30 October 2010
I'm afraid I'm forgoing the usual weekend update. Here's the truth, should you want to hear it - I've been very pressed for time over the last fortnight or so, and simply haven't had the time to digitise the teetering pile of vinyl which presently sits over by the old Elizabethan Astronaut record player in my front room. Also, finding cheap, interesting material over the last month or so has been a massive chore, and rather than upload any old toss, it's probably better to have a brief breather for today.
But while you're here - a mystery has reared its head. On several blogs, the mp3 you see at the bottom of this page has been credited as being "Oo Chang A Lang" by The Blue Orchids. It's a brilliant piece of garage punk riffery which seems to predate Riot Grrrl by several decades, and sounds defiantly abrasive. There's a small problem, though. It's not "Oo Chang A Lang" by The Blue Orchids. This is "Oo Chang A Lang" by the Blue Orchids, a piece of cod-Spectorism which is innocent and puppy-eyed, and couldn't sound less like the track I've got in mind.
So, who is the track by, and when was it released? If a reader is able to put me out of my misery, I'd be a happy man. It probably will turn out to be an embarrassingly obvious answer I should know already, but I'm prepared to weather that.
27 October 2010
What: Sings Israeli Freedom Songs
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound
If popular culture myths are to be believed, 1967 was the year the world went wonky, LSD fell into the reservoirs, and everyone wigged out. Nonsense, of course. Somebody genuinely would have had to spike the water supplies of every major town and city on Earth to have inspired such a seachange, and in reality, life for most people simply rolled on as usual. The closest my father came to witnessing the psychedelic underground up close was when Peter Starstedt popped into his Peckham local for a pint - and let's be honest, Starstedt wasn't really any underground hero, and apparently came quite close to being given a thorough drubbing. Wherever his lovely went to, it clearly wasn't pubs off the Old Kent Road.
So then, whereas 1967 to some people may involve Pink Floyd, The Beatles going ker-azy, the UFO club, and all manner of absurdities besides, in reality for other people it might have meant Ken Dodd and Engelbert Humperdinck (saleswise, Eng was something of a runaway victor in that year). And whilst others dictated peace and love, other recording artists were going quite berserk with other more militant concerns, which finally brings us on to Topol, star of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof". When the 1967 Israel-Syria conflict came to a head, he decided to down tools as a performer and fight for his country. Not only that, he produced a concept album of songs about it.
Originally, I was tempted to post the sleeve of this record up for public viewing and leave it at that. Extra comment seemed somehow superfluous. This entire album is not in English, so it's impossible to hear exactly what he's telling us, but with song titles like "The Canon Song", "World's End", "One Hundred and Twenty Men" and "We Are Coming To You", it's perfectly possible to fill in some of the blanks yourself. The accompanying sleeve notes written by Benny Green of The Observer newspaper also give us some background: "...when his homeland was threatened, he stopped fiddling on the roof and returned to what was in effect a beleaguered Nation, fulfilling the first duty of every citizen of that astounding country, which is to die for it before seeing it destroyed... The songs he sings on this album, seen in the context of the national crisis which inspired them are an inspiration not only to Israelis but to everyone who believes that fundamental human rights are worth any sacrifice".
I don't want to get sucked into a debate about the moral rights or wrongs of this record, but I don't think it's remotely unfair to say that in peacetime (if not before) the sleeve image of Topol hollering into a hand grenade instead of a microphone isn't so much of a powerful image as a truly preposterous one. Even the worst, bargain basement Clash-inspired punk band would have turned down such a sleeve art suggestion. It doesn't cause one to stop and think, it just immediately suggests that the poor bastard may have had a bit of a funny turn when it came to the photo session. Nor should it surprise anyone to learn that in Britain at least, this album did not sell, but just you try seeing it in the reduced racks of a second hand record store and looking the other way... It's just a shame I can't find any English translations of the lyrics anywhere.
Sorry for not uploading the whole album, by the way. I couldn't face it. If enough people desperately need to hear the rest I may reconsider.
23 October 2010
Label: Revolution Rocksteady
Year of Release: 1969
Whilst uploading Count Prince Miller's bizarre cover of the "Rupert the Bear" theme some weeks ago, it occurred to me that I had yet to devote space on this blog to a rocksteady version of "Sitting in the Park" which, to my ears, is among the finest cover versions ever recorded.
It might not be quite the right time of year to hear this record - at least, not for readers in the northern hemisphere - but "Sitting in the Park" is transferred from being the simplistic pop hit Georgie Fame produced into something which broods across five and a half minutes, pulling itself in half with its atmosphere and lyrical focus; on the one hand, there's the optimistic, carefree mentions of summer breezes, but the chorus homes in much more on the notion of being stood up in a city's recreational facility, and positively howls for mercy. Anyone who has been kept waiting for somebody to turn up on a date very early in a relationship will know how Owen feels, although I doubt any of us have ever wailed "Why oh why oh why oh why oh why, tell me why!", at least not in public.
The arrangement of "Sitting in the Park" is also brave enough to be restrained, and lets subtle changes seep up as the record progresses, from the cooing female backing vocals, right through to the delightful, gentle organ riff that begins to bubble through to become a more dominant feature towards the end. Seldom have I ever had cause to refer to a record as "lazy" and mean it as a compliment, but this single is deceptive in its idleness. It may sound as if Owen is hanging in a hammock in Hyde Park letting his band relax with light alcoholic beverages, but in reality there's so much going on here sweating away to give the listener that impression. Even after nearly six minutes of noise, you're left irritated that the fade kicks in, as well as admiring of Owen's cheek when he publicises the fact that he'll be releasing a new single soon right near the end. Now that, my friends, is laidback cool.
Owen Gray (and yes, that is the correct spelling of his name despite the misprint on the label above) has had a long history in music. As a member of the Folks Brothers act he cut the original version of "Oh Carolina" - later covered by Shaggy to enormous success, of course - and was marketed heavily by Island Records in the seventies as being a crossover artist to rival Bob Marley. In reality, his career did not really rise above the levels of cultish success, even though, as "Sitting in the Park" proves, his records could periodically pack an astonishing punch.
Sitting on the flip of "Sitting in the Park" is a different character with the Maximum Breed backing band, namely Pete Hunt. Less is known about this man, although there has been some speculation that he is actually the very same Pete Hunt who drummed for mod band The Quik. There have also been rumours that the Maximum Breed band contain Pete Gage who later joined Dr Feelgood, but again, you'd never get such mutterings past a Wikipedia moderator, and I'd suggest you treat this information with a lorry load of gritting salt. "You've Got It" is a jaunty little ditty, and markedly different from the official A-side. I probably wouldn't have bothered to upload it under other circumstances, but hey folks, you've got it (ha ha!) now. And if I ever make a weak gag around a record's title like that again, feel free to send me threatening emails.
20 October 2010
Who: Peter Sellers aka Chef Inspecteur Jacques Clouseau
What: Thank Heaven For Little Girls/ Singin' In The Rain
Label: United Artists
Where: Out on the Floor Records, Camden Town, London
Cost: Two Pounds
Peter Sellers was absolutely no stranger to the album and singles charts by 1978 - his reinterpretations of The Beatles "Hard Day's Night" and "She Loves You" sold incredibly well for comedy records, as did his oft-quoted novelty hit "Goodness Gracious Me". Then there was a run of hits with The Goons, of course, which took in such strange top ten hits as the "Ying Tong Song" and "I'm Walking Backwards For Christmas". Whereas most comedians and comic actors usually become one hit wonders (if they're lucky) when recording studio time beckons, Sellers was, in comparison, a bankable star. No Lenny Henry was he.
Recorded for the benefit of the "Revenge of the Pink Panther" motion picture, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" was a rare misfire, and one which has since become quite collectible amongst Sellers fans. It's not hard to see why the public ignored this one, as without the visual accompaniment of Inspecteur Jacques Clouseau's awkward body language and pratfalls, we're left with tunes which add (and comedically subtract) very little to or from the originals. True, there's the blare of car horns at the end of the B-side "Singin' In The Rain" which hints towards Clouseau's idiotic awkwardness, and there are amusing vocal inflections to enjoy, but it's not particularly close to gold, feeling like a strange promotional exercise rather than a fully-fledged comedy record. It's a peculiarity, and a much-forgotten novelty record which seems to have been wiped from Sellers' CV since.
The prices for this one vary bizarrely on the market. I've seen collectors trying to sell it for anything between £6-£22 before now, but I managed to pick up this (admittedly not mint) example for a couple of shiny golden coins. As somebody who isn't a collector of all things Sellers, it's safe to say I probably wouldn't have bothered to pay much more than that for it.
16 October 2010
Year of Release: 1976
So many flop would-be pop stars of the sixties managed to find success in the seventies that it's tempting to argue that the decades weren't really as distinct as most would suppose, and almost bled into each other stylistically speaking. Mud, Marc Bolan and The Sweet tried and failed to find favour initially in the former decade, as did David Bowie. So much of glam rock owed an almighty debt to previous sounds, and in its most basic form was essentially just the earliest rock and roll and beat records produced with a more crunching, working man's club friendly stomp.
Given this, the fact that Eddy Phillips of cult mod heroes The Creation would have tried to find favour with the pop market halfway through the seventies probably shouldn't be surprising. The way he went about it, on the other hand, beggars belief. "Limbo Jimbo" is a Typically Tropical-styled reggae version of their minor hit "Painter Man", the lyrics seemingly being a jokey knock-about piece of fun about - how can we most politely put this? - black immigrants who came over and didn't quite understand English culture and made tools of themselves. Nope, there's no way of politely or decently putting it, is there? Whilst "Limbo Jimbo" sounded like it could have been a hit, the lyrics make you thank the heavens it came nowhere near. We are treated to tons of cringeworthy false Jamaican accents, observations about how our man Jimbo was arrested for "limbo dancing under a lady's door" (as could so easily happen), and how he wants to return to the land of "cheap rum" and "DA TORNADOS!" It's not quite as bad as it sounds - Phillips shies away from outright mockery - but it is a horrible case of lazy stereotyping.
Given that "Painter Man" is something of a sixties mod pop classic, this is a fine way to piss on its legacy, so the fact that barely anyone has heard this record is probably a blessing. That also means that barely anyone has heard the country-rock of its flip "Change My Ways" too, which is actually pleasing in a much more adult way, sounding rather like The Who in the seventies if they'd taken a trip down some winding hick roads. This B-side leads me to suspect that Phillips had some more interesting material up his sleeve, but we'll probably never know that for sure (unless somebody did pay for studio time and his demos are still locked away in the vaults somewhere).
Otherwise - this record is a classic example of how not to revisit your own work. Next week, we'll take a closer look at The Downliners Sect's aborted seventies comeback single "Gaylord Gary" (to the lawyers of the Sect - this doesn't exist, obviously).
Readers who know their pop history will also obviously observe the fact that whilst this version of "Painter Man" didn't chart, Boney M did take a rather more dancefloor tinged version of it to the top ten in 1979, either being unaware or perhaps being otherwise unbothered by this particular effort.
13 October 2010
Year of Release: 1962
Way before those dodgy "Top of the Pops" low budget compilation albums we've already talked about, chock full of frequently inaccurate cover versions of the day's hits, came Embassy Records. Whereas Hallmark, Pickwick, Contour and endless other budget labels in the seventies crammed non-original artist takes of twelve hot hits across twelve glorious inches, Embassy were a bit more modest. The racks of Woolworths were filled with their singles offering one song per side. If you were hard up for cash and not especially fussy, you could walk out with a record by The Typhoons rather than The Beatles and see if anyone noticed at your next house party (they'd have to be either very drunk or tone deaf not to observe the differences, mind you).
For me, it's always more interesting when the session musicians attempt to take on anything with either a technically advanced production or complex arrangement. The "Top of the Pops" gang managed to create a creditable version of "Bohemian Rhapsody", but for the most part, the least convincing tracks in any budget sound-a-like marketing formula are those which simply couldn't be created effectively in one quick recording spree. "Telstar", then - one of the most unique sounding records of its day - would surely be screwed, wouldn't it?
The answer is a somewhat surprising yes and no. Bud Ashton, whoever he may be (somebody hiding behind a pseudonym, I don't doubt) begins gamely, trying to replicate Joe Meek's effects-fest at the start of the record, and not failing entirely, even if there's a tad more squeakiness to it all. The intro builds convincingly, the keyboards buzz confidently, and it seems like we're blasting off into a reasonable enough replica. But then the track gets going, the bass line plods in a timid and out-of-depth manner, some of the arrangements sound very muddy indeed, and the faults begin to show. By the time the record gets to the tail end, Mr Ashton can't even be bothered to re-do the sound effects which clearly bookend Joe Meek's original effort. Perhaps he ran out of time.
If anything, it shows that many of the strengths of the proper version of "Telstar" lay not in its melody, but in the depth and adventure shown in its production, apparent to this day. Ashton's version begins to sound boring and repetitive a minute and a half in, whereas Meek's paces its ideas neatly, allows the instruments room to breathe, and is beguiling as a result.
The flip side to this is a version of Adam Faith's "Don't That Beat All" by Rikki Henderson, but please pardon me if I don't waste too much time dissecting it. I've included it below for the benefit of the curious, however.
9 October 2010
Year of Release: 1987
Perhaps it was just my particular social circle this applied to, but way back when The Brilliant Corners pestered the indie charts, there was a sense that they were very much seen as a novelty twee band. Unlike the bands on Sarah Records who supposedly meant every gentle word they frailly breathed, Davey Woodward's gang seemed to be perceived as a bunch of piss-taking bastards from Bristol who would churn out observations such as: "We fumbled around in front of the budgie/ she started to laugh - what was so funny?"
Admittedly, in the adolescent angst stakes they weren't turning out tunes like "I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist" (although they did write a single entitled "Why Do You Have To Go Out With Him When You Could Go Out With Me?" - arguably superior, in my view) but, as any fool with a collection of Madness albums knows, there's nothing wrong with knowing wit. Laughing at themselves and their audience, the Corners turned out some brilliant little indie pop singles through the eighties, of which "Delilah Sands" is just one. It doesn't seem to have worked its way on to any of their commercially available compilations, which is a shame as the track has a spring and bounce which is immediately endearing, and substitutes the usual humour for lyrical peculiarities. "I'd bite you if I had the teeth" sings Davey Woodward bizarrely, which is almost evidence itself of the fact that they enjoyed taking the idea of grotesque outsiderdom to ridiculous extremes. If Morrissey was going to pretend to need a hearing aid, they'd simply pretend their lack of teeth let them down in the bedroom. Top that, ugly girl/ boy.
The video for this ended up being played as part of the Chart Show Indie Chart, leading my mother to comment: "Ooh, who is this? Is it Roxy Music? Well, I don't like it anyway". For years since I've been trying to work out what the hell she was talking about, as well as squinting my eyes to ascertain any possible resemblance between Bryan Ferry and Davey Woodward, so perhaps one of you can enlighten me. They certainly weren't as successful, although the cult niche audience they developed has ensured that almost any British alternative music fan of a certain generation has heard of them, irrespective of their lack of mainstream hits.
6 October 2010
Label: Yuk/ K-Tel
Year of Release: 1978
If Kenny Everett were still alive, I'd be delighted to find out - hope against hope, perhaps - that he was a reader of this blog. Certainly, if he gave his nod of approval, it would be like being awarded a gold star from the master professor of the topic of record industry flotsam and jetsam. The "World's Worst Wireless Show", originally broadcast on Capital Radio in London in 1977, was an incredibly popular piece of programming which filled the airwaves with nothing but flop madness from the history of recorded sound. Well-meaning but ultimately obnoxiously awful Christian country songs featured, as did dirges, bad taste tragidiscs, out-of-tune singers, and people who thought they were being radical and breaking new ground but were actually making themselves look rather silly.
I used to have all the recorded shows on an old hard drive of mine (which sadly got wiped when the disc became damaged some years ago) and Kenny was as scathing as you'd expect about these records, but there was an unsuppressed glee in his tone of voice as well, and you could sense his sheer delight that this material even existed, almost a sense of pride that he worked within an industry so democratic that any bum-note wonder got a chance to have their say. And of course, for as trivial as a topic like this is in the grand scheme of things, I'd like to think that some of these ridiculous and bold failings highlight the history of popular music just as effectively as the biggest smashes do. Somewhere in all the mess of fumbling around you can hear the earliest attempts to allow members of the public to press their own discs, attempts to stun and shock with unacceptable content long before punk broke, and even soap stars trying to use their on-screen popularity to sell below-par records.
This compilation consists of the twenty least popular tracks Everett played (or actually nineteen - I've wiped "Surfin' Bird" by The Trashmen off because it's still very much commercially available, and I actually always thought it was a baffling inclusion anyway). Listening to it in one shot is actually spectacularly ill-advised, as some of it is teeth-grittingly bad, and there are pieces of mind-numbing awfulness in there too. For instance, whilst I have no respect whatsoever for Jess Conrad, I'd argue his work would be dull and average were it not for the pathetic lyrical content of his singles. Despite the fact that he was largely lauded as a massive, up-and-coming British star in the early sixties - something it's easy to forget even if he's keen not to let us do so - in reality he was a sub-Cliff Richard figure, a man who made the Rock and Roll priest himself look positively dangerous. Astonishingly, he has retained many fans over the years, but not enough to have kept him out of Everett's bottom twenty, where he appeared three times, more than any other artist.
Elsewhere, "Crossroads" actor Steve Bent contributes his own tune "I'm Going To Spain", which I must confess I have a sneaking affection for - The Fall later covered this track on the "The Infotainment Scan" album, which doesn't seem entirely inappropriate as some of the lines such as "The factory floor presented me with some tapes of Elton John" seem not un-Smithlike in the first place. Bent apparently chanced his arm on "Opportunity Knocks" to showcase his singer-songwriter talent, but so far nobody has uploaded his attempts to YouTube (he didn't win, but you shouldn't need to ask).
Then, some of the religious offerings on this album such as "The Deal" by Pat Campbell would probably turn a man on his deathbed to Satanism, so syrupy, artless and weedy are they in their construction. Whatever point they were trying to make was cursed by their feeble, sub-daytime soap opera efforts at storytelling (and that's before we even talk about the cliched, anaemic musical backing).
Better almost than all of these put together are the tracks "I Want My Baby Back" (already featured on this blog before) and "Transfusion", which are deliberately milking the bad taste cow for all its worth, hoping in their hearts that they'll be hated and banned. Such records are actually more rock and roll in spirit than most of the coked-up acts of defiance that pass for that description - if Oasis had a spine, they'd have recorded a single about post-car crash necrophilia as well.
Bosses at the compilation giant K-Tel were apparently proud of their achievements in getting all this material licensed, and getting the end product to chart within the Top 40. Whilst I find it cheering that a major label put so much effort into something like this, I actually suspect that many boardroom high-fives were exchanged about the fact that they could shovel any old crap into a sleeve and get people to buy it. If only they'd paused to think about the fact that actually, this material was always waiting for an audience. It was far too absurd to remain in the shadows forever, and in those pre-Internet years this would have been a fantastic package, a real discussion piece. Actually, it still is - I defy you not to have an opinion on the contents of any track on the record, or even whether it deserves a place in the tracklisting or not. The only shame is that nobody has tried to update the project in any commercially visible way since.
1. Jimmy Cross - I Want My Baby Back
2. Zarah Leander - Wunderbar
3. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy - Paralysed
4. Pat Campbell - The Deal
5. Nervous Norvus - Transfusion
6. Jess Conrad - This Pullover
7. Mel & Dave - Spinning Wheel
8. Dickie Lee - Laurie
9. Mrs Miller - A Lover's Concerto
10. Ferlin Husky - The Drunken Driver
11. Jess Conrad - Why Am I Living?
12. The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird (NOT INCLUDED IN THIS DOWNLOAD)
13. Steve Bent - I'm Going To Spain
14. Duncan Johnson - The Big Architect
15. Jess Conrad - Cherry Pie
16. Eamonn Andrews - The Shifting Whispering Sands
17. Tub Thumper - Kick Out The Jams
18. Adolph Babel - My Feet Start Tapping
19. Skip Jackson - The Greatest Star of All
20. Raphael - Going Out Of My Head
Download it Here
2 October 2010
Who: Count Prince Miller
What: Rupert The Bear
Label: Penny Farthing
Where: Wood Street Market, Wood Street, Walthamstow, London
Proof is right here, if we really needed it, that no cover version has ever been considered too absurd or too outlandish for a reggae artist. For this is indeed the children's TV theme given a decidedly mellow feel, with high-pitched, screeching (and I presume studio-treated?) vocals delivering the chorus. Whilst sixties psychedelia played with the idea of fairytales and backgarden creatures being drug-influenced, I'd be tempted to say that this tackles the subject of everyone's favourite Nutwood dwelling bear from a rather more doped-up perspective.
The B-side "When We Were Children" even continues the theme gamely, referring to the songs mothers sing to their offspring and the simplicity of those comforting times, which lyrically is very close to the same under-explored topic as Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother". It didn't seem as if anyone in 1972 was really ready for toytown reggae or twee reggae, though, but the thought of a gang of menacing looking skinheads grooving on down to the "Rupert The Bear" theme tune is an enticing one.
Count Prince Miller had a cult reggae hit the previous year with "Mule Train Parts One and Two", but is perhaps better remembered in mainstream society for his role as Vince in the eighties sitcom "Desmond's". Both these performances outshine "Rupert The Bear", but it's a peculiar career blip and anomaly I couldn't resist uploading here.
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