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.

Free Design x 6 : Chris Dedrick RIP

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Free Design

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Listen -Free Design – Kites are Fun – MP3

Listen -Free Design – Jack In the Box Radio Spot – MP3

Listen -Free Design – Bubbles – MP3

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

Listen -Free Design – 2002 a Hit Song – MP3

Listen -Free Design – The Proper Ornaments – MP3

Greetings all.

I just heard yesterday that Chris Dedrick, leader of one of my favorite pop groups the Free Design had passed away at the age of 62. He was living in Canada.
I was going to write something new, but realized that I’d already said what I wanted to about the group in this post from last year.
I am however adding a couple of tracks I haven’t had up in this space before, including what may be, if not the rarest track by the band, the weirdest, that being an early 70s commercial jingle for the Jack In the Box burger chain.
The quality isn’t fantastic, but I don’t imagine there are many copies of this one floating around, so take it for what it is.
If you haven’t picked up any of their stuff, iTunes features a couple of nice ‘best of’ comps, as well as all of the full albums.
My sympathies go out to his family.

Originally posted June 2009

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 some classical jazz funk (really).

Alex Chilton RIP

Damn…

I just got word that the mighty Alex Chilton, of the Box Tops, Big Star and decades of solo work has passed away at the age of 59.

As has been discussed here before, when I was coming up in the 80s, the “big two” acts that seemed to influence everybody, and got played constantly in my car and my home, were the Velvet Underground and Big Star. The first two Big Star albums are among the finest recorded in the 70s, packed to the rafters with amazing songs and performances.

I’ll assume that most of the people that read this blog are already aware of their music. If your not, make it your business to check it out as soon as possible. You will not regret it.

The post below first appeared in October of 2008.

Peace

Larry

PS Check out the Box Tops on Zacherley’s Dance Party. Shades of Count Floyd…

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Radio City-era Big Star

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Listen – Big Star – O My Soul – MP3

Greetings all.
As is often the case in my little corner of the blog-o-mosphere, the tunes I select for inclusion therein are often picked at random, the result of yet another safari into the crates. I’ve discussed the phenomenon before, but so vast is the selection of vinyl piled in my lair, that I often find things I’d forgotten, or forsaken having assumed that they were forever lost.
The tune I bring you today was just such a record.
But first, a nostalgic interlude…
Back in the day, when my brothers* (blood and otherwise) were being inundated with sounds alternative (back when that really meant something), there were a few bands from the days of yore that were for youngsters like ourselves (and many before us) cornerstones of an even earlier alternative.
This list included such rediscoveries as the Sonics and the 13th Floor Elevators (on the garage/psyche tip) and most prominently (on a much larger scale), and most importantly to the formation of my own musical worldview, the Velvet Underground and Big Star.
Now, the Velvets had – thanks to the long and successful career of Lou Reed – a foot placed firmly in the present. I forget who said that everyone who bought a Velvets LP in the 60s went on to form a band, but that particular equation was multiplied exponentially in the 80s where no band from the 60s loomed larger.
Big Star was another story entirely.
Though Alex Chilton was something of an indie darling, no one sane would describe his post-Box Tops career as having seen any financial success. That said, in the 1980s the ears of anyone with even the tiniest bit of pop sensibility were filled with the music Chilton created with Big Star.
Formed in 1971 by Chris Bell, Andy Hummell, Steve Ray and Jody Stephens. Ray soon left the band and was replaced by Chilton. They were signed to the Stax Records subsidiary Ardent, and released their first album, ‘#1 Record’ in 1972.
If you haven’t heard ‘#1 Record’, back away from the interwebs (or open a new browser) and find yourself a copy, because – and you can trust me on this – it is one of the finest pop records ever recorded, by anyone, anywhere. That record, in which all but one of the songs were collaborations between Chilton and Bell (rife with Lennon/McCartney-esque creative tension) was the only one recorded by that line up.
By the time they released their follow up ‘Radio City’ in 1973, Bell had departed, along with a certain amount of their polish, which as we shall see, was a good thing, because that albums spontaneous feel was something of a shot heard round the world (with about a ten year delay) appearing a decade on in the sounds of REM and the Replacements among others.
Today’s selection is the only OG Big Star record I’ve ever come across in the field, and if memory serves was scooped up for chump change in an old record store.
‘O My Soul’ opens with wild, shambolic rhythm guitar, laced with bits of keyboard stabbing through the somewhat awkward beat. Chilton’s vocal is spot on (though if all you’ve ever heard him sing was ‘The Letter’, you might be surprised). The song sounds every bit as fresh today as it must have in ’73, which is probably a testament to the band’s far reaching influence (though I suspect that so much time has passed that there are tons of bands out there working a Big Star vibe who have never heard of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell).
It’s a great bit of power pop, and as I said before, if you’re not already hep to Big Star, go out and get you some.
See you on Monday.

Peace
Larry

*In 1990, my brother Chris and I took a road trip down south, mainly to visit friends in Georgia, but including stops in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis. A big part of our Memphis visit was a pilgrimage to Ardent Studios, where we saw the very Big Star supermarket that inspired the bands name.

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Mike Evans RIP

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A very young – pre-Action – Mike Evans

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The Action – Mike Evans second from left…

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Mighty Baby looking kinda patchouli-y….

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Listen -Mighty Baby – Egyptian Tomb – MP3

Listen -Mighty Baby – House Without Windows – MP3

Listen -Mighty Baby – Same Way To the Sun – MP3

Greetings all.

A couple of days back a reader forwarded me the sad news that bassist Mike Evans,a founding member of both the Action and Mighty Baby had passed away.
I’ve mentioned it here at Iron Leg and over at Funky16Corners numerous times, but allow to reiterate the importance of the Action to my musical education. Not only did the mightiest of Mod bands record some of the finest singles of the 60s (produced by no less a light than George Martin) but they carried the mod love for American soul music very far, covering number by (and introducing me and my mod/garage cohorts to) a variety of soul classics.
Their anthemic version of the Marvelettes ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ is one of the greatest soul covers ever committed to wax, and their covers of Martha and the Vandella’s ‘In My Lonely Room’ and Bob and Earl’s ‘Harlem Shuffle’ were killer as well.
As the 60s moved on and their mod vibe morphed into something much more psychedelic, Evans and a few of his fellow Actioners went on to become Mighty Baby. Their debut album was a truly inspired classic, mixing psychedelia (with a San Fran twist) with a progressive vibe.
I’ve posted cuts from that album in this space before, and I’ll add a third today, in memory of Mr. Evans.
Below is a repost of my original write-up of Mighty Baby’s ‘Egyptian Tomb’ from September of last year.
I hope you dig the sounds, and I’ll be back on Monday.
Peace
Larry

Originally posted 9/2009:

The weekend is hovering like a cobra, ready to strike, so like a swami of the mystical east, I will now attempt to soothe it with some tunage, so that we may all ascend to the next level, with happy ears and a smile on our faces (individual smiles, or maybe one big collective one, I’m not sure).
The tune I bring you today was passed along to me many years ago by my man Mr. Luther as (if memory serves) a birthday gift, and what a gift it was.
Then, the connective tissue at work was the fact that a number of members of Mighty Baby had also done time in one of the greatest of the Mod bands, the Action. I had heard of Mighty Baby, and has seen the album cover in a coffee table book, but was woefully unfamiliar with their music.
When I got home, and slid the CD into the player and slapped on the headphones I was – to rehash an old cliché – blown the fuck away.
The first song on the album (and the CD, natch) is the tune I bring you today, ‘Egyptian Tomb’.
When ‘Egyptian Tomb’ started flowing from the phones into the earholes, my head began to spin.
Though I spent a fair amount of time digging the fuzz, the mod beat and the lo-fi, look sharpery of the mid-80s retro scene, I was a couple of years older than many of my compadres and as a result had spent a goodly amount of time, previous to those years ingesting a somewhat higher grade of freaky post-psychedelic progressive-ness, perhaps a little too caftan and long bearded for the Beatle-booted, mop tops of ’86.
Back in the day, during the waning moments of my Beatles obsession, when I was playing in actual (non fuzz-oriented) garage bands, and partaking in the leafy goodness of the cannibis sativa, my buddies and I tended to shovel into our ears as much of the dreamy prog-type stuff as possible. This included everything from Traffic to Yes, to King Crimson to whatever records we could find with long, dreamy songs that would – how do they say? – facilitate the dreamier effects of the intoxicants at hand.
As my tastes became punkier, and I spent more time digging on the Sonics and the Gonn, it wasn’t that I gave up on the vibe, as it were, just that I replaced ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ with stuff like ‘Slip Inside This House’ and ‘Vacuum Cleaner’, drilling deeper into obscurity.
When I was handed the Mighty Baby CD, and informed of the Action connection (the disc also contained some very cool unreleased psychedelic Action tracks) I assumed that what I was going to hear was also stylistically Action-like.
When I actually heard the album, I was stunned at how un-Action-y Mighty Baby was, and how close they were to the things I’d been listening to at the end of my teenage years.
‘Egyptian Tomb’ is in many ways the perfect opening track for Mighty Baby’s debut album because in its roughly five and a half minutes it manages to act as a statement of purpose and style for the entire record. It is in turns spacey, jazzy, tuneful and trippy in a way that doesn’t hew to closely to any of those styles but manages to mix them all into something completely new. Though there was a taste of Traffic in there, there was also bits of California mellowness, as well as traces of the UK psyche underground that was at that time mutating into something much looser (since you could spread out more in a caftan than in a tightly tailored, ruffled, satin dandy-suit).
The grooviest thing of all about Mighty Baby, is that they managed to stitch together everything that was cool about that transitional era while simultaneously dispensing with everything that sucked about it. Mighty Baby were the prog band for people that have learned to despise the mewling of once groovy musicians who felt it necessary come 1969 to work out their “classical training” 25 minutes at a time while wrapped in a sequined cape (I’m looking at you Rick Wakeman…).
It was only earlier this year that I got my mitts on an original copy of the Mighty Baby album, which was actually one of two records released on an obscure, short-lived subsidiary of Chess Records called Head (check out that crazy label). Give this song a listen, and if you dig it, get yourself a copy of the CD, on account of it’s really, really good.
That is all.
Have a great weekend.

Peace

Larry

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some groovy soul jazz

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.

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