28 March 2013

Metal Mickey - Lollipop Lollipop/ Eugene (The Hollywood Monster Movie Fiend)

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1978

Guilty confession time. As a small child, I was absolutely obsessed with Metal Mickey.  A Mickey Dolenz produced and directed television situation comedy pitched squarely at children, it appealed to my boyish fascination with robots (who I believed would be doing all the housework for us in a matter of a few years) and... I don't know what else, really.  I don't know for the pure and simple reason that having since seen some episodes as an adult, I'm gobsmacked by how awful it actually is.  No wonder that when I once revealed my childhood obsession to some friends in a pub (I favoured Metal Mickey stickers on my lunchbox over Star Wars ones any day of the week, screw all that Jedi bullshit) they fell around laughing.

In retrospect, "Metal Mickey" was a messy show consisting of scenery-chewing actors who looked as if they'd rather be somewhere else, and looks like a bizarre Vic Reeves or Harry Hill parody of eighties television these days.  It's also been observed by many commentators that the programme suffered from the insurmountable obstacle of metallic droid voices not being the best at delivering killer comedic lines - dry sarcasm a la Marvin might have worked, but Mickey specialised in sharp witticisms, all delivered in a Stephen Hawking voicebox effect, hence jokes that might actually have been quite good tended to sound akin to bland data-readouts.  When the man about the house (played by Michael Stainton) asked why the droid called him "Bootface", speculating that it might be because he's "shiny and practical", he received the reply "No, it's because you're old, thick and in need of patching".  Not a bad line, especially for children hungry for a bit of authority-figure baiting rudeness, but it loses a lot when delivered in a Radiohead "Fitter Happier" voice.

Way before situation comedy beckoned, however, Mickey was a periodic character on the children's morning show "Saturday Banana", and some of his 45s - because there were quite a few of them, believe it or not - stem from this period.  They are what you'd expect them to be, namely cheaply recorded novelty discs with Mickey droning upfront, like Kraftwerk for the kindergarten set.  Unlike the other robot issuing discs at this point, Marvin the Paranoid Android (who actually charted, unlike MM), there's not too much attention to detail here, and there's a sense that the session folk involved were watching the studio clock.  Still, it's a curious reminder of one person's vision of the future.  Who ever thought that futuristic robots would be so boxy, clunky and mechanical sounding?

Irene Handl was good, though.

25 March 2013

Shades of Blue - It Ain't No Use/ Where Did All The Good Times Go

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

Sadly, this isn't the best offering I could have served up from Newcastle's undersung beat heroes Shades of Blue. Why, that would be their electrified cover of Hoyt Axton's "Voodoo Blues", a brooding piece of pre-Jim Morrison blues rock which sounds as if it was recorded a lot later than its 1965 release date.  Regrettably, I've been trying to hunt down a reasonably priced copy of that for years to no avail.

This perfectly good double-sider, on the other hand, is no easier to come by but does at least retail at a more reasonable price for the cash-strapped.  It demonstrates that behind the creeping atmospherics of their other disc on Parlophone did lie something of a conventional beat pop sensibility (if a rather angst-ridden one).  The influence of fellow Geordies The Animals is clear, but on the flip "Where Did All The Good Times Go" there's a similar introspection to the kind Ray Davies was employing at the same time (though the similarity of the title to a celebrated Kinks track is probably a coincidence).  Nothing about either side screams "hit single", but this does seem to show that the band might have possibly had a crack at success had anyone persevered with them past their only two singles.

Not to worry.  Decca later picked them up (with an inevitably altered line-up) as The Toby Twirl in 1968 and they went on to record a number of rather more summery discs for them, including the much-compiled "Toffee Apple Sunday". None of their singles from that psych-pop period really stand up to "Voodoo Blues" in my opinion, which sounded challenging for the time whereas The Twirl sounded more like late arrivals to the hippy party.  But nonetheless, enormous respect is due to an act who had so much more going for them than the standard biogs and references would suggest, and certainly shouldn't be solely judged on their Decca output.

21 March 2013

Reupload - New Life - Strollin' Sunday Morning/ Only For Our Minds

Label: Amaret
Year of Release: 1968

Anyone who has ever heard volume two of the Garagelands compilation series could hardly fail to have noticed the New Life track on there, "Ha Lese (Le Di Khanna)".  One of the most vicious, hollering and downright addictive garage tracks out there, it's unutterably brilliant - a view shared by several friends of mine and even my mother!  That it has been reserved for a few fringe compilations and bootlegs and largely forgotten about seems somewhat sinful on the whole.

You can imagine my excitement when I found this waiting in the sixties singles section of a second hand record store, then, behind the pop hits and Cliff Richard discs.  Although the title "Strollin' Sunday Mornin'" didn't suggest more high throttle thrills, the B-side title "Only for Our Minds" sounded promising, and when I delicately put the needle on the record at home I hoped for something even half as good as the one song I'd heard by the act.

So then, revelation time... both sides are perfectly nice, paisley wrapped pieces of Californian guitar pop, but there's nothing to jolt the average listener in any way.  "Strollin' Sunday Mornin'" is chipper, summery and brassy, skipping along in a slightly dazy way, and "Only for Our Minds" is more of the same, with a slightly dated beat feel behind the West Coast hairiness.  Aficionados of sixties West Coast pop and people who are just curious about what else the band got up to may find these tracks worth a download, but sadly there's a reason why the majority of sixties rarities compilations haven't rushed forward to find them a place on their track listings.

Back when I first became aware of the New Life, I was mislead into believing that they were South American in origin - this is apparently untrue, and they were actually from Minneapolis, relocating to San Francisco to catch the passing wave of the hippy movement there in the late sixties.  They were responsible for the soundtrack to the "Sidehackers" biker film (see here), released three singles in total, then vanished without a word of explanation.  Other details - such as band personnel, and what they did before or after - remain very sketchy indeed.

As ever, more information would be appreciated, especially if it transpires there are other fantastic psychedelic New Life rockers in "the can" somewhere.

(This entry was originally uploaded in August 2009, and I think I was a little harsh on "Only For Our Minds" in retrospect.  True, it's not a patch on "Ha Lese...", but it's got a ragged feel and a spring in its step which does actually cause it to stand up to numerous repeated listens, perhaps more than I bargained for on the first couple of spins.  If you didn't download it at the time, it's here to listen to below).  

18 March 2013

Spunky Onion - Cookie Man (Parts 1 & 2)

Label: Contempo
Year of Release: 1974

"Cookie Man" is an utterly brilliant and much sought-after single which attempts to tempt all the ladies in the vicinity with the promise of "cookies".  As much as some horribly negative spins could be put upon this proposition (although it's no worse than "my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard") it's placed on top of a slick and downright irresistible funk groove.  An absolutely wonderful disc with a some marvellous horn section breaks, it was obviously too riff-based to really stand a chance in the British charts at the time, but it can still provoke action on a dancefloor to this day.

Whilst The Spunky Onion is a downright peculiar group name, this would seem to be largely the work of one Clarence Reid, aka Blowfly.  Reid wrote scores of R&B tracks for other artists throughout the 60s and 70s, and was known for sneaking out sexually explicit material of his own under the Blowfly moniker.  Some of that is argued to be the earliest examples of rapping on record - sadly, there's not any evidence of it on this example, but it's still a damn good track.

There's a brief interview trailer for the documentary "The Weird World of Blowfly" on Youtube.

14 March 2013

Jonathan's Experience - Mixed Up Foolish Girl/ Only Sixteen

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1968

About the only thing you can glean from any research on "Jonathan's Experience" is that they were a "little known" group from Dallas, Texas.  That's it.  We know that they also did a cover of Kenny and the Kasuals' garage classic "I'm Gonna Make It", but further data is thin on the ground.

Something of a shame, because "Mixed Up Foolish Girl" - actually the B-side of this platter - is a piece of sunshine pop brimming over with rink-a-dink rhythms and wailing violins, bouncy and cheery from beginning to end.  It's no lost classic, but it's surprisingly obscure given its quality, especially in these days where just about every good sixties pop tune has been dug up and presented to the world.

The A-side is a slow, angst-ridden cover of the classic "Only Sixteen", but it's rather inessential, adding little to the original version.  However, it's not without its fans online.

If you know anything more about Jonathan's Experience, please do step forward and give me more information, I'd be really grateful.

11 March 2013

Austin Van Driver and The Morrismen - Salt & Vinegar

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1979

It's a work-in-progress bedroom demo for Blur's "Parklife"!  It's Mike Skinner of The Streets with a Casiotone demo of his missing chippy "dinnertime" track from "A Grand Don't Come For Free"!  It's Eddie Argos out of Art Brut doing an ironic advert for the British Potato Council!  It's Chas and Dave getting unusually belligerent and demanding in a Leytonstone Fish and Chip shop!  It's... well, it's all of these things, but it's actually none of these things as well.  Sorry.

However, we can definitely classify this as a curio from the arse-end of the life of Pye Records which was clearly meant to be a summer novelty pop smash.  Had a particularly influential daytime Radio One DJ taken a shine to this it probably would have been a hit, but we can only assume that they failed to see the potential - or rather, that Pye at this stage in their corporate lives were utterly incapable of getting anyone's attention at the Beeb.  As it stands, I've never seen an actual officially released version of this record for sale, only promo copies, which makes me wonder if it did ever get an official release.

There's something very cheesy and cheap about the record, and it's received thorough drubbings elsewhere on the Interweb, but I genuinely like it - it's unpretentious, snappy and decidedly silly, siphoning off the influences of Madness and Ian Dury that were credible at the time and squeezing them into a novelty blender.  The lyrics focussed entirely upon the act of putting salt and vinegar on chips are utterly facile and ridiculous, but sometimes pop music needs such idiocy.  Had it been even a minor hit, there's a strong probability it would have become awfully irritating very quickly, but as a flop it's harmless, cheerful and sprightly.

It's not clear who Austin Van Driver and the Morrismen were, but certainly the involvement of Phil Hampson on the songwriting credit is something of a giveaway to the fact that they were a one-off project.  Hampson has produced numerous pieces of soundtrack work and one-off novelty singles over the years, including "The Sparrow" by The Ramblers,  "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" by Brian and Michael, and (perhaps more credibly) the "Spiral Scratch" EP for The Buzzcocks.  This particular single is probably halfway between Brian & Michael and The Buzzcocks, and as bizarre as you'd expect given that.

7 March 2013

Injun Jo - Feel The Rhythm Inside/ Jawbone

Label: York Records
Year of Release: 1973

We've already (briefly) explored the career of Miki Anthony on this blog back when I uncovered a Mark Wirtz produced acetate of "Knight In White Armour", and this particular disc stems from a later part of his career when he found himself working for York Records, a subsidiary of Yorkshire Television.  

The A-side offers nothing unusual in the slightest, and is in fact a particularly sprightly piece of pop which was unlucky not to have been a hit.  "Feel The Rhythm Inside" has clattering drums, bass piano notes, an euphoric chorus and a general sense that all is well on the suburban dancefloor.  There's nothing radical or original about it, but it's a serviceable example of a particular strain of non-glam pop music that was faring reasonably well in Britain at the time.

Far more absurd is the B-side which can only be described as a country/ trucking song sung by daleks, or at the very least Miki Anthony doing a very good impersonation of a dalek.  The story behind this, so far as I can ascertain, is also a bit odd.  Earlier in 1973 York Records had slated a record for release by a group called The Daleks entitled "Feel It Inside" with "Jawbone" listed as the flip.  Copies of this have never actually been seen, and the qualified guess of most record collectors (and Doctor Who collectors) is that somebody at the Yorkshire media company got jittery about copyright violation and getting into trouble with the BBC.  This would have applied even if the single were issued on a standard record label, but one with close affiliations to their rival station ITV would surely have come in for a giant whacking from the legal beagles.  Whether "Feel It Inside" was a different version of this A-side sung in the voice of a dalek, the same track or another track entirely is impossible to say, and chances are only Miki Anthony or an ex-employee of York Records would be likely to know.  

Whatever the facts, the B-side is a right old racket, and the humorous novelty factor of daleks trucking across the country exterminating quickly loses its appeal.  It's bizarre, make no mistake, but has all the hallmarks of an off-the-cuff flip side, which is a shame given the potential of the idea.  

4 March 2013

The Denims - The Adler Sock

Label: The Adler Company/ Columbia
Year of Release: 1965

Rock and pop groups have always had an uneasy relationship with corporate sponsorship, to the extent that even in the present day (where the majority of musicians will allow their work to soundtrack adverts without shame) it puts a cringe on the face of many.  I myself have an ambivalent and perhaps hypocritical stance to the use of music on adverts - if it's The Fall, Clinic or Vashti Bunyan, my reflex reaction is to think "Well, I'm glad they're finally getting paid some money". If it's The White Stripes soundtracking an 'iconic global brand', I rub my face in my hands and sigh (even if the tune is rather good).

However, much as it may be logical to assume that The White Stripes were the first American garage band (we'll call them that for the sake of arguments, OK?) to take corporate dough, obscure New York racketeers The Denims were probably the first out of the gate in 1965, unless anyone knows better.  They were hardly household names in the USA, but that didn't stop The Adler Company from borrowing them for a promotional 45 about the benefit of Adler Socks, which were essentially cheap wool socks which tended to disintegrate or discolour after only a few washes.  "YEEEEEEAHHHH! DO THE SOCK!" the lead singer screeches as if his life depends on it, while the band kick up a fierce row in the background.  It's utterly unclear why The Adler Corporation thought such an act could flog feetwarmers, but I for one am thrilled they did - this is one of the most bizarre corporate spin-off singles I've ever encountered, a garage nugget with a commercial message attached.  It's likely to sound odder to British ears as this kind of harsh, abrasive punk noise never really made much headway in the UK charts, so the notion of using such an act to advertise clothing would have been unthinkable here.

The B-side is essentially an abbreviated version of the A-side and is included here for curiosity value only.  I can only assume it may have been used as a segment on the radio.