29 December 2019

Reupload - Day Costello - Long and Winding Road/ Free (Unlimited Horizons)

Elvis Costello's Dad versus Lennon, McCartney and Spector

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1970

It's common enough to hear talk of how the sons and daughters of successful musicians are almost always eclipsed by their elders and betters. What's perhaps less frequently discussed is how often the offspring of relatively unsuccessful musicians (in chart terms, at least) occasionally produce far better and more lasting work. Amy Winehouse, daughter of Mitch Winehouse, is obviously a recent prime example of this, but there are many others. Children growing up surrounded by music will inevitably latch on to it and sometimes take it to more interesting places than their parents did.

And obviously enough, Day Costello was an identity assumed by Ross McManus, father of "Elvis" Costello. He issued a trio of flop singles in the sixties on the HMV and Decca labels between 1964-67, and this oddity in 1970, which was never really supposed to see the light of day as a 45. Originally recorded for the purposes of a budget covers LP in Australia with vocals by Danny Street, Ross's services were called for at the eleventh hour when the label disliked Street's final performance.

When it became apparent that The Beatles weren't releasing "The Long and Winding Road" as a single in Australia, Fable Records decided he should try his luck in plugging the gap, in much the same manner as Ray Morgan did in the UK. The results were partly positive. The single was reviewed somewhat critically in some quarters due to the rather ponderous approximation of the Phil Spector arrangement - a criticism I would definitely echo - but it managed to pick up enough airplay to become a minor Aussie hit. A big plus in its favour is unquestionably Costello's vocals, which don't improve on the Beatles original (as if), but add a subtly different interpretation. Delicate, considered and with a lot of strong tremelo in them, he sounds like an ordinary man lost on some distant plain.

23 December 2019

Merry Christmas!

That's it - the blog is now off on its usual festive break, but we'll be back before the end of the year.

Take care everyone, sip gently on that Advocaat and Egg Nog and don't over-excite yourselves. Thanks for being such a lovely bunch throughout 2019. 

21 December 2019

Offered With Very Little (Festive) Comment #7 - Damon Metro, Yani Skordalidis, Viva, Estelle

Four dusty baubles from the back of the Christmas tree

Hello there. We're at the end of our Christmas single adventures for 2019, and I'm being quite serious when I say that we probably won't be doing this again in 2020 - purely because tracking down and finding interesting and obscure Xmas releases gets harder with each passing year, and I shudder to think how much time I'll have to devote to this in future.

But still, we've had a good run, haven't we? I mean, haven't we? If you click on the "Christmas" tag at the bottom of the post, you'll find many more festive mp3 we've included on this blog over the years, and it's plenty.

And if you click on "Read More" below, you're going to find four more singles I really couldn't find all that much to say about, no matter how hard I tried. You can listen to them and judge for yourself, though.

19 December 2019

Mars - Don't Wake Me Up (For Christmas)/ Living In A Bubble

Country-tinged Pop-Rock rejecting the festive season in favour of a slumber

Label: Handkerchief
Year of Release: 1976

Another puzzler to add to the teetering pile of Christmas single conundrums. "Don't Wake Me Up (For Christmas)" is yet another example of a festive record which had two separate cracks at success - first on the short-lived Handkerchief record label in 1976, then again on its parent label Anchor in 1977. On neither occasion was there any indication that the general public could have cared less (the Anchor releases are less commonly found, which would suggest it was treated even more dismissively second time out).

Musically, it's not particularly Christmassy, though it does at least have sleigh bells throughout. Instead, it has a faintly Smokie country-rock feel and lyrically focuses on the fate of the lead singer, who has had such an unlucky time with his lady that he's decided he's sleeping in for the period (I hope he's planning to eat something and consume liquids too, even if it's only Complan. It seems inadvisable to spend such a long period of time in a self-induced coma). 

Mud had a huge hit with "Lonely This Christmas" in 1974, and that seemed to have fuelled the idea that there was an ongoing demand for tragic, depressive yuletide wailing about lost love. This means that any collector seeking out obscure festive 45s is likely to find endless weepy ballads about being abandoned for the season - trust me, I KNOW. Almost all of them sold zilch and proved that Mud's success was a total outlier, as obviously nobody really wanted to hear such complaining on the turntable at the office party.

17 December 2019

Ebenezer Moog - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/ Silent Night

Festive Moog and Theremin Fun on Elton John's Label

Label: Rocket
Year of Release: 1975

Well, here's a bizarre old release. Consisting entirely of Moog and Theremin twiddling versions of two Christmas carol classics, it's hard to understand how anyone thought it would be in-demand. Analogue synths were deeply exciting and increasingly commercial news in the mid-seventies, but the leading proponents tended to be German groups such as Neu! and Kraftwerk, or the more ambitious art and prog rockers.

Alongside the hairier and more thoughtful synth wizards were, of course, lots of electronic stylings of Bach and Mozart and traditional songs on vinyl, and this little 45 seems to fall somewhere between the two stools. The A-side is cheap jollity - you can probably imagine how it sounds before you even press 'play' - but the B-side is very interesting, and if we flex our collective imaginative muscles, it slightly sounds like a precursor to the Ambient House records of the early nineties (and in fact, if I had to pick one example in particular, Jimmy Cauty out of the KLF's "Space" would be the most obvious). Filled with radio samples of astronauts, eerie rumblings and a simple, sweet warbling electronic take on "Silent Night", it's high on atmosphere. True, you get the vague sense that it might have taken all of half an hour to record, but it's one of the better festive Moog covers I've heard.

15 December 2019

The Antlers - It Looks Like Reindeer/ You Can Change My World

Quirky Santa-based single apparently by famous rockers "in disguise"

Label: Kingdom
Year of Release: 1980

Record company PR sheets are, as Bunf from Super Furry Animals once complained to me, usually "utter works of fiction". Press departments are alarmingly prone not just to claiming that every new release - however mediocre - is a stunning leap in artistic progression from the last one you heard from the artist two months ago, but also complete exaggerations and shady details about the people behind the work, all there purely to inflate the average music hack's curiosity. 

The reason I'm complaining about this is because I've been stung trying to use press releases as verifiable sources before, and also because the one for this record is deliberately vague and sketchy. "A seasonal offering by The Antlers, which disguises a number of well-known musicians. Give it a listen and see if you can guess their identity," it tells us. Me? I think it was probably typed while a Press Officer winked and elbowed a colleague in the ribs.  

I have to say I've given this several listens, and I'm none the wiser. It sounds as if children - or singers pretending to be children - share the lead vocals to give us a tall tale about finding Santa on the roof, while a bass player slaps away in the background, an organ player goes berserk, and actually, not a lot actually happens for nearly three minutes apart from the occasional interjection from someone on vocoder who I certainly don't think is Peter Frampton. It's quirky, it's silly and it's inoffensive, but nothing in it causes me to suspect that it's a lost recording from one of the big artists of the day. Nor does it sound like a hit, and of course, it wasn't. 

11 December 2019

John Springate - A Song For Christmas/ So Long Ago

Atmospheric festive synth-pop from Glitter Band man

Label: Terrific
Year of Release: 1981

While the Glitter Band name may now be rather unfortunately knotted up with the appalling behaviour of their "leader", the group themselves were an incredibly successful entity in their own right throughout the seventies, scoring numerous hits without a big-haired metallic man screaming and staring in front of them (side-note - this cliched mockery is probably unnecessary. I actually enjoyed Gary Glitter's work and his high camp act until... well, you know the rest).

Some of their records were subtle, well-written pop tracks which have since been deleted from oldies playlists and possibly the collective memory. The group have always maintained that they had no idea what Gary was up to, and while all have had varying degrees of success as session men - not least the fabulous drummer Pete Phipps, who has played with groups and artists as varied as XTC, Eurythmics, Mike Rutherford, Denim and Hugh Cornwell - their own collective and individual contributions to the world of pop are rarely discussed.

Their bass-player John Springate made a number of records during the post-Glitter low tide, and this particular festive effort was briefly one of the most fancied of the bunch. It's not surprising, really. "A Song For Christmas" is an uncharacteristic and on-point synth-pop track from an unlikely source. Letting subtlety rule the day, the song builds slowly and steadily into a charming and gentle, atmospheric celebration of all things Xmas - you can smell the incense from here, and the record also contains one of the most effectively understated uses of a children's choir on vinyl (unless you pull Nilsson's "All I Think About Is You" into the competition).

8 December 2019

Electro Gnomes - Electric Gnome Dance

Utterly ridiculous "Laughing Gnome" inspired synth-pop which is as close to genius as it is to garbage

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1982

Regular readers of this blog will know that every December, I like to try and dig out a few festive-themed obscurities for you all to enjoy. Frankly, this year has been the toughest of all, and I've managed to dredge up lots of mewling, self-pitying ballads about being alone at Christmas and not many peculiar bangers with sleigh bells on. Don't worry, though. The self-pitying vinyl party-poopers in the pack will not be our main priority and we will quietly bury them towards the rear of the Christmas tree, alongside Uncle Frank's polka dot tie and those soaps we bought the next-door neighbours from Boots, even though we're not really sure if they're going to be around this year or not. 

This record was one of my best hopes, and it went I first plopped it on to my turntable and played it, I nearly jumped for joy. It's arguably the most pointless, ridiculous and childish Christmas record I've ever turned up, and it knows it - upping the goof factor to the max, the individuals responsible open with a Santa Claus who speaks more like one of the Gumbys from "Monty Python's Flying Circus", then tilt headlong into a squeaky gnome accompaniment whose stylings, initially at least, are clearly borrowed heavily from David Bowie (The group name of Electro Gnomes is also something of a clue as to their main influence here, even if it's doubtful Dame David would have regarded it as flattering).

Just when you think the track has settled into its groove it gets more frantic, more desperate, and speeches about Santa Claus being nice to the unemployed at Christmas-time get thrown into the already baffling mix. It's one for your festive playlist when you've had one too many Vodka and Red Bulls, and while it's not that surprising it wasn't a hit - this is going to irritate just as many as it entertains, I suspect - it's certainly ludicrous enough to raise a smile. Fans of the Cuban Boys "Cognoscenti Vs. Intelligentsia" (a large Christmas hit in its own right) or of cheap and cheerful synth-pop at its most distracted and frantic may find a lot to love here. 

4 December 2019

Matthew Bones - I Am The Pixi/ Two Sugars

Skippy, impersonation-ridden popsike from 1971 (not 1967, like YOU thought)

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

Once every so often, I stumble on a record so strangely out-of-time and absurd in its ambitions that I'm forced to stop what I'm doing and think "How the hell did this even get released?" The music industry is traditionally an unforgiving place where fashion faux-pas are given short shrift - but once every so often, a weird time traveller escapes out of the traps.

"I Am The Pixi" starts off like a vanity pressing of a comedy routine to be sold in working men's clubs, with Matthew Bones doing rather accurate impersonations of the singing styles of McCartney, Presley, Dylan and Lennon for nearly a minute. Then, having affectionately imitated the four biggest influencers in the pack of fifties and sixties rock, he launches into his own sprightly, skippy, orchestrally arranged melody about... er... being a pixie and having half his body underground. This would be fine fare for Middle Earth obsessed 1967, but by 1971 this would have seemed extraordinarily passé. There's not a guitar solo in sight here, just simple Nirvana (UK) influenced merriness.

For all of its fashion failings, though, "I Am The Pixi" is actually one of the most lovably cheery pieces of popsike I've heard in years, and it's utterly impossible not to be charmed by it. Innocent, silly, and sprightly, it will probably irritate the kind of people who find most material of this ilk trying, but for the rest of us it's pure joy. It could feasibly have been a hit in 1967 with a sympathetic summer release date, but what the hell the A&R Department of Pye were on in 1971 is a mystery.

1 December 2019

Reupload - Edwina Biglet and The Miglets - Thing/ Vanessa's Luminous Dog Coat

Absurd and inexpliable novelty Moog single with atmospheric flip

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1972

Nothing causes me to gravitate to a flop record more than a completely ridiculous group name, and if the song titles are off-the-wall as well, then my money is as good as yours (provided, of course, we're not talking excessive amounts. I'm not that stupid). Edwina Biglet and The Miglets is arguably as stupid a name as seventies glam rock ever spawned, and for that at least we have to salute the individuals involved.

More than that, though, "Thing" is is a chirpy Moog-infested track about... er... well, it's not really clear exactly what it's about, actually, and I doubt if you asked anyone involved they'd be able to tell you either. The intro promises an utter proto-techno noisefest, but it quickly calms down and establishes itself as something altogether more vacant and silly. The lyrics seem to involve various characters with different English accents bragging about a "thing" they own. It could be sexual innuendo at work, but the descriptions given defy logic and reason, as the "thing" is described with electronic squelches, buzzes and bleeps. It lights up, it's fun to play with, people think it should be banned, and your guess is as good as mine. 

More appealing to Moogheads out there is probably the B-side, "Vanessa's Luminous Dogcoat", an almost groovy jam which, had it been released by some obscure French artist would probably be commanding insane money on eBay now. As it stands, we're left with a record that neither charted - despite receiving modest amounts of airplay - nor really holds its head high in the collector's market, which given the double-sided oddness on offer seems a bit unjust. It won't be the best single you hear all year, but there's something irrepressibly charming about it. 

27 November 2019

The Selofane - Girl Called Fantasy/ Happiness Is Love

Euphoric late sixties pop from seven-piece group

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

The Selofane were a group who were absurdly large in terms of their overall membership size - regrettably though, so far as record sales were concerned, they never quite made the grade.

Despite this, there's little doubt that this, their first single, had an strong commercial sound, being filled to the brim with rich, loved-up harmonies, a powerful Albert Hammond production and a - for the time - vaguely exotic Europop sound. Coming on like The Love Affair with their dancing shoes off and their work at its most dreamy, "Girl Called Fantasy" sounds like a perfect accompaniment for shoreline romancing for the mod boy and mod girl on holiday. Maybe.

Sadly, both this and their follow-up "Shingle IAO" failed to chart and are somewhat obscure now. The flipside of "Shingle", the heavily phased "Chase The Face" has become a cultish favourite among psych collectors in recent years, but remains strangely uncompiled. It's only a matter of time. 

The group's personnel is going to be an epic chore to list, but for both these 45s Arnie Arnold played sax, with Alex Gavin on organ, Jon Gobin on vocals, Geoff Hulme on drums, Jud Lander on lead guitar and harmonica, Les Martin and bass and the enigmatically named Spider on trumpet. 

24 November 2019

Ways & Means - Sea of Faces/ Make The Radio A Little Louder

Woozy, strange and melancholic slice of winter 1967 psychedelia

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1967

Ways & Means were a British vocal harmony group whose singles were normally quite straightforward pop affairs. Their most famous release, 1968's "Breaking Up A Dream", is sprightly and has a mod-ish kick which has led to it being well-appraised by collectors of that style and era. Their first 45 in 1966, on the other hand, was a cover of The Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe" which was a faithful facsimile.

Between those two releases sat this little ghoul of doom, a vaguely disorientating and psychedelic outing which also sounds as if it's emerging from someone's personal crisis. "Sea of Faces" was released in the dead of winter 1967, and has an intriguing and captivating arrangement. It wails, howls and begs its way from beginning to end, sounding like the Gibb brothers drunk out of their minds on vermouth while lurching about riding a choppy ferry from the Isle of Man to the mainland UK. "I want YOU!" the band screech with unsteady feet, and if I were the lady in question, I wouldn't come back to any of them. It's a bit disturbing, but in a good way. 

The flipside "Make The Radio A Little Louder" takes a more traditional soul-pop tune and arrangement, but still has a wobbly, woozy feeling which threatens to disrupt the order at any moment. Ultimately though, it's not as interesting.

20 November 2019

Mojo Hannah - Six Days On The Road (LP) (including St. Jeremy)

Ex-Sweet man Mick Stewart's stomping Southern bar-room boogie boys 

Label: Kingdom
Year of Release: 1973

Mojo Hannah first came to my attention when a few months back, somebody wised me up to their hypnotic and delightful 1973 single "St. Jeremy". Sounding for all the world like a probable hit, "St. Jeremy" contains earthy early seventies rock grit in its fingernails but also the flamboyant sounds of a Cockney Rebel-esque fiddle and a pounding, repetitive and very vaguely artrock structure. It sounds like something you'd expect from some artschool glam rockers.

Hold that thought for a second, because Mojo Hannah were actually formed by ex-Sweet boy Mick Stewart, who was with that group for a mere year between 1969-70. On the other hand, don't don a pair of silver platform boots and put away all the breakables just yet. Far from being a stomping record filled with rockers about teenage rebellion and ballrooms being somehow "blitzed", or even a stylistic follow-on from The Sweet's earliest bubblegum days, the Hannahs largely produce a solid approximation of Southern country-rock across both sides of this LP.

"Six Days On The Road" is largely straight-ahead bar-room country rock, with plenty of squeaking cattle gut and songs about living one's life as a somewhat raucous individual. For fans of that genre, especially those who like it raw, unpolished and untroubled by slick production, there's lots to love here - the group sound as if they're on stage in front of you pounding their way through a series of songs which will probably mention Louisiana or the Mississippi Delta any second.

For my tastes, they're at their most interesting when they get into a stoned, hypnotic groove, and "St. Jeremy" is the absolute ace in the pack from that point of view - I was originally going to buy the single, until realising that I could obtain a copy of the whole album cheaper - and "Cajun Girl" isn't half bad either, with a gorgeous electric piano line combining with a repetitive beat and some beautiful close vocal harmonies from the boys. Excerpts from both tracks can be found behind the link, but don't necessarily treat them as entirely representative of the rest of the album.

17 November 2019

Reupload - The London Boys - Eyes of Kazan/ All My Life

Excellent McCartney-esque popsike song by John Carter, strangely unreleased in the UK

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1971

There are, to the best of my knowledge, two bands with the "London Boys" moniker. One seemed to be a project of the jobbing songwriter (and Flowerpot Men member) John Carter. The other was an eighties Eurodisco act with flashy dance moves who somehow ended up doing backing vocals to charged political pop on Microdisney records (apparently angrily suggesting to Cathal Coughlan that he was sick in the head before they sang backing vocals to lines such as "There's nothing wrong with the young would-be rich/ that a headful of lead would not cure"). It shouldn't be too tricky to work out which one this is.

"Eyes of Kazan" is an odd release for two reasons. Firstly, it's a slice of psychedelic pop which was issued in 1971, long after most record buyers had shown any signs of caring about this kind of thing. It was also released in Germany only, failing to reach the shops in any other European markets (including the UK). I can only speculate as to why this was - it's possible that it was an old John Carter composition which had been gathering dust which BASF were persuaded to issue, but the (slightly cack-handed) stereo mix suggests to me that it's more likely to be a seventies recording.

It's actually pretty good as well. There's a copped Beach Boys bass riff (from "You're So Good To Me") and a thumping, stoned McCartneyesque feel to the whole thing, and while it lacks the necessary hooks to truly sound like a hit, it's neatly persuasive and proof positive that when digging the record racks for psychedelic pop, one needn't stop at 1969. There are other gems to be found beyond that end-date.

14 November 2019

Mike Wade - On The Make

Completely unreleased song by Scott Walker-esque crooner

Label: [acetate]
Year of Release: [n/a]

Acetates, particularly ones of unreleased songs, spark huge excitement in me. It doesn't necessarily matter if the song isn't a lost gem - I've been getting my knees dirty digging in plastic crates for long enough now to know that's a very rare occurrence - it's just interesting to get hold of a polished recording which never made it past the private studio pressing stage. If a record that only sold fifty copies is scarce, then an acetate which was only shared among a handful of people is always going to feel a bit like a "precious thing" to a record collector.

The trouble is, acetates usually aren't very cheap either, and if I'm being honest, they tend not to overly enthuse "Left and to the Back" readers, who perhaps sense that if it wasn't good enough to make it into record shops, it's probably not worth clicking to investigate further. If I'm being fair, that's not usually an unreasonable assumption. "So what have we here?" you may well ask while stroking your chins, and let me tell you...

Mike Wade was one of many theatrical, big-voiced male solo singers in the sixties, who issued one 45 on Beacon ("Lovers", backed with the danceable "Two Three Four") and two on Polydor ("Happiness" and "Lovin' You Lovin' Me"). With a singing style which does seem rather reminiscent of Scott Walker at times, he nonetheless failed to take the kind of creative risks our dearly departed friend did - there were to be no songs about death or Stalin, nor meat punched for its percussive qualities round at Mike's house.

As Scott became ever more introspective and experimental, perhaps record label bosses saw Mike Wade as being somebody who could be wheeled into his place. That really wasn't to be, though - all his singles sold poorly, and it's very tricky to track down any of them now. Scott's, on the other hand, have been reissued time and time over.

13 November 2019

Our Shop Is Still Online

You may remember me saying a few months back that "Left and to the Back" now had a shop selling all manner of rare, sought-after and unusual 45s.

Well, it's still there, and I'm trying to add records to it every weekend, though the more in-demand ones tend to sell quickly, so it's best to log on and check regularly. Postage is secure and cheap, my feedback has been good (so far) and there's a strong chance you might find something for sale that tickles your fancy.

Log in, and keep revisiting, and don't be afraid to ask if you've got any questions.

[The next blog update will be taking place tomorrow morning, by the way].

10 November 2019

The Squeal Band - Pour on Stardust/ Trailer Park Heaven

Call Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys! They'll lap up this driving prog.

Label: President
Year of Release: 1977

I admit I bought this single at a fairly low price because I saw the year of release, the group's name and the rather glammish A-side song title and assumed I might be getting some late period tinsel rock here. As commonly occurs when these kinds of assumptions are made, that wasn't what I heard when the needle hit the groove - both sides here are the work of skilled musicians showing off their chops very flamboyantly. Part Steely Dan, part Allman Brothers in their "Jessica" prime, it's hooky pop with lots of twiddly bits attached.

The A-side "Pour On Stardust" focuses on the hard knock life of a group attempting to impress management and record labels, who are urging them to "pour on stardust". It sounds very much like a satirical snipe at glam rock and plastic music industry mechanisations rather than the full-on stomp-a-thon I was hoping for, but there's no denying that the chirpy chorus with its painted-on smile is pretty poppy for a group of this nature.

The flip is more satisfying. "Trailer Park Heaven" is a cascade of warbling analogue keyboards and frantic fretboard activity, and it's concise prog rock at its fidgety best. If Yes or ELP had managed to create songs this detailed and kept them at a punchy three-and-a-half minutes, I might have had more interest in them. 

6 November 2019

The Kadettes - Fireball XL5/ Mission Impossible

An eighties synth-pop cover of a children's sci-fi show - just what the future ordered

Label: Blank
Year of Release: 1982

Back in their days as a relatively unknown live outfit, XTC used to try to excite provincial crowds who were unfamiliar with their material with unexpected covers. "All Along The Watchtower" made it on to their debut LP "White Music". Their peppy cover of "Fireball XL5", on the other hand, went nowhere, languishing in the vaults until their "Coat of Many Cupboards" box set unveiled it in 2002 (mixing it together with a pretty mean dub version). While the band weren't happy with the studio version, it's possible they also sensed it might be a bit too gimmicky for an up-and-coming group during those somewhat judgemental times.

A few years later, this little 45 was released by the rather anonymous Kadettes, and placed the tune in the rightful lap of a studio project who were unafraid of the project's novelty value. The early eighties were surely the right time to revamp the track as well. Barry Andrews' squeaky keyboards on XTC's version made it seem like sixties pastiche, whereas this remodels the track as a piece of sleek, futuristic disco - or at least, it sounded pretty damn modern at the time.

Regrettably, the flip "Mission Impossible" isn't actually a synthpop cover of the theme from that programme - though I'm not too sure how that would have worked. It's an original composition which  is perfectly listenable but overshadowed by the ginormous hooks on offer over on the A-side.

3 November 2019

Reupload - Jimmy Gordon - Test Pattern/ 1980

Two fuzzy garage instros from the creator of cult classic "Buzzzzzz"

Label: Challenge
Year of Release: 1967

Jimmy Gordon's 1963 surf instrumental "Buzzzzzz" is one of the more sought-after records of its genre, having an absolute overload of fuzz guitar and riff-ridden drama. Much bootlegged and compiled and blogged since, not much more needs to be added about its existence.

The 1967 follow-up single "Test Pattern/ 1980", on the other hand, has been given shorter shrift. As a sucker for all things remotely whiffing of television testcards, the track's title sucked me in. Rather than featuring a sinister screeching noise throughout its duration, or any reference to nervous girls with chalky fingers playing noughts and crosses with evil clowns, it's yet another instrumental with a twangy, fuzzy edge to it. By 1967 this surely felt slightly like old hat and its failure to hit the charts won't have been a surprise, though it has worked its way on to a compilation for psychedelic instrumentals since. So perhaps not...

The flip "1980" has more of a mellow, jazzy vibe to it, but pretty much stays true to the formula. Both sides are worth your time, with neither one really having the edge over the other in terms of quality.

30 October 2019

The Giant Jellybean Copout - Awake In A Dream

Bizarrely named studio bunch worshipping at the feet of Brian Wilson

Label: Poppy
Year of Release: 1968

While Brian Wilson's talent caused jaws to drop globally when "Pet Sounds" was closely followed by "Good Vibrations", it left the groups who admired him most somewhat snookered. Those who loved The Beatles could put their own spin on the moptop sound without seeming like total clones (though admittedly The Knickerbockers seemed happy to ape their style with very few embellishments). The Beach Boys, though? How can you sound like a 'psychedelic barbershop quartet', as Hendrix put it, in your own way? Wilson not only developed but essentially owned that template.

This is exactly where the ridiculously named Giant Jellybean Copout came unstuck. "Awake In A Dream" is essentially The Beach Boys during their "Good Vibrations"/ "Smile" phase on a much lower budget. It's a very astute imitation, to be fair, and the tremendously psychedelic "lucid dreaming" lyrics and perfect close harmony vocals combine with a meandering structure to create something that must have been a satisfying listen for Wilson fans hungry for the delayed "Smile" LP.

As the group's name might suggest, there's more than a bit of sickly sweet bubblegum running through the core of this record too, but it's syrupy pop with a rather confusing and conflicting aftertaste. 

The main man behind this group was Jim Ryan of The Critters, who is probably best known in the UK for his minor hit "Younger Girl". It's a thing of pure sunshine loveliness which probably doesn't get played much these days due to the fact the lyrics seem slightly paedo-friendly if you're the cynical type. If you hear it as what I suspect it's supposed to be, though - a dreamy song for teenagers about the girl two forms below - it's a thing of beauty. 

Ryan eventually went on to become Carly Simon's touring guitarist, before becoming a studio based session musician. 

27 October 2019

Magnet - Something To Remember Me By/ Everything

Final offering from an under-discussed supergroup

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

The name Magnet is probably familiar to readers who like to delve deep into compilations of sixties obscurities - their debut B-side "Mr. Guy Fawkes" found its way on to both the "We Can Fly" and "Electric Asylum" series.

You could argue that they should be better known than that, however. Consisting of Mick Cox (ex-Them and Eire Apparent) on lead guitar, Keith Evans (ex-Downliners Sect) on bass, Eddie Middleton (ex-Pendulum) on drums and Tony Kelly on guitar and vocals (who, for his part, played with Don Partridge) they were like a supergroup consisting of members of cult sixties combos. Enough to moisten the palms of collectors everywhere, you'd have thought. 

If "Mr. Guy Fawkes" displayed a certain amount of psychedelic whimsy, the A-side showed where the group were really at. "Let Me Stay" is a long, drawn-out rocker which has more in common with Joe Cocker or heavy west coast rock than toytown. 

"Something To Remember Me By" continues in that ilk, but is a sharper, more commercial number, filled with riffs Free or The Ides Of March wouldn't have said no to and a tight, propulsive drive. Had "The Old Grey Whistle Test" been running in 1970, it seems safe to say the group would have been featured.

24 October 2019

The Look - Drumming Up Love/ Testing Times

Final 80s single from under-rated foursome

Label: Towerbell
Year of Release: 1983

The Look have been treated somewhat shabbily over the years. Their name tends to prompt the reflex response of "Eighties one-hit wonders!", and among the most discerning - or perhaps I should say snobbish - punters there's also a tendency to regard them as plastic mod revivalists.

First things first. "I Am The Beat" may have been their only significant hit ("Feeding Time" nudged number 50), but what a hit. Powered by that stomach punch of a drumbeat and one of the sharpest, simplest and catchiest organ riffs of the era, it's far stronger than the efforts of many of the New Wave groups and sixties revivalists they were occasionally compared to. As unashamed crowd pleasers go, it's up there with "Mony Mony" and "Brown Sugar" to my ears, only I tend to actually want to hear "I Am The Beat" more often.

Formerly known as The Kreed, The Ely group were initially signed to MCA in 1980 on a dubious "suck it and see" deal where the label pushed out a single or two to see how they fared, before deciding whether they were prepared to make a longer-term commitment. This wasn't uncommon practice at the time, and usually didn't bode well for a group - if the label lacked enough faith to commit to even one album, it was usually a sign that the band in question were not held in particularly strong esteem in the A&R department, and could find themselves pushed to one side in favour of other acts with bigger money and longer term plans behind them.

So it seemed for The Look at the time. Radio One fairly quickly picked up on the single, but MCA didn't begin to push the record hard until Simon Bates directly named the Managing Director live on air and told him to "get your finger out and promote this record - we're playing it up here and you've got a hit on your hands" (who would have thought Batesy could be so masterly and forceful about the fate of a new band?). It finally entered the Top 40 in the harsh January of 1981, and had risen to the number 6 spot by the end of the month, causing the group to begin to make regular appearances on the likes of "Top of the Pops", "Cheggars Plays Pop" and "Tiswas", lead singer Jonny Whetstone's mulleted, pleased-as-punch face peering through television screens the length and breadth of the land.

Further singles from the group resulted in greatly diminishing returns, however. Descriptions of the period would seem to suggest that MCA mishandled the act, resulting in some rush-recorded but actually rather under-rated singles and an "over-produced" LP ("The Look") which was released long after the momentum of "I Am The Beat" had passed. By 1982, a mere year after scoring a top ten hit, they had been dropped by the label and - despite being a popular draw on the UK gig circuit -struggled to get any interest from the other majors.

Enter the PRT affiliated independent label Towerbell in 1983, home to hit-makers Joe Fagin, Natasha (of "Iko Iko" fame), Nils Lofgren and Shirley Bassey - possibly not the most credible outfit to be associated with, but a reasonable port in a storm. "Drumming Up Love" was the only single to be released from that relationship, and it's a sturdy offering in itself. Filled with the group's usual barnstorming riffs and hooks, it even displays a rawness and energy somewhat lacking in a few of their MCA releases, almost as if the lower budget did them all good.

Sadly, the record sold disappointingly, and the group were offered no further opportunities from the label. The band have claimed that they went to the offices for a meeting only to find the premises "boarded up", which is interesting as while Towerbell definitely did cease trading in 1986, that's some time after this single's failure and presumably long after The Look originally split. We can only assume that Towerbell moved premises and failed to pick up the option to release any more of the band's work in the process, leaving the bemused group "waiting in reception" as they say in the music biz, only in a most chilly, unusual and undignified way.

20 October 2019

Reupload - The Pickwicks - Little By Little/ I Took My Baby Home

Period costume wearing beat group with two spiky, garagey efforts

Label: Warner Bros
Year of Release: 1965

Consisting of Alan Gee on guitar, Malcolm Jenkins on drums, Tony Martin on bass and Johnny Miles on lead guitar and vocals, Coventry's The Pickwicks were one of many sixties beat groups who utilised costumes on stage to strike an eccentric presence. Donning top hats, period costumes and pulling pompous faces, their inventive use of clobber got them noticed, but ultimately didn't score them a hit. Two Decca singles, "Apple Blossom Time" and "You're Old Enough To Be In Love" didn't chart, and this, their final hurrah on Warner Brothers, was equally luckless.

The A-side "Little by Little" is an incredibly minimal, almost garagey effort which isn't so spiky as to be uncommercial, but certainly isn't populist enough to break through. Nonetheless, its insistent keyboard riff and simmering attitude is enticing.

Of far more interest to most readers, I suspect, will be the flip, the Ray Davies composition "I Took My Baby Home". Clattering and crashing into the tune with aplomb, it's a lovely and uplifting two minutes. 

16 October 2019

Candy Choir - Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days/ Love Me Princess

Last gasp for Kent harmony pop stalwarts

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1971

When "I'm A Hog For You" by Erkey Grant and The Eerwigs re-emerged on the Rubble compilation series, there was some confusion about who the oddly named combo were. Well, The Eerwigs were this Kent combo under an early name, and after that wiggy R&B number failed to tickle the public's fancy, they morphed into Candy Choir (after a brief spell as Plus Four - God, this business is confusing sometimes). 

Their sixties bread and butter mainly stemmed from acting as Crispian St. Peter's backing group, but their ambitions clearly lay in striking out as a popular force in their own right. Ostensibly a pop group despite their promising sounding popsike styled name, their debut 45 for CBS "Children and Flowers" showcased their tight vocal harmonies and intricate arrangements, but didn't sell well. Nor did their second outing for that label, "Alexander's Rag Time Band", and by 1970 they had been dropped on to Polydor for two further singles, "Why Do You Cry My Love" and "Magical Spiel" (with Barry Ryan) neither of which improved their standing.

This one-off 45 on MAM was their last hurrah, and as ever showcases their marvellous harmony sound but wastes it somewhat on a novelty A-side. "Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days" is somewhat in keeping with the ironic period pastiches which began to drip out of the early seventies, but is charming without being particularly memorable. For a better track which is much more in keeping with the group's style, the flipside "Love Me Princess" is more worthy of a spin - romantic and mushy but so beautifully performed you'll forgive them any cliches.

13 October 2019

F.R. David - Symphonie (EP)

F.R. David explodes all over the blog for you

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Outside of France, the singer F.R. David - born Robert Fitoussi - is mainly remembered for one thing; his global hit "Words". Its ringing, chiming and despairing melodies about his emotional constipation seemed to appeal to all the women of the world who liked to think that beneath their man's stony exterior lay hidden affections and depths. Perhaps along the way, it attracted the men that applied to as well. On first release, I must admit I found it somewhat wet and irritating, but in my old age I've developed a sneaking affection for "Words".

The problem with having one large hit is inevitably it overshadows the rest of your career - how many times have we heard that before? - and in F.R. David's case, that's particularly unfortunate. He's a much more interesting performer and songwriter than he's been given credit for in the UK, having somewhat credible sixties origins. He began his career in 1965 as a member of the garage band Les Trefles who changed their name to Les Boots after one EP. Success was not forthcoming, so he split to go solo and initially issued this, which was pretty wigged out by the usual standards of French pop.

Track one "Symphonie" is the tune to pay attention to. Riddled with meandering orchestral arrangements, David's falsetto trilling and accompanied with a somewhat psychedelic promotional video which seemingly references Synesthesia, it's French chanson pop with a microdose of LSD. Like many French releases of the period, you can tell the production and arrangements are hemming in the potential wildness of the track - the stench of freshly laundered recording studio lab coats and conductor's bow ties never feels far away - but it's a fascinating piece of work from an unlikely source.

Track two is a cover version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" which reduces the grandness of The Beatles original vision to a melancholy, reflective ballad. It's not the worst version of the song I've heard, but it lacks a real point. The cover version of "Knight In Rusty Armour" and the likeable "Rien De Plus" on the flipside are more interesting.

9 October 2019

Phil Brady & The Ranchers - Exeter By-Pass/ Papa

Scouse country stalwart's solitary Pye release

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

Imagine, just as the Merseybeat scene really began to get swinging, having the sheer misfortune but pure artistic honesty to be fronting a country group in Liverpool. More unscrupulous folk would have dropped the cowboy hat in a jiffy in favour of a Beatle haircut and some copped Motown rhythms, but Phil Brady carried on as he started in 1962 - performing and releasing a series of anglicised country songs, indifferent to the trends around him.

In spite of - or perhaps because of - this singular vision, he began to build a strong live following in the North West of England, which caused the Cavern Club to offer him the chance to release the novelty track "An American Sailor at the Cavern" on their own record label. Sadly, the Cavern's financial demise occurred at almost exactly the same time this record was pressed up, and as a result very few copies made it into the shops. If you spot a copy, snap it up - it's one of the rarest singles of the period, and certainly one of the most unusual Cavern souvenirs.

His other releases are more commonly chanced upon, especially his LPs which were at one point a fairly regular sight in the record sections of department stores in particular. This release for Pye, however, marks his last release on 45, and is a charming, warm and mellow lovelorn contemplation of the Exeter By-pass of all things. You won't hear that in Nashville. In this instance, Brady clearly had the courage to drop distinctly English images into a country track, and it pays off in a way it simply wouldn't if he'd copied from the same rulebook as numerous plastic anglo-cowboys and played the broken hearted, troubled but rugged man from a place he'd yet to visit. "Exeter By-Pass" is equal parts English rain and Southern Comfort (though what an appalling drink that would make in reality).