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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rubettes


The popularity of progressive rock was probably at its height during the early to mid 1970s.  With acts such as Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "prog rock" was supposed to be more advanced, complex and, above all, smart than what had come before.  Musical wizardry was the norm and long drawn-out solos were both encouraged and applauded.  Still, not everyone was taken in by the hype and some even longed for the more basic music of yesteryear.  Thus the door was left a jar for a return-to-roots rock & roll revival.  In fact, one could almost claim that said revival preempted punk as a knee jerk reaction to prog by a good few years.
The simplicity and raw energy of the music of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, et al, found new audience in the U.S. through films like "American Graffiti", and bands like Sha-Na-Na, and Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids.  Meanwhile in Britain, there was the historical London Rock and Roll Show at the Wembley Stadium in August 1972, starring giants of the genre like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry.  Subsequently, the ball really began rolling in earnest with homegrown acts such as Wizzard, MUD, Showaddywaddy, and...The Rubettes.


A happy accident as it were, the Rubettes were initially brought together in late 1973 as mere session musicians to record a demo for the songwriting & production team of Wayne Bickerton & Tony Waddington.  The song in question was a little ditty called "Sugar Baby Love", which had a distinctly '50s feel to it for sure, with some doo-wop styled harmonies and cutesy innocent lyrics thrown in for a good measure.  And as the song was turned down by Showaddywaddy, Bickerton & Waddington became even more convinced that the demo had that certain "something" and should be issued as is...or rather, was.  Thus a real band was needed to back it up and the gig was promptly and aptly offered to the session musicians who had recorded the song - namely; Alan Williams (Guitar and vocals); John Richardson (Drums), and Peter Arnesen (Keyboards).  Vocalist Paul Da Vinci, the owner of that falsetto, was otherwise engaged and politely declined the offer.  Tony Thorpe (Guitar and vocals); Mick Clarke (Bass) and a second keyboardist Bill Hurd completed the line up and The Rubettes were born.


To make a long story short, "Sugar Baby Love", once released, became a massive hit - in fact, one of the biggest hits of 1974, knocking that quartet of chirpy Swedes whose name now totally escapes me, off the coveted U.K. No. 1 spot in the spring.
And although The Rubettes never eclipsed that initial burst of bubbly brilliance, there were several more hits in the coming years, as well some fine albums - five of which have recently been collected together, including extra tracks and everything, in a CD box set, "The Albums 1974-1977", released by Caroline International (CAROLR032CD).


Through numerous line-up changes, The Rubettes flirted with glam, gave Smokie a run for their money with countryfied anglo pop, but above all their rock & roll roots always shone through.


For a number of years now there have been two versions of The Rubettes touring the nostalgia circuit; the Alan Williams-led version on one hand, and keyboardists' Bill Hurd's Rubettes on the other.  I've only had the pleasure to see the latter outfit on a number of occasions and I can attest to the fact that they're pretty good - and very nice guys as well.
As much as I love hits like "Juke Box Jive" and "Little Darling", as well as catchy and sometimes self-penned album tracks a la "Judy Run Run", Rumours" and "Don't Do it Baby" (also a U.K. Top 10 hit for Mac & Kate Kissoon), I have a confession to make though.  One of my all-time favourite Rubettes tracks just happens to be this early '80s (Oh, the sheer shame of it all!) gem....

 
Foe-Dee-Oh-Dee :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classic '70s Teenpop album: The Sweet/"Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" (1971)


It's an indisputable fact that The Sweet always sold more singles than they did albums.  That is not to say their long players weren't up to scratch.  Far from it, since both "Sweet Fanny Adams" (incredibly enough their only L.P. to trouble the U.K. charts, not counting "Best of" compilations) and "Desolation Boulevard" are quintessential mid '70s rock albums - IMHO as good as anything either Purple or Zeppelin ever did.  Nonetheless, the band will always be best remembered for their impressive run of classic pop-glam 45's, a la "Ballroom Blitz", "Blockbuster", "The Six Teens", "Fox on the Run", et al.


Semi-conspicuously absent from the above rundown is the hidden gem that is The Sweet's debut album, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be", from 1971.  In essence a bubblegum record, it's a curious mix of the band's first hits ("Funny Funny" and "Co Co" - both Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman originals), covers of '60s pop classics (Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream", The Supremes' "Reflections"), some more Chinnichap filler ("Chop Chop", "Tom Tom Turnaround" - the latter originally a hit for New World), as well as some early band compositions ("Santa Monica Sunshine", "Spotlight").


About a year ago the Cherry Red Records imprint 7T's issued a double deluxe version of the album, including seventeen bonus tracks.  Among which are early hits "Alexander Graham Bell", "Poppa Joe", "Wig Wam Bam", and "Little Willy", single B-sides, and, on disc 2, the earliest non-charting Sweet singles starting with 1968's "Slow Motion" and concluding with 1970's "Get on the Line" (an Archies cover, no less).  A year later The Sweet's fate was sealed after they were taken on by the Chinnichap songwriting team, a veritable hit machine, and as a result, enjoyed their first taste of chart success with "Funny Funny".  And the rest is, as they are prone to say, history.


The entire "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" episode is a true testament to the earliest - and lightest - side of The Sweet; a period the band later often went to great lengths to distance themselves from.  And perhaps understandably so; most of the time session musicians were used on the records and the band wasn't allowed to include too many of their original compositions, and when they were allowed to do so, the material all too often ended up as mere B-side fodder.  Truth be told though, Chinnichap had the magic touch, were indeed supplying the band with chart-making material which, as time went on, did get heavier - and, indeed, better. 
Still, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" can easily be enjoyed as what it was probably always meant to be: a light, fluffy piece of bubblegum pop - or, quite simply put, a '70s teenpop classic.
 
The Sweet in all their glam rock glory, circa 1973.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Bay City Rollers - That First Reunion.


If the press and the hype surrounding the Bay City Rollers' recent December 2015 U.K. reunion tour is to be believed, that reunion was pretty unique.  Not only was there a new album release (a mind-boggling Christmas CD, starring Les McKeown as Phil Spector, recorded in all but name by  McKeown's band a year earlier), but this was apparently also the first time since circa 1978 that the three participating members - McKeown, Stuart Wood and founding member Alan Longmuir - shared a stage for a semi-prolonged time.
That is not entirely accurate though.  After McKeown's departure in 1978 followed a three year commercially disappointing but artistically rewarding period as The Rollers, with Duncan Faure as the band's lead singer, which came to an abrupt end in 1981, after the "Ricochet" album failed to re-ignite an interest in the enterprise.
In some corners of the world though, the Bay City Rollers name was still a viable asset.  So in the autumn of 1982, mere four years after their initial break-up, the fab five (McKeown, Wood, Eric Faulkner, brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir) reunited for a lucrative tour of Japan.  A year later they upped the ante, added Pat McGlynn and Ian Mitchell to the line up, and, in the process, recorded a double "Live in Japan" album at Tokyo's famed Budokan hall.


Inexplicably, a cover of a recent Buck Fizz U.K. hit, "Piece of the Action", was issued as a Japan-only single.  Eric for one may now dismiss it as a "throwaway", but really, it wasn't half bad.


Side projects Karu (for Stuart Wood, with Duncan Faure) and Bachelor of Hearts (for Ian Mitchell and Pat McGlynn) then beckoned and put a temporary damper on the proceedings.
But in 1984 the Rollers regrouped for some recordings in the U.K. and an Irish tour which at one point featured Duncan Faure in the line-up.  After the tour group co-founder and original drummer Derek Longmuir left the band for good.


Around that time it is possible that they also recorded the mysterious "Love in the World"/"It's For You (One on One)" single, previously written about in these pages as The Great Lost Rollers Single, which received a very limited release in Switzerland a year later, and is arguably the rarest Bay City Rollers item ever.  And, "It's For You" very well just may be the last great Rollers song recorded.  Furthermore, it is also rumoured that some recordings from this time were scrapped and re-recorded later as the Japanese "Breakout" and Australian "Breakout '85" albums.  But these rumours remain unconfirmed.
The Rollers' music was now more dance oriented, which shouldn't have surprised anyone since it was now essentially becoming the McKeown and McGlynn show, with the others (Faulkner & Wood, namely) now contributing less and less.

 
 
At any rate, the "Breakout" project came to fruition - and conclusion - in late summer 1985 and was aptly enough followed-up with Japanese and Australian tours - and rather ill-fated at that.  The band imploded in a spectacular fashion during the Australian leg, when band members one by one left the fold like the sinking ship it most certainly was fast becoming.
And then there was that late '90s reunion, but don't get me started on that...

******

South African drummer George Spencer, who played with the Rollers during the mid '80s, was kind enough to share his recollections with me recently via a couple of e-mails.
I was working as a session player in Johannesburg when Woody and Duncan come out to do some shows with their band Karu. Initially they had an American drummer who left, then they used Neil Cloud from Rabbitt, then I got the gig. We, as Karu played a few dates, whilst the single Duncan and Woody wrote 'Where is the music' climbed the SA charts. Woody and Duncan decided to return to the USA and invited me to join them, which I did. We recorded a few demos in LA and played a few shows.
A few months later the Rollers decided to put the band back together for an album, and Irish, Japanese and Australian tour. Woody left Duncan and myself in LA to start tour rehearsals with the Rollers in Scotland. A week later, he called up and asked Duncan to front the band and bring me along on back-up vocals and percussion. During the first meetings in Scotland, Les decided to re-join and Duncan left to pursue a solo career in the USA. I stayed on, toured Ireland as percussionist and swapped to drums with Derek on percussion for a few Woody compositions during the Irish tour. After the Irish tour Derek decided he did not want to tour, so I took over the drumming responsibilities, we returned to Scotland and put in some rehearsal/demo time at Les's home studio, basically writing the Breakout '85 album.
We recorded the Breakout '85 album at Matrix in London (most of the drum parts were sequenced with very little live playing from me). Once the album was completed, tour dates for Japan and Australia were agreed upon. As a South African, politics determined that I could not tour Japan, so I had to hand write out all the drum parts, and fax them to a Japanese drum machine programmer, who together with Pat, Les and Woody created the drum tracks for the Japanese shows.  The band completed their Japanese shows and flew on to Australia. I joined the band in Australia for a few rehearsals ahead of a 13 week Australian tour. Before the end of the tour Eric decided to leave, then so did Les and Pat, leaving Woody, Ian and myself to complete the last few shows.
After the Australian tour I went back to SA to join up with Neill Solomon, I invited Woody and Ian over to SA and we put "The Passengers" together. The Passengers played dates in SA and returned to Scotland for a Scottish tour. after the tour I returned with the band to SA.  At this point Ian decided to stay in the UK, but Woodz came back to SA again and worked with the band and Neill Solomon for a few months before deciding to return to Scotland. I stayed in South Africa and formed another band called "Beat the Clock"....
I don't know anything about the second recording. The Breakout '85 album I know was certainly mostly driven by Les and Pat compositions. I remember Vic Martin (Ed. Eurythmics) was a session man that added some keys.
Bay City Rollers 1985.  Upper row from left to right: Stuart Wood, Les McKeown, Eric Faulkner, George Spencer.  Lower from left to right: Ian Michell, Pat McGlynn.
 
 
Bay City Rollers - Mid '80s Discography:
 
Singles:
 
"Piece of the Action"/"Seen This Movie" (YE-22-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Love in the World"/"It's For You" (MS 172)(Activ Records, Switzerland) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (SO7P1067)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (PDW 0284)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
 

 
LP's:
 
"Live in Japan" (UPS-675-6-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Breakout" (L28P 1218)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"Breakout '85" (POW 6015)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
* Breakout and Breakout '85 differ slightly, both aurally and visually *
 
 
With very special thanks to George Spencer.
 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Arrows


"Everybody's Talkin'" (Fred Neil), "Without You" (Badfinger), and "I Love Rock & Roll" (Arrows).  These are just few examples of  great songs that should've been hits for the people (in brackets) who wrote and recorded them originally - but weren't.  The history of popular music is littered with them.
And that's were our subjects this time around come in.  Arrows, a three piece mid '70s glam rock act, will forever be linked with a song they themselves never had a hit with (although they certainly did have other hits); namely the classic rock stable "I Love Rock & Roll" - a song that made at least one career (Joan Jett's, in case anyone's in doubt who exactly I'm referring to.  We won't even mention arguably atrocious latter day cover versions such as Britney Spears' and Miley Cyrus').

 
In 1973, glam rock reigned supreme on the British music scene.  Amongst its many hopefuls was Streak - a trio which managed at least one great single, "Bang, Bang Bullet", which later became a "Junkshop glam" classic, before they imploded.
U.S. born guitarist Jake Hooker and English drummer Paul Varley then contacted an old pal of Hooker's from New York, bassist/singer Alan Merrill, son of Jazz singer Helen Merrill, who in 1968 had followed his mother and stepfather Don Brydon to Japan, but Mr. Brydon worked for the UPI News Agency in Tokyo.
 when they relocated to Japan in the early '70s.  While over there Alan became a successful model as well playing and releasing music solo and with the band Vodka Collins.
Alan immediately joined Varley and Hooker in England and collectively they became Arrows.
In 1974 Arrows signed with RAK Records, the home of glam rock giants Suzi Quatro, and MUD, among others.  And the songwriting duo of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn just happened to be at the top of their game in 1974, penning hits for Quatro, MUD, The Sweet and others.  They supplied Arrows with their first and biggest hit.
 

 
"Touch Too Much", Arrows' debut single, was classic Chinnichap.  Produced, as was the majority of their output, by RAK boss Mickie Most, it entered the U.K. singles chart in May 1974 peaking at no. 8.  So far, so good.
However, the follow-up, "Toughen Up", another excellent Chinnichap composition, inexplicably failed to make the chart altogether.
 
 

Arrows' next crack at the charts fared somewhat better, in spite of it being probably their weakest single release.  "My Last Night With You", a '50s sounding Rock & Roll ballad-type-of-thing, became the band's second and last hit in early 1975, peaking at number 25.
 
 

Their next single, "Broken Down Heart", although fine on its own merits it was yet another non-original composition which contained the self-penned "I Love Rock & Roll" as its flip-side.  By this point in time the band was understandably becoming increasingly frustrated with the outside material Mickie Most fed them, and demanded the single be reissued with "ILR&R" as the A-side.  Which it was, with little if any immediate fanfare though.  They were only to reap the rewards some years later as it is believed that Joan Jett picked this single up on her first U.K. sojourn with The Runaways in the autumn of 1976.  So, as history would later establish, it really wasn't all in vain.
 


Followed up by another fabulous flop, "Hard Hearted", which went absolutely nowhere, Arrows somehow landed themselves one of the hottest gigs in town...their very own T.V. show. 
You see, The Bay City Rollers were apparently "deserting" their homegrown audience for greener pastures in Japan, the U.S. and Australia, so they really didn't have the time nor need to extend their Granada T.V. hit show "Shang-A-Lang" for another season/series.  So, enter Arrows...
 
 
 
But thus also begins the band's final and most frustrating era.  While being ever so visible daily to the teenagers of Great Britain, Mickie Most and the Arrows management weren't seeing exactly eye to eye.  As a result, RAK didn't release any more Arrows material to (finally) their adoring and awaiting public.  Albeit not before Arrows one and only LP had seen the the light of day. 
"First Hit", produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter of BCR/Kenny/Slik-fame, was an overall stylistically diverse and multi-dimensional debut.  A lost gem if you will.  From it, "Once Upon a Time", a big ballad worthy of (well, almost) The Righteous Brothers was culled as a single...
 

 
The Arrows' T.V. show ran for two series in 1976/77, after which the band had pretty much ran out of steam and all went their separate ways.  A second guitarist, Terry Taylor, briefly joined the band.
Sadly, both Paul Varley and Jake Hooker have now left this dimension while Alan Merrill is still musically active and well as far as I know, and carrying the Arrows' torch...


ARROWS Discography

(U.K. – unless otherwise noted) 
 

Singles:
 
Touch Too Much”/”We Can Make it Together” (RAK 171) 1974.

Toughen Up”/”Diesel Locomotive Dancer” (RAK 182) 1974.

My Last Night With You”/”Movin’ Next Door to You” (RAK 189) 1975.

Broken Down Heart”/”I Love Rock & Roll” (RAK 205) 1975.

Hard Hearted”/”My World is Turning on Love” (RAK 218) 1975.

Once Upon a Time”/”The Boogiest Band in Town” (RAK 231) 1976.

 
Album:
 

First Hit” (SRAK 521) 1976.  11 track Martin/Coulter produced L.P.

 
Selected CD Releases:
 

First Hit” W/10 Bonus Tracks (REP 4865) Repertoire Records, 2000.  Germany.

Singles Collection Plus…” (GLAMCD11) 7T’s/Cherry Red, 2002.  A compilation.

Tawny Tracks” (Gel-003) Geltoob Records, 2002.  A prev. unreleased rarities comp.

A’s, B’s & Rarities” (7243 8 75998 2 6) EMI Gold, 2004.  A compilation, but including recently recorded old material as well.

First Hit” W/11 Bonus Tracks (WPCR-16200) Parlophone/Warner Japan, 2015.
 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rock and Roll is Dead...And we don't care!

 
Ever since I first plugged this release at the '70s Teenpop Facebook page a few weeks back, I've been pretty psyched about it: The first three Rubinoos albums remastered on colored vinyl with new artwork and bonus tracks!  Talk about the perfect Christmas gift for yourself.  Well, if you're that sad...and I very obviously am.
And now it's finally here!  And it is everything it was hyped up to be, and then some.  It's a lovingly and carefully assembled package from the good folks at Wild Honey Records in Italy - clearly a labour of love.  It sounds and looks absolutely beautiful.  When the original albums are getting increasingly harder to come by on vinyl, what better way is there to get re-acquainted with all the early Rubinoo classics ("I Think We're Alone Now"; "Leave My Heart Alone"; "I Wanna be Your Boyfriend"; "Rendezvous"; "Hurts Too Much", et al.) than head on over to StripedMusic.com and order yourself a set.  I do believe it's one of them "Limited Edition" thingys.  And I swear I am not in any shape, way or form paid to do and say this - it is just that sweet of a deal.
San Fransisco and the Bay Area in the late '60s/early '70s, with its obvious and all-too-recent hippie history, seems like an unlikely place and time for a band like The Rubinoos to flourish in.  The Saturday morning cartoon bubblegum of The Archies and the DeFranco Family were more their kind of thing, although Rock & Roll, Doo Wop, R & B, and the classic Girl Group sound also played part in cementing the Rubes' sound.  "The LP Collection Volume 1" exhibits The Rubinoos at their best.
Already anxiously awaiting Volume 2 in the series...


 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Classic '70s Teenpop Album: The Osmonds/"Crazy Horses" (1972)

 
From the opening chords of "Hold Her Tight", a none-too-distant relative of - yup! - Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", it is obvious that this is a very different sort of Osmonds album.

 
Twelve original Osmond compositions, produced by Alan the oldest Osmond and the brothers' regular producer Michael Lloyd, that are overall not only somewhat harder-rocking than the previous Osmonds albums fodder, but come with a message as well.  It is not a spiritual message, like their next album "The Plan" (1973) would bring, but an environmental one - decades before that would become the accepted norm in popular music.  Eat your heart out, Sting!
The title track is not only the single greatest thing the Utah born and bread brothers ever recorded, but also one of the greatest singles the 1970's ever produced.  Period.  Just ravel in its glorious unbound madness.  Why didn't they do more of this?

 
The would-you-believe-it semi-bluesy "Life is Hard Enough Without Goodbyes" (Is that a theremin I hear in there?!) is yet another style-breaking surprise.  And so is the mid-tempo "We All Fall Down", all horns and harmonies.
Thankfully though, the record is not without its dose of sweet Osmond balladry.  Admittedly, there's nothing here that equals 1974's "Love Me For a Reason" - that was still a couple of years ahead - but "What Could it Be" definitely ranks as one of their best ballads nonetheless.
 

 
Although some of their most memorable stuff was still yet to come (The aforementioned "Love Me For a Reason", as well as "One Way Ticket to Anywhere" from "The Plan") as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to the Osmonds, "Crazy Horses" is where it's at.  A solid, all-original album, and a classic kick-ass single.  You can't ask for much more than that.  The white Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuits we can - and should - just forgive and forget.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Kenny's "Ricochet" Revalued.


At long last having finally acquired their second - and final - long player "Ricochet", my Kenny collection is now complete.  Previously I only had access to this LP via "The Best of Kenny" CD (REP 4510-WG, Repertoire Records 1994), which, among other things, contains the entire album.  The vinyl however - only issued in Germany and Japan in 1976 - is rather scarce and, more often than not, pricey.  In a blog I posted on February 16. 2011, I had this to say about "Ricochet":
For the most part the new material was self-penned and, unfortunately, rather unremarkable forgettable MOR pop.  Aside from the singles, both of which were written by people outside the band, and a passable version of the old Jackie Wilson hit “Higher and Higher”, “Ricochet” is a rather weak record.
Well, I was wrong.  Although it's most certainly no "Pet Sounds", "Ricochet" is a fairly ambitious album made by a band clearly desperate to prove itself and to be taken more seriously than it previously had been.  Too bad then no-one was really listening.
But why the change of heart, some might ask.  Well, the short answer is that the album just sounds so much better on vinyl than it ever did on CD.  I know, I know - that sounds like a typical and currently fashionable vinyl snob's answer.  But it is true.  Instead of the flat and "clean" CD sound, the songs sound crispy and dynamic and literally jump at you from the speakers.  Unfortunately not all old vinyl records sound this good - all too many actually sound like s**t - but this is clearly a quality German pressing which does the music full justice.
And although I still stand by my initial verdict that the non-group originals are the best things on display, there still is plenty more to enjoy here.  The pure pop of "You Wrote the Words" and "Go Into Hiding", the funk-lite of "I'm Coming Home", as well as the rockin' "Be My Girl" all being relatively strong.

 
No longer the second division Bay City Rollers of yore, with "Ricochet" Kenny were clearly taking a credible stab at establishing their own artistic identity apart from writers/producers Martin/Coulter, with which they had parted company before recording the album.  Unfortunately though, as I said before, no-one was really that interested and Kenny quickly faded into obscurity.  Like many other mid '70s teen pop acts - Rollers, Slik, et al - changing musical fashions (Punk, Disco) also had a hand in their ultimate demise and disappearance from public view. 
That said, with "Ricochet", Kenny certainly went out in style.