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.
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.