19 July 2017

Pierre Cour - Letter To A Teenage Bride/ Love Letter



Label: Charisma
Year of Release: 1975

Oh dear. Readers, I try to be as generous and magnanimous as possible on this blog, frequently not bothering to upload or comment on crap records. There are plenty of other folk online who will happily lob their invective towards unsuccessful targets, some brilliantly, some just for cheap and easy laughs. Nobody really needs my added input, and anyway, there are far too many good records out there which have gone largely unheard. Sometimes, though, I encounter something so gobsmackingly awful that I almost feel I have to share it just as a discussion point - and this is one example of how even the most atrocious, inappropriate work can slip through the music industry net and into the world at large.

"Letter To A Teenage Bride" really is an example of a single that manages to get absolutely everything wrong. Sticking rigidly to a tedious orchestral melody that offers no melodic progression or surprises, it wouldn't even be passable as an instrumental. The whimpered female backing vocals of "Oh my Daddy! Oh Daddy, Oh Mama!" also repeat every five seconds and continue for the full four minutes of its playing time. In terms of songwriting alone, then, it's a deeply irritating dud.

That's not really my main area of concern, though. Throughout this track, Pierre Cour decides to rival Peter Wyngarde in the "bad taste lyrics" stakes, with a spoken word tale of how frustrated an older lover is by his teenage wife's demands to see her family. He implores her to understand how much fun they have together without the interference of these unwanted interlopers, chiding, snapping and sneering coldly as he does so. The record then steadily works itself to a dreadful climax (of more than one kind) with Cour making vocal demands about his conjugal rights, turning the track into some kind of sophisticated vintage wine drinker's take on The Specials' "The Boiler". 

Initially, it's tempting to be charitable and assume that Cour is trying to satirise the behaviour of grown adult men with teenage lovers, but if that's the case, it really isn't clear. All we hear about is the man's frustration with the girl's immaturity, with added hints of manipulation within the relationship. The arrangement appears to be suggesting we should side with him - the man is, after all, sophisticated and mature, whereas the girl is a constantly protesting, whining alarm call throughout without any character to speak of. At least with a song like "Come Outside", you had a sense that you knew both characters reasonably well by the time the needle left the groove. Here, the girl is just a prop for Cour's frustrated narrative.

And by God, his narrative is also poorly delivered. He can't speak fluent English, and his mutterings and murmurings slop and slick their way across the record incomprehensibly, being ponderously delivered and in places ridiculously over-acted. Even Tommy Wiseau would weep at his effort. The whole single is a total horrorshow, managing to be offensive, badly written and poorly delivered. It's utterly impossible to even pinpoint one area where it manages to get something right (it's particularly surprising that someone as skilled as Zack Laurence would be involved with this dreck). 

We've become fond of saying "the past was a foreign country" in the UK, using it to explain away the casual acceptance of all kinds of perverse (and criminal) behaviour. This isn't always true, though. In 1975, this single was apparently greeted with huge hostility by the women in the press department at Charisma Records, who refused to promote it. Faced with poor airplay and PR staff who weren't prepared to work on the single, Charisma allegedly ended up stuffing a large number of stock copies of this disc into a cupboard, never to see the light of day (though melting the lot down and recycling the vinyl towards a more worthwhile cause would have been a better response). The copy in my hand appears to be one that did manage to drift into the real world, purchased by me for the princely sum of 50p despite its scarcity. Some would argue that's at least fifty pence too much. 

Pierre Cour was a highly successful French songwriter who had penned numerous tracks for his country at Eurovision, and had embarked on a rewarding working partnership (for both parties) with Roger Whittaker by the seventies. His songs had also previously been recorded by many luminaries, such as Petula Clark, Nana Mouskouri, and Paul Mauriat. Why he needed to blot his copybook with this creepy mess is a good question, and one we will probably never get an answer to. 

Kenny Everett eventually span this on his radio show as an example of one of the worst records of all time, and that's a judgement I really don't have a quarrel with. The only thing I might debate is whether it should actually be named the worst record ever, not "one of" the worst. 

Sorry for the pops and crackles on the mp3s below, though to be perfectly honest they should be the least of your worries (and I doubt you'll want to listen to this more than once). 




16 July 2017

Autumn - Down Down Down/ October



Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1973

Autumn just about qualify as one hit wonders by the skins of their collective teeth. Their debut single "My Little Girl" was a Tony "I wonder how many hits you've had" Rivers composition which was a slab of highly effective retro sixties harmony pop. Nudging the Top 40 at number 37, it allowed them an appearance on "Top of the Pops" where they appeared wearing natty matching suits, deliberately looking like throwbacks to another era. Nostalgia certainly isn't what it used to be.

The band struggled to build on that modest success, however, and follow-up singles "Not The Way She Looks" and "Hazy Crazy Days" didn't chart, and nor did this, their last effort for Pye before being dropped. Of all their singles, "Down Down Down" is the oddest and the most unexpectedly raucous sounding, featuring the usual slick sounding harmony vocals meeting pounding rock noises, and a guitar instrumental break which somewhat unexpectedly combines the initial melody of "Layla" with "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye". There are lots of sudden hairpin bends in its arrangement, and as such, it ends up sounding more like a lost bit of Pye popsike from 1968 or 1969 than its 1973 release date would suggest (if you suspend disbelief about the release date of "Layla", that is). Perhaps because of that, it's not overly surprising it wasn't a hit. It's short, sharp and ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of commercial (whatever the group's intentions). An LP was recorded by the group for release by Pye, but apparently never saw the light of day. 

The band consisted of Keith Parsons on lead vocals and guitar, Dave Charlwood on drums, John Court on guitar, Peter Cramer on bass and backing vocals, and Ron Shaughnessy on guitar and backing vocals. I'm not too sure what the group ended up doing after this single, but I can rather sadly confirm that Ron and Keith have since passed away.

The "Alshire USA Production" credit appears on all their singles, incidentally, and is something of a mystery. Alshire were a budget label in the USA whose works could generally be found lingering in the wire racks in supermarkets, usually consisting of rush-recorded soundalike compilations and easy listening cash-ins, such as "Tribute To Jimi Hendrix" by The Purple Fox or "Award Winning Scores From The Silver Screen" by 101 Strings (a less typical and more inexplicable example would be The Animated Egg's eponymously titled LP). It's not clear to me how Autumn ended up associated with the label, unless they were signed up to do some harmony pop work for a cheapo LP and found that one of their recorded tracks took off in its own right in the UK. I'd be very grateful if somebody could clear this puzzle up, as the standard biographies of the band online and offline make no mention of the US deal. 


13 July 2017

Sally Sagoe - A Little Bit Of Love/ Stop



Label: Dart
Year of Release: 1975

If you're a skint DJ (or just a tightarse like me) and desperate to impress your next audience with a new Northern Soul spin they might not have heard before, your options are beginning to get rather limited. By the time you hit a certain price threshold, you're firmly in the realm of rapidly diminishing returns - and there are some real cash-in stinkers from the mid-seventies waiting out there to trap the unwary.

This, then, is a pleasant surprise and one that can occasionally be spotted in thrift stores for a mere 50p (it does happen). While Van McCoy's songwriting involvement should hint towards the fact that this isn't an "authentic" Northern record, it sounds as close as damnit to the real deal to be worth it. Smooth and swaggering and yet filled with all the euphoric, emotional peaks you'd expect, this is a beautiful slice of danceable poptimism. Normally when modern seventies producers tried to emulate these sounds, they ended up with a product which whiffed more of sausage rolls and ale from the local Working Man's Club than talcum powdered dancefloors - some of the cash-ins on Spark and Pye are testimony to that. Sally Sagoe is a classy performer, though, and sells the song incredibly well. It sounds confident and urban as a result.

Even the B-side "Stop" has its fans, though there's no question to me that it sounds less accomplished and slightly more rushed than the plug side. 

Unfortunately, Sally Sagoe didn't have any hits during her singing career, and eventually had more luck as an actress, earning a fairly long-standing role in "Eastenders" as Hannah Carpenter in 1985, then eventually as Mrs Jackson in the children's TV series "The Tomorrow People". 



9 July 2017

Reupload - Perfect People - House In The Country/ Polyanna


Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

It's tempting to think that absolutely every last half-good drop of British popsike is in wider distribution now, but as this particular disc proves, there are still lesser known surprises out there.  The official A-side to this record ("House In The Country") has already been compiled on "Piccadilly Sunshine" and is available on iTunes and Amazon and no doubt other commercial sites besides, so I'm not going to trouble myself too much with the contents of that one beyond providing you all with an edited 45 second clip of its charms.

The B-side "Polyanna", on the other hand, would have been a more logical choice, and it's somewhat surprising it was overlooked.  The simplistic but frankly bizarre lyrics appear to be exhorting a young lady not to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river, but this is pure rainbow-coloured sixties pop in all other respects.  Basslines swoop and plunge majestically in a manner Macca would respect,  the horn section kicks into the chorus giddily imitating the vertigo of a high bridge over a river, and the whole thing has a merry urgency about it and enough hooks to drag in even the biggest popsike cynic.  The vocals are perhaps slightly too gruff to truly compliment the contents of the rest of the song, but this is a fine piece of work otherwise - and when you spot Mike Leander's name in the credits, it becomes clear why.  Whilst he later became widely known for introducing Gary Glitter to success, in truth the Walthamstow born Leander had cut his teeth as an incredibly skilled arranger long before, working to brilliant effect on excellent records by David McWilliams, Ben E King, The Rolling Stones and Colin Blunstone before this one.  He also arranged The Beatles "She's Leaving Home" while George Martin was unwell, putting him in the unique position of being the only other arranger to work with them.

"Polyanna" isn't a lost classic to file next to the Fabs, but it's potent sixties pop which deserves a lot more attention than it's received so far. "House In The Country", on the other hand, seems to be a Manfred Mann off cut (penned by Hugg, Man and Hugg) which is merely OK-ish - twee, chipper and pleasant, the kind of fare you'd find halfway through the sixth volume of "Circus Days".

As for who Perfect People are, my guess is that they were a studio group rather than a "proper" live gigging band, but if anyone knows differently, please do get in touch.



5 July 2017

The Lucky Ones - Psychedelic Girl/ World Gone Mad



Label: Groove Quest
Year of Release: 1986

I picked up this record from one of the stalls at the Earl Haig Jumble Sale in Crouch End where I regularly DJ, and it took me slightly by surprise, feeling a bit like finding a meerkat on Streatham Common. The Lucky Few were an American Paisley Underground group from South Carolina featuring Micah Gilbert, a sixties-inspired singer songwriter who later went on to produce more baroque sounding work with Glass Bead Game, then later Magister Ludi. 

Suffice to say, this - their only single - wasn't granted a release on UK shores, so it was either imported by a fan of that genre or was one of a number of leftover copies dumped somewhere by Micah himself, as I understand he lives on these shores at present. Whatever, it's a sharp, angular, and driving little single which has an eye on the rear view mirror at both classic sixties songwriting on the horizon, and the close but fading punk and new wave moment in the near distance. "She's my psychedelic girl - and she Psychs me!" snaps the chorus enjoyably, nailing its colours to the mast but not taking itself too seriously in the process.

Micah Gilbert is still active as a songwriter and has a Bandcamp page filled with his most recent work. 


2 July 2017

The Cisum - Medal of Honor/ Mrs Orange



Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1968

God knows why, but whenever summer arrives it becomes exceedingly hard to find interesting rare records. This isn't something I've ever had cause to think much about before starting this blog, but because I now have to keep finding new material to write about here, I notice the change of the seasons much more these days. It's almost as if as soon as mid-June hits, everyone decides they can't be bothered to cash in their old vinyl at the local second hand record store.

Still, this is a very recent cheap find I'm quite pleased with, and it's in better condition than the horribly battered label might lead you to believe (this isn't saying much, admittedly). This is actually two sides of interesting American psychedelic pop - the A-side bounces along with a sarcastic smile on its face, mainly concerning itself with a dead relative returning from Vietnam and the insulting ceremony surrounding a post-humous medal of honour. "Thanks a lot for all you've done!" the band trill with a sneer, acknowledging the futility of the gesture.

The flipside "Mrs Orange" is actually as strange as the title would suggest, focussing its attention on a lonely, troubled woman and her citrus fruit peeling obsession - it's the kind of lyrical idea which could have come from the pen of Brian Wilson. Both sides showed the band were obviously far more creative and interesting than many of their more earnest, free-form psychedelic rock brothers and sisters, but despite this (or perhaps because of it) the record was a flop.

The group hailed from New York and consisted of Phil Galdston on keyboards and vocals, Dave Brightman on lead guitar and vocals, Rich Bronsky on rhythm guitar and vocals, Gary Mandel on bass and vocals, and John Glowa on drums. Apparently a full album was recorded, but never released - now might be a good time to think about putting that one for sale online, chaps. Just a thought.