31 August 2022

Reupload - Almond Lettuce - Tree Dog Song/ To Henry With Hope


Bouncy but marginally deranged popsike from this mystery band

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1968

Arguing about what constitutes a "psychedelic" record has been an intense political debate for collectors for decades now. People the length and breadth of the country have screamed and shouted at each other in pubs demanding to know what exactly is so "way out" about the contents of some of the "Rubble" series. Why, I even have a scar on my forehead from the time someone angrily threw a copy of Barnaby Rudge's "Joe Organ & Co" at me, yelling the words "You couldn't listen to that while taking a trip, you moron, it sounds like a third-rate sixties Bowie out-take" (Some of the above may be lies).

I'm using the word "psychedelic" to describe this record advisedly, then. It's hardly "See Emily Play", but then again... both sides are infused with a pie-eyed, child-like worldview, and arrangements which are prone to sharp diversions. "Tree Dog Song" on the A-side has one of the worst and most irritatingly child-like intros in the world, but gradually settles down into sounding like The Kinks at their most skewiff and countrified singing about God knows what. 

The B-side is the real winner for me here, though, delivering absurd lyrics about domestic failures and marital break-up over a melancholy organ sound and insistent, minimal, chiming guitar line. "Oh Henry... I know that the rhubarb pie was under-done/ and your cricket pads were stained with eggy juice" the singer explains, and it's hard not to empathise. Henry sounds like a monster. The song also has a McCartney-esque bounce to it which is compelling. 

28 August 2022

Major Thinkers - Back In The 80's/ Farewell To The Coast

Irish New Wave via the USA

Label: Phaeton
Year of Release: 1980

The shadow the Boomtown Rats cast over everything else means that when you mention Irish New Wave - from the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland - there's barely room in anyone's heads for the other bands. You might get a few people managing to splutter out names like Radiators From Space or The Vipers, or even the occasional clever dick pointing towards U2's early work, but the spectre of His Bobness seems to chill the room.

To be fair, The Major Thinkers are an odd case in point, since they weren't even based in Ireland. The nucleus of the group consisted of Wexford performing partners Pierce Turner and Larry Kirwan, who relocated to New York in the early seventies and spent a period of time performing in folk clubs there as a duo. For this project, however, they were bolstered by members Paul J Ossala on bass and Thomas Hamlin on drums and their style took a much more fashionable turn. 

While abandoning Ireland might have caused them to become slightly more forgotten back home than they deserved, they remained signed to the Irish label Phaeton and issued their one eponymously titled LP through them in 1981, as well as this Double A sided single in 1980. 

"Back In The 80s" is another example of that absurd phenomenon of a song's lyrics asking people to think back to the melodrama of the decade before it had even got underway (The Martian Schoolgirls "Life In The 1980s" is a bird of a similar feather). Through choppy guitars, futuristic beeps and squeaks and strangulated vocals, it does sound oddly like a 2000s parody of the New Wave era from which it stemmed, the group singing about rock and roll resistance and Government assisted suicides. There are traces of the futuristic camp influence of glam throughout, proving that the jumps from one music genre to the next aren't always as clean as we'd like to believe.

24 August 2022

U.K. Joe - Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/ Deadwood Central

Short, snappy northern singalong-an-Esso-advert

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1972

The Platters version of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" was one of my Dad's favourite singles, frequently spun and gently sung along to, although in retrospect I do wonder how much he just enjoyed the OTT melodrama of it. There was always the faint trace of a smile around his face as he listened to the record as if he loved the way they were milking the whole 'big boys don't cry' situation. "Tears?" The Platters seem to be saying. "No my friend, these aren't tears, it's just this club is so damn smoky. We should go somewhere different in future". "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" pushes the scenario to such an extent that it could almost become a comedy sketch about men in denial. 

There's a long history of songs for men who are incapable of being honest about their emotions, from "Smoke" to "I'm Not In Love" to "Words" by FR David and God knows what else in between. All tend to slather the emotional repression with thick, treacly arrangements which almost over-emote, and it's long been a source of fascination to me the way these tracks demonstrate the expressive limitations of the average man by pushing the melodrama to the max. "This is my outlet, and I'll scream within the walls of it if it stops me going completely mad", seemed to be the message of the singers.

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" ended up getting a second, somewhat trivial wind in the early seventies, though, when it became used in adverts for Esso Blue paraffin, led by a mysterious everyman character called Joe. "They asked me how I knew/ It was Esso Blue/ I of course replied/ with lesser grades one buys/ smoke gets in your eyes" ran the tune afresh, and the subject subsequently moved itself on to more blokeish practical matters which everyone probably felt more comfortable with. 

This led to the release of two new versions of the track, one reggae take by Blue Haze which managed to peek into the Top 40 briefly in 1972, and... this. An utterly baffling take very similar to one which appears on the end of an Esso flexidisc. In it, a northern character called UK Joe appears to be leading a bar or club filled with people in a sing-a-long lasting just over a minute-and-a-half. The crowd sing competently after his shouted cues and the band behind him blast out their best forties Vera Lynn arrangements, but it's hard to understand how anybody would have needed to own it. It's a burst of music, a jingle, a brief idea to raise a slight smile and little more. It's a truly unimaginable A-side, but here we are, discussing it as such. 

10 August 2022

Reupload - Robb Storme Group - Here Today/ But Cry


Fantastic West Coast styled pop from future Orange Bicycle members

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

I've bypassed this particular single in the racks on a number of occasions in the past, suspecting it to be little more than an unimaginative, carbon copy of a track off "Pet Sounds". Cover versions - who really needs them, eh?

This is further evidence, if you really needed it, that when it comes to record buying I can be something of a prat. The version of "Here Today" on the A-side is respectful and arguably unadventurous, but propels and kicks the track along determinedly, upping the tempo slightly to suit the English climate it now finds itself in. The chorus in particular clatters along urgently. It's a win-win situation - Beach Boys fans won't feel alienated by it, but listeners after something slightly new will find enough to enjoy. 

It's the flip that's the biggest surprise, though. "But Cry" is a melting pot of styles, from the West Coast jingle-jangle of its guitar melodies and vocal arrangements to the propulsive, driving mod beats. If it's summer and your woman or man has let you down, and you're wearing paisley and beads and just want to sulk in a city park, this shall be your soundtrack. 

7 August 2022

Doctor's Children - Tomorrow I'll Die/ Winds of a Storm

Jangly indie kids of the paisley patterned kind

Label: Glass
Year of Release: 1985

Given the way in which the treble-heavy lo-fi world of mid-eighties indie has been hoovered up, regurgitated, shaken then reissued again in multiple different formats over the last thirty years, it's always slightly surprising to find anything left to talk about on here. Anyone from that era who put out a single with a minimally designed sleeve seems to have had their output re-released by Cherry Red and Revola twice over by now.

Bow before Doctor's Children, then, who have been really (unfairly) neglected in the race to remind the world that once upon a time, bands did as they liked and a cottage industry happily indulged and even paid them. "Tomorrow I'll Die" was their debut single in 1985, and while the group were not Creation signings, it has a lot of clear similarities with that roster - sharp guitar sounds meet howling vocals and a steady, patient back-beat. The group could regularly be found supporting the Jazz Butcher at London gigs, and developed a fair reputation for psychedelically tinged indie-pop as time moved on.

If that's your bag, this possibly isn't the best place to start, but their follow-up "Rose Cottage EP" has moments of beautiful autumnal melancholy, not least the chilly "Blessed Is The Man" which sees the group really fill out their sound more ambitiously with swelling organ sounds and chiming piano lines.

The group eventually released the John Leckie produced LP "King Buffalo" in 1987 which managed to pick up the attention of notorious critic Robert Christgau stateside, who noted their ambitions to put a new spin on classic American rock and happily observed the "chaotic feedback and organ murk subsumed in the soaring Byrdsy-Velvetsy ebb and flow". Ultimately though, he only saw fit to conclude his review flippantly with "so it goes in the realms of better-than-average guitar bands". Damning them with faint praise this may have been, but he still seemed fonder of them than The Stone Roses or Radiohead who were given far lower marks further down the line. 

3 August 2022

Dansette Damage - 2001 and three quarters Approximately/ Must Be Love

Soulful, bluesy New Wave musings from 1980

Label: Pinnacle
Year of Release: 1980

Birmingham's Dansette Damage must surely qualify as the only punk band to have put out a single produced by Robert Plant (albeit under a pseudonym - they had to be mysterious, those punk punters wouldn't have touched a Led Zeppelin affiliated 45 with yours, mate). Only 2,500 copies of "The Only Sound/ NME" were pressed up, and it's a beefy, thuggish, stomping effort which has deservedly attracted some attention over the years, and not just for the Wolverhampton Wanderer's help.

Less has been said about their Plantless follow-up single, issued on the indie distributor Pinnacle's own label a couple of years later, and perhaps that's because stylistically it couldn't be further apart. It's a much more polished piece of moody, bluesy, strutting New Wave which combines surreal and dystopian lyrical imagery with impassioned female backing vocals. Without doing anything particularly unorthodox musically across its three-and-a-half minutes, it's an uneasy piece of work and the band (or songwriter and singer Colin Hall) have tried to point out the coincidence that the year 2001 and three quarters would, of course, be 1st September 2001, very close to 9/11. 

Personally, I think that's stretching a coincidence to breaking point and there are few signs that the group were the Nostradamuses of New Wave in the lyrics; those references to keyhole peepers, skyscrapers and jailbreakers are very trad rock indeed and could have formed part of a Thin Lizzy track. Nonetheless, despite its commercial production and dogged groove it still manages to convey a deep sense of paranoid menace without once descending into rockisms. It certainly doesn't scream "daytime radio", which is probably why it wasn't even close to being a hit.