Saturday, July 12, 2014

Some Just Shapeless Forms

Let's bring this summer's psychedelic party across the water to my home turf.  Easily one of the earliest and most musically adventurous journeys into the realm of otherworldliness.  Written mostly by Gene Clark, with one great line of lyrics provided by David Crosby and IMHO the most amazing guitar work ever committed to vinyl thanks to Roger McGuinn - of course I am referring to Eight Miles High.  Sadly this was to be the Byrds last venture into the US top twenty.

Gene Clark would be gone before the song was released but his stamp is all over the place in the vocal melody and lyrics.   Banned by some radio stations due to its supposed drug influences, a close listen to the lyrics tell me that it is about so much more.  I see it as a poetic reflection on the loneliness of travel through the prism of an outsider.   The novel musical arrangement shows that The Byrds were ahead of the game.  Released in March of 1966, this single beat the Beatles to the psychedelic punch of Revolver by six months.

From Chris Hillman's opening leaping bass line and Crosby's chugging rhythm guitar rise that unmistakable McGuinn twelve string frenzy - all free form jazz and sounding like nothing before (or after).  Every time I hear those gorgeous three part vocal harmonies they put a lump in my throat.

Rain gray town
Known for its sound
In places, small faces abound

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I’m Just a Stranger Here

Here is the scenario:
  • a rock band from St. Louis MO is offered a deal with Capitol Records in 1968.
  • the band turns down the offer but is given the name of an A/R man with EMI in London
  • the band flies to London, plays a demo for the EMI man, and gets a record deal
  • hailed as the next Beatles, the band is given a £35,000 budget to record an LP
  • during the recording in 1969 one band member quits
  • the album is completed, the band heads back to Missouri only to lose another member due to a family issue
  • EMI backs out of releasing the LP because there is no longer a band to tour and promote it
  • 34 years later, in 2003, the album is release on CD
The band is the Aerovons, and apparently the only record released while they were still active was an EMI single in the UK.   I stumbled upon the CD recently and was both amazed and amused.  The LP is chock full of McCartney-esque piano pop, sometimes sung with a John Lennon tone.   The songs are quite tuneful though many have elements that were clearly lifted directly from The Beatles.  Over at Peter's Power Pop Peter has cataloged many of the "borrowed" pieces.  However the one big number - World Of You - is a bit of a lost psychedelic masterpiece.  It contains one of the finest string arrangements these ears have heard, at least in a pop song.  With its lovely sad melody, it feels like a wistful winter day.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Don't You Think That Your Love Is a Waste?

I have previously hucked Tages here at la Casa Sunday - a Swedish band that tried to break into the UK market and recorded and Abbey Road around the time of Sgt . Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  In keeping with my recent theme of UK psychedelia, here is To Be Free, the b-side to the song in my previous posting.   It includes a guitar lick that appears a few times throughout this song that just slays me.  It is only seven notes, but the tone and timbre is so at odds with the rest of the song I cannot help but fall in love with it.  The song itself has a very odd construction and includes a tinny old upright piano that lends just the right mood.  It says what it has to say in less than two minutes, then fades away into a barely audible section of music concréte.

And amazingly enough, someone has put up a promo film for To Be Free on Youtube!

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Luck That's Brought Me Down

The last 45rpm released by The Action before Parlophone canceled their recording contract was Shadows and Reflections.   Produced by George Martin, the song was written by Larry Marks and Tandyn Almer.  Mr. Almer was the composer of Along Comes Mary as well as co-writer of Sail On Sailor with Brian Wilson.  This track gives a good idea of what the Rolled Gold tracks might have sounded like if they had ever made it past the demo stage.

After a lovely but sad harpsichord introduction the verse kicks in and Reg King reminisces about love that is lost:

There's an old vacant apartment
Above the shop on the square
Something keeps bringing me back to
Those final moments we shared
To that glass the reflections
Cast their glow on the door
Empty shadows of night on the floor

At the 1:50 mark that Martin magic comes blaring in with horns and heavenly harmonies carry through to the end. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

This Kind of Love's Bringing Down This Man

On my top 100 45rpm singles posting I placed the Easybeats' Friday on My Mind in the top ten.  Written by Easybeats pair of lead guitarist Harry Vanda and rhythm guitarist George Young, the song became a worldwide hit in late 1966, with a delayed USA release in May '67.   The advanced songwriting and frenetic musical technical requirements were well beyond most bands on the charts at the time.   Clearly this was a band with the ability to break into the upper ranks of the current scene.  Other than the Beatles I would say that they could have challenged just about anyone else around.

But of course they were not a "new" band.  From their start in 1965 in Australia they became local legends and accumulated a significant number of hit records before they burst onto the international scene.   In late '66 they moved to London and signed with United Artists (NY) for their international releases.   What ensued would make a great comedy if it were not for the tragedy that resulted to their career.   I have neither the knowledge nor the time to relate everything that happened from this point forward, but I can sketch the overall arc for you.   Attorneys became involved, entire LPs were recorded and discarded, singles were prepared then withdrawn, and the records that were released were done so in a haphazard fashion.  While a new LP of heavily orchestrated psychedelic tunes sat in the vault, tastes changed and hit bands were moving in a new direction.   And worst of all, the record companies involved seemed to lose interest and did not aggressively market the music that was released. 

Hence today's post.  The follow up single to FOMM was Heaven and Hell, released in mid '67.  First of all the title scared off the radio stations, then one line of lyric resulted in a hastily edited US version to prevent panic in the streets.   Of course the end result is that it received little to no airplay and completely tanked on the UK and US charts.   It performed slightly better in their home country of Australia, but the die was already cast.   Though they continued to record and release some spectacular music over the next couple of years, they managed only a few scattered chart placements and by the end of 1969 it was pretty much over for them.

This track bursts forth with a guitar and harpsichord introduction, then the verse kicks in and Stevie Wright lays down the opening verse.  Clearly this guy is going through a major girl problem.  Alternating between verse and chorus, the song suddenly takes a 180 into a softer middle eight, all the while maintaining a high energy level.   By the final chorus the band is harmonizing like choir boys while Stevie spills his guts.  This is amazing songwriting, musical production, and performance.  Methinks I must go back and reappraise my top 100 single list.

Monday, June 23, 2014

So much cooler than the slippers, pipe and TV

Today's tune is sometimes referred to as a great lost psych single, but to me this is one of the first and greatest examples of pure Power Pop.   One has to wonder if Nick Lowe ever heard this song, because it sure has the look and feel of his late 70s work.  God only knows why the record company put Continental Hesitation on the B-side, for if there ever was a coulda-shoulda been hit single, it would be this song.  

Four seconds in, a killer acoustic guitar riff drops in and drives the song forward.   The bass leaps and bounds in all the right spots.  The second stanza sets the scene for the songwriter's views on alternative spirituality - "Ali Taj Mahashish Yogi Bear promised me.  He will open up your mind to truth and you'll see. No need for lucky charms to hang on your doors.  Continental Hesitation makes you feel free."  I am never one to ridicule someone for their beliefs, but there certainly were some odd directions for seeking enlightenment back in the late 60s, and the Eastern mysticism and mind altering drugs get the full send up here.

The story behind Rifkin is copied verbatim from a website for Mr. Ed Furst, the man behind the band.

Rifkin was the invention of a fan of the Ingoes.  She suggested the name, going solo, composing all my own songs, playing guitar & harmonica simultaneously ('Oh, what, like Dylovan?' - 'No, not your drippy voice, use your ballsy voice, and keep your home made solid guitar with the holes in, etc, etc.')  Pity she fancied Brian Godding, but then they all did.  Anyway, two years later I realised I had spontaneously done everything she suggested except call myself Rifkin, so I gave it a go.  Page One released 'We're Not Those People Any More' (drippy voice) b/w 'Continental Hesitation' (ballsy voice), and Radio Luxembourg guaranteed 50 plays a week, but Page One forgot to get it printed because their staff were all concentrating their energy on somebody called Reg, with a song (which I must admit I almost forgot to hate) called 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me'.  Wonder what happened to him.
The session band was:
Ed Furst as Rifkin (vocals/gtr/sitar), Colin Frechter (harpsichord/vocals), Dee Murray (bass/vocals) and, I'm told, Dave Mattacks (drs/vocals); plus Colin Frechter again (producer/MD/logistics/tea lady).

The full lyrics can be found here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Said My Way

By this morning he wore the carnation to bring me down 
I was torn from the tomb of the foolish Egyptian crown

Wow.  Talk about trippy.  The remnants of The Action slowly morphed into a new band named Mighty Baby in the 1968-69 time frame.  Gone were all attributes of the mod band that failed to find a record company after their five singles flopped.   As mentioned in a prior post here, The Action managed to record an album's worth of excellent popsike demos, but their soulful lead singer Reg departed, and multi-instrumentalist  Ian Whiteman and guitarist Martin Stone arrived to lead the group in a new direction.

Their first LP kicks off with Egyptian Tomb, an impossible amalgam of jazz, British psychedelia, and West Coast jam.  The opening sax riff repeats while layers of guitar counterpoint weave a sonic soup that is damn near genius.  This is a band that knew how to build a groove and carry it forward to a satisfying conclusion without running into a ten minute workout.