Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stereo Gold Award Exploito LPs

I was duped into buying one of those Top Of The Pops compilation LPs when I was a kid, not realising that I wasn't getting the original hits. I don't remember much about what was on it, except that there was a cover of the novelty hit Car 67 by Driver 67 complete with poorly executed Brummie accent. Those session guys must have knocked out their turgid cover of an already joyless tune with one eye on the clock, willing the day to end, such is the effort they seem to have put into it. My harrowing Top Of The Pops experience has left me both healthily suspicious of cover tunes and with a slightly masochistic fetish for them.

The Purple Fox (1971)

I have a particular fondness for those exploitation LPs that seemed to appear regularly in the Seventies that, at a glance, might fool the casual music fan into thinking that they were shoddily packaged compilations of original material, but were in fact albums of covers knocked out by respected, albeit usually anonymous, session men who used whatever studio time was left at the end of the recording session to jam a tune or two 'in-the-style-of' whichever artist they were aping. These LPs were often marketed as 'tributes' to great or popular artists, rather than as wilfully misleading albums of covers, in an attempt to give them some credibility. Sometimes it worked and the discs offered up a nugget or two. Sometimes.

A bunch of session heads fronted by a man calling himself The Purple Fox (real name Alex Boggs, if the sleeve notes can be believed, which of course they can't) is responsible for the Tribute To Jimi Hendrix LP which leapt at the chance to cash in on Hendrix's death by hitting Woolworths' racks in a blur of opportunistic haste in 1971. The sincerity of the tribute, or lack thereof, is perhaps betrayed by the mis-spelling of Jimi's name in the title of one of the featured original tracks, Requiem For Jimmy (sic). The LP is on the Stereo Gold Award label which seems to have cornered the market in these tribute-type exploitation LPs. On all of these Stereo Gold Award LPs the name Leo Muller crops up as having written (or at least he's credited with having written) the original tracks that flesh out the albums. The sleeve notes on the Hendrix tribute state that the LP was "Recorded Under Direction of D. L. Miller". I'll go out on a limb here and hypothesise that D. L. Miller and Leo Muller are one and the same. I can imagine Miller / Muller leaving the tape rolling as the session musicians jammed, paying them their Musicians' Union rates at the end of the day, and taking the credit for whatever half-formed song ideas fell into his lap. Or perhaps he was just a prolific songwriter and I'm doing him an injustice.

Amazonas (1973)

Amazonas Play Santana distinguishes itself by having a cover collage that makes some effort to reference Mati Larwein's iconic Abraxas artwork, possibly as a low-rent homage to the original but more likely in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the unwitting record buyer. The Santana logo looks to have been traced straight off the Abraxas album cover. The man doing a creditable impersonation of Carlos Santana is Zed Evans, guitarist on Gerry Rafferty's debut solo album Can I Have My Money Back?

Santana - Abraxas (1970)

Perhaps the most well known of the Stereo Gold Award LPs is Funky Junction Play A Tribute To Deep Purple. In itself it's a less-than-thrilling set of Deep Purple covers despite the sleeve notes' assertion that "Funky Junction are an exciting new group that has the pulse of today" with "U.K. and world audiences.... acclaiming them for the great group they are". However, what makes the album interesting is that Funky Junction features moonlighting Thin Lizzy members Phil Lynott on bass, Brian Downey on drums and Eric Bell on guitar.

Funky Junction (1973)

Who knows the identity of the hairy geezers pictured on the sleeve (although Purple Records signings Hard Stuff's name has cropped up as a possibility), but I think we can be pretty certain that none of them has ever played on a Stereo Gold Award LP. The photo does give the impression that Funky Junction is a real band, not a studio construct, so job done! True to form, Muller grabs songwriting credits on this LP, having the chutzpah to claim instrumental versions of the evergreen tunes House Of The Rising Sun and  Danny Boy as his intellectual property, retitling them Rising Sun and Dan respectively. Now that's just cheeky! Incidentally, Rising Sun features some fine guitar work from Eric Bell.

A later Stereo Gold Award album which actually claims to be by Gladys Knight & The Pips rather than merely being a tribute to the Soul diva (although I have seen it suggested elsewhere that Ms Knight had no part in the recording), features a guest appearance by Funky Junction. They perform two tracks, both credited to Leo Muller of course, which bear no sonic relation whatsoever to Gladys' portion of the LP. So what the hell are they doing on there?

Gladys Knight (1975)
The chances of this incarnation of Funky Junction featuring any of the musicians who recorded A Tribute To Deep Purple are slim to none, but seeing as the group's existence was a figment of Leo Muller's imagination anyway, I don't suppose a line-up change really necessitated a new name. To add to the confusion, one of the Funky Junction tracks on here, Road's End, appears in identical form on the Hendrix tribute album four years earlier under the name Acid Test, supposedly performed by The Purple Fox: same song, same performance, same recording. Baffling!

The thing about these Stereo Gold Award albums is that, exploitative and cynical as they were when released, the intervening years have leant them a modicum of credibility that has seen them become collectors' items in their own right. Here are a selection of the best of the 'original' tracks from these LPs, fuzz guitars to the max! You have to hand it to Mr Muller, he really knew how to capture that dirty, acid fried, porno soundtrack vibe!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Talkies - I Fell In Love Last Night

I love my Metal, Prog Rock, Electric Jazz, Psychedelia and a million sub-genres inbetween, running parallel or hurtling off at a tangent, and one type of music that has stimulated my aural exciters since the time when the charts were filled with killer 45s by Squeeze, The Motors, Joe Jackson, The Vapors, Elvis Costello and XTC is what has come to be known as Powerpop. It was just pop music that wasn't shit back then, New Wave that favoured guitars over one fingered remedial synth parps, but now that everything has to come with a label, Powerpop seems to do the job quite adequately. Defining Powerpop isn't that simple, but I know it when I hear it, even though it can sound as lush and ethereal as The Wondermints and Jellyfish or as bruising and raucous as Cheap Trick's debut LP.

Even though I'm usually more of an LP man than a 7" single aficionado, Powerpop is one genre that sits really comfortably with the 7" format. Let's face it, if you can't get a chorus as dumb as Harpo Marx stuck in the listener's head inside three minutes, you ain't doing it right. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to those dinky little picture sleeves whenever I'm breaking my back hunched over boxes of ill-organised vinyl flotsam in charity shops. As a fiscally-challenged kid, as the ugly end of the Seventies segued into the Eighties, spending 99 pence on a 7" single when I could have a Nice Price re-release of a classic album for £2.99 struck me as a pretty stupid thing to do. Perhaps nostalgia is what now prompts me to pick up some of those singles that I passed over in my skint youth, but that's definitely not the case with I Fell In Love Last Night by The Talkies. I didn't know the band existed until recently when a rummage at one of the aforementioned tat emporia turned up a copy of their one and only 7 incher.

That label just screams Powerpop doesn't it! Let's just say that I would have been very surprised to have spun the disc and heard Country music ambling out of my speakers. A Google search for The Talkies does nothing to shed any light on the band, so I can tell you absolutely nothing about them. They don't even crop up on YouTube, which leads me to think that this is a rare single, a fact fleshed out by Popsike which lists just two copies having sold at auction for £27 and £51. Not a bad return on my 50 pence investment. The real return though is that the grooves are full of enthusiastic and infectious DIY Powerpop. If anything, the B-side, Foreign Legion, is the better of the two tracks, immediately bringing to mind classic XTC. I'm pretty sure you won't hear this anywhere else, so enjoy!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Unrivalled Sons

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Rival Sons playing at Camden's Electric Ballroom on Monday night and still haven't come down from their thrilling and utterly flawless performance.

Rival Sons set the Electric Ballroom on fire!

The first indication that the stars were aligned for a vintage evening's entertainment came when support band, Ulysses, hit us with a set of equal parts stomp, glitter and psychedelia. Definitely a bunch of furry freak brothers worthy of being tarred with the 'next big thing' brush. These days I listen to the radio about as often as I renew my car tax, but there are three radio broadcasters for whom I have the greatest respect: the sadly clog-popped Alan 'Fluff' Freeman; the equally no-longer-with-us Tommy Vance; and 'Whispering' Bob Harris. I have fond memories of meeting both Fluff and TV (in a lift in a Maida Vale block of flats and backstage at a Black Sabbath gig, respectively), but never had the honour of shaking Bob Harris' hand. Still haven't, but I did get to see him introduce Rival Sons to the stage on Monday with words to the effect that they are his new favourite band. That was indication number two that the evening was going to be a bit special. Number three came when Mrs Shelf-Stacker pointed out a silver-haired gentleman stood behind us with a shit-eating grin plastered across his famous mug: yep, Jimmy Page was roughing it in a sticky-floored North London sweat box checking out the soon-to-be-mighty Rival Sons and heirs to Zeppelin's throne.

So what's any of this got to do with vinyl? Well, Rival Son's new album is out, it's the mutt's nuts and you can get it on paving slab-heavy double vinyl or on a little, shiny, plastic, bird scarer if you want to go all retro on us and buy a CD.

In the meantime, check out this footage of the band performing On My Way at the Electric Ballroom on Monday night.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

One Shot At Glory

The latest issue of Classic Rock magazine has an interesting feature where the writers each offer up what, in their opinion, is the best ever one-off album. That is, a stand-alone album by a group or solo artist that never had a follow up, not counting posthumous or live releases. I can't fault Mark Blake's vote for Hughes/Thrall's self-titled LP, which is the best thing Glenn Hughes has ever leant his larynx to (and yes, I do think it has the edge over his Deep Purple and Black Country Communion recordings), but I got to thinking that surely there are other more obscure albums that had their one shot at glory but, for one reason or another, missed their targets by a mile. As this is my blog, I can make my own rules, so I'm going to present three one-shot gems in no particular order and without making any claim for them as my all-time favourites or anything so final. They're just great albums that should be better known.

Pipedream - Pipedream (1979)

If only for the Spinal Tap-esque cover this album warrants further investigation. Chuck into the mix the input of Tim Bogert on bass and vocals (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus) and Willy Daffern on vocals (Captain Beyond, Gary Moore's G-Force, Truk) and it's irresistible. My Initial impression of this LP was of a Bad Company / Journey hybrid. The vocal phrasing throughout is very reminiscent of Steve Perry and we are treated to big multi-part vocal harmonies at every turn. However, not every track sits comfortably in that Bad Co / Journey pigeonhole. Only Cause features prominent harpsichord and skilfully orchestrated strings to conjure up a Beatlesque ballad. Heather has a West Coast white boy funk thing going on in a Doobie Brothers stylee. There are moments of flashy sophisticated AOR that border on fusion in Feel Free, and How Long features a tabla and piano intro and the brief but unmistakeable sound of Syndrums which serve to pinpoint the year of recording more accurately than carbon dating. Possibly the album highlight is Rosalie, not the Bob Seger track covered by Thin Lizzy, but a track that, if it lost the unnecessary strings, could sit comfortably on Gary Moore's Still Got The Blues album as it boasts a fantastic bluesy guitar tone, a rich, sultry vocal and warm, mellow bass. Lies rides along on an insistent rhythm that adds cowbell and twin kick drums to the mix in a mid-section where the bass and lead guitar go for each other's throats. Tim Bogert's bass playing is a joy to listen to throughout and I would have liked to hear it higher in the mix but, to his credit, as the best known and most successful member of Pipedream, he exercises admirable restraint in reigning in his ego.

Armageddon - Armageddon (1975)

Featuring the vocals and harmonica of Keith Relf, formerly of The Yardbirds and Renaissance, and the clattering, staccato drumming of Captain Beyond's Bobby Caldwell, this was always going to be a bit special, right? Damn right! Armageddon eschews the down-tuned guitars of Sabbath and the relentless tinnitus fuzz of Blue Cheer, and instead draws its heaviness from naggingly insistent basslines locked in to mesmerising, epileptic drumming and relentless, hypnotically repetitive Groundhog Day guitar riffs. Proceedings kick off in style with Buzzard's wah-wah assault and rhythmic groove coming on like the soundtrack to a chase scene in a blaxploitation movie jammed into existence by a bunch of hairy, white stoners. Silver Tightrope is a mellow, phased guitar journey on the astral plane with lyrical references to "the voices of the spheres" and "beings bathed in light" whilst the galloping rhythms, metallic guitar riff and tempo changes of Paths And Planes And Future Gains perfectly reflect the song's salvation-seeking lyrical content. Last Stand Before commences the flip side in hypnotic style, its mesmeric bassline designed to incite involuntary head nodding. Keith Relf's harmonica slugs it out with Martin Pugh's guitar to see the song out. The four-part Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun moves from a brief instrumental passage (Warning Coming On) to another persistent guitar motif (Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun) that demonstrates Armageddon's skill at taking up residence in a riff to provoke a near-hypnotic state in the listener. Part three of Basking..., a piece called Brother Ego, is a strutting riff and wah-wah showcase that yields to  Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun (Reprise) which begins with more of Relf's harp before a dirty, fuzzed-up bass, shimmering cymbals and screeching guitar lead us back to the same intoxicating riff that hypnotised us in part two.

D,B,M&T - Fresh Ear (1970) 

Having started life as four-fifths of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, the four members set adrift by the departure of Dave Dee in 1969 opted to drop their British Invasion sunshine pop sound and form a new band that was an all together more grown-up proposition. You only have to take a look at the band portrait on the cover to see that the days of Carnaby Street duds and teenybopper appeal were over. Here was a group getting back to the country, following the example of The Beatles who had themselves looked to the austere, everyman anti-image of The Band for sartorial inspiration. The music on Fresh Ear complements the change in dress code, with an earthy, folk-inflected psych pop/rock sound that doffs its hat to the Revolver-and-beyond Beatles material as well as Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Revolver meets Bookends vibe of Mr President is mugged by an out-of-nowhere Moog assault which is as out of place as a hard-on in a convent, but kind of works for that very reason. Too Much blends acoustic guitars,  a tough Graham Nash-esque vocal, three-part acapella vocal harmonies, a riveting bassline and up-front drums into a folksy C,S & N-inspired song. She Was A Raver chugs along on a fuzzed-up bassline and keeps the guitar buried deep in the mix until a rasping lead break is unleashed. A percussion interlude takes over until it, in turn, gives way to a snotty Pete Townshend-like riff. Sounds of the sea bookend Mystery Rider which turns out to be a nice little psych pop number with a tasty electric guitar riff underpinned by acoustic guitar and tambourine. Side 2 opens with the Beatles and Kinks influenced World. You could almost believe it was a Ray Davies lead vocal. Rain is dripping with vocal harmonies that you'd swear were The Beatles. This song is all about the voices, the instrumentation hardly registering until you notice how much the riff sounds like something that Status Quo were knocking out in their transition from psychedelic popsters to heads-down boogie merchants. And that, incidentally, is a good thing. Soukie is another folky acoustic number that acts as the calm before the storm that is Leader Of A Rock 'N' Roll Band, featuring hard guitar, a Lennon-esque vocal and a bassline that John Entwhistle would have been on nodding terms with. The production on this LP is warm, open and upfront, really bringing the material alive. I can't recommend this album highly enough.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jellyfish ONE : Royal Mail NIL

I recently took delivery of Jellyfish's newly released Live At Bogart's double LP on beautiful blue vinyl, which, in common with Genesis' Calling All Stations album, consists of three playable sides and one purely decorative, laser-etched side.

The LP winged its way over from the States without a hitch only for the Royal Mail to deliver it to a random address half a mile from where I live. Fortunately, and by some strange quirk of fate, a fellow vinyl aficianado lives at said address and, after realising that it wasn't meant for him,  took it upon himself to hand deliver my LP. Perhaps this isn't a big deal if you live somewhere like Alaska where your closest neighbours are likely to be at least half a mile away, but within spitting distance of London, such neighbourly, not to mention honest, behaviour is at a premium. A huge 'thank you' then to Khaled for renewing my faith in human nature and reinforcing my low opinion of the postal service. I hope your Bee Gees LP has turned up!

If ever a band disintegrated before its time, then Jellyfish is that band. The list of my top ten favourite albums is pretty much set in stone with the same LPs maintaining their presence in the list if not their exact ranking, their places in the hierarchy being fluid and ever-shifting, but Jellyfish's Spilt Milk has long remained rooted to the top spot. After their debut album's statement of intent, the band delivered its very own Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / Pet Sounds / A Night At The Opera with Spilt Milk and promptly imploded. The band took their musical cues from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Queen and ran with them, creating an album that, amongst a knowing, bewildered and ever-growing cult following is regarded as an inexplicably ignored all-time masterpiece. Live At Bogart's, which documents in its entirety a gig on the Bellybutton tour at Long Beach, California on February 21st 1991, leaves me kicking myself that I never saw the band live. I was certainly aware of, and enjoyed, the first album when it was released thanks to a heads-up from a discerning mate (cheers Ash), but failed at the time to work out where the band fitted into the constant diet of third-rate hair metal crud that dominated my gig-going at the time. You live and learn!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there are tapes of Spilt Milk-era gigs being readied for release. Incidentally, music aside, the richness of the sound reproduction and the quality of the vinyl pressing of this live LP is gobsmackingly good. A big step-up from the somewhat muddled sound of the recent Spilt Milk vinyl reissue, also on Omnivore Records: one of those rare occasions when, whisper it, I would opt for CD over vinyl.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Jon Lord R.I.P.

I've been a bit slow to add my voice to those expressing their sadness at Jon Lord's passing, but I wasn't sure there was much I could add to what's already been written elsewhere. I never met Jon, but he always struck me as having the air of a true gentleman. Much as I've grown up being thoroughly entertained by the legendary antics of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue and other debauched rock 'n' rollers, there's always been something admirable about those individuals who, despite making their living in rock music, plough their own furrow in terms of how they conduct themselves: they are few and far between. Jon Lord's gentlemanly comportment was the flip-side to the wild, aggressive sound that he coaxed from his Hammond organ. I have always loved the gutteral, farting, unhinged roar of a Hammond fed through a Leslie cab and overdriven by a Marshall stack. Nobody produced a more stirring racket with that particular combination than Jon Lord. And what about those organ / guitar dogfights between Lord and Blackmore!

Jon Lord - Rock God

Unlike when some rock stars pass away and I'm prompted to dig out and revisit their records, there was no need when I heard of Jon Lord's demise as Deep Purple are constant visitors to my turntable anyway. Jon Lord will be sorely missed.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Re-imagining The Beatles #4 - La Seine

Apologies for the long absence. If any of you out there enjoy what you read and hear on this blog, then please post a comment or register as a follower, if only to motivate me to continue ridiculing / fawning over my record collection for you. To quote Bruce Dickinson, "Scream for me Long Beach!"

And so, without further ado, the latest in a series of must-hear Beatles cover songs.

In 1976, La Seine released their Like The River album to little fanfare. They must have been mad (In Seine perhaps?) to adopt such a seemingly random and un-Rock 'n' Roll name, but the LP's title and cover art suggest that someone in the band was a serious Francophile and river fetishist.

The grainy band portrait on the rear cover hints at a group flirting with Shelf-Stacker-approved facial hair and there may well  be a hint of beret on the shadowy figure on the far right of the picture (I think we've found our Francophile!). No wonder I was drawn to this LP when I liberated it from the grubby racks at the much-missed Cheapo Cheapo Records!

But what can I tell you about the band? Precious little to be honest, but post-La Seine it would appear that Tom Seufert (vocals/guitar) wrote for Ringo Starr, Glen Frey and Trevor Rabin, and is currently creative director/executive producer for a boutique record company, Visual Music.

Steve Hague (keyboards) went on to play with New Wave / Powerpop band Jules & The Polar Bears before becoming the producer of choice for virtually every British pop act in possession of a synthesizer: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Pet Shop Boys, Communards, New Order, Erasure etc., etc. He's also found time to produce albums for Pretenders, P.I.L., and Peter Gabriel. Hague's online biographies all fail to mention his one-time membership of La Seine, but he is most definitely guilty as charged. Oddly, it is Tom Seufert who produces Like The River, not Hague.

Bass player Don Whaley's credits include stints recording with Bert Jansch and Ian Matthews.

Tris Imboden (drums) has occupied Chicago's drumstool for the past couple of decades and worked extensively as a session musician, having made his mark with such luminaries as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steve Vai, Firefall, Kenny Loggins, Roger Daltrey and Richard Marx.

Background vocalist Mark Creamer's pipes graced Billy Joel's Piano Man and Bob Seger's Like A Rock. He's also worked as a session guitarist and latterly as a studio engineer.

These impressive CVs would suggest that Like The  River must be a lost classic. Well, not quite, but it certainly has its moments: You've Let Me Down; You Turn Me Around; Union Strong Arm Men and I Want To Believe In You all occupy a Tycoon / Le Roux musical neighbourhood, but they are forced to brush shoulders with the Hawaiian guitar of Come To The Island, the faux Stevie Wonder keyboard squelches of Dance, Like You Do At Home, the buccaneer impersonations on It's A Pirate's Life and the cod-Latino Tango All Night, all of which have their charms and are skilfully played, but sabotage any chance the album has of creating a consistent and coherent mood. And then there's the cover of the Beatles' I'm Down which is very enjoyable despite the fact that, perversely, the band sounds so bloody cheerful. Couldn't they have made some attempt to sound pissed off? The backing vocalists singing "I'm Down" sound like they've just won the lottery for crying out loud! A decent album with some great performances, pristine vocal harmonies and top musicianship throughout. Trawl the car boot sales for your copy.

 For those shadowy 'taches!...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Spirits Having Flown

So, it would seem that it was a vertiginous spiral of depression that took Ronnie Montrose, not the cancer that he'd been battling. Does that make the fact of his passing more, or less, dispiriting?  I'm damned if I know. Perhaps, it was in a fit of pique that 'the Big C' carted off Robin Gibb on Sunday. I never intended this blog to be a series of eulogies to fallen musical heroes, but they just keep on checking out before their time and I feel impelled, in my cack-handed way, to mark their premature passing.

You would have to be a tribesman in the Amazonian rainforest to have remained untouched by the Gibb brothers' body of work. In fact, scrub that, there are probably people wearing hollowed-out gourds on their gentleman bits and sporting bones through their noses who at this precise moment are raising a glass of fermented tree frog juice to Robin Gibb and launching into an impromptu rendition of You Should Be Dancing. The Bee Gees were, and are, everywhere. More so than you probably realise. The extent of their influence on popular music and on popular culture generally is mind-boggling. If your enjoyment of the Bee Gees extends no further than watching them being sent-up by Kenny Everett on his TV show in the early 1980s, then your life has still been enhanced by them.

If the Bee Gees are one of your 'guilty pleasures' (grrrr!!!), I'll turn a blind eye this time, seeing as you are acknowledging their worth, albeit in a covert and cowardly fashion. If when you wander down the paint aisle at Homebase you can't help but think of John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever, swinging a can of paint as he struts down the street to the strains of Stayin' Alive, then you're indebted to the Gibbs. Even the British Heart Foundation has recognised Stayin' Alive's worth in its Vinnie Jones-fronted TV adverts by singling the song out as the one to have playing in your head when performing CPR on a heart attack victim. It's perfect: everyone knows the song and it has the exact rhythm and tempo required to resuscitate someone in cardiac arrest. Even the title is handily appropriate. Never mind how many records they've sold or how many bums they've put on seats, I wonder how many lives the Bee Gees have saved?

They have though, sold their music by the truck-load. Wikipedia reports that the Bee Gees have shifted more than 200 million records and that doesn't take into account the many more hundreds of millions of records sold by the estimated 2,500 artists that have recorded their songs. Of course, we've had to endure Ronan Keating's adenoidal honking of Words, but for every grating, talentless abomination who has attempted to further his career by butchering a Bee Gees tune, there are hundreds of talented artists who have demonstrated an inspiring degree of musical empathy when tackling the Gibb Brothers' back catalogue. They've all had a go: Elton, Elvis, Joplin, Clapton, Streisand, Al Green, Percy Sledge... It might be quicker to list those artists who haven't covered a Bee Gees song. Hell, even the charmingly monikered Anal Cunt have boosted the Gibb brothers' bank accounts. Probably not by much, mind you.

Instead of tagging a bunch of Bee Gees performances onto the end of this post, I thought it might be fun to pick a few cover versions that you may not have heard before.

 First up are a couple of songs from their 1960s Baroque Pop phase. Ian Lloyd, as well as cropping up as a session singer all over the shop, fronted his own band, Stories, for three fine LPs before going solo. His cover of Holiday, the original of which was on the Bee Gees' 1st LP from 1967, is taken from his Goose Bumps album and features Foreigner's Lou Gramm on backing vocals. Next up are the gentle psychedelic pop stylings of The Marmalade performing Butterfly, and sounding decidedly like The Hollies in the process. And finally, just in case you need CPR after all that excitement, Dweezil Zappa gives us a riotous funk metal ride through Stayin' Alive complete with a Donny Osmond(!) lead vocal and guitar solos from Dweezil, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Warren DeMartini, Nuno Bettencourt and Tim Pierce. Rest In Peace Robin and thanks for the music!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Not So Guilty Pleasures

Nicked by the Music Police

Long before DJ Sean Rowley copyrighted and franchised the concept of the Guilty Pleasure there was Club Beer, a night of music that, according to the promotional flyers, "only sounds good when you're drunk". Having occasionally swung my pants at Club Beer, I can attest that the basic premise was identical to Rowley's Guilty Pleasures, that is, to play music that most people would never openly admit to liking, but will happily spend an evening partying to when sufficiently mullered. Both Rowley's and Club Beer's events tapped into the seemingly inexhaustible appetite of the glacially cool music snob for irony in whatever form it takes, whether that be School Disco club nights or oh-so-tongue-in-cheek Top Shop-branded Iron Maiden T-shirts. As far as I can tell, the reason that Sean Rowley has enjoyed a level of success that the Club Beer promoters could only dream of is that 'Guilty Pleasures' is a more easily marketable name for the exact same product. Oh, and having his own radio show to promote the concept may have helped. The fact that the music on his show could all be found gracing any number of irony-free middle-of-the-road radio stations elsewhere was no doubt lost on his listeners. I suppose that being caught by your mates listening to Europe's The Final Countdown on Rowley's show in some way lends you a patina of knowing, disdainful cool. Being caught listening to the same track on Heart FM brands you a sad geek. If only somebody could dream up an ironic way of masturbating we could all sit around in public whacking one out with brazen impunity.

The point of this blog entry isn't to knock Sean Rowley's business acumen, but to pour scorn on the whole idea of any music constituting a guilty pleasure. There are as many reasons to like a song as there are songs themselves, but to secretly like a song, whilst pretending that you don't for fear of what others might think is, quite frankly, pathetic. Grow some nuts, for crying out loud! There will always be people who will criticise your musical taste, but instead of pretending only to like what the music police deem cool, how about defending your taste. Arm yourself with compelling reasons why Phil Collins' Face Value is an essential part of your collection. Plenty of sheep bought that album because they lacked the imagination to buy something other than an LP that, by topping the album charts, had the approval of their peers, but almost as many sheep offloaded the album when the coolerati decided Phil Collins was naff. At the risk of sounding like American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, I love Face Value. Phil Collins is an exceptional drummer who managed to coax a couple of long-overdue creditable performances out of Eric Clapton on an album that holds together beautifully as a document of the pain caused by a disintegrating marriage. Plus, it boasts the classic In The Air Tonight as its opening track. Some of his later solo work leaves me cold but, if you have good reason to love it, then fair play to you.

You may have noticed that in a recent post, amongst the LPs I bought at the Olympia Record Fair, was an Osmonds album. That's how contemptuous of the music police I am! The idea that the Osmonds might have had some redeeming features (beyond Marie Osmond's ability to get a pre-pubescent Shelf-Stacker's heart racing) first occured to me when I bought Tank's Crazy Horses 7" single back in 1982. In actual fact, I think it took a clued-up girlfriend a few years later to alert me to the fact that it was originally an Osmonds song. Much more recently a posting on my favourite blog made me curious to hear what other deep cuts might be hidden amongst the schmaltz in the Osmonds' back catalogue. And so, for your delectation, or possibly just mine, I proudly present a selection of decidedly irony-free, innocent pleasures from the seldom-heard, hard rocking, Osmonds back catalogue.

From the Crazy Horses LP we have Hold Her Tight, which blatantly steals the riff from Led Zep's Immigrant Song (listen to it and tell me I'm wrong!), then we have Crazy Horses itself which kicks off like a theremin-abusing Motörhead and, finally, the pace drops to a hazy, lysergic meander for Life Is Hard Enough Without Goodbyes. From what I can surmise, The Plan is a concept  album. What that concept is, I haven't the foggiest. Something to do with Mormonism I suspect. Regardless, Traffic In My Mind is a swaggering slice of psych complete with phased vocals and nagging fuzz guitar, whilst Movie Man is a Beatlesque chunk of carnival mood Power Pop that should put smiles on the faces of Jellyfish fans everywhere. Mirror, Mirror serves up another portion of  irresistible Power Pop which leans heavily on Jew's Harp and Harmonica for its perky, upbeat sound. Good luck keeping your foot from tapping when you listen to this one! Brainstorm provides the track that I first heard at the aforementioned blog. Gotta Get Love has a riff that brings to mind Thin Lizzy. A Billy Gibbons-alike semi-spoken lead vocal nonchalantly shares the grooves with an obnoxious, twisted, cocktail of guitars, phased backing vocals and spacey synths. Next time you see an Osmonds LP languishing in a charity shop, you could do a lot worse than to take it home with you, if only to play the "I bet you can't guess who this is" game with your mates.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Day At The Old Boys' Club

Okay, so there are exceptions, but on the whole, collecting is a male preserve. Yes, some women buy huge quantities of handbags and shoes, but they do this because they want to look nice, not because they have a pathological hoarding compulsion. I've yet to meet a woman who catalogues her shoes, who can quote the barcode number on the box they came in, or who can tell you the name of the particular operative responsible for stamping out the insoles in her favourite slingbacks. Last weekend I paid an overdue visit to the VIP Record Fair at Kensington Olympia and, when I finally came up for air after many hours inspecting matrix numbers and flipback sleeves, I felt something of a chill when I realised that, with the exception of a few long-suffering wives helping their husbands to 'man' the stalls, there was not a female to be seen.

Blokes looking at records
More blokes looking at records
It was like a horrific post-apocalyptic vision of a world where women have been wiped out by an awful plague or, more likely, just got fed up with their train-spotter menfolk and pissed off to make babies in test-tubes and watch Thelma And Louise together. And who could blame them?

Some more blokes looking at records
Oh, you get the idea...

I would like to say that my wife supports my record collecting compulsion, but I think that perhaps 'tolerates' would be a more accurate choice of verb. The danger with being a collector is that eventually your passion fools you into believing that not only is your hobby interesting, but by extension, so are you. I'm sure she thinks she's got away with it, but I've seen my wife's stifled yawns when I've attempted to explain the significance of a George Peckham Porky's Prime Cut, or why the weight of a vinyl LP is of less importance than the depth of the grooves. And, when you're done boring your nearest and dearest with the minutiae of vinyl acquisition, the next logical step is to write a blog about it in the hope of boring complete strangers. To paraphrase the Alien marketing tagline: 

"In cyberspace no one can see you yawn".

It would be wonderful if a scattering of members of the fairer sex brightened record fairs with their presence if only to stop me from feeling like such a deviant when I stumble, blinking, back into the daylight clutching bags heaving with vinyl. Do the organisers of the VIP Record Fairs really need to provide such conspicuous, bright yellow, plastic bags which draw attention so loudly to their contents? I would feel less self-conscious walking down the street wearing a gaping flasher-mac and holding a greasy, brown paper bag with the word "PORN" emblazoned on it in foot high letters. There must be some female record collectors out there who, by frequenting vinyl fairs and record shops, can make me feel less like the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World (if you haven't seen it, you must). 

That bin must be like a Tardis inside!
I had toyed with the idea of attending the enormous two day record fair in Utrecht later in the year, but I'm not sure I could live with the shame. There's a fine line between enjoying the simple thrill of a train ride and standing on a murky station platform surrounded by other men in anoraks, jotting down engine numbers in a notepad. Utrecht may well be that murky platform.

The obligatory photo of highlights from my haul

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ronnie Montrose R.I.P.

Ronnie Montrose 1947 -2012
It seems like hardly a week goes by without news of the passing of yet another musical legend. My definition of a legend may well differ from yours. They don't necessarily have to be a household name or to have spent their life being scrutinized by the media. I unapologetically use the term 'legend' to describe someone whose music has colonised my soul and helped to shape the person I am. A bit over the top, you think? Consider this: during my lifetime music has gained me friends, lost me jobs, mended my broken heart, opened old wounds, dressed me, cut my hair, fucked up my hearing, made me dance like a man possessed, won me the girl and given me more joy than anything without a heartbeat could ever reasonably be expected to do. But, of course, music does have a pulse, a lifeforce that is breathed into it by the sorcerers who pick up their instruments and conjure up new and exciting ways to present the same old notes and rhythms. Recently we've lost Gerry Rafferty, Ronnie James Dio, John Martyn, John Barry, Phil Kennemore, Mike Edwards, Dobie Gray, Mike Starr, Kelly Groucutt, Gary Moore, Michael "Würzel" Burston, John Du Cann, Billy Powell, Mick Karn, Larry Reinhardt and Davy Jones to name just a handful of those whose music has enriched my life.

I clearly remember a typically hysterical Daily Mail headline reporting the death of Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham back in September 1980 (of course I remember it, I still have the yellowing newspaper cutting in a box in the loft). It screams, 

"Rock: The Great Destroyer"

and goes on, in characteristic poor taste, to criticise the lifestyles of Bonham, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, when perhaps an even-handed, respectful obituary would have been more appropriate. Of course, what the sanctimonious cretins at the Daily Mail chose to ignore is that alcohol and drug abuse are not the sole preserve of rock stars. Indeed, the journalist responsible probably wrote his copy over a liquid lunch in some Fleet Street watering hole full of hacks well on their way to cirrhosis. The Daily Mail aside, perhaps we fetishise the rock stars who die young and fast because their demise seems comfortably removed from how we expect to meet our own ends. Perhaps what is most depressing about the recent glut of rock star deaths is the sheer mundanity of the cause of death in most of these cases, heart disease and cancer being the commonest culprits. It is all too easy to imagine that our own lives will one day be snuffed out, not by one too many speedballs and a spot of sexual over-exertion in a jacuzzi full of hookers, but by a banal, indiscriminately savage, yet common disease. To die at 28 from a heroin overdose is to have lived too quickly. To die at 64 from cancer is to have died far too young.

Despite having played incendiary guitar in his own bands, Montrose and Gamma, and having contributed his six string skills to classic albums by Van Morrison and Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose's name and his guitar playing don't seem to be as familiar to rock fans as they ought to be. If you loved Ronnie's playing you have no doubt already dug out Montrose's debut LP and given it a spin since hearing of his death.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ronnie, or who just need a reminder of the magic he produced, here are a couple of my personal favourites. Rest In Peace, Ronnie.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Fireballet: Close Tutu The Edge

There are some decisions that bands make, or perhaps that their managers railroad them into, from which there is no way back. I imagine that the recriminations still fly some 35 years after Fireballet allowed themselves to believe that the concept for the cover of their second LP would in some way enhance their fledgling career. To prepare the ground for the enormity of the horror that I am about to present to those of you unfamiliar with the artwork that adorns Fireballet’s sophomore LP, here is the perfectly acceptable, to my eyes, image that graces the cover of their debut album, Night On Bald Mountain.

Not much to complain about there: mysterious, hooded, druid-like figures emerging from a network of caves carrying flaming torches; numerous women in a state of semi-undress; a fiery, ritualistic dance (a fireballet perhaps) on a pentagram-festooned altar under the light of a full-moon and so on, and so on… Okay, the castrato Lemmy lookalike in the bejewelled Speedos doesn’t float my boat, but hey, it’s all atmosphere right? The rear sleeve continues to build on that atmosphere, presenting images that further pique the potential listener’s interest.

The border is decorated with yet more pentagrams, whilst a frame of fire surrounds a band portrait in which they look down on us from their lofty perch beside the ruins of a castle. To a man the band members are unsmiling, their attire intriguing (how big is that crucifix!?) and their general demeanour is unsettling, unwelcoming and borderline hostile. The vibrant blue sky is at odds with their pasty complexions, suggesting that they are unaccustomed to being abroad in the daylight hours. The band’s faces and the tumbledown castle walls seem to be locked in a battle to see which can appear most unkempt, most overgrown. This cover has all the ingredients that make me want to slip the record out of its sleeve and lower the needle into the groove: from the tantalising clues offered up by the artwork I’m pretty sure I’m going to like what I hear, but I couldn’t say with any certainty exactly what that might be. Perfect!

The same can not be said of the artwork that sullies Two, Too…!

I was going to say that after a few pints down the pub it probably seemed like a good idea, but, on reflection, I can’t imagine this cover concept seeming like a good idea after a dumper truck full of crack cocaine and hallucinogens. It would have been a truly appalling sleeve even if the band had found a bevy of beautiful young women to pose in the tutus, but what combination of mind-altering drugs and budget cuts in the art department could explain this horror? And, it doesn’t end there. Not content with inflicting their Darcey Bussell fantasies on the world just the once, we are treated to a further eight (yes, eight!) snaps from the same regrettable photo session on the rear sleeve. Helpfully, just in case we didn’t get the pun, (you know, album number two, Two, Too…, big hairy geezers in ballerina outfits), they re-title the album Tu, Tu… on the back cover. Slaps his forehead in moment of clarity: oh yeah, I see what they’re doing here. Lucky they spelled it out though or I’d have never twigged!

I know what you’re thinking: it can’t get any worse, right? Wrong! A lyric sheet is always a welcome addition to any LP. Or so I thought. The LSD trip was clearly at a peak in the collective Fireballet brain when the idea occurred to someone to present a cut-out-and-keep ballerina panorama on the flipside of the lyric insert, especially for all those members of the record buying public who are both progressive rock aficionados and fans of hairy brickies in drag. You know who you are.

It would appear from the photos on the lyric sheet that a couple of band members had begun to come down / have misgivings as they have turned their backs to the camera to conceal their identities. I think that horse may have bolted. The next day they probably sat, heads in hands, praying that the album sold really badly. Back in 1976 they will have consoled themselves with the fact that at least there was no way for the handful of people who owned their album to share these images with millions of complete strangers, worldwide, at the click of a button. Err, whoops!

Drugs? Just say no, kids!

Musically, the two Fireballet LPs differ insomuch as the debut has a more traditional, okay, derivative, symphonic progressive rock sound with the usual English influences of Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. Oh, and did I mention Yes?! King Crimson's Ian McDonald produces the LP and lends his saxophone and flute playing to proceedings, so shades of that particular band of Brits creeping in are perhaps inevitable. Two, Too... has a considerably updated sound with what some reviewers have termed 'prog rock cliché' being dropped in favour of a poppier, cleaner sound. I make no apology for loving a bit of prog rock cliché: give me multi-part cod-classical suites, up-front Chris Squire-alike bass (preferably with pedals), nods to the guitar playing of Steve Howe and Anthony Phillips, mellotron, pipe organ and synths a go-go, and, in the case of Night On Bald Mountain (Suite), melodramatic 'ah-ah' vocal harmonies reminiscent of Uriah-Heep at their finest. I don't always crave originality, sometimes I just want bells and whistles. Two, Too... is in the same general neighbourhood as Starcastle and Ambrosia with its all together cleaner, lighter, quirkier sound. Opener, Great Expectations, sounds like something from Hippie musical Hair, with its Age Of Aquarius-style chorus. Elsewhere, Fireballet's quirky Art Rock approach shares groove space with the Prog Rock of the debut LP to impressive effect. So, which is their better album? I would have given Night On Bald Mountain my backing, but having revisited both LPs for this blog entry, I'm no longer so sure. I love them both. One thing's for certain, both album sleeves feature some fine chin and lip frondescence.

For those magnificent Cheech Marin handlebars...


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Re-imagining The Beatles #3 - Lone Star

It is rare that a cover version of a song takes the original, turns it inside out and creates an entirely different beast from its constituent parts. It is even rarer that the resulting piece of music improves on the, itself wonderful, original. Lone Star's take on the Beatles' She Said She Said owes so little to the original that handing over royalties to Lennon & McCartney must surely have rankled.

Mention She Said She Said to anyone but the most devoted Beatles fanatic and they are likely to have to flick through their Fab Four LPs just to remind themselves on which album it appears (Revolver, incidentally.) Conversely, if you ever stumble across a Lone Star fan, ask him about that band's Frankenstein's Monster reworking of the same track and watch him go misty eyed before waxing lyrical about its brilliance! Perhaps, in the rehearsal studio, it started life as a straight forward cover version of the Beatles' mildly lysergic, Byrdsian tune, but in the recording studio it clearly took on a life of its own, becoming a soaring, spacey, progressive, hard rock monster, stretching out the original tune from a blink-and-miss-it 155 seconds into an eight and a half minute epic. This is what I had in mind when I chose the "Re-imagining The Beatles" heading for these blog entries: artists who take a Beatles song as a starting point, dismantle it, rip out its innards, pack it full of their own heart and soul, stitch it back together, give it a swift  kick up the arse with a like-their-lives-depend-on-it performance and strut off into the sunset as high as kites in the knowledge of a job well done. I would love to know whether Lennon or McCartney ever heard Lone Star's version of their track and, if so, what they thought of it. I imagine that Paul McCartney is too busy being an utter god to read my blog, so I suppose we'll never find out.

Unlike many artists who use cover versions to pad out otherwise lacklustre albums, Lone Star's debut is filled to bursting with inspired songwriting, stunning musicianship and Paul Rodgers-esque vocal performances. And, to prove it was no flook, their follow-up album, Firing On All Six, is similarly endowed, albeit with a Robert Plant disciple installed on vocals this time around. It is baffling that this band failed to conquer the planet and take their deserved seats alongside the Led Zeppelins and Deep Purples of this world. Guitarist, Paul Chapman, subsequently found himself the target of much undue criticism when he replaced Michael Schenker in UFO, whilst John Sloman (lead vocalist on Firing On All Six) fleetingly became a member of Uriah Heep, staying just long enough to record their most contentious LP, Conquest.

The Firing On All Six Line-Up

 In addition to their overhaul of She Said She Said, take a listen here to the standout track from their second LP, namely The Bells Of Berlin. Both LPs were recently reissued on CD by Rock Candy Records and are regularly offered for sale on ebay in their original vinyl incarnations should you want to listen to them the way the music gods intended. Whichever format you choose, do yourselves a favour and enrich your collection with these two Classic Rock masterpieces.