Iron Leg Digital Trip #25 – Sunny Day People

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The Millennium

Playlist
Sonny & Cher – It’s Gonna Rain (Atlantic)
Lesley Gore – The Bubble Broke (Mercury)
Tommy Roe – Misty Eyes (ABC)
Janis Ian – Sweet Misery (Verve)
Millennium – Prelude/To Claudia On Thursday (Columbia)
Cast of Thousands – My Jenny Wears a Mini (Tower)
Sundowners – Sunny Day People (Decca)
Merry Go Round – Time Will Show The Wiser (A&M)
Association – Come On In (WB)
Kingsmen – Little Sally Tease (Wand)
Paul Revere & the Raiders – Louise (Columbia)
JK & Company – Crystal Ball (White Whale)
Blood Sweat and Tears – Smiling Phases (Columbia)
Kaleidoscope – Pulsating Dream (Epic)
New Zealand Trading Company – Oh What a Day (Memphis)
Rugbys – You I (Amazon)
This mix can be heard in the Iron Leg Digital Trip Podcast Archive

Greetings all.
I hope that the beginning of a new week finds you all well.
The summer is finally here, and the irony of my seemingly endless litany of complaints about its absence is not lost on me.
What better way to get the summer off to a rousing start than a new edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip (the 25th!), packed end to end with pop goodness. You get Sunset Strip, sunshine pop, garage pop, folk rock, psych pop, and even something a little heavy to wrap your ears around as you sit on the veranda sipping mint juleps and swatting flies.
Things get started with one of my favorite records (if you’ve been to Funky16Corners you’ll know that its soulful instrumental version by Gentleman June Gardner is a big fave too), ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ by Sonny and Cher. Thanks to the fact that most people never turn over their 45s, this song (the b-side of ‘I Got You Babe’) is not well known. It may also have something to do with the fact that in the S&C oeuvre, there is hardly another record as close to the sounds of 60s punk. ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ sounds like Sonny had the band take the recorder player from the a-side out into the alley and beaten soundly, so that they could work it out to the fullest extent. I never get tired of this one.
Lesley Gore first appeared here a few months back with her version of the song ‘Off and Running’ also recorded by the Mindbenders (and also posted here). Originating from the same LP (‘California Nights’) ‘The Bubble Broke’ is a window into the light pop take on a somewhat harder vibe. There are all the usual girl-group elements, but they’re tempered with hard hitting drums and just a taste of fuzz guitar (not to mention a great vocal by Gore) and some kind of cheap combo organ.
Tommy Roe was a solid hitmaker through the 60s but rarely did he make music as wonderful as that on the 1967 LP ‘It’s Now Winters Day’. This is due in large part to the involvement of the great Curt Boettcher and his traveling circus of musical compadres. Almost completely unknown to Joe Six-pack, Boettcher spent the 60s creating some of the finest pop music ever heard, both in his own projects (the Ballroom, Sagittarius, Millennium) and as a producer/arranger/composer for hire (working with big names like the Association and countless, more obscure artists). It was in the latter capacity that he helped Roe make his finest album. One of my favorite tracks from that album is the harmony tour de force ‘Misty Eyes’. Mixing a Bo Diddley beat, electric sitar and Boettcher’s patented waves of sunny harmony,’Misty Eyes’ manages to gather many of the hallmarks of the underground sound and wrap them up in a bundle of pure pop. Sometime in the not too distant future I’ll be putting together a mix of Boettcher’s best material, on his own, working with others, and interpreted by other artists that will feature some really interesting stuff (the Brady Bunch, anyone?).
That I continue to discover surprises in the early work of Janis Ian is illustrated by the fuzzed out track ‘Sweet Misery’, from her 1968 LP ‘The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink’. Backed once again by the cream of New York’s session heavies, Ian really rips into ‘Sweet Misery’ and the vibe once again borrows heavily from the garagey side of things.
Speaking of Curt Boettcher, the very apex of his art was the 1968 album by the Millennium. Whereas Sagittarius was as much Gary Usher’s project as it was his own, the Millennium saw Boettcher taking the wheel (often to the consternation of his collaborators) and driving to pop heaven at top speed. Though Boettcher only wrote about half the songs, the LP it is unmistakably his work. The medley that opens the Millennium’s sole LP ‘Begin’, ‘Prelude / To Claudia on Thursday’ is the best thing on a record packed to the rafters with wonders. ‘Prelude’, composed by ex-Music Machine members Ron Edgar and Doug Rhodes features Edgar’s pounding drums (making the rare Columbia 45 of the tune sought after by the crate digger set) is just under a minute and a half of sonic wonder, followed by ‘To Claudia on Thursday’ (written by guitarists Michael Fennelly and Joey Stec) which takes the sunshine pop idea and hones it to perfection. Marked by the odd sound of the cuica, ‘To Claudia on Thursday’ proves (like much of Boettcher’s best work) that it was possible to take all of the core elements of the bubblegum sound and create something of sublime and lasting beauty. If you haven’t heard the entire ‘Begin’ LP, track down the reissue, slap on the headphones and take a trip to pop heaven.
Taking a stab at pop from a garage band standpoint is Texas’ Cast of Thousands with ‘My Jenny Wears a Mini’. Though the name Stevie Ray Vaughan has long been associated with this band, he does not appear on most of their records, reportedly only joining a reconstituted version of the group later in their career. ‘My Jenny Wears a Mini’ is a great slice of garage pop, with a beat group vibe passed through walls of cheap guitars and combo organ, not to mention the fact that they manage to sing an ode to miniskirts with what sounds like a straight face.
The Sundowners are in many ways the perfect 60s pop curiosity. They managed to make some very cool 45s, toured with the Monkees and managed to appear (in various forms) on both ‘It Takes a Thief’ and ‘The Flying Nun’ TV shows. ‘Sunny Day People’ is a bright, Beatle-esque bit of sunshine pop with a guitar breakdown in the middle of the song that could have been lifted off of any of the Fabs mid-period records.
Emitt Rhodes has been a big favorite of mine since I found a copy of his first solo LP back in the mid-80s. Starting with the Palace Guard, Rhodes moved on to the Merry Go Round, recording a couple of 45s and one amazing LP before breaking up and sending him on his way to a stellar solo career. ‘Time Will Show the Wiser’ (covered in the UK by Fairport Convention) is one of the band’s finest songs, mixing the purest Sunset Strip folk rock with just a dusting of onrushing psychedelia.
The Association is the perfect example of a band that had several big hits, yet only got the respect they deserved decades later, and even then only from hardcore fans of the sunshine pop sound. They made some amazing records (some with the assistance of – yes – Curt Boettcher) that took the sound of their biggest hits and expanded upon it. ‘Come On In’, the opening track of 1968s ‘Birthday’ album is a fave.
Returning to the garage side of things, we have the Kingsmen with their version of Don and the Goodtimes’ ‘Little Sally Tease’. Written by Jim ‘Harpo’ Valley when he was a member of D&TG’s (before he joined Paul Revere and the Raiders), the tune is a Pacific Northwest garage punk classic. Though I prefer the Standells thundering take on the tune, the Kingsmen lay into it with all of the spirit and competence of a suburban garage band and there’s no denying that this approach (even with the wholly unnecessary horn section) works in spades.
Speaking of Paul Revere and the Raiders, I’ve gone on record here saying that they were one of the truly underrated bands of the 60s. Like the Association, they had more than their share of chart success, but their critical embrace still hasn’t come to fruition. Their version of Jesse Lee Kincaid’s (of LA’s Rising Sons) ‘Louise’ (also recorded by Keith Allison over the same backing track) is a slammer. A perfect example of the Raiders ability to streamline/supercharge the garage punk sound – perhaps what any competent 60s punk band would sound like if they had Terry Melcher producing their records – ‘Louise’ is a classic.
The mysterious JK & Company are back again, with the very brief, but also very garagey ‘Crystal Ball’ from their sole White Whale LP. ‘Crystal Ball’ almost sounds like it was lifted from a party/psych-out scene in an AIP film.
“Blood Sweat and Tears?!?!?” you shout with alarm? Hold steady friend, because first of all, I dig BS&T, especially David Clayton Thomas’ Canuck soul brother thing, and the tune I bring you today sees the first big rock horn band laying into Traffic’s ‘Smiling Phases’. To be sure, their approach is significantly less flowery than the original, but – and I think this version inspired Woody Herman to record his own jazzed up take on the tune – I think it works, especially the jazzy little breakdown when the piano comes in.
I was lucky enough recently to finally get my hands on a copy of what I consider to be one of the truly great albums of the mid-60s, ‘Side Trips’ by the Kaleidoscope. As hard as it is to believe, that in the midst of the psychedelic era there were actually TWO bands named the Kaleidoscope (one in the US and one in the UK), they were – against all odds – both excellent in their own ways. This Kaleidoscope, the LA based group that featured David Lindley, made some of the most interesting music of the era, mixing folk rock and psychedelia with world music, bluegrass and jazz. ‘Pulsating Dream’ is one the purest examples of psych-pop in their catalog.
The New Zealand Trading Company appeared in the last edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip with a number from the more psychedelic side of their sound. ‘Oh What a Day’ sees them channeling the Association, blended with a touch of UK psyche pop.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip closes out with a taste of what garage punk was like when it was transitioning into the Freak Flag sounds of Blue Cheer. The Rugbys hailed from Kentucky, and infused their pounding punk sound with overdriven (in every sense) guitar and vocals that would, like so many of their ilk, lay the ground for heavy metal.
I hope you dig the mix, and I’ll be back next week with some more groovy stuff.

Peace
Larry


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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a new funk 45 mix.

PSS Check out Paperback Rider too…

IL Meets F16C #4 – Terry Reid – Stay With Me

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Terry Reid (and the wrong side of the LP)

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Listen -Terry Reid – Stay With Me Baby – MP3

Go to Funky16Corners to hear the version by Lorraine Ellison

Greetings all.

The end of another week approaches and although there’s s summery touch of humidity hanging in the air the sun is still as elusive as ever. I suppose I’m going to have to find a way to deal with this, but it’s still a drag.
Today sees another installment of the recurring features known as the Intersection of Funky16Corners and Iron Leg. The last time we did this, back in March of this year it was devoted to two versions (one soul, one rock) of the classic Ed Cobb tune ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’. This time out sees a similar juxtaposition with two different versions of a song from the catalog of one of the great geniuses of 60s soul, Mr. Jerry Ragavoy.
If the name is not familiar, get down into the crates and start checking the fine print on your record labels, since Ragavoy was the composer, arranger and producer of some of the finest soul records ever made, among them Erma Franklin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’, Howard Tate’s ‘Get It While You Can’ (a personal fave), Garnett Mimms’ ‘Cry Baby’, Irma Thomas’s ‘Time Is On My Side’ and today’s selection ‘Stay With Me (Baby)’ (the “baby” in parentheses since the song is billed with and without it).
The best known version of this song, by the mighty Lorraine Ellison (which you can hear over at Funky16Corners) is rightly regarded as a high point in the history of classic soul ballads. As the story goes, Ragavoy brought Ellison into the studio in early 1966 to take advantage of some orchestra time left over from a cancelled Frank Sinatra session.
Ellison’s recording, like so many of Ragavoy’s creations is a sublime mixture of gospel inflected soul with touches of R&B grit. The “build” of the song is much like that of ‘Cry Baby’, with a slow, drawn out verse building into a dynamic, nearly overpowering chorus. The lyrics are a heartbreaking plea to repair a shattered love and Ellison’s delivery, especially during the chorus where she soars into the stratosphere (vocally and emotionally) is brilliant.
It wasn’t that long ago when I was digging down south during a DJ trip and I uncovered a copy of Terry Reid’s 1969 self titled LP. Reid was a UK rock wunderkind of sorts (making his first record at 15) , highly regarded in his homeland, known amongst the heads stateside, but never really breaking through in a big way. He is best known as having reportedly turned down the chance to front both Led Zeppelin (the original) and Deep Purple (replacing Rod Evans). He recorded a number of LPs in the late 60s under the aegis of popmeister Mickie Most, the finest of which was the aforementioned ‘Terry Reid’.
Reid was possessed of a raw tenor reminiscent of – yet more subtle than – Steve Marriot. Reid often worked in a stripped down, power-trio (with embellishments) format. While in the hands of others this was applied with the delicacy of a sledgehammer, Reid exercised a fair amount of taste and restraint, actually arranging his songs where other would have buried them in a stone wall of power chords.
Reid’s style was never better than in his own version of ‘Stay With Me Baby’ which is in its own way, every bit the epic that Ellison’s better known recording.
Opening with a spare drum and bass combo, followed by a crashing wave of Hammond organ, Reid opens the verse with his voice playing against the sparest of accompaniment, hi-hat and drum stick rapping against snare rim, bass and a barely audible, almost funereal organ in the background. He sings in a delicate, near-falsetto, only introducing the rasp into his voice as he escalates the volume going into the chorus. There are those who might see what I’m about to say as sacrilegious, but I’d be willing to say that Reid’s version of ‘Stay With Me Baby’ is every bit the emotional, dare I say soulful tour de force of Lorraine Ellison’s, and in some ways, thanks to the rough backing (stripped of the orchestral embellishment) exceeds it in some ways.
As much as I love Ellison (her ‘Call Me Any Time You Need Some Loving’ and ‘Try Just a Little Bit Harder’ are big faves of mine), I find myself returning to Reid’s version much more often. That said, both versions are worth hearing, and I hope you dig them.
If I can get my act together I may roll back in here on Monday with a new edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip Podcast.
Until then, have a most excellent weekend, and I’ll see you all then.

Peace

Larry

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for Lorraine Ellison’s version of ‘Stay With Me’ .

Springfield Rifle – The Bears

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The Springfield Rifle(s)

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Roger Perkins

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The Royal Guardsmen

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Quicksilver Messenger Service

Listen -Sprinfield Rifle – The Bears – MP3

Greetings all.

Here’s an odd one.
Fans of Pacific Northwest rock of the 60s will be familiar with the Springfield Rifle.
Rising from the ashes of Jimmy Hannah and the Dynamics (who recorded some great 45s, including a tasty cover of Eddie Holland’s ‘Leaving Here’) the Springfield Rifle went to compile a failry large discography including a number of 45s for Burdette and Jerden, at least one LP for the former, and today’s selection which was released by ABC in 1966 (for some reason billing the group as the ‘Springfield Rifles’).
The tune, ‘The Bears’ is a vaguely creepy number with insane lyrics about stepping on bears (really) with a garage leaning into the early wave of psyche (lyrically anyway) vibe.
So, I set out to dig up some info on the 45 and I discover that the composers of the song (as credited on the Springfield Rifle 45) were not in fact members of the band. I hit a couple of my reliable info sources and discover that the same song was recorded by the Royal Guardsmen and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, both credited to Roger Perkins*. I dug a little more and found out that Roger Perkins was a San Fran Bay area singer and guitarist who was a presence in the early days of the folk rock scene, having gigged with a number of big names including the Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen, and David Freiberg of the Quicksilver Messenger Service (who credited Perkins with introducing him to the song).
Here’s the big question: Quicksilver, the group with a direct link to Roger Perkins didn’t record ‘The Bears’ until 1968, on the b-side of a 45 (it did not appear on any QMS albums). Both Springfield Rifle and the Royal Guardsmen recorded the song in 1966.
The Springfield Rifle version is credited to Daniel Moore, Don Paulian and Jeff Thomas. Moore a songwriter/producer who wrote a number of hits (among them ‘Shambala’ for Three Dog Night) recorded ‘The Bears’ with an LA group called the Fastest Group Alive in 1966.
The fact that Moore, Paulin and Thomas are credited on the Springfield Rifle 45, and Perkins is credited on the Quicksilver and Royal Guardsmen records suggests to me that the song may have come from a traditional/folk source and was adapted separately by Perkins and Moore et al. A biography I found of Daniel Moore mentions that he spent a few years working the coffeehouse circuit as a folk singer in the early 60s, so it’s entirely possible he and Perkins heard the same source material.
Hmmmm….
Anyone know for sure?
Let me know.

Peace

Larry

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NOTE: Make sure to follow Iron Leg on Facebook by clicking on the link on the top left part of the sidebar.

PS Head over to Funky16Corners for another funky 45.

Arthur Lee & Love – 7 and 7 Is

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Arthur Lee, alone again…

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Listen -Arthur Lee & Love – 7 and 7 Is – MP3

Greetings all.

Is everyone ready for the weekend?
I’m sitting here in NJ lulled into somnolence by a week of unending cloud cover, unseasonably low temperatures and finally, today, a veritable deluge. If the mailman is bringing me some records today, he’d better not let them get wet or I just might crack up.
In an attempt to get things back on course I figured I pull one of the big guns out of the arsenal, a record so powerful, so undeniable in its punk fury, that any befogged brain would be returned to working order immediately.
The record in question is an early 45 by my all time favorite 60s band, Arthur Lee and Love.
The song in question: “7 and 7 Is”.
Here’s what I said about it in an obit I wrote when Lee passed in 2006:

“The first Love record I actually owned was a Rhino ‘Best Of’ that came out in 1980. Though that record contained the song that would become my favorite – ‘Your Mind and We Belong Together’ – the tune that blew my mind wide open from the first listen was ‘7 and 7 Is’.
Though Love had (and has) been unfairly lumped in with the Nuggets crowd, due to the ‘one hit wonder’-ism of ‘My Little Red Book’, their punkiest record met, and transcended the greasy teenage swagger of 6T’s punk in a way that even today is hard to comprehend.
Packing more energy into its two minutes and nineteen seconds than some bands are able to produce in entire careers, ‘7 and 7 Is’ is as raw and savage a statement (if perhaps lyrically obtuse in a way not at all atypical for its time) as rock music has ever seen, and ending it with a sound-effects record explosion – a notion that might have damned a lesser record to an oblivion of novelty – seems today not only acceptable, but an absolutely necessary bit of punctuation.”

‘7 and 7 Is’ is what the current phrase factory would term a ‘game changer’. Once you’ve heard it, nothing before or after will sound quite the same. It puts most of what has passed for punk rock in the last four decades to shame, revealing it as gutless posing. I don’t know what was going through Arthur Lee’s mind when he wrote the song, but when he entered the studio with Love to record it, he was clearly gunning for bear. It is at once uncompromising, direct, brutal and revealing (while simultaneously completely opaque) and one of those records that sounds as if its grooves can barely contain the power within.
If you already know it, employ its many wonders as a mental palate cleanser of sorts. If you do not, brace yourself and get back to me when you recover.
I’m going outside to shake my fist at the sky.

Peace

Larry

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some vintage Japanese funk.

The Soft Machine – A Certain Kind

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The Soft Machine (Hugh Hopper at left)

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Listen -The Soft Machine – A Certan Kind- MP3

Greetings all.

I hope everyone had a most excellent weekend.
The tune I bring you today has been sitting in the reserve file for a while. Unfortunately, the news last week that Hugh Hopper of the Soft Machine had passed away compelled me to dig it out and post it herein.
Oddly enough, though my affinity for the Soft Machine these days runs toward their early Canterbury psychedelia, the very first time I heard the band was another story entirely. As mentioned in this space previously, as a lad I used to haunt the only local record store, Music Den at the local “mall”. Aside from the fact that Music Den was in most ways typical of a chain record store, i.e. heavily stocked with the hits of the day on LP, cassette and 8-track, they also had a huge selection of what used to be called ‘cut outs’, those being records returned to the distributor as unsold, then sent back out into the world with a gouge in the cover to be sold at a discount price.
An enterprising soul could stroll into Music Den with a fiver in your hand and leave with three or four albums. It was on one such occasion that I purchased the album ‘Soft Machine Seven’.
Displaying sinister black and white photos of the band on the cover, ‘Seven’ was a powerhouse of early 70s prog cum fusion that warped my still largely unformed mind for some time, at one point forming a short-lived group (keyboards, bass, drums) based largely on the sound of the very record.
It was a decade later before I was turned on to the original sounds of the Soft Machine.
The tune I bring you today is from their very first album (‘Volume One’), and just happens to have been written by the late Mr. Hopper, though as far as I can tell he had yet to join the band*.
‘A Certain Kind’ is a fine bit of mid-to-late 60s, vaguely soulful Brit progressive sounds.. All you really hear for most of the song is a funereal organ and bass, along with the vocal by Robert Wyatt, joined mid-song by his jazz-inflected drumming. The overall effect is like a considerably less overwrought Procol Harum (a band I dig, but listen to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and I think you’ll see what I mean).
I hope you dig the tune, and remember Hugh Hopper.

Peace

Larry

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*Hopper was composing for the Soft Machine as early as 1967 but did not record as a member of the band until 1969. Hopper had been a member of early Canterbury groups the Daevid Allen Trio and Wilde Flowers

PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a funky 45.

The Neighborhood – You Could Be Born Again

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The Neighborhood

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Listen -The Neighborhood – You Could Be Born Again – MP3

Listen -Free Design – You Could Be Born Again – MP3

Greetings all.

As promised I’d like to close out the week with something Free Design-related.
Some years back, while out digging (at a record show, I think) I happened upon a 45 by a group I’d never heard of (the Neighborhood) , performing a song with a title that was vaguely familiar. It was only when I scanned the label closely that my interest was piqued.
The song in question ‘You Could Be Born Again’ was written by Chris Dedrick, one of the members of, and the main songwriter for the Free Design. I considered the Free Design to be so obscure I was shocked that anyone else had recorded their material*, so – since the record was 25 cents – I put it in the keeper stack and took it home. I never was able to track down any information about the Neighborhood.
Flash forward a few years, and I’m getting my fingers dirty digging at one of the Asbury Lanes record swaps and what do I find but an entire LP by the Neighborhood. Entitled ’Debut’, it was the first LP to be released on the then new Big Tree label (also home to a wild mix of artists including Dave and Ansil Collins, Lobo, Steeleye Span and the Sugar Bears).
Looking at the LP (the centerfold of which I photographed, above) the Neighborhood was a nine-piece, soft-rock ensemble. The LP is composed largely of cover material – Laura Nyro, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Hair soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel), all recorded in what was unfortunately a lackluster, poorly produced fashion, rendering what could have been a very interesting find merely a curiosity.
The Free Design cover is the most curious of all, being a non-LP b-side to the single release of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, which was a (very) minor hit. The Neighborhood version is interesting, but ultimately can’t hold a candle to the original (which I’ve included above). The Neighborhood’s singing is pretty good, but the instrumental backing is a little on the loose side and the arrangement lacking the imagination and precision of the original.
I hope you dig it (or at least find it interesting), and I’ll be back on Monday.

Peace

Larry

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**The Free Design had their songs covered by Fred Waring’s Young Pennsylvanians (Thanks Porky!) and as mentioned in Monday’s post, guitarist Tony Mottola.

PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a funky 45.

The Free Design – Kites are Fun

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Free Design

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Listen -Free Design – Kites are Fun – MP3

Greetings all.

I want to start things off by saying a hearty “Thank you!” to everyone that donated during the Funky16Corners/Iron Leg 2009 Pledge Drive. Once again the nut – as they say- has been covered, and things (at least as far as interwebs storage/bandwidth is concerned) will remain up and running for another year.
The tune I bring you today has been sitting in my “to be blogged” folder for a while, waiting for just the right time to be posted. A few weeks ago a reader wrote asking if I would ever post said song, and since it was burning a hole in my hard drive, I took the request as a sign, said yes, and here we are.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there was once a time where my taste for the twee side of pop was, for lack of a better term, undeveloped. If you had played a Free Design (or Curt Boettcher) track for my long-haired, Led Zeppelin listening to self, I would have choked on the sugar and perhaps beaten you soundly (though in that same period I was often stoned and sluggish, so you probably would have gotten beyond my grasp without much effort).
When I look back on it, this seems odd because the band that got my head into music in the first place was the hookiest of all, that being the Beatles. My sensibilities have always been hooks and harmony attuned, but like any youngster (which believe it or not I once was) I had a head full of roadblocks that only time and tide would erode. Now that I am at an age my 18 year old self would likely consider my dotage (I’m 46), many of those walls have been torn down, some by myself, some by the urging of others and some all by themselves.
If memory serves I first found my way to the Free Design via the mid-90s Japanese fascination with them and their sweet sounding ilk, via the pricey reissues put out by Cornelius, and the homage by groups like Pizzicato Five. At some point I got my hands on the compilation by Varese Sarabande, and my mind was, in short order, good and truly blown.
It’s only in the last few years that I finally acquired some OG Free Design vinyl (there are still a couple of albums I’m looking for) and I was pleasantly surprised that much of the material that I hadn’t heard yet was up to the standards of the ‘greastest hits’.
Like many of the groups I would group with the Free Design, like Sagittarius, the Millennium, early Paul Williams (all faves, and barely scratching the surface of the genre), I would hesitate to push them on anyone that wasn’t already somewhat attuned to the sound. The digestion of this kind of music requires a certain amount of context and preparation for proper appreciation. Where the Curt Boettcher sound is based in a conventional pop/rock setting, the Free Design drew from Now Sound and sophisticated harmony singing like the Hi-Los and the Swingle Singers before touching on rock tangentially, sounding like a high school swing choir led by a pop visionary. Though their arrangements were often dense with ideas, and the backing tight and energetic, at first listen some of their recordings sound like so much candy floss.
There were times when I was first exposed to the group where the music seemed to radiate earnestness that at times struck me as a put on. However, repeat listening, especially to the right songs, reveals that the group really had a lot going on.
Formed in the mid-60s by the Dedrick siblings (Chris, Bruce, Sandy, Ellen and Stefanie) the members of the Free Design came from a musical family. Their seven albums (most of which were released on Enoch Light’s Project 3 imprint) were a mixture of brilliant original material and interesting covers (Bacharach/David, Turtles), all delivered with the group’s intricate harmonies and backing from the same group of crack session players that recorded for Enoch Light’s other projects.
The tune I bring you today is the title track from their first LP, 1967’s ‘Kites are Fun’. An ode to the pure, childlike pleasure of kite flying – something that would have been assumed to have lysergic roots in other hands – ‘Kites are Fun’ features cascading, madrigal-like harmonies and a relatively spare backing (bass, tambourine, acoustic guitar and recorder), and lyrics that defy any attempt at interpretation on anything but face value. No one was going to hear ‘Kites are Fun’ and jump to conclusions that what the Free Design were blending their heavenly voices about was a euphemism for anything stronger that a little exercise in a windy field*.
That vibe is one of the things I dig so much about the Free Design. Like the narrator in ‘Bubbles’ (featured in Iron Leg Digital Trip #18), the person singing about kites is undeniably a kid. This may be hard for someone from 2009 to understand, but Free Design were operating in an irony-free zone. This is not music delivered with a wink and a knowing smile. To paraphrase a then popular phrase, with Free Design, what you hear is what you get.
If you get a chance to scan their entire catalog, it is clear that they were capable of delivering more adult themes – they did a wonderful version of one of my fave Bacharach songs ‘Windows of the World’ – and despite the childlike subject matter, the music of Free Design was nothing if not sophisticated. If I ever get my hands on the rest of their records, I may have to do an all Free Design edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip.
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll be back later in the week with something Free Design-related.

Peace

Larry

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*Keeping things kid, on an episode of the very groovy ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ I was surprised to hear a cover (with a short, animated video) of ‘Kites are Fun’ as performed by the Parallelograms. Back in the 60s the song was covered by another Project 3 artist, guitarist Tony Mottola.

PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a new guest mix.

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