Swinging Blue Jeans – What Can I Do Today

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The Swinging Blue Jeans

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Listen/Download -Swinging Blue Jeans – What Can I Do Today

Greetings all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some late period beat group ish.

Aside from the fact that their hit version of Chan Romero’s ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ was on one of the very first records I ever bought, and that I always dig their cover of ‘You’re No Good’, I never knew much about the Swinging Blue Jeans.

They were one of the original Merseybeat groups, Liverpool born and raised, and like the mighty Beatles, starting out as a skiffle group.

The recorded half a dozen singles (and an LP) for HMV in the UK (Imperial here in the US) hitting the charts, three of them in the UK Top 10, ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ grazing the US Top 20 in 1964.

Their sound was firmly in the beat group tradition, and despite their choice in cover material, largely free of an R&B edge.
I happened upon the tune I bring you today – 1966s ‘What Can I Do Today’ – while prowling through an old box of 45s, flipping them over to check out the B-sides.

Good thing I did too, because right there on the flip of their version of ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ was a jangly, little gem.
Written by the team of Fletcher and Whitworth (I have no idea who they were, but they also wrote at least one song for the Montanas), ‘What Can I Do Today’ starts off with a guitar line that echoes the lead guitar from the Animals ‘It’s My Life’ and some rumbling drums.

The record has a great, late-period beat boom sound to it with just the tiniest bit of 1966 tossed into the mix to make it interesting.

I’m not sure, but Terry Sylvester may have played on this 45 during his time with the group (in between the Escorts and his move to the Hollies).

This was their second to last 45, and the last one to make any dent in the charts, making the Top 40 in the UK and charting regionally in the US and Canada.

There were a few scattered 45s as Ray Ennis and the Blue Jeans between 1966 and 1969, before the band moved into nostalgia mode.

I hope you dig this one, and I’ll be back next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some soul.

Mama Cass – California Earthquake / Talking To Your Toothbrush

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Mama Cass

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Listen/Download -Mama Cass – California Earthquake

Listen/Download -Mama Cass – Talkin’ To Your Toothbrush

Greetings all.

When I was rummaging in the Iron Leg/Funky16Corners record vault, pawing through the huge stacks of vinyl, trying to decide what to whip on you good people this week, letting myself be led by inspirado, as is often the case, I happened upon just the right record.

Cass Elliot is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite singers. I grew up loving (and continue to love) the Mamas and Papas and have fond memories of my Mother’s well-worn copy of Elliot’s greatest hits album ‘Mama’s Big Ones’ which was in heavy rotation on our old console stereo.

The Mamas and Papas managed to create more than their fair share of musical magic in their short time together, weaving their voices into some of the most brilliant harmonies ever to grace a pop record. Alongside John Phillips considerable songwriting talent, they also had exquisite taste in cover material, often reworking older songs in such a unique way as to make it their own.

When the group broke up in 1968, it was Mama Cass that took off as a solo act.

Her solo debut ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ (with the hit single that had in fact been recorded with the group) is an unjustly forgotten piece of the late-60s LA puzzle. It sees Elliot wrapping her voice around some very interesting material that provided a slightly more serious bridge between the Mamas and Papas sound and her pop hits of the early 70s.

There’s a wonderful, laid back (but never dull) Laurel Canyon feel to the whole album, laced with bits of mainstream pop, country rock and a kind of melancholic stoner vibe that makes it a kind of lost treasure.

I first heard today’s selection via a thread on a funk and soul board I frequent where someone had solicited suggestions for funky rock records.

While I wouldn’t say that ‘California Earthquake’ is terribly funky in the conventional sense, I can imagine a field full of buckskin clad, stoned hippies swaying aggressively to it, in a kind of Dead concert parking lot, nitrous style.

Written by John Hartford (his recording of the tune is in a conventional country rock vein), ‘California Earthquake’ is a not so vaguely apocalyptic tale in the ‘California breaks off and falls into the sea’ tradition, with the addition of a rising Atlantis to the story.

It almost sounds like a soundtrack to Rudolph Wurlitzers ‘Quake’, run past ‘The Day of the Locust’. Considering what was about to transpire in the coming years, with Manson, and man on the moon, the vibe was not without merit.

The flipside, ‘Talkin’ To Your Toothbrush’ (written by the album’s producer, John Simon) is one of those songs, like Spirit’s ‘Topanga Windows’ that seems be a blissful high writ large. It has in its grooves a dusty California sunset, hot wind, and pot smoke blowing past a reclaimed stained glass window in a Laurel Canyon crash pad. It’s one of those records I feel like listening to over and over again, letting the vibe wash over me.

Elliot’s career would take off in another direction before being cut cruelly short by her premature demise. Though I dig her poppier stuff, I wish she’d been able to make more albums like this one.

I hope you dig it, and I’ll see you next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some soul.

The Dark, Weird Beginnings of Bruce Johnston…

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Bruce Johnston – On a buoy, and a strange looking bus…

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Listen/Download -Bruce Johnston – Jersey Channel Islands Part 7

Listen/Download -Bruce Johnston – Capetown

Greetings all.

I hope you’re all well as we settle in for another week.

The tunes I bring you today are some crazy shit from a very unlikely source.

I’ve certainly known of Bruce Johnston for years, first and foremost as a longtime member of the Beach Boys, and before that (with Terry Melcher) as part of Bruce and Terry.

That said, I had no idea that he had anything like the cuts I bring you today inside of him.

I first heard ‘Jersey Channel Islands Part 7’ last year, and when I did the experience was akin to opening a box of Cheerios and finding a pack of rattlesnakes singing four part harmony, i.e. the very spirit of incongruity.

Recorded in 1963 and released on the Columbia label, ‘Surfin’ ‘Round the World’ is proof positive that no matter how much you dig, no matter who you hobnob with, you will never know all the cool music there is to know.

This also has something to do with the old saw about leaving no stone unturned.

If I saw a Bruce Johnston album in a record store, I’d probably pass it by. While I dig surf music a lot, I am in neither an expert nor a connoisseur, happy to get by with a couple of compilation CDs and whatever interesting looking albums or 45s I manage to pick up on the cheap.

However, when I heard these tracks I knew I had to track down this record. My initial efforts met with little success because ‘Surfin’…’ is both obscure, and I would later discover, rare and costly.

Fortunately for me (always thankful for Ebay sellers who know not what they have), I got lucky and managed to pick up a lot with both mono and stereo copies of the record for about a third of what a single copy usually goes for.

Interestingly enough, alongside manic episodes like ‘Jersey Channel Islands Part 7’ and ‘Capetown’ (most of the albums tracks namecheck famous surfing locales) there are a couple of fairly run of the mill Beach Boys-y tracks, which were no doubt what Johnston turned over to the suits when they agreed to release this album. I suspect that had he whipped any of the crazy stuff on them they would have soiled their Brooks Brothers, spit out their 12 year old scotch and had him killed and buried in a shallow grave.

If you take a look at the pictures of Johnston on the cover of the album, looking all clean-cut and wholesome, you’d probably never match them up with this lunacy.

The best tracks on the album sound as if some mental case in a 1990s surf revival band, with a whole lot of grain alcohol and bad attitude under his belt had been set loose in a recording studio.

I don’t doubt that somewhere in 1963, someone was making music this unhinged, but that it made it onto a major label release is especially shocking.

The cuts are filled with insane, fuzzed out guitars and bass, electric piano (probably all Johnston) and wailing sax, packed with sounds that were years ahead of their time.

What you get is a basic template of hardcore, Dick Dale-ish surf, frat rock, lots of studio experimentation and just a dash of psychosis.

Interestingly, one of the tracks from the LP (‘Maksha at Midnight’ which sounds like Hank Marvin on vacation in California) was released a year later on a Bruce and Terry 45.

In addition to his Beach Boys duties, Johnston also went on to write ‘I Write the Songs’ for Barry Manilow. Go figure…

Fortunately ‘Surfin’ ‘Round the World’ has been reissued on a CD two-fer for a much more reasonable price.

I hope you dig this madness, and I’ll be back next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a soulful cover of Question mark and the Mysterians.

Have You Dug the Symphonopop Scene?

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The cover of Jonna Gault’s LP

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Listen/Download -Jonna Gault – What If They Gave a War and No One Came?

Listen/Download -Jonna Gault – Wonder Why I Guess

Greetings all.

I hope all is well on your end.

The tunes I picked for this week appear on both sides of a 1968 single by an interesting, ‘lost’ performer named Jonna Gault.

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard about her, but I suspect I grabbed this 45 while I was out digging, on the strength of the title of the A-side, ‘What If They Gave a War and No One Came’.

Though it appears in various forms, the catch phrase was popularized as ‘Suppose they gave a war and no one came’ in an article by writer and peace activist Charlotte Keyes (though it appears to have originated with none other than Carl Sandburg).

The saying became popular during the Vietnam war, when it appeared on a famous poster and a variation on it was used in the lyrics to the Monkees tune ‘Zor and Zam’.

While I’d like to give you some history on Jonna Gault, there appears to be little more than a very intriguing snapshot’s worth of a story out there.

Though she was signed to RCA in 1968 (at the age of 21) she had recorded a few earlier 45s in a saccharine girl-pop style.
The sound of her RCA era material, which Gault (or at least the publicists at RCA) termed “symphonopop” is intriguing and occasionally very interesting.

In addition to this 45, I also have her RCA LP ‘Watch Me: Jonna Gault and her Symphonop Scene’ which is especially interesting since Gault wrote, produced and arranged much of the material.

My initial temptation was to describe her overall style as ‘showtunes on acid’, but it’s more like mainstream pop with the tiniest contact high.

The tunes on this 45 are pretty much the best stuff she did, juxtaposing her relatively conventional vocal sound with a kind of vaguely psychedelic approach to the Wall of Sound.

‘What If They Gave a War and No One Came’ has a soundtrack feel, and a dark, interesting melody.

‘Wonder Why, I Guess’ is perfect example of how her records sound like the product of a middle of the road singer (not necessarily a pejorative) who has become psychedelicized in a vague, indirect way, kind of like Marlo Thomas as ‘That Girl’ stumbling into a pot party.

This isn’t the kind of record where the psyche touches have been tacked on crassly by a stylistic carpetbagger, but rather by someone who digs the sound but approached it as an outsider.

Am I making any sense?

If you listen to the full album, the effect is considerably more diffuse, with an unfortunate supper-club vibe creeping in, especially in an awkward cover of the Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’.

The really weird thing is – though I supposed this probably happened all the time – is that Gault kind of up and disappeared after her album. I don’t see any traces of her as a writer, session singer or anything else.

She was undeniably talented, but in a way that didn’t fit comfortably in her time.

Wonder what she was doing after 1968? Are there volumes of mysterious home recordings out there, or just another performer who decided to fade back into a conventional existence?

In the words of the Tootsie Pop owl, ‘The World May Never Know”.

See you next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some funk (what else??).

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