31 January 2021

The Aliens - When The River Runs Dry/ Winds Of Time

Glistening melodic prog rock from Bracknell

Label: Alien
Year of Release: 1978

Pity the proggers who arrived too late to the party. Any groups who made the right noises in the early seventies were pretty much guaranteed a record contract and at least one LP in the shops. By the time the mid-70s arrived, however, excitement had waned and both music journalists and some members of the public were looking for different sounds.

The Aliens were from Bracknell and started up in 1977, a whole year after the media began talking about an exciting new phenomenon called punk rock. While I don't tend to buy into the myth that punk "killed" prog rock as such - sales of prog were broadly on the wane by 1975, long before most had become acquainted with John Lydon outside his social circle - it certainly hastened its demise, with column inches in the music press increasingly given over to three-chord teenage rock rather than intricate musicianship from earnest hairies.

Despite this, the audience for prog didn't entirely disappear, and the live circuit still cheered to the sounds of relative latecomers such as Druid and National Health, as well as all the old faithful who couldn't have been less interested in a New Wave styled change of direction. The Aliens were a faithful part of this gig circuit, particularly in the South East region of England, and in 1978 slipped out this self-released record in an attempt to increase the public's awareness of their existence.

For something without any major backing, "When The River Runs Dry" is surprisingly well produced and credit is also due to The Aliens for what is actually a very jangly, melodic piece of prog for a genre which was often littered with flash and showiness in place of emotive songwriting. Besides the strong guitar work, the song also has a brightness to it which might have been appealing to mainstream radio.

27 January 2021

The Situation - Fun/ I Don't Know What Day It Is













Distinctly Brit-styled Electronic new wave pop from Florida

Label: President
Year of Release: 1984

I was listening to The Most Mysterious Song On The Internet the other day and marvelling at how much the elusive track had captured everyone's imagination. Once upon a time the decade whose obscure releases caused the most intrigue was the sixties, but there's no shortage of weird one-offs, demos, private pressings and general vanity projects from the eighties which are now starting to catch fire in the same way. Head over to YouTube and listen to the 80zforever channel if you don't believe me.

While this particular record isn't from an unlabelled cassette, and does have full credits and publishing details, it's still a one-off which has led me down a blind alley in my attempts to uncover further work from the people involved. Firstly, the band appear to be from Florida, with one of their members (F. Ehmen) having also been a member of the group The Numbers, who also only had one single out ("Working Girl" on Reel in 1982). Why, then, did this record only seem to pick up a release in the UK on President Records, with all the rights seemingly attributed to that label? Surely the group would have had more of a shot with their local audience back home?

Secondly, if President were keen on developing an American band, why on earth did they give up after this solitary release? Did the group spend some time in the UK promoting this, and if not, what was the actual point of the entire exercise?

There's a chance we're not likely to get any immediate answers, which is a shame. The single itself, however, is clearly very influenced by the Second British Invasion of the eighties, with the glossiest of Anglo New Romantic sounds gently rubbed into its grooves like balm. A quick look at the picture of The Situation on the sleeve also reveals a band who were obviously keen to be lipstick-wearing Blitz boys rather than suntanned Floridians (though the blonde-haired chap looks more like a member of Edwyn Collins' spoof Britpop band Expo 70). 

24 January 2021

David Steel - I Feel Liberal Alright!


Barmy Synth-funk tribute to the Liberal Alliance leader

Label: Scotland Video
Year of Release: 1982

Back in 2016 I found a sixties Liberal Party single which seemed so unexpectedly strange and unconvincing I felt the urge to blog about it. Little did I suspect that the Liberals actually had yet another outing on vinyl which was equally unlikely to convince floating voters.

This effort was released in 1982 by Scottish eccentric Jesse Rae, who had a penchant for donning Highlander styled costumes in his videos and demanding that all his records sold south of the border had "import" stickers on their sleeves. While this sounds like the kind of behaviour which could only appeal to a select group of nationalists and IPC journalists desperate for amusing copy, his 1985 single "Over The Sea" sold well enough to creep inside the Top 75, and the song "Inside Out" was covered by Odyssey and became a number three hit for them.

Sometimes his ideas were far too bizarre for the popular palette, though, and this synth-funk ode to the appeal of David Steel is utterly baffling. In Rae's defence, it was created at the height of the party's hopes; after the alliance between the Liberal and SDP parties had been created, they regularly polled strongly - at one point leading above Labour and the Conservatives in 1981 - and seemed like a genuine threat to the dominance of the two party system. Were it not for the harsh First Past The Post voting system in the UK, it's probable the party would also have had a much more convincing stake in parliament after the 1983 General Election. The record also predates David Steel's Spitting Image puppet, a weedy, neurotic latex creation which was forever under the spell of his slick partner Dr David Owen.

Even allowing for the excitement created around the new dawn of the Alliance, though, there's just a tad too much excitement and machismo in these grooves. "Da-vid STEEL!" the ladies chant while some library music styled synth-funk throbs away in the background. You're completely unsure whether this is well-intentioned or an awful piss-take, with the track attempting to afford Steel a sexual allure and dancefloor prowess he never really possessed. The sleeve even features handy dance steps on the rear of the sleeve, which I would be willing to bet weren't even followed among the Young Liberals at the party conference, much less the general public.

20 January 2021

Reupload - The Vibrants - Something About You Baby/ Danger Zone

  Sizzling sixties mod pop from Australian hitmakers
Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Australian hitmakers often got a raw deal from global audiences in the sixties (and far beyond that period, actually). It didn't make much difference to the average A&R person in London, Paris, Los Angeles or Berlin whether an Aussie act had managed a top ten hit in the regional Sydney and Adelaide charts - unless the group were prepared to literally ship themselves over to a new country and tour properly and do promo there for a long time, they were a very distant and not particularly safe bet. The only real alternative market these bands had was the more accessible (but not exactly populous or profitable) New Zealand. 

It's largely for this reason that Australian hit compilations from bygone decades are a treasure-trove of mostly unheard and often great work. The smaller size of the Australian marketplace poses all sorts of horrible challenges to the British collector, too, as anyone who has ever tried to obtain a DJ copy of The Easybeats "Sorry" will tell you - it's an Australian hit, but finding a reasonably priced copy in the UK is almost as bad as hunting down a psychedelic rarity. 

The Vibrants here began life as the backing group for the singer Bobby James before he wandered off to form the Bobby James Syndicate. After that point, Geoff Skewes (organ), Terry Osmand (guitar), Terry Radford (guitar), Brenton Haye (sax), Jeff Gurr (bass) and Rick Kent (drums) forged their own way on the Australian gig circuit.

A few line-up changes later they managed to sign to EMI in their own country, and this, their second single, sold well enough to chart in Melbourne and a number of other Australian territories. It's a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland track which turns it into an - er - vibrant piece of mod-pop, close to the early Small Faces work in places, albeit with a bit less roughness around the edges. It was a big enough hit that it still features on the 4CD "Greatest Australian Singles of the 60s" box set released by Warner Music, but there's a YouTube clip below for anyone who wants to hear the track. It's propulsive and nagging, and if it had been issued by a British act would have been compiled on a sixties rarities CD here way before now.

17 January 2021

Fresh Meat - Never Mind The Money/ Candy Eyes

Mick Green of Johnny Kidd's Pirates with excellent 70s single
Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1973
While it doesn't seem to be budging much in value, this 45 is becoming increasingly appreciated by collectors online, not for its A side but the contents of the flip. On the plug side is an ordinary but actually none too shabby piece of bluesy rock - others have called it "dreary", but honestly, if I'd found a one-sided promo copy or test pressing of this I'd probably have eventually uploaded it on the strength of the group's performance and the nagging quality of the chorus. That may say more about me than anyone else, admittedly.

Nestling on the flip, though, is a snaking, slithering piece of sleazy pop-rock which has an undercurrent of grooviness to it which can't be resisted. "Candy Eyes" isn't a red hot example of lost prog or psychedelia, but it is a damn good case for the defence of early seventies non-glam pop music - it creeps and crawls like a leopard on the prowl, and only the slightly corny ending lets it down. If that bothers you too much, though, I'm sure you can edit a long fade in for yourselves at the appropriate moment.

Fresh Meat also weren't a complete bunch of unknowns - or at the very least, one of them wasn't. On lead guitarist duties here is the legendary Mick Green who previously played with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. He formed Fresh Meat after returning from America following a stint backing Engelbert Humperdinck in Las Vegas, but despite his lofty status as a rock guitarist their records didn't sell in great quantities. This was the debut outing, and the follow-up "Hobo" on Raft Records later in 1973 sold marginally better, but still didn't do enough business to impress the label. The group eventually morphed into Hard Meat (and no, not the Hard Meat who were signed to Island in 1970), before becoming Shanghai who boasted Cliff Bennett on vocals. 

Shanghai evidently saw sense and put "Candy Eyes" out as an A-side in 1975, even promoting and performing it on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" - but it made no odds and the track still didn't sell. 

13 January 2021

Maggie - L David Sloane/ Too Young To Get Married


Mystery sixties 45 from surnameless individual

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1968

Who's that girl? Once again, I'm afraid I don't know. The sixties seemed to be a period where female solo vocalists were frequently signed by major labels hopeful of discovering the next Lulu, Sandie Shaw or Dusty Springfield, but dropped like hot coals as soon as the one or two singles they were permitted to record failed to sell. Often, the only easily accessible evidence of their existence is the record itself.

Uncovering the identity of Maggie is going to be harder still since she doesn't even give us a surname. All I can tell you is that this is a cover of a track released by Michele Lee in the USA, though while Lee's version seems to be delivered between gritted teeth, Maggie takes the frustration and flips it around into something more carefree. If Lee sounds like she's being pursued on a daily basis and hiding behind the curtains, Maggie sounds as if she's busy gleefully tearing up his wardrobe.

It's a chirpy effort and one which might have seen the inside of the Top 40 on a soft week, but by 1968 this kind of pop would have felt slightly out-of-date. Its swinging sound feels like something from years before, so perhaps it's not too surprising it was broadly ignored. 

10 January 2021

Linda Jardim - 60 Miles By Road Or Rail/ Energy In Northampton

Buggles vocalist sings futuristic pop tale of aliens landing in Northampton

Label: Northampton Development Corporation
Year of Release: 1980(?)

The late seventies and early eighties were a peculiar period for local councils and authorities, who all seemed to be competing with each other to find innovative ways of attracting both new residents and external investment. Having a flashy theme tune seemed to be one of the weapons in their arsenal - catchy numbers like "South Woodham Ferrers" and the Gerard Kenny-esque "You've Never Seen Anything Like It - Central Milton Keynes" are frequently held up for mockery now, but probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

This, though, is one of the most utterly absurd. Clearly one of the promotional team at the Northampton Development Corporation had been listening to one Gary Numan album too many, and decided that the best way of making the city sound like the settlement of the future would be to adopt a strange synth-pop tune about aliens landing there. 

This idea was clearly cautiously green lit but not given the most attention, as the A-side here - the snappily titled "60 Miles By Road Or Rail" - has the same tune, but is lyrically more straightforward, conservative and everyday, chronicling the love affair of a London woman with a Northampton man and her exciting journeys up and down the M1 to sleep with him. Oddly, the song doesn't seem to focus much on Northampton's beauty spots or unique features, and instead the city means one thing only to this lady; it's the centre of Love. We're not given any hints about how the affair ended, which means we never do get to find out whether she got fed up with shlepping up and down the motorway and asked him to move to London with her. Nonetheless, it's actually a very appealing tune with lots of genuine eighties pop suss behind it, succeeding in making me feel nostalgic for the days when modern developments and new towns weren't supposed to give you the blues. 

The flip is where the oddball alien bananas pop can be found, and by God does everyone push the boat out here. From the humming synths in the intro to the alien voiceover, to the lyrics about neutron wars on other planets and the location of fresh energy resources in Northampton (which I would have thought the Northampton Development Corporation would have been against being stolen by intergalactic forces - it's a bad thing in Sim City, after all) it's the noise of every conceivable futuristic button being pushed to overload. I have no doubt everyone involved approached this with their tongues firmly in cheeks, but despite this it's extraordinarily thoughtfully arranged and performed, from those Meat Loaf styled tumbling piano lines to the dispassionate alien voices throughout.

6 January 2021

Reupload - The Sad - It Ain't Easy/ Box


Bi-sexual glam rock on the woes of extra-marital sex

Label: Phoenix

Year of Release: 1971

You've probably already guessed from the very fact that I wrote about Starbuck's "Do You Like Boys" not long ago, but overtly gay glam rock fascinates me. To put it into historical perspective, until 1967 homosexual activity was illegal in the UK. Glam rock may have arrived in the middle of a new, forward thinking decade, but it was still a mere few years away from some rather heavy-handed bigotry. There were still plenty of intolerant, prudish, vinegary "silent majority" types on the prowl who might have in some instances accepted the ban on homosexual activity being lifted, but almost certainly still didn't want to hear from the people who "did that sort of thing".

Which makes singles like "Do You Like Boys" and this one, "It Ain't Easy", truly astonishing. David Bowie putting his arms around Mick Ronson on "Top of the Pops" could have been interpreted in a number of ways and shrugged off as an innocent matey gesture. This single, on the other hand, is upfront and blatant, and frankly couldn't give a fig.

Telling the tale of a married rock star who is incapable of remaining faithful to his wife, and happily sleeps with both men and women depending on which mood he's in, it's very daring for 1971. Of course, it's impossible not to feel a little sorry for his wife, though one can only assume that she was forewarned. If not, the issue of this single may have acted as a highly inappropriate public announcement. "It ain't easy for my wife to live with me!" declares the stadium chant chorus, while the singer backs this up with "There's always some young girl or even boy in sight/ and I don't care it's what I take home at night".

3 January 2021

Portrait - Tokaido Lines/ Cuddle Me Closer


Insistent and faintly Beatlesy 70s bubblegum pop 

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

Portrait first came to my attention through the dependable Purepop blog, who mentioned their nagging 1969 single "Sh-Sh-Sheila", filled with handclaps, bouyant melodies and a sharp, sugary taste. I spent a month or so travelling around London with it on my iPod, always keeping half-an-eye open for other records of theirs.

It's been a long wait, obviously, but "Tokaido Lines" is more of the same and is equally good. Using a honking, hooky Beatles harmonica line and a stomping beat, it's another example of an early seventies single which still has one foot in the previous decade. You can just about hear glam rock emerging over the horizon in the grooves here, but the sound has more in common with The Archies than it does Mud. 

The group toured the country enthusiastically, but never really broke through, and eventually changed their name to Hobnail to release one more single ("She's Just A Friend Of Mine") on Bell in 1972. The members were Trevor Reynolds on lead vocals, Ray Reynolds on drums, Jim Cooper on rhythm guitar , Tony Davis on bass, and Andy Bick on lead guitar. All the group also supplied backing harmony vocals behind Trevor Reynolds.