23 July 2014

Jack Flash - Puttin' On The Style/ Measure For Measure

Label: Red Nail
Year of Release: 1977

This is a classic crate-digger's experience of putting two and two together and getting five. I saw the Red Nail record label and the artist name Jack Flash and assumed that this might be a low budget punk cover of "Puttin' On The Style". I was wrong, so terribly wrong, as I realised as soon as the needle got past the run-in grooves - what this actually is, my record collecting friends, is a bare, rootsy jug band take on the classic, pumping and pounding like a Creedance Clearwater Revival or Mungo Jerry demo.

I have absolutely no idea who Jack Flash was (or perhaps were), who ran Red Nail records (they appear to have only issued four singles before giving up on the whole idea) or what the background to this disc is. I can only present you with what I have, which is actually a pretty cheery and likeable take on the 1957 Lonnie Donegan number one.

Of course, way before Lonnie took the record to the top of the charts in the UK, it had a long history. There is no firm agreement on when the song was written, but it seems to have originated in West Virginia and vague Internet sources tell me that the earliest recorded version was by Vernon Dalhart in the twenties and released on the Edison label. It was apparently something of a folk standard before even that period, so the original songwriter is unknown.

It was also the first song Lennon and McCartney ever recorded together in the group The Quarrymen, therefore being a much more significant song to rock history than you might otherwise initially suppose. One can only imagine how music history might have turned out had McCartney in some way fluffed his performance of this standard.  

Jack Flash's return to the tune in the late seventies is a peculiar decision. While singing about what the "young folks" are up might have just passed muster in the twenties and the fifties, it would definitely have sounded significantly more old fogey-ish by this period, though with that jug-band beat behind him it's unlikely Jack Flash was courting the youth. Who, then? Who knows. It's likely that this was a popular gigging band's attempt at a single on a small independent label, and I've heard considerably worse results from such a decision. 

20 July 2014

Reupload - Taboo - Number 6/ Hypnotique

Label: Anagram
Year of Release: 1988

Novelty spin-off records from famous television series are of course only to be expected, but two decades after the programme was first made? This seems rather unusual to me.

It's a testament to the uniqueness and popularity of "The Prisoner" television programme that so many songs have been written and released about it over the years, with artists like Iron Maiden referencing the show, The Manic Street Preachers endorsing it, and retro kids The Times releasing the cult single " I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape". Alongside such worthy thumbs up, however, are the inevitable novelty discs, and it's safe to say that it's in this category "Number 6" most definitely sits. A barrage of samples from the programme compete with a brassy synthesiser rendition of the theme tune, and, er... it could be better, if I'm being bluntly honest. There's nothing seriously objectionable about it, and it's always a pleasure to hear Number 6's defiant voice in any context, but it is most definitely a curio rather than a lost classic.

Another noteworthy fact about the single is that none other than Keith West (of legendary psychedelic band "Tomorrow" and "Teenage Opera" aka "Grocer Jack" fame) seems to have been on production duties for it. Perhaps that's why the track doesn't seem particularly buzzing and up-to-the-minute for 1988.

The flip side "Hypnotique" is also nothing to change your retro-Acid DJ set around in honour of. Besides which, my copy has a scratch which you can clearly hear as the needle skips a few grooves. Sorry about this - in the unlikely event anybody has a better version to upload, please do feel free to help out!

(Update - This entry was originally uploaded in August 2008. Not much to add, except to say that since that time a terrible USA remake of The Prisoner was created, and the less said about that, the better. I can guarantee you that no singles, novelty or otherwise, will be issued referencing that one).

16 July 2014

Starlings - Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)/ Typhoons - Little Red Rooster

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1964

We've encountered the Embassy label on "Left and to the Back" before, of course. (Yes. We have). It was the label John Lennon referred to in a moment of despondency, jokingly commenting that even they had rejected The Beatles. Pressing up cheap sound-a-like discs for the cash-strapped or just plain unfussy, they were responsible for some truly awful howlers in their time. Just listen to this appalling caterwauling take on "Wimoweh" if you don't believe me, or this underpowered take on The Beatles themselves. 

Occasionally, though, Embassy did turn up trumps, and it's to the credit of the session musicians they hired when things did go to plan. Frequently thrown in at the deep end, given next-to-no time to learn the songs and even less time than that to record them (usually a few takes at most) when these discs sound good, they sound good under the most pressured and unlikely of circumstances. 

So then, if you were pop-picking in Woolworths in 1964, this record would actually have been a rather good buy. The version of "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" is a staggeringly effective take on the girl group classic. Joan Baxter handles the lead vocals and positively nails the yearning qualities of the song - so much so that this actually becomes a perfectly strong alternative version rather than just a cheap substitute for the real thing. This isn't some kind of dilute-to-taste ageing session muso's take on teenage heartbreak, there's genuine power and a certain innocence behind the performance, piercing right through everything else. 

On the other side, The Typhoons take on "Little Red Rooster" isn't as great, but manages to capture the lazy sleaze of the blues track almost as well as the Stones did. It's hard to pick fault.

At the time it's doubtful any self-respecting teenager would have actually wanted to own this record over the original recordings, but now, with the reasonable passing of time, this has actually become something worth having. A shame the same can't be said for all of Embassy's output, but them's the breaks.

12 July 2014

White Lining - Back In The Sun/ Mon Amour

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade Of Pale" is obviously widely regarded as being one of the key singles of the late sixties. Selling ten million copies worldwide and sitting on top of the British charts for five weeks, it was a surprisingly rare occurrence for the time - a psychedelic pop single with huge across-the-board appeal. 

Perhaps its no real surprise that other people tried to capitalise on its success by aping that classical organ sound. Among collectors, Felius Andromeda's "Meditations" is perhaps the best known (and most expensive) example,  taking an epic, woebegone church organ riff and stitching an enormous ballad through the middle of it. Shy Limbs' "Reputation" tried to repeat Procol's trick too, only upped the ante with Moon-ish drum patterns and a greater sense of urgency. 

Much later in the game, a group of French session musicians assembled to pull "Back In The Sun" together, which is once again impossible to listen to without doffing your cap to Procol's faintly bizarre yet monstrously huge hit. Softer, more jubilant and less surreal and threatening than its obvious influence, "Back In The Sun" leans more towards the anthemic side of things. 

There's a curious outcome with all these records, though - none were particularly successful. This one was issued under the name Jupiter Sunset in the rest of Europe and the band had some moderate success there, most especially in Belgium where it hit the top ten, but it was widely ignored in Britain to the extent that stock copies of it seem hard to come by. Procol Harum's exercise in classical styled organ riffs and intense vocal performances probably seemed to point towards some kind of sophisticated pop future to some people at the time, but in reality the classical elements were simply siphoned off and fed into the cauldron of progressive rock, for better or worse. That's possibly not a terrible thing to have happened. Pop, after all, can live happily without such grandeur fogging up the grooves time and time again - sometimes a trick can and should only be performed to enormous popularity once. 

9 July 2014

The Gibsons - The Magic Book/ You Know I Need Your Loving

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

I've already talked about Melbourne's The Gibsons at some length on "Left and to the Back", but for those who need a recap - they were previously known as The Chicadas in their home country, changed their name to The Gibsons when they relocated to the UK (in the hope of getting some free Gibsons guitars) and… well, failed in their mission to win over the hearts and minds of the British public, if I'm being honest. A string of singles emerged on both Major Minor and Deram, but none really broke the band in this country, and they returned home in 1970 no better off financially than when they arrived ("but with great memories").

Their manager Phil Solomon owned pirate station Radio Caroline and ensured they always got strong radio airplay through that outlet, and many listeners from the period remember this single bursting through the airwaves in particular - but it was all to no avail.

"The Magic Book" is actually a strong enough Greenaway and Cooke composition, skipping along merrily and innocently through pop's great meadow, and contains plenty of thudding beats and close vocal harmonies. A mainstream effort which doesn't really push the envelope, it's nonetheless pleasant and should perhaps have been purchased by more people.

These days, The Gibsons are perhaps best known amongst aficionados of psychedelic pop for the marvellous "City Life", a London-dissing slice of pop bitterness. That's the way I like it.