Thursday, 27 October 2011

Hairy Hoodoo Men

Back in January when I started this blog, I revealed that an eye-catching facial appendage prominently displayed in a band portrait is often enough to persuade me to take a punt on an album, especially if that album dates from the late 1960s or the 1970s. This rule of thumb still helps lead me to some superb music, but once in a while the reverse happens. That is, I discover some spectacular facial hair as an unexpected bonus when I buy an album for the music contained therein. Birth Control's Hoodoo Man is one such album. Nowadays, facial hair, however off-the-wall, has become formulaic: it's part of the uniform of an alternative lifestyle along with tattoos and piercings. In the 1970s being in possession of an extravagant jaw cosy meant that you were probably a bit mental.

The Heinz Dofflein illustration on Birth Control's Hoodoo Man LP sleeve is like a Robert Crumb fantasy that's gone horribly wrong. It's not the kind of packaging you would usually expect for an album with a whiff of Deep Purple MkII's sound. Where's the self-aggrandising Mount Rushmore parody of In Rock or the cosmos-conquering meteorite of Fireball? Once you open up the gatefold sleeve you begin to understand why these Hammond-heavy Krautrockers might have opted for the bizarre over the iconic: they're all bonkers.

The Deep Purple comparison, however valid, is a bit of a lazy one based on the prevalence of Hammond organ throughout the LP. I hear sonic doffs of the hat to many heavy progressive bands of the era. That's not to say that Birth Control lacked originality, it just helps to have a convenient peg to hang that hat on when describing their sound. Of the two tracks presented  here, the first, Buy!, begins in promising fashion with an explosion. You can't go wrong with an explosion! Over the course  of its seven plus minutes, the track incorporates a fluid, mellow, funky bassline, tempo changes, a King Crimson-esque freakout featuring Mini Moog(?), a slide guitar solo and a Hammond / guitar duel. What's not to like? Gamma Ray, clocking in at almost ten minutes, opens with the sound of a spaceship taking off, followed by a spoken, scene-setting intro before the track settles into a relentless head-nodding, shakers and tom-toms, Bo Diddley rhythm. We are treated to lashings of Hammond organ and a rasping vocal underpinned at all times by that cosmic jungle beat and a subtle wah-wah guitar flavouring which morphs into something more primal as Bruno Frenzel unleashes a cry-baby solo akin to Uriah Heep's Mick Box at his best. A single manipulated piano note brings the solo to an end and introduces a hoodoo voodoo percussion-fest featuring maracas, timbales, congas, kit and kitchen sink. A quick guitar and vocal-scat duel, a verse or two and the Bo Diddleys take us home. This one really hits the spot!

It would be criminal not to bring out the Face Fungus-ometer for these fellas...

...And madness not to award them the FF-O's highest accolade!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Camilla: The Metal Years

Long before she hit paydirt by marrying renowned tree whisperer and Three Degrees fan, Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles had a couple of other strings to her bow. 

Camilla Parker Bowles

Her long-standing role as Audrey Roberts, the glamorous hairdresser in ITV's Coronation Street, is well documented, but her brief dalliance with hard rock has been hushed up by an embarrassed Royal Family.

In Character As Corrie's Coiffeuse

The year was 1981, a difficult time for the Duchess-in-waiting as she watched the man she loved marry another woman for no other reason than her face looked better on the souvenir tea towels and shortbread tins that otherwise sane individuals would buy by the truckload that year. Oh, okay, one other reason: she was already married to some bloke. People do crazy things for love, but how many have gone so far off the rails that they have formed a melodic hard rock supergroup with John Oates of Hall & Oates fame and Manowar's Scott Columbus (R.I.P.) in a desperate attempt to blot out the pain of a broken heart. How many? One: Camilla Parker Knoll. Clearly we can see from the album cover photo that Camilla, second right, is not a happy bunny.

Even in her disturbed state the future Mrs Wales had the presence of mind to disguise her appearance. The record-buying public and her fellow band members alike were blissfully unaware that the burly rocker was in fact a woman. The clues are there: the copious bingo wings, the studded choker hiding the non-existent adam's apple and the poorly strapped down puppies. Tracked down by husband Andrew to a seedy rehearsal space in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an emotional and confused Camilla returned to the U.K. and attempted to rebuild her life. Who knows what dizzying heights her band, USA, might have scaled if Camilla had remained 'unfound' because, contained on their sole LP, are ten fair to middling stabs at melodic rock, a couple of examples of which you can hear below. I suspect Camilla had a hand in writing Can't Get You Out Of My Mind.

It's been far too long since the Face Fungus-Ometer made an appearance and, quite frankly, I miss it. Don't expect a high score for USA in the facial hair department despite Scott and John's efforts, because, let's face it, they're at a disadvantage having a woman in the band.

A respectable five! A big thumbs up though to Scott and John for their 'tache and superhero leotard combination. Pure class!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Re-imagining The Beatles #1 - Pot Liquor

One of the marks of a great song is its ability to stand up to re-interpretation by other artists and in some cases to scale new heights in their hands. Don't shoot me for suggesting that Badfinger's Without You is a mediocre performance of a superb song which only revealed its true beauty when Harry Nilsson made it his own. Pete Ham admitted that Nilsson's rendition of his song was "the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve." The Beatles' With A little Help From My Friends suffers, some might say, from Ringo Starr's naive, tonally-challenged vocal, which manages to disguise the quality of the composition. Thank God that Joe Cocker was able to recognise the song's potential and gave the world one of the greatest Beatles covers to date. To call it a cover doesn't perhaps do it justice as Cocker's reinvention of the song launches it into the stratosphere. The fact that such a great song was handed to Ringo to sing on Sergeant Pepper attests to the embarassment of songwriting riches in the Beatles camp.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that Yesterday is the most covered song of all time, with versions ranging from instrumental Tijuana Brass-style interpretations to reworkings by Elvis, Dylan, Sinatra and beyond. In recognition of the wealth of Fab Four covers that exist, today sees the first in an ongoing series of posts featuring unusual, surprising, and downright wonderful re-workings of Beatles songs. It's up to you to decide which category they fall into.

Here's Louisiana band Pot Liquor's interpretation of Lady Madonna. To my ears, their version invests the song with a Little Feat / The Band vibe. There's blues and hard rock influences aplenty on this LP, but there's also a heavy dose of what would now be termed Americana. See what you make of their take on The Beatles classic.