Friday, August 28, 2015

August Picks

1. JIMMY McGRIFF-"The Last Minute Parts 1 & 2"
One of my fave McGriff instrumentals is this single from 1963 that starts out led by not a Hammond but a piano with the B-3 appearing eventually, but occupying the backseat for most of this sleazy honky tonk cum jazz instrumental.

2. DONOVAN-"Fat Angel"
One of the center pieces of Donovan's ground breaking 1966 "Sunshine Superman" LP is this sitar and tabla drenched stoned groove written as a tribute to the Mamas and Papas singer and scene socialite "Mama" Cass Elliot (Donno whispers "Cassssss" during one passage). Equal credit goes to musical director John Cameron who put the whole thing together.

Not to be confused with the McGriff number mentioned above this September '67 B side (to Randy Newman's "The Biggest Night Of Her Life") penned by lead singer Art Sharp is one of their freakier things they were responsible for. With it's eerie almost disembodied backing vocals, phlanging on the piano and a foreboding mood it's damned infectious.  Pop psych perfection produced by Vic Smith later to produce the Jam as Vic Coppersmith Heaven.

4. JAN & DEAN-"Batman Theme"
Jan & Dean get credit for being the first pop group to use the "Batman Theme" when they released their 1966 LP "Jan And Dean Meet Batman" on Liberty records. Though not differing much from the formula of the original TV theme (performed by trumpeter Neal Hefti) it's punchier and features a great Billy Preston style organ solo that comes out of nowhere.

5. THE MIRACLES-"Whole Lot Of Shakin' In My Heart (Since I Met You)"
The beauty of the vastness of the Motown catalog is there can be singles that you discover that are new to your ears that blow you away.  Case in point is this hard driving Frank Wilson penned Miracles 45 from '66 that I came across while on a major Motown binge a few weeks back at an undisclosed record retailer.

6. NICKIE LEE-"The Ten Commandments Of Man" 
This funky soul treatment of Prince Buster's "Ten Commandments" was released in early 1967 on the tiny Dade label. Behind a funky Atlantic records '66 style groove Nickie Lee does a spoken word bit with excellent results. Produced by Steve "Everyday I Have To Cry" Alaimo and Brad Shapiro.

From the incredible 1967 Major Minor album "Experiment With Pops" this jazzy take on The Who's hit benefits from John McLaughin's jazzy/raga guitar beneath the subtle yet atmospheric cocktail jazz groove laid down by Godron Beck (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass) and Tony Oxley (drums).

8. THE ACTION-"Only Dreaming"
Exactly 30 years ago an 18 year old mod bought this mini LP by The Action called "Speak Louder Than" at the newly discovered Vintage Vinyl records in Fords, NJ. His mind was not prepared for this heavy 1968 material (recorded a mere three months before the band became Mighty Baby) but it is now.

9. DON FARDON-"Sunshine Woman"
Issued in 1969 beneath a so-so cover of "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" is this incredible little nugget. Beneath a groove that starts throbbing bass and a hint of bongos and progresses to phlanged piano, organ and then sharp horns this might darn well be Fardon's most powerful single since "I'm Alive" before it veers into a an r&b on L.S.D. mish mash towards the end. Pure magic.

10. THE WHO-"In The City"
Allegedly recorded when Pete and Roger were indisposed (though Roger's voice is clearly audible in the chorus as is Pete's during the fade out) this John Entwistle and Keith Moon exercise follows the band's brief surf music phase (mostly done to appease Moon). Chock full of harmonies and cheery lyrics about cruising, drag racing, swimming in the pool etc it's neatly touched up by Entwistle's farty French horn and Townshend's jangly Rickenbacker. Issued in August 1966 as the flip to "I'm A Boy".

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Action: Kick Out The Soul And Look Westward

THE ACTION-Never Ever/Twentyfourth Hour U.K. Parlophone R5572 1967

The Action's first single as a four piece following the ejection of lead guitarist Pete Watson in December 1966 was February 1967's "Never Ever" b/w "Twentyfourth Hour". The single was unleashed while the band were taking a three month gig hiatus to work up a new set that swept clear most of their soul numbers and inserted Byrds covers ("I See You, "Eight Miles High"), Association covers ("Along Comes Mary", "Pandora's Golden Heebie Geebies") and band originals (presumably, both sides of this 45) among hepped up "psychedelicized" existing soul covers (check out the version of "Going To A Go-Go"  from a March '67 BBC session on their "Uptight And Outasight" CD/LP).

At the Speakeasy, Spring 1967

"Never Ever" marks the first time a band original (penned by all four members) graced vinyl after three previous 45's that all featured cover versions (Chris Kenner b/w Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes b/w Mickey Lee Lane and Maurice & The Radiants b/w The Temptations). It's also the first Action record to feature instrumentation outside their usual guitar, bass and drums format featuring horns (excluding of course the occasional piano c/o George Martin).  "Never Ever" shows a very distinct influence of The Association from it's opening choral sunshine pop harmonies to the driving "ba bap ba" chorus reminiscent in delivery to "You May Think" from the "Renaissance" LP. There is still a soulful feel to it in Reg King's vocals while the horns are not remotely soul influenced but remind me more of something from a mid 60's pop record scored by Les Reed like Paul & Barry Ryan or The Truth.

"Twentyfourth Hour" again melds The Association meets soul formula from the top side. It is also a group composition as well. The call and response vocals are pure soul but the "ba ba bop" backing chorus again points West (Coast) as do the soaring harmonies when Reg croons " time after time, you will be mine". There's a distinct Rickenbacker lick throughout the number beneath steady acoustic guitar strumming which cements this to previous Action recordings (though at this time Alan "Bam" King was mostly using a Gibson SG live and eventually a Fender Telecaster after the SG was snapped in two by a tumbling Marshall stack).

Sadly despite a stellar performance and again the brilliant production of George Martin the public wasn't ready to give the Action a hit, even if they were writing their own material. Macca's review in the "Blind Date" weekly column in "Melody Maker" didn't help either:

"Dave Dee? Snotty, Mick and Griff. Who is it?  Ah, The Action, yes. They're a good group and I'm not biased just because George Martin produces them, because they're a good group. George Martin records them you know. No, I'm not biased. They happen to be a good group and George Martin just happens to record them, and could be a hit. I'm not biased though.  Hi Judy!"
-Paul McCartney "Blind Date column" Melody Maker, February 25, 1967

U.S. Promo Copy

The record was also issued in the States on Capitol (their only U.S. release) in promo copy form. I've yet to come across a stock copy or hear of anyone who has, though there is a scan of one in "In The Lap Of The Mods" book. It was also released in the Netherlands (where it came in a picture sleeve and recently fetched a cool $1,000 on E-bay recently). "Never Ever" became the first Action original composition to be covered when The Quests from Singapore cut a version of it on their 1967 Columbia (Singapore) album "The 33rd Revolution" (alongside covers of tunes by The Hollies and Tomorrow!)

The rare Dutch P.S.

Both sides are of course on whatever guise the Action Parlophone recordings are being issued as these days be it "The Ultimate Action" or "Action Packed" while a BBC version of "Never ever" from March 1967 is on the highly recommended CD of BBC sessions "Uptight And Outasight".

Hear "Never Ever":

Hear "Twentyfourth Hour":

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Searchers: 10 Top Tunes That You Should Know

1. "Western Union" U.K. Pye 7N.17308 1967
Launched the exact same day in Britain as The Five Americans original (April 21st 1967) The Searchers clearly weren't exactly going with anything novel for this release.  Regardless the band do a competent version which I actually enjoy more than the original.  Rather than perform a note for note version of the band strip it down and make it their own with a pseudo raga guitar solo by Chris Curtis with the band's prerequisite harmonies to the fore.

2. "Crazy Dreams" U.K. Pye 7N.17424 1967
The Searchers pretty much eschewed psychedelia but there are notable exceptions.  The closest they came was this November '67 flip of "Second Hand Dealer" characterized by some silly lyrics that speak of little green men and laughing clouds behind a tough musical backing propelled by a  fluid bass and solid drums groove with some gnarly guitar and an almost Dylanesque sneer from lead singer Mike Pender. "Sitting up here in the sky. I don't care cos I'm high".

3. "Each Time" LP cut U.K. "Take Me For What I'm Worth" Pye NLP 18120 1966
The band are well known for being Britain's foremost interpreters of Jackie DeShannon's material. This jangly echo drenched DeShannon cut appeared on their 4th U.K. LP and would've made a decent single, but Pye thought otherwise and this Youngbloods/Byrdsy masterpiece languished as a track on an LP.

4. "Popcorn Double Feature" U.K. Pye 7N.17225 / U.S. Kapp K811 1967
This January 1967 cover of Tim Wilde's brilliant track (later released in the US as Tower 353 in July 1967) rates as one of the band's most sought after 7 inchers and rightfully so. Behind lush strings and Tony Hatch's brilliant arrangement it announced what was hoped to be a new era of progressive direction for the band. Sadly it flopped but still rates in my opinion as one of their best tracks.

5. "The System" U.K. Pye NEP 24201 1964
"The System" was the band's title track from the Oliver Reed flick of the same name (re-titled "The Girl Getters" in the U.S.).  It's probably also the first and last time Ollie's mug appeared on a pop record sleeve! Lead off by Chris Curtis and Mike Pender's tandem harmonies beneath a catchy beat group groove it's upbeat and frantic in all the right ways.

6. "Take Me For What I'm Worth" U.K. Pye 7N.15992 / U.S. Kapp K729 1966
This November '65 take on P.F. Sloan's greatest composition further cements their "English kings of folk rock" crown and is also one of the toughest Searchers sides recorded.  It starts all sweetness and light before it starts to rock and Mike Pender's vocals grow from soft to snarling beneath the usual precise Searchers musical arrangement.

7. "Take It Or Leave It" U.K. Pye 7N.17094 1966
The Searchers last venture into the British charts was this Rolling Stones number (it unfortunately stalled at #31) which surprisingly unlike many other contemporary Jagger/Richards compositions was not savaged in print by it's authors. Released after the two bands toured Australia together and exactly one day before The Stone's version hit the streets (as a track on the U.K. issue of the "Aftermath" LP) it actually works.

8. "I'll Be Doggone" LP cut U.K. "Take Me For What I'm Worth" Pye NLP 18120 1966
The idea of the Searchers doing Motown is actually a pretty hard idea to get ones head around.  Enter this version.  It starts out in typical note for note cover version fashion with a bass/piano intro and then the melody rings out on the guitars ala "Needles And Pins" and the Motor City/folk rock mash up works PERFECTLY! The bands excellent vocal ability saves the day and Chris Curtis amazing drum fills are the proverbial cherry on top.

9. "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" U.K. Pye 7N.17170 / U.S. Kapp K783 1966
Though not a patch on The Hollies original (which surfaced a year later on their "Evolution" album) it's still a rocking affair thanks to some subtle fuzz guitar and the 100 mph pace lead by new Keith Moon influenced drummer John Blunt who had recently replaced Chris Curtis. Compare with versions by Paul & Barry Ryan AND The Everly Brothers.

10. "Umbrella Man" U.K. Liberty LBF 15159 1968 / U.S. World Pacific 77908 1968
The next to last 60's Searchers (as "The Searchers", there was one more in '69 cut under the incongruous pseudonym of "Pasha" in '69 on this label) 45 saw them dubiously sacked from their longstanding contract with Pye and cutting the first of three 45's on Liberty in the U.K. "Umbrella Man" is an upbeat poppy slice of toy town psych with some great bits (steady hand claps through out, sublime strings, a snatch of saxophone) that epitomizes "groovy". Penned by Kenny Young who produced this as well and who who authored one of the worst 45's ever ("Somebody Shot The Lollypop Man") which was Pasha's A-side. Dig the clip below of the band on German TV's "Beat Club" with guitarist John McNally's Roger McGuinn stache.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Cool Foreign Pictures Sleeves Part 52: The Who

THE WHO-Happy Jack/I've Been Away/I'm A Boy/In The City  Israel  Polydor EP-IP 1006 1967

Here's a cool one, an Israeli E.P. bearing a photo of the band from 1964 when they were The High Numbers!