THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Golden Childhood (*****)

Your Golden Childhood: The Best of Little Golden Records Vol. 1
(MicroWerks, 2009)

1. MIGHTY MOUSE THEME (Here I Come to Save the Day!) - Mighty Mouse (Tom Morrison) and The Terrytooners featuring Mike Stewart
2. CLEMENTINE -The Sandpipers
3. PETER COTTONTAIL (Year Round Version) - The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd
5. I LIKE PEOPLE (The Friendly Song) - Jimmy Durante
6. TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME - The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd with Mitch Miller's Orchestra
7. THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD - The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd and Mike Stewart
8. GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE - Cliff Edwards with Mitch Miller's Orchestra
9. CAROUSEL WALTZ - Mitch Miller's Orchestra Conducted by Jimmy Carroll
10. SONG WAGON - Roy Rogers, Dale Evans & The Ranch Hands
11. TUBBY THE TUBA - Paul Tripp
12. HI-LILI, HI-LO - Shari Lewis, Lamb Chop & Friends
13. THE BALLAD OF THE ALAMO - Mike Stewart
14. PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON - The Golden Singers

Dr. Spock was right, everything in life depends on how you were weaned. As a result, my musical tastes were determined early on by sucking on the teat of Little Golden Records, starting in the late '50s and continuing through my lost early '60s Youth. Whether we Baby Boomers like it or not, these melodies and jingles - "Bumble Bee, Bumble Bye," "Icka Backa Soda Cracker," "Piddly Patter Patter" et. al. - are deeply embedded in our minds, like some Manchurian Candidate hypnotic implant.

Those little yellow 78s (and later 45s and LPs) - branded "unbreakable" and heralding a vast library of "new and gay and charming" stories, songs and music - had never previously been available on CD until now, so when I spotted this disc at Daedulus Books & Music recently, I had to pick it up. It's great that Golden Records are finally getting their artistic due because, in addition to their pop cultural value, these platters of yore featured some truly talented - albeit unheralded - singers and musicians.

Little Golden Records: Kid-safe and unbreakable!

Unfortunately, most of their names were shrouded in mystery or ignominity - kind of like all those "fake" in-name-only '60s groups that were really the studio creations of behind-the-scenes record producers; "bands" like The Cuff Links, The Grass Roots and Edison Lighthouse never existed until the record companies had a hit on their hands, and only then would they draft cookie-cutter musicians to hit the road and promote the records - often sending multiple versions of the same group to different geographic regions.

(In fact, Edison Lighthouse - a studio concoction of Brit bubblegum writer/producer Tony Macauley - featured singer Tony Burrows, who holds the distinction of singing on hits by four different fake bands in the same year: Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes," White Plains' "My Baby Loves Lovin'," the Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand," and the Pipkins "Gimme Dat Ding." Burrows is also in the record books as the only person to appear on BBC Television's Top Of The Pops fronting three different acts in one show: Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, and Brotherhood of Man. Now that's multi-tasking!)

But now the slighted have been righted! Thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory's reissue label Micro Werks, we Boomers can now truly name that tune - and who was singing it. Sure, it's not definitive, but it's at least something. At the least it gives these so-called "kiddie records" - long forgotten and tossed in with the other toys in the attic - the name recognition they deserve.

Golden Records were originally an audio offshoot of the New York publishing house Simon & Shuster where, under the direction of Arthur Shimkin, they became the first label to be devoted exclusively to children's music. Taking advantage of the prestigious Simon & Shuster imprint, Shimkin was able to lure some name talent to his label - Jimmy Durante, Danny Kaye, puppeteer Shari Lewis, major league baseball's Mel Allen, Cliff "Jiminy Cricket" Edwards, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans - all of whom appear on Volume 1 of Micro Werks' Your Golden Childhood.

The celebrity guest stars came and went, but the musical production team was consistent throughout. The Sandpipers (aka The Golden Sandpipers, The Sandpiper Chorus, The Sandpiper Chorus and Orchestra, The Sandpiper Singers) were pretty much the in-house band at Little Golden Records, most often under the direction of schockmeister Mitchell "Sing Along with Mitch" Miller (who sometimes played oboe on the recordings) and Terrytoons/Lantz veteran Jim Timmens.

These Sandpipers are a different group from the folk singing group who had a Top 10 hit in 1966 with "Guantanamera" - or "One Ton of Mayo" as I used to call it! No, these 'pipers were were Mike Stewart, Ralph Nyland, Dick Byron, and Bob Miller.

Besides Mike Stewart, other semi-regular lead singers at the label included Sally Sweetland, Mary Jane Sutherland, Peter Hanley, Anne Lloyd, Rosemary Clooney's sister Betty Clooney (an Easter specialist who sang "Eggbert the Easter Egg" and "Bunny Bunny Bunny"). Mae Questrel (best known as the "boop-boop-be-doop" voice of Betty Boop) even sang on a 1951 Golden Record 78 called "Little Audrey Says" b/w "Let's Go Shopping" that I would die to have!

Listen to "Little Audrey Says."

Jimmy Carroll was the arranger for Golden Records. When Miller went on to great success at Columbia (much to Frank Sinatra's dismay - Frankie never forgave Miller for making him record "Mama Will Bark" with Dagmar!), Jim Timmens conducted most of the early 60's Golden records with a group either called the Sandpipers, the Glow-Tones, or the Golden Singers/Chorus. Blogger Mike Evanier writes that they are distinctive by "the Timmens sound he used for Terrytoons and some Lantz TV stuff. Listen for lots of woodwinds and a mellower tone."


And here they are!

1. MIGHTY MOUSE THEME (Here I Come to Save the Day!)
Mighty Mouse (Tom Morrison) and The Terrytooners featuring Mike Stewart

We start off with the best tune, the theme song from my favorite childhood cartoon, Mighty Mouse, which was later made famous in Andy Kaufmann's stand-up routine. Try to resist bellowing out "Here I come to save the day!" - you just can't do it! Mighty Mouse frequently spoofed operatic singing, and nowhere was it more perfectly employed than in this melodramatic "save the day" riff.

Watch Andy Kaufmann's signature rendition of "Mighty Mouse."

In the early '60s, Terrytoons helped produce an album of original Mighty Mouse stories for Peter Pan Records that starred the studio's head writer Tom Morrison, who would voice Mighty Mouse from 1958 through 1971. Here Morrison is backed by the "Terrytooners" featuring Mike Stewart, but I suspect this is really The Sandpipers under yet another alias.


The Sandpipers

In a canyon in a valley, excavating for a mine
Dwelt a miner, 49-er, and his daughter Clementine

Huckleberry loved to howl "Clementine"

"My Darling Clementine" is one of the most storied of American folk ballads, its melody lending itself to everything from pop cover versions by Bobby Darin and Jan & Dean (#65, 1959) to a cricket team chant (England's Barmy Army), even turning up on the theme song of Kim Il-sung's (off-off-off-Broadway) North Korean musical The Flower Girl (1972). Of course, I grew up associating this song with Huckleberry Hound (voiced by Daws Butler), whose tone-deaf and off-key renditions of "Oh My Darling, Clementine" were a running gag on his Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon show.

Usually credited to either Percy Montrose or Barker Bradford, it tells the story a bereaved lover singing about his darling, the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush. He loses her in a drowning accident, though he consoles himself towards the end of the song with Clementine's "little sister." (The verse about the little sister was often left out of folk song books intended for children, presumably because it seemed morally questionable!)

3. PETER COTTONTAIL (Year Round Version)
The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd

The reigning Golden Records diva was Anne Lloyd (best known for songs like "The Muffin Man" and the Patti Page hit "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?").

Listen to Anne sing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"

Listen to Anne Lloyd sing "My Toothbrush Song."

Listen to Anne & The Sandpipers sing "Trick Or Treat."

Listen to Anne & The Sandpipers sing "The Muffin Man."

But the reigning kiddie diva was Anne Lloyd (best known for songs like "The Muffin Man" and the Patti Page hit "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?").

Here comes Peter Cottontail hopping down the

What a great - and strange - song this is. It's basically a Childe Ballad masquerading as a kiddie tune, and it wouldn't be at all out of place on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads or Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Perhaps the greatest of all Little Golden Records "Easter" releases- and another golden "million seller"- here is the colorful cover of "PETER COTTONTAIL" (R57) with the rare lavender background color behind the romping rabbit! The "Easter Version" is on Side "A", and on the "B" side- the "Year-Round" version! Performed by Anne Lloyd, The Sandpipers with Mitch Miller & Orchestra. Featured on many other golden releases over the many years- this single jacket has also been featured with a blue background.

Bert Parks

Before he became the host of the Miss American Pageant, Bert Parks was a singer of patriotic tunes.

5. I LIKE PEOPLE (The Friendly Song)
Jimmy Durante

Listen to "I Like People."

The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd with Mitch Miller's Orchestra

Little Golden Record S-107, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" was sung by NY Yankees' Phil Rizzuto, and Tommy Henrich,and Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca and Roy Campanella. The recording was orchestrated by the great Mitch Miller and the Sandpipers. The full record also includes a rarely heard recording of "The Umpire" and Yankee legendary announcer Mel Allen narrating the children's favorite, "Casey at the Bat". All three recordings can now only be heard at Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Sandpipers featuring Anne Lloyd and Mike Stewart


Cliff Edwards with Mitch Miller's Orchestra

Mitch Miller's Orchestra Conducted by Jimmy Carroll

Roy Rogers, Dale Evans & The Ranch Hands

Roy Rogers had a really good singing voice. I remember picking up a compilation Golden Recor called "Doggie Songs" and my fave tune on it was Roy with the Sandpipers extolling the virtues of "Daniel the Cocker Spaniel."

Listen to "Daniel the Cocker Spaniel."

Paul Tripp

Shari Lewis, Lamb Chop & Friends

Mike Stewart

The Golden Singers

Aside from Mike Stewart, other semi-regular singers at the label included Sally Sweetland, Mary Jane Sutherland and Peter Hanley.

Anne Lloyd (best known for songs like "The Muffin Man" and the Patti Page hit "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?") was the reigning diva at Little Golden Records.

Listen to Anne sing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"

Listen to Anne Lloyd sing "My Toothbrush Song."

Listen to Anne & The Sandpipers sing "Trick Or Treat."

Listen to Anne & The Sandpipers sing "The Muffin Man."

Rosemary Clooney's sister Betty Clooney sang on some sides backed by Miller and The Sandpipers, like "Eggbert the Easter Egg" and "Bunny Bunny Bunny." And Mae Questrel (the voice of Betty Boop) even sang on a 1951 Golden Record 78 called "Little Audrey Says" b/w "Let's Go Shopping" that I would die to have!

Listen to "Little Audrey Says."

Hot on the heels on this release, the Little Golden Records folks have released a contemporary celebrities remix called Golden Records: The Magic Continues - Celebrity Series, Vol. 1, featuring 20 classic digitally restored original recording '50s and '60s recordings combined with the voices of Alicia Silverstone, Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner, Cheryl Hines, Didi Conn, and others.

Bah! I'll take the originals, thank you very much!


eBay author trumpte134 has a very helpful Little Golden Records guide:
The Little Golden Records were orchestrated by Mitch Miller and featured the Sandpiper Singers. As their popularity increased mor stars of the times became involved including Roy Roger and Dale Evans, Art Carney, Shari Lewis, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Captain Kangaroo, and many others.

The early numbered records had a regular title and a Disney. There is no real way to tell a first edition other than by dating. The original sleeves of records 1-12 were 6 3/4 in x 8 in. and opened to show a description. There was a yellow 78 rpm record in a slot on the right. These records were released in 1948 and showed a bout 3/4 of the yellow circle showing information about the record.

The sleeve format changed in 1949. They measured 7 1/2in x 6 3/4 in and the opening for the record was at the top. Record color was still yellow and they were 78's. Yellow circle on the sleeve describing the record was still present but lines were added. The picutures on the sleeves were basic with a solid background with several characters or pictures from the little golden book on them.

The original titles had just a number, the Disney Title had a D before the number.

Between 1949 and 1950's the record sleeve graphics were improved and covered most of the sleeve. Between 1950-1951 an 'R' was added to the numbers of the regular series and the Disney series 'RD'. In 1952 the yellow label on the sleeve was replaced with a 3in logo and in 1954 it was reduced to a quarter size.

In 1956, Extended play records were released and contained Three Little Golden Records on one record. The prefix was 'EP' and Golden Mother Goose was the first produced and numbered EP317. They were yellow 45 rpms, and were quickly changed to black. In 1956 the records were sold as yellow 78's and black 45's. The 45s normally had a banner down the right side saying it was a 45. The 78's were 6 in and the 45's 7 in.

After 1959, number prefixes were no longer used for regular records. The EPs still contain the number prefix. The prefixes started being dropped around number 471 and were completely gone by 490. The last numbered Little Golden Record was #777 Row, Row, Row your Boat in 1964. After this time they were no longer called Little Golden Records.


Related Links:
Little Golden Records (Facebook)
Gala Goldentones Records

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Josef K - "Entomology" *****

Josef K
(Domino, 2006)

The Players:
Paul Haig - Guitar & Vocals
Malcolm Ross - Guitar, Violin
David Weddell - Bass
Ronnie Torrance - Drums

My score of the week was finding this used copy of Josef K's entire recorded history for $5 at Soundgarden. I remembered reading about Josef K in Simon Reynolds' book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 in his chapter on Scottish postpunk bands, and I liked the song "Sense of Guilt," which Reynolds included on the import companion CD compilation to his book ("Sense of Guilt" also appeared on the 1987 Josef K reissue album Young and Stupid).

Watch Josef K play "Sense of Guilt."

So I took a chance - and I'm glad I did, because this is one of the great lost Scottish postpunk bands of that era. Josef K were an Edinburgh band on the otherwise Glasgow-based Postcard Records label ("The Sound of Young Scotland!"), though one that didn't make it as big as their roster mates Orange Juice or Aztec Camera. But they should have, as anyone listening to this CD will agree. The Josef K sound is cold, nervous and angular, awash with trebly, spasmotic guitars, synth pops, electronic drums and effects, over which singer Paul Haig's voice (or "existentialist croon" in Reynolds' words) alternates between Ian Curtis droning and skittish Tom Verlaine/David Byrne bleating.

And on a personal level, listening to this CD was like getting a musical snapshot of a particular sound I remembered well from 1980, when postpunk perched perilously on the precipice of pretension and preciousness. (As Positive Noise's Ross Middleton once quipped, “There is only one thing worse than being pretentious and that’s not being pretentious!”) They remind me not only of Joy Division, Bauhaus, Television, Talking Heads, Gang of Four and all those other reigning leaders of the smartypants indierock intelligentsia who wore long trenchcoats and/or overly serious demeanors (as if suffering from acid reflux), but even Baltimore's "New Wave" players of the time like Null Set, The Accused and N.E.M.B. (Non Erotic Male Bonding). (God knows I can certainly imagine Mark Renner of Boys In the River loving these guys, though he always was a Skids man first and foremost!)

In the wake of punk's collapse, it seemed that bands nixed the fast and furious for the nuanced and nerdy - creating music that had charms to sooth the proverbial savage breast. Frontmen started name-checking books and art, and guitars seemed get less aggro and more nervous and angular, screetchily cutting sharp corners as if strummed by architects instead of brutes. Reynolds describes Josef K's distinctive guitar sounds as follows:
Inspired by Talking Heads 77 and the brittle clangor of Subway Sect, Josef K tried to get their guitars to sound as "toppy" as they could. Says Ross, "It was just a matter of avoiding distortion and turning the treble up full. We liked playing really fast rhythms, and you needed a really sharp sound for those to work. Using distortion meant you'd lose the effect." Coiled and keen, barbed and wired, Ross's and Haig's guitars caroomed off the fastfunk groove churned up bassist Davy Weddell and drummer Ronnie Torrance. "In the very early days, it was just me playing guitar with Ronnie drumming up in his attic," says Haig. "Ronnie'ed always follow my rhythm guitar and we carried that on into Josef K. He'd never listen to the bass, like drummers are supposed to." The resulting "strange chemistry" between Torrance's all-out exuberance nd the abrasive flurry of the guitars gave Josef K their frenetic momentum.

Some fans see Josef K as yet another example of a great Scots band who (like early Orange Juice, The Fire Engines, and The Monochrome Set) set the template for Franz Ferdinand - in fact, FF are thanked profusely in the liner notes for their efforts in helping Entomology see the light of day. In fact, Josef K was actually discovered by Orange Juice's Steven Daly, who quit OJ for a while to start his own label, Absolute. In Edinburgh he met Malcolm Ross, who was then playing guitar in a group called TV Art (Ross: "We were called TV Art just 'cos we wanted to get the word 'Art' in there, and 'TV' for the modernity"), and convinced him to change their name to that of the protagonist in Franz Kafka's The Trial. Name-dropping an existential literature classic obviously appealed to Ross, who admitted, “We liked to read European literature and go to art exhibitions."

Indeed, books seemed to shape Josef K as much as music, and Reynolds cites not only the obvious Kafka influence but also Camus, Hesse, Doestoyevsky, and Knut Hamsun. They weren't alone, as Edinburgh became the home of a fledgling postpunk literatti scene.

"There was a certain period in Edinburgh when all the New Wave bands were into reading," Haig told Reynolds. "Davy Henderson from The Fire Engines, Ross Middleton from Positive Noise, Richard Jobson from the Skids, you'd always see them with a book in their pocket." As for himself, Haig admitted "Reading gave me so many ideas for lyrics. In those days I never thought about politics for one second, I was only trying to project thoughts about the human condition. Orange Juice were into a different kind of literature. Edwyn would be reading Catcher in the Rye while we'd be reading The Trial. That explains a lot about the difference between the bands!"

Josef K. would go on to form an alliance with Orange Juice, with the bands supporting each other on tours and sharing a similarity in sound and mission.
Like Orange Juice, Josef K had a a clean image (sharp, monochrome syuits from thrift stores) and a clean sound. Both groups shared a penchant for the cerebral side of American punk, groups such as Television, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, the Voidoids...And, like Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, Josef K were considered (in Mark E. Smith's term) "New Puritans" - which was kind of like the "straight-edge hardcore" of its time. They frowned on drugs, drinking, and laddishness (though speed was OK, as it had Mod street cred!). - (Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again)

Mod's aesthetic of being alert and in control was also attractive for its fashion. "I was interested in the original mod movement," Rossi said. "That was an influence on us wearing suits."

But both Haig and Ross also shared a love for Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, the obligatory signposts for intelligent American art-rock.

"I first met Paul at secondary school aged twelve," Malcolm Ross recalled in Rip It Up. "All four of us were at Fir Hill. But me and Paul only became friends when we were leaving school. It was punk that made us into a tight clique. We were aware of each other before because we were all Lou Reed fans."

Haig claims he had a musical ephiphany at age 12 when he first heard “Walk on the Wild Side” on the wireless. "I sat next to my parent’s radiogram and I thought ‘this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.’ I went out and got the Velvets albums. I was also into Bowie very early on, from ‘Space Oddity.’ There was one fantastic music press cover story, Melody Maker probably - ‘Lou Bops Bowie Out’. They had a row in a restaurant and Reed punched Bowie. ”

But another obvious reference point for the young Scots was Joy Division. Josef K's second Postcard single "It's Kinda Funny" (May 1980) was a allegedly a response to Ian Curtis' suicide; indeed, its funereal, plodding bass and drum intro practically screams Joy Division.

Watch a fan-made music video for "It's Kinda Funny" that uses footage from Orson Welles' film The Trial (thus referencing Josef K, Welles, and Kafka all in one!).

Josef K's place in Postpunk History: It's Kinda Blurry

Ian Curtis' demise wasn't the only celebrity death to fascinate Haig, who wrote "Final Request" about the tragically short life of Marilyn Monroe ("All those pills you took, can never ease the pain").

Listen to "Final Request."

Etymology's 22-tracks represent the first time anything Josef K-related has been released across the Pond, with half of the tracks taken from Sorry for Laughing (a 1980 album that initially didn't make it past the test-pressing phase) and The Only Fun in Town (a 1981 album that featured some re-recordings of Sorry for Laughing material), while the remainder includes their early Postcard singles ("Radio Drill Time," "It's Kind of Funny"), a 1981 BBC session for John Peel - and a surprising cover of Alice Cooper's "Applebush" (from 1969's Pretties for You LP)!

Listen to Josef K's cover of "Applebush."

It would be redundant for me to review this disc track by track, because Stephen Trousse's Pitchfork review (12-15-2006) has already captured it so perfectly:
Somebody must have been telling lies about Josef K, because in the quarter-century since they splintered they've been so diversely mythologized, lionized, and revered you might believe there were actually four or five groups on Scotland's early 80s postpunk scene who just happened to share the same name. For starters there was the Postcard version, label boss Alan Horne's vision of the group as the neat Edinburgh spirit to spike the sparkling Glasgow pop of Orange Juice. Then there's Paul Morley's account (reprised in his sleevenotes here): If OJ were a New York band who formed in Glasgow, then JK were a Manchester band who'd been dislocated to Edinburgh-- troubled heirs of Joy Division, stylish peers of Magazine. Then, of course, there's the sharp-suited puritans you might read about in the works of Kevin Pearce, the mod missing link between the crooning Vic Godard and the shambling June Brides. And that's just a step away from the twee indie-pop slant: Josef K as the jagged romantics who essentially invented the Wedding Present. And more recently there's been the Franz Ferdinand angle: Josef K as the band who dreamt up the smartly spiky pop that married the stark expressionism of CBGBs to a suave Frank Sinatra sigh before the Strokes were even struck.

Domino have profited greatly from the success of this last invocation, so it's to their credit that they've issued this terrific 22-track introduction to Josef K-- remarkably, the first time the group's work has been properly available in the U.S. It takes us from the 1980s Postcard single "Radio Drill Time" through generous selections from the abandoned album Sorry for Laughing and the actual debut The Only Fun in Town, before concluding with their parting 1981 Peel Sessions and a strangely successful cover of Alice Cooper's "Applebush". In part, it's the misfiring brevity of their career-- barely two years from debut to farewell-- that encourages the proliferation of Josef K myth. Disbanded in their prime before they grew stale or flat, they still feel pregnant with promise, tantalizingly unfinished; like an actor cut down in youth, they've remained an irresistible lure to the imagination of pop romantics ever since.

On the two Postcard singles released in winter 1980 you can hear a young group trying to struggle out of the shadow of Joy Division, away from the post-punk abyss of Ian Curtis's suicide earlier that year. "Radio Drill Time" is an urgent, slightly gauche stab at a Martin Hannett soundworld, all martial drums, a reverbed scree of guitars, and startling electronic bleeps, with the usual suspects of JD iconography -- trance, radios, motorways -- rounded up one last time; as Paul Haig wails nervily, "it's the wrong place to start." "It's Kind of Funny", issued just two months later, shows real progress and the beginnings of a distinctive Josef K voice: Haig now croons swoonily of existential futility-- Sinatra meets Sartre via the Subway Sect-- while Malcolm Ross and the band hit on a groove like Tom Verlaine slashing through "Pale Blue Eyes".

But the real draw here are the six selections from Sorry For Laughing -- the debut album that should have been released at the start of 1981 as the momentum of The Sound of Young Scotland hype built to a head, but was instead mysteriously shelved, apparently after thousands of copies had already been produced. You could easily believe this was one of Horne's gloriously perverse, self-defeating bids for pop immortality-- an instant great lost classic (and a steady income stream from supposedly rare test pressings). More prosaically, it's possible that the group were intimidated by the furious energy and intensity brewing within fellow Edinburghers the Fire Engines and felt their recordings now seemed too prim, poised, and proper in comparison. As it survives, the album sees the group expanding into a kind of postpunk art rock: "Heads Watch" is a kissing cousin of Magazine's "Shot by Both Sides" while "Variations on a Scene" unfurls into a low-slung and slinky arrangement for piano, flute, and arcade game electronics. But it also suggests a possible New Pop future for the group, producing the kind of kosmische kabaret that kindred spirits the Associates were to take briefly and brilliantly to the top of the charts (as it happened, the closest we would get to this ideal was Propaganda's stately synth-pop cover of "Sorry For Laughing" in 1985).

The eventual debut, The Only Fun in Town, was recorded in six days in a Belgian studio in an attempt to capture their live clangor but released in July 81 to abysmal reviews from their most ardent fans: Morley wrote in the NME: "I am appalled…Josef K have cheapened themselves and cheated the world". Heard now TOFiT is certainly no disaster-- there's an unhinged vigor to "Fun'n'Frenzy" and "16 Years" that has proved incredibly influential over two decades of British indie-- but there's an inescapable falling off in intrigue, with all the mystery, wit, and languor reduced to bright, brittle blasts of alienation.

This most abstemious of groups was to split within the year, after a taste of the promotional treadmill beat any remaining idealism out of them: Haig to an intermittently fascinating solo career on the dark side of the croon, Ross to a more commercial incarnation of Orange Juice, and Weddell and Torrance to join a youthful Momus in the Happy Family.

Post-split, Ross not only joined Orange Juice, but and also spent some time with Aztec Camera, while Haig's solo career branched off into disco-funk experimentaion; he eventually ended up working with artists like Alan Rankine, The Associates' Billy Mackenzie, Cabaret Voltaire, and Mantronix.

Along with Fire Engines, Orange Juice, The Associates, Altered Images, Scars, Simple Minds, Aztec Camera, and Cocteau Twins, Josef K were truly standouts of the "Sounds of Young Scotland" postpunk era. And though they lasted a scant two years from start to finish, there was nothing watered down in their driving sound, which Allmusicguide's Andy Kellman likened to "brief, spastic shards of over-caffeinated post-punk with skittish vocals on the verge of spinning out of control."

"Having virtually no ancestors (bar a trace of Television and the VU), Josef K fittingly left no progeny (unless you count the June Brides)," Reynolds reflects, considering Josef K's standing in postpunk history. "But these reissues will ensure that JK will "forever drone."

Or as Trousseau concludes, "The cover and insecty title of this anthology alludes to the source of the group's name in Kafka, but also carries an elusive allusion to Manny Farber inventing Termite Art back in 1962: "the concentration on nailing down one moment without glamorizing it …forgetting this accomplishment as soon as it has been passed; the feeling that all is expendable, that it can be chopped up and flung down in a different arrangement without ruin."Entomology is exemplary termite art: A brief moment and a handful of songs that have burrowed industriously through the soil of the last twenty years, while so many white elephants have fallen ponderously away, and now finally come triumphantly to light.

*** More Josef K Videos/Music:***

Listen to "Radio Drill Time."

Watch/listen to "Sorry For Laughing."

Listen to "Variation of Scene."

Listen to "Chance Meeting."

Listen to "Crazy To Exist."

Listen to "Drone."

Listen to "Fun 'n' Frenzy."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Shirkers

"Drunk and Disorderly" b/w "Suicide"
(Limp 003, 1978)

Serendipity. This great word, whose etymology I learned from Joseph Campbell (it's from the Arabized/Anglicized form of the Sanskrit word for the island of Sri Lanka, which was the inspiration for the Persian fairy tale "The Three Princes of Serendip" - whose heroic trio had a number of adventures by chance), accounts for me coming across this obscure (to a Baltimorean) single by a DC band - while surfing the 'net for info about yet another band!

Both of these trash-punk songs are great (the A-side was later covered by DC punk rockers Black Market Baby), but what blew me away when I started poking around the Internet to read more about this band was the realization that their bass player was none other than Libby Hatch...

Libby Hatch

...who co-wrote "Drunk and Disorderly" and went on to join Tru Fax & The Insaniacs in 1980 with drummer Michael Mariotte, guitarist David Wells (not to be confused with the former MLB pitcher), and singer-guitarist Diana Quinn. Tru Fax were one of my favorite bands, and their classic "Washingtron"/"Mystery Date" single never wears out its welcome on my phono player.

Tru Fax single (Wasp Records, 1980)

I was good friends with Libby Hatch dating back to my daze playing in Thee Katatonix, and maintained a pen-pal correspondence with her for several years in the pre-Email/texting/Instant Messenger/Facebook era. Libby was a graphic designer by day and I used to look forward to her stylishly decorated letters, always adorned with cool rubber stamp and sticker designs; one of her designs later became her business card slogan - "Turn Adversity Into Adventure" (a slogan I never forgot and continue to quote to this day). I remember Libby being upset by Katatonix frontman Adolf Kowalski's lewd comments about her breasts after we played some gig with Tru Fax, and had to explain to her that he was just playing up to his laddish punk-provocateur persona (what Joseph Campbell, to cite him again, would call his performer's "mask") and meant no harm.

Dance of Days

Libby's boyfriend was Mark Jenkins, the Washington City Paper writer who went on to co-write (with Mark Andersen) the definitive history of the DC punk scene of that period, Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital.

But I lost touch with Libby after '81 and was therefore shocked to read that she died in a motorcycle accident in 1998. (I guess I should have read the introduction to Dance of Days, wherein Jenkins wrote, "My work on this book is dedicated to the memory of Libby Hatch.") R.I.P., Elizabeth Denison Hatch (February 26, 1955 - December 6, 1998).

The other Shirkers were noteworthy players as well. Guitarist Thomas Kane was Slickee Boy Kim's brother, who went on play with The Dark and the Velvet Monkees, while drummer Jeff Zang banged the skins in Kim Kane's side project Date Bait. The lead singer was Steven "Stiv" Bailer, with Liz DuMais handling the other guitar and (along with Libby Hatch) backing vocals.

The single was produced by Howard Wuelfing (of Slickee Boys, Nurses fame).

Black Market Baby's Boyd Farrell said this of "Drunk and Disorderly":
I always loved this record since the first time I heard it in the late 70′s…My band Black Market Baby recorded and released a 7″ version of it in 1986 on the very same label (Limp records)…The Shirkers played one show and released one single and then broke up (true punks!!)..Libby Hatch was the bass player for the Shirkers, she co-wrote the song and sang the high pitched backup vocals in the chorus…Libby was a friend of ours and gave us her blessing to record it. She later went on to play with another well known DC band from the early 80′s, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs…Sadly Libby died in a motorcycle accident several years ago..I think both versions of the song are an excellent tribute to a great lady…Libby Hatch…

Wow, Farrell's recollection that The Shirkers having only played one show and released one single before breaking up must set some sort of record for one-and-done musical productivity. What an amazing story!

According to the Black Market Baby web site, the bass that Libby Hatch played on the "Drunk and Disorderly" was bought by Keith Campbell and given to Mike Donegan, who played it on their version, which was released on Yesterday and Today Records in July 1990.

Black Market Baby pay tribute

Skip Groff of Limp Records and Rockville's legendary-albeit-no-longer-bricks-&-mortar record store Yesterday and Today Records released a 30th anniversary re-issue of this classic 7″ on marble vinyl (top side LIMP 666 cover, flip side DACOIT 999 cover) in 2008. (To order, see Yesterday and Today Records.) The Shirkers also appear on the The Best of Limp (...Rest of Limp) vinyl compilation record. According to a reviewer at Hyped2Death Records, Best of Limp's version of "Drunk and Disorderly" features a "cleaner but almost guitar-free remix" of the single's "wall-of-mud" sound.

"Best of Limp" compilation record

Hyped2Death Records has released both the Shirkers' and Black Market Baby's versions of "Drunk and Disorderly" on their Homework "U.S. D.I.Y." ("low-budget, home-made or just cool and strange...Artwave, punk-wave, experimental, post-punk, No Wave") compilation CD-R series representing the golden years of American DIY, 1977-1984. The Shirkers appear on Hyped to Death #2 CD-R: North American punk "S" 77-85, while the Black Market Baby version of "Drunk and Disorderly" turns up on Hyped to Death #5 CD-R: North American punk bands 1976-1984: A & B (aka Homework #104).

Hyped2Death CD-Rs

This is a great series, like everything in Hyped2Death's catalog. The Village Voice's Jason Gross called the series "...a better sociological study of white boys gone cuckoo than Lord of the Flies or Kids." (The series also apparently samples cuts from the local music compilation records Best of Baltimore's Buried and :30 Over D.C. for tracks by The Alcoholics, 1/2 Japanese, Nurses, Velvet Monkeys, and Da Moronics.)

For a band that was gone quicker than a New York minute, The Shirkers are amply represented on record and (thanks to mp3s) on the 'net, ensuring that the memory of Libby Hatch lives on forever.

Watch "Drunk and Disorderly" (YouTube)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jackson C. Frank

Jackson C. Frank's eponymous 1965 album

One of my favorite movies last year was Sean Durkin's subtle psychological drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, which not only addressed the dangerous allure of cults but also introduced many viewers (like me) to obscure '60s folksinger Jackson C. Frank. Two of Frank's songs appear in the film: a cover version of "Marcy's Song" (performed by actor John Hawkes - formerly guitarist "John Boy Perkins" in legendary Austin, Texas band Meat Joy - who also wrote and strummed "Bred and Buttered" for the soundtrack of Debra Granik's 2010 indie hit Winter's Bone) and "Marlene" (which plays over the end credits).

Director Durkin himself only discovered Frank after Googling the Internet for songs matching the names "Marcy" and "Marlene" and finding, as if by fate, "Marcy's Song" and "Marlene" as back-to-back album cuts on Frank's lone eponymous 1965 album, Jackson C. Frank (rereleased in 1978 as Jackson Frank Again). (For a less-creepy movie, Durkin could have used Todd Rundgren's "Marlene," the first Marlene song I think of - but that's just me being a Todd toaster.)

Talking about his movie's soundtrack to Sight & Sound magazine, Durkin explained, "I always try to find ways to show an emotion without having to hear someone talk. I thought playing a song named after Martha - supposedly named after her - would be a way to do it. They're ["Marcy's Song" and "Marlene"] rather beautiful songs, but they're very painful too, underneath the surface."

Watch John Hawkes play "Marcy's Song."

Jonathan Romney, writing in Sight & Sound, describes the importance of John Hawkes' rendition of this song to the film's narrative. In a crucial scene, Hawkes' character Patrick - the charismatic-but-manipulative leader of a rural community of outsiders (the word "cult" is never uttered in the film) - plays the song for Martha, whom he has rechristened "Marcy May."
Like Manson - who was a songwriter, or at least managed to persuade The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson that he was one - he also has a way with a tune. In a memorable scene, Patrick - who, as incarnated by Hawkes, resembles Bruce Springsteen on a hunger strike - charms the newly renamed Martha with a song supposedly just for her...As performed by Patrick, this sweet, contemplative number becomes at once coy and sinister in its reduction of its love object to a lifeless image: "Well, she's just a picture." Frank's starker "Marlene," played over the end credits, is no less unsettling.

Listen to Jackson C. Frank play "Marlene."

In terms of tone, Frank's voice reminds me of the dark, smokey timbres of Richard Thompson. No wonder Frank eventually found his way to be involved with Sandy Denny, erstwhile singer with Thompson's Fairport Convention.

How obscure was Frank? Well, his Wikipedia entry reads: "Jackson Carey Frank (March 2, 1943 - March 3, 1999) was an American folk musician. Although he released only one official album in his lifetime and never achieved much commercial success, he is reported to have influenced several better-known singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon and Nick Drake."

In fact, Paul Simon produced Frank's album back when the pair were playing the folk club circuit in England. Frank was allegedly so introverted during the recording sessions that he asked to be shielded by screens so that Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Al Stewart (who also attended the recording) could not see him. The album's most famous track, "Blues Run the Game," was later covered by Simon and Garfunkel (it appears as a bonus track on the 2001 CD reissue of The Sounds of Silence), Bert Jansch, Counting Crows, and even privately recorded by fellow introvert Nick Drake (look for it on the 2007 compilation CD of home recordings Family Tree).

Listen to S&G play "Blues Run the Game."

Here's Bert Jansch's rendition of "Blues Run the Game."

And here's Nick Drake's take on "Blues Run the Game."

Another Frank song, "Milk and Honey," appeared in Vincent Gallo's film The Brown Bunny, and was also covered by Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and Sandy Denny (whom Frank dated for a while).

Listen to Jackson C. Frank play "Milk and Honey."

Frank's life was truly a hard-luck story. According to Wikipedia, Frank took a trip to New York City in 1984 "in a desperate bid to locate Paul Simon, but he ended up sleeping on the sidewalk." Living on the street and frequently admitted and discharged from various institutions, he was treated for paranoid schizophrenia and later was shot in the eye and blinded while sitting on a bench in Queens. He died of pneumonia and cardiac arrest in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on March 3, 1999, at the age of 56.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Della & The Detectives - "Drake on the Move"

"Donald Dearest" b/w "Drake on the Move" - 7" single
Della & The Detectives
(Travesty Records, 1984)

White hair, checkered coat, bulge on his cigarette pack
Shadowing the shadows at the corner of the depot
And chasing through the railroad track
Cut out, put your butt out, music up and dissolve
Drake on the move...

This past weekend, I busied myself getting a bunch of my vinyl records digitized so I could make some mix CDs. One of them was this 7-inch B-side written by P. O'Leary and credited to Della and the Detectives about Perry Mason's right-hand man, Paul Drake (played by Hedda "the Hat" Hopper's son William Hopper in the television series based on Erle Stanley Gardner's mystery novels) - the rakish P.I. with the silver hair and pinky ring who always checks and rechecks "every possible lead, every possible angle, and every possible possibility" for Perry so he can once again humiliate Hamilton Burger (TV Land's losingest district attorney) in court. (The Dave Nuttycombe-penned A-side "Donald Dearest" is a tabloid confessional spoof in which a bitter Huey Duck accuses his uncle of abuse.)

William Hopper as Paul Drake

As the Eccentric Roadside blog raved, "Paul Drake is REALLY cool. A big, barrel-chested P.I. with prematurely silver hair in a checkered sportcoat smoking a Winston and driving a T-Bird. He's got his own private back entrance to Perry's office, always sits on the edge of Perry's desk and greets Della with an ever so suave "Hiya, beautiful" (she usually just rolls her eyes back at him)." And (like Warron Zevon's pina colada-drinking werewolf of London), his hair was perfect.

Yet, as the folks at the Thrilling Detective web site lament, despite being "one of the most enduring hardboiled private eyes of all time...he has never been the lead, always playing second fiddle to his famous client." Della and her Detectives try to right that slight, and it's the only musical homage I've ever heard to the legendary head of the Drake Detective Agency.

"Drake on the Move" was a Dr. Demento favorite, though "Della and the Detectives" was actually the work of Washington, D.C.'s Travesty, Ltd comedy ensemble. If my memory serves me well (it usually doesn't), I believe this 7-inch single came inside Travesty, Ltd.'s Teen Comedy Party LP (Used Records, 1983), which featured the final performance of the Starland Vocal Band (famous for 1976's #1 one-hit wonder "Afternoon Delight").

Travesty, Ltd.'s "Teen Comedy Party" album

Out-of-print copies of the original '80s album sell for as much as $45 on the Internet, though in 2000 Travesty, Ltd. released an updated, 40-track CD version of it. One of the skits from this album, "Rock and Roll Doctor," ended up on two Dr. Demento albums and the box set The Greatest Novelty Recordings of All Time.

I think I got my album courtesy of Dave Nuttycombe back in the days when I reviewed music for various publications. The Wheaton, MD-based Nuttycombe was a Travesty alumnus (he wrote "Rock and Roll Doctor," for which the Travesty boys still receive royalty checks from Rhino Records), as well as a Langley Punks/Travesty Films alum (P.G. County's legendary screwball guerilla filmmakers who screened a retrospective of their works at the AFI Silver Theatre as recently as last June 2011 - not to mention previous screenings on Count Gore De Vol's Creature Feature television show - see "Gore Meets the Langley Punks"), Washington City Paper webmeister, and curator of the award-winning ("Best Humor Award," Washington Post) cassette tape Cheap Stories, which featured the best parts of the worst "adult" novels of the '40s, '50s and '60s, read to the accompaniment of "smokey bongo jazz" and the tenor sax stylings of Ron Holloway (veteran sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, Root Boy Slim, Susan Tedeshi, among others).

Speaking of Ron Holloway, his sax is put to great use on "Drake On the Move," as his wild solo riffing at the end plays a clever variation on the Perry Mason theme song. There is no information about any other musicians appearing on "Drake On the Move"; the Teen Comedy Party album credits Jane Raftery, Laura First and Mary Forbes as The Travesty Singers, so I wonder if they were also the voices behind Della and the Detectives (or was it the gals from Starland Vocal Band? Anybody know?)

I also wonder if the writing credit for "P. O'Leary" is a typo for B. O'Leary, as Bill O'Leary was one of the Travesty, Ltd. comedy ensemble.

The song samples some great Perry Mason soundbites, ending with Raymond Burr saying "Paul Drake just left" followed by Paul Drake's quizzical response, "I did?"

Watch & listen to "Drake on the Move."

Paul Drake Lives!
According to the Travesty-Brand Fine Products web store, you can still buy this 7-inch vinyl single (as well as other products) by sending a check or money order in the amount of $5.00 + $2.50 payable to: West Production Services, Inc., P.O. Box 2810, Merrifield, VA 22116.

"Paul Drake just left." "I did???"


The Langley Punks/Travesty crew (Pat Carroll, Jim Phalen, Bob Young, Larry Zabel, Bill O'Leary, Tom Welsh, Rich West, Don Hogan, and Dave Nuttycombe) clearly knew their classic cult television history, and not just Perry Mason. Back in 1984, they made a cable TV pilot for The Travesty Show, a period throwback to The Honeymooners replete with gag commercials and black-and-white kinescope video look. DC's Wanktones (a Slickee Boys rockabilly side project) even made an appearance on the show, as shown in the YouTube clip below:

Mark Noone of The Wanktones on "The Travesty Show"

Watch The Wanktones on "The Travesty Show."

Root Boy Slim and Ron Holloway also made cameos on The Travesty Show, as shown in the video clip below:

Watch Root Boy Slim on "The Travesty Show."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interrobang - "Sex Obsession" 12"

"Who's selling all their Mark Harp records???"

!?/Interrobang 12"
Sex Obsession/We Have the House Surrounded (Harp-DeJong)
(Big Man Music, 1989)

"Best Local Single" - City Paper, 1989

On Saturday, Amy Linthicum once again scored another vinyl record by her ex-husband, the sorely missed guitar legend and all-around musical genius Mark "Harpo" Harp (born Mark Linthicum, 1957-2004), when she found this mint condition, sealed 12-inch single in the local music bin of Normal's Books & Music in Waverly. "Who's selling all their Mark Harp stuff?," Amy wondered out loud.

She well remembered this record, dating from Harp's Interrobang days in the late '80s when, like many others in that synth-friendly era, he put down his guitar and started playing with various electronic toys and gizmos. 12-inch extended play Electro Pop dance records were the lingua franca of the decade, and Harp was an early fan and subsequent master of the medium, which emphasized big beats and repetition of simple lyrics, often mixed with sampled soundbites; in many ways they were the precursor to today's even more extended and sophisticated digital mash-ups.

"Interrobang" was the moniker Harp gave his collaborations with Mike DeJong when the two were messing around in his living room learning about sampling and beatboxes. Released as a (size matters!) 12" in 1989 on the (size matters!) Big Man label, the A-side "Sex Obsession" was named "Best Local Single" by the Baltimore City Paper "and got some airplay somewhere."

Sex Obsessed: "Peyton Place"

Not only size but length matters on the 12" A-side, which goes on for 8 plus minutes as the boys sample heavy from what Amy recalls was the 1960s TV series Peyton Place (the classic ABC melodrama that, inspired by the Brit soap Coronation Street, ran from 1964-1969 and launched the careers of Ryan O'Neal and Mia Farrow, among others). That would explain the references to "Mike" (Dr. Michael Ross, played by Ed Nelson) - "Is that you Mike?" "Oh, it's you Mike!" - and the obsession with, well, sex. Like the 1956 book and 1957 film of Peyton Place, the television series was considered sex-obsessed for its times, though the more controversial issues in the novel, such as incest, gave way to less scandalous plots like, oh, teen pregnancy.

"Sex? Yes! Mike? No!...Sex? No Mike - it's impossible!" - I'm sure Harp enjoyed this little injoke with Mike DeJong, who when not sampling sounds played keyboards and sax in too many Harp bands to remember. The song ends with the musicians' laughter drowning out the PP samples "Do you love me? That's impossible!" and "Sex? That's ridiculous!"

On the web site 24 Hours w/Mark Harp, Harp himself described the B-side "We Have the House Surrounded" as "Me and Mike DeJong in the living room learning about samplers and stuff." It starts off with a voice announcing "This is high fidelity," a sample taken off one of the many stereo demonstration records he collected. It then starts sounding like a bass-heavy Art of Noise big beat percussion workout, with Harp intoning "We have the house surrounded/Come out with your hands up" in what Amy characterizes as his charmingly thick "Bawlmer accent." Thematically, "We Have the House Surrounded" seems of a piece with another Harp law enforcement song, 1991's rap-parody "Cop Killer" - the latter one of the rare ditties featuring his then-wife Amy on sampled vocals (she alternates between letting loose blood-curdling screams and querying "Really?").

Related Links:
Normal's Books & Records
24 Hours w/Mark Harp
"Sex Obsession" mp3
"We Have the House Surrounded" mp3

Monday, January 30, 2012

Buzzcocks - "A Different Compilation" (*****)

A Different Compilation
(Cooking Vinyl, 2011)


Pete Shelley: “The original records now sound like demos. These new versions, honed by years on the road, showcase the songs as we know they should be, the way we know audiences love to hear them.”

Steve Diggle: “What were songs of sophisticated innocence are now songs of experience. ‘Harmony In My Head’ and ‘Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore’ now have a full panoramic view!”


Founding Buzzcocks Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have taken their most popular songs over the last 30+ years and not just remastered or updated or played them live; rather, they've gone back to the studio to rerecord their back catalogue to showcase what the songs sound like now as played by the contempo 'cocks: Shelley, Diggle, bassist (and Steve Winwood lookalike) Chris Remmington and drummer Danny Farrant.

That said, I always thought Buzzcocks got it right the first time round - the songs represented here are as good as it gets in terms of punk-pop music and lyrically the sonnets of Manchester's Shelley are always reliably clever when they're not being downright brilliant (typical verbal gem from "Whatever Happened To?": "Your emotions are a compact case you carry") - leading to the inevitable question: Why buy these songs again?

The answer is twofold. The main reason to buy A Different Compilation (the first new Buzzcocks release since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy) is to experience what a Buzzcocks concert 30+ years later sounds like - which is still GREAT! All the excitement of a live show recorded with today's technology. Pete's voice is basically the same and Diggle's guitarmanship has only gotten better, and both guitars are beefed up with that Green Day Dookie-wall-of-sound metallic k.o. that kids today totally dig. The second reason is, well, this really is a different kind of compilation, one in which the "older, wiser" 'cocks can offer variations on their time-tested themes. An added riff here (like the wacka-wacka backbeat strumming on "Why Can't I Touch It?"), an extended solo there (e.g., "I Believe"). Even Buzzcocks tire of playing their greatest hits the same way every night and variety, that spice of life, keeps it interesting for them as well.

Steve Diggle gets to showcase seven of his songs, as well as two collaborations with Shelley ("Promises," "Fast Cars"), including adding a little Stuart Adamson-flavored electric guitar riff to the mostly acoustic closer "Love Is Lies," which makes it sound now like a Big Country song. The new recording of "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" is particularly inspired, while the beefed up guitars in "Autonomy" and "Harmony In My Head" lend these hard-rocking Diggle ditties a Wagnerian sturm und drang epic-ness. And the rerecording of "Alive Tonight" (the song celebrating "armchair groovers"!) marks at least the third time Diggle's recorded this one (it was originally released on 1991's Alive Tonight EP as a Stone Roses-influenced slice of neo-psychedelia, followed by the grunged-up 1993 Trade Test Transmissions album version).

And then there's Shelley's masterpiece "I Believe." The last "great" single from the (1978-1980) golden era Buzzcocks is here turned into a virtual set-closing jam session, with Diggle and Shelley's guitars duking it out for an extended three minute solo, with Chris Remmington and Danny Farrant both getting solos as well. That's new and certainly worth hearing - I would have made it the last song on the CD, but Diggle's acoustic "Love Is Lies" works well as a catch-you-breath cooldown after I Believe"'s guitar workout, kind of like The Beatles's "Her Majesty" on Abbey Road.

My only quibble with the compilation is the absence of a decent recording of my fave Buzzcocks song "Times Up," which was one of the four original recordings released on their 1977 Spiral Scratch EP. But two other spiral scratches, "Breakdown" and "Boredom," are showcased here and have never sounded better.

Finally, no dis to Danny Farrant, but listening to this set also reminded me that there's no substitute for original drummer John Maher. Danny Farrant is an excellent drummer, but John Mayer is arguably one of the top 5 rock drummers of all-time, one who seemed to have an extra gear when it came to lightning-fast rolls. I think he may even have had an extra limb or two that gave him the ability to beat out that extra measure in Buzzcocks songs. Still, he's gone and Farrant is probably as good a sub as possible.

The songs:
1. Boredom
2. Fast Cars
3. I Don't Mind
4. Autonomy
5. Get On Our Own
6. What Ever Happened To?
7. When Love Turns Around You
8. Why She's A Girl From The Chainstore
9. Why Can't I Touch It?
10. Alive Tonight
11. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life
12. You Say You Don't Love Me
13. Turn Of The Screw
14. Noise Annoys
15. Breakdown
16. Promises
17. Love You More
18. What Do I Get?
19. Harmony In My Head
20. Oh Shit!
21. Ever Fallen In Love (with Someone You Shouldn't've)?
22. Orgasm Addict
23. I Believe
24. Love Is Lies

Monday, January 16, 2012

Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79) *****

Various Artists
Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79)
(Rhino, D.I.Y. Series, 1993)

My MLK Day shopping score of the day (well, after nabbing the last two pairs of Medium 60-40 Cotton-Poly Blend Men's Pajamas at WalMart for my 7-fresh-PJs-per-week-wearing dad!) was this Rhino "D.I.Y." compilation of UK punk and powerpop singles from 1978-1979, which I picked up for $5.99 from the Soundgarden used record bins. I thought maybe I had it already, but he who hesitates is not only lost but also not worthy of the name "hoarder," so I took a chance and am glad I did because it turns out that all of Rhino's excellent 1993 D.I.Y. series titles are out-of-print and hence expensive and hard to come by except for used copies.

I have most of the tunes included here - as a card-carrying Punk and Powerpop enthusiast, I have everything by Buzzcocks and The Undertones and most of the other groups on vinyl 45s or albums (e.g., The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, The Jags, The Records, The Tourists - the latter featuring future Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) - so this was a score mainly for car- and boombox-listening convenience, not to mention the half dozen tracks that were truly obscure/rare and probably unavailable anywhere else but this compilation: Belfast's Starjets ("Schooldays"), Dublin's The Radiators (who no doubt resent being lumped in with "United Kingdom" bands and whose leader Phil Chevron went on to join The Pogues; "Let's Talk About the Weather"), Leeds' The Squares ("This Is Airebeat"), Manchester's The Distractions ("Time Goes By So Slow" - one of the first singles on Factory Records), Glasgow's The Zones ("Mourning Star"; Zones bassist Russell Webb and drummer Kenny Hyslop later joined The Skids), and London's Mod revivalists Purple Hearts ("Millions Like Us").

The Jags: "Back of My Hand" 45

And I really, really wanted a digital version of my Jags 45 "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number)" (UK #17) because not only is it a great powerpop song, it's also one of my favorite Telephone Songs (if only for the lines "I'm not a fuck machine, a 1960s dream" and "When I call you I get a stack of lies/You whip them out before you dry your eyes," the latter line sounding to my ears like "You wipe 'em out before you dry yer ass" thanks to singer Nick Watkinson's oft-indecipherable brogue).

Watch The Jags play "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number" (TOTP)

You see, every pre-New Millennium pop band worth its salt either had a Girl's Name Song, a Car Song, or a Phone Song in their setlist and, yes, I compile those sort of playlists (especially Phone Songs - from The Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" in the '60s to ELO's "Telephone Line" in the '70s, and Tommy Tutone's "Jenny (867-5309)" in the '80s to contemporaries like Lady Gaga's "Telephone").

The compilation takes its title from The Records' bitter anti-Record Biz rant (set to possibly the most beautifully disarming jingly-jangly 12-string guitar chords ever) "Starry Eyes," but it's another Records' tune, Will Burch's "Hearts In Her Eyes" that is of greater interest here, because we get to hear it covered by an original, 1st Gen powerpop band (then just called "Merseybeat"), Liverpool's The Searchers.

And speaking of Merseybeat, there's even an answer song to Liverpool's famed beat group-inspiring river in this anthology: "This is Airebeat" by The Squares. The Aire river runs through Leeds and though no anthemic "Ferry Cross the Airey" song emerged to rival Merseybeat's place in history, "This is Airebeat" ("This is Airebeat for deadbeats/This is Airebeat for sound freaks/Airebeat it's so neat/Airebeat keeps me off of the street") amused John Peel enough to get played on his radio show, which led Sire Records to sign the Leeds lads - Paddy Hogan (bass & vocals), Brian Hogan (guitar & backing vocals), and Kev Bates (drums, maracas, organ) - in 1979.

Listen to The Squares play "This Is Airebeat."

Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams" is a great pop song that belongs on another Rock Songs List - to wit, songs about inflatable girlfriends. Add it to the short list alongside The Police's "Be My Girl Sally" and Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music paen to the emptiness of opulence, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."

"Girl of My Dreams": Cheap, portable, lightweight & never talks back!

And, lest I forget, there's the fun single "Where's the Boy For Me" by The Revillos, the band (named after a cafe in a Marvel comic) singers Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed after the breakup of (the Jo Callis-led) Glaswegian New Wave retro-rockers The Rezillos - whose Can't Stand the Rezillos has been called by some (OK, well, by one!) The Greatest Rock & Roll Record of All-Time. (I still rue missing The Revillos when they played Baltimore's Marble Bar back in the 1980s! What could I possibly have been doing more important than that?)

Watch The Revillos play "Where's the Boy for Me?"

Needless to say, the all-femme post-punk Mo-Dettes are great fun as well, and years of enjoying "White Mice" on various punk/D.I.Y. compilations such as this led me to purchase their 2008 anthology The Story So Far, a digitally remastered reissue of their lone 1981 album plus some bonus tracks. These gals, fronted by Swiss singer Ramona Carlier (who sounds like she either has a speech impediment or is singing with a mouthful of food), were once London squatmates of Joe Strummer and Sid Vicious. Guitarist Kate Korus (nee Katherine Corris) was a Yank and an original member of The Slits, while bassist Jane Crockford went on to marry Daniel Woodgate of Madness and drummer June Miles-Kingston ended up playing with Fun Boy Three, Everything But the Girl, Thompson Twins, and The Communards. They also did a song about the Kray Twins, which would have made them OK in my book even without the gem that is "White Mice."

Watch Mo-Dettes play "White Mice."

Besides all the great music on offer, the Starry Eyes liner notes are quite nice and accurately point out the massive late '70s influence of one Elvis Costello who, though not appearing on this compilation, clearly influenced the fierce rock, rapid-fire clever wordplay, and mumbly invective of The Jags and Joe Jackson. And I like the observation that the members of XTC (whose Colin Moulding-penned "Life Begins At the Hop" appears here) "grew up to make the most quintessential English records that are loved everywhere but England."

"Starry Eyes" Tracks and Artists:

1. Ever Fallen in Love? - Buzzcocks
2. Get Over You - The Undertones
3. Yachting Types - The Yachts
4. Is She Really Going Out With Him? - Joe Jackson
5. Schooldays - Starjets (bonus track) *
6. Girl of My Dreams - Bram Tchaikovsky
7. This Is Airebeat - Squares
8. Life Begins at the Hop - XTC
9. Up the Junction - Squeeze
10. Back of My Hand (I've Got Your Number) - Jags
11. Let's Talk About the Weather - The Radiators
12. Starry Eyes - The Records
13. Mourning Star - Zones
14. Millions Like Us - Purple Hearts
15. Time Goes by So Slow - Distractions
16. Hearts in Her Eyes - The Searchers
17. Where's the Boy for Me? - Revillos
18. White Mice - Mo-Dettes (bonus track) *
19. So Good to Be Back Home Again - The Tourists

"Starry Eyed" Videos:

Watch Buzzcocks play "Ever Fallen in Love" (live).

Watch The Undertones play "Get Over You."

Watch The Records play "Starry Eyes" (live)

Watch Squeeze play "Up the Junction."

Watch XTC play "Life Begins atthe Hop" (TOTP)

Watch Joe Jackson play "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" (TOTP)

Watch Purple Hearts play "Millions Like Us."

Watch Starjets play "Schooldays."

Watch Radiators play "Let's Talk About the Weather."

Watch The Tourists play "So Good To Be Home Again" (TOTP)

Watch The Yachts play "Yachting Type."

Listen to The Searchers play "Hearts In Her Eyes."

Listen to the Distractions play "Time Goes By So Slow."

Listen to The Zones play "Mourning Star."

Listen to Bram Tchaikovsky play "Girl of My Dreams."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Graham Gouldman Thing (1968) *****

Graham Gouldman
The Graham Gouldman Thing
(BMG-UK, RCA-US, 1968)

The Players:
Graham Gouldman: vocals, acoustic and lead guitars
John Paul Jones: bass
Clem Cantini: drums

The Capsule Description Thing: The Graham Gouldman Thing was the debut album by singer and songwriter Graham Gouldman. Gouldman had already written hit singles for Herman's Hermits ("No Milk Today" and "Listen People"), the Yardbirds ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Evil Hearted You"), the Hollies ("Look Through Any Window," "Bus Stop") and Wayne Fontana ("Pamela, Pamela", "The Impossible Years") and on this album Gouldman delivered his own versions of some of those songs as well as other new compositions. Gouldman, who would later become a founding member of 10cc, recorded the album at Olympic Studios in London, a studio that would later be extensively used by Led Zeppelin. It was recorded with the assistance of John Paul Jones and Eddie Kramer, both of whom would also achieve considerable success with Led Zeppelin. All songs composed by Graham Gouldman.


"From behind the counter of a gents' outfitters shop in a grimy Manchester suburb to a place in the front rank of the world's leading songwriters in three years. This is the achievement of Graham Gouldman - six feet, rangy and dreamy-eyed...There are many great artists who have paid tribute to Gouldman by recording his music...Citations and reviews also pay tribute to the melodic invention and distinctive style of what has become known as the Graham Gouldman Thing." - Original sleeve note, 1968


Birds of a Feather

Graham Gouldman entered the pop scene at age 19 with "For Your Love," a song he wrote while working behind the counter at Bargains Unlimited - a men's clothing store near Salford Docks in Manchester, England - and which would eventually make its way to The Yardbirds and provide them with their first (and biggest) hit. Bargains Unlimited was Gouldman's day job; by night, he was gigging with his semi-professional local band The Mockingbirds, whose drummer was none other than his future 10cc bandmate Kevin Godley (whom he'd met while rehearsing at the Jewish Lads Brigade in north Manchester). The other 'birds were the aptly named bass player Bernard Basso and guitarist Steve Jacobson.

The Mockingbirds

"I was sleeping most of the time because I'd been gigging with the Mockingbirds the night before, and then during the day when I'd got any spare time I'd write in the shop," Gouldman recalled. He favored "soulful" minor chords, explaining that "Major chords seemed pale and white. We used to go to the synagogue which must have had some sort of influence, the melodies there were very beautiful, mournful and aching."

Gouldman explained, "I used to shut up the shop at lunch time and sit in the back writing. I’d sort of dabbled a bit in song-writing but I had a band and we wanted to make a record and so we went down to Denmark Street - Tin Pan Alley was Denmark Street, where all the songwriters were - in London, and went round all the publishers trying to find a song. And anyway we didn’t get any songs that we liked or we weren’t given any songs period and the Beatles had started and I thought ‘well, I’m gonna really have a crack at song-writing.’ I had dabbled a bit but they were really my inspiration and gave me and I think gave a lot of other people the courage to actually do it. We all wanted to be like the Beatles...most of us anyway."

Beatles-inspired fledgling songwriter Gouldman had written two songs for the Mockingbirds that he thought had potential, "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" and "For Your Love," the latter envisioned as their first single. The mental giants at the record company, however, turned down "For Your Love" and instead chose "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" to be the Mockingbirds' first single. "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" did nothing for Gouldman's band but Mockingbirds manager Harvey Lisberg - who also managed Herman's Hermits and would later go on to manage 10cc - was so impressed by "For Your Love" that he advised Gouldman to offer it to the Beatles.

"I said, 'I think they're doing alright in the songwriting department, actually'," Gouldman replied with considerable understatement. "What he was thinking was that they did covers of Motown songs and rhythm and blues stuff." The Beatles's publishing company passed but, undeterred, Lisberg gave a demo of the song to publisher Ronnie Beck of Feldman's, who took it to the Hammersmith Odeon, where the Beatles were performing on a Christmas show. By coincidence the Yardbirds were also on the bill at the venue and Beck played the song to their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, and the band.

With the lone exception of their guitarist, the Yardbirds loved it. "They were a blues band who wanted some chart success so they'd started looking around for outside material. It was a simple as that," Gouldman told Andy Morten in the liner notes to The Graham Gouldman Thing. "[Georgio Gomelsky] played it to them and it fitted into what they wanted to do."

In fact, the Yardbirds would go to parrot many of its unusual (for its time) songwriting traits - the minor chords, the slow-fast/start-stop tempo changes, the droning (almost Gregorian) harmonies - in their subsequent chart efforts. The Yardbirds' recording of "For Your Love" peaked at No. 3 on the UK charts, selling two million copies worldwide and becoming their highest charting single in the US at No. 6. And it also famously caused their blues-purist guitarist Eric Clapton to leave the 'birds' nest and join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in protest at this new "commercial sound."

"That song, I think I read somewhere, was kind of responsible for Eric Clapton leaving the Yardbirds – he thought ‘I can’t play that, it’s too poppy’," Gouldman recalled in an interview with Alan Thompson for the BBC Radio Wales program I Write the Songs. "I think it was more like the last straw rather than any other reason, because the Yardbirds had wanted to get a hit record and they were playing rhythm and blues, and they were a fantastic rhythm and blues band and when they made this change to being commercial, Eric couldn’t take it and he left. And," he added facetiously, "they got another crap guitarist - Jeff Beck, and then Jimmy Page."

Rumor has it that another factor contributing to Clapton's departure was "Slowhand" having to recreate the song's harpsichord on a 12-string guitar when performing it live. It would later be handily handled by post-Clapton "crap" guitarist Jeff Beck, as shown in the clip below.

Watch the Yardbirds play "For Your Love."

Though "For Your Love" may have been the final straw that caused Eric Clapton to leave the Yardbirds roost, it was undoubtably the song that helped propel the Yardbirds from being just another London blues-rock band into a chart-topping commercial pop presence, ushering in the sonic experimentations of new guitar whiz Jeff Beck and beginning what would blossom into a fruitful songwriting relationship with Gouldman.

"I saw The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and and he just blew me away. To me he was and still is the ultimate player, so it was very exciting to be working with them," Gouldman told Andy Morten. "They ended up doing two more of mine and another one they didn't finish. I wrote those with them in mind." Those two Gouldman followup hits for the Yardbirds were "Heart Full of Soul" (UK #2, US #9) and "Evil Hearted You" (UK #3).

And so began a two-year period when Gouldman had the "Midas Touch" writing hit songs for other pop groups. The next act to reap chart success from Gouldman's songwriting pen was The Hollies. Inspired by the the view looking out a railway carriage on one of his trips to London to peddle songs, he wrote "Look Through Any Window." "They had separate compartments then," he told Bob Stanley (a member of the pop group Saint Etienne who writes the fantastic blog Croydon Municipal), "a great environment for writing."

Hollies Hits in Transit

"Look Through Any Window" - co-written with Charles Silverman and originally offered to the Country Gentleman (a group fronted by Gouldman's friend and frequent musical collaborator Peter Cowap) - was "placed" with the Hollies by his manager and became a Top 5 hit for his fellow Mancunians. But it was "Bus Stop" - specifically written with The Hollies in mind - that became their breakthrough U.S. hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard Top 100. Gouldman also offered The Hollies "Going Away," which was ultimately recorded (though never released) by Manchester's Toggery Five.

1965 was a busy year for Gouldman, with his manager Lisberg placing "I'm Gonna Take You There" with Dave Berry, "A Little While Back" and "Why Say Goodbye" with The Shindigs, and several singles for Columbia recording artist Little Frankie.

By the time 1966 rolled around, it was the Harvey Lisberg-managed Herman's Hermits who started recording Gouldman gems, including the singles "East West" (#33 UK), "Listen People" (US #3), and "No Milk Today" (#5 UK). The Hermits would later look to Gouldman's "Ooh She's Done It Again," "It's Nice To Be Out in the Morning," and "The World Is For the Young" to use on their Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter soundtrack LP and '67 B-side "Marcel."

Bowled Over: Hermits Hermits tip their hats to Graham Gouldman's hits

Still later, Gouldman would even write a Yardley cosmetics promo jingle for Herman's Hermits, "The London Look," which they released as an EP in 1968: "See the country vicars and the city slickers, pearly kings and noble dukes. Everybody moving, everybody grooving. They've all got The London Look ..."

Country vicars and city slickers - all have The London Look!

But Noone's Hermits weren't the only musicos to cut their teeth on Gouldman gold that year, as Wayne Fontana took "Pamela, Pamela" to #11 on the UK charts, while the St. Louis Union recorded "Behind the Door," P. J. Proby and Toni Basil (yes, Toni Basil!) both recorded "I'm 28," Friday Brown cut "Getting Nowhere" (actually just a retitled version of "I'm 28"), The Downliner Sect added their rhythm and blues stylings to "The Cost of Living" (credited to Gouldman-Lisberp-Peter Cowap), and The High Society (a Gouldman studio concoction) released "People Passing By."

1967 saw Cher record what Gouldman would later deem a "great version" of "Behind the Door" and a post-Yardbirds, pre-Jeff Beck Group Jeff Beck recorded "Tallyman" - a title suggested by Gouldman's dad. "Because of my connection with [Herman's Hermits producer] Mickie Most," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten, "Jeff Beck ended up a song of mine after he left The Yardbirds. This is one ofthose songs where my late father used to help me with lyrics quite a lot. He should get a little bit of the credit."

The Shadows recorded "Naughty Nippon Nights" the same year, while (future 10cc bandmate) Eric Stewart's Mindbenders (who Graham would later join on a brief touring stint) covered Gouldman's "Schoolgirl" (which was banned by the BBC for its subject matter: teenage pregnancy), and Down Under rock star Normie Rowe (the "Ozzy Elvis" whose career was never the same after he was drafted for the Vietnam War) had a comeback hit with "Going Home," which rose as high as #7 on Australia's Go-Set chart listing. Gouldman also found time to release his own "Stop! Stop! Stop!" - a rare instance of him adapting a Northern Soul/R&B style.

Gouldman's own band The Mockingbirds were still around during this period (though by this time they'd left EMI to join Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label), but success still eluded them - even when Gouldman tried to emulate the style of more popular groups, like The Yardbirds. Encouraged by the commercial success of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," The Mockingbirds released the very Yardbirds-sounding "You Stole My Love" (with a young Julie Driscoll providing backing vocals) on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label in 1965; not surprisingly, it would later be covered by the Yardbirds themselves in 1966.

"You Stole My Love": Out-Yardbirdsing the Yardbirds

Listen to The Mockingbirds play "You Stole My Love."

As Andy Morten characterized it in his The Graham Gouldman Thing liner notes: "One of Gouldman's best songs of the era, it almost out-Yardbirds The Yardbirds with its powerful melody and shifting tempo changes, beautifully rendered by a fierce Giorgio Gomelsky production and an ethereal Julie Driscoll backing vocal to boot. Despite being rightly recognised as a classic slice of mid-'60s Britpop these days, back then it merely became the third Mockingbirds single to do nothing." Or, as Gouldman put it: "It seemed that every song of mine we recorded failed and every one we gave away was a hit. I thought maybe that's the way it's going to be, although I didn't let it bother me."

Graham Gouldman relocated to the United States in 1968, where RCA Victor - encouraged by his hit-making track record for other artists - quickly signed him to a contract and molded him as a solo act. RCA let the maestro loose in the studio to record The Graham Gouldman Thing, wherein he played and sang his versions of the past hits he wrote for other artists, as well as some new songs like "My Father," "The Pawnbroker" and "Who Are They."

The album was originally intended to be produced by Peter Noone (whose Herman's Hermits had already reaped the benefits of numerous Gouldman-penned hits), but in an interview with Alan Betrock (reprinted on the CD), Gouldman explained:
"It was supposed to be something like the artist produces the writer, but he wasn't there on any of the sessions - though he is credited as producer. I did the whole thing with John Paul Jones who arranged the tracks, played on it and also helped produce it. It was an important project for me at the time; I put a lot of work into it." This concern is shown by listening to the album, which exudes tasteful arrangements and thoughtful production. Favourites are the hits like 'Bus Stop' and 'For Your Love,' but all the tracks have something interesting to offer. The orchestral arrangements on 'No Milk Today' and 'Upstairs Downstairs' are particularly refreshing. Strangely enough, the album was not released in the UK, and despite a heavy US promo campaign, didn't sell much to Americans..."

"I think Peter [Noone] came to the first session, had to leave early, and that was it," Gouldman remembered. "He never turned up for any of the sessions. He did us all a favour in the end because that left myself, John and Eddie Kramer [ominipresent engineer in-chief at London's Olympic Studios]. Clem Canttini played drums, John played bass, I played acoustic guitar and some lead guitar. That was the team that made the record...Some songs were made with just me, John and Clem, and some were done with a full orchestra, live. In those days you'd write the song, give it to the arranger, the arranger would write all the parts, you'd spend maybe an hour getting the sounds together and another hour getting a good performance, another hour doing the vocals and that was it. Because it was only a four-track it didn't take long to mix it. That's why these guys were so hot. I used to see John and he'd come in with his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other, plonk it down and say 'right, what are we doing?' and he'd be off. Then he'd go off and do the same thing in another studio. And we were all doing that, that's how records were made. Some of the best records ever made."

"Listening to it now," he later told Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, "the first thing I notice is how good it is to hear real instruments. (Arranger) John Paul Jones loved strings and woodwind - you hardly ever hear woodwind anymore...Some things worked beautifully, especially 'Bus Stop'...It got nice reviews, but didn't set the world on fire." (Indeed sales were modest, with Gouldman later commenting that the album sold more upon its reissue in 1974 at the height of 10cc's fame than it had in the previous six years combined.)

Stanley christened the album's orchestral rock sound "Baroque Majesty," one influenced in equal measure by both Bach and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." I call this sound "Chamber Pop," a late-60s fusion of classical and rock music prevalent in the songs of The Walker Brothers and bands like The Left Banke, Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Love, and The Beach Boys. And nowhere is this more in evidence than on the opening track, "The Impossible Years"...

The Graham Gouldman Thing - Side 1

1. "The Impossible Years" - 2:38

These are the impossible years
A girl must endure, adrift on the ocean
Left with her unspeakable fears
The torture of doubt and pent up emotion
New temptations, strange sensations
A great new world for explorations

An interesting song in that it takes the unusual (for a youth-oriented pop song) narrative point of view of a father trying to understand his teenage daughter and "show her the way" through the "impossible years" of adolescence when "the young bud comes to flower." I mean, it's pretty clear what we're talking about here, with lines such as:

When does the young bud come to flower
It's petals are plain with color exciting
When does the one sun choose the hour
To change the green shoot to beauty inviting
Girls are growing
And without knowing
They're the seeds that we've been sowing

Musically, "The Impossible Years" clearly shows the "baroque" or "chamber pop" influence that became so prevalent on the British airwaves in the wake of The Beatles' "Yesterday."

Wayne Fontana - yet another Mancunian artist drawn to Gouldman's work - recorded a version in 1967 that only achieved minor success in Australia; Fontana had more success in 1966 with Gouldman's "Pamela, Pamela," which he rode as high as #11 on the UK pop charts.

Wayne Fontana - "The Impossible Years"

Listen to Wayne Fontana sing "The Impossible Years."

Listen GG sing "The Impossible Years."

2. "Bus Stop" - 2:24

Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say
"Please share my umbrella"
Bus stops, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella
All that summer we enjoyed it
Wind and rain and shine
That umbrella we employed it
By August she was mine

Though the Hollies had already recorded Gouldman's "Look Through Any Window," they achieved their greatest chart success with "Bus Stop," a song he had written specifically with them in mind and which they took to #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.

"We were supporting The Hollies at Stoke Town Hall," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten. "They'd already recorded 'Look Through Any Window' and said that if I came up with anything else, they'd love to hear it. I remember playing 'Bus Stop' to Tony Hicks and Graham Nash in the loo there as it was the quietest place we could find. They said they loved it and told me to make a tape. In those days if they said they'd do it, they'd do it and they'd do it quick. It was recorded and was out just a few weeks later. Things were done much quicker because you weren't waiting for the artwork or the video. There was a quick turnover and things were much more exciting because of that."

Fellow '60s British songsmith Tony Hazzard claimed he was so impressed by "Bus Stop" that he was moved to write "Ha! Ha! Said the Clown" for Manfred Mann in 1967.

Watch The Hollies play "Bus Stop."

Watch GG play "Bus Stop" (2011).

3. "Behind the Door" - 3:38

Behind the door of every house
In every street, in every town
A story is unfolding, a story is unfolding
Of love and hate...remorse, love's fate
Of hopes and fears and smiles and tears
Of dreams that lie emoldering

GG's melancholy, minor-chord drenched "Behind the Door" - perhaps the first-ever song to rhyme "unfolding" with "emoldering" (much less use this obscure term for - um, what exactly is emoldering?) - was first recorded by Manchester "freakbeat" mod rockers St. Louis Union, one of three singles (the others were a #11 UK cover of The Beatles' "Girl" b/w their version of Otis Redding's "Respect" and "East Side Story" b/w "Think About Me") they released on Decca Records in 1966.

Originally called The Satanists, the St. Louis Union won a recording contract after winning a Melody Maker beat band contest (where they drubbed a fledgling Pink Floyd!). They would later appear in the Spencer Davis Group movie The Ghost Goes Gear (1966), in which they performed "I Got My Pride" and "Show Me Your English Teeth" (great title!). According to Wikipedia, St. Louis Union keyboardist David Tomlinson - rechristened as "Dave Formula" (pictured right) - resurfaced on the late '70s New Wave scene as a member of (erstwile Buzzcock) Howard Devoto's Magazine, new romantics Visage, Ludus, and Luxuria, and also worked with Tuxedomoon's Winston Tong. (So there you have it, punk fans: the somewhat tenuous connection between Graham Gouldman and Buzzcocks!)

Across the pond, a young Cher also covered "Behind the Door" in 1966 (#94 US Billboard Hot 100).

Listen to Cher sing "Behind the Door."

GG's version of the song is notable for its tempo change - two-thirds of the way into this orchestral maneuvers in the dark, it shifts gears and turns into a sprightly rocker - only to return one again to its somber fade.

4. "Pawnbroker" - 3:02

Under the sign of the old pawnbroker
There rests a man with our past success
All that I value is in his keeping
He is the guardian of everything I possess
Everything I possess...

In on Monday, out on Friday
I'm the only one to blame
Waiting for that Thursday's payday
Every week it's just the same

Over Flamenco-style guitars and a sped-up Bossa Nova beat, Gouldman authors the best pawnbroker song until, well, until The Ramones' "Chinese Rock"! With incredible detail, Gouldman describes both the man and the trade in faded dreams...

Behind the grill wearing gold-rimmed glasses
The old man values the cost of fears
Trumpets, guitars, pearly concertinas
Assigned orchestra, lamenting four wasted years

Until the song's final resignation to endless debt:

Under the sign of the old pawnbroker
Trail all the losers in life's contest
Some hurry back to redeem their pledges
My promise, I'll redeem, the day that I'm laid to rest

Listen to GG sing "Pawnbroker."

5. "Who Are They" - 2:03

Drip dry dress, unshrinkable
Who can they be?
They're you and me - they're we

Gouldman showed his social conscience on a number of his mid- to late-60s songs and "Who Are They" is no exception, lyrically concerning itself with the world of 9-to-5 squares - "the faceless mass on the merry-go-round" who are too busy "getting wed, going to bed/Two kids to feed and the mortgage ahead" to ever accomplish anything. "So much to do, yet nothing's done. What a shame," the song concludes. This one makes me think of the future that awaited Albert Finney and Shirley Anne Field at the end of Karel Reisz's 1960 "Kitchen Sink" drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

6. "My Father" - 2:47

My father knows more than I'll ever know
My father's been places I'll never go
I want to know - want to know all the words and phrases
I want to show - want to show his fine airs and graces
If only it were me

The greatest influence on Gouldman's mid-60s songwriting golden era was his father, Hymie Gouldman, aka "Hyme the Rhyme" in deference to his frequent lyrical assistance (Hymie was also an amateur playwright). "My father was a songwriter," he told Bob Stanley. "'No Milk Today' was one of his titles. He used to call himself 'the mechanic' - I'd bring him a broken lyric and he'd go 'D'you write them son? Ttcchh! Come back at five o'clock.' He used to say 'art for arts sake, money for God's sake' [later to become song appearing on 10cc's 1976 album How Dare You!]. I nicked that off him, too."

Though he sings of how much he'd like to emulate his dad, by the songs coda he realizes that "it's no use being somebody else":

On my own two feet, I've got to meet
The world alone, I'm on my own
Just me - independent and free
The son of my father

Gouldman later referenced his dad's passing in the song "Ready To Go Home." Originally appearing on the 1995 (Graham Gouldman-Eric Stewart edition) 10cc album Mirror Mirror, it would later surface on Gouldman's solo album And Another Thing (For Your Love/Dome Records, 2000). Gouldman commented, "This was written not long after my dad died and it reflects my feelings at the time. I suppose I was trying to put a positive slant on his passing, remembering all the things we had done together and his artistic legacy to me. The last verse of the song best reflects my feelings on this. This song has been recorded by many artists and remains one of my favourites. Very emotional."

This is my favorite song on the album and one tied with Fire's "My Father's Name Was Dad" on my list of all-time greatest Pater Familias pop songs (narrowly edging out B-Rock & The Bizz's "My Baby Daddy").

Listen to GG sing "My Father."

The Graham Gouldman Thing - Side 2

7. "No Milk Today" - 2:15

No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
But all that's left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up, two down, just two up, two down

Hymie Gouldman told his son that "No Milk Today" would make a good song title and Graham followed this sage fatherly advice to write what would become a Top 5 hit for Herman's Hermits. It was notable as the first Herman's Hermits single to feature orchestral arrangements and, in an interview with the "Forgotten Hits" newsletter, lead singer Peter Noone said, "Personally I think 'No Milk Today' is Herman's Hermits' best recording, and perfectly captures the moment and the feel of Manchester terraced houses and what was the end of a British era."

Herman's Hermits recorded "No Milk Today," "There's A Kind Of Hush" (US #4, 1967), and Ray Davies' "Dandy" (US #5, 1966) all on the same day at Lansdown Studios. "This was in the period where we had just stopped using The Hermits on the recordings and were using the best musicians available to us to try to keep up with what had suddenly become The British Invasion," Noone recalled. "We were supposed to deliver 48 tracks a year to MGM so we were always scrambling to catch up. I recall that John Paul Jones played bass guitars (an upright and a fender bass) on the tracks and was also responsible for the arrangements, which I dare say are brilliant on all 3 tracks but I know he liked 'No Milk Today' and I would suggest that his arrangement turned this perfect Graham Gouldman song into a hit."

Noone would later comment that, given all the great songs Gouldman wrote, he should have asked him to join Herman's Hermits in their heyday. Hindsight is golden...

Watch Herman's Hermits play "No Milk Today."

Now listen to GG play "No Milk Today."

8. "Upstairs, Downstairs" - 2:17

Upstairs every night
There's a boy listening to his radio
Downstairs just one flight
A girl waits patiently...
Each one knowing that the other is there
Each one hoping that the other will dare
To climb the first stair

Another song covered by Gouldman fan Peter Noone and his Herman's Hermits, who included it on their critically lauded 1967 album Blaze.

Herman's Hermits: "Blaze" (1967)

This perky pop song finds Gouldman crooning like Paul McCartney as he recounts the story of a boy and girl living in the same building who keep waiting for one another to make the first move. A happy boy-finally-meets-girl ending is guaranteed...

No more lonely
Girl and boy have met
The upstairs room is
Advertised to let
Now these two have met

Listen to Herman's Hermits play "Upstairs, Downstairs."

9. "For Your Love" - 2:34

Though the Yardbirds wrote many of their own songs as a group, it was Gouldman who wrote many of their biggest hits, though he wasn't always sure when he had struck gold. As he explained to BBC Radio Wales host Alan Thompson, "I think sometimes this knowing you’ve written a hit single or not, I’ve never been able to predict it. I mean there’ve been songs I’ve either written or co-written and you’ve thought ‘that’s a hit’ and it hasn’t been, and vice versa. It doesn’t always, I mean you have a feeling about a song sometimes and sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong but I don’t know whether the writer or the artist is the best judge."

The Yardbirds were certainly sure. Drummer Jim McCarty recalled that Gouldman's songs "...were always very original. Very interesting songs, very moody, because they were usually in a minor key, the ones we did, anyway. 'For Your Love' was an interesting song, it had an interesting chord sequence, very moody, very powerful. And the fact that it stopped in the middle and went into a different time signature, we liked that, that was interesting. Quite different, really, from all the bluesy stuff that we'd been playing up till then. But somehow we liked it. It was original and different."

Yardbird Chris Dreja added, "We owe a lot to that song because it sort of pulled us out from national to international and set the template for us - that time change in the middle, the weirdness of it."

Gouldman's friend Paul Thomas had played bongos on The Mockingbirds' version and the Yardbirds copied his percussion verbatim. But Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith added a number of changes to Gouldman's original song, including the use of a harpsichord (replacing Gouldman's acoustic guitar intro), which was played by session muscian Brian Auger (later to achieve solo fame and with Julie Driscoll in Brian Auger and The Trinity, whose biggest hit was the Dylan cover "This Wheel's On Fire" - which, incidentally, later became the theme song for the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous). In an August 2009 interview with Uncut magazine, Gouldman admitted: "The harpsichord was an absolute stroke of genius. The record just had a weird, mysterious atmosphere about it."

As for Graham Gouldman's version, he nixes the bongos and harpsichord altogether in favor of piano and a stately Church organ that wouldn't be out of place on a Prociol Harum record. It's a clever "alternate" version that's kind of funky in its own way.

In 1965 Gouldman's band The Mockingbirds had a regular warm-up spot for BBC TV’s Top of the Pops, which was transmitted from Manchester and the songwriter recalled how odd it was to hear his song being associated with the Londoners: "There was one strange moment when The Yardbirds appeared on the show doing 'For Your Love'. Everyone clamoured around them – and there I was just part of an anonymous group. I felt strange that night, hearing them play my song."

Many others have followed suit to cover "For Your Love," including the pre-Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, who included it on their 1973 album Mystery to Me and even released it as a single.

Watch the Yardbirds play "For Your Love."

Now watch GG play "For Your Love" (2011).

10."Pamela, Pamela" - 2:11

Pamela, Pamela, remember the days
Of inkwells and apples, and sick and sore plays
Where little Brer Rabbit kissed Pooh in the wood
And Fluff was the cat that sat on the rug

"Pamela, Pamela" was Wayne Fontana's final single, which placed as high as #11 on the UK singles charts.

Listen to Wayne Fontana sing "Pamela Pamela."

This classic example of the period's "fringe psychedelia-meets-dancehall vaudeville" British Cup of Twee-ness namechecks everything from A.A. Milne to Laurel and Hardy. And Gouldman's vocal is delivered with vintage Donovan BBC Radio enunciation.

Oh, Pamela
I remember so well
When Laurel and Hardy were shown at the flicks
With sticky red lollies on splintery sticks
Pigtails and ribbons and crushes on miss
Secret discussions about a first kiss
But you were young
And everything was new
Impatient to do things you couldn't do

Watch GG play "Pamela Pamela" (2011)

11."Chestnut" - 3:23

Gamine chestnuts modeling in Antonioni's "Blow-Up"

Somebody accurately described this funky instro as sounding like the kind of Swinging London party music they'd play in Antonioni's Blow-Up. It's great and, dare I say, downright groovy! As one critic astutely remarked, it would make Stax guitar ace Steve Cropper proud.

At one point the jam features Gouldman reciting a brief schoolbook elocution exercise that sounds like something the Bonzo Dog Band's Viv Stanshall would sing circa the Keynsham album:
If all of us were doomed to die when we'd lived a minute
I think I know what Ann and I would wish to happen in it
We'd let our 60 seconds run where chestnut blossoms harden
Some early morning in Kensington when Spring is in the garden

The song then features a dueling flute sequence that would not be out of place on Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die LP.

Listen to GG play "Chestnut."


In retrospect, Andy Morten writes:
The Graham Gouldman Thing catches our hero in a period of transition, between his stint as an internationally successful 1960s pop hit-maker and as a menber of a hugely successful 1970s art-rock band, when he was experimenting with any number of projects and saying 'saying yes more than saying no.' The album has gained an enviable reputation among '60s pop and psych fans as something more than just a curio in its creator's estimable canon. It's a jewel of late '60s chamber pop and worthy of reevaluation.

Gouldman himself reflected that "I did it and sort of forgot about it. Had it been more successful I might have paid more attention. But I enjoyed making it and it was great working with the people I worked with but then that was it. It was finished. Done."

And then Gouldman's two-year streak of hit-making genius hit a snag. "You're like a conduit when that magic happens," he told Bob Stanley. "You think, how did I do that? What happened there? In 1968 I was still doing what I did, but I was out of sync with what has happening."

Still, as Morten writes, 1968 was an eventful year in Gouldman's life. He and Peter Noone opened a short-lived boutique in New York called Zoo, and Gouldman helped get his friends Kevin Godley and Lol Creme signed to Giorgio Gomelsky's Marmalde label, where as Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon they released the (extremely hard to find) single "I'm Beside Myself" b/w "Animal Song" in 1969.

But after a short spell in The Mindbenders, Gouldman decided to move to New York and the Kassenetz/Katz hit factory, where the money was good and second-rate (by his standards, at least) trash like (future K-Tel novelty compilation fodder) "Simon Says" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" would be recorded under various group names.

"They wanted to legitimize themselves, find writers with more cred," he explained to Bob Stanley. "It was pretty horrible." He reached his creative (but not commercial!) nadir with a song he wrote for Freddie and the Dreamers called "Susan's Tuba."

"It was like [Mel Brooks film] The Producers - let's wrote the worst piece of shit imaginable!" The record sold a million in France. "I couldn't believe it. Where did we go right?"

And then Gouldman got the call that changed everything. Ex-Mindbender Eric Stewart was setting up Strawberry Studios in Stockport and wanted his friend to join him. Gouldman "boarded the next plane home, to join the ultra-successful band he'd always dreamt of," writes Bob Stanley. "I'd always wanted to play guitar in a band," he admitted to Stanley, "but I became resigned to the idea of being a writer. And then we started 10cc and that satisfied every aspect for me, everything I'd ever wanted to do."

Still only 23, the best was still to come for Graham Keith Gouldman. He still had plenty more tunes up his sleeve to make his father proud. He'd done what his dad had called "money for God's sake"; now it was time for the "Art for Art's sake."

Related Links:

Graham Gouldman music site: www.gg06.co.uk

Bob Stanley's wonderful "Afternoon tea with Graham Gouldman"


More GG-Related Music Videos:

Watch Herman's Hermits play "Listen People" on Telly.

Watch Herman's Hermits play "Listen People" from "Hold On!" movie.

Watch a Graham Gouldman Thing sampler homage (YouTube).