Friday, March 29, 2019

More U.K. Tracks On U.S. Labels: The sad tale of Grocery Jack

KEITH WEST-Excerpt From "A Teenage Opera" (Grocer Jack)/THE MARK WIRTZ ORCHESTRA-Theme From A Teenage Opera  US New Voice 825 1967

Imagine this, you've been fronting an underground four piece psychedelic band for a few years and you've made records with them and in their previous mod/r&b incarnations to no avail and then your producer convinces you to sing on an orchestrated pop tune that becomes a fluke hit rising to #3.  Such was the dilemma of the front man for the British psych act Tomorrow (formerly The In Crowd), Keith West when producer/arranger Mark Wirtz (described by West in an interview as "the German Tony Hatch") convinced him to sing on a studio project he was working on called "A Teenage Opera". The track's unexpected success ultimately drove a schism through Tomorrow who's underground cred no doubt suffered from being associated with such a poppy tune.

That said "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)" was first issued in the UK as Parlophone R 5623 in July 1967 (minus the "Grocer Jack" bit in it's title). It was not issued in the US until October, where unlike the UK and Europe, it failed to chart (the 45 was issued in 12 countries outside the UK!). For those not familiar with the track it concerns the plight of an elderly shop owner named Grocer Jack ("count the days into years, this 82 brings many fears...") who fails to turn up one morning to open up for business. The town's mother's send their children to his house to harangue him not realizing that poor Jack has keeled over and died! The entire town turns out to mourn him, wracked with guilt for working him so hard.  The number perfectly encapsulates the 60's genre of "toy town psych" to a "T" and no doubt influenced the Hollies "Charlie And Fred" and Kaleidoscope's "Mr Small The Watch Repair Man". It was orchestrated by Mark Wirtz with strings, horns and mandolin with a chorus singing backing vocals behind Keith West's lead vocals and a group of small children (from the Corona Action School) are utilized in the chorus ("Grocer Jack, Grocer is it true what mommy said you won't come back...").

Wirtz and West

The flip side, "Theme From A Teenage Opera" by The Mark Wirtz Orchestral is a muzaky piece led by some twangy guitar (care of Tomorrow's lead guitarist and future Yes man Steve Howe) against a wall of strings, horns and mandolin.  Nothing earth shattering that you'd want to play more than once, but not horrible enough to lift the tone arm to terminate it.

Wirtz used West on a follow up single "Sam" (Parlophone R 5651 November 1967) but it's lack of major chart success caused the Teenage Opera to be effectively sunk.

Both tracks have been issued in a host of places, most notably on the RPM CD collection "The Fantastic Story Of Mark Wirtz And The Teenage Opera". Interestingly enough West and Wirtz collaborated last year in the production of "A Teenage Opera " play that was staged last year in England.

Listen to ""Excerpt From A Teenage Opera" :

Hear "Theme From A Teenage Opera":

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Remembering Scott Walker

We here at Anorak Thing H.Q. were gutted to read of the passing of Scott Walker. Though I've all but ignored his musical career (bar a track or two from "Nite Flights") after 1970's "Til The Band Comes In" long player his material was never far from my ears.

Scott Walker was one of those artists I had to get into after being force fed him for quite a few years and constantly reminded of his genius, while chaffing from the peer/media pressure I usually recoiled. It was not until 1997 that a friend of a friend was in town from Minnesota visiting his brother who was renting a spacious, decaying mansion like house in the semi affluent Jersey shore community of Elberon.  Asked to look him up while in town I journeyed down to meet him and his girlfriend. While he and his girlfriend repaired elsewhere in the house to change to go out to eat he put Scott Walker on the stereo as I sat in the dank, mildew smelling living room with most of the furniture covered in sheets.  The French doors to the patio were flung wide open and suddenly as "Montague Terrace (In Blue)" played the sky turned gray and a storm rolled in from the sea and I had my Scott epiphany and was instantly blown away. A month or so later in was knee deep in Scott Walker-mania and a girl I was dating, tired of hearing him, ejected and flung my Scott Walker cassette compilation that I had created out the window of my moving car somewhere on a highway.

Scott Walker is one of those artists that you either get or you don't get. There's no in between. And since I am firmly in the camp of those who get it I'd like to direct your attention to an older post of my favorite tracks by the man that are up for your perusal here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Rolling Stones Covers: Cliff Richard & The Shadows

CLIFF RICHARD AND THE SHADOWS-Blue Turns To Grey/Somebody Loses UK Columbia DB 7866 1966

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were never going to be Lennon and McCartney when it came to flogging their compositions. But with a nudge from manager Andrew Loog Oldham they eventually began composing and then offering them to other artists. "Blue Turns To Grey" was one of their earliest pieces, first released by The Mighty Avengers in February 1965 as Decca F 12085. It was revived again in March 1966 by Cliff Richard & The Shadows, who unlike The Mighty Avengers managed a modest hit with it rising to #15 with it in the U.K. charts. The Stones own version would not appear in the U.K. but was on their fifth U.S. album "December's Children (And Everybody's)" in December 1965.

Cliff & The Shadow's reading is in my estimation, one of the best.  Punctuated by some powerful vibrato guitar licks care of Hank Marvin it's faster and tougher than The Mighty Avengers (or The Stones lackluster version for that matter). Cliff's voice is spot on and The Shadows backing is flawless as always.

Sheet music care of

The flip side "Somebody Loses" is mid tempo throwaway with a countrified feel that does zero for me.

Hear "Blue Turns To Grey":

Hear "Somebody Loses":

Saturday, March 16, 2019

10 David Bowie 60's Demo's

At manager Ralph Horton's apartment, Warwick Square, London 1966
1. "April's  Tooth Of Gold" 1968
This muddy demo is an interesting bridge between the 60's Deram records "British accent Bowie" and "The Man Who Sold The World" period thanks to his odd key charges and the quirky delivery. The lyrics are interesting and one wonders what it might have sounded like in a finished, produced form, though it is totally out of character with the more light weight material that he was writing in '68 (some of which would resurface on his 2nd LP).

2. "I Want My Baby Back" 1965
Often cited as being Beach Boys influenced I'm going to go with the theory proffered many moons ago by my Twin Cities pal and music guru Keith Patterson that the influence for this demo instead comes from The Rocking Berries (check their hit "He's in Town" for reference). Recorded in 1965 one suspects the guitar is probably that of Lower Third band mate Denis Taylor. It first emerged in 1991 thanks to Shel Talmy on Rhino records essential CD "Early On 1964-1966" (now out of print it changes hands for a decent amount of $).

1966 Clapham Common, London

3. "Silver Treetop School For Boys" 1967
Bowie's early 1967 demo "Silver Treetop School For Boys" was not only actually covered and released by another artist it was done so on two occasions! The first was by The Slender Plenty in September 1967 (Polydor 56189) and later by Scottish group The Beatstalkers (who were handled by David's manager Ken Pitt) in December (CBS 3105). With a wry bit of social observation that would do Ray Davies proud, Bowie used a pot smoking scandal that was alleged to have involved the prestigious Lancing College which, as the oft told story goes has it, he read about in a newspaper. I can find no mention of any such incident anywhere and am loathe to regurgitate an old rock n' roll tale but why let the truth get in the way of a good story right?  Full of a catchy melody and some amazingly witty double entendres it would have made a great Deram era Bowie single.  It was also recorded (but unreleased officially until 2013) by The Riot Squad during their brief period of working with him. Though various sources state that it's Bowie singing lead on their version I beg to differ as it sounds nothing like him.

Tony Visconti's flat, Lexham Gardens, London 1968

4. "I'm Not Quite" 1969
This demo, cut with guitarist and former Buzz member John "Hutch" Hutchinson, will become familiar immediately upon listening as an early version of  "Letter To Hermione" from David's second LP. The lyrics were later adapted after Bowie was dumped by the song's subject, Hermione Farthingale (who along with Hutchinson and Bowie was a member a short lived trio called Feathers).

5. "Everything Is You" 1967
Pitched (unsuccessfully) to Manfred Mann's producer Ken Burgess in the hopes of them recording it, "Everything Is You" was eventually cut by Bowie's manager Ken Pitt's other act, The Beatstalkers as the flip to their next to last 45, 1968's "Rain Coloured Rose's" (UK CBS 3557). The lyrics seem to reflect someone working on a construction gang (or logging maybe?). It's infectious but difficult to imagine as something he would have released in the 60's.

6. "C'est La Vie" 1967
This 1967 demo (offered unsuccessfully to singer Chris Montez) remained undiscovered until 1993 when an acetate demo was auctioned off for an undisclosed price. It's of surprisingly decent quality and though it's nothing remarkable (Bowie seems to be straining on the key it's in) or witty it's worth a listen.

Davy Jones and the Lower Third, London 1965
7. "That's A Promise" 1965
This oft bootlegged track was recorded not with the Buzz as is often incorrectly stated, but with the Lower Third. Cut at the famous RG Jones studio in Morden, Surrey in October 1965 and was issued as an acetate on the studio's Oak label making it one of the most expensive Bowie seven inches in existence. It falls somewhere between the teen angst of Bowie and The Lower Third's 1965 45 "You've Got A Habit of Leaving" and The Kinks at their most dirge like.

8. "Social Girl (aka "Social Kind Of Girl")" 1967
"Social Girl" is one of those handful of mid 60's Bowie demos that was never recorded by anyone and as a result is one of his most obscure tracks that has not even graced any bootlegs to my knowledge. It benefits from some interesting double tracking on all the vocals (both lead and backing) that really reminds me of a light weight Pete Townshend pre-"Tommy" demo number (ie "Call Me Lightning" or "Magic Bus") especially with the percussive hand claps and high backing vocals.

9. "Glad I've Got Nobody" 1965
Completed with the full accompaniment of his then backing group The Lower Third, "Glad I've Got Nobody" was cut as a demo in 1965 (date and location uncertain). Writers are often quick to lazily cite The Who or Kinks as the influence on Bowie's '65-'66 material with The Lower Third, who backed him on just two singles ("You've Got A Habit Of Leaving" and "Can't Help Thinking About Me") . I think the apparent influence here is more of a mid tempo British beat influence which leads me to believe it was one of Bowie's earliest attempts at commercial conformity as it clearly resembles nothing he had released commercially, nor would. It's available on  Rhino records essential CD "Early On 1964-1966".

At manager Ralph Horton's apartment, Warwick Square, London 1966

10. "Silly Boy Blue" 1965
This homage to Bowie's early fascination with Tibet and Buddhism took shape in an entirely different lyrical form with the words concerning teenage trauma and leaving home (a theme also explored in his debut 45 as "David Bowie" with "Can't Help Thinking About Me") before being rejigged with lyrics about Tibet et al and eventually seeing light in its new form on his debut LP . This demo was cut again at RG Jones in October 1965 with the Lower Third, presumably at the same time as "That's A Promise" (see above) and comes off a bit disjointed and awkward but interesting in light of what it became.

Monday, March 11, 2019

John Walker Solo, Scott Walker Producing

JOHN WALKER-Woman/A Dream US Smash S-2213 1969

We've devoted loads of print space to The Walker Brothers here and quite a bit to Scott Walker and even Gary Walker but I think other than mentioning the famous (or infamous) "Solo Scott, Solo John" E.P. we've neglected John.  When The Walker Brothers went their separate ways in May 1967 many were, for the most part, led to believe the split was less than acrimonious. This may have been so but by the time John was ready to cut what would be his fourth post Walkers solo 45 it was none other than his ex-band mate Scott in the producer's chair.

"Woman", a John Walker original (credited to his real name John Maus) was issued in the UK as Phillips BF 1724 in November of 1968. It was not until January 1969 that it gained a US release. It's an orchestrated ballad that showcases John's vocal ability (often overshadowed by his more successful former band mate when there were The Walker Brothers), at times the melody reminds me of The Walker's  "Love Her".  It's not really my thing as it sounds a bit too close to the likes of Englebert Humperdinck  or Tom Jones at his schmaltziest.

The real gold is on side B, another John Walker original "A Dream". Musically it reminds me a lot of David Bowie's "When I Live My Dream" and though I'm certain this is pure coincidence it's still amazingly similar. The lush orchestration and top production make it easily the best thing he did post Walker Brothers in my estimation (one wonders what John's career would have been like if Scott had been at the helm for more releases)! Sadly it's not on YouTube!! It is interesting to note that Bowie actually met Walker on the set of the Dutch TV show "Fan Club" in November '67 and plans were made for the two to meet back in England with the possibility of Walker recording some of Bowie's material. They met the following week but John recording some of Bowie's music never came to fruition but one wonders what might have been......

To my knowledge neither side has been compiled anywhere, which in the case the the B-side, is criminal!

Hear "Woman":

Hear "A Dream":

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

More U.K. Tracks On U.S. Labels: The Scaffold

THE SCAFFOLD-Do You Remember?/Carry On Crow US Bell B-724 1968

The Scaffold's second US 45 made it's debut in May 1968 (it was issued in the UK two months prior as Parlophone R 5679). Their first US release was discussed way back when here, with a bit of background on the band as well.

"Do You Remember" is a quintessentially English number that one could easily imagine playing as someone was punting down the Cam. It's comprised of multi layers of harmonies with a whimsical melody augmented at times by strings and flute that make it slightly trippy at times. It was later re-recorded by Scaffold members Roger McGough and Mike McGear (aka Mike McCartney) for their 1968 LP "McGough & McGear".

"Carry On Crow" is a bizarre piece. Sung by member John Gorman in his deep bass voice, it's an old folk song apparently called "Carrion Crow", cheekily re titled by The Scaffold. It's not something you'll want to listen to more than once.

Both sides are available in a host of out of print places on two CD's "Scaffold At Abbey Road 1966-1971" and another called "Thank U Very Much: The Best Of Scaffold".

Hear "Do You Remember":

Hear "Carry On Crow":