Saturday, March 10, 2012

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

THE SMOKE-My Friend Jack/We Can Take It Germany Metronome B1662 1967

Thank you Ron Rimsite!! Through Mod Fun's Mick London you brought into my hands a cassette comp called "Carnaby Classics" in early 1985, and on there was a track by the Smoke called "My Friend Jack".  Within a few months I'd secured a reissue of their LP "It's Smoke Time" on the Gull label in their "Star Power" series (complete with dodgy looking high school art class sleeve instead of just doing a straight copy of the cool full color original sleeve)! In 1988 Ron provided me with a copy of the German single in it's picture sleeve (above) at a wonderfully discounted price along with a German Creation 45 P.S., a Yugoslavian Equals E.P. and a Yugoslavian Walker Brothers 45 P.S., all in trade for a well worn battered copy of "Jump And Dance" by The Carnaby.  The Smoke were one of those classic British bands who were pretty much ignored on their home ground and made a name for themselves gigging and releasing a lot of records on the European Continent.  Today's specimen comes from Germany on the Metronome label, who released 4 singles by the band in the 60's as well as their German only 1967 LP "It's Smoke Time"(  Metronome MLP 15279, which currently will set you back anywhere from $300-$500 for a VG+ and upwards copy of a first pressing).

"My Friend Jack" seems pretty, well, pedestrian nowadays. In fact I'm surprised it hasn't been used in some semi-mainstream movie like "Making Time" was.  It's not terribly exciting to me because I've heard a zillion times and it's on at least, and I kid you not, a dozen different CD's I own.  But there was something wonderfully magical about it when I first heard it 27 years ago.  From the searing vibro-term guitar intro by guitarist Mal Luker accented by brash power chords the rest of the number grooves along, otherwise, peacefully, while Tom Skeritt lookalike Mick Rowley sings in a none too subtle manner about his friend Jack who eats sugar lumps. "We Can Take It" is pretty tame.  It's more or less built around a groove laid down by Mal Luker that's more or less a jangly scale.  Not nearly as powerful as the A-side it's still not a bad track.

"My Friend Jack" climbed to a modest #45 on the U.K. singles chart (Columbia DB 8115) in February 1967 and to #2 in the German charts.  The band would enjoy much success in Germany and on the Continent but would never again chart with any other subsequent 45 releases.  Both sides have appeared on so many Smoke CD's that my head would spin attempting to locate them.  A cursory glance at tells me that the most currently "in print" is the Repertoire CD reissue of "It's Smoke Time" with bonus tracks (which has been my old standby these past 20 years).

An alternate version of "My Friend Jack" exists with a different verse in the main chorus.  Instead of singing "My friend Jack eats sugar lumps, he's been travellin' everywhere" Mick Rowley sings "My friend Jack eats sugar lumps, oh what beautiful things he sees".

There were multiple 60's groups called The Smoke in addition the the British band: an excellent freakbeat/punk band from New Zealand who appeared on the "Wild Things: Wild Kiwi Garage 1966-1969" CD series with their rare as hell '67 RCA N.Z. 45 "Never Trust A Woman"/"No More Now" and an American group who released a pleasant pop/psych untitled LP in 1968 on the Tower Records offshoot Sidewalk (which had, allegedly some Kim Fowley/Michael Lloyd involvement).

The band miming "My Friend Jack" on "Beat Club", from a special "live" edition taped at the Marquee Club 3/11/67 (with The Who, Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, all of whom played live, why did The Smoke mime?):

The band playing "High In A Room" and "My Friend Jack" live 9/18/67 on yet another German TV show, this time "Beat Beat Beat" and this time it's actually "live":

Hear "We Can Take It":


Supermod said...

Man, we used to be so huge into the Smoke... it was after their first collected CD was released.

For us, it was exciting to be moving on to the lesser-known bands of that period, after already going through the Action, Small Faces, Artwoods, etc.

Along with the Smoke, we started concentrating on the Motions and the Fleur De Lys. I miss those days of discovery!

Monkey said...

Totally with you here. Did seem like an exciting discovery and ranked close to the Action many moons ago, yet you've called it correctly with "pedestrian". Funny how some songs age better than others. Still reckon that the look they had on the Beat Club is spot-on. Perfectly cut hipsters and button-downs have scarcely been carried off so well.

Wilthomer said...

I can recall back in the 80's drooling over the rare original copy of their LP but just today I mused about how very few of the songs on it moved me and how I reckon their best work was a few 45's.

Wilthomer said...

Well Supermod there's still discoveries out there, somewhere! Thanks to Monkey I'm now hip to Lloyd Alexander Real Estate! And I thought I knew it all when it came to the UK mid 60's mod/r&b genre!