29 March 2020

Adam Mike and Tim - Flowers On The Wall/ Give That Girl A Break

For those about to self-isolate, we salute you

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

The unimaginatively named Adam, Mike and Tim - who, for a period, were actually Tim-less, having a man called Peter on entirely fraudulent Timothy duties instead - began their recording careers by taking a beat pop direction with their debut 45 "Little Baby" in 1964 before taking a folk rock tack.

Perhaps they knew they were playing to their strengths. With their impeccable vocal harmonies and homespun rustic charm, the trio managed to be both vaguely hip and earthy but also ideal slick, professional filler on TV and radio. Blessed with a large number of "Thank Your Lucky Stars" appearances and some airplay in the UK, they must have seemed likely to have a hit through their continual media presence alone.

As it turns out, the public were broadly indifferent to their records, and even when they recorded an extraordinarily prescient and sitar-drenched cover of the Paul Simon track "A Most Peculiar Man" in April 1966, they remained sidelined. That would prove to be their final recorded effort.

Their fourth single, however, was an utterly ace cover of the Statler Brothers track "Flowers On The Wall" which imitated the harmonies of the original with pin-point accuracy, but also added a certain frantic and sardonic rush, making this for me by far the better version. Gone are the finger-pluckin' hoe-down vibes, and in place is a stomping piece of sardonic Brit-folk.

Numerous people have pointed out that lying behind the chirpiness of "Flowers On The Wall" is clearly the tale of one individual driven to isolation, madness and denial by the world around them. The line "Playing solitaire with a deck of 51" is probably the ultimate give-away - the insinuation that someone is playing without a full deck doesn't need to be spelt out. Perhaps in these times of Coronavirus and self-isolation, though, a new meaning could be brought to the song, though I doubt we'll be so desperate that we'll be watching "Captain Kangeroo" to pass the time.

25 March 2020

Steven Lancaster - San Francisco Street/ Miguel Fernando Stan Sebastian Brown

Optimistic Shel Talmy produced British popsike exploring the idea that anywhere can be San Francisco really...

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Throughout 1967, San Francisco seemed to be sold to non-residents as a utopian ideal, the peace-loving place of hippies, beatniks, oddballs and the kids of the future. These days, it's an impossibly expensive place to live and a strong city to invest in some prime hillside real-estate. Somewhere in between those two moments, the hippy drug comedown produced a degree of crime, chaos and vagrancy amongst the idealistic thinking. Beware anyone selling you utopia, kids. Eventually, you end up paying for it. Hey, why do you think I can't afford to live in Walthamstow anymore?

Steven Lancaster here - actually songwriter Len Moseley, who later went on to join and write for Wild Silk - was perhaps more philosophically minded about the situation, keen to inform listeners that in fact, San Francisco could be created anywhere, whether you had the money for a plane ticket or an apartment. All you need (besides love) was the will to let it exist and let your own state of mind form that community. 

While Moseley had clearly never visited Ilford, it's an optimistic thought that permeates through this dash of popsike convincingly. Shel Talmy was on production duties to give the track his usual masterly oversight, but instead of the usual guitar crunching, feedback and distortion, he opted for a more subdued approach here. The end result is sweet, simple, and completely in keeping with the zeitgeist of the times, but possibly lacking enough of a memorable melody line to enter the Top 40.

22 March 2020

Reupload - Academy/ Polly Perkins - Munching The Candy/ Rachel's Dream

Uh-oh. Dot Cotton's sister off "Eastenders" has been taking special tablets. Someone alert Doctor Legg.

Label: Morgan Blue Town
Year of Release: 1969

Life wasn't easy for independent labels in the sixties, and Morgan was no exception. Constantly dealing with shambolic distribution networks, very few of them scored hits. President Records broke the mould in the later part of the decade, but Joe Meek's struggles with Triumph and the financial struggles experienced by Strike Records spoke volumes about the hurdles many truly independent businesses had to deal with.

Far from being just an independent label, though, Morgan was also a large and well-respected recording studio in North London, with an in-house session team of musicians and songwriters who regularly bypassed the Morgan label and licensed their product to majors (The Smoke's "My Friend Jack" probably being the most famous example). The best Morgan recordings, such as those by The Smoke, Bobak Jons Malone and Fortes Mentum, were compiled on a superb Sanctuary Records release called "House of Many Windows" some years ago. This is now out-of-print, but copies are well worth tracking down - the team had developed a distinctive and actually incredibly agreeable sound by the late sixties, filled with tricksy and classical inspired arrangements, a low-end bass fuzz, and peculiar woozy but nonetheless poppy psychedelia. Whereas a lot of other psychedelic pop of the period sounded like the melodic equivalent of cheap Christmas cracker toys, Morgan took their mission seriously - in anyone else's hands, a track like Fortes Mentum's "Saga of a Wrinkled Man" would have possibly sounded cheap and nasty. Not for no reason did one prominent Morgan man Will Malone go on to become the arranger for The Verve in the nineties (and it is just about possible to hear the similarities if you really try).

Morgan Blue Town was an incredibly short-lived offshoot of the main label which attempted to reposition their product in a more progressive vain, appealing to the hippy and student markets. Any recordings on the label tend to be hopelessly scarce now, including this single by actress, Ready Steady Go compere and singer Polly Perkins.

This is actually a somewhat threadbare inclusion to their usually heavily produced catalogue. Polly Perkins had failed to score any hit singles in her music career, but was nonetheless a "known name" at this point who had already put out some commercial sounding grooves - so her sudden shift to progressive sounding music must have seemed bizarre at the time, a bit like Twinkle suddenly going a bit way-out and boarding the weed bus to rural Cambridgeshire. Nonetheless, "Munching The Candy" is a very folky, campfire effort which nods and winks in the direction of naughty drug-taking behaviour. "Rachel's Dream", on the other hand, is a rather more epic B-side which considers the plight of the Jewish people. No, really.

18 March 2020

John Carter - One More Mile To Freedom/ The Saddest Word I Know

Top songwriter breaks out on his own to produce sophisticated seventies pop

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

John Carter. How many times have we talked about the man on "Left and to the Back"? Well, we mentioned him as recently as Sunday in relation to Solent's "My World Fell Down". With partners such as Ken Lewis and Gillian Shakespeare, he was an extraordinarily prolific songwriter throughout the sixties and seventies, and in common with most melody peddlers, had far more flops to his name than hits as he toyed, tweaked and speculated with sounds in order to accumulate.

Seldom did he strike out and record under his own name, though "Laughing Man", his duet with fellow writer Russ Alquist, is probably one of my favourite psychedelic era obscurities. This one, "One More Mile To Freedom", is the chalkiest of chalk against that particular Brie, though, being a much more considered, serious attempt at sophisticated seventies pop without a whiff of marijuana induced silliness in the room. 

Rather, "One More Mile To Freedom" is strident, triumphant and epic, sounding like something you'd put on your car stereo shortly after quitting the worst job of your life. Once again, it proves that Carter had the enviable ability to shift and change genres and styles to suit the era's demands. 

15 March 2020

Solent - My World Fell Down/ The Sound of Summer's Over

Faithful but slightly modernised, de-psyched version of the Sagittarius song

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The fact that the John Carter and Geoff Stephens penned "My World Fell Down" failed to chart when issued by The Ivy League is probably one of the great injustices of the sixties. Seldom has one song approximated the West Coast sound so faithfully and so well, and with such a sumptuous melody, only to fall by the wayside.

It was improved upon further in 1967 by Americans Sagittarius, who fleshed its sound out further still with disorientating sound effects which seemed to be knowing nods to Brian Wilson's Smile sessions, all acting as the cherry on the top of an utterly superb song. That fared somewhat better, climbing to number 70 in the US Charts, but its failure to become a significant hit doomed the track into being swept up by Nuggets, Rubble and other rarities compilations in the decades down the line. 

Whoever Solent were - that's not entirely clear, though someone called "Bobby S" has claimed vocal duties over on the 45Cat website - they obviously couldn't believe the song's lack of luck, and had another crack at it. This time round, the song is given a politer, smoother mix and almost more nostalgic, sorrowful harmonies. The track by now seems to be harking back to a sixties surfing shoreline as a distant memory (not that such things were that common in the UK to begin with) and the flipside adds to that mournful air, asking very gently where those surfing summers went to. "Don't worry baby" one of the singers sighs, and you almost get the sense they're mopping Brian Wilson's brow, trying to get him down to the south coast of the UK to work his magic. 

12 March 2020

Katch 22 - It's Soft Rock & Allsorts It's Katch 22 (LP)

It's mostly Soft Rock with some pleasing harmonies though, let's be honest. 

Label: Saga
Year of Release: 1968

Sleevenotes: "The Katch 22 have built up a tremendous following during 1967 and this album has been produced in appreciation of the great demand from you, their fans, to hear more of this talented young group.

Four of the twelve tracks featured in the album were written by the KATCH, I like "Thoughts On A Rainy Day" for its sweet simplicity, and in contrast, "There Ain't No Use In Hangin' On" which the boys feature in their stage act, is a fantastic 'knee-shaker' full of the tremendous vitality which KATCH fans have come to recognise as being a trade-mark of the group.

The boys have asked me to thank Richard Hartley for helping out on the arrangement. Richard is a member of "Fire", another group handled by TokeNam Aw who produced this brilliant showcase for the KATCH's exceptional talent, and also produces the group's singles.

As KATCH 22's agent and friend, I have been in association with them for quite a while and I'm convinced that they have the elusive star quality which will take them to the top - and where else more appropriate for such a 'KATCHY' group."

John Edward.

As I've mentioned before, Saga were a well-known budget label, perhaps most famed for their cut-price classical LPs and brass band discs rather than the kind of output which really shook the room. Nonetheless, towards the end of the decade they had the idea of booking in a few groups into cheap recording studios, figuring that there was (quite literally) hungry talent out there to be exploited and no real reason why the budget market shouldn't cater for pop music fans as well.

Saga's deals were so threadbare - usually involving a one-off payment for the groups in question and no royalties - that it's hard to imagine why anyone would have put their hat in the ring, however desperate they were. While none of the few pop and rock LPs that slipped out during this brief period are lost classics, they do contain some interesting ideas and a few genuinely stellar songs. "Moonbeams" by the Magic Mixture (recorded in an infant's school hall) is a neat, spacey track which manages to recall Joe Meek and sound like of-the-moment psychedelia simultaneously, and the "Five Day Week Straw People" concept LP is a charmer in general.

Katch 22's LP is perhaps the biggest selling and most unexpected of the bundle. As the sleevenotes suggest, Brixton's Katch 22 - or THE KATCH in block caps, as their agent seemed to wish to refer to them - were a fairly serious proposition at this point, felt by some music critics to be poised for success. What did they want with a budget LP label?

There are two answers to this question. The first is probably "quick and easy access to money" (in other words, the same reason Elton John had dalliances with budget labels later on) and secondly, a long player with a full colour sleeve in the wire racks at Woolworths at a cut-down price, recorded quickly but professionally, probably allowed them more promotion than a few flop 45s in the remainder bin. At a low, low price, there's no doubt this also attracted buyers who wouldn't have touched Katch 22 product on impulse at the full whack.

And what did they get for their money? Well, an LP that's competent and pleasant enough to accompany your tea and toast on a Sunday afternoon, but certainly won't shake your house's foundations. The terribly titled "It's Soft Rock and Allsorts It's Katch 22" (which competes with Giorgio Moroder's "That's Bubblegum, That's Giorgio!" for the Most Sloppy and Literal Album Title Of All Time award) does at least prepare you for what's up ahead. The group are slick, keen, professional musicians who specialise in rich vocal harmonies and tranquil takes on numerous West Coast pop hits.

11 March 2020

Shop Around

The Discogs shop is still open, readers, and the stock is growing all the time.

I usually put new stock online every weekend (if I have time!) and the best bargains tend to fly off the "shelves" (or the wooden boxes in my house) before the end of the day, so it's worth being quick on your feet. I'll often sell in-demand ultra-rarities at bargain prices in order to ensure a quick sale. A household clear-out is the name of the game, so if you keep watching, you might get lucky.

What's left is the kind of assortment of goodies and curios you'd expect from a blog like "Left and to the Back", and there's probably something in there you'd either be proud to own or have been seeking out for awhile. So pay the store a visit - sooner or later, it's going to have something you want. 

8 March 2020

Reupload - What Four - Stop In The Name Of Love/ Asparagus

Demented garage rock, and yes, the B-side is about the all-American goodness of that vegetable - though I think it's a satire on "squares" and "straights"

Label: Tower
Year of Release: 1968

Once every so often I stumble upon a sixties garage punk single that really causes me to pull "WTF?" faces. This shouldn't happen often, of course... I've been around the block enough times to realise that a lot of garage singles are highly bizarre artefacts, so I'm already prepared. But still, when I purchased this one, I felt sure that what I'd be getting was an uptempo, abrasive take on the Supremes classic. And what I got instead was...

Well, it's hard to describe this version of "Stop In The Name Of Love". The first listen to it is highly perplexing, as the band choose to make all the most quirky sounds at the places you'd least expect them. The "Think it over" segment of the original tune, for example, is the calm after the huge warning sign of the chorus. What Four instead place a clanking, pounding riff behind it that makes it sound like an extension of the chorus's hysteria, the next level up. This is not a pop song anymore, it's the noise of five railway barriers sounding off simultaneously through valve amplifiers.

I had hoped that this might be a good single to DJ with, but I suspect it might actually clear dance floors. It's not a bad record by any means, and I actually enjoy its peculiar elements hugely, it's just too irregular for most dancers to be able to make a connection with. I suspect the point of inspiration may have been Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On", but "Stop" here is much more abrasive and stripped back.

The B-side "Asparagus" is possibly a bit more promising in the dance-floor department, being a proper uptempo garage pounder with layers of lyrical absurdity about accepting the universal goodness of American asparagus over the top. I suspect its a metaphor for the kind of meaningless middle-of-the-road demands made by "squares", readers. But the track has a loose, rhythmically simple enthusiastic drive behind it, akin to the kind of garage rock you might suspect Jack White would most enjoy.

4 March 2020

Shirley & Johnny - Don't Make Me Over/ Baby Baby Baby

Slick Bacharach/David cover from sixties pop stalwarts with punchy flip

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1969

Shirley & Johnny are one of those sixties acts who had such considerable respect in the industry that they were allowed to pump out single after single without once ever reaching the Top 40. Nine in total came out across different labels (Philips, Parlophone, Mercury), but despite the chances they were given, sufficient progress was never really made.

The duo were an oddly conventional showbizzy affair by the standards of the era who were nonetheless very well-suited to cosy press stories. They consisted of a boyfriend/girlfriend couple (Shirley Bagnall and Johnny Francis) who periodically performed and recorded songs penned by Bagnall's father Richard, who had begun songwriting on a whim after taking an interest in his boy's career. This set-up might lead you to suspect that the pair weren't belting out proto-Freakbeat anthems, and you'd be utterly correct - Poppa Bagnall declared via a press release that "young people... like sentimental songs today just as we liked sentimental songs in my day" - but nonetheless, there was a consistent quality and occasional surprises lurking on most of their recordings. 

By the time this, their seventh release, hit the Woolworths stores of this green and pleasant land, old man Bagnall had seemingly been given the heave-ho and the pair went for the safe option of a Bacharach and David A-side. It's a sturdy, pleasant and pretty take on a song it's very difficult to ruin, and both have voices which are powerful and emotive enough to lend it a faintly new feel.

The flip is much more interesting, though - while it takes awhile to get moving, by the time it does you'll be swept along with its pounding insistence. It's not a radical departure, but it certainly sounds closer to American soul than anything else they tended to do. The track was also issued later in the year as an A-side by Sue Lynne whose slightly less commanding version can be heard here.  

1 March 2020

Linda Kendrick - Sympathy for the Devil/ He Wrote Me A Letter

Flamboyant but brilliant and strangely rocking cover of the Stones classic

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1974

Make no mistake, "Sympathy For The Devil" was always a slightly camp track to begin with. For all its muscular grooves and guitar heroism, the very concept of Mick Jagger meeting with the smoky one for a conversation does have a faint whiff of pantomime about it.  Imagine the outcomes of that scenario and keep a straight face. 

Not everyone will agree with me, though, and the listeners who have been treating the track as the epitome of serious rock since the day they first heard it may not appreciate the take Linda Kendrick delivered in 1974. To my ears, though, this is magnificent and amps up the theatrical elements to a stunning degree. Beginning with a gospel choir (though the Stones were no strangers to those themselves) and then letting Kendrick run riot with the ultimate vampish performance, the entire track is renewed with a particularly Soho shade of menace. Linda's dramatic vocals are so superb it's almost impossible not to feel impish glee at the whole thing, and those sliding country guitars just add a touch of dramatic magic.

By 1974, she was no inexperienced new face, having already earned her stripes in the sixties gigging up and down the country with prime support spots to artists such as Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black, with a brace of singles on Polydor and Philips already behind her. This experience led to an acclaimed role in the long-running musical "Hair" where Kendrick's performances are still regarded favourably by those who saw them.