15 October 2017

Sydney Elliott - Who Dat Girl/ Strawberry Blonde



Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1969

In the late sixties, the sound known as reggae (or "The REGGAE, ow!" as Johnny Johnson and His Bandwagon confusingly referred to it) was scorchingly popular with crossover hits emerging left, right and centre. This led to numerous small British independent labels trying to sign whatever club acts were based in London at that time, with Beacon Records jumping on both a bunch of mysterious sorts called Brixton Market, and the initially ska influenced Black Velvet. A lot of this material was slightly popped up for mainstream consumption, to varying degrees of success.

Spark, on the other hand, had Sydney Elliott on their books, who turned out this cultishly popular little single in 1969. "Who Dat Girl?" isn't 100% authentic reggae either, having an overly strict arrangement which sounds very Anglicised. The track itself is a bouncy, joyful affair about women in miniskirts, though, which was an incredibly popular lyrical topic during this period. Sydney delivers it well, and while your classic reggae DJ probably isn't going to spin it, it's an interesting period piece. It throws a tiny chunk of bubblegum into the blender and sounds like a possible hit.

The flip "Strawberry Blonde" is, as you might have guessed, about the desirability of ladies with that particular colour of hair, even going as far as to praise their cooking abilities. I doubt he did a scientific study on their souffle making abilities before recording the track, so it's best to take his words with a large pinch of kitchen salt (while also hiding behind the excuse that this was 1969 and these ideas about women's roles in the home hadn't quite fallen out of fashion yet).

Sydney Elliott was a popular club draw in the sixties and seventies, issuing another record on Spark (the rather more soulful "If Music Be The Food Of Love") and another for CBS ("Desperation") before disappearing from the recording studio vocal booth. He later became the father of the considerably more successful Maxi Priest, and Jacob Miller of the reggae group Inner Circle.



11 October 2017

The Legends - Sometimes I Can't Help It/ Jefferson Strongbox






















Label: Heart 
Year of Release: 1970

I'm sure almost everyone reading this will be aware of Dan Hartman. He's the author of hundreds of songs, some of which have since become a lingering presence on oldies radio - "I Can Dream About You", "Relight My Fire", "Instant Replay" and "Free Ride" are among his most known and appreciated, but there's a cornucopia of songs beneath that surface. He enjoyed a fruitful stint as a writer and performer in the Edgar Winter Band, and acted as a producer for Muddy Waters among others.

If you associate Hartman with his most well-known disco singles, his rock output comes as something of a shock. But he was nothing if not versatile as a songwriter and performer, as "Sometimes I Can't Help It" proves here. The Legends were his brother Dave Hartman's band, and he sneaked into their ranks at the age of thirteen. They issued a number of records on small, independent labels before signing to Epic in 1972, including this self-released square shaped flexidisc - which I assume was either sold cheaply at gigs or given away as a promotional item.

"Sometimes I Can't Help It" has a growl and a roar to it not unlike Steppenwolf at their most raucous, and The Legends here sit neatly on the border of sixties garage and seventies rock. It's a brilliant listen and shows that even at this point, Dan Hartman had developed some serious songwriting chops.  The Legends would turn out not to be the stars the Hartman brothers hoped they would become, but within a couple of years Dan would join forces with Edgar Winter and taste actual success. By 1978, the unlikely allure of the disco beat would set in, and his career would take another twist with the success of "Instant Replay".

Sadly, he passed away following complications with AIDS in 1994, but the legacy he left behind is not just vast, it's rather varied too. Different periods of his career mean different things to different people, and this screaming little single is an example of how raucously Rock he could be.



4 October 2017

Jackie Lee and The Raindrops - There's No One In The Whole Wide World/ (I Was The) Last One To Know



Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1962

Another Oriole obscurity, this time from blog favourite Jackie Lee, who has already appeared here twice (with the theme from "Inigo Pipkin" and the rather magical "Space Age Lullaby"). Jackie Lee's career is long and tremendously varied, and her attempt - with her group The Raindrops - to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1962 is often skated over. It shouldn't be altogether surprising that it's not very prominent on her CV. Failing to do well at Eurovision is a known career-killer, and failing to present Britain at Eurovision by getting past the "Song For Europe" heats is also often an embarrassing indignity (ask Justin Hawkins). Far from simply failing to represent the UK, this song actually finished ninth on the scoreboard, making it a complete no-hoper.

She's got absolutely nothing to be ashamed of here, however. "There's No-One In The Whole Wide World" is a beat pop ballad performed with the warmth you'd expect from her, adding an extra dimension to the otherwise fairly standard backing. It's sweet, innocent and trots along neatly, but is actually quite Beat by the Eurovision standards of the time, which may be why it didn't do very well. It pricked up John Lennon's ears at the time, though, and caused The Beatles to cover it a number of times during their 1962 gigs. So far as anyone is aware, though, the Fabs never demo'ed this in any way.

Jackie Lee's career would obviously continue throughout the sixties and the seventies, issuing a vast array of work including the Northern Soul classic "I Gotta Be With You" under the name Emma Rede. 



1 October 2017

Reupload - Off Side - Match Of The Day/ Small Deal



Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1970


Since its introduction in 1970, the "Match of the Day" theme on the BBC has become one of the most instantly recognisable television themes in Britain - if not, according to the Performing Rights Society, the most recognisable. More suggestive and indicative than any news broadcast theme (even the BBC World News channel's bleeping ambient effort) or even the wailing harmonica of "Last of the Summer Wine", some of us were born with this theme and know, within the first few milliseconds of the first note, what it's representing.

Trying to listen to it with a fresh pair of 2017 ears strapped firmly to my ageing head, it does seem a strange choice for a tune despite its endearing familiarity, and I'm clearly not alone in thinking that - my Canadian wife when she first heard it burst out laughing at the absurdity of a celebratory Herb Alpert styled quasi-Mexican ditty introducing a modern British football programme. Clearly at the time of commissioning the piece had South American connotations which seemed entirely synonymous with the big game, but there's definitely something a little unlike Auntie Beeb about the whole thing. However, I for one am happy about the fact that it's what we've got - it's a happy, chirpy clarion call which you can imagine beckoning members of any British family in from their bedrooms, kitchens and even bathrooms, like some soccer orientated Pied Piper of Hamlet with, er... a football for a head.

Whatever your personal feelings on the piece, it's one of the few television themes which has wormed its way so much into the British psyche that it conjours up memories and emotions from even the the most steely hearted football fan. As Paul Whitehouse once observed on an episode of "The Fast Show" in the guise of Ron Manager - "Match of the Day? Da da da da da-da-da-da da? Somehow comforting, isn't it, you know?" In summary, then - do I expect any non-British reader to really get the appeal of this record? No, not really. In the absence of any context at all, it probably sounds like a cheery piece of easy listening and not much more (and I'd be really curious to read your thoughts on it if it's unfamiliar to you, actually).

The single you can hear below isn't, of course, the original theme commissioned by the BBC but a very close and crafty approximation recorded by Mike Vickers for the benefit of Pye Records. It wasn't a hit, but in recent years has become a massive collector's item purely due to the B-side, a Vickers-penned piece called "Small Deal", which has apparently become popular with DJs who are keen on the "funky loops" it offers. To my ears, "Small Deal" is a dramatic piece of library music which offers nothing especially outstanding, but my DJ'ing chops are definitely not adequate enough to be able to hear what possibilities it might afford.

Mint copies of this frequently go for £20 plus on ebay. As you can hear, mine isn't exactly mint, but it's good enough, and certainly gives you a fair idea of what's on offer. Not that, in the case of the A-side, you'd really need telling.


27 September 2017

Malcolm Mitchell - The Wanted Man/ The Blues



Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1960

It's always worth snapping up an obscure Oriole single if you see one lying around, for the pure and simple reason that many sold poorly at the time, and the label had an appalling habit of wiping master tapes. Seemingly, they believed - as some would have considered reasonable in the fifties and early sixties - that passing pop fads were really not worth keeping in any sensible archive. Ouch. A lot of the Oriole tracks you can still buy are either re-recordings or needle-drops from unplayed or judiciously filtered vinyl copies. The slogan on their company sleeves was "Young - New - Exciting", and their corporate philosophy seemed to be that anything that wasn't new deserved erasing from history. 

Malcolm Mitchell's "The Wanted Man" is so obscure that hardly anyone online seems to know it exists, much less own a copy. Discogs doesn't log its existence, and 45Cat shows no known owners (apart from me). It's an odd attempt at a pop hit, being a cover of the Israeli standard "Shir Habokrim". The original lyrics are apparently a cowboy's lament to the desert, which on this single are translated to the tale of a fugitive on the run. It has familiar, clinical 1960 production values with lots of precise, professional performances which never quite let go of the reigns. In other words, this is slickly performed early pop with plenty of echo and buttoned up delivery, and certainly not rock and roll or skiffle. 

Malcolm Mitchell was actually a solid friend of Bob Monkhouse, who he occasionally collaborated with musically, and a major jazz and big band figure throughout the fifties and beyond, being the first British musician (apart from the Duke of Windsor) to perform with Duke Ellington. He also issued a number of shellac 78 recordings on Parlophone in the fifties, and had his own television series on both Southern and the BBC. He eventually developed a lasting career in commercial marketing and advertising, producing the arrangement for the iconic Hovis television commercials and also did session work for various commercial enterprises, such as the promotional disc for Green Shield stamps in 1972. 

Clearly not a man who hid away from the world, then, which makes the obscure nature of "The Wanted Man" rather unusual. It's almost tempting to suggest that Oriole demanded he should hide away in the manner of a real-life fugitive for the crucial weeks around its release. 

Sadly, Malcolm Mitchell passed away in 1998, leaving behind three sons and one daughter.