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!