all similar to this downright absurd piece of work.  When sixties pop acts switched to the darker side of psych overnight, it was usually indicative of cynical marketing rather than the use of hallucinogens - in this case, however, I genuinely wouldn't be surprised to learn that somebody had spiked the band's drinks before the recording session (although the "Sweet Floral Albion" e-zine did suggest that this track was "contrived" when they covered it themselves some years ago.  I'm not so sure).