Monday, March 14, 2016

10 Cool 45's On The Island Label (British Artists)

I could've just picked 10 ska/reggae 45's on Chris Blackwell's Island label but that would be too easy, so I stuck with releases by British artists in their WIP series. It's a damned shame someone hasn't done a proper Island A's and B's compilation as the label was responsible for quite a bit of stuff that has fallen between the cracks of their folky and prog material.

1. WYNDER K. FROG-"Green Door" WIP 6006 1967
The full on Hammond machine that was Wynder K. Frog was driven by the engine that was organist Mick Weaver and cut an incredible slew of singles for Island (5 singles in all, each worth seeking out) and three LP's (the first two of which are worth seeking out). This was their third Island 45 and their first on the labels pink WIP series full of 100 mph organ, hand claps and blaring, precision driven horns. To say it is dance floor friendly is somewhat of an understatement.

2. THE V.I.P.'s-"Straight Down To The Bottom" WIP 6005 1967
From the pen of the late great Jimmy Miller (who produced it as well) this record is an incredible two minute and ten second party with warbly piano, hand claps, cool call and response vocals and subtle congas that creates an incredible atmosphere that oozes London night club night life before L.S.D. and light shows. Their final 45 before mutating into Art (see below) and possibly the most sought after of Island's releases by British artists.

3. JULIEN COVEY & THE MACHINE-"A Little Bit Hurt" WIP 6009 1967
A monster two sided mod/r&b Hammond floor filler for the ages! Following a decidedly Spencer Davis Group style grove with great percussion,banging piano,  hand claps and wailing organ (a popular formula for Island 45's in '67 apparently) that make this the closest Britain ever came to creating a Mitch Ryder record. This single has been in high demand for the past 45 years and never seems to wane, no doubt in some small part to it being #49 in Kev Robert's  "Top 500 Northern Soul" book.

4. TRAFFIC-"Paper Sun" WIP 6002 1967
Allegedly composed in a hotel lobby in Newcastle (whilst sipping some local brown ale one would hope) this was Traffic's debut single that must have blown some minds especially being Steve Windwood's jump from the Spencer Davis Group and their mod Hammond n' handclap orgy that was "I'm A Man" but 5 months earlier. One can't help be entranced by it's buzzing (pun or no pun intended) dreamy backing vocals, tabla, sitar, flute, sax and tack piano. Lyrically the Summer of Love was not even in full bore and Traffic were already predicting the fall out here. Groovy, man (seriously it is).

5. THE SMOKE-"It Could Be Wonderful" WIP 6023 1967
The Smoke's history has been well documented elsewhere but suffice to say the majority of their material did not even get any U.K. airings as the band were much bigger in Germany and apparently France.  With just two 45's on U.K. Columbia including the banned "My Friend Jack" the band defected to Island where their debut was this soul infused cruncher.  Have a listen to the driving, fluid James Jamerson style bass line, crunching power pop power chords and the trippy little bit where a banjo comes in. Written by band members Geoff Gill, Mick Rowley and producer Jimmy Miller the band's time on Island was short owing to their reluctance to turn their back on a lucrative career in Germany to come back to the U.K. and plug their records (as a result this records follow up "Utterly Simple"/"Sydney Gill") was shelved.

6. NIRVANA-"Oh What A Performance" WIP 6016 1967
Like Wynder K. Frog Nirvana released so many 45's on Island it's hard to choose just one. This one has always been one of my favorites because it sort of eschews their toytown/orchestrated psych pop M.O. (which they had nailed in spades and I do love actually).  This is more of a rocking pop number without any psych pop trappings (and a rollicking piano c/o of guest Gary Wright) with a catchy chorus that won't leave your brain that sounds more like post r&b Manfred Mann than the orchestrated pop psych of say,  "Tiny Goddess" or "Pentecost Hotel".

7. SPOOKY TOOTH-"Sunshine Help Me" WIP 6057 1969
From the ashes of The V.I.P.'s via Art (see below) came Spooky Tooth, which was, in their earliest incarnation, basically the final V.I.P's line up plus New Jersey born vocalist/keyboardist Gary Wright. Their debut 45 ushered in 1968 sounding amazing thanks to Mike Harrison's soulful vocals matched with Gary Wright's shrill screeches beneath the latter's groovy Hammond along with a funky Hendrix influenced guitar riff chugging along and swatches of harpsichord. Sadly it went downhill from there for my tastes.....

8. RAY CAMERON-"Doing My Time" WIP 6003 1967
This bizarre prison themed 45 with both sides lyrically concerning incarceration produced by Jimmy Miller and label head Chris Blackwell penned by Ray Cameron and Alan Hawkshaw (best known as the man behind the Mohawks and the KPM All Stars). It's comes across like a musical combination of Georgie Fame's poppier CBS sides and lyrically like Zoot Money's more playful/tongue firmly in cheek material from the end of his Columbia career with some nice touches touches of fuzz guitar and ska flavored horns.

9. JETHRO TULL-"Song For  Jeffrey" WIP 6043
Jethro Tull had cut an amazing debut 45 as Jethro Toe (an intentional typo by their manager who was unhappy with their name choice) for MGM in early '68 and moved to Island for this release launched in September 1968.  Most of you will know it as it's the track they mime in the Rolling Stones "Rock N' Roll Circus" flick. Beneath some expected flute it slides into a bluesy "Beggar's Banquet" style Stones groove with Ian Anderson's gravely vocals sounding like they're being drawled through a megaphone.

10. ART-"What's That Sound" WIP 6019 1967
Previously known as the r&b/soul purveyors The V.I.P.'s, Art were the V.I.P.'s on acid, more or less (the V.I.P's had previously gotten a tad freaky here).  Gone were the mod emulations of American rhythm and blues and in came something all together different in the form of this Summer of Love (July 1967) cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth".  Still not down from their mod amphetamine r&b Art up the tempo, throw in a guitar riff that always reminds me of Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" and some incredibly soulful vocals from lead belter Mike Harrison.

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