Friday, June 3, 2016

The Best Of the Action

The Action are one of my most favorite 60's bands, if not my favorite band, period.  Their output was slim and though their career was brief with just 5 singles in three years (1964-1967) there is a host of unreleased material recorded in that period that is available as well that in my estimation is equally interesting. Some of it is in varying styles and genres but all of it, to my ears, is nothing short of amazing so I thought it would be fun to pick ten of them and tell you why. The Action in their original inception were: Reggie King (lead vocals), Alan "Bam" King (rhythm guitar), Pete Watson (lead guitar), Mike Evans (bass) and Roger Powell (drums). Later incarnations, personnel changes etc will be noted for each track.

1. "In My Lonely Room" (previously unreleased version) U.K. Top Sounds 10" E.P. TSEP 001 2014
First unearthed in 2014, I am at odds to decide whether I prefer this track more than the 1965 studio version because it's "new" to me after knowing the studio take for 33 years or because it's actually better. The jury is still out on whether this was a demo or a live rehearsal. I'm sticking with the later as it sounds like it was recorded in a cavernous space like a venue but without the sound of any crowd one suspects it was a "live rehearsal". Regardless it's magical and next to the tracks found on their B.B.C. CD/LP "Uptight And Outtasite" probably the cloest we'll get to knowing what it was like to have heard them live in the 60's. Pete Watson's 12 string Rickenbacker chimes away perfectly and his falsetto backing vocals with guitar Alan King's perfectly compliment lead singer Reg King's masterful Motown interpretation.

2.  "Baby You've Got It" U.K. 45 Parlophone R 5474 1966
The bulk of The Action's singles were soul covers (the first three of five U.K. singles had U.S. soul tracks on both the A and B sides).  They were not a "cover band" in the sense that they never tried to replicate the original versions of the tracks they were recording but rather they offered their own unique interpretations of these tunes.  One of the best examples of this is their third single, July 1966's version of Maurice & The Radiant's "Baby You Got It" (released just five months earlier on Chess in the US). Eschewing the uptempo strings of the original, The Action's version is driven by phlanged piano (care of their producer George Martin), the dual high backing vocal and Rickenbacker attack of Pete Watson and Alan King (12 and 6 string respectively) and a slower tempo than the original.

3. "The Place" previously unreleased 1966 recording UK LP "The Ultimate Action" Edsel ED 101 1980
It's still not clear who composed this unreleased 1966 track which was recorded presumably during the period where the band were working on a much hyped long player. One wonders with the penchant for flair (read "bullshit") cooked up by their manager Rikki Farr on a regular basis if the band ever had clearance from their label for a long player since only a few tracks were cut in 1966 that were not released at the time ("The Place", "Wasn't It You", the Impressions "I Love You (Yeah)", "Harlem Shuffle", "Come On Come With Me", "Just Once In My Life" and "The Cissy"). Regardless of its composer or its intended release format "The Place" benefits again from the band's trademark jangly Rickenbackers , high harmonies blending with Reg's soulful voice and some tasty harpsichord (no doubt possibly c/o George Martin). When I purchased "The Ultimate Action" album in 1983 it was immediately my favorite track of the lot.

4. "Wasn't It You" recorded 1966 Germany 45 Hansa 14 321 AT 1969
This Goffin/King track (originally miscredited to the band when it was used on a 1980 Edsel flip of "I'll Keep Holding On") was presumably cut during the above mentioned album session. It's a perfect vehicle for the band with the ringing Rickenbacker blending with some Spanish style acoustic guitar and impeccable high/falsetto backing vocals beneath Reg's soulful crooning. The lyrics seem perfect for a band who no doubt encountered the type of flighty, pretentious people the song was about. It was first issued as a B-side in Germany in 1969 with the previously unreleased 1966 recording of "Harlem Shuffle", incredibly odd since the The Action had ceased to exist in name a year prior to release!

5. "Never Ever" U.K. 45 Parlophone R 5572 1967
February 1967's "Never Ever" was The Action's first 45 without Pete Watson, their first 45 for 1967 AND their first band original (in fact both sides of this platter were written by the remaining four band members). It also holds the distinction of being the only Action 45 issued in the US. It was also released in the Netherlands in a highly collectible picture sleeve (see above). But record collecting trivia now dispensed with, "Never Ever" is radically different from their previous output not only due to the fact that it was not a soul cover but it was the first Action record to feature brass which I think gives it a certain degree of punch (an interesting feature as previously brass parts on their soul covers were usually played in a melody form on Pete Watson's Rickenbacker 12 string).

6.  "Going To A Go Go" Live BBC March 1967 "Pop North" U.K. CD "Uptight And Outtasite" Circle CPW C105 2004
Captured live in this March 1967 performance for BBC radio sees the now slimmed down band (4 piece, Pete Watson having left the group in December '66) plough through a 100% high octane version of Smokey Robinson & The Miracle's "Going To A Go-Go" punctuated by some driving bass by Mike Evans and Alan "Bam" King's crisp Rickenbacker. What's interesting is it was recorded at a period where the band were slowly transitioning out of soul covers.

7. "Something Has Hit Me" U.K. 45 Parlophone R 5610 1967
Penned by Reg King and journalist pal (and Action champion in the music press) Nick Jones, "Something Has Hit Me" was to be part of the band's final single for EMI's Parlophone outlet released in June 1967 on the bottom of "Shadows And Reflections" (penned by American songwriters Tandyn Almer and Larry Marks). Like all the Action sides its strength lies in both the band's precise harmonies and Reg King's lead vocals and equally with George Martin's production and piano. It's also unique as shortly before the single's release the band would be augmented by a new member in the form of one Ian Whiteman who answered an ad placed "Melody Maker" seeking an keyboardist (Whiteman was also an accomplished flutist/saxophonist and would briefly exit the band and return again). It was also featured on their only 60's E.P., which was issued in France (see photo above).

8. "Come Around" (previously unreleased recorded 1967/1968) U.K. LP "Brain" Dig The Fuzz DIG 005 1995
From October '67 through June '68 The Action would be a six piece including new keyboardist/flutist Ian Whiteman and newly joined guitarist Martin Stone (formerly of Stone's Masonry/Savoy Brown Blues Band). The band set about recording a series of demos at I.B.C. which were later released as  "Brain" and "Rolled Gold" (the latter in slightly better quality). Many of them are in places, almost half baked and sound unfinished and are all (with the exception of a George Martin produced track, see below) demos.  "Come Around" is no exception with its almost abrupt ending. That is not to belittle any of the sessions as they are all, for the most part, superb tracks. "Come Around" is one of the strongest with some intense vocals from Reg and extremely introspective lyrics (I am still attempting to ascertain who composed the tracks). Whiteman's piano helps fill out the sound and as usual the harmonies are top notch alongside Reg's powerful vocals and it's almost "Summer of Love" message "let us be one another, let put our hearts together, let the god in each of us ring out and kiss the sky above..". It was a long way away from "Land Of One Thousand Dances" but magic just the same.

9. "In My Dreams" (previously unreleased recorded 1967) U.K. LP "Rolled Gold" Dig The Fuzz DIG 005 1995
Cut at Air Studios studios with George Martin producing "In My Dreams" would have made a wonderful sixth single for The Action on Parlophone but it was not to be as the band's career there ground to a halt as did their involvement with Sir George. There are two versions of this on "Brain/Rolled Gold", the harder, more guitar driven demo and this highly polished, George Martin produced version which I prefer. Both versions feature the six piece Action line up.  Ian Whiteman's flute and the band's stellar harmonies weave a wonderful tapestry around Reg's soulful vocals which manage to also convey a hint of desperation and uncertainty, something ironic when you realize it was to be their last session with George Martin. There's also a hint of some "heavy" things to come with a blistering guitar bit in the middle from Martin Stone.

10. "A Saying For Today" previously unreleased recorded 1968 U.K. Mini LP "Speak Louder Than" Dojo DOJOLP3 1985
Produced in July 1968 by former Pink Floyd co-manager Peter Jenner and recorded a month after Reggie King left the band (and six months before they became Mighty Baby) this track is one of five cut in the session.  The band were at that time being managed by Jenner and Andrew King's Blackhill Enterprises (who had previously parted company as management with The Pink Floyd following the departure of Syd Barrett). This track provides the bridge between the West Coast harmony period Action and the heavier improvisational jams of Mighty Baby. Penned by keyboardist/flutist Ian Whiteman it's hard hitting but dreamy thanks to the Association like harmonies and Whiteman's ethereal flute meshed with some restrained but blistering guitar licks by Alan King and Martin Stone. The  tracks from this session would be deceptively released in 1985 on a mini album featuring a photo of the four piece 1967 Action on the sleeve. Being an 18 year old Action fan at the time of it's release I was aghast of what I heard and it took me almost a year to wrap my head around it.

1 comment:

Monkey said...

Super stuff Bill. Interesting selection - some I wouldn't have even considered for a top ten but therein lies their appeal I guess! Will give it some thought!