Ian McLagan 1945 – 2014

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Ian McLagan

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The Firm of Jones, McLagan, Lane and Marriott

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The Faces – Jones, Stewart, Wood, McLagan and Lane 

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Listen/Download – The Small Faces – Tin Soldier MP3

Listen/Download – The Faces – (I Know) I’m Losing You (Live at the BBC)

Listen/Download – The Faces – Oh Lord I’m Browned Off

Greetings all.

This week the world of music was stunned by the sudden death of legendary keyboardist Ian McLagan.

McLagan was lucky enough to have manned the keys in both the Small Faces (replacing Jimmy Winston in 1965) and then following some of his bandmates into the slightly larger Faces.

As someone who grew up in a house where the piano loomed large (thanks to my old man) I have always had a healthy respect for keyboard players, and Ian McLagan was among the best.

He was also – as were many of his ilk – cursed by his position in the band to fade into the woodwork.

Frontment, guitarists and bassists have the luxury of moving around the stage, playing the fool, and the drummer – in addition to often being the loudest goon on the bandstand, is usually right there in the middle of things.

The poor keyboardist (lead singers like Steve Winwood excepted) are often on the side of the stage, seated behind some huge appliance made of wood and wires, providing much of the musical texture, yet out of sight, and as usually follows, out of mind.

As you may already be aware, especially if you follow Funky16Corners, I am a certified Hammond organ and electric piano nut, so my ears have always been attuned to Mac’s prodigious skills.

At his very best, Mac was the epitome of the team player, eschewing the bombast of contemporaries like Keith Emerson, choosing instead to add layers, and more importantly, punctuation of a sort. He used the piano and organ to add texture and emphasis to songs.

The first track I’m featuring today appeared here at Iron Leg back in 2010, and is for me the finest thing the Small Faces ever did. ‘Tin Soldier’, recorded in 1967 is the perfect intersection of the group’s R&B roots and the more progressive direction things were moving in at the time.

‘Tin Soldier’ is a master class in rock dynamics, due in large part to McLagan’s electric piano, which sets the tone, and (with the organ) lays the foundation for the entire song. The electric piano break at 1:29 is as powerful as anything that ever appeared on a Small Faces record.

The Faces were another bag entirely. With Rod Stewart and Ron Wood (it took two regular humans to replace Steve Marriott) added to the mix things got a whole lot shaggier but the mix was every bit as potent as with the Small Faces.

I’m including two Faces tracks here, one that illustrates Mac’s power as a sideman, and the second an organ feature.

The Faces cover of the Temptations ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ – recorded by the band but released as part of Rod Stewart’s solo LP ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ – is one of the band’s best known recordings. This version, recorded live for the BBC ‘Sounds For Saturday’ program in 1971, once again features McLagan’s electric piano as a prominent voice. As loud as Ronnie Wood’s guitar is, Mac’s piano is right there with him, and when you get to 2:05, and the band drops back (except to hum), and the piano comes in by itself, it’s a thing to behold.

The last track is ‘Oh Lord I’m Browned Off’, which appeared as the b-side to the single of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. A Wood/McLagan/Lane/Jones composition, the Hammond-led instro starts off like a distant cousin of the Turtles’ ‘Buzz Saw’, rolling out into a funky groove with plenty of solo time for McLagan and some bottleneck guitar from Wood.

Following the demise of the Faces, McLagan followed Wood into the New Barbarians, formed his own Bump Band, played for years with Billy Bragg, and recorded as a sideman for all kinds of people.

He had been living in Austin, TX for many years when he passed away.

He will be missed.

See you next week.

 

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners some soul

Shadow Morton RIP

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George ‘Shadow’ Morton

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The Shangri-Las

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Listen/Download – Shangri-Las – Give Him a Great Big Kiss

Listen/Download – Shangri-Las – The Train From Kansas City

Greetings all.

I did not have a second post planned for this week, but this morning word came over the wire that George ‘Shadow’ Morton had passed away at the age of 72.

Though Morton’s name might not be a familiar one, you have surely heard the sounds he helped to create in the 60s and 70s.

Morton was the creative mind behind the Shangri-Las, and went on to produce Janis Ian’s 1967 hit ‘Society’s Child’ as well as the first few albums by Vanilla Fudge.

There is – for good reason – a tremendous amount of attention paid to the world of Phil Spector, his Wall of Sound and the records the emanated from it by groups like the Ronettes, the Blossoms and the Righteous Brothers.

Though Shadow Morton’s curriculam vitae is not as lengthy or well known as Spector’s, he certainly deserves to be spoken of in the same breath.

Both Spector and Morton (as well as audio auteurs like Joe Meek) were attempting to shatter the limits of what a recording studio could be used for, filling all the available space – and then some – in the grooves of a 45.

In some ways, at least to my ears, Shadow Morton met and beat Spector at his own game.

Morton may have had the remarkable instrument of Mary Weiss’s voice as the axis around which the rest of the record revolved but he also had a talent for creating a booming sound without armies of studio musicians.

Most of the rhythm tracks on the Shangri-Las 45s are relatively uncomplicated, employing the natural power of the piano (he could do a lot with a few piano keys), guitar, bass and drums.

His use of sound effects – revving motorcycles, screeching tires, trains, seagulls – could have sounded gimmicky, but now, almost 50 years later they make a tremendous amount of sense, especially when juxtaposed with reverbed hand claps, finger snaps, spoken asides by the Shangri-Las and the booming drums that punctuated every record.

There’s a phrase you often see associated with radio drama – “theater of the mind” – that makes a lot of sense when applied to Morton’s productions for the Shangri-Las. While these records were by and large first heard through transistor radios and cheap record players, they still have enough depth that you can slap on the headphones, close your eyes and really let their evocative power wash over you.

When you take the time to absorb it all the sound effects are in the end no less musical that the guitars, organs or drums and the impact of the records is remarkable, pushing right up against the limits of distortion but always pulling back just enough so that the space between the sounds is revealed.

It’s important to note the emotional impact of the records as well. There’s an interview with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller where they talk about the Morton-produced Shangri-Las records as somewhat corny, yet ultimately touching and real. That “realness” is one of the main reasons that these records were as successful as they were back in the day and why they still resonate today.

These are records that any teenager could hear and relate to, less Brian Wilson’s “teenage symphonie(s) to God” and more a teenager’s symphony to another teenager (or at least the remnants of our teenage selves).

The two tunes I’m posting today are great examples of the high quality in the Shangri-Las discography.

The first, ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’ was one of their biggest hits (Top 20 in early 1965). It’s interesting how much of the song’s forward propulsion is tied into the horns, bass and the lead vocal (the percussion is limited to handclaps, tambourine, bongos and a snare drum). The way things shift in the chorus, to the foot stomping, hand clapping and voices (including the big ‘MWAH!”) is really something else.

The second tune, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s ‘The Train From Kansas City’, the b-side of the #99 ‘Right Now and Not Later’ (check it out over at Funky16Corners) is my favorite of Morton’s sound-effect heavy productions.

Once again, the instrumental backing is strong but spare (just rhythm guitar, piano – imitating the chugging train – and drums) with the Shangri-Las harmonies weaving in and out of the train sounds.

If you listen to the production/arrangement of ‘Society’s Child’, it’s not hard to imagine Mary Weiss taking Janis Ian’s place in the lead vocal, so similar is the overall style.

By the time Morton was working with Vanilla Fudge, there were still traces of the old melodrama there, but they were usually swimming in a stew of excess (though Morton gets props for apparently masterminding their ‘The Beat Goes On’ LP).

Though Shadow Morton went on to produce the New York Dolls in the early 70s (they would record an initially unreleased cover of ‘(Give Him) A Great Big Kiss’) he wouldn’t do a hell of a lot after that.

I hope you dig the tunes, and that if you haven’t already, you take some time to really dig into the sound of the Shangri-Las.

See you on Monday.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some soul.

Ed Cassidy RIP – Spirit: I Got a Line On You

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Spirit – Ed Cassidy at left

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Listen/Download – Spirit – I Got a Line On You

Greetings all.

It was with great sadness last week that the world heard about the passing of the mighty Ed Cassidy.

Cassidy, who was 89 and was best known as one of the founders of Spirit has been playing drums professionally for more than 70 years.

With his ever-bald pate and his black wardrobe, Cassidy never really seemed to age over the years.

He got his start playing jazz and pop in dance bands, eventually gigging with cats like Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan.

He co-founded the Rising Sons in 1964 with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, though he was eventually replaced by Kevin Kelley after breaking his hand.

The year later he founded the Little Red Roosters with his then 14 year old stepson Randy California, the group that morphed into Spirit in 1967.

If you haven’t heard anything but the hits, the first few Spirit albums, filled with jazz and world music tinged psychedelia are pure genius.

Oddly enough, I wouldn’t discover those albums until the Sony ‘Time Circle’ collection which was issued in 1991.

The song that I grew up on – the one that blew my mind the very first time I heard it on FM radio, probably a few years after it was originally released in 1968 – is the mighty ‘I Got a Line On You’.

Written by Randy California, ‘I Got a Line On You’ is a juggernaut that gains steam consistently through its roughly two and a half minutes.

The opening piano/guitar riff never fails to set my hair on end, mainly because I know what’s coming, that being a severe headrush of a chorus.

Much like the Kinks’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’, the chorus of ‘I Got a Line On You’ seems to test the limits of the recording studio, with the bass, guitar, piano and Cass’s drums expanding like a mushroom cloud in your ears.

I was probably no older than 10 when this song drilled into my head, causing it to shake every which way.

I don’t recall when I picked up the 45 you see before you (an Epic reissue, the OG is on Ode) but it’s probably been at least 20 years.

I’ve played this 45 out a couple of times,mixing it in with soul and garage stuff, and it never fails to get people moving, because it is so bad-ass.

It was a little over 20 years ago when I saw the then-current version of Spirit (with Cass and Randy) play ‘I Got a Line On You’ on the Dennis Miller Show (yes, the now-right wing crank had a short-lived late night show), and even then, the song brought a tear to my eye.

It’s that good.

I hope you dig it too.

RIP Ed…

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some soul.

RIP Gene Thomas of Gene & Debbe

Greetings all.
I just found out that Gene Thomas, of Gene and Debbe has passed away at the age of 74.
Thomas had a long career before – and after – Gene and Debbe.
‘Playboy’ is one of my all-time favorite country pop records (originally posted here in 2008), so I thought I’d repost it in his memory.
I hope you dig it.
Larry

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Gene & Debbe

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Listen/Download – Gene and Debbe – Playboy

Greetings all.
Today’s selection is one of those tracks from what I like to refer to as the Second 20, i.e. the tunes that were Top 40 radio hits in their time, but never really broke through the Top 20 in a significant way. As a result, and thanks in large part to the hegemony of homogenized “oldies” radio, they are all but forgotten by all those who didn’t have their ears glued to the radio when they were first released.
Back in the day, probably 15 or so years ago one of the local FM stations suddenly spent an entire weekend playing nothing but ’96 Tears’ by Question Mark & the Mysterians, punctuated only by the sounds of hammers and saws (really). As it turns out, they were undergoing yet another format change (having been country and Top 40 in the past).
Once Monday arrived, naturally curious I tuned to the station and discovered that they were now working a syndicated oldies format, which seemed (due to the kind of unusual things that were thrown into the mix with the same 40 or 50 songs you hear on every oldies station) to have originated somewhere in the South.
I spent a lot of time listening to the station, and appreciated hearing a lot of unusual cuts, as well as several tunes that were new to me.
One of these was today’s selection.
The first time I heard ‘Playboy’, I was sensing a little bit of a Nino Tempo/April Stevens mixed with Sonny & Cher vibe, but knew that it was neither of those duos. As is often the case, I followed up with some research and discovered that the performers were Gene & Debbe.
Huh?
Despite spending most of my waking hours since the age of 12 listening to and/or reading about music, I had NEVER heard of Gene & Debbe. When I started to dig – eventually picking up a copy of their LP ‘Hear and Now’ – I discovered that Gene & Debbe were another one of those examples of an artist who hovered around the charts for a few years, hit it big once and then promptly dropped out of sight.
Gene, was Gene Thomas, a singer/songwriter who recorded a number of unsuccessful 45s during the early 60’s only to retire from performing and concentrate on a career as a Nashville-based tunesmith. He formed a duo with Debbe Nevills (or Neville, depending on the source) in 1965, and they began recording for the TRX label in 1967.
They released a couple of 45s that grazed the charts, finally hitting the Top 40 with ‘Playboy’ in 1968.
‘Playboy’ is great example of the kind of pop records that were coming out of the country music capital in the 60’s, that had a perfect mix of pop and the Countrypolitan sound to get them on both charts, but not enough of either sound to limit their appeal to either audience (a la efforts by the like of the Everly Brothers and Rick Nelson from the same period).
Interestingly enough, ‘Playboy’ was a big enough hit to inspire rip-offs. During my most recent dig I picked up a 2-EP ‘Pickwick’ style set of pop and soul covers(no artists credited) that included – alongside covers of ‘Tighten Up’ and ‘Mony Mony’ – a version of ‘Playboy’.
That said, I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll see you next week with a new mix.
Peace
Larry

RIP Don Grady

NOTE: I was sad to hear of the passing of actor/musician Don Grady (Agrati) yesterday at the age of 68.
Not only was Grady a fixture in America’s living rooms in his role as Robbie Douglas on the long-running sitcom ‘My Three Sons’, but he was also an accomplished musician with connections to the Sunshine Pop world.
This is a re-up of a post I first published about 18 months ago. It features two songs from his excellent 1973 LP “Homegrown’.
I hope you dig the tunes, and I’ll see you all on Monday.
Peace
Larry

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Don Agrati, and his LP cover (below)

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Listen/Download – Don Agrati – Hollywood Song

Listen/Download – Don Agrati – Protoplasm Blues

Greetings all.

Welcome back to week number two of the return of Iron Leg (sounds like a Hammer film from back in the day).
I hope all is well on your end.

The tunes I bring you today, presented under the ‘Sounds of the Millennium’ banner, do so under fairly loose conditions.

As far as I know they don not include performance contributions by members of the band.

However, the demos on which the album in question were built were produced by none other that Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen.

The artist is someone that most of you know, but perhaps under a different name.

Don Agrati spent the bulk of the 1960s as a big TV star under the nom du screen ‘Don Grady’. He appeared from 1960 to 1971 on ‘My Three Sons’ as Robbie Douglas, before which he was a Disney contract player and performed on a number of other shows.

Some of you will also be aware that during his time on that show he had a sideline musical career.
As Robbie Douglas, Agrati performed on ‘My Three Sons’ with his band ‘The Greefs’.

Outside of the show, he recorded a number of 45s for the Canterbury label, as drummer for the Yellow Balloon, and as a vocalist with the Windupwatchband and as a solo (the latter two as Don Grady).

A few years after the demise of the show, Agrati signed a contract with Elektra records, and in 1973, the aptly titled LP “Home Grown’ was released.

Information is scarce, but it seems to be the case that the demos for ‘Home Grown’, which were produced by Boettcher and Olsen, were assembled over the course of a few years, and then apparently polished/augmented (not changing much) and released.

The album is stylistically all over the place, though some of this seems to be due to the passage of time (a few of the songs have copyrights from years before the LP was released).

There are moments of Monkees-ish pop (‘Two Bit Afternoon’), jazzy efforts (‘Bloodstream’) and sophisticated, early 70s California pop (the two songs I bring you today).

I’ve paired ‘Hollywood Song’ and ‘Protoplasm Blues’ because of all the tunes on ‘Home Grown’, they seem to have been born out of the same stylistic sensibility.

There are hints of Nilsson and Emmitt Rhodes (especially appropriate considering the source), as well as the Beatles (the root for the previous two), and even at times the later, jazzier side of Traffic. The cool thing is that none of these influences seem direct, but more like they were all dipping into the same portion of the musical zeitgeist.

I’ve read that Agrati played keyboards and drums on the album (and possibly everything else), and his piano work is pretty nice. In fact it’s the piano that really makes both ‘Hollywood Song’ and ‘Protoplasm Blues’ so cool.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that ‘Home Grown’ is some kind of lost masterpiece (it’s not) but rather that it does have some excellent tracks, and indicates that Agrati, given the appropriate time and focus could have gone on to craft a really solid set.

Fortunately, while it is obscure, ‘Home Grown’ isn’t particularly expensive. You could probably score a copy for less that $30.00 (I got my first for around 20, and then found a second for 5 bucks). It’s definitely worth hearing for fans of the California sound, and especially for Boettcher/Millennium completists.

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

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some funky sock soul.

Doug Dillard RIP

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The Dillards

Listen/Download – The Dillards – Lemon Chimes

NOTE: I just heard the Doug Dillard had passed away at the age of 75. I thought I’d repost this great song that first appeared here back in 2008.

Greetings all.

I’m back following the long holiday stretch, hoping that you all dug the last podcast and are ready for more goodness.

On the podcast tip, as I stated in the last post I have a very cool mix in the hopper that will probably drop in this space next week. It’s something that I’ve been cooking for a long time and it finally came together during December, so stay tuned.

Today’s selection is a very nice bit of country/folk/rock by one of the more interesting and influential groups of the 60’s.

The Dillards came got their start in the early 60’s primarily as a bluegrass band. They came to fame via appearances as the fictional Darling family on the Andy Griffith show between 1963 and 1966.

The Southern California country rock scene included number of former bluegrass musicians, like Chris Hillman and Clarence White of the Byrds and David Lindley of the Kaleidoscope. The Dillards became a huge influence on this scene, with Doug Dillard playing on the seminal country rock LP ‘Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers’, after which Dillard & Clark were formed and recorded two albums for A&M.

Just before this period, when the Dillards were first exploring electric instruments and fusions of country, folk and rock they recorded the LP ‘Wheatstraw Suite’.

Back when I was a kid, and reading everything I could get my hands on about rock music, ‘Wheatstraw Suite’ was often cited as an important album in the creation of country rock. This has always been an especially interesting period for me, not only because I’m a fan of the sound, but because the musical history often contradicts the conventional wisdom on the subject.

While some would have you believe that country rock got its start with the likes of the Eagles, there were numerous examples of formative instances of the genre years before the members of that particular band started hating each other’s guts.

The earliest “major” group working in the genre was of course the Byrds, recording electrified versions of straight country – like Porter Wagoner’s ‘Satisfied Mind’ – on their early albums. There were also efforts by the Monkees (mainly Nesmith influenced), International Submarine Band (featuring early work by Gram Parsons), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rick Nelson and of course the band that Chris Hillman would form with Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers*.

On “Wheatstraw Suite” the Dillards were working a lot more on the country/folk side of the street, but there is a definite pop thread running through the entire album, with covers of tunes by the Beatles (‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’), Tim Hardin (Reason to Believe) and Jesse Lee Kincaid of the Rising Sons** (‘She Sings Hymns Out of Tune’ which was covered around the same time by Harry Nilsson).

Today’s selection ‘Lemon Chimes’ was recorded in a different version prior to the ‘Wheatstraw Suite’ album and released as a 45 (the version you’re hearing today is from the LP). The tune was written by the drummer on this session, Dewey Martin who went on to play with the Buffalo Springfield.

Interestingly enough, that 45 was produced by none other than David Axelrod during the Dillards very brief (two singles) sojourn at Capitol Records following which they re-signed with their longtime label, Elektra.

Though I haven’t heard that earlier version, I love the rerecording on the LP, where the Dillards managed to create a unique fusion of countrified Sunshine Pop. Listening to the tune it’s hard to imagine that the group performing it were a straight bluegrass band but a few years before.

I hope you dig it.

Peace
Larry

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*Interestingly enough two of these groups contributed members to the Eagles, with bassist Randy Meisner coming from Rick Nelson’s band and Bernie Leadon coming from the Flying Burrito Brothers.

**The Rising Sons also included Ry Cooder (pre-Beefheart), Ed Cassidy (pre-Spirit) and Taj Mahal

Buy – The Dillards – There Is A Time (1963-1970) – At Amazon.com

Humblebums Redux b/w RIP Gerry Rafferty

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Messrs Connolly and Rafferty

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Listen/download – The Humblebums – All the Best People Do It

Listen/Download – The Humblebums – My Apartment


Greetings all.

Got the sad news this week that the great Gerry Rafferty had passed away at the age of 63.

Rafferty’s music was a major fixture on AM and FM radio when I was a kid, first as a part of Stealers Wheel (‘Stuck In the Middle With You’) and later with huge solo hits like ‘Baker Street’.

As the years went on, I discovered that Rafferty had had a much longer and more interesting career than I originally thought, having played and recorded with a young Billy Connolly in the Humblebums, and later working with Richard and Linda Thompson.

I’m republishing this post (originally up in May of 2010) so you can check the group out, and remember Gerry Rafferty.

Peace

Larry

Originally posted 5/2010

I return to you following a weekend of non-wellness, in that it was spent in the company of physicians, nurses and whatnot, part of the time devoted to me figuring out how quickly I might get in and out of the hospital (for yet another procedure) and back to my lair where I might cavort with my wife, kids, and eventually, records…

That said, I set out to pick a selection for today and discovered once again that I had forgotten to photograph the record, so I dipped back into the reserves and grabbed something else.

Today’s selections are by the same group, which would seem obvious until you listen to them and realize that they were clearly the work of two divergent stylists.

That they happened to be in the same band, and both went on to a significantly higher level of fame and fortune is where we get started.

I first heard/heard of the Humblebums maybe 20 years ago when I happened upon one of their tracks on a compilation of UK folk rock and discovered that among their ranks were Billy Connolly (the world famous comedian who has since become a fave of mine) and Gerry Rafferty (he of the 70s AM gold).

That first tune didn’t make much of an impression, but I was always intrigued by the concept of a band that included both of them. It wasn’t until last year, as I was digging down in Washington, DC that I actually happened upon one of their albums.

When I had the chance to give it a listen I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t a mass of comedic novelties, but rather a satisfying intersection of Connolly’s wry, folkie vibe and Rafferty’s pure pop.

Rafferty was not an original member of the group, joining after their first LP. The roots of his later hits are clearly visible in ‘All the Best People Do It’, with his pleasing voice, Beatle-y hooks and arrangements. I really dig the electric piano on this track.

Connolly’s track, ‘My Apartment’ reveals that he was a pretty good singer, shedding much of his thick brogue for an American accented style, no doubt honed playing country and folk in Scottish bars.

The rest of the album is similarly divided stylistically, which goes a long way to explaining why the band broke up by 1971, with Rafferty moving on to Stealer’s Wheel and Connolly to a hugely successful career as a stand-up and actor.

I hope you dig the tracks, and I’ll be back later in the week with something cool.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a reggae version of a soul classic.

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