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   Attorneys became involved, entire LPs were recorded and discarded, singles were prepared then withdrawn, and the records that were released were done so in a haphazard fashion.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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Your Ears Will Start To Ring and Life Will Sing

The Factory is back again for the second day in a row.  This is their first single - Path Through The Forest - from 1968. Though a bit less aggressive than Try A Little Sunshine, it more than makes up for that with its overall soundscape, which could be from another dimension, or another planet, or even the future.   In fact it really does sound as if it could have come from an alternative band from thirty years forward.  The processed vocal technique is the real kicker.  It makes it seem as if the singer is rooms (or miles) away, and his voice is broadcast over some ancient speaker technology.  The subject matter seems to relate to a hallucinogenic journey through some mystical forest, though you are free to reach your own conclusions.

If you google the band and song name, you will see quite a few blog posts that consider this one of the absolute greatest 60s psych singles.  And frankly I cannot disagree.  It creates its own little world and takes me someplace I have never been before.

You've got to slow down now
or you'll grow cold.
Leap past the flowers that sleep,
The hours that spring those old
Shadows confuse you
and silence is loud
you're reaching for the light
you're losing sight

You've just got to swing past the forest
where colours can blind you
and everything finds you
it can drive you insane

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Though It Takes a Little Rain To See

The subject of yesterday's post released only one 45rpm single during their short career.   The band for today's post - The Factory - doubled that output.  Try A Little Sunshine was their second and final release in late 1969.   A true freakbeat record that combines crazed drumming, wobbly bass, flanged guitar licks and an almost angelic lead vocal. Buckle you seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

Try a Little Sunshine and you'll be right there
Though it takes a little rain to see

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I can't rest while the sun & the stars are so bright

To get in the mood for summer I have been delving into that mutant strain of the Summer of Love - British Psychedelia.   I am finding myself amazed at every turn, with one discovery leading to another.  Much of this music was quickly rushed to market to capitalize on the sudden interest in all things psychedelic, likely thanks to the Beatles (Strawberry Fields, Sgt. Peppers, etc.)  Because there was so much product being released a great deal of it completely missed the charts and received little to no radio play.

Tintern Abbey is one such band.   Their short recorded history - one 45 rpm single - is cataloged in the linked Wikipedia article.    Even though the single made no known chart, nowadays the original UK 45 on Deram is fetching in excess of 1000 pounds.   Although the asking price is clearly a reflection of supply and demand, there is no argument on my account that this is one of the tastiest pieces of popsike out there.  Beeside (which was the A-Side) is one of those multi-part mellotron driven tunes, with very odd lyrics relating to bees and their pursuit of flowers during every moment of daylight.  A central falsetto / piano / oboe section takes the action in a different direction for a few seconds.  Quite the sweet dreamy little nugget.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Haven't Seen A Thing Like This Since You

There is a particular guitar sound that one sometimes finds on a mid 60's pop song.  I refer to it as "rubber band" guitar.   Today's tune is a perfect example of what I am referring to.  This is not meant as a derogatory description, as in this particular case the notes being played are crazy genius work.

I am referring Look At The View, yet another amazing track from The Action's Rolled Gold LP.  After the guitar intro, the first verse adds vocals and bass.  But on the second pass, the drums come in and this turns into one hell of a great 60's stomp rocker.  At 2:45 the song goes off into quavering Strawberry Fields land with hazy high vocal harmonies with organ accompaniment.  If only this had made it past demo stage, one can just imagine what George Martin's production wizardry could have done for this track.  But no complaints from me - their demo more than shows what excellent rockers and melody writers they were.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Remember Me

Two chords.   Generally my tastes call for lots of chords, with interesting progressions and odd harmonies.   For years Elvis Costello tried to write a song with only one chord - but always ended up using at least two.   Two of those are amongst my favorites.  "Beyond Belief" spills over with word associations and builds to a fevered pitch.  And "Uncomplicated" begins with thunder and cuts to the bone.  Those two gems are about the only two chord songs that I would care to list amongst my favorite songs.  Until last week.  When I discovered the long lost Rolled Gold LP by the mod British rockers The Action.

For a bit of background on that album, they were produced by none other than George Martin, and released less than half a dozen singles on Parlophone Records, none of which made a dent in the UK charts.  But they had a large mod cult following, apparently not so far behind The Who and The Small Faces.   About the time that they were dropped by Parlophone in 1967, they were working on demos for an album.  By this point they had graduated from American soul covers to writing their own acid drenched rockers.   Many of the songs had fully fleshed out melodies and harmonies, but the lyrics were just placeholders awaiting further tuning, and the arrangements were still quite spare.  No Martin magic had yet been applied.

Thirty years passed and the LP never saw the light of day.  Then an ex-band member released an acetate to a small label that put it out on CD.   The quality was poor but it piqued some interest, then another ex-member acknowledged that he had the master tape in his possession.   Finally released in its full yet spare glory, it sat there for about fifteen years waiting for me to discover it over at the excellen Monkey Picks blog.  There are many truly great songs on this album that never was.

That was five days ago.  And since then I cannot stop playing it.  Especially the song that inspired today's post.  "Brain" is that holy grail - the two chord song that has everything it needs.   The chiming rhythm guitar and a phased lead set the environment for alternating loud and soft sections.  Thrust forward by some just killer drumming, the song pummels and pleads.  And best of all is the passionate vocal by lead singer Reg King.  His voice is almost a ringer for Pete Hamm of Badfinger, but with even more soul.   It is all still new to my ears, but I can guarantee you that I will playing it loud for many years to come.

Take your brain it's time to go
You don't have long to go
Remember me (re)member me
Cause I'm the one that made you see
(re)member me