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…

 

 

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From The Soul Train To The Hippie Highway

The bands who played the Saturday afternoon “Teen Beat” club were loud, the first live amplified music I heard. They were also. looking back all the way from here, straight from the fridge. The template was both the Rhythm & indeed the Blues, the first Stones LP. They all, as best I can remember included “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover” & the brilliant Phil Upchurch groove “You Can’t Sit Down”. Man, I was young, the big boys took me, watched out for me, showed me how to lift 45s from the back of the jukebox. The talk was of the latest groups who had appeared on the previous night’s “Ready Steady Go”. A TV show I was not yet allowed to stay up & watch. Good times.

Fast forward just a couple of years to youth clubs & the odd night that we were able to blag our way into a gig on licensed premises (You need to look 18 to get a beer in the UK). The bands now played soul, Southern Stax soul because Motown could not only get a bit complicated at times but often needs James Jamerson around to funk it right up. “Knock On Wood”, “Hold On I’m Coming”, “Mr Pitiful”, they all did those because it was what the Mods wanted to hear. Our local boys were called The Dimples after a John Lee Hooker jam but it was all that was left of the bluesy times. They were on the soul train now. Then, in 1967, it all went a bit nuts. Kaftans & love beads, weed instead of speed. Flowers in your hair & scuse me while I kiss the sky. What can a poor boy do ?

So Dean Ford & the Gaylords (well…OK), “Scotland’s Top Group” became Marmalade, moved to that London & got some new duds from Carnaby St. “I See The Rain” is a classy piece of psych-pop with a great guitar sound. Written by 2 of the band it was a hit in Holland but not in the UK. A further single failed & CBS insisted on choosing the band’s material. 1968’s “Lovin’ Things” is a piece of stinky cheese-pop which went into the Top 10. In the same year a cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, the Beatles fluffy faux-reggae nursery rhyme gave the band their only #1 record.

A generation of British pop people were moving right along with Jimi & the Beatles & there was a gap in the market for pretty-boy, custom made bubblegum pop, y’know…for the kids. Marmalade, smiling & mugging for the cameras like former Gaylords, fitted the bill. For all their claims to be serious musicians & some later inoffensive soft rock they were there with the Tremeloes, Love Affair & Amen Corner, grinning & singing other people’s songs. It’s a pity that “I See The Rain” was not a smash because it was as good as the band got & is up there with the Move’s early acid pop singles.

Wow ! & again Wow ! There is no more classic development through the 1960s than that of the Alan Bown Set. Trumpet player Bown was appointed leader of the jazzy John Barry Seven when Barry left to concentrate on Bond scores & other lucrative movie work. In 1965 he & 3 others of the 7 formed the aforementioned Set to play the R&B that was getting the gigs at this time. Despite a bit of a revolving door for members they were proper players, had a great horn section. They hired singer Jess Roden & became an outstanding live soul attraction who did not sell records. In 1967 the band recorded the soundtrack for a French movie “Jeu de Massacre” &, I assume, this is the French-only single from the film.

It is great, the band are still Mod suited & Chelsea booted but seem to be on a stoned weekend jaunt to Paris & ready to go with the Summer of Love flow. What a smashing mess of a promo & of a song. The band was between labels in the UK, they were leaving behind the soul & swapping the “Set” for an exclamation mark. The Alan Bown ! went for psychedelic whimsy, pleasant enough but not outstanding when there was a lot of that about. So between covers of Edwin Starr & the first time around Nirvana came this crazy racket which was never released in the UK & is the best thing you will ever hear either by the Set or the !

This time I have to choose the track just before the switch to the hippie high road. Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, formerly the Howling Wolves (R&B name) & the Road Runners (Soul name), were the kings of Portsmouth pop. The 3 Shulman brothers had a good thing going live but, there’s a pattern here yeah, the record label, Parlophone, wanted to sell more discs (as if all the Beatle money was not enough). The debut single was a spirited cover of the 5 Americans garage-pop “I See The Light”. “Day Time Night Time” from 1967, was the third to miss out. Is it blue-eyed soul ? Is it freakbeat? Like I give a flying one ! It is a cracking 45 which still has that 60s freshness about it plus a dude playing French horn on-stage.

The next 45 was the big one for Simon Dupree & the rest. They were encouraged to “go psychedelic” & “Kites” was the result. Man it was pretty lame which is why “Day Time Night Time” gets the nod from me. There were diminishing returns from the follow-ups & the Shulmans had one last re-launch left. Gentle Giant made an LP a year through the 1980s. I have not heard one of them & have no intention of starting now. British prog-rock…bag of shite. Me, I’ll stick with the Big Sound of Simon Dupree.