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.