Monday, September 30, 2013

Song of the Week: The Elois - By My Side

Back for more Aussie love. Today we feature this writer's favorite Aussie Beat song ever.

A friend of mine once asked why I collected 45s more aggressively than I collected LPs. It was a fair enough question to be posed in the '80s when bands made "albums". This week's Song of the Week is my two minute and 5 second answer.

Many, many great records of the late '50s and early '60s were made by local bands that produced only one or two 45s. These bands didn't make LPs. Heck, many of them didn't even have real record labels let alone distribution deals. These records might be pressed locally in lots of 250, 500, or maybe as many as 1,000, if the bass player had a daddy who owned a local car dealership and thus had some money. The records were then often sold to their fellow high school classmates by the band themselves at their weekend Battle of the Band shows. Or maybe that supportive dad might give a disc away with each new car purchased. Most sat unclaimed in a box in dad's garage where the band practiced on Saturday afternoon and stashed some warm beer behind the drill bits.
One of the great things about this do-it-yourself recording culture was that it removed the record executives (aka, "the weenies") from the mix. These bands didn't realistically think about making it big or touring with the Beatles. They went in to the studio (usually a radio station) with one thing on their mind: "If we cut a real good record we might just get to second base with those girls from the next town. You know, the ones who drive over here in that black Lincoln Continental and are always sneaking Schlitz into the dances." As you might imagine, these bands recorded whatever they wanted without any editorial control from the weenies. More often than not the results were pretty bad.  The A-side of the single often sucked raw eggs as it was all too often some lame cover of a slow ballad that maybe a band like Gerry and the Pacemakers just had a hit with. It's the song that got all the girls slow dancing at the hop. And the drummer's mom always liked that song most as they would rehearse in the uninsulated garage. But every once in a while, squirreled away on the flip-side, was some bizarre creation of a song the band wrote just last week. You know, "the one that is kinda like that Yardbirds record with all that feedback in it." These little creations were often enough brilliant. A depraved record that can only come out of the collective minds of uncontrolled teenagers with one thing on their mind.

This week we explore one of these one-shot local bands and celebrate their own depraved composition. The band is from the small town of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia (about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne). The short-haired, well dressed lads call themselves The Elois after the "tranquil sunshine people" from H.G. Wells' Time Machine. Some time in 1966 our lads travel to the big city of Melbourne and cut their one and only record at the Bill Armstrong Studio. The A-side is a Who inspired cover of Bo Diddley's oft-covered I'm A Man. It's okay, but it's been done. But the real gem was to be found on the flip-side. It's a self-penned explosion of rage detailing a young man's uncontrollable hormonal yearnings for the satisfaction of a young woman. It's the song mom said she didn't like. The one the band wouldn't rehearse if mom was in the house baking cookies. The boys from Ballarat call it By My Side, and, I do not say this lightly, it is one of the greatest songs ever dedicated to wax. Seriously.

The song stands in stark contrast to the image of the clean-cut, small town quartet. Opening with a shot of adrenaline-infused feedback in the key of E, the drummer starts his cymbal intro with a rapid 4/4 beat. The front and center bass enters with a slide from B up the neck until it lands into a killer riff in the key of E. The guitar joins the bassist in the machine-gun riff and together they modify the riff as quick as it starts. The singer menacingly growls out: "Said I need you girl by my side" as the backup singers presage various aspects of the repeated lyrics. Then something funny happens at just :32 into the song. The wicked little 4/4 beat ends as quickly as it began. The drummer drops the band into a catchy bomp-chee-----bomp-bomp-chee 2/4 beat. At this point you can literally hear the drum kit squeak under the pounding it takes from the drummer. The bass adds a loping "vroom" of a slide that morphs just as quickly into a nice little walk. The guitarist falls back as he punctuates the instrumentation. And then our primordial singer and the possessed backup singers return with lyrics of bravado as they let us know that their girls keeps them satisfied. And then, just as quick as we went into a 2/4, without warning we are back into a 4/4 beat as the guitarist launches into a feedback heavy lead that would make even Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend envious. Our singer barks out his final words to his muse, "I can't get enough of you girl." And then, just like the frustrated teenager himself, only a little more than two minutes after the romance starts, it's over. Just like that. The only thing you can do is sneak out for a smoke, take a few minutes and then start it all over again.

Our boys would soon return to the small town of Ballarat Shepperton and try to sell their record. They probably told mom not to listen to the flip-side. Truth be told, most people didn't hear either side of the record and the group soon disbanded to go about their lives in University or in the military. Their recording didn't get a breath of attention until 1980 when a Melbourne record collector compiled a bunch of his favorite forgotten singles from unheralded local bands dating between 1964-1967 and released them on an album called Ugly Things. I picked that record up at a Tower records in San Francisco circa 1983. Somewhere towards the middle of side one was this 125 second gem. I hope you enjoy it 1/1000th as much as I do.

19 comments:

  1. Certainly one of the greatest garage punk songs of all time. Just pure genius for that one little moment in time and then...they were gone, like so many others of their ilk.

    I have the Ugly Things cd which is a compilation of the first three volumes in the series. Collection is mostly grea. The Elois track is the pinnalce, but I also dig "You're Driving Me Insane" by The Missing Links, "Come On" by The Atlantics, "Sad and Lonely" by Four Strangers and "Social End Product" by Blue Stars. I believe even this cd version is out of print now, so if you see it, snatch it up right away.

    Now when do we get to hear about that legendary Aussie band Master's Apprentices?

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  2. The Masters Apprentices were just amazing. They were one of those rare bands to do an entire album. That album is fantastic with the stand-outs being Hot Gully Wind and Buried and Dead.

    Curious, does the CD version of Ugly Things have Hot Generation on it?

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  3. I never caught the 45 rpm bug to the same degree as you did, in part because by the time I discovered the excellent garage rock of the sixties, a few record companies (Bomp, Voxx, Rhino, etc.) had begun issuing album compilations that were comparatively easier to find than the original singles. I bought the first two (maybe the only two?) vinyl "Ugly Things" compilations (probably reissues) and I concur--"By My Side" is a standout not only on the compilation, but in the history of rock 'n' roll. It is even more amazing given the context that you so eloquently detailed; the one occasion that an otherwise 'ordinary, run-of-the-mill' band transcended their own limitations and the tenor of the times to create something breathtakingly brilliant. Great choice for song of the week.

    By the way, how the hell is "Elois" pronounced? Is it "el-oh-eze" or "el-wah"? Or something else entirely? I never read the book (though I watched the movie at, I believe, your folk's house), and the mystery of the pronunciation has irked me for years.

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  4. Something else entirely. It is pronounced like E-loy. Singular.

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  5. This is an amazing song to be appreciated on many levels. Take the lyrics in By My Side for example. One thing I noticed in By My Side is the way the lyrics, which, progressing repetitively like a class in English as a second language, coupled with the steady repetitive back-up vocals, give the impression of being somewhat substantial. However, the song's lyrics are actually very minimal, with essentially only three lines total. Three lines! Mr. Flip-Side gave you the first and last lines so I'll add the middle: "I said you keep me girl satisfied." Hey, the first and second lines even rhyme. Extravagant!

    I first heard this tune played at shows in the mid '80s in the San Francisco area by San Diego transplants The Morlocks. The more I think about it the more it seems probable that the inspiration for their name was this one song. (Morlocks were the gruesome counterparts to the Elois.) Apparently The Elois had once considered the name The Morlocks, in the ended opting for the more upbeat name to compliment their clean looks. The Morlocks I saw in San Francisco fit their name all too well, always seeming to have just emerged from some cave with the lead singer falling from the rafters like some dislodged bat. And By My Side was one of their signature tunes which they certainly did justice to and they clearly relished playing.

    Another song of like caliber on that comp is The Black Diamond's I Want, Need, Love You.

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  6. "...progressing repetitively like a class in English as a second language..."

    That is funny.

    Check YouTube for a vid of the Black Diamonds performing "I Want, Need, Love You." It's pretty darn cool.

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  7. here it is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0aOQPZPKdw

    What a great music break that is.

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  8. That Black Diamonds song is great. The "Hot Generation" comp has a couple other songs of theirs that are in more of a pop vein, but I like this song more.

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  9. Actually, it's pronounced "E-Lies".

    And I've heard that from a very good source. Turns out that the man that runs the little grocery store near where I live is Dennis Fiorini, The Elois' lead guitarist.

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    1. That's correct jez. What town is that? Castlemaine? I just picked up 2 copies of the record from ebay. The bass player Greg was my brother. I think Dennis is the only one left. There is also "Hush My Mouth" floating out there too. Another classic.

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    2. Phil, did you pick up originals or the reissue? I, sadly, only have the reissue. I'm sorry to hear that only one member survives. Your brother's bass work on this song is truly great.

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  10. Thanks for chiming in Jez. I was going off of the pronunciation in the British movie version of the HG Wells novel.

    Tell Fiorini about this article if you get a chance.

    Cheers mate.

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  11. It's actually women singing the backup vocals on this song. They weren't part of the band, but friends of the band.

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  12. I hear it too, Anon. Thanks for the tip. Any other info? What's your connection?

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  13. This is Riot!!! What about Derek's Accent "Ain't Got No Feeling" and Barrington Davis "Raining Teardrops", Cheers!

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    1. It is a riot. Great info in all these comments too. The Aussie stuff will keep rolling Mr. E

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  14. They were actually from Shepperton not Ballarat.

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    1. Thanks for the correction. Did you know the band?

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