29 April 2020

Philadelphia Brown - 1-2-3/ Philadelphia Rock

Glammish pop take on the soul classic by ex-Angel members

Label: Strawberry
Year of Release: 1975

Well, here's a strange flop from the barren pop wastelands of 1975. According to the ever-reliable Seventies Sevens website, Strawberry Records was a teen orientated label launched by the Vogue Choice management agency in August of that year, but only issued three singles, two of which were by this bunch.

Who were they and why we were only briefly subjected to their charms? That's where things get slightly confusing. Music Week at the time referred to them as an "unknown soul singer" rather than a fully fledged group, which would suggest that Strawberry's press department only did half a job of launching them, as all other sources clearly state they were a pop band. Despite these unnecessary red herrings, it looks reasonably certain that both the guitarist Bob Banasiak and the drummer Brian Johnson were both members, and given that both were previously also involved with the Cube Records signed Angel, it seems safe to assume that Philadelphia Brown were their next project following that group's split.

It's hard to mess up a song as strong as "1-2-3" and they don't, choosing instead to add a bit of teen stomp, sparkle and sunshine to the tracks rather more gritty origins. The repetitious nature of the song means that it doesn't carry quite so well as something slightly less dancefloor orientated, though, and I can't help but wonder if that's half the reason it flopped. Far more interesting to me is the dubby wah-wah instrumental version on the B-side which was probably tossed off in half-an-hour, but showcases the group's abilities in a way that at least makes your feet twitch. 

26 April 2020

Barry Reynolds - Outsiders Point Of View/ Hold Me Down

Strange analogue synth infested minimal pop from Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones collaborator

Label: RAK
Year of Release: 1974

While his name probably isn't on the tip of everyone's tongue, Barry Reynolds was actually a big background player in the developments of seventies and eighties pop. He was the author of Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English" and the first person to record "I Scare Myself" (ahead of Thomas Dolby) and a session musician on numerous Island Records projects, most prominent among them Grace Jones's work. He has an enviable track record of involvement in projects which were either alarmingly hip or prescient.

Less discussed is his own solo career, which is somewhat surprising under the circumstances. His 1974 debut single "Outsiders Point Of View" still sounds a little bit unusual even from this vantage point. Starting with a sinister, wailing, despairing analogue synth, a rumble of acoustic bass, then building into wailing, soulful, falsetto vocals, it continually sounds on the brink of collapse before tipping itself right side up again. Those eccentric bended synth notes continually hint at the track's demise, making the single sound as if it's been left in the sun for too long. It's almost like Reynolds had heard "Ball of Confusion", "Rock On" and "Popcorn" and somehow meshed and melded those unlikely influences into the song's construction, then pre-empted My Bloody Valentine and Board of Canada's wobbling sound experiments too. Almost.

Naturally, the song isn't as challenging as that, and relies on a more traditional song structure and a confident swagger to pull it through to the finish line. As eccentric pop 45s go, though, this has been somewhat neglected since its release and deserves more hearings.

22 April 2020

Godfrey Winn - I Pass/ Love Shades

Actor and newspaper columnist makes bid for pop stardom

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

There really aren't a lot of pop records out there about fairness and common sense and gentlemanly values. To state the perfectly bleeding obvious, ever since rock decided to do its own brand of particular stuff around the clock, popular music has been primarily about romance or rebellion. Even if a performer or group are miffed off with the current state of society, this will normally be expressed as a call to arms rather than a series of gentle complaints sent to music. 

Godfrey Winn chose 1967 of all years to step forward and buck this dominant trend. He was a regular actor, who by this point had starred in "Billy Liar" (as a DJ) and "The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery", but he also earned a more regular living from being a newspaper columnist for the Daily Express. "I Pass" is essentially a middle-of-the-road column set to music wherein Winn waxes lyrically about good old-fashioned British values. While he does so, backing vocalists trill, coo and b'dum around him. "The fair way is called the square way!", "The gentle are called sentimental!" he complains in plummy tones. "The age of science sees no alliance between mind and soul!" It sounds like he's singing from his notebook of possible future column ideas.

It's a truly odd record which, if nothing else, goes to prove that most newspaper columnists have always been a sanctimonious and overly nostalgic bunch, and have never veered enormously from their handful of pet topics over the decades ("So what's the point of them?" you may well ask, and I'd be inclined to agree). The contents of this disc aren't particularly controversial, but could have been written by any greying hack at any point between hip and swinging 1967 and today. It doesn't matter whether you agree with what Winn is saying or not, it's still questionable whether the record needs to exist. It's like listening to some telephone hold music while your aged Auntie complains in the background about how rude people are in supermarkets nowadays.

19 April 2020

Reupload - Changin' Times - Pied Piper/ Thank You Babe

The original - and best - garage rock version of the Crispian St Peters hit

Label: Philips
Year of Release (in the US): 1965

Now here's an odd find - a South African pressing of a low charting American garage single. The Changin' Times "Pied Piper" managed to climb into the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100 on its release in 1965, but response to the record in the UK was downright indifferent on its issue here, and it took our native arrogant young gunslinger Crispian St. Peters to turn it into a monster top ten hit with a smoother, bouncier, and actually inferior version.

Maybe the original was just a bit too rough around the edges for British tastes at that time, but I think it's a thing of total wonder. From the incessant flute riff through to the raw and craggy Dylan-esque vocals, it's one of the finer pieces of pop to burst out of the naive nooks and crannies of American garage rock. Lyrically it's possible to view the disc as either being an approving nod to beatnik culture and the bourgeoning hippy movement, or an utter piss-take - my wife is utterly convinced that it's actually a fairly snarky piece of satire (the use of the phrase "so fall in line" perhaps being a criticism of the hero-worship the likes of Dylan received rather than being approving). Whatever your end conclusion, musically it's simple, sharp and delightful, and probably not seeking out underground credibility with its endless hooks.

The flip is even more raw than the A-side, throwing a rasping harmonica and spirited vocals against a thrown together minute-and-a-half ditty. It consists of the victory of youthful enthusiasm over ability and budget that so many garage records have in spades.

15 April 2020

Whichwhat - In The Year 2525/ Parting

Pedestrian cover backed with a surprising kick of garage soul

Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

Here we go again with a familiar old story - it looks as if this cover of Zager and Evans' hysterical doomfest "In The Year 2525" was released in an attempt to beat the original American performers to the UK charts. Mr Zager and Mr Evans didn't pop their heads above the magical Top 40 line until 9th August 1969, perhaps convincing Beacon Records that they had a chance at a free-run themselves with one of their own groups.

Of course, they didn't, and the very idea that the homespun efforts of the tiny label could have taken on the might of RCA was hugely optimistic. To make matters more difficult, this single also sounds like an unenthusiastic demo, a run-through of the track with no spin, punch or passion to speak of. If you walked into a London club with some sophisticated recording gear and taped a competent group doing a soundcheck with this song, chances are the end results wouldn't have been much different.

That's deeply regrettable, because tucked away on the flip-side here is a group composition which possibly hasn't seen enough daylight due to the track it's been coupled with. "Parting" is a soulful effort filled with honking brass, organ stabs, driving rhythms and agitated vocals which has led to some online comparisons to Dexys Midnight Runners - obviously it's not quite up there with the quality of the young soul rebels, but it's certainly an extremely early example of aggressive, adolescent pub rock moves combining with soul arrangements and structures. Only a certain lack of emphasis on the rhythm section in the production holds it back, but as the track was apparently recorded in someone's front room [citation needed], this is probably forgivable! 

12 April 2020

Sir Sidney Saitheswaite And The Garbage Collectors - I Like Knees/ Tea Lovely Tea

Absurd Bonzos-esque meditation on the wonderfulness of knees

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1967

Given the stunning number of Bonzos inspired singles I've managed to unearth over the years, anybody would think that they were the leading lights of the late sixties rather than something of a cult concern. This, though, is possibly a stupendously silly prince among them.

Backed with the typical jauntiness of a Roaring Twenties music hall ditty, the lyrics of "I Like Knees"   are part fetishistic in a Victorian way ("Everybody likes to see a ladies' knees!"), part ridiculous ("Vote for knees on election day!") and delivered with the kind of prim enthusiasm usually only reserved for a major royal event. The combination of the lead singer's posh accent and the over-the-top delivery is both infectious and hilarious, and makes for a humdinger of a single, not entirely dissimilar in tone to the world of "The Ladies' Bras" but a lot less brief.

The B-side isn't bad either, focusing its attention instead on cups of tea, making this possibly the most stereotypically English 45 put out even in the late sixties when it had plenty of competition. Barring the questionable Indian accent towards the end which nobody would get away with now, it's another pearl - "Tea, tea, is utterly lovely/ it builds empires/ and puts out fires" we are informed, which I suppose is technically correct but water would do the job just as well. 

8 April 2020

Andwella - Are You Ready/ People's People

Driving and stomping rocker from Northern Ireland

Label: Reflection
Year of Release: 1970

The group Andwella's Dream are probably well known to most psychedelic collectors, having produced the absurdly rare and highly sought after "Love and Poetry" LP for CBS in 1969. Progressive and often bordering on heavy, the record has since been reissued on a number of occasions.

Their post-CBS career has been less well appreciated and explored, however, and that's possibly because it's simply not as daring or interesting. Perhaps learning from the fact that the more challenging aspects of their sound caused their sales to stay low, they stripped out the embellishments  and became a poppier proposition. 

I can understand that this sounds like appalling news, but actually some of their singles are slamming little affairs, not least this one which sounds like Wings before Wings were ever actually "a thing". Stomping, leaden beats combine with confident, joyous vocals and slamming guitar chords, and only a slightly dull production stands in the way of the record entirely succeeding. Strain your ears, and you can almost hear the glam rock storm coming over the horizon.

Andwella - or Andwella's Dream if you prefer - at this point consisted of  Dave Lewis on guitar, piano, organ and vocals, Dave Struthers on bass and vocals, and Jack McCulloch (of Thunderclap Newman fame) on drums. The group managed three LPs in their career. Besides the acclaimed "Love and Poetry" on CBS were "World's End" and "People's People" on Reflection, which sold slightly better than their debut but only by incremental levels. 

5 April 2020

Reupload - Reparata - Your Life Is Gone/ Octopus's Garden

The most OTT death disc ever backed with Starr's finest. You can't lose. 

Label: D'art
Year of Release: 1976

I wrote quite a bit about Reparata, of Reparata and the Delrons fame, in this blog entry where I covered the utterly magnificent "Shoes", which existed like a mongrelised version of girl group pop, glam, and Roxy art-rock. It's one of the finest pop accomplishments of 1975, certainly, and only weird legal issues surrounding its release have prevented it from becoming far better known.

While "Shoes" flopped in 'real' terms, it created enough interest in Reparata's solo career for the small indie D'Art (or Dart, as they now seemed to be known) to reissue some stuff from their vaults in 1976. And what an odd reissue it is too, with it consisting of her Octopus's Garden/ Your Life Is Gone single from 1972 with the sides flipped.

Someone at the label clearly realised that their best shot at following up the art-pop of "Shoes" was the rather ace death disc styled number "Your Life Is Gone" which had previously been hidden under the jolly Beatles cover somewhat like a collection of writhing earthworms under a rock. While it's not an original idea by any means, the track takes the basic premise of "Leader of the Pack" and "Terry" and seriously ups the ante, adding car smash noises and ambulance sirens (and, for some reason, a sitar) to the mix. "Can't go on much longer!" wails Reparata. "Soon they'll have to put me away!", then the sound of crunching metal follows soon afterwards. As OTT as it sounds, the pleading melody is very faithfully and beautifully done. It's the kind of track retro revivalists such as The Pipettes might have turned their attention to in the noughties, had anyone involved in that project wanted to inject some black humour into the proceedings.

1 April 2020

Thor Baldursson - Arlene Chatreaux/ The Tin Soldier Painter

Gentle Icelandic popsike of the folky kind

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

While Iceland is arguably one of the most culturally engaged nations in Europe (possibly even on Earth?) with its absurdly high literacy levels, enviable number of writers and artists, and thousands of all-round general everyday dabblers, their music hasn't always exported well. Prior to Bjork and The Sugarcubes in 1987, and bands and artists like Bellatrix, Sigur Ros, GusGus and Mum who rushed through once they pushed through the bracken, there was... not much that sold outside the country's borders, actually. Thor's Hammer went through a period of producing some fantastic mod-pop barnstormers in the mid-to-late sixties which really should have sold well in the UK, but the fact they were never officially released here put paid to that.

That wasn't true of all Iceland's performers, though. Thor Baldursson couldn't have been less like those Nordic purveyors of Freakbeat, and had a much more subtle, threadbare, contemplative folky take on the world. Perhaps this gentleness made him seem like a safer proposition for Decca, who issued this, his solitary British 45.

The flipside has started to generate a bit of interest among psychedelic collectors for its "popsike" subject matter and qualities. Sure enough, "The Tin Soldier Painter" ticks most of the toytown bingo boxes, lyrically referencing childish hobbies, organ grinders, and strange men with bric-a-brac shops. The fey, gentle, cheery melody is also undercut with a faint sense of mournful doubt as well, which is another definite plus. Overall, though, Thor's delivery is too deep, gravelly and sincere to completely place it in the middle of a technicolour village fete or fayre.

I actually prefer the rather more ignored A-side "Arlene Chatreaux" which is a pretty, well-arranged ballad Thor handles with the right degree of subtlety and charm. Far too threadbare and seriously folky to chart, its lain neglected for a bit too long. At some moments, the orchestration lends the track a feel not entirely dissimilar to early Nick Drake, which is a serious plus point.