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".