26 November 2012

Avenue AVE 76 - The Beatles, Desmond Dekker, John Lennon, Cilla Black, Beach Boys, Thunderclap Newman

Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1969

It's been a long while since "Left and to the Back" last focussed on the thrills you can have whilst listening to budget priced "not the work of the original artists!" pop party records.  These discs were actually bought in large numbers and tend to turn up all over the place, but finding one that's both in good condition and either unintentionally funny or admirably well handled is hard work.

This 1969 example does, on the surface, seem to contain plenty of tripwires for unsuspecting session musicians, containing as it does reggae (always a problem for jobbing musos in the sixties, as the Top of the Pops orchestra proved time and time again), counter-cultural commentary, and West Coast harmonies.  It's disappointing to note that in the vast majority of cases, these are handled fairly well.  It seems ridiculous listening to somebody who isn't John Lennon singing about the trials and tribulations of being John Lennon on "Ballad of John and Yoko", but beyond a certain politeness to the vocal delivery there aren't many stumbles apparent.

"It Mek" is probably too polished and clean to sell itself authentically as genuine sixties reggae, but irrespective of that isn't terribly embarrassing, "Give Peace A Chance" sounds like it always did (someone ranting tediously over a bunch of individuals kicking around the contents of a broom cupboard - that can hardly have presented a challenge to everyone at Avenue House), and "Conversations" was never an impressive Cilla Black track in the first place.

It's left up to "Breakaway" before we start to notice serious floundering.  "Breakaway" was never the Beach Boys most heavily produced and arranged track, but when it's left in the hands of anonymous session musicians you are left appreciating the original a great deal more.  The harmonies are strained, and the musicians are very clearly struggling to replicate the Wilson sound here - you can almost hear the strain and panic.  It sounds as if the backing vocalist handling the "doos" is almost sobbing during the intro, while the others contemplate freedom and release in the style of a wedding service hymn sung by a church filled with atheists.  There really is a sense of resentment about the delivery here, as if everyone involved was handed a difficult job and asked to deliver it against an impossible deadline - the net result is a total disaster.  Phil Spector has gone on record as saying that Brian Wilson sent himself mad "trying to become me".  The Avenue jobbers here sound as if they went fairly close to the edge of sanity attempting to ape Wilson.

"Something In The Air" restores some balance at the end of side two by being a fair facsimile, although again lacks conviction given the subject matter.  In summary - bar one appalling stinker on this record, I've heard worse.  Oh yeah, and sorry about some of the pops and clicks and surface noise.

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