18 April 2018

Magnificent Seven - Reggae Bagpipes/ Roll Out The Barrel

If you like a bit of reggae with your bagpipes, join our blog

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

Pop and rock, of course, have continually evolved as they've adopted and mixed and meshed various apparently conflicting styles. If during the sixties British groups hadn't had one eye on music hall ditties and the other on rhythm and blues, so much interesting material might never have been written and released.

But a combination of reggae and the sound of the bagpipes? Really? Never has the Simpsons slogan "Nuts and Gum, together at last!" felt more applicable. It's not as if "Reggae Bagpipes" is a mess, which is to the credit of everyone involved. While it doesn't have a particularly authentic production or arrangement going on, it would be just about credible enough to pass were it not for those droning great pipes playing "Scotland the Brave" throughout. 

15 April 2018

Laurie - I Love Onions/ I Want Him

Brilliant slice of epic 60s girl-pop on the flip of an ill-advised novelty track

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

A regular "Left and to the Back" reader once suggested to me that my catchphrase was probably "but you should check out the brilliant track on the B side!" It's not my fault, though. In the sixties and seventies especially, record companies seemed to have a habit of messing things up completely and burying perfectly good songs under a pile of musty mediocrity. And worse, as it happens.

Take the A-side here, for instance. "I Love Onions", is both baffling and bad. In it, Laurie whispers seductively about how much she enjoys the veg in question. Presumably the joke here is that onions are boring, not particularly exotic, and ill suited to such praise, and the contrast between the mundanity of onions and the sultry nature of Laurie's delivery will lead to humour. The song also has a music hall feel which suggests it's trying to emulate the kind of 78rpm tracks which celebrated bananas and watermelons. However you want to explain the joke, it's irritating and deeply unfunny, and should have been left in the can.

The flip, on the other hand, is majestic. It's a vampish track packed with drama, longing and a powerful, epic chorus which contrasts with the subtle, hushed verses, and a perfect slice of mid-sixties pop. It looks as if Graham Bonney - ex-Riot Squad member and one-hit wonder in the UK (thanks to "Super Girl") - had a lot to do with its construction, which explains its confidence and sense of drama. It's over in less than two-and-a-half minutes and leaves you wanting much, much more, from both the track, Laurie herself, and the guitarist who decides to let rip towards the end.

11 April 2018

Reupload - Medium Wave Band - Mellow Yellow/ Disney Girls

Bonzos styled take on a Donovan hit, backed with beautiful "Disney Girls" cover

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1976

When the irony-coated easy listening revival arrived in Britain in the nineties, there was a tendency to behave as if it was something new. In truth, knowing and faintly mocking easy listening covers have been a comedic part of pop music since at least the fifties, when rock and roll found itself fair game for all manner of inappropriately intricate cover versions.

During the seventies, session musician Graham Preskett also formed the Medium Wave Band ensemble who set about producing two delightful little singles of this ilk. The first one "Radio" has already been featured on this blog, but their cover of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" is probably better value for money. Where the original swells over with false bonhomie, especially during the irritating studio "party" towards the end (fake recording studio parties never fail to destroy the mood of a record for me) the Medium Wave Band tighten their ties and button up their jackets for this and deliver a much more considered version. Doubtlessly indebted to Vivian Stanshall and actually admirable in its detail, like all the best comedy records this is part-joke, part careful study.  To be honest, I get more plain and ordinary enjoyment out of it than I do giggles.

8 April 2018

Bitter Almond - In The Morning/ Silver

Optimistic springtime pop from short-lived early 70s UK group

Label: Warner Bros.
Year of Release: 1970

It's quite unusual to find an obscure British group on the Warner Bros label during this era, but nonetheless, that's what we've got here. Bitter Almond arrived in the summer of 1970 on a breeze of melodic optimism, then had one more 45 out on the equally American United Artists in 1971 ("Loving Each Other") before disappearing from view again.

"In The Morning" typifies the kind of brassy, well arranged sunshine pop which filled up the very early seventies. It's pure joy, with no dark underbelly in sight; music to take on warm countryside drives rather than contemplate the futility of existence while you eat your toast on a rainy Sunday morning ("Oof! Sounds lovely, Ken!"). As such, it's likely to have as many detractors as fans, but for my part, I think it's a bold and very well-written piece of pop which was actually unlucky not to have become a hit. Its slightly conservative sound may have disadvantaged it slightly by causing it not to stand out much on the airwaves, but beyond that, it's hard to understand what went wrong.

4 April 2018

Prince The Wonder Dog - Sausages (Wheels)/ We've Got A Dog

A novelty single by an actual real-life talking dog! - Well, kind of...

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1979

The TV programme "That's Life" washed endless pieces of absurd popular culture debris ashore in the seventies and eighties, but few have lived on in the public imagination as much as Prince the talking dog. Owned by the mild-mannered Paul Allen, a man who looked like a member of a twee indie band before such things really existed, the canine apparently had an impressive human vocabulary and was especially obsessed with the word "sausages". 

In reality, of course, all of the dog's words were formed by Paul Allen manipulating its jaw while it growled. He confessed to "That's Life" that his long-term ambition was to teach the dog to say the words by itself, but inevitably this plan never really came to fruition. This is deeply unsurprising as scientists also haven't managed to get dogs to talk of their own accord either - if nothing else, Allen was a man with lofty ambitions. You can see a full clip of his "That's Life" appearance here.

Prince ended up becoming a huge hit with viewers, to the extent that a single was almost inevitable. Amazingly, BBC Records and Tapes clearly passed on the possibility, and EMI took the dog on instead, resulting in this peculiar single. The A-side is a two-and-a-half minute musical skit on the dog's experiences in a recording studio dealing with a "music industry mogul" (inevitably, one of Esther's comedy stooges putting on a Hollywood voice). It should be abysmal, and there may be readers out there who will argue it is - it was certainly featured on the "World's Worst Records" blog several years ago - but I find it unnaturally funny. Something about Allen's gentle, understated manner, the use of the song "Wheels Cha Cha Cha" (always a good comedy stand-by) and the dog's ludicrous vocalisations make it far more amusing than it has any right to be. It's unashamedly cheap sounding and unbelievably silly, but if Danny Baker had discovered Prince The Wonder Dog rather than Esther Rantzen, a lot more of my readers would probably be appreciative of his existence.