Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tower Records Spotlight: The Standells - Barracuda

The Standells were without question, Tower Records' biggest hit makers. The Los Angeles quartet gave Tower the label's first genuine hit when Dirty Water went to #11 on the national charts shortly after it was released in the final hours of 1965.

The Standells had been kicking around LA for a number of years and had released six singles on three different labels before they were paired with producer Ed Cobb and Tower Records. Drummer Dick Dodd -- who had been in the surf band, The Bel-Aires -- was promoted to lead vocal duties and the band changed under Cobb's tutelage from a lightweight frat band to a snarling garage band spilling over with Rolling Stones attitude.

Our featured song today was not one of the many fine singles from the band. Instead, Barracuda, written by Ed Cobb, appeared on the band's final album, Try It!, from 1967. Filled with bravado and dripping with sexual tension, Barracuda was quintessential Ed Cobb tapping into the attitude of the times. The same attitude that got the title track from the LP banned, much to the band's delight. Dick Dodd performs the number with the requisite anti-charm. Dig baby, dig!

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tower Records Spotlight: The Pink Floyd - See Emily Play/The Scarecrow

See Emily Play
The Scarecrow
I've been having fun with our look at, first, Dunwich Records out of Chicago and, this past week, A&M Records out of Los Angeles. I'm going to continue the creative conceit by focusing this week on the legendary Tower Records out of LA.

Tower Records was a subsidiary for Capitol Records (the name was derived from the Capitol Building's infamous Tower). The label only existed for 6 years from 1964-1970. Oh, but what years those were. The label specialized in artists that were considered too minor for the titan of labels that was Capitol Records. As a result, a lot of garage bands -- particularly those hailing from California -- found their way to the iconic red and black "t" label. But Tower didn't just do garage rock. Some country artists, soul artists and doo-woppy vocals groups. Hell, even Mickey Rooney had a release on the catch-all Tower Records label. And like A&M Records, Tower Records became an outlet for some obscure British acts that barely even made a dent in their native UK. Let's look at one of those today.

We start our Tower Records focus with a monster of a record and a collector's valhalla. Everyone knows the name...Pink Floyd. But they sure didn't when this groundbreaking, mind melting record came out. And it's not the Pink Floyd that would go around putting bricks into walls. The Pink Floyd released five ultra-rare singles and two LPs on Tower Records. The second release for The Pink Floyd was, in my opinion, their best. It is Syd Barrett's own composition, See Emily Play with a Flip-Side of Syd's The Scarecrow. The single was released with an über, über rare picture sleeve (whose picture I've unceremoniously swiped from as I don't have it).
As all should know, Syd Barrett was the founder of The Pink Floyd, named the band, wrote the vast majority of their material, was the lead singer and was the sole guitarist. He only lasted one album and a few singles before mental illness mixed with psychotropic drugs pushed him over a brink from which he would never quite crawl back over. Of all his brilliant compositions, See Emily Play is my favorite. Shucks, I already said that. Two minutes and 55 seconds of pure joy. Gentle, melodic, ethereal, abstract, innocent. It's as close to perfect as a song can get. Even the out-of-nowhere harpsichord breakdown works perfectly. And that voice, ahh, what a voice Syd had. David Gimour would soon be brought in to help his friend Syd get through the increasingly erratic shows. But it was too late. Syd moved back home with his mum and Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright would carry on without the "The" before Pink Floyd. I think they had a hit or two, but I don't really know about that band.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: The Move - Fire Brigade

I know I said I was only doing 7 days of this A&M Records spotlight thing, but I didn't want to leave this guy out. Here is The Move doing their March, 1968 release (the second on A&M), Fire Brigade.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: The Merry-Go-Round - You're A Very Lovely Woman/Where Have You Been All My Life?

You're A Very Lovely Woman
Where Have You Been All My Life?
We're wrapping up our love fest with A&M records on this rainy Sunday by featuring (for the second time) the LA based band, The Merry-Go-Round. A number of months ago we featured the non-LP double sided gem, Listen Listen/Missing You. Today we look at an earlier single by the teen wünder kids. The single hails from July 1967 and was the band's third single for A&M Records.

The A-Side is the very intriguing You're A Very Lovely Woman. Emmit Rhodes was 16 when he wrote this and barely 17 when this record came out. The lyrics don't betray the mind of an immature male. They tell the story of a young man coming to terms with a relationship that has run it's course. Despite knowing just how lovely is the woman he's in love with, the singer knows he must move on for the betterment of himself. You're A Very Lovely Woman is beautifully arranged with non-intrusive strings.

The Flip-Side is the upbeat, Beatlesque number, Where Have You Been All Of My Life?
Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Boyce and Hart - Out and About

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were a songwriting duo best known for writing many of the songs that shot The Monkees to stardom. The Monkees Theme, Last Train To Clarksville, Words and the timeless, Stepping Stone. But they also recorded a number of records under their own name. They also wrote the theme song for soap operas and for commercial jingles such as Things Go Better With Coke. Their work has been covered by groups ranging from Paul Revere and The Raiders to The Leaves to punk bands like The Sex Pistols and hardcore purveyors, Minor Threat.

Out and About was Boyce and Hart's first release under their own name. The song hails from June of 1967 and is a perfect piece of pop music. Boyce and Hart lip-synced this song on I Dream Of Jeannie with Jeannie playing drums and Cello on the song as they audition for Phil Spector. Yep, they met Barbara Eden. That makes this song cool regardless of anythg else. They also had their song, Blow You A Kiss In The Wind (covered by punk band, Red Kross) performed on Bewitched! Yep, they met Elizabeth Montgomery. That makes this song cool regardless of anything else.

We'll see you next time On The Flip-Side.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: The Flying Burrito Brothers - Older Guys

From 1970, we have the ground breaking Alt. Country pioneers, The Flying Burrito Brothers, performing Older Guys. Three members, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke came from The Byrds. Bernie Leadon played guitar and also appeared on the Dillard And Clark song, Out On The Side, which was featured just two days ago. Sneaky Pete Kleinow rounded out the line up.

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Arthur Lee - Everybody's Gotta Live

Another day, another record. Here we are again with more from the LA based A&M Records. The record we have today is none other than Arthur Lee's Everybody's Gotta Live. Arthur Lee, it should be known by any and all record collectors, fronted the bitchin' group, Love. But when Love devolved into a carousel of support musicians and failed to make hit records, Arthur Lee found himself without a label as the 1970s began. In stepped A&M Records. Everybody's Gotta Live dates to 1972 and was the first single from Lee's first solo album, Vindicator. This is one of those songs that sounds timeless. It could have been the 60s, it could be current. Just a nice simple chord progression with a tasteful band performance. No gimmicks. Arthur Lee's voice is as beautiful as it ever was.
Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Doug Dillard and Gene Clark - Out On The Side/Train Leaves Here This Morning

Out On The Side

Train Leaves Here This Morning
[originally posted, November, 2008]
Enigmatic. That might be the best word to describe Gene Clark. Unlucky, under appreciated, brilliant, secretive, phobic, handsome, distant, pioneer, shy, obtuse, complex. These words also describe the gentle throated Clark. For most, the word that comes to mind when they hear the name Gene Clark is...who? Okay, let me give a little back story on Clark before we move on to this week's song.

Gene Clark, while his name remains unrecognizable to most, has perhaps one of the most recognized voices in rock history. That's because Gene Clark, once a singer for the dreadful New Christy Minstrels (that's him singing beautifully at 2:03), was all-too-briefly, a founding member of The Byrds. From 1964-1966, Gene Clark was the smooth baritone voiced, tambourine tapping, harmonica playing, center-stage standing, lanky frontman of the world's coolest looking band, The Byrds. His voice created the perfect bottom to David Crosby's falsetto and Roger McGuinn's nasal midrange. But more than that, Clark was The Byrds' most prolific songwriter. In an era of American bands rushing to perform their best Beatles knock-off, Clark wrote (and sang) unique songs that owed as much to his rural Missouri roots as to any other influence. Lyrically his songs were introspective and approached the subjects in a roundabout manner that forced the listener to puzzle together the real meaning. Musically, Clark's Byrds-era songs, such as the stunning Set You Free This Time, featured unexpected chord progressions and strangely slow tempos that felt as if they had been slowed down after the recording was complete. So it was, at the height of The Byrds' success, Clark flew the nest. Nobody is quite sure exactly why. The most oft-told story is that his fear of flying forced him to leave The Byrds (we pause for the irony to sink in). But other stories include his stage fright forcing him out of the picture, his sense of guilt at receiving song-writing royalties when others, notably the loudly caustic Crosby, received none. Others say the seeds of dissatisfaction were sown when his (and The Byrds') standout song, I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better, was demoted to the flip-side of their second single in favor of a far lesser Dylan cover. It would happen again on the third single, where Clark's beautiful She Don't Care About Time would be relegated to the flip-side of a single (albeit the brilliant Turn, Turn, Turn).

Regardless of the reason, Clark left after the second album. Using The Byrds as his studio musicians, Clark released a handful of spotty, but poorly received singles as a solo artist. Quickly released from an impatient Columbia Records, Clark teamed up with bluegrass banjo-phenomenon Doug Dillard, seen here in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show performing his own composition. (Interestingly, fellow Byrds alumnus, Clarence White also appeared on the Andy Griffith Show! He's just off of Andy's shoulder.) As the Dillard & Clark Expedition, the two embarked on what may be the first ever country-rock group. Future Flying Burrito Brothers and Eagles member, Bernie Leadon joined on guitar, Michael Clarke (no relation) of the Byrds on drums. In 1968 they released their first single and one of Clark's best compositions ever, Out On The Side. I ran across it in a record store on 13th Street in Denver, Colorado the year after Gene Clark had died. I had never heard any of the solo work of Clark before. As a huge Byrds fan, and with Clark's obituary still in my mind, I plunked down $2 and walked home. I dropped the needle on the turntable and heard Andy Belling's Hammond organ open with a F#m chord as Clark lyrically inserts himself into the song as if we are catching him in mid-conversation. Leadon and Dillard harmonize as well as McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman could have done as the song rolls along with Clark's trademark dark, lumbering minor chord progressions. The lyrics, as obtuse as any he has written: "I have fallen through the black nights it seems/with the times that I've lied. And I've watched your thoughts stray into dreams/when you're not satisfied. But when the door closes before my eyes/Oh, I will cry/just to know you are going to stay, out on the side." Sixteen years later, it is still one of my favorite songs ever and that one $2 single has seen more plays on my turntable than can be counted.

One thing is for sure, Gene Clark was a musician's musician, a songwriter's songwriter. His reach touched many musicians. Between '66 and '74, Clark returned again and again to lend the Byrds his vocal skills as well as his penmanship, most notably co-writing and singing on the ground breaking recording of Eight Miles High, a song that documents his nervous breakdown on an airplane approaching London. The members of the Byrds likewise appeared on numerous solo recordings of Clark's. But the shadow he cast was much greater than just that of The Byrds. The stomach churning Eagles first recording was a cover of a 1968 Gene Clark song, The Train Leaves Here This Morning. And today his songs continue to get fresh play, as proven by the success of Robert Plant's and Alison Krauss' stunningly popular Raising Sand album which features no-less than two Gene Clark compositions: the droning Polly, Come Home and the country waltz of Through The Morning, Through The Night, both solo-era compositions. Dylan allegedly first hatched the idea to go electric after he appeared on stage with The Byrds in Los Angeles. And in a master becomes student moment, the Beatles' If I Needed Someone was a musical tip of the hat to The Byrds, whom the fab-four had watched record Bells of Rhymney and I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better in April of '65.

Clark's most famous band, The Byrds were inducted into the R-n-R Hall of Fame and spawned some of the most famous names in the business. Roger McGuinn carries on as the modern face and voice of the Byrds. David Crosby went on to become one of the most recognized names in the business. Chris Hillman and fellow-Byrd Gram Parsons formed the cult favorite, Flying Burrito Brothers using Gene Clark's guitarist, Bernie Leadon, who later went on to form the Eagles. Gene Clark? He died in 1991 at the far too young age of 48. A friend of mine had interviewed him for a publication called Ugly Things just a few years prior. He described to me a mellow, Earthy, nearly penniless man who clearly was drinking too much and living purposefully in anonymity. In the somber interview Clark distanced himself from his success with The Byrds and rejected the efforts to put him in the pantheon of great songwriters. That's his opinion. Mine is quite different of course.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Tyrannosaurus Rex - Debora/Child Star

Child Star
Back for more on our A&M spotlight series. Today we feature a quite rare US release from April, 1968 by a UK duo calling themselves Tyrannosaurus Rex. The band was formed out of the ashes of John's Children and featured as their frontman, John's Children guitarist, Marc Bolan. The only other member was percussionist, Steve Peregrin Took. The band would soon figure out that no record buyers, aside from rock-n-roll loving paleontologists, could spell their name. Bolan shortened the name to T. Rex, kicked Took out of the band, added a few more members and struck gold in 1971 with the unique Get It On. But here they are, in their infancy, with a very different sound and a different name from what would become their trademark. 

The A-Side is our hero today. It's the repetitive but infectious, Debora. I'm also showcasing for you the Flip-Side, Child Star. Enjoy.
Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Captain Beefheart - Diddy Wah Diddy/Who Do You Think You're Fooling?

Diddy Wah Diddy
Who Do You Think You're Fooling?
I'm going to spin a bunch of my favorite records from one of my favorite labels all this week. A&M Records may not have the same garage cred as Dunwich Records, Tower Records, J-Beck Records or Fenton Records, but A&M put out some really remarkable stuff in the 60s and even held the torch for some great musicians well into the 70s.

A&M Records was founded in 1962 by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (hence, the A and the M) and immediately went to work publishing an eclectic mix of local LA bands and licensing music from lesser known UK bands for release in the US. We'll start the day off with one of those acts who fell into the eclectic LA music scene category.

A&M gave Captain Beefheart (born Don Van Vliet) his start with the release of Diddy Wah Diddy/Who Do You Think You're Fooling in March of 1966. The A-Side a cover of the traditional blues song (no, Bo Diddley did not write it) and the flip-side an original composition. Captain Beefheart's version of Diddy Wah Diddy is arguably the best version of the oft-recorded song. Blind Blake, Bo Diddley and The Remains could all make an argument for their version being the best. Dark and brooding, Captain Beefheart shows off his gruff voice and strong harmonica skills to perfection on Diddy Wah Diddy. Both sides show a musician who, like so many of his contemporaries in the mid-60s, was not trying to follow the path laid down by The Beatles or Rolling Stones. That's evident on both sides.
We'll see you tomorrow On The Flip-Side with more A&M Records.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Under The Covers: Piece of My Heart by Big Brother And The Holding Company and Erma Franklin

Erma Franklin
Aretha Franklin's big sister, Erma Franklin, never got the accolades her little sis received. But, like her sister, she could belt it out. Years of gospel singing in her father's church honed her skills to perfection. Erma released her 9th single, the Jerry Ragavoy and Bert Berns composed Piece Of My Heart, in October of 1967.
Big Brother And The Holding Company
In August of 1968, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin's first band, released Piece Of My Heart as their 6th single, and the first for major label, Columbia Records. The harder edge version of the song made it to #12 on the pop charts. 

Enjoy. We'll see you next time On The Flip-Side!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Song of the Week: Cat Power - Song to Bobby

On her 2008 release, Jukebox, Cat Power gives us her take on an (almost) album-full of covers including songs by Hank Williams, James Brown, Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan.  All but two of the songs are covers. Today's SotW is one of the originals, the glorious Song to Bobby.  Written a week prior to meeting Bob Dylan, it starts with the image of her standing as a teenager at a Dylan concert and recounts her deep love of the artist.

Enjoy and see you on the Flip-Side

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Song of the Week: Solomon Burke -- Keep Looking

Burke never attained the ubiquitous success of his label mates, Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin nor the chart success of people like Ben E. King. Burke was, however, hugely influential on fellow musicians who were attracted to his powerful and personal vocals and his ability to span country, gospel and soul effortlessly and convincingly. The Rolling Stones made it an early habit to cover Burke songs (Cry To Me, It's All Right, If You Need Me). The Pretty Things also did a wonderful version of Cry To Me. The Blues Brothers covered Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and The Zombies did a great version of Burke's Can't Nobody Love You. And a little known band with connections to the Rolling Stones, The Artwoods (can anybody make that connection?), did a killer cover of today's SOTW, Keep Looking. My 1966 Atlantic Records 45rpm of this song is a bit fuzzy and crackly, but I think Burke still sounds damn good. Enjoy the late, great Solomon Burke performing Keep Looking.

Oh yeah...we have written articles on, and posted audio from The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, The Pretty Things, and, Burke's fellow Philadelphian and Bert Berns protege, Garnett Mimms. Search in the upper left corner for articles on all these acts.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Song of the Week: The No-Na-Mee's - You Gotta Hold On

[Ed. Note - Please see comments section after the article for a band listing and confirmation that this WAS a real band and they were from Modesto, California.]

Not too much known about this stomper entitled Gotta Hold On. An online ERA Records discography shows this as coming from 1966. The listed producer is a cat named Billy Cardenas. Cardenas apparently specialized in East LA bands and had a penchant for working with hispanic bands. The songwriter is listed as one Doug Wareham. He also wrote the Flip-Side, Just Wanna Be Myself.

Other than that, nobody seems to know who the cryptically named No-Na Mee's really are. Both the name and the fact that nobody has come forward to say, "yeah-dat-mee's" makes me believe that this two minute and twenty eight second gem could well have been a studio band. Perhaps Cardenas himself. The only thing arguing against that, and I don't mean this in a bad way, is that the musicianship and production remain pretty amateurish. Say, unlike The Shindogs or some of those records labeled as The Chocolate Watchband. One internet source I found claimed they were from the rock-n-roll mecca of the California Central Valley of Modesto. 

I pulled this one off of Highs In The Mid-Sixties Volume 2. Anyone with info on this song, please let us know by dropping a comment below.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Under The Covers: I'll Keep Holding On by The Action and The Marvelettes

We're going to spend the better part of this week looking at well-known(ish) UK hits and the lesser known original versions of those hits.

Today we start with the song, I'll Keep Holding On. Among the garage record lovers, the song is probably best known as the preeminent song from London mod band, The Action, who released the number on Parlophone in February, 1966. I'll go on record here and say that this is one of those very rare occasions in which the cover exceeds the original. I'm particularly fond of the rhythm section of Mike "The Ace" Evans and drummer Roger Powell. Singer Reg King has a flawless delivery and guitarists Alan "Bam" King and Peter Watson round it out.
The Action
The Marvelettes released the original on the Motown subsidiary, Tamla, in May of 1965. The band was Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Wanda Young and Georgeanna Tillman at the time of the recording. Beautiful vocals abound.
The Marvelettes