28 February 2021

Les Carle - Times They Are A-Changin'/ Catch The WInd - The Typhoons - For Your Love/ Honey, I Need

The Woolworths Bob Dylan is in the building, long before his career as Postman Pat theme tune singer and voice of the Smash robots

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1965

We've discussed the Embassy label on this blog before, but to summarise the situation for any newbies who may be lurking - it was a budget label stocked solely in Woolworths which featured session singers doing covers of the popular hits of the day. 

Embassy is a tempting punt for the record collector in the way that later exponents of penny-pinching department store pop often weren't, in that it didn't always try to be a sound-a-like label. Often the record would be a reasonable approximation of the artists being covered, but only a tone-deaf imbecile who had heard the original tracks once through a terrible radio reception could honestly believe that they might be the real thing. This has left behind a trail of interesting sounding records which don't tend to outshine the originals, but occasionally put their own likable stamp on them (my personal favourite is Joan Baxter's take on the Shangri-Las "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" which we covered some years ago).

This particular 1965 EP is a weird anomaly in the label's life which appears to be courting the student and counter-cultural market, desperately trying to gain the coppers of beatniks and hairies, or at least their relatives shopping for treats for them. On the A-side Les Carle (a pseudonym of Ken Barrie, the voice artist and session singer who later performed the Postman Pat theme and voiced the Smash robots) takes on Bob Dylan and Donovan, while the house band The Typhoons deal with The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things on the flip. It is, to say the least, an unexpected proposition and one that leaves you disappointed that the label couldn't hang in long enough for the psychedelic era - God knows what their backroom boys and girls would have made of "See Emily Play" and "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Barrie's take on Dylan is very clearly not an impersonation, not bothering to try and emulate that unique voice ("like sand and glue" as David Bowie once brilliantly put it) but instead put his own rustic, clear and pure sounding folk vocal on it. It works as well as any of the hundreds of other covers of the song tend to do, and doesn't disgrace itself in any way. So too does his take on Donovan's "Catch The Wind", and it leaves me wondering whether any of the Mums and Dads who may have bought this record for their scruffy offspring may have decided to keep it for themselves instead, preferring Barrie's clear, rounded delivery over those author's own works.

The Typhoons on the flip are slightly less dynamic and wild than either the Pretty Things or The Yardbirds, and in their case this is a bit of a disadvantage. Someone needed to be in the studio pushing needles into the red and kicking the group up the backside, but instead they turn in a competent, beaty but not very meaty take on the tracks. These kind of confused, professionalised takes on the wilder mid-sixties groups were common across the Embassy catalogue in that period, and saw session musicians seemingly rather confused by the job they'd been given. Should they keep things rough or try to improve on them so as not to terrify the Woolworths bigwigs seeking a slick performance for their racks? Far too many chose the latter route, though The Jaybirds take on The Who proved that a slightly garage styled take on the R&B and mod sounds of the era could occasionally slip out.

Embassy would shut up shop in July of 1965 at around the same time their parent label Oriole were bought out by CBS, and this little EP is a window into a world they might have had to tackle had they chosen to carry on. From these impressions, I think they'd probably have just about managed.

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john111257 said...

Competent covers, but lacking a sparkle

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave
Enjoy your blog and visit regularly
More interested in covers but enjoy lots of other stuff you post.
A request: The Cole Brothers – I Can't See Nobody (bee Gees cover) from a recent Bee Gees compilation of which this is the only track i don't think I have.
Happy to try and help you with anything especially Oz sixties.

23 Daves said...

Hi Richard, sorry for only just responding to your comment. Life has been a bit chaotic of late!

I'm sorry to say I don't have that track, but good luck in finding it. If I ever come across it I'll be sure to let you know.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave
Will keep looking