That Would Be Ecstasy You And Me Endlessly (The Young Rascals)

Back in the mid-1980s my friend Mitchell’s new job came with a van which he got to keep when he wasn’t punching the clock. As a non-driver I really didn’t mind public transport (OK, the cold, wasted hours at bus stops could be irksome) but looking at the world’s greatest city through a windshield, cruising with your best buddy & the correct sounds playing made life a little better. Our music of choice was a cassette of the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan’s poignant Baby Boomer ensemble drama. Not all of the classic tracks from the 1960s used in the movie made it on to the album, it was mostly Motown & Atlantic Soul. One track, probably the one we knew the least, caught the moment, raised our energy, went straight to rewind & repeat.

 

 

“Good Lovin'”, a 2 minutes 28 seconds rush was the 2nd single to be released by Atlantic’s blue-eyed Soul boys the Young Rascals. Originally recorded by Lemme B Snell, the Rascals had probably come across the version by the Olympics. Their first eponymous LP, a recreation of their exciting live shows at the Barge, Long Island, which first attracted the label, was packed with cover versions, just one of their own compositions. Under the tutelage of future label Veep Arif Mardin & expert engineer Tom Dowd the group produced themselves. The songs written by organist Felix Cavaliere & singer Eddie Brigati  didn’t match the #1 success of “Good Lovin'” but were good, getting better & kept them in the frame as one of the most popular groups around.

 

Image result for young rascalsThe Rascals became “Young” to avoid legal dealings with an established variety act. Onstage their knickerbockers & Peter Pan collars gave them an overgrown schoolboy look. They were good-looking men & over here we saw them as US teen idols who, like Paul Revere & the Raiders, relied a little too much on a visual gimmick. In the mid-Sixties the UK’s Pop Art was our biggest export. We were busy in Carnaby St, had our own take on R&B, our own new young sensations coming up. The Young Rascals were closer to the dynamic Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We pretty much ignored that great group too.

 

 

Image result for young rascals traffic 1967 uk tourIt was “Groovin'” (1967), you know it, carefree, the feelgood hit of the Summer of Love, a better anthem  than Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco, which finally registered in the UK. They came over to tour with Traffic & Vanilla Fudge (who, I think, blew the tour out after just one date) & that sounds like a good night. The “Groovin'” LP was packed with hit singles. “A Girl Like You” was a Rascals’ rhythm rocker, “How Can I Be Sure”, with Eddie on lead vocal, was a baroque waltzing delight. It sure sounded like a hit to me (it was in the US) & I bought the 45, on the red Atlantic label, but not many other Brits did. It sounded like a hit again when Dusty Springfield released a version that missed out. In 1972 David Cassidy did take the song to the #1 spot but I wasn’t really listening.

 

The group had ditched the school uniforms & the cover of the “Once Upon A Dream” LP (1968) confirmed that the Rascals were no longer “Young”. “Sergeant Pepper’s…” had set a new standard for Pop music & classically trained Felix Cavaliere was up for the challenge. With its sound effects, spoken word,. whistles, bells & sitars, the LP certainly embraced the new spirit of inventiveness & imagination. The one hit 45 “It’s Wonderful” is just that. At times the simple, soulful melodicism of the group loses out to orchestration & arrangement but “Once Upon  Dream” is a very interesting record which doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves when American music of the time is remembered. Whether the world & their audience were ready for the Psychedelic Rascals was another matter. Later in the year “Time Peace”, a greatest hits collection, reached #1 in the album charts. Perhaps people, preferring those optimistic, energetic, well-made tunes, still regarded the Rascals as a great singles band. They could still do them.

 

 

In the late 1960s music was changing & so was America. The Rascals, New Jersey boys raised on R&B, affected by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, insisted on playing on integrated bills before non-segregated audiences. The group spent a little more time on their next LP. Previously they had pretty much recorded & released everything they had written. “People Got To Be Free”, a taster for “Freedom Suite”, was another irresistible anthem which gave the Rascals their third #1 US hit. “Freedom Suite”, like many double albums, would have made a great single LP. It’s been remiss of me not check for Dino Danelli. The space offered by playing in a 3-piece band showed Dino to be a great Rock drummer but a 13 minute drum solo, acceptable from Ginger Baker of Atlantic’s new Rock act Cream, was a little indulgent. The 15 minute long track taking up the whole of Side 4 was a bit much too.

 

Image result for young rascalsBy 1970 Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin & Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Rascals were no longer their headline, hit-making act. There were 2 more LPs on Atlantic, more songs solely written by Cavaliere, less promotion reflected by less success. There’s fine music across both records but Eddie Brigati left during the recording of “Search & Nearness” (1971) then guitarist Gene Cornish followed soon after. The Rascals who released “Peaceful World”, their first LP for Columbia, just 2 months later were Felix, Dino & two new members. Again, despite the quality of the music, Jazz Improvisation Rascals failed to find a sizeable audience.

 

 

Image result for young rascals posterThe Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Steve Van Zandt off of the E Street Band & the Sopranos. His endorsement & affection for fellow Jersey Boys inspired a concert/theatrical combo, the first full reunion for 40 years, which was warmly received. The Rascals’ love of Rhythm & Blues got them started  &  the energy & enthusiasm they injected into their version of it was unmatched (see above). They changed with the times & made LPs that will reward investigation if you’re not already on them. Back when we were young & they were “Young” their hopeful, optimistic even innocent music caught the moment as well as just about anyone around.

Only In It For The Mony Mony ? (Tommy James and the Shondells)

Over here in the UK Tommy James & the Shondells were one-hit wonders & what a hit it was. In August 1968 the urgent, immediately catchy “Mony Mony” was toppermost of the poppermost for 3 weeks but little else by the group caught the attention of record buyers. Across the Atlantic Tommy & the boys were a much bigger deal, enjoying 9 Top 20 hits between 1966-69. They were prominent in interesting times & Tommy chronicled his own experiences in his autobiography ” Me, the Mob & the Music” (2010). It was a story he had wanted to tell for a long time but didn’t feel comfortable going into print until after the death of Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, head of the Genovese family. Fuggetaboutit  !

 

 

Image result for tommy james hanky pankyTommy James first recorded “Hanky Panky” with his Niles, Michigan high school band. In 1965 renewed interest in Pittsburgh, where bootleg copies sold out, brought the record to national attention. By July 1966 19 year old Tommy, with a new gang of Shondells, had the #1 record in the US. The song was written in 1963 as a throwaway b-side for the Raindrops by New York young guns Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry. The boys took  a basic R&B tune into the Garage & made it even more primitive. They were surely too young & dumb to know they were making a million selling record & that’s the beauty of it.

 

Related imageThe group were signed to Roulette records run by Morris Levy, a New York scenester since the 1940’s. Morris knew guys with imaginative nicknames & equally colourful criminal records. He was also an expert on the connection between controlling the publishing rights of his roster & his bank account. He kept his new hit act busy, 3 LPs & a “Best of…” compilation were released in 1967. Levy was not really a record man, he left the group & their producers to themselves in the studio. It happened that Tommy James & the Shondells had the happy knack of making songs that grabbed your ear when they were played on the radio & made a lot of people want to hand over their hard-earned in exchange for a 7″ vinyl disc.

 

 

There was a stutter after the first hit, the copycat “Say I Am (What I Am)” stalled outside the Top 20 & “It’s Only Love”, a piece of fluff covered in the UK by Tony Blackburn, our lamest DJ, bombed. “I Think We’re Alone Now”, you know it, an instant Powerpop classic, put them back on track. Working with writer/producer Ritchie Cordell the 5 singles released in each of 1967 & 68 varied in quality but all had their appeal. “Mony Mony”, painstakingly assembled in the studio, is supercharged Garage Rock, everything kept simple & done very well. I was 15, dancing to this at the weekend youth club, my record collection small enough to investigate the b-side & learningthat “1-2-3 & I Fell” sounded like a hit to me.

 

 

Times were changing. You can see it in the clip the band made for “Mony Mony”. Everyone has more hair. Is that a Nehru jacket Tommy is wearing ? The love beads have been shared around. Tommy spent time helping the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. On his return to New York he knew that the emphasis was now on the album rather than the 3 minute single. The group were established enough to produce themselves, prolific enough to release 3 LPs in the next 18 months. First up was “Crimson & Clover”, sleeve notes written by the losing candidate, which included 2 massive hits, the title track (#1) & “Crystal Blue Persuasion (#2). “Crimson & Clover” is a perfect Psychedelic Pop single, better than the Lemon Pipers, better than the Electric Prunes. Innovative effects extract maximum value from a monumental guitar riff & Tommy’s vocals. The LP veers across a range of styles & helped by the hits made the Top 10. Tommy James & the Shondells seemed to have cracked the album market.

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondellsThe title track of “Cellophane Symphony” went the full lysergic. Tommy had got hold of a Moog synthesizer & he was going to use it. This time there’s an ambition that is probably not matched by the material. “Sweet Cherry Wine” is an obvious smash & I really like “Makin’ Good Time”, an old style Tommy James rocker which was only a b-side. The 3 comedy tracks are too many, maybe 3 too many & the LP failed to make an impression.

 

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondells“Travellin'” (1970) got back to where they once belonged, a Blues-Rock simplicity that the band had always done very well. This clip is promoting the single “Gotta Get Back To You” & it’s not just the haircut that makes Tommy look rough. To keep up with the hectic touring & recording schedule Tommy’s drug of choice was amphetamines. After a gig in March he collapsed & was actually pronounced dead. Thankfully he survived & after recuperation the Shondells were no longer attached, Tommy James was a solo act. Those solo LPs are for another time. The memorable “Draggin’ the Line” put him back in the Top 10, there was another hit in 1979.  Tommy James was a 23 gold singles, 9 gold or platinum albums wonder &, he reckoned, around $30 million short of what Morris Levy owed him. In 1987,as an example of the sturdy, enduring nature of his songs, teen idol Tiffany took “I Think We’re Alone Now” (not as good as the Rubinoos) to #1 then was replaced by Billy Idol’s version of “Mony Mony” (not as good as the original).

 

Tommy is still around & Morris Levy isn’t. A 3 year long FBI investigation into the alleged infiltration of organised crime in the record business put his name in the frame for charges of extortion which got him a 10 year stretch. His health was failing & he died in 1990 before he could report to prison. There has been talk that Tommy’s book could be made into a movie. It’s quite a tale.

 

The group are unfairly labelled as a “Bubblegum”. “Hanky Panky” gave them an audience which they wanted to maintain. Tommy showed talent, inventiveness & above all adaptability to accommodate the rapid shifts in the music of the time & make commercially successful records. It’s not just the hits, the LPs contain plenty of interesting music too. Tommy James & the Shondells were never going to change the world, they didn’t want to but they deserve greater consideration in any review of 1960s American Pop music. I’ll finish with Prince, a man who always had an ear for a great song, & his grandstanding version of “Crimson & Clover”. Brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

What If Something’s On TV And Never Shown Again ? (The Village Square)

“The Village Square” was a US TV show which originally aired out of Charleston, South Carolina & was syndicated across the country between 1965-68. A local band was renamed the Villagers & they covered the Top 40 hits of the day. Suited & booted for the middle of the road, Mod casual, with go-go dancers, for the British Invasion then kaftanned-up for the Summer of Love, everything they did had, at least, energy. It is the surviving clips of the guest artists, a chance to see quality, colour clips of acts that didn’t usually get star treatment, which are of most interest.

 

 

Image result for the tams The Tams formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1960 & 2 years later an R&B hit “Untie Me” scored them a deal with ABC-Paramount. That first hit was written by fellow Atlantan Joe South. He & another local songwriter, Ray Whitley, provided the material to keep their name in the frame through the rest of the decade. Here from 1966, in living colour they perform “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)”, a Top 10 record in 1964. The label had used FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a Tommy Roe hit & brought the Tams around to get this new sound. It’s great to see such a good quality clip of the guys, fronted by gravel-voiced Joseph Pope, doing their thing. It’s even greater, for me anyway, to see the second song. “Shelter”, their current 45 at the time, a dynamic Soul Stomper, written by Joe South & my favourite track by a group who made many fine records.

 

Over in the UK the Tams were Northern Soul darlings, a scene which kept its favourites close, long after their expected shelf life. In 1970 a two year old 45 “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” got a wider hearing. It’s a surprise that it only made #32 on the chart because everyone knows that one. The following year “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me”, recorded in 1964 & still a floor-filler, went to #1. The Tams crossed the Atlantic, were on “Top of the Pops” & were a big deal. The group continued to perform & in 1987 had a UK hit with “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin'” which is apparently a dance. It means something else in British so was banned by  the BBC !

 

 

The US R&B charts of the early 1960 were a rich seam of material for the British Beat Boomers. I guess cultural appropriation was not yet a thing so the 3 Motown tracks on “With the Beatles” were a gateway to the delights coming out of Detroit. Same with Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” & the Exciters. There are many examples, it’s a list. The third single by Manchester’s Hollies, their first Top 10 hit, was a rush of harmonious Mersey Sound which pointed me towards the original recording from way, way back in the olden days, 1960.

 

Image result for maurice williams the zodiacs“Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs is such a  sure fire smash. It’s the sound of Doo-Wop moving into Soul. In 1960 the Drifters were hitting big adapting the Brazilian baion rhythm to R&B & “Stay” has a laid-back Caribbean feel. South Carolina beach music…it’s a thing. In 1958 he group, as the Gladiolas had recorded Maurice’s “Little Darlin'”, another individual vocal group song which was a bigger hit for the Diamonds. I had that record in a pile of 78 rpm discs (ask your grandma) that came my way & loved it when I was a kid.

 

The group are known as one-hit wonders but the second song here eventually earned them a gold record. There were, justifiably, high hopes for “May I”, written by Maurice, produced by the great Allen Toussaint & his partner Marshall Sehorn. Unfortunately Vee Jay went bankrupt just before the record’s release & it didn’t receive the promotion it deserved. “May I” is another good one, making use of the four voices & featuring the trademark Zodiacs’ falsetto. Once again, praise Jah for the Y-tube.

 

 

Here, in one clip, we have the duality of the Lemon Pipers, a band formed at college in Oxford Ohio. They signed with Buddah, a new label run by 24 year old Neil Bogart who had Captain Beefheart & Melanie on the roster but whose big idea was to grab hit Bubblegum Pop singles with the likes of 1910 Fruitgum Co & Ohio Express. Bubblegum for all its attractions (& there are many) relied upon an assembly line of writers & producers making ready-rolled records for faceless, or cartoon, groups. The Lemon Pipers were for real, they wrote their own songs. Trouble was that their debut single failed to sell & Buddah made them toe the company line.

 

Image result for lemon pipersSo here they are promoting their second single “Green Tambourine” provided by staff writers Paul Leka & Shelley Pinz. This Pop-Psychedelia, more Pop than Psych despite the sitar, was catching on after Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense & Peppermints” & “…Tambourine” succeeded John Fred’s “Judy In Disguise” at the top of the charts. They also perform the B-side “No Help From Me”, written by keyboard player Bill Nave, a bluesy Psych-Rocker in the style of the Blues Magoos or Jefferson Airplane. The success of the single meant that the Pipers were knackered though weren’t they?

 

The debut LP was a real mix, 5 Leka/Pinz songs, the others, including the 9-minute “Through With You”, was from the band. The follow up single was “Rice Is Nice” & it was no “Yummy, Yummy,Yummy”, it really did suck the big one. There was another LP, another 50/50 deal & the Pipers played on bills with the Heavy bands of the day. Unfortunately cod-psych lyrics like “To the yellow ball of butter where the clouds are as fluffy as a parachute sail” (“Jelly Jungle of Orange Marmalade-lade-lade-lade-lade”) did tend to get held against the band with the one big Pop hit & perhaps deservedly so.

 

 

Up Down All Around Like A See Saw (Don Covay)

Well 3 clips may be the magic number & you are all busy people but Don Covay was responsible for a whole lot of great Soul music. There’s no way in Hull that I can do the right thing by him as an artist by only featuring his own recordings because he was an equally talented songwriter. Whatever the changing styles & tastes in 1960’s African-American music when other singers came around calling then Don Covay usually had a song that was just the thing for them. Here’s one he kept for himself.

 

 

“Mercy Mercy” was a Top 40 US hit for Don & the Goodtimers in 1964. It’s a Gospel-inflected Soul gem, simple with a raw edge to the vocal underpinned by a variation on the sort of guitar work Curtis Mayfield brought to the Impressions. If, as it seems, Jimi Hendrix played on this, he performed the song on early Experience gigs, then he did a fine job. At the time  Rolling Stones were the world’s foremost R&B covers band. With Jagger doing his best Covay impression, they recorded a fine version for their third LP “Out of Our Heads” (1965). This wasn’t his only song to be picked up by the British Beat Boomers. “Long Tall Shorty”, Tommy Tucker’s follow up to his big hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” was covered by both the Kinks & the Graham Bond Organisation.

 

Image result for don covayCovay progressed from his family gospel group to the more secular Rainbows before touring with Little Richard as his chauffeur & as “Pretty Boy” his opening act. In 1960 “Pony Time”, a song he recorded with the Goodtimers was picked up by Chubby Checker, riding high on the Twist craze, & became a #1 record. Such a big hit brings people calling. As he said later “copyrights last longer than record labels”. For a while Don provided songs about new, real or imaginary, dances. One he kept for himself, “The Popeye Waddle” unfortunately didn’t catch on because I think I would be a natural. There was though a whole lot more to Don Covay than dance instructions.

 

 

Oh yeah, the lovely Gladys & her equally lovely Pips hit big with “Every Beat of my Heart” in 1961 when Ms Knight was just 17. Don Covay provided this follow-up, another US Top 20 hit. A direct, impassioned ballad, covered in the UK by Billy Fury, the best of our early rockers, showed another side to his talents. Solomon Burke, Atlantic’s biggest star, took “I’m Hanging Up My Heart For You” & in 1965 his old boss Little Richard came to New York for “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me”, a slow-burning two part overlooked Deep Soul classic. (There’s no room here for these songs but they are in your Youtube & you should find them. Do you like good music ? Then you will love the Little Richard track). Atlantic signed Don as a performer at a time when they were striking a partnership with a new Hit Factory at Stax studios in Memphis.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“See Saw” is co-written with Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & the M.G.s. This group & the Memphis Horns were bringing a raw power to Soul. Don only recorded 4 tracks at Stax, this R&B hit, 2 co-writes with Cropper & “Iron Out the Rough Spots”, a Jones/Cropper/Porter joint. They can be found on the 1966 LP “See Saw”, his most consistent collection to date. In the UK “See Saw” found an audience in the Mod clubs & its place in the repertoire of Soul covers bands. In 1968 Aretha Franklin took “See Saw” into the US Top 10. She already knew that she could get a hit record on a Don Covay song.

 

 

In 1967 Atlantic took their new signing Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals Alabama where FAME studios were making hits. The turbulence of that first visit is well documented but the label knew they were on to a good thing & by the end of the year there were 5 Top 10 singles & the new star was the Queen of Soul. Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools” was the 5th of those records, the opening track of her almost perfect LP “Lady Soul”.  Aretha’s vocals, FAME house band the Swampers (Joe South on guitar) & back-up Sweet Inspirations combined to produce a perfect song & a Grammy for Ms Franklin. This is where Soul was at 50 years ago.

 

Don had been around the block & Peter Wolf off of J Geils Band relates a story from that time. On the promise to Jerry Wexler (Atlantic’s head honcho) of a better song than “Chain…” the label delivered an array of top of the range musical equipment which Don then sold on. There are 854 recordings around where Covay is credited as songwriter. He knew that his royalty cheques didn’t always match what he thought he was due.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womackDon was an ebullient, energetic character, his confidence surely reinforced by his success. His recorded rarely but in 1968 he instigated the Soul Clan, an ambitious amalgamation of 5 Soul Stars, himself,  Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley & Ben E King. Things did not run smoothly, Otis Redding died, Wilson Pickett pulled out, Burke’s plan to set up extensive black-owned businesses needed a million dollars from Atlantic that the label was unlikely to hand over. An LP, “Soul Meeting” (1968), was produced by Covay who provided a majority of the material. “That’s How It Feels”, the outstanding ensemble track of the album is co-written with Bobby Womack who was then having more success as a writer than with his own records & who often expressed his admiration for his collaborator.

 

Times were changing, Soul was getting Funky, with no label support & egos to juggle the Clan fizzled out. Don looked back & recorded with the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band, a pretty good LP with a touch of Taj Mahal about it. In 1972 he left Atlantic, his last 45 a cover of “Everything I Do Goin’ Be Funky”. The new head of A&R at Mercury was ready for the new thing.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“Super Dude” (1973) is such a good record. Don’s emotional story-songs are still straight to the heart but, now in his mid-thirties, things are getting a little more complicated.”I Was Checking Out, She Was Checking In”,his biggest Pop hit, is not the only fine “love gone wrong” ballad on the LP. Recorded in Alabama with Womack & the Muscle Shoals band, as good as it got back then, it really is a top class mature example of Southern Soul. Mick Jagger was still listening to Don Covay, you’ve heard “Fool To Cry” haven’t you ? A track from the sessions, the funktastic “It’s Better To Have (& Don’t Need)” made it on to UK radio & gave him a UK hit.

 

Don spent the Disco years at Philadelphia International, another right place at the right time. There was little more new music & in 1992 he suffered a stroke. Jagger & Richard are said to have helped with the rehabilitation expenses, friends & admirers recorded a tribute LP in 1993. There’s so much good music made by Don Covay. I must, at least, mention the songs he wrote with Wilson Pickett & the Reggae versions of his tunes. If you know his music then you know how big his contribution to Soul music was. If you don’t then he really is worthy of your attention.

 

 

 

 

Bonana-Fanna-Fo-Fer-ley (Shirley Ellis)

Hey ! Over here ! Do you want to hear a song called “Ever See a Diver Kiss His Wife While the Bubbles Bounce About Above the Water?” ? Well of course you do, you’re not nuts ! Just one click & it will happen. Shirley Ellis was a Jill-of-all-trades, equally comfortable with Jazz, standards or R&B & eccentric, energetic versions of nursery rhymes/skipping songs. It was the latter of these which gave her 3 US Top 10 hits in 18 months so those are the songs she is remembered for. I’m not about to make a case for Shirley being one of the greats. The hits were simple & were often novelties but they were fresh, smart & bold, she made an impression & I like them.

 

 

Image result for shirley ellis nitty grittyIt’s January 1964, in just 2 weeks the Beatles are coming to rid the US Top 10 of Singing Nuns & Italian-American teen idols called Bobby or Fabien. The only keepers are the great garage anthems “Louie Louie” & “Surfing Bird” along with Shirley Ellis & her first hit “The Nitty Gritty”. I have checked for the etymology of this rhyming phrase. Some of it was rude, or racist or downright wrong. Whatever, Lincoln Chase’s song is often credited with taking it back & putting it out there. Lincoln Chase had written hit records in the 1950s & he became Shirley’s manager, producer & co-writer. He shortened her surname from Elliston & tailored the songs not only to suit her talent but make them stand out on the radio. There were follow ups to “Nitty Gritty” that failed but a year later she returned to a US Top 10 which had gotten better & included the Righteous Brothers, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, the Kinks & the Temptations (Oh my !).

 

 

 

Image result for shirley ellis“The Name Game” is probably the best remembered of Shirley’s hits. It’s another witty ditty with a great percussive, insistent danceable arrangement. It’s fun, Tom Hanks plays it (“The Money Pit”), so does Jessica Lange (in “American Horror Story” & we still play it. “There isn’t any name that you can’t rhyme”. That’s true, just leave Chuck out of this !

 

The successor to “Name Game” gave Shirley an international hit. In the Summer of 1965 music was a big thing in the UK & I can remember kids in the street singing the rhythmic chant of “The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap) ” which spent 6 weeks in our Top 10. The lyrics were borrowed from a 1930s song, you know it, everybody knows it…” Three-six-nine, the goose drank wine, the monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line”. Lovely.

 

 

Image result for shirley ellisBy 1966 the time was right for a brand new beat. The emergence of Motown in Detroit & Stax in Memphis meant that it was getting mighty crowded in the R&B market & it took more than a cute novelty lyric to get a hit. Shirley failed to match the success of “The Clapping Song” with more simple rhymes & an ill-judged Xmas single. She signed to Columbia & the second single for her new label was the wonderful “Soul Time”. Lincoln Chase was less evident by now & the self-penned “Soul Time” will have you on the dance floor before the vocal comes in then keep you there through the 2-4-6-8-10 refrain. In the Casinos & Twisted Wheels of the north of England they kept the faith with Shirley but her time in the charts had passed & “Soul Time” failed to register as did the almost as groovy “Sugar, Let’s Shing-A-Ling”. The one LP released by Columbia is hardly “Lady Soul” but Shirley’s confident vocals matched to upbeat arrangements make for an interesting listen.

 

Then that was it for Shirley Ellis, she retired from the music business. She’s now 76 & there are no clips of her getting right down on any of the golden oldie shows. As I said at the top of the page she is not mentioned alongside the outstanding female voices of the 1960s but she made a lot of memorable music, all of it enjoyable & all of it fun. I ain’t ever had too much Fun !

Mannish Boy (Steve Winwood/Spencer Davis Group)

Chris Blackwell founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1958 with a start-up stash provided by his wealthy family. He made records for the local scene, mostly singles, some of them hits. Blackwell was a bit of a toff, educated at Harrow, connected, with a shrewd eye for spotting talent. On returning to England in 1962 he was selling his records, licensed from Jamaica for UK release, from the back of his car to specialist shops serving the immigrant community. This niche market was his own, he expanded with other subsidiaries. Jump Up for Trinidad’s calypso, Sue cherry-picked American R&B, Black Swan, another reggae label. In 1964 he produced “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie, the most infectiously catchy song ever recorded & the first Bluebeat (the then current term for Jamaican music) international hit. Island’s finances couldn’t cover the ante for pressing half a million records, the record was released through a more established label. “…Lollipop” was Blackwell’s entry into the British music mainstream. In later years his label would be associated with some of the world’s biggest acts. Back in the Beat Boom he needed to find the right group because groups were where it was at in 1964.

 

 

Image result for spencer davis group 1964Up in Birmingham, at a jazz club in Great Barr, small audiences were being knocked out of their duffle coats by a piano-playing schoolboy prodigy. Stevie Winwood went along with his older brother Muff. At 14 he was already playing in the pick-up backing bands for US Blues artists. He & Muff hooked up with Spencer Davis in the Rhythm & Blues Quartette. Spencer was a face on the Brummie Blues scene as an artist, as someone who had things organised. For audiences & for Blackwell, on a visit to a local club, it was the precocious singer-organist  with a passion & range beyond his years who caught the eye & the ear. The Spencer Davis Group signed with Blackwell & he got them a record deal. There were 4 singles, covers of US R&B songs, three of them stalled just outside of the Top 40. “Their First LP” included more cover versions, good enough but in 1965 you needed a little more. Blackwell found the solution with another of his Jamaican roster. Jackie Edwards had travelled to England with the boss &, with a little imagination, one of his fine pop-soul songs did the trick. “Keep On Running” was released at the end of the year, nudged “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out” from the #1 spot & ensured that 1966 would be a crazy year for 17 year old Steve Winwood & his older bandmates.

 

 

Image result for spencer davis somebody help me“Keep On Running” is a great shot of blue-eyed soul. Propelled & underpinned by Pete York’s drums & Muff’s terrific bass line, Steve is no longer imitating his African-American influences but sounding fresh, urgent & youthful. It appealed then & it still does now.There was another LP at the beginning of 1966, a little more Rhythm, a little less Blues, The group followed “Keep on…” with “Somebody Help Me”, another Jackie Edwards composition which enjoyed 2 weeks at the #1 spot. That first wave of R&B inspired bands were getting too cool for the teen scene. While they were off invading the New World there was room for new pop idols &, with 2 super smash hits, the Spencer Davis Group were kept busy by the star maker machinery.

 

Image result for spencer davis the who package tour 1966They gigged all over Britain & Europe (2 different places now apparently). There were the cool ones, 9 appearances at the Marquee Club in London, a Spring package tour with the Who & Jimmy Cliff sounds a good night out. 5 weekend shows at the North Pier Blackpool, y’know, for the kids, were the gravy you got for having hit records (on the 11th of September the other new sensations, Small Faces, were also on the South Pier). That month they starred in the film “The Ghost Goes Gear”, a forgettable piece of Beatsploitation, The year ended with a 2 week tour of Germany supporting Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich who were not as good as Tarantino thinks they were. With TV & radio commitments, interviewers asking him if he was Spencer Davis & what was his favourite colour, I’m sure that Steve found that being a pop star required more than just being a very talented musician.

 

While the band were filming the crappy movie there was yet another LP to be recorded. “Autumn 66” was their 3rd in a year & the pickings from their early repertoire were getting slim. The next 45 was another Jackie Edwards song. “When I Come Home” was co-written by Steve & it failed to reach the Top 10. In 1966 a Pop group was only as good as their last single , formulas quickly wore thin & there were new imaginative, inventive shiny things to attract attention. The Spencer Davis Group needed a boost, a new angle & Blackwell encouraged Steve to come up with his own material. The subsequent release went like this….

 

 

With one giant leap “Gimme Some Lovin'” moved Steve Winwood from Pop to Rock. He had a little help from a young American producer. Jimmy Miller came to Blackwell’s attention when he licensed a wailing New York soul belter, “Incense” by the Anglos. With Muff’s insistent driving bass, a riff borrowed from Homer Banks’ “Ain’t That a Lot of Love”, & Steve’s bluesy Hammond organ  Miller brought the same depth & urgency to “Gimme…”. It’s an instant classic, built to last even before the Blues Brothers brought it back to our attention in 1980. The Spencer Davis Group ended 1966 hotter than ever before, in the UK Top 10 & with the record about to break out in the US.

 

“I’m A Man, the following 45, another that everyone knows, had similar deserved success on both sides of the Atlantic.In 1967, for mostly better but sometimes worse, music got more serious & the audience went along with it. Steve, still only 18, wanted a taste of something new & felt that it wasn’t going to happen in the Spencer Davis Group. In April, after a UK tour with the Hollies, he & his brother left the band. Muff got a desk in Island’s office with Blackwell, Steve went off with friends from the Birmingham music scene to get it together in a cottage in Berkshire while a re-jigged S.D.G. played a week at the Fiesta nightclub in Stockton-on-Tees. The new band, Traffic, were studio-ready in weeks & before the year was out enjoyed 3 UK Top 10 hits all produced by Jimmy Miller & released on the Island label.

 

 

 

Image result for traffic bandWhile Traffic were, at first, looking for hit singles they were open to experiment & rapidly progressing. “Smiling Phases” was the B-side of the psych-novelty “Hole in My Shoe” & didn’t make it on to “Mr Fantasy” the debut LP. Steve Winwood, still a teenager, now had the artistic freedom to merge his Blues, Jazz & Folk influences with new sounds. He recorded with Jimi Hendrix, shared a stage with Eric Clapton & made his contribution to British Rock. I should get on to Traffic next because they were pretty good too.

 

 

 

 

The Stock Market For Your Hi Fi (UK Pop 1968)

In the UK in the summer of 1967, the “Summer of Love”, Procol Harum was the new big thing. Their debut single “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was the #1 record for 6 weeks. It’s faux-classical theme, portentous lyric & “progressive” sound caused quite a stir. I can remember grown men discussing the meaning of “16 vestal virgins” & the like. Get out of here, music was for young people. “A Whiter…” was replaced at the top spot by “All You Need is Love”, the Beatles’ coming out as hippies anthem. “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, reduced a whole generation’s new explanation to gloopy balladry. British pop music was growing out of its adolescence, musicians & their audience expected barriers to be broken, experiments to be undertaken. In 1964, the “Summer of Beat”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “It’s All Over Now” & “A Hard Day’s Night” had been consecutive #1 hits. Progress ?…It’s a rhetorical question.

 

1967 was the year that the LP became the thing to record & the thing to have. “All You Need is Love” was fine, you needed “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (June) more. Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” & Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” are classic 3 minute long pop 45s. “Are You Experienced” (May) & “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (August) gave you 40 minutes of this new good stuff. The generation who had been buying vinyl since the Mersey Mania were working now, had more disposable income, but what about their little sisters ? They were unconcerned about kissing the sky or gazing through trees in sorrow. They wanted to spend their pocket money on a 7″ single that they could dance to made by pretty young men who looked dreamy on a poster on their bedroom wall. It was a pop music tradition, it was their right & they gotta have it.

 

 

In January 1968 “Everlasting Love”, the 2nd single by Love Affair was the toppermost of the poppermost. The record was an all-guns blazing cover of a current Soul tune by Robert Knight. The band were teenagers, the drummer, who was the manager’s son, was only 15. I’m sure they all could play but CBS insisted that the single be re-recorded before release. Producer Mike Smith’s sweeping orchestral & brass arrangements only needed the participation of singer Steve Ellis, the Sunday papers made quite a front page fuss about this “deception”, as if Jimmy Page’s contributions to 70% of the records made in London had never happened. The little girls didn’t care about any credibility gap, the hit follow up used the same winning formula, “Rainbow Valley”, same composers, same steal from Robert Knight.

 

Of course I preferred the original version of “Everlasting Love”. The Top 10 of the day included the Beatles, the 4 Tops & Small Faces, much more my glass of Vimto. There was another manufactured group on the charts. The Monkees had been assembled for a TV show, they didn’t write songs or, at first, play on records which were well-crafted commercial pop music designed to sell by the truck load & successfully doing so.Love Affair’s young Mod singer, Steve Ellis, had a fine voice & Mike Smith produced 4 Top 10 hits for the group. He picked up on a new English songwriter, Phillip Goodhand Tait. “A Day Without Love” & “Bringing on Back the Good Times”, beefed up in Love Affair style are good songs. Smith had got it going on in January 1968, his novelty, sound effects laden “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” for Georgie Fame succeeded “Everlasting Love” at #1. At the end of 1969 a change of style bombed & Ellis left the group. He formed his own band, Ellis, then Widowmaker but he would always be the kid that the little girls were screaming at while the rest of us sat cross-legged listening to our hair grow.

 

 

Amen Corner’s first single “Gin House Blues”, a song Bessie Smith recorded in 1928, was a favourite of John Peel, the champion of the new, serious music, now with a Sunday afternoon show on the new BBC Radio 1 station. A 7-piece from Wales they favoured Blues & Jazz, the twin horn section certainly helping out on the Soul covers. After 2 Top 20 hits Amen Corner’s big breakthrough was a bit of a surprise when they pulled an old British trick of grabbing an American hit before it crossed the Atlantic. “Bend Me Shape Me”, originally recorded by the solid garage-pop band the Outsiders (check them out), was a US chartbound sound for the American Breed. Producer Noel Walker, whose big hit of 1967 was “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith (blimey !), tightened up the song, added punchy horns & got a top 3 hit for the boys. In one bound Amen Corner went from touring with Hendrix & Pink Floyd (some package tour that) to new teen sensations.

 

Once again the attention was on a teenage singer with a strong, distinct style. Andy Fairweather-Low was the poster boy of Amen Corner.The group had 3 more Top 10 hits, first with Deram, Decca’s increasingly cool offshoot, then joining Immediate, the label set up by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Of course, the formula, the screaming attention soon paled. After a stomping version of Roy Wood’s “Hello Susie” a Fairweather-Low produced cover of them Beatles’ “Get Back” failed to trouble the chart compilers & that was that. Andy formed Fairweather & had a fine solo career. I once heard Oldham asked why his label Immediate failed in 1970. He replied that it was because Fairweather-Low decided he wanted to be Jerry Garcia…hmmm.

 

 

Marmalade, unlike the other 2 groups, had knocked about a bit before 1968. As Dean Ford & the Gaylords they established a reputation as the top band in Scotland  but 4 singles for CBS in 1964-65 failed to make a national impression. By 1967 they were working with Mike Smith, the hitmaker, recording their own songs. “I See the Rain”, a pop-psych classic, was one of 4 unsuccessful Marmalade singles & CBS decreed that something better change..or else. Smith brought them “Lovin’ Things”, an American song rejected by another of his hit groups, the Tremeloes. It was given an uptempo brassy arrangement, there’s a pattern emerging here, & the group were in the Top 10. Ever since the Beatles invented British pop music the maxim “you’re only as good as your last single” spurred artists on to new heights of invention & excitement. That generation were, in 1968, working on their albums, those still reliant on chart position stuck with the familiar made-to-order, radio-friendly but  unchallenging pop. After a disappointing follow up to “Loving Things” Marmalade went for a very easy option & had a #1 hit.

 

“Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da” Paul McCartney’s cod-Reggae novelty from the Beatles’ “White Album” was not released as a single in the UK so Marmalade nicked in with a cover version. This was no overhaul like Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from my Friends” more an insipid facsimile recalling the cheap copies of hits sold on the Embassy label in Woolworths. A #1 record…go figure ! The group were unhappy about recording other people’s songs & at the end of 1969 were able to secure a deal with Decca where they could produce themselves. Marmalade re-established themselves as capable soft-rockers with the songs of guitarist Junior Campbell & singer Dean Ford. In the next 3 years there were  more Top 10 hits. Life goes on…brah !

 

In 1968 I was more concerned with the new groups from California, Country Joe & the Fish, Big Brother & the Holding Co, you know them. In the UK Steve Winwood with “Traffic” & “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by Small Faces were examples of how the teen idols of 1966 had adjusted to the expanding horizons of the music scene. I was dismissive of the prefabricated teeny popsters & things did not improve. In 1970 session man Tony Burrows provided vocals for 4 hits, the groups assembled when the records sold ! Now I can appreciate melodic, well-produced late-1960s pop made for an audience with different taste & demands from myself. Ah…I was so much older then…

 

 

I’m Gonna Cool You Cooks To Something (Joe Tex)

Joe Tex (Joseph Arrington Jr from down in Texas) was a sweet talking guy & he sure could sing. It took him 10 years of making records before his first big hit. “Hold  What You’ve Got” (1964) features 2 recitations, one to men, the other to women, with some down-to-earth advice about appreciating what’s at home. Joe was ready, there were 11 Top 20 R&B hits in the next 2 years. For the rest of the 1960s his music incorporated the changing styles & sounds of Soul music alongside his distinctive vocals & his good-humoured, congenial lyrics.

 

 

That first million seller was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the Southern Soul sound was being forged. It was a smart move by label owner-producer Buddy Killen & so was hitching his Dial Records to a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. Joe’s records were in the shops & his name linked with the other members of the soul clan on that emerging major. He could write & perform those loquacious, folksy but never preaching,  ballads as well as anyone. Check “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show”, that’s a great one. “The Love You Save” (see above) is the track chosen by Butterfly from a very cool jukebox in QT’s “Death Proof”. Joe could go with the flow, the swinging “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M.” recalls the Wicked Wilson’s “634-5789”, “Papa Was Too” takes it’s cue from King Otis & Queen Carla’s (Lowell Fulson’s ?) “Tramp”. His songwriting nous & brightness ensured that he kept it fresh.

 

Joe’s first release of 1967 missed the R&B Top 20. “Show Me” is a dancefloor ripper, the most basic of his songs. Along with “Knock On Wood” it was in the repertoire of every  bar & youth club band in the UK. Not a one of them was as tight as the opening number of the Joe Tex Show. Here’s the evidence…

 

 

1967 ended with Joe Tex’s 2nd million seller. “Skinny Legs & All” was from “Live & Lively”, a faux-live LP recorded at American Studio, Memphis. The added novelty element brought a crossover to the mainstream. Joe was a big deal with a reputation for a dynamic, hit-filled live show. It was 1969 before he crossed the Atlantic with his 9-piece band. Both Spanish & Swedish TV pointed cameras at the them &, while there may not be the electricity of the earlier Stax/Volt European tours, they preserved a pretty good record of a 1960s soul revue.

 

Joe was a big enough deal to continue a public feud with James Brown. Back in 1955 they were both on the King label & their paths often crossed. If it wasn’t a dispute about writing credits it was women or the stealing of stage moves by one or the other. When JB adopted the title “Soul Brother #1”, Joe called him out. In 1955 that title was held by Little Willie John & Joe saw no reason to recognise the new contender. In 1966 he became involved with The Soul Clan, initiated by Solomon Burke as an attempt to build an autonomous African-American business concern. The project lost impetus with the death of Otis Redding & Atlantic wanted hit records not to bankroll real estate deals. By the time any recordings were released Tex, Burke, Don Covay, Arthur Conley & Ben E King were not that close.

 

 

Joe recorded at all 3 points of the Southern music triangle. In 1968 he was in Nashville for his “Soul Country” LP. There’s just one of his own songs & some of the covers are a little uninspired. “Buying a Book” (1969) is more like it. A brilliant slice of Southern Country Soul, my personal choice of all his tracks & I wish I still had that Soul mixtape it was on.

 

In 1970 Joe was standing on the verge with getting it on with the Funk & George Clinton was listening to the groove of “You’re Right Ray Charles”, a song about the advice Brother Ray gave him back then. His final LP on the Dial/Atlantic deal was 1971’s “From the Roots Came the Rapper”, before roots & rappers were even invented. “I Gotcha” an Isley Brothers inflected slab of a song which made the “Reservoir Dogs” soundtrack, found him at #2 on the pop charts, dancing up a storm with a girl & a microphone stand on “Soul Train”.

 

 

Then Joe abruptly quit the music business. He had embraced Islam, following the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, adopting the name Yusuf Hazziez. He returned to the studio with Buddy Killen after the death of Elijah &, in 1976, enjoyed a disco hit with “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)”. I don’t know the 1978 LP “He Who Is Without Funk Cast the First Stone” (1978) but that’s a good title. In 1980 there was an ill-planned reunion of the Soul Clan & unfortunately the next clan gathering was at Joe Tex’s funeral after a fatal heart attack in 1982, aged just 47.

 

Joe Tex was more than just the Clown Prince of Soul. His conversational, quick-witted singles sounded great on the radio at a time when there was a lot of fine Soul music around. His collected work, there are 25 on “The All Time Greatest Hits”, he wrote 24 of them, reflect the fast-changing times & taste of the audience. In a business which uses up & wears out the talent from 1965 to 1972 & then some more Joe was always around, always current & down with his bad self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Woman Can Sing (Cool And Classy Sixties)

 

In 1965 if The Beatles asked then The Beatles got. The Fabs were making a TV show, “The Music of Lennon & McCartney”, for Granada TV. Their guests included Mersey mates from the NEMS stable, Brit popettes Marianne Faithfull & Lulu, Peter Sellers doing that Shakespearian “A Hard Day’s Night”. Also joining them was Esther Phillips, 15 years as a recording artist & appearing outside of the USA for the first time. In 1950, as “Little” Esther & just 14 years old, she enjoyed 7 Top 10 singles (3 at #1), 5 of them with “Blues” in the title. Miss Phillips had a tough ride in the Fifties. After a split with the influential Johnny Otis the hits didn’t come as easy as her addiction to heroin. It was 1962 before she had more success with covers of country songs.

“And I Love Him” was the title track of Esther’s first LP with Atlantic. Covering Beatles’ songs was a thing in 1965 &, as John Lennon says, this was one of their favourites. The gender-switching “Her” to “Him” was a stroke, the arrangement is spare, the vocal sophisticated & sensual, two things I knew little of when I was 12 but it sounded good then & it still does. Esther stuck around & in 1972 was with Kudu, an offshoot of jazz label CTI. “From A Whisper To A Scream” includes her version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”, a sombre tale of addiction & it’s perfect. The whole LP is  treat, good songs arranged by Pee Wee Ellis, off of the James Brown Revue, played by stellar session men. Allen Toussaint’s title track & Marvin Gaye’s “Baby I’m For Real” are delights that I’m only just discovering.

 

In 1975 a discofied take on “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes”, a song made popular by her influence Dinah Washington, was a worldwide hit. She continued to record until 1984 when unfortunately, at the age of just 48, her hard-living past caused a much too early death. Esther Phillips had an individual voice which brought gritty quality to whatever material she was handed.

 

Of course in the mid-60s I was all about the Big Beat whether it was the energetic British take on Rock & Roll & the Blues or the new Motown sound that was calling out around the world. Everything that came before, the show business cabaret crooners, the vapid teen idols, trad jazz, was so over, stranded in the olden days by the new frontier of 60s modernity. (Yeah, I was so much older then…). Nancy Wilson’s cool supper club jazz stylings were absolutely off my radar but “The Girl With The Honey Coated Voice”, “Fancy Miss Nancy”, found a receptive audience with her interpretations of stage & screen standards. In 1963 her 4 LPs all reached the US Top 20.

 

The following year her single “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” claimed the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording though she thought it was a pop song & there’s still a touch of jazz. No labels just classy, urban & urbane. This is so cosmopolitan I want to smoke a pastel coloured Sobranie…& like it. Ms Wilson seized the time, a guest on many US TV shows as a singer & an actress. She has continued to sing her stories, always warm, effortless, & elegant, always popular. It is more than her longevity that has made her a Jazz great. If you are so inclined check her performances from the early 1960s when she was young, assured, drop-dead gorgeous & straight from the fridge.

 

 

And then came Dionne Warwick. We knew that our own Cilla Black had pinched a UK hit off her by getting in early with a cover of “Anyone Who Had A Heart” but Dionne came right back with her first single of 1964 “Walk On By”. Her partnership with songwriters/producers Bacharach & David, from 1962 to 1971 was irresistible. At Scepter Records they were given the freedom to create definitive versions of original instant classics. The productions were often sparse, leaving Dionne’s soulful voice to do that thing she does. My favourites, the eerie “Walk On By”, the quirky drumbeat of “You Can Have Him” (not a B & D song) & the perfect “Are You There (With Another Girl)”. There were 31 Top 40 hits for the trio in this time.

 

Dionne had 5 million reasons for leaving Scepter in 1971 & though Bacharach & David followed her to Warner Bros they ended their songwriting relationship the following year. She worked with Holland-Dozier-Holland, Jerry Ragovoy & Thom Bell but, apart from “Then Came You”, recorded with the Spinners, the hits were fewer & smaller. Ms Warwick was not ready to join the golden oldie circuit. A generation of musicians & composers had learned about well-crafted pop music from her records & were only too pleased to work with her. Similarly listeners had grown up with her too. There was more success, of female singers only Aretha Franklin has had more hits. Dionne Warwick is a legend. A few years ago I hit upon copies of her Greatest Hits Vol I & II, released on Wand, a Scepter subsidiary in 1970. It was payday & they turned out to be in mint condition…a result. Both records are quality from start to finish, filling the house with the beautiful noise of the best of swinging sixties sophistication.

 

 

Change Is Now (The Byrds Part 3)

The initial recording sessions for the Byrds 5th LP were unsettled & confused. David Crosby was a Niagara of creativity but seemed to have little consideration for the contributions & intentions of his 3 associates. It appeared that Crosby was looking for a way out &, in October 1967 he was gone. There was conflict & dissatisfaction with the attitude & ability of drummer Michael Clarke. He was out too, only to return then leave the group on the completion of the record. Still, as we always say down at the Freemasons Lodge, “ordo ab chao”, out of chaos comes order.Despite the problems the 2 remaining Byrds, Roger (formerly Jim) McGuinn & Chris Hillman with producer Gary Usher, did not drop the ball. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”, an experimental, ethereal, beautiful record was released in January 1968.

Now this is a strange one. “Goin’ Back” was released as a single 3 months before “Notorious…” was ready. Clarke was still around but the Byrds were reduced to a trio & that really wouldn’t fly (ouch!). To promote “Goin’ Back” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” they called up Gene Clark, who had left the band in 1966, to make up the numbers. Gene was still signed to Columbia but his LP with the Gosdin Brothers had not sold well. He co-wrote a song, played a couple of gigs, added some backing vocals & hung around for all of 3 weeks. Crosby had not wanted to record this Goffin & King song, he wanted to leave the jingle-jangle behind. An early lethargic take does lack inspiration but McGuinn had an appreciation of how the Byrds had got to where they were, what was expected by their audience & he was right. “Goin’ Back” is a  yearning for a lost innocence, a Rickenbacker infused reverie, a trademark sound still appropriate to their new music.

 

“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” was recorded across the release of “Sergeant Pepper’s…”.The bar was raised whether you were a musician on a bubblegum pop assembly line or were jamming in a Haight Ashbury crash pad. It was no longer enough for an LP to consist of a couple of hit singles & some quickly recorded knock-off soundalikes. You had to mean it ma’an. The same folk, country & jazz tinges present on “Fifth Dimension” & “Younger Than Yesterday” were still around . Gary Usher’s use of brass, strings &, more importantly, the Moog synthesiser moved the sound forward, creating a depth, an atmosphere which tied the whole thing together, brought a unity to the collection. A future member of the group spoke of his ambition to create a Cosmic American Music. He was too late, the Byrds got there on “Notorious”. Change Is Now.

 

 

Man, it’s tough to choose just 3 tracks from this LP. “Old John Robertson”, a country tear up moving into the baroque with strings & phasing, all in 1 minute 49 seconds.would be the choice of 2 of my associates but they are not here right now. “I Wasn’t Born To Follow”, another Goffin/King song, became a hippie anthem when it hooked up with Captain America & Billy for a spot of easy riding in “Easy Rider”. The introductory “Artificial Energy”, an amphetamine song which gets dark in the final verse, didn’t raise the controversy that “Eight Miles High” had. The moral panic had gone to San Francisco. For myself, only the closing sea shanty sci-fi “Space Odyssey” fails to make the cut.

David Crosby’s prints are still all over this record. He has 3 co-credits on the songwriting & appears on 5 of the 11 tracks. Crosby’s cutting-edge ideas about harmony & the lyrical content of his songs were sometimes too far out for his fellow band members but inspired them to experiment & develop. “Draft Morning” follows an inductee to the battlefields of Vietnam. Crosby’s lyrics were re-modelled by McGuinn & Hillman & he was not pleased. Now we know those ins & outs, the ups & downs. Then, we just had a stirring, beautiful song.The record had the 3 remaining Byrds & a horse on the cover. Roger McGuinn denied that this was a jibe at Crosby. Well, he would say that wouldn’t he ?

 

 

“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” is the most psychedelic of all the Byrds’ LPs, the last triumph of the original group that started all that folk-rock in 1965 with “Mr Tambourine Man”. There is not the harshness of acid-rock, it’s spaced-out, tripping on a sunny day by the lake with friends. A new wave of young groups were growing their hair & sporting hippy plumage while the Byrds ditched the moptops & dressed down. No longer at the centre of American popular music but not yet ready to be filed with the golden oldies. It was a turbulent time for the group, Roger McGuinn & his steadfast sidekick Chris Hillman had been knocked about a bit. They kept an eye on where it had all begun, omitted their more far out investigations & created assured, modern music which sounded great in 1968 & still does today & tomorrow. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”…get on it.