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30 December 2021

High Noon - Living Is A Lovin' Thing/ Blind Alley


Sands/ Sun Dragon duo back again with seventies pop 45

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1971

Of all the popsike singles to slither out largely unnoticed during the late sixties, "Five White Horses" by Sun Dragon always feels like one of the few which hasn't even gained the modern day acceptance it deserves. Jaunty, peculiar, groovy, supremely catchy and filled with sudden studio effects, it epitomises the era's tendencies to drip sharp and acidic twists over the most sugary of sounds. On top of all that, it even featured Jon Lord, Ian Paice and Ritchie Blackmore on session duties.

The duo behind Sun Dragon, Bob Freeman and Ian McLintock, had already had a long career in the music business by the time that record emerged, having previously been members of The Others. That act eventually morphed into the Brian Epstein managed Sands, responsible for the much celebrated (by collectors) single "Mrs Gillespie's Refrigerator/ Listen To The Sky". 

Once that outfit shot their wad, Sun Dragon was the duo's attempt to continue by producing modal rock akin to "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "It's All Too Much"- this uncommercial idea was promptly dismissed by the squares at MGM, however, who instead shoved them in the studio to record rather hacky covers such as "Green Tambourine" (their version managed to reach number 50 in the UK charts). 

Once that act was also done and dusted, the pair continued under the name High Noon with a new contract with CBS. Before you get too excited, neither "Living Is A Lovin' Thing" or "Blind Alley" - their final single for the label -are modal rock either. As you might expect, the A-side sees them both capture that breezy sunshine pop sound which dominated the first two years of the seventies. The Freeman penned flip, on the other hand, adds a harder, rockier edge to that sound.

23 December 2021

Merry Christmas!


Right, that's the last you'll be hearing from this blog until the very end of the year - Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you get some rare and interesting vinyl in your stocking (and if you do, please let me know what it is).

Remember our Spotify playlist is here, and you can enjoy a barrel-load of our previous Christmas entries by clicking on this link to get to the archive (most of which definitely aren't anywhere to be found on Spotify).

Next year marks this blog's 14th year of activity. If you're surprised by that, imagine how I feel...

22 December 2021

Reupload - Charlie Jones - Hey Whiskers We Love You/ I Love You, You Love Me

 



Santa likes to boogie just like you and me - man, he's cool! He's free!

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1972

Ordinarily I would have had no reason to believe that this was anything other than an underplayed and under publicised Christmas single, were it not for the fact that Billboard magazine in the USA lists it among the notable British Christmas releases of that year.  So was it a simple case of a keen US journalist being a bit of a fan, or did this actually have a slightly higher profile than I believe? 

Whatever stories lie behind this recording, it's safe to say it's a slightly quirky three minutes. Charlie Jones has an excitable, hiccuping voice throughout, faintly akin to a sherry-sozzled and slightly chilly Steve Harley in his underpants standing naked by the festive tree. A rinky-dink arrangement bounces along in the background, until the anthemic chorus kicks in and begs the whole world to join in. 

Lyrically, the song focuses on the antics of Santa Claus and seems determined to sell him as being some kind of crazy beatnik character. "He likes to boogie just like you and me/ man, he's cool, he's free!" we're assured, and it's impossible not to swept along with the daftness of it all. I really like this one, and I'm surprised it didn't fare better, but I suspect that the lowly status of Charlie Jones suffered against giants like T Rex, Slade, The Osmonds and The Jacksons in the 1972 Christmas chart, and this effort was swept to one side in all the excitement. 

19 December 2021

Tree Man Army - Pass The Turkey On The Right Hand Side/ Turkey On Toast
























Have yourself a dub and reggae Christmas

Label: Pinnacle
Year of (non) release: 1982

I couldn't let the 2021 festive season disappear without uploading at least one new Christmas non-hit, and this is as lost and obscure as things can possibly get. Not only is it not clear who Tree Man Army were (they never committed anything else to vinyl to the best of my knowledge) but this never got a proper release, emerging as a white label and then disappearing without offering an explanation for its existence. 

The idea was simple enough and certainly in tune with a current phenomenon. 1982 was a huge breakthrough year for Musical Youth, a group who - for the benefit of the very few young and uninitiated readers of this blog - were school-age reggae performers from Birmingham. Their 1981 debut single "Generals" was issued by the local label 021 and produced by the Saltley Music Workshop, a local project designed to develop the skills of non-musicians in the community. John Peel promptly picked up on the single and brought the group to national attention, and "Pass the Dutchie" eventually followed on the major label MCA a year later, vaulting from number 26 to number one in the charts in October, remaining one of the biggest single week climbs to the top of all time. 

The group were ideal television fodder for awhile, taking their sounds on to children's television and early evening entertainment shows, and the exposure sustained their success for a brief period. It quickly became clear that something was afoot, however, as interviews began to emerge from the camp containing grumbles about "being stereotyped as a novelty group". Young they may have been, but the band were not naive and seemed quick to understand the mechanisations of the music industry of the time. They were not being given the attention, PR or budget of an act MCA had any long-term faith in, and were instead treated as a short-term gamble - a group whose fame was likely to have come and gone before they'd even finished school.

For once, it's easy to see MCA's point of view - most of Musical Youth's strengths lay in their child-like innocence, and once that was lost they would have probably just have become another niche, hard-to-sell reggae act (and what would they have called themselves, even?) Some acts are harder to develop than others. 

Still, the initial Musical Youth phenomenon cannot be understated. The group seemed to be absolutely bloody everywhere in late 1982, and enjoyed an extraordinarily diverse range of public appreciation from Peel listeners to pensioners who just liked seeing some cute, wide-eyed children performing distinctly adult-sounding pop. And this is where Tree Man Army come in, presumably seeking to cash in on one of the biggest reggae tracks since Althea and Donna's "Up Town Top Ranking".

15 December 2021

A Spotify Sort of Christmas

 

About a decade ago a Christmas "Left and to the Back" playlist was uploaded to Spotify, which I then managed to completely forget about. Doh. What am I like, eh? I'd forget my own head if it wasn't screwed on, etc. etc.

However, on rediscovering it a few nights back I realised that it was the kernel of a good idea, even if tracks slipping off and on and off the service again in the intervening years had left the sequencing order in a bit of a mess. So I decided to prune and tidy it up, removed the really obvious and frequently heard tracks you could all probably find on any Xmas playlist anywhere, create a more reasonable flow and have a bit more fun with the concept.

The idea is really simple. Many of these are lesser heard Christmas tracks which you're unlikely to be bothered by on the radio any time soon, but also mixed in are tracks which could belong to the festive period if we we wanted to let them (so a bit like "A Child Is Born" by Johnny Mathis, except not). Anything with a chilly Spector production, an excess of bells, a wintery feel, or which cops riffs from other Christmas songs or even just plain mentions Christmas at some point gets on there. It needn't be cheery or warming - some of these songs are downright morbid or chilly - but at the very least you should be able to listen and feel at one with the season. There's even something here for those who hate the time of year. 

Head here to wrap your ears around it

And for all you suckers who argue that any track you could ever possibly want to listen to can be found on Spotify - oh no it bloody can't. You wouldn't believe the number of omissions I had to make. 

12 December 2021

The Wedgwoods - Cloudy/ Cold Winds and Icy Rain

 


UK Folkies cover Paul Simon. Now that narrows things down...

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1969

Much has been said about how much Bob Dylan shook up the folk scene, but for all his unquestionable influence, Dylan never came to the UK and roomed with British folkies before becoming a huge, multi-platinum selling artist. Al Stewart's old housemate Paul Simon did, and in the late sixties that created a peculiar phenomenon in Britain, with endless cellar bar strummers and back street Soho scruffs covering the man. 

You can't blame them. Not only was (is) Paul Simon an exceptional songwriter, but the glow of his success must have felt thrilling for every folk performer who shared a bill with him in his pre-fame days. If he could do it, after all, why couldn't they? And if they couldn't do it, well, the memories, oh the memories... (interestingly, the same principle doesn't seem to apply to Ed Sheeran or Mumford and Sons in the present day).

I haven't a damn clue if this was The Wedgwood's motivation for covering him, obviously, but they join a long line of others who did. The group were never at the cutting edge of the folk scene, tending to produce closely harmonised, bright melodic pop which easily found a home on Pebble Mill at One, unlike the more politicised or beatnik orientated acts on the circuit. To that end, this version of "Cloudy" is what you'd expect - clean, slick, rustic but not unfaithful to Simon's original design. In this case, credit also needs to be given to Bruce Woodley of The Seekers who co-wrote the track.

The B-side, on the other hand, couldn't be more appropriate for the current time of year and manages to make a short day in December sound almost appealing. 

The Wedgwoods had a long recording career, kicking off with "September In The Rain" on Pye in 1964 - which, many decades later, appeared in an episode of "Mad Men" as a cheap soundtrack buy-in for a cologne commercial - and seemingly ending with "Good Good Lovin'" on EMI in 1977. The group were  a safe pair of hands on the variety and light entertainment circuit, meaning they were a fair proposition for a lot of the major labels who presumably felt that the right television appearance at the right time might translate into a hit.

9 December 2021

Reupload - Claire - Mouth/ Hole In My Shoe

 



Sandie Shaw penned single for actress Patti Somers operating under another name

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The twilight years of Decca are a delight for obscure pop pickers. Once the label lost their distribution rights to RCA and The Rolling Stones jumped ship, they entered a long, slow demise filled with increasingly desperate kicks against their inevitable end. A quick visit to the marvellous 45cat site reveals that Decca's seventies catalogue was filled with one-record wonders, artists signed to the label who were presumably supposed to be new stars, but whose records are so scarce that they probably only sold a hundred or so copies nationally (if that) before being dropped. 

What must have been a rather grim time for employees at the label has ended up being an adventure for us, then. Take this record, for example. There are few clues of interest on the label, but it's actually the actress and singer Patti Somers operating under a pseudonym and recording a track Sandie Shaw penned with her husband Jeff Banks. 

"Mouth" on side A is a twanging piece of Brit-country which is nicely performed and written, but was always going to be very unlikely to break Sandie as a songwriter or Somers as a pop star. While it doubtless picked up some promotion and airplay as a result of her involvement, it sounds more like an album track than a single suitable for launching a "new artist".

It's the B-side, a cover of Traffic's psychedelic classic "Hole In My Shoe", that's most likely to tweak the interest of collectors. And it's... not quite what you'd expect, but an interesting take all the same. Removing all the psychedelic elements from the track, it instead pares it down to its root basics and adds a faint country tinge to the effort. It sounds cracked and rugged and as if Claire is singing about a trip she took the week before and hasn't quite recovered from yet. 

5 December 2021

Wildy - No Smoking/ All The Children (Nice To Be Home)

 



Distinctive vocals meet track on the cusp of art-glam and New Wave

Label: Paladin
Year of Release: 1976

On occasion, you stumble across a vocalist who style is so distinctive that your initial response is almost to laugh. It's not that they're a terrible singer as such, but that the areas they explore are so weird and so unanticipated that it's a shock to the system - but then, it all slowly and surely begins to make sense, and their efforts seems utterly inspired. 

Wildy definitely falls into the above category. With a voice that recalls Noosha Fox and to a degree pre-empts Cerys Matthews, she purrs, cracks, screeches and belts across the panther prowl rhythms of the A-side "No Smoking", but saves the impressive histrionics for flipside "All The Children" which breaks out the tinkling piano lines and hammering guitars, veering from one extreme to the other in a way which feels exhausting even with its slight sub-three minute running time. It's unlikely Kate Bush was listening, but it manages to evidence that there were other equally inspired and unique types hurling themselves around the outer zones of pop's landscape.

Frustratingly, I can find out absolutely nothing about Wildy beyond the fact that she also seems to have issued a demo tape in 1990 called "Stick To It!" which is apparently more synth-pop in its stylings. If anyone has this or has heard it, I would be thrilled to learn what it contains. 

1 December 2021

Bizarre Boys - Hop Off You Frogs (Taking The Pissoire)/ Electro Frog

 



Gary Bushell and pals with their dire Francophobic 45

Label: Creole
Year of Release: 1986

The trouble with most tabloid press shitstorms is that, far from being the defining news stories or arguments of the year, they're frequently barely even the hundredth most important event happening that minute. The endless froth and seethe of most red-tops is often manufactured outrage to either distract readers from the real problems of the day (if you're buying into left-wing social theory) or attempt to excite them by treating the world as one giant wrestling match. Simplistic stories about heroes and villains always seem to sell whether they're on the big screen or the newspapers. 

Over the in blue corner in 1986 we had Renaud Sechan, a French singer of some renown in his home country who had a minor chart hit there called "Miss Maggie". The song, Sechan claimed, was first and foremost a celebration of femininity, dedicated to all women of the world who he felt were marvellous, apart from Margaret Thatcher whose behaviour he deemed "more masculine than a man's". The English translation of the song ends with the killer lines: "And when the final curtain draws/ He'll join the cretins in the harvest/ Playing football, playing wars/ Or who can piss the farthest/ I would join the doggic host and love my days on earth/ As my day to day lampost I would use Madame Thatcher."

Renaud's outlook is far from perfect here. Stereotyping women as fair damsels who are entirely peaceable and universally politically fair-minded is problematic in itself (I could think of a couple of female French politicians who are far from being the kind of gentle perfumed hippies he describes) as is declaring tough - or masculine - behaviour in women to be a wholly negative and unwanted trait. For all its occasional sharpness, elements of the song veer close to Rik the People's Poet territory. As such, his sweeping statements perhaps should have been picked apart, but in the end, the only people prepared to step forward and do so were a bunch of hacks from The Sun who weren't exactly interested in delving into the contradictions and undercurrents of his argument. 

Journalist Geoff Barker offered a tune he'd written (or at least some lyrics to the tune of "Under The Bridges Of Paris") to some pals from the paper to perform - broadly unnamed in press interviews apart from Gary Bushell, who in typical fashion seemed keen to stand in the spotlight even when it might have been a better idea not to.
"There's a lot of animosity between the French and the British", Bushell declared. "We couldn't miss the chance to have our say".  

28 November 2021

Strange Fruit - Night Time/ Fun Bags

 

Jazz fusion types with instrumental funky shenanigans

Label: President
Year of Release: 1982

President was one of the first successful independent labels in the UK, scoring very quickly with The Equals in the sixties and seldom looking back throughout the rest of that decade. By the eighties, though, success was becoming much more elusive for the label, and there's a towering pile of (frequently limited run) flops of varying genres and styles to pick through.

Most are utterly unrewarding, it has to be said, but this one turned out to be a bit of a pearl. Strange Fruit were a group formed by Geoff Castle of jazz-rockers Nucleus and Paz and Rick Morcombe in the late seventies who specialised in jazz fusion. One LP emerged on President in 1981 (the unimaginatively and optimistically titled "Debut") which contained side A here, which is a busy, pounding slice of none-more-eighties instro-funk. The hyperactive bass line provides a solid foundation for the swinging brass, and the whole thing manages to be fun despite its fussiness and undoubted resemblance to an early evening drama theme.

Perhaps the fact it sounds like it's from a soundtrack shouldn't be surprising, because both Castle and Morecombe had form in this area, producing the KPM library music LP "Pulse Of The City" in 1978, containing tracks such as "Action Event", "Street Hussle", "Funky Cat" and "City Lights". In places, that LP offers more of the same, but with a distinctly less ambitious or punchy production. Any library music aficionados who enjoy that surely won't be disappointed with this single.

24 November 2021

Reupload - Sasha Caro - Grade 3 Section 2/ Little Maid's Song

 



Cat Stevens produced singer-songwriter with top quality psych 45

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Sasha Caro was one of those interesting characters who was everywhere but nowhere on the sixties London scene. He was born in Rangoon in 1940, but his family fled to England when Burma was invaded by the Japanese, remaining on these shores thereafter. A love of music quickly sucked him into both the business and creative side of the "industry", and he took some promising steps at commercial songwriting. Originally beginning his career under the name Rick Minas, he co-wrote the non-hits "Lease On Love" by the Graham Bond Organisation and "I Won't See You Tonight" by Hamilton and The Movement, besides setting up the cheap recording studio RayRik with his business partner Bruce Rae. He also had a deeply obscure solo folk 45 out on Polydor in 1965 entitled "Well I Want No Part Of It". 

Very few of their other songs managed to gain a release, though several appeared on an episode of "Dangerman" in the sixties as part of the episode "Not So Jolly Roger", which took place on a pirate radio station. All the "top sounds" the DJs spun throughout the episode were actually just recordings of Rick Minas's work, though none of these gained a commercial release after the episode aired. 

Somehow, Cat Stevens managed to discover Rick through his songwriting demos, and took him under his wing to attempt to launch him as a star in his own right. His name was changed to Sasha Caro, and the two resulting Stevens-produced Decca 45s are damn good - it's astonishing that they didn't find a place on "Rubble" or one of the other many compilations that swept up the best of the Decca and Deram labels psychedelic output. On the sprightly and intricate folk-pop styled "Grade 3 Section 2" Rick's voice is on fine form, swooping beautifully all over the song. The track manages to be rustic sounding without losing any catchy pop appeal, and while it does share a similar sound to Cat Stevens' own work, it's nonetheless a fine single. 

Sadly, I can't include the flip side "Little Maid's Song" below as it was recently compiled on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series, and therefore remains commercially available. However, you can listen to it on YouTube if you want. 

21 November 2021

Winy - My Son John/ Step By Step

 

Popsike (or bubblegum, depending on your point of view) from Swiss pop star

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1970

Sometimes the fact an artist isn't from an English speaking nation is a dead giveaway. Take this record, for example - nobody in the Anglosphere would have given themselves the stage name "Winy". It's far too close to "Wino" or "Whiney", neither of which are compliments or the kind of upfront artistic statement anyone would usually wish to make.

I'm assuming Winy is a much more flattering nickname in Switzerland, because it's that nation Erwin "Winy" Klarer comes from. He began his recording career in the Swiss beat group The Angels in 1966, sticking with them for two singles on CBS ("The Creeper" and "Esther's Dance") before embarking on a solo career in 1968.

His first solo effort was a cover of The Beatles' "Birthday" under the name "Winy's Team and The Selection" before this one emerged in 1969 in his native Switzerland, then eventually the following year in the UK. In Europe, the sides were flipped and "Step By Step" was the A-side - Major Minor opted to prioritise the continental B-side "My Son John" over here, which does make some sense. It feels more modern for 1970, less beaty and ever so slightly closer to psychedelic pop, although purists would probably dismiss it as bubblegum.

Me? I think it's a good slice of period pop penned by quality songwriters Flett and Fletcher, who also wrote The Hollies "I Can't Tell The Bottom From The Top", Clout's "Save Me", and numerous tracks for Cliff Richard. It was also released by The Onyx in 1968 who failed to take it anywhere, so perhaps its failure shouldn't have been a total surprise. 

17 November 2021

Maddy Prior - Stookie/ Incidental Music From Stookie

 

Steeleye Span member takes on theme tune for edgy children's drama

Label: Making Waves
Year of Release: 1985

Children's television often had an unexpected grit and edge in the seventies and eighties, from "Grange Hill" with its highly accurate portrayal of the average British comprehensive as a jungle, to the weird Celtic legend creepiness of "The Owl Service". Both those series are now the stuff of legend, and have a reputation as being unrepeatable as pre-watershed, post-school fare (note: I'm not actually sure whether this is or isn't the case, but feel free to have a debate in your own mind about it). 

"Stookie", however (named after the Glaswegian slang for a headbutt) seems to have fallen out of many people's memory banks despite its edginess, possibly because it only managed one series in 1985. Featuring David McKay playing the sauntering, leathered up, spiked collar wearing main character, it chronicled the complex moral dilemmas posed by a teenager's life on a rough Glasgow estate, run-ins with the police and criminals included. 

If this all sounds like a tad too bleak for afternoon weekday television and not at all the kind of thing we should have been serving up to junior Gen X'ers at the time - and I'm quite sure someone wrote in to complain precisely along those lines - "Stookie" himself was, despite his budget Billy Idol appearances, a measured sort who generally played fair in the longer run, even if you probably wouldn't have wanted to get on the wrong side of one of his football pitch tackles.

The logical choice for a theme tune singer for such a series would have been someone familiar with sharp, edgy riffs and spiky noises, perhaps one of the many Scottish underground groups doing the rounds at the time. Instead, folkie Maddy Prior got the job, an eccentric bit of hiring which could have been close to a disaster. Weirdly though, it makes complete sense, and almost certainly sounds less off-putting than The Jesus and Mary Chain squealing out of the telly at 4pm would have done.

14 November 2021

Asterix - Everybody/ If I Could Fly

 

Sharp, throttling German rock tracks 

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1970

OK, let's kick off with the basic facts: Asterix were a briefly lived German act who popped out one "eponymous" album in 1970. Simple, eh? Except, of course, there's a long shaggy dog story around both this group's origins and their continuation, and Asterix are a seldom noted transitional step between a respected beat act and their more progressive incarnation.

Guitarist Peter Hesslein, organist Peter Hecht, bassist Deiter Horns and drummer Joachim Reitenbach were all originally members of the group The German Bonds. After that band split in 1970, the members apparently took up Graphic Design study at art college in order to have sensible, dependable careers outside of rock music; however, a chance meeting with British vocalist John Lawton, a recent emigrant to Germany, ruined all that and seemed to have sprung them back into life again under a new name.

The LP recorded by the new outfit under the Asterix name has a clear, clean and sharp sound, and while it's frequently labelled as progressive or krautrock, in reality it's typical cusp-of-the-seventies fare, owing a greater debt to the more commercial end of hard rock at that point. While fanciers of long, wigged out, jazzy experiments will be deeply disappointed by their work, appreciators of sharp pop rock tunes and even the early rumblings of glam might be enticed by them, and this - their only single - is a good showcase.

The A-side "Everybody" is a simplistic, repetitive anthem which rips along brilliantly; you can imagine the group being a quality live proposition. The B-side "If I Could Fly", on the other hand, points towards a reliance on studied pop-rock songwriting over roaring bombast.

11 November 2021

Reupload - Richard Stilgoe & Valerie Singleton - Suffering From Inflation/ Statutory Right of Entry

 



Farcical number about the legal home access rights of public servants

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

Richard Stilgoe is one of those strange popular figures in British life who is famous despite never selling millions of records or having his own adult TV series.  Rather, his best known output was confined to regular brief appearances on television shows such as "Nationwide", "That's Life" and "Pebble Mill at One", usually singing light-hearted satirical ditties about the frustrations of the day. His gentle mocking of society began to seem dated by the early nineties, prompting the comedian David Baddiel to mock him with the character Richard Stillnotdead who sang the song "Why Do People Leave The Cap Of The Toothpaste Off?" on "The Mary Whitehouse Experience". Nonetheless, from that day to this, he has a loyal audience and fans, some of them rather unlikely figures such as members of cult indie bands or modern day poets and spoken word artists.

Stilgoe's media presence was arguably at its peak in the mid-seventies, when his bearded and somewhat casual Jeremy Corbyn-esque appearance cropped up constantly on early evening television. One of his prime achievements at this point - his "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, if you will - was a song called "Statutory Right of Entry", which involved a cascade of multitracked Stilgoe vocals harmonising about a rather unlikely problem.

A "Nationwide" researcher had found out that numerous people in public jobs had a legal right to enter people's homes on demand. These included people working for the gas and electricity boards, and various other less likely characters besides. You would suspect that this wouldn't prove a problem for most home owners, but Stilgoe's ditty turns the situation into an epic and somewhat unlikely farce, with the home-owner finding himself avalanched by public professionals cluttering up his property across the working week. The song gains comedy value tenfold if you can see the accompanying video clip, where an army of officious Stilgoes authoritatively dance and prance around.

Despite the laughs and larks on offer, it's hard to understand quite what either "Nationwide" or Stilgoe were worried about. If I had a broken gas meter or faulty wiring in my house, I wouldn't treat a public official appearing on the scene unprompted with any stress or anxiety. To be honest, I'd just be stunned by their efficiency. It also seems somewhat unlikely that they would set up camp in my home all week, unlike the builders I paid a small fortune to (badly) repair and renew my bathroom. Still, it's an incredibly memorable piece of melodic farce as a result of stretching the problem to breaking point, which is probably why people still remember it to this day.

7 November 2021

Mark Ansley - 909/ Venus

 

Dramatic, chaotic cop car rocker

Label: Mother
Year of Release: 1970

Mark Ansley had certainly been around the block a bit by the time this, his only solo single, was released. Initially a member of legendary Midlands groups The Nightriders (who also featured Jeff Lynne) and Liverpudlians The Escorts, he eventually moved on to a solo career gigging up and down the country, as well as holding a residency at the Top Rank in Darlington.

"909" marked Ansley's arrival on wax, though, some years after his early beat adventures. His career had become akin to that of a middle-of-the-road entertainer by the late sixties, so it would be easy to walk past this single in the racks assuming that it contained little more than a supper club rendition of a Denmark Street melody. That would be a horrible mistake to make, though, as it's actually a deeply chaotic rocker focusing on the business of policemen in patrol cars ("defending the people from the wages of siiiiin!" he declares passionately) laced with buzzing, squealing guitar licks and gospel backing vocals.  This is bit parts Hendrix and "Shaft", sprawling and skidding delightfully melodically while Ansley professionally steadies the wild undercurrents with his assured vocals. It's a delight.

On the flipside you'll find his cover of "Venus" which doesn't usurp the original but does bring a harsher, electric organ dominated garage rock groove to the party. 

3 November 2021

Anji Cakebread - Dear Computer/ Simple Song



Very early synthpop about dating a computer - who knew the plot for Electric Dreams came so early?

Label: Magnet
Year of Release: 1978

When he'd finished listening to Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" for the first time, Brian Eno raced over to David Bowie and told him he had heard "the sound of the future!" Despite Bowie's chortling, he was correct - that unlikely marriage of electronics and soulful vocals would forever influence the sounds of clubland from that day to this. Not everyone out there was as sharp as Eno, though, and at the time synths were still seen as a bit gimmicky by many people who dared not put them to use in fresh pop contexts.

This means that if you're buying a synthpop record pre-1980, it will often consist of a science fiction vocal narrative married to a mystical electronic sound. Rather than being treated as musical instruments in their own right, synths were often used to convey a futuristic message by one-off novelty artists who never really returned to the same noise again.

This 45 is a prime example of that phenomenon. "Dear Computer" features the mysterious Anji Cakebread telling us a tale of romance not through a computer dating website, but actually with a computer. Both her and the computer intone their experiences throughout the record and it's another one for the bulging "rather silly" files on "Left and to the Back", but nonetheless isn't without charm.

It's also possibly more forward-thinking than even Eno managed to be. Artificial Intelligence is now sophisticated enough to talk to the lonely in a relatively convincing way. We're possibly only a few years away from a slender minority of people falling in love with an AI character on a mainframe. In fact, only last year during a particularly boring period of lockdown I spoke to an AI app and was slightly surprised to find how flirtatious and "forward" it was - sadly, the limitations of the technology and its almost senile repetition of questions and phrases ultimately prevented me from being at risk of having a silicon affair. Lucky me (and it). 

31 October 2021

Illusive Dream - The Electric Garden/ Back Again



Epic soft orchestral psychedelia from a somewhat illusive - sorry, elusive - act

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1969

A lot of soft harmony popsike or progressive orchestral tracks have been unjustly ignored by collectors and listeners. At the time they were never really hip or underground sounds, despite the highly respected Jimmy Webb originally setting the ball rolling in a wobblier direction, and in subsequent years they've never slotted neatly alongside the phased electric output of the non-music school graduates on compilations. 

Nonetheless, this is an example of how rambling, engaging and unpredictable a lot of the orchestrated stuff could be. The A-side of this disc is five-and-a-half minutes of winding, meandering, dream-like pop with a euphoric chorus about an "Electric Garden", whatever that may be. Rather than racing to the chorus, it stretches, sprawls and twitches contentedly, shifting groovy, delirious sixties pop melodies into a slightly more formal context. The group share close vocal harmonies adeptly and in a manner which could have pleased the variety circuit while singing lyrics which would have been utterly incomprehensible to that same audience. 

Sometimes if your music falls between two stools it ultimately fails to impress any audience sufficiently, and I'd hazard a guess that's what happened here. Too buttoned up for the hippy crowd, and too way-out for the easier side of the street, "The Electric Garden" has been somewhat ignored in subsequent years but really deserves your ears.

The B-side "Back Again" is more straightforward and snappy but isn't mere filler, combining deft harmony pop with Sergeant Pepper styled fanfares. 

27 October 2021

Reupload - The Legends - Sometimes I Can't Help It/ Jefferson Strongbox

 

Dan Hartman's garage rock years. Yeah, you heard.

Label: Heart 
Year of Release: 1970

I'm sure almost everyone reading this will be aware of Dan Hartman. He's the author of hundreds of songs, some of which have since become a lingering presence on oldies radio - "I Can Dream About You", "Relight My Fire", "Instant Replay" and "Free Ride" are among his most known and appreciated, but there's a cornucopia of songs beneath that surface. He enjoyed a fruitful stint as a writer and performer in the Edgar Winter Band, and acted as a producer for Muddy Waters among others.

If you associate Hartman with his most well-known disco singles, his rock output comes as something of a shock. But he was nothing if not versatile as a songwriter and performer, as "Sometimes I Can't Help It" proves here. The Legends were his brother Dave Hartman's band, and he sneaked into their ranks at the age of thirteen. They issued a number of records on small, independent labels before signing to Epic in 1972, including this self-released square shaped flexidisc - which I assume was either sold cheaply at gigs or given away as a promotional item.

"Sometimes I Can't Help It" has a growl and a roar to it not unlike Steppenwolf at their most raucous, and The Legends here sit neatly on the border of sixties garage and seventies rock. It's a brilliant listen and shows that even at this point, Dan Hartman had developed some serious songwriting chops.  The Legends would turn out not to be the stars the Hartman brothers hoped they would become, but within a couple of years Dan would join forces with Edgar Winter and taste actual success. By 1978, the unlikely allure of the disco beat would set in, and his career would take another twist with the success of "Instant Replay".

24 October 2021

Darby - Rocking With Snoopy/ Find Mr Zebedee



Kiddie glam-pop backed with baffling popsike about a retiring school caretaker

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1976

Once every so often I learn of the existence of a 45 and decide I must own it despite its probable naffness. It's not so much that I expect the single to defy all my expectations, more that I simply have to hear what the artist has done with the absurd concept; so when I found out that someone had put out a flop glam pop single called "Rocking With Snoopy", my credit card came out almost immediately. A bargain at any price, I reckoned.

In my head, "Rocking With Snoopy" was a Wombles clone with a thudding bass drum, handclaps, lots of "yeahs" and probably some rip-off of a Peanuts theme high in its melody, staying just enough on the right side of parody to avoid the copyright police. What it actually is, somewhat disappointingly, is a Bay City Rollers styled candyfloss melody married to facile lyrics. "Come along and be a snoopy groupie!" the group demand, which sounds a bit wrong. Mind you, they also sing "Snoopy high high/ snoopy low low/ snoopy dance fast/ snoopy dance slow" so I don't think we're supposed to be thinking about this too hard. 

As is often the case with these vinyl oddments, it's the B-side that's really thrown me for six. "Find Mr Zebedee" was actually the final flop single for one hit wonders Edison Lighthouse, and this is either an immaculate imitation or exactly the same recording - and I'm 99.9% certain it's the latter. The song focuses on the final day of a retiring school caretaker, placing him quite literally on a podium to receive an award. "How can we paint a janitor in colours of a saint?" the group sing, only to go on to do exactly that. 

"Find Mr Zebedee", for all its utter silliness, is actually a delightful bit of harmony popsike which, had it been a Bowie composition from his Deram years, we'd probably still be talking about. As it was the final record of a faded seventies group with an ever-shifting membership, though, it's been somewhat ignored since, which means hardly anybody has ever heard Mr Zebedee's audible but subdued expression of thanks on this record. Seldom has a combination of English jubilance and awkwardness been captured so well on record - you can visualise Mr Zebedee having to be coaxed out of the toilet where he was hiding to avoid making an unnecessary spectacle of himself.

20 October 2021

Screen Idols - Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart/ Runaway
























Ex-Spiders From Mars and Rats From Hull types get a hold of Pitney

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1980

After David Bowie "broke up the band" in 1973, The Spiders From Mars didn't all just drift away to new projects. It's often forgotten that a Mick Ronson-less version of the outfit emerged on Pye Records in 1975, with Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey recruiting Mike Garson, Dave Black and Pete McDonald to their ranks. It's tempting to regard this version of the group as a cash-in on the famous name rather than a bona-fide continuation, and it has to be said that the debut 45 "White Man Black Man" bears about as much relation to the Ziggy Stardust sound as Gilbert O'Sullivan does to Roxy Music. It's seventies pop, not glam rock, and not even a very credible brand name could push it over the commercial line. 

One flop LP later and the group drifted off in their different directions. Drummer Woodmansey got together with his his ex-Rats bandmates Ched Cheeseman and Geoff Appleby and ex-Lone Star member Tony Smith to form this outfit with singer Michelle Nieddu. Screen Idols were occasionally badged as New Wave, but this was probably wishful thinking on the part of their PR officer whether he meant punk-tinged pop or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - the reality is that they played powerful pop rock tracks with a slightly modern edge, Nieddu's vocals rasping forcefully over the top of the group's hard, confident sound. 

For whatever reason, they couldn't seem to settle with one label. Their debut single "Blind Man" came out on Cobra in 1979 (along with their LP "Premiere"), followed by "Routine" on Superstition in 1980 and then finally this effort on Parlophone, which had a cover of the Cook and Greenaway classic "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" as its A-side. Much has been written about the track in the past, acknowledging the fact that while the dependable and family-friendly performer Gene Pitney popularised it, the lyrics appeared to be acknowledging psychedelia. Could "Something has invaded my life/ painting my sleep with a colour so bright" have been a nod to the folks who had turned on and tuned in from one of the songwriters who would eventually write the British Gas jingle? It's unlikely, but the fact that it could be just as easily interpreted as a ballad to mind expansion is an interesting coincidence.

The Screen Idols, of course, resist the temptation to convince 1980 audiences that this was far out and leave the mellotron and the theremin well and truly locked in the recording studio cupboard. Their take on the track is instead a thumping anthem which takes it in a new and unexpected direction. It's doubtful you'll prefer it to Pitney's take or indeed the version Pitney and Marc Almond would end up taking to number one (also on Parlophone, interestingly) in 1989, but it points towards fresh possibilities for the track.

17 October 2021

Freestyle - Ski Spree/ Devil's Dyke

 

If you like analogue synths and skiing, look no further kids

Label: Sonet
Year of Release: 1975

Some musicians and songwriters make scoring a contract look so easy; they're the kind of flashy devils who turn up at an office with a demo tape in their hands, then promptly get offered an opportunity which seems to set an unstoppable chain of events in motion.

In this case, Stuart Willis was touting an instrumental demo on Denmark Street and happened to find himself in the offices of Noon Music, whose boss suggested to him that one of the tracks sounded like it would fit a Winter Sports theme. "Ski Spree" was born, and was placed with the mysterious group Freestyle. Once released, Noon Music pushed it to the National Ski Federation of Great Britain which led to it being featured in the opening and closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in 1976. 

None of this impressed the public enough to turn it into a hit, which is a bit of a shame - it's the kind of frantic moog-ridden dancefloor number which did pick up some attention in the mid-seventies, and it's certainly powerful enough to stand out. By today's standards, however, I'd argue the synth aspects are a bit too squeaky, like someone is brutally taking hammers to an electronic robot cat. 

I much prefer the flip side "Devil's Dyke" which is a full-blown jazz disco meltdown, featuring puffing flutes, squelching keyboards, fidgety basslines and busy arrangements, all of which work together without sounding too fussy or sophisticated. It's one of those jazz-funk tracks which doesn't over-egg the "jazz" aspect and causes feet to involuntarily twitch in even the laziest of couch potatoes. 

13 October 2021

Reupload - Sandra Bryant - Girl With Money/ Golden Hours



Bouncy, brassy pop from Dagenham girl

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

One of many, many records that slipped out on Major Minor almost unnoticed in the sixties, "Girl With Money" is a brassy, bouncy and sassy record which has all the hallmarks of a mid-sixties beat pop (rather than 1967) production. Sandra Bryant's voice lets rip all across this and she pushes herself to the bluesy max, but it's possible that by this point the public's tastes were moving on to more progressive fare. It's a pity, as it's a strong piece of work which under other circumstances might have offered enough zest to succeed. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Sandra Bryant behind this disc is not the actress who appeared in "On The Buses", but a vocalist from Dagenham. She managed one other single on Major Minor, "Out To Get You", before disappearing from view. The label must have hoped that some of Sandie Shaw's local fairydust would land on Sandra's shoulders, but it clearly wasn't to be.

10 October 2021

Richard Kerr - Hard Lovin'/ Auntie's Insurance Policy


Suggestive "dancer" on the A-side backed with satirical popsike

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Richard Kerr's name may not immediately trip off the tongues of most readers, but he's actually a successful songwriter with numerous hits to his name. Besides writing "Mandy" for Barry Manilow (or "Brandy" for Scott English, however you want to look at it) and "Looks Like We Made It", he also penned "Somewhere In The Night" for Helen Reddy. Of more interest to me is the utterly fabulous "My World" by Cupid's Inspiration and "Nice Time" by Kenny Everett, both of which slipped out of his pen as well.

Both prior to and during his songwriting success, however, Kerr had a solo career with his first records emerging on Decca in 1966. His debut "Concrete Jungle" was an interesting piece of angsty pop poking a stick at the anonymity of office nine to five life. This effort emerged at the absolute tail end of the year  and drops the social realism for straight ahead raunch. "Hard Lovin' is what I need," sings Kerr. "I need some sordid pleasure/ to brighten up my days of leisure". It's hardly subtle, and I'd be staggered if it got any daytime airplay at the time, but the pounding, slapping rhythm (ooh, don't) behind Kerr's cheery delivery does make for a track which might have been appreciated out in the smoky, sweaty basements and dancefloors of the land. It combines the swinging oompah rhythms so popular throughout the mid-sixties with raunch, stomp and a little sprinkling of soul. 

The flipside is interesting too, being a deceptively jolly slice of satire about sucking up to monied family members. It's a borderline case for the popsike files but ultimately probably has a tiny bit too much vinegar in its grooves.  

Following the failure of this single, Kerr jumped to Decca's progressive subsidiary Deram for the next single "Happy Birthday Blues", before seemingly bouncing from label to label over the next two decades, from RCA to Warner Brothers to Epic to A&M. All were presumably acting on the assumption that he was a proven hit writer who was bound to end up writing a smash for himself at some point, but none of the records released under his own name - including five LPs - sold to significant audiences. 

6 October 2021

AD 2,000 - Rhythm and Chips/ Don't Play The Disco



Analogue synth instro on tiny Nottingham indie label

Label: Eagle
Year of Release: 1980

Another puzzler to add our long logbook of vinyl mysteries, I'm afraid. This is a peculiar double A side which features a buzzing, burbling analogue synth instrumental on one side - which is obviously the aspect which caused me to part with my pocket change - and a despondent crying-in-the-late-night-taxi-home slow rock ballad on the other, which is probably fine if that's your kind of thing. (The "Late night FM radio sad taxi journey home" sound is an entire sub-genre in itself, in my opinion, albeit one that's unlikely to ever become as popular as Yacht Rock). 

More perplexingly, though, neither side sounds very eighties. The twittering analogue synths on "Rhythm and Chips" sound like a product of the previous decade, while "Don't Play Me No Disco" belongs to that unnamed genre of records which could have fitted in neatly alongside Sad Cafe's "Every Day Hurts" on a K-Tel compilation for men having a moment. 

My best guess is that both these sides were recorded a couple of years earlier before finally getting picked up by the Nottingham indie label Eagle in 1980, by which point they were slightly out of step with the public mood. That didn't stop the single getting another issue in 1982, though, when the label's name was changed to Ash to presumably avoid confusion with a larger Eagle under operation at the same time. Once again, though, public interest in the track seemed low.

3 October 2021

Rod Hull and Emu - Bristol Rovers All The Way/ I'd Do Anything


Man and bird cheer Bristol Rovers into the Second Division

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1974

In the last few months, I've let an Old English Sheepdog/ Poodle crossbreed dog into my life (or a "Sheepadoodle" if you want to take the quick and easy way of describing the mutt). Even as puppies, these dogs are a weighty great ball of furry energy, an easily distracted twenty kilos of hyperactivity and teeth. On many occasions, I've found myself running after her screeching "No! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! STOP IT!" having been delighted by her doe-eyed fluffiness only one minute before.

I sometimes wonder if at some point in his life Rod Hull got himself into a similar situation and it was partly the inspiration for Emu. The camp delight followed by the frenzied panic seems only too familiar to me, and may be familiar to any other pet owners who haven't quite got to the point where their beasts have been entirely tamed into predictable behaviour.

Emu, of course, was the King Terror of them all, most famously attacking Michael Parkinson but also getting his beak into Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, Snoop DoggJohn Stapleton and Nick Owen (at the same time) and just about anyone else who strayed into his shadow. Critics of the act have pointed out that it was essentially the same playground gag over and over again, but that's actually both incorrect as well as harsh - as a children's entertainer in the seventies, it wasn't Emu's surprise attacks that amused me but Rod Hull's low-budget parodies of television on "Emu's Broadcasting Company", many of which continue to make me smile today. And even if he did become best known for his chat show misdeeds, what performances they were. Very few puppeteers have ever managed to make a creature seem as brutally, magnificently and anarchically alive as Emu. Each peck and rumble felt frighteningly real, with Hull's body seemingly thrown around helplessly by a wild and frantic bird he was struggling to restrain. Try doing it that convincingly yourself  - though of course, you'd need to find an Emu puppet first.

That's exactly what Hull did initially at the very start of his British showbiz career. He found Emu in a prop cupboard in Australia and took him back home with him, and to cut a long and much-repeated story short, a star was very quickly born. 

The bird's recording history, on the other hand, is less successful or opaque. Rolf Harris produced an Emu single in 1972 which claimed to be "Emu singing" but if you slowed the record down it was pretty clear that it was actually Rolf speeding his own voice up, the dirty spiv. Given that Emu was an entirely mute creation in the UK, it's not easy to see why this single was necessary, or why anyone thought something so squeaky and cutesy could easily be associated with the bird. While some copies of it came with a sketch of Rod Hull on the sleeve, so far as I'm concerned it is Not Canon and we should all cock a snook at it.

This, then, was the pair's proper recording debut in 1974 and... well, I have to be honest, words fail me for this one as well. The track consists of Rod Hull singing football supporting lyrics to the tune of "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain" with the Bristol Rovers team. It wasn't a song commonly (if ever) sung by supporters of the club, and beyond the fact that Hull was a supporter, it's not clear how it came into being - they had just reached the second division of football (or the Championship League in today's footballing language) but hardly had enough supporters nationally to give them a profit-making single. Despite this, EMI obviously picked up the tab, everyone got their recording studio time, and this track was quickly recorded, released then promptly forgotten by almost everyone except ardent Bristol Rovers fans.

29 September 2021

Reupload - Anton - Shot Down In Action/ Mine All Mine

 



Thundering glam single from the Spark stable

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1975

It really does seem as if the vast majority of Spark's output throughout the sixties and seventies sold a few hundred copies (if, in some cases, even that) before being melted down. Their catalogue is littered with surprisingly good little singles which are astonishingly difficult to track down, and here's another example.

"Shot Down In Action" is a piece of dramatic seventies glam pop with a pounding intro, chiming piano lines, and an excess of drama. It's strident, catchy, flamboyant and has a surprisingly ambitious arrangement for a song of its type - this is no bonehead cruncher. If it's guilty of anything at all, it's perhaps being a little bit past its sell-by date by 1975, just as the spotlights were starting to dim on anything with a vaguely tinsel drenched sound.

The flip "Mine All Mine" is a rather bland Barry Blue penned ballad, and not worth getting fussed about.