27 September 2014

The Jaybirds - Tell Me When/ You Can't Do That

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1964

Regular readers will know the drill with Embassy Records - this was no ordinary record label, being a budget outlet which specialised in releasing quickie 45rpm cover versions of the hits of the day. I've already written about their history here, and I'll refrain from doing so again.

Side A in this case is actually a reasonably faithful cover of "Tell Me When" by The Applejacks, a group best known mainly for that hit. The Applejacks were the first Birmingham based group to hit the British top ten and there were high hopes they could continue that initial success, but in reality each subsequent release was greeted with less enthusiasm from the public. A deep pity, because one early flip side "Boom Boom Boom Boom (Everybody Fall Down)" could perhaps be seen to pre-empt The Housemartins sound by two whole decades, to the extent that it's nigh-on impossible to listen to it without imagining Hull's top turn doing goofy dancing along to it while Norman Cook dances properly and tries not to look embarrassed behind them. It's safe to say that while The Applejacks were not actually lost musical pioneers, they frequently bashed out a beat tune with more competence and enthusiasm than many of their better-selling peers. 

Side B is the puzzler. "You Can't Do That" was never a Beatles A-side, but it proves how popular the Fabs were in 1964 that even their flip sides were being covered for cheapo single releases. But surely the logical thing to have done would be to pair this with a cover of "Can't Buy Me Love"? What was going on in the minds of everyone at Embassy HQ at this point? It's impossible to say. The track is commercially available on iTunes and also a Beatles covers album these days, so you'll have to satisfy yourself with a YouTube link for it instead. I'll be blunt - it's utterly unremarkable. So many of the cover versions of Beatles songs during this era remind you never to underestimate the power the group - including the much-maligned Ringo - could pack into their songs. Other session musicians clearly struggled to replicate their sound, to the extent that an effective Beatles cover actually feels like a notable achievement. 

22 September 2014

Nicky Scott - Honey Pie/ No More Tomorrows

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1969

The mania for covering Beatles albums tracks in the sixties is such that I'm genuinely past being surprised at each new discovery I make. If the Fabs hadn't put it out as a single, it would seem that somebody somewhere had their own take ready to go. In this case, step forward Mr Nicky Scott, with your version of "Honey Pie" off "The White Album". That's right, "Honey Pie". Hardly what you'd call a chart-bound sound, although I suppose somebody at Pye must have fancied that its old school music hall arrangements might sell to an older demographic. It didn't, though.

There's not much difference between this and McCartney's version, except Scott's strange Brummie accent at the start. It stays true to the original version, though perhaps adds a tiny bit more recording studio polish to the sound, taking away some of the 78rpm styled reediness of the original. It's still a truly bizarre choice for a single, though, irrespective of any new production flourishes. The truly old-school sound might have seemed more commercial in the era of the Bonzos and the New Vaudeville Band, but as a song this didn't come close to approaching the style or wit of either group, and it's been largely disregarded by most Beatles fans since. 

Nicky Scott had a long history in music prior to the release of this, having previously been discovered by Simon Napier-Bell and paired with the black female singer Diane Ferraz, creating an inter-racial duo which was, in the early sixties, a huge deal on the London gig circuit. Eventually Scott was signed to Immediate Records as a solo artist, and while there put out a couple of folk flavoured releases which are rather good - his version of the Jagger and Richards penned meditation on the pitfalls of hiring prostitutes "Backstreet Girl" is worthy of more than a casual listen. "Honey Pie" seems to have been the first release he attempted after Immediate lost interest, and did little to raise his profile.

Meanwhile, I await a 7" version of "Wild Honey Pie" with interest. There probably is one out there somewhere…

21 September 2014

Ebay Clearout

Three problems for me at the moment - one, I've booked a holiday I can barely afford (aw diddums, come the sarcastic cries).
Two, my flat is getting cluttered with vinyl, some of which I could probably live without (I have duplicate copies of some records, for example).
Three, I am charged a monthly server fee for hosting the mp3s on this blog. It doesn't seem like much, but across the whole year it does add up.

Time for an ebay sale, then. And this time, there are some pretty impressive rarities on sale. It will be sad to kiss goodbye to some of them, but in reality I played them very infrequently, and I'm just not the kind of person who has the space to keep records carefully sleeved and placed in polythene bags so I can pull them out and show them off to my friends or coo admiringly at them during dull weekends. For a start, most of my friends couldn't care less.

Anyway, here's what's for sale. Audio clips can be played so you can hear the quality. Go here to listen and bid:

THE END: Shades of Orange / Loving Sacred Loving (Yes, it is the original, not the Acme reissue)
DAVE ALLEN: The Good Earth
THORINSHIELD: Lonely Mountain Again (UK Philips Pressing)
ELLIOT MANSIONS: I Don't Want To Live Inside Myself
MIKI: Knight In White Armour (Mark Wirtz produced acetate)
ORANGE BICYCLE: Carry That Weight You Never Give Me Your Money
MARK WIRTZ: Here's Our Dear Old Weatherman
DREAM POLICE: I'll Be Home In A Day Or So / Living Is Easy
THE DISCOUNTS: Selling Records
THE HITMEN: I Still Remember It
LONDON PLEASURES: London Pleasures / Summer of Love
CAVALRY TWILL: All You Need Is Love

17 September 2014

The Charades - Hammers and Sickles/ Left Wing Bird

Label: Monument
Year of Release: 1966

The Cold War is responsible for producing some very interesting pop music. The eighties thrived on it, and even if it wasn't often explicitly mentioned in songs and videos, its looming shadow could be felt within the chilly production and bombastic arrangements. And similarly, back in the sixties the folk movement would have been less abrasive and packed less of an urgent, defiant punch had it not been for two giant opposing countries with piles of idealism (the romanticism of common ownership versus the powerful idea of capitalism being a conduit for meritocracy and enabling Freedom). Expressed in such simplistic terms, it was pure propaganda on both sides, of course - left without the right checks and balances and existing in a pure, unchallenged form, any system will eventually go to rot.

This single turned up in a job lot auction recently, and is odd to say the least. Divorced of its original context, it sounds like a faintly futile gesture. The A-side "Hammers and Sickles" sounds bizarrely hysterical, like the last ever Capitalist campfire singalong in defiance of the advancing Red Army. The lyrics seem to be suggesting that Communists were encouraging children to play with the Little Red Book rather than "crayons". "I like walking through fields of flowers knowing that I can own it all" the band also declare haughtily, which if you want to interpret it literally seems to suggest that a slice of American soil can eventually be anyone's if they earn it - something which still doesn't apply to any public land so far as I'm aware. You can walk back and forth across Yellowstone Park on some sort of sponsored anti-Commiethon until you collapse, The Charades, you're still not going to win the opportunity to buy it one day.

Anyway, "Hammers and Sickles" is a bit limp-wristed in the way a great many songs inspired by panic or public hysteria are ("Candle In the Wind '97" being the biggest selling example). It mostly contains quite hackneyed imagery and blunt ideas, and while there's no doubt the hearts of the band and Lee Emerson the songwriter were in it, it just doesn't sound like they are. It just sounds like a well harmonised youth campsite singalong populated by people you'd cross the street to avoid a conversation with.

The B-side "Left Wing Bird" is considerably more interesting in that it seems to be aping folk rock, which makes the fact it was buried away on the flip baffling. If you want to convince the cool kids there's a better way of life, you need to sound like the cool kids. The lyrical topic is inevitably the fable of a left wing bird (a sparrow, for some reason) being destroyed by the American Eagle. Again, at this distance it's far too difficult to take it seriously, though the use of the phrase "left wing" rather than "Communist" makes me think that The Charades were perhaps broadening their sights to include people like me. But melodically speaking, this is about on a par with most of the non-charting folk rock of the period, and is a cute and snappy curiosity - and by and large, history proved the band right, and we're now panicking about a completely different and less easily targeted enemy instead. Hey, don't you just love progress?

14 September 2014

Dr. Marigold's Prescription - Muddy Water/ Come With Me

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1971

Good lord, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an absolutely unashamed, bouncing-off-the-walls, gravelly voiced Creedance Clearwater Revival styled track. Plinking and plucking away in a manner that can only be described as battling and urgent, "Muddy Water" is an anthem urging extreme caution over a forthcoming catastrophe, although it's not altogether clear what it is apart from the fact that it involves unclean h20. 

"Don't nobody see the muddy water?/ It's moving fast and deeper than you think" warns the vocalist with a trembling voice like a prophet or soothsayer. "You won't know it til it's time to drink," he clarifies. Even Fields of the Nephilim have seldom been so doom-mongering. I can only assume this is some sort of metaphor for mankind's general apathy in the face of environmental and societal collapse, although it could just be about a standard river flood, I suppose. They're worrying enough. 

While I've a strong suspicion that this will split the readership's opinion like marmite, I actually think this single is so raucous and over-the-top it's actually wonderful. Short, sharp and simple as well as horribly catchy, it was probably one of the bigger injustices of 1971 that it wasn't a substantial hit. Once heard, it's never forgotten. 

"Muddy Water" was initially released by the American group The Balloon Corps who also failed to have a hit with it, so the song had no shortage of chances - their version is rather more rootsy, slower and considered, which might work better for some people, although I find it less pleasing.

Meanwhile, we've met Dr. Marigold's Prescription before on this blog, with the track "Breaking The Heart of A Good Man" with its rather popsike B-side "Night Hurries On By". They had previously worked as the backing group for Billy Fury and John Walker before breaking off on their own. While there are no lost classics sitting around in their back-catalogue, I do happen to think that they're a wee bit under-rated.