Archive for the ‘ Pop ’ Category

The Merchants of Dream “Strange Night Voyage”

Described in the CD liner notes as “a psychedelic concept album based around JM Barrie’s famous tale Peter Pan”, but in reality equal parts toytown-psych confection, twisted sunshine-pop song suite and wannabe stage musical, this curiosity from 1969 fails to convince as any one of these whilst exuding a homespun and totally unique charm that works if you don’t take it too seriously. Certainly I’ve found nothing else like it, apart perhaps from Mark Wirtz’s unfinished and unreleased Teenage Opera from three years previously which shares its guileless naivité. The blurb goes on to say that Strange Night Voyage “cleverly created a parallel between the original notion of Peter Pan as the boy who wouldn’t grow up and the contemporary rebellion against adult morals and mores and straight society that characterised Generation Gap America in the late sixties”. Well, maybe. But there’s no real attempt here to emulate the subversion of the Fish or the Fugs, the principal thrust of the lyrics being simply the perceived benefits of reverting to/remaining in a childlike state. Of course, for some hippies that also had, like, psychedelic connotations at the time, man . . .

Conceived by fellow St John’s graduates songwriter Jack Murphy and record producer Vinny Testa purely as a fun project, the songs were demoed to Testa’s friend George “Shadow” Morton, creator of the Shangri-Las’ hit catalogue. Morton saw potential in the project and scored a deal with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M to record it and release it as an album. A core group of musicians was drafted to lay down the tracks, becoming the Merchants Of Dream, though not in reality a performing outfit. Murphy’s songwriting emphasised the vocal harmonies of MOR sunshine-pop and the sophisticated arrangements of show tunes, whilst Morton utilised his proven talents for leftfield orchestration and sound effects. The result came across like the Association on acid meeting the cast of Hair with elements of Sergeant Pepper thrown in for good measure. Whether this mixture proved unpalatable, or maybe the strange cover art was too much, or perhaps due to the lack of an obvious single, the label failed to promote the early ’69 release and it sank like a lead balloon until resuscitated for CD by Tune In forty-two years later.

Kicking off with an exhortation to “listen . . . grow young” and a brief soliloquy in an unconvincing Peter Pan voice, the album offers not one but two brief overtures, one per original album side, which recall Pete Townshend’s similar use on Tommy as they recap musical themes from the following songs. “The Strange Night Voyage Of Peter Pan” with its rolling power-pop rhythm and pulsating bass is the first of a series of disparate character portraits on the original topside dedicated respectively to Peter, Wendy, Hook and the Crocodile plus “Dorothy The Fairy Queen” and “Lovelife’s Purple Circus” (neither of these Barrie characters). “Circus” is a genuinely psychedelic montage item and probably the strongest track on the album, all disorienting tempo changes, disembodied organs, calliopes and circus sounds. On the flip the tracks take more abstract themes – the swirling waltz of “Come Back Into Your Childhood With Me”, “Sing Me Life” and the jokey toddler-rebellion of “When You’re Pushin’ Six”. The final “(We Are) Dream Vendors”, a fine takeoff of generic 1967 Britsike, closes with a crazy coda as the dream state evaporates and the Pan voice returns to intone “now I lay me down to sleep” and a series of “blesses” for Uncle Jack (Murphy), Uncle Vinny (Testa), Uncle Shadow (Morton), Uncle Herbie (Alpert), Uncle Jerry (Moss) and Uncle Everyone Else who had anything to do with the production and release.

After Strange Night Voyage nothing further was heard of from the Merchants Of Dream apart from Murphy who, perhaps unsurprisingly, moved on to a prolific career in stage musicals, finally coming full circle with his Broadway production Wonderland: A New Alice which debuted in 2011.

mp3: Lovelife’s Purple Circus
mp3: (We Are) Dream Vendors

:) Original | 1969 | A&M | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2011 | Cherry Red | buy ]

Dory Previn “Mythical Kings and Iguanas”

The life history of the woman born Dorothy Veronica Langan reads like an archetypal Hollywood biopic and is well enough documented elsewhere as to need no repetition here; a fine account can be found in Paul Pelletier’s booklet notes to the current twofer CD of which Mythical Kings And Iguanas is a part. Suffice to say that her father’s abuse and the breakup of her marriage to André Previn were just the two most high-profile of the stream of life experiences that coloured this woman’s approach to songwriting. Put these together with her poetic talent, her extensive career as a staff lyricist for MGM musicals, and her years – she was 45 when her first proper solo album appeared – and the nature and quality of the half-dozen astonishingly personal and almost uncategorisable albums that Dory Previn recorded as a seventies singer-songwriter become clearly explicable.

Mythical Kings was the second of the six studio albums that Previn cut for three different labels between 1970 and 1976 and remains the best known, particularly here in the UK where she enjoyed a brief prominence during the “white room” singer-songwriter vogue that made heroes out of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Musically it’s a restrained delight, with production and orchestral arrangements by Nik Venet and beautifully understated instrumentation by Clark Maffitt and Brian Davies on acoustic guitars, Larry Knechtel on Fender Rhodes, Joe Osborn and Ron Tutt as rhythm section plus the cream of the LA session mafia on other guitars, keys, strings and winds. The joy of the music here is that for all its quality it lets the words shine through, and what words they are! Previn’s lyrics are sometimes masked in allusion and symbolism, but at others they communicate unalloyed her raw hope and hurt, the prevailing themes on this album being unrequited love and the futility of personal ambition and spirituality. The leadoff title track rues the pursuit of the ethereal at the expense of the real to the accompaniment of an immaculately spare piano backing by Knechtel and a disconcerting slide guitar. “Lemon Haired Ladies” is a barely-disguised admonishment of her former husband and his new amour, while “Angels And Devils The Following Day” compares two former lovers: “One was an artist, one drove a truck / One would make love, the other would fuck” – guess which one came out preferred. “Yada Yada La Scala” implores a prospective lover to stop making small talk and get down to romantic business to a jazzy, hopeful beat and segues beautifully into the haunting “Lady Of The Braid” which starts with the line “Would you care to stay till sunrise?” and rides effortlessly on Maffitt and Davies sweet acoustics and muted orchestral backing. “A Stone For Bessie Smith” is actually a bluesy paean to the late Janis Joplin, and “Mary C Brown And The Hollywood Sign” uses the suicide of a failed actress as a symbol of the futility of the American Dream (and would provide the theme of a whole later album), set to a mournful New Orleans backing. Maffitt’s and Davies guitars provide a gorgeous accompaniment to “The Game” which uses gambling, cheating and lying as a metaphor for life – a lure to which Previn inevitably succumbs.

Mythical Kings is hard to find on its own in any format but is available on the aforementioned twofer CD along with the follow-up Reflections In A Mud Puddle, which includes the astonishing “Taps, Tremors And Time Steps” suite in which Previn juxtaposes the receipt of the news of her father’s death with the disaster of the Hindenburg.  At the end of my review on Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos I suggested that if you felt like getting emotionally wrung out one evening, you might try playing that album end-to-end with Tonight’s The Night, In Utero and Elliott Smith’s eponymous second album. Add this one to the list.

mp3: Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign
mp3: The Game

:) Original | 1971 | Mediarts | search ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | BGO | buy ]

Southwest F.O.B. “Smell of Incense”

Northeast Texas heads Southwest F.O.B. can’t claim the same sort of critical attention lauded on such fellow statesmen as the 13th Floor Elevators or Red Krayola, but their one record, Smell of Incense, remains an indispensable slice of Lone Star psychedelia. Much more commercially-minded than any of the aforementioned collectives, the band nevertheless reveals an exciting instrumental virtuosity and willingness to draw FM gold out of esoteric regions. Thankfully, songwriters Dan Seals and John Colley betray little of the sickening soft-rock aspirations that would later drive them into their roles as England Dan and John Ford Coley, and show some surprisingly good taste in outside material.

The F.O.B.’s heavy, barnstorming take on the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “Smell of Incense” is perhaps the clearest example of the group’s hip tastes and knack for redefinition; as strong as the original may be, the F.O.B. manage to take it in subtle new directions that streamline the song’s eccentric appeal, essentially rebuilding the rhythm section from the ground up. Zeke Durrell’s drumming really makes this recording; dig the intricacies between sections and those explosive runs following the hi-hat break just before the final chorus. You could never call the F.O.B. slick, but these cats are clearly no amateur musicians.

Another of the major highlights here is Seals and Colley’s “And Another Thing,” though its length, at just-under twelve minutes, may try the patience of some listeners – especially considering that about a quarter of those minutes are dedicated to a dizzying, tom-heavy drum solo. The cut never loses its drive, though; even the weird and loopy guitar improvisation in the middle manages to stick close to the song’s heavy rhythmic center. If you dig the warped, astral jams off Cold Sun’s Dark Shadows then there should be a lot for you to like here, though the band’s lyrics are never as interesting as what Bill Miller or Tommy Hall were writing around this time. “Beggar Man” may be one of the worst offenders in this regard, a woefully naïve and romanticized view of urban poverty hinting at the flower child sentiments of the decade.

There are all sorts of notable musical flourishes across this album which stand out in the course of a listen, however, and many lay among the local horn section (itself rather unusual in these interim years between early-sixties frat rock and the approaching Chicago sound) of Dan Seals on saxophone and Randy Bates on trumpet. Bates’ background in mariachi music colors his playing across the record, adding a sharp Texas accent to the band’s thick polychromatic sound. On occasion Seals and Bates hit a rather tepid Los Angeles brass sound, such as on the band’s melodramatic non-album recording of Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song,” but such moments are reassuringly infrequent and in general the two add, rather than detract, from the overall group dynamic.

Originally released on Stax’s short-lived pop-music imprint Hip Records, The Smell of Incense has been reissued to great effect by the folks over at Sundazed. The compact disc release now includes a wealth of additional material, including alternate mixes (including a shortened version of “And Another Thing” for those with limited constitutions) as well as some more R&B-centric material from the band’s early years as Theze Few. Highly recommended all around.

mp3: And Another Thing

:D Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon ]
:) Original | 1969 | Hip Records | search ebay ]
:) Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]

Dave Davies “Hidden Treasures”

The recent release of The SMiLE Sessions must mark the ebb tide of the steady stream of retrospective issues of mythical “lost” albums from the Sixties. Surely with the debut of The Holy Grail Of Rock these have all now finally appeared in one form or another? But one other such offering that crept out with much less fanfare in the same month as SMiLE is the “lost” solo album by Dave Davies, purveyor of revolutionary guitar licks and falsetto vocal harmonies to the Kinks. Despite its enticing title, as with SMiLE the majority of its songs have already been in the public domain in one form or another for some time, but again like SMiLE the new release represents the first legitimate attempt to bring it together as nearly as possible in its originally-intended form.

The CD contains what are believed to be the genuine original stereo mixes of the twelve proposed album songs – three of these unissued in any form until this release – with some alternative versions in mono, plus the other Dave songs that did see the light of day as solo singles, as components of Something Else By The Kinks or as B-sides of later Kinks 45s: twenty-seven cuts in all. Despite their piecemeal production over two years, the proposed album tracks exhibit commendable homogeneity and the quality is consistently high with respect both to composition and to performance, offering a set of well-crafted pop-rock songs, many with country-rock overtones. Setting them apart from the Kinks’ oeuvre are Dave’s distinctive proto-punk vocals and his frequent use of modest time signature changes and modulations to add further musical interest, whilst the lyrics are in the form of acerbic interpersonal dialogues and wry observations on love, eschewing his brother’s wistful nostalgia. The best of the bunch are the inexplicably-unsuccessful second single “Susannah’s Still Alive” with its great piano riff and homespun harmonica, the Byrdsy jangle of “Mindless Child Of Motherhood”, the twelve-string-driven, string-laden “Lincoln County” with its good-time Lovin’ Spoonful vibe and the lyrically-contentious “Creeping Jean” which recalls Beggars Banquet-era Stones. Despite these comparisons the twelve tracks are distinctly Dave and would indeed have made a fine late Sixties album. The extras naturally include the peerless non-album single “Death Of A Clown”.

The music is solid despite the convoluted circumstances of its genesis, which was lengthy and full of hiccups and about-turns as admirably explained in the fine booklet essay by Russell Smith that accompanies the CD. In 1966 the Kinks’ management proposed a parallel solo career for Brother Dave, on the basis that his good looks and immaculate dress sense might attract a separate teenybopper audience and perhaps lead to films. The man himself was initially resistant to individual promotion, but the other band members were fully amenable and every Dave-credited track was actually a proper Kinks recording, with Dave taking the writer credits and handling the lead vocals but all three other members contributing fully and Ray generally arranging and producing. The initial “Clown” single was a massive 1967 hit and the solo album was immediately proposed, but for some reason from that point on the band’s management and their record labels seemed to lose interest, possibly because of the campaign to rescind the Kinks’ touring ban in the States, possibly because of the success of their increasingly Anglocentric albums there in contrast to their steady decline at home where they were by then widely regarded as a somewhat dated singles band. Specific sessions to cut Dave’s songs were nonetheless held sporadically over the next two years and the twelve-track tape was finally delivered to the Kinks’ US label Warner-Reprise in the fall of ‘69, only to be shelved immediately without either a title or a final running order. Forty-two years on, we finally have it as near as dammit, and Kinks fans and lovers of good Sixties music will agree that it’s been worth the wait.

mp3: Do You Wish to Be a Man
mp3: Creeping Jean

:D Reissue | 2011 | Sanctuary | buy ]

Donovan “Open Road”

Open Road was Donovan’s first album of the 1970’s.  Here he was backed by a sympathetic group of the same name (Open Road) and this change made all the difference.  Gone are the psychedelic trappings of previous years and in their place are a collection of sharp Celtic influenced folk-rock tracks.

The lyrics and backing band are straight forward and direct, giving this album a back to the basics feel (there are no sitars, horns, harpsichords or elaborate studio productions) – so in the case of Open Road, less is more.  While there are no huge hits in the order of “Mellow Yellow” or “Sunshine Superman”, Open Road rates as one of Donovan’s most consistently enjoyable sets.  To these ears tracks such as “Curry Land,” “Celtic Rock,” “Roots of Oak,” and “People Used To” are some of the most powerful music of Donovan’s career.  “People Used To” features gutsy slide guitar while “Roots of Oak,” “Curry Land,” and “Celtic Rock” are outstanding compositions that could hold their own with any authentic, critically praised UK folk-rock act of the time or place.  These mesmerizing tracks are a unique mixture of traditional Irish folk, hard rock, roots music and the dying embers of psychedelia.

The album’s most popular song and minor hit, “Riki Tiki Tavi,” is a jaunty studio jam with politically charged lyrics and a playful vibe.  Other winners are the punchy pop-rock opener “Changes”, sensitive folk-rock numbers “New Year’s Resolution” and “Season of Farewell” and the whimsical throwback “Joe Bean’s Theme.”  Donovan would never record anything like Open Road again.  Not only is this one of Donovan’s most mature records but it’s also one of his best – surely an underrated LP that deserves recognition.

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“People Used To”

:) Original | 1970 | Dawn | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2000 | Repertoire | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Slade “Play It Loud”

No one can blame you if you dismiss Slade’s Play It Loud out of hand. After all, Slade was the original hair metal band, launching a thousand ill-begotten covers, their originals just as bombastic, screeching and spelling-challenged. Yet, the Slade catalogue is full of buried treasures; nearly every one of the band’s 70s albums contains at least one song worth the price of admission, from “Gudbye to Jane” to “How Does It Feel,” and in the case of Play It Loud, an entire album’s worth of great songs.

Released in 1970, Play It Loud is the band’s second proper album, and the first released under the name Slade; one previous album had been released under the name Ambrose Slade, yet another as the N’ Betweens. While the two previous albums had relied heavily upon covers and songs by outside writers, Play It Loud was composed almost completely by drummer Don Powell, bassist Jim Lea, and singer Noddy Holder. It’s Slade before they were all crazee, before the platform boots and shiny spacesuits, more early Deep Purple than Gary Glitter.

The name Play It Loud may be a sad predictor of the type of albums the band would release later on, but it’s apt nonetheless. You can’t help but want to play this one loud; on an iPod or tinny computer speakers, it’s impossible to appreciate the wallop Slade packs.  It’s rough, garage-y and artless – like a collection of the best songs culled from Slade’s later albums and B-sides.

The best tracks on the album are those written by some combination of Powell, Lea and Holder. The rollicking opener “Raven,” the Black Sabbath-esque “See Us Here” and solid rockers “I Remember” and “One Way Hotel” are Slade with more grit than glitz, but the unexpected tenderness of “Dapple Rose” and the bluesy “Pouk Hill” show surprising range and depth. A standout is the album closer “Sweet Box,” which rolls as much as rocks, showing Slade’s nascent talent for a great groove.

A few covers pop up, too, such as the almost-psychedelic version of  Mann-Weil’s “The Shape of Things to Come,” and Neil Innes’ “Angelina,” a boozy bar-room blues.

Both “The Shape of Things to Come” and band original “Know Who You Are” were released as singles, with “The Shape of Things to Come” getting the Top of the Pops treatment. Neither single went anywhere; despite being aligned with producer/manager/ex-Animal Chas Chandler, Slade seemed destined for obscurity. However, a string of singles – including “Get Down,” “Look Wot You Done,” and “Coz I Love You” – that combined the band’s hard-rocking sound with glammy, slick production and hideously bad grammar soon shot the band to stardom. Not surprisingly, from 1971 on, the band would become primarily a singles outfit, with most later albums built around a single already on the charts, and the straight-ahead, correctly-spelled rock of Play It Loud relegated to b-sides and album tracks. More’s the pity.

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“Sweet Box”

:) Original | 1970 | Polydor | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2006 | Salvo | 2fer | buy ]

Tranquility (S/T)

If you ever wondered what the love child of the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills and Nash would sound like, wonder no more – the pointy-headed creature would sound like Tranquility.

The story of short-lived career of Tranquility is a difficult one to track; now largely forgotten, the band has neither a biography at AllMusic or a Wikipedia page. A fairly short history of the band’s 1971-1974 duration can be found on a page dedicated to Vanity Fare, but aside from that, little exists on the Internet about Tranquility.

The dichotomy of a band that references the Bee Gees and CSN in equal measure is not surprising, considering the band’s origins. According to the Vanity Fare page:

“The band was formed in 1971 by Ashley Kozak, formerly Donovan’s manager, and built around the song writing abilities of Terry Shaddick. Kozak had long wished for a “…gentle tranquil band that could create it own hybrid of pop, rock and English folk music” (CBS Inner Sleeve Issue III, 1973), and in Shaddick, he saw the focal point for creation of just such a band.”

From the meager info provided by AllMusic, it appears that Shaddick had a hand in all of the songs featured on Tranquility, and satisfied the intent of Kozak’s wishes, if not the spirit; Shaddick and company rarely hybridize pop, rock and English folk, but hit each of the points individually, song-by-song.

The best songs on Tranquility lean more toward folk; album opener “Try Again” is all innocuous confessional lyrics married to acoustic guitars and tight harmonies. Likewise, “Look at the Time, It’s Late” mimics the best of the Bee Gees’ late-60s-early 70s pop. Just as many times, the album aims for CSN or the Bee Gees and misses; “Lady of the Lake,” “Ride Upon the Sun,” and “Walk Along the Road” are pleasant but forgettable.

“Oyster Catcher” and “Black Current Betty” are almost jarringly out-of-place on an album full of CSN-lite offerings. Both songs recall 1967-68, when, inspired by Sgt. Pepper, every British album had to include a few music hall-type numbers full of twee Angliophilia. Of the two songs, “Black Current Betty” (which I’m almost certain should be “Black Currant Betty,” and the writer on the Vanity Fare page agrees) is the most listenable, even if “Penny Lane,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or even “Hello Hello” by Sopwith Camel got there first and more memorably.

Tranquility is hardly a buried classic, even if the Vanity Fare page claims that  the band “blew more than one big-name U.S. band off the stage.” All this begs the question: are some bands/albums better lost to history?

In the case of Tranquility’s 1972 self-titled debut, that depends on your tolerance for an album that veers wildly between introspective singer-songwriter offerings featuring CSN-type harmonies and English pop that would have sounded at home on Chad & Jeremy’s Of Cabbages and Kings.

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“Try Again”

:) Original | 1972 | Epic | search ebay ]
:) Reissue | 2004 | Rock & Groove | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Blossom Toes “We Are Ever So Clean”

Variously described as “the finest popsike album ever recorded”, “a quirky look at British life in the late 60s with tea and cakes on the lawn, budgerigars and balloons wafting in the breeze” and “Georgio Gomelsky’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, you might conclude that this definitive whimsy-psych opus was a premeditated attempt to upstage the Fabs and the Kinks at their own game by a similarly professional outfit. In fact it was the more-or-less accidental result of a dissolute R’n’B covers band ingesting lots of pharmaceuticals, reluctantly writing their own material, being impelled by their uber-persuasive manager/producer to come up with potential hit singles, and witnessing their lyrically quirky but musically straightforward guitar-based acid-pop songs being swathed in florid orchestral overdubs by their record company. All of which may sound like a recipe for a ragged, stylistic disaster of an album, and track titles like “The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog”, “I Will Bring You This And That” and “The Intrepid Balloonist’s Handbook, Volume 1” didn’t help to dispel that initial impression. Released a shade too late for the Summer Of Love and receiving a thoroughly polarised critical reception, it collapsed commercially. However, it gradually established a reputation as one of the great “lost” psych artefacts, was repeatedly bootlegged over decades for the benefit of aficionados, and has continued to attract enthusiasm and opprobrium in equal measures to this day. I like it a lot; you make up your own mind.

Brian Godding (vcl, gtr, keys), Jim Cregan (gtr, vcl), Brian Belshaw (bs, vcl) and Kevin Westlake (drs, vcl) had been the Ingoes, tramping the well-worn path from Hamburg beat band via freakbeat to R’n’B and soul covers. Picked up by former Stones/Yardbirds svengali Gomelsky and re-christened Blossom Toes, they signed to Polydor and worked up a clutch of self-written tunes with lysergic lyrics, spare, brittle backings and dense harmony vocals in the Ivy League vein. These were then subjected, against the band’s wishes, to various degrees of post-production orchestration, some tracks being left more or less unadorned while others were totally swaddled in brass bands, string quartets, plaintive woodwinds and what-have-you.

The leadoff “Look At Me I’m You” is typically everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, featuring a “Taxman”-ish riff with dense harmonies, backwards guitars, scat singing, a full brass band on the bridge and a fake scratched-record-stick on the outro. The thoroughly excellent near-caricature of definitive Britsike, “I’ll Be Late For Tea”, is well-known and has been much anthologised. “Frozen Dog” is a piece of wigged-out craziness with a stomping beat overlaid with deliberately formless, tuneless backing vocals and barking noises – in fact “barking” in every sense. “Telegram Tuesday” comes nearest to the original concept, a fully-formed lilting pop song with Byrdsy guitars and trademark rich harmonies, and for once no orchestral interference. The joyful marching rhythm and hysterical ironic laughter of “People Of The Royal Parks” mask a vituperative attack on the Establishment in the form of a diatribe against po-faced park keepers, government ministers and other officious killjoys. “Mrs Murphy’s Budgerigar” is classic whimsy, chronicling the misadventures of the said bird with enormously over-egged decoration by harpsichord, strings and piccolo trumpet. “Balloonist’s Handbook” is a demented rumba with organ and accordion accompaniment, its rhythm and whacked-out theatrical vocal delivery more than slightly hinting at the Bonzos. For good measure, the closing “Track For Speedy Freaks” is a whirling eighty-second collage of snippets from all the preceding tracks, while between those tracks come brief sotto voce interludes: random speech, coughing, operatic singing and bits of dialogue that sound like cuts from The Goon Show.

After the album bombed the band replaced drummer Westlake with multi-instrumentalist Poli Palmer and released a second album, If Only For A Moment, almost two years later. This was a more conventional prog-rock offering but suffered a similar fate, and Blossom Toes called it a day soon after. Godding enjoyed a subsequent career with various jazz-rock and avant-garde outfits including Centipede and Mike Westbrook’s band, whilst Cregan and Palmer wound up in the highly-successful prog-rock outfit Family. We Are Ever So Clean eventually found a kosher CD re-release on Sunbeam in 2007, its fifteen original tracks being augmented by an interesting assortment of un-orchestrated versions, live takes and unused demos.

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“Look at Me I’m You”

:) Original | 1967 | Polydor | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Sunbeam | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Freak Scene “Psychedelic Psoul”

The story of pop music in the 1960s is littered with “bands” that were never truly bands, but were, rather, the creation of record companies and record producers anxious to cash in on prevailing trends. This, too, is the story of The Freak Scene.

The Freak Scene was the creation of Rusty Evans, an ostensible folksinger who’d gotten his start recording rockabilly for Brunswick Records. The Kasentez-Katz of psych-pop, Evans was responsible for several albums by “bands” that were, in actuality, Evans and a group of studio musicians.  The Freak Scene was the second of Evans’ psych-pop groups, following on the heels of The Deep, and featuring many of the same musicians who’d played on the The Deep’s sole album.

Like The Deep, The Freak Scene was credited with one album before Evans lost interest. Psychedelic Psoul, the lone contribution by The Freak Scene, is a fascinating late-60s curio, made up of songs interspersed with spoken word vignettes that address all the hot-button issues of the time – the Vietnam War, civil rights, the plight of hippies. The result is as much art-rock as psych-pop.

Not surprisingly, the spoken word vignettes have not aged well, but several of the songs on Psychedelic Psoul have lasting appeal. “A Million Grains of Sand,” “Rose of Smiling Faces” and “My Rainbow Life”’ bear heavily the Indian influence that dominated the music of the Summer of Love, with their mystical lyrics and swirling strings; however, “My Rainbow Life” suffers from banal lyrics that make it sound more like a soundtrack entry on an acid exploitation flick than a real song. “Behind the Mind,” “The Center of My Soul” and “Mind Bender” bear a striking resemblance to garage-psych on the level of the Electric Prunes (another pre-fab band) or the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

By far the best offering on Psychedelic Psoul is “The Subway Ride Through Inner Space,” which somehow manages to mash-up the stream-of-conscious lyrical quality of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and any of George Harrison’s sitar-heavy Beatles tracks, all on top of a loping, hypnotic rhythm.

Evans abandoned The Freak Scene after Psychedelic Psoul. Evans worked in A&R for a time, establishing Eastern Productions, which signed both Third Bardo and The Facts of Life, and producing the Nervous Breakdown for Take Six.

Although The Freak Scene was short-lived, Evans wasn’t quite finished with the band’s output; when he re-emerged as a recording artist in 1969 under his given name, Marcus, he recycled “A Million Grains of Sand” as “Grains of Sand,” slowing the tempo, simplifying the instrumentation, and generally going for a more seductive vibe.

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“The Subway Ride Through Innerspace”

mp3: Marcus – Grains Of Sand

:D Reissue | 2010 | TBird | buy here ]
:) Original | 1967 | Columbia | search ebay ]

Wool “Wool”

This 1969 release by Watertown, New York’s Wool proves that even when you have strong talent and all the right connections, sometimes it still isn’t enough to get your band to break.

The group formed in the early ’60s, and were originally known as Ed Wool and The Nomads.  Ed Wool, who was a master guitar prodigy and excellent songwriter, was influenced early on by the new British Invasion sound and later on by the cream-of-the-crop of soul/R&B.  Ed Wool and The Nomads were huge in the mid-60s’ thriving Northern/Upstate New York music scene, even sharing the stage with bands such as Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, The (Young) Rascals, and The Rolling Stones.  In 1966, Ed and The Nomads scored a recording contract with RCA Victor and made one single, “I Need Somebody” b/w “Please, Please, Please,” which flopped.  Several line-up changes ensued as the ’60s progressed, but with Ed Wool still as the main focal point. The group was known as “The Sure Cure” for a brief amount of time, releasing the Feldman/Goldstein/Gottehrer penned “I Wanna Do It” for the Cameo-Parkway label, which also flopped.  Next, as “The Pineapple Heard,” Ed’s group even had the chance to be the first group to record the Boyce & Hart tune “Valleri” in 1967, a year before The Monkees had a hit with it.  That single, released on the tiny Diamond label, again, flopped.  Starting circa 1968, Ed Wool finally settled with a new and final line-up, which included his younger sister Claudia on vocals, and began going by the simple, unique name “Wool.”  The group traveled to New York City and began laying down tracks for their lone eponymous album for ABC Records.

This time around, the group managed to establish a songwriting connection with Neil Diamond, and had folk/pop songwriter and musician Margo Guryan at the helm for production help.  Surely, this should’ve been a recipe for success. Unfortunately, the album went virtually unnoticed nationally, and scored at the very bottom of the Billboard Top 200.  In Upstate/Northern NY, the album was a hit, with several of the tunes being played constantly on local radio stations.  Although it was largely unknown, one can assume that a lack of promotion from ABC Records was likely to blame for the album not being a hit.  It’s a shame, because the music contained on the album is downright good, with even some moments of greatness.

The album is a super tight blend of psych-rock, pop, and funk.  The album’s biggest highlight, a cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s “Combination Of The Two” absolutely blows the original out of the water in every aspect. Both the music and vocals make Big Brother’s version sound…dare I say…weak?!  One should especially pay attention to the wild vocals of Claudia Wool and the jaw-dropping fuzzy bass solo, courtesy of Ed Barrella.  The second highlight of the album is an Ed Wool original, entitled “If They Left Us Alone Now.”  A stark piece of psych-pop balladry, the tune belonged in the Top 40.  The Neil Diamond-penned “The Boy With The Green Eyes” also had hit written all over it.  Their cover of “Any Way That You Want Me,” which was better known by The Troggs, The Liverpool Five, and later Evie Sands, may be the best recorded version.  The album closes with the nine-and-a-half minute cover of Buffalo, NY’s Dyke & The Blazers’ “Funky Walk” and perfectly showcases Ed Wool’s superb guitar chops.

After Wool released this album, they recorded a handful of singles for Columbia (yet another major label!), all of which fell upon deaf ears.  Ed Wool is now based in Albany, NY playing blues-rock with a new line-up.  Wool reunited in 2007 for a concert at the famous Bonnie Castle Resort in Alexandria Bay, NY playing some of their old ’60s songs.  As for this album, it was definitely Wool at their peak of creativity. Wool has become a cult classic of sorts, and can be a bit pricey on eBay.  Luckily, in 2006, the UK’s Delay 68 label reissued a remastered version of the album on CD with plenty of photographs and liner notes, and is available for purchase on Amazon.  If you have the extra cash, pick this little gem up.  It will not disappoint the average ’60s rock fanatic.

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“Combination Of The Two”

:D Reissue | 2006 | Delay 68 | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | ABC | search ebay ]