Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hedge Over Troubled Water

You know how sometimes you can't see what's right in front of your face? Well, I guess sometimes you can even miss what's right in front of someone else's face. I must have looked at the sleeve of Simon & Garfunkel's ubiquitous Seventies dinner party soundtrack a zillion times without noticing Art Garfunkel's brief but valiant dalliance with facial hair. That's one hell of a 'tache you've got there Art! You might want to get a tissue though - you seem to have a small, man-shaped bogey caught in it. And there was me thinking it was Art who got up Paul Simon's nose!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

High On The Hog

Have you ever noticed that little column over on the right? Hi-Fi Hogs? Well, why not? I thought music fans loved lists! In case it needs spelling out, this is a selection of some of the many records currently floating my coracle. Do you give a monkey's? Or even a Monkees? Probably not. Perhaps if I zhuzh things up a little by explaining why these LPs are making my music-loving heart glow like the valves in a Vox AC30, you'll start to care.

Frost - Through The Eyes Of Love (1970)

For starters, I love that psychedelic artwork by renowned artist David Edward Byrd. Carelessly, I've yet to hear the other Frost albums, but can they possibly offer up anything as thrilling (or with such a kick-arse title) as Fifteen Hundred Miles (Through the Eye of a Beatle)? Don't let the harmony vocals on opener Black As Night fool you, Frost have the urgency and thuggish momentum to overturn tables and knock fully grown men off their feet. Lead guitarist Dick Wagner later shored up Alice Cooper after the original, classic Alice line-up imploded. No wonder Welcome To My Nightmare is such a humdinger. The whole of Through The Eyes has an amped up The Move feel to it, what with Dick Wagner's and Don Hartman's Wood and Lynne-alike vocals, the bass working harder than a fat man's heart and the guitars flitting between a caress and a scalping.

Turning Point - Creatures Of The Night (1977)

Not to be confused with that other classic album of the same name by Jazz Rock / Fusion pioneers Kiss. Turning Point features ex-members of Ian Carr's Nucleus and Isotope - two other bands well worth exploring if, like me, you get off on all this clever-clever, noodley, wankery. Admittedly, there's nothing here as singalong as I Love It Loud, but listening to this will increase your IQ.

Highway Robbery - For Love Or Money (1972)

I've been slumming it with a CD copy of this album for ages, but finally managed to pick up a pristine vinyl pressing last month. Highway Robbery's one and only album is up there with other gobsmacking debuts by Captain Beyond, Montrose and Stray Dog. Soundwise, chuck Uriah Heep into the mix and you've got the picture, or whatever the aural equivalent is. I was tempted to link to a YouTube video for All I Need (To Have Is You), an uncharacteristically sensitive little ditty featuring acoustic guitar, bottleneck guitar and lead and harmony vocals that scream David Byron-era Uriah Heep, but the gonzo little devil on my shoulder persuaded me to inflict Promotion Man on you instead. Damned fine choice lil' devil - slide guitar to the max!

The Golliwogs - Pre-Creedence (1975)

Sporting a moniker I'm sure they'd sooner forget, the pre-Creedence Clearwater Revival Golliwogs laid the foundations for the CCR sound we know and love. More than just a curio, there's some must-have material here. Walking On The Water features some of the best wasp-in-a-jam-jar fuzz guitar you'll ever hear.

Randy Pie - Highway Driver (1974)

German and funky. Are you sure? They get labelled as a progressive rock band, but the groove overrides everything. Despite not singing about bringing daughters to be slaughtered, Mrs Shelf-Stacker's ears prick up whenever The Pie shake the mancave. My US version of this LP has the same tracklisting as the UK pressing, features a lame cover illustration of a bird in flight and, just to create confusion, is self-titled (as is their debut). Hmm, record companies - don't you just love 'em!

Spooky Tooth - The Last Puff (1970)

I think I said enough in my last post. If you're not a convert yet, you never will be.

Jonathan Wilson - Fanfare (2013) / Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit (2011)

What should I listen to today? Neil Young? Crosby, Stills and Nash? Tom Petty? Bob Dylan? Pink Floyd? Oh, I know, I'll stick them all in a blender and whizz myself up a Laurel Canyon-flavoured Jonathan Wilson smoothie. Has to count as at least three of my 5-a-day! Have a swig - it's tasty and soooo good for you.

Bloodrock - Bloodrock (1970)

If you're not from the USA, you'd be forgiven for never having heard of this bunch of hairy herberts. By all accounts D.O.A. from the Bloodrock 2 LP was a radio staple on the other side of the pond in the Seventies and seems to attract as much derision as anything by Iron Butterfly or Grand Funk Railroad. No surprise then that I'm a fan. It seems that Grand Funk Svengali Terry Knight very nearly pulled off the remarkable feat of turning another critics' piƱata into a huge commercial success. Think Black Sabbath, Grand Funk, Uriah Heep. Okay, enough thinking already - this ain't Turning Point!


Beckett - Beckett (1974)

Another Progressive Rock band who refused to be constricted by that label. The track here has more in common with Led Zeppelin or the criminally overlooked Detective than Yes or Genesis, but their sole album features its fair share of introspection, moody orchestration and 5-minute-plus excursions. A Rainbow's Gold was covered by Iron Maiden for the B-side of some juvenile, Boys' Own, gallopy-crap 7" or other, but don't let that put you off. This is a stonewall classic from an album that is mystifyingly unheralded. Vocalist Terry Wilson-Slesser went on to front Paul Kossoff's Back Street Crawler, turned down an offer to join AC/DC and was considered as a replacement for Paul DiAnno in Iron Maiden. He should have been a star.

Now, do pay attention at the back, 'cause the Hi-Fi Hogs will be changing and I shall be testing you. Here endeth today's lesson. Class dismissed!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Re-imagining The Beatles #6 - Spooky Tooth

Record collecting has always been a thrilling journey of discovery for me. Back when I was waiting for my voice to break I would devour every word in Sounds and Kerrang, hoping to find out more about the music that got my adrenaline pumping. If an artist that I loved mentioned their musical influences in an interview, I just had to find out for myself what that music sounded like. So many of my contemporaries listened only to current music and were happily ignorant of what had gone before, but for me, gaining an understanding of the bands that had inspired Black Sabbath, ELO or Queen made me appreciate their music all the more. I wanted my record collection to be an aural and visual incarnation of all those Pete Frame rock family trees with their numerous, sometimes surprising, links between bands. No link between two groups was too tenuous to whet my musical appetite. Very little has changed for me in that regard. Of course, it's easier to find music that shares musical DNA with my favourite artists now, whether through Amazon recommendations based on my purchases, Last FM playlists, fan forums, or a thousand other Google-enabled explorations. In some ways the ease of discovery has taken away much of the mystery and excitement that was part and parcel of unearthing new music (or, more specifically, old, yet-to-be-heard music), but the pay off is the sheer volume of discoveries falling into my lap.

So, how do these cogitations tie in with the subject of today's post? Well, I'm getting to that. As a thirteen year-old I was completely obsessed with Judas Priest, to the extent that I nicked my schoolfriend's little sister's copy of Jackie magazine for a single paragraph recounting the ridiculous story of the mighty Priest fighting rednecks in a bar with baguettes as weapons. (Jackie headline: 'Use Your Loaf'. Predictably.) And so it will hardly come as a surprise to you that when I found out that one of my favourite tracks on Priest's Stained Class LP was a cover, I had to hear the Spooky Tooth original.

 Of course, I then became aware of the links between Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie, Art, Roxy Music, Widowmaker yada, yada, yada... prompting yet more purchases. The Spooky Two LP, featuring the original version of Better by You, Better Than Me, left me wanting more: cue the The Last Puff album with its cover of I Am the Walrus

As Beatles tunes go,  I Am the Walrus doesn't strike me as the easiest or most obvious choice of cover, but the Tooth's reworking of Lennon's Edward Lear-alike lysergic nursery rhyme, succeeds in steering it into Vanilla Fudge territory with the tune just about emerging, albeit bone-weary and leaden-footed, from the sonic bog. The half-heartedly celebratory 'whooos' that follow the 'I am the Eggman' line of the original are dispensed with here. What elevates this version of the song is the fleeting moment when a chorus of female voices, like guiding nymphs leading us out of the wilderness, breaks through the murk with songbird clarity. No sooner do we hear them than they're gone, but their appearance completely alters the mood of the song, transforming a Mogadon-fuelled funereal dirge into a statement of defiance and hope. God, don't you just love it when music talks to you like that!