26 February 2017

Reupload - David Essex and Jeff Wayne (aka The Us) - You're OK With Us/ Tomorrow

Label: Sound Department
Year of Release: 1970

In some respects, I suspect that life was easier for the non-hit singer or songwriter in the sixties and seventies.  Not only were there more venues out there to play and a greater demand for live music, there was also the sheer range of work available for anyone plucky enough to step forward and offer their services.  Budget albums and EPs consisting of cover versions of the hits of the day would often find themselves home to quickie Elton John and David Bowie vocals, for example.

The world of Hallmark Records aside, adverts back then seemed to be filled to the brim with original music, meaning better cash was available if you were happy to go into a studio and sing about the benefits of a regular bowl of cornflakes or the delightful smell which can be dispersed via the latest household cleaning product.  The vast majority of artists who contributed to the music industry in this dubious way have since sunk without trace, doomed to only be remembered through strange earworms heard by bored shoppers in modern supermarket aisles (after all, which one of us can't walk past "Shake n Vac" without hearing the sodding tune in our heads?)  As always, though, there are exceptions, and here's a star-studded one.

Back in the sixties and seventies, a deodorant called "Us" was produced, which came in a terrifyingly bulky and ugly white can, making it look like a WD40 dispenser or a paint spray by modern standards.  The accompanying advert for the product consisted of a band (some of whom look like future "Top Gear" presenters, though they're not) playing in a sweaty nightclub with confidence.  Presumably the average viewer could witness these cool kids smiling on stage and would equate the wearing of the bathroom product with super-fun times.

"You're OK With Us" was the tune the band "played", but the special promotional single the manufacturers Johnson Wax released sounds somewhat different - and that's because this version has star-in-waiting David Essex contributing vocals.  Arranging the instruments and on songwriting duties is Jeff Wayne, future "War of the Worlds" man who at this point in his career was dashing off ditties for hundreds of adverts and apparently making a fine living from doing so.  Despite its dubious origins, the track is actually likable enough to pass, and whilst numerous ebay sellers have been trying to pass it off as a "garage rock" or "psychedelic" single ever since, it's really much more of its time than that.  Despite the rather distorted guitars, it's typical of the kind of tune that emerged at the cusp of the seventies as the more commercial end of radio pop gradually slid into the messiness of glam.  I wouldn't bother playing it myself at either a glam or sixties night - unless somebody persistently requested the track, that is, which seems unlikely - but it's definitely a fascinating curio, and an insight into the workings of two people who would later go on to have a huge influence on music in the seventies.

The flip "Tomorrow" stems from a bath salts advert, of all things, and sees Essex and Wayne managing to pre-empt John Lennon's "Imagine" by a few years.  It's another of those mournful songs which expresses nostalgia for a late sixties ideology which by that point had barely passed - "But what about the songs we used to sing/ of Brotherhood and love?" demands Essex forcefully. "Remember when we sang that we shall overcome?" Steady on, sir, there's no room for politics whilst one is enjoying a relaxing bath.  Did you not read your briefing papers on the way into this session?  Whatever the appropriateness of the tune, it joins Elton John and Roger Hodgson's early non-hit "Imagine" and Denis Couldry's "Tea and Toast Mr Watson" as being a nostalgic, hippy-sympathising track somewhat peculiarly recorded either during the summer of love or shortly after it.

You won't need me to tell you that David Essex became a massive star with a string of hits in the UK a mere few years after this work, and would be reunited with Jeff Wayne on "The War of the Worlds" project in both an acting and singing capacity (during which he seemed to suggest that he would be a President in some underground sewer community - which is inappropriate talk for a man who had previously promoted deodorant).  To think that it may have been due to this advert work that the pair met - platinum history created by underarm scent receptacles.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on the B-side.  This promotional single was pressed very quietly (apart from the announcer's thunderous but unenthusiastic declaration at the start, which sounds more like a terrible YouTube "mock") and it was very difficult to wipe out the surface noise without also removing some of the more subtle parts of the record.

22 February 2017

Jean Bouchety - Marley Purt Drive/ Portrait of Nancy

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

Major Minor is a label I tend to look for in second-hand racks quite often, because while it issued a lot of records of questionable merit (like all record labels) it does also have some perfectly good and relatively unheard and uncompiled sixties pop in its catalogue. So when I clocked the Gibb brothers credit on this record, I snapped it up quickly. Too quickly, really, as the original LP this was taken from ("The Rhythms, Sounds and Melodies Of...") retails at around half the price online.

Jean Bouchety is actually a French composer of numerous television and film soundtracks, and contributor to several library music LPs (including some issued by Burton music). So, this version of "Marley Purt Drive" is actually just a slick and swinging piece of easy listening with occasional cooing female vocals - the kind of thing you could stroll along Carnaby Street swinging your man-bag in time to, if anybody ever actually did or does that sort of thing.

It's actually rather nice, but not worth the money I paid for it, and while it is a very scarce 45 with few documented owners, sadly its obscurity hasn't hidden any mindblowing or even remotely odd interpretations of the Bee Gees work.  The lovely basslines and a careful arrangement mean it's not a total wash-out, however.  

18 February 2017

Rainbow Cottage - Cloppa Castle/ Take Good Care of My Love

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1978

Wigan's Rainbow Cottage were a rum bunch of coves - an band consisting entirely of left-handed members to begin with, they were a club act who toured the UK relentlessly and made most of their money as a covers band. However,  they did occasionally pop into recording studios to put out original material. Their most successful effort, "Seagull", reached number 33 in 1976, and was penned by Brian Gibbs of popsike wonders The Answers. 

It's possibly due to Gibbs' involvement that "Seagull" sounds uncannily like a late sixties group ballad which has somehow found itself in the charts in 1976. It's whimsical, gentle, contemplative and actually quite sweet, and wouldn't have been completely out of place on a "Circus Days" compilation LP. 

The group tried to build on the track's unlikely but modest success and failed, and continued to make most of their money from the live circuit. However, another opportunity for fame and fortune arose in 1978, namely the chance to record the theme tune for the stop motion animated children's series "Cloppa Castle", based on warring tribes in some peculiar fictional alternate reality battling over the rights to oil. 

The theme tune is a busy but datedly analogue synth driven beast, beginning with psychedelic phasing and steadily building into something both strident and ridiculous. "Everyday at three o'clock/ they all sit down for tea!" we are informed forcefully, as the group summarise the general activities of the puppets in the programme with passion and gusto. 

Is this intended for adult consumption? Probably not. Nonetheless, there are elements of the single which do, once again, echo the late sixties, and that's possibly not too surprising when you consider that Patrick Campbell-Lyons of the UK group Nirvana was involved with the songwriting (it would seem that Rainbow Cottage had a filofax filled with the contact details of everyone who was almost someone in the late sixties). With a slight, only passing similarity to the Crocheted Doughnut Ring's flop psych single "Happy Castle", it's a piece of dayglo silliness only a complete grump would hate. It wasn't a hit, obviously - and nor really was the programme it came from - but this is a perfectly nice burst of sunshine. 

Rainbow Cottage ploughed on through numerous line-up changes until 1987, when they decided to call it a day. 

12 February 2017

Rainbow Children - Rock 'n' Roll (Who Needs Rock 'n' Roll)/ (We Love Rock n'n Roll)

Label: Antic
Year of Release: 1974

Hello everyone. Sorry for the relative lack of updates on "Left and to the Back" over the last couple of weeks, but unfortunately I've been struck down with an eye infection which makes sitting down and researching and writing blog entries on top of my nine-to-five job very difficult. There's only so much staring at screens my vision can cope with at the moment, unfortunately. (It's nothing serious, by the way, but it is a pain in the arse - or a pain in the eyes at the very least).

Anyway, here's a glam rock oddity which slipped out in 1974 to some airplay but no chart action. Issued on Antic, the short-lived pop subsidiary of Atlantic Records, the A-side is a kiddy-fronted attempt at glam which seems to be using Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" as its blueprint. Unlike that record, however, it lacks the warmth of a Spector soundscape and instead sounds quite raw and beaty - not the kind of noise children's vocals work very well in tandem with, unless they're used in a really sneering, sarcastic way. Here, they're just a little bit too cute for their own good.

As a result, the flip (essentially Part Two of the track) is much better, and is even graffitied as being such by the previous owner. It's an instrumental glam guitar freak-out, and is something to slip on between your Lieutenant Pigeon records if you're DJ'ing at the local glam bop.

It looks as if the two men behind this record were Christian Paul and Marc Hammond, who don't seem to have any credits for anything else that was ever commercially released. This record was also issued in some European markets under the name Rock n Roll Children, but I'm not sure if it met with any more success there.

5 February 2017

Reupload - Three Good Reasons - Nowhere Man/ Wire Wheels

Three Good Reasons - Nowhere Man

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1966

Some time ago, I made a solemn vow not to upload any more Beatles covers to this blog unless there was an exceptional reason to do so, believing that far too many were just lazy xeroxes of the Fab's originals. However, bizarro novelty covers would be allowed, and so too would perfectly decent discs like this.

What the rather mysterious Three Good Reasons achieved with "Nowhere Man" is by no means radical, subversive or weird, but it is interesting. The vocals in the track are handled by female vocalist Ann McCormack, who brings a slightly spiteful, folksy tone to the proceedings. Whereas Lennon was largely writing about himself in a despondent fashion in the original but coyly buttering it up with pop melodies, Clegg sounds like a scolding finger-pointer here, which gives the track an abrasive edge it ordinarily lacks, foresaking vocal harmonies for a bit of grit. It takes a spark of originality to make a cover version sound like an enjoyable alternative to the original rather than a poor facsimile of the original, and Three Good Reasons are most definitely in the former camp here. "Nowhere Man" might not trump The Beatles, but it does strangely highlight how much they were influenced by Dylanesque folk rock by this point in their careers, and it does so in a pleasingly zippy, zinging way.

Three Good Reasons released two other singles - "Build Your Love" and "The Moment of Truth" - but never really achieved mainstream scucess. "Nowhere Man" was their best shot of the big-time, peaking at number 47, and as for where they are now, well... I'm afraid the answer is that they're nowhere (men) (and women) in the music business, unfortunately, although Ann did get in touch with me to say she still enjoys doing the odd karaoke spot.

1 February 2017

Roy Young Band - Granny's Got A Painted Leg/ Revolution

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1970

Roy Young is something of a showbiz trooper. His first taste of fame came through playing keyboards with the much-loved Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, and after that group's success dwindled, he also sessioned and played live for Long John Baldry, David Bowie, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson.

Prior to all that excitement, however, The Roy Young Band were formed, who also included Dennis Elliot (who later joined Foreigner). The group released two LPs on their own, "Roy Young Band" and "Mr. Funky", and also toured with Chuck Berry as his backing band.

If anyone is expecting a bit of rebel rousing rock and roll here, though, they're going to be rather surprised. As its absurd title hints, "Granny's Got A Painted Leg" is a complex, jazzy, brassy, thunderous piece of progressive pop, closer to Locomotive in style. Filled with unexpected twists and turns and frills, it certainly rocks, but in a particularly rambling way. I bet Bob Harris loved them.

Got to say, though, that after more than one listen "Granny" really starts to take a hold on me too. If on occasion it sounds a little too fussy for its own good, it certainly does swing, albeit in an unorthodox way. If the music of the likes of The Rebel Rousers had some sort of mainstream future in the seventies, this might have been what it would have sounded like - taking motorcycles down the winding woodland roads past the most interesting scenery, rather than Route 66.