30 March 2011
Year of Release: 1969
Over the years, I've witnessed many entertaining arguments amongst Beatles fans on areas which seem peculiarly divisive. Is Paul McCartney's solo material chock full of under-rated gems, or largely filled with prim, twee pieces of insignificant pop? Is the early material unsurpassed sixties beat, or cheap, plastic, sanitised silliness compared to their later works? And... is "Abbey Road" one of their finest albums, with the McCartney-dominated song cycle at the end being one of their strongest pieces of work, or ultimately an inconclusive patchwork quilt of half-baked ideas?
I firmly sit in the former camp where "Abbey Road" is concerned, and perhaps part of the reason for that (which I accept is an unfair reason) is the fact that the song cycle sounds fresher than the rest of their output. Whilst the Beatles hits and their better album tracks get regular plays on nostalgia radio and have become part of the background hum to everyday life, the last side of "Abbey Road" remains relatively under-exposed, one of the few areas of Beatles-hood which is largely refined to my own living room. That it also contains some supreme, over-in-a-flash instances of hook-laden pop obviously helps no end too. It's easy to take the best Beatles work for granted, but Side Two of "Abbey Road" still excites me even on a bad day.
If you were going to isolate an aspect of the song cycle and issue it as a single, "Golden Slumbers/ Carry That Weight" would be the obvious pairing. The Beatles clearly had no interest in doing so, but Trash - one of their Apple signings - were encouraged to exploit the potential of the tunes by the enterprising employee Richard Dilello. According to the brilliant book documenting his time working for the label "Longest Cocktail Party", McCartney had already urged him not to waste any more studio money and time on the band, and he sneaked them in through the studio back door to record this. When everyone's favourite thumbs aloft Scouser found about it, he apparently lost his temper. However, when Lennon heard the track he gave it the green light, saying it was a good imitation (which hardly seems like flattery). Dilello chose to observe Lennon's approval over Macca's, and out the record came.
Lennon was arguably incorrect, incidentally. Like most cash-in Beatles covers, this eliminates a great deal of the care and attention the original was shown and sounds rather flat in places. It's far better than the Orange Bicycle's John Peel-produced attempt at manipulating the song cycle for commercial gain, but in the end you're forced to conclude that it probably deserved its final number 35 resting place despite being issued ahead of "Abbey Road". You can hear a snippet of the track over on YouTube, but due to its inclusion on the recent "Come and Get It: The Best Of Apple Records" album, I won't be offering it up for download. Instead, you can hear the rather more prog-rock orientated B-side "Trash Can" below, which proves that had Trash been given the chance to carry on into the seventies they might have had more joy.
Back in the real world, of course, Trash - who actually consisted of ex-members of The Pathfinders and The Poets - split up when this single failed to become a hit and Apple Records fell into general disarray.
26 March 2011
Year of Release: 1971
One for all you truckers out there. "God Love and Rock & Roll" would appear to have been the only single by Leadfeather - or at least, the Internet so far records no others - and sounds pretty much exactly as you'd expect it to, like some unholy alliance of gospel and whiskey-gargling rock. It's akin to being harassed by a congregation on a squad of motorcycles.
The song itself was originally written and performed in a rather more subdued manner by Teegarden & VanWinkle, a Detroit based duo whose single has since cropped up on some Christian rock compilations, and could therefore be considered to be cultishly successful to this day (but in whose cult? That is the question).
As for whether Leadfeather were Christians or just covering a song they felt was good, as I can find no information on them at all that's hard to say. The B-side "Don't Ask Me", however, is more pleasing to my ears and has tremendously cryptic, vaguely sinister lyrics backed with a snaking, buzzing guitar line. The lead singer apparently took a girl off the street, gave her "some clothes and somewhere to live", but she must accept she "ain't his wife". Hmmm. Either this is Christian compassion in action or something else entirely.
I strongly suspect that Leadfeather may have been another example of a studio-bound, record company created act - Bell Records had them in spades throughout the seventies - but it would still be interesting to find out who was involved. If you're reading this and know, or were a member yourself, please do enlighten us.
(Also, it's probably only fair to add that I suspect I bought this some time ago off Robin Wills' stall at a record fair - but there's been a lot of vinyl under the bridge since that event, so I wouldn't swear to that!)
23 March 2011
Who: Biddu Orchestra
What: Soul Coaxing
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
Back in the seventies, Biddu Appaiah was something of a disco legend, producing huge hits for Tina Charles and Carol Douglas. He's still around today and creating new material, largely influenced more by the pop sounds of his Indian homeland than the likes of "Kung Fu Fighting" or "I Love to Love" ever really hinted at.
"Soul Coaxing" (or "Ame Caline" if you prefer) had been bubbling around on the Northern Soul circuit and indeed on the stereos of people at dinner and cocktail parties for some time - the ultimate easy listening version of the track for my money has already been posted on this blog here, which to me is still the definitive interpretation. You don't agree? Well, I'll forgive you just this once.
Biddu's disco reimagining of the tune is, it has to be said, lacking in the same wistful melancholy. That kind of moodiness simply wouldn't have got feet moving on the dancefloor. What it has instead is a lot of slickness which borders on the sultry or even sleazy - this sounds like the kind of record an unreformed seventies man would use in order to fondle the crotch of the lady of his fancy at a party. It's an intriguing example of how one tune can shift mood with no major alterations to the melody, just a different arrangement. This version is to me considerably less satisfying, and the public seemed to agree since it failed to sell in the same quantities as Raymond Lefevre's - however, it's at least nothing short of curious, which is precisely what the "Second Hand Record Dip" should be about.
19 March 2011
Year of Release: 1966
"What a funny chart you guys have!" - that's what Katrina out of Katrina and the Waves once said in reference to the British Top 40, and who am I to argue with the Eurovision winner? It is indeed a strange list, filled with all manner of urban noises, children's ditties, has-beens hitting it lucky with fortunate re-issues, and even unexpected bursts of Eurodisco. True, the majority of the chart will always be filled with stuff which is also hitting big in mainland Europe and America, but it's the anomalies I love, the outsider stuff gnawing its way through the nation's favourite pop list which makes it unpredictable and exciting even today.
This single is a prime example of a long-forgotten one hit wonder, a George Martin produced novelty track which - logic should dictate - should have struggled to sell a handful of copies. In fact, a single consisting entirely of a quartet of schoolmasters singing extracts from The Highway Code in an Anglican chant style got to number 25 in the charts. As Richard Littlejohn would doubtless splutter, you couldn't make it up - but that's precisely the sort of thing I like.
You can read the full story of the track here - it would seem that what started life as a simple private joke/recording ended up falling into the hands of the BBC, who played it once and kickstarted a very minor phenomenon. Such was its success, in fact, that even a follow up single consisting of a Weather Forecast being delivered as an Anglican chant got to number 45.
Whilst I find the single amusing for a couple of plays, I do have to admit that its success is highly baffling. The boxes and under-counter bins of second hand stores up and down the land are filled with similar cross-genre joke ideas which never flew, so it's a bit of a mystery why this one captured everyone's imagination. George Martin's involvement probably helped, since anything with his name on it was guaranteed some kind of exposure at this point. Perhaps it seemed vaguely anarchic as well, this religious reading of the Department of Transport's key text. Like so many minor novelty hits, however, it's largely been forgotten about in the years since, which is why it's nice to offer it up for download here.
The B-side, incidentally, is Highway Code advice dispensed via the folk genre, which isn't as effective. As I've said before on this blog, plenty of folk music is ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek and frivolous itself, therefore there's very rarely anything funny about sending it up.
(This blog entry was originally made in February 2009. There's little to add at present, but if you do want to watch a YouTube video of their follow-up flop "Weather Forecast", feel free to entertain yourselves).
16 March 2011
I was having a discussion with a friend the other week about how, in idle moments of boredom on Sunday afternoons, no time is ever truly wasted flicking through those 50p sixties singles you picked up at the local junk shop and just quickly checking what's on the flip side. There's a modern aversion to the concept of the B-side, a lingering suspicion that the second division side of the disc will only be hiding rush-recorded, rush-written pieces of flannel, or something only the band's most ardent fans could love. In truth, not only did B-sides in the sixties frequently hide some uncharacteristically freaky jams - as with Dave Clark Five's "Concentration Baby" above, the flip to the monotonous middle-of-the-road ballad "Everybody Knows" - they were also often the place where established acts would leave the dancefloor friendly material, or up-and-coming acts would showcase some of their other quality tunes for the kids out there who might be tempted to dial the 200+ numbers on a jukebox out of curiosity.
Sitting neatly within the dancefloor groover category is "Hey Hey Girl", the flip to Amen Corner's number one single "If Paradise Is Half As Nice". The organ honks away on this like nobody's business, and the track itself has a repetitive, barn-storming energy which would be the envy of most sixties mod bands. My copy of "Paradise" has worn grooves and a below-average sound on the A-side, but the B-side still sounds crisp, fresh and ready to create a party in my living room - whoever owned it before clearly didn't think to pay closer attention to its other half. More fool them.
Taking their cues from the Dave Clark Five in the "somebody put something in their drinks" stakes are Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich of all people, with "The Sun Goes Down" resting on the B-side of "Zabadak". This is such an uncommercial piece of droning psychedelia that it's a wonder anybody at all captured it on disc, never mind DDDBMT. I suspect their tongues were firmly in their cheeks at the time of recording it, but that doesn't stop it from being a hugely eccentric outing, a noise-fest which seems one part Beatles, one part Rolf Harris circa "Sun Arise", another part BBC Sound Effects LP. Despite suffering from the reputation as being something of a mass-marketed "pop" act by the tail end of the decade, DDDBMT did actually issue a number of class singles - the lyrically interesting "Last Night In Soho" being a particular favourite of mine - but this is as psychedelic as they got.
Away from the stench of incense and back towards the sweaty, beery basements of London's swinging clubs, the flip side of Chris Andrews' rather oompah ridden piece of pop "Yesterday Man" is the distinctly more abrasive, howling rocker "Too Bad You Don't Want Me", which rips up a storm and makes the A-side seem like a limp entrant for "A Song For Europe". Andrews squawks and screeches his way through a tune about a girl who doesn't want his company, whilst guitars twang merrily along and the groove concocted is entirely infectious. Andrews wasn't averse to making loud, abrasive noises, and one of his later singles "Hold On" is well worth tracking down for this very reason - but the company "Too Bad" keeps itself in makes it seem like a decidedly pleasant surprise. That 50p need not have been spent on a chocolate bar after all.
If you're lucky enough to own a copy of The Easybeats' "Friday On My Mind" (which still only seems to retail for around the £5 mark at the cheapest, despite its hit single status) you've already got one of the best pieces of sixties freakbeat there is - on its flip, however, is "Made My Bed Gonna Lie In It", a tune which admittedly fails to top the A-side (few things would) but is a damn good showcase for the band in itself, with Shel Talmy's production sounding spectacularly akin to his work with The Who in this instance.
We could talk forever around this topic, even excluding obvious artists like The Beatles who seldom wasted the space afforded on B-sides. I could bring up The Kinks "Big Black Smoke", Herman's Hermits' surprisingly garagey "It's Alright" (not on YouTube yet, surprisingly), or any number of obscure artists whose B-sides represented their sound better than their Tin Pan Alley off-the-peg purchased A-sides - but perhaps I'll throw it over to you good readers for more suggestions, if you want to contribute in the comments. The best thing about these flips is that even if you're rummaging around the record bins in a charity shop or find yourself in a second-hand record store with no bank notes, just loose change, they still give you a ray of hope that you may walk out with something unexpectedly good.
12 March 2011
Year of Release: 1969
Birmingham based band The Exception are probably best known amongst aficionados of sixties beat for "The Eagle Flies On Friday" (quite unbelievably, there is a clip of The Exception live if you click on the link) an aggressive, snarling piece of work about threatening bosses with baseball bats which appeared on the "Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" compliation. Their other output remains rather less well explored, and perhaps not without good reason - whilst they were capable of cooking a mean enough groove, not much of their work truly excels.
Their penultimate single "Jack Rabbit" is a neat enough piece of pop, however, which is snappy, to the point and urgent, getting its business over and done with in under two minutes. For my taste, the B-side "Keep The Motor Running" is preferable as a really neat piece of mellow, bluesy work which manages to be moody and rock and roll in what must have seemed like a very retro way by 1969. I won't pretend that either side is an essential piece of work, but the sound does pre-empt a lot of early seventies pop, with the flip almost (but not quite) coming close to Mungo Jerry territory.
Members Dave Pegg and Roger Hill later became members of Fairport Convention, with the whereabouts of lead singer Bugsy Eastwood being less well known.
9 March 2011
Year of Release: 1994
Many years after the event, it feels odd to be talking about These Animal Men. Odd in a "Did that really happen?" way. The band smelled suspicious to many right from the very off, launching their career with a series of slogans such as "Never trust a crustie" and "Don't be ashamed of your adolescence", and subsequently ended up seeming like an exercise in hype and branding rather than a proper band. The sleeve of "Speed King" followed this sensationalism neatly, including an amphetamine wrap (although Pulp would do something similar on "Sorted for Es and Whizz" a couple of years later to much greater effect).
With the benefit of distance, the whole phenomenon does seem a tiny bit silly and dated now (especially the references to speed - honestly, who on earth has seen such a thing recently?) but the band weren't incapable of sounding urgent when they wanted to, which gives everyone an inkling of how the music press hooked on to them. "Speed King" isn't without charm, and rollicks its way along in such an urgent and aggressive way that you can almost believe the band were under the influence when they recorded it. The NME tagged the act with the label "New Wave of New Wave" alongside S*M*A*S*H and Echobelly, but only the latter managed to get reassessed as a Britpop act as soon as the phenomenon died its predictable death nine months later, with dire consequences for the other contenders. Most of their follow-up material was ignored, and is now widely available on iTunes for further investigation if anyone seems tempted by the idea.
Hitless until the end despite a Top of the Pops appearance, and seldom (if ever) referenced in the music press today, These Animal Men are a strange example of how hype can sometimes create a bright and powerful spark without causing the kindle to burn enough to create the flames of an entire career.
Ex-members later went on to form Mo Solid Gold with soul singer KA Hepburn, creating a new and rather more interesting sound. Despite major label backing, this failed to go much further as well (and may prove another topic for another day).
5 March 2011
Year of Release: 1967
Whilst the Madchester/ Baggy revolution of the late eighties and early nineties is widely regarded to be the moment where psychedelia, guitar pop, soul and dance collided, in truth such dabbling around with the audio palette was occurring long before the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. There are tons of examples of singles released throughout the late sixties alone which tried to tick as many genre boxes as possible.
Cat Stevens's track "Baby Get Your Head Screwed On", for example, is given a particularly soulful psychedelic rendition here (or should that be psychedelic soulful rendition?) complete with parping horns, proto-Electric Light Orchestra styled string solos, and a gritty, gnashing vocal. Whilst there's very little doubt that the track is actually quite ahead of its time, it falls just short of being brilliant by dint of the fact that the tune gets rather repetitive once they've set out their stall within the first minute. There are very few fuzzy, psychedelic records of this era which will tempt you on to the dancefloor in a similar way, however, and for that reason alone it deserves the share of attention it has since had from aficionados.
The flip "Come On Baby" has an insistent groove which isn't dis-similar to The Equals, but again ploughs a similar furrow and fails to progress as much as it perhaps could do across its full two-and-a-half minutes.
Double Feature were a duo consisting of Bill Hall and Brian Lane who hailed from Birmingham, and following the failure of this and the follow-up "Handbags and Gladrags" to make a commercial impression they seemed to fade from view. If anyone knows what happened after that or if they're up to anything now, please do pass the information on.
3 March 2011
London dwelling readers might be delighted (or horrified) to learn that I've been invited to do a DJ set at the long-running "Rum Do" event at The Castle in Whitechapel on 12 March. Naturally, I'll be working within the rubric of the evening which tends to be sixties mod pop, Northern Soul and rock and roll, although I'm sure I'll find a way of sneaking in some beat and popsike as well.
Sadly, this means that anyone expecting to hear hot toe-tapping discs by the likes of Nanette Newman, Bernard Manning, Julian Clary and Big Cherry is going to walk out very disappointed, but I wouldn't suppose that many of you were (and I'm not sure what night you'd go to if you genuinely wanted to hear stuff like that, but if you ever find a venue, please let me know).
Also on the bill are "Dylan Moran's favourite band" The De Selby Codex, Wol and a special secret guest. The Facebook invite and details can be found here, but just in case you can't access that, the details are:
Rum Do, The Castle, Whitechapel, London, E1 1LN
8:30pm - midnight
Saturday 12 March
Come over and say hello if you make it down.
2 March 2011
Year of Release: 1967
The Boston-based Beacon Street Union were a psychedelic rock band who achieved some moderate and very culty success in America in the late sixties, and pop up on compilations rather less frequently than you'd expect for some baffling reason. They weren't half bad in their arty, hippy-ish ways, as the "Speed Kills" side of this single proves, whose 1:45 two chord rush actually predates some of Wire's more interesting miniatures by a whole decade.
According to other online sources, the band used to enjoy throwing bags of flour around on stage to create a low budget "fog" effect (is this what Fields of the Nephilim were also trying to do, then?) and messed with the audience's ears where expectations of volume were concerned, blasting eardrums out frequently without warning. They had enough of a following to get a few albums out in their career, and they certainly had their fans, but ultimately never achieved much in the USA apart from some very low-rung Top 75 placings.
In Britain it's safe to say they achieved even less, although somebody clearly cared enough to get this single imported - the hole through the middle of the label indicates that this was shipped over rather than purchased on holiday. Perhaps they were a Southend-on-Sea resident who had their own interpretation of the "South End Incident" side, which is drenched in sheer paranoia and foreboding, very much like the Honeycombs "Eyes" track I placed on this blog not too long ago.
(This blog entry was originally posted on 9 October 2008. Since that time, somebody has left an anonymous comment to suggest that Beacon Street Union only used flour on stage once. Presumably that's once more than is strictly advisable).
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