Thursday, October 29, 2020

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: Geno Washington Part Two


GENO WASHINGTON AND THE RAM JAM BAND-Hi Hi Hazel/Beach Bash US Congress CG-273 1966

U.K. based American born singer Geno Washington burst onto the British music scene in 1965 with a rare as hell Columbia records cover of "Shake Shake Senora" before switching to Pye records in 1966 under the guidance of John Schroeder. Today's subject was his third UK 45 issued as Pye 7N 35329 in July 1966, a U.S. release arrived at the same time where it was his second American release. 

"Hi! Hi! Hazel" came from the pen of songwriter's Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. All of my research indicates that Geno and Co. were the first artists to record this number. Regardless of who did it first it's a god awful tune. It's mundane and tepid and ranks among one of the most unlistenable tracks by the band.

Fortunately there is redemption in the form of the B-side, a cover of a 1964 instrumental single by The Mar-Key's called "Beach Bash".  The Ram Jam Band's arrangement sticks fairly close to the original, though the horns carry less power. Of interest however is the fact that this version adds a ska back beat and a blistering bit of guitar (the reminds me of The Remo Four's amazing 1966 version of "Peter Gunn"). There's also an organ higher up in the mix, which the original lacks.

Geno and the boys tearing it up onstage somewhere in the U.K. 1966

Both sides are available on the highly recommended double Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band CD retrospective "My Bombers My Dexys My Highs: The 60's Studio Sessions" on Castle Music.

Hear "Hi! Hi! Hazel" (or don't):

Hear "Beach Bash":

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Searchers "Take Me For What I'm Worth"

THE SEARCHERS-Take Me For What I'm Worth/Too Many Miles UK Pye 7N.15992 1965

We could fill and entire post talking about The Searchers and their "folk rock" sound, but I'm not going to do that. What we are going to discuss is their twelfth U.K. single, "Take Me For What I'm Worth". The band's drummer Chris Curtis was well known for his "ear" for potential hits to cover and he dug up this P.F. Sloan track for them to cover (he later suggested in an interview with journalist Spencer Leigh that it was "probably the first gay anthem"). Strangely enough Sloan's version appeared on a French E.P. one month before this version hit the streets in England in November of '65 (December in the US). 

"Take Me For What I'm Worth" ranks as one of The Searcher's strongest numbers in my estimation. It was their next to last visit to the British charts clocking in at #20 (the last would be their version of The Stone's "Take It Or Leave It" which would climb to #31). Kicking off with a mournful guitar lick and Mike Pender's equally downtrodden vocals it's powered by some amazing guitars and a powerful strumming that resembles the chording of The Jam's later hit "That's Entertainment". And of course there's P.F. Sloan's brilliant "don't get mixed up with me I'm bad news" lyrics delivered by Pender at times with an almost venomous lilt. 

The B-side "Too Many Miles"was penned by all four Searchers (Frank Allen, Chris Curtis, John McNally and Mike Pender respectively). It's a mellow number with this almost baroque feel that reminds me of something off The Move's first LP! Not their best track but certainly an interesting touch for 1965! The woodwind solo is clearly ahead of it's time.

Both sides are available on a host of Searchers collections that thanks to the likes of Castle Communications are NEVER out of print. I highly recommend their 1965 LP "Take Me For What I'm Worth" which contains both sides of this single. 

Hear "Take Me For What I'm Worth":

Hear "Too Many Miles":

Friday, October 16, 2020

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: Heinz


HEINZ-Questions I Can't Answer/The Beating Of My Heart US Tower 110 1964

U.K. producer Joe Meek's "golden boy" and one time Tornados bassist Heinz Burt had a host of 45's issued in the U.K. as a solo artist. London issued his debut US 45 "Just Like Eddie" (45-9619 ) in October 1963 but 1964 saw Heinz joining the host of Meek acts who's material would be leased for U.S. release through Capitol records Tower outlet (we profiled a Tornados release on the label here and a Tom Jones one here). 

"Questions I Can't Answer" was Heinz's sixth U.K. 45 (issued as Columbia DB 7374 in October 1964). It was issued simultaneously here on Tower and like all of Meek's other singles on the label it failed to chart. "Questions I Can't Answer" is an interesting number, kicking off with some sax and a "Louie Louie" style beat. It's one of Meek's more sophisticated productions, but that is in no small part due to arranger Ivor Raymonde who "sweetened"the track up (as he did with many Meek releases transforming his muck into something more commercially viable). The drums are unmistakably Meek's trademark sound but there's an interesting almost phased/backwards piano effect at about 0:10 in that's incredibly ahead of it's time followed by ivory tinkling and female backing vocals. 

The flip "The Beating of My Heart" is a full on over the top Meek production with lots of echo, spacey backing vocals, that archetype drum sound etc. None of this can save the number for me despite the great intro as it, to my ears, descends into a mundane ballad worth it only for the freaky arrangement and a blistering guitar solo (Richie Blackmore?).

Billy J. Kramer with Heinz, 1964, photo by Lewis Morley

The A-side appeared on the Castle Music Joe Meek two CD compilation "Joe Meek: The Alchemist Of Pop", and both sides appear on a 2013 double CD collection "Heinz: The Essential Collection". 

Hear "Questions In Can't Answer":

Hear "The Beating Of My Heart":

Friday, October 9, 2020

Top 10 80's 45's Part Two: Britannia Rules The (Air) Waves!

Many years ago we profiled my ten favorite 1980's 45's here, in this post I have decided to explore a further ten. 

1. DEPARTMENT S-"Is Vic There?" US Stiff TEES 7-02 1981
I'm not entirely sure how I found out about this record, I suspect I had heard it on college radio but I know for a fact that my copy came from a U.K. pen pal (Debbie Jones phone home!), even more amusing as my copy is in American pressing. Regardless of how or where I first heard it "Is Vic There?" is unique and unlike anything else that was in the air (Spandau Ballet's "Chant No.1", Adam & The Ants etc). With a catchy beat backed by reverberating, jangling, feedbacking guitars, atmospheric organ, disinterested lead vocals by one Vaughn Toulouse and a haunting/hypnotic guitar lick "Is Vic There?" is not easily forgotten and entirely difficult to remove from one's head. 

2. THE SPECIALS-"Ghost Town" UK Two Tone CHS TT17 1981
Music can be a time capsule and for me "Ghost Town" will always bring me back to my first trip to the U.K. in August of 1981 when this was just bumped off the #1 slot by Spandau Ballet. The nation wide riots were only days previously and things were still tense and everywhere I looked (in the Tube especially) there were packs of skinheads with the ominous tramp of boots and all the cops looked tired and freaked out. And along came the Specials with a Tchaikovsky "Swan Lake" style intro and the powerful horns playing off the flute and with the powerful lyrics painting a bleak picture of the then deplorable conditions in the U.K., not remotely ska it's the best thing they've ever done to this man's ears and will never be bettered.

3. DEXY'S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS-"Geno" UK Late Night Feelings R 6033 1980
I can't recall whether it was "Rolling Stone" or "Creem" magazine that sang praises of these guys and gave some background to this track for my impressionable young mind to absorb (the same article explained the phenomena of "Northern Soul" as well). "Geno" is a tribute to the American born 60's British soul legend Geno Washington, who with his Ram Jam Band wowed audiences all over the British Isles with their no holds barred r&b/soul music show. The power behind "Geno" is not it's powerful brass section (which interestingly sounds more like a marching band then a Stax horn section) but lead singer Kevin Rowland's impassioned delivery and lyrics. It speaks volumes of a personal conviction and the epiphany that was seeing Geno Washington play:

"Back in '68 in a sweaty club (Oh Geno) before Jimmy's Machine and the rocksteady rub (Ohhhh Geno) on a night when flowers didn't suit my shoes after a week of flunkin' and bunkin' school, the lowest head in the crowd that night just practicing steps and keepin' out of the fights.
Academic inspiration you gave me none, you were Michael The Lover, the fighter that won, and now just look at me as I'm looking down on you, though I'm not being flash it's what I'm built to do".

Powerful stuff.

4. DAVID BOWIE-"Ashes To Ashes" US RCA PB-12078 1980
David Bowie has often been accused of being sharp enough to anticipate a trend and stealing from it before it became mainstream, but he has also been credited with fostering lots of them. The bleak/nihilism of the so called "New Romantic/Blitz/Futurist" musical and fashion movement applied to Bowie in both of those situations.  He was canny enough to get in on the ground floor with the movement and used some of it's movers and shakers in the promo video for the track and yet without him one doubts the whole thing would have ever existed and therefore he played both parent and love child to movement. "Ashes to Ashes" is bleak, spooky and full of some positively eerie synthesizer parts whilst musically defiling the memory of dear old Major Tom from his first hit "Space Oddity".

5. THE TIMES-"Red With Purple Flashes" UK Whaam WHAAM 2 1981
One time Television Personalities member Ed Ball started his own neo-60's influenced band The Times in 1981 where they burst onto the scene with this debut 45 on Dan Treacy of the TVP's brilliant Whaam label. Taking it's name from a description that the 60's band The Creation gave their music, "Red With Purple Flashes" is less 60's influenced than you would expect and at times suffers because of it's absolute shit production and recording but it's Ed Ball's clever lyrics and their attempts to make a very 60's record (fuzz guitar, phlanged drums and plenty of "doo doo doo's" in the chorus) that win the struggle, but only just barely.

6. BAD MANNERS-"Walking In The Sunshine" UK Magnet MAG 197 1981
Bad Manners were a different kind of ska band. They were pickled eggs and cream pies in the face to Madness pints of bitter or The Specials razor across the cheek. "Walking in The Sunshine" seemed like their first record that was "serious" after songs that almost sounded geared to appearances on "Tis Was" (a British children's TV program) like "Can Can" or their debut "Ne-Ne Na-Na-Na Na-Nu-Nu". It's powerful brass section and moody Hammond trills sound almost positively sinister alongside it's slightly funky rhythm that at times brings to mind UB40, all punctuated by lead singer Buster Bloodvessel's bellowing vocals. 

7. THE REVOLVING PAINT DREAM-"Flowers In The Sky" UK Creation CRE 002 1984
One of the earliest releases on Biff Bang Pow leader Alan McGee's Creation label "Flowers In The Sky" is probably one of the most psychedelic records of the 80's, certainly at least in Britain, outside The Dukes of Stratosphear of course (see below). The "Tomorrow Never Knows" drum beat, backing vocals and buzzing/backwards guitars evoke 60's British psychedelia at it's best while the wall of noise, airy vocals and production show where Ride and My Bloody Valentine AND Brit pop came from. 

8. THE JAMES TAYLOR QUARTET-"Blow Up" UK RE-Elect The President FORD 1 1987
The James Taylor Quartet were formed from the ashes of Medway 60's influenced/garage legends The Prisoners with their keyboardist James Taylor and bassist Allan Crockford. The JTQ did a multitude of things, first off they introduced something that was distinctly non-80's sounding  and (most importantly) they gave lots of mods an introduction to Hammond jazz (myself included). Their Booker T. styled reworking of the theme for the film "Blow Up" led one mod to pump coins into a jukebox one Friday night at Maxwell's so that punters would have to hear it endlessly as he sipped his pint of Double Diamond. Taylor's Hammond and twangy guitars care of his younger brother David give it a distinct Stax feel, something that was positively lacking anywhere in the 80's, especially in the land of Jesus and the Mary Chain and The Smiths

9. THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR-"The Mole From The Ministry" UK Virgin VS 763 1985
The most psychedelic record of the 80's came from the three remaining members of XTC and bassist Colin Moulding's brother on drums who decided to play 1967 dress up and created a fake psychedelic band that topped anything and everything that was aping the era. While bands from the Groovy Cellar like The Mood Six were dressing like The Move and making records that sounded like Talk Talk or A Flock Of Seagulls The Dukes were a full on legit 60's act with zero traces of 80's recording techniques or effects. "The Mole From The Ministry" is every bit as much as The Rutle's "Piggy in The Middle" as it is the Fab's "I Am The Walrus" but there's snippets of Pink Floyd '67 vintage as well as a host of other British psychedelic gems thanks to Mellotron, varispeed effects on singing and speaking, Lennon-esque vocals , backwards bits, hidden dialogue and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure! Recorded on a lark it spurned and mini LP and a full length LP two years later.

10. THE BARRACUDAS-"Summer Fun" UK Zonophone Z5 1980
This number will always remind me of the last day of school in 1982 heading to the beach with a bunch of friends in the back of a pick up truck blasting this on a boom box on the way there. With their 60's American West Coast sound the Barracudas added something interesting to new wave and in a classic case of "Coals to Newcastle" (or in this case "Steel to Pittsburgh") their poppy surf beat and high Beach Boys harmonies towards the end of this number perfectly encapsulated an era long gone by while still sounding "modern". The Plymouth Barracuda commercial at the beginning is a gas and the "ba ba bap ba ba ba ba" chorus is totally infectious and those fucking harmonies!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Eric Burdon: From Geordie R&B Belter To Acid Messiah: "Monterey"


ERIC BURDON AND THE ANIMALS-Monterey/Ain't That So US MGM K13868 1967

L.S.D. changed a lot of people in the music world, and none more so than Newcastle's own Eric Burdon who made the leap from Geordie brown ale supping flat cap wearing r&b disciple to full blown acid eating flower child. 

The Animals were huge in the States racking up eight hits here on the MGM label before Burdon revamped the line up with all new faces retaining only the last Animals drummer, ex-Nashville Teen Barry Jenkins and rechristening themselves as "Eric Burdon & The Animals". And with this revamp came the make over brought on by changing times and a little something called Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. By mid 1966 Burdon became a full on L.S.D. convert and the band's predilection for Chuck Berry took a back seat. Such was Burdon & Company's freak street cred that they were among the handful of British acts invited to perform at the Monterey International Pop  Music Festival held in Monterey, California June 16-18, 1967. Burdon also introduced The Who at the gig and then commemorated the event with the release of this December 1967 single "Monterey" (it not released in the U.K. until the following year).   As cringe worthy as the lyrics are (especially when Burdon refers to Ravi Shankar as "Ravi Shanknar") with all the name checking (Hendrix, The Byrds, Brian Jones as "His Majesty Prince Jones", The Who etc) it's musically interesting. In some cases with each mention of a particular musician there's something musical to represent them, ie electric sitar during Ravi Shankar's name or a trumpet riff during Hugh Masekella's mention.  The whole track is carried around by a raga guitar lick mixed with some horns that have a slightly "pop" music feel, being neither jazzy nor r&b and then some sawing cello/violin comes in to add an even freakier effect. 

"Ain't That So" is an interesting number. It's an almost polar opposite of the A-side. Kicking off with a Dave Clarke Five style drum roll it reminds me a bit of "We're Not What We Appear To Be" with it's fuzz guitar and lyrical message of "freedom for youth" ("you stick to your scene baby, we got our own"). Regardless of it's "message" I really dig it, it's repetitive chorus grows on you!

"And may the baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind": Burdon mixes psychedelia with evangelism.

Both sides are available on an extensive five CD retrospective "When I Was Young: The MGM Years 1967-1968". 

Hear "Monterey":

 Hear "Ain't That So":