Wednesday, December 30, 2020

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: Traffic's Debut 45

TRAFFIC featuring STEVIE WINWOOD-Paper Sun/Giving To You US United Artists UA 50195 1967

Emerging in 1967 when the term "super group" was being bandied about quite frequently in the music press, I can't say I ever thought Traffic were a super group. Other than Stevie Winwood coming from The Spencer Davis Group his band mates were all decidedly players on B-teams (no offense musically, I'm speaking purely from the commercial aspect). But rock n roll mythology likes to lump them together with everyone else. Regardless their debut was one of the finest singles 1967 unleashed.

Depending on what source you've read "Paper Sun", the debut May '67 45 by Traffic was written allegedly in a hotel lobby or a hotel room in Newcastle by Winwood when he was still in the S.D.G. and Jim Capaldi while he was in Deep Feeling (a band who never released any records but recorded some great material) .  My image of Newcastle is forever muddied by "Get Carter" a film from 5 years later so the idea of Traffic in their hippy garb in 1967 Newcastle must have been quite an unusual one as I imagine it was still all Brylcreem and winklepickers up there at that time. "Paper Sun" is a perfect Summer of '67 tune not just for all of it's sitar and conga trappings but lyrically it was already sussing the expiration date on the trippy hippie carefree lifestyle that was suddenly "the rage". Maybe I'm mis-hearing the lyrics, but that's my interpretation. There's the buzzing woodwinds creating a psychedelic Casbah feel meshing up against sitar scales and jarring tambura and tablas tapping, 1967 was here. Feel it.

"Giving To You" starts with a cacophony of voices all shouting and chattering on top of each other before evolving into a mellow jazzy instrumental led by flute before some blistering  British blues guitar licks burst forth and then some B-3 notes slide in. It's interesting because it's a meld of bluesy/jazzy British r&b, a scene all of the band members were clearly moving away from with this band but clearly not far away enough from for them to still play it.

Trade advert for the single courtesy of

Both tracks are available as bonus tunes on the recent deluxe edition CD reissue of their debut LP "Mr. Fantasy". 

Hear "Paper Sun":

Hear "Giving To You":

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Stop Me If You've Heard These Before....Even 10 More For Your Ears

Here's ten more groovers for your eardrums, hopefully some new to your ears ones!  Al label scans are courtesy of the amazing website!

1. HOUSTON PERSON-"Soul Dance" Prestige 45-713 1969
Jazz sax player Houston Person cut several 45's for the Prestige label (five to be exact) and this was the first. It's a catchy sax versus B-3 instrumental (organ played by Billy Gardener) that's not as funky as the release year might lead you to believe!

2. THE FIVE DU-TONES-"The Chicken Astronaut" One-derful 4824 1964
The Five Du-Tones cut nine singles for the One-derful label from 1962-65. This tune was the flip of their seventh 45 "Cool Bird". It's an upbeat r&b grrover about a reluctant spaceman with some rollicking piano and a danceable groove throughout and a great fade out with someone yelling "I wanna go back to earth so I can shake a tail feather" (in reference to their third single "Shake A Tail Feather").

3. JON HENDRICKS-"Fire In The City" Verve VK-10512 1967
Vocalese jazz legend Jon Hendricks had an interesting career following the break up of his jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. By 1967 he was palling around with a San Francisco act called The Warlocks (later to be known as The Grateful Dead) who backed him on this track, the flip of his final single "Sons And Daughters". "Fire In The City" is not remotely jazz but a catchy bluesy tune with lots of gospel like call and response backing vocals that almost borders on sounding like Creedence Clearwater Revival. Dig the funky guitar solo by Bob Weir!

4. LITTLE SHERMAN & THE MOD SWINGERS-"The Price Of Love" ABC 45-11233 1969
This obscure 45 was cut by a Chicago singer-songwriter named Sherman Nesbary first for the local Sagport label then reissued by ABC. It sounds a great deal like the poppy soul of Sly & The Family Stone with it's upbeat backing and chorus of sunshiney harmonies. 

5. THE BRACEROS-"Sunny" Vault V-930 1966
This 1966 cover of Bobby Hebb's hit "Sunny" is an amazing Latin r&b instrumental that's trumpet led with vibes and some seriously hard hitting drumming making it my favorite version of this track that I have ever heard! I know absolutely nothing about these guys so if anyone could fill in the blanks it would be greatly appreciated!

6. LITTLE EMMETT SUTTON-"Mom, Won't You Teach Me To Monkey" Federal 45-12501 1963
This pricey slow r&b smoker on the Federal label is almost analogous to early Smokey Robinson and The Miracles but a little grittier. It's a perfect mid tempo exercise in beautiful mod/r&b. Anybody got a spare copy for under a Franklin that they want to part with?

7. THE ROOFTOP SINGERS-"Kites" Atco 45-6526 1967
US folk trio The Rooftop Singers are an unexpected appearance here but their September 1967 single is best known by a version from U.K. act Simon Dupree and The Big Sound's (issued here by them in the US on Tower two months later). The U.K. Simon Dupree version came out in October which leads me to suspect this was the original! Forget anything you might think of this band and their folky/elevator jazz muzak this number is pure pop psych brilliance! With regal trumpets, jarring organ, flutes, marimbas and above all pure sunshine pop harmony vocals it's no wonder Simon Dupree and Co. decided to cut this!

8. THE FURYS-"Parchman Farm" Lavender R-1805 1963
Not to be confused with the California R&B vocal group The Fury's, these guys were an act who hailed from Longview, Washington and cut this almost frat rock version of the Mose Allison classic. At times it sounds sloppy, but that's where it's charm lies. My favorite part of the cheezy electric piano!

9. THE GRASSHOPPERS-"Mod Socks" Sunburst SB-104 1965
Cleveland, Ohio's Grasshoppers cut this updated reading of "Short Shorts" as "Mod Socks" in 1965 on the local Sunburst label.  This is a frat rock screamer that's  delivered at 100 mph with a feel that would do vintage Bob Seger proud! The beat is driving and the lead singer is a total screamer. It's hard to believe this hasn't been comped anywhere before?!

10. LEE DORSEY-"Go Go Girl" Amy 998 1967
Soul/r&b veteran Lee Dorsey released this Allen Toussaint penned stormer in September '67. Punctuated with brass blasts and a chorus of "Go Go!" it's extremely catchy upon a first listen and just builds and builds. Worth seeking out!

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Style Council


There's a new Style Council documentary available to view here in the States on Showtime. Fans or anyone with an interest in 80's music would be wise to check it out. The piece rekindled my thoughts on the band and I will direct you to two older posts: "How I Learned Not to Love The Style Council:One Young Mod's Startling 80's Epiphany" and "How I Learned Not To Love The Style Council Chapter Two".

Thursday, December 10, 2020

More U.K. Obscurities: Yen Years After's Debut 45


TEN YEARS AFTER-Portable People/The Sounds UK Deram DM 176 1968

For me Ten Years After will always be pretentious blues rock dinosaurs. Their untitled 1967 Deram LP debut is not without it's charm (with the jazzy organ instro "Adventures Of A Young Organ" or the jug band blues humor of "Losing The Dogs") but overall it failed to grab me in any major way. How strange is it that the band's debut LP was issued before they ever released any singles?  That single is today's item of interest. It was launched in February 1968 in the U.K. (a month later in the USA as Deram 45-85027). I've flipped it for our post because I much prefer the B-side.

"The Sounds" should have been the A-side. Forget any blues pretensions or 20 minute Slim Harpo covers, "The Sounds" is a full on freakbeat gas from start to finish. Curiously it reminds me a bit of Dennis Couldry's "I Am Nearly There" (UK Decca F 12734 issued the same month) with it's downtrodden, morose vocals with lyrics of mental confusion brought on by "the sounds". Is it about paranoia? A bad trip? A man who has just about had enough of life?  You decide. There's occasional bluesy but blistering guitar licks that burst out while the main verses feature a subtle organ and almost Gregorian chant backing vocals that gloomily plod along like a freakout dirge and it just builds and builds. The organ gets funkier and sound affects slowly start to pile on creating a brilliant cacophony of paranoia and confusion. It stops abruptly and slowly creeps back in for a few seconds. Positively trippy, man.

The A-side "Portable People" is not as groovy. It's not as bluesy as the bulk of their LP tracks but it's a laid back affair with music box piano tinkling away that reminds me of a light weight Lovin' Spoonful track or Canned Heat at their most plastic blues. Totally inoffensive but totally disposable too.

Both tracks are available on a deluxe Deram/Decca reissue of their debut LP that is still in print.

Promo advert courtesy of

Hear "The Sounds":

Hear "Portable People":

Thursday, December 3, 2020

David Bowie's "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" At 40: A Personal Recollection

The "Scary Monsters" album is 40. Damn I'm old. It would be the last Bowie album I really enjoyed coming out in a magical time for me amongst other LP's I loved like XTC's "Black Sea", The Jam's "Sound Affects", The Teardrop Explode's "Kilimanjaro" et al. And though in retrospect he didn't need it, at the time I felt that it "validated" Bowie's existence amongst the whole coterie of new wave/punk/blitz kids whatever (as if there was some imaginary board of "Cool" sitting in judgement of such trivial things)! Recorded in early 1980 at NYC's Power Station with veteran Bowie  producer Tony Visconti at the helm (for what would be his last Bowie LP until 2002's "Heathen") it featured an array of guests, but we're not here to discuss that, you can read all about that elsewhere. But 40 years on it still holds up well and the opening bars of "Ashes To Ashes" will magically always transport me back to the bedroom I grew up in watching a video of it for the first time on "Rockworld" (and later "The Kenny Everett Video Show") on a tiny TV set with the volume down too low so as not to wake my parents.  And juxtaposed against that year's sounds of Ultravox and Gary Numan it germinated a "which came first the chicken or the egg" debate that still hangs in my thoughts. But soon it would be over as fgast as it came in. Goodbye Major Tom, hello MTV. Chart hits and financial success were just around the corner, but so was another three plus decades of mediocrity. But before all that it was "Ashes To Ashes", three minutes and thirty five seconds of genius.

In an earlier post I wrote this about "Ashes To Ashes":
"David Bowie has often been accused of being sharp enough to anticipate a trend and stealing from it before it became mainstream and getting it out there like he invented it, 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".

And somehow it still remains the strongest track on the LP. The bleak and almost sinister synthesizers are a final note in what would be a musical year zero for Bowie after an almost musical three year period of musical silence as the world was left to wonder "What will he do next"?.

"Fashion" seemed almost American radio friendly with it's funky beat, but Robert Fripp's jarring guitars scotched any chance of hearing it book-ended between Billy Joel or The J. Geils Band on FM Top 40 radio (though it did in fact gain some airplay from AOR stations).  I remember one of my friends, Don Buchanan, gleefully exclaiming "He's singing about punk" when Bowie sang "There's a brand new dance but I don't know it's name, That people from bad homes do again and again. It's big and it's bland full of tension and fear, they do it over there but they don't do it here" in "Fashion". Like he'd spotted us in the audience and was waving to us, never mind that punk was already four years old at this point, we were clueless rural teenagers seeking any form of gratification AND validation that we could snatch, borrow or appropriate. And what of the lyrics? What did they mean? "WE are the Goon squad and we're coming to town". There are multiple schools of thought on this as referenced elsewhere on the Internet. Who were the Goon squad? Right wing fascists or so called "fashion Nazis", those pretenders of hip who decide what is "in" and what is "out" with the flick of a pen or stoke of a key.  I would be willing to lean towards the latter as the rest of the lyrics imply trends and smack of sarcasm and disdain for " the next big thing." as 1980 saw the 2-Tone movement and it's cousin the mod revival sputtering on their last gasps and the new romantics about to spring from their dark corner. As with it's 45 rpm predecessor "Ashes To Ashes" it has a kitschy video (also directed by David Mallet who did the brilliant "Ashes To Ashes" one).

Bowie and producer Tony Visconti at the Power Station, NYC, NY during the recording of "Scary Monsters..."

The LP's title cut, "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" vocally sees Bowie harking back to that British accent that he dared to use on his debut 1967 LP . His voice also sounds slightly like Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs in his disinterested tone. Again it's Fripp's shrieking guitars that power the track as Bowie sings in a detached manner about a woman going off the deep end..."when I looked in her eyes they were blue and nobody home.." pierced by an array of weird effects. Even the music itself seems to set the template for The Psychedelic Furs and a host of other quirky new wave bands. 

"Up The Hill Backwards" is a hark back to Bowie's post Ziggy soul boy phase, the multitracked vocals sound almost soulful like a blitz kid Voices of East Harlem but with again, Fripp's fret histrionics blowing it out. The track is truly a fish out of water with it's feel good mantra/chorus "up the hill backwards it'll be alright..." that sounds almost new age against the bleak nihilism that surrounds it on this album. 

But for me "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" would be Bowie's last great album and the one and only time I was aware AND appreciative of a long player he did. There would be a track here and there that caught my fancy over the remaining years, but nothing as consistent and as a whole like this album did.