31 January 2013

Sons of the Piltdown Men - Mad Goose/ Be A Party

Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1963

Ed Cobb's Piltdown Men were one of many popular instrumental acts formed during the late fifties/ early sixties, in this case hailing from Hollywood.  Despite their American origins, they had a greater degree of success in Britain, having three top twenty hits here ("McDonald's Cave", "Piltdown Rides Again" and "Goodnight Mrs Flintstone") while the USA largely looked the other way.

The identity of The Sons of the Piltdown Men is something of a mystery to me.  Main man and Four Preps member Ed Cobb wrote the A-side to this platter which would indicate that he still had some involvement, but I suspect that some changes within the rest of the line-up may have necessitated a sneaky name-change for this one 45. For a start, future Michael Palin and Terry Jones musical collaborator Barry Booth plays keyboards on this, and he most certainly wasn't part of the original Californian line-up.

Beyond that, there's nothing here to suggest any radical changes to their sound, but both sides are a frantic rave-up, with the flip "Be A Party" having a more likeable urgency to it. If you like honking saxophone riffs, rocking organs and driving beats you'll be quite at home with this, although obviously by 1963 this kind of noise was beginning to seem somewhat passé and the record-buying public stayed indoors with their Merseybeat discs rather than venturing to the shops to buy this.

The collapse of The Piltdown Men didn't stand in Cobb's way. Once this was done and dusted he moved on to a highly successful career as a producer, engineer and songwriter, penning evergreen hits such as "Dirty Water" for The Standells and "Tainted Love" for Gloria Jones, as well as working with Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan.  Unsurprisingly under the circumstances, The Piltdown Men have become something of a footnote on his CV.

28 January 2013

Group Therapy - Can't Stop Loving You Baby/ I Must Go

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

Occasionally mistakenly identified by baffled collectors as a British band on the cusp of mod and hard rock, Group Therapy were in fact a New York act who began their careers in a rather conservative fashion.  Cover versions and slightly tepid pop were the order of the day, none of which charted in America or achieved much radio play.

Their career in the USA was failing to generate much heat, and so in 1969 they packed their suitcases and descended on British shores to support Moby Grape on tour.  Eye-witness reports suggest that the previously unheard band, who had yet to release anything in the UK, gave Moby Grape a very frightening run for their money.  Philips subsequently signed the act in an attempt to capitalise on the interest.

If this single is representative of their live act, you can fully understand why audiences reacted in the way they did.  The change of sound for the act in 1969 originally led me to suspect that there were two different Group Therapies in circulation, so great is the chasm between their early days and the Grape tour - for this, my friends, really is the business.  Squawking, screaming vocals, a tight, driving rhythm section, and a thunderous organ combine to deliver a track which sits right between the garage lands of old and the coming hard rock storm.  The moody organ break in the middle of the track does subtract from the single's dancefloor potential somewhat, but adds to the listening experience by creating a song which is more than just a bog-standard garage rave-up.   Even the B-side "I Must Go" is worthy of a listen, being a piece of similarly intense, if rather more brooding, blue-eyed soul.  Indeed, lead singer Ray Kennedy was originally encouraged to take up singing by Otis Redding whilst working as a jobbing sax player. "You should put that horn down and go sing," Redding advised him.

Whilst this single really should have pushed Group Therapy into the big time in Britain at least, it didn't click for them.  Nor did its predecessor, a cover of "River Deep Mountain High".  Philips gave up on them, and the band subsequently split, leaving three albums behind them ("People Get Ready For Group Therapy", "37 Minutes of Group Therapy" and "You're In Need of Group Therapy" - a constant punning on the group name which feels as if it belongs in the script for "Spinal Tap").  All was not completely lost for Kennedy, who went on to have a successful career as a session musician and songwriter, working with Jeff Beck, Aerosmith, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Fleetwood Mac amongst others.  Beyond those achievements, the fact that he co-wrote the brilliant "Sail On Sailor" with Brian Wilson is likely to be of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers.

24 January 2013

Love Society - Without You/ Do You Wanna Dance

Label: Scepter
Year of Release: 1968

Love Society were one of many, many low budget bands operating in the USA in the sixties - and I'll stop short of using the word "garage" to describe all their records.  Originating from the small town of Plymouth in Wisconsin, their earliest discs were slightly treacly, innocent pop affairs, and that's evidenced by the slow, smoochy close harmonies on the actual A-side here "Do You Wanna Dance". Never have a late sixties provincial group sounded so indebted to the very earliest works of the Beach Boys.

Despite first appearances, though, the group could pack a much moodier punch, and the flip "Without You" is far better.  Filled with droning organs, despairing guitars and minor-key misery, it's West Coast sounding in a Doors rather than Wilson sense of the word.  On this track, their slick vocal harmonies are put to a much more interesting use in tandem with a distinctly underground sounding tune.  

Known and documented members are Keith Abler on vocals and guitar, Steffen on guitar, and Dellger on drums.  All these people would go on to join cult seventies prog rock group Sunblind Lion in the seventies who have left behind slightly more of a mark in rock's great biography.  They still occasionally gig around North America in this guise to this day.

21 January 2013

One Hit Wonders - Microbe - Groovy Baby

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Even if you know only a tiny bit about Wonderful Radio One, your natural assumption would be that novelty records emerging from the station itself were not an immediate phenomenon.  Most readers of "Left and to the Back" are probably familiar with Steve Wright's horrendous (if frequently failed) assaults on the charts in the eighties, and Dave Lee Travis's stab at humour in the seventies with his trucking record "Convoy GB".  This, however, is a vintage example from its earliest days.

Ex-pirate DJ turned legitimate broadcaster Dave Cash is behind this record, and the story behind it is  more straightforward than I had hoped for.  While he worked at Britain's favourite station, it would seem that he was informed by the newsreader Pat Doody that Ian Doody, his three-year old son, would sit transfixed by the radio listening to his father's voice and attempting to have conversations with him.  Rather than giving his daft and obviously delirious boy a brutal kick to the windpipe for such unearthly stupidity, Doody was impressed by this cuteness.  So too was Cash, who thought that it might amuse the public to have the boy on record uttering the day's slang, such as "Groovy baby".  The otherwise impeccable - but at this point rather hitless - Chris Andrews penned something appropriate, Maddy Bell, Leslie Duncan and Dusty Springfield (citation needed, the "Dusty" element could just be Internet rumour-mongering - ed) trilled some vocals, and Ian Doody gurgled over the top at regular intervals.

To an extent, the public approved.  This wasn't a monster hit, but it did climb to number 29, which seems somewhat unbelievable under the circumstances.  It's not that this is the worst novelty single I've ever heard, but beyond a certain cute factor it's rather slight.  One can only assume that having a very small child uttering sixties hip-speak seemed far funnier at the time than it does now (and to be fair, people might have howled with laughter at a similar concept around the peak of "Austin Powers").

The B-side is unusual in that it includes silent gaps so the "children at home" can insert whatever exclamations they want, but I'm much more interested in the oft-claimed fact that Natalie Casey was the youngest person to ever chart in the UK with "Chick Chick Chicken" in 1983.  Even if we take into account the performer's ages in days, months, or even hours, Ian Doody actually broke the top forty compared to Casey's number 72 entry. I smell a rat here, readers, and I suspect the rodent has got bits of Mike Read's pantry all around its mouth.

17 January 2013

Reupload - Marvin The Paranoid Android/ Metal Man

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1981

There are two songs I know of which reference a "paranoid android" - one features the line "kicking screaming gucci little piggy", the other "you know what really makes me mad?/ they clean me with a brillo pad". Guess which one this isn't?

The mania surrounding the television programme The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in the early eighties was decidedly odd and almost unprecedented for a BBC2 show which only managed one measly television series, and the enthusiasm for its most popular character Marvin the terminally depressive robot led to this particular spin-off single. Whilst this failed to get inside "the only chart that counts" on Radio One, it did pick up a surprising volume of airplay and became a favourite during my childhood. I recently rediscovered it in a second hand store in Walthamstow, and upon getting it home was astonished by how geriatric it sounds now. What originally seemed like a piece of synthesiser wizardry with jokes thrown in now sounds like a rather creaky b-grade version of Landscape. I also had a false memory of it using parts of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in the mix, but in actual fact the chorus only bears a faint resemblance to that particular tune, although one has to wonder whether it's coincidental.

For all my carping, this single is far from being the worst spin-off effort I've ever heard, managing to perfect the balancing act between humour and an engaging tune, the net result being a fair imitation of a Gary Numan record with lyrics by Douglas Adams, which surely any sensible person should wish to hear. It certainly dumps from a big height all over rival robot Metal Mickey's vinyl drek which dogged the same decade, although he too would have to be remembered in a song title by somebody else - in this case Suede - before getting a mention in the big Top 40 rundown. It's a peculiar old world.

Life, don't talk to me about LIFE....

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in April 2009. When the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was remade as a film, a spin-off single involving Zooey Deschanel and Marvin would have been nigh-on perfect, but for some reason nobody was tempted. Spoilsports.)

14 January 2013

The Others - Easy Squeezy/ Somebody Loves You

Label: Disc AZ
Year of Release: 1969

Now that the barrel of UK pop-psych goodies is close to being picked dry, more and more collectors are turning their attention to the European scenes - and no wonder.  Hit records from the period, especially those of a Scandinavian or Spanish origin, are reasonably cheap to come by and frequently of a much higher quality than the remaining dregs available on our home turf, and besides those there are still Euro-obscurities out there which are utter mysteries.  This one, for example.

"Easy Squeezy" was originally recorded in Britain by The Love Children, but this version gives it a bit more of a kick and brings the fuzz guitar to the fore.  The B-side "Somebody Loves You" is arguably better still, consisting of a kicking horn section, pounding drums and Roy Wood styled vocals - both these tracks seem custom-built for the dancefloor, taking simple melodies and equipping them with the necessary welly to meet with approval at your local mod niterie.  "Somebody Loves You" in particular stands up fairly to comparison with the likes of The Outsiders in the USA.

Whilst this record is French, I find it unlikely that The Others stemmed from that nation.  An Irish band called The Others were in operation around the same time, but the audio evidence available doesn't sound like the same act, though I'm happy to be corrected. My guess would be that they were one of many British acts who quit the overcrowded UK scene to operate in mainland Europe instead.  If you can fill in the blanks, please do let me know.

Oh yes, and that mad volume wavering at the end of "Easy Squeezy" is on the original record, it's not me going berserk on my MacBook after one too many Martinis.

10 January 2013

Second Hand Record Dip Part 83 - Pookiesnackenburger - Pookiesnackenburger (Soundtrack LP)

Who: Pookiesnackenburger
What: Pookiesnackenburger (Soundtrack Album)
Where: Sister Ray, Soho, London
Label: Talkback
When: 1985
Cost: £1.99

The name Pookiesnackenburger may sound naggingly familiar to you, and that's probably because of all the bands to be featured on this blog, they probably went on to be among the most successful artists. They've been applauded by Hollywood, performed at The Oscars ceremony, and had regular West End shows in London to the point where their advertising is as much the backdrop to city life as the pigeons themselves.  None of the members of Dr Marigold's Prescription can claim such wonders.

To begin with, however, they were a modest Brighton-based theatre/ street performance ensemble who mixed comedy, parody and music together to create unique live shows which began to create a stir during the alternative comedy boom.  Recordings of their shows are difficult to come by, but it would seem that they incorporated a ragbag of various elements - radical percussive dustbin clattering, live music, audience interaction and goofed-out stupidity.  This period of activity led to a cover of the "Just One Cornetto" advert emerging on Stiff Records, a manic performance involving the popular trash can bashing element of their live shows, plus an album "Pookie Beach Party".  Both efforts flopped.

However, unlike other Stiff stiffs such as Any Trouble or Department S, Pookie clearly had more to offer than just music.  As such, interest from Channel 4 was perhaps inevitable given the keen eye executives there had for any well-drilled comedy act operating on the fringes, and they were initially asked to contribute shorts to a programme called "Alter Image", then finally given the go-ahead to create their own television show.

The resulting eponymous "Pookiesnackenburger" series has been strangely under-chronicled since.  Most British comedy websites acknowledge its existence but can't seem to offer more details about its contents.  Only one show has emerged on YouTube since, the heavy metal parodying "Hell Bent" which tells the twisted story of a group of obnoxious, arrogant black metallers who travel to an obscure residential country studio to summon the devil through their music.  Whilst clearly attempting to ape "The Wicker Man" in places, this episode also offers brilliantly astute parodies of two wildly opposing musical genres, namely metal and rustic folk music.  Elsewhere in the show, some (though by no means all) of the attempts at comedy creak slightly.  The gurning and over-acting of some members clearly highlighted their roots on the live circuit, and showed that they hadn't quite got into the swing of toning their act down for the camera yet.  Additionally, the special effects are largely of a Kenny Everett Video Show quality (which may have been intentional and seemed likeably silly at the time).  For all that, though, there's a unique and peculiar feel to the show, and a sense that it might have developed into something slicker had it been granted a second series.  The combination of horror, occasionally grotesque comedy and parody on display also proves that The League of Gentlemen really weren't first on the block with these ideas, whatever we may have supposed at a later date - although on the evidence we have available to us, their efforts seem stronger.

The soundtrack album that followed the series showcased the music, and stripped of their original context some of these struggle to make complete comedic sense.  "Mysteroids Theme/ Pop Go The Asteroids" was apparently from a Thunderbirds-apeing episode, but merely feels like a likeable piece of retro-kitsch here.  Of more interest to me is the track "Be Cool", which sounds like it's taking on the stylings of Dexys Midnight Runners (or perhaps the likes of the Joboxers) and actually succeeding in being enjoyable in its own right.  Likewise, the metal parodies ("Heavy Metal Life" and "The Lost Canticle of Beelzebub") are heavy-handed, but this was the eighties - Heavy Metal itself was hardly subtle at this point, and Pookiesnackenburger do successfully highlight some of its more ridiculous excesses.

Inevitably the album flopped, and Pookie were forced to rethink their approach.  For a brief period they renamed themselves Yes/No People, shed some members but gained others, and attempted to become slick, funky, near-serious artists.  One single was released ("Mr Johnson") which enjoyed a lot of publicity but failed to break the UK Top 100.  Given this disappointment, they returned to their roots as a theatre troupe, and - whether through smart business planning or just responding to public demand - gave the dustbin bashing element of their live shows complete focus.  A final name-change to "Stomp" occurred, and guided by original members Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, they remain a serious live draw, performing all over the world to critical acclaim and large audiences.

I've offered a few clips of "Pookiesnackenburger" below, so you can listen to those before deciding whether it's worth your while downloading the album.

1. Dance With A Sexy Smile
2. Be Cool
3. Killing Time (The Work Song)
4. Mysteroids Theme/ Pop Go The Asteroids
5. River Of Love
6. Beach Party
7. Dustbin Dance
8. Restoration Scat
9. Oh My My
10. The King's Song
11. Heavy Metal Life
12. Green Man And Corn Dolly
13. The Lost Canticle of Beelzebub

7 January 2013

Wes Minster Five - Sticks And Stones/ Mickey's Monkey

Label: Carnival
Year of Release: 1964

The London blues and R&B scene is the stuff of beat legend these days, and people of my generation have only hearsay to go by.  Still, irrespective of how many obscure fringe acts were allegedly the best live bands in the world, we all know for a fact that there were endless pubs and clubs in the capital having bands playing approximations of authentic American sounds in their sweaty, smoky basement rooms. Some of these (The Rolling Stones) would go on to success of the kind that doesn't need to be emphasised, while others had to content themselves with cultish levels of appreciation.  

The Wes Minster Five were a regularly gigging unit around the London bar and club scene, and are really seldom discussed on any level these days.  Part of the problem may be that they were signed to an uber-obscure independent label without much clout, and another issue may be the fact that their recordings, while good, lack the abrasion and bite of The Pretty Things or The Birds.  Still, what we have here are two enjoyable cuts, either of which could have happily taken the A-side spot.  "Sticks and Stones" is a nice, stomping cover of the R&B classic, and "Mickey's Monkey" incorporates call and response vocals with hand clapping and a nagging enthusiasm, and nearly rips up the joint.  Both tracks have come under some criticism from aficionados for giving two respected songs a British beat production, but that, I'm afraid, was the name of the game at the time.  Very few British bands were able to ape the American styles 100% successfully (and what, indeed, would be the point of creating replicas in the studio anyway?) so putting their own blueprint on the tracks was fairly standard practice.

Consisting of Clive Burrows on sax, Dave Greenslade on keyboards, John Hiseman on drums, Brian Smith (aka Wes Minster) on guitar, Tony Reeves on bass and Paul Williams on vocals, the line-up was completed by chance purely due to Williams' connection with Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames - a fan and regular attendee of their Flamingo Club gigs, he managed to convince the outfit to allow him to occasionally get on stage and sing songs with them, and eventually Fame put him in touch with the other musicians who were in the process of putting an act together.  The band are particularly notable for giving the Zoot Money's Big Roll Band two of its future members in Williams and Burrows.

Williams remains a practicing musician to this day, having worked with the likes of John Mayall and Juicy Lucy over the years, as well as gigging as a part of ensemble touring acts and as a solo artist.  You can call me soft if you want, but it always brings a bit of cheer to my heart to be able to finish a blog entry talking about a musician's continued activity.

[Update - Terry Webster - the actual lead vocalist for this group - got in touch with me to correct some details! You can see more in the comments section].

3 January 2013

Boss - Mony Mony/ Live Together

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1973

Tommy James and The Shondell's "Mony Mony" is, to this day, a bit of a floor-filler.  Whilst I can't profess to truly adore the single myself and only play it once every so often at home, there's still something incredibly potent about the track at high volume at around one in the morning.  It's a record you can tease the wallflowers with, those uncertain looking people propped up at the bar who have been frantically tapping their feet all evening as if they're about to make a move, only to uncertainly twitch away from the action.  It's also one of those records for which bouts of hand-clapping are only to be expected.  Handily, you can also follow it with just about any sixties pounder of the same tempo and keep people on the floor, even if it's an ultra-obscure flop like Chris Andrews' "Yo Yo" (I've done it).

Covers of the track have always been apparent, with attempts from Amazulu and Billy Idol working their way out of pressing plants in the eighties alone.  This particular stomping seventies glam version of the record perhaps should have been a hit at the time - whoever had the idea that the track's pounding would lend itself well to the echoing thud and slap of glitter grooves was obviously utterly on the money.  There's space and sparseness to this effort which does create a major contrast between the noisy, busy nature of the original, but for all that it's still a nagging little disc which seems determined to pull people towards the dancefloor.

As for who Boss were, I'm guessing that they were a studio group formed for the benefit of this record rather than a 'proper' gigging band.  However, the B-side "Live Together" is a very different beast altogether (beneath the scratchy noises, which I apologise for) appearing to be an almost Joe Cocker-styled ballad designed to highlight the singer's talents.  I'm guessing the members of this group will have done other things besides in their careers, and please leave a comment if you know more.