Eagles may have earned themselves a reputation for taking late 1960s country rock and turning it into slick, corporate drivel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the band’s early members have some solid histories in underground rock and roll. Just check Bernie Leadon’s much-lauded work with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Dillard & Clark, and Hearts and Flowers (and that’s one horribly abbreviated list) for a glimpse. One of the least explored Eagles histories, however, is that of bass player Randy Meisner. Not only did Meisner work high-profile stints with Poco and the Stone Canyon Band, but he also served time in a number of far-lesser-known mid-sixties garage bands, such as The Poor, The Esquires, and The Soul Survivors, all of whose recordings have been assembled by Sound City Music on 2003’s rather forgotten Help the Poor.
If the Eagles references have you frightened, fear not: Help the Poor is solid psychedelic garage rock, about as far removed from Meisner’s later band’s output as you can get. From the chiming folk-rock of “Hung Up On Losing” to the crashing psychedelia of Tom Shipley’s “She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes,” this is a platter full of strong songwriting, sharp harmonies, and adventurous arrangements. These guys knew what they were doing, taking cues from west-coast combos like The Byrds and The Association and adding a hefty dose of sonic bite. If there’s any complaint to be made here it’s that this anthology is rather top-heavy: the first half-dozen cuts are absolutely phenomenal could-have-been-hit-singles, while the remainder (with the exception of the aforementioned “She’s Got the Changes,” which is actually one of my favorite pieces here) tend to be a little less memorable.
As is always the case with a comprehensive anthology spanning two or three different bands, you are bound to get some musical anomalies. The choogling surf-rock of “The Prophet” (the only cut we get from Meisner’s short-lived Esquires) is Help the Poor‘s case-in-point, featuring a booming introduction and awkwardly overdubbed applause which mar an otherwise righteous Morricone flavored instrumental. The album as a whole remains an exciting listen, however, and like all successful compilations leaves the attuned listener hungry for more. Too bad this fifteen-track collection looks to be all we get – another should-have-been from an era brimming with great sounds.
Collection | 2000 | Sound City Music | buy here ]
The band Fred emerged out of a late-sixties, rural Pennsylvania university scene with a unique sound born not only from its laid-back surroundings, but from a rather heady record collection spanning everything from The Band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Though they were only around for a couple years before dissolving into the Lost Annals of Forgotten Music You’ve Probably Never Head About, they managed to record a series of testaments to their musical development that have stood the test of time. The first of these, the dopily self-titled Fred, is definitely the crown jewel of the lot, and captures the band in a beautiful, early stage of development in which they are still experimenting at blending their eclectic interests under the spell of their mellow surroundings.
Perhaps nowhere is the band’s catholic tastes more in evidence than in the opening number, the cryptically entitled “Four Evenings.” Everything here swirls and meanders, but all around a central point. I have never been one for what is generally known as “progressive rock,” but Fred manages to borrow certain elements from that emerging genre and incorporate them seamlessly into a group sound that is clearly grounded in American country, blues and folk music (it doesn’t take much to identify the influence of ye olde favorites Crosby, Stills and Nash on their vocal harmonies, that’s for sure). The searing violin work never comes across as musically exhibitionist, or as one of those cliched attempts at transforming a collection of simple little rock and roll songs into some more respectable/bourgeoisie form of “high art.” Rather, the instrument serves as an accent where it is needed, and is not afraid to make itself scarce when it is not.
Perhaps a good reference point to give would be the British rock group Mighty Baby, who were in the process of cutting their excellent Jug of Love record. Both recordings manage to fuse a deep sense of popular aesthetics and traditional musical forms with innovative musical virtuosity and daring. Fred does not engage in the same measure of lengthy improvisations, but more than makes up for this by penning a series of beautiful (albeit surreal) ballads, such as “Soft Fisherman” and “Salvation Lady,” the latter of which includes a tasteful example of the aforementioned violin work. The longest piece here, the seven minute space odyssey “Wind Words,” is a pretty odd composition, and is perhaps the closest that Fred comes to jazz-fusion territory, though the gonzo vocal lines and wah-pedal guitar also hint at the Mothers of Invention influence claimed in the record’s liner notes.
One would think that such an unusual little nugget of a record would have managed to draw at least a little popular attention in psychedelic circles, but Fred still remains elusive. In fact, the record remained entirely unreleased until 2001, when the German record label World In Sound reissued this collection on both vinyl and compact disc, drawing together what would have otherwise been the group’s first record with the aid of several of the original members, who also contribute liner notes. Two additional releases have also seen the light of day, a sophomore album and a live set, both from 1974, but these make the full plunge into prog/jazz-fusion, sadly abandoning most of Fred‘s hazy, country roots.
Here’s one I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. For a record with such a commanding presence, excellent would-be classic tunes, and an ahead of its time Nirvanesque sound it’s a shock I can find too scant mention of it around these parts or elsewhere. In reality, it’s my shame I haven’t run across the Groundhogs before now, as their legendary run through most of the 60s’ British blues scene and subsequent forays in hard jam-rock are not to be overlooked.
Not at all “blues” and too cool for the prog tag, Split is more like a psych-tinged insanity-fueled classic rock opus. Side A, a continuing amalgam of anthemic classic rock jams, “Split Parts 1-4” (the lyrics apparently inspired by a panic attack), is the kind of amped-up music it can be dangerous to drive to; “Part 1” is so juiced it makes me want to join a frantic crime spree. “Part 2” may be the catchiest song with its driving wah-guitar lead and chop chords. Tony McPhee is clearly running the show, his guitar playing so effortless, dynamic, reeking of virtuosity; this is as in the zone as it gets. Not to diminish the efforts of Peter Cruikshank on guitar and bass and Ken Pustelnik wildly beating away, this band can fucking play.
“Cherry Red” may be the sickest, meanest classic I’ve never heard. How this masterpiece has evaded classic rock radio, movie soundtracks, and my ears altogether I’ll never understand. (Instead of the endless barrage of Black Keys and Jack Whites on the airwaves, music supervisors would do well to score something like this, both for the better of their budgets and our sanities.) On the self-titled “Groundhog,” McPhee proves he can swat the devil blues out of his electrified acoustic as fine as Robert Johnson, providing the album’s only real taste of blues.
Grab this mean, mighty bastard as soon as you can find it.
It is telling that during the course of Sandy Denny’s short but illustrious career, she managed to cut two full-length records which, despite remaining unreleased for many years, are nowadays heralded as essential pieces in the puzzle that is British folk-rock. One of these two “rediscovered” LPs was Fotheringay 2, which met a good deal of critical claim when it was put out on CD a few years back, while the other is this: All Our Own Work, the tragically-unreleased debut album that Denny cut with a young, unknown group known as The Strawbs back in 1967, but which failed to see the light of day until Denny had built a name for herself with Fairport Convention.
It is actually rather interesting to place late-sixties Strawbs alongside Fotheringay, as both bands share a number of commonalities outside of Denny’s extraordinary faerie voice. Each group borrows from both British and United States pop and folk-music traditions, and pair Denny’s voice against a strong, distinct male lead…actually, now that I read back over that, Fairport pretty much followed the same formulas, though they quickly shucked off the U.S. influences and contemporary rock and roll material for starker, traditional ballads and old English dance songs. On All Our Own Work, Denny and The Strawbs are still drawing out bits and pieces from mid-to-late sixties radio sounds, as the densely-orchestrated balladry of “You Need Me” and the bouncy, acoustic “Always On My Mind” reveal. There are also many touches of classic psychedelia here that never quite carried over into any of Denny’s other work, such as the droning sitar work on “Tell Me (What You See In Me).”
The songs here are almost uniformly excellent, making it even more of a shame that this album never saw the light of day back when it would have made the biggest impact. It’s hard to select just a few cuts to talk about, as each has its own unique, quirky charms. “How Everyone But Sam Was A Hypocrite” and “Poor Jimmy Wilson” could have easily come from the pen of Ray Davies, while the simple, swirling acoustics on “Two Weeks Last Summer” create an entrancing day-in-the-life head space that could very well have made this one a classic on the folk-psych genre. Perhaps the most historically notable song on here is Denny’s original full-band recording of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which would soon be put on vinyl first by Judy Collins and later by a Denny-fronted Fairport Convention. There’s a lot of ground covered here considering the constrained palette of sounds that the band conjures, touching on all the best British flavors of the era. On later records, Strawbs would expand their arsenal of instruments considerably, but to hear the band working primarily with acoustic guitars and touches of orchestration is something of a revelation. Sometimes you just have to clear away the clutter and Mellotrons and electric guitars and just let a record breath.
There have been a couple separate reissues of All Our Own Work, released under varying titles, but the most readily available these days is Witchwood Media’s CD issue, which includes not just the original LP but also a wealth of additional cuts from the same sessions. I imagine that this is one of the more obscure Denny releases out there, so if you’re a fan and have yet to hear this – one of her earliest recorded offerings – you are in for quite a treat.
Though only one record was ever released under the name Ithaca, the band actually has a rather lengthy history which encompasses four different LPs. The band’s roots lay in the British folk duo Peter Howell and John Ferdinando, who put out two obscure albums in the late 1960s under their own names before pulling their act together into the band Agincourt. That band’s Fly Away, released in 1970, was a gently magnificent slice of cosmic folk-rock which highlighted the ethereal vocals of Lee Menelaus. A Game For All Who Know is technically the follow-up to that unfortunately unheralded release, marked by a change in name (which probably didn’t help the groups’ momentum, if they had any at all by this point), and a somewhat darker atmosphere.
The songs on A Game For All Who Know tend to bleed into each other in a rather seamless continuum, giving the record the feel of a concept album. All in all, it’s a relaxing trip. Though “The Journey” opens rather auspiciously with an explosion, the buzzing of insects, and what sounds like a soaring air raid siren, it soon dissolves down into a beautiful wash of gentle cymbal crescendos and finger-picked guitars. Droning vocals are kept relatively low in the mix, making the overall sound a little disorienting but also emphasizing the engaging instrumental textures which underlay the songs. According to the liner-notes on the Acme Lion reissue, the band decided during the recording of this album that their material had gotten too complicated and involved to perform live.
The sound of the record has more to do with chiming 1960s U.K. folk rock than it does with most of Ithaca’s progressive-leaning contemporaries. Jangling acoustic guitars provide the bedrock around which most of these songs are written, and instrumental flourishes tend toward flutes, Gilmour-esque slide guitar runs and organ trills that never escape their place as accents. Even the record’s eight-and-a-half minute centerpiece “Times” floats on a quietly-tumbling Bryter Layter atmosphere before picking up the pace into a bright, country-rock groove. The cosmic “Dreams” is perhaps one of the album’s most unsettling moments, in which traces of jazz piano melt and bleed into clouds of fuzz guitar before light ivory arpeggios bring the proceedings down into a rather sudden fade-out. Cut to the lengthy, record-closing reprise of “The Journey,” introduced by the sound of pages turning and a a burst of flamenco guitar before sampled NASA radio chatter announces that “Houston, we are underway” and Ithaca returns to the spaced-out balladry that by now has clearly been revealed to be their forte. It’s only in the introduction of weird, rudimentary synthesizer harmonies on this cut that the band starts to push into standard prog territory, though they redeem themselves a little later in the piece as it begins to slide out into a super mellow, freestyle improvisation.
The band would release one more record, this one under the name Friends and being more of a Peter Howell project than anything. Howell was also spending more and more time as a composer at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (where he would go on to compose the second Doctor Who theme, released as a single under his own name in the late seventies), and slowly the loose amalgam of musicians that had made up Agincourt, Ithaca and Friends ceased recording formally together. They left an impressive run of musical testaments, however, and A Game For All Who Know is worth checking out. Though it was only released in a limited run of ninety-nine LPs back in 1973, the aforementioned Acme Lion edition is readily available for anyone down to take “the journey.”
Reissue | 2008 | Lion | buy at amazon ]
We recently lost another unsung genius from the cracks and crevices of 60s pop/psych. Tandyn Almer, who sadly passed in early 2013, would never become a household name, but you’ve definitely heard his work. Penning major tunes like “Along Comes Mary” for the Association, “Sail on Sailor” and “Marcella” for the Beach Boys, and countless other psych-tinged gems, Almer left behind a distinguished trail of well-crafted compositions. Luckily, and ironically (as I’m sure he would have enjoyed to see its official release), we have gained a new trove of lost work in Along Comes Tandyn, a collection of Almer’s demos from 1965-1966.
Originally written and recorded for Davon music, a small number of acetates labeled “The New Songs of Tandyn Almer” was circulated in order to shop his tunes to other recording artists. While some acts like The Sure Cure and Curt Boettcher’s The Ballroom took the bait, most of these tracks have remained unheard. The sound is definitely demo quality (all the better), the band generally led by a clangy electric guitar and sprinkled with bits of piano and harpsichord. The vocals soar with typical 60s harmony, the lyrics quite often along the same vein. You can tell Almer was a real musician’s musician, his tunes never compromise, always taking an unexpected turn and often for something quite complicated. Take a listen to the surprisingly hip “Everytime I Take You Back To Me” and just try to follow the changes; or check the classical piano work on “There’s Gotta Be a Way.” Even “Along Comes Mary” (not included here) ducks and weaves at every chance, delivering it’s punch where you’d least expect it.
Some of Almer’s other happenings of note include an interview in Leonard Bernstein’s Inside Pop – The Rock Revolution (a “serious” investigation into pop’s emergence as an art form), as well as a short-lived best friendship with Brian Wilson, allegedly ending in an enstranging three-way. While not exactly loaded with clear winners (Face Down in the Mud” is a downright weirdo blues offering that would sound at home on FZ’s Only in it for the Money and some tracks sound a bit like psychedelic filler), Along Comes Tandyn is still an excellent comp of lost pop-psych with a satisfying garage sound. Essential for fans of complex pop, the full package includes excellent liners (with lots of information provided by Tandyn himself) and will turn anyone into a hardcore Tandyn fan. Count me a Fandyn.
This is quite an anomalous record. Issued under the name Amon Düül in 1970, Paradieswärts Düül has very little to do with any previous records released under that aggregate’s name. In fact, it is not hard to see how this record tanked commercially back when it was released. By the time this album hit shelves, the name Amon Düül meant pretty much one thing: low-fidelity recordings taken piecemeal from a legendary, hypnotically intense communal psych-out held by the German political commune of the same name in 1968. Albums like Psychedelic Underground and Collapsing had polarized much of the international music scene, with some hailing these records as extraordinary improvisational snapshots of the psychedelic extreme, and others dismissing them as meaningless, tuneless disasters; symbolic postcards of the worst counterculture excesses.
But then we have this record. Paradieswärts Düül has more in common with the records of Amon Düül II, the spaced-out (much more musically-inclined) offshoot of the original commune, which had been releasing a number of critically-acclaimed LPs away from their former communards-in-arms. The truth is, this version of “Amon Düül” shares little but a name with the anarchic ensemble that preceded it. Though its members were involved with the commune, they sought to pursue the actual idea of a band, with actual songs and melodies, and the result was a world apart from 1968. The focus here is on long, rambling acoustic/electric environments and earthly vocal harmonies, and for the first time Amon Düül can be said to be creating some truly beautiful music.
“Love Is Peace,” which occupies the entire first side of the record, is a number you will find yourself returning to again and again. Behind its cryptic lyrics and intimidating running time lay inspired vocal and guitar melodies. The first half of this one is truly entrancing, with that lazy rhythm and the carefully-woven tapestry of reverbed instruments. Repeated listenings reveal just how well-composed this piece is, and highlight the instrumental talents of the bands several members. Key in to the jazzy, minimalistic drum patterns or the burbling electric bass line, for example: everything runs together as naturally as a river, creating cyclical loops of sound that refuse to let you go. Around the halfway mark, everything but the guitar drops out and the listener is left with several minutes of warped, deconstructed electric guitar before a wall of acoustic guitars bring everyone back in for what in all honesty sounds like Can on a camping trip. Incomprehensible, Suzuki-styled vocal meanderings leap in and out of bongos and rudimentary piano plucking as the guitarists take turns soloing somewhere off-center in the mix. It’s nowhere as illuminating as the first half of the song, but remains engaging up until its rather sloppy end.
The second side of the record consists of two songs, which actually mirror Side A’s two sections: first up is the long instrumental electric guitar workout “Snow Your Thirst and Sun Your Open Mouth,” closely followed by another warbling acoustic guitar can’t-quite-sing-along called “Paramechanische Welt.” The former is a fantastic listen, and proves that these cats had their game together. The influence of Amon Düül II (more specifically Yeti, sides three and four) is obvious here, which makes the fact that two of that band’s members contribute not to this track but the following one a little ironic. “Welt” is by no means a bad cut, but it isn’t anywhere as memorable as the rest of the material here, lacking the impressive instrumental interplay or clear vocal lines that seasoned the preceding tracks.
Like most krautrock albums of the era, this one fetches a pretty high price in its original vinyl form, but if you’re lucky enough to spot a copy, pick it up! For the rest of us, there’s an excellent CD reissue on Repertoire records that, while also out-of-print, also includes both sides of an excellent 45 released by the band, which distills the sound of Paradieswärts into two, shorter numbers and, had they been included in the original album, would probably fall second only to the first half of “Love Is Peace” insofar as album highlights go.
Here’s yet another gem I found tucked within these pages at the The Band’s best fan site. Involvement from a Band member or two can’t guarantee a record’s gonna be a good one, but most of the time, you can count on it. Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson both grace this class act recording credited respectively as “Dick Handle” and “Campo Malaqua,” but they’re no show stealers next to some heavy hitting session men, a fine set of original tunes and Borderline’s down home, roaming feel.
Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires somehow manages to blend classic rock with the Bearsville sound, Nashville country, even as far as bluegrass – albeit more of a laid-back and stoned grass-rock than that of the Dillards, Brummels or Goose Creek. Brothers David and Jon Gershen turn in 8 original numbers ranging from swampy groovers like David’s “Don’t Know Where I’m Going” to Jon’s strung-out, anthemic ballads “Please Help Me Forget” and “Dragonfly.” Traditional numbers arranged by producer and guitarist Jim Rooney (“Clinch Mountain,” “Good Womans Love,” and “Handsome Molly”) seamlessly flow next to classic sounding country numbers by David Gershen (“Marble Eyes,” Sweet Dreams”). In addition to the Band members, Band producer John Simon appears on piano as well as Billy Mundi on drums and Vassar Clements on fiddle.
Sadly, Sweet Dreams and the ill-fated Second Album remain criminally unissued. For now, get yer Borderline info/story here. This record certainly deserves as much recognition as any other genre-forging classic country rock record I’ve heard.
Update: Borderline is finally being issued, along with their never before released Second Album, by Real Gone Music! The CD includes new liners with a limited amount autographed by the band. Scoop this edition up before it leaves us again.
2CD Reissue | 2012 | Real Gone Music | buy from real gone ]
Original Vinyl | 1972 | Avalanche | search ebay ]
They say it’s not what you know but who you know, but sometimes even rubbing shoulders with the absolute royalty of rock can’t guarantee you success. Focal Point was a short-lived pop-psych outfit from Liverpool, based around songwriters Paul Tennant and Dave Rhodes who in the summer of 1967 became the first two writers signed to the fledgling Apple label. Tennant claims that he and Rhodes ambushed Paul McCartney walking his dog in Hyde Park and managed to blag an introduction to Apple Music Publishing head honcho Terry Doran. Allegedly the ensuing band’s name, Focal Point, was suggested by Brian Epstein. Apple sponsored the band through the rest of ‘67, housing and equipping them and recording demos of their songs at Apple’s makeshift studio at 94 Baker Street with producer Lionel Morton (ex-Four Pennies).
Focal Point signed to Decca’s progressive music subsidiary Deram early in 1968. Four songs were re-recorded to professional quality and the first 45 came out soon afterwards, “Love You Forever” b/w “Sycamore Sid”. Inexplicably the selected A-side was a sappy, unoriginal love song notable only for its excellent Mellotron accompaniment, and unsurprisingly it tanked chartwise. After unsuccessfully trying to reawaken interest at Apple, the band returned to Liverpool and concentrated on live work, supporting top-flight acts touring the North. By mid-69 they’d gone back to their day jobs.
The B-side of the single however, had been a fine, aggressive slab of hard psych and it appeared on psych compilations from the 1980s onwards, whilst the other Deram tracks appeared on 94 Baker Street, a compilation of sounds by lesser-known acts signed to Apple. In the wake of the new interest in 60s psychedelia erstwhile band members Tennant, Dave Slater and Tim Wells laboriously tracked down the surviving Apple demos and some later stuff they’d recorded independently in Manchester after returning North. The results were assembled along with the Deram tracks as First Bite Of The Apple and finally released to the world in 2005, giving an impression of how a Focal Point album recorded at the tail end of psych in ’68 might have sounded.
The Deram tracks and the first Manchester recordings mostly present dreamy soundscapes and lyrics not far from the Toytown end of psych, realised through layered vocal harmonies and sumptuous keyboard washes and all quite presentable. “Miss Sinclair”, “Sycamore Sid” and “McKinley Morgan The Deep Sea Diver” are typical Swinging Sixties third-party pen-portraits, the first benefitting from a hard-edged guitar and a flat Syd Barrett-style vocal whlist the last is an enjoyable singalong that could have come from The Teenage Opera via “Yellow Submarine”. “Never Never” is a blissed-out flower-power song with great organ work and a powerful walking bass line. “Far Away From Forever” is another languid, introspective soft-psych outing with some pleasant surprises in the chord sequence. Sadly the band took a wrong turning with their later attempts to find commercial success. “Falling Out Of Friends” is a dismal schlock ballad with an ersatz Hollies feel, whilst “Goodbye Forever” was an attempt to write for the Eurovision Song Contest and exhibits all that genre’s boom-bang-a-bang awfulness. The Apple demos illustrate how greatly the songs changed in their final realisation; “Miss Sinclair” is played purely on acoustic guitars whilst “Never Never” plonks along on what sounds like a honkytonk piano.
Focal Point has always been keen to lay to rest the assumption that “Sycamore Sid” who lived in a tree house was actually Syd Barrett. In fact it refers to John Mayall, who in his early days as a musician did just that. For a lot more detail on Focal Point and a first-hand history from Paul Tennant visit their page in the excellent Marmalade Skies UK Psych site.
CD Compilation | 2005 | Kissing Spell | buy here ]