29 November 2020

John Christian Dee - The World Can Pack Their Bags And Go Away/ Stick To Your Guns


Sulky introverted ballad to the joys of prostitution

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

While John Christian Dee's name may not be immediately familiar, the American-born songwriter and performer was actually one of the sixties busiest beavers. From being the first "Adam" in the Germany based singing duo "Adam and Eve", to penning "Don't Bring Me Down" for The Pretty Things, to marrying (and working with) controversial society figure Janie Jones, Dee was everywhere while as a solo performer (in UK chart terms) being nowhere. 

 The relative failure of his solo singing career has to be put in some perspective here. Adam and Eve were a sensation in Germany, issuing scores of singles and seldom being off the television, and when he moved to Britain his songwriting career was productive and actually highly credible. Besides working with The Pretty Things he also wrote "Get Yourself Home" for The Fairies - a cult sixties R&B classic - and a string of other pop songs for major labels. All this was attempted while trying to make a name for himself as a solo performer, which caught some of the attention of the music press but didn't necessarily result in huge sales.

"The World Can Pack Their Bags And Go Away" was his third solo single on these shores, and was also somewhat strangely the B-side of his previous single for Pye "Take Me Along", though the differing production credits for this issue would suggest a more ambitious re-recording. It's a full-on sulk of a record, documenting someone's post-adolescent heartbreak and wanderlust. "For a couple of pounds I could buy a friend/ but what would people say?" asks Dee somewhat weirdly at one point, before detailing a hotel check-in with the aforementioned buddy. 

It's a very peculiar piece of kitchen sink songsmithery which begs sympathy for a lonely and heartbroken man who just wants to spend quality time with a whore; not a subject that was likely to find much commercial favour in 1969, or indeed now, which is probably why it didn't. 

25 November 2020

Swegas - What'ya Gonna Do/ There Is Nothing In It

Two stabs of "progressive brass rock" from British octet

Label: Trend
Year of Release: 1970

Swegas were one of many hugely ambitious but ultimately somewhat penniless progressive rock acts doing the rounds of the European gig circuit in the early seventies. Signed to the both the independent B&C and Trend labels, then finally BASF, the octet must have faced more significant financial challenges than most underground acts - few others had so many bodies to house or mouths to feed.

The quantity of members gave them a fuller, brassier sound than many of their peers, however, with perhaps the exception of other soul-loving hairies such as Locomotive. While their debut LP for B&C was recorded and then subsequently shelved, both sides here were on the proposed original tracklisting, and give a firm impression of their sound, though I can't help but wonder whether in a live environment they were a bit more raucous than this. Both the A-side and flip here sound slightly cautious and lacking in punch.

An album ("Follow The Light") emerged on Trend in 1971, then when that label went under they got a deal with BASF who issued their second and final LP "Beyond The Ox" later on in the same year in Germany. This is now an extraordinarily collectible release with copies frequently selling for over £150, and offers a more mature, developed sound.

22 November 2020

George Chandler - The Best Dreams/ Dream On

Salman Rushdie's disco dreams for midnight's groovy children

Label: Burnley Building Society
Year of Release: 197?

Whenever the Nationwide Building Society broadcast a new television advert featuring a poet, my social media feeds fill with howls of protest. Among the usual complaints that the poem accompanying an advert for a financial institution isn't exactly "The Wasteland", there's a tendency for howls of "Sell out!" to be heard from other writers too. 

I feel somewhat ambivalent about all this. Making a living as a writer is absurdly tough and not everyone has the means to plough through the hardest times without taking up distracting full-time day-jobs. If an advertising agency drops by your door with a quick and lucrative offer - as agencies did in the past with John Cooper Clarke, who for awhile was the Honey Monster's companion in the Sugar Puff adverts - it's going to be very difficult to say no if the cash buys you a year off working in the council post room. 
"No! They're off the artistic roll-call!" scream the Bill "orange drink" Hicks fans on Twitter, forgetting that Hicks did actually add the disclaimer "but if you're a starving artist [and do an advert] I'll look the other way". 
"But how can they expect to be taken seriously ever again?" yell the writers, and I'd argue that's entirely their own business to resolve... and anyway, the roll call of writers who have been down this road before and "got away with it" is immense, so it's probably nothing to worry about. 

The highly critically acclaimed and wardrobe-hiding author Salman Rushdie, for example, previously held a successful career at the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, where he penned several successful campaigns and slogans including "Naughty But Nice" for Fresh Cream Cakes, and "That'll Do Nicely" for American Express. This is interesting from an advertising historian's perspective, but it's this little 45rpm wonder, seldom referenced on Rushdie's CV, which is most relevant to "Left and to the Back".

Back in the late seventies, the now-defunct Burnley Building Society took the generous step of giving away a free Disco single about the brilliance of their organisation to new clients, a move which must have had many customers saying "Oh, you shouldn't have!" The single itself is a perfectly acceptable, inoffensive piece of work with accomplished production and musicianship behind it, but the lyrics over-egg the ecstasy of opening an account with the Burnley. "Dreamin' 'bout a country garden/ dreamin' 'bout feeling free/ skies of blue can come true for you/ 'cause the best dreams begin with B!" penned Salman Rushdie all those years ago, in a move which is doubtless now causing numerous Nationwide poets to collapse with laughter. 

18 November 2020

Reupload - Earth - Everybody Sing The Song/ Stranger of Fortune


Plymouth rockers on a vaguely psychedelic pop excursion

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

Earth - or The Earth as they appeared to be known for this release - were a Plymouth rock group who managed to sneak two singles out in 1969, one being the rather rare and sought-after "Resurrection City" on CBS, which was subsequently compiled on to the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums.

The follow-up "Everybody Sing The Song" lacks the scrambling freak-out nature of the CBS single, and is much poppier and more anthemic, leaning heavily on the chirpy analogue synth sounds in the chorus. Once again, it's one of those faintly psychedelic A-sides that in a fair week might have stood a chance of airplay and possibly chart action - but as things stood, it utterly flopped.

Establishing the line-up of Earth should be very straightforward, as I have documentary evidence from the Circus Days box set that the group consisted of Dave Bolitho on vocals and keyboards, Pete Spearing on guitar, Robin Parnell on bass and Ian "Snowy" Snow on drums. What could be simpler? But no! The "Tapestry of Delights" book states that Greg Vandyke, an eventual record dealer from Plymouth, was also in the group on keyboards, and clarifies that a "slightly different line-up" recorded this Decca release (without specifying who) and also insists that a mysterious "Rangford" was also a member.

If you want to be confused further still, several online sources including Wikipedia state that Glen Campbell was also a member of the group. It seems to me to be fairly unlikely that Campbell would have caught a train to Plymouth and bumped into the boys and hooked along for the ride, and I'm tempted to regard this as being one of those weird Wikipedia inaccuracies which have since been quoted as fact all over the place. Indeed, in moments where the online version of events differs wildly from the printed versions, I tend to ignore it unless given solid evidence otherwise... but since the evidence on offer in print is also contradictory, this is a tough one to unpick. Does anyone aknow for sure? My guess is that Campbell appeared as a session guest on "Resurrection City" and that's where the story ends.

15 November 2020

Honeyboy - Heart of Gold/ Version

Beautiful reggae take on Neil Young classic

Label: Penguin
Year of Release: 1977

Reggae's ability to plunder the classic songbook, take any song from any genre (within reason) and reappropriate it for its own purposes is enviable. Of the thousands of Jamaican singles churned out each year throughout the seventies and eighties, some top flight covers can be found for your delight.

This Neil Young cover has been a lot more buried than it deserves to be, however. The gentle, yearning "Heart of Gold" probably feels more of an obvious candidate for the Lover's Rock treatment than it initially appears, and the treatment here is respectful, faithful and yet somehow - as bafflingly contradictory as it sounds - entirely its own sound. It manages to make you believe that Neil Young's original vision was always for this track to be heard by lovelorn rude boys everywhere. 

The dub version on the B-side isn't the most adventurous you'll hear but also spikes the song into new and interesting shapes.

11 November 2020

Ian Green's Revelation - Groover's Grave/ Revelation


Two slices of instro-sophistication

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Ian Green is a British arranger who has occasionally been compared to David Axelrod. Both were actively recording at the same time and creating considered soul, jazz and easy listening hybrid interpretations of popular hits as well as recording original material.

CBS obviously hoped that Green would capture a youngish market who wanted lush instrumental music but didn't want to engage with the chocolate box arrangements so beloved of their parent's generation. While so much easy listening fare of the late sixties relied on being a soothing aperitif to anyone bloated on rock's excesses, Green's tracks frequently allowed themselves to be a bit more vibrant, fruity and powerful. 

Sadly, it came to nothing and this was the last of his 45s for the label, and is somewhat unusual in that both sides were composed by his wife Rosetta Hightower who we've met on this blog before. Despite it's promising title, "Groover's Grave" isn't as way-out or as groovy as you might think, and is actually a fairly jolly bit of work with lots of puffing flutes and pinging guitar strings. For my money, the flipside "Revelation" gives a strong impression of what set Green apart from his more popular peers.

9 November 2020

Tessa Niles - The President's Girl/ You Take My Breath Away


Jittery uptempo President-bothering 45

Label: Rainbow
Year of Release: 1985

I have to confess I knew absolutely nothing about this single until I received a tweet about it from the Football and Music website a couple of weeks ago, leaving me with a tricky conundrum. Should I order a copy online knowing I wouldn't receive it in time to prepare a topical blog entry to run neatly alongside the US election? Well, you're reading this, so obviously I did and timing be damned. 

There again, it's not as if the single itself was ever timed neatly with an election, nor actually (so far as I can ascertain) released in the USA, so I can probably be forgiven. The sleeve of "The President's Girl" presents itself as a strange piece of countrified patriotic Americana, which I suspect is probably just irony on everyone's part, because the single is actually a very punchy, jittery piece of mid-eighties pop. Optimistic and frothy, it's occasionally a bit silly and hyperactive with its quiz show styled horn fanfares, but it still whiffs of a possible hit. Obviously though, it didn't break through.

Tessa Niles is, of course, an enormously successful session singer from my hometown of Ilford, who despite her humble suburban London beginnings has worked with artists as varied as ABC, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, Marillion, Living In A Box, Duran Duran, Bros, The Higsons (er... that one's a bit unexpected!), Suede, Gary Numan and Grace Jones, and a whole host of other stars besides. The vocals on this single provide lots of hints as to why she was so heavily in demand, but obviously the attempt to launch her as a star in her own right failed and these days her solo career barely features in any career summarising biog.

8 November 2020

The Rogues - Memories of Missy/ And You Let Her Pass By


Obscure, disowned and faintly psychedelic pop from Salfordians

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Most bands who only manage to release one single are proud of their efforts, even if looking back they find themselves cringing a little at the naiveté of the work. They've achieved something few of us ever will - a nice slab of seven inch vinyl, a small, gentle ripple in life's great rockpool to prove they existed and had ideas of their own.

The Rogues from Salford seem to have very different ideas about this record, however. The Manchester Beat website quotes one of them as saying this is a "truly appalling record the whole group hated!" Their gripe appears to be with the A-side "Memories of Missy" here, a Dick James penned tune which while not awful, is certainly a bit beige. 

Lurking on the B-side, though, is something you'd hope is much more in keeping with the group's sound. "And You Let Her Pass By" sounds a lot more 1967 with its insistent Blackpool Pier organ sound, aggressive, powerful drumming, and punchy brass section continually cutting through the angst. While Ivor Raymonde's production stops the track getting too aggressive, you can still feel The Rogues pulling hard on the leash he's tied them to, always only a few moves away from going full garage rock. It unintentionally creates a tension that stops the track from being a common-or-garden B-side and pushes it close to something special.

4 November 2020

Reupload - Sadie's Expression - Deep In My Heart/ My Way Of Living


Lovely single from sixties Essex gig circuit stalwarts

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

I spent my teenage years living in Benfleet - or the Thundersley region of Benfleet, to be much more precise - but I very rarely get the opportunity to write about bands from that area on this blog, purely because it has never, in any point in its history, been particularly lively. There were a number of "movers and shakers" in the local region during the sixties, though, most notably John Pantry in his many groups and guises, The Mode from Thundersley, and this lot, otherwise known as The Troggs (before Reg Presley got his hands on that name) or The Expression. 

Consisting of Chris Brown, Mick Harding, Hugh Thomas, Mike Drewer and John Skelton, Sadie's Expression were kings of the Essex gig scene during the mid to late sixties, learning the ropes by playing rough bars to bikers and rockers, then moving on to having regular contracts with large venues such as the Basildon Mecca and The Elms in Leigh. Talent-spotted by numerous influential people, including producer Peter Eden and The Walker Brothers, their recording career was nonetheless something of a damp squib in comparison. A recording session for Decca produced their version of a Bill Fay track "Yesterday Was Such A Lovely Day (Elsie)" which the label rejected, and two 45s on the small Plexium label (this in 1969, and "Old Whitehall Number" in 1970) are the sole vinyl proof of their existence.

"Deep In My Heart" is a carefully arranged, mid-tempo late sixties beat track which picked up some Radio One airplay, but the distributors and manufacturers EMI failed to press up enough copies, with even shops in the Essex area apparently being devoid of Sadie's Expression stock. Largely regarded as a possible hit, it therefore languished in obscurity and remains something of a minor collectible. It's not a late sixties "hip sound" as such, but it does showcase the group's many strengths, not least the powerful vocal harmonies. 

1 November 2020

Hot Shots - Mellow Yellow/ Come On Susie


Glam rock stab at the Donovan classic

Label: Gull
Year of Release: 1975

Readers who know their seventies chart pop will have come across the group Hot Shots (or The Hotshots are they were usually known) before. They scored a top five hit in 1973 with a plastic reggae cover of "Snoopy Versus The Red Baron", which is barely ever heard on the airwaves these days but nonetheless caused a minor stir at the time.

The recording was the work of reggae stalwarts Cimarons, but as the record began to sell the group actually used to tour and do public appearances consisted of John Jones, Yanni Flood Page, Malcolm Player and Chris Haig-Harrison. They also recorded all the subsequent follow-up singles under the Hot Shots name which, lo and behold, utterly flopped.

To confuse matters further still, while their singles were all inauthentic Dairy Lea reggae, this - their final effort - aped the glam rock style instead. "Mellow Yellow" was of course an enormous sixties hit for Donovan, and the group decided to apply its groovy whimsy to a fey glam arrangement. A solid glitter swagger is built up, with some of the lead guitar lines and vocals clearly trying their hardest to impersonate Marc Bolan, and by the time the track ends you find yourself wondering why Donovan Leitch didn't always apply the bacofoil boogie to the track. Probably because the glam genre hadn't emerged by 1967, I expect.

By 1975, though, it was also beginning to seem like old hat, and doing vague impersonations of Marc Bolan effectively meant aping an individual who was already dripping further and further down the charts. This single really was never going to be anything other than dead on arrival, ignored by the Radio One funsters as a dated exercise and tied to a group who had no previous form for producing this kind of noise.