Thursday, 31 December 2020

Syndicate Of Sound

Little Girl (1966)

Big Boss Man/Almost Grown/So Alone/Dream Baby/Rumors/Little Girl/That Kind Of Man/I'm Alive/You/Lookin' For The Good Times(The Robot)/The Witch/Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?

What a fine, relatively obscure album this is. As far as I can see it is the only album from this San Jose, California-based "garage rock"-psychedelic band. released in 1966, it has an excellent sound quality and an enthusiastic effervescence to it, although it is not as druggy or psychedelic as one might have imagined, being far more Beatles-ish poppy. 

The group's name could almost be that of a Northern Soul artist, couldn't it?

The songs

Heavily-influenced by the British R'n'b-blues sound, Big Boss Man kicks off the album with a fast-paced groove, some piping organ breaks and typically mid-sixties rolling drum fills. It features some fine saxophone too. The track is an old blues cover, as indeed is Chuck Berry's Almost Grown, a catchy bluesy rock'n' roll romp about burgeoning adolescence.

The tempo drops for the veery early Beatles-influenced ballad So Alone. After the verve of the first two tracks, this is a bit of a wishy-washy let-down, however. It is redeemed by an impressive stereo sound. Dream Baby ups it a bit on a Cliff Richard-esque piece of tuneful pop. It also has echoes of Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula. Once again, the sound and instrumentation is top-notch.

Rumors is a a robust, Byrds meets The Beatles and The Hollies number while the group's one hit, Little Girl has a very Byrds-influenced jangly guitar intro and a 1964-65 Dylan style vocal. It is underpinned by some excellent riffage and bass line. You can hear the sound of some of the new wave of the late seventies/early eighties in this. I'm sure the Flamin' Groovies paid this a lot of attention.

That Kind Of Man is a mid-sixties Rolling Stones and Kinks clone of a song, both musically and lyrically. It has a very Ray Davies-esque cynicism in its characterisation of the song's subject. Of course I recognise I'm Alive as being a big hit in the UK for The Hollies. This version is a competent Byrds-like cover version that betrays the group's clear UK influence.

You is a dreamy pop ballad with a nice bass line and flute break and an overall pleasingly laid-back ambience. The lead vocal is tuneful and really rather calmly beautiful, almost country rock in its airy feel. Lookin' For The Good Times (The Robot) is a bouncy number with a killer guitar riff and irresistible catchiness. When punk morphed into new wave, so many groups adopted a sound based loosely on stuff like this and were happy to be considered sixties throwbacks.

Ebulliently rocking is The Witch, which has a pre-Dr. Feelgood energy to it. It is one of the album's most enjoyable, kick-ass tracks. Check out the virtuoso breakneck guitar solo and frantic drum sound. The album ends with the infectious country blues and jazz fun of Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? 

Look, this is no work of genius, no Blonde On Blonde or Revolver, but is a well-played, always enjoyable album and, as I said, its sound quality is superb.

Check out more of this unique sub-genre of music on this legendary compilation :-

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Nuggets - Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968

I came across this cultish popular compilation album via "Aphoristical"'s excellent site - check it out - 

where the author, (Aphoristical) is reviewing the hundred plus songs one by one, on a weekly basis. That is a gargantuan task that I will not be undertaking but I feel I want to record my feelings regarding the album, because it is an impressive one.

It covers the period from 1964-68 is US musical history and includes a bucketful of rarities that were filed under the genre "garage rock", "acid rock" or "psychedelic rock". Although some of the artists were better known, and some of the groups' members went on to bigger and better things, the groups concerned have a Northern Soul-style mysterious obscurity about them. I guess the genre is to rock and punk music what Northern Soul was to Motown and Stax.

Rather like US punk was different to UK punk, the music is is more rocky than its trippy UK equivalent, much of which can be found on the Decca/Deram compilation The Psychedelic Scene - 

This US material is riffier, with more verve and attack and clearly was a big influence on punk and new wave. Indeed, the original double album compliation was curated by then DJ Lenny Kaye, who went on to be the bass player with The Patti Smith group. In fact, the sleeve notes are said to contain one of the first written references to "punk rock". 

The influences on the material are many - The Beatles, early Rolling Stones, early Kinks, early Beach Boys and surf music, "mercury sound" Bob Dylan, Them, The Yardbirds and many others. In turn, songs like (We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet by The Blue Magoos is very much the pre-cursor of Deep Purple's Black Night, with its bass riff that Purple subsequently played on lead guitar and Music Explosion's A Little Bit O' Soul was covered by The Ramones on their Subterranean Jungle album. You can hear punk and new wave hints all over the place and there are also huge debts to the British r 'n' b - blues bands in much of the material.

The Ramones covered four of the tracks from the album on their Acid Eaters album of covers and, for me, you can really hear the influence of this sub-genre on the early Blondie albums - short, frantic tracks like I'm On E, for example. 

The album in its full, extended format only seems to be available on vinyl, although the original CD is still on sale here and there online. Neither of the albums are available via streaming, so I have managed to make up a playlist of around 100 of the tracks by searching for them individually from the track listing.

The sound quality is pretty good on most of the tracks too, although there are a few that sound a bit rudimentary.

I will just list my favourites as opposed to commenting track by track:-

Nobody But Me - The Human Beinz

Journey To The Center Of The Mind - Amboy Dukes feat. Ted Nugent

A Little Bit O' Soul - Music Explosion

(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet - The Blue Magoos

Mindrocker - Fenwyck

Steppin' Out - Paul Revere & The Raiders

Action Woman - The Litter

Incense And Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock

Night Time - The Strangeloves

Hold Me Now - The Rumors

You're Gonna Miss Me - The 13th Floor Elevators

You Burn Me Up And Down - We The People

Run, Run, Run - The Gestures

Psychotic Reaction - The Count Five

Baby Please Don't Go - Ted Nugent

Last Time Around - The Dell-Vetts

Liar, Liar - The Castaways

Don't Look Back - The Remains

A Question Of Temperature - Balloon Farm

Oh Yeah - The Shadows Of Night (check out that Jean Genie-Blockbuster! riff)

It's Cold Outside - The Choir

One Track Mind - The Knickerbockers

The Trip - Kim Fowley

Outside Chance - The Turtles

Out Of Our Tree - The Fabulous Wailers

Blue's Theme - Davie Allan & The Arrows

I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time - The Third Bardo

I Want Candy - The Strangeloves

Why Do I Cry - Barry And The Remains

Laugh, Laugh - The Beau Brummels

She's My Baby - The Mojo Men (very early Rolling Stones in sound)

Get Me To The World On Time - The Electric Prunes

Love's Gone Bad - The Underdogs

I Can't Make A Friend - The Vagrants

I Wonder - The Gants (obviously Beatles influenced)

She's About A Mover - Sir Douglas Quintet

Pushin' Too Hard - The Seeds

Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl - The Barbarians

So What!! - The Lyrics

Little Girl - Syndicate Of Sound

Dirty Water - The Standells

A Public Execution - Mouse And The Traps (a very Dylanesque number)

Also well worth checking out is Nuggets II, which features largely UK material. I prefer the US one for its poppier, often bubblegum-esque feel but there is also some good stuff to be found here.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Ben E. King

Don't Play That Song! (1962)

Don't Play That Song/Ecstasy/On The Horizon/Show Me The Way/Here Comes The Night/First Taste Of Love/Stand By Me/Yes/Young Boy Blues/The Hermit Of Misty Mountain/I Promise Love/Brace Yourself

This 1962 album from ex-Drifter Ben E. King sounds somewhat dated in places now, but it is not without its appeal, largely because King's voice is just so damn good. 

The songs

Don't Play That Song virtually replicates, note-for-note, the Stand By Me intro, but don't let that detract from the fact that it it is still a towering soul song. King's vocal is soaring and the overall atmosphere is one of wonderful Drifters-esque soul. It also has a similar orchestrated mid-song break to Stand By Me.

Ecstasy sounds a lot like The Drifters' Save The Last Dance For Me in its instrumentation but once again it is redeemed by King's expressive voice and the irresistible melody. On The Horizon is one of those dated-sounding numbers but it has a character and dignity to it that shines through.

Show Me The Way is a doo-wop rock 'n' roll-influenced lively number that is very much of its time. There is a bit of variance in the sound quality and, compared to the previous number, Here Comes The Night has a superb stereo sound to it. It reminds me of the Northern Soul classic, Jimmy Ratcliffe's Long After This Night Is Over. 

First Taste Of Love is a delightful Elvis meets The Drifters before getting together with the early Beatles number, full of sweeping strings, infectious rhythms and a sweet vocal. Then there is the eternally wonderful Stand By Me, beloved of myself for years and many others, including Willy De Ville, who covered it live memorably many times. It simply drips with soul and atmosphere. John Lennon also covered it too, lest I forget. The Sam Cooke-ish Yes is very much of its time, as opposed to its timeless predecessor, while Young Boy Blues is blues with strings. 

The Hermit Of Misty Mountain is an odd, very early 60s song with a fine sound quality to it. Similar can be found on the fairground soul of I Promise Love. This very much of its time album ends with the pleasant Brace Yourself. Albums by Rufus Thomas and Solomon Burke from the following year are far grittier and brassier but there is an attraction to some of the tracks on here.

Supernatural (1975) 

Supernatural Thing Parts 1 & 2/Your Lovin' Ain't Good Enough/Drop My Heart Off/Extra-Extra/Do It In The Name Of Love/Happiness Is Where You Find It/Do You Wanna Do A Thing/Imagination/What Do You Want Me To Do

Ben E. went disco on this enjoyably funky outing from 1975. His trademark Drifters voice is nowhere to be found on here as he goes grittily funky. If you didn't know, you would never guess it was him, you would think it was Joe Tex or someone like that. It reminds me of the Benny And Us album he cut with The Average White Band in 1977.

The songs

Supernatural Thing's two parts (both parts merge together seamlessly) are wonderfully funky disco cuts - deep and infectiously funky, while Your Lovin' Ain't Good Enough is  insistent and grinding, full of energetic call and response backing vocals.

After such a funky start it is time for a soft soul ballad in Drop My Heart. Extra-Extra gets things lively once more with a piece of frothy pop soul with more irresistible funky tinges. Do It In The Name Of Love is muscular, thumping soul funk.

Happiness Is Where You Find It is a really enjoyable Detroit Spinners-style catchy soul number. Do You Wanna Do A Thing is brassy funker and Imagination is a sweet, lush and slick come to bed ballad. 

What Do You Want Me To Do is a vibrant serving of appealing funk pop with some Isley Brothers-style fuzzy guitar to finish with.

Not a huge amount of analysis can be done on this other than to stress its funky, poppy appeal. That's what I came to say.

Related posts :-
The Drifters
Solomon Burke
Average White Band

Solomon Burke

If You Need Me (1963)

If You Need Me/Words/Stupidity/Go On Back To Him/I Said I Was Sorry/It's All Right/Home In Your Heart/I Really Don't Want To Know/You Can Make It If You Try/Send Me Some Loving/This Little Ring/Tonight My Heart She Is Crying

This was Solomon Burke's third album, released in 1963 on the Atlantic label and is an appealing collection of chunky, brassy soul and early sixties Elvis-influenced ballads. The thing that impresses me on the latest release of it is the superbly remastered sound, which is deep, warm and beautifully bassy, giving a real punch to the songs. Burke's voice is soulfully gritty throughout, whatever type of song he is dealing with, sort of like the sweetness of Sam Cooke mixed with the earthiness of Wilson Pickett.

The songs

If You Need Me was a Wilson Pickett song made famous by being covered by The Rolling Stones. It is slow, dignified, bassy and bluesy and is a wonderful example of early sixties Atlantic soul. The same applies to the churchy Booker T-style organ and cymbals-powered beauty of the lovely Words. The progression from church-inspired singing into soul is clear on tracks like this.

Dr. Feelgood fans will be familiar with the rocking energy of Stupidity, of course. You know, for years I thought it was a Dr. Feelgood original. From its call-and-response vocal beginning the song thumps with soul power. Great stuff. Listen to that big, rumbling bass too. Check out the organ and cymbal work on the supremely soulful Go On Back To Him too. Once more, the sound is outstanding here.

I Said I Was Sorry is lively and infectiously catchy as too is the finger-popping groove of It's All Right, where the relationship between gospelly soul and rock 'n' roll is clear for all to hear. Burke goes full-on Wilson Pickett preacher mode (Burke was a preacher himself) for Home In Your Heart while I Really Don't Want To Know is a rock n' roll-influenced ballad with a Stranger On The Shore-style saxophone break and another nice, bassy vibe.

You Can Make It If You Try is classic, organ-driven gospel soul and Send Me Some Loving is simply sumptuous in its bassy, brassy soul power. This is definitely my favourite cut on the album. Fantastic sax on it too. 

This Little Ring is very Elvis-esque and Tonight My Heart She Is Crying brings to mind Sam Cooke. There was always a lot of cross-pollenation within soul. So many influences and subsequent ones radiating from this album can be detected.

Related posts :-
Ben E. King
Wilson Pickett
Rufus Thomas

Rufus Thomas

Walking the Dog (1963)

The Dog/Mashed Potatoes/Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo/You Said/Boom Boom/It's Aw'rite/Walking The Dog/Ya Ya/Land Of 1000 Dances/Can Your Monkey Do The Dog/'Cause I Love You/I Want To Be Loved

Rufus Thomas was already forty-seven years old when this, his debut album, was released on the Stax label in 1963. It is a really good short serving of brass-powered soul that has a wonderful sound quality, considering its age. Thomas's vocals are gruffly uplifting and his musicians are outstanding - horns, saxophones, bass, drums and backing vocalist all giving it everything. This album would have been hugely influential on all those British blues boom bands. It still sounds great today. Thomas, of course, went on to have a big hit with Do The Funky Chicken.


The songs

The Dog is a bubbling, brassy groove loaded with funky horns and a surprisingly clear, warm sound for 1964. Some howling dog noises are in there too. Another dance craze-inspired song is up next in the lively "yeah-yeah" sound of Mashed Potatoes. The vocals are only interjectory, it is all about the pumping brass-driven sound.

Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo is a grooving, chugging, call-and-response piece of bluesy brassy soul. You Said is an appealing mid-pace ballad with a rock'n'roll influence. It features some superb baritone saxophone too. Thomas covers John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom excellently, with a vibrant upbeat sound and the now obligatory top notch brass. 

It's Aw'rite is a punchy number that I can imagine Southside Johnny loving. Check out that great guitar break mid-song. Walking The Dog is known to many by now, having been covered by many, including The Rolling Stones on their first album. It is a delicious slice of funky soul and I never tire of it. 

Ya Ya kicks ass, big time. Once more get an earful of that sax. Again, it reminds me a lot of the material on Southside Johnny's first album. Land Of 1000 Dances has its definitive version in the hands of Wilson Pickett, of course, but here Thomas slows it down thus taking away must of its irresistible, stomping joie de vivre. Sorry, Rufus, your version doesn't quite do it for me.

The bass on the Walking The Dog re-write of Can Your Monkey Do The Dog positively shakes my speakers, it is so beautifully deep. This track cooks from beginning to end. 'Cause I Love You is a soulful but upbeat duet with one of Thomas's backing vocalist (I'm not sure who). Once more it positively bristles and crackles with funky soul. I Want To Be Loved has an infectious drum, guitar and bass rhythm to it and another gritty vocal. All copper-bottomed early Stax soul. What an invigorating twenty-nine minutes.

Related posts :-
The Drifters
Solomon Burke
The Bar-Kays

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Moving Waves (1971)

Hocus Pocus/Le Clochard/Janis/Moving Waves/Focus II/Eruption

Despite my taste for glam and glam-influenced rock in 1972-73, my teenage self was aware of Dutch proggers Focus due to their two hit singles - the marvellous instrumental Sylvia (not on this album), which featured the guitar virtuosity of Jan Akkerman, and the first track on this album., which I thought was great. I really liked both of these although I didn't dip into the album at the time, I left that to the hard-core prog rock fans who seemed to be overrunning my school.

On to the album, which consisted of five tracks and one twenty-two minute opus. Wasn't that typical of the prog-rock era?

The songs

Hocus Pocus is a truly marvellous slice of seventies rock riffery, overflowing from the very start with strong, vibrant guitar workouts, pounding drums, brief drum soloes, madcap proggy organ, some crazy flute and, of course, nutty drummer Thijs Van Leer's ludicrous but catchy "bom-bom" yodelling and improvised "diddle diddle diddle" vocals. Yes, they are silly, but they are part of the track's quirky appeal. It was a hit single and was one of quite a few excellent seventies rock instrumentals/semi-instrumentals from the time. I'm thinking of Edgar Winter's Frankenstein from the same period. The extended version that we get here on the album is superb. I love it - and that's from a glam fan of the time.

The exultant ambience suddenly changes with the brief, chilled-out acoustic vibe of Le Clochard and then we get the equally relaxing feel of Janis, a flute, acoustic guitar and drums instrumental. It is slightly more powerful than its predecessor due to its drum sound but the overall effect is one of sleepy peace.

Moving Waves is a short track with vocals that doesn't really get anywhere, for me, while Focus II is an impressive instrumental featuring some fine upbeat drumming and equally fine lead guitar. I have to say, also, that the sound is superb - clear, warm, bassy and delivered in excellent seventies stereo.

Eruption is the afore-mentioned lengthy number and it is chock-full of prog musical stereotypes - classically-influenced hymnal organ, occasional tympanic drum soloes, gentle woodwind passages, innovative Santana-esque jazz rock guitar - a supposed concept (the story or Orpheus and Eurydice) and a general rambling feel of a never-ending jam session. I like it in places because the sound is so damn good - it is like a hi-fi demonstration - and it is undeniably musically brilliant, but, hold on, isn't this why punk came about? Maybe, but there is something in it that I quite like, so there you go. I've always been a bit contradictory. Do I play Eruption much, though? The answer to that remains no, unfortunately, but I've done pretty well to get this far.

Related posts :-

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Tangerine Dream

Phaedra (1974)

Phaedra/Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares/Movements Of A Visionary/Sequent ‘C’

This album was all over the place in 1974, beloved of serious music critics and studious nerds at my school who carried it around with them under their arm throughout the school day, showing off their musical taste. Fucking hell, I despised them and this accursed record.

As a glam, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott The Hoople fan this sort of  dense, innovative, experimental, ambient electronic music was completely anathema to me. It remained so for years, standing as an example of why I and many others became punks. It was the musical anti-christ.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than the track Phaedra on the old ‘side one’ - seventeen minutes plus of brooding, sonorous electronic noises which took up the whole side, served up by three faceless Germans. Good God, I wanted none of this po-faced serious pretension. My, there wasn’t a guitar riff within a thousand miles of this, just mellotron, moog synthesiser and electric piano amongst other keyboard noise makers. It has been quoted as being the most important and influential piece of electronic music in that genre’s history, even more so than the output of the group’s German contemporaries Neu! and Kraftwerk. Maybe I was missing something, because at the time it left me cold.

On a positive note, the first six or seven minutes of the track’s 2018 Steven Wilson Remix sounds great, particularly that big, rubbery bass sound. The bit around 7:13 onwards is aurally stunning, so there you go. 

As I have aged and my tastes and tolerance for different genres have evolved I now find myself reviewing it. Look, it is ok for a while - atmospheric and pleasingly bassy but it spends seventeen minutes getting precisely nowhere. That’s what ambient music is all about, I guess. What is not in doubt, and somewhat ironic, is that I, the great Bowie devotee, would be lapping up the instrumental side of Low in three years’ time. There is absolutely no question that this was a huge influence on Bowie’s ‘Berlin’ period. Just listen to the weird sweeping synth noises on the pretentiously-titled Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares, you can hear the instrumental side of ‘Heroes’ in there, clearly. 

Moments Of A Visionary has some slightly world music percussion sounds in it that would have resonated with Talking Heads, to an extent. The short Sequent ‘C’ ends this somnolent piece of work and I find myself having to snap myself awake once more. 

I remember the group played at my local rock club, Friars Aylesbury, in 1975 and their fans lay on the floor in order to appreciate the vibe, man. Jesus Christ. If you ever wanted an explanation for punk, there you had it. At the bottom of the review is an article from the local paper at the time detailing this audience phenomenon. Click on it to read it in enlarged format.

Yes, this album sounds great on my sound system - all those sounds coming gracefully in and out of my speakers, like something from a classical composer who has taken too many drugs and yes, it has something about it, but do I want to listen to this for pleasure too often - no. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know its all about the textured sounds but I can’t wait to stick something more ballsy back on. 

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