29 November 2014

Wishful Thinking - Peanuts/ Cherry Cherry

Label: London
Year of Release: 1967

I knew that my recent trip to Japan would turn up at least one unexpected 7" vinyl oddity, and here it is - a Japanese Wishful Thinking single. They're a band I had no idea had any kind of following in Japan - after all, they largely had to content themselves with the pickings from the fringes of the music industry here in the UK in the sixties - but here's physical proof that somebody cared enough to put this one out over there.

Wishful Thinking have featured on this blog twice before, but just to recap, they consisted of Roy Daniels (vocals), Terry New (lead guitar), Roger Charles (bass) and Brian Allen (drums). Of those members, only Roy and Roger are still alive, but are known to occasionally gig in Germany in order to capitalise on their cult following over there.

This single, meanwhile, is a bit of a pearl. Their version of Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry" is a sprightly and peachy, sounding as if it would have been at home blasting out of the airwaves via Radio London at the height of summertime. It's delivered with such energy and verve that it really deserved to be a huge hit.

The other side, a cover of the Four Seasons "Peanuts", is a bit bloody irritating, but then I never was a huge fan of Valli and his boys (a few golden moments in their catalogue aside). Still, it provides good entertainment if you're minded to occasionally screech "Peeea-NUTS!" at the top of your voice in the manner of Matt Lucas off "Shooting Stars".

Wishful Thinking would later have a global hit with "Hiroshima", which was entirely focussed on the fate of that Japanese city. I am unfortunately unaware of the Japanese public's response to that particular record.

26 November 2014

Reupload - Kenny Everett - Nice Time/ And Now For A Little Train Number

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1969

The size and success of Kenny Everett's music back catalogue compares unfavourably in quantity to the fruits of his "day job".  His media career in radio and television comedy in Britain succeeded in a manner most people specialising in only one particular area would garrote their grannies for, but so far as the pop charts are concerned, only the rather dubious "Snot Rap" did well for cuddly Ken (number 9 in 1983, if you must know).  Well, he couldn't expect to have everything.

Yet it probably shouldn't surprise us to learn that Everett tried his hardest to have a bona-fide, non-novelty hit in the sixties as well.  Firstly, DJs from Tony Blackburn to Simon Dee were trying their hand at it too - with frequently distressing results - and also there always seemed to be an element of the frustrated pop star about him.  He took drugs with John Lennon, adored Harry Nilsson enough to cover two of his songs ("Without Her" and "It's Been So Long") and generally seemed like a potential pop star to some.

"Nice Time" is probably his last "serious" stab at a single, and also acted as a TV theme for an Everett series of the same name.  It's at least two years too late stylistically, but essentially this is toytown British psychedelia with a rich, chirpy arrangement and Beatles-esque lyrics (although by this point The Beatles themselves had gone back to basics).  The entire treatment sounds not unlike an Idle Race album track, of whom Everett was a huge fan - so perhaps that's no coincidence.  You'd have to be a miserable bastard not to at least be marginally cheered by the whole thing, even if the chorus isn't immediately apparent.

Much better, though, is the flip "And Now For A Little Train Number", probably one of the few pop songs in existence to glorify the life of the humble trainspotter.  Beckoned in by a brass band opening, then continuing into a particularly strident first verse, the delicate and matter-of-fact observations within are almost worthy of Ray Davies at his finest.  Whilst sitting in Birmingham station "watching British Rail pass painlessly through the heart of Britain", Everett muses about whether or not he should show somebody his collection of new train numbers when he gets home.  "On second thoughts I fear this kindly gesture may likely bore you" he shrugs sadly, adding "I won't come home".  What, ever?  You'll stay forever in the train sidings collecting numbers until somebody appreciates your efforts, Ken?  Why?  Presumably he means he won't come home immediately...

Whatever the meaning behind this track, it's an endearing piece of work which could and should appear on psychedelic compilations, but mostly hasn't, presumably because Everett's face just doesn't fit the party.  Oh, and probably partly due to the small matter of "Snot Rap" as well...

22 November 2014

Fever Tree - I Am (mono/ stereo mixes)

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1970

Consisting of Dennis Keller on vocals, Michael Stephen Knust on guitar, Rob Landes on keyboards, E.E. "Bud" Wolfe on bass guitar, John Tuttle on drums and Don Lampton on guitar, Fever Tree were a  Houston band who are these days mainly known for their single "San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)" which just clipped the American charts at number 91 in 1968.

The bands roots were squarely in folk rock, and while they slowly progressed from that template, you can still hear some of its tones across this single, tempered with a few rockisms. "I Am" is mournful and hollering as well as rootsy, to the extent that Fever Tree end up sounding like an alternative universe Greenwich Village Guns N' Roses at some points. It's a little bit too lighters-aloft anthemic for my tastes, but may well be more broadly appreciated by other readers.

Fever Tree released an eponymous debut album in 1968 followed by "Another Time, Another Place" in 1969, and "Creation" in 1970. All sold modestly, but clearly not enough to convince the band to continue any further. A short-lived reformation occurred in 1978, then sadly, Michael Stephen Knust passed away in 2003, seemingly putting paid to any further revivals.

My copy of "I Am" is the promo version with a Mono version on the A-side and a stereo mix on the flip. I've included both below.

16 November 2014

Unisex - The Music Man/ Lovers

Label: Birds Nest
Year of Release: 1978

Birds Nest are another label I can't quite walk past when I see them lingering in the second hand racks. Partly owned by John Peel's manager and ex-Elektra Director Clive Selwood, they're not a label who released a great deal of hard-hitting, experimental rock, but they did seem to favour the quirky and the bizarre, as well as clearly having a typical seventies minor label love of strange novelty records.

"The Music Man" is a silky smooth disco number with a rich baritone vocal with breathy, seductive interjections - highly corny by today's standards, although the fact that the group are called Unisex clearly drops plenty of hints that this isn't a timeless piece of work. It isn't without charm, though, and while I wouldn't have the guts to drop this one into the middle of a DJ set, it raises a smile in its own timelocked 1970s way.

I can find no record of who Unisex were, but it's safe to say that Muff Murfin - co-owner of the label - probably had a strong hand in producing them. There are other far better examples of disco on the label, with Warlord's "Ultimate Warlord" with its Airy flip "I Shall Return" being something I really ought to examine at some point.

11 November 2014

Mike Morton Combination - Burning Bridges/ You Gotta Be Mine

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1970

Well, I don't know if any of you good people know who Mike Morton was, or who his "combination" were - but I've drawn a blank. One thing's for sure, he's among the very rare and select group of people to actually put his own group's name (rather than a pseudonym or blank credit) to a cheapo "covers" record of the "hits of the day", namely a Super Six EP release in 1971 which featured, among other things, "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". The smart money must be that he was simply a jobbing session man who took work where could find it, and occasionally put his own records out for novelty or soundtrack work. In fact, the sheer quantity of "Mike Morton's Eight", "Mike Morton Orchestra" and just plain "Mike Morton" releases over the years is embarrassing proof that I probably should be a tiny bit more aware of his work.

"Burning Bridges" must have seemed like a nice little earner on the surface, as it featured in the Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas starring film "Kelly's Heroes". It kicks in with a strident rhythm and fanfare before sliding back into standard smooth seventies pop, before ricocheting back into an anthemic Hollywood sound again. A very minor hit elsewhere in the world, it failed to attract much business in the UK, and has since become a bit of a curio here.

It's also another odd single to crop up on the tiny Plexium label, a hitless and short-lived affair whose output is tricky to come by these days. While none of their records are truly outstanding, they're a faintly undermined source for quirky slices of late sixties and early seventies pop.

6 November 2014

Stevenson's Rocket - Alright Baby/ Teenager Dreamer

Label: Magnet
Year of Release: 1975

Pete Waterman has had a longer career than many people tend to give him credit for. Long before his golden patch with PWL in the eighties, his fingers were in many pop pies, of which Stevenson's Rocket were probably the most hyped. A group of keen and cute teenagers who played their own instruments (Kevin Harris on vocals, Alan Twigg on bass, Mick Crowshaw on guitar, Steve Bray on drums and Dave Reid on keyboards) they were fortunate to be spotted by the Hitman while playing a live set in Tiffany's in their native Coventry.

Gifted with ample television slots, press and radio play, their debut single "Alright Baby" sounds like an absolute sure-fire hit, and deserved far better than the paltry number 37 placing it achieved. All the best elements of teenage fifties Spector pop collide with the anthemic sugar-rush of seventies bubblegum, and it's possibly one of the finer Waterman obscurities. Rumours (which I haven't been able to verify) abound that it was bumped out of the charts after a chart hype campaign was unveiled, which would certainly be one good explanation for its failure.

The Rocket managed two more singles after this before fading into complete obscurity, despite seeming to have started their careers on an absolute media high. Their present whereabouts are unknown, but I and a number of other people online would be keen to have word of what they're up to now.

1 November 2014

The Explosive - (Who Planted Thorns) In Miss Alice's Garden/ I Get My Kicks From Living

Label: President
Year of Release: 1969

The Explosive were simply Decca group The Plague (of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" and "Looking For The Sun" fame) operating under another moniker. No line-up changes, no mess, no fuss, just a simple alteration of the band name, perhaps to shake off the curse of "psychedelic flop single" that might have clung to them at that point. They consisted of Ken Ali on vocals and guitar, Bill Dale on bass and vocals, Russ Harness on keyboards and John Truelove on drums. 

Signing to President, they fared a little bit better, but not so much that they ever managed a bona-fide hit single. However, a string of 45s emerged on that label of which this is probably the finest. The A-side is a slightly more bizarre version of Tom Northcott's cult US single, is widely available on iTunes and YouTube, and is therefore off-limits for the purposes of this blog - however, it's worth a spin just to hear the band go to town on the original track and, in my opinion, improve it with their splashes of wah-wah guitar, eccentric reggae-tinged rhythms and quirky vocals. Somewhere amidst the racket, the sound of the art school seventies is being created.

The flip "I Get My Kicks From Living" has clearly had less thrown into the blender, but is still an optimistic and carefree slice of sixties pop. 

The Explosive were finally dropped by President at the end of 1970, but they quickly signed to the tiny Plexium label and issued at least one more marvel, the fantastic and groovesome "Hey Presto, Magic Man", a track I've been after on seven inch for years now, but copies are astoundingly hard to come by.