THE BLUE NILE-PEACE AT LAST.
The Blue Nile were no ordinary band. They did things their way. Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe the Blue Nile, whose third album Peace At Last was released as a Remastered Deluxe Set on the 3rd March 2013. This reissue has been a long time coming.
When The Blue Nile’s first two masterpieces 1984s A Walk Across the Rooftops and 1989s Hats were reissued back in November 2012, we were told a remastered version of Peace At Last would be released soon. As any Blue Nile fans knows, time moves slowly in the world of The Blue Nile. So a gap of fifteen months isn’t excessive. After all, there was a gap of seven years between The Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats and 1996s Peace At Last. Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, that’s not surprising.
It’s no exaggeration to say that The Blue Nile were the complete opposite of most bands. Describing the Blue Nile as publicity shy, is an understatement. Indeed, since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they formed thirty-one years ago, the Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in the Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. This would be apparent through The Blue Nile’s career, which began back in 1981, in Glasgow, Scotland’s musical capital.
The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore. They all had one thing in common, they were graduates of Glasgow University. Paul and Robert had both been in a band before, Night By Night. However, they type of music Night By Night performed was not deemed commercial enough, and they were unable to gain a recording contract. This lead to the formation of The Blue Nile
Once The Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and re-released on the RSO label. Unfortunately for The Blue Nile RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, The Blue Nile kept writing and recording music.
Following the merger of RSO with Polygram, The Blue Nile continued to hone their sound. They wrote and recorded songs. Some of that material would later be found on A Walk Across the Rooftops. Then fate intervened and The Blue Nile met the man some people refer to as the fourth member of the band, recording engineer Calum Malcolm.
When Callum heard The Blue Nile’s music, he alerted Linn Electronics. This was to prove a fortuitous break for the band. Linn gave The Blue Nile money to record a song that they could use to demonstrate the quality of Linn’s top-class stereo products. However, when Linn heard the track they were so pleased that decided to set up their own record label to release A Walk Across the Rooftops, The Blue Nile’s debut album.
Although the formation of Linn allowed the band to finally release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops, Paul later speculated whether Linn was the right label for The Blue Nile? Paul said that he felt that Linn did not operate like a record label. However, he conceded that, during that period, The Blue Nile were not like a band. So, essentially, this was a match made in heaven for the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops.
On the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops, it was released to critical acclaim. Critics described the album as a minor classic. A Walk Across the Rooftops was described as ethereal, evocative, soulful and soul-baring. It also featured the vocals of troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. Despite the critical acclaim A Walk Across the Rooftops enjoyed, it wasn’t a commercial success, reaching just number eight in the UK. However, since the A Walk Across the Rooftops has been recognised as a classic album. So has the followup Hats.
Unlike most bands, The Blue Nile weren’t in any rush to release their sophomore album Hats. There was a five year gap between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. It was worth the wait. The Blue Nile had done it again. Hats was a classic.
Featuring seven tracks, written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra He’s a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was a group effort, with Paul, Robert and P.J. taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm. On the release of Hats, British and American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of the Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.
On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed and commercial success, reaching number twelve in the UK. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. While this was a small crumb of comfort for the Blue Nile, in the UK, they remained a well kept secret.
Since the release of Hats, like their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops it’s become a minor classic. With The Blue Nile making a breakthrough in America, most bands would’ve been keen to build on this and released another album before long. Not The Blue Nile.
Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. However, they’d been busy. After Hats found its way onto American radio stations, The Blue Nile, who previously, had been one of music’s best kept secrets, were heard by a number of prestigious musicians. Among them were Robbie Robertson and Annie Lennox, Michael McDonald. After a decade struggling to get their music heard, The Blue Nile were big news. During this period, America would become like a second home to The Blue Nile, especially Paul.
Paul took to life in America, and in 1991, decided to make it his home. This just so happened to coincide with Paul’s relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette between 1991 and 1993. Hollywood starlets and Sunset Boulevard was a long way from Glasgow’s West End. In the midst of Paul’s relationship, disaster struck for The Blue Nile, they were dropped by their label.
Linn Records and Virgin decided to drop The Blue Nile. For some groups this would’ve been a disaster. Not The Blue Nile.
They signed to Warner Bros. While this sounded like the ideal solution for The Blue Nile, Paul made the deal without telling P.J and Robert. He later explained that “none of the others were in town at the time.” With a new contract signed, The Blue Nile began thinking about their third album.
So the band started looking for the perfect location to record their third album. They travelled across Europe looking for the right location. This location had to be private and suit their portable recording studio. Cities were suggested, considered and rejected. Among them, were Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Venice. Being The Blue Nile, things were never simple. Eventually, after much contemplation The Blue Nile ended up recording what became Peace At Last in three locations, Paris, Dublin and Los Angeles. For the first time, The Blue Nile recorded an album outside of their native Scotland.
For what became Peace At Last, Paul wrote nine tracks and cowrote God Bless You Kid with Robert Bell. When recording began, Paul played guitar and synths. Robert played bass and synths, while P.J. played keyboards and synths. Joining The Blue Nile were drummer Nigel Thomas and a gospel choir consisting of Eddie Tate and Friends. They featured on Happiness. Craig Armstrong took charge of the strings on Family Life. Peace At Last was produced by The Blue Nile, with Callum Malcolm engineering the sessions. Once Peace At Last was completed, it was released in June 1996.
On the release of Peace At Last, in June 1996, it reached just number thirteen and sold poorly. For The Blue Nile this was disappointing, given it was their major label debut. Worse was to come when the lead single Happiness failed to chart. Why was this though?
Critics remarked upon the change of sound on Peace At Last. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. The Blue Nile’s beloved synths sound like synths. Occasionally, The Blue Nile use real strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. He was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve on Peace At Last, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening Peace At Last is Happiness, the lead single. Just a sweeping synth and acoustic guitar combine, before Paul counts himself in. After seven years, the troubled troubadour is back, laying bare his soul. As he plays his trusty acoustic guitar, you can hear him change chords. His voice his just the same. It’s world weary, one that has lived a life. However there is one change. He sounds content. That’s apparent from the lyrics. Domestically and personally, Paul has found Peace At Last. Later, the minimalist sound changes. Joining the synths, bass, keyboards and chirping guitar are a gospel choir. They transform the track. Their short performance is joyous and uplifting After that Paul forever the optimist, ponders whether the happiness will last. Quite simply, a beautiful, melancholy song.
Tomorrow Morning starts in a similar vein to Happiness. Just a briskly strummed acoustic guitar and drums accompany Paul’s vocal. Pensive becomes hopeful, as he sings: “ we could be together tomorrow morning.” Synths replicate strings, as thoughtful keyboards and acoustic guitars accompany an insecure Paul. It’s that time of the night we’ve all experienced. Lying there, unable to sleep, we wonder what tomorrow brings. That’s Paul, His emotions go from total insecurity to euphoria and happiness in the space of half a verse. The lyrics are some of the best on the album. They allow the listener to hear the range on emotions Paul experiences. With a brisk, minimalist arrangement, where the acoustic guitar, piano and synths disguised as strings combine, the result is a thoughtful, stunning soul-searching song many people will be able to empathise with.
As Sentimental Man unfolds just an acoustic guitar and drums combine, creating a moody and pensive atmosphere. Unlike the two previous albums, there’s no drum machines. Instead, Nigel’s drums, Robert’s bass and Paul’s guitar power the track along. They also add to the funk factor. Paul is in a thoughtful mood, and sings that it’s “not about money, and all about love.” His contentment shines through on this song. He is truly a man at peace with world. The sound on this track is bigger and fuller, than the previous two tracks. This is helped by the arrangement. The bass is panned hard left and the guitars hard right. Synths and Paul’s vocal fill the rest of the arrangement. As the track progresses, the sound grows, peaking towards the end. Guitars, synths and drums dominate the track, while Paul’s vocal is loud and strong. He shrieks and whoops, something unheard of before. A transformation in sound, but one thing remains the same…the quality.
Drums crack and Paul strums his guitar and delivers a needy, sincere vocal on Love Come Down. It’s as if he’s realised he’s in love and wants his partner to know it. With chirping guitars, synths and drums for company, Paul delivers a vocal tour de force. It’s one of his best vocals, growing in power, passion and joy. Drums are loud and sit at the front of the mix, while the guitars are a constant and welcome accompaniment. However, what makes the song is Paul’s vocal. It’s a dramatic and passionate reading of the intelligent and thoughtful lyrics.
From the opening bars of Body and Soul, it’s obvious that this is one of the best songs on Peace At Last. The track has a familiar theme, acoustic guitar and vocal start the song. After that, the track builds, and opens out into one of the most beautiful and heartfelt songs on the album. Strings are used to augment the sound, they are understated, sit at the back of the mix, sweeping in and out of the track. The acoustic guitar is played loudly, with confidence, accompanying Paul’s soulful rendition of the lyrics. Speaking of the lyrics, they’re evocative paean. How we feel when in love, and are an example of our feelings and hopes for the future when in love. Without are some of the best lyrics on Peace At Last.
Holy Love has a totally different sound and feel. In many ways, it owes much to the sound on previous Blue Nile albums. Just like the rest of Peace Of Last, the remastering makes the song come alive. New parts of the track shine through. In many ways, it owes much to the sound on previous Blue Nile album. Backing vocalists sing one note, synths and drums sound dark, almost dull. Synths squelch, drums have a retro sound and feel, and even Paul’s vocal style has changed. As the song progresses, you find yourself wondering what direction it’s heading. Lyrics are sparse, the vocal has an experimental sound and feel, with Paul having to almost improvise. Ethereal synths, chiming guitars, bursts of drum machines and Paul’s scatted vocal become one, on a track where Blue Nile’s past and present combine.
The Blue Nile return to a familiar theme on Family Man, contentment, contentment in your personal life. Family Man is a gentle song, one with similarities to Easter Parade on A Walk Across the Rooftops. It’s the sound and feel that make me draw this comparison. The track has a minimal sound, and starts with piano, which features heavily throughout the song. Later in the track, synths are transformed to sound like a string section. They add depth and feeling to the track. Paul’s voice is perfectly suited to deliver the heartfelt lyrics on this beautiful track.
After the minimal sounding last track, the sound changes dramatically on War Is Love. The sound is fuller, with a moody, dramatic sound. War Is Love starts with those magical strings, via the synths, drums are loud, slow and crisp. Quickly, the sounds builds, Buchanan’s voice sounds moody, perfect to deliver the lyrics, which are about the breakdown of a relationship. His voice fluctuates, getting the message over about a turbulent, troubled relationship. In contrast to the darkness, the strings sit behind his vocal, producing light to Paul’s darkness. A heartbreakingly sad song, delivered sincerely by Paul. So realistic is Paul’s cathartic outpouring of hurt and heartbreak, that it sounds as if he’s lived, loved and survived to tell the tale.
Drums and strings open God Bless You Kid, giving it a lush sound. Buchanan’s mood and vocal seem happier. The arrangement sweeps along, gradually developing. Mostly drums, strings and synths accompany Paul as the song takes on a cinematic quality. Later, a guitar can be heard in the background. As for the lyrics , they’re enigmatic, almost surreal. Especially, when Paul sings: “I never grew up, I never grew down” and “it’s like Memphis after Elvis.” Here we hear a very different side of Blue Nile, one that we never saw on A Walk Across the Rooftop or Hats. Like much of this album, it has a gentle, mellow and understated sound, quite different from their previous sound.
Peace At Last closes with Soon, another beautiful, gentle and mellow song. It starts slowly, keyboards playing, Paul sings. This is another love song. One about how can love coming soon, when we least expect it to. It can happen at given time, in even the most mundane situation. As you would expect from Blue Nile’s lyrics their clever, well constructed and the narrative is strong. You can close your eyes and imagine the scene being played out, and the characters involved. The track meanders, develops through time, building up slowly, until a great track evolves. One that Paul sings really well, behind a backdrop of sweeping strings, spacious plodding drums and percussion. It’s a lovely, soothing track, truly a thing of beauty, and the perfect way to end Peace At Last.
Although that’s the end of the remastered version of Peace At Last, there’s still disc two. It features six tracks. This includes the Lauren Canyon Mix of Soon, a New Vocal Mix of War Is Love and the Picture Mix of Holy. Then there’s Turn Yourself Around and an unreleased demo A Certain Kind Of Angel. Both of these tracks were penned by Paul and Robert Bell, who prove a potent songwriting partnership. The final track is the melancholy Paul Buchanan penned There Was A Girl. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful song, with Paul’s lived-in, weary vocal bringing the lyrics to life. This reminds you of how good a group The Blue Nile are. Sadly, they only released four albums.
Of the quartet of albums The Blue Nile recorded, Peace At Last is their most underrated album. Peace At Last divided critics and fans. This new sound was very different from A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. That was then, this was now. Seven years had passed since Hats. If The Blue Nile had released an album similar to Hats, they’d have been accused of standing still. That’s one thing The Blue Nile never did.
Far from it. Constantly, The Blue Nile were on a mission to create innovative and influential music. This they succeeded in doing. From the opening bars of Happiness, right through to the closing notes of Soon, The Blue Nile create timeless, ethereal music. Here, was a very different group the one that recorded Hats.
For much of the seven years, The Blue Nile had lived separate lives. P.J. and Robert lived happily in the West End of Glasgow. Paul however, led a very different life. Based in Los Angeles, he dates Hollywood starlets and spent time on Sunset Boulevard. This was a long way from Ashton Lane, in Glasgow’s West End. However, The Blue Nile reconvened for the recording of Peace At Last. Lady Luck had smiled on them.
Having survived being dropped by Linn and Virgin, The Blue Nile signed to Warner Bros. Sadly, it was a one album deal. Following the commercial failure of Peace At Last, The Blue Nile were dropped. This wasn’t their fault. No. They’d recorded a minor classic at the wrong time.
Released in 1996, at the height of the vastly overrated Britpop boom, Peace At Last was the wrong album at the wrong time. Peace At Last took several years to record. By the 10th June 1996, when Peace At Last was released, music had changed. Britpop was King. Kinks and Beatles tribute bands were topping the charts. There was, it seems, no room for The Blue Nile, with Peace At Last only reaching number thirteen in the UK. It should’ve been a bigger commercial success.
During Peace At Last, The Blue Nile capture the listener’s attention with music that’s variously lush, atmospheric, beautiful, captivating, ethereal and lush. The Blue Nile draws the listener in, holding their attention. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to ten peerless vocal performances courtesy of Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. Paul’s vocal adds soulfulness to an album where The Blue Nile reinvent their music. The result is music that’s innovative, influential, ethereal and timeless.
With songs about love, love lost, betrayal, heartbreak, growing up and growling old, Peace At Last was a grown up album. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. The Blue Nile’s beloved synths sound like synths. Occasionally, The Blue Nile use real strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. He was still the tortured troubadour, who wore his heart on his sleeve on A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. Sadly this new side of The Blue Nile’s music wasn’t as popular as their two previous albums A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. However, Peace At Last has aged well.
Whilst much is made of newly remastered albums, the remastered version of Peace At Last is truly stunning. Previously unheard subtleties, secrets and nuances. Layers, textures and hidden depths can be heard. This was the case with the remeasured versions of A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. Now it’s possible to hear The Blue Nile’s underrated classic Peace At Last in all its glories. This Remastered Deluxe Set on the 3rd March 2013, is worth every penny. It’s not unlike an old picture that after years covered in grime, is cleaned suddenly, a new picture emerges. That’s what remastering process has done to Peace At Last. Never again, will you reach for your original copy of Peace At Last, as the remastered version breathes new life into Peace At Last, which was The Blue Nile’s penultimate album.
Eight years later in 2004, The Blue Nile called time on their recording career, when they released High. That was their swan-song. Never again, would Paul, P.J. and Robert record another album. Their back-catalogue may only contain four albums, but it’s a rich musical legacy. The Blue Nile are one of the most innovative and influential groups in Scottish musical history. Similarly, their first two albums A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats are two of the greatest albums released by a Scottish band. Their underrated third album, Peace At Last, is a minor classic, which shows another side to The Blue Nile and their music. Standout Tracks: Happiness, Love Come Down, Body and Soul and Soon.
THE BLUE NILE-PEACE AT LAST.
MARY LOVE-LAY THIS BURDEN DOWN: THE BEST OF MARY LOVE.
The story of Mary Love’s life reads like a film script. From the day Mary was born, she had to overcome obstacle after obstacle. This she did. What Mary had to overcome during a traumatic childhood, would’ve broken most people. Not Mary. She was made of stronger stuff. By the age of seventeen, the time had come for Mary to make her own way in the world. Then fate intervened. She won a talent contest and embarked upon a musical career that’s documented on Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records.
It was in Sacramento, California that Mary Love was born in July 1943. Her mother Ramona Ann Hayes was just sixteen when Mary was born. Her father Manuel insisted Mary’s boyfriend Lawrence Allen marry Ramona not long after Mary was born. This wasn’t Manuel’s best idea.
One day, when Mary was just three months old, her father was meant to be looking after her. However, he attacked her with a bottle. When Ramona returned, this was too much. Ramona had already lead a difficult and troubled life and this pushed her over the edge. She left the home she shared with Manuel and Mary. This resulted in a sickly Mary being left in the care of her father and paternal grandmother.
Mary’s grandmother Alice discovered her granddaughter dehydrated, underweight and underfed. She also was suffering from pneumonia. The doctor that was called, didn’t think Mary would make it through the night. Incredibly, she did. Alice and Manuel looked after Mary, bringing her up as a christian. That was until her mother returned when Mary was seven.
From a relatively settled upbringing, Mary’s life was turned upside down. In Berkeley, California, Mary’s mother lived a chaotic lifestyle. The house was filthy, parties were a common occurrence and Ramona had a string of boyfriends. Some of these boyfriends turned out to be pimps. Whilst Ramona’s life spiralled out of control, Mary was looked after by her mother’s friends. Aged eight, Mary was almost homeless. Mary it seemed, came second to her mother’s latest boyfriend. Things got so bad, that aged eleven, the authorities were forced to intervene.
This resulted in Mary being taken into care. Ironically, the care home she was sent to, was across the street from her grandparent’s house. They’d split up. Manuel her father was still single, and wasn’t allowed to look after Mary. She was made a ward of court. For the next few years, Mary lived in foster homes. She was made a ward of court Some were better than other. Then when Mary became a teenager, it looked as if her life wasn’t going to improve.
Far from it. Aged seventeen, Mary was back living with Ramona. That’s when she was tricked into heading to Chicago by a pimp. Luckily, Mary was relatively streetwise, so escaped his clutches. Then, one night Mary’s luck turned.
When Mary saw there was a talent contest in a local club, she decided to enter. With Mary still living in the foster home, so music offered Mary an escape. Mary won the talent contest with a cover of Etta James’ Somebody’s Got A Hold On Me. This resulted in Mary being hired to sing every Thursday. She was paid $8 a night. Accompanying Mary were The Vows, who she’d befriended. They’d friends in the music industry and were protective of Mary. So much so, that when Sam Cooke’s manager J.W. Alexander heard Mary sing, he’d to slip her his card.
The next day, J.W. Alexander and Mary Love met. He offered Mary the chance to sing on demos. This was her opportunity to make a life for herself.
Having started singing demos, Hal Davis heard Mary. He liked what he heard and signed Mary to Modern Records. The only problem was her name. Hal though that Mary Love was a better name for a singer. So it was Mary Love that wen on to record twelve tracks for Modern Records between 1965 and 1968. These twelve tracks feature on Mary Love-Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love.
Of the twenty-five tracks on Lay This Burden Down-The Best Of Mary Love, twelve of them were recorded for Modern Records, between April 1965 and September 1967. This begins with You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet, which was one of Mary biggest hit singles. Released in April 1965, it sold well in and around the Los Angeles area and launched Mary Love’s career. You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet has become a favourite in the UK’s Northern Soul scene. It’s one of Mary’s finest tracks and is a Northern Soul classic.
Following Mary’s debut single, You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet, I’ve Got To Get You Back was released as Mary’s sophomore single in August 1965. Again, it sold well in the Los Angeles area. This would be a familiar story. The exception was Move A Little Closer.
Released in in October 1968, Move A Little Closer reached number forty-eight in the US Billboard 100. This was Mary’s biggest hit. Ironically, Move A Little Closer wasn’t the A-Side. This was Let Me Know. When Move A Little Closer proved more popular, Modern Records flipped the song over, and a hit was born. For Mary, she thought her career was now underway.
Sadly, Lay This Burden Down didn’t build on the success of Move A Little Closer, when was released in October 1966. Again, it failed to chart. It was a hit locally. So was the Ashford and Simpson penned Baby I’ll Come, where Mary mixes power, passion and emotion. It’s one of Mary’s best singles. Tucked away on the B-Side is the hidden gem Satisfied Feeling on the B-Side. Released in February 1967, Mary delivers a vocal tour de force on Satisfied Feeling. After this, Mary would only release one more single for Modern Records.
Talkin’ About My Man was released in July 1967. Written by Arthur Adams, here was a ballad that seemed tailor-made for Mary. Despite this, widespread commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Mary. She did release a duet with Arthur Adams, Is That You. He seems to bring out the best in Mary. Indeed, they encourage each other to greater heights. With growling horns and driving drums for company, Mary and Arthur deliver vocal powerhouses. They’re needy, and full of emotion and sass. Unfortunately, this didn’t result in a hit single to end Mary’s time at Modern Records.
During her time at Modern Records, Mary divided her time between her solo career and singing backing vocals. Everyone from The Ikettes, Vernon Garrett and Lowell Fulson were accompanied by Mary. However, Mary was determined to make a success of her solo career.
In 1968, Mary met producers Matt Hill and Skip Layne. She recorded the anthemic The Hurt Is Just Beginning and Don’t Let It Happen. The Hurt Is Just Beginning garnered radio play in Los Angeles. This just happened to be during the trial of the Black Panther’s Huey Newton. They took to singing lyrics from the song: “The Hurt Is Just Beginning and don’t let it happen.” Not long after this, the B-Side, If You Change Your Mind, started getting radio play. It was released nationally on Josie, reaching number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. For Mary this was her second most successful single. Despite this, another three years passed before Mary released her next single.
Ironically, it was back in Sacramento that Mary met John W. Cole, friends of Mary’s grandparents. He was a businessman, who ran a chain of chemist and record shops. John wanted to expand his business. Next for John was the music business, and knew Roger Spotts, who played alongside Johnny and Shuggie Otis, two hugely talented musicians, arrangers and producers. So Roger would and arrange Mary’s next single at Ray Charles’ Los Angeles studio.
The Mary Love penned There’s Someone For Me was chosen as Mary’s next single. Roger would produce There’s Someone For Me and the B-Side, Born To Live With Heartache. Ray Charles even helped out during the session. He took charge of engineering. Beautiful, cathartic and soul-baring describes There’s Someone For Me. As for Born To Live With Heartache, Mary raises the funk factor and shows another side to her music. Both sides of this 1971 single, which was released on Elco are among some of Mary’s finest work. Sadly, history repeated itself when the single flopped. This resulted in Mary taking time out from the music industry.
It wasn’t until 1975 that Mary returned to music. She’d been raising her family and singing in nightclubs. However, she’d taken a break from recording. During that time, she’d hung out with Lou Rawls, Barry White, Willie Hutch and Dennis Edwards. Through her friendship with comedian, Rudy Ray Moore, Mary landed a part in the Blaxploitation movie Dolemite. Appearing as herself, Mary sings When We Start Making Love and Power Of Love which were part of the soundtrack released on Generation Records. That would be the last we heard of Mary for a couple of years.
Again, Mary was featuring in another film. This time it was Rudy Ray Moore’s Petey Wheatstraw. Mary penned five tracks for the film soundtrack, which was released on the Magic Disc label. Two of the tracks feature on Mary Love-Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love. Joy and Loving You are gospel tinged tracks, very different from the disco inspired title-track. Unfortunately, commercial success still eluded Mary. Her career as a soul singer hadn’t long to go.
Over the next few years, Mary toyed with disco. She released Dance To My Music in 1979, on Inphasion. Although it wasn’t a hit in America, it was a hit in Italy. Then Mary spent three months living in Osaka, Japan, where she was part of Ah Sweet Tastes. They released a single Keep On Dancing, where Mary sings in Japanese and English. Mary’s final two releases were a 1982 cover of Tit For Tat, which was released on Elco. Mary’s final secular single was Save Me, which was released on U-Tone in 1984. After that, Mary Love became a gospel singer. That however, isn’t the end of Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love.
There are still four tracks to go. I Can`t Wait and Because Of You are from Mary’s solo album. The tape had been destroyed years ago, but the tracks were rerecorded in 1994. The other two tracks are Come Out Of The Sandbox and The Price, recorded in 1987, just as Mary became disillusioned with the music industry. Come Out Of The Sandbox was recorded by Mary as Mary Love-Comer. As for The Price, it’s a poignant way to close Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love. It’s obvious Mary’s realised The Price of fame was too much.
Indeed, by the time Mary was turned her back on secular music, she been to hell and back, several times. She’d become addicted to cocaine, crack and alcohol. When she was in her late twenties, Mary became dependent on alcohol. Aged thirty-seven, she became addicted to cocaine and crack. Mary was trying to block out the demons that haunted her. Previously, Mary had been raped, molested and a victim of a series of abusive relationships. However, Mary Love was a survivor. She came through all this and turned her back on secular music. The Price of fame was too high.
Turning her back on secular music, Mary became a successful gospel singer. ironically, Mary Love was one of the most successful gospel singers. Two of her gospel albums, 2002s Incredible and 2005s Mary, Mary were certified gold, while 2000s Thankful was certified platinum. Mary Love had at last enjoyed the success her voice and undoubtable talent deserved. This commercial success was on Mary’s terms. By then, she’d long overcome her addictions and was living happily. Mary Love had survived to tell the tale and enjoy the commercial success that came her way. Sadly, Mary passed away on June 23rd 2013.
She was just seventy. Soul music had lost one of its greatest female singers. Although Mary Love didn’t enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim her music deserved, her music is popular throughout the world, especially in the UK, where Mary was always a welcome visitor. Mary Love will be sadly missed.
For many people, Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records, will be a very welcome addition to their record collection. Mary Love-Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love is the only Mary compilation you’ll ever need. Not only is Lay This Burden Down: The Very Best Of Mary Love a perfect introduction to Mary’s music, but is a fitting homage to one of soul’s finest female singers, Mary Love soul survivor.
MARY LOVE-LAY THIS BURDEN DOWN: THE BEST OF MARY LOVE.
FRANK FOSTER-THE LOUD MINORITY.
During a long and illustrious career that lasted over fifty years, Frank Foster played alongside everyone from Count Basie, Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Duke Pearson, Elvin Jones and Elmo Hope. Frank was the go-to-guy for anyone looking for an innovative flautist, saxophonist or clarinet player. During the fifties and sixties, Frank it seems, hardly stopped working. He was one of the busiest sidemen, composers and arrangers. Despite this, Frank Foster enjoyed a successful solo career.
This saw Frank record for some of jazz’s biggest and most prestigious jazz labels. Frank released solo albums for labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Savoy. Then in 1972, accompanied by an all-star band, Frank released The Loud Minority for the Mainstream Records. The Loud Minority has recently rereleased by BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records, is one of the most innovative spiritual jazz albums. Frank accompanied by a who’s who of jazz, pushes musical boundaries to their limits. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about The Loud Minority. Before that, I’ll tell you about Franks career up until 1972.
Frank Foster was born in September 1928, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father worked for the post office, and his mother was a social worker. Growing up, Frank was encouraged to express himself musically. He was something of a prodigy. Just like so many other children, the first instrument Frank learnt to play was the piano. Then came the clarinet and alto-saxophone. Eventually, Frank would graduate to the flute, plus the tenor and soprano saxophones. Before that, Frank would join his first group.
He was only in his mid teens when Frank joined Jack Jackson and His Jumping Jacks. Then in high school, Frank formed a big band. This was all part of his musical apprenticeship. It looked like Frank was destined to become a musician. Before that, Frank headed to University.
The Wilberforce University, Ohio was where Frank studied music. He was a member of the University big band. They won the 1947 Negro College Dance Competition. Part of the prize was the opportunity to play at the Savoy Ballroom, in Harlem, New York. For an aspiring professional musician like Frank, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Having had a tantalising taste of what life could be like, Frank left university in 1949. However, he failed to finish his degree. This didn’t hold Frank back.
That year, 1949, Frank headed to Detroit, where he immersed himself in the local jazz scene. Then two years later, disaster struck. Frank was drafted. For two years, his career was on hold. Two years later, Frank was back on divvy street, where he caught a break for two reason.
Having left the U.S. Army, Frank joined The Count Basie Orchestra. For Count Basie, he’d not just signed a musician, but an arranger and composer. Frank would write and arrange for The Count Basie Orchestra. He was a stalwart of The Count Basie Orchestra. Right through to the late sixties, Frank was a member of The Count Basie Orchestra. However, 1953 was a special year for Frank for another reason.
1953 saw Frank released his debut album Here Comes Frank Foster on Blue Note. The following year, Frank released his sophomore album New Faces, New Sounds on Blue Note. Along with his work with The Count Basie Orchestra, Frank was kept busy. Despite this, he still found time to work as a sideman.
This included playing on Thelonious Monk’s 1954 album Monk. The same year, Frank played on Elmo Hope’s 1954 album Trio and Quintet. Frank’s reputation was growing. It seemed word was spreading fast about his talents. For the next few years, he split his time between his solo career working with The Count Basie Orchestra and working as a sideman.
1955 is an example of this. Frank recorded several albums with The Count Basie Orchestra. Then with Elmo Hope, Frank recorded Hop Meets Foster. He also played on Donald Byrd’s 1955 album Byrd’s World. This pattern continued for the next few years.
When Kenny Burrell recorded Kenny Burrell Volume 2 in 1956, Frank got the call to accompany him. Then Frank released two solo albums in 1956. Two Franks Please and No Count. For the next few years, Frank was in constant demand.
1957 saw Frank accompany Donald Byrd on All Day Long and Milt Jackson on Plenty, Plenty Soul. The following year, 1958, Frank played in Mathew Gee’s Jazz By Gee and Bennie Green and Gene Ammons’ The Swinging ‘Est. Little did anyone realise that this was jazz’s golden era.
As the sixties dawned, Frank Foster found himself working with a more eclectic selection of artists. 1961 saw him return to working with Elmo Hope on Homecoming. He accompanied Elvin Jones on Elvin, Eddie Higgins on his eponymous album and returned to working with Count Basie on Count Basie / Sarah Vaughan. The next few years, saw Frank working with some of the biggest names in music.
Working with Count Basie meant working with musical legends. This included Frank Sinatra in in 1962 and 1964. The same year, Count Basie worked with Ella Fitzgerald. They would record again in 1966. By then, Frank would be working with another legend.
This was Ray Charles. Frank got the call to play alongside a man who was without doubt, one of the most charismatic musicians ever. Jumping at the chance, Frank played on Side By Side, which closed Ray’s 1966 eponymous album. Despite playing with some of the biggest names in music, Frank hadn’t called time on his solo career.
1965 saw Frank release Fearless Frank Foster on Prestige. Then in 1966, he returned with Soul Outing. That proved to be Frank’s final album for Prestige. For his next album, 1968s Manhattan Fever, he returned to where it all began, Blue Note. Before that, Frank returned to his role as sideman.
Following a gap of six years, Frank worked with Elvin Jones again. He played on Heavy Sounds With Richard Davis, an album released on the prestigious Impulse label. This wouldn’t be the last time they’d play together. They’d reconvene in 1970, when Frank would be part of Elvin’s band until 1972. Frank played on a trio of albums, 1970s Coalition, 1971s Genesis and Merry Go Round. Before that, Frank would record one more solo album and accompany Earl Coleman, Donald Byrd and linois Jacquet.
By 1968, Frank was forty. He seemed to be enjoying splitting his time between his solo career and sideman. Frank played on Earl Coleman’s 1968 album Manhattan Serenade. 1969 saw Frank play on linois Jacquet’s The Soul Explosion. There was also the small matter of Frank’s 1969 eponymous album. Frank Foster was released on Blue Note and would his last album for three years. In the meantime, Frank played alongside Elvin Jones and Donaldy Byrd.
Although Frank was a member of Elvin Jones band, he found time to reacquaint himself with Donald Byrd. They’d known each other since the late fifties. Frank played on Donald’s 1970 album Fancy Free and 1971s Kofi, which were both released on Blue Note. Along with his work with Elvin Jones, Frank was kept busy. However, he wanted to record another solo album.
For some time, Frank had been working on the quartet of songs that became The Loud Minority. It’s a reflection of the times. Back in the late sixties, jazz had become highly politicised. Some musicians had been radicalised. This was no difference from rock music. Frank wanted his music to articulate the problems and emotions Americans were experiencing.
Among the problems that worried Americans was poverty, racism and the Vietnam War. The problem was, many people had no voice. So, Frank and his band were going to give these disenfranchised people a voice. To do this, Frank Foster was going to unleash his unique brand of cerebral, spiritual jazz. This style of jazz was now popular.
Due to the popularity of spiritual jazz, Frank was signed to Mainstream Records. His reputation preceded him. Here was a musician who’d been making records since 1953. He’d played with some of the biggest names in music. Not only that, but Frank enjoyed a successful solo career. For Mainstream Records, this wasn’t exactly a gamble.
Now signed to Mainstream Records, Frank headed into the studio. Accompanying him, was an all-star band. They played on the four songs Frank wrote. The rhythm section included bassists Stan Clarke and Gene Perla, guitarist Earl Dunbar and drummer and percussionist Elvin Jones. Dee Dee Bridgewater added vocals, Jan Hammer and Harold Mabern played piano and Airto Moreira percussion. Then there was the horn section. It featured trombonist Dick Griffin, trumpeter Marvin Peterson, plus Cecil Bridgewater and Charles McGee on trumpet and flugelhorn. Kenny Rogers played alto and baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. Frank trumped everyone, playing alto, soprano and tenor saxophone, plus alto clarinet. This was the lineup that recorded The Loud Minority which was produced by Bob Shad. The Loud Minority, which had been several years in the making, was ready for release in 1972.
On its release in 1972 The Loud Minority, wasn’t a commercial success. It was hailed a progressive, innovative and explosive album. Genres and controversy melted into one. The Loud Minority which was meant to give a voice to the disenfranchised, almost went unheard. That’s despite featuring an all-star lineup. Following the release of The Loud Minority, Frank Foster’s most ambitious album was reappraised. It was only then that The Loud Minority started established a cult status. Now, thirty-two years later, The Loud Minority has been rereleased by BGP Records. It’s a welcome rerelease of a cult classic, The Loud Minority, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening The Loud Minority is the title-track, a fifteen minute epic. Straight away, waves of drama assail you. Hissing hi-hats, washes of piano and a flugelhorn that’s played with passion and emotion. This sets the scene for the cascading horns to announce their arrival. Accompanied by the rhythm section, they reach a wistful crescendo before Dee Dee’s half-spoken vocal enters. She delivers the lyrics with passion, hope and determination. The rest of the band enthusiastically respond to her call, before getting funky. This is very different from what’s gone before. As the horns growl, rasp and protest, Stanley Clark’s prowling bass and a piano combine. As for the piano, it’s played with power, finesse and sometimes, frustration. It plays a crucial role in this horn lead opus. Having said that, there’s no passengers. Earl Dunbar lays down a peerless solo. You can only sit back and admire this all-star band become one. What follows is glorious melange of blues, free jazz, funk and spiritual jazz. By now, you hungrily await the rest of The Loud Minority.
Wistful describes the opening to Requiem For Dusty. Its horn lead sound has a New Orleans sound. It unfolds at a respectful funereal pace. Pensive strings pay tribute to Dusty as drums ominously mark time. Equally ominous are the horns, that’s until they cut loose. Rather than funereal, what follows is the funkiest wake you’ve ever attended. Earl Dunbar steps up, and unleashes blistering jazzy licks. It’s as if he’s laid down the gauntlet. The rest of the band take this as a challenge. Kicking loose, they move through the gears. Basses are slapped, drums pounded and horns bray, blaze and growl. Frank and his band proceed to give Dusty the mother of all send-offs, and in doing so, risk raising the dead.
J.P.’s Thing sees Frank’s alto clarinet set the scene. Everyone follows in his wake. Horns drench the arrangement, while the drums are panned left. They take a back seat, as Frank and the horn section struggle for supremacy. Then the electric piano and Stanley Clark’s bass go toe-to-toe. It’s a fair fight. Joining the fun and funk are percussion and drums. Still, it’s the electric piano that grabs your attention. Midway through the track, the arrangement is pared back. Just a lone wistful horn plays. Then all of a sudden, the band kick loose. Driven along by the piano, rhythm and horn sections, what follows is truly mesmeric. Not once do the band miss a beat. Then it’s time for the drums to take centre-stage. Elvin shows why he was part of Miles Davis’ band. One last time, they fuse free jazz, funk, jazz and spiritual jazz seamlessly. Quite simply, it’s a joy to behold.
E.W-Beautiful People closes The Loud Minority. The tempo drops, but the drama remains. Horns rasp, cascading before Dee Dee’s ethereal vocal enters. Flourishes of piano and jazzy guitar accompany her, before Frank unleashes one of his best solos. He plays tenderly and thoughtfully. Gradually, power and passion combine, while horns, percussion, piano and the rhythm section accompany him. His saxophone dances above the arrangement. The rest of the band are reduced to a supporting role. They must have been aware that they were playing on one of Frank’s finest tracks. So, the band pull out all the stop, ensuring they provide the perfect backdrop. That they do, taking turns to play ying to Frank’s yang. Apart from a stray note on the piano, no-one puts a foot wrong. This results in a beautiful way to close Frank’s comeback album. After three years away, Frank was back with a spiritual jazz cult classic.
Despite the commercial failure of The Loud Minority, for Frank Foster, the album would’ve been perceived as a success. That’s because sometimes, musicians and record companies perceive success differently. For Frank, recording and releasing The Loud Minority was a success.
Frank wanted his music to articulate the problems and emotions Americans were experiencing in the early seventies. Among the problems that worried Americans was poverty, racism, corruption and the Vietnam War. The problem was, many people had no voice. So, Frank and his band were going to give these disenfranchised people a voice. To do this, Frank Foster was going to unleash his unique brand of cerebral, spiritual jazz on The Loud Minority. Over the four songs on The Loud Minority, he spoke up for those who had no voice. Sadly, very few people heard The Loud Minority.
Given The Loud Minority wasn’t a commercial success, Mainstream Records saw the album as a failure. Most record companies weren’t benevolent philanthropists. No. They wanted to make money. If a record didn’t sell, they didn’t make money. Even worse, they lost money. Most record companies didn’t care about the artistic merit of an album. What mattered was the bottom line. That might sound cold hearted, but it’s reality. The Loud Minority wouldn’t make the owners of Mainstream Records rich. At least The Loud Minority was an innovative and influential album.
Thirty-two years after the release of The Loud Minority, Frank Foster’s spiritual jazz album is perceived as a cult classic. Original copies of The Loud Minority change hands for ever increasing sums of money. Despite this, every year, The Loud Minority is heard by even more people. Obviously, the advent of the internet has helped, but for most people, original copies of this spiritual jazz opus are outwit the budgets of most people. Not any more. BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records recently released Frank Foster’s 1972 spiritual jazz opus recently. For that, we should be thankful.
At last, The Loud Minority can be heard by the majority, not just the minority. Take my advice and play The Loud Minority loud. Open your windows and share The Loud Minority with the world. After all, groundbreaking music that pushes musical boundaries to their limits and beyond, shouldn’t be a secret. That’s what The Loud Minority has been. It’s been one of spiritual jazz’s best kept secrets. Not any more. Hopefully, The Loud Minority, which sees Frank Foster accompanied by an all-star band will be heard by a much wider audience. Music as good as Frank Foster’s The Loud Minority deserves to be heard by the majority, not just the minority.
FRANK FOSTER-THE LOUD MINORITY.
LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY-LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY.
When Loleatta Holloway came to record her fifth album, and third for Gold Mind Records Loleatta Holloway, she encountered a very different company. Gone was Norman Harris who’d previously run Gold Mind and who’d been at Loleatta’s side every step of the way, during her Gold Mind career. Norman Harris wasn’t the only change the undisputed Queen of Disco discovered. Indeed, the whole landscape at Salsoul had changed, with musicians, arrangers, songwriters and producers changing.
These changes had started a year ago, when Loleatta recorded her previous album Queen of The Night. Vince Montana Jr, had left Salsoul, after a dispute with the Cayres over royalties. He was now a solo artist at Atlantic Records. Now for the recording of Loleatta Holloway, there was no Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, no Bobby “Electronic” Eli and no Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Given how big a part each of these musicians had played in Loleatta’s career, it would only be natural if she was slightly concerned at their absence. After all, all these changes in personnel could affect the success of the album she was about to record, Loleatta Holloway which will be rereleased by BBR Records. Would that be the case or would Loleatta Holloway continue to wear the crown of the undisputed Queen of Disco with pride?
For Loleatta’s third album for Gold Mind Records Loleatta Holloway, seven tracks were chosen. On Loleatta’s Gold Mind debut Loleatta, it featured tracks like Hit and Run, Dreamin’ and That’s How Heartaches, three of Loleatta’s classic tracks. Queen of The Night wasn’t as heavy on dance classics, but featured Catch Me On the Rebound. The other tracks were a mixture of Loleatta’s soulful and uptempo, dance-floor friendly sides. This was the case with Loleatta Holloway, which featured The Greatest Performance of My Life and All About the Paper, two tracks which showed why Loleatta was the Queen of Disco. With so many of the personnel who wrote and produced Loleatta’s previous album Queen of The Night, many non-Salsoul personnel were brought in to write and produce tracks.
The seven tracks that comprise Loleatta Holloway included The Greatest Performance of My Life written by Oscar Anderle, Robert Allen and Roberto Sanchez and All About the Paper which Clarence McDonald and Lowrell Simon cowrote. Bobby Womack cowrote There Must Be A Reason with Bob Incorvaia, while Helen Robinson wrote Sweet Mother of Mine. Burt Bacharach cowrote Baby It’s You with Barney Williams and Mack David and Floyd Smith and Eugene Record penned There’ll Come A Time. Bunny SIgler kept the Philly influence on That’s What You Said, which he cowrote with Rick Wigginton. For the recording of the seven tracks on Loleatta Holloway, sessions took place at several studios, including Sigma Sound.
Loleatta Holloway was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, PS Recording Studios and Universal Recording. This was because three different producers were producing the seven tracks. Floyd Smith produced four tracks, Bunny Sigler one and Bobby Womack and Patrick Moten two tracks. They were joined by musicians that included a few familiar faces. Among the other familiar faces were guitarist T.J. Tindall, Bobby Womack and Kim Miller, bassists Raymond Earl and Bernard Reed, and drummer Scotty Miller and Roger Hawkins. They were joined by percussionist and conga player Larry Washington and keyboard players Bunny and Jimmy Sigler. Adding backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson, while Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns feature on several tracks. Eventually, Loleatta Holloway was ready for release on Gold Mind Records in 1979.
On the release of Loleatta Holloway in 1979, the album wasn’t a commercial success, failing to chart. Surprisingly, neither of the singles charted. Considering they were two of the best tracks on Loleatta Holloway, All About the Paper nor The Greatest Performance of My Life this is all the more surprising. However, why was Loleatta Holloway not a commercial success? Was it anything to do with having three producers or Salsoul’s changing personnel? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Loleatta Holloway.
Opening Loleatta Holloway is The Greatest Performance of My Life, produced by Floyd Smith, with the track remixed by Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro. Gentle keyboards open the track, before Loleatta’s vocal soars, full of power and passion. She unleashes her full vocal range, as Larry Washington’s congas accompany her. Soon, the pounding rhythm section join, and the track explodes into life. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp, while the rhythm section combine funk and drama. Meanwhile, Loleatta unleashes apowerful, emotive vamp. She struts her way through the track delivering vocal that’s a mixture of emotion, power, drama and soulfulness. In doing so, the draws upon her Southern Soul roots, her band fuse funk, soul, Latin and disco. While the track isn’t quite the greatest performance of her life, it’s quite simply up their with the best of them and one of her best vocals on Loleatta Holloway.
Running The Greatest Performance of My Life pretty close is All About the Paper. It’s arranged by James Mack, produced by Floyd Smith and remixed by Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro. Chiming guitars, punchy blazing horns and a pounding rhythm section combine to create the perfect backdrop for Loleatta’s vocal. Briefly, you can hear similarities with Chic’s Good Times. When Loleatta’s vocal enters, it’s a sassy, feisty, strutting vamp. She makes the song her own, demonstrating just why she was the Queen of Disco. Strings dance with delight, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add tender harmonies and bursts of horns punctuate the arrangement. They’re joined by the best performance by the rhythm section on Loleatta Holloway. While they’re no Baker, Harris, Young, they’re crucial to the song’s sound and success. What really makes the song is Loleatta’s vocal, one that feisty, fiery and sassy. Combined with a what’s simply a timeless, dance-floor friendly arrangement and the result is vintage Loleatta.
There Must Be a Reason written by Bobby Womack and Bob Incorvaia, sees the tempo drop and Loleatta return to her Southern Soul roots. With just piano, a slow rhythm section and a flourish of harp, Loleatta’s half-spoken vocal is a mixture of heartfelt emotion tinged with drama. After a minute strings sweep in and the rhythm section and piano add to the drama. Loleatta’s vocal grows in power, while the Sweethearts of Sigma respond to her vocal, reflecting the sadness and frustration in her vocal. The interplay between Loleatta and the Sweethearts of Sigma really helps the song, adding to this six-minute mini soap-opera. Soon, Loleatta unleashes her trademark powerful, gut-wrenching vocal, and in doing so, breathes life, meaning and emotion into the song.
That’s What You Said is is arranged by Jack Faith, one of Salsoul and Philadelphia International Records’ best arrangers. The track was penned by Bunny Sigler and Rick Wigginton and sees dancing strings, a pounding rhythm section and growling horns combine with Loleatta’s fiery vocal. Handclaps punctuate the arrangement, while a really catchy, dance-floor friendly arrangement unfolds. There’s a quite joyous sound to the arrangement, with hooks aplenty throughout the track. Playing a big part in the arrangement is the cascading strings, blazing horns and punchy rhythm section. Having said that, the rhythm section don’t have the same presence as Baker, Harris, Young. With them driving the song along, what is a great track, could’ve been even better. Mind you, it still has a joyous, hook-laden, uplifting sound.
Baby it’s You is the other Bobby Womack and Patrick Moten production. It’s very different from the previous tracks and was recorded when Bobby Womack was going through a real lean spell. He does his best, trying to fuse elements of funk, soul and disco. With an artist less talented than Loleatta he might not have pulled it off. However, he does….just. Loleatta’s vocal is a mixture of power, passion and emotion, while the rhythm section drive the track along mixing soul and funk. Soon, strings sweep and swirl, horns dance and cascade as backing vocalists combine with Loleatta as the arrangement heads in the direction of disco. Bobby adds one of trademark gravelly vocals, as if he realizing something is missing. By then it’s a bit late and the song works…but only just. The problem was that Bobby hadn’t worked on songs like this very often and as a result, of the seven tracks on Loleatta Holloway, this is probably the weakest. It’s not a bad track, just not as good as other tracks.
Floyd Smith takes charge of production duties for the next two songs, starting with There’ll Come a Time. Straight away, you realize that this a much better track, one that’s made for Loleatta. There’s a real Southern Soul sound from opening bars when blazing horns, searing guitars, piano and lush strings combine. Meanwhile the rhythm section anchors the track, producing the track’s dramatic heartbeat. Strings then sweep in before Loleatta delivers a vocal that’s full of hurt, sadness and emotion. The Sweethearts of Sigma add soaring, soulful harmonies as this big production unfolds. It reveals a glorious sound. Horns rasp and growl, as the piano and heartfelt harmonies adds the drama and emotion of the song. It’s impossible to resist Loleatta’s gut-wrenching, emotive, tour de force of a vocal. Especially when combined with an arrangement as good as this. That’s why it’s one of the highlights of Loleatta Holloway.
Closing Loleatta Holloway is Sweet Mother of Mine, written by Helen Robinson. The way Loleatta delivers the lyrics, you’d almost think the song was autobiographical. Her half-spoken vocal is heartfelt and impassioned, accompanied by just a slow, thoughtful piano and the lushest of strings. After her half-spoken vocal, the track moves in the direction of gospel. A Hammond organ and piano combines with Loleatta’s sincere vocal, as she sings every word as if she means it and as if the words mean something to her. The result is a powerful, moving song, where Loleatta revisits her gospel roots and in doing so, reveals just how versatile a vocalist she truly is.
While much had changed at Salsoul, one thing that hadn’t changed was Loleatta Holloway’s glorious vocal on Loleatta Holloway. Whether it was Southern Soul or disco, Loleatta grabbed the song and made it her own. She put power, passion, emotion and drama into each song, seamlessly flitting between gut-wrenching Southern Soul singer to strutting, sassy disco diva. This is a remarkable transformation and shows the two sides of Loleatta Holloway’s music. Although Loleatta Holloway stayed the same, her band and production team was very different. With Vince Montana Jr gone and Baker, Harris, Young absent from Loleatta Holloway, it wasn’t the Salsoul A-team that played on Loleatta Holloway. It documents just how much and quickly the times were changing at Salsoul. Vince’s vibes and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section would’ve really lifted Loleatta Holloway to the next level. Loleatta Holloway is a great album, but one that could’ve been outstanding with Vince and Norman Harris producing the album.
Having said that, producer Floyd Smith is responsible for some of the best tracks. He’s a talented producer, who seems to understand how to get the best out of Loleatta. Arguably, Bobby Womack and Patrick Moten who produce two tracks, are responsible for the weakest track Baby It’s You. Only the sheer force of her talent and personality rescues the track. Maybe Bobby Womack was the wrong man for the job, and an in-house writer and producer should’ve contributed the two tracks Bobby wrote and produced. Having three separate producers is all very well, if they’re each contributing something worthwhile. However, by the time Loleatta Holloway was released, things were changing at Salsoul and changing fast.
So, Loleatta Holloway, Loleatta’s third Salsoul album features a few familiar faces, but legends aplenty are absent. One thing didn’t change though, Loleatta Holloway. The seven vocals on Loleatta Holloway, her third Salsoul album, see Loleatta flit seamlessly between Southern Soul and disco, and like her two previous albums, feature some quality music from the undisputed Queen of Disco Loleatta Holloway. Standout Tracks: The Greatest Performance of My Life, All About the Paper, That’s What You Said and There’ll Come a Time.
LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY-LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY.
FREDDIE FICTION-I DON’T DREAM.
Nowadays, when we hear a song we’ve never heard before, we can find out everything we want to know at the click of a button. We either log on to the internet, or reach for our phones. Not this time. Freddie Fiction’s debut single I Don’t Dream isn’t all it seems.
Freddie Fiction is an international man of mystery. There’s a reason for this. Freddie Fiction isn’t who he seems. He’s actually a successful artist, but is keeping is identity under wraps. It’s a case of who is this masked man?
On the cover of I Don’t Dream, Freddie Fiction’s face is obscured by a mask. Try as I may, I’ve been unable to work out who Freddie Fiction is. One thing I can tell you, is he’s clearly talented. I Don’t Dream is described as: “an anti-love song.” It’s wistful, pensive, soulful and moody. I Don’t Dream is also melodic, cerebral, ethereal, pensive and understated. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful song that’s a reminder of how music used to sound. However, there’s more to Freddie Fiction than one track.
Soon, Freddie Fiction will release tracks tinged with humour and social comment. This includes Big Corporation and Pistol Pete. Maybe by then, Freddie Fiction will have been unmasked. The hunt for Freddie Fiction’s identity is a modern day treasure hunt. That’s no exaggeration.
Prizes are being offered if you can guess Freddie Fiction’s identity. So, have a listen to I Don’t Dream and maybe you’ll be the person to unmask Freddie Fiction.
FREDDIE FICTION-I DON’T DREAM.
THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA-STREET SENSE.
1978 was a landmark year for Salsoul Records.Vince Montana Jr, the man who created, conducted, arranged and produced many of The Salsoul Orchestra albums left the label. He’d been at The Salsoul Orchestra’s helm between their 1975 eponymous album and 1978s Up The Yellow Brick Road. When Vince left Salsoul, after a dispute with the Cayres over royalties, it left a huge gap to be filled. The Cayres then brought in DJs not just to remix individual tracks, but whole albums. This included Tom Moulton. He produced The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1979 album Street Sense. It features a very different Salsoul Orchestra.
While 1978 proved to be a landmark year for Salsoul, 1979 proved a tumultuous year for Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary of Salsoul run by Norman Harris. Gold Mind was facing financial ruin, and would eventually become part of Salsoul. Another event in July 1979 would prove not only disastrous for Salsoul, but many other record labels and artists.
That event was the Disco Demolition Night which was organised by the Disco Sucks movement. It took place on 12th July 1979, at Comiskey Park, Chicago, where thousands of disco records were blown up, nearly taking with it the stadium. That night in Chicago disco almost died. To survive, disco evolved and went underground. Unlike other labels, Salsoul survived and lived through the turmoil. For The Salsoul Orchestra, they’d only release two more albums after Street Sense, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 10th March 2014. Following Street Sense, Christmas Jollies II and Heat It Up, The Salsoul Orchestra were no more. However, that’s no surprise. Music was changing. In many ways, after the events of Disco Demolition Night, we shouldn’t be surprised. Before that, The Salsoul Orchestra released three further albums, including Street Sense.
Like previous Salsoul Orchestra albums, Street Sense was a combination of cover versions and new tracks. Cover versions included Zambesi written by Donny Hathaway, Grace Slick’s Somebody To Love and the Richard Evans’ penned Burning Spear. Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson cowrote the title-track Street Sense and 212 North Street. Bebu Silvetti and Miguel Tottis contributed Sun After the Rain. These six tracks would be recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with Tom Moulton producing and mixing Street Sense.
For the recording of Street Sense at Sigma Sound Studios, it was a much more slimmed down Salsoul Orchestra that gathered. Most of the original and classic lineup don’t appear on Street Sense. It’s a far cry from 1975, when The Salsoul Orchestra recorded their eponymous debut album. The legends were gone. Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Bobby “Electronic” Eli, The Sweethearts Of Sigma and Vince Montana Jr. The only legends left are Earl Young and Larry Washington.
At Sigma Sound Studios, only drummers Earl Young and Keith Benson, bassist Jimmy Williams conga players Larry Washington, James Walker and Don Renaldo’s strings on horns had been members of the original Salsoul Orchestra. They were joined by guitarist Craig Snyder, Thor Love and the Richard Evans’ penned Burning Spear. Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson on keyboards and synths and Shanga on congas. Even the Sweethearts of Sigma were absent and were replaced by Soulful Nature, Jon Alton, Ernestine Billingsley and Selinda Watkins. Truly, the times they were a changing and The Salsoul Orchestra was very different from its early, glory days. Would this change in lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra affect Street Sense’s commercial success?
On the release of Street Sense in 1979, the album failed to chart. Disco it seems, was on its deathbed and being granted the last rites. Then when Street Sense was released as a single, it only reached number forty in the US Dance Music/Club Play Singles Charts. This was a long way from The Salsoul Orchestra’s early days, when their debut album The Salsoul Orchestra had sold sufficient copies to be certified gold. Sadly, back in 1975, Salsoul weren’t members of the RIAA and didn’t receive their gold disc. By the time Street Sense was released in 1979, it was a very different Salsoul Records, Salsoul Orchestra and indeed, musical landscape. However, what did the music on Street Sense sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening Street Sense is the exotic sounding Zambesi written by Donny Hathaway. The rhythm section powered by Earl Young’s drums combine with guitars and keyboards to dramatically open the track. A sinister sounding vocal sings “Zambesi” and that seems the signal for The Salsoul Orchestra to kick loose. Soon, Don Renaldo’s strings sweep and swirl, while his horns blaze and growl. They combine with the rhythm section to create The Salsoul Orchestra’s famous disco sound. By now it’s business as usual, although sometimes, the keyboards and the rhythm section take the arrangement in the direction of jazz. Punchy horns give the track a funky influence, while the introduction of synths, keyboards and bursts of hollered vocals see the jazzy sound return, Still the Don’s dancing strings create the track’s irresistible disco sound as the rest of The Salsoul Orchestra fuse jazz, funk and their usual disco sound. Although Salsoul and The Salsoul Orchestra were changing, this slimmed down, leaner lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra still create a track that irresistibly catchy, as Salsoul’s music begins to evolve.
Burning Spear was penned by Richard Evans, who had was one of the main songwriters at Cadet Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records and home to Rotary Connection, Marlena Shaw and Terry Callier. When the track opens, a pounding funky rhythm section is responsible for the track’s funky, pulsating heartbeat. Jimmy Williams bass helps power the track along, while Thor’s synths add a new and different dimension to the arrangement. Still the strings are present and later, a sultry, blazing saxophone solo from Michael Pedicine takes centre stage. After that the rhythm section combine funk and disco, while the horns add a jazzy sound. Larry Washington adds the famous Salsoul percussive sound and Don Renaldo’s strings dance with joy. Although quite different from previous albums, with its introduction of a jazzy twist and synths, one thing doesn’t change, and that’s this a track that’s The Salsoul Orchestra’s dance-floor friendly sound.
By 1979, Grace Slick who wrote Somebody To Love, had been lead singer with three groups, The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. She was also a talented songwriter. WIth Earl Young’s thunderous drums powering the arrangement along, the track reveals a funky, pulsating Euro Disco beat. The rest of The Salsoul Orchestra fuse funk, jazz and this Euro disco sound. Strings cascade, horns rasp and Soulful Nature add their tight, soulful harmonies. Although they’re crucial to the track’s sound and success, they’re nowhere near as good as The Sweethearts Of Sigma. So too are Don Renaldo’s swirling strings and rasping, plus Earl Young’s drums that provide the track’s heartbeat. A myriad of Latin percussion, rasping horns and Thor’s synths combine during a dramatic breakdown. Then the track gradually rebuild and the track reveals the rest of its secrets. For the first time on Street Sense there’s a real Euro Disco influence and this is no bad thing. Quite the opposite. It plays a part on the track’s joyous, uplifting sound.
Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson cowrote two tracks on Street Sense. The title-track Street Sense the first of these. Again there’s a real Euro Disco influence and it’s much more obvious than the previous track. This is no surprise, given Thor was a Munich based producers, whose music had obviously been influenced by Giorgio Moroder. As Street Sense opens, there’s a brief similarity with Resorts International. Another similarity is the way the introduction is arranged. It’s similar to other tracks and is somewhat formulaic. Earl Young’s drums and Jimmy Williams bass power the arrangement along, providing the track’s pounding, disco heartbeat, while strings dance joyously and horns rasp and growl. Soulful Nature’s heartfelt harmonies sweep in and out, replaced by dramatic bursts of blazing horns. Later, during a breakdown, the arrangement is stripped way back. Just percussion and synths take centre-stage, while flourishes of strings and brief bursts of horns sit in the background. When the track rebuilds, Soulful Nature’s sassy harmonies are accompanied by a dramatic arrangement. This track would become a favourite at New York’s legendary Loft nightclub.
212 North 12th is the second Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson penned tracks. Keyboards give way the familiar combination of a pulsating disco beat created by Earl Young’s drums and Jimmy Williams bass. Stabs of keyboards join the mix, before Don Renaldo’s of strings and horns play important roles in the arrangement. Strings sweep and swirl, while horns blaze. Bursts of punchy horns and percussion add drama as the the funky rhythm section provide a relentless, pulsating disco beat. By now one of the most dance-floor friendly tracks unfolds. Again, a breakdown is used to good effect, before searing, guitars, percussion and blazing horns all play their in this multilayered fusion of disco, jazz and funk.
Bebu Silvetti who cowrote Sun After the Rain with Miguel Tottis is best known for his Salsoul classic Spring Rain. This is a quite different track, one that features a more understated arrangement. Percussion, sound effects, bursts of chiming guitars and keyboards are joined by lushest of strings as a very beautiful track unfolds. Elegant is a good description of it. Tender, impassioned harmonies from Soulful Nature are enveloped by the lush strings, as the rhythm section provide a much more subtle heartbeat. Later, the arrangement grows, with swathes of strings and bursts of rasping horns proving the perfect accompaniment to Soulful Nature’s beautiful, tender harmonies. Of the six tracks on Street Sense this is very different from the other tracks. Unlike the other tracks, the arrangement doesn’t have the almost formulaic arrangement. Good as these tracks are, this is much better. Not only does it offer variety, but is imaginative and innovative, as you’d expect from an album baring the Salsoul label.
By the time The Salsoul Orchestra released Street Sense in 1979, it was a very different lineup from their debut album The Salsoul Orchestra. Most of the legends were gone, with just Earl Young, Larry Washington and Don Renaldo left. Despite this, the slimmed down lineup managed to create the impressive sound as earlier albums. Street Sense doesn’t sound like a smaller band, but does find a very different band. Without Vince Montana Jr,The Salsoul Orchestra weren’t the same. They’d released their best music with Vince at the helm. He was The Salsoul Orchestra’s founder and driving force. Vince was a musical visionary, who wrote, arranged, produced and played on The Salsoul Orchestra’s albums. With some of Philly’s greatest musicians at his side, The Salsoul Orchestra were disco’s premier orchestra. Between heir 1975 eponymous album and 1978s Up The Yellow Brick Road they could no wrong. The albums released between 1975 and 1978 includes the best music The Salsoul Orchestra released. Street Sense falls short of the standard set by Vince Montana Jr.
After his departure Tom Moulton produced Street Sense. He took a very different approach. The drums played a bigger part, they were louder, faster and had a similar sound on five of the tracks. He seemed to be concentrating on creating a sound that was dance-floor and DJ friendly. Another change was the use of synths.
Unlike other albums released at this time, the synths, which I’m not a huge fan of, worked..just. The style of music straddled musical genres. with the usual disco sound joined by a jazz funk, Euro Disco and Philly Soul. At least Tom Moulton didn’t desert Salsoul Orchestra disco sound. However, by 1979 disco was no longer as popular and Salsoul would have to adapt or die.
Although Salsoul managed to do so, other labels weren’t as fortunate. While others struggled, Salsoul Records style and sound changed. The company was transformed. New personnel, producers and musicians joined Salsoul. After Street Sense, The Salsoul Orchestra’s sound evolved. Sadly, what was the end of an era wasn’t marked by the release of a classic album. It’s a decent album. Good, but not great describes Street Sense. It’s far from a classic and doesn’t match the quality of their debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, Nice ‘N ‘ Nasty, Up the Yellow Brick Road or indeed The Salsoul Strings’ How Deep Is Your Love. By the next time The Salsoul Orchestra would enter a recording studio, disco would’ve nearly died and music was evolving. Street Sense was the last disco album The Salsoul Orchestra released, before boogie replaced disco as the favourite of discerning DJs and dancers. Standout Tracks: Zambesi, Burning Spear, Street Sense and Sun After the Rain.
THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA-STREET SENSE.
ONCE IN A MILLION-THE SONGS OF SAM DEES.
Sam Dees is described as: “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer.” That’s true. While Sam has written nearly four-hundred songs, he’s only released three albums. Clearly, Sam believes in quality over quantity. Anyone whose heard Sam’s 1975 debut album The Show Must Go On will be forced to agree. Despite its commercial failure, The Show Must Go On is regarded as a Southern Soul classic. Following The Show Must Go On returned to writing songs for other people.
That’s what he’d been doing before the release of The Show Must Go On. Sam had written songs for John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Clarence Carter, Rozetta Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Frederick Knight. This saw Sam established a reputation as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. Following the failure of The Show Must Go On, Sam went on to write songs for The Chi-Lites, The Temptations, L.T.D, Johnnie Taylor and Gladys Knight and The Pips. Songs from each of these artists feature on Kent Soul’s forthcoming compilation Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. It’ll be released on 3rd March 2014.
Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees features a total of twenty-two tracks. There’s only one contribution from Sam. That’s his 1977 single My World. It’s a tantalising taste of what Sam Dees is capable of. Then there’s the twenty-one tracks Sam penned. They were recorded by what reads like a who’s who of soul. These tracks were released on labels like A&M, Alarm, Atlantic, Aware, Beverley Glen, Columbia, Brunswick, Dakar, Gordy, Malaco, Polydor, Spring and Warner Bros. However, the twenty-two tracks on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees are just a the tip of what’s a musical iceberg. Sam Dees is a prolific songwriter. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is the perfect place to start for anyone whose yet to discover the music of Sam Dees, who I’ll tell you about.
It was in December 1945 that Sam Dees was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was born into a large family. Sam stood out though. The reason for that was his voice. From an early age, it was obvious that Sam was a talented singer. When he was just nine, Sam was a veteran of talent contests. He’d won numerous talent shows, so decided to form his own group The Bossanovians. By the time Sam was ten, it became apparent Sam had a way with words.
Unlike most ten year olds, Sam was writing poetry and songs. Looking back, Sam Dees was something of a musical prodigy. So, it’s no surprise that he would make a career as a songwriter. Before that, he had dreams of becoming a singer.
Although Sam was a still teenager, he was already travelling from his Birmingham home to perform. This was the equivalent of Sam serving his musical apprenticeship. Then in 1968, Sam caught a break, He got the chance to record his debut single.
Given Sam was an aspiring soul singer, it sees strange that he made his recording debut in Nashville. I Need You Girl was released on SSS International. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. Neither were Easier To Say Than Do nor It’s All Right (It’s All Right), which sam released on Lo Lo Records in 1969. Then as a new decade dawned, Sam’s luck changed.
Since 1968, Clarence Carter had been signed to Atlantic Records. He’d released a trio of albums, to varying degrees of success. His fourth album, Patches, was released in 1970. Produced by Rick Hall, and featuring some of Memphis’ top musicians and backing vocalists, including Chalmers, Rhodes, Chalmers, Patches featured songs from some top songwriters. This included Sam Dees. He wrote Changes, a heartbreakingly beautiful slice of Southern Soul. Hurt and heartbreak ooze out of Clarence’s soul. You can’t help but empathise with his plight. It’s one of the highlights of Patches and had to feature on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.
1971 proved to be an important year for Sam Dees. He signed to Chess Records, releasing two singles, the Larry Weiss penned Maryanna and Can You Be A One Man Woman. Despite the quality of music, Sam wasn’t making that important commercial breakthrough. At least other artists were covering his songs.
Rozetta Johnson. She covered A Woman’s Way, which features on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. A Woman’s Way was the B-Side to Mine Was Real. Sam wrote both songs using the nom de plume Lillian Dees. He co-produced the songs with Clinton Moon. With strings and horns arranged by Dale Warren, Rozetta Johnson’s debut single was a commercial success. Released on Clintone Records, it reached number ninety-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. No wonder. It’s a vocal powerhouse, where Rozetta’s vocal is a cathartic cleansing of her weary soul. She sings the lyrics as if she’s lived, loved and survived them.
Having written and produced his first hit single, Sam hadn’t given up hope of forging a successful career as a songwriter. After leaving Chess, Sam released a single for Clintone Records. Claim Jumping didn’t replicate the commercial success of Rozetta Johnson’s Mine Was Real. Despite this, Sam’s career was on the up.
By the early seventies, Atlantic Records was a musical institution. Some of the biggest names in soul had been signed to Atlantic. Now, it was a broad musical church, with Led Zeppelin one of its most successful artists. The next addition to the label was Sam Dees. 1973 saw Sam release two singles for Atlantic, So Tied Up and I’m So Very Glad. Despite their undoubted quality, they weren’t the commercial success they deserved to be. At least a song Sam cowrote proved much more successful.
Stop This Merry-Go-Round was was a song Sam, Albert Gardner and Clinton Moon had written. Originally, Bill Brandon took the song to number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Now, John Edwards a future Detroit Spinner would record the track. His Johnny Taylor styled cover was released on Aware in 1973, reaching number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. Bristling with emotion, confusion and frustration, John accompanied by blazing horns and harmonies, delivers a vocal tour de force. It opens John’s 1973 eponymous debut album and is well worth its place on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.
Sam returned to his solo career in 1974. He released two singles, Worn Out Broken Heart and Come Back Strong. Neither were a commercial success, but Come Back Strong proved to be prophetic.
With the last couple of years proving unsuccessful for Sam Dees, 1975 was a big year for him. He released his debut album The Show Must Go On. Sadly, with disco King, it wasn’t a commercial success. Neither were the singles The Show Must Go On, nor Fragile, Handle With Care. For Sam, this must have been a huge disappointment. Here he was, signed to one of soul’s most prestigious labels, but at the wrong time. Belatedly, however, The Show Must Go On has come to be regarded as a Southern Soul classic. Whilst Sam’s solo career had stalled, his song wring career was doing well.
During 1975 Sam wrote songs for a number of artists, including Corey Blake, Loleatta Holloway, Frederick Knight, Jackie Wilson and Sidney Joe Qualls. At last, word was out, Sam Dees was the go-to-guy for artists looking for a talented songwriter capable of writing powerful, emotive, ethereal and beautiful music. Twenty-two examples feature on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. Having told you about tracks from Clarence Careter, Rozetta Johnson and John Edwards, I’ll pick some more of the highlights of Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.
Of the songs Sam Dees wrote in 1975, The Show Must Go On was Sam’s Magnus Opus. In the hands of Loleatta Holloway, who back then, was singing Southern Soul, it comes alive. She takes on the role of the character in the song. It’s as if she’s experienced the betrayal, hurt and heartbreak, and knows she must put on a brave face. Her vocal is a cocktail of emotions. Tinged with bravado, anger, despair and hope, there’s no other option, The “Show Must Go On.” It features on Loleatta’s 1975 sophomore album Cry To Me, which was released on Aware. Along with Casanova it’s one of the highlights of Cry To Me. Similarly, The Show Must Go On is one of the highlights of Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.
Frederick Knight was another of the artists Sam wrote for in 1975. He cowrote I Betcha Didn’t Know That with Fredrick. Produced by Fredrick, it was released on Stax’s short-lived imprint Truth Records. By this time, Stax was just about to become insolvent. As a result, I Betcha Didn’t Know That wasn’t promoted properly. So, it’s no surprise that the single flopped. With a tender, heartfelt vocal, this ethereal paean falls into the category of hidden gems.
Ray Crumley covered Good Guys Don’t Always Win in 1976. Written by Sam, this was one of a trio of singles Ray released on Alarm. Without doubt, it’s the best of the trio. With swathes of sweeping strings for company, Ray combines emotion, power and sincerity. It’s as if he’s singing from experience, and knows all too well that: “Good Guys Don’t Always Win.” Good as this version is, Sam’s version on his 1975 album The Show Must Go On is the definitive version.
Fittingly, Sam Dees’ 1977 single My World opens Once In A Million-The Songs Often Sam Dees. Released on Polydor, sadly, the single failed commercially. Despite this, it’s a perfect introduction to Sam Dees. Gradually, what is a bewitching and dramatic ballad unfolds. Just piano and strings usher in Sam’s needy vocal. His delivery is dramatic, as he constantly reassures. All the time, cooing harmonies accompany Sam. By the end of the track, you should be convinced that every record collection should’ve a Sam Dees album in it.
Losing Eugene Records was a huge blow for The Chi-Lites. They’d enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim under his leadership. By 1977, success had almost dried up. Despite this, The Chi-Lites were still capable of creating musical magic. This describes Vanishing Love. Written by Sam, John Edwards enjoyed a hit with it in 1975. Vanishing Love features on The Chi-Lites 1977 album Happy Being Lonely. The version on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, is a UK remix. Full of hooks and dance-floor friendly, it’s a welcome return to form from The Chi-Lites.
For anyone unfamiliar with Dorothy Moore’s Girl Overboard, it’s another hugely underrated song. Written by Sam and Floyd Smith, it was produced by James Stroud, Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch. They provide a mellow and understated arrangement for Dorothy’s impassioned, soulful vocal. Released in 1978, on Dorothy’s Once More With Feeling album, this track was a favourite in the rare groove and two step scenes.
In 1979, Sam Dees moved to Los Angeles. That’s where he met Les McCann and another Philly native, Bobby Martin. Bobby was one of architects of Philly Soul. Just like so many others, he never got the credit he deserved. Les had started out playing jazz. By 1979, he was a successful producer and solo artist. Sam cowrote four tracks and cowrote another track for his 1979 album Tall, Dark and Handsome. One of these songs was So Your Love Finally Ran Out For Me. Produced by Benny Golson for Bobby Martin, it’s a truly beautiful ballad. Drama, emotion, heartbreak and beauty, it’s got everything. It’s the smoothest soul you could hope to hear, thanks to Les’ vocal.
My final choice from Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, is an artist I’ve always championed, Esther Phillips. There’s one reason for that, her unmistakable vocal. Esther released the best music of her career at Kudu, between 1971 and 1976. That wasn’t the end of the Esther Phillips story though. Poof of this is Cry To Me, from her 1981 Mercury album Good Black Is Hard To Crack. It’s a fusion of jazz, funk and soul. Although Cry To Me doesn’t reach the heights of Loleatta Holloway’s definitive version, it’ll be enough to get people digging into Esther’s illustrious back-catalogue.
Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is a compilation I’ve been really looking forward to reviewing. There’s a reason for that. I’m a huge fan of Sam Dees, whose one of the most underrated singer-songwriters. That’s because most people haven’t heard of Sam Dees. Hopefully, Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees which will be released on 4rd March 2014, on Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records will change this. Maybe now, people will begin to look at Sam’s back catalogue.
After buying Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, Sam’s 1975 debut album The Show Must Go On is an essential purchase. Then there’s two compilations from Kent Soul that are well worth looking out for. Second To None and The Heritage Of A Black Man provide further insight into the best soul singer you’ve never heard. Despite only three studio albums to his name, there’s much more to Sam Dees than that.
Sam Dees has written songs for some of the biggest names in soul. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees’ track-listing shows this. He’s penned tracks for everyone from John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Clarence Carter, Rozetta Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Frederick Knight right through to The Chi-Lites, The Temptations, L.T.D, Johnnie Taylor and Gladys Knight and The Pips. That saw Sam establis a reputation as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. That’s no exaggeration. Far from it. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is just the tip of a musical iceberg. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is just a tantalising taste of “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer” whose the best soul singer you’ve never heard. Standout Tracks: Sam Dees My World, Dorothy Moore Girl Overboard, Les McCann So Your Love Finally Ran Out For Me and Loleatta Holloway The Show Must Go On.
ONCE IN A MILLION-THE SONGS OF SAM DEES.
ORANGE JUICE-RIP IT UP.
Buoyed by the commercial success of their 1982 debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Orange Juice were well on their way to becoming one of the most influential groups of the early eighties. Their timeless brand of perfect pop had won over critics and music lovers. Released to critical acclaim in March 1982, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever reached number twenty-one in the UK. For Orange Juice it was a case of striking when the iron was hot.
Just eight months later, Orange Juice returned with their sophomore album Rip It Up, which was recently rereleased by Domino Records. Rip It Up featured a song that’s since become synonymous with Orange Juice, the title track Rip It Up. Not only that, but Rip It Up was the most successful single of Orange Juice’s career. It reached number eight in the UK Charts in 1983. Thirty-one years later and Rip It Up is a slice of pop perfection. However, there’s much more to Rip It Up than that one track. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about Rip It Up. Before that, I’ll tell you about the background to Rip It Up.
As work began on Rip It Up, there was a change in Orange Juice’s lineup. This came as no surprise. For some time, tension had running high between James Kirk and Steven Daly. This came to a head in early 1982. James Kirk left Orange Juice. This was a huge loss. James’ guitar parts, especially his doubles, were part of Orange Juice’s sound. Orange Juice’s loss was Memphis, his new group’s gain. Replacing James was Malcolm Ross.
Previously, Malcolm Ross had been a member of Josef F, another band on Alan Horne’s Postcard Records. Josef K were one of the most important Scottish bands of the early eighties. Featuring Paul Haig, David Weddell, Ronnie Torrance and Malcolm Ross, Josef K released a handful of singles and their only album, 1981s The Only Fun In Town. It reached number three in the UK Indie Charts. Despite this, Josef K split-up not long after this. Luckily, Orange Juice needed a guitarist. Malcolm Ross stepped into the void.
Not only did Malcolm Ross step into the void when it came to replacing James Kirk as guitarist, he penned Turn Away. With the rest of Orange Juice, he cowrote Rip It Up. Orange Juice and Zop Cormorant cowrote Hokoyo. Edwyn Collins penned five tracks, Mud in Your Eye, Breakfast Time, Flesh Of My Flesh, Louise Louise and Tenderhook. Then with David McClymont, Edwyn cowrote I Can’t Help Myself. The other tracks was Zeke Manyika’s A Million Pleading Face. These ten tracks became Rip It Up.
Just like the recording of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Rip It Up was recorded at Berwick Street Studios, London. Edwyn sang lead vocals and played, lead, rhythm and twelve-string guitar. Malcolm Ross played, guitar, synths, piano and organ. David McClymont played bass and Steven Daly drums and percussion. Augmenting Orange Juice were vocalist Paul Quinn, percussionist Mel Gaynor, Martin Drover on flugelhorn plus Martin Hayles on piano and synthesiser. Louise Waddle contributed handclaps, Dick Morrissey played saxophone and Gavin Wright violin. Once the ten tracks were recorded, Rip It Up was ready for release in November 1982.
A mere eight months after their debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever reached number twenty-one in the UK, Orange Juice released Rip It Up in November 1982. Disappointingly, it stalled at number thirty-nine in the UK. I Can’t Help Myself was released as the lead single, but only reached number forty-two in the UK. Then in 1983, Rip It Up was released as a single, reaching number eight in the UK. This would become Orange Juice’s most successful single. Finally, Flesh of My Flesh reached number forty-one in the UK. Whilst Rip It Up didn’t surpass the commercial success of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, it contains further moments of pop perfection from Orange Juice Mk. 2.
There’s no better way to start Rip It Up than with a slice of pop perfection. That describes Rip It Up, which since 1982, has become synonymous with Orange Juice. This is their finest hour. From the squelchy synth, funky bass and chiming guitars, the years roll back. Suddenly, it’s 1983. Especially, when Edwyn’s angst ridden vocal enters. Handclaps, harmonies and drums provide the backdrop to Edwyn as pop perfection unfolds. Even the stabs of synth and howling saxophone work. Everything just melts into one soulful, funky slice of timeless pop. Thirty-one years later, it’s a reminder of better days.
A Million Pleading Faces sees Orange Juice head in a direction marked funk. That’s before the track heads in direction of Afro-beat and rock. It’s a melting pot of influences. They’re propelled along by the rhythm section, stabs of synths and reverberating guitars. Add to this dramatic rolls of drums. Then there’s the vocal. It changes hands as Orange Juice deliver lyrics full of social comment. Although there’s some poppy hooks thrown in for good measure, it wasn’t what we’d come to expect from Orange Juice. Indeed it’s one of the weakest tracks on Rip It Up.
Mud In Your Eye sees a melancholy, heartbroken Edwyn lays bare his soul. He sings call and response, sounding like a crooner-in-waiting. The backing vocalist is a perfect foil for Edwyn, sounding like his conscience. Meanwhile, the arrangement meanders wistfully along. Washes of organ, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section provide the backdrop for Edwyn. Later, strings prove the finishing touch to this soulful opus, where hurt and heartbreak are ever-present.
Wistful string prove to be a brief curveball on Turn Away. It’s as if Orange Juice want to be Talking Heads. Post punk, rock and glam rock are thrown into the melting pot. Flourishes of guitar, synths and a funky bass accompany Edwyn, who seems to be taking his lead from David Byrne. Here, Orange Juice pay homage to Talking Heads.
Thoughtfully, chiming guitars open Breakfast Time. They’re joined by a bouncy bass, jangling guitars and Edwyn’s unmistakable vocal. He delivers his cerebral, witty lyrics with panache. Yearning fills his vocal as he sings: “oh I wish I was young again.” Behind him, percussion is adding to an arrangement where funk, Latin, pop and rock is combined. This proves the perfect contrast to a wistful, melancholy Edwyn.
Crystalline, chiming guitars join hypnotic drums on I Can’t Help Myself. Then Orange Juice unleash their trademark sound. This time, funk, pop and soul is combined. Chirping guitars, funky bass, handclaps and stabs of synths join Edwyn’s joyous vocal. There’s even a diversion into Euro Disco, as Edwyn admits: “I Can’t Help Myself.” Later, Edwyn sings call and response as Orange Juice get funky. He vamps his way through the track, spreading joy and hooks. There’s even a blistering jazz-tinged saxophone solo that’s the icing on this delicious cake, that’s best tasted often.
One of Rip It Up’s best lyrics can be found on Flesh Of My Flesh. It comes courtesy of Edwyn. He delivers it beautifully. “Here’s a penny for your thought’s, incidentally, you may keep the change.” It’s a wonderful putdown. Scathing and cutting, it’s cerebral and witty. Orange Juice realising this, really raise their game. They don’t spare the hooks. The meandering arrangement is a fusion of funk and jazz. Jazzy horns punctuate the arrangement, as Edwyn at his poetic best, delivers another vocal masterclass.
Louise Louise is a relationship song. With trademark jangling guitar, Edwyn setting the scene from the opening bars. His lyrics paint pictures of a tumultuous relationship. It seems Louise is an aloof, enigmatic, drama queen. Frustration fills his vocal. This is reflected in the searing guitars. He feels mistreated. To get his own back, he heads to her party, where he delivers the lines: “have a wonderful birthday dear, such a wonderful birthday dear, it comes but once a year, I’ll spoil it with pinky sneer.” Revenge it seems, for Edwyn the class warrior, is a dish best served cold.
Hokoyo is totally unlike much of Rip It Up. It sees the direction head in the direction of world music and funk. Zeke takes charge of the vocal. Meanwhile, the rest of Orange Juice combine musical genres, including soul and perfect pop. When the vocal changes hands, Edwyn’s vocal provides a contrast. However, even he can’t rescue this track. It’s the wrong track on the wrong album.
Tenterhook closes Rip It Up. Wistfully, chiming guitars rhythm section and a thoughtful Edwyn combine. Memories come flooding back. So does regrets, and “he has a few.” Replacing his vocal, are riffing guitars. They’re part of an arrangement that’s like a merry-go-round, one Edwyn wants to climb off of. With a vocal full of emotion, regret and sadness, he breathes life and meaning into the lyrics.
There is more to Rip It Up than the title-track. Much more. It’s an eclectic album that showcases the new Orange Juice. The loss of James Kirk was a huge blow. It resulted in a change in the Orange Juice sound. Their music was much more eclectic on Rip It Up. However, James’ departure affected Orange Juice. James’ guitar parts, especially his doubles, were very much part of Orange Juice’s sound. So were his songs. Now he was gone.
James had contributed three tracks on You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. With James gone, other members of the band stepped into the songwriting void. Zeke Manyika wrote A Million Pleading Faces, which is a somewhat disappointing track. It’s one of the weakest tracks on Rip It Up. The first song Malcolm Ross wrote was the Talking Heads’ influenced Turn Away. Along with the rest of Rip It Up, Orange Juice picked up where they left off on You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. Hokoyo disappointed. It was written by Orange Juice and Zop Cormorant. This wasn’t the band’s finest hour. It’s a melange of musical influences and falls between them all. However, mostly, Rip It Up, sees Orange Juice continue on their mission to create pop perfection.
They very nearly succeeded. The only disappointments were A Million Pleading Faces and Hokoyo. Apart from that, it was almost a clear run. A combination of pop, rock, funk, Afro-beat, Euro Disco and Latin are thrown into the melting pot. Given a stir by producer Martin Hayles and it’s proof that Orange Juice had come a long way since their early years as the post-punk Nu-Sonics.
By the time they released Rip It Up, in November 1982, they were a slick, polished and tight band. They wrote the ten tracks on Rip It Up. Eight of these tracks work. They’re tracks variously beautiful, cerebral, joyous, literate, melancholy, poignant and wistful. Edwyn Collins’ vocals brings the lyrics to life. Quite simply, he breathes life, meaning and emotion into them. Behind him, Orange Juice’s trademark brand of perfect pop provides the perfect accompaniment. As 1982 closed, Orange Juice were well on their way to becoming one of the most important bands in Scotland’s musical history.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Orange Juice released just two more albums. Texas Fever released in March 1984. Orange Juice’s swan-song was The Orange Juice, which was released in November 1984. That was their finale and Orange Juice never enjoyed the widespread commercial success that other bands enjoyed. Orange Juice never scaled the heights Lloyd Cole and The Commotions and Blue Nile did. Gold and platinum albums never came Orange Juice’s way. Despite that, Rip It Up has stood the test of time. Although it’s not quite as good as You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Rip It Up is pretty near pop perfection. Standout Tracks: Rip It Up, Mud In Your Eye, Flesh Of My Flesh and Louise Louise.
ORANGE JUICE-RIP IT UP.
NEW YORK DOLLS-TOO MUCH TOO SOON.
Never in the history of music has an album title proved to be so prophetic than the New York Dolls’ sophomore album Too Much Too Soon. Released in 1974, Too Much Too Soon features one of the hardest rocking and hardest living bands in musical history. Unfortunately, The New York Dolls were music’s equivalent to Icarus. They literally flew too close to the sun. Having released Too Much Too Sun, which reached a disappointing number 167 in the US Billboard 200, Mercury sent the New York Dolls out on an American tour.
That would’ve been okay for an ordinary band. The New York Dolls were no ordinary band. Far from it. Best described as dysfunctional, it’s no surprise what happened next. During what was a chaotic, problematic tour, the New York Dolls literally imploded. Amidst a backdrop of alcohol and drug abuse, and general chaos, the New York Dolls were dropped by Mercury in 1975. This lead to them splitting up. By then, the New York Dolls had lived life to the fullest. Since their debut album, they’d lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Remarkably, most of them survived to tell the tale. Somehow, during that time, they’d spawned a thousand imitators and released two classic albums.
Their second classic album Too Much Too Soon, was recently released by the Get On Down on pink vinyl. Described as an audiophile recording, it’s the best sounding version of Too Much Too Soon I’ve heard. This should be the standard other labels aspire to. If only all rereleases sounded this good. The same could be said of the New York Dolls. if only every band sounded as good as the New York Dolls, music would be a better place. One of the New York Dolls finest moments was Too Much Too Soon, which I’ll tell you about, once I’ve told you about their career.
Founded in 1971, the original lineup of the New York Dolls included vocalist David Johansen, guitarist Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Billy Murcia. A year later, came the first on countless changes in the New York Dolls’ lineup. Out went Rick Rivets and Billy Murcia. Their replacements were Jerry Nolan and Sylvain Sylvain a pianist and guitarist. This would be the lineup the played on their debut album.
Released in 1973 on Mercury, New York Dolls divided opinion. Some critics hailed New York Dolls as a stonewall classic, others deemed it a parody of a rock album. It certainly took the world by storm, spawning a million imitators. Strangely, on its release, sales of New York Dolls were disappointing. It only reached number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Mercury had hoped that the album would be one of their big sellers of 1973. It certainly captured the attention of critics and music lovers, it was voted both the best and worst album of 1973. It seems that New York Dolls was an enigmatic album and one that divided opinion. Forty years later, history has been rewritten.
Nowadays, New York Dolls is now perceived as a classic album. The New York Dolls fusion of glam rock, proto-punk and hard rock is perceived as Innovative and ahead of the musical curve. The New York Dolls are credited as one of the founding fathers of punk rock. Since then, many groups have imitated the New York Dolls swaggering brand of good time music. Nobody comes close. No ifs, no buts. Having released a career defining album, the New York Dolls never bettered. If ever there’s a case of a band peaking to soon, this was it.
A year after the release of New York Dolls, the band headed back into the studio. Todd Rungren was replaced as producer by Shadow Morton. Unlike their debut album, Too Much Too Soon comprised a combination of cover versions and original songs. David Johansen and Johnny Thunders cowrote Babylon, Who Are The Mystery Girls, It’s Too Late and Human Being. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain penned Puss ‘N’ Boots, while Johnny Thunders wrote Chatterbox. Cover versions included Kenny Lewis’ Bad Detective, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talkin, ’Gamble and Huff’s (There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown and Stranded In The Jungle, a James Johnson, Ernestine Smith and Al Curry composition. These ten tracks were recorded at A&R Studios, New York.
Replacing Todd Rundgren as producer, was Shadow Morton, an experienced and enigmatic producer. He seemed to get the best out of the New York Dolls. Their lineup included vocalist David Johansen, plus a rhythm section of guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Jerry Nolan. Sylvain Sylvain played piano and guitar, while David Johansen added gongs. This was the lineup that played on what should’ve been the New York Dolls’ breakthrough album, Too Much Too Soon.
On the release of Too Much Too Soon, in May 1974, critics hailed the addition of Shadow Morton. He they thought, had harnessed the raw power and energy of the Dolls and added a sheen of refinement. With backing vocals and a myriad of sound effects featuring on Too Much Too Soon, it was a very different band, one that should’ve made their breakthrough. They didn’t. Sadly, Too Much Too Soon wasn’t a commercial success. It stalled at number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Worse was to come.
The New York Dolls headed out on a tour. It was an unmitigated disaster. By now, the band were constantly arguing. Drug and alcohol use was rife on the tour. Performances varied. One night the Dolls were on their game, the next the concert descended into a chaotic shambles. That was part of the charm of the band. It was like a rock ‘n’ circus, with the band unravelling before the audience’s eyes. Mercury watched all this unfold. They felt the band had no future, and dropped them in 1975. Later in 1975, the band split. This was only temporary. Little did they realize, that Too Much Too Soon, which I’ll tell you about, would be the last album the classic lineup of the New York Dolls released.
After a wolf-whistle and a shout of “come on boys,” the New York Dolls explode into action on Babylon, which opens Too Much Too Soon. Driven along by a powerhouse of a driving, rhythm section, scorching, screaming, rocky guitar licks accompany David’s strutting vocal. A mixture of machismo and drama, soaring, coquettish harmonies accompany him. By then the Dolls have hit their stride. Like a well oiled machine, they seamlessly fuse genres. Everything from classic rock, glam rock, proto-punk and blues are thrown into the mix, as the track reaches its dramatic crescendo.
Stranded In The Jungle was recorded by The Cadets in 1959. Here, the Dolls breath new life and energy into the track. Thunderous drums, sound effects, scatted vocals and machine gun guitars accompany David’s vocal is a tongue-in-cheek vamp. Soon, they get down to their hard rocking best. David’s vocal is throaty roar, while punchy, sweet, female harmonies answer his call. Then just as you’re enjoying the Dolls kicking loose, it’s all change, and a return to the earlier slower, dramatic style. Criticized by critics, as a novelty track, it’s more a case of the Dolls experimenting and toying with you, seeing whether you’ve a sense of humour.
Pounding drums and searing, screaming, scorching guitars combine as David struts his way through Who Are The Mystery Girls. Mixing power, bravado and sass, he questions and probes, delivering a vocal masterclass. As for the rest of the Dolls, they create an arrangement that’s best described as raw, refined power. Guitars assail you, as seamlessly, fingers fly up and down the fretboard. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, never once missing a beat, the Dolls are at their very best. They’re so good, that they sound better than the Rolling Stones did during 1974.
(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown is a track Gamble and Huff wrote for Archie Bell. Although it’s one of his best known tracks, it’s nowhere near as good as the Dolls’ version. Somehow, they’ve the ability to sound sloppy and tight simaltaneously. Shadow Morton’s influence is apparent from the opening bars, as David’s half-spoken vocal sounds draws inspiration from The Shangri Las. Then machine gun guitars are unleashed and drums punished, while David’s vocal is a sassy, feisty vamp. When his vocal drops out, the Dolls kick loose and demonstrate just why, they’ve spawned countless imitators and are regarded as rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
As drums pound, a bluesy harmonica enters, before machine gun drums and the bass set the scene for David’s vocal on It’s Too Late. It’s the template for punk. Best described as proto-punk in style, I can hear where Johnny Rotten amongst numerous wannabe punks got their inspiration from. Unlike most punk bands, the Dolls were talented musicians. Here, effortlessly, they fuse rock, blues, proto-punk and glam rock. As guitars pogo across the arrangement, a mesmeric bluesy harpsichord solo is unleashed. That’s sheer genius, and adds the finishing touch to a track that inspired a musical revolution.
Raw, refined and controlled power describes the New York Dolls on Puss ‘N’ Boots. They unleash a blistering performance, which features some of the best guitar playing on Too Much Too Soon. That’s saying something. Peerless, scorching, blazing guitar licks join a rhythm section that’s like a well oiled machine. They provide the backdrop for David’s raucous, boisterous vocal and add cooing, coquettish, soaring harmonies. Best described as a fusion of raw power and musical genres, the Dolls sounding like this, have no equals.
David counts the band in on Chatterbox and immediately, there’s an edgier, innovative sound. The band aren’t as tight, as a myriad of searing guitar licks are unleashed. That suits the song, where feisty female vocals deliver a proto-punk vocal. As for the Dolls, they spray machine gun licks above their vocal. Then when the vocals drop out, continue to develop what was the template for punk.
Bad Detective, where David pays homage to Charlie Chan, sees the New York Dolls sound not unlike Talking Heads. Again, here was a band who were way ahead of their time. They would go on to influence future generations of musicians. With a driving rhythm section, searing guitar licks and singalong harmonies, for company, David’s vocal is vampish.He mixes humor and drama, rock, proto-punk and glam rock unite.
Don’t Start Me Talking explodes into being. With an explosive cocktail of machine gun guitars, bluesy harmonica and honky-tonk piano, the Dolls kick loose. This what they were born to do. David struts his way through the track. He’s in his element, with his band at the top of their game, behind him. Rock and blues melt into one, as the New York Dolls must have looked like serious contenders to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It’s a heady cocktail of blues rock, that represents the Dolls at their best on Too Much Too Soon.
Human Being picks up where the previous track left off. This makes it the perfect way to close Too Much Too Soon. A hard rocking New York Dolls is a tantalizing prospect. For six minutes the rhythm section, and screaming, rocky guitars lock horns. Feeding of each other, they lock into the tightest of grooves. Above the arrangement, sits David’s proto-punk vocal. It’s an outpouring of frustration anger, and angst, which proves prophetic, given what would happen in 1976.
Too Much Too Soon, the New York Dolls’ sophomore album, is an iconic, innovative album. Ironically, Too Much Too Soon almost passed unnoticed. It hardly troubled the American charts. After its release, Mercury sent the New York Dolls on an American tour. It proved chaotic and almost broke the band. On their return from the ill-fated tour, Mercury dropped the Dolls. Later in 1975, they split up, against a backdrop of rancour, drug abuse and hedonism. The hardest living party band were no more…briefly.
Soon, the band were back together and playing some of the best shows of their career. Then later in 1975, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan left the band. Their replacements were drummer Tony Machine and keyboardist Chris Robinson. This was just the latest change in lineup. It proved to be one of the most successful lineups of the band. They played some of their best concerts and were hailed as one of the hottest bands of the mid-seventies. Nothing lasted long as far as the New York Dolls were concerned. The band broke up and in the last four decades have continued to reform and split up.
Despite reforming, the New York Dolls never reached the heights of Too Much Too Soon which was recently rereleased by Get On Down on pink vinyl. It’s their finest moment. Innovative, groundbreaking and ahead of its time, this fusion of rock, proto-punk, blues and glam rock, helped inspire punk and spawned a thousand imitators. None came close to replicating the New York Dolls at their best. For two albums, the New York Dolls were one of the best bands of that time. Innovative, inventive and determined to rewrite the musical rulebook, there was one problem, the New York Dolls were fundamentally flawed. Their downfall was their penchant for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and hedonism. Just like Icarus, they flew to close to the sun. Before flying to close to the sun, the New York Dolls released their 1974 Magnus Opus, Too Much Too Soon. Standout Tracks: Babylon, Who Are The Mystery Girls, Don’t Start Me Talking and Human Being.
NEW YORK DOLLS-TOO MUCH TOO SOON.
DERECHO-COFFEE AND DISRUPTION.
Late in 2013, Cambridge based rock band Derecho released their sophomore album Coffee and Disruption. This only reinforced what people knew about Derecho. Here was a band going places. They’d come a long way since forming in late 2010. It was definitely a case of three years well spent.
Derecho had spent much of the three years, gigging all over the UK. This was all about Derecho honing and refining their sound. It’s what previous generations of bands have done. Among them, are the bands that influenced Derecho. Everything from sixties pop, punk, post rock and 21st Century rock have influenced Derecho, who over the last three years, have been winning friends and influencing people.
This includes anyone whose seen Derecho. Once you’ve heard Derecho live, you’ll never forgot it. That’s why Derecho played main stage slots at The Willow Festival in Peterborough and appeared at the 100 Club in London. That’s just two of Derecho’s biggest gigs. There’s much more to Derecho than that. This includes their back-catalogue.
Back in 2011, Derecho released their debut album Nowhere To Hide. This showcased the Cambridge quartet’s musical prowess. Fronted by lead singer and songwriter-in-chief Jo Ash, Nowhere To Run was released in December 2011. Their E.P. Roasted Butterfly was released in January 2013. Then the Change Of Season E.P was released in May 2013. By now, Derecho were enjoying commercial success. Not only had they enjoyed local success, reaching number one in the local charts. Derecho also broke into the top one-hundred in the UK. Things were looking good for Derecho. So, this was the perfect time to release their sophomore album Coffee and Disruption.
For Coffee and Disruption lead singer Jo Ash penned ten tracks. Derecho then headed into the studio. Jo sang lead vocals and played keyboards. The rest of Derecho were drummer Mike Elis, bassist Marc Zyngier and guitarist Mike Wheatley. Once the ten tracks were recorded, Coffee and Disruption was released on December 2013.
On its release, Coffee and Disruption was well received by critics. Reviews were positive. Derecho had come a long way since their debut album Nowhere To Run. The last two years, had been two years well spent. Especially when you listen to the fusion of musical influences and genres on Coffee and Disruption, which I’ll tell you about.
Remembered bursts into life, opening Coffee and Disruption. It’s a fusion of punk and rock. Lead singer Jo Ash’s vocal is a reminder of the spirit of ’76. Unlike many punk vocalists, she’s a talented singer. She delivers the lyrics with power and control. Behind her, the rest of Derecho deliver no frills rock. It’s an impressive sound. The driving, pounding rhythm section are accompanied by searing, screeching guitars. Later guitarist Mike Wheatley delivers a blistering guitar solo. That’s the finishing touch, and leaves you wanting to hear more from Derecho.
As Perfect, Like You begins to unfold, Jo begins to sound like Kate Bush. She’s no ordinary vocalist. She sounds classically trained. Combining drama, power and emotion, she delivers a vocal powerhouse. Meanwhile, Derecho create a slice of nineties rock. It has a big, bold, dramatic sound. Jo adds flourishes of keyboards. They add a contrast, while a machine gun guitar is unleashed. Later, the rhythm section go from mixing drama and power, to helping create a melancholy backdrop. This is the perfect accompaniment to Jo on this evocative, cinematic track.
Stabs of guitar accompany Jo’s tough vocal on Bystander. As she struts her way through the lyrics, you wonder if it’s bravado? A fusion of punk and rock, ratty drums and machine gun drums accompany Jo. Bassist Marc Zyngier is Derecho’s Harry Potter. Again, his bass cast a spell over listeners. With its tough, edgy, everyman sound, this anthemic track is bound to be a crowd pleaser.
Chiming, funky, wistful guitars join meandering, slapped bass on Void. Jo’s voice is tender, full of emotion, frustration and confusion. Soon, like the arrangement, Jo’s vocal grows in power. Thunderous guitars drive the arrangement along to a crescendo. Then when things calm down, Derecho mix funk and soul. The soul comes courtesy of Jo’s breathy vocal, which sounds not unlike Sharleen Spitteri of Texas. Good as this track is, and I like it a lot, I’d like to her the thunderous guitars taken out. Then the track would become much more laid-back, mellow and soulful.
December sees Derecho kick loose. They unleash blistering guitars, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Jo’s vocal is best described as powerhouse. It’s no hold barred. That’s the case with every member of the band. Especially guitarist Mike Wheatley. He’s like a gunslinger. In his hands, the guitar comes to life. He unleashes its potential. With a bit of stray feedback thrown in, he’s ying to Jo’s yang. They’re a formidable partnership, as December shows.
Lonely Girl sees a change in sound. Just a lone acoustic guitar accompanies Jo. Her pensive, wistful vocal allows us to hear another side of Jo, as she sings some of her best lyrics. They’ve a strong narrative and a cinematic quality. The arrangement meanders along, the lyrics coming to life. Jo paints pictures. They unfold before your eyes. With an understated sound, Lonely Girl is Cofffee and Disruption’s highlight. It’s also a side of Derecho I’d like to hear more of.
Crash and Burn sees yet another side of Derecho. It’s almost folk rock. The arrangement gradually unfolds. Just a piano, meandering bass, guitar and drums accompany Jo’s heartfelt, urgent vocal. Emotion fills her vocal as she sings “I’ll Crash and Burn like a car.” With the rhythm section providing a 4/4 beat, intricate chiming guitars weave in and out of the arrangement. What captures your attention is Jo’s vocal. It’s at the heart of this hook-laden track’s success.
This Mask sees a return to the sound of Lonely Girl. The tempo is slower and a piano plays a more prominent role. I’m reminded of Kate Bush again. Drums keep the beat, while the probing bass cuts through the arrangement. Some rocky guitars are added. Their raison d’être is dramatic effect. After that, Jo’s thoughtful, tender vocal takes charge of the drama. That’s before a blistering guitar solo is unleashed. Mike Wheatley sets the scene for Jo’s vocal, as the track heads to its wistful ending.
Alibi sees the bass and guitar go toe-to-toe before Jo’s coquettish, breathy vocal enters. Her vocal is enveloped by guitars and the rhythm section. Again, Jo’s vocal reminds me of Kate Bush as it veers between tender, feisty and sassy. Meanwhile, the arrangement has a classic rock sound. Later, Jo’s cooing and scatted vocal soars above the rocky arrangement. The result is a dramatic and melodic slice of classic rock where Derecho don’t ration the hooks.
The Silence closes Coffee and Disruption. From an understated arrangement, quickly, a pounding, melodic rock track unfolds. Flourishes of keyboards provide the perfect foil to Derecho, who become a power trio. Mike unleashes machine gun guitar licks. The drums have a “ratty” nineties sound and provide the heartbeat. Then there’s Jo’s vocal. It’s a mixture of emotion, energy and enthusiasm. She’s determined to close Coffee and Disruption on a high, and does so, with a slice of indie rock.
Derecho’s sophomore album, Coffee and Disruption, is an old school album. It features just ten tracks. They’d fit on an old vinyl album. That’s fitting, given Derecho are old school band. Their music is a fusion of classic rock, indie rock, post punk and punk. That describes most of the music on Coffee and Disruption. Sometimes, classic rock and punk collides head on. An example of this is the album opener Remembered. This is a sound Derecho return to. However, they’re no one trick pony.
There’s also brief diversions down avenues marked funk and soul. Then there’s Lonely Girl. It shows a side of Derecho I’d like to hear much more of. During that track, Jo’s vocal and piano playing takes centre-stage. She delivers a mesmeric and captivating performance. Lonely Girl reinforces how important Jo is to Derecho. First of all, there’s that voice. Jo sounds like a modern day Kate Bush. The songs she wrote come to life. Their subtleties and nuances unfold. Soon, you’re spell bound and captivated. Especially on tracks like Lonely Girl, Crash and Burn and This Mask. She comes into her own. Having said that, Derecho aren’t a one man band.
There’s guitar hero Mike Wheatley. He’s the perfect foil for Jo’s vocal. In his hands, the guitar comes to life. He unleashes some blistering licks that are an important part of Derecho’s sound. Then there’s Derecho’s Harry Potter, Marc Zyngier. He casts spells with his bass. Finally, there drummer Mark Ellis. Whether its classic rock or a ratty nineties sound, he can make it happen. Together, the four members of Derecho are like a musical A-Team. They too, love it when a plan comes together. That was the case with Derecho’s sophomore album Coffee and Disruption.
DERECHO-COFFEE AND DISRUPTION.
BOB FRANK-BOB FRANK.
In 2007, Jim Dickinson described Bob Frank as: “the best songwriter you never heard.” That’s no surprise. Jim Dickinson first met Bob Frank way back in the summer of 1963. Back then, Bob was part of a group of singers and songwriters hanging out in an old butcher’s shop in Crosstown Farmer’s Market. Bob was different from the rest of the group though. Aged just nineteen, the Memphis born singer had graduated in 1962. Now he was already writing his own songs. They were different from much of the music around in ’63.
Bob drew inspiration from American history. Heroes, anti-heroes and tragedies peppered Bob’s songs. His worldweary, lived-in voice brought the lyrics to life. He was a cross between a wizened sage and troubled troubadour. Given his undoubted talent, the future looked bright for Bob. It wasn’t. Nine years passed before Bob released his eponymous debut album Bob Frank, which was rereleased by Light In The Attic Records on 24th February 2014. Before I tell you about Bob Frank, I’ll tell you about Bob’s life and career between 1963 and 1972.
When Jim Dickinson and Bob Frank first met, it was in a Memphis coffee shop. They were both part of Memphis folk scene. Bob was nineteen. He was born in Memphis in February 1944, and had graduated in 1962. Now he was devoting his life to music, folk music in particular. Having met Jim Dickinson, Bob Frank came to regard him as a friend. Bob looked up to Jim. He was a multi-instrumentalist, who back in 1963, was like a one-man band. Jim was also a natural and talented guitarist, who drew inspiration from the old blues players. The pair played together in coffee shops and house parties. Bob would also write songs. This was how he made his living for a couple of years.
Over the next few years, Bob and Jim’s fortunes varied. During the sixties Bob worked at Chips Moman American Studios. Dickinson recorded what has been described as the last great single released by Sun Records, Cadillac Man. Then by the late sixties, Bob was a member of the Memphis’ based band The Dixie Flyers. They’d work with some of the biggest names in music, and in the early seventies, were Atlantic Records’ house band. While Jim’s career was going from strength to strength, Bob’s career had stalled.
While his old friend’s career was progressing nicely, Bob had headed to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. During his time in Nashville, Bob made ends meet by writing songs. Essentially, he was a hired gun, tasked with writing commercially successfully popular country music. However, disaster struck for Bob. In his second year, he was kicked out of University for playing his guitar in his dormitory. The University authorities gave Bob an ultimatum, either stop playing guitar or leave. So Bob picked up his guitar and left, heading home to Memphis in 1964. Then second time lucky, Bob graduated.
Having returned home, Bob got a job for a couple of years. His luck changed, and he got into Southwestern University. After two years, he graduated in early 1966. Then later in 1966, Bob met an old friend.
That old friend was Jim Dickinson. Bob was still playing in clubs. That was where he met Jim. The pair caught up and Jim asked Bob to play a couple of songs. Jim told Bob he was going to record him. Sadly, Bob lucked out. He was drafted in the summer of 1966. It would be another five years before Bob entered a recording studio.
Having been drafted in the summer of ’66 Bob spent the next couple of years in Vietnam. He left the army in 1968. His luck hadn’t changed though. He returned to university in Memphis through the G.I. Bill. After a year Bob dropped out and headed to Nashville. Through an old friend Jerry Thompson, a journalist, Bob got a job at Tree Publishing. History was repeating itself.
Yet again, Bob was a hired gun. He was a songwriter for hire. By day, he wrote throwaway country tracks. Having fought in Vietnam, now Bob was a contract songwriter in Nashville. Jim Dickinson joked: “he didn’t know which was worse.” There’s more than a grain of truth in that. And irony. After six months, Bob hitchhiked to California.
Having followed the sun to California, Bob spent six months there. He hung out with other musicians. They wrote songs, sang and played live. In some ways, this was a reaction to Bob’s structured life. He’d been at University, fought in Vietnam and worked in Nashville. Now he was being himself and finding himself. He also found his future wife Deirdre.
The trips to California became a regular occurrence. Bob spent six months in California and six months in Nashville. During one of these trips, he met Deirdre. They lived together, had children and got married. Over forty years later, they’re still together. This pattern of spending time in California and Nashville was interrupted in 1971.
Although Bob was still a songwriter for hire, none of the songs he’d written were being picked up by record companies. For Bob, this must have made his job something of a thankless task. So he quit. Then he caught a break. Vanguard Records, who’d been a big company in the late-fifties and sixties, wanted to sign Bob.
Bob’s songs were pitched to Atlanta based Lowery Publishing by Cletus Haegart. Gary Walker who worked for Lowery Publishing liked what he heard. So a deal was struck with Vanguard Records for an album. Twelve songs were chosen for what became Bob Frank. All of the songs were written by Bob. He co-produced Bob Frank with Cletus Haegart. Recording took place in two studios.
The first recording sessions took place at Woodland Studios, Nashville in late 1971. Bob played guitar, Charlie McCoy harmonica and Buddie Spicher fiddle. The next sessions took place at Vanguard Studios in New York. Russell George’s bass and Eric Weissberg’s guitar were over-dubbed. Both were veteran of Vanguard sessions, so knew what was necessary. Once the over-dubbed parts were laid down, Bob Frank was ready for release.
There was a problem though. Bob wasn’t happy about a photograph on the album, plus a guitar double on one of the songs. The photograph on the album wasn’t even Bob. It featured someone who’d just walked out one of the houses on the cover. Rather than the photo, Bob wanted Vanguard Records to use a picture a friend of Bob’s had drawn. The other problem was Bob didn’t like Eric’s double on Judas Iscariot. Vanguard said they wouldn’t release Bob Frank unless was Bob approved the album. He didn’t. Despite this, Vanguard went back on their word. Bob Frank was released.
At Bob Frank’s release party, Bob wasn’t happy. Rather than play songs from his album, he played a bunch of new songs. They reflected his new lifestyle. He was living an alternative lifestyle. His home was in the woods, where he lived with his wife, family and newly born baby. That Bob wasn’t playing his new songs, didn’t please the Vanguard people. When Maynard Solomon asked Bob to play songs from his new album, Bob suggested that they: ” buy the f***ing album.” That was the last Bob heard from Vanguard.
On its release Bob Frank wasn’t a commercial success. It sunk without trace. Despite this, a small group of people realised that Bob Frank was a very special album. The problem was, it was released at the wrong time. Bob Frank was the wrong album at the wrong time. Despite this, it’s gained cult status. Original copies of Bob Frank, which I’ll tell you about, now change hands for huge sums of money. No wonder.
Opening Bob Frank is Wino, where Bob’s worldweary, languid vocal is accompanied by his trusty guitar. Bob tells the story about a down and out, who lives of cheap wine he buys with quarters he’s bummed of working men. As Bob delivers his lyrics, they come to life. You imagine the scenes. The poverty, squalor and hopelessness of the situation seems very real. Wino lives in he bottle he’s crawled into, but can’t crawl back out of.
She Pawned Her Diamond For Some Gold is the story of a woman who pawned her wedding ring for some dope. Bob’s vocal is a mixture of admiration, bravado and guilt. Accompanying him is an arrangement straight out of Nashville. Just fiddles, acoustic guitar and bass accompany Bob. There’s a twist in the tale though, as Bob sings: “just as my stash was running low.”
Waitsburg sees Bob draw inspiration from the music Ian Tyson and a true story. The song sounds as if it was recorded in the fifties. Especially, when you listen to the America Bob describes. It’s fifties America, not seventies America. Bob seems out of step with the times. As the lyrics unfold, they’re like a tragicomedy, as he tells the story of a “relationship” that ends up going badly wrong.
Cold Canadian Pines is one of the most poignant songs on Bob Frank. His heartfelt vocal quivers, as the song takes on a country sound. He sings about a young man dodging the draft. You can picture him as his father: “puts a bible in my hand, and told me not to kill.” Despite that, his father can’t understand why his son doesn’t want to go to war. With just a wistful fiddle, guitars and harmonica, this a truly beautiful, poignant song.
Judas Iscariot was probably the most controversial song on Bob Frank. Think about it, here’s a song about a soldier making a $30 bet with a guy called Judas that Jesus Christ is invincible. The song ends with Jesus hanging dead from a cross and Judas laying dead in a tree. In some Southern states, this would be enough to get the album banned. Having said that, Bob’s lyrics are cerebral evocative. Whether by design or accident, he reminds me of Bob Dylan on what’s another of the album’s highlights.
Before The Trash Truck Comes is a throwaway track. Bob remembers that when he write this song, he was just “clowning around.” That’s apparent. His lyrics are tinged with a dark humour, as sings about man dying on the ground looking for a quarter or two. That’s all he needs for his last meal.
Way Down In Mississippi sees Bob change direction. He plays this track like a blues. It’s maybe his homage to the blues greats he met in Memphis coffee shops. His lyrics are almost surreal, and tinged with humour. Especially, when he describes teaching a woman to swim. He sings: “I took her down to the river, she sank all the way to bottom, I never saw that girl again.” After that, he proceeds to seduce her sister. Bob’s vocal is accompanied by a wailing blues harmonica, which is the perfect foil for Bob’s vocal.
Jones And Me is a song about two old friends meeting and talking about their hopes and dreams, then how life really turned out. Bob and his old friend and talk about things that you both wanted to do but never did. It’s a tale of broken dream, regrets and two friends who grew apart. Listen carefully to the melody, and it’s Loch Lomond.
Return to Skid Row Joe is a song Bob wrote after a heavy night. It’s based upon what happened. When he woke up the next day, he sat down and wrote the lyrics about a poet, songwriter and down-and-out. Bob’s lyrics are vivid and evocative. The character comes to life. His life unfolds and we hear what’s caused him to fall so far. This is a woman and a bottle. Then comes the sting in the tale. Skid Row sells some pills which must be taken with alcohol. The person he’s pouring his heart out to, reluctantly agrees and when they went home passed out. It’s only then the listener realises Skid Row isn’t really a victim of circumstances. The result is a poignant track with a twist.
The Deer Hunter is a song about looking for love. It’s not a straightforward love song. No. Bob Frank doesn’t do songs like that. This is much more grownup. Full of symbolism, Bob’s voice is full of longing, as he yearns for love which has eluded him so far.
Memphis Jail closes Bob Frank. It’s the type of song everyone from early blues singers to Johnny Cash have written and sung. It’s all about getting drunk, stealing a car and ending up in a Memphis Jail. Weeping guitars and harmonica accompany Bob’s vocal, which is rueful and full of regret at his newfound plight.
Looking back at Bob Frank with the benefit of hindsight, there’s several reasons why the album wasn’t a commercial success. The main reason was it’s the wrong album at the wrong time. By 1972, singers like Bob Frank had been usurped by men in matching suits singing about Backstabbers. Bob however, was a real artist though. Here was an artist who had everything. He was a singer, songwriter and musician who wrote the twelve songs on Bob Frank. Not only that, but Bob produced his debut album Bob Franks. The only problem was, that Bob Franks was an album that was released too late. Folk, country and blues music wasn’t as popular in ’72. That’s what Bob Frank contains. Then there was the fact that neither Bob nor Vanguard promoted the album.
This all stems to the launch party. At Bob Frank’s release party, Bob wasn’t happy. Rather than play songs from his album, he played a bunch of new songs. They reflected his new lifestyle. That Bob wasn’t playing his new songs, didn’t please the executives from Vanguard. When Maynard Solomon asked Bob to play songs from his new album, Bob suggested that they: ” buy the f***ing album.” That was the last Bob heard from Vanguard. After that, Bob Frank sank without trace.
Since then, Bob Frank which was released by Light Of The Attic on 24th February 2014, has been reappraised. It’s become something of a cult album. So much so, that original copies of Bob Frank, now change hands for huge sums of money. It’s very much a collector’s piece where one of music’s best kept secrets made his musical debut. As Jim Dickinson described Bob Frank he’s: “the best songwriter you never heard.” Standout Tracks: She Pawned Her Diamond For Some Gold, Way Down In Mississippi, Return to Skid Row Joe and The Deer Hunter.
BOB FRANK-BOB FRANK.
Although Neu never enjoyed the commercial success their music deserved, they’re without doubt, one of the most influential groups in musical history. They’re perceived as one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. They’ve influenced everyone from Brian Eno, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, Primal Scream and a generation of electronic music producers. That’s despite only releasing a trio of albums between 1972 and 1975. Their eponymous debut was released in 1972. Only 30,000 copies of Neu were sold. Despite that, it’s perceived as one of the most influential albums released during that period. A year later, Neu returned with their sophomore album Neu 2. It too, is perceived as one of the most innovative and influential albums in musical history. You’ll realise why, when I tell you about Neu 2. Before that, I’ll tell you about Neu and the making of Neu 2.
It was 1971 when Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to form Neu. Both had been members of Kraftwerk, but not for any length of time. Klaus, a drummer, joined midway through the recording of Kraftwerk’s eponymous debut album. Michael, a bassist, joined Kraftwerk after the album was finished. When Kraftwerk was released in 1971, it wasn’t a commercial success. It only sold 30,000 copies. For the founder of Kraftwerk Ralph Hutter, this was too much. He left the band for six months. Kraftwerk carried on though.
Kraftwerk were reduced to a trio of Wolfgang Scheider, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. They played a few concerts, and even appeared on German television program Beat Club. However, concerts were becoming few and far between. For two members of Kraftwerk, this was becoming frustrating. Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to leave Kraftwerk and form a new band.
When they founded his new band, which was based in Dusseldorf, there were debates about the band’s name. Michael though the band should have an organic name. Klaus however, had hit on the name Neu! So, the new band became Neu! To go with the new name, a pop art logo was designed and copyrighted. This new logo was seen as a comment and protest against the modern consumer society. Just like contemporaries Can, Neu weren’t afraid to combine social comment and art. Having settled on a name, Neu! headed to the recording studio.
Recording of what became Neu! took place in December 1971, at Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios, in Hamburg. Four days had been booked to record the six songs that Klaus and Michael cowrote. Conny Plank, who’d produced Kraftwerk’s debut album would act as producer. He also acted as a go-between, when it came to differences of opinion between Klaus and Michael.
For the first two days, it was slow going. Nothing much was achieved. It was only only when Klaus brought along his Japanese banjo that they began to make progress. That seemed to act as a catalyst. Not long after this, Klaus first played his trademark motorik beat. That’s where Klaus plays a 4/4 drum beat with only very occasional interruptions. The effect is hypnotic and mesmeric. It can be heard on Hallogallo and Negativland. Klaus didn’t realise how influential the motorik beat would become. The sessions carried on and once they were finished, Conny Plank mixed Neu! at Star Musik Studio, in Hamburg. Now Neu! was ready for release.
On its release by Brain Records in 1972, Neu! wasn’t a commercial success. In total, it sold only 30,000 records. For Klaus and Michael this must have been hugely disappointing. They must have felt history was repeating itself again. After all, Kraftwerk’s debut album hadn’t been a commercial success.
Despite the lack of commercial success, Neu! was critically acclaimed. It was described as an influential and innovative album. This resulted in Neu being hailed as one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. Along with Can, they were credited as the founding fathers of Krautrock. Now the pressure was on for Neu to create the followup to their debut album. This would become Neu 2.
When work began on Neu’s sophomore album Neu 2, everything seemed to go wrong. It wasn’t Neu’s fault. Brain Records schedule and budget was tight. Recording had to take place during January 1973. There was no other option. That was all that had been budgeted for.
For Neu 2, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother eventually, cowrote eleven tracks. Neu headed to Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios, in Hamburg. Recording took place during January 1973. Klaus played Japanese banjo, guitar, percussion, electric piano, electronics and turntables. Michael played guitar, bass, piano, violin, zither, percussion, electronics and effects. Neu and Conny Plank produced what became Neu 2. Things didn’t go smoothly though.
Unfortunately, Neu ran out of money in the middle of recording of Neu 2. Try as they may, Brain Records wouldn’t give Neu any more money. This presented a problem. They hadn’t enough songs for their sophomore album. Then they hit on idea. Why not remix the two singles and use them to fill up the rest of side two of Neu 2. At last Neu 2 was finished. Just like many bands before them, Neu’s sophomore album had proved problematic. How would Neu 2 be received though?
On its release Neu 2 critics realised this was a truly groundbreaking album. Critics were fascinated by the album. It was described as inventive, innovative and influential. Others hailed the album as ambitious, chaotic and experimental. Despite being released to critical acclaim, Neu 2 wasn’t a commercial success. Financially, this was a disaster for Neu. They couldn’t afford another commercial failure. As a result, Klaus and Michael put Neu on hold. Michael joined Harmonia, a Kraturock supergroup. Neu wouldn’t release another album until 1975, when they released ’75. Just like Neu 2, which I’ll tell you about, ’75 is an important album in the history of Krautrock.
Für Immer which translates as Forever, opens Neu 2. It’s not just an epic track, but a Neu classic. Eleven minutes long, the track hesitantly unfolds. Soon, Neu lock into a groove, showcasing their trademark motorik beat. This comes courtesy of the rhythm section who provides the heartbeat. They create the hypnotic beat. Meanwhile guitars chime, reverberate and snarl. Feedback and distortion are tamed by Michael. Using his trusty effect boxes. He unleashes big, bold chords, while white noise makes you recoil. Adding a myriad of effects and percussion Neu augment their trademark motorik beat. The result is a track that’s not just innovative, experimental and pioneering, but epitomises what Neu’s music is about.
White noise recreates the sound of gusting winds or waves crashing on a beach. Then as Spitzenqualität unfolds, thunderous drums pound. The white noise assails you, before the tempo drops and the drums plod along. As effects recreate the sound of traffic, I’m reminded of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Both tracks are atmospheric, ambitious and memorable.
Moody describes the gothic sounding Gedenkminute (Für A+K). Wind gusts. It howls as bells chime. The result is a soundscape that’s eerie, gothic and broody.
Neu unleashes screaming, screeching rocky guitars and effects on Lila Engel (Lilac Angel). Then there’s the scatted vocal and mesmeric motorik beat. Soon, machine gun guitars are being sprayed across the arrangement. As for the drums, Michael pounds them. Later, It’s as if Neu have asked the New York Dolls to add the guitars as Krautrock, jazz, proto punk and good time rock ’n’ roll combine. Gnarled chainsaw guitars cut through the raucous arrangement on a track that must have influenced punk pioneers.
The unmistakable sound of crackling vinyl opens Neuschnee 78. That’s before a myriad of instruments are deployed. Everything from a zither, percussion and flute combine. It’s a compelling combination. Especially when played at breakneck speed. Avant-garde, classical, experimental, folk and rock combine during this multi-textured, genre-melting melange.
Super 16 is another track with an experimental sound. Clocks tick, doors shut, vinyl clicks, gongs chime and what sounds like a futuristic army marches towards you. Soon, the track become eerie and haunting. It takes on a cinematic sound. It’s as if Neu have been asked to provide the soundtrack to a gruesome Hammer House of Horror film, and let their imagination run riot.
Neuschnee sees a return to a much more traditional side of Neu. Their motorik beat is augmented by chiming, crystalline guitars, keyboards and violin. Gradually, instruments are added and what follows is a driving slice of Krautrock. Neu are at their most melodic and don’t spare the hooks.
Cassetto is best described as a a sonic experiment. It sounds as if Neu have combined outtakes of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Heart Club Band and Pink Floyd’s Meddle. Add to that, some of Jimi Hendrix’s feedback. Walls and washes of music assail and surround you. You fear for your speaker’s safety. Then all of a sudden the sound cuts out. It’s as if Neu are either toying with you, as they push musical boundaries to their limits and beyond.
Super 78 is another short track. Again, it has an experimental sound. Guitars are played at breakneck speed and drive the arrangement along. Effects are added to the vocal. So much so, that it sounds as if the LGM from Toy Story are supplying the cartoon vocals.
Lysergic, psychedelic and experimental describes Hallo Excentrico! It’s one of the remixes that was used to complete Neu 2. Best described as a sonic experiment, it’s truly innovative. Neu’s rhythm section provide the heartbeat, before effects are added to the track. They mask much of the arrangement and add an experimental sound. What follows is proof of this. Needles are dropped on vinyl, tapes are played at varying speeds. One minute the tempo drops, the next it increases. The result is a track that’s a fusion of avant-garde, electronica, experimental, free jazz and Krautrock.
Closing Neu 2 is Super, where Neu kick loose, combining Krautrock, pro to punk and good time rock ’n’ roll. It’s a heady brew. While the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, machine gun guitars are unleashed. There’s no vocal as such, just hoops, hollers and scats. Neu even add some of their favoured effects. Mostly though, it’s just Neu kicking loose and creating some glorious rock music.
Neu 2 saw Neu build upon their debut album. They took things further than many groups would’ve dared. This was during their sonic experiments. It seemed Neu trod a line between their trademark Krautrock and what might be described as experimental or avant-garde music. Many groups would’ve been scared to go this far. After all, some critics described Neu 2 as disturbing and chaotic. Other critics described Neu 2 as innovative and groundbreaking. They also describe Neu 2 as essential Krautrock. So would I. Just like Neu, Neu 2 belongs in any self-respecting record collection. Why though?
Well, Neu 2 is one of the most innovative Krautrock albums ever released. It’s also an album that’s ambitious, challenging, difficult, experimental, melodic and pioneering. I’d also suggest that Neu 2 is a case of what might have been. What would Neu 2 have sounded like if Neu hadn’t run out of money? Who knows what the result might have been? As a result, Neu had to make do and mend. They remixed two tracks to ensure Neu 2 was completed. This saw Neu 2 head in the direction of experimental music.
With Brain Records telling Neu there was no more money, Klaus and Michael had to think on their feet. It was a case of working with what they had. Following in the footsteps of other innovators, including Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles Neu used effects, including white noise. Then there was needles dropped on vinyl and tapes are played at varying speeds. All this makes Neu 2 a compelling album. It’s an album to listen to carefully. The more you listen, the more you hear. Truly, Neu 2 is a genre-melting album.
Everything from ambient, avant-garde, classical, electronica, experimental, folk, Krautrock, prog rock and rock is combined by Neu on their sophomore album Neu 2. The result is an album that’s inventive, influential and innovative. Neu 2 is a classic album that contains truly groundbreaking music. In fact I’d go further, and say that Neu 2 is essential listening for anyone interested in Krautrock, and without doubt, is a true Krautrock classic. Standout Tracks: Für Immer, Lila Engel, Super 16 and Neuschnee.
LADY DAISEY-IN MY HEADPHONES.
Previously, Lady Daisey’s music has been described as: “sunshine for your soul.” That might seem like hype or hyperbole. It’s not. From the moment you press play On Lady Daisey’s new album In My Headphones, you’re captivated. Powerful, sultry, seductive, soulful and sassy, describes Lady Daisey’s voice. The thirteen tracks on In My Headphones, which will be released on BBE Music, on 24th February 2014, come to life. No wonder. From an early age, Lady Daisey’s life has revolved around music. She’s almost a musical veteran.
The Lady Daisey story begins back in Brooklyn. That’s where Daisey Traynham the future Lady Daisey was born. Her parents were both musicians and were in a band. So, Lady Daisey grew up on the road. She was covering everyone from Prince, Michael Jackson and Sister Sledge. Then Lady Daisey had a eureka moment. She realised that she wanted to be a singer. That’s what she did.
Since then, Lady Daisey has toured the world. She travels light. Her motto is to keep life simple. What’s important to Lady Daisey are “love, life, inspiration and peace.” Another thing that’s important to Lady Daisey is “music.” Whether it’s been clubs, concert halls or festivals, Lady Daisey has won friends and influenced people. Travelling light, she’s spread her message of love and inspiration. She delivers it soulfully while her husband Batsauce lays down the beats.
Batsauce and Lady Daisey are a team. They met through music. They’re both members of the hip hop group The Smile Rays. They’ve released two albums, Party Place and Smilin’ On You. Since then, Batsauce has become an important part of Lady Daisey’s team.
When Lady Daisey released her 2010 debut album, In My Pocket, Batsauce played an important part in the album’s success. Batsauce arranged, mixed produced In My Pocket, which was released on BBE Music. He also supplied the beats for Lady Daisey. This is the case with Lady Daisey’s sophomore album In My Headphones.
For In My Headphones, Lady Daisey penned seven tracks. She also cowrote Thank You With Batsauce. He contributed Showdown, Love Is and To Find You and cowrote two other tracks. One was Get Got, which he wrote with George Clinton, who features on Get Got. So Boog Brown on Kiss My Grits and Paten Locke of The Smile Rays on Thank You. These thirteen tracks were recorded in a rather unorthodox way.
Rather than head into a studio, Lady Daisey recorded In My Headphones on a small portable studio. They carry the portable studio everywhere they go. So, whenever they’ve an idea for a song, they can record it. This is what Lady Daisey has been doing during her travels around America, Asia and Europe. Just like with In My Pocket, Batsauce also arranged, mixed and produced In My Headphones. Four years after her debut album, Lady Daisey returns with her sophomore album In My Headphones, which I’ll tell you about.
Without doubt, the most important track on any album is the opening track. Lady Daisey realises this and has chosen Ready. It’s the perfect introduction to her unique fusion of hip hop and Nu Soul. The first thing that strikes you, is Lady Daisey’s sweet, sultry vocal. Sometimes, she reminds me of Minnie Riperton. Batsauce supplies the hip hop. This means thunderous beats, meandering keyboards and soaring harmonies. They provide the perfect backdrop to Lady Daisey’s coquettish vocal. You’re now anticipating the rest of In My Headphones.
Kiss My Grits sees a sassy Lady Daisey strut centre-stage. Growling horns signal her arrival. They join crisp drums and stabs of keyboards. Joining Lady Daisey is Boog Brown, who lays down a feisty rap. She’s the perfect foil to Lady Daisey. Together they create a track that’s feisty, witty, sassy and soulful.
Sci-fi synths open For You before the thundering beats accompany Lady Daisey’s tender, seductive vocal. She delivers the lyrics as if she’s lived them. This she does against a hip hop arrangement. Scratches, beats and bursts of a rap accompany her. However, it’s Lady Daisey that plays the starring role.
What sounds like a clavinet opens The Way You Do. It was a favourite of Stevie Wonder in the early seventies. It’s tough sound suits the track. A feisty Lady Daisey struts her way through the arrangement. Accompanied by flute, beats, sultry saxophone and harmonies, she showcases her versatility. Veering between Nu Soul, R&B, urban and hip hop, she delivers a vocal powerhouse.
Showdown has a vintage R&B sound. Driven along by grizzled, swinging horns and drums, Lady Daisey delivers her vocal at breakneck speed. She draws inspiration from sixties soul right through to R&B, urban and Nu Soul. Using these influences, Lady Daisey makes the song her own. Power, control, and sass are her secret weapons. So are her impressive vocal range and her vast experience.
She Got sees Lady Daisey joined by former Funkadelic star George Clinton. She’s not nervous. Far from it. This seems to bring out the best in Lady Daisey. Her vocal veers between tender, coquettish and sensual. Then when George enters, his grizzled vocal is powerful and full of character. It’s as if he’s lived a thousand lives. They prove a potent partnership. Especially, with bursts of horns punctuating the arrangement and the fact the drums aren’t as loud. Later, George vamps above Lady Daisey’s vocal, reminding us of what’s he’s capable of. Soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly, it would make a good single.
Tender and breathy describes Lady Daisey’s vocal on We Will. The arrangement features just a standup bass and drums. They provide an understated backdrop to Lady Daisey’s tender, seductive vocal. Mostly, it’s jazz-tinged and soulful. Briefly, her vocal become a mini rap, as she demonstrates not just her versatility, but her ability to bring a song to life.
The arrangement to Fruit almost marches along to the tune of the drums. The rest of the arrangement is best described as dramatic and hypnotic. Lady Daisey’s vocal soars. It’s wistful and mysterious. Horns, percussion and rolls of drums accompany her. So do harmonies. They’re the finishing touch to this mini soap opera.
Stabs of growling horns open Love Is. They’re joined by harmonies and bursts of drums. They signal the arrival of Lady Daisey’s breathy, lovestruck vocal. She brings the lyrics to life. The rest of the band compliment her vocal. However, you’re captivated by her heartfelt, tender vocal.
To Find You finds Lady Daisey fusing hip hop and Nu Soul. Her vocal is best described as a soulful rap. She draws inspiration from Erkah Badu and India Arie. With crisp drums and keyboards for company Lady Daisey delivers a needy, soulful vocal. Full of sadness and longing, she paints pictures with her lyrics. All the time, she’s combining Nu Soul, hip hop, urban and electronica.
From the creaky door that opens Attic, it’s obvious Lady Daisey is going to tell us a story. Just like on other tracks, her lyrics have a strong narrative. She paints pictures, so much so, that you can imagine her “dancing in my attic, drowning out the traffic.” With piano, beats and percussion for company, Lady Daisey delivers a vocal masterclass, where jazz and soul combine seamlessly. The addition of the trombone proves the finishing touch to the track.
Cascading harmonies, crunchy beats and effects accompany Lady Daisey on Full Circle. A melancholy piano line and cooing harmonies prove the perfect accompaniment to Lady Daisey. They seem to drive each other to greater heights. The sound effects, including what sounds like waves breaking on a beach work well.
Thank You closes In My Headphones and sees Lady Daisey take her bow. It’s a fusion of R&B, urban, hip hop and Nu Soul. Lady Daisey unleashes a celebratory vocal. Accompanying her is Paten Locke. This seems to spur her on. She goes on to deliver a joyful vocal, combining power, passion and soulfulness.
So, that’s the story of Lady Daisey’s In My Headphones. It features thirteen tracks, where Lady Daisey fuses Nu Soul and hip hop. She also adds to her musical mixing pot jazz, R&B, soul and urban. This demonstrates just how versatile a vocalist she is. She’s just as comfortable singing other styles of music. If her brand of hip hip and soul was ever to fall out of fashion, then Lady Daisey could change direction. That’s something many artists have struggled to do.
Previously, when Nu Soul was flavour of the month, once the genre’s popularity fell, artists were left high and dry. That won’t happen to Lady Daisey. If her hip hop infused brand of soul falls out of fashion, another career awaits. She could sing other styles of music, including classic soul or jazz. Indeed, I’d like to hear Lady Daisey with an old school band behind her. Especially, with strings, horns and backing vocalists accompanying her. So in a way, Music In My Headphones is just a taste of what Lady Daisey is capable of. She’s a versatile singer. Her CV demonstrates this.
Indeed, Lady Daisey could have a long and successful career ahead of her. Proof of this is her CV. In My Headphones is her second solo album. She’s also released two albums with The Smile Rays. Her voice can be heard on recordings with Qwazaar, Typical Cats, Asamov and Marc Hype. Lady Daisey has opened for Sharon Jones, Mayer Hawthorne, Chali 2na, Roxanne Shante, Bahamadia, The Perceptionists. Then there’s appearances at festivals around the world, where Lady Daisey has played alongside The Roots, Method Man, Atmosphere, Muse, Typical Cats, and Souls of Mischief. That’s quite a CV. For Lady Daisey the future looks bright. The next chapter in her career begins on 24th February 2014, when her sophomore album In My Headphones is released by BBE Music.
LADY DAISEY-IN MY HEADPHONES.
STEIN URHEIM-STEIN URHEIM.
Last year, 2013, Stein Urheim’s collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Daydream Twin was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. No wonder. Over the last few years, Stein has established a reputation as one of Norwegian music’s most innovative artists. The story begins back in 2009.
That’s when Bergen based guitarist released his debut album Three Sets of Music. Released to widespread critical acclaim, it was no surprise that in 2010, Stein won the Voss Jazzfestival-Award. The following year, 2011, Stein released Daydream Community, his first collaboration with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. After that, the pair headed out on tour to celebrate the start of a fruitful and successful musical partnership. Throughout this period, Stein had been working on his sophomore album, Kosmolodi.
Unlike other artists, Stein had recorded Kosmolodi over a period of time and at different studios. It was then released in 2012 on Hubro Music as a limited edition vinyl only release. On its release, critics sat up and took notice of Kosmolodi. They hailed its release and soon word was out, Stein was a musician with a big future ahead of him. The followup to Kosmolodi was highly anticipated. However, critics and music lovers have had to wait patiently on Stein Urheim, which will be released in 24th February on Hubro Music.
In between the release of Kosmolodi and Stein Urheim, Stein recorded and released his second collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Daydream Twin. It was so well received, that it was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. For any Norwegian artist, this is one of the highest musical accolades. Sadly, Stein and Mari Kvien Brunvoll didn’t win. However, maybe his third album Stein Urheim will be nominated next year? Before I tell you about Stein Urheim, I’ll tell you a bit more about Stein and the background to the album.
Stein was born in 1979, and is based in the beautiful coastal city of Bergen. Although he’s a guitarist, he’s best described as a multi-instrumentalist. He plays a wide variety of stringed instruments from different corners of the world. This brings an exotic sound to him music. On Stein Urheim, he plays everything from guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths and effects. Not only is Stein a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s an experienced and talented musician.
Stein’s worked with some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. One of his first appearances was on Unge Frustrerte Menn’s 2001 album Dronningen Av Kalde Føtter. Three years later, Stein played on Barabass & The Happy Few’s 2004 album Rali Rei. Then in 2009, Stein accompanied Sergeant Petter on his Sgt. Petter album. Other appearances include on Sigrid Moldestad’s 2010 album Sandkorn and Gabriel Fliflet Åresong. Indeed, Stein was a member Gabriel Fliflet’s band Åresong and HP Gundersen’s drone band The Last Hurrah. As you can see, Stein is an experienced, versatile and talented musician. His talents are highly in demand. It’s a wonder he has the time for a solo career. Somehow, he finds time and is about to release his eponymous third album.
For his third album Stein Urheim, Stein wrote five tracks. He then decided to take a different approach to the recording process. Unlike his sophomore album Kosmolodi which was recorded in several places, Stein and sound technician Audun Strype headed to Lysøen. Their destination was the magnificent home of the legendary violinist Ole Bull. It’s on the outskirts of Bergen. Recording got underway in January 2013. Although the wooden houses was incredibly cold, it was atmospheric and had fantastic acoustics. This brought a warmth to the music when recording began.
As the tapes began to roll, Stein literally became a one-man band. He played everything from guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths and effects. Accompanying him was Jørgen Træen, who played modular synth and added effects. Once most of the five tracks were recorded in Ole Bull’s house, they headed to the Duper Studio, Bergen. That’s where recording was completed and the mixing took place. In charge of that was technician and producer Jørgen Træen. Once Stein Urheim was completed, the released date was scheduled by Hubro Music for 24th February 2014. However, what can you expect? is Stein Urheim a groundbreaking, genre-melting album where Stein comes of age? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Atmospheric and melancholy describes the introduction to Kosmoloda. It ebbs and flows. Gradually, a darker sound threatens to descend. A droning synth, quivering stringed instruments. They produce a hypnotic, experimental sound that veers towards ethereal. Then Stein lays down a slide guitar solo atop the arrangement. It wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the soundtracks Ry Cooder wrote for Wim Wenders movies. Rather than slide along, the slide guitar glides and meanders along. By now layers of music are revealing their secrets. Subtly, they tease, assail and surround you. Wistful, ethereal, languid and atmospheric describes this sonic opus.
After The Festival is an epic track. Eleven minutes long, its bubbling introduction meanders into being. Synths provide a backdrop, their understated, almost futuristic sound unfolding. Slowly and deliberately, strings are plucked, before flitting up and down the fretboard. They scamper up and down before hesitantly, a guitar is played thoughtfully. It takes on a Spanish sound. Melancholy and pensive describes the arrangement, as instruments arrive and leave. Folk, free jazz, world music, rock and blues shine through. Stein is responsible for the blues influence. His bluesy slide guitar weeps, like a cry for help. Later, the track takes on a frenzied, experimental sound. There’s a real fusion of influences. They’re all fighting for your attention. The more you listen, the more you hear, the more you realise that Stein Urheim is one of most ambitious, innovative and pioneering musicians. He’s determined to push boundaries to their limits.
Just a distant, lone guitar draws nearer on Watch The View. Meanwhile, a tender crystalline guitar is played thoughtfully. Eventually, it takes centre-stage where it belongs. It quivers and shivers, while the earlier droning guitar returns. This prompts Stein to play louder. Power and passion are ever-present as he delivers some strident, thoughtful licks. They veer between languid and expressive. Stein fuses an Eastern influence with blues and country. They all melt into one beautiful fusion of musical influence.
A bluesy harmonica and gently plucked guitar combine on Beijing Blues. It’s another fusion of musical genres and influences. Blues is the main influence. So are Chinese gu qin, country and folk. This proves a potent combination. An understated bluesy arrangement unfolds. Stein plays slowly and deliberately, concentrating on every note. Accompanying the weeping bluesy guitar are flourishes of guitar. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds in waves, cascading. Later, the arrangement grows in power and drama. As Stein plays, he marks time and blows his blues harmonica. He’s in a groove and unleashes some delicious bluesy licks, which shows yet another side the the versatile Stein Urheim.
Closing Stein Urheim is Great Distances. Again, it has an atmospheric, understated sound. Stein’s unleashes flourishes of his guitar. It reverberates into the distance, weeping. Just like before, Stein’s playing reminds me of Ry Cooder. Especially, on soundtrack albums like Paris Texas. He’s a virtuoso guitarist, who’s capable of switching between genres. One minute he’s playing blues, the next minute jazz or folk. The guitar comes alive in his hands. He gives it a voice. Mostly, it’s just Stein. Sometimes, though, he’s accompanied by a myriad of stringed instruments. They add to what’s best described as atmospheric, evocative, haunting and cinematic sounding track. Quite simply, Stein has kept the best until last.
While Stein Urheim contains just five tracks and is only forty-one minutes long, it’s virtually flawless. Over the five tracks, Stein fuses Afro-blues, avant-garde, blues, country, experimental, folk, jazz, Chinese gu qin music with langeleik, Norwegian zither music. Add to this the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and the music of American composers Lou Harrison and Steve Reich. The result is an eclectic and potent mix. This heady brew is best described as atmospheric, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, hypnotic, melancholy, sparse, thoughtful and wistful. I’d also described Stein Urheim as an ambitious, groundbreaking and minimalist genre-melting album.
Here is a album where less is more. Stein resists the temptation to overload the mix. Sometimes, only a few instruments are deployed. The result is music that’s sparse and minimalist. Sometimes, I’m reminded of Brian Eno and Ry Cooder. Indeed, on some tracks, it’s as if Brian Eno and Ry Cooder are collaborating. That’s one way of describing the music on Stein Urheim. However, there’s much more to Stein Urheim which will be released in 24th February on Hubro Music, than that.
Stein Urheim has been described as cohesive, unique and understated. On Stein Urheim takes not just instrumental music, but his music in a new and unheralded direction. It’s a direction that it’s never headed before. No worries though. Stein is the equivalent to a swashbuckling musical pioneer. Helped along by his collection of eclectic and exotic stringed instruments from the four corners of the world, Stein created some of the most ambitious, exciting and innovative music of his career. Not only is Stein Urheim the best album of Stein’s career, but it sees him coming of age musically. Indeed, Stein Urheim is well on his way to becoming one of Norway’s most talented and pioneering musicians, whose capable of crafting music that’s not just eclectic, but thoughtful, cerebral and beautiful.
STEIN URHEIM-STEIN URHEIM.
ORANGE JUICE-YOU CAN’T HIDE YOUR LOVE FOREVER.
Bearsden, a leafy suburb of Glasgow, was an unlikely place to form The Nu-Sonics, a post-punk band. Named after a line of budget guitars, The Nu-Sonics were formed by Edwyn Collins and his school friend Alan Duncan. They were then joined by James Kirk and Steven Daly, who had jut left another band called The Machetes. Three years later, in 1979, The Nu-Sonics became Orange Juice in 1979. A year later, Orange Juice signed to the legendary Postcard Records.
Postcard Records was founded by Alan Horne in Glasgow, in 1979. Originally, Postcard Records was setup as a vehicle to release singles by two bands, Orange Juice and Josef K. In homage to Motown, Postcard Records’ slogan was “The Sound of Young Scotland.” The nascent label’s debut release was Orange Juice’s Falling and Laughing.
It was jointly financed by Alan Horne along with Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins and David McClymont. Released in April of 1980, Falling and Laughing reached a respectable number forty-eight in the UK. With that minor hit single, an ionic record label and band had been born. Sadly, by the time Orange Juice released their 1982 debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Postcard Records was no more. Before Orange Juice released You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, which was recently rereleased by Domino Records, they’d release another five singles. By then, Orange Juice were one of Scotland’s most exciting bands.
The followup to Falling and Laughing, was Blue Boy, which was released in September 1980. It reached number fifteen in the UK. Simply Thrilled Honey, which released in December 1980, gave Orange Juice their first top ten UK hit, when it reached number five. Poor Old Soul released in March 1981, also reached number five. In May 1981, Orange Juice recorded Wan Light. However, it was never released.
Despite this, Orange Juice were one of Scotland’s most successful bands. Postcard Records had established a reputation as a label who released exciting and innovative music. However, Orange Juice had released their last single for Postcard Records. They’d sign for a major label.
Polydor Records was Orange Juice’s new label. It was a far cry from Alan Horne’s Postcard Records. Orange Juice were part of the major label machine. For their major label debut, Orange Juice released a cover of Al Green’s classic L.O.V.E. Whether this was the band’s idea, isn’t know. What is known, is the single stalled at number sixty-five in the UK on its release in 1981. This would be Orange Juice’s last single before they released their debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever.
You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever featured the five singles Orange Juice ryas released, It also featured the unreleased Wan Light. Of the thirteen tracks, Edwyn Collins wrote nine and James Kirk three. The exception was L.O.V.E. which had been penned by Al Green, Mabon “Teenie” Holdges and Willie Mitchell. These thirteen tracks became You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever.
Recording of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever took place at Berwick Street Studios, London. Edwyn sang lead vocals and played, lead, rhythm and twelve-string guitar. James Kirk played, lead, rhythm and twelve-string guitar. David McClymont played bass and Steven Daly drums and percussion. Augmenting Orange Juice were keyboardist Mike McEvoy and backing vocalists Jackie Challenor, Esther Byrd and Lorenza Johnson. Together with the combined talents of Orange Juice, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever was ready for release in 1982.
On the release of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever in March 1982, it reached number twenty-one in the UK. Felicity was released as a single, reaching just number sixty-three. Whilst that was disappointing, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever had launched Orange Juice’s career at Polydor. However, thirty-two years later, has You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever stood the test of time?
Opening You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever is Falling And Laughing. Orange Juice’s rhythm section and jangling guitars unite before Edwyn’s vocal enters. It’s a paean par excellence. Edwyn’s vocal is a mixture of longing, loathing, confusion and teenage angst. All the time, he’s enveloped by a jaunty arrangement. It’s full of harmonies and chiming guitars. In three minutes, Orange Juice are introduced to a wider audience to their unique fusion of perfect pop and indie rock.
Untitled Melody features a despondent Edwyn. He delivers lyrics that are variously cerebral, witty and scathing. Proof of this are the lines: “you’re so transparent I can guess without question, you need something or other to cover your expression.” Meanwhile the rest of the band provide a slow, melancholy backdrop. The probing bass and hypnotic drums are key to the arrangement. Playing supporting roles are the keyboards and jangly guitar. Taking centre-stage is Edwyn’s worldweary vocal.
Chiming, jangling guitars open Wan Light.They drive the almost funky arrangement along. Edwyn’s vocal is best described as enigmatic. Like a butterfly, he flits between emotions, wondering: “is this what life is all about?”He veers between thoughtful and joyous. Horns serenade his vocal, while handclaps encourage him, as he plays his part in a hook-laden hidden gem. Why Alan Horne never released this on Postcard Records seems strange?
Strident drums grab your attention, as Tender Object object unfolds. It’s a reminder of Orange Juice’s post punk’s roots. It’s a swashbuckling track, thanks to David’s bass masterclass. He’s part of the funky, pounding backdrop to Edwyn’s tortured vocal. His vocal is full or sadness and regret: at “my fall from grace.”
Listen to Dying Day and you’ll hear similarities with Edwyn and Morrisey. I’d go further and say Orange Juice must have influenced The Smiths, both stylistically and lyrically. This is another relationship song. Love’s gone wrong again. Gradually, a helper skelter arrangement unfolds. Edwyn’s vocal is rueful, and full of pathos and regret. It’s only with hindsight he realises what he had and lost.
L.O.V.E. Love is a cover of the old Al Green classic. The only problem with covering a classic, is the definitive version of the song has been recorded. Grizzled horns give way to Edwyn’s heartfelt, tender and soulful vocal. Meanwhile, sweeping harmonies accompany him. It’s a case of staying true to the original. By not reinventing the wheel, new life is breathed into an old classic.
Intuition Told Me (Part 1) sees Edwyn take on the role of troubadour. Accompanied by acoustic guitars, piano and harmonies the track takes on a vintage sound. The only problem is the song only lasts a minute. It’s a tantalising taste of what might have been.
Upwards And Onwards features the combination of Edwyn’s literate lyrics and a jaunty, poppy arrangement. As Edwyn delivers the lyrics, it’s obvious he’s putting on a brave face. Especially when he sings: “I can’t suppress the guilt I feel inside.”
Meanwhile, the arrangement proves Orange Juice have come a long way. They’re a tight, polished band. Slick, rocky riffs are unleashed, while the tight rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. Despite who often Edwyn sings “Upwards And Onwards” he can’t rid himself of his guilt.
Satellite City sees Orange Juice return to the funky side. Stabs of horns and an uber funky Orange Juice combine. Edwyn seems to have been listening to some classic Salsoul before the session. The horns are straight out the Salsoul back-catalogue. This seems to inspire him. He vamps his way through the track. Chiming horns and blazing horns then take centre-stage, strutting their funky stuff. The result is one of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever’s highlights.
Three Cheers For Our Side sees Orange Juice briefly seek inspiration from Motown. The big clues are the stomping beat and la la harmonies. Then all of a sudden the tempo drops, and Edwyn croons. This is fitting given the lyrics. It brings home their beauty and ultimate sadness, given the sting in this song’s tail. Penned by James Kirk, it shows that when it came to songwriting, Orange Juice had more than one talented songwriter.
Briefly, Consolation Prize reminds me of That’ll Be The Day. That’s just the chiming, retro guitar licks. They’re part of the probing, meandering rhythm section that accompanies Edwyn. His lyrics are a mixture of humour and pathos. With tongue in cheek, Edwyn sings: “I’ll be your Consolation Prize.”
Felicity was the single released from You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. Again, Edwyn sounds not unlike Morrissey. There’s also similarities with Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame. What unfolds is one of the rockiest tracks on the albums. Orange Juice’s rhythm section power the arrangement along. Swathes of guitars match Edwyn’s emotive, vampish vocal. He sings as if his very life depends on it. Sadly, despite the track’s undeniable quality, it stalled at just number sixty-three in the UK.
Understated and wistful describes In A Nutshell, which closes You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. Just chiming guitars accompany an heartbroken Edwyn. Drums then provide the heartbeat as Edwyn reflects. His heart’s been broken by “a heartless mercenary.” Accompanied by cooing harmonies, he remembers looking: “behind the iron curtain.” Bitter and heartbroken, it’s as if lashing out verbally will prove cathartic. It won’t and he knows it. Instead, it’s youthful bravado. This youthful bravado resulted in a quite poignant and beautiful song.
As someone who grew up listening to Orange Juice and remembers them from their Postcard Records’ days, the recent rerelease of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever is well overdue. For too long, Orange Juice’s four albums hadn’t made it to CD. Thankfully, that’s been rectified by Domino Records. They recently released their four albums. Orange Juice’s debut album was You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever/
Earlier, I wonder if You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever would’ve stood the test of time. The answer to that is a resounding yes. Timeless describes You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. With its combination of perfect pop, rock, funk and soul, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever is one of the finest albums to come out of Scotland in the last forty years. Quite simply, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever is a minor classic. No wonder.
Orange Juice had spent six years honing their sound. They’d come a long way since their early years as the post-punk Nu-Sonics. By 1982, they were a slick, polished and tight band. They were fortunate enough to have two talented songwriters. Edwyn Collins and James Kirk. They penned twelve of the thirteen tracks on You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. They were variously beautiful, cerebral, joyous, literate, melancholy, poignant and wistful. Edwyn’s vocal brings the lyrics to life, breathing life, meaning and emotion into them. Behind him, Orange Juice’s trademark sound provided the perfect accompaniment. Together they were well on their way to becoming one of the most important bands in Scotland’s musical history.
Between 1982 and 1984, Orange Juice released a quartet of albums. Rip It Up followed in September 1982, with Texas Fever released in March 1984. Orange Juice’s swan-song was The Orange Juice, which was released in November 1984. That was their finale. However, Orange Juice’s most successful album, and the album that launched their career was You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, which introduced the world to Orange Juice’s unique brand of pop perfection. Standout Tracks: Falling and Laughing, L.O.V.E. Love, Felicity and In A Nutshell.
ORANGE JUICE-YOU CAN’T HIDE YOUR LOVE FOREVER.
VAMPS ET VAMPIRE-THE SONGS OF SERGE GAINSBOURG.
Maverick, bon viveur, raconteur and rebel. These are just a few of the words that describe French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director Serge Gainsbourg. He’s one of the most influential and controversial figures in French culture. Serge did things his way. Often that proved controversial. A master of wordplay, his lyrics are funny, provocative, satirical, subversive, shocking and thought-provoking. This was the case throughout his career. During his career, it was impossible to categorise Serge’s music. His back-catalogue is best described as eclectic. He recorded everything from chanson, disco, jazz, mambo, new wave, pop, prog rock, reggae, rock ’n’ roll and ye ye. Serge’s music was also recorded by a whole host of artists, including many female singers.
Among the artists who recorded Serge Gainsbourg’s Françoise Hardy, Marianne Faithfull, Juliette Gréco, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and Michèle Torr. They all feature on Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg. It was recently released by Ace International, a subsidiary of Ace Records. Fittingly, Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg features contributions from some of female singers who recorded Serge’s songs. They bring to life Serge’s music. Before I pick my highlights of Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg, I’ll tell you about Serge’s career.
Serge Gainsbourg was born Lucien Ginsburg in April 1928, in Paris, France. He was a twin and grew-up in a family of Russian-Jewish emigrants. His parents had fled Russia during the Russian Revolution. On his arrival in Paris, Serge’s father made a living playing piano in casinos and cabarets. He also taught his children to play piano. Little did realise that Serge would become one of France’s most famous musicians. That was still to come. Before that, the war interrupted Serge’s childhood.
As part of a Jewish family living in Nazi occupied Paris, the war years proved to be a traumatic time for Serge. He was traumatised. Paris had been his family’s safe haven. Not any more. Serge’s family fled Paris, and headed to Limoges. They travelled under false papers. Limoges was unoccupied. However, the Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis. For Jews, this wasn’t the safe haven Serge’s family had hoped for. During the war years, Serge was badly affected by what he saw and heard. Later, his music would prove cathartic, for cleansing himself of these experiences. By then, Serge Gainsbourg had been born.
Following the war, Lucien Ginsburg became Serge Gainsbourg. That wasn’t the only change in Serge’s life. He got married in 1951 and with his first wife Elisabeth had two children. The marriage only lasted six years, before the couple divorced. By the time Serge married for the second time in 1964, his musical career was underway. This time, his marriage to Françoise resulted in another two children. However, the marriage only lasted two years. By then, Serge was about to embark upon affairs with some of the most eligible women in Europe.
During the early years of his career, Boris Vian inspired Serge. Looking back, this seems ironic, given his chanson style of music was perceived as old-fashioned. However, before long, Serge couldn’t resist experimenting musically. As the sixties dawned, ye-ye swept not just France, but Europe. Originally, Serge wasn’t comfortable with this style of music. So his music headed in the direction of jazz and then pop. During this time, Serge spent time with Jaques Brel and Juliette Gréco. His solo career faltered and his early releases didn’t sell well.
During the early sixties, Serge met Elek Bacsik and Michel Gaudry. He asked if they’d collaborate with him.They agreed and the result was their 1963 album Confidentiel. It’s best described as an album the epitomes modern jazz. An innovative album, success eluded Confidentiel. It sold only 1,500 copies. Disappointed, Serge made a decision that day that changed his life.
Following the failure of Confidentiel, Serge was heard to say: ”I’ll get into hack work and buy myself a Rolls.” Despite this, his next album, 1964s Percussions was another groundbreaking album. Again, success eluded Serge. This reinforced his earlier decision to change tack.
Soon, this paid off. Serge was writing more commercial songs. These songs were performed by many artists. One of these France Gall. The French teenager sang Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son which won Luxembourg the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest. This was just the start of a series of commercially successful songs Serge wrote. Over the next few years, Serge had the best of both worlds. Serge’s solo career continued. He was able to release groundbreaking music, knowing that the songs he wrote for other artists would become commercially successful
Over the next few years, Serge Gainsbourg penned commercially successful tracks for everyone from Françoise Hardy, Marianne Faithfull, Juliette Gréco, Marianne Faithfull, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and Michèle Torr. They’re among the twenty-four tracks which feature on Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
Fittingly, Brigitte Bardot’s Harley Davidson opens Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg. This is one of two tracks on the compilation. The other is Contact. They were written for Le Brigitte Bardot Show. Having met on the set of the show, the pair embarked upon a hight-profile relationship. These two tracks feature on Brigitte’s 1968 album Show. Released on AZ Records, this was Brigitte’s fourth album. Of the two tracks, Contact is the best. Brigitte’s vocal veers between moody, defiant sultry on this slice of Euro Pop.
Françoise Hardy is one of France’s greatest singer-songwriters. One of her most memorable songs was the 1968 single Comment Te Dire Adieu. This is the definitive version of a song that was originally recorded as It Hurts To Say Goodbye by Margaret Whiting. Having heard an instrumental version, Françoise wanted to record the song. Serge was asked to write some French lyrics and the result was an evocative and beautiful song. It was the title-track to Françoise’s 1968 album. It also features Françoise’s other contribution L’Anamour, which is best described as tender, sensual and beautiful.
France Gall’s Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son was kick-started Serge’s songwriting career. It won the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest. At first glance it sounds like many a ye-ye single. It’s not. It’s much more than that. Here, Serge showcases his ability as a wordsmith. Not for the last time, wordplay is high on the agenda. Sometimes, this got Serge into trouble. Not here. It transformed his career. The same can be said of France Gall. Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son was the title-track to her 1965 album. A year later, Les Sucettes featured on France’s FG album. Featuring a tender, breathy vocal and understated, orchestral arrangement, it shows another side to France Gall and her music, one I’d like to hear more of.
At the start of his career, Serge worked with Juliette Gréco. So, it’s fitting that she controbutes two tracks. They’re La Javanaise and Strip Tease. Both are from her Juliette Gréco (8ème Série) album. Released in 1963, this was her fifth album. La Javanaise is the best of the two tracks. It epitomises the chanson style of music and features a pensive, heartfelt and heartachingly beautiful vocal from Juliette.
Catherine Sauvage was one of the first artists to record Serge’s songs. Previously, she’d specialised in bringing the poems of poets like Leo Ferre and Louis Aaragon to music. This was a stylistic departure. The two tracks are very different. Baudelaiire featured on her 1962 E.P. Catherine Sauvage Chante Serge Gainsbourg. It has a much more traditional chanson sound. As for Overseas Telegram, chugging guitars provide a rocky backdrop to her heartbroken vocal. It’s a track from the 2006 box set Mister Melody-Les Interprètes De Serge Gainsbourg. Both tracks have one thing in common, Catherine’s emotive vocal, which brings Serge’s songs to life.
Having written the winning entry to the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest, Serge was seen as the man with Midas touch. All of a sudden, his services were in demand. One of the artists who recorded a Serge Gainsbourg song was Michèle Torr. Non, A Tous Les Garcons is a stomping slice of irresistible Euro Pop which featured on her 1966 E.P.
In 1967, Marianne Faithfull released an E.P. Hier Ou Demain (De La Comédie Musicale Anna.) Serge penned the title-track which Marianne sings in French. This was a departure for her, as usually, she records in English. Her delivery is flawless. She gets across the song’s nuances and subtleties, with a vocal that’s full of emotion, sadness and melancholia.
When Serge and Jane Birkin first met on the set to the film Slogan, they didn’t hit it off. No wonder. Originally, Serge Marisa Bereson to star alongside him. Soon, though, things thawed out and they embarked upon a high profile relationship. This more than made up for being dropped by Brigitte Bardot. Jane was more than an actor though. She was a talented singer. They recorded an album together in 1969. Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg features the sultry, sensual Jane B. and Con C’est Con Ces Consequences, a similarly sultry, seductive track featured on Jane’s 1983 album Baby Alone In Babylone. Fourteen years after Jane B. made her debut, her voice had matured like a fine wine.
My final choice from Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg is Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Elastique. Here was a woman destined to become either a singer, songwriter or actress. She was he daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge, and the granddaughter of Judy Campbell. This is a track from her 1986 debut album Charlotte For Ever. Against a new wave backdrop, Charlotte revisits the classic chanson style. This is perfect for the song. She’s her mother’s daughter, delivering a breathy, coquettish vocal. Even the rocky guitars work, bringing a new twist to her father’s song.
While I’ve only mentioned fifteen of the tracks on Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg, I could just as easily have chosen any number of the tracks. It’s a case of all killer, no filler. That’s thanks to compiler Mick Patrick. He dug deep, in his quest to find what’s essentially the perfect introduction to the music of Serge Gainsbourg. These twenty-five tracks are just the tip of the iceberg. After all, Serge was a truly prolific songwriter. It’s thought Serge penned over one-thousand tracks and released twenty solo albums. However, there was one type of artist Serge seemed to enjoy the most success with.
He seems to be at his best when writing for female singers. That’s what he became known for. Indeed, his known and most successful single was Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus, which he wrote for and recorded with Jane Birkin on their 1967 eponymous album. When Jane asked him to write the most beautiful song, this is what he wrote. It’s a true classic and one of the most sensual songs ever recorded. Sadly, like many of Serge’s songs it provoked controversy.
Indeed, throughout his career, Serge seemed to court controversy. His lyrics weren’t the usual fare. The was more to Serge’s music that life, love, loss, heartbreak and joy. Subjects other songwriters dared to shy away from, were meat and drink for Serge. Often the way he did this was with subtlety. He used wordplay. Puns, paraprosdokians, dysphemisms and onomatopoeia were Serge’s secret weapons. With Serge’s lyrics, it was a case of listening carefully. Things weren’t necessary what they first seemed. Mind you, what did you expect from a wordsmith extraordinaire. That describes Serge Gainsbourg and is apparent when you listen to Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg, which was recently released by Ace International, a subsidiary of Ace Records.
Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg is the perfect introduction to Serge Gainsbourg’s music. It features contributions from some of the greatest French female vocalists. Among them are Françoise Hardy, Marianne Faithfull, Juliette Gréco, Marianne Faithfull, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and Michèle Torr. It’s like a who’s who of French music. Each of these songs have one thing in common, they were written by Serge Gainsbourg. He was one of the most influential and controversial figures in French culture. Serge did things his way. Often that proved controversial. A master of wordplay his are lyrics funny, provocative, satirical, subversive, shocking and thought-provoking. This was the case throughout his long and successful career. Sadly, Serge Gainsbourg passed away in March 1991. Twenty-three years ago, French music lost one of its legends. He’s sadly missed and Vamps Et Vampire-The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg is a reminder of the man and his music.
VAMPS ET VAMPIRE-THE SONGS OF SERGE GAINSBOURG.
THE SEEDS-RAW AND ALIVE.
Originally, The Seeds started life as a garage band. That was the past. Music was changing. So were The Seeds. The Beatles’ had just released their psychedelic masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. This was the way music was heading. Hearing this seminal psychedelic opus resulted in The Seeds changing direction.
Realising that psychedelia was the future, The Seeds changed tack. This was a huge risk. During the last two years, The Seeds had worked tirelessly to build a reputation as one of the most innovative bands of the era. They’d released two albums, A Web Of Sound and The Seeds, which featured Pushin’ Too Hard, the biggest single of their career. Despite this, the temptation to experiment and push musical boundaries was too much. For The Seeds, standing still wasn’t an option. Here was the dawn of a new musical era. The Seeds going to be were part of the psychedelic era in 1967. For The Seeds, resisting this temptation was impossible.
In 1967, The Seeds released their third album Future. Future didn’t see The Seeds push musical boundaries to their limits. Instead they blew these limits away. The result was a mind-blowing fusion of psychedelia, garage, rock and pop. Veering towards jazz and soul, eclectic doesn’t even come close to describing Future. This was a long way from The Seeds roots as a garage band. This was very different. Maybe too different. On its release, Future wasn’t a commercial success. It was critically acclaimed and nearly four decades later, is perceived as a psychedelic classic.
Following the commercial failure of Future, The Seeds had bills to pay, so returned to playing live. This was a steady source of income. By 1968, things weren’t going well for The Seeds. Whether the band knew it, but 1968 would see The Seeds release their musical swan-song. This was Raw and Alive and an album that captures The Seeds at their very best. It epitomises what The Seeds live sounded like. Raw and Alive was recently rereleased by Big Beat Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records. This is no ordinary live album though.
Big Beat Records’ rerelease of Raw and Alice is best described as a luxurious double album. Disc One features the original stereo version of Raw and Alive, plus the undubbed version of the concert. On the undubbed version of Raw and Alive, an added extra is a version of 900 Million People Daily All Making Love. With the original and undubbed versions of Raw and Alive, the listener is able to hear The Seeds at the peak of their powers. That’s just disc one.
Then on disc two of Raw and Alive, which is entitled Live In The Studio, which was recorded on 20th February 1968, The Seeds rattle their way through fifteen tracks. Two of these tracks, Gypsy Plays His Drums and Pushin’ Too Hard are new mixes of the track. Just like Raw and Alive, the Live In The Studio captures the very essence of The Seeds live. Telling the story of the recording of Live and Alive is Alec Palao. Just like his sleeve-notes to Future, they’re in-depth, articulate and insightful. He documents a band whose career was at a crossroads.
The Seeds weren’t used to failure. They’d released two successful albums. Their decision to experiment and change direction backfired. So had their manager Lord Tim Hudson’s hype. Hipsters turned on The Seeds. They were seen as passé. That was far from the case. They were one of the most innovative bands of the time. Surely, for The Seeds things couldn’t get worse
With The Seeds change of direction not proving a commercial success, the band needed money. One solution was to record a live album. This made perfect sense for The Seeds. Many of their fans told them that they were better live than on record. So, what they wanted to do was capture what The Seeds sound like live. There were a couple of problems. The first was that The Seeds hand’t been recorded live very often. So, they weren’t aware of the pitfalls that could cause them problems. Playing in front of 18,000 people, anything could, and would, go wrong. A favourite was for the stage to be invaded or the audience to be overcome by hysteria. After all, in some parts of California, The Seeds were treated like The Beatles. That was on a good night.
What happened if the recording was arranged for a night when the audience were less than enthusiastic? This was just as problematic. They’d end up with a recording that wasn’t a reflection on what The Seeds live sounded like. For The Seeds, what sounded a good idea was quickly getting complicated. They pressed on and eventually, Gene Norman President of GNP Records hit on a solution.
Rather than play live in an auditorium, The Seeds would play in a studio in front of an invited audience. This wasn’t new. It had been done before, resulting in mixed results. However, it was seen as the best solution. It didn’t work. It was time for take two. Without the audience, The Seeds returned to the studio to record their “live” album.
When Raw and Alive was recorded, there were no iso booths. Everyone stood together in an attempt to replicate a live sound. Unlike recording an album, the engineers didn’t worry about microphones bleeding into each other. This was all part of The Seeds live experience.
After Humble “Harve” Miller announces the arrival of “Sky Saxon and The Seeds” strut their way through ten songs. This includes Farmer and Up In Her Room from The Seeds 1966 debut album A Web Of Sound. Farmer which opens the albums sets the tone. Sky delivers a sneering, hypnotic slice of psychedelic. Then interspersed throughout Raw and Alive are a trio of tracks from The Seeds eponymous sophomore album. No Escape, Can’t Seem To Make You Mine and Pushin’ Too Hard captures The Seeds live. Bristling with electricity, energy and enthusiasm, The Seeds swagger their way through theses songs. They fuse garage, pop, psychedelia and rock. Genre melting describes The Seeds, who are on a roll. One of the highlights of Raw and Alive is Satisfy You, a fusion of psychedelia, rock and a proto-punk. It featured on The Seeds 1980 comeback album A Spoon Full Of Seedy Blues. Then before you know it, Sky is announcing Pushin’ Too Hard, the final song. Here, The Seeds are reminiscent of The Doors. It’s not just the combination of the keyboards and charismatic frontman that leads to this comparison. No, it’s the quality of The Seeds performance.
On its release in May 1968, The Seeds perceived Raw and Alive as a stopgap until they got round to writing and releasing their fourth album. That never happened. Raw and Alive wasn’t a commercial success. Soon, The Seeds were playing smaller venues. Their music then was no longer fashionable. Rock was now King, while The Seeds were yesterday’s news. Worse was to come. Drugs caused problems within The Seeds’ camp. Sky allegedly succumbed. Reports say he was constantly stoned. For Rick Andridge, this was the final straw. He packed his drums and left. Sitting around waiting for concerts to be arranged wasn’t going to pay the bills. So, he left The Seeds. Raw and Alive is The Seeds’ swan-song.
For fans of The Seeds, having the two versions of Raw and Alive sit side-by-side is fascinating. First up is the version with the overdubs. Then there’s the warts and all version. if anything, this is much more representative of what The Seeds were like live. They swagger their way through ten tracks, fusing musical genres and influences. It’s not a flawless performance. Live performances never are. However, these imperfections and flaws can be forgiven. They make The Seeds performance seem all the more real and authentic. That’s despite the lack of audience. The Seeds still played live. They plugged in and played their way through ten blistering tracks. This was “take two” though.
“Take one” took place on 20th February 1968. Watched by members of The Seeds fan club, the band were introduced by Gene Norman and laid down fifteen tracks. They were rejected and ended up lying in GNP Records’ vaults. That’s until now. For the first time in forty-six years, these fifteen tracks can be heard. They’re a reminder, if any were needed, of how good a live band The Seeds were. It’s a warts and all performance. That’s what makes this essential listening. It’s like eavesdropping on the past. You can even hear the chatter between songs. Then The Seeds showcase their inconsiderable skills. Drawing inspiration from folk, garage, jazz, psychedelia, free jazz, proto-punk and even prog rock The Seeds combine musical genres and influences. Strolling and strutting their way through fifteen tracks, The Seeds must have thought that this was the first step in their musical redemption. Sadly, it wasn’t.
Never again, did The Seeds reach the heights they’d enjoyed on their first two albums, A Web Of Sound and The Seeds. These were musical mountains they’d never climb. The Seeds moment in the sun had been fleeting. Between 1966s A Web Of Sound and 1968s Raw and Alive, The Seeds were one of the most innovative groups. Like a chameleon, they changed from a garage band into one of psychedelia’s flag bearers. They drew inspiration from disparate musical genres and influences. Everything from rock, garage rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, doo-wop, free jazz, proto-punk and even prog rock, influenced them on their greatest studio album Future. Despite Future being perceived as a minor classic, people said The Seeds never replicated their live sound on any of their three albums. So, they tried to do so on Raw and Alive.
It took two attempts, but eventually, they managed to do so. The result was Raw and Alive, which was recently rereleased by Big Beat Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records. It harnesses The Seeds live sound. Indeed, Raw and Alive harnesses the raw power, energy and electricity of The Seeds. Hard rocking, they play with confidence and a swagger. They’re good and they know it. With a spring in their step, they try to recreate their live sound. They achieve this on Raw and Alive, which sadly, was their swan-song.
The Seeds musical legacy was a trio of studio albums and Raw and Alive. A Web Of Sound, The Seeds and Future feature the changing face of The Seeds. Their best studio album was Future, which is now a psychedelic classic. Drawing inspiration from The Beatles psychedelic masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. It’s a combination of The Seeds garage band roots and psychedelia. The Seeds also were influenced by Frank Zappa, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Doors, The Who, the British invasion bands and jazz. All these influences can be heard on Raw and Alive, which marked the end of The Seeds story. They may not have been the most prolific band in musical history, but continue to influence another generation of musicians and music lovers. Raw and Alive is a tantalising glimpse of what The Seeds live must have sounded like.
THE SEEDS-RAW AND ALIVE.