31 July 2019

The Feminine Touch - Hurry On Home/ Some Things Take A Little Time

A chipper chunk of bubblegum from this Manchester female trio

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

The volume of chirpy early seventies pop tunes that leaked out unnoticed is enormous. You might think that there was a mountainous profit to be made from coming up with breezy melodies, possibly while checking Tony Burrows' availability for vocals in the process, but in the competitive world of the hit parade, there were numerous examples that barely registered.

This one is yet another case. With a chugging rhythm and a prim but poppy chorus, "Hurry On Home" seems to have one eye on the success of The Archies and Shocking Blue, but it was a failed gambit. It's not going to be appreciated by every visitor to this site, some of whom may prefer their pop on the less commercial side, but it nonetheless has a bounce and catchiness to it many other singles of the era didn't get close to.

Janet Kilbourn was the composer of the A-side here, and also wrote a number of other tracks during the era, including "Maybe We've Been Loving Too Long" for Pickettywitch and The Flying Machine and "Shame Shame" for The Laurels. Beyond that, the trail goes cold so I can only assume her work eventually dried up. 

28 July 2019

Reupload - Blossom Dearie - Discover Who I Am/ The Music Played

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Blossom Dearie was a hugely respected jazz singer and pianist from New York who never really broke through to mainstream success either at home or in the UK, though she did have a hit in France with her version of "Lullaby of Birdland". Very much a musician's musician and friendly with the likes of Scott Walker, her club stints in London, France and the USA were all highly acclaimed and her back catalogue is impressively deep.

This B-side is, if I'm not mistaken, an absurd curveball in her catalogue, being a piece of reflective, gentle and almost psychedelic pop. Without wishing to make obvious comparisons within her social circle, there are shades of Scott about it, from the arrangements through to the considered, introspective lyrics. It swells, fades and swells again, relaxing in its own melancholia and never reaching for an obvious hook. That may turn some listeners off, but for people who like their pop to be subtle and considered, it's an absolute plus - it's a track to wallow in rather than ride or cling to.

24 July 2019

Dyan Diamond - Mystery Dance/ Western Ave.

Teenage punk managed by Kim Fowley takes on Elvis Costello song

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1978

Venus and The Razorblades were a mixed gender punk band who tend not to be widely discussed these days. They were managed by the sketchy music mogul Kim Fowley after he severed his relationship with The Runaways, and never quite managed the same degree of press attention, perhaps feeling on the surface like a repetition of the same trick. Singers Dyan Diamond and Vicki Razorblade were 14 and 17 years old respectively, mirroring his previous "teen female rock band sensation" stunt.

On top of that, they signed to Spark Records in the UK just as that label was about to keel over (It's probably news to most readers that Spark lasted long enough to sign a punk act). Their style was also, for all its merits, distinctly American - this wasn't ramshackle, rapidfire hard punk but rather rough and ready rock music sounding as if it belonged in spit and sawdust bars where Hells Angels hung out. Tracks like "Dog Food" give a strong impression of where their heads were at - part New York Dolls, part Gene Vincent with some of the spirit of The Runaways thrown in. 

After the group failed to have any success on either continent, Fowley turned all his attention to Dyan Diamond, feeling that she would be a huge solo star. Her solitary single was a spirited cover of Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance", which - like his original effort - is over and done with in under two minutes. While Costello's version has very slight elements of knowing nerdy pastiche about it, though, Diamond cranks up the attitude a notch and turns it into a straight-ahead head-down rocker. 

21 July 2019

The Zebra - Miss Anne (Ain't That Kind Of Man)/ Groovy Personality

Lovely piece of vaguely psychedelic sixties pop with soul B-side

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

A bit of a mystery disc this, but a lovely one nonetheless. On the A-side, the intriguingly titled "Miss Anne (Ain't That Kind Of Man)" is - perhaps disappointingly - a lyrical tale of a haughty lady after a wealthy suitor, and not an "Arnold Layne" styled story. Giddy orchestral arrangements, chirpy fairground organs and strummed acoustic guitars give the whole thing a late sixties hippy pop vibe, and it has a chorus with such a heavy hook that it nudges the track slightly towards the bubblegum side of the street as well.

Confusingly, the flip sounds so different that it could easily be the work of a different band, and I wouldn't be amazed to find out that it was. "Groovy Personality" is closer to soul-pop, with much more impassioned vocals and a less frivolous feel.

The fact that Paul Leka appears to be up to his neck in this work only adds to my suspicions that this is a studio group. Leka has also worked as a producer and arranger with The Lemon Pipers, Steam, Peppermint Rainbow, The Left Banke and The Palace Guard, and for a time seemed to be everyone's go-to guy for luxurious, paisley pop arrangements. Famously, he also penned "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" and "Green Tambourine", both huge hits of the era. Later on, he also worked with REO Speedwagon, which fits the general story less well but is a interesting fact to throw out nonetheless.

17 July 2019

The Embers - Chelsea Boots/ Samantha

Sixties instro-pop with - on the flip - a distinct Joe Meek feel

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1963

What could be better than a sixties guitar instrumental about everyone's favourite footwear - then and now - Chelsea Boots? The boots with an elasticated removal strap at the back which always gets used with rushed relief at the end of the day when you need to remove an agonising new pair of the things (I still think some kind of minor medal should be awarded to anyone who has endured a month of discomfort trying to wear a new pair "in").

As you'd expect, the A-side here has a typical, merry Carnaby Street skip about it, perfect for swinging your shopping bag along to having bought such shoes. It sounds perfect as incidental backing music, but perhaps lacked a strong enough melody or hook to become a charting single. 

The flipside generally tends to be more discussed online. "Samantha" apes Joe Meek's production style so much that I only hope he never heard it. If he had, I'm sure the familiar scream of "Rotten pigs!" would have been heard, closely followed by some objects being thrown around the room. Clearly, it's not as precise or as clean a style as Meek managed, but it's a neat imitation.

14 July 2019

Reupload - The Colours - The Dance/ Sinking

60ft Dolls man Rick Parfitt in early mod revival incarnation. This is ace, by the way. 

Label: Loco
Year of Release: 1983

While the early eighties are generally remembered as being a time of enormous musical progress - be that through groundbreaking developments in synthesised sound, increased glossy production values, or the more interesting ideas in prog getting absorbed into the more commercial strain of New Pop - it was also a time of enormous revivalism or adaptions of pre-existing sounds. And certainly, out there in indie-land, it was considerably easier for a band with basic, stripped back ideas to get the sound they wanted out into the shops than for an act with aspirations towards the big, expensive Trevor Horn sound. Away from the Woolworths racks, the basic guitar pop sound often reigned. 

The Colours, then, hailed from Newport and were one of many, many bands during the period to clearly be inspired by the sharp, snappy immediacy of the mod revival sounds going on around them. "The Dance" is actually a very smart example, too, having a kicking edge to it that all the best examples of that period did as well as a highly memorable chorus. Their restricted studio budget may even have actually helped keep a necessary roughness to this. There's a firm Dexys edge here, as well as a confident, aggressive swagger. 

This was their only single, and it's very tricky to find any details about their full line-up. However, apparently the Parfitt in the "Parfitt-Rose" songwriting credit is Richard Parfitt who went on to join the moderately successful The Truth, leading to The Colours demise. Perhaps more notably, he was also a founding member of cult nineties indie band 60ft Dolls, and once they split became a session musician and songwriter, both performing for and penning numerous tracks for fellow Welsh popstar Duffy. In fact, Duffy credits Parfitt with discovering her and "changing her life". 

10 July 2019

Doubloon - Go Anywhere/ Look Every Day

Soul influenced flop from the Australian "Nickel Queen" film

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1972

I can't claim any credit for finding this one. Rather, "Left and to the Back" reader Eduardo Ojeda Marins got in touch with me a month ago to tell me that he was a collector of the Jam label, and to ask if I wanted to hear any more examples of their catalogue. Of course I did!

The Jam label has always intrigued me. From its messy toddler-sodding-up-a-formica-table-in-a-B&B design to its connections with stars like Edward Woodward and Mike Read and flash in the pan acts like Blackfoot Sue, it's always seemed like one of those seventies labels without much focus but with lots of curiosities in its discography. Some of these records also sold so poorly that finding copies now is an uphill struggle.

Doubloon was their 28th release, plopping into record stores in November 1972 to rather limited interest. We are handily informed that it could originally be heard in the soundtrack to the Australian film "Nickel Queen", though the name Doubloon was only given to the UK issue - in its native country, the single was issued under the name of the two key performers, Kerrie Biddell and Terry Kaff. The former was a prominent and respected jazz performer down under, whereas the main activity I can see from Kaff apart from this single is a Neil Diamond covers LP.

That makes an awful lot of sense when you hear his Bisto-rich voice introducing the opening lines of this record - "Blimey, that man sounds like he might be heavily influenced by Neil Diamond!" I found myself thinking before even bothering to do any research - but no matter. The arrangements of both sides of this record owe as much to the soul trends of the day as they do to the performer of "I Am I Said", and those sweeping orchestral sounds are as likely to remind you of the slower, sweeter moments on a Northern Soul obscurities compilation.

7 July 2019

The Wanted - In The Midnight Hour/ Here To Stay

Storming, urgent garage rock burst of the Pickett classic

Label: A&M
Year of Release: 1967

"In The Midnight Hour" is one of those songs which has has always been buzzing somewhere in the background all my life - on the radio, at parties, in the set of that well-meaning sixth form college covers band who played 'all the classics' their teenage abilities could cope with, on a relative's Atlantic soul compilation in the car... and there is probably nobody reading this right now who hasn't heard it.

However, in the sixties its simplicity made it an attractive set choice for the numerous young garage bands popping up all over the USA, meaning that besides Pickett's powerful and popular original rendition, there are a number of others which sound like a bunch of speedy spotty herberts thrashing around as if the 'midnight hour' in question couldn't come quickly enough. 

The Wanted's rendition is probably my favourite of that set. Sacrificing groove and soul for thrash and fury, it picks the song up, grabs it by the arms and swings around their cramped quarters, bashing it against the walls and ceiling and leaving it in a heap after less than two minutes. Like the best garage tracks, it translates the energy and attitude of a strong but chaotic live show to vinyl with effectiveness, making you feel as if you can taste the cheap, fizzy beer on tap and smell the armpits of the fat bald man in front of you (so maybe it's not all good, then). 

The group were from Grosse Pointe in Michigan. They consisted of Arnie DeClark on rhythm guitar, Dave Fermstrum on organ, Bill Montgomery on bass, Tim Shea on lead guitar and Chip Steiner on drums. According to the Garage Hangover website, the owner of the Detroit Sound label they began releasing records on was the drummer's father Irv Steiner, a mightily convenient connection that presumably enabled them to put out rockers like this one on a label usually reserved for proper soul releases. Sometimes nepotism can work out well for all of us.

3 July 2019

Simon Groom - Can't Help Falling In Love/ Goldie

Rather poor cover of the classic song by ex-Blue Peter presenter Groom.

Label: Own label
Year of Release: 1992

If any moderately famous television personalities happen to be reading this blog, here's a little bit of advice for you - if you've recorded a track, and it's not for charity, and you can't get any record company interested in it, even though they surely know that it's guaranteed at least some publicity... well, forget it. You've clearly become far too invested in the process to understand something that's crystal clear to them, which is that nobody is going to care. Once you've blown a wad of notes on recording studio time it might feel wasteful, but releasing the thing on your own label and paying for the marketing and distribution out of your pension savings almost never results in a return. Just ask Tom Watt, aka Lofty off "Eastenders".

The enthusiastic, lovable Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom's cover of "Can't Help Falling In Love" is possibly one of the more baffling examples of such a vanity disc. Issued on his own label in 1992 in a high-gloss, full-colour sleeve and available in a variety of formats (a friend of mine bought the cassingle version as a joke birthday present for someone) it was clearly no low-budget undertaking. The recording itself is also clearly not the work of slackers, featuring up-to-the-minute Stock Aitken and Waterman-esque basslines, juddering rhythms and synth-trumpet fanfares. Anti-pop musos may find it somewhat "plastic" sounding, and it does veer close to elevator music at times, but it's certainly not unpolished. In the promotional appearance Groom made to plug the single on "Blue Peter" (which you really do need to watch) he was even accompanied by accomplished, smiling dancers, choreographed within an inch of their lives and doing their best to present it as a serious piece of work.

The problems really begin and end with Groom's vocals. They're frail and periodically out of key, and not in the charming, authentic or frail way Bernard Sumner, Robert Smith or Jarvis Cocker all occasionally manage. There's no anger or fragility here, no folkish earthiness. When his voice wobbles out of key, it's always because he's straining hard to hit the right notes like a Las Vegas pro and falling short. It's like a bar-room karaoke performance that almost gets it right, but doesn't quite make it over the line. He hasn't accepted his limitations or found his true singing voice, and a few more lessons prior to getting into the recording studio booth might have elevated this single from "bad" to "surprising but unremarkable".

Groom had appeared performing Elvis Presley numbers on "Blue Peter" before, and was known for being a huge fan of the man. At the point of the release of this record, he said that it had always been his ambition to release an Elvis tribute record. With this, it got ticked off his bucket list, but it didn't find an audience despite his efforts. Perhaps in the end, that didn't matter all that much to him.