20 August 2017

Reupload - Count Prince Miller - Rupert The Bear/ When We Were Children




Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1972

Proof is right here, if we really needed it, that no cover version has ever been considered too absurd or too outlandish for a reggae artist. For this is indeed the children's TV theme given a decidedly mellow feel, with high-pitched, screeching (and I presume studio-treated?) vocals delivering the chorus. Whilst sixties psychedelia played with the idea of fairytales and backgarden creatures being drug-influenced, I'd almost be tempted to say that this tackles the subject of everyone's favourite Nutwood dwelling bear from a stoned perspective.

The B-side "When We Were Children" even continues the theme gamely, referring to the songs mothers sing to their offspring and the simplicity of those comforting times, which lyrically is very close to the same under-explored topic as Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother". It didn't seem as if anyone in 1972 was really ready for toytown reggae or twee reggae, though, but the thought of a gang of menacing looking skinheads grooving on down to the "Rupert The Bear" theme tune is an enticing one.

Count Prince Miller had a cult reggae hit the previous year with "Mule Train Parts One and Two", but is perhaps better remembered in mainstream society for his role as Vince in the eighties sitcom "Desmond's". Both these performances outshine "Rupert The Bear", but it's a peculiar career blip and anomaly I couldn't resist uploading here.




16 August 2017

Grazina - Be My Baby/ I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door



Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1963

Grazina Frame may not be an instantly recognisable name to most record buyers, but nonetheless she loaned her voice to a number of high-profile films and projects. She was the dubbed singing voice of Carole Gray in the Cliff Richard film "The Young Ones", and then did the same job for Lauri Peters in "Summer Holiday".  Her parallel career as an actress also lead to roles in a number of British films.

While she did issue a brace of singles throughout the sixties, her chart career was non-existent despite her obvious talent. Her debut single "Lover Please Believe Me" is a Geoff Goddard penned melodramatic galloper, and was deeply unlucky not to have sold better (it's also staggering that Meek wasn't involved in the production of the record, since several of his stylistic tropes are apparent). From there, things didn't really get much better, with HMV issuing a series of flops with diminishing public interest.

"Be My Baby", however, was a somewhat crafty release on EMI's part, given that it was put out into the UK marketplace in September, ahead of The Ronette's October release date. This gave it a head start over the official product for listeners who really hadn't experienced the full scale of Spector's vision yet. Despite this, it wasn't a hit, and it's not difficult to understand why. Minus the wall of sound and those astonishing harmonies, the song really sounds somewhat pedestrian and skeletal, even when left in the hands of someone as capable as Grazina. With more thought and time put into the production, it's possible that everyone concerned might have been able to produce a fair facsimile of the original, but this is a simple, straightforward rendition which is hard to relate to.

The B-side "I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door" is likely to be of more interest to readers, being a chiming, pinging, and sprightly piece of summery girl-pop. It's not a lost A-side by any means, but it's genuinely charming and Grazina pitches the idea perfectly.

Sadly, I've only included an edit from "Be My Baby" here, since it remains commercially available and you can buy it in full online if you're that way inclined.



13 August 2017

Fable - A Girl Like You/ She Said Yes



Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1971

A few weeks back I mentioned this on the blog's Facebook Page as an example of a single I was desperately trying to find an affordable copy of. In the end, I paid rather more for this copy than I'd hoped to (£17 - ulp!) but I still consider it to be worth owning even at that price.

I had originally stumbled on it on YouTube and was immediately bowled over by the approach it had taken - while The Troggs original version of "A Girl Like You" had been scratchy, jagged and hormonal sounding, this cover replaced that abrasiveness with a slick but minimal arrangement, a thumping bass drum and rich bass guitar, and exotic, Nico-esque vocal lines. It has absolutely no right to work in that manner, but it does so marvellously, and the quality of the performance highlights the fact that Reg Presley probably wasn't the completely primitive garage songwriter everyone assumed him to be in 1966.

Fable were essentially members of Jason Cord's backing group The First Chapter attempting a breakaway slice of success of their own. Consisting of Paul Robbins on organ and guitar, Keith Tully on drums, Mac Bailey on guitar and Pete Bickley on bass, they added the glamorous Wolverhampton local hero Anna Terrana on lead vocals to complete the new Penny Farthing signed line-up. 

Anna Terrana had already had a fairly substantial career on the national gig circuit at this point, fronting Lady Jayne and the Royaltee (known as "Royalty" on their CBS recordings) and picking up praise and acclaim from the music press and Radio One DJs alike. You can read much more about her background on the Brumbeat website here, which goes into enormous depth.

Fable were, unfortunately, a fairly short-lived proposition by comparison, offering us only two 45s (this and the 1970 single "Minstrel Boy" which preceded it). Both sides of this single are marvellous. Even the flip, "She Said Yes", is a pretty piece of beaty, early seventies harmony pop.

If you want to listen to more of Anna Terrana's work, she appears to have her own Reverb Nation site here. You'd be well advised to listen to head over and get stuck in, as there are plenty of other gems to uncover.



9 August 2017

The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love



Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.

"Yes," you may well ask, "but what on Earth do The Germz have to do with The Lit Candle, whose single is pictured above?"

That's a fair enough question, but one that apparently even the group can't really answer. The Lit Candle single was issued in 1969 and is completely the same two recordings. The group were not informed of its release or their enforced name change, and suspect some corporate dodginess was afoot. Taking a less cynical view, it's possible that the growing popularity of other recorded versions of "No Easy Way Down" caused Cotique Records to take an interest in the original version, and it's also possible that they thought The Germz was too much of a garagey sounding group name for either 1969 or such a majestic ballad. Unless someone who was behind the decision to release the record gets in touch, however, we will probably never know why this pressing actually exists.

Whatever the facts, The so-called Lit Candle's "version" appears to have fared even less well than the original release, and seems to be the more scarce of the two pressings as a result. The group were no longer an active concern anyway, having disbanded shortly after the failure of the Vertigo issue. Wendy Hirsch and Marty Green went on to get a job together as songwriters at Screen Gems/ Columbia. After that career path failed, it proved to be the end of their professional relationship, but not their personal one - they got married and had a family not long afterwards.

I gleaned a lot of the above material from a moving YouTube video put together in the style of "Pop Up Video" by Wendy's son Matt to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. If only every garage group left such a simple and easy trail of information behind themselves...



6 August 2017

Reupload - Tik and Tok - Summer In The City/ Crisis
























Label: Survival
Released: 1981

Readers of a certain vintage may have hazy memories of Tik and Tok, a robotic dance duo who appeared on all manner of television programmes in the early eighties.  Robotic dancing in the present day and age is popularly regarded to be the folly of Covent Garden street performers rather than cutting edge cabaret, but like mime, the Jim Rose Circus and puppets that emit cuss words, there was a brief point in time where it seemed an exotic and thoroughly modern affair.  Such things usually have a shelf-life of six months to a year before the allure fades and the talent becomes a gimmick, and so it proved with this duo, whose career high wasn't especially prolonged.

For a time, however, Tik and Tok were actually quite mainstream, popping up on Kenny Everett's television programmes and The Royal Variety Show, and supporting Gary Numan on tour (as well as being supported by a young Depeche Mode).  Until I stumbled across this record in the racks of "Music and Video Exchange", I had no memory of what they sounded like, and was expecting the kind of staccato, psuedo-futuristic and alienated fare we've already heard from The Techno Twins and Karel Fialka.  On the contrary, their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" here is actually surprisingly upbeat and effective.  Taking the simplistic stomping rhythms of the original and highlighting them for robotic effect, it's a piece of electronic music that's dated amazingly well, sounding almost like a piece of noughties post-modern pastiche.   The original song is good enough to weather most changes to the original arrangement, but Tik and Tok manage to make it sound as if it always was a piece of eighties electro-pop right from the first hearing, which is actually an astonishing feat for a familiar, evergreen single.  I bought this half-expecting to burst out laughing on the first spin, only to find myself getting strangely into it and promptly putting it on my iPod playlist.

The B-side "Crisis" has aged well too, sounding inspired by Kraftwerk and German electronic pop, and featuring a strange and jarring piece of dialogue which is supposed to be one of the Kray Twins dialling a wrong number and getting through to the robo-duo's HQ.  Again, it manages to give the impression of Shoreditch and Hoxton circa 2005 rather than the Kenny Everett Video Show circa 1981, although whether that's innovative or a grave war crime depends upon your personal perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tik and Tok are still performing today, and apparently regularly appearing at Star Wars conventions thanks to their appearance in "Return of the Jedi".  It almost feels as if I should finish this blog entry on a sarcastic or ironical comment, but actually... why should I?  It would be far too lazy and far too easy, and unnecessary given the fact that I like this single.