Monday, April 26, 2010

Herman's Hermits Own "Revolver"


HERMAN'S HERMITS-Blaze MGM Records (U.S.) E/SE-4478 1967

Herman’s Hermits in the U.S. in the mid 1960’s (or as they’re often incorrectly referred to on many a U.S. 60’s T.V. show as “Herman and the Hermits, snigger) were like the American cola brand R.C. Cola., always #3 but hoping for higher. Indeed behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones the band ranked third in record sales in the United States as part of the “British Invasion”, something the folks at their American label, MGM, hoped would change. With lead singer Peter Noone successfully exploited/marketed as a teen idol in the States their target market was, unlike the top two, decidedly slim (the attention span of prepubescent girls was probably not a fair bet to hedge your company on). But MGM had great faith and forged on. This led to the reason where as late as the 1990’s there were still sealed copies of their LP’s to be had almost everywhere. MGM, lacking the insight or common sense actually believed their charges might one day over take The Fabs or The Stones and over pressed copies of their long players in gargantuan amounts. By the time of their sixth U.S. LP “Blaze” in October 1967 the sales market on the band had died down. Little did they or MGM know but the band had scored their last U.S. top ten hit (“There’s A Kind Of Hush” in February ‘67) and would not see the top ten again. The British Invasion was fast dying, even in the unhip and always light years behind American music industry, but no one bothered to tell MGM. “Sgt. Pepper” had all but slain everyone of the “beat group” era save The Hollies and though Herman’s Hermits still managed chart hits in the U.K., their day was pretty much done in the U.S.

“Blaze” (MGM E/SE-4478) was unleashed on the U.S. record buying public in October 1967 where it managed to reach the depressing #75 on the LP slots (it’s predecessor “There’s A Kind of Hush” clocked out at #17). It utilized two previously released U.S. singles, “Don’t Go Out Into The Rain” (May 1967, #17) and Donovan’s “Museum” (September 1967, #39), their B-sides and a slew of other new tracks. It was not released in the U.K. What’s most fascinating is it’s front sleeve. There’s a quadruple color photo image of the band squatting near a pastoral riverbank in their finest (ala Vic Singh’s shot of The Pink Floyd on “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”) without a title or band name to be seen. Deceiving as the photo may be (the picture is about the only thing “psychedelic” about the album) it’s actually quite good.

SIDE 1:
1. Museum
2. Upstairs, Downstairs
3. Busy Line
4. Moonshine Man
5. Green Street Green

SIDE 2:
1. Don’t Go Out Into The Rain (You’re Going To Melt)
2. I Call Out Your Name
3. One Little Packet Of Cigarettes
4. Last Bus Home
5. Ace, King, Queen, Jack

The LP has some surprisingly striking numbers that are pretty good. “Museum” had previously popped up on Donovan’s U.S. Epic LP “Mellow Yellow” in March 1967 but H.H’s cut it as a single. With orchestration c/o one John Paul Jones it’s miles away from the serene Donovan version. It’s full of all of the archetype “Swinging London” era instrumentation: bold brassy horns, Latin percussion with congas, mild snatches of Hammond, multi layers of guitars etc. Hands down it’s probably one of my favorite tracks by the band. “Upstairs, Downstairs” comes from the pen of fellow Mancunian Graham Gouldman (the band were no strangers to his tracks having previously recorded his “For Your Love”, “Bus Stop” and “No Milk Today”). It’s a light piece of heavily orchestrated pop with strings, woodwinds and some harpsichord thrown into the mix focusing on your typical boy-meets-girl scenario only they're neighbors. “Moonshine Man” is by far one of the most “way out” things the band had ever attempted. From it’s hypnotic Macca-esque “Taxman” style bass line to this snatch of tweaked sitar sounding guitar (that bears a resemblance to the same effect used on The Stone’s “Mother’s Little Helper”) it’s totally uncharacteristic from their other material and was previously used to round off the B-side for “Museum”. “Green Street Green” is not The Kinks style jaunty number you would expect from it’s title but an upbeat sing-along type number (of equal vein is Side Two’s “One Little Packet Of Cigarettes”). “Last Bus Home” is as close as the band ever came to “social commentary” with Noone scowling about waiting for the bus at the end of an unsuccessful night on the pull in the clubs. Dreary, bleak but well executed and a perfect foil to the gaiety that was Petula Clark’s “I Know A Place”. “Ace, King, Queen, Jack” was the LP’s closer.  It's another number that defies what you’d expect from the hit machine that gave you “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”. From some raucous chording and some toggle switch clicking it’s more than obvious the inspiration was The Who and Noone again sings with a sneer about a loser who can’t back away from the card table. It ends with a bizarre rave up where “Punch And Judy” style voices respond to Noone’s complaining (in a very Northern accent) about the replacement of dustman by “mammoth machines that move noiselessly through the streets” and “I didn’t have the education to get a proper job…etc”. Weird, but as trippy as, well they could be.

The Repertoire label reissued the LP on CD a few years ago with a slew of bonus cuts (including the wonderful and rare Graham Gouldman number “The London Look”, originally only available on an E.P. giveaway by Yardley’s Soap), or if you live in America you can go to any good used record store/flea market/thrift store and chances are, you'll find a copy!

"Museum" mimed with live vocals on "The Smothers Brothers Show":


An inane U.S. TV documentary on the band's 1966 arrival in the States at L.A.X:


Hear "Moonshine Man":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz7tr-JAv2o

Hear "Upstairs, Downstairs":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqMuNlPWOik

Hear "Last Bus Home":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saRo5hr41x0

Thursday, April 8, 2010

MARCH'S PICS

I don't get much time to blog like I used to but I can still manage something short and sweet every now and again. Recently I came upon an idea that I've nicked from my follow old school modernist across the pond , Monkey over at the fantastic http://monkey-picks.blogspot.com/
where he does a monthly playlist. I decided to do a bit of the same, hopefully he won't hold it against me.

MARCH'S PICS:

1. THE ROULETTES-Help Me To Help Myself
This one never fails to get me, maybe it's my association with it as an ode to absent friends. Either way it's over the top. By the time of it's 45 rpm release (October 1967) The Roulettes were mired in chicken-in-a basket/cabaret land as "Revolver"/"Sgt. Pepper" laid waste to all the beat groups, even musos like The Roulettes. This one was their last single but it was quite contemporary, in fact it's flanged "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" style piano intro predates the S.F.'s circular LP by a good eight months. Add some cool muted trumpet solo that sounds straight off of the Pretty Thing's "Emotions" LP and the typical Roulettes talented harmonies and you've got a winner along the lines of late mark Unit 4 + 2 (no surprise as band members Russ Ballard and Bob Henrit were part time Unit 4 + 2 members). It's been lovingly unearthed on the Psychic Circle "Fairytales Can Come True" CD comp.

2. SLADE-Colored Rain (Live BBC)
Presumably recorded in '69 shortly after morphing from longhair's Ambrose Slade en route to their short lived, short cropped bovver boy phase Slade were essentially a talented "covers" act for their bread and butter. This groovy interpretation of the Traffic tune is both soulful AND ballsy and shows how they managed to earn their crust "up the North(and all over the U.K.)" by being both diverse and talented (we won't speak on their version of "Nights In White Satin" however). From the very cool "Live at The BBC" which surprisingly features a great deal of "early" (ie pre-hit) '69 vintage Slade!

3. THE MOPS-San Franciscan Nights
Japanese accented English has long been maligned from "Breakfast At Tiffany's" to a host of 80's comedies, with all politically incorrect guffawing aside I'm always both blown away by and in a immature sense, amused by, band's who take on tunes in English when it's their second language. My chum Quick Parkly shared a CD by this 60's Japanese act with a fondness for Animals covers with me and this one is probably one of my faves of the bunch. Heavily accented but melodically executed it's worth an investigation.

4. DEXY'S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS-Dance Stance
This one was put on the juke last week at the pub on the Thursday "lad's night" and lit up the room. Even strangers to the band inquired "who is this? I like it." Long before Kevin Rowland and Co. introduced America to dirty bare feet, overalls and "Come On Eileen" they were an amazing band (and despite the ugly attire and unhygienic appearance they continued to be so) with soul and power owed in no small part to a crack horn section. I've yet to understand why they're chanting the name's of Irish authors in it but you can't deny it's infectiousness. From the essential "Searching For The Young Soul Rebels" LP.


5. PHILAMORE LINCOLN-And The North Wind Blew South
Ages ago I was hanging out with my pal Ivy Vale who was turning me onto loads of cool 60's stuff that hadn't been comped or reissued and I happened upon her "for sale" pile. Among them was an LP by one Philamore Lincoln called "The North Wind Blew South", which I'd not heard before but on her solid advice duly snatched up (on credit I believe, though I sent her a check for it later) sight and sound unseen and unheard. The album was and still is amazing and it's title cut is a sweeping, moody, tastefully orchestrated piece that reminds me of The Zombies and Nick Drake. I highly recommend it.

6. MARIANNE FAITHFULL-Come And Stay With Me (Live BBC)
I'll own up and state here that 95% of my Marianne Faithfull appreciation comes from her appearance (her face, her rack and her mannerisms, in that order. Check out the clip at the bottom of this blog to dig the latter, if that doesn't grab you you're dead from the top of your head down). Her voice these days and her post Decca records era is, in my book, an inaudible croak. In the 60's she sounded too chirpy to me sometimes, but more than often it was her or her arranger's choice of material. "Come And Stay With Me" was always a fave of mine and this version extracted from a "Saturday Club" broadcast from her "Live At The BBC" CD is interesting both vocally and musically with the backing band sounding like a music box orchestra. In Marianne's interview with Brian Matthews before the track begins she dispels all of the "blood of aristocracy" chatter and shows that descriptions of her early career's "innocence" as being not too far off the mark. She comes off as well spoken but very unsure and new to the world.

7. THE LYRES-Pain
Back in the day (the 80's) The Lyres were great, not the monolithic, incessant line up changing, immortal garage band they eventually became and I enjoyed the hell out of them. Few Lyres efforts after the 80's amused me though this cover of an obscure cut by Phil & the Frantics is an exception with it's near stealing The Fab Four's "It's Only Love" and spooky moodiness only some U.S. 60's garage teens could conjure. From the "Happy Now" CD.

8. THE PETE BEST COMBO-The Way I Feel About You
Speaking of Lyres and garage teens, this '65 Pete Best cut was covered by The Lyres and sounds very reminiscent of an American garage number with it's simplistic off key combo organ lick and basement sink production that sounds like the vocalist was down the hall with the door closed. It's from a rare as hell U.S. only 45 released on the Happening label while he was based in NY (with help from future Decca/Dera, A&R men/producers and Flirtations managers/songwriters Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington). The tape rolling seconds after the first chord is actually struck is pricelessly trashy as well. From the Cherry Red Pete Best Combo CD "All Aboard" which I'm asking you with peace and love, and telling you with peace and love, to check out.

9. JOHN MAYALL-Jenny
It took me ages to get my head around John Mayall's post "Mayall Plays Mayall:Live at Klook's Kleek" album stuff and I'm still not fully "there". This track from his "A Hard Road" LP is one of my faves by him. Essentially it's almost a "solo" tune with just Mayall's voice and some sparse guitar work (the vocal overdubs by him create an echo effect on certain lines that are downright trippy at times). Nuff said.

10. RONNIE LAINE & SLIM CHANCE-The Poacher
Few of Ronnie Lane's post Faces "solo" tracks ring as bright as the violin backed, jauntiness of "The Poacher" in my book. It's wistful, plaintive and cheery delivery never ceases to blow me away and it strikes me that this was not a number one! Available on his CD "Anyone For Anymore".