31 May 2009

Turnoffs to Nowhere

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Well, I thought it was about time I uploaded another homebrew psychedelic compilation for your pleasure. Everybody who has already downloaded Wallpaper and Lysergic Diversions (and even Pop) will know roughly what to expect, and the theme doesn't vary much here.  No prizes for anyone who points out the obvious, which is that this is a compilation of lesser-spotted non-hits, all either wondrously good or intriguingly bizarre.

Perhaps one slight change to my approach this time is that these tracks are more summery than usual. This wasn't a deliberate attempt on my part to create the modern-day equivalent of one of those "sixties summer" compilations which were doing the rounds throughout the eighties at one point (every single one of them featuring the Kinks "Sunny Afternoon") more that the good weather probably influenced my choices without me being fully aware of it until the final list was in front of my eyes.

And with that perhaps unnecessary preamble, off you go - 



Tracklisting:

1. Gun – “Sunshine” (CBS – 1968)

First out of the bag is a blast of summery psych from a slightly unlikely source.  Gun were the rather proggish rockers who had a top ten hit with “Race for the Devil” in 1968 – this sat prettily on the B-side of that particular breakthrough hit, sounding like a fanfare to the hottest season.
Songwriter Adrian Gurwitz would of course go on to write and perform the abysmal “Classic” (“Gonna write a classic/ gonna write it in an attic, baby”) but perhaps we should let that drop.

2. The Buzz – “You’re Holding Me Down” (Columbia – 1966)

One of Joe Meek’s later productions, “You’re Holding Me Down” begins like a thuggish beat track and ends in a sheer overload of psychotic effects and screaming.  Lead singer Tam White later became the singing voice of Robbie Coltrane in “Tutti Frutti” (as well as a winning "New Faces" contestant in the seventies).  We all know what happened to Joe Meek not long after this, unfortunately.

3. Pentad – “Don’t Throw It All Away” (Parlophone – 1965)

Not much information is available about this quintet, but “Don’t Throw It All Away” is one of the earliest psych-sounding records out there (not counting Meek’s production on The Honeycombs’ “Eyes”) which probably went over the heads of the 1965 audience.  Perhaps they should step forward to take some credit one day.

4. Petards – “Tartarex” (Liberty - 1969)

German hit-makers (in their native country) who tried to break the UK market with this of all singles, an ode to the “King of Time” Tartarex.  It’s a wonderful little track with endless changes of tack and some very late Beatles styled arrangements, but remains lyrically completely and utterly baffling.  

5. Freedom’s Children – “Kafkaesque” (Parlophone South Africa – 1968)

South African acts were frequently given short shrift by the British public, often being denied work visas to perform in Britain, and Freedom’s Children (oh the irony!) were no exception.  “Kafkaesque” created some stirs in their home country, but largely remained unloved and unheard in other nations, until the “Garage Hangover” blog gave it another airing very recently.

6. Hour Glass – “Bells” (Liberty - 1967)

A typical piece of pseudo-profound sixties twaddle here, but very entertaining twaddle nonetheless.  “Bells” is rather like Mark E Smith reciting hippy poems about various alarm systems he’s heard.  If that’s not a good enough reason to listen to this, and doesn’t convert you to my cause, Lord knows what will.

7. Blossom Toes – “I’ll Be Late For Tea” (Marmalade - 1967)

The Blossom Toes never really seem to have been given the attention they deserve by British music lovers, perhaps because their humour occasionally bordered on self-consciously whacky.  The entirety of the album “We Are Ever So Clean” is worth a spin, though, and this one of many, many highlights.  Never have a band so successfully encapsulated the best parts of West Coast Psychedelia and English music hall, and it’s possible we’ll never hear the like again.

8. Billy Nicholls – “London Social Degree” (Immediate – 1968)

With backing recorded by The Small Faces, fact fans.  Billy Nicholls was supposed to have released the album “Would You Believe” on Immediate Records in 1968, but somehow it got shelved and wasn’t released until very recently. This is one of the stand-out tracks. Billy went on to write “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try)” for Leo Sayer, which is considerably less enjoyable but doubtless helped him pay off the mortgage.

9. Orange Bicycle – “Rennaissance Fair” (Columbia – 1968)

Another Morgan Studio-bound project, Orange Bicycle were basically a chance for the producer Wil Malone to work off his Brian Wilson obsessions.  Despite a number of hit singles on the continent and a lot of Radio One support, they failed to really get appreciated in this country, despite producing some monstrous gems like this cover of The Byrds track.

10. The Montanas – “Difference of Opinion” (Pye - 1967)

Of course, not everybody thought the mind-expanding possibilities of the new psychedelic world were a good thing, and nor did every artist worship Bob Dylan.  Supper club superstars The Montanas seemed to be very het up about the hype, and released this cheeky piss-take on one of their B-sides.  “People like you make us tired/ trying to appear inspired” they harmonise with malicious intent.  One has to admire their nerve, as well as the fact that despite having its roots in parody, this actually isn’t a bad tune.  Did one of them secretly admire this sort of thing in reality?

11. Dave Clark Five – “Lost In His Dreams” (Columbia - 1968)

At this point, you can almost smell the insecurity seeping out of the pores of the nice clean-cut lads on the circuit.  “Lost In His Dreams” appears to be yet another sneering parody of psych, but Dave Clark and company could perhaps comfort themselves with the knowledge that by the end of 1968, it would all be as good as over.  For both themselves and psychedelia, that is.  Hell, nobody was going to come out of this war alive…

12. Buster Jangles’ Flying Mattress  - “Love Has Taken Over My Brain” (RCA – 1971)

Whilst some were keen to see the back of psychedelia, others clearly never quite got over it, even as late as 1971.  This is credited to “Clark and Naylor”, and I do have to wonder if the “Naylor” in question is Shel Naylor who later went on to work with Lieutenant Pigeon.  The production techniques certainly seem very similar, sounding pleasingly rudimentary in their Meek-ish effects and echoes, and the sense of humour behind the band name itself also seems familiar…

13. Crazy Elephant – “Dark Part of My Mind” (Major Minor - 1969)

The B-side of the supposedly “bubblegum” hit “Gimme Gimme Good Loving”, “Dark Part of My Mind” is a different proposition altogether, utilizing wild fuzzed up guitar noises, eerie vocals, and a weird meandering tune.  The name “Crazy Elephant” was shortly afterwards used by 10cc for a session muso project, but this isn’t 10cc on this track.  Yes, shadowy studio b(r)and names can indeed be rather confusing. 

14. Chubby Checker – “Stoned in the Bathroom” (Ariola - 1971)

Not too long ago, I had the idea of putting together a “squares go psych” compilation, exploring the possibilities of what happens when family entertainer stars went a little bit wibbly towards the tail end of the sixties.  Had I gone ahead with this plan (as it happened, I couldn’t find anything like enough available material, much less quality material) Chubby Checker would have been high on my list.  “Stoned in the Bathroom” is from his foggy “Chequered” album where he tried to re-invent himself in a Hendrix style, although the album also veers towards some very proggish territories too.  It has yet to be reissued and seldom ever seems to be written about, although one suspects it can only be a matter of time.

15. Apple – “The Other Side” (Page One - 1968)

A rather doomy piece of psych from the band we previously saw on the “Wallpaper” compilation.

16. Bill Fay – “Screams In The Ears” (Deram - 1967)

An enormous amount has been written about Bill Fay in the adult music press over the last few years, which leaves me with precious little to add.  Although I’m uncertain about his status as a “lost legend”, a phrase which is over-used far too much for my liking, it has to be said that some of his material is astounding in its rather quirky and unsettling worldview, and “Screams In The Ears” is (for me at least) a piece of musical satire up there with the best of the era.  Fay’s sneers at his hipster party friends and their budgerigar-murdering ways are something everybody should hear at least once.  Doubtless Stephen Jones out of Babybird wasn’t listening - until recently, nobody was -  but the spirit of his recordings is in this track, a whole thirty years before.

17. Mellow Candle – “Feeling High” (SnB - 1968)

A very early outing for the much-loved folksters, “Feeling High” was their debut single which slipped out relatively unnoticed on Simon Napier Bell’s record label SnB.  

18. Jason Crest – “My House is Burning Down” (unreleased)

From the people who gave you “Black Mass”, “My House Is Burning Down” is a rather surreal little number about the tragedy of arson attacks on one’s personal home.  I suspect the band may have been slightly influenced by Procol Harum here, but they’ve managed to retain a quirky identity of their own.

19. Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – “Mary Jane” (Direction - 1967)

EGVO surely have to be one of the most under-sung psychedelic bands of the period.  They supported Pink Floyd at many early gigs, were covered by Led Zeppelin in their earliest sets (the fantastically rocking “Flames” was their track of choice) and released what is actually a brilliant eponymous album.  
“Mary Jane” came out as a single but was banned by the Beeb due to its possible references to a certain soft drug (more than possible based on the lyrical content here, I’d argue).  Do check out the album if you ever get a chance – it’s a smorgasboard of the best elements of blues, rock, proto-prog, music hall and psychedelia, and sounds like a brilliant mini-compilation of the period in itself.  This isn’t the strongest track, but does suit the theme of this particular CDR a bit better than the rest.

20. Grapefruit – “Lullaby” (RCA – 1969)

Grapefruit have already had an entry on this blog, so there’s little to add except to say that this track has been mislabeled as a “lost Beatles song” online so many times that I’m now beginning to find the error tedious.   It’s only a “lost Grapefruit song”, having been buried on their flop album, and everything else you hear is just tittle-tattle.
Still, irrespective of whether or not Lennon and McCartney were in the room nodding their heads encouragingly or contributing musically (and we’ve no proof on either count) this is admittedly a neat piece of work which wouldn’t have sounded totally out of place on a Beatles album.  Or perhaps B-side.  That’s still more than most bands can ever hope to achieve, though.

21. 23rd Turnoff – “Michelangelo” (Deram – 1967)

Sounding slight and innocuous at first, “Michelangelo” has a way of worming its place into your heart with its subtleties.  23rd Turnoff were named after a motorway turnoff leading into Liverpool, and were a project for that city’s songwriting son Jimmy Campbell.  One wonders if Bill Drummond of the KLF ever picked up on the fact that Liverpool was at the end of a 23rd sliproad on a motorway – he’s never mentioned it....

22. Still Life – “My Kingdom Cannot Lose” (Columbia - 1968)

An early outing by these rather obscure proggers who, in the late sixties, seemed to be contenting themselves with tunes similar to “Songs of Praise” hymns being channeled through a kaleidoscopic filter.  It's a fine line.

23. Gene Latter – “Annie’s Place” (Young Blood - 1973)

Spin back to the entry I did on the “Circus Days” compilation and you will find a track by Kidrock of the same title – this is indeed the same song, taken by sixties Welsh/ Arabic legend Gene Latter and given a much higher budget.  The original certainly never had a full orchestra gracing its grooves, and guiltily, I must confess I prefer this version.

24. Mike Y Toti – “De Nata, Fresa Y De Limón” (Explosion – 1973)

And guess what?  This too is a cover version of a Kidrock track, namely “Ice Cream Man”, in Spanish this time.  The track was actually a minor hit in Spain due to it gracing an ice cream commercial there (well, there was precious little else it could logically sell, in fairness).  

25. Simon Dupree and the Big Sound – “Laughing Boy From Nowhere” (unreleased)

From Portsmouth via Scotland (rather like The Beta Band) Simon Dupree and The Big Sound were never life’s natural hippies, preferring their more hard-edged, dancefloor orientated origins.  Nonetheless, following the success of the mystical “Kites” they ended up producing lots of fluffy psych like this, which is actually lovely stuff, even if I get the impression the band themselves hate it.
People engaging in the hobby of early Elton John session spotting may like to note that yer man features on piano throughout this track.  

26. Crazy World of Arthur Brown – “Give Him A Flower” (Track - 1967)

Proving that Arthur could inject humour into the sixties as well as the Bonzos could, “Give Him A Flower” pastiches the hippy movement with more wit than the Dave Clarke Five or The Montanas managed.  

27. Lieutenant Pigeon – “Opus 300” (Decca - 1972)

…. And finally – the B side of the Pigeon’s only other hit “Desperate Dan” acts as a demented album closer.  What were they thinking?  Well, “We’ve got a B-side to do, so let’s just have as much fun as we can with these home studio gadgets we’ve got”, I suspect.  

27 May 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 34 - Ray Morgan - The Long and Winding Road

Ray Morgan - Long and Winding Road

Who: Ray Morgan
What: The Long and Winding Road (B/W "Sweetest Wine")
Label: B&C
When: 1970
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p


It's a well known fact that Paul McCartney despised Phil Spector's reworking of this track ("Paul McCartney has a bug up his ass, and he's mistaken me for a man who gives a shit!" snarled a clearly sore Spector on the topic recently). Perhaps this particular version was more what he had in mind - he certainly doesn't appear to have gone on record saying anything negative about it.

The trouble is, nobody actually appears to have said anything about it anywhere. Despite the fact that this single hovered around the 30-40 region of the chart for a few weeks in 1970, peaking at number 32, finding any commentary on the single at all, or any information about who Ray Morgan was and what he did next, seems almost impossible. It's once again solid proof that most artists who attempted to launch their careers with a cover of a contemporary Beatles track were generally never heard from again. The fact that The Beatles didn't issue the track as a single themselves in the UK clearly left a gap in the market, but it's impossible to envy Morgan's role in plugging it.

Another issue here is the fact that the single perhaps isn't the greatest version of the track there's even been, sounding slightly rushed, awkward and thin in places, to the extent that you have to wonder if Ray and his cohorts were racing against a stopwatch to finish the song in the time it takes to boil an egg. From the idly plucked guitar intro to Ray's rather supper club sounding vocals, its a bit lacking in conviction or passion. When you're left with the overwhelming impression that the entire orchestra and all the vocalists were grinning from ear to ear as they performed it, something's a bit wrong - the track deserves more melodrama than that, surely? Spector's arrangements may have been "chocolate box" according to some, but they were still more appropriate than this.

The B-side "The Sweetest Wine" is a bit better and skips along agreeably enough, also suiting Ray's voice much more, but I doubt any of you will be rushing to stick it on your iPod's shuffle function during morning commutes.

This single was originally priced up at five pounds when I first saw it in the Music and Video Exchange, then steadily fell in value until it hit the price of a chocolate bar. I remain pleased with my decision not to buy it at full price.

25 May 2009

Roberta Kelly - Zodiacs

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Label: Oasis/ Hansa
Year of Release: 1977


Giorgio Moroder doesn't seem to be talked about very often these days, which seems a shame - in his own sweet way he was very responsible for dragging the synthesiser on to the dancefloor where its largely remained ever since. We could argue about the influence of Kraftwerk or even early Krautrock for pedalling some disco-synth grooves throughout their careers, but Moroder was actually a genius at realising the full potential of silicon-lead dancefloor fillers and making an entire career out of it.

Admittedly "Zodiacs" isn't really one of his better singles, and is a slightly run-of-the-mill exploration into people's fascination with star signs. Roberta Kelly lists various star signs with admirable gusto, but it's hard to shake the belief that this is a bit of a cynical cash-in on the whole, and nor is it possible for me to shake the image of Russell Grant dancing in a glittery costume from my mind's eye, which occurs every time I try to play the single. Still, it was catchy enough to gain an audience in numerous clubs and rode relatively high in the US Club Charts, creating enough of an identity for Roberta Kelly to frequently refer to herself as the "Zodiac Lady".

What is interesting about the track is how elements of it resemble the seventies disco sound Pulp were so keen to replicate during various points in their career. Also, for the second entry in a row, what we have here is also a star who later moved on to find God. Roberta now largely records records of a religious nature, even releasing a single called "Pope John Paul II" in tribute to that particular papal character. In terms of disco singles with zeitgeisty spins, she did also release a song called "Kung Fu is Back Again" in the seventies as well, though this wasn't the hit Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" managed to be, meaning presumably it wasn't actually "back" at the time at all, or at least, if it was, nobody wanted to hear Roberta Kelly singing about it.

In terms of obscure Moroder gems, not much tops "Underdog" which you can find at the Pure Pop Blog here. During the Sparksy gem, Moroder whines about prostitutes laughing at him - you can only wonder what Kelly might have made of that.

Download "Zodiacs" here.

21 May 2009

One Hit Wonder #1 - Gary Shearston - I Get A Kick Out Of You



Label: Charisma
Year of Release: 1974


This is the first in what will doubtless be a very occasional series of glimpses at One Hit Wonders. In an overwhelming majority of cases, it's apparent that despite having one frequently large hit, One Hit Wonders tend to fare less well for airplay than various cult bands who never really had a proper smash. So whilst you could twist your radio dial on to 6Music and hear (if you're lucky) The Fall, the odds of spinning it one day and hearing The Look's "I Am The Beat" or Airhead's "Counting Sheep" are less favourable. One Hit Wonders barely even get fifteen minutes of fame - it's usually one obligatory Top of the Pops appearance (back when it was broadcasting), a less-than-sell-out tour (whoops, The Shepherds Bush Empire isn't very full, is it, Nizlopi?) then a trip back home to sign on with the DSS after the album flops.

Australian folk artist Gary Shearston most assuredly did appear on TOTP in 1974 with this brilliant cover of "I Get A Kick Out Of You", but there's no YouTube evidence of it. Instead, this black and white transmission from elsewhere will have to do, and the reduced quality fails to distract from the lazy, weary majesty of Shearston's version. If Bryan Ferry had known precisely where to draw the line with his cover versions of classics, we might just have heard something like this - but perhaps not. This is so understated it's great, the world-weary desperation of the vocals tugging dramatically against the romantic strings. It's a tremendously odd single to have ever reached number 7 in the charts, but it managed nonetheless, and I can't help but think the world must have been a happier place for it.

Gary Shearston is something of an odd fish. He was already in his thirties by the time this was released, a career creating folk albums of Australian bush songs apparently behind him. Having moved to the UK and signed with Charisma, he managed two albums of rather more pop-orientated material, before eventually returning home to become a priest in the Outback. As careers go, that's an especially peculiar path. I have to confess that I've yet to stumble on either of his Charisma albums "Dingo" or "Greatest Stone On Earth", but if anyone's heard them, I'd be grateful to hear some views about their content.

Thanks to ianabroad for the YouTube upload.

19 May 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 33 - Kenny - Hot Lips

Kenny - Hot Lips

Who: Kenny
What: Hot Lips
Label: Polydor
When: 1976
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Cost: One pound


Part of me feels slightly sorry for many of the bubblegum and glam bands who were still active around the same time punk broke. They doubtless thought what they were doing remained relevant, as did their managers and publicists, but they were about to be chased across pop's landscape by a swarm of angry hornets.

That said, I actually don't completely buy the version of history which suggests (as "The League of Gentlemen" said in their Creme Brulee sketches) that everything was ruined by punk rock, but there was no question that the balladeers and footstompers who graced the front cover of "Jackie" were about to meet their Waterloo. It wasn't that everyone who might once have listened to Mud was now keen on the idea of The Clash instead - I challenge you to find me any marketing evidence showing that's the case - more that the world of pop is unflinchingly fickle, and totally unforgiving of those who won't develop their sound and image. The trouble is, there weren't many places for the glitter-covered ones to go. They could attempt to mature into serious rockers, as The Sweet did, but would frequently find the public unconvinced that they'd ever be as authentic as Led Zeppelin. Other than that... what could they do? Discover synthesisers? Go disco? The options were few and far between, and most would have made them seem ridiculous.

Kenny are a case in point, and "Hot Lips" was one of their first flops. Whilst their famous chart hit "The Bump" became so loved it was eventually sampled by the Cuban Boys on "Oh My God They Killed Kenny", "Hot Lips" is a much more peculiar beast, incorporating high pitched squeaky vocals ("Hot lips, hot lips, girl you got hot lips... you're turning me oooon!" they squeal like Disney mice), a very Sweet-ish riff, and is so damn rum I don't know how else to describe it or what to make of it. It's not an argument for the fact punk had to happen, but it does sound like a bunch of very confused men scrabbling around the dregs of the party bag for some new fun ideas, and finding only a few helium balloons for comfort. We've all been there, chaps.

Apparently Keith Chegwin was involved with Kenny in their earliest days, and at least he would later go on to have a hit when he recorded "I Wanna Be A Winner" with Maggie Philbin and Noel Edmonds (under the name "Brown Sauce"). I have that particular ditty on vinyl as well, and if you plead with me enough I might upload it one day...

In the meantime, download "Hot Lips" here, and ask yourselves the question - "If I were in Kenny, what direction would I have suggested they take to survive?"

17 May 2009

Tiger - We Are Puppets

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Label: Trade 2
Year of Release: 1996


I must admit I had really high hopes for Tiger, and judging by their earliest music press coverage (which was largely favourable) so did a great many other critics out there with a much greater knowledge of what was "going down" than I ever had access to. As an idea alone, the band were brilliant. The ex-art student frontman Dan Laidler was almost painted as being an idiot-savant by the music press, and he freely confessed that he didn't have much interest in music at all, owned about three albums and just formed the band based on some ideas he'd barked into a tape recorder in his bedroom.

If this sounds like a slightly underwhelming prospect, it's largely believed that the introduction of guitarist Julie Sims into the equation helped to smooth over the more extreme outsider edges, and created a concoction of tunes which sounded disjointed, scruffy, and slightly naive but still very appealing in a post-punk/ krautrock way. "Race" and "On The Rose" (both featured here) are actually stunning little singles with some of the more wonderful, buzzing guitar noises and primitive pulsating rhythms you'll hear, complete with absurd, scattergun lyrics, and quirky and sudden tugs in the arrangements - it's hard for me not to pull in comparisons to early Wire in places, only unlike Elastica or Menswear, Tiger were rougher and were closer to the devil-may-care spirit of the band (and, crucially, appeared to have more tunes of their own). The main guitar riff for "Race" alone sounds like a knackered car continually trying to rev its way out of deep mud, then ends with a primitive (and presumably guitar effects pedal driven) electronic engine noise. It's all very primal and punkish sounding, but I struggle to think of many bands of that ilk who would be willing to combine it with that kind of arty imagination now.

So what went wrong, then? Primarily I would argue that Tiger both looked and sounded too unorthodox for mainstream consumption. Dan Laidler's voice frequently sounds like a protesting sealion, and (with the exception of Julie Sims, who most definitely was attractive and sported lots of tight leather stagewear) the band made an enormous virtue out of their provincial ordinariness, having their hair "styled" into mullets amongst other fashion war-crimes. Obviously, I should make it clear at this point that I have absolutely nothing against such behaviour in the world of pop, but it seldom translates into mass public appreciation, and at a time when the so-called indie scene was having an obsession with cute cover stars, it was never going to come across very well when a band attempted to pride themselves in how average looking they were.

On top of that, this album was recorded a mere year after the band formed, and the lack of variation in its style probably alienated many listeners. In fact, confession time - as a whole, I do find that it drags a little, and sounds rushed in places. Equally, Laidler's naive slogan-orientated lyrics can be either charming or just plain attention-seeking whacko, and when tracks veer towards the latter writing style it can get faintly irritating. That doesn't stop some of the tracks on here being an absolute joy to listen to, but a "lost classic" it isn't, just a rather good piece of work which deserved better than its pathetic placing of number 108 in the British charts.

One other album followed - "Rosaria", which was issued in 1999 after their record label dropped them - and that seems to have been that. A shame, but we can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that "Race" just scraped the Top Forty, a feat I can't imagine a similar single achieving in the present day.

Tracklisting:
1. My Puppet Pal
2. Shamed All Over
3. Race
4. Bollinger Farm
5. Storm Injector
6. Depot
7. On The Rose
8. Sorry Monkeys
9. Cateader Reddle
10. She's OK
11. Ray Travez
12. Keep In Touch



Download it here

13 May 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 32 - Voodoo Queens - Supermodel Superficial

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Who: Voodoo Queens
What: Supermodel Superficial (b/w "Chocolate (Melt in Your Mouth)")
Label: Too Pure
When: 1993
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p


"Whose role models do you really think you are?/ YOUNG GIRLS WHO MAKE THEMSELVES SICK!!!"

For the brief period of time that the Riot Grrrl movement in Britain hit the mainstream press (and it could probably be measured as being a matter of two or three months) it was really Huggy Bear and the Voodoo Queens who dominated most of the headlines. The former refused to talk to the press, and released radical feminist fanzines in order to get their points across. The latter, on the other hand, spoke to Smash Hits, seemed happy to be courted by the NME, and released songs about fancying Keanu Reeves. A slight difference of technique to get the message across then - I've sometimes contemplated whether or not they had some kind of running bet in operation with each other.

"Supermodel Superficial" is obviously a very aggressive, clattering swipe at the Kate Mosses of this world, and I've never been able to make up my mind whether it's particularly worthy lyrically or not. It's easy to blame the models themselves for creating a culture obsessed with leanness and trimness, but one can't help but wonder if the fashion industry itself, or even the editors of glamour and gossip magazines, would have been far better targets. Models don't really peddle propaganda, they just stand to one side pouting a bit whilst decisions are made behind their backs. In fact, given the overwhelming encouragement of diets and drug use amongst the fashion industry, it's almost tempting to argue that they are also unwilling victims in the entire mess, having usually been naive teenage girls placed in a preposterous and potentially damaging environment. The ones who go on to make huge money in the business may be worthy of the odd sideswipe, but - to coin a cliche - if Kate Moss didn't do it, another skinny blonde girl from Croydon almost certainly would.

That said, the Voodoo Queens apparently frequently complained that nobody ever focussed on the music whilst they were around, and it's safe to say that this is a mean little single in terms of punk riffage, filled with menacing guitar riffs, a brilliantly dischordant guitar solo, and an energy which sounds so spontaneous that I can only assume it was a one-take wonder. Therefore, I've always been prepared to overlook the slightly simplistic politics in order to bounce around merrily to the general hissiness of the entire thing.

The B-side "Chocolate (Melt in Your Mouth)" takes blissed out, almost shoegazey melodic turns, and is a quite unexpected yin to the A-side's yang. In all, then... worthy of a listen, I think, and by no means a waste of this week's fifty pence piece.

Download it here

10 May 2009

Eurovision Song Contest

Ah, Eurovision. Or - eurgh, Eurovision, if you're a reader of this blog who abhors the very womb of the contest. Views of the contest have flipped all over the place since the fifties when it was launched. The nineties were largely deemed to be its nadir. Hardly anybody in the UK was watching at this point, and it was known for producing ballads and pop songs which sounded as if they belonged in some peculiar alternative universe where cute blonde babes of either gender wore bright primary colours, trilled about love and peace, and dressed like the worst aspects of the seventies and eighties never went away.

There's some truth in the above assessment, but a lot of nonsense as well - the contest has always had a few entrants going out on a limb, and dig hard enough, and you'll find some worthy appearances on Youtube. These days, of course, viewing figures are back up and the contest has become a hit again amongst lovers of the X Factor and other talent shows who have suddenly returned back to the source of the concept. Many blogs and forum posters last year bemoaned the fact that Eurovision was being "ironically" applauded in the present decade, ignoring the fact that a not disproportionate volume of entries in the 2008 contest would have happily found a home in most continental hit parades, and in fact did in the weeks that followed. If we strip away all the complaints about irony and novelty, the anti Eurovision argument for most appears to be that the contest attracts entries which are pure (and frequently flamboyant) pop, which sticks in the craw of fans of holier (or more underground) than thou indie kids and greased up rockers - party-killers to a man. And the more militant, sour-faced members of both camps usually are men too.

Let us consider also the fact that the rules of Eurovision - three minute max pop songs with immediate impact and innovation frequently being the most rewarded - bear very little relation to any other music form at the moment, and, rather like the novelty tracks I uploaded here a few months back, therefore become pure, undistilled pop noises, almost freakish in their potency over a limited run time. The three minute rule may seem conservative, but it gives the performers and songwriters a chance to show what they can actually craft in a limited time space, and stops them from over-indulging or boring the listener, which last year created the below pocket symphony:



Sebastian Tellier's "Divine", in a sane, rational world, would have walked the contest, been number one in all charts around Europe for three months, and been hailed as a modern classic. I have played no single mp3 more in the last two years, and I'm still not tired of it. It takes the freaked-out electronic elements of The Beach Boys "Love You" album, swirls in the frothier, smoother aspects of French techno, adds elements of blissed-out, gaga psychedelia, and still manages to be undeniably Pop. It was argued that the song fell into the bottom half of the scoreboard because of its "oddness", but in reality it flopped because Tellier was forced to get backing vocalists to recreate the sampled elements live, leading to this Top Of the Pops in the early nineties styled monstrosity:



For the record, apparently Tellier considered walking off the contest without even performing. He could hardly have been blamed if he had chosen that option. "Divine" is one of the greatest singles of the last decade, never mind one of the best Eurovision entries, and the conservative interpretation of Eurovision rules by the organisers should have lead to someone's arse being kicked. No synthesiser samples, unless they're other instruments? Thank God the Art of Noise never represented us in the eighties, otherwise we'd have had six men on stage all saying "Dum" a lot (probably all wearing Paul Morley masks, I shouldn't wonder). So clearly some of the rules do need a little bit of work to get up to speed with the modern world, but others work in the contest's favour. It is admittedly a paradox.

Nonetheless, spin back to 1983 to find an entry from Belgium which sounds both of its time and sufficiently absurd and warped to be the tinkering of East London retro-terrorists in the present day. Pas De Deux's "Rendevouz" is part Human League, part early evening cop show soundtrack, part oddball melodies:



It didn't win either, actually, but contributed to the fest as any unusual offering on the Euro-menu might - part of the contest's appeal is not just what seems like an outright, crowd-pleasing winner, but what each country has defiantly dared to put forward as its best effort.

And because any entry on Eurovision inevitably ends on me being unable to resist putting a politically incorrect shocker up, please allow me to present to you Germany's 1979 entry Dschinghis Khan, about the famous war-mongering dictator:



This will be the only Eurovision entry I do this year, I promise - so long as you promise to at least watch the final next Saturday, and perhaps the semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday too. Some more uploads will follow soon, but technical difficulties in the 23 Daves household (and the death of my MacBook which had all my recent uploads stored on it) have meant that I've been scrabbling around a bit for alternative scraps to serve you all recently. Normal service will shortly be resumed.

6 May 2009

Goliath - Port & Lemon Lady

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Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970


As the sixties waved goodbye and everyone wept - or so popular culture would have us believe, but it's safe to say that wasn't universally true - the old guard didn't so much change their stripes as gently mutate into other beasts. The bubblegum brigade largely turned their attentions to glam (Mud and The Sweet had both been around and been ignored during the sixties, lest we forget). The garage rock acts frequently morphed into full blown hard rock bands. And then the psychedelic hippies, seemingly for want of anything better to do, carried on exploring their pastoral and experimental influences until, in some cases, we got something rather like this lot.

Goliath were one of several prog-folk acts to emerge almost exactly at the same time as the sixties faded, and whilst as a genre it didn't really have any big-hitting names like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, it nonetheless ploughed its own particular furrow for a rather long period of time. Unlike many of their rivals (or perhaps we should say "fellow travellers") however, Goliath had a distinct blues influences to their work as well, and were probably one of the only acts of the era to combine raunchy vocals- courtesy of lead singer Linda Rothwell - with puffing flutes. As the various cultures clash and compete for your ear's attention across the grooves, it should be a tremendous mess, but amazingly it all hangs together very well.

"Port and Lemon Lady" was CBS's choice for the single off their sole eponymous album, and is a rather merry little number which I personally find close to irritating, but the B-side "I Heard About a Friend" is rather more serious and satisfying and displays the band's strengths much more successfully.

Some critics referred to them as being the British Jefferson Airplane - whether that's the case or not, they seemingly never had an opportunity to record another album, and petered out a few years later. Their sole long player has never been reissued, and is now extremely collectible - the single features nothing which isn't already on the album and is as such less desirable, but still pretty scarce. Enjoy, although I do feel that this is probably an acquired taste, more like gin in that respect than Port and lemon.

Download here

4 May 2009

Foreheads in a Fishtank - Buttocks

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Label: Stuf
Year of Release: 1992


When I uploaded Foreheads in a Fishtank's absurd and largely overlooked single "I Want to Masturbate at Castle Donnington", I really wasn't quite expecting the flurry of interest which emerged. You can read the original entry plus the subsequent comments here. One of the great things about keeping this blog is how unexpected some of the fanaticism for certain bands is. You can upload some really obscure cult sixties single which is much loved in clubs everywhere and get one nod of thanks, and then you upload a noisy, dischordant, awkward and nasty bunch of mothers like FIAFT who were famed during their careers for playing to two men and a dog in just about every provincial town, and suddenly its like a love-in. I'm really glad that some of these bands managed to gain some sort of cult status and that people have affectionate memories of them, but where were we all when they really needed us, eh?

In a sense, I perhaps shouldn't have been surprised by the response. The band cracked John Peel's Festive Fifty, always a sign of an act with a healthy following of people with a keen ear for the unique and beserk moments in music. On top of that, they signed to Some Bizarre not long after this self-issued album, and went on to receive mixed reviews for the follow up "Yeah Baby Wow", which nonetheless attracted some Radio One evening play.

I've just finished freshly listening to this (their debut album) whilst converting it to MP3 for the first time in at least ten years, and one thing that leaps out about it is the motorway pile-up of ideas in each track. Basslines wobble like the bingo wings of old ladies, the drums appear to be looping for a rival Manchester band at times, whilst guitars distort, clatter and clutter up the mix and the vocalist screeches slogans like a stuck and wounded parrot. "She blows smoke from her nose and says IT CURES KIPPERS DOESN'T IT?!" he seethes at one point, bafflingly and seemingly apropos of nothing. On top of all this, samples creep in relatively unobtrusively and in a way that doesn't once smack of gimmickry which, for an early nineties indie band, was a fairly serious achievement. Lest we forget, the likes of Pop Will Eat Itself frequently used samplers in the aggravating manner over-excited toddlers might press the audio buttons on interactive museum exhibits.

Nonetheless, the album isn't without flaws. The way each track seems to end suddenly and without any obvious conclusion gets irritating over a whole listen, as if their collective imaginations on this debut didn't quite extend to outros. Also, whilst the sheer aural assault has its definite charms, like four musicians from entirely different genres trying to cover Captain Beefheart out-takes, across 45 minutes its relentless noise and awkwardness starts to jangle on the nerves, particularly when the mid-LP sag of "Brains" and "Hospital" arrives. Those who are prepared to listen all the way through will discover a delight in the form of "Luxurious", though, the nine-and-a-half minute end epic which almost sounds as sorrowful as it is downright sadistic and aggressive. It gradually segues into a morose ambient outro (so they could write them sometimes, then) with distorted samples burbling away underneath, which is simultaneously depressing and tranquil in a way I can't begin to articulate. Its too cheap sounding for me to make a case for it pre-empting Boards of Canada, who would doubtless laugh at its roughness and simplicity, but the mood created is disquieting in a very similar way.

"Buttocks" hasn't particularly aged much, but then that's possibly because there aren't that many equivalent acts out there to compare FIAFT to in the first place. The fascination with sampling and oddly funky rhythms does datestamp this effort slightly, but whilst the likes of Jesus Jones and EMF were attempting something life-affirming and youthful with wild samples and beserko guitar riffs around this time, FIAFT were like their parallel universe comedown cousins. Whilst the former parties were youthful and pretty, FIAFT were like the pictures in their attics, with peculiar burns and bruises on their bodies, painful sexual diseases, a singer in trauma about the foulness of the decadence, and a drum machine which refused to consider anything too frantic. The sexual demands in "Luxurious" sound like men on their last legs in a desert begging for water, rather than making it sound in any way like a desirable state of affairs.

I'm not massively surprised that the majority of the British public gave them the elbow, but whilst its tempting to think of the band as a joke, ridiculous song titles and all, I'd be more inclined to regard them as overlooked artrockers with an unhealthy interest in the crude, the cheap and the revolting. This album isn't for everyone, then, but it should definitely be given a bit of time by anyone with a pair of patient ears.

Tracklisting:
1. British Telecom Suck
2. I Want to Masturbate at Castle Donnington
3. She Loves You Yeah
4. Happy Shopper
5. Sex and Drugs and
6. Trantula La
7. Brains
8. Hospital
9. Sylvester's Mother
10. Luxurious


(This album is shortly to be remastered and reissued, and the band have requested that any downloads to it should be removed from this site.)