28 February 2013

Reupload - Time Machine - Summer of Love/ Another Scene (In Black and White)

Label: Bam Caruso
Year of Release: 1986

From the original press release:

"It's Summer Time again - and to mark the occasion Bam Caruso are releasing what is sure to become this summer's most played record...


A catchy tribute to summers gone, this tune is a medley of hits from the summer of '67. Included are such gems as 'Paper Sun', 'Flowers in the Rain', 'San Francisco', 'Whiter Shade of Pale', 'California Dreaming' and 'All You Need Is Love'.

THE TIME MACHINE faithfully reproduce these hits with amazing accuracy and skill (you can't see the joins!)

A MUST for all beach parties this year!!.. and not a chicken in sight".

Now, Bam Caruso were a fantastic label in the eighties, unearthing and issuing tons of hidden sixties gems for the general public's enjoyment, and their crowning achievement was unquestionably the Rubble series of albums. Seldom will I hear a bad word said against the organisation.

This single, however, baffles me. Its purpose was surely to lampoon the Stars on 45 styled discs which cluttered up the charts at one point, but their time had come and gone when "Summer of Love" was issued, and Jive Bunny had some years to arrive. More to the point, the comment about "seeing the joins" - whilst clearly ironic - also jangles on the nerves a little when you consider that the joins are so apparent on this single in places that it sounds like an ITV Chart Show rundown rather than a medley. At least Starsound and Jive Bunny kept a consistent rhythmic flow going, for all their obvious faults.

It is a thoroughly bizarre part of their catalogue, and does have a curiosity value of sorts, but more worthy of your attention is the flipside "Another Scene (In Black and White)" which is eighties psych revival pop to a tee (or perhaps that should be 'to an English tea'), with squeaking Casio keyboards switched to a sixties setting, vocals delivered in a Robyn Hitchcock style, and mystical guitar lines. The eighties psychedelic revival material somehow could never quite escape the decade of its origin, and - as is also apparent on the Syd Barrett tribute album "Beyond the Wildwood" - always had a smoothness and clarity to it the original material lacked.

I doubt that many people will seriously regret missing this first time around, but it's a nice enough addition to your mp3 playlist, and may prove to be a party talking point should you ever feel like digging it out for that purpose.

25 February 2013

Pam & The Paper Clips - Typing Pool/ Dear Katie

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1980

Joining the ranks of "flop seventies and eighties singles which sound faintly like The Scissor Sisters" is this peculiar cut from the beginning of the decade which always seems to be illustrated by Rubik's Cubes by unimaginative arts editors and album sleeve designers. Information on this one has been difficult to come by, but there is one notable factor that makes it of particular interest to comedy fans - Nigel Planer (aka Neil out of "The Young Ones") co-wrote the A-side and certainly sounds as if he's handling some of the vocals.  Additionally, rumours have persisted for some time that the "Pam" here is Pamela Stephenson, and while it certainly sounds as if it could be her, there's no concrete evidence to prove this.

Sonically this disc is surprisingly acceptable, consisting of a collision between disco basslines and new wave quirk, two things which were highly in favour at the point of its release.  Comedically, however, it's a tad too bitter and scathing to actually be funny, and largely consists of Pam sneering angrily at her lecherous boss, complaining about sexism, glass ceilings in the workplace and the drudgery of a dull administrative job.  "Such a stupid little man/ How I wish that he was dead/ Don't wanna sit upon his knee/ I'd rather trample on his head" she snaps towards the end of the record, and it sounds genuine despite the rather "dopey secretary" voice she puts on mere moments before.  Any chirpy Lene Lovich styled oddballness is punctured by the vitriol of those lines.

Whilst it's not surprising that this flopped in 1980, it's surprising that this disc has fallen so much by the wayside since, purely because anything involving a member of "The Young Ones" team would usually be avidly snapped up by collectors.  The only conclusion I can sensibly draw is that Planer decided to tipp-ex it from his CV, which is a strange thing to do given that it's actually a lot better than the solo single ("Hole In My Shoe") he'd put out as Neil some years later.

21 February 2013

Gene Rockwell - Don't Leave Me Now

Label: Continental
Year of Release: 1965

South Africa bred a large number of stars within its music scene who failed to cross over to the rest of the world's charts, and Gene Rockwell was one such scamp. Based in the town of Krugersdorp, Gene initially plied his trade as a bluesman in the group The Falcons before striking out on his own to have a huge hit with "Heart" in his home country in 1965.  That track is still a favourite within those borders (I'm assured) and can be heard on Youtube.

Nestling away on its flipside, however, is this beaty number which is filled to the brim with twangy guitars, moody vocals and a shuffling garage sound, in wild contrast to the commercial balladry on the A-side.  It's admittedly not quite as radical or punkish as I'm perhaps making it sound, having a touch of the Cliff Richards about the clean production, but his blues roots are more prominent on this side and showcase his talents to a much stronger degree.

Sadly, Rockwell passed away in 1998 at 53 years of age, but remains fondly remembered by many South Africans.

18 February 2013

One Hit Wonders - Driver 67 - Car 67/ Communications Breakdown

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1978

This is a very special one hit wonder for "Left and to the Back" for a few reasons, but perhaps most prominent of all - this was one of the first records my mother took me into Woolworths to buy. Not the first, you understand - that was Shalamar's "Uptown Festival" medley, probably because I liked the picture of the train on the label.  Nor, unfortunately, was it the first single I bought with my own money (or gift token) which was XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel" (the beginning of a lifelong love affair with that particular group).  But nonetheless, you get where I'm coming from, readers. It's one of those discs I daren't ever get rid of, purely because the memory of seeing the song on "Top of the Pops" and hassling my parents to buy it, and having to deal with Woolies not having a copy on the week we dropped in, is still in my mind. It was one of the gateway records for my long relationship with vinyl.

It's also been dismissed by many online commentators in recent years as being a rather silly novelty record.  I may be biased due to the single dropping into the shops at an impressionable time for me, but I doubt that's the reason why I like it so much - after all, I also bought a single by The Smurfs at around roughly the same time and that doesn't register very highly in my affections anymore.  The truth is that "Car 67" is a peculiarly innovative pop record which is loaded with gimmicks, and as a result sounds quite unlike anything else that was in the charts at that time.  There's no punk spikiness here, no moonlight soul crooning, no early evening variety show-friendly chirpiness. Initially it appears to  essentially be an earthily sung ballad - by songwriter Paul Phillips playing a fictional taxi driver - perched on top of a repetitive riff with spoken interjections from a switchboard operator from Birmingham.  Having set out its bizarre stall quite early on, the song then weaves a narrative around the jilted cabbie, slowly revealing the source of his angst and woe in the manner a country songwriter would be proud of, taking various little musical backstreets and detours along the way.  The mournful outro, in particular, is wonderful.  

This musical soap opera set to vinyl was a surefire hit from the start, but was aided further when Phillips appeared on "Top of the Pops" playing both the taxi driver (via video clips) and the switchboard operator (in the BBC studio).  This was beyond the usual bog-standard mimed performances, and caused the song to fly out of the shops - or at least would have, had Logo Records not failed to press enough copies to keep up with demand.  In the end, "Car 67" had to make do with a bumpy ride up the charts, dropping one week before rising to its peak position of number 7 the next. That's not a bad result, but it's hardly the expected settling place for what many pundits were predicting would be a definite number one.

Fans of chart trivia might be keen to note that the taxi driver's job ends up going to Car 23 at the end of side A, and side B begins with a reference to "song 23".  Whilst Car 67 failed to get to number one, a car with the number 23 painted on it would in 1988, as the KLF (aka The Timelords) got there with the equally perplexing and even more brilliant "Doctorin' The Tardis", fronted by the enigmatic Ford Timelord.  I doubt Drummond was aware of the coincidence here, and he's probably also not aware of the fact that his roadie Gimpo was apparently introduced to Driver 67's follow-up single "Headlights" on the car stereo whilst recently doing his 25 hour M25 Rally.  What do we make of this? I have no clue.

"Headlights" has been well-documented on this blog, being a flop record which was banned by the BBC for its dark and creepy content (and if you haven't heard that one yet, you're missing bleakness of almost Peter Wyngarde proportions).  Following the failure of all follow-up releases, Phillips apparently became disillusioned with the music business after struggles obtaining the royalties owed to him through "Car 67".  The rights to the record have since reverted back to him, and he very kindly got in touch out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and gave me permission to include it on this blog.  Naturally, it is commercially available elsewhere, and I would encourage you to go to iTunes or Amazon to buy it (especially as they'll have audio that's not sourced from old vinyl).  Likewise, if he feels at any time that he wants me to take this down - such as when the January 1979 "Top of the Pops" performance crops up on BBC4 again, which always seems to cause an enormous renewal of interest in songs such as this one - he should definitely drop me another line. In the meantime, thanks are definitely due to him both for this song and for allowing me to share it with you again.

He presently has an album out entitled "Now That's What I Call Divorce" which is apparently based on some recent life experiences of his.  It's nice to know that his career has continued in the same merry vein.

(Update: Driver 67's blog can be found here)

14 February 2013

Bob Monkhouse - In My Dream World/ Natalie

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

In the sixties and seventies it seemed almost compulsory for comedians and light entertainers to put out 45s (and this was by no means a uniquely British phenomenon, either, as any American with a Bill Cosby record will tell you). Most of their efforts weren't hits, but it would seem that a record contract and a vinyl record with their name on it gave them a certain kudos, either acting as a signal that they had truly arrived within the broader world of showbiz, or perhaps proving to potential variety show bookers that they could croon a bit besides keeping ladies and gentlemen amused.

Bob Monkhouse - who, for the benefit of overseas readers, was a smooth, long-serving comedian and host of quiz shows in the UK from 1956 right up until his death in 2003 - delivers few surprises here with the A-side. "I Remember Natalie" is a saccharine ballad, and whilst he doesn't have a terrible voice, it's unlikely CBS would have touched him if he'd been an unknown turning up at their offices demanding attention.  What's more interesting is the fact that this record was produced by "Teenage Opera" man Mark Wirtz, and the flip "In My Dream World" was just about enough on the right side of popsike to turn up on the "Circus Days" compilation series as a mystery track. While numerous nineties comedy critics probably used the phrase "Bob Monkhouse on acid" to describe some kerr-azy young kid on the circuit, it has to be said that he doesn't seem remotely under the influence here, being fully in command of the material (if sounding a little like Vic Reeves in places).  It's essentially a well-produced piece of Willy Wonka-esque fantasy, and nothing that would have given Pink Floyd a run for their money. This has more in common with the style Mike Flowers and Richard Cheese parodied in the nineties than anything else.

As for the top side, apparently Bob Monkhouse would regularly reference an ugly girl called Natalie in his routines, and loved the idea of singing a song about a girl with that name.  Why she has suddenly morphed into an attractive woman for the purposes of this record is a mystery, but to be fair a ballad about a hideous person would have been a harder sell (and made this smoochy little number a less appropriate upload on Valentine's Day).  No matter - this completely failed to chart, and so did his follow-up "Another Time, Another Place, Another World".  After that, it would seem that Bob gave up on the idea of being a pop star, which is more than can be said for Jimmy Tarbuck, Ken Dodd, Bruce Forsyth, Bernard Manning, et al.  Here's to a man who knew his limits.

11 February 2013

Moving Finger - Higher and Higher/ Shake and Finger Pop

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1969

The Moving Finger were an odd group who couldn't seem to make up their minds quite what they wanted to be.  Hailing from Norwich - home of "Sale of the Century" and Alan Partridge - and originally known as The Anglians, they issued the blue-eyed soul disc "A Friend Of Mine" on CBS. When that failed, they switched labels to Mercury and changed their name, issuing the moody popsike track "Jeremy The Lamp" backed with the absolutely fantastic, woozy and dream-like "Pain Of My Misfortune" (one of my favourite popsike tracks ever).

Needless to say that didn't pay dividends either, and the glorious technicolour of all things psychedelic had also largely faded by 1969.  This would seem to have inspired them to revert back to plan A and they subsequently issued this record, which is yet more blistering soul-inspired pop which rattles along with a lot more ferocity than their CBS disc.  The B-side "Shake and Finger Pop" is available on iTunes and elsewhere and showcases the group's abilities very well, being an intense and frantic take on the track which still gets spun occasionally by DJs of a certain persuasion these days.  Less is heard about the actual A-side, though, a mod take on Jackie Wilson's "Higher And Higher".  It certainly doesn't surpass the original in terms of quality, but it's a strident enough version which unveils previously unexplored beat possibilities.

What became of The Moving Finger after this flopped nobody really seems to know, but on the basis of the limited evidence we have available to us it's a fair bet that they were a fantastic live band in their day.  What do you mean "Isn't that just speculation?"  Of course it is!  I'm not a purveyor of time machines, you know.

9 February 2013

Astronaut Fanzine Launch - Saturday 16 February

I'll be DJ'ing again on Saturday 16th February - this particular event marks the London launch of Astronaut fanzine, a Manchester-based publication for young poets. Besides having John The Revelator and I on the decks playing a mixture of mod rock, garage pop, soul, funk and whatever else seems appropriate or takes our fancy, you'll get to hear the following poets:

Tim Wells
Katie Seth
Jon Stone
Rowena Knight
Emlyn Hugill
Chip Grim
Anna Le

This will be taking place at the Mascara bar in Stoke Newington at 72 Stamford Hill, London N16 6XS  from 8:00pm until very late.  It's £4 to get in which, frankly, is probably the best cheap night out you're going to get in North London next Saturday.  The Facebook event invite is here. 

Incidentally, the DJ'ing will be attempted on something a bit better than the Elizabethan Astronaut record changer pictured above, but it seemed an appropriate image given the fanzine's name.  And anyway, it's a picture of one of the actual record players I have at home, and any excuse to dig it out...

7 February 2013

Reupload - Deep Feeling - Skyline Pigeon/ We've Thrown It All Away

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1970

This is another release on Larry Page's Page One Records which I include for curiosity value rather than actual musical merit. Elton John and Bernie Taupin were, at this point in their careers, mere fledging songwriters without much of a career to speak of. Deep Feeling, on the other hand, were British rockers in search of a breakthrough.

We've already touched upon Elton John's early career in this blog, and given Argosy's psychedelic pop outing "Imagine" a feature on one of our compilations. Far from his career following a straight, certain line from nobody to somebody, he in actual fact worked on so many records - largely on the sly - that even the biggest fans of his work have enormous difficulties ascertaining what he played on and when.  Essentially a jobbing session muso for many years, he cropped up on the albums of friends, on cheap cover version records found in the budget wire racks at Woolworths, and God knows what else. In fact, if you want to go above God and ask Elton himself, I doubt even he would be able to tell you.

This record's relatively low price on the collector's market (three quid to me - any more than that and I doubt I'd have bothered) is indicative of the fact that most people are convinced of his lack of involvement beyond the songwriting itself in this case, though, and it's not as if the song was any sort of exclusive at the time. His own (superior) version sits happily on his debut "Empty Sky" album.

As for Deep Feeling, they followed Elton on to the DJM label eventually to release a six track album which is apparently highly sought after by prog collectors, although I should stress that I've never heard it myself. "Skyline Pigeon" doesn't hint at that style much at all, being a rather saccharine and chipper cover which doesn't really invest in the song's potential. It's pleasant enough, but it certainly doesn't sound like anything which could or should have been a hit. Still, I doubt Elton was much worried - "Your Song" was just around the corner, and things in his career were about to change enormously.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2009 - I've nothing to add at the moment).

4 February 2013

Second Hand Record Dip Part 84 - Baby Amphetamine - Chernobyl Baby

Who: Baby Amphetamine
What: Chernobyl Baby
Label: Creation
When: 1987
Where: Flashback Records, Islington, London
Cost: 99p

When it comes to bizarre pop curios, Creation is the label that just keeps on giving.  At this point in its history Alan McGee decided to generate as much press as possible for a very simple idea, and one which could be deemed to be the ultimate conclusion of pop music's conveyor belt mentality.  He and cult artist Momus headed off to the Virgin Megastore on London's Oxford Street, selected the three prettiest female staff members, and asked them if they wanted to be in a band.  He then rush-wrote this single for them to release, and encouraged the NME to cover the story.

Whilst obviously there is a little bit more to the story than that, there's not really much to add. David Cavanagh's fantastically in-depth biography of Creation Records "My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize" manages to cover the rise and fall of Baby Amphetamine in a mere three pages, pinpointing them as an interesting idea which was retrospectively regarded by all concerned as a wrong-foot. Perhaps the most amusing event of all wasn't the scam itself or the release of the record, but the fact that McGee's newest employees took against him almost immediately.  Seeming to regard him as a sexist idiot who was only interested in using them as puppets, one member (Perule) was quoted as saying: "If we did this interview like we were told to by McGee, we'd be saying things like 'Simon Le Bon should be given an acid bath'. But that's so old, so dated. Alan lives in a time warp".  Another member, Jo, added: "Manipulated? Not at all. All that's happened is that someone's thrown a bit of their money at us...  let's not get too serious about it - I mean, what's actually happened? We've made a record, and somebody... has bought us a leather jacket each and been a complete wanker".

Harsh words, but - whether it was what McGee wanted or not - this outcome was slightly more interesting than the usual "Starmaker picks pretty, talentless girls to front single" angle the NME could otherwise have run with, and the fact the tables were turned on him before the single even dropped is fascinating.  For his own part, McGee has stated that he felt the women behaved exactly like models who have made a bad pop single then suddenly believed themselves to be pop stars, and I suspect the truth lies between two poles, with McGee probably patronising the women involved and treating them as a living joke (one wonders if he would have headed off to a nightclub to pick the best looking men to give the same treatment to) and the women in turn getting a feel for the limelight and attempting to run before they could walk.  Never before in the music industry have a group of artists tried to run away from their manager and label so quickly.

The furore surrounding the release made something of a footnote of the record itself, and that's perhaps not surprising.  This is far from being the worst single Creation ever issued - there are efforts by Les Zarjaz and The Legend! that trump it - but it's rather forgettable.  One critic has observed that Baby Amphetamine sound exactly like the band who sing "Alien Invasion" on an old eighties Kit Kat advert, and that's not far off the mark.  With its hip-hop beats and clumsy sloganeering, it's playing time comes and goes without leaving any real impression, seemingly an afterthought to the whole debacle.  Baby Amphetamine deliver little, McGee isn't as lyrically shocking as he clearly wants to be, and it all slides by gently on mediocrity and cliches, predating the hundreds of crap no-hope shock-value sub-hip hop Hoxton bands who would emerge in the noughties (so in one way at least, it was ahead of its time, though not ahead of anything actually commercially or critically successful).

As for what became of Jackie, Perule and Jo, history does not record this.  They attempted to continue their career after McGee quickly dropped them, but nothing came of it.  In one respect, however, the single may have been important - Bill Drummond was apparently enthused enough by the scam to begin work on the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's debut album, and there are certainly shades of Baby Amphetamine about his side-project Disco 2000. So maybe this did have a much larger, unacknowledged influence after all, despite its very obvious shortcomings.